THE occurrence at the Vauxhall had filled both mother and daughters with something like horror. In their excitement Lizabetha Prokofievna and the girls were nearly running all the way home.
In her opinion there was so much disclosed and laid bare by the episode, that, in spite of the chaotic condition of her mind, she was able to feel more or less decided on certain points which, up to now, had been in a cloudy condition.
However, one and all of the party realized that something important had happened, and that, perhaps fortunately enough, something which had hitherto been enveloped in the obscurity of guess-work had now begun to come forth a little from the mists. In spite of Prince S.‘s assurances and explanations, Evgenie Pavlovitch’s real character and position were at last coming to light. He was publicly convicted of intimacy with “that creature.” So thought Lizabetha Prokofievna and her two elder daughters.
But the real upshot of the business was that the number of riddles to be solved was augmented. The two girls, though rather irritated at their mother’s exaggerated alarm and haste to depart from the scene, had been unwilling to worry her at first with questions.
Besides, they could not help thinking that their sister Aglaya probably knew more about the whole matter than both they and their mother put together.
Prince S. looked as black as night, and was silent and moody. Mrs. Epanchin did not say a word to him all the way home, and he did not seem to observe the fact. Adelaida tried to pump him a little by asking, “who was the uncle they were talking about, and what was it that had happened in Petersburg?” But he had merely muttered something disconnected about “making inquiries,” and that “of course it was all nonsense.” “Oh, of course,” replied Adelaida, and asked no more questions. Aglaya, too, was very quiet; and the only remark she made on the way home was that they were “walking much too fast to be pleasant.”
Once she turned and observed the prince hurrying after them. Noticing his anxiety to catch them up, she smiled ironically, and then looked back no more. At length, just as they neared the house, General Epanchin came out and met them; he had only just arrived from town.
His first word was to inquire after Evgenie Pavlovitch. But Lizabetha stalked past him, and neither looked at him nor answered his question.
He immediately judged from the faces of his daughters and Prince S. that there was a thunderstorm brewing, and he himself already bore evidences of unusual perturbation of mind.
He immediately button-holed Prince S., and standing at the front door, engaged in a whispered conversation with him. By the troubled aspect of both of them, when they entered the house, and approached Mrs. Epanchin, it was evident that they had been discussing very disturbing news.
Little by little the family gathered together upstairs in Lizabetha Prokofievna’s apartments, and Prince Muishkin found himself alone on the verandah when he arrived. He settled himself in a corner and sat waiting, though he knew not what he expected. It never struck him that he had better go away, with all this disturbance in the house. He seemed to have forgotten all the world, and to be ready to sit on where he was for years on end. From upstairs he caught sounds of excited conversation every now and then.
He could not say how long he sat there. It grew late and became quite dark.
Suddenly Aglaya entered the verandah. She seemed to be quite calm, though a little pale.
Observing the prince, whom she evidently did not expect to see there, alone in the corner, she smiled, and approached him:
“What are you doing there?” she asked.
The prince muttered something, blushed, and jumped up; but Aglaya immediately sat down beside him; so he reseated himself.
She looked suddenly, but attentively into his face, then at the window, as though thinking of something else, and then again at him.
“Perhaps she wants to laugh at me,” thought the prince, “but no; for if she did she certainly would do so.”
“Would you like some tea? I’ll order some,” she said, after a minute or two of silence.
“N-no thanks, I don’t know—”
“Don’t know! How can you not know? By-the-by, look here—if someone were to challenge you to a duel, what should you do? I wished to ask you this—some time ago—”
“Why? Nobody would ever challenge me to a duel!”
“But if they were to, would you be dreadfully frightened?”
“I dare say I should be—much alarmed!”
“Seriously? Then are you a coward?”
“N-no!—I don’t think so. A coward is a man who is afraid and runs away; the man who is frightened but does not run away, is not quite a coward,” said the prince with a smile, after a moment’s thought.
“And you wouldn’t run away?”
“No—I don’t think I should run away,” replied the prince, laughing outright at last at Aglaya’s questions.
“Though I am a woman, I should certainly not run away for anything,” said Aglaya, in a slightly pained voice. “However, I see you are laughing at me and twisting your face up as usual in order to make yourself look more interesting. Now tell me, they generally shoot at twenty paces, don’t they? At ten, sometimes? I suppose if at ten they must be either wounded or killed, mustn’t they?”
