“Why, it was yourself who advised me to bring him over!”
“But after all, what is it? Is it possible that I should have just risked my fate by tossing up?” he went on, shuddering; and looked round him again. His eyes had a curious expression of sincerity. “That is an astonishing psychological fact,” he cried, suddenly addressing the prince, in a tone of the most intense surprise. “It is... it is something quite inconceivable, prince,” he repeated with growing animation, like a man regaining consciousness. “Take note of it, prince, remember it; you collect, I am told, facts concerning capital punishment... They told me so. Ha, ha! My God, how absurd!” He sat down on the sofa, put his elbows on the table, and laid his head on his hands. “It is shameful--though what does it matter to me if it is shameful?The general had not come down from town as yet, nor had Evgenie Pavlovitch arrived.
“But how brave you are!” said he. “You are laughing, and I--that man’s tale impressed me so much, that I dreamt of it afterwards; yes, I dreamt of those five minutes...”
“Yes--I nearly was,” whispered the prince, hanging his head.
But the prince’s mental perturbation increased every moment. He wandered about the park, looking absently around him, and paused in astonishment when he suddenly found himself in the empty space with the rows of chairs round it, near the Vauxhall. The look of the place struck him as dreadful now: so he turned round and went by the path which he had followed with the Epanchins on the way to the band, until he reached the green bench which Aglaya had pointed out for their rendezvous. He sat down on it and suddenly burst into a loud fit of laughter, immediately followed by a feeling of irritation. His disturbance of mind continued; he felt that he must go away somewhere, anywhere.
“All the while I was in their house I felt sure that somewhere beneath the floor there was hidden away some dreadful corpse, wrapped in oil-cloth, perhaps buried there by his father, who knows? Just as in the Moscow case. I could have shown you the very spot!
“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.”
“No--and I don’t want one,” said the prince, laughing.The prince gave a short narrative of what we have heard before, leaving out the greater part. The two ladies listened intently.
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.
“You were quite right to go away!” he said. “The row will rage there worse than ever now; and it’s like this every day with us--and all through that Nastasia Philipovna.”
“Of course.”The prince did not exactly pant for breath, but he “seemed almost to _choke_ out of pure simplicity and goodness of heart,” as Adelaida expressed it, on talking the party over with her fiance, the Prince S., next morning.
“Yes, a candle! What’s there improbable about that?”
“My father picked up all these pictures very cheap at auctions, and so on,” he said; “they are all rubbish, except the one over the door, and that is valuable. A man offered five hundred roubles for it last week.”“My father went into the army, too. He was a sub-lieutenant in the Vasiliefsky regiment.”
“That will do. I can find out for myself. Only tell me, where is she now? At his house? With him?”
“H’m! well, _you_ are not going away just yet, my friend, at all events,” said Lizabetha, stopping the prince. “Kindly step home with me, and let me have a little explanation of the mystery. Nice goings on, these! I haven’t slept a wink all night as it is.”
“Well, have you finished?” said Lizabetha Prokofievna to Evgenie. “Make haste, sir; it is time he went to bed. Have you more to say?” She was very angry.“Yes--at least about one. Then I told the whole three years’ story of my life, and the history of a poor peasant girl--”
“Why, who else could I possibly suspect? Who else, most outspoken prince?” he replied, with an unctuous smile.But the real upshot of the business was that the number of riddles to be solved was augmented. The two girls, though rather irritated at their mother’s exaggerated alarm and haste to depart from the scene, had been unwilling to worry her at first with questions.
“Didn’t you put it away in some drawer, perhaps?”
“Tell us now, at once, what you made of the present? I must have you answer this question for mother’s sake; she needs pacifying, and so do all the rest of the family!”
“Why? You very nearly were, anyhow.”
“Hush! hush! Gavrila Ardalionovitch!” cried Muishkin in dismay, but it was too late.
“Oh, don’t be so worried on my account, prince! I assure you I am not worth it! At least, not I alone. But I see you are suffering on behalf of the criminal too, for wretched Ferdishenko, in fact!”
First, with a sad smile, and then with a twinkle of merriment in her eyes, she admitted that such a storm as that of five years ago was now quite out of the question. She said that she had long since changed her views of things, and recognized that facts must be taken into consideration in spite of the feelings of the heart. What was done was done and ended, and she could not understand why Totski should still feel alarmed.
