Aglaya had made for the door in terror, but she stopped at the threshold, and listened. “Shall I turn Rogojin off? Ha! ha! you thought I would marry him for your benefit, did you? Why, I’ll call out _now_, if you like, in your presence, ‘Rogojin, get out!’ and say to the prince, ‘Do you remember what you promised me?’ Heavens! what a fool I have been to humiliate myself before them! Why, prince, you yourself gave me your word that you would marry me whatever happened, and would never abandon me. You said you loved me and would forgive me all, and--and resp--yes, you even said that! I only ran away from you in order to set you free, and now I don’t care to let you go again. Why does she treat me so--so shamefully? I am not a loose woman--ask Rogojin there! He’ll tell you. Will you go again now that she has insulted me, before your eyes, too; turn away from me and lead her away, arm-in-arm? May you be accursed too, for you were the only one I trusted among them all! Go away, Rogojin, I don’t want you,” she continued, blind with fury, and forcing the words out with dry lips and distorted features, evidently not believing a single word of her own tirade, but, at the same time, doing her utmost to prolong the moment of self-deception.
“I am aware that you sent your son to that house--he told me so himself just now, but what is this intrigue?” said the prince, impatiently.
“A nap?” shrieked the general. “I am not drunk, sir; you insult me! I see,” he continued, rising, “I see that all are against me here. Enough--I go; but know, sirs--know that--”
“I don’t mean that I am going to leave your house,” he continued, still gasping and coughing. “On the contrary, I thought it absolutely necessary to come and see you; otherwise I should not have troubled you. I am off there, you know, and this time I believe, seriously, that I am off! It’s all over. I did not come here for sympathy, believe me. I lay down this morning at ten o’clock with the intention of not rising again before that time; but I thought it over and rose just once more in order to come here; from which you may deduce that I had some reason for wishing to come.”
“My conclusion is vast,” replied Lebedeff, in a voice like thunder. “Let us examine first the psychological and legal position of the criminal. We see that in spite of the difficulty of finding other food, the accused, or, as we may say, my client, has often during his peculiar life exhibited signs of repentance, and of wishing to give up this clerical diet. Incontrovertible facts prove this assertion. He has eaten five or six children, a relatively insignificant number, no doubt, but remarkable enough from another point of view. It is manifest that, pricked by remorse--for my client is religious, in his way, and has a conscience, as I shall prove later--and desiring to extenuate his sin as far as possible, he has tried six times at least to substitute lay nourishment for clerical. That this was merely an experiment we can hardly doubt: for if it had been only a question of gastronomic variety, six would have been too few; why only six? Why not thirty? But if we regard it as an experiment, inspired by the fear of committing new sacrilege, then this number six becomes intelligible. Six attempts to calm his remorse, and the pricking of his conscience, would amply suffice, for these attempts could scarcely have been happy ones. In my humble opinion, a child is too small; I should say, not sufficient; which would result in four or five times more lay children than monks being required in a given time. The sin, lessened on the one hand, would therefore be increased on the other, in quantity, not in quality. Please understand, gentlemen, that in reasoning thus, I am taking the point of view which might have been taken by a criminal of the middle ages. As for myself, a man of the late nineteenth century, I, of course, should reason differently; I say so plainly, and therefore you need not jeer at me nor mock me, gentlemen. As for you, general, it is still more unbecoming on your part. In the second place, and giving my own personal opinion, a child’s flesh is not a satisfying diet; it is too insipid, too sweet; and the criminal, in making these experiments, could have satisfied neither his conscience nor his appetite. I am about to conclude, gentlemen; and my conclusion contains a reply to one of the most important questions of that day and of our own! This criminal ended at last by denouncing himself to the clergy, and giving himself up to justice. We cannot but ask, remembering the penal system of that day, and the tortures that awaited him--the wheel, the stake, the fire!--we cannot but ask, I repeat, what induced him to accuse himself of this crime? Why did he not simply stop short at the number sixty, and keep his secret until his last breath? Why could he not simply leave the monks alone, and go into the desert to repent? Or why not become a monk himself? That is where the puzzle comes in! There must have been something stronger than the stake or the fire, or even than the habits of twenty years! There must have been an idea more powerful than all the calamities and sorrows of this world, famine or torture, leprosy or plague--an idea which entered into the heart, directed and enlarged the springs of life, and made even that hell supportable to humanity! Show me a force, a power like that, in this our century of vices and railways! I might say, perhaps, in our century of steamboats and railways, but I repeat in our century of vices and railways, because I am drunk but truthful! Show me a single idea which unites men nowadays with half the strength that it had in those centuries, and dare to maintain that the ‘springs of life’ have not been polluted and weakened beneath this ‘star,’ beneath this network in which men are entangled! Don’t talk to me about your prosperity, your riches, the rarity of famine, the rapidity of the means of transport! There is more of riches, but less of force. The idea uniting heart and soul to heart and soul exists no more. All is loose, soft, limp--we are all of us limp.... Enough, gentlemen! I have done. That is not the question. No, the question is now, excellency, I believe, to sit down to the banquet you are about to provide for us!”
