THE prince suddenly approached Evgenie Pavlovitch.
"Evgenie Pavlovitch," he said, with strange excitement and seizing th_atter's hand in his own, "be assured that I esteem you as a generous an_onourable man, in spite of everything. Be assured of that."
Evgenie Pavlovitch fell back a step in astonishment. For one moment it was al_e could do to restrain himself from bursting out laughing; but, lookin_loser, he observed that the prince did not seem to be quite himself; at al_vents, he was in a very curious state.
"I wouldn't mind betting, prince," he cried, "that you did not in the leas_ean to say that, and very likely you meant to address someone els_ltogether. What is it? Are you feeling unwell or anything?"
"Very likely, extremely likely, and you must be a very close observer t_etect the fact that perhaps I did not intend to come up to YOU at all."
So saying he smiled strangely; but suddenly and excitedly he began again:
"Don't remind me of what I have done or said. Don't! I am very much ashamed o_yself, I—"
"Why, what have you done? I don't understand you."
"I see you are ashamed of me, Evgenie Pavlovitch; you are blushing for me; that's a sign of a good heart. Don't be afraid; I shall go away directly."
"What's the matter with him? Do his fits begin like that?" said Lizabeth_rokofievna, in a high state of alarm, addressing Colia.
"No, no, Lizabetha Prokofievna, take no notice of me. I am not going to have _it. I will go away directly; but I know I am afflicted. I was twenty-fou_ears an invalid, you see—the first twenty-four years of my life—so take all _o and say as the sayings and actions of an invalid. I'm going away directly, I really am—don't be afraid. I am not blushing, for I don't think I need blus_bout it, need I? But I see that I am out of place in society—society i_etter without me. It's not vanity, I assure you. I have thought over it al_hese last three days, and I have made up my mind that I ought to unboso_yself candidly before you at the first opportunity. There are certain things, certain great ideas, which I must not so much as approach, as Prince S. ha_ust reminded me, or I shall make you all laugh. I have no sense o_roportion, I know; my words and gestures do not express my ideas—they are _umiliation and abasement of the ideas, and therefore, I have no right—and _m too sensitive. Still, I believe I am beloved in this household, an_steemed far more than I deserve. But I can't help knowing that after twenty- four years of illness there must be some trace left, so that it is impossibl_or people to refrain from laughing at me sometimes; don't you think so?"
He seemed to pause for a reply, for some verdict, as it were, and looke_umbly around him.
All present stood rooted to the earth with amazement at this unexpected an_pparently uncalled-for outbreak; but the poor prince's painful and ramblin_peech gave rise to a strange episode.
"Why do you say all this here?" cried Aglaya, suddenly. "Why do you talk lik_his to THEM?"
She appeared to be in the last stages of wrath and irritation; her eye_lashed. The prince stood dumbly and blindly before her, and suddenly gre_ale.
"There is not one of them all who is worthy of these words of yours,"
continued Aglaya. "Not one of them is worth your little finger, not one o_hem has heart or head to compare with yours! You are more honest than all, and better, nobler, kinder, wiser than all. There are some here who ar_nworthy to bend and pick up the handkerchief you have just dropped. Why d_ou humiliate yourself like this, and place yourself lower than these people?
Why do you debase yourself before them? Why have you no pride?"
"My God! Who would ever have believed this?" cried Mrs. Epanchin, wringing he_ands.
"Hurrah for the 'poor knight'!" cried Colia.
"Be quiet! How dare they laugh at me in your house?" said Aglaya, turnin_harply on her mother in that hysterical frame of mind that rides recklessl_ver every obstacle and plunges blindly through proprieties. "Why doe_veryone, everyone worry and torment me? Why have they all been bullying m_hese three days about you, prince? I will not marry you—never, and under n_ircumstances! Know that once and for all; as if anyone could marry an absur_reature like you! Just look in the glass and see what you look like, thi_ery moment! Why, WHY do they torment me and say I am going to marry you? Yo_ust know it; you are in the plot with them!"
"No one ever tormented you on the subject," murmured Adelaida, aghast.
"No one ever thought of such a thing! There has never been a word said abou_t!" cried Alexandra.
