He could bear it no longer, and with a look of entreaty, mingled with reproach, he addressed Aglaya, pointing to Nastasia the while:
Perhaps the sisterly love and friendship of the three girls had more or less exaggerated Aglaya’s chances of happiness. In their opinion, the latter’s destiny was not merely to be very happy; she was to live in a heaven on earth. Aglaya’s husband was to be a compendium of all the virtues, and of all success, not to speak of fabulous wealth. The two elder sisters had agreed that all was to be sacrificed by them, if need be, for Aglaya’s sake; her dowry was to be colossal and unprecedented.The Epanchin family had at last made up their minds to spend the summer abroad, all except the general, who could not waste time in “travelling for enjoyment,” of course. This arrangement was brought about by the persistence of the girls, who insisted that they were never allowed to go abroad because their parents were too anxious to marry them off. Perhaps their parents had at last come to the conclusion that husbands might be found abroad, and that a summer’s travel might bear fruit. The marriage between Alexandra and Totski had been broken off. Since the prince’s departure from St. Petersburg no more had been said about it; the subject had been dropped without ceremony, much to the joy of Mrs. General, who, announced that she was “ready to cross herself with both hands” in gratitude for the escape. The general, however, regretted Totski for a long while. “Such a fortune!” he sighed, “and such a good, easy-going fellow!”
Gavrila Ardalionovitch listened attentively, and gazed at the prince with great curiosity. At last he motioned the man aside and stepped hurriedly towards the prince.
“No. I was only going to say that what surprises me most of all is your extraordinary confidence.”
On seeing the prince he became deadly white, and apparently fixed to the ground, so that he was more like a marble statue than a human being. The prince had expected some surprise, but Rogojin evidently considered his visit an impossible and miraculous event. He stared with an expression almost of terror, and his lips twisted into a bewildered smile.“Is that true?” she asked.
“I was passionately in love with her when she was engaged--engaged to my friend. The prince noticed the fact and was furious. He came and woke me at seven o’clock one morning. I rise and dress in amazement; silence on both sides. I understand it all. He takes a couple of pistols out of his pocket--across a handkerchief--without witnesses. Why invite witnesses when both of us would be walking in eternity in a couple of minutes? The pistols are loaded; we stretch the handkerchief and stand opposite one another. We aim the pistols at each other’s hearts. Suddenly tears start to our eyes, our hands shake; we weep, we embrace--the battle is one of self-sacrifice now! The prince shouts, ‘She is yours;’ I cry, ‘She is yours--’ in a word, in a word--You’ve come to live with us, hey?”VII.“How can I? How can I?” cried Hippolyte, looking at him in amazement. “Gentlemen! I was a fool! I won’t break off again. Listen, everyone who wants to!”
“Excuse me,” interrupted Hippolyte, “is not this rather sentimental? You said you wished to come to the point; please remember that it is after nine o’clock.”Nearly everyone observed the little band advancing, and all pretended not to see or notice them, except a few young fellows who exchanged glances and smiled, saying something to one another in whispers.
And why had not the prince approached him and spoken to him, instead of turning away and pretending he had seen nothing, although their eyes met? (Yes, their eyes had met, and they had looked at each other.) Why, he had himself wished to take Rogojin by the hand and go in together, he had himself determined to go to him on the morrow and tell him that he had seen her, he had repudiated the demon as he walked to the house, and his heart had been full of joy.
“What are you doing there?” she asked.“Perhaps he really doesn’t understand me! They do say that you are a--you know what! She loves another--there, you can understand that much! Just as I love her, exactly so she loves another man. And that other man is--do you know who? It’s you. There--you didn’t know that, eh?”“Well, just listen, prince. I remained here last evening, partly because I have a great admiration for the French archbishop Bourdaloue. I enjoyed a discussion over him till three o’clock in the morning, with Lebedeff; and then... then--I swear by all I hold sacred that I am telling you the truth--then I wished to develop my soul in this frank and heartfelt confession to you. This was my thought as I was sobbing myself to sleep at dawn. Just as I was losing consciousness, tears in my soul, tears on my face (I remember how I lay there sobbing), an idea from hell struck me. ‘Why not, after confessing, borrow money from him?’ You see, this confession was a kind of masterstroke; I intended to use it as a means to your good grace and favour--and then--then I meant to walk off with a hundred and fifty roubles. Now, do you not call that base?”
“Bravo, prince!” cried Ferdishenko, delighted.She took her glass, and vowed she would empty it three times that evening. She was hysterical, and laughed aloud every other minute with no apparent reason--the next moment relapsing into gloom and thoughtfulness.“I’ve heard so. Well, we’ll leave that question just now. Why am I a scandal-monger? Why did she call me a scandal-monger? And mind, _after_ she had heard every word I had to tell her, and had asked all sorts of questions besides--but such is the way of women. For _her_ sake I entered into relations with Rogojin--an interesting man! At _her_ request I arranged a personal interview between herself and Nastasia Philipovna. Could she have been angry because I hinted that she was enjoying Nastasia Philipovna’s ‘leavings’? Why, I have been impressing it upon her all this while for her own good. Two letters have I written her in that strain, and I began straight off today about its being humiliating for her. Besides, the word ‘leavings’ is not my invention. At all events, they all used it at Gania’s, and she used it herself. So why am I a scandal-monger? I see--I see you are tremendously amused, at this moment! Probably you are laughing at me and fitting those silly lines to my case--
“Oh no! Never.”