“I don’t think they often kill each other at duels.”
“They killed Pushkin that way.”
“That may have been an accident.”
“Not a bit of it; it was a duel to the death, and he was killed.”
“The bullet struck so low down that probably his antagonist would never have aimed at that part of him—people never do; he would have aimed at his chest or head; so that probably the bullet hit him accidentally. I have been told this by competent authorities.”
“Well, a soldier once told me that they were always ordered to aim at the middle of the body. So you see they don’t aim at the chest or head; they aim lower on purpose. I asked some officer about this afterwards, and he said it was perfectly true.”
“That is probably when they fire from a long distance.”
“Can you shoot at all?”
“No, I have never shot in my life.”
“Can’t you even load a pistol?”
“No! That is, I understand how it’s done, of course, but I have never done it.”
“Then, you don’t know how, for it is a matter that needs practice. Now listen and learn; in the first place buy good powder, not damp (they say it mustn’t be at all damp, but very dry), some fine kind it is—you must ask for PISTOL powder, not the stuff they load cannons with. They say one makes the bullets oneself, somehow or other. Have you got a pistol?”
“No—and I don’t want one,” said the prince, laughing.
“Oh, what NONSENSE! You must buy one. French or English are the best, they say. Then take a little powder, about a thimbleful, or perhaps two, and pour it into the barrel. Better put plenty. Then push in a bit of felt (it MUST be felt, for some reason or other); you can easily get a bit off some old mattress, or off a door; it’s used to keep the cold out. Well, when you have pushed the felt down, put the bullet in; do you hear now? The bullet last and the powder first, not the other way, or the pistol won’t shoot. What are you laughing at? I wish you to buy a pistol and practise every day, and you must learn to hit a mark for CERTAIN; will you?”
The prince only laughed. Aglaya stamped her foot with annoyance.
Her serious air, however, during this conversation had surprised him considerably. He had a feeling that he ought to be asking her something, that there was something he wanted to find out far more important than how to load a pistol; but his thoughts had all scattered, and he was only aware that she was sitting by, him, and talking to him, and that he was looking at her; as to what she happened to be saying to him, that did not matter in the least.
The general now appeared on the verandah, coming from upstairs. He was on his way out, with an expression of determination on his face, and of preoccupation and worry also.
“Ah! Lef Nicolaievitch, it’s you, is it? Where are you off to now?” he asked, oblivious of the fact that the prince had not showed the least sign of moving. “Come along with me; I want to say a word or two to you.”
“Au revoir, then!” said Aglaya, holding out her hand to the prince.
It was quite dark now, and Muishkin could not see her face clearly, but a minute or two later, when he and the general had left the villa, he suddenly flushed up, and squeezed his right hand tightly.
It appeared that he and the general were going in the same direction. In spite of the lateness of the hour, the general was hurrying away to talk to someone upon some important subject. Meanwhile he talked incessantly but disconnectedly to the prince, and continually brought in the name of Lizabetha Prokofievna.
If the prince had been in a condition to pay more attention to what the general was saying, he would have discovered that the latter was desirous of drawing some information out of him, or indeed of asking him some question outright; but that he could not make up his mind to come to the point.
Muishkin was so absent, that from the very first he could not attend to a word the other was saying; and when the general suddenly stopped before him with some excited question, he was obliged to confess, ignominiously, that he did not know in the least what he had been talking about.
The general shrugged his shoulders.
“How strange everyone, yourself included, has become of late,” said he. “I was telling you that I cannot in the least understand Lizabetha Prokofievna’s ideas and agitations. She is in hysterics up there, and moans and says that we have been ‘shamed and disgraced.’ How? Why? When? By whom? I confess that I am very much to blame myself; I do not conceal the fact; but the conduct, the outrageous behaviour of this woman, must really be kept within limits, by the police if necessary, and I am just on my way now to talk the question over and make some arrangements. It can all be managed quietly and gently, even kindly, and without the slightest fuss or scandal. I foresee that the future is pregnant with events, and that there is much that needs explanation. There is intrigue in the wind; but if on one side nothing is known, on the other side nothing will be explained. If I have heard nothing about it, nor have YOU, nor HE, nor SHE— who HAS heard about it, I should like to know? How CAN all this be explained except by the fact that half of it is mirage or moonshine, or some hallucination of that sort?”
