Part 4 out of 15
"I will not fail to deliver your message," she replied, and bowed
As they went downstairs the general regretted repeatedly that he
had failed to introduce the prince to his friends.
"You know I am a bit of a poet," said he. "Have you noticed it?
The poetic soul, you know." Then he added suddenly--"But after
all ... after all I believe we made a mistake this time! I
remember that the Sokolovitch's live in another house, and what
is more, they are just now in Moscow. Yes, I certainly was at
fault. However, it is of no consequence."
"Just tell me," said the prince in reply, "may I count still on
your assistance? Or shall I go on alone to see Nastasia
"Count on my assistance? Go alone? How can you ask me that
question, when it is a matter on which the fate of my family so
largely depends? You don't know Ivolgin, my friend. To trust
Ivolgin is to trust a rock; that's how the first squadron I
commanded spoke of me. 'Depend upon Ivolgin,' said they all, 'he
is as steady as a rock.' But, excuse me, I must just call at a
house on our way, a house where I have found consolation and help
in all my trials for years."
"You are going home?"
"No ... I wish ... to visit Madame Terentieff, the widow of
Captain Terentieff, my old subordinate and friend. She helps me
to keep up my courage, and to bear the trials of my domestic
life, and as I have an extra burden on my mind today ..."
"It seems to me," interrupted the prince, "that I was foolish to
trouble you just now. However, at present you ... Good-bye!"
"Indeed, you must not go away like that, young man, you must
not!" cried the general. "My friend here is a widow, the mother
of a family; her words come straight from her heart, and find an
echo in mine. A visit to her is merely an affair of a few
minutes; I am quite at home in her house. I will have a wash, and
dress, and then we can drive to the Grand Theatre. Make up your
mind to spend the evening with me.... We are just there--that's
the house... Why, Colia! you here! Well, is Marfa Borisovna
at home or have you only just come?"
"Oh no! I have been here a long while," replied Colia, who was at
the front door when the general met him. "I am keeping Hippolyte
company. He is worse, and has been in bed all day. I came down to
buy some cards. Marfa Borisovna expects you. But what a state you
are in, father!" added the boy, noticing his father's unsteady
gait. "Well, let us go in."
On meeting Colia the prince determined to accompany the general,
though he made up his mind to stay as short a time as possible.
He wanted Colia, but firmly resolved to leave the general behind.
He could not forgive himself for being so simple as to imagine
that Ivolgin would be of any use. The three climbed up the long
staircase until they reached the fourth floor where Madame
"You intend to introduce the prince?" asked Colia, as they went
"Yes, my boy. I wish to present him: General Ivolgin and Prince
Muishkin! But what's the matter? ... what? ... How is Marfa
"You know, father, you would have done much better not to come
at all! She is ready to eat you up! You have not shown yourself
since the day before yesterday and she is expecting the money.
Why did you promise her any? You are always the same! Well, now
you will have to get out of it as best you can."
They stopped before a somewhat low doorway on the fourth floor.
Ardalion Alexandrovitch, evidently much out of countenance,
pushed Muishkin in front.
"I will wait here," he stammered. "I should like to surprise her.
Colia entered first, and as the door stood open, the mistress of
the house peeped out. The surprise of the general's imagination
fell very flat, for she at once began to address him in terms of
Marfa Borisovna was about forty years of age. She wore a
dressing-jacket, her feet were in slippers, her face painted, and
her hair was in dozens of small plaits. No sooner did she catch
sight of Ardalion Alexandrovitch than she screamed:
"There he is, that wicked, mean wretch! I knew it was he! My
heart misgave me!"
The old man tried to put a good face on the affair.
"Come, let us go in--it's all right," he whispered in the
But it was more serious than he wished to think. As soon as the
visitors had crossed the low dark hall, and entered the narrow
reception-room, furnished with half a dozen cane chairs, and two
small card-tables, Madame Terentieff, in the shrill tones
habitual to her, continued her stream of invectives.
"Are you not ashamed? Are you not ashamed? You barbarian! You
tyrant! You have robbed me of all I possessed--you have sucked my
bones to the marrow. How long shall I be your victim? Shameless,
"Marfa Borisovna! Marfa Borisovna! Here is ... the Prince
Muishkin! General Ivolgin and Prince Muishkin," stammered the
disconcerted old man.
"Would you believe," said the mistress of the house, suddenly
addressing the prince, "would you believe that that man has not
even spared my orphan children? He has stolen everything I
possessed, sold everything, pawned everything; he has left me
nothing--nothing! What am I to do with your IOU's, you cunning,
unscrupulous rogue? Answer, devourer I answer, heart of stone!
How shall I feed my orphans? with what shall I nourish them? And
now he has come, he is drunk! He can scarcely stand. How, oh how,
have I offended the Almighty, that He should bring this curse
upon me! Answer, you worthless villain, answer!"
But this was too much for the general.
"Here are twenty-five roubles, Marfa Borisovna ... it is all
that I can give ... and I owe even these to the prince's
generosity--my noble friend. I have been cruelly deceived. Such
is ... life ... Now ... Excuse me, I am very weak," he
continued, standing in the centre of the room, and bowing to all
sides. "I am faint; excuse me! Lenotchka ... a cushion ... my
Lenotchka, a little girl of eight, ran to fetch the cushion at
once, and placed it on the rickety old sofa. The general meant to
have said much more, but as soon as he had stretched himself out,
he turned his face to the wall, and slept the sleep of the just.
With a grave and ceremonious air, Marfa Borisovna motioned the
prince to a chair at one of the card-tables. She seated herself
opposite, leaned her right cheek on her hand, and sat in silence,
her eyes fixed on Muishkin, now and again sighing deeply. The
three children, two little girls and a boy, Lenotchka being the
eldest, came and leant on the table and also stared steadily at
him. Presently Colia appeared from the adjoining room.
"I am very glad indeed to have met you here, Colia," said the
prince. "Can you do something for me? I must see Nastasia
Philipovna, and I asked Ardalion Alexandrovitch just now to take
me to her house, but he has gone to sleep, as you see. Will you
show me the way, for I do not know the street? I have the
address, though; it is close to the Grand Theatre."
"Nastasia Philipovna? She does not live there, and to tell you
the truth my father has never been to her house! It is strange
that you should have depended on him! She lives near Wladimir
Street, at the Five Corners, and it is quite close by. Will you
go directly? It is just half-past nine. I will show you the way
Colia and the prince went off together. Alas! the latter had no
money to pay for a cab, so they were obliged to walk.
"I should have liked to have taken you to see Hippolyte," said
Colia. "He is the eldest son of the lady you met just now, and
was in the next room. He is ill, and has been in bed all day. But
he is rather strange, and extremely sensitive, and I thought he
might be upset considering the circumstances in which you
came ... Somehow it touches me less, as it concerns my father,
while it is HIS mother. That, of course, makes a great
difference. What is a terrible disgrace to a woman, does not
disgrace a man, at least not in the same way. Perhaps public
opinion is wrong in condemning one sex, and excusing the other.
Hippolyte is an extremely clever boy, but so prejudiced. He is
really a slave to his opinions."
"Do you say he is consumptive?"
"Yes. It really would be happier for him to die young. If I were
in his place I should certainly long for death. He is unhappy
about his brother and sisters, the children you saw. If it were
possible, if we only had a little money, we should leave our
respective families, and live together in a little apartment of
our own. It is our dream. But, do you know, when I was talking
over your affair with him, he was angry, and said that anyone who
did not call out a man who had given him a blow was a coward. He
is very irritable to-day, and I left off arguing the matter with
him. So Nastasia Philipovna has invited you to go and see her?"
"To tell the truth, she has not."
"Then how do you come to be going there?" cried Colia, so much
astonished that he stopped short in the middle of the pavement.
"And ... and are you going to her At Home in that costume?"
"I don't know, really, whether I shall be allowed in at all. If
she will receive me, so much the better. If not, the matter is
ended. As to my clothes--what can I do?"
"Are you going there for some particular reason, or only as a way
of getting into her society, and that of her friends?"
"No, I have really an object in going ... That is, I am going
on business it is difficult to explain, but..."
"Well, whether you go on business or not is your affair,
I do not want to know. The only important thing, in my eyes, is
that you should not be going there simply for the pleasure of
spending your evening in such company--cocottes, generals,
usurers! If that were the case I should despise and laugh at you.
There are terribly few honest people here, and hardly any whom
one can respect, although people put on airs--Varia especially!
Have you noticed, prince, how many adventurers there are
nowadays? Especially here, in our dear Russia. How it has
happened I never can understand. There used to be a certain
amount of solidity in all things, but now what happens?
Everything is exposed to the public gaze, veils are thrown back,
every wound is probed by careless fingers. We are for ever
present at an orgy of scandalous revelations. Parents blush when
they remember their old-fashioned morality. At Moscow lately a
father was heard urging his son to stop at nothing--at nothing,
mind you!--to get money! The press seized upon the story, of
course, and now it is public property. Look at my father, the
general! See what he is, and yet, I assure you, he is an honest
man! Only ... he drinks too much, and his morals are not all we
could desire. Yes, that's true! I pity him, to tell the truth,
but I dare not say so, because everybody would laugh at me--but I
do pity him! And who are the really clever men, after all? Money-
grubbers, every one of them, from the first to the last.
Hippolyte finds excuses for money-lending, and says it is a
necessity. He talks about the economic movement, and the ebb and
flow of capital; the devil knows what he means. It makes me angry
to hear him talk so, but he is soured by his troubles. Just
imagine-the general keeps his mother-but she lends him money! She
lends it for a week or ten days at very high interest! Isn't it
disgusting? And then, you would hardly believe it, but my mother--
Nina Alexandrovna--helps Hippolyte in all sorts of ways, sends
him money and clothes. She even goes as far as helping the
children, through Hippolyte, because their mother cares nothing
about them, and Varia does the same."
"Well, just now you said there were no honest nor good people
about, that there were only money-grubbers--and here they are
quite close at hand, these honest and good people, your mother
and Varia! I think there is a good deal of moral strength in
helping people in suchcircum stances."
