“‘Thank your friend Mr. Rogojin for his kind attention,’ says she, and bowed and went off. Why didn’t I die there on the spot? The worst of it all was, though, that the beast Zaleshoff got all the credit of it! I was short and abominably dressed, and stood and stared in her face and never said a word, because I was shy, like an ass! And there was he all in the fashion, pomaded and dressed out, with a smart tie on, bowing and scraping; and I bet anything she took him for me all the while!
A strange thought passed through the prince’s brain; he gazed intently at Aglaya and smiled.
“Oh, make a sacrifice of yourself! That sort of thing becomes you well, you know. Why not do it? And don’t call me ‘Aglaya’; you have done it several times lately. You are bound, it is your _duty_ to ‘raise’ her; you must go off somewhere again to soothe and pacify her. Why, you love her, you know!”“No, prince, she will not. Aglaya loved like a woman, like a human being, not like an abstract spirit. Do you know what, my poor prince? The most probable explanation of the matter is that you never loved either the one or the other in reality.”
“Go on! Go on!”He gulped down some water out of a glass standing near, bent over the table, in order to hide his face from the audience, and recommenced.
“Old Bielokonski” listened to all the fevered and despairing lamentations of Lizabetha Prokofievna without the least emotion; the tears of this sorrowful mother did not evoke answering sighs--in fact, she laughed at her. She was a dreadful old despot, this princess; she could not allow equality in anything, not even in friendship of the oldest standing, and she insisted on treating Mrs. Epanchin as her _protégée_, as she had been thirty-five years ago. She could never put up with the independence and energy of Lizabetha’s character. She observed that, as usual, the whole family had gone much too far ahead, and had converted a fly into an elephant; that, so far as she had heard their story, she was persuaded that nothing of any seriousness had occurred; that it would surely be better to wait until something _did_ happen; that the prince, in her opinion, was a very decent young fellow, though perhaps a little eccentric, through illness, and not quite as weighty in the world as one could wish. The worst feature was, she said, Nastasia Philipovna.
She spoke angrily, and in great excitement, and expected an immediate reply. But in such a case, no matter how many are present, all prefer to keep silence: no one will take the initiative, but all reserve their comments till afterwards. There were some present--Varvara Ardalionovna, for instance--who would have willingly sat there till morning without saying a word. Varvara had sat apart all the evening without opening her lips, but she listened to everything with the closest attention; perhaps she had her reasons for so doing.The prince gazed at it for a minute or two, then glanced around him, and hurriedly raised the portrait to his lips. When, a minute after, he reached the drawing-room door, his face was quite composed. But just as he reached the door he met Aglaya coming out alone.
“Dear me--is it possible?” observed the clerk, while his face assumed an expression of great deference and servility--if not of absolute alarm: “what, a son of that very Semen Rogojin--hereditary honourable citizen--who died a month or so ago and left two million and a half of roubles?”
“Yes--I do ask for it!” said the prince, more dead than alive now.
Lebedeff made an impatient movement.
“Why, of course,” replied the clerk, gesticulating with his hands.
He had moved a pace or two away, and was hiding his hands behind him.
No one replied.
“We have just used the expression ‘accidental case.’ This is a significant phrase; we often hear it. Well, not long since everyone was talking and reading about that terrible murder of six people on the part of a--young fellow, and of the extraordinary speech of the counsel for the defence, who observed that in the poverty-stricken condition of the criminal it must have come _naturally_ into his head to kill these six people. I do not quote his words, but that is the sense of them, or something very like it. Now, in my opinion, the barrister who put forward this extraordinary plea was probably absolutely convinced that he was stating the most liberal, the most humane, the most enlightened view of the case that could possibly be brought forward in these days. Now, was this distortion, this capacity for a perverted way of viewing things, a special or accidental case, or is such a general rule?”“Well, whether you go on business or not is your affair, I do not want to know. The only important thing, in my eyes, is that you should not be going there simply for the pleasure of spending your evening in such company--cocottes, generals, usurers! If that were the case I should despise and laugh at you. There are terribly few honest people here, and hardly any whom one can respect, although people put on airs--Varia especially! Have you noticed, prince, how many adventurers there are nowadays? Especially here, in our dear Russia. How it has happened I never can understand. There used to be a certain amount of solidity in all things, but now what happens? Everything is exposed to the public gaze, veils are thrown back, every wound is probed by careless fingers. We are for ever present at an orgy of scandalous revelations. Parents blush when they remember their old-fashioned morality. At Moscow lately a father was heard urging his son to stop at nothing--at nothing, mind you!--to get money! The press seized upon the story, of course, and now it is public property. Look at my father, the general! See what he is, and yet, I assure you, he is an honest man! Only... he drinks too much, and his morals are not all we could desire. Yes, that’s true! I pity him, to tell the truth, but I dare not say so, because everybody would laugh at me--but I do pity him! And who are the really clever men, after all? Money-grubbers, every one of them, from the first to the last. Hippolyte finds excuses for money-lending, and says it is a necessity. He talks about the economic movement, and the ebb and flow of capital; the devil knows what he means. It makes me angry to hear him talk so, but he is soured by his troubles. Just imagine--the general keeps his mother--but she lends him money! She lends it for a week or ten days at very high interest! Isn’t it disgusting? And then, you would hardly believe it, but my mother--Nina Alexandrovna--helps Hippolyte in all sorts of ways, sends him money and clothes. She even goes as far as helping the children, through Hippolyte, because their mother cares nothing about them, and Varia does the same.”Of course every one of them followed her.
