All this was no doubt extremely coarse, and moreover it was premeditated, but after all Ferdishenko had persuaded everyone to accept him as a buffoon.
“Well, well! I won’t again,” said the master of the house, his anxiety getting the better of his temper. He went up to his daughter, and looked at the child in her arms, anxiously making the sign of the cross over her three times. “God bless her! God bless her!” he cried with emotion. “This little creature is my daughter Luboff,” addressing the prince. “My wife, Helena, died--at her birth; and this is my big daughter Vera, in mourning, as you see; and this, this, oh, this,” pointing to the young man on the divan...
“I think you said, prince, that your letter was from Salaskin? Salaskin is a very eminent man, indeed, in his own world; he is a wonderfully clever solicitor, and if he really tells you this, I think you may be pretty sure that he is right. It so happens, luckily, that I know his handwriting, for I have lately had business with him. If you would allow me to see it, I should perhaps be able to tell you.”
“Before I reached home I was met and summoned to the major’s, so that it was some while before I actually got there. When I came in, Nikifor met me. ‘Have you heard, sir, that our old lady is dead?’ ‘_dead_, when?’ ‘Oh, an hour and a half ago.’ That meant nothing more nor less than that she was dying at the moment when I pounced on her and began abusing her.
Not only was there no trace of her former irony, of her old hatred and enmity, and of that dreadful laughter, the very recollection of which sent a cold chill down Totski’s back to this very day; but she seemed charmed and really glad to have the opportunity of talking seriously with him for once in a way. She confessed that she had long wished to have a frank and free conversation and to ask for friendly advice, but that pride had hitherto prevented her; now, however, that the ice was broken, nothing could be more welcome to her than this opportunity.
“Do you say he is consumptive?”
“What if he were to come out of that corner as I go by and--and stop me?” thought the prince, as he approached the familiar spot. But no one came out.
“Things are hidden from the wise and prudent, and revealed unto babes. I have applied those words to him before, but now I add that God has preserved the babe himself from the abyss, He and all His saints.”
“So you counted the minutes while I slept, did you, Evgenie Pavlovitch?” he said, ironically. “You have not taken your eyes off me all the evening--I have noticed that much, you see! Ah, Rogojin! I’ve just been dreaming about him, prince,” he added, frowning. “Yes, by the by,” starting up, “where’s the orator? Where’s Lebedeff? Has he finished? What did he talk about? Is it true, prince, that you once declared that ‘beauty would save the world’? Great Heaven! The prince says that beauty saves the world! And I declare that he only has such playful ideas because he’s in love! Gentlemen, the prince is in love. I guessed it the moment he came in. Don’t blush, prince; you make me sorry for you. What beauty saves the world? Colia told me that you are a zealous Christian; is it so? Colia says you call yourself a Christian.”
“_She_ is insane,” muttered the prince, suddenly recollecting all that had passed, with a spasm of pain at his heart.
“You wouldn’t draw his portrait for us, that’s why you are to blame! Aglaya Ivanovna asked you to draw his portrait, and gave you the whole subject of the picture. She invented it herself; and you wouldn’t.”
“I don’t know; I thought it was a hallucination. I often have hallucinations nowadays. I feel just as I did five years ago when my fits were about to come on.”
“And I’ve heard one!” said Adelaida. All three of the girls laughed out loud, and the prince laughed with them.
“Sometimes it was very painful to me, and once he caught me with tears in my eyes. He looked at me kindly. ‘You are sorry for me,’ he said, ‘you, my child, and perhaps one other child--my son, the King of Rome--may grieve for me. All the rest hate me; and my brothers are the first to betray me in misfortune.’ I sobbed and threw myself into his arms. He could not resist me--he burst into tears, and our tears mingled as we folded each other in a close embrace.
So saying, the prince repeated the letter almost word for word, as he had written it.
There was a moment, during this long, wretched walk back from the Petersburg Side, when the prince felt an irresistible desire to go straight to Rogojin’s, wait for him, embrace him with tears of shame and contrition, and tell him of his distrust, and finish with it--once for all.
When they reached the Gorohovaya, and came near the house, the prince’s legs were trembling so that he could hardly walk. It was about ten o’clock. The old lady’s windows were open, as before; Rogojin’s were all shut, and in the darkness the white blinds showed whiter than ever. Rogojin and the prince each approached the house on his respective side of the road; Rogojin, who was on the near side, beckoned the prince across. He went over to the doorway.
The prince bestirred himself to give orders. Lebedeff hurried out, followed by Vera.