"Varia does it from pride, and likes showing off, and giving
herself airs. As to my mother, I really do admire her--yes, and
honour her. Hippolyte, hardened as he is, feels it. He laughed at
first, and thought it vulgar of her--but now, he is sometimes
quite touched and overcome by her kindness. H'm! You call that
being strong and good? I will remember that! Gania knows nothing
about it. He would say that it was encouraging vice."
"Ah, Gania knows nothing about it? It seems there are many things
that Gania does not know," exclaimed the prince, as he considered
Colia's last words.
"Do you know, I like you very much indeed, prince? I shall never
forget about this afternoon."
"I like you too, Colia."
"Listen to me! You are going to live here, are you not?" said
Colia. "I mean to get something to do directly, and earn money.
Then shall we three live together? You, and I, and Hippolyte? We
will hire a flat, and let the general come and visit us. What do
"It would be very pleasant," returned the prince. "But we must see.
I am really rather worried just now. What! are we there already?
Is that the house? What a long flight of steps! And there's a
porter! Well, Colia I don't know what will come of it all."
The prince seemed quite distracted for the moment.
"You must tell me all about it tomorrow! Don't be afraid. I wish
you success; we agree so entirely I that can do so, although I do
not understand why you are here. Good-bye!" cried Colia excitedly.
"Now I will rush back and tell Hippolyte all about our plans and
proposals! But as to your getting in--don't be in the least
afraid. You will see her. She is so original about everything. It's
the first floor. The porter will show you."
THE prince was very nervous as he reached the outer door; but he
did his best to encourage himself with the reflection that the
worst thing that could happen to him would be that he would not
be received, or, perhaps, received, then laughed at for coming.
But there was another question, which terrified him considerably,
and that was: what was he going to do when he DID get in? And to
this question he could fashion no satisfactory reply.
If only he could find an opportunity of coming close up to
Nastasia Philipovna and saying to her: "Don't ruin yourself by
marrying this man. He does not love you, he only loves your
money. He told me so himself, and so did Aglaya Ivanovna, and I
have come on purpose to warn you"--but even that did not seem
quite a legitimate or practicable thing to do. Then, again, there
was another delicate question, to which he could not find an
answer; dared not, in fact, think of it; but at the very idea of
which he trembled and blushed. However, in spite of all his fears
and heart-quakings he went in, and asked for Nastasia Philipovna.
Nastasia occupied a medium-sized, but distinctly tasteful, flat,
beautifully furnished and arranged. At one period of these five
years of Petersburg life, Totski had certainly not spared his
expenditure upon her. He had calculated upon her eventual love,
and tried to tempt her with a lavish outlay upon comforts and
luxuries, knowing too well how easily the heart accustoms itself
to comforts, and how difficult it is to tear one's self away from
luxuries which have become habitual and, little by little,
Nastasia did not reject all this, she even loved her comforts and
luxuries, but, strangely enough, never became, in the least
degree, dependent upon them, and always gave the impression that
she could do just as well without them. In fact, she went so far
as to inform Totski on several occasions that such was the case,
which the latter gentleman considered a very unpleasant
But, of late, Totski had observed many strange and original
features and characteristics in Nastasia, which he had neither
known nor reckoned upon in former times, and some of these
fascinated him, even now, in spite of the fact that all his old
calculations with regard to her were long ago cast to the winds.
A maid opened the door for the prince (Nastasia's servants were
all females) and, to his surprise, received his request to
announce him to her mistress without any astonishment. Neither
his dirty boots, nor his wide-brimmed hat, nor his sleeveless
cloak, nor his evident confusion of manner, produced the least
impression upon her. She helped him off with his cloak, and
begged him to wait a moment in the ante-room while she announced
The company assembled at Nastasia Philipovna's consisted of none
but her most intimate friends, and formed a very small party in
comparison with her usual gatherings on this anniversary.
In the first place there were present Totski, and General
Epanchin. They were both highly amiable, but both appeared to be
labouring under a half-hidden feeling of anxiety as to the result
of Nastasia's deliberations with regard to Gania, which result
was to be made public this evening.
Then, of course, there was Gania who was by no means so amiable
as his elders, but stood apart, gloomy, and miserable, and
silent. He had determined not to bring Varia with him; but
Nastasia had not even asked after her, though no sooner had he
arrived than she had reminded him of the episode between himself
and the prince. The general, who had heard nothing of it before,
began to listen with some interest, while Gania, drily, but with
perfect candour, went through the whole history, including the
fact of his apology to the prince. He finished by declaring that
the prince was a most extraordinary man, and goodness knows why
he had been considered an idiot hitherto, for he was very far
from being one.
Nastasia listened to all this with great interest; but the
conversation soon turned to Rogojin and his visit, and this theme
proved of the greatest attraction to both Totski and the general.
Ptitsin was able to afford some particulars as to Rogojin's
conduct since the afternoon. He declared that he had been busy
finding money for the latter ever since, and up to nine o'clock,
Rogojin having declared that he must absolutely have a hundred
thousand roubles by the evening. He added that Rogojin was drunk,
of course; but that he thought the money would be forthcoming,
for the excited and intoxicated rapture of the fellow impelled
him to give any interest or premium that was asked of him, and
there were several others engaged in beating up the money, also.
All this news was received by the company with somewhat gloomy
interest. Nastasia was silent, and would not say what she thought
about it. Gania was equally uncommunicative. The general seemed
the most anxious of all, and decidedly uneasy. The present of
pearls which he had prepared with so much joy in the morning had
been accepted but coldly, and Nastasia had smiled rather
disagreeably as she took it from him. Ferdishenko was the only
person present in good spirits.
Totski himself, who had the reputation of being a capital talker,
and was usually the life and soul of these entertainments, was as
silent as any on this occasion, and sat in a state of, for him,
most uncommon perturbation.
The rest of the guests (an old tutor or schoolmaster, goodness
knows why invited; a young man, very timid, and shy and silent; a
rather loud woman of about forty, apparently an actress; and a
very pretty, well-dressed German lady who hardly said a word all
the evening) not only had no gift for enlivening the proceedings,
but hardly knew what to say for themselves when addressed. Under
these circumstances the arrival of the prince came almost as a
The announcement of his name gave rise to some surprise and to
some smiles, especially when it became evident, from Nastasia's
astonished look, that she had not thought of inviting him. But
her astonishment once over, Nastasia showed such satisfaction
that all prepared to greet the prince with cordial smiles of
"Of course," remarked General Epanchin, "he does this out of pure
innocence. It's a little dangerous, perhaps, to encourage this
sort of freedom; but it is rather a good thing that he has
arrived just at this moment. He may enliven us a little with his
"Especially as he asked himself," said Ferdishenko.
"What's that got to do with it?" asked the general, who loathed
"Why, he must pay toll for his entrance," explained the latter.
"H'm! Prince Muishkin is not Ferdishenko," said the general,
impatiently. This worthy gentleman could never quite reconcile
himself to the idea of meeting Ferdishenko in society, and on an
"Oh general, spare Ferdishenko!" replied the other, smiling. "I
have special privileges."
"What do you mean by special privileges?"
"Once before I had the honour of stating them to the company. I
will repeat the explanation to-day for your excellency's benefit.
You see, excellency, all the world is witty and clever except
myself. I am neither. As a kind of compensation I am allowed to
tell the truth, for it is a well-known fact that only stupid
people tell 'the truth. Added to this, I am a spiteful man, just
because I am not clever. If I am offended or injured I bear it
quite patiently until the man injuring me meets with some
misfortune. Then I remember, and take my revenge. I return the
injury sevenfold, as Ivan Petrovitch Ptitsin says. (Of course he
never does so himself.) Excellency, no doubt you recollect
Kryloff's fable, 'The Lion and the Ass'? Well now, that's you and
I. That fable was written precisely for us."
"You seem to be talking nonsense again, Ferdishenko," growled the
"What is the matter, excellency? I know how to keep my place.
When I said just now that we, you and I, were the lion and the
ass of Kryloff's fable, of course it is understood that I take
the role of the ass. Your excellency is the lion of which the
'A mighty lion, terror of the woods,
Was shorn of his great prowess by old age.'
And I, your excellency, am the ass."
"I am of your opinion on that last point," said Ivan Fedorovitch,
with ill-concealed irritation.
All this was no doubt extremely coarse, and moreover it was
premeditated, but after all Ferdishenko had persuaded everyone to
accept him as a buffoon.
"If I am admitted and tolerated here," he had said one day, "it
is simply because I talk in this way. How can anyone possibly
receive such a man as I am? I quite understand. Now, could I, a
Ferdishenko, be allowed to sit shoulder to shoulder with a clever
man like Afanasy Ivanovitch? There is one explanation, only one.
I am given the position because it is so entirely inconceivable!"
But these vulgarities seemed to please Nastasia Philipovna,
although too often they were both rude and offensive. Those who
wished to go to her house were forced to put up with Ferdishenko.
Possibly the latter was not mistaken in imagining that he was
received simply in order to annoy Totski, who disliked him
extremely. Gania also was often made the butt of the jester's
sarcasms, who used this method of keeping in Nastasia
Philipovna's good graces.
"The prince will begin by singing us a fashionable ditty,"
remarked Ferdishenko, and looked at the mistress of the house, to
see what she would say.
"I don't think so, Ferdishenko; please be quiet," answered
Nastasia Philipovna dryly.
"A-ah! if he is to be under special patronage, I withdraw my
But Nastasia Philipovna had now risen and advanced to meet the
"I was so sorry to have forgotten to ask you to come, when I saw
you," she said, "and I am delighted to be able to thank you
personally now, and to express my pleasure at your resolution."
So saying she gazed into his eyes, longing to see whether she
could make any guess as to the explanation of his motive in
coming to her house. The prince would very likely have made some
reply to her kind words, but he was so dazzled by her appearance
that he could not speak.
