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Chapter 2

  • HIPPOLYTE had now been five days at the Ptitsins'. His flitting from th_rince's to these new quarters had been brought about quite naturally an_ithout many words. He did not quarrel with the prince—in fact, they seemed t_art as friends. Gania, who had been hostile enough on that eventful evening, had himself come to see him a couple of days later, probably in obedience t_ome sudden impulse. For some reason or other, Rogojin too had begun to visi_he sick boy. The prince thought it might be better for him to move away fro_is (the prince's) house. Hippolyte informed him, as he took his leave, tha_titsin "had been kind enough to offer him a corner," and did not say a wor_bout Gania, though Gania had procured his invitation, and himself came t_etch him away. Gania noticed this at the time, and put it to Hippolyte'_ebit on account.
  • Gania was right when he told his sister that Hippolyte was getting better; that he was better was clear at the first glance. He entered the room now las_f all, deliberately, and with a disagreeable smile on his lips.
  • Nina Alexandrovna came in, looking frightened. She had changed much since w_ast saw her, half a year ago, and had grown thin and pale. Colia looke_orried and perplexed. He could not understand the vagaries of the general, and knew nothing of the last achievement of that worthy, which had caused s_uch commotion in the house. But he could see that his father had of lat_hanged very much, and that he had begun to behave in so extraordinary _ashion both at home and abroad that he was not like the same man. Wha_erplexed and disturbed him as much as anything was that his father ha_ntirely given up drinking during the last few days. Colia knew that he ha_uarrelled with both Lebedeff and the prince, and had just bought a smal_ottle of vodka and brought it home for his father.
  • "Really, mother," he had assured Nina Alexandrovna upstairs, "really you ha_etter let him drink. He has not had a drop for three days; he must b_uffering agonies—The general now entered the room, threw the door wide open, and stood on the threshold trembling with indignation.
  • "Look here, my dear sir," he began, addressing Ptitsin in a very loud tone o_oice; "if you have really made up your mind to sacrifice an old man—you_ather too or at all events father of your wife—an old man who has served hi_mperor—to a wretched little atheist like this, all I can say is, sir, my foo_hall cease to tread your floors. Make your choice, sir; make your choic_uickly, if you please! Me or this—screw! Yes, screw, sir; I said i_ccidentally, but let the word stand—this screw, for he screws and drill_imself into my soul—"
  • "Hadn't you better say corkscrew?" said Hippolyte.
  • "No, sir, NOT corkscrew. I am a general, not a bottle, sir. Make your choice, sir—me or him."
  • Here Colia handed him a chair, and he subsided into it, breathless with rage.
  • "Hadn't you better—better—take a nap?" murmured the stupefied Ptitsin.
  • "A nap?" shrieked the general. "I am not drunk, sir; you insult me! I see," h_ontinued, rising, "I see that all are against me here. Enough—I go; but know, sirs—know that—"
  • He was not allowed to finish his sentence. Somebody pushed him back into hi_hair, and begged him to be calm. Nina Alexandrovna trembled, and crie_uietly. Gania retired to the window in disgust.
  • "But what have I done? What is his grievance?" asked Hippolyte, grinning.
  • "What have you done, indeed?" put in Nina Alexandrovna. "You ought to b_shamed of yourself, teasing an old man like that—and in your position, too."
  • "And pray what IS my position, madame? I have the greatest respect for you, personally; but—"
  • "He's a little screw," cried the general; "he drills holes my heart and soul.
  • He wishes me to be a pervert to atheism. Know, you young greenhorn, that I wa_overed with honours before ever you were born; and you are nothing bette_han a wretched little worm, torn in two with coughing, and dying slowly o_our own malice and unbelief. What did Gavrila bring you over here for?
  • They're all against me, even to my own son—all against me."
  • "Oh, come—nonsense!" cried Gania; "if you did not go shaming us all over th_own, things might be better for all parties."
  • "What—shame you? I?—what do you mean, you young calf? I shame you? I can onl_o you honour, sir; I cannot shame you."
  • He jumped up from his chair in a fit of uncontrollable rage. Gania was ver_ngry too.
  • "Honour, indeed!" said the latter, with contempt.
  • "What do you say, sir?" growled the general, taking a step towards him.
  • "I say that I have but to open my mouth, and you—"
  • Gania began, but did not finish. The two—father and son—stood before on_nother, both unspeakably agitated, especially Gania.
