“I didn’t come here for that purpose, Parfen. That was not in my mind--”

All present exchanged looks of surprise.
“No--no--my dear girl,” began the general. “You cannot proceed like this, Aglaya, if that’s how the matter stands. It’s impossible. Prince, forgive it, my dear fellow, but--Lizabetha Prokofievna!”--he appealed to his spouse for help--“you must really--”
“I think I ought to tell you, Gavrila Ardalionovitch,” said the prince, suddenly, “that though I once was so ill that I really was little better than an idiot, yet now I am almost recovered, and that, therefore, it is not altogether pleasant to be called an idiot to my face. Of course your anger is excusable, considering the treatment you have just experienced; but I must remind you that you have twice abused me rather rudely. I do not like this sort of thing, and especially so at the first time of meeting a man, and, therefore, as we happen to be at this moment standing at a crossroad, don’t you think we had better part, you to the left, homewards, and I to the right, here? I have twenty-five roubles, and I shall easily find a lodging.”
We may as well remark that the general had guessed perfectly accurately.
“What suspicion attaches to Evgenie Pavlovitch?”
“Things are hidden from the wise and prudent, and revealed unto babes. I have applied those words to him before, but now I add that God has preserved the babe himself from the abyss, He and all His saints.” “I don’t know what you are driving at; what mask do you mean?” said Mrs. Epanchin, irritably. She began to see pretty clearly though what it meant, and whom they referred to by the generally accepted title of “poor knight.” But what specially annoyed her was that the prince was looking so uncomfortable, and blushing like a ten-year-old child. “And you are not offended?”
Nastasia Philipovna, observing his woe-begone expression, suddenly burst out laughing.
But here the two sisters could restrain themselves no longer, and both of them burst into irrepressible laughter.
“I know, Colia told me that he had said he was off to--I forget the name, some friend of his, to finish the night.”
The prince said nothing.
“I daren’t say, one way or the other; all this is very strange--but--”
“Do you really forgive me?” he said at last. “And--and Lizabetha Prokofievna too?” The laugh increased, tears came into the prince’s eyes, he could not believe in all this kindness--he was enchanted.
“You are exaggerating, you are exaggerating, Lebedeff!” cried his hearers, amid laughter.
“Thanks; very well. Then I suppose it’s Ferdishenko; that is, I mean, you suspect Ferdishenko?”
Hippolyte died in great agitation, and rather sooner than he expected, about a fortnight after Nastasia Philipovna’s death. Colia was much affected by these events, and drew nearer to his mother in heart and sympathy. Nina Alexandrovna is anxious, because he is “thoughtful beyond his years,” but he will, we think, make a useful and active man.

“Laissez-le dire! He is trembling all over,” said the old man, in a warning whisper.

“How? What kind of person is she?” cried the general, arrived at the limits of his patience. “Look here, Gania, don’t you go annoying her tonight. What you are to do is to be as agreeable towards her as ever you can. Well, what are you smiling at? You must understand, Gania, that I have no interest whatever in speaking like this. Whichever way the question is settled, it will be to my advantage. Nothing will move Totski from his resolution, so I run no risk. If there is anything I desire, you must know that it is your benefit only. Can’t you trust me? You are a sensible fellow, and I have been counting on you; for, in this matter, that, that--”
“Is father in?” he asked. Colia whispered something in his ear and went out.
“Afraid! Then you had some grounds for supposing he might be the culprit?” said Lebedeff, frowning.
“What a beauty!” cried one.
The prince reflected.
“Oh, you get those ideas out of novels, you know. Times are changed now, dear prince; the world sees things as they really are. That’s all nonsense. Besides, how can you marry? You need a nurse, not a wife.”
“The idea that it is not worth while living for a few weeks took possession of me a month ago, when I was told that I had four weeks to live, but only partially so at that time. The idea quite overmastered me three days since, that evening at Pavlofsk. The first time that I felt really impressed with this thought was on the terrace at the prince’s, at the very moment when I had taken it into my head to make a last trial of life. I wanted to see people and trees (I believe I said so myself), I got excited, I maintained Burdovsky’s rights, ‘my neighbour!’--I dreamt that one and all would open their arms, and embrace me, that there would be an indescribable exchange of forgiveness between us all! In a word, I behaved like a fool, and then, at that very same instant, I felt my ‘last conviction.’ I ask myself now how I could have waited six months for that conviction! I knew that I had a disease that spares no one, and I really had no illusions; but the more I realized my condition, the more I clung to life; I wanted to live at any price. I confess I might well have resented that blind, deaf fate, which, with no apparent reason, seemed to have decided to crush me like a fly; but why did I not stop at resentment? Why did I begin to live, knowing that it was not worthwhile to begin? Why did I attempt to do what I knew to be an impossibility? And yet I could not even read a book to the end; I had given up reading. What is the good of reading, what is the good of learning anything, for just six months? That thought has made me throw aside a book more than once.

“In the first place, don’t dare to suppose,” she began, “that I am going to apologize. Nonsense! You were entirely to blame.”

“No, no! I cannot allow this,--this is a little too much,” cried Lizabetha Prokofievna, exploding with rage, and she rose from her seat and followed Aglaya out of the room as quickly as she could.
“The visit to Rogojin exhausted me terribly. Besides, I had felt ill since the morning; and by evening I was so weak that I took to my bed, and was in high fever at intervals, and even delirious. Colia sat with me until eleven o’clock.
The company departed very quickly, in a mass. Ptitsin, Gania, and Rogojin went away together.
“Tfu! look what the fellow got! Look at the blood on his cheek! Ha, ha!”
At last, with a sigh of annoyance, he said to himself that it was nothing but his own cursed sickly suspicion. His face lighted up with joy when, at about two o’clock, he espied the Epanchins coming along to pay him a short visit, “just for a minute.” They really had only come for a minute.

XII.

“Look here; this is what I called you here for. I wish to make you a--to ask you to be my friend. What do you stare at me like that for?” she added, almost angrily.
“There, he is feeling embarrassed; I expected as much,” whispered Evgenie Pavlovitch suddenly in the prince’s ear. “It is a bad sign; what do you think? Now, out of spite, he will come out with something so outrageous that even Lizabetha Prokofievna will not be able to stand it.”

“I don’t know at all; but she said I was to tell you particularly.”

Keller also advised, in anticipation of the crowd making a rush after the ceremony, that a fire-hose should be placed at the entrance to the house; but Lebedeff was opposed to this measure, which he said might result in the place being pulled down.

“Nobody here is laughing at you. Calm yourself,” said Lizabetha Prokofievna, much moved. “You shall see a new doctor tomorrow; the other was mistaken; but sit down, do not stand like that! You are delirious--” Oh, what shall we do with him she cried in anguish, as she made him sit down again in the arm-chair.

“It is very curious, this story of the medical man, and my visit, and the happy termination to which I contributed by accident! Everything fitted in, as in a novel. I told the poor people not to put much hope in me, because I was but a poor schoolboy myself--(I am not really, but I humiliated myself as much as possible in order to make them less hopeful)--but that I would go at once to the Vassili Ostroff and see my friend; and that as I knew for certain that his uncle adored him, and was absolutely devoted to him as the last hope and branch of the family, perhaps the old man might do something to oblige his nephew.

“No, I didn’t like it at all, and was ill after seeing it; but I confess I stared as though my eyes were fixed to the sight. I could not tear them away.”

The latter had no idea and could give no information as to why Pavlicheff had taken so great an interest in the little prince, his ward.

“There, prince,” said she, “there’s my album. Now choose a page and write me something, will you? There’s a pen, a new one; do you mind a steel one? I have heard that you caligraphists don’t like steel pens.”

“Nastasia Philipovna! Nastasia Philipovna!”
The prince took his note. Ferdishenko rose.
“Dear me! This is very unpleasant!”
“Oh! what on earth are we to do with him?” cried Lizabetha Prokofievna. She hastened to him and pressed his head against her bosom, while he sobbed convulsively.
It was generally agreed, afterwards, in recalling that evening, that from this moment Nastasia Philipovna seemed entirely to lose her senses. She continued to sit still in her place, looking around at her guests with a strange, bewildered expression, as though she were trying to collect her thoughts, and could not. Then she suddenly turned to the prince, and glared at him with frowning brows; but this only lasted one moment. Perhaps it suddenly struck her that all this was a jest, but his face seemed to reassure her. She reflected, and smiled again, vaguely.
“Don’t excite yourself; you seem very ill, and I am sorry for that. I am almost done, but there are a few facts to which I must briefly refer, as I am convinced that they ought to be clearly explained once for all....” A movement of impatience was noticed in his audience as he resumed: “I merely wish to state, for the information of all concerned, that the reason for Mr. Pavlicheff’s interest in your mother, Mr. Burdovsky, was simply that she was the sister of a serf-girl with whom he was deeply in love in his youth, and whom most certainly he would have married but for her sudden death. I have proofs that this circumstance is almost, if not quite, forgotten. I may add that when your mother was about ten years old, Pavlicheff took her under his care, gave her a good education, and later, a considerable dowry. His relations were alarmed, and feared he might go so far as to marry her, but she gave her hand to a young land-surveyor named Burdovsky when she reached the age of twenty. I can even say definitely that it was a marriage of affection. After his wedding your father gave up his occupation as land-surveyor, and with his wife’s dowry of fifteen thousand roubles went in for commercial speculations. As he had had no experience, he was cheated on all sides, and took to drink in order to forget his troubles. He shortened his life by his excesses, and eight years after his marriage he died. Your mother says herself that she was left in the direst poverty, and would have died of starvation had it not been for Pavlicheff, who generously allowed her a yearly pension of six hundred roubles. Many people recall his extreme fondness for you as a little boy. Your mother confirms this, and agrees with others in thinking that he loved you the more because you were a sickly child, stammering in your speech, and almost deformed--for it is known that all his life Nicolai Andreevitch had a partiality for unfortunates of every kind, especially children. In my opinion this is most important. I may add that I discovered yet another fact, the last on which I employed my detective powers. Seeing how fond Pavlicheff was of you,--it was thanks to him you went to school, and also had the advantage of special teachers--his relations and servants grew to believe that you were his son, and that your father had been betrayed by his wife. I may point out that this idea was only accredited generally during the last years of Pavlicheff’s life, when his next-of-kin were trembling about the succession, when the earlier story was quite forgotten, and when all opportunity for discovering the truth had seemingly passed away. No doubt you, Mr. Burdovsky, heard this conjecture, and did not hesitate to accept it as true. I have had the honour of making your mother’s acquaintance, and I find that she knows all about these reports. What she does not know is that you, her son, should have listened to them so complaisantly. I found your respected mother at Pskoff, ill and in deep poverty, as she has been ever since the death of your benefactor. She told me with tears of gratitude how you had supported her; she expects much of you, and believes fervently in your future success...”
“In Petersburg? Oh no! hardly at all, and now they say so much is changed in the place that even those who did know it well are obliged to relearn what they knew. They talk a good deal about the new law courts, and changes there, don’t they?”
“To the twelfth century, and those immediately preceding and following it. We are told by historians that widespread famines occurred in those days every two or three years, and such was the condition of things that men actually had recourse to cannibalism, in secret, of course. One of these cannibals, who had reached a good age, declared of his own free will that during the course of his long and miserable life he had personally killed and eaten, in the most profound secrecy, sixty monks, not to mention several children; the number of the latter he thought was about six, an insignificant total when compared with the enormous mass of ecclesiastics consumed by him. As to adults, laymen that is to say, he had never touched them.”
“Oh, you needn’t fear! He’ll live another six weeks all right. Very likely he will recover altogether; but I strongly advise you to pack him off tomorrow.”
“Gentlemen, you’d better look out,” cried Colia, also seizing Hippolyte by the hand. “Just look at him! Prince, what are you thinking of?” Vera and Colia, and Keller, and Burdovsky were all crowding round Hippolyte now and holding him down.
Gania left the room in great good humour. The prince stayed behind, and meditated alone for a few minutes. At length, Colia popped his head in once more.

“What’s the matter with him? Do his fits begin like that?” said Lizabetha Prokofievna, in a high state of alarm, addressing Colia.

“Yes; I feel quite ill. I have been obliged to put on this shawl--I feel so cold,” replied Nastasia. She certainly had grown very pale, and every now and then she tried to suppress a trembling in her limbs.
“Prince, prince!” he cried, seizing hold of his arm, “recollect yourself! Drop her, prince! You see what sort of a woman she is. I am speaking to you like a father.” “Why, it would be a game to cry over--not to laugh at!” said the actress.

Nastasia introduced the prince to her guests, to most of whom he was already known.

“Where they played last night. Then I found this bench and sat down, and thought and thought--and at last I fell fast asleep.”

“Have you just seen Lizabetha Prokofievna?” asked the prince, scarcely believing his ears.
The words were hardly out of her mouth, when Lebedeff dragged Vera forward, in order to present her.
“I know nothing about that; what else?”
“What?” exclaimed the prince, thinking he had not heard aright.
“May I ask why? and also why you walk about on tiptoe and always seem as if you were going to whisper a secret in my ear whenever you come near me?”
Among our suburban resorts there are some which enjoy a specially high reputation for respectability and fashion; but the most careful individual is not absolutely exempt from the danger of a tile falling suddenly upon his head from his neighbour’s roof.
“And what about the maid?” asked Nastasia Philipovna, with undisguised contempt.
“However, it’s all the same to me; laugh or not, just as you please. When I asked him about you, he told me that he had long since ceased to love you, that the very recollection of you was a torture to him, but that he was sorry for you; and that when he thought of you his heart was pierced. I ought to tell you that I never in my life met a man anything like him for noble simplicity of mind and for boundless trustfulness. I guessed that anyone who liked could deceive him, and that he would immediately forgive anyone who did deceive him; and it was for this that I grew to love him--”
“A donkey? How strange! Yet it is not strange. Anyone of us might fall in love with a donkey! It happened in mythological times,” said Madame Epanchin, looking wrathfully at her daughters, who had begun to laugh. “Go on, prince.”