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First digital edition 2017 by Anna Ruggieri
Towards the end of November, during a thaw, at nine o’clock one morning, a train on the Warsaw and Petersburg railway was approaching the latter city at full speed. The morning was so damp and misty that it was only with great difficulty that the day succeeded in breaking; and it was impossible to distinguish anything more than a few yards away from the carriage windows.
Some of the passengers by this particular train werereturning from abroad; but the third-class carriages were the best filled, chiefly with insignificant persons of various occupations and degrees, picked up at the different stations nearer town. All of them seemed weary, and most of them had sleepy eyes and a shivering expression, while their complexions generally appeared to have taken on the colour of the fog outside.
When day dawned, two passengers in one of the third-class carriages found themselves opposite each other. Both were young fellows, both were rather poorly dressed, both had remarkable faces, and both were evidently anxious to start a conversation. If they had but known why, at this particular moment, they were both remarkable persons, they would undoubtedly have wondered at the strange chancewhich had set them down opposite to one another in a third-class carriage of the Warsaw Railway Company.
One of them was a young fellow of about twenty-seven, not tall, with black curling hair, and small, grey, fiery eyes. His nose was broad and flat, andhe had high cheek bones; his thin lips were constantly compressed into an impudent, ironical—it might almost be called a malicious—smile; but his forehead was high and well formed, and atoned for a good deal of the ugliness of the lower part of his face.A special feature of this physiognomy was its death-like pallor, which gave to the whole man an indescribably emaciated appearance in spite of his hard look, and at the same time a sort of passionate and suffering expression which did not harmonize with his impudent, sarcastic smile and keen, self-satisfied bearing. He wore a large fur—or rather astrachan—overcoat, which had kept him warm all night, while his neighbour had been obliged to bear the full severity of a Russian November night entirely unprepared. His wide sleeveless mantle with a large cape to it—the sort of cloak one sees upon travellers during the winter months in Switzerland or North Italy—was by no means adapted to the long cold journey through Russia, from Eydkuhnen to St. Petersburg.
The wearer of this cloak was a young fellow, also of about twenty-six or twenty-seven years of age, slightly above the middle height, very fair, with a thin, pointed and very light coloured beard; his eyes were large and blue, and had an intent look about them,yet that heavy expression which some people affirm to be a peculiarity as well as evidence, of an epileptic subject. His face was decidedly a pleasant one for all that; refined, but quite colourless, except for the circumstance that at this moment it wasblue with cold. He held a bundle made up of an old faded silk handkerchief that apparently contained all histravelling wardrobe, and wore thick shoes and gaiters, his whole appearance being very un-Russian.
His black-haired neighbour inspected thesepeculiarities, having nothing better to do, and at length remarked, with that rude enjoyment of the discomforts of others which the common classes so often show:
“Very,” said his neighbour, readily, “and this is a thaw, too. Fancy if it had been ahard frost! I never thought it would be so cold in the old country. I’ve grown quite out of the way of it.”
“What, been abroad, I suppose?”
“Yes, straight from Switzerland.”
“Wheugh! my goodness!” The black-haired young fellow whistled, and then laughed.
The conversation proceeded. The readiness of the fair-haired young man in the cloak to answer all his opposite neighbour’s questions was surprising. He seemed to have no suspicion of any impertinence or inappropriateness in the fact of such questions beingput to him. Replying to them, he made known to the inquirer that he certainly had been long absent from Russia, more than four years; that he had been sent abroad for his health; that he had suffered from some strange nervous malady—a kind of epilepsy, with convulsive spasms. His interlocutor burst out laughing several times at his answers; and more than ever, when to the question, “whether he had been cured?” the patient replied:
“No, they did not cure me.”
“Hey! that’s it! You stumped up your money for nothing, and we believe in those fellows, here!” remarked the black-haired individual, sarcastically.
“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 anda very blotchy face. “Gospel truth! All they do is to get hold of our good Russian money free, gratis, and for nothing.”
“Oh, but you’re quite wrong in my particular instance,” said the Swiss patient, quietly. “Of course I can’t argue the matter, becauseI know only my own case; but my doctor gave me money—and he had very little—to pay my journey back, besides having kept me at his own expense, while there, for nearly two years.”
“Why? Was there no one else to pay for you?” asked the black-haired one.
“No—Mr. Pavlicheff, who had been supporting me there, died a couple of years ago. I wrote to Mrs. General Epanchin at the time (she is a distant relative of mine), but she did not answer my letter. And so eventually I came back.”
“And where have you come to?”
“That is—where am I going to stay? I—I really don’t quite know yet, I—”
Both the listeners laughed again.
“I suppose your whole set-up is in that bundle, then?” asked the first.
“I bet anything it is!” exclaimed the red-nosed passenger, with extreme satisfaction, “and that he has precious little in the luggage van!—though of course poverty is no crime—we must remember that!”
It appeared that it was indeed as they had surmised. The young fellow hastened to admit the fact with wonderful readiness.
“Your bundle has some importance, however,” continued the clerk, when they had laughed their fill (it was observable that the subject of their mirth joined in the laughter when he saw them laughing); “for though I dare say it is not stuffed full of friedrichs d’or and louis d’or—judge from your costume and gaiters—still—if you can add to your possessions such a valuable property as a relation like Mrs. General Epanchin, then your bundle becomes a significant object at once. That is, of course, if you really are a relative of Mrs. Epanchin’s, and have not made a little error through—well, absence of mind, which is very common to human beings; or, say—through a too luxuriant fancy?”
“Oh, you are right again,” said the fair-haired traveller, “for I really amalmostwrongwhen I say she and I are related. She is hardly a relation at all; so little, in fact, that I was not in the least surprised to have no answer to my letter. I expected as much.”
“H’m! you spent your postage for nothing, then. H’m! you are candid, however—and that is commendable. H’m! Mrs. Epanchin—oh yes! a most eminent person. I know her. As for Mr. Pavlicheff, who supported you in Switzerland, I know him too—at least, if it was Nicolai Andreevitch of that name? A fine fellow he was—and had a property of four thousand souls in his day.”
“Yes, Nicolai Andreevitch—that was his name,” and the young fellow looked earnestly and with curiosity at the all-knowing gentleman with the red nose.
This sort of character is met with pretty frequently in a certain class.They are people who know everyone—that is, they know where a man is employed, what his salary is, whom he knows, whom he married, what money his wife had, who are his cousins, and second cousins, etc., etc. These men generally have about a hundred pounds ayear to live on, and they spend their whole time and talents in the amassing of this style of knowledge, which they reduce—or raise—to the standard of a science.
During the latter part of the conversation the black-haired young man had become very impatient. He stared out of the window, and fidgeted, and evidently longed for the end of the journey. He was very absent; he would appear to listen—and heard nothing; and he would laugh of a sudden, evidently with no idea of what he was laughing about.
“Excuse me,” said the red-nosed man to the young fellow with the bundle, rather suddenly; “whom have I the honour to be talking to?”
“Prince Lef Nicolaievitch Muishkin,” replied the latter, with perfect readiness.
