“‘Dead Souls,’ yes, of course, dead. When I die, Colia, you must engrave on my tomb:
“Oho! we’ll make Nastasia Philipovna sing another song now!” giggled Lebedeff, rubbing his hands with glee. “Hey, my boy, we’ll get her some proper earrings now! We’ll get her such earrings that--”
“Gavrila Ardalionovitch begged me to give you this,” he said, handing her the note.
“Well, prince, to do you justice, you certainly know how to make the most of your--let us call it infirmity, for the sake of politeness; you have set about offering your money and friendship in such a way that no self-respecting man could possibly accept them. This is an excess of ingenuousness or of malice--you ought to know better than anyone which word best fits the case.”
But as we said before, the fact of Adelaida’s approaching marriage was balm to the mother. For a whole month she forgot her fears and worries.
“You see, Lebedeff, a mistake here would be a dreadful thing. This Ferdishenko, I would not say a word against him, of course; but, who knows? Perhaps it really was he? I mean he really does seem to be a more likely man than... than any other.”
“Vera Lukianovna,” said Hippolyte, “toss it, will you? Heads, I read, tails, I don’t.”
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.
“Then why did--”
“Come back, father; the neighbours will hear!” cried Varia.
He said the last words nervously.
“Yes, I came for her sake.”
“Yes, quite so; very remarkable.”
“Well--it’s all most strange to me. That is--my dear fellow, it is such a surprise--such a blow--that... You see, it is not your financial position (though I should not object if you were a bit richer)--I am thinking of my daughter’s happiness, of course, and the thing is--are you able to give her the happiness she deserves? And then--is all this a joke on her part, or is she in earnest? I don’t mean on your side, but on hers.”
Rogojin listened to the prince’s excited words with a bitter smile. His conviction was, apparently, unalterable.
“Here are twenty-five roubles, Marfa Borisovna... it is all that I can give... and I owe even these to the prince’s generosity--my noble friend. I have been cruelly deceived. Such is... life... Now... Excuse me, I am very weak,” he continued, standing in the centre of the room, and bowing to all sides. “I am faint; excuse me! Lenotchka... a cushion... my dear!”
The room they were now sitting in was a large one, lofty but dark, well furnished, principally with writing-tables and desks covered with papers and books. A wide sofa covered with red morocco evidently served Rogojin for a bed. On the table beside which the prince had been invited to seat himself lay some books; one containing a marker where the reader had left off, was a volume of Solovieff’s History. Some oil-paintings in worn gilded frames hung on the walls, but it was impossible to make out what subjects they represented, so blackened were they by smoke and age. One, a life-sized portrait, attracted the prince’s attention. It showed a man of about fifty, wearing a long riding-coat of German cut. He had two medals on his breast; his beard was white, short and thin; his face yellow and wrinkled, with a sly, suspicious expression in the eyes.
“Pardon me, it is no offence to wish to know this; you are her mother. We met at the green bench this morning, punctually at seven o’clock,--according to an agreement made by Aglaya Ivanovna with myself yesterday. She said that she wished to see me and speak to me about something important. We met and conversed for an hour about matters concerning Aglaya Ivanovna herself, and that’s all.”
“Directly! There, that’s enough. I’ll lie down directly. I must drink to the sun’s health. I wish to--I insist upon it! Let go!”
“Feeds me? Go on. Don’t stand on ceremony, pray.”
“Have you always lived at home, Aglaya Ivanovna?” he asked. “I mean, have you never been to school, or college, or anything?”
“What is that?” asked Nastasia Philipovna, gazing intently at Rogojin, and indicating the paper packet.
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.
“Gentlemen, gentlemen! I am about to break the seal,” he continued, with determination. “I--I--of course I don’t insist upon anyone listening if they do not wish to.”
“Can’t you even load a pistol?”
