I WENT out and hurried home. Masloboev’s words had made a great impression on me. All sorts of ideas occurred to me. . . . As luck would have it, at home an incident awaited me which startled me like an electric shock.
Exactly opposite the gate of the house where I lodged stood a street-lamp. just as I was in the gateway a strange figure rushed out from under the street-lamp, so strange that I uttered a cry. It was a living thing, terror-stricken, shaking, half-crazed, and it caught at my hand with a scream. I was over-whelmed with horror. It was Nellie.
“Nellie, what is it?” I cried. “What’s the matter?”
“There, upstairs . . . he’s in our . . . rooms.”
“Who is it? Come along, come with me.”
“I won’t, I won’t. I’ll wait till he’s gone away . . . in the passage . . . I won’t.”
I went up to my room with a strange foreboding in my heart, opened the door and saw Prince Valkovsky. He was sitting at the table reading my novel. At least, the book was open.
“Ivan Petrovitch,” he cried, delighted. “I’m so glad you’ve come back at last. I was on the very point of going away. I’ve been waiting over an hour for you. I promised the countess at her earnest and particular wish to take you to see her this evening. She begged me so specially, she’s so anxious to make your acquaintance. So as you had already promised me I thought I would come and see you earlier before you’d had time to go out anywhere, and invite you to come with me. Imagine my distress. When I arrived your servant told me you were not at home. What could I do? I had given my word of honour that I’d take you with me. And so I sat down to wait for you, making up my mind to wait a quarter of an hour for you. But it’s been a long quarter of an hour! I opened your novel and forgot the time, reading it. Ivan Petrovitch! It’s a masterpiece! They don’t appreciate you enough! You’ve drawn tears from me, do you know? Yes, I’ve been crying, and I don’t often cry,”
“So you want me to come? I must confess that just now . . . not that I’m against it, but . . .”
“For God’s sake let us go! What a way to treat me! Why, I have been waiting an hour and a half for you. . . . Besides, I do so want to talk to you. You know what about. You understand the whole affair better than I do. . . . Perhaps we shall decide on something, come to some conclusion. Only think of it For God’s sake, don’t refuse.”
I reflected that sooner or later I should have to go. Of course Natasha was alone now, and needed me, but she had herself charged me to get to know Katya as soon as possible. Besides, Alyosha might be there. I knew that Natasha would not be satisfied till I had brought her news of Katya, and I decided to go. But I was worried about Nellie.
“Wait a minute,” I said to the prince, and I went out on the stairs. Nellie was standing there in a dark comer.
“Why won’t you come in, Nellie? What did he do? What did he say to you?”
“Nothing. . . . I don’t want to, I won’t . . .” she repeated.
I tried hard to persuade her, but nothing was any use. I agreed with her that as soon as I had gone out with the prince she should return and lock herself in.
“And don’t let anyone in, Nellie, however much they try and persuade you.”
“But are you going with him?”
She shuddered and clutched at my arm, as though to beg me not to go, but she didn’t utter one word. I made up my mind to question her more minutely next day.
Apologizing to the prince, I began to dress. He began assuring me that I had no need to dress, no need to get myself up to go to the countess.
“Perhaps something a little more spruce,” he added, eyeing me inquisitively from head to foot. “You know . . . these conventional prejudices . . . it’s impossible to be rid of them altogether. It’ll be a long time before we get to that ideal state in our society,” he concluded, seeing with satisfaction that I had a dress-coat.
We went out. But I left him on the stairs, went back into the room into which Nellie had already slipped, and said good-bye to her again. She was terribly agitated. Her face looked livid. I was worried about her; I disliked having to leave her.
“That’s a queer servant of yours,” the prince said as we went downstairs. “I suppose that little girl is your servant?
“No . . . she . . . is staying with me for the time.”
“Queer little girl. I’m sure she’s mad. Only fancy, at first she answered me civilly, but afterwards when she’d looked at me she rushed at me, screaming and trembling, clung to me . . . tried to say something, but couldn’t. I must own I was scared. I wanted to escape from her, but thank God she ran away herself. I was astounded. How do you manage to get on with her?”
“She has epileptic fits,” I answered.
“Ah, so that’s it! Well, it’s no wonder then . . . if she has fits.”
The idea suddenly struck me that Masloboev’s visit of the previous day when he knew I was not at home, my visit to Masloboev that morning, the story that Masloboev had just told me, when he was drunk and against his will, his pressing invitation for me to come at seven o’clock that evening, his urging me not to believe in his hoodwinking me and, finally, the prince’s waiting for an hour and a half for me while perhaps he knew I was at Masloboev’s, and while Nellie had rushed away from him into the street, that all these facts were somehow connected. I had plenty to think about.
Prince Valkovsky’s carriage was waiting at the gate. We got in and drove off.
Last updated Tuesday, August 25, 2015 at 14:07