On that morning, the 15th of November, I found him at Prince Sergay’s. I had brought the prince and him together, but they had ties apart from me (I mean the affair abroad, and all that). Moreover, the prince had promised to divide the disputed fortune with him, giving him a third, which would mean twenty thousand at least. I remember at the time I thought it awfully strange that he was giving him only a third and not the full half; but I said nothing. Prince Sergay gave this promise of his own accord; Versilov had not said a syllable to suggest it, had not dropped a hint. Prince Sergay came forward himself and Versilov only let it pass in silence, never once alluded to it, and showed no sign that he had the least recollection of a promise. I may mention, by the way, that Prince Sergay was absolutely enchanted with him at first and still more with the things he said. He fell into positive raptures about him, and several times expressed his feelings to me. Sometimes when he was alone with me he exclaimed about himself, almost with despair, that he was “so ill-educated, that he was on the wrong track! . . .” Oh, we were still so friendly then! . . . I kept trying to impress Versilov with Prince Sergay’s good points only, and excused his defects though I saw them myself; but Versilov listened in silence, or smiled.
“If he has faults he has at least as many virtues as defects!” I once exclaimed to Versilov when I was alone with him.
“Goodness, how you flatter him!” he said laughing.
“How do I flatter him?” I said, not understanding.
“As many virtues! Why he must be a saint if he has as many virtues as defects!”
But, of course, that was not his opinion. In general he avoided speaking of Prince Sergay at that time, as he did indeed of everything real, but of the prince particularly. I suspected, even then, that he went to see Prince Sergay without me, and that they were on rather peculiar terms, but I did not go into that. I was not jealous either at his talking to him more seriously than to me, more positively, so to speak, with less mockery; I was so happy at the time that I was actually pleased at it. I explained it too by Prince Sergay’s being of rather limited intelligence, and so being fond of verbal exactitude; some jests he absolutely failed to see.
But of late he had, as it were, begun to emancipate himself. His feelings for Versilov seemed beginning to change. Versilov with his delicate perception noticed it. I may mention at this point that Prince Sergay’s attitude to me, too, became different at the same time, rather too obviously, in fact. Only the lifeless forms of our warm earlier relations were maintained. Yet I went on going to see him; I could not indeed help it, having once been drawn into it. Oh, how clumsy and inexperienced I was then; it is almost beyond belief that mere foolishness of heart can have brought anyone to such humiliation and lack of perception. I took money from him and thought that it didn’t matter, that it was quite right. Yet that is not true: even then I knew that it was not right, but it was simply that I thought very little about it. I did not go to the prince to get money, though I needed the money so much. I knew I did not go for the sake of the money, but I realized that I went every day to borrow money. But I was in a whirl then, and besides all that I had something very different in my soul — it was singing with joy!
When I went in at eleven o’clock in the morning I found Versilov just finishing a long tirade. Prince Sergay was walking about the room listening, and Versilov was sitting down. Prince Sergay seemed in some excitement. Versilov was almost always able to work him into a state of excitement. He was exceedingly impressionable, to a degree of simplicity, indeed, which had often made me look down on him. But, I repeat, of late I had detected in him something like a resentful sneer. He stopped short, seeing me, and a quiver seemed to pass over his face. I knew in my heart to what to attribute the shadow over him that morning, but I had not expected that his face would be so distorted by it. I knew that he had an accumulation of anxieties, but it was revolting that I didn’t know more than a tenth part of them — the rest had been kept so far a dead secret from me. What made it stupid and revolting was that I often obtruded my sympathy on him, gave advice and often laughed condescendingly at his weakness at being so upset “about such trifles.” He used to be silent; but he must have detested me at those moments; I was in an utterly false position and had no suspicion of it. Oh, I call God to witness that of the chief trouble I had no suspicion!
He courteously held out his hand to me, however; Versilov nodded, without interrupting himself. I stretched myself on the sofa — my tone and manners were horrible at that time! My swagger went even further: I used to treat his acquaintances as though they were my own. Oh, if it could only be done all over again, I should know how to behave very differently!
Two words, that I may not forget. Prince Sergay was still living in the same flat, but now occupied almost the whole of it. Mme. Stolbyeev, whose flat it was, after staying only a month, had gone away again.
