EIGHT DAYS HAD PASSED. Now that it is all over and I am writing a record of it, we know all about it; but at the time we knew nothing, and it was natural that many things should seem strange to us: Stepan Trofimovitch and I, anyway, shut ourselves up for the first part of the time, and looked on with dismay from a distance. I did, indeed, go about here and there, and, as before, brought him various items of news, without which he could not exist.
I need hardly say that there were rumours of the most varied kind going about the town in regard to the blow that Stavrogin had received, Lizaveta Nikolaevna’s fainting fit, and all that happened on that Sunday. But what we wondered was, through whom the story had got about so quickly and so accurately. Not one of the persons present had any need to give away the secret of what had happened, or interest to serve by doing so.
The servants had not been present. Lebyadkin was the only one who might have chattered, not so much from spite, for he had gone out in great alarm (and fear of an enemy destroys spite against him), but simply from incontinence of speech. But Lebyadkin and his sister had disappeared next day, and nothing could be heard of them. There was no trace of them at Filipov’s house, they had moved, no one knew where, and seemed to have vanished. Shatov, of whom I wanted to inquire about Marya Timofyevna, would not open his door, and I believe sat locked up in his room for the whole of those eight days, even discontinuing his work in the town. He would not see me. I went to see him on Tuesday and knocked at his door. I got no answer, but being convinced by unmistakable evidence that he was at home, I knocked a second time. Then, jumping up, apparently from his bed, he strode to the door and shouted at the top of his voice:
“Shatov is not at home!”
With that I went away.
Stepan Trofimovitch and I, not without dismay at the boldness of the supposition, though we tried to encourage one another, reached at last a conclusion: we made up our mind that the only person who could be responsible for spreading these rumours was Pyotr Stepanovitch, though he himself not long after assured his father that he had found the story on every one’s lips, especially at the club, and that the governor and his wife were familiar with every detail of it. What is even more remarkable is that the next day, Monday evening, I met Liputin, and he knew every word that had been passed, so that he must have heard it first-hand. Many of the ladies (and some of the leading ones) were very inquisitive about the “mysterious cripple,” as they called Marya Timofyevna. There were some, indeed, who were anxious to see her and make her acquaintance, so the intervention of the persons who had been in such haste to conceal the Lebyadkins was timely. But Lizaveta Nikolaevna’s fainting certainly took the foremost place in the story, and “all society” was interested, if only because it directly concerned Yulia Mihailovna, as the kinswoman and patroness of the young lady. And what was there they didn’t say! What increased the gossip was the mysterious position of affairs; both houses were obstinately closed; Lizaveta Nikolaevna, so they said, was in bed with brain fever. The same thing was asserted of Nikolay Vsyevolodovitch, with the revolting addition of a tooth knocked out and a swollen face. It was even whispered in corners that there would soon be murder among us, that Stavrogin was not the man to put up with such an insult, and that he would kill Shatov, but with the secrecy of a Corsican vendetta. People liked this idea, but the majority of our young people listened with contempt, and with an air of the most nonchalant indifference, which was, of course, assumed. The old hostility to Nikolay Vsyevolodovitch in the town was in general strikingly manifest. Even sober-minded people were eager to throw blame on him though they could not have said for what. It was whispered that he had ruined Lizaveta Nikolaevna’s reputation, and that there had been an intrigue between them in Switzerland. Cautious people, of course, restrained themselves, but all listened with relish. There were other things said, though not in public, but in private, on rare occasions and almost in secret, extremely strange things, to which I only refer to warn my readers of them with a view to the later events of my story. Some people, with knitted brows, said, God knows on what foundation, that Nikolay Vsyevolodovitch had some special business in our province, that he had, through Count K., been brought into touch with exalted circles in Petersburg, that he was even, perhaps, in government service, and might almost be said to have been furnished with some sort of commission from someone. When very sober-minded and sensible people smiled at this rumour, observing very reasonably that a man always mixed up with scandals, and who was beginning his career among us with a swollen face did not look like a government official, they were told in a whisper that he was employed not in the official, but, so to say, the confidential service, and that in such cases it was essential to be as little like an official as possible. This remark produced a sensation; we knew that the Zemstvo of our province was the object of marked attention in the capital. I repeat, these were only flitting rumours that disappeared for a time when Nikolay Vsyevolodovitch first came among us. But I may observe that many of the rumours were partly due to a few brief but malicious words, vaguely and disconnectedly dropped at the club by a gentleman who had lately returned from Petersburg. This was a retired captain in the guards, Artemy Pavlovitch Gaganov. He was a very large landowner in our province and district, a man used to the society of Petersburg, and a son of the late Pavel Pavlovitch Gaganov, the venerable old man with whom Nikolay Vsyevolodovitch had, over four years before, had the extraordinarily coarse and sudden encounter which I have described already in the beginning of my story.
It immediately became known to every one that Yulia Mihailovna had made a special call on Varvara Petrovna, and had been informed at the entrance: “Her honour was too unwell to see visitors.” It was known, too, that Yulia Mihailovna sent a message two days later to inquire after Varvara Petrovna’s health. At last she began “defending” Varvara Petrovna everywhere, of course only in the loftiest sense, that is, in the vaguest possible way. She listened coldly and sternly to the hurried remarks made at first about the scene on Sunday, so that during the later days they were not renewed in her presence. So that the belief gained ground everywhere that Yulia Mihailovna knew not only the whole of the mysterious story but all its secret significance to the smallest detail, and not as an outsider, but as one taking part in it. I may observe, by the way, that she was already gradually beginning to gain that exalted influence among us for which she was so eager and which she was certainly struggling to win, and was already beginning to see herself “surrounded by a circle.” A section of society recognised her practical sense and tact … but of that later. Her patronage partly explained Pyotr Stepanovitch’s rapid success in our society—a success with which Stepan Trofimovitch was particularly impressed at the time.
We possibly exaggerated it. To begin with, Pyotr Stepanovitch seemed to make acquaintance almost instantly with the whole town within the first four days of his arrival. He only arrived on Sunday; and on Tuesday I saw him in a carriage with Artemy Pavlovitch Gaganov, a man who was proud, irritable, and supercilious, in spite of his good breeding, and who was not easy to get on with. At the governor’s, too, Pyotr Stepanovitch met with a warm welcome, so much so that he was at once on an intimate footing, like a young friend, treated, so to say, affectionately. He dined with Yulia Mihailovna almost every day. He had made her acquaintance in Switzerland, but there was certainly something curious about the rapidity of his success in the governor’s house. In any case he was reputed, whether truly or not, to have been at one time a revolutionist abroad, he had had something to do with some publications and some congresses abroad, “which one can prove from the newspapers,” to quote the malicious remark of Alyosha Telyatnikov, who had also been once a young friend affectionately treated in the house of the late governor, but was now, alas, a clerk on the retired list. But the fact was unmistakable: the former revolutionist, far from being hindered from returning to his beloved Fatherland, seemed almost to have been encouraged to do so, so perhaps there was nothing in it. Liputin whispered to me once that there were rumours that Pyotr Stepanovitch had once professed himself penitent, and on his return had been pardoned on mentioning certain names and so, perhaps, had succeeded in expiating his offence, by promising to be of use to the government in the future. I repeated these malignant phrases to Stepan Trofimovitch, and although the latter was in such a state that he was hardly capable of reflection, he pondered profoundly. It turned out later that Pyotr Stepanovitch had come to us with a very influential letter of recommendation, that he had, at any rate, brought one to the governor’s wife from a very important old lady in Petersburg, whose husband was one of the most distinguished old dignitaries in the capital. This old lady, who was Yulia Mihailovna’s godmother, mentioned in her letter that Count K. knew Pyotr Stepanovitch very well through Nikolay Vsyevolodovitch, made much of him, and thought him “a very excellent young man in spite of his former errors.” Yulia Mihailovna set the greatest value on her relations with the “higher spheres,” which were few and maintained with difficulty, and was, no doubt, pleased to get the old lady’s letter, but still there was something peculiar about it. She even forced her husband upon a familiar footing with Pyotr Stepanovitch, so much so that Mr. von Lembke complained of it … but of that, too, later. I may mention, too, that the great author was also favourably disposed to Pyotr Stepanovitch, and at once invited him to go and see him. Such alacrity on the part of a man so puffed up with conceit stung Stepan Trofimovitch more painfully than anything; but I put a different interpretation on it. In inviting a nihilist to see him, Mr. Karmazinov, no doubt, had in view his relations with the progressives of the younger generation in both capitals. The great author trembled nervously before the revolutionary youth of Russia, and imagining, in his ignorance, that the future lay in their hands, fawned upon them in a despicable way, chiefly because they paid no attention to him whatever.
