A FORTNIGHT had passed since the events recorded in the last chapter, and th_osition of the actors in our story had become so changed that it is almos_mpossible for us to continue the tale without some few explanations. Yet w_eel that we ought to limit ourselves to the simple record of facts, withou_uch attempt at explanation, for a very patent reason: because we ourselve_ave the greatest possible difficulty in accounting for the facts to b_ecorded. Such a statement on our part may appear strange to the reader. Ho_s anyone to tell a story which he cannot understand himself? In order to kee_lear of a false position, we had perhaps better give an example of what w_ean; and probably the intelligent reader will soon understand the difficulty.
More especially are we inclined to take this course since the example wil_onstitute a distinct march forward of our story, and will not hinder th_rogress of the events remaining to be recorded.
During the next fortnight—that is, through the early part of July—the histor_f our hero was circulated in the form of strange, diverting, most unlikely- sounding stories, which passed from mouth to mouth, through the streets an_illas adjoining those inhabited by Lebedeff, Ptitsin, Nastasia Philipovna an_he Epanchins; in fact, pretty well through the whole town and its environs.
All society—both the inhabitants of the place and those who came down of a_vening for the music—had got hold of one and the same story, in a thousan_arieties of detail—as to how a certain young prince had raised a terribl_candal in a most respectable household, had thrown over a daughter of th_amily, to whom he was engaged, and had been captured by a woman of shad_eputation whom he was determined to marry at once—breaking off all old tie_or the satisfaction of his insane idea; and, in spite of the publi_ndignation roused by his action, the marriage was to take place in Pavlofs_penly and publicly, and the prince had announced his intention of goin_hrough with it with head erect and looking the whole world in the face. Th_tory was so artfully adorned with scandalous details, and persons of so grea_minence and importance were apparently mixed up in it, while, at the sam_ime, the evidence was so circumstantial, that it was no wonder the matte_ave food for plenty of curiosity and gossip.
According to the reports of the most talented gossip-mongers—those who, i_very class of society, are always in haste to explain every event to thei_eighbours—the young gentleman concerned was of good family—a prince—fairl_ich—weak of intellect, but a democrat and a dabbler in the Nihilism of th_eriod, as exposed by Mr. Turgenieff. He could hardly talk Russian, but ha_allen in love with one of the Miss Epanchins, and his suit met with so muc_ncouragement that he had been received in the house as the recognize_ridegroom-to-be of the young lady. But like the Frenchman of whom the stor_s told that he studied for holy orders, took all the oaths, was ordaine_riest, and next morning wrote to his bishop informing him that, as he did no_elieve in God and considered it wrong to deceive the people and live upo_heir pockets, he begged to surrender the orders conferred upon him the da_efore, and to inform his lordship that he was sending this letter to th_ublic press,—like this Frenchman, the prince played a false game. It wa_umoured that he had purposely waited for the solemn occasion of a larg_vening party at the house of his future bride, at which he was introduced t_everal eminent persons, in order publicly to make known his ideas an_pinions, and thereby insult the "big-wigs," and to throw over his bride a_ffensively as possible; and that, resisting the servants who were told off t_urn him out of the house, he had seized and thrown down a magnificent chin_ase. As a characteristic addition to the above, it was currently reporte_hat the young prince really loved the lady to whom he was engaged, and ha_hrown her over out of purely Nihilistic motives, with the intention of givin_imself the satisfaction of marrying a fallen woman in the face of all th_orld, thereby publishing his opinion that there is no distinction betwee_irtuous and disreputable women, but that all women are alike, free; and a
"fallen" woman, indeed, somewhat superior to a virtuous one.
It was declared that he believed in no classes or anything else, excepting
"the woman question."
All this looked likely enough, and was accepted as fact by most of th_nhabitants of the place, especially as it was borne out, more or less, b_aily occurrences.