They were talking of the aristocracy. I may mention that Prince Sergay grew sometimes much excited over this subject in spite of his progressive notions. I suspect indeed that many of his misdoings had their source and origin in this idea. Attaching great significance to his princely rank, he threw money away in all directions although he was a beggar, and became involved in debt. Versilov had more than once hinted that this extravagance was not the essence of princeliness, and tried to instil into him a higher conception of it; but Prince Sergay had begun to show signs of resentment at being instructed. Evidently there had been something of the same sort that morning, but I hadn’t arrived in time for the beginning of it. Versilov’s words struck me at first as reactionary, but he made up for that later on.
“The word honour means duty,” he said (I only give the sense as far as I remember it); “when the upper class rules in a state the country is strong. The upper class always has its sense of honour, and its code of honour, which may be imperfect but almost always serves as a bond and strengthens the country; an advantage morally and still more politically. But the slaves, that is all those not belonging to the ruling class, suffer. They are given equal rights to prevent their suffering. That’s what has been done with us, and it’s an excellent thing. But in all experience so far (in Europe that is to say) a weakening of the sense of honour and duty has followed the establishment of equal rights. Egoism has replaced the old consolidating principle and the whole system has been shattered on the rock of personal freedom. The emancipated masses, left with no sustaining principle, have ended by losing all sense of cohesion, till they have given up defending the liberties they have gained. But the Russian type of aristocrat has never been like the European nobility. Our nobility, even now that it has lost its privileges, might remain the leading class as the upholders of honour, enlightenment, science, and higher culture, and, what is of the greatest importance, without cutting themselves off into a separate caste, which would be the death of the idea. On the contrary, the entrance to this class has been thrown open long ago among us, and now the time has come to open it completely. Let every honourable and valiant action, every great achievement in science enable a man to gain the ranks of the highest class. In that way the class is automatically transformed into an assembly of the best people in a true and literal sense, not in the sense in which it was said of the privileged caste in the past. In this new, or rather renewed form, the class might be retained.”
The prince smiled sarcastically.
“What sort of an aristocracy would that be? It’s some sort of masonic lodge you’re sketching; not an aristocracy.”
Prince Sergay had been, I repeat, extremely ill-educated. I turned over with vexation on the sofa, though I was far from agreeing with Versilov. Versilov quite understood that the prince was sneering.
“I don’t know in what sense you talk of a masonic lodge,” he answered. “Well, if even a Russian prince recoils from such an idea, no doubt the time for it has not arrived. The idea of honour and enlightenment as the sacred keys that unlock for any man the portals of a class thus continually renewed is, of course, a Utopia. But why is it an impossible one? If the thought is living though only in a few brains it is not yet lost, but shines like a tiny flame in the depths of darkness.”
“You are fond of using such words as ‘higher culture,’ ‘great idea,’ ‘sustaining principle’ and such; I should like to know what you mean exactly by a ‘great idea’?”
“I really don’t know how to answer that question, dear prince,” Versilov responded with a subtle smile. “If I confess to you that I myself am not able to answer, it would be more accurate. A great idea is most often a feeling which sometimes remains too long undefined. I only know that it’s that which has been the source of living life, gay joyous life, I mean, not theoretical and artificial; so that the great idea, from which it flows, is absolutely indispensable, to the general vexation, of course.”
“Because, to live with ideas is dreary, and it’s always gay without them.”
The prince swallowed the rebuke.
“And what do you mean by this living life as you call it?” (He was evidently cross.)
“I don’t know that either, prince; I only know that it must be something very simple, the most everyday thing, staring us in the face, a thing of every day, every minute, and so simple that we can never believe it to be so simple, and we’ve naturally been passing it by for thousands of years without noticing it or recognizing it.”
“I only meant to say that your idea of the aristocracy is equivalent to denying the aristocracy,” observed Prince Sergay.
“Well, if you will have it so, perhaps there never has been an aristocracy in Russia.”
“All this is very obscure and vague. If one says something, one ought, to my mind, to explain it . . . .”
Prince Sergay contracted his brows and stole a glance at the clock on the wall. Versilov got up and took his hat.
