THE prince observed with great surprise, as he approached his villa, accompanied by Rogojin, that a large number of people were assembled on his verandah, which was brilliantly lighted up. The company seemed merry and were noisily laughing and talking — even quarrelling, to judge from the sounds. At all events they were clearly enjoying themselves, and the prince observed further on closer investigation — that all had been drinking champagne. To judge from the lively condition of some of the party, it was to be supposed that a considerable quantity of champagne had been consumed already.
All the guests were known to the prince; but the curious part of the matter was that they had all arrived on the same evening, as though with one accord, although he had only himself recollected the fact that it was his birthday a few moments since.
“You must have told somebody you were going to trot out the champagne, and that’s why they are all come!” muttered Rogojin, as the two entered the verandah. “We know all about that! You’ve only to whistle and they come up in shoals!” he continued, almost angrily. He was doubtless thinking of his own late experiences with his boon companions.
All surrounded the prince with exclamations of welcome, and, on hearing that it was his birthday, with cries of congratulation and delight; many of them were very noisy.
The presence of certain of those in the room surprised the prince vastly, but the guest whose advent filled him with the greatest wonder — almost amounting to alarm — was Evgenie Pavlovitch. The prince could not believe his eyes when he beheld the latter, and could not help thinking that something was wrong.
Lebedeff ran up promptly to explain the arrival of all these gentlemen. He was himself somewhat intoxicated, but the prince gathered from his long-winded periods that the party had assembled quite naturally, and accidentally.
First of all Hippolyte had arrived, early in the evening, and feeling decidedly better, had determined to await the prince on the verandah. There Lebedeff had joined him, and his household had followed — that is, his daughters and General Ivolgin. Burdovsky had brought Hippolyte, and stayed on with him. Gania and Ptitsin had dropped in accidentally later on; then came Keller, and he and Colia insisted on having champagne. Evgenie Pavlovitch had only dropped in half an hour or so ago. Lebedeff had served the champagne readily.
“My own though, prince, my own, mind,” he said, “and there’ll be some supper later on; my daughter is getting it ready now. Come and sit down, prince, we are all waiting for you, we want you with us. Fancy what we have been discussing! You know the question, ‘to be or not to be,’— out of Hamlet! A contemporary theme! Quite up-to-date! Mr. Hippolyte has been eloquent to a degree. He won’t go to bed, but he has only drunk a little champagne, and that can’t do him any harm. Come along, prince, and settle the question. Everyone is waiting for you, sighing for the light of your luminous intelligence . . . ”
The prince noticed the sweet, welcoming look on Vera Lebedeff’s face, as she made her way towards him through the crowd. He held out his hand to her. She took it, blushing with delight, and wished him “a happy life from that day forward.” Then she ran off to the kitchen, where. her presence was necessary to help in the preparations for supper. Before the prince’s arrival she had spent some time on the terrace, listening eagerly to the conversation, though the visitors, mostly under the influence of wine, were discussing abstract subjects far beyond her comprehension. In the next room her younger sister lay on a wooden chest, sound asleep, with her mouth wide open; but the boy, Lebedeff’s son, had taken up his position close beside Colia and Hippolyte, his face lit up with interest in the conversation of his father and the rest, to which he would willingly have listened for ten hours at a stretch.
“I have waited for you on purpose, and am very glad to see you arrive so happy,” said Hippolyte, when the prince came forward to press his hand, immediately after greeting Vera.
“And how do you know that I am ‘so happy’?
“I can see it by your face! Say ‘how do you do’ to the others, and come and sit down here, quick — I’ve been waiting for you!” he added, accentuating the fact that he had waited. On the prince’s asking, “Will it not be injurious to you to sit out so late?” he replied that he could not believe that he had thought himself dying three days or so ago, for he never had felt better than this evening.
Burdovsky next jumped up and explained that he had come in by accident, having escorted Hippolyte from town. He murmured that he was glad he had “written nonsense” in his letter, and then pressed the prince’s hand warmly and sat down again.
The prince approached Evgenie Pavlovitch last of all. The latter immediately took his arm.