Of course much was said that could not be determined absolutely. For instance, it was reported that the poor girl had so loved her future husband that sh_ad followed him to the house of the other woman, the day after she had bee_hrown over; others said that he had insisted on her coming, himself, in orde_o shame and insult her by his taunts and Nihilistic confessions when sh_eached the house. However all these things might be, the public interest i_he matter grew daily, especially as it became clear that the scandalou_edding was undoubtedly to take place.
So that if our readers were to ask an explanation, not of the wild report_bout the prince's Nihilistic opinions, but simply as to how such a marriag_ould possibly satisfy his real aspirations, or as to the spiritual conditio_f our hero at this time, we confess that we should have great difficulty i_iving the required information.
All we know is, that the marriage really was arranged, and that the prince ha_ommissioned Lebedeff and Keller to look after all the necessary busines_onnected with it; that he had requested them to spare no expense; tha_astasia herself was hurrying on the wedding; that Keller was to be th_rince's best man, at his own earnest request; and that Burdovsky was to giv_astasia away, to his great delight. The wedding was to take place before th_iddle of July.
But, besides the above, we are cognizant of certain other undoubted facts, which puzzle us a good deal because they seem flatly to contradict th_oregoing.
We suspect, for instance, that having commissioned Lebedeff and the others, a_bove, the prince immediately forgot all about masters of ceremonies and eve_he ceremony itself; and we feel quite certain that in making thes_rrangements he did so in order that he might absolutely escape all thought o_he wedding, and even forget its approach if he could, by detailing al_usiness concerning it to others.
What did he think of all this time, then? What did he wish for? There is n_oubt that he was a perfectly free agent all through, and that as far a_astasia was concerned, there was no force of any kind brought to bear on him.
Nastasia wished for a speedy marriage, true!—but the prince agreed at once t_er proposals; he agreed, in fact, so casually that anyone might suppose h_as but acceding to the most simple and ordinary suggestion.
There are many strange circumstances such as this before us; but in ou_pinion they do but deepen the mystery, and do not in the smallest degree hel_s to understand the case.
However, let us take one more example. Thus, we know for a fact that durin_he whole of this fortnight the prince spent all his days and evenings wit_astasia; he walked with her, drove with her; he began to be restless wheneve_e passed an hour without seeing her—in fact, to all appearances, he sincerel_oved her. He would listen to her for hours at a time with a quiet smile o_is face, scarcely saying a word himself. And yet we know, equally certainly, that during this period he several times set off, suddenly, to the Epanchins', not concealing the fact from Nastasia Philipovna, and driving the latter t_bsolute despair. We know also that he was not received at the Epanchins' s_ong as they remained at Pavlofsk, and that he was not allowed an intervie_ith Aglaya;—but next day he would set off once more on the same errand, apparently quite oblivious of the fact of yesterday's visit having been _ailure,—and, of course, meeting with another refusal. We know, too, tha_xactly an hour after Aglaya had fled from Nastasia Philipovna's house on tha_ateful evening, the prince was at the Epanchins',—and that his appearanc_here had been the cause of the greatest consternation and dismay; for Aglay_ad not been home, and the family only discovered then, for the first time, that the two of them had been to Nastasia's house together.
It was said that Elizabetha Prokofievna and her daughters had there and the_enounced the prince in the strongest terms, and had refused any furthe_cquaintance and friendship with him; their rage and denunciations bein_edoubled when Varia Ardalionovna suddenly arrived and stated that Aglaya ha_een at her house in a terrible state of mind for the last hour, and that sh_efused to come home.
This last item of news, which disturbed Lizabetha Prokofievna more tha_nything else, was perfectly true. On leaving Nastasia's, Aglaya had felt tha_he would rather die than face her people, and had therefore gone straight t_ina Alexandrovna's. On receiving the news, Lizabetha and her daughters an_he general all rushed off to Aglaya, followed by Prince Le_icolaievitch—undeterred by his recent dismissal; but through Varia he wa_efused a sight of Aglaya here also. The end of the episode was that whe_glaya saw her mother and sisters crying over her and not uttering a word o_eproach, she had flung herself into their arms and gone straight home wit_hem.
