The fete took place in spite of all the perplexities of the preceding
"Shpigulin" day. I believe that even if Lembke had died the previous night, the fete would still have taken place next morningso peculiar was th_ignificance Yulia Mihailovna attached to it. Alas! up to the last moment sh_as blind and had no inkling of the state of public feeling. No one believe_t last that the festive day would pass without some tremendous scandal, some
"catastrophe" as some people expressed it, rubbing their hands i_nticipation. Many people, it is true, tried to assume a frowning an_iplomatic countenance; but, speaking generally, every Russian is inordinatel_elighted at any public scandal and disorder. It is true that we did fee_omething much more serious than the mere craving for a scandal: there was _eneral feeling of irritation, a feeling of implacable resentment; every on_eemed thoroughly disgusted with everything. A kind of bewildered cynicism, _orced, as it were, strained cynicism was predominant in every one. The onl_eople who were free from bewilderment were the ladies, and they were clear o_nly one point:' their remorseless detestation of Yulia Mihailovna. Ladies o_ll shades of opinion were agreed in this. And she, poor dear, had n_uspicion; up to the last hour she was persuaded that she was "surrounded b_ollowers," and that they were still "fanatically devoted to her."
I have already hinted that some low fellows of different sorts had made thei_ppearance amongst us. In turbulent times of upheaval or transition lo_haracters always come to the front everywhere. I am not speaking now of th_o-called "advanced" people who are always in a hurry to be in advance o_very one else (their absorbing anxiety) and who always have some more or les_efinite, though often very stupid, aim. No, I am speaking only of the riff- raff. In every period of transition this riff-raff, which exists in ever_ociety, rises to the surface, and is not only without any aim but has no_ven a symptom of an idea, and merely does its utmost to give expression t_neasiness and impatience. Moreover, this riff-raff almost always fall_nconsciously under the control of the little group of "advanced people" wh_o act with a definite aim, and this little group can direct all this rabbl_s it pleases, if only it does not itself consist of absolute idiots, which, however, is sometimes the case. It is said among us now that it is all over, that Pyotr Stepanovitch was directed by the Internationale, and Yuli_ihailovna by Pyotr Stepanovitch, while she controlled, under his rule, _abble of all sorts. The more sober minds amongst us wonder at themselves now, and can't understand how they came to be so foolish at the time.
What constituted the turbulence of our time and what transition it was we wer_assing through I don't know, nor I think does anyone, unless it were some o_hose visitors of ours. Yet the most worthless fellows suddenly gaine_redominant influence, began loudly criticising everything sacred, though til_hen they had not dared to open their mouths, while the leading people, wh_ad till then so satisfactorily kept the upper hand, began listening to the_nd holding their peace, some even simpered approval in a most shameless way.
People like Lyamshin and Telyatnikov, like Gogol's Tentyotnikov, drivellin_ome-bred editions of Radishtchev, wretched little Jews with a mournful bu_aughty smile, guffawing foreigners, poets of advanced tendencies from th_apital, poets who made up with peasant coats and tarred boots for the lack o_endencies or talents, majors and colonels who ridiculed the senselessness o_he service, and who would have been ready for an extra rouble to unbuckl_heir swords, and take jobs as railway clerks; generals who had abandone_heir duties to become lawyers; advanced mediators, advancing merchants, innumerable divinity students, women who were the embodiment of the woma_uestionall these suddenly gained complete sway among us and over whom? Ove_he club, the venerable officials, over generals with wooden legs, over th_ery strict and inaccessible ladies of our local society. Since even Varvar_etrovna was almost at the beck and call of this rabble, right up to the tim_f the catastrophe with her son, our other local Minervas may well be pardone_or their temporary aberration. Now all this is attributed, as I hav_entioned already, to the Internationale. This idea has taken such root tha_t is given as the explanation to visitors from other parts. Only latel_ouncillor Kubrikov, a man of sixty-two, with the Stanislav Order on hi_reast, came forward uninvited and confessed in a voice full of feeling tha_e had beyond a shadow of doubt been for fully three months under th_nfluence of the Internationale. When with every deference for his years 'an_ervices he was invited to be more definite, he stuck firmly to his origina_tatement, though he could produce no evidence except that "he had felt it i_ll his feelings," so that they cross-examined him no further.
I repeat again, there was still even among us a small group who hel_hemselves aloof from the beginning, and even locked themselves up. But wha_ock can stand against a law of nature? Daughters will grow up even in th_ost careful families, and it is essential for grown-up daughters to dance.
And so all these people, too, ended by subscribing to the governesses' fund.
The ball was assumed to be an entertainment so brilliant, so unprecedented; marvels were told about it; there were rumours of princes from a distance wit_orgnettes; of ten stewards, all young dandies, with rosettes on their lef_houlder; of some Petersburg people who were setting the thing going; ther_as a rumour that Karmazinov had consented to increase the subscriptions t_he fund by reading his Merci in the costume of the governesses of th_istrict; that there would be a literary quadrille all in costume, and ever_ostume would symbolise some special line of thought; and finally that "hones_ussian thought" would dance in costumewhich would certainly be a complet_ovelty in itself. Who could resist subscribing? Every one subscribed.
The programme of the fete was divided into two parts: the literary matine_rom midday till four o'clock, and afterwards a ball from ten o'clock onward_hrough the night. But in this very programme there lay concealed germs o_isorder. In the first place, from the very beginning a rumour had gaine_round among the public concerning a luncheon immediately after the literar_atinee, or even while it was going on, during an interval arranged expressl_or ita free luncheon, of course, which would form part of the programme an_e accompanied by champagne. The immense price of the tickets (three roubles) tended to confirm this rumour. "As though one would subscribe for nothing? Th_ete is arranged for twenty-four hours, so food must be provided. People wil_et hungry." This was how people reasoned in the town. I must admit that Yuli_ihailovna did much to confirm this disastrous rumour by her own heedlessness.
A month earlier, under the first spell of the great project, she would babbl_bout it to anyone she met; and even sent a paragraph to one of the Petersbur_apers about the toasts and speeches arranged for her fete. What fascinate_er most at that time was the idea of these toasts; she wanted to propose the_erself and was continually composing them in anticipation. They were to mak_lear what was their banner (what was it? I don't mind betting that the poo_ear composed nothing after all), they were to get into the Petersburg an_oscow papers, to touch and fascinate the higher powers and then to spread th_dea over all the provinces of Russia, rousing people to wonder and imitation.
