“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.”“I know, prince, of course I know, but I’m afraid I shall not carry it out; for to do so one needs a heart like your own. He is so very irritable just now, and so proud. At one moment he will embrace me, and the next he flies out at me and sneers at me, and then I stick the lining forward on purpose. Well, _au revoir_, prince, I see I am keeping you, and boring you, too, interfering with your most interesting private reflections.”“Is that all?” asked Aglaya.
Now, since Totski had, of late, been upon terms of great cordiality with Epanchin, which excellent relations were intensified by the fact that they were, so to speak, partners in several financial enterprises, it so happened that the former now put in a friendly request to the general for counsel with regard to the important step he meditated. Might he suggest, for instance, such a thing as a marriage between himself and one of the general’s daughters?
He was rushing hurriedly from the terrace, when Lebedeff’s nephew seized his arms, and said something to him in a low voice. Burdovsky turned quickly, and drawing an addressed but unsealed envelope from his pocket, he threw it down on a little table beside the prince.This next arrival was a tall red-faced man of about fifty-five, with greyish hair and whiskers, and large eyes which stood out of their sockets. His appearance would have been distinguished had it not been that he gave the idea of being rather dirty. He was dressed in an old coat, and he smelled of vodka when he came near. His walk was effective, and he clearly did his best to appear dignified, and to impress people by his manner.“What nonsense you are all talking! What do you mean by poor knight?”
“Yes, that’s better,” said Adelaida; “the prince _learned to see_ abroad.”“I was saying just now, before you came in, prince, that there has been nothing national up to now, about our liberalism, and nothing the liberals do, or have done, is in the least degree national. They are drawn from two classes only, the old landowning class, and clerical families--”
“Oh dear no, it’s all a joke. No more cousin than I am.”
“Why should it be secret? Not at all; I will call on her myself tomorrow.”The company departed very quickly, in a mass. Ptitsin, Gania, and Rogojin went away together.“Wasn’t it this same Pavlicheff about whom there was a strange story in connection with some abbot? I don’t remember who the abbot was, but I remember at one time everybody was talking about it,” remarked the old dignitary.
“I am assuredly noble-minded, and chivalrous to a degree!” said Keller, much softened. “But, do you know, this nobility of mind exists in a dream, if one may put it so? It never appears in practice or deed. Now, why is that? I can never understand.”
The fact is that probably Hippolyte was not quite so black as Gania painted him; and it was hardly likely that he had informed Nina Alexandrovna of certain events, of which we know, for the mere pleasure of giving her pain. We must never forget that human motives are generally far more complicated than we are apt to suppose, and that we can very rarely accurately describe the motives of another. It is much better for the writer, as a rule, to content himself with the bare statement of events; and we shall take this line with regard to the catastrophe recorded above, and shall state the remaining events connected with the general’s trouble shortly, because we feel that we have already given to this secondary character in our story more attention than we originally intended.
We have spoken of these letters chiefly because in them is often to be found some news of the Epanchin family, and of Aglaya in particular. Evgenie Pavlovitch wrote of her from Paris, that after a short and sudden attachment to a certain Polish count, an exile, she had suddenly married him, quite against the wishes of her parents, though they had eventually given their consent through fear of a terrible scandal. Then, after a six months’ silence, Evgenie Pavlovitch informed his correspondent, in a long letter, full of detail, that while paying his last visit to Dr. Schneider’s establishment, he had there come across the whole Epanchin family (excepting the general, who had remained in St. Petersburg) and Prince S. The meeting was a strange one. They all received Evgenie Pavlovitch with effusive delight; Adelaida and Alexandra were deeply grateful to him for his “angelic kindness to the unhappy prince.”
Ptitsin was quiet and not easily offended--he only laughed. But on one occasion he explained seriously to Gania that he was no Jew, that he did nothing dishonest, that he could not help the market price of money, that, thanks to his accurate habits, he had already a good footing and was respected, and that his business was flourishing.“I cannot boast of any such knowledge, of course, but I wished to know your name.”Evgenie Pavlovitch gazed at him in real surprise, and this time his expression of face had no mockery in it whatever.
She was silent a moment to get breath, and to recover her composure.“Oh well, as you like!” said Muishkin. “I will think it over. You shall lose nothing!”The prince paused to get breath. He had spoken with extraordinary rapidity, and was very pale.“But you didn’t repeat what you heard in the study? You didn’t repeat that--eh?”“I only see that Aglaya Ivanovna is laughing at me,” said the poor prince, sadly.
“Why are you so unhappy, mother?” asked Adelaida, who alone of all the company seemed to have preserved her good temper and spirits up to now.
