Colia took the prince to a public-house in the Litaynaya, not far off. In on_f the side rooms there sat at a table—looking like one of the regular guest_f the establishment—Ardalion Alexandrovitch, with a bottle before him, and _ewspaper on his knee. He was waiting for the prince, and no sooner did th_atter appear than he began a long harangue about something or other; but s_ar gone was he that the prince could hardly understand a word.
"I have not got a ten-rouble note," said the prince; "but here is a twenty- five. Change it and give me back the fifteen, or I shall be left without _arthing myself."
"Oh, of course, of course; and you quite understand that I—"
"Yes; and I have another request to make, general. Have you ever been a_astasia Philipovna's?"
"I? I? Do you mean me? Often, my friend, often! I only pretended I had not i_rder to avoid a painful subject. You saw today, you were a witness, that _id all that a kind, an indulgent father could do. Now a father of altogethe_nother type shall step into the scene. You shall see; the old soldier shal_ay bare this intrigue, or a shameless woman will force her way into _espectable and noble family."
"Yes, quite so. I wished to ask you whether you could show me the way t_astasia Philipovna's tonight. I must go; I have business with her; I was no_nvited but I was introduced. Anyhow I am ready to trespass the laws o_ropriety if only I can get in somehow or other."
"My dear young friend, you have hit on my very idea. It was not for thi_ubbish I asked you to come over here" (he pocketed the money, however, a_his point), "it was to invite your alliance in the campaign against Nastasi_hilipovna tonight. How well it sounds, 'General Ivolgin and Prince Muishkin.'
That'll fetch her, I think, eh? Capital! We'll go at nine; there's time yet."
"Where does she live?"
"Oh, a long way off, near the Great Theatre, just in the square there—It won'_e a large party."
The general sat on and on. He had ordered a fresh bottle when the princ_rrived; this took him an hour to drink, and then he had another, and another, during the consumption of which he told pretty nearly the whole story of hi_ife. The prince was in despair. He felt that though he had but applied t_his miserable old drunkard because he saw no other way of getting to Nastasi_hilipovna's, yet he had been very wrong to put the slightest confidence i_uch a man.
At last he rose and declared that he would wait no longer. The general ros_oo, drank the last drops that he could squeeze out of the bottle, an_taggered into the street.
Muishkin began to despair. He could not imagine how he had been so foolish a_o trust this man. He only wanted one thing, and that was to get to Nastasi_hilipovna's, even at the cost of a certain amount of impropriety. But now th_candal threatened to be more than he had bargained for. By this time Ardalio_lexandrovitch was quite intoxicated, and he kept his companion listenin_hile he discoursed eloquently and pathetically on subjects of all kinds, interspersed with torrents of recrimination against the members of his family.
He insisted that all his troubles were caused by their bad conduct, and tim_lone would put an end to them.
At last they reached the Litaynaya. The thaw increased steadily, a warm, unhealthy wind blew through the streets, vehicles splashed through the mud, and the iron shoes of horses and mules rang on the paving stones. Crowds o_elancholy people plodded wearily along the footpaths, with here and there _runken man among them.
"Do you see those brightly-lighted windows?" said the general. "Many of my ol_omrades-in-arms live about here, and I, who served longer, and suffered mor_han any of them, am walking on foot to the house of a woman of rathe_uestionable reputation! A man, look you, who has thirteen bullets on hi_reast!… You don't believe it? Well, I can assure you it was entirely on m_ccount that Pirogoff telegraphed to Paris, and left Sebastopol at th_reatest risk during the siege. Nelaton, the Tuileries surgeon, demanded _afe conduct, in the name of science, into the besieged city in order t_ttend my wounds. The government knows all about it. 'That's the Ivolgin wit_hirteen bullets in him!' That's how they speak of me… . Do you see tha_ouse, prince? One of my old friends lives on the first floor, with his larg_amily. In this and five other houses, three overlooking Nevsky, two in th_orskaya, are all that remain of my personal friends. Nina Alexandrovna gav_hem up long ago, but I keep in touch with them still… I may say I fin_efreshment in this little coterie, in thus meeting my old acquaintances an_ubordinates, who worship me still, in spite of all. General Sokolovitch (b_he way, I have not called on him lately, or seen Anna Fedorovna)… You know, my dear prince, when a person does not receive company himself, he gives u_oing to other people's houses involuntarily. And yet… well… you look as i_ou didn't believe me… . Well now, why should I not present the son of my ol_riend and companion to this delightful family—General Ivolgin and Princ_uishkin? You will see a lovely girl—what am I saying—a lovely girl? No, indeed, two, three! Ornaments of this city and of society: beauty, education, culture—the woman question—poetry—everything! Added to which is the fact tha_ach one will have a dot of at least eighty thousand roubles. No bad thing, eh?… In a word I absolutely must introduce you to them: it is a duty, a_bligation. General Ivolgin and Prince Muishkin. Tableau!"
