He explained about himself in a few words, very much the same as he had told the footman and Rogojin beforehand.
“H’m! yes, that’s true enough. Well now, how is the law over there, do they administer it more justly than here?”
For instance, when the whole essence of an ordinary person’s nature lies in his perpetual and unchangeable commonplaceness; and when in spite of all his endeavours to do something out of the common, this person ends, eventually, by remaining in his unbroken line of routine--. I think such an individual really does become a type of his own--a type of commonplaceness which will not for the world, if it can help it, be contented, but strains and yearns to be something original and independent, without the slightest possibility of being so. To this class of commonplace people belong several characters in this novel;--characters which--I admit--I have not drawn very vividly up to now for my reader’s benefit.
“General, remember the siege of Kars! And you, gentlemen, I assure you my anecdote is the naked truth. I may remark that reality, although it is governed by invariable law, has at times a resemblance to falsehood. In fact, the truer a thing is the less true it sounds.”
“I don’t quite know. Your house has the aspect of yourself and all your family; it bears the stamp of the Rogojin life; but ask me why I think so, and I can tell you nothing. It is nonsense, of course. I am nervous about this kind of thing troubling me so much. I had never before imagined what sort of a house you would live in, and yet no sooner did I set eyes on this one than I said to myself that it must be yours.”
“I’ll die before I invite you! I shall forget your very name! I’ve forgotten it already!”
“Why, he wears an ‘order,’ and it looks so well!”
“It’s burning, it’s burning!” cried all, thronging nearer and nearer to the fire in their excitement.
“Well, well! Enough! You’ve pitied me, and that’s all that good manners exact. I forgot, how are you?”
Burdovsky alone sat silent and motionless.
Evgenie Pavlovitch gazed at him in real surprise, and this time his expression of face had no mockery in it whatever.
“He is dying, yet he will not stop holding forth!” cried Lizabetha Prokofievna. She loosed her hold on his arm, almost terrified, as she saw him wiping the blood from his lips. “Why do you talk? You ought to go home to bed.”
“Prince! ex-ex-excellency!” he stammered. Then suddenly he ran towards the girl with the infant, a movement so unexpected by her that she staggered and fell back, but next moment he was threatening the other child, who was standing, still laughing, in the doorway. She screamed, and ran towards the kitchen. Lebedeff stamped his foot angrily; then, seeing the prince regarding him with amazement, he murmured apologetically--“Pardon to show respect!... he-he!”
“‘Do you know what has suddenly come into my head?’ said I, suddenly--leaning further and further over the rail.
When they were almost arrived at Daria Alexeyevna’s house (it was a large wooden structure of ancient date), a gorgeously-dressed lady and a young girl came out of it. Both these ladies took their seats in a carriage, which was waiting at the door, talking and laughing loudly the while, and drove away without appearing to notice the approaching couple.
“Bend down--bend down your ear. I’ll tell you all--disgrace--bend down, I’ll tell you in your ear.”
“Abbot Pafnute,” said our friend, seriously and with deference.
“Come along,” said Aglaya. “Prince, you must walk with me. May he, mother? This young cavalier, who won’t have me? You said you would _never_ have me, didn’t you, prince? No--no, not like that; _that’s_ not the way to give your arm. Don’t you know how to give your arm to a lady yet? There--so. Now, come along, you and I will lead the way. Would you like to lead the way with me alone, tête-à-tête?”
“Well--just for one second, then. The fact is, I came for advice. Of course I live now without any very practical objects in life; but, being full of self-respect, in which quality the ordinary Russian is so deficient as a rule, and of activity, I am desirous, in a word, prince, of placing myself and my wife and children in a position of--in fact, I want advice.”
“Ah, Gania knows nothing about it? It seems there are many things that Gania does not know,” exclaimed the prince, as he considered Colia’s last words.
It was said that Elizabetha Prokofievna and her daughters had there and then denounced the prince in the strongest terms, and had refused any further acquaintance and friendship with him; their rage and denunciations being redoubled when Varia Ardalionovna suddenly arrived and stated that Aglaya had been at her house in a terrible state of mind for the last hour, and that she refused to come home.
“Kapiton didn’t exist either!” persisted Gania, maliciously.
But gradually the consciousness crept back into the minds of each one present that the prince had just made her an offer of marriage. The situation had, therefore, become three times as fantastic as before.
“How beautiful that is!” cried Mrs. Epanchin, with sincere admiration. “Whose is it?”
“Quite true,” whispered the prince.
“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.
“Marriage covers everything,” observed a third.
