“Yes! She looked long at the portrait and asked all about my father. ‘You’d be just such another,’ she said at last, and laughed. ‘You have such strong passions, Parfen,’ she said, ‘that they’d have taken you to Siberia in no time if you had not, luckily, intelligence as well. For you have a good deal of intelligence.’ (She said this--believe it or not. The first time I ever heard anything of that sort from her.) ‘You’d soon have thrown up all this rowdyism that you indulge in now, and you’d have settled down to quiet, steady money-making, because you have little education; and here you’d have stayed just like your father before you. And you’d have loved your money so that you’d amass not two million, like him, but ten million; and you’d have died of hunger on your money bags to finish up with, for you carry everything to extremes.’ There, that’s exactly word for word as she said it to me. She never talked to me like that before. She always talks nonsense and laughs when she’s with me. We went all over this old house together. ‘I shall change all this,’ I said, ‘or else I’ll buy a new house for the wedding.’ ‘No, no!’ she said, ‘don’t touch anything; leave it all as it is; I shall live with your mother when I marry you.’
“Do you know what, I had better not come at all tomorrow! I’ll plead sick-list and stay away,” said the prince, with decision.
The company assembled at Nastasia Philipovna’s consisted of none but her most intimate friends, and formed a very small party in comparison with her usual gatherings on this anniversary.“Ha! and whose eyes may they have been?” said Rogojin, suspiciously. It seemed to the prince that he was trembling.
“An idiot!”--the prince distinctly heard the word half whispered from behind him. This was Ferdishenko’s voluntary information for Nastasia’s benefit.“The young fellow whose arms you held, don’t you know? He was so wild with you that he was going to send a friend to you tomorrow morning.”
“Why not? But look here, Colia, I’m tired; besides, the subject is too melancholy to begin upon again. How is he, though?”
“Very well, but I’ll change my mind, and begin about Gania. Just fancy to begin with, if you can, that I, too, was given an appointment at the green bench today! However, I won’t deceive you; I asked for the appointment. I said I had a secret to disclose. I don’t know whether I came there too early, I think I must have; but scarcely had I sat down beside Aglaya Ivanovna than I saw Gavrila Ardalionovitch and his sister Varia coming along, arm in arm, just as though they were enjoying a morning walk together. Both of them seemed very much astonished, not to say disturbed, at seeing me; they evidently had not expected the pleasure. Aglaya Ivanovna blushed up, and was actually a little confused. I don’t know whether it was merely because I was there, or whether Gania’s beauty was too much for her! But anyway, she turned crimson, and then finished up the business in a very funny manner. She jumped up from her seat, bowed back to Gania, smiled to Varia, and suddenly observed: ‘I only came here to express my gratitude for all your kind wishes on my behalf, and to say that if I find I need your services, believe me--’ Here she bowed them away, as it were, and they both marched off again, looking very foolish. Gania evidently could not make head nor tail of the matter, and turned as red as a lobster; but Varia understood at once that they must get away as quickly as they could, so she dragged Gania away; she is a great deal cleverer than he is. As for myself, I went there to arrange a meeting to be held between Aglaya Ivanovna and Nastasia Philipovna.”
“Not in the least--not in the least, I assure you. On the contrary, I am listening most attentively, and am anxious to guess--”
“It is not like her, you say? My friend, that’s absurd. Perhaps such an act would horrify her, if she were with you, but it is quite different where I am concerned. She looks on me as vermin. Her affair with Keller was simply to make a laughing-stock of me. You don’t know what a fool she made of me in Moscow; and the money I spent over her! The money! the money!”
He awaited the reply in deadly anxiety.
“You are not very modest!” said she.
“Do you know anything about Gavrila Ardalionovitch?” she asked at last.
“Where is it now, then?”
“You did a good action,” said the prince, “for in the midst of his angry feelings you insinuated a kind thought into his heart.”
“But enough!” he cried, suddenly. “I see I have been boring you with my--”“You may add that I have surely enough to think of, on my own account, without him; and therefore it is all the more surprising that I cannot tear my eyes and thoughts away from his detestable physiognomy.”“Do you believe all this?” asked Muishkin, looking curiously at his companion.
