HE WOULD NOT SEE ME. He had shut himself up and was writing. At my repeated knocks and appeals he answered through the door:
“My friend, I have finished everything. Who can ask anything more of me?”
“You haven’t finished anything, you’ve only helped to make a mess of the whole thing. For God’s sake, no epigrams, Stepan Trofimovitch! Open the door. We must take steps; they may still come and insult you.…”
I thought myself entitled to be particularly severe and even rigorous. I was afraid he might be going to do something still more mad. But to my surprise I met an extraordinary firmness.
“Don’t be the first to insult me then. I thank you for the past, but I repeat I’ve done with all men, good and bad. I am writing to Darya Pavlovna, whom I’ve forgotten so unpardonably till now. You may take it to her to-morrow, if you like, now merci.”
“Stepan Trofimovitch, I assure you that the matter is more serious than you think. Do you think that you’ve crushed someone there? You’ve pulverised no one, but have broken yourself to pieces like an empty bottle.” (Oh, I was coarse and discourteous, I remember it with regret.) “You’ve absolutely no reason to write to Darya Pavlovna … and what will you do with yourself without me? What do you understand about practical life? I expect you are plotting something else? You’ll simply come to grief again if you go plotting something more.…”
He rose and came close up to the door.
“You’ve not been long with them, but you’ve caught the infection of their tone and language. Dieu vous pardonne, mon ami, et Dieu vous garde. But I’ve always seen in you the germs of delicate feeling, and you will get over it perhaps—après le temps, of course, like all of us Russians. As for what you say about my impracticability, I’ll remind you of a recent idea of mine: a whole mass of people in Russia do nothing whatever but attack other people’s impracticability with the utmost fury and with the tiresome persistence of flies in the summer, accusing every one of it except themselves. Cher, remember that I am excited, and don’t distress me. Once more merci for everything, and let us part like Karmazinov and the public; that is, let us forget each other with as much generosity as we can. He was posing in begging his former readers so earnestly to forget him; quant à moi, I am not so conceited, and I rest my hopes on the youth of your inexperienced heart. How should you remember a useless old man for long? ‘Live more,’ my friend, as Nastasya wished me on my last name-day (ces pauvres gens ont quelquefois des mots charmants et pleins de philosophie). I do not wish you much happiness—it will bore you. I do not wish you trouble either, but, following the philosophy of the peasant, I will repeat simply ‘live more’ and try not to be much bored; this useless wish I add from myself. Well, good-bye, and good-bye for good. Don’t stand at my door, I will not open it.”
He went away and I could get nothing more out of him. In spite of his “excitement,” he spoke smoothly, deliberately, with weight, obviously trying to be impressive. Of course he was rather vexed with me and was avenging himself indirectly, possibly even for the yesterday’s “prison carts” and “floors that give way.” His tears in public that morning, in spite of a triumph of a sort, had put him, he knew, in rather a comic position, and there never was a man more solicitous of dignity and punctilio in his relations with his friends than Stepan Trofimovitch. Oh, I don’t blame him. But this fastidiousness and irony which he preserved in spite of all shocks reassured me at the time. A man who was so little different from his ordinary self was, of course, not in the mood at that moment for anything tragic or extraordinary. So I reasoned at the time, and, heavens, what a mistake I made! I left too much out of my reckoning.
In anticipation of events I will quote the few first lines of the letter to Darya Pavlovna, which she actually received the following day:
“Mon enfant, my hand trembles, but I’ve done with everything. You were not present at my last struggle: you did not come to that matinée, and you did well to stay away. But you will be told that in our Russia, which has grown so poor in men of character, one man had the courage to stand up and, in spite of deadly menaces showered on him from all sides, to tell the fools the truth, that is, that they are fools. Oh, ce sont—des pauvres petits vauriens et rien de plus, des petits—fools—voilà le mot! The die is cast; I am going from this town forever and I know not whither. Every one I loved has turned from me. But you, you are a pure and naïve creature; you, a gentle being whose life has been all but linked with mine at the will of a capricious and imperious heart; you who looked at me perhaps with contempt when I shed weak tears on the eve of our frustrated marriage; you, who cannot in any case look on me except as a comic figure—for you, for you is the last cry of my heart, for you my last duty, for you alone! I cannot leave you forever thinking of me as an ungrateful fool, a churlish egoist, as probably a cruel and ungrateful heart—whom, alas, I cannot forget—is every day describing me to you.…”
And so on and so on, four large pages.
Answering his “I won’t open” with three bangs with my fist on the door, and shouting after him that I was sure he would send Nastasya for me three times that day, but I would not come, I gave him up and ran off to Yulia Mihailovna.
There I was the witness of a revolting scene: the poor woman was deceived to her face, and I could do nothing. Indeed, what could I say to her? I had had time to reconsider things a little and reflect that I had nothing to go upon but certain feelings and suspicious presentiments. I found her in tears, almost in hysterics, with compresses of eau-de-Cologne and a glass of water. Before her stood Pyotr Stepanovitch, who talked without stopping, and the prince, who held his tongue as though it had been under a lock. With tears and lamentations she reproached Pyotr Stepanovitch for his “desertion.” I was struck at once by the fact that she ascribed the whole failure, the whole ignominy of the matinée, everything in fact, to Pyotr Stepanovitch’s absence.
In him I observed an important change: he seemed a shade too anxious, almost serious. As a rule he never seemed serious; he was always laughing, even when he was angry, and he was often angry. Oh, he was angry now! He was speaking coarsely, carelessly, with vexation and impatience. He said that he had been taken ill at Gaganov’s lodging, where he had happened to go early in the morning. Alas, the poor woman was so anxious to be deceived again! The chief question which I found being discussed was whether the ball, that is, the whole second half of the fête, should or should not take place. Yulia Mihailovna could not be induced to appear at the ball “after the insults she had received that morning”; in other words, her heart was set on being compelled to do so, and by him, by Pyotr Stepanovitch. She looked upon him as an oracle, and I believe if he had gone away she would have taken to her bed at once. But he did not want to go away; he was desperately anxious that the ball should take place and that Yulia Mihailovna should be present at it.
“Come, what is there to cry about? Are you set on having a scene? On venting your anger on somebody? Well, vent it on me; only make haste about it, for the time is passing and you must make up your mind. We made a mess of it with the matinée; we’ll pick up on the ball. Here, the prince thinks as I do. Yes, if it hadn’t been for the prince, how would things have ended there?”
The prince had been at first opposed to the ball (that is, opposed to Yulia Mihailovna’s appearing at it; the ball was bound to go on in any case), but after two or three such references to his opinion he began little by little to grunt his acquiescence.