“Prince Muishkin? Lef Nicolaievitch? H’m! I don’t know, I’m sure! I may say I have never heard of such a person,” said the clerk, thoughtfully. “At least, the name, I admit, is historical. Karamsin must mention the family name, of course, in his history—but as an individual—one never hears of any Prince Muishkin nowadays.”
“Of course not,” replied the prince; “there are none, except myself. I believe I am the last and only one. As to my forefathers, they have always been a poor lot; my own father was asublieutenant in the army. I don’t know how Mrs. Epanchin comes into the Muishkin family, but she is descended from the Princess Muishkin, and she, too, is the last of her line.”
“And did you learn science and all that, with your professor over there?” asked the black-haired passenger.
“Oh yes—I did learn alittle, but—”
“I’ve never learned anything whatever,” said the other.
“Oh, but I learned very little, you know!” added the prince, as though excusing himself. “They could not teach me very much on account of my illness.”
“Do you know the Rogojins?” asked his questioner, abruptly.
“No, I don’t—not at all! I hardly know anyone in Russia. Why, is that your name?”
“Yes, I am Rogojin, Parfen Rogojin.”
“Parfen Rogojin? dear me—then don’t you belong to those very Rogojins, perhaps—” began the clerk, with a very perceptible increase of civility in his tone.
“Yes—those very ones,” interrupted Rogojin, impatiently, and with scant courtesy. I may remark that he had not once taken any notice of the blotchy-faced passenger, and had hitherto addressed all his remarks direct to the prince.
“Dear me—is it possible?” observed the clerk, while his face assumed an expression of great deference and servility—if not of absolute alarm: “what, a son of that very Semen Rogojin—hereditary honourable citizen—who died a month or so agoand left two million and a half of roubles?”
“And how doyouknow that he left two million and a half of roubles?” asked Rogojin, disdainfully, and not deigning so much as to look at the other. “However, it’s true enough that my father died a month ago, and that here am I returning from Pskoff, a month after, with hardly a boot to my foot. They’ve treated me like a dog! I’ve been ill of fever at Pskoff the whole time, and not a line, nor farthing of money, have I received from my mother or my confounded brother!”
“And now you’ll have a million roubles, at least—goodness gracious me!” exclaimed the clerk, rubbing his hands.
“Five weeks since, I was just like yourself,” continued Rogojin, addressing the prince, “with nothing but a bundle and the clothes I wore. I ran away from my father and came to Pskoff to my aunt’s house, where I caved in at once with fever, and he went and died while I was away. All honour to my respected father’s memory—but he uncommonly nearly killed me, all the same. Give you my word, prince, if I hadn’t cut and run then, when I did, he’d have murdered me like a dog.”
“I suppose you angered him somehow?” asked the prince, looking at the millionaire with considerable curiosity. But though there may have been something remarkable in the fact that this man was heir to millions of roubles there was something about him which surprised and interested the prince more than that. Rogojin, too, seemed to have taken up the conversation with unusual alacrity it appeared that he was still in a considerable state of excitement, if not absolutely feverish, and was in real need of someone to talk to for the mere sake of talking, as safety-valve to his agitation.
As for his red-nosed neighbour, the latter—since the information as to the identity of Rogojin—hung over him, seemed to be living on the honey of his words and in the breath of his nostrils, catching at every syllable as though it were a pearl of great price.
“Oh, yes; I angered him—I certainly did anger him,” replied Rogojin. “But what puts me outso is my brother. Of course my mother couldn’t do anything—she’s too old—and whatever brother Senka says is law for her! But why couldn’t he let me know? He sent a telegram, they say. What’s the good of a telegram? It frightened my aunt so that she sent it back to the office unopened, and there it’s been ever since! It’s only thanks to Konief that I heard at all; he wrote me all about it. He says my brother cut off the gold tassels from my father’s coffin, at night ‘because they’re worth a lot of money!’ says he. Why, I can get him sent off to Siberia for that alone, if I like; it’s sacrilege. Here, you—scarecrow!” he added, addressing the clerk at his side, “is it sacrilege or not, by law?”
“Sacrilege, certainly—certainly sacrilege,” said the latter.
“Andit’s Siberia for sacrilege, isn’t it?”
“Undoubtedly so; Siberia, of course!”
“They will think that I’m still ill,” continued Rogojin to the prince, “but I sloped off quietly, seedy as I was, took the train and came away. Aha, brother Senka, you’ll have toopen your gates and let me in, my boy! I know he told tales about me to my father—I know that well enough but I certainly did rile my father about Nastasia Philipovna that’s very sure, and that was my own doing.”
“Nastasia Philipovna?” said the clerk, as though trying to think out something.
“Come, you know nothing abouther,” said Rogojin, impatiently.
“And supposing I do know something?” observed the other, triumphantly.
“Bosh! there are plenty of Nastasia Philipovnas. And what an impertinent beast you are!” he added angrily. “I thought some creature like you would hang on to me as soon as I got hold of my money.”
“Oh, but I do know, as it happens,” said the clerk in an aggravating manner. “Lebedeff knows all about her. You are pleased to reproach me, yourexcellency, but what if I prove that I am right after all? Nastasia Phillpovna’s family name is Barashkoff—I know, you see—and she is a very well known lady, indeed, and comes of a good family, too. She is connected with one Totski, Afanasy Ivanovitch, aman of considerable property, a director of companies, and so on, and a great friend of General Epanchin, who is interested in the same matters as he is.”
“My eyes!” said Rogojin, really surprised at last. “The devil take the fellow, how does he know that?”
“Why, he knows everything—Lebedeff knows everything! I was a month or two with Lihachof after his father died, your excellency, and while he was knocking about—he’s in the debtor’s prison now—I was with him, and he couldn’t do a thing without Lebedeff;and I got to know Nastasia Philipovna and several people at that time.”
“Nastasia Philipovna? Why, you don’t mean to say that she and Lihachof—” cried Rogojin, turning quite pale.
“No, no, no, no, no!Nothing of the sort, I assure you!” said Lebedeff, hastily. “Oh dear no, not for the world! Totski’s the only man with any chance there. Oh, no! He takes her to his box at the opera at the French theatre of an evening, and the officers and people all look at her and say, ‘By Jove, there’s the famous Nastasia Philipovna!’ but no one ever gets any further than that, for there is nothing more to say.”
