“Oh! he’s not dangerous there!” cried Gania, laughing angrily. “However, I believe there is something of that sort in the air; he is very likely to be in love, for he is a mere boy. But he won’t write anonymous letters to the old lady; that would be too audacious a thing for him to attempt; but I dare swear the very first thing he did was to show me up to Aglaya as a base deceiver and intriguer. I confess I was fool enough to attempt something through him at first. I thought he would throw himself into my service out of revengeful feelings towards the prince, the sly little beast! But I know him better now. As for the theft, he may have heard of it from the widow in Petersburg, for if the old man committed himself to such an act, he can have done it for no other object but to give the money to her. Hippolyte said to me, without any prelude, that the general had promised the widow four hundred roubles. Of course I understood, and the little wretch looked at me with a nasty sort of satisfaction. I know him; you may depend upon it he went and told mother too, for the pleasure of wounding her. And why doesn’t he die, I should like to know? He undertook to die within three weeks, and here he is getting fatter. His cough is better, too. It was only yesterday that he said that was the second day he hadn’t coughed blood.”
“So this is Nastasia Philipovna,” he said, looking attentively and curiously at the portrait. “How wonderfully beautiful!” he immediately added, with warmth. The picture was certainly that of an unusually lovely woman. She was photographed in a black silk dress of simple design, her hair was evidently dark and plainly arranged, her eyes were deep and thoughtful, the expression of her face passionate, but proud. She was rather thin, perhaps, and a little pale. Both Gania and the general gazed at the prince in amazement.
“No, certainly not, no more than yourself, though at first I thought I was.”
“So that you didn’t care to go away anywhere else?”
“What did you suppose, then? Why did you think I invited you out here? I suppose you think me a ‘little fool,’ as they all call me at home?”
The prince understood at last why he shivered with dread every time he thought of the three letters in his pocket, and why he had put off reading them until the evening.
“And Hippolyte has come down here to stay,” said Colia, suddenly.
“Nothing. I was only seeking further information, to put the finishing touch.”
“If he cared to kiss you, that is,” said Alexandra, whose cheeks were red with irritation and excitement.
“In my opinion, Mr. Doktorenko,” said the prince, in rather a low voice, “you are quite right in at least half of what you say. I would go further and say that you are altogether right, and that I quite agree with you, if there were not something lacking in your speech. I cannot undertake to say precisely what it is, but you have certainly omitted something, and you cannot be quite just while there is something lacking. But let us put that aside and return to the point. Tell me what induced you to publish this article. Every word of it is a calumny, and I think, gentlemen, that you have been guilty of a mean action.”
Gania stood and frowned, he expected a family scene. He never thought of apologizing to the prince, however.
Clearly and reasonably, and with great psychological insight, he drew a picture of the prince’s past relations with Nastasia Philipovna. Evgenie Pavlovitch always had a ready tongue, but on this occasion his eloquence, surprised himself. “From the very beginning,” he said, “you began with a lie; what began with a lie was bound to end with a lie; such is the law of nature. I do not agree, in fact I am angry, when I hear you called an idiot; you are far too intelligent to deserve such an epithet; but you are so far _strange_ as to be unlike others; that you must allow, yourself. Now, I have come to the conclusion that the basis of all that has happened, has been first of all your innate inexperience (remark the expression ‘innate,’ prince). Then follows your unheard-of simplicity of heart; then comes your absolute want of sense of proportion (to this want you have several times confessed); and lastly, a mass, an accumulation, of intellectual convictions which you, in your unexampled honesty of soul, accept unquestionably as also innate and natural and true. Admit, prince, that in your relations with Nastasia Philipovna there has existed, from the very first, something democratic, and the fascination, so to speak, of the ‘woman question’? I know all about that scandalous scene at Nastasia Philipovna’s house when Rogojin brought the money, six months ago. I’ll show you yourself as in a looking-glass, if you like. I know exactly all that went on, in every detail, and why things have turned out as they have. You thirsted, while in Switzerland, for your home-country, for Russia; you read, doubtless, many books about Russia, excellent books, I dare say, but hurtful to _you_; and you arrived here; as it were, on fire with the longing to be of service. Then, on the very day of your arrival, they tell you a sad story of an ill-used woman; they tell _you_, a knight, pure and without reproach, this tale of a poor woman! The same day you actually _see_ her; you are attracted by her beauty, her fantastic, almost demoniacal, beauty--(I admit her beauty, of course).
