This was the note:

“Very well--never mind about me; but I shall not allow you to strike her!” he said, at last, quietly. Then, suddenly, he could bear it no longer, and covering his face with his hands, turned to the wall, and murmured in broken accents:

“It’s simply that there is a Russian poem,” began Prince S., evidently anxious to change the conversation, “a strange thing, without beginning or end, and all about a ‘poor knight.’ A month or so ago, we were all talking and laughing, and looking up a subject for one of Adelaida’s pictures--you know it is the principal business of this family to find subjects for Adelaida’s pictures. Well, we happened upon this ‘poor knight.’ I don’t remember who thought of it first--”

“Ha, ha! I never supposed you would say ‘yes,’” cried Rogojin, laughing sardonically.

“It’s a good thing that there is peace in the house, at all events,” he continued. “They never utter a hint about the past, not only in Aglaya’s presence, but even among themselves. The old people are talking of a trip abroad in the autumn, immediately after Adelaida’s wedding; Aglaya received the news in silence.”

“Of course, of course, quite so; that’s what I am driving at!” continued Evgenie, excitedly. “It is as clear as possible, and most comprehensible, that you, in your enthusiasm, should plunge headlong into the first chance that came of publicly airing your great idea that you, a prince, and a pure-living man, did not consider a woman disgraced if the sin were not her own, but that of a disgusting social libertine! Oh, heavens! it’s comprehensible enough, my dear prince, but that is not the question, unfortunately! The question is, was there any reality and truth in your feelings? Was it nature, or nothing but intellectual enthusiasm? What do you think yourself? We are told, of course, that a far worse woman was _forgiven_, but we don’t find that she was told that she had done well, or that she was worthy of honour and respect! Did not your common-sense show you what was the real state of the case, a few months later? The question is now, not whether she is an innocent woman (I do not insist one way or the other--I do not wish to); but can her whole career justify such intolerable pride, such insolent, rapacious egotism as she has shown? Forgive me, I am too violent, perhaps, but--”

When the prince ceased speaking all were gazing merrily at him--even Aglaya; but Lizabetha Prokofievna looked the jolliest of all.

There were rumours current as to Gania, too; but circumstances soon contradicted these. He had fallen seriously ill, and his illness precluded his appearance in society, and even at business, for over a month. As soon as he had recovered, however, he threw up his situation in the public company under General Epanchin’s direction, for some unknown reason, and the post was given to another. He never went near the Epanchins’ house at all, and was exceedingly irritable and depressed.

“Well, God bless her, God bless her, if such is her destiny,” said Lizabetha, crossing herself devoutly.

“Delighted, I’m sure,” said Aglaya; “I am acquainted with Varvara Ardalionovna and Nina Alexandrovna.” She was trying hard to restrain herself from laughing.

“What do you mean by special privileges?”

“Not bad that, not bad at all!” put in Ferdishenko, “_se non è vero_--”

This beginning gave promise of a stormy discussion. The prince was much discouraged, but at last he managed to make himself heard amid the vociferations of his excited visitors.

“Oh, yes--a wonderful fellow; but I was present myself. I gave him my blessing.”

“Yes, I am invited,” he replied.

“Did you know he had communications with Aglaya?”

Such was Vera’s story afterwards.

“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.

“Or taken it out of my pocket--two alternatives.”

“At moments I was in a state of dreadful weakness and misery, so that Colia was greatly disturbed when he left me.

“What simplifies the duty before me considerably, in my opinion,” he began, “is that I am bound to recall and relate the very worst action of my life. In such circumstances there can, of course, be no doubt. One’s conscience very soon informs one what is the proper narrative to tell. I admit, that among the many silly and thoughtless actions of my life, the memory of one comes prominently forward and reminds me that it lay long like a stone on my heart. Some twenty years since, I paid a visit to Platon Ordintzeff at his country-house. He had just been elected marshal of the nobility, and had come there with his young wife for the winter holidays. Anfisa Alexeyevna’s birthday came off just then, too, and there were two balls arranged. At that time Dumas-fils’ beautiful work, _La Dame aux Camélias_--a novel which I consider imperishable--had just come into fashion. In the provinces all the ladies were in raptures over it, those who had read it, at least. Camellias were all the fashion. Everyone inquired for them, everybody wanted them; and a grand lot of camellias are to be got in a country town--as you all know--and two balls to provide for!

“I had taken hold of the door-handle meanwhile, intending to leave the room without reply; but I was panting with my run upstairs, and my exhaustion came to a climax in a violent fit of coughing, so bad that I could hardly stand.

“In point of fact I don’t think I thought much about it,” said the old fellow. He seemed to have a wonderfully good memory, however, for he told the prince all about the two old ladies, Pavlicheff’s cousins, who had taken care of him, and whom, he declared, he had taken to task for being too severe with the prince as a small sickly boy--the elder sister, at least; the younger had been kind, he recollected. They both now lived in another province, on a small estate left to them by Pavlicheff. The prince listened to all this with eyes sparkling with emotion and delight.

Keller insisted afterwards that he had held his right hand in his pocket all the while, when he was speaking to the prince, and that he had held the latter’s shoulder with his left hand only. This circumstance, Keller affirmed, had led him to feel some suspicion from the first. However this may be, Keller ran after Hippolyte, but he was too late.

“Then what did you mean, when you said straight out to her that she was not really ‘like that’? You guessed right, I fancy. It is quite possible she was not herself at the moment, though I cannot fathom her meaning. Evidently she meant to hurt and insult us. I have heard curious tales about her before now, but if she came to invite us to her house, why did she behave so to my mother? Ptitsin knows her very well; he says he could not understand her today. With Rogojin, too! No one with a spark of self-respect could have talked like that in the house of her... Mother is extremely vexed on your account, too...

Lebedeff grimaced and wriggled again.

The prince’s further fate was more or less decided by Colia, who selected, out of all the persons he had met during the last six or seven months, Evgenie Pavlovitch, as friend and confidant. To him he made over all that he knew as to the events above recorded, and as to the present condition of the prince. He was not far wrong in his choice. Evgenie Pavlovitch took the deepest interest in the fate of the unfortunate “idiot,” and, thanks to his influence, the prince found himself once more with Dr. Schneider, in Switzerland.

“He was terribly confused and did not seem able to collect his scattered senses; the pocket-book was still in his left hand.

Hippolyte died in great agitation, and rather sooner than he expected, about a fortnight after Nastasia Philipovna’s death. Colia was much affected by these events, and drew nearer to his mother in heart and sympathy. Nina Alexandrovna is anxious, because he is “thoughtful beyond his years,” but he will, we think, make a useful and active man.

In point of fact it is quite possible that the matter would have ended in a very commonplace and natural way in a few minutes. The undoubtedly astonished, but now more collected, General Epanchin had several times endeavoured to interrupt the prince, and not having succeeded he was now preparing to take firmer and more vigorous measures to attain his end. In another minute or two he would probably have made up his mind to lead the prince quietly out of the room, on the plea of his being ill (and it was more than likely that the general was right in his belief that the prince _was_ actually ill), but it so happened that destiny had something different in store.

At that moment Colia appeared on the terrace; he announced that Lizabetha Prokofievna and her three daughters were close behind him.

“In the first place, it is not for you to address me as ‘sir,’ and, in the second place, I refuse to give you any explanation,” said Ivan Fedorovitch vehemently; and he rose without another word, and went and stood on the first step of the flight that led from the verandah to the street, turning his back on the company. He was indignant with Lizabetha Prokofievna, who did not think of moving even now.

“I cannot tell you on the instant whether I agree with you or not,” said the latter, suddenly stopping his laughter, and starting like a schoolboy caught at mischief. “But, I assure you, I am listening to you with extreme gratification.”

“Well, what do you think? The old fellow went straight off to Nastasia Philipovna, touched the floor with his forehead, and began blubbering and beseeching her on his knees to give him back the diamonds. So after awhile she brought the box and flew out at him. ‘There,’ she says, ‘take your earrings, you wretched old miser; although they are ten times dearer than their value to me now that I know what it must have cost Parfen to get them! Give Parfen my compliments,’ she says, ‘and thank him very much!’ Well, I meanwhile had borrowed twenty-five roubles from a friend, and off I went to Pskoff to my aunt’s. The old woman there lectured me so that I left the house and went on a drinking tour round the public-houses of the place. I was in a high fever when I got to Pskoff, and by nightfall I was lying delirious in the streets somewhere or other!”

“Oh no--not a bit! It was foolish of me to say I was afraid! Don’t repeat it please, Lebedeff, don’t tell anyone I said that!”

“Well, I’ll come, I’ll come,” interrupted the prince, hastily, “and I’ll give you my word of honour that I will sit the whole evening and not say a word.”

“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.

“I understand, gentlemen,” he began, trembling as before, and stumbling over every word, “that I have deserved your resentment, and--and am sorry that I should have troubled you with this raving nonsense” (pointing to his article), “or rather, I am sorry that I have not troubled you enough.” He smiled feebly. “Have I troubled you, Evgenie Pavlovitch?” He suddenly turned on Evgenie with this question. “Tell me now, have I troubled you or not?”

“Yes, I do! I have only been one day in Russia, but I have heard of the great beauty!” And the prince proceeded to narrate his meeting with Rogojin in the train and the whole of the latter’s story.

Evgenie Pavlovitch, who went abroad at this time, intending to live a long while on the continent, being, as he often said, quite superfluous in Russia, visits his sick friend at Schneider’s every few months.

“Oho!” laughed the boy, “you can be nicer than that to _me_, you know--I’m not Ptitsin!”

“Oh no! I know she only laughs at him; she has made a fool of him all along.”

“It’s headed, ‘A Necessary Explanation,’ with the motto, ‘_Après moi le déluge!_’ Oh, deuce take it all! Surely I can never have seriously written such a silly motto as that? Look here, gentlemen, I beg to give notice that all this is very likely terrible nonsense. It is only a few ideas of mine. If you think that there is anything mysterious coming--or in a word--”

He rose from his seat in order to follow her, when a bright, clear peal of laughter rang out by his side. He felt somebody’s hand suddenly in his own, seized it, pressed it hard, and awoke. Before him stood Aglaya, laughing aloud.

“And I also wish for justice to be done, once for all,” cried Madame Epanchin, “about this impudent claim. Deal with them promptly, prince, and don’t spare them! I am sick of hearing about the affair, and many a quarrel I have had in your cause. But I confess I am anxious to see what happens, so do make them come out here, and we will remain. You have heard people talking about it, no doubt?” she added, turning to Prince S.

Yet all the others were similarly affected. The girls were uncomfortable and ashamed. Lizabetha Prokofievna restrained her violent anger by a great effort; perhaps she bitterly regretted her interference in the matter; for the present she kept silence. The prince felt as very shy people often do in such a case; he was so ashamed of the conduct of other people, so humiliated for his guests, that he dared not look them in the face. Ptitsin, Varia, Gania, and Lebedeff himself, all looked rather confused. Stranger still, Hippolyte and the “son of Pavlicheff” also seemed slightly surprised, and Lebedeff’s nephew was obviously far from pleased. The boxer alone was perfectly calm; he twisted his moustaches with affected dignity, and if his eyes were cast down it was certainly not in confusion, but rather in noble modesty, as if he did not wish to be insolent in his triumph. It was evident that he was delighted with the article.

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.

“Oh, devil take what he wanted you to do! Don’t try to be too cunning with me, young man!” shouted Gania. “If you are aware of the real reason for my father’s present condition (and you have kept such an excellent spying watch during these last few days that you are sure to be aware of it)--you had no right whatever to torment the--unfortunate man, and to worry my mother by your exaggerations of the affair; because the whole business is nonsense--simply a drunken freak, and nothing more, quite unproved by any evidence, and I don’t believe that much of it!” (he snapped his fingers). “But you must needs spy and watch over us all, because you are a--a--”

“I told you she wasn’t an ordinary woman,” replied the latter, who was as pale as anyone.

Mrs. Epanchin misunderstood the observation, and rising from her place she left the room in majestic wrath. In the evening, however, Colia came with the story of the prince’s adventures, so far as he knew them. Mrs. Epanchin was triumphant; although Colia had to listen to a long lecture. “He idles about here the whole day long, one can’t get rid of him; and then when he is wanted he does not come. He might have sent a line if he did not wish to inconvenience himself.”

Farther on, in another place, she wrote: “Do not consider my words as the sickly ecstasies of a diseased mind, but you are, in my opinion--perfection! I have seen you--I see you every day. I do not judge you; I have not weighed you in the scales of Reason and found you Perfection--it is simply an article of faith. But I must confess one sin against you--I love you. One should not love perfection. One should only look on it as perfection--yet I am in love with you. Though love equalizes, do not fear. I have not lowered you to my level, even in my most secret thoughts. I have written ‘Do not fear,’ as if you could fear. I would kiss your footprints if I could; but, oh! I am not putting myself on a level with you!--Look at the signature--quick, look at the signature!”

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.

“Oh prince, prince! I never should have thought it of you;” said General Epanchin. “And I imagined you a philosopher! Oh, you silent fellows!”

A great deal of sympathy was expressed; a considerable amount of advice was volunteered; Ivan Petrovitch expressed his opinion that the young man was “a Slavophile, or something of that sort”; but that it was not a dangerous development. The old dignitary said nothing.

Had he been more careful to observe his companion, he would have seen that for the last quarter of an hour Aglaya had also been glancing around in apparent anxiety, as though she expected to see someone, or something particular, among the crowd of people. Now, at the moment when his own anxiety became so marked, her excitement also increased visibly, and when he looked about him, she did the same.

“Only, of course that’s not nearly your worst action,” said the actress, with evident dislike in her face.

“What have you done, indeed?” put in Nina Alexandrovna. “You ought to be ashamed of yourself, teasing an old man like that--and in your position, too.”

He found the mother and daughter locked in one another’s arms, mingling their tears.

“How did you--find me here?” asked the prince for the sake of saying something.

“The pleasure is, of course, mutual; but life is not all pleasure, as you are aware. There is such a thing as business, and I really do not see what possible reason there can be, or what we have in common to--”

“Before I reached home I was met and summoned to the major’s, so that it was some while before I actually got there. When I came in, Nikifor met me. ‘Have you heard, sir, that our old lady is dead?’ ‘_dead_, when?’ ‘Oh, an hour and a half ago.’ That meant nothing more nor less than that she was dying at the moment when I pounced on her and began abusing her.

“Of course it is nonsense, and in nonsense it would have ended, doubtless; but you know these fellows, they--”

“The question is connected with the following anecdote of past times; for I am obliged to relate a story. In our times, and in our country, which I hope you love as much as I do, for as far as I am concerned, I am ready to shed the last drop of my blood...

“What, about that boy, you mean? Oh dear no, yesterday my ideas were a little--well--mixed. Today, I assure you, I shall not oppose in the slightest degree any suggestions it may please you to make.”

“Ah, yes. Well, did you read it, general? It’s curious, isn’t it?” said the prince, delighted to be able to open up conversation upon an outside subject.

“Halloa! what’s this now?” laughed Rogojin. “You come along with me, old fellow! You shall have as much to drink as you like.”

“Come, Lizabetha Prokofievna, it is quite time for us to be going, we will take the prince with us,” said Prince S. with a smile, in the coolest possible way.

“Yes, I am afraid...” began the prince.

“There’s the deuce and all going on there!” he said. “First of all about the row last night, and I think there must be something new as well, though I didn’t like to ask. Not a word about _you_, prince, the whole time! The most interesting fact was that Aglaya had been quarrelling with her people about Gania. Colia did not know any details, except that it had been a terrible quarrel! Also Evgenie Pavlovitch had called, and met with an excellent reception all round. And another curious thing: Mrs. Epanchin was so angry that she called Varia to her--Varia was talking to the girls--and turned her out of the house ‘once for all’ she said. I heard it from Varia herself--Mrs. Epanchin was quite polite, but firm; and when Varia said good-bye to the girls, she told them nothing about it, and they didn’t know they were saying goodbye for the last time. I’m sorry for Varia, and for Gania too; he isn’t half a bad fellow, in spite of his faults, and I shall never forgive myself for not liking him before! I don’t know whether I ought to continue to go to the Epanchins’ now,” concluded Colia--“I like to be quite independent of others, and of other people’s quarrels if I can; but I must think over it.”

Moved by this news, Lebedeff hurried up to the prince.

“I know, I know! He lay there fifteen hours in the hard frost, and died with the most extraordinary fortitude--I know--what of him?”

“Oh yes, of course, on purpose! I quite understand.”

“Oh, dear!” cried the prince, confused, trying to hurry his words out, and growing more and more eager every moment: “I’ve gone and said another stupid thing. I don’t know what to say. I--I didn’t mean that, you know--I--I--he really was such a splendid man, wasn’t he?”

“Yes, but he died at Elizabethgrad, not at Tver,” said the prince, rather timidly. “So Pavlicheff told me.”

“How mean you were!” said Nastasia.

“It is difficult to judge when such beauty is concerned. I have not prepared my judgment. Beauty is a riddle.”

“I like your sister very much.”

“Keller is my name, sir; ex-lieutenant,” he said, very loud. “If you will accept me as champion of the fair sex, I am at your disposal. English boxing has no secrets from me. I sympathize with you for the insult you have received, but I can’t permit you to raise your hand against a woman in public. If you prefer to meet me--as would be more fitting to your rank--in some other manner, of course you understand me, captain.”

Arrived at the gate, the prince looked up at the legend over it, which ran:

“No, it is impossible for me to come to your house again,” he added slowly.

“Oh! then you did come ‘to fight,’ I may conclude? Dear me!--and I thought you were cleverer--”

“It was Nastasia Philipovna,” said the prince; “didn’t you know that? I cannot tell you who her companion was.”

He only knew that he began to distinguish things clearly from the moment when Aglaya suddenly appeared, and he jumped up from the sofa and went to meet her. It was just a quarter past seven then.

“Thank you; I am glad to be like mamma,” she said, thoughtfully. “You respect her very much, don’t you?” she added, quite unconscious of the naiveness of the question.

Ardalion Alexandrovitch immediately did his best to make his foolish position a great deal worse.

“What for? What was your object? Show me the letter.” Mrs. Epanchin’s eyes flashed; she was almost trembling with impatience.

“‘I’m off,’ said Davoust. ‘Where to?’ asked Napoleon.

“You are going home?”

“I have not got a ten-rouble note,” said the prince; “but here is a twenty-five. Change it and give me back the fifteen, or I shall be left without a farthing myself.”

“I don’t _hate_, I despise him,” said Gania, grandly. “Well, I do hate him, if you like!” he added, with a sudden access of rage, “and I’ll tell him so to his face, even when he’s dying! If you had but read his confession--good Lord! what refinement of impudence! Oh, but I’d have liked to whip him then and there, like a schoolboy, just to see how surprised he would have been! Now he hates everybody because he--Oh, I say, what on earth are they doing there! Listen to that noise! I really can’t stand this any longer. Ptitsin!” he cried, as the latter entered the room, “what in the name of goodness are we coming to? Listen to that--”

The evidence of the porter went further than anything else towards the success of Lebedeff in gaining the assistance of the police. He declared that he had seen Rogojin return to the house last night, accompanied by a friend, and that both had gone upstairs very secretly and cautiously. After this there was no hesitation about breaking open the door, since it could not be got open in any other way.

“Do you know this for certain?” asked Evgenie, with the greatest curiosity.

“It is plain to me, that _you_ are not in it at all,” he continued, at last, a little less vaguely, “but perhaps you had better not come to our house for a little while. I ask you in the friendliest manner, mind; just till the wind changes again. As for Evgenie Pavlovitch,” he continued with some excitement, “the whole thing is a calumny, a dirty calumny. It is simply a plot, an intrigue, to upset our plans and to stir up a quarrel. You see, prince, I’ll tell you privately, Evgenie and ourselves have not said a word yet, we have no formal understanding, we are in no way bound on either side, but the word may be said very soon, don’t you see, _very_ soon, and all this is most injurious, and is meant to be so. Why? I’m sure I can’t tell you. She’s an extraordinary woman, you see, an eccentric woman; I tell you I am so frightened of that woman that I can’t sleep. What a carriage that was, and where did it come from, eh? I declare, I was base enough to suspect Evgenie at first; but it seems certain that that cannot be the case, and if so, why is she interfering here? That’s the riddle, what does she want? Is it to keep Evgenie to herself? But, my dear fellow, I swear to you, I swear he doesn’t even _know_ her, and as for those bills, why, the whole thing is an invention! And the familiarity of the woman! It’s quite clear we must treat the impudent creature’s attempt with disdain, and redouble our courtesy towards Evgenie. I told my wife so.

“They do not at all approve of women going to see an execution there. The women who do go are condemned for it afterwards in the newspapers.”

The prince thought he knew what Gania meant by “such a moment.”

“Well, when we tried it we were a party of people, like this, for instance; and somebody proposed that each of us, without leaving his place at the table, should relate something about himself. It had to be something that he really and honestly considered the very worst action he had ever committed in his life. But he was to be honest--that was the chief point! He wasn’t to be allowed to lie.”

To serve her brother’s interests, Varvara Ardalionovna was constantly at the Epanchins’ house, helped by the fact that in childhood she and Gania had played with General Ivan Fedorovitch’s daughters. It would have been inconsistent with her character if in these visits she had been pursuing a chimera; her project was not chimerical at all; she was building on a firm basis--on her knowledge of the character of the Epanchin family, especially Aglaya, whom she studied closely. All Varvara’s efforts were directed towards bringing Aglaya and Gania together. Perhaps she achieved some result; perhaps, also, she made the mistake of depending too much upon her brother, and expecting more from him than he would ever be capable of giving. However this may be, her manoeuvres were skilful enough. For weeks at a time she would never mention Gania. Her attitude was modest but dignified, and she was always extremely truthful and sincere. Examining the depths of her conscience, she found nothing to reproach herself with, and this still further strengthened her in her designs. But Varvara Ardalionovna sometimes remarked that she felt spiteful; that there was a good deal of vanity in her, perhaps even of wounded vanity. She noticed this at certain times more than at others, and especially after her visits to the Epanchins.

“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.”

“I want to explain all to you--everything--everything! I know you think me Utopian, don’t you--an idealist? Oh, no! I’m not, indeed--my ideas are all so simple. You don’t believe me? You are smiling. Do you know, I am sometimes very wicked--for I lose my faith? This evening as I came here, I thought to myself, ‘What shall I talk about? How am I to begin, so that they may be able to understand partially, at all events?’ How afraid I was--dreadfully afraid! And yet, how _could_ I be afraid--was it not shameful of me? Was I afraid of finding a bottomless abyss of empty selfishness? Ah! that’s why I am so happy at this moment, because I find there is no bottomless abyss at all--but good, healthy material, full of life.

It is impossible to describe Aglaya’s irritation. She flared up, and said some indignant words about “all these silly insinuations.” She added that “she had no intentions as yet of replacing anybody’s mistress.”