“I have a couple of words to say to you,” he began, “and those on a very important matter; let’s go aside for a minute or two.”
“Just a couple of words!” whispered another voice in the prince’s other ear, and another hand took his other arm. Muishkin turned, and to his great surprise observed a red, flushed face and a droll-looking figure which he recognized at once as that of Ferdishenko. Goodness knows where he had turned up from!
“Do you remember Ferdishenko?” he asked.
“Where have you dropped from?” cried the prince.
“He is sorry for his sins now, prince,” cried Keller. “He did not want to let you know he was here; he was hidden over there in the corner — but he repents now, he feels his guilt.”
“Why, what has he done?”
“I met him outside and brought him in — he’s a gentleman who doesn’t often allow his friends to see him, of late — but he’s sorry now.”
“Delighted, I’m sure! — I’ll come back directly, gentlemen — sit down there with the others, please — excuse me one moment,” said the host, getting away with difficulty in order to follow Evgenie.
“You are very gay here,” began the latter, “and I have had quite a pleasant half-hour while I waited for you. Now then, my dear Lef Nicolaievitch, this is what’s the matter. I’ve arranged it all with Moloftsoff, and have just come in to relieve your mind on that score. You need be under no apprehensions. He was very sensible, as he should be, of course, for I think he was entirely to blame himself.”
“The young fellow whose arms you held, don’t you know? He was so wild with you that he was going to send a friend to you tomorrow morning.”
“Of course it is nonsense, and in nonsense it would have ended, doubtless; but you know these fellows, they —”
“Excuse me, but I think you must have something else that you wished to speak about, Evgenie Pavlovitch?”
“Of course, I have!” said the other, laughing. “You see, my dear fellow, tomorrow, very early in the morning, I must be off to town about this unfortunate business(my uncle, you know!). Just imagine, my dear sir, it is all true — word for word — and, of course, everybody knew it excepting myself. All this has been such a blow to me that I have not managed to call in at the Epanchins’. Tomorrow I shall not see them either, because I shall be in town. I may not be here for three days or more; in a word, my affairs are a little out of gear. But though my town business is, of course, most pressing, still I determined not to go away until I had seen you, and had a clear understanding with you upon certain points; and that without loss of time. I will wait now, if you will allow me, until the company departs; I may just as well, for I have nowhere else to go to, and I shall certainly not do any sleeping tonight; I’m far too excited. And finally, I must confess that, though I know it is bad form to pursue a man in this way, I have come to beg your friendship, my dear prince. You are an unusual sort of a person; you don’t lie at every step, as some men do; in fact, you don’t lie at all, and there is a matter in which I need a true and sincere friend, for I really may claim to be among the number of bona fide unfortunates just now.”
He laughed again.
“But the trouble is,” said the prince, after a slight pause for reflection, “that goodness only knows when this party will break up. Hadn’t we better stroll into the park? I’ll excuse myself, there’s no danger of their going away.”
“No, no! I have my reasons for wishing them not to suspect us of being engaged in any specially important conversation. There are gentry present who are a little too much interested in us. You are not aware of that perhaps, prince? It will be a great deal better if they see that we are friendly just in an ordinary way. They’ll all go in a couple of hours, and then I’ll ask you to give me twenty minutes-half an hour at most.”
“By all means! I assure you I am delighted — you need not have entered into all these explanations. As for your remarks about friendship with me — thanks, very much indeed. You must excuse my being a little absent this evening. Do you know, I cannot somehow be attentive to anything just now?”
“I see, I see,” said Evgenie, smiling gently. His mirth seemed very near the surface this evening.
“What do you see?” said the prince, startled.
“I don’t want you to suspect that I have simply come here to deceive you and pump information out of you!” said Evgenie, still smiling, and without making any direct reply to the question.
“Oh, but I haven’t the slightest doubt that you did come to pump me,” said the prince, laughing himself, at last; “and I dare say you are quite prepared to deceive me too, so far as that goes. But what of that? I’m not afraid of you; besides, you’ll hardly believe it, I feel as though I really didn’t care a scrap one way or the other, just now! — And-and-and as you are a capital fellow, I am convinced of that, I dare say we really shall end by being good friends. I like you very much Evgenie Pavlovitch; I consider you a very good fellow indeed.”
