“Don’t come with me,” she cried, “_Au revoir_, till the evening--do you hear? _Au revoir!_”
“And he won’t go away!” cried Lebedeff. “He has installed himself here, and here he remains!”
“When the old woman took to her bed finally, the other old women in the village sat with her by turns, as the custom is there; and then Marie was quite driven out of the house. They gave her no food at all, and she could not get any work in the village; none would employ her. The men seemed to consider her no longer a woman, they said such dreadful things to her. Sometimes on Sundays, if they were drunk enough, they used to throw her a penny or two, into the mud, and Marie would silently pick up the money. She had began to spit blood at that time.
“What shall I write?” asked the prince.
Muishkin stopped short.
Aglaya went up to him with a peculiarly serious look.
“Why? Do you know anything about it? Look here,” continued the general, more agitated than ever, and trembling with excitement, “maybe I have been letting the cat out of the bag too freely with you, if so, it is because you are--that sort of man, you know! Perhaps you have some special information?”
“Prince,” he said, “tell me the truth; do you know what all this means?”
“Oh, but I know nothing about painting. It seems to me one only has to look, and paint what one sees.”
“Or would you like me to bid him, _bid him_, do you hear, _command him_, now, at once, to throw you up, and remain mine for ever? Shall I? He will stay, and he will marry me too, and you shall trot home all alone. Shall I?--shall I say the word?” she screamed like a madwoman, scarcely believing herself that she could really pronounce such wild words.
“Yes, it’s quite true, isn’t it?” cried the general, his eyes sparkling with gratification. “A small boy, a child, would naturally realize no danger; he would shove his way through the crowds to see the shine and glitter of the uniforms, and especially the great man of whom everyone was speaking, for at that time all the world had been talking of no one but this man for some years past. The world was full of his name; I--so to speak--drew it in with my mother’s milk. Napoleon, passing a couple of paces from me, caught sight of me accidentally. I was very well dressed, and being all alone, in that crowd, as you will easily imagine...”
“Oh, go on,” he said, “finish your sentence, by all means. Say how odd it appears to you that a man fallen to such a depth of humiliation as I, can ever have been the actual eye-witness of great events. Go on, _I_ don’t mind! Has _he_ found time to tell you scandal about me?”
“I can tell you all about Colia,” said the young man
Alexandra, however, found it difficult to keep absolute silence on the subject. Long since holding, as she did, the post of “confidential adviser to mamma,” she was now perpetually called in council, and asked her opinion, and especially her assistance, in order to recollect “how on earth all this happened?” Why did no one see it? Why did no one say anything about it? What did all that wretched “poor knight” joke mean? Why was she, Lizabetha Prokofievna, driven to think, and foresee, and worry for everybody, while they all sucked their thumbs, and counted the crows in the garden, and did nothing? At first, Alexandra had been very careful, and had merely replied that perhaps her father’s remark was not so far out: that, in the eyes of the world, probably the choice of the prince as a husband for one of the Epanchin girls would be considered a very wise one. Warming up, however, she added that the prince was by no means a fool, and never had been; and that as to “place in the world,” no one knew what the position of a respectable person in Russia would imply in a few years--whether it would depend on successes in the government service, on the old system, or what.
“How dreadfully you look at me, Parfen!” said the prince, with a feeling of dread.
“Didn’t I tell you the truth now, when I said you were in love?” he said, coming up to Muishkin of his own accord, and stopping him.
So next day the prince was expected all the morning, and at dinner, tea, and supper; and when he did not appear in the evening, Mrs. Epanchin quarrelled with everyone in the house, finding plenty of pretexts without so much as mentioning the prince’s name.
“I know that, father. Look here, dear old father, come back home! Let’s go back to mother. Look, she ran after us when we came out. What have you stopped her for, just as though you didn’t take in what I said? Why are you crying, father?”
“At the scaffold there is a ladder, and just there he burst into tears--and this was a strong man, and a terribly wicked one, they say! There was a priest with him the whole time, talking; even in the cart as they drove along, he talked and talked. Probably the other heard nothing; he would begin to listen now and then, and at the third word or so he had forgotten all about it.