Muishkin himself came in very timidly. He seemed to feel his way, and looked in each person’s eyes in a questioning way,--for Aglaya was absent, which fact alarmed him at once.
“And are you assured, at the same time, that you love Aglaya too?”
“Perhaps I do; but tell me yourself,” said Nastasia Philipovna, quietly.
Thanks to the manner in which he regarded Nastasia’s mental and moral condition, the prince was to some extent freed from other perplexities. She was now quite different from the woman he had known three months before. He was not astonished, for instance, to see her now so impatient to marry him--she who formerly had wept with rage and hurled curses and reproaches at him if he mentioned marriage! “It shows that she no longer fears, as she did then, that she would make me unhappy by marrying me,” he thought. And he felt sure that so sudden a change could not be a natural one. This rapid growth of self-confidence could not be due only to her hatred for Aglaya. To suppose that would be to suspect the depth of her feelings. Nor could it arise from dread of the fate that awaited her if she married Rogojin. These causes, indeed, as well as others, might have played a part in it, but the true reason, Muishkin decided, was the one he had long suspected--that the poor sick soul had come to the end of its forces. Yet this was an explanation that did not procure him any peace of mind. At times he seemed to be making violent efforts to think of nothing, and one would have said that he looked on his marriage as an unimportant formality, and on his future happiness as a thing not worth considering. As to conversations such as the one held with Evgenie Pavlovitch, he avoided them as far as possible, feeling that there were certain objections to which he could make no answer.
Lizabetha Prokofievna placed a chair for him with her own hands.
“Parfen, I am not your enemy, and I do not intend to oppose your intentions in any way. I repeat this to you now just as I said it to you once before on a very similar occasion. When you were arranging for your projected marriage in Moscow, I did not interfere with you--you know I did not. That first time she fled to me from you, from the very altar almost, and begged me to ‘save her from you.’ Afterwards she ran away from me again, and you found her and arranged your marriage with her once more; and now, I hear, she has run away from you and come to Petersburg. Is it true? Lebedeff wrote me to this effect, and that’s why I came here. That you had once more arranged matters with Nastasia Philipovna I only learned last night in the train from a friend of yours, Zaleshoff--if you wish to know.
“I see for myself that it is so--and I shall tell _her_. But you are not quite yourself, Lef Nicolaievitch.”
“The thought steps in, whether one likes it or no, that death is so terrible and so powerful, that even He who conquered it in His miracles during life was unable to triumph over it at the last. He who called to Lazarus, ‘Lazarus, come forth!’ and the dead man lived--He was now Himself a prey to nature and death. Nature appears to one, looking at this picture, as some huge, implacable, dumb monster; or still better--a stranger simile--some enormous mechanical engine of modern days which has seized and crushed and swallowed up a great and invaluable Being, a Being worth nature and all her laws, worth the whole earth, which was perhaps created merely for the sake of the advent of that Being.
He fell senseless at last--and was carried into the prince’s study.
“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?
“Why, of course,” replied the clerk, gesticulating with his hands.
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 so happened, however, that on this particular evening all these good people were in excellent humour and highly pleased with themselves. Every one of them felt that they were doing the Epanchins the greatest possible honour by their presence. But alas! the prince never suspected any such subtleties! For instance, he had no suspicion of the fact that the Epanchins, having in their mind so important a step as the marriage of their daughter, would never think of presuming to take it without having previously “shown off” the proposed husband to the dignitary--the recognized patron of the family. The latter, too, though he would probably have received news of a great disaster to the Epanchin family with perfect composure, would nevertheless have considered it a personal offence if they had dared to marry their daughter without his advice, or we might almost say, his leave.
“It’s loaded all right,” said Keller, examining the pistol, “but--”
“Where’s your luggage?” he asked, as he led the prince away to his room.
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.
“Well, it was clear enough all along,” he said, after a moment’s reflection. “So that’s the end,” he added, with a disagreeable smile, continuing to walk up and down the room, but much slower than before, and glancing slyly into his sister’s face.
“Stop a minute; where are you off to? Who is this abbot?” cried Mrs. Epanchin to her retreating husband in a tone of excited annoyance.
“I don’t understand you.”
“Yes, my dear, it was an old abbot of that name--I must be off to see the count, he’s waiting for me, I’m late--Good-bye! _Au revoir_, prince!”--and the general bolted at full speed.
“Perhaps so; but it is hardly possible that you told it so that it seemed like truth, or so that you were believed. And, as Gavrila Ardalionovitch has said, the least suggestion of a falsehood takes all point out of the game. It seems to me that sincerity, on the other hand, is only possible if combined with a kind of bad taste that would be utterly out of place here.”
