A shudder seemed to sweep over his whole body at the recollection.

“Well, what then? Did you suppose it wasn’t going to rise?” asked Ferdishenko.

“Yes, he was.”

“My dear prince,” began Prince S., hurriedly, exchanging glances with some of those present, “you will not easily find heaven on earth, and yet you seem to expect to. Heaven is a difficult thing to find anywhere, prince; far more difficult than appears to that good heart of yours. Better stop this conversation, or we shall all be growing quite disturbed in our minds, and--”

“I don’t know, I don’t know who said it. Come home at once; come on! I’ll punch Gania’s head myself, if you like--only come. Oh, where _are_ you off to again?” The general was dragging him away towards the door of a house nearby. He sat down on the step, still holding Colia by the hand.

“Oh yes, I know a good deal.”

“Not at all. I am only proving that you are glad about the letter. Why conceal your real feelings? You always like to do it.”

“We were leaning over the balustrade of the bridge, looking into the Neva at this moment.

“Meanwhile he continued to sit and stare jeeringly at me.

“I asked how it came about that the tureen had been left. Nikifor explained that the old lady refused to give it up, because, she said, we had broken her bowl, and she must have our tureen in place of it; she had declared that I had so arranged the matter with herself.

“What help do you want from me? You may be certain that I am most anxious to understand you, Lebedeff.”

“The children did not love me at first; I was such a sickly, awkward kind of a fellow then--and I know I am ugly. Besides, I was a foreigner. The children used to laugh at me, at first; and they even went so far as to throw stones at me, when they saw me kiss Marie. I only kissed her once in my life--no, no, don’t laugh!” The prince hastened to suppress the smiles of his audience at this point. “It was not a matter of _love_ at all! If only you knew what a miserable creature she was, you would have pitied her, just as I did. She belonged to our village. Her mother was an old, old woman, and they used to sell string and thread, and soap and tobacco, out of the window of their little house, and lived on the pittance they gained by this trade. The old woman was ill and very old, and could hardly move. Marie was her daughter, a girl of twenty, weak and thin and consumptive; but still she did heavy work at the houses around, day by day. Well, one fine day a commercial traveller betrayed her and carried her off; and a week later he deserted her. She came home dirty, draggled, and shoeless; she had walked for a whole week without shoes; she had slept in the fields, and caught a terrible cold; her feet were swollen and sore, and her hands torn and scratched all over. She never had been pretty even before; but her eyes were quiet, innocent, kind eyes.

XII.

“Ah, he’s ashamed to! He _meant_ to ask you, I know, for he said so. I suppose he thinks that as you gave him some once (you remember), you would probably refuse if he asked you again.”

“Look to the right!”

“Why don’t you finish your sentence? Shall I tell you what you were thinking to yourself just then? You were thinking, ‘How can she marry him after this? How can it possibly be permitted?’ Oh, I know what you were thinking about!”

When they reached the stairs again he added:

“That’s what comes of telling the truth for once in one’s life!” said Lebedeff. “It reduced him to tears.”

“Oh, it’s nothing. I haven’t slept, that’s all, and I’m rather tired. I--we certainly did talk about you, Aglaya.”

Mrs. Epanchin examined the portrait of Nastasia Philipovna for some little while, holding it critically at arm’s length.

The prince seemed to be considering the suggestion.

“Mother,” said Rogojin, kissing her hand, “here is my great friend, Prince Muishkin; we have exchanged crosses; he was like a real brother to me at Moscow at one time, and did a great deal for me. Bless him, mother, as you would bless your own son. Wait a moment, let me arrange your hands for you.”

“Nastasia Philipovna!” cried the prince.

“Is that you, Keller?” said the prince, in surprise.

“This is too horrible,” said the general, starting to his feet. All were standing up now. Nastasia was absolutely beside herself.

“Not a bit of it; it was a duel to the death, and he was killed.”