It was said that Gania managed to make a fool of himself even on thi_ccasion; for, finding himself alone with Aglaya for a minute or two whe_aria had gone to the Epanchins', he had thought it a fitting opportunity t_ake a declaration of his love, and on hearing this Aglaya, in spite of he_tate of mind at the time, had suddenly burst out laughing, and had put _trange question to him. She asked him whether he would consent to hold hi_inger to a lighted candle in proof of his devotion! Gania—it was said—looke_o comically bewildered that Aglaya had almost laughed herself into hysterics, and had rushed out of the room and upstairs,—where her parents had found her.
Hippolyte told the prince this last story, sending for him on purpose. Whe_uishkin heard about the candle and Gania's finger he had laughed so that h_ad quite astonished Hippolyte,—and then shuddered and burst into tears. Th_rince's condition during those days was strange and perturbed. Hippolyt_lainly declared that he thought he was out of his mind;—this, however, wa_ardly to be relied upon.
Offering all these facts to our readers and refusing to explain them, we d_ot for a moment desire to justify our hero's conduct. On the contrary, we ar_uite prepared to feel our share of the indignation which his behaviou_roused in the hearts of his friends. Even Vera Lebedeff was angry with hi_or a while; so was Colia; so was Keller, until he was selected for best man; so was Lebedeff himself,—who began to intrigue against him out of pur_rritation;—but of this anon. In fact we are in full accord with certai_orcible words spoken to the prince by Evgenie Pavlovitch, quit_nceremoniously, during the course of a friendly conversation, six or seve_ays after the events at Nastasia Philipovna's house.
We may remark here that not only the Epanchins themselves, but all who ha_nything to do with them, thought it right to break with the prince i_onsequence of his conduct. Prince S. even went so far as to turn away and cu_im dead in the street. But Evgenie Pavlovitch was not afraid to compromis_imself by paying the prince a visit, and did so, in spite of the fact that h_ad recommenced to visit at the Epanchins', where he was received wit_edoubled hospitality and kindness after the temporary estrangement.
Evgenie called upon the prince the day after that on which the Epanchins lef_avlofsk. He knew of all the current rumours,—in fact, he had probabl_ontributed to them himself. The prince was delighted to see him, an_mmediately began to speak of the Epanchins;—which simple and straightforwar_pening quite took Evgenie's fancy, so that he melted at once, and plunged i_edias res without ceremony.
The prince did not know, up to this, that the Epanchins had left the place. H_rew very pale on hearing the news; but a moment later he nodded his head, an_aid thoughtfully:
"I knew it was bound to be so." Then he added quickly:
"Where have they gone to?"
Evgenie meanwhile observed him attentively, and the rapidity of the questions, their simplicity, the prince's candour, and at the same time, his eviden_erplexity and mental agitation, surprised him considerably. However, he tol_uishkin all he could, kindly and in detail. The prince hardly knew anything, for this was the first informant from the household whom he had met since th_strangement.
Evgenie reported that Aglaya had been really ill, and that for two nights sh_ad not slept at all, owing to high fever; that now she was better and out o_erious danger, but still in a nervous, hysterical state.
"It's a good thing that there is peace in the house, at all events," h_ontinued. "They never utter a hint about the past, not only in Aglaya'_resence, but even among themselves. The old people are talking of a tri_broad in the autumn, immediately after Adelaida's wedding; Aglaya receive_he news in silence."
Evgenie himself was very likely going abroad also; so were Prince S. and hi_ife, if affairs allowed of it; the general was to stay at home. They were al_t their estate of Colmina now, about twenty miles or so from St. Petersburg.
Princess Bielokonski had not returned to Moscow yet, and was apparentl_taying on for reasons of her own. Lizabetha Prokofievna had insisted that i_as quite impossible to remain in Pavlofsk after what had happened. Evgeni_ad told her of all the rumours current in town about the affair; so tha_here could be no talk of their going to their house on the Yelagin as yet.
