These exclamations but feebly expressed the profound bewilderment into which the prince’s words had plunged Burdovsky’s companions.
Arrived home again, the prince sent for Vera Lebedeff and told her as much as was necessary, in order to relieve her mind, for she had been in a dreadful state of anxiety since she had missed the letter. She heard with horror that her father had taken it. Muishkin learned from her that she had on several occasions performed secret missions both for Aglaya and for Rogojin, without, however, having had the slightest idea that in so doing she might injure the prince in any way.
“I don’t understand you. How could he have me in view, and not be aware of it himself? And yet, I don’t know--perhaps I do. Do you know I have intended to poison myself at least thirty times--ever since I was thirteen or so--and to write to my parents before I did it? I used to think how nice it would be to lie in my coffin, and have them all weeping over me and saying it was all their fault for being so cruel, and all that--what are you smiling at?” she added, knitting her brow. “What do _you_ think of when you go mooning about alone? I suppose you imagine yourself a field-marshal, and think you have conquered Napoleon?”
“What on earth do you mean? Oh I if only I knew where Colia was at this moment!” cried the prince, standing up, as if to go.When Keller seized the would-be suicide, the latter fell forward into his arms, probably actually believing that he was shot. Keller had hold of the pistol now. Hippolyte was immediately placed in a chair, while the whole company thronged around excitedly, talking and asking each other questions. Every one of them had heard the snap of the trigger, and yet they saw a live and apparently unharmed man before them.
“Well, when we tried it we were a party of people, like this, for instance; and somebody proposed that each of us, without leaving his place at the table, should relate something about himself. It had to be something that he really and honestly considered the very worst action he had ever committed in his life. But he was to be honest--that was the chief point! He wasn’t to be allowed to lie.”
But again, amidst the incontrovertible facts just recorded, one more, equally significant, rose up to confront the family; and this was, that the eldest daughter, Alexandra, had imperceptibly arrived at her twenty-fifth birthday. Almost at the same moment, Afanasy Ivanovitch Totski, a man of immense wealth, high connections, and good standing, announced his intention of marrying. Afanasy Ivanovitch was a gentleman of fifty-five years of age, artistically gifted, and of most refined tastes. He wished to marry well, and, moreover, he was a keen admirer and judge of beauty.“There he is!” she shrieked again, pointing to the prince and addressing Aglaya. “There he is! and if he does not approach me at once and take _me_ and throw you over, then have him for your own--I give him up to you! I don’t want him!”On meeting Colia the prince determined to accompany the general, though he made up his mind to stay as short a time as possible. He wanted Colia, but firmly resolved to leave the general behind. He could not forgive himself for being so simple as to imagine that Ivolgin would be of any use. The three climbed up the long staircase until they reached the fourth floor where Madame Terentieff lived.
“What have you got there?” asked the prince, with some anxiety.
“Wasn’t she joking? She was speaking sarcastically!”
“Surely not you?” cried the prince.
“‘I’ll do it--I’ll do it, of course!’ he said. ‘I shall attack my uncle about it tomorrow morning, and I’m very glad you told me the story. But how was it that you thought of coming to me about it, Terentieff?’The prince, when he heard the story afterwards, felt that he had never yet come across so wonderful a humorist, or such remarkable brilliancy as was shown by this man; and yet if he had only known it, this story was the oldest, stalest, and most worn-out yarn, and every drawing-room in town was sick to death of it. It was only in the innocent Epanchin household that it passed for a new and brilliant tale--as a sudden and striking reminiscence of a splendid and talented man.
On the day before the wedding, the prince left Nastasia in a state of great animation. Her wedding-dress and all sorts of finery had just arrived from town. Muishkin had not imagined that she would be so excited over it, but he praised everything, and his praise rendered her doubly happy.“Just wait a while, my boy!” said she; “don’t be too certain of your triumph.” And she sat down heavily, in the arm-chair pushed forward by the prince.
The same thing happened in the park and in the street, wherever he went. He was pointed out when he drove by, and he often overheard the name of Nastasia Philipovna coupled with his own as he passed. People looked out for her at the funeral, too, but she was not there; and another conspicuous absentee was the captain’s widow, whom Lebedeff had prevented from coming.“Then you must see that he is not responsible. What does it matter to you now, in any case? What are you hoping for still? If you _have_ a hope left, it is that your suffering air may soften her heart towards you.”“Prince, prince!” he cried, seizing hold of his arm, “recollect yourself! Drop her, prince! You see what sort of a woman she is. I am speaking to you like a father.”
“Yes, especially this kind.”
“Aglaya, make a note of ‘Pafnute,’ or we shall forget him. H’m! and where is this signature?”
The prince was haunted all that day by the face of Lebedeff’s nephew whom he had seen for the first time that morning, just as one is haunted at times by some persistent musical refrain. By a curious association of ideas, the young man always appeared as the murderer of whom Lebedeff had spoken when introducing him to Muishkin. Yes, he had read something about the murder, and that quite recently. Since he came to Russia, he had heard many stories of this kind, and was interested in them. His conversation with the waiter, an hour ago, chanced to be on the subject of this murder of the Zemarins, and the latter had agreed with him about it. He thought of the waiter again, and decided that he was no fool, but a steady, intelligent man: though, said he to himself, “God knows what he may really be; in a country with which one is unfamiliar it is difficult to understand the people one meets.” He was beginning to have a passionate faith in the Russian soul, however, and what discoveries he had made in the last six months, what unexpected discoveries! But every soul is a mystery, and depths of mystery lie in the soul of a Russian. He had been intimate with Rogojin, for example, and a brotherly friendship had sprung up between them--yet did he really know him? What chaos and ugliness fills the world at times! What a self-satisfied rascal is that nephew of Lebedeff’s! “But what am I thinking,” continued the prince to himself. “Can he really have committed that crime? Did he kill those six persons? I seem to be confusing things... how strange it all is.... My head goes round... And Lebedeff’s daughter--how sympathetic and charming her face was as she held the child in her arms! What an innocent look and child-like laugh she had! It is curious that I had forgotten her until now. I expect Lebedeff adores her--and I really believe, when I think of it, that as sure as two and two make four, he is fond of that nephew, too!”
“Prince, my dear fellow, do remember what you are about,” said the general, approaching Muishkin, and pulling him by the coat sleeve.
He paused again, he was trying to make up his mind to something, and was turning the matter over. The prince waited quietly. Once more Gania fixed him with intent and questioning eyes.He lifted the curtain, paused--and turned to the prince. “Go in,” he said, motioning him to pass behind the curtain. Muishkin went in.When they reached the stairs again he added:
“My God! Who would ever have believed this?” cried Mrs. Epanchin, wringing her hands.
“Indirectly, quite indirectly! I am speaking the truth--I am indeed! I merely told a certain person that I had people in my house, and that such and such personages might be found among them.”