There were to be very few guests besides the best men and so on; only Dana Alexeyevna, the Ptitsins, Gania, and the doctor. When the prince asked Lebedeff why he had invited the doctor, who was almost a stranger, Lebedeff replied:
“Yes, indeed I had--a good deal; and, would you believe it, I often wonder at myself for not having forgotten how to speak Russian? Even now, as I talk to you, I keep saying to myself ‘how well I am speaking it.’ Perhaps that is partly why I am so talkative this morning. I assure you, ever since yesterday evening I have had the strongest desire to go on and on talking Russian.”
It was now close on twelve o’clock.
“I’ll just tell you one fact, ladies and gentlemen,” continued the latter, with apparent seriousness and even exaltation of manner, but with a suggestion of “chaff” behind every word, as though he were laughing in his sleeve at his own nonsense--“a fact, the discovery of which, I believe, I may claim to have made by myself alone. At all events, no other has ever said or written a word about it; and in this fact is expressed the whole essence of Russian liberalism of the sort which I am now considering.
“How silly you are!” said Mrs. Epanchin, looking indignantly towards the last speaker.
“My goodness me! and I gave him twenty-five roubles this morning as though he were a beggar,” blurted out the general, half senseless with amazement. “Well, I congratulate you, I congratulate you!” And the general rose from his seat and solemnly embraced the prince. All came forward with congratulations; even those of Rogojin’s party who had retreated into the next room, now crept softly back to look on. For the moment even Nastasia Philipovna was forgotten.
“Go on! Go on! Nobody is going to interrupt you!” cried several voices.
He would have borne anything from her rather than this visit. But one thing seemed to him quite clear--her visit now, and the present of her portrait on this particular day, pointed out plainly enough which way she intended to make her decision!
Aglaya had simply frightened him; yet he did not give up all thoughts of her--though he never seriously hoped that she would condescend to him. At the time of his “adventure” with Nastasia Philipovna he had come to the conclusion that money was his only hope--money should do all for him.
“Of course it is a lunatic asylum!” repeated Aglaya sharply, but her words were overpowered by other voices. Everybody was talking loudly, making remarks and comments; some discussed the affair gravely, others laughed. Ivan Fedorovitch Epanchin was extremely indignant. He stood waiting for his wife with an air of offended dignity. Lebedeff’s nephew took up the word again.
“I shall,” said the prince, with gentle humility.
“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.
Prince Muishkin entered the court-yard, and ascended the steps. A cook with her sleeves turned up to the elbows opened the door. The visitor asked if Mr. Lebedeff were at home.
“What do you mean by special privileges?”
“It is the _heart_ which is the best teacher of refinement and dignity, not the dancing-master,” said her mother, sententiously, and departed upstairs to her own room, not so much as glancing at Aglaya.
“Quite so,” replied the general, “and what can I do for you?”
Nastasia Philipovna looked keenly round at the prince.
The prince certainly was very pale. He sat at the table and seemed to be feeling, by turns, sensations of alarm and rapture.
When Colia had finished reading, he handed the paper to the prince, and retired silently to a corner of the room, hiding his face in his hands. He was overcome by a feeling of inexpressible shame; his boyish sensitiveness was wounded beyond endurance. It seemed to him that something extraordinary, some sudden catastrophe had occurred, and that he was almost the cause of it, because he had read the article aloud.
“H’m! I like to see that you know your manners; and you are by no means such a person as the general thought fit to describe you. Come along; you sit here, opposite to me,” she continued, “I wish to be able to see your face. Alexandra, Adelaida, look after the prince! He doesn’t seem so very ill, does he? I don’t think he requires a napkin under his chin, after all; are you accustomed to having one on, prince?”
All this would have been perfectly sincere on his part. He had never for a moment entertained the idea of the possibility of this girl loving him, or even of such a thing as himself falling in love with her. The possibility of being loved himself, “a man like me,” as he put it, he ranked among ridiculous suppositions. It appeared to him that it was simply a joke on Aglaya’s part, if there really were anything in it at all; but that seemed to him quite natural. His preoccupation was caused by something different.
“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.
The prince gazed into his face with pleasure, but still seemed to have no power to speak. His breath failed him. The old man’s face pleased him greatly.
