“Oh, but it’s only the simple tale of an old soldier who saw the French enter Moscow. Some of his remarks were wonderfully interesting. Remarks of an eye-witness are always valuable, whoever he be, don’t you think so?”
“Bring it by all means; you needn’t ask him. He will be delighted, you may be sure; for, in all probability, he shot at himself simply in order that I might read his confession. Don’t laugh at what I say, please, Lef Nicolaievitch, because it may very well be the case.”
“The prince is clearly a democrat,” remarked Aglaya.
“Yes, it’s quite true,” said Rogojin, frowning gloomily; “so Zaleshoff told me. I was walking about the Nefsky one fine day, prince, in my father’s old coat, when she suddenly came out of a shop and stepped into her carriage. I swear I was all of a blaze at once. Then I met Zaleshoff--looking like a hair-dresser’s assistant, got up as fine as I don’t know who, while I looked like a tinker. ‘Don’t flatter yourself, my boy,’ said he; ‘she’s not for such as you; she’s a princess, she is, and her name is Nastasia Philipovna Barashkoff, and she lives with Totski, who wishes to get rid of her because he’s growing rather old--fifty-five or so--and wants to marry a certain beauty, the loveliest woman in all Petersburg.’ And then he told me that I could see Nastasia Philipovna at the opera-house that evening, if I liked, and described which was her box. Well, I’d like to see my father allowing any of us to go to the theatre; he’d sooner have killed us, any day. However, I went for an hour or so and saw Nastasia Philipovna, and I never slept a wink all night after. Next morning my father happened to give me two government loan bonds to sell, worth nearly five thousand roubles each. ‘Sell them,’ said he, ‘and then take seven thousand five hundred roubles to the office, give them to the cashier, and bring me back the rest of the ten thousand, without looking in anywhere on the way; look sharp, I shall be waiting for you.’ Well, I sold the bonds, but I didn’t take the seven thousand roubles to the office; I went straight to the English shop and chose a pair of earrings, with a diamond the size of a nut in each. They cost four hundred roubles more than I had, so I gave my name, and they trusted me. With the earrings I went at once to Zaleshoff’s. ‘Come on!’ I said, ‘come on to Nastasia Philipovna’s,’ and off we went without more ado. I tell you I hadn’t a notion of what was about me or before me or below my feet all the way; I saw nothing whatever. We went straight into her drawing-room, and then she came out to us.
“Oh, a long way off, near the Great Theatre, just in the square there--It won’t be a large party.”
Only the prince stopped behind for a moment, as though in indecision; and Evgenie Pavlovitch lingered too, for he had not collected his scattered wits. But the Epanchins had not had time to get more than twenty paces away when a scandalous episode occurred. The young officer, Evgenie Pavlovitch’s friend who had been conversing with Aglaya, said aloud in a great state of indignation:
“As for yesterday’s episode,” continued Gania, “of course it was pre-arranged.” Here he paused, as though expecting to be asked how he knew that. But the prince did not inquire. Concerning Evgenie Pavlovitch, Gania stated, without being asked, that he believed the former had not known Nastasia Philipovna in past years, but that he had probably been introduced to her by somebody in the park during these four days. As to the question of the IOU’s she had spoken of, there might easily be something in that; for though Evgenie was undoubtedly a man of wealth, yet certain of his affairs were equally undoubtedly in disorder. Arrived at this interesting point, Gania suddenly broke off, and said no more about Nastasia’s prank of the previous evening.
The general sat on and on. He had ordered a fresh bottle when the prince arrived; this took him an hour to drink, and then he had another, and another, during the consumption of which he told pretty nearly the whole story of his life. The prince was in despair. He felt that though he had but applied to this miserable old drunkard because he saw no other way of getting to Nastasia Philipovna’s, yet he had been very wrong to put the slightest confidence in such a man.
“Come to Aglaya--quick, quick!”
“Impossible!” cried the prince.
