Silence immediately fell on the room; all looked at the prince as though the_either understood, nor hoped to understand. Gania was motionless with horror.
Nastasia's arrival was a most unexpected and overwhelming event to al_arties. In the first place, she had never been before. Up to now she had bee_o haughty that she had never even asked Gania to introduce her to hi_arents. Of late she had not so much as mentioned them. Gania was partly gla_f this; but still he had put it to her debit in the account to be settle_fter marriage.
He would have borne anything from her rather than this visit. But one thin_eemed to him quite clear-her visit now, and the present of her portrait o_his particular day, pointed out plainly enough which way she intended to mak_er decision!
The incredulous amazement with which all regarded the prince did not las_ong, for Nastasia herself appeared at the door and passed in, pushing by th_rince again.
"At last I've stormed the citadel! Why do you tie up your bell?" she said, merrily, as she pressed Gania's hand, the latter having rushed up to her a_oon as she made her appearance. "What are you looking so upset about?
Introduce me, please!"
The bewildered Gania introduced her first to Varia, and both women, befor_haking hands, exchanged looks of strange import. Nastasia, however, smile_miably; but Varia did not try to look amiable, and kept her gloom_xpression. She did not even vouchsafe the usual courteous smile of etiquette.
Gania darted a terrible glance of wrath at her for this, but Nin_lexandrovna, mended matters a little when Gania introduced her at last.
Hardly, however, had the old lady begun about her "highly gratified feelings,"
and so on, when Nastasia left her, and flounced into a chair by Gania's sid_n the corner by the window, and cried: "Where's your study? and where ar_he—the lodgers? You do take in lodgers, don't you?"
Gania looked dreadfully put out, and tried to say something in reply, bu_astasia interrupted him:
"Why, where are you going to squeeze lodgers in here? Don't you use a study?
Does this sort of thing pay?" she added, turning to Nina Alexandrovna.
"Well, it is troublesome, rather," said the latter; "but I suppose it will
'pay' pretty well. We have only just begun, however—"
Again Nastasia Philipovna did not hear the sentence out. She glanced at Gania, and cried, laughing, "What a face! My goodness, what a face you have on a_his moment!"
Indeed, Gania did not look in the least like himself. His bewilderment and hi_larmed perplexity passed off, however, and his lips now twitched with rage a_e continued to stare evilly at his laughing guest, while his countenanc_ecame absolutely livid.
There was another witness, who, though standing at the door motionless an_ewildered himself, still managed to remark Gania's death-like pallor, and th_readful change that had come over his face. This witness was the prince, wh_ow advanced in alarm and muttered to Gania:
"Drink some water, and don't look like that!"
It was clear that he came out with these words quite spontaneously, on th_pur of the moment. But his speech was productive of much—for it appeared tha_ll. Gania's rage now overflowed upon the prince. He seized him by th_houlder and gazed with an intensity of loathing and revenge at him, but sai_othing—as though his feelings were too strong to permit of words.
General agitation prevailed. Nina Alexandrovna gave a little cry of anxiety; Ptitsin took a step forward in alarm; Colia and Ferdishenko stood stock stil_t the door in amazement;—only Varia remained coolly watching the scene fro_nder her eyelashes. She did not sit down, but stood by her mother with folde_ands. However, Gania recollected himself almost immediately. He let go of th_rince and burst out laughing.
"Why, are you a doctor, prince, or what?" he asked, as naturally as possible.
"I declare you quite frightened me! Nastasia Philipovna, let me introduce thi_nteresting character to you—though I have only known him myself since th_orning."
Nastasia gazed at the prince in bewilderment. "Prince? He a Prince? Why, _ook him for the footman, just now, and sent him in to announce me! Ha, ha, ha, isn't that good!"
"Not bad that, not bad at all!" put in Ferdishenko, "se non e vero—"
"I rather think I pitched into you, too, didn't I? Forgive me—do! Who is he, did you say? What prince? Muishkin?" she added, addressing Gania.
"He is a lodger of ours," explained the latter.
"An idiot!"—the prince distinctly heard the word half whispered from behin_im. This was Ferdishenko's voluntary information for Nastasia's benefit.
"Tell me, why didn't you put me right when I made such a dreadful mistake jus_ow?" continued the latter, examining the prince from head to foot without th_lightest ceremony. She awaited the answer as though convinced that it woul_e so foolish that she must inevitably fail to restrain her laughter over it.
"I was astonished, seeing you so suddenly—" murmured the prince.
"How did you know who I was? Where had you seen me before? And why were you s_truck dumb at the sight of me? What was there so overwhelming about me?"
"Oho! ho, ho, ho!" cried Ferdishenko. "NOW then, prince! My word, what thing_ would say if I had such a chance as that! My goodness, prince—go on!"
"So should I, in your place, I've no doubt!" laughed the prince t_erdishenko; then continued, addressing Nastasia: "Your portrait struck m_ery forcibly this morning; then I was talking about you to the Epanchins; an_hen, in the train, before I reached Petersburg, Parfen Rogojin told me a goo_eal about you; and at the very moment that I opened the door to you _appened to be thinking of you, when—there you stood before me!"
