“My dear, I am quite ready; naturally... the prince.”
“No; because I am unworthy of my sufferings, if you like!”
But Lizabetha Prokofievna felt somewhat consoled when she could say that one of her girls, Adelaida, was settled at last. “It will be one off our hands!” she declared aloud, though in private she expressed herself with greater tenderness. The engagement was both happy and suitable, and was therefore approved in society. Prince S. was a distinguished man, he had money, and his future wife was devoted to him; what more could be desired? Lizabetha Prokofievna had felt less anxious about this daughter, however, although she considered her artistic tastes suspicious. But to make up for them she was, as her mother expressed it, “merry,” and had plenty of “common-sense.” It was Aglaya’s future which disturbed her most. With regard to her eldest daughter, Alexandra, the mother never quite knew whether there was cause for anxiety or not. Sometimes she felt as if there was nothing to be expected from her. She was twenty-five now, and must be fated to be an old maid, and “with such beauty, too!” The mother spent whole nights in weeping and lamenting, while all the time the cause of her grief slumbered peacefully. “What is the matter with her? Is she a Nihilist, or simply a fool?”“You drunken moujik,” said Daria Alexeyevna, once more. “You ought to be kicked out of the place.”
Suddenly Prince S. hinted something about “a new and approaching change in the family.” He was led to this remark by a communication inadvertently made to him by Lizabetha Prokofievna, that Adelaida’s marriage must be postponed a little longer, in order that the two weddings might come off together.
“Look closer. Do you see that bench, in the park there, just by those three big trees--that green bench?”
“Yes, he was.”“What sort of a face was I to draw? I couldn’t draw a mask.”
But why recall all this? There was insanity on both sides. For him, the prince, to love this woman with passion, was unthinkable. It would be cruel and inhuman. Yes. Rogojin is not fair to himself; he has a large heart; he has aptitude for sympathy. When he learns the truth, and finds what a pitiable being is this injured, broken, half-insane creature, he will forgive her all the torment she has caused him. He will become her slave, her brother, her friend. Compassion will teach even Rogojin, it will show him how to reason. Compassion is the chief law of human existence. Oh, how guilty he felt towards Rogojin! And, for a few warm, hasty words spoken in Moscow, Parfen had called him “brother,” while he--but no, this was delirium! It would all come right! That gloomy Parfen had implied that his faith was waning; he must suffer dreadfully. He said he liked to look at that picture; it was not that he liked it, but he felt the need of looking at it. Rogojin was not merely a passionate soul; he was a fighter. He was fighting for the restoration of his dying faith. He must have something to hold on to and believe, and someone to believe in. What a strange picture that of Holbein’s is! Why, this is the street, and here’s the house, No. 16.
“I know Charasse’s book! Oh! I was so angry with his work! I wrote to him and said--I forget what, at this moment. You ask whether I was very busy under the Emperor? Oh no! I was called ‘page,’ but hardly took my duty seriously. Besides, Napoleon very soon lost hope of conciliating the Russians, and he would have forgotten all about me had he not loved me--for personal reasons--I don’t mind saying so now. My heart was greatly drawn to him, too. My duties were light. I merely had to be at the palace occasionally to escort the Emperor out riding, and that was about all. I rode very fairly well. He used to have a ride before dinner, and his suite on those occasions were generally Davoust, myself, and Roustan.”
“N-no, I have never given him money, and he knows well that I will never give him any; because I am anxious to keep him out of intemperate ways. He is going to town with me now; for you must know I am off to Petersburg after Ferdishenko, while the scent is hot; I’m certain he is there. I shall let the general go one way, while I go the other; we have so arranged matters in order to pop out upon Ferdishenko, you see, from different sides. But I am going to follow that naughty old general and catch him, I know where, at a certain widow’s house; for I think it will be a good lesson, to put him to shame by catching him with the widow.”
“He may not be home for a week.”