Nastasia noticed this with satisfaction. She was in full dress
this evening; and her appearance was certainly calculated to
impress all beholders. She took his hand and led him towards her
other guests. But just before they reached the drawing-room door,
the prince stopped her, and hurriedly and in great agitation
whispered to her:
"You are altogether perfection; even your pallor and thinness are
perfect; one could not wish you otherwise. I did so wish to come
and see you. I--forgive me, please--"
"Don't apologize," said Nastasia, laughing; "you spoil the whole
originality of the thing. I think what they say about you must be
true, that you are so original.--So you think me perfection, do
"H'm! Well, you may be a good reader of riddles but you are wrong
THERE, at all events. I'll remind you of this, tonight."
Nastasia introduced the prince to her guests, to most of whom he
was already known.
Totski immediately made some amiable remark. Al seemed to
brighten up at once, and the conversation became general.
Nastasia made the prince sit down next to herself.
"Dear me, there's nothing so very curious about the prince
dropping in, after all," remarked Ferdishenko.
"It's quite a clear case," said the hitherto silent Gania. I have
watched the prince almost all day, ever since the moment when he
first saw Nastasia Philipovna's portrait, at General Epanchin's.
I remember thinking at the time what I am now pretty sure of; and
what, I may say in passing, the prince confessed to myself."
Gania said all this perfectly seriously, and without the
slightest appearance of joking; indeed, he seemed strangely
"I did not confess anything to you," said the prince, blushing.
"I only answered your question."
"Bravo! That's frank, at any rate!" shouted Ferdishenko, and
there was general laughter.
"Oh prince, prince! I never should have thought it of you;" said
General Epanchin. "And I imagined you a philosopher! Oh, you
"Judging from the fact that the prince blushed at this innocent
joke, like a young girl, I should think that he must, as an
honourable man, harbour the noblest intentions," said the old
toothless schoolmaster, most unexpectedly; he had not so much as
opened his mouth before. This remark provoked general mirth, and
the old fellow himself laughed loudest of the lot, but ended with
a stupendous fit of coughing.
Nastasia Philipovna, who loved originality and drollery of all
kinds, was apparently very fond of this old man, and rang the
bell for more tea to stop his coughing. It was now half-past ten
"Gentlemen, wouldn't you like a little champagne now?" she asked.
"I have it all ready; it will cheer us up--do now--no ceremony!"
This invitation to drink, couched, as it was, in such informal
terms, came very strangely from Nastasia Philipovna. Her usual
entertainments were not quite like this; there was more style
about them. However, the wine was not refused; each guest took a
glass excepting Gania, who drank nothing.
It was extremely difficult to account for Nastasia's strange
condition of mind, which became more evident each moment, and
which none could avoid noticing.
She took her glass, and vowed she would empty it three times that
evening. She was hysterical, and laughed aloud every other minute
with no apparent reason--the next moment relapsing into gloom and
Some of her guests suspected that she must be ill; but concluded
at last that she was expecting something, for she continued to
look at her watch impatiently and unceasingly; she was most
absent and strange.
"You seem to be a little feverish tonight," said the actress.
"Yes; I feel quite ill. I have been obliged to put on this shawl
--I feel so cold," replied Nastasia. She certainly had grown very
pale, and every now and then she tried to suppress a trembling in
"Had we not better allow our hostess to retire?" asked Totski of
"Not at all, gentlemen, not at all! Your presence is absolutely
necessary to me tonight," said Nastasia, significantly.
As most of those present were aware that this evening a certain
very important decision was to be taken, these words of Nastasia
Philipovna's appeared to be fraught with much hidden interest.
The general and Totski exchanged looks; Gania fidgeted
convulsively in his chair.
"Let's play at some game!" suggested the actress.
"I know a new and most delightful game, added Ferdishenko.
"What is it?" asked the actress.
"Well, when we tried it we were a party of people, like this, for
instance; and somebody proposed that each of us, without leaving
his place at the table, should relate something about himself. It
had to be something that he really and honestly considered the
very worst action he had ever committed in his life. But he was
to be honest--that was the chief point! He wasn't to be allowed
"What an extraordinary idea!" said the general.
"That's the beauty of it, general!"
"It's a funny notion," said Totski, "and yet quite natural--it's
only a new way of boasting."
"Perhaps that is just what was so fascinating about it."
"Why, it would be a game to cry over--not to laugh at!" said the
"Did it succeed?" asked Nastasia Philipovna. "Come, let's try it,
let's try it; we really are not quite so jolly as we might be--
let's try it! We may like it; it's original, at all events!"
"Yes," said Ferdishenko; "it's a good idea--come along--the men
begin. Of course no one need tell a story if he prefers to be
disobliging. We must draw lots! Throw your slips of paper,
gentlemen, into this hat, and the prince shall draw for turns.
It's a very simple game; all you have to do is to tell the story
of the worst action of your life. It's as simple as anything.
I'll prompt anyone who forgets the rules!"
No one liked the idea much. Some smiled, some frowned some
objected, but faintly, not wishing to oppose Nastasia's wishes;
for this new idea seemed to be rather well received by her. She
was still in an excited, hysterical state, laughing convulsively
at nothing and everything. Her eyes were blazing, and her cheeks
showed two bright red spots against the white. The melancholy
appearance of some of her guests seemed to add to her sarcastic
humour, and perhaps the very cynicism and cruelty of the game
proposed by Ferdishenko pleased her. At all events she was
attracted by the idea, and gradually her guests came round to her
side; the thing was original, at least, and might turn out to be
amusing. "And supposing it's something that one--one can't speak
about before ladies?" asked the timid and silent young man.
"Why, then of course, you won't say anything about it. As if
there are not plenty of sins to your score without the need of
those!" said Ferdishenko.
"But I really don't know which of my actions is the worst," said
the lively actress.
"Ladies are exempted if they like."
"And how are you to know that one isn't lying? And if one lies
the whole point of the game is lost," said Gania.
"Oh, but think how delightful to hear how one's friends lie!
Besides you needn't be afraid, Gania; everybody knows what your
worst action is without the need of any lying on your part. Only
think, gentlemen,"--and Ferdishenko here grew quite enthusiastic,
"only think with what eyes we shall observe one another tomorrow,
after our tales have been told!"
"But surely this is a joke, Nastasia Philipovna?" asked Totski.
"You don't really mean us to play this game."
"Whoever is afraid of wolves had better not go into the wood,"
said Nastasia, smiling.
"But, pardon me, Mr. Ferdishenko, is it possible to make a game
out of this kind of thing?" persisted Totski, growing more and
more uneasy. "I assure you it can't be a success."
"And why not? Why, the last time I simply told straight off about
how I stole three roubles."
"Perhaps so; but it is hardly possible that you told it so that
it seemed like truth, or so that you were believed. And, as
Gavrila Ardalionovitch has said, the least suggestion of a
falsehood takes all point out of the game. It seems to me that
sincerity, on the other hand, is only possible if combined with a
kind of bad taste that would be utterly out of place here."
"How subtle you are, Afanasy Ivanovitch! You astonish me," cried
Ferdishenko. "You will remark, gentleman, that in saying that I
could not recount the story of my theft so as to be believed,
Afanasy Ivanovitch has very ingeniously implied that I am not
capable of thieving--(it would have been bad taste to say so
openly); and all the time he is probably firmly convinced, in his
own mind, that I am very well capable of it! But now, gentlemen,
to business! Put in your slips, ladies and gentlemen--is yours in,
Mr. Totski? So--then we are all ready; now prince, draw, please."
The prince silently put his hand into the hat, and drew the
names. Ferdishenko was first, then Ptitsin, then the general,
Totski next, his own fifth, then Gania, and so on; the ladies did
"Oh, dear! oh, dear!" cried Ferdishenko. "I did so hope the
prince would come out first, and then the general. Well,
gentlemen, I suppose I must set a good example! What vexes me
much is that I am such an insignificant creature that it matters
nothing to anybody whether I have done bad actions or not!
Besides, which am I to choose? It's an embarras de richesse.
Shall I tell how I became a thief on one occasion only, to
convince Afanasy Ivanovitch that it is possible to steal without
being a thief?"
"Do go on, Ferdishenko, and don't make unnecessary preface, or
you'll never finish," said Nastasia Philipovna. All observed how
irritable and cross she had become since her last burst of
laughter; but none the less obstinately did she stick to her
absurd whim about this new game. Totski sat looking miserable
enough. The general lingered over his champagne, and seemed to be
thinking of some story for the time when his turn should come.
"I have no wit, Nastasia Philipovna," began Ferdishenko, "and
therefore I talk too much, perhaps. Were I as witty, now, as Mr.
Totski or the general, I should probably have sat silent all the
evening, as they have. Now, prince, what do you think?--are there
not far more thieves than honest men in this world? Don't you
think we may say there does not exist a single person so honest
that he has never stolen anything whatever in his life?"
"What a silly idea," said the actress. "Of course it is not the
case. I have never stolen anything, for one."
"H'm! very well, Daria Alexeyevna; you have not stolen anything--
agreed. But how about the prince, now--look how he is blushing!"
"I think you are partially right, but you exaggerate," said the
prince, who had certainly blushed up, of a sudden, for some
reason or other.
"Ferdishenko--either tell us your story, or be quiet, and mind
your own business. You exhaust all patience," cuttingly and
irritably remarked Nastasia Philipovna.
"Immediately, immediately! As for my story, gentlemen, it is too
stupid and absurd to tell you.
"I assure you I am not a thief, and yet I have stolen; I cannot
explain why. It was at Semeon Ivanovitch Ishenka's country house,
one Sunday. He had a dinner party. After dinner the men stayed at
the table over their wine. It struck me to ask the daughter of
the house to play something on the piano; so I passed through the
corner room to join the ladies. In that room, on Maria Ivanovna's
writing-table, I observed a three-rouble note. She must have
taken it out for some purpose, and left it lying there. There was
no one about. I took up the note and put it in my pocket; why, I
can't say. I don't know what possessed me to do it, but it was
done, and I went quickly back to the dining-room and reseated
myself at the dinner-table. I sat and waited there in a great
state of excitement. I talked hard, and told lots of stories, and
laughed like mad; then I joined the ladies.