Evidently the quiet, pleasant current of the family life of the Epanchins was about to undergo a change.“Where they played last night. Then I found this bench and sat down, and thought and thought--and at last I fell fast asleep.”
It never struck him that all this refined simplicity and nobility and wit and personal dignity might possibly be no more than an exquisite artistic polish. The majority of the guests--who were somewhat empty-headed, after all, in spite of their aristocratic bearing--never guessed, in their self-satisfied composure, that much of their superiority was mere veneer, which indeed they had adopted unconsciously and by inheritance.“Ladies are exempted if they like.”
Burdovsky silently resumed his seat, and bent his head as though in profound thought. His friend, Lebedeff’s nephew, who had risen to accompany him, also sat down again. He seemed much disappointed, though as self-confident as ever. Hippolyte looked dejected and sulky, as well as surprised. He had just been attacked by a violent fit of coughing, so that his handkerchief was stained with blood. The boxer looked thoroughly frightened.
“She was very quiet always--and I remember once, when she had suddenly begun singing at her work, everyone said, ‘Marie tried to sing today!’ and she got so chaffed that she was silent for ever after. She had been treated kindly in the place before; but when she came back now--ill and shunned and miserable--not one of them all had the slightest sympathy for her. Cruel people! Oh, what hazy understandings they have on such matters! Her mother was the first to show the way. She received her wrathfully, unkindly, and with contempt. ‘You have disgraced me,’ she said. She was the first to cast her into ignominy; but when they all heard that Marie had returned to the village, they ran out to see her and crowded into the little cottage--old men, children, women, girls--such a hurrying, stamping, greedy crowd. Marie was lying on the floor at the old woman’s feet, hungry, torn, draggled, crying, miserable.
“Oh! what on earth are we to do with him?” cried Lizabetha Prokofievna. She hastened to him and pressed his head against her bosom, while he sobbed convulsively.
He looked at his listeners again with that same serious, searching expression.
“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?”
The prince would never so much as suspect such a thing in the delight of his first impression.
“I am telling you the truth,” said the prince in his former composed tone of voice; “and believe me, I am extremely sorry that the circumstance should have made such an unpleasant impression upon you!”
“It is my mother’s. You get to her apartments by that passage.”
“What do you say, sir?” growled the general, taking a step towards him.
On the day before the wedding, the prince left Nastasia in a state of great animation. Her wedding-dress and all sorts of finery had just arrived from town. Muishkin had not imagined that she would be so excited over it, but he praised everything, and his praise rendered her doubly happy.“Half-past twelve. We are always in bed by one.”“No, no, I had much better speak out. I have long wished to say it, and _have_ said it, but that’s not enough, for you didn’t believe me. Between us two there stands a being who--”All this caused the general to look grave and important. But, alas! this agreeable state of affairs very soon changed once more.The clerk stood looking after his guest, struck by his sudden absent-mindedness. He had not even remembered to say goodbye, and Lebedeff was the more surprised at the omission, as he knew by experience how courteous the prince usually was.
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.
The doctor stated that there was no danger to be apprehended from the wound on the head, and as soon as the prince could understand what was going on around him, Colia hired a carriage and took him away to Lebedeff’s. There he was received with much cordiality, and the departure to the country was hastened on his account. Three days later they were all at Pavlofsk.
“Well, only for the sake of a lady,” said Hippolyte, laughing. “I am ready to put off the reckoning, but only put it off, Varvara Ardalionovna, because an explanation between your brother and myself has become an absolute necessity, and I could not think of leaving the house without clearing up all misunderstandings first.”
It was the beginning of June, and for a whole week the weather in St. Petersburg had been magnificent. The Epanchins had a luxurious country-house at Pavlofsk, [One of the fashionable summer resorts near St. Petersburg.] and to this spot Mrs. Epanchin determined to proceed without further delay. In a couple of days all was ready, and the family had left town. A day or two after this removal to Pavlofsk, Prince Muishkin arrived in St. Petersburg by the morning train from Moscow. No one met him; but, as he stepped out of the carriage, he suddenly became aware of two strangely glowing eyes fixed upon him from among the crowd that met the train. On endeavouring to re-discover the eyes, and see to whom they belonged, he could find nothing to guide him. It must have been a hallucination. But the disagreeable impression remained, and without this, the prince was sad and thoughtful already, and seemed to be much preoccupied.“Gavrila Ardalionovitch begged me to give you this,” he said, handing her the note.
“Isn’t there something else, prince? I heard yesterday, but I have no right to talk about this... If you ever want a true friend and servant--neither you nor I are so very happy, are we?--come to me. I won’t ask you questions, though.”
“Was it you?” he muttered, at last, motioning with his head towards the curtain.“Come, come, what does all this mean?” cried Colia beside himself at last. “What is it? What has happened to you? Why don’t you wish to come back home? Why have you gone out of your mind, like this?”