I am now approaching the culminating catastrophe to which my whole story is leading up. But before I can continue I must give a preliminary explanation of things of which I knew nothing at the time when I was taking part in them, but which I only understood and fully realized long afterwards, that is when everything was over. I don’t know how else to be clear, as otherwise I should have to write the whole story in riddles. And so I will give a simple and direct explanation, sacrificing so-called artistic effect, and presenting it without any personal feelings, as though I were not writing it myself, something after the style of an entrefilet in the newspaper.
The fact is that my old schoolfellow, Lambert, might well, and indeed with certainty, be said to belong to one of those disreputable gangs of petty scoundrels who form associations for the sake of what is now called chantage, an offence nowadays defined and punished by our legal code. The gang to which Lambert belonged had been formed in Moscow and had already succeeded in a good many enterprises there (it was to some extent exposed later on). I heard afterwards that they had in Moscow an extremely experienced and clever leader, a man no longer young. They embarked upon enterprises, sometimes acting individually and sometimes in concert. While they were responsible for some filthy and indecent scandals (accounts of which have, however, already been published in the newspapers) they also carried out some subtle and elaborate intrigues under the leadership of their chief. I found out about some of them later on, but I will not repeat the details. I will only mention that it was their characteristic method to discover some secret, often in the life of people of the greatest respectability and good position. Then they would go to these persons and threaten to make public documentary evidence (which they often did not possess) and would demand a sum of money as the price of silence. There are things neither sinful nor criminal which even honourable and strong-minded people would dread to have exposed. They worked chiefly upon family secrets. To show how adroit their chief sometimes was in his proceedings, I will describe in three lines and without any details one of their exploits. A really wicked and sinful action was committed in a certain honourable family; the wife of a well-known and highly respected man entered into a secret love-affair with a young and wealthy officer. They scented this out, and what they did was to give the young man plainly to understand that they would inform the husband. They hadn’t the slightest proof, and the young man knew that quite well, and indeed they did not conceal it from him. But the whole ingenuity and the whole cunning of their calculations lay in the reflection that on receiving information, even without proofs, the husband would take exactly the same steps as though he had positive proofs. They relied upon their knowledge of the man’s character, and of the circumstances of the family. The fact was that one member of the gang was a young man belonging to a very good set, and he had been able to collect information beforehand. They extracted a considerable sum from the lover, and without any risk to themselves, because their victim was himself eager for secrecy.
Though Lambert took part in this affair, he was not actually one of the Moscow gang; acquiring a taste for the work he began by degrees and experimentally acting on his own account. I may mention beforehand that he was not altogether well fitted for it. He was very sharp and calculating, but hasty, and what’s more, simple, or rather naive, that is he had very little knowledge of men or of good society. I fancy, for instance, that he did not realize the capacity of the Moscow chief, and imagined that the organization and conduct of such projects were very easy. And he imagined that almost every one was as great a scoundrel as he was himself, and if once he had conceived that a certain person was afraid, or must be afraid for this reason or for that, he would be as certain that the man was afraid as though it were an axiomatic truth. I don’t know how to express this; I’ll explain the fact more clearly later, but in my opinion he had rather a coarse-grained intelligence, and not only had he no faith in certain good and generous feelings, but perhaps he had actually no conception of them.
He had come to Petersburg because he had long conceived of Petersburg as offering a wider scope for his energies, and because in Moscow he had got into a scrape, and because some one was looking for him there with extremely evil intentions. On arriving in Petersburg he at once got into touch with an old comrade, but he found the outlook unpromising and nothing to be done on a large scale. His acquaintance had increased, but nothing had come of it. “They’re a wretched lot here, no better than boys,” he said to me himself afterwards. And behold, one fine morning at sunrise he found me half-frozen under a wall, and at once dropped upon the scent of what he regarded as a “very rich job.”
It all rested on my ravings as I thawed in his lodgings. I was practically delirious then! But from my words it was manifest that of all the affronts I had suffered on that momentous day, the thing which most rankled in my heart, and was most vivid in my memory, was the insult I had received from Büring and from her; I should not otherwise have talked of nothing else in my delirium at Lambert’s, but should have raved of Zerstchikov for example, but it was only of the former I had talked, as I learned afterwards from Lambert himself. And besides, I was in a sort of ecstasy, and looked upon both Lambert and Alphonsine on that awful morning as, so-to-say, champions and deliverers. Afterwards, as I got better and lay in bed, wondering what Lambert could have learned from my ravings, and to what extent I had babbled, it never occurred to me even to suspect that he could have found out so much. Oh, of course, from the gnawing at my conscience I suspected even then that I had said a great deal I should not have said, but, I repeat, I never imagined that it had gone so far. I hoped, too, that I was not able to articulate my words clearly, and indeed I reckoned upon this, as I distinctly remembered it. And yet it turned out in fact that my articulation had been much more distinct than I afterwards supposed and hoped. But the worst of it was that all this only came to light afterwards, and long afterwards, and that was a misfortune for me.