But for toasts, champagne was essential, and as champagne can't be drunk on a_mpty stomach, it followed that a lunch was essential too. Afterwards, when b_er efforts a committee had been formed and had attacked the subject mor_eriously, it was proved clearly to her at once that if they were going t_ream of banquets there would be very little left for the governesses, howeve_ell people subscribed. There were two ways out of the difficulty: eithe_elshazzar's feast with toasts and speeches, and ninety roubles for th_overnesses, or a considerable sum of money with the fete only as a matter o_orm to raise it. The committee, however, only wanted to scare her, and had o_ourse worked out a third course of action, which was reasonable and combine_he advantages of both, that is, a very decent fete in every respect onl_ithout champagne, and so yielding a very respectable sum, much more tha_inety roubles. But Yulia Mihailovna would not agree to it: her proud spiri_evolted from paltry compromise. She decided at once that if the original ide_ould not be carried out they should rush to the opposite extreme, that is, raise an enormous subscription that would be the envy of other provinces. "Th_ublic must understand," she said at the end of her flaming speech to th_ommittee, "that the attainment of an object of universal human interest i_nfinitely loftier than the corporeal enjoyments of the passing moment, tha_he fete in its essence is only the proclamation of a great idea, and so w_ught to be content with the most frugal German ball simply as a symbol, tha_s, if we can't dispense with this detestable ball altogether," so great wa_he aversion she suddenly conceived for it. But she was pacified at last. I_as then that "the literary quadrille" and the other aesthetic items wer_nvented and proposed as substitutes for the corporeal enjoyments. It was the_hat Karmazinov finally consented to read Herd (until then he had onl_antalised them by his hesitation) and so eradicate the very idea of victual_rom the minds of our incontinent public. So the ball was once more to be _agnificent function, though in a different style. And not to be too etherea_t was decided that tea with lemon and round biscuits should be served at th_eginning of the ball, and later on "orchade" and lemonade and at the end eve_ces but nothing else. For those who always and everywhere are hungry and, still more, thirsty, they might open a buffet in the farthest of the suite o_ooms and put it in charge of Prohorovitch, the head cook of the club, wh_ould, subject to the strict supervision of the committee, serve whatever wa_anted, at a fixed charge, and a notice should be put up on the door of th_all that refreshments were extra. But on the morning they decided not to ope_he buffet at all for fear of disturbing the reading, though the buffet woul_ave been five rooms off the White Hall in which Karmazinov had consented t_ead Merci.
It is remarkable that the committee, and even the most practical people in it, attached enormous consequence to this reading. As for people of poetica_endencies, the marshal's wife, for instance, informed Karmazinov that afte_he reading she would immediately order a marble slab to be put up in the wal_f the White Hall with an inscription in gold letters, that on such a day an_ear, here, in this place, the great writer of Russia and of Europe had rea_erci on laying aside his pen, and so had for the first time taken leave o_he Russian public represented by the leading citizens of our town, and tha_his inscription would be read by all at the ball, that is, only five hour_fter Merci had been read. I know for a fact that Karmazinov it was wh_nsisted that there should be no buffet in the morning on any account, whil_e was reading, in spite of some protests from members of the committee tha_his was rather opposed to our way of doing things.
This was the position of affairs, while in the town people were stil_eckoning on a Belshazzar feast, that is, on refreshments provided by th_ommittee; they believed in this to the last hour. Even the young ladies wer_reaming of masses of sweets and preserves, and something more beyond thei_magination. Every one knew that the subscriptions had reached a huge sum, that all the town was struggling to go, that people were driving in from th_urrounding districts, and that there were not tickets enough. It was known, too, that there had been some large subscriptions apart from the price pai_or tickets: Varvara Petrovna, for instance, had paid three hundred rouble_or her ticket and had given almost all the flowers from her conservatory t_ecorate the room. The marshal's wife, who was a member of the committee, provided the house and the lighting; the club furnished the music, th_ttendants, and gave up Prohorovitch for the whole day. There were othe_ontributions as well, though lesser ones, so much so indeed that the idea wa_ooted of cutting down the price of tickets from three roubles to two. Indeed, the committee were afraid at first that three roubles would be too much fo_oung ladies to pay, and suggested that they might have family tickets, s_hat every family should pay for one daughter only, while the other youn_adies of the family, even if there were a dozen specimens, should be admitte_ree. But all their apprehensions turned out to be groundless: it was just th_oung ladies who did come. Even the poorest clerks brought their girls, and i_as quite evident that if they had had no girls it would never have occurre_o them to subscribe for tickets. One insignificant little secretary brough_ll his seven daughters, to say nothing of his wife and a niece into th_argain, and every one of these persons held in her hand an entrance ticke_hat cost three roubles.
It may be imagined what an upheaval it made in the town! One has only t_emember that as the fete was divided into two parts every lady needed tw_ostumes for the occasiona morning one for the matinee and a ball dress fo_he evening. Many middle-class people, as it appeared afterwards, had pawne_verything they had for that day, even the family linen, even the sheets, an_ossibly the mattresses, to the Jews, who had been settling in our town i_reat numbers during the previous two years and who became more and mor_umerous as time went on. Almost all the officials had asked for their salar_n advance, and some of the landowners sold beasts they could ill spare, an_ll simply to bring their ladies got up as marchionesses, and to be as good a_nybody The magnificence of dresses on this occasion was something unheard o_n our neighbourhood. For a fortnight beforehand the town was overflowing wit_unny stories which were all brought by our wits to Yulia Mihailovna's court.
Caricatures were passed from hand to hand. I have seen some drawings of th_ort myself, in Yulia Mihailovna's album. All this reached the ears of th_amilies who were the source of the jokes; I believe this was the cause of th_eneral hatred of Yulia Mihailovna which had grown so strong in the town.
People swear and gnash their teeth when they think of it now. But it wa_vident, even at the time, that if the committee were to displease them i_nything, or if anything went wrong at the ball, the outburst of indignatio_ould be something surprising. That's why every one was secretly expecting _candal; and if it was so confidently expected, how could it fail to come t_ass? The orchestra struck up punctually at midday. Being one of the stewards, that is, one of the twelve "young men with a rosette," I saw with my own eye_ow this day of ignominious memory began. It began with an enormous crush a_he doors. How was it that everything, including the police, went wrong tha_ay? I don't blame the genuine public: the fathers of families did not crowd, nor did they push against anyone, in spite of their position. On the contrary, I am told that they were disconcerted even in the street, at the sight of th_rowd shoving in a way unheard of in our town, besieging the entry and takin_t by assault, instead of simply going in. Meanwhile the carriages kep_riving up, and at last blocked the street. Now, at the time I write, I hav_ood grounds for affirming that some of the lowest rabble of our town wer_rought in without tickets by Lyamshin and Liputin, possibly, too, by othe_eople who were stewards like me. Anyway, some complete strangers, who ha_ome from the surrounding districts and elsewhere, were present. As soon a_hese savages entered the hall they began asking where the buffet was, a_hough they had been put up to it beforehand, and learning that there was n_uffet they began swearing with brutal directness, and an unprecedente_nsolence; some of them, it is true, were drunk when they came. Some of the_ere dazed like savages at the splendour of the hall, as they had never see_nything like it, and subsided for a minute gazing at it open-mouthed. Thi_reat White Hall really was magnificent, though the building was falling int_ecay: it was of immense size, with two rows of windows, with an old-fashione_eiling covered with gilt carving, with a gallery with mirrors on the walls, red and white draperies, marble statues (nondescript but still statues) wit_eavy old furniture of the Napoleonic period, white and gold, upholstered i_ed velvet. At the moment I am describing, a high platform had been put up fo_he literary gentlemen who were to read, and the whole hall was filled wit_hairs like the parterre of a theatre with wide aisles for the audience.
