“Well!” she cried, “we _have_ ‘put him through his paces,’ with a vengeance! My dears, you imagined, I believe, that you were about to patronize this young gentleman, like some poor _protégé_ picked up somewhere, and taken under your magnificent protection. What fools we were, and what a specially big fool is your father! Well done, prince! I assure you the general actually asked me to put you through your paces, and examine you. As to what you said about my face, you are absolutely correct in your judgment. I am a child, and know it. I knew it long before you said so; you have expressed my own thoughts. I think your nature and mine must be extremely alike, and I am very glad of it. We are like two drops of water, only you are a man and I a woman, and I’ve not been to Switzerland, and that is all the difference between us.”
“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.
“Ah! that is what you feared! It was inevitable, you say! Well, let me tell you that if I hate anyone here--I hate you all,” he cried, in a hoarse, strained voice--“but you, you, with your jesuitical soul, your soul of sickly sweetness, idiot, beneficent millionaire--I hate you worse than anything or anyone on earth! I saw through you and hated you long ago; from the day I first heard of you. I hated you with my whole heart. You have contrived all this! You have driven me into this state! You have made a dying man disgrace himself. You, you, you are the cause of my abject cowardice! I would kill you if I remained alive! I do not want your benefits; I will accept none from anyone; do you hear? Not from any one! I want nothing! I was delirious, do not dare to triumph! I curse every one of you, once for all!”
“Nastasia Philipovna,” he began, and there paused; he was clearly much agitated and annoyed. The prince reminded him of the portrait.
But now another circumstance occurred, which changed all the plans once more, and again the intended journey was put off, much to the delight of the general and his spouse.
“The bullet struck so low down that probably his antagonist would never have aimed at that part of him--people never do; he would have aimed at his chest or head; so that probably the bullet hit him accidentally. I have been told this by competent authorities.”
The laughter became louder than ever.
“You must tell me all about it tomorrow! Don’t be afraid. I wish you success; we agree so entirely that I can do so, although I do not understand why you are here. Good-bye!” cried Colia excitedly. “Now I will rush back and tell Hippolyte all about our plans and proposals! But as to your getting in--don’t be in the least afraid. You will see her. She is so original about everything. It’s the first floor. The porter will show you.”
“Good Lord, he’s off again!” said Princess Bielokonski, impatiently.
“She is there at this moment?”
“Don’t interrupt, we are not such fools as you think, Mr. Lawyer,” cried Lebedeff’s nephew angrily. “Of course there is a difference between a hundred roubles and two hundred and fifty, but in this case the principle is the main point, and that a hundred and fifty roubles are missing is only a side issue. The point to be emphasized is that Burdovsky will not accept your highness’s charity; he flings it back in your face, and it scarcely matters if there are a hundred roubles or two hundred and fifty. Burdovsky has refused ten thousand roubles; you heard him. He would not have returned even a hundred roubles if he was dishonest! The hundred and fifty roubles were paid to Tchebaroff for his travelling expenses. You may jeer at our stupidity and at our inexperience in business matters; you have done all you could already to make us look ridiculous; but do not dare to call us dishonest. The four of us will club together every day to repay the hundred and fifty roubles to the prince, if we have to pay it in instalments of a rouble at a time, but we will repay it, with interest. Burdovsky is poor, he has no millions. After his journey to see the prince Tchebaroff sent in his bill. We counted on winning... Who would not have done the same in such a case?”
But again, amidst the incontrovertible facts just recorded, one more, equally significant, rose up to confront the family; and this was, that the eldest daughter, Alexandra, had imperceptibly arrived at her twenty-fifth birthday. Almost at the same moment, Afanasy Ivanovitch Totski, a man of immense wealth, high connections, and good standing, announced his intention of marrying. Afanasy Ivanovitch was a gentleman of fifty-five years of age, artistically gifted, and of most refined tastes. He wished to marry well, and, moreover, he was a keen admirer and judge of beauty.
