“Oh, no, no!” said the prince at last, “that was not what I was going to say--oh no! I don’t think you would ever have been like Osterman.”
“Last week? In the night? Have you gone cracked, my good friend?”
Colia had made it up with the prince before his father’s death, and it was he who urged him to make use of Keller and Burdovsky, promising to answer himself for the former’s behaviour. Nina Alexandrovna and Lebedeff tried to persuade him to have the wedding in St. Petersburg, instead of in the public fashion contemplated, down here at Pavlofsk in the height of the season. But the prince only said that Nastasia Philipovna desired to have it so, though he saw well enough what prompted their arguments.
“You wouldn’t believe,” he concluded, “how irritating they all are there. They are such wretchedly small, vain, egotistical, _commonplace_ people! Would you believe it, they invited me there under the express condition that I should die quickly, and they are all as wild as possible with me for not having died yet, and for being, on the contrary, a good deal better! Isn’t it a comedy? I don’t mind betting that you don’t believe me!”
“Oh no! Certainly not! ‘I am free,’ she says; you know how she insists on that point. ‘I am entirely free.’ She repeats it over and over again. She is living in Petersburgskaia, with my sister-in-law, as I told you in my letter.”
“Very likely, extremely likely, and you must be a very close observer to detect the fact that perhaps I did not intend to come up to _you_ at all.”
“I, like everyone else,” began the general, “have committed certain not altogether graceful actions, so to speak, during the course of my life. But the strangest thing of all in my case is, that I should consider the little anecdote which I am now about to give you as a confession of the worst of my ‘bad actions.’ It is thirty-five years since it all happened, and yet I cannot to this very day recall the circumstances without, as it were, a sudden pang at the heart.

“Tomorrow morning, I shall be at the green bench in the park at seven, and shall wait there for you. I have made up my mind to speak to you about a most important matter which closely concerns yourself.

“God forbid that he should share your ideas, Ivan Fedorovitch!” his wife flashed back. “Or that he should be as gross and churlish as you!” “Marie was very gentle to her mother, and nursed her, and did everything for her; but the old woman accepted all her services without a word and never showed her the slightest kindness. Marie bore all this; and I could see when I got to know her that she thought it quite right and fitting, considering herself the lowest and meanest of creatures.

“If this ‘Explanation’ gets into anybody’s hands, and they have patience to read it through, they may consider me a madman, or a schoolboy, or, more likely, a man condemned to die, who thought it only natural to conclude that all men, excepting himself, esteem life far too lightly, live it far too carelessly and lazily, and are, therefore, one and all, unworthy of it. Well, I affirm that my reader is wrong again, for my convictions have nothing to do with my sentence of death. Ask them, ask any one of them, or all of them, what they mean by happiness! Oh, you may be perfectly sure that if Columbus was happy, it was not after he had discovered America, but when he was discovering it! You may be quite sure that he reached the culminating point of his happiness three days before he saw the New World with his actual eyes, when his mutinous sailors wanted to tack about, and return to Europe! What did the New World matter after all? Columbus had hardly seen it when he died, and in reality he was entirely ignorant of what he had discovered. The important thing is life--life and nothing else! What is any ‘discovery’ whatever compared with the incessant, eternal discovery of life?

“What I am really alarmed about, though,” he said, “is Aglaya Ivanovna. Rogojin knows how you love her. Love for love. You took Nastasia Philipovna from him. He will murder Aglaya Ivanovna; for though she is not yours, of course, now, still such an act would pain you,--wouldn’t it?”

“Yes, it’s a droll situation; I really don’t know what advice to give you,” replied Evgenie, laughing. Hippolyte gazed steadfastly at him, but said nothing. To look at him one might have supposed that he was unconscious at intervals.
“Oh, is that all?” he said at last. “Then I--”
The trip abroad might have been enjoyed later on by Mrs. Epanchin and her two remaining daughters, but for another circumstance.
“How did you know who I was? Where had you seen me before? And why were you so struck dumb at the sight of me? What was there so overwhelming about me?”

