IN point of fact, Varia had rather exaggerated the certainty of her news as t_he prince's betrothal to Aglaya. Very likely, with the perspicacity of he_ex, she gave out as an accomplished fact what she felt was pretty sure t_ecome a fact in a few days. Perhaps she could not resist the satisfaction o_ouring one last drop of bitterness into her brother Gania's cup, in spite o_er love for him. At all events, she had been unable to obtain any definit_ews from the Epanchin girls—the most she could get out of them being hint_nd surmises, and so on. Perhaps Aglaya's sisters had merely been pumpin_aria for news while pretending to impart information; or perhaps, again, the_ad been unable to resist the feminine gratification of teasing a friend—for, after all this time, they could scarcely have helped divining the aim of he_requent visits.
On the other hand, the prince, although he had told Lebedeff,—as we know, tha_othing had happened, and that he had nothing to impart,—the prince may hav_een in error. Something strange seemed to have happened, without anythin_efinite having actually happened. Varia had guessed that with her tru_eminine instinct.
How or why it came about that everyone at the Epanchins' became imbued wit_ne conviction—that something very important had happened to Aglaya, and tha_er fate was in process of settlement—it would be very difficult to explain.
But no sooner had this idea taken root, than all at once declared that the_ad seen and observed it long ago; that they had remarked it at the time o_he "poor knight" joke, and even before, though they had been unwilling t_elieve in such nonsense.
So said the sisters. Of course, Lizabetha Prokofievna had foreseen it lon_efore the rest; her "heart had been sore" for a long while, she declared, an_t was now so sore that she appeared to be quite overwhelmed, and the ver_hought of the prince became distasteful to her.
There was a question to be decided—most important, but most difficult; so muc_o, that Mrs. Epanchin did not even see how to put it into words. Would th_rince do or not? Was all this good or bad? If good (which might be the case, of course), WHY good? If bad (which was hardly doubtful), WHEREIN, especially, bad? Even the general, the paterfamilias, though astonished at first, suddenl_eclared that, "upon his honour, he really believed he had fancied somethin_f the kind, after all. At first, it seemed a new idea, and then, somehow, i_ooked as familiar as possible." His wife frowned him down there. This was i_he morning; but in the evening, alone with his wife, he had given tongu_gain.
"Well, really, you know"—(silence)—"of course, you know all this is ver_trange, if true, which I cannot deny; but"—(silence).—"But, on the othe_and, if one looks things in the face, you know—upon my honour, the prince i_ rare good fellow—and—and—and—well, his name, you know—your family name—al_his looks well, and perpetuates the name and title and all that—which at thi_oment is not standing so high as it might—from one point of view—don't yo_now? The world, the world is the world, of course—and people wil_alk—and—and—the prince has property, you know—if it is not very large—an_hen he—he—" (Continued silence, and collapse of the general.)
Hearing these words from her husband, Lizabetha Prokofievna was driven besid_erself.
According to her opinion, the whole thing had been one huge, fantastical, absurd, unpardonable mistake. "First of all, this prince is an idiot, and, secondly, he is a fool—knows nothing of the world, and has no place in it.
Whom can he be shown to? Where can you take him to? What will old Bielokonsk_ay? We never thought of such a husband as THAT for our Aglaya!"
Of course, the last argument was the chief one. The maternal heart tremble_ith indignation to think of such an absurdity, although in that heart ther_ose another voice, which said: "And WHY is not the prince such a husband a_ou would have desired for Aglaya?" It was this voice which annoyed Lizabeth_rokofievna more than anything else.
For some reason or other, the sisters liked the idea of the prince. They di_ot even consider it very strange; in a word, they might be expected at an_oment to range themselves strongly on his side. But both of them decided t_ay nothing either way. It had always been noticed in the family that th_tronger Mrs. Epanchin's opposition was to any project, the nearer she was, i_eality, to giving in.
Alexandra, however, found it difficult to keep absolute silence on th_ubject. Long since holding, as she did, the post of "confidential adviser t_amma," she was now perpetually called in council, and asked her opinion, an_specially her assistance, in order to recollect "how on earth all thi_appened?" Why did no one see it? Why did no one say anything about it? Wha_id all that wretched "poor knight" joke mean? Why was she, Lizabeth_rokofievna, driven to think, and foresee, and worry for everybody, while the_ll sucked their thumbs, and counted the crows in the garden, and did nothing?
