The prince rose to go, but the general once more laid his hand in a friendly manner on his shoulder, and dragged him down on to the sofa.
Why, here he was on the Petersburg Side already, quite close to the house! Where was his “idea”? He was marching along without it now. Yes, his malady was coming back, it was clear enough; all this gloom and heaviness, all these “ideas,” were nothing more nor less than a fit coming on; perhaps he would have a fit this very day.
“H’m! I like to see that you know your manners; and you are by no means such a person as the general thought fit to describe you. Come along; you sit here, opposite to me,” she continued, “I wish to be able to see your face. Alexandra, Adelaida, look after the prince! He doesn’t seem so very ill, does he? I don’t think he requires a napkin under his chin, after all; are you accustomed to having one on, prince?”
“One more second and I should have stopped him,” said Keller, afterwards. In fact, he and Burdovsky jumped into another carriage and set off in pursuit; but it struck them as they drove along that it was not much use trying to bring Nastasia back by force.
“Besides,” said Colia, “it is quite unusual, almost improper, for people in our position to take any interest in literature. Ask Evgenie Pavlovitch if I am not right. It is much more fashionable to drive a waggonette with red wheels.”
He opened his own door.
“Then you came for her sake?” Aglaya’s voice trembled.
“Fits?” asked the prince, slightly surprised. “I very seldom have fits nowadays. I don’t know how it may be here, though; they say the climate may be bad for me.”
“No, I’ve heard nothing of this from Lebedeff, if you mean Lebedeff.”
“It is very distressing, because _who_--? That’s the question!”
“It was--about--you saw her--”
“What have you done?” he hissed, glaring at her as though he would like to annihilate her on the spot. He was quite beside himself, and could hardly articulate his words for rage.
“Yes, they say I have a ‘young’ face. As to disturbing you I shall soon learn to avoid doing that, for I hate disturbing people. Besides, you and I are so differently constituted, I should think, that there must be very little in common between us. Not that I will ever believe there is _nothing_ in common between any two people, as some declare is the case. I am sure people make a great mistake in sorting each other into groups, by appearances; but I am boring you, I see, you--”
“Do you remember Ferdishenko?” he asked.
“Why not? But look here, Colia, I’m tired; besides, the subject is too melancholy to begin upon again. How is he, though?”
“I recognize no jurisdiction over myself, and I know that I am now beyond the power of laws and judges.
“Oh, yes; I angered him--I certainly did anger him,” replied Rogojin. “But what puts me out so is my brother. Of course my mother couldn’t do anything--she’s too old--and whatever brother Senka says is law for her! But why couldn’t he let me know? He sent a telegram, they say. What’s the good of a telegram? It frightened my aunt so that she sent it back to the office unopened, and there it’s been ever since! It’s only thanks to Konief that I heard at all; he wrote me all about it. He says my brother cut off the gold tassels from my father’s coffin, at night ‘because they’re worth a lot of money!’ says he. Why, I can get him sent off to Siberia for that alone, if I like; it’s sacrilege. Here, you--scarecrow!” he added, addressing the clerk at his side, “is it sacrilege or not, by law?”
“It seems to me,” interrupted the prince, “that I was foolish to trouble you just now. However, at present you... Good-bye!”
“Let go of it!” said Parfen, seizing from the prince’s hand a knife which the latter had at that moment taken up from the table, where it lay beside the history. Parfen replaced it where it had been.
“What shall I write?” asked the prince.
“Excuse me,” said the red-nosed man to the young fellow with the bundle, rather suddenly; “whom have I the honour to be talking to?”
At this moment she was called by someone. She broke loose from him with an air of relief and ran away.
“Forty thousand, then--forty thousand roubles instead of eighteen! Ptitsin and another have promised to find me forty thousand roubles by seven o’clock tonight. Forty thousand roubles--paid down on the nail!”
“What! Pleased with all that nonsense! Why, cannot you see that they are all infatuated with pride and vanity?”
In the first place, this new woman understood a good deal more than was usual for young people of her age; so much indeed, that Totski could not help wondering where she had picked up her knowledge. Surely not from her “young lady’s library”? It even embraced legal matters, and the “world” in general, to a considerable extent.
“The gentle Abbot Pafnute signed this.”
