The deathlike pallor, and a sort of slight convulsion about the lips, had not left Rogojin’s face. Though he welcomed his guest, he was still obviously much disturbed. As he invited the prince to sit down near the table, the latter happened to turn towards him, and was startled by the strange expression on his face. A painful recollection flashed into his mind. He stood for a time, looking straight at Rogojin, whose eyes seemed to blaze like fire. At last Rogojin smiled, though he still looked agitated and shaken.
“‘Nurse, where is your tomb?’
“Yes, especially this kind.”
“Yes, it is really much too late to send to town now,” said Evgenie Pavlovitch, who had escaped from Aglaya as rapidly as possible. “I am sure the shops are shut in Petersburg; it is past eight o’clock,” he added, looking at his watch.“I, too, was burning to have my say!“It’s only for mother’s sake that I spare him,” said Gania, tragically.“I am to blame in this, Gania--no one else,” said Ptitsin.No sooner had his sister left him alone, than Gania took the note out of his pocket, kissed it, and pirouetted around.“She sprang forward and stood still in front of the reptile as if she had been turned to stone. The beast stopped too, but its tail and claws still moved about. I believe animals are incapable of feeling supernatural fright--if I have been rightly informed,--but at this moment there appeared to me to be something more than ordinary about Norma’s terror, as though it must be supernatural; and as though she felt, just as I did myself, that this reptile was connected with some mysterious secret, some fatal omen.
The prince tried to say something, but he was too confused, and could not get his words out. Aglaya, who had taken such liberties in her little speech, was the only person present, perhaps, who was not in the least embarrassed. She seemed, in fact, quite pleased.“Why, he didn’t die! I’ll ask him for it, if you like.”
“It would be very pleasant,” returned the prince. “But we must see. I am really rather worried just now. What! are we there already? Is that the house? What a long flight of steps! And there’s a porter! Well, Colia I don’t know what will come of it all.”“Did it succeed?” asked Nastasia Philipovna. “Come, let’s try it, let’s try it; we really are not quite so jolly as we might be--let’s try it! We may like it; it’s original, at all events!”
“As if I can think anything about it! I--” He was about to say more, but stopped in despair.
“Old Bielokonski” listened to all the fevered and despairing lamentations of Lizabetha Prokofievna without the least emotion; the tears of this sorrowful mother did not evoke answering sighs--in fact, she laughed at her. She was a dreadful old despot, this princess; she could not allow equality in anything, not even in friendship of the oldest standing, and she insisted on treating Mrs. Epanchin as her _protégée_, as she had been thirty-five years ago. She could never put up with the independence and energy of Lizabetha’s character. She observed that, as usual, the whole family had gone much too far ahead, and had converted a fly into an elephant; that, so far as she had heard their story, she was persuaded that nothing of any seriousness had occurred; that it would surely be better to wait until something _did_ happen; that the prince, in her opinion, was a very decent young fellow, though perhaps a little eccentric, through illness, and not quite as weighty in the world as one could wish. The worst feature was, she said, Nastasia Philipovna.Recollecting himself, however, and seeing at a glance the sort of people he had to deal with, the officer turned his back on both his opponents, and courteously, but concealing his face with his handkerchief, approached the prince, who was now rising from the chair into which he had fallen.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.
However, a week later she received another letter from the same source, and at last resolved to speak.
“Oh! I _know_ you haven’t read it, and that you could never be that man’s accomplice. Read it, I wish you to read it.”
He was extremely excited; his lips trembled, and the resentment of an embittered soul was in his voice. But he spoke so indistinctly that hardly a dozen words could be gathered.
“You hear how he slanders me, prince,” said Lebedeff, almost beside himself with rage. “I may be a drunkard, an evil-doer, a thief, but at least I can say one thing for myself. He does not know--how should he, mocker that he is?--that when he came into the world it was I who washed him, and dressed him in his swathing-bands, for my sister Anisia had lost her husband, and was in great poverty. I was very little better off than she, but I sat up night after night with her, and nursed both mother and child; I used to go downstairs and steal wood for them from the house-porter. How often did I sing him to sleep when I was half dead with hunger! In short, I was more than a father to him, and now--now he jeers at me! Even if I did cross myself, and pray for the repose of the soul of the Comtesse du Barry, what does it matter? Three days ago, for the first time in my life, I read her biography in an historical dictionary. Do you know who she was? You there!” addressing his nephew. “Speak! do you know?”
All present realized that the moment for the settlement of perplexities had arrived.Sure enough, some of the brave fellows entirely lost their heads at this point, and retreated into the next room. Others, however, took the hint and sat down, as far as they could from the table, however; feeling braver in proportion to their distance from Nastasia.