It was impossible to avoid noticing them, however, in reality, for they made their presence only too conspicuous by laughing and talking loudly. It was to be supposed that some of them were more than half drunk, although they were well enough dressed, some even particularly well. There were one or two, however, who were very strange-looking creatures, with flushed faces and extraordinary clothes; some were military men; not all were quite young; one or two were middle-aged gentlemen of decidedly disagreeable appearance, men who are avoided in society like the plague, decked out in large gold studs and rings, and magnificently “got up,” generally.
The prince noticed the sweet, welcoming look on Vera Lebedeff’s face, as she made her way towards him through the crowd. He held out his hand to her. She took it, blushing with delight, and wished him “a happy life from that day forward.” Then she ran off to the kitchen, where her presence was necessary to help in the preparations for supper. Before the prince’s arrival she had spent some time on the terrace, listening eagerly to the conversation, though the visitors, mostly under the influence of wine, were discussing abstract subjects far beyond her comprehension. In the next room her younger sister lay on a wooden chest, sound asleep, with her mouth wide open; but the boy, Lebedeff’s son, had taken up his position close beside Colia and Hippolyte, his face lit up with interest in the conversation of his father and the rest, to which he would willingly have listened for ten hours at a stretch.
“Lef Nicolaievitch, my friend, come along with me.” It was Rogojin.
“Besides, he’s quite a child; we can entertain him with a little hide-and-seek, in case of need,” said Adelaida.
“In Petersburg? Oh no! hardly at all, and now they say so much is changed in the place that even those who did know it well are obliged to relearn what they knew. They talk a good deal about the new law courts, and changes there, don’t they?”
“Are you really throwing us all over, little mother? Where, where are you going to? And on your birthday, too!” cried the four girls, crying over her and kissing her hands.
“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--”
“Judging from the fact that the prince blushed at this innocent joke, like a young girl, I should think that he must, as an honourable man, harbour the noblest intentions,” said the old toothless schoolmaster, most unexpectedly; he had not so much as opened his mouth before. This remark provoked general mirth, and the old fellow himself laughed loudest of the lot, but ended with a stupendous fit of coughing.
“‘I’m off,’ said Davoust. ‘Where to?’ asked Napoleon.
“Evgenie Pavlovitch,” he said, with strange excitement and seizing the latter’s hand in his own, “be assured that I esteem you as a generous and honourable man, in spite of everything. Be assured of that.”
And so they parted.
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.
“Come, come! the less _you_ say about it the better--to judge from all I have heard about you!” replied Mrs. Epanchin.
“What is the good of it?” repeated Gavrila Ardalionovitch, with pretended surprise. “Well, firstly, because now perhaps Mr. Burdovsky is quite convinced that Mr. Pavlicheff’s love for him came simply from generosity of soul, and not from paternal duty. It was most necessary to impress this fact upon his mind, considering that he approved of the article written by Mr. Keller. I speak thus because I look on you, Mr. Burdovsky, as an honourable man. Secondly, it appears that there was no intention of cheating in this case, even on the part of Tchebaroff. I wish to say this quite plainly, because the prince hinted a while ago that I too thought it an attempt at robbery and extortion. On the contrary, everyone has been quite sincere in the matter, and although Tchebaroff may be somewhat of a rogue, in this business he has acted simply as any sharp lawyer would do under the circumstances. He looked at it as a case that might bring him in a lot of money, and he did not calculate badly; because on the one hand he speculated on the generosity of the prince, and his gratitude to the late Mr. Pavlicheff, and on the other to his chivalrous ideas as to the obligations of honour and conscience. As to Mr. Burdovsky, allowing for his principles, we may acknowledge that he engaged in the business with very little personal aim in view. At the instigation of Tchebaroff and his other friends, he decided to make the attempt in the service of truth, progress, and humanity. In short, the conclusion may be drawn that, in spite of all appearances, Mr. Burdovsky is a man of irreproachable character, and thus the prince can all the more readily offer him his friendship, and the assistance of which he spoke just now...”
“What was the matter yesterday?” (she wrote on another sheet). “I passed by you, and you seemed to me to _blush_. Perhaps it was only my fancy. If I were to bring you to the most loathsome den, and show you the revelation of undisguised vice--you should not blush. You can never feel the sense of personal affront. You may hate all who are mean, or base, or unworthy--but not for yourself--only for those whom they wrong. No one can wrong _you_. Do you know, I think you ought to love me--for you are the same in my eyes as in his--you are as light. An angel cannot hate, perhaps cannot love, either. I often ask myself--is it possible to love everybody? Indeed it is not; it is not in nature. Abstract love of humanity is nearly always love of self. But you are different. You cannot help loving all, since you can compare with none, and are above all personal offence or anger. Oh! how bitter it would be to me to know that you felt anger or shame on my account, for that would be your fall--you would become comparable at once with such as me.
