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Chapter 10

  • THE prince understood at last why he shivered with dread every time he though_f the three letters in his pocket, and why he had put off reading them unti_he evening.
  • When he fell into a heavy sleep on the sofa on the verandah, without havin_ad the courage to open a single one of the three envelopes, he again dreame_ painful dream, and once more that poor, "sinful" woman appeared to him.
  • Again she gazed at him with tears sparkling on her long lashes, and beckone_im after her; and again he awoke, as before, with the picture of her fac_aunting him.
  • He longed to get up and go to her at once—but he COULD NOT. At length, almos_n despair, he unfolded the letters, and began to read them.
  • These letters, too, were like a dream. We sometimes have strange, impossibl_reams, contrary to all the laws of nature. When we awake we remember them an_onder at their strangeness. You remember, perhaps, that you were in ful_ossession of your reason during this succession of fantastic images; eve_hat you acted with extraordinary logic and cunning while surrounded b_urderers who hid their intentions and made great demonstrations o_riendship, while waiting for an opportunity to cut your throat. You remembe_ow you escaped them by some ingenious stratagem; then you doubted if the_ere really deceived, or whether they were only pretending not to know you_iding-place; then you thought of another plan and hoodwinked them once again.
  • You remember all this quite clearly, but how is it that your reason calml_ccepted all the manifest absurdities and impossibilities that crowded int_our dream? One of the murderers suddenly changed into a woman before you_ery eyes; then the woman was transformed into a hideous, cunning littl_warf; and you believed it, and accepted it all almost as a matter o_ourse—while at the same time your intelligence seemed unusually keen, an_ccomplished miracles of cunning, sagacity, and logic! Why is it that when yo_wake to the world of realities you nearly always feel, sometimes ver_ividly, that the vanished dream has carried with it some enigma which yo_ave failed to solve? You smile at the extravagance of your dream, and yet yo_eel that this tissue of absurdity contained some real idea, something tha_elongs to your true life,—something that exists, and has always existed, i_our heart. You search your dream for some prophecy that you were expecting.
  • It has left a deep impression upon you, joyful or cruel, but what it means, o_hat has been predicted to you in it, you can neither understand nor remember.
  • The reading of these letters produced some such effect upon the prince. H_elt, before he even opened the envelopes, that the very fact of thei_xistence was like a nightmare. How could she ever have made up her mind t_rite to her? he asked himself. How could she write about that at all? And ho_ould such a wild idea have entered her head? And yet, the strangest part o_he matter was, that while he read the letters, he himself almost believed i_he possibility, and even in the justification, of the idea he had thought s_ild. Of course it was a mad dream, a nightmare, and yet there was somethin_ruelly real about it. For hours he was haunted by what he had read. Severa_assages returned again and again to his mind, and as he brooded over them, h_elt inclined to say to himself that he had foreseen and known all that wa_ritten here; it even seemed to him that he had read the whole of this som_ime or other, long, long ago; and all that had tormented and grieved him u_o now was to be found in these old, long since read, letters.
  • "When you open this letter" (so the first began), "look first at th_ignature. The signature will tell you all, so that I need explain nothing, nor attempt to justify myself. Were I in any way on a footing with you, yo_ight be offended at my audacity; but who am I, and who are you? We are a_uch extremes, and I am so far removed from you, that I could not offend yo_f I wished to do so."
  • Farther on, in another place, she wrote: "Do not consider my words as th_ickly ecstasies of a diseased mind, but you are, in my opinion—perfection! _ave seen you—I see you every day. I do not judge you; I have not weighed yo_n the scales of Reason and found you Perfection—it is simply an article o_aith. But I must confess one sin against you—I love you. One should not lov_erfection. One should only look on it as perfection—yet I am in love wit_ou. Though love equalizes, do not fear. I have not lowered you to my level, even in my most secret thoughts. I have written 'Do not fear,' as if you coul_ear. I would kiss your footprints if I could; but, oh! I am not puttin_yself on a level with you!—Look at the signature—quick, look at th_ignature!"
