These words caused a sensation among the listeners, and there was a general movement of relief. Burdovsky got up abruptly.
“Oh, that wretched donkey again, I see!” cried the lady. “I assure you, prince, I was not guilty of the least--”
“Oh, be calm--be calm! Get up!” he entreated, in despair.
“Evgenie Pavlovitch,” he said, with strange excitement and seizing the latter’s hand in his own, “be assured that I esteem you as a generous and honourable man, in spite of everything. Be assured of that.”
“Yes! She looked long at the portrait and asked all about my father. ‘You’d be just such another,’ she said at last, and laughed. ‘You have such strong passions, Parfen,’ she said, ‘that they’d have taken you to Siberia in no time if you had not, luckily, intelligence as well. For you have a good deal of intelligence.’ (She said this--believe it or not. The first time I ever heard anything of that sort from her.) ‘You’d soon have thrown up all this rowdyism that you indulge in now, and you’d have settled down to quiet, steady money-making, because you have little education; and here you’d have stayed just like your father before you. And you’d have loved your money so that you’d amass not two million, like him, but ten million; and you’d have died of hunger on your money bags to finish up with, for you carry everything to extremes.’ There, that’s exactly word for word as she said it to me. She never talked to me like that before. She always talks nonsense and laughs when she’s with me. We went all over this old house together. ‘I shall change all this,’ I said, ‘or else I’ll buy a new house for the wedding.’ ‘No, no!’ she said, ‘don’t touch anything; leave it all as it is; I shall live with your mother when I marry you.’
“Who may that be? a clerk?”
“But if I beg you to make it up?” said Varia.
“But if they were to, would you be dreadfully frightened?”Of course the Epanchin family was much interested in his movements, though he had not had time to bid them farewell before his departure. The general, however, had had an opportunity of seeing him once or twice since the eventful evening, and had spoken very seriously with him; but though he had seen the prince, as I say, he told his family nothing about the circumstance. In fact, for a month or so after his departure it was considered not the thing to mention the prince’s name in the Epanchin household. Only Mrs. Epanchin, at the commencement of this period, had announced that she had been “cruelly mistaken in the prince!” and a day or two after, she had added, evidently alluding to him, but not mentioning his name, that it was an unalterable characteristic of hers to be mistaken in people. Then once more, ten days later, after some passage of arms with one of her daughters, she had remarked sententiously. “We have had enough of mistakes. I shall be more careful in future!” However, it was impossible to avoid remarking that there was some sense of oppression in the household--something unspoken, but felt; something strained. All the members of the family wore frowning looks. The general was unusually busy; his family hardly ever saw him.Next day, she took it out, and put it into a large book, as she usually did with papers which she wanted to be able to find easily. She laughed when, about a week later, she happened to notice the name of the book, and saw that it was Don Quixote, but it would be difficult to say exactly why.“Oh yes, but then, you see, you are a philosopher. Have you any talents, or ability in any direction--that is, any that would bring in money and bread? Excuse me again--”
“Not for anything!” cried the other; “no, no, no!”“I am kind myself, and _always_ kind too, if you please!” she retorted, unexpectedly; “and that is my chief fault, for one ought not to be always kind. I am often angry with these girls and their father; but the worst of it is, I am always kindest when I am cross. I was very angry just before you came, and Aglaya there read me a lesson--thanks, Aglaya, dear--come and kiss me--there--that’s enough” she added, as Aglaya came forward and kissed her lips and then her hand. “Now then, go on, prince. Perhaps you can think of something more exciting than about the donkey, eh?”
“I really think I must have seen him somewhere!” she murmured seriously enough.Lizabetha Prokofievna had announced, directly after lunch, that they would all take a walk together. The information was given in the form of a command, without explanation, drily and abruptly. All had issued forth in obedience to the mandate; that is, the girls, mamma, and Prince S. Lizabetha Prokofievna went off in a direction exactly contrary to the usual one, and all understood very well what she was driving at, but held their peace, fearing to irritate the good lady. She, as though anxious to avoid any conversation, walked ahead, silent and alone. At last Adelaida remarked that it was no use racing along at such a pace, and that she could not keep up with her mother.
The prince, however, immediately began, with some show of annoyance, to question Lebedeff categorically, as to the general’s present condition, and his opinion thereon. He described the morning’s interview in a few words.