“‘Lumen caeli, sancta Rosa!’ Shouting on the foe he fell, And like thunder rang his war-cry O’er the cowering infidel.
Heading this little band walked three ladies, two of whom were remarkably lovely; and there was nothing surprising in the fact that they should have had a large troop of admirers following in their wake.
“It’s burning, it’s burning!” cried all, thronging nearer and nearer to the fire in their excitement.
“No; Constant was away then, taking a letter to the Empress Josephine. Instead of him there were always a couple of orderlies--and that was all, excepting, of course, the generals and marshals whom Napoleon always took with him for the inspection of various localities, and for the sake of consultation generally. I remember there was one--Davoust--nearly always with him--a big man with spectacles. They used to argue and quarrel sometimes. Once they were in the Emperor’s study together--just those two and myself--I was unobserved--and they argued, and the Emperor seemed to be agreeing to something under protest. Suddenly his eye fell on me and an idea seemed to flash across him.
There was a moment or two of gloomy silence. Aglaya rose from her seat.
The prince paused to get breath. He had spoken with extraordinary rapidity, and was very pale.
Varia had risen from her place and had started to go upstairs to her mother; but at this observation of Gania’s she turned and gazed at him attentively.
But Nastasia Philipovna had now risen and advanced to meet the prince.
“Hippolyte, stop, please! It’s so dreadfully undignified,” said Varia.
“But is it true that I have but a fortnight of life left to me? I know I told some of my friends that Doctor B. had informed me that this was the case; but I now confess that I lied; B. has not even seen me. However, a week ago, I called in a medical student, Kislorodoff, who is a Nationalist, an Atheist, and a Nihilist, by conviction, and that is why I had him. I needed a man who would tell me the bare truth without any humbug or ceremony--and so he did--indeed, almost with pleasure (which I thought was going a little too far).
Colia jogged the prince’s arm.
“What have I done? Where are you dragging me to?”
“All this is mere jealousy--it is some malady of yours, Parfen! You exaggerate everything,” said the prince, excessively agitated. “What are you doing?”
“Why, there’s Zaleshoff here, too!” he muttered, gazing at the scene with a sort of triumphant but unpleasant smile. Then he suddenly turned to the prince: “Prince, I don’t know why I have taken a fancy to you; perhaps because I met you just when I did. But no, it can’t be that, for I met this fellow” (nodding at Lebedeff) “too, and I have not taken a fancy to him by any means. Come to see me, prince; we’ll take off those gaiters of yours and dress you up in a smart fur coat, the best we can buy. You shall have a dress coat, best quality, white waistcoat, anything you like, and your pocket shall be full of money. Come, and you shall go with me to Nastasia Philipovna’s. Now then will you come or no?”
“Impossible!” cried the prince.
“Why, he wears an ‘order,’ and it looks so well!”
“What, did they hang the fellow?”
“Prince Muishkin, I believe? The gentleman to whom I had the honour of being introduced?”
But Rogojin added no words of his own in confirmation of this view, and as before, he recounted with marvellous exactness the details of his crime. He was convicted, but with extenuating circumstances, and condemned to hard labour in Siberia for fifteen years. He heard his sentence grimly, silently, and thoughtfully. His colossal fortune, with the exception of the comparatively small portion wasted in the first wanton period of his inheritance, went to his brother, to the great satisfaction of the latter.
“Why, he must pay toll for his entrance,” explained the latter.
At this moment a loud voice from behind the group which hedged in the prince and Nastasia Philipovna, divided the crowd, as it were, and before them stood the head of the family, General Ivolgin. He was dressed in evening clothes; his moustache was dyed.
“Not those very words. She only just had time to whisper as she went by; but by the way she looked at me I knew it was important. She looked at me in a way that made my heart stop beating.”
“Marriage covers everything,” observed a third.
“Whoever is afraid of wolves had better not go into the wood,” said Nastasia, smiling.
“What, it’s still there then, is it? Ever since the day before yesterday?”
Ivan Fedorovitch, now quite out of patience, interrupted suddenly. “Let me remark in my turn, sir,” he said in tones of deep annoyance, “that my wife is here as the guest of Prince Lef Nicolaievitch, our friend and neighbour, and that in any case, young man, it is not for you to pass judgment on the conduct of Lizabetha Prokofievna, or to make remarks aloud in my presence concerning what feelings you think may be read in my face. Yes, my wife stayed here,” continued the general, with increasing irritation, “more out of amazement than anything else. Everyone can understand that a collection of such strange young men would attract the attention of a person interested in contemporary life. I stayed myself, just as I sometimes stop to look on in the street when I see something that may be regarded as-as-as-”
“Accept, Antip,” whispered the boxer eagerly, leaning past the back of Hippolyte’s chair to give his friend this piece of advice. “Take it for the present; we can see about more later on.”
