“And what shall I tell him by way of answer?”“The prince will forgive me!” said Lebedeff with emotional conviction.
“You saw me as a child!” exclaimed the prince, with surprise.
“Quite so, I see; because, you know, little mistakes have occurred now and then. There was a case--”“That I only _pitied_ her--and--and loved her no longer!”“But enough!” he cried, suddenly. “I see I have been boring you with my--”
Gania glanced inquiringly at the speaker.
“Yes, I will if I may; and--can I take off my cloak”“Ha, ha, ha!” she cried, “this is an unexpected climax, after all. I didn’t expect this. What are you all standing up for, gentlemen? Sit down; congratulate me and the prince! Ferdishenko, just step out and order some more champagne, will you? Katia, Pasha,” she added suddenly, seeing the servants at the door, “come here! I’m going to be married, did you hear? To the prince. He has a million and a half of roubles; he is Prince Muishkin, and has asked me to marry him. Here, prince, come and sit by me; and here comes the wine. Now then, ladies and gentlemen, where are your congratulations?”
“Oh, but, positively, you know--a hundred thousand roubles!”
“Gentlemen, I supposed from this that poor Mr. Burdovsky must be a simple-minded man, quite defenceless, and an easy tool in the hands of rogues. That is why I thought it my duty to try and help him as ‘Pavlicheff’s son’; in the first place by rescuing him from the influence of Tchebaroff, and secondly by making myself his friend. I have resolved to give him ten thousand roubles; that is about the sum which I calculate that Pavlicheff must have spent on me.”“Lebedeff, you seem to be angry for some reason!” said the prince.
“But that evening and that night were sown the first seeds of my ‘last conviction.’ I seized greedily on my new idea; I thirstily drank in all its different aspects (I did not sleep a wink that night!), and the deeper I went into it the more my being seemed to merge itself in it, and the more alarmed I became. A dreadful terror came over me at last, and did not leave me all next day.He stood there for a minute and then, suddenly and strangely enough, it seemed to him that a little corner of one of the blinds was lifted, and Rogojin’s face appeared for an instant and then vanished. He waited another minute, and decided to go and ring the bell once more; however, he thought better of it again and put it off for an hour.
“Then within his distant castle, Home returned, he dreamed his days-- Silent, sad,--and when death took him He was mad, the legend says.”
“I don’t believe it! It’s impossible! What object could they have?” He jumped up from his chair in his excitement.
“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...He approached the table and laid a small sheet of paper before her. It looked like a little note.
“She ought to be whipped--that’s the only way to deal with creatures like that--she ought to be whipped!”“That’ll do, Gania!” cried Varia and Ptitsin.
“How strange everyone, yourself included, has become of late,” said he. “I was telling you that I cannot in the least understand Lizabetha Prokofievna’s ideas and agitations. She is in hysterics up there, and moans and says that we have been ‘shamed and disgraced.’ How? Why? When? By whom? I confess that I am very much to blame myself; I do not conceal the fact; but the conduct, the outrageous behaviour of this woman, must really be kept within limits, by the police if necessary, and I am just on my way now to talk the question over and make some arrangements. It can all be managed quietly and gently, even kindly, and without the slightest fuss or scandal. I foresee that the future is pregnant with events, and that there is much that needs explanation. There is intrigue in the wind; but if on one side nothing is known, on the other side nothing will be explained. If I have heard nothing about it, nor have _you_, nor _he_, nor _she_--who _has_ heard about it, I should like to know? How _can_ all this be explained except by the fact that half of it is mirage or moonshine, or some hallucination of that sort?”
He was a remarkably handsome young fellow of some twenty-eight summers, fair and of middle height; he wore a small beard, and his face was most intelligent. Yet his smile, in spite of its sweetness, was a little thin, if I may so call it, and showed his teeth too evenly; his gaze though decidedly good-humoured and ingenuous, was a trifle too inquisitive and intent to be altogether agreeable.
“So be it, then. Gavrila Ardalionovitch,” she spoke solemnly and forcibly, “you hear the prince’s decision? Take it as my decision; and let that be the end of the matter for good and all.”
“No, at his mother’s flat; I rang at Parfen Semionovitch’s door and nobody came.”“No.”“I _did_ suspect him. When I woke up at half-past seven and tore my hair in despair for my loss and carelessness, I awoke the general, who was sleeping the sleep of innocence near me. Taking into consideration the sudden disappearance of Ferdishenko, which was suspicious in itself, we decided to search Keller, who was lying there sleeping like a top. Well, we searched his clothes thoroughly, and not a farthing did we find; in fact, his pockets all had holes in them. We found a dirty handkerchief, and a love-letter from some scullery-maid. The general decided that he was innocent. We awoke him for further inquiries, and had the greatest difficulty in making him understand what was up. He opened his mouth and stared--he looked so stupid and so absurdly innocent. It wasn’t Keller.”“I deny nothing, but you must confess that your article--”
“I have not much time for making acquaintances, as a rule,” said the general, “but as, of course, you have your object in coming, I--”“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.
“Very glad, I’m particularly hungry. Yes, yes, a strange coincidence--almost a psychological--”
“I’m sorry, really sorry,” he muttered. “She’s a ruined woman. Mad! mad! However, the prince is not for Nastasia Philipovna now,--perhaps it’s as well.”
