The prince hurried down to the front gate where the party were settling into the troikas, all the bells tinkling a merry accompaniment the while. The general caught him up on the stairs:
“No, no I--I--no!” said Gania, bringing out his lie with a tell-tale blush of shame. He glanced keenly at Aglaya, who was sitting some way off, and dropped his eyes immediately.It was all very vague. Who had taken the letters, if letters there were? Probably Vera--and how could Lebedeff have got them? In all probability, he had managed to steal the present letter from Vera, and had himself gone over to Lizabetha Prokofievna with some idea in his head. So the prince concluded at last.

“Loves him? She is head over ears in love, that’s what she is,” put in Alexandra.

“At once... at once... in one moment!”
Varia had quietly entered the room, and was holding out the portrait of Nastasia Philipovna to her mother.

“‘So much depends upon your uncle,’ I said. ‘And besides we have always been enemies, Bachmatoff; and as you are a generous sort of fellow, I thought you would not refuse my request because I was your enemy!’ I added with irony.

“Now I’ll tell you my secret conviction. I’m certain that she’s doing this to revenge herself on me, on account of the past, though I assure you that all the time I was blameless. I blush at the very idea. And now she turns up again like this, when I thought she had finally disappeared! Where’s Rogojin all this time? I thought she was Mrs. Rogojin, long ago.”
“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.

“Especially as he asked himself,” said Ferdishenko.

“And, meanwhile both his legs are still on his body,” said the prince, laughing. “I assure you, it is only an innocent joke, and you need not be angry about it.”

“Oh, well, then you may know that I shall certainly do it, now. I shall certainly marry her. I was not quite sure of myself before, but now I am. Don’t say a word: I know what you want to tell me--”

However, she had not reached the outer hall when she turned round, walked quickly up to Nina Alexandrovna, seized her hand and lifted it to her lips.
“What am I doing? What am I doing to you?” she sobbed convulsively, embracing his knees.
“You should pass us by and forgive us our happiness,” said the prince in a low voice.

“By five I drew up at the Ekshaisky inn. I waited there till dawn, and soon after six I was off, and at the old merchant Trepalaf’s.

“I have waited for you with the greatest impatience (not that you were worth it). Every night I have drenched my pillow with tears, not for you, my friend, not for you, don’t flatter yourself! I have my own grief, always the same, always the same. But I’ll tell you why I have been awaiting you so impatiently, because I believe that Providence itself sent you to be a friend and a brother to me. I haven’t a friend in the world except Princess Bielokonski, and she is growing as stupid as a sheep from old age. Now then, tell me, yes or no? Do you know why she called out from her carriage the other night?”

“As lovely as _who?_” said Mrs. Epanchin. “As _Nastasia Philipovna?_ Where have you seen Nastasia Philipovna? What Nastasia Philipovna?”

“No, no, no!” cried the prince, with unspeakable sadness.

“Nor do I believe it, in spite of the proofs. The girl is self-willed and fantastic, and insane! She’s wicked, wicked! I’ll repeat it for a thousand years that she’s wicked; they _all_ are, just now, all my daughters, even that ‘wet hen’ Alexandra. And yet I don’t believe it. Because I don’t choose to believe it, perhaps; but I don’t. Why haven’t you been?” she turned on the prince suddenly. “Why didn’t you come near us all these three days, eh?”
“I’ll tell you. In the first place he must immediately deliver up the pistol which he boasted of, with all its appurtenances. If he does this I shall consent to his being allowed to spend the night in this house--considering his feeble state of health, and of course conditionally upon his being under proper supervision. But tomorrow he must go elsewhere. Excuse me, prince! Should he refuse to deliver up his weapon, then I shall instantly seize one of his arms and General Ivolgin the other, and we shall hold him until the police arrive and take the matter into their own hands. Mr. Ferdishenko will kindly fetch them.”

“‘Whoso forsakes his country forsakes his God.’

“What best wishes?”

“But how brave you are!” said he. “You are laughing, and I--that man’s tale impressed me so much, that I dreamt of it afterwards; yes, I dreamt of those five minutes...”

