Neither one nor the other seemed to give expression to her full thoughts.
Aglaya brought out these thronging words with great satisfaction. They came from her lips hurriedly and impetuously, and had been prepared and thought out long ago, even before she had ever dreamed of the present meeting. She watched with eagerness the effect of her speech as shown in Nastasia’s face, which was distorted with agitation.
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.
“Come, come! the less _you_ say about it the better--to judge from all I have heard about you!” replied Mrs. Epanchin.Alexandra was a good-natured girl, though she had a will of her own. She was intelligent and kind-hearted, and, if she were to marry Totski, she would make him a good wife. She did not care for a brilliant marriage; she was eminently a woman calculated to soothe and sweeten the life of any man; decidedly pretty, if not absolutely handsome. What better could Totski wish?
“He is a lodger of ours,” explained the latter.“What is this ‘star’?” asked another.“Yes, quite so. I wished to ask you whether you could show me the way to Nastasia Philipovna’s tonight. I must go; I have business with her; I was not invited but I was introduced. Anyhow I am ready to trespass the laws of propriety if only I can get in somehow or other.”
“Oh, no, no!” said the prince at last, “that was not what I was going to say--oh no! I don’t think you would ever have been like Osterman.”
“Thank God, I have got mother away, and put her to bed without another scene! Gania is worried--and ashamed--not without reason! What a spectacle! I have come to thank you once more, prince, and to ask you if you knew Nastasia Philipovna before?”“Everybody takes you in and deceives you; you went to town yesterday. I dare swear you went down on your knees to that rogue, and begged him to accept your ten thousand roubles!”“Your love is mingled with hatred, and therefore, when your love passes, there will be the greater misery,” said the prince. “I tell you this, Parfen--”
So saying, she had left the room, banging the door after her, and the prince went off, looking as though he were on his way to a funeral, in spite of all their attempts at consolation.
“Gracious heavens!” exclaimed Lizabetha Prokofievna. The prince started. The general stiffened in his chair; the sisters frowned.If the prince had been in a condition to pay more attention to what the general was saying, he would have discovered that the latter was desirous of drawing some information out of him, or indeed of asking him some question outright; but that he could not make up his mind to come to the point.
“I should think so, rather! I was not going to return and confess next day,” laughed Ferdishenko, who seemed a little surprised at the disagreeable impression which his story had made on all parties.The prince did not notice that others were talking and making themselves agreeable to Aglaya; in fact, at moments, he almost forgot that he was sitting by her himself. At other moments he felt a longing to go away somewhere and be alone with his thoughts, and to feel that no one knew where he was.“You are not very modest!” said she.
“I’ll turn him out!” shouted Gania, glad of the opportunity of venting his vexation. “I shall just turn him out--we can’t have this.”“Won’t you come?” asked the prince in a gentle voice.
Hippolyte himself seemed to be hopeful about his state of health, as is often the case with consumptives.
“Ardalion,” said Nina Alexandrovitch, entreatingly.
“Her mother allowed all this to go on, and nodded her head and encouraged them. The old woman was very ill at that time, and knew she was dying (she really did die a couple of months later), and though she felt the end approaching she never thought of forgiving her daughter, to the very day of her death. She would not even speak to her. She made her sleep on straw in a shed, and hardly gave her food enough to support life.“Yes, he’s boasting like a drunkard,” added Nastasia, as though with the sole intention of goading him.
“I should have liked to have taken you to see Hippolyte,” said Colia. “He is the eldest son of the lady you met just now, and was in the next room. He is ill, and has been in bed all day. But he is rather strange, and extremely sensitive, and I thought he might be upset considering the circumstances in which you came... Somehow it touches me less, as it concerns my father, while it is _his_ mother. That, of course, makes a great difference. What is a terrible disgrace to a woman, does not disgrace a man, at least not in the same way. Perhaps public opinion is wrong in condemning one sex, and excusing the other. Hippolyte is an extremely clever boy, but so prejudiced. He is really a slave to his opinions.”
“Friends as many as you please, but allow me,” interrupted the harsh voice of Lebedeff’s nephew--“allow me to tell you that you might have treated us rather more politely, and not have kept us waiting at least two hours...“But is that all your evidence? It is not enough!”
He remembered that at such times he had been particularly absentminded, and could not discriminate between objects and persons unless he concentrated special attention upon them.