From my deliriums, my ravings, my mutterings, my transports, and so on, he learned, to begin with, almost all the surnames correctly, and even some addresses. And, secondly, he was able to get a fairly correct idea of the consequence of the persons concerned (the old prince, HER, Büring, Anna Andreyevna, and even Versilov); thirdly, he learned that I had been insulted and was threatening revenge; and lastly, and chiefly, that there was in existence a mysterious, hidden document, a letter, such, that if it were shown to a half-crazy old prince he would learn that his own daughter thought him a lunatic and was already consulting lawyers to get him locked up — and would either go quite mad, or would turn her out of the house, and leave her out of his will, or would marry a certain Mme. Versilov whom he already wanted to marry, and was being prevented from marrying. In short, Lambert understood a great deal; no doubt a great deal still remained obscure, but the expert blackmailer had anyway dropped on a trustworthy scent. When I ran away afterwards from Alphonsine he promptly found out my address (in the simplest possible way, by going to the address bureau); and then immediately made the necessary inquiries, from which he discovered that all these persons about whom I had babbled to him did actually exist. Then he promptly took the first step.
The most important fact was the existence of the DOCUMENT, and that I was in possession of it, and that that document was of the highest value — of that Lambert had no doubt. Here I omit one circumstance, which will come in better later, in its proper place, and will only mention here that that circumstance was what principally confirmed Lambert in the conviction of the real existence and, still more, of the value of the document. It was, I may say beforehand, a momentous circumstance, of which I could have no conception either at the time or afterwards, until the final catastrophe, when everything was discovered and became evident of itself. And so, convinced of the main facts, his first step was to go to Anna Andreyevna.
Yet one thing perplexes me to this day: how he, Lambert, succeeded in gaining admittance to, and fastening himself upon, such an unapproachable and superior personage as Anna Andreyevna. It is true that he gathered information about her, but what of that? It is true that he was extremely well dressed, spoke French with a Parisian accent, and had a French surname, but surely Anna Andreyevna must have discerned that he was a scoundrel at once? Or is one to suppose that a scoundrel was just what she wanted at that time? But surely that cannot be so?
I never could find out the details of their interview, but I have often pictured the scene to myself in my imagination. What is most likely is that from the first word Lambert posed as a friend of my childhood, anxious over a dear and cherished comrade. But no doubt at that first interview he succeeded in hinting quite clearly that I had a document, and letting her know that it was a secret, and that only he, Lambert, was in possession of it, and that I was intending to revenge myself on Mme. Ahmakov by means of it, and so on, and so on. Above all he could explain to her as precisely as possible the importance and value of this document. As for Anna Andreyevna she was in such a position that she must have caught at any information of this kind, must have listened with the closest attention, and . . . must have risen to the bait through “the struggle for existence.” Just at that time they had abstracted her fiancé from her, and had carried him off under guardianship to Tsarskoe; and they had even put her under supervision, too. And then a find like this! This was not a case of some old woman whispering in her ear, of tearful lamentations, of scheming and backbiting, there was a letter, an actual piece of writing, that is a positive proof of the treacherous design of his daughter, and of all those who had snatched him from her, and that, therefore, he must be saved even by flight, to her, to Anna Andreyevna, and must be married to her in twenty-four hours, otherwise he would be at once spirited away into a lunatic asylum.
And perhaps the fact that Lambert attempted no subterfuges with the young lady even for a moment, but practically blurted straight out from the first word:
“Mademoiselle, either remain an old maid or become a princess and a millionaire. There is a document and I will steal it from the lad and give it to you . . . for a note of hand from you for thirty thousand.”
I positively imagine that that’s just how it was. Oh, he thought they were all as scoundrelly as himself; I repeat he had that sort of simplicity, that sort of innocence of the scoundrel. . . . However it happened, it may very well be that even when she was demeaning herself like this, Anna Andreyevna was not embarrassed for a minute, but could perfectly well control herself and listen to the blackmailer talking in his own style — and all from “the breadth of her nature.” Oh, no doubt she flushed a little at first, and then she mastered herself and listened. And when I imagine that proud, unapproachable, genuinely dignified girl, with her brains, too, hand in hand with Lambert, well . . . what a mind! A Russian mind, so large, with such a desire for breadth, a woman’s too, and in such circumstances!
Now I’ll make a résumé. By the time I went out after my illness, Lambert had two plans (I know that for a fact now). The first was to get an IOU for not less than thirty thousand from Anna Andreyevna for the letter, and then to help her to frighten the prince, to abduct him and to get her married to him at once — something of that sort anyway. The plan for this was complete. They were only waiting for my help, that is for the document.
The second plan was to desert Anna Andreyevna, throw her over, and sell the letter to Mme. Ahmakov, if that would pay him better. In this he was reckoning on Büring. But Lambert had not yet applied to Mme. Ahmakov, and was only on her track. He was waiting for me too.
Oh, he needed me, that is, not me but the letter! He had formed two plans in regard to me also. The first was, if necessary, to act in concert with me, and to go halves with me, first taking possession of me morally and physically. But the second plan attracted him much more. It was to deceive me as a silly boy, and to steal the letter from me, or even simply to take it from me by force. This was his favourite plan, and the one he cherished in his dreams. I repeat, there was a circumstance which made him reckon with certainty on the success of his second plan, but, as I have said already, I will explain that later. In any case he awaited me with nervous impatience. Everything depended upon me, every step and every decision.
