The prince suddenly approached Evgenie Pavlovitch.

“Here,” laughed Lebedeff, at last, rising to his full height and looking pleasantly at the prince, “here, in the lining of my coat. Look, you can feel it for yourself, if you like!”

“I saw it at Lyons. Schneider took us there, and as soon as we arrived we came in for that.”

“Just wait a while, my boy!” said she; “don’t be too certain of your triumph.” And she sat down heavily, in the arm-chair pushed forward by the prince.

“What! that I’ll cut her throat, you mean?”

“Quite fraternal--I look upon it as a joke. Let us be brothers-in-law, it is all the same to me,--rather an honour than not. But in spite of the two hundred guests and the thousandth anniversary of the Russian Empire, I can see that he is a very remarkable man. I am quite sincere. You said just now that I always looked as if I was going to tell you a secret; you are right. I have a secret to tell you: a certain person has just let me know that she is very anxious for a secret interview with you.”

“Well, good-bye,” he said abruptly. “You think it is easy for me to say good-bye to you? Ha, ha!”

“Perhaps then I am anxious to take advantage of my last chance of doing something for myself. A protest is sometimes no small thing.”

“Capital! And your handwriting?”

“He’s fainted!” the cry went round.

“It’s nothing, it’s nothing!” said the prince, and again he wore the smile which was so inconsistent with the circumstances.

Suddenly Rogojin burst into a loud abrupt laugh, as though he had quite forgotten that they must speak in whispers.

But gradually the consciousness crept back into the minds of each one present that the prince had just made her an offer of marriage. The situation had, therefore, become three times as fantastic as before.

“What’s that got to do with it?” asked the general, who loathed Ferdishenko.

“What’s the good of tormenting him like this?” cried the prince.

“Yes.”

“Yes--I saw an execution in France--at Lyons. Schneider took me over with him to see it.”

“What was the matter yesterday?” (she wrote on another sheet). “I passed by you, and you seemed to me to _blush_. Perhaps it was only my fancy. If I were to bring you to the most loathsome den, and show you the revelation of undisguised vice--you should not blush. You can never feel the sense of personal affront. You may hate all who are mean, or base, or unworthy--but not for yourself--only for those whom they wrong. No one can wrong _you_. Do you know, I think you ought to love me--for you are the same in my eyes as in his--you are as light. An angel cannot hate, perhaps cannot love, either. I often ask myself--is it possible to love everybody? Indeed it is not; it is not in nature. Abstract love of humanity is nearly always love of self. But you are different. You cannot help loving all, since you can compare with none, and are above all personal offence or anger. Oh! how bitter it would be to me to know that you felt anger or shame on my account, for that would be your fall--you would become comparable at once with such as me.

“I carried you in my arms as a baby,” he observed.

Then seeing that Radomski was laughing, he began to laugh himself, nudged Colia, who was sitting beside him, with his elbow, and again asked what time it was. He even pulled Colia’s silver watch out of his hand, and looked at it eagerly. Then, as if he had forgotten everything, he stretched himself out on the sofa, put his hands behind his head, and looked up at the sky. After a minute or two he got up and came back to the table to listen to Lebedeff’s outpourings, as the latter passionately commentated on Evgenie Pavlovitch’s paradox.

“Then you think they won’t see it?”

“What is the good of repentance like that? It is the same exactly as mine yesterday, when I said, ‘I am base, I am base,’--words, and nothing more!”

“You do not care if he does?” added Evgenie Pavlovitch. “Neither do I; in fact, I should be glad, merely as a proper punishment for our dear Lizabetha Prokofievna. I am very anxious that she should get it, without delay, and I shall stay till she does. You seem feverish.”

“Allow me--”

The prince came forward and introduced himself.

“Is it Rogojin?”

“My goodness, Lef Nicolaievitch, why, you can’t have heard a single word I said! Look at me, I’m still trembling all over with the dreadful shock! It is that that kept me in town so late. Evgenie Pavlovitch’s uncle--”

“I knew nothing about your home before,” said the prince absently, as if he were thinking of something else.

“He guessed quite right. I am not that sort of woman,” she whispered hurriedly, flushing red all over. Then she turned again and left the room so quickly that no one could imagine what she had come back for. All they saw was that she said something to Nina Alexandrovna in a hurried whisper, and seemed to kiss her hand. Varia, however, both saw and heard all, and watched Nastasia out of the room with an expression of wonder.

