Mrs. General Epanchin was a proud woman by nature. What must her feelings hav_een when she heard that Prince Muishkin, the last of his and her line, ha_rrived in beggar's guise, a wretched idiot, a recipient of charity—all o_hich details the general gave out for greater effect! He was anxious to stea_er interest at the first swoop, so as to distract her thoughts from othe_atters nearer home.
Mrs. Epanchin was in the habit of holding herself very straight, and starin_efore her, without speaking, in moments of excitement.
She was a fine woman of the same age as her husband, with a slightly hooke_ose, a high, narrow forehead, thick hair turning a little grey, and a sallo_omplexion. Her eyes were grey and wore a very curious expression at times.
She believed them to be most effective—a belief that nothing could alter.
"What, receive him! Now, at once?" asked Mrs. Epanchin, gazing vaguely at he_usband as he stood fidgeting before her.
"Oh, dear me, I assure you there is no need to stand on ceremony with him,"
the general explained hastily. "He is quite a child, not to say a pathetic- looking creature. He has fits of some sort, and has just arrived fro_witzerland, straight from the station, dressed like a German and without _arthing in his pocket. I gave him twenty-five roubles to go on with, and a_oing to find him some easy place in one of the government offices. I shoul_ike you to ply him well with the victuals, my dears, for I should think h_ust be very hungry."
"You astonish me," said the lady, gazing as before. "Fits, and hungry too!
What sort of fits?"
"Oh, they don't come on frequently, besides, he's a regular child, though h_eems to be fairly educated. I should like you, if possible, my dears," th_eneral added, making slowly for the door, "to put him through his paces _it, and see what he is good for. I think you should be kind to him; it is _ood deed, you know—however, just as you like, of course—but he is a sort o_elation, remember, and I thought it might interest you to see the youn_ellow, seeing that this is so."
"Oh, of course, mamma, if we needn't stand on ceremony with him, we must giv_he poor fellow something to eat after his journey; especially as he has no_he least idea where to go to," said Alexandra, the eldest of the girls.
"Besides, he's quite a child; we can entertain him with a little hide-and- seek, in case of need," said Adelaida.
"Hide-and-seek? What do you mean?" inquired Mrs. Epanchin.
"Oh, do stop pretending, mamma," cried Aglaya, in vexation. "Send him up, father; mother allows."
The general rang the bell and gave orders that the prince should be shown in.
"Only on condition that he has a napkin under his chin at lunch, then," sai_rs. Epanchin, "and let Fedor, or Mavra, stand behind him while he eats. Is h_uiet when he has these fits? He doesn't show violence, does he?"
"On the contrary, he seems to be very well brought up. His manners ar_xcellent—but here he is himself. Here you are, prince—let me introduce you, the last of the Muishkins, a relative of your own, my dear, or at least of th_ame name. Receive him kindly, please. They'll bring in lunch directly, prince; you must stop and have some, but you must excuse me. I'm in a hurry, _ust be off—"
"We all know where YOU must be off to!" said Mrs. Epanchin, in a meanin_oice.
"Yes, yes—I must hurry away, I'm late! Look here, dears, let him write yo_omething in your albums; you've no idea what a wonderful caligraphist he is, wonderful talent! He has just written out 'Abbot Pafnute signed this' for me.
Well, au revoir!"
"Stop a minute; where are you off to? Who is this abbot?" cried Mrs. Epanchi_o her retreating husband in a tone of excited annoyance.
"Yes, my dear, it was an old abbot of that name-I must be off to see th_ount, he's waiting for me, I'm late—Good-bye! Au revoir, prince!"—and th_eneral bolted at full speed.
"Oh, yes—I know what count you're going to see!" remarked his wife in _utting manner, as she turned her angry eyes on the prince. "Now then, what'_ll this about?—What abbot—Who's Pafnute?" she added, brusquely.
"Mamma!" said Alexandra, shocked at her rudeness.
Aglaya stamped her foot.
"Nonsense! Let me alone!" said the angry mother. "Now then, prince, sit dow_ere, no, nearer, come nearer the light! I want to have a good look at you.
So, now then, who is this abbot?"
"Abbot Pafnute," said our friend, seriously and with deference.
"Pafnute, yes. And who was he?"
Mrs. Epanchin put these questions hastily and brusquely, and when the princ_nswered she nodded her head sagely at each word he said.
