I waked up at eight o’clock in the morning, instantly locked my door, sat down by the window and began thinking. So I sat till ten o’clock. The servant knocked at my door twice, but I sent her away. At last at eleven o’clock there was a knock again. I was just going to shout to the servant again, but it was Liza. The servant came in with her, brought me in some coffee, and prepared to light the stove. It was impossible to get rid of the servant, and all the time Fekla was arranging the wood, and blowing up the fire, I strode up and down my little room, not beginning to talk to Liza, and even trying not to look at her. The servant, as though on purpose, was inexpressibly slow in her movements as servants always are when they notice they are preventing people from talking. Liza sat on the chair by the window and watched me.
“Your coffee will be cold,” she said suddenly.
I looked at her: not a trace of embarrassment, perfect tranquillity, and even a smile on her lips.
“Such are women,” I thought, and could not help shrugging my shoulders. At last the servant had finished lighting the stove and was about to tidy the room, but I turned her out angrily, and at last locked the door.
“Tell me, please, why have you locked the door again?” Liza asked.
I stood before her.
“Liza, I never could have imagined you would deceive me like this!” I exclaimed suddenly, though I had never thought of beginning like that, and instead of being moved to tears, an angry feeling which was quite unexpected stabbed me to the heart. Liza flushed; she did not turn away, however, but still looked straight in my face.
“Wait, Liza, wait, oh how stupid I’ve been! But was I stupid? I had no hint of it till everything came together yesterday, and from what could I have guessed it before? From your going to Mme. Stolbyeev’s and to that . . . Darya Onisimovna? But I looked upon you as the sun, Liza, and how could I dream of such a thing? Do you remember how I met you that day two months ago, at his flat, and how we walked together in the sunshine and rejoiced. . . . Had it happened then? Had it?”
She answered by nodding her head.
“So you were deceiving me even then! It was not my stupidity, Liza, it was my egoism, more than stupidity, the egoism of my heart and . . . maybe my conviction of your holiness. Oh! I have always been convinced that you were all infinitely above me and — now this! I had not time yesterday in one day to realize in spite of all the hints. . . . And besides I was taken up with something very different yesterday!”
At that point I suddenly thought of Katerina Nikolaevna, and something stabbed me to the heart like a pin, and I flushed crimson. It was natural that I could not be kind at that moment.
“But what are you justifying yourself for? You seem to be in a hurry to defend yourself, Arkady, what for?” Liza asked softly and gently, though her voice was firm and confident.
“What for? What am I to do now? if it were nothing but that question! And you ask what for? I don’t know how to act! I don’t know how brothers do act in such cases. . . . I know they go with pistols in their hands and force them to marry. . . . I will behave as a man of honour ought! Only I don’t know how a man of honour ought to behave. . . . Why? Because we are not gentlefolk, and he’s a prince and has to think of his career; he won’t listen to honest people like us. We are not even brother and sister, but nondescript illegitimate children of a house-serf without a surname; and princes don’t marry house-serfs. Oh, it’s nauseating! And what’s more, you sit now and wonder at me.”
“I believe that you are very much distressed,” said Liza flushing again, “but you are in too great a hurry, and are distressing yourself.”
“Too great a hurry? Why, do you think I’ve not been slow enough! Is it for you, Liza, to say that to me?” I cried, completely carried away by indignation at last. “And what shame I’ve endured, and how that prince must despise me! It’s all clear to me now, and I can see it all like a picture: he quite imagined that I had guessed long ago what his relation was to you, but that I held my tongue or even turned up my nose while I bragged of ‘my honour’— that’s what he may well have thought of me! And that I have been taking his money for my sister, for my sister’s shame! It was that he loathed so, and I think he was quite right, too; to have every day to welcome a scoundrel because he was her brother, and then to talk of honour . . . it would turn any heart to stone, even his! And you allowed it all, you did not warn me! He despised me so utterly that he talked of me to Stebelkov, and told me yesterday that he longed to get rid of us both, Versilov and me. And Stebelkov too! ‘Anna Andreyevna is as much your sister as Lizaveta Makarovna,’ and then he shouted after me, ‘My money’s better than his.’ And I, I insolently lolled on HIS sofa, and forced myself on his acquaintances as though I were an equal, damn them! And you allowed all that! Most likely Darzan knows by now, judging, at least, by his tone yesterday evening. . . . Everyone, everyone knew it except me!”
“No one knows anything, he has not told any one of his acquaintances, and he COULD NOT,” Liza added. “And about Stebelkov, all I know is that Stebelkov is worrying him, and that it could only have been a guess on Stebelkov’s part anyway. . . . I have talked to him about you several times, and he fully believed me that you know nothing, and I can’t understand how this happened yesterday.”