"Who has been annoying her? Who has been tormenting the child? Who could hav_aid such a thing to her? Is she raving?" cried Lizabetha Prokofievna, trembling with rage, to the company in general.
"Every one of them has been saying it—every one of them—all these three days!
And I will never, never marry him!"
So saying, Aglaya burst into bitter tears, and, hiding her face in he_andkerchief, sank back into a chair.
"But he has never even—"
"I have never asked you to marry me, Aglaya Ivanovna!" said the prince, of _udden.
"WHAT?" cried Mrs. Epanchin, raising her hands in horror. "WHAT'S that?"
She could not believe her ears.
"I meant to say—I only meant to say," said the prince, faltering, "I merel_eant to explain to Aglaya Ivanovna—to have the honour to explain, as i_ere—that I had no intention—never had—to ask the honour of her hand. I assur_ou I am not guilty, Aglaya Ivanovna, I am not, indeed. I never did wish to—_ever thought of it at all—and never shall—you'll see it yourself—you may b_uite assured of it. Some wicked person has been maligning me to you; but it'_ll right. Don't worry about it."
So saying, the prince approached Aglaya.
She took the handkerchief from her face, glanced keenly at him, took in wha_e had said, and burst out laughing—such a merry, unrestrained laugh, s_earty and gay, that. Adelaida could not contain herself. She, too, glanced a_he prince's panic-stricken countenance, then rushed at her sister, threw he_rms round her neck, and burst into as merry a fit of laughter as Aglaya'_wn. They laughed together like a couple of school-girls. Hearing and seein_his, the prince smiled happily, and in accents of relief and joy, h_xclaimed "Well, thank God—thank God!"
Alexandra now joined in, and it looked as though the three sisters were goin_o laugh on for ever.
"They are insane," muttered Lizabetha Prokofievna. "Either they frighten on_ut of one's wits, or else—"
But Prince S. was laughing now, too, so was Evgenie Pavlovitch, so was Colia, and so was the prince himself, who caught the infection as he looked roun_adiantly upon the others.
"Come along, let's go out for a walk!" cried Adelaida. "We'll all go together, and the prince must absolutely go with us. You needn't go away, you dear goo_ellow! ISN'T he a dear, Aglaya? Isn't he, mother? I must really give him _iss for—for his explanation to Aglaya just now. Mother, dear, I may kiss him, mayn't I? Aglaya, may I kiss YOUR prince?" cried the young rogue, and sur_nough she skipped up to the prince and kissed his forehead.
He seized her hands, and pressed them so hard that Adelaida nearly cried out; he then gazed with delight into her eyes, and raising her right hand to hi_ips with enthusiasm, kissed it three times.
"Come along," said Aglaya. "Prince, you must walk with me. May he, mother?
This young cavalier, who won't have me? You said you would NEVER have me, didn't you, prince? No-no, not like that; THAT'S not the way to give your arm.
Don't you know how to give your arm to a lady yet? There—so. Now, come along, you and I will lead the way. Would you like to lead the way with me alone, tete-a-tete?"
She went on talking and chatting without a pause, with occasional littl_ursts of laughter between.
"Thank God—thank God!" said Lizabetha Prokofievna to herself, without quit_nowing why she felt so relieved.
"What extraordinary people they are!" thought Prince S., for perhaps th_undredth time since he had entered into intimate relations with the family; but—he liked these "extraordinary people," all the same. As for Prince Le_icolaievitch himself, Prince S. did not seem quite to like him, somehow. H_as decidedly preoccupied and a little disturbed as they all started off.
Evgenie Pavlovitch seemed to be in a lively humour. He made Adelaida an_lexandra laugh all the way to the Vauxhall; but they both laughed so ver_eally and promptly that the worthy Evgenie began at last to suspect that the_ere not listening to him at all.
At this idea, he burst out laughing all at once, in quite unaffected mirth, and without giving any explanation.
The sisters, who also appeared to be in high spirits, never tired of glancin_t Aglaya and the prince, who were walking in front. It was evident that thei_ounger sister was a thorough puzzle to them both.
Prince S. tried hard to get up a conversation with Mrs. Epanchin upon outsid_ubjects, probably with the good intention of distracting and amusing her; bu_e bored her dreadfully. She was absent-minded to a degree, and answered a_ross purposes, and sometimes not at all.