Pyotr Stepanovitch ran round to see his father twice, but unfortunately I was absent on both occasions. He visited him for the first time only on Wednesday, that is, not till the fourth day after their first meeting, and then only on business. Their difficulties over the property were settled, by the way, without fuss or publicity. Varvara Petrovna took it all on herself, and paid all that was owing, taking over the land, of course, and only informed Stepan Trofimovitch that it was all settled and her butler, Alexey Yegorytch, was, by her authorisation, bringing him something to sign. This Stepan Trofimovitch did, in silence, with extreme dignity. Apropos of his dignity, I may mention that I hardly recognised my old friend during those days. He behaved as he had never done before; became amazingly taciturn and had not even written one letter to Varvara Petrovna since Sunday, which seemed to me almost a miracle. What’s more, he had become quite calm. He had fastened upon a final and decisive idea which gave him tranquillity. That was evident. He had hit upon this idea, and sat still, expecting something. At first, however, he was ill, especially on Monday. He had an attack of his summer cholera. He could not remain all that time without news either; but as soon as I departed from the statement of facts, and began discussing the case in itself, and formulated any theory, he at once gesticulated to me to stop. But both his interviews with his son had a distressing effect on him, though they did not shake his determination. After each interview he spent the whole day lying on the sofa with a handkerchief soaked in vinegar on his head. But he continued to remain calm in the deepest sense.
Sometimes, however, he did not hinder my speaking. Sometimes, too, it seemed to me that the mysterious determination he had taken seemed to be failing him and he appeared to be struggling with a new, seductive stream of ideas. That was only at moments, but I made a note of it. I suspected that he was longing to assert himself again, to come forth from his seclusion, to show fight, to struggle to the last.
“Cher, I could crush them!” broke from him on Thursday evening after his second interview with Pyotr Stepanovitch, when he lay stretched on the sofa with his head wrapped in a towel.
Till that moment he had not uttered one word all day.
“Fils, fils, cher,” and so on, “I agree all those expressions are nonsense, kitchen talk, and so be it. I see it for myself. I never gave him food or drink, I sent him a tiny baby from Berlin to X province by post, and all that, I admit it.… ‘You gave me neither food nor drink, and sent me by post,’ he says, ‘and what’s more you’ve robbed me here.’”
“‘But you unhappy boy,’ I cried to him, ‘my heart has been aching for you all my life; though I did send you by post.’ Il rit.”
“But I admit it. I admit it, granted it was by post,” he concluded, almost in delirium.
“Passons,” he began again, five minutes later. “I don’t understand Turgenev. That Bazarov of his is a fictitious figure, it does not exist anywhere. The fellows themselves were the first to disown him as unlike anyone. That Bazarov is a sort of indistinct mixture of Nozdryov and Byron, c’est le mot. Look at them attentively: they caper about and squeal with joy like puppies in the sun. They are happy, they are victorious! What is there of Byron in them!… and with that, such ordinariness! What a low-bred, irritable vanity! What an abject craving to faire du bruit autour de son nom, without noticing that son nom.… Oh, it’s a caricature! ‘Surely,’ I cried to him, ‘you don’t want to offer yourself just as you are as a substitute for Christ?’ Il rit. Il rit beaucoup. Il rit trop. He has a strange smile. His mother had not a smile like that. Il rit toujours.”
Silence followed again.
“They are cunning; they were acting in collusion on Sunday,” he blurted out suddenly.…
“Oh, not a doubt of it,” I cried, pricking up my ears. “It was a got-up thing and it was too transparent, and so badly acted.”
“I don’t mean that. Do you know that it was all too transparent on purpose, that those … who had to, might understand it. Do you understand that?”
“I don’t understand.”
“Tant mieux; passons. I am very irritable to-day.”
“But why have you been arguing with him, Stepan Trofimovitch?” I asked him reproachfully.
“Je voulais convertir—you’ll laugh of course—cette pauvre auntie, elle entendra de belles choses! Oh, my dear boy, would you believe it. I felt like a patriot. I always recognised that I was a Russian, however … a genuine Russian must be like you and me. Il y a là dedans quelque chose d’aveugle et de louche.”
“Not a doubt of it,” I assented.
“My dear, the real truth always sounds improbable, do you know that? To make truth sound probable you must always mix in some falsehood with it. Men have always done so. Perhaps there’s something in it that passes our understanding. What do you think: is there something we don’t understand in that triumphant squeal? I should like to think there was. I should like to think so.”
I did not speak. He, too, was silent for a long time. “They say that French cleverness …” he babbled suddenly, as though in a fever … “that’s false, it always has been. Why libel French cleverness? It’s simply Russian indolence, our degrading impotence to produce ideas, our revolting parasitism in the rank of nations. Ils sont tout simplement des paresseux, and not French cleverness. Oh, the Russians ought to be extirpated for the good of humanity, like noxious parasites! We’ve been striving for something utterly, utterly different. I can make nothing of it. I have given up understanding. ‘Do you understand,’ I cried to him, ‘that if you have the guillotine in the foreground of your programme and are so enthusiastic about it too, it’s simply because nothing’s easier than cutting off heads, and nothing’s harder than to have an idea. Vous êtes des paresseux! Votre drapeau est un guenille, une impuissance. It’s those carts, or, what was it?… the rumble of the carts carrying bread to humanity being more important than the Sistine Madonna, or, what’s the saying?… une bêtise dans ce genre. Don’t you understand, don’t you understand,’ I said to him, ‘that unhappiness is just as necessary to man as happiness.’ Il rit. ‘All you do is to make a bon mot,’ he said, ‘with your limbs snug on a velvet sofa.’ … (He used a coarser expression.) And this habit of addressing a father so familiarly is very nice when father and son are on good terms, but what do you think of it when they are abusing one another?”
We were silent again for a minute.
“Cher,” he concluded at last, getting up quickly, “do you know this is bound to end in something?”
“Of course,” said I.
“Vous ne comprenez pas. Passons. But … usually in our world things come to nothing, but this will end in something; it’s bound to, it’s bound to!”
He got up, and walked across the room in violent emotion, and coming back to the sofa sank on to it exhausted.
On Friday morning, Pyotr Stepanovitch went off somewhere in the neighbourhood, and remained away till Monday. I heard of his departure from Liputin, and in the course of conversation I learned that the Lebyadkins, brother and sister, had moved to the riverside quarter. “I moved them,” he added, and, dropping the Lebyadkins, he suddenly announced to me that Lizaveta Nikolaevna was going to marry Mavriky Nikolaevitch, that, although it had not been announced, the engagement was a settled thing. Next day I met Lizaveta Nikolaevna out riding with Mavriky Nikolaevitch; she was out for the first time after her illness. She beamed at me from the distance, laughed, and nodded in a very friendly way. I told all this to Stepan Trofimovitch; he paid no attention, except to the news about the Lebyadkins.
And now, having described our enigmatic position throughout those eight days during which we knew nothing, I will pass on to the description of the succeeding incidents of my chronicle, writing, so to say, with full knowledge, and describing things as they became known afterwards, and are clearly seen to-day. I will begin with the eighth day after that Sunday, that is, the Monday evening—for in reality a “new scandal” began with that evening.