And I must do him the justice to say that he knew how to restrain himself till the time came, in spite of his hasty temper. He did not come to see me all the while I was ill, he only came once to the house and saw Versilov; he did not worry or frighten me, he kept up an attitude of complete independence as regards me till the day and hour of my going out. As for the possibility of my giving up the letter, telling about it, or destroying it, he had no anxiety on that score. From my words he had been able to gather how much importance I attached to secrecy, and how afraid I was that some one might find out about the letter. And that I should go straight to him and to no one else, on the first day I was well enough, he did not doubt in the least either. Darya Onisimovna came to see me partly by his orders, and he knew that my curiosity and apprehension were already aroused, and that I should not hold out. . . . And, indeed, he had taken all precautions, he was in a position to know what day I was going out, so that I could hardly have eluded him if I had wanted to.
But however eagerly Lambert may have been expecting me, Anna Andreyevna perhaps was awaiting me even more eagerly. I must say frankly that Lambert was to some extent right in his reckoning when he contemplated throwing her over, and it was her own fault. In spite of the agreement that no doubt existed between them (in what form I don’t know, but I have no doubt about it), Anna Andreyevna up to the very last moment was not fully open with him. She did not lay all her cards on the table. She hinted at complete agreement on her part and at all sorts of promises — but she confined herself to hints. She listened perhaps to his whole plan in detail; but she only approved in silence. I have good evidence for this conclusion, and the reason of it all was THAT SHE WAS WAITING FOR ME. She would rather have had to do with me than with the rascally Lambert — that’s a fact I have no doubt of. That I understand; but her mistake was in letting Lambert at last understand it. And it would not have suited him at all, if passing him by she had enticed the letter out of me and entered into a compact with me. Moreover, at that time he had complete confidence in the “soundness of the job”; another man in his place would have had fears and still have been uncertain; but Lambert was young, insolent, and filled with impatient greed for gain; he knew little of human nature, and confidently assumed that all were scoundrels. Such a man could have no doubts, especially as he had already observed all sorts of traits in Anna Andreyevna which supported his belief.
One last point, and the most important: did Versilov know anything by that time, and had he even then taken part with Lambert in any plan, however remote? No, no, no, at that time he had not. Though, perhaps, even then a fatal word had been dropped. But enough, enough, I am hastening too far ahead.
Well, and what of me? Did I know anything, and what did I know on the day I went out? When I began this entrefilet I declared that I knew nothing on that day, but found out about everything much later, and only when it was all over. That’s the truth, but is it the full truth? No, it is not; I certainly knew something already, I knew a great deal, indeed. But how? Let the reader remember my DREAM! If I could have had such a dream, if it could have surged up from my heart and taken that shape, I must have had, not a knowledge but a presentiment of a very great deal of what I have just explained, though in actual fact I only discovered it when everything was over. I had no knowledge of it, but my heart was throbbing with forebodings, and evil spirits had possession of my dreams. And it was to that man that I rushed, fully knowing what sort of man he was and foreseeing everything even in detail. And why did I rush to him? Imagine; it seems to me now at the very minute when I am writing that I knew exactly at the time why I was rushing to him, though, again, I knew nothing then. Perhaps the reader will understand this. Now to get on with my story, fact by fact.
It begins two days before my outburst, when Liza came home in the evening in a state of agitation. She felt terribly humiliated and indeed something insufferable had happened to her.
I have already mentioned the terms she was on with Vassin. She went to see him not simply to show us that she did not need us, but because she really had a high opinion of him. Their acquaintance had begun at Luga, and I always fancied that Vassin was not indifferent to her, in the misfortunes that had overwhelmed her she might naturally have wished for the advice of a calm, resolute, always lofty mind such as she supposed Vassin’s to be. Besides, women are not very clever in appreciating a man’s mind at its true value when they like a man; and they will gladly accept paradoxes as the closest reasoning, if they fall in with their own desires. What Liza liked in Vassin was his sympathy for her in her position and, as she had fancied at first, his sympathy with Prince Sergay. When, later on, she suspected his feeling for her, she could not help appreciating the sympathy he showed for his rival. When she told Prince Sergay that she sometimes went to consult Vassin, he had from the first shown the greatest uneasiness; he began to be jealous. Liza was offended at this, and purposely maintained her friendly relations with Vassin. Prince Sergay said nothing, but was gloomy. Liza confessed to me (long afterwards) that Vassin had very soon ceased to attract her; he was composed, and just this everlasting unruffled composure, which had so attracted her at first, afterwards seemed to her distasteful. One would have thought he was practical, and he did, in fact, give her some apparently good advice, but all his advice, as ill-luck would have it, appeared later on impossible to carry out. He gave his opinions sometimes too conceitedly, and showed no trace of diffidence with her, becoming more and more free in his manner as time went on, which she ascribed to his unconsciously feeling less and less respect for her position. Once she thanked him for his invariable goodwill to me, and for talking to me as an intellectual equal though he was so superior to me (she was repeating my words). He answered:
“That’s not so, and not for that reason. It’s because I see no difference between him and other people. I don’t consider him more foolish than the clever, or more evil than the good. I treat every one alike because every one’s alike in my eyes.”