“I don’t understand what you are driving at!” he cried, almost angrily, “and, and--what an intriguer you are, Lebedeff!” he added, bursting into a fit of genuine laughter.
“Ha, ha, ha!”
“Quite so, nonsense! Ha, ha, ha! dear me! He did amuse me, did the general! We went off on the hot scent to Wilkin’s together, you know; but I must first observe that the general was even more thunderstruck than I myself this morning, when I awoke him after discovering the theft; so much so that his very face changed--he grew red and then pale, and at length flew into a paroxysm of such noble wrath that I assure you I was quite surprised! He is a most generous-hearted man! He tells lies by the thousands, I know, but it is merely a weakness; he is a man of the highest feelings; a simple-minded man too, and a man who carries the conviction of innocence in his very appearance. I love that man, sir; I may have told you so before; it is a weakness of mine. Well--he suddenly stopped in the middle of the road, opened out his coat and bared his breast. ‘Search me,’ he says, ‘you searched Keller; why don’t you search me too? It is only fair!’ says he. And all the while his legs and hands were trembling with anger, and he as white as a sheet all over! So I said to him, ‘Nonsense, general; if anybody but yourself had said that to me, I’d have taken my head, my own head, and put it on a large dish and carried it round to anyone who suspected you; and I should have said: “There, you see that head? It’s my head, and I’ll go bail with that head for him! Yes, and walk through the fire for him, too.” There,’ says I, ‘that’s how I’d answer for you, general!’ Then he embraced me, in the middle of the street, and hugged me so tight (crying over me all the while) that I coughed fit to choke! ‘You are the one friend left to me amid all my misfortunes,’ says he. Oh, he’s a man of sentiment, that! He went on to tell me a story of how he had been accused, or suspected, of stealing five hundred thousand roubles once, as a young man; and how, the very next day, he had rushed into a burning, blazing house and saved the very count who suspected him, and Nina Alexandrovna (who was then a young girl), from a fiery death. The count embraced him, and that was how he came to marry Nina Alexandrovna, he said. As for the money, it was found among the ruins next day in an English iron box with a secret lock; it had got under the floor somehow, and if it had not been for the fire it would never have been found! The whole thing is, of course, an absolute fabrication, though when he spoke of Nina Alexandrovna he wept! She’s a grand woman, is Nina Alexandrovna, though she is very angry with me!”
The prince immediately followed the man out of the room.
“Every one of them has been saying it--every one of them--all these three days! And I will never, never marry him!”
“There is much suffering in this face,” murmured the prince, more as though talking to himself than answering the question.
“At my wife’s; in other words, at my own place, my daughter’s house.”
“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.
“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!”
The man evidently could not take in the idea of such a shabby-looking visitor, and had decided to ask once more.
“I really don’t absolutely know myself; I know my feeling was very sincere. I had moments at that time full of life and hope.”
“I continued in that strain for a long while, pointing out to Bachmatoff how impossible it is to follow up the effects of any isolated good deed one may do, in all its influences and subtle workings upon the heart and after-actions of others.
The Rogojin gang followed their leader and Nastasia Philipovna to the entrance-hall, laughing and shouting and whistling.
“I never told either him or you that I loved him!” replied Nastasia Philipovna, with an effort. “And--and I did run away from him--you are right there,” she added, scarcely audibly.
“In my opinion, you are far from a fool sometimes--in fact, you are very intelligent. You said a very clever thing just now about my being unjust because I had _only_ justice. I shall remember that, and think about it.”
“Yes. We came to Lucerne, and I was taken out in a boat. I felt how lovely it was, but the loveliness weighed upon me somehow or other, and made me feel melancholy.”
“Perhaps you think I am mad, eh?” he asked him, laughing very strangely.
“And it’s Siberia for sacrilege, isn’t it?”
“Did she say that?”
“No--Mr. Pavlicheff, who had been supporting me there, died a couple of years ago. I wrote to Mrs. General Epanchin at the time (she is a distant relative of mine), but she did not answer my letter. And so eventually I came back.”
“Gracious heavens!” exclaimed Lizabetha Prokofievna. The prince started. The general stiffened in his chair; the sisters frowned.
Aglaya flushed up angrily.
The prince did not exactly pant for breath, but he “seemed almost to _choke_ out of pure simplicity and goodness of heart,” as Adelaida expressed it, on talking the party over with her fiance, the Prince S., next morning.
The prince paused and all waited, expecting him to go on again and finish the story.
