All now crowded round the fire and thronged to see what was going on; everyone lamented and gave vent to exclamations of horror and woe. Some jumped up on chairs in order to get a better view. Daria Alexeyevna ran into the next room and whispered excitedly to Katia and Pasha. The beautiful German disappeared altogether.
Lebedeff, Ptitsin, and General Ivolgin hastened to find chairs for the young ladies. Varia greeted them joyfully, and they exchanged confidences in ecstatic whispers.
“I am off,” he said, hoarsely, and with difficulty.
He had kept but one idea before him all day, and for that he had worked in an agony of anxiety and a fever of suspense. His lieutenants had worked so hard from five o’clock until eleven, that they actually had collected a hundred thousand roubles for him, but at such terrific expense, that the rate of interest was only mentioned among them in whispers and with bated breath.
“It’s a most improbable story.”
“‘If only they would allow me to explain all to his excellency! If I could but be permitted to tell my tale to him!” he cried, trembling with feverish agitation, and his eyes flashing with excitement. I repeated once more that I could not hold out much hope--that it would probably end in smoke, and if I did not turn up next morning they must make up their minds that there was no more to be done in the matter.
“You are quite wrong...” began the prince.
“I must say, again, _I_ can’t understand how you can expect anyone to tell you stories straight away, so,” said Adelaida. “I know I never could!”
This country villa pleased the prince very much in his state of physical and mental exhaustion. On the day that they left for Pavlofsk, that is the day after his attack, he appeared almost well, though in reality he felt very far from it. The faces of those around him for the last three days had made a pleasant impression. He was pleased to see, not only Colia, who had become his inseparable companion, but Lebedeff himself and all the family, except the nephew, who had left the house. He was also glad to receive a visit from General Ivolgin, before leaving St. Petersburg.
“Yes. We came to Lucerne, and I was taken out in a boat. I felt how lovely it was, but the loveliness weighed upon me somehow or other, and made me feel melancholy.”
Muishkin, who was but a couple of steps away, had time to spring forward and seize the officer’s arms from behind.
“No, I am not lying.”
“What did the fellow do?--yell?”
“Lef Nicolaievitch,” said Rogojin, after a pause, during which the two walked along a little further, “I have long wished to ask you, do you believe in God?”
To Nastasia’s question as to what they wished her to do, Totski confessed that he had been so frightened by her, five years ago, that he could never now be entirely comfortable until she herself married. He immediately added that such a suggestion from him would, of course, be absurd, unless accompanied by remarks of a more pointed nature. He very well knew, he said, that a certain young gentleman of good family, namely, Gavrila Ardalionovitch Ivolgin, with whom she was acquainted, and whom she received at her house, had long loved her passionately, and would give his life for some response from her. The young fellow had confessed this love of his to him (Totski) and had also admitted it in the hearing of his benefactor, General Epanchin. Lastly, he could not help being of opinion that Nastasia must be aware of Gania’s love for her, and if he (Totski) mistook not, she had looked with some favour upon it, being often lonely, and rather tired of her present life. Having remarked how difficult it was for him, of all people, to speak to her of these matters, Totski concluded by saying that he trusted Nastasia Philipovna would not look with contempt upon him if he now expressed his sincere desire to guarantee her future by a gift of seventy-five thousand roubles. He added that the sum would have been left her all the same in his will, and that therefore she must not consider the gift as in any way an indemnification to her for anything, but that there was no reason, after all, why a man should not be allowed to entertain a natural desire to lighten his conscience, etc., etc.; in fact, all that would naturally be said under the circumstances. Totski was very eloquent all through, and, in conclusion, just touched on the fact that not a soul in the world, not even General Epanchin, had ever heard a word about the above seventy-five thousand roubles, and that this was the first time he had ever given expression to his intentions in respect to them.
“What--you’re a relation then, are you?” asked the servant, so bewildered that he began to feel quite alarmed.