I was surprised too at the extraordinary rudeness of Pyotr Stepanovitch’s tone. Oh, I scout with indignation the contemptible slander which was spread later of some supposed liaison between Yulia Mihailovna and Pyotr Stepanovitch. There was no such thing, nor could there be. He gained his ascendency over her from the first only by encouraging her in her dreams of influence in society and in the ministry, by entering into her plans, by inventing them for her, and working upon her with the grossest flattery. He had got her completely into his toils and had become as necessary to her as the air she breathed. Seeing me, she cried, with flashing eyes:
“Here, ask him. He kept by my side all the while, just like the prince did. Tell me, isn’t it plain that it was all a preconcerted plot, a base, designing plot to damage Andrey Antonovitch and me as much as possible? Oh, they had arranged it beforehand. They had a plan! It’s a party, a regular party.”
“You are exaggerating as usual. You’ve always some romantic notion in your head. But I am glad to see Mr.…” (He pretended to have forgotten my name.) “He’ll give us his opinion.”
“My opinion,” I hastened to put in, “is the same as Yulia Mihailovna’s. The plot is only too evident. I have brought you these ribbons, Yulia Mihailovna. Whether the ball is to take place or not is not my business, for it’s not in my power to decide; but my part as steward is over. Forgive my warmth, but I can’t act against the dictates of common sense and my own convictions.”
“You hear! You hear!” She clasped her hands.
“I hear, and I tell you this.” He turned to me. “I think you must have eaten something which has made you all delirious. To my thinking, nothing has happened, absolutely nothing but what has happened before and is always liable to happen in this town. A plot, indeed! It was an ugly failure, disgracefully stupid. But where’s the plot? A plot against Yulia Mihailovna, who has spoiled them and protected them and fondly forgiven them all their schoolboy pranks! Yulia Mihailovna! What have I been hammering into you for the last month continually? What did I warn you? What did you want with all these people—what did you want with them? What induced you to mix yourself up with these fellows? What was the motive, what was the object of it? To unite society? But, mercy on us! will they ever be united?”
“When did you warn me? On the contrary, you approved of it, you even insisted on it.… I confess I am so surprised.… You brought all sorts of strange people to see me yourself.”
“On the contrary, I opposed you; I did not approve of it. As for bringing them to see you, I certainly did, but only after they’d got in by dozens and only of late to make up ‘the literary quadrille’—we couldn’t get on without these rogues. Only I don’t mind betting that a dozen or two more of the same sort were let in without tickets to-day.”
“Not a doubt of it,” I agreed.
“There, you see, you are agreeing already. Think what the tone has been lately here—I mean in this wretched town. It’s nothing but insolence, impudence; it’s been a crying scandal all the time. And who’s been encouraging it? Who’s screened it by her authority? Who’s upset them all? Who has made all the small fry huffy? All their family secrets are caricatured in your album. Didn’t you pat them on the back, your poets and caricaturists? Didn’t you let Lyamshin kiss your hand? Didn’t a divinity student abuse an actual state councillor in your presence and spoil his daughter’s dress with his tarred boots? Now, can you wonder that the public is set against you?”
“But that’s all your doing, yours! Oh, my goodness!”
“No, I warned you. We quarrelled. Do you hear, we quarrelled?”
“Why, you are lying to my face!”
“Of course it’s easy for you to say that. You need a victim to vent your wrath on. Well, vent it on me as I’ve said already. I’d better appeal to you, Mr.…” (He was still unable to recall my name.) “We’ll reckon on our fingers. I maintain that, apart from Liputin, there was nothing preconcerted, nothing! I will prove it, but first let us analyse Liputin. He came forward with that fool Lebyadkin’s verses. Do you maintain that that was a plot? But do you know it might simply have struck Liputin as a clever thing to do. Seriously, seriously. He simply came forward with the idea of making every one laugh and entertaining them—his protectress Yulia Mihailovna first of all. That was all. Don’t you believe it? Isn’t that in keeping with all that has been going on here for the last month? Do you want me to tell the whole truth? I declare that under other circumstances it might have gone off all right. It was a coarse joke—well, a bit strong, perhaps; but it was amusing, you know, wasn’t it?”
“What! You think what Liputin did was clever?” Yulia Mihailovna cried in intense indignation. “Such stupidity, such tactlessness, so contemptible, so mean! It was intentional! Oh, you are saying it on purpose! I believe after that you are in the plot with them yourself.”
“Of course I was behind the scenes, I was in hiding, I set it all going. But if I were in the plot—understand that, anyway—it wouldn’t have ended with Liputin. So according to you I had arranged with my papa too that he should cause such a scene on purpose? Well, whose fault is it that my papa was allowed to read? Who tried only yesterday to prevent you from allowing it, only yesterday?”
“Oh, hier il avait tant d’esprit, I was so reckoning on him; and then he has such manners. I thought with him and Karmazinov … Only think!”
“Yes, only think. But in spite of tant d’esprit papa has made things worse, and if I’d known beforehand that he’d make such a mess of it, I should certainly not have persuaded you yesterday to keep the goat out of the kitchen garden, should I—since I am taking part in this conspiracy against your fête that you are so positive about? And yet I did try to dissuade you yesterday; I tried to because I foresaw it. To foresee everything was, of course, impossible; he probably did not know himself a minute before what he would fire off—these nervous old men can’t be reckoned on like other people. But you can still save the situation: to satisfy the public, send to him to-morrow by administrative order, and with all the ceremonies, two doctors to inquire into his health. Even to-day, in fact, and take him straight to the hospital and apply cold compresses. Every one would laugh, anyway, and see that there was nothing to take offence at. I’ll tell people about it in the evening at the ball, as I am his son. Karmazinov is another story. He was a perfect ass and dragged out his article for a whole hour. He certainly must have been in the plot with me! ‘I’ll make a mess of it too,’ he thought, ‘to damage Yulia Mihailovna.’”
“Oh, Karmazinov! Quelle honte! I was burning, burning with shame for his audience!”
“Well, I shouldn’t have burnt, but have cooked him instead. The audience was right, you know. Who was to blame for Karmazinov, again? Did I foist him upon you? Was I one of his worshippers? Well, hang him! But the third maniac, the political—that’s a different matter. That was every one’s blunder, not only my plot.”
“Ah, don’t speak of it! That was awful, awful! That was my fault, entirely my fault!”
“Of course it was, but I don’t blame you for that. No one can control them, these candid souls! You can’t always be safe from them, even in Petersburg. He was recommended to you, and in what terms too! So you will admit that you are bound to appear at the ball to-night. It’s an important business. It was you put him on to the platform. You must make it plain now to the public that you are not in league with him, that the fellow is in the hands of the police, and that you were in some inexplicable way deceived. You ought to declare with indignation that you were the victim of a madman. Because he is a madman and nothing more. That’s how you must put it about him. I can’t endure these people who bite. I say worse things perhaps, but not from the platform, you know. And they are talking about a senator too.”
