All that night I dreamed of roulette, of play, of gold, and reckonings. I seemed in my dreams to be calculating something at the gambling table, some stake, some chance, and it oppressed me all night like a nightmare. To tell the truth, the whole of the previous day, in spite of all the startling impressions I had received, I had been continually thinking of the money I had won at Zerstchikov’s. I suppressed the thought, but I could not suppress the emotion it aroused, and I quivered all over at the mere recollection of it. That success had put me in a fever; could it be that I was a gambler, or at least — to be more accurate — that I had the qualities of a gambler? Even now, at the time of writing this, I still at moments like thinking about play! It sometimes happens that I sit for hours together absorbed in silent calculations about gambling and in dreams of putting down my stake, of the number turning up, and of picking up my winnings. Yes, I have all sorts of “qualities,” and my nature is not a tranquil one.
At ten o’clock I intended to go to Stebelkov’s and I meant to walk. I sent Matvey home as soon as he appeared. While I was drinking my coffee I tried to think over the position. For some reason I felt pleased; a moment’s self-analysis made me realize that I was chiefly pleased because I was going that day to the old prince’s. But that day was a momentous and startling one in my life, and it began at once with a surprise.
At ten o’clock my door was flung wide open, and Tatyana Pavlovna flew in. There was nothing I expected less than a visit from her, and I jumped up in alarm on seeing her. Her face was ferocious, her manner was incoherent, and I daresay if she had been asked she could not have said why she had hastened to me. I may as well say at once, that she had just received a piece of news that had completely overwhelmed her, and she had not recovered from the first shock of it. The news overwhelmed me, too. She stayed, however, only half a minute, or perhaps a minute, but not more. She simply pounced upon me.
“So this is what you’ve been up to!” she said, standing facing me and bending forward. “Ah, you young puppy! What have you done! What, you don’t even know! Goes on drinking his coffee! Oh, you babbler, you chatterbox, oh, you imitation lover . . . boys like you are whipped, whipped, whipped!”
“Tatyana Pavlovna, what has happened? What is the matter? Is mother? . . .”
“You will know!” she shouted menacingly, ran out of the room — and was gone. I should certainly have run after her, but I was restrained by one thought, and that was not a thought but a vague misgiving: I had an inkling that of all her vituperation, “imitation lover” was the most significant phrase. Of course I could not guess what it meant, but I hastened out, that I might finish with Stebelkov and go as soon as possible to Nikolay Ivanitch.
“The key to it all is there!” I thought instinctively.
I can’t imagine how he learned it, but Stebelkov already knew all about Anna Andreyevna down to every detail; I will not describe his conversation and his gestures, but he was in a state of enthusiasm, a perfect ecstasy of enthusiasm over this “masterstroke.”
“She is a person! Yes, she is a person!” he exclaimed. “Yes, that’s not our way; here we sit still and do nothing, but as soon as she wants something of the best she takes it. She’s an antique statue! She is an antique statue of Minerva, only she is walking about and wearing modern dress!”
I asked him to come to business; this business was, as I had guessed, solely to ask me to persuade and induce Prince Sergay to appeal to Prince Nikolay Ivanitch for a loan. “Or it will be a very very bad look-out for him, though it’s none of my doing; that’s so, isn’t it?”
He kept peeping into my face, but I fancy did not detect that I knew anything more than the day before. And indeed he could not have imagined it: I need hardly say that I did not by word or hint betray that I knew anything about the forged documents.
Our explanations did not take long, he began at once promising me money, “and a considerable sum, a considerable sum, if only you will manage that the prince should go. The matter is urgent, very urgent, and that’s the chief point that the matter’s so pressing!”
I did not want to argue and wrangle with him, as I had done the day before, and I got up to go, though to be on the safe side I flung him in reply that “I would try”; but he suddenly amazed me beyond all expression: I was on my way to the door when all at once he put his arm round my waist affectionately and began talking to me in the most incomprehensible way.
I will omit the details of the conversation that I may not be wearisome. The upshot of it was that he made me a proposition that I should introduce him to M. Dergatchev, “since you go there!”
I instantly became quiet, doing my utmost not to betray myself by the slightest gesture. I answered at once, however, that I was quite a stranger there, and though I had been in the house, it was only on one occasion, by chance.
“But if you’ve been ADMITTED once, you might go a second time; isn’t that so?”
I asked him point-blank, and with great coolness, why he wanted it? And to this day I can’t understand such a degree of simplicity in a man who was apparently no fool, and who was a “business man,” as Vassin had said of him! He explained to me quite openly that he suspected “that something prohibited and sternly prohibited was going on at Dergatchev’s, and so if I watch him I may very likely make something by it.” And with a grin he winked at me with his left eye.
I made no definite answer, but pretended to be considering it and promised to “think about it,” and with that I went hastily away. The position was growing more complicated: I flew to Vassin, and at once found him at home.