Arrived at her own house, Varia heard a considerable commotion going on in the upper storey, and distinguished the voices of her father and brother. On entering the salon she found Gania pacing up and down at frantic speed, pale with rage and almost tearing his hair. She frowned, and subsided on to the sofa with a tired air, and without taking the trouble to remove her hat. She very well knew that if she kept quiet and asked her brother nothing about his reason for tearing up and down the room, his wrath would fall upon her head. So she hastened to put the question:
That month in the provinces, when he had seen this woman nearly every day, had affected him so deeply that he could not now look back upon it calmly. In the very look of this woman there was something which tortured him. In conversation with Rogojin he had attributed this sensation to pity--immeasurable pity, and this was the truth. The sight of the portrait face alone had filled his heart full of the agony of real sympathy; and this feeling of sympathy, nay, of actual _suffering_, for her, had never left his heart since that hour, and was still in full force. Oh yes, and more powerful than ever!
“Oh, if you could know all!”
As before, Rogojin walked in advance of his troop, who followed him with mingled self-assertion and timidity. They were specially frightened of Nastasia Philipovna herself, for some reason.
“God bless you, dear boy, for being respectful to a disgraced man. Yes, to a poor disgraced old fellow, your father. You shall have such a son yourself; le roi de Rome. Oh, curses on this house!”
“I did not expect that of you, Aglaya,” she said. “He is an impossible husband for you,--I know it; and thank God that we agree upon that point; but I did not expect to hear such words from you. I thought I should hear a very different tone from you. I would have turned out everyone who was in the room last night and kept him,--that’s the sort of man he is, in my opinion!”
“Yes--yes, quite so; you are quite right. I wished to see Aglaya Ivanovna, you know!” said the prince, nodding his head.
“I hinted nothing to him about my ‘final conviction,’ but it appeared to me that he had guessed it from my words. He remained silent--he is a terribly silent man. I remarked to him, as I rose to depart, that, in spite of the contrast and the wide differences between us two, les extremites se touchent [‘extremes meet,’ as I explained to him in Russian); so that maybe he was not so far from my final conviction as appeared.
“No--never--nowhere! I’ve been at home all my life, corked up in a bottle; and they expect me to be married straight out of it. What are you laughing at again? I observe that you, too, have taken to laughing at me, and range yourself on their side against me,” she added, frowning angrily. “Don’t irritate me--I’m bad enough without that--I don’t know what I am doing sometimes. I am persuaded that you came here today in the full belief that I am in love with you, and that I arranged this meeting because of that,” she cried, with annoyance.
“Calm yourself, my dear fellow. You are exaggerating again; you really have no occasion to be so grateful to us. It is a feeling which does you great credit, but an exaggeration, for all that.”
“Well, where are we to go to now, father?” he asked. “You don’t want to go to the prince’s; you have quarrelled with Lebedeff; you have no money; I never have any; and here we are in the middle of the road, in a nice sort of mess.”
“Having now shown you that I am not quite such a fool as I look, and that I have to be fished for with a rod and line for a good long while before I am caught, I will proceed to explain why I specially wished to make your brother look a fool. That my motive power is hate, I do not attempt to conceal. I have felt that before dying (and I am dying, however much fatter I may appear to you), I must absolutely make a fool of, at least, one of that class of men which has dogged me all my life, which I hate so cordially, and which is so prominently represented by your much esteemed brother. I should not enjoy paradise nearly so much without having done this first. I hate you, Gavrila Ardalionovitch, solely (this may seem curious to you, but I repeat)--solely because you are the type, and incarnation, and head, and crown of the most impudent, the most self-satisfied, the most vulgar and detestable form of commonplaceness. You are ordinary of the ordinary; you have no chance of ever fathering the pettiest idea of your own. And yet you are as jealous and conceited as you can possibly be; you consider yourself a great genius; of this you are persuaded, although there are dark moments of doubt and rage, when even this fact seems uncertain. There are spots of darkness on your horizon, though they will disappear when you become completely stupid. But a long and chequered path lies before you, and of this I am glad. In the first place you will never gain a certain person.”