“What senator? Who’s talking?”
“I don’t understand it myself, you know. Do you know anything about a senator, Yulia Mihailovna?”
“You see, they are convinced that a senator has been appointed to be governor here, and that you are being superseded from Petersburg. I’ve heard it from lots of people.”
“I’ve heard it too,” I put in.
“Who said so?” asked Yulia Mihailovna, flushing all over.
“You mean, who said so first? How can I tell? But there it is, people say so. Masses of people are saying so. They were saying so yesterday particularly. They are all very serious about it, though I can’t make it out. Of course the more intelligent and competent don’t talk, but even some of those listen.”
“How mean! And … how stupid!”
“Well, that’s just why you must make your appearance, to show these fools.”
“I confess I feel myself that it’s my duty, but … what if there’s another disgrace in store for us? What if people don’t come? No one will come, you know, no one!”
“How hot you are! They not come! What about the new clothes? What about the girls’ dresses? I give you up as a woman after that! Is that your knowledge of human nature?”
“The marshal’s wife won’t come, she won’t.”
“But, after all, what has happened? Why won’t they come?” he cried at last with angry impatience.
“Ignominy, disgrace—that’s what’s happened. I don’t know what to call it, but after it I can’t face people.”
“Why? How are you to blame for it, after all? Why do you take the blame of it on yourself? Isn’t it rather the fault of the audience, of your respectable residents, your patresfamilias? They ought to have controlled the roughs and the rowdies—for it was all the work of roughs and rowdies, nothing serious. You can never manage things with the police alone in any society, anywhere. Among us every one asks for a special policeman to protect him wherever he goes. People don’t understand that society must protect itself. And what do our patresfamilias, the officials, the wives and daughters, do in such cases? They sit quiet and sulk. In fact there’s not enough social initiative to keep the disorderly in check.”
“Ah, that’s the simple truth! They sit quiet, sulk and … gaze about them.”
“And if it’s the truth, you ought to say so aloud, proudly, sternly, just to show that you are not defeated, to those respectable residents and mothers of families. Oh, you can do it; you have the gift when your head is clear. You will gather them round you and say it aloud. And then a paragraph in the Voice and the Financial News. Wait a bit, I’ll undertake it myself, I’ll arrange it all for you. Of course there must be more superintendence: you must look after the buffet; you must ask the prince, you must ask Mr.… You must not desert us, monsieur, just when we have to begin all over again. And finally, you must appear arm-in-arm with Andrey Antonovitch.… How is Andrey Antonovitch?”
“Oh, how unjustly, how untruly, how cruelly you have always judged that angelic man!” Yulia Mihailovna cried in a sudden, outburst, almost with tears, putting her handkerchief to her eyes.
Pyotr Stepanovitch was positively taken aback for the moment. “Good heavens! I.… What have I said? I’ve always …”
“You never have, never! You have never done him justice.”
“There’s no understanding a woman,” grumbled Pyotr Stepanovitch, with a wry smile.
“He is the most sincere, the most delicate, the most angelic of men! The most kind-hearted of men!”
“Well, really, as for kind-heartedness … I’ve always done him justice.…”
“Never! But let us drop it. I am too awkward in my defence of him. This morning that little Jesuit, the marshal’s wife, also dropped some sarcastic hints about what happened yesterday.”
“Oh, she has no thoughts to spare for yesterday now, she is full of to-day. And why are you so upset at her not coming to the ball to-night? Of course, she won’t come after getting mixed up in such a scandal. Perhaps it’s not her fault, but still her reputation … her hands are soiled.”
“What do you mean; I don’t understand? Why are her hands soiled?” Yulia Mihailovna looked at him in perplexity.
“I don’t vouch for the truth of it, but the town is ringing with the story that it was she brought them together.”
“What do you mean? Brought whom together?”
“What, do you mean to say you don’t know?” he exclaimed with well-simulated wonder. “Why Stavrogin and Lizaveta Nikolaevna.”
“What? How?” we all cried out at once.
“Is it possible you don’t know? Phew! Why, it is quite a tragic romance: Lizaveta Nikolaevna was pleased to get out of that lady’s carriage and get straight into Stavrogin’s carriage, and slipped off with ‘the latter’ to Skvoreshniki in full daylight. Only an hour ago, hardly an hour.”
We were flabbergasted. Of course we fell to questioning him, but to our wonder, although he “happened” to be a witness of the scene himself, he could give us no detailed account of it. The thing seemed to have happened like this: when the marshal’s wife was driving Liza and Mavriky Nikolaevitch from the matinée to the house of Praskovya Ivanovna (whose legs were still bad) they saw a carriage waiting a short distance, about twenty-five paces, to one side of the front door. When Liza jumped out, she ran straight to this carriage; the door was flung open and shut again; Liza called to Mavriky Nikolaevitch, “Spare me,” and the carriage drove off at full speed to Skvoreshniki. To our hurried questions whether it was by arrangement? Who was in the carriage? Pyotr Stepanovitch answered that he knew nothing about it; no doubt it had been arranged, but that he did not see Stavrogin himself; possibly the old butler, Alexey Yegorytch, might have been in the carriage. To the question “How did he come to be there, and how did he know for a fact that she had driven to Skvoreshniki?” he answered that he happened to be passing and, at seeing Liza, he had run up to the carriage (and yet he could not make out who was in it, an inquisitive man like him!) and that Mavriky Nikolaevitch, far from setting off in pursuit, had not even tried to stop Liza, and had even laid a restraining hand on the marshal’s wife, who was shouting at the top of her voice: “She is going to Stavrogin, to Stavrogin.” At this point I lost patience, and cried furiously to Pyotr Stepanovitch:
“It’s all your doing, you rascal! This was what you were doing this morning. You helped Stavrogin, you came in the carriage, you helped her into it … it was you, you, you! Yulia Mihailovna, he is your enemy; he will be your ruin too! Beware of him!”
And I ran headlong out of the house. I wonder myself and cannot make out to this day how I came to say that to him. But I guessed quite right: it had all happened almost exactly as I said, as appeared later. What struck me most was the obviously artificial way in which he broke the news. He had not told it at once on entering the house as an extraordinary piece of news, but pretended that we knew without his telling us which was impossible in so short a time. And if we had known it, we could not possibly have refrained from mentioning it till he introduced the subject. Besides, he could not have heard yet that the town was “ringing with gossip” about the marshal’s wife in so short a time. Besides, he had once or twice given a vulgar, frivolous smile as he told the story, probably considering that we were fools and completely taken in.
