Nastasia Philipovna was quite capable of ruining herself, and even of perpetrating something which would send her to Siberia, for the mere pleasure of injuring a man for whom she had developed so inhuman a sense of loathing and contempt. He had sufficient insight to understand that she valued nothing in the world--herself least of all--and he made no attempt to conceal the fact that he was a coward in some respects. For instance, if he had been told that he would be stabbed at the altar, or publicly insulted, he would undoubtedly have been frightened; but not so much at the idea of being murdered, or wounded, or insulted, as at the thought that if such things were to happen he would be made to look ridiculous in the eyes of society.
“Listen to me, Lebedeff,” said the prince in a decided voice, turning his back on the young man. “I know by experience that when you choose, you can be business-like... I have very little time to spare, and if you... By the way--excuse me--what is your Christian name? I have forgotten it.”
“There’s nothing better than the ‘poor knight’!” said Colia, who was standing near the last speaker’s chair.
“Oh, _that’s_ all the same! The chief thing is that she wants to see you after six months’ absence. Look here, Gania, this is a _serious_ business. Don’t swagger again and lose the game--play carefully, but don’t funk, do you understand? As if she could possibly avoid seeing what I have been working for all this last six months! And just imagine, I was there this morning and not a word of this! I was there, you know, on the sly. The old lady did not know, or she would have kicked me out. I ran some risk for you, you see. I did so want to find out, at all hazards.”
“As the true friend of your father, I wish to say a few words to you,” he began. “I have suffered--there was a catastrophe. I suffered without a trial; I had no trial. Nina Alexandrovna my wife, is an excellent woman, so is my daughter Varvara. We have to let lodgings because we are poor--a dreadful, unheard-of come-down for us--for me, who should have been a governor-general; but we are very glad to have _you_, at all events. Meanwhile there is a tragedy in the house.”“She came up to me and said, ‘Do you know who the Pope of Rome is?’ ‘I’ve heard of him,’ I said. ‘I suppose you’ve read the Universal History, Parfen Semeonovitch, haven’t you?’ she asked. ‘I’ve learned nothing at all,’ I said. ‘Then I’ll lend it to you to read. You must know there was a Roman Pope once, and he was very angry with a certain Emperor; so the Emperor came and neither ate nor drank, but knelt before the Pope’s palace till he should be forgiven. And what sort of vows do you think that Emperor was making during all those days on his knees? Stop, I’ll read it to you!’ Then she read me a lot of verses, where it said that the Emperor spent all the time vowing vengeance against the Pope. ‘You don’t mean to say you don’t approve of the poem, Parfen Semeonovitch,’ she says. ‘All you have read out is perfectly true,’ say I. ‘Aha!’ says she, ‘you admit it’s true, do you? And you are making vows to yourself that if I marry you, you will remind me of all this, and take it out of me.’ ‘I don’t know,’ I say, ‘perhaps I was thinking like that, and perhaps I was not. I’m not thinking of anything just now.’ ‘What are your thoughts, then?’ ‘I’m thinking that when you rise from your chair and go past me, I watch you, and follow you with my eyes; if your dress does but rustle, my heart sinks; if you leave the room, I remember every little word and action, and what your voice sounded like, and what you said. I thought of nothing all last night, but sat here listening to your sleeping breath, and heard you move a little, twice.’ ‘And as for your attack upon me,’ she says, ‘I suppose you never once thought of _that?_’ ‘Perhaps I did think of it, and perhaps not,’ I say. ‘And what if I don’t either forgive you or marry, you?’ ‘I tell you I shall go and drown myself.’ ‘H’m!’ she said, and then relapsed into silence. Then she got angry, and went out. ‘I suppose you’d murder me before you drowned yourself, though!’ she cried as she left the room.
The prince took it from her hand, but gazed at her in bewilderment.“Why, you wished to have a talk with me when the others left?” he said.“I remembered there was some quarrel between father and Miss Smith, the Bielokonski’s governess,” said Colia.
“Well, go on.”“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.”
“However, observe” (she wrote in another of the letters), “that although I couple you with him, yet I have not once asked you whether you love him. He fell in love with you, though he saw you but once. He spoke of you as of ‘the light.’ These are his own words--I heard him use them. But I understood without his saying it that you were all that light is to him. I lived near him for a whole month, and I understood then that you, too, must love him. I think of you and him as one.”
Colia was occupied with his father at this time. The old man died during a second stroke, which took place just eight days after the first. The prince showed great sympathy in the grief of the family, and during the first days of their mourning he was at the house a great deal with Nina Alexandrovna. He went to the funeral, and it was observable that the public assembled in church greeted his arrival and departure with whisperings, and watched him closely.
