“Then at all events he knows her!” remarked the prince, after a moment’s silence.An hour later he was in St. Petersburg, and by ten o’clock he had rung the bell at Rogojin’s.
“Last week? In the night? Have you gone cracked, my good friend?”“Certainly, but not always. You would not have been able to keep it up, and would have ended by forgiving me,” said the prince, after a pause for reflection, and with a pleasant smile.
“I’ll tell you why I draw the conclusion,” explained the prince, evidently desirous of clearing up the matter a little. “Because, though I often think over the men of those times, I cannot for the life of me imagine them to be like ourselves. It really appears to me that they were of another race altogether than ourselves of today. At that time people seemed to stick so to one idea; now, they are more nervous, more sensitive, more enlightened--people of two or three ideas at once--as it were. The man of today is a broader man, so to speak--and I declare I believe that is what prevents him from being so self-contained and independent a being as his brother of those earlier days. Of course my remark was only made under this impression, and not in the least--”
She became so excited and agitated during all these explanations and confessions that General Epanchin was highly gratified, and considered the matter satisfactorily arranged once for all. But the once bitten Totski was twice shy, and looked for hidden snakes among the flowers. However, the special point to which the two friends particularly trusted to bring about their object (namely, Gania’s attractiveness for Nastasia Philipovna), stood out more and more prominently; the pourparlers had commenced, and gradually even Totski began to believe in the possibility of success.
‘A mighty lion, terror of the woods, Was shorn of his great prowess by old age.’
“Then how Schneider told me about my childish nature, and--”
“Look here,” said Lizabetha Prokofievna, turning round suddenly; “we are passing his house. Whatever Aglaya may think, and in spite of anything that may happen, he is not a stranger to us; besides which, he is ill and in misfortune. I, for one, shall call in and see him. Let anyone follow me who cares to.”“How extremely stupid!” cried Mrs. Epanchin, giving back the letter abruptly. “It was not worth the trouble of reading. Why are you smiling?”
“Well, I’ll come, I’ll come,” interrupted the prince, hastily, “and I’ll give you my word of honour that I will sit the whole evening and not say a word.”“That is all thanks to our lassitude, I think,” replied the old man, with authority. “And then their way of preaching; they have a skilful manner of doing it! And they know how to startle one, too. I got quite a fright myself in ’32, in Vienna, I assure you; but I didn’t cave in to them, I ran away instead, ha, ha!”
In reply to a very guarded question of her sisters’, Aglaya had answered coldly, but exceedingly haughtily:
“No--no--my dear girl,” began the general. “You cannot proceed like this, Aglaya, if that’s how the matter stands. It’s impossible. Prince, forgive it, my dear fellow, but--Lizabetha Prokofievna!”--he appealed to his spouse for help--“you must really--”
Nearly an hour passed thus, and when tea was over the visitors seemed to think that it was time to go. As they went out, the doctor and the old gentleman bade Muishkin a warm farewell, and all the rest took their leave with hearty protestations of good-will, dropping remarks to the effect that “it was no use worrying,” and that “perhaps all would turn out for the best,” and so on. Some of the younger intruders would have asked for champagne, but they were checked by the older ones. When all had departed, Keller leaned over to Lebedeff, and said:The prince expressed his thanks once more, and eating heartily the while, recommenced the narrative of his life in Switzerland, all of which we have heard before. Mrs. Epanchin became more and more pleased with her guest; the girls, too, listened with considerable attention. In talking over the question of relationship it turned out that the prince was very well up in the matter and knew his pedigree off by heart. It was found that scarcely any connection existed between himself and Mrs. Epanchin, but the talk, and the opportunity of conversing about her family tree, gratified the latter exceedingly, and she rose from the table in great good humour.
“Well, go on.”
“Oh, of course! Naturally the sight impressed him, and proved to him that not _all_ the aristocracy had left Moscow; that at least some nobles and their children had remained behind.”
