“There,” he whispered, nodding his head towards the curtain.
“Well, go on! never mind me!” mocked the other. “Don’t be afraid!”
Nastasia Philipovna laughed hysterically.
“That’s me, I suppose. I’m the shameless creature!” cried Nastasia Philipovna, with amused indifference. “Dear me, and I came--like a fool, as I am--to invite them over to my house for the evening! Look how your sister treats me, Gavrila Ardalionovitch.”“I see the ‘poor knight’ has come on the scene again,” said Evgenie Pavlovitch, stepping to Aglaya’s side.
The prince gave no answer, and sat deep in thought. Evidently he was struggling to decide.
“Cold?”“Papa, how can you?” cried Adelaida, walking quickly up to the prince and holding out her hand.
The company assembled at Nastasia Philipovna’s consisted of none but her most intimate friends, and formed a very small party in comparison with her usual gatherings on this anniversary.
“Yes, my boy. I wish to present him: General Ivolgin and Prince Muishkin! But what’s the matter?... what?... How is Marfa Borisovna?”
“I take all that you have said as a joke,” said Prince S. seriously.“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.”
“Where are you going to now?” cried Mrs. Epanchin.
“Tell me about it,” said Aglaya.
It was not more than two or three hundred yards from the Epanchins’ house to Lebedeff’s. The first disagreeable impression experienced by Mrs. Epanchin was to find the prince surrounded by a whole assembly of other guests--not to mention the fact that some of those present were particularly detestable in her eyes. The next annoying circumstance was when an apparently strong and healthy young fellow, well dressed, and smiling, came forward to meet her on the terrace, instead of the half-dying unfortunate whom she had expected to see.
“Your highness! His excellency begs your presence in her excellency’s apartments!” announced the footman, appearing at the door.
But at this moment something happened which put a most unexpected end to the orator’s speech. All this heated tirade, this outflow of passionate words and ecstatic ideas which seemed to hustle and tumble over each other as they fell from his lips, bore evidence of some unusually disturbed mental condition in the young fellow who had “boiled over” in such a remarkable manner, without any apparent reason.
“Well, what, general? Not quite good form, eh? Oh, nonsense! Here have I been sitting in my box at the French theatre for the last five years like a statue of inaccessible virtue, and kept out of the way of all admirers, like a silly little idiot! Now, there’s this man, who comes and pays down his hundred thousand on the table, before you all, in spite of my five years of innocence and proud virtue, and I dare be sworn he has his sledge outside waiting to carry me off. He values me at a hundred thousand! I see you are still angry with me, Gania! Why, surely you never really wished to take _me_ into your family? _me_, Rogojin’s mistress! What did the prince say just now?”
“Thank you, prince; no one has ever spoken to me like that before,” began Nastasia Philipovna. “Men have always bargained for me, before this; and not a single respectable man has ever proposed to marry me. Do you hear, Afanasy Ivanovitch? What do _you_ think of what the prince has just been saying? It was almost immodest, wasn’t it? You, Rogojin, wait a moment, don’t go yet! I see you don’t intend to move however. Perhaps I may go with you yet. Where did you mean to take me to?”“Yes, I have just read it.”
“I didn’t say a word, but with extreme courtesy, I may say with most refined courtesy, I reached my finger and thumb over towards the poodle, took it up delicately by the nape of the neck, and chucked it out of the window, after the cigar. The train went flying on, and the poodle’s yells were lost in the distance.”
“Don’t deceive me now, prince--tell the truth. All these people persecute me with astounding questions--about you. Is there any ground for all these questions, or not? Come!”“Why? Nobody would ever challenge me to a duel!”The latter had behaved modestly, but with dignity, on this occasion of his first meeting with the Epanchins since the rupture. Twice Mrs. Epanchin had deliberately examined him from head to foot; but he had stood fire without flinching. He was certainly much changed, as anyone could see who had not met him for some time; and this fact seemed to afford Aglaya a good deal of satisfaction.
In inexpressible agitation, amounting almost to fear, the prince slipped quickly away from the window, away from the light, like a frightened thief, but as he did so he collided violently with some gentleman who seemed to spring from the earth at his feet.
“Yes, of course, she did say something!”
The young fellow accompanying the general was about twenty-eight, tall, and well built, with a handsome and clever face, and bright black eyes, full of fun and intelligence.Of those who were present, such as knew the prince listened to his outburst in a state of alarm, some with a feeling of mortification. It was so unlike his usual timid self-constraint; so inconsistent with his usual taste and tact, and with his instinctive feeling for the higher proprieties. They could not understand the origin of the outburst; it could not be simply the news of Pavlicheff’s perversion. By the ladies the prince was regarded as little better than a lunatic, and Princess Bielokonski admitted afterwards that “in another minute she would have bolted.”
“I daren’t say, one way or the other; all this is very strange--but--”
“Ye-yes!” replied Rogojin, starting at the unexpected question.
The presence of certain of those in the room surprised the prince vastly, but the guest whose advent filled him with the greatest wonder--almost amounting to alarm--was Evgenie Pavlovitch. The prince could not believe his eyes when he beheld the latter, and could not help thinking that something was wrong.
So ended Aglaya; and, to look at her, it was difficult, indeed, to judge whether she was joking or in earnest.
“No, oh no!” cried Lebedeff, waving his arms; “if she is afraid, it is not for the reason you think. By the way, do you know that the monster comes every day to inquire after your health?”
“And are you assured, at the same time, that you love Aglaya too?”