Vainly trying to comfort himself with these reflections, the prince reached the Ismailofsky barracks more dead than alive.
Now, since Totski had, of late, been upon terms of great cordiality with Epanchin, which excellent relations were intensified by the fact that they were, so to speak, partners in several financial enterprises, it so happened that the former now put in a friendly request to the general for counsel with regard to the important step he meditated. Might he suggest, for instance, such a thing as a marriage between himself and one of the general’s daughters?
It would be difficult to describe the animation and high spirits which distinguished the prince for the rest of the evening.
“What about Evgenie’s uncle?”
“Bring it by all means; you needn’t ask him. He will be delighted, you may be sure; for, in all probability, he shot at himself simply in order that I might read his confession. Don’t laugh at what I say, please, Lef Nicolaievitch, because it may very well be the case.”
“Her relations had all died off--her husband was dead and buried forty years since; and a niece, who had lived with her and bullied her up to three years ago, was dead too; so that she was quite alone.
Gania looked dreadfully put out, and tried to say something in reply, but Nastasia interrupted him:
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.
General Epanchin lived in his own house near the Litaynaya. Besides this large residence--five-sixths of which was let in flats and lodgings--the general was owner of another enormous house in the Sadovaya bringing in even more rent than the first. Besides these houses he had a delightful little estate just out of town, and some sort of factory in another part of the city. General Epanchin, as everyone knew, had a good deal to do with certain government monopolies; he was also a voice, and an important one, in many rich public companies of various descriptions; in fact, he enjoyed the reputation of being a well-to-do man of busy habits, many ties, and affluent means. He had made himself indispensable in several quarters, amongst others in his department of the government; and yet it was a known fact that Fedor Ivanovitch Epanchin was a man of no education whatever, and had absolutely risen from the ranks.
“An idiot!”--the prince distinctly heard the word half whispered from behind him. This was Ferdishenko’s voluntary information for Nastasia’s benefit.
“Aglaya Ivanovna, it’s absurd.”
The prince rose from his seat, and Lebedeff, surprised to see his guest preparing to go so soon, remarked: “You are not interested?” in a respectful tone.
“I must say, again, _I_ can’t understand how you can expect anyone to tell you stories straight away, so,” said Adelaida. “I know I never could!”
“Bravo!” said Ferdishenko. Ptitsin laughed too, though he had been very sorry to see the general appear. Even Colia laughed and said, “Bravo!”
“So that is true, is it?” cried the prince, greatly agitated. “I had heard a report of it, but would not believe it.”
“No! do you think so?” said the general, catching at the idea.
Of course the Epanchin family was much interested in his movements, though he had not had time to bid them farewell before his departure. The general, however, had had an opportunity of seeing him once or twice since the eventful evening, and had spoken very seriously with him; but though he had seen the prince, as I say, he told his family nothing about the circumstance. In fact, for a month or so after his departure it was considered not the thing to mention the prince’s name in the Epanchin household. Only Mrs. Epanchin, at the commencement of this period, had announced that she had been “cruelly mistaken in the prince!” and a day or two after, she had added, evidently alluding to him, but not mentioning his name, that it was an unalterable characteristic of hers to be mistaken in people. Then once more, ten days later, after some passage of arms with one of her daughters, she had remarked sententiously. “We have had enough of mistakes. I shall be more careful in future!” However, it was impossible to avoid remarking that there was some sense of oppression in the household--something unspoken, but felt; something strained. All the members of the family wore frowning looks. The general was unusually busy; his family hardly ever saw him.
“Yes, it’s off our hands--off _yours_, I should say.”
“She’s mad surely, isn’t she?” the general appealed to Totski.
“I will only remark that from these premises one could conclude that might is right--I mean the right of the clenched fist, and of personal inclination. Indeed, the world has often come to that conclusion. Prudhon upheld that might is right. In the American War some of the most advanced Liberals took sides with the planters on the score that the blacks were an inferior race to the whites, and that might was the right of the white race.”