“I know you asked. I told them that she had called in for ten minutes, and then gone straight back to Pavlofsk. No one knows she slept here. Last night we came in just as carefully as you and I did today. I thought as I came along with her that she would not like to creep in so secretly, but I was quite wrong. She whispered, and walked on tip-toe; she carried her skirt over her arm, so that it shouldn’t rustle, and she held up her finger at me on the stairs, so that I shouldn’t make a noise--it was you she was afraid of. She was mad with terror in the train, and she begged me to bring her to this house. I thought of taking her to her rooms at the Ismailofsky barracks first; but she wouldn’t hear of it. She said, ‘No--not there; he’ll find me out at once there. Take me to your own house, where you can hide me, and tomorrow we’ll set off for Moscow.’ Thence she would go to Orel, she said. When she went to bed, she was still talking about going to Orel.”
“If that’s the case, darling--then, of course, you shall do exactly as you like. He is waiting alone downstairs. Hadn’t I better hint to him gently that he can go?” The general telegraphed to Lizabetha Prokofievna in his turn.
A minute afterwards, Evgenie Pavlovitch reappeared on the terrace, in great agitation.
“Where are the cards?”
“And I’ve heard one!” said Adelaida. All three of the girls laughed out loud, and the prince laughed with them.
“Why, where are you going to squeeze lodgers in here? Don’t you use a study? Does this sort of thing pay?” she added, turning to Nina Alexandrovna.
“Yes, he will be ashamed!” cried Rogojin. “You will be properly ashamed of yourself for having injured such a--such a sheep” (he could not find a better word). “Prince, my dear fellow, leave this and come away with me. I’ll show you how Rogojin shows his affection for his friends.”
“I suppose you have felt that in your own case,” said Aglaya.
“You know, father, you would have done much better not to come at all! She is ready to eat you up! You have not shown yourself since the day before yesterday and she is expecting the money. Why did you promise her any? You are always the same! Well, now you will have to get out of it as best you can.”
“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.”
“Ah! that is what you feared! It was inevitable, you say! Well, let me tell you that if I hate anyone here--I hate you all,” he cried, in a hoarse, strained voice--“but you, you, with your jesuitical soul, your soul of sickly sweetness, idiot, beneficent millionaire--I hate you worse than anything or anyone on earth! I saw through you and hated you long ago; from the day I first heard of you. I hated you with my whole heart. You have contrived all this! You have driven me into this state! You have made a dying man disgrace himself. You, you, you are the cause of my abject cowardice! I would kill you if I remained alive! I do not want your benefits; I will accept none from anyone; do you hear? Not from any one! I want nothing! I was delirious, do not dare to triumph! I curse every one of you, once for all!”
The wearer of this cloak was a young fellow, also of about twenty-six or twenty-seven years of age, slightly above the middle height, very fair, with a thin, pointed and very light coloured beard; his eyes were large and blue, and had an intent look about them, yet that heavy expression which some people affirm to be a peculiarity as well as evidence, of an epileptic subject. His face was decidedly a pleasant one for all that; refined, but quite colourless, except for the circumstance that at this moment it was blue with cold. He held a bundle made up of an old faded silk handkerchief that apparently contained all his travelling wardrobe, and wore thick shoes and gaiters, his whole appearance being very un-Russian.
“That will do, Lebedeff, that will do--” began the prince, when an indignant outcry drowned his words.
“But enough!” he cried, suddenly. “I see I have been boring you with my--”
“Deceitful and violent?”
“She’s mad--quite!” said Alexandra.
“General, you must take your pearls back, too--give them to your wife--here they are! Tomorrow I shall leave this flat altogether, and then there’ll be no more of these pleasant little social gatherings, ladies and gentlemen.”
But though Evgenie Pavlovitch had put his questions to the prince with no other purpose but to enjoy the joke of his simple-minded seriousness, yet now, at his answer, he was surprised into some seriousness himself, and looked gravely at Muishkin as though he had not expected that sort of answer at all.
“A great disgrace.”
The conversation had been on the subject of land, and the present disorders, and there must have been something amusing said, for the old man had begun to laugh at his companion’s heated expressions.