“I wish to work, somehow or other.”

“What? Impossible!” exclaimed Mrs. Epanchin.

“Oh! I can’t do that,” said the prince, laughing too. “I lived almost all the while in one little Swiss village; what can I teach you? At first I was only just not absolutely dull; then my health began to improve--then every day became dearer and more precious to me, and the longer I stayed, the dearer became the time to me; so much so that I could not help observing it; but why this was so, it would be difficult to say.”

“To _read?_” cried Gania, almost at the top of his voice; “to _read_, and you read it?”

The lodgers had disappeared very quickly--Ferdishenko soon after the events at Nastasia Philipovna’s, while the prince went to Moscow, as we know. Gania and his mother went to live with Varia and Ptitsin immediately after the latter’s wedding, while the general was housed in a debtor’s prison by reason of certain IOU’s given to the captain’s widow under the impression that they would never be formally used against him. This unkind action much surprised poor Ardalion Alexandrovitch, the victim, as he called himself, of an “unbounded trust in the nobility of the human heart.”

Rogojin looked intently at him again, as before.

“About the hedgehog.”

“Never mind, mamma! Prince, I wish you had seen an execution,” said Aglaya. “I should like to ask you a question about that, if you had.”

“In my opinion the conversation has been a painful one throughout, and we ought never to have begun it,” said Alexandra. “We were all going for a walk--”

Lizabetha Prokofievna’s face brightened up, too; so did that of General Epanchin.

He did not dare look at her, but he was conscious, to the very tips of his fingers, that she was gazing at him, perhaps angrily; and that she had probably flushed up with a look of fiery indignation in her black eyes.

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.

“_C’est très-curieux et c’est très-sérieux_,” he whispered across the table to Ivan Petrovitch, rather loudly. Probably the prince heard him.

“I give you my word of honour that I had nothing to do with the matter and know nothing about it.”

“All? Yes,” said the prince, emerging from a momentary reverie.

A silly, meaningless smile played on his white, death-like lips. He could not take his eyes off the smouldering packet; but it appeared that something new had come to birth in his soul--as though he were vowing to himself that he would bear this trial. He did not move from his place. In a few seconds it became evident to all that he did not intend to rescue the money.

“I only want to know, Mr. Hippolyte--excuse me, I forget your surname.”

“What! I tell stories, do I? It is true! I gave him my promise a couple of days ago on this very seat.”

“Prince,” whispered Hippolyte, suddenly, his eyes all ablaze, “you don’t suppose that I did not foresee all this hatred?” He looked at the prince as though he expected him to reply, for a moment. “Enough!” he added at length, and addressing the whole company, he cried: “It’s all my fault, gentlemen! Lebedeff, here’s the key,” (he took out a small bunch of keys); “this one, the last but one--Colia will show you--Colia, where’s Colia?” he cried, looking straight at Colia and not seeing him. “Yes, he’ll show you; he packed the bag with me this morning. Take him up, Colia; my bag is upstairs in the prince’s study, under the table. Here’s the key, and in the little case you’ll find my pistol and the powder, and all. Colia packed it himself, Mr. Lebedeff; he’ll show you; but it’s on condition that tomorrow morning, when I leave for Petersburg, you will give me back my pistol, do you hear? I do this for the prince’s sake, not yours.”

“He attacks education, he boasts of the fanaticism of the twelfth century, he makes absurd grimaces, and added to that he is by no means the innocent he makes himself out to be. How did he get the money to buy this house, allow me to ask?”

They were all laughing, and the guest joined in the chorus.

XIV.

“I assure you, prince, that Lebedeff is intriguing against you. He wants to put you under control. Imagine that! To take ‘from you the use of your free-will and your money’--that is to say, the two things that distinguish us from the animals! I have heard it said positively. It is the sober truth.”

The young officer, forgetting himself, sprang towards her. Nastasia’s followers were not by her at the moment (the elderly gentleman having disappeared altogether, and the younger man simply standing aside and roaring with laughter).

Gania, left alone, clutched his head with his hands.

