THE entrance-hall suddenly became full of noise and people. To judge from the sounds which penetrated to the drawing-room, a number of people had already come in, and the stampede continued. Several voices were talking and shouting at once; others were talking and shouting on the stairs outside; it was evidently a most extraordinary visit that was about to take place.
Everyone exchanged startled glances. Gania rushed out towards the dining-room, but a number of men had already made their way in, and met him.
“Ah! here he is, the Judas!” cried a voice which the prince recognized at once. “How d’ye do, Gania, you old blackguard?”
“Yes, that’s the man!” said another voice.
There was no room for doubt in the prince’s mind: one of the voices was Rogojin’s, and the other Lebedeff’s.
Gania stood at the door like a block and looked on in silence, putting no obstacle in the way of their entrance, and ten or a dozen men marched in behind Parfen Rogojin. They were a decidedly mixed-looking collection, and some of them came in in their furs and caps. None of them were quite drunk, but all appeared to De considerably excited.
They seemed to need each other’s support, morally, before they dared come in; not one of them would have entered alone but with the rest each one was brave enough. Even Rogojin entered rather cautiously at the head of his troop; but he was evidently preoccupied. He appeared to be gloomy and morose, and had clearly come with some end in view. All the rest were merely chorus, brought in to support the chief character. Besides Lebedeff there was the dandy Zalesheff, who came in without his coat and hat, two or three others followed his example; the rest were more uncouth. They included a couple of young merchants, a man in a great-coat, a medical student, a little Pole, a small fat man who laughed continuously, and an enormously tall stout one who apparently put great faith in the strength of his fists. A couple of “ladies” of some sort put their heads in at the front door, but did not dare come any farther. Colia promptly banged the door in their faces and locked it.
“Hallo, Gania, you blackguard! You didn’t expect Rogojin, eh?” said the latter, entering the drawing-room, and stopping before Gania.
But at this moment he saw, seated before him, Nastasia Philipovna. He had not dreamed of meeting her here, evidently, for her appearance produced a marvellous effect upon him. He grew pale, and his lips became actually blue.
“I suppose it is true, then!” he muttered to himself, and his face took on an expression of despair. “So that’s the end of it! Now you, sir, will you answer me or not?” he went on suddenly, gazing at Gania with ineffable malice. “Now then, you—”
He panted, and could hardly speak for agitation. He advanced into the room mechanically; but perceiving Nina Alexandrovna and Varia he became more or less embarrassed, in spite of his excitement. His followers entered after him, and all paused a moment at sight of the ladies. Of course their modesty was not fated to be long-lived, but for a moment they were abashed. Once let them begin to shout, however, and nothing on earth should disconcert them.
“What, you here too, prince?” said Rogojin, absently, but a little surprised all the same “ Still in your gaiters, eh?” He sighed, and forgot the prince next moment, and his wild eyes wandered over to Nastasia again, as though attracted in that direction by some magnetic force.
Nastasia looked at the new arrivals with great curiosity. Gania recollected himself at last.
“Excuse me, sirs,” he said, loudly, “but what does all this mean?” He glared at the advancing crowd generally, but addressed his remarks especially to their captain, Rogojin. “You are not in a stable, gentlemen, though you may think it—my mother and sister are present.”
“Yes, I see your mother and sister,” muttered Rogojin, through his teeth; and Lebedeff seemed to feel himself called upon to second the statement.
“At all events, I must request you to step into the salon,” said Gania, his rage rising quite out of proportion to his words, “and then I shall inquire—”
“What, he doesn’t know me!” said Rogojin, showing his teeth disagreeably. “He doesn’t recognize Rogojin!” He did not move an inch, however.
“I have met you somewhere, I believe, but—”
“Met me somewhere, pfu! Why, it’s only three months since I lost two hundred roubles of my father’s money to you, at cards. The old fellow died before he found out. Ptitsin knows all about it. Why, I’ve only to pull out a three-rouble note and show it to you, and you’d crawl on your hands and knees to the other end of the town for it; that’s the sort of man you are. Why, I’ve come now, at this moment, to buy you up! Oh, you needn’t think that because I wear these boots I have no money. I have lots of money, my beauty,—enough to buy up you and all yours together. So I shall, if I like to! I’ll buy you up! I will!” he yelled, apparently growing more and more intoxicated and excited.” Oh, Nastasia Philipovna! don’t turn me out! Say one word, do! Are you going to marry this man, or not?”