“SHE is insane,” muttered the prince, suddenly recollecting all that had passed, with a spasm of pain at his heart.
“I too had that idea, and I slept in peace. But now I see that their opinion is more correct. I do not believe in the theory of madness! The woman has no common sense; but she is not only not insane, she is artful to a degree. Her outburst of this evening about Evgenie’s uncle proves that conclusively. It was VILLAINOUS, simply jesuitical, and it was all for some special purpose.”
“What about Evgenie’s uncle?”
“My goodness, Lef Nicolaievitch, why, you can’t have heard a single word I said! Look at me, I’m still trembling all over with the dreadful shock! It is that that kept me in town so late. Evgenie Pavlovitch’s uncle—”
Well?” cried the prince.
“Shot himself this morning, at seven o’clock. A respected, eminent old man of seventy; and exactly point for point as she described it; a sum of money, a considerable sum of government money, missing!”
“Why, how could she—”
“What, know of it? Ha, ha, ha! Why, there was a whole crowd round her the moment she appeared on the scenes here. You know what sort of people surround her nowadays, and solicit the honour of her ‘acquaintance.’ Of course she might easily have heard the news from someone coming from town. All Petersburg, if not all Pavlofsk, knows it by now. Look at the slyness of her observation about Evgenie’s uniform! I mean, her remark that he had retired just in time! There’s a venomous hint for you, if you like! No, no! there’s no insanity there! Of course I refuse to believe that Evgenie Pavlovitch could have known beforehand of the catastrophe; that is, that at such and such a day at seven o’clock, and all that; but he might well have had a presentiment of the truth. And I—all of us—Prince S. and everybody, believed that he was to inherit a large fortune from this uncle. It’s dreadful, horrible! Mind, I don’t suspect Evgenie of anything, be quite clear on that point; but the thing is a little suspicious, nevertheless. Prince S. can’t get over it. Altogether it is a very extraordinary combination of circumstances.”
“What suspicion attaches to Evgenie Pavlovitch?”
“Oh, none at all! He has behaved very well indeed. I didn’t mean to drop any sort of hint. His own fortune is intact, I believe. Lizabetha Prokofievna, of course, refuses to listen to anything. That’s the worst of it all, these family catastrophes or quarrels, or whatever you like to call them. You know, prince, you are a friend of the family, so I don’t mind telling you; it now appears that Evgenie Pavlovitch proposed to Aglaya a month ago, and was refused.”
“Impossible!” cried the prince.
“Why? Do you know anything about it? Look here,” continued the general, more agitated than ever, and trembling with excitement, “maybe I have been letting the cat out of the bag too freely with you, if so, it is because you are—that sort of man, you know! Perhaps you have some special information?”
“I know nothing about Evgenie Pavlovitch!” said the prince.
“Nor do I! They always try to bury me underground when there’s anything going on; they don’t seem to reflect that it is unpleasant to a man to be treated so! I won’t stand it! We have just had a terrible scene!—mind, I speak to you as I would to my own son! Aglaya laughs at her mother. Her sisters guessed about Evgenie having proposed and been rejected, and told Lizabetha.
“I tell you, my dear fellow, Aglaya is such an extraordinary, such a self-willed, fantastical little creature, you wouldn’t believe it! Every high quality, every brilliant trait of heart and mind, are to be found in her, and, with it all, so much caprice and mockery, such wild fancies—indeed, a little devil! She has just been laughing at her mother to her very face, and at her sisters, and at Prince S., and everybody—and of course she always laughs at me! You know I love the child—I love her even when she laughs at me, and I believe the wild little creature has a special fondness for me for that very reason. She is fonder of me than any of the others. I dare swear she has had a good laugh at YOU before now! You were having a quiet talk just now, I observed, after all the thunder and lightning upstairs. She was sitting with you just as though there had been no row at all.”
The prince blushed painfully in the darkness, and closed his right hand tightly, but he said nothing.