“Not as a present, not as a present! I should not have taken the liberty,” said Lebedeff, appearing suddenly from behind his daughter. “It is our own Pushkin, our family copy, Annenkoff’s edition; it could not be bought now. I beg to suggest, with great respect, that your excellency should buy it, and thus quench the noble literary thirst which is consuming you at this moment,” he concluded grandiloquently.

“What do you know of my position, that you dare to judge me?” cried Nastasia, quivering with rage, and growing terribly white.

“Ladies are exempted if they like.”

“Just as before, sir, just as before! To a certain person, and from a certain hand. The individual’s name who wrote the letter is to be represented by the letter A.--”

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.

Before long Nastasia and Gania had talked the matter over. Very little was said--her modesty seemed to suffer under the infliction of discussing such a question. But she recognized his love, on the understanding that she bound herself to nothing whatever, and that she reserved the right to say “no” up to the very hour of the marriage ceremony. Gania was to have the same right of refusal at the last moment.

“Now and then I was able to persuade her almost to see light around her again; but she would soon fall, once more, into her old tormenting delusions, and would go so far as to reproach me for placing myself on a pedestal above her (I never had an idea of such a thing!), and informed me, in reply to my proposal of marriage, that she ‘did not want condescending sympathy or help from anybody.’ You saw her last night. You don’t suppose she can be happy among such people as those--you cannot suppose that such society is fit for her? You have no idea how well-educated she is, and what an intellect she has! She astonished me sometimes.”

One of these incidents was a visit from Lebedeff. Lebedeff came rather early--before ten--but he was tipsy already. Though the prince was not in an observant condition, yet he could not avoid seeing that for at least three days--ever since General Ivolgin had left the house Lebedeff had been behaving very badly. He looked untidy and dirty at all times of the day, and it was said that he had begun to rage about in his own house, and that his temper was very bad. As soon as he arrived this morning, he began to hold forth, beating his breast and apparently blaming himself for something.

“Why do I wish to unite you two? For your sakes or my own? For my own sake, naturally. All the problems of my life would thus be solved; I have thought so for a long time. I know that once when your sister Adelaida saw my portrait she said that such beauty could overthrow the world. But I have renounced the world. You think it strange that I should say so, for you saw me decked with lace and diamonds, in the company of drunkards and wastrels. Take no notice of that; I know that I have almost ceased to exist. God knows what it is dwelling within me now--it is not myself. I can see it every day in two dreadful eyes which are always looking at me, even when not present. These eyes are silent now, they say nothing; but I know their secret. His house is gloomy, and there is a secret in it. I am convinced that in some box he has a razor hidden, tied round with silk, just like the one that Moscow murderer had. This man also lived with his mother, and had a razor hidden away, tied round with white silk, and with this razor he intended to cut a throat.

“I shall certainly go mad, if I stay here!” cried Lizabetha Prokofievna.

“I bet anything it is!” exclaimed the red-nosed passenger, with extreme satisfaction, “and that he has precious little in the luggage van!--though of course poverty is no crime--we must remember that!”

“What do you see?” said the prince, startled.

“The owner was now some forty yards ahead of me, and was very soon lost in the crowd. I ran after him, and began calling out; but as I knew nothing to say excepting ‘hey!’ he did not turn round. Suddenly he turned into the gate of a house to the left; and when I darted in after him, the gateway was so dark that I could see nothing whatever. It was one of those large houses built in small tenements, of which there must have been at least a hundred.

“I would much rather not, just now,” said the prince, a little disturbed and frowning slightly.

No sooner had his sister left him alone, than Gania took the note out of his pocket, kissed it, and pirouetted around.

“I should think so indeed!” cried the latter. “The court-martial came to no decision. It was a mysterious, an impossible business, one might say! Captain Larionoff, commander of the company, had died; his command was handed over to the prince for the moment. Very well. This soldier, Kolpakoff, stole some leather from one of his comrades, intending to sell it, and spent the money on drink. Well! The prince--you understand that what follows took place in the presence of the sergeant-major, and a corporal--the prince rated Kolpakoff soundly, and threatened to have him flogged. Well, Kolpakoff went back to the barracks, lay down on a camp bedstead, and in a quarter of an hour was dead: you quite understand? It was, as I said, a strange, almost impossible, affair. In due course Kolpakoff was buried; the prince wrote his report, the deceased’s name was removed from the roll. All as it should be, is it not? But exactly three months later at the inspection of the brigade, the man Kolpakoff was found in the third company of the second battalion of infantry, Novozemlianski division, just as if nothing had happened!”

