“Don’t abuse him; though I dare say you have something to complain of....”
“And if you had known that I was coming today, why be so irritated about it?” he asked, in quiet surprise.
“You remember,” she continued, “he wrote me a letter at that time; he says you know all about that letter and that you even read it. I understand all by means of this letter, and understand it correctly. He has since confirmed it all to me--what I now say to you, word for word. After receiving his letter I waited; I guessed that you would soon come back here, because you could never do without Petersburg; you are still too young and lovely for the provinces. However, this is not my own idea,” she added, blushing dreadfully; and from this moment the colour never left her cheeks to the end of her speech. “When I next saw the prince I began to feel terribly pained and hurt on his account. Do not laugh; if you laugh you are unworthy of understanding what I say.”
Aglaya stamped her foot, and grew quite pale with anger.
“What is that?” asked Nastasia Philipovna, gazing intently at Rogojin, and indicating the paper packet.
“Ah! Lef Nicolaievitch, it’s you, is it? Where are you off to now?” he asked, oblivious of the fact that the prince had not showed the least sign of moving. “Come along with me; I want to say a word or two to you.”
When they reached the Gorohovaya, and came near the house, the prince’s legs were trembling so that he could hardly walk. It was about ten o’clock. The old lady’s windows were open, as before; Rogojin’s were all shut, and in the darkness the white blinds showed whiter than ever. Rogojin and the prince each approached the house on his respective side of the road; Rogojin, who was on the near side, beckoned the prince across. He went over to the doorway.
“I assure you, general, I do not in the least doubt your statement. One of our living autobiographers states that when he was a small baby in Moscow in 1812 the French soldiers fed him with bread.”
On this particular evening the weather was lovely, and there were a large number of people present. All the places anywhere near the orchestra were occupied.
We may remark here that he seemed anxious not to omit a single one of the recognized customs and traditions observed at weddings. He wished all to be done as openly as possible, and “in due order.”
“Well, have you finished?” said Lizabetha Prokofievna to Evgenie. “Make haste, sir; it is time he went to bed. Have you more to say?” She was very angry.
“Just tell me,” said the prince in reply, “may I count still on your assistance? Or shall I go on alone to see Nastasia Philipovna?”
“H’m! and he receives a good salary, I’m told. Well, what should you get but disgrace and misery if you took a wife you hated into your family (for I know very well that you do hate me)? No, no! I believe now that a man like you would murder anyone for money--sharpen a razor and come up behind his best friend and cut his throat like a sheep--I’ve read of such people. Everyone seems money-mad nowadays. No, no! I may be shameless, but you are far worse. I don’t say a word about that other--”
“Yes, he’s boasting like a drunkard,” added Nastasia, as though with the sole intention of goading him.
“Did you know he had communications with Aglaya?”
“Such beauty is real power,” said Adelaida. “With such beauty as that one might overthrow the world.” She returned to her easel thoughtfully.
“How, what? my letter?” he cried. “He never delivered it! I might have guessed it, oh! curse him! Of course she did not understand what I meant, naturally! Why--why--_why_ didn’t you give her the note, you--”
“Mamma!” cried Alexandra, significantly.
“Pushkin’s, mama, of course! Don’t disgrace us all by showing your ignorance,” said Adelaida.
She lived almost entirely alone; she read, she studied, she loved music. Her principal acquaintances were poor women of various grades, a couple of actresses, and the family of a poor schoolteacher. Among these people she was much beloved.
“We did not know the details of his proposals, but he wrote letter after letter, all day and every day. He was dreadfully agitated. Sometimes at night I would throw myself upon his breast with tears (Oh, how I loved that man!). ‘Ask forgiveness, Oh, ask forgiveness of the Emperor Alexander!’ I would cry. I should have said, of course, ‘Make peace with Alexander,’ but as a child I expressed my idea in the naive way recorded. ‘Oh, my child,’ he would say (he loved to talk to me and seemed to forget my tender years), ‘Oh, my child, I am ready to kiss Alexander’s feet, but I hate and abominate the King of Prussia and the Austrian Emperor, and--and--but you know nothing of politics, my child.’ He would pull up, remembering whom he was speaking to, but his eyes would sparkle for a long while after this. Well now, if I were to describe all this, and I have seen greater events than these, all these critical gentlemen of the press and political parties--Oh, no thanks! I’m their very humble servant, but no thanks!”
“Why, you wished to have a talk with me when the others left?” he said.
“Of course you have your own lodging at Pavlofsk at--at your daughter’s house,” began the prince, quite at a loss what to say. He suddenly recollected that the general had come for advice on a most important matter, affecting his destiny.