Aglaya brought out these thronging words with great satisfaction. They came from her lips hurriedly and impetuously, and had been prepared and thought out long ago, even before she had ever dreamed of the present meeting. She watched with eagerness the effect of her speech as shown in Nastasia’s face, which was distorted with agitation.
“What on earth is one to make of a girl like that?” said Varia.
Lebedeff made an impatient movement.
The latter, with one thing and another, was now so disturbed and confused, that when, a couple of hours or so later, a message came from Colia that the general was ill, he could hardly take the news in.
“There, look at her,” cried Nastasia, trembling with passion. “Look at this young lady! And I imagined her an angel! Did you come to me without your governess, Aglaya Ivanovna? Oh, fie, now shall I just tell you why you came here today? Shall I tell you without any embellishments? You came because you were afraid of me!”
“‘Ne mentez jamais! NAPOLÉON (votre ami sincère).’
“Oh, _she_ told me all about it long ago, and tonight I saw for myself. I saw you at the music, you know, and whom you were sitting with. She swore to me yesterday, and again today, that you are madly in love with Aglaya Ivanovna. But that’s all the same to me, prince, and it’s not my affair at all; for if you have ceased to love _her_, _she_ has not ceased to love _you_. You know, of course, that she wants to marry you to that girl? She’s sworn to it! Ha, ha! She says to me, ‘Until then I won’t marry you. When they go to church, we’ll go too--and not before.’ What on earth does she mean by it? I don’t know, and I never did. Either she loves you without limits or--yet, if she loves you, why does she wish to marry you to another girl? She says, ‘I want to see him happy,’ which is to say--she loves you.”
This is how it came about that at eleven o’clock next morning Rogojin’s flat was opened by the police in the presence of Lebedeff, the two ladies, and Rogojin’s own brother, who lived in the wing.
At this moment, Lizabetha Prokofievna rose swiftly from her seat, beckoned her companions, and left the place almost at a run.
“Quite true,” whispered the prince.
So they stood for a moment or two, confronting one another. At length a faint smile passed over her face, and she passed by him without a word.
Lizabetha Prokofievna stood like a stone.
“He gets most of his conversation in that way,” laughed Evgenie Pavlovitch. “He borrows whole phrases from the reviews. I have long had the pleasure of knowing both Nicholai Ardalionovitch and his conversational methods, but this time he was not repeating something he had read; he was alluding, no doubt, to my yellow waggonette, which has, or had, red wheels. But I have exchanged it, so you are rather behind the times, Colia.”
“The prince has this to do with it--that I see in him for the first time in all my life, a man endowed with real truthfulness of spirit, and I trust him. He trusted me at first sight, and I trust him!”
“Your son, indeed! A nice papa you are! _You_ might have come to see me anyhow, without compromising anyone. Do you hide yourself, or does your son hide you?”
“Everybody takes you in and deceives you; you went to town yesterday. I dare swear you went down on your knees to that rogue, and begged him to accept your ten thousand roubles!”
“Yes, yes--I must hurry away, I’m late! Look here, dears, let him write you something in your albums; you’ve no idea what a wonderful caligraphist he is, wonderful talent! He has just written out ‘Abbot Pafnute signed this’ for me. Well, _au revoir!_”
“Of course it is a lunatic asylum!” repeated Aglaya sharply, but her words were overpowered by other voices. Everybody was talking loudly, making remarks and comments; some discussed the affair gravely, others laughed. Ivan Fedorovitch Epanchin was extremely indignant. He stood waiting for his wife with an air of offended dignity. Lebedeff’s nephew took up the word again.
“Oh, of course! Naturally the sight impressed him, and proved to him that not _all_ the aristocracy had left Moscow; that at least some nobles and their children had remained behind.”
“What, about that boy, you mean? Oh dear no, yesterday my ideas were a little--well--mixed. Today, I assure you, I shall not oppose in the slightest degree any suggestions it may please you to make.”
“Yes, it’s off our hands--off _yours_, I should say.”