But the prince’s mental perturbation increased every moment. He wandered about the park, looking absently around him, and paused in astonishment when he suddenly found himself in the empty space with the rows of chairs round it, near the Vauxhall. The look of the place struck him as dreadful now: so he turned round and went by the path which he had followed with the Epanchins on the way to the band, until he reached the green bench which Aglaya had pointed out for their rendezvous. He sat down on it and suddenly burst into a loud fit of laughter, immediately followed by a feeling of irritation. His disturbance of mind continued; he felt that he must go away somewhere, anywhere.
“Oh yes, but that is not enough.”
“Yes, I saw her, and got the said slap in the face as mentioned. She chucked the letter back to me unopened, and kicked me out of the house, morally, not physically, although not far off it.”
“It is not right! Half an hour ago, prince, it was agreed among us that no one should interrupt, no one should laugh, that each person was to express his thoughts freely; and then at the end, when everyone had spoken, objections might be made, even by the atheists. We chose the general as president. Now without some such rule and order, anyone might be shouted down, even in the loftiest and most profound thought....”He satisfied their curiosity, in as few words as possible, with regard to the wedding, but their exclamations and sighs were so numerous and sincere that he was obliged to tell the whole story--in a short form, of course. The advice of all these agitated ladies was that the prince should go at once and knock at Rogojin’s until he was let in: and when let in insist upon a substantial explanation of everything. If Rogojin was really not at home, the prince was advised to go to a certain house, the address of which was given, where lived a German lady, a friend of Nastasia Philipovna’s. It was possible that she might have spent the night there in her anxiety to conceal herself.“Well, I’ll come, I’ll come,” interrupted the prince, hastily, “and I’ll give you my word of honour that I will sit the whole evening and not say a word.”
“Yes, I got it,” said the prince, blushing.“Aglaya Ivanovna...”“Well, why have I worried him, for five years, and never let him go free? Is he worth it? He is only just what he ought to be--nothing particular. He thinks I am to blame, too. He gave me my education, kept me like a countess. Money--my word! What a lot of money he spent over me! And he tried to find me an honest husband first, and then this Gania, here. And what do you think? All these five years I did not live with him, and yet I took his money, and considered I was quite justified.
“Ladies are exempted if they like.”“Better read on without any more beating about the bush,” said Gania.
As for his own impression on entering the room and taking his seat, he instantly remarked that the company was not in the least such as Aglaya’s words had led him to fear, and as he had dreamed of--in nightmare form--all night.“I am not smiling, but I really think you are in the wrong, somewhat,” replied Muishkin, reluctantly.“Ah! now you begin to moralize! I know that I am only a child, very well,” replied Gania impatiently. “That is proved by my having this conversation with you. It is not for money only, prince, that I am rushing into this affair,” he continued, hardly master of his words, so closely had his vanity been touched. “If I reckoned on that I should certainly be deceived, for I am still too weak in mind and character. I am obeying a passion, an impulse perhaps, because I have but one aim, one that overmasters all else. You imagine that once I am in possession of these seventy-five thousand roubles, I shall rush to buy a carriage... No, I shall go on wearing the old overcoat I have worn for three years, and I shall give up my club. I shall follow the example of men who have made their fortunes. When Ptitsin was seventeen he slept in the street, he sold pen-knives, and began with a copeck; now he has sixty thousand roubles, but to get them, what has he not done? Well, I shall be spared such a hard beginning, and shall start with a little capital. In fifteen years people will say, ‘Look, that’s Ivolgin, the king of the Jews!’ You say that I have no originality. Now mark this, prince--there is nothing so offensive to a man of our time and race than to be told that he is wanting in originality, that he is weak in character, has no particular talent, and is, in short, an ordinary person. You have not even done me the honour of looking upon me as a rogue. Do you know, I could have knocked you down for that just now! You wounded me more cruelly than Epanchin, who thinks me capable of selling him my wife! Observe, it was a perfectly gratuitous idea on his part, seeing there has never been any discussion of it between us! This has exasperated me, and I am determined to make a fortune! I will do it! Once I am rich, I shall be a genius, an extremely original man. One of the vilest and most hateful things connected with money is that it can buy even talent; and will do so as long as the world lasts. You will say that this is childish--or romantic. Well, that will be all the better for me, but the thing shall be done. I will carry it through. He laughs most, who laughs last. Why does Epanchin insult me? Simply because, socially, I am a nobody. However, enough for the present. Colia has put his nose in to tell us dinner is ready, twice. I’m dining out. I shall come and talk to you now and then; you shall be comfortable enough with us. They are sure to make you one of the family. I think you and I will either be great friends or enemies. Look here now, supposing I had kissed your hand just now, as I offered to do in all sincerity, should I have hated you for it afterwards?”
“Then why is it ‘not the point’?”