Late in the evening Colia came in with a whole budget of Petersburg and Pavlofsk news. He did not dwell much on the Petersburg part of it, which consisted chiefly of intelligence about his friend Hippolyte, but passed quickly to the Pavlofsk tidings. He had gone straight to the Epanchins’ from the station.“Well, what do you think of the arrangement, prince?”
XII.“Of course! And it would be a disgrace to marry so, eh?”
He left the room quickly, covering his face with his hands.
“Oh, then, of course they will remember who you are. You wish to see the general? I’ll tell him at once--he will be free in a minute; but you--you had better wait in the ante-chamber,--hadn’t you? Why is he here?” he added, severely, to the man.
“No--I know nothing about it,” said Nastasia, drily and abruptly.
Here the voice of Hippolyte suddenly intervened.
“Yes, I played with her,” said Rogojin, after a short silence.“Well, I must say, I cannot understand it!” said the general, shrugging his shoulders and dropping his hands. “You remember your mother, Nina Alexandrovna, that day she came and sat here and groaned--and when I asked her what was the matter, she says, ‘Oh, it’s such a _dishonour_ to us!’ dishonour! Stuff and nonsense! I should like to know who can reproach Nastasia Philipovna, or who can say a word of any kind against her. Did she mean because Nastasia had been living with Totski? What nonsense it is! You would not let her come near your daughters, says Nina Alexandrovna. What next, I wonder? I don’t see how she can fail to--to understand--”
“Well, leave your hotel at once and come here; then we can all go together to Pavlofsk the day after tomorrow.”Evgenie takes this much to heart, and he has a heart, as is proved by the fact that he receives and even answers letters from Colia. But besides this, another trait in his character has become apparent, and as it is a good trait we will make haste to reveal it. After each visit to Schneider’s establishment, Evgenie Pavlovitch writes another letter, besides that to Colia, giving the most minute particulars concerning the invalid’s condition. In these letters is to be detected, and in each one more than the last, a growing feeling of friendship and sympathy.A maid opened the door for the prince (Nastasia’s servants were all females) and, to his surprise, received his request to announce him to her mistress without any astonishment. Neither his dirty boots, nor his wide-brimmed hat, nor his sleeveless cloak, nor his evident confusion of manner, produced the least impression upon her. She helped him off with his cloak, and begged him to wait a moment in the ante-room while she announced him.
It was said that Elizabetha Prokofievna and her daughters had there and then denounced the prince in the strongest terms, and had refused any further acquaintance and friendship with him; their rage and denunciations being redoubled when Varia Ardalionovna suddenly arrived and stated that Aglaya had been at her house in a terrible state of mind for the last hour, and that she refused to come home.
“What do you mean by special privileges?”
“Forgive a silly, horrid, spoilt girl”--(she took his hand here)--“and be quite assured that we all of us esteem you beyond all words. And if I dared to turn your beautiful, admirable simplicity to ridicule, forgive me as you would a little child its mischief. Forgive me all my absurdity of just now, which, of course, meant nothing, and could not have the slightest consequence.” She spoke these words with great emphasis.
“No, no! I cannot allow this,--this is a little too much,” cried Lizabetha Prokofievna, exploding with rage, and she rose from her seat and followed Aglaya out of the room as quickly as she could.
Gania looked dreadfully put out, and tried to say something in reply, but Nastasia interrupted him:
But he had hardly become conscious of this curious phenomenon, when another recollection suddenly swam through his brain, interesting him for the moment, exceedingly. He remembered that the last time he had been engaged in looking around him for the unknown something, he was standing before a cutler’s shop, in the window of which were exposed certain goods for sale. He was extremely anxious now to discover whether this shop and these goods really existed, or whether the whole thing had been a hallucination.
“I, like everyone else,” began the general, “have committed certain not altogether graceful actions, so to speak, during the course of my life. But the strangest thing of all in my case is, that I should consider the little anecdote which I am now about to give you as a confession of the worst of my ‘bad actions.’ It is thirty-five years since it all happened, and yet I cannot to this very day recall the circumstances without, as it were, a sudden pang at the heart.