“It appeared to me, at the first glance, that both the man and the woman were respectable people, but brought to that pitch of poverty where untidiness seems to get the better of every effort to cope with it, till at last they take a sort of bitter satisfaction in it. When I entered the room, the man, who had entered but a moment before me, and was still unpacking his parcels, was saying something to his wife in an excited manner. The news was apparently bad, as usual, for the woman began whimpering. The man’s face seemed to me to be refined and even pleasant. He was dark-complexioned, and about twenty-eight years of age; he wore black whiskers, and his lip and chin were shaved. He looked morose, but with a sort of pride of expression. A curious scene followed.
The trip abroad might have been enjoyed later on by Mrs. Epanchin and her two remaining daughters, but for another circumstance.
Nastasia looked at the new arrivals with great curiosity. Gania recollected himself at last.
“Well, it was clear enough all along,” he said, after a moment’s reflection. “So that’s the end,” he added, with a disagreeable smile, continuing to walk up and down the room, but much slower than before, and glancing slyly into his sister’s face.
In a word, Ferdishenko was very angry and rapidly forgetting himself; his whole face was drawn with passion. Strange as it may appear, he had expected much better success for his story. These little errors of taste on Ferdishenko’s part occurred very frequently. Nastasia trembled with rage, and looked fixedly at him, whereupon he relapsed into alarmed silence. He realized that he had gone a little too far.
Evgenie called upon the prince the day after that on which the Epanchins left Pavlofsk. He knew of all the current rumours,--in fact, he had probably contributed to them himself. The prince was delighted to see him, and immediately began to speak of the Epanchins;--which simple and straightforward opening quite took Evgenie’s fancy, so that he melted at once, and plunged in medias res without ceremony.
She appeared to be in the last stages of wrath and irritation; her eyes flashed. The prince stood dumbly and blindly before her, and suddenly grew pale.
“Well, how anybody can call you an idiot after that, is more than I can understand!” cried the boxer.
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.
“There,” he whispered, nodding his head towards the curtain.
“For a moment I thought he would assault me; he grew so pale that he looked like a woman about to have hysterics; his wife was dreadfully alarmed.
“How?” he said. “What do you mean? I was half joking, and you took me up quite seriously! Why do you ask me whether I believe in God?”
“It is not a Christian religion, in the first place,” said the latter, in extreme agitation, quite out of proportion to the necessity of the moment. “And in the second place, Roman Catholicism is, in my opinion, worse than Atheism itself. Yes--that is my opinion. Atheism only preaches a negation, but Romanism goes further; it preaches a disfigured, distorted Christ--it preaches Anti-Christ--I assure you, I swear it! This is my own personal conviction, and it has long distressed me. The Roman Catholic believes that the Church on earth cannot stand without universal temporal Power. He cries ‘non possumus!’ In my opinion the Roman Catholic religion is not a faith at all, but simply a continuation of the Roman Empire, and everything is subordinated to this idea--beginning with faith. The Pope has seized territories and an earthly throne, and has held them with the sword. And so the thing has gone on, only that to the sword they have added lying, intrigue, deceit, fanaticism, superstition, swindling;--they have played fast and loose with the most sacred and sincere feelings of men;--they have exchanged everything--everything for money, for base earthly _power!_ And is this not the teaching of Anti-Christ? How could the upshot of all this be other than Atheism? Atheism is the child of Roman Catholicism--it proceeded from these Romans themselves, though perhaps they would not believe it. It grew and fattened on hatred of its parents; it is the progeny of their lies and spiritual feebleness. Atheism! In our country it is only among the upper classes that you find unbelievers; men who have lost the root or spirit of their faith; but abroad whole masses of the people are beginning to profess unbelief--at first because of the darkness and lies by which they were surrounded; but now out of fanaticism, out of loathing for the Church and Christianity!”