“Yes, it’s quite true,” said Rogojin, frowning gloomily; “so Zaleshoff told me. I was walking about the Nefsky one fine day, prince, in my father’s old coat, whenshe suddenly came out of a shop and stepped into her carriage. I swear I was all of a blaze at once. Then I met Zaleshoff—looking like a hair-dresser’s assistant, got up as fine as I don’t know who, while I looked like a tinker. ‘Don’t flatter yourself, myboy,’ said he; ‘she’s not for such as you; she’s a princess, she is, and her name is Nastasia Philipovna Barashkoff, and she lives with Totski, who wishes to get rid of her because he’s growing rather old—fifty-five or so—and wants to marry a certain beauty, the loveliest woman in all Petersburg.’ And then he told me that I could see Nastasia Philipovna at the opera-house that evening, if I liked, and described which was her box. Well, I’d like to see my father allowing any of us to go to the theatre; he’dsooner have killed us, any day. However, I went for an hour or so and saw Nastasia Philipovna, and I never slept a wink all night after. Next morning my father happened to give me two government loan bonds to sell, worth nearly five thousand roubles each.‘Sell them,’ said he, ‘and then take seven thousand five hundred roubles to the office, give them to the cashier, and bring me back the rest of the ten thousand, without looking in anywhere on the way; look sharp, I shall be waiting for you.’ Well, I soldthe bonds, but I didn’t take the seven thousand roubles to the office; I went straight to the English shop and chose a pair of earrings, with a diamond the size of a nut in each. They cost four hundred roubles more than I had, so I gave my name, and theytrusted me. With the earrings I went at once to Zaleshoff’s. ‘Come on!’ I said, ‘come on to Nastasia Philipovna’s,’ and off we went without more ado. I tell you I hadn’t a notion of what was about me or before me or below my feet all the way; I saw nothingwhatever. We went straight into her drawing-room, and then she came out to us.
“I didn’t say right out who I was, but Zaleshoff said: ‘From Parfen Rogojin, in memory of his first meeting with you yesterday; be so kind as to accept these!’
“She opened theparcel, looked at the earrings, and laughed.
“‘Thank your friend Mr. Rogojin for his kind attention,’ says she, and bowed and went off. Why didn’t I die there on the spot? The worst of it all was, though, that the beast Zaleshoff got all the credit of it!I was short and abominably dressed, and stood and stared in her face and never said a word, because I was shy, like an ass! And there was he all in the fashion, pomaded and dressed out, with a smart tie on, bowing and scraping; and I bet anything she tookhim for me all the while!
“‘Look here now,’ I said, when we came out, ‘none of your interference here after this—do you understand?’ He laughed: ‘And how are you going to settle up with your father?’ says he. I thought I might as well jump into the Neva atonce without going home first; but it struck me that I wouldn’t, after all, and I went home feeling like one of the damned.”
“My goodness!” shivered the clerk. “And his father,” he added, for the prince’s instruction, “and his father would have given a man a ticket to the other world for ten roubles any day—not to speak of ten thousand!”
The prince observed Rogojin with great curiosity; he seemed paler than ever at this moment.
“What do you know about it?” cried the latter. “Well, my father learned the whole story at once, and Zaleshoff blabbed it all over the town besides. So he took me upstairs and locked me up, and swore at me for an hour. ‘This is only a foretaste,’ says he; ‘wait a bit till night comes, and I’ll come back and talk to you again.’
“Well,what do you think? The old fellow went straight off to Nastasia Philipovna, touched the floor with his forehead, and began blubbering and beseeching her on his knees to give him back the diamonds. So after awhile she brought the box and flew out at him. ‘There,’ she says, ‘take your earrings, you wretched old miser; although they are ten times dearer than their value to me now that I know what it must have cost Parfen to get them! Give Parfen my compliments,’ she says, ‘and thank him very much!’ Well, I meanwhile had borrowed twenty-five roubles from a friend, and off I went to Pskoff to my aunt’s. The old woman there lectured me so that I left the house and went on a drinking tour round the public-houses of the place. I was in a high fever when I got to Pskoff, and by nightfall I was lying delirious in the streets somewhere or other!”
“Oho! we’ll make Nastasia Philipovna sing another song now!” giggled Lebedeff, rubbing his hands with glee. “Hey, my boy, we’ll get her some proper earrings now! We’ll get hersuch earrings that—”
“Look here,” cried Rogojin, seizing him fiercely by the arm, “look here, if you so much as name Nastasia Philipovna again, I’ll tan your hide as sure as you sit there!”
“Aha! do—by all means! if you tan my hide you won’t turn me awayfrom your society. You’ll bind me to you, with your lash, for ever. Ha, ha! here we are at the station, though.”
Sure enough, the train was just steaming in as he spoke.
Though Rogojin had declared that he left Pskoff secretly, a large collection of friends had assembled to greet him, and did so with profuse waving of hats and shouting.
“Why, there’s Zaleshoff here, too!” he muttered, gazing at the scene with a sort of triumphant but unpleasant smile. Then he suddenly turned to the prince: “Prince, I don’tknow why I have taken a fancy to you; perhaps because I met you just when I did. But no, it can’t be that, for I met this fellow” (nodding at Lebedeff) “too, and I have not taken a fancy to him by any means. Come to see me, prince; we’ll take off those gaiters of yours and dress you up in a smart fur coat, the best we can buy. You shall have a dress coat, best quality, white waistcoat, anything you like, and your pocket shall be full of money. Come, and you shall go with me to Nastasia Philipovna’s. Now then will you come or no?”
“Accept, accept, Prince Lef Nicolaievitch” said Lebedef solemnly; “don’t let it slip! Accept, quick!”
Prince Muishkin rose and stretched out his hand courteously, while he replied with some cordiality:
“I will come with the greatestpleasure, and thank you very much for taking a fancy to me. I dare say I may even come today if I have time, for I tell you frankly that I like you very much too. I liked you especially when you told us about the diamond earrings; but I liked you before that as well, though you have such a dark-clouded sort of face. Thanks very much for the offer of clothes and a fur coat; I certainly shall require both clothes and coat very soon. As for money, I have hardly a copeck about me at this moment.”
“You shall have lots of money; by the evening I shall have plenty; so come along!”
“That’s true enough, he’ll have lots before evening!” put in Lebedeff.
“But, look here, are you a great hand with the ladies? Let’s know that first?” asked Rogojin.
“Oh no, oh no!” saidthe prince; “I couldn’t, you know—my illness—I hardly ever saw a soul.”
“H’m! well—here, you fellow—you can come along with me now if you like!” cried Rogojin to Lebedeff, and so they all left the carriage.
Lebedeff had his desire. He went off with the noisy group of Rogojin’s friends towards the Voznesensky, while the prince’s route lay towards the Litaynaya. It was damp and wet. The prince asked his way of passers-by, and finding that he was a couple of miles or so from his destination, he determined to take a droshky.
General Epanchin lived in his own house near the Litaynaya.Besides this large residence—five-sixths of which was let inflats and lodgings—the general was owner of another enormoushouse in the Sadovaya bringing in even more rent than the first.Besides these houses he had a delightful little estate just out oftown, and some sort of factory in another part of the city. GeneralEpanchin, as everyone knew, had a good deal to do with certaingovernment monopolies; he was also a voice, andan important one, inmany rich public companies of various descriptions; in fact, heenjoyed the reputation of being a well-to-do man of busy habits,many ties, and affluent means. He had made himself indispensable inseveral quarters, amongst others in his department of thegovernment; and yet it was a known fact that Fedor IvanovitchEpanchin was a man of no education whatever, and had absolutelyrisen from the ranks.
