I ran to Lambert. Oh, how I should have liked to give a show of logic to my behaviour, and to find some trace of common sense in my actions that evening and all that night; but even now, when I can reflect on it all, I am utterly unable to present my conduct in any clear and logical connection. It was a case of feeling, or rather a perfect chaos of feelings, in the midst of which I was naturally bound to go astray. It is true there was one dominant feeling, which mastered me completely and overwhelmed all the others, but . . . need I confess to it? Especially as I am not certain . . . .
I ran to Lambert, beside myself of course. I positively scared Alphonsine and him for the first minute. I have always noticed that even the most profligate, most degraded Frenchmen are in their domestic life extremely given to a sort of bourgeois routine, a sort of very prosaic daily ceremonial of life established once and for ever. Lambert quickly realised, however, that something had happened, and was delighted that I had come to him at last, and that I was IN HIS CLUTCHES. He had been thinking of nothing else day and night! Oh, how badly he needed me! And behold now, when he had lost all hope, I had suddenly appeared of my own accord, and in such a frantic state — just in the state which suited him.
“Lambert, wine!” I cried: “let’s drink, let’s have a jolly time. Alphonsine, where’s your guitar?”
I won’t describe the scene, it’s unnecessary. We drank, and I told him all about it, everything. He listened greedily. I openly of my own accord suggested a plot, a general flare-up. To begin with, we were by letter to ask Katerina Nikolaevna to come to us . . . .
“That’s possible,” Lambert assented, gloating over every word I said.
Secondly, we must send a copy of the “document” in full, that she might see at once that she was not being deceived.
“That’s right, that’s what we must do!” Lambert agreed, continually exchanging glances with Alphonsine.
Thirdly, Lambert must ask her to come, writing as though he were an unknown person and had just arrived from Moscow, and I must bring Versilov.
“And we might have Versilov, too,” Lambert assented.
“Not might, but must!” I cried. “It’s essential! It’s for his sake it’s all being done!” I explained, taking one sip after another from my glass. (We were all three drinking, while I believe I really drank the whole bottle of champagne, while they only made a show of drinking.) “Versilov and I will sit in the next room”—(Lambert would have to take the next room!)—“and suddenly when she had agreed to everything — to paying the cash, and to his OTHER demands too, for all women were abject creatures, then Versilov and I would come in and convict her of being abject, and Versilov, seeing what a horrid woman she was, would at once be cured, and reject her with scorn. Only we ought to have Büring too, that he might see her put to shame.”
“No, we don’t want Büring,” Lambert observed.
“We do, we do,” I yelled again: “you don’t know anything about it, Lambert, for you are a fool! On the contrary, let it make a scandal in fashionable society, it will be our revenge on fashionable society, and upon her, and let her be punished! Lambert, she will give you an IOU. . . . I don’t want money, I don’t care a damn for money, but you can stoop to pick it up and stuff it in your pocket, and my curse with it, but I shall crush her!”
“Yes, yes,” Lambert kept approving, “you are right there.”
He kept exchanging glances with Alphonsine.
“Lambert, she has an awful reverence for Versilov: I saw that for certain just now,” I babbled to him.
“It’s a good thing you did peep and see it all. I should never have thought that you would have made such a good spy and that you had so much sense!” He said this to flatter me.
“That’s a lie, Frenchman; I’m not a spy, but I have plenty of sense! And do you know, Lambert, she loves him, really!” I went on making desperate efforts to express myself. “But she won’t marry him because Büring’s an officer in the guards, and Versilov is only a noble-hearted man, and a friend of humanity: to their thinking a comic person and nothing else! Oh, she understands his passion and gloats over it, flirts, is carried away by it, but won’t marry him! She’s a woman, she’s a serpent! Every woman is a serpent, and every serpent is a woman! He must be cured; we must tear the scales off his eyes; let him see what she is and be cured. I will bring him to you, Lambert!”
“Just so,” Lambert kept repeating, filling up my glass every minute.
He was in a perfect tremble of anxiety to avoid contradicting or offending me and to make me go on drinking. It was so coarse and obvious that even at the time I could not help noticing it. But nothing could have made me go away; I kept drinking and talking, and was desperately anxious to give full expression to what I was feeling. When Lambert brought in another bottle, Alphonsine was playing some Spanish air on the guitar; I was almost in tears.