“Why, do you mean to say you see no differences?”
“Oh, of course, people are all different in one way or another, but differences don’t exist for me because the differences between people don’t concern me; to me they are all the same and everything’s the same; and so I’m equally kind to all.”
“And don’t you find it dull?”
“No, I’m always satisfied with myself.”
“And there’s nothing you desire?”
“Of course there is. But nothing I desire very much. There’s scarcely anything I want, not another rouble. Whether I wear cloth of gold or remain as I am is all the same to me. Cloth of gold would add nothing to me. Tit-bits don’t tempt me. Could places or honours be worth the place that I am worth?”
Liza declared on her honour that these were literally his words. But it’s not fair to criticize them like this without knowing the circumstances under which they were uttered.
Little by little Liza came also to the conclusion that his indulgent attitude to Prince Sergay was not due to sympathy for her, but was perhaps only because “all were alike to him, and differences did not exist for him.” But in the end he did apparently begin to lose his indifference, and to take up an attitude not only of disapproval, but even of contemptuous irony towards Prince Sergay. This incensed Liza, but Vassin remained unaffected. Above all, he always expressed himself gently, and showed no indignation even in his disapproval, but confined himself to logical exposition of her hero’s worthlessness; but there was irony in this very logic. Finally he demonstrated almost directly the “irrationality,” the perverse violence of her love. “Your feelings have been mistaken, and a mistake once recognized ought invariably to be corrected.”
This had happened on that very day; Liza indignantly got up from her place to go, but it will hardly be believed what this rational man did next, and how he concluded. With the air of a man of honour, and even with feeling, he offered her his hand. Liza bluntly called him a fool to his face and walked out.
To suggest deserting a man in misfortune because that man was “unworthy of her,” and above all to suggest it to a woman who was with child by that very man — there you have the mind of these people! I call this being dreadfully theoretical and knowing nothing whatever of life, and put it down to a prodigious conceit. And what’s more, Liza saw quite clearly that he was actually proud of his action, because he knew of her condition. With tears of indignation she hurried off to Prince Sergay, and he positively surpassed Vassin. One would have thought that after what she told him he might have been convinced that he had no cause for jealousy; but he became perfectly frantic. But jealous people are always like that! He made a fearful scene and insulted her so outrageously that she almost resolved to break off all relations with him.
She came home, however, still controlling herself, but she could not help telling mother. Oh, that evening the ice was completely broken, and they were on their old affectionate terms again; both, of course, shed tears as usual in each other’s arms, and Liza apparently regained her composure, though she was very gloomy. She sat through the evening in Makar Ivanovitch’s room, without uttering a word, but without leaving the room. She listened very attentively to what he said. Ever since the incident with the bench she had become extremely and, as it were, timidly respectful to him, though she still remained taciturn.
But this time Makar Ivanovitch suddenly gave an unexpected and wonderful turn to the conversation. I may mention that Versilov and the doctor had talked of his health with very gloomy faces that morning. I may mention, too, that we had for some days been talking a great deal about mother’s birthday, and making preparations to celebrate it in five days’ time. Apropos of her birthday Makar Ivanovitch suddenly launched into reminiscences of mother’s childhood, and the time when she “couldn’t stand up on her little feet.” “She was never out of my arms,” the old man recalled. “I used to teach her to walk too sometimes. I set her up in a corner three steps away and called her, and she used to totter across to me, and she wasn’t frightened, but would run to me laughing, she’d rush at me and throw her arms round my neck. I used to tell you fairytales later on, Sofia Andreyevna; you were very fond of fairy tales, you’d sit on my knee listening for two hours at a stretch. They used to wonder in the cottage, ‘just see how she’s taken to Makar.’ Or I’d carry you off into the woods, I’d seek out a raspberry-bush, I would sit you down by it, and cut you a whistle-pipe out of wood. When we’d had a nice walk, I’d carry you home in my arms — and the little thing would fall asleep. Once she was afraid of a wolf; she flew to me all of a tremble, and there wasn’t a wolf there at all.”
“I remember that,” said mother.
“Can you really remember it?”
“I remember a great deal. Ever since I remember anything in life I have felt your love and tender care over me,” she said in a voice full of feeling, and she suddenly flushed crimson.
Makar Ivanovitch paused for a little.
“Forgive me, children, I am leaving you. The term of my life is close at hand. In my old age I have found consolation for all afflictions. Thank you, my dear ones.”
“That’s enough, Makar Ivanovitch darling,” exclaimed Versilov in some agitation. “The doctor told me just now that you were a great deal better . . . .”
Mother listened in alarm.
