“What, receive him! Now, at once?” asked Mrs. Epanchin, gazing vaguely at her husband as he stood fidgeting before her.

Vera Lebedeff was one of the first to come to see him and offer her services. No sooner did she catch sight of him than she burst into tears; but when he tried to soothe her she began to laugh. He was quite struck by the girl’s deep sympathy for him; he seized her hand and kissed it. Vera flushed crimson.

Both had risen, and were gazing at one another with pallid faces.

“Accidental case!” said Evgenie Pavlovitch. “Do you consider it an accidental case, prince?”

“But he has never even--”

The prince certainly was beside himself.

“Oh yes, but that is not enough.”

“But it is not any one particular thought, only; it is the general circumstances of the case. If Voltaire had written this now, or Rousseau, I should have just read it and thought it remarkable, but should not have been so _impressed_ by it. But a man who knows for certain that he has but ten minutes to live and can talk like that--why--it’s--it’s _pride_, that is! It is really a most extraordinary, exalted assertion of personal dignity, it’s--it’s _defiant!_ What a _gigantic_ strength of will, eh? And to accuse a fellow like that of not putting in the cap on purpose; it’s base and mean! You know he deceived us last night, the cunning rascal. I never packed his bag for him, and I never saw his pistol. He packed it himself. But he put me off my guard like that, you see. Vera says you are going to let him stay on; I swear there’s no danger, especially as we are always with him.”

“I meant to say--I only meant to say,” said the prince, faltering, “I merely meant to explain to Aglaya Ivanovna--to have the honour to explain, as it were--that I had no intention--never had--to ask the honour of her hand. I assure you I am not guilty, Aglaya Ivanovna, I am not, indeed. I never did wish to--I never thought of it at all--and never shall--you’ll see it yourself--you may be quite assured of it. Some wicked person has been maligning me to you; but it’s all right. Don’t worry about it.”

The prince, returning home from the interview with Aglaya, had sat gloomy and depressed for half an hour. He was almost in despair when Colia arrived with the hedgehog.

“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 prince had not seen _her_ for more than three months. All these days since his arrival from Petersburg he had intended to pay her a visit, but some mysterious presentiment had restrained him. He could not picture to himself what impression this meeting with her would make upon him, though he had often tried to imagine it, with fear and trembling. One fact was quite certain, and that was that the meeting would be painful.

“Never mind about him now, prince,” said Colia. “He is all right and taking a nap after the journey. He is very happy to be here; but I think perhaps it would be better if you let him alone for today,--he is very sensitive now that he is so ill--and he might be embarrassed if you show him too much attention at first. He is decidedly better today, and says he has not felt so well for the last six months, and has coughed much less, too.”

“The visit to Rogojin exhausted me terribly. Besides, I had felt ill since the morning; and by evening I was so weak that I took to my bed, and was in high fever at intervals, and even delirious. Colia sat with me until eleven o’clock.

“Perhaps it wasn’t loaded,” said several voices.

“H’m! why must you needs go up and change your coat like that?” asked the prince, banging the table with his fist, in annoyance.

“I thought someone led me by the hand and showed me, by the light of a candle, a huge, loathsome insect, which he assured me was that very force, that very almighty, dumb, irresistible Power, and laughed at the indignation with which I received this information. In my room they always light the little lamp before my icon for the night; it gives a feeble flicker of light, but it is strong enough to see by dimly, and if you sit just under it you can even read by it. I think it was about twelve or a little past that night. I had not slept a wink, and was lying with my eyes wide open, when suddenly the door opened, and in came Rogojin.

“Yes, I see your mother and sister,” muttered Rogojin, through his teeth; and Lebedeff seemed to feel himself called upon to second the statement.

“Excuse me; I was able to deliver it almost immediately after receiving your commission, and I gave it, too, just as you asked me to. It has come into my hands now because Aglaya Ivanovna has just returned it to me.”

She awaited him in trembling agitation; and when he at last arrived she nearly went off into hysterics.

“How strange that it should have browned so,” he said, reflectively. “These twenty-five rouble notes brown in a most extraordinary way, while other notes often grow paler. Take it.”