“I never thought of doing any such thing. I have not seen him, and he is not a rogue, in my opinion. I have had a letter from him.”
“You are mad!” said Ptitsin, coming up quickly and seizing him by the hand. “You’re drunk--the police will be sent for if you don’t look out. Think where you are.”
“Russian books, indeed? Then, of course, you can read and write quite correctly?”
“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.--”
“But--but, why is this? What does it mean?”
“That is all he thinks of!” cried Lizabetha Prokofievna.
On the first landing, which was as small as the necessary turn of the stairs allowed, there was a niche in the column, about half a yard wide, and in this niche the prince felt convinced that a man stood concealed. He thought he could distinguish a figure standing there. He would pass by quickly and not look. He took a step forward, but could bear the uncertainty no longer and turned his head.
The prince took down the chain and opened the door. He started back in amazement--for there stood Nastasia Philipovna. He knew her at once from her photograph. Her eyes blazed with anger as she looked at him. She quickly pushed by him into the hall, shouldering him out of her way, and said, furiously, as she threw off her fur cloak:
“Gentlemen--” began the prince.
“She’s mad--she’s mad!” was the cry.
Aglaya observed it, and trembled with anger.
They looked at one another with undisguised malice. One of these women had written to the other, so lately, such letters as we have seen; and it all was dispersed at their first meeting. Yet it appeared that not one of the four persons in the room considered this in any degree strange.
“Is it really you?” muttered the prince, not quite himself as yet, and recognizing her with a start of amazement. “Oh yes, of course,” he added, “this is our rendezvous. I fell asleep here.”
“You are very gay here,” began the latter, “and I have had quite a pleasant half-hour while I waited for you. Now then, my dear Lef Nicolaievitch, this is what’s the matter. I’ve arranged it all with Moloftsoff, and have just come in to relieve your mind on that score. You need be under no apprehensions. He was very sensible, as he should be, of course, for I think he was entirely to blame himself.”
“My goodness, what utter twaddle, and what may all this nonsense have signified, pray? If it had any meaning at all!” said Mrs. Epanchin, cuttingly, after having listened with great attention.
“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?”
“No, it disappeared from under the chair in the night.”
“No, Aglaya. No, I’m not crying.” The prince looked at her.
“Really!” said Rogojin vaguely, not taking in what the prince meant by his rather obscure remarks.
“Be quiet, you can talk afterwards! What was the letter about? Why are you blushing?”
“Evgenie Pavlovitch! Is that you?” cried a clear, sweet voice, which caused the prince, and perhaps someone else, to tremble. “Well, I _am_ glad I’ve found you at last! I’ve sent to town for you twice today myself! My messengers have been searching for you everywhere!”
Rogojin seized her in his arms and almost carried her to the carriage. Then, in a flash, he tore a hundred-rouble note out of his pocket and held it to the coachman.
“What I am really alarmed about, though,” he said, “is Aglaya Ivanovna. Rogojin knows how you love her. Love for love. You took Nastasia Philipovna from him. He will murder Aglaya Ivanovna; for though she is not yours, of course, now, still such an act would pain you,--wouldn’t it?”
“H’m! and instead of a bad action, your excellency has detailed one of your noblest deeds,” said Ferdishenko. “Ferdishenko is ‘done.’”
“Oh, you needn’t laugh! These things do happen, you know! Now then--why didn’t you come to us? We have a wing quite empty. But just as you like, of course. Do you lease it from _him?_--this fellow, I mean,” she added, nodding towards Lebedeff. “And why does he always wriggle so?”
“Very likely--I don’t recollect,” continued Prince S.
Just before he dozed off, the idea of Hippolyte murdering ten men flitted through his brain, and he smiled at the absurdity of such a thought.
“That will do, Lebedeff, that will do--” began the prince, when an indignant outcry drowned his words.