He seemed to have been born with overwrought nerves, and in his passionate desire to excel, he was often led to the brink of some rash step; and yet, having resolved upon such a step, when the moment arrived, he invariably proved too sensible to take it. He was ready, in the same way, to do a base action in order to obtain his wished-for object; and yet, when the moment came to do it, he found that he was too honest for any great baseness. (Not that he objected to acts of petty meanness--he was always ready for _them_.) He looked with hate and loathing on the poverty and downfall of his family, and treated his mother with haughty contempt, although he knew that his whole future depended on her character and reputation.“Is it certainly accursed?... or do you only mean it might be? That is an important point,” said Evgenie Pavlovitch.“If you don’t mind, I would rather sit here with you,” said the prince; “I should prefer it to sitting in there.”
Heading this little band walked three ladies, two of whom were remarkably lovely; and there was nothing surprising in the fact that they should have had a large troop of admirers following in their wake.
“Yes, I shall marry her--yes.”
Hippolyte raised his head with an effort, saying:
“It’s all his--the whole packet is for him, do you hear--all of you?” cried Nastasia Philipovna, placing the packet by the side of Gania. “He restrained himself, and didn’t go after it; so his self-respect is greater than his thirst for money. All right--he’ll come to directly--he must have the packet or he’ll cut his throat afterwards. There! He’s coming to himself. General, Totski, all of you, did you hear me? The money is all Gania’s. I give it to him, fully conscious of my action, as recompense for--well, for anything he thinks best. Tell him so. Let it lie here beside him. Off we go, Rogojin! Goodbye, prince. I have seen a man for the first time in my life. Goodbye, Afanasy Ivanovitch--and thanks!”
“Why, there’s Zaleshoff here, too!” he muttered, gazing at the scene with a sort of triumphant but unpleasant smile. Then he suddenly turned to the prince: “Prince, I don’t know why I have taken a fancy to you; perhaps because I met you just when I did. But no, it can’t be that, for I met this fellow” (nodding at Lebedeff) “too, and I have not taken a fancy to him by any means. Come to see me, prince; we’ll take off those gaiters of yours and dress you up in a smart fur coat, the best we can buy. You shall have a dress coat, best quality, white waistcoat, anything you like, and your pocket shall be full of money. Come, and you shall go with me to Nastasia Philipovna’s. Now then will you come or no?”
Gavrila Ardalionovitch listened attentively, and gazed at the prince with great curiosity. At last he motioned the man aside and stepped hurriedly towards the prince.
Aglaya alone seemed sad and depressed; her face was flushed, perhaps with indignation.All this had been very painful to listen to. One fact stood out certain and clear, and that was that poor Aglaya must be in a state of great distress and indecision and mental torment (“from jealousy,” the prince whispered to himself). Undoubtedly in this inexperienced, but hot and proud little head, there were all sorts of plans forming, wild and impossible plans, maybe; and the idea of this so frightened the prince that he could not make up his mind what to do. Something must be done, that was clear.
“She sent to say, yesterday morning, that I was never to dare to come near the house again.”
“Early?” said Lebedeff, sarcastically. “Time counts for nothing, even in physical chastisement; but my slap in the face was not physical, it was moral.”
“I am not finessing, and I am not in the least afraid of telling you; but I don’t see the slightest reason why I should not have written.”“PR. L. MUISHKIN.”
“I take all that you have said as a joke,” said Prince S. seriously.
“You are very gay here,” began the latter, “and I have had quite a pleasant half-hour while I waited for you. Now then, my dear Lef Nicolaievitch, this is what’s the matter. I’ve arranged it all with Moloftsoff, and have just come in to relieve your mind on that score. You need be under no apprehensions. He was very sensible, as he should be, of course, for I think he was entirely to blame himself.”