This last fact could, of course, reflect nothing but credit uponthe general; and yet, though unquestionably a sagacious man, he hadhis own little weaknesses—very excusable ones,—one ofwhich was a dislike to any allusion to the above circumstance. Hewas undoubtedly clever. For instance, he made a point of neverasserting himself when he would gain more by keeping in thebackground; and in consequence many exalted personages valued himprincipally for his humility and simplicity, and because “heknew his place.” And yet if these good people could only havehad a peep into the mind of this excellent fellow who “knewhis place” so well! The fact is that, in spite of hisknowledge of the world and his really remarkable abilities, healways liked to appear to be carrying out other people’sideas rather than his own. And also, his luck seldom failed him,even at cards, for which he had apassion that he did not attempt toconceal. He played for high stakes, and moved, altogether, in veryvaried society.
As to age, General Epanchin was in the very prime of life; thatis, about fifty-five years of age,—the flowering time ofexistence, when real enjoyment of life begins. His healthyappearance, good colour, sound, though discoloured teeth, sturdyfigure, preoccupied air during business hours, and jolly goodhumour during his game at cards in the evening, all bore witness tohis success in life, and combined to make existence a bed of rosesto his excellency. The general was lord of a flourishing family,consisting of his wife and three grown-up daughters. He had marriedyoung, while still a lieutenant,his wife being a girl of about hisown age, who possessed neither beauty nor education, and whobrought him no more than fifty souls of landed property, whichlittle estate served, however, as a nest-egg for far more importantaccumulations. The general never regretted his early marriage, orregarded it as a foolish youthful escapade; and he so respected andfeared his wife that he was very near loving her. Mrs. Epanchincame of the princely stock of Muishkin, which if not a brilliant,was, at all events, adecidedly ancient family; and she wasextremely proud of her descent.
With a few exceptions, the worthy couple had lived through theirlong union very happily. While still young the wife had been ableto make important friends among the aristocracy, partly by virtueof her family descent, and partly by her own exertions; while, inafter life, thanks to their wealth and to the position of herhusband in the service, she took her place among the higher circlesas by right.
During these last few years allthree of the general’sdaughters—Alexandra, Adelaida, and Aglaya—had grown upand matured. Of course they were only Epanchins, but theirmother’s family was noble; they might expect considerablefortunes; their father had hopes of attaining to very high rankindeed in his country’s service—all of which wassatisfactory. All three of the girls were decidedly pretty, eventhe eldest, Alexandra, who was just twenty-five years old. Themiddle daughter was now twenty-three, while the youngest, Aglaya,was twenty. This youngest girl was absolutely a beauty, and hadbegun of late to attract considerable attention in society. Butthis was not all, for every one of the three was clever, welleducated, and accomplished.
It was a matter of general knowledge that the three girls werevery fond of one another, and supported each other in every way; itwas even said that the two elder ones had made certain sacrificesfor the sake of the idol of the household, Aglaya. In society theynot only disliked asserting themselves,but were actually retiring.Certainly no one could blame them for being too arrogant orhaughty, and yet everybody was well aware that they were proud andquite understood their own value. The eldest was musical, while thesecond was a clever artist, whichfact she had concealed untillately. In a word, the world spoke well of the girls; but they werenot without their enemies, and occasionally people talked withhorror of the number of books they had read.
They were in no hurry to marry. They liked good society, butwere not too keen about it. All this was the more remarkable,because everyone was well aware of the hopes and aims of theirparents.
It was about eleven o’clock in the forenoon when theprince rang the bell at General Epanchin’s door. The generallived on the first floor or flat of the house, as modest a lodgingas his position permitted. A liveried servant opened the door, andthe prince was obliged to enter into long explanations with thisgentleman, who, from the first glance, looked at him and his bundlewith grave suspicion. At last, however, on the repeated positiveassurance that he really was Prince Muishkin, and must absolutelysee the general on business, the bewildered domestic showed himinto a little ante-chamber leading to a waiting-room that adjoinedthe general’s study, there handing him over to anotherservant, whose duty it was to be in this ante-chamber all themorning, and announce visitors to the general. This secondindividual wore a dress coat, and was some forty years of age; hewas the general’s special study servant, and well aware ofhis own importance.
“Wait in the next room, please; and leave your bundlehere,” said the door-keeper, as he sat down comfortably inhis own easy-chair in the ante-chamber. He looked at the prince insevere surprise as the latter settled himself in another chairalongside, with his bundle on his knees.
“If you don’t mind, I would rather sit here withyou,” said the prince; “I should prefer it to sittingin there.”
“Oh, but you can’t stay here.You are avisitor—a guest, so to speak. Is it the general himself youwish to see?”
The man evidently could not take in the idea of such ashabby-looking visitor, and had decided to ask once more.
“Yes—I have business—” began theprince.
“I do not ask youwhat your business may be, all I have todo is to announce you; and unless the secretary comes in here Icannot do that.”
The man’s suspicions seemed to increase more and more. Theprince was too unlike the usual run of daily visitors; and althoughthe general certainly did receive, on business, all sorts andconditions of men, yet in spite of this fact the servant felt greatdoubts on the subject of this particular visitor. The presence ofthe secretary as an intermediary was, he judged, essential inthiscase.
“Surely you—are from abroad?” he inquired atlast, in a confused sort of way. He had begun his sentenceintending to say, “Surely you are not Prince Muishkin, areyou?”
“Yes, straight from the train! Did not you intend to say,‘Surely you are not Prince Muishkin?’ just now, butrefrained out of politeness?”
“H’m!” grunted the astonished servant.
“I assure you I am not deceiving you; you shall not haveto answer for me. As to my being dressed like this, and carrying abundle, there’s nothing surprising in that—the fact is,my circumstances are not particularly rosy at thismoment.”
“H’m!—no, I’m not afraid of that, yousee; I have to announce you, that’s all. The secretary willbe out directly—that is, unless you—yes, that’sthe rub—unless you—come, you must allow me to askyou—you’ve not come to beg, have you?”
“Oh dear no, you can be perfectly easy on that score. Ihave quite another matter on hand.”
“You must excuse my asking, you know. Your appearance ledme to think—but just wait for the secretary;the general isbusy now, but the secretary is sure to come out.”
“Oh—well, look here, if I have some time to wait,would you mind telling me, is there any place about where I couldhave a smoke? I have my pipe and tobacco with me.”
“Smoke?” said the man,in shocked but disdainfulsurprise, blinking his eyes at the prince as though he could notbelieve his senses. “No, sir, you cannot smoke here, and Iwonder you are not ashamed of the very suggestion. Ha, ha! a coolidea that, I declare!”
“Oh, I didn’t mean in this room! I know Ican’t smoke here, of course. I’d adjourn to some otherroom, wherever you like to show me to. You see, I’m used tosmoking a good deal, and now I haven’t had a puff for threehours; however, just as you like.”
“Now how on earth amI to announce a man like that?”muttered the servant. “In the first place, you’ve noright in here at all; you ought to be in the waiting-room, becauseyou’re a sort of visitor—a guest, in fact—and Ishall catch it for this. Look here, do you intend to take up youabode with us?” he added, glancing once more at theprince’s bundle, which evidently gave him no peace.