“Well, in any case, you are a most delightful man to have to deal with, be the business what it may,” concluded Evgenie. “Come along now, I’ll drink a glass to your health. I’m charmed to have entered into alliance with you. By-the-by,” he added suddenly, has this young Hippolyte come down to stay with you
“He’s not going to die at once, I should think, is he?”
“Oh, I don’t know. I’ve been half an hour here with him, and he —”
Hippolyte had been waiting for the prince all this time, and had never ceased looking at him and Evgenie Pavlovitch as they conversed in the corner. He became much excited when they approached the table once more. He was disturbed in his mind, it seemed; perspiration stood in large drops on his forehead; in his gleaming eyes it was easy to read impatience and agitation; his gaze wandered from face to face of those present, and from object to object in the room, apparently without aim. He had taken a part, and an animated one, in the noisy conversation of the company; but his animation was clearly the outcome of fever. His talk was almost incoherent; he would break off in the middle of a sentence which he had begun with great interest, and forget what he had been saying. The prince discovered to his dismay that Hippolyte had been allowed to drink two large glasses of champagne; the one now standing by him being the third. All this he found out afterwards; at the moment he did not notice anything, very particularly.
“Do you know I am specially glad that today is your birthday!” cried Hippolyte.
“You’ll soon see. D’you know I had a feeling that there would be a lot of people here tonight? It’s not the first time that my presentiments have been fulfilled. I wish I had known it was your birthday, I’d have brought you a present — perhaps I have got a present for you! Who knows? Ha, ha! How long is it now before daylight?”
“Not a couple of hours,” said Ptitsin, looking at his watch. What’s the good of daylight now? One can read all night in the open air without it,” said someone.
“The good of it! Well, I want just to see a ray of the sun,” said Hippolyte. Can one drink to the sun’s health, do you think, prince?”
“Oh, I dare say one can; but you had better be calm and lie down, Hippolyte — that’s much more important.
“You are always preaching about resting; you are a regular nurse to me, prince. As soon as the sun begins to ‘resound’ in the sky — what poet said that? ‘The sun resounded in the sky.’ It is beautiful, though there’s no sense in it! — then we will go to bed. Lebedeff, tell me, is the sun the source of life? What does the source, or ‘spring,’ of life really mean in the Apocalypse? You have heard of the ‘Star that is called Wormwood,’ prince?”
“I have heard that Lebedeff explains it as the railroads that cover Europe like a net.”
Everybody laughed, and Lebedeff got up abruptly.
“No! Allow me, that is not what we are discussing!” he cried, waving his hand to impose silence. “Allow me! With these gentlemen . . . all these gentlemen,” he added, suddenly addressing the prince, “on certain points . . . that is . . . ” He thumped the table repeatedly, and the laughter increased. Lebedeff was in his usual evening condition, and had just ended a long and scientific argument, which had left him excited and irritable. On such occasions he was apt to evince a supreme contempt for his opponents.
“It is not right! Half an hour ago, prince, it was agreed among us that no one should interrupt, no one should laugh, that each person was to express his thoughts freely; and then at the end, when everyone had spoken, objections might be made, even by the atheists. We chose the general as president. Now without some such rule and order, anyone might be shouted down, even in the loftiest and most profound thought . . . .”
“Go on! Go on! Nobody is going to interrupt you!” cried several voices.
“Speak, but keep to the point!”
“What is this ‘star’?” asked another.
I have no idea,” replied General Ivolgin, who presided with much gravity.
“I love these arguments, prince,” said Keller, also more than half intoxicated, moving restlessly in his chair. “Scientific and political.” Then, turning suddenly towards Evgenie Pavlovitch, who was seated near him: “Do you know, I simply adore reading the accounts of the debates in the English parliament. Not that the discussions themselves interest me; I am not a politician, you know; but it delights me to see how they address each other ‘the noble lord who agrees with me,’ ‘my honourable opponent who astonished Europe with his proposal,’ ‘the noble viscount sitting opposite’— all these expressions, all this parliamentarism of a free people, has an enormous attraction for me. It fascinates me, prince. I have always been an artist in the depths of my soul, I assure you, Evgenie Pavlovitch.”