“Really?” asked the prince, gleefully, and he laughed in delight.
Their entrance caused some slight commotion.
“No, I don’t think that. I know you don’t love me.”
“I will, Nastasia Philipovna.”
“From the portrait!”
“Then they were only words on your part? I thought, on the contrary...”
The prince had been left an orphan when quite a little child, and Pavlicheff had entrusted him to an old lady, a relative of his own, living in the country, the child needing the fresh air and exercise of country life. He was educated, first by a governess, and afterwards by a tutor, but could not remember much about this time of his life. His fits were so frequent then, that they made almost an idiot of him (the prince used the expression “idiot” himself). Pavlicheff had met Professor Schneider in Berlin, and the latter had persuaded him to send the boy to Switzerland, to Schneider’s establishment there, for the cure of his epilepsy, and, five years before this time, the prince was sent off. But Pavlicheff had died two or three years since, and Schneider had himself supported the young fellow, from that day to this, at his own expense. Although he had not quite cured him, he had greatly improved his condition; and now, at last, at the prince’s own desire, and because of a certain matter which came to the ears of the latter, Schneider had despatched the young man to Russia.
“And you can marry her now, Parfen! What will come of it all?” said the prince, with dread in his voice.
“Dreadful crimes? But I can assure you that crimes just as dreadful, and probably more horrible, have occurred before our times, and at all times, and not only here in Russia, but everywhere else as well. And in my opinion it is not at all likely that such murders will cease to occur for a very long time to come. The only difference is that in former times there was less publicity, while now everyone talks and writes freely about such things--which fact gives the impression that such crimes have only now sprung into existence. That is where your mistake lies--an extremely natural mistake, I assure you, my dear fellow!” said Prince S.
“I am only repeating your own exclamation!” said Colia. “A month ago you were turning over the pages of your Don Quixote, and suddenly called out ‘there is nothing better than the poor knight.’ I don’t know whom you were referring to, of course, whether to Don Quixote, or Evgenie Pavlovitch, or someone else, but you certainly said these words, and afterwards there was a long conversation...”
“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.”
He was informed that Nastasia used to play with Rogojin every evening, either at “preference” or “little fool,” or “whist”; that this had been their practice since her last return from Pavlofsk; that she had taken to this amusement because she did not like to see Rogojin sitting silent and dull for whole evenings at a time; that the day after Nastasia had made a remark to this effect, Rogojin had whipped a pack of cards out of his pocket. Nastasia had laughed, but soon they began playing. The prince asked where were the cards, but was told that Rogojin used to bring a new pack every day, and always carried it away in his pocket.
“What a power!” cried Adelaida suddenly, as she earnestly examined the portrait over her sister’s shoulder.
“I had a small pocket pistol. I had procured it while still a boy, at that droll age when the stories of duels and highwaymen begin to delight one, and when one imagines oneself nobly standing fire at some future day, in a duel.
“They can’t bake bread anywhere, decently; and they all freeze in their houses, during winter, like a lot of mice in a cellar. At all events, I’ve had a good Russian cry over this poor fellow,” she added, pointing to the prince, who had not recognized her in the slightest degree. “So enough of this nonsense; it’s time we faced the truth. All this continental life, all this Europe of yours, and all the trash about ‘going abroad’ is simply foolery, and it is mere foolery on our part to come. Remember what I say, my friend; you’ll live to agree with me yourself.”
“And was it you looked out of the window under the blind this morning?”
Nastasia looked at the new arrivals with great curiosity. Gania recollected himself at last.
“You are slandering them, Lebedeff,” said he, smiling.
“How dare you speak so to me?” she said, with a haughtiness which was quite indescribable, replying to Nastasia’s last remark.
It was quite dark now, and Muishkin could not see her face clearly, but a minute or two later, when he and the general had left the villa, he suddenly flushed up, and squeezed his right hand tightly.
The prince made up his mind that he would make a point of going there “as usual,” tonight, and looked feverishly at his watch.
The presence of certain of those in the room surprised the prince vastly, but the guest whose advent filled him with the greatest wonder--almost amounting to alarm--was Evgenie Pavlovitch. The prince could not believe his eyes when he beheld the latter, and could not help thinking that something was wrong.