“Oh, I paid him all I owed him yesterday, anyway, and that’s a load off my heart! Liza, does mother know? Of course she does; why, yesterday she stood up for you against me. Oh, Liza! Is it possible that in your heart of hearts you think yourself absolutely right, that you really don’t blame yourself in the least? I don’t know how these things are considered nowadays, and what are your ideas, I mean as regards me, your mother, your brother, your father. . . . Does Versilov know?”
“Mother has told him nothing; he does not ask questions, most likely he does not want to ask.”
“He knows, but does not want to know, that’s it, it’s like him! Well, you may laugh at a brother, a stupid brother, when he talks of pistols, but your mother! Surely you must have thought, Liza, that it’s a reproach to mother? I have been tortured by that idea all night; mother’s first thought now will be: ‘it’s because I did wrong, and the daughter takes after the mother!’”
“Oh, what a cruel and spiteful thing to say!” cried Liza, while the tears gushed from her eyes; she got up and walked rapidly towards the door.
“Stay, stay!” I caught her in my arms, made her sit down again, and sat down beside her, still keeping my arm round her.
“I thought it would be like this when I came here, and that you would insist on my blaming myself. Very well, I do blame myself. It was only through pride I was silent just now, and did not say so, I am much sorrier for you and mother than I am for myself . . . .”
She could not go on, and suddenly began crying bitterly.
“Don’t, Liza, you mustn’t, I don’t want anything. I can’t judge you. Liza, what does mother say? Tell me, has she known long?”
“I believe she has; but I only told her a little while ago, when THIS happened,” she said softly, dropping her eyes.
“What did she say?”
“She said, ‘bear it,’” Liza said still more softly.
“Ah, Liza, yes, ‘bear it!’ Don’t do anything to yourself, God keep you!”
“I am not going to,” she answered firmly, and she raised her eyes and looked at me. “Don’t be afraid,” she added, “it’s not at all like that.”
“Liza, darling, all I can see is that I know nothing about it, but I’ve only found out now how much I love you. There’s only one thing I can’t understand, Liza; it’s all clear to me, but there’s one thing I can’t understand at all: what made you love him? How could you love a man like that? That’s the question.”
“And I suppose you’ve been worrying yourself all night about that too?” said Liza, with a gentle smile.
“Stay, Liza, that’s a stupid question, and you are laughing; laugh away, but one can’t help being surprised, you know; you and HE, you are such opposite extremes! I have studied him: he’s gloomy, suspicious; perhaps he is very good-hearted, he may be, but on the other hand, he is above all extremely inclined to see evil in everything (though in that he is exactly like me). He has a passionate appreciation of what’s noble, that I admit, but I fancy it’s only in his ideal. Oh, he is apt to feel remorse, he has been all his life continually cursing himself, and repenting, but he will never reform; that’s like me, too, perhaps. Thousands of prejudices and false ideas and no real ideas at all. He is always striving after something heroic and spoiling it all over trifles. Forgive me, Liza, I’m a fool though; I say this and wound you and I know it; I understand it . . . .”
“It would be a true portrait,” smiled Liza, “but you are too bitter against him on my account, and that’s why nothing you say is true. From the very beginning he was distrustful with you, and you could not see him as he is, but with me, even at Luga. . . . He has had no eyes for anyone but me, ever since those days at Luga. Yes, he is suspicious and morbid, and but for me he would have gone out of his mind; and if he gives me up, he will go out of his mind, or shoot himself. I believe he has realized that and knows it,” Liza added dreamily as though to herself. “Yes, he is weak continually, but such weak people are capable at times of acting very strongly. . . . How strangely you talked about a pistol, Arkady; nothing of that sort is wanted and I know what will happen. It’s not my going after him, it’s his coming after me. Mother cries and says that if I marry him I shall be unhappy, that he will cease to love me. I don’t believe that; unhappy, perhaps, I shall be, but he won’t cease to love me. That’s not why I have refused my consent all along, it’s for another reason. For the last two months I’ve refused, but to-day I told him ‘yes, I will marry you.’ Arkasha, do you know yesterday” (her eyes shone and she threw her arms round my neck), “he went to Anna Andreyevna’s and told her with absolute frankness that he could not love her . . .? Yes, he had a complete explanation with her, and that idea’s at an end! He had nothing to do with the project. It was all Prince Nikolay Ivanovitch’s notion, and it was pressed upon him by those tormentors, Stebelkov and some one else. . . . And today for that I’ve said ‘YES.’ Dear Arkady, he is very anxious to see you, and don’t be offended because of what happened yesterday: he’s not quite well this morning, and will be at home all day. He’s really unwell, Arkady; don’t think it’s an excuse. He has sent me on purpose, and told me to say that he ‘needs’ you, that he has a great deal he must tell you, and that it would be awkward to say it here, in your lodging. Well, good-bye! Oh, Arkady, I am ashamed to say it, as I was coming here I was awfully afraid that you would not love me any more. I kept crossing myself on the way, and you’ve been so good and kind! I shall never forget it! I am going to mother. And you try and like him a little, won’t you?”