"The Abbot Pafnute lived in the fourteenth century," began the prince; "he wa_n charge of one of the monasteries on the Volga, about where our presen_ostroma government lies. He went to Oreol and helped in the great matter_hen going on in the religious world; he signed an edict there, and I hav_een a print of his signature; it struck me, so I copied it. When the genera_sked me, in his study, to write something for him, to show my handwriting, _rote 'The Abbot Pafnute signed this,' in the exact handwriting of the abbot.
The general liked it very much, and that's why he recalled it just now."
"Aglaya, make a note of 'Pafnute,' or we shall forget him. H'm! and where i_his signature?"
"I think it was left on the general's table."
"Let it be sent for at once!"
"Oh, I'll write you a new one in half a minute," said the prince, "if yo_ike!"
"Of course, mamma!" said Alexandra. "But let's have lunch now, we are al_ungry!"
"Yes; come along, prince," said the mother, "are you very hungry?"
"Yes; I must say that I am pretty hungry, thanks very much."
"H'm! I like to see that you know your manners; and you are by no means such _erson as the general thought fit to describe you. Come along; you sit here, opposite to me," she continued, "I wish to be able to see your face.
Alexandra, Adelaida, look after the prince! He doesn't seem so very ill, doe_e? I don't think he requires a napkin under his chin, after all; are yo_ccustomed to having one on, prince?"
"Formerly, when I was seven years old or so. I believe I wore one; but now _sually hold my napkin on my knee when I eat."
"Of course, of course! And about your fits?"
"Fits?" asked the prince, slightly surprised. "I very seldom have fit_owadays. I don't know how it may be here, though; they say the climate may b_ad for me."
"He talks very well, you know!" said Mrs. Epanchin, who still continued to no_t each word the prince spoke. "I really did not expect it at all; in fact, _uppose it was all stuff and nonsense on the general's part, as usual. Ea_way, prince, and tell me where you were born, and where you were brought up.
I wish to know all about you, you interest me very much!"
The prince expressed his thanks once more, and eating heartily the while, recommenced the narrative of his life in Switzerland, all of which we hav_eard before. Mrs. Epanchin became more and more pleased with her guest; th_irls, too, listened with considerable attention. In talking over the questio_f relationship it turned out that the prince was very well up in the matte_nd knew his pedigree off by heart. It was found that scarcely any connectio_xisted between himself and Mrs. Epanchin, but the talk, and the opportunit_f conversing about her family tree, gratified the latter exceedingly, and sh_ose from the table in great good humour.
"Let's all go to my boudoir," she said, "and they shall bring some coffee i_here. That's the room where we all assemble and busy ourselves as we lik_est," she explained. "Alexandra, my eldest, here, plays the piano, or read_r sews; Adelaida paints landscapes and portraits (but never finishes any); and Aglaya sits and does nothing. I don't work too much, either. Here we are, now; sit down, prince, near the fire and talk to us. I want to hear you relat_omething. I wish to make sure of you first and then tell my old friend, Princess Bielokonski, about you. I wish you to know all the good people and t_nterest them. Now then, begin!"
"Mamma, it's rather a strange order, that!" said Adelaida, who was fussin_mong her paints and paint-brushes at the easel. Aglaya and Alexandra ha_ettled themselves with folded hands on a sofa, evidently meaning to b_isteners. The prince felt that the general attention was concentrated upo_imself.
"I should refuse to say a word if I were ordered to tell a story like that!"
"Why? what's there strange about it? He has a tongue. Why shouldn't he tell u_omething? I want to judge whether he is a good story-teller; anything yo_ike, prince-how you liked Switzerland, what was your first impression, anything. You'll see, he'll begin directly and tell us all about i_eautifully."
"The impression was forcible—" the prince began.
"There, you see, girls," said the impatient lady, "he has begun, you see."
"Well, then, LET him talk, mamma," said Alexandra. "This prince is a grea_umbug and by no means an idiot," she whispered to Aglaya.
"Oh, I saw that at once," replied the latter. "I don't think it at all nice o_im to play a part. What does he wish to gain by it, I wonder?"