“Why, what does he know, your Alexandr Semyonovitch — he’s a dear man and nothing more. Give over, friends, do you think that I’m afraid to die? After my morning prayer to-day I had the feeling in my heart that I should never go out again from here; it was told me. Well, what of it, blessed be the name of the Lord. Yet I have a longing to be looking upon all of you still. Job, after all his sufferings, was comforted looking upon his new children, and forgot the children that were gone — it is impossible! Only with the years the sorrow is mingled with the joy and turned to sighs of gladness. So it is in the world. Every soul is tried and is comforted. I thought, children, to say one little word to you,” he went on with a gentle, exquisite smile which I shall never forget, and he turned to me, “be zealous for the Holy Church, my dear, and if the time calls for it — die for her; but wait a bit, don’t be frightened, it won’t be at once,” he added, laughing. “Now perhaps you don’t think of it, afterwards you will think of it. And something more. Any good thing you bethink yourself to do, do it for the sake of God and not for envy. Stand firmly to your cause, and do not give way through any sort of cowardice; act steadily, neither rushing nor turning about; well, that is all I want to tell you. Only accustom yourself to pray daily and unceasingly. I say this now, maybe you’ll remember it. I should like to say something to you, too, Andrey Petrovitch, sir, but God will find your heart without my words. And for long years we have ceased to speak of that, ever since that arrow pierced my heart. Now that I am departing I would only remind you of what you promised then . . . .”
He almost whispered the last words, with his eyes cast down.
“Makar Ivanovitch!” Versilov said in confusion, and he got up from his chair.
“There, there, don’t be troubled, sir, I only recalled it . . . and in the sight of God I am more to blame than any of you, seeing that though you were my master I ought not to have allowed this weakness, and therefore, Sofia, fret not your soul too much, for all your sin is mine, and you scarcely had full judgment in those days, so I fancy; nor maybe you either, sir,” he smiled with lips that quivered from some sort of pain, “and though I might then have taught you, my wife, even with the rod and indeed ought to have, yet I pitied you when you fell in tears before me, and hid nothing, and kissed my feet. Not to reproach you have I recalled this, beloved, but only to remind Andrey Petrovitch . . . for you remember, sir, yourself your promise, as a nobleman, and all will be covered with the wedding crown. I speak before the children, master . . .”
He was extremely agitated and looked at Versilov as though expecting from him some word of confirmation. I repeat it was all so sudden, so unexpected, that I sat motionless. Versilov was no less agitated: he went up to mother in silence and warmly embraced her; then mother, also in silence, went up to Makar Ivanovitch and bowed down to his feet.
In short the scene was overwhelming; on this occasion we were by ourselves. Even Tatyana Pavlovna was not present. Liza drew herself up in her chair and listened in silence; suddenly she stood up and said firmly to Makar Ivanovitch:
“Bless me, too, Makar Ivanovitch for my great anguish. To morrow will decide my whole fate, and you will pray for me to-day.”
And she went out of the room. I knew that Makar Ivanovitch knew all about her already from mother. But it was the first time I had seen mother and Versilov side by side: till then I had only seen her as his slave near him. There was still so much I did not understand and had not detected in that man whom I had condemned, and so I went back to my room in confusion. And it must be said that it was just at this time that my perplexity about him was greatest. He had never seemed to me so mysterious and unfathomable as just at that time; but it’s just about that that I’m writing this whole account; all in its good time.
“It turns out though,” I thought to myself as I got into bed, “that he gave his word ‘as a nobleman’ to marry mother if she were left a widow. He said nothing of that when he told me about Makar Ivanovitch before.”
Liza was out the whole of the following day, and when she came back, rather late, she went straight to Makar Ivanovitch. I thought I would not go in that I might not be in their way, but soon, noticing that mother and Versilov were already there, I went in. Liza was sitting by the old man crying on his shoulder, and he with a sorrowful face was stroking her head.
Versilov told me in my room afterwards that Prince Sergay insisted on having his way, and proposed marrying Liza at the first opportunity before his trial was over. It was hard for Liza to make up her mind to it, though she scarcely had the right to refuse. And indeed Makar Ivanovitch “commanded” her to be married. Of course all this would have come about of itself, and she would certainly have been married of her own accord and without hesitation, but at the moment she had been so insulted by the man she loved, and she was so humiliated by this love even in her own eyes that it was difficult for her to decide. But apart from her mortification there was another circumstance deterring her of which I could have no suspicion.
“Did you hear that all those young people on the Petersburg Side were arrested?” Versilov added suddenly.
“What? Dergatchev?” I cried.
“Yes, and Vassin, too.”
I was amazed, especially to hear about Vassin.
“Why, was he mixed up in anything? Good heavens, what will happen to them now! And just when Liza was being so severe upon him! . . . What do you think? What may happen to them? It’s Stebelkov, I swear it’s Stebelkov’s doing.”
“We won’t go into it,” said Versilov, looking at me strangely (as people look at a man who has no knowledge or suspicion of something). “Who can tell what is going on among them, and who can tell what may happen to them? I didn’t come to speak of that. I hear you meant to go out to-morrow. Won’t you be going to see Prince Sergay?”
“The first thing; though I must own it’s very distasteful to me. Why, have you some message to send him?”