It was seven o’clock in the evening. Nikolay Vsyevolodovitch was sitting alone in his study—the room he had been fond of in old days. It was lofty, carpeted with rugs, and contained somewhat heavy old-fashioned furniture. He was sitting on the sofa in the corner, dressed as though to go out, though he did not seem to be intending to do so. On the table before him stood a lamp with a shade. The sides and corners of the big room were left in shadow. His eyes looked dreamy and concentrated, not altogether tranquil; his face looked tired and had grown a little thinner. He really was ill with a swollen face; but the story of a tooth having been knocked out was an exaggeration. One had been loosened, but it had grown into its place again: he had had a cut on the inner side of the upper lip, but that, too, had healed. The swelling on his face had lasted all the week simply because the invalid would not have a doctor, and instead of having the swelling lanced had waited for it to go down. He would not hear of a doctor, and would scarcely allow even his mother to come near him, and then only for a moment, once a day, and only at dusk, after it was dark and before lights had been brought in. He did not receive Pyotr Stepanovitch either, though the latter ran round to Varvara Petrovna’s two or three times a day so long as he remained in the town. And now, at last, returning on the Monday morning after his three days’ absence, Pyotr Stepanovitch made a circuit of the town, and, after dining at Yulia Mihailovna’s, came at last in the evening to Varvara Petrovna, who was impatiently expecting him. The interdict had been removed, Nikolay Vsyevolodovitch was “at home.” Varvara Petrovna herself led the visitor to the door of the study; she had long looked forward to their meeting, and Pyotr Stepanovitch had promised to run to her and repeat what passed. She knocked timidly at Nikolay Vsyevolodovitch’s door, and getting no answer ventured to open the door a couple of inches.
“Nicolas, may I bring Pyotr Stepanovitch in to see you?” she asked, in a soft and restrained voice, trying to make out her son’s face behind the lamp.
“You can—you can, of course you can,” Pyotr Stepanovitch himself cried out, loudly and gaily. He opened the door with his hand and went in.
Nikolay Vsyevolodovitch had not heard the knock at the door, and only caught his mother’s timid question, and had not had time to answer it. Before him, at that moment, there lay a letter he had just read over, which he was pondering deeply. He started, hearing Pyotr Stepanovitch’s sudden outburst, and hurriedly put the letter under a paper-weight, but did not quite succeed; a corner of the letter and almost the whole envelope showed.
“I called out on purpose that you might be prepared,” Pyotr Stepanovitch said hurriedly, with surprising naïveté, running up to the table, and instantly staring at the corner of the letter, which peeped out from beneath the paper-weight.
“And no doubt you had time to see how I hid the letter I had just received, under the paper-weight,” said Nikolay Vsyevolodovitch calmly, without moving from his place.
“A letter? Bless you and your letters, what are they to do with me?” cried the visitor. “But … what does matter …” he whispered again, turning to the door, which was by now closed, and nodding his head in that direction.
“She never listens,” Nikolay Vsyevolodovitch observed coldly.
“What if she did overhear?” cried Pyotr Stepanovitch, raising his voice cheerfully, and settling down in an arm-chair. “I’ve nothing against that, only I’ve come here now to speak to you alone. Well, at last I’ve succeeded in getting at you. First of all, how are you? I see you’re getting on splendidly. To-morrow you’ll show yourself again—eh?”
“Set their minds at rest. Set mine at rest at last.” He gesticulated violently with a jocose and amiable air. “If only you knew what nonsense I’ve had to talk to them. You know, though.” He laughed.
“I don’t know everything. I only heard from my mother that you’ve been … very active.”
“Oh, well, I’ve said nothing definite,” Pyotr Stepanovitch flared up at once, as though defending himself from an awful attack. “I simply trotted out Shatov’s wife; you know, that is, the rumours of your liaison in Paris, which accounted, of course, for what happened on Sunday. You’re not angry?”
“I’m sure you’ve done your best.”
“Oh, that’s just what I was afraid of. Though what does that mean, ‘done your best’? That’s a reproach, isn’t it? You always go straight for things, though.… What I was most afraid of, as I came here, was that you wouldn’t go straight for the point.”
“I don’t want to go straight for anything,” said Nikolay Vsyevolodovitch with some irritation. But he laughed at once.
“I didn’t mean that, I didn’t mean that, don’t make a mistake,” cried Pyotr Stepanovitch, waving his hands, rattling his words out like peas, and at once relieved at his companion’s irritability. “I’m not going to worry you with our business, especially in your present position. I’ve only come about Sunday’s affair, and only to arrange the most necessary steps, because, you see, it’s impossible. I’ve come with the frankest explanations which I stand in more need of than you—so much for your vanity, but at the same time it’s true. I’ve come to be open with you from this time forward.”
“Then you have not been open with me before?”
“You know that yourself. I’ve been cunning with you many times … you smile; I’m very glad of that smile as a prelude to our explanation. I provoked that smile on purpose by using the word ‘cunning,’ so that you might get cross directly at my daring to think I could be cunning, so that I might have a chance of explaining myself at once. You see, you see how open I have become now! Well, do you care to listen?”
In the expression of Nikolay Vsyevolodovitch’s face, which was contemptuously composed, and even ironical, in spite of his visitor’s obvious desire to irritate him by the insolence of his premeditated and intentionally coarse naïvetés, there was, at last, a look of rather uneasy curiosity.
“Listen,” said Pyotr Stepanovitch, wriggling more than ever, “when I set off to come here, I mean here in the large sense, to this town, ten days ago, I made up my mind, of course, to assume a character. It would have been best to have done without anything, to have kept one’s own character, wouldn’t it? There is no better dodge than one’s own character, because no one believes in it. I meant, I must own, to assume the part of a fool, because it is easier to be a fool than to act one’s own character; but as a fool is after all something extreme, and anything extreme excites curiosity, I ended by sticking to my own character. And what is my own character? The golden mean: neither wise nor foolish, rather stupid, and dropped from the moon, as sensible people say here, isn’t that it?”
“Perhaps it is,” said Nikolay Vsyevolodovitch, with a faint smile.
“Ah, you agree—I’m very glad; I knew beforehand that it was your own opinion.… You needn’t trouble, I am not annoyed, and I didn’t describe myself in that way to get a flattering contradiction from you—no, you’re not stupid, you’re clever.… Ah! you’re smiling again!… I’ve blundered once more. You would not have said ‘you’re clever,’ granted; I’ll let it pass anyway. Passons, as papa says, and, in parenthesis, don’t be vexed with my verbosity. By the way, I always say a lot, that is, use a great many words and talk very fast, and I never speak well. And why do I use so many words, and why do I never speak well? Because I don’t know how to speak. People who can speak well, speak briefly. So that I am stupid, am I not? But as this gift of stupidity is natural to me, why shouldn’t I make skilful use of it? And I do make use of it. It’s true that as I came here, I did think, at first, of being silent. But you know silence is a great talent, and therefore incongruous for me, and secondly silence would be risky, anyway. So I made up my mind finally that it would be best to talk, but to talk stupidly—that is, to talk and talk and talk—to be in a tremendous hurry to explain things, and in the end to get muddled in my own explanations, so that my listener would walk away without hearing the end, with a shrug, or, better still, with a curse. You succeed straight off in persuading them of your simplicity, in boring them and in being incomprehensible—three advantages all at once! Do you suppose anybody will suspect you of mysterious designs after that? Why, every one of them would take it as a personal affront if anyone were to say I had secret designs. And I sometimes amuse them too, and that’s priceless. Why, they’re ready to forgive me everything now, just because the clever fellow who used to publish manifestoes out there turns out to be stupider than themselves—that’s so, isn’t it? From your smile I see you approve.”
Nikolay Vsyevolodovitch was not smiling at all, however.
On the contrary, he was listening with a frown and some impatience.