But I had no thought to spare for him; the central fact I believed, and ran from Yulia Mihailovna’s, beside myself. The catastrophe cut me to the heart. I was wounded almost to tears; perhaps I did shed some indeed. I was at a complete loss what to do. I rushed to Stepan Trofimovitch’s, but the vexatious man still refused to open the door. Nastasya informed me, in a reverent whisper, that he had gone to bed, but I did not believe it. At Liza’s house I succeeded in questioning the servants. They confirmed the story of the elopement, but knew nothing themselves. There was great commotion in the house; their mistress had been attacked by fainting fits, and Mavriky Nikolaevitch was with her. I did not feel it possible to ask for Mavriky Nikolaevitch. To my inquiries about Pyotr Stepanovitch they told me that he had been in and out continually of late, sometimes twice in the day. The servants were sad, and showed particular respectfulness in speaking of Liza; they were fond of her. That she was ruined, utterly ruined, I did not doubt; but the psychological aspect of the matter I was utterly unable to understand, especially after her scene with Stavrogin the previous day. To run about the town and inquire at the houses of acquaintances, who would, of course, by now have heard the news and be rejoicing at it, seemed to me revolting, besides being humiliating for Liza. But, strange to say, I ran to see Darya Pavlovna, though I was not admitted (no one had been admitted into the house since the previous morning). I don’t know what I could have said to her and what made me run to her. From her I went to her brother’s. Shatov listened sullenly and in silence. I may observe that I found him more gloomy than I had ever seen him before; he was awfully preoccupied and seemed only to listen to me with an effort. He said scarcely anything and began walking up and down his cell from corner to corner, treading more noisily than usual. As I was going down the stairs he shouted after me to go to Liputin’s: “There you’ll hear everything.” Yet I did not go to Liputin’s, but after I’d gone a good way towards home I turned back to Shatov’s again, and, half opening the door without going in, suggested to him laconically and with no kind of explanation, “Won’t you go to Marya Timofyevna to-day?” At this Shatov swore at me, and I went away. I note here that I may not forget it that he did purposely go that evening to the other end of the town to see Marya Timofyevna, whom he had not seen for some time. He found her in excellent health and spirits and Lebyadkin dead drunk, asleep on the sofa in the first room. This was at nine o’clock. He told me so himself next day when we met for a moment in the street. Before ten o’clock I made up my mind to go to the ball, but not in the capacity of a steward (besides my rosette had been left at Yulia Mihailovna’s). I was tempted by irresistible curiosity to listen, without asking any questions, to what people were saying in the town about all that had happened. I wanted, too, to have a look at Yulia Mihailovna, if only at a distance. I reproached myself greatly that I had left her so abruptly that afternoon.
All that night, with its almost grotesque incidents, and the terrible dénouement that followed in the early morning, still seems to me like a hideous nightmare, and is, for me at least, the most painful chapter in my chronicle. I was late for the ball, and it was destined to end so quickly that I arrived not long before it was over. It was eleven o’clock when I reached the entrance of the marshal’s house, where the same White Hall in which the matinée had taken place had, in spite of the short interval between, been cleared and made ready to serve as the chief ballroom for the whole town, as we expected, to dance in. But far as I had been that morning from expecting the ball to be a success, I had had no presentiment of the full truth. Not one family of the higher circles appeared; even the subordinate officials of rather more consequence were absent—and this was a very striking fact. As for ladies and girls, Pyotr Stepanovitch’s arguments (the duplicity of which was obvious now) turned out to be utterly incorrect: exceedingly few had come; to four men there was scarcely one lady—and what ladies they were! Regimental ladies of a sort, three doctors’ wives with their daughters, two or three poor ladies from the country, the seven daughters and the niece of the secretary whom I have mentioned already, some wives of tradesmen, of post-office clerks and other small fry—was this what Yulia Mihailovna expected? Half the tradespeople even were absent. As for the men, in spite of the complete absence of all persons of consequence, there was still a crowd of them, but they made a doubtful and suspicious impression. There were, of course, some quiet and respectful officers with their wives, some of the most docile fathers of families, like that secretary, for instance, the father of his seven daughters. All these humble, insignificant people had come, as one of these gentlemen expressed it, because it was “inevitable.” But, on the other hand, the mass of free-and-easy people and the mass too of those whom Pyotr Stepanovitch and I had suspected of coming in without tickets, seemed even bigger than in the afternoon. So far they were all sitting in the refreshment bar, and had gone straight there on arriving, as though it were the meeting-place they had agreed upon. So at least it seemed to me. The refreshment bar had been placed in a large room, the last of several opening out of one another. Here Prohoritch was installed with all the attractions of the club cuisine and with a tempting display of drinks and dainties. I noticed several persons whose coats were almost in rags and whose get-up was altogether suspicious and utterly unsuitable for a ball. They had evidently been with great pains brought to a state of partial sobriety which would not last long; and goodness knows where they had been brought from, they were not local people. I knew, of course, that it was part of Yulia Mihailovna’s idea that the ball should be of the most democratic character, and that “even working people and shopmen should not be excluded if any one of that class chanced to pay for a ticket.” She could bravely utter such words in her committee with absolute security that none of the working people of our town, who all lived in extreme poverty, would dream of taking a ticket. But in spite of the democratic sentiments of the committee, I could hardly believe that such sinister-looking and shabby people could have been admitted in the regular way. But who could have admitted them, and with what object? Lyamshin and Liputin had already been deprived of their steward’s rosettes, though they were present at the ball, as they were taking part in the “literary quadrille.” But, to my amazement, Liputin’s place was taken by the divinity student, who had caused the greatest scandal at the matinée by his skirmish with Stepan Trofimovitch; and Lyamshin’s was taken by Pyotr Stepanovitch himself. What was to be looked for under the circumstances?
I tried to listen to the conversation. I was struck by the wildness of some ideas I heard expressed. It was maintained in one group, for instance, that Yulia Mihailovna had arranged Liza’s elopement with Stavrogin and had been paid by the latter for doing so. Even the sum paid was mentioned. It was asserted that she had arranged the whole fête with a view to it, and that that was the reason why half the town had not turned up at the ball, and that Lembke himself was so upset about it that “his mind had given way,” and that, crazy as he was, “she had got him in tow.” There was a great deal of laughter too, hoarse, wild and significant. Every one was criticising the ball, too, with great severity, and abusing Yulia Mihailovna without ceremony. In fact it was disorderly, incoherent, drunken and excited babble, so it was difficult to put it together and make anything of it. At the same time there were simple-hearted people enjoying themselves at the refreshment-bar; there were even some ladies of the sort who are surprised and frightened at nothing, very genial and festive, chiefly military ladies with their husbands. They made parties at the little tables, were drinking tea, and were very merry. The refreshment-bar made a snug refuge for almost half of the guests. Yet in a little time all this mass of people must stream into the ballroom. It was horrible to think of it!