“What, you . . . too!” he said enigmatically on seeing me. Without inquiring the significance of this phrase, I went straight to the point and told him what had happened. He was evidently impressed, though he remained absolutely cool. He cross-examined me minutely.
“It may very well be that you misunderstood him.”
“No, I quite understood him, his meaning was quite clear.”
“In any case I am extremely grateful to you,” he added with sincerity. “Yes, indeed, if that is so, he imagined that you could not resist a certain sum of money.”
“And, besides, he knows my position: I’ve been playing all this time, and behaving badly, Vassin.”
“I have heard about that.”
“What puzzles me most of all is that he knows you go there constantly, too,” I ventured to observe.
“He knows perfectly well,” Vassin answered quite simply, “that I don’t go there with any object. And indeed all those young people are simply chatterers, nothing more; you have reason to remember that as well as anyone.”
I fancied that he did not quite trust me.
“In any case I am very much obliged to you.”
“I have heard that M. Stebelkov’s affairs are in rather a bad way,” I tried to question him once more. “I’ve heard, anyway, of certain shares . . .”
“What shares have you heard about?”
I mentioned “the shares” on purpose, but of course not with the idea of telling him the secret Prince Sergay had told me the day before. I only wanted to drop a hint and see from his face, from his eyes, whether he knew anything about “shares.” I attained my object: from a momentary indefinable change in his face, I guessed that he did perhaps know something in this matter, too. I did not answer his question “what shares,” I was silent; and it was worth noting that he did not pursue the subject either.
“How’s Lizaveta Makarovna?” he inquired with sympathetic interest.
“She’s quite well. My sister has always thought very highly of you . . . .”
There was a gleam of pleasure in his eyes; I had guessed long before that he was not indifferent to Liza.
“Prince Sergay Petrovitch was here the other day,” he informed me suddenly.
“When?” I cried.
“Just four days ago.”
“No, not yesterday.” He looked at me inquiringly. “Later perhaps I may describe our meeting more fully, but for the moment I feel I must warn you,” Vassin said mysteriously, “that he struck me as being in an abnormal condition of mind, and . . . of brain indeed. I had another visit, however,” he added suddenly with a smile, “just before you came, and I was driven to the same conclusion about that visitor, too.”
“Has Prince Sergay just been here?”
“No, not Prince Sergay, I am not speaking of the prince just now. Andrey Petrovitch Versilov has just been here, and . . . you’ve heard nothing? Hasn’t something happened to him?”
“Perhaps something has; but what passed between you exactly?” I asked hurriedly.
“Of course, I ought to keep it secret . . . we are talking rather queerly, with too much reserve,” he smiled again. “Andrey Petrovitch, however, did not tell me to keep it secret. But you are his son, and as I know your feelings for him, I believe I may be doing right to warn you. Only fancy, he came to me to ask the question: ‘In case it should be necessary for him very shortly, in a day or two, to fight a duel, would I consent to be his second?’ I refused absolutely, of course.”
I was immensely astonished; this piece of news was the most disturbing of all: something was wrong, something had turned up, something had happened of which I knew nothing as yet! I suddenly recalled in a flash how Versilov had said to me the day before: “I shan’t come to you, but you’ll come running to me.”
I rushed off to Prince Nikolay Ivanitch, feeling more than ever that the key to the mystery lay there. As he said good-bye, Vassin thanked me again.
The old prince was sitting before an open fire with a rug wrapped round his legs. He met me with an almost questioning air, as though he were surprised that I had come; yet almost every day he had sent messages inviting me. He greeted me affectionately, however. But his answers to my first questions sounded somewhat reluctant, and were fearfully vague. At times he seemed to deliberate, and looked intently at me, as though forgetting and trying to recall something which certainly ought to be connected with me. I told him frankly that I had heard everything and was very glad. A cordial and good-natured smile came into his face at once and his spirits rose; his mistrust and caution vanished at once as though he had forgotten them. And indeed he had, of course.
“My dear young friend, I knew you would be the first to come, and, and do you know, I thought about you yesterday: ‘Who will be pleased? he will!’ Well, no one else will indeed; but that doesn’t matter. People are spiteful gossips, but that’s no great matter. . . . Cher enfant, this is so exalted and so charming. . . . But, of course, you know her well. And Anna Andreyevna has the highest opinion of you. It’s a grave and charming face out of an English keepsake. It’s the most charming English engraving possible. . . . Two years ago I had a regular collection of such engravings. . . . I always had the intention, always; I only wonder why it was I never thought of it.”
“You always, if I remember rightly, distinguished Anna Andreyevna and were fond of her.”