“Your insinuations as to rivalry are rather cynical, Hippolyte. I’m sorry to say I have no right to answer you! As for Gania, I put it to you, _can_ any man have a happy mind after passing through what he has had to suffer? I think that is the best way to look at it. He will change yet, he has lots of time before him, and life is rich; besides--besides...” the prince hesitated. “As to being undermined, I don’t know what in the world you are driving at, Hippolyte. I think we had better drop the subject!”
Burdovsky next jumped up and explained that he had come in by accident, having escorted Hippolyte from town. He murmured that he was glad he had “written nonsense” in his letter, and then pressed the prince’s hand warmly and sat down again.
“I don’t think they often kill each other at duels.”
She went on talking and chatting without a pause, with occasional little bursts of laughter between.
“So would I,” said another, from behind, “with pleasure. Devil take the thing!” he added, in a tempest of despair, “it will all be burnt up in a minute--It’s burning, it’s burning!”
“You have slept seven or perhaps eight minutes,” said Evgenie Pavlovitch.
“Yes. Is it really so? However, it’s all the same to us, of course.”
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:
“I am assuredly noble-minded, and chivalrous to a degree!” said Keller, much softened. “But, do you know, this nobility of mind exists in a dream, if one may put it so? It never appears in practice or deed. Now, why is that? I can never understand.”
“Lizabetha Prokofievna, what are you thinking of?” cried the prince, almost leaping to his feet in amazement.
This was odd of Lizabetha Prokofievna and her daughters. They had themselves decided that it would be better if the prince did not talk all the evening. Yet seeing him sitting silent and alone, but perfectly happy, they had been on the point of exerting themselves to draw him into one of the groups of talkers around the room. Now that he was in the midst of a talk they became more than ever anxious and perturbed.
“Don’t be cross, Daria Alexeyevna!” laughed Nastasia. “I was not angry when I spoke; I wasn’t reproaching Gania. I don’t know how it was that I ever could have indulged the whim of entering an honest family like his. I saw his mother--and kissed her hand, too. I came and stirred up all that fuss, Gania, this afternoon, on purpose to see how much you could swallow--you surprised me, my friend--you did, indeed. Surely you could not marry a woman who accepts pearls like those you knew the general was going to give me, on the very eve of her marriage? And Rogojin! Why, in your own house and before your own brother and sister, he bargained with me! Yet you could come here and expect to be betrothed to me before you left the house! You almost brought your sister, too. Surely what Rogojin said about you is not really true: that you would crawl all the way to the other end of the town, on hands and knees, for three roubles?”
“Do you know what, I had better not come at all tomorrow! I’ll plead sick-list and stay away,” said the prince, with decision.
“I had a note,” said the prince.
“I wouldn’t mind betting, prince,” he cried, “that you did not in the least mean to say that, and very likely you meant to address someone else altogether. What is it? Are you feeling unwell or anything?”
Lenotchka, a little girl of eight, ran to fetch the cushion at once, and placed it on the rickety old sofa. The general meant to have said much more, but as soon as he had stretched himself out, he turned his face to the wall, and slept the sleep of the just.
But the general only stood stupefied and gazed around in a dazed way. Gania’s speech had impressed him, with its terrible candour. For the first moment or two he could find no words to answer him, and it was only when Hippolyte burst out laughing, and said:
“Who? I?--good and honest?”
“Perhaps that is just what was so fascinating about it.”
“Five weeks since, I was just like yourself,” continued Rogojin, addressing the prince, “with nothing but a bundle and the clothes I wore. I ran away from my father and came to Pskoff to my aunt’s house, where I caved in at once with fever, and he went and died while I was away. All honour to my respected father’s memory--but he uncommonly nearly killed me, all the same. Give you my word, prince, if I hadn’t cut and run then, when I did, he’d have murdered me like a dog.”
The old man was very pale; every now and then his lips trembled, and his hands seemed unable to rest quietly, but continually moved from place to place. He had twice already jumped up from his chair and sat down again without being in the least aware of it. He would take up a book from the table and open it--talking all the while,--look at the heading of a chapter, shut it and put it back again, seizing another immediately, but holding it unopened in his hand, and waving it in the air as he spoke.