Hippolyte was not in the house. Lebedeff turned up late in the afternoon; he had been asleep ever since his interview with the prince in the morning. He was quite sober now, and cried with real sincerity over the sick general--mourning for him as though he were his own brother. He blamed himself aloud, but did not explain why. He repeated over and over again to Nina Alexandrovna that he alone was to blame--no one else--but that he had acted out of “pure amiable curiosity,” and that “the deceased,” as he insisted upon calling the still living general, had been the greatest of geniuses.

“Gracious heavens!” exclaimed Lizabetha Prokofievna. The prince started. The general stiffened in his chair; the sisters frowned.

“You are very unfair to me, and to that unfortunate woman of whom you spoke just now in such dreadful terms, Aglaya.”

This idea amused the prince.

Everyone gasped; some even crossed themselves.

This same morning dawned for the prince pregnant with no less painful presentiments,--which fact his physical state was, of course, quite enough to account for; but he was so indefinably melancholy,--his sadness could not attach itself to anything in particular, and this tormented him more than anything else. Of course certain facts stood before him, clear and painful, but his sadness went beyond all that he could remember or imagine; he realized that he was powerless to console himself unaided. Little by little he began to develop the expectation that this day something important, something decisive, was to happen to him.

“Yes.”

The prince reflected.

“Did no one awake me besides yourself? Was there no one else here? I thought there was another woman.”

“I did not expect that of you, Aglaya,” she said. “He is an impossible husband for you,--I know it; and thank God that we agree upon that point; but I did not expect to hear such words from you. I thought I should hear a very different tone from you. I would have turned out everyone who was in the room last night and kept him,--that’s the sort of man he is, in my opinion!”

“How do you know he is not the question now?” cried Hippolyte, laughing hysterically.

“But if I beg you to make it up?” said Varia.

“Alexandra Michailovna out, too! How disappointing! Would you believe it, I am always so unfortunate! May I most respectfully ask you to present my compliments to Alexandra Michailovna, and remind her... tell her, that with my whole heart I wish for her what she wished for herself on Thursday evening, while she was listening to Chopin’s Ballade. She will remember. I wish it with all sincerity. General Ivolgin and Prince Muishkin!”

“But you didn’t repeat what you heard in the study? You didn’t repeat that--eh?”

Another thought tormented him: He wondered was this an arranged business--arranged to happen when he had guests in his house, and in anticipation of his humiliation rather than of his triumph? But he reproached himself bitterly for such a thought, and felt as if he should die of shame if it were discovered. When his new visitors appeared, he was quite ready to believe himself infinitely less to be respected than any of them.

“Well, I was glad enough, for I had long felt the greatest sympathy for this man; and then the pretty uniform and all that--only a child, you know--and so on. It was a dark green dress coat with gold buttons--red facings, white trousers, and a white silk waistcoat--silk stockings, shoes with buckles, and top-boots if I were riding out with his majesty or with the suite.

“Yes, of course; he had written letters to the latter with proposals of peace, had he not?” put in the prince.

“Did you hit her?”

“By five I drew up at the Ekshaisky inn. I waited there till dawn, and soon after six I was off, and at the old merchant Trepalaf’s.

“Marie was very gentle to her mother, and nursed her, and did everything for her; but the old woman accepted all her services without a word and never showed her the slightest kindness. Marie bore all this; and I could see when I got to know her that she thought it quite right and fitting, considering herself the lowest and meanest of creatures.

It soon became clear to Gania, after scenes of wrath and quarrellings at the domestic hearth, that his family were seriously opposed to the match, and that Nastasia was aware of this fact was equally evident. She said nothing about it, though he daily expected her to do so.

“What--shame you? I?--what do you mean, you young calf? I shame you? I can only do you honour, sir; I cannot shame you.”

“I don’t want you to suspect that I have simply come here to deceive you and pump information out of you!” said Evgenie, still smiling, and without making any direct reply to the question.

X.

“Why, how am I to blame?” asked Adelaida, smiling.