“Eh? What? I believe you said ‘no matter.’”
Pyotr Stepanovitch rattled on. (Nikolay Vsyevolodovitch had said nothing at all.) “Of course, of course. I assure you I’m not here to compromise you by my company, by claiming you as my comrade. But do you know you’re horribly captious to-day; I ran in to you with a light and open heart, and you seem to be laying up every word I say against me. I assure you I’m not going to begin about anything shocking to-day, I give you my word, and I agree beforehand to all your conditions.”
Nikolay Vsyevolodovitch was obstinately silent.
“Eh? What? Did you say something? I see, I see that I’ve made a blunder again, it seems; you’ve not suggested conditions and you’re not going to; I believe you, I believe you; well, you can set your mind at rest; I know, of course, that it’s not worth while for me to suggest them, is it? I’ll answer for you beforehand, and—just from stupidity, of course; stupidity again.… You’re laughing? Eh? What?”
“Nothing,” Nikolay Vsyevolodovitch laughed at last. “I just remembered that I really did call you stupid, but you weren’t there then, so they must have repeated it.… I would ask you to make haste and come to the point.”
“Why, but I am at the point! I am talking about Sunday,” babbled Pyotr Stepanovitch. “Why, what was I on Sunday? What would you call it? Just fussy, mediocre stupidity, and in the stupidest way I took possession of the conversation by force. But they forgave me everything, first because I dropped from the moon, that seems to be settled here, now, by every one; and, secondly, because I told them a pretty little story, and got you all out of a scrape, didn’t they, didn’t they?”
“That is, you told your story so as to leave them in doubt and suggest some compact and collusion between us, when there was no collusion and I’d not asked you to do anything.”
“Just so, just so!” Pyotr Stepanovitch caught him up, apparently delighted. “That’s just what I did do, for I wanted you to see that I implied it; I exerted myself chiefly for your sake, for I caught you and wanted to compromise you, above all I wanted to find out how far you’re afraid.”
“It would be interesting to know why you are so open now?”
“Don’t be angry, don’t be angry, don’t glare at me.… You’re not, though. You wonder why I am so open? Why, just because it’s all changed now; of course, it’s over, buried under the sand. I’ve suddenly changed my ideas about you. The old way is closed; now I shall never compromise you in the old way, it will be in a new way now.”
“You’ve changed your tactics?”
“There are no tactics. Now it’s for you to decide in everything, that is, if you want to, say yes, and if you want to, say no. There you have my new tactics. And I won’t say a word about our cause till you bid me yourself. You laugh? Laugh away. I’m laughing myself. But I’m in earnest now, in earnest, in earnest, though a man who is in such a hurry is stupid, isn’t he? Never mind, I may be stupid, but I’m in earnest, in earnest.”
He really was speaking in earnest in quite a different tone, and with a peculiar excitement, so that Nikolay Vsyevolodovitch looked at him with curiosity.
“You say you’ve changed your ideas about me?” he asked.
“I changed my ideas about you at the moment when you drew your hands back after Shatov’s attack, and, that’s enough, that’s enough, no questions, please, I’ll say nothing more now.”
He jumped up, waving his hands as though waving off questions. But as there were no questions, and he had no reason to go away, he sank into an arm-chair again, somewhat reassured.
“By the way, in parenthesis,” he rattled on at once, “some people here are babbling that you’ll kill him, and taking bets about it, so that Lembke positively thought of setting the police on, but Yulia Mihailovna forbade it.… But enough about that, quite enough, I only spoke of it to let you know. By the way, I moved the Lebyadkins the same day, you know; did you get my note with their address?”
“I received it at the time.”
“I didn’t do that by way of ‘stupidity.’ I did it genuinely, to serve you. If it was stupid, anyway, it was done in good faith.”
“Oh, all right, perhaps it was necessary.…” said Nikolay Vsyevolodovitch dreamily, “only don’t write any more letters to me, I beg you.”
“Impossible to avoid it. It was only one.”
“So Liputin knows?”
“Impossible to help it: but Liputin, you know yourself, dare not … By the way, you ought to meet our fellows, that is, the fellows not our fellows, or you’ll be finding fault again. Don’t disturb yourself, not just now, but sometime. Just now it’s raining. I’ll let them know, they’ll meet together, and we’ll go in the evening. They’re waiting, with their mouths open like young crows in a nest, to see what present we’ve brought them. They’re a hot-headed lot. They’ve brought out leaflets, they’re on the point of quarrelling. Virginsky is a universal humanity man, Liputin is a Fourierist with a marked inclination for police work; a man, I assure you, who is precious from one point of view, though he requires strict supervision in all others; and, last of all, that fellow with the long ears, he’ll read an account of his own system. And do you know, they’re offended at my treating them casually, and throwing cold water over them, but we certainly must meet.”
“You’ve made me out some sort of chief?” Nikolay Vsyevolodovitch dropped as carelessly as possible.
Pyotr Stepanovitch looked quickly at him.
“By the way,” he interposed, in haste to change the subject, as though he had not heard. “I’ve been here two or three times, you know, to see her excellency, Varvara Petrovna, and I have been obliged to say a great deal too.”
“So I imagine.”
“No, don’t imagine, I’ve simply told her that you won’t kill him, well, and other sweet things. And only fancy; the very next day she knew I’d moved Marya Timofyevna beyond the river. Was it you told her?”
“I never dreamed of it!”
“I knew it wasn’t you. Who else could it be? It’s interesting.”
“Liputin, of course.”
“N-no, not Liputin,” muttered Pyotr Stepanovitch, frowning; “I’ll find out who. It’s more like Shatov.… That’s nonsense though. Let’s leave that! Though it’s awfully important.… By the way, I kept expecting that your mother would suddenly burst out with the great question.… Ach! yes, she was horribly glum at first, but suddenly, when I came to-day, she was beaming all over, what does that mean?”
“It’s because I promised her to-day that within five days I’ll be engaged to Lizaveta Nikolaevna,” Nikolay Vsyevolodovitch said with surprising openness.
“Oh!… Yes, of course,” faltered Pyotr Stepanovitch, seeming disconcerted. “There are rumours of her engagement, you know. It’s true, too. But you’re right, she’d run from under the wedding crown, you’ve only to call to her. You’re not angry at my saying so?”
“No, I’m not angry.”
“I notice it’s awfully hard to make you angry to-day, and I begin to be afraid of you. I’m awfully curious to know how you’ll appear to-morrow. I expect you’ve got a lot of things ready. You’re not angry at my saying so?”
Nikolay Vsyevolodovitch made no answer at all, which completed Pyotr Stepanovitch’s irritation.
“By the way, did you say that in earnest to your mother, about Lizaveta Nikolaevna?” he asked.
Nikolay Vsyevolodovitch looked coldly at him.
“Oh, I understand, it was only to soothe her, of course.”
“And if it were in earnest?” Nikolay Vsyevolodovitch asked firmly.
“Oh, God bless you then, as they say in such cases. It won’t hinder the cause (you see, I don’t say ‘our,’ you don’t like the word ‘our’) and I … well, I … am at your service, as you know.”
“You think so?”
“I think nothing—nothing,” Pyotr Stepanovitch hurriedly declared, laughing, “because I know you consider what you’re about beforehand for yourself, and everything with you has been thought out. I only mean that I am seriously at your service, always and everywhere, and in every sort of circumstance, every sort really, do you understand that?”
Nikolay Vsyevolodovitch yawned.
“I’ve bored you,” Pyotr Stepanovitch cried, jumping up suddenly, and snatching his perfectly new round hat as though he were going away. He remained and went on talking, however, though he stood up, sometimes pacing about the room and tapping himself on the knee with his hat at exciting parts of the conversation.
“I meant to amuse you with stories of the Lembkes, too,” he cried gaily.
“Afterwards, perhaps, not now. But how is Yulia Mihailovna?”