  • "However, observe" (she wrote in another of the letters), "that although _ouple you with him, yet I have not once asked you whether you love him. H_ell in love with you, though he saw you but once. He spoke of you as of 'th_ight.' These are his own words—I heard him use them. But I understood withou_is saying it that you were all that light is to him. I lived near him for _hole month, and I understood then that you, too, must love him. I think o_ou and him as one."
  • "What was the matter yesterday?" (she wrote on another sheet). "I passed b_ou, and you seemed to me to BLUSH. Perhaps it was only my fancy. If I were t_ring you to the most loathsome den, and show you the revelation o_ndisguised vice—you should not blush. You can never feel the sense o_ersonal affront. You may hate all who are mean, or base, or unworthy—but no_or yourself—only for those whom they wrong. No one can wrong YOU. Do yo_now, I think you ought to love me—for you are the same in my eyes as in his- you are as light. An angel cannot hate, perhaps cannot love, either. I ofte_sk myself—is it possible to love everybody? Indeed it is not; it is not i_ature. Abstract love of humanity is nearly always love of self. But you ar_ifferent. You cannot help loving all, since you can compare with none, an_re above all personal offence or anger. Oh! how bitter it would be to me t_now that you felt anger or shame on my account, for that would be you_all—you would become comparable at once with such as me.
  • "Yesterday, after seeing you, I went home and thought out a picture.
  • "Artists always draw the Saviour as an actor in one of the Gospel stories. _hould do differently. I should represent Christ alone—the disciples did leav_im alone occasionally. I should paint one little child left with Him. Thi_hild has been playing about near Him, and had probably just been telling th_aviour something in its pretty baby prattle. Christ had listened to it, bu_as now musing—one hand reposing on the child's bright head. His eyes have _ar-away expression. Thought, great as the Universe, is in them—His face i_ad. The little one leans its elbow upon Christ's knee, and with its chee_esting on its hand, gazes up at Him, pondering as children sometimes d_onder. The sun is setting. There you have my picture.
  • "You are innocent—and in your innocence lies all your perfection—oh, remembe_hat! What is my passion to you?—you are mine now; I shall be near you all m_ife—I shall not live long!"
  • At length, in the last letter of all, he found:
  • "For Heaven's sake, don't misunderstand me! Do not think that I humiliat_yself by writing thus to you, or that I belong to that class of people wh_ake a satisfaction in humiliating themselves—from pride. I have m_onsolation, though it would be difficult to explain it—but I do not humiliat_yself.
  • "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 s_or a long time. I know that once when your sister Adelaida saw my portrai_he said that such beauty could overthrow the world. But I have renounced th_orld. You think it strange that I should say so, for you saw me decked wit_ace and diamonds, in the company of drunkards and wastrels. Take no notice o_hat; I know that I have almost ceased to exist. God knows what it is dwellin_ithin me now—it is not myself. I can see it every day in two dreadful eye_hich are always looking at me, even when not present. These eyes are silen_ow, they say nothing; but I know their secret. His house is gloomy, and ther_s a secret in it. I am convinced that in some box he has a razor hidden, tie_ound with silk, just like the one that Moscow murderer had. This man als_ived with his mother, and had a razor hidden away, tied round with whit_ilk, and with this razor he intended to cut a throat.
  • "All the while I was in their house I felt sure that somewhere beneath th_loor there was hidden away some dreadful corpse, wrapped in oil-cloth, perhaps buried there by his father, who knows? Just as in the Moscow case. _ould have shown you the very spot!
  • "He is always silent, but I know well that he loves me so much that he mus_ate me. My wedding and yours are to be on the same day; so I have arrange_ith him. I have no secrets from him. I would kill him from very fright, bu_e will kill me first. He has just burst out laughing, and says that I a_aving. He knows I am writing to you."
  • There was much more of this delirious wandering in the letters—one of them wa_ery long.
  • At last the prince came out of the dark, gloomy park, in which he had wandere_bout for hours just as yesterday. The bright night seemed to him to b_ighter than ever. "It must be quite early," he thought. (He had forgotten hi_atch.) There was a sound of distant music somewhere. "Ah," he thought, "th_auxhall! They won't be there today, of course!" At this moment he notice_hat he was close to their house; he had felt that he must gravitate to thi_pot eventually, and, with a beating heart, he mounted the verandah steps.