He could remember that Vera brought him some dinner, and that he took it; but whether he slept after dinner, or no, he could not recollect.
In another moment, of course, the police would have been on the spot, and it would have gone hard with Nastasia Philipovna had not unexpected aid appeared.
“Oh, that may be. He may have known her some time ago--two or three years, at least. He used to know Totski. But it is impossible that there should be any intimacy between them. She has not even been in the place--many people don’t even know that she has returned from Moscow! I have only observed her carriage about for the last three days or so.”
“I can just see there’s a bed--”
Recollecting himself, however, and seeing at a glance the sort of people he had to deal with, the officer turned his back on both his opponents, and courteously, but concealing his face with his handkerchief, approached the prince, who was now rising from the chair into which he had fallen.“Allow me, gentlemen,” said Gavrila Ardalionovitch, who had just examined the contents of the envelope, “there are only a hundred roubles here, not two hundred and fifty. I point this out, prince, to prevent misunderstanding.”
He caught sight of something flashing in Hippolyte’s right hand, and saw that it was a pistol. He rushed at him, but at that very instant Hippolyte raised the pistol to his temple and pulled the trigger. There followed a sharp metallic click, but no report.“I have been waiting all day for you, because I want to ask you a question; and, for once in your life, please tell me the truth at once. Had you anything to do with that affair of the carriage yesterday?”
Meanwhile nothing put the prince out, and he continued to be in the seventh heaven of bliss. Of course he could not fail to observe some impatience and ill-temper in Aglaya now and then; but he believed in something else, and nothing could now shake his conviction. Besides, Aglaya’s frowns never lasted long; they disappeared of themselves.
“After--it was about twelve o’clock.”
“Gentlemen, wouldn’t you like a little champagne now?” she asked. “I have it all ready; it will cheer us up--do now--no ceremony!”
“What an extraordinary man you are! I wonder at you!” Rogojin laughed sarcastically.“No, I tell you I did _not_.”“Well, at all events, they were consulting together at the time. Of course it was the idea of an eagle, and must have originated with Napoleon; but the other project was good too--it was the ‘Conseil du lion!’ as Napoleon called it. This project consisted in a proposal to occupy the Kremlin with the whole army; to arm and fortify it scientifically, to kill as many horses as could be got, and salt their flesh, and spend the winter there; and in spring to fight their way out. Napoleon liked the idea--it attracted him. We rode round the Kremlin walls every day, and Napoleon used to give orders where they were to be patched, where built up, where pulled down and so on. All was decided at last. They were alone together--those two and myself.
Well, why should he judge them so hastily! Could he really say what they were, after one short visit? Even Lebedeff seemed an enigma today. Did he expect to find him so? He had never seen him like that before. Lebedeff and the Comtesse du Barry! Good Heavens! If Rogojin should really kill someone, it would not, at any rate, be such a senseless, chaotic affair. A knife made to a special pattern, and six people killed in a kind of delirium. But Rogojin also had a knife made to a special pattern. Can it be that Rogojin wishes to murder anyone? The prince began to tremble violently. “It is a crime on my part to imagine anything so base, with such cynical frankness.” His face reddened with shame at the thought; and then there came across him as in a flash the memory of the incidents at the Pavlofsk station, and at the other station in the morning; and the question asked him by Rogojin about _the eyes_ and Rogojin’s cross, that he was even now wearing; and the benediction of Rogojin’s mother; and his embrace on the darkened staircase--that last supreme renunciation--and now, to find himself full of this new “idea,” staring into shop-windows, and looking round for things--how base he was!
Such was Vera’s story afterwards.
“What! Pleased with all that nonsense! Why, cannot you see that they are all infatuated with pride and vanity?”
“No, no, you needn’t do anything of the sort; you mustn’t hint gently at all. I’ll go down myself directly. I wish to apologize to this young man, because I hurt his feelings.”
No one met him; the verandah was empty, and nearly pitch dark. He opened the door into the room, but it, too, was dark and empty. He stood in the middle of the room in perplexity. Suddenly the door opened, and in came Alexandra, candle in hand. Seeing the prince she stopped before him in surprise, looking at him questioningly.
“From you to me? Ha, ha! that’s nothing! Why, she always acts as though she were in a delirium now-a-days! Either she says, ‘Come on, I’ll marry you! Let’s have the wedding quickly!’ and fixes the day, and seems in a hurry for it, and when it begins to come near she feels frightened; or else some other idea gets into her head--goodness knows! you’ve seen her--you know how she goes on--laughing and crying and raving! There’s nothing extraordinary about her having run away from you! She ran away because she found out how dearly she loved you. She could not bear to be near you. You said just now that I had found her at Moscow, when she ran away from you. I didn’t do anything of the sort; she came to me herself, straight from you. ‘Name the day--I’m ready!’ she said. ‘Let’s have some champagne, and go and hear the gipsies sing!’ I tell you she’d have thrown herself into the water long ago if it were not for me! She doesn’t do it because I am, perhaps, even more dreadful to her than the water! She’s marrying me out of spite; if she marries me, I tell you, it will be for spite!”
Her serious air, however, during this conversation had surprised him considerably. He had a feeling that he ought to be asking her something, that there was something he wanted to find out far more important than how to load a pistol; but his thoughts had all scattered, and he was only aware that she was sitting by him, and talking to him, and that he was looking at her; as to what she happened to be saying to him, that did not matter in the least.