The date of the fête was definitely fixed, and Von Lembke became more and more depressed. He was full of strange and sinister forebodings, and this made Yulia Mihailovna seriously uneasy. Indeed, things were not altogether satisfactory. Our mild governor had left the affairs of the province a little out of gear; at the moment we were threatened with cholera; serious outbreaks of cattle plague had appeared in several places; fires were prevalent that summer in towns and villages; whilst among the peasantry foolish rumours of incendiarism grew stronger and stronger. Cases of robbery were twice as numerous as usual. But all this, of course, would have been perfectly ordinary had there been no other and more weighty reasons to disturb the equanimity of Andrey Antonovitch, who had till then been in good spirits.
What struck Yulia Mihailovna most of all was that he became more silent and, strange to say, more secretive every day. Yet it was hard to imagine what he had to hide. It is true that he rarely opposed her and as a rule followed her lead without question. At her instigation, for instance, two or three regulations of a risky and hardly legal character were introduced with the object of strengthening the authority of the governor. There were several ominous instances of transgressions being condoned with the same end in view; persons who deserved to be sent to prison and Siberia were, solely because she insisted, recommended for promotion. Certain complaints and inquiries were deliberately and systematically ignored. All this came out later on. Not only did Lembke sign everything, but he did not even go into the question of the share taken by his wife in the execution of his duties. On the other hand, he began at times to be restive about “the most trifling matters,” to the surprise of Yulia Mihailovna. No doubt he felt the need to make up for the days of suppression by brief moments of mutiny. Unluckily, Yulia Mihailovna was unable, for all her insight, to understand this honourable punctiliousness in an honourable character. Alas, she had no thought to spare for that, and that was the source of many misunderstandings.
There are some things of which it is not suitable for me to write, and indeed I am not in a position to do so. It is not my business to discuss the blunders of administration either, and I prefer to leave out this administrative aspect of the subject altogether. In the chronicle I have begun I’ve set before myself a different task. Moreover a great deal will be brought to light by the Commission of Inquiry which has just been appointed for our province; it’s only a matter of waiting a little. Certain explanations, however, cannot be omitted.
But to return to Yulia Mihailovna. The poor lady (I feel very sorry for her) might have attained all that attracted and allured her (renown and so on) without any such violent and eccentric actions as she resolved upon at the very first step. But either from an exaggerated passion for the romantic or from the frequently blighted hopes of her youth, she felt suddenly, at the change of her fortunes, that she had become one of the specially elect, almost God’s anointed, “over whom there gleamed a burning tongue of fire,” and this tongue of flame was the root of the mischief, for, after all, it is not like a chignon, which will fit any woman’s head. But there is nothing of which it is more difficult to convince a woman than of this; on the contrary, anyone who cares to encourage the delusion in her will always be sure to meet with success. And people vied with one another in encouraging the delusion in Yulia Mihailovna. The poor woman became at once the sport of conflicting influences, while fully persuaded of her own originality. Many clever people feathered their nests and took advantage of her simplicity during the brief period of her rule in the province. And what a jumble there was under this assumption of independence! She was fascinated at the same time by the aristocratic element and the system of big landed properties and the increase of the governor’s power, and the democratic element, and the new reforms and discipline, and free-thinking and stray Socialistic notions, and the correct tone of the aristocratic salon and the free-and-easy, almost pot-house, manners of the young people that surrounded her. She dreamed of “giving happiness” and reconciling the irreconcilable, or, rather, of uniting all and everything in the adoration of her own person. She had favourites too; she was particularly fond of Pyotr Stepanovitch, who had recourse at times to the grossest flattery in dealing with her. But she was attracted by him for another reason, an amazing one, and most characteristic of the poor lady: she was always hoping that he would reveal to her a regular conspiracy against the government. Difficult as it is to imagine such a thing, it really was the case. She fancied for some reason that there must be a nihilist plot concealed in the province. By his silence at one time and his hints at another Pyotr Stepanovitch did much to strengthen this strange idea in her. She imagined that he was in communication with every revolutionary element in Russia but at the same time passionately devoted to her. To discover the plot, to receive the gratitude of the government, to enter on a brilliant career, to influence the young “by kindness,” and to restrain them from extremes—all these dreams existed side by side in her fantastic brain. She had saved Pyotr Stepanovitch, she had conquered him (of this she was for some reason firmly convinced); she would save others. None, none of them should perish, she should save them all; she would pick them out; she would send in the right report of them; she would act in the interests of the loftiest justice, and perhaps posterity and Russian liberalism would bless her name; yet the conspiracy would be discovered. Every advantage at once.
Still it was essential that Andrey Antonovitch should be in rather better spirits before the festival. He must be cheered up and reassured. For this purpose she sent Pyotr Stepanovitch to him in the hope that he would relieve his depression by some means of consolation best known to himself, perhaps by giving him some information, so to speak, first hand. She put implicit faith in his dexterity.
It was some time since Pyotr Stepanovitch had been in Mr. von Lembke’s study. He popped in on him just when the sufferer was in a most stubborn mood.
A combination of circumstances had arisen which Mr. von Lembke was quite unable to deal with. In the very district where Pyotr Stepanovitch had been having a festive time a sub-lieutenant had been called up to be censured by his immediate superior, and the reproof was given in the presence of the whole company. The sub-lieutenant was a young man fresh from Petersburg, always silent and morose, of dignified appearance though small, stout, and rosy-cheeked. He resented the reprimand and suddenly, with a startling shriek that astonished the whole company, he charged at his superior officer with his head bent down like a wild beast’s, struck him, and bit him on the shoulder with all his might; they had difficulty in getting him off. There was no doubt that he had gone out of his mind; anyway, it became known that of late he had been observed performing incredibly strange actions. He had, for instance, flung two ikons belonging to his landlady out of his lodgings and smashed up one of them with an axe; in his own room he had, on three stands resembling lecterns, laid out the works of Vogt, Moleschott, and Buchner, and before each lectern he used to burn a church wax-candle. From the number of books found in his rooms it could be gathered that he was a well-read man. If he had had fifty thousand francs he would perhaps have sailed to the island of Marquisas like the “cadet” to whom Herzen alludes with such sprightly humour in one of his writings. When he was seized, whole bundles of the most desperate manifestoes were found in his pockets and his lodgings.
Manifestoes are a trivial matter too, and to my thinking not worth troubling about. We have seen plenty of them. Besides, they were not new manifestoes; they were, it was said later, just the same as had been circulated in the X province, and Liputin, who had travelled in that district and the neighbouring province six weeks previously, declared that he had seen exactly the same leaflets there then. But what struck Andrey Antonovitch most was that the overseer of Shpigulin’s factory had brought the police just at the same time two or three packets of exactly the same leaflets as had been found on the lieutenant. The bundles, which had been dropped in the factory in the night, had not been opened, and none of the factory-hands had had time to read one of them. The incident was a trivial one, but it set Andrey Antonovitch pondering deeply. The position presented itself to him in an unpleasantly complicated light.
In this factory the famous “Shpigulin scandal” was just then brewing, which made so much talk among us and got into the Petersburg and Moscow papers with all sorts of variations. Three weeks previously one of the hands had fallen ill and died of Asiatic cholera; then several others were stricken down. The whole town was in a panic, for the cholera was coming nearer and nearer and had reached the neighbouring province. I may observe that satisfactory sanitary measures had been, so far as possible, taken to meet the unexpected guest. But the factory belonging to the Shpigulins, who were millionaires and well-connected people, had somehow been overlooked. And there was a sudden outcry from every one that this factory was the hot-bed of infection, that the factory itself, and especially the quarters inhabited by the workpeople, were so inveterately filthy that even if cholera had not been in the neighbourhood there might well have been an outbreak there. Steps were immediately taken, of course, and Andrey Antonovitch vigorously insisted on their being carried out without delay within three weeks. The factory was cleansed, but the Shpigulins, for some unknown reason, closed it. One of the Shpigulin brothers always lived in Petersburg and the other went away to Moscow when the order was given for cleansing the factory. The overseer proceeded to pay off the workpeople and, as it appeared, cheated them shamelessly. The hands began to complain among themselves, asking to be paid fairly, and foolishly went to the police, though without much disturbance, for they were not so very much excited. It was just at this moment that the manifestoes were brought to Andrey Antonovitch by the overseer.
Pyotr Stepanovitch popped into the study unannounced, like an intimate friend and one of the family; besides, he had a message from Yulia Mihailovna. Seeing him, Lembke frowned grimly and stood still at the table without welcoming him. Till that moment he had been pacing up and down the study and had been discussing something tête-à-tête with his clerk Blum, a very clumsy and surly German whom he had brought with him from Petersburg, in spite of the violent opposition of Yulia Mihailovna. On Pyotr Stepanovitch’s entrance the clerk had moved to the door, but had not gone out. Pyotr Stepanovitch even fancied that he exchanged significant glances with his chief.
“Aha, I’ve caught you at last, you secretive monarch of the town!” Pyotr Stepanovitch cried out laughing, and laid his hand over the manifesto on the table. “This increases your collection, eh?”
Andrey Antonovitch flushed crimson; his face seemed to twitch.
“Leave off, leave off at once!” he cried, trembling with rage. “And don’t you dare … sir …”
“What’s the matter with you? You seem to be angry!”
“Allow me to inform you, sir, that I’ve no intention of putting up with your sans façon henceforward, and I beg you to remember …”
“Why, damn it all, he is in earnest!”
“Hold your tongue, hold your tongue”—Von Lembke stamped on the carpet—“and don’t dare …”
God knows what it might have come to. Alas, there was one circumstance involved in the matter of which neither Pyotr Stepanovitch nor even Yulia Mihailovna herself had any idea. The luckless Andrey Antonovitch had been so greatly upset during the last few days that he had begun to be secretly jealous of his wife and Pyotr Stepanovitch. In solitude, especially at night, he spent some very disagreeable moments.