He was not allowed to finish his sentence. Somebody pushed him back into his chair, and begged him to be calm. Nina Alexandrovna trembled, and cried quietly. Gania retired to the window in disgust.“Is he raving?” said the general. “Are we really in a mad-house?”
There was no room for doubt in the prince’s mind: one of the voices was Rogojin’s, and the other Lebedeff’s.
“Nor heard him?”
“I don’t know, I don’t know who said it. Come home at once; come on! I’ll punch Gania’s head myself, if you like--only come. Oh, where _are_ you off to again?” The general was dragging him away towards the door of a house nearby. He sat down on the step, still holding Colia by the hand.
“So it is!” said Rogojin, unexpectedly. They had now reached the front door.
A tear glistened on her cheek. At the sight of it Hippolyte seemed amazed. He lifted his hand timidly and, touched the tear with his finger, smiling like a child.
“The prince will begin by singing us a fashionable ditty,” remarked Ferdishenko, and looked at the mistress of the house, to see what she would say.The prince frowned for a moment in silence, and then said suddenly:“One point in your favour is that you seem to have a child-like mind, and extreme truthfulness,” said the prince at last. “Do you know that that atones for much?”
“Comparatively to what?”“There, I’ve forgotten that too!”“By five I drew up at the Ekshaisky inn. I waited there till dawn, and soon after six I was off, and at the old merchant Trepalaf’s.
“I think I understand, Lukian Timofeyovitch: you were not sure that I should come. You did not think I should start at the first word from you, and you merely wrote to relieve your conscience. However, you see now that I have come, and I have had enough of trickery. Give up serving, or trying to serve, two masters. Rogojin has been here these three weeks. Have you managed to sell her to him as you did before? Tell me the truth.”
“Screw!” laughed Hippolyte.“They killed Pushkin that way.”
“Why, I declare, here he is!” she cried, stopping suddenly. “The man one can’t find with all one’s messengers sent about the place, sitting just under one’s nose, exactly where one never thought of looking! I thought you were sure to be at your uncle’s by this time.”
“Well, what then? Supposing I should like to know?” cried Lizabetha Prokofievna, blushing. “I’m sure I am not afraid of plain speaking. I’m not offending anyone, and I never wish to, and--”“I don’t know.”She spoke impatiently and with severity; this was the first allusion she had made to the party of tomorrow.
The news of what had happened reached the church with extraordinary rapidity. When Keller arrived, a host of people whom he did not know thronged around to ask him questions. There was much excited talking, and shaking of heads, even some laughter; but no one left the church, all being anxious to observe how the now celebrated bridegroom would take the news. He grew very pale upon hearing it, but took it quite quietly.
“Just tell me,” said the prince in reply, “may I count still on your assistance? Or shall I go on alone to see Nastasia Philipovna?”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.
“This is too horrible,” said the general, starting to his feet. All were standing up now. Nastasia was absolutely beside herself.“But why did she run away to me, and then again from me to--”
“Is it certainly accursed?... or do you only mean it might be? That is an important point,” said Evgenie Pavlovitch.
“She was a Countess who rose from shame to reign like a Queen. An Empress wrote to her, with her own hand, as ‘_Ma chère cousine_.’ At a _lever-du-roi_ one morning (do you know what a _lever-du-roi_ was?)--a Cardinal, a Papal legate, offered to put on her stockings; a high and holy person like that looked on it as an honour! Did you know this? I see by your expression that you did not! Well, how did she die? Answer!”There are certain people of whom it is difficult to say anything which will at once throw them into relief--in other words, describe them graphically in their typical characteristics. These are they who are generally known as “commonplace people,” and this class comprises, of course, the immense majority of mankind. Authors, as a rule, attempt to select and portray types rarely met with in their entirety, but these types are nevertheless more real than real life itself.To the amazement of the prince, who overheard the remark, Aglaya looked haughtily and inquiringly at the questioner, as though she would give him to know, once for all, that there could be no talk between them about the ‘poor knight,’ and that she did not understand his question.
“I am going away tomorrow, as you bade me--I won’t write--so that this is the last time I shall see you, the last time! This is really the _last time!_”
He had left things quiet and peaceful; the invalid was fast asleep, and the doctor, who had been called in, had stated that there was no special danger. Lebedeff, Colia, and Burdovsky were lying down in the sick-room, ready to take it in turns to watch. There was nothing to fear, therefore, at home.“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.
“Wait a minute, prince,” said Aglaya, suddenly rising from her seat, “do write something in my album first, will you? Father says you are a most talented caligraphist; I’ll bring you my book in a minute.” She left the room.