“Lambert, do you know everything?” I exclaimed with intense feeling. “That man must be saved, for he’s spell-bound . . . by sorcery. If she were to marry him, he would spurn her from him the day after the wedding . . . for that does happen sometimes. For such a wild outrageous love is like a fit, like a deadly noose, like an illness, and — as soon as it is gratified — the scales fall from the eyes at once and the opposite feeling comes — loathing and hatred, the desire to strangle, to crush. Do you know the story of Avisage, Lambert? Have you read it?”
“No, I don’t remember: a novel?” muttered Lambert.
“Oh, you know nothing. Lambert, you’re fearfully, fearfully ignorant . . . but I don’t care a damn for that. It’s no matter. Oh, he loves mother, he kissed her portrait; he’ll spurn that woman next morning and come back to mother of himself; but then it will be too late, so we must save him now . . . .”
In the end I began crying bitterly, but I still went on talking and drank a fearful quantity of champagne. It was most characteristic of Lambert that all that evening he did not once ask about the “document”: where it was, that I should show it, should put it on the table. What would have been more natural than to inquire about it, since we were planning to take action? Another point: we kept saying that we must do “this,” that we certainly would do “this,” but of the place, the time and manner — we did not say a word! He only assented to all I said and kept looking at Alphonsine, that was all! Of course, I was incapable of reflecting on that at the time, but I remember it.
I ended by falling asleep on his sofa without undressing. I slept a long time and waked up very late. I remember that after waking I lay for a long time on the sofa, as it were petrified, trying to reflect and remember, and pretending that I was still asleep. But it appeared that Lambert was not in the room, he had gone out. It was past nine o’clock, the stove had been heated and was crackling exactly as it had done when I found myself the first time at Lambert’s after that night. But Alphonsine was behind the screen keeping guard on me; I noticed it at once, for she had twice peeped out and glanced at me, but each time I shut my eyes and pretended to be asleep. I did this because I was overwhelmed and wanted to think over my position. I felt with horror all the ineptitude and loathsomeness of my confession to Lambert, my plotting with him, the blunder I had made in running to him! But, thank God, the letter was still in my keeping; it was still sewn up in my side pocket; I felt with my hand — it was there! So all I had to do was to get up and run away, I need not care what Lambert thought of me afterwards. Lambert was not worth it.
But I was ashamed of myself! I was my own judge, and — my God, what was there in my heart! But there’s no need to describe that hellish, insufferable feeling, and that consciousness of filth and vileness. But yet I must confess it, for I feel the time has come. It must be recorded in my story. So let it be known that I meant to shame her, and planned to be almost a witness of her yielding to Lambert’s demands — oh, the baseness! — not for the sake of saving Versilov in his madness and bringing him back to mother, but because . . . perhaps because I was myself in love and jealous! Jealous of whom: of Büring, of Versilov? Of anyone she might look at, or talk to at a ball, while I should be standing in a corner ashamed of myself. . . . Oh, the hideousness of it!
In short, I don’t know of whom I was jealous on her account; but all I felt and knew the evening before was that as certainly as twice two make four, she was lost to me, that that woman would spurn me and laugh at me for falseness and absurdity! She was truthful and honest, while I— I was a spy, using letters to threaten her!
All this I have kept hidden in my heart ever since, but now the day has come and I make up my account, but, again, for the last time. Perhaps fully half, or perhaps even seventy-five per cent. of what I am saying is a libel upon myself! That night I hated her in a kind of delirium, and afterwards like a drunken rowdy. I have said already that it was a chaos of feelings and sensations in which I could distinguish nothing clearly myself. But still I have had to confess it, for though only a part of what I felt, it was certainly present.
With an overpowering sense of disgust, and a firm determination to cancel all that had happened, I suddenly jumped up from the sofa; but as I jumped up, Alphonsine instantly popped out. I seized my overcoat and cap and told her to tell Lambert that I had been raving the evening before, that I had slandered a woman, that I had been joking, and that Lambert must not dare come near me again. . . . All this I expressed in a blundering fashion, talking hurriedly in French, and, of course, anything but clearly, but, to my surprise, Alphonsine understood everything perfectly; and what was most surprising of all, she seemed positively relieved at something.
“Oui, oui,” she said approvingly, “c’est une honte! Une dame. . . . Oh, vous être génereux, vous! Soyez tranquille, je ferai voir raison à Lambert . . . .”