“Are you really throwing us all over, little mother? Where, where are you going to? And on your birthday, too!” cried the four girls, crying over her and kissing her hands.

“So this is Nastasia Philipovna,” he said, looking attentively and curiously at the portrait. “How wonderfully beautiful!” he immediately added, with warmth. The picture was certainly that of an unusually lovely woman. She was photographed in a black silk dress of simple design, her hair was evidently dark and plainly arranged, her eyes were deep and thoughtful, the expression of her face passionate, but proud. She was rather thin, perhaps, and a little pale. Both Gania and the general gazed at the prince in amazement.

Since their visit to Gania’s home, Rogojin’s followers had been increased by two new recruits--a dissolute old man, the hero of some ancient scandal, and a retired sub-lieutenant. A laughable story was told of the former. He possessed, it was said, a set of false teeth, and one day when he wanted money for a drinking orgy, he pawned them, and was never able to reclaim them! The officer appeared to be a rival of the gentleman who was so proud of his fists. He was known to none of Rogojin’s followers, but as they passed by the Nevsky, where he stood begging, he had joined their ranks. His claim for the charity he desired seemed based on the fact that in the days of his prosperity he had given away as much as fifteen roubles at a time. The rivals seemed more than a little jealous of one another. The athlete appeared injured at the admission of the “beggar” into the company. By nature taciturn, he now merely growled occasionally like a bear, and glared contemptuously upon the “beggar,” who, being somewhat of a man of the world, and a diplomatist, tried to insinuate himself into the bear’s good graces. He was a much smaller man than the athlete, and doubtless was conscious that he must tread warily. Gently and without argument he alluded to the advantages of the English style in boxing, and showed himself a firm believer in Western institutions. The athlete’s lips curled disdainfully, and without honouring his adversary with a formal denial, he exhibited, as if by accident, that peculiarly Russian object--an enormous fist, clenched, muscular, and covered with red hairs! The sight of this pre-eminently national attribute was enough to convince anybody, without words, that it was a serious matter for those who should happen to come into contact with it.

“It’s a most improbable story.”

“You never know the day of the week; what’s the day of the month?”

“Why, he didn’t die! I’ll ask him for it, if you like.”

Having placed this before her, he stood with drooped arms and head, as though awaiting his sentence.

Nastasia Philipovna looked surprised, and smiled, but evidently concealed something beneath her smile and with some confusion and a glance at Gania she left the room.

“My legs won’t move,” said the prince; “it’s fear, I know. When my fear is over, I’ll get up--”

“Good-bye.”

“Yes, that’s better,” said Adelaida; “the prince _learned to see_ abroad.”

All this was suspicious and unsatisfactory. Very likely the porter had received new instructions during the interval of the prince’s absence; his manner was so different now. He had been obliging--now he was as obstinate and silent as a mule. However, the prince decided to call again in a couple of hours, and after that to watch the house, in case of need. His hope was that he might yet find Nastasia at the address which he had just received. To that address he now set off at full speed.

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

“Look closer. Do you see that bench, in the park there, just by those three big trees--that green bench?”

There are many strange circumstances such as this before us; but in our opinion they do but deepen the mystery, and do not in the smallest degree help us to understand the case.

Silence immediately fell on the room; all looked at the prince as though they neither understood, nor hoped to understand. Gania was motionless with horror.

“Well, it’s too bad of you,” said mamma. “You must forgive them, prince; they are good girls. I am very fond of them, though I often have to be scolding them; they are all as silly and mad as march hares.”

“I, and Burdovsky, and Kostia Lebedeff. Keller stayed a little while, and then went over to Lebedeff’s to sleep. Ferdishenko slept at Lebedeff’s, too; but he went away at seven o’clock. My father is always at Lebedeff’s; but he has gone out just now. I dare say Lebedeff will be coming in here directly; he has been looking for you; I don’t know what he wants. Shall we let him in or not, if you are asleep? I’m going to have a nap, too. By-the-by, such a curious thing happened. Burdovsky woke me at seven, and I met my father just outside the room, so drunk, he didn’t even know me. He stood before me like a log, and when he recovered himself, asked hurriedly how Hippolyte was. ‘Yes,’ he said, when I told him, ‘that’s all very well, but I _really_ came to warn you that you must be very careful what you say before Ferdishenko.’ Do you follow me, prince?”

