“Naturally, all this--”
“Yes, I see and understand.”
“PRINCE LEF NICOLAIEVITCH,--If you think fit, after all that has passed, to honour our house with a visit, I can assure you you will not find me among the number of those who are in any way delighted to see you.
“‘Surely not to throw yourself into the river?’ cried Bachmatoff in alarm. Perhaps he read my thought in my face.
“Oh, sit down, sit down, why are you standing?”
“He is not at home.”
“Yes, of course it is the chief thing!” he cried, looking sharply at Gania. “What a very curious man you are, Gania! You actually seem to be _glad_ to hear of this millionaire fellow’s arrival--just as though you wished for an excuse to get out of the whole thing. This is an affair in which you ought to act honestly with both sides, and give due warning, to avoid compromising others. But, even now, there is still time. Do you understand me? I wish to know whether you desire this arrangement or whether you do not? If not, say so,--and--and welcome! No one is trying to force you into the snare, Gavrila Ardalionovitch, if you see a snare in the matter, at least.”
Gania lost his head. Forgetful of everything he aimed a blow at Varia, which would inevitably have laid her low, but suddenly another hand caught his. Between him and Varia stood the prince.
In the hall the servants were waiting, and handed her her fur cloak. Martha, the cook, ran in from the kitchen. Nastasia kissed them all round.
(Lizabetha Prokofievna felt that this might be the case, and she didn’t like it; though very probably she could not have put the idea into words.)
The undoubted beauty of the family, _par excellence_, was the youngest, Aglaya, as aforesaid. But Totski himself, though an egotist of the extremest type, realized that he had no chance there; Aglaya was clearly not for such as he.
The general felt troubled and remained silent, while Lizabetha Prokofievna telegraphed to him from behind Aglaya to ask no questions.
The outburst was so terribly violent that the prince thought it would have killed her.
He dreamed many dreams as he sat there, and all were full of disquiet, so that he shuddered every moment.
“No; of course not.”
It was clear that he came out with these words quite spontaneously, on the spur of the moment. But his speech was productive of much--for it appeared that all Gania’s rage now overflowed upon the prince. He seized him by the shoulder and gazed with an intensity of loathing and revenge at him, but said nothing--as though his feelings were too strong to permit of words.
He had the key in his hand. Mounting the staircase he turned and signalled to the prince to go more softly; he opened the door very quietly, let the prince in, followed him, locked the door behind him, and put the key in his pocket.
“Well then, have you come here for _her?_ Are you in love with _her?_ With _that_ creature?”
“Oh! but that’s all I have,” said the prince, taking it.
“Be silent! At once!” interrupted the prince, red with indignation, and perhaps with shame, too. “It is impossible and absurd! All that has been invented by you, or fools like you! Let me never hear you say a word again on that subject!”
“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?”
“‘Maybe sad Love upon his setting smiles, And with vain hopes his farewell hour beguiles.’
“Well, hardly so. If you stretch a point, we are relations, of course, but so distant that one cannot really take cognizance of it. I once wrote to your mistress from abroad, but she did not reply. However, I have thought it right to make acquaintance with her on my arrival. I am telling you all this in order to ease your mind, for I see you are still far from comfortable on my account. All you have to do is to announce me as Prince Muishkin, and the object of my visit will be plain enough. If I am received--very good; if not, well, very good again. But they are sure to receive me, I should think; Madame Epanchin will naturally be curious to see the only remaining representative of her family. She values her Muishkin descent very highly, if I am rightly informed.”
“How did you--find me here?” asked the prince for the sake of saying something.
“My goodness!” shivered the clerk. “And his father,” he added, for the prince’s instruction, “and his father would have given a man a ticket to the other world for ten roubles any day--not to speak of ten thousand!”
“She seems always to be searching about, as if she had lost something. The mere idea of her coming marriage disgusts her; she looks on it as an insult. She cares as much for _him_ as for a piece of orange-peel--not more. Yet I am much mistaken if she does not look on him with fear and trembling. She forbids his name to be mentioned before her, and they only meet when unavoidable. He understands, well enough! But it must be gone through. She is restless, mocking, deceitful, violent....”
The prince turned and came back, more confused than ever. When she burst out laughing, he smiled, but his tongue could not form a word as yet. At first, when he had opened the door and saw her standing before him, he had become as pale as death; but now the red blood had rushed back to his cheeks in a torrent.
“But--recollect, Nastasia Philipovna,” stammered Totski, “you gave a promise, quite a free one, and--and you might have spared us this. I am confused and bewildered, I know; but, in a word, at such a moment, and before company, and all so-so-irregular, finishing off a game with a serious matter like this, a matter of honour, and of heart, and--”
“It is not true,” he repeated, decidedly; “you have just invented it!”