The prince begged the visitors to sit down. They were all so young that it made the proceedings seem even more extraordinary. Ivan Fedorovitch, who really understood nothing of what was going on, felt indignant at the sight of these youths, and would have interfered in some way had it not been for the extreme interest shown by his wife in the affair. He therefore remained, partly through curiosity, partly through good-nature, hoping that his presence might be of some use. But the bow with which General Ivolgin greeted him irritated him anew; he frowned, and decided to be absolutely silent.
In order to pass from the Vauxhall to the band-stand, the visitor has to descend two or three steps. Just at these steps the group paused, as though it feared to proceed further; but very quickly one of the three ladies, who formed its apex, stepped forward into the charmed circle, followed by two members of her suite.
“It’s a lovely carriage,” said Adelaida.
The two maid-servants were both peeping in, frightened and amazed at this unusual and disorderly scene.
“I know that there were just as many, and just as terrible, crimes before our times. Not long since I visited a convict prison and made acquaintance with some of the criminals. There were some even more dreadful criminals than this one we have been speaking of--men who have murdered a dozen of their fellow-creatures, and feel no remorse whatever. But what I especially noticed was this, that the very most hopeless and remorseless murderer--however hardened a criminal he may be--still _knows that he is a criminal_; that is, he is conscious that he has acted wickedly, though he may feel no remorse whatever. And they were all like this. Those of whom Evgenie Pavlovitch has spoken, do not admit that they are criminals at all; they think they had a right to do what they did, and that they were even doing a good deed, perhaps. I consider there is the greatest difference between the two cases. And recollect--it was a _youth_, at the particular age which is most helplessly susceptible to the distortion of ideas!”
“Do you really forgive me?” he said at last. “And--and Lizabetha Prokofievna too?” The laugh increased, tears came into the prince’s eyes, he could not believe in all this kindness--he was enchanted.
“Why, it’s true that I am going to marry Gavrila Ardalionovitch, that I love him and intend to elope with him tomorrow,” cried Aglaya, turning upon her mother. “Do you hear? Is your curiosity satisfied? Are you pleased with what you have heard?”
Mrs. Epanchin almost sprang up in amazement at his answer, and at the assurance of his tone.
“I tell you, sir, he wished it himself!”
“Nervous about you?” Aglaya blushed. “Why should I be nervous about you? What would it matter to me if you were to make ever such a fool of yourself? How can you say such a thing? What do you mean by ‘making a fool of yourself’? What a vulgar expression! I suppose you intend to talk in that sort of way tomorrow evening? Look up a few more such expressions in your dictionary; do, you’ll make a grand effect! I’m sorry that you seem to be able to come into a room as gracefully as you do; where did you learn the art? Do you think you can drink a cup of tea decently, when you know everybody is looking at you, on purpose to see how you do it?”
“I did not know of its existence till this moment,” declared Hippolyte. “I do not approve of it.”
As is well known, these fits occur instantaneously. The face, especially the eyes, become terribly disfigured, convulsions seize the limbs, a terrible cry breaks from the sufferer, a wail from which everything human seems to be blotted out, so that it is impossible to believe that the man who has just fallen is the same who emitted the dreadful cry. It seems more as though some other being, inside the stricken one, had cried. Many people have borne witness to this impression; and many cannot behold an epileptic fit without a feeling of mysterious terror and dread.
“To humble myself,” murmured Lebedeff.
The prince observed that he was trembling all over.
“Allow me, gentlemen, allow me,” urged the prince.
“Five weeks!” said he, wiping his eyes. “Only five weeks! Poor orphans!”
“H’m, then you _do_ give him money?”
“Don’t apologize,” said Nastasia, laughing; “you spoil the whole originality of the thing. I think what they say about you must be true, that you are so original.--So you think me perfection, do you?”
“Won’t you leave the room, mamma?” asked Varia, aloud.