Gania said all this perfectly seriously, and without the slightest appearance of joking; indeed, he seemed strangely gloomy.
The old dignitary blushed a little, and murmured that the prince had better not excite himself further.He seemed to have been born with overwrought nerves, and in his passionate desire to excel, he was often led to the brink of some rash step; and yet, having resolved upon such a step, when the moment arrived, he invariably proved too sensible to take it. He was ready, in the same way, to do a base action in order to obtain his wished-for object; and yet, when the moment came to do it, he found that he was too honest for any great baseness. (Not that he objected to acts of petty meanness--he was always ready for _them_.) He looked with hate and loathing on the poverty and downfall of his family, and treated his mother with haughty contempt, although he knew that his whole future depended on her character and reputation.
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.
To make an end, we may say that there were many changes in the Epanchin household in the spring, so that it was not difficult to forget the prince, who sent no news of himself.
“What have you done now?” said Varia to Gania. “He’ll probably be making off _there_ again! What a disgrace it all is!”The prince frowned for a moment in silence, and then said suddenly:
“What was I to draw? According to the lines she quoted:
“What was I to draw? According to the lines she quoted:
“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?”
“I don’t love you a bit!” she said suddenly, just as though the words had exploded from her mouth.
We may remark here that not only the Epanchins themselves, but all who had anything to do with them, thought it right to break with the prince in consequence of his conduct. Prince S. even went so far as to turn away and cut him dead in the street. But Evgenie Pavlovitch was not afraid to compromise himself by paying the prince a visit, and did so, in spite of the fact that he had recommenced to visit at the Epanchins’, where he was received with redoubled hospitality and kindness after the temporary estrangement.
Hippolyte rose all at once, looking troubled and almost frightened.
At length he observed, to his amazement, that all had taken their seats again, and were laughing and talking as though nothing had happened. Another minute and the laughter grew louder--they were laughing at him, at his dumb stupor--laughing kindly and merrily. Several of them spoke to him, and spoke so kindly and cordially, especially Lizabetha Prokofievna--she was saying the kindest possible things to him.
“Drink some water, and don’t look like that!”“Ye-yes.”
She had then asked him to play cards--the game called “little fools.” At this game the tables were turned completely, for the prince had shown himself a master at it. Aglaya had cheated and changed cards, and stolen others, in the most bare-faced way, but, in spite of everything the prince had beaten her hopelessly five times running, and she had been left “little fool” each time.
“I wouldn’t mind betting, prince,” he cried, “that you did not in the least mean to say that, and very likely you meant to address someone else altogether. What is it? Are you feeling unwell or anything?”“As to life in a prison, of course there may be two opinions,” said the prince. “I once heard the story of a man who lived twelve years in a prison--I heard it from the man himself. He was one of the persons under treatment with my professor; he had fits, and attacks of melancholy, then he would weep, and once he tried to commit suicide. _His_ life in prison was sad enough; his only acquaintances were spiders and a tree that grew outside his grating--but I think I had better tell you of another man I met last year. There was a very strange feature in this case, strange because of its extremely rare occurrence. This man had once been brought to the scaffold in company with several others, and had had the sentence of death by shooting passed upon him for some political crime. Twenty minutes later he had been reprieved and some other punishment substituted; but the interval between the two sentences, twenty minutes, or at least a quarter of an hour, had been passed in the certainty that within a few minutes he must die. I was very anxious to hear him speak of his impressions during that dreadful time, and I several times inquired of him as to what he thought and felt. He remembered everything with the most accurate and extraordinary distinctness, and declared that he would never forget a single iota of the experience.“What? What hopes?” cried Colia; “you surely don’t mean Aglaya?--oh, no!--”“And now it is you who have brought them together again?”