“No, nothing. I shall see him myself. I’m sorry for Liza. And what advice can Makar Ivanovitch give her? He knows nothing about life or about people himself. Another thing, my dear boy” (it was a long time since he had called me “my dear boy”), “there are here too . . . certain young men . . . among whom is your old schoolfellow, Lambert . . . I fancy they are all great rascals. . . . I speak simply to warn you. . . . But, of course, it’s your business, and I have no right . . .”
“Andrey Petrovitch!” I clutched his hand, speaking without a moment’s thought and almost by inspiration as I sometimes do (the room was almost in darkness). “Andrey Petrovitch, I have said nothing; you have seen that of course, I have been silent till now, do you know why? To avoid knowing your secrets. I’ve simply resolved not to know them, ever. I’m a coward. I’m afraid your secrets may tear you out of my heart altogether, and I don’t want that to happen. Since it’s so, why should you know my secrets? It doesn’t matter to you where I go. Does it?”
“You are right; but not a word more, I beseech you!” he said, and went away. So, by accident, we had the merest scrap of an explanation. But he only added to my excitement on the eve of my new step in life next day, and I kept waking up all night in consequence. But I felt quite happy.
Next day I went out of the house at ten o’clock in the morning, doing my utmost to steal out quietly without taking leave or saying anything. I, so to speak, slipped out. Why I did so I don’t know; but if even mother had seen that I was going out and spoken to me I should have answered with something spiteful. When I found myself in the street and breathed the cold outdoor air I shuddered from an intense feeling — almost animal — which I might call “carnivorous.” What was I going for, where was I going? The feeling was utterly undefined and at the same time I felt frightened and delighted, both at once.
“Shall I disgrace myself to-day or not?” I thought to myself with a swagger, though I knew that the step once taken that day would be decisive, and could not be retrieved all my life. But it’s no use talking in riddles.
I went straight to the prison to Prince Sergay. I had received a letter for the superintendent from Tatyana Pavlovna two days before, and I met with an excellent reception. I don’t know whether he was a good man, and it’s beside the point; but he permitted my interview with the prince and arranged that it should take place in his room, courteously giving it up for our use. The room was the typical room of a government official of a certain standing, living in a government building — I think to describe it is unnecessary.
So it turned out that Prince Sergay and I were left alone.
He came in dressed in some sort of half-military attire, but wearing very clean linen and a dandified tie; he was washed and combed, at the same time he looked terribly thin and very yellow. I noticed the same yellowness even in his eyes. In fact he was so changed in appearance that I stood still in amazement.
“How you have changed!” I cried.
“That’s nothing. Sit down, dear boy,” half-fatuously he motioned me to the armchair and sat down opposite, facing me. “Let’s get to the point. You see, my dear Alexey Makarovitch . . .”
“Arkady,” I corrected him.
“What? Oh yes! No matter! Oh yes!” He suddenly collected himself. “Excuse me, my dear fellow, we’ll return to the point.”
He was, in fact, in a fearful hurry to turn to something. He was entirely from head to foot absorbed by something; some vital idea which he wanted to formulate and expound to me. He talked a great deal and fearfully fast, gesticulating and explaining with strained and painful effort, but for the first minute I really could make nothing of it.
“To put it briefly” (he had used this expression “To put it briefly” ten times already), “to put it briefly,” he concluded, “I troubled you yesterday, Arkady Makarovitch, and so urgently through Liza begged you to come to me, as though the place were on fire, but seeing that the essential part of the decision is bound to be momentous and conclusive for me . . .”
“Excuse me, prince,” I interrupted, “did you send me a message yesterday? Liza said nothing to me about it.”
“What?” he cried, suddenly stopping short in extreme astonishment, almost in alarm.
“She gave me no message at all. She came home last night so upset that she couldn’t say a word to me.”
Prince Sergay leapt up from his seat.
“Are you telling me the truth, Arkady Makarovitch? If so this . . . this . . .”
“Why, what is there so serious about it? Why are you so uneasy? She simply forgot or something.”
He sat down and seemed overcome by a kind of stupor. It seemed as though the news that Liza had given me no message had simply crushed him. He suddenly began talking rapidly and waving his hands, and again it was fearfully difficult to follow him.
“Stay” he exclaimed suddenly, pausing and holding up his finger. “Stay, this . . . this . . . if I’m not mistaken this is a trick! . . .” he muttered with the grin of a maniac, “and it means that . . .”
“It means absolutely nothing,” I interposed, “and I can’t understand how such a trivial circumstance can worry you so much. . . . Ach, prince, since that time — since that night, do you remember . . .”
“Since what night, and what of it?” he cried pettishly, evidently annoyed at my interrupting him.
“At Zerstchikov’s, where we saw each other last. Why, before your letter. . . . Don’t you remember you were terribly excited then, but the difference between then and now is so great that I am positively horrified when I look at you.”
“Oh yes,” he pronounced in the tone of a man of polite society, seeming suddenly to remember. “Oh yes; that evening . . . I heard. . . . Well, and are you better? How are you after all that, Arkady Makarovitch? . . . But let us return to the point. I am pursuing three aims precisely, you see; there are three problems before me, and I . . .”