"And in point of fact, prince," added Evgenie Pavlovitch, "you must allow tha_hey could hardly have stayed here, considering that they knew of all tha_ent on at your place, and in the face of your daily visits to their house, visits which you insisted upon making in spite of their refusal to see you."
"Yes—yes, quite so; you are quite right. I wished to see Aglaya Ivanovna, yo_now!" said the prince, nodding his head.
"Oh, my dear fellow," cried Evgenie, warmly, with real sorrow in his voice,
"how could you permit all that to come about as it has? Of course, of course, I know it was all so unexpected. I admit that you, only naturally, lost you_ead, and—and could not stop the foolish girl; that was not in your power. _uite see so much; but you really should have understood how seriously sh_ared for you. She could not bear to share you with another; and you coul_ring yourself to throw away and shatter such a treasure! Oh, prince, prince!"
"Yes, yes, you are quite right again," said the poor prince, in anguish o_ind. "I was wrong, I know. But it was only Aglaya who looked on Nastasi_hilipovna so; no one else did, you know."
"But that's just the worst of it all, don't you see, that there was absolutel_othing serious about the matter in reality!" cried Evgenie, beside himself:
"Excuse me, prince, but I have thought over all this; I have thought a grea_eal over it; I know all that had happened before; I know all that took plac_ix months since; and I know there was NOTHING serious about the matter, i_as but fancy, smoke, fantasy, distorted by agitation, and only the alarme_ealousy of an absolutely inexperienced girl could possibly have mistaken i_or serious reality."
Here Evgenie Pavlovitch quite let himself go, and gave the reins to hi_ndignation.
Clearly and reasonably, and with great psychological insight, he drew _icture of the prince's past relations with Nastasia Philipovna. Evgeni_avlovitch always had a ready tongue, but on this occasion his eloquence, surprised himself. "From the very beginning," he said, "you began with a lie; what began with a lie was bound to end with a lie; such is the law of nature.
I do not agree, in fact I am angry, when I hear you called an idiot; you ar_ar too intelligent to deserve such an epithet; but you are so far STRANGE a_o be unlike others; that you must allow, yourself. Now, I have come to th_onclusion that the basis of all that has happened, has been first of all you_nnate inexperience (remark the expression 'innate,' prince). Then follow_our unheard-of simplicity of heart; then comes your absolute want of sense o_roportion (to this want you have several times confessed); and lastly, _ass, an accumulation, of intellectual convictions which you, in you_nexampled honesty of soul, accept unquestionably as also innate and natura_nd true. Admit, prince, that in your relations with Nastasia Philipovna ther_as existed, from the very first, something democratic, and the fascination, so to speak, of the 'woman question'? I know all about that scandalous scen_t Nastasia Philipovna's house when Rogojin brought the money, six months ago.
I'll show you yourself as in a looking-glass, if you like. I know exactly al_hat went on, in every detail, and why things have turned out as they have.
You thirsted, while in Switzerland, for your home-country, for Russia; yo_ead, doubtless, many books about Russia, excellent books, I dare say, bu_urtful to YOU; and you arrived here; as it were, on fire with the longing t_e of service. Then, on the very day of your arrival, they tell you a sa_tory of an ill-used woman; they tell YOU, a knight, pure and withou_eproach, this tale of a poor woman! The same day you actually SEE her; yo_re attracted by her beauty, her fantastic, almost demoniacal, beauty—(I admi_er beauty, of course).
"Add to all this your nervous nature, your epilepsy, and your sudden arriva_n a strange town—the day of meetings and of exciting scenes, the day o_nexpected acquaintanceships, the day of sudden actions, the day of meetin_ith the three lovely Epanchin girls, and among them Aglaya—add your fatigue, your excitement; add Nastasia' s evening party, and the tone of that party, and—what were you to expect of yourself at such a moment as that?"
"Yes, yes, yes!" said the prince, once more, nodding his head, and blushin_lightly. "Yes, it was so, or nearly so—I know it. And besides, you see, I ha_ot slept the night before, in the train, or the night before that, either, and I was very tired."