“Oh, if you put it in that way,” cried the general, excitedly, “I’m ready to tell the whole story of my life, but I must confess that I prepared a little story in anticipation of my turn.”

At last he rose and declared that he would wait no longer. The general rose too, drank the last drops that he could squeeze out of the bottle, and staggered into the street.

Twice during the day a messenger came to Nina Alexandrovna from the Epanchins to inquire after the invalid.

“Yes, I played with her,” said Rogojin, after a short silence.

“I wanted to see how the farce would end.”

“Yes!”

“Most undoubtedly, excellent prince, you have hit it--that is the very question. How wonderfully you express the exact situation in a few words!”

The prince who, up to yesterday, would not have believed that he could even dream of such an impossible scene as this, stood and listened and looked on, and felt as though he had long foreseen it all. The most fantastic dream seemed suddenly to have been metamorphosed into the most vivid reality.

“Let go of it!” said Parfen, seizing from the prince’s hand a knife which the latter had at that moment taken up from the table, where it lay beside the history. Parfen replaced it where it had been.

He took her hand and seated her on the bench; then sat down beside her and reflected.

“What is it?”

The prince had grown animated as he spoke, and a tinge of colour suffused his pale face, though his way of talking was as quiet as ever. The servant followed his words with sympathetic interest. Clearly he was not at all anxious to bring the conversation to an end. Who knows? Perhaps he too was a man of imagination and with some capacity for thought.

But alas! at the German lady’s house they did not even appear to understand what he wanted. After a while, by means of certain hints, he was able to gather that Nastasia must have had a quarrel with her friend two or three weeks ago, since which date the latter had neither heard nor seen anything of her. He was given to understand that the subject of Nastasia’s present whereabouts was not of the slightest interest to her; and that Nastasia might marry all the princes in the world for all she cared! So Muishkin took his leave hurriedly. It struck him now that she might have gone away to Moscow just as she had done the last time, and that Rogojin had perhaps gone after her, or even _with_ her. If only he could find some trace!

The prince was haunted all that day by the face of Lebedeff’s nephew whom he had seen for the first time that morning, just as one is haunted at times by some persistent musical refrain. By a curious association of ideas, the young man always appeared as the murderer of whom Lebedeff had spoken when introducing him to Muishkin. Yes, he had read something about the murder, and that quite recently. Since he came to Russia, he had heard many stories of this kind, and was interested in them. His conversation with the waiter, an hour ago, chanced to be on the subject of this murder of the Zemarins, and the latter had agreed with him about it. He thought of the waiter again, and decided that he was no fool, but a steady, intelligent man: though, said he to himself, “God knows what he may really be; in a country with which one is unfamiliar it is difficult to understand the people one meets.” He was beginning to have a passionate faith in the Russian soul, however, and what discoveries he had made in the last six months, what unexpected discoveries! But every soul is a mystery, and depths of mystery lie in the soul of a Russian. He had been intimate with Rogojin, for example, and a brotherly friendship had sprung up between them--yet did he really know him? What chaos and ugliness fills the world at times! What a self-satisfied rascal is that nephew of Lebedeff’s! “But what am I thinking,” continued the prince to himself. “Can he really have committed that crime? Did he kill those six persons? I seem to be confusing things... how strange it all is.... My head goes round... And Lebedeff’s daughter--how sympathetic and charming her face was as she held the child in her arms! What an innocent look and child-like laugh she had! It is curious that I had forgotten her until now. I expect Lebedeff adores her--and I really believe, when I think of it, that as sure as two and two make four, he is fond of that nephew, too!”

The general was in ecstasies, for the prince’s remarks, made, as they evidently were, in all seriousness and simplicity, quite dissipated the last relics of his suspicion.

“Why, it’s true that I am going to marry Gavrila Ardalionovitch, that I love him and intend to elope with him tomorrow,” cried Aglaya, turning upon her mother. “Do you hear? Is your curiosity satisfied? Are you pleased with what you have heard?”

“Vera Lukianovna,” said Hippolyte, “toss it, will you? Heads, I read, tails, I don’t.”

A shudder seemed to sweep over his whole body at the recollection.

Aglaya wanted to be angry, of course, but suddenly some quite unexpected feeling seized upon her heart, all in a moment.