He began rapidly talking again of his “chief point.” I realized at last that I was listening to a man who ought at once to have at least a vinegar compress applied to his head, if not perhaps to be bled. All his incoherent talk turned, of course, around his trial, and the possible issue of it, and the fact that the colonel of his regiment had visited him and given him a lengthy piece of advice about something which he had not taken, and the notes he had just lately sent to some one, and the prosecutor, and the certainty that they would deprive him of his rights as a nobleman and send him to the Northern Region of Russia, and the possibility of settling as a colonist and regaining his position, in Tashkent, and his plans for training his son (which Liza would bear him) and handing something down to him “in the wilds of Archangel, in the Holmogory.” “I wanted your opinion, Arkady Makarovitch, believe me I so feel and value. . . . If only you knew, if only you knew, Arkady Makarovitch, my dear fellow, my brother, what Liza means to me, what she has meant to me here, now, all this time!” he shouted, suddenly clutching at his head with both hands.
“Sergay Petrovitch, surely you won’t sacrifice her by taking her away with you! To the Holmogory!” I could not refrain from exclaiming. Liza’s fate, bound to this maniac for life, suddenly, and as it were for the first time, rose clearly before my imagination. He looked at me, got up again, took one step, turned and sat down again, still holding his head in his hands.
“I’m always dreaming of spiders!” he said suddenly.
“You are terribly agitated. I should advise you to go to bed, prince, and to ask for a doctor at once.”
“No, excuse me — of that afterwards. I asked you to come and see me chiefly to discuss our marriage. The marriage, as you know, is to take place here, at the church. I’ve said so already. Permission has been given for all this, and, in fact, they encourage it. . . . As for Liza . . .”
“Prince, have pity on Liza, my dear fellow!” I cried. “Don’t torture her, now, at least, don’t be jealous!”
“What!” he cried, staring at me intently with eyes almost starting out of his head, and his whole face distorted into a sort of broad grin of senseless inquiry. It was evident that the words “don’t be jealous” had for some reason made a fearful impression on him.
“Forgive me, prince, I spoke without thinking. Oh prince, I have lately come to know an old man, my nominal father . . . . Oh, if you could see him you would be calmer. . . . Liza thinks so much of him, too.”
“Ah, yes, Liza . . . ah, yes, is that your father? Or pardon, mon cher, something of the sort . . . I remember . . . she told me . . . an old man. . . . I’m sure of it, I’m sure of it. I knew an old man, too . . . mais passons. . . . The chief point is to make clear what’s essential at the moment, we must . . .”
I got up to go away. It was painful to me to look at him.
“I don’t understand!” he pronounced sternly and with dignity, seeing that I had got up to go.
“It hurts me to look at you,” I said.
“Arkady Makarovitch, one word, one word more!” He clutched me by the shoulder with quite a different expression and gesture, and sat me down in the armchair. “You’ve heard about those . . . you understand?” he bent down to me.
“Oh yes, Dergatchev. No doubt it’s Stebelkov’s doing!” I cried impulsively.
“Yes, Stebelkov. And . . . you don’t know?”
He broke off and again he stared at me with the same wide eyes and the same spasmodic, senselessly questioning grin, which grew broader and broader. His face gradually grew paler. I felt a sudden shudder. I remembered Versilov’s expression when he had told me of Vassin’s arrest the day before.
“Oh, is it possible?” I cried, panic-stricken.
“You see, Arkady Makarovitch, that’s why I sent to you to explain . . . I wanted . . .” he began whispering rapidly.
“It was you who informed against Vassin!” I cried.
“No; you see, there was a manuscript. Vassin gave it only a few days ago to Liza . . . to take care of. And she left it here for me to look at, and then it happened that they quarrelled next day . . .”
“You gave the manuscript to the authorities!”
“Arkady Makarovitch, Arkady Makarovitch!”
“And so you,” I screamed, leaping up, emphasizing every word, “without any other motive, without any other object, simply because poor Vassin was YOUR RIVAL, simply out of jealousy, you gave up the MANUSCRIPT ENTRUSTED TO LIZA . . . gave it up to whom? To whom? To the Public Prosecutor?”
But he did not answer, and he hardly could have answered, for he stood before me like a statue, still with the same sickly smile and the same fixed look. But suddenly the door opened and Liza came in. She almost swooned when she saw us together.
“You’re here? So you’re here?” she cried, her face suddenly distorted, seizing my hand. “So you . . . KNOW?”
But she could read in my face already that I “knew.” With a swift irresistible impulse I threw my arms round her and held her close! And at that minute for the first time I grasped in all its intensity the hopeless, endless misery which shrouded in unbroken darkness the whole life of this . . . wilful seeker after suffering.
“Is it possible to talk to him now,” she said, tearing herself away from me. “Is it possible to be with him? Why are you here? Look at him! look at him! And can one, can one judge him?”
Her face was full of infinite suffering and infinite compassion as exclaiming this she motioned towards the unhappy wretch.