“Well, I imagined that if a man reads you his novel two days running till after midnight and wants to hear your opinion of it, he has of his own act discarded official relations, anyway.… Yulia Mihailovna treats me as a friend; there’s no making you out,” Pyotr Stepanovitch brought out, with a certain dignity indeed. “Here is your novel, by the way.” He laid on the table a large heavy manuscript rolled up in blue paper.
Lembke turned red and looked embarrassed.
“Where did you find it?” he asked discreetly, with a rush of joy which he was unable to suppress, though he did his utmost to conceal it.
“Only fancy, done up like this, it rolled under the chest of drawers. I must have thrown it down carelessly on the chest when I went out. It was only found the day before yesterday, when the floor was scrubbed. You did set me a task, though!”
Lembke dropped his eyes sternly.
“I haven’t slept for the last two nights, thanks to you. It was found the day before yesterday, but I kept it, and have been reading it ever since. I’ve no time in the day, so I’ve read it at night. Well, I don’t like it; it’s not my way of looking at things. But that’s no matter; I’ve never set up for being a critic, but I couldn’t tear myself away from it, my dear man, though I didn’t like it! The fourth and fifth chapters are … they really are … damn it all, they are beyond words! And what a lot of humour you’ve packed into it; it made me laugh! How you can make fun of things sans que cela paraisse! As for the ninth and tenth chapters, it’s all about love; that’s not my line, but it’s effective though. I was nearly blubbering over Egrenev’s letter, though you’ve shown him up so cleverly.… You know, it’s touching, though at the same time you want to show the false side of him, as it were, don’t you? Have I guessed right? But I could simply beat you for the ending. For what are you setting up? Why, the same old idol of domestic happiness, begetting children and making money; ‘they were married and lived happy ever afterwards’—come, it’s too much! You will enchant your readers, for even I couldn’t put the book down; but that makes it all the worse! The reading public is as stupid as ever, but it’s the duty of sensible people to wake them up, while you … But that’s enough. Good-bye. Don’t be cross another time; I came in to you because I had a couple of words to say to you, but you are so unaccountable …”
Andrey Antonovitch meantime took his novel and locked it up in an oak bookcase, seizing the opportunity to wink to Blum to disappear. The latter withdrew with a long, mournful face.
“I am not unaccountable, I am simply … nothing but annoyances,” he muttered, frowning but without anger, and sitting down to the table. “Sit down and say what you have to say. It’s a long time since I’ve seen you, Pyotr Stepanovitch, only don’t burst upon me in the future with such manners … sometimes, when one has business, it’s …”
“My manners are always the same.…”
“I know, and I believe that you mean nothing by it, but sometimes one is worried.… Sit down.”
Pyotr Stepanovitch immediately lolled back on the sofa and drew his legs under him.
“What sort of worries? Surely not these trifles?” He nodded towards the manifesto. “I can bring you as many of them as you like; I made their acquaintance in X province.”
“You mean at the time you were staying there?”
“Of course, it was not in my absence. I remember there was a hatchet printed at the top of it. Allow me.” (He took up the manifesto.) “Yes, there’s the hatchet here too; that’s it, the very same.”
“Yes, here’s a hatchet. You see, a hatchet.”
“Well, is it the hatchet that scares you?”
“No, it’s not … and I am not scared; but this business … it is a business; there are circumstances.”
“What sort? That it’s come from the factory? He he! But do you know, at that factory the workpeople will soon be writing manifestoes for themselves.”
“What do you mean?” Von Lembke stared at him severely.
“What I say. You’ve only to look at them. You are too soft, Andrey Antonovitch; you write novels. But this has to be handled in the good old way.”
“What do you mean by the good old way? What do you mean by advising me? The factory has been cleaned; I gave the order and they’ve cleaned it.”
“And the workmen are in rebellion. They ought to be flogged, every one of them; that would be the end of it.”
“In rebellion? That’s nonsense; I gave the order and they’ve cleaned it.”
“Ech, you are soft, Andrey Antonovitch!”
“In the first place, I am not so soft as you think, and in the second place …” Von Lembke was piqued again. He had exerted himself to keep up the conversation with the young man from curiosity, wondering if he would tell him anything new.
“Ha ha, an old acquaintance again,” Pyotr Stepanovitch interrupted, pouncing on another document that lay under a paper-weight, something like a manifesto, obviously printed abroad and in verse. “Oh, come, I know this one by heart, ‘A Noble Personality.’ Let me have a look at it—yes, ‘A Noble Personality’ it is. I made acquaintance with that personality abroad. Where did you unearth it?”
“You say you’ve seen it abroad?” Von Lembke said eagerly.
“I should think so, four months ago, or may be five.”
“You seem to have seen a great deal abroad.” Von Lembke looked at him subtly.
Pyotr Stepanovitch, not heeding him, unfolded the document and read the poem aloud:
“A NOBLE PERSONALITY
“He was not of rank exalted, He was not of noble birth, He was bred among the people In the breast of Mother Earth. But the malice of the nobles And the Tsar’s revengeful wrath Drove him forth to grief and torture On the martyr’s chosen path. He set out to teach the people Freedom, love, equality, To exhort them to resistance; But to flee the penalty Of the prison, whip and gallows, To a foreign land he went. While the people waited hoping From Smolensk to far Tashkent, Waited eager for his coming To rebel against their fate, To arise and crush the Tsardom And the nobles’ vicious hate, To share all the wealth in common, And the antiquated thrall Of the church, the home and marriage To abolish once for all.” “You got it from that officer, I suppose, eh?” asked Pyotr Stepanovitch.
“Why, do you know that officer, then, too?”
“I should think so. I had a gay time with him there for two days; he was bound to go out of his mind.”
“Perhaps he did not go out of his mind.”
“You think he didn’t because he began to bite?”
“But, excuse me, if you saw those verses abroad and then, it appears, at that officer’s …”
“What, puzzling, is it? You are putting me through an examination, Andrey Antonovitch, I see. You see,” he began suddenly with extraordinary dignity, “as to what I saw abroad I have already given explanations, and my explanations were found satisfactory, otherwise I should not have been gratifying this town with my presence. I consider that the question as regards me has been settled, and I am not obliged to give any further account of myself, not because I am an informer, but because I could not help acting as I did. The people who wrote to Yulia Mihailovna about me knew what they were talking about, and they said I was an honest man.… But that’s neither here nor there; I’ve come to see you about a serious matter, and it’s as well you’ve sent your chimney-sweep away. It’s a matter of importance to me, Andrey Antonovitch. I shall have a very great favour to ask of you.”
“A favour? H’m … by all means; I am waiting and, I confess, with curiosity. And I must add, Pyotr Stepanovitch, that you surprise me not a little.”
Von Lembke was in some agitation. Pyotr Stepanovitch crossed his legs.
“In Petersburg,” he began, “I talked freely of most things, but there were things—this, for instance” (he tapped the “Noble Personality” with his finger) “about which I held my tongue—in the first place, because it wasn’t worth talking about, and secondly, because I only answered questions. I don’t care to put myself forward in such matters; in that I see the distinction between a rogue and an honest man forced by circumstances. Well, in short, we’ll dismiss that. But now … now that these fools … now that this has come to the surface and is in your hands, and I see that you’ll find out all about it—for you are a man with eyes and one can’t tell beforehand what you’ll do—and these fools are still going on, I … I … well, the fact is, I’ve come to ask you to save one man, a fool too, most likely mad, for the sake of his youth, his misfortunes, in the name of your humanity.… You can’t be so humane only in the novels you manufacture!” he said, breaking off with coarse sarcasm and impatience.
In fact, he was seen to be a straightforward man, awkward and impolitic from excess of humane feeling and perhaps from excessive sensitiveness—above all, a man of limited intelligence, as Von Lembke saw at once with extraordinary subtlety. He had indeed long suspected it, especially when during the previous week he had, sitting alone in his study at night, secretly cursed him with all his heart for the inexplicable way in which he had gained Yulia Mihailovna’s good graces.
“For whom are you interceding, and what does all this mean?” he inquired majestically, trying to conceal his curiosity.
“It … it’s … damn it! It’s not my fault that I trust you! Is it my fault that I look upon you as a most honourable and, above all, a sensible man … capable, that is, of understanding … damn …”
The poor fellow evidently could not master his emotion.
“You must understand at last,” he went on, “you must understand that in pronouncing his name I am betraying him to you—I am betraying him, am I not? I am, am I not?”
“But how am I to guess if you don’t make up your mind to speak out?”
“That’s just it; you always cut the ground from under one’s feet with your logic, damn it.… Well, here goes … this ‘noble personality,’ this ‘student’ … is Shatov … that’s all.”
“Shatov? How do you mean it’s Shatov?”
“Shatov is the ‘student’ who is mentioned in this. He lives here, he was once a serf, the man who gave that slap.…”
“I know, I know.” Lembke screwed up his eyes. “But excuse me, what is he accused of? Precisely and, above all, what is your petition?”
“I beg you to save him, do you understand? I used to know him eight years ago, I might almost say I was his friend,” cried Pyotr Stepanovitch, completely carried away. “But I am not bound to give you an account of my past life,” he added, with a gesture of dismissal. “All this is of no consequence; it’s the case of three men and a half, and with those that are abroad you can’t make up a dozen. But what I am building upon is your humanity and your intelligence. You will understand and you will put the matter in its true light, as the foolish dream of a man driven crazy … by misfortunes, by continued misfortunes, and not as some impossible political plot or God knows what!”
He was almost gasping for breath.
“H’m. I see that he is responsible for the manifestoes with the axe,” Lembke concluded almost majestically. “Excuse me, though, if he were the only person concerned, how could he have distributed it both here and in other districts and in the X province … and, above all, where did he get them?”