Meanwhile the prince had succeeded in arranging three skimpy quadrilles in the White Hall. The young ladies were dancing, while their parents were enjoying watching them. But many of these respectable persons had already begun to think how they could, after giving their girls a treat, get off in good time before “the trouble began.” Absolutely every one was convinced that it certainly would begin. It would be difficult for me to describe Yulia Mihailovna’s state of mind. I did not talk to her though I went close up to her. She did not respond to the bow I made her on entering; she did not notice me (really did not notice). There was a painful look in her face and a contemptuous and haughty though restless and agitated expression in her eyes. She controlled herself with evident suffering—for whose sake, with what object? She certainly ought to have gone away, still more to have got her husband away, and she remained! From her face one could see that her eyes were “fully opened,” and that it was useless for her to expect any thing more. She did not even summon Pyotr Stepanovitch (he seemed to avoid her; I saw him in the refreshment-room, he was extremely lively). But she remained at the ball and did not let Andrey Antonovitch leave her side for a moment. Oh, up to the very last moment, even that morning she would have repudiated any hint about his health with genuine indignation. But now her eyes were to be opened on this subject too. As for me, I thought from the first glance that Andrey Antonovitch looked worse than he had done in the morning. He seemed to be plunged into a sort of oblivion and hardly to know where he was. Sometimes he looked about him with unexpected severity—at me, for instance, twice. Once he tried to say something; he began loudly and audibly but did not finish the sentence, throwing a modest old clerk who happened to be near him almost into a panic. But even this humble section of the assembly held sullenly and timidly aloof from Yulia Mihailovna and at the same time turned upon her husband exceedingly strange glances, open and staring, quite out of keeping with their habitually submissive demeanour.
“Yes, that struck me, and I suddenly began to guess about Andrey Antonovitch,” Yulia Mihailovna confessed to me afterwards.
Yes, she was to blame again! Probably when after my departure she had settled with Pyotr Stepanovitch that there should be a ball and that she should be present she must have gone again to the study where Andrey Antonovitch was sitting, utterly “shattered” by the matinée; must again have used all her fascinations to persuade him to come with her. But what misery she must have been in now! And yet she did not go away. Whether it was pride or simply she lost her head, I do not know. In spite of her haughtiness, she attempted with smiles and humiliation to enter into conversation with some ladies, but they were confused, confined themselves to distrustful monosyllables, “Yes” and “No,” and evidently avoided her.
The only person of undoubted consequence who was present at the ball was that distinguished general whom I have described already, the one who after Stavrogin’s duel with Gaganov opened the door to public impatience at the marshal’s wife’s. He walked with an air of dignity through the rooms, looked about, and listened, and tried to appear as though he had come rather for the sake of observation than for the sake of enjoying himself.… He ended by establishing himself beside Yulia Mihailovna and not moving a step away from her, evidently trying to keep up her spirits, and reassure her. He certainly was a most kind-hearted man, of very high rank, and so old that even compassion from him was not wounding. But to admit to herself that this old gossip was venturing to pity her and almost to protect her, knowing that he was doing her honour by his presence, was very vexatious. The general stayed by her and never ceased chattering.
“They say a town can’t go on without seven righteous men … seven, I think it is, I am not sure of the number fixed.… I don’t know how many of these seven, the certified righteous of the town … have the honour of being present at your ball. Yet in spite of their presence I begin to feel unsafe. Vous me pardonnez, charmante dame, n’est-ce pas? I speak allegorically, but I went into the refreshment-room and I am glad I escaped alive.… Our priceless Prohoritch is not in his place there, and I believe his bar will be destroyed before morning. But I am laughing. I am only waiting to see what the ‘literary quadrille’ is going to be like, and then home to bed. You must excuse a gouty old fellow. I go early to bed, and I would advise you too to go ‘by-by,’ as they say aux enfants. I’ve come, you know, to have a look at the pretty girls … whom, of course, I could meet nowhere in such profusion as here. They all live beyond the river and I don’t drive out so far. There’s a wife of an officer … in the chasseurs I believe he is … who is distinctly pretty, distinctly, and … she knows it herself. I’ve talked to the sly puss; she is a sprightly one … and the girls too are fresh-looking; but that’s all, there’s nothing but freshness. Still, it’s a pleasure to look at them. There are some rosebuds, but their lips are thick. As a rule there’s an irregularity about female beauty in Russia, and … they are a little like buns.… vous me pardonnez, n’est-ce pas? … with good eyes, however, laughing eyes.… These rose buds are charming for two years when they are young … even for three … then they broaden out and are spoilt forever … producing in their husbands that deplorable indifference which does so much to promote the woman movement … that is, if I understand it correctly.… H’m! It’s a fine hall; the rooms are not badly decorated. It might be worse. The music might be much worse.… I don’t say it ought to have been. What makes a bad impression is that there are so few ladies. I say nothing about the dresses. It’s bad that that chap in the grey trousers should dare to dance the cancan so openly. I can forgive him if he does it in the gaiety of his heart, and since he is the local chemist.… Still, eleven o’clock is a bit early even for chemists. There were two fellows fighting in the refreshment-bar and they weren’t turned out. At eleven o’clock people ought to be turned out for fighting, whatever the standard of manners.… Three o’clock is a different matter; then one has to make concessions to public opinion—if only this ball survives till three o’clock. Varvara Petrovna has not kept her word, though, and hasn’t sent flowers. H’m! She has no thoughts for flowers, pauvre mère! And poor Liza! Have you heard? They say it’s a mysterious story … and Stavrogin is to the front again.… H’m! I would have gone home to bed … I can hardly keep my eyes open. But when is this ‘literary quadrille’ coming on?”
At last the “literary quadrille” began. Whenever of late there had been conversation in the town on the ball it had invariably turned on this literary quadrille, and as no one could imagine what it would be like, it aroused extraordinary curiosity. Nothing could be more unfavourable to its chance of success, and great was the disappointment.
The side doors of the White Hall were thrown open and several masked figures appeared. The public surrounded them eagerly. All the occupants of the refreshment-bar trooped to the last man into the hall. The masked figures took their places for the dance. I succeeded in making my way to the front and installed myself just behind Yulia Mihailovna, Von Lembke, and the general. At this point Pyotr Stepanovitch, who had kept away till that time, skipped up to Yulia Mihailovna.
“I’ve been in the refreshment-room all this time, watching,” he whispered, with the air of a guilty schoolboy, which he, however, assumed on purpose to irritate her even more. She turned crimson with anger.
“You might give up trying to deceive me now at least, insolent man!” broke from her almost aloud, so that it was heard by other people. Pyotr Stepanovitch skipped away extremely well satisfied with himself.