The prince thought, too, that he looked vexed and annoyed, and not nearly so friendly towards himself as he had been earlier in the night.

“Excuse me, Mr. Keller,” interposed Gavrila Ardalionovitch. “Allow me to speak. I assure you your article shall be mentioned in its proper place, and you can then explain everything, but for the moment I would rather not anticipate. Quite accidentally, with the help of my sister, Varvara Ardalionovna Ptitsin, I obtained from one of her intimate friends, Madame Zoubkoff, a letter written to her twenty-five years ago, by Nicolai Andreevitch Pavlicheff, then abroad. After getting into communication with this lady, I went by her advice to Timofei Fedorovitch Viazovkin, a retired colonel, and one of Pavlicheff’s oldest friends. He gave me two more letters written by the latter when he was still in foreign parts. These three documents, their dates, and the facts mentioned in them, prove in the most undeniable manner, that eighteen months before your birth, Nicolai Andreevitch went abroad, where he remained for three consecutive years. Your mother, as you are well aware, has never been out of Russia.... It is too late to read the letters now; I am content to state the fact. But if you desire it, come to me tomorrow morning, bring witnesses and writing experts with you, and I will prove the absolute truth of my story. From that moment the question will be decided.”

“What do you think about it, prince?” asked Evgenie, taking no notice of the last remark, and observing Muishkin’s serious eyes fixed upon his face. “What do you think--was it a special or a usual case--the rule, or an exception? I confess I put the question especially for you.” “I don’t know at all; but she said I was to tell you particularly.”

“Well, hardly at all. I wish I were, if only for the sake of justifying myself in her eyes. Nina Alexandrovna has a grudge against me for, as she thinks, encouraging her husband in drinking; whereas in reality I not only do not encourage him, but I actually keep him out of harm’s way, and out of bad company. Besides, he’s my friend, prince, so that I shall not lose sight of him, again. Where he goes, I go. He’s quite given up visiting the captain’s widow, though sometimes he thinks sadly of her, especially in the morning, when he’s putting on his boots. I don’t know why it’s at that time. But he has no money, and it’s no use his going to see her without. Has he borrowed any money from you, prince?”

She received four or five friends sometimes, of an evening. Totski often came. Lately, too, General Epanchin had been enabled with great difficulty to introduce himself into her circle. Gania made her acquaintance also, and others were Ferdishenko, an ill-bred, and would-be witty, young clerk, and Ptitsin, a money-lender of modest and polished manners, who had risen from poverty. In fact, Nastasia Philipovna’s beauty became a thing known to all the town; but not a single man could boast of anything more than his own admiration for her; and this reputation of hers, and her wit and culture and grace, all confirmed Totski in the plan he had now prepared.
But it was difficult, if not impossible, to extract anything from Lebedeff. All the prince could gather was, that the letter had been received very early, and had a request written on the outside that it might be sent on to the address given. “Oh, I like that! That beats anything!” he cried convulsively, panting for breath. “One is an absolute unbeliever; the other is such a thorough-going believer that he murders his friend to the tune of a prayer! Oh, prince, prince, that’s too good for anything! You can’t have invented it. It’s the best thing I’ve heard!” “I determined to die at Pavlofsk at sunrise, in the park--so as to make no commotion in the house. “I have never seen you before!”
“You must make allowances,” murmured Varia.
The general left the room, and the prince never succeeded in broaching the business which he had on hand, though he had endeavoured to do so four times.
“Why, he didn’t die! I’ll ask him for it, if you like.”
“Especially as he asked himself,” said Ferdishenko.
“It’s hot weather, you see,” continued Rogojin, as he lay down on the cushions beside Muishkin, “and, naturally, there will be a smell. I daren’t open the window. My mother has some beautiful flowers in pots; they have a delicious scent; I thought of fetching them in, but that old servant will find out, she’s very inquisitive.”
“Oh! if you will sell it, very good--and thank you. You shall not be a loser! But for goodness’ sake, don’t twist about like that, sir! I have heard of you; they tell me you are a very learned person. We must have a talk one of these days. You will bring me the books yourself?”
He sat down on the edge of his chair, smiling and making faces, and rubbing his hands, and looking as though he were in delighted expectation of hearing some important communication, which had been long guessed by all.
“Judging from the fact that the prince blushed at this innocent joke, like a young girl, I should think that he must, as an honourable man, harbour the noblest intentions,” said the old toothless schoolmaster, most unexpectedly; he had not so much as opened his mouth before. This remark provoked general mirth, and the old fellow himself laughed loudest of the lot, but ended with a stupendous fit of coughing.