"My first impression was a very strong one," repeated the prince. "When the_ook me away from Russia, I remember I passed through many German towns an_ooked out of the windows, but did not trouble so much as to ask question_bout them. This was after a long series of fits. I always used to fall into _ort of torpid condition after such a series, and lost my memory almos_ntirely; and though I was not altogether without reason at such times, yet _ad no logical power of thought. This would continue for three or four days, and then I would recover myself again. I remember my melancholy wa_ntolerable; I felt inclined to cry; I sat and wondered and wondere_ncomfortably; the consciousness that everything was strange weighed terribl_pon me; I could understand that it was all foreign and strange. I recollect _woke from this state for the first time at Basle, one evening; the bray of _onkey aroused me, a donkey in the town market. I saw the donkey and wa_xtremely pleased with it, and from that moment my head seemed to clear."
"A donkey? How strange! Yet it is not strange. Anyone of us might fall in lov_ith a donkey! It happened in mythological times," said Madame Epanchin, looking wrathfully at her daughters, who had begun to laugh. "Go on, prince."
"Since that evening I have been specially fond of donkeys. I began to as_uestions about them, for I had never seen one before; and I at once came t_he conclusion that this must be one of the most useful of animals—strong, willing, patient, cheap; and, thanks to this donkey, I began to like the whol_ountry I was travelling through; and my melancholy passed away."
"All this is very strange and interesting," said Mrs. Epanchin. "Now let'_eave the donkey and go on to other matters. What are you laughing at, Aglaya?
and you too, Adelaida? The prince told us his experiences very cleverly; h_aw the donkey himself, and what have you ever seen? YOU have never bee_broad."
"I have seen a donkey though, mamma!" said Aglaya.
"And I've heard one!" said Adelaida. All three of the girls laughed out loud, and the prince laughed with them.
"Well, it's too bad of you," said mamma. "You must forgive them, prince; the_re good girls. I am very fond of them, though I often have to be scoldin_hem; they are all as silly and mad as march hares."
"Oh, why shouldn't they laugh?" said the prince. "I shouldn't have let th_hance go by in their place, I know. But I stick up for the donkey, all th_ame; he's a patient, good-natured fellow."
"Are you a patient man, prince? I ask out of curiosity," said Mrs. Epanchin.
All laughed again.
"Oh, that wretched donkey again, I see!" cried the lady. "I assure you, prince, I was not guilty of the least—"
"Insinuation? Oh! I assure you, I take your word for it." And the princ_ontinued laughing merrily.
"I must say it's very nice of you to laugh. I see you really are a kind- hearted fellow," said Mrs. Epanchin.
"I'm not always kind, though."
"I am kind myself, and ALWAYS kind too, if you please!" she retorted, unexpectedly; "and that is my chief fault, for one ought not to be alway_ind. I am often angry with these girls and their father; but the worst of i_s, I am always kindest when I am cross. I was very angry just before yo_ame, and Aglaya there read me a lesson—thanks, Aglaya, dear—come and kis_e—there—that's enough" she added, as Aglaya came forward and kissed her lip_nd then her hand. "Now then, go on, prince. Perhaps you can think o_omething more exciting than about the donkey, eh?"
"I must say, again, I can't understand how you can expect anyone to tell yo_tories straight away, so," said Adelaida. "I know I never could!"
"Yes, but the prince can, because he is clever—cleverer than you are by ten o_wenty times, if you like. There, that's so, prince; and seriously, let's dro_he donkey now—what else did you see abroad, besides the donkey?"
"Yes, but the prince told us about the donkey very cleverly, all the same,"
said Alexandra. "I have always been most interested to hear how people go ma_nd get well again, and that sort of thing. Especially when it happen_uddenly."
"Quite so, quite so!" cried Mrs. Epanchin, delighted. "I see you CAN b_ensible now and then, Alexandra. You were speaking of Switzerland, prince?"
"Yes. We came to Lucerne, and I was taken out in a boat. I felt how lovely i_as, but the loveliness weighed upon me somehow or other, and made me fee_elancholy."
"Why?" asked Alexandra.
"I don't know; I always feel like that when I look at the beauties of natur_or the first time; but then, I was ill at that time, of course!"
"Oh, but I should like to see it!" said Adelaida; "and I don't know WHEN w_hall ever go abroad. I've been two years looking out for a good subject for _icture. I've done all I know. 'The North and South I know by heart,' as ou_oet observes. Do help me to a subject, prince."
"Oh, but I know nothing about painting. It seems to me one only has to look, and paint what one sees."
"But I don't know HOW to see!"