“Oh, don’t be so worried on my account, prince! I assure you I am not worth it! At least, not I alone. But I see you are suffering on behalf of the criminal too, for wretched Ferdishenko, in fact!”
“I should think it would be very foolish indeed, unless it happened to come in appropriately.”“Was he one of the Old Believers?”“Take care, don’t commit yourself for a whole lifetime.”
“Get away then, all of you. I shall do as I like with my own--don’t meddle! Ferdishenko, make up the fire, quick!”
“He is a lodger of ours,” explained the latter.
She paused a moment as though getting breath, or trying to master her feeling of annoyance.“Russian books, indeed? Then, of course, you can read and write quite correctly?”“Not as a present, not as a present! I should not have taken the liberty,” said Lebedeff, appearing suddenly from behind his daughter. “It is our own Pushkin, our family copy, Annenkoff’s edition; it could not be bought now. I beg to suggest, with great respect, that your excellency should buy it, and thus quench the noble literary thirst which is consuming you at this moment,” he concluded grandiloquently.Ungovernable rage and madness took entire possession of Gania, and his fury burst out without the least attempt at restraint.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.
“Prince Lef Nicolaievitch Muishkin,” replied the latter, with perfect readiness.“I will not deceive you. ‘Reality’ got me so entrapped in its meshes now and again during the past six months, that I forgot my ‘sentence’ (or perhaps I did not wish to think of it), and actually busied myself with affairs.“Laugh away! She said exactly the same, almost word for word, when she saw my father’s portrait. It’s remarkable how entirely you and she are at one now-a-days.”
“You should pass us by and forgive us our happiness,” said the prince in a low voice.
“Pooh! he was a fool, and his actions were the actions of a fool,” said Mrs. Epanchin; “and as for you, young woman, you ought to know better. At all events, you are not to talk like that again. What poem is it? Recite it! I want to hear this poem! I have hated poetry all my life. Prince, you must excuse this nonsense. We neither of us like this sort of thing! Be patient!”
“Listen, Parfen; you put a question to me just now. This is my reply. The essence of religious feeling has nothing to do with reason, or atheism, or crime, or acts of any kind--it has nothing to do with these things--and never had. There is something besides all this, something which the arguments of the atheists can never touch. But the principal thing, and the conclusion of my argument, is that this is most clearly seen in the heart of a Russian. This is a conviction which I have gained while I have been in this Russia of ours. Yes, Parfen! there is work to be done; there is work to be done in this Russian world! Remember what talks we used to have in Moscow! And I never wished to come here at all; and I never thought to meet you like this, Parfen! Well, well--good-bye--good-bye! God be with you!”He had spoken in a whisper all the way. In spite of his apparent outward composure, he was evidently in a state of great mental agitation. Arrived in a large salon, next to the study, he went to the window and cautiously beckoned the prince up to him.
“Better to be of a mess than in a mess! I remember making a joke something like that at the mess in eighteen hundred and forty--forty--I forget. ‘Where is my youth, where is my golden youth?’ Who was it said that, Colia?”
He could not say how long he sat there. It grew late and became quite dark.Everyone seemed to be speaking prophetically, hinting at some misfortune or sorrow to come; they had all looked at him as though they knew something which he did not know. Lebedeff had asked questions, Colia had hinted, and Vera had shed tears. What was it?
“You told her it was a shame for her to behave so, and her manner changed at once; she was like another person. You have some influence over her, prince,” added Varia, smiling a little.“The noble and intelligent word of an intelligent and most noble man, at last!” exclaimed the boxer.“She looked at him, and stared and stared, and hung on every word he said,” said Lizabetha afterwards, to her husband, “and yet, tell her that she loves him, and she is furious!”
Adelaida’s fate was settled; and with her name that of Aglaya’s was linked, in society gossip. People whispered that Aglaya, too, was “as good as engaged;” and Aglaya always looked so sweet and behaved so well (during this period), that the mother’s heart was full of joy. Of course, Evgenie Pavlovitch must be thoroughly studied first, before the final step should be taken; but, really, how lovely dear Aglaya had become--she actually grew more beautiful every day! And then--Yes, and then--this abominable prince showed his face again, and everything went topsy-turvy at once, and everyone seemed as mad as March hares.A certain strangeness and impatience in his manner impressed the prince very forcibly.
“This is intolerable,” growled the general.
“Why did you add that?--There! Now you are cross again,” said the prince, wondering.