"Of course, of course, quite so; that's what I am driving at!" continue_vgenie, excitedly. "It is as clear as possible, and most comprehensible, tha_ou, in your enthusiasm, should plunge headlong into the first chance tha_ame of publicly airing your great idea that you, a prince, and a pure-livin_an, did not consider a woman disgraced if the sin were not her own, but tha_f a disgusting social libertine! Oh, heavens! it's comprehensible enough, m_ear prince, but that is not the question, unfortunately! The question is, wa_here any reality and truth in your feelings? Was it nature, or nothing bu_ntellectual enthusiasm? What do you think yourself? We are told, of course, that a far worse woman was FORGIVEN, but we don't find that she was told tha_he had done well, or that she was worthy of honour and respect! Did not you_ommon-sense show you what was the real state of the case, a few months later?
The question is now, not whether she is an innocent woman (I do not insist on_ay or the other—I do not wish to); but can her whole career justify suc_ntolerable pride, such insolent, rapacious egotism as she has shown? Forgiv_e, I am too violent, perhaps, but—"
"Yes—I dare say it is all as you say; I dare say you are quite right,"
muttered the prince once more. "She is very sensitive and easily put out, o_ourse; but still, she… "
"She is worthy of sympathy? Is that what you wished to say, my good fellow?
But then, for the mere sake of vindicating her worthiness of sympathy, yo_hould not have insulted and offended a noble and generous girl in he_resence! This is a terrible exaggeration of sympathy! How can you love _irl, and yet so humiliate her as to throw her over for the sake of anothe_oman, before the very eyes of that other woman, when you have already mad_er a formal proposal of marriage? And you DID propose to her, you know; yo_id so before her parents and sisters. Can you be an honest man, prince, i_ou act so? I ask you! And did you not deceive that beautiful girl when yo_ssured her of your love?"
"Yes, you are quite right. Oh! I feel that I am very guilty!" said Muishkin, in deepest distress.
"But as if that is enough!" cried Evgenie, indignantly. "As if it is enoug_imply to say: 'I know I am very guilty!' You are to blame, and yet yo_ersevere in evil-doing. Where was your heart, I should like to know, you_HRISTIAN HEART, all that time? Did she look as though she were sufferin_ess, at that moment? You saw her face—was she suffering less than the othe_oman? How could you see her suffering and allow it to continue? How coul_ou?"
"But I did not allow it," murmured the wretched prince.
"How—what do you mean you didn't allow?"
"Upon my word, I didn't! To this moment I don't know how it all happened. I—_an after Aglaya Ivanovna, but Nastasia Philipovna fell down in a faint; an_ince that day they won't let me see Aglaya—that's all I know."
"It's all the same; you ought to have run after Aglaya though the other wa_ainting."
"Yes, yes, I ought—but I couldn't! She would have died—she would have kille_erself. You don't know her; and I should have told Aglaya everythin_fterwards—but I see, Evgenie Pavlovitch, you don't know all. Tell me now, wh_m I not allowed to see Aglaya? I should have cleared it all up, you know.
Neither of them kept to the real point, you see. I could never explain what _ean to you, but I think I could to Aglaya. Oh! my God, my God! You spoke jus_ow of Aglaya's face at the moment when she ran away. Oh, my God! I remembe_t! Come along, come along—quick!" He pulled at Evgenie's coat-sleev_ervously and excitedly, and rose from his chair.
"Come to Aglaya—quick, quick!"
"But I told you she is not at Pavlofsk. And what would be the use if sh_ere?"
"Oh, she'll understand, she'll understand!" cried the prince, clasping hi_ands. "She would understand that all this is not the point—not a bit the rea_oint—it is quite foreign to the real question."
"How can it be foreign? You ARE going to be married, are you not? Very well, then you are persisting in your course. ARE you going to marry her or not?"
"Yes, I shall marry her—yes."
"Then why is it 'not the point'?"
"Oh, no, it is not the point, not a bit. It makes no difference, my marryin_er—it means nothing."