“Explain?” he said, “no, it’s better not to, besides, I’ve a passion for talking without explanations. That’s really it. And there’s another strange thing: if it happens that I try to explain an idea I believe in, it almost always happens that I cease to believe what I have explained. I’m afraid of that fate now. Good-bye, dear prince; I always chatter unpardonably with you.”
He went out; the prince escorted him politely, but I felt offended.
“What are you ruffling up your feathers about?” he fired off suddenly, walking past me to his bureau without looking at me.
“I’m ruffling up my feathers,” I began with a tremor in my voice, “because, finding in you such a queer change of tone to me and even to Versilov I . . . Versilov may, of course, have begun in rather a reactionary way, but afterwards he made up for it and . . . there was perhaps a profound meaning in what he said, but you simply didn’t understand, and . . .”
“I simply don’t care to have people putting themselves forward to teach me and treating me as though I were a schoolboy,” he snapped out, almost wrathfully.
“Prince, such expressions . . .”
“Please spare me theatrical flourishes — if you will be so kind. I know that what I am doing is — contemptible, that I’m — a spendthrift, a gambler, perhaps a thief. . . . Yes, a thief, for I gamble away the money belonging to my family, but I don’t want anybody’s judgment. I don’t want it and I won’t have it. I’m — the judge of my own actions. And why this ambiguity? If he wants to say anything to me let him say it straight out, and not go in for this mysterious prophetic twaddle. To tell me all this he ought to have the right to, he ought to be an honourable man himself . . . .”
“In the first place I didn’t come in at the beginning and I don’t know what you were talking about, and, secondly, what has Versilov done dishonourable, allow me to ask?”
“Please, that’s enough, that’s enough. You asked me for three hundred roubles yesterday. Here it is . . . .”
He laid the money on the table before me, sat down in the armchair, leaned nervously against the back of it, and crossed one leg over the other. I was thrown into confusion.
“I don’t know . . .” I muttered, “though I did ask you for it . . . and though I do need the money now, since you take such a tone . . .”
“Don’t talk about tone. If I spoke sharply you must excuse me. I assure you that I’ve no thoughts to spare for it. Listen to this: I’ve had a letter from Moscow. My brother Sasha, who was only a child, as you know, died four days ago. My father, as you know too, has been paralysed for the last two years, and now, they write to me, he’s worse, he can’t utter a word and knows nobody. They were relieved to get the inheritance, and want to take him abroad, but the doctor writes that he’s not likely to live a fortnight. So I’m left with my mother and sister . . . that is, almost alone. . . . In fact, I’m — alone. This fortune . . . this fortune — oh, it would have been better perhaps if it had not come to me at all! But this is what I wanted to tell you: I promised Andrey Petrovitch a minimum of twenty thousand. . . . And, meanwhile, only imagine, owing to legal formalities I’ve been able to do nothing. I haven’t even . . . we, that is . . . my father that is, has not yet been informed of the inheritance. And meanwhile I’ve lost so much money during the last three weeks, and that scoundrel Stebelkov charges such a rate of interest. . . . I’ve given you almost the last . . . .”
“Oh, prince, if that’s how it is . . .”
“I didn’t mean that. I didn’t mean that. Stebelkov will bring some to-day, no doubt, and there’ll be enough to go on with, but what the devil’s one to think of Stebelkov? I entreated him to get me ten thousand, so that I might at least give Andrey Petrovitch that much. It worries me, it plagues me to think of my promise to give him a third. I gave my word and I must keep it. And I swear I’ll do my utmost to free myself from obligations in that direction anyhow. They weigh upon me, they weigh upon me, they’re insufferable! This burdensome tie. . . . I can’t bear to see Andrey Petrovitch, for I can’t look him in the face. . . . Why does he take advantage of it?”
“What does he take advantage of, prince?” I stood before him in amazement. “Has he ever so much as hinted at it?”
“Oh, no, and I appreciate it, it’s I who reproach myself. And in fact I’m getting more and more involved. . . . This Stebelkov . . . .”
“Listen, prince, do calm yourself, please. I see you get more excited the more you talk, and yet it may be all imagination. Oh, I’ve got myself into difficulties too, unpardonably, contemptibly. But I know it’s only temporary . . . and as soon as I win back a certain sum, then . . . I say, with this three hundred, I owe you two thousand five hundred, don’t I?”