“My dear good Prince Lef Nicolaievitch,” began the general again, suddenly, “both I and Lizabetha Prokofievna—(who has begun to respect you once more, and me through you, goodness knows why!)— we both love you very sincerely, and esteem you, in spite of any appearances to the contrary. But you’ll admit what a riddle it must have been for us when that calm, cold, little spitfire, Aglaya—(for she stood up to her mother and answered her questions with inexpressible contempt, and mine still more so, because, like a fool, I thought it my duty to assert myself as head of the family)—when Aglaya stood up of a sudden and informed us that ‘that madwoman’ (strangely enough, she used exactly the same expression as you did) ‘has taken it into her head to marry me to Prince Lef Nicolaievitch, and therefore is doing her best to choke Evgenie Pavlovitch off, and rid the house of him.’ That’s what she said. She would not give the slightest explanation; she burst out laughing, banged the door, and went away. We all stood there with our mouths open. Well, I was told afterwards of your little passage with Aglaya this afternoon, and-and—dear prince—you are a good, sensible fellow, don’t be angry if I speak out—she is laughing at you, my boy! She is enjoying herself like a child, at your expense, and therefore, since she is a child, don’t be angry with her, and don’t think anything of it. I assure you, she is simply making a fool of you, just as she does with one and all of us out of pure lack of something better to do. Well—good-bye! You know our feelings, don’t you—our sincere feelings for yourself? They are unalterable, you know, dear boy, under all circumstances, but— Well, here we part; I must go down to the right. Rarely have I sat so uncomfortably in my saddle, as they say, as I now sit. And people talk of the charms of a country holiday!”
Left to himself at the cross-roads, the prince glanced around him, quickly crossed the road towards the lighted window of a neighbouring house, and unfolded a tiny scrap of paper which he had held clasped in his right hand during the whole of his conversation with the general.
He read the note in the uncertain rays that fell from the window. It was as follows:
“Tomorrow morning, I shall be at the green bench in the park at seven, and shall wait there for you. I have made up my mind to speak to you about a most important matter which closely concerns yourself.
“P.S.—I trust that you will not show this note to anyone. Though I am ashamed of giving you such instructions, I feel that I must do so, considering what you are. I therefore write the words, and blush for your simple character.
“P.P.S.—It is the same green bench that I showed you before. There! aren’t you ashamed of yourself? I felt that it was necessary to repeat even that information.”
The note was written and folded anyhow, evidently in a great hurry, and probably just before Aglaya had come down to the verandah.
In inexpressible agitation, amounting almost to fear, the prince slipped quickly away from the window, away from the light, like a frightened thief, but as he did so he collided violently with some gentleman who seemed to spring from the earth at his feet.
“I was watching for you, prince,” said the individual.
“Is that you, Keller?” said the prince, in surprise.
“Yes, I’ve been looking for you. I waited for you at the Epanchins’ house, but of course I could not come in. I dogged you from behind as you walked along with the general. Well, prince, here is Keller, absolutely at your service—command him!—ready to sacrifice himself—even to die in case of need.”
“Oh, why?—Of course you’ll be challenged! That was young Lieutenant Moloftsoff. I know him, or rather of him; he won’t pass an insult. He will take no notice of Rogojin and myself, and, therefore, you are the only one left to account for. You’ll have to pay the piper, prince. He has been asking about you, and undoubtedly his friend will call on you tomorrow—perhaps he is at your house already. If you would do me the honour to have me for a second, prince, I should be happy. That’s why I have been looking for you now.”
“Duel! You’ve come to talk about a duel, too!” The prince burst out laughing, to the great astonishment of Keller. He laughed unrestrainedly, and Keller, who had been on pins and needles, and in a fever of excitement to offer himself as “second,” was very near being offended.
“You caught him by the arms, you know, prince. No man of proper pride can stand that sort of treatment in public.”