“It’s a lovely carriage,” said Adelaida.“I might have been surprised (though I admit I know nothing of the world), not only that you should have stayed on just now in the company of such people as myself and my friends, who are not of your class, but that you should let these... young ladies listen to such a scandalous affair, though no doubt novel-reading has taught them all there is to know. I may be mistaken; I hardly know what I am saying; but surely no one but you would have stayed to please a whippersnapper (yes, a whippersnapper; I admit it) to spend the evening and take part in everything--only to be ashamed of it tomorrow. (I know I express myself badly.) I admire and appreciate it all extremely, though the expression on the face of his excellency, your husband, shows that he thinks it very improper. He-he!” He burst out laughing, and was seized with a fit of coughing which lasted for two minutes and prevented him from speaking.
“Schneider said that I did the children great harm by my pernicious ‘system’; what nonsense that was! And what did he mean by my system? He said afterwards that he believed I was a child myself--just before I came away. ‘You have the form and face of an adult’ he said, ‘but as regards soul, and character, and perhaps even intelligence, you are a child in the completest sense of the word, and always will be, if you live to be sixty.’ I laughed very much, for of course that is nonsense. But it is a fact that I do not care to be among grown-up people and much prefer the society of children. However kind people may be to me, I never feel quite at home with them, and am always glad to get back to my little companions. Now my companions have always been children, not because I was a child myself once, but because young things attract me. On one of the first days of my stay in Switzerland, I was strolling about alone and miserable, when I came upon the children rushing noisily out of school, with their slates and bags, and books, their games, their laughter and shouts--and my soul went out to them. I stopped and laughed happily as I watched their little feet moving so quickly. Girls and boys, laughing and crying; for as they went home many of them found time to fight and make peace, to weep and play. I forgot my troubles in looking at them. And then, all those three years, I tried to understand why men should be for ever tormenting themselves. I lived the life of a child there, and thought I should never leave the little village; indeed, I was far from thinking that I should ever return to Russia. But at last I recognized the fact that Schneider could not keep me any longer. And then something so important happened, that Schneider himself urged me to depart. I am going to see now if can get good advice about it. Perhaps my lot in life will be changed; but that is not the principal thing. The principal thing is the entire change that has already come over me. I left many things behind me--too many. They have gone. On the journey I said to myself, ‘I am going into the world of men. I don’t know much, perhaps, but a new life has begun for me.’ I made up my mind to be honest, and steadfast in accomplishing my task. Perhaps I shall meet with troubles and many disappointments, but I have made up my mind to be polite and sincere to everyone; more cannot be asked of me. People may consider me a child if they like. I am often called an idiot, and at one time I certainly was so ill that I was nearly as bad as an idiot; but I am not an idiot now. How can I possibly be so when I know myself that I am considered one?
Lizabetha Prokofievna, when she saw poor Muishkin, in his enfeebled and humiliated condition, had wept bitterly. Apparently all was forgiven him.
Nastasia must have overheard both question and reply, but her vivacity was not in the least damped. On the contrary, it seemed to increase. She immediately overwhelmed the general once more with questions, and within five minutes that gentleman was as happy as a king, and holding forth at the top of his voice, amid the laughter of almost all who heard him.
“Yes, it’s a droll situation; I really don’t know what advice to give you,” replied Evgenie, laughing. Hippolyte gazed steadfastly at him, but said nothing. To look at him one might have supposed that he was unconscious at intervals.
Poor Lizabetha Prokofievna was most anxious to get home, and, according to Evgenie’s account, she criticized everything foreign with much hostility.“How so? What in?”“Then I began to talk about faces, at least about the _expressions_ of faces, and said that Aglaya Ivanovna was nearly as lovely as Nastasia Philipovna. It was then I blurted out about the portrait--”The general was much astonished.
This idea was, that if Rogojin were in Petersburg, though he might hide for a time, yet he was quite sure to come to him--the prince--before long, with either good or evil intentions, but probably with the same intention as on that other occasion. At all events, if Rogojin were to come at all he would be sure to seek the prince here--he had no other town address--perhaps in this same corridor; he might well seek him here if he needed him. And perhaps he did need him. This idea seemed quite natural to the prince, though he could not have explained why he should so suddenly have become necessary to Rogojin. Rogojin would not come if all were well with him, that was part of the thought; he would come if all were not well; and certainly, undoubtedly, all would not be well with him. The prince could not bear this new idea; he took his hat and rushed out towards the street. It was almost dark in the passage.