But the puzzle and mystery of Aglaya was not yet over for the evening. Th_ast exhibition fell to the lot of the prince alone. When they had proceede_ome hundred paces or so from the house, Aglaya said to her obstinately silen_avalier in a quick half-whisper:
"Look to the right!"
The prince glanced in the direction indicated.
"Look closer. Do you see that bench, in the park there, just by those thre_ig trees—that green bench?"
The prince replied that he saw it.
"Do you like the position of it? Sometimes of a morning early, at seve_'clock, when all the rest are still asleep, I come out and sit there alone."
The prince muttered that the spot was a lovely one.
"Now, go away, I don't wish to have your arm any longer; or perhaps, better, continue to give me your arm, and walk along beside me, but don't speak a wor_o me. I wish to think by myself."
The warning was certainly unnecessary; for the prince would not have said _ord all the rest of the time whether forbidden to speak or not. His hear_eat loud and painfully when Aglaya spoke of the bench; could she—but no! h_anished the thought, after an instant's deliberation.
At Pavlofsk, on weekdays, the public is more select than it is on Sundays an_aturdays, when the townsfolk come down to walk about and enjoy the park.
The ladies dress elegantly, on these days, and it is the fashion to gathe_ound the band, which is probably the best of our pleasure-garden bands, an_lays the newest pieces. The behaviour of the public is most correct an_roper, and there is an appearance of friendly intimacy among the usua_requenters. Many come for nothing but to look at their acquaintances, bu_here are others who come for the sake of the music. It is very seldom tha_nything happens to break the harmony of the proceedings, though, of course, accidents will happen everywhere.
On this particular evening the weather was lovely, and there were a larg_umber of people present. All the places anywhere near the orchestra wer_ccupied.
Our friends took chairs near the side exit. The crowd and the music cheere_rs. Epanchin a little, and amused the girls; they bowed and shook hands wit_ome of their friends and nodded at a distance to others; they examined th_adies' dresses, noticed comicalities and eccentricities among the people, an_aughed and talked among themselves. Evgenie Pavlovitch, too, found plenty o_riends to bow to. Several people noticed Aglaya and the prince, who wer_till together.
Before very long two or three young men had come up, and one or two remaine_o talk; all of these young men appeared to be on intimate terms with Evgeni_avlovitch. Among them was a young officer, a remarkably handsome fellow—ver_ood-natured and a great chatterbox. He tried to get up a conversation wit_glaya, and did his best to secure her attention. Aglaya behaved ver_raciously to him, and chatted and laughed merrily. Evgenie Pavlovitch begge_he prince's leave to introduce their friend to him. The prince hardl_ealized what was wanted of him, but the introduction came off; the two me_owed and shook hands.
Evgenie Pavlovitch's friend asked the prince some question, but the latter di_ot reply, or if he did, he muttered something so strangely indistinct tha_here was nothing to be made of it. The officer stared intently at him, the_lanced at Evgenie, divined why the latter had introduced him, and gave hi_ndivided attention to Aglaya again. Only Evgenie Pavlovitch observed tha_glaya flushed up for a moment at this.
The prince did not notice that others were talking and making themselve_greeable to Aglaya; in fact, at moments, he almost forgot that he was sittin_y her himself. At other moments he felt a longing to go away somewhere and b_lone with his thoughts, and to feel that no one knew where he was.
Or if that were impossible he would like to be alone at home, on the terrace- without either Lebedeff or his children, or anyone else about him, and to li_here and think—a day and night and another day again! He thought of th_ountains-and especially of a certain spot which he used to frequent, whenc_e would look down upon the distant valleys and fields, and see the waterfall, far off, like a little silver thread, and the old ruined castle in th_istance. Oh! how he longed to be there now—alone with his thoughts—to thin_f one thing all his life—one thing! A thousand years would not be too muc_ime! And let everyone here forget him—forget him utterly! How much better i_ould have been if they had never known him—if all this could but prove to b_ dream. Perhaps it was a dream!
Now and then he looked at Aglaya for five minutes at a time, without takin_is eyes off her face; but his expression was very strange; he would gaze a_er as though she were an object a couple of miles distant, or as though h_ere looking at her portrait and not at herself at all.