“I assure you I am not a thief, and yet I have stolen; I cannot explain why. It was at Semeon Ivanovitch Ishenka’s country house, one Sunday. He had a dinner party. After dinner the men stayed at the table over their wine. It struck me to ask the daughter of the house to play something on the piano; so I passed through the corner room to join the ladies. In that room, on Maria Ivanovna’s writing-table, I observed a three-rouble note. She must have taken it out for some purpose, and left it lying there. There was no one about. I took up the note and put it in my pocket; why, I can’t say. I don’t know what possessed me to do it, but it was done, and I went quickly back to the dining-room and reseated myself at the dinner-table. I sat and waited there in a great state of excitement. I talked hard, and told lots of stories, and laughed like mad; then I joined the ladies.
“‘Peter Matveyevitch Bachmatoff!’ he cried, trembling all over with excitement. ‘Why, nearly everything depends on that very man!’
Hippolyte clutched his manuscript, and gazing at the last speaker with glittering eyes, said: “You don’t like me at all!” A few laughed at this, but not all.
“Why so? why so? Because I envy you, eh? You always think that, I know. But do you know why I am saying all this? Look here! I must have some more champagne--pour me out some, Keller, will you?”
“You see, I am going into the country myself in three days, with my children and belongings. The little one is delicate; she needs change of air; and during our absence this house will be done up. I am going to Pavlofsk.”
“Do you know that I came here to see those trees?” pointing to the trees in the park. “It is not ridiculous, is it? Say that it is not ridiculous!” he demanded urgently of Lizabetha Prokofievna. Then he seemed to be plunged in thought. A moment later he raised his head, and his eyes sought for someone. He was looking for Evgenie Pavlovitch, who was close by on his right as before, but he had forgotten this, and his eyes ranged over the assembled company. “Ah! you have not gone!” he said, when he caught sight of him at last. “You kept on laughing just now, because I thought of speaking to the people from the window for a quarter of an hour. But I am not eighteen, you know; lying on that bed, and looking out of that window, I have thought of all sorts of things for such a long time that... a dead man has no age, you know. I was saying that to myself only last week, when I was awake in the night. Do you know what you fear most? You fear our sincerity more than anything, although you despise us! The idea crossed my mind that night... You thought I was making fun of you just now, Lizabetha Prokofievna? No, the idea of mockery was far from me; I only meant to praise you. Colia told me the prince called you a child--very well--but let me see, I had something else to say...” He covered his face with his hands and tried to collect his thoughts.
“We have been silent on this subject for three weeks,” said his mother, “and it was better so; and now I will only ask you one question. How can she give her consent and make you a present of her portrait when you do not love her? How can such a--such a--”
“He is sorry for his sins now, prince,” cried Keller. “He did not want to let you know he was here; he was hidden over there in the corner,--but he repents now, he feels his guilt.”
The good ladies recommended the prince to try knocking at Rogojin’s once more--not at once, but in the evening. Meanwhile, the mother would go to Pavlofsk to inquire at Dana Alexeyevna’s whether anything had been heard of Nastasia there. The prince was to come back at ten o’clock and meet her, to hear her news and arrange plans for the morrow.
She spoke impatiently and with severity; this was the first allusion she had made to the party of tomorrow.
In early summer there are often magnificent days in St. Petersburg--bright, hot and still. This happened to be such a day.
Mrs. Epanchin put these questions hastily and brusquely, and when the prince answered she nodded her head sagely at each word he said.
Meanwhile nothing put the prince out, and he continued to be in the seventh heaven of bliss. Of course he could not fail to observe some impatience and ill-temper in Aglaya now and then; but he believed in something else, and nothing could now shake his conviction. Besides, Aglaya’s frowns never lasted long; they disappeared of themselves.
Colia had no choice but to obey. With crimson cheeks he read on unsteadily:
“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.”
“Yes, I remember he boasted about the blank wall in an extraordinary way,” continued Evgenie, “and I feel that without that blank wall he will never be able to die eloquently; and he does so long to die eloquently!”
“It is undoubtedly because, in the twelfth century, monks were the only people one could eat; they were the fat, among many lean,” said Gavrila Ardalionovitch.
“The prince will begin by singing us a fashionable ditty,” remarked Ferdishenko, and looked at the mistress of the house, to see what she would say.
“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.
It seemed clear to the prince that Aglaya forgave him, and that he might go there again this very evening; and in his eyes that was not only the main thing, but everything in the world.
“But--why in the world--and the money? Was it all there?”
“Yes, it is serious for a poor man who lives by his toil.”