But after the first moments of surprise the most senseless questions an_rotests followed. "Perhaps we don't care for a reading… . We've paid ou_oney… . The audience has been impudently swindled… . This is ou_ntertainment, not the Lembkes'! They seemed, in fact, to have been let in fo_his purpose. I remember specially an encounter in which the princeling wit_he stand-up collar and the face of a Dutch doll, whom I had met the mornin_efore at Yulia Mihailovna's, distinguished himself. He had, at her urgen_equest, consented to pin a rosette on his left shoulder and to become one o_ur stewards. It turned out that this dumb wax figure could act after _ashion of his own, if he could not talk. When a colossal pockmarked captain, supported by a herd of rabble following at his heels, pestered him by asking
"which way to the buffet?" he made a sign to a police sergeant. His hint wa_romptly acted upon, and in spite of the drunken captain's abuse he wa_ragged out of the hall. Meantime the genuine public began to make it_ppearance, and stretched in three long files between the chairs. Th_isorderly elements began to subside, but the public, even the most
"respectable" among them, had a dissatisfied and perplexed air; some of th_adies looked positively scared.
At last all were seated; the music ceased. People began blowing their nose_nd looking about them. They waited with too solemn an airwhich is always _ad sign. But nothing was to be seen yet of the Lembkes. Silks, velvets, diamonds glowed and sparkled on every side; whiffs of fragrance filled th_ir. The men were wearing all their decorations, and the old men were even i_niform. At last the marshal's wife came in with Liza. Liza had never been s_azzlingly charming or so splendidly dressed as that morning. Her hair wa_one up in curls, her eyes sparkled, a smile beamed on her face. She made a_nmistakable sensation: people scrutinised her and whispered about her. The_aid that she was looking for Stavrogin, but neither Stavrogin nor Varvar_etrovna were there. At the time I did not understand the expression of he_ace: why was there so much happiness, such joy, such energy and strength i_hat face? I remembered what had happened the day before and could not make i_ut.
But still the Lembkes did not come. This was distinctly a blunder. I learne_hat Yulia Mihailovna waited till the last minute for Pyotr Stepanovitch, without whom she could not stir a step, though she never admitted it t_erself. I must mention, in parenthesis, that on the previous day Pyot_tepanovitch had at the last meeting of the committee declined to wear th_osette of a steward, which had disappointed her dreadfully, even to the poin_f tears. To her surprise and, later on, her extreme discomfiture (t_nticipate things) he vanished for the whole morning and did not make hi_ppearance at the literary matinee at all, so that no one met him til_vening. At last the audience began to manifest unmistakable signs o_mpatience. No one appeared on the platform either. The back rows bega_pplauding, as in a theatre. The elderly gentlemen and the ladies frowned.
"The Lembkes are really giving themselves unbearable airs." Even among th_etter part of the audience an absurd whisper began to gain ground tha_erhaps there would not be a fete at all, that Lembke perhaps was reall_nwell, and so on and so on. But, thank God, the Lembkes at last appeared, sh_as leaning on his arm; I must confess I was in great apprehension mysel_bout their appearance. But the legends were disproved, and the truth wa_riumphant. The audience seemed relieved. Lembke himself seemed perfectl_ell. Every one, I remember, was of that opinion, for it can be imagined ho_any eyes were turned on him. I may mention, as characteristic of our society, that there were very few of the better-class people who saw reason to suppos_hat there was anything wrong with him; his conduct seemed to them perfectl_ormal, and so much so that the action he had taken in the square the mornin_efore was accepted and approved.
"That's how it should have been from the first," the higher official_eclared. "If a man begins as a philanthropist he has to come to the sam_hing in the end, though he does not see that it was necessary from the poin_f view of philanthropy itself" that, at least, was the opinion at the club.
They only blamed him for having lost his temper. "It ought to have been don_ore coolly, but there, he is a new man," said the authorities.
All eyes turned with equal eagerness to Yulia Mihailovna. Of course no one ha_he right to expect from me an exact account in regard to one point: that is _ysterious, a feminine question. But I only know one thing: on the evening o_he previous day she had gone into Andrey Antonovitch's study and was ther_ith him till long after midnight. Andrey Antonovitch was comforted an_orgiven. The husband and wife came to a complete understanding, everythin_as forgotten, and when at the end of the interview Lembke went down on hi_nees, recalling with horror the final incident of the previous night, th_xquisite hand, and after it the lips of his wife, checked the fervent flow o_enitent phrases of the chivalrously delicate gentleman who was limp wit_motion. Every one could see the happiness in her face. She walked in with a_pen-hearted air, wearing a magnificent dress. She seemed to be at the ver_innacle of her heart's desires, the fetethe goal and crown of he_iplomacywas an accomplished fact. As they walked to their seats in front o_he platform, the Lembkes bowed in all directions and responded to greetings.
They were at once surrounded. The marshal's wife got up to meet them.
But at that point a horrid misunderstanding occurred; the orchestra, apropo_f nothing, struck up a flourish, not a triumphal march of any kind, but _imple flourish such as was played at the club when some one's health wa_runk at an official dinner. I know now that Lyamshin, in his capacity o_teward, had arranged this, as though in honour of the Lembkes' entrance. O_ourse he could always excuse it as a blunder or excessive zeal… . Alas! I di_ot know at the time that they no longer cared even to find excuses, and tha_ll such considerations were from that day a thing of the past. But th_lourish was not the end of it: in the midst of the vexatious astonishment an_he smiles of the audience there was a sudden "hurrah" from the end of th_all and from the gallery also, apparently in Lembke's honour. The hurrah_ere few, but I must confess they lasted for some time. Yulia Mihailovn_lushed, her eyes flashed. Lembke stood still at his chair, and turnin_owards the voices sternly and majestically scanned the audience… . The_astened to make him sit down. I noticed with dismay the same dangerous smil_n his face as he had worn the morning before, in his wife's drawing-room, when he stared at Stepan Trofimovitch before going up to him. It seemed to m_hat now, too, there was an ominous, and, worst of all, a rather comi_xpression on his countenance, the expression of a man resigned to sacrific_imself to satisfy his wife's lofty aims… . Yulia Mihailovna beckoned to m_urriedly, and whispered to me to run to Karmazinov and entreat him to begin.
And no sooner had I turned away than another disgraceful incident, much mor_npleasant than the first, took place.
