The prince did not die before his wedding--either by day or night, as he had foretold that he might. Very probably he passed disturbed nights, and was afflicted with bad dreams; but, during the daytime, among his fellow-men, he seemed as kind as ever, and even contented; only a little thoughtful when alone.
“There was another woman here?”
“And Nastasia Philipovna?”
“You are not angry with me?” he asked suddenly, and with a kind of nervous hurry, although he looked them straight in the face.
“If he cared to kiss you, that is,” said Alexandra, whose cheeks were red with irritation and excitement.
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.
“Honour, indeed!” said the latter, with contempt.
“And why not? Why, the last time I simply told straight off about how I stole three roubles.”
“You mean, no doubt, that you do not deny that might is right?”
“Are you out of your mind?” cried the prince, almost starting from his seat. “What do they accuse you of? Who accuses you?”
At this they laughed heartily.
“Tell me, how do you intend to live now, and what are your plans?” interrupted the general.
“‘I do not wish to deprive your mother of you, and, therefore, I will not ask you to go with me,’ he said, the morning of his departure, ‘but I should like to do something for you.’ He was mounting his horse as he spoke. ‘Write something in my sister’s album for me,’ I said rather timidly, for he was in a state of great dejection at the moment. He turned, called for a pen, took the album. ‘How old is your sister?’ he asked, holding the pen in his hand. ‘Three years old,’ I said. ‘Ah, _petite fille alors!_’ and he wrote in the album:
“What did she send? Whom? Was it that boy? Was it a message?--quick!”
Lizabetha Prokofievna was about to rise, when she saw Hippolyte laughing, and turned upon him with irritation.
“Oh, if you could know all!”
“Nonsense!” said the prince, angrily, turning round upon him.
“You’ve lost four hundred roubles? Oh! I’m sorry for that.”
“How he could hate me and tell scandalous stories about me, living among children as he did, is what I cannot understand. Children soothe and heal the wounded heart. I remember there was one poor fellow at our professor’s who was being treated for madness, and you have no idea what those children did for him, eventually. I don’t think he was mad, but only terribly unhappy. But I’ll tell you all about him another day. Now I must get on with this story.
“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.”
“Second proof. The scent turns out to be false, and the address given is a sham. An hour after--that is at about eight, I went to Wilkin’s myself, and there was no trace of Ferdishenko. The maid did tell me, certainly, that an hour or so since someone had been hammering at the door, and had smashed the bell; she said she would not open the door because she didn’t want to wake her master; probably she was too lazy to get up herself. Such phenomena are met with occasionally!”
“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.
Arrived at the church, Muishkin, under Keller’s guidance, passed through the crowd of spectators, amid continuous whispering and excited exclamations. The prince stayed near the altar, while Keller made off once more to fetch the bride.
“But why wear a coat in holes,” asked the girl, “when your new one is hanging behind the door? Did you not see it?”
“Prince, you are not only simple, but your simplicity is almost past the limit,” said Lebedeff’s nephew, with a sarcastic smile.
“Enough!” he concluded at last, “you understand me, and that is the great thing. A heart like yours cannot help understanding the sufferings of another. Prince, you are the ideal of generosity; what are other men beside yourself? But you are young--accept my blessing! My principal object is to beg you to fix an hour for a most important conversation--that is my great hope, prince. My heart needs but a little friendship and sympathy, and yet I cannot always find means to satisfy it.”
“Why don’t you say something?” cried Lizabetha Prokofievna, stamping her foot.
The prince frowned for a moment in silence, and then said suddenly:
“Not railways, properly speaking, presumptuous youth, but the general tendency of which railways may be considered as the outward expression and symbol. We hurry and push and hustle, for the good of humanity! ‘The world is becoming too noisy, too commercial!’ groans some solitary thinker. ‘Undoubtedly it is, but the noise of waggons bearing bread to starving humanity is of more value than tranquillity of soul,’ replies another triumphantly, and passes on with an air of pride. As for me, I don’t believe in these waggons bringing bread to humanity. For, founded on no moral principle, these may well, even in the act of carrying bread to humanity, coldly exclude a considerable portion of humanity from enjoying it; that has been seen more than once.”
“Why? Because you have suffered more than we have?”
The prince turned at the door to say something, but perceiving in Gania’s expression that there was but that one drop wanting to make the cup overflow, he changed his mind and left the room without a word. A few minutes later he was aware from the noisy voices in the drawing room, that the conversation had become more quarrelsome than ever after his departure.