“Do you mean to say,” cried Gania, from the other corner, “do you mean to say that railways are accursed inventions, that they are a source of ruin to humanity, a poison poured upon the earth to corrupt the springs of life?”
Gavrila Ardalionovitch was in high spirits that evening, and it seemed to the prince that his gaiety was mingled with triumph. Of course he was only joking with Lebedeff, meaning to egg him on, but he grew excited himself at the same time.
“Not the railways, oh dear, no!” replied Lebedeff, with a mixture of violent anger and extreme enjoyment. “Considered alone, the railways will not pollute the springs of life, but as a whole they are accursed. The whole tendency of our latest centuries, in its scientific and materialistic aspect, is most probably accursed.”
“Is it certainly accursed? . . . or do you only mean it might be? That is an important point,” said Evgenie Pavlovitch.
“It is accursed, certainly accursed!” replied the clerk, vehemently.
“Don’t go so fast, Lebedeff; you are much milder in the morning,” said Ptitsin, smiling.
“But, on the other hand, more frank in the evening! In the evening sincere and frank,” repeated Lebedeff, earnestly. “More candid, more exact, more honest, more honourable, and . . . although I may show you my weak side, I challenge you all; you atheists, for instance! How are you going to save the world? How find a straight road of progress, you men of science, of industry, of cooperation, of trades unions, and all the rest? How are you going to save it, I say? By what? By credit? What is credit? To what will credit lead you?”
“You are too inquisitive,” remarked Evgenie Pavlovitch.
“Well, anyone who does not interest himself in questions such as this is, in my opinion, a mere fashionable dummy.”
“But it will lead at least to solidarity, and balance of interests,” said Ptitsin.
“You will reach that with nothing to help you but credit? Without recourse to any moral principle, having for your foundation only individual selfishness, and the satisfaction of material desires? Universal peace, and the happiness of mankind as a whole, being the result! Is it really so that I may understand you, sir?”
“But the universal necessity of living, of drinking, of eating — in short, the whole scientific conviction that this necessity can only be satisfied by universal co-operation and the solidarity of interests — is, it seems to me, a strong enough idea to serve as a basis, so to speak, and a ‘spring of life,’ for humanity in future centuries,” said Gavrila Ardalionovitch, now thoroughly roused.
“The necessity of eating and drinking, that is to say, solely the instinct of self-preservation . . . ”
“Is not that enough? The instinct of self-preservation is the normal law of humanity . . . ”
“Who told you that?” broke in Evgenie Pavlovitch.
“It is a law, doubtless, but a law neither more nor less normal than that of destruction, even self-destruction. Is it possible that the whole normal law of humanity is contained in this sentiment of self-preservation?”
“Ah!” cried Hippolyte, turning towards Evgenie Pavlovitch, and looking at him with a queer sort of curiosity.
Then seeing that Radomski was laughing, he began to laugh himself, nudged Colia, who was sitting beside him, with his elbow, and again asked what time it was. He even pulled Colia’s silver watch out of his hand, and looked at it eagerly. Then, as if he had forgotten everything, he stretched himself out on the sofa, put his hands behind his head, and looked up at the sky. After a minute or two he got up and came back to the table to listen to Lebedeff’s outpourings, as the latter passionately commentated on Evgenie Pavlovitch’s paradox.
“That is an artful and traitorous idea. A smart notion,” vociferated the clerk, “thrown out as an apple of discord. But it is just. You are a scoffer, a man of the world, a cavalry officer, and, though not without brains, you do not realize how profound is your thought, nor how true. Yes, the laws of self-preservation and of self-destruction are equally powerful in this world. The devil will hold his empire over humanity until a limit of time which is still unknown. You laugh? You do not believe in the devil? Scepticism as to the devil is a French idea, and it is also a frivolous idea. Do you know who the devil is? Do you know his name? Although you don’t know his name you make a mockery of his form, following the example of Voltaire. You sneer at his hoofs, at his tail, at his horns — all of them the produce of your imagination! In reality the devil is a great and terrible spirit, with neither hoofs, nor tail, nor horns; it is you who have endowed him with these attributes! But . . . he is not the question just now!”