So that I was even at that moment puzzled to explain the sudden change in her attitude, and consequently I suppose in Lambert’s. I went away, however, saying nothing; all was in confusion within me, and I was hardly capable of reasoning. Oh, afterwards I could explain it all, but then it was too late! Oh, what a hellish plot it was! I will pause here and explain it beforehand, as otherwise it will be impossible for the reader to understand it.
The fact was that at my very first interview with Lambert, when I was thawing in his lodging, I had muttered to him like a fool that the letter was sewn up in my pocket; then I had suddenly fallen asleep for a time on the sofa in the corner, and Lambert had promptly felt my pocket and was convinced that there was a piece of paper sewn up in it. Several times afterwards he made sure that the paper was still there; when we were dining, for instance, at the “Tatar’s,” I remember that he several times put his arms round my waist on purpose. Grasping the importance of the letter he made a separate plan of his own of which I had no suspicion at all. I, like a fool, imagined all the time that he urged me to come home so persistently to get me to join his gang and to act only in concert with him, but, alas! he invited me with quite a different object! He wanted to make me dead drunk, and when I was stretched snoring and unconscious, to rip open my pocket and take possession of the letter. This was precisely what he and Alphonsine had done that night; Alphonsine had unpicked the pocket, taking out the letter, HER LETTER, the document I had brought from Moscow, they had taken a piece of plain notepaper the same size, put it in the pocket and sewn it up again, as if nothing had happened, so that I might notice no difference. Alphonsine had sewn it up. And I, up to the very end, for another day and a half — still went on believing that I was in possession of the secret, and that Katerina Nikolaevena’s fate was still in my hands.
A last word: that theft of the letter was the cause of everything and of all the other disasters that followed.
The last twenty-four hours of my story have come and I am at the end!
It was, I believe, about half-past ten, when excited, and, as far as I remember, strangely absent-minded, but with a firm determination in my heart, I dragged myself to my lodgings. I was not in a hurry, I knew how I was going to act. And scarcely had I stepped into the passage when I realised at once that a new calamity had occurred, and an extraordinary complication had arisen: the old prince had just been brought from Tsarskoe-Syelo and was in the flat; with him was Anna Andreyevna!
He had been put not in my room but in the two rooms next to mine that had been occupied by my landlord and his wife. The day before, as it appeared, some changes and improvements had been made in the room, but only of the most superficial kind. The landlord and his wife had moved into the little room of the whimsical lodger marked with small-pox whom I have mentioned already, and that individual had been temporarily banished, I don’t know where.
I was met by the landlord, who at once whisked into my room. He looked less sure of his ground than he had done the evening before, but was in an unusual state of excitement, so to say, at the climax of the affair. I said nothing to him, but, moving aside into a corner and clutching my head in my hands, I stood so for a moment. He thought for the first moment that I was “putting it on,” but at last his fortitude gave way, and he could not help being scared.
“Can anything be wrong?” he muttered. “I’ve been waiting for you to ask,” he added, seeing I did not answer, “whether you preferred that door to be opened so that you may have direct access to the prince’s rooms . . . instead of going by the passage?” He pointed to the door at the side always locked, which led to the landlord’s rooms, now the old prince’s apartments.
“Look here, Pyotr Ippolitovitch,” I turned to him with a stern air, “I humbly beg you to go to Anna Andreyevna and ask her to come here at once to discuss the situation. Have they been here long?”
“Going on for an hour.”
“Go and fetch her then.”
He went and brought the strange reply “that Anna Andreyevna and Prince Nikolay Ivanitch were impatiently expecting me in the next room”; so Anna Andreyevna would not come. I smoothed out my coat, which was creased from sleeping in it that night, brushed it, washed, combed my hair; I did all this deliberately, realising how necessary it was to be careful, and I went in to the old prince.
The prince was sitting on the sofa at a round table, and Anna Andreyevna in another corner, at another table covered with a cloth, on which the landlady’s samovar, polished as it had never been before, was boiling for tea. I walked in with the same stern look on my face, and the old man instantly noticed this and winced, and the smile on his face was instantly replaced by a look of terror; but I could not keep it up, I instantly laughed and held out my hands to him; the poor old fellow simply flung himself into my arms.