“You are slandering them, Lebedeff,” said he, smiling.

“Come along then,” said Evgenie; “it’s a glorious evening. But, to prove that this time I was speaking absolutely seriously, and especially to prove this to the prince (for you, prince, have interested me exceedingly, and I swear to you that I am not quite such an ass as I like to appear sometimes, although I am rather an ass, I admit), and--well, ladies and gentlemen, will you allow me to put just one more question to the prince, out of pure curiosity? It shall be the last. This question came into my mind a couple of hours since (you see, prince, I do think seriously at times), and I made my own decision upon it; now I wish to hear what the prince will say to it.”

His costume was the same as it had been in the morning, except for a new silk handkerchief round his neck, bright green and red, fastened with a huge diamond pin, and an enormous diamond ring on his dirty forefinger.

“Yes, they say I have a ‘young’ face. As to disturbing you I shall soon learn to avoid doing that, for I hate disturbing people. Besides, you and I are so differently constituted, I should think, that there must be very little in common between us. Not that I will ever believe there is _nothing_ in common between any two people, as some declare is the case. I am sure people make a great mistake in sorting each other into groups, by appearances; but I am boring you, I see, you--”

Both had risen, and were gazing at one another with pallid faces.

“Well!--and what’s the meaning of the ‘poor knight,’ eh?”

It was now Totski’s turn, and his story was awaited with great curiosity--while all eyes turned on Nastasia Philipovna, as though anticipating that his revelation must be connected somehow with her. Nastasia, during the whole of his story, pulled at the lace trimming of her sleeve, and never once glanced at the speaker. Totski was a handsome man, rather stout, with a very polite and dignified manner. He was always well dressed, and his linen was exquisite. He had plump white hands, and wore a magnificent diamond ring on one finger.

“I don’t think we have a copy of Pushkin in the house.”

“They say that they have come on business, and they are the kind of men, who, if you do not see them here, will follow you about the street. It would be better to receive them, and then you will get rid of them. Gavrila Ardalionovitch and Ptitsin are both there, trying to make them hear reason.”

“No, I have really an object in going... That is, I am going on business it is difficult to explain, but...”

The actress was a kind-hearted woman, and highly impressionable. She was very angry now.

Till then Gavrila Ardalionovitch had sat apart in silence. When the prince called upon him, he came and stood by his side, and in a calm, clear voice began to render an account of the mission confided to him. All conversation ceased instantly. Everyone, especially the Burdovsky party, listened with the utmost curiosity.

I.

“It’s my turn, but I plead exemption,” said Ptitsin.

“Who, in the name of what Law, would think of disputing my full personal right over the fortnight of life left to me? What jurisdiction can be brought to bear upon the case? Who would wish me, not only to be sentenced, but to endure the sentence to the end? Surely there exists no man who would wish such a thing--why should anyone desire it? For the sake of morality? Well, I can understand that if I were to make an attempt upon my own life while in the enjoyment of full health and vigour--my life which might have been ‘useful,’ etc., etc.--morality might reproach me, according to the old routine, for disposing of my life without permission--or whatever its tenet may be. But now, _now_, when my sentence is out and my days numbered! How can morality have need of my last breaths, and why should I die listening to the consolations offered by the prince, who, without doubt, would not omit to demonstrate that death is actually a benefactor to me? (Christians like him always end up with that--it is their pet theory.) And what do they want with their ridiculous ‘Pavlofsk trees’? To sweeten my last hours? Cannot they understand that the more I forget myself, the more I let myself become attached to these last illusions of life and love, by means of which they try to hide from me Meyer’s wall, and all that is so plainly written on it--the more unhappy they make me? What is the use of all your nature to me--all your parks and trees, your sunsets and sunrises, your blue skies and your self-satisfied faces--when all this wealth of beauty and happiness begins with the fact that it accounts me--only me--one too many! What is the good of all this beauty and glory to me, when every second, every moment, I cannot but be aware that this little fly which buzzes around my head in the sun’s rays--even this little fly is a sharer and participator in all the glory of the universe, and knows its place and is happy in it;--while I--only I, am an outcast, and have been blind to the fact hitherto, thanks to my simplicity! Oh! I know well how the prince and others would like me, instead of indulging in all these wicked words of my own, to sing, to the glory and triumph of morality, that well-known verse of Gilbert’s:

“Oh, I’m not rejecting her. I may have expressed myself badly, but I didn’t mean that.”