“It’s quite new.”
“Do not distress yourself, Aglaya Ivanovitch,” he answered calmly; “your mother knows that one cannot strike a dying man. I am ready to explain why I was laughing. I shall be delighted if you will let me--”According to Lebedeff’s account, he had first tried what he could do with General Epanchin. The latter informed him that he wished well to the unfortunate young man, and would gladly do what he could to “save him,” but that he did not think it would be seemly for him to interfere in this matter. Lizabetha Prokofievna would neither hear nor see him. Prince S. and Evgenie Pavlovitch only shrugged their shoulders, and implied that it was no business of theirs. However, Lebedeff had not lost heart, and went off to a clever lawyer,--a worthy and respectable man, whom he knew well. This old gentleman informed him that the thing was perfectly feasible if he could get hold of competent witnesses as to Muishkin’s mental incapacity. Then, with the assistance of a few influential persons, he would soon see the matter arranged.“Indeed, you must not go away like that, young man, you must not!” cried the general. “My friend here is a widow, the mother of a family; her words come straight from her heart, and find an echo in mine. A visit to her is merely an affair of a few minutes; I am quite at home in her house. I will have a wash, and dress, and then we can drive to the Grand Theatre. Make up your mind to spend the evening with me.... We are just there--that’s the house... Why, Colia! you here! Well, is Marfa Borisovna at home or have you only just come?”
“We have just used the expression ‘accidental case.’ This is a significant phrase; we often hear it. Well, not long since everyone was talking and reading about that terrible murder of six people on the part of a--young fellow, and of the extraordinary speech of the counsel for the defence, who observed that in the poverty-stricken condition of the criminal it must have come _naturally_ into his head to kill these six people. I do not quote his words, but that is the sense of them, or something very like it. Now, in my opinion, the barrister who put forward this extraordinary plea was probably absolutely convinced that he was stating the most liberal, the most humane, the most enlightened view of the case that could possibly be brought forward in these days. Now, was this distortion, this capacity for a perverted way of viewing things, a special or accidental case, or is such a general rule?”“Well, just listen, prince. I remained here last evening, partly because I have a great admiration for the French archbishop Bourdaloue. I enjoyed a discussion over him till three o’clock in the morning, with Lebedeff; and then... then--I swear by all I hold sacred that I am telling you the truth--then I wished to develop my soul in this frank and heartfelt confession to you. This was my thought as I was sobbing myself to sleep at dawn. Just as I was losing consciousness, tears in my soul, tears on my face (I remember how I lay there sobbing), an idea from hell struck me. ‘Why not, after confessing, borrow money from him?’ You see, this confession was a kind of masterstroke; I intended to use it as a means to your good grace and favour--and then--then I meant to walk off with a hundred and fifty roubles. Now, do you not call that base?”
“Whom? What power?” asked her mother, crossly.“Oh, Antip!” cried he in a miserable voice, “I did say to you the other day--the day before yesterday--that perhaps you were not really Pavlicheff’s son!”
“Old Bielokonski” listened to all the fevered and despairing lamentations of Lizabetha Prokofievna without the least emotion; the tears of this sorrowful mother did not evoke answering sighs--in fact, she laughed at her. She was a dreadful old despot, this princess; she could not allow equality in anything, not even in friendship of the oldest standing, and she insisted on treating Mrs. Epanchin as her _protégée_, as she had been thirty-five years ago. She could never put up with the independence and energy of Lizabetha’s character. She observed that, as usual, the whole family had gone much too far ahead, and had converted a fly into an elephant; that, so far as she had heard their story, she was persuaded that nothing of any seriousness had occurred; that it would surely be better to wait until something _did_ happen; that the prince, in her opinion, was a very decent young fellow, though perhaps a little eccentric, through illness, and not quite as weighty in the world as one could wish. The worst feature was, she said, Nastasia Philipovna.
“You seem to take me for a child, Lebedeff. Tell me, is it a fact that she left him while they were in Moscow?”“Yes, yes, yours, yours! What is there to surprise anyone in that? Come, come, you mustn’t go on like this, crying in the middle of the road; and you a general too, a military man! Come, let’s go back.”
“You are going home?”