“I thought he would cut my throat at first, and went about armed ready to meet him. But he took it differently; he fainted, and had brain fever and convulsions. A month after, when he had hardly recovered, he went off to the Crimea, and there he was shot.
“But you declared I wasn’t--”
“Why not? Certainly he would, I should think. He would marry her tomorrow!--marry her tomorrow and murder her in a week!”
“_I_ for one shall never think you a blackguard again,” said the prince. “I confess I had a poor opinion of you at first, but I have been so joyfully surprised about you just now; it’s a good lesson for me. I shall never judge again without a thorough trial. I see now that you are not only not a blackguard, but are not even quite spoiled. I see that you are quite an ordinary man, not original in the least degree, but rather weak.”
“Oh, go on,” he said, “finish your sentence, by all means. Say how odd it appears to you that a man fallen to such a depth of humiliation as I, can ever have been the actual eye-witness of great events. Go on, _I_ don’t mind! Has _he_ found time to tell you scandal about me?”
Lebedeff really had been busy for some little while; but, as usual, his plans had become too complex to succeed, through sheer excess of ardour. When he came to the prince--the very day before the wedding--to confess (for he always confessed to the persons against whom he intrigued, especially when the plan failed), he informed our hero that he himself was a born Talleyrand, but for some unknown reason had become simple Lebedeff. He then proceeded to explain his whole game to the prince, interesting the latter exceedingly.
“I took a droshky and drove over to the Vassili Ostroff at once. For some years I had been at enmity with this young Bachmatoff, at school. We considered him an aristocrat; at all events I called him one. He used to dress smartly, and always drove to school in a private trap. He was a good companion, and was always merry and jolly, sometimes even witty, though he was not very intellectual, in spite of the fact that he was always top of the class; I myself was never top in anything! All his companions were very fond of him, excepting myself. He had several times during those years come up to me and tried to make friends; but I had always turned sulkily away and refused to have anything to do with him. I had not seen him for a whole year now; he was at the university. When, at nine o’clock, or so, this evening, I arrived and was shown up to him with great ceremony, he first received me with astonishment, and not too affably, but he soon cheered up, and suddenly gazed intently at me and burst out laughing.
All this caused the general to look grave and important. But, alas! this agreeable state of affairs very soon changed once more.
“My legs won’t move,” said the prince; “it’s fear, I know. When my fear is over, I’ll get up--”
“Are you acquainted with her?”
“Oho! ho, ho, ho!” cried Ferdishenko. “_Now_ then, prince! My word, what things I would say if I had such a chance as that! My goodness, prince--go on!”
“Afraid! Then you had some grounds for supposing he might be the culprit?” said Lebedeff, frowning.
“Allow me to speak, please, mamma,” said Aglaya. “I think I ought to have something to say in the matter. An important moment of my destiny is about to be decided”--(this is how Aglaya expressed herself)--“and I wish to find out how the matter stands, for my own sake, though I am glad you are all here. Allow me to ask you, prince, since you cherish those intentions, how you consider that you will provide for my happiness?”
“_C’est très-curieux et c’est très-sérieux_,” he whispered across the table to Ivan Petrovitch, rather loudly. Probably the prince heard him.
The prince had not seen _her_ for more than three months. All these days since his arrival from Petersburg he had intended to pay her a visit, but some mysterious presentiment had restrained him. He could not picture to himself what impression this meeting with her would make upon him, though he had often tried to imagine it, with fear and trembling. One fact was quite certain, and that was that the meeting would be painful.
“Oh stop, Lebedeff!” interposed Muishkin, feeling as if he had been touched on an open wound. “That... that has nothing to do with me. I should like to know when you are going to start. The sooner the better as far as I am concerned, for I am at an hotel.”
“Look here, prince,” said the general, with a cordial smile, “if you really are the sort of man you appear to be, it may be a source of great pleasure to us to make your better acquaintance; but, you see, I am a very busy man, and have to be perpetually sitting here and signing papers, or off to see his excellency, or to my department, or somewhere; so that though I should be glad to see more of people, nice people--you see, I--however, I am sure you are so well brought up that you will see at once, and--but how old are you, prince?”