“Why, don’t you, aren’t you--” began the general, in alarm.
“That is your father, is it not?” asked the prince.
Colia stopped a moment as though he wished to say something; but Lebedeff dragged him away.
“Oh, I’ll write you a new one in half a minute,” said the prince, “if you like!”
“Would Rogojin marry her, do you think?”
“You will only excite him more,” he said. “He has nowhere else to go to--he’ll be back here in half an hour. I’ve talked it all over with Colia; let him play the fool a bit, it will do him good.”
“Then what did you mean, when you said straight out to her that she was not really ‘like that’? You guessed right, I fancy. It is quite possible she was not herself at the moment, though I cannot fathom her meaning. Evidently she meant to hurt and insult us. I have heard curious tales about her before now, but if she came to invite us to her house, why did she behave so to my mother? Ptitsin knows her very well; he says he could not understand her today. With Rogojin, too! No one with a spark of self-respect could have talked like that in the house of her... Mother is extremely vexed on your account, too...
“Honour, indeed!” said the latter, with contempt.
“Well, it was a little drawn out, perhaps; but--”
“What nonsense you are all talking! What do you mean by poor knight?”
“I know, Colia told me that he had said he was off to--I forget the name, some friend of his, to finish the night.”
Such were her words--very likely she did not give her real reason for this eccentric conduct; but, at all events, that was all the explanation she deigned to offer.
Suddenly Aglaya entered the verandah. She seemed to be quite calm, though a little pale.
“But why did she run away to me, and then again from me to--”
“Well, bring them, with or without respect, provided always you do not drop them on the way; but on the condition,” went on the lady, looking full at him, “that you do not cross my threshold. I do not intend to receive you today. You may send your daughter Vera at once, if you like. I am much pleased with her.”
“Parfen,” he said, “tell me honestly, did you know that I was coming to Petersburg or no?”
“Because he _didn’t_ exist--never could and never did--there! You’d better drop the subject, I warn you!”
The prince knew that if he called at the Epanchins’ now he would only find the general, and that the latter might probably carry him straight off to Pavlofsk with him; whereas there was one visit he was most anxious to make without delay.
For some minutes he did not seem to comprehend the excitement around him; that is, he comprehended it and saw everything, but he stood aside, as it were, like someone invisible in a fairy tale, as though he had nothing to do with what was going on, though it pleased him to take an interest in it.
“Well, really, you know”--(silence)--“of course, you know all this is very strange, if true, which I cannot deny; but”--(silence).--“But, on the other hand, if one looks things in the face, you know--upon my honour, the prince is a rare good fellow--and--and--and--well, his name, you know--your family name--all this looks well, and perpetuates the name and title and all that--which at this moment is not standing so high as it might--from one point of view--don’t you know? The world, the world is the world, of course--and people will talk--and--and--the prince has property, you know--if it is not very large--and then he--he--” (Continued silence, and collapse of the general.)
“Allow me, Mr. Ivolgin,” he said irritably. “What is the good of all this rigmarole? Pardon me. All is now clear, and we acknowledge the truth of your main point. Why go into these tedious details? You wish perhaps to boast of the cleverness of your investigation, to cry up your talents as detective? Or perhaps your intention is to excuse Burdovsky, by proving that he took up the matter in ignorance? Well, I consider that extremely impudent on your part! You ought to know that Burdovsky has no need of being excused or justified by you or anyone else! It is an insult! The affair is quite painful enough for him without that. Will nothing make you understand?”
“Indeed? She looks very sweet. I should like to make her acquaintance.”
By the end of the third day the incident of the eccentric lady and Evgenie Pavlovitch had attained enormous and mysterious proportions in his mind. He sorrowfully asked himself whether he had been the cause of this new “monstrosity,” or was it... but he refrained from saying who else might be in fault. As for the letters N.P.B., he looked on that as a harmless joke, a mere childish piece of mischief--so childish that he felt it would be shameful, almost dishonourable, to attach any importance to it.
“I know nothing about Evgenie Pavlovitch!” said the prince.
“But the universal necessity of living, of drinking, of eating--in short, the whole scientific conviction that this necessity can only be satisfied by universal co-operation and the solidarity of interests--is, it seems to me, a strong enough idea to serve as a basis, so to speak, and a ‘spring of life,’ for humanity in future centuries,” said Gavrila Ardalionovitch, now thoroughly roused.
“Where’s your luggage?” he asked, as he led the prince away to his room.