“Are you Prince Muishkin?” he asked, with the greatest courtesy and amiability.
“And everyone of them shows his rags, his toil-worn hands, and yells in his wrath: ‘Here are we, working like cattle all our lives, and always as hungry as dogs, and there are others who do not work, and are fat and rich!’ The eternal refrain! And side by side with them trots along some wretched fellow who has known better days, doing light porter’s work from morn to night for a living, always blubbering and saying that ‘his wife died because he had no money to buy medicine with,’ and his children dying of cold and hunger, and his eldest daughter gone to the bad, and so on. Oh! I have no pity and no patience for these fools of people. Why can’t they be Rothschilds? Whose fault is it that a man has not got millions of money like Rothschild? If he has life, all this must be in his power! Whose fault is it that he does not know how to live his life?
“Quite so, quite so; and he swears that his wife never found out that one of his legs was wooden all the while they were married. When I showed him the ridiculousness of all this, he said, ‘Well, if you were one of Napoleon’s pages in 1812, you might let me bury my leg in the Moscow cemetery.’ ”
“It seems to me,” interrupted the prince, “that I was foolish to trouble you just now. However, at present you... Good-bye!”
‘A mighty lion, terror of the woods, Was shorn of his great prowess by old age.’
One day, however, he and Lizabetha Prokofievna quarrelled seriously about the “woman question,” in the course of a lively discussion on that burning subject. He told her that she was a tyrant, and that he would never set foot in her house again. It may seem incredible, but a day or two after, Madame Epanchin sent a servant with a note begging him to return, and Colia, without standing on his dignity, did so at once.
“I--I don’t quite know how to answer your question, Aglaya Ivanovna. What is there to say to such a question? And--and must I answer?”
Evgenie takes this much to heart, and he has a heart, as is proved by the fact that he receives and even answers letters from Colia. But besides this, another trait in his character has become apparent, and as it is a good trait we will make haste to reveal it. After each visit to Schneider’s establishment, Evgenie Pavlovitch writes another letter, besides that to Colia, giving the most minute particulars concerning the invalid’s condition. In these letters is to be detected, and in each one more than the last, a growing feeling of friendship and sympathy.
Rogojin gazed back gloomily, and with a terrible expression in his eyes, but said nothing.
“No, no, excuse me, most revered prince,” Lebedeff interrupted, excitedly. “Since you must have observed yourself that this is no joke, and since at least half your guests must also have concluded that after all that has been said this youth _must_ blow his brains out for honour’s sake--I--as master of this house, and before these witnesses, now call upon you to take steps.”
“Well, _au revoir!_ Did you observe that he ‘willed’ a copy of his confession to Aglaya Ivanovna?”
“I know, Colia told me that he had said he was off to--I forget the name, some friend of his, to finish the night.”
“It’s only a couple of yards,” said Colia, blushing.
“Very glad, I’m particularly hungry. Yes, yes, a strange coincidence--almost a psychological--”
“Oh, you must forgive him the blank wall,” said the prince, quietly. “He has come down to see a few trees now, poor fellow.”