On the platform, the empty platform, on which till that moment all eyes an_ll expectations were fastened, and where nothing was to be seen but a smal_able, a chair in front of it, and on the table a glass of water on a silve_alveron the empty platform there suddenly appeared the colossal figure o_aptain Lebyadkin wearing a dress-coat and a white tie. I was so astounded _ould not believe my eyes. The captain seemed confused and remained standin_t the back of the platform. Suddenly there was a shout in the audience,
"Lebyadkin! You?" The captain's stupid red face (he was hopelessly drunk) expanded in a broad vacant grin at this greeting. He raised his hand, rubbe_is forehead with it, shook his shaggy head and, as though making up his min_o go through with it, took two steps forward and suddenly went off into _eries of prolonged, blissful, gurgling, but not loud guffaws, which made hi_crew up his eyes and set all his bulky person heaving. This spectacle se_lmost half the audience laughing, twenty people applauded. The serious par_f the audience looked at one another gloomily; it all lasted only half _inute, however. Liputin, wearing his steward's rosette, ran on to th_latform with two servants; they carefully took the captain by both arms, while Liputin whispered something to him. The captain scowled, muttered "Ah, well, if that's it!" waved his hand, turned his huge back to the public an_anished with his escort. But a minute later Liputin skipped on to th_latform again. He was wearing the sweetest of his invariable smiles, whic_sually suggested vinegar and sugar, and carried in his hands a sheet of note- paper. With tiny but rapid steps he came forward to the edge of the platform.
"Ladies and gentlemen," he said, addressing the public, "through ou_nadvertency there has arisen a comical misunderstanding which has bee_emoved; but I've hopefully undertaken to do something at the earnest and mos_espectful request of one of our local poets. Deeply touched by the humane an_ofty object … in 'spite of his appearance … the object which has brought u_ll together … to wipe away the tears of the poor but well-educated girls o_ur province … this gentleman, I mean this local poet … although desirous o_reserving his incognito, would gladly have heard his poem read at th_eginning of the ball … that is, I mean, of the matinee. Though this poem i_ot in the programme … for it has only been received half an hour ago … yet i_as seemed to us"(Us? Whom did he mean by us? I report his confused an_ncoherent speech word for word)" that through its remarkable naivete o_eeling, together with its equally remarkable gaiety, the poem might well b_ead, that is, not as something serious, but as something appropriate to th_ccasion, that is to the idea … especially as some lines … And I wanted to as_he kind permission of the audience."
"Read it!" boomed a voice at the back of the hall.
"Then I am to read it?"
"Read it, read it!" cried many voices.
"With the permission of the audience I will read it," Liputin minced again, still with the same sugary smile. He still seemed to hesitate, and I eve_hought that he was rather excited. These people are sometimes nervous i_pite of their impudence. A divinity student would have carried it throug_ithout winking, but Liputin did, after all, belong to the last generation.
"I must say, that is, I have the honour to say by way of preface, that it i_ot precisely an ode such as used to be written for fetes, but is rather, s_o say, a jest, but full of undoubted feeling, together with playful humour, and, so to say, the most realistic truthfulness."
"Read it, read it!"
He unfolded the paper. No one of course was in time to stop him. Besides, h_as wearing his steward's badge. In a ringing voice he declaimed:
"To the local governesses of the Fatherland from the poet at the fete:
"Governesses all, good morrow,
Triumph on this festive day.
Retrograde or vowed George-Sander Never mind, just frisk away!"
"But that's Lebyadkin's! Lebyadkin's!" cried several voices. There wa_aughter and even applause, though not from very many.
"Teaching French to wet-nosed children, You are glad enough to think
You can catch a worn-out sexton
Even he is worth a wink!"
"But in these great days of progress, Ladies, to your sorrow know,
You can't even catch a sexton,
If you have not got a 'dot'."
"To be sure, to be sure, that's realism. You can't hook a husband without a
"But, henceforth, since through our feasting Capital has flowed from all,
And we send you forth to conquest
Dancing, downed from this hall Retrograde or vowed George-Sander, Never mind, rejoice you may,
You're a governess with a dowry,
Spit on all and frisk away!"
I must confess I could not believe my ears. The insolence of it was s_nmistakable that there was no possibility of excusing Liputin on the groun_f stupidity. Besides, Liputin was by no means stupid. The intention wa_bvious, to me, anyway; they seemed in a hurry to create disorder. Some line_n these idiotic verses, for instance the last, were such that no stupidit_ould have let them pass. Liputin himself seemed to feel that he ha_ndertaken too much; when he had achieved his exploit he was so overcome b_is own impudence that he did not even leave the platform but remaine_tanding, as though there were something more he wanted to say. He ha_robably imagined that it would somehow produce a different effect; but eve_he group of ruffians who had applauded during the reading suddenly sank int_ilence, as though they, too, were overcome. What was silliest of all, many o_hem took the whole episode seriously, that is, did not regard the verses as _ampoon but actually thought it realistic and true as regards the governesses_oem with a tendency, in fact. But the excessive freedom of the verses struc_ven them at last; as for the general public they were not only scandalise_ut obviously offended. I am sure I am not mistaken as to the impression.
Yulia Mihailovna said afterwards that in another moment she would have falle_nto a-swoon. One of the most respectable old gentlemen helped his old wife o_o her feet, and they walked out of the hall accompanied by the agitate_lances of the audience. Who knows, the example might have infected others i_armazinov himself, wearing a dress-coat and a white tie and carrying _anuscript, in his hand, had not appeared on the platform at that moment.
Yulia Mihailovna turned an ecstatic gaze at him as on her deliverer… . But _as by that time behind the scenes. I was in quest of Liputin.
"You did that on purpose!" I said, seizing him indignantly by the arm.
"I assure you I never thought … " he began, cringing and lying at once, pretending to be unhappy. "The verses had only just been brought and I though_hat as an amusing pleasantry… ."
"You did not think anything of the sort. You can't really think that stupi_ubbish an amusing pleasantry?"
"Yes, I do."
"You are simply lying, and it wasn't brought to you just now. You helpe_ebyadkin to compose it yourself, yesterday very likely, to create a scandal.
The last verse must have been yours, the part about the sexton too. Why did h_ome on in a dress-coat? You must have meant him to read it, too, if he ha_ot been drunk?"
Liputin looked at me coldly and ironically. "What business is it of yours?" h_sked suddenly with strange calm.
"What business is it of mine I You are wearing the steward's badge, too… .
Where is Pyotr Stepanovitch?"
"I don't know, somewhere here; why do you ask?"
"Because now I see through it. It's simply a plot against Yulia Mihailovna s_s to ruin the day by a scandal… ." Liputin looked at me askance again.
"But what is it to you?" he said, grinning. He shrugged his shoulders an_alked away.
It came over me with a rush. All my suspicions were confirmed. Till then, _ad been hoping I was mistaken! What was I to do? I was on the point of askin_he advice of Stepan Trofimovitch, but he was standing before the looking- glass, trying on different smiles, and continually consulting a piece of pape_n which he had notes. He had to go on immediately after Karmazinov, and wa_ot in a fit state for conversation. Should I run to Yulia Mihailovna? But i_as too soon to go to her: she needed a much sterner lesson to cure her of he_onviction that she had "a following," and that every one was "fanaticall_evoted" to her. She would not have believed me, and would have thought I wa_reaming. Besides, what help could she be?" Eh," I thought, "after all, wha_usiness is it of mine? I'll take off my badge and go home when it begins."
That was my mental phrase, "when it begins"; I remember it.
But I had to go and listen to Karmazinov. Taking a last look round behind th_cenes, I noticed that a good number of outsiders, even women among them, wer_litting about, going in and out. "Behind the scenes" was rather a narro_pace completely screened from the audience by a curtain and communicatin_ith other rooms by means of a passage. Here our readers were awaiting thei_urns. But I was struck at that moment by the reader who was to follow Stepa_rofimovitch. He, too, was some sort of professor (I don't know to this da_xactly what he was) who had voluntarily left some educational institutio_fter a disturbance among the students, and had arrived in the town only a fe_ays before. He, too, had been recommended to Yulia Mihailovna, and she ha_eceived him with reverence. I know now that he had only spent one evening i_er company before the reading; he had not spoken all that evening, ha_istened with an equivocal smile to the jests and the general tone of th_ompany surrounding Yulia Mihailovna, and had made an unpleasant impression o_very one by his air of haughtiness, and at the same time almost timorou_eadiness to take offence. It was Yulia Mihailovna herself who had enliste_is services. Now he was walking from corner to corner, and, like Stepa_rofimovitch, was muttering to himself, though he looked on the ground instea_f in the looking-glass. He was not trying on smiles, though he often smile_apaciously. It was obvious that it was useless to speak to him either. H_ooked about forty, was short and bald, had a greyish beard, and was decentl_ressed. But what was most interesting about him was that at every turn h_ook he threw up his right fist, brandished it above his head and suddenl_rought it down .again as though crushing an antagonist to atoms. H_entthrough this by-play every moment. It made me uncomfortable. I hastene_way to listen to Karmazinov.
There was a feeling in the hall that something was wrong again. Let me stat_o begin with that I have the deepest reverence for genius, but why do ou_eniuses in the decline of their illustrious years behave sometimes exactl_ike little boys? What though he was Karmazinov, and came forward with as muc_ignity as five Kammerherrs rolled into one? How could he expect to keep a_udience like ours listening for a whole hour to a single paper? I hav_bserved, in fact, that however big a genius a man may be, he can't monopolis_he attention of an audience at a frivolous literary matinee for more tha_wenty minutes with impunity. The entrance of the great writer was received, indeed, with the utmost respect: even the severest elderly men showed signs o_pproval and interest, and the ladies even displayed some enthusiasm. Th_pplause was brief, however, and somehow uncertain and not unanimous. Ye_here was no unseemly behaviour in the back rows, till Karmazinov began t_peak, not that anything very bad followed then, but only a sort o_isunderstanding. I have mentioned already that he had rather a shrill voice, almost feminine in fact, and at the same time a genuinely aristocratic lisp.
He had hardly articulated a few words when some one had the effrontery t_augh aloudprobably some ignorant simpleton who knew nothing of the world, an_as congenitally disposed to laughter. But there was nothing like a hostil_emonstration; on the contrary people said "sh-h!" and the offender wa_rushed. But Mr. Karmazinov, with an affected air and intonation, announce_hat "at first he had declined absolutely to read." (Much need there was t_ention it!) "There are some lines which come so deeply from the heart that i_s impossible to utter them aloud, so that these holy things cannot be lai_efore, the public"(Why lay them then?)" but as he had been begged to do so, he was doing so, and as he was, moreover, laying down his pen for ever, an_ad sworn to write no more, he had written this last farewell; and as he ha_worn never, on any inducement, to read anything in public," and so on, and s_n, all in that style.
But all that would not have mattered; every one knows what authors' preface_re like, though, I may observe, that considering the lack of culture of ou_udience and the irritability of the back rows, all this may have had a_nfluence. Surely it would have been better to have read a little story, _hort tale such as he had 'written in the pastover-elaborate, that is, an_ffected, but sometimes witty. It would have saved the situation. No, this wa_uite another story! It was a regular oration! Good heavens, what wasn't ther_n it! I am positive that it would have reduced to rigidity even a Petersbur_udience, let alone ours. Imagine an article that would have filled som_hirty pages of print of the most affected, aimless prattle; and to mak_atters worse, the gentleman read it with a sort of melancholy condescensio_s though it were a favour, so that it was almost insulting to the audience.
The subject… . Who could make it out? It was a sort of description of certai_mpressions and reminiscences. But of what? And about what? Though the leadin_ntellects of the province did their utmost during the first half of th_eading, they could make nothing of it, and they listened to the second par_imply out of politeness. A great deal was said about love, indeed, of th_ove of the genius for some person, but I must admit it made rather an awkwar_mpression. For the great writer to tell us about his first kiss seemed to m_ind a little incongruous with his short and fat-little figure … Another thin_hat was offensive; these kisses did not occur as they do with the rest o_ankind. There had to be a framework of gorse (it had to be gorse or some suc_lant that one must look up in a flora) and there had to be a tint of purpl_n the sky, such as no mortal had ever observed before, or if some people ha_een it, they had never noticed it, but he seemed to say, "I have seen it an_m describing it to you, fools, as if it were a most ordinary thing." The tre_nder which the interesting couple sat had of course to be of an orang_olour. They were sitting somewhere in Germany. Suddenly they see Pompey o_assius on the eve of a battle, and both are penetrated by a Â«hill o_cstasy. Some wood-nymph squeaked in the bushes. Gluck played the violin amon_he reeds. The title of the piece lie was playing was given in full, but n_ne knew it, so that one would have had to look it up in a musical dictionary.
Meanwhile a fog came on, such a fog, such a fog, that it was more like _illion pillows than a fog. And suddenly everything disappears and the grea_enius is crossing the frozen Volga in a thaw. Two and a half pages are fille_ith the crossing, and ,yet he falls through the ice. The genius i_rowningyou imagine he was drowned? Not a bit of it; this was simply in orde_hat when he was drowning and at his last gasp, he might catch sight of a bi_f ice, the size of a pea, but pure and crystal "as a frozen tear," and i_hat tear was reflected Germany, or more accurately the sky of Germany, an_ts iridescent sparkle recalled to his mind the very tear which "dost tho_emember, fell from thine eyes when we were sitting under that emerald tree, and thou didst cry out joyfully: 'There is no crime!' 'No,' I said through m_ears, 'but if that is so, there are no righteous either.' We sobbed an_arted for ever." She went off somewhere to the sea coast, while he went t_isit some caves, and then he descends and descends and descends for thre_ears under Suharev Tower in Moscow, and suddenly in the very bowels of th_arth, he finds in a cave a lamp, and before the lamp a hermit. The hermit i_raying. The genius leans against a little barred window, and suddenly hears _igh. Do you suppose it was the hermit sighing? Much he cares about th_ermit! Not a bit of it, this sigh simply reminds him of her first sigh, thirty-seven years before, "in Germany, when, dost thou remember, we sat unde_n agate tree and thou didst say to me, 'Why love? See ochra is growing al_round and I love thee; but the ochra will cease to grow, and I shall cease t_ove.'" Then the fog comes on again, Hoffman appears on the scene, the wood- nymph whistles a tune from Chopin, and suddenly out of the fog appears Ancu_arcius over the roofs of Rome, wearing a laurel wreath. "A chill of ecstas_an down our backs and we parted for ever"and so on and so on.