I embraced her warmly, and told her:
“I believe, Liza, you’re a strong character. And I believe that it’s not you who are going after him, but he who is going after you, only . . .”
“Only, what made you love him? ‘that’s the question!’” Liza put in with her old mischievous laugh, pronouncing the words exactly as I had done “that’s the question!” And as she said it she lifted her forefinger exactly as I do. We kissed at parting, but when she had gone my heart began to ache again.
I note merely for myself there were moments after Liza had gone when a perfect host of the most unexpected ideas rushed into my mind, and I was actually quite pleased with them.
“Well, why should I bother,” I thought; “what is it to me? It’s the same with every one or nearly so. What of it if it has happened to Liza? Am I bound to save the honour of the family?”
I mention all these details to show how far I was from a sound understanding of the difference between good and evil. It was only feeling saved me: I knew that Liza was unhappy, that mother was unhappy, and I knew this by my feeling when I thought of them, and so I felt that what had happened must be wrong.
Now I may mention beforehand that from that day, right up to the catastrophe of my illness, events followed one another with such rapidity that recalling them now I feel surprised myself that I was able to stand up against them, crushing as they were. They clouded my mind, and even my feelings, and if in the end I had been overwhelmed by them, and had committed a crime (I was within an ace of it), the jury might well have acquitted me. But I will try to describe it all in the exact order of events, though I forewarn the reader that there was little order in my thoughts at that time. Events came rushing on me like the wind, and my thoughts whirled before them like the dead leaves in autumn. Since I was entirely made up of other people’s ideas, where could I find principles of my own when they were needed to form independent decisions? I had no guide at all.
I decided to go to see Prince Sergay that evening, that we might be perfectly free to talk things over, and he would be at home till evening. But when it was getting dark I received again a note by post, a note from Stebelkov; it consisted of three lines, containing an urgent and most persuasive request that I would call on him next morning at eleven o’clock on “most important business, and you will see for yourself that it is business.” Thinking it over I resolved to be guided by circumstances, as there was plenty of time to decide before to-morrow.
It was already eight o’clock; I should have gone out much earlier, but I kept expecting Versilov; I was longing to express myself to him, and my heart was burning. But Versilov was not coming and did not come. It was out of the question for me to go to see my mother and Liza for a time, and besides I had a feeling that Versilov certainly would not be there all day. I went on foot, and it occurred to me on the way to look in at the restaurant on the canal side where we had been the day before. Sure enough, Versilov was sitting there in the same place.
“I thought you would come here,” he said, smiling strangely and looking strangely at me. His smile was an unpleasant one, such as I had not seen on his face for a long time.
I sat down at the little table and told him in full detail about the prince and Liza, and my scene with Prince Sergay the evening before; I did not forget to mention how I had won at roulette. He listened very attentively, and questioned me as to Prince Sergay’s intention to marry Liza.
“Pauvre enfant, she won’t gain much by that perhaps. But very likely it won’t come off . . . though he is capable of it . . . .”
“Tell me, as a friend: you knew it, I suppose, had an inkling of it?”
“My dear boy, what could I do in the matter? It’s all a question of another person’s conscience and of feeling, even though only on the part of that poor girl. I tell you again; I meddled enough at one time with other people’s consciences, a most unsuitable practice! I don’t refuse to help in misfortune so far as I’m able, and if I understand the position myself. And you, my dear boy, did you really suspect nothing all this time?”
“But how could you,” I cried, flaring up, “how could you, if you’d a spark of suspicion that I knew of Liza’s position, and saw that I was taking money at the same time from Prince Sergay, how could you speak to me, sit with me, hold out your hand to me, when you must have looked on me as a scoundrel, for I bet anything you suspected I knew all about it and borrowed money from Prince Sergay knowingly!”
“Again, it’s a question of conscience,” he said with a smile. “And how do you know,” he added distinctly, with unaccountable emotion, “how do you know I wasn’t afraid, as you were yesterday, that I might lose my ‘ideal’ and find a worthless scamp instead of my impulsive, straightforward boy? I dreaded the minute and put it off. Why not instead of indolence or duplicity imagine something more innocent in me, stupid, perhaps, but more honourable, que diable! I am only too often stupid, without being honourable. What good would you have been to me if you had had such propensities? To persuade and try to reform in that case would be degrading; you would have lost every sort of value in my eyes even if you were reformed . . . .”