“Well, gentlemen!” she continued, gazing around in apparent astonishment; “what do you all look so alarmed about? Why are you so upset?”
The prince walked along, musing. He did not like his commission, and disliked the idea of Gania sending a note to Aglaya at all; but when he was two rooms distant from the drawing-room, where they all were, he stopped as though recalling something; went to the window, nearer the light, and began to examine the portrait in his hand.
Gania certainly did look dreadfully abashed. Colia rushed up to comfort the prince, and after him crowded Varia, Rogojin and all, even the general.
There was no room for doubt in the prince’s mind: one of the voices was Rogojin’s, and the other Lebedeff’s.
“I believe so; but I’m not sure.”
“Why, prince, you’ve only gone a few steps along this road, I perceive. You are evidently a mere beginner. Wait a bit! Before long, you’ll have your own detectives, you’ll watch day and night, and you’ll know every little thing that goes on there--that is, if--”
“I suppose you angered him somehow?” asked the prince, looking at the millionaire with considerable curiosity. But though there may have been something remarkable in the fact that this man was heir to millions of roubles there was something about him which surprised and interested the prince more than that. Rogojin, too, seemed to have taken up the conversation with unusual alacrity it appeared that he was still in a considerable state of excitement, if not absolutely feverish, and was in real need of someone to talk to for the mere sake of talking, as safety-valve to his agitation.
“How can I? How can I?” cried Hippolyte, looking at him in amazement. “Gentlemen! I was a fool! I won’t break off again. Listen, everyone who wants to!”
“Father is a drunkard and a thief; I am a beggar, and the husband of my sister is a usurer,” continued Gania, bitterly. “There was a pretty list of advantages with which to enchant the heart of Aglaya.”
She was a fine woman of the same age as her husband, with a slightly hooked nose, a high, narrow forehead, thick hair turning a little grey, and a sallow complexion. Her eyes were grey and wore a very curious expression at times. She believed them to be most effective--a belief that nothing could alter.
Lizabetha Prokofievna, when she saw poor Muishkin, in his enfeebled and humiliated condition, had wept bitterly. Apparently all was forgiven him.
She spoke impatiently and with severity; this was the first allusion she had made to the party of tomorrow.
“Of what? Apologizing, eh? And where on earth did I get the idea that you were an idiot? You always observe what other people pass by unnoticed; one could talk sense to you, but--”
“It’s better so, you know, Gania--especially as, from one point of view, the matter may be considered as settled,” said Ptitsin; and sitting down a little way from the table he began to study a paper covered with pencil writing.
The prince trembled all over. Why was he so agitated? Why had he flown into such transports of delight without any apparent reason? He had far outshot the measure of joy and emotion consistent with the occasion. Why this was it would be difficult to say.
They were in no hurry to marry. They liked good society, but were not too keen about it. All this was the more remarkable, because everyone was well aware of the hopes and aims of their parents.
The sisters replied candidly and fully enough to their mother’s impatient questions on her return. They said, in the first place, that nothing particular had happened since her departure; that the prince had been, and that Aglaya had kept him waiting a long while before she appeared--half an hour, at least; that she had then come in, and immediately asked the prince to have a game of chess; that the prince did not know the game, and Aglaya had beaten him easily; that she had been in a wonderfully merry mood, and had laughed at the prince, and chaffed him so unmercifully that one was quite sorry to see his wretched expression.
“They will think that I’m still ill,” continued Rogojin to the prince, “but I sloped off quietly, seedy as I was, took the train and came away. Aha, brother Senka, you’ll have to open your gates and let me in, my boy! I know he told tales about me to my father--I know that well enough but I certainly did rile my father about Nastasia Philipovna that’s very sure, and that was my own doing.”
“What, he doesn’t know me!” said Rogojin, showing his teeth disagreeably. “He doesn’t recognize Rogojin!” He did not move an inch, however.
Varvara Ardalionovna married Ptitsin this winter, and it was said that the fact of Gania’s retirement from business was the ultimate cause of the marriage, since Gania was now not only unable to support his family, but even required help himself.
“Yes, but that was a great idea,” said the prince, clearly interested. “You ascribe it to Davoust, do you?”
“Yes, I will if I may; and--can I take off my cloak”
“A great disgrace.”
“Prince,” he said, “I am just going home. If you have not changed your mind as to living with us, perhaps you would like to come with me. You don’t know the address, I believe?”
Excepting Ivan Fedorovitch, who had not as yet returned from town, the whole family was present. Prince S. was there; and they all intended to go out to hear the band very soon.
“Yes, that’s better,” said Adelaida; “the prince _learned to see_ abroad.”