"Why do you look at me like that, prince?" she asked suddenly, breaking of_er merry conversation and laughter with those about her. "I'm afraid of you!
You look as though you were just going to put out your hand and touch my fac_o see if it's real! Doesn't he, Evgenie Pavlovitch—doesn't he look lik_hat?"
The prince seemed surprised that he should have been addressed at all; h_eflected a moment, but did not seem to take in what had been said to him; a_ll events, he did not answer. But observing that she and the others had begu_o laugh, he too opened his mouth and laughed with them.
The laughter became general, and the young officer, who seemed a particularl_ively sort of person, simply shook with mirth.
Aglaya suddenly whispered angrily to herself the word—
"My goodness—surely she is not in love with such a—surely she isn't mad!"
groaned Mrs. Epanchin, under her breath.
"It's all a joke, mamma; it's just a joke like the 'poor knight'—nothing mor_hatever, I assure you!" Alexandra whispered in her ear. "She is chaffin_im—making a fool of him, after her own private fashion, that's all! But sh_arries it just a little too far—she is a regular little actress. How sh_rightened us just now—didn't she?—and all for a lark!"
"Well, it's lucky she has happened upon an idiot, then, that's all I can say!"
whispered Lizabetha Prokofievna, who was somewhat comforted, however, by he_aughter's remark.
The prince had heard himself referred to as "idiot," and had shuddered at th_oment; but his shudder, it so happened, was not caused by the word applied t_im. The fact was that in the crowd, not far from where lie was sitting, _ale familiar face, with curly black hair, and a well-known smile an_xpression, had flashed across his vision for a moment, and disappeared again.
Very likely he had imagined it! There only remained to him the impression of _trange smile, two eyes, and a bright green tie. Whether the man ha_isappeared among the crowd, or whether he had turned towards the Vauxhall, the prince could not say.
But a moment or two afterwards he began to glance keenly about him. That firs_ision might only too likely be the forerunner of a second; it was almos_ertain to be so. Surely he had not forgotten the possibility of such _eeting when he came to the Vauxhall? True enough, he had not remarked wher_e was coming to when he set out with Aglaya; he had not been in a conditio_o remark anything at all.
Had he been more careful to observe his companion, he would have seen that fo_he last quarter of an hour Aglaya had also been glancing around in apparen_nxiety, as though she expected to see someone, or something particular, amon_he crowd of people. Now, at the moment when his own anxiety became so marked, her excitement also increased visibly, and when he looked about him, she di_he same.
The reason for their anxiety soon became apparent. From that very sid_ntrance to the Vauxhall, near which the prince and all the Epanchin part_ere seated, there suddenly appeared quite a large knot of persons, at least _ozen.
Heading this little band walked three ladies, two of whom were remarkabl_ovely; and there was nothing surprising in the fact that they should have ha_ large troop of admirers following in their wake.
But there was something in the appearance of both the ladies and thei_dmirers which was peculiar, quite different for that of the rest of th_ublic assembled around the orchestra.
Nearly everyone observed the little band advancing, and all pretended not t_ee or notice them, except a few young fellows who exchanged glances an_miled, saying something to one another in whispers.
It was impossible to avoid noticing them, however, in reality, for they mad_heir presence only too conspicuous by laughing and talking loudly. It was t_e supposed that some of them were more than half drunk, although they wer_ell enough dressed, some even particularly well. There were one or two, however, who were very strange-looking creatures, with flushed faces an_xtraordinary clothes; some were military men; not all were quite young; on_r two were middle-aged gentlemen of decidedly disagreeable appearance, me_ho are avoided in society like the plague, decked out in large gold studs an_ings, and magnificently "got up," generally.
Among our suburban resorts there are some which enjoy a specially hig_eputation for respectability and fashion; but the most careful individual i_ot absolutely exempt from the danger of a tile falling suddenly upon his hea_rom his neighbour's roof.
Such a tile was about to descend upon the elegant and decorous public no_ssembled to hear the music.
In order to pass from the Vauxhall to the band-stand, the visitor has t_escend two or three steps. Just at these steps the group paused, as though i_eared to proceed further; but very quickly one of the three ladies, wh_ormed its apex, stepped forward into the charmed circle, followed by tw_embers of her suite.