"How 'means nothing'? You are talking nonsense, my friend. You are marryin_he woman you love in order to secure her happiness, and Aglaya sees and know_t. How can you say that it's 'not the point'?"
"Her happiness? Oh, no! I am only marrying her—well, because she wished it. I_eans nothing—it's all the same. She would certainly have died. I see now tha_hat marriage with Rogojin was an insane idea. I understand all now that I di_ot understand before; and, do you know, when those two stood opposite to on_nother, I could not bear Nastasia Philipovna's face! You must know, Evgeni_avlovitch, I have never told anyone before—not even Aglaya—that I cannot bea_astasia Philipovna's face." (He lowered his voice mysteriously as he sai_his.) "You described that evening at Nastasia Philipovna's (six months since) very accurately just now; but there is one thing which you did not mention, and of which you took no account, because you do not know. I mean her FACE—_ooked at her face, you see. Even in the morning when I saw her portrait, _elt that I could not BEAR to look at it. Now, there's Vera Lebedeff, fo_nstance, her eyes are quite different, you know. I'm AFRAID of her face!" h_dded, with real alarm.
"You are AFRAID of it?"
"Yes—she's mad!" he whispered, growing pale.
"Do you know this for certain?" asked Evgenie, with the greatest curiosity.
"Yes, for certain—quite for certain, now! I have discovered it ABSOLUTELY fo_ertain, these last few days."
"What are you doing, then?" cried Evgenie, in horror. "You must be marryin_er solely out of FEAR, then! I can't make head or tail of it, prince. Perhap_ou don't even love her?"
"Oh, no; I love her with all my soul. Why, she is a child! She's a child now—_eal child. Oh! you know nothing about it at all, I see."
"And are you assured, at the same time, that you love Aglaya too?"
"How so? Do you want to make out that you love them BOTH?"
"Yes—yes—both! I do!"
"Excuse me, prince, but think what you are saying! Recollect yourself!"
"Without Aglaya—I—I MUST see Aglaya!—I shall die in my sleep very soon—_hought I was dying in my sleep last night. Oh! if Aglaya only knew all—I mea_eally, REALLY all! Because she must know ALL—that's the first conditio_owards understanding. Why cannot we ever know all about another, especiall_hen that other has been guilty? But I don't know what I'm talking about—I'_o confused. You pained me so dreadfully. Surely—surely Aglaya has not th_ame expression now as she had at the moment when she ran away? Oh, yes! I a_uilty and I know it—I know it! Probably I am in fault all round—I don't quit_now how—but I am in fault, no doubt. There is something else, but I canno_xplain it to you, Evgenie Pavlovitch. I have no words; but Aglaya wil_nderstand. I have always believed Aglaya will understand—I am assured sh_ill."
"No, prince, she will not. Aglaya loved like a woman, like a human being, no_ike an abstract spirit. Do you know what, my poor prince? The most probabl_xplanation of the matter is that you never loved either the one or the othe_n reality."
"I don't know—perhaps you are right in much that you have said, Evgeni_avlovitch. You are very wise, Evgenie Pavlovitch—oh! how my head is beginnin_o ache again! Come to her, quick—for God's sake, come!"
"But I tell you she is not in Pavlofsk! She's in Colmina."
"Oh, come to Colmina, then! Come—let us go at once!"
"No—no, impossible!" said Evgenie, rising.
"Look here—I'll write a letter—take a letter for me!"
"No—no, prince; you must forgive me, but I can't undertake any suc_ommissions! I really can't."
And so they parted.
Evgenie Pavlovitch left the house with strange convictions. He, too, felt tha_he prince must be out of his mind.
"And what did he mean by that FACE—a face which he so fears, and yet so loves?
And meanwhile he really may die, as he says, without seeing Aglaya, and sh_ill never know how devotedly he loves her! Ha, ha, ha! How does the fello_anage to love two of them? Two different kinds of love, I suppose! This i_ery interesting—poor idiot! What on earth will become of him now?"