Perhaps I am not reporting it quite right and don't know how to report it, bu_he drift of the babble was something of that sort. And after all, ho_isgraceful this passion of our great intellects for jesting in a superior wa_eally is! The great European philosopher, the great man of science, th_nventor, the martyr all these who labour and are heavy laden, are to th_reat Russian genius no more than so many cooks in his kitchen. He is th_aster and they come to him, cap in hand, awaiting orders. It is true he jeer_uperciliously at Russia too, and there is nothing he likes better tha_xhibiting the bankruptcy of Russia in every relation before the great mind_f Europe, but as regards himself, no, he is at a higher level than all th_reat minds of Europe; they are only material for his jests. He takes anothe_an's idea, tacks on to it its antithesis, and the epigram is made. There i_uch a thing as crime, there is no such thing as crime; there is no such thin_s justice, there are no just men; atheism, Darwinism, the Moscow bells… . Bu_las, he no longer believes in the Moscow bells; Rome, laurels… . But he ha_o belief in laurels even… . We have a conventional attack of Byronic spleen, a grimace from Heine, something of Petchorinand the machine goes on rolling, whistling, at full speed. "But you may praise me, you may praise me, that _ike extremely; it's only in a manner of speaking that I lay down the pen; _hall bore you three hundred times more, you'll grow weary of reading me… ."
Of course it did not end without trouble; but the worst of it was that it wa_is own doing. People had for some time begun shuffling their feet, blowin_heir noses, coughing, and doing everything that people do when a lecturer, whoever he may be, keeps an audience for longer than twenty minutes at _iterary matinee. But the genius noticed nothing of all this. He went o_isping and mumbling, without giving a thought to the audience, so that ever_ne began to wonder. Suddenly in a back row a solitary but loud voice wa_eard:
"Good Lord, what nonsense!"
The exclamation escaped involuntarily, and I am sure was not intended as _emonstration. The man was simply worn out. But Mr. Karmazinov stopped, looke_arcastically at the audience, and suddenly lisped with the deportment of a_ggrieved kammerherr.
"I'm afraid I've been boring you dreadfully, gentlemen?"
That was his blunder, that he was the first to speak; for provoking an answe_n this way he gave an opening for the rabble to speak, too, and eve_egitimately, so to say, while if he had restrained himself, people would hav_one on blowing their noses and it would have passed off somehow. Perhaps h_xpected applause in response to his question, but there was no sound o_pplause; on the contrary, every one seemed to subside and shrink back i_ismay.
"You never did see Ancus Marcius, that's all brag," cried a voice that sounde_ull of irritation and even nervous exhaustion.
"Just so," another voice agreed at once. "There are no such things as ghost_owadays, nothing but natural science. Look it .up in a scientific book."
"Gentlemen, there was nothing I expected less than such objections," sai_armazinov, extremely surprised. The great genius had completely lost touc_ith his Fatherland in Karlsruhe.
"Nowadays it's outrageous to say that the world stands on three fishes," _oung lady snapped out suddenly. "You can't have gone down to the hermit'_ave, Karmazinov. And who talks about hermits nowadays?"
"Gentlemen, what surprises me most of all is that you take it all s_eriously. However … however, you are perfectly right. No one has greate_espect for truth and realism than I have… ."
Though he smiled ironically he was tremendously overcome. His face seemed t_xpress: "I am not the sort of man you think, I am on your side, only prais_e, praise me more, as much as possible, I like it extremely… ."
"Gentlemen," he cried, completely mortified at last, "I see that my poor poe_s quite out of place here. And, indeed, I am out of place here myself, _hink."
"You threw at the crow and you hit the cow," some fool, probably drunk, shouted at the top of his voice, and of course no notice ought to have bee_aken of him. It is true there was a sound of disrespectful laughter.
"A cow, you say?" Karmazinov caught it up at once, his voice grew shriller an_hriller. "As for crows and cows, gentlemen, I will refrain. I've too muc_espect for any audience to permit myself comparisons, however harmless; but _id think … "
"You'd better be careful, sir," some one shouted from a back row.
"But I had supposed that laying aside my pen and saying farewell to m_eaders, I should be heard … "
"No, no, we want to hear you, we want to," a few voices from the front ro_lucked up spirit to exclaim at last.
"Read, read!" several enthusiastic ladies' voices chimed in, and at last ther_as an outburst of applause, sparse and feeble, it is true.
"Believe me, Karmazinov, every one looks on it as an honour … " the marshal'_ife herself could not resist saying.
"Mr. Karmazinov!" cried a fresh young voice in the back of the hall suddenly.
It was the voice of a very young teacher from the district school who had onl_ately come among us, an excellent young man, quiet and gentlemanly. He stoo_p in his place. "Mr. Karmazinov, if I had the happiness to fall in love a_ou have described to us, I really shouldn't refer to my love in an articl_ntended for public reading… ." He flushed red all over.
"Ladies and gentlemen," cried Karmazinov, "I have finished. I will omit th_nd and withdraw. Only allow me to read the six last lines:
"Yes, dear reader, farewell!" he began at once from the manuscript withou_itting down again in his chair. "Farewell, reader; I do not greatly insist o_ur parting friends; what need to trouble you, indeed. You may abuse me, abus_e as you will if it affords you any satisfaction. But best of all if w_orget one another for ever. And if you all, readers, were suddenly so kind a_o fall on your knees and begin begging me with tears, 'Write, oh, write fo_s, Karmazinovfor the sake of Russia, for the sake of posterity, to wi_aurels,' even then I would answer you, thanking you, of course, with ever_ourtesy, 'No, we've had enough of one another, dear fellow-countrymen, merci!
It's time we took our separate ways!' 'Herd, mem, merci!"
Karmazinov bowed ceremoniously, and, as red as though he had been cooked, retired behind the scenes.
"Nobody would go down on their knees; a wild idea!"
"That's only humour," some one more reasonable suggested. "Spare me you_umour."
"I call it impudence, gentlemen!"
"Well, he's finished now, anyway!"
"Ech, what a dull show!"
But all these ignorant exclamations in the back rows (though they wer_onfined to the back rows) were drowned in applause from the other half of th_udience. They called for Karmazinov. Several ladies with Yulia Mihailovna an_he marshal's wife crowded round the platform. In Yulia Mihailovna's hands wa_ gorgeous laurel wreath resting on another wreath of living roses on a whit_elvet cushion.
"Laurels!" Karmazinov pronounced with a subtle and rather sarcastic smile. "_m touched, of course, and accept with real emotion this wreath prepare_eforehand, but still fresh and unwithered, but I assure you, mesdames, that _ave suddenly become so realistic that I feel laurels would in this age be fa_ore appropriate in the hands of a skilful cook than in mine… ."
"Well, a cook is more useful," cried the divinity student, who had been at the
"meeting" at Virgirisky's.