“Surely not you?” cried the prince.
“As to the article,” said Hippolyte in his croaking voice, “I have told you already that we none of us approve of it! There is the writer,” he added, pointing to the boxer, who sat beside him. “I quite admit that he has written it in his old regimental manner, with an equal disregard for style and decency. I know he is a cross between a fool and an adventurer; I make no bones about telling him so to his face every day. But after all he is half justified; publicity is the lawful right of every man; consequently, Burdovsky is not excepted. Let him answer for his own blunders. As to the objection which I made just now in the name of all, to the presence of your friends, I think I ought to explain, gentlemen, that I only did so to assert our rights, though we really wished to have witnesses; we had agreed unanimously upon the point before we came in. We do not care who your witnesses may be, or whether they are your friends or not. As they cannot fail to recognize Burdovsky’s right (seeing that it is mathematically demonstrable), it is just as well that the witnesses should be your friends. The truth will only be more plainly evident.”
“A donkey? How strange! Yet it is not strange. Anyone of us might fall in love with a donkey! It happened in mythological times,” said Madame Epanchin, looking wrathfully at her daughters, who had begun to laugh. “Go on, prince.”
“Now how on earth am I to announce a man like that?” muttered the servant. “In the first place, you’ve no right in here at all; you ought to be in the waiting-room, because you’re a sort of visitor--a guest, in fact--and I shall catch it for this. Look here, do you intend to take up you abode with us?” he added, glancing once more at the prince’s bundle, which evidently gave him no peace.
These warnings about Rogojin were expressed on the day before the wedding. That evening the prince saw Nastasia Philipovna for the last time before they were to meet at the altar; but Nastasia was not in a position to give him any comfort or consolation. On the contrary, she only added to his mental perturbation as the evening went on. Up to this time she had invariably done her best to cheer him--she was afraid of his looking melancholy; she would try singing to him, and telling him every sort of funny story or reminiscence that she could recall. The prince nearly always pretended to be amused, whether he were so actually or no; but often enough he laughed sincerely, delighted by the brilliancy of her wit when she was carried away by her narrative, as she very often was. Nastasia would be wild with joy to see the impression she had made, and to hear his laugh of real amusement; and she would remain the whole evening in a state of pride and happiness. But this evening her melancholy and thoughtfulness grew with every hour.
The prince was rather alarmed at all this, and was obliged to end by appointing the same hour of the following day for the interview desired. The general left him much comforted and far less agitated than when he had arrived.
“And everyone of them shows his rags, his toil-worn hands, and yells in his wrath: ‘Here are we, working like cattle all our lives, and always as hungry as dogs, and there are others who do not work, and are fat and rich!’ The eternal refrain! And side by side with them trots along some wretched fellow who has known better days, doing light porter’s work from morn to night for a living, always blubbering and saying that ‘his wife died because he had no money to buy medicine with,’ and his children dying of cold and hunger, and his eldest daughter gone to the bad, and so on. Oh! I have no pity and no patience for these fools of people. Why can’t they be Rothschilds? Whose fault is it that a man has not got millions of money like Rothschild? If he has life, all this must be in his power! Whose fault is it that he does not know how to live his life?
“Oh, she is mad!” cried the prince, wringing his hands.
“Are you going to cross my path for ever, damn you!” cried Gania; and, loosening his hold on Varia, he slapped the prince’s face with all his force.
She now rose solemnly from her seat, walked to the centre of the terrace, and stood in front of the prince’s chair. All looked on with some surprise, and Prince S. and her sisters with feelings of decided alarm, to see what new frolic she was up to; it had gone quite far enough already, they thought. But Aglaya evidently thoroughly enjoyed the affectation and ceremony with which she was introducing her recitation of the poem.
All three of the Miss Epanchins were fine, healthy girls, well-grown, with good shoulders and busts, and strong--almost masculine--hands; and, of course, with all the above attributes, they enjoyed capital appetites, of which they were not in the least ashamed.