He was sitting in the armchair with his face hidden in his hands. And she was right. He was a man in a raging fever and not responsible. They put him in the hospital that morning, and by the evening he had brain fever.
Leaving Prince Sergay with Liza I went off about one o’clock to my old lodging. I forgot to say that it was a dull, damp day, with a thaw beginning, and a warm wind that would upset the nerves of an elephant. The master of the house met me with a great display of delight, and a great deal of fuss and bustle, which I particularly dislike, especially at such moments. I received this drily, and went straight to my room, but he followed me, and though he did not venture to question me, yet his face was beaming with curiosity, and at the same time he looked as though he had a right to be curious. I had to behave politely for my own sake; but though it was so essential to me to find out something (and I knew I should learn it), I yet felt it revolting to begin cross-examining him. I inquired after the health of his wife, and we went in to see her. The latter met me deferentially indeed, but with a businesslike and taciturn manner; this to some extent softened my heart. To be brief, I learned on this occasion some very wonderful things.
Well, of course, Lambert had been and he came twice afterwards, and “he looked at all the rooms, saying that perhaps he would take them.” Darya Onisimovna had come several times, goodness knows why. “She was very inquisitive,” added my landlord.
But I did not gratify him by asking what she was inquisitive about. I did not ask questions at all, in fact. He did all the talking, while I kept up a pretence of rummaging in my trunk (though there was scarcely anything left in it). But what was most vexatious, he too thought fit to play at being mysterious, and noticing that I refrained from asking questions, felt it incumbent upon him to be more fragmentary and even enigmatic in his communications.
“The young lady has been here, too,” he added, looking at me strangely.
“What young lady?”
“Anna Andreyevna; she’s been here twice; she made the acquaintance of my wife. A very charming person, very pleasant. Such an acquaintance is quite a privilege, Arkady Makarovitch.”
And as he pronounced these words he positively took a step towards me. He seemed very anxious that I should understand something.
“Did she really come twice?” I said with surprise.
“The second time she came with her brother.”
“That was with Lambert,” I thought involuntarily.
“No, not with Mr. Lambert,” he said, seeming to guess at once, as though piercing into my soul with his eyes. “But with her real brother, young Mr. Versilov. A kammer-junker, I believe.”
I was very much confused. He looked at me, smiling very caressingly.
“Oh, and some one else came and was asking after you, that ma’amselle, a French lady, Mamselle Alphonsine de Verden. Oh, how well she sings and recites poetry. She’d slipped off to see Prince Nikolay Ivanovitch at Tskarskoe, to sell him a dog, she told me, a rare kind, black, and no bigger than your fist . . .”
I asked him to leave me alone on the pretext of a headache. He immediately fell in with my request, even breaking off in the middle of a sentence, and not only without the slightest sign of huffiness, but almost with pleasure, waving his hand mysteriously, as though to say, “I understand, I understand,” and though he did not actually say this he could not resist the satisfaction of walking out of the room on tiptoe.
There are very vexatious people in the world.
I sat for an hour and a half alone, deliberating; rather, not really deliberating but dreaming. Though I was perplexed I was not in the least surprised. I even expected to hear something more, other marvels. “Perhaps they have already hatched them,” I thought. I had for a long time been firmly persuaded that the machinery of their plot was wound up and was in full swing. “They’re only waiting for me,” I thought again with a sort of irritable and pleasant self-satisfaction. That they were eagerly awaiting me, and were scheming to carry out some plan at my lodging was clear as day. “The old prince’s wedding, can it be? He’s surrounded by a regular network of intrigue. But am I going to permit it, my friends? That’s the question,” I said in conclusion with haughty satisfaction.
“Once I begin I shall be carried away by the whirlpool like a chip. Am I free now, this minute, or am I not? When I go back to mother this evening can I still say to myself as I have done all these days ‘I am my own master’?”
That was the gist of my questions, or rather of the throbbing at my heart in the hour and a half I spent sitting on the bed in the corner, with my elbows on my knees and my head propped in my hands. But I knew, I knew even then that all these questions were utter nonsense, and that I was drawn only by HER— by her, by her alone! At last I have said this straight out and have written it with pen on paper, though even now as I write this a year later I don’t know what name to give to the feeling I had then!
Oh, I was sorry for Liza, and my heart was full of a most unfeigned grief. Nothing but the feeling of pain on her account could have calmed or effaced in me for a time that “carnivorousness” (I recall that word). But I was immensely spurred on by curiosity and a sort of dread and another feeling — I don’t know what; but I know and I knew then that it was an evil feeling. Perhaps my impulse was to fall at HER feet, or perhaps I wanted to put her to every torture, and “quickly, quickly” to show her something. No grief, no compassion for Liza, could stop me. Could I have got up and gone home . . . to Makar Ivanovitch?
“And is it quite impossible to go to them, to find out everything from them, and to go away from them for ever, passing unscathed among marvels and monsters?”
At three o’clock, pulling myself together and reflecting that I might be late, I went out hastily, took a cab, and flew to Anna Andreyevna.
Last updated Tuesday, August 25, 2015 at 14:07