“How do you know he is not the question now?” cried Hippolyte, laughing hysterically.
“Another excellent idea, and worth considering!” replied Lebedeff. “But, again, that is not the question. The question at this moment is whether we have not weakened ‘the springs of life’ by the extension . . . ”
“Of railways?” put in Colia eagerly.
“Not railways, properly speaking, presumptuous youth, but the general tendency of which railways may be considered as the outward expression and symbol. We hurry and push and hustle, for the good of humanity! ‘The world is becoming too noisy, too commercial!’ groans some solitary thinker. ‘Undoubtedly it is, but the noise of waggons bearing bread to starving humanity is of more value than tranquillity of soul,’ replies another triumphantly, and passes on with an air of pride. As for me, I don’t believe in these waggons bringing bread to humanity. For, founded on no moral principle, these may well, even in the act of carrying bread to humanity, coldly exclude a considerable portion of humanity from enjoying it; that has been seen more than once.
“What, these waggons may coldly exclude?” repeated someone.
“That has been seen already,” continued Lebedeff, not deigning to notice the interruption. “Malthus was a friend of humanity, but, with ill-founded moral principles, the friend of humanity is the devourer of humanity, without mentioning his pride; for, touch the vanity of one of these numberless philanthropists, and to avenge his self-esteem, he will be ready at once to set fire to the whole globe; and to tell the truth, we are all more or less like that. I, perhaps, might be the first to set a light to the fuel, and then run away. But, again, I must repeat, that is not the question.”
“What is it then, for goodness’ sake?”
“He is boring us!”
“The question is connected with the following anecdote of past times; for I am obliged to relate a story. In our times, and in our country, which I hope you love as much as I do, for as far as I am concerned, I am ready to shed the last drop of my blood . . .
“Go on! Go on!”
“In our dear country, as indeed in the whole of Europe, a famine visits humanity about four times a century, as far as I can remember; once in every twenty-five years. I won’t swear to this being the exact figure, but anyhow they have become comparatively rare.”
“Comparatively to what?”
“To the twelfth century, and those immediately preceding and following it. We are told by historians that widespread famines occurred in those days every two or three years, and such was the condition of things that men actually had recourse to cannibalism, in secret, of course. One of these cannibals, who had reached a good age, declared of his own free will that during the course of his long and miserable life he had personally killed and eaten, in the most profound secrecy, sixty monks, not to mention several children; the number of the latter he thought was about six, an insignificant total when compared with the enormous mass of ecclesiastics consumed by him. As to adults, laymen that is to say, he had never touched them.”
The president joined in the general outcry.
“That’s impossible!” said he in an aggrieved tone. “I am often discussing subjects of this nature with him, gentlemen, but for the most part he talks nonsense enough to make one deaf: this story has no pretence of being true.”
“General, remember the siege of Kars! And you, gentlemen, I assure you my anecdote is the naked truth. I may remark that reality, although it is governed by invariable law, has at times a resemblance to falsehood. In fact, the truer a thing is the less true it sounds.”
“But could anyone possibly eat sixty monks?” objected the scoffing listeners.
“It is quite clear that he did not eat them all at once, but in a space of fifteen or twenty years: from that point of view the thing is comprehensible and natural . . . ”
“And natural,” repeated Lebedeff with pedantic obstinacy. “Besides, a Catholic monk is by nature excessively curious; it would be quite easy therefore to entice him into a wood, or some secret place, on false pretences, and there to deal with him as said. But I do not dispute in the least that the number of persons consumed appears to denote a spice of greediness.”
“It is perhaps true, gentlemen,” said the prince, quietly. He had been listening in silence up to that moment without taking part in the conversation, but laughing heartily with the others from time to time. Evidently he was delighted to see that everybody was amused, that everybody was talking at once, and even that everybody was drinking. It seemed as if he were not intending to speak at all, when suddenly he intervened in such a serious voice that everyone looked at him with interest.