The good ladies recommended the prince to try knocking at Rogojin’s once more--not at once, but in the evening. Meanwhile, the mother would go to Pavlofsk to inquire at Dana Alexeyevna’s whether anything had been heard of Nastasia there. The prince was to come back at ten o’clock and meet her, to hear her news and arrange plans for the morrow.“No, gentlemen, our scions of the nobility do not reason thus. The lawyer, who had taken up the matter purely out of friendship to the young man, and almost against his will, invoked every consideration of justice, delicacy, honour, and even plain figures; in vain, the ex-patient of the Swiss lunatic asylum was inflexible. All this might pass, but the sequel is absolutely unpardonable, and not to be excused by any interesting malady. This millionaire, having but just discarded the old gaiters of his professor, could not even understand that the noble young man slaving away at his lessons was not asking for charitable help, but for his rightful due, though the debt was not a legal one; that, correctly speaking, he was not asking for anything, but it was merely his friends who had thought fit to bestir themselves on his behalf. With the cool insolence of a bloated capitalist, secure in his millions, he majestically drew a banknote for fifty roubles from his pocket-book and sent it to the noble young man as a humiliating piece of charity. You can hardly believe it, gentlemen! You are scandalized and disgusted; you cry out in indignation! But that is what he did! Needless to say, the money was returned, or rather flung back in his face. The case is not within the province of the law, it must be referred to the tribunal of public opinion; this is what we now do, guaranteeing the truth of all the details which we have related.”
“Aglaya Ivanovna...” began Lebedeff, promptly.
“Quite so; I understand. I understand quite well. You are very--Well, how did she appear to you? What did she look like? No, I don’t want to know anything about her,” said Aglaya, angrily; “don’t interrupt me--”Nastasia looked at the new arrivals with great curiosity. Gania recollected himself at last.“Just about that time, that is, the middle of March, I suddenly felt very much better; this continued for a couple of weeks. I used to go out at dusk. I like the dusk, especially in March, when the night frost begins to harden the day’s puddles, and the gas is burning.
“Now, do be careful! Secrecy, as before!”
“How stupid of me to speak of the portrait,” thought the prince as he entered the study, with a feeling of guilt at his heart, “and yet, perhaps I was right after all.” He had an idea, unformed as yet, but a strange idea.
Today, as I have said, she returned from their house with a heavy feeling of dejection. There was a sensation of bitterness, a sort of mocking contempt, mingled with it.
The thing was decided in a hurry and with a certain amount of quite unnecessary excitement, doubtless because “nothing could be done in this house like anywhere else.”“Oh, don’t, don’t!” she exclaimed in alarm, snatching her hand away. She went hastily out of the room in a state of strange confusion.“Save me!” she cried. “Take me away, anywhere you like, quick!”
Burdovsky silently resumed his seat, and bent his head as though in profound thought. His friend, Lebedeff’s nephew, who had risen to accompany him, also sat down again. He seemed much disappointed, though as self-confident as ever. Hippolyte looked dejected and sulky, as well as surprised. He had just been attacked by a violent fit of coughing, so that his handkerchief was stained with blood. The boxer looked thoroughly frightened.
There was a moment or two of gloomy silence. Aglaya rose from her seat.
“No--no, impossible!” said Evgenie, rising.
“Aglaya Ivanovna, it’s absurd.”“So do I, so do I! This moment, if I could! I’d give every farthing I have to do it.”The prince thought a moment. Then he pulled out of his waistcoat pocket an untidy slip of paper, on which was scrawled:
“Well! naturally he came to grief: the law is not administered as it used to be, and he only got laughed at for his pains. But he was much pleased with himself in spite of that. ‘Most learned judge!’ said he, ‘picture this unhappy man, crippled by age and infirmities, who gains his living by honourable toil--picture him, I repeat, robbed of his all, of his last mouthful; remember, I entreat you, the words of that learned legislator, “Let mercy and justice alike rule the courts of law.”’ Now, would you believe it, excellency, every morning he recites this speech to us from beginning to end, exactly as he spoke it before the magistrate. To-day we have heard it for the fifth time. He was just starting again when you arrived, so much does he admire it. He is now preparing to undertake another case. I think, by the way, that you are Prince Muishkin? Colia tells me you are the cleverest man he has ever known....”
The prince recollected that somebody had told him something of the kind before, and he had, of course, scoffed at it. He only laughed now, and forgot the hint at once.
“Nor do I believe it, in spite of the proofs. The girl is self-willed and fantastic, and insane! She’s wicked, wicked! I’ll repeat it for a thousand years that she’s wicked; they _all_ are, just now, all my daughters, even that ‘wet hen’ Alexandra. And yet I don’t believe it. Because I don’t choose to believe it, perhaps; but I don’t. Why haven’t you been?” she turned on the prince suddenly. “Why didn’t you come near us all these three days, eh?”