"In half an hour or so the loss was discovered, and the servants
were being put under examination. Daria, the housemaid was
suspected. I exhibited the greatest interest and sympathy, and I
remember that poor Daria quite lost her head, and that I began
assuring her, before everyone, that I would guarantee her
forgiveness on the part of her mistress, if she would confess her
guilt. They all stared at the girl, and I remember a wonderful
attraction in the reflection that here was I sermonizing away,
with the money in my own pocket all the while. I went and spent
the three roubles that very evening at a restaurant. I went in
and asked for a bottle of Lafite, and drank it up; I wanted to be
rid of the money.
"I did not feel much remorse either then or afterwards; but I
would not repeat the performance--believe it or not as you
please. There--that's all."
"Only, of course that's not nearly your worst action," said the
actress, with evident dislike in her face.
"That was a psychological phenomenon, not an action," remarked
"And what about the maid?" asked Nastasia Philipovna, with
"Oh, she was turned out next day, of course. It's a very strict
"And you allowed it?"
"I should think so, rather! I was not going to return and confess
next day," laughed Ferdishenko, who seemed a little surprised at
the disagreeable impression which his story had made on all
"How mean you were!" said Nastasia.
"Bah! you wish to hear a man tell of his worst actions, and you
expect the story to come out goody-goody! One's worst actions
always are mean. We shall see what the general has to say for
himself now. All is not gold that glitters, you know; and because
a man keeps his carriage he need not be specially virtuous, I
assure you, all sorts of people keep carriages. And by what
In a word, Ferdishenko was very angry and rapidly forgetting
himself; his whole face was drawn with passion. Strange as it may
appear, he had expected much better success for his story. These
little errors of taste on Ferdishenko's part occurred very
frequently. Nastasia trembled with rage, and looked fixedly at
him, whereupon he relapsed into alarmed silence. He realized that
he had gone a little too far.
"Had we not better end this game?" asked Totski.
"It's my turn, but I plead exemption," said Ptitsin.
"You don't care to oblige us?" asked Nastasia.
"I cannot, I assure you. I confess I do not understand how anyone
can play this game."
"Then, general, it's your turn," continued Nastasia Philipovna,
"and if you refuse, the whole game will fall through, which will
disappoint me very much, for I was looking forward to relating a
certain 'page of my own life.' I am only waiting for you and
Afanasy Ivanovitch to have your turns, for I require the support
of your example," she added, smiling.
"Oh, if you put it in that way " cried the general, excitedly,
"I'm ready to tell the whole story of my life, but I must confess
that I prepared a little story in anticipation of my turn."
Nastasia smiled amiably at him; but evidently her depression and
irritability were increasing with every moment. Totski was
dreadfully alarmed to hear her promise a revelation out of her
"I, like everyone else," began the general, "have committed
certain not altogether graceful actions, so to speak, during the
course of my life. But the strangest thing of all in my case is,
that I should consider the little anecdote which I am now about
to give you as a confession of the worst of my 'bad actions.' It
is thirty-five years since it all happened, and yet I cannot to
this very day recall the circumstances without, as it were, a
sudden pang at the heart.
"It was a silly affair--I was an ensign at the time. You know
ensigns--their blood is boiling water, their circumstances
generally penurious. Well, I had a servant Nikifor who used to do
everything for me in my quarters, economized and managed for me,
and even laid hands on anything he could find (belonging to other
people), in order to augment our household goods; but a faithful,
honest fellow all the same.
"I was strict, but just by nature. At that time we were stationed
in a small town. I was quartered at an old widow's house, a
lieutenant's widow of eighty years of age. She lived in a
wretched little wooden house, and had not even a servant, so poor
"Her relations had all died off--her husband was dead and buried
forty years since; and a niece, who had lived with her and
bullied her up to three years ago, was dead too; so that she was
"Well, I was precious dull with her, especially as she was so
childish that there was nothing to be got out of her. Eventually,
she stole a fowl of mine; the business is a mystery to this day;
but it could have been no one but herself. I requested to be
quartered somewhere else, and was shifted to the other end of the
town, to the house of a merchant with a large family, and a long
beard, as I remember him. Nikifor and I were delighted to go; but
the old lady was not pleased at our departure.
"Well, a day or two afterwards, when I returned from drill,
Nikifor says to me: 'We oughtn't to have left our tureen with the
old lady, I've nothing to serve the soup in.'
"I asked how it came about that the tureen had been left. Nikifor
explained that the old lady refused to give it up, because, she
said, we had broken her bowl, and she must have our tureen in
place of it; she had declared that I had so arranged the matter
"This baseness on her part of course aroused my young blood to
fever heat; I jumped up, and away I flew.
"I arrived at the old woman's house beside myself. She was
sitting in a corner all alone, leaning her face on her hand. I
fell on her like a clap of thunder. 'You old wretch!' I yelled
and all that sort of thing, in real Russian style. Well, when I
began cursing at her, a strange thing happened. I looked at her,
and she stared back with her eyes starting out of her head, but
she did not say a word. She seemed to sway about as she sat, and
looked and looked at me in the strangest way. Well, I soon
stopped swearing and looked closer at her, asked her questions,
but not a word could I get out of her. The flies were buzzing
about the room and only this sound broke the silence; the sun was
setting outside; I didn't know what to make of it, so I went
"Before I reached home I was met and summoned to the major's, so
that it was some while before I actually got there. When I came
in, Nikifor met me. 'Have you heard, sir, that our old lady is
dead?' 'DEAD, when?' 'Oh, an hour and a half ago.' That meant
nothing more nor less than that she was dying at the moment when
I pounced on her and began abusing her.
"This produced a great effect upon me. I used to dream of the
poor old woman at nights. I really am not superstitious, but two
days after, I went to her funeral, and as time went on I thought
more and more about her. I said to myself, 'This woman, this
human being, lived to a great age. She had children, a husband
and family, friends and relations; her household was busy and
cheerful; she was surrounded by smiling faces; and then suddenly
they are gone, and she is left alone like a solitary fly ... like
a fly, cursed with the burden of her age. At last, God calls her
to Himself. At sunset, on a lovely summer's evening, my little
old woman passes away--a thought, you will notice, which offers
much food for reflection--and behold! instead of tears and
prayers to start her on her last journey, she has insults and
jeers from a young ensign, who stands before her with his hands
in his pockets, making a terrible row about a soup tureen!' Of
course I was to blame, and even now that I have time to look back
at it calmly, I pity the poor old thing no less. I repeat that I
wonder at myself, for after all I was not really responsible. Why
did she take it into her head to die at that moment? But the more
I thought of it, the more I felt the weight of it upon my mind;
and I never got quite rid of the impression until I put a couple
of old women into an almshouse and kept them there at my own
expense. There, that's all. I repeat I dare say I have committed
many a grievous sin in my day; but I cannot help always looking
back upon this as the worst action I have ever perpetrated."
"H'm! and instead of a bad action, your excellency has detailed
one of your noblest deeds," said Ferdishenko. "Ferdishenko is
"Dear me, general," said Nastasia Philipovna, absently, "I really
never imagined you had such a good heart."
The general laughed with great satisfaction, and applied himself
once more to the champagne.
It was now Totski's turn, and his story was awaited with great
curiosity--while all eyes turned on Nastasia Philipovna, as
though anticipating that his revelation must be connected somehow
with her. Nastasia, during the whole of his story, pulled at the
lace trimming of her sleeve, and never once glanced at the
speaker. Totski was a handsome man, rather stout, with a very
polite and dignified manner. He was always well dressed, and his
linen was exquisite. He had plump white hands, and wore a
magnificent diamond ring on one finger.
"What simplifies the duty before me considerably, in my opinion,"
he began, "is that I am bound to recall and relate the very worst
action of my life. In such circumstances there can, of course, be
no doubt. One's conscience very soon informs one what is the
proper narrative to tell. I admit, that among the many silly and
thoughtless actions of my life, the memory of one comes
prominently forward and reminds me that it lay long like a stone
on my heart. Some twenty years since, I paid a visit to Platon
Ordintzeff at his country-house. He had just been elected marshal
of the nobility, and had come there with his young wife for the
winter holidays. Anfisa Alexeyevna's birthday came off just then,
too, and there were two balls arranged. At that time Dumas-fils'
beautiful work, La Dame aux Camelias--a novel which I consider
imperishable--had just come into fashion. In the provinces all the
ladies were in raptures over it, those who had read it, at least.
Camellias were all the fashion. Everyone inquired for them,
everybody wanted them; and a grand lot of camellias are to be got
in a country town--as you all know--and two balls to provide for!
"Poor Peter Volhofskoi was desperately in love with Anfisa
Alexeyevna. I don't know whether there was anything--I mean I
don't know whether he could possibly have indulged in any hope.
The poor fellow was beside himself to get her a bouquet of
camellias. Countess Sotski and Sophia Bespalova, as everyone
knew, were coming with white camellia bouquets. Anfisa wished for
red ones, for effect. Well, her husband Platon was driven
desperate to find some. And the day before the ball, Anfisa's
rival snapped up the only red camellias to be had in the place,
from under Platon's nose, and Platon--wretched man--was done for.
Now if Peter had only been able to step in at this moment with a
red bouquet, his little hopes might have made gigantic strides. A
woman's gratitude under such circumstances would have been
boundless--but it was practically an impossibility.
"The night before the ball I met Peter, looking radiant. 'What is
it?' I ask. 'I've found them, Eureka!" 'No! where, where?' 'At
Ekshaisk (a little town fifteen miles off) there's a rich old
merchant, who keeps a lot of canaries, has no children, and he
and his wife are devoted to flowers. He's got some camellias.'
'And what if he won't let you have them?' 'I'll go on my knees
and implore till I get them. I won't go away.' 'When shall you
start?' 'Tomorrow morning at five o'clock.' 'Go on,' I said,
'and good luck to you.'