“My dear boy, we don’t want to hurt anyone. Life with one’s friends, with one’s relations, with those dear to one’s heart is paradise. All the poets. . . . In short, it has been well known from prehistoric times. In the summer you know we are going to Soden, and then to Bad-Gastein. But what a long time it is since you’ve been to see me, my dear boy; what’s been the matter with you? I’ve been expecting you. And how much, how much has happened meanwhile, hasn’t it? I am only sorry that I am uneasy; as soon as I am alone I feel uneasy. That is why I must not be left alone, must I? That’s as plain as twice two make four. I understood that at once from her first word. Oh, my dear boy, she only spoke two words, but . . . it was something like a glorious poem. But, of course, you are her brother, almost her brother, aren’t you? My dear boy, it’s not for nothing I’m so fond of you! I swear I had a presentiment of all this. I kissed her hand and wept.”
He took out his handkerchief as though preparing to weep again. He was violently agitated, suffering, I fancy, from one of his “nervous attacks,” and one of the worst I remember in the whole course of our acquaintance. As a rule, almost always in fact, he was ever so much better and more good-humoured.
“I would forgive everything, my dear boy,” he babbled on. “I long to forgive every one, and it’s a long time since I was angry with anyone. Art, la poésie dans la vie, philanthropy, and she, a biblical beauty, quelle charmante person, eh? Les chants de Salomon . . . non, c’est n’est pas Salomon, c’est David qui mettait une jeune belle dans son lit pour se chauffer dans sa vieillesse. Enfin David, Salomon, all that keeps going round in my head — a regular jumble. Everything, cher enfant may be at the same time grand and ridiculous. Cette jeune belle de la vieillesse de David — c’est tout un poème, and Paul de Kock would have made of it a scène de bassinoire, and we should all have laughed. Paul de Kook has neither taste nor sense of proportion, though he is a writer of talent . . . Katerina Nikolaevna smiles . . . I said that we would not trouble anyone. We have begun our romance and only ask them to let us finish it. Maybe it is a dream, but don’t let them rob me of this dream.”
“How do you mean it’s a dream, prince?”
“A dream? How a dream? Well, let it be a dream, but let me die with that dream.”
“Oh, why talk of dying, prince? You have to live now, only to live!”
“Why, what did I say? That’s just what I keep saying. I simply can’t understand why life is so short. To avoid being tedious, no doubt, for life, too, is the Creator’s work of art, in a perfect and irreproachable form like a poem of Pushkin’s. Brevity is the first essential of true art. But if anyone is not bored, he ought to be allowed to live longer.”
“Tell me, prince, is it public property yet?”
“No, my dear boy, certainly not! We have all agreed upon that. It’s private, private, private. So far I’ve only disclosed it fully to Katerina Nikolaevna, because I felt I was being unfair to her. Oh, Katerina Nikolaevna is an angel, she is an angel!”
“Yes, and you say ‘yes’? Why, I thought that you were her enemy, too. Ach, by the way, she asked me not to receive you any more. And only fancy, when you came in I quite forgot it.”
“What are you saying?” I cried, jumping up. “Why? Where?”
(My presentiment had not deceived me; I had had a presentiment of something of this sort ever since Tatyana’s visit.)
“Yesterday, my dear boy, yesterday. I don’t understand, in fact, how you got in, for orders were given. How did you come in?”
“I simply walked in.”
“The surest way. If you had tried to creep in by stealth, no doubt they would have caught you, but as you simply walked in they let you pass. Simplicity, cher enfant, is in reality the deepest cunning.”
“I don’t understand: did you, too, decide not to receive me, then!”
“No, my dear boy, I said I had nothing to do with it. . . . That is I gave my full consent. And believe me, my dear boy, I am much too fond of you. But Katerina Nikolaevna insisted so very strongly. . . . So, there it is!”
At that instant Katerina Nikolaevna appeared in the doorway. She was dressed to go out, and as usual came in to kiss her father. Seeing me she stopped short in confusion, turned quickly, and went out.
“Voilà!” cried the old prince, impressed and much disturbed.
“It’s a misunderstanding!” I cried. “One moment . . . I . . . I’ll come back to you directly, prince!”
And I ran after Katerina Nikolaevna.
All that followed upon this happened so quickly that I had no time to reflect, or even to consider in the least how to behave. If I had had time to consider, I should certainly have behaved differently! But I lost my head like a small boy. I was rushing towards her room, but on the way a footman informed me that Katerina Nikolaevna had already gone downstairs and was getting into her carriage. I rushed headlong down the front staircase. Katerina Nikolaevna was descending the stairs, in her fur coat, and beside her — or rather arm-in-arm with her — walked a tall and severe-looking officer, wearing a uniform and a sword, and followed by a footman carrying his great-coat. This was the baron, who was a colonel of five-and-thirty, a typical smart officer, thin, with rather too long a face, ginger moustache and even eyelashes of the same colour. Though his face was quite ugly, it had a resolute and defiant expression. I describe him briefly, as I saw him at that moment. I had never seen him before. I ran down the stairs after them without a hat or coat. Katerina Nikolaevna was the first to notice me, and she hurriedly whispered something to her companion. He slightly turned his head and then made a sign to the footman and the hall-porter. The footman took a step towards me at the front door, but I pushed him away and rushed after them out on the steps. Büring was assisting Katerina Nikolaevna into the carriage.