“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--”
He longed to get up and go to her at once--but he _could not_. At length, almost in despair, he unfolded the letters, and began to read them.
“Why--is he here?”
“My first impression was a very strong one,” repeated the prince. “When they took me away from Russia, I remember I passed through many German towns and looked out of the windows, but did not trouble so much as to ask questions about them. This was after a long series of fits. I always used to fall into a sort of torpid condition after such a series, and lost my memory almost entirely; and though I was not altogether without reason at such times, yet I had no logical power of thought. This would continue for three or four days, and then I would recover myself again. I remember my melancholy was intolerable; I felt inclined to cry; I sat and wondered and wondered uncomfortably; the consciousness that everything was strange weighed terribly upon me; I could understand that it was all foreign and strange. I recollect I awoke from this state for the first time at Basle, one evening; the bray of a donkey aroused me, a donkey in the town market. I saw the donkey and was extremely pleased with it, and from that moment my head seemed to clear.”
“Five weeks since, I was just like yourself,” continued Rogojin, addressing the prince, “with nothing but a bundle and the clothes I wore. I ran away from my father and came to Pskoff to my aunt’s house, where I caved in at once with fever, and he went and died while I was away. All honour to my respected father’s memory--but he uncommonly nearly killed me, all the same. Give you my word, prince, if I hadn’t cut and run then, when I did, he’d have murdered me like a dog.”
“What, has she been here?” asked the prince with curiosity.
“Oh, not cold--believe an old man--not from a cold, but from grief for her prince. Oh--your mother, your mother! heigh-ho! Youth--youth! Your father and I--old friends as we were--nearly murdered each other for her sake.”
“You are afraid of the million, I suppose,” said Gania, grinning and showing his teeth.
But now another circumstance occurred, which changed all the plans once more, and again the intended journey was put off, much to the delight of the general and his spouse.
“You’d better speak out. You’ll be sorry afterwards if you don’t.”
“And how did you recognize me?”
“I shall have time to rest. Why will you not grant my last wish? Do you know, Lizabetha Prokofievna, that I have dreamed of meeting you for a long while? I had often heard of you from Colia; he is almost the only person who still comes to see me. You are an original and eccentric woman; I have seen that for myself--Do you know, I have even been rather fond of you?”
He declared with unusual warmth that he would never forgive himself for having travelled about in the central provinces during these last six months without having hunted up his two old friends.
“Well, take her! It’s Fate! She’s yours. I surrender her.... Remember Rogojin!” And pushing the prince from him, without looking back at him, he hurriedly entered his own flat, and banged the door.
“What nonsense!” Lebedeff’s nephew interrupted violently.
“You’ll hate her afterwards for all your present love, and for all the torment you are suffering on her account now. What seems to me the most extraordinary thing is, that she can again consent to marry you, after all that has passed between you. When I heard the news yesterday, I could hardly bring myself to believe it. Why, she has run twice from you, from the very altar rails, as it were. She must have some presentiment of evil. What can she want with you now? Your money? Nonsense! Besides, I should think you must have made a fairly large hole in your fortune already. Surely it is not because she is so very anxious to find a husband? She could find many a one besides yourself. Anyone would be better than you, because you will murder her, and I feel sure she must know that but too well by now. Is it because you love her so passionately? Indeed, that may be it. I have heard that there are women who want just that kind of love... but still...” The prince paused, reflectively.
“Come, come, don’t overdo your philosophy. Of course you did. Now it’s all over, and a good thing, too; pair of fools that we have been! I confess I have never been able to look at it seriously. I busied myself in it for your sake, thinking that there was no knowing what might happen with a funny girl like that to deal with. There were ninety to one chances against it. To this moment I can’t make out why you wished for it.”
“Oh yes!” cried the prince, starting. “Hippolyte’s suicide--”
“I’ve never learned anything whatever,” said the other.