“Oh, but I’m sorry you repudiate the confession, Hippolyte--it is sincere; and, do you know, even the absurd parts of it--and these are many” (here Hippolyte frowned savagely) “are, as it were, redeemed by suffering--for it must have cost you something to admit what you there say--great torture, perhaps, for all I know. Your motive must have been a very noble one all through. Whatever may have appeared to the contrary, I give you my word, I see this more plainly every day. I do not judge you; I merely say this to have it off my mind, and I am only sorry that I did not say it all _then_--”
“Is he mad?” asked Madame Epanchin suddenly.
“Here is another to whom you should apologize,” said the prince, pointing to Varia.
“Pavlicheff’s son! It is not worth while!” cried Lebedeff. “There is no necessity to see them, and it would be most unpleasant for your excellency. They do not deserve...”
“My dear sir, a man of such noble aspirations is worthy of all esteem by virtue of those aspirations alone.”
We may as well remark that the general had guessed perfectly accurately.
“I have no idea,” replied General Ivolgin, who presided with much gravity.
Only Vera Lebedeff remained hurriedly rearranging the furniture in the rooms. As she left the verandah, she glanced at the prince. He was seated at the table, with both elbows upon it, and his head resting on his hands. She approached him, and touched his shoulder gently. The prince started and looked at her in perplexity; he seemed to be collecting his senses for a minute or so, before he could remember where he was. As recollection dawned upon him, he became violently agitated. All he did, however, was to ask Vera very earnestly to knock at his door and awake him in time for the first train to Petersburg next morning. Vera promised, and the prince entreated her not to tell anyone of his intention. She promised this, too; and at last, when she had half-closed the door, he called her back a third time, took her hands in his, kissed them, then kissed her forehead, and in a rather peculiar manner said to her, “Until tomorrow!”
“No, that was another commentator, whom the papers named. He is dead, however, and I have taken his place,” said the other, much delighted.
Rogojin and Nastasia Philipovna reached the station just in time for the train. As he jumped out of the carriage and was almost on the point of entering the train, Rogojin accosted a young girl standing on the platform and wearing an old-fashioned, but respectable-looking, black cloak and a silk handkerchief over her head.
“Ladies are exempted if they like.”
Sure enough the cloak was lying on the ground. Nastasia had thrown it off her towards the prince, expecting him to catch it, but the prince had missed it.
He laughed again.
“General, you must take your pearls back, too--give them to your wife--here they are! Tomorrow I shall leave this flat altogether, and then there’ll be no more of these pleasant little social gatherings, ladies and gentlemen.”
Aglaya had not foreseen that particular calamity. She herself looked wonderfully beautiful this evening. All three sisters were dressed very tastefully, and their hair was done with special care.
Colia broke loose, seized his father by the shoulders, and stared into his eyes with frenzied gaze. The old man had grown livid--his lips were shaking, convulsions were passing over his features. Suddenly he leant over and began to sink slowly into Colia’s arms.
It was only now that everyone realized to what a ridiculous dead-lock the whole matter had been brought. Excepting feigned surprise, indignation, laughter, and jeering--both at the prince and at everyone who asked her questions,--nothing could be got out of Aglaya.
All these days Colia had been in a state of great mental preoccupation. Muishkin was usually out all day, and only came home late at night. On his return he was invariably informed that Colia had been looking for him. However, when they did meet, Colia never had anything particular to tell him, excepting that he was highly dissatisfied with the general and his present condition of mind and behaviour.
“You have no right--you have no right!” cried Burdovsky.
The general wandered on in this disconnected way for a long time; it was clear that he was much disturbed by some circumstance which he could make nothing of.
“This evening!” repeated her mother in a tone of despair, but softly, as though to herself. “Then it’s all settled, of course, and there’s no hope left to us. She has anticipated her answer by the present of her portrait. Did he show it you himself?” she added, in some surprise.
“H’m! and you take no notice of it?”
“Marie Alexandrovna is not at home,” said she, staring hard at the general. “She has gone to her mother’s, with Alexandra Michailovna.”
Muishkin began to despair. He could not imagine how he had been so foolish as to trust this man. He only wanted one thing, and that was to get to Nastasia Philipovna’s, even at the cost of a certain amount of impropriety. But now the scandal threatened to be more than he had bargained for. By this time Ardalion Alexandrovitch was quite intoxicated, and he kept his companion listening while he discoursed eloquently and pathetically on subjects of all kinds, interspersed with torrents of recrimination against the members of his family. He insisted that all his troubles were caused by their bad conduct, and time alone would put an end to them.
The prince paused to get breath. He had spoken with extraordinary rapidity, and was very pale.