At first, Alexandra had been very careful, and had merely replied that perhap_er father's remark was not so far out: that, in the eyes of the world, probably the choice of the prince as a husband for one of the Epanchin girl_ould be considered a very wise one. Warming up, however, she added that th_rince was by no means a fool, and never had been; and that as to "place i_he world," no one knew what the position of a respectable person in Russi_ould imply in a few years—whether it would depend on successes in th_overnment service, on the old system, or what.
To all this her mother replied that Alexandra was a freethinker, and that al_his was due to that "cursed woman's rights question."
Half an hour after this conversation, she went off to town, and thence to th_ammenny Ostrof, ["Stone Island," a suburb and park of St. Petersburg] to se_rincess Bielokonski, who had just arrived from Moscow on a short visit. Th_rincess was Aglaya's godmother.
"Old Bielokonski" listened to all the fevered and despairing lamentations o_izabetha Prokofievna without the least emotion; the tears of this sorrowfu_other did not evoke answering sighs—in fact, she laughed at her. She was _readful old despot, this princess; she could not allow equality in anything, not even in friendship of the oldest standing, and she insisted on treatin_rs. Epanchin as her protegee, as she had been thirty-five years ago. Sh_ould never put up with the independence and energy of Lizabetha's character.
She observed that, as usual, the whole family had gone much too far ahead, an_ad converted a fly into an elephant; that, so far as she had heard thei_tory, she was persuaded that nothing of any seriousness had occurred; that i_ould surely be better to wait until something _did_ happen; that th_rince, in her opinion, was a very decent young fellow, though perhaps _ittle eccentric, through illness, and not quite as weighty in the world a_ne could wish. The worst feature was, she said, Nastasia Philipovna.
Lizabetha Prokofievna well understood that the old lady was angry at th_ailure of Evgenie Pavlovitch—her own recommendation. She returned home t_avlofsk in a worse humour than when she left, and of course everybody in th_ouse suffered. She pitched into everyone, because, she declared, they had
'gone mad.' Why were things always mismanaged in her house? Why had everybod_een in such a frantic hurry in this matter? So far as she could see, nothin_hatever had happened. Surely they had better wait and see what was to happen, instead of making mountains out of molehills.
And so the conclusion of the matter was that it would be far better to take i_uietly, and wait coolly to see what would turn up. But, alas! peace did no_eign for more than ten minutes. The first blow dealt to its power was i_ertain news communicated to Lizabetha Prokofievna as to events which ba_appened during her trip to see the princess. (This trip had taken place th_ay after that on which the prince had turned up at the Epanchins at nearl_ne o'clock at night, thinking it was nine.)
The sisters replied candidly and fully enough to their mother's impatien_uestions on her return. They said, in the first place, that nothin_articular had happened since her departure; that the prince had been, an_hat Aglaya had kept him waiting a long while before she appeared—half a_our, at least; that she had then come in, and immediately asked the prince t_ave a game of chess; that the prince did not know the game, and Aglaya ha_eaten him easily; that she had been in a wonderfully merry mood, and ha_aughed at the prince, and chaffed him so unmercifully that one was quit_orry to see his wretched expression.
She had then asked him to play cards—the game called "little fools." At thi_ame the tables were turned completely, for the prince had shown himself _aster at it. Aglaya had cheated and changed cards, and stolen others, in th_ost bare-faced way, but, in spite of everything the prince had beaten he_opelessly five times running, and she had been left "little fool" each time.
Aglaya then lost her temper, and began to say such awful things to the princ_hat he laughed no more, but grew dreadfully pale, especially when she sai_hat she should not remain in the house with him, and that he ought to b_shamed of coming to their house at all, especially at night, "AFTER ALL THA_AD HAPPENED."
So saying, she had left the room, banging the door after her, and the princ_ent off, looking as though he were on his way to a funeral, in spite of al_heir attempts at consolation.
Suddenly, a quarter of an hour after the prince's departure, Aglaya had rushe_ut of her room in such a hurry that she had not even wiped her eyes, whic_ere full of tears. She came back because Colia had brought a hedgehog.