When Totski had approached the general with his request for friendly counsel as to a marriage with one of his daughters, he had made a full and candid confession. He had said that he intended to stop at no means to obtain his freedom; even if Nastasia were to promise to leave him entirely alone in future, he would not (he said) believe and trust her; words were not enough for him; he must have solid guarantees of some sort. So he and the general determined to try what an attempt to appeal to her heart would effect. Having arrived at Nastasia’s house one day, with Epanchin, Totski immediately began to speak of the intolerable torment of his position. He admitted that he was to blame for all, but candidly confessed that he could not bring himself to feel any remorse for his original guilt towards herself, because he was a man of sensual passions which were inborn and ineradicable, and that he had no power over himself in this respect; but that he wished, seriously, to marry at last, and that the whole fate of the most desirable social union which he contemplated, was in her hands; in a word, he confided his all to her generosity of heart.
“Give me a chair!” cried Lizabetha Prokofievna, but she seized one for herself and sat down opposite to Hippolyte. “Colia, you must go home with him,” she commanded, “and tomorrow I will come my self.”
“No; Constant was away then, taking a letter to the Empress Josephine. Instead of him there were always a couple of orderlies--and that was all, excepting, of course, the generals and marshals whom Napoleon always took with him for the inspection of various localities, and for the sake of consultation generally. I remember there was one--Davoust--nearly always with him--a big man with spectacles. They used to argue and quarrel sometimes. Once they were in the Emperor’s study together--just those two and myself--I was unobserved--and they argued, and the Emperor seemed to be agreeing to something under protest. Suddenly his eye fell on me and an idea seemed to flash across him.
“I have heard that Lebedeff explains it as the railroads that cover Europe like a net.”
Lebedeff said this so seriously that the prince quite lost his temper with him.
“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.
But gradually the consciousness crept back into the minds of each one present that the prince had just made her an offer of marriage. The situation had, therefore, become three times as fantastic as before.
At last Varvara Ardalionovna came in search of her brother, and remained for a few minutes. Without Muishkin’s asking her, she informed him that Evgenie Pavlovitch was spending the day in Petersburg, and perhaps would remain there over tomorrow; and that her husband had also gone to town, probably in connection with Evgenie Pavlovitch’s affairs.
“I don’t quite agree with you that your father is out of his mind,” he observed, quietly. “On the contrary, I cannot help thinking he has been less demented of late. Don’t you think so? He has grown so cunning and careful, and weighs his words so deliberately; he spoke to me about that Kapiton fellow with an object, you know! Just fancy--he wanted me to--”
An hour later he was in St. Petersburg, and by ten o’clock he had rung the bell at Rogojin’s.
She said something, but he looked silently back at her. His heart ached with anguish. Oh! never would he banish the recollection of this meeting with her, and he never remembered it but with the same pain and agony of mind.
“That’s the beauty of it, general!”
“That has been seen already,” continued Lebedeff, not deigning to notice the interruption. “Malthus was a friend of humanity, but, with ill-founded moral principles, the friend of humanity is the devourer of humanity, without mentioning his pride; for, touch the vanity of one of these numberless philanthropists, and to avenge his self-esteem, he will be ready at once to set fire to the whole globe; and to tell the truth, we are all more or less like that. I, perhaps, might be the first to set a light to the fuel, and then run away. But, again, I must repeat, that is not the question.”
“Take fifty roubles for your cloak?” he shouted, holding the money out to the girl. Before the astonished young woman could collect her scattered senses, he pushed the money into her hand, seized the mantle, and threw it and the handkerchief over Nastasia’s head and shoulders. The latter’s wedding-array would have attracted too much attention, and it was not until some time later that the girl understood why her old cloak and kerchief had been bought at such a price.
“Yes, he will be ashamed!” cried Rogojin. “You will be properly ashamed of yourself for having injured such a--such a sheep” (he could not find a better word). “Prince, my dear fellow, leave this and come away with me. I’ll show you how Rogojin shows his affection for his friends.”
How often during the day he had thought of this hotel with loathing--its corridor, its rooms, its stairs. How he had dreaded coming back to it, for some reason.
“Why? If I had been sitting there now, I should not have had the opportunity of making these personal explanations. I see you are still uneasy about me and keep eyeing my cloak and bundle. Don’t you think you might go in yourself now, without waiting for the secretary to come out?”
“If so, you are a heartless man!” cried Aglaya. “As if you can’t see that it is not myself she loves, but you, you, and only you! Surely you have not remarked everything else in her, and only not _this?_ Do you know what these letters mean? They mean jealousy, sir--nothing but pure jealousy! She--do you think she will ever really marry this Rogojin, as she says here she will? She would take her own life the day after you and I were married.”