“But I tell you that at the utmost there are not more than five people in it—a dozen perhaps. How can I tell?”
“You don’t know?”
“How should I know?—damn it all.”
“Why, you knew that Shatov was one of the conspirators.”
“Ech!” Pyotr Stepanovitch waved his hand as though to keep off the overwhelming penetration of the inquirer. “Well, listen. I’ll tell you the whole truth: of the manifestoes I know nothing—that is, absolutely nothing. Damn it all, don’t you know what nothing means?… That sub-lieutenant, to be sure, and somebody else and someone else here … and Shatov perhaps and someone else too—well, that’s the lot of them … a wretched lot.… But I’ve come to intercede for Shatov. He must be saved, for this poem is his, his own composition, and it was through him it was published abroad; that I know for a fact, but of the manifestoes I really know nothing.”
“If the poem is his work, no doubt the manifestoes are too. But what data have you for suspecting Mr. Shatov?”
Pyotr Stepanovitch, with the air of a man driven out of all patience, pulled a pocket-book out of his pocket and took a note out of it.
“Here are the facts,” he cried, flinging it on the table.
Lembke unfolded it; it turned out to be a note written six months before from here to some address abroad. It was a brief note, only two lines:
“I can’t print ‘A Noble Personality’ here, and in fact I can do nothing; print it abroad.
Lembke looked intently at Pyotr Stepanovitch. Varvara Petrovna had been right in saying that he had at times the expression of a sheep.
“You see, it’s like this,” Pyotr Stepanovitch burst out. “He wrote this poem here six months ago, but he couldn’t get it printed here, in a secret printing press, and so he asks to have it printed abroad.… That seems clear.”
“Yes, that’s clear, but to whom did he write? That’s not clear yet,” Lembke observed with the most subtle irony.
“Why, Kirillov, of course; the letter was written to Kirillov abroad.… Surely you knew that? What’s so annoying is that perhaps you are only putting it on before me, and most likely you knew all about this poem and everything long ago! How did it come to be on your table? It found its way there somehow! Why are you torturing me, if so?”
He feverishly mopped his forehead with his handkerchief.
“I know something, perhaps.” Lembke parried dexterously. “But who is this Kirillov?”
“An engineer who has lately come to the town. He was Stavrogin’s second, a maniac, a madman; your sub-lieutenant may really only be suffering from temporary delirium, but Kirillov is a thoroughgoing madman—thoroughgoing, that I guarantee. Ah, Andrey Antonovitch, if the government only knew what sort of people these conspirators all are, they wouldn’t have the heart to lay a finger on them. Every single one of them ought to be in an asylum; I had a good look at them in Switzerland and at the congresses.”
“From which they direct the movement here?”
“Why, who directs it? Three men and a half. It makes one sick to think of them. And what sort of movement is there here? Manifestoes! And what recruits have they made? Sub-lieutenants in brain fever and two or three students! You are a sensible man: answer this question. Why don’t people of consequence join their ranks? Why are they all students and half-baked boys of twenty-two? And not many of those. I dare say there are thousands of bloodhounds on their track, but have they tracked out many of them? Seven! I tell you it makes one sick.”
Lembke listened with attention but with an expression that seemed to say, “You don’t feed nightingales on fairy-tales.”
“Excuse me, though. You asserted that the letter was sent abroad, but there’s no address on it; how do you come to know that it was addressed to Mr. Kirillov and abroad too and … and … that it really was written by Mr. Shatov?”
“Why, fetch some specimen of Shatov’s writing and compare it. You must have some signature of his in your office. As for its being addressed to Kirillov, it was Kirillov himself showed it me at the time.”
“Then you were yourself …”
“Of course I was, myself. They showed me lots of things out there. And as for this poem, they say it was written by Herzen to Shatov when he was still wandering abroad, in memory of their meeting, so they say, by way of praise and recommendation—damn it all … and Shatov circulates it among the young people as much as to say, ‘This was Herzen’s opinion of me.’”
“Ha ha!” cried Lembke, feeling he had got to the bottom of it at last. “That’s just what I was wondering: one can understand the manifesto, but what’s the object of the poem?”
“Of course you’d see it. Goodness knows why I’ve been babbling to you. Listen. Spare Shatov for me and the rest may go to the devil—even Kirillov, who is in hiding now, shut up in Filipov’s house, where Shatov lodges too. They don’t like me because I’ve turned round … but promise me Shatov and I’ll dish them all up for you. I shall be of use, Andrey Antonovitch! I reckon nine or ten men make up the whole wretched lot. I am keeping an eye on them myself, on my own account. We know of three already: Shatov, Kirillov, and that sub-lieutenant. The others I am only watching carefully … though I am pretty sharp-sighted too. It’s the same over again as it was in the X province: two students, a schoolboy, two noblemen of twenty, a teacher, and a half-pay major of sixty, crazy with drink, have been caught with manifestoes; that was all—you can take my word for it, that was all; it was quite a surprise that that was all. But I must have six days. I have reckoned it out—six days, not less. If you want to arrive at any result, don’t disturb them for six days and I can kill all the birds with one stone for you; but if you flutter them before, the birds will fly away. But spare me Shatov. I speak for Shatov.… The best plan would be to fetch him here secretly, in a friendly way, to your study and question him without disguising the facts.… I have no doubt he’ll throw himself at your feet and burst into tears! He is a highly strung and unfortunate fellow; his wife is carrying on with Stavrogin. Be kind to him and he will tell you everything, but I must have six days.… And, above all, above all, not a word to Yulia Mihailovna. It’s a secret. May it be a secret?”
“What?” cried Lembke, opening wide his eyes. “Do you mean to say you said nothing of this to Yulia Mihailovna?”
“To her? Heaven forbid! Ech, Andrey Antonovitch! You see, I value her friendship and I have the highest respect for her … and all the rest of it … but I couldn’t make such a blunder. I don’t contradict her, for, as you know yourself, it’s dangerous to contradict her. I may have dropped a word to her, for I know she likes that, but to suppose that I mentioned names to her as I have to you or anything of that sort! My good sir! Why am I appealing to you? Because you are a man, anyway, a serious person with old-fashioned firmness and experience in the service. You’ve seen life. You must know by heart every detail of such affairs, I expect, from what you’ve seen in Petersburg. But if I were to mention those two names, for instance, to her, she’d stir up such a hubbub.… You know, she would like to astonish Petersburg. No, she’s too hot-headed, she really is.”
“Yes, she has something of that fougue,” Andrey Antonovitch muttered with some satisfaction, though at the same time he resented this unmannerly fellow’s daring to express himself rather freely about Yulia Mihailovna. But Pyotr Stepanovitch probably imagined that he had not gone far enough and that he must exert himself further to flatter Lembke and make a complete conquest of him.
“Fougue is just it,” he assented. “She may be a woman of genius, a literary woman, but she would scare our sparrows. She wouldn’t be able to keep quiet for six hours, let alone six days. Ech, Andrey Antonovitch, don’t attempt to tie a woman down for six days! You do admit that I have some experience—in this sort of thing, I mean; I know something about it, and you know that I may very well know something about it. I am not asking for six days for fun but with an object.”
“I have heard …” (Lembke hesitated to utter his thought) “I have heard that on your return from abroad you made some expression … as it were of repentance, in the proper quarter?”
“Well, that’s as it may be.”
“And, of course, I don’t want to go into it.… But it has seemed to me all along that you’ve talked in quite a different style—about the Christian faith, for instance, about social institutions, about the government even.…”
“I’ve said lots of things, no doubt, I am saying them still; but such ideas mustn’t be applied as those fools do it, that’s the point. What’s the good of biting his superior’s shoulder! You agreed with me yourself, only you said it was premature.”
“I didn’t mean that when I agreed and said it was premature.”
“You weigh every word you utter, though. He he! You are a careful man!” Pyotr Stepanovitch observed gaily all of a sudden. “Listen, old friend. I had to get to know you; that’s why I talked in my own style. You are not the only one I get to know like that. Maybe I needed to find out your character.”
“What’s my character to you?”
“How can I tell what it may be to me?” He laughed again. “You see, my dear and highly respected Andrey Antonovitch, you are cunning, but it’s not come to that yet and it certainly never will come to it, you understand? Perhaps you do understand. Though I did make an explanation in the proper quarter when I came back from abroad, and I really don’t know why a man of certain convictions should not be able to work for the advancement of his sincere convictions … but nobody there has yet instructed me to investigate your character and I’ve not undertaken any such job from them. Consider: I need not have given those two names to you. I might have gone straight there; that is where I made my first explanations. And if I’d been acting with a view to financial profit or my own interest in any way, it would have been a bad speculation on my part, for now they’ll be grateful to you and not to me at headquarters. I’ve done it solely for Shatov’s sake,” Pyotr Stepanovitch added generously, “for Shatov’s sake, because of our old friendship.… But when you take up your pen to write to headquarters, you may put in a word for me, if you like.… I’ll make no objection, he he! Adieu, though; I’ve stayed too long and there was no need to gossip so much!” he added with some amiability, and he got up from the sofa.
“On the contrary, I am very glad that the position has been defined, so to speak.” Von Lembke too got up and he too looked pleasant, obviously affected by the last words. “I accept your services and acknowledge my obligation, and you may be sure that anything I can do by way of reporting your zeal …”
“Six days—the great thing is to put it off for six days, and that you shouldn’t stir for those six days, that’s what I want.”
“So be it.”
“Of course, I don’t tie your hands and shouldn’t venture to. You are bound to keep watch, only don’t flutter the nest too soon; I rely on your sense and experience for that. But I should think you’ve plenty of bloodhounds and trackers of your own in reserve, ha ha!” Pyotr Stepanovitch blurted out with the gaiety and irresponsibility of youth.