“No, I had better speak,” continued the prince, with a new outburst of feverish emotion, and turning towards the old man with an air of confidential trustfulness. “Yesterday, Aglaya Ivanovna forbade me to talk, and even specified the particular subjects I must not touch upon--she knows well enough that I am odd when I get upon these matters. I am nearly twenty-seven years old, and yet I know I am little better than a child. I have no right to express my ideas, and said so long ago. Only in Moscow, with Rogojin, did I ever speak absolutely freely! He and I read Pushkin together--all his works. Rogojin knew nothing of Pushkin, had not even heard his name. I am always afraid of spoiling a great Thought or Idea by my absurd manner. I have no eloquence, I know. I always make the wrong gestures--inappropriate gestures--and therefore I degrade the Thought, and raise a laugh instead of doing my subject justice. I have no sense of proportion either, and that is the chief thing. I know it would be much better if I were always to sit still and say nothing. When I do so, I appear to be quite a sensible sort of a person, and what’s more, I think about things. But now I must speak; it is better that I should. I began to speak because you looked so kindly at me; you have such a beautiful face. I promised Aglaya Ivanovna yesterday that I would not speak all the evening.”
“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.
“Don’t apologize,” said Nastasia, laughing; “you spoil the whole originality of the thing. I think what they say about you must be true, that you are so original.--So you think me perfection, do you?”
“I took no notice, because they never said a word. If they didn’t like the cigar, why couldn’t they say so? Not a word, not a hint! Suddenly, and without the very slightest suspicion of warning, ‘light blue’ seizes my cigar from between my fingers, and, wheugh! out of the window with it! Well, on flew the train, and I sat bewildered, and the young woman, tall and fair, and rather red in the face, too red, glared at me with flashing eyes.
“_What_ poor knight?” asked Mrs. Epanchin, looking round at the face of each of the speakers in turn. Seeing, however, that Aglaya was blushing, she added, angrily:
Nastasia noticed this with satisfaction. She was in full dress this evening; and her appearance was certainly calculated to impress all beholders. She took his hand and led him towards her other guests. But just before they reached the drawing-room door, the prince stopped her, and hurriedly and in great agitation whispered to her:
Sure enough, some of the brave fellows entirely lost their heads at this point, and retreated into the next room. Others, however, took the hint and sat down, as far as they could from the table, however; feeling braver in proportion to their distance from Nastasia.
“Tell me, how was she when you left her?”
“Is Nastasia Philipovna at your house?”
“What should I be afraid of?”
He gave full, satisfactory, and direct evidence on every point; and the prince’s name was, thanks to this, not brought into the proceedings. Rogojin was very quiet during the progress of the trial. He did not contradict his clever and eloquent counsel, who argued that the brain fever, or inflammation of the brain, was the cause of the crime; clearly proving that this malady had existed long before the murder was perpetrated, and had been brought on by the sufferings of the accused.
“Keller,” murmured the retired officer.
There was nothing particularly significant in the fact that a man was standing back in the doorway, waiting to come out or go upstairs; but the prince felt an irresistible conviction that he knew this man, and that it was Rogojin. The man moved on up the stairs; a moment later the prince passed up them, too. His heart froze within him. “In a minute or two I shall know all,” he thought.
The rest of the company followed her example.
“Too much talk,” said Rogojin, breaking the silence for the first time.
“Never told either him or me?” cried Aglaya. “How about your letters? Who asked you to try to persuade me to marry him? Was not that a declaration from you? Why do you force yourself upon us in this way? I confess I thought at first that you were anxious to arouse an aversion for him in my heart by your meddling, in order that I might give him up; and it was only afterwards that I guessed the truth. You imagined that you were doing an heroic action! How could you spare any love for him, when you love your own vanity to such an extent? Why could you not simply go away from here, instead of writing me those absurd letters? Why do you not _now_ marry that generous man who loves you, and has done you the honour of offering you his hand? It is plain enough why; if you marry Rogojin you lose your grievance; you will have nothing more to complain of. You will be receiving too much honour. Evgenie Pavlovitch was saying the other day that you had read too many poems and are too well educated for--your position; and that you live in idleness. Add to this your vanity, and, there you have reason enough--”
“Can there be an appearance of that which has no form? And yet it seemed to me, at certain moments, that I beheld in some strange and impossible form, that dark, dumb, irresistibly powerful, eternal force.