“Katerina Nikolaevna! Katerina Nikolaevna!” I cried senselessly like a fool! like a fool! Oh, I remember it all; I had no hat on!
Büring turned savagely to the footman again and shouted something to him loudly, one or two words, I did not take them in. I felt some one clutch me by the elbow. At that moment the carriage began to move; I shouted again and was rushing after the carriage. I saw that Katerina Nikolaevna was peeping out of the carriage window, and she seemed much perturbed. But in my hasty movement I jostled against Büring unconsciously, and trod on his foot, hurting him a good deal, I fancy. He uttered a faint cry, clenched his teeth, with a powerful hand grasped me by the shoulder, and angrily pushed me away, so that I was sent flying a couple of yards. At that instant his great-coat was handed him, he put it on, got into his sledge, and once more shouted angrily to the footman and the porter, pointing to me as he did so. Thereupon they seized me and held me; one footman flung my great-coat on me, while a second handed me my hat and — I don’t remember what they said; they said something, and I stood and listened, understanding nothing of it. All at once I left them and ran away.
Seeing nothing and jostling against people as I went, I ran till I reached Tatyana Pavlovna’s flat: it did not even occur to me to take a cab. Büring had pushed me away before her eyes! I had, to be sure, stepped on his foot, and he had thrust me away instinctively as a man who had trodden on his corn — and perhaps I really had trodden on his corn! But she had seen it, and had seen me seized by the footman; it had all happened before her, before her! When I had reached Tatyana Pavlovna’s, for the first minute I could say nothing and my lower jaw was trembling, as though I were in a fever. And indeed I was in a fever and what’s more I was crying. . . . Oh, I had been so insulted!
“What! Have they kicked you out? Serve you right! serve you right!” said Tatyana Pavlovna. I sank on the sofa without a word and looked at her.
“What’s the matter with him?” she said, looking at me intently. “Come, drink some water, drink a glass of water, drink it up! Tell me what you’ve been up to there now?”
I muttered that I had been turned out, and that Büring had given me a push in the open street.
“Can you understand anything, or are you still incapable? Come here, read and admire it.” And taking a letter from the table she gave it to me, and stood before me expectantly. I at once recognized Versilov’s writing, it consisted of a few lines: it was a letter to Katerina Nikolaevna. I shuddered and instantly comprehension came back to me in a rush. The contents of this horrible, atrocious, grotesque and blackguardly letter were as follows, word for word:
“DEAR MADAM KATERINA NIKOLAEVNA.
Depraved as you are in your nature and your arts, I should have yet expected you to restrain your passions and not to try your wiles on children. But you are not even ashamed to do that. I beg to inform you that the letter you know of was certainly not burnt in a candle and never was in Kraft’s possession, so you won’t score anything there. So don’t seduce a boy for nothing. Spare him, he is hardly grown up, almost a child, undeveloped mentally and physically — what use can you have for him? I am interested in his welfare, and so I have ventured to write to you, though with little hope of attaining my object. I have the honour to inform you that I have sent a copy of this letter to Baron Büring.
I turned white as I read, then suddenly I flushed crimson and my lips quivered with indignation.
“He writes that about me! About what I told him the day before yesterday!” I cried in a fury.
“So you did tell him!” cried Tatyana Pavlovna, snatching the letter from me.
“But . . . I didn’t say that, I did not say that at all! Good God, what can she think of me now! But it’s madness, you know. He’s mad . . . I saw him yesterday. When was the letter sent?”
“It was sent yesterday, early in the day; it reached her in the evening, and this morning she gave it me herself.”
“But I saw him yesterday myself, he’s mad! Versilov was incapable of writing that, it was written by a madman. Who could write like that to a woman?”
“That’s just what such madmen do write in a fury when they are blind and deaf from jealousy and spite, and their blood is turned to venom. . . . You did not know what he is like! Now they will pound him to a jelly. He has thrust his head under the axe himself! He’d better have gone at night to the Nikolaevsky railway and have laid his head on the rail. They’d have cut it off for him, if he’s weary of the weight of it! What possessed you to tell him! What induced you to tease him! Did you want to boast?”
“But what hatred! What hatred!” I cried, clapping my hand on my head. “And what for, what for? Of a woman! What has she done to him? What can there have been between them that he can write a letter like that?”
“Ha — atred!” Tatyana Pavlovna mimicked me with furious sarcasm.
The blood rushed to my face again; all at once I seemed to grasp something new; I gazed at her with searching inquiry.