"I was glad for the poor fellow, and went home. But an idea got
hold of me somehow. I don't know how. It was nearly two in the
morning. I rang the bell and ordered the coachman to be waked up
and sent to me. He came. I gave him a tip of fifteen roubles, and
told him to get the carriage ready at once. In half an hour it
was at the door. I got in and off we went.
"By five I drew up at the Ekshaisky inn. I waited there till
dawn, and soon after six I was off, and at the old merchant
"'Camellias!' I said, 'father, save me, save me, let me have some
camellias!' He was a tall, grey old man--a terrible-looking old
gentleman. 'Not a bit of it,' he says. 'I won't.' Down I went on
my knees. 'Don't say so, don't--think what you're doing!' I
cried; 'it's a matter of life and death!' 'If that's the case,
take them,' says he. So up I get, and cut such a bouquet of red
camellias! He had a whole greenhouse full of them--lovely ones.
The old fellow sighs. I pull out a hundred roubles. 'No, no!'
says he, 'don't insult me that way.' 'Oh, if that's the case,
give it to the village hospital,' I say. 'Ah,' he says, 'that's
quite a different matter; that's good of you and generous. I'll
pay it in there for you with pleasure.' I liked that old fellow,
Russian to the core, de la vraie souche. I went home in raptures,
but took another road in order to avoid Peter. Immediately on
arriving I sent up the bouquet for Anfisa to see when she awoke.
"You may imagine her ecstasy, her gratitude. The wretched Platon,
who had almost died since yesterday of the reproaches showered
upon him, wept on my shoulder. Of course poor Peter had no chance
"I thought he would cut my throat at first, and went about armed
ready to meet him. But he took it differently; he fainted, and
had brain fever and convulsions. A month after, when he had
hardly recovered, he went off to the Crimea, and there he was
"I assure you this business left me no peace for many a long
year. Why did I do it? I was not in love with her myself; I'm
afraid it was simply mischief--pure 'cussedness' on my part.
"If I hadn't seized that bouquet from under his nose he might
have been alive now, and a happy man. He might have been
successful in life, and never have gone to fight the Turks."
Totski ended his tale with the same dignity that had
characterized its commencement.
Nastasia Philipovna's eyes were flashing in a most unmistakable
way, now; and her lips were all a-quiver by the time Totski
finished his story.
All present watched both of them with curiosity.
"You were right, Totski," said Nastasia, "it is a dull game and a
stupid one. I'll just tell my story, as I promised, and then
we'll play cards."
"Yes, but let's have the story first!" cried the general.
"Prince," said Nastasia Philipovna, unexpectedly turning to
Muishkin, "here are my old friends, Totski and General Epanchin,
who wish to marry me off. Tell me what you think. Shall I marry
or not? As you decide, so shall it be."
Totski grew white as a sheet. The general was struck dumb. All
present started and listened intently. Gania sat rooted to his
"Marry whom?" asked the prince, faintly.
"Gavrila Ardalionovitch Ivolgin," said Nastasia, firmly and
There were a few seconds of dead silence.
The prince tried to speak, but could not form his words; a great
weight seemed to lie upon his breast and suffocate him.
"N-no! don't marry him!" he whispered at last, drawing his breath
with an effort.
"So be it, then. Gavrila Ardalionovitch," she spoke solemnly and
forcibly, "you hear the prince's decision? Take it as my
decision; and let that be the end of the matter for good and
"Nastasia Philipovna!" cried Totski, in a quaking voice.
"Nastasia Philipovna!" said the general, in persuasive but
Everyone in the room fidgeted in their places, and waited to see
what was coming next.
"Well, gentlemen!" she continued, gazing around in apparent
astonishment; "what do you all look so alarmed about? Why are you
"But--recollect, Nastasia Philipovna." stammered Totski, "you
gave a promise, quite a free one, and--and you might have spared
us this. I am confused and bewildered, I know; but, in a word, at
such a moment, and before company, and all so-so-irregular,
finishing off a game with a serious matter like this, a matter of
honour, and of heart, and--"
"I don't follow you, Afanasy Ivanovitch; you are losing your
head. In the first place, what do you mean by 'before company'?
Isn't the company good enough for you? And what's all that about
'a game'? I wished to tell my little story, and I told it! Don't
you like it? You heard what I said to the prince? 'As you decide,
so it shall be!' If he had said 'yes,' I should have given my
consent! But he said 'no,' so I refused. Here was my whole life
hanging on his one word! Surely I was serious enough?"
"The prince! What on earth has the prince got to do with it? Who
the deuce is the prince?" cried the general, who could conceal
his wrath no longer.
"The prince has this to do with it--that I see in him. for the
first time in all my life, a man endowed with real truthfulness
of spirit, and I trust him. He trusted me at first sight, and I
"It only remains for me, then, to thank Nastasia Philipovna for
the great delicacy with which she has treated me," said Gania, as
pale as death, and with quivering lips. "That is my plain duty,
of course; but the prince--what has he to do in the matter?"
"I see what you are driving at," said Nastasia Philipovna. "You
imply that the prince is after the seventy-five thousand roubles
--I quite understand you. Mr. Totski, I forgot to say, 'Take your
seventy-five thousand roubles'--I don't want them. I let you go
free for nothing take your freedom! You must need it. Nine years
and three months' captivity is enough for anybody. Tomorrow I
shall start afresh--today I am a free agent for the first time in
"General, you must take your pearls back, too--give them to your
wife--here they are! Tomorrow I shall leave this flat altogether,
and then there'll be no more of these pleasant little social
gatherings, ladies and gentlemen."
So saying, she scornfully rose from her seat as though to depart.
"Nastasia Philipovna! Nastasia Philipovna!"
The words burst involuntarily from every mouth. All present
started up in bewildered excitement; all surrounded her; all had
listened uneasily to her wild, disconnected sentences. All felt
that something had happened, something had gone very far wrong
indeed, but no one could make head or tail of the matter.
At this moment there was a furious ring at the bell, and a great
knock at the door--exactly similar to the one which had startled
the company at Gania's house in the afternoon.
"Ah, ah! here's the climax at last, at half-past twelve!" cried
Nastasia Philipovna. "Sit down, gentlemen, I beg you. Something
is about to happen."
So saying, she reseated herself; a strange smile played on her
lips. She sat quite still, but watched the door in a fever of
"Rogojin and his hundred thousand roubles, no doubt of it,"
muttered Ptitsin to himself.
Katia, the maid-servant, made her appearance, terribly
"Goodness knows what it means, ma'am," she said. "There is a
whole collection of men come--all tipsy--and want to see you. They
say that 'it's Rogojin, and she knows all about it.'"
"It's all right, Katia, let them all in at once."
"Surely not ALL, ma'am? They seem so disorderly--it's dreadful to
"Yes ALL, Katia, all--every one of them. Let them in, or they'll
come in whether you like or no. Listen! what a noise they are
making! Perhaps you are offended, gentlemen, that I should
receive such guests in your presence? I am very sorry, and ask
your forgiveness, but it cannot be helped--and I should be very
grateful if you could all stay and witness this climax. However,
just as you please, of course."
The guests exchanged glances; they were annoyed and bewildered by
the episode; but it was clear enough that all this had been pre-
arranged and expected by Nastasia Philipovna, and that there was
no use in trying to stop her now--for she was little short of
Besides, they were naturally inquisitive to see what was to
happen. There was nobody who would be likely to feel much alarm.
There were but two ladies present; one of whom was the lively
actress, who was not easily frightened, and the other the silent
German beauty who, it turned out, did not understand a word of
Russian, and seemed to be as stupid as she was lovely.
Her acquaintances invited her to their "At Homes" because she was
so decorative. She was exhibited to their guests like a valuable
picture, or vase, or statue, or firescreen. As for the men,
Ptitsin was one of Rogojin's friends; Ferdishenko was as much at
home as a fish in the sea, Gania, not yet recovered from his
amazement, appeared to be chained to a pillory. The old professor
did not in the least understand what was happening; but when he
noticed how extremely agitated the mistress of the house, and her
friends, seemed, he nearly wept, and trembled with fright: but he
would rather have died than leave Nastasia Philipovna at such a
crisis, for he loved her as if she were his own granddaughter.
Afanasy Ivanovitch greatly disliked having anything to do with
the affair, but he was too much interested to leave, in spite of
the mad turn things had taken; and a few words that had dropped
from the lips of Nastasia puzzled him so much, that he felt he
could not go without an explanation. He resolved therefore, to
see it out, and to adopt the attitude of silent spectator, as
most suited to his dignity. Genera Epanchin alone determined to
depart. He was annoyed at the manner in which his gift had been
returned, an though he had condescended, under the influence of
passion, to place himself on a level with Ptitsin and
Ferdishenko, his self-respect and sense of duty now returned
together with a consciousness of what was due to his social rank
and official importance. In short, he plainly showed his
conviction that a man in his position could have nothing to do
with Rogojin and his companions. But Nastasia interrupted him at
his first words.
"Ah, general!" she cried, "I was forgetting! If I had only
foreseen this unpleasantness! I won't insist on keeping you
against your will, although I should have liked you to be beside
me now. In any case, I am most grateful to you for your visit,
and flattering attention . . . but if you are afraid . . ."
"Excuse me, Nastasia Philipovna," interrupted the general, with
chivalric generosity. "To whom are you speaking? I have remained
until now simply because of my devotion to you, and as for danger,
I am only afraid that the carpets may be ruined, and the furniture
smashed! . . . You should shut the door on the lot, in my opinion.
But I confess that I am extremely curious to see how it ends."
"Rogojin!" announced Ferdishenko.
"What do you think about it?" said the general in a low voice to
Totski. "Is she mad? I mean mad in the medical sense of the word
.. . . eh?"
"I've always said she was predisposed to it," whispered Afanasy
Ivanovitch slyly. "Perhaps it is a fever!"