“No, I don’t think so. I don’t think I shouldstay even if they were to invite me. I’ve simply come to maketheir acquaintance, and nothing more.”
“Make their acquaintance?” asked the man, inamazement, and with redoubled suspicion. “Then why did yousay you had business with the general?”
“Oh well, very little business. There is one littlematter—some advice I am going to ask him for; but myprincipal object is simply to introduce myself, because I am PrinceMuishkin, and Madame Epanchin is the last of her branch of thehouse, and besides herself and me there are no other Muishkinsleft.”
“What—you’re a relation then, are you?”asked the servant,so bewildered that he began to feel quitealarmed.
“Well, hardly so. If you stretch a point, we arerelations, of course, but so distant that one cannot really takecognizance of it. I once wrote to your mistress from abroad, butshe did not reply. However, I have thought it right to makeacquaintance with her on my arrival. I am telling you all this inorder to ease your mind, for I see you are still far fromcomfortable on my account. All you have to do is to announce me asPrince Muishkin, and the object of my visit will be plain enough.If I am received—very good; if not, well, very good again.But they are sure to receive me, I should think; Madame Epanchinwill naturally be curious to see the only remaining representativeof her family. She values herMuishkin descent very highly, if I amrightly informed.”
The prince’s conversation was artless and confiding to adegree, and the servant could not help feeling that as from visitorto common serving-man this state of things was highly improper. Hisconclusion was that one of two things must be theexplanation—either that this was a begging impostor, or thatthe prince, if prince he were, was simply a fool, without theslightest ambition; for a sensible prince with any ambition wouldcertainly not wait about in ante-rooms with servants, and talk ofhis own private affairs like this. In either case, how was he toannounce this singular visitor?
“I really think I must request you to step into the nextroom!” he said, with all the insistence he could muster.
“Why? If I had been sitting there now, I should not havehad the opportunity of making these personal explanations. I seeyou are still uneasy about me and keep eyeing my cloak and bundle.Don’t you think you might go in yourself now, without waitingfor the secretary to come out?”
“No, no! I can’t announce a visitor like yourselfwithout the secretary. Besides the general said he was not to bedisturbed—he is with the Colonel C—. GavrilaArdalionovitch goes in without announcing.”
“Who may that be? a clerk?”
“What? Gavrila Ardalionovitch? Oh no; he belongs to one ofthe companies. Look here, at all events put your bundle down,here.”
“Yes, I will if I may; and—can I take off mycloak”
“Of course; you can’t go intherewith it on,anyhow.”
The prince rose and took off his mantle, revealing a neat enoughmorning costume—a little worn, but well made. He wore a steelwatch chain and from this chain there hung a silver Geneva watch.Fool the prince might be, still, the general’s servant feltthat it was not correct for him to continue to converse thus with avisitor, in spite of the fact that the prince pleased himsomehow.
“And what time of day does the lady receive?” thelatter asked, reseating himself in his old place.
“Oh, that’s not inmyprovince! I believeshe receivesat any time; it depends upon the visitors. The dressmaker goes inat eleven. Gavrila Ardalionovitch is allowed much earlier thanother people, too; he is even admitted to early lunch now andthen.”
“It is much warmer in the rooms here than itis abroad atthis season,” observed the prince; “but it is muchwarmer there out of doors. As for the houses—a Russiancan’t live in them in the winter until he gets accustomed tothem.”
“Don’t they heat them at all?”
“Well, they do heat them a little; butthe houses andstoves are so different to ours.”
“H’m! were you long away?”
“Four years! and I was in the same place nearly all thetime,—in one village.”
“You must have forgotten Russia, hadn’tyou?”
“Yes, indeed I had—a good deal; and, would youbelieveit, I often wonder at myself for not having forgotten how tospeak Russian? Even now, as I talk to you, I keep saying to myself‘how well I am speaking it.’ Perhaps that is partly whyI am so talkative this morning. I assure you, ever since yesterdayevening I have had the strongest desire to go on and on talkingRussian.”
“H’m! yes; did you live in Petersburg in formeryears?”
This good flunkey, in spite of his conscientious scruples,really could not resist continuing such a very genteel andagreeable conversation.
“In Petersburg? Oh no! hardly at all, and now they say somuch is changed in the place that even those who did know it wellare obliged to relearn what they knew. They talk a good deal aboutthe new law courts, and changes there, don’t they?”
“H’m! yes, that’s true enough. Well now, howis the law over there, do they administer it more justly thanhere?”
“Oh, I don’t know about that! I’ve heard muchthat is good about our legal administration, too. There is nocapital punishment here for one thing.”
“Is there over there?”
“Yes—I saw an execution in France—at Lyons.Schneider took me over with him to see it.”
“What, did they hang the fellow?”
“No, they cut off people’s heads inFrance.”
“What did the fellow do?—yell?”
“Oh no—it’s the work of an instant. They put aman inside a frame and a sort of broad knife falls bymachinery—they call the thing a guillotine—it fallswith fearful force and weight—the head springs off so quicklythat you can’t wink your eye in between. But all thepreparations areso dreadful. When they announce the sentence, youknow, and prepare the criminal and tie his hands, and cart him offto the scaffold—that’s the fearful part of thebusiness. The people all crowd round—even women—thoughthey don’t at all approve of women looking on.”
“No, it’s not a thing for women.”
“Of course not—of course not!—bah! Thecriminal was a fine intelligent fearless man; Le Gros was his name;and I may tell you—believe it or not, as you like—thatwhen that man stepped upon the scaffold hecried,he didindeed,—he was as white as a bit of paper. Isn’t it adreadful idea that he should have cried—cried! Whoever heardof a grown man crying from fear—not a child, but a man whonever had cried before—a grown man of forty-five years.Imagine what musthave been going on in that man’s mind atsuch a moment; what dreadful convulsions his whole spirit must haveendured; it is an outrage on the soul that’s what it is.Because it is said ‘thou shalt not kill,’ is he to bekilled because he murdered some oneelse? No, it is not right,it’s an impossible theory. I assure you, I saw the sight amonth ago and it’s dancing before my eyes to this moment. Idream of it, often.”
The prince had grown animated as he spoke, and a tinge of coloursuffused his pale face,though his way of talking was as quiet asever. The servant followed his words with sympathetic interest.Clearly he was not at all anxious to bring the conversation to anend. Who knows? Perhaps he too was a man of imagination and withsome capacity for thought.
“Well, at all events it is a good thing that there’sno pain when the poor fellow’s head flies off,” heremarked.
“Do you know, though,” cried the prince warmly,“you made that remark now, and everyone says the same thing,and the machine is designed with the purpose of avoiding pain, thisguillotine I mean; but a thought came into my head then: what if itbe a bad plan after all? You may laugh at my idea,perhaps—but I could not help its occurring to me all thesame. Now with the rack and torturesand so on—you sufferterrible pain of course; butthen your torture is bodily pain only(although no doubt you have plenty of that) until you die. ButhereIshould imagine the most terrible part of the whole punishment is,not the bodily pain at all—but the certain knowledge that inan hour,—then in ten minutes, then in half a minute, thennow—this veryinstant—your soul must quit your body andthat you will no longer be a man—and that this iscertain,certain!That’s the point—the certainty of it.Just that instant when you place your head on the block and hearthe iron grate over your head—then—that quarter of asecond is the most awful of all.