“Get along with you!” she shrieked, turning away from me quickly and waving me off. “I’ve had bother enough with you all! I’ve had enough of it now! You may all sink into the earth for all I care! . . . Your mother is the only one I’m sorry for . . .”
I ran, of course, to Versilov. But what treachery! What treachery!
Versilov was not alone. To explain the position beforehand: after sending that letter to Katerina Nikolaevna the day before and actually dispatching a copy of it to Baron Büring (God only knows why), naturally he was bound to expect certain “consequences” of his action in the course of to-day, and so had taken measures of a sort. He had in the morning moved my mother upstairs to my “coffin,” together with Liza, who, as I learned afterwards, had been taken ill when she got home, and had gone to bed. The other rooms, especially the drawing-room, had been scrubbed and tidied up with extra care. And at two o’clock in the afternoon a certain Baron R. did in fact make his appearance. He was a colonel, a tall thin gentleman about forty, a little bald, of German origin, with ginger-coloured hair like Büring’s, and a look of great physical strength. He was one of those Baron R.s of whom there are so many in the Russian army, all men of the highest baronial dignity, entirely without means, living on their pay, and all zealous and conscientious officers.
I did not come in time for the beginning of their interview; both were very much excited, and they might well be. Versilov was sitting on the sofa facing the table, and the baron was in an armchair on one side. Versilov was pale, but he spoke with restraint, dropping out his words one by one; the baron raised his voice and was evidently given to violent gesticulation. He restrained himself with an effort, but he looked stern, supercilious, and even contemptuous, though somewhat astonished. Seeing me he frowned, but Versilov seemed almost relieved at my coming.
“Good-morning, dear boy. Baron, this is the very young man mentioned in the letter, and I assure you he will not be in your way, and may indeed be of use.” (The baron looked at me contemptuously.) “My dear boy,” Versilov went on, “I am glad that you’ve come, indeed, so sit down in the corner please, till the baron and I have finished. Don’t be uneasy, baron, he will simply sit in the corner.”
I did not care, for I had made up my mind, and besides all this impressed me: I sat down in the corner without speaking, as far back as I could, and went on sitting there without stirring or blinking an eyelid till the interview was over . . . .
“I tell you again, baron,” said Versilov, rapping out his words resolutely, “that I consider Katerina Nikolaevna Ahmakov, to whom I wrote that unworthy and insane letter, not only the soul of honour, but the acme of all perfection!”
“Such a disavowal of your own words, as I have observed to you already, is equivalent to a repetition of the offence,” growled the baron; “your words are actually lacking in respect.”
“And yet it would be nearest the truth if you take them in their exact sense. I suffer, do you see, from nervous attacks, and . . . nervous ailments, and am in fact being treated for them and therefore it has happened in one such moment . . .”
“These explanations cannot be admitted. I tell you for the third time that you are persistently mistaken, perhaps purposely wish to be mistaken. I have warned you from the very beginning that the whole question concerning that lady, that is concerning your letter to Mme. Ahmakov, must be entirely excluded from our explanation; you keep going back to it. Baron Büring begged and particularly charged me to make it plain that this matter concerns him only; that is, your insolence in sending him that ‘copy’ and the postcript to it in which you write that ‘you are ready to answer for it when and how he pleases.’”
“But that, I imagine, is quite clear without explanation.”
“I understand, I hear. You do not even offer an apology, but persist in asserting that ‘you are ready to answer for it when and how he pleases.’ But that would be getting off too cheaply. And therefore I now, in view of the turn which you obstinately will give to your explanation, feel myself justified on my side in telling you the truth without ceremony, that is, I have come to the conclusion that it is ut-ter-ly impossible for Baron Büring to meet you . . . on an equal footing.”
“Such a decision is no doubt advantageous for your friend, Baron Büring, and I must confess you have not surprised me in the least: I was expecting it.”
I note in parenthesis: it was quite evident to me from the first word and the first glance that Versilov was trying to lead up to this outburst, that he was intentionally teasing and provoking this irascible baron, and was trying to put him out of patience. The baron bristled all over.
“I have heard that you are able to be witty, but being witty is very different from being clever.”
“An extremely profound observation, colonel.”
“I did not ask for your approbation,” cried the baron. “I did not come to bandy words with you. Be so good as to listen. Baron Büring was in doubt how to act when he received your letter, because it was suggestive of a madhouse. And, of course, means might be taken to . . . suppress you. However, owing to certain special considerations, your case was treated with indulgence and inquiries were made about you: it turns out that though you have belonged to good society, and did at one time serve in the Guards, you have been excluded from society and your reputation is dubious. Yet in spite of that I’ve come here to ascertain the facts personally, and now, to make things worse, you don’t scruple to play with words, and inform me yourself that you are liable to nervous attacks. It’s enough! Baron Büring’s position and reputation are such that he cannot stoop to be mixed up in such an affair. . . . In short, I am authorized, sir, to inform you, that if a repetition or anything similar to your recent action should follow hereafter, measures will promptly be found to bring you to your senses, very quickly and very thoroughly I can assure you. We are not living in the jungle, but in a well ordered state!”