There was some disorder. In many rows people jumped up to get a better view o_he presentation of the laurel wreath.
"I'd give another three roubles for a, cook this minute," another voic_ssented loudly, too loudly; insistently, in fact.
"So would I."
"Is it possible there's no buffet? … "
"Gentlemen, it's simply a swindle… ."
It must be admitted, however, that all these unbridled gentlemen still stoo_n awe of our higher officials and of the police superintendent, who wa_resent in the hall. Ten minutes later all had somehow got back into thei_laces, but there was not the same good order as before. And it was into thi_ncipient chaos that poor Stepan Trofimovitch was thrust.
I ran out to him behind the scenes once more, and had time to warn hi_xcitedly that in my opinion the game was up, that he had better not appear a_ll, but had better go home at once on the excuse of his usual ailment, fo_nstance, and I would take off my badge and come with him. At that instant h_as on his way to the platform; he stopped suddenly, and haughtily looking m_p and down he pronounced solemnly:
"What grounds have you, sir, for thinking me capable of such baseness?"
I drew back.I was as sure as twice two make four that he would not get of_ithout a catastrophe. Meanwhile, as I stood utterly dejected, I saw movin_efore me again the figure of the professor, whose turn it was to appear afte_tepan Trofimovitch, and who kept lifting up his fist and bringing it dow_gain with a swing. He kept walking up and down, absorbed in himself an_uttering something to himself with a diabolical but triumphant smile. _omehow almost unintentionally went up to him. I don't know what induced me t_eddle again.
"Do you know," I said, "judging from many examples, if a lecturer keeps a_udience for more than twenty minutes it won't go on listening. No celebrit_s able to hold his own for half an hour."
He stopped short and seemed almost quivering with resentment. Infinite disdai_as expressed in his countenance.
"Don't trouble yourself," he muttered contemptuously and walked on. At tha_oment Stepan Trofimovitch's voice rang out in the hall.
"Oh, hang you all," I thought, and ran to the hall.
Stepan Trofimovitch took his seat in the lecturer's chair in the midst of th_till persisting disorder. He was greeted by the first rows with looks whic_ere evidently not over-friendly. (Of late, at the club, people almost seeme_ot to like him, and treated him with much less respect than formerly.) But i_as something to the good that he was not hissed. I had had a strange idea i_y head ever since the previous day: I kept fancying that he would be receive_ith hisses as soon as he appeared. They scarcely noticed him, however, in th_isorder. What could that man hope for if Karmazinov was treated like this? H_as pale; it was ten years since he had appeared before an audience. From hi_xcitement and from all that I knew so well in him, it was clear to me tha_e, too, regarded his present appearance on the platform as a turning-point o_is fate, or something of the kind. That was just what I was afraid of. Th_an was dear to me. And what were my feelings when he opened his lips and _eard his first phrase?
"Ladies and gentlemen," he pronounced suddenly, as though resolved to ventur_verything, though in an almost breaking voice. "Ladies and gentlemen! Onl_his morning there lay before me one of the illegal leaflets that have bee_istributed here lately, and I asked myself for the hundredth time, 'Wherei_ies its secret?'"
The whole hall became instantly still, all looks were turned to him, some wit_ositive alarm. There was no denying, he knew how to secure their interes_rom the first word. Heads were thrust out from behind the scenes; Liputin an_yamshin listened greedily. Yulia Mihailovna waved to me again.
"Stop him, whatever happens, stop him," she whispered in agitation. I coul_nly shrug my shoulders: how could one stop a man resolved to ventur_verything? Alas, I understood what was in Stepan Trofimovitch's mind.
"Ha ha, the manifestoes!" was whispered in the audience; the whole hall wa_tirred.
"Ladies and gentlemen, I've solved the whole mystery. The whole secret o_heir effect lies in their stupidity." (His eyes flashed.) "Yes. gentlemen, i_his stupidity were intentional, pretended and calculated, oh, that would be _troke of genius! But we must do them justice: they don't pretend anything.
It's the barest, most simple-hearted, most shallow stupidity. C'est la betis_ans son essence la plus pure, quelque chose comme un simple chimique. If i_ere expressed ever so little more cleverly, every one would see at once th_overty of this shallow stupidity. But as it is, every one is left wondering: no one can believe that it is such elementary stupidity. 'It's impossible tha_here's nothing more in it,' every one says to himself and tries to find th_ecret of it, sees a mystery in it, tries to read between the linesthe effec_s attained! Oh, never has stupidity been so solemnly rewarded, though it ha_o often deserved it… . For, en parenthese, stupidity is of as much service t_umanity as the loftiest genius… ."
"Epigram of 1840" was commented, in a very modest voice, however, but it wa_ollowed by a general outbreak of noise and uproar.
"Ladies and gentlemen, hurrah! I propose a toast to stupidity!" cried Stepa_rofimovitch, defying the audience in a perfect frenzy.
I ran up on the pretext of pouring out some water for him.
"Stepan Trofimovitch, leave off, Yulia Mihailovna entreats you to."
"No, you leave me alone, idle young man," he cried out at me at the top of hi_oice. I ran away. "Messieurs," he went on, "why this excitement, why th_utcries of indignation I hear? I have come forward with an olive branch. _ring you the last word, for in this business I have the last wordand we shal_e reconciled."
"Down with him!" shouted some.
"Hush, let him speak, let him have his say!" yelled another section. The youn_eacher was particularly excited; having once brought himself to speak h_eemed now unable to be silent.
"Messieurs, the last word in this businessis forgiveness. I, an old man at th_nd of my life, I solemnly declare that the spirit of life breathes in u_till, and there is still a living strength in the young generation. Th_nthusiasm of the youth of today is as pure and bright as in our age. All tha_as happened is a change of aim, the replacing of one beauty by another! Th_hole difficulty lies in the question which is more beautiful, Shakespeare o_oots, Raphael or petroleum?"
"It's treachery!" growled some.
"But I maintain," Stepan Trofimovitch shrilled at the utmost pitch o_xcitement, "I maintain that Shakespeare and Raphael are more precious tha_he emancipation of the serfs, more precious than Nationalism, more preciou_han Socialism, more precious than the young generation, more precious tha_hemistry, more precious than almost all humanity because they are the fruit, the real fruit of all humanity and perhaps the highest fruit that can be. _orm of beauty already attained, but for the attaining of which I would no_erhaps consent to live… . Oh, heavens!" he cried, clasping his hands, "te_ears ago I said the same thing from the platform in Petersburg, exactly th_ame thing, in the same words, and in just the same way they did no_nderstand it, they laughed and hissed as now; shallow people, what is lackin_n you that you cannot understand? But let me tell you, let me tell you, without the English, life is still possible for humanity, without Germany, life is possible, without the Russians it is only too possible, withou_cience, without bread, life is possibleonly without beauty it is impossible, for there will be nothing left in the world. That's the secret at the botto_f everything, that's what history teaches! Even science would not exist _oment without beautydo you know that, you who laughit will sink into bondage, you won't invent a nail even! . . I won't yield an inch!" he shouted absurdl_n confusion, and with all his might banged his fist on the table.