“Gentlemen, you’d better look out,” cried Colia, also seizing Hippolyte by the hand. “Just look at him! Prince, what are you thinking of?” Vera and Colia, and Keller, and Burdovsky were all crowding round Hippolyte now and holding him down.
“Better read on without any more beating about the bush,” said Gania.
“Vladimir Doktorenko,” said Lebedeff’s nephew briskly, and with a certain pride, as if he boasted of his name.
“Oh, good heavens! I mean, what did the general say when the purse turned up under the chair? You and he had searched for it together there, hadn’t you?”
“But how meek she was when you spoke to her!”
“Yes, my boy. I wish to present him: General Ivolgin and Prince Muishkin! But what’s the matter?... what?... How is Marfa Borisovna?”
He remembered seeing something in the window marked at sixty copecks. Therefore, if the shop existed and if this object were really in the window, it would prove that he had been able to concentrate his attention on this article at a moment when, as a general rule, his absence of mind would have been too great to admit of any such concentration; in fact, very shortly after he had left the railway station in such a state of agitation.
“All this is mere jealousy--it is some malady of yours, Parfen! You exaggerate everything,” said the prince, excessively agitated. “What are you doing?”
“Well, I went homewards, and near the hotel I came across a poor woman, carrying a child--a baby of some six weeks old. The mother was quite a girl herself. The baby was smiling up at her, for the first time in its life, just at that moment; and while I watched the woman she suddenly crossed herself, oh, so devoutly! ‘What is it, my good woman?’ I asked her. (I was never but asking questions then!) ‘Exactly as is a mother’s joy when her baby smiles for the first time into her eyes, so is God’s joy when one of His children turns and prays to Him for the first time, with all his heart!’ This is what that poor woman said to me, almost word for word; and such a deep, refined, truly religious thought it was--a thought in which the whole essence of Christianity was expressed in one flash--that is, the recognition of God as our Father, and of God’s joy in men as His own children, which is the chief idea of Christ. She was a simple country-woman--a mother, it’s true--and perhaps, who knows, she may have been the wife of the drunken soldier!
“Where’s your luggage?” he asked, as he led the prince away to his room.
“Yes, he’s in church.”
His whole thoughts were now as to next morning early; he would see her; he would sit by her on that little green bench, and listen to how pistols were loaded, and look at her. He wanted nothing more.
“Allow me to warn you,” interposed General Ivolgin, “that he is the greatest charlatan on earth.” He had taken the chair next to the girl, and was impatient to begin talking. “No doubt there are pleasures and amusements peculiar to the country,” he continued, “and to listen to a pretended student holding forth on the book of the Revelations may be as good as any other. It may even be original. But... you seem to be looking at me with some surprise--may I introduce myself--General Ivolgin--I carried you in my arms as a baby--”
“As a curiosity,” suggested Evgenie Pavlovitch, seeing his excellency involved in a comparison which he could not complete.
He declared with unusual warmth that he would never forgive himself for having travelled about in the central provinces during these last six months without having hunted up his two old friends.
The warning was certainly unnecessary; for the prince would not have said a word all the rest of the time whether forbidden to speak or not. His heart beat loud and painfully when Aglaya spoke of the bench; could she--but no! he banished the thought, after an instant’s deliberation.
The prince certainly was very pale. He sat at the table and seemed to be feeling, by turns, sensations of alarm and rapture.
“Well, he shouldn’t steal,” cried Gania, panting with fury. And just at this moment his eye met Hippolyte’s.
These words painfully impressed the whole party; but especially her parents. Lizabetha Prokofievna summoned a secret council of two, and insisted upon the general’s demanding from the prince a full explanation of his relations with Nastasia Philipovna. The general argued that it was only a whim of Aglaya’s; and that, had not Prince S. unfortunately made that remark, which had confused the child and made her blush, she never would have said what she did; and that he was sure Aglaya knew well that anything she might have heard of the prince and Nastasia Philipovna was merely the fabrication of malicious tongues, and that the woman was going to marry Rogojin. He insisted that the prince had nothing whatever to do with Nastasia Philipovna, so far as any liaison was concerned; and, if the truth were to be told about it, he added, never had had.