“Because,” replied Aglaya gravely, “in the poem the knight is described as a man capable of living up to an ideal all his life. That sort of thing is not to be found every day among the men of our times. In the poem it is not stated exactly what the ideal was, but it was evidently some vision, some revelation of pure Beauty, and the knight wore round his neck, instead of a scarf, a rosary. A device--A. N. B.--the meaning of which is not explained, was inscribed on his shield--”

“And how do _you_ know that he left two million and a half of roubles?” asked Rogojin, disdainfully, and not deigning so much as to look at the other. “However, it’s true enough that my father died a month ago, and that here am I returning from Pskoff, a month after, with hardly a boot to my foot. They’ve treated me like a dog! I’ve been ill of fever at Pskoff the whole time, and not a line, nor farthing of money, have I received from my mother or my confounded brother!”

“I--I,” the general continued to whisper, clinging more and more tightly to the boy’s shoulder. “I--wish--to tell you--all--Maria--Maria Petrovna--Su--Su--Su.......”

“You know of course why I requested this meeting?” she said at last, quietly, and pausing twice in the delivery of this very short sentence.

“Yes, she is inquisitive,” assented the prince.

“Who told you that?” broke in Evgenie Pavlovitch.

“One point in your favour is that you seem to have a child-like mind, and extreme truthfulness,” said the prince at last. “Do you know that that atones for much?”

The prince rose and took off his mantle, revealing a neat enough morning costume--a little worn, but well made. He wore a steel watch chain and from this chain there hung a silver Geneva watch. Fool the prince might be, still, the general’s servant felt that it was not correct for him to continue to converse thus with a visitor, in spite of the fact that the prince pleased him somehow.

“Not I--not I! I retire from all responsibility,” said Lizabetha Prokofievna, with a wave of the hand.

“This way--come along--I’ll show you.”

Muishkin was told of the princess’s visit three days beforehand, but nothing was said to him about the party until the night before it was to take place.

“I wrote, and I say to you once more, that she is not in her right mind,” said the prince, who had listened with anguish to what Rogojin said.

“I angrily turned round in bed and made up my mind that I would not say a word unless he did; so I rested silently on my pillow determined to remain dumb, if it were to last till morning. I felt resolved that he should speak first. Probably twenty minutes or so passed in this way. Suddenly the idea struck me--what if this is an apparition and not Rogojin himself?

Suddenly, to the astonishment of all, Keller went quickly up to the general.

“That is--I suppose you wish to know how I received the hedgehog, Aglaya Ivanovna,--or, I should say, how I regarded your sending him to me? In that case, I may tell you--in a word--that I--in fact--”

The girls could see that their mother concealed a great deal from them, and left out large pieces of the letter in reading it to them.

“Well, have you finished your silly joke?” she added, “and am I to be told what this ‘poor knight’ means, or is it a solemn secret which cannot be approached lightly?”

The impatience of Lizabetha Prokofievna “to get things settled” explained a good deal, as well as the anxiety of both parents for the happiness of their beloved daughter. Besides, Princess Bielokonski was going away soon, and they hoped that she would take an interest in the prince. They were anxious that he should enter society under the auspices of this lady, whose patronage was the best of recommendations for any young man.

“Very well, we’ll drop it for a while. You can’t look at anything but in your exalted, generous way. You must put out your finger and touch a thing before you’ll believe it, eh? Ha! ha! ha! I suppose you despise me dreadfully, prince, eh? What do you think?”

“Out with it then, damn it! Out with it at once!” and Gania stamped his foot twice on the pavement.

But the prince was not satisfied with what he had said to Rogojin. Only at this moment, when she suddenly made her appearance before him, did he realize to the full the exact emotion which she called up in him, and which he had not described correctly to Rogojin.

“And how do you know that?” she asked him, sharply.

“Surrender her, for God’s sake!” he said to the prince.