“What conventional manners all of you have! Her health is no more to you than the health of the grey cat, yet you ask after it. I approve of that. She’s quite well, and her respect for you amounts to a superstition, her immense anticipations of you amount to a superstition. She does not say a word about what happened on Sunday, and is convinced that you will overcome everything yourself by merely making your appearance. Upon my word! She fancies you can do anything. You’re an enigmatic and romantic figure now, more than ever you were—extremely advantageous position. It is incredible how eager every one is to see you. They were pretty hot when I went away, but now it is more so than ever. Thanks again for your letter. They are all afraid of Count K. Do you know they look upon you as a spy? I keep that up, you’re not angry?”
“It does not matter.”
“It does not matter; it’s essential in the long run. They have their ways of doing things here. I encourage it, of course; Yulia Mihailovna, in the first place, Gaganov too.… You laugh? But you know I have my policy; I babble away and suddenly I say something clever just as they are on the look-out for it. They crowd round me and I humbug away again. They’ve all given me up in despair by now: ‘he’s got brains but he’s dropped from the moon.’ Lembke invites me to enter the service so that I may be reformed. You know I treat him mockingly, that is, I compromise him and he simply stares. Yulia Mihailovna encourages it. Oh, by the way, Gaganov is in an awful rage with you. He said the nastiest things about you yesterday at Duhovo. I told him the whole truth on the spot, that is, of course, not the whole truth. I spent the whole day at Duhovo. It’s a splendid estate, a fine house.”
“Then is he at Duhovo now?” Nikolay Vsyevolodovitch broke in suddenly, making a sudden start forward and almost leaping up from his seat.
“No, he drove me here this morning, we returned together,” said Pyotr Stepanovitch, appearing not to notice Stavrogin’s momentary excitement. “What’s this? I dropped a book.” He bent down to pick up the “keepsake” he had knocked down. “‘The Women of Balzac,’ with illustrations.” He opened it suddenly. “I haven’t read it. Lembke writes novels too.”
“Yes?” queried Nikolay Vsyevolodovitch, as though beginning to be interested.
“In Russian, on the sly, of course, Yulia Mihailovna knows and allows it. He’s henpecked, but with good manners; it’s their system. Such strict form—such self-restraint! Something of the sort would be the thing for us.”
“You approve of government methods?”
“I should rather think so! It’s the one thing that’s natural and practicable in Russia.… I won’t … I won’t,” he cried out suddenly, “I’m not referring to that—not a word on delicate subjects. Good-bye, though, you look rather green.”
“I can well believe it; you should go to bed. By the way, there are Skoptsi here in the neighbourhood—they’re curious people … of that later, though. Ah, here’s another anecdote. There’s an infantry regiment here in the district. I was drinking last Friday evening with the officers. We’ve three friends among them, vous comprenez? They were discussing atheism and I need hardly say they made short work of God. They were squealing with delight. By the way, Shatov declares that if there’s to be a rising in Russia we must begin with atheism. Maybe it’s true. One grizzled old stager of a captain sat mum, not saying a word. All at once he stands up in the middle of the room and says aloud, as though speaking to himself: ‘If there’s no God, how can I be a captain then?’ He took up his cap and went out, flinging up his hands.”
“He expressed a rather sensible idea,” said Nikolay Vsyevolodovitch, yawning for the third time.
“Yes? I didn’t understand it; I meant to ask you about it. Well what else have I to tell you? The Shpigulin factory’s interesting; as you know, there are five hundred workmen in it, it’s a hotbed of cholera, it’s not been cleaned for fifteen years and the factory hands are swindled. The owners are millionaires. I assure you that some among the hands have an idea of the Internationale. What, you smile? You’ll see—only give me ever so little time! I’ve asked you to fix the time already and now I ask you again and then.… But I beg your pardon, I won’t, I won’t speak of that, don’t frown. There!” He turned back suddenly. “I quite forgot the chief thing. I was told just now that our box had come from Petersburg.”
“You mean …” Nikolay Vsyevolodovitch looked at him, not understanding.
“Your box, your things, coats, trousers, and linen have come. Is it true?”
“Yes … they said something about it this morning.”
“Ach, then can’t I open it at once!…”
“Well, to-morrow, then, will to-morrow do? You see my new jacket, dress-coat and three pairs of trousers are with your things, from Sharmer’s, by your recommendation, do you remember?”
“I hear you’re going in for being a gentleman here,” said Nikolay Vsyevolodovitch with a smile. “Is it true you’re going to take lessons at the riding school?”
Pyotr Stepanovitch smiled a wry smile. “I say,” he said suddenly, with excessive haste in a voice that quivered and faltered, “I say, Nikolay Vsyevolodovitch, let’s drop personalities once for all. Of course, you can despise me as much as you like if it amuses you—but we’d better dispense with personalities for a time, hadn’t we?”
“All right,” Nikolay Vsyevolodovitch assented.
Pyotr Stepanovitch grinned, tapped his knee with his hat, shifted from one leg to the other, and recovered his former expression.
“Some people here positively look upon me as your rival with Lizaveta Nikolaevna, so I must think of my appearance, mustn’t I,” he laughed. “Who was it told you that though? H’m. It’s just eight o’clock; well I must be off. I promised to look in on Varvara Petrovna, but I shall make my escape. And you go to bed and you’ll be stronger to-morrow. It’s raining and dark, but I’ve a cab, it’s not over safe in the streets here at night.… Ach, by the way, there’s a run-away convict from Siberia, Fedka, wandering about the town and the neighbourhood. Only fancy, he used to be a serf of mine, and my papa sent him for a soldier fifteen years ago and took the money for him. He’s a very remarkable person.”
“You have been talking to him?” Nikolay Vsyevolodovitch scanned him.
“I have. He lets me know where he is. He’s ready for anything, anything, for money of course, but he has convictions, too, of a sort, of course. Oh yes, by the way, again, if you meant anything of that plan, you remember, about Lizaveta Nikolaevna, I tell you once again, I too am a fellow ready for anything of any kind you like, and absolutely at your service.… Hullo! are you reaching for your stick. Oh no … only fancy … I thought you were looking for your stick.”
Nikolay Vsyevolodovitch was looking for nothing and said nothing.
But he had risen to his feet very suddenly with a strange look in his face.
“If you want any help about Mr. Gaganov either,” Pyotr Stepanovitch blurted out suddenly, this time looking straight at the paper-weight, “of course I can arrange it all, and I’m certain you won’t be able to manage without me.”
He went out suddenly without waiting for an answer, but thrust his head in at the door once more. “I mention that,” he gabbled hurriedly, “because Shatov had no right either, you know, to risk his life last Sunday when he attacked you, had he? I should be glad if you would make a note of that.” He disappeared again without waiting for an answer.
Perhaps he imagined, as he made his exit, that as soon as he was left alone, Nikolay Vsyevolodovitch would begin beating on the wall with his fists, and no doubt he would have been glad to see this, if that had been possible. But, if so, he was greatly mistaken. Nikolay Vsyevolodovitch was still calm. He remained standing for two minutes in the same position by the table, apparently plunged in thought, but soon a cold and listless smile came on to his lips. He slowly sat down again in the same place in the corner of the sofa, and shut his eyes as though from weariness. The corner of the letter was still peeping from under the paperweight, but he didn’t even move to cover it.
He soon sank into complete forgetfulness.
When Pyotr Stepanovitch went out without coming to see her, as he had promised, Varvara Petrovna, who had been worn out by anxiety during these days, could not control herself, and ventured to visit her son herself, though it was not her regular time. She was still haunted by the idea that he would tell her something conclusive. She knocked at the door gently as before, and again receiving no answer, she opened the door. Seeing that Nikolay Vsyevolodovitch was sitting strangely motionless, she cautiously advanced to the sofa with a throbbing heart. She seemed struck by the fact that he could fall asleep so quickly and that he could sleep sitting like that, so erect and motionless, so that his breathing even was scarcely perceptible. His face was pale and forbidding, but it looked, as it were, numb and rigid. His brows were somewhat contracted and frowning. He positively had the look of a lifeless wax figure. She stood over him for about three minutes, almost holding her breath, and suddenly she was seized with terror. She withdrew on tiptoe, stopped at the door, hurriedly made the sign of the cross over him, and retreated unobserved, with a new oppression and a new anguish at her heart.