I realised unmistakably at once the condition of the man I had to deal with. To begin with, it was as clear as twice two make four that in the interval since I had seen him last they had turned the old man, till lately almost hale, and to some extent rational, and not altogether without will-power, into a sort of mummy, a scared and mistrustful child. I may add, he quite knew why they had brought him here, and everything had been done as I have explained already. He was suddenly shocked, crushed, and overwhelmed by being told of his daughter’s treachery and of a possible madhouse. He had allowed himself to be carried off, so scared that he hardly knew what he was doing; he was told that I was in possession of the secret and that I had the proof that would establish the fact conclusively. I may mention at once: it was just that proof that would establish the fact which he dreaded more than anything in the world. He was expecting me to go in to him with a sort of death sentence in my face and a document in my hand, and was immensely delighted that I was ready meanwhile to laugh and chatter of other things. While we were embracing he shed tears. I must confess I shed a tear also; I felt suddenly very sorry for him. Alphonsine’s little lap-dog broke into a bark as shrill as a bell, and made dashes at me from the sofa. He had not parted from this tiny dog since he had had it and even slept with it.
“Oh je disais, qu’il a du coeur!” he exclaimed, indicating me to Anna Andreyevna.
“But how much stronger you look, prince, how well and fresh and strong you look!” I observed. Alas! It was just the opposite: he looked like a mummy and I only said it to cheer him up!
“N’est-ce pas, n’est-ce pas?” he repeated joyfully. “Oh, I’ve regained my health wonderfully.”
“But drink your tea, and if you’ll give me a cup I’ll drink some with you.”
“That’s delightful! ‘Let us drink the cup that cheers’ . . . or how does it go, that’s in some poem. Anna Andreyevna, give him some tea; il prend toujours par les sentiments. . . . Give us some tea, my dear.”
Anna Andreyevna poured out the tea, but suddenly turning to me began with extreme solemnity:
“Arkady Makarovitch, we both, my benefactor, Prince Nikolay Ivanitch and I, have taken refuge with you. I consider that we have come to you, to you alone, and we both beg of you to shelter us. Remember that the whole fate of this saintly, this noble and injured man, is in your hands . . . we await the decision, and count upon the justice of your heart!”
But she could not go on; the old prince was reduced to terror and almost trembling with alarm.
“Après, après, n’est-ce pas, chère amie,” he kept repeating, holding out his hands to her.
I cannot express how disagreeably her outburst impressed me. I made no response but a chilly and dignified bow; then I sat down to the table, and with undisguised intention began talking of other things, of various trifles, laughing and making jokes. . . . The old man was evidently grateful to me and was enthusiastically delighted; but enthusiastic as his gaiety was, it was evidently insincere and might any moment have been followed by absolute dejection: that was clear from the first glance.
“Cher enfant, I hear you’ve been ill. . . . Ah, pardon, I hear you’ve been busy with spiritualism all this time.”
“I never thought of such a thing,” I said smiling.
“No? who was it told me about spiritualism?”
“It was your landlord here, Pyotr Ippolitovitch,” Anna Andreyevna explained, “he’s a very amusing man and knows a great many anecdotes; shall I ask him in?”
“Oui, oui, il est charmant . . . he knows anecdotes, but better send for him later. We’ll send for him and he’ll tell us stories, mais après. Only fancy, they were laying the table just now and he said: ‘Don’t be uneasy, it won’t fly about, we are not spiritualists.’ Is it possible that the tables fly about among the spiritualists?”
“I really don’t know, they say so, they say they jump right off the ground.”
“Mais c’est terrible ce que tu dis,” he looked at me in alarm.
“Oh, don’t be uneasy, of course that’s nonsense.”
“That’s what I say too. Nastasya Stepanovna Salomeyev . . . you know her, of course . . . oh no, you don’t know her . . . would you believe it she believes in spiritualism, too; and only fancy, chère enfant,” he turned to Anna Andreyevna, “I said to her, there are tables in the Ministry of Finance and eight pairs of clerks’ hands are lying on them, writing all the while, so why is it the tables don’t dance there? Fancy if they suddenly all began dancing! The revolt of the tables in the Ministry of Finance or popular education — that’s the last straw.”
“What charming things you say, prince, just as you always did,” I exclaimed, trying to laugh as genuinely as possible.
“N’est-ce pas? Je ne parle pas trop, mais je dis bien.”
“I will bring Pyotr Ippolitovitch,” Anna Andreyevna said, getting up. There was a gleam of pleasure in her face: she was relieved at seeing how affectionate I was with the old prince. But she had hardly gone out when the old man’s face changed instantly. He looked hurriedly at the door, glanced about him, and stooping towards me from the sofa, whispered to me in a frightened voice:
“Cher ami! Oh, if I could see them both here together! Oh, cher enfant!”
