“Pleasant dreams then--ha, ha!”
“Allow me!”“DEAR COLIA,--Please be so kind as to give the enclosed sealed letter to Aglaya Ivanovna. Keep well--Ever your loving,So saying she gazed into his eyes, longing to see whether she could make any guess as to the explanation of his motive in coming to her house. The prince would very likely have made some reply to her kind words, but he was so dazzled by her appearance that he could not speak.“Ye-yes.”
“‘Tis he, ‘tis he!” he said at last, quietly, but with much solemnity. “As though he were alive once more. I heard the familiar name--the dear familiar name--and, oh! how it reminded me of the irrevocable past--Prince Muishkin, I believe?”
“Have you quite taken up your quarters here?” asked the prince
“The prince is formally engaged to her--that’s settled. The elder sisters told me about it. Aglaya has agreed. They don’t attempt to conceal it any longer; you know how mysterious and secret they have all been up to now. Adelaida’s wedding is put off again, so that both can be married on one day. Isn’t that delightfully romantic? Somebody ought to write a poem on it. Sit down and write an ode instead of tearing up and down like that. This evening Princess Bielokonski is to arrive; she comes just in time--they have a party tonight. He is to be presented to old Bielokonski, though I believe he knows her already; probably the engagement will be openly announced. They are only afraid that he may knock something down, or trip over something when he comes into the room. It would be just like him.”
“Alexandra Michailovna out, too! How disappointing! Would you believe it, I am always so unfortunate! May I most respectfully ask you to present my compliments to Alexandra Michailovna, and remind her... tell her, that with my whole heart I wish for her what she wished for herself on Thursday evening, while she was listening to Chopin’s Ballade. She will remember. I wish it with all sincerity. General Ivolgin and Prince Muishkin!”
“Gentlemen--” began the prince.
“Is it jolly there?”“The vase certainly was a very beautiful one. I remember it here for fifteen years--yes, quite that!” remarked Ivan Petrovitch.Totski took his hat and rose to go. He and the general exchanged glances, making a private arrangement, thereby, to leave the house together.
“Only because I seem to be giving you a lecture, all the time!”“I would much rather not, just now,” said the prince, a little disturbed and frowning slightly.“You saw me as a child!” exclaimed the prince, with surprise.
At this moment Lebedeff appeared, having just arrived from Petersburg. He frowned when he saw the twenty-five rouble note in Keller’s hand, but the latter, having got the money, went away at once. Lebedeff began to abuse him.
It is true that they used to sit in the little summer-house together for an hour or two at a time, very often, but it was observed that on these occasions the prince would read the paper, or some book, aloud to Aglaya.
“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.”
All the guests were known to the prince; but the curious part of the matter was that they had all arrived on the same evening, as though with one accord, although he had only himself recollected the fact that it was his birthday a few moments since.
As for Hippolyte, their effect upon him was astounding. He trembled so that the prince was obliged to support him, and would certainly have cried out, but that his voice seemed to have entirely left him for the moment. For a minute or two he could not speak at all, but panted and stared at Rogojin. At last he managed to ejaculate:
“Oh, but I haven’t the slightest doubt that you did come to pump me,” said the prince, laughing himself, at last; “and I dare say you are quite prepared to deceive me too, so far as that goes. But what of that? I’m not afraid of you; besides, you’ll hardly believe it, I feel as though I really didn’t care a scrap one way or the other, just now!--And--and--and as you are a capital fellow, I am convinced of that, I dare say we really shall end by being good friends. I like you very much Evgenie Pavlovitch; I consider you a very good fellow indeed.”
“Oh! it was the Kolpakoff business, and of course he would have been acquitted.”
“Of course he never existed!” Gania interrupted.
“Oh, I assure you I’ve lots of time, my time is entirely my own!” And the prince immediately replaced his soft, round hat on the table. “I confess, I thought Elizabetha Prokofievna would very likely remember that I had written her a letter. Just now your servant--outside there--was dreadfully suspicious that I had come to beg of you. I noticed that! Probably he has very strict instructions on that score; but I assure you I did not come to beg. I came to make some friends. But I am rather bothered at having disturbed you; that’s all I care about.--”“Is it certainly accursed?... or do you only mean it might be? That is an important point,” said Evgenie Pavlovitch.“Oh, my dear fellow,” cried Evgenie, warmly, with real sorrow in his voice, “how could you permit all that to come about as it has? Of course, of course, I know it was all so unexpected. I admit that you, only naturally, lost your head, and--and could not stop the foolish girl; that was not in your power. I quite see so much; but you really should have understood how seriously she cared for you. She could not bear to share you with another; and you could bring yourself to throw away and shatter such a treasure! Oh, prince, prince!”