“It is true that there were frequent famines at that time, gentlemen. I have often heard of them, though I do not know much history. But it seems to me that it must have been so. When I was in Switzerland I used to look with astonishment at the many ruins of feudal castles perched on the top of steep and rocky heights, half a mile at least above sea-level, so that to reach them one had to climb many miles of stony tracks. A castle, as you know, is, a kind of mountain of stones — a dreadful, almost an impossible, labour! Doubtless the builders were all poor men, vassals, and had to pay heavy taxes, and to keep up the priesthood. How, then, could they provide for themselves, and when had they time to plough and sow their fields? The greater number must, literally, have died of starvation. I have sometimes asked myself how it was that these communities were not utterly swept off the face of the earth, and how they could possibly survive. Lebedeff is not mistaken, in my opinion, when he says that there were cannibals in those days, perhaps in considerable numbers; but I do not understand why he should have dragged in the monks, nor what he means by that.”
“It is undoubtedly because, in the twelfth century, monks were the only people one could eat; they were the fat, among many lean,” said Gavrila Ardalionovitch.
“A brilliant idea, and most true!” cried Lebedeff, “for he never even touched the laity. Sixty monks, and not a single layman! It is a terrible idea, but it is historic, it is statistic; it is indeed one of those facts which enables an intelligent historian to reconstruct the physiognomy of a special epoch, for it brings out this further point with mathematical accuracy, that the clergy were in those days sixty times richer and more flourishing than the rest of humanity. and perhaps sixty times fatter also . . . ”
“You are exaggerating, you are exaggerating, Lebedeff!” cried his hearers, amid laughter.
“I admit that it is an historic thought, but what is your conclusion?” asked the prince.
He spoke so seriously in addressing Lebedeff, that his tone contrasted quite comically with that of the others. They were very nearly laughing at him, too, but he did not notice it.
“Don’t you see he is a lunatic, prince?” whispered Evgenie Pavlovitch in his ear. “Someone told me just now that he is a bit touched on the subject of lawyers, that he has a mania for making speeches and intends to pass the examinations. I am expecting a splendid burlesque now.”
“My conclusion is vast,” replied Lebedeff, in a voice like thunder. “Let us examine first the psychological and legal position of the criminal. We see that in spite of the difficulty of finding other food, the accused, or, as we may say, my client, has often during his peculiar life exhibited signs of repentance, and of wishing to give up this clerical diet. Incontrovertible facts prove this assertion. He has eaten five or six children, a relatively insignificant number, no doubt, but remarkable enough from another point of view. It is manifest that, pricked by remorse — for my client is religious, in his way, and has a conscience, as I shall prove later — and desiring to extenuate his sin as far as possible, he has tried six times at least to substitute lay nourishment for clerical. That this was merely an experiment we can hardly doubt: for if it had been only a question of gastronomic variety, six would have been too few; why only six? Why not thirty? But if we regard it as an experiment, inspired by the fear of committing new sacrilege, then this number six becomes intelligible. Six attempts to calm his remorse, and the pricking of his conscience, would amply suffice, for these attempts could scarcely have been happy ones. In my humble opinion, a child is too small; I should say, not sufficient; which would result in four or five times more lay children than monks being required in a given time. The sin, lessened on the one hand, would therefore be increased on the other, in quantity, not in quality. Please understand, gentlemen, that in reasoning thus, I am taking the point of view which might have been taken by a criminal of the middle ages. As for myself, a man of the late nineteenth century, I, of course, should reason differently; I say so plainly, and therefore you need not jeer at me nor mock me, gentlemen. As for you, general, it is still more unbecoming on your part. In the second place, and giving my own personal opinion, a child’s flesh is not a satisfying diet; it is too insipid, too sweet; and the criminal, in making these experiments, could have satisfied neither his conscience nor his appetite. I am about to conclude, gentlemen; and my conclusion contains a reply to one of the most important questions of that day and of our own! This criminal ended at last by denouncing himself to the clergy, and giving himself up to justice. We cannot but ask, remembering the penal system of that day, and the tortures that awaited him — the wheel, the stake, the