“Prince, don’t distress yourself . . . .”
“Yes, yes, but . . . we’ll reconcile them, n’est-ce pas? It’s a foolish petty quarrel between two most estimable women, n’est-ce pas? You are my only hope. . . . We’ll set everything straight here; and what a queer place this is,” he looked about him almost fearfully; “and that landlord, you know . . . he’s got such a face. . . . Tell me! He’s not dangerous?”
“The landlord? Oh no, how could he be dangerous?”
“C’est ça. So much the better. Il semble qu’il est bête, ce gentilhomme. Cher enfant, for Christ’s sake don’t tell Anna Andreyevna that I’m afraid of everything here; I praised everything from the first moment, I praised the landlord too. Listen, do you know the story of what happened to Von Sohn — do you remember?”
“Well, what of it?”
“Rien, rien de tout. . . . Mais je suis libre ici, n’est-ce pas? What do you think, nothing could happen to me here . . . of the same sort?”
“But I assure you, dear prince . . . upon my word!”
“Mon ami, mon enfant!” he exclaimed suddenly, clasping his hands before him, not seeking to disguise his alarm: “if you really have something . . . some document . . . in fact — if you have something to say to me, don’t say it; for God’s sake don’t say anything at all . . . put it off as long as you can . . . .”
He was on the point of throwing himself in my arms; tears were flowing down his face; I cannot describe how it made my heart ache; the poor old man was like a pitiful frightened child stolen from his home by gypsies and carried away to live with strangers, but we were not allowed to embrace. The door opened and Anna Andreyevna walked in, not with the landlord, but with her brother, the kammer-junker. This new surprise petrified me. I got up and was making for the door.
“Arkady Makarovitch, allow me to introduce you,” Anna Andreyevna said aloud, so that I was compelled to stop.
“I know your brother TOO well already,” I rapped out, laying special emphasis on the word “too.”
“Ah, that was a terrible blunder! And I’m so sor-r-ry, dear, and . . . Andrey Makarovitch,” the young man began lisping, coming up to me with an extraordinarily free-and-easy air and seizing my hand, which I was incapable of withdrawing, “it was all the fault of my Stepan; he announced you so stupidly that I mistook you for some one else: that was in Moscow,” he explained to his sister: “afterwards, I did everything I could to look you up and explain, but I was ill, ask her. Cher prince, nous devons être amis même par droit de naissance . . . .”
And the impudent young man had the effrontery to put his arm round my shoulder, which was the height of familiarity. I drew back, but overcome by embarrassment preferred to beat a hasty retreat, without saying a word. Going back to my room I sat down on my bed in uncertainty and agitation. I felt suffocated by the atmosphere of intrigue, but I could not deal Anna Andreyevna such a direct and crushing blew. I suddenly felt that she, too, was dear to me, and that her position was an awful one.
As I had expected, she came into my room herself, leaving the prince with her brother, who immediately began telling him some society scandal, as fresh as hot cakes, which at once distracted the impressionable old man’s attention and cheered him up. I got up from the bed in silence, with a look of inquiry.
“I have told you everything, Arkady Makarovitch,” she began directly, “our fate is in your hands.”
“But I told you beforehand that I cannot . . . the most sacred duties prevent me doing what you desire . . . .”
“Yes? Is that your answer? Well, let me perish, but what of the old prince? What do you expect? Why, he’ll be out of his mind by the evening!”
“No, he’ll go out of his mind if I show him the letter in which his daughter writes to a lawyer about certifying him insane!” I cried with heat. “That’s what would be too much for him. Do you know he won’t believe that letter, he’s told me so already!”
I lied, saying he had said this of the letter; but it was effective.
“He has said so already? I thought so! In that case I’m lost. He’s been crying already and asking to go home.”
“Tell me, what’s your plan exactly?” I asked insistently. She flushed from exasperated haughtiness, so to speak, but she controlled herself:
“With that letter of his daughter’s in our hands, we are justified in the eyes of the world. I should send it at once to Prince V. and to Boris Mihalovitch Pelistchev, the friends of his childhood; both persons highly respected and influential in society, and I know that some years ago they were indignant with the conduct of his greedy and merciless daughter. They will of course reconcile him with his daughter at my request. I shall insist on it myself; but the position of affairs will be completely changed. And my relations, too, the Fanariotovs, will, I judge, make up their minds to support my rights, but what weighs most with me is his happiness: I want him to understand and appreciate who is really devoted to him. Of course I’ve always reckoned most on your influence with him, Arkady Makarovitch; you are so fond of him. . . . And who does care for him except you and me? He has done nothing but talk about you these last few days; he was pining for you ‘his young friend . . . .’ I need not say that for the rest of my life my gratitude will be unmeasured . . . .”
