“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.Hippolyte walked towards the door, but the prince called him back and he stopped.
“I don’t understand you. How could he have me in view, and not be aware of it himself? And yet, I don’t know--perhaps I do. Do you know I have intended to poison myself at least thirty times--ever since I was thirteen or so--and to write to my parents before I did it? I used to think how nice it would be to lie in my coffin, and have them all weeping over me and saying it was all their fault for being so cruel, and all that--what are you smiling at?” she added, knitting her brow. “What do _you_ think of when you go mooning about alone? I suppose you imagine yourself a field-marshal, and think you have conquered Napoleon?”
“Well, I’ll tell you,” said the prince, apparently in a deep reverie.“Do you know the Rogojins?” asked his questioner, abruptly.“Oh, it’s too horrible!” cried poor Colia, sobbing with shame and annoyance.
Nothing was said; there were not even any hints dropped; but still, it seemed better to the parents to say nothing more about going abroad this season, at all events. Aglaya herself perhaps was of a different opinion.As for his own impression on entering the room and taking his seat, he instantly remarked that the company was not in the least such as Aglaya’s words had led him to fear, and as he had dreamed of--in nightmare form--all night.
“H’m! why must you needs go up and change your coat like that?” asked the prince, banging the table with his fist, in annoyance.
“Not that way,” said Rogojin.
There was nothing particularly significant in the fact that a man was standing back in the doorway, waiting to come out or go upstairs; but the prince felt an irresistible conviction that he knew this man, and that it was Rogojin. The man moved on up the stairs; a moment later the prince passed up them, too. His heart froze within him. “In a minute or two I shall know all,” he thought.
Arrived at the point where the Gorohovaya crosses the Sadovaya, he was surprised to find how excessively agitated he was. He had no idea that his heart could beat so painfully.“Because,” replied Aglaya gravely, “in the poem the knight is described as a man capable of living up to an ideal all his life. That sort of thing is not to be found every day among the men of our times. In the poem it is not stated exactly what the ideal was, but it was evidently some vision, some revelation of pure Beauty, and the knight wore round his neck, instead of a scarf, a rosary. A device--A. N. B.--the meaning of which is not explained, was inscribed on his shield--”She went on her knees before him--there in the open road--like a madwoman. He retreated a step, but she caught his hand and kissed it, and, just as in his dream, the tears were sparkling on her long, beautiful lashes.
“What, what?” said the general, much agitated.
This circumstance had come into existence eighteen years before. Close to an estate of Totski’s, in one of the central provinces of Russia, there lived, at that time, a poor gentleman whose estate was of the wretchedest description. This gentleman was noted in the district for his persistent ill-fortune; his name was Barashkoff, and, as regards family and descent, he was vastly superior to Totski, but his estate was mortgaged to the last acre. One day, when he had ridden over to the town to see a creditor, the chief peasant of his village followed him shortly after, with the news that his house had been burnt down, and that his wife had perished with it, but his children were safe.
And as to her face, could it inspire nothing but passion? Could her face inspire passion at all now? Oh, it inspired suffering, grief, overwhelming grief of the soul! A poignant, agonizing memory swept over the prince’s heart.
“I suppose that was it; I cannot explain it otherwise.”“Tomorrow ‘there will be no more time!’” laughed Hippolyte, hysterically. “You needn’t be afraid; I shall get through the whole thing in forty minutes, at most an hour! Look how interested everybody is! Everybody has drawn near. Look! look at them all staring at my sealed packet! If I hadn’t sealed it up it wouldn’t have been half so effective! Ha, ha! that’s mystery, that is! Now then, gentlemen, shall I break the seal or not? Say the word; it’s a mystery, I tell you--a secret! Prince, you know who said there would be ‘no more time’? It was the great and powerful angel in the Apocalypse.”They were in no hurry to marry. They liked good society, but were not too keen about it. All this was the more remarkable, because everyone was well aware of the hopes and aims of their parents.
“Look here, once for all,” cried Aglaya, boiling over, “if I hear you talking about capital punishment, or the economical condition of Russia, or about Beauty redeeming the world, or anything of that sort, I’ll--well, of course I shall laugh and seem very pleased, but I warn you beforehand, don’t look me in the face again! I’m serious now, mind, this time I _am really_ serious.” She certainly did say this very seriously, so much so, that she looked quite different from what she usually was, and the prince could not help noticing the fact. She did not seem to be joking in the slightest degree.
Exclamations arose on all sides.They were evidently on quite familiar terms. In Moscow they had had many occasions of meeting; indeed, some few of those meetings were but too vividly impressed upon their memories. They had not met now, however, for three months.
Lebedeff strained his eyes and ears to take in what the prince was saying. The latter was frowning more and more, and walking excitedly up and down, trying not to look at Lebedeff.
The prince reflected a little, but very soon he replied, with absolute conviction in his tone, though he still spoke somewhat shyly and timidly:“No--no, impossible!” said Evgenie, rising.
To Nastasia’s question as to what they wished her to do, Totski confessed that he had been so frightened by her, five years ago, that he could never now be entirely comfortable until she herself married. He immediately added that such a suggestion from him would, of course, be absurd, unless accompanied by remarks of a more pointed nature. He very well knew, he said, that a certain young gentleman of good family, namely, Gavrila Ardalionovitch Ivolgin, with whom she was acquainted, and whom she received at her house, had long loved her passionately, and would give his life for some response from her. The young fellow had confessed this love of his to him (Totski) and had also admitted it in the hearing of his benefactor, General Epanchin. Lastly, he could not help being of opinion that Nastasia must be aware of Gania’s love for her, and if he (Totski) mistook not, she had looked with some favour upon it, being often lonely, and rather tired of her present life. Having remarked how difficult it was for him, of all people, to speak to her of these matters, Totski concluded by saying that he trusted Nastasia Philipovna would not look with contempt upon him if he now expressed his sincere desire to guarantee her future by a gift of seventy-five thousand roubles. He added that the sum would have been left her all the same in his will, and that therefore she must not consider the gift as in any way an indemnification to her for anything, but that there was no reason, after all, why a man should not be allowed to entertain a natural desire to lighten his conscience, etc., etc.; in fact, all that would naturally be said under the circumstances. Totski was very eloquent all through, and, in conclusion, just touched on the fact that not a soul in the world, not even General Epanchin, had ever heard a word about the above seventy-five thousand roubles, and that this was the first time he had ever given expression to his intentions in respect to them.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.
“From the portrait!”
When he fell into a heavy sleep on the sofa on the verandah, without having had the courage to open a single one of the three envelopes, he again dreamed a painful dream, and once more that poor, “sinful” woman appeared to him. Again she gazed at him with tears sparkling on her long lashes, and beckoned him after her; and again he awoke, as before, with the picture of her face haunting him.
“Imagine, my dear,” cried the general, “it turns out that I have nursed the prince on my knee in the old days.” His wife looked searchingly at him, and glanced at the prince, but said nothing. The prince rose and followed her; but hardly had they reached the drawing-room, and Nina Alexandrovna had begun to talk hurriedly, when in came the general. She immediately relapsed into silence. The master of the house may have observed this, but at all events he did not take any notice of it; he was in high good humour.
“Where’s your luggage?” he asked, as he led the prince away to his room.
“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--”
“Yes, your father kindly recommended me to him.”