“Wait a bit--I’ll make the bed, and you can lie down. I’ll lie down, too, and we’ll listen and watch, for I don’t know yet what I shall do... I tell you beforehand, so that you may be ready in case I--”
“The bullet struck so low down that probably his antagonist would never have aimed at that part of him--people never do; he would have aimed at his chest or head; so that probably the bullet hit him accidentally. I have been told this by competent authorities.”
“I have long sought the honour and opportunity of meeting you--much-esteemed Lef Nicolaievitch,” he murmured, pressing the prince’s hand very hard, almost painfully so; “long--very long.”
“You say, take the hundred thousand and kick that man out. It is true, it is an abominable business, as you say. I might have married long ago, not Gania--Oh, no!--but that would have been abominable too.
He stopped for a moment at the door; a great flush of shame came over him. “I am a coward, a wretched coward,” he said, and moved forward again; but once more he paused.
“Why did you add that?--There! Now you are cross again,” said the prince, wondering.
“Enough!” he concluded at last, “you understand me, and that is the great thing. A heart like yours cannot help understanding the sufferings of another. Prince, you are the ideal of generosity; what are other men beside yourself? But you are young--accept my blessing! My principal object is to beg you to fix an hour for a most important conversation--that is my great hope, prince. My heart needs but a little friendship and sympathy, and yet I cannot always find means to satisfy it.”
“Well, bring them, with or without respect, provided always you do not drop them on the way; but on the condition,” went on the lady, looking full at him, “that you do not cross my threshold. I do not intend to receive you today. You may send your daughter Vera at once, if you like. I am much pleased with her.”
“He entered, and shut the door behind him. Then he silently gazed at me and went quickly to the corner of the room where the lamp was burning and sat down underneath it.
“So we will not say anything about it, or let them take her away?”
Four persons entered, led by General Ivolgin, in a state of great excitement, and talking eloquently.
“I wouldn’t mind betting, prince,” he cried, “that you did not in the least mean to say that, and very likely you meant to address someone else altogether. What is it? Are you feeling unwell or anything?”
Why, here he was on the Petersburg Side already, quite close to the house! Where was his “idea”? He was marching along without it now. Yes, his malady was coming back, it was clear enough; all this gloom and heaviness, all these “ideas,” were nothing more nor less than a fit coming on; perhaps he would have a fit this very day.
“That is Lebedeff’s daughter--Vera Lukianovna.”
“Suddenly I heard behind me, and about on a level with my head, a sort of rattling sound. I turned sharp round and saw that the brute had crawled up the wall as high as the level of my face, and that its horrible tail, which was moving incredibly fast from side to side, was actually touching my hair! I jumped up--and it disappeared. I did not dare lie down on my bed for fear it should creep under my pillow. My mother came into the room, and some friends of hers. They began to hunt for the reptile and were more composed than I was; they did not seem to be afraid of it. But they did not understand as I did.
The general left the room, and the prince never succeeded in broaching the business which he had on hand, though he had endeavoured to do so four times.
“Well, for God’s sake, what made you say the other?”
Of those who were present, such as knew the prince listened to his outburst in a state of alarm, some with a feeling of mortification. It was so unlike his usual timid self-constraint; so inconsistent with his usual taste and tact, and with his instinctive feeling for the higher proprieties. They could not understand the origin of the outburst; it could not be simply the news of Pavlicheff’s perversion. By the ladies the prince was regarded as little better than a lunatic, and Princess Bielokonski admitted afterwards that “in another minute she would have bolted.”
Aglaya raised her happy, tearful face from her mother’s breast, glanced at her father, and burst out laughing. She sprang at him and hugged him too, and kissed him over and over again. She then rushed back to her mother and hid her face in the maternal bosom, and there indulged in more tears. Her mother covered her with a corner of her shawl.
The prince regarded him attentively, but said nothing.
“I haven’t been to see her for five days,” he repeated, after a slight pause. “I’m afraid of being turned out. She says she’s still her own mistress, and may turn me off altogether, and go abroad. She told me this herself,” he said, with a peculiar glance at Muishkin. “I think she often does it merely to frighten me. She is always laughing at me, for some reason or other; but at other times she’s angry, and won’t say a word, and that’s what I’m afraid of. I took her a shawl one day, the like of which she might never have seen, although she did live in luxury and she gave it away to her maid, Katia. Sometimes when I can keep away no longer, I steal past the house on the sly, and once I watched at the gate till dawn--I thought something was going on--and she saw me from the window. She asked me what I should do if I found she had deceived me. I said, ‘You know well enough.’”
“Of course! And it would be a disgrace to marry so, eh?”