“Yes, it was a beautiful turn-out, certainly!”“Very well then, a _hundred_ thousand! a hundred thousand! paid this very day. Ptitsin! find it for me. A good share shall stick to your fingers--come!”PART III“I should think so, rather! I was not going to return and confess next day,” laughed Ferdishenko, who seemed a little surprised at the disagreeable impression which his story had made on all parties.
Lizabetha Prokofievna received confirmatory news from the princess--and alas, two months after the prince’s first departure from St. Petersburg, darkness and mystery once more enveloped his whereabouts and actions, and in the Epanchin family the ice of silence once more formed over the subject. Varia, however, informed the girls of what had happened, she having received the news from Ptitsin, who generally knew more than most people.“Go on! Go on! Nobody is going to interrupt you!” cried several voices.
“A lodger here,” continued the other, staring as before.
While Gania put this question, a new idea suddenly flashed into his brain, and blazed out, impatiently, in his eyes. The general, who was really agitated and disturbed, looked at the prince too, but did not seem to expect much from his reply.
“Aglaya Ivanovna told me--”“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.But there was another question, which terrified him considerably, and that was: what was he going to do when he _did_ get in? And to this question he could fashion no satisfactory reply.
Some of the passengers by this particular train were returning from abroad; but the third-class carriages were the best filled, chiefly with insignificant persons of various occupations and degrees, picked up at the different stations nearer town. All of them seemed weary, and most of them had sleepy eyes and a shivering expression, while their complexions generally appeared to have taken on the colour of the fog outside.
“You are going to Pavlofsk too?” asked the prince sharply. “Everybody seems to be going there. Have you a house in that neighbourhood?”
“A lodger here,” continued the other, staring as before.
But Rogojin understood how things were tending, at last. An inexpressibly painful expression came over his face. He wrung his hands; a groan made its way up from the depths of his soul.
“Yes, it shows delicacy and intelligence on your part.”
But there was something in the appearance of both the ladies and their admirers which was peculiar, quite different for that of the rest of the public assembled around the orchestra.
“But let these thirsty Russian souls find, like Columbus’ discoverers, a new world; let them find the Russian world, let them search and discover all the gold and treasure that lies hid in the bosom of their own land! Show them the restitution of lost humanity, in the future, by Russian thought alone, and by means of the God and of the Christ of our Russian faith, and you will see how mighty and just and wise and good a giant will rise up before the eyes of the astonished and frightened world; astonished because they expect nothing but the sword from us, because they think they will get nothing out of us but barbarism. This has been the case up to now, and the longer matters go on as they are now proceeding, the more clear will be the truth of what I say; and I--”
The explanation was finished; Hippolyte paused at last.
Rogojin raised his eyes and gazed intently at the prince.However, I hope I shall not interfere with the proper sequence of my narrative too much, if I diverge for a moment at this point, in order to explain the mutual relations between General Epanchin’s family and others acting a part in this history, at the time when we take up the thread of their destiny. I have already stated that the general, though he was a man of lowly origin, and of poor education, was, for all that, an experienced and talented husband and father. Among other things, he considered it undesirable to hurry his daughters to the matrimonial altar and to worry them too much with assurances of his paternal wishes for their happiness, as is the custom among parents of many grown-up daughters. He even succeeded in ranging his wife on his side on this question, though he found the feat very difficult to accomplish, because unnatural; but the general’s arguments were conclusive, and founded upon obvious facts. The general considered that the girls’ taste and good sense should be allowed to develop and mature deliberately, and that the parents’ duty should merely be to keep watch, in order that no strange or undesirable choice be made; but that the selection once effected, both father and mother were bound from that moment to enter heart and soul into the cause, and to see that the matter progressed without hindrance until the altar should be happily reached.
Rogojin was not smiling now; he sat and listened with folded arms, and lips tight compressed.“Excellency,” he said, impulsively, “if you want a reliable man for the night, I am ready to sacrifice myself for my friend--such a soul as he has! I have long thought him a great man, excellency! My article showed my lack of education, but when he criticizes he scatters pearls!”
“We have done without him so far,” interrupted Adelaida in her turn. “Surely we can wait until to-morrow.”“However, I bear you no grudge,” said Hippolyte suddenly, and, hardly conscious of what he was doing, he held out his hand with a smile. The gesture took Evgenie Pavlovitch by surprise, but with the utmost gravity he touched the hand that was offered him in token of forgiveness.
Oh, how frightened he was of looking to one side--one particular corner--whence he knew very well that a pair of dark eyes were watching him intently, and how happy he was to think that he was once more among them, and occasionally hearing that well-known voice, although she had written and forbidden him to come again!
“Oh, yes--I know what count you’re going to see!” remarked his wife in a cutting manner, as she turned her angry eyes on the prince. “Now then, what’s all this about?--What abbot--Who’s Pafnute?” she added, brusquely.“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?”
The general, who had been talking to his chief up to this moment, had observed the prince’s solitude and silence, and was anxious to draw him into the conversation, and so introduce him again to the notice of some of the important personages.