"At once? Now? You must have forgotten… " began the prince.
"No, I have forgotten nothing. Come! This is the house—up this magnificen_taircase. I am surprised not to see the porter, but … . it is a holiday… an_he man has gone off… Drunken fool! Why have they not got rid of him?
Sokolovitch owes all the happiness he has had in the service and in hi_rivate life to me, and me alone, but… here we are."
The prince followed quietly, making no further objection for fear o_rritating the old man. At the same time he fervently hoped that Genera_okolovitch and his family would fade away like a mirage in the desert, s_hat the visitors could escape, by merely returning downstairs. But to hi_orror he saw that General Ivolgin was quite familiar with the house, an_eally seemed to have friends there. At every step he named some topographica_r biographical detail that left nothing to be desired on the score o_ccuracy. When they arrived at last, on the first floor, and the genera_urned to ring the bell to the right, the prince decided to run away, but _urious incident stopped him momentarily.
"You have made a mistake, general," said he. "The name on the door i_oulakoff, and you were going to see General Sokolovitch."
"Koulakoff… Koulakoff means nothing. This is Sokolovitch's flat, and I a_inging at his door… . What do I care for Koulakoff?… Here comes someone t_pen."
In fact, the door opened directly, and the footman in formed the visitors tha_he family were all away.
"What a pity! What a pity! It's just my luck!" repeated Ardalio_lexandrovitch over and over again, in regretful tones. "When your master an_istress return, my man, tell them that General Ivolgin and Prince Muishki_esired to present themselves, and that they were extremely sorry, excessivel_rieved… "
Just then another person belonging to the household was seen at the back o_he hall. It was a woman of some forty years, dressed in sombre colours, probably a housekeeper or a governess. Hearing the names she came forward wit_ look of suspicion on her face.
"Marie Alexandrovna is not at home," said she, staring hard at the general.
"She has gone to her mother's, with Alexandra Michailovna."
"Alexandra Michailovna out, too! How disappointing! Would you believe it, I a_lways so unfortunate! May I most respectfully ask you to present m_ompliments to Alexandra Michailovna, and remind her… tell her, that with m_hole heart I wish for her what she wished for herself on Thursday evening, while she was listening to Chopin's Ballade. She will remember. I wish it wit_ll sincerity. General Ivolgin and Prince Muishkin!"
The woman's face changed; she lost her suspicious expression.
"I will not fail to deliver your message," she replied, and bowed them out.
As they went downstairs the general regretted repeatedly that he had failed t_ntroduce the prince to his friends.
"You know I am a bit of a poet," said he. "Have you noticed it? The poeti_oul, you know." Then he added suddenly—"But after all… after all I believe w_ade a mistake this time! I remember that the Sokolovitch's live in anothe_ouse, and what is more, they are just now in Moscow. Yes, I certainly was a_ault. However, it is of no consequence."
"Just tell me," said the prince in reply, "may I count still on you_ssistance? Or shall I go on alone to see Nastasia Philipovna?"
"Count on my assistance? Go alone? How can you ask me that question, when i_s a matter on which the fate of my family so largely depends? You don't kno_volgin, my friend. To trust Ivolgin is to trust a rock; that's how the firs_quadron I commanded spoke of me. 'Depend upon Ivolgin,' said they all, 'he i_s steady as a rock.' But, excuse me, I must just call at a house on our way, a house where I have found consolation and help in all my trials for years."
"You are going home?"
"No… I wish… to visit Madame Terentieff, the widow of Captain Terentieff, m_ld subordinate and friend. She helps me to keep up my courage, and to bea_he trials of my domestic life, and as I have an extra burden on my min_oday… "
"It seems to me," interrupted the prince, "that I was foolish to trouble yo_ust now. However, at present you… Good-bye!"
"Indeed, you must not go away like that, young man, you must not!" cried th_eneral. "My friend here is a widow, the mother of a family; her words com_traight from her heart, and find an echo in mine. A visit to her is merely a_ffair of a few minutes; I am quite at home in her house. I will have a wash, and dress, and then we can drive to the Grand Theatre. Make up your mind t_pend the evening with me… . We are just there—that's the house… Why, Colia!
you here! Well, is Marfa Borisovna at home or have you only just come?"
"Oh no! I have been here a long while," replied Colia, who was at the fron_oor when the general met him. "I am keeping Hippolyte company. He is worse, and has been in bed all day. I came down to buy some cards. Marfa Borisovn_xpects you. But what a state you are in, father!" added the boy, noticing hi_ather's unsteady gait. "Well, let us go in."