Rogojin asked his question like a lost soul appealing to some divinity, with the reckless daring of one appointed to die, who has nothing to lose.
He awaited the reply in deadly anxiety.
Nastasia Philipovna gazed at him with a haughty, ironical. expression of face; but when she glanced at Nina Alexandrovna and Varia, and from them to Gania, she changed her tone, all of a sudden.
“Certainly not; what are you thinking of? What could have induced you to ask such a question?” she replied, quietly and seriously, and even, apparently, with some astonishment.
“No? No?” shouted Rogojin, almost out of his mind with joy. “You are not going to, after all? And they told me—oh, Nastasia Philipovna—they said you had promised to marry him, HIM! As if you COULD do it!—him—pooh! I don’t mind saying it to everyone— I’d buy him off for a hundred roubles, any day pfu! Give him a thousand, or three if he likes, poor devil’ and he’d cut and run the day before his wedding, and leave his bride to me! Wouldn’t you, Gania, you blackguard? You’d take three thousand, wouldn’t you? Here’s the money! Look, I’ve come on purpose to pay you off and get your receipt, formally. I said I’d buy you up, and so I will.”
“Get out of this, you drunken beast!” cried Gania, who was red and white by turns.
Rogojin’s troop, who were only waiting for an excuse, set up a howl at this. Lebedeff stepped forward and whispered something in Parfen’s ear.
“You’re right, clerk,” said the latter, “you’re right, tipsy spirit—you’re right!—Nastasia Philipovna,” he added, looking at her like some lunatic, harmless generally, but suddenly wound up to a pitch of audacity, “here are eighteen thousand roubles, and—and you shall have more—.” Here he threw a packet of bank-notes tied up in white paper, on the table before her, not daring to say all he wished to say.
“No-no-no!” muttered Lebedeff, clutching at his arm. He was clearly aghast at the largeness of the sum, and thought a far smaller amount should have been tried first.
“No, you fool—you don’t know whom you are dealing with—and it appears I am a fool, too!” said Parfen, trembling beneath the flashing glance of Nastasia. “Oh, curse it all! What a fool I was to listen to you!” he added, with profound melancholy.
Nastasia Philipovna, observing his woe-begone expression, suddenly burst out laughing.
“Eighteen thousand roubles, for me? Why, you declare yourself a fool at once,” she said, with impudent familiarity, as she rose from the sofa and prepared to go. Gania watched the whole scene with a sinking of the heart.
“Forty thousand, then—forty thousand roubles instead of eighteen! Ptitsin and another have promised to find me forty thousand roubles by seven o’clock tonight. Forty thousand roubles—paid down on the nail!”
The scene was growing more and more disgraceful; but Nastasia Philipovna continued to laugh and did not go away. Nina Alexandrovna and Varia had both risen from their places and were waiting, in silent horror, to see what would happen. Varia’s eyes were all ablaze with anger; but the scene had a different effect on Nina Alexandrovna. She paled and trembled, and looked more and more like fainting every moment.
“Very well then, a HUNDRED thousand! a hundred thousand! paid this very day. Ptitsin! find it for me. A good share shall stick to your fingers—come!”
“You are mad!” said Ptitsin, coming up quickly and seizing him by the hand. “You’re drunk—the police will be sent for if you don’t look out. Think where you are.”
“Yes, he’s boasting like a drunkard,” added Nastasia, as though with the sole intention of goading him.
“I do NOT boast! You shall have a hundred thousand, this very day. Ptitsin, get the money, you gay usurer! Take what you like for it, but get it by the evening! I’ll show that I’m in earnest!” cried Rogojin, working himself up into a frenzy of excitement.
“Come, come; what’s all this?” cried General Ivolgin, suddenly and angrily, coming close up to Rogojin. The unexpectedness of this sally on the part of the hitherto silent old man caused some laughter among the intruders.
“Halloa! what’s this now?” laughed Rogojin. “You come along with me, old fellow! You shall have as much to drink as you like.”
“Oh, it’s too horrible!” cried poor Colia, sobbing with shame and annoyance.
“Surely there must be someone among all of you here who will turn this shameless creature out of the room?” cried Varia, suddenly. She was shaking and trembling with rage.