Everybody came in to see the hedgehog. In answer to their questions Coli_xplained that the hedgehog was not his, and that he had left another boy, Kostia Lebedeff, waiting for him outside. Kostia was too shy to come in, because he was carrying a hatchet; they had bought the hedgehog and th_atchet from a peasant whom they had met on the road. He had offered to sel_hem the hedgehog, and they had paid fifty copecks for it; and the hatchet ha_o taken their fancy that they had made up their minds to buy it of their ow_ccord. On hearing this, Aglaya urged Colia to sell her the hedgehog; she eve_alled him "dear Colia," in trying to coax him. He refused for a long time, but at last he could hold out no more, and went to fetch Kostia Lebedeff. Th_atter appeared, carrying his hatchet, and covered with confusion. Then i_ame out that the hedgehog was not theirs, but the property of a schoolmate, one Petroff, who had given them some money to buy Schlosser's History for him, from another schoolfellow who at that moment was driven to raising money b_he sale of his books. Colia and Kostia were about to make this purchase fo_heir friend when chance brought the hedgehog to their notice, and they ha_uccumbed to the temptation of buying it. They were now taking Petroff th_edgehog and hatchet which they had bought with his money, instead o_chiosser's History. But Aglaya so entreated them that at last they consente_o sell her the hedgehog. As soon as she had got possession of it, she put i_n a wicker basket with Colia's help, and covered it with a napkin. Then sh_aid to Colia: "Go and take this hedgehog to the prince from me, and ask hi_o accept it as a token of my profound respect." Colia joyfully promised to d_he errand, but he demanded explanations. "What does the hedgehog mean? Wha_s the meaning of such a present?" Aglaya replied that it was none of hi_usiness. "I am sure that there is some allegory about it," Colia persisted.
Aglaya grew angry, and called him "a silly boy." "If I did not respect al_omen in your person," replied Colia, "and if my own principles would permi_t, I would soon prove to you, that I know how to answer such an insult!" But, in the end, Colia went off with the hedgehog in great delight, followed b_ostia Lebedeff. Aglaya's annoyance was soon over, and seeing that Colia wa_winging the hedgehog's basket violently to and fro, she called out to hi_rom the verandah, as if they had never quarrelled: "Colia, dear, please tak_are not to drop him!" Colia appeared to have no grudge against her, either, for he stopped, and answered most cordially: "No, I will not drop him! Don'_e afraid, Aglaya Ivanovna!" After which he went on his way. Aglaya burst ou_aughing and ran up to her room, highly delighted. Her good spirits lasted th_hole day.
All this filled poor Lizabetha's mind with chaotic confusion. What on eart_id it all mean? The most disturbing feature was the hedgehog. What was th_ymbolic signification of a hedgehog? What did they understand by it? Wha_nderlay it? Was it a cryptic message?
Poor General Epanchin "put his foot in it" by answering the above questions i_is own way. He said there was no cryptic message at all. As for the hedgehog, it was just a hedgehog, which meant nothing—unless, indeed, it was a pledge o_riendship,—the sign of forgetting of offences and so on. At all events, i_as a joke, and, of course, a most pardonable and innocent one.
We may as well remark that the general had guessed perfectly accurately.
The prince, returning home from the interview with Aglaya, had sat gloomy an_epressed for half an hour. He was almost in despair when Colia arrived wit_he hedgehog.
Then the sky cleared in a moment. The prince seemed to arise from the dead; h_sked Colia all about it, made him repeat the story over and over again, an_aughed and shook hands with the boys in his delight.
It seemed clear to the prince that Aglaya forgave him, and that he might g_here again this very evening; and in his eyes that was not only the mai_hing, but everything in the world.
"What children we are still, Colia!" he cried at last, enthusiastically,—"an_ow delightful it is that we can be children still!"
"Simply—my dear prince,—simply she is in love with you,—that's the whole o_he secret!" replied Colia, with authority.
The prince blushed, but this time he said nothing. Colia burst out laughin_nd clapped his hands. A minute later the prince laughed too, and from thi_oment until the evening he looked at his watch every other minute to see ho_uch time he had to wait before evening came.
But the situation was becoming rapidly critical.
Mrs. Epanchin could bear her suspense no longer, and in spite of th_pposition of husband and daughters, she sent for Aglaya, determined to get _traightforward answer out of her, once for all.
"Otherwise," she observed hysterically, "I shall die before evening."
It was only now that everyone realized to what a ridiculous dead-lock th_hole matter had been brought. Excepting feigned surprise, indignation, laughter, and jeering—both at the prince and at everyone who asked he_uestions,—nothing could be got out of Aglaya.
Lizabetha Prokofievna went to bed and only rose again in time for tea, whe_he prince might be expected.
She awaited him in trembling agitation; and when he at last arrived she nearl_ent off into hysterics.
Muishkin himself came in very timidly. He seemed to feel his way, and looke_n each person's eyes in a questioning way,—for Aglaya was absent, which fac_larmed him at once.
This evening there were no strangers present—no one but the immediate member_f the family. Prince S. was still in town, occupied with the affairs o_vgenie Pavlovitch's uncle.
"I wish at least HE would come and say something!" complained poor Lizabeth_rokofievna.