“You are mad!” said Ptitsin, coming up quickly and seizing him by the hand. “You’re drunk--the police will be sent for if you don’t look out. Think where you are.”
“That confounded cough of mine had come on again; I fell into a chair, and with difficulty recovered my breath. ‘It’s all right, it’s only consumption’ I said. ‘I have come to you with a petition!’
“Well, at all events it is a good thing that there’s no pain when the poor fellow’s head flies off,” he remarked.
“I never told either him or you that I loved him!” replied Nastasia Philipovna, with an effort. “And--and I did run away from him--you are right there,” she added, scarcely audibly.
“What is it then, for goodness’ sake?”
The prince thought he knew what Gania meant by “such a moment.”
“Oh, I don’t know what this means” cried Ivan Fedorovitch, transported with indignation.
“He guessed quite right. I am not that sort of woman,” she whispered hurriedly, flushing red all over. Then she turned again and left the room so quickly that no one could imagine what she had come back for. All they saw was that she said something to Nina Alexandrovna in a hurried whisper, and seemed to kiss her hand. Varia, however, both saw and heard all, and watched Nastasia out of the room with an expression of wonder.
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.
“I know this much, that you did not go out to honest work, but went away with a rich man, Rogojin, in order to pose as a fallen angel. I don’t wonder that Totski was nearly driven to suicide by such a fallen angel.”
“You are alone, aren’t you,--not married?”
“Well, it’s too bad of you,” said mamma. “You must forgive them, prince; they are good girls. I am very fond of them, though I often have to be scolding them; they are all as silly and mad as march hares.”
“What on earth is the matter with the boy? What phenomenal feeble-mindedness!” exclaimed Ferdishenko.
“Yes, you are, indeed.”
“My goodness--surely she is not in love with such a--surely she isn’t mad!” groaned Mrs. Epanchin, under her breath.
“I will explain my idea by a practical example, to make it clearer. You know the sort of man he is. At present his only failing is that he is crazy about that captain’s widow, and he cannot go to her without money, and I mean to catch him at her house today--for his own good; but supposing it was not only the widow, but that he had committed a real crime, or at least some very dishonourable action (of which he is, of course, incapable), I repeat that even in that case, if he were treated with what I may call generous tenderness, one could get at the whole truth, for he is very soft-hearted! Believe me, he would betray himself before five days were out; he would burst into tears, and make a clean breast of the matter; especially if managed with tact, and if you and his family watched his every step, so to speak. Oh, my dear prince,” Lebedeff added most emphatically, “I do not positively assert that he has... I am ready, as the saying is, to shed my last drop of blood for him this instant; but you will admit that debauchery, drunkenness, and the captain’s widow, all these together may lead him very far.”
The prince began to be a little incredulous.
“To humble myself,” murmured Lebedeff.
“How do you know it’s Nastasia Philipovna?” asked the general; “you surely don’t know her already, do you?”
“H’m--well, at all events, I shouldn’t have fallen asleep here, in your place. It wasn’t nice of you, that. I suppose you fall asleep wherever you sit down?”
“I should think it would be very foolish indeed, unless it happened to come in appropriately.”
“DEAR COLIA,--Please be so kind as to give the enclosed sealed letter to Aglaya Ivanovna. Keep well--Ever your loving,
“Don’t shuffle! Say plainly that you think that I am quite wrong, without any ‘somewhat’! Why ‘somewhat’?”
“Yes, especially this kind.”
“No--and I don’t want one,” said the prince, laughing.
So said the sisters. Of course, Lizabetha Prokofievna had foreseen it long before the rest; her “heart had been sore” for a long while, she declared, and it was now so sore that she appeared to be quite overwhelmed, and the very thought of the prince became distasteful to her.
“How silly you are!” said Mrs. Epanchin, looking indignantly towards the last speaker.
The prince could not doubt the sincerity of his agitation. He understood, too, that the old man had left the room intoxicated with his own success. The general belonged to that class of liars, who, in spite of their transports of lying, invariably suspect that they are not believed. On this occasion, when he recovered from his exaltation, he would probably suspect Muishkin of pitying him, and feel insulted.
“So do I, so do I! This moment, if I could! I’d give every farthing I have to do it.”