“This is not my own fantastical opinion—many peoplehave thought the same; but I feel it so deeply that I’ll tellyou what I think. I believe that to execute a man for murder is topunish him immeasurably more dreadfully than is equivalent to hiscrime. A murder by sentence is far more dreadful than a murdercommitted bya criminal. The man who is attacked by robbers atnight, in a dark wood, or anywhere, undoubtedly hopes and hopesthat he may yet escape until the very moment of his death. Thereare plenty of instances of a man running away, or imploring formercy—at allevents hoping on in some degree—even afterhis throat was cut. But in the case of an execution, that lasthope—having which it is so immeasurably less dreadful todie,—is taken away from the wretch andcertaintysubstituted inits place! There is his sentence, and with it that terriblecertainty that he cannot possibly escape death—which, Iconsider, must be the most dreadful anguish in the world. You mayplace a soldier before a cannon’s mouth in battle, and fireupon him—and he will still hope. But readto that same soldierhis death-sentence, and he will either go mad or burst into tears.Who dares to say that any man can suffer this without going mad?No, no! it is an abuse, a shame, it is unnecessary—why shouldsuch a thing exist? Doubtless there may be men who have beensentenced, who have suffered this mental anguish for a while andthen have been reprieved; perhaps such men may have been able torelate their feelings afterwards. Our Lord Christ spoke of thisanguish and dread. No! no! no! No man should be treated so, no man,no man!”
The servant, though of course he could not have expressed allthis as the prince did, still clearly entered into it and wasgreatly conciliated, as was evident from the increased amiabilityof his expression. “If you arereally very anxious for asmoke,” he remarked, “I think it might possibly bemanaged, if you are very quick about it. You see they might comeout and inquire for you, and you wouldn’t be on the spot. Yousee that door there? Go in there and you’ll find a littleroom on the right; you can smoke there, only open the window,because I ought not to allow it really, and—.” Butthere was no time, after all.
A young fellow entered the ante-room at this moment, with abundle of papers in his hand. The footman hastened to help him takeoff his overcoat. The new arrival glanced at the prince out of thecorners of his eyes.
“This gentleman declares, Gavrila Ardalionovitch,”began the man, confidentially and almost familiarly, “that heis Prince Muishkin and a relativeof Madame Epanchin’s. He hasjust arrived from abroad, with nothing but a bundle by way ofluggage—.”
The prince did not hear the rest, because at this point theservant continued his communication in a whisper.
Gavrila Ardalionovitch listened attentively,and gazed at theprince with great curiosity. At last he motioned the man aside andstepped hurriedly towards the prince.
“Are you Prince Muishkin?” he asked, with thegreatest courtesy and amiability.
He was a remarkably handsome young fellow of some twenty-eightsummers, fair and of middle height; he wore a small beard, and hisface was most intelligent. Yet his smile, in spite of itssweetness, was a little thin, if I may so call it, and showed histeeth too evenly; his gaze though decidedly good-humoured andingenuous, was a trifle too inquisitive and intent to be altogetheragreeable.
“Probably when he is alone he looks quite different, andhardly smiles at all!” thought the prince.
He explained about himself in a few words, very much the same ashe had told the footman and Rogojin beforehand.
Gavrila Ardalionovitch meanwhile seemed to be trying to recallsomething.
“Was it not you, then, who sent a letter a year or lessago—from Switzerland, I think it was—to ElizabethaProkofievna (Mrs. Epanchin)?”
“Oh, then, of course they will remember who you are. Youwish to see the general? I’ll tell him at once—he willbe free in a minute; but you—you had better wait in theante-chamber,—hadn’t you? Why is he here?” headded, severely, to the man.
“I tell you, sir, he wished it himself!”
At this moment the study door opened, and a military man, with aportfolio under his arm, came out talking loudly, and after biddinggood-bye to someone inside, took his departure.
“You there, Gania?” cried a voice fromthe study,“come in here, will you?”
Gavrila Ardalionovitch nodded to the prince and entered the roomhastily.
A couple of minutes later the door opened again and the affablevoice of Gania cried:
“Come in please, prince!”
General Ivan Fedorovitch Epanchin was standing in the middle ofthe room, and gazed with great curiosity at the prince as heentered. He even advanced a couple of steps to meet him.
The prince came forward and introduced himself.
“Quite so,” replied the general, “and what canI do for you?”
“Oh, I have no special business; my principal object wasto make your acquaintance. I should not like to disturb you. I donot know your times and arrangements here, you see, but I have onlyjust arrived. I came straight from the station. I am comedirectfrom Switzerland.”
The general very nearly smiled, but thought better of it andkept his smile back. Then he reflected, blinked his eyes, stared athis guest once more from head to foot; then abruptlymotioned him toa chair, sat down himself, andwaited with some impatience for theprince to speak.
Gania stood at his table in the far corner of the room, turningover papers.
“I have not much time for making acquaintances, as arule,” said the general, “but as, of course, you haveyour object incoming, I—”
“I felt sure you would think I had some object in viewwhen I resolved to pay you this visit,” the princeinterrupted; “but I give you my word, beyond the pleasure ofmaking your acquaintance I had no personal objectwhatever.”
“The pleasure is, of course, mutual; but life is not allpleasure, as you are aware. There is such a thing as business, andI really do not see what possible reason there can be, or what wehave in common to—”
“Oh, there is no reason, of course, and I suppose there isnothing in common between us, or very little; for if I am PrinceMuishkin, and your wife happens to be a member of my house, thatcan hardly be called a ‘reason.’ I quite understandthat. And yet that was my whole motive for coming. You see I havenot been inRussia for four years, and knew very little aboutanything when I left. I had been very ill for a long time, and Ifeel now the need of a few good friends. In fact, I have a certainquestion upon which I much need advice, and do not know whom to goto forit. I thought of your family when I was passing throughBerlin. ‘They are almost relations,’ I said to myself,‘so I’ll begin with them; perhaps we may get on witheach other, I with them and they with me, if they are kindpeople;’ and I have heard that you are very kindpeople!”
“Oh, thank you, thank you, I’m sure,” repliedthe general, considerably taken aback. “May I ask where youhave taken up your quarters?”
“Nowhere, as yet.”
“What, straight from the station to my house? And howabout your luggage?”
“I only had a small bundle, containing linen, with me,nothing more. I can carry it in my hand, easily. There will beplenty of time to take a room in some hotel by theevening.”
“Oh, then youdointend to take a room?”
“To judge from your words, you came straight to my housewith the intention of staying there.”
“That could only have been on your invitation. I confess,however, that I should not have stayed here even if you had invitedme, not for any particular reason, but because itis—well,contrary to my practice and nature,somehow.”