But here the two sisters could restrain themselves no longer, and both of them burst into irrepressible laughter.
“You seem to be a little feverish tonight,” said the actress.“That is all thanks to our lassitude, I think,” replied the old man, with authority. “And then their way of preaching; they have a skilful manner of doing it! And they know how to startle one, too. I got quite a fright myself in ’32, in Vienna, I assure you; but I didn’t cave in to them, I ran away instead, ha, ha!”He declared with unusual warmth that he would never forgive himself for having travelled about in the central provinces during these last six months without having hunted up his two old friends.
The effect of this sudden action upon the company was instantaneous. Evgenie Pavlovitch almost bounded off his chair in excitement. Rogojin drew nearer to the table with a look on his face as if he knew what was coming. Gania came nearer too; so did Lebedeff and the others--the paper seemed to be an object of great interest to the company in general.
“He has the right--the right--” murmured Burdovsky. “Excuse me, prince, but what are your arrangements?” asked Lebedeff, tipsy and exasperated, going up to Muishkin.The fact that the prince confirmed her idea, about Hippolyte shooting himself that she might read his confession, surprised her greatly.
“Oh, but, positively, you know--a hundred thousand roubles!”
“Well, then, _let_ him talk, mamma,” said Alexandra. “This prince is a great humbug and by no means an idiot,” she whispered to Aglaya.
“What is it all about?” asked the prince, frowning. His head ached, and he felt sure that Lebedeff was trying to cheat him in some way, and only talking to put off the explanation that he had come for.
“Quite so, I take no notice of it. Ha, ha! and think of this, prince, my pockets are always strong and whole, and yet, here in one night, is a huge hole. I know the phenomenon is unworthy of your notice; but such is the case. I examined the hole, and I declare it actually looks as though it had been made with a pen-knife, a most improbable contingency.”
Aglaya did not begin the conversation, but contented herself with watching her companion intently.“Go on, announce me--what’s that noise?”“My fate is to be decided today” (it ran), “you know how. This day I must give my word irrevocably. I have no right to ask your help, and I dare not allow myself to indulge in any hopes; but once you said just one word, and that word lighted up the night of my life, and became the beacon of my days. Say one more such word, and save me from utter ruin. Only tell me, ‘break off the whole thing!’ and I will do so this very day. Oh! what can it cost you to say just this one word? In doing so you will but be giving me a sign of your sympathy for me, and of your pity; only this, only this; nothing more, _nothing_. I dare not indulge in any hope, because I am unworthy of it. But if you say but this word, I will take up my cross again with joy, and return once more to my battle with poverty. I shall meet the storm and be glad of it; I shall rise up with renewed strength.
“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, sir, I suppose you wanted to make me look ridiculous?”
“What do you mean by special privileges?”
He pulled the note out and kissed it; then paused and reflected. “How strange it all is! how strange!” he muttered, melancholy enough now. In moments of great joy, he invariably felt a sensation of melancholy come over him--he could not tell why.
“Are you about to take a wife? I ask,--if you prefer that expression.”Sure enough, the train was just steaming in as he spoke.
Tears were trembling on her white cheek. She beckoned him, but placed her finger on her lip as though to warn him that he must follow her very quietly. His heart froze within him. He wouldn’t, he _couldn’t_ confess her to be a criminal, and yet he felt that something dreadful would happen the next moment, something which would blast his whole life.
“Yes, indeed, and it is all our own fault. But I have a great friend who is much worse off even than we are. Would you like to know him?”
“Neither during my illness nor at any previous time had I ever seen an apparition;--but I had always thought, both when I was a little boy, and even now, that if I were to see one I should die on the spot--though I don’t believe in ghosts. And yet _now_, when the idea struck me that this was a ghost and not Rogojin at all, I was not in the least alarmed. Nay--the thought actually irritated me. Strangely enough, the decision of the question as to whether this were a ghost or Rogojin did not, for some reason or other, interest me nearly so much as it ought to have done;--I think I began to muse about something altogether different. For instance, I began to wonder why Rogojin, who had been in dressing-gown and slippers when I saw him at home, had now put on a dress-coat and white waistcoat and tie? I also thought to myself, I remember--‘if this is a ghost, and I am not afraid of it, why don’t I approach it and verify my suspicions? Perhaps I am afraid--’ And no sooner did this last idea enter my head than an icy blast blew over me; I felt a chill down my backbone and my knees shook.