“You are so certain of that, my good baron?”
“Confound you,” cried the baron, suddenly getting up; “you tempt me to show you at once that I am not ‘your good baron.’”
“Ach, I must warn you once again,” said Versilov, and he too stood up, “that my wife and daughter are not far off . . . and so I must ask you not to speak so loud, for your shouts may reach their ears.”
“Your wife . . . the devil . . . I am sitting here talking to you solely in order to get to the bottom of this disgusting business,” the baron continued as wrathfully as before, not dropping his voice in the least. “Enough!” he roared furiously, “you are not only excluded from the society of decent people, but you’re a maniac, a regular raving maniac, and such you’ve been proved to be! You do not deserve indulgence, and I can tell you that this very day measures will be taken in regard to you . . . and you will be placed where they will know how to restore you to sanity . . . and will remove you from the town.”
He marched with rapid strides out of the room. Versilov did not accompany him to the door. He stood gazing at me absentmindedly, as though he did not see me; all at once he smiled, tossed back his hair, and taking his hat, he too made for the door. I clutched at his hand.
“Ach, yes, you are here too. You . . . heard?” he said, stopping short before me.
“How could you do it? How could you distort . . . disgrace with such treachery!”
He looked at me intently, his smile broadened and broadened till it passed into actual laughter.
“Why, I’ve been disgraced . . . before her! before her! They laughed at me before her eyes, and he . . . and he pushed me away!” I cried, beside myself.
“Really? Ach, poor boy, I am sorry for you. . . . So they laughed at you, did they?”
“You are laughing yourself, you are laughing at me; it amuses you!”
He quickly pulled his hand away, put on his hat and laughing, laughing aloud, went out of the flat. What was the use of running after him? I understood and — I had lost everything in one instant! All at once I saw my mother; she had come downstairs and was timidly looking about her.
“Has he gone away?”
I put my arms around her without a word, and she held me tight in hers.
“Mother, my own, surely you can’t stay? Let us go at once, I will shelter you, I will work for you like a slave, for you and for Liza. Leave them all, all, and let us go away. Let us be alone. Mother, do you remember how you came to me at Touchard’s and I would not recognize you?”
“I remember, my own; I have been bad to you all your life. You were my own child, and I was a stranger to you.”
“That was his fault, mother, it was all his fault; he has never loved us.”
“Yes, yes, he did love us.”
“Let us go, mother.”
“How could I go away from him, do you suppose he is happy?”
“She’s lying down; she felt ill when she came in; I’m frightened. Why are they so angry with him? What will they do to him now? Where’s he gone? What was that officer threatening?”
“Nothing will happen to him, mother, nothing does happen to him, or ever can happen to him. He’s that sort of man! Here’s Tatyana Pavlovna, ask her, if you don’t believe me, here she is.” (Tatyana Pavlovna came quickly into the room.) “Good-bye, mother. I will come to you directly, and when I come, I shall ask you the same thing again . . . .”
I ran away. I could not bear to see anyone, let alone Tatyana Pavlovna. Even mother distressed me. I wanted to be alone, alone.
But before I had crossed the street, I felt that I could hardly walk, and I jostled aimlessly, heedlessly, against the passers-by, feeling listless and adrift; but what could I do with myself? What use am I to anyone, and — what use is anything to me now? Mechanically I trudged to Prince Sergay’s, though I was not thinking of him at all. He was not at home. I told Pyotr (his man) that I would wait in his study (as I had done many times before). His study was a large one, a very high room, cumbered up with furniture. I crept into the darkest corner, sat down on the sofa and, putting my elbows on the table, rested my head in my hands. Yes, that was the question: “what was of any use to me now?” If I was able to formulate that question then, I was totally unable to answer it.
But I could not myself answer the question, or think about it rationally. I have mentioned already that towards the end of those days I was overwhelmed by the rush of events. I sat now, and everything was whirling round like chaos in my mind. “Yes, I had failed to see all that was in him, and did not understand him at all,” was the thought that glimmered dimly in my mind at moments. “He laughed in my face just now: that was not at me, it was all Büring then, not me. The day before yesterday he knew everything and he was gloomy. He pounced on my stupid confession in the restaurant, and distorted it, regardless of the truth; but what did he care for the truth? He did not believe a syllable of what he wrote to her. All he wanted was to insult her, to insult her senselessly, without knowing what for; he was looking out for a pretext and I gave him the pretext. . . . He behaved like a mad dog! Does he want to kill Büring now? What for? His heart knows what for! And I know nothing of what’s in his heart. . . . No, no, I don’t know even now. Can it be that he loves her with such passion? Or does he hate her to such a pitch of passion? I don’t know, but does he know himself? Why did I tell mother that ‘nothing could happen to him’; what did I mean to say by that? Have I lost him or haven’t I?