“That’s me, I suppose. I’m the shameless creature!” cried Nastasia Philipovna, with amused indifference. “Dear me, and I came—like a fool, as I am—to invite them over to my house for the evening! Look how your sister treats me, Gavrila Ardalionovitch.”
For some moments Gania stood as if stunned or struck by lightning, after his sister’s speech. But seeing that Nastasia Philipovna was really about to leave the room this time, he sprang at Varia and seized her by the arm like a madman.
“What have you done?” he hissed, glaring at her as though he would like to annihilate her on the spot. He was quite beside himself, and could hardly articulate his words for rage.
“What have I done? Where are you dragging me to?”
“Do you wish me to beg pardon of this creature because she has come here to insult our mother and disgrace the whole household, you low, base wretch?” cried Varia, looking back at her brother with proud defiance.
A few moments passed as they stood there face to face, Gania still holding her wrist tightly. Varia struggled once—twice—to get free; then could restrain herself no longer, and spat in his face.
“There’s a girl for you!” cried Nastasia Philipovna. “Mr. Ptitsin, I congratulate you on your choice.”
Gania lost his head. Forgetful of everything he aimed a blow at Varia, which would inevitably have laid her low, but suddenly another hand caught his. Between him and Varia stood the prince.
“Enough—enough!” said the latter, with insistence, but all of a tremble with excitement.
“Are you going to cross my path for ever, damn you!” cried Gania; and, loosening his hold on Varia, he slapped the prince’s face with all his force.
Exclamations of horror arose on all sides. The prince grew pale as death; he gazed into Gania’s eyes with a strange, wild, reproachful look; his lips trembled and vainly endeavoured to form some words; then his mouth twisted into an incongruous smile.
“Very well—never mind about me; but I shall not allow you to strike her!” he said, at last, quietly. Then, suddenly, he could bear it no longer, and covering his face with his hands, turned to the wall, and murmured in broken accents:
“Oh! how ashamed you will be of this afterwards!”
Gania certainly did look dreadfully abashed. Colia rushed up to comfort the prince, and after him crowded Varia, Rogojin and all, even the general.
“It’s nothing, it’s nothing!” said the prince, and again he wore the smile which was so inconsistent with the circumstances.
“Yes, he will be ashamed!” cried Rogojin. “You will be properly ashamed of yourself for having injured such a—such a sheep” (he could not find a better word). “Prince, my dear fellow, leave this and come away with me. I’ll show you how Rogojin shows his affection for his friends.”
Nastasia Philipovna was also much impressed, both with Gania’s action and with the prince’s reply.
Her usually thoughtful, pale face, which all this while had been so little in harmony with the jests and laughter which she had seemed to put on for the occasion, was now evidently agitated by new feelings, though she tried to conceal the fact and to look as though she were as ready as ever for jesting and irony.
“I really think I must have seen him somewhere!” she murmured seriously enough.
“Oh, aren’t you ashamed of yourself—aren’t you ashamed? Are you really the sort of woman you are trying to represent yourself to be? Is it possible?” The prince was now addressing Nastasia, in a tone of reproach, which evidently came from his very heart.
Nastasia Philipovna looked surprised, and smiled, but evidently concealed something beneath her smile and with some confusion and a glance at Gania she left the room.
However, she had not reached the outer hall when she turned round, walked quickly up to Nina Alexandrovna, seized her hand and lifted it to her lips.
“He guessed quite right. I am not that sort of woman,” she whispered hurriedly, flushing red all over. Then she turned again and left the room so quickly that no one could imagine what she had come back for. All they saw was that she said something to Nina Alexandrovna in a hurried whisper, and seemed to kiss her hand. Varia, however, both saw and heard all, and watched Nastasia out of the room with an expression of wonder.
Gania recollected himself in time to rush after her in order to show her out, but she had gone. He followed her to the stairs.
“Don’t come with me,” she cried, “Au revoir, till the evening—do you hear? Au revoir!”
He returned thoughtful and confused; the riddle lay heavier than ever on his soul. He was troubled about the prince, too, and so bewildered that he did not even observe Rogojin’s rowdy band crowd past him and step on his toes, at the door as they went out. They were all talking at once. Rogojin went ahead of the others, talking to Ptitsin, and apparently insisting vehemently upon something very important
“You’ve lost the game, Gania” he cried, as he passed the latter.
Gania gazed after him uneasily, but said nothing.