Gania was silent and merely looked contemptuously at him.
Rogojin asked his question like a lost soul appealing to some divinity, with the reckless daring of one appointed to die, who has nothing to lose.
“Yes, the one who waits in the entrance hall, a greyish, red-faced man--”
“Oh! it was the Kolpakoff business, and of course he would have been acquitted.”
“This produced a great effect upon me. I used to dream of the poor old woman at nights. I really am not superstitious, but two days after, I went to her funeral, and as time went on I thought more and more about her. I said to myself, ‘This woman, this human being, lived to a great age. She had children, a husband and family, friends and relations; her household was busy and cheerful; she was surrounded by smiling faces; and then suddenly they are gone, and she is left alone like a solitary fly... like a fly, cursed with the burden of her age. At last, God calls her to Himself. At sunset, on a lovely summer’s evening, my little old woman passes away--a thought, you will notice, which offers much food for reflection--and behold! instead of tears and prayers to start her on her last journey, she has insults and jeers from a young ensign, who stands before her with his hands in his pockets, making a terrible row about a soup tureen!’ Of course I was to blame, and even now that I have time to look back at it calmly, I pity the poor old thing no less. I repeat that I wonder at myself, for after all I was not really responsible. Why did she take it into her head to die at that moment? But the more I thought of it, the more I felt the weight of it upon my mind; and I never got quite rid of the impression until I put a couple of old women into an almshouse and kept them there at my own expense. There, that’s all. I repeat I dare say I have committed many a grievous sin in my day; but I cannot help always looking back upon this as the worst action I have ever perpetrated.”
He meant to calm his hearers, and did not perceive that his words had only increased their irritation.
We have observed before that even some of the prince’s nearest neighbours had begun to oppose him. Vera Lebedeff’s passive disagreement was limited to the shedding of a few solitary tears; to more frequent sitting alone at home, and to a diminished frequency in her visits to the prince’s apartments.
“Are you in love with her?”
At this point General Epanchin, noticing how interested Muishkin had become in the conversation, said to him, in a low tone:
“Yes--yes--yes! Run away from home!” she repeated, in a transport of rage. “I won’t, I won’t be made to blush every minute by them all! I don’t want to blush before Prince S. or Evgenie Pavlovitch, or anyone, and therefore I have chosen you. I shall tell you everything, _everything_, even the most important things of all, whenever I like, and you are to hide nothing from me on your side. I want to speak to at least one person, as I would to myself. They have suddenly begun to say that I am waiting for you, and in love with you. They began this before you arrived here, and so I didn’t show them the letter, and now they all say it, every one of them. I want to be brave, and be afraid of nobody. I don’t want to go to their balls and things--I want to do good. I have long desired to run away, for I have been kept shut up for twenty years, and they are always trying to marry me off. I wanted to run away when I was fourteen years old--I was a little fool then, I know--but now I have worked it all out, and I have waited for you to tell me about foreign countries. I have never seen a single Gothic cathedral. I must go to Rome; I must see all the museums; I must study in Paris. All this last year I have been preparing and reading forbidden books. Alexandra and Adelaida are allowed to read anything they like, but I mayn’t. I don’t want to quarrel with my sisters, but I told my parents long ago that I wish to change my social position. I have decided to take up teaching, and I count on you because you said you loved children. Can we go in for education together--if not at once, then afterwards? We could do good together. I won’t be a general’s daughter any more! Tell me, are you a very learned man?”
He looked intently around him, and wondered why he had come here; he was very tired, so he approached the bench and sat down on it. Around him was profound silence; the music in the Vauxhall was over. The park seemed quite empty, though it was not, in reality, later than half-past eleven. It was a quiet, warm, clear night--a real Petersburg night of early June; but in the dense avenue, where he was sitting, it was almost pitch dark.