She was actually promising me a reward — money perhaps.
I interrupted her sharply.
“Whatever you say I cannot,” I brought out with an air of immovable determination. “I can only repay you with equal frankness and explain my final decision: I shall, at the earliest possible moment, put this fatal letter into Katerina Nikolaevna’s hands, but only on condition that all that has happened shall not be made a scandal, and that she gives me her word beforehand that she will not interfere with your happiness; that’s all that I can do.”
“That’s impossible!” she said, flushing all over. The mere idea that Katerina Nikolaevna would SPARE her roused her to indignation.
“I shall not change, Anna Andreyevna.”
“Perhaps you will change.”
“You had better apply to Lambert!”
“Arkady Makarovitch, you don’t know what misery may come from your obstinacy,” she said with grim exasperation.
“Misery will follow, that’s true . . . my head is going round. I’ve had enough of you: I’ve made up my mind — and that’s the end of it. Only I beg you for God’s sake don’t bring your brother in to me.”
“But he is very anxious to make up for . . .”
“There is nothing to make up for! I don’t want it, I don’t wish for it, I don’t wish for it!” I exclaimed, clutching my head. (Oh, perhaps I treated her too disdainfully then.) “Tell me, though, where will the prince sleep to-night? Surely not here?”
“He will stay the night here in your flat, and with you.”
“I am moving into another lodging this evening.”
And uttering these ruthless words I seized my cap and began putting on my great-coat. Anna Andreyevna watched me in sullen silence. I felt sorry for her — oh, I felt sorry for that proud girl! But I rushed out of the flat, without leaving her one word of hope.
I will try to be brief. My decision was taken beyond recall, and I went straight to Tatyana Pavlovna. Alas! A great calamity might have been averted if I had only found her at home; but as though of design, I was pursued by ill-luck all that day. I went of course to my mother’s, in the first place to see her, and secondly, because I reckoned certainly on meeting Tatyana Pavlovna there. But she was not there either; she had only just gone away, while mother was lying down ill, and Liza was left alone with her. Liza begged me not to go in, and not to wake mother: “She has not slept all night, she’s so worried; thank God she has fallen asleep at last.” I embraced Liza and said two or three words to her, telling her I had made an immense and momentous resolution, and should carry it out at once. She listened without particular surprise, as though to the usual thing. Oh, they had all grown used by then to my constantly repeated ‘final resolutions,’ and the feeble cancelling of them afterwards. But this time, this time it would be a different matter. I went to the eating-house on the canal side and sat down there to wait awhile in the certainty of finding Tatyana Pavlovna afterwards. I must explain, though, why I found it so necessary to see that lady. The fact is that I wanted to send her at once to Katerina Nikolaevna, to ask her to come back with her, meaning in Tatyana Pavlovna’s presence to return the letter, explaining everything once for all. In short, I wanted nothing but what was fitting; I wanted to put myself right once and for all. At the same time I was quite determined to put in a few words on behalf of Anna Andreyevna and, if possible, to take Katerina Nikolaevna, together with Tatyana Pavlovna (by way of a witness), back with me to see the prince, there to reconcile the hostile ladies, to bring the old prince back to life and . . . and . . . in fact, in that little group anyway, to make every one happy on the spot, that very day, so that there would be none left unhappy but Versilov and mother. I could have no doubt of my success. From gratitude for my restoration of the letter from which I should ask nothing of her in return, Katerina Nikolaevna would not have refused me such a request. Alas! I still imagined I was in possession of the document. Oh, what a stupid and ignominious position I was in, though without suspecting it!
It was getting quite dark, about four o’clock, when I called at Tatyana Pavlovna’s again. Marya answered gruffly that she had not come in. I remember very well now the strange look Marya gave me from under her brows; but of course it did not strike me at the time. I was suddenly stung by another idea. As I went down the stairs, from Tatyana Pavlovna’s, vexed and somewhat dejected, I thought of the poor old prince, who had held out his hands to me that morning, and I suddenly reproached myself bitterly for having deserted him, perhaps indeed from feeling personally aggrieved.