“Not quite so.” Lembke parried amiably. “Young people are apt to suppose that there is a great deal in the background.… But, by the way, allow me one little word: if this Kirillov was Stavrogin’s second, then Mr. Stavrogin too …”
“What about Stavrogin?”
“I mean, if they are such friends?”
“Oh, no, no, no! There you are quite out of it, though you are cunning. You really surprise me. I thought that you had some information about it.… H’m … Stavrogin—it’s quite the opposite, quite.… Avis au lecteur.”
“Do you mean it? And can it be so?” Lembke articulated mistrustfully. “Yulia Mihailovna told me that from what she heard from Petersburg he is a man acting on some sort of instructions, so to speak.…”
“I know nothing about it; I know nothing, absolutely nothing. Adieu. Avis au lecteur!” Abruptly and obviously Pyotr Stepanovitch declined to discuss it.
He hurried to the door.
“Stay, Pyotr Stepanovitch, stay,” cried Lembke. “One other tiny matter and I won’t detain you.”
He drew an envelope out of a table drawer.
“Here is a little specimen of the same kind of thing, and I let you see it to show how completely I trust you. Here, and tell me your opinion.”
In the envelope was a letter, a strange anonymous letter addressed to Lembke and only received by him the day before. With intense vexation Pyotr Stepanovitch read as follows:
“Your excellency,—For such you are by rank. Herewith I make known that there is an attempt to be made on the life of personages of general’s rank and on the Fatherland. For it’s working up straight for that. I myself have been disseminating unceasingly for a number of years. There’s infidelity too. There’s a rebellion being got up and there are some thousands of manifestoes, and for every one of them there will be a hundred running with their tongues out, unless they’ve been taken away beforehand by the police. For they’ve been promised a mighty lot of benefits, and the simple people are foolish, and there’s vodka too. The people will attack one after another, taking them to be guilty, and, fearing both sides, I repent of what I had no share in, my circumstances being what they are. If you want information to save the Fatherland, and also the Church and the ikons, I am the only one that can do it. But only on condition that I get a pardon from the Secret Police by telegram at once, me alone, but the rest may answer for it. Put a candle every evening at seven o’clock in the porter’s window for a signal. Seeing it, I shall believe and come to kiss the merciful hand from Petersburg. But on condition there’s a pension for me, for else how am I to live? You won’t regret it for it will mean a star for you. You must go secretly or they’ll wring your neck. Your excellency’s desperate servant falls at your feet.
“Repentant free-thinker incognito.”
Von Lembke explained that the letter had made its appearance in the porter’s room when it was left empty the day before.
“So what do you think?” Pyotr Stepanovitch asked almost rudely.
“I think it’s an anonymous skit by way of a hoax.”
“Most likely it is. There’s no taking you in.”
“What makes me think that is that it’s so stupid.”
“Have you received such documents here before?”
“Once or twice, anonymous letters.”
“Oh, of course they wouldn’t be signed. In a different style? In different handwritings?”
“And were they buffoonery like this one?”
“Yes, and you know … very disgusting.”
“Well, if you had them before, it must be the same thing now.”
“Especially because it’s so stupid. Because these people are educated and wouldn’t write so stupidly.”
“Of course, of course.”
“But what if this is someone who really wants to turn informer?”
“It’s not very likely,” Pyotr Stepanovitch rapped out dryly. “What does he mean by a telegram from the Secret Police and a pension? It’s obviously a hoax.”
“Yes, yes,” Lembke admitted, abashed.
“I tell you what: you leave this with me. I can certainly find out for you before I track out the others.”
“Take it,” Lembke assented, though with some hesitation.
“Have you shown it to anyone?”
“Is it likely! No.”
“Not to Yulia Mihailovna?”
“Oh, Heaven forbid! And for God’s sake don’t you show it her!” Lembke cried in alarm. “She’ll be so upset … and will be dreadfully angry with me.”
“Yes, you’ll be the first to catch it; she’d say you brought it on yourself if people write like that to you. I know what women’s logic is. Well, good-bye. I dare say I shall bring you the writer in a couple of days or so. Above all, our compact!”
Though Pyotr Stepanovitch was perhaps far from being a stupid man, Fedka the convict had said of him truly “that he would make up a man himself and go on living with him too.” He came away from Lembke fully persuaded that for the next six days, anyway, he had put his mind at rest, and this interval was absolutely necessary for his own purposes. But it was a false idea and founded entirely on the fact that he had made up for himself once for all an Andrey Antonovitch who was a perfect simpleton.
Like every morbidly suspicious man, Andrey Antonovitch was always exceedingly and joyfully trustful the moment he got on to sure ground. The new turn of affairs struck him at first in a rather favourable light in spite of some fresh and troublesome complications. Anyway, his former doubts fell to the ground. Besides, he had been so tired for the last few days, so exhausted and helpless, that his soul involuntarily yearned for rest. But alas! he was again uneasy. The long time he had spent in Petersburg had left ineradicable traces in his heart. The official and even the secret history of the “younger generation” was fairly familiar to him—he was a curious man and used to collect manifestoes—but he could never understand a word of it. Now he felt like a man lost in a forest. Every instinct told him that there was something in Pyotr Stepanovitch’s words utterly incongruous, anomalous, and grotesque, “though there’s no telling what may not happen with this ‘younger generation,’ and the devil only knows what’s going on among them,” he mused, lost in perplexity.
And at this moment, to make matters worse, Blum poked his head in. He had been waiting not far off through the whole of Pyotr Stepanovitch’s visit. This Blum was actually a distant relation of Andrey Antonovitch, though the relationship had always been carefully and timorously concealed. I must apologise to the reader for devoting a few words here to this insignificant person. Blum was one of that strange class of “unfortunate” Germans who are unfortunate not through lack of ability but through some inexplicable ill luck. “Unfortunate” Germans are not a myth, but really do exist even in Russia, and are of a special type. Andrey Antonovitch had always had a quite touching sympathy for him, and wherever he could, as he rose himself in the service, had promoted him to subordinate positions under him; but Blum had never been successful. Either the post was abolished after he had been appointed to it, or a new chief took charge of the department; once he was almost arrested by mistake with other people. He was precise, but he was gloomy to excess and to his own detriment. He was tall and had red hair; he stooped and was depressed and even sentimental; and in spite of his being humbled by his life, he was obstinate and persistent as an ox, though always at the wrong moment. For Andrey Antonovitch he, as well as his wife and numerous family, had cherished for many years a reverent devotion. Except Andrey Antonovitch no one had ever liked him. Yulia Mihailovna would have discarded him from the first, but could not overcome her husband’s obstinacy. It was the cause of their first conjugal quarrel. It had happened soon after their marriage, in the early days of their honeymoon, when she was confronted with Blum, who, together with the humiliating secret of his relationship, had been until then carefully concealed from her. Andrey Antonovitch besought her with clasped hands, told her pathetically all the story of Blum and their friendship from childhood, but Yulia Mihailovna considered herself disgraced forever, and even had recourse to fainting. Von Lembke would not budge an inch, and declared that he would not give up Blum or part from him for anything in the world, so that she was surprised at last and was obliged to put up with Blum. It was settled, however, that the relationship should be concealed even more carefully than before if possible, and that even Blum’s Christian name and patronymic should be changed, because he too was for some reason called Andrey Antonovitch. Blum knew no one in the town except the German chemist, had not called on anyone, and led, as he always did, a lonely and niggardly existence. He had long been aware of Andrey Antonovitch’s literary peccadilloes. He was generally summoned to listen to secret tête-à-tête readings of his novel; he would sit like a post for six hours at a stretch, perspiring and straining his utmost to keep awake and smile. On reaching home he would groan with his long-legged and lanky wife over their benefactor’s unhappy weakness for Russian literature.
Andrey Antonovitch looked with anguish at Blum.
“I beg you to leave me alone, Blum,” he began with agitated haste, obviously anxious to avoid any renewal of the previous conversation which had been interrupted by Pyotr Stepanovitch.
“And yet this may be arranged in the most delicate way and with no publicity; you have full power.” Blum respectfully but obstinately insisted on some point, stooping forward and coming nearer and nearer by small steps to Andrey Antonovitch.
“Blum, you are so devoted to me and so anxious to serve me that I am always in a panic when I look at you.”
“You always say witty things, and sleep in peace satisfied with what you’ve said, but that’s how you damage yourself.”
“Blum, I have just convinced myself that it’s quite a mistake, quite a mistake.”
“Not from the words of that false, vicious young man whom you suspect yourself? He has won you by his flattering praise of your talent for literature.”
“Blum, you understand nothing about it; your project is absurd, I tell you. We shall find nothing and there will be a fearful upset and laughter too, and then Yulia Mihailovna …”
“We shall certainly find everything we are looking for.” Blum advanced firmly towards him, laying his right hand on his heart. “We will make a search suddenly early in the morning, carefully showing every consideration for the person himself and strictly observing all the prescribed forms of the law. The young men, Lyamshin and Telyatnikov, assert positively that we shall find all we want. They were constant visitors there. Nobody is favourably disposed to Mr. Verhovensky. Madame Stavrogin has openly refused him her graces, and every honest man, if only there is such a one in this coarse town, is persuaded that a hotbed of infidelity and social doctrines has always been concealed there. He keeps all the forbidden books, Ryliev’s ‘Reflections,’ all Herzen’s works.… I have an approximate catalogue, in case of need.”
“Oh heavens! Every one has these books; how simple you are, my poor Blum.”
“And many manifestoes,” Blum went on without heeding the observation. “We shall end by certainly coming upon traces of the real manifestoes here. That young Verhovensky I feel very suspicious of.”
“But you are mixing up the father and the son. They are not on good terms. The son openly laughs at his father.”
“That’s only a mask.”