The company assembled at Nastasia Philipovna’s consisted of none but her most intimate friends, and formed a very small party in comparison with her usual gatherings on this anniversary.

He burst out laughing again, but it was the laughter of a madman. Lizabetha Prokofievna approached him anxiously and seized his arm. He stared at her for a moment, still laughing, but soon his face grew serious.

The prince jumped up in alarm at Aglaya’s sudden wrath, and a mist seemed to come before his eyes.

At length, in the last letter of all, he found:

“No.”

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.

“But is that all your evidence? It is not enough!”

“You’ve been _there?_” he asked, suddenly.

“Oh! it was the Kolpakoff business, and of course he would have been acquitted.”

“Never mind!” she laughed, “but why didn’t you come earlier? Perhaps you were expected!”

“This is Pushkin,” replied the girl. “Papa told me to offer it to you.”

“Here’s another alternative for me,” said Nastasia, turning once more to the actress; “and he does it out of pure kindness of heart. I know him. I’ve found a benefactor. Perhaps, though, what they say about him may be true--that he’s an--we know what. And what shall you live on, if you are really so madly in love with Rogojin’s mistress, that you are ready to marry her--eh?”

“Aglaya Ivanovna told me--”

“Prince, be so kind as to come to me for a moment in the drawing-room,” said Nina Alexandrovna herself, appearing at the door.

“God bless you, dear boy, for being respectful to a disgraced man. Yes, to a poor disgraced old fellow, your father. You shall have such a son yourself; le roi de Rome. Oh, curses on this house!”

“‘In the flashing eyes of this patriotic child I read and accept the fiat of the Russian people. Enough, Davoust, it is mere phantasy on our part. Come, let’s hear your other project.’”

Aglaya looked menacingly at her laughing sisters, but could not contain herself any longer, and the next minute she too had burst into an irrepressible, and almost hysterical, fit of mirth. At length she jumped up, and ran out of the room.

A strange thought passed through the prince’s brain; he gazed intently at Aglaya and smiled.

“I am speaking allegorically, of course; but he will be the murderer of a Zemarin family in the future. He is getting ready. ...”

They walked silently, and said scarcely a word all the way. He only noticed that she seemed to know the road very well; and once, when he thought it better to go by a certain lane, and remarked to her that it would be quieter and less public, she only said, “it’s all the same,” and went on.

This last fact could, of course, reflect nothing but credit upon the general; and yet, though unquestionably a sagacious man, he had his own little weaknesses--very excusable ones,--one of which was a dislike to any allusion to the above circumstance. He was undoubtedly clever. For instance, he made a point of never asserting himself when he would gain more by keeping in the background; and in consequence many exalted personages valued him principally for his humility and simplicity, and because “he knew his place.” And yet if these good people could only have had a peep into the mind of this excellent fellow who “knew his place” so well! The fact is that, in spite of his knowledge of the world and his really remarkable abilities, he always liked to appear to be carrying out other people’s ideas rather than his own. And also, his luck seldom failed him, even at cards, for which he had a passion that he did not attempt to conceal. He played for high stakes, and moved, altogether, in very varied society.

“Shall I call the Ptitsins, and Gavrila Ardalionovitch? Shall I let the general in?” he asked.

As before, he crossed the street and watched the windows from the other side, walking up and down in anguish of soul for half an hour or so in the stifling heat. Nothing stirred; the blinds were motionless; indeed, the prince began to think that the apparition of Rogojin’s face could have been nothing but fancy. Soothed by this thought, he drove off once more to his friends at the Ismailofsky barracks. He was expected there. The mother had already been to three or four places to look for Nastasia, but had not found a trace of any kind.

“He has lost his breath now!” said Lizabetha Prokofievna coldly, looking at him with more curiosity than pity: “Come, my dear boy, that is quite enough--let us make an end of this.”

“Why not? But look here, Colia, I’m tired; besides, the subject is too melancholy to begin upon again. How is he, though?”