I began uneasily imagining that something really very bad might have happened in my absence, and hurriedly went home. At home, however, all that had been happening was this.
When Anna Andreyevna had gone out of my room in a rage, that morning, she had not yet lost heart; I must mention that she had already, that morning, sent to Lambert, then she sent to him again, and as Lambert appeared to be still absent from home, she finally dispatched her brother to look for him. In face of my opposition the poor girl was resting her last hopes on Lambert and his influence on me; she expected him with impatience, and only wondered that after hovering round her and never leaving her side till that day, he should now have suddenly deserted her and vanished. Alas! she could not possibly have imagined that Lambert, being now in possession of the document, had made entirely different plans, and so, of course, was keeping out of the way and hiding from her on purpose.
And so in her anxiety and growing uneasiness Anna Andreyevna was scarcely capable of entertaining the old man: his uneasiness was growing to threatening proportions, he kept asking strange and timorous questions, he began looking suspiciously at her, and several times fell to weeping. Young Versilov did not stay long. After he had gone Anna Andreyevna was reduced to bringing in Pyotr Ippolitovitch, on whom she was relying, but he did not please the old prince at all, and even aroused his aversion. In fact the old prince, for some reason regarded Pyotr Ippolitovitch with increasing distrust and suspicion. As ill-luck would have it, the landlord launched again into a disquisition on spiritualism, and described all sorts of tricks which he said he had seen himself at séances. He declared that one medium had, before the whole audience, cut off people’s heads, so that blood flowed, and every one saw it, and afterwards put them back on their necks, and that they grew on again, also in the sight of the whole audience, and all this happened in the year eighteen hundred and fifty-nine. The old prince was so frightened, and at the same time for some reason was so indignant, that Anna Andreyevna was obliged to get rid of the story-teller promptly; fortunately, dinner arrived, ordered expressly the evening before from somewhere near (through Lambert and Alphonsine) from a remarkable French cook who was out of a place, and wanted to find a situation in a nobleman’s family or a club. The dinner and the champagne that accompanied it greatly cheered the old prince; he ate a great deal and was very jocose. After dinner he felt heavy and drowsy, of course, and as he always took a nap after dinner, Anna Andreyevna made up a bed for him. He kept kissing her hand as he fell asleep and declaring that she was his paradise, his hope, his houri, “his golden flower”— in fact he dropped into the most Oriental expressions. At last he fell asleep, and it was just then I came back.
Anna Andreyevna came in to me hurriedly, clasped her hands before me and said, that not for her own sake, but for the prince’s she besought me not to go away, but to go in to him as soon as he waked up. “He will be lost without you, he will have a nervous attack; I’m afraid he may break down before night . . . .” She added that she herself would be compelled to be away “possibly for a couple of hours, and so she would be leaving the prince in my sole charge.” I promised her warmly that I would remain till the evening, and that when the prince waked up I would do my very best to entertain him.
“And I will do my duty!” she declared with energy.
She went out. I may add, anticipating events, that she went out to look for Lambert herself; this was her last hope; she also went to her brother’s, and to her relations, the Fanariotovs’; it may well be understood what her state of mind must have been when she returned.
The old prince waked up about an hour after her departure. I heard him groan through the wall, and at once ran in to him; I found him sitting on the bed in his dressing-gown, but so terrified by his isolation, the light of the solitary lamp, and the strange room, that when I went in he started, jumped up and screamed. I flew up to him, and when he recognised me, he began embracing me with tears of joy.
“I was told that you had moved into another lodging, that you had taken fright, and run away.”
“Who can have told you that?”
“Who could? You see I may have imagined it myself, or some one may have told me. Only fancy, I’ve just had a dream: an old man with a beard came in carrying an ikon, an ikon broken in two, and all at once he said, ‘So shall your life be broken in two!’”
“Good heavens! You must have heard from some one that Versilov broke an ikon in two yesterday?”
“N’est-ce pas? I heard so, I heard so! I heard from Darya Onisimovna yesterday morning. She brought my trunk here and the dog.”
“And so you dreamed of it.”
“Yes, I suppose so, and that old man kept shaking his finger at me. Where is Anna Andreyevna?”
“She’ll be back directly.”
“Where from? Has she gone away, too?” he exclaimed piteously.
“No, no, she’ll be here directly, and she asked me to stay with you.”
“Oui. And so our Andrey Petrovitch has gone off his head, ‘so rapidly and unexpectedly!’ I always predicted that that’s how he’d end. Stay, my dear . . . .”