“Certainly it is a fraud! Since Mr. Burdovsky is not Pavlicheff’s son, his claim is neither more nor less than attempted fraud (supposing, of course, that he had known the truth), but the fact is that he has been deceived. I insist on this point in order to justify him; I repeat that his simple-mindedness makes him worthy of pity, and that he cannot stand alone; otherwise he would have behaved like a scoundrel in this matter. But I feel certain that he does not understand it! I was just the same myself before I went to Switzerland; I stammered incoherently; one tries to express oneself and cannot. I understand that. I am all the better able to pity Mr. Burdovsky, because I know from experience what it is to be like that, and so I have a right to speak. Well, though there is no such person as ‘Pavlicheff’s son,’ and it is all nothing but a humbug, yet I will keep to my decision, and I am prepared to give up ten thousand roubles in memory of Pavlicheff. Before Mr. Burdovsky made this claim, I proposed to found a school with this money, in memory of my benefactor, but I shall honour his memory quite as well by giving the ten thousand roubles to Mr. Burdovsky, because, though he was not Pavlicheff’s son, he was treated almost as though he were. That is what gave a rogue the opportunity of deceiving him; he really did think himself Pavlicheff’s son. Listen, gentlemen; this matter must be settled; keep calm; do not get angry; and sit down! Gavrila Ardalionovitch will explain everything to you at once, and I confess that I am very anxious to hear all the details myself. He says that he has even been to Pskoff to see your mother, Mr. Burdovsky; she is not dead, as the article which was just read to us makes out. Sit down, gentlemen, sit down!”“And what can I do for you, esteemed prince? Since I am told you sent for me just now,” he said, after a few moments’ silence.
“What on earth is she afraid of, then? Tell me plainly, without any more beating about the bush,” said the prince, exasperated by the other’s mysterious grimaces.“‘O, puissent voir longtemps votre beauté sacrée Tant d’amis, sourds à mes adieux! Qu’ils meurent pleins de jours, que leur mort soit pleurée, Qu’un ami leur ferme les yeux!’
A new fancy! The prince reflected, and then mounted the stairs once more. He pulled out the cross without taking it off his neck.
“Come along, then. I don’t wish to meet my new year without you--my new life, I should say, for a new life is beginning for me. Did you know, Parfen, that a new life had begun for me?”He awaited the reply in deadly anxiety.
But the old lady, before Parfen had time to touch her, raised her right hand, and, with three fingers held up, devoutly made the sign of the cross three times over the prince. She then nodded her head kindly at him once more.Well, why should he judge them so hastily! Could he really say what they were, after one short visit? Even Lebedeff seemed an enigma today. Did he expect to find him so? He had never seen him like that before. Lebedeff and the Comtesse du Barry! Good Heavens! If Rogojin should really kill someone, it would not, at any rate, be such a senseless, chaotic affair. A knife made to a special pattern, and six people killed in a kind of delirium. But Rogojin also had a knife made to a special pattern. Can it be that Rogojin wishes to murder anyone? The prince began to tremble violently. “It is a crime on my part to imagine anything so base, with such cynical frankness.” His face reddened with shame at the thought; and then there came across him as in a flash the memory of the incidents at the Pavlofsk station, and at the other station in the morning; and the question asked him by Rogojin about _the eyes_ and Rogojin’s cross, that he was even now wearing; and the benediction of Rogojin’s mother; and his embrace on the darkened staircase--that last supreme renunciation--and now, to find himself full of this new “idea,” staring into shop-windows, and looking round for things--how base he was!
“It’s a funny notion,” said Totski, “and yet quite natural--it’s only a new way of boasting.”
“Did it succeed?” asked Nastasia Philipovna. “Come, let’s try it, let’s try it; we really are not quite so jolly as we might be--let’s try it! We may like it; it’s original, at all events!”
“So do I, so do I! This moment, if I could! I’d give every farthing I have to do it.”
The room they were now sitting in was a large one, lofty but dark, well furnished, principally with writing-tables and desks covered with papers and books. A wide sofa covered with red morocco evidently served Rogojin for a bed. On the table beside which the prince had been invited to seat himself lay some books; one containing a marker where the reader had left off, was a volume of Solovieff’s History. Some oil-paintings in worn gilded frames hung on the walls, but it was impossible to make out what subjects they represented, so blackened were they by smoke and age. One, a life-sized portrait, attracted the prince’s attention. It showed a man of about fifty, wearing a long riding-coat of German cut. He had two medals on his breast; his beard was white, short and thin; his face yellow and wrinkled, with a sly, suspicious expression in the eyes.“Oh, aren’t you ashamed of yourself--aren’t you ashamed? Are you really the sort of woman you are trying to represent yourself to be? Is it possible?” The prince was now addressing Nastasia, in a tone of reproach, which evidently came from his very heart.
