“But surely this is a joke, Nastasia Philipovna?” asked Totski. “You don’t really mean us to play this game.”
“No, no, excuse me, most revered prince,” Lebedeff interrupted, excitedly. “Since you must have observed yourself that this is no joke, and since at least half your guests must also have concluded that after all that has been said this youth _must_ blow his brains out for honour’s sake--I--as master of this house, and before these witnesses, now call upon you to take steps.”“Just a couple of words!” whispered another voice in the prince’s other ear, and another hand took his other arm. Muishkin turned, and to his great surprise observed a red, flushed face and a droll-looking figure which he recognized at once as that of Ferdishenko. Goodness knows where he had turned up from!“Well, what, my dear girl? As if you can possibly like it yourself? The heart is the great thing, and the rest is all rubbish--though one must have sense as well. Perhaps sense is really the great thing. Don’t smile like that, Aglaya. I don’t contradict myself. A fool with a heart and no brains is just as unhappy as a fool with brains and no heart. I am one and you are the other, and therefore both of us suffer, both of us are unhappy.”
“In my opinion, Mr. Doktorenko,” said the prince, in rather a low voice, “you are quite right in at least half of what you say. I would go further and say that you are altogether right, and that I quite agree with you, if there were not something lacking in your speech. I cannot undertake to say precisely what it is, but you have certainly omitted something, and you cannot be quite just while there is something lacking. But let us put that aside and return to the point. Tell me what induced you to publish this article. Every word of it is a calumny, and I think, gentlemen, that you have been guilty of a mean action.”“I am not smiling, but I really think you are in the wrong, somewhat,” replied Muishkin, reluctantly.He said the last words nervously.“He’s sitting there over his bottle--and how they can give him credit, I cannot understand. Don’t tell mother I brought you the note, prince; I have sworn not to do it a thousand times, but I’m always so sorry for him. Don’t stand on ceremony, give him some trifle, and let that end it.”
“Why so?” asked the prince uneasily.
“No; because I am unworthy of my sufferings, if you like!”“How very curious, point for point the same anecdote, and happening at different ends of Europe! Even the light blue dress the same,” continued the pitiless Nastasia. “I must really send you the paper.”“Hippolyte, Hippolyte, what is the matter with you?” cried Muishkin.
“What’s the good of tormenting him like this?” cried the prince.
The woman lowered her eyes.“Quite so--together! But the second time I thought better to say nothing about finding it. I found it alone.”
The door was shut with these words, and the old woman disappeared. The prince decided to come back within an hour. Passing out of the house, he met the porter.
“There are a couple of torn volumes somewhere; they have been lying about from time immemorial,” added Alexandra.“What if he were to come out of that corner as I go by and--and stop me?” thought the prince, as he approached the familiar spot. But no one came out.“I?”
Keller insisted afterwards that he had held his right hand in his pocket all the while, when he was speaking to the prince, and that he had held the latter’s shoulder with his left hand only. This circumstance, Keller affirmed, had led him to feel some suspicion from the first. However this may be, Keller ran after Hippolyte, but he was too late.“Capital! And your handwriting?”
Since the general’s “mishap,” as Colia called it, and the marriage of his sister, the boy had quietly possessed himself of far more freedom. His relations saw little of him, for he rarely slept at home. He made many new friends; and was moreover, a frequent visitor at the debtor’s prison, to which he invariably accompanied his mother. Varia, who used to be always correcting him, never spoke to him now on the subject of his frequent absences, and the whole household was surprised to see Gania, in spite of his depression, on quite friendly terms with his brother. This was something new, for Gania had been wont to look upon Colia as a kind of errand-boy, treating him with contempt, threatening to “pull his ears,” and in general driving him almost wild with irritation. It seemed now that Gania really needed his brother, and the latter, for his part, felt as if he could forgive Gania much since he had returned the hundred thousand roubles offered to him by Nastasia Philipovna. Three months after the departure of the prince, the Ivolgin family discovered that Colia had made acquaintance with the Epanchins, and was on very friendly terms with the daughters. Varia heard of it first, though Colia had not asked her to introduce him. Little by little the family grew quite fond of him. Madame Epanchin at first looked on him with disdain, and received him coldly, but in a short time he grew to please her, because, as she said, he “was candid and no flatterer”--a very true description. From the first he put himself on an equality with his new friends, and though he sometimes read newspapers and books to the mistress of the house, it was simply because he liked to be useful.
Nina Alexandrovna came in, looking frightened. She had changed much since we last saw her, half a year ago, and had grown thin and pale. Colia looked worried and perplexed. He could not understand the vagaries of the general, and knew nothing of the last achievement of that worthy, which had caused so much commotion in the house. But he could see that his father had of late changed very much, and that he had begun to behave in so extraordinary a fashion both at home and abroad that he was not like the same man. What perplexed and disturbed him as much as anything was that his father had entirely given up drinking during the last few days. Colia knew that he had quarrelled with both Lebedeff and the prince, and had just bought a small bottle of vodka and brought it home for his father.
“I arrived at the old woman’s house beside myself. She was sitting in a corner all alone, leaning her face on her hand. I fell on her like a clap of thunder. ‘You old wretch!’ I yelled and all that sort of thing, in real Russian style. Well, when I began cursing at her, a strange thing happened. I looked at her, and she stared back with her eyes starting out of her head, but she did not say a word. She seemed to sway about as she sat, and looked and looked at me in the strangest way. Well, I soon stopped swearing and looked closer at her, asked her questions, but not a word could I get out of her. The flies were buzzing about the room and only this sound broke the silence; the sun was setting outside; I didn’t know what to make of it, so I went away.“You are very gay here,” began the latter, “and I have had quite a pleasant half-hour while I waited for you. Now then, my dear Lef Nicolaievitch, this is what’s the matter. I’ve arranged it all with Moloftsoff, and have just come in to relieve your mind on that score. You need be under no apprehensions. He was very sensible, as he should be, of course, for I think he was entirely to blame himself.”
The prince gave a short narrative of what we have heard before, leaving out the greater part. The two ladies listened intently.
“Oh, good heavens! I mean, what did the general say when the purse turned up under the chair? You and he had searched for it together there, hadn’t you?”Suddenly, to the astonishment of all, Keller went quickly up to the general.“Oh! what on earth are we to do with him?” cried Lizabetha Prokofievna. She hastened to him and pressed his head against her bosom, while he sobbed convulsively.
“Oh--if that is the state of affairs--” began Gania.“I didn’t mean that,” said Gania; “but while we are upon the subject, let me hear your opinion. Is all this worry worth seventy-five thousand or not?”“Out. Well--what has happened?--go on.”
“No, no, read it--read it at once directly, and aloud, aloud!” cried she, calling Colia to her and giving him the journal.--“Read it aloud, so that everyone may hear it!”
However, it was something to move on and know where he was going. A minute later he was still moving on, but without knowing anything. He could no longer think out his new idea. He tried to take an interest in all he saw; in the sky, in the Neva. He spoke to some children he met. He felt his epileptic condition becoming more and more developed. The evening was very close; thunder was heard some way off.