“Why should it be secret? Not at all; I will call on her myself tomorrow.”
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.
“But is it true that I have but a fortnight of life left to me? I know I told some of my friends that Doctor B. had informed me that this was the case; but I now confess that I lied; B. has not even seen me. However, a week ago, I called in a medical student, Kislorodoff, who is a Nationalist, an Atheist, and a Nihilist, by conviction, and that is why I had him. I needed a man who would tell me the bare truth without any humbug or ceremony--and so he did--indeed, almost with pleasure (which I thought was going a little too far).“And do you not live in idleness?”
“Why do you hate me so?” asked the prince, sadly. “You know yourself that all you suspected is quite unfounded. I felt you were still angry with me, though. Do you know why? Because you tried to kill me--that’s why you can’t shake off your wrath against me. I tell you that I only remember the Parfen Rogojin with whom I exchanged crosses, and vowed brotherhood. I wrote you this in yesterday’s letter, in order that you might forget all that madness on your part, and that you might not feel called to talk about it when we met. Why do you avoid me? Why do you hold your hand back from me? I tell you again, I consider all that has passed a delirium, an insane dream. I can understand all you did, and all you felt that day, as if it were myself. What you were then imagining was not the case, and could never be the case. Why, then, should there be anger between us?”“Directly, directly! Stand still a moment, I wish to look in your eyes; don’t speak--stand so--let me look at you! I am bidding farewell to mankind.”
“That is a very difficult and complicated question. I cannot suspect the servant, for she was in the kitchen the whole evening, nor do I suspect any of my children.”Before them stood Lizabetha Prokofievna.The warning was certainly unnecessary; for the prince would not have said a word all the rest of the time whether forbidden to speak or not. His heart beat loud and painfully when Aglaya spoke of the bench; could she--but no! he banished the thought, after an instant’s deliberation.“Do you forgive me all--_all_, besides the vase, I mean?” said the prince, rising from his seat once more, but the old gentleman caught his hand and drew him down again--he seemed unwilling to let him go.
“You are shockingly naive, prince,” said Lebedeff’s nephew in mocking tones.
“And Nastasia Philipovna?”
Gavrila Ardalionovitch was in high spirits that evening, and it seemed to the prince that his gaiety was mingled with triumph. Of course he was only joking with Lebedeff, meaning to egg him on, but he grew excited himself at the same time.
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.
All surrounded the prince with exclamations of welcome, and, on hearing that it was his birthday, with cries of congratulation and delight; many of them were very noisy.
“It’s not the first time this urchin, your favourite, has shown his impudence by twisting other people’s words,” said Aglaya, haughtily.“Certainly not; what are you thinking of? What could have induced you to ask such a question?” she replied, quietly and seriously, and even, apparently, with some astonishment.It was said that there were other reasons for his hurried departure; but as to this, and as to his movements in Moscow, and as to his prolonged absence from St. Petersburg, we are able to give very little information.
“Sometimes it was very painful to me, and once he caught me with tears in my eyes. He looked at me kindly. ‘You are sorry for me,’ he said, ‘you, my child, and perhaps one other child--my son, the King of Rome--may grieve for me. All the rest hate me; and my brothers are the first to betray me in misfortune.’ I sobbed and threw myself into his arms. He could not resist me--he burst into tears, and our tears mingled as we folded each other in a close embrace.“Not at all, gentlemen, not at all! Your presence is absolutely necessary to me tonight,” said Nastasia, significantly.“The-the general. I would not let him in; there is no need for him to visit you, prince... I have the deepest esteem for him, he is a--a great man. You don’t believe it? Well, you will see, and yet, most excellent prince, you had much better not receive him.”Hippolyte gazed eagerly at the latter, and mused for a few moments.“Absolutely and utterly impossible--and yet, so it must be. But one thing I am sure of, if it be a theft, it was committed, not in the evening when we were all together, but either at night or early in the morning; therefore, by one of those who slept here. Burdovsky and Colia I except, of course. They did not even come into my room.”
“I can see it by your face! Say ‘how do you do’ to the others, and come and sit down here, quick--I’ve been waiting for you!” he added, accentuating the fact that he had waited. On the prince’s asking, “Will it not be injurious to you to sit out so late?” he replied that he could not believe that he had thought himself dying three days or so ago, for he never had felt better than this evening.