“Yes--Abbot Gurot, a Jesuit,” said Ivan Petrovitch. “Yes, that’s the sort of thing our best men are apt to do. A man of rank, too, and rich--a man who, if he had continued to serve, might have done anything; and then to throw up the service and everything else in order to go over to Roman Catholicism and turn Jesuit--openly, too--almost triumphantly. By Jove! it was positively a mercy that he died when he did--it was indeed--everyone said so at the time.”
“And, pray, who are you yourself?”
“Don’t be angry; she is a wilful, mad, spoilt girl. If she likes a person she will pitch into him, and chaff him. I used to be just such another. But for all that you needn’t flatter yourself, my boy; she is not for you. I don’t believe it, and it is not to be. I tell you so at once, so that you may take proper precautions. Now, I want to hear you swear that you are not married to that woman?”
“Does she know about father, do you think--or not?”
“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.
“I wish to work, somehow or other.”
“I should not be surprised by anything. She is mad!”
“And I have heard of _you_,” continued the prince, addressing Ivan Petrovitch, “that when some of your villagers were burned out you gave them wood to build up their houses again, though they were no longer your serfs and had behaved badly towards you.”
“Oh no, not he, not now! But you have to be very careful with this sort of gentleman. Crime is too often the last resource of these petty nonentities. This young fellow is quite capable of cutting the throats of ten people, simply for a lark, as he told us in his ‘explanation.’ I assure you those confounded words of his will not let me sleep.”
“I assure you of it,” laughed Ivan Petrovitch, gazing amusedly at the prince.
“Napoleon was walking up and down with folded arms. I could not take my eyes off his face--my heart beat loudly and painfully.
“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.’ ”
Now this was precisely what Lebedeff had made up his mind to do in the last three minutes. Not that he had any difficulty in finding a tenant; in fact the house was occupied at present by a chance visitor, who had told Lebedeff that he would perhaps take it for the summer months. The clerk knew very well that this “_perhaps_” meant “_certainly_,” but as he thought he could make more out of a tenant like the prince, he felt justified in speaking vaguely about the present inhabitant’s intentions. “This is quite a coincidence,” thought he, and when the subject of price was mentioned, he made a gesture with his hand, as if to waive away a question of so little importance.
“Disgraced you! How?”
“What a dear little thing she is,” thought the prince, and immediately forgot all about her.
The reason for their anxiety soon became apparent. From that very side entrance to the Vauxhall, near which the prince and all the Epanchin party were seated, there suddenly appeared quite a large knot of persons, at least a dozen.
“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?”
“Hippolyte Terentieff,” cried the last-named, in a shrill voice.
“Yes, very much.”
“Listen, Mr. Terentieff,” said Ptitsin, who had bidden the prince good-night, and was now holding out his hand to Hippolyte; “I think you remark in that manuscript of yours, that you bequeath your skeleton to the Academy. Are you referring to your own skeleton--I mean, your very bones?”
“Where’s your luggage?” he asked, as he led the prince away to his room.
“And the man who won it is a rogue, a rogue whom you ought not to have paid!” cried Lebedeff.
“You must tell me all about it tomorrow! Don’t be afraid. I wish you success; we agree so entirely that I can do so, although I do not understand why you are here. Good-bye!” cried Colia excitedly. “Now I will rush back and tell Hippolyte all about our plans and proposals! But as to your getting in--don’t be in the least afraid. You will see her. She is so original about everything. It’s the first floor. The porter will show you.”
She solemnly announced that she had heard from old Princess Bielokonski, who had given her most comforting news about “that queer young prince.” Her friend had hunted him up, and found that all was going well with him. He had since called in person upon her, making an extremely favourable impression, for the princess had received him each day since, and had introduced him into several good houses.
“I know, prince, of course I know, but I’m afraid I shall not carry it out; for to do so one needs a heart like your own. He is so very irritable just now, and so proud. At one moment he will embrace me, and the next he flies out at me and sneers at me, and then I stick the lining forward on purpose. Well, _au revoir_, prince, I see I am keeping you, and boring you, too, interfering with your most interesting private reflections.”