He slept a long while, more than an hour, and still in the same rigid pose: not a muscle of his face twitched, there was not the faintest movement in his whole body, and his brows were still contracted in the same forbidding frown. If Varvara Petrovna had remained another three minutes she could not have endured the stifling sensation that this motionless lethargy roused in her, and would have waked him. But he suddenly opened his eyes, and sat for ten minutes as immovable as before, staring persistently and curiously, as though at some object in the corner which had struck him, although there was nothing new or striking in the room.
Suddenly there rang out the low deep note of the clock on the wall.
With some uneasiness he turned to look at it, but almost at the same moment the other door opened, and the butler, Alexey Yegorytch came in. He had in one hand a greatcoat, a scarf, and a hat, and in the other a silver tray with a note on it.
“Half-past nine,” he announced softly, and laying the other things on a chair, he held out the tray with the note—a scrap of paper unsealed and scribbled in pencil. Glancing through it, Nikolay Vsyevolodovitch took a pencil from the table, added a few words, and put the note back on the tray.
“Take it back as soon as I have gone out, and now dress me,” he said, getting up from the sofa.
Noticing that he had on a light velvet jacket, he thought a minute, and told the man to bring him a cloth coat, which he wore on more ceremonious occasions. At last, when he was dressed and had put on his hat, he locked the door by which his mother had come into the room, took the letter from under the paperweight, and without saying a word went out into the corridor, followed by Alexey Yegorytch. From the corridor they went down the narrow stone steps of the back stairs to a passage which opened straight into the garden. In the corner stood a lantern and a big umbrella.
“Owing to the excessive rain the mud in the streets is beyond anything,” Alexey Yegorytch announced, making a final effort to deter his master from the expedition. But opening his umbrella the latter went without a word into the damp and sodden garden, which was dark as a cellar. The wind was roaring and tossing the bare tree-tops. The little sandy paths were wet and slippery. Alexey Yegorytch walked along as he was, bareheaded, in his swallow-tail coat, lighting up the path for about three steps before them with the lantern.
“Won’t it be noticed?” Nikolay Vsyevolodovitch asked suddenly.
“Not from the windows. Besides I have seen to all that already,” the old servant answered in quiet and measured tones.
“Has my mother retired?”
“Her excellency locked herself in at nine o’clock as she has done the last few days, and there is no possibility of her knowing anything. At what hour am I to expect your honour?”
“At one or half-past, not later than two.”
Crossing the garden by the winding paths that they both knew by heart, they reached the stone wall, and there in the farthest corner found a little door, which led out into a narrow and deserted lane, and was always kept locked. It appeared that Alexey Yegorytch had the key in his hand.
“Won’t the door creak?” Nikolay Vsyevolodovitch inquired again.
But Alexey Yegorytch informed him that it had been oiled yesterday “as well as to-day.” He was by now wet through. Unlocking the door he gave the key to Nikolay Vsyevolodovitch.
“If it should be your pleasure to be taking a distant walk, I would warn your honour that I am not confident of the folk here, especially in the back lanes, and especially beyond the river,” he could not resist warning him again. He was an old servant, who had been like a nurse to Nikolay Vsyevolodovitch, and at one time used to dandle him in his arms; he was a grave and severe man who was fond of listening to religious discourse and reading books of devotion.
“Don’t be uneasy, Alexey Yegorytch.”
“May God’s blessing rest on you, sir, but only in your righteous undertakings.”
“What?” said Nikolay Vsyevolodovitch, stopping short in the lane.
Alexey Yegorytch resolutely repeated his words. He had never before ventured to express himself in such language in his master’s presence.
Nikolay Vsyevolodovitch locked the door, put the key in his pocket, and crossed the lane, sinking five or six inches into the mud at every step. He came out at last into a long deserted street. He knew the town like the five fingers of his hand, but Bogoyavlensky Street was a long way off. It was past ten when he stopped at last before the locked gates of the dark old house that belonged to Filipov. The ground floor had stood empty since the Lebyadkins had left it, and the windows were boarded up, but there was a light burning in Shatov’s room on the second floor. As there was no bell he began banging on the gate with his hand. A window was opened and Shatov peeped out into the street. It was terribly dark, and difficult to make out anything. Shatov was peering out for some time, about a minute.
“Is that you?” he asked suddenly.
“Yes,” replied the uninvited guest.
Shatov slammed the window, went downstairs and opened the gate. Nikolay Vsyevolodovitch stepped over the high sill, and without a word passed by him straight into Kirillov’s lodge.
There everything was unlocked and all the doors stood open. The passage and the first two rooms were dark, but there was a light shining in the last, in which Kirillov lived and drank tea, and laughter and strange cries came from it. Nikolay Vsyevolodovitch went towards the light, but stood still in the doorway without going in. There was tea on the table. In the middle of the room stood the old woman who was a relation of the landlord. She was bareheaded and was dressed in a petticoat and a hare-skin jacket, and her stockingless feet were thrust into slippers. In her arms she had an eighteen-months-old baby, with nothing on but its little shirt; with bare legs, flushed cheeks, and ruffled white hair. It had only just been taken out of the cradle. It seemed to have just been crying; there were still tears in its eyes. But at that instant it was stretching out its little arms, clapping its hands, and laughing with a sob as little children do. Kirillov was bouncing a big red india-rubber ball on the floor before it. The ball bounced up to the ceiling, and back to the floor, the baby shrieked “Baw! baw!” Kirillov caught the “baw”, and gave it to it. The baby threw it itself with its awkward little hands, and Kirillov ran to pick it up again.
At last the “baw” rolled under the cupboard. “Baw! baw!” cried the child. Kirillov lay down on the floor, trying to reach the ball with his hand under the cupboard. Nikolay Vsyevolodovitch went into the room. The baby caught sight of him, nestled against the old woman, and went off into a prolonged infantile wail. The woman immediately carried it out of the room.
“Stavrogin?” said Kirillov, beginning to get up from the floor with the ball in his hand, and showing no surprise at the unexpected visit. “Will you have tea?”
He rose to his feet.
“I should be very glad of it, if it’s hot,” said Nikolay Vsyevolodovitch; “I’m wet through.”
“It’s hot, nearly boiling in fact,” Kirillov declared delighted. “Sit down. You’re muddy, but that’s nothing; I’ll mop up the floor later.”
Nikolay Vsyevolodovitch sat down and emptied the cup he handed him almost at a gulp.
“Some more?” asked Kirillov.
“No, thank you.”
Kirillov, who had not sat down till then, seated himself facing him, and inquired:
“Why have you come?”
“On business. Here, read this letter from Gaganov; do you remember, I talked to you about him in Petersburg.”
Kirillov took the letter, read it, laid it on the table and looked at him expectantly.
“As you know, I met this Gaganov for the first time in my life a month ago, in Petersburg,” Nikolay Vsyevolodovitch began to explain. “We came across each other two or three times in company with other people. Without making my acquaintance and without addressing me, he managed to be very insolent to me. I told you so at the time; but now for something you don’t know. As he was leaving Petersburg before I did, he sent me a letter, not like this one, yet impertinent in the highest degree, and what was queer about it was that it contained no sort of explanation of why it was written. I answered him at once, also by letter, and said, quite frankly, that he was probably angry with me on account of the incident with his father four years ago in the club here, and that I for my part was prepared to make him every possible apology, seeing that my action was unintentional and was the result of illness. I begged him to consider and accept my apologies. He went away without answering, and now here I find him in a regular fury. Several things he has said about me in public have been repeated to me, absolutely abusive, and making astounding charges against me. Finally, to-day, I get this letter, a letter such as no one has ever had before, I should think, containing such expressions as ‘the punch you got in your ugly face.’ I came in the hope that you would not refuse to be my second.”