The general sat still with a most preoccupied air. The sisters were lookin_ery serious and did not speak a word, and Lizabetha Prokofievna did not kno_ow to commence the conversation.
At length she plunged into an energetic and hostile criticism of railways, an_lared at the prince defiantly.
Alas Aglaya still did not come—and the prince was quite lost. He had th_reatest difficulty in expressing his opinion that railways were most usefu_nstitutions,—and in the middle of his speech Adelaida laughed, which thre_im into a still worse state of confusion.
At this moment in marched Aglaya, as calm and collected as could be. She gav_he prince a ceremonious bow and solemnly took up a prominent position nea_he big round table. She looked at the prince questioningly.
All present realized that the moment for the settlement of perplexities ha_rrived.
"Did you get my hedgehog?" she inquired, firmly and almost angrily.
"Yes, I got it," said the prince, blushing.
"Tell us now, at once, what you made of the present? I must have you answe_his question for mother's sake; she needs pacifying, and so do all the res_f the family!"
"Look here, Aglaya—" began the general.
"This—this is going beyond all limits!" said Lizabetha Prokofievna, suddenl_larmed.
"It is not in the least beyond all limits, mamma!" said her daughter, firmly.
"I sent the prince a hedgehog this morning, and I wish to hear his opinion o_t. Go on, prince."
"What—what sort of opinion, Aglaya Ivanovna?"
"About the hedgehog."
"That is—I suppose you wish to know how I received the hedgehog, Aglay_vanovna,—or, I should say, how I regarded your sending him to me? In tha_ase, I may tell you—in a word—that I—in fact—"
He paused, breathless.
"Come—you haven't told us much!" said Aglaya, after waiting some five seconds.
"Very well, I am ready to drop the hedgehog, if you like; but I am anxious t_e able to clear up this accumulation of misunderstandings. Allow me to as_ou, prince,—I wish to hear from you, personally—are you making me an offer, or not?"
"Gracious heavens!" exclaimed Lizabetha Prokofievna. The prince started. Th_eneral stiffened in his chair; the sisters frowned.
"Don't deceive me now, prince—tell the truth. All these people persecute m_ith astounding questions—about you. Is there any ground for all thes_uestions, or not? Come!"
"I have not asked you to marry me yet, Aglaya Ivanovna," said the prince, becoming suddenly animated; "but you know yourself how much I love you an_rust you."
"No—I asked you this—answer this! Do you intend to ask for my band, or not?"
"Yes—I do ask for it!" said the prince, more dead than alive now.
There was a general stir in the room.
"No—no—my dear girl," began the general. "You cannot proceed like this, Aglaya, if that's how the matter stands. It's impossible. Prince, forgive it, my dear fellow, but—Lizabetha Prokofievna!"—he appealed to his spouse fo_elp—"you must really—"
"Not I—not I! I retire from all responsibility," said Lizabetha Prokofievna, with a wave of the hand.
"Allow me to speak, please, mamma," said Aglaya. "I think I ought to hav_omething to say in the matter. An important moment of my destiny is about t_e decided"—(this is how Aglaya expressed herself)—"and I wish to find out ho_he matter stands, for my own sake, though I am glad you are all here. Allo_e to ask you, prince, since you cherish those intentions, how you conside_hat you will provide for my happiness?"
"I—I don't quite know how to answer your question, Aglaya Ivanovna. What i_here to say to such a question? And—and must I answer?"
"I think you are rather overwhelmed and out of breath. Have a little rest, an_ry to recover yourself. Take a glass of water, or—but they'll give you som_ea directly."
"I love you, Aglaya Ivanovna,—I love you very much. I love only you—and—pleas_on't jest about it, for I do love you very much."
"Well, this matter is important. We are not children—we must look into i_horoughly. Now then, kindly tell me—what does your fortune consist of?"
"No—Aglaya—come, enough of this, you mustn't behave like this," said he_ather, in dismay.
"It's disgraceful," said Lizabetha Prokofievna in a loud whisper.
"She's mad—quite!" said Alexandra.
"Fortune—money—do you mean?" asked the prince in some surprise.
"I have now—let's see—I have a hundred and thirty-five thousand roubles," sai_he prince, blushing violently.
"Is that all, really?" said Aglaya, candidly, without the slightest show o_onfusion. "However, it's not so bad, especially if managed with economy. D_ou intend to serve?"
"I—I intended to try for a certificate as private tutor."
"Very good. That would increase our income nicely. Have you any intention o_eing a Kammer-junker?"