“Ah, yes--you were going away just now, and I thought to myself: ‘I shall never see these people again--never again! This is the last time I shall see the trees, too. I shall see nothing after this but the red brick wall of Meyer’s house opposite my window. Tell them about it--try to tell them,’ I thought. ‘Here is a beautiful young girl--you are a dead man; make them understand that. Tell them that a dead man may say anything--and Mrs. Grundy will not be angry--ha-ha! You are not laughing?” He looked anxiously around. “But you know I get so many queer ideas, lying there in bed. I have grown convinced that nature is full of mockery--you called me an atheist just now, but you know this nature... why are you laughing again? You are very cruel!” he added suddenly, regarding them all with mournful reproach. “I have not corrupted Colia,” he concluded in a different and very serious tone, as if remembering something again.
“If this ‘Explanation’ gets into anybody’s hands, and they have patience to read it through, they may consider me a madman, or a schoolboy, or, more likely, a man condemned to die, who thought it only natural to conclude that all men, excepting himself, esteem life far too lightly, live it far too carelessly and lazily, and are, therefore, one and all, unworthy of it. Well, I affirm that my reader is wrong again, for my convictions have nothing to do with my sentence of death. Ask them, ask any one of them, or all of them, what they mean by happiness! Oh, you may be perfectly sure that if Columbus was happy, it was not after he had discovered America, but when he was discovering it! You may be quite sure that he reached the culminating point of his happiness three days before he saw the New World with his actual eyes, when his mutinous sailors wanted to tack about, and return to Europe! What did the New World matter after all? Columbus had hardly seen it when he died, and in reality he was entirely ignorant of what he had discovered. The important thing is life--life and nothing else! What is any ‘discovery’ whatever compared with the incessant, eternal discovery of life?
“I don’t understand you. How could he have me in view, and not be aware of it himself? And yet, I don’t know--perhaps I do. Do you know I have intended to poison myself at least thirty times--ever since I was thirteen or so--and to write to my parents before I did it? I used to think how nice it would be to lie in my coffin, and have them all weeping over me and saying it was all their fault for being so cruel, and all that--what are you smiling at?” she added, knitting her brow. “What do _you_ think of when you go mooning about alone? I suppose you imagine yourself a field-marshal, and think you have conquered Napoleon?”
“Did you find out anything?”
“There, they are all like that,” said Gania, laughing, “just as if I do not know all about it much better than they do.”
“It’s hot weather, you see,” continued Rogojin, as he lay down on the cushions beside Muishkin, “and, naturally, there will be a smell. I daren’t open the window. My mother has some beautiful flowers in pots; they have a delicious scent; I thought of fetching them in, but that old servant will find out, she’s very inquisitive.”
“Lef Nicolaievitch was a ward of Nicolai Andreevitch Pavlicheff, after the death of his own parents,” he remarked, meeting Ivan Petrovitch’s eye.
Gania stood before her, in his evening clothes, holding his white gloves and hat in his hand, speechless and motionless, with arms folded and eyes fixed on the fire.
All this news was received by the company with somewhat gloomy interest. Nastasia was silent, and would not say what she thought about it. Gania was equally uncommunicative. The general seemed the most anxious of all, and decidedly uneasy. The present of pearls which he had prepared with so much joy in the morning had been accepted but coldly, and Nastasia had smiled rather disagreeably as she took it from him. Ferdishenko was the only person present in good spirits.
Though Rogojin had declared that he left Pskoff secretly, a large collection of friends had assembled to greet him, and did so with profuse waving of hats and shouting.
“The article in the newspaper put it at fifty!” cried Colia.
“There’s news!” continued the clear voice. “You need not be anxious about Kupferof’s IOU’s--Rogojin has bought them up. I persuaded him to!--I dare say we shall settle Biscup too, so it’s all right, you see! _Au revoir_, tomorrow! And don’t worry!” The carriage moved on, and disappeared.