“Yes, and he gave me a fearful dig in the chest,” cried the prince, still laughing. “What are we to fight about? I shall beg his pardon, that’s all. But if we must fight—we’ll fight! Let him have a shot at me, by all means; I should rather like it. Ha, ha, ha! I know how to load a pistol now; do you know how to load a pistol, Keller? First, you have to buy the powder, you know; it mustn’t be wet, and it mustn’t be that coarse stuff that they load cannons with—it must be pistol powder. Then you pour the powder in, and get hold of a bit of felt from some door, and then shove the bullet in. But don’t shove the bullet in before the powder, because the thing wouldn’t go off—do you hear, Keller, the thing wouldn’t go off! Ha, ha, ha! Isn’t that a grand reason, Keller, my friend, eh? Do you know, my dear fellow, I really must kiss you, and embrace you, this very moment. Ha, ha! How was it you so suddenly popped up in front of me as you did? Come to my house as soon as you can, and we’ll have some champagne. We’ll all get drunk! Do you know I have a dozen of champagne in Lebedeff’s cellar? Lebedeff sold them to me the day after I arrived. I took the lot. We’ll invite everybody! Are you going to do any sleeping tonight?”
“As much as usual, prince—why?”
“Pleasant dreams then—ha, ha!”
The prince crossed the road, and disappeared into the park, leaving the astonished Keller in a state of ludicrous wonder. He had never before seen the prince in such a strange condition of mind, and could not have imagined the possibility of it.
“Fever, probably,” he said to himself, “for the man is all nerves, and this business has been a little too much for him. He is not AFRAID, that’s clear; that sort never funks! H’m! champagne! That was an interesting item of news, at all events!— Twelve bottles! Dear me, that’s a very respectable little stock indeed! I bet anything Lebedeff lent somebody money on deposit of this dozen of champagne. Hum! he’s a nice fellow, is this prince! I like this sort of man. Well, I needn’t be wasting time here, and if it’s a case of champagne, why—there’s no time like the present!”
That the prince was almost in a fever was no more than the truth. He wandered about the park for a long while, and at last came to himself in a lonely avenue. He was vaguely conscious that he had already paced this particular walk—from that large, dark tree to the bench at the other end—about a hundred yards altogether—at least thirty times backwards and forwards.
As to recollecting what he had been thinking of all that time, he could not. He caught himself, however, indulging in one thought which made him roar with laughter, though there was nothing really to laugh at in it; but he felt that he must laugh, and go on laughing.
It struck him that the idea of the duel might not have occurred to Keller alone, but that his lesson in the art of pistol-loading might have been not altogether accidental! “Pooh! nonsense!” he said to himself, struck by another thought, of a sudden. “Why, she was immensely surprised to find me there on the verandah, and laughed and talked about TEA! And yet she had this little note in her hand, therefore she must have known that I was sitting there. So why was she surprised? Ha, ha, ha!”
He pulled the note out and kissed it; then paused and reflected. “How strange it all is! how strange!” he muttered, melancholy enough now. In moments of great joy, he invariably felt a sensation of melancholy come over him—he could not tell why.
He looked intently around him, and wondered why he had come here; he was very tired, so he approached the bench and sat down on it. Around him was profound silence; the music in the Vauxhall was over. The park seemed quite empty, though it was not, in reality, later than half-past eleven. It was a quiet, warm, clear night—a real Petersburg night of early June; but in the dense avenue, where he was sitting, it was almost pitch dark.
If anyone had come up at this moment and told him that he was in love, passionately in love, he would have rejected the idea with astonishment, and, perhaps, with irritation. And if anyone had added that Aglaya’s note was a love-letter, and that it contained an appointment to a lover’s rendezvous, he would have blushed with shame for the speaker, and, probably, have challenged him to a duel.
All this would have been perfectly sincere on his part. He had never for a moment entertained the idea of the possibility of this girl loving him, or even of such a thing as himself falling in love with her. The possibility of being loved himself, “a man like me,” as he put it, he ranked among ridiculous suppositions. It appeared to him that it was simply a joke on Aglaya’s part, if there really were anything in it at all; but that seemed to him quite natural. His preoccupation was caused by something different.
As to the few words which the general had let slip about Aglaya laughing at everybody, and at himself most of all—he entirely believed them. He did not feel the slightest sensation of offence; on the contrary, he was quite certain that it was as it should be.
His whole thoughts were now as to next morning early; he would see her; he would sit by her on that little green bench, and listen to how pistols were loaded, and look at her. He wanted nothing more.
The question as to what she might have to say of special interest to himself occurred to him once or twice. He did not doubt, for a moment, that she really had some such subject of conversation in store, but so very little interested in the matter was he that it did not strike him to wonder what it could be. The crunch of gravel on the path suddenly caused him to raise his head.