“I hinted nothing to him about my ‘final conviction,’ but it appeared to me that he had guessed it from my words. He remained silent--he is a terribly silent man. I remarked to him, as I rose to depart, that, in spite of the contrast and the wide differences between us two, les extremites se touchent [‘extremes meet,’ as I explained to him in Russian); so that maybe he was not so far from my final conviction as appeared.
Colia and the prince went off together. Alas! the latter had no money to pay for a cab, so they were obliged to walk.
“Excuse me,” said Lebedeff, “but did you observe the young gentleman’s style? ‘I’ll go and blow my brains out in the park,’ says he, ‘so as not to disturb anyone.’ He thinks he won’t disturb anybody if he goes three yards away, into the park, and blows his brains out there.”
“Well, go on.”
At that moment Gania, accompanied by Ptitsin, came out to the terrace. From an adjoining room came a noise of angry voices, and General Ivolgin, in loud tones, seemed to be trying to shout them down. Colia rushed off at once to investigate the cause of the uproar.
The prince brought out his “copy-book sentence” in the firm belief that it would produce a good effect. He felt instinctively that some such well-sounding humbug, brought out at the proper moment, would soothe the old man’s feelings, and would be specially acceptable to such a man in such a position. At all hazards, his guest must be despatched with heart relieved and spirit comforted; that was the problem before the prince at this moment.
Lizabetha therefore decided that the prince was impossible as a husband for Aglaya; and during the ensuing night she made a vow that never while she lived should he marry Aglaya. With this resolve firmly impressed upon her mind, she awoke next day; but during the morning, after her early lunch, she fell into a condition of remarkable inconsistency.
The prince pulled a letter out of his pocket.
“H’m; I thought differently. You see, we were talking over this period of history. I was criticizing a current report of something which then happened, and having been myself an eye-witness of the occurrence--you are smiling, prince--you are looking at my face as if--”
“H’m! well--here, you fellow--you can come along with me now if you like!” cried Rogojin to Lebedeff, and so they all left the carriage.
“Well--it’s all most strange to me. That is--my dear fellow, it is such a surprise--such a blow--that... You see, it is not your financial position (though I should not object if you were a bit richer)--I am thinking of my daughter’s happiness, of course, and the thing is--are you able to give her the happiness she deserves? And then--is all this a joke on her part, or is she in earnest? I don’t mean on your side, but on hers.”
A young fellow entered the ante-room at this moment, with a bundle of papers in his hand. The footman hastened to help him take off his overcoat. The new arrival glanced at the prince out of the corners of his eyes.
It was now close on twelve o’clock.
“Perhaps I do; but tell me yourself,” said Nastasia Philipovna, quietly.
“I don’t think we have a copy of Pushkin in the house.”
“Then you wanted me to lend you money?”
“Well, it is troublesome, rather,” said the latter; “but I suppose it will ‘pay’ pretty well. We have only just begun, however--”
“But how meek she was when you spoke to her!”
“In the morning we had parted not the best of friends; I remember he looked at me with disagreeable sarcasm once or twice; and this same look I observed in his eyes now--which was the cause of the annoyance I felt.
But when she had read it herself once more, it suddenly struck her that surely that conceited boy, Colia, had not been the one chosen correspondent of the prince all this while. She determined to ask him, and did so with an exaggerated show of carelessness. He informed her haughtily that though he had given the prince his permanent address when the latter left town, and had offered his services, the prince had never before given him any commission to perform, nor had he written until the following lines arrived, with Aglaya’s letter. Aglaya took the note, and read it.
“Yes--for her!” said the prince softly and sadly, and bending his head down, quite unconscious of the fact that Aglaya was gazing at him with eyes which burned like live coals. “I came to find out something--I don’t believe in her future happiness as Rogojin’s wife, although--in a word, I did not know how to help her or what to do for her--but I came, on the chance.”
A week had elapsed since the rendezvous of our two friends on the green bench in the park, when, one fine morning at about half-past ten o’clock, Varvara Ardalionovna, otherwise Mrs. Ptitsin, who had been out to visit a friend, returned home in a state of considerable mental depression.
“And you won’t reproach me for all these rude words of mine--some day--afterwards?” she asked, of a sudden.
“I both believe it and explain it. I am but a poor creature, a beggar, an atom in the scale of humanity. Who has the least respect for Lebedeff? He is a target for all the world, the butt of any fool who chooses to kick him. But in interpreting revelation I am the equal of anyone, great as he may be! Such is the power of the mind and the spirit. I have made a lordly personage tremble, as he sat in his armchair... only by talking to him of things concerning the spirit. Two years ago, on Easter Eve, His Excellency Nil Alexeyovitch, whose subordinate I was then, wished to hear what I had to say, and sent a message by Peter Zakkaritch to ask me to go to his private room. ‘They tell me you expound the prophecies relating to Antichrist,’ said he, when we were alone. ‘Is that so?’ ‘Yes,’ I answered unhesitatingly, and I began to give some comments on the Apostle’s allegorical vision. At first he smiled, but when we reached the numerical computations and correspondences, he trembled, and turned pale. Then he begged me to close the book, and sent me away, promising to put my name on the reward list. That took place as I said on the eve of Easter, and eight days later his soul returned to God.”