“Final explanation: I die, not in the least because I am unable to support these next three weeks. Oh no, I should find strength enough, and if I wished it I could obtain consolation from the thought of the injury that is done me. But I am not a French poet, and I do not desire such consolation. And finally, nature has so limited my capacity for work or activity of any kind, in allotting me but three weeks of time, that suicide is about the only thing left that I can begin and end in the time of my own free will.

“What do _you_ know about our faces?” exclaimed the other two, in chorus.
“I don’t believe it! It’s impossible! What object could they have?” He jumped up from his chair in his excitement.
Suddenly Hippolyte arose. His face, shockingly pale, was that of a man overwhelmed with shame and despair. This was shown chiefly in the look of fear and hatred which he cast upon the assembled company, and in the wild smile upon his trembling lips. Then he cast down his eyes, and with the same smile, staggered towards Burdovsky and Doktorenko, who stood at the entrance to the verandah. He had decided to go with them.
Prince S. paused, as though unwilling to continue talking about Nastasia Philipovna.

Rogojin seized her in his arms and almost carried her to the carriage. Then, in a flash, he tore a hundred-rouble note out of his pocket and held it to the coachman.

The prince said nothing, but entered the room, sat down silently, and stared at them, one after the other, with the air of a man who cannot understand what is being said to him. It was strange--one moment he seemed to be so observant, the next so absent; his behaviour struck all the family as most remarkable. At length he rose from his seat, and begged to be shown Nastasia’s rooms. The ladies reported afterwards how he had examined everything in the apartments. He observed an open book on the table, Madam Bovary, and requested the leave of the lady of the house to take it with him. He had turned down the leaf at the open page, and pocketed it before they could explain that it was a library book. He had then seated himself by the open window, and seeing a card-table, he asked who played cards.
These words painfully impressed the whole party; but especially her parents. Lizabetha Prokofievna summoned a secret council of two, and insisted upon the general’s demanding from the prince a full explanation of his relations with Nastasia Philipovna. The general argued that it was only a whim of Aglaya’s; and that, had not Prince S. unfortunately made that remark, which had confused the child and made her blush, she never would have said what she did; and that he was sure Aglaya knew well that anything she might have heard of the prince and Nastasia Philipovna was merely the fabrication of malicious tongues, and that the woman was going to marry Rogojin. He insisted that the prince had nothing whatever to do with Nastasia Philipovna, so far as any liaison was concerned; and, if the truth were to be told about it, he added, never had had.
“Why, Keller said the same thing to me nearly word for word a few minutes ago!” cried Muishkin. “And you both seem inclined to boast about it! You astonish me, but I think he is more sincere than you, for you make a regular trade of it. Oh, don’t put on that pathetic expression, and don’t put your hand on your heart! Have you anything to say to me? You have not come for nothing...”
She went away in great anxiety about him, but when she saw him in the morning, he seemed to be quite himself again, greeted her with a smile, and told her that he would very likely be back by the evening. It appears that he did not consider it necessary to inform anyone excepting Vera of his departure for town.
“The prince! What on earth has the prince got to do with it? Who the deuce is the prince?” cried the general, who could conceal his wrath no longer.

“Is there really much more to be added?” asked the prince, with mild surprise. “Well, what is it you really want of me? Speak out; tell me why you came to make your confession to me?”