Since their visit to Gania's home, Rogojin's followers had been
increased by two new recruits--a dissolute old man, the hero of
some ancient scandal, and a retired sub-lieutenant. A laughable
story was told of the former. He possessed, it was said, a set of
false teeth, and one day when he wanted money for a drinking
orgy, he pawned them, and was never able to reclaim them! The
officer appeared to be a rival of the gentleman who was so proud
of his fists. He was known to none of Rogojin's followers, but as
they passed by the Nevsky, where he stood begging, he had joined
their ranks. His claim for the charity he desired seemed based on
the fact that in the days of his prosperity he had given away as
much as fifteen roubles at a time. The rivals seemed more than a
little jealous of one another. The athlete appeared injured at
the admission of the "beggar" into the company. By nature
taciturn, he now merely growled occasionally like a bear, and
glared contemptuously upon the "beggar," who, being somewhat of a
man of the world, and a diplomatist, tried to insinuate himself
into the bear's good graces. He was a much smaller man than the
athlete, and doubtless was conscious that he must tread warily.
Gently and without argument he alluded to the advantages of the
English style in boxing, and showed himself a firm believer in
Western institutions. The athlete's lips curled disdainfully, and
without honouring his adversary with a formal denial, he
exhibited, as if by accident, that peculiarly Russian object--an
enormous fist, clenched, muscular, and covered with red hairs!
The sight of this pre-eminently national attribute was enough to
convince anybody, without words, that it was a serious matter for
those who should happen to come into contact with it.
None of the band were very drunk, for the leader had kept his
intended visit to Nastasia in view all day, and had done his best
to prevent his followers from drinking too much. He was sober
himself, but the excitement of this chaotic day--the strangest day
of his life--had affected him so that he was in a dazed, wild
condition, which almost resembled drunkenness.
He had kept but one idea before him all day, and for that he had
worked in an agony of anxiety and a fever of suspense. His
lieutenants had worked so hard from five o'clock until eleven,
that they actually had collected a hundred thousand roubles for
him, but at such terrific expense, that the rate of interest was
only mentioned among them in whispers and with bated breath.
As before, Rogojin walked in advance of his troop, who followed
him with mingled self-assertion and timidity. They were specially
frightened of Nastasia Philipovna herself, for some reason.
Many of them expected to be thrown downstairs at once, without
further ceremony, the elegant arid irresistible Zaleshoff among
them. But the party led by the athlete, without openly showing
their hostile intentions, silently nursed contempt and even
hatred for Nastasia Philipovna, and marched into her house as
they would have marched into an enemy's fortress. Arrived there,
the luxury of the rooms seemed to inspire them with a kind of
respect, not unmixed with alarm. So many things were entirely new
to their experience--the choice furniture, the pictures, the
great statue of Venus. They followed their chief into the salon,
however, with a kind of impudent curiosity. There, the sight of
General Epanchin among the guests, caused many of them to beat a
hasty retreat into the adjoining room, the "boxer" and "beggar"
being among the first to go. A few only, of whom Lebedeff made
one, stood their ground; he had contrived to walk side by side
with Rogojin, for he quite understood the importance of a man who
had a fortune of a million odd roubles, and who at this moment
carried a hundred thousand in his hand. It may be added that the
whole company, not excepting Lebedeff, had the vaguest idea of
the extent of their powers, and of how far they could safely go.
At some moments Lebedeff was sure that right was on their side;
at others he tried uneasily to remember various cheering and
reassuring articles of the Civil Code.
Rogojin, when he stepped into the room, and his eyes fell upon
Nastasia, stopped short, grew white as a sheet, and stood
staring; it was clear that his heart was beating painfully. So he
stood, gazing intently, but timidly, for a few seconds. Suddenly,
as though bereft of his senses, he moved forward, staggering
helplessly, towards the table. On his way he collided against
Ptitsin's chair, and put his dirty foot on the lace skirt of the
silent lady's dress; but he neither apologized for this, nor even
On reaching the table, he placed upon it a strange-looking
object, which he had carried with him into the drawing-room. This
was a paper packet, some six or seven inches thick, and eight or
nine in length, wrapped in an old newspaper, and tied round three
or four times with string.
Having placed this before her, he stood with drooped arms and
head, as though awaiting his sentence.
His costume was the same as it had been in the morning, except
for a new silk handkerchief round his neck, bright green and red,
fastened with a huge diamond pin, and an enormous diamond ring on
his dirty forefinger.
Lebedeff stood two or three paces behind his chief; and the rest
of the band waited about near the door.
The two maid-servants were both peeping in, frightened and amazed
at this unusual and disorderly scene.
"What is that?" asked Nastasia Philipovna, gazing intently at
Rogojin, and indicating the paper packet.
"A hundred thousand," replied the latter, almost in a whisper.
"Oh! so he kept his word--there's a man for you! Well, sit down,
please--take that chair. I shall have something to say to you
presently. Who are all these with you? The same party? Let them
come in and sit down. There's room on that sofa, there are some
chairs and there's another sofa! Well, why don't they sit down?"
Sure enough, some of the brave fellows entirely lost their heads
at this point, and retreated into the next room. Others, however,
took the hint and sat down, as far as they could from the table,
however; feeling braver in proportion to their distance from
Rogojin took the chair offered him, but he did not sit long; he
soon stood up again, and did not reseat himself. Little by little
he began to look around him and discern the other guests. Seeing
Gania, he smiled venomously and muttered to himself, "Look at that!"
He gazed at Totski and the general with no apparent confusion, and
with very little curiosity. But when he observed that the prince was
seated beside Nastasia Philipovna, he could not take his eyes off him
for a long while, and was clearly amazed. He could not account
for the prince's presence there. It was not in the least
surprising that Rogojin should be, at this time, in a more or
less delirious condition; for not to speak of the excitements of
the day, he had spent the night before in the train, and had not
slept more than a wink for forty-eight hours.
"This, gentlemen, is a hundred thousand roubles," said Nastasia
Philipovna, addressing the company in general, "here, in this
dirty parcel. This afternoon Rogojin yelled, like a madman, that
he would bring me a hundred thousand in the evening, and I have
been waiting for him all the while. He was bargaining for me, you
know; first he offered me eighteen thousand; then he rose to
forty, and then to a hundred thousand. And he has kept his word,
see! My goodness, how white he is! All this happened this
afternoon, at Gania's. I had gone to pay his mother a visit--my
future family, you know! And his sister said to my very face,
surely somebody will turn this shameless creature out. After which
she spat in her brother Gania's face--a girl of character, that!"
"Nastasia Philipovna!" began the general, reproachfully. He was
beginning to put his own interpretation on the affair.
"Well, what, general? Not quite good form, eh? Oh, nonsense! Here
have I been sitting in my box at the French theatre for the last
five years like a statue of inaccessible virtue, and kept out of
the way of all admirers, like a silly little idiot! Now, there's
this man, who comes and pays down his hundred thousand on the
table, before you all, in spite of my five years of innocence and
proud virtue, and I dare be sworn he has his sledge outside
waiting to carry me off. He values me at a hundred thousand! I see
you are still angry with me, Gania! Why, surely you never really
wished to take ME into your family? ME, Rogojin's mistress! What
did the prince say just now?"
"I never said you were Rogojin's mistress--you are NOT!" said the
prince, in trembling accents.
"Nastasia Philipovna, dear soul!" cried the actress, impatiently,
"do be calm, dear! If it annoys you so--all this--do go away and
rest! Of course you would never go with this wretched fellow, in
spite of his hundred thousand roubles! Take his money and kick
him out of the house; that's the way to treat him and the likes
of him! Upon my word, if it were my business, I'd soon clear them
The actress was a kind-hearted woman, and highly impressionable.
She was very angry now.
"Don't be cross, Daria Alexeyevna!" laughed Nastasia. "I was not
angry when I spoke; I wasn't reproaching Gania. I don't know how
it was that I ever could have indulged the whim of entering an
honest family like his. I saw his mother--and kissed her hand,
too. I came and stirred up all that fuss, Gania, this afternoon,
on purpose to see how much you could swallow--you surprised me,
my friend--you did, indeed. Surely you could not marry a woman
who accepts pearls like those you knew the general was going to
give me, on the very eve of her marriage? And Rogojin! Why, in
your own house and before your own brother and sister, he
bargained with me! Yet you could come here and expect to be
betrothed to me before you left the house! You almost brought
your sister, too. Surely what Rogojin said about you is not
really true: that you would crawl all the way to the other end of
the town, on hands and knees, for three roubles?"
"Yes, he would!" said Rogojin, quietly, but with an air of
"H'm! and he receives a good salary, I'm told. Well, what should
you get but disgrace and misery if you took a wife you hated into
your family (for I know very well that you do hate me)? No, no! I
believe now that a man like you would murder anyone for money--
sharpen a razor and come up behind his best friend and cut his
throat like a sheep--I've read of such people. Everyone seems
money-mad nowadays. No, no! I may be shameless, but you are far
worse. I don't say a word about that other--"
"Nastasia Philipovna, is this really you? You, once so refined
and delicate of speech. Oh, what a tongue! What dreadful things
you are saying," cried the general, wringing his hands in real
"I am intoxicated, general. I am having a day out, you know--it's
my birthday! I have long looked forward to this happy occasion.
Daria Alexeyevna, you see that nosegay-man, that Monsieur aux
Camelias, sitting there laughing at us?"
"I am not laughing, Nastasia Philipovna; I am only listening with
all my attention," said Totski, with dignity.
"Well, why have I worried him, for five years, and never let him
go free? Is he worth it? He is only just what he ought to be--
nothing particular. He thinks I am to blame, too. He gave me my
education, kept me like a countess. Money--my word! What a lot of
money he spent over me! And he tried to find me an honest husband
first, and then this Gania, here. And what do you think? All
these five years I did not live with him, and yet I took his
money, and considered I was quite justified.
"You say, take the hundred thousand and kick that man out. It is
true, it is an abominable business, as you say. I might have
married long ago, not Gania--Oh, no!--but that would have been
"Would you believe it, I had some thoughts of marrying Totski,
four years ago! I meant mischief, I confess--but I could have had
him, I give you my word; he asked me himself. But I thought, no!
it's not worthwhile to take such advantage of him. No! I had
better go on to the streets, or accept Rogojin, or become a
washerwoman or something--for I have nothing of my own, you know.