All this caused the general to look grave and important. But, alas! this agreeable state of affairs very soon changed once more.
Hippolyte told the prince this last story, sending for him on purpose. When Muishkin heard about the candle and Gania’s finger he had laughed so that he had quite astonished Hippolyte,--and then shuddered and burst into tears. The prince’s condition during those days was strange and perturbed. Hippolyte plainly declared that he thought he was out of his mind;--this, however, was hardly to be relied upon.
“I shan’t ever be a Rothschild, and there is no reason why I should,” he added, smiling; “but I shall have a house in the Liteynaya, perhaps two, and that will be enough for me.” “Who knows but what I may have three!” he concluded to himself; but this dream, cherished inwardly, he never confided to a soul.
“But what is it all about? Tell me, for Heaven’s sake! Cannot you understand how nearly it touches me? Why are they blackening Evgenie Pavlovitch’s reputation?”
“He burned his hand!”
“I didn’t mean that,” said Gania; “but while we are upon the subject, let me hear your opinion. Is all this worry worth seventy-five thousand or not?”
“No, I needn’t,” replied Rogojin, and taking the other by the hand he drew him down to a chair. He himself took a chair opposite and drew it up so close that he almost pressed against the prince’s knees. At their side was a little round table.“Halloa! what’s this now?” laughed Rogojin. “You come along with me, old fellow! You shall have as much to drink as you like.”
“No, no! Heaven forbid that we should bring Nina Alexandrovna into this business! Or Colia, either. But perhaps I have not yet quite understood you, Lebedeff?”
“The good of it! Well, I want just to see a ray of the sun,” said Hippolyte. “Can one drink to the sun’s health, do you think, prince?”
Lebedeff said this so seriously that the prince quite lost his temper with him.
“Oh, no; oh, no! Not to theology alone, I assure you! Why, Socialism is the progeny of Romanism and of the Romanistic spirit. It and its brother Atheism proceed from Despair in opposition to Catholicism. It seeks to replace in itself the moral power of religion, in order to appease the spiritual thirst of parched humanity and save it; not by Christ, but by force. ‘Don’t dare to believe in God, don’t dare to possess any individuality, any property! _Fraternité ou la Mort_; two million heads. ‘By their works ye shall know them’--we are told. And we must not suppose that all this is harmless and without danger to ourselves. Oh, no; we must resist, and quickly, quickly! We must let our Christ shine forth upon the Western nations, our Christ whom we have preserved intact, and whom they have never known. Not as slaves, allowing ourselves to be caught by the hooks of the Jesuits, but carrying our Russian civilization to _them_, we must stand before them, not letting it be said among us that their preaching is ‘skilful,’ as someone expressed it just now.”
He pulled out a pack of cards, wrapped in a bit of paper, from his pocket, and handed them to the prince. The latter took them, with a sort of perplexity. A new, sad, helpless feeling weighed on his heart; he had suddenly realized that not only at this moment, but for a long while, he had not been saying what he wanted to say, had not been acting as he wanted to act; and that these cards which he held in his hand, and which he had been so delighted to have at first, were now of no use--no use... He rose, and wrung his hands. Rogojin lay motionless, and seemed neither to hear nor see his movements; but his eyes blazed in the darkness, and were fixed in a wild stare.
“When you open this letter” (so the first began), “look first at the signature. The signature will tell you all, so that I need explain nothing, nor attempt to justify myself. Were I in any way on a footing with you, you might be offended at my audacity; but who am I, and who are you? We are at such extremes, and I am so far removed from you, that I could not offend you if I wished to do so.”It was declared that he believed in no classes or anything else, excepting “the woman question.”She was as capricious as ever in the choice of her acquaintances, and admitted few into her narrow circle. Yet she already had a numerous following and many champions on whom she could depend in time of need. One gentleman on his holiday had broken off his engagement on her account, and an old general had quarrelled with his only son for the same reason.It was not a large party, however. Besides Princess Bielokonski and the old dignitary (who was really a great man) and his wife, there was an old military general--a count or baron with a German name, a man reputed to possess great knowledge and administrative ability. He was one of those Olympian administrators who know everything except Russia, pronounce a word of extraordinary wisdom, admired by all, about once in five years, and, after being an eternity in the service, generally die full of honour and riches, though they have never done anything great, and have even been hostile to all greatness. This general was Ivan Fedorovitch’s immediate superior in the service; and it pleased the latter to look upon him also as a patron. On the other hand, the great man did not at all consider himself Epanchin’s patron. He was always very cool to him, while taking advantage of his ready services, and would instantly have put another in his place if there had been the slightest reason for the change.
