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:
"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.
"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.