It would be difficult to imagine a more pitiful, vulgar, dull and insipid allegory than this “literary quadrille.” Nothing could be imagined less appropriate to our local society. Yet they say it was Karmazinov’s idea. It was Liputin indeed who arranged it with the help of the lame teacher who had been at the meeting at Virginsky’s. But Karmazinov had given the idea and had, it was said, meant to dress up and to take a special and prominent part in it. The quadrille was made up of six couples of masked figures, who were not in fancy dress exactly, for their clothes were like every one else’s. Thus, for instance, one short and elderly gentleman wearing a dress-coat—in fact, dressed like every one else—wore a venerable grey beard, tied on (and this constituted his disguise). As he danced he pounded up and down, taking tiny and rapid steps on the same spot with a stolid expression of countenance. He gave vent to sounds in a subdued but husky bass, and this huskiness was meant to suggest one of the well-known papers. Opposite this figure danced two giants, X and Z, and these letters were pinned on their coats, but what the letters meant remained unexplained. “Honest Russian thought” was represented by a middle-aged gentleman in spectacles, dress-coat and gloves, and wearing fetters (real fetters). Under his arm he had a portfolio containing papers relating to some “case.” To convince the sceptical, a letter from abroad testifying to the honesty of “honest Russian thought” peeped out of his pocket. All this was explained by the stewards, as the letter which peeped out of his pocket could not be read. “Honest Russian thought” had his right hand raised and in it held a glass as though he wanted to propose a toast. In a line with him on each side tripped a crop-headed Nihilist girl; while vis-à-vis danced another elderly gentleman in a dress-coat with a heavy cudgel in his hand. He was meant to represent a formidable periodical (not a Petersburg one), and seemed to be saying, “I’ll pound you to a jelly.” But in spite of his cudgel he could not bear the spectacles of “honest Russian thought” fixed upon him and tried to look away, and when he did the pas de deux, he twisted, turned, and did not know what to do with himself—so terrible, probably, were the stings of his conscience! I don’t remember all the absurd tricks they played, however; it was all in the same style, so that I felt at last painfully ashamed. And this same expression, as it were, of shame was reflected in the whole public, even on the most sullen figures that had come out of the refreshment-room. For some time all were silent and gazed with angry perplexity. When a man is ashamed he generally begins to get angry and is disposed to be cynical. By degrees a murmur arose in the audience.
“What’s the meaning of it?” a man who had come in from the refreshment-room muttered in one of the groups.
“It’s something literary. It’s a criticism of the Voice.”
“What’s that to me?”
From another group:
“No, they are not asses; it’s we who are the asses.”
“Why are you an ass?”
“I am not an ass.”
“Well, if you are not, I am certainly not.”
From a third group:
“We ought to give them a good smacking and send them flying.”
“Pull down the hall!”
From a fourth group:
“I wonder the Lembkes are not ashamed to look on!”
“Why should they be ashamed? You are not.”
“Yes, I am ashamed, and he is the governor.”
“And you are a pig.”
“I’ve never seen such a commonplace ball in my life,” a lady observed viciously, quite close to Yulia Mihailovna, obviously with the intention of being overheard. She was a stout lady of forty with rouge on her cheeks, wearing a bright-coloured silk dress. Almost every one in the town knew her, but no one received her. She was the widow of a civil councillor, who had left her a wooden house and a small pension; but she lived well and kept horses. Two months previously she had called on Yulia Mihailovna, but the latter had not received her.
“That might have been foreseen,” she added, looking insolently into Yulia Mihailovna’s face.
“If you could foresee it, why did you come?” Yulia Mihailovna could not resist saying.
“Because I was too simple,” the sprightly lady answered instantly, up in arms and eager for the fray; but the general intervened.
“Chère dame”—he bent over to Yulia Mihailovna—“you’d really better be going. We are only in their way and they’ll enjoy themselves thoroughly without us. You’ve done your part, you’ve opened the ball, now leave them in peace. And Andrey Antonovitch doesn’t seem to be feeling quite satisfactorily.… To avoid trouble.”
But it was too late.
All through the quadrille Andrey Antonovitch gazed at the dancers with a sort of angry perplexity, and when he heard the comments of the audience he began looking about him uneasily. Then for the first time he caught sight of some of the persons who had come from the refreshment-room; there was an expression of extreme wonder in his face. Suddenly there was a loud roar of laughter at a caper that was cut in the quadrille. The editor of the “menacing periodical, not a Petersburg one,” who was dancing with the cudgel in his hands, felt utterly unable to endure the spectacled gaze of “honest Russian thought,” and not knowing how to escape it, suddenly in the last figure advanced to meet him standing on his head, which was meant, by the way, to typify the continual turning upside down of common sense by the menacing non-Petersburg gazette. As Lyamshin was the only one who could walk standing on his head, he had undertaken to represent the editor with the cudgel. Yulia Mihailovna had had no idea that anyone was going to walk on his head. “They concealed that from me, they concealed it,” she repeated to me afterwards in despair and indignation. The laughter from the crowd was, of course, provoked not by the allegory, which interested no one, but simply by a man’s walking on his head in a swallow-tail coat. Lembke flew into a rage and shook with fury.
“Rascal!” he cried, pointing to Lyamshin, “take hold of the scoundrel, turn him over … turn his legs … his head … so that his head’s up … up!”
Lyamshin jumped on to his feet. The laughter grew louder.
“Turn out all the scoundrels who are laughing!” Lembke prescribed suddenly.
There was an angry roar and laughter in the crowd.
“You can’t do like that, your Excellency.”
“You mustn’t abuse the public.”
“You are a fool yourself!” a voice cried suddenly from a corner.
“Filibusters!” shouted someone from the other end of the room.
Lembke looked round quickly at the shout and turned pale. A vacant smile came on to his lips, as though he suddenly understood and remembered something.
“Gentlemen,” said Yulia Mihailovna, addressing the crowd which was pressing round them, as she drew her husband away—“gentlemen, excuse Andrey Antonovitch. Andrey Antonovitch is unwell … excuse … forgive him, gentlemen.”
I positively heard her say “forgive him.” It all happened very quickly. But I remember for a fact that a section of the public rushed out of the hall immediately after those words of Yulia Mihailovna’s as though panic-stricken. I remember one hysterical, tearful feminine shriek:
“Ach, the same thing again!”
And in the retreat of the guests, which was almost becoming a crush, another bomb exploded exactly as in the afternoon.
“Fire! All the riverside quarter is on fire!”
I don’t remember where this terrible cry rose first, whether it was first raised in the hall, or whether someone ran upstairs from the entry, but it was followed by such alarm that I can’t attempt to describe it. More than half the guests at the ball came from the quarter beyond the river, and were owners or occupiers of wooden houses in that district. They rushed to the windows, pulled back the curtains in a flash, and tore down the blinds. The riverside was in flames. The fire, it is true, was only beginning, but it was in flames in three separate places—and that was what was alarming.
“Arson! The Shpigulin men!” roared the crowd.