"A Kammer-junker? I had not thought of it, but—"
But here the two sisters could restrain themselves no longer, and both of the_urst into irrepressible laughter.
Adelaida had long since detected in Aglaya's features the gathering signs o_n approaching storm of laughter, which she restrained with amazing self- control.
Aglaya looked menacingly at her laughing sisters, but could not contai_erself any longer, and the next minute she too had burst into a_rrepressible, and almost hysterical, fit of mirth. At length she jumped up, and ran out of the room.
"I knew it was all a joke!" cried Adelaida. "I felt it ever since—since th_edgehog."
"No, no! I cannot allow this,—this is a little too much," cried Lizabeth_rokofievna, exploding with rage, and she rose from her seat and followe_glaya out of the room as quickly as she could.
The two sisters hurriedly went after her.
The prince and the general were the only two persons left in the room.
"It's—it's really—now could you have imagined anything like it, Le_icolaievitch?" cried the general. He was evidently so much agitated that h_ardly knew what he wished to say. "Seriously now, seriously I mean—"
"I only see that Aglaya Ivanovna is laughing at me," said the poor prince, sadly.
"Wait a bit, my boy, I'll just go—you stay here, you know. But do jus_xplain, if you can, Lef Nicolaievitch, how in the world has all this com_bout? And what does it all mean? You must understand, my dear fellow; I am _ather, you see, and I ought to be allowed to understand the matter—d_xplain, I beg you!"
"I love Aglaya Ivanovna—she knows it,—and I think she must have long know_t."
The general shrugged his shoulders.
"Strange—it's strange," he said, "and you love her very much?"
"Yes, very much."
"Well—it's all most strange to me. That is—my dear fellow, it is such _urprise—such a blow—that… You see, it is not your financial position (thoug_ should not object if you were a bit richer)—I am thinking of my daughter'_appiness, of course, and the thing is—are you able to give her the happines_he deserves? And then—is all this a joke on her part, or is she in earnest? _on't mean on your side, but on hers."
At this moment Alexandra's voice was heard outside the door, calling out
"Wait for me here, my boy—will you? Just wait and think it all over, and I'l_ome back directly," he said hurriedly, and made off with what looked like th_apidity of alarm in response to Alexandra's call.
He found the mother and daughter locked in one another's arms, mingling thei_ears.
These were the tears of joy and peace and reconciliation. Aglaya was kissin_er mother's lips and cheeks and hands; they were hugging each other in th_ost ardent way.
"There, look at her now—Ivan Fedorovitch! Here she is—all of her! This is ou_EAL Aglaya at last!" said Lizabetha Prokofievna.
Aglaya raised her happy, tearful face from her mother's breast, glanced at he_ather, and burst out laughing. She sprang at him and hugged him too, an_issed him over and over again. She then rushed back to her mother and hid he_ace in the maternal bosom, and there indulged in more tears. Her mothe_overed her with a corner of her shawl.
"Oh, you cruel little girl! How will you treat us all next, I wonder?" sh_aid, but she spoke with a ring of joy in her voice, and as though sh_reathed at last without the oppression which she had felt so long.
"Cruel?" sobbed Aglaya. "Yes, I AM cruel, and worthless, and spoiled—tel_ather so,—oh, here he is—I forgot Father, listen!" She laughed through he_ears.
"My darling, my little idol," cried the general, kissing and fondling he_ands (Aglaya did not draw them away); "so you love this young man, do you?"
"No, no, no, can't BEAR him, I can't BEAR your young man!" cried Aglaya, raising her head. "And if you dare say that ONCE more, papa—I'm serious, yo_now, I'm,—do you hear me—I'm serious!"
She certainly did seem to be serious enough. She had flushed up all over an_er eyes were blazing.
The general felt troubled and remained silent, while Lizabetha Prokofievn_elegraphed to him from behind Aglaya to ask no questions.
"If that's the case, darling—then, of course, you shall do exactly as yo_ike. He is waiting alone downstairs. Hadn't I better hint to him gently tha_e can go?" The general telegraphed to Lizabetha Prokofievna in his turn.
"No, no, you needn't do anything of the sort; you mustn't hint gently at all.
I'll go down myself directly. I wish to apologize to this young man, because _urt his feelings."
"Yes, SERIOUSLY," said the general, gravely.
"Well, you'd better stay here, all of you, for a little, and I'll go down t_im alone to begin with. I'll just go in and then you can follow me almost a_nce. That's the best way."
She had almost reached the door when she turned round again.
"I shall laugh—I know I shall; I shall die of laughing," she said, lugubriously.
However, she turned and ran down to the prince as fast as her feet could carr_er.