“Not I--not I! I retire from all responsibility,” said Lizabetha Prokofievna, with a wave of the hand.“Practised hand--eh?”
“What’s the good of tormenting him like this?” cried the prince.Nina Alexandrovna started, and examined the photograph intently, gazing at it long and sadly. At last she looked up inquiringly at Varia.“What? Impossible! To Nastasia Philipovna? Nonsense!” cried the prince.
“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.”
“Yes, I remember too!” said Alexandra. “You quarrelled about the wounded pigeon, and Adelaida was put in the corner, and stood there with her helmet and sword and all.”“What are you grinning at my father’s portrait again for?” asked Rogojin, suddenly. He was carefully observing every change in the expression of the prince’s face.“Ti-Ti-Timofey.”
“Gentlemen, I supposed from this that poor Mr. Burdovsky must be a simple-minded man, quite defenceless, and an easy tool in the hands of rogues. That is why I thought it my duty to try and help him as ‘Pavlicheff’s son’; in the first place by rescuing him from the influence of Tchebaroff, and secondly by making myself his friend. I have resolved to give him ten thousand roubles; that is about the sum which I calculate that Pavlicheff must have spent on me.”
She went away in great anxiety about him, but when she saw him in the morning, he seemed to be quite himself again, greeted her with a smile, and told her that he would very likely be back by the evening. It appears that he did not consider it necessary to inform anyone excepting Vera of his departure for town.
Ptitsin had tactfully retreated to Lebedeff’s wing; and Gania soon followed him.“And now you’ll have a million roubles, at least--goodness gracious me!” exclaimed the clerk, rubbing his hands.
“Of course it is all, my friend. I don’t doubt you for a moment,” said Lizabetha Prokofievna with dignity.
This evening there were no strangers present--no one but the immediate members of the family. Prince S. was still in town, occupied with the affairs of Evgenie Pavlovitch’s uncle.
“No--in anger, perhaps. Oh yes! she reproached me dreadfully in anger; and suffered herself, too! But afterwards--oh! don’t remind me--don’t remind me of that!”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.Hippolyte told the prince this last story, sending for him on purpose. When Muishkin heard about the candle and Gania’s finger he had laughed so that he had quite astonished Hippolyte,--and then shuddered and burst into tears. The prince’s condition during those days was strange and perturbed. Hippolyte plainly declared that he thought he was out of his mind;--this, however, was hardly to be relied upon.
Little by little he became very happy indeed. All his late anxieties and apprehensions (after his conversation with Lebedeff) now appeared like so many bad dreams--impossible, and even laughable.“But it is so difficult, and even impossible to understand, that surely I am not to be blamed because I could not fathom the incomprehensible?
“There is not one of them all who is worthy of these words of yours,” continued Aglaya. “Not one of them is worth your little finger, not one of them has heart or head to compare with yours! You are more honest than all, and better, nobler, kinder, wiser than all. There are some here who are unworthy to bend and pick up the handkerchief you have just dropped. Why do you humiliate yourself like this, and place yourself lower than these people? Why do you debase yourself before them? Why have you no pride?”“Oh, dear!” cried the prince, confused, trying to hurry his words out, and growing more and more eager every moment: “I’ve gone and said another stupid thing. I don’t know what to say. I--I didn’t mean that, you know--I--I--he really was such a splendid man, wasn’t he?”
As before, he crossed the street and watched the windows from the other side, walking up and down in anguish of soul for half an hour or so in the stifling heat. Nothing stirred; the blinds were motionless; indeed, the prince began to think that the apparition of Rogojin’s face could have been nothing but fancy. Soothed by this thought, he drove off once more to his friends at the Ismailofsky barracks. He was expected there. The mother had already been to three or four places to look for Nastasia, but had not found a trace of any kind.
“Do you admire that sort of woman, prince?” he asked, looking intently at him. He seemed to have some special object in the question.“Calm yourself, my dear fellow. You are exaggerating again; you really have no occasion to be so grateful to us. It is a feeling which does you great credit, but an exaggeration, for all that.”“I think you disturb yourself too much.”