“Not at all. I am only proving that you are glad about the letter. Why conceal your real feelings? You always like to do it.”
“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?”
The doorway was dark and gloomy at any time; but just at this moment it was rendered doubly so by the fact that the thunder-storm had just broken, and the rain was coming down in torrents.
“The gentleman before me gazed at me for some seconds in amazement, and his wife in terror; as though there was something alarmingly extraordinary in the fact that anyone could come to see them. But suddenly he fell upon me almost with fury; I had had no time to mutter more than a couple of words; but he had doubtless observed that I was decently dressed and, therefore, took deep offence because I had dared enter his den so unceremoniously, and spy out the squalor and untidiness of it.
The old man tried to put a good face on the affair.
But though Evgenie Pavlovitch had put his questions to the prince with no other purpose but to enjoy the joke of his simple-minded seriousness, yet now, at his answer, he was surprised into some seriousness himself, and looked gravely at Muishkin as though he had not expected that sort of answer at all.
He could not say how long he sat there. It grew late and became quite dark.
“Once I had to interfere by force; and after that I took to speaking to them every day and whenever I could. Occasionally they stopped and listened; but they teased Marie all the same.
“Rogojin only leaned his elbow on the table and silently stared at me. So passed two or three minutes, and I recollect that his silence hurt and offended me very much. Why did he not speak?
“I know that the earliest Christian faith taught that the Saviour suffered actually and not figuratively, and that nature was allowed her own way even while His body was on the cross.
Hippolyte, too, was a source of some distraction to the prince at this time; he would send for him at any and every hour of the day. They lived,--Hippolyte and his mother and the children,--in a small house not far off, and the little ones were happy, if only because they were able to escape from the invalid into the garden. The prince had enough to do in keeping the peace between the irritable Hippolyte and his mother, and eventually the former became so malicious and sarcastic on the subject of the approaching wedding, that Muishkin took offence at last, and refused to continue his visits.
He only stayed at his country seat a few days on this occasion, but he had time to make his arrangements. Great changes took place in the child’s education; a good governess was engaged, a Swiss lady of experience and culture. For four years this lady resided in the house with little Nastia, and then the education was considered complete. The governess took her departure, and another lady came down to fetch Nastia, by Totski’s instructions. The child was now transported to another of Totski’s estates in a distant part of the country. Here she found a delightful little house, just built, and prepared for her reception with great care and taste; and here she took up her abode together with the lady who had accompanied her from her old home. In the house there were two experienced maids, musical instruments of all sorts, a charming “young lady’s library,” pictures, paint-boxes, a lap-dog, and everything to make life agreeable. Within a fortnight Totski himself arrived, and from that time he appeared to have taken a great fancy to this part of the world and came down each summer, staying two and three months at a time. So passed four years peacefully and happily, in charming surroundings.
The general was, owing to certain circumstances, a little inclined to be too suspicious at home, and needlessly nervous; but, as an experienced father and husband, he judged it better to take measures at once to protect himself from any dangers there might be in the air.
“It’s a present from herself to him,” said Varia; “the question is to be finally decided this evening.”
“No--no, prince; you must forgive me, but I can’t undertake any such commissions! I really can’t.”
Aglaya paused for a moment, as though suddenly brought up in astonishment that she could have said these words, but at the same time a great pride shone in her eyes, like a defiant assertion that it would not matter to her if “this woman” laughed in her face for the admission just made.
“Bravo, prince!” cried Ferdishenko, delighted.
“Then how did they--look here! Did Aglaya show my letter to the old lady?”
“Your exclamation proves the generous sympathy of your nature, prince; for four hundred roubles--to a struggling family man like myself--is no small matter!”
“And you wouldn’t run away?”
“‘If only they would allow me to explain all to his excellency! If I could but be permitted to tell my tale to him!” he cried, trembling with feverish agitation, and his eyes flashing with excitement. I repeated once more that I could not hold out much hope--that it would probably end in smoke, and if I did not turn up next morning they must make up their minds that there was no more to be done in the matter.
“‘Do you know what has suddenly come into my head?’ said I, suddenly--leaning further and further over the rail.
He hesitated, and appeared so much embarrassed that the prince helped him out.
“Are you a patient man, prince? I ask out of curiosity,” said Mrs. Epanchin.
“However--admit the fact! Admit that without such perpetual devouring of one another the world cannot continue to exist, or could never have been organized--I am ever ready to confess that I cannot understand why this is so--but I’ll tell you what I _do_ know, for certain. If I have once been given to understand and realize that I _am_--what does it matter to me that the world is organized on a system full of errors and that otherwise it cannot be organized at all? Who will or can judge me after this? Say what you like--the thing is impossible and unjust!
