In a word, the incident closed as such incidents do, and the band began to play again. The prince walked away after the Epanchin party. Had he thought of looking round to the left after he had been pushed so unceremoniously into the chair, he would have observed Aglaya standing some twenty yards away. She had stayed to watch the scandalous scene in spite of her mother’s and sisters’ anxious cries to her to come away.
Lebedeff really had been busy for some little while; but, as usual, his plans had become too complex to succeed, through sheer excess of ardour. When he came to the prince--the very day before the wedding--to confess (for he always confessed to the persons against whom he intrigued, especially when the plan failed), he informed our hero that he himself was a born Talleyrand, but for some unknown reason had become simple Lebedeff. He then proceeded to explain his whole game to the prince, interesting the latter exceedingly.
But the prince only looked at the bright side; he did not turn the coat and see the shabby lining.“I know nothing about it.”
“I hardly knew him; he is much changed, and for the better!”“What are you looking so surprised about, my friend?” asked Mrs. Epanchin, suddenly. “Did you suppose he was stupider than yourself, and was incapable of forming his own opinions, or what?”
“Yes, by-the-by,” whispered the prince, hurriedly and excitedly as before, as though he had just seized hold of an idea and was afraid of losing it again. “I--I wanted those cards! They say you played cards with her?”
The prince took a droshky. It struck him as he drove on that he ought to have begun by coming here, since it was most improbable that Rogojin should have taken Nastasia to his own house last night. He remembered that the porter said she very rarely came at all, so that it was still less likely that she would have gone there so late at night.
“He is a nice fellow, but a little too simple,” said Adelaida, as the prince left the room.
“And enough of this. By the time I have got so far in the reading of my document the sun will be up and the huge force of his rays will be acting upon the living world. So be it. I shall die gazing straight at the great Fountain of life and power; I do not want this life!“Not a bit of it; that’s just the strange part of it.”
The woman’s face changed; she lost her suspicious expression.
As is well known, these fits occur instantaneously. The face, especially the eyes, become terribly disfigured, convulsions seize the limbs, a terrible cry breaks from the sufferer, a wail from which everything human seems to be blotted out, so that it is impossible to believe that the man who has just fallen is the same who emitted the dreadful cry. It seems more as though some other being, inside the stricken one, had cried. Many people have borne witness to this impression; and many cannot behold an epileptic fit without a feeling of mysterious terror and dread.“He really is very charming,” whispered the old dignitary to Ivan Petrovitch.
The prince could not doubt the sincerity of his agitation. He understood, too, that the old man had left the room intoxicated with his own success. The general belonged to that class of liars, who, in spite of their transports of lying, invariably suspect that they are not believed. On this occasion, when he recovered from his exaltation, he would probably suspect Muishkin of pitying him, and feel insulted.
“Evgenie Pavlovitch,” he said, with strange excitement and seizing the latter’s hand in his own, “be assured that I esteem you as a generous and honourable man, in spite of everything. Be assured of that.”
“When? Speak--quick!”“No, at his mother’s flat; I rang at Parfen Semionovitch’s door and nobody came.”“Well,” said Colia, plunging in medias res, as he always did, “here’s a go! What do you think of Hippolyte now? Don’t respect him any longer, eh?”“And pray what _is_ my position, madame? I have the greatest respect for you, personally; but--”
“Come along then,” said Evgenie; “it’s a glorious evening. But, to prove that this time I was speaking absolutely seriously, and especially to prove this to the prince (for you, prince, have interested me exceedingly, and I swear to you that I am not quite such an ass as I like to appear sometimes, although I am rather an ass, I admit), and--well, ladies and gentlemen, will you allow me to put just one more question to the prince, out of pure curiosity? It shall be the last. This question came into my mind a couple of hours since (you see, prince, I do think seriously at times), and I made my own decision upon it; now I wish to hear what the prince will say to it.”
If Hippolyte and Nina Alexandrovna had, as Gania suspected, had some special conversation about the general’s actions, it was strange that the malicious youth, whom Gania had called a scandal-monger to his face, had not allowed himself a similar satisfaction with Colia.The laughter became louder than ever.
Aglaya did not begin the conversation, but contented herself with watching her companion intently.
On the third day there was no talk of him at all, until Aglaya remarked at dinner: “Mamma is cross because the prince hasn’t turned up,” to which the general replied that it was not his fault.
“They are Nihilists, are they not?”
“I’ve brought your book back,” he began, indicating a book lying on the table. “Much obliged to you for lending it to me.”
“They have planted roses all round her grave, and every year they look after the flowers and make Marie’s resting-place as beautiful as they can. I was in ill odour after all this with the parents of the children, and especially with the parson and schoolmaster. Schneider was obliged to promise that I should not meet them and talk to them; but we conversed from a distance by signs, and they used to write me sweet little notes. Afterwards I came closer than ever to those little souls, but even then it was very dear to me, to have them so fond of me.
“I tell you, my dear fellow, Aglaya is such an extraordinary, such a self-willed, fantastical little creature, you wouldn’t believe it! Every high quality, every brilliant trait of heart and mind, are to be found in her, and, with it all, so much caprice and mockery, such wild fancies--indeed, a little devil! She has just been laughing at her mother to her very face, and at her sisters, and at Prince S., and everybody--and of course she always laughs at me! You know I love the child--I love her even when she laughs at me, and I believe the wild little creature has a special fondness for me for that very reason. She is fonder of me than any of the others. I dare swear she has had a good laugh at _you_ before now! You were having a quiet talk just now, I observed, after all the thunder and lightning upstairs. She was sitting with you just as though there had been no row at all.”“Are you about to take a wife? I ask,--if you prefer that expression.”“No; of course not.”“If you had cared to be an honest woman, you would have gone out as a laundress.”“Then it must be one of the guests.”
“He won’t shoot himself; the boy is only playing the fool,” said General Ivolgin, suddenly and unexpectedly, with indignation.
“What on earth is the matter with the boy? What phenomenal feeble-mindedness!” exclaimed Ferdishenko.
But on this occasion there was something more serious than usual. Everyone seemed to know something, but to be afraid to talk about it.
The prince did not die before his wedding--either by day or night, as he had foretold that he might. Very probably he passed disturbed nights, and was afflicted with bad dreams; but, during the daytime, among his fellow-men, he seemed as kind as ever, and even contented; only a little thoughtful when alone.
To make an end, we may say that there were many changes in the Epanchin household in the spring, so that it was not difficult to forget the prince, who sent no news of himself.
“Oh! it was the Kolpakoff business, and of course he would have been acquitted.”“Well, I was glad enough, for I had long felt the greatest sympathy for this man; and then the pretty uniform and all that--only a child, you know--and so on. It was a dark green dress coat with gold buttons--red facings, white trousers, and a white silk waistcoat--silk stockings, shoes with buckles, and top-boots if I were riding out with his majesty or with the suite.“And do you not live in idleness?”
“The visit to Rogojin exhausted me terribly. Besides, I had felt ill since the morning; and by evening I was so weak that I took to my bed, and was in high fever at intervals, and even delirious. Colia sat with me until eleven o’clock.
“No, no! they are all enemies! I’ve tried them often enough, believe me,” and Gania turned his back on Varia with these words.
She laughed, but she was rather angry too.
“Well, prince, whom are we to suspect, then? Consider!” said Lebedeff with almost servile amiability, smiling at the prince. There was a look of cunning in his eyes, however.“Aglaya Ivanovna...” began Lebedeff, promptly.
“I expect he knows all about it!” thought the prince.