  • "Gania, Gania, reflect!" cried his mother, hurriedly.
  • "It's all nonsense on both sides," snapped out Varia. "Let them alone, mother."
  • "It's only for mother's sake that I spare him," said Gania, tragically.
  • "Speak!" said the general, beside himself with rage and excitement;
  • "speak—under the penalty of a father's curse!"
  • "Oh, father's curse be hanged—you don't frighten me that way!" said Gania.
  • "Whose fault is it that you have been as mad as a March hare all this week? I_s just a week—you see, I count the days. Take care now; don't provoke me to_uch, or I'll tell all. Why did you go to the Epanchins' yesterday—tell m_hat? And you call yourself an old man, too, with grey hair, and father of _amily! H'm—nice sort of a father."
  • "Be quiet, Gania," cried Colia. "Shut up, you fool!"
  • "Yes, but how have I offended him?" repeated Hippolyte, still in the sam_eering voice. "Why does he call me a screw? You all heard it. He came to m_imself and began telling me about some Captain Eropegoff. I don't wish fo_our company, general. I always avoided you—you know that. What have I to d_ith Captain Eropegoff? All I did was to express my opinion that probabl_aptain Eropegoff never existed at all!"
  • "Of course he never existed!" Gania interrupted.
  • But the general only stood stupefied and gazed around in a dazed way. Gania'_peech had impressed him, with its terrible candour. For the first moment o_wo he could find no words to answer him, and it was only when Hippolyte burs_ut laughing, and said:
  • "There, you see! Even your own son supports my statement that there never wa_uch a person as Captain Eropegoff!" that the old fellow muttered confusedly:
  • "Kapiton Eropegoff—not Captain Eropegoff!—Kapiton—majo_etired—Eropegoff—Kapiton."
  • "Kapiton didn't exist either!" persisted Gania, maliciously.
  • "What? Didn't exist?" cried the poor general, and a deep blush suffused hi_ace.
  • "That'll do, Gania!" cried Varia and Ptitsin.
  • "Shut up, Gania!" said Colia.
  • But this intercession seemed to rekindle the general.
  • "What did you mean, sir, that he didn't exist? Explain yourself," he repeated, angrily.
  • "Because he DIDN'T exist—never could and never did—there! You'd better dro_he subject, I warn you!"
  • "And this is my son—my own son—whom I—oh, gracious Heaven! Eropegoff—Eroshk_ropegoff didn't exist!"
  • "Ha, ha! it's Eroshka now," laughed Hippolyte.
  • "No, sir, Kapitoshka—not Eroshka. I mean, Kapiton Alexeyevitch—retire_ajor—married Maria Petrovna Lu—Lu—he was my friend an_ompanion—Lutugoff—from our earliest beginnings. I closed his eyes for him—h_as killed. Kapiton Eropegoff never existed! tfu!"
  • The general shouted in his fury; but it was to be concluded that his wrath wa_ot kindled by the expressed doubt as to Kapiton's existence. This was hi_capegoat; but his excitement was caused by something quite different. As _ule he would have merely shouted down the doubt as to Kapiton, told a lon_arn about his friend, and eventually retired upstairs to his room. But today, in the strange uncertainty of human nature, it seemed to require but so smal_n offence as this to make his cup to overflow. The old man grew purple in th_ace, he raised his hands. "Enough of this!" he yelled. "My curse—away, out o_he house I go! Colia, bring my bag away!" He left the room hastily and in _aroxysm of rage.
  • His wife, Colia, and Ptitsin ran out after him.
  • "What have you done now?" said Varia to Gania. "He'll probably be making of_HERE again! What a disgrace it all is!"
  • "Well, he shouldn't steal," cried Gania, panting with fury. And just at thi_oment his eye met Hippolyte's.
  • "As for you, sir," he cried, "you should at least remember that you are in _trange house and—receiving hospitality; you should not take the opportunit_f tormenting an old man, sir, who is too evidently out of his mind."
  • Hippolyte looked furious, but he restrained himself.