This confidence of a stupid man in his own talents has been wonderfully depicted by Gogol in the amazing character of Pirogoff. Pirogoff has not the slightest doubt of his own genius,--nay, of his _superiority_ of genius,--so certain is he of it that he never questions it. How many Pirogoffs have there not been among our writers--scholars, propagandists? I say “have been,” but indeed there are plenty of them at this very day.
“Whom else?” said Lebedeff, softly, gazing intently into the prince s face.
“Don’t remind me of what I have done or said. Don’t! I am very much ashamed of myself, I--”
“That is probably when they fire from a long distance.”
“I can just see there’s a bed--”
Muttering these disconnected words, Rogojin began to make up the beds. It was clear that he had devised these beds long before; last night he slept on the sofa. But there was no room for two on the sofa, and he seemed anxious that he and the prince should be close to one another; therefore, he now dragged cushions of all sizes and shapes from the sofas, and made a sort of bed of them close by the curtain. He then approached the prince, and gently helped him to rise, and led him towards the bed. But the prince could now walk by himself, so that his fear must have passed; for all that, however, he continued to shudder.
“However, within three weeks my determination was taken, owing to a very strange circumstance.
“Do you ever give him money?”
“Yes, you are quite right. Oh! I feel that I am very guilty!” said Muishkin, in deepest distress.
“Do you know, prince,” he said, in quite a different tone, “I do not know you at all, yet, and after all, Elizabetha Prokofievna would very likely be pleased to have a peep at a man of her own name. Wait a little, if you don’t mind, and if you have time to spare?”
“Sometimes, thinking over this, I became quite numb with the terror of it; and I might well have deduced from this fact, that my ‘last conviction’ was eating into my being too fast and too seriously, and would undoubtedly come to its climax before long. And for the climax I needed greater determination than I yet possessed.
“What! did it miss fire?”
“Prince, I wish to place myself in a respectable position--I wish to esteem myself--and to--”
“I am not going to let him go like this,” thought Gania, glancing angrily at the prince as they walked along. “The fellow has sucked everything out of me, and now he takes off his mask--there’s something more than appears, here we shall see. It shall all be as clear as water by tonight, everything!”
He explained about himself in a few words, very much the same as he had told the footman and Rogojin beforehand.
“Do you forgive me all--_all_, besides the vase, I mean?” said the prince, rising from his seat once more, but the old gentleman caught his hand and drew him down again--he seemed unwilling to let him go.
The latter, amazed at her conduct, began to express his displeasure; but he very soon became aware that he must change his voice, style, and everything else, with this young lady; the good old times were gone. An entirely new and different woman sat before him, between whom and the girl he had left in the country last July there seemed nothing in common.
“No, he didn’t, for I saw it all myself,” said Colia. “On the contrary, Hippolyte kissed his hand twice and thanked him; and all the prince said was that he thought Hippolyte might feel better here in the country!”
“Old story? No! Heaven knows what’s up now--I don’t! Father has simply gone mad; mother’s in floods of tears. Upon my word, Varia, I must kick him out of the house; or else go myself,” he added, probably remembering that he could not well turn people out of a house which was not his own.
“H’m! yes, that’s true enough. Well now, how is the law over there, do they administer it more justly than here?”
“And natural,” repeated Lebedeff with pedantic obstinacy. “Besides, a Catholic monk is by nature excessively curious; it would be quite easy therefore to entice him into a wood, or some secret place, on false pretences, and there to deal with him as said. But I do not dispute in the least that the number of persons consumed appears to denote a spice of greediness.”
“Yes, but the prince told us about the donkey very cleverly, all the same,” said Alexandra. “I have always been most interested to hear how people go mad and get well again, and that sort of thing. Especially when it happens suddenly.”
“You have no right--you have no right!” cried Burdovsky.
“What is it all about?” asked the prince, frowning. His head ached, and he felt sure that Lebedeff was trying to cheat him in some way, and only talking to put off the explanation that he had come for.
The door was shut with these words, and the old woman disappeared. The prince decided to come back within an hour. Passing out of the house, he met the porter.
The prince was silent. He sat straight up in his chair and gazed fervently at Ivan Petrovitch.