"Well, what does it all mean? What do you make of it?" asked the general o_is spouse, hurriedly.
"I hardly dare say," said Lizabetha, as hurriedly, "but I think it's as plai_s anything can be."
"I think so too, as clear as day; she loves him."
"Loves him? She is head over ears in love, that's what she is," put i_lexandra.
"Well, God bless her, God bless her, if such is her destiny," said Lizabetha, crossing herself devoutly.
"H'm destiny it is," said the general, "and there's no getting out o_estiny."
With these words they all moved off towards the drawing-room, where anothe_urprise awaited them. Aglaya had not only not laughed, as she had feared, bu_ad gone to the prince rather timidly, and said to him:
"Forgive a silly, horrid, spoilt girl"—(she took his hand here)—"and be quit_ssured that we all of us esteem you beyond all words. And if I dared to tur_our beautiful, admirable simplicity to ridicule, forgive me as you would _ittle child its mischief. Forgive me all my absurdity of just now, which, o_ourse, meant nothing, and could not have the slightest consequence." Sh_poke these words with great emphasis.
Her father, mother, and sisters came into the room and were much struck wit_he last words, which they just caught as they entered—"absurdity which o_ourse meant nothing"—and still more so with the emphasis with which Aglay_ad spoken.
They exchanged glances questioningly, but the prince did not seem to hav_nderstood the meaning of Aglaya's words; he was in the highest heaven o_elight.
"Why do you speak so?" he murmured. "Why do you ask my forgiveness?"
He wished to add that he was unworthy of being asked for forgiveness by her, but paused. Perhaps he did understand Aglaya's sentence about "absurdity whic_eant nothing," and like the strange fellow that he was, rejoiced in th_ords.
Undoubtedly the fact that he might now come and see Aglaya as much as h_leased again was quite enough to make him perfectly happy; that he might com_nd speak to her, and see her, and sit by her, and walk with her—who knows, but that all this was quite enough to satisfy him for the whole of his life, and that he would desire no more to the end of time?
(Lizabetha Prokofievna felt that this might be the case, and she didn't lik_t; though very probably she could not have put the idea into words.)
It would be difficult to describe the animation and high spirits whic_istinguished the prince for the rest of the evening.
He was so happy that "it made one feel happy to look at him," as Aglaya'_isters expressed it afterwards. He talked, and told stories just as he ha_one once before, and never since, namely on the very first morning of hi_cquaintance with the Epanchins, six months ago. Since his return t_etersburg from Moscow, he had been remarkably silent, and had told Prince S.
on one occasion, before everyone, that he did not think himself justified i_egrading any thought by his unworthy words.
But this evening he did nearly all the talking himself, and told stories b_he dozen, while he answered all questions put to him clearly, gladly, an_ith any amount of detail.
There was nothing, however, of love-making in his talk. His ideas were all o_he most serious kind; some were even mystical and profound.
He aired his own views on various matters, some of his most private opinion_nd observations, many of which would have seemed rather funny, so his hearer_greed afterwards, had they not been so well expressed.
The general liked serious subjects of conversation; but both he and Lizabeth_rokofievna felt that they were having a little too much of a good thin_onight, and as the evening advanced, they both grew more or less melancholy; but towards night, the prince fell to telling funny stories, and was alway_he first to burst out laughing himself, which he invariably did so joyousl_nd simply that the rest laughed just as much at him as at his stories.
As for Aglaya, she hardly said a word all the evening; but she listened wit_ll her ears to Lef Nicolaievitch's talk, and scarcely took her eyes off him.
"She looked at him, and stared and stared, and hung on every word he said,"
said Lizabetha afterwards, to her husband, "and yet, tell her that she love_im, and she is furious!"
"What's to be done? It's fate," said the general, shrugging his shoulders, and, for a long while after, he continued to repeat: "It's fate, it's fate!"
We may add that to a business man like General Epanchin the present positio_f affairs was most unsatisfactory. He hated the uncertainty in which they ha_een, perforce, left. However, he decided to say no more about it, and merel_o look on, and take his time and tune from Lizabetha Prokofievna.
The happy state in which the family had spent the evening, as just recorded, was not of very long duration. Next day Aglaya quarrelled with the princ_gain, and so she continued to behave for the next few days. For whole hour_t a time she ridiculed and chaffed the wretched man, and made him almost _aughing-stock.
It is true that they used to sit in the little summer-house together for a_our or two at a time, very often, but it was observed that on these occasion_he prince would read the paper, or some book, aloud to Aglaya.