“And Liza? Are you sorry for her?”
“I am very sorry for her, my dear. What makes you think I am so unfeeling. . . . On the contrary, I will try my very utmost. . . . And you. What of YOUR affair?”
“Never mind my affair; I have no affairs of my own now. Tell me, why do you doubt that he’ll marry her? He was at Anna Andreyevna’s yesterday and positively refused . . . that is disowned the foolish idea . . . that originated with Prince Nikolay Ivanitch . . . of making a match between them. He disowned it absolutely.”
“Yes? When was that? And from whom did you hear it?” he inquired with interest. I told him all I knew.
“H’m . . .!” he pronounced as it were dreamily and pondering, “then it must have happened just about an hour . . . before another explanation. H’m . . .! oh, well, of course, such an interview may have taken place between them . . . although I know that nothing was said or done either on his side or on hers . . . though, of course, a couple of words would be enough for such an explanation. But I tell you what, it’s strange,” he laughed suddenly; “I shall certainly interest you directly with an extraordinary piece of news; if your prince did make his offer yesterday to Anna Andreyevna (and, suspecting about Liza, I should have done my utmost to oppose his suit, entre nous soit dit), Anna Andreyevna would in any case have refused him. I believe you are very fond of Anna Andreyevna, you respect and esteem her. That’s very nice on your part, and so you will probably rejoice on her account; she is engaged to be married, my dear boy, and judging from her character I believe she really will get married, while I— well, I give her my blessing, of course.”
“Going to be married? To whom?” I cried, greatly astonished.
“Ah, guess! I won’t torment you; to Prince Nikolay Ivanovitch, to your dear old man.”
I gazed at him with open eyes.
“She must have been cherishing the idea for a long time; and no doubt worked it out artistically in all its aspects,” he went on languidly, dropping out his words one by one. “I imagine this was arranged just an hour after Prince Sergay’s visit. You see how inappropriate was his dashing in! She simply went to Prince Nikolay Ivanovitch and made him a proposal.”
“What, ‘made him a proposal’? You mean he made her a proposal?”
“Oh, how could he! She did, she herself, though to be sure he is perfectly ecstatic. They say he is simply sitting now wondering how it was the idea never occurred to him. I have heard he has even taken to his bed . . . from sheer ecstasy, no doubt.”
“Listen, you are talking so ironically . . . I can hardly believe it. And how could she propose to him? What did she say?”
“I assure you, my dear boy, that I am genuinely delighted,” he answered, suddenly assuming a wonderfully serious air; “he is old, of course, but by every law and custom he can get married; as for her — again it’s a matter of another person’s conscience, as I’ve told you already, my dear boy. However, she is quite competent to have her own views and make her own decision. But the precise details and the words in which she expressed herself I am not in a position to give you, my dear boy. But no doubt she was equal to doing it, in a way which neither you nor I would have imagined. The best of it all is that there’s nothing scandalous in it, it’s all très comme il faut in the eyes of the world. Of course, it’s quite evident that she was eager for a good position in the world, but you know she deserves it. All this, my dear boy, is an entirely worldly matter. And no doubt she made her proposal in a magnificent and artistic style. It’s an austere type, my dear boy, ‘the girl-nun,’ as you once described her; ‘the cool young lady’ has been my name for her a long time past. She has almost been brought up by him, you know, and has seen more than one instance of his kindly feeling towards her. She assured me some time ago that she had ‘such a respect for him and such a high opinion of him, such feeling for him and such sympathy with him,’ and all the rest of it, so that I was to some extent prepared. I was informed of all this this morning in her name and at her request by my son, her brother Andrey Andreyevitch, whom I believe you don’t know, and whom I see regularly twice a year. He respectfully approves of the step she has taken.”
“Then it is public already? Good heavens, I am amazed!”
“No, it’s certainly not public yet, not for some time. . . . I don’t know . . . I am altogether out of it, in fact. But it’s all true.”
“But now Katerina Nikolaevna. . . . What do you think? it won’t suit Büring’s tastes, will it?”
“I don’t know . . . actually that he will dislike it; but you may be sure that on that side Anna Andreyevna is a highly respectable person. But what a girl she is! Yesterday morning, immediately before this, she inquired of me ‘whether I were in love with the widow Ahmakov?’ Do you remember I told you of it yesterday with surprise; it would have been impossible for her to marry the father if I had married the daughter! Do you understand now?”
“Oh, to be sure,” I cried, “but could Anna Andreyevna really have imagined . . . that you could possibly want to marry Katerina Nikolaevna?”