“No, no, excuse me! I’m master of this house, though I do not wish to lack respect towards you. You are master of the house too, in a way; but I can’t allow this sort of thing--”

“Of course not.”

“Shut up, Gania!” said Colia.

“Has anyone a coin about them? Give me a twenty-copeck piece, somebody!” And Hippolyte leapt from his chair.

“Her relations had all died off--her husband was dead and buried forty years since; and a niece, who had lived with her and bullied her up to three years ago, was dead too; so that she was quite alone.

“Not about the theft.”

“It’s impossible, for that very reason,” said the prince. “How would she get out if she wished to? You don’t know the habits of that house--she _could_ not get away alone to Nastasia Philipovna’s! It’s all nonsense!”

“Bend down--bend down your ear. I’ll tell you all--disgrace--bend down, I’ll tell you in your ear.”

“You are still suspicious, I see, and do not believe me; but you may be quite at your ease. There shall be no more tears, nor questions--not from my side, at all events. All I wish is that you may be happy, you know that. I have submitted to my fate; but my heart will always be with you, whether we remain united, or whether we part. Of course I only answer for myself--you can hardly expect your sister--”

“What did you mean, sir, that he didn’t exist? Explain yourself,” he repeated, angrily.

The prince turned sharply round and looked at both of them. Gania’s face was full of real despair; he seemed to have said the words almost unconsciously and on the impulse of the moment.

“I am, of course, quite ready to add my efforts to yours in such a case,” said the prince, rising; “but I confess, Lebedeff, that I am terribly perplexed. Tell me, do you still think... plainly, you say yourself that you suspect Mr. Ferdishenko?”

“A. E.”

“Don’t come with me,” she cried, “_Au revoir_, till the evening--do you hear? _Au revoir!_”

“At the first glimpse of the rising sun, prince, I will go to bed. I told you I would, word of honour! You shall see!” cried Hippolyte. “You think I’m not capable of opening this packet, do you?” He glared defiantly round at the audience in general.

“Oh, no particular reason. I meant to ask you before--many people are unbelievers nowadays, especially Russians, I have been told. You ought to know--you’ve lived abroad.”

The prince was haunted all that day by the face of Lebedeff’s nephew whom he had seen for the first time that morning, just as one is haunted at times by some persistent musical refrain. By a curious association of ideas, the young man always appeared as the murderer of whom Lebedeff had spoken when introducing him to Muishkin. Yes, he had read something about the murder, and that quite recently. Since he came to Russia, he had heard many stories of this kind, and was interested in them. His conversation with the waiter, an hour ago, chanced to be on the subject of this murder of the Zemarins, and the latter had agreed with him about it. He thought of the waiter again, and decided that he was no fool, but a steady, intelligent man: though, said he to himself, “God knows what he may really be; in a country with which one is unfamiliar it is difficult to understand the people one meets.” He was beginning to have a passionate faith in the Russian soul, however, and what discoveries he had made in the last six months, what unexpected discoveries! But every soul is a mystery, and depths of mystery lie in the soul of a Russian. He had been intimate with Rogojin, for example, and a brotherly friendship had sprung up between them--yet did he really know him? What chaos and ugliness fills the world at times! What a self-satisfied rascal is that nephew of Lebedeff’s! “But what am I thinking,” continued the prince to himself. “Can he really have committed that crime? Did he kill those six persons? I seem to be confusing things... how strange it all is.... My head goes round... And Lebedeff’s daughter--how sympathetic and charming her face was as she held the child in her arms! What an innocent look and child-like laugh she had! It is curious that I had forgotten her until now. I expect Lebedeff adores her--and I really believe, when I think of it, that as sure as two and two make four, he is fond of that nephew, too!”

It would be difficult to describe the animation and high spirits which distinguished the prince for the rest of the evening.

An impetuous woman, Lizabetha Prokofievna sometimes weighed her anchors and put out to sea quite regardless of the possible storms she might encounter. Ivan Fedorovitch felt a sudden pang of alarm, but the others were merely curious, and somewhat surprised. Colia unfolded the paper, and began to read, in his clear, high-pitched voice, the following article: