“At all events, the fact remained--a month of life and no more! That he is right in his estimation I am absolutely persuaded.
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.
Nastasia looked at the new arrivals with great curiosity. Gania recollected himself at last.
The fact that the prince confirmed her idea, about Hippolyte shooting himself that she might read his confession, surprised her greatly.
“Well, wait a bit, before you begin to triumph,” said the nephew viciously; for the words seemed to irritate him. “He is delighted! I came to him here and told him everything: I acted honourably, for I did not excuse myself. I spoke most severely of my conduct, as everyone here can witness. But I must smarten myself up before I take up my new post, for I am really like a tramp. Just look at my boots! I cannot possibly appear like this, and if I am not at the bureau at the time appointed, the job will be given to someone else; and I shall have to try for another. Now I only beg for fifteen roubles, and I give my word that I will never ask him for anything again. I am also ready to promise to repay my debt in three months’ time, and I will keep my word, even if I have to live on bread and water. My salary will amount to seventy-five roubles in three months. The sum I now ask, added to what I have borrowed already, will make a total of about thirty-five roubles, so you see I shall have enough to pay him and confound him! if he wants interest, he shall have that, too! Haven’t I always paid back the money he lent me before? Why should he be so mean now? He grudges my having paid that lieutenant; there can be no other reason! That’s the kind he is--a dog in the manger!”
The entrance-hall suddenly became full of noise and people. To judge from the sounds which penetrated to the drawing-room, a number of people had already come in, and the stampede continued. Several voices were talking and shouting at once; others were talking and shouting on the stairs outside; it was evidently a most extraordinary visit that was about to take place.
They stopped on the landing, and rang the bell at a door opposite to Parfen’s own lodging.
“Prince,” he began again, “they are rather angry with me, in there, owing to a circumstance which I need not explain, so that I do not care to go in at present without an invitation. I particularly wish to speak to Aglaya, but I have written a few words in case I shall not have the chance of seeing her” (here the prince observed a small note in his hand), “and I do not know how to get my communication to her. Don’t you think you could undertake to give it to her at once, but only to her, mind, and so that no one else should see you give it? It isn’t much of a secret, but still--Well, will you do it?”
“Well, they do heat them a little; but the houses and stoves are so different to ours.”
The old man was in a state of great mental perturbation. The whole of the journey, which occupied nearly an hour, he continued in this strain, putting questions and answering them himself, shrugging his shoulders, pressing the prince’s hand, and assuring the latter that, at all events, he had no suspicion whatever of _him_. This last assurance was satisfactory, at all events. The general finished by informing him that Evgenie’s uncle was head of one of the civil service departments, and rich, very rich, and a gourmand. “And, well, Heaven preserve him, of course--but Evgenie gets his money, don’t you see? But, for all this, I’m uncomfortable, I don’t know why. There’s something in the air, I feel there’s something nasty in the air, like a bat, and I’m by no means comfortable.”
Suddenly he embraced Muishkin.
“Well, really, you know”--(silence)--“of course, you know all this is very strange, if true, which I cannot deny; but”--(silence).--“But, on the other hand, if one looks things in the face, you know--upon my honour, the prince is a rare good fellow--and--and--and--well, his name, you know--your family name--all this looks well, and perpetuates the name and title and all that--which at this moment is not standing so high as it might--from one point of view--don’t you know? The world, the world is the world, of course--and people will talk--and--and--the prince has property, you know--if it is not very large--and then he--he--” (Continued silence, and collapse of the general.)
“That has been seen already,” continued Lebedeff, not deigning to notice the interruption. “Malthus was a friend of humanity, but, with ill-founded moral principles, the friend of humanity is the devourer of humanity, without mentioning his pride; for, touch the vanity of one of these numberless philanthropists, and to avenge his self-esteem, he will be ready at once to set fire to the whole globe; and to tell the truth, we are all more or less like that. I, perhaps, might be the first to set a light to the fuel, and then run away. But, again, I must repeat, that is not the question.”
The two old gentlemen looked quite alarmed. The old general (Epanchin’s chief) sat and glared at the prince in severe displeasure. The colonel sat immovable. Even the German poet grew a little pale, though he wore his usual artificial smile as he looked around to see what the others would do.
“I’ve never learned anything whatever,” said the other.
He remembered seeing something in the window marked at sixty copecks. Therefore, if the shop existed and if this object were really in the window, it would prove that he had been able to concentrate his attention on this article at a moment when, as a general rule, his absence of mind would have been too great to admit of any such concentration; in fact, very shortly after he had left the railway station in such a state of agitation.
“Nastasia Philipovna!” began the general, reproachfully. He was beginning to put his own interpretation on the affair.
“Listen, Lebedeff,” began the prince, quite overwhelmed; “_do_ act quietly--don’t make a scandal, Lebedeff, I ask you--I entreat you! No one must know--_no one_, mind! In that case only, I will help you.”
“It is not in the least beyond all limits, mamma!” said her daughter, firmly. “I sent the prince a hedgehog this morning, and I wish to hear his opinion of it. Go on, prince.”
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.
“In the eyes of the world I am sure that I have no cause for pride or self-esteem. I am much too insignificant for that. But what may be so to other men’s eyes is not so to yours. I am convinced that you are better than other people. Doktorenko disagrees with me, but I am content to differ from him on this point. I will never accept one single copeck from you, but you have helped my mother, and I am bound to be grateful to you for that, however weak it may seem. At any rate, I have changed my opinion about you, and I think right to inform you of the fact; but I also suppose that there can be no further intercourse between us.
“You must have misunderstood what I said,” said Nastasia, in some surprise.
“No, I have never known her.”
No one replied.
“Oh dear no, it’s all a joke. No more cousin than I am.”
“Parfen Semionovitch is not at home,” she announced from the doorway. “Whom do you want?”
At the moment when he lost Aglaya, and after the scene with Nastasia, he had felt so low in his own eyes that he actually brought the money back to the prince. Of this returning of the money given to him by a madwoman who had received it from a madman, he had often repented since--though he never ceased to be proud of his action. During the short time that Muishkin remained in Petersburg Gania had had time to come to hate him for his sympathy, though the prince told him that it was “not everyone who would have acted so nobly” as to return the money. He had long pondered, too, over his relations with Aglaya, and had persuaded himself that with such a strange, childish, innocent character as hers, things might have ended very differently. Remorse then seized him; he threw up his post, and buried himself in self-torment and reproach.
“There is too much about myself, I know, but--” As Hippolyte said this his face wore a tired, pained look, and he wiped the sweat off his brow.
“You seem to take me for a child, Lebedeff. Tell me, is it a fact that she left him while they were in Moscow?”
“Now how on earth am I to announce a man like that?” muttered the servant. “In the first place, you’ve no right in here at all; you ought to be in the waiting-room, because you’re a sort of visitor--a guest, in fact--and I shall catch it for this. Look here, do you intend to take up you abode with us?” he added, glancing once more at the prince’s bundle, which evidently gave him no peace.
“Well--he’s a good match--and a bad one; and if you want my opinion, more bad than good. You can see for yourself the man is an invalid.”
“I knew you’d be wandering about somewhere here. I didn’t have to look for you very long,” muttered the latter between his teeth.
Even the German poet, though as amiable as possible, felt that he was doing the house the greatest of honours by his presence in it.
“It will be well,” she said, “if you put an end to this affair yourself _at once_: but you must allow us to be your witnesses. They want to throw mud at you, prince, and you must be triumphantly vindicated. I give you joy beforehand!”
“I tell you it’s true,” said Rogojin quietly, but with eyes ablaze with passion.
“Well, why have I worried him, for five years, and never let him go free? Is he worth it? He is only just what he ought to be--nothing particular. He thinks I am to blame, too. He gave me my education, kept me like a countess. Money--my word! What a lot of money he spent over me! And he tried to find me an honest husband first, and then this Gania, here. And what do you think? All these five years I did not live with him, and yet I took his money, and considered I was quite justified.
Sure enough, the train was just steaming in as he spoke.
A certain strangeness and impatience in his manner impressed the prince very forcibly.
While he feasted his eyes upon Aglaya, as she talked merrily with Evgenie and Prince N., suddenly the old anglomaniac, who was talking to the dignitary in another corner of the room, apparently telling him a story about something or other--suddenly this gentleman pronounced the name of “Nicolai Andreevitch Pavlicheff” aloud. The prince quickly turned towards him, and listened.
“I certainly thought they invited you with quite other views.”
“How can she be mad,” Rogojin interrupted, “when she is sane enough for other people and only mad for you? How can she write letters to _her_, if she’s mad? If she were insane they would observe it in her letters.”
“I angrily turned round in bed and made up my mind that I would not say a word unless he did; so I rested silently on my pillow determined to remain dumb, if it were to last till morning. I felt resolved that he should speak first. Probably twenty minutes or so passed in this way. Suddenly the idea struck me--what if this is an apparition and not Rogojin himself?
“Thoroughly honest, quite so, prince, thoroughly honest!” said Lebedeff, with flashing eyes. “And only you, prince, could have found so very appropriate an expression. I honour you for it, prince. Very well, that’s settled; I shall find the purse now and not tomorrow. Here, I find it and take it out before your eyes! And the money is all right. Take it, prince, and keep it till tomorrow, will you? Tomorrow or next day I’ll take it back again. I think, prince, that the night after its disappearance it was buried under a bush in the garden. So I believe--what do you think of that?”
“What a power!” cried Adelaida suddenly, as she earnestly examined the portrait over her sister’s shoulder.
“I am very proud, in spite of what I am,” she continued. “You called me ‘perfection’ just now, prince. A nice sort of perfection to throw up a prince and a million and a half of roubles in order to be able to boast of the fact afterwards! What sort of a wife should I make for you, after all I have said? Afanasy Ivanovitch, do you observe I have really and truly thrown away a million of roubles? And you thought that I should consider your wretched seventy-five thousand, with Gania thrown in for a husband, a paradise of bliss! Take your seventy-five thousand back, sir; you did not reach the hundred thousand. Rogojin cut a better dash than you did. I’ll console Gania myself; I have an idea about that. But now I must be off! I’ve been in prison for ten years. I’m free at last! Well, Rogojin, what are you waiting for? Let’s get ready and go.”
“Here on my paper, I make a note of all the figures and dates that come into my explanation. Of course, it is all the same to me, but just now--and perhaps only at this moment--I desire that all those who are to judge of my action should see clearly out of how logical a sequence of deductions has at length proceeded my ‘last conviction.’
I cannot say, either, whether she showed the letter to her sisters.
Aglaya alone seemed sad and depressed; her face was flushed, perhaps with indignation.
“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...
“I admit I was afraid that that was the case, yesterday,” blundered the prince (he was rather confused), “but today I am quite convinced that--”
“Wonderful!” said Gania. “And he knows it too,” he added, with a sarcastic smile.
Evgenie Pavlovitch was silent, but Hippolyte kept his eyes fixed upon him, waiting impatiently for more.
When he signed those notes of hand he never dreamt that they would be a source of future trouble. The event showed that he was mistaken. “Trust in anyone after this! Have the least confidence in man or woman!” he cried in bitter tones, as he sat with his new friends in prison, and recounted to them his favourite stories of the siege of Kars, and the resuscitated soldier. On the whole, he accommodated himself very well to his new position. Ptitsin and Varia declared that he was in the right place, and Gania was of the same opinion. The only person who deplored his fate was poor Nina Alexandrovna, who wept bitter tears over him, to the great surprise of her household, and, though always in feeble health, made a point of going to see him as often as possible.
She seemed to be very angry, but suddenly burst out laughing, quite good-humouredly.
“How did you--find me here?” asked the prince for the sake of saying something.
“Gentlemen, if any one of you casts any doubt again, before me, upon Hippolyte’s good faith, or hints that the cap was forgotten intentionally, or suggests that this unhappy boy was acting a part before us, I beg to announce that the person so speaking shall account to me for his words.”
Neither of the men spoke a word while at the bedside. The prince’s heart beat so loud that its knocking seemed to be distinctly audible in the deathly silence.
They exchanged glances questioningly, but the prince did not seem to have understood the meaning of Aglaya’s words; he was in the highest heaven of delight.
He knew well that Nastasia thoroughly understood him and where to wound him and how, and therefore, as the marriage was still only in embryo, Totski decided to conciliate her by giving it up. His decision was strengthened by the fact that Nastasia Philipovna had curiously altered of late. It would be difficult to conceive how different she was physically, at the present time, to the girl of a few years ago. She was pretty then... but now!... Totski laughed angrily when he thought how short-sighted he had been. In days gone by he remembered how he had looked at her beautiful eyes, how even then he had marvelled at their dark mysterious depths, and at their wondering gaze which seemed to seek an answer to some unknown riddle. Her complexion also had altered. She was now exceedingly pale, but, curiously, this change only made her more beautiful. Like most men of the world, Totski had rather despised such a cheaply-bought conquest, but of late years he had begun to think differently about it. It had struck him as long ago as last spring that he ought to be finding a good match for Nastasia; for instance, some respectable and reasonable young fellow serving in a government office in another part of the country. How maliciously Nastasia laughed at the idea of such a thing, now!
“But why not now? I am ready to listen, and--”
A certain strangeness and impatience in his manner impressed the prince very forcibly.
The prince did not notice that others were talking and making themselves agreeable to Aglaya; in fact, at moments, he almost forgot that he was sitting by her himself. At other moments he felt a longing to go away somewhere and be alone with his thoughts, and to feel that no one knew where he was.
“Ah, very angry all day, sir; all yesterday and all today. He shows decided bacchanalian predilections at one time, and at another is tearful and sensitive, but at any moment he is liable to paroxysms of such rage that I assure you, prince, I am quite alarmed. I am not a military man, you know. Yesterday we were sitting together in the tavern, and the lining of my coat was--quite accidentally, of course--sticking out right in front. The general squinted at it, and flew into a rage. He never looks me quite in the face now, unless he is very drunk or maudlin; but yesterday he looked at me in such a way that a shiver went all down my back. I intend to find the purse tomorrow; but till then I am going to have another night of it with him.”
“Pure amiable curiosity,--I assure you--desire to do a service. That’s all. Now I’m entirely yours again, your slave; hang me if you like!”
“But this is intolerable!” cried the visitors, some of them starting to their feet.
We have seen, however, that the general paid a visit to Lizabetha Prokofievna and caused trouble there, the final upshot being that he frightened Mrs. Epanchin, and angered her by bitter hints as to his son Gania.
“But though I do not recognize any jurisdiction over myself, still I know that I shall be judged, when I am nothing but a voiceless lump of clay; therefore I do not wish to go before I have left a word of reply--the reply of a free man--not one forced to justify himself--oh no! I have no need to ask forgiveness of anyone. I wish to say a word merely because I happen to desire it of my own free will.
“What I expected has happened! But I am sorry, you poor fellow, that you should have had to suffer for it,” he murmured, with a most charming smile.
He approached the table and laid a small sheet of paper before her. It looked like a little note.
“I don’t think they often kill each other at duels.”
“We were not asked, you see. We were made different, with different tastes and feelings, without being consulted. You say you love her with pity. I have no pity for her. She hates me--that’s the plain truth of the matter. I dream of her every night, and always that she is laughing at me with another man. And so she does laugh at me. She thinks no more of marrying me than if she were changing her shoe. Would you believe it, I haven’t seen her for five days, and I daren’t go near her. She asks me what I come for, as if she were not content with having disgraced me--”
“Just two words: have you any means at all? Or perhaps you may be intending to undertake some sort of employment? Excuse my questioning you, but--”
“But why, _why?_ Devil take it, what did you do in there? Why did they fancy you? Look here, can’t you remember exactly what you said to them, from the very beginning? Can’t you remember?”
“Forgive me, it’s a schoolboy expression. I won’t do it again. I know quite well, I see it, that you are anxious on my account (now, don’t be angry), and it makes me very happy to see it. You wouldn’t believe how frightened I am of misbehaving somehow, and how glad I am of your instructions. But all this panic is simply nonsense, you know, Aglaya! I give you my word it is; I am so pleased that you are such a child, such a dear good child. How _charming_ you can be if you like, Aglaya.”
“I should think it would be very foolish indeed, unless it happened to come in appropriately.”
“Listen, Mr. Terentieff,” said Ptitsin, who had bidden the prince good-night, and was now holding out his hand to Hippolyte; “I think you remark in that manuscript of yours, that you bequeath your skeleton to the Academy. Are you referring to your own skeleton--I mean, your very bones?”
“Why, look at him--look at him now!”
“Your exclamation proves the generous sympathy of your nature, prince; for four hundred roubles--to a struggling family man like myself--is no small matter!”
“Surely not you?” cried the prince.
“I know nothing about that; what else?”
“He is not in.”
“Oh, that’s not in _my_ province! I believe she receives at any time; it depends upon the visitors. The dressmaker goes in at eleven. Gavrila Ardalionovitch is allowed much earlier than other people, too; he is even admitted to early lunch now and then.”
“He is telling lies!” cried the nephew. “Even now he cannot speak the truth. He is not called Timofey Lukianovitch, prince, but Lukian Timofeyovitch. Now do tell us why you must needs lie about it? Lukian or Timofey, it is all the same to you, and what difference can it make to the prince? He tells lies without the least necessity, simply by force of habit, I assure you.”