“Let’s go,” said Rogojin, touching his shoulder. They left the alcove and sat down in the two chairs they had occupied before, opposite to one another. The prince trembled more and more violently, and never took his questioning eyes off Rogojin’s face.
“Do you believe all this?” asked Muishkin, looking curiously at his companion.
“Oh, don’t, don’t!” she exclaimed in alarm, snatching her hand away. She went hastily out of the room in a state of strange confusion.
At the words “one can’t get rid of him,” Colia was very angry, and nearly flew into a rage; but he resolved to be quiet for the time and show his resentment later. If the words had been less offensive he might have forgiven them, so pleased was he to see Lizabetha Prokofievna worried and anxious about the prince’s illness.
“She died a few months later, from a cold,” said the prince.
Sure enough, some of the brave fellows entirely lost their heads at this point, and retreated into the next room. Others, however, took the hint and sat down, as far as they could from the table, however; feeling braver in proportion to their distance from Nastasia.
She was astonished and vexed, and her disappointment pleased Colia immensely. Of course he could have undeceived her before she started, but the mischievous boy had been careful not to do that, foreseeing the probably laughable disgust that she would experience when she found her dear friend, the prince, in good health. Colia was indelicate enough to voice the delight he felt at his success in managing to annoy Lizabetha Prokofievna, with whom, in spite of their really amicable relations, he was constantly sparring.
Nastasia Philipovna looked keenly round at the prince.
“Well, a soldier once told me that they were always ordered to aim at the middle of the body. So you see they don’t aim at the chest or head; they aim lower on purpose. I asked some officer about this afterwards, and he said it was perfectly true.”
“Come, come, come! There, you must not cry, that will do. You are a good child! God will forgive you, because you knew no better. Come now, be a man! You know presently you will be ashamed.”
“Well, leave your hotel at once and come here; then we can all go together to Pavlofsk the day after tomorrow.”
“Bend down--bend down your ear. I’ll tell you all--disgrace--bend down, I’ll tell you in your ear.”
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.
“When I told them what a shame it was of the parson to talk as he had done, and explained my reason, they were so angry that some of them went and broke his windows with stones. Of course I stopped them, for that was not right, but all the village heard of it, and how I caught it for spoiling the children! Everyone discovered now that the little ones had taken to being fond of Marie, and their parents were terribly alarmed; but Marie was so happy. The children were forbidden to meet her; but they used to run out of the village to the herd and take her food and things; and sometimes just ran off there and kissed her, and said, ‘_Je vous aime, Marie!_’ and then trotted back again. They imagined that I was in love with Marie, and this was the only point on which I did not undeceive them, for they got such enjoyment out of it. And what delicacy and tenderness they showed!
“I wish at least _he_ would come and say something!” complained poor Lizabetha Prokofievna.
“How long do you remain here, prince?” asked Madame Epanchin.
“This letter cannot be allowed to remain in your hands.”
“I knew you would not misunderstand me,” she said, triumphantly. “Prince S. and Evgenie Pavlovitch and Alexandra don’t understand anything about these two kinds of mind, but, just fancy, mamma does!”
Lebedeff strained his eyes and ears to take in what the prince was saying. The latter was frowning more and more, and walking excitedly up and down, trying not to look at Lebedeff.
“Yes. First, he proposes to come and live in my house. Well and good; but he sticks at nothing; he immediately makes himself one of the family. We have talked over our respective relations several times, and discovered that we are connected by marriage. It seems also that you are a sort of nephew on his mother’s side; he was explaining it to me again only yesterday. If you are his nephew, it follows that I must also be a relation of yours, most excellent prince. Never mind about that, it is only a foible; but just now he assured me that all his life, from the day he was made an ensign to the 11th of last June, he has entertained at least two hundred guests at his table every day. Finally, he went so far as to say that they never rose from the table; they dined, supped, and had tea, for fifteen hours at a stretch. This went on for thirty years without a break; there was barely time to change the table-cloth; directly one person left, another took his place. On feast-days he entertained as many as three hundred guests, and they numbered seven hundred on the thousandth anniversary of the foundation of the Russian Empire. It amounts to a passion with him; it makes one uneasy to hear of it. It is terrible to have to entertain people who do things on such a scale. That is why I wonder whether such a man is not too hospitable for you and me.”