“ . . . She saw how I was pushed away. . . . Did she laugh too, or not? I should have laughed! They were beating a spy, a spy . . . .
“What does it mean,” suddenly flashed on my mind, “what does it mean that in that loathsome letter he puts in that the document has not been burnt, but is in existence? . . .
“He is not killing Büring but is sitting at this moment, no doubt, in the restaurant listening to ‘Lucia’! And perhaps after Lucia he will go and kill Büring. Büring pushed me away, almost struck me; did he strike me? And Büring disdains to fight even Versilov, so would he be likely to fight with me? Perhaps I ought to kill him to-morrow with a revolver, waiting for him in the street . . . .” I let that thought flit through my mind quite mechanically without being brought to a pause by it.
At moments I seemed to dream that the door would open all at once, that Katerina Nikolaevna would come in, would give me her hand, and we should both burst out laughing. . . . Oh, my student, my dear one! I had a vision of this, or rather an intense longing for it, as soon as it got dark. It was not long ago I had been standing before her saying good-bye to her, and she had given me her hand, and laughed. How could it have happened that in such a short time we were so completely separated! Simply to go to her and to explain everything this minute, simply, simply! Good heavens! how was it that an utterly new world had begun for me so suddenly! Yes, a new world, utterly, utterly new. . . . And Liza, and Prince Sergay, that was all old. . . . Here I was now at Prince Sergay’s. And mother — how could she go on living with him if it was like this! I could, I can do anything, but she? What will be now? And the figures of Liza, Anna Andreyevna, Stebelkov, Prince Sergay, Aferdov, kept disconnectedly whirling round in my sick brain. But my thoughts became more and more formless and elusive; I was glad when I succeeded in thinking of something and clutching at it.
“I have ‘my idea’!” I thought suddenly; “but have I? Don’t I repeat that from habit? My idea was the fruit of darkness and solitude, and is it possible to creep back into the old darkness? Oh, my God, I never burnt that ‘letter’! I actually forgot to burn it the day before yesterday. I will go back and burn it in a candle, in a candle of course; only I don’t know if I’m thinking properly . . . .”
It had long been dark and Pyotr brought candles. He stood over me and asked whether I had had supper. I simply motioned him away. An hour later, however, he brought me some tea, and I greedily drank a large cupful. Then I asked what time it was? It was half-past eight, and I felt no surprise to find I had been sitting there five hours.
“I have been in to you three times already,” said Pyotr, “but I think you were asleep.”
I did not remember his coming in. I don’t know why, but I felt all at once horribly scared to think I had been asleep. I got up and walked about the room, that I might not go to sleep again. At last my head began to ache violently. At ten o’clock Prince Sergay came in and I was surprised that I had been waiting for him: I had completely forgotten him, completely.
“You are here, and I’ve been round to you to fetch you,” he said to me. His face looked gloomy and severe, and there was not a trace of a smile. There was a fixed idea in his eyes.
“I have been doing my very utmost all day and straining every nerve,” he said with concentrated intensity; “everything has failed, and nothing in the future, but horror . . . .” (N.B. — he had not been to Prince Nikolay Ivanitch’s.) “I have seen Zhibyelsky, he is an impossible person. You see, to begin with we must get the money, then we shall see. And if we don’t succeed with the money, then we shall see. . . . I have made up my mind not to think about that. If only we get hold of the money to-day, to-morrow we shall see everything. The three thousand you won is still untouched, every farthing of it. It’s three thousand all except three roubles. After paying back what I lent you, there is three hundred and forty roubles change for you. Take it. Another seven hundred as well, to make up a thousand, and I will take the other two thousand. Then let us both go to Zerstchikov and try at opposite ends of the table to win ten thousand — perhaps we shall do something, if we don’t win it — then. . . . This is the only way left, anyhow.”
He looked at me with a fateful smile.
“Yes, yes!” I cried suddenly, as though coming to life again “let us go. I was only waiting for you . . . .”
I may remark that I had never once thought of roulette during those hours.
“But the baseness? The degradation of the action?” Prince Sergay asked suddenly.
“Our going to roulette! Why that’s everything,” I cried, “money’s everything. Why, you and I are the only saints, while Büring has sold himself, Anna Andreyevna’s sold herself, and Versilov — have you heard that Versilov’s a maniac? A maniac! A maniac!”
“Are you quite well, Arkady Makarovitch? Your eyes are somehow strange.”
“You say that because you want to go without me! But I shall stick to you now. It’s not for nothing I’ve been dreaming of play all night. Let us go, let us go!” I kept exclaiming, as though I had found the solution to everything.