“I’m not asking it from you, I believe,” the prince said suddenly with a sneer.
“You say ten thousand for Versilov. If I borrow from you now the money will be taken off Versilov’s twenty thousand; otherwise I won’t consent. But . . . but I shall certainly pay it back myself. . . . But can you possibly imagine that Versilov comes to you to get the money?”
“It would be easier for me if he did come for the money,” Prince Sergay observed enigmatically.
“You talk of some ‘burdensome tie.’ . . . If you mean with Versilov and me, upon my soul it’s an insult. And you say why isn’t he what he preaches — that’s your logic! And, in the first place it’s not logic, allow me to tell you, for even if he’s not, he can’t help saying what’s true. . . . And besides, why do you talk about ‘preaching’? You call him a ‘prophet.’ Tell me, was it you who called him a ‘petticoat prophet’ in Germany?”
“No, it was not I.”
“Stebelkov told me it was you.”
“He told a lie. I’m — no hand at giving derisive nicknames. But if a man preaches honour he ought to be honourable himself — that’s my logic, and if it’s incorrect I don’t care. I prefer it to be so. And I won’t have anyone dare to come and judge me in my own house and treat me like a baby! That’s enough!” he shouted, waving his hand to stop me. . . . “Ah, at last!”
The door opened and Stebelkov walked in.
He was exactly the same, just as jauntily dressed; and squared his chest and stared into one’s face as stupidly as ever, imagining that he was being very sly, and exceedingly well satisfied with himself. On this occasion he looked about him in a strange way on entering; there was a look of peculiar caution and penetration in his face, as though he wanted to guess something from our countenances. He instantly subsided, however, and his face beamed with a self-satisfied smile, that “pardonably-insolent” smile, which was yet unspeakably repulsive to me.
I had known for a long time that he was a great torment to Prince Sergay. He had come once or twice when I was present. I . . . I too had had a transaction with him during that month, but on this occasion I was rather surprised at the way he came in.
“In a minute,” Prince Sergay said, without greeting him, and, turning his back on us both, he began looking in his desk for the necessary papers and accounts. As for me, I was mortally offended by his last words. The suggestion that Versilov was dishonourable was so clear (and so astonishing!) that it could not be allowed to pass without a full explanation. But that was impossible before Stebelkov. I reclined on the sofa again and turned over a book that was lying before me.
“Byelinsky, part two! That’s something new! Are you trying to cultivate your mind?” I exclaimed, I fancy, very unnaturally.
He was busily engaged and in great haste, but at my words he turned.
“I beg you to leave that book alone,” he brought out sharply.
This was beyond all endurance, especially before Stebelkov! To make it worse Stebelkov gave a sly and loathsome smirk, and made a stealthy sign to me in Prince Sergay’s direction. I turned away from the fool.
“Don’t be angry, prince; I’ll leave you to your most important visitor, and meanwhile I’ll disappear . . . .”
I made up my mind to be casual in my manner.
“Is that me — the most important visitor?” Stebelkov put in, jocosely pointing at himself with his finger.
“Yes, you; you’re the most important person and you know it too!”
“No, excuse me. Everywhere in the world there’s a second person. I am a second person. There is a first person and a second person. The first acts and the second takes. So the first person turns into the second person, and the second person turns into the first person. Is that so or not?”
“It may be so. But as usual I don’t understand you.”
“Excuse me. In France there was a revolution and every one was executed. Napoleon came along and took everything. The revolution is the first person, and Napoleon the second person. But it turned out that the revolution became the second person and Napoleon became the first person. Is that right?”
I may observe, by the way, that in his speaking to me of the French Revolution I saw an instance of his own cunning which amused me very much. He still persisted in regarding me as some sort of revolutionist, and whenever he met me thought it necessary to begin on some topic of the sort.
“Come along,” said Prince Sergay, and they went together into the other room. As soon as I was alone I made up my mind to give him back the three hundred as soon as Stebelkov had gone. I needed the money terribly, still I resolved to do so.
They remained in the other room, and for ten minutes I heard nothing, then suddenly they began talking loudly. They were both talking, but Prince Sergay suddenly shouted as though in violent irritation, approaching frenzy. He was sometimes very hasty, so that I was not surprised. But at that moment a footman came in to announce a visitor; I motioned him to the other room and instantly there was silence there. Prince Sergay came out with an anxious face, though he smiled; the footman hastened away, and half a minute later a visitor came in.
It was a visitor of great consequence, with shoulder-knots and a family crest. He was a gentleman not over thirty, of high rank, and of a severe appearance. I may remark that Prince Sergay did not yet really belong to the highest circles in Petersburg, in spite of his passionate desire to do so (I was aware of this desire), and so he must have been glad to see a visitor like this. The acquaintance had, as I knew, only been formed through great efforts on the part of Prince Sergay. The guest was returning Prince Sergay’s visit, and unhappily came upon him at the wrong moment. I saw Prince Sergay look at Stebelkov with an agonized and hopeless expression; but Stebelkov encountered his eyes as though nothing whatever were the matter, and without the faintest idea of effacing himself, sat down on the sofa with a free-and-easy air and began passing his hand through his hair, probably to display his independence. He even assumed an important countenance, in fact he was utterly impossible. As for me, I knew, of course, how to behave, decently even then, and should never have disgraced anyone; but what was my amazement when I caught on Prince Sergay’s face the same hopeless, miserable and vindictive look directed at me: he was ashamed of us both then, and put me on a level with Stebelkov. That idea drove me to fury. I lolled even more at my ease, and began turning over the leaves of the book, as though the position were no concern of mine. Stebelkov, on the contrary, bent forward open-eyed to listen to their conversation, probably supposing that this was a polite and affable thing to do. The visitor glanced once or twice at Stebelkov, and at me too, indeed.
They talked of family news; this gentleman had at some time known Prince Sergay’s mother, who was one of a distinguished family. From what I could gather, in spite of his politeness and the apparent good-nature of his tone, the visitor was very formal and evidently valued his own dignity so highly as to consider a visit from him an honour to anyone whatever. Had Prince Sergay been alone, that is had we not been present, he would certainly have been more dignified and more resourceful. As it was, something tremulous in his smile, possibly an excess of politeness, and a strange absent-mindedness, betrayed him.
They had hardly been sitting there five minutes when another visitor was announced, also of the compromising kind. I knew this one very well and had heard a great deal about him, though he did not know me at all. He was still quite a young man, though twenty-three, who was handsome and elegantly dressed and had a fine house, but moved in distinctly doubtful circles. A year before he had been serving in one of the smartest cavalry regiments, but had been forced to give up his commission, and every one knew for what reason. His relations had even advertised in the papers that they would not be responsible for his debts, but he still continued his profligate manner of life, borrowing money at ten per cent. a month, playing desperately in gambling circles, and squandering his money on a notorious Frenchwoman. A week before, he had succeeded one evening in winning twelve thousand roubles and was triumphant. He was on friendly terms with Prince Sergay: they often played together tête-à-tête; but Prince Sergay positively shuddered seeing him now. I noticed this from where I lay. This youth made himself at home everywhere, talked with noisy gaiety, saying anything that came into his head without restraint. And of course it could never have occurred to him that our host was in such a panic over the impression his associates would make upon his important visitor.
He interrupted their conversation by his entrance, and began at once describing his play on the previous day, before he had even sat down.
“I believe you were there too,” he said, breaking off at the third sentence to address the important gentleman, mistaking him for one of his own set; but looking at him more closely he cried at once:
“Oh, I beg your pardon, I mistook you for one of the party yesterday!”
“Alexey Vladimirovitch Darzan — Ippolit Alexandrovitch Nastchokin,” Prince Sergay made haste to introduce them. This youth could still be introduced. He belonged to a good family and it was a distinguished name; but us he did not introduce, and we went on sitting in our corners. I absolutely refused to turn my head in their direction, but Stebelkov began smirking gleefully at the sight of the young man, and was unmistakably threatening to begin talking. This began to amuse me.
“I met you several times last year at Countess Verigin’s,” said Darzan.
“I remember you, but I believe you were in military uniform then,” Nastchokin observed genially.
“Yes, I was, but thanks to. . . . But Stebelkov here? How does he come here? It’s just thanks to these pretty gentlemen here that I’m not in the army now!” he pointed to Stebelkov, and burst out laughing. Stebelkov laughed gleefully too, probably taking it as a compliment. Prince Sergay blushed and made haste to address a question to Nastchokin, and Darzan, going up to Stebelkov, began talking of something very warmly, though in a whisper.
“I believe you saw a great deal of Katerina Nikolaevna Ahmakov abroad?” the visitor asked Prince Sergay.
“Oh yes, I knew her . . . .”
“I believe we shall soon be hearing a piece of news about her. They say she’s engaged to Baron Büring.”
“That’s true!” cried Darzan.
“Do you know it for a fact?” Prince Sergay asked Nastchokin with evident agitation, bringing out his question with peculiar emphasis.
“I’ve been told so, and people are talking about it; but I don’t know it for a fact.”
“Oh, it is a fact!” said Darzan, going up to him. “Dubasov told me so yesterday, he’s always the first to know news like that. Yes, and the prince ought to know . . . .”
Nastchokin waited till Darzan had finished, and turned to Prince Sergay again.
“She’s not very often seen now.”
“Her father has been ill for the last month,” Prince Sergay observed drily.
“She’s a lady of many adventures!” Darzan blurted out suddenly.
I raised my head and sat up.
“I have the pleasure of knowing Katerina Nikolaevna personally, and I take upon myself the duty of declaring that all scandalous stories about her are mere lies and infamy . . . and invented by those who have sought her favour without success.”
After this stupid outburst I relapsed into silence, still sitting upright and gazing at them all with a flushed face. Every one turned to me, but Stebelkov suddenly guffawed; Darzan, too, simpered and seemed surprised.
“Arkady Makarovitch Dolgoruky,” said Prince Sergay, indicating me to Darzan.
“Oh, believe me, PRINCE,” said Darzan, frankly and good-naturedly addressing me, “I am only repeating what I’ve heard; if there are rumours they have not been of my spreading.”
“I did not mean it for you!” I answered quickly, but Stebelkov had burst into an outrageous roar of laughter, caused as he explained afterwards by Darzan’s having addressed me as prince. My diabolical surname had got me into a mess again. Even now I blush at the thought that I had not the courage — through shame, of course — to set right this blunder and to protest aloud that I was “simply Dolgoruky.” It was the first time in my life I had let it pass. Darzan looked in perplexity at me and at Stebelkov’s laughter.
“Ah yes! Who was the pretty girl I met on the stairs just now, a slim, fair little thing?” he suddenly asked Prince Sergay.
“I really don’t know,” the latter answered quickly, reddening.
“How should you?” laughed Darzan.
“Though . . . it . . . it might have been . . . .” Prince Sergay faltered oddly.
“It was . . . this gentleman’s sister, Lizaveta Makarovna!” said Stebelkov suddenly pointing to me, “for I met her just now too . . . .”
“Ah indeed!” Prince Sergay put in quickly, speaking this time, however, with an extremely grave and dignified expression, “it must have been Lizaveta Makarovna, who is a great friend of Anna Fyodorovna Stolbyeev, in whose flat I am staying; she must have come to-day to see Darya Onisimovna, another of Anna Fyodorovna’s great friends, whom she left in charge of the house when she went away . . . .”
This was all true. Darya Onisimovna was the mother of poor Olya, whose story I have told already. Tatyana Pavlovna had found a refuge for the poor woman at last with Mme. Stolbyeev. I know very well that Liza had been sometimes at Mme. Stolbyeev’s, and had lately visited there Darya Onisimovna, of whom every one at home was very fond; but after this statement by Prince Sergay — sensible as it was, however — and still more Stebelkov’s stupid outburst, and perhaps because I had been called prince, I suddenly flushed all over. Luckily at that very instant Nastchokin stood up to take leave; he offered his hand to Darzan also. At the moment Stebelkov and I were left alone; he nodded his head to me in the direction of Darzan, who was standing in the doorway with his back to us; I shook my fist at Stebelkov.
A minute later Darzan, too, got up to go, after arranging with Prince Sergay to meet him next day at some place, a gambling house, I believe. As he went out he shouted something to Stebelkov, and made me a slight bow. Hardly had he gone out when Stebelkov jumped up and stood in the middle of the room, pointing to the ceiling with his finger:
“I’ll tell you the trick that fine young gentleman played last week. He gave an IOU to Averyanov and signed a false name to it. That IOU is still in existence, but it’s not been honoured! It’s criminal! Eight thousand!”
“And no doubt that IOU is in your hands?” I cried, glaring at him savagely.
“I have a bank, I have a mont-de-piété, I am not a broker. Have you heard that there is a mont-de-piété in Paris? Bread and benevolence for the poor; I have a mont-de-piété . . . .”
Prince Sergay rudely and angrily cut him short.
“What are you doing here? What are you staying for?”
“But,” Stebelkov blinked rapidly, “what about that? Won’t it do?”
“No, no, no,” Prince Sergay shouted, stamping; “I’ve said so.”
“Well, if so . . . that’s so. . . . But that’s a mistake . . . .”
He turned abruptly and with bowed head and bent spine went quickly out of the room. Prince Sergay called after him when he was in the doorway:
“You may as well know, sir, that I am not in the least afraid of you.”
He was very much irritated, he was about to sit down, but glancing at me, remained standing. His eyes seemed to say to me also, “Why are you hanging about here too?”
“Prince, I . . .” I was beginning.
“I’ve really no time to listen, Arkady Makarovitch, I’m just going out.”
“One minute, prince, it’s very important; and, to begin with, take back your three hundred.”
“What’s this now?”
He was walking up and down, but he stopped short.
“This now is that after all that has passed . . . and what you’ve said about Versilov . . . that he was dishonourable, and in fact your tone all the time. . . . In short, I can’t possibly take it.”
“You’ve been TAKING it for the last month, though.”
He suddenly sat down on the chair. I was standing at the table, and with one hand I patted the volume of Byelinsky, while I held my hat in the other.
“I had different feelings, prince . . . and, in fact, I would never have brought it to such a sum . . . it was the gambling . . . in short, I can’t!”
“You have not distinguished yourself to-day, and so you are in a rage; I’ll ask you to leave that book alone.”
“What does that mean: ‘not distinguished myself’? And, in fact, before your visitors you almost put me on a level with Stebelkov.”
“So that’s the key to the riddle!” he said with a biting smile. “You were abashed by Darzan’s calling you prince, too.”
He laughed spitefully. I flared up.
“I simply don’t understand; I wouldn’t take your title as a gift.”
“I know your character. How absurdly you cried out in defence of Mme. Ahmakov . . . let that book alone!”
“What’s the meaning of it?” I cried.
“L-l-let the book alone!” he yelled suddenly, drawing himself up in the low chair, with a ferocious movement, as though about to spring at me.
“This is beyond all limits,” I said, and I walked quickly out of the room, but before I had reached the end of the drawing-room, he shouted to me from the study:
“Arkady Makarovitch, come back! Co-ome ba-ack! Co-ome ba-ack!”
I went on without heeding. He hastily overtook me, seized me by the arm, and dragged me back into the study. I did not resist.
“Take it,” he said, pale with excitement, handing me the three hundred roubles I had thrown on the table. “You must take it . . . or else we . . . you must!”
“Prince, how can I take it?”
“Oh, I’ll beg your pardon . . . if you like . . . all right, forgive me! . . .”
“I have always liked you, prince, and if you feel the same . . .”
“I do; take it . . . .”
I took the money. His lips were trembling.
“I can understand, prince, that you are exasperated by that scoundrel . . . but I won’t take it, prince, unless we kiss each other, as we have done when we’ve quarrelled before.”
I was trembling, too, as I said this.
“Now for sentimentality,” muttered Prince Sergay, with an embarrassed smile, but he bent down and kissed me. I shuddered; at the instant he kissed me I caught on his face an unmistakable look of aversion.
“Did he bring you the money, anyway? . . .”
“Aië, never mind.”
“I was asking on your account . . . .”
“Yes he did, he did.”
“Prince, we have been friends . . . and in fact, Versilov . . . .”
“Yes, yes. That’s all right!”
“And in fact . . . I really don’t know . . . about this three hundred . . . .”
I was holding the money in my hand.
“Take it, ta-ake it!” he smiled again, but there was something very vicious in his smile.
I took the money.
Last updated Tuesday, August 25, 2015 at 14:07