“You never know the day of the week; what’s the day of the month?”

“And you are _not_, I presume, eh?”
“On the table, as in the other room, burned a tallow candle-end in an iron candlestick; and on the bed there whined a baby of scarcely three weeks old. A pale-looking woman was dressing the child, probably the mother; she looked as though she had not as yet got over the trouble of childbirth, she seemed so weak and was so carelessly dressed. Another child, a little girl of about three years old, lay on the sofa, covered over with what looked like a man’s old dress-coat.
“Surely you--are from abroad?” he inquired at last, in a confused sort of way. He had begun his sentence intending to say, “Surely you are not Prince Muishkin, are you?”
The girls generally rose at about nine in the morning in the country; Aglaya, of late, had been in the habit of getting up rather earlier and having a walk in the garden, but not at seven o’clock; about eight or a little later was her usual time.He passed under the gateway and into the street. The crowds of people walking about--as is always the case at sunset in Petersburg, during the summer--surprised him, but he walked on in the direction of Rogojin’s house.

“_Love-letter?_ My letter a love-letter? That letter was the most respectful of letters; it went straight from my heart, at what was perhaps the most painful moment of my life! I thought of you at the time as a kind of light. I--”

Arrived on the opposite pavement, he looked back to see whether the prince were moving, waved his hand in the direction of the Gorohovaya, and strode on, looking across every moment to see whether Muishkin understood his instructions. The prince supposed that Rogojin desired to look out for someone whom he was afraid to miss; but if so, why had he not told _him_ whom to look out for? So the two proceeded for half a mile or so. Suddenly the prince began to tremble from some unknown cause. He could not bear it, and signalled to Rogojin across the road.
An ominous expression passed over Nastasia Philipovna’s face, of a sudden. It became obstinate-looking, hard, and full of hatred; but she did not take her eyes off her visitors for a moment.
“My father was just about to be tried when he died,” said the prince, “although I never knew of what he was accused. He died in hospital.”
“Is that you, Keller?” said the prince, in surprise.“Come to Aglaya--quick, quick!”

“Of course.”

“Oh, is that all?” he said at last. “Then I--”
“Oh--come! Surely you must know that there is to be a meeting today between Nastasia and Aglaya Ivanovna, and that Nastasia has been sent for on purpose, through Rogojin, from St. Petersburg? It has been brought about by invitation of Aglaya Ivanovna and my own efforts, and Nastasia is at this moment with Rogojin, not far from here--at Dana Alexeyevna’s--that curious friend of hers; and to this questionable house Aglaya Ivanovna is to proceed for a friendly chat with Nastasia Philipovna, and for the settlement of several problems. They are going to play at arithmetic--didn’t you know about it? Word of honour?”

The girls could see that their mother concealed a great deal from them, and left out large pieces of the letter in reading it to them.

“Why do I wish to unite you two? For your sakes or my own? For my own sake, naturally. All the problems of my life would thus be solved; I have thought so for a long time. I know that once when your sister Adelaida saw my portrait she said that such beauty could overthrow the world. But I have renounced the world. You think it strange that I should say so, for you saw me decked with lace and diamonds, in the company of drunkards and wastrels. Take no notice of that; I know that I have almost ceased to exist. God knows what it is dwelling within me now--it is not myself. I can see it every day in two dreadful eyes which are always looking at me, even when not present. These eyes are silent now, they say nothing; but I know their secret. His house is gloomy, and there is a secret in it. I am convinced that in some box he has a razor hidden, tied round with silk, just like the one that Moscow murderer had. This man also lived with his mother, and had a razor hidden away, tied round with white silk, and with this razor he intended to cut a throat.
“Then you think they won’t see it?”
“Oh, why shouldn’t they laugh?” said the prince. “I shouldn’t have let the chance go by in their place, I know. But I stick up for the donkey, all the same; he’s a patient, good-natured fellow.”“Last week? In the night? Have you gone cracked, my good friend?”“I suppose your whole set-up is in that bundle, then?” asked the first.