“Why do you hate me so?” asked the prince, sadly. “You know yourself that all you suspected is quite unfounded. I felt you were still angry with me, though. Do you know why? Because you tried to kill me--that’s why you can’t shake off your wrath against me. I tell you that I only remember the Parfen Rogojin with whom I exchanged crosses, and vowed brotherhood. I wrote you this in yesterday’s letter, in order that you might forget all that madness on your part, and that you might not feel called to talk about it when we met. Why do you avoid me? Why do you hold your hand back from me? I tell you again, I consider all that has passed a delirium, an insane dream. I can understand all you did, and all you felt that day, as if it were myself. What you were then imagining was not the case, and could never be the case. Why, then, should there be anger between us?”
“It is not true,” he repeated, decidedly; “you have just invented it!”
“Look here, once for all,” cried Aglaya, boiling over, “if I hear you talking about capital punishment, or the economical condition of Russia, or about Beauty redeeming the world, or anything of that sort, I’ll--well, of course I shall laugh and seem very pleased, but I warn you beforehand, don’t look me in the face again! I’m serious now, mind, this time I _am really_ serious.” She certainly did say this very seriously, so much so, that she looked quite different from what she usually was, and the prince could not help noticing the fact. She did not seem to be joking in the slightest degree.
“He was terribly confused and did not seem able to collect his scattered senses; the pocket-book was still in his left hand.
“Norma backed slowly and carefully away from the brute, which followed her, creeping deliberately after her as though it intended to make a sudden dart and sting her.
He could not help observing the excited and agitated condition of all members of the family, and from certain hints dropped in conversation he gathered that they were all anxious as to the impression he should make upon the princess. But the Epanchins, one and all, believed that Muishkin, in his simplicity of mind, was quite incapable of realizing that they could be feeling any anxiety on his account, and for this reason they all looked at him with dread and uneasiness.
“I was not at all afraid for myself, Gania, as you know well. It was not for my own sake that I have been so anxious and worried all this time! They say it is all to be settled to-day. What is to be settled?”
In the first place, this new woman understood a good deal more than was usual for young people of her age; so much indeed, that Totski could not help wondering where she had picked up her knowledge. Surely not from her “young lady’s library”? It even embraced legal matters, and the “world” in general, to a considerable extent.
“You won’t? Very well. I shall be as short as possible, for my part. Two or three times to-day I have had the word ‘hospitality’ pushed down my throat; this is not fair. In inviting me here you yourself entrapped me for your own use; you thought I wished to revenge myself upon the prince. You heard that Aglaya Ivanovna had been kind to me and read my confession. Making sure that I should give myself up to your interests, you hoped that you might get some assistance out of me. I will not go into details. I don’t ask either admission or confirmation of this from yourself; I am quite content to leave you to your conscience, and to feel that we understand one another capitally.”
“Do you know, I like you very much indeed, prince? I shall never forget about this afternoon.”
“He won’t do any harm now; and--and don’t be too severe with him.”
“Get away!” he shouted frantically, observing that Daria Alexeyevna was approaching to protest against Nastasia’s conduct. “Get away, she’s mine, everything’s mine! She’s a queen, get away!”
Nastasia rushed to him like a madwoman, and seized both his hands.
“I see for myself that it is so--and I shall tell _her_. But you are not quite yourself, Lef Nicolaievitch.”
“I should tell it to no one but yourself, prince, and I only name it now as a help to my soul’s evolution. When I die, that secret will die with me! But, excellency, if you knew, if you only had the least idea, how difficult it is to get money nowadays! Where to find it is the question. Ask for a loan, the answer is always the same: ‘Give us gold, jewels, or diamonds, and it will be quite easy.’ Exactly what one has not got! Can you picture that to yourself? I got angry at last, and said, ‘I suppose you would accept emeralds?’ ‘Certainly, we accept emeralds with pleasure. Yes!’ ‘Well, that’s all right,’ said I. ‘Go to the devil, you den of thieves!’ And with that I seized my hat, and walked out.”
“You know, father, you would have done much better not to come at all! She is ready to eat you up! You have not shown yourself since the day before yesterday and she is expecting the money. Why did you promise her any? You are always the same! Well, now you will have to get out of it as best you can.”
“PR. L. MUISHKIN.”
It was seven in the evening, and the prince was just preparing to go out for a walk in the park, when suddenly Mrs. Epanchin appeared on the terrace.
“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 only had a small bundle, containing linen, with me, nothing more. I can carry it in my hand, easily. There will be plenty of time to take a room in some hotel by the evening.”
To a commonplace man of limited intellect, for instance, nothing is simpler than to imagine himself an original character, and to revel in that belief without the slightest misgiving.