“Yes, I remember too!” said Alexandra. “You quarrelled about the wounded pigeon, and Adelaida was put in the corner, and stood there with her helmet and sword and all.”
“The cleverest in the world,” interrupted his uncle hastily.
“Yes, she is inquisitive,” assented the prince.
However, he must take his room at the hotel; and he started off in that direction. Having engaged his room, he was asked by the waiter whether he would take dinner; replying mechanically in the affirmative, he sat down and waited; but it was not long before it struck him that dining would delay him. Enraged at this idea, he started up, crossed the dark passage (which filled him with horrible impressions and gloomy forebodings), and set out once more for Rogojin’s. Rogojin had not returned, and no one came to the door. He rang at the old lady’s door opposite, and was informed that Parfen Semionovitch would not return for three days. The curiosity with which the old servant stared at him again impressed the prince disagreeably. He could not find the porter this time at all.
Meanwhile all these people--though friends of the family and of each other to a certain extent--were very far from being such intimate friends of the family and of each other as the prince concluded. There were some present who never would think of considering the Epanchins their equals. There were even some who hated one another cordially. For instance, old Princess Bielokonski had all her life despised the wife of the “dignitary,” while the latter was very far from loving Lizabetha Prokofievna. The dignitary himself had been General Epanchin’s protector from his youth up; and the general considered him so majestic a personage that he would have felt a hearty contempt for himself if he had even for one moment allowed himself to pose as the great man’s equal, or to think of him--in his fear and reverence--as anything less than an Olympic God! There were others present who had not met for years, and who had no feeling whatever for each other, unless it were dislike; and yet they met tonight as though they had seen each other but yesterday in some friendly and intimate assembly of kindred spirits.
“It’s true then, Lebedeff, that you advertise to lend money on gold or silver articles?”
“Oh, come--nonsense!” cried Gania; “if you did not go shaming us all over the town, things might be better for all parties.”
“In my opinion the conversation has been a painful one throughout, and we ought never to have begun it,” said Alexandra. “We were all going for a walk--”
At this moment, Lizabetha Prokofievna rose swiftly from her seat, beckoned her companions, and left the place almost at a run.
“Here’s your miserable hat. He couldn’t even choose a respectable shape for his hat! Come on! She did that because I took your part and said you ought to have come--little vixen!--else she would never have sent you that silly note. It’s a most improper note, I call it; most improper for such an intelligent, well-brought-up girl to write. H’m! I dare say she was annoyed that you didn’t come; but she ought to have known that one can’t write like that to an idiot like you, for you’d be sure to take it literally.” Mrs. Epanchin was dragging the prince along with her all the time, and never let go of his hand for an instant. “What are you listening for?” she added, seeing that she had committed herself a little. “She wants a clown like you--she hasn’t seen one for some time--to play with. That’s why she is anxious for you to come to the house. And right glad I am that she’ll make a thorough good fool of you. You deserve it; and she can do it--oh! she can, indeed!--as well as most people.”
“I only want to know, Mr. Hippolyte--excuse me, I forget your surname.”
“Every one of them has been saying it--every one of them--all these three days! And I will never, never marry him!”
Rogojin stopped and looked at him; then reflected, and replied as though he had not heard the question:
“You have no right.... I am not simple,” stammered Burdovsky, much agitated.
“In Petersburg? Oh no! hardly at all, and now they say so much is changed in the place that even those who did know it well are obliged to relearn what they knew. They talk a good deal about the new law courts, and changes there, don’t they?”
“I think you are partially right, but you exaggerate,” said the prince, who had certainly blushed up, of a sudden, for some reason or other.
“Yes, I’ve been looking for you. I waited for you at the Epanchins’ house, but of course I could not come in. I dogged you from behind as you walked along with the general. Well, prince, here is Keller, absolutely at your service--command him!--ready to sacrifice himself--even to die in case of need.”