“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...
“As to life in a prison, of course there may be two opinions,” said the prince. “I once heard the story of a man who lived twelve years in a prison--I heard it from the man himself. He was one of the persons under treatment with my professor; he had fits, and attacks of melancholy, then he would weep, and once he tried to commit suicide. _His_ life in prison was sad enough; his only acquaintances were spiders and a tree that grew outside his grating--but I think I had better tell you of another man I met last year. There was a very strange feature in this case, strange because of its extremely rare occurrence. This man had once been brought to the scaffold in company with several others, and had had the sentence of death by shooting passed upon him for some political crime. Twenty minutes later he had been reprieved and some other punishment substituted; but the interval between the two sentences, twenty minutes, or at least a quarter of an hour, had been passed in the certainty that within a few minutes he must die. I was very anxious to hear him speak of his impressions during that dreadful time, and I several times inquired of him as to what he thought and felt. He remembered everything with the most accurate and extraordinary distinctness, and declared that he would never forget a single iota of the experience.
But Nastasia Philipovna had now risen and advanced to meet the prince.
“Was not Nastasia Philipovna here with him, yesterday evening?”
“It is difficult to explain, but certainly not the hopes you have in your mind. Hopes--well, in a word, hopes for the future, and a feeling of joy that _there_, at all events, I was not entirely a stranger and a foreigner. I felt an ecstasy in being in my native land once more; and one sunny morning I took up a pen and wrote her that letter, but why to _her_, I don’t quite know. Sometimes one longs to have a friend near, and I evidently felt the need of one then,” added the prince, and paused.
“You know we have hardly spoken to each other for a whole month. Ptitsin told me all about it; and the photo was lying under the table, and I picked it up.”
“Oh, yes; I angered him--I certainly did anger him,” replied Rogojin. “But what puts me out so is my brother. Of course my mother couldn’t do anything--she’s too old--and whatever brother Senka says is law for her! But why couldn’t he let me know? He sent a telegram, they say. What’s the good of a telegram? It frightened my aunt so that she sent it back to the office unopened, and there it’s been ever since! It’s only thanks to Konief that I heard at all; he wrote me all about it. He says my brother cut off the gold tassels from my father’s coffin, at night ‘because they’re worth a lot of money!’ says he. Why, I can get him sent off to Siberia for that alone, if I like; it’s sacrilege. Here, you--scarecrow!” he added, addressing the clerk at his side, “is it sacrilege or not, by law?”
“Well, it is a silly little story, in a few words,” began the delighted general. “A couple of years ago, soon after the new railway was opened, I had to go somewhere or other on business. Well, I took a first-class ticket, sat down, and began to smoke, or rather _continued_ to smoke, for I had lighted up before. I was alone in the carriage. Smoking is not allowed, but is not prohibited either; it is half allowed--so to speak, winked at. I had the window open.”
Little by little the family gathered together upstairs in Lizabetha Prokofievna’s apartments, and Prince Muishkin found himself alone on the verandah when he arrived. He settled himself in a corner and sat waiting, though he knew not what he expected. It never struck him that he had better go away, with all this disturbance in the house. He seemed to have forgotten all the world, and to be ready to sit on where he was for years on end. From upstairs he caught sounds of excited conversation every now and then.
But here he was back at his hotel.
“In the morning we had parted not the best of friends; I remember he looked at me with disagreeable sarcasm once or twice; and this same look I observed in his eyes now--which was the cause of the annoyance I felt.
“Shall you pay here?”
“You see,” said Hippolyte, coolly, “you can’t restrain yourself. You’ll be dreadfully sorry afterwards if you don’t speak out now. Come, you shall have the first say. I’ll wait.”
“Poor Peter Volhofskoi was desperately in love with Anfisa Alexeyevna. I don’t know whether there was anything--I mean I don’t know whether he could possibly have indulged in any hope. The poor fellow was beside himself to get her a bouquet of camellias. Countess Sotski and Sophia Bespalova, as everyone knew, were coming with white camellia bouquets. Anfisa wished for red ones, for effect. Well, her husband Platon was driven desperate to find some. And the day before the ball, Anfisa’s rival snapped up the only red camellias to be had in the place, from under Platon’s nose, and Platon--wretched man--was done for. Now if Peter had only been able to step in at this moment with a red bouquet, his little hopes might have made gigantic strides. A woman’s gratitude under such circumstances would have been boundless--but it was practically an impossibility.