“Well, just listen, prince. I remained here last evening, partly because I have a great admiration for the French archbishop Bourdaloue. I enjoyed a discussion over him till three o’clock in the morning, with Lebedeff; and then... then--I swear by all I hold sacred that I am telling you the truth--then I wished to develop my soul in this frank and heartfelt confession to you. This was my thought as I was sobbing myself to sleep at dawn. Just as I was losing consciousness, tears in my soul, tears on my face (I remember how I lay there sobbing), an idea from hell struck me. ‘Why not, after confessing, borrow money from him?’ You see, this confession was a kind of masterstroke; I intended to use it as a means to your good grace and favour--and then--then I meant to walk off with a hundred and fifty roubles. Now, do you not call that base?”
“Sit down,” said Rogojin; “let’s rest a bit.” There was silence for a moment.An impetuous woman, Lizabetha Prokofievna sometimes weighed her anchors and put out to sea quite regardless of the possible storms she might encounter. Ivan Fedorovitch felt a sudden pang of alarm, but the others were merely curious, and somewhat surprised. Colia unfolded the paper, and began to read, in his clear, high-pitched voice, the following article:
It was clear that she had been merely passing through the room from door to door, and had not had the remotest notion that she would meet anyone.“Yes. It really would be happier for him to die young. If I were in his place I should certainly long for death. He is unhappy about his brother and sisters, the children you saw. If it were possible, if we only had a little money, we should leave our respective families, and live together in a little apartment of our own. It is our dream. But, do you know, when I was talking over your affair with him, he was angry, and said that anyone who did not call out a man who had given him a blow was a coward. He is very irritable to-day, and I left off arguing the matter with him. So Nastasia Philipovna has invited you to go and see her?”“Orphans, poor orphans!” he began in a pathetic voice.
At this moment in marched Aglaya, as calm and collected as could be. She gave the prince a ceremonious bow and solemnly took up a prominent position near the big round table. She looked at the prince questioningly.
“Stop a minute! When will he come back?”
“Then you must see that he is not responsible. What does it matter to you now, in any case? What are you hoping for still? If you _have_ a hope left, it is that your suffering air may soften her heart towards you.”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.
“He got out of it very neatly about our faces, though,” said Aglaya. “He flattered us all round, even mamma.”
“I told you Lef Nicolaievitch was a man--a man--if only he would not be in such a hurry, as the princess remarked,” said the latter, with delight.
“Well, why have I worried him, for five years, and never let him go free? Is he worth it? He is only just what he ought to be--nothing particular. He thinks I am to blame, too. He gave me my education, kept me like a countess. Money--my word! What a lot of money he spent over me! And he tried to find me an honest husband first, and then this Gania, here. And what do you think? All these five years I did not live with him, and yet I took his money, and considered I was quite justified.
Nina Alexandrovna and her daughter were both seated in the drawing-room, engaged in knitting, and talking to a visitor, Ivan Petrovitch Ptitsin.
“Impossible!” cried the general, starting up as if he had been shot.“Perhaps,” he thought, “someone is to be with them until nine tonight and she is afraid that I may come and make a fool of myself again, in public.” So he spent his time longing for the evening and looking at his watch. But the clearing-up of the mystery came long before the evening, and came in the form of a new and agonizing riddle.Prince S. ran up to her and persuaded her, at last, to come home with them.
“No; I remember nothing!” said the prince. A few more words of explanation followed, words which were spoken without the smallest excitement by his companion, but which evoked the greatest agitation in the prince; and it was discovered that two old ladies to whose care the prince had been left by Pavlicheff, and who lived at Zlatoverhoff, were also relations of Ivan Petrovitch.“But whatever she may say, remember that she does not believe it herself,--remember that she will believe nothing but that she is a guilty creature.“‘I’m afraid you are ill?’ he remarked, in the tone which doctors use when they address a patient. ‘I am myself a medical man’ (he did not say ‘doctor’), with which words he waved his hands towards the room and its contents as though in protest at his present condition. ‘I see that you--’
“All? Yes,” said the prince, emerging from a momentary reverie.
Mrs. Epanchin, long accustomed to her husband’s infidelities, had heard of the pearls, and the rumour excited her liveliest curiosity and interest. The general remarked her suspicions, and felt that a grand explanation must shortly take place--which fact alarmed him much.Among our suburban resorts there are some which enjoy a specially high reputation for respectability and fashion; but the most careful individual is not absolutely exempt from the danger of a tile falling suddenly upon his head from his neighbour’s roof.