The general dropped his eyes, and elevated his brows; shrugged his shoulders, tightened his lips, spread his hands, and remained silent. At last he blurted out:
An hour later he was in St. Petersburg, and by ten o’clock he had rung the bell at Rogojin’s.
We have spoken of these letters chiefly because in them is often to be found some news of the Epanchin family, and of Aglaya in particular. Evgenie Pavlovitch wrote of her from Paris, that after a short and sudden attachment to a certain Polish count, an exile, she had suddenly married him, quite against the wishes of her parents, though they had eventually given their consent through fear of a terrible scandal. Then, after a six months’ silence, Evgenie Pavlovitch informed his correspondent, in a long letter, full of detail, that while paying his last visit to Dr. Schneider’s establishment, he had there come across the whole Epanchin family (excepting the general, who had remained in St. Petersburg) and Prince S. The meeting was a strange one. They all received Evgenie Pavlovitch with effusive delight; Adelaida and Alexandra were deeply grateful to him for his “angelic kindness to the unhappy prince.”
Nastasia Philipovna seized the packet of bank-notes.
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.
“Don’t be afraid,” he muttered, indistinctly, “though I have taken your cross, I shall not murder you for your watch.” So saying, he laughed suddenly, and strangely. Then in a moment his face became transfigured; he grew deadly white, his lips trembled, his eyes burned like fire. He stretched out his arms and held the prince tightly to him, and said in a strangled voice:
“Your insinuations as to rivalry are rather cynical, Hippolyte. I’m sorry to say I have no right to answer you! As for Gania, I put it to you, _can_ any man have a happy mind after passing through what he has had to suffer? I think that is the best way to look at it. He will change yet, he has lots of time before him, and life is rich; besides--besides...” the prince hesitated. “As to being undermined, I don’t know what in the world you are driving at, Hippolyte. I think we had better drop the subject!”
“You are inclined to go a little too far, my good boy, with your guesses,” said Mrs. Epanchin, with some show of annoyance.
“She postponed the pleasure--I see--I quite understand!” said Hippolyte, hurriedly, as though he wished to banish the subject. “I hear--they tell me--that you read her all that nonsense aloud? Stupid bosh it was--written in delirium. And I can’t understand how anyone can be so--I won’t say _cruel_, because the word would be humiliating to myself, but we’ll say childishly vain and revengeful, as to _reproach_ me with this confession, and use it as a weapon against me. Don’t be afraid, I’m not referring to yourself.”
At this idea, he burst out laughing all at once, in quite unaffected mirth, and without giving any explanation.
“Well, I am not a great authority on literary questions, but I certainly do hold that Russian literature is not Russian, except perhaps Lomonosoff, Pouschkin and Gogol.”
“You’re right, clerk,” said the latter, “you’re right, tipsy spirit--you’re right!--Nastasia Philipovna,” he added, looking at her like some lunatic, harmless generally, but suddenly wound up to a pitch of audacity, “here are eighteen thousand roubles, and--and you shall have more--.” Here he threw a packet of bank-notes tied up in white paper, on the table before her, not daring to say all he wished to say.
But Mrs. Epanchin would not deign to look at Lebedeff. Drawn up haughtily, with her head held high, she gazed at the “riff-raff,” with scornful curiosity. When Hippolyte had finished, Ivan Fedorovitch shrugged his shoulders, and his wife looked him angrily up and down, as if to demand the meaning of his movement. Then she turned to the prince.
“Did you read them?” asked the prince, struck by the thought.
“No, no, I mean with the ‘explanation,’ especially that part of it where he talks about Providence and a future life. There is a gigantic thought there.”
With a grave and ceremonious air, Marfa Borisovna motioned the prince to a chair at one of the card-tables. She seated herself opposite, leaned her right cheek on her hand, and sat in silence, her eyes fixed on Muishkin, now and again sighing deeply. The three children, two little girls and a boy, Lenotchka being the eldest, came and leant on the table and also stared steadily at him. Presently Colia appeared from the adjoining room.
“That is a thing I cannot undertake to explain,” replied the prince. Gania looked at him with angry contempt.
“Oh dear, yes!”