It was generally agreed, afterwards, in recalling that evening, that from this moment Nastasia Philipovna seemed entirely to lose her senses. She continued to sit still in her place, looking around at her guests with a strange, bewildered expression, as though she were trying to collect her thoughts, and could not. Then she suddenly turned to the prince, and glared at him with frowning brows; but this only lasted one moment. Perhaps it suddenly struck her that all this was a jest, but his face seemed to reassure her. She reflected, and smiled again, vaguely.
Hippolyte glanced at him suddenly, and when their eyes met Rogojin showed his teeth in a disagreeable smile, and said the following strange words: “That’s not the way to settle this business, my friend; that’s not the way at all.”
“No, no, we must have it!” cried Nastasia merrily.
“The gentleman before me gazed at me for some seconds in amazement, and his wife in terror; as though there was something alarmingly extraordinary in the fact that anyone could come to see them. But suddenly he fell upon me almost with fury; I had had no time to mutter more than a couple of words; but he had doubtless observed that I was decently dressed and, therefore, took deep offence because I had dared enter his den so unceremoniously, and spy out the squalor and untidiness of it.
“At last her rags became so tattered and torn that she was ashamed of appearing in the village any longer. The children used to pelt her with mud; so she begged to be taken on as assistant cowherd, but the cowherd would not have her. Then she took to helping him without leave; and he saw how valuable her assistance was to him, and did not drive her away again; on the contrary, he occasionally gave her the remnants of his dinner, bread and cheese. He considered that he was being very kind. When the mother died, the village parson was not ashamed to hold Marie up to public derision and shame. Marie was standing at the coffin’s head, in all her rags, crying.
“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!”

“Pavlicheff was a man of bright intellect and a good Christian, a sincere Christian,” said the prince, suddenly. “How could he possibly embrace a faith which is unchristian? Roman Catholicism is, so to speak, simply the same thing as unchristianity,” he added with flashing eyes, which seemed to take in everybody in the room.

He was sure of it, and his heart beat excitedly at the thought, he knew not why.
“And yet you flush up as red as a rosebud! Come--it’s all right. I’m not going to laugh at you. Do you know she is a very virtuous woman? Believe it or not, as you like. You think she and Totski--not a bit of it, not a bit of it! Not for ever so long! _Au revoir!_”
“It is not like her, you say? My friend, that’s absurd. Perhaps such an act would horrify her, if she were with you, but it is quite different where I am concerned. She looks on me as vermin. Her affair with Keller was simply to make a laughing-stock of me. You don’t know what a fool she made of me in Moscow; and the money I spent over her! The money! the money!” “I do not wish to quarrel with them about this; in some things they won’t be reasonable. I always did feel a loathing for the laws which seem to guide mamma’s conduct at times. I don’t speak of father, for he cannot be expected to be anything but what he is. Mother is a noble-minded woman, I know; you try to suggest anything mean to her, and you’ll see! But she is such a slave to these miserable creatures! I don’t mean old Bielokonski alone. She is a contemptible old thing, but she is able to twist people round her little finger, and I admire that in her, at all events! How mean it all is, and how foolish! We were always middle-class, thoroughly middle-class, people. Why should we attempt to climb into the giddy heights of the fashionable world? My sisters are all for it. It’s Prince S. they have to thank for poisoning their minds. Why are you so glad that Evgenie Pavlovitch is coming?”

V.

Ptitsin was able to afford some particulars as to Rogojin’s conduct since the afternoon. He declared that he had been busy finding money for the latter ever since, and up to nine o’clock, Rogojin having declared that he must absolutely have a hundred thousand roubles by the evening. He added that Rogojin was drunk, of course; but that he thought the money would be forthcoming, for the excited and intoxicated rapture of the fellow impelled him to give any interest or premium that was asked of him, and there were several others engaged in beating up the money, also.

“Yes, through an agent. My own name doesn’t appear. I have a large family, you see, and at a small percentage--”

“But--recollect, Nastasia Philipovna,” stammered Totski, “you gave a promise, quite a free one, and--and you might have spared us this. I am confused and bewildered, I know; but, in a word, at such a moment, and before company, and all so-so-irregular, finishing off a game with a serious matter like this, a matter of honour, and of heart, and--”

“Yes, but he died at Elizabethgrad, not at Tver,” said the prince, rather timidly. “So Pavlicheff told me.”