“If you didn’t mean that, then she has only to go down the steps and walk off, and she need never come back unless she chooses: Ships are burned behind one sometimes, and one doesn’t care to return whence one came. Life need not consist only of lunches, and dinners, and Prince S’s. It strikes me you take Aglaya Ivanovna for some conventional boarding-school girl. I said so to her, and she quite agreed with me. Wait till seven or eight o’clock. In your place I would send someone there to keep watch, so as to seize the exact moment when she steps out of the house. Send Colia. He’ll play the spy with pleasure--for you at least. Ha, ha, ha!”

“Her relations had all died off--her husband was dead and buried forty years since; and a niece, who had lived with her and bullied her up to three years ago, was dead too; so that she was quite alone.

The prince was silent. He sat straight up in his chair and gazed fervently at Ivan Petrovitch.

A maid opened the door for the prince (Nastasia’s servants were all females) and, to his surprise, received his request to announce him to her mistress without any astonishment. Neither his dirty boots, nor his wide-brimmed hat, nor his sleeveless cloak, nor his evident confusion of manner, produced the least impression upon her. She helped him off with his cloak, and begged him to wait a moment in the ante-room while she announced him.

“You are altogether perfection; even your pallor and thinness are perfect; one could not wish you otherwise. I did so wish to come and see you. I--forgive me, please--”

Gania hurled Ferdishenko from him; then he turned sharp round and made for the door. But he had not gone a couple of steps when he tottered and fell to the ground.

“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.

“That is true,” said the prince, “I have thought so myself. And yet, why shouldn’t one do it?”
“Prince! Money! Why I would give that man not only my money, but my very life, if he wanted it. Well, perhaps that’s exaggeration; not life, we’ll say, but some illness, a boil or a bad cough, or anything of that sort, I would stand with pleasure, for his sake; for I consider him a great man fallen--money, indeed!”

“Why, look at him--look at him now!”

Lizabetha Prokofievna went to bed and only rose again in time for tea, when the prince might be expected.
“Is not that enough? The instinct of self-preservation is the normal law of humanity...”
“And pray what _is_ my position, madame? I have the greatest respect for you, personally; but--”
“‘Nurse, where is your tomb?’
“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.”
“Excuse him? Oh no, I have wished to see him too long for that. Why, what business can he have? He has retired, hasn’t he? You won’t leave me, general, will you?”

“Oh, then, of course they will remember who you are. You wish to see the general? I’ll tell him at once--he will be free in a minute; but you--you had better wait in the ante-chamber,--hadn’t you? Why is he here?” he added, severely, to the man.

“Oh, now you are going to praise him! He will be set up! He puts his hand on his heart, and he is delighted! I never said he was a man without heart, but he is a rascal--that’s the pity of it. And then, he is addicted to drink, and his mind is unhinged, like that of most people who have taken more than is good for them for years. He loves his children--oh, I know that well enough! He respected my aunt, his late wife... and he even has a sort of affection for me. He has remembered me in his will.”

“Tell us now, at once, what you made of the present? I must have you answer this question for mother’s sake; she needs pacifying, and so do all the rest of the family!”

And it was at this moment that General Epanchin began to play so large and important a part in the story.

“Oh, that’s not in _my_ province! I believe she receives at any time; it depends upon the visitors. The dressmaker goes in at eleven. Gavrila Ardalionovitch is allowed much earlier than other people, too; he is even admitted to early lunch now and then.”

“Suppose we all go away?” said Ferdishenko suddenly.

“Surely you--are from abroad?” he inquired at last, in a confused sort of way. He had begun his sentence intending to say, “Surely you are not Prince Muishkin, are you?”

The prince did not exactly pant for breath, but he “seemed almost to _choke_ out of pure simplicity and goodness of heart,” as Adelaida expressed it, on talking the party over with her fiance, the Prince S., next morning.

“Ardalion,” said Nina Alexandrovitch, entreatingly.
VIII.
“But enough!” he cried, suddenly. “I see I have been boring you with my--”

XIII.