She had then asked him to play cards--the game called “little fools.” At this game the tables were turned completely, for the prince had shown himself a master at it. Aglaya had cheated and changed cards, and stolen others, in the most bare-faced way, but, in spite of everything the prince had beaten her hopelessly five times running, and she had been left “little fool” each time.
Nastasia gazed at the prince in bewilderment. “Prince? He a Prince? Why, I took him for the footman, just now, and sent him in to announce me! Ha, ha, ha, isn’t that good!”
“What Osterman?” asked the prince in some surprise.
He dreamed many dreams as he sat there, and all were full of disquiet, so that he shuddered every moment.
“You drunken moujik,” said Daria Alexeyevna, once more. “You ought to be kicked out of the place.”
All around burst out laughing.
“It’s so dark,” he said.
But the prince only looked at the bright side; he did not turn the coat and see the shabby lining.
“At the table stood a man in his shirt sleeves; he had thrown off his coat; it lay upon the bed; and he was unfolding a blue paper parcel in which were a couple of pounds of bread, and some little sausages.
“I shall just say two words to him, that’s all,” said her mother, silencing all objection by her manner; she was evidently seriously put out. “You see, prince, it is all secrets with us, just now--all secrets. It seems to be the etiquette of the house, for some reason or other. Stupid nonsense, and in a matter which ought to be approached with all candour and open-heartedness. There is a marriage being talked of, and I don’t like this marriage--”
“Meek! What do you mean?”
On the other hand, the prince, although he had told Lebedeff,--as we know, that nothing had happened, and that he had nothing to impart,--the prince may have been in error. Something strange seemed to have happened, without anything definite having actually happened. Varia had guessed that with her true feminine instinct.
“No; I remember nothing!” said the prince. A few more words of explanation followed, words which were spoken without the smallest excitement by his companion, but which evoked the greatest agitation in the prince; and it was discovered that two old ladies to whose care the prince had been left by Pavlicheff, and who lived at Zlatoverhoff, were also relations of Ivan Petrovitch.
“Well, he may have gone out. I can’t tell. Sometimes he takes the keys with him, and leaves the rooms empty for two or three days.”
His words seemed tinged with a kind of sarcastic mockery, yet he was extremely agitated, casting suspicious glances around him, growing confused, and constantly losing the thread of his ideas. All this, together with his consumptive appearance, and the frenzied expression of his blazing eyes, naturally attracted the attention of everyone present.
“Every one of them has been saying it--every one of them--all these three days! And I will never, never marry him!”
“There was no Eropegoff? Eroshka Eropegoff?” he cried, suddenly, stopping in the road in a frenzy. “No Eropegoff! And my own son to say it! Eropegoff was in the place of a brother to me for eleven months. I fought a duel for him. He was married afterwards, and then killed on the field of battle. The bullet struck the cross on my breast and glanced off straight into his temple. ‘I’ll never forget you,’ he cried, and expired. I served my country well and honestly, Colia, but shame, shame has pursued me! You and Nina will come to my grave, Colia; poor Nina, I always used to call her Nina in the old days, and how she loved.... Nina, Nina, oh, Nina. What have I ever done to deserve your forgiveness and long-suffering? Oh, Colia, your mother has an angelic spirit, an angelic spirit, Colia!”
A few moments passed as they stood there face to face, Gania still holding her wrist tightly. Varia struggled once--twice--to get free; then could restrain herself no longer, and spat in his face.
“Keller is my name, sir; ex-lieutenant,” he said, very loud. “If you will accept me as champion of the fair sex, I am at your disposal. English boxing has no secrets from me. I sympathize with you for the insult you have received, but I can’t permit you to raise your hand against a woman in public. If you prefer to meet me--as would be more fitting to your rank--in some other manner, of course you understand me, captain.”