“And it’s Siberia for sacrilege, isn’t it?”“There he is!” she shrieked again, pointing to the prince and addressing Aglaya. “There he is! and if he does not approach me at once and take _me_ and throw you over, then have him for your own--I give him up to you! I don’t want him!”
She did not rise from her knees; she would not listen to him; she put her questions hurriedly, as though she were pursued.
“What did he do there? What did he say?” “They couldn’t tell me themselves; they couldn’t make head or tail of it; but he frightened them all. He came to see the general, who was not at home; so he asked for Lizabetha Prokofievna. First of all, he begged her for some place, or situation, for work of some kind, and then he began to complain about _us_, about me and my husband, and you, especially _you_; he said a lot of things.”
Nastasia’s arrival was a most unexpected and overwhelming event to all parties. In the first place, she had never been before. Up to now she had been so haughty that she had never even asked Gania to introduce her to his parents. Of late she had not so much as mentioned them. Gania was partly glad of this; but still he had put it to her debit in the account to be settled after marriage.
“No finessing, please. What did you write about?”
“He actually seems to boast of it!” she cried.
The general rang the bell and gave orders that the prince should be shown in.
“Oh, silence isn’t the word! Softly, softly!”“Be quiet, you can talk afterwards! What was the letter about? Why are you blushing?”
But alas! at the German lady’s house they did not even appear to understand what he wanted. After a while, by means of certain hints, he was able to gather that Nastasia must have had a quarrel with her friend two or three weeks ago, since which date the latter had neither heard nor seen anything of her. He was given to understand that the subject of Nastasia’s present whereabouts was not of the slightest interest to her; and that Nastasia might marry all the princes in the world for all she cared! So Muishkin took his leave hurriedly. It struck him now that she might have gone away to Moscow just as she had done the last time, and that Rogojin had perhaps gone after her, or even _with_ her. If only he could find some trace!“I have heard many things of the kind about you...they delighted me... I have learned to hold you in the highest esteem,” continued Hippolyte.
Keller suddenly left his seat, and approached Lizabetha Prokofievna.The prince wanted to say something, but was so confused and astonished that he could not. However, he moved off towards the drawing-room with the cloak over his arm.
“There is much that might be improved in him,” said the prince, moderately, “but he has some qualities which--though amid them one cannot but discern a cunning nature--reveal what is often a diverting intellect.”
The prince sat silent for a long while. His mind was filled with dread and horror.
So spoke the good lady, almost angrily, as she took leave of Evgenie Pavlovitch.
“He discovered everything, the monster... himself......”“Oh, why not?” the prince insisted, with some warmth. “When I was in Basle I saw a picture very much in that style--I should like to tell you about it; I will some time or other; it struck me very forcibly.”
“I have long sought the honour and opportunity of meeting you--much-esteemed Lef Nicolaievitch,” he murmured, pressing the prince’s hand very hard, almost painfully so; “long--very long.”This new woman gave him further to understand that though it was absolutely the same to her whom he married, yet she had decided to prevent this marriage--for no particular reason, but that she _chose_ to do so, and because she wished to amuse herself at his expense for that it was “quite her turn to laugh a little now!”“You knew it? Come, that’s news! But no--perhaps better not tell me. And were you a witness of the meeting?”