“Have you always lived at home, Aglaya Ivanovna?” he asked. “I mean, have you never been to school, or college, or anything?”
“As if I can think anything about it! I--” He was about to say more, but stopped in despair.“Whom did you hear it from?” asked Aglaya, alarmed. “Rogojin said something about it yesterday, but nothing definite.”
Gania hurled Ferdishenko from him; then he turned sharp round and made for the door. But he had not gone a couple of steps when he tottered and fell to the ground.
“Here they are,” said Rogojin, after a still longer pause.“Has anyone a coin about them? Give me a twenty-copeck piece, somebody!” And Hippolyte leapt from his chair.
All this was no doubt extremely coarse, and moreover it was premeditated, but after all Ferdishenko had persuaded everyone to accept him as a buffoon.
“I trust your voice, when I hear you speak. I quite understand that you and I cannot be put on a level, of course.”
About seven in the evening, soon after dinner, he arrived. At the first glance it struck the prince that he, at any rate, must know all the details of last night’s affair. Indeed, it would have been impossible for him to remain in ignorance considering the intimate relationship between him, Varvara Ardalionovna, and Ptitsin. But although he and the prince were intimate, in a sense, and although the latter had placed the Burdovsky affair in his hands--and this was not the only mark of confidence he had received--it seemed curious how many matters there were that were tacitly avoided in their conversations. Muishkin thought that Gania at times appeared to desire more cordiality and frankness. It was apparent now, when he entered, that he was convinced that the moment for breaking the ice between them had come at last.
Colia was a nice-looking boy. His expression was simple and confiding, and his manners were very polite and engaging.
“Well, Lukian Timofeyovitch, have you brought the little cupboard that you had at the head of your bed with you here?”
Towards six o’clock he found himself at the station of the Tsarsko-Selski railway.
“You have slept seven or perhaps eight minutes,” said Evgenie Pavlovitch.
“Yes... from you it is quite natural.”XI.
“Her own position?” prompted Gania. “She does understand. Don’t be annoyed with her. I have warned her not to meddle in other people’s affairs. However, although there’s comparative peace at home at present, the storm will break if anything is finally settled tonight.”
Suddenly Hippolyte jumped up as though he had been shot.
“I never thought of such a thing for a moment,” said the prince, with disgust.
“What do I care if you are base or not? He thinks he has only to say, ‘I am base,’ and there is an end of it. As to you, prince, are you not ashamed?--I repeat, are you not ashamed, to mix with such riff-raff? I will never forgive you!”
“Excuse me--I will take a seat,” interrupted Hippolyte once more, sitting down deliberately; “for I am not strong yet. Now then, I am ready to hear you. Especially as this is the last chance we shall have of a talk, and very likely the last meeting we shall ever have at all.”She could not believe her ears.
“I meant to say--I only meant to say,” said the prince, faltering, “I merely meant to explain to Aglaya Ivanovna--to have the honour to explain, as it were--that I had no intention--never had--to ask the honour of her hand. I assure you I am not guilty, Aglaya Ivanovna, I am not, indeed. I never did wish to--I never thought of it at all--and never shall--you’ll see it yourself--you may be quite assured of it. Some wicked person has been maligning me to you; but it’s all right. Don’t worry about it.”“Were you to blame, or not?”
“Get up!” he said, in a frightened whisper, raising her. “Get up at once!”Just then another person belonging to the household was seen at the back of the hall. It was a woman of some forty years, dressed in sombre colours, probably a housekeeper or a governess. Hearing the names she came forward with a look of suspicion on her face.Lizabetha Prokofievna received confirmatory news from the princess--and alas, two months after the prince’s first departure from St. Petersburg, darkness and mystery once more enveloped his whereabouts and actions, and in the Epanchin family the ice of silence once more formed over the subject. Varia, however, informed the girls of what had happened, she having received the news from Ptitsin, who generally knew more than most people.
“They are very anxious to see me blow my brains out,” said Hippolyte, bitterly.
The amiable and undoubtedly witty Prince N. could not but feel that he was as a sun, risen for one night only to shine upon the Epanchin drawing-room. He accounted them immeasurably his inferiors, and it was this feeling which caused his special amiability and delightful ease and grace towards them. He knew very well that he must tell some story this evening for the edification of the company, and led up to it with the inspiration of anticipatory triumph.“No, no, no, can’t _bear_ him, I can’t _bear_ your young man!” cried Aglaya, raising her head. “And if you dare say that _once_ more, papa--I’m serious, you know, I’m,--do you hear me--I’m serious!”
“And natural,” repeated Lebedeff with pedantic obstinacy. “Besides, a Catholic monk is by nature excessively curious; it would be quite easy therefore to entice him into a wood, or some secret place, on false pretences, and there to deal with him as said. But I do not dispute in the least that the number of persons consumed appears to denote a spice of greediness.”Could not something be made of this man under good influences? asked the prince of himself, for he began to feel a kind of pity for his visitor. He thought little of the value of his own personal influence, not from a sense of humility, but from his peculiar way of looking at things in general. Imperceptibly the conversation grew more animated and more interesting, so that neither of the two felt anxious to bring it to a close. Keller confessed, with apparent sincerity, to having been guilty of many acts of such a nature that it astonished the prince that he could mention them, even to him. At every fresh avowal he professed the deepest repentance, and described himself as being “bathed in tears”; but this did not prevent him from putting on a boastful air at times, and some of his stories were so absurdly comical that both he and the prince laughed like madmen.
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.
“Is there anything you hold sacred?”Evgenie Pavlovitch remarked here that he had spoken of his intention of leaving the service long ago. He had, however, always made more or less of a joke about it, so no one had taken him seriously. For that matter he joked about everything, and his friends never knew what to believe, especially if he did not wish them to understand him.
“What, what?” said the general, much agitated.
“I have now--let’s see--I have a hundred and thirty-five thousand roubles,” said the prince, blushing violently.We have spoken of these letters chiefly because in them is often to be found some news of the Epanchin family, and of Aglaya in particular. Evgenie Pavlovitch wrote of her from Paris, that after a short and sudden attachment to a certain Polish count, an exile, she had suddenly married him, quite against the wishes of her parents, though they had eventually given their consent through fear of a terrible scandal. Then, after a six months’ silence, Evgenie Pavlovitch informed his correspondent, in a long letter, full of detail, that while paying his last visit to Dr. Schneider’s establishment, he had there come across the whole Epanchin family (excepting the general, who had remained in St. Petersburg) and Prince S. The meeting was a strange one. They all received Evgenie Pavlovitch with effusive delight; Adelaida and Alexandra were deeply grateful to him for his “angelic kindness to the unhappy prince.”
“‘Oh, it was evident at the first glance,’ I said ironically, but not intentionally so. ‘There are lots of people who come up from the provinces full of hope, and run about town, and have to live as best they can.’“He’s asleep! You were asleep,” she said, with contemptuous surprise.
“Hurrah!” cried a number of voices. A rush was made for the wine by Rogojin’s followers, though, even among them, there seemed some sort of realization that the situation had changed. Rogojin stood and looked on, with an incredulous smile, screwing up one side of his mouth.