“Oh, indeed! Then it is perhaps as well that Ineitherdidinvite you, nordoinvite you now. Excuse me, prince, butwe had better make this matter clear, once for all. We have justagreed that with regard toour relationship there is not much to besaid, though, of course, it would have been very delightful to usto feel that such relationship did actually exist; therefore,perhaps—”
“Therefore, perhaps I had better get up and goaway?” said the prince, laughing merrily as he rose from hisplace; just as merrily as though the circumstances were by nomeansstrained or difficult. “And I give you my word, general,that though I know nothing whatever of manners and customs ofsociety, and how people live and all that, yet I felt quite surethat this visit of mine would end exactly as it has ended now. Oh,well, I suppose it’s all right; especially as my letter wasnot answered. Well, good-bye, and forgive me for having disturbedyou!”
The prince’s expression was sogood-natured at this moment,and so entirely free from even a suspicion of unpleasant feelingwas the smile with which he looked at the general as he spoke, thatthe latter suddenly paused, and appeared to gaze at his guest fromquite a new point of view,all in an instant.
“Do you know, prince,” he said, in quite a differenttone, “I do not know you at all, yet, and after all,Elizabetha Prokofievna would very likely be pleased to have a peepat a man of her own name. Wait a little, if you don’t mind,andif you have time to spare?”
“Oh, I assure you I’ve lots of time, my time isentirely my own!” And the prince immediately replaced hissoft, round hat on the table. “I confess, I thoughtElizabetha Prokofievna would very likely remember that I hadwrittenher a letter. Just now your servant—outsidethere—was dreadfully suspicious that I had come to beg ofyou. I noticed that! Probably he has very strict instructions onthat score; but I assure you I did not come to beg. I came to makesome friends. But I amrather bothered at having disturbed you;that’s all I care about.—”
“Look here, prince,” said the general, with acordial smile, “if you really are the sort of man you appearto be, it may be a source of great pleasure to us to make yourbetteracquaintance; but, you see, I am a very busy man, and have tobe perpetually sitting here and signing papers, or off to see hisexcellency, or to my department, or somewhere; so that though Ishould be glad to see more of people, nice people—you see,I—however, I am sure you are so well brought up that you willsee at once, and—but how old are you, prince?”
“No? I thought you very much younger.”
“Yes, they say I have a ‘young’ face. As todisturbing you I shall soon learn to avoid doing that,for I hatedisturbing people. Besides, you and I are so differentlyconstituted, I should think, that there must be very little incommon between us. Not that I will ever believe there isnothingincommon between any two people, as some declare is the case. I amsure people make a great mistake in sorting each other into groups,by appearances; but I am boring you, I see, you—”
“Just two words: have you any means at all? Or perhaps youmay be intending to undertake some sort of employment? Excuse myquestioning you, but—”
“Oh, my dear sir, I esteem and understand your kindness inputting the question. No; at present I have no means whatever, andno employment either, but I hope to find some. I was living onother people abroad. Schneider, the professor whotreated me andtaught me, too, in Switzerland, gave me just enough money for myjourney, so that now I have but a few copecks left. There certainlyis one question upon which I am anxious to have advice,but—”
“Tell me, how do you intend to live now, and what are yourplans?” interrupted the general.
“I wish to work, somehow or other.”
“Oh yes, but then, you see, you are a philosopher. Haveyou any talents, or ability in any direction—that is, anythat would bring in money and bread? Excuse meagain—”
“Oh,don’t apologize. No, I don’t think I haveeither talents or special abilities of any kind; on the contrary. Ihave always been an invalid and unable to learn much. As for bread,I should think—”
The general interrupted once more with questions; while theprince again replied with the narrative we have heard before. Itappeared that the general had known Pavlicheff; but why the latterhad taken an interest in the prince, that young gentleman could notexplain; probably by virtue of the old friendship with his father,he thought.
The prince had been left an orphan when quite a little child,and Pavlicheff had entrusted him to an old lady, a relative of hisown, living in the country, the child needing the fresh air andexercise of country life. He waseducated, first by a governess, andafterwards by a tutor, but could not remember much about this timeof his life. His fits were so frequent then, that they made almostan idiot of him (the prince used the expression “idiot”himself). Pavlicheff had met Professor Schneider in Berlin, and thelatter had persuaded him to send the boy to Switzerland, toSchneider’s establishment there, for the cure of hisepilepsy, and, five years before this time, the prince was sentoff. But Pavlicheff had died two or threeyears since, and Schneiderhad himself supported the young fellow, from that day to this, athis own expense. Although he had not quite cured him, he hadgreatly improved his condition; and now, at last, at theprince’s own desire, and because of a certain matter whichcame to the ears of the latter, Schneider had despatched the youngman to Russia.
The general was much astonished.
“Then you have no one, absolutelynoone in Russia?”he asked.
“No one, at present; but I hope to make friends; and thenI have a letter from—”
“At all events,” put in the general, not listeningto the news about the letter, “at all events, you must havelearnedsomething, and your malady would not prevent yourundertaking some easy work, in one of the departments, forinstance?”
“Oh dear no, oh no! As for a situation, I should much liketo find one for I am anxious to discover what I really am fit for.I have learned a good deal in the last four years, and, besides, Iread a great many Russian books.”
“Russian books, indeed? Then, of course, you can read andwrite quite correctly?”
“Oh dear, yes!”
“Capital! And your handwriting?”
“Ah, there I amreallytalented! I may say I am a realcaligraphist. Let me write you something, just to show you,”said the prince, with some excitement.
“With pleasure! In fact, it is very necessary. I like yourreadiness, prince; in fact, I must say—I—I—likeyou very well, altogether,” said the general.
“What delightful writing materials you have here, such alot of pencils and things, and what beautiful paper! It’s acharming room altogether. I know that picture, it’s a Swissview. I’m sure the artist painted it from nature, and that Ihave seen the very place—”
“Quite likely, though I bought it here. Gania, give theprince some paper. Here are pens andpaper; now then, take thistable. What’s this?” the general continued to Gania,who had that moment taken a large photograph out of his portfolio,and shown it to his senior. “Halloa! Nastasia Philipovna! Didshe send it you herself? Herself?” he inquired, with muchcuriosity and great animation.
“She gave it me just now, when I called in to congratulateher. I asked her for it long ago. I don’t know whether shemeant it for a hint that I had come empty-handed, without a presentfor her birthday, or what,”added Gania, with an unpleasantsmile.
“Oh, nonsense, nonsense,” said the general, withdecision. “What extraordinary ideas you have, Gania! As ifshe would hint; that’s not her way at all. Besides, whatcouldyougive her, without having thousands at your disposal? Youmight have given her your portrait, however. Has she ever asked youfor it?”
“No, not yet. Very likely she never will. I suppose youhaven’t forgotten about tonight, have you, Ivan Fedorovitch?You were one of those specially invited, you know.”
“Oh no, I remember all right, and I shall go, of course. Ishould think so! She’s twenty-five years old today! And, youknow, Gania, you must be ready for great things; she has promisedboth myself and Afanasy Ivanovitch that she will give adecidedanswer tonight, yes or no. So be prepared!”