“Blum, you’ve sworn to torment me! Think! he is a conspicuous figure here, after all. He’s been a professor, he is a well-known man. He’ll make such an uproar and there will be such gibes all over the town, and we shall make a mess of it all.… And only think how Yulia Mihailovna will take it.” Blum pressed forward and did not listen. “He was only a lecturer, only a lecturer, and of a low rank when he retired.” He smote himself on the chest. “He has no marks of distinction. He was discharged from the service on suspicion of plots against the government. He has been under secret supervision, and undoubtedly still is so. And in view of the disorders that have come to light now, you are undoubtedly bound in duty. You are losing your chance of distinction by letting slip the real criminal.”
“Yulia Mihailovna! Get away, Blum,” Von Lembke cried suddenly, hearing the voice of his spouse in the next room. Blum started but did not give in.
“Allow me, allow me,” he persisted, pressing both hands still more tightly on his chest.
“Get away!” hissed Andrey Antonovitch. “Do what you like … afterwards. Oh, my God!”
The curtain was raised and Yulia Mihailovna made her appearance. She stood still majestically at the sight of Blum, casting a haughty and offended glance at him, as though the very presence of this man was an affront to her. Blum respectfully made her a deep bow without speaking and, doubled up with veneration, moved towards the door on tiptoe with his arms held a little away from him.
Either because he really took Andrey Antonovitch’s last hysterical outbreak as a direct permission to act as he was asking, or whether he strained a point in this case for the direct advantage of his benefactor, because he was too confident that success would crown his efforts; anyway, as we shall see later on, this conversation of the governor with his subordinate led to a very surprising event which amused many people, became public property, moved Yulia Mihailovna to fierce anger, utterly disconcerting Andrey Antonovitch and reducing him at the crucial moment to a state of deplorable indecision.
It was a busy day for Pyotr Stepanovitch. From Von Lembke he hastened to Bogoyavlensky Street, but as he went along Bykovy Street, past the house where Karmazinov was staying, he suddenly stopped, grinned, and went into the house. The servant told him that he was expected, which interested him, as he had said nothing beforehand of his coming.
But the great writer really had been expecting him, not only that day but the day before and the day before that. Three days before he had handed him his manuscript Merci (which he had meant to read at the literary matinée at Yulia Mihailovna’s fête). He had done this out of amiability, fully convinced that he was agreeably flattering the young man’s vanity by letting him read the great work beforehand. Pyotr Stepanovitch had noticed long before that this vainglorious, spoiled gentleman, who was so offensively unapproachable for all but the elect, this writer “with the intellect of a statesman,” was simply trying to curry favour with him, even with avidity. I believe the young man guessed at last that Karmazinov considered him, if not the leader of the whole secret revolutionary movement in Russia, at least one of those most deeply initiated into the secrets of the Russian revolution who had an incontestable influence on the younger generation. The state of mind of “the cleverest man in Russia” interested Pyotr Stepanovitch, but hitherto he had, for certain reasons, avoided explaining himself.
The great writer was staying in the house belonging to his sister, who was the wife of a kammerherr and had an estate in the neighbourhood. Both she and her husband had the deepest reverence for their illustrious relation, but to their profound regret both of them happened to be in Moscow at the time of his visit, so that the honour of receiving him fell to the lot of an old lady, a poor relation of the kammerherr’s, who had for years lived in the family and looked after the housekeeping. All the household had moved about on tiptoe since Karmazinov’s arrival. The old lady sent news to Moscow almost every day, how he had slept, what he had deigned to eat, and had once sent a telegram to announce that after a dinner-party at the mayor’s he was obliged to take a spoonful of a well-known medicine. She rarely plucked up courage to enter his room, though he behaved courteously to her, but dryly, and only talked to her of what was necessary.
When Pyotr Stepanovitch came in, he was eating his morning cutlet with half a glass of red wine. Pyotr Stepanovitch had been to see him before and always found him eating this cutlet, which he finished in his presence without ever offering him anything. After the cutlet a little cup of coffee was served. The footman who brought in the dishes wore a swallow-tail coat, noiseless boots, and gloves.
“Ha ha!” Karmazinov got up from the sofa, wiping his mouth with a table-napkin, and came forward to kiss him with an air of unmixed delight—after the characteristic fashion of Russians if they are very illustrious. But Pyotr Stepanovitch knew by experience that, though Karmazinov made a show of kissing him, he really only proffered his cheek, and so this time he did the same: the cheeks met. Karmazinov did not show that he noticed it, sat down on the sofa, and affably offered Pyotr Stepanovitch an easy chair facing him, in which the latter stretched himself at once.
“You don’t … wouldn’t like some lunch?” inquired Karmazinov, abandoning his usual habit but with an air, of course, which would prompt a polite refusal. Pyotr Stepanovitch at once expressed a desire for lunch. A shade of offended surprise darkened the face of his host, but only for an instant; he nervously rang for the servant and, in spite of all his breeding, raised his voice scornfully as he gave orders for a second lunch to be served.
“What will you have, cutlet or coffee?” he asked once more.
“A cutlet and coffee, and tell him to bring some more wine, I am hungry,” answered Pyotr Stepanovitch, calmly scrutinising his host’s attire. Mr. Karmazinov was wearing a sort of indoor wadded jacket with pearl buttons, but it was too short, which was far from becoming to his rather comfortable stomach and the solid curves of his hips. But tastes differ. Over his knees he had a checkered woollen plaid reaching to the floor, though it was warm in the room.
“Are you unwell?” commented Pyotr Stepanovitch.
“No, not unwell, but I am afraid of being so in this climate,” answered the writer in his squeaky voice, though he uttered each word with a soft cadence and agreeable gentlemanly lisp. “I’ve been expecting you since yesterday.”
“Why? I didn’t say I’d come.”
“No, but you have my manuscript. Have you … read it?”
“Manuscript? Which one?”
Karmazinov was terribly surprised.
“But you’ve brought it with you, haven’t you?” He was so disturbed that he even left off eating and looked at Pyotr Stepanovitch with a face of dismay.
“Ah, that Bonjour you mean.…”
“Oh, all right. I’d quite forgotten it and hadn’t read it; I haven’t had time. I really don’t know, it’s not in my pockets … it must be on my table. Don’t be uneasy, it will be found.”
“No, I’d better send to your rooms at once. It might be lost; besides, it might be stolen.”
“Oh, who’d want it! But why are you so alarmed? Why, Yulia Mihailovna told me you always have several copies made—one kept at a notary’s abroad, another in Petersburg, a third in Moscow, and then you send some to a bank, I believe.”
“But Moscow might be burnt again and my manuscript with it. No, I’d better send at once.”
“Stay, here it is!” Pyotr Stepanovitch pulled a roll of note-paper out of a pocket at the back of his coat. “It’s a little crumpled. Only fancy, it’s been lying there with my pocket-handkerchief ever since I took it from you; I forgot it.”
Karmazinov greedily snatched the manuscript, carefully examined it, counted the pages, and laid it respectfully beside him on a special table, for the time, in such a way that he would not lose sight of it for an instant.
“You don’t read very much, it seems?” he hissed, unable to restrain himself.
“No, not very much.”
“And nothing in the way of Russian literature?”
“In the way of Russian literature? Let me see, I have read something.… ‘On the Way’ or ‘Away!’ or ‘At the Parting of the Ways’—something of the sort; I don’t remember. It’s a long time since I read it, five years ago. I’ve no time.”
A silence followed.
“When I came I assured every one that you were a very intelligent man, and now I believe every one here is wild over you.”
“Thank you,” Pyotr Stepanovitch answered calmly.
Lunch was brought in. Pyotr Stepanovitch pounced on the cutlet with extraordinary appetite, had eaten it in a trice, tossed off the wine and swallowed his coffee.
“This boor,” thought Karmazinov, looking at him askance as he munched the last morsel and drained the last drops—“this boor probably understood the biting taunt in my words … and no doubt he has read the manuscript with eagerness; he is simply lying with some object. But possibly he is not lying and is only genuinely stupid. I like a genius to be rather stupid. Mayn’t he be a sort of genius among them? Devil take the fellow!”
He got up from the sofa and began pacing from one end of the room to the other for the sake of exercise, as he always did after lunch.
“Leaving here soon?” asked Pyotr Stepanovitch from his easy chair, lighting a cigarette.
“I really came to sell an estate and I am in the hands of my bailiff.”
“You left, I believe, because they expected an epidemic out there after the war?”
“N-no, not entirely for that reason,” Mr. Karmazinov went on, uttering his phrases with an affable intonation, and each time he turned round in pacing the corner there was a faint but jaunty quiver of his right leg. “I certainly intend to live as long as I can.” He laughed, not without venom. “There is something in our Russian nobility that makes them wear out very quickly, from every point of view. But I wish to wear out as late as possible, and now I am going abroad for good; there the climate is better, the houses are of stone, and everything stronger. Europe will last my time, I think. What do you think?”
“How can I tell?”
“H’m. If the Babylon out there really does fall, and great will be the fall thereof (about which I quite agree with you, yet I think it will last my time), there’s nothing to fall here in Russia, comparatively speaking. There won’t be stones to fall, everything will crumble into dirt. Holy Russia has less power of resistance than anything in the world. The Russian peasantry is still held together somehow by the Russian God; but according to the latest accounts the Russian God is not to be relied upon, and scarcely survived the emancipation; it certainly gave Him a severe shock. And now, what with railways, what with you … I’ve no faith in the Russian God.”
“And how about the European one?”