“Yes--not a physical one! I don’t suppose anyone--even a woman--would raise a hand against me now. Even Gania would hesitate! I did think at one time yesterday, that he would fly at me, though. I bet anything that I know what you are thinking of now! You are thinking: ‘Of course one can’t strike the little wretch, but one could suffocate him with a pillow, or a wet towel, when he is asleep! One _ought_ to get rid of him somehow.’ I can see in your face that you are thinking that at this very second.”
“Why?” asked Alexandra.
“Why not? But look here, Colia, I’m tired; besides, the subject is too melancholy to begin upon again. How is he, though?”
“‘To salt horse-flesh,’ said Davoust. Napoleon shuddered--his fate was being decided.
“There is nothing which you might not hear. Why I should wish to tell you, and only you, this experience of mine, I really cannot say; perhaps it really is because I love you very much. This unhappy woman is persuaded that she is the most hopeless, fallen creature in the world. Oh, do not condemn her! Do not cast stones at her! She has suffered too much already in the consciousness of her own undeserved shame.
“Why, no, it is hardly the same,” remarked Gavrila Ardalionovitch, with an air of ingenuous surprise.
The old man was in a state of great mental perturbation. The whole of the journey, which occupied nearly an hour, he continued in this strain, putting questions and answering them himself, shrugging his shoulders, pressing the prince’s hand, and assuring the latter that, at all events, he had no suspicion whatever of _him_. This last assurance was satisfactory, at all events. The general finished by informing him that Evgenie’s uncle was head of one of the civil service departments, and rich, very rich, and a gourmand. “And, well, Heaven preserve him, of course--but Evgenie gets his money, don’t you see? But, for all this, I’m uncomfortable, I don’t know why. There’s something in the air, I feel there’s something nasty in the air, like a bat, and I’m by no means comfortable.”
“Oh, devil take what he wanted you to do! Don’t try to be too cunning with me, young man!” shouted Gania. “If you are aware of the real reason for my father’s present condition (and you have kept such an excellent spying watch during these last few days that you are sure to be aware of it)--you had no right whatever to torment the--unfortunate man, and to worry my mother by your exaggerations of the affair; because the whole business is nonsense--simply a drunken freak, and nothing more, quite unproved by any evidence, and I don’t believe that much of it!” (he snapped his fingers). “But you must needs spy and watch over us all, because you are a--a--”
“I thought I caught sight of his eyes!” muttered the prince, in confusion. “But what of it!--Why is he here? Was he asked?”
“Quite so,” said Evgenie, sitting down suddenly beside him, “but I have changed my mind for the time being. I confess, I am too disturbed, and so, I think, are you; and the matter as to which I wished to consult you is too serious to tackle with one’s mind even a little disturbed; too serious both for myself and for you. You see, prince, for once in my life I wish to perform an absolutely honest action, that is, an action with no ulterior motive; and I think I am hardly in a condition to talk of it just at this moment, and--and--well, we’ll discuss it another time. Perhaps the matter may gain in clearness if we wait for two or three days--just the two or three days which I must spend in Petersburg.”
“Isn’t there something else, prince? I heard yesterday, but I have no right to talk about this... If you ever want a true friend and servant--neither you nor I are so very happy, are we?--come to me. I won’t ask you questions, though.”
She went on talking and chatting without a pause, with occasional little bursts of laughter between.
The girls stood apart, almost frightened; their father was positively horrified. Mrs. Epanchin’s language astonished everybody. Some who stood a little way off smiled furtively, and talked in whispers. Lebedeff wore an expression of utmost ecstasy.
In a word, Ferdishenko was very angry and rapidly forgetting himself; his whole face was drawn with passion. Strange as it may appear, he had expected much better success for his story. These little errors of taste on Ferdishenko’s part occurred very frequently. Nastasia trembled with rage, and looked fixedly at him, whereupon he relapsed into alarmed silence. He realized that he had gone a little too far.
“Can’t you even load a pistol?”
“What did she know?” cried the prince.
“Oh, of course, of course; and you quite understand that I--”