On meeting Colia the prince determined to accompany the general, though h_ade up his mind to stay as short a time as possible. He wanted Colia, bu_irmly resolved to leave the general behind. He could not forgive himself fo_eing so simple as to imagine that Ivolgin would be of any use. The thre_limbed up the long staircase until they reached the fourth floor where Madam_erentieff lived.
"You intend to introduce the prince?" asked Colia, as they went up.
"Yes, my boy. I wish to present him: General Ivolgin and Prince Muishkin! Bu_hat's the matter?… what?… How is Marfa Borisovna?"
"You know, father, you would have done much better not to come at all! She i_eady to eat you up! You have not shown yourself since the day befor_esterday and she is expecting the money. Why did you promise her any? You ar_lways the same! Well, now you will have to get out of it as best you can."
They stopped before a somewhat low doorway on the fourth floor. Ardalio_lexandrovitch, evidently much out of countenance, pushed Muishkin in front.
"I will wait here," he stammered. "I should like to surprise her… .."
Colia entered first, and as the door stood open, the mistress of the hous_eeped out. The surprise of the general's imagination fell very flat, for sh_t once began to address him in terms of reproach.
Marfa Borisovna was about forty years of age. She wore a dressing-jacket, he_eet were in slippers, her face painted, and her hair was in dozens of smal_laits. No sooner did she catch sight of Ardalion Alexandrovitch than sh_creamed:
"There he is, that wicked, mean wretch! I knew it was he! My heart misgav_e!"
The old man tried to put a good face on the affair.
"Come, let us go in—it's all right," he whispered in the prince's ear.
But it was more serious than he wished to think. As soon as the visitors ha_rossed the low dark hall, and entered the narrow reception-room, furnishe_ith half a dozen cane chairs, and two small card-tables, Madame Terentieff, in the shrill tones habitual to her, continued her stream of invectives.
"Are you not ashamed? Are you not ashamed? You barbarian! You tyrant! You hav_obbed me of all I possessed—you have sucked my bones to the marrow. How lon_hall I be your victim? Shameless, dishonourable man!"
"Marfa Borisovna! Marfa Borisovna! Here is… the Prince Muishkin! Genera_volgin and Prince Muishkin," stammered the disconcerted old man.
"Would you believe," said the mistress of the house, suddenly addressing th_rince, "would you believe that that man has not even spared my orpha_hildren? He has stolen everything I possessed, sold everything, pawne_verything; he has left me nothing—nothing! What am I to do with your IOU's, you cunning, unscrupulous rogue? Answer, devourer I answer, heart of stone!
How shall I feed my orphans? with what shall I nourish them? And now he ha_ome, he is drunk! He can scarcely stand. How, oh how, have I offended th_lmighty, that He should bring this curse upon me! Answer, you worthles_illain, answer!"
But this was too much for the general.
"Here are twenty-five roubles, Marfa Borisovna… it is all that I can give… an_ owe even these to the prince's generosity—my noble friend. I have bee_ruelly deceived. Such is… life… Now… Excuse me, I am very weak," h_ontinued, standing in the centre of the room, and bowing to all sides. "I a_aint; excuse me! Lenotchka… a cushion… my dear!"
Lenotchka, a little girl of eight, ran to fetch the cushion at once, an_laced it on the rickety old sofa. The general meant to have said much more, but as soon as he had stretched himself out, he turned his face to the wall, and slept the sleep of the just.
With a grave and ceremonious air, Marfa Borisovna motioned the prince to _hair at one of the card-tables. She seated herself opposite, leaned her righ_heek on her hand, and sat in silence, her eyes fixed on Muishkin, now an_gain sighing deeply. The three children, two little girls and a boy, Lenotchka being the eldest, came and leant on the table and also stare_teadily at him. Presently Colia appeared from the adjoining room.
"I am very glad indeed to have met you here, Colia," said the prince. "Can yo_o something for me? I must see Nastasia Philipovna, and I asked Ardalio_lexandrovitch just now to take me to her house, but he has gone to sleep, a_ou see. Will you show me the way, for I do not know the street? I have th_ddress, though; it is close to the Grand Theatre."
"Nastasia Philipovna? She does not live there, and to tell you the truth m_ather has never been to her house! It is strange that you should hav_epended on him! She lives near Wladimir Street, at the Five Corners, and i_s quite close by. Will you go directly? It is just half-past nine. I wil_how you the way with pleasure."
Colia and the prince went off together. Alas! the latter had no money to pa_or a cab, so they were obliged to walk.
"I should have liked to have taken you to see Hippolyte," said Colia. "He i_he eldest son of the lady you met just now, and was in the next room. He i_ll, and has been in bed all day. But he is rather strange, and extremel_ensitive, and I thought he might be upset considering the circumstances i_hich you came… Somehow it touches me less, as it concerns my father, while i_s HIS mother. That, of course, makes a great difference. What is a terribl_isgrace to a woman, does not disgrace a man, at least not in the same way.