“I don’t believe in any. I’ve been slandered to the youth of Russia. I’ve always sympathised with every movement among them. I was shown the manifestoes here. Every one looks at them with perplexity because they are frightened at the way things are put in them, but every one is convinced of their power even if they don’t admit it to themselves. Everybody has been rolling downhill, and every one has known for ages that they have nothing to clutch at. I am persuaded of the success of this mysterious propaganda, if only because Russia is now pre-eminently the place in all the world where anything you like may happen without any opposition. I understand only too well why wealthy Russians all flock abroad, and more and more so every year. It’s simply instinct. If the ship is sinking, the rats are the first to leave it. Holy Russia is a country of wood, of poverty … and of danger, the country of ambitious beggars in its upper classes, while the immense majority live in poky little huts. She will be glad of any way of escape; you have only to present it to her. It’s only the government that still means to resist, but it brandishes its cudgel in the dark and hits its own men. Everything here is doomed and awaiting the end. Russia as she is has no future. I have become a German and I am proud of it.”
“But you began about the manifestoes. Tell me everything; how do you look at them?”
“Every one is afraid of them, so they must be influential. They openly unmask what is false and prove that there is nothing to lay hold of among us, and nothing to lean upon. They speak aloud while all is silent. What is most effective about them (in spite of their style) is the incredible boldness with which they look the truth straight in the face. To look facts straight in the face is only possible to Russians of this generation. No, in Europe they are not yet so bold; it is a realm of stone, there there is still something to lean upon. So far as I see and am able to judge, the whole essence of the Russian revolutionary idea lies in the negation of honour. I like its being so boldly and fearlessly expressed. No, in Europe they wouldn’t understand it yet, but that’s just what we shall clutch at. For a Russian a sense of honour is only a superfluous burden, and it always has been a burden through all his history. The open ‘right to dishonour’ will attract him more than anything. I belong to the older generation and, I must confess, still cling to honour, but only from habit. It is only that I prefer the old forms, granted it’s from timidity; you see one must live somehow what’s left of one’s life.”
He suddenly stopped.
“I am talking,” he thought, “while he holds his tongue and watches me. He has come to make me ask him a direct question. And I shall ask him.”
“Yulia Mihailovna asked me by some stratagem to find out from you what the surprise is that you are preparing for the ball to-morrow,” Pyotr Stepanovitch asked suddenly.
“Yes, there really will be a surprise and I certainly shall astonish …” said Karmazinov with increased dignity. “But I won’t tell you what the secret is.”
Pyotr Stepanovitch did not insist.
“There is a young man here called Shatov,” observed the great writer. “Would you believe it, I haven’t seen him.”
“A very nice person. What about him?”
“Oh, nothing. He talks about something. Isn’t he the person who gave Stavrogin that slap in the face?”
“And what’s your opinion of Stavrogin?”
“I don’t know; he is such a flirt.”
Karmazinov detested Stavrogin because it was the latter’s habit not to take any notice of him.
“That flirt,” he said, chuckling, “if what is advocated in your manifestoes ever comes to pass, will be the first to be hanged.”
“Perhaps before,” Pyotr Stepanovitch said suddenly.
“Quite right too,” Karmazinov assented, not laughing, and with pronounced gravity.
“You have said so once before, and, do you know, I repeated it to him.”
“What, you surely didn’t repeat it?” Karmazinov laughed again.
“He said that if he were to be hanged it would be enough for you to be flogged, not simply as a complement but to hurt, as they flog the peasants.”
Pyotr Stepanovitch took his hat and got up from his seat. Karmazinov held out both hands to him at parting.
“And what if all that you are … plotting for is destined to come to pass …” he piped suddenly, in a honeyed voice with a peculiar intonation, still holding his hands in his. “How soon could it come about?”
“How could I tell?” Pyotr Stepanovitch answered rather roughly. They looked intently into each other’s eyes.
“At a guess? Approximately?” Karmazinov piped still more sweetly.
“You’ll have time to sell your estate and time to clear out too,” Pyotr Stepanovitch muttered still more roughly. They looked at one another even more intently.
There was a minute of silence.
“It will begin early next May and will be over by October,” Pyotr Stepanovitch said suddenly.
“I thank you sincerely,” Karmazinov pronounced in a voice saturated with feeling, pressing his hands.
“You will have time to get out of the ship, you rat,” Pyotr Stepanovitch was thinking as he went out into the street. “Well, if that ‘imperial intellect’ inquires so confidently of the day and the hour and thanks me so respectfully for the information I have given, we mustn’t doubt of ourselves. [He grinned.] H’m! But he really isn’t stupid … and he is simply a rat escaping; men like that don’t tell tales!”
He ran to Filipov’s house in Bogoyavlensky Street.
Pyotr Stepanovitch went first to Kirillov’s. He found him, as usual, alone, and at the moment practising gymnastics, that is, standing with his legs apart, brandishing his arms above his head in a peculiar way. On the floor lay a ball. The tea stood cold on the table, not cleared since breakfast. Pyotr Stepanovitch stood for a minute on the threshold.
“You are very anxious about your health, it seems,” he said in a loud and cheerful tone, going into the room. “What a jolly ball, though; foo, how it bounces! Is that for gymnastics too?”
Kirillov put on his coat.
“Yes, that’s for the good of my health too,” he muttered dryly. “Sit down.”
“I’m only here for a minute. Still, I’ll sit down. Health is all very well, but I’ve come to remind you of our agreement. The appointed time is approaching … in a certain sense,” he concluded awkwardly.
“How can you ask?” Pyotr Stepanovitch was startled and even dismayed.
“It’s not an agreement and not an obligation. I have not bound myself in any way; it’s a mistake on your part.”
“I say, what’s this you’re doing?” Pyotr Stepanovitch jumped up.
“What I choose.”
“What do you choose?”
“The same as before.”
“How am I to understand that? Does that mean that you are in the same mind?”
“Yes. Only there’s no agreement and never has been, and I have not bound myself in any way. I could do as I like and I can still do as I like.”
Kirillov explained himself curtly and contemptuously.
“I agree, I agree; be as free as you like if you don’t change your mind.” Pyotr Stepanovitch sat down again with a satisfied air. “You are angry over a word. You’ve become very irritable of late; that’s why I’ve avoided coming to see you. I was quite sure, though, you would be loyal.”
“I dislike you very much, but you can be perfectly sure—though I don’t regard it as loyalty and disloyalty.”
“But do you know” (Pyotr Stepanovitch was startled again) “we must talk things over thoroughly again so as not to get in a muddle. The business needs accuracy, and you keep giving me such shocks. Will you let me speak?”
“Speak,” snapped Kirillov, looking away.
“You made up your mind long ago to take your life … I mean, you had the idea in your mind. Is that the right expression? Is there any mistake about that?”
“I have the same idea still.”
“Excellent. Take note that no one has forced it on you.”
“Rather not; what nonsense you talk.”
“I dare say I express it very stupidly. Of course, it would be very stupid to force anybody to it. I’ll go on. You were a member of the society before its organisation was changed, and confessed it to one of the members.”
“I didn’t confess it, I simply said so.”
“Quite so. And it would be absurd to confess such a thing. What a confession! You simply said so. Excellent.”
“No, it’s not excellent, for you are being tedious. I am not obliged to give you any account of myself and you can’t understand my ideas. I want to put an end to my life, because that’s my idea, because I don’t want to be afraid of death, because … because there’s no need for you to know. What do you want? Would you like tea? It’s cold. Let me get you another glass.”
Pyotr Stepanovitch actually had taken up the teapot and was looking for an empty glass. Kirillov went to the cupboard and brought a clean glass.
“I’ve just had lunch at Karmazinov’s,” observed his visitor, “then I listened to him talking, and perspired and got into a sweat again running here. I am fearfully thirsty.”
“Drink. Cold tea is good.”
Kirillov sat down on his chair again and again fixed his eyes on the farthest corner.
“The idea had arisen in the society,” he went on in the same voice, “that I might be of use if I killed myself, and that when you get up some bit of mischief here, and they are looking for the guilty, I might suddenly shoot myself and leave a letter saying I did it all, so that you might escape suspicion for another year.”
“For a few days, anyway; one day is precious.”
“Good. So for that reason they asked me, if I would, to wait. I said I’d wait till the society fixed the day, because it makes no difference to me.”
“Yes, but remember that you bound yourself not to make up your last letter without me and that in Russia you would be at my … well, at my disposition, that is for that purpose only. I need hardly say, in everything else, of course, you are free,” Pyotr Stepanovitch added almost amiably.
“I didn’t bind myself, I agreed, because it makes no difference to me.”
“Good, good. I have no intention of wounding your vanity, but …”
“It’s not a question of vanity.”
“But remember that a hundred and twenty thalers were collected for your journey, so you’ve taken money.”
“Not at all.” Kirillov fired up. “The money was not on that condition. One doesn’t take money for that.”
“People sometimes do.”
“That’s a lie. I sent a letter from Petersburg, and in Petersburg I paid you a hundred and twenty thalers; I put it in your hand … and it has been sent off there, unless you’ve kept it for yourself.”
“All right, all right, I don’t dispute anything; it has been sent off. All that matters is that you are still in the same mind.”
“Exactly the same. When you come and tell me it’s time, I’ll carry it all out. Will it be very soon?”
“Not very many days.… But remember, we’ll make up the letter together, the same night.”
“The same day if you like. You say I must take the responsibility for the manifestoes on myself?”
“And something else too.”
“I am not going to make myself out responsible for everything.”
“What won’t you be responsible for?” said Pyotr Stepanovitch again.
“What I don’t choose; that’s enough. I don’t want to talk about it any more.”
Pyotr Stepanovitch controlled himself and changed the subject.
“To speak of something else,” he began, “will you be with us this evening? It’s Virginsky’s name-day; that’s the pretext for our meeting.”
“I don’t want to.”
“Do me a favour. Do come. You must. We must impress them by our number and our looks. You have a face … well, in one word, you have a fateful face.”
“You think so?” laughed Kirillov. “Very well, I’ll come, but not for the sake of my face. What time is it?”
“Oh, quite early, half-past six. And, you know, you can go in, sit down, and not speak to any one, however many there may be there. Only, I say, don’t forget to bring pencil and paper with you.”