“Well, let us go, though you’re in a fever, and there . . .”
He did not finish. His face looked heavy and terrible. We were just going out when he stopped in the doorway.
“Do you know,” he said suddenly, “that there is another way out of my trouble, besides play?”
“A princely way.”
“What’s that? What’s that?”
“You’ll know what afterwards. Only let me tell you I’m not worthy of it, because I have delayed too long. Let us go, but you remember my words. We’ll try the lackey’s way. . . . And do you suppose I don’t know that I am consciously, of my own free will, behaving like a lackey?”
I flew to the roulette table as though in it were concentrated all hopes of my salvation, all means of escape, and yet as I have mentioned already, I had not once thought of it before Prince Sergay’s arrival. Moreover, I was going to gamble, not for myself but for Prince Sergay, and with his money; I can’t explain what was the attraction, but it was an irresistible attraction. Oh, never had those people, those faces, those croupiers with their monotonous shouts, all the details of the squalid gambling saloon seemed so revolting to me, so depressing, so coarse, and so melancholy as that evening! I remember well the sadness and misery that gripped my heart at times during those hours at the gambling table. But why didn’t I go away? Why did I endure and, as it were, accept this fate, this sacrifice, this devotion? I will only say one thing: I can hardly say of myself that I was then in my right senses. Yet at the same time, I had never played so prudently as that evening. I was silent and concentrated, attentive and extremely calculating; I was patient and niggardly, and at the same time resolute at critical moments. I established myself again at the zero end of the table, that is between Zerstchikov and Aferdov, who always sat on the former’s right hand; the place was distasteful to me, but I had an overwhelming desire to stake on zero, and all the other places at that end were taken. We had been playing over an hour; at last, from my place, I saw Prince Sergay get up from his seat and with a pale face move across to us and remain facing me the other side of the table: he had lost all he had and watched my play in silence, though he probably did not follow it and had ceased to think of play. At that moment I just began winning, and Zerstchikov was counting me out what I had won. Suddenly, without a word, Aferdov with the utmost effrontery took one of my hundred-rouble notes before my very eyes and added it to the pile of money lying before him. I cried out, and caught hold of his hand. Then something quite unexpected happened to me: it was as though I had broken some chain that restrained me, as though all the affronts and insults of that day were concentrated in that moment in the loss of that hundred-rouble note. It was as though everything that had been accumulating and suppressed within me had only been waiting for that moment to break out.
“He’s a thief, he has just stolen my hundred roubles,” I exclaimed, looking round, beside myself.
I won’t describe the hubbub that followed; such a scandal was a novelty there. At Zerstchikov’s, people behaved with propriety, and his saloon was famous for it. But I did not know what I was doing. Zerstchikov’s voice was suddenly heard in the midst of the clamour and din:
“But the money’s not here, and it was lying here! Four hundred roubles!”
Another scene followed at once: the money in the bank had disappeared under Zerstchikov’s very nose, a roll of four hundred roubles. Zerstchikov pointed to the spot where the notes had only that minute been lying, and that spot turned out to be close to me, next to the spot where my money was lying, much closer to me than to Aferdov.
“The thief is here! he has stolen it again, search him!” I cried pointing to Aferdov.
“This is what comes of letting in all sorts of people,” thundered an impressive voice in the midst of the general uproar. “Persons have been admitted without introduction! Who brought him in? Who is he?”
“A fellow called Dolgoruky.”
“Prince Sokolsky brought him,” cried some one.
“Listen, prince,” I yelled to him across the table in a frenzy; “they think I’m a thief when I’ve just been robbed myself! Tell them about me, tell them about me!”
And then there followed something worse than all that had happened that day . . . worse than anything that had happened in my life: Prince Sergay disowned me. I saw him shrug his shoulders and heard him in answer to a stream of questions pronounce sharply and distinctly:
“I am not responsible for anyone. Please leave me alone.”
Meanwhile Aferdov stood in the middle of the crowd loudly demanding that “he should be searched.” He kept turning out his own pockets. But his demands were met by shouts of “No, no, we know the thief!”
Two footmen were summoned and they seized me by my arms from behind.
“I won’t let myself be searched, I won’t allow it!” I shouted, pulling myself away.
But they dragged me into the next room; there, in the midst of the crowd, they searched me to the last fold of my garments. I screamed and struggled.
“He must have thrown it away, you must look on the floor,” some one decided.
“Where can we look on the floor now?”
“Under the table, he must have somehow managed to throw it away.”
“Of course there’s no trace . . .”
I was led out, but I succeeded in stopping in the doorway, and with senseless ferocity I shouted, to be heard by the whole saloon:
“Roulette is prohibited by the police. I shall inform against you all to-day!”
I was led downstairs. My hat and coat were put on me, and . . . the door into the street was flung open before me.
Last updated Tuesday, August 25, 2015 at 14:07