“Allow me, Mr. Ivolgin,” he said irritably. “What is the good of all this rigmarole? Pardon me. All is now clear, and we acknowledge the truth of your main point. Why go into these tedious details? You wish perhaps to boast of the cleverness of your investigation, to cry up your talents as detective? Or perhaps your intention is to excuse Burdovsky, by proving that he took up the matter in ignorance? Well, I consider that extremely impudent on your part! You ought to know that Burdovsky has no need of being excused or justified by you or anyone else! It is an insult! The affair is quite painful enough for him without that. Will nothing make you understand?”
But he had no time to say another word before Aglaya’s terrible look bereft him of speech. In that look was embodied so dreadful a suffering and so deadly a hatred, that he gave a cry and flew to her; but it was too late.
“May I ask your reason for such an insulting supposition, sir?” said Hippolyte, trembling with rage.
“Ferdishenko--either tell us your story, or be quiet, and mind your own business. You exhaust all patience,” cuttingly and irritably remarked Nastasia Philipovna.
“Our Russian intensity not only astonishes ourselves; all Europe wonders at our conduct in such cases! For, if one of us goes over to Roman Catholicism, he is sure to become a Jesuit at once, and a rabid one into the bargain. If one of us becomes an Atheist, he must needs begin to insist on the prohibition of faith in God by force, that is, by the sword. Why is this? Why does he then exceed all bounds at once? Because he has found land at last, the fatherland that he sought in vain before; and, because his soul is rejoiced to find it, he throws himself upon it and kisses it! Oh, it is not from vanity alone, it is not from feelings of vanity that Russians become Atheists and Jesuits! But from spiritual thirst, from anguish of longing for higher things, for dry firm land, for foothold on a fatherland which they never believed in because they never knew it. It is easier for a Russian to become an Atheist, than for any other nationality in the world. And not only does a Russian ‘become an Atheist,’ but he actually _believes in_ Atheism, just as though he had found a new faith, not perceiving that he has pinned his faith to a negation. Such is our anguish of thirst! ‘Whoso has no country has no God.’ That is not my own expression; it is the expression of a merchant, one of the Old Believers, whom I once met while travelling. He did not say exactly these words. I think his expression was:
As Nastasia Philipovna had not said a word about having met Rogojin since “that day,” the prince concluded that the latter had his own reasons for wishing to keep out of sight. All the day of the funeral our hero was in a deeply thoughtful state, while Nastasia Philipovna was particularly merry, both in the daytime and in the evening.
“What’s the good of tormenting him like this?” cried the prince.
Of such people there are countless numbers in this world--far more even than appear. They can be divided into two classes as all men can--that is, those of limited intellect, and those who are much cleverer. The former of these classes is the happier.
No one had expected this.
Since their visit to Gania’s home, Rogojin’s followers had been increased by two new recruits--a dissolute old man, the hero of some ancient scandal, and a retired sub-lieutenant. A laughable story was told of the former. He possessed, it was said, a set of false teeth, and one day when he wanted money for a drinking orgy, he pawned them, and was never able to reclaim them! The officer appeared to be a rival of the gentleman who was so proud of his fists. He was known to none of Rogojin’s followers, but as they passed by the Nevsky, where he stood begging, he had joined their ranks. His claim for the charity he desired seemed based on the fact that in the days of his prosperity he had given away as much as fifteen roubles at a time. The rivals seemed more than a little jealous of one another. The athlete appeared injured at the admission of the “beggar” into the company. By nature taciturn, he now merely growled occasionally like a bear, and glared contemptuously upon the “beggar,” who, being somewhat of a man of the world, and a diplomatist, tried to insinuate himself into the bear’s good graces. He was a much smaller man than the athlete, and doubtless was conscious that he must tread warily. Gently and without argument he alluded to the advantages of the English style in boxing, and showed himself a firm believer in Western institutions. The athlete’s lips curled disdainfully, and without honouring his adversary with a formal denial, he exhibited, as if by accident, that peculiarly Russian object--an enormous fist, clenched, muscular, and covered with red hairs! The sight of this pre-eminently national attribute was enough to convince anybody, without words, that it was a serious matter for those who should happen to come into contact with it.
“I thought I caught sight of his eyes!” muttered the prince, in confusion. “But what of it!--Why is he here? Was he asked?”
“I deny nothing, but you must confess that your article--”
“It was Gogol, in Dead Souls, father,” cried Colia, glancing at him in some alarm.
“Then how did they--look here! Did Aglaya show my letter to the old lady?”
“Who could have told her?”
“What are you looking so surprised about, my friend?” asked Mrs. Epanchin, suddenly. “Did you suppose he was stupider than yourself, and was incapable of forming his own opinions, or what?”
After this performance, he smiled sweetly and left the room on tiptoe.