And once more, that same evening, Aglaya mystified them all. Prince S. had returned, and Aglaya was particularly amiable to him, and asked a great deal after Evgenie Pavlovitch. (Muishkin had not come in as yet.)
“Not for anything!” cried the other; “no, no, no!”
“But how could he know anything of it? Tell me that. Lebedeff and the prince determined to tell no one--even Colia knows nothing.”
“It was you,” he murmured, almost in a whisper, but with absolute conviction. “Yes, it was you who came to my room and sat silently on a chair at my window for a whole hour--more! It was between one and two at night; you rose and went out at about three. It was you, you! Why you should have frightened me so, why you should have wished to torment me like that, I cannot tell--but you it was.”
Above his head some little bird sang out, of a sudden; he began to peer about for it among the leaves. Suddenly the bird darted out of the tree and away, and instantly he thought of the “fly buzzing about in the sun’s rays” that Hippolyte had talked of; how that it knew its place and was a participator in the universal life, while he alone was an “outcast.” This picture had impressed him at the time, and he meditated upon it now. An old, forgotten memory awoke in his brain, and suddenly burst into clearness and light. It was a recollection of Switzerland, during the first year of his cure, the very first months. At that time he had been pretty nearly an idiot still; he could not speak properly, and had difficulty in understanding when others spoke to him. He climbed the mountain-side, one sunny morning, and wandered long and aimlessly with a certain thought in his brain, which would not become clear. Above him was the blazing sky, below, the lake; all around was the horizon, clear and infinite. He looked out upon this, long and anxiously. He remembered how he had stretched out his arms towards the beautiful, boundless blue of the horizon, and wept, and wept. What had so tormented him was the idea that he was a stranger to all this, that he was outside this glorious festival.
The prince crossed the road, and disappeared into the park, leaving the astonished Keller in a state of ludicrous wonder. He had never before seen the prince in such a strange condition of mind, and could not have imagined the possibility of it.
“And how are you to know that one isn’t lying? And if one lies the whole point of the game is lost,” said Gania.
“‘I’m off,’ said Davoust. ‘Where to?’ asked Napoleon.XI.
“There,” he whispered, nodding his head towards the curtain.
“Then, in another week, she had run away again, and came here to Lebedeff’s; and when I found her here, she said to me, ‘I’m not going to renounce you altogether, but I wish to put off the wedding a bit longer yet--just as long as I like--for I am still my own mistress; so you may wait, if you like.’ That’s how the matter stands between us now. What do you think of all this, Lef Nicolaievitch?”And he disappeared, without looking round again.The happy state in which the family had spent the evening, as just recorded, was not of very long duration. Next day Aglaya quarrelled with the prince again, and so she continued to behave for the next few days. For whole hours at a time she ridiculed and chaffed the wretched man, and made him almost a laughing-stock.
The Epanchins’ country-house was a charming building, built after the model of a Swiss chalet, and covered with creepers. It was surrounded on all sides by a flower garden, and the family sat, as a rule, on the open verandah as at the prince’s house.
“That same husband of your sister, the usurer--”
“Where they played last night. Then I found this bench and sat down, and thought and thought--and at last I fell fast asleep.”
“Come, come, what does all this mean?” cried Colia beside himself at last. “What is it? What has happened to you? Why don’t you wish to come back home? Why have you gone out of your mind, like this?”“Her happiness? Oh, no! I am only marrying her--well, because she wished it. It means nothing--it’s all the same. She would certainly have died. I see now that that marriage with Rogojin was an insane idea. I understand all now that I did not understand before; and, do you know, when those two stood opposite to one another, I could not bear Nastasia Philipovna’s face! You must know, Evgenie Pavlovitch, I have never told anyone before--not even Aglaya--that I cannot bear Nastasia Philipovna’s face.” (He lowered his voice mysteriously as he said this.) “You described that evening at Nastasia Philipovna’s (six months since) very accurately just now; but there is one thing which you did not mention, and of which you took no account, because you do not know. I mean her _face_--I looked at her face, you see. Even in the morning when I saw her portrait, I felt that I could not _bear_ to look at it. Now, there’s Vera Lebedeff, for instance, her eyes are quite different, you know. I’m _afraid_ of her face!” he added, with real alarm.
“Look here--I’ll write a letter--take a letter for me!”
“Hush! hush! Gavrila Ardalionovitch!” cried Muishkin in dismay, but it was too late.
There was silence for a moment. The prince was taken aback by the suddenness of this last reply, and did not know to what he should attribute it.“G.L.”
“I did not know of its existence till this moment,” declared Hippolyte. “I do not approve of it.”