“This page of the album, framed in gold, hung on the wall of my sister’s drawing-room all her life, in the most conspicuous place, till the day of her death; where it is now, I really don’t know. Heavens! it’s two o’clock! _How_ I have kept you, prince! It is really most unpardonable of me.”
He saw them gather up the broken bits of china; he heard the loud talking of the guests and observed how pale Aglaya looked, and how very strangely she was gazing at him. There was no hatred in her expression, and no anger whatever. It was full of alarm for him, and sympathy and affection, while she looked around at the others with flashing, angry eyes. His heart filled with a sweet pain as he gazed at her.
“Yes, yes,” agreed the prince, warmly.
“Why don’t you finish your sentence? Shall I tell you what you were thinking to yourself just then? You were thinking, ‘How can she marry him after this? How can it possibly be permitted?’ Oh, I know what you were thinking about!”
“With the greatest respect... and... and veneration,” replied Lebedeff, making extraordinary grimaces.
“Oh, you needn’t fear! He’ll live another six weeks all right. Very likely he will recover altogether; but I strongly advise you to pack him off tomorrow.”
I cannot say, either, whether she showed the letter to her sisters.
“Oh, you were raving, you were in a fever; you are still half delirious.”
“Of course; quite so. In that case it all depends upon what is going on in her brain at this moment.”
“I don’t want you to suspect that I have simply come here to deceive you and pump information out of you!” said Evgenie, still smiling, and without making any direct reply to the question.
“I suppose you angered him somehow?” asked the prince, looking at the millionaire with considerable curiosity. But though there may have been something remarkable in the fact that this man was heir to millions of roubles there was something about him which surprised and interested the prince more than that. Rogojin, too, seemed to have taken up the conversation with unusual alacrity it appeared that he was still in a considerable state of excitement, if not absolutely feverish, and was in real need of someone to talk to for the mere sake of talking, as safety-valve to his agitation.
“It is revolting and unseemly!” cried Hippolyte, jumping up in a fury.
And he handed the prince the very letter from Aglaya to Gania, which the latter showed with so much triumph to his sister at a later hour.
Whether she were a woman who had read too many poems, as Evgenie Pavlovitch supposed, or whether she were mad, as the prince had assured Aglaya, at all events, this was a woman who, in spite of her occasionally cynical and audacious manner, was far more refined and trustful and sensitive than appeared. There was a certain amount of romantic dreaminess and caprice in her, but with the fantastic was mingled much that was strong and deep.
“When I do go to bed I shall never get up again,” said Hippolyte, with a smile. “I meant to take to my bed yesterday and stay there till I died, but as my legs can still carry me, I put it off for two days, so as to come here with them to-day--but I am very tired.”
“I beg your pardon, gentlemen; please excuse me,” said the prince. “I thought absolute frankness on both sides would be best, but have it your own way. I told Tchebaroff that, as I was not in Petersburg, I would commission a friend to look into the matter without delay, and that I would let you know, Mr. Burdovsky. Gentlemen, I have no hesitation in telling you that it was the fact of Tchebaroff’s intervention that made me suspect a fraud. Oh! do not take offence at my words, gentlemen, for Heaven’s sake do not be so touchy!” cried the prince, seeing that Burdovsky was getting excited again, and that the rest were preparing to protest. “If I say I suspected a fraud, there is nothing personal in that. I had never seen any of you then; I did not even know your names; I only judged by Tchebaroff; I am speaking quite generally--if you only knew how I have been ‘done’ since I came into my fortune!”
“Come back, father; the neighbours will hear!” cried Varia.
“Thank you,” he said gently. “Sit opposite to me, and let us talk. We must have a talk now, Lizabetha Prokofievna; I am very anxious for it.” He smiled at her once more. “Remember that today, for the last time, I am out in the air, and in the company of my fellow-men, and that in a fortnight I shall certainly be no longer in this world. So, in a way, this is my farewell to nature and to men. I am not very sentimental, but do you know, I am quite glad that all this has happened at Pavlofsk, where at least one can see a green tree.”
“It undoubtedly has already!” observed Gania.
But here the two sisters could restrain themselves no longer, and both of them burst into irrepressible laughter.
“I, too, should have been unable to tear my eyes away,” said Aglaya.
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.
“Oh! that’s enough in all conscience! Pray for whom you choose, and the devil take them and you! We have a scholar here; you did not know that, prince?” he continued, with a sneer. “He reads all sorts of books and memoirs now.”
“I must say it’s very nice of you to laugh. I see you really are a kind-hearted fellow,” said Mrs. Epanchin.