"Nonsense, what rubbish you talk!" the mother struck in. "Not know how to see!
Open your eyes and look! If you can't see here, you won't see abroad either.
Tell us what you saw yourself, prince!"
"Yes, that's better," said Adelaida; "the prince learned to see abroad."
"Oh, I hardly know! You see, I only went to restore my health. I don't kno_hether I learned to see, exactly. I was very happy, however, nearly all th_ime."
"Happy! you can be happy?" cried Aglaya. "Then how can you say you did no_earn to see? I should think you could teach us to see!"
"Oh! DO teach us," laughed Adelaida.
"Oh! I can't do that," said the prince, laughing too. "I lived almost all th_hile in one little Swiss village; what can I teach you? At first I was onl_ust not absolutely dull; then my health began to improve—then every da_ecame dearer and more precious to me, and the longer I stayed, the deare_ecame the time to me; so much so that I could not help observing it; but wh_his was so, it would be difficult to say."
"So that you didn't care to go away anywhere else?"
"Well, at first I did; I was restless; I didn't know however I should manag_o support life—you know there are such moments, especially in solitude. Ther_as a waterfall near us, such a lovely thin streak of water, like a thread bu_hite and moving. It fell from a great height, but it looked quite low, and i_as half a mile away, though it did not seem fifty paces. I loved to listen t_t at night, but it was then that I became so restless. Sometimes I went an_limbed the mountain and stood there in the midst of the tall pines, all alon_n the terrible silence, with our little village in the distance, and the sk_o blue, and the sun so bright, and an old ruined castle on the mountain-side, far away. I used to watch the line where earth and sky met, and longed to g_nd seek there the key of all mysteries, thinking that I might find there _ew life, perhaps some great city where life should be grander and richer—an_hen it struck me that life may be grand enough even in a prison."
"I read that last most praiseworthy thought in my manual, when I was twelv_ears old," said Aglaya.
"All this is pure philosophy," said Adelaida. "You are a philosopher, prince, and have come here to instruct us in your views."
"Perhaps you are right," said the prince, smiling. "I think I am _hilosopher, perhaps, and who knows, perhaps I do wish to teach my views o_hings to those I meet with?"
"Your philosophy is rather like that of an old woman we know, who is rich an_et does nothing but try how little she can spend. She talks of nothing bu_oney all day. Your great philosophical idea of a grand life in a prison an_our four happy years in that Swiss village are like this, rather," sai_glaya.
"As to life in a prison, of course there may be two opinions," said th_rince. "I once heard the story of a man who lived twelve years in a prison—_eard it from the man himself. He was one of the persons under treatment wit_y professor; he had fits, and attacks of melancholy, then he would weep, an_nce he tried to commit suicide. HIS life in prison was sad enough; his onl_cquaintances were spiders and a tree that grew outside his grating-but _hink I had better tell you of another man I met last year. There was a ver_trange feature in this case, strange because of its extremely rar_ccurrence. This man had once been brought to the scaffold in company wit_everal others, and had had the sentence of death by shooting passed upon hi_or some political crime. Twenty minutes later he had been reprieved and som_ther punishment substituted; but the interval between the two sentences, twenty minutes, or at least a quarter of an hour, had been passed in th_ertainty that within a few minutes he must die. I was very anxious to hea_im speak of his impressions during that dreadful time, and I several time_nquired of him as to what he thought and felt. He remembered everything wit_he most accurate and extraordinary distinctness, and declared that he woul_ever forget a single iota of the experience.
"About twenty paces from the scaffold, where he had stood to hear th_entence, were three posts, fixed in the ground, to which to fasten th_riminals (of whom there were several). The first three criminals were take_o the posts, dressed in long white tunics, with white caps drawn over thei_aces, so that they could not see the rifles pointed at them. Then a group o_oldiers took their stand opposite to each post. My friend was the eighth o_he list, and therefore he would have been among the third lot to go up. _riest went about among them with a cross: and there was about five minutes o_ime left for him to live.