One of these was a middle-aged man of very respectable appearance, but wit_he stamp of parvenu upon him, a man whom nobody knew, and who evidently kne_obody. The other follower was younger and far less respectable-looking.
No one else followed the eccentric lady; but as she descended the steps sh_id not even look behind her, as though it were absolutely the same to he_hether anyone were following or not. She laughed and talked loudly, however, just as before. She was dressed with great taste, but with rather mor_agnificence than was needed for the occasion, perhaps.
She walked past the orchestra, to where an open carriage was waiting, near th_oad.
The prince had not seen HER for more than three months. All these days sinc_is arrival from Petersburg he had intended to pay her a visit, but som_ysterious presentiment had restrained him. He could not picture to himsel_hat impression this meeting with her would make upon him, though he had ofte_ried to imagine it, with fear and trembling. One fact was quite certain, an_hat was that the meeting would be painful.
Several times during the last six months he had recalled the effect which th_irst sight of this face had had upon him, when he only saw its portrait. H_ecollected well that even the portrait face had left but too painful a_mpression.
That month in the provinces, when he had seen this woman nearly every day, ha_ffected him so deeply that he could not now look back upon it calmly. In th_ery look of this woman there was something which tortured him. I_onversation with Rogojin he had attributed this sensation t_ity—immeasurable pity, and this was the truth. The sight of the portrait fac_lone had filled his heart full of the agony of real sympathy; and thi_eeling of sympathy, nay, of actual SUFFERING, for her, had never left hi_eart since that hour, and was still in full force. Oh yes, and more powerfu_han ever!
But the prince was not satisfied with what he had said to Rogojin. Only a_his moment, when she suddenly made her appearance before him, did he realiz_o the full the exact emotion which she called up in him, and which he had no_escribed correctly to Rogojin.
And, indeed, there were no words in which he could have expressed his horror, yes, HORROR, for he was now fully convinced from his own private knowledge o_er, that the woman was mad.
If, loving a woman above everything in the world, or at least having _oretaste of the possibility of such love for her, one were suddenly to behol_er on a chain, behind bars and under the lash of a keeper, one would fee_omething like what the poor prince now felt.
"What's the matter?" asked Aglaya, in a whisper, giving his sleeve a littl_ug.
He turned his head towards her and glanced at her black and (for some reason) flashing eyes, tried to smile, and then, apparently forgetting her in a_nstant, turned to the right once more, and continued to watch the startlin_pparition before him.
Nastasia Philipovna was at this moment passing the young ladies' chairs.
Evgenie Pavlovitch continued some apparently extremely funny and interestin_necdote to Alexandra, speaking quickly and with much animation. The princ_emembered that at this moment Aglaya remarked in a half-whisper:
She did not finish her indefinite sentence; she restrained herself in _oment; but it was enough.
Nastasia Philipovna, who up to now had been walking along as though she ha_ot noticed the Epanchin party, suddenly turned her head in their direction, as though she had just observed Evgenie Pavlovitch sitting there for the firs_ime.
"Why, I declare, here he is!" she cried, stopping suddenly. "The man one can'_ind with all one's messengers sent about the place, sitting just under one'_ose, exactly where one never thought of looking! I thought you were sure t_e at your uncle's by this time."
Evgenie Pavlovitch flushed up and looked angrily at Nastasia Philipovna, the_urned his back on her.
"What I don't you know about it yet? He doesn't know—imagine that! Why, he'_hot himself. Your uncle shot himself this very morning. I was told at tw_his afternoon. Half the town must know it by now. They say there are thre_undred and fifty thousand roubles, government money, missing; some say fiv_undred thousand. And I was under the impression that he would leave you _ortune! He's whistled it all away. A most depraved old gentleman, really!
Well, ta, ta!—bonne chance! Surely you intend to be off there, don't you? Ha, ha! You've retired from the army in good time, I see! Plain clothes! Wel_one, sly rogue! Nonsense! I see—you knew it all before—I dare say you kne_ll about it yesterday-"
Although the impudence of this attack, this public proclamation of intimacy, as it were, was doubtless premeditated, and had its special object, ye_vgenie Pavlovitch at first seemed to intend to make no show of observin_ither his tormentor or her words. But Nastasia's communication struck hi_ith the force of a thunderclap. On hearing of his uncle's death he suddenl_rew as white as a sheet, and turned towards his informant.
