“‘Peter Matveyevitch Bachmatoff!’ he cried, trembling all over with excitement. ‘Why, nearly everything depends on that very man!’
The laughter became general, and the young officer, who seemed a particularly lively sort of person, simply shook with mirth.
“Oh, of course, of course; and you quite understand that I--”
The prince gazed at her in amazement.
“Well, you’ll both hear and see him soon; he even tries to borrow money from me. _Avis au lecteur._ Good-bye; do you think a man can possibly live with a name like Ferdishenko?”“What’s the matter?” asked Aglaya, in a whisper, giving his sleeve a little tug.The old man tried to put a good face on the affair.“You have no sort of right to suppose such things,” said Lebedeff’s nephew in a tone of authority.“I have lain here now for three days,” cried the young man without noticing, “and I have seen a lot! Fancy! he suspects his daughter, that angel, that orphan, my cousin--he suspects her, and every evening he searches her room, to see if she has a lover hidden in it! He comes here too on tiptoe, creeping softly--oh, so softly--and looks under the sofa--my bed, you know. He is mad with suspicion, and sees a thief in every corner. He runs about all night long; he was up at least seven times last night, to satisfy himself that the windows and doors were barred, and to peep into the oven. That man who appears in court for scoundrels, rushes in here in the night and prays, lying prostrate, banging his head on the ground by the half-hour--and for whom do you think he prays? Who are the sinners figuring in his drunken petitions? I have heard him with my own ears praying for the repose of the soul of the Countess du Barry! Colia heard it too. He is as mad as a March hare!”
It was a matter of general knowledge that the three girls were very fond of one another, and supported each other in every way; it was even said that the two elder ones had made certain sacrifices for the sake of the idol of the household, Aglaya. In society they not only disliked asserting themselves, but were actually retiring. Certainly no one could blame them for being too arrogant or haughty, and yet everybody was well aware that they were proud and quite understood their own value. The eldest was musical, while the second was a clever artist, which fact she had concealed until lately. In a word, the world spoke well of the girls; but they were not without their enemies, and occasionally people talked with horror of the number of books they had read.“It’s abominable dishonesty, you know!”“I don’t want any dinner, thanks, Colia. I had too good a lunch at General Epanchin’s.”
“Don’t listen to her, prince,” said Mrs. Epanchin; “she says that sort of thing out of mischief. Don’t think anything of their nonsense, it means nothing. They love to chaff, but they like you. I can see it in their faces--I know their faces.”
“That is so,” observed Lebedeff quietly; “cowardly and base.”He was so happy that “it made one feel happy to look at him,” as Aglaya’s sisters expressed it afterwards. He talked, and told stories just as he had done once before, and never since, namely on the very first morning of his acquaintance with the Epanchins, six months ago. Since his return to Petersburg from Moscow, he had been remarkably silent, and had told Prince S. on one occasion, before everyone, that he did not think himself justified in degrading any thought by his unworthy words.
“Come, sir, that will do; you weary me,” said Lizabetha Prokofievna suddenly to Evgenie Pavlovitch.
Aglaya looked blackly at him.Nearly an hour passed thus, and when tea was over the visitors seemed to think that it was time to go. As they went out, the doctor and the old gentleman bade Muishkin a warm farewell, and all the rest took their leave with hearty protestations of good-will, dropping remarks to the effect that “it was no use worrying,” and that “perhaps all would turn out for the best,” and so on. Some of the younger intruders would have asked for champagne, but they were checked by the older ones. When all had departed, Keller leaned over to Lebedeff, and said:
The words were hardly out of her mouth, when Lebedeff dragged Vera forward, in order to present her.
“The children of the nineteenth century, and their parents--” began the general, again.
“No, they are not Nihilists,” explained Lebedeff, who seemed much excited. “This is another lot--a special group. According to my nephew they are more advanced even than the Nihilists. You are quite wrong, excellency, if you think that your presence will intimidate them; nothing intimidates them. Educated men, learned men even, are to be found among Nihilists; these go further, in that they are men of action. The movement is, properly speaking, a derivative from Nihilism--though they are only known indirectly, and by hearsay, for they never advertise their doings in the papers. They go straight to the point. For them, it is not a question of showing that Pushkin is stupid, or that Russia must be torn in pieces. No; but if they have a great desire for anything, they believe they have a right to get it even at the cost of the lives, say, of eight persons. They are checked by no obstacles. In fact, prince, I should not advise you...”