I remember some very characteristic exclamations:
“I’ve had a presentiment in my heart that there’d be arson, I’ve had a presentiment of it these last few days!”
“The Shpigulin men, the Shpigulin men, no one else!”
“We were all lured here on purpose to set fire to it!”
This last most amazing exclamation came from a woman; it was an unintentional involuntary shriek of a housewife whose goods were burning. Every one rushed for the door. I won’t describe the crush in the vestibule over sorting out cloaks, shawls, and pelisses, the shrieks of the frightened women, the weeping of the young ladies. I doubt whether there was any theft, but it was no wonder that in such disorder some went away without their wraps because they were unable to find them, and this grew into a legend with many additions, long preserved in the town. Lembke and Yulia Mihailovna were almost crushed by the crowd at the doors.
“Stop, every one! Don’t let anyone out!” yelled Lembke, stretching out his arms menacingly towards the crowding people.
“Every one without exception to be strictly searched at once!”
A storm of violent oaths rose from the crowd.
“Andrey Antonovitch! Andrey Antonovitch!” cried Yulia Mihailovna in complete despair.
“Arrest her first!” shouted her husband, pointing his finger at her threateningly. “Search her first! The ball was arranged with a view to the fire.…”
She screamed and fell into a swoon. (Oh, there was no doubt of its being a real one.) The general, the prince, and I rushed to her assistance; there were others, even among the ladies, who helped us at that difficult moment. We carried the unhappy woman out of this hell to her carriage, but she only regained consciousness as she reached the house, and her first utterance was about Andrey Antonovitch again. With the destruction of all her fancies, the only thing left in her mind was Andrey Antonovitch. They sent for a doctor. I remained with her for a whole hour; the prince did so too. The general, in an access of generous feeling (though he had been terribly scared), meant to remain all night “by the bedside of the unhappy lady,” but within ten minutes he fell asleep in an arm-chair in the drawing-room while waiting for the doctor, and there we left him.
The chief of the police, who had hurried from the ball to the fire, had succeeded in getting Andrey Antonovitch out of the hall after us, and attempted to put him into Yulia Mihailovna’s carriage, trying all he could to persuade his Excellency “to seek repose.” But I don’t know why he did not insist. Andrey Antonovitch, of course, would not hear of repose, and was set on going to the fire; but that was not a sufficient reason. It ended in his taking him to the fire in his droshky. He told us afterwards that Lembke was gesticulating all the way and “shouting orders that it was impossible to obey owing to their unusualness.” It was officially reported later on that his Excellency had at that time been in a delirious condition “owing to a sudden fright.”
There is no need to describe how the ball ended. A few dozen rowdy fellows, and with them some ladies, remained in the hall. There were no police present. They would not let the orchestra go, and beat the musicians who attempted to leave. By morning they had pulled all Prohoritch’s stall to pieces, had drunk themselves senseless, danced the Kamarinsky in its unexpurgated form, made the rooms in a shocking mess, and only towards daybreak part of this hopelessly drunken rabble reached the scene of the fire to make fresh disturbances there. The other part spent the night in the rooms dead drunk, with disastrous consequences to the velvet sofas and the floor. Next morning, at the earliest possibility, they were dragged out by their legs into the street. So ended the fête for the benefit of the governesses of our province.
The fire frightened the inhabitants of the riverside just because it was evidently a case of arson. It was curious that at the first cry of “fire” another cry was raised that the Shpigulin men had done it. It is now well known that three Shpigulin men really did have a share in setting fire to the town, but that was all; all the other factory hands were completely acquitted, not only officially but also by public opinion. Besides those three rascals (of whom one has been caught and confessed and the other two have so far escaped), Fedka the convict undoubtedly had a hand in the arson. That is all that is known for certain about the fire till now; but when it comes to conjectures it’s a very different matter. What had led these three rascals to do it? Had they been instigated by anyone? It is very difficult to answer all these questions even now.
Owing to the strong wind, the fact that the houses at the riverside were almost all wooden, and that they had been set fire to in three places, the fire spread quickly and enveloped the whole quarter with extraordinary rapidity. (The fire burnt, however, only at two ends; at the third spot it was extinguished almost as soon as it began to burn—of which later.) But the Petersburg and Moscow papers exaggerated our calamity. Not more than a quarter, roughly speaking, of the riverside district was burnt down; possibly less indeed. Our fire brigade, though it was hardly adequate to the size and population of the town, worked with great promptitude and devotion. But it would not have been of much avail, even with the zealous co-operation of the inhabitants, if the wind had not suddenly dropped towards morning. When an hour after our flight from the ball I made my way to the riverside, the fire was at its height. A whole street parallel with the river was in flames. It was as light as day. I won’t describe the fire; every one in Russia knows what it looks like. The bustle and crush was immense in the lanes adjoining the burning street. The inhabitants, fully expecting the fire to reach their houses, were hauling out their belongings, but had not yet left their dwellings, and were waiting meanwhile sitting on their boxes and feather beds under their windows. Part of the male population were hard at work ruthlessly chopping down fences and even whole huts which were near the fire and on the windward side. None were crying except the children, who had been waked out of their sleep, though the women who had dragged out their chattels were lamenting in sing-song voices. Those who had not finished their task were still silent, busily carrying out their goods. Sparks and embers were carried a long way in all directions. People put them out as best they could. Some helped to put the fire out while others stood about, admiring it. A great fire at night always has a thrilling and exhilarating effect. This is what explains the attraction of fireworks. But in that case the artistic regularity with which the fire is presented and the complete lack of danger give an impression of lightness and playfulness like the effect of a glass of champagne. A real conflagration is a very different matter. Then the horror and a certain sense of personal danger, together with the exhilarating effect of a fire at night, produce on the spectator (though of course not in the householder whose goods are being burnt) a certain concussion of the brain and, as it were, a challenge to those destructive instincts which, alas, lie hidden in every heart, even that of the mildest and most domestic little clerk.… This sinister sensation is almost always fascinating. “I really don’t know whether one can look at a fire without a certain pleasure.” This is word for word what Stepan Trofimovitch said to me one night on returning home after he had happened to witness a fire and was still under the influence of the spectacle. Of course, the very man who enjoys the spectacle will rush into the fire himself to save a child or an old woman; but that is altogether a different matter.