But all the while that he was shrieking senselessly and incoherently, th_isorder in the hall increased. Many people jumped up from their seats, som_ashed forward, nearer to the platform. It all happened much more quickly tha_ describe it, and there was no time to take steps, perhaps no wish to, either.
"It's all right for you, with everything found for you, you pampere_reatures!" the same divinity student bellowed at the foot of the platform, grinning with relish at Stepan Trofimovitch, who noticed it and darted to th_ery edge of the platform.
"Haven't I, haven't I just declared that the enthusiasm of the youn_eneration is as pure and bright as it was, and that it is coming to grie_hrough being deceived only in the forms of beauty! Isn't that enough for you?
And if you consider that he who proclaims this is a father crushed an_nsulted, can oneoh, shallow heartscan one rise to greater heights o_mpartiality and fairness? … Ungrateful … unjust… . Why, why can't you b_econciled!"
And he burst into hysterical sobs. He wiped away his dropping tears with hi_ingers. His shoulders and breast were heaving with sobs. He was lost t_verything in the world.
A perfect panic came over the audience, almost all got up from their seats.
Yulia Mihailovna, too, jumped up quickly, seizing her husband by the arm an_ulling him up too… . The scene was beyond all belief.
"Stepan Trofimovitch!" the divinity student roared gleefully. "There's Fedk_he convict wandering about the town and the neighbourhood, escaped fro_rison. He is a robber and has recently committed another murder. Allow me t_sk you: if you had not sold him as a recruit fifteen years ago to pay _ambling debt, that is, more simply, lost him at cards, tell me, would he hav_ot into prison? Would he have cut men's throats now, in his struggle fo_xistence? What do you say, Mr. Esthete?"
I decline to describe the scene that followed. To begin with there was _urious volley of applause. The applause did not come from allprobably fro_ome fifth part of the audiencebut they applauded furiously. The rest of th_ublic made for the exit, but as the applauding part of the audience kep_ressing forward towards the platform, there was a regular block. The ladie_creamed, some of the girls began to cry and asked to go home. Lembke, standing up by his chair, kept gazing wildly about him. Yulia Mihailovn_ompletely lost her headfor the first time during her career amongst us. A_or Stepan Trofimovitch, for the first moment he seemed literally crushed b_he divinity student's words, but he suddenly raised his arms as thoug_olding them out above the public and yelled:
"I shake the dust from off my feet and I curse you… . It's the end, the end… ."
And turning, he ran behind the scenes, waving his hands menacingly.
"He has insulted the audience! … Verhovensky!" the angry section roared. The_ven wanted to rush in pursuit of It was impossible to appease them, at th_oment, any way, anda final catastrophe broke like a bomb on the assembly an_xploded in its midst: the third reader, the maniac who kept waving his fis_ehind the scenes, suddenly ran on to the platform. He looked like a perfec_adman. With a broad, triumphant smile, full of boundless self-confidence, h_ooked round at the agitated hall and he seemed to be delighted at th_isorder. He was not in the least disconcerted at having to speak in such a_proar, on the contrary, he was obviously delighted. This was so obvious tha_t attracted attention at once.
"What's this now?" people were heard asking. "Who is this? Sh-h! What does h_ant to say?"
"Ladies and gentlemen," the maniac shouted with all his might, standing at th_ery edge of the platform and speaking with almost as shrill, feminine a voic_s Karmazinov's, but without the aristocratic lisp. "Ladies and gentlemen!
Twenty years ago, on the eve of war with half Europe, Russia was regarded a_n ideal country by officials of all ranks! Literature was in the service o_he censorship; military drill was all that was taught at the universities; the troops were trained like a ballet, and the peasants paid the taxes an_ere mute under the lash of serfdom. Patriotism meant the wringing of bribe_rom the quick and the dead. Those who did not take bribes were looked upon a_ebels because they disturbed the general harmony. The birch copses wer_xtirpated in support of discipline. Europe trembled… . But never in th_housand years of its senseless existence had Russia sunk to such ignominy… ."
He raised his fist, waved it ecstatically and menacingly over his head an_uddenly brought it down furiously, as though pounding an adversary to powder.
A frantic yell rose from the whole hall, there was a deafening roar o_pplause; almost half the audience was applauding: their enthusiasm wa_xcusable. Russia was being put to shame publicly, before every one. Who coul_ail to roar with delight?
"This is the real thing! Come, this is something like! Hurrah! Yes, this i_one of your aesthetics!"
The maniac went on ecstatically:
"Twenty years have passed since then. Universities have been opened an_ultiplied. Military drill has passed into a legend; officers are too few b_housands, the railways have eaten up all the capital and have covered Russi_s with a spider's web, so that in another fifteen years one will perhaps ge_omewhere. Bridges are rarely on fire, and fires in towns occur only a_egular intervals, in turn, at the proper season. In the law courts judgment_re as wise as Solomon's, and the jury only take bribes through the struggl_or existence, to escape starvation. The serfs are free, and flog one anothe_nstead of being flogged by the land-owners. Seas and oceans of vodka ar_onsumed to support the budget, and in Novgorod, opposite the ancient an_seless St. Sophia, there has been solemnly put up a colossal bronze globe t_elebrate a thousand years of disorder and confusion; Europe scowls and begin_o be uneasy again… . Fifteen years of reforms! And yet never even in the mos_rotesque periods of its madness has Russia sunk … "
The last words could not be heard in the roar of the crowd. One could see hi_gain raise his arm and bring it down triumphantly again. Enthusiasm wa_eyond all bounds: people yelled, clapped their hands, even some of the ladie_houted: "Enough, you can't beat that!" Some might have been drunk. The orato_canned them all and seemed revelling in his own triumph. I caught a glimps_f Lembke in indescribable excitement, pointing something out to somebody.
Yulia Mihailovna, with a pale face, said something in haste to the prince, wh_ad run up to her. But at that moment a group of six men, officials more o_ess, burst on to the platform, seized the orator and dragged him behind th_cenes. I can't understand how he managed to tear himself away from them, bu_e did escape, darted up to the edge of the platform again and succeeded i_houting again, at the top of his voice, waving his fist: "But never ha_ussia sunk … "
But he was dragged away again. I saw some fifteen men dash behind the scene_o rescue him, not crossing the platform but breaking down the light screen a_he side of it… . I saw afterwards, though I could hardly believe my eyes, th_irl student (Virginsky's sister) leap on to the platform with the same rol_nder her arm, dressed as before, as plump and rosy as ever, surrounded by tw_r three women and two or three men, and accompanied by her mortal enemy, th_choolboy. I even caught the phrase:
"Ladies and gentlemen, I've come to call attention to the I sufferings of poo_tudents and to rouse them to a general protest … "
But I ran away. Hiding my badge in my pocket I made my way from the house int_he street by back passages which I knew of. First of all, of course, I wen_o Stepan Trofimovitch's.