"He said that those five minutes seemed to him to be a most interminabl_eriod, an enormous wealth of time; he seemed to be living, in these minutes, so many lives that there was no need as yet to think of that last moment, s_hat he made several arrangements, dividing up the time into portions—one fo_aying farewell to his companions, two minutes for that; then a couple mor_or thinking over his own life and career and all about himself; and anothe_inute for a last look around. He remembered having divided his time like thi_uite well. While saying good-bye to his friends he recollected asking one o_hem some very usual everyday question, and being much interested in th_nswer. Then having bade farewell, he embarked upon those two minutes which h_ad allotted to looking into himself; he knew beforehand what he was going t_hink about. He wished to put it to himself as quickly and clearly a_ossible, that here was he, a living, thinking man, and that in three minute_e would be nobody; or if somebody or something, then what and where? H_hought he would decide this question once for all in these last thre_inutes. A little way off there stood a church, and its gilded spire glittere_n the sun. He remembered staring stubbornly at this spire, and at the rays o_ight sparkling from it. He could not tear his eyes from these rays of light; he got the idea that these rays were his new nature, and that in three minute_e would become one of them, amalgamated somehow with them.
"The repugnance to what must ensue almost immediately, and the uncertainty, were dreadful, he said; but worst of all was the idea, 'What should I do if _ere not to die now? What if I were to return to life again? What an eternit_f days, and all mine! How I should grudge and count up every minute of it, s_s to waste not a single instant!' He said that this thought weighed so upo_im and became such a terrible burden upon his brain that he could not bea_t, and wished they would shoot him quickly and have done with it."
The prince paused and all waited, expecting him to go on again and finish th_tory.
"Is that all?" asked Aglaya.
"All? Yes," said the prince, emerging from a momentary reverie.
"And why did you tell us this?"
"Oh, I happened to recall it, that's all! It fitted into the conversation—"
"You probably wish to deduce, prince," said Alexandra, "that moments of tim_annot be reckoned by money value, and that sometimes five minutes are wort_riceless treasures. All this is very praiseworthy; but may I ask about thi_riend of yours, who told you the terrible experience of his life? He wa_eprieved, you say; in other words, they did restore to him that 'eternity o_ays.' What did he do with these riches of time? Did he keep careful accoun_f his minutes?"
"Oh no, he didn't! I asked him myself. He said that he had not lived a bit a_e had intended, and had wasted many, and many a minute."
"Very well, then there's an experiment, and the thing is proved; one canno_ive and count each moment; say what you like, but one CANNOT."
"That is true," said the prince, "I have thought so myself. And yet, wh_houldn't one do it?"
"You think, then, that you could live more wisely than other people?" sai_glaya.
"I have had that idea."
"And you have it still?"
"Yes—I have it still," the prince replied.
He had contemplated Aglaya until now, with a pleasant though rather timi_mile, but as the last words fell from his lips he began to laugh, and looke_t her merrily.
"You are not very modest!" said she.
"But how brave you are!" said he. "You are laughing, and I—that man's tal_mpressed me so much, that I dreamt of it afterwards; yes, I dreamt of thos_ive minutes… "
He looked at his listeners again with that same serious, searching expression.
"You are not angry with me?" he asked suddenly, and with a kind of nervou_urry, although he looked them straight in the face.
"Why should we be angry?" they cried.
"Only because I seem to be giving you a lecture, all the time!"
At this they laughed heartily.
"Please don't be angry with me," continued the prince. "I know very well tha_ have seen less of life than other people, and have less knowledge of it. _ust appear to speak strangely sometimes… "
He said the last words nervously.
"You say you have been happy, and that proves you have lived, not less, bu_ore than other people. Why make all these excuses?" interrupted Aglaya in _ocking tone of voice. "Besides, you need not mind about lecturing us; yo_ave nothing to boast of. With your quietism, one could live happily for _undred years at least. One might show you the execution of a felon, or sho_ou one's little finger. You could draw a moral from either, and be quit_atisfied. That sort of existence is easy enough."
"I can't understand why you always fly into a temper," said Mrs. Epanchin, wh_ad been listening to the conversation and examining the faces of the speaker_n turn. "I do not understand what you mean. What has your little finger to d_ith it? The prince talks well, though he is not amusing. He began all right, but now he seems sad."
"Never mind, mamma! Prince, I wish you had seen an execution," said Aglaya. "_hould like to ask you a question about that, if you had."
"I have seen an execution," said the prince.
"You have!" cried Aglaya. "I might have guessed it. That's a fitting crown t_he rest of the story. If you have seen an execution, how can you say yo_ived happily all the while?"
"But is there capital punishment where you were?" asked Adelaida.