"Do you know," Aglaya said to him once, interrupting the reading, "I'v_emarked that you are dreadfully badly educated. You never know anythin_horoughly, if one asks you; neither anyone's name, nor dates, nor abou_reaties and so on. It's a great pity, you know!"
"I told you I had not had much of an education," replied the prince.
"How am I to respect you, if that's the case? Read on now. No—don't! Sto_eading!"
And once more, that same evening, Aglaya mystified them all. Prince S. ha_eturned, and Aglaya was particularly amiable to him, and asked a great dea_fter Evgenie Pavlovitch. (Muishkin had not come in as yet.)
Suddenly Prince S. hinted something about "a new and approaching change in th_amily." He was led to this remark by a communication inadvertently made t_im by Lizabetha Prokofievna, that Adelaida's marriage must be postponed _ittle longer, in order that the two weddings might come off together.
It is impossible to describe Aglaya's irritation. She flared up, and said som_ndignant words about "all these silly insinuations." She added that "she ha_o intentions as yet of replacing anybody's mistress."
These words painfully impressed the whole party; but especially her parents.
Lizabetha Prokofievna summoned a secret council of two, and insisted upon th_eneral's demanding from the prince a full explanation of his relations wit_astasia Philipovna. The general argued that it was only a whim of Aglaya's; and that, had not Prince S. unfortunately made that remark, which had confuse_he child and made her blush, she never would have said what she did; and tha_e was sure Aglaya knew well that anything she might have heard of the princ_nd Nastasia Philipovna was merely the fabrication of malicious tongues, an_hat the woman was going to marry Rogojin. He insisted that the prince ha_othing whatever to do with Nastasia Philipovna, so far as any liaison wa_oncerned; and, if the truth were to be told about it, he added, never ha_ad.
Meanwhile nothing put the prince out, and he continued to be in the sevent_eaven of bliss. Of course he could not fail to observe some impatience an_ll-temper in Aglaya now and then; but he believed in something else, an_othing could now shake his conviction. Besides, Aglaya's frowns never laste_ong; they disappeared of themselves.
Perhaps he was too easy in his mind. So thought Hippolyte, at all events, wh_et him in the park one day.
"Didn't I tell you the truth now, when I said you were in love?" he said, coming up to Muishkin of his own accord, and stopping him.
The prince gave him his hand and congratulated him upon "looking so well."
Hippolyte himself seemed to be hopeful about his state of health, as is ofte_he case with consumptives.
He had approached the prince with the intention of talking sarcastically abou_is happy expression of face, but very soon forgot his intention and began t_alk about himself. He began complaining about everything, disconnectedly an_ndlessly, as was his wont.
"You wouldn't believe," he concluded, "how irritating they all are there. The_re such wretchedly small, vain, egotistical, COMMONPLACE people! Would yo_elieve it, they invited me there under the express condition that I shoul_ie quickly, and they are all as wild as possible with me for not having die_et, and for being, on the contrary, a good deal better! Isn't it a comedy? _on't mind betting that you don't believe me!"
The prince said nothing.
"I sometimes think of coming over to you again," said Hippolyte, carelessly.
"So you DON'T think them capable of inviting a man on the condition that he i_o look sharp and die?"
"I certainly thought they invited you with quite other views."
"Ho, ho! you are not nearly so simple as they try to make you out! This is no_he time for it, or I would tell you a thing or two about that beauty, Gania, and his hopes. You are being undermined, pitilessly undermined, and—and it i_eally melancholy to see you so calm about it. But alas! it's your nature—yo_an't help it!"
"My word! what a thing to be melancholy about! Why, do you think I should b_ny happier if I were to feel disturbed about the excavations you tell me of?"
"It is better to be unhappy and know the worst, than to be happy in a fool'_aradise! I suppose you don't believe that you have a rival in that quarter?"
"Your insinuations as to rivalry are rather cynical, Hippolyte. I'm sorry t_ay I have no right to answer you! As for Gania, I put it to you, CAN any ma_ave a happy mind after passing through what he has had to suffer? I thin_hat is the best way to look at it. He will change yet, he has lots of tim_efore him, and life is rich; besides—besides… " the prince hesitated. "As t_eing undermined, I don't know what in the world you are driving at, Hippolyte. I think we had better drop the subject!"
"Very well, we'll drop it for a while. You can't look at anything but in you_xalted, generous way. You must put out your finger and touch a thing befor_ou'll believe it, eh? Ha! ha! ha! I suppose you despise me dreadfully, prince, eh? What do you think?"
"Why? Because you have suffered more than we have?"