  • "I don't quite agree with you that your father is out of his mind," h_bserved, quietly. "On the contrary, I cannot help thinking he has been les_emented of late. Don't you think so? He has grown so cunning and careful, an_eighs his words so deliberately; he spoke to me about that Kapiton fello_ith an object, you know! Just fancy—he wanted me to—"
  • "Oh, devil take what he wanted you to do! Don't try to be too cunning with me, young man!" shouted Gania. "If you are aware of the real reason for m_ather's present condition (and you have kept such an excellent spying watc_uring these last few days that you are sure to be aware of it)—you had n_ight whatever to torment the—unfortunate man, and to worry my mother by you_xaggerations of the affair; because the whole business is nonsense—simply _runken freak, and nothing more, quite unproved by any evidence, and I don'_elieve that much of it!" (he snapped his fingers). "But you must needs sp_nd watch over us all, because you are a-a—"
  • "Screw!" laughed Hippolyte.
  • "Because you are a humbug, sir; and thought fit to worry people for half a_our, and tried to frighten them into believing that you would shoot yoursel_ith your little empty pistol, pirouetting about and playing at suicide! _ave you hospitality, you have fattened on it, your cough has left you, an_ou repay all this—"
  • "Excuse me—two words! I am Varvara Ardalionovna's guest, not yours; YOU hav_xtended no hospitality to me. On the contrary, if I am not mistaken, _elieve you are yourself indebted to Mr. Ptitsin's hospitality. Four days ag_ begged my mother to come down here and find lodgings, because I certainly d_eel better here, though I am not fat, nor have I ceased to cough. I am toda_nformed that my room is ready for me; therefore, having thanked your siste_nd mother for their kindness to me, I intend to leave the house this evening.
  • I beg your pardon—I interrupted you—I think you were about to add something?"
  • "Oh—if that is the state of affairs—" began Gania.
  • "Excuse me—I will take a seat," interrupted Hippolyte once more, sitting dow_eliberately; "for I am not strong yet. Now then, I am ready to hear you.
  • Especially as this is the last chance we shall have of a talk, and very likel_he last meeting we shall ever have at all."
  • Gania felt a little guilty.
  • "I assure you I did not mean to reckon up debits and credits," he began, "an_f you—"
  • "I don't understand your condescension," said Hippolyte. "As for me, _romised myself, on the first day of my arrival in this house, that I woul_ave the satisfaction of settling accounts with you in a very thorough manne_efore I said good-bye to you. I intend to perform this operation now, if yo_ike; after you, though, of course."
  • "May I ask you to be so good as to leave this room?"
  • "You'd better speak out. You'll be sorry afterwards if you don't."
  • "Hippolyte, stop, please! It's so dreadfully undignified," said Varia.
  • "Well, only for the sake of a lady," said Hippolyte, laughing. "I am ready t_ut off the reckoning, but only put it off, Varvara Ardalionovna, because a_xplanation between your brother and myself has become an absolute necessity, and I could not think of leaving the house without clearing up al_isunderstandings first."
  • "In a word, you are a wretched little scandal-monger," cried Gania, "and yo_annot go away without a scandal!"
  • "You see," said Hippolyte, coolly, "you can't restrain yourself. You'll b_readfully sorry afterwards if you don't speak out now. Come, you shall hav_he first say. I'll wait."
  • Gania was silent and merely looked contemptuously at him.
  • "You won't? Very well. I shall be as short as possible, for my part. Two o_hree times to-day I have had the word 'hospitality' pushed down my throat; this is not fair. In inviting me here you yourself entrapped me for your ow_se; you thought I wished to revenge myself upon the prince. You heard tha_glaya Ivanovna had been kind to me and read my confession. Making sure that _hould give myself up to your interests, you hoped that you might get som_ssistance out of me. I will not go into details. I don't ask either admissio_r confirmation of this from yourself; I am quite content to leave you to you_onscience, and to feel that we understand one another capitally."
  • "What a history you are weaving out of the most ordinary circumstances!" crie_aria.
  • "I told you the fellow was nothing but a scandalmonger," said Gania.
  • "Excuse me, Varia Ardalionovna, I will proceed. I can, of course, neither lov_or respect the prince, though he is a good-hearted fellow, if a little queer.
  • But there is no need whatever for me to hate him. I quite understood you_rother when he first offered me aid against the prince, though I did not sho_t; I knew well that your brother was making a ridiculous mistake in me. I a_eady to spare him, however, even now; but solely out of respect for yourself, Varvara Ardalionovna.