“Where are the cards?”

There are certain people of whom it is difficult to say anything which will at once throw them into relief--in other words, describe them graphically in their typical characteristics. These are they who are generally known as “commonplace people,” and this class comprises, of course, the immense majority of mankind. Authors, as a rule, attempt to select and portray types rarely met with in their entirety, but these types are nevertheless more real than real life itself.

“That is, by contending that it is not a sight for women they admit that it is a sight for men. I congratulate them on the deduction. I suppose you quite agree with them, prince?”

The clerk stood looking after his guest, struck by his sudden absent-mindedness. He had not even remembered to say goodbye, and Lebedeff was the more surprised at the omission, as he knew by experience how courteous the prince usually was.

“Lef Nicolaievitch.”

“There, you are laughing at me--I know why you laugh. It is perfectly true that we lived apart from one another all the time, in different towns. I told you before that I did not love her with love, but with pity! You said then that you understood me; did you really understand me or not? What hatred there is in your eyes at this moment! I came to relieve your mind, because you are dear to me also. I love you very much, Parfen; and now I shall go away and never come back again. Goodbye.”

“Father, your dinner is ready,” said Varvara at this point, putting her head in at the door.

Yet Aglaya had brought out these letters N. P. B. not only without the slightest appearance of irony, or even any particular accentuation, but with so even and unbroken an appearance of seriousness that assuredly anyone might have supposed that these initials were the original ones written in the ballad. The thing made an uncomfortable impression upon the prince. Of course Mrs. Epanchin saw nothing either in the change of initials or in the insinuation embodied therein. General Epanchin only knew that there was a recitation of verses going on, and took no further interest in the matter. Of the rest of the audience, many had understood the allusion and wondered both at the daring of the lady and at the motive underlying it, but tried to show no sign of their feelings. But Evgenie Pavlovitch (as the prince was ready to wager) both comprehended and tried his best to show that he comprehended; his smile was too mocking to leave any doubt on that point.

“It’s impossible, she cannot have given it to you to read! You are lying. You read it yourself!”

That there was, indeed, beauty and harmony in those abnormal moments, that they really contained the highest synthesis of life, he could not doubt, nor even admit the possibility of doubt. He felt that they were not analogous to the fantastic and unreal dreams due to intoxication by hashish, opium or wine. Of that he could judge, when the attack was over. These instants were characterized--to define it in a word--by an intense quickening of the sense of personality. Since, in the last conscious moment preceding the attack, he could say to himself, with full understanding of his words: “I would give my whole life for this one instant,” then doubtless to him it really was worth a lifetime. For the rest, he thought the dialectical part of his argument of little worth; he saw only too clearly that the result of these ecstatic moments was stupefaction, mental darkness, idiocy. No argument was possible on that point. His conclusion, his estimate of the “moment,” doubtless contained some error, yet the reality of the sensation troubled him. What’s more unanswerable than a fact? And this fact had occurred. The prince had confessed unreservedly to himself that the feeling of intense beatitude in that crowded moment made the moment worth a lifetime. “I feel then,” he said one day to Rogojin in Moscow, “I feel then as if I understood those amazing words--‘There shall be no more time.’” And he added with a smile: “No doubt the epileptic Mahomet refers to that same moment when he says that he visited all the dwellings of Allah, in less time than was needed to empty his pitcher of water.” Yes, he had often met Rogojin in Moscow, and many were the subjects they discussed. “He told me I had been a brother to him,” thought the prince. “He said so today, for the first time.”

“I don’t quite know. Your house has the aspect of yourself and all your family; it bears the stamp of the Rogojin life; but ask me why I think so, and I can tell you nothing. It is nonsense, of course. I am nervous about this kind of thing troubling me so much. I had never before imagined what sort of a house you would live in, and yet no sooner did I set eyes on this one than I said to myself that it must be yours.”

“Then you were there yesterday?”