Gania suddenly became so ill at ease that his face grew palerthan ever.
“Are you sure she said that?” he asked, and hisvoice seemed to quiver as he spoke.
“Yes, she promised. We both worried her so that she gavein; but she wished us to tell you nothing about it until theday.”
The general watched Gania’s confusion intently, andclearly did not like it.
“Remember, Ivan Fedorovitch,” said Gania, in greatagitation, “that I was to be free too, until her decision;andthat even then I was to have my ‘yes or no’free.”
“Why, don’t you, aren’t you—”began the general, in alarm.
“Oh, don’t misunderstand—”
“But, my dear fellow, what are you doing, what do youmean?”
“Oh, I’m not rejecting her. I may have expressedmyself badly, but I didn’t mean that.”
“Reject her! I should think not!” said the generalwith annoyance, and apparently not in the least anxious to concealit. “Why, my dear fellow, it’s not a question of yourrejecting her, it is whether you are prepared to receive herconsent joyfully, and with proper satisfaction. How are thingsgoing on at home?”
“At home? Oh, I can do as I like there, of course; only myfather will make a fool of himself, as usual. He is rapidlybecoming a general nuisance. I don’t ever talk to him now,but I hold him in check, safe enough. I swear if it had not beenfor my mother, I should have shown him the way out, long ago. Mymother is always crying, of course, and my sister sulks. I had totell them at last that I intended to be master of my own destiny,and that Iexpect to be obeyed at home. At least, I gave my sisterto understand as much, and my mother was present.”
“Well, I must say, I cannot understand it!” said thegeneral, shrugging his shoulders and dropping his hands. “Youremember your mother, Nina Alexandrovna, that day she came and sathere and groaned—and when I asked her what was the matter,she says, ‘Oh, it’s such adishonourto us!’dishonour! Stuff and nonsense! I should like to know who canreproach Nastasia Philipovna, or who can say a word of any kindagainst her. Did she mean because Nastasia had been living withTotski? What nonsense it is! You would not let her come near yourdaughters, says Nina Alexandrovna. What next, I wonder? Idon’t see how she can fail to—tounderstand—”
“Her own position?” prompted Gania. “She doesunderstand. Don’t be annoyed with her. I have warned her notto meddle in other people’s affairs. However, althoughthere’s comparative peace at home at present, the storm willbreak if anythingis finally settled tonight.”
The prince heard the whole of the foregoing conversation, as hesat at the table, writing. He finished at last, and brought theresult of his labour to the general’s desk.
“So this is Nastasia Philipovna,” he said, lookingattentively and curiously at the portrait. “How wonderfullybeautiful!” he immediately added, with warmth. The picturewas certainly that of an unusually lovely woman. She wasphotographed in a black silk dress of simple design, her hair wasevidently dark and plainly arranged, her eyes were deep andthoughtful, the expression of her face passionate, but proud. Shewas rather thin, perhaps, and a little pale. Both Gania and thegeneral gazed at the prince in amazement.
“How do you know it’s NastasiaPhilipovna?”asked the general; “you surely don’t know her already,do you?”
“Yes, I do! I have only been one day in Russia, but I haveheard of the great beauty!” And the prince proceeded tonarrate his meeting with Rogojin in the train and the whole of thelatter’s story.
“There’s news!” said the general in someexcitement, after listening to the story with engrossedattention.
“Oh, of course it’s nothing but humbug!” criedGania, a little disturbed, however. “It’s all humbug;the young merchant was pleased to indulge in a little innocentrecreation! I have heard something of Rogojin!”
“Yes, so have I!” replied the general.“Nastasia Philipovna told us all about the earrings that veryday. But now it is quite a different matter. You see the fellowreally has a million of roubles, and he is passionately in love.The whole story smells of passion, and we all know what this classof gentry is capable of when infatuated. I am much afraid of somedisagreeable scandal, I am indeed!”
“You are afraid of the million, I suppose,” saidGania, grinning and showing his teeth.
“And you arenot, I presume, eh?”
“How did he strike you, prince?” asked Gania,suddenly. “Did he seem to be a serious sort of a man, or justa common rowdy fellow? What was your own opinion about thematter?”
While Gania put this question, a new idea suddenly flashed intohis brain, and blazed out, impatiently, in his eyes. The general,who was really agitated and disturbed, looked at the prince too,but did not seem to expect much from his reply.
“I really don’t quite know how to tell you,”replied the prince, “but it certainly did seem to me that theman was full of passion, and not, perhaps, quite healthy passion.He seemed to be still far from well. Very likely he will be in bedagain in a day ortwo, especially if he lives fast.”
“No! do you think so?” said the general, catching atthe idea.
“Yes, I do think so!”
“Yes, but the sort of scandal I referred to may happen atany moment. It may be this very evening,” remarked Gania tothe general, witha smile.
“Of course; quite so. In that case it all depends uponwhat is going on in her brain at this moment.”
“You know the kind of person she is at times.”
“How? What kind of person is she?” cried thegeneral, arrived at the limits of his patience. “Look here,Gania, don’t you go annoying her tonight. What you are to dois to be as agreeable towards her as ever you can. Well, what areyou smiling at? You must understand, Gania, that I have no interestwhatever in speaking like this. Whichever way the question issettled, it will be to my advantage. Nothing will move Totski fromhis resolution, so I run no risk. If there is anything I desire,you must know that it is your benefit only. Can’t you trustme? You are a sensible fellow, and I have been countingon you; for,in this matter, that, that—”
“Yes, that’s the chief thing,” said Gania,helping the general out of his difficulties again, and curling hislips in an envenomed smile, which he did not attempt to conceal. Hegazed with his fevered eyes straight into those of the general, asthough he were anxious that the latter might read his thoughts.
The general grew purple with anger.
“Yes, of course it is the chief thing!” he cried,looking sharply at Gania. “What a very curious man you are,Gania! You actually seem to begladto hear of this millionairefellow’s arrival—just as though you wished for anexcuse to get out of the whole thing. This is an affair in whichyou ought to act honestly with both sides, and give due warning, toavoid compromising others. But, even now, there is still time. Doyou understand me? I wish to know whether you desire thisarrangement or whether you do not? If not, sayso,—and—and welcome! No one is trying to force you intothe snare, Gavrila Ardalionovitch, if you see a snare in thematter, at least.”
“I do desire it,” murmured Gania, softly but firmly,lowering his eyes; and he relapsed into gloomy silence.
The general was satisfied. He had excited himself, and wasevidently now regretting that he had gone so far. He turnedto theprince, and suddenly the disagreeable thought of the latter’spresence struck him, and the certainty that he must have heardevery word of the conversation. But he felt at ease in anothermoment; it only needed one glance at the prince to see that in thatquarter there was nothing to fear.
“Oh!” cried the general, catching sight of theprince’s specimen of caligraphy, which the latter had nowhanded him for inspection. “Why, this is simply beautiful;look at that, Gania, there’s real talent there!”
On a sheet of thick writing-paper the prince had written inmedieval characters the legend:
“The gentle Abbot Pafnute signed this.”