“Then how Schneider told me about my childish nature, and--”
“Now tell us about your love affairs,” said Adelaida, after a moment’s pause.
“I should like you,” she said, “not to come here tomorrow until evening, when the guests are all assembled. You know there are to be guests, don’t you?”
“My dear young friend, you have hit on my very idea. It was not for this rubbish I asked you to come over here” (he pocketed the money, however, at this point), “it was to invite your alliance in the campaign against Nastasia Philipovna tonight. How well it sounds, ‘General Ivolgin and Prince Muishkin.’ That’ll fetch her, I think, eh? Capital! We’ll go at nine; there’s time yet.”
“What is it?” asked the actress.
“Perhaps then I am anxious to take advantage of my last chance of doing something for myself. A protest is sometimes no small thing.”“Very likely, extremely likely, and you must be a very close observer to detect the fact that perhaps I did not intend to come up to _you_ at all.”
“This is your doing, prince,” said Gania, turning on the latter so soon as the others were all out of the room. “This is your doing, sir! _You_ have been telling them that I am going to be married!” He said this in a hurried whisper, his eyes flashing with rage and his face ablaze. “You shameless tattler!”
“He actually seems to boast of it!” she cried.
V.“Whom did you hear it from?” asked Aglaya, alarmed. “Rogojin said something about it yesterday, but nothing definite.”
“Wait five minutes more, Mr. Burdovsky,” said Gavrila Ardalionovitch pleasantly. “I have more to say. Some rather curious and important facts have come to light, and it is absolutely necessary, in my opinion, that you should hear them. You will not regret, I fancy, to have the whole matter thoroughly cleared up.”
“Well, meanwhile that sick boy was brought here, and those guests came in, and we had tea, and--well, we made merry--to my ruin! Hearing of your birthday afterwards, and excited with the circumstances of the evening, I ran upstairs and changed my plain clothes once more for my uniform [Civil Service clerks in Russia wear uniform.]--you must have noticed I had my uniform on all the evening? Well, I forgot the money in the pocket of my old coat--you know when God will ruin a man he first of all bereaves him of his senses--and it was only this morning at half-past seven that I woke up and grabbed at my coat pocket, first thing. The pocket was empty--the purse gone, and not a trace to be found!”
“Halloa! what’s this now?” laughed Rogojin. “You come along with me, old fellow! You shall have as much to drink as you like.”“There’s nothing there except this,” said Colia, returning at this moment. “Where did you put it?”“Our Russian intensity not only astonishes ourselves; all Europe wonders at our conduct in such cases! For, if one of us goes over to Roman Catholicism, he is sure to become a Jesuit at once, and a rabid one into the bargain. If one of us becomes an Atheist, he must needs begin to insist on the prohibition of faith in God by force, that is, by the sword. Why is this? Why does he then exceed all bounds at once? Because he has found land at last, the fatherland that he sought in vain before; and, because his soul is rejoiced to find it, he throws himself upon it and kisses it! Oh, it is not from vanity alone, it is not from feelings of vanity that Russians become Atheists and Jesuits! But from spiritual thirst, from anguish of longing for higher things, for dry firm land, for foothold on a fatherland which they never believed in because they never knew it. It is easier for a Russian to become an Atheist, than for any other nationality in the world. And not only does a Russian ‘become an Atheist,’ but he actually _believes in_ Atheism, just as though he had found a new faith, not perceiving that he has pinned his faith to a negation. Such is our anguish of thirst! ‘Whoso has no country has no God.’ That is not my own expression; it is the expression of a merchant, one of the Old Believers, whom I once met while travelling. He did not say exactly these words. I think his expression was:The boxer was dying to get in a few words; owing, no doubt, to the presence of the ladies, he was becoming quite jovial.
“And I have heard of _you_,” continued the prince, addressing Ivan Petrovitch, “that when some of your villagers were burned out you gave them wood to build up their houses again, though they were no longer your serfs and had behaved badly towards you.”
At length she plunged into an energetic and hostile criticism of railways, and glared at the prince defiantly.