fire! — we cannot but ask, I repeat, what induced him to accuse himself of this crime? Why did he not simply stop short at the number sixty, and keep his secret until his last breath? Why could he not simply leave the monks alone, and go into the desert to repent? Or why not become a monk himself? That is where the puzzle comes in! There must have been something stronger than the stake or the fire, or even than the habits of twenty years! There must have been an idea more powerful than all the calamities and sorrows of this world, famine or torture, leprosy or plague — an idea which entered into the heart, directed and enlarged the springs of life, and made even that hell supportable to humanity! Show me a force, a power like that, in this our century of vices and railways! I might say, perhaps, in our century of steamboats and railways, but I repeat in our century of vices and railways, because I am drunk but truthful! Show me a single idea which unites men nowadays with half the strength that it had in those centuries, and dare to maintain that the ‘springs of life’ have not been polluted and weakened beneath this ‘star,’ beneath this network in which men are entangled! Don’t talk to me about your prosperity, your riches, the rarity of famine, the rapidity of the means of transport! There is more of riches, but less of force. The idea uniting heart and soul to heart and soul exists no more. All is loose, soft, limp — we are all of us limp. . . . Enough, gentlemen! I have done. That is not the question. No, the question is now, excellency, I believe, to sit down to the banquet you are about to provide for us!”
Lebedeff had roused great indignation in some of his auditors (it should be remarked that the bottles were constantly uncorked during his speech); but this unexpected conclusion calmed even the most turbulent spirits. “That’s how a clever barrister makes a good point!” said he, when speaking of his peroration later on. The visitors began to laugh and chatter once again; the committee left their seats, and stretched their legs on the terrace. Keller alone was still disgusted with Lebedeff and his speech; he turned from one to another, saying in a loud voice:
“He attacks education, he boasts of the fanaticism of the twelfth century, he makes absurd grimaces, and added to that he is by no means the innocent he makes himself out to be. How did he get the money to buy this house, allow me to ask?”
In another corner was the general, holding forth to a group of hearers, among them Ptitsin, whom he had buttonholed. “I have known,” said he, “a real interpreter of the Apocalypse, the late Gregory Semeonovitch Burmistroff, and he — he pierced the heart like a fiery flash! He began by putting on his spectacles, then he opened a large black book; his white beard, and his two medals on his breast, recalling acts of charity, all added to his impressiveness. He began in a stern voice, and before him generals, hard men of the world, bowed down, and ladies fell to the ground fainting. But this one here — he ends by announcing a banquet! That is not the real thing!”
Ptitsin listened and smiled, then turned as if to get his hat; but if he had intended to leave, he changed his mind. Before the others had risen from the table, Gania had suddenly left off drinking, and pushed away his glass, a dark shadow seemed to come over his face. When they all rose, he went and sat down by Rogojin. It might have been believed that quite friendly relations existed between them. Rogojin, who had also seemed on the point of going away now sat motionless, his head bent, seeming to have forgotten his intention. He had drunk no wine, and appeared absorbed in reflection. From time to time he raised his eyes, and examined everyone present; one might have imagined that he was expecting something very important to himself, and that he had decided to wait for it. The prince had taken two or three glasses of champagne, and seemed cheerful. As he rose he noticed Evgenie Pavlovitch, and, remembering the appointment he had made with him, smiled pleasantly. Evgenie Pavlovitch made a sign with his head towards Hippolyte, whom he was attentively watching. The invalid was fast asleep, stretched out on the sofa.
“Tell me, prince, why on earth did this boy intrude himself upon you?” he asked, with such annoyance and irritation in his voice that the prince was quite surprised. “I wouldn’t mind laying odds that he is up to some mischief.”
“I have observed,” said the prince, “that he seems to be an object of very singular interest to you, Evgenie Pavlovitch. Why is it?”
“You may add that I have surely enough to think of, on my own account, without him; and therefore it is all the more surprising that I cannot tear my eyes and thoughts away from his detestable physiognomy.”
“Oh, come! He has a handsome face.”
“Why, look at him — look at him now!”
The prince glanced again at Evgenie Pavlovitch with considerable surprise.
Last updated Sunday, March 27, 2016 at 11:53