"No; because I am unworthy of my sufferings, if you like!"
"Whoever CAN suffer is worthy to suffer, I should think. Aglaya Ivanovn_ished to see you, after she had read your confession, but—"
"She postponed the pleasure—I see—I quite understand!" said Hippolyte, hurriedly, as though he wished to banish the subject. "I hear—they tel_e—that you read her all that nonsense aloud? Stupid @ bosh it was—written i_elirium. And I can't understand how anyone can be so I won't say CRUEL, because the word would be humiliating to myself, but we'll say childishly vai_nd revengeful, as to REPROACH me with this confession, and use it as a weapo_gainst me. Don't be afraid, I'm not referring to yourself."
"Oh, but I'm sorry you repudiate the confession, Hippolyte—it is sincere; and, do you know, even the absurd parts of it—and these are many" (here Hippolyt_rowned savagely) "are, as it were, redeemed by suffering—for it must hav_ost you something to admit what you there say—great torture, perhaps, for al_ know. Your motive must have been a very noble one all through. Whatever ma_ave appeared to the contrary, I give you my word, I see this more plainl_very day. I do not judge you; I merely say this to have it off my mind, and _m only sorry that I did not say it all THEN—"
Hippolyte flushed hotly. He had thought at first that the prince was
"humbugging" him; but on looking at his face he saw that he was absolutel_erious, and had no thought of any deception. Hippolyte beamed wit_ratification.
"And yet I must die," he said, and almost added: "a man like me"
"And imagine how that Gania annoys me! He has developed the idea—or pretend_o believe—that in all probability three or four others who heard m_onfession will die before I do. There's an idea for you—and all this by wa_f CONSOLING me! Ha! ha! ha! In the first place they haven't died yet; and i_he second, if they DID die—all of them—what would be the satisfaction to m_n that? He judges me by himself. But he goes further, he actually pitche_nto me because, as he declares, 'any decent fellow' would die quietly, an_hat 'all this' is mere egotism on my part. He doesn't see what refinement o_gotism it is on his own part—and at the same time, what ox-like coarseness!
Have you ever read of the death of one Stepan Gleboff, in the eighteent_entury? I read of it yesterday by chance."
"Who was he?"
"He was impaled on a stake in the time of Peter."
"I know, I know! He lay there fifteen hours in the hard frost, and died wit_he most extraordinary fortitude—I know—what of him?"
"Only that God gives that sort of dying to some, and not to others. Perhap_ou think, though, that I could not die like Gleboff?"
"Not at all!" said the prince, blushing. "I was only going to say that you—no_hat you could not be like Gleboff—but that you would have been more like—"
"I guess what you mean—I should be an Osterman, not a Gleboff—eh? Is that wha_ou meant?"
"What Osterman?" asked the prince in some surprise.
"Why, Osterman—the diplomatist. Peter's Osterman," muttered Hippolyte, confused. There was a moment's pause of mutual confusion.
"Oh, no, no!" said the prince at last, "that was not what I was going t_ay—oh no! I don't think you would ever have been like Osterman."
Hippolyte frowned gloomily.
"I'll tell you why I draw the conclusion," explained the prince, evidentl_esirous of clearing up the matter a little. "Because, though I often thin_ver the men of those times, I cannot for the life of me imagine them to b_ike ourselves. It really appears to me that they were of another rac_ltogether than ourselves of today. At that time people seemed to stick so t_ne idea; now, they are more nervous, more sensitive, more enlightened—peopl_f two or three ideas at once—as it were. The man of today is a broader man, so to speak—and I declare I believe that is what prevents him from being s_elf-contained and independent a being as his brother of those earlier days.
Of course my remark was only made under this impression, and not in th_east—"
"I quite understand. You are trying to comfort me for the naiveness with whic_ou disagreed with me—eh? Ha! ha! ha! You are a regular child, prince!
However, I cannot help seeing that you always treat me like—like a fragil_hina cup. Never mind, never mind, I'm not a bit angry! At all events we hav_ad a very funny talk. Do you know, all things considered, I should like to b_omething better than Osterman! I wouldn't take the trouble to rise from th_ead to be an Osterman. However, I see I must make arrangements to die soon, or I myself—. Well—leave me now! Au revoir. Look here—before you go, just giv_e your opinion: how do you think I ought to die, now? I mean—the best, th_ost virtuous way? Tell me!"
"You should pass us by and forgive us our happiness," said the prince in a lo_oice.
"Ha! ha! ha! I thought so. I thought I should hear something like that. Well, you are—you really are—oh dear me! Eloquence, eloquence! Good-bye!"