“Not for the world, not for the world! I merely wish to make him ashamed of himself. Oh, prince, great though this misfortune be to myself, I cannot help thinking of his morals! I have a great favour to ask of you, esteemed prince; I confess that it is the chief object of my visit. You know the Ivolgins, you have even lived in their house; so if you would lend me your help, honoured prince, in the general’s own interest and for his good.”
Hippolyte looked furious, but he restrained himself.
“Prince,” he said, with feeling, “I was a blackguard. Forgive me!” His face gave evidence of suffering. The prince was considerably amazed, and did not reply at once. “Oh, come, forgive me, forgive me!” Gania insisted, rather impatiently. “If you like, I’ll kiss your hand. There!”
“I don’t know at all; but she said I was to tell you particularly.”
He longed to solve the mystery of something in the face of Nastasia Philipovna, something which had struck him as he looked at the portrait for the first time; the impression had not left him. It was partly the fact of her marvellous beauty that struck him, and partly something else. There was a suggestion of immense pride and disdain in the face almost of hatred, and at the same time something confiding and very full of simplicity. The contrast aroused a deep sympathy in his heart as he looked at the lovely face. The blinding loveliness of it was almost intolerable, this pale thin face with its flaming eyes; it was a strange beauty.
“No... I wish... to visit Madame Terentieff, the widow of Captain Terentieff, my old subordinate and friend. She helps me to keep up my courage, and to bear the trials of my domestic life, and as I have an extra burden on my mind today...”
“All the while I was in their house I felt sure that somewhere beneath the floor there was hidden away some dreadful corpse, wrapped in oil-cloth, perhaps buried there by his father, who knows? Just as in the Moscow case. I could have shown you the very spot!
Hippolyte raised his head with an effort, saying:
“‘Child,’ he said, abruptly. ‘If I were to recognize the Russian orthodox religion and emancipate the serfs, do you think Russia would come over to me?’”
“Enough! enough! Mr. Terentieff,” interrupted Gania.
“I have waited for you on purpose, and am very glad to see you arrive so happy,” said Hippolyte, when the prince came forward to press his hand, immediately after greeting Vera.
“That may have been an accident.”
“That she did not disgrace me at Moscow with that officer, Zemtuznikoff? I know for certain she did, after having fixed our marriage-day herself!”
There he lay on the carpet, and someone quickly placed a cushion under his head.
Not only was there no trace of her former irony, of her old hatred and enmity, and of that dreadful laughter, the very recollection of which sent a cold chill down Totski’s back to this very day; but she seemed charmed and really glad to have the opportunity of talking seriously with him for once in a way. She confessed that she had long wished to have a frank and free conversation and to ask for friendly advice, but that pride had hitherto prevented her; now, however, that the ice was broken, nothing could be more welcome to her than this opportunity.
“Is he mad?” asked Madame Epanchin suddenly.
“You will only excite him more,” he said. “He has nowhere else to go to--he’ll be back here in half an hour. I’ve talked it all over with Colia; let him play the fool a bit, it will do him good.”
The prince’s tone was so natural and respectful that the general could not possibly suspect him of any insincerity.
“Naturally, all this--”
“‘I do not wish to deprive your mother of you, and, therefore, I will not ask you to go with me,’ he said, the morning of his departure, ‘but I should like to do something for you.’ He was mounting his horse as he spoke. ‘Write something in my sister’s album for me,’ I said rather timidly, for he was in a state of great dejection at the moment. He turned, called for a pen, took the album. ‘How old is your sister?’ he asked, holding the pen in his hand. ‘Three years old,’ I said. ‘Ah, _petite fille alors!_’ and he wrote in the album:
“He is drunk,” said the prince, quietly, “and he loves you very much.”
Gania laughed sarcastically, but said nothing. The prince, seeing that he did not quite like the last remark, blushed, and was silent too.
“And just fancy, this infamy pleased them, all of them, nearly. Only the children had altered--for then they were all on my side and had learned to love Marie.
“Not a bit of it; that’s just the strange part of it.”