“No? No?” shouted Rogojin, almost out of his mind with joy. “You are not going to, after all? And they told me--oh, Nastasia Philipovna--they said you had promised to marry him, _him!_ As if you _could_ do it!--him--pooh! I don’t mind saying it to everyone--I’d buy him off for a hundred roubles, any day pfu! Give him a thousand, or three if he likes, poor devil, and he’d cut and run the day before his wedding, and leave his bride to me! Wouldn’t you, Gania, you blackguard? You’d take three thousand, wouldn’t you? Here’s the money! Look, I’ve come on purpose to pay you off and get your receipt, formally. I said I’d buy you up, and so I will.”
“I think so too, as clear as day; she loves him.”
“I love you, Aglaya Ivanovna,--I love you very much. I love only you--and--please don’t jest about it, for I do love you very much.”
Their entrance caused some slight commotion.
The boxer was dying to get in a few words; owing, no doubt, to the presence of the ladies, he was becoming quite jovial.
“Come in please, prince!”
“We have done without him so far,” interrupted Adelaida in her turn. “Surely we can wait until to-morrow.”
“I admit I was afraid that that was the case, yesterday,” blundered the prince (he was rather confused), “but today I am quite convinced that--”
“I haven’t seen him once--since that day!” the prince murmured.
“As to the article, prince,” he said, “I admit that I wrote it, in spite of the severe criticism of my poor friend, in whom I always overlook many things because of his unfortunate state of health. But I wrote and published it in the form of a letter, in the paper of a friend. I showed it to no one but Burdovsky, and I did not read it all through, even to him. He immediately gave me permission to publish it, but you will admit that I might have done so without his consent. Publicity is a noble, beneficent, and universal right. I hope, prince, that you are too progressive to deny this?”
Rogojin laughed bitterly as he said these words, and opening the door, held it for the prince to pass out. Muishkin looked surprised, but went out. The other followed him as far as the landing of the outer stairs, and shut the door behind him. They both now stood facing one another, as though oblivious of where they were, or what they had to do next.
“Oh, indeed! Then it is perhaps as well that I neither _did_ invite you, nor _do_ invite you now. Excuse me, prince, but we had better make this matter clear, once for all. We have just agreed that with regard to our relationship there is not much to be said, though, of course, it would have been very delightful to us to feel that such relationship did actually exist; therefore, perhaps--”
He had the key in his hand. Mounting the staircase he turned and signalled to the prince to go more softly; he opened the door very quietly, let the prince in, followed him, locked the door behind him, and put the key in his pocket.
“No? I thought you very much younger.”
The woman lowered her eyes.
“Oh, wouldn’t he just!”
“Yes. We came to Lucerne, and I was taken out in a boat. I felt how lovely it was, but the loveliness weighed upon me somehow or other, and made me feel melancholy.”
“‘Nurse, where is your tomb?’
“You’ll hate her afterwards for all your present love, and for all the torment you are suffering on her account now. What seems to me the most extraordinary thing is, that she can again consent to marry you, after all that has passed between you. When I heard the news yesterday, I could hardly bring myself to believe it. Why, she has run twice from you, from the very altar rails, as it were. She must have some presentiment of evil. What can she want with you now? Your money? Nonsense! Besides, I should think you must have made a fairly large hole in your fortune already. Surely it is not because she is so very anxious to find a husband? She could find many a one besides yourself. Anyone would be better than you, because you will murder her, and I feel sure she must know that but too well by now. Is it because you love her so passionately? Indeed, that may be it. I have heard that there are women who want just that kind of love... but still...” The prince paused, reflectively.
Both had risen, and were gazing at one another with pallid faces.
“I believe I have just written dreadful nonsense; but there’s no time for correcting, as I said before. Besides that, I have made myself a promise not to alter a single word of what I write in this paper, even though I find that I am contradicting myself every five lines. I wish to verify the working of the natural logic of my ideas tomorrow during the reading--whether I am capable of detecting logical errors, and whether all that I have meditated over during the last six months be true, or nothing but delirium.