Mrs. Epanchin confirmed all this. She said the princess had written to much the same effect, and added that there was no curing a fool. But it was plain, from her expression of face, how strongly she approved of this particular young fool’s doings. In conclusion, the general observed that his wife took as great an interest in the prince as though he were her own son; and that she had commenced to be especially affectionate towards Aglaya was a self-evident fact.
Evgenie Pavlovitch fell back a step in astonishment. For one moment it was all he could do to restrain himself from bursting out laughing; but, looking closer, he observed that the prince did not seem to be quite himself; at all events, he was in a very curious state.
Gania glanced inquiringly at the speaker.
“In Petersburg? Oh no! hardly at all, and now they say so much is changed in the place that even those who did know it well are obliged to relearn what they knew. They talk a good deal about the new law courts, and changes there, don’t they?”
The latter was describing in eloquent words how, in consequence of recent legislation, he was obliged to sell a beautiful estate in the N. province, not because he wanted ready money--in fact, he was obliged to sell it at half its value. “To avoid another lawsuit about the Pavlicheff estate, I ran away,” he said. “With a few more inheritances of that kind I should soon be ruined!”
As to the few words which the general had let slip about Aglaya laughing at everybody, and at himself most of all--he entirely believed them. He did not feel the slightest sensation of offence; on the contrary, he was quite certain that it was as it should be.
All this occurred, of course, in one instant of time.
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.”
Gania gazed after him uneasily, but said nothing.
Hippolyte clutched his manuscript, and gazing at the last speaker with glittering eyes, said: “You don’t like me at all!” A few laughed at this, but not all.
“What are you doing there?” she asked.
“Go on, announce me--what’s that noise?”
It was not more than two or three hundred yards from the Epanchins’ house to Lebedeff’s. The first disagreeable impression experienced by Mrs. Epanchin was to find the prince surrounded by a whole assembly of other guests--not to mention the fact that some of those present were particularly detestable in her eyes. The next annoying circumstance was when an apparently strong and healthy young fellow, well dressed, and smiling, came forward to meet her on the terrace, instead of the half-dying unfortunate whom she had expected to see.
The prince began to be a little incredulous.
“Then don’t speak at all. Sit still and don’t talk.”
The prince was very nervous as he reached the outer door; but he did his best to encourage himself with the reflection that the worst thing that could happen to him would be that he would not be received, or, perhaps, received, then laughed at for coming.
“Is what today?” cried the former. Then suddenly recollecting himself, he turned sharply on the prince. “Oh,” he growled, “I see, you are here, that explains it! Is it a disease, or what, that you can’t hold your tongue? Look here, understand once for all, prince--”
“I know nothing about that; what else?”
“Well, look here, Gania. I wish to look into your heart once more, for the last time. You’ve worried me for the last three months--now it’s my turn. Do you see this packet? It contains a hundred thousand roubles. Now, I’m going to throw it into the fire, here--before all these witnesses. As soon as the fire catches hold of it, you put your hands into the fire and pick it out--without gloves, you know. You must have bare hands, and you must turn your sleeves up. Pull it out, I say, and it’s all yours. You may burn your fingers a little, of course; but then it’s a hundred thousand roubles, remember--it won’t take you long to lay hold of it and snatch it out. I shall so much admire you if you put your hands into the fire for my money. All here present may be witnesses that the whole packet of money is yours if you get it out. If you don’t get it out, it shall burn. I will let no one else come; away--get away, all of you--it’s my money! Rogojin has bought me with it. Is it my money, Rogojin?”
“It’s a present from herself to him,” said Varia; “the question is to be finally decided this evening.”