“No--I will not sit down,--I am keeping you, I see,--another time!--I think I may be permitted to congratulate you upon the realization of your heart’s best wishes, is it not so?”“_Love-letter?_ My letter a love-letter? That letter was the most respectful of letters; it went straight from my heart, at what was perhaps the most painful moment of my life! I thought of you at the time as a kind of light. I--”
“‘I’m off,’ said Davoust. ‘Where to?’ asked Napoleon.
“Let them alone, you’re too weak now--”
“Certainly, but not always. You would not have been able to keep it up, and would have ended by forgiving me,” said the prince, after a pause for reflection, and with a pleasant smile.
“What, after yesterday? Wasn’t I honest with you?”
But Lizabetha Prokofievna knew perfectly well how unnecessary was the last question. She set a high value on Alexandra Ivanovna’s judgment, and often consulted her in difficulties; but that she was a ‘wet hen’ she never for a moment doubted. “She is so calm; nothing rouses her--though wet hens are not always calm! Oh! I can’t understand it!” Her eldest daughter inspired Lizabetha with a kind of puzzled compassion. She did not feel this in Aglaya’s case, though the latter was her idol. It may be said that these outbursts and epithets, such as “wet hen” (in which the maternal solicitude usually showed itself), only made Alexandra laugh. Sometimes the most trivial thing annoyed Mrs. Epanchin, and drove her into a frenzy. For instance, Alexandra Ivanovna liked to sleep late, and was always dreaming, though her dreams had the peculiarity of being as innocent and naive as those of a child of seven; and the very innocence of her dreams annoyed her mother. Once she dreamt of nine hens, and this was the cause of quite a serious quarrel--no one knew why. Another time she had--it was most unusual--a dream with a spark of originality in it. She dreamt of a monk in a dark room, into which she was too frightened to go. Adelaida and Aglaya rushed off with shrieks of laughter to relate this to their mother, but she was quite angry, and said her daughters were all fools.
And so they took their departure; but in this hasty and kindly designed visit there was hidden a fund of cruelty which Lizabetha Prokofievna never dreamed of. In the words “as usual,” and again in her added, “mine, at all events,” there seemed an ominous knell of some evil to come.
“Oh--be easy, sir, be easy! I shall not wound your tenderest feelings. I’ve been through it all myself, and I know well how unpleasant it is when an outsider sticks his nose in where he is not wanted. I experience this every morning. I came to speak to you about another matter, though, an important matter. A very important matter, prince.”
“Oh! so he kept his word--there’s a man for you! Well, sit down, please--take that chair. I shall have something to say to you presently. Who are all these with you? The same party? Let them come in and sit down. There’s room on that sofa, there are some chairs and there’s another sofa! Well, why don’t they sit down?”
“Gospel truth, sir, Gospel truth!” exclaimed another passenger, a shabbily dressed man of about forty, who looked like a clerk, and possessed a red nose and a very blotchy face. “Gospel truth! All they do is to get hold of our good Russian money free, gratis, and for nothing.”
“But wait,” said Nastasia. “How is it that, five or six days since, I read exactly the same story in the paper, as happening between a Frenchman and an English girl? The cigar was snatched away exactly as you describe, and the poodle was chucked out of the window after it. The slapping came off, too, as in your case; and the girl’s dress was light blue!”
“Get on, quick!” shrieked Ferdishenko, rushing wildly up to Gania, and trying to drag him to the fire by the sleeve of his coat. “Get it, you dummy, it’s burning away fast! Oh--_damn_ the thing!”
“What delightful writing materials you have here, such a lot of pencils and things, and what beautiful paper! It’s a charming room altogether. I know that picture, it’s a Swiss view. I’m sure the artist painted it from nature, and that I have seen the very place--”
“If you had cared to be an honest woman, you would have gone out as a laundress.”
Nastasia Philipovna looked surprised, and smiled, but evidently concealed something beneath her smile and with some confusion and a glance at Gania she left the room.
“Look here, Aglaya--” began the general.“Come, that’s a little _too_ strong, isn’t it?” murmured the old man, glancing at General Epanchin in surprise.
“In the first place, don’t dare to suppose,” she began, “that I am going to apologize. Nonsense! You were entirely to blame.”“If you wished to preserve your good name, why did you not give up your--your ‘guardian,’ Totski, without all that theatrical posturing?” said Aglaya, suddenly a propos of nothing.
“I am well enough; but is it really possible?--”
“You are innocent--and in your innocence lies all your perfection--oh, remember that! What is my passion to you?--you are mine now; I shall be near you all my life--I shall not live long!”“Mountains?”
“You caught him by the arms, you know, prince. No man of proper pride can stand that sort of treatment in public.”