“I think so too, as clear as day; she loves him.”

“You are not angry with me?” he asked suddenly, and with a kind of nervous hurry, although he looked them straight in the face.

“Well, whether you go on business or not is your affair, I do not want to know. The only important thing, in my eyes, is that you should not be going there simply for the pleasure of spending your evening in such company--cocottes, generals, usurers! If that were the case I should despise and laugh at you. There are terribly few honest people here, and hardly any whom one can respect, although people put on airs--Varia especially! Have you noticed, prince, how many adventurers there are nowadays? Especially here, in our dear Russia. How it has happened I never can understand. There used to be a certain amount of solidity in all things, but now what happens? Everything is exposed to the public gaze, veils are thrown back, every wound is probed by careless fingers. We are for ever present at an orgy of scandalous revelations. Parents blush when they remember their old-fashioned morality. At Moscow lately a father was heard urging his son to stop at nothing--at nothing, mind you!--to get money! The press seized upon the story, of course, and now it is public property. Look at my father, the general! See what he is, and yet, I assure you, he is an honest man! Only... he drinks too much, and his morals are not all we could desire. Yes, that’s true! I pity him, to tell the truth, but I dare not say so, because everybody would laugh at me--but I do pity him! And who are the really clever men, after all? Money-grubbers, every one of them, from the first to the last. Hippolyte finds excuses for money-lending, and says it is a necessity. He talks about the economic movement, and the ebb and flow of capital; the devil knows what he means. It makes me angry to hear him talk so, but he is soured by his troubles. Just imagine--the general keeps his mother--but she lends him money! She lends it for a week or ten days at very high interest! Isn’t it disgusting? And then, you would hardly believe it, but my mother--Nina Alexandrovna--helps Hippolyte in all sorts of ways, sends him money and clothes. She even goes as far as helping the children, through Hippolyte, because their mother cares nothing about them, and Varia does the same.”

They sat now in a row facing the prince, and frowned, and played with their caps. All appeared ready to speak, and yet all were silent; the defiant expression on their faces seemed to say, “No, sir, you don’t take us in!” It could be felt that the first word spoken by anyone present would bring a torrent of speech from the whole deputation.
“Yes, but the sort of scandal I referred to may happen at any moment. It may be this very evening,” remarked Gania to the general, with a smile.
“You think he is drunk?” cried the young man on the sofa. “Not in the least. He’s only had three or four small glasses, perhaps five; but what is that? The usual thing!” A couple of days later, however, Hippolyte’s mother came with tears in her eyes, and begged the prince to come back, “or _he_ would eat her up bodily.” She added that Hippolyte had a great secret to disclose. Of course the prince went. There was no secret, however, unless we reckon certain pantings and agitated glances around (probably all put on) as the invalid begged his visitor to “beware of Rogojin.”
“I can just see there’s a bed--”
“You have not quite understood,” she said. “I did not come to quarrel with you, though I do not like you. I came to speak to you as... as one human being to another. I came with my mind made up as to what I had to say to you, and I shall not change my intention, although you may misunderstand me. So much the worse for you, not for myself! I wished to reply to all you have written to me and to reply personally, because I think that is the more convenient way. Listen to my reply to all your letters. I began to be sorry for Prince Lef Nicolaievitch on the very day I made his acquaintance, and when I heard--afterwards--of all that took place at your house in the evening, I was sorry for him because he was such a simple-minded man, and because he, in the simplicity of his soul, believed that he could be happy with a woman of your character. What I feared actually took place; you could not love him, you tortured him, and threw him over. You could not love him because you are too proud--no, not proud, that is an error; because you are too vain--no, not quite that either; too self-loving; you are self-loving to madness. Your letters to me are a proof of it. You could not love so simple a soul as his, and perhaps in your heart you despised him and laughed at him. All you could love was your shame and the perpetual thought that you were disgraced and insulted. If you were less shameful, or had no cause at all for shame, you would be still more unhappy than you are now.”