A man, whose face it was difficult to see in the gloom, approached the bench, and sat down beside him. The prince peered into his face, and recognized the livid features of Rogojin.
“I knew you’d be wandering about somewhere here. I didn’t have to look for you very long,” muttered the latter between his teeth.
It was the first time they had met since the encounter on the staircase at the hotel.
Painfully surprised as he was at this sudden apparition of Rogojin, the prince, for some little while, was unable to collect his thoughts. Rogojin, evidently, saw and understood the impression he had made; and though he seemed more or less confused at first, yet he began talking with what looked like assumed ease and freedom. However, the prince soon changed his mind on this score, and thought that there was not only no affectation of indifference, but that Rogojin was not even particularly agitated. If there were a little apparent awkwardness, it was only in his words and gestures. The man could not change his heart.
“How did you—find me here?” asked the prince for the sake of saying something.
“Keller told me (I found him at your place) that you were in the park. ‘Of course he is!’ I thought.”
“Why so?” asked the prince uneasily.
Rogojin smiled, but did not explain.
“I received your letter, Lef Nicolaievitch—what’s the good of all that?—It’s no use, you know. I’ve come to you from HER,—she bade me tell you that she must see you, she has something to say to you. She told me to find you today.”
“I’ll come tomorrow. Now I’m going home—are you coming to my house?”
“Why should I? I’ve given you the message.—Goodbye!”
“Won’t you come?” asked the prince in a gentle voice.
“What an extraordinary man you are! I wonder at you!” Rogojin laughed sarcastically.
“Why do you hate me so?” asked the prince, sadly. “You know yourself that all you suspected is quite unfounded. I felt you were still angry with me, though. Do you know why? Because you tried to kill me—that’s why you can’t shake off your wrath against me. I tell you that I only remember the Parfen Rogojin with whom I exchanged crosses, and vowed brotherhood. I wrote you this in yesterday’s letter, in order that you might forget all that madness on your part, and that you might not feel called to talk about it when we met. Why do you avoid me? Why do you hold your hand back from me? I tell you again, I consider all that has passed a delirium, an insane dream. I can understand all you did, and all you felt that day, as if it were myself. What you were then imagining was not the case, and could never be the case. Why, then, should there be anger between us?”
“You don’t know what anger is!” laughed Rogojin, in reply to the prince’s heated words.
He had moved a pace or two away, and was hiding his hands behind him.
“No, it is impossible for me to come to your house again,” he added slowly.
“Why? Do you hate me so much as all that?”
“I don’t love you, Lef Nicolaievitch, and, therefore, what would be the use of my coming to see you? You are just like a child— you want a plaything, and it must be taken out and given you—and then you don’t know how to work it. You are simply repeating all you said in your letter, and what’s the use? Of course I believe every word you say, and I know perfectly well that you neither did or ever can deceive me in any way, and yet, I don’t love you. You write that you’ve forgotten everything, and only remember your brother Parfen, with whom you exchanged crosses, and that you don’t remember anything about the Rogojin who aimed a knife at your throat. What do you know about my feelings, eh?” (Rogojin laughed disagreeably.) “Here you are holding out your brotherly forgiveness to me for a thing that I have perhaps never repented of in the slightest degree. I did not think of it again all that evening; all my thoughts were centred on something else—”
“Not think of it again? Of course you didn’t!” cried the prince. “And I dare swear that you came straight away down here to Pavlofsk to listen to the music and dog her about in the crowd, and stare at her, just as you did today. There’s nothing surprising in that! If you hadn’t been in that condition of mind that you could think of nothing but one subject, you would, probably, never have raised your knife against me. I had a presentiment of what you would do, that day, ever since I saw you first in the morning. Do you know yourself what you looked like? I knew you would try to murder me even at the very moment when we exchanged crosses. What did you take me to your mother for? Did you think to stay your hand by doing so? Perhaps you did not put your thoughts into words, but you and I were thinking the same thing, or feeling the same thing looming over us, at the same moment. What should you think of me now if you had not raised your knife to me—the knife which God averted from my throat? I would have been guilty of suspecting you all the same—and you would have intended the murder all the same; therefore we should have been mutually guilty in any case. Come, don’t frown; you needn’t laugh at me, either. You say you haven’t ‘repented.’ Repented! You probably couldn’t, if you were to try; you dislike me too much for that. Why, if I were an angel of light, and as innocent before you as a babe, you would still loathe me if you believed that SHE loved me, instead of loving yourself. That’s jealousy—that is the real jealousy.