“You said no one has ever had such a letter,” observed Kirillov, “they may be sent in a rage. Such letters have been written more than once. Pushkin wrote to Hekern. All right, I’ll come. Tell me how.”
Nikolay Vsyevolodovitch explained that he wanted it to be to-morrow, and that he must begin by renewing his offers of apology, and even with the promise of another letter of apology, but on condition that Gaganov, on his side, should promise to send no more letters. The letter he had received he would regard as unwritten.
“Too much concession; he won’t agree,” said Kirillov.
“I’ve come first of all to find out whether you would consent to be the bearer of such terms.”
“I’ll take them. It’s your affair. But he won’t agree.”
“I know he won’t agree.”
“He wants to fight. Say how you’ll fight.”
“The point is that I want the thing settled to-morrow. By nine o’clock in the morning you must be at his house. He’ll listen, and won’t agree, but will put you in communication with his second—let us say about eleven. You will arrange things with him, and let us all be on the spot by one or two o’clock. Please try to arrange that. The weapons, of course, will be pistols. And I particularly beg you to arrange to fix the barriers at ten paces apart; then you put each of us ten paces from the barrier, and at a given signal we approach. Each must go right up to his barrier, but you may fire before, on the way. I believe that’s all.”
“Ten paces between the barriers is very near,” observed Kirillov.
“Well, twelve then, but not more. You understand that he wants to fight in earnest. Do you know how to load a pistol?”
“I do. I’ve got pistols. I’ll give my word that you’ve never fired them. His second will give his word about his. There’ll be two pairs of pistols, and we’ll toss up, his or ours?”
“Would you like to look at the pistols?”
Kirillov squatted on his heels before the trunk in the corner, which he had never yet unpacked, though things had been pulled out of it as required. He pulled out from the bottom a palm-wood box lined with red velvet, and from it took out a pair of smart and very expensive pistols.
“I’ve got everything, powder, bullets, cartridges. I’ve a revolver besides, wait.”
He stooped down to the trunk again and took out a six-chambered American revolver.
“You’ve got weapons enough, and very good ones.”
Kirillov, who was poor, almost destitute, though he never noticed his poverty, was evidently proud of showing precious weapons, which he had certainly obtained with great sacrifice.
“You still have the same intentions?” Stavrogin asked after a moment’s silence, and with a certain wariness.
“Yes,” answered Kirillov shortly, guessing at once from his voice what he was asking about, and he began taking the weapons from the table.
“When?” Nikolay Vsyevolodovitch inquired still more cautiously, after a pause.
In the meantime Kirillov had put both the boxes back in his trunk, and sat down in his place again.
“That doesn’t depend on me, as you know—when they tell me,” he muttered, as though disliking the question; but at the same time with evident readiness to answer any other question. He kept his black, lustreless eyes fixed continually on Stavrogin with a calm but warm and kindly expression in them.
“I understand shooting oneself, of course,” Nikolay Vsyevolodovitch began suddenly, frowning a little, after a dreamy silence that lasted three minutes. “I sometimes have thought of it myself, and then there always came a new idea: if one did something wicked, or, worse still, something shameful, that is, disgraceful, only very shameful and … ridiculous, such as people would remember for a thousand years and hold in scorn for a thousand years, and suddenly the thought comes: ‘one blow in the temple and there would be nothing more.’ One wouldn’t care then for men and that they would hold one in scorn for a thousand years, would one?”
“You call that a new idea?” said Kirillov, after a moment’s thought.
“I … didn’t call it so, but when I thought it I felt it as a new idea.”
“You ‘felt the idea’?” observed Kirillov. “That’s good. There are lots of ideas that are always there and yet suddenly become new. That’s true. I see a great deal now as though it were for the first time.”
“Suppose you had lived in the moon,” Stavrogin interrupted, not listening, but pursuing his own thought, “and suppose there you had done all these nasty and ridiculous things.… You know from here for certain that they will laugh at you and hold you in scorn for a thousand years as long as the moon lasts. But now you are here, and looking at the moon from here. You don’t care here for anything you’ve done there, and that the people there will hold you in scorn for a thousand years, do you?”
“I don’t know,” answered Kirillov. “I’ve not been in the moon,” he added, without any irony, simply to state the fact.
“Whose baby was that just now?”
“The old woman’s mother-in-law was here—no, daughter-in-law, it’s all the same. Three days. She’s lying ill with the baby, it cries a lot at night, it’s the stomach. The mother sleeps, but the old woman picks it up; I play ball with it. The ball’s from Hamburg. I bought it in Hamburg to throw it and catch it, it strengthens the spine. It’s a girl.”
“Are you fond of children?”
“I am,” answered Kirillov, though rather indifferently.
“Then you’re fond of life?”
“Yes, I’m fond of life! What of it?”
“Though you’ve made up your mind to shoot yourself.”
“What of it? Why connect it? Life’s one thing and that’s another. Life exists, but death doesn’t at all.”
“You’ve begun to believe in a future eternal life?”
“No, not in a future eternal life, but in eternal life here. There are moments, you reach moments, and time suddenly stands still, and it will become eternal.”
“You hope to reach such a moment?”
“That’ll scarcely be possible in our time,” Nikolay Vsyevolodovitch responded slowly and, as it were, dreamily; the two spoke without the slightest irony. “In the Apocalypse the angel swears that there will be no more time.”
“I know. That’s very true; distinct and exact. When all mankind attains happiness then there will be no more time, for there’ll be no need of it, a very true thought.”
“Where will they put it?”
“Nowhere. Time’s not an object but an idea. It will be extinguished in the mind.”
“The old commonplaces of philosophy, the same from the beginning of time,” Stavrogin muttered with a kind of disdainful compassion.
“Always the same, always the same, from the beginning of time and never any other,” Kirillov said with sparkling eyes, as though there were almost a triumph in that idea.
“You seem to be very happy, Kirillov.”
“Yes, very happy,” he answered, as though making the most ordinary reply.
“But you were distressed so lately, angry with Liputin.”
“H’m … I’m not scolding now. I didn’t know then that I was happy. Have you seen a leaf, a leaf from a tree?”
“I saw a yellow one lately, a little green. It was decayed at the edges. It was blown by the wind. When I was ten years old I used to shut my eyes in the winter on purpose and fancy a green leaf, bright, with veins on it, and the sun shining. I used to open my eyes and not believe them, because it was very nice, and I used to shut them again.”
“What’s that? An allegory?”
“N-no … why? I’m not speaking of an allegory, but of a leaf, only a leaf. The leaf is good. Everything’s good.”
“Everything. Man is unhappy because he doesn’t know he’s happy. It’s only that. That’s all, that’s all! If anyone finds out he’ll become happy at once, that minute. That mother-in-law will die; but the baby will remain. It’s all good. I discovered it all of a sudden.”
“And if anyone dies of hunger, and if anyone insults and outrages the little girl, is that good?”
“Yes! And if anyone blows his brains out for the baby, that’s good too. And if anyone doesn’t, that’s good too. It’s all good, all. It’s good for all those who know that it’s all good. If they knew that it was good for them, it would be good for them, but as long as they don’t know it’s good for them, it will be bad for them. That’s the whole idea, the whole of it.”
“When did you find out you were so happy?”
“Last week, on Tuesday, no, Wednesday, for it was Wednesday by that time, in the night.”
“By what reasoning?”
“I don’t remember; I was walking about the room; never mind. I stopped my clock. It was thirty-seven minutes past two.”
“As an emblem of the fact that there will be no more time?”
Kirillov was silent.
“They’re bad because they don’t know they’re good. When they find out, they won’t outrage a little girl. They’ll find out that they’re good and they’ll all become good, every one of them.”