“But it is not any one particular thought, only; it is the general circumstances of the case. If Voltaire had written this now, or Rousseau, I should have just read it and thought it remarkable, but should not have been so _impressed_ by it. But a man who knows for certain that he has but ten minutes to live and can talk like that--why--it’s--it’s _pride_, that is! It is really a most extraordinary, exalted assertion of personal dignity, it’s--it’s _defiant!_ What a _gigantic_ strength of will, eh? And to accuse a fellow like that of not putting in the cap on purpose; it’s base and mean! You know he deceived us last night, the cunning rascal. I never packed his bag for him, and I never saw his pistol. He packed it himself. But he put me off my guard like that, you see. Vera says you are going to let him stay on; I swear there’s no danger, especially as we are always with him.”He had attained his end. The prince left the house beside himself with terror.
“Yes, I’ve been looking for you. I waited for you at the Epanchins’ house, but of course I could not come in. I dogged you from behind as you walked along with the general. Well, prince, here is Keller, absolutely at your service--command him!--ready to sacrifice himself--even to die in case of need.”“I have little brothers and sisters, over there, poor avid innocent. She will corrupt them! You are a saint! You are a child yourself--save them! Snatch them from that... she is... it is shameful! Oh! help them! God will repay you a hundredfold. For the love of God, for the love of Christ!”
“But, on the other hand, more frank in the evening! In the evening sincere and frank,” repeated Lebedeff, earnestly. “More candid, more exact, more honest, more honourable, and... although I may show you my weak side, I challenge you all; you atheists, for instance! How are you going to save the world? How find a straight road of progress, you men of science, of industry, of cooperation, of trades unions, and all the rest? How are you going to save it, I say? By what? By credit? What is credit? To what will credit lead you?”
“I have never asked you to marry me, Aglaya Ivanovna!” said the prince, of a sudden.
Hippolyte braced himself up a little.A strange thought passed through the prince’s brain; he gazed intently at Aglaya and smiled.“I wish at least _he_ would come and say something!” complained poor Lizabetha Prokofievna.
“Is he raving?” said the general. “Are we really in a mad-house?”
“Are you going to be married here?”
“I did not come to marry at all,” replied the prince.“That is Lebedeff’s daughter--Vera Lukianovna.”
“Oh, I saw that at once,” replied the latter. “I don’t think it at all nice of him to play a part. What does he wish to gain by it, I wonder?”At the moment when he lost Aglaya, and after the scene with Nastasia, he had felt so low in his own eyes that he actually brought the money back to the prince. Of this returning of the money given to him by a madwoman who had received it from a madman, he had often repented since--though he never ceased to be proud of his action. During the short time that Muishkin remained in Petersburg Gania had had time to come to hate him for his sympathy, though the prince told him that it was “not everyone who would have acted so nobly” as to return the money. He had long pondered, too, over his relations with Aglaya, and had persuaded himself that with such a strange, childish, innocent character as hers, things might have ended very differently. Remorse then seized him; he threw up his post, and buried himself in self-torment and reproach.
Varvara was a girl of some twenty-three summers, of middle height, thin, but possessing a face which, without being actually beautiful, had the rare quality of charm, and might fascinate even to the extent of passionate regard.
“I give you my word of honour that I had nothing to do with the matter and know nothing about it.”“No, it was not the urchin: it was Nicolai Ardalionovitch,” said the prince very firmly, but without raising his voice.
The servant left the room. Vera was about to follow her, but returned and approached the prince with a preoccupied air.“I see what you are driving at,” said Nastasia Philipovna. “You imply that the prince is after the seventy-five thousand roubles--I quite understand you. Mr. Totski, I forgot to say, ‘Take your seventy-five thousand roubles’--I don’t want them. I let you go free for nothing--take your freedom! You must need it. Nine years and three months’ captivity is enough for anybody. Tomorrow I shall start afresh--today I am a free agent for the first time in my life.
The prince begged him to take a chair.
This was the note:
Although the impudence of this attack, this public proclamation of intimacy, as it were, was doubtless premeditated, and had its special object, yet Evgenie Pavlovitch at first seemed to intend to make no show of observing either his tormentor or her words. But Nastasia’s communication struck him with the force of a thunderclap. On hearing of his uncle’s death he suddenly grew as white as a sheet, and turned towards his informant.
“I thought” he stammered, making for the door.The words were hardly out of her mouth, when Lebedeff dragged Vera forward, in order to present her.The prince glanced again at Evgenie Pavlovitch with considerable surprise.“I _did_ not expect you, gentlemen,” began the prince. “I have been ill until to-day. A month ago,” he continued, addressing himself to Antip Burdovsky, “I put your business into Gavrila Ardalionovitch Ivolgin’s hands, as I told you then. I do not in the least object to having a personal interview... but you will agree with me that this is hardly the time... I propose that we go into another room, if you will not keep me long... As you see, I have friends here, and believe me...”