He paused again, he was trying to make up his mind to something, and was turning the matter over. The prince waited quietly. Once more Gania fixed him with intent and questioning eyes.
Alexandra, who had seemed to wish to put in her word when the prince began, now sat silent, as though some sudden thought had caused her to change her mind about speaking.
“Oh, she was turned out next day, of course. It’s a very strict household, there!”
The flat was divided by a passage which led straight out of the entrance-hall. Along one side of this corridor lay the three rooms which were designed for the accommodation of the “highly recommended” lodgers. Besides these three rooms there was another small one at the end of the passage, close to the kitchen, which was allotted to General Ivolgin, the nominal master of the house, who slept on a wide sofa, and was obliged to pass into and out of his room through the kitchen, and up or down the back stairs. Colia, Gania’s young brother, a school-boy of thirteen, shared this room with his father. He, too, had to sleep on an old sofa, a narrow, uncomfortable thing with a torn rug over it; his chief duty being to look after his father, who needed to be watched more and more every day.
“Hippolyte,” said the prince, “give me the papers, and go to bed like a sensible fellow. We’ll have a good talk tomorrow, but you really mustn’t go on with this reading; it is not good for you!”
She would not marry the latter, she said, until she felt persuaded that neither on his part nor on the part of his family did there exist any sort of concealed suspicions as to herself. She did not intend to ask forgiveness for anything in the past, which fact she desired to be known. She did not consider herself to blame for anything that had happened in former years, and she thought that Gavrila Ardalionovitch should be informed as to the relations which had existed between herself and Totski during the last five years. If she accepted this money it was not to be considered as indemnification for her misfortune as a young girl, which had not been in any degree her own fault, but merely as compensation for her ruined life.
“‘So much depends upon your uncle,’ I said. ‘And besides we have always been enemies, Bachmatoff; and as you are a generous sort of fellow, I thought you would not refuse my request because I was your enemy!’ I added with irony.
“Wasn’t it you,” he said, suddenly turning to the old gentleman, “who saved the student Porkunoff and a clerk called Shoabrin from being sent to Siberia, two or three months since?”
“When I received a letter from those dear little souls, while passing through Berlin, I only then realized how much I loved them. It was very, very painful, getting that first little letter. How melancholy they had been when they saw me off! For a month before, they had been talking of my departure and sorrowing over it; and at the waterfall, of an evening, when we parted for the night, they would hug me so tight and kiss me so warmly, far more so than before. And every now and then they would turn up one by one when I was alone, just to give me a kiss and a hug, to show their love for me. The whole flock went with me to the station, which was about a mile from the village, and every now and then one of them would stop to throw his arms round me, and all the little girls had tears in their voices, though they tried hard not to cry. As the train steamed out of the station, I saw them all standing on the platform waving to me and crying ‘Hurrah!’ till they were lost in the distance.
Hippolyte gazed eagerly at the latter, and mused for a few moments.
“No, a verbal message; she had hardly time even for that. She begs you earnestly not to go out of the house for a single moment all to-day, until seven o’clock in the evening. It may have been nine; I didn’t quite hear.”
The general gazed at his host disdainfully.
“Yes, it is a fact, and this time, let me tell you, on the very eve of their marriage! It was a question of minutes when she slipped off to Petersburg. She came to me directly she arrived--‘Save me, Lukian! find me some refuge, and say nothing to the prince!’ She is afraid of you, even more than she is of him, and in that she shows her wisdom!” And Lebedeff slily put his finger to his brow as he said the last words.
“Oh prince, prince! I never should have thought it of you;” said General Epanchin. “And I imagined you a philosopher! Oh, you silent fellows!”
Lebedeff immediately procured the services of an old doctor, and carried the latter away to Pavlofsk to see the prince, by way of viewing the ground, as it were, and to give him (Lebedeff) counsel as to whether the thing was to be done or not. The visit was not to be official, but merely friendly.