"I saw it at Lyons. Schneider took us there, and as soon as we arrived we cam_n for that."
"Well, and did you like it very much? Was it very edifying and instructive?"
"No, I didn't like it at all, and was ill after seeing it; but I confess _tared as though my eyes were fixed to the sight. I could not tear them away."
"I, too, should have been unable to tear my eyes away," said Aglaya.
"They do not at all approve of women going to see an execution there. Th_omen who do go are condemned for it afterwards in the newspapers."
"That is, by contending that it is not a sight for women they admit that it i_ sight for men. I congratulate them on the deduction. I suppose you quit_gree with them, prince?"
"Tell us about the execution," put in Adelaida.
"I would much rather not, just now," said the prince, a little disturbed an_rowning slightly.
"You don't seem to want to tell us," said Aglaya, with a mocking air.
"No,—the thing is, I was telling all about the execution a little while ago, and—"
"Whom did you tell about it?"
"The man-servant, while I was waiting to see the general."
"Our man-servant?" exclaimed several voices at once.
"Yes, the one who waits in the entrance hall, a greyish, red-faced man—"
"The prince is clearly a democrat," remarked Aglaya.
"Well, if you could tell Aleksey about it, surely you can tell us too."
"I do so want to hear about it," repeated Adelaida.
"Just now, I confess," began the prince, with more animation, "when you aske_e for a subject for a picture, I confess I had serious thoughts of giving yo_ne. I thought of asking you to draw the face of a criminal, one minute befor_he fall of the guillotine, while the wretched man is still standing on th_caffold, preparatory to placing his neck on the block."
"What, his face? only his face?" asked Adelaida. "That would be a strang_ubject indeed. And what sort of a picture would that make?"
"Oh, why not?" the prince insisted, with some warmth. "When I was in Basle _aw a picture very much in that style—I should like to tell you about it; _ill some time or other; it struck me very forcibly."
"Oh, you shall tell us about the Basle picture another time; now we must hav_ll about the execution," said Adelaida. "Tell us about that face as; i_ppeared to your imagination-how should it be drawn?—just the face alone, d_ou mean?"
"It was just a minute before the execution," began the prince, readily, carried away by the recollection and evidently forgetting everything else in _oment; "just at the instant when he stepped off the ladder on to th_caffold. He happened to look in my direction: I saw his eyes and understoo_ll, at once—but how am I to describe it? I do so wish you or somebody els_ould draw it, you, if possible. I thought at the time what a picture it woul_ake. You must imagine all that went before, of course, all—all. He had live_n the prison for some time and had not expected that the execution would tak_lace for at least a week yet—he had counted on all the formalities and so o_aking time; but it so happened that his papers had been got ready quickly. A_ive o'clock in the morning he was asleep—it was October, and at five in th_orning it was cold and dark. The governor of the prison comes in on tip-to_nd touches the sleeping man's shoulder gently. He starts up. 'What is it?' h_ays. 'The execution is fixed for ten o'clock.' He was only just awake, an_ould not believe at first, but began to argue that his papers would not b_ut for a week, and so on. When he was wide awake and realized the truth, h_ecame very silent and argued no more—so they say; but after a bit he said:
'It comes very hard on one so suddenly' and then he was silent again and sai_othing.
"The three or four hours went by, of course, in necessary preparations—th_riest, breakfast, (coffee, meat, and some wine they gave him; doesn't it see_idiculous?) And yet I believe these people give them a good breakfast out o_ure kindness of heart, and believe that they are doing a good action. Then h_s dressed, and then begins the procession through the town to the scaffold. _hink he, too, must feel that he has an age to live still while they cart hi_long. Probably he thought, on the way, 'Oh, I have a long, long time yet.
Three streets of life yet! When we've passed this street there'll be tha_ther one; and then that one where the baker's shop is on the right; and whe_hall we get there? It's ages, ages!' Around him are crowds shouting, yelling—ten thousand faces, twenty thousand eyes. All this has to be endured, and especially the thought: 'Here are ten thousand men, and not one of them i_oing to be executed, and yet I am to die.' Well, all that is preparatory.
"At the scaffold there is a ladder, and just there he burst into tears—an_his was a strong man, and a terribly wicked one, they say! There was a pries_ith him the whole time, talking; even in the cart as they drove along, h_alked and talked. Probably the other heard nothing; he would begin to liste_ow and then, and at the third word or so he had forgotten all about it.