"And how did you recognize me?"
"From the portrait!"
"I seemed to imagine you exactly as you are—I seemed to have seen yo_omewhere."
"I seem to have seen your eyes somewhere; but it cannot be! I have not see_ou—I never was here before. I may have dreamed of you, I don't know."
The prince said all this with manifest effort—in broken sentences, and wit_any drawings of breath. He was evidently much agitated. Nastasia Philipovn_ooked at him inquisitively, but did not laugh.
"Bravo, prince!" cried Ferdishenko, delighted.
At this moment a loud voice from behind the group which hedged in the princ_nd Nastasia Philipovna, divided the crowd, as it were, and before them stoo_he head of the family, General Ivolgin. He was dressed in evening clothes; his moustache was dyed.
This apparition was too much for Gania. Vain and ambitious almost t_orbidness, he had had much to put up with in the last two months, and wa_eeking feverishly for some means of enabling himself to lead a mor_resentable kind of existence. At home, he now adopted an attitude of absolut_ynicism, but he could not keep this up before Nastasia Philipovna, althoug_e had sworn to make her pay after marriage for all he suffered now. He wa_xperiencing a last humiliation, the bitterest of all, at this moment—th_umiliation of blushing for his own kindred in his own house. A questio_lashed through his mind as to whether the game was really worth the candle.
For that had happened at this moment, which for two months had been hi_ightmare; which had filled his soul with dread and shame—the meeting betwee_is father and Nastasia Philipovna. He had often tried to imagine such a_vent, but had found the picture too mortifying and exasperating, and ha_uietly dropped it. Very likely he anticipated far worse things than was a_ll necessary; it is often so with vain persons. He had long since determined, therefore, to get his father out of the way, anywhere, before his marriage, i_rder to avoid such a meeting; but when Nastasia entered the room just now, h_ad been so overwhelmed with astonishment, that he had not thought of hi_ather, and had made no arrangements to keep him out of the way. And now i_as too late—there he was, and got up, too, in a dress coat and white tie, an_astasia in the very humour to heap ridicule on him and his family circle; o_his last fact, he felt quite persuaded. What else had she come for? Ther_ere his mother and his sister sitting before her, and she seemed to hav_orgotten their very existence already; and if she behaved like that, h_hought, she must have some object in view.
Ferdishenko led the general up to Nastasia Philipovna.
"Ardalion Alexandrovitch Ivolgin," said the smiling general, with a low bow o_reat dignity, "an old soldier, unfortunate, and the father of this family; but happy in the hope of including in that family so exquisite—"
He did not finish his sentence, for at this moment Ferdishenko pushed a chai_p from behind, and the general, not very firm on his legs, at this post- prandial hour, flopped into it backwards. It was always a difficult thing t_ut this warrior to confusion, and his sudden descent left him as composed a_efore. He had sat down just opposite to Nastasia, whose fingers he now took, and raised to his lips with great elegance, and much courtesy. The general ha_nce belonged to a very select circle of society, but he had been turned ou_f it two or three years since on account of certain weaknesses, in which h_ow indulged with all the less restraint; but his good manners remained wit_im to this day, in spite of all.
Nastasia Philipovna seemed delighted at the appearance of this latest arrival, of whom she had of course heard a good deal by report.
"I have heard that my son—" began Ardalion Alexandrovitch.
"Your son, indeed! A nice papa you are! YOU might have come to see me anyhow, without compromising anyone. Do you hide yourself, or does your son hide you?"
"The children of the nineteenth century, and their parents—" began th_eneral, again.
"Nastasia Philipovna, will you excuse the general for a moment? Someone i_nquiring for him," said Nina Alexandrovna in a loud voice, interrupting th_onversation.
"Excuse him? Oh no, I have wished to see him too long for that. Why, wha_usiness can he have? He has retired, hasn't he? You won't leave me, general, will you?"
"I give you my word that he shall come and see you—but he—he needs rest jus_ow."
"General, they say you require rest," said Nastasia Philipovna, with th_elancholy face of a child whose toy is taken away.
Ardalion Alexandrovitch immediately did his best to make his foolish positio_ great deal worse.
"My dear, my dear!" he said, solemnly and reproachfully, looking at his wife, with one hand on his heart.
"Won't you leave the room, mamma?" asked Varia, aloud.
"No, Varia, I shall sit it out to the end."
Nastasia must have overheard both question and reply, but her vivacity was no_n the least damped. On the contrary, it seemed to increase. She immediatel_verwhelmed the general once more with questions, and within five minutes tha_entleman was as happy as a king, and holding forth at the top of his voice, amid the laughter of almost all who heard him.
Colia jogged the prince's arm.
"Can't YOU get him out of the room, somehow? DO, please," and tears o_nnoyance stood in the boy's eyes. "Curse that Gania!" he muttered, betwee_is teeth.
"Oh yes, I knew General Epanchin well," General Ivolgin was saying at thi_oment; "he and Prince Nicolai Ivanovitch Muishkin—whose son I have this da_mbraced after an absence of twenty years—and I, were three inseparables. Ala_ne is in the grave, torn to pieces by calumnies and bullets; another is no_efore you, still battling with calumnies and bullets—"
"Bullets?" cried Nastasia.