“It is most offensive!” shrieked Hippolyte; “it is an insulting suggestion, false, and most ill-timed.”
She was astonished and vexed, and her disappointment pleased Colia immensely. Of course he could have undeceived her before she started, but the mischievous boy had been careful not to do that, foreseeing the probably laughable disgust that she would experience when she found her dear friend, the prince, in good health. Colia was indelicate enough to voice the delight he felt at his success in managing to annoy Lizabetha Prokofievna, with whom, in spite of their really amicable relations, he was constantly sparring.“My father was just about to be tried when he died,” said the prince, “although I never knew of what he was accused. He died in hospital.”“‘How dare you come in so? Be off!’ he shouted, trembling all over with rage and scarcely able to articulate the words. Suddenly, however, he observed his pocketbook in my hand.
“Yes--she’s mad!” he whispered, growing pale.
The heavy curtain was drawn now, and it was very dark. The bright Petersburg summer nights were already beginning to close in, and but for the full moon, it would have been difficult to distinguish anything in Rogojin’s dismal room, with the drawn blinds. They could just see one anothers faces, however, though not in detail. Rogojin’s face was white, as usual. His glittering eyes watched the prince with an intent stare.
“Do you know anything about Gavrila Ardalionovitch?” she asked at last.
Next day, she took it out, and put it into a large book, as she usually did with papers which she wanted to be able to find easily. She laughed when, about a week later, she happened to notice the name of the book, and saw that it was Don Quixote, but it would be difficult to say exactly why.
“I do desire it,” murmured Gania, softly but firmly, lowering his eyes; and he relapsed into gloomy silence.
“Come, come, Lebedeff, no sarcasm! It’s a serious--”
“Your philosophy is rather like that of an old woman we know, who is rich and yet does nothing but try how little she can spend. She talks of nothing but money all day. Your great philosophical idea of a grand life in a prison and your four happy years in that Swiss village are like this, rather,” said Aglaya.
“Prince! Money! Why I would give that man not only my money, but my very life, if he wanted it. Well, perhaps that’s exaggeration; not life, we’ll say, but some illness, a boil or a bad cough, or anything of that sort, I would stand with pleasure, for his sake; for I consider him a great man fallen--money, indeed!”
In another moment, of course, the police would have been on the spot, and it would have gone hard with Nastasia Philipovna had not unexpected aid appeared.
“Nastasia Philipovna, is this really you? You, once so refined and delicate of speech. Oh, what a tongue! What dreadful things you are saying,” cried the general, wringing his hands in real grief.“Why? Her face is clear enough, isn’t it?”“I’ll tell you. In the first place he must immediately deliver up the pistol which he boasted of, with all its appurtenances. If he does this I shall consent to his being allowed to spend the night in this house--considering his feeble state of health, and of course conditionally upon his being under proper supervision. But tomorrow he must go elsewhere. Excuse me, prince! Should he refuse to deliver up his weapon, then I shall instantly seize one of his arms and General Ivolgin the other, and we shall hold him until the police arrive and take the matter into their own hands. Mr. Ferdishenko will kindly fetch them.”“H’m!--no, I’m not afraid of that, you see; I have to announce you, that’s all. The secretary will be out directly--that is, unless you--yes, that’s the rub--unless you--come, you must allow me to ask you--you’ve not come to beg, have you?”
Hippolyte frowned gloomily.
“Do you think I am deceiving you?” asked the prince.
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.“Oh, you must forgive him the blank wall,” said the prince, quietly. “He has come down to see a few trees now, poor fellow.”
Nastasia Philipovna was at this moment passing the young ladies’ chairs.
“Ah, general!” she cried, “I was forgetting! If I had only foreseen this unpleasantness! I won’t insist on keeping you against your will, although I should have liked you to be beside me now. In any case, I am most grateful to you for your visit, and flattering attention... but if you are afraid...”
He was tired of solitude now; a new rush of feeling took hold of him, and a flood of light chased away the gloom, for a moment, from his soul. He took a ticket to Pavlofsk, and determined to get there as fast as he could, but something stopped him; a reality, and not a fantasy, as he was inclined to think it. He was about to take his place in a carriage, when he suddenly threw away his ticket and came out again, disturbed and thoughtful. A few moments later, in the street, he recalled something that had bothered him all the afternoon. He caught himself engaged in a strange occupation which he now recollected he had taken up at odd moments for the last few hours--it was looking about all around him for something, he did not know what. He had forgotten it for a while, half an hour or so, and now, suddenly, the uneasy search had recommenced.
“Probably an honest girl living by her own toil. Why do you speak of a housemaid so contemptuously?”If anyone had come up at this moment and told him that he was in love, passionately in love, he would have rejected the idea with astonishment, and, perhaps, with irritation. And if anyone had added that Aglaya’s note was a love-letter, and that it contained an appointment to a lover’s rendezvous, he would have blushed with shame for the speaker, and, probably, have challenged him to a duel.“You are altogether perfection; even your pallor and thinness are perfect; one could not wish you otherwise. I did so wish to come and see you. I--forgive me, please--”