He was extremely excited; his lips trembled, and the resentment of an embittered soul was in his voice. But he spoke so indistinctly that hardly a dozen words could be gathered.“All right, my friend, talk away, talk away!” she remarked. “Only don’t lose your breath; you were in such a hurry when you began, and look what you’ve come to now! Don’t be afraid of speaking--all these ladies and gentlemen have seen far stranger people than yourself; you don’t astonish _them_. You are nothing out-of-the-way remarkable, you know. You’ve done nothing but break a vase, and give us all a fright.”
“At all events, you’ve disbanded your troop--and you are living in your own house instead of being fast and loose about the place; that’s all very good. Is this house all yours, or joint property?”
“Occasionally I was so much better that I could go out; but the streets used to put me in such a rage that I would lock myself up for days rather than go out, even if I were well enough to do so! I could not bear to see all those preoccupied, anxious-looking creatures continuously surging along the streets past me! Why are they always anxious? What is the meaning of their eternal care and worry? It is their wickedness, their perpetual detestable malice--that’s what it is--they are all full of malice, malice!“My doctor insisted on my sitting down again to get my breath. He now said something to his wife who, without leaving her place, addressed a few words of gratitude and courtesy to me. She seemed very shy over it, and her sickly face flushed up with confusion. I remained, but with the air of a man who knows he is intruding and is anxious to get away. The doctor’s remorse at last seemed to need a vent, I could see.“Delighted, I’m sure,” said Aglaya; “I am acquainted with Varvara Ardalionovna and Nina Alexandrovna.” She was trying hard to restrain herself from laughing.
As to the evening party at the Epanchins’ at which Princess Bielokonski was to be present, Varia had reported with accuracy; though she had perhaps expressed herself too strongly.
“She said, ‘I wouldn’t even have you for a footman now, much less for a husband.’ ‘I shan’t leave the house,’ I said, ‘so it doesn’t matter.’ ‘Then I shall call somebody and have you kicked out,’ she cried. So then I rushed at her, and beat her till she was bruised all over.”
“But it will lead at least to solidarity, and balance of interests,” said Ptitsin.
General Epanchin lived in his own house near the Litaynaya. Besides this large residence--five-sixths of which was let in flats and lodgings--the general was owner of another enormous house in the Sadovaya bringing in even more rent than the first. Besides these houses he had a delightful little estate just out of town, and some sort of factory in another part of the city. General Epanchin, as everyone knew, had a good deal to do with certain government monopolies; he was also a voice, and an important one, in many rich public companies of various descriptions; in fact, he enjoyed the reputation of being a well-to-do man of busy habits, many ties, and affluent means. He had made himself indispensable in several quarters, amongst others in his department of the government; and yet it was a known fact that Fedor Ivanovitch Epanchin was a man of no education whatever, and had absolutely risen from the ranks.
“You there, Gania?” cried a voice from the study, “come in here, will you?”
“But she is not that sort of woman, I tell you!” said Gania, angrily. “She was only acting.”
“Yes.”“They do say one can dance with those!”
“For Heaven’s sake, don’t misunderstand me! Do not think that I humiliate myself by writing thus to you, or that I belong to that class of people who take a satisfaction in humiliating themselves--from pride. I have my consolation, though it would be difficult to explain it--but I do not humiliate myself.
“Parfen Semionovitch is not at home,” she announced from the doorway. “Whom do you want?”
“I can’t understand why you always fly into a temper,” said Mrs. Epanchin, who had been listening to the conversation and examining the faces of the speakers in turn. “I do not understand what you mean. What has your little finger to do with it? The prince talks well, though he is not amusing. He began all right, but now he seems sad.”
“We have been silent on this subject for three weeks,” said his mother, “and it was better so; and now I will only ask you one question. How can she give her consent and make you a present of her portrait when you do not love her? How can such a--such a--”“Yes, it is really much too late to send to town now,” said Evgenie Pavlovitch, who had escaped from Aglaya as rapidly as possible. “I am sure the shops are shut in Petersburg; it is past eight o’clock,” he added, looking at his watch.“Then you think Aglaya Ivanovna herself intends to go to Nastasia Philipovna’s tonight?” he asked, and bright hectic spots came out on his cheeks and forehead.
The general laughed with great satisfaction, and applied himself once more to the champagne.“Don’t listen to her, prince,” said Mrs. Epanchin; “she says that sort of thing out of mischief. Don’t think anything of their nonsense, it means nothing. They love to chaff, but they like you. I can see it in their faces--I know their faces.”
“Oh, that wretched donkey again, I see!” cried the lady. “I assure you, prince, I was not guilty of the least--”