“He is a traitor! a conspirator!” shouted Lebedeff, who seemed to have lost all control over himself. “A monster! a slanderer! Ought I to treat him as a nephew, the son of my sister Anisia?”

Aglaya went up to him with a peculiarly serious look.

“Oh, trust _him_ for that!” said Adelaida. “Evgenie Pavlovitch turns everything and everybody he can lay hold of to ridicule. You should hear the things he says sometimes, apparently in perfect seriousness.”

“Oh, that may be. He may have known her some time ago--two or three years, at least. He used to know Totski. But it is impossible that there should be any intimacy between them. She has not even been in the place--many people don’t even know that she has returned from Moscow! I have only observed her carriage about for the last three days or so.”

They stopped before a somewhat low doorway on the fourth floor. Ardalion Alexandrovitch, evidently much out of countenance, pushed Muishkin in front.

“No, sir, _not_ corkscrew. I am a general, not a bottle, sir. Make your choice, sir--me or him.”

“That may be! Perhaps you didn’t _come_ with the idea, but the idea is certainly there _now!_ Ha, ha! well, that’s enough! What are you upset about? Didn’t you really know it all before? You astonish me!”

“And you, princess,” he went on, addressing Princess Bielokonski, “was it not you who received me in Moscow, six months since, as kindly as though I had been your own son, in response to a letter from Lizabetha Prokofievna; and gave me one piece of advice, again as to your own son, which I shall never forget? Do you remember?”

“So do I,” said Adelaida, solemnly.

“Once I had to interfere by force; and after that I took to speaking to them every day and whenever I could. Occasionally they stopped and listened; but they teased Marie all the same.

Before long Nastasia and Gania had talked the matter over. Very little was said--her modesty seemed to suffer under the infliction of discussing such a question. But she recognized his love, on the understanding that she bound herself to nothing whatever, and that she reserved the right to say “no” up to the very hour of the marriage ceremony. Gania was to have the same right of refusal at the last moment.

“You’ll take me as I am, with nothing?”

“Shall I call the Ptitsins, and Gavrila Ardalionovitch? Shall I let the general in?” he asked.

“But what is the use of talking? I’m afraid all this is so commonplace that my confession will be taken for a schoolboy exercise--the work of some ambitious lad writing in the hope of his work ‘seeing the light’; or perhaps my readers will say that ‘I had perhaps something to say, but did not know how to express it.’

“Her own position?” prompted Gania. “She does understand. Don’t be annoyed with her. I have warned her not to meddle in other people’s affairs. However, although there’s comparative peace at home at present, the storm will break if anything is finally settled tonight.”

“You call him a monster so often that it makes me suspicious.”

Rogojin took the chair offered him, but he did not sit long; he soon stood up again, and did not reseat himself. Little by little he began to look around him and discern the other guests. Seeing Gania, he smiled venomously and muttered to himself, “Look at that!”

“Give it to me,” said Parfen.

The girls could see that their mother concealed a great deal from them, and left out large pieces of the letter in reading it to them.

“Very well--never mind about me; but I shall not allow you to strike her!” he said, at last, quietly. Then, suddenly, he could bear it no longer, and covering his face with his hands, turned to the wall, and murmured in broken accents:

“But what is the use of talking? I’m afraid all this is so commonplace that my confession will be taken for a schoolboy exercise--the work of some ambitious lad writing in the hope of his work ‘seeing the light’; or perhaps my readers will say that ‘I had perhaps something to say, but did not know how to express it.’

But now his eyes had become so far accustomed to the darkness that he could distinguish the whole of the bed. Someone was asleep upon it--in an absolutely motionless sleep. Not the slightest movement was perceptible, not the faintest breathing could be heard. The sleeper was covered with a white sheet; the outline of the limbs was hardly distinguishable. He could only just make out that a human being lay outstretched there.

“There was another woman here?”

Parfen Rogojin opened the door himself.

“She sent to say, yesterday morning, that I was never to dare to come near the house again.”