I shall go away and leave everything behind, to the last rag--he
shall have it all back. And who would take me without anything?
Ask Gania, there, whether he would. Why, even Ferdishenko
wouldn't have me!"
"No, Ferdishenko would not; he is a candid fellow, Nastasia
Philipovna," said that worthy. "But the prince would. You sit
here making complaints, but just look at the prince. I've been
observing him for a long while."
Nastasia Philipovna looked keenly round at the prince.
"Is that true?" she asked.
"Quite true," whispered the prince.
"You'll take me as I am, with nothing?"
"I will, Nastasia Philipovna."
"Here's a pretty business!" cried the general. "However, it might
have been expected of him."
The prince continued to regard Nastasia with a sorrowful, but
intent and piercing, gaze.
"Here's another alternative for me," said Nastasia, turning
once more to the actress; "and he does it out of pure
kindness of heart. I know him. I've found a benefactor. Perhaps,
though, what they say about him may be true--that he's an--we
know what. And what shall you live on, if you are really so madly
in love with Rogojin's mistress, that you are ready to marry her
"I take you as a good, honest woman, Nastasia Philipovna--not as
"Who? I?--good and honest?"
"Oh, you get those ideas out of novels, you know. Times are
changed now, dear prince; the world sees things as they really
are. That's all nonsense. Besides, how can you marry? You need a
nurse, not a wife."
The prince rose and began to speak in a trembling, timid tone,
but with the air of a man absolutely sure of the truth of his
"I know nothing, Nastasia Philipovna. I have seen nothing. You
are right so far; but I consider that you would be honouring me,
and not I you. I am a nobody. You have suffered, you have passed
through hell and emerged pure, and that is very much. Why do you
shame yourself by desiring to go with Rogojin? You are delirious.
You have returned to Mr. Totski his seventy-five thousand
roubles, and declared that you will leave this house and all that
is in it, which is a line of conduct that not one person here
would imitate. Nastasia Philipovna, I love you! I would die for
you. I shall never let any man say one word against you, Nastasia
Philipovna! and if we are poor, I can work for both."
As the prince spoke these last words a titter was heard from
Ferdishenko; Lebedeff laughed too. The general grunted with
irritation; Ptitsin and Totski barely restrained their smiles.
The rest all sat listening, open-mouthed with wonder.
"But perhaps we shall not be poor; we may be very rich, Nastasia
Philipovna." continued the prince, in the same timid, quivering
tones. "I don't know for certain, and I'm sorry to say I haven't
had an opportunity of finding out all day; but I received a
letter from Moscow, while I was in Switzerland, from a Mr.
Salaskin, and he acquaints me with the fact that I am entitled to
a very large inheritance. This letter--"
The prince pulled a letter out of his pocket.
"Is he raving?" said the general. "Are we really in a mad-house?"
There was silence for a moment. Then Ptitsin spoke.
"I think you said, prince, that your letter was from Salaskin?
Salaskin is a very eminent man, indeed, in his own world; he is a
wonderfully clever solicitor, and if he really tells you this, I
think you may be pretty sure that he is right. It so happens,
luckily, that I know his handwriting, for I have lately had
business with him. If you would allow me to see it, I should
perhaps be able to tell you."
The prince held out the letter silently, but with a shaking hand.
"What, what?" said the general, much agitated.
"What's all this? Is he really heir to anything?"
All present concentrated their attention upon Ptitsin, reading
the prince's letter. The general curiosity had received a new
fillip. Ferdishenko could not sit still. Rogojin fixed his eyes
first on the prince, and then on Ptitsin, and then back again; he
was extremely agitated. Lebedeff could not stand it. He crept up
and read over Ptitsin's shoulder, with the air of a naughty boy
who expects a box on the ear every moment for his indiscretion.
"It's good business," said Ptitsin, at last, folding the letter
and handing it back to the prince. "You will receive, without the
slightest trouble, by the last will and testament of your aunt, a
very large sum of money indeed."
"Impossible!" cried the general, starting up as if he had been
Ptitsin explained, for the benefit of the company, that the
prince's aunt had died five months since. He had never known her,
but she was his mother's own sister, the daughter of a Moscow
merchant, one Paparchin, who had died a bankrupt. But the elder
brother of this same Paparchin, had been an eminent and very rich
merchant. A year since it had so happened that his only two sons
had both died within the same month. This sad event had so
affected the old man that he, too, had died very shortly after.
He was a widower, and had no relations left, excepting the
prince's aunt, a poor woman living on charity, who was herself
at the point of death from dropsy; but who had
time, before she died, to set Salaskin to work to find her
nephew, and to make her will bequeathing her newly-acquired
fortune to him.
It appeared that neither the prince, nor the doctor with whom he
lived in Switzerland, had thought of waiting for further
communications; but the prince had started straight away with
Salaskin's letter in his pocket.
"One thing I may tell you, for certain," concluded Ptitsin,
addressing the prince, "that there is no question about the
authenticity of this matter. Anything that Salaskin writes you as
regards your unquestionable right to this inheritance, you may
look upon as so much money in your pocket. I congratulate you,
prince; you may receive a million and a half of roubles, perhaps
more; I don't know. All I DO know is that Paparchin was a very
rich merchant indeed."
"Hurrah!" cried Lebedeff, in a drunken voice. "Hurrah for the
last of the Muishkins!"
"My goodness me! and I gave him twenty-five roubles this morning
as though he were a beggar," blurted out the general, half
senseless with amazement. "Well, I congratulate you, I
congratulate you!" And the general rose from his seat and
solemnly embraced the prince. All came forward with
congratulations; even those of Rogojin's party who had retreated
into the next room, now crept softly back to look on. For the
moment even Nastasia Philipovna was forgotten.
But gradually the consciousness crept back into the minds of each
one present that the prince had just made her an offer of
marriage. The situation had, therefore, become three times as
fantastic as before.
Totski sat and shrugged his shoulders, bewildered. He was the
only guest left sitting at this time; the others had thronged
round the table in disorder, and were all talking at once.
It was generally agreed, afterwards, in recalling that evening,
that from this moment Nastasia Philipovna seemed entirely to lose
her senses. She continued to sit still in her place, looking
around at her guests with a strange, bewildered expression, as
though she were trying to collect her thoughts, and could not.
Then she suddenly turned to the prince, and glared at him with
frowning brows; but this only lasted one moment. Perhaps it
suddenly struck her that all this was a jest, but his face seemed
to reassure her. She reflected, and smiled again, vaguely.
"So I am really a princess," she whispered to herself,
ironically, and glancing accidentally at Daria Alexeyevna's face,
she burst out laughing.
"Ha, ha, ha!" she cried, "this is an unexpected climax, after
all. I didn't expect this. What are you all standing up for,
gentlemen? Sit down; congratulate me and the prince! Ferdishenko,
just step out and order some more champagne, will you? Katia,
Pasha," she added suddenly, seeing the servants at the door,
"come here! I'm going to be married, did you hear? To the prince.
He has a million and a half of roubles; he is Prince Muishkin,
and has asked me to marry him. Here, prince, come and sit by me;
and here comes the wine. Now then, ladies and gentlemen, where
are your congratulations?"
"Hurrah!" cried a number of voices. A rush was made for the wine
by Rogojin's followers, though, even among them, there seemed
some sort of realization that the situation had changed. Rogojin
stood and looked on, with an incredulous smile, screwing up one
side of his mouth.
"Prince, my dear fellow, do remember what you are about," said
the general, approaching Muishkin, and pulling him by the coat
Nastasia Philipovna overheard the remark, and burst out laughing.
"No, no, general!" she cried. "You had better look out! I am the
princess now, you know. The prince won't let you insult me.
Afanasy Ivanovitch, why don't you congratulate me? I shall be
able to sit at table with your new wife, now. Aha! you see what I
gain by marrying a prince! A million and a half, and a prince,
and an idiot into the bargain, they say. What better could I wish
for? Life is only just about to commence for me in earnest.
Rogojin, you are a little too late. Away with your paper parcel!
I'm going to marry the prince; I'm richer than you are now."
But Rogojin understood how things were tending, at last. An
inexpressibly painful expression came over his face. He wrung his
hands; a groan made its way up from the depths of his soul.
"Surrender her, for God's sake!" he said to the prince.
All around burst out laughing.
"What? Surrender her to YOU?" cried Daria Alexeyevna. "To a
fellow who comes and bargains for a wife like a moujik! The
prince wishes to marry her, and you--"
"So do I, so do I! This moment, if I could! I'd give every
farthing I have to do it."
"You drunken moujik," said Daria Alexeyevna, once more. "You
ought to be kicked out of the place."
The laughter became louder than ever.
"Do you hear, prince?" said Nastasia Philipovna. "Do you hear how
this moujik of a fellow goes on bargaining for your bride?"
"He is drunk," said the prince, quietly, "and he loves you very
"Won't you be ashamed, afterwards, to reflect that your wife very
nearly ran away with Rogojin?"
"Oh, you were raving, you were in a fever; you are still half
"And won't you be ashamed when they tell you, afterwards, that
your wife lived at Totski's expense so many years?"
"No; I shall not be ashamed of that. You did not so live by your
"And you'll never reproach me with it?"
"Take care, don't commit yourself for a whole lifetime."