“It’s a good thing that you take it philosophically, at all events,” said Varia. “I’m really very glad of it.”
Neither of the men spoke a word while at the bedside. The prince’s heart beat so loud that its knocking seemed to be distinctly audible in the deathly silence.
What was this universe? What was this grand, eternal pageant to which he had yearned from his childhood up, and in which he could never take part? Every morning the same magnificent sun; every morning the same rainbow in the waterfall; every evening the same glow on the snow-mountains.
What then must have been her condition, when, among all the imaginary anxieties and calamities which so constantly beset her, she now saw looming ahead a serious cause for annoyance--something really likely to arouse doubts and suspicions!
“Well, what of that? Can’t I buy a new knife if I like?” shouted Rogojin furiously, his irritation growing with every word.
“I bet anything it is!” exclaimed the red-nosed passenger, with extreme satisfaction, “and that he has precious little in the luggage van!--though of course poverty is no crime--we must remember that!”
“Bah! you wish to hear a man tell of his worst actions, and you expect the story to come out goody-goody! One’s worst actions always are mean. We shall see what the general has to say for himself now. All is not gold that glitters, you know; and because a man keeps his carriage he need not be specially virtuous, I assure you, all sorts of people keep carriages. And by what means?”
“Well, in a couple of days I was known all over the palace and the Kremlin as ‘le petit boyard.’ I only went home to sleep. They were nearly out of their minds about me at home. A couple of days after this, Napoleon’s page, De Bazancour, died; he had not been able to stand the trials of the campaign. Napoleon remembered me; I was taken away without explanation; the dead page’s uniform was tried on me, and when I was taken before the emperor, dressed in it, he nodded his head to me, and I was told that I was appointed to the vacant post of page.
Before entering he stopped on the threshold, raised his hand as if making a solemn vow, and cried:
“A--a moral one?” asked the prince, involuntarily.
Ptitsin listened and smiled, then turned as if to get his hat; but if he had intended to leave, he changed his mind. Before the others had risen from the table, Gania had suddenly left off drinking, and pushed away his glass, a dark shadow seemed to come over his face. When they all rose, he went and sat down by Rogojin. It might have been believed that quite friendly relations existed between them. Rogojin, who had also seemed on the point of going away now sat motionless, his head bent, seeming to have forgotten his intention. He had drunk no wine, and appeared absorbed in reflection. From time to time he raised his eyes, and examined everyone present; one might have imagined that he was expecting something very important to himself, and that he had decided to wait for it. The prince had taken two or three glasses of champagne, and seemed cheerful. As he rose he noticed Evgenie Pavlovitch, and, remembering the appointment he had made with him, smiled pleasantly. Evgenie Pavlovitch made a sign with his head towards Hippolyte, whom he was attentively watching. The invalid was fast asleep, stretched out on the sofa.
“‘Write, oh, write a letter to the Empress Josephine!’ I cried, sobbing. Napoleon started, reflected, and said, ‘You remind me of a third heart which loves me. Thank you, my friend;’ and then and there he sat down and wrote that letter to Josephine, with which Constant was sent off next day.”
The general was satisfied. He had excited himself, and was evidently now regretting that he had gone so far. He turned to the prince, and suddenly the disagreeable thought of the latter’s presence struck him, and the certainty that he must have heard every word of the conversation. But he felt at ease in another moment; it only needed one glance at the prince to see that in that quarter there was nothing to fear.
“Oh no! Never.”
“Tell me, how do you intend to live now, and what are your plans?” interrupted the general.
“Oh no,” continued the prince thoughtfully, not noticing Aglaya’s mocking tone, “I was almost always silent there. I often wished to speak, but I really did not know what to say. In some cases it is best to say nothing, I think. I loved her, yes, I loved her very much indeed; but afterwards--afterwards she guessed all.”
“A great disgrace.”