“What of that? People will say anything,” said Rogojin drily.
“I caught him up on the way to your house,” explained the general. “He had heard that we were all here.”
“Gentlemen!” said Hippolyte, breaking off here, “I have not done yet, but it seems to me that I have written down a great deal here that is unnecessary,--this dream--”“There’s news!” said the general in some excitement, after listening to the story with engrossed attention.
“Do you think he will make another attempt?”Evgenie Pavlovitch left the house with strange convictions. He, too, felt that the prince must be out of his mind.At last they reached the Litaynaya. The thaw increased steadily, a warm, unhealthy wind blew through the streets, vehicles splashed through the mud, and the iron shoes of horses and mules rang on the paving stones. Crowds of melancholy people plodded wearily along the footpaths, with here and there a drunken man among them.The prince was haunted all that day by the face of Lebedeff’s nephew whom he had seen for the first time that morning, just as one is haunted at times by some persistent musical refrain. By a curious association of ideas, the young man always appeared as the murderer of whom Lebedeff had spoken when introducing him to Muishkin. Yes, he had read something about the murder, and that quite recently. Since he came to Russia, he had heard many stories of this kind, and was interested in them. His conversation with the waiter, an hour ago, chanced to be on the subject of this murder of the Zemarins, and the latter had agreed with him about it. He thought of the waiter again, and decided that he was no fool, but a steady, intelligent man: though, said he to himself, “God knows what he may really be; in a country with which one is unfamiliar it is difficult to understand the people one meets.” He was beginning to have a passionate faith in the Russian soul, however, and what discoveries he had made in the last six months, what unexpected discoveries! But every soul is a mystery, and depths of mystery lie in the soul of a Russian. He had been intimate with Rogojin, for example, and a brotherly friendship had sprung up between them--yet did he really know him? What chaos and ugliness fills the world at times! What a self-satisfied rascal is that nephew of Lebedeff’s! “But what am I thinking,” continued the prince to himself. “Can he really have committed that crime? Did he kill those six persons? I seem to be confusing things... how strange it all is.... My head goes round... And Lebedeff’s daughter--how sympathetic and charming her face was as she held the child in her arms! What an innocent look and child-like laugh she had! It is curious that I had forgotten her until now. I expect Lebedeff adores her--and I really believe, when I think of it, that as sure as two and two make four, he is fond of that nephew, too!”“Is it long since you saw her?”
Elizabetha Prokofievna sometimes informed the girls that they were a little too candid in this matter, but in spite of their outward deference to their mother these three young women, in solemn conclave, had long agreed to modify the unquestioning obedience which they had been in the habit of according to her; and Mrs. General Epanchin had judged it better to say nothing about it, though, of course, she was well aware of the fact.
“There,” he whispered, nodding his head towards the curtain.If it had been any other family than the Epanchins’, nothing particular would have happened. But, thanks to Mrs. Epanchin’s invariable fussiness and anxiety, there could not be the slightest hitch in the simplest matters of everyday life, but she immediately foresaw the most dreadful and alarming consequences, and suffered accordingly.
“I have heard many things of the kind about you...they delighted me... I have learned to hold you in the highest esteem,” continued Hippolyte.
“Have I been acting rightly in allowing him to develop such vast resources of imagination?” the prince asked himself. But his answer was a fit of violent laughter which lasted ten whole minutes. He tried to reproach himself for the laughing fit, but eventually concluded that he needn’t do so, since in spite of it he was truly sorry for the old man. The same evening he received a strange letter, short but decided. The general informed him that they must part for ever; that he was grateful, but that even from him he could not accept “signs of sympathy which were humiliating to the dignity of a man already miserable enough.”
“I know nothing about Evgenie Pavlovitch!” said the prince.
“They have planted roses all round her grave, and every year they look after the flowers and make Marie’s resting-place as beautiful as they can. I was in ill odour after all this with the parents of the children, and especially with the parson and schoolmaster. Schneider was obliged to promise that I should not meet them and talk to them; but we conversed from a distance by signs, and they used to write me sweet little notes. Afterwards I came closer than ever to those little souls, but even then it was very dear to me, to have them so fond of me.