"Nastasia Philipovna." said the prince, quietly, and with deep
emotion, "I said before that I shall esteem your consent to be my
wife as a great honour to myself, and shall consider that it is
you who will honour me, not I you, by our marriage. You laughed
at these words, and others around us laughed as well; I heard
them. Very likely I expressed myself funnily, and I may have
looked funny, but, for all that, I believe I understand where
honour lies, and what I said was but the literal truth. You were
about to ruin yourself just now, irrevocably; you would never
have forgiven yourself for so doing afterwards; and yet, you are
absolutely blameless. It is impossible that your life should be
altogether ruined at your age. What matter that Rogojin came
bargaining here, and that Gavrila Ardalionovitch would have
deceived you if he could? Why do you continually remind us of
these facts? I assure you once more that very few could find it
in them to act as you have acted this day. As for your wish to go
with Rogojin, that was simply the idea of a delirious and
suffering brain. You are still quite feverish; you ought to be in
bed, not here. You know quite well that if you had gone with
Rogojin, you would have become a washer-woman next day, rather
than stay with him. You are proud, Nastasia Philipovna, and
perhaps you have really suffered so much that you imagine
yourself to be a desperately guilty woman. You require a great
deal of petting and looking after, Nastasia Philipovna, and I
will do this. I saw your portrait this morning, and it seemed
quite a familiar face to me; it seemed to me that the portrait-
face was calling to me for help. I-I shall respect you all my
life, Nastasia Philipovna," concluded the prince, as though
suddenly recollecting himself, and blushing to think of the sort
of company before whom he had said all this.
Ptitsin bowed his head and looked at the ground, overcome by a
mixture of feelings. Totski muttered to himself: "He may be an
idiot, but he knows that flattery is the best road to success
The prince observed Gania's eyes flashing at him, as though they
would gladly annihilate him then and there.
"That's a kind-hearted man, if you like," said Daria Alexeyevna,
whose wrath was quickly evaporating.
"A refined man, but--lost," murmured the general.
Totski took his hat and rose to go. He and the general exchanged
glances, making a private arrangement, thereby, to leave the
"Thank you, prince; no one has ever spoken to me like that
before," began Nastasia Philipovna. "Men have always bargained
for me, before this; and not a single respectable man has ever
proposed to marry me. Do you hear, Afanasy Ivanovitch? What do
YOU think of what the prince has just been saying? It was almost
immodest, wasn't it? You, Rogojin, wait a moment, don't go yet! I
see you don't intend to move however. Perhaps I may go with you
yet. Where did you mean to take me to?"
"To Ekaterinhof," replied Lebedeff. Rogojin simply stood staring,
with trembling lips, not daring to believe his ears. He was
stunned, as though from a blow on the head.
"What are you thinking of, my dear Nastasia?" said Daria
Alexeyevna in alarm. "What are you saying?" "You are not going
mad, are you?"
Nastasia Philipovna burst out laughing and jumped up from the
"You thought I should accept this good child's invitation to ruin
him, did you?" she cried. "That's Totski's way, not mine. He's
fond of children. Come along, Rogojin, get your money ready! We
won't talk about marrying just at this moment, but let's see the
money at all events. Come! I may not marry you, either. I don't
know. I suppose you thought you'd keep the money, if I did! Ha,
ha, ha! nonsense! I have no sense of shame left. I tell you I
have been Totski's concubine. Prince, you must marry Aglaya
Ivanovna, not Nastasia Philipovna, or this fellow Ferdishenko
will always be pointing the finger of scorn at you. You aren't
afraid, I know; but I should always be afraid that I had ruined
you, and that you would reproach me for it. As for what you say
about my doing you honour by marrying you-well, Totski can tell
you all about that. You had your eye on Aglaya, Gania, you know
you had; and you might have married her if you had not come
bargaining. You are all like this. You should choose, once for
all, between disreputable women, and respectable ones, or you are
sure to get mixed. Look at the general, how he's staring at me!"
"This is too horrible," said the general, starting to his feet.
All were standing up now. Nastasia was absolutely beside herself.
"I am very proud, in spite of what I am," she continued. "You
called me 'perfection' just now, prince. A nice sort of
perfection to throw up a prince and a million and a half of
roubles in order to be able to boast of the fact afterwards! What
sort of a wife should I make for you, after all I have said?
Afanasy Ivanovitch, do you observe I have really and truly thrown
away a million of roubles? And you thought that I should consider
your wretched seventy-five thousand, with Gania thrown in for a
husband, a paradise of bliss! Take your seventy-five thousand
back, sir; you did not reach the hundred thousand. Rogojin cut a
better dash than you did. I'll console Gania myself; I have an
idea about that. But now I must be off! I've been in prison for
ten years. I'm free at last! Well, Rogojin, what are you waiting
for? Let's get ready and go."
"Come along!" shouted Rogojin, beside himself with joy. "Hey! all
of you fellows! Wine! Round with it! Fill the glasses!"
"Get away!" he shouted frantically, observing that Daria
Alexeyevna was approaching to protest against Nastasia's conduct.
"Get away, she's mine, everything's mine! She's a queen, get
He was panting with ecstasy. He walked round and round Nastasia
Philipovna and told everybody to "keep their distance."
All the Rogojin company were now collected in the drawing-room;
some were drinking, some laughed and talked: all were in the
highest and wildest spirits. Ferdishenko was doing his best to
unite himself to them; the general and Totski again made an
attempt to go. Gania, too stood hat in hand ready to go; but
seemed to be unable to tear his eyes away from the scene before
"Get out, keep your distance!" shouted Rogojin.
"What are you shouting about there!" cried Nastasia "I'm not
yours yet. I may kick you out for all you know I haven't taken
your money yet; there it all is on the table Here, give me over
that packet! Is there a hundred thousand roubles in that one
packet? Pfu! what abominable stuff it looks! Oh! nonsense, Daria
Alexeyevna; you surely did not expect me to ruin HIM?"
(indicating the prince). "Fancy him nursing me! Why, he needs a
nurse himself! The general, there, will be his nurse now, you'll
see. Here, prince, look here! Your bride is accepting money. What
a disreputable woman she must be! And you wished to marry her!
What are you crying about? Is it a bitter dose? Never mind, you
shall laugh yet. Trust to time." (In spite of these words there
were two large tears rolling down Nastasia's own cheeks.) "It's
far better to think twice of it now than afterwards. Oh! you
mustn't cry like that! There's Katia crying, too. What is it,
Katia, dear? I shall leave you and Pasha a lot of things, I've
laid them out for you already; but good-bye, now. I made an
honest girl like you serve a low woman like myself. It's better
so, prince, it is indeed. You'd begin to despise me afterwards--
we should never be happy. Oh! you needn't swear, prince, I shan't
believe you, you know. How foolish it would be, too! No, no; we'd
better say good-bye and part friends. I am a bit of a dreamer
myself, and I used to dream of you once. Very often during those
five years down at his estate I used to dream and think, and I
always imagined just such a good, honest, foolish fellow as you,
one who should come and say to me: 'You are an innocent woman,
Nastasia Philipovna, and I adore you.' I dreamt of you often. I
used to think so much down there that I nearly went mad; and then
this fellow here would come down. He would stay a couple of
months out of the twelve, and disgrace and insult and deprave me,
and then go; so that I longed to drown myself in the pond a
thousand times over; but I did not dare do it. I hadn't the
heart, and now--well, are you ready, Rogojin?"
"Ready--keep your distance, all of you!"
"We're all ready," said several of his friends. "The troikas
[Sledges drawn by three horses abreast.] are at the door, bells
Nastasia Philipovna seized the packet of bank-notes.
"Gania, I have an idea. I wish to recompense you--why should you
lose all? Rogojin, would he crawl for three roubles as far as the
"Oh, wouldn't he just!"
"Well, look here, Gania. I wish to look into your heart once
more, for the last time. You've worried me for the last three
months--now it's my turn. Do you see this packet? It contains a
hundred thousand roubles. Now, I'm going to throw it into the
fire, here--before all these witnesses. As soon as the fire
catches hold of it, you put your hands into the fire and pick it
out--without gloves, you know. You must have bare hands, and you
must turn your sleeves up. Pull it out, I say, and it's all
yours. You may burn your fingers a little, of course; but then
it's a hundred thousand roubles, remember--it won't take you long
to lay hold of it and snatch it out. I shall so much admire you
if you put your hands into the fire for my money. All here
present may be witnesses that the whole packet of money is yours
if you get it out. If you don't get it out, it shall burn. I will
let no one else come; away--get away, all of you--it's my money!
Rogojin has bought me with it. Is it my money, Rogojin?"
"Yes, my queen; it's your own money, my joy."
"Get away then, all of you. I shall do as I like with my own--
don't meddle! Ferdishenko, make up the fire, quick!"
"Nastasia Philipovna, I can't; my hands won't obey me," said
Ferdishenko, astounded and helpless with bewilderment.
"Nonsense," cried Nastasia Philipovna, seizing the poker and
raking a couple of logs together. No sooner did a tongue of flame
burst out than she threw the packet of notes upon it.
Everyone gasped; some even crossed themselves.
"She's mad--she's mad!" was the cry.
"Oughtn't-oughtn't we to secure her?" asked the general of
Ptitsin, in a whisper; "or shall we send for the authorities?
Why, she's mad, isn't she--isn't she, eh?"
"N-no, I hardly think she is actually mad," whispered Ptitsin,
who was as white as his handkerchief, and trembling like a leaf.
He could not take his eyes off the smouldering packet.
"She's mad surely, isn't she?" the general appealed to Totski.
"I told you she wasn't an ordinary woman," replied the latter,
who was as pale as anyone.
"Oh, but, positively, you know--a hundred thousand roubles!"
"Goodness gracious! good heavens!" came from all quarters of the
All now crowded round the fire and thronged to see what was going
on; everyone lamented and gave vent to exclamations of horror and
woe. Some jumped up on chairs in order to get a better view.
Daria Alexeyevna ran into the next room and whispered excitedly
to Katia and Pasha. The beautiful German disappeared altogether.
"My lady! my sovereign!" lamented Lebedeff, falling on his knees
before Nastasia Philipovna, and stretching out his hands towards
the fire; "it's a hundred thousand roubles, it is indeed, I
packed it up myself, I saw the money! My queen, let me get into
the fire after it--say the word-I'll put my whole grey head into
the fire for it! I have a poor lame wife and thirteen children.
My father died of starvation last week. Nastasia Philipovna,
Nastasia Philipovna!" The wretched little man wept, and groaned,