Nina Alexandrovna came in, looking frightened. She had changed much since we last saw her, half a year ago, and had grown thin and pale. Colia looked worried and perplexed. He could not understand the vagaries of the general, and knew nothing of the last achievement of that worthy, which had caused so much commotion in the house. But he could see that his father had of late changed very much, and that he had begun to behave in so extraordinary a fashion both at home and abroad that he was not like the same man. What perplexed and disturbed him as much as anything was that his father had entirely given up drinking during the last few days. Colia knew that he had quarrelled with both Lebedeff and the prince, and had just bought a small bottle of vodka and brought it home for his father.
“Did you go before Lizabetha Prokofievna in your present condition?” inquired the prince.
One fact, at least, would have been perfectly plain to an outsider, had any such person been on the spot; and that was, that the prince had made a very considerable impression upon the family, in spite of the fact that he had but once been inside the house, and then only for a short time. Of course, if analyzed, this impression might have proved to be nothing more than a feeling of curiosity; but be it what it might, there it undoubtedly was.
It was clear that she had been merely passing through the room from door to door, and had not had the remotest notion that she would meet anyone.
“Would you believe,” said the mistress of the house, suddenly addressing the prince, “would you believe that that man has not even spared my orphan children? He has stolen everything I possessed, sold everything, pawned everything; he has left me nothing--nothing! What am I to do with your IOU’s, you cunning, unscrupulous rogue? Answer, devourer! answer, heart of stone! How shall I feed my orphans? with what shall I nourish them? And now he has come, he is drunk! He can scarcely stand. How, oh how, have I offended the Almighty, that He should bring this curse upon me! Answer, you worthless villain, answer!”
“And sure enough the matter ended as satisfactorily as possible. A month or so later my medical friend was appointed to another post. He got his travelling expenses paid, and something to help him to start life with once more. I think Bachmatoff must have persuaded the doctor to accept a loan from himself. I saw Bachmatoff two or three times, about this period, the third time being when he gave a farewell dinner to the doctor and his wife before their departure, a champagne dinner.
Gania left the room in great good humour. The prince stayed behind, and meditated alone for a few minutes. At length, Colia popped his head in once more.
He awaited the reply in deadly anxiety.
“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!”
“I thought I caught sight of his eyes!” muttered the prince, in confusion. “But what of it!--Why is he here? Was he asked?”
There was a question to be decided--most important, but most difficult; so much so, that Mrs. Epanchin did not even see how to put it into words. Would the prince do or not? Was all this good or bad? If good (which might be the case, of course), _why_ good? If bad (which was hardly doubtful), _wherein_, especially, bad? Even the general, the paterfamilias, though astonished at first, suddenly declared that, “upon his honour, he really believed he had fancied something of the kind, after all. At first, it seemed a new idea, and then, somehow, it looked as familiar as possible.” His wife frowned him down there. This was in the morning; but in the evening, alone with his wife, he had given tongue again.
“I crossed to that corner and found a dirty dark staircase. I heard a man mounting up above me, some way higher than I was, and thinking I should catch him before his door would be opened to him, I rushed after him. I heard a door open and shut on the fifth storey, as I panted along; the stairs were narrow, and the steps innumerable, but at last I reached the door I thought the right one. Some moments passed before I found the bell and got it to ring.
“But you declared I wasn’t--”
“But it will lead at least to solidarity, and balance of interests,” said Ptitsin.
“Why do you say all this here?” cried Aglaya, suddenly. “Why do you talk like this to _them?_”
Varia pounced upon her brother.
“Oh yes, but then, you see, you are a philosopher. Have you any talents, or ability in any direction--that is, any that would bring in money and bread? Excuse me again--”
“He was terribly confused and did not seem able to collect his scattered senses; the pocket-book was still in his left hand.
There he lay on the carpet, and someone quickly placed a cushion under his head.
Gania, left alone, clutched his head with his hands.
The prince continued to regard Nastasia with a sorrowful, but intent and piercing, gaze.
When day dawned, two passengers in one of the third-class carriages found themselves opposite each other. Both were young fellows, both were rather poorly dressed, both had remarkable faces, and both were evidently anxious to start a conversation. If they had but known why, at this particular moment, they were both remarkable persons, they would undoubtedly have wondered at the strange chance which had set them down opposite to one another in a third-class carriage of the Warsaw Railway Company.
“A-ah! if he is to be under special patronage, I withdraw my claws.”
“The sun is rising,” he cried, seeing the gilded tops of the trees, and pointing to them as to a miracle. “See, it is rising now!”
The prince gazed affectionately at Colia, who, of course, had come in solely for the purpose of talking about this “gigantic thought.”