The prince replied that he saw it.
“Yes, quite so. I wished to ask you whether you could show me the way to Nastasia Philipovna’s tonight. I must go; I have business with her; I was not invited but I was introduced. Anyhow I am ready to trespass the laws of propriety if only I can get in somehow or other.”
“Marriage covers everything,” observed a third.
“Yes, they say I have a ‘young’ face. As to disturbing you I shall soon learn to avoid doing that, for I hate disturbing people. Besides, you and I are so differently constituted, I should think, that there must be very little in common between us. Not that I will ever believe there is _nothing_ in common between any two people, as some declare is the case. I am sure people make a great mistake in sorting each other into groups, by appearances; but I am boring you, I see, you--”
“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!”
The prince questioned him in detail as to his hints about Rogojin. He was anxious to seize upon some facts which might confirm Hippolyte’s vague warnings; but there were none; only Hippolyte’s own private impressions and feelings.
“Are you going to cross my path for ever, damn you!” cried Gania; and, loosening his hold on Varia, he slapped the prince’s face with all his force.
Lizabetha Prokofievna’s face brightened up, too; so did that of General Epanchin.
“As soon as I finished writing in her album for her, and when she asked me to come out of the room with her (you heard?), we went into the dining-room, and she gave me your letter to read, and then told me to return it.”
He had fallen in an epileptic fit.
“You are alone, aren’t you,--not married?”
“My sister again,” cried Gania, looking at her with contempt and almost hate. “Look here, mother, I have already given you my word that I shall always respect you fully and absolutely, and so shall everyone else in this house, be it who it may, who shall cross this threshold.”
Rogojin was not smiling now; he sat and listened with folded arms, and lips tight compressed.
The prince continued to regard Nastasia with a sorrowful, but intent and piercing, gaze.
“I felt so furious with him at this moment that I longed to rush at him; but as I had sworn that he should speak first, I continued to lie still--and the more willingly, as I was still by no means satisfied as to whether it really was Rogojin or not.
Keller, for instance, had run into the house three times of late, “just for a moment,” and each time with the air of desiring to offer his congratulations. Colia, too, in spite of his melancholy, had once or twice begun sentences in much the same strain of suggestion or insinuation.
This must be thought out; it was clear that there had been no hallucination at the station then, either; something had actually happened to him, on both occasions; there was no doubt of it. But again a loathing for all mental exertion overmastered him; he would not think it out now, he would put it off and think of something else. He remembered that during his epileptic fits, or rather immediately preceding them, he had always experienced a moment or two when his whole heart, and mind, and body seemed to wake up to vigour and light; when he became filled with joy and hope, and all his anxieties seemed to be swept away for ever; these moments were but presentiments, as it were, of the one final second (it was never more than a second) in which the fit came upon him. That second, of course, was inexpressible. When his attack was over, and the prince reflected on his symptoms, he used to say to himself: “These moments, short as they are, when I feel such extreme consciousness of myself, and consequently more of life than at other times, are due only to the disease--to the sudden rupture of normal conditions. Therefore they are not really a higher kind of life, but a lower.” This reasoning, however, seemed to end in a paradox, and lead to the further consideration:--“What matter though it be only disease, an abnormal tension of the brain, if when I recall and analyze the moment, it seems to have been one of harmony and beauty in the highest degree--an instant of deepest sensation, overflowing with unbounded joy and rapture, ecstatic devotion, and completest life?” Vague though this sounds, it was perfectly comprehensible to Muishkin, though he knew that it was but a feeble expression of his sensations.
They were walking slowly across the garden.
“I do desire it,” murmured Gania, softly but firmly, lowering his eyes; and he relapsed into gloomy silence.
“Rogojin, _where_ is Nastasia Philipovna?” said the prince, suddenly rising from his seat. He was quaking in all his limbs, and his words came in a scarcely audible whisper. Rogojin rose also.