But at this moment Aglaya came back, and the prince had no time to reply.
Gania glanced inquiringly at the speaker.
“I don’t think so, Ferdishenko; please be quiet,” answered Nastasia Philipovna dryly.
“You never know the day of the week; what’s the day of the month?”
“There, you see, girls,” said the impatient lady, “he _has_ begun, you see.”
Of course, after this, Aglaya went with the rest. In fact, she had never had the slightest intention of doing otherwise.
He looked at the address on the letter once more. Oh, he was not in the least degree alarmed about Aglaya writing such a letter; he could trust her. What he did not like about it was that he could not trust Gania.
“How foolish I am to speak of such things to a man like you,” said Vera, blushing. “Though you _do_ look tired,” she added, half turning away, “your eyes are so splendid at this moment--so full of happiness.”
“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.
The general was, owing to certain circumstances, a little inclined to be too suspicious at home, and needlessly nervous; but, as an experienced father and husband, he judged it better to take measures at once to protect himself from any dangers there might be in the air.
“Prince Muishkin? Lef Nicolaievitch? H’m! I don’t know, I’m sure! I may say I have never heard of such a person,” said the clerk, thoughtfully. “At least, the name, I admit, is historical. Karamsin must mention the family name, of course, in his history--but as an individual--one never hears of any Prince Muishkin nowadays.”
“‘Tis he, ‘tis he!” he said at last, quietly, but with much solemnity. “As though he were alive once more. I heard the familiar name--the dear familiar name--and, oh! how it reminded me of the irrevocable past--Prince Muishkin, I believe?”
“Do you remember Ferdishenko?” he asked.
“And meanwhile I have never been able, in spite of my great desire to do so, to persuade myself that there is no future existence, and no Providence.
“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--”
The lady of the house appeared to be a woman of about fifty years of age, thin-faced, and with black lines under the eyes. She looked ill and rather sad; but her face was a pleasant one for all that; and from the first word that fell from her lips, any stranger would at once conclude that she was of a serious and particularly sincere nature. In spite of her sorrowful expression, she gave the idea of possessing considerable firmness and decision.
“Oh well; I caught it quite hot enough today, thanks to you. However, I forgive you.”
But the situation was becoming rapidly critical.
“Come, come! This is intolerable! You had better stop, you little mischief-making wretch!” cried Varia. Gania had grown very pale; he trembled, but said nothing.
The prince blushed and broke off, without finishing what he meant to say.
“I took it out and had a look at it; it’s all right. I’ve let it slip back into the lining now, as you see, and so I have been walking about ever since yesterday morning; it knocks against my legs when I walk along.”
Lizabetha Prokofievna placed a chair for him with her own hands.
“But it’s not I alone,” cried Colia. “They all talked about it, and they do still. Why, just now Prince S. and Adelaida Ivanovna declared that they upheld ‘the poor knight’; so evidently there does exist a ‘poor knight’; and if it were not for Adelaida Ivanovna, we should have known long ago who the ‘poor knight’ was.”
“Good-bye!” she said at last, and rose and left him, very quickly.
“I see what you are driving at,” said Nastasia Philipovna. “You imply that the prince is after the seventy-five thousand roubles--I quite understand you. Mr. Totski, I forgot to say, ‘Take your seventy-five thousand roubles’--I don’t want them. I let you go free for nothing--take your freedom! You must need it. Nine years and three months’ captivity is enough for anybody. Tomorrow I shall start afresh--today I am a free agent for the first time in my life.
“Had we not better end this game?” asked Totski.
“Excuse me, prince, but think what you are saying! Recollect yourself!”
The prince was listening open-mouthed, and still in a condition of excited agitation. The old man was evidently interested in him, and anxious to study him more closely.
“Well, I will take it then.”
Here Colia handed him a chair, and he subsided into it, breathless with rage.
“It’s impossible, she cannot have given it to you to read! You are lying. You read it yourself!”
“H’m! now, I suppose, you and your husband will never weary of egging me on to work again. You’ll begin your lectures about perseverance and strength of will, and all that. I know it all by heart,” said Gania, laughing.