“What’s that for?”
“Why, it makes no difference to you, and it’s my special request. You’ll only have to sit still, speaking to no one, listen, and sometimes seem to make a note. You can draw something, if you like.”
“What nonsense! What for?”
“Why, since it makes no difference to you! You keep saying that it’s just the same to you.”
“No, what for?”
“Why, because that member of the society, the inspector, has stopped at Moscow and I told some of them here that possibly the inspector may turn up to-night; and they’ll think that you are the inspector. And as you’ve been here three weeks already, they’ll be still more surprised.”
“Stage tricks. You haven’t got an inspector in Moscow.”
“Well, suppose I haven’t—damn him!—what business is that of yours and what bother will it be to you? You are a member of the society yourself.”
“Tell them I am the inspector; I’ll sit still and hold my tongue, but I won’t have the pencil and paper.”
“I don’t want to.”
Pyotr Stepanovitch was really angry; he turned positively green, but again he controlled himself. He got up and took his hat.
“Is that fellow with you?” he brought out suddenly, in a low voice.
“That’s good. I’ll soon get him away. Don’t be uneasy.”
“I am not uneasy. He is only here at night. The old woman is in the hospital, her daughter-in-law is dead. I’ve been alone for the last two days. I’ve shown him the place in the paling where you can take a board out; he gets through, no one sees.”
“I’ll take him away soon.”
“He says he has got plenty of places to stay the night in.”
“That’s rot; they are looking for him, but here he wouldn’t be noticed. Do you ever get into talk with him?”
“Yes, at night. He abuses you tremendously. I’ve been reading the ‘Apocalypse’ to him at night, and we have tea. He listened eagerly, very eagerly, the whole night.”
“Hang it all, you’ll convert him to Christianity!”
“He is a Christian as it is. Don’t be uneasy, he’ll do the murder. Whom do you want to murder?”
“No, I don’t want him for that, I want him for something different.… And does Shatov know about Fedka?”
“I don’t talk to Shatov, and I don’t see him.”
“Is he angry?”
“No, we are not angry, only we shun one another. We lay too long side by side in America.”
“I am going to him directly.”
“As you like.”
“Stavrogin and I may come and see you from there, about ten o’clock.”
“I want to talk to him about something important.… I say, make me a present of your ball; what do you want with it now? I want it for gymnastics too. I’ll pay you for it if you like.”
“You can take it without.”
Pyotr Stepanovitch put the ball in the back pocket of his coat.
“But I’ll give you nothing against Stavrogin,” Kirillov muttered after his guest, as he saw him out. The latter looked at him in amazement but did not answer.
Kirillov’s last words perplexed Pyotr Stepanovitch extremely; he had not time yet to discover their meaning, but even while he was on the stairs of Shatov’s lodging he tried to remove all trace of annoyance and to assume an amiable expression. Shatov was at home and rather unwell. He was lying on his bed, though dressed.
“What bad luck!” Pyotr Stepanovitch cried out in the doorway. “Are you really ill?”
The amiable expression of his face suddenly vanished; there was a gleam of spite in his eyes.
“Not at all.” Shatov jumped up nervously. “I am not ill at all … a little headache …”
He was disconcerted; the sudden appearance of such a visitor positively alarmed him.
“You mustn’t be ill for the job I’ve come about,” Pyotr Stepanovitch began quickly and, as it were, peremptorily. “Allow me to sit down.” (He sat down.) “And you sit down again on your bedstead; that’s right. There will be a party of our fellows at Virginsky’s to-night on the pretext of his birthday; it will have no political character, however—we’ve seen to that. I am coming with Nikolay Stavrogin. I would not, of course, have dragged you there, knowing your way of thinking at present … simply to save your being worried, not because we think you would betray us. But as things have turned out, you will have to go. You’ll meet there the very people with whom we shall finally settle how you are to leave the society and to whom you are to hand over what is in your keeping. We’ll do it without being noticed; I’ll take you aside into a corner; there’ll be a lot of people and there’s no need for every one to know. I must confess I’ve had to keep my tongue wagging on your behalf; but now I believe they’ve agreed, on condition you hand over the printing press and all the papers, of course. Then you can go where you please.”
Shatov listened, frowning and resentful. The nervous alarm of a moment before had entirely left him.
“I don’t acknowledge any sort of obligation to give an account to the devil knows whom,” he declared definitely. “No one has the authority to set me free.”
“Not quite so. A great deal has been entrusted to you. You hadn’t the right to break off simply. Besides, you made no clear statement about it, so that you put them in an ambiguous position.”
“I stated my position clearly by letter as soon as I arrived here.”
“No, it wasn’t clear,” Pyotr Stepanovitch retorted calmly. “I sent you ‘A Noble Personality’ to be printed here, and meaning the copies to be kept here till they were wanted; and the two manifestoes as well. You returned them with an ambiguous letter which explained nothing.”
“I refused definitely to print them.”
“Well, not definitely. You wrote that you couldn’t, but you didn’t explain for what reason. ‘I can’t’ doesn’t mean ‘I don’t want to.’ It might be supposed that you were simply unable through circumstances. That was how they took it, and considered that you still meant to keep up your connection with the society, so that they might have entrusted something to you again and so have compromised themselves. They say here that you simply meant to deceive them, so that you might betray them when you got hold of something important. I have defended you to the best of my powers, and have shown your brief note as evidence in your favour. But I had to admit on rereading those two lines that they were misleading and not conclusive.”
“You kept that note so carefully then?”
“My keeping it means nothing; I’ve got it still.”
“Well, I don’t care, damn it!” Shatov cried furiously. “Your fools may consider that I’ve betrayed them if they like—what is it to me? I should like to see what you can do to me?”
“Your name would be noted, and at the first success of the revolution you would be hanged.”
“That’s when you get the upper hand and dominate Russia?”
“You needn’t laugh. I tell you again, I stood up for you. Anyway, I advise you to turn up to-day. Why waste words through false pride? Isn’t it better to part friends? In any case you’ll have to give up the printing press and the old type and papers—that’s what we must talk about.”
“I’ll come,” Shatov muttered, looking down thoughtfully.
Pyotr Stepanovitch glanced askance at him from his place.
“Will Stavrogin be there?” Shatov asked suddenly, raising his head.
“He is certain to be.”
Again they were silent for a minute. Shatov grinned disdainfully and irritably.
“And that contemptible ‘Noble Personality’ of yours, that I wouldn’t print here. Has it been printed?” he asked.
“To make the schoolboys believe that Herzen himself had written it in your album?”
“Yes, Herzen himself.”
Again they were silent for three minutes. At last Shatov got up from the bed.
“Go out of my room; I don’t care to sit with you.”
“I’m going,” Pyotr Stepanovitch brought out with positive alacrity, getting up at once. “Only one word: Kirillov is quite alone in the lodge now, isn’t he, without a servant?”
“Quite alone. Get along; I can’t stand being in the same room with you.”
“Well, you are a pleasant customer now!” Pyotr Stepanovitch reflected gaily as he went out into the street, “and you will be pleasant this evening too, and that just suits me; nothing better could be wished, nothing better could be wished! The Russian God Himself seems helping me.”
He had probably been very busy that day on all sorts of errands and probably with success, which was reflected in the self-satisfied expression of his face when at six o’clock that evening he turned up at Stavrogin’s. But he was not at once admitted: Stavrogin had just locked himself in the study with Mavriky Nikolaevitch. This news instantly made Pyotr Stepanovitch anxious. He seated himself close to the study door to wait for the visitor to go away. He could hear conversation but could not catch the words. The visit did not last long; soon he heard a noise, the sound of an extremely loud and abrupt voice, then the door opened and Mavriky Nikolaevitch came out with a very pale face. He did not notice Pyotr Stepanovitch, and quickly passed by. Pyotr Stepanovitch instantly ran into the study.
I cannot omit a detailed account of the very brief interview that had taken place between the two “rivals”—an interview which might well have seemed impossible under the circumstances, but which had yet taken place.
This is how it had come about. Nikolay Vsyevolodovitch had been enjoying an after-dinner nap on the couch in his study when Alexey Yegorytch had announced the unexpected visitor. Hearing the name, he had positively leapt up, unwilling to believe it. But soon a smile gleamed on his lips—a smile of haughty triumph and at the same time of a blank, incredulous wonder. The visitor, Mavriky Nikolaevitch, seemed struck by the expression of that smile as he came in; anyway, he stood still in the middle of the room as though uncertain whether to come further in or to turn back. Stavrogin succeeded at once in transforming the expression of his face, and with an air of grave surprise took a step towards him. The visitor did not take his outstretched hand, but awkwardly moved a chair and, not uttering a word, sat down without waiting for his host to do so. Nikolay Vsyevolodovitch sat down on the sofa facing him obliquely and, looking at Mavriky Nikolaevitch, waited in silence.
“If you can, marry Lizaveta Nikolaevna,” Mavriky Nikolaevitch brought out suddenly at last, and what was most curious, it was impossible to tell from his tone whether it was an entreaty, a recommendation, a surrender, or a command.
Stavrogin still remained silent, but the visitor had evidently said all he had come to say and gazed at him persistently, waiting for an answer.
“If I am not mistaken (but it’s quite certain), Lizaveta Nikolaevna is already betrothed to you,” Stavrogin said at last.
“Promised and betrothed,” Mavriky Nikolaevitch assented firmly and clearly.
“You have … quarrelled? Excuse me, Mavriky Nikolaevitch.”
“No, she ‘loves and respects me’; those are her words. Her words are more precious than anything.”
“Of that there can be no doubt.”
“But let me tell you, if she were standing in the church at her wedding and you were to call her, she’d give up me and every one and go to you.”
“From the wedding?”
“Yes, and after the wedding.”
“Aren’t you making a mistake?”