The ladies dress elegantly, on these days, and it is the fashion to gather round the band, which is probably the best of our pleasure-garden bands, and plays the newest pieces. The behaviour of the public is most correct and proper, and there is an appearance of friendly intimacy among the usual frequenters. Many come for nothing but to look at their acquaintances, but there are others who come for the sake of the music. It is very seldom that anything happens to break the harmony of the proceedings, though, of course, accidents will happen everywhere.
Lebedeff made a strange and very expressive grimace; he twisted about in his chair, and did something, apparently symbolical, with his hands.
“Oh well, very little business. There is one little matter--some advice I am going to ask him for; but my principal object is simply to introduce myself, because I am Prince Muishkin, and Madame Epanchin is the last of her branch of the house, and besides herself and me there are no other Muishkins left.”
The prince took it from her hand, but gazed at her in bewilderment.“Tell me, why didn’t you put me right when I made such a dreadful mistake just now?” continued the latter, examining the prince from head to foot without the slightest ceremony. She awaited the answer as though convinced that it would be so foolish that she must inevitably fail to restrain her laughter over it.
IX.“How so?” asked Adelaida, with curiosity.
“I have waited for you on purpose, and am very glad to see you arrive so happy,” said Hippolyte, when the prince came forward to press his hand, immediately after greeting Vera.“That picture! That picture!” cried Muishkin, struck by a sudden idea. “Why, a man’s faith might be ruined by looking at that picture!”
“I know that there were just as many, and just as terrible, crimes before our times. Not long since I visited a convict prison and made acquaintance with some of the criminals. There were some even more dreadful criminals than this one we have been speaking of--men who have murdered a dozen of their fellow-creatures, and feel no remorse whatever. But what I especially noticed was this, that the very most hopeless and remorseless murderer--however hardened a criminal he may be--still _knows that he is a criminal_; that is, he is conscious that he has acted wickedly, though he may feel no remorse whatever. And they were all like this. Those of whom Evgenie Pavlovitch has spoken, do not admit that they are criminals at all; they think they had a right to do what they did, and that they were even doing a good deed, perhaps. I consider there is the greatest difference between the two cases. And recollect--it was a _youth_, at the particular age which is most helplessly susceptible to the distortion of ideas!”
“You exaggerate the matter very much,” said Ivan Petrovitch, with rather a bored air. “There are, in the foreign Churches, many representatives of their faith who are worthy of respect and esteem.”
“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.’
“_Love-letter?_ My letter a love-letter? That letter was the most respectful of letters; it went straight from my heart, at what was perhaps the most painful moment of my life! I thought of you at the time as a kind of light. I--”This good flunkey, in spite of his conscientious scruples, really could not resist continuing such a very genteel and agreeable conversation.
The general shrugged his shoulders.
“The face was depicted as though still suffering; as though the body, only just dead, was still almost quivering with agony. The picture was one of pure nature, for the face was not beautified by the artist, but was left as it would naturally be, whosoever the sufferer, after such anguish.
“It’s not the first time this urchin, your favourite, has shown his impudence by twisting other people’s words,” said Aglaya, haughtily.
But all the same Gania was in haste, for his sister was waiting at Lebedeff’s to consult him on an urgent matter of business. If he had anticipated impatient questions, or impulsive confidences, he was soon undeceived. The prince was thoughtful, reserved, even a little absent-minded, and asked none of the questions--one in particular--that Gania had expected. So he imitated the prince’s demeanour, and talked fast and brilliantly upon all subjects but the one on which their thoughts were engaged. Among other things Gania told his host that Nastasia Philipovna had been only four days in Pavlofsk, and that everyone was talking about her already. She was staying with Daria Alexeyevna, in an ugly little house in Mattrossky Street, but drove about in the smartest carriage in the place. A crowd of followers had pursued her from the first, young and old. Some escorted her on horse-back when she took the air in her carriage.“It undoubtedly has already!” observed Gania.
“On the table, as in the other room, burned a tallow candle-end in an iron candlestick; and on the bed there whined a baby of scarcely three weeks old. A pale-looking woman was dressing the child, probably the mother; she looked as though she had not as yet got over the trouble of childbirth, she seemed so weak and was so carelessly dressed. Another child, a little girl of about three years old, lay on the sofa, covered over with what looked like a man’s old dress-coat.
“Orphans, poor orphans!” he began in a pathetic voice.
“Well, she isn’t the first in the world, nor the last,” said another.
“Shall I call the Ptitsins, and Gavrila Ardalionovitch? Shall I let the general in?” he asked.
“Your son, indeed! A nice papa you are! _You_ might have come to see me anyhow, without compromising anyone. Do you hide yourself, or does your son hide you?”
“He never drinks much in the morning; if you have come to talk business with him, do it now. It is the best time. He sometimes comes back drunk in the evening; but just now he passes the greater part of the evening in tears, and reads passages of Holy Scripture aloud, because our mother died five weeks ago.”“How, nothing that they have done is Russian?” asked Prince S.“No, I have really an object in going... That is, I am going on business it is difficult to explain, but...”