Following in the wake of the crowd of sightseers, I succeeded, without asking questions, in reaching the chief centre of danger, where at last I saw Lembke, whom I was seeking at Yulia Mihailovna’s request. His position was strange and extraordinary. He was standing on the ruins of a fence. Thirty paces to the left of him rose the black skeleton of a two-storied house which had almost burnt out. It had holes instead of windows at each story, its roof had fallen in, and the flames were still here and there creeping among the charred beams. At the farther end of the courtyard, twenty paces away, the lodge, also a two-storied building, was beginning to burn, and the firemen were doing their utmost to save it. On the right the firemen and the people were trying to save a rather large wooden building which was not actually burning, though it had caught fire several times and was inevitably bound to be burnt in the end. Lembke stood facing the lodge, shouting and gesticulating. He was giving orders which no one attempted to carry out. It seemed to me that every one had given him up as hopeless and left him. Anyway, though every one in the vast crowd of all classes, among whom there were gentlemen, and even the cathedral priest, was listening to him with curiosity and wonder, no one spoke to him or tried to get him away. Lembke, with a pale face and glittering eyes, was uttering the most amazing things. To complete the picture, he had lost his hat and was bareheaded.
“It’s all incendiarism! It’s nihilism! If anything is burning, it’s nihilism!” I heard almost with horror; and though there was nothing to be surprised at, yet actual madness, when one sees it, always gives one a shock.
“Your Excellency,” said a policeman, coming up to him, “what if you were to try the repose of home?… It’s dangerous for your Excellency even to stand here.”
This policeman, as I heard afterwards, had been told off by the chief of police to watch over Andrey Antonovitch, to do his utmost to get him home, and in case of danger even to use force—a task evidently beyond the man’s power.
“They will wipe away the tears of the people whose houses have been burnt, but they will burn down the town. It’s all the work of four scoundrels, four and a half! Arrest the scoundrel! He worms himself into the honour of families. They made use of the governesses to burn down the houses. It’s vile, vile! Aie, what’s he about?” he shouted, suddenly noticing a fireman at the top of the burning lodge, under whom the roof had almost burnt away and round whom the flames were beginning to flare up. “Pull him down! Pull him down! He will fall, he will catch fire, put him out!… What is he doing there?”
“He is putting the fire out, your Excellency.”
“Not likely. The fire is in the minds of men and not in the roofs of houses. Pull him down and give it up! Better give it up, much better! Let it put itself out. Aie, who is crying now? An old woman! It’s an old woman shouting. Why have they forgotten the old woman?”
There actually was an old woman crying on the ground floor of the burning lodge. She was an old creature of eighty, a relation of the shopkeeper who owned the house. But she had not been forgotten; she had gone back to the burning house while it was still possible, with the insane idea of rescuing her feather bed from a corner room which was still untouched. Choking with the smoke and screaming with the heat, for the room was on fire by the time she reached it, she was still trying with her decrepit hands to squeeze her feather bed through a broken window pane. Lembke rushed to her assistance. Every one saw him run up to the window, catch hold of one corner of the feather bed and try with all his might to pull it out. As ill luck would have it, a board fell at that moment from the roof and hit the unhappy governor. It did not kill him, it merely grazed him on the neck as it fell, but Andrey Antonovitch’s career was over, among us at least; the blow knocked him off his feet and he sank on the ground unconscious.
The day dawned at last, gloomy and sullen. The fire was abating; the wind was followed by a sudden calm, and then a fine drizzling rain fell. I was by that time in another part, some distance from where Lembke had fallen, and here I overheard very strange conversations in the crowd. A strange fact had come to light. On the very outskirts of the quarter, on a piece of waste land beyond the kitchen gardens, not less than fifty paces from any other buildings, there stood a little wooden house which had only lately been built, and this solitary house had been on fire at the very beginning, almost before any other. Even had it burnt down, it was so far from other houses that no other building in the town could have caught fire from it, and, vice versa, if the whole riverside had been burnt to the ground, that house might have remained intact, whatever the wind had been. It followed that it had caught fire separately and independently and therefore not accidentally. But the chief point was that it was not burnt to the ground, and at daybreak strange things were discovered within it. The owner of this new house, who lived in the neighbourhood, rushed up as soon as he saw it in flames and with the help of his neighbours pulled apart a pile of faggots which had been heaped up by the side wall and set fire to. In this way he saved the house. But there were lodgers in the house—the captain, who was well known in the town, his sister, and their elderly servant, and these three persons—the captain, his sister, and their servant—had been murdered and apparently robbed in the night. (It was here that the chief of police had gone while Lembke was rescuing the feather bed.)
By morning the news had spread and an immense crowd of all classes, even the riverside people who had been burnt out had flocked to the waste land where the new house stood. It was difficult to get there, so dense was the crowd. I was told at once that the captain had been found lying dressed on the bench with his throat cut, and that he must have been dead drunk when he was killed, so that he had felt nothing, and he had “bled like a bull”; that his sister Marya Timofeyevna had been “stabbed all over” with a knife and she was lying on the floor in the doorway, so that probably she had been awake and had fought and struggled with the murderer. The servant, who had also probably been awake, had her skull broken. The owner of the house said that the captain had come to see him the morning before, and that in his drunken bragging he had shown him a lot of money, as much as two hundred roubles. The captain’s shabby old green pocket-book was found empty on the floor, but Marya Timofeyevna’s box had not been touched, and the silver setting of the ikon had not been removed either; the captain’s clothes, too, had not been disturbed. It was evident that the thief had been in a hurry and was a man familiar with the captain’s circumstances, who had come only for money and knew where it was kept. If the owner of the house had not run up at that moment the burning faggot stack would certainly have set fire to the house and “it would have been difficult to find out from the charred corpses how they had died.”
So the story was told. One other fact was added: that the person who had taken this house for the Lebyadkins was no other than Mr. Stavrogin, Nikolay Vsyevolodovitch, the son of Varvara Petrovna. He had come himself to take it and had had much ado to persuade the owner to let it, as the latter had intended to use it as a tavern; but Nikolay Vsyevolodovitch was ready to give any rent he asked and had paid for six months in advance.
“The fire wasn’t an accident,” I heard said in the crowd.
But the majority said nothing. People’s faces were sullen, but I did not see signs of much indignation. People persisted, however, in gossiping about Stavrogin, saying that the murdered woman was his wife; that on the previous day he had “dishonourably” abducted a young lady belonging to the best family in the place, the daughter of Madame Drozdov, and that a complaint was to be lodged against him in Petersburg; and that his wife had been murdered evidently that he might marry the young lady. Skvoreshniki was not more than a mile and a half away, and I remember I wondered whether I should not let them know the position of affairs. I did not notice, however, that there was anyone egging the crowd on and I don’t want to accuse people falsely, though I did see and recognised at once in the crowd at the fire two or three of the rowdy lot I had seen in the refreshment-room. I particularly remember one thin, tall fellow, a cabinet-maker, as I found out later, with an emaciated face and a curly head, black as though grimed with soot. He was not drunk, but in contrast to the gloomy passivity of the crowd seemed beside himself with excitement. He kept addressing the people, though I don’t remember his words; nothing coherent that he said was longer than “I say, lads, what do you say to this? Are things to go on like this?” and so saying he waved his arms.