  • No one met him; the verandah was empty, and nearly pitch dark. He opened th_oor into the room, but it, too, was dark and empty. He stood in the middle o_he room in perplexity. Suddenly the door opened, and in came Alexandra, candle in hand. Seeing the prince she stopped before him in surprise, lookin_t him questioningly.
  • It was clear that she had been merely passing through the room from door t_oor, and had not had the remotest notion that she would meet anyone.
  • "How did you come here?" she asked, at last.
  • "I-I—came in—"
  • "Mamma is not very well, nor is Aglaya. Adelaida has gone to bed, and I a_ust going. We were alone the whole evening. Father and Prince S. have gone t_own."
  • "I have come to you—now—to—"
  • "Do you know what time it is?"
  • "N—no!"
  • "Half-past twelve. We are always in bed by one."
  • "I-I thought it was half-past nine!"
  • "Never mind!" she laughed, "but why didn't you come earlier? Perhaps you wer_xpected!"
  • "I thought" he stammered, making for the door.
  • "Au revoir! I shall amuse them all with this story tomorrow!"
  • He walked along the road towards his own house. His heart was beating, hi_houghts were confused, everything around seemed to be part of a dream.
  • And suddenly, just as twice already he had awaked from sleep with the sam_ision, that very apparition now seemed to rise up before him. The woma_ppeared to step out from the park, and stand in the path in front of him, a_hough she had been waiting for him there.
  • He shuddered and stopped; she seized his hand and pressed it frenziedly.
  • No, this was no apparition!
  • There she stood at last, face to face with him, for the first time since thei_arting.
  • She said something, but he looked silently back at her. His heart ached wit_nguish. Oh! never would he banish the recollection of this meeting with her, and he never remembered it but with the same pain and agony of mind.
  • She went on her knees before him—there in the open road—like a madwoman. H_etreated a step, but she caught his hand and kissed it, and, just as in hi_ream, the tears were sparkling on her long, beautiful lashes.
  • "Get up!" he said, in a frightened whisper, raising her. "Get up at once!"
  • "Are you happy—are you happy?" she asked. "Say this one word. Are you happ_ow? Today, this moment? Have you just been with her? What did she say?"
  • She did not rise from her knees; she would not listen to him; she put he_uestions hurriedly, as though she were pursued.
  • "I am going away tomorrow, as you bade me—I won't write—so that this is th_ast time I shall see you, the last time! This is really the LAST TIME!"
  • "Oh, be calm—be calm! Get up!" he entreated, in despair.
  • She gazed thirstily at him and clutched his hands.
  • "Good-bye!" she said at last, and rose and left him, very quickly.
  • The prince noticed that Rogojin had suddenly appeared at her side, and ha_aken her arm and was leading her away.
  • "Wait a minute, prince," shouted the latter, as he went. "I shall be back i_ive minutes."
  • He reappeared in five minutes as he had said. The prince was waiting for him.
  • "I've put her in the carriage," he said; "it has been waiting round the corne_here since ten o'clock. She expected that you would be with THEM all th_vening. I told her exactly what you wrote me. She won't write to the girl an_ore, she promises; and tomorrow she will be off, as you wish. She desired t_ee you for the last time, although you refused, so we've been sitting an_aiting on that bench till you should pass on your way home."
  • "Did she bring you with her of her own accord?"
  • "Of course she did!" said Rogojin, showing his teeth; "and I saw for mysel_hat I knew before. You've read her letters, I suppose?"
  • "Did you read them?" asked the prince, struck by the thought.
  • "Of course—she showed them to me herself. You are thinking of the razor, eh?
  • Ha, ha, ha!"
  • "Oh, she is mad!" cried the prince, wringing his hands. "Who knows? Perhap_he is not so mad after all," said Rogojin, softly, as though thinking aloud.
  • The prince made no reply.
  • "Well, good-bye," said Rogojin. "I'm off tomorrow too, you know. Remember m_indly! By-the-by," he added, turning round sharply again, "did you answer he_uestion just now? Are you happy, or not?"
  • "No, no, no!" cried the prince, with unspeakable sadness.
  • "Ha, ha! I never supposed you would say 'yes,'" cried Rogojin, laughin_ardonically.
  • And he disappeared, without looking round again.