Perhaps public opinion is wrong in condemning one sex, and excusing the other.
Hippolyte is an extremely clever boy, but so prejudiced. He is really a slav_o his opinions."
"Do you say he is consumptive?"
"Yes. It really would be happier for him to die young. If I were in his plac_ should certainly long for death. He is unhappy about his brother an_isters, the children you saw. If it were possible, if we only had a littl_oney, we should leave our respective families, and live together in a littl_partment of our own. It is our dream. But, do you know, when I was talkin_ver your affair with him, he was angry, and said that anyone who did not cal_ut a man who had given him a blow was a coward. He is very irritable to-day, and I left off arguing the matter with him. So Nastasia Philipovna has invite_ou to go and see her?"
"To tell the truth, she has not."
"Then how do you come to be going there?" cried Colia, so much astonished tha_e stopped short in the middle of the pavement. "And… and are you going to he_t Home in that costume?"
"I don't know, really, whether I shall be allowed in at all. If she wil_eceive me, so much the better. If not, the matter is ended. As to m_lothes—what can I do?"
"Are you going there for some particular reason, or only as a way of gettin_nto her society, and that of her friends?"
"No, I have really an object in going… That is, I am going on business it i_ifficult to explain, but… "
"Well, whether you go on business or not is your affair, I do not want t_now. The only important thing, in my eyes, is that you should not be goin_here simply for the pleasure of spending your evening in suc_ompany—cocottes, generals, usurers! If that were the case I should despis_nd laugh at you. There are terribly few honest people here, and hardly an_hom one can respect, although people put on airs—Varia especially! Have yo_oticed, prince, how many adventurers there are nowadays? Especially here, i_ur dear Russia. How it has happened I never can understand. There used to b_ certain amount of solidity in all things, but now what happens? Everythin_s exposed to the public gaze, veils are thrown back, every wound is probed b_areless fingers. We are for ever present at an orgy of scandalou_evelations. Parents blush when they remember their old-fashioned morality. A_oscow lately a father was heard urging his son to stop at nothing—at nothing, mind you!—to get money! The press seized upon the story, of course, and now i_s public property. Look at my father, the general! See what he is, and yet, _ssure you, he is an honest man! Only… he drinks too much, and his morals ar_ot all we could desire. Yes, that's true! I pity him, to tell the truth, bu_ dare not say so, because everybody would laugh at me—but I do pity him! An_ho are the really clever men, after all? Money-grubbers, every one of them, from the first to the last. Hippolyte finds excuses for money-lending, an_ays it is a necessity. He talks about the economic movement, and the ebb an_low of capital; the devil knows what he means. It makes me angry to hear hi_alk so, but he is soured by his troubles. Just imagine-the general keeps hi_other-but she lends him money! She lends it for a week or ten days at ver_igh interest! Isn't it disgusting? And then, you would hardly believe it, bu_y mother—Nina Alexandrovna—helps Hippolyte in all sorts of ways, sends hi_oney and clothes. She even goes as far as helping the children, throug_ippolyte, because their mother cares nothing about them, and Varia does th_ame."
"Well, just now you said there were no honest nor good people about, tha_here were only money-grubbers—and here they are quite close at hand, thes_onest and good people, your mother and Varia! I think there is a good deal o_oral strength in helping people in such circumstances."
"Varia does it from pride, and likes showing off, and giving herself airs. A_o my mother, I really do admire her—yes, and honour her. Hippolyte, hardene_s he is, feels it. He laughed at first, and thought it vulgar of her—but now, he is sometimes quite touched and overcome by her kindness. H'm! You call tha_eing strong and good? I will remember that! Gania knows nothing about it. H_ould say that it was encouraging vice."
"Ah, Gania knows nothing about it? It seems there are many things that Gani_oes not know," exclaimed the prince, as he considered Colia's last words.
"Do you know, I like you very much indeed, prince? I shall never forget abou_his afternoon."
"I like you too, Colia."
"Listen to me! You are going to live here, are you not?" said Colia. "I mea_o get something to do directly, and earn money. Then shall we three liv_ogether? You, and I, and Hippolyte? We will hire a flat, and let the genera_ome and visit us. What do you say?"
"It would be very pleasant," returned the prince. "But we must see. I a_eally rather worried just now. What! are we there already? Is that the house?
What a long flight of steps! And there's a porter! Well, Colia I don't kno_hat will come of it all."
The prince seemed quite distracted for the moment.
"You must tell me all about it tomorrow! Don't be afraid. I wish you success; we agree so entirely I that can do so, although I do not understand why yo_re here. Good-bye!" cried Colia excitedly. "Now I will rush back and tel_ippolyte all about our plans and proposals! But as to your getting in—don'_e in the least afraid. You will see her. She is so original about everything.