Here there was a frantic noise upstairs once more; several people seemed to be rushing downstairs at once.
The prince seemed to be considering the suggestion.
“Gentlemen, if any one of you casts any doubt again, before me, upon Hippolyte’s good faith, or hints that the cap was forgotten intentionally, or suggests that this unhappy boy was acting a part before us, I beg to announce that the person so speaking shall account to me for his words.”
“That may be! Perhaps you didn’t _come_ with the idea, but the idea is certainly there _now!_ Ha, ha! well, that’s enough! What are you upset about? Didn’t you really know it all before? You astonish me!”Aglaya looked menacingly at her laughing sisters, but could not contain herself any longer, and the next minute she too had burst into an irrepressible, and almost hysterical, fit of mirth. At length she jumped up, and ran out of the room.

Lizabetha Prokofievna saw that she returned in such a state of agitation that it was doubtful whether she had even heard their calls. But only a couple of minutes later, when they had reached the park, Aglaya suddenly remarked, in her usual calm, indifferent voice:

Arrived at the church, Muishkin, under Keller’s guidance, passed through the crowd of spectators, amid continuous whispering and excited exclamations. The prince stayed near the altar, while Keller made off once more to fetch the bride.

“It is time for me to go,” he said, glancing round in perplexity. “I have detained you... I wanted to tell you everything... I thought you all... for the last time... it was a whim...”

“Yes, she promised. We both worried her so that she gave in; but she wished us to tell you nothing about it until the day.”

The prince had told Evgenie Pavlovitch with perfect sincerity that he loved Nastasia Philipovna with all his soul. In his love for her there was the sort of tenderness one feels for a sick, unhappy child which cannot be left alone. He never spoke of his feelings for Nastasia to anyone, not even to herself. When they were together they never discussed their “feelings,” and there was nothing in their cheerful, animated conversation which an outsider could not have heard. Daria Alexeyevna, with whom Nastasia was staying, told afterwards how she had been filled with joy and delight only to look at them, all this time.

“Why? what’s there strange about it? He has a tongue. Why shouldn’t he tell us something? I want to judge whether he is a good story-teller; anything you like, prince--how you liked Switzerland, what was your first impression, anything. You’ll see, he’ll begin directly and tell us all about it beautifully.”

She had scarcely descended the terrace steps leading to the high road that skirts the park at Pavlofsk, when suddenly there dashed by a smart open carriage, drawn by a pair of beautiful white horses. Having passed some ten yards beyond the house, the carriage suddenly drew up, and one of the two ladies seated in it turned sharp round as though she had just caught sight of some acquaintance whom she particularly wished to see.

“Yes, she is pretty,” she said at last, “even very pretty. I have seen her twice, but only at a distance. So you admire this kind of beauty, do you?” she asked the prince, suddenly.“Oh, he won’t shoot himself!” cried several voices, sarcastically.“Well, good-bye!” said the prince, holding out his hand.

“Of course not--of course not!--bah! The criminal was a fine intelligent fearless man; Le Gros was his name; and I may tell you--believe it or not, as you like--that when that man stepped upon the scaffold he _cried_, he did indeed,--he was as white as a bit of paper. Isn’t it a dreadful idea that he should have cried--cried! Whoever heard of a grown man crying from fear--not a child, but a man who never had cried before--a grown man of forty-five years. Imagine what must have been going on in that man’s mind at such a moment; what dreadful convulsions his whole spirit must have endured; it is an outrage on the soul that’s what it is. Because it is said ‘thou shalt not kill,’ is he to be killed because he murdered some one else? No, it is not right, it’s an impossible theory. I assure you, I saw the sight a month ago and it’s dancing before my eyes to this moment. I dream of it, often.”

“He is always silent, but I know well that he loves me so much that he must hate me. My wedding and yours are to be on the same day; so I have arranged with him. I have no secrets from him. I would kill him from very fright, but he will kill me first. He has just burst out laughing, and says that I am raving. He knows I am writing to you.”

There were to be very few guests besides the best men and so on; only Dana Alexeyevna, the Ptitsins, Gania, and the doctor. When the prince asked Lebedeff why he had invited the doctor, who was almost a stranger, Lebedeff replied:
“And why did you tell us this?”

“Yes, quite so; very remarkable.”