“Well, at first I did; I was restless; I didn’t know however I should manage to support life--you know there are such moments, especially in solitude. There was a waterfall near us, such a lovely thin streak of water, like a thread but white and moving. It fell from a great height, but it looked quite low, and it was half a mile away, though it did not seem fifty paces. I loved to listen to it at night, but it was then that I became so restless. Sometimes I went and climbed the mountain and stood there in the midst of the tall pines, all alone in the terrible silence, with our little village in the distance, and the sky so blue, and the sun so bright, and an old ruined castle on the mountain-side, far away. I used to watch the line where earth and sky met, and longed to go and seek there the key of all mysteries, thinking that I might find there a new life, perhaps some great city where life should be grander and richer--and then it struck me that life may be grand enough even in a prison.”
She was accompanied sometimes in her carriage by a girl of sixteen, a distant relative of her hostess. This young lady sang very well; in fact, her music had given a kind of notoriety to their little house. Nastasia, however, was behaving with great discretion on the whole. She dressed quietly, though with such taste as to drive all the ladies in Pavlofsk mad with envy, of that, as well as of her beauty and her carriage and horses.
“‘Tis he, ‘tis he!” he said at last, quietly, but with much solemnity. “As though he were alive once more. I heard the familiar name--the dear familiar name--and, oh! how it reminded me of the irrevocable past--Prince Muishkin, I believe?”
She seemed to be very angry, but suddenly burst out laughing, quite good-humouredly.
“I do so want to hear about it,” repeated Adelaida.
“Oh, wouldn’t he just!”
“Well, I will take it then.”
These exclamations but feebly expressed the profound bewilderment into which the prince’s words had plunged Burdovsky’s companions.
At that moment Colia appeared on the terrace; he announced that Lizabetha Prokofievna and her three daughters were close behind him.
“Once you did me the honour of giving me your confidence. Perhaps you have quite forgotten me now! How is it that I am writing to you? I do not know; but I am conscious of an irresistible desire to remind you of my existence, especially you. How many times I have needed all three of you; but only you have dwelt always in my mind’s eye. I need you--I need you very much. I will not write about myself. I have nothing to tell you. But I long for you to be happy. _Are_ you happy? That is all I wished to say to you--Your brother,
Gania stood and frowned, he expected a family scene. He never thought of apologizing to the prince, however.
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.
“Nicolai Ardalionovitch!” said Lebedeff, in a most amiable tone of voice, addressing the boy. “As I have a communication to make to the prince which concerns only myself--”
“Don’t give it to him if he does. Fancy, he was a decent, respectable man once! He was received in the best society; he was not always the liar he is now. Of course, wine is at the bottom of it all; but he is a good deal worse than an innocent liar now. Do you know that he keeps a mistress? I can’t understand how mother is so long-suffering. Did he tell you the story of the siege of Kars? Or perhaps the one about his grey horse that talked? He loves to enlarge on these absurd histories.” And Gania burst into a fit of laughter. Suddenly he turned to the prince and asked: “Why are you looking at me like that?”
“You are exaggerating, you are exaggerating, Lebedeff!” cried his hearers, amid laughter.
“Tell us about the execution,” put in Adelaida.
“No--I asked you this--answer this! Do you intend to ask for my hand, or not?”
Evgenie Pavlovitch continued some apparently extremely funny and interesting anecdote to Alexandra, speaking quickly and with much animation. The prince remembered that at this moment Aglaya remarked in a half-whisper:
The prince began to give his reasons, but she interrupted him again.
“In the first place, it is not for you to address me as ‘sir,’ and, in the second place, I refuse to give you any explanation,” said Ivan Fedorovitch vehemently; and he rose without another word, and went and stood on the first step of the flight that led from the verandah to the street, turning his back on the company. He was indignant with Lizabetha Prokofievna, who did not think of moving even now.
“Oh! I suppose the present she wished to make to you, when she took you into the dining-room, was her confidence, eh?”
“Do you know for certain that he was at home last night?”
“I knew it was all a joke!” cried Adelaida. “I felt it ever since--since the hedgehog.”
“Surely you see that I am not laughing,” said Nastasia, sadly and sternly.
The man evidently could not take in the idea of such a shabby-looking visitor, and had decided to ask once more.
“Oh, yes--a wonderful fellow; but I was present myself. I gave him my blessing.”
“Asleep--he’ll sleep for a couple of hours yet. I quite understand--you haven’t slept--you walked about the park, I know. Agitation--excitement--all that sort of thing--quite natural, too!”
“Impossible!” cried the prince, aghast.
“What are you doing? Where are you going to? You can’t let him go now; if you do he’ll go and do something worse.”
“I was much surprised, and looked at him expectantly.