Breath failed him here, and he was obliged to stop.“That is true,” said the prince, “I have thought so myself. And yet, why shouldn’t one do it?”
The whole of Rogojin’s being was concentrated in one rapturous gaze of ecstasy. He could not take his eyes off Nastasia. He stood drinking her in, as it were. He was in the seventh heaven of delight.“Now, go away, I don’t wish to have your arm any longer; or perhaps, better, continue to give me your arm, and walk along beside me, but don’t speak a word to me. I wish to think by myself.”
“He’s sitting there over his bottle--and how they can give him credit, I cannot understand. Don’t tell mother I brought you the note, prince; I have sworn not to do it a thousand times, but I’m always so sorry for him. Don’t stand on ceremony, give him some trifle, and let that end it.”“I quite agree with you there!” said Prince S., laughing.
All present exchanged looks of surprise.
“But he has never even--”
(Lizabetha Prokofievna felt that this might be the case, and she didn’t like it; though very probably she could not have put the idea into words.)“At all events, I must request you to step into the salon,” said Gania, his rage rising quite out of proportion to his words, “and then I shall inquire--”
“My conclusion is vast,” replied Lebedeff, in a voice like thunder. “Let us examine first the psychological and legal position of the criminal. We see that in spite of the difficulty of finding other food, the accused, or, as we may say, my client, has often during his peculiar life exhibited signs of repentance, and of wishing to give up this clerical diet. Incontrovertible facts prove this assertion. He has eaten five or six children, a relatively insignificant number, no doubt, but remarkable enough from another point of view. It is manifest that, pricked by remorse--for my client is religious, in his way, and has a conscience, as I shall prove later--and desiring to extenuate his sin as far as possible, he has tried six times at least to substitute lay nourishment for clerical. That this was merely an experiment we can hardly doubt: for if it had been only a question of gastronomic variety, six would have been too few; why only six? Why not thirty? But if we regard it as an experiment, inspired by the fear of committing new sacrilege, then this number six becomes intelligible. Six attempts to calm his remorse, and the pricking of his conscience, would amply suffice, for these attempts could scarcely have been happy ones. In my humble opinion, a child is too small; I should say, not sufficient; which would result in four or five times more lay children than monks being required in a given time. The sin, lessened on the one hand, would therefore be increased on the other, in quantity, not in quality. Please understand, gentlemen, that in reasoning thus, I am taking the point of view which might have been taken by a criminal of the middle ages. As for myself, a man of the late nineteenth century, I, of course, should reason differently; I say so plainly, and therefore you need not jeer at me nor mock me, gentlemen. As for you, general, it is still more unbecoming on your part. In the second place, and giving my own personal opinion, a child’s flesh is not a satisfying diet; it is too insipid, too sweet; and the criminal, in making these experiments, could have satisfied neither his conscience nor his appetite. I am about to conclude, gentlemen; and my conclusion contains a reply to one of the most important questions of that day and of our own! This criminal ended at last by denouncing himself to the clergy, and giving himself up to justice. We cannot but ask, remembering the penal system of that day, and the tortures that awaited him--the wheel, the stake, the fire!--we cannot but ask, I repeat, what induced him to accuse himself of this crime? Why did he not simply stop short at the number sixty, and keep his secret until his last breath? Why could he not simply leave the monks alone, and go into the desert to repent? Or why not become a monk himself? That is where the puzzle comes in! There must have been something stronger than the stake or the fire, or even than the habits of twenty years! There must have been an idea more powerful than all the calamities and sorrows of this world, famine or torture, leprosy or plague--an idea which entered into the heart, directed and enlarged the springs of life, and made even that hell supportable to humanity! Show me a force, a power like that, in this our century of vices and railways! I might say, perhaps, in our century of steamboats and railways, but I repeat in our century of vices and railways, because I am drunk but truthful! Show me a single idea which unites men nowadays with half the strength that it had in those centuries, and dare to maintain that the ‘springs of life’ have not been polluted and weakened beneath this ‘star,’ beneath this network in which men are entangled! Don’t talk to me about your prosperity, your riches, the rarity of famine, the rapidity of the means of transport! There is more of riches, but less of force. The idea uniting heart and soul to heart and soul exists no more. All is loose, soft, limp--we are all of us limp.... Enough, gentlemen! I have done. That is not the question. No, the question is now, excellency, I believe, to sit down to the banquet you are about to provide for us!”