The prince now left the room and shut himself up in his own chamber. Colia followed him almost at once, anxious to do what he could to console him. The poor boy seemed to be already so attached to him that he could hardly leave him.
“The fact of the matter is that all this _does_ exist, but that we know absolutely nothing about the future life and its laws!
“You never know the day of the week; what’s the day of the month?”
Rogojin gazed back gloomily, and with a terrible expression in his eyes, but said nothing.
“Afraid! Then you had some grounds for supposing he might be the culprit?” said Lebedeff, frowning.
“Were you to blame, or not?”
But the puzzle and mystery of Aglaya was not yet over for the evening. The last exhibition fell to the lot of the prince alone. When they had proceeded some hundred paces or so from the house, Aglaya said to her obstinately silent cavalier in a quick half-whisper:
“Ah, you want to arouse our curiosity!” said Aglaya. “And how terribly solemn you are about it!”
Colia had made it up with the prince before his father’s death, and it was he who urged him to make use of Keller and Burdovsky, promising to answer himself for the former’s behaviour. Nina Alexandrovna and Lebedeff tried to persuade him to have the wedding in St. Petersburg, instead of in the public fashion contemplated, down here at Pavlofsk in the height of the season. But the prince only said that Nastasia Philipovna desired to have it so, though he saw well enough what prompted their arguments.
“You must have forgotten Russia, hadn’t you?”
The latter had behaved modestly, but with dignity, on this occasion of his first meeting with the Epanchins since the rupture. Twice Mrs. Epanchin had deliberately examined him from head to foot; but he had stood fire without flinching. He was certainly much changed, as anyone could see who had not met him for some time; and this fact seemed to afford Aglaya a good deal of satisfaction.
“Then you think they won’t see it?”
“Oh, not in the least,” said the prince. “On the contrary, I have been so much interested, I’m really very much obliged to you.”
“Oh, dear me, I really do not require such profuse apologies,” replied the prince, hastily. “I quite understand how unpleasant your position is, and that is what made you abuse me. So come along to your house, after all. I shall be delighted--”
Evgenie Pavlovitch fell back a step in astonishment. For one moment it was all he could do to restrain himself from bursting out laughing; but, looking closer, he observed that the prince did not seem to be quite himself; at all events, he was in a very curious state.
“I caught him up on the way to your house,” explained the general. “He had heard that we were all here.”
The thing was decided in a hurry and with a certain amount of quite unnecessary excitement, doubtless because “nothing could be done in this house like anywhere else.”
Hippolyte told the prince this last story, sending for him on purpose. When Muishkin heard about the candle and Gania’s finger he had laughed so that he had quite astonished Hippolyte,--and then shuddered and burst into tears. The prince’s condition during those days was strange and perturbed. Hippolyte plainly declared that he thought he was out of his mind;--this, however, was hardly to be relied upon.
“Colia spent the night here, and this morning went after his father, whom you let out of prison by paying his debts--Heaven only knows why! Yesterday the general promised to come and lodge here, but he did not appear. Most probably he slept at the hotel close by. No doubt Colia is there, unless he has gone to Pavlofsk to see the Epanchins. He had a little money, and was intending to go there yesterday. He must be either at the hotel or at Pavlofsk.”
They had left the garden now, and were crossing the yard on their way to the gate.
“I’ll tell you what, my friend,” cried Mrs. Epanchin, of a sudden, “here are we all sitting here and imagining we are very clever, and perhaps laughing at the prince, some of us, and meanwhile he has received a letter this very day in which that same claimant renounces his claim, and begs the prince’s pardon. There! _we_ don’t often get that sort of letter; and yet we are not ashamed to walk with our noses in the air before him.”
“Ah, ah! here’s the climax at last, at half-past twelve!” cried Nastasia Philipovna. “Sit down, gentlemen, I beg you. Something is about to happen.”
“I see you had something to do with it.”
“I felt sure you would think I had some object in view when I resolved to pay you this visit,” the prince interrupted; “but I give you my word, beyond the pleasure of making your acquaintance I had no personal object whatever.”
“He has gone to get his coat,” said the boy.