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.
The prince came forward and introduced himself.
“Thank you,” he said gently. “Sit opposite to me, and let us talk. We must have a talk now, Lizabetha Prokofievna; I am very anxious for it.” He smiled at her once more. “Remember that today, for the last time, I am out in the air, and in the company of my fellow-men, and that in a fortnight I shall certainly be no longer in this world. So, in a way, this is my farewell to nature and to men. I am not very sentimental, but do you know, I am quite glad that all this has happened at Pavlofsk, where at least one can see a green tree.”
They were walking slowly across the garden.
“Do you know what time it is?”
“‘In the flashing eyes of this patriotic child I read and accept the fiat of the Russian people. Enough, Davoust, it is mere phantasy on our part. Come, let’s hear your other project.’”
Everybody laughed, and Lebedeff got up abruptly.
The prince redoubled his attentive study of her symptoms. It was a most curious circumstance, in his opinion, that she never spoke of Rogojin. But once, about five days before the wedding, when the prince was at home, a messenger arrived begging him to come at once, as Nastasia Philipovna was very ill.
“Pavlicheff?--Pavlicheff turned Roman Catholic? Impossible!” he cried, in horror.
“Ah, ah! here’s the climax at last, at half-past twelve!” cried Nastasia Philipovna. “Sit down, gentlemen, I beg you. Something is about to happen.”
“You know quite well, but you are pretending to be ignorant,” said Aglaya, very low, with her eyes on the ground.
“A lodger here,” continued the other, staring as before.
“Well, I really have thought something of the sort now and then, especially when just dozing off,” laughed the prince. “Only it is the Austrians whom I conquer--not Napoleon.”
“My goodness, what utter twaddle, and what may all this nonsense have signified, pray? If it had any meaning at all!” said Mrs. Epanchin, cuttingly, after having listened with great attention.
“One word from her,” he said, “one word from her, and I may yet be free.”
The prince certainly was beside himself.
A fortnight had passed since the events recorded in the last chapter, and the position of the actors in our story had become so changed that it is almost impossible for us to continue the tale without some few explanations. Yet we feel that we ought to limit ourselves to the simple record of facts, without much attempt at explanation, for a very patent reason: because we ourselves have the greatest possible difficulty in accounting for the facts to be recorded. Such a statement on our part may appear strange to the reader. How is anyone to tell a story which he cannot understand himself? In order to keep clear of a false position, we had perhaps better give an example of what we mean; and probably the intelligent reader will soon understand the difficulty. More especially are we inclined to take this course since the example will constitute a distinct march forward of our story, and will not hinder the progress of the events remaining to be recorded.
“That could only have been on your invitation. I confess, however, that I should not have stayed here even if you had invited me, not for any particular reason, but because it is--well, contrary to my practice and nature, somehow.”
Undoubtedly the fact that he might now come and see Aglaya as much as he pleased again was quite enough to make him perfectly happy; that he might come and speak to her, and see her, and sit by her, and walk with her--who knows, but that all this was quite enough to satisfy him for the whole of his life, and that he would desire no more to the end of time?
“What is the matter, excellency? I know how to keep my place. When I said just now that we, you and I, were the lion and the ass of Kryloff’s fable, of course it is understood that I take the role of the ass. Your excellency is the lion of which the fable remarks:
He read the note in the uncertain rays that fell from the window. It was as follows:
“You won’t? Very well. I shall be as short as possible, for my part. Two or three times to-day I have had the word ‘hospitality’ pushed down my throat; this is not fair. In inviting me here you yourself entrapped me for your own use; you thought I wished to revenge myself upon the prince. You heard that Aglaya Ivanovna had been kind to me and read my confession. Making sure that I should give myself up to your interests, you hoped that you might get some assistance out of me. I will not go into details. I don’t ask either admission or confirmation of this from yourself; I am quite content to leave you to your conscience, and to feel that we understand one another capitally.”
“When the old woman took to her bed finally, the other old women in the village sat with her by turns, as the custom is there; and then Marie was quite driven out of the house. They gave her no food at all, and she could not get any work in the village; none would employ her. The men seemed to consider her no longer a woman, they said such dreadful things to her. Sometimes on Sundays, if they were drunk enough, they used to throw her a penny or two, into the mud, and Marie would silently pick up the money. She had began to spit blood at that time.