  • "Having now shown you that I am not quite such a fool as I look, and that _ave to be fished for with a rod and line for a good long while before I a_aught, I will proceed to explain why I specially wished to make your brothe_ook a fool. That my motive power is hate, I do not attempt to conceal. I hav_elt that before dying (and I am dying, however much fatter I may appear t_ou), I must absolutely make a fool of, at least, one of that class of me_hich has dogged me all my life, which I hate so cordially, and which is s_rominently represented by your much esteemed brother. I should not enjo_aradise nearly so much without having done this first. I hate you, Gavril_rdalionovitch, solely (this may seem curious to you, but I repeat)—solel_ecause you are the type, and incarnation, and head, and crown of the mos_mpudent, the most self-satisfied, the most vulgar and detestable form o_ommonplaceness. You are ordinary of the ordinary; you have no chance of eve_athering the pettiest idea of your own. And yet you are as jealous an_onceited as you can possibly be; you consider yourself a great genius; o_his you are persuaded, although there are dark moments of doubt and rage, when even this fact seems uncertain. There are spots of darkness on you_orizon, though they will disappear when you become completely stupid. But _ong and chequered path lies before you, and of this I am glad. In the firs_lace you will never gain a certain person."
  • "Come, come! This is intolerable! You had better stop, you little mischief- making wretch!" cried Varia. Gania had grown very pale; he trembled, but sai_othing.
  • Hippolyte paused, and looked at him intently and with great gratification. H_hen turned his gaze upon Varia, bowed, and went out, without adding anothe_ord.
  • Gania might justly complain of the hardness with which fate treated him. Vari_ared not speak to him for a long while, as he strode past her, backwards an_orwards. At last he went and stood at the window, looking out, with his bac_urned towards her. There was a fearful row going on upstairs again.
  • "Are you off?" said Gania, suddenly, remarking that she had risen and wa_bout to leave the room. "Wait a moment—look at this."
  • He approached the table and laid a small sheet of paper before her. It looke_ike a little note.
  • "Good heavens!" cried Varia, raising her hands.
  • This was the note:
  • "GAVRILA ARDOLIONOVITCH,—persuaded of your kindness of heart, I hav_etermined to ask your advice on a matter of great importance to myself. _hould like to meet you tomorrow morning at seven o'clock by the green benc_n the park. It is not far from our house. Varvara Ardalionovna, who mus_ccompany you, knows the place well.
  • "A. E."
  • "What on earth is one to make of a girl like that?" said Varia.
  • Gania, little as he felt inclined for swagger at this moment, could not avoi_howing his triumph, especially just after such humiliating remarks as thos_f Hippolyte. A smile of self-satisfaction beamed on his face, and Varia to_as brimming over with delight.
  • "And this is the very day that they were to announce the engagement! What wil_he do next?"
  • "What do you suppose she wants to talk about tomorrow?" asked Gania.
  • "Oh, THAT'S all the same! The chief thing is that she wants to see you afte_ix months' absence. Look here, Gania, this is a SERIOUS business. Don'_wagger again and lose the game—play carefully, but don't funk, do yo_nderstand? As if she could possibly avoid seeing what I have been working fo_ll this last six months! And just imagine, I was there this morning and not _ord of this! I was there, you know, on the sly. The old lady did not know, o_he would have kicked me out. I ran some risk for you, you see. I did so wan_o find out, at all hazards."
  • Here there was a frantic noise upstairs once more; several people seemed to b_ushing downstairs at once.
  • "Now, Gania," cried Varia, frightened, "we can't let him go out! We can'_fford to have a breath of scandal about the town at this moment. Run afte_im and beg his pardon—quick."
  • But the father of the family was out in the road already. Colia was carryin_is bag for him; Nina Alexandrovna stood and cried on the doorstep; she wante_o run after the general, but Ptitsin kept her back.
  • "You will only excite him more," he said. "He has nowhere else to go to—he'l_e back here in half an hour. I've talked it all over with Colia; let him pla_he fool a bit, it will do him good."
  • "What are you up to? Where are you off to? You've nowhere to go to, you know,"
  • cried Gania, out of the window.
  • "Come back, father; the neighbours will hear!" cried Varia.
  • The general stopped, turned round, raised his hands and remarked: "My curse b_pon this house!"
  • "Which observation should always be made in as theatrical a tone as possible,"
  • muttered Gania, shutting the window with a bang.
  • The neighbours undoubtedly did hear. Varia rushed out of the room.
  • No sooner had his sister left him alone, than Gania took the note out of hi_ocket, kissed it, and pirouetted around.