“Evidently she could, my dear boy, but, however . . . but, however, I believe it’s time for you to go where you were going. My head aches all the time, you know. I’ll tell them to play Lucia. I love the solemnity of its dreariness, but I’ve told you that already . . . I repeat myself unpardonably. . . . Perhaps I’ll go away from here though. I love you, my dear boy, but good-bye; whenever I have a headache or toothache I thirst for solitude.”
A line of suffering came into his face; I believe now he really was suffering with his head, his head particularly . . . .
“Till to-morrow,” I said.
“Why ‘till to-morrow,’ and what is to happen to-morrow?” he said with a wry smile.
“I shall go to see you, or you come to see me.”
“No, I shan’t come to you, but you’ll come running to me . . . .”
There was something quite malevolent in his face, but I had no thoughts to spare for him; what an event!
Prince Sergay was really unwell, and was sitting alone with his head wrapped in a wet towel. He was very anxious to see me; but he had not only a headache, he seemed to be aching morally all over. To anticipate events again; all that latter time, right up to the catastrophe, it was somehow my fate to meet with people who were one after another so excited that they were all almost mad, so that I couldn’t help being infected with the same malady myself. I came, I must confess, with evil feelings in my heart, and I was horribly ashamed, too, of having cried before him the previous night. And anyway Liza and he had so clearly succeeded in deceiving me that I could not help seeing myself as a fool. In short, my heart was vibrating on false notes as I went in. But all this affectation and false feeling vanished quickly. I must do him the justice to say that his suspiciousness had quickly disappeared, that he surrendered himself completely; he betrayed almost childish affection, confidence and love. He kissed me with tears and at once began talking of the position. . . . Yes, he really did need me: his words and the sequence of his ideas betrayed great mental disorder.
He announced with great firmness his intention to marry Liza and as soon as possible. “The fact that she is not of noble birth does not trouble me in the least, believe me,” he said to me; “my grandfather married a serf-girl who sang in a neighbouring landowner’s private theatre. My family, of course, have rested certain expectations upon me, but now they’ll have to give way, and it will not lead to strife. I want to break with my present life for good, for good! To have everything different, everything new! I don’t understand what made your sister love me; but if it had not been for her I should not have been alive to this day. I swear from the depth of my soul that my meeting her at Luga was the finger of Providence. I believe she loved me because ‘I had fallen so low’ . . . can you understand that though, Arkady Makarovitch?”
“Perfectly!” I declared in a voice of full conviction. I sat at the table, and he walked about the room.
“I must tell you the whole story of our meeting, without reserve. It began with a secret I had guarded in my heart, of which she alone heard, because only to her could I bring myself to trust it. And to this day no one else knows it. I went to Luga then with despair in my heart, and stayed at Mme. Stolbyeev’s, I don’t know why, seeking solitude perhaps. I had only just resigned my commission in the regiment, which I had entered on my return from abroad, after my meeting with Andrey Petrovitch out there. I had some money at the time, and in the regiment I led a dissipated life, and spent freely; well, the officers, my comrades, did not like me, though I tried not to offend anyone. And I will confess it to you, no one has ever liked me. There was a certain Cornet Stepanov, I must admit an extremely empty-headed worthless fellow not distinguished in any way. There was no doubt he was honest though. He was in the habit of coming to see me, and I did not stand on ceremony with him; he used to sit in a corner, mute but dignified, for days together, and he did not get in my way at all. One day I told him a story that was going the round, with many foolish additions of my own, such as that the colonel’s daughter was in love with me, and that the colonel had his eye upon me for her and so would do anything to please me. . . . In short, I will pass over the details, but it led to a very complicated and revolting scandal. It was not Stepanov who spread it but my orderly, who had overheard and remembered it all, for I had told an absurd story compromising the young lady. So, when there was an inquiry into the scandal, and this orderly was questioned by the officers, he threw the blame on Stepanov, that is, he said that it was to Stepanov I’d told the story. Stepanov was put in such a position that he could not deny having heard it; it was a question of honour. And as two-thirds of the story had been lying on my part, the officers were indignant, and the commanding officer who had called us together was forced to clear the matter up. At this point the question was put to Stepanov in the presence of all: had he heard the story or not? And at once he told the whole truth. Well, what did I do then, I, a prince whose line goes back a thousand years? I denied it, and told Stepanov to his face that he was lying, in the most polite way, suggesting that he had ‘misunderstood my words’ and so on. . . . I’ll leave out the details again, but as Stepanov came to me so often I was able with some appearance of likelihood to put the matter in such a light that he might seem to be plotting with my orderly for motives of his own; and this told in my favour. Stepanov merely looked at me in silence and shrugged his shoulders. I remember the way he looked at me and shall never forget it. Then he promptly resigned his commission; but how do you suppose it ended? Every officer without exception called on him and begged him not to resign. A fortnight later I, too, left the regiment; no one turned me out, no one suggested my resigning, I alleged family reasons for my leaving the army. That was how the matter ended. At first I didn’t mind, and even felt angry with them; I stayed at Luga, made the acquaintance of Lizaveta Makarovna, but a month afterwards I began to look at my revolver and to think about death. I looked at everything gloomily, Arkady Makarovitch. I composed a letter to the commanding officer and my former comrades, with a full confession of my lie, and a vindication of Stepanov’s honour. When I had written the letter I asked myself the question, should I send it and live, or should I send it and die? I should never have decided that question. Chance, blind chance brought me near to Lizaveta Makarovna after a strange and rapid conversation with her. She had been at Mme. Stolbyeev’s before that, we had met and parted with bows and had rarely spoken. I suddenly told her everything. It was then she held out a hand to me.”
“How did she settle the question?”
“I didn’t send the letter. She decided that I should not send it. She argued that if I did send the letter I should, of course, have been doing an honourable action, sufficient to wash away all the filth of the past, and far more, but she doubted my having the strength to endure it. It was her idea that no one would have the strength to bear it, for then the future would be utterly ruined, and no new life would be possible. It is true Stepanov had suffered for it; but he had been acquitted by public opinion, as it was. It was a paradox, of course; but she restrained me, and I gave myself into her hands completely.”
“Her reasoning was jesuitical but feminine,” I cried; “she had begun to love you already!”
“It was my regeneration into a new life. I vowed to change, to begin a new life, to be worthy of myself and of her and — this is how it has ended! It has ended in my going with you to roulette, in my playing faro; I could not resist the fortune, I was delighted at being in the swim, delighted with all these people, with racehorses. . . . I tortured Liza, to my shame!”
He rubbed his forehead with his hand and walked up and down the room.
“We are both, you and I, stricken by the same Russian curse, Arkady Makarovitch; you don’t know what to do, and I don’t know what to do. If a Russian deviates ever so little from the rut of routine laid down for him by tradition, at once he is at a loss what to do. While he’s in the rut everything’s clear — income, rank, position in society, a carriage, visits, a wife — but ever so little off it — and what am I? A leaf fluttering before the wind, I don’t know what to do! For the last two months I have striven to keep in the rut, I have liked the rut, I’ve been drawn to the rut. You don’t know the depth of my downfall here; I love Liza, but at the same time I’ve been thinking of Mme. Ahmakov!”
“Is it possible?” I cried in distress. “By the way, what did you say yesterday about Versilov’s having instigated you to behave in a mean way to Katerina Nikolaevna?”
“I may have exaggerated it, and perhaps I have been unfair to him in my suspiciousness as I have been to you. Let us drop the subject. Why, do you suppose that I have not been brooding over a lofty ideal of life all this time, ever since Luga, perhaps? I swear that ideal has never left me, it has been with me continually, and has lost none of its beauty in my heart. I remembered the vow I made to Lizaveta Makarovna to reform. When Andrey Petrovitch talked about the aristocracy to me yesterday, he said nothing new, I can assure you. My ideal is firmly established: a few score acres (and only a few score, for I’ve scarcely anything left of the fortune), then absolutely complete abandonment of the world and a career; a rural home, a family, and myself a tiller of the soil or something of the sort. Oh, in our family it’s nothing new; my uncle, my grandfather, too, tilled the soil with their own hands. We have been princes for a thousand years, as aristocratic and as ancient a name as the Rohans, but we are beggars. And this is how I will train my children: ‘Remember always, all your life, that you are a nobleman, that the sacred blood of Russian princes flows in your veins, but never be ashamed that your father tilled the soil with his own hands — he did it like a prince.’ I should not leave them property, nothing but that strip of land, but I would bring them up in the loftiest principles: that I should consider a duty. Oh, I should be helped by Liza, by work, by children; oh, how we have dreamed of this together, dreamed of it here in this room. And would you believe it? at the same time I was thinking of Mme. Ahmakov, and of the possibility of a worldly and wealthy marriage, though I don’t care for the woman in the least! And only after what Nastchokin said about Büring, I resolved to turn to Anna Andreyevna.”
“But you went to decline the match? That was an honourable action anyway, I suppose!”
“You think so?” he stopped short before me. “No, you don’t know my nature, or else there is something I don’t know myself, because it seems I have more than one nature. I love you sincerely, Arkady Makarovitch, and besides I am terribly to blame for the way I’ve treated you for the last two months, and so I want you as Liza’s brother to know all this. I went to Anna Andreyevna to make her an offer of marriage, not to disown the idea.”
“Is it possible? But Liza told me . . .”
“I deceived Liza.”
“Tell me, please, you made a formal offer and Anna Andreyevna refused it? Was that it? Was that it? The facts are of great importance to me, prince.”
“No, I did not make an offer at all, but that was only because I hadn’t time; she forestalled me, not in direct words, of course, though the meaning was clear and unmistakable — she ‘delicately’ gave me to understand that the idea was henceforth out of the question.”
“So it was the same as your not making her an offer, and your pride has not suffered!”
“How can you reason like that! My own conscience condemns me, and what of Liza, whom I have deceived . . . and meant to abandon? And the vow I made to myself and my forefathers to reform and to atone for all my ignoble past! I entreat you not to tell her that. Perhaps that is the one thing she would not be able to forgive me! I have been ill since what happened yesterday. And now it seems that all is over, and the last of the Sokolskys will be sent to prison. Poor Liza! I have been very anxious to see you all day, Arkady Makarovitch, to tell you as Liza’s brother what she knows nothing of as yet. I am a criminal. I have taken part in forging railway shares!”
“Something more! What, you are going to prison?” I cried jumping up and looking at him in horror. His face wore a look of the deepest gloom and utterly hopeless sorrow.
“Sit down,” he said, and he sat down in the armchair opposite. “To begin with, you had better know the facts; it was more than a year ago, that same summer that I was at Ems with Lidya, and Katerina Nikolaevna, and afterwards at Paris, just at the time when I was going to Paris for two months. In Paris, of course, I was short of money, and it was just then Stebelkov turned up, though I knew him before. He gave me some money and promised to give me more, but asked me in return to help him; he wanted an artist, a draughtsman, engraver, lithographer, and so on, a chemist, an expert, and — for certain purposes. What those purposes were he hinted pretty plainly from the first. And would you believe it? he understood my character — it only made me laugh. The point is that from my schooldays I had an acquaintance, at present a Russian exile, though he was not really a Russian, but a native of Hamburg. He had been mixed up in some cases of forging papers in Russia already. It was on this man that Stebelkov was reckoning, but he wanted an introduction to him and he applied to me. I wrote a couple of lines for him, and immediately forgot all about it. Afterwards he met me again and again, and I received altogether as much as three thousand from him. I had literally forgotten all about the business. Here I’ve been borrowing from him all the time with I O Us and securities, and he has been cringing before me like a slave, and suddenly yesterday I learned from him for the first time that I am a criminal.”
“Yesterday morning, when we were shouting in my study just before Nastchokin arrived. For the first time he had the effrontery to speak to me quite openly of Anna Andreyevna. I raised my hand to strike him, but he suddenly stood up and informed me that his interests were mine, and that I must remember that I was his accomplice and as much a swindler as he — though he did not use those words, that was the sense.”
“What nonsense, why surely it’s all imagination?”
“No, it’s not imagination. He has been here to-day and explained things more exactly. These forged documents have been in circulation a long time, and are still being passed about, but it seems they’ve already begun to be noticed. Of course, I’ve nothing to do with it, but ‘you see though, you were pleased to give me that little letter,’ that’s what Stebelkov told me.”
“So you didn’t know, of course, what for, or did you know?”
“I did know,” Prince Sergay answered in a low voice, dropping his eyes; “that’s to say I knew and didn’t know, you see. I was laughing, I was amused. I did it without thinking, for I had no need of forged documents at that time, and it wasn’t I who meant to make them. But that three thousand he gave me then he did not put down in his account against me and I let it pass. But how do you know, perhaps I really am a forger. I could not help knowing, I am not a child; I did know, but I felt in a merry humour and I helped scoundrels, felons . . . helped them for money! So I, too, am a forger!”
“Oh, you are exaggerating; you’ve done wrong, but you’re exaggerating!”
“There’s some one else in it, a young man called Zhibyelsky, some sort of attorney’s clerk. He, too, had something to do with these forgeries, he came afterwards from that gentleman at Hamburg to see me about some nonsense; of course, I didn’t know what it was about myself — it was not about those forgeries I know that . . . but he has kept in his possession two documents in my handwriting, only brief notes — and, of course, they are evidence too; I understood that to-day. Stebelkov makes out that this Zhibyelsky is spoiling everything; he has stolen something, public money I believe, but means to steal something more and then to emigrate; so he wants eight thousand, not a penny less, to help him on his way. My share of the fortune I had inherited would satisfy Stebelkov, but he said Zhibyelsky must be satisfied too. . . . In short I must give up my share of the fortune and ten thousand besides, that’s their final offer. And then they will give me back my two letters. They’re in collusion, that’s clear.”
“It’s obviously absurd! If they inform against you they will betray themselves! Nothing will induce them to give information.”
“I understand that. They don’t threaten to give information at all, they only say, ‘We shall not inform, of course, but if it should be discovered, then . . .’ that’s what they say, and that’s all, but I think it’s enough! But that’s not the point; whatever happens, and even if I had those letters in my pocket now, yet to be associated with those swindlers, to be their accomplice for ever and ever! To lie to Russia, to lie to my children, to lie to Liza, to lie to my conscience! . . .”
“Does Liza know?”
“No, she does not know everything. It would be too much for her in her condition. I wear the uniform of my regiment, and every time I meet a soldier of the regiment, at every second, I am inwardly conscious that I must not dare to wear the uniform.”
“Listen,” I cried suddenly; “there’s no need to waste time talking about it; there’s only one way of salvation for you; go to Prince Nikolay Ivanitch, borrow ten thousand from him, ask him for it, without telling him what for, then send for those two swindlers, settle up with them finally, buy back your letters . . . and the thing is over! The whole thing will be ended, and you can go and till the land! Away with vain imaginings and have faith in life!”
“I have thought of that,” he said resolutely. “I have been making up my mind all day and at last I have decided. I have only been waiting for you; I will go. Do you know I have never in my life borrowed a farthing from Prince Nikolay Ivanitch. He is well disposed to our family and even . . . and has come to their assistance, but I, I personally, have never borrowed money from him. But now I am determined to. Our family, you may note, is an older branch of the Sokolskys than Prince Nikolay Ivanitch’s; they are a younger branch, collaterals, in fact, hardly recognized. . . . There was a feud between our ancestors. At the beginning of the reforms of Peter the Great, my great-grandfather, whose name was Peter too, remained an Old Believer, and was a wanderer in the forest of Kostroma. That Prince Peter married a second wife who was not of noble birth. . . . So it was then these other Sokolskys dropped out, but I. . . . What was I talking about? . . .”
He was very much exhausted, and seemed talking almost unconsciously.
“Calm yourself,” I said, standing up and taking my hat; “go to bed, that’s the first thing. Prince Nikolay Ivanitch is sure not to refuse, especially now in the overflow of his joy. Have you heard the latest news from that quarter? Haven’t you, really? I have heard a wild story that he is going to get married; it’s a secret, but not from you, of coarse.”
And I told him all about it, standing, hat in hand. He knew nothing about it. He quickly asked questions, inquiring principally when and where the match had been arranged and how far the rumour was trustworthy. I did not, of course, conceal from him that it had been settled immediately after his visit to Anna Andreyevna. I cannot describe what a painful impression this news made upon him; his face worked and was almost contorted, and his lips twitched convulsively in a wry smile. At the end he turned horribly pale and sank into a reverie, with his eyes on the floor. I suddenly saw quite clearly that his vanity had been deeply wounded by Anna Andreyevna’s refusal of him the day before. Perhaps in his morbid state of mind he realized only too vividly at that minute the absurd and humiliating part he had played the day before in the eyes of the young lady of whose acceptance, as it now appeared, he had all the time been so calmly confident. And worst of all, perhaps, was the thought that he had behaved so shabbily to Liza, and to no purpose! It would be interesting to know for what these foppish young snobs think well of one another, and on what grounds they can respect one another; this prince might well have supposed that Anna Andreyevna knew of his connection with Liza — in reality her sister — or if she did not actually know, that she would be certain to hear of it sooner or later; and yet he had “had no doubt of her acceptance!”
“And could you possibly imagine,” he said suddenly, with a proud and supercilious glance at me, “that now, after learning such a fact, I, I could be capable of going to Prince Nikolay Ivanitch and asking him for money? Ask him, the accepted fiancé of the lady who has just refused me — like a beggar, like a flunkey! No, now all is lost, and if that old man’s help is my only hope, then let my last hope perish!”
In my heart I shared his feeling, but it was necessary to take a broader view of the real position: was the poor old prince really to be looked upon as a successful rival? I had several ideas fermenting in my brain. I had, apart from Prince Sergay’s affairs, made up my mind to visit the old man next day. For the moment I tried to soften the impression made by the news and to get the poor prince to bed! “When you have slept, things will look brighter, you’ll see!” He pressed my hand warmly, but this time he did not kiss me. I promised to come and see him the following evening, and “we’ll talk, we’ll talk; there’s so much to talk of.” He greeted these last words of mine with a fateful smile.
Last updated Sunday, March 27, 2016 at 11:53