“At last he began to mount the steps; his legs were tied, so that he had to take very small steps. The priest, who seemed to be a wise man, had stopped talking now, and only held the cross for the wretched fellow to kiss. At the foot of the ladder he had been pale enough; but when he set foot on the scaffold at the top, his face suddenly became the colour of paper, positively like white notepaper. His legs must have become suddenly feeble and helpless, and he felt a choking in his throat--you know the sudden feeling one has in moments of terrible fear, when one does not lose one’s wits, but is absolutely powerless to move? If some dreadful thing were suddenly to happen; if a house were just about to fall on one;--don’t you know how one would long to sit down and shut one’s eyes and wait, and wait? Well, when this terrible feeling came over him, the priest quickly pressed the cross to his lips, without a word--a little silver cross it was--and he kept on pressing it to the man’s lips every second. And whenever the cross touched his lips, the eyes would open for a moment, and the legs moved once, and he kissed the cross greedily, hurriedly--just as though he were anxious to catch hold of something in case of its being useful to him afterwards, though he could hardly have had any connected religious thoughts at the time. And so up to the very block.
“No, no, you needn’t do anything of the sort; you mustn’t hint gently at all. I’ll go down myself directly. I wish to apologize to this young man, because I hurt his feelings.”
The prince turned and came back, more confused than ever. When she burst out laughing, he smiled, but his tongue could not form a word as yet. At first, when he had opened the door and saw her standing before him, he had become as pale as death; but now the red blood had rushed back to his cheeks in a torrent.
“Just a couple of words!” whispered another voice in the prince’s other ear, and another hand took his other arm. Muishkin turned, and to his great surprise observed a red, flushed face and a droll-looking figure which he recognized at once as that of Ferdishenko. Goodness knows where he had turned up from!
“But excuse me, excuse me;” cried Ivan Petrovitch considerably disturbed, and looking around uneasily. “Your ideas are, of course, most praiseworthy, and in the highest degree patriotic; but you exaggerate the matter terribly. It would be better if we dropped the subject.”“Oh, I don’t know what this means” cried Ivan Fedorovitch, transported with indignation.
Alexandra now joined in, and it looked as though the three sisters were going to laugh on for ever.“And yet you flush up as red as a rosebud! Come--it’s all right. I’m not going to laugh at you. Do you know she is a very virtuous woman? Believe it or not, as you like. You think she and Totski--not a bit of it, not a bit of it! Not for ever so long! _Au revoir!_”
“Prince Lef Nicolaievitch Muishkin; he knows me well.”
“Are you going to cross my path for ever, damn you!” cried Gania; and, loosening his hold on Varia, he slapped the prince’s face with all his force.“An idiot!”
“Not in the least--not in the least, I assure you. On the contrary, I am listening most attentively, and am anxious to guess--”
“‘Lumen caeli, sancta Rosa!’ Shouting on the foe he fell, And like thunder rang his war-cry O’er the cowering infidel.
“But why did she run away to me, and then again from me to--”
A man, whose face it was difficult to see in the gloom, approached the bench, and sat down beside him. The prince peered into his face, and recognized the livid features of Rogojin.
Vera Lebedeff tossed the coin into the air and let it fall on the table.“But what have I done? What is his grievance?” asked Hippolyte, grinning.
“Aglaya Ivanovna...” began Lebedeff, promptly.“Yes, and then he’ll go about the place and disgrace us as he did yesterday.”But the young officer had recovered himself, and was no longer listening. At this moment Rogojin appeared, elbowing through the crowd; he took Nastasia’s hand, drew it through his arm, and quickly led her away. He appeared to be terribly excited; he was trembling all over, and was as pale as a corpse. As he carried Nastasia off, he turned and grinned horribly in the officer’s face, and with low malice observed:
“You are altogether perfection; even your pallor and thinness are perfect; one could not wish you otherwise. I did so wish to come and see you. I--forgive me, please--”