“Marfa Borisovna! Marfa Borisovna! Here is... the Prince Muishkin! General Ivolgin and Prince Muishkin,” stammered the disconcerted old man.
He pulled the note out and kissed it; then paused and reflected. “How strange it all is! how strange!” he muttered, melancholy enough now. In moments of great joy, he invariably felt a sensation of melancholy come over him--he could not tell why.“Scolding as usual, Varia! It is the worst thing about her. After all, I believe father may have started off with Rogojin. No doubt he is sorry now. Perhaps I had better go and see what he is doing,” added Colia, running off.
“GAVRILA ARDOLIONOVITCH,--persuaded of your kindness of heart, I have determined to ask your advice on a matter of great importance to myself. I should like to meet you tomorrow morning at seven o’clock by the green bench in the park. It is not far from our house. Varvara Ardalionovna, who must accompany you, knows the place well.“Oh, Mr. Lebedeff, I am told you lecture on the Apocalypse. Is it true?” asked Aglaya.
“What did you mean, sir, that he didn’t exist? Explain yourself,” he repeated, angrily.
“Ah, general!” she cried, “I was forgetting! If I had only foreseen this unpleasantness! I won’t insist on keeping you against your will, although I should have liked you to be beside me now. In any case, I am most grateful to you for your visit, and flattering attention... but if you are afraid...”“Nonsense, what rubbish you talk!” the mother struck in. “Not know how to see! Open your eyes and look! If you can’t see here, you won’t see abroad either. Tell us what you saw yourself, prince!”
“But I will, I _will_ run away!” she cried--and her eyes flashed again with anger--“and if you don’t agree I shall go and marry Gavrila Ardalionovitch! I won’t be considered a horrible girl, and accused of goodness knows what.”
“My father picked up all these pictures very cheap at auctions, and so on,” he said; “they are all rubbish, except the one over the door, and that is valuable. A man offered five hundred roubles for it last week.”
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.
“Had you any emeralds?” asked the prince.
“H’m! and you take no notice of it?”
“Gentlemen, you’d better look out,” cried Colia, also seizing Hippolyte by the hand. “Just look at him! Prince, what are you thinking of?” Vera and Colia, and Keller, and Burdovsky were all crowding round Hippolyte now and holding him down.
“Draw the scaffold so that only the top step of the ladder comes in clearly. The criminal must be just stepping on to it, his face as white as note-paper. The priest is holding the cross to his blue lips, and the criminal kisses it, and knows and sees and understands everything. The cross and the head--there’s your picture; the priest and the executioner, with his two assistants, and a few heads and eyes below. Those might come in as subordinate accessories--a sort of mist. There’s a picture for you.” The prince paused, and looked around.“Nor do I! They always try to bury me underground when there’s anything going on; they don’t seem to reflect that it is unpleasant to a man to be treated so! I won’t stand it! We have just had a terrible scene!--mind, I speak to you as I would to my own son! Aglaya laughs at her mother. Her sisters guessed about Evgenie having proposed and been rejected, and told Lizabetha.“It is better to be unhappy and know the worst, than to be happy in a fool’s paradise! I suppose you don’t believe that you have a rival in that quarter?”
“I know a new and most delightful game, added Ferdishenko.
“Excellency, I have the honour of inviting you to my funeral; that is, if you will deign to honour it with your presence. I invite you all, gentlemen, as well as the general.”
“You suspect him?”The sisters replied candidly and fully enough to their mother’s impatient questions on her return. They said, in the first place, that nothing particular had happened since her departure; that the prince had been, and that Aglaya had kept him waiting a long while before she appeared--half an hour, at least; that she had then come in, and immediately asked the prince to have a game of chess; that the prince did not know the game, and Aglaya had beaten him easily; that she had been in a wonderfully merry mood, and had laughed at the prince, and chaffed him so unmercifully that one was quite sorry to see his wretched expression.“But I didn’t sleep a wink all night. I walked and walked about, and went to where the music was--”
“Oh, it’s too horrible!” cried poor Colia, sobbing with shame and annoyance.“Yes, I brought him down from town just after you had left the house.”“Then you came for her sake?” Aglaya’s voice trembled.