“Prince,” he said, with feeling, “I was a blackguard. Forgive me!” His face gave evidence of suffering. The prince was considerably amazed, and did not reply at once. “Oh, come, forgive me, forgive me!” Gania insisted, rather impatiently. “If you like, I’ll kiss your hand. There!”
“This--this is going beyond all limits!” said Lizabetha Prokofievna, suddenly alarmed.
“What on earth is the matter with the boy? What phenomenal feeble-mindedness!” exclaimed Ferdishenko.“You know, father, you would have done much better not to come at all! She is ready to eat you up! You have not shown yourself since the day before yesterday and she is expecting the money. Why did you promise her any? You are always the same! Well, now you will have to get out of it as best you can.”
Besides the elevated and more solid individuals enumerated, there were present a few younger though not less elegant guests. Besides Prince S. and Evgenie Pavlovitch, we must name the eminent and fascinating Prince N.--once the vanquisher of female hearts all over Europe. This gentleman was no longer in the first bloom of youth--he was forty-five, but still very handsome. He was well off, and lived, as a rule, abroad, and was noted as a good teller of stories. Then came a few guests belonging to a lower stratum of society--people who, like the Epanchins themselves, moved only occasionally in this exalted sphere. The Epanchins liked to draft among their more elevated guests a few picked representatives of this lower stratum, and Lizabetha Prokofievna received much praise for this practice, which proved, her friends said, that she was a woman of tact. The Epanchins prided themselves upon the good opinion people held of them.“Prince, I wish to place myself in a respectable position--I wish to esteem myself--and to--”Madame Filisoff was a little woman of forty, with a cunning face, and crafty, piercing eyes. When, with an air of mystery, she asked her visitor’s name, he refused at first to answer, but in a moment he changed his mind, and left strict instructions that it should be given to Nastasia Philipovna. The urgency of his request seemed to impress Madame Filisoff, and she put on a knowing expression, as if to say, “You need not be afraid, I quite understand.” The prince’s name evidently was a great surprise to her. He stood and looked absently at her for a moment, then turned, and took the road back to his hotel. But he went away not as he came. A great change had suddenly come over him. He went blindly forward; his knees shook under him; he was tormented by “ideas”; his lips were blue, and trembled with a feeble, meaningless smile. His demon was upon him once more.
“Oh yes, of course, on purpose! I quite understand.”
“My lady! my sovereign!” lamented Lebedeff, falling on his knees before Nastasia Philipovna, and stretching out his hands towards the fire; “it’s a hundred thousand roubles, it is indeed, I packed it up myself, I saw the money! My queen, let me get into the fire after it--say the word--I’ll put my whole grey head into the fire for it! I have a poor lame wife and thirteen children. My father died of starvation last week. Nastasia Philipovna, Nastasia Philipovna!” The wretched little man wept, and groaned, and crawled towards the fire.
“I don’t wish to joke with you, Lef Nicolaievitch. I shall see Hippolyte myself. Tell him so. As for you, I think you are behaving very badly, because it is not right to judge a man’s soul as you are judging Hippolyte’s. You have no gentleness, but only justice--so you are unjust.”
At last the prince came out of the dark, gloomy park, in which he had wandered about for hours just as yesterday. The bright night seemed to him to be lighter than ever. “It must be quite early,” he thought. (He had forgotten his watch.) There was a sound of distant music somewhere. “Ah,” he thought, “the Vauxhall! They won’t be there today, of course!” At this moment he noticed that he was close to their house; he had felt that he must gravitate to this spot eventually, and, with a beating heart, he mounted the verandah steps.
His first word was to inquire after Evgenie Pavlovitch. But Lizabetha stalked past him, and neither looked at him nor answered his question.“Bosh! there are plenty of Nastasia Philipovnas. And what an impertinent beast you are!” he added angrily. “I thought some creature like you would hang on to me as soon as I got hold of my money.”
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.
“Out. Well--what has happened?--go on.”
“You cannot really feel like that! You don’t mean what you say. It is not true,” he murmured.“It is revolting and unseemly!” cried Hippolyte, jumping up in a fury.
Evgenie Pavlovitch gazed at him in real surprise, and this time his expression of face had no mockery in it whatever.
“Did not you ask me the question seriously” inquired the prince, in amazement.