"Yes, here in my chest. I received them at the siege of Kars, and I feel the_n bad weather now. And as to the third of our trio, Epanchin, of course afte_hat little affair with the poodle in the railway carriage, it was all U_etween us."
"Poodle? What was that? And in a railway carriage? Dear me," said Nastasia, thoughtfully, as though trying to recall something to mind.
"Oh, just a silly, little occurrence, really not worth telling, about Princes_ielokonski's governess, Miss Smith, and—oh, it is really not worth telling!"
"No, no, we must have it!" cried Nastasia merrily.
"Yes, of course," said Ferdishenko. "C'est du nouveau."
"Ardalion," said Nina Alexandrovitch, entreatingly.
"Papa, you are wanted!" cried Colia.
"Well, it is a silly little story, in a few words," began the delighte_eneral. "A couple of years ago, soon after the new railway was opened, I ha_o go somewhere or other on business. Well, I took a first-class ticket, sa_own, and began to smoke, or rather CONTINUED to smoke, for I had lighted u_efore. I was alone in the carriage. Smoking is not allowed, but is no_rohibited either; it is half allowed—so to speak, winked at. I had the windo_pen."
"Suddenly, just before the whistle, in came two ladies with a little poodle, and sat down opposite to me; not bad-looking women; one was in light blue, th_ther in black silk. The poodle, a beauty with a silver collar, lay on ligh_lue's knee. They looked haughtily about, and talked English together. I too_o notice, just went on smoking. I observed that the ladies were gettin_ngry—over my cigar, doubtless. One looked at me through her tortoise-shel_yeglass.
"I took no notice, because they never said a word. If they didn't like th_igar, why couldn't they say so? Not a word, not a hint! Suddenly, and withou_he very slightest suspicion of warning, 'light blue' seizes my cigar fro_etween my fingers, and, wheugh! out of the window with it! Well, on flew th_rain, and I sat bewildered, and the young woman, tall and fair, and rathe_ed in the face, too red, glared at me with flashing eyes.
"I didn't say a word, but with extreme courtesy, I may say with most refine_ourtesy, I reached my finger and thumb over towards the poodle, took it u_elicately by the nape of the neck, and chucked it out of the window, afte_he cigar. The train went flying on, and the poodle's yells were lost in th_istance."
"Oh, you naughty man!" cried Nastasia, laughing and clapping her hands like _hild.
"Bravo!" said Ferdishenko. Ptitsin laughed too, though he had been very sorr_o see the general appear. Even Colia laughed and said, "Bravo!"
"And I was right, truly right," cried the general, with warmth and solemnity,
"for if cigars are forbidden in railway carriages, poodles are much more so."
"Well, and what did the lady do?" asked Nastasia, impatiently.
"She—ah, that's where all the mischief of it lies!" replied Ivolgin, frowning.
"Without a word, as it were, of warning, she slapped me on the cheek! A_xtraordinary woman!"
The general dropped his eyes, and elevated his brows; shrugged his shoulders, tightened his lips, spread his hands, and remained silent. At last he blurte_ut:
"I lost my head!"
"Did you hit her?"
"No, oh no!—there was a great flare-up, but I didn't hit her! I had t_truggle a little, purely to defend myself; but the very devil was in th_usiness. It turned out that 'light blue' was an Englishwoman, governess o_omething, at Princess Bielokonski's, and the other woman was one of the old- maid princesses Bielokonski. Well, everybody knows what great friends th_rincess and Mrs. Epanchin are, so there was a pretty kettle of fish. All th_ielokonskis went into mourning for the poodle. Six princesses in tears, an_he Englishwoman shrieking!
"Of course I wrote an apology, and called, but they would not receive eithe_e or my apology, and the Epanchins cut me, too!"
"But wait," said Nastasia. "How is it that, five or six days since, I rea_xactly the same story in the paper, as happening between a Frenchman and a_nglish girl? The cigar was snatched away exactly as you describe, and th_oodle was chucked out of the window after it. The slapping came off, too, a_n your case; and the girl's dress was light blue!"
The general blushed dreadfully; Colia blushed too; and Ptitsin turned hastil_way. Ferdishenko was the only one who laughed as gaily as before. As t_ania, I need not say that he was miserable; he stood dumb and wretched an_ook no notice of anybody.
"I assure you," said the general, "that exactly the same thing happened t_yself!"
"I remembered there was some quarrel between father and Miss Smith, th_ielokonski's governess," said Colia.
"How very curious, point for point the same anecdote, and happening a_ifferent ends of Europe! Even the light blue dress the same," continued th_itiless Nastasia. "I must really send you the paper."
"You must observe," insisted the general, "that my experience was two year_arlier."
"Ah! that's it, no doubt!"
Nastasia Philipovna laughed hysterically.
"Father, will you hear a word from me outside!" said Gania, his voice shakin_ith agitation, as he seized his father by the shoulder. His eyes shone with _laze of hatred.
At this moment there was a terrific bang at the front door, almost enough t_reak it down. Some most unusual visitor must have arrived. Colia ran to open.