“But do you know what I have been thinking out during this last week, Parfen? I’ll tell you. What if she loves you now better than anyone? And what if she torments you BECAUSE she loves you, and in proportion to her love for you, so she torments you the more? She won’t tell you this, of course; you must have eyes to see. Why do you suppose she consents to marry you? She must have a reason, and that reason she will tell you some day. Some women desire the kind of love you give her, and she is probably one of these. Your love and your wild nature impress her. Do you know that a woman is capable of driving a man crazy almost, with her cruelties and mockeries, and feels not one single pang of regret, because she looks at him and says to herself, ‘There! I’ll torment this man nearly into his grave, and then, oh! how I’ll compensate him for it all with my love!’”
Rogojin listened to the end, and then burst out laughing:
“Why, prince, I declare you must have had a taste of this sort of thing yourself—haven’t you? I have heard tell of something of the kind, you know; is it true?”
“What? What can you have heard?” said the prince, stammering.
Rogojin continued to laugh loudly. He had listened to the prince’s speech with curiosity and some satisfaction. The speaker’s impulsive warmth had surprised and even comforted him.
“Why, I’ve not only heard of it; I see it for myself,” he said. “When have you ever spoken like that before? It wasn’t like yourself, prince. Why, if I hadn’t heard this report about you, I should never have come all this way into the park—at midnight, too!”
“I don’t understand you in the least, Parfen.”
“Oh, SHE told me all about it long ago, and tonight I saw for myself. I saw you at the music, you know, and whom you were sitting with. She swore to me yesterday, and again today, that you are madly in love with Aglaya Ivanovna. But that’s all the same to me, prince, and it’s not my affair at all; for if you have ceased to love HER, SHE has not ceased to love YOU. You know, of course, that she wants to marry you to that girl? She’s sworn to it! Ha, ha! She says to me, ‘Until then I won’t marry you. When they go to church, we’ll go too-and not before.’ What on earth does she mean by it? I don’t know, and I never did. Either she loves you without limits or—yet, if she loves you, why does she wish to marry you to another girl? She says, ‘I want to see him happy,’ which is to say—she loves you.”
“I wrote, and I say to you once more, that she is not in her right mind,” said the prince, who had listened with anguish to what Rogojin said.
“Goodness knows—you may be wrong there! At all events, she named the day this evening, as we left the gardens. ‘In three weeks,’ says she, ‘and perhaps sooner, we shall be married.’ She swore to it, took off her cross and kissed it. So it all depends upon you now, prince, You see! Ha, ha!”
“That’s all madness. What you say about me, Parfen, never can and never will be. Tomorrow, I shall come and see you—”
“How can she be mad,” Rogojin interrupted, “when she is sane enough for other people and only mad for you? How can she write letters to HER, if she’s mad? If she were insane they would observe it in her letters.”
“What letters?” said the prince, alarmed.
“She writes to HER—and the girl reads the letters. Haven’t you heard?—You are sure to hear; she’s sure to show you the letters herself.”
“I won’t believe this!” cried the prince.
“Why, prince, you’ve only gone a few steps along this road, I perceive. You are evidently a mere beginner. Wait a bit! Before long, you’ll have your own detectives, you’ll watch day and night, and you’ll know every little thing that goes on there— that is, if—”
“Drop that subject, Rogojin, and never mention it again. And listen: as I have sat here, and talked, and listened, it has suddenly struck me that tomorrow is my birthday. It must be about twelve o’clock, now; come home with me—do, and we’ll see the day in! We’ll have some wine, and you shall wish me—I don’t know what—but you, especially you, must wish me a good wish, and I shall wish you full happiness in return. Otherwise, hand me my cross back again. You didn’t return it to me next day. Haven’t you got it on now?”
“Yes, I have,” said Rogojin.
“Come along, then. I don’t wish to meet my new year without you— my new life, I should say, for a new life is beginning for me. Did you know, Parfen, that a new life had begun for me?”
“I see for myself that it is so—and I shall tell HER. But you are not quite yourself, Lef Nicolaievitch.”