He stopped for a moment at the door; a great flush of shame came over him. “I am a coward, a wretched coward,” he said, and moved forward again; but once more he paused.“Yes, he is a rogue, but I was obliged to pay him,” said the young man. “As to his being a rogue, he is assuredly that, and I am not saying it because he beat you. He is an ex-lieutenant, prince, dismissed from the service, a teacher of boxing, and one of Rogojin’s followers. They are all lounging about the pavements now that Rogojin has turned them off. Of course, the worst of it is that, knowing he was a rascal, and a card-sharper, I none the less played palki with him, and risked my last rouble. To tell the truth, I thought to myself, ‘If I lose, I will go to my uncle, and I am sure he will not refuse to help me.’ Now that was base--cowardly and base!”
The prince approached Evgenie Pavlovitch last of all. The latter immediately took his arm.
“It’s abominable dishonesty, you know!”
He had kept but one idea before him all day, and for that he had worked in an agony of anxiety and a fever of suspense. His lieutenants had worked so hard from five o’clock until eleven, that they actually had collected a hundred thousand roubles for him, but at such terrific expense, that the rate of interest was only mentioned among them in whispers and with bated breath.“Nothing unexpected. I discovered that it’s all true. My husband was wiser than either of us. Just as he suspected from the beginning, so it has fallen out. Where is he?”
“Where did they tell you so,--at his door?”“Yes, my boy. I wish to present him: General Ivolgin and Prince Muishkin! But what’s the matter?... what?... How is Marfa Borisovna?”“PR. L. MUISHKIN.”
Nearly everyone observed the little band advancing, and all pretended not to see or notice them, except a few young fellows who exchanged glances and smiled, saying something to one another in whispers.
All this would have been perfectly sincere on his part. He had never for a moment entertained the idea of the possibility of this girl loving him, or even of such a thing as himself falling in love with her. The possibility of being loved himself, “a man like me,” as he put it, he ranked among ridiculous suppositions. It appeared to him that it was simply a joke on Aglaya’s part, if there really were anything in it at all; but that seemed to him quite natural. His preoccupation was caused by something different.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.However, a week later she received another letter from the same source, and at last resolved to speak.
It was extremely difficult to account for Nastasia’s strange condition of mind, which became more evident each moment, and which none could avoid noticing.
“Oh yes, of course. You are very beautiful, Aglaya Ivanovna, so beautiful that one is afraid to look at you.”
“All this is very strange and interesting,” said Mrs. Epanchin. “Now let’s leave the donkey and go on to other matters. What are you laughing at, Aglaya? and you too, Adelaida? The prince told us his experiences very cleverly; he saw the donkey himself, and what have you ever seen? _you_ have never been abroad.”
“My God! Who would ever have believed this?” cried Mrs. Epanchin, wringing her hands.
“Not quite, esteemed prince,” replied Lebedeff, with some acerbity. “I confess I thought of doing you the service of handing the letter over to yourself, but I decided that it would pay me better to deliver it up to the noble lady aforesaid, as I had informed her of everything hitherto by anonymous letters; so when I sent her up a note from myself, with the letter, you know, in order to fix a meeting for eight o’clock this morning, I signed it ‘your secret correspondent.’ They let me in at once--very quickly--by the back door, and the noble lady received me.”
“Yes, but that was a great idea,” said the prince, clearly interested. “You ascribe it to Davoust, do you?”
“No, oh no!--there was a great flare-up, but I didn’t hit her! I had to struggle a little, purely to defend myself; but the very devil was in the business. It turned out that ‘light blue’ was an Englishwoman, governess or something, at Princess Bielokonski’s, and the other woman was one of the old-maid princesses Bielokonski. Well, everybody knows what great friends the princess and Mrs. Epanchin are, so there was a pretty kettle of fish. All the Bielokonskis went into mourning for the poodle. Six princesses in tears, and the Englishwoman shrieking!
“That is all thanks to our lassitude, I think,” replied the old man, with authority. “And then their way of preaching; they have a skilful manner of doing it! And they know how to startle one, too. I got quite a fright myself in ’32, in Vienna, I assure you; but I didn’t cave in to them, I ran away instead, ha, ha!”
“Oh, what a dreadful calamity! A wretched vase smashed, and a man half dead with remorse about it,” said Lizabetha Prokofievna, loudly. “What made you so dreadfully startled, Lef Nicolaievitch?” she added, a little timidly. “Come, my dear boy! cheer up. You really alarm me, taking the accident so to heart.”No one else followed the eccentric lady; but as she descended the steps she did not even look behind her, as though it were absolutely the same to her whether anyone were following or not. She laughed and talked loudly, however, just as before. She was dressed with great taste, but with rather more magnificence than was needed for the occasion, perhaps.“You’ve been _there?_” he asked, suddenly.
“For that position _you_ are to blame and not I,” said Nastasia, flaring up suddenly. “_I_ did not invite _you_, but you me; and to this moment I am quite ignorant as to why I am thus honoured.”
“Meanwhile he continued to sit and stare jeeringly at me.
There was silence for a moment. Then Ptitsin spoke.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.
“It is strange to look on this dreadful picture of the mangled corpse of the Saviour, and to put this question to oneself: ‘Supposing that the disciples, the future apostles, the women who had followed Him and stood by the cross, all of whom believed in and worshipped Him--supposing that they saw this tortured body, this face so mangled and bleeding and bruised (and they _must_ have so seen it)--how could they have gazed upon the dreadful sight and yet have believed that He would rise again?’
“I tell you it’s true,” said Rogojin quietly, but with eyes ablaze with passion.