At this moment, Lizabetha Prokofievna rose swiftly from her seat, beckoned he_ompanions, and left the place almost at a run.
Only the prince stopped behind for a moment, as though in indecision; an_vgenie Pavlovitch lingered too, for he had not collected his scattered wits.
But the Epanchins had not had time to get more than twenty paces away when _candalous episode occurred. The young officer, Evgenie Pavlovitch's frien_ho had been conversing with Aglaya, said aloud in a great state o_ndignation:
"She ought to be whipped—that's the only way to deal with creatures lik_hat—she ought to be whipped!"
This gentleman was a confidant of Evgenie's, and had doubtless heard of th_arriage episode.
Nastasia turned to him. Her eyes flashed; she rushed up to a young ma_tanding near, whom she did not know in the least, but who happened to have i_is hand a thin cane. Seizing this from him, she brought it with all her forc_cross the face of her insulter.
All this occurred, of course, in one instant of time.
The young officer, forgetting himself, sprang towards her. Nastasia'_ollowers were not by her at the moment (the elderly gentleman havin_isappeared altogether, and the younger man simply standing aside and roarin_ith laughter).
In another moment, of course, the police would have been on the spot, and i_ould have gone hard with Nastasia Philipovna had not unexpected aid appeared.
Muishkin, who was but a couple of steps away, had time to spring forward an_eize the officer's arms from behind.
The officer, tearing himself from the prince's grasp, pushed him so violentl_ackwards that he staggered a few steps and then subsided into a chair.
But there were other defenders for Nastasia on the spot by this time. Th_entleman known as the "boxer" now confronted the enraged officer.
"Keller is my name, sir; ex-lieutenant," he said, very loud. "If you wil_ccept me as champion of the fair sex, I am at your disposal. English boxin_as no secrets from me. I sympathize with you for the insult you hav_eceived, but I can't permit you to raise your hand against a woman in public.
If you prefer to meet me—as would be more fitting to your rank—in some othe_anner, of course you understand me, captain."
But the young officer had recovered himself, and was no longer listening. A_his moment Rogojin appeared, elbowing through the crowd; he took Nastasia'_and, drew it through his arm, and quickly led her away. He appeared to b_erribly excited; he was trembling all over, and was as pale as a corpse. A_e carried Nastasia off, he turned and grinned horribly in the officer's face, and with low malice observed:
"Tfu! look what the fellow got! Look at the blood on his cheek! Ha, ha!"
Recollecting himself, however, and seeing at a glance the sort of people h_ad to deal with, the officer turned his back on both his opponents, an_ourteously, but concealing his face with his handkerchief, approached th_rince, who was now rising from the chair into which he had fallen.
"Prince Muishkin, I believe? The gentleman to whom I had the honour of bein_ntroduced?"
"She is mad, insane—I assure you, she is mad," replied the prince in tremblin_ones, holding out both his hands mechanically towards the officer.
"I cannot boast of any such knowledge, of course, but I wished to know you_ame."
He bowed and retired without waiting for an answer.
Five seconds after the disappearance of the last actor in this scene, th_olice arrived. The whole episode had not lasted more than a couple o_inutes. Some of the spectators had risen from their places, and departe_ltogether; some merely exchanged their seats for others a little further off; some were delighted with the occurrence, and talked and laughed over it for _ong time.
In a word, the incident closed as such incidents do, and the band began t_lay again. The prince walked away after the Epanchin party. Had he thought o_ooking round to the left after he had been pushed so unceremoniously into th_hair, he would have observed Aglaya standing some twenty yards away. She ha_tayed to watch the scandalous scene in spite of her mother's and sisters'
anxious cries to her to come away.
Prince S. ran up to her and persuaded her, at last, to come home with them.
Lizabetha Prokofievna saw that she returned in such a state of agitation tha_t was doubtful whether she had even heard their calls. But only a couple o_inutes later, when they had reached the park, Aglaya suddenly remarked, i_er usual calm, indifferent voice: