HE WALKED THE LENGTH of Bogoyavlensky Street. At last the road began to go downhill; his feet slipped in the mud and suddenly there lay open before him a wide, misty, as it were empty expanse—the river. The houses were replaced by hovels; the street was lost in a multitude of irregular little alleys.
Nikolay Vsyevolodovitch was a long while making his way between the fences, keeping close to the river bank, but finding his way confidently, and scarcely giving it a thought indeed. He was absorbed in something quite different, and looked round with surprise when suddenly, waking up from a profound reverie, he found himself almost in the middle of one long, wet, floating bridge.
There was not a soul to be seen, so that it seemed strange to him when suddenly, almost at his elbow, he heard a deferentially familiar, but rather pleasant, voice, with a suave intonation, such as is affected by our over-refined tradespeople or befrizzled young shop assistants.
“Will you kindly allow me, sir, to share your umbrella?”
There actually was a figure that crept under his umbrella, or tried to appear to do so. The tramp was walking beside him, almost “feeling his elbow,” as the soldiers say. Slackening his pace, Nikolay Vsyevolodovitch bent down to look more closely, as far as he could, in the darkness. It was a short man, and seemed like an artisan who had been drinking; he was shabbily and scantily dressed; a cloth cap, soaked by the rain and with the brim half torn off, perched on his shaggy, curly head. He looked a thin, vigorous, swarthy man with dark hair; his eyes were large and must have been black, with a hard glitter and a yellow tinge in them, like a gipsy’s; that could be divined even in the darkness. He was about forty, and was not drunk.
“Do you know me?” asked Nikolay Vsyevolodovitch. “Mr. Stavrogin, Nikolay Vsyevolodovitch. You were pointed out to me at the station, when the train stopped last Sunday, though I had heard enough of you beforehand.”
“From Pyotr Stepanovitch? Are you … Fedka the convict?”
“I was christened Fyodor Fyodorovitch. My mother is living to this day in these parts; she’s an old woman, and grows more and more bent every day. She prays to God for me, day and night, so that she doesn’t waste her old age lying on the stove.”
“You escaped from prison?”
“I’ve had a change of luck. I gave up books and bells and church-going because I’d a life sentence, so that I had a very long time to finish my term.”
“What are you doing here?”
“Well, I do what I can. My uncle, too, died last week in prison here. He was there for false coin, so I threw two dozen stones at the dogs by way of memorial. That’s all I’ve been doing so far. Moreover Pyotr Stepanovitch gives me hopes of a passport, and a merchant’s one, too, to go all over Russia, so I’m waiting on his kindness. ‘Because,’ says he, ‘my papa lost you at cards at the English club, and I,’ says he, ‘find that inhumanity unjust.’ You might have the kindness to give me three roubles, sir, for a glass to warm myself.”
“So you’ve been spying on me. I don’t like that. By whose orders?”
“As to orders, it’s nothing of the sort; it’s simply that I knew of your benevolence, which is known to all the world. All we get, as you know, is an armful of hay, or a prod with a fork. Last Friday I filled myself as full of pie as Martin did of soap; since then I didn’t eat one day, and the day after I fasted, and on the third I’d nothing again. I’ve had my fill of water from the river. I’m breeding fish in my belly.… So won’t your honour give me something? I’ve a sweetheart expecting me not far from here, but I daren’t show myself to her without money.”
“What did Pyotr Stepanovitch promise you from me?”
“He didn’t exactly promise anything, but only said that I might be of use to your honour if my luck turns out good, but how exactly he didn’t explain; for Pyotr Stepanovitch wants to see if I have the patience of a Cossack, and feels no sort of confidence in me.”
“Pyotr Stepanovitch is an astronomer, and has learnt all God’s planets, but even he may be criticised. I stand before you, sir, as before God, because I have heard so much about you. Pyotr Stepanovitch is one thing, but you, sir, maybe, are something else. When he’s said of a man he’s a scoundrel, he knows nothing more about him except that he’s a scoundrel. Or if he’s said he’s a fool, then that man has no calling with him except that of fool. But I may be a fool Tuesday and Wednesday, and on Thursday wiser than he. Here now he knows about me that I’m awfully sick to get a passport, for there’s no getting on in Russia without papers—so he thinks that he’s snared my soul. I tell you, sir, life’s a very easy business for Pyotr Stepanovitch, for he fancies a man to be this and that, and goes on as though he really was. And, what’s more, he’s beastly stingy. It’s his notion that, apart from him, I daren’t trouble you, but I stand before you, sir, as before God. This is the fourth night I’ve been waiting for your honour on this bridge, to show that I can find my own way on the quiet, without him. I’d better bow to a boot, thinks I, than to a peasant’s shoe.”
“And who told you that I was going to cross the bridge at night?”
“Well, that, I’ll own, came out by chance, most through Captain Lebyadkin’s foolishness, because he can’t keep anything to himself.… So that three roubles from your honour would pay me for the weary time I’ve had these three days and nights. And the clothes I’ve had soaked, I feel that too much to speak of it.”
“I’m going to the left; you’ll go to the right. Here’s the end of the bridge. Listen, Fyodor; I like people to understand what I say, once for all. I won’t give you a farthing. Don’t meet me in future on the bridge or anywhere. I’ve no need of you, and never shall have, and if you don’t obey, I’ll tie you and take you to the police. March!”
“Eh-heh! Fling me something for my company, anyhow. I’ve cheered you on your way.”
“But do you know the way here? There are all sorts of turnings.… I could guide you; for this town is for all the world as though the devil carried it in his basket and dropped it in bits here and there.”
“I’ll tie you up!” said Nikolay Vsyevolodovitch, turning upon him menacingly.
“Perhaps you’ll change your mind, sir; it’s easy to ill-treat the helpless.”
“Well, I see you can rely on yourself!”
“I rely upon you, sir, and not very much on myself.…”
“I’ve no need of you at all. I’ve told you so already.”
“But I have need, that’s how it is! I shall wait for you on the way back. There’s nothing for it.”
“I give you my word of honour if I meet you I’ll tie you up.”
“Well, I’ll get a belt ready for you to tie me with. A lucky journey to you, sir. You kept the helpless snug under your umbrella. For that alone I’ll be grateful to you to my dying day.” He fell behind. Nikolay Vsyevolodovitch walked on to his destination, feeling disturbed. This man who had dropped from the sky was absolutely convinced that he was indispensable to him, Stavrogin, and was in insolent haste to tell him so. He was being treated unceremoniously all round. But it was possible, too, that the tramp had not been altogether lying, and had tried to force his services upon him on his own initiative, without Pyotr Stepanovitch’s knowledge, and that would be more curious still.
The house which Nikolay Vsyevolodovitch had reached stood alone in a deserted lane between fences, beyond which market gardens stretched, at the very end of the town. It was a very solitary little wooden house, which was only just built and not yet weather-boarded. In one of the little windows the shutters were not yet closed, and there was a candle standing on the window-ledge, evidently as a signal to the late guest who was expected that night. Thirty paces away Stavrogin made out on the doorstep the figure of a tall man, evidently the master of the house, who had come out to stare impatiently up the road. He heard his voice, too, impatient and, as it were, timid.
“Is that you? You?”
“Yes,” responded Nikolay Vsyevolodovitch, but not till he had mounted the steps and was folding up his umbrella.
“At last, sir.” Captain Lebyadkin, for it was he, ran fussily to and fro. “Let me take your umbrella, please. It’s very wet; I’ll open it on the floor here, in the corner. Please walk in. Please walk in.”
The door was open from the passage into a room that was lighted by two candles.
“If it had not been for your promise that you would certainly come, I should have given up expecting you.”
“A quarter to one,” said Nikolay Vsyevolodovitch, looking at his watch, as he went into the room.
“And in this rain; and such an interesting distance. I’ve no clock … and there are nothing but market-gardens round me … so that you fall behind the times. Not that I murmur exactly; for I dare not, I dare not, but only because I’ve been devoured with impatience all the week … to have things settled at last.”
“To hear my fate, Nikolay Vsyevolodovitch. Please sit down.”
He bowed, pointing to a seat by the table, before the sofa.
Nikolay Vsyevolodovitch looked round. The room was tiny and low-pitched. The furniture consisted only of the most essential articles, plain wooden chairs and a sofa, also newly made without covering or cushions. There were two tables of limewood; one by the sofa, and the other in the corner was covered with a table-cloth, laid with things over which a clean table-napkin had been thrown. And, indeed, the whole room was obviously kept extremely clean.
Captain Lebyadkin had not been drunk for eight days. His face looked bloated and yellow. His eyes looked uneasy, inquisitive, and obviously bewildered. It was only too evident that he did not know what tone he could adopt, and what line it would be most advantageous for him to take.
“Here,” he indicated his surroundings, “I live like Zossima. Sobriety, solitude, and poverty—the vow of the knights of old.”
“You imagine that the knights of old took such vows?”
“Perhaps I’m mistaken. Alas! I have no culture. I’ve ruined all. Believe me, Nikolay Vsyevolodovitch, here first I have recovered from shameful propensities—not a glass nor a drop! I have a home, and for six days past I have experienced a conscience at ease. Even the walls smell of resin and remind me of nature. And what have I been; what was I?
‘At night without a bed I wander And my tongue put out by day …’ to use the words of a poet of genius. But you’re wet through.… Wouldn’t you like some tea?”
“The samovar has been boiling since eight o’clock, but it went out at last like everything in this world. The sun, too, they say, will go out in its turn. But if you like I’ll get up the samovar. Agafya is not asleep.”
“Tell me, Marya Timofyevna …”
“She’s here, here,” Lebyadkin replied at once, in a whisper. “Would you like to have a look at her?” He pointed to the closed door to the next room.
“She’s not asleep?”
“Oh, no, no. How could she be? On the contrary, she’s been expecting you all the evening, and as soon as she heard you were coming she began making her toilet.”
He was just twisting his mouth into a jocose smile, but he instantly checked himself.
“How is she, on the whole?” asked Nikolay Vsyevolodovitch, frowning.
“On the whole? You know that yourself, sir.” He shrugged his shoulders commiseratingly. “But just now … just now she’s telling her fortune with cards.…”
“Very good. Later on. First of all I must finish with you.”
Nikolay Vsyevolodovitch settled himself in a chair. The captain did not venture to sit down on the sofa, but at once moved up another chair for himself, and bent forward to listen, in a tremor of expectation.
“What have you got there under the table-cloth?” asked Nikolay Vsyevolodovitch, suddenly noticing it.
“That?” said Lebyadkin, turning towards it also. “That’s from your generosity, by way of house-warming, so to say; considering also the length of the walk, and your natural fatigue,” he sniggered ingratiatingly. Then he got up on tiptoe, and respectfully and carefully lifted the table-cloth from the table in the corner. Under it was seen a slight meal: ham, veal, sardines, cheese, a little green decanter, and a long bottle of Bordeaux. Everything had been laid neatly, expertly, and almost daintily.
“Was that your effort?”
“Yes, sir. Ever since yesterday I’ve done my best, and all to do you honour.… Marya Timofyevna doesn’t trouble herself, as you know, on that score. And what’s more its all from your liberality, your own providing, as you’re the master of the house and not I, and I’m only, so to say, your agent. All the same, all the same, Nikolay Vsyevolodovitch, all the same, in spirit, I’m independent! Don’t take away from me this last possession!” he finished up pathetically.
“H’m! You might sit down again.”
“Gra-a-teful, grateful, and independent.” He sat down. “Ah, Nikolay Vsyevolodovitch, so much has been fermenting in this heart that I have not known how to wait for your coming. Now you will decide my fate, and … that unhappy creature’s, and then … shall I pour out all I feel to you as I used to in old days, four years ago? You deigned to listen to me then, you read my verses.… They might call me your Falstaff from Shakespeare in those days, but you meant so much in my life! I have great terrors now, and it’s only to you I look for counsel and light. Pyotr Stepanovitch is treating me abominably!”
Nikolay Vsyevolodovitch listened with interest, and looked at him attentively. It was evident that though Captain Lebyadkin had left off drinking he was far from being in a harmonious state of mind. Drunkards of many years’ standing, like Lebyadkin, often show traces of incoherence, of mental cloudiness, of something, as it were, damaged, and crazy, though they may deceive, cheat, and swindle, almost as well as anybody if occasion arises.
“I see that you haven’t changed a bit in these four years and more, captain,” said Nikolay Vsyevolodovitch, somewhat more amiably. “It seems, in fact, as though the second half of a man’s life is usually made up of nothing but the habits he has accumulated during the first half.”
“Grand words! You solve the riddle of life!” said the captain, half cunningly, half in genuine and unfeigned admiration, for he was a great lover of words. “Of all your sayings, Nikolay Vsyevolodovitch, I remember one thing above all; you were in Petersburg when you said it: ‘One must really be a great man to be able to make a stand even against common sense.’ That was it.”
“Yes, and a fool as well.”
“A fool as well, maybe. But you’ve been scattering clever sayings all your life, while they.… Imagine Liputin, imagine Pyotr Stepanovitch saying anything like that! Oh, how cruelly Pyotr Stepanovitch has treated me!”
“But how about yourself, captain? What can you say of your behaviour?”
“Drunkenness, and the multitude of my enemies. But now that’s all over, all over, and I have a new skin, like a snake. Do you know, Nikolay Vsyevolodovitch, I am making my will; in fact, I’ve made it already?”
“That’s interesting. What are you leaving, and to whom?”
“To my fatherland, to humanity, and to the students. Nikolay Vsyevolodovitch, I read in the paper the biography of an American. He left all his vast fortune to factories and to the exact sciences, and his skeleton to the students of the academy there, and his skin to be made into a drum, so that the American national hymn might be beaten upon it day and night. Alas! we are pigmies in mind compared with the soaring thought of the States of North America. Russia is the play of nature but not of mind. If I were to try leaving my skin for a drum, for instance, to the Akmolinsky infantry regiment, in which I had the honour of beginning my service, on condition of beating the Russian national hymn upon it every day, in face of the regiment, they’d take it for liberalism and prohibit my skin … and so I confine myself to the students. I want to leave my skeleton to the academy, but on the condition though, on the condition that a label should be stuck on the forehead forever and ever, with the words: ‘A repentant free-thinker.’ There now!”
The captain spoke excitedly, and genuinely believed, of course, that there was something fine in the American will, but he was cunning too, and very anxious to entertain Nikolay Vsyevolodovitch, with whom he had played the part of a buffoon for a long time in the past. But the latter did not even smile, on the contrary, he asked, as it were, suspiciously:
“So you intend to publish your will in your lifetime and get rewarded for it?”
“And what if I do, Nikolay Vsyevolodovitch? What if I do?” said Lebyadkin, watching him carefully. “What sort of luck have I had? I’ve given up writing poetry, and at one time even you were amused by my verses, Nikolay Vsyevolodovitch. Do you remember our reading them over a bottle? But it’s all over with my pen. I’ve written only one poem, like Gogol’s ‘The Last Story.’ Do you remember he proclaimed to Russia that it broke spontaneously from his bosom? It’s the same with me; I’ve sung my last and it’s over.”
“What sort of poem?”
“‘In case she were to break her leg.’”
That was all the captain was waiting for. He had an unbounded admiration for his own poems, but, through a certain cunning duplicity, he was pleased, too, that Nikolay Vsyevolodovitch always made merry over his poems, and sometimes laughed at them immoderately. In this way he killed two birds with one stone, satisfying at once his poetical aspirations and his desire to be of service; but now he had a third special and very ticklish object in view. Bringing his verses on the scene, the captain thought to exculpate himself on one point about which, for some reason, he always felt himself most apprehensive, and most guilty.
“‘In case of her breaking her leg.’ That is, of her riding on horseback. It’s a fantasy, Nikolay Vsyevolodovitch, a wild fancy, but the fancy of a poet. One day I was struck by meeting a lady on horseback, and asked myself the vital question, ‘What would happen then?’ That is, in case of accident. All her followers turn away, all her suitors are gone. A pretty kettle of fish. Only the poet remains faithful, with his heart shattered in his breast, Nikolay Vsyevolodovitch. Even a louse may be in love, and is not forbidden by law. And yet the lady was offended by the letter and the verses. I’m told that even you were angry. Were you? I wouldn’t believe in anything so grievous. Whom could I harm simply by imagination? Besides, I swear on my honour, Liputin kept saying, ‘Send it, send it,’ every man, however humble, has a right to send a letter! And so I sent it.”
“You offered yourself as a suitor, I understand.”
“Enemies, enemies, enemies!”
“Repeat the verses,” said Nikolay Vsyevolodovitch sternly.
“Ravings, ravings, more than anything.”
However, he drew himself up, stretched out his hand, and began:
“With broken limbs my beauteous queen Is twice as charming as before, And, deep in love as I have been, To-day I love her even more.” “Come, that’s enough,” said Nikolay Vsyevolodovitch, with a wave of his hand.
“I dream of Petersburg,” cried Lebyadkin, passing quickly to another subject, as though there had been no mention of verses. “I dream of regeneration.… Benefactor! May I reckon that you won’t refuse the means for the journey? I’ve been waiting for you all the week as my sunshine.”
“I’ll do nothing of the sort. I’ve scarcely any money left. And why should I give you money?”
Nikolay Vsyevolodovitch seemed suddenly angry. Dryly and briefly he recapitulated all the captain’s misdeeds; his drunkenness, his lying, his squandering of the money meant for Marya Timofyevna, his having taken her from the nunnery, his insolent letters threatening to publish the secret, the way he had behaved about Darya Pavlovna, and so on, and so on. The captain heaved, gesticulated, began to reply, but every time Nikolay Vsyevolodovitch stopped him peremptorily.
“And listen,” he observed at last, “you keep writing about ‘family disgrace.’ What disgrace is it to you that your sister is the lawful wife of a Stavrogin?”
“But marriage in secret, Nikolay Vsyevolodovitch—a fatal secret. I receive money from you, and I’m suddenly asked the question, ‘What’s that money for?’ My hands are tied; I cannot answer to the detriment of my sister, to the detriment of the family honour.”
The captain raised his voice. He liked that subject and reckoned boldly upon it. Alas! he did not realise what a blow was in store for him.
Calmly and exactly, as though he were speaking of the most everyday arrangement, Nikolay Vsyevolodovitch informed him that in a few days, perhaps even to-morrow or the day after, he intended to make his marriage known everywhere, “to the police as well as to local society.” And so the question of family honour would be settled once for all, and with it the question of subsidy. The captain’s eyes were ready to drop out of his head; he positively could not take it in. It had to be explained to him.
“But she is … crazy.”
“I shall make suitable arrangements.”
“But … how about your mother?”
“Well, she must do as she likes.”
“But will you take your wife to your house?”
“Perhaps so. But that is absolutely nothing to do with you and no concern of yours.”
“No concern of mine!” cried the captain. “What about me then?”
“Well, certainly you won’t come into my house.”
“But, you know, I’m a relation.”
“One does one’s best to escape from such relations. Why should I go on giving you money then? Judge for yourself.”
“Nikolay Vsyevolodovitch, Nikolay Vsyevolodovitch, this is impossible. You will think better of it, perhaps? You don’t want to lay hands upon.… What will people think? What will the world say?”
“Much I care for your world. I married your sister when the fancy took me, after a drunken dinner, for a bet, and now I’ll make it public … since that amuses me now.”
He said this with a peculiar irritability, so that Lebyadkin began with horror to believe him.
“But me, me? What about me? I’m what matters most!… Perhaps you’re joking, Nikolay Vsyevolodovitch?”
“No, I’m not joking.”
“As you will, Nikolay Vsyevolodovitch, but I don’t believe you.… Then I’ll take proceedings.”
“You’re fearfully stupid, captain.”
“Maybe, but this is all that’s left me,” said the captain, losing his head completely. “In old days we used to get free quarters, anyway, for the work she did in the ‘corners.’ But what will happen now if you throw me over altogether?”
“But you want to go to Petersburg to try a new career. By the way, is it true what I hear, that you mean to go and give information, in the hope of obtaining a pardon, by betraying all the others?”
The captain stood gaping with wide-open eyes, and made no answer.
“Listen, captain,” Stavrogin began suddenly, with great earnestness, bending down to the table. Until then he had been talking, as it were, ambiguously, so that Lebyadkin, who had wide experience in playing the part of buffoon, was up to the last moment a trifle uncertain whether his patron were really angry or simply putting it on; whether he really had the wild intention of making his marriage public, or whether he were only playing. Now Nikolay Vsyevolodovitch’s stern expression was so convincing that a shiver ran down the captain’s back.
“Listen, and tell the truth, Lebyadkin. Have you betrayed anything yet, or not? Have you succeeded in doing anything really? Have you sent a letter to somebody in your foolishness?”
“No, I haven’t … and I haven’t thought of doing it,” said the captain, looking fixedly at him.
“That’s a lie, that you haven’t thought of doing it. That’s what you’re asking to go to Petersburg for. If you haven’t written, have you blabbed to anybody here? Speak the truth. I’ve heard something.”
“When I was drunk, to Liputin. Liputin’s a traitor. I opened my heart to him,” whispered the poor captain.
“That’s all very well, but there’s no need to be an ass. If you had an idea you should have kept it to yourself. Sensible people hold their tongues nowadays; they don’t go chattering.”
“Nikolay Vsyevolodovitch!” said the captain, quaking. “You’ve had nothing to do with it yourself; it’s not you I’ve …”
“Yes. You wouldn’t have ventured to kill the goose that laid your golden eggs.”
“Judge for yourself, Nikolay Vsyevolodovitch, judge for yourself,” and, in despair, with tears, the captain began hurriedly relating the story of his life for the last four years. It was the most stupid story of a fool, drawn into matters that did not concern him, and in his drunkenness and debauchery unable, till the last minute, to grasp their importance. He said that before he left Petersburg ‘he had been drawn in, at first simply through friendship, like a regular student, although he wasn’t a student,’ and knowing nothing about it, ‘without being guilty of anything,’ he had scattered various papers on staircases, left them by dozens at doors, on bell-handles, had thrust them in as though they were newspapers, taken them to the theatre, put them in people’s hats, and slipped them into pockets. Afterwards he had taken money from them, ‘for what means had I?’ He had distributed all sorts of rubbish through the districts of two provinces. “Oh, Nikolay Vsyevolodovitch!” he exclaimed, “what revolted me most was that this was utterly opposed to civic, and still more to patriotic laws. They suddenly printed that men were to go out with pitchforks, and to remember that those who went out poor in the morning might go home rich at night. Only think of it! It made me shudder, and yet I distributed it. Or suddenly five or six lines addressed to the whole of Russia, apropos of nothing, ‘Make haste and lock up the churches, abolish God, do away with marriage, destroy the right of inheritance, take up your knives,’ that’s all, and God knows what it means. I tell you, I almost got caught with this five-line leaflet. The officers in the regiment gave me a thrashing, but, bless them for it, let me go. And last year I was almost caught when I passed off French counterfeit notes for fifty roubles on Korovayev, but, thank God, Korovayev fell into the pond when he was drunk, and was drowned in the nick of time, and they didn’t succeed in tracking me. Here, at Virginsky’s, I proclaimed the freedom of the communistic life. In June I was distributing manifestoes again in X district. They say they will make me do it again.… Pyotr Stepanovitch suddenly gave me to understand that I must obey; he’s been threatening me a long time. How he treated me that Sunday! Nikolay Vsyevolodovitch, I am a slave, I am a worm, but not a God, which is where I differ from Derzhavin.* But I’ve no income, no income!”
* The reference is to a poem of Derzhavin’s. Nikolay Vsyevolodovitch heard it all with curiosity.
“A great deal of that I had heard nothing of,” he said. “Of course, anything may have happened to you.… Listen,” he said, after a minute’s thought. “If you like, you can tell them, you know whom, that Liputin was lying, and that you were only pretending to give information to frighten me, supposing that I, too, was compromised, and that you might get more money out of me that way.… Do you understand?”
“Dear Nikolay Vsyevolodovitch, is it possible that there’s such a danger hanging over me? I’ve been longing for you to come, to ask you.”
Nikolay Vsyevolodovitch laughed.
“They certainly wouldn’t let you go to Petersburg, even if I were to give you money for the journey.… But it’s time for me to see Marya Timofyevna.” And he got up from his chair.
“Nikolay Vsyevolodovitch, but how about Marya Timofyevna?”
“Why, as I told you.”
“Can it be true?”
“You still don’t believe it?”
“Will you really cast me off like an old worn-out shoe?”
“I’ll see,” laughed Nikolay Vsyevolodovitch. “Come, let me go.”
“Wouldn’t you like me to stand on the steps … for fear I might by chance overhear something … for the rooms are small?”
“That’s as well. Stand on the steps. Take my umbrella.”
“Your umbrella.… Am I worth it?” said the captain over-sweetly.
“Anyone is worthy of an umbrella.”
“At one stroke you define the minimum of human rights.…”
But he was by now muttering mechanically. He was too much crushed by what he had learned, and was completely thrown out of his reckoning. And yet almost as soon as he had gone out on to the steps and had put up the umbrella, there his shallow and cunning brain caught again the ever-present, comforting idea that he was being cheated and deceived, and if so they were afraid of him, and there was no need for him to be afraid.
“If they’re lying and deceiving me, what’s at the bottom of it?” was the thought that gnawed at his mind. The public announcement of the marriage seemed to him absurd. “It’s true that with such a wonder-worker anything may come to pass; he lives to do harm. But what if he’s afraid himself, since the insult of Sunday, and afraid as he’s never been before? And so he’s in a hurry to declare that he’ll announce it himself, from fear that I should announce it. Eh, don’t blunder, Lebyadkin! And why does he come on the sly, at night, if he means to make it public himself? And if he’s afraid, it means that he’s afraid now, at this moment, for these few days.… Eh, don’t make a mistake, Lebyadkin!
“He scares me with Pyotr Stepanovitch. Oy, I’m frightened, I’m frightened! Yes, this is what’s so frightening! And what induced me to blab to Liputin. Goodness knows what these devils are up to. I never can make head or tail of it. Now they are all astir again as they were five years ago. To whom could I give information, indeed? ‘Haven’t I written to anyone in my foolishness?’ H’m! So then I might write as though through foolishness? Isn’t he giving me a hint? ‘You’re going to Petersburg on purpose.’ The sly rogue. I’ve scarcely dreamed of it, and he guesses my dreams. As though he were putting me up to going himself. It’s one or the other of two games he’s up to. Either he’s afraid because he’s been up to some pranks himself … or he’s not afraid for himself, but is simply egging me on to give them all away! Ach, it’s terrible, Lebyadkin! Ach, you must not make a blunder!”
He was so absorbed in thought that he forgot to listen. It was not easy to hear either. The door was a solid one, and they were talking in a very low voice. Nothing reached the captain but indistinct sounds. He positively spat in disgust, and went out again, lost in thought, to whistle on the steps.
Marya Timofyevna’s room was twice as large as the one occupied by the captain, and furnished in the same rough style; but the table in front of the sofa was covered with a gay-coloured table-cloth, and on it a lamp was burning. There was a handsome carpet on the floor. The bed was screened off by a green curtain, which ran the length of the room, and besides the sofa there stood by the table a large, soft easy chair, in which Marya Timofyevna never sat, however. In the corner there was an ikon as there had been in her old room, and a little lamp was burning before it, and on the table were all her indispensable properties. The pack of cards, the little looking-glass, the song-book, even a milk loaf. Besides these there were two books with coloured pictures—one, extracts from a popular book of travels, published for juvenile reading, the other a collection of very light, edifying tales, for the most part about the days of chivalry, intended for Christmas presents or school reading. She had, too, an album of photographs of various sorts.
Marya Timofyevna was, of course, expecting the visitor, as the captain had announced. But when Nikolay Vsyevolodovitch went in, she was asleep, half reclining on the sofa, propped on a woolwork cushion. Her visitor closed the door after him noiselessly, and, standing still, scrutinised the sleeping figure.
The captain had been romancing when he told Nikolay Vsyevolodovitch she had been dressing herself up. She was wearing the same dark dress as on Sunday at Varvara Petrovna’s. Her hair was done up in the same little close knot at the back of her head; her long thin neck was exposed in the same way. The black shawl Varvara Petrovna had given her lay carefully folded on the sofa. She was coarsely rouged and powdered as before. Nikolay Vsyevolodovitch did not stand there more than a minute. She suddenly waked up, as though she were conscious of his eyes fixed upon her; she opened her eyes, and quickly drew herself up. But something strange must have happened to her visitor: he remained standing at the same place by the door. With a fixed and searching glance he looked mutely and persistently into her face. Perhaps that look was too grim, perhaps there was an expression of aversion in it, even a malignant enjoyment of her fright—if it were not a fancy left by her dreams; but suddenly, after almost a moment of expectation, the poor woman’s face wore a look of absolute terror; it twitched convulsively; she lifted her trembling hands and suddenly burst into tears, exactly like a frightened child; in another moment she would have screamed. But Nikolay Vsyevolodovitch pulled himself together; his face changed in one instant, and he went up to the table with the most cordial and amiable smile.
“I’m sorry, Marya Timofyevna, I frightened you coming in suddenly when you were asleep,” he said, holding out his hand to her.
The sound of his caressing words produced their effect. Her fear vanished, although she still looked at him with dismay, evidently trying to understand something. She held out her hands timorously also. At last a shy smile rose to her lips.
“How do you do, prince?” she whispered, looking at him strangely.
“You must have had a bad dream,” he went on, with a still more friendly and cordial smile.
“But how do you know that I was dreaming about that?” And again she began trembling, and started back, putting up her hand as though to protect herself, on the point of crying again. “Calm yourself. That’s enough. What are you afraid of? Surely you know me?” said Nikolay Vsyevolodovitch, trying to soothe her; but it was long before he could succeed. She gazed at him dumbly with the same look of agonising perplexity, with a painful idea in her poor brain, and she still seemed to be trying to reach some conclusion. At one moment she dropped her eyes, then suddenly scrutinised him in a rapid comprehensive glance. At last, though not reassured, she seemed to come to a conclusion.
“Sit down beside me, please, that I may look at you thoroughly later on,” she brought out with more firmness, evidently with a new object. “But don’t be uneasy, I won’t look at you now. I’ll look down. Don’t you look at me either till I ask you to. Sit down,” she added, with positive impatience.
A new sensation was obviously growing stronger and stronger in her.
Nikolay Vsyevolodovitch sat down and waited. Rather a long silence followed.
“H’m! It all seems so strange to me,” she suddenly muttered almost disdainfully. “Of course I was depressed by bad dreams, but why have I dreamt of you looking like that?”
“Come, let’s have done with dreams,” he said impatiently, turning to her in spite of her prohibition, and perhaps the same expression gleamed for a moment in his eyes again. He saw that she several times wanted, very much in fact, to look at him again, but that she obstinately controlled herself and kept her eyes cast down.
“Listen, prince,” she raised her voice suddenly, “listen prince.…”
“Why do you turn away? Why don’t you look at me? What’s the object of this farce?” he cried, losing patience.
But she seemed not to hear him.
“Listen, prince,” she repeated for the third time in a resolute voice, with a disagreeable, fussy expression. “When you told me in the carriage that our marriage was going to be made public, I was alarmed at there being an end to the mystery. Now I don’t know. I’ve been thinking it all over, and I see clearly that I’m not fit for it at all. I know how to dress, and I could receive guests, perhaps. There’s nothing much in asking people to have a cup of tea, especially when there are footmen. But what will people say though? I saw a great deal that Sunday morning in that house. That pretty young lady looked at me all the time, especially after you came in. It was you came in, wasn’t it? Her mother’s simply an absurd worldly old woman. My Lebyadkin distinguished himself too. I kept looking at the ceiling to keep from laughing; the ceiling there is finely painted. His mother ought to be an abbess. I’m afraid of her, though she did give me a black shawl. Of course, they must all have come to strange conclusions about me. I wasn’t vexed, but I sat there, thinking what relation am I to them? Of course, from a countess one doesn’t expect any but spiritual qualities; for the domestic ones she’s got plenty of footmen; and also a little worldly coquetry, so as to be able to entertain foreign travellers. But yet that Sunday they did look upon me as hopeless. Only Dasha’s an angel. I’m awfully afraid they may wound him by some careless allusion to me.”
“Don’t be afraid, and don’t be uneasy,” said Nikolay Vsyevolodovitch, making a wry face.
“However, that doesn’t matter to me, if he is a little ashamed of me, for there will always be more pity than shame, though it differs with people, of course. He knows, to be sure, that I ought rather to pity them than they me.”
“You seem to be very much offended with them, Marya Timofyevna?”
“I? Oh, no,” she smiled with simple-hearted mirth. “Not at all. I looked at you all, then. You were all angry, you were all quarrelling. They meet together, and they don’t know how to laugh from their hearts. So much wealth and so little gaiety. It all disgusts me. Though I feel for no one now except myself.”
“I’ve heard that you’ve had a hard life with your brother without me?”
“Who told you that? It’s nonsense. It’s much worse now. Now my dreams are not good, and my dreams are bad, because you’ve come. What have you come for, I’d like to know. Tell me please?”
“Wouldn’t you like to go back into the nunnery?”
“I knew they’d suggest the nunnery again. Your nunnery is a fine marvel for me! And why should I go to it? What should I go for now? I’m all alone in the world now. It’s too late for me to begin a third life.”
“You seem very angry about something. Surely you’re not afraid that I’ve left off loving you?”
“I’m not troubling about you at all. I’m afraid that I may leave off loving somebody.”
She laughed contemptuously.
“I must have done him some great wrong,” she added suddenly, as it were to herself, “only I don’t know what I’ve done wrong; that’s always what troubles me. Always, always, for the last five years. I’ve been afraid day and night that I’ve done him some wrong. I’ve prayed and prayed and always thought of the great wrong I’d done him. And now it turns out it was true.”
“What’s turned out?”
“I’m only afraid whether there’s something on his side,” she went on, not answering his question, not hearing it in fact. “And then, again, he couldn’t get on with such horrid people. The countess would have liked to eat me, though she did make me sit in the carriage beside her. They’re all in the plot. Surely he’s not betrayed me?” (Her chin and lips were twitching.) “Tell me, have you read about Grishka Otrepyev, how he was cursed in seven cathedrals?”
Nikolay Vsyevolodovitch did not speak.
“But I’ll turn round now and look at you.” She seemed to decide suddenly. “You turn to me, too, and look at me, but more attentively. I want to make sure for the last time.”
“I’ve been looking at you for a long time.”
“H’m!” said Marya Timofyevna, looking at him intently. “You’ve grown much fatter.”
She wanted to say something more, but suddenly, for the third time, the same terror instantly distorted her face, and again she drew back, putting her hand up before her.
“What’s the matter with you?” cried Nikolay Vsyevolodovitch, almost enraged.
But her panic lasted only one instant, her face worked with a sort of strange smile, suspicious and unpleasant.
“I beg you, prince, get up and come in,” she brought out suddenly, in a firm, emphatic voice.
“Come in? Where am I to come in?”
“I’ve been fancying for five years how he would come in. Get up and go out of the door into the other room. I’ll sit as though I weren’t expecting anything, and I’ll take up a book, and suddenly you’ll come in after five years’ travelling. I want to see what it will be like.”
Nikolay Vsyevolodovitch ground his teeth, and muttered something to himself.
“Enough,” he said, striking the table with his open hand. “I beg you to listen to me, Marya Timofyevna. Do me the favour to concentrate all your attention if you can. You’re not altogether mad, you know!” he broke out impatiently. “Tomorrow I shall make our marriage public. You never will live in a palace, get that out of your head. Do you want to live with me for the rest of your life, only very far away from here? In the mountains in Switzerland, there’s a place there.… Don’t be afraid. I’ll never abandon you or put you in a madhouse. I shall have money enough to live without asking anyone’s help. You shall have a servant, you shall do no work at all. Everything you want that’s possible shall be got for you. You shall pray, go where you like, and do what you like. I won’t touch you. I won’t go away from the place myself at all. If you like, I won’t speak to you all my life, or if you like, you can tell me your stories every evening as you used to do in Petersburg in the corners. I’ll read aloud to you if you like. But it must be all your life in the same place, and that place is a gloomy one. Will you? Are you ready? You won’t regret it, torment me with tears and curses, will you?”
She listened with extreme curiosity, and for a long time she was silent, thinking.
“It all seems incredible to me,” she said at last, ironically and disdainfully. “I might live for forty years in those mountains,” she laughed.
“What of it? Let’s live forty years then …” said Nikolay Vsyevolodovitch, scowling.
“H’m! I won’t come for anything.”
“Not even with me?”
“And what are you that I should go with you? I’m to sit on a mountain beside him for forty years on end—a pretty story! And upon my word, how long-suffering people have become nowadays! No, it cannot be that a falcon has become an owl. My prince is not like that!” she said, raising her head proudly and triumphantly.
Light seemed to dawn upon him.
“What makes you call me a prince, and … for whom do you take me?” he asked quickly.
“Why, aren’t you the prince?”
“I never have been one.”
“So yourself, yourself, you tell me straight to my face that you’re not the prince?”
“I tell you I never have been.”
“Good Lord!” she cried, clasping her hands. “I was ready to expect anything from his enemies, but such insolence, never! Is he alive?” she shrieked in a frenzy, turning upon Nikolay Vsyevolodovitch. “Have you killed him? Confess!”
“Whom do you take me for?” he cried, jumping up from his chair with a distorted face; but it was not easy now to frighten her. She was triumphant.
“Who can tell who you are and where you’ve sprung from? Only my heart, my heart had misgivings all these five years, of all the intrigues. And I’ve been sitting here wondering what blind owl was making up to me? No, my dear, you’re a poor actor, worse than Lebyadkin even. Give my humble greetings to the countess and tell her to send someone better than you. Has she hired you, tell me? Have they given you a place in her kitchen out of charity? I see through your deception. I understand you all, every one of you.”
He seized her firmly above the elbow; she laughed in his face.
“You’re like him, very like, perhaps you’re a relation—you’re a sly lot! Only mine is a bright falcon and a prince, and you’re an owl, and a shopman! Mine will bow down to God if it pleases him, and won’t if it doesn’t. And Shatushka (he’s my dear, my darling!) slapped you on the cheeks, my Lebyadkin told me. And what were you afraid of then, when you came in? Who had frightened you then? When I saw your mean face after I’d fallen down and you picked me up—it was like a worm crawling into my heart. It’s not he, I thought, not he! My falcon would never have been ashamed of me before a fashionable young lady. Oh heavens! That alone kept me happy for those five years that my falcon was living somewhere beyond the mountains, soaring, gazing at the sun.… Tell me, you impostor, have you got much by it? Did you need a big bribe to consent? I wouldn’t have given you a farthing. Ha ha ha! Ha ha!…”
“Ugh, idiot!” snarled Nikolay Vsyevolodovitch, still holding her tight by the arm.
“Go away, impostor!” she shouted peremptorily. “I’m the wife of my prince; I’m not afraid of your knife!”
“Yes, knife, you’ve a knife in your pocket. You thought I was asleep but I saw it. When you came in just now you took out your knife!”
“What are you saying, unhappy creature? What dreams you have!” he exclaimed, pushing her away from him with all his might, so that her head and shoulders fell painfully against the sofa. He was rushing away; but she at once flew to overtake him, limping and hopping, and though Lebyadkin, panic-stricken, held her back with all his might, she succeeded in shouting after him into the darkness, shrieking and laughing:
“A curse on you, Grishka Otrepyev!”
“A knife, a knife,” he repeated with uncontrollable anger, striding along through the mud and puddles, without picking his way. It is true that at moments he had a terrible desire to laugh aloud frantically; but for some reason he controlled himself and restrained his laughter. He recovered himself only on the bridge, on the spot where Fedka had met him that evening. He found the man lying in wait for him again. Seeing Nikolay Vsyevolodovitch he took off his cap, grinned gaily, and began babbling briskly and merrily about something. At first Nikolay Vsyevolodovitch walked on without stopping, and for some time did not even listen to the tramp who was pestering him again. He was suddenly struck by the thought that he had entirely forgotten him, and had forgotten him at the very moment when he himself was repeating, “A knife, a knife.” He seized the tramp by the collar and gave vent to his pent-up rage by flinging him violently against the bridge. For one instant the man thought of fighting, but almost at once realising that compared with his adversary, who had fallen upon him unawares, he was no better than a wisp of straw, he subsided and was silent, without offering any resistance. Crouching on the ground with his elbows crooked behind his back, the wily tramp calmly waited for what would happen next, apparently quite incredulous of danger. He was right in his reckoning. Nikolay Vsyevolodovitch had already with his left hand taken off his thick scarf to tie his prisoner’s arms, but suddenly, for some reason, he abandoned him, and shoved him away. The man instantly sprang on to his feet, turned round, and a short, broad boot-knife suddenly gleamed in his hand.
“Away with that knife; put it away, at once!” Nikolay Vsyevolodovitch commanded with an impatient gesture, and the knife vanished as instantaneously as it had appeared.
Without speaking again or turning round, Nikolay Vsyevolodovitch went on his way. But the persistent vagabond did not leave him even now, though now, it is true, he did not chatter, and even respectfully kept his distance, a full step behind.
They crossed the bridge like this and came out on to the river bank, turning this time to the left, again into a long deserted back street, which led to the centre of the town by a shorter way than going through Bogoyavlensky Street.
“Is it true, as they say, that you robbed a church in the district the other day?” Nikolay Vsyevolodovitch asked suddenly.
“I went in to say my prayers in the first place,” the tramp answered, sedately and respectfully as though nothing had happened; more than sedately, in fact, almost with dignity. There was no trace of his former “friendly” familiarity. All that was to be seen was a serious, business-like man, who had indeed been gratuitously insulted, but who was capable of overlooking an insult.
“But when the Lord led me there,” he went on, “ech, I thought what a heavenly abundance! It was all owing to my helpless state, as in our way of life there’s no doing without assistance. And, now, God be my witness, sir, it was my own loss. The Lord punished me for my sins, and what with the censer and the deacon’s halter, I only got twelve roubles altogether. The chin setting of St. Nikolay of pure silver went for next to nothing. They said it was plated.”
“You killed the watchman?”
“That is, I cleared the place out together with that watchman, but afterwards, next morning, by the river, we fell to quarrelling which should carry the sack. I sinned, I did lighten his load for him.”
“Well, you can rob and murder again.”
“That’s the very advice Pyotr Stepanovitch gives me, in the very same words, for he’s uncommonly mean and hard-hearted about helping a fellow-creature. And what’s more, he hasn’t a ha’p’orth of belief in the Heavenly Creator, who made us out of earthly clay; but he says it’s all the work of nature even to the last beast. He doesn’t understand either that with our way of life it’s impossible for us to get along without friendly assistance. If you begin to talk to him he looks like a sheep at the water; it makes one wonder. Would you believe, at Captain Lebyadkin’s, out yonder, whom your honour’s just been visiting, when he was living at Filipov’s, before you came, the door stood open all night long. He’d be drunk and sleeping like the dead, and his money dropping out of his pockets all over the floor. I’ve chanced to see it with my own eyes, for in our way of life it’s impossible to live without assistance.…”
“How do you mean with your own eyes? Did you go in at night then?”
“Maybe I did go in, but no one knows of it.”
“Why didn’t you kill him?”
“Reckoning it out, I steadied myself. For once having learned for sure that I can always get one hundred and fifty roubles, why should I go so far when I can get fifteen hundred roubles, if I only bide my time. For Captain Lebyadkin (I’ve heard him with my own ears) had great hopes of you when he was drunk; and there isn’t a tavern here—not the lowest pot-house—where he hasn’t talked about it when he was in that state. So that hearing it from many lips, I began, too, to rest all my hopes on your excellency. I speak to you, sir, as to my father, or my own brother; for Pyotr Stepanovitch will never learn that from me, and not a soul in the world. So won’t your excellency spare me three roubles in your kindness? You might set my mind at rest, so that I might know the real truth; for we can’t get on without assistance.”
Nikolay Vsyevolodovitch laughed aloud, and taking out his purse, in which he had as much as fifty roubles, in small notes, threw him one note out of the bundle, then a second, a third, a fourth. Fedka flew to catch them in the air. The notes dropped into the mud, and he snatched them up crying, “Ech! ech!” Nikolay Vsyevolodovitch finished by flinging the whole bundle at him, and, still laughing, went on down the street, this time alone. The tramp remained crawling on his knees in the mud, looking for the notes which were blown about by the wind and soaking in the puddles, and for an hour after his spasmodic cries of “Ech! ech!” were still to be heard in the darkness.