He suddenly clutched me by my coat, and drew me towards him.
“The landlord,” he whispered: “brought in some photographs just now, horrid photographs of women, naked women in various oriental poses, and began showing them me in a glass. . . . I admired them of course, though I did not like them, but you know that’s just as they brought horrid women to that poor fellow, so as to make him drunk more easily . . . .”
“Why, you are talking of Von Sohn, but that’s enough, prince! The landlord’s a fool and nothing more!”
“A fool and nothing more! C’est mon opinion! My dear, rescue me from here if you can!” He suddenly clasped his hands before me.
“Prince, I will do everything I can! I am entirely at your service. . . . Dear prince, wait a little and perhaps I will put everything right!”
“N’est-ce pas? We’ll cut and run and we’ll leave my trunk here to look as though we are coming back.”
“Where should we run to! And what of Anna Andreyevna?”
“No, no, we’ll go with Anna Andreyevna. . . . Oh, mon cher, there’s a regular muddle in my head. . . . Stay: there in my bag on the right, is Katya’s portrait. I slipped it in on the sly so that Anna Andreyevna, and still more, that Darya Onisimovna should not notice it; take it out, for goodness’ sake make haste, be careful, mind we are not caught . . . . Couldn’t you fasten the door with the hook?”
I did in fact, find in the bag a photograph of Katerina Nikolaevna in an oval frame. He took it in his hands, carried it to the light, and tears suddenly flowed down his thin yellow cheeks.
“C’est un ange, c’est un ange du ciel!” he exclaimed: “I never have been as good to her as I ought . . . and see what’s happened now! Cher enfant, I don’t believe a word of it, not a word of it! My dear, tell me: can you imagine, they are wanting to put me in a madhouse? Je dis des choses charmantes et tout le monde rit . . . and all of a sudden they take a man like that to a madhouse!”
“That’s never happened!” I cried, “that’s a mistake. I know her feelings.”
“You know her feelings, too? That’s splendid! My dear, you’ve given me new life. How could they say things against you! My dear, fetch Katya here, and let them kiss each other before me, and I will take them home, and we’ll get rid of the landlord!”
He stood up, clasped his hands, and fell on his knees before me.
“Cher,” he whispered, shaking like a leaf in a sort of insane terror: “My dear, tell me the whole truth: where will they put me now?”
“My God!” I cried, raising him up, and making him sit on the bed: “why you don’t believe in me at last; do you think that I’m in the plot too? I won’t let anyone lay a finger on you!”
“C’est-ça, don’t let them,” he faltered, clutching me tightly by the elbow with both hands, and still trembling. “Don’t let anyone touch me! And don’t tell me lies yourself about anything . . . for will they take me away from here? Listen, that landlord, Ippolit or whatever his name is . . . isn’t a doctor?”
“This . . . this isn’t a madhouse, here, in this room?”
But at that instant the door opened, and Anna Andreyevna came in. She must have been listening at the door, and, could not resist opening the door too suddenly — and the prince, who started at every creak, shrieked, and flung himself on his face on the pillow. Finally he had something like a fit, which ended in sobs.
“See? This is your doing,” I said to her, pointing to the old man.
“No, it’s your doing!” she raised her voice harshly, “I appeal to you for the last time, Arkady Makarovitch, will you unmask the diabolical intrigue against this defenceless old man, and sacrifice ‘your mad and childish dreams of love,’ to save your OWN sister?”
“I will save you all, but only in the way I told you this morning! I am running off again, and perhaps in an hour Katerina Nikolaevna will be here herself! I will reconcile you all, and you will all be happy!” I exclaimed almost with inspiration.
“Fetch her, fetch her here,” cried the prince in a flutter. “Take me to her! I want to see Katya and to bless her,” he exclaimed, lifting up his hands and springing off the bed.
“You see,” I said to Anna Andreyevna, motioning towards him: “you hear what he says: now at all events no ‘document’ will be any help to you.”
“I see, but it might help to justify my conduct in the opinion of the world, as it is, I’m disgraced! Enough, my conscience is clear. I am abandoned by everyone, even by my own brother, who has taken fright at my failure. . . . But I will do my duty and will remain by this unhappy man, to take care of him and be his nurse!”
But there was no time to be lost. I ran out of the room: “I shall come back in an hour, and shall not come back alone,” I cried from the doorway.
Last updated Tuesday, August 25, 2015 at 14:07