Evgenie Pavlovitch’s friend asked the prince some question, but the latter did not reply, or if he did, he muttered something so strangely indistinct that there was nothing to be made of it. The officer stared intently at him, then glanced at Evgenie, divined why the latter had introduced him, and gave his undivided attention to Aglaya again. Only Evgenie Pavlovitch observed that Aglaya flushed up for a moment at this.
“I have told you already, that I will not go away until I have got what I ask. Why are you smiling, prince? You look as if you disapproved of me.”
Evgenie called upon the prince the day after that on which the Epanchins left Pavlofsk. He knew of all the current rumours,--in fact, he had probably contributed to them himself. The prince was delighted to see him, and immediately began to speak of the Epanchins;--which simple and straightforward opening quite took Evgenie’s fancy, so that he melted at once, and plunged in medias res without ceremony.
But when she had read it herself once more, it suddenly struck her that surely that conceited boy, Colia, had not been the one chosen correspondent of the prince all this while. She determined to ask him, and did so with an exaggerated show of carelessness. He informed her haughtily that though he had given the prince his permanent address when the latter left town, and had offered his services, the prince had never before given him any commission to perform, nor had he written until the following lines arrived, with Aglaya’s letter. Aglaya took the note, and read it.
The prince took a cab and drove to a street near the Nativity, where he soon discovered the house he was seeking. It was a small wooden villa, and he was struck by its attractive and clean appearance; it stood in a pleasant little garden, full of flowers. The windows looking on the street were open, and the sound of a voice, reading aloud or making a speech, came through them. It rose at times to a shout, and was interrupted occasionally by bursts of laughter.
Whether she were a woman who had read too many poems, as Evgenie Pavlovitch supposed, or whether she were mad, as the prince had assured Aglaya, at all events, this was a woman who, in spite of her occasionally cynical and audacious manner, was far more refined and trustful and sensitive than appeared. There was a certain amount of romantic dreaminess and caprice in her, but with the fantastic was mingled much that was strong and deep.
“The prince is formally engaged to her--that’s settled. The elder sisters told me about it. Aglaya has agreed. They don’t attempt to conceal it any longer; you know how mysterious and secret they have all been up to now. Adelaida’s wedding is put off again, so that both can be married on one day. Isn’t that delightfully romantic? Somebody ought to write a poem on it. Sit down and write an ode instead of tearing up and down like that. This evening Princess Bielokonski is to arrive; she comes just in time--they have a party tonight. He is to be presented to old Bielokonski, though I believe he knows her already; probably the engagement will be openly announced. They are only afraid that he may knock something down, or trip over something when he comes into the room. It would be just like him.”
“I think you are wandering a little, prince,” Mrs. Epanchin decided, after a lengthened survey of his face; and she tossed the portrait on to the table, haughtily.
“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.”
Here Varvara joined them.
“You see, I am going into the country myself in three days, with my children and belongings. The little one is delicate; she needs change of air; and during our absence this house will be done up. I am going to Pavlofsk.”
“Imagine, my dear,” cried the general, “it turns out that I have nursed the prince on my knee in the old days.” His wife looked searchingly at him, and glanced at the prince, but said nothing. The prince rose and followed her; but hardly had they reached the drawing-room, and Nina Alexandrovna had begun to talk hurriedly, when in came the general. She immediately relapsed into silence. The master of the house may have observed this, but at all events he did not take any notice of it; he was in high good humour.
All present concentrated their attention upon Ptitsin, reading the prince’s letter. The general curiosity had received a new fillip. Ferdishenko could not sit still. Rogojin fixed his eyes first on the prince, and then on Ptitsin, and then back again; he was extremely agitated. Lebedeff could not stand it. He crept up and read over Ptitsin’s shoulder, with the air of a naughty boy who expects a box on the ear every moment for his indiscretion.
“‘Do you know what has suddenly come into my head?’ said I, suddenly--leaning further and further over the rail.
“No doubt... and I... is that acting like a prince? And you... you may be a general! But I... I am not your valet! And I... I...” stammered Antip Burdovsky.
A violent fit of coughing, which lasted a full minute, prevented him from finishing his sentence.