"At last he began to mount the steps; his legs were tied, so that he had t_ake very small steps. The priest, who seemed to be a wise man, had stoppe_alking now, and only held the cross for the wretched fellow to kiss. At th_oot of the ladder he had been pale enough; but when he set foot on th_caffold at the top, his face suddenly became the colour of paper, positivel_ike white notepaper. His legs must have become suddenly feeble and helpless, and he felt a choking in his throat—you know the sudden feeling one has i_oments of terrible fear, when one does not lose one's wits, but is absolutel_owerless to move? If some dreadful thing were suddenly to happen; if a hous_ere just about to fall on one;—don't you know how one would long to sit dow_nd shut one's eyes and wait, and wait? Well, when this terrible feeling cam_ver him, the priest quickly pressed the cross to his lips, without a word—_ittle silver cross it was-and he kept on pressing it to the man's lips ever_econd. And whenever the cross touched his lips, the eyes would open for _oment, and the legs moved once, and he kissed the cross greedily, hurriedly—just as though he were anxious to catch hold of something in case o_ts being useful to him afterwards, though he could hardly have had an_onnected religious thoughts at the time. And so up to the very block.
"How strange that criminals seldom swoon at such a moment! On the contrary, the brain is especially active, and works incessantly—probably hard, hard, hard—like an engine at full pressure. I imagine that various thoughts mus_eat loud and fast through his head—all unfinished ones, and strange, funn_houghts, very likely!—like this, for instance: 'That man is looking at me, and he has a wart on his forehead! and the executioner has burst one of hi_uttons, and the lowest one is all rusty!' And meanwhile he notices an_emembers everything. There is one point that cannot be forgotten, round whic_verything else dances and turns about; and because of this point he canno_aint, and this lasts until the very final quarter of a second, when th_retched neck is on the block and the victim listens and waits an_NOWS—that's the point, he KNOWS that he is just NOW about to die, and listen_or the rasp of the iron over his head. If I lay there, I should certainl_isten for that grating sound, and hear it, too! There would probably be bu_he tenth part of an instant left to hear it in, but one would certainly hea_t. And imagine, some people declare that when the head flies off it i_ONSCIOUS of having flown off! Just imagine what a thing to realize! Fancy i_onsciousness were to last for even five seconds!
"Draw the scaffold so that only the top step of the ladder comes in clearly.
The criminal must be just stepping on to it, his face as white as note-paper.
The priest is holding the cross to his blue lips, and the criminal kisses it, and knows and sees and understands everything. The cross and the head—there'_our picture; the priest and the executioner, with his two assistants, and _ew heads and eyes below. Those might come in as subordinate accessories—_ort of mist. There's a picture for you." The prince paused, and looke_round.
"Certainly that isn't much like quietism," murmured Alexandra, half t_erself.
"Now tell us about your love affairs," said Adelaida, after a moment's pause.
The prince gazed at her in amazement.
"You know," Adelaida continued, "you owe us a description of the Basl_icture; but first I wish to hear how you fell in love. Don't deny the fact, for you did, of course. Besides, you stop philosophizing when you are tellin_bout anything."
"Why are you ashamed of your stories the moment after you have told them?"
asked Aglaya, suddenly.
"How silly you are!" said Mrs. Epanchin, looking indignantly towards the las_peaker.
"Yes, that wasn't a clever remark," said Alexandra.
"Don't listen to her, prince," said Mrs. Epanchin; "she says that sort o_hing out of mischief. Don't think anything of their nonsense, it mean_othing. They love to chaff, but they like you. I can see it in their faces—_now their faces."
"I know their faces, too," said the prince, with a peculiar stress on th_ords.
"How so?" asked Adelaida, with curiosity.
"What do YOU know about our faces?" exclaimed the other two, in chorus.
But the prince was silent and serious. All awaited his reply.
"I'll tell you afterwards," he said quietly.
"Ah, you want to arouse our curiosity!" said Aglaya. "And how terribly solem_ou are about it!"
"Very well," interrupted Adelaida, "then if you can read faces so well, yo_ust have been in love. Come now; I've guessed—let's have the secret!"
"I have not been in love," said the prince, as quietly and seriously a_efore. "I have been happy in another way."
"Well, I'll tell you," said the prince, apparently in a deep reverie.