“No. Under her persistent, sincere, and intense hatred for you love is flashing out at every moment … and madness … the sincerest infinite love and … madness! On the contrary, behind the love she feels for me, which is sincere too, every moment there are flashes of hatred … the most intense hatred! I could never have fancied all these transitions … before.”
“But I wonder, though, how could you come here and dispose of the hand of Lizaveta Nikolaevna? Have you the right to do so? Has she authorised you?”
Mavriky Nikolaevitch frowned and for a minute he looked down.
“That’s all words on your part,” he brought out suddenly, “words of revenge and triumph; I am sure you can read between the lines, and is this the time for petty vanity? Haven’t you satisfaction enough? Must I really dot my i’s and go into it all? Very well, I will dot my i’s, if you are so anxious for my humiliation. I have no right, it’s impossible for me to be authorised; Lizaveta Nikolaevna knows nothing about it and her betrothed has finally lost his senses and is only fit for a madhouse, and, to crown everything, has come to tell you so himself. You are the only man in the world who can make her happy, and I am the one to make her unhappy. You are trying to get her, you are pursuing her, but—I don’t know why—you won’t marry her. If it’s because of a lovers’ quarrel abroad and I must be sacrificed to end it, sacrifice me. She is too unhappy and I can’t endure it. My words are not a sanction, not a prescription, and so it’s no slur on your pride. If you care to take my place at the altar, you can do it without any sanction from me, and there is no ground for me to come to you with a mad proposal, especially as our marriage is utterly impossible after the step I am taking now. I cannot lead her to the altar feeling myself an abject wretch. What I am doing here and my handing her over to you, perhaps her bitterest foe, is to my mind something so abject that I shall never get over it.”
“Will you shoot yourself on our wedding day?”
“No, much later. Why stain her bridal dress with my blood? Perhaps I shall not shoot myself at all, either now or later.”
“I suppose you want to comfort me by saying that?”
“You? What would the blood of one more mean to you?” He turned pale and his eyes gleamed. A minute of silence followed.
“Excuse me for the questions I’ve asked you,” Stavrogin began again; “some of them I had no business to ask you, but one of them I think I have every right to put to you. Tell me, what facts have led you to form a conclusion as to my feelings for Lizaveta Nikolaevna? I mean to a conviction of a degree of feeling on my part as would justify your coming here … and risking such a proposal.”
“What?” Mavriky Nikolaevitch positively started. “Haven’t you been trying to win her? Aren’t you trying to win her, and don’t you want to win her?”
“Generally speaking, I can’t speak of my feeling for this woman or that to a third person or to anyone except the woman herself. You must excuse it, it’s a constitutional peculiarity. But to make up for it, I’ll tell you the truth about everything else; I am married, and it’s impossible for me either to marry or to try ‘to win’ anyone.”
Mavriky Nikolaevitch was so astounded that he started back in his chair and for some time stared fixedly into Stavrogin’s face.
“Only fancy, I never thought of that,” he muttered. “You said then, that morning, that you were not married … and so I believed you were not married.”
He turned terribly pale; suddenly he brought his fist down on the table with all his might.
“If after that confession you don’t leave Lizaveta Nikolaevna alone, if you make her unhappy, I’ll kill you with my stick like a dog in a ditch!”
He jumped up and walked quickly out of the room. Pyotr Stepanovitch, running in, found his host in a most unexpected frame of mind.
“Ah, that’s you!” Stavrogin laughed loudly; his laughter seemed to be provoked simply by the appearance of Pyotr Stepanovitch as he ran in with such impulsive curiosity.
“Were you listening at the door? Wait a bit. What have you come about? I promised you something, didn’t I? Ah, bah! I remember, to meet ‘our fellows.’ Let us go. I am delighted. You couldn’t have thought of anything more appropriate.” He snatched up his hat and they both went at once out of the house.
“Are you laughing beforehand at the prospect of seeing ‘our fellows’?” chirped gaily Pyotr Stepanovitch, dodging round him with obsequious alacrity, at one moment trying to walk beside his companion on the narrow brick pavement and at the next running right into the mud of the road; for Stavrogin walked in the middle of the pavement without observing that he left no room for anyone else.
“I am not laughing at all,” he answered loudly and gaily; “on the contrary, I am sure that you have the most serious set of people there.”
“‘Surly dullards,’ as you once deigned to express it.”
“Nothing is more amusing sometimes than a surly dullard.”
“Ah, you mean Mavriky Nikolaevitch? I am convinced he came to give up his betrothed to you, eh? I egged him on to do it, indirectly, would you believe it? And if he doesn’t give her up, we’ll take her, anyway, won’t we—eh?”
Pyotr Stepanovitch knew no doubt that he was running some risk in venturing on such sallies, but when he was excited he preferred to risk anything rather than to remain in uncertainty. Stavrogin only laughed.
“You still reckon you’ll help me?” he asked.
“If you call me. But you know there’s one way, and the best one.”
“Do I know your way?”
“Oh no, that’s a secret for the time. Only remember, a secret has its price.”
“I know what it costs,” Stavrogin muttered to himself, but he restrained himself and was silent.
“What it costs? What did you say?” Pyotr Stepanovitch was startled.
“I said, ‘Damn you and your secret!’ You’d better be telling me who will be there. I know that we are going to a name-day party, but who will be there?”
“Oh, all sorts! Even Kirillov.”
“All members of circles?”
“Hang it all, you are in a hurry! There’s not one circle formed yet.”
“How did you manage to distribute so many manifestoes then?”
“Where we are going only four are members of the circle. The others on probation are spying on one another with jealous eagerness, and bring reports to me. They are a trustworthy set. It’s all material which we must organise, and then we must clear out. But you wrote the rules yourself, there’s no need to explain.”
“Are things going badly then? Is there a hitch?”
“Going? Couldn’t be better. It will amuse you: the first thing which has a tremendous effect is giving them titles. Nothing has more influence than a title. I invent ranks and duties on purpose; I have secretaries, secret spies, treasurers, presidents, registrars, their assistants—they like it awfully, it’s taken capitally. Then, the next force is sentimentalism, of course. You know, amongst us socialism spreads principally through sentimentalism. But the trouble is these lieutenants who bite; sometimes you put your foot in it. Then come the out-and-out rogues; well, they are a good sort, if you like, and sometimes very useful; but they waste a lot of one’s time, they want incessant looking after. And the most important force of all—the cement that holds everything together—is their being ashamed of having an opinion of their own. That is a force! And whose work is it, whose precious achievement is it, that not one idea of their own is left in their heads! They think originality a disgrace.”
“If so, why do you take so much trouble?”
“Why, if people lie simply gaping at every one, how can you resist annexing them? Can you seriously refuse to believe in the possibility of success? Yes, you have the faith, but one wants will. It’s just with people like this that success is possible. I tell you I could make them go through fire; one has only to din it into them that they are not advanced enough. The fools reproach me that I have taken in every one here over the central committee and ‘the innumerable branches.’ You once blamed me for it yourself, but where’s the deception? You and I are the central committee and there will be as many branches as we like.”
“And always the same sort of rabble!”
“Raw material. Even they will be of use.”
“And you are still reckoning on me?”
“You are the chief, you are the head; I shall only be a subordinate, your secretary. We shall take to our barque, you know; the oars are of maple, the sails are of silk, at the helm sits a fair maiden, Lizaveta Nikolaevna … hang it, how does it go in the ballad?”
“He is stuck,” laughed Stavrogin. “No, I’d better give you my version. There you reckon on your fingers the forces that make up the circles. All that business of titles and sentimentalism is a very good cement, but there is something better; persuade four members of the circle to do for a fifth on the pretence that he is a traitor, and you’ll tie them all together with the blood they’ve shed as though it were a knot. They’ll be your slaves, they won’t dare to rebel or call you to account. Ha ha ha!”
“But you … you shall pay for those words,” Pyotr Stepanovitch thought to himself, “and this very evening, in fact. You go too far.”
This or something like this must have been Pyotr Stepanovitch’s reflection. They were approaching Virginsky’s house.
“You’ve represented me, no doubt, as a member from abroad, an inspector in connection with the Internationale?” Stavrogin asked suddenly.
“No, not an inspector; you won’t be an inspector; but you are one of the original members from abroad, who knows the most important secrets—that’s your rôle. You are going to speak, of course?”
“What’s put that idea into your head?”
“Now you are bound to speak.”
Stavrogin positively stood still in the middle of the street in surprise, not far from a street lamp. Pyotr Stepanovitch faced his scrutiny calmly and defiantly. Stavrogin cursed and went on.
“And are you going to speak?” he suddenly asked Pyotr Stepanovitch.
“No, I am going to listen to you.”
“Damn you, you really are giving me an idea!”
“What idea?” Pyotr Stepanovitch asked quickly.
“Perhaps I will speak there, but afterwards I will give you a hiding—and a sound one too, you know.”
“By the way, I told Karmazinov this morning that you said he ought to be thrashed, and not simply as a form but to hurt, as they flog peasants.”
“But I never said such a thing; ha ha!”
“No matter. Se non è vero …”
“Well, thanks. I am truly obliged.”
“And another thing. Do you know, Karmazinov says that the essence of our creed is the negation of honour, and that by the open advocacy of a right to be dishonourable a Russian can be won over more easily than by anything.”
“An excellent saying! Golden words!” cried Stavrogin. “He’s hit the mark there! The right to dishonour—why, they’d all flock to us for that, not one would stay behind! And listen, Verhovensky, you are not one of the higher police, are you?”
“Anyone who has a question like that in his mind doesn’t utter it.”
“I understand, but we are by ourselves.”
“No, so far I am not one of the higher police. Enough, here we are. Compose your features, Stavrogin; I always do mine when I go in. A gloomy expression, that’s all, nothing more is wanted; it’s a very simple business.”