“Here you’ve found it out, so have you become good then?”
“I am good.”
“That I agree with, though,” Stavrogin muttered, frowning.
“He who teaches that all are good will end the world.”
“He who taught it was crucified.”
“He will come, and his name will be the man-god.”
“The man-god. That’s the difference.”
“Surely it wasn’t you lighted the lamp under the ikon?”
“Yes, it was I lighted it.”
“Did you do it believing?”
“The old woman likes to have the lamp and she hadn’t time to do it to-day,” muttered Kirillov.
“You don’t say prayers yourself?”
“I pray to everything. You see the spider crawling on the wall, I look at it and thank it for crawling.”
His eyes glowed again. He kept looking straight at Stavrogin with firm and unflinching expression. Stavrogin frowned and watched him disdainfully, but there was no mockery in his eyes.
“I’ll bet that when I come next time you’ll be believing in God too,” he said, getting up and taking his hat.
“Why?” said Kirillov, getting up too.
“If you were to find out that you believe in God, then you’d believe in Him; but since you don’t know that you believe in Him, then you don’t believe in Him,” laughed Nikolay Vsyevolodovitch.
“That’s not right,” Kirillov pondered, “you’ve distorted the idea. It’s a flippant joke. Remember what you have meant in my life, Stavrogin.”
“Come at night; when will you?”
“Why, haven’t you forgotten about to-morrow?”
“Ach, I’d forgotten. Don’t be uneasy. I won’t oversleep. At nine o’clock. I know how to wake up when I want to. I go to bed saying ‘seven o’clock,’ and I wake up at seven o’clock, ‘ten o’clock,’ and I wake up at ten o’clock.”
“You have remarkable powers,” said Nikolay Vsyevolodovitch, looking at his pale face.
“I’ll come and open the gate.”
“Don’t trouble, Shatov will open it for me.”
“Ah, Shatov. Very well, good-bye.”
The door of the empty house in which Shatov was lodging was not closed; but, making his way into the passage, Stavrogin found himself in utter darkness, and began feeling with his hand for the stairs to the upper story. Suddenly a door opened upstairs and a light appeared. Shatov did not come out himself, but simply opened his door. When Nikolay Vsyevolodovitch was standing in the doorway of the room, he saw Shatov standing at the table in the corner, waiting expectantly.
“Will you receive me on business?” he queried from the doorway.
“Come in and sit down,” answered Shatov. “Shut the door; stay, I’ll shut it.”
He locked the door, returned to the table, and sat down, facing Nikolay Vsyevolodovitch. He had grown thinner during that week, and now he seemed in a fever.
“You’ve been worrying me to death,” he said, looking down, in a soft half-whisper. “Why didn’t you come?”
“You were so sure I should come then?”
“Yes, stay, I have been delirious … perhaps I’m delirious now.… Stay a moment.”
He got up and seized something that was lying on the uppermost of his three bookshelves. It was a revolver.
“One night, in delirium, I fancied that you were coming to kill me, and early next morning I spent my last farthing on buying a revolver from that good-for-nothing fellow Lyamshin; I did not mean to let you do it. Then I came to myself again … I’ve neither powder nor shot; it has been lying there on the shelf till now; wait a minute.…”
He got up and was opening the casement.
“Don’t throw it away, why should you?” Nikolay Vsyevolodovitch checked him. “It’s worth something. Besides, tomorrow people will begin saying that there are revolvers lying about under Shatov’s window. Put it back, that’s right; sit down. Tell me, why do you seem to be penitent for having thought I should come to kill you? I have not come now to be reconciled, but to talk of something necessary. Enlighten me to begin with. You didn’t give me that blow because of my connection with your wife?”
“You know I didn’t, yourself,” said Shatov, looking down again.
“And not because you believed the stupid gossip about Darya Pavlovna?”
“No, no, of course not! It’s nonsense! My sister told me from the very first …” Shatov said, harshly and impatiently, and even with a slight stamp of his foot.
“Then I guessed right and you too guessed right,” Nikolay Vsyevolodovitch went on in a tranquil voice. “You are right. Marya Timofyevna Lebyadkin is my lawful wife, married to me four and a half years ago in Petersburg. I suppose the blow was on her account?”
Shatov, utterly astounded, listened in silence.
“I guessed, but did not believe it,” he muttered at last, looking strangely at Stavrogin.
“And you struck me?”
Shatov flushed and muttered almost incoherently:
“Because of your fall … your lie. I didn’t go up to you to punish you … I didn’t know when I went up to you that I should strike you … I did it because you meant so much to me in my life … I …”
“I understand, I understand, spare your words. I am sorry you are feverish. I’ve come about a most urgent matter.”
“I have been expecting you too long.” Shatov seemed to be quivering all over, and he got up from his seat. “Say what you have to say … I’ll speak too … later.”
He sat down.
“What I have come about is nothing of that kind,” began Nikolay Vsyevolodovitch, scrutinising him with curiosity. “Owing to certain circumstances I was forced this very day to choose such an hour to come and tell you that they may murder you.”
Shatov looked wildly at him.
“I know that I may be in some danger,” he said in measured tones, “but how can you have come to know of it?”
“Because I belong to them as you do, and am a member of their society, just as you are.”
“You … you are a member of the society?”
“I see from your eyes that you were prepared for anything from me rather than that,” said Nikolay Vsyevolodovitch, with a faint smile. “But, excuse me, you knew then that there would be an attempt on your life?”
“Nothing of the sort. And I don’t think so now, in spite of your words, though … though there’s no being sure of anything with these fools!” he cried suddenly in a fury, striking the table with his fist. “I’m not afraid of them! I’ve broken with them. That fellow’s run here four times to tell me it was possible … but”—he looked at Stavrogin—“what do you know about it, exactly?”
“Don’t be uneasy; I am not deceiving you,” Nikolay Vsyevolodovitch went on, rather coldly, with the air of a man who is only fulfilling a duty. “You question me as to what I know. I know that you entered that society abroad, two years ago, at the time of the old organisation, just before you went to America, and I believe, just after our last conversation, about which you wrote so much to me in your letter from America. By the way, I must apologise for not having answered you by letter, but confined myself to …”
“To sending the money; wait a bit,” Shatov interrupted, hurriedly pulling out a drawer in the table and taking from under some papers a rainbow-coloured note. “Here, take it, the hundred roubles you sent me; but for you I should have perished out there. I should have been a long time paying it back if it had not been for your mother. She made me a present of that note nine months ago, because I was so badly off after my illness. But, go on, please.…”
He was breathless.
“In America you changed your views, and when you came back you wanted to resign. They gave you no answer, but charged you to take over a printing press here in Russia from someone, and to keep it till you handed it over to someone who would come from them for it. I don’t know the details exactly, but I fancy that’s the position in outline. You undertook it in the hope, or on the condition, that it would be the last task they would require of you, and that then they would release you altogether. Whether that is so or not, I learnt it, not from them, but quite by chance. But now for what I fancy you don’t know; these gentry have no intention of parting with you.”
“That’s absurd!” cried Shatov. “I’ve told them honestly that I’ve cut myself off from them in everything. That is my right, the right to freedom of conscience and of thought.… I won’t put up with it! There’s no power which could …”
“I say, don’t shout,” Nikolay Vsyevolodovitch said earnestly, checking him. “That Verhovensky is such a fellow that he may be listening to us now in your passage, perhaps, with his own ears or someone else’s. Even that drunkard, Lebyadkin, was probably bound to keep an eye on you, and you on him, too, I dare say? You’d better tell me, has Verhovensky accepted your arguments now, or not?”
“He has. He has said that it can be done and that I have the right.…”
“Well then, he’s deceiving you. I know that even Kirillov, who scarcely belongs to them at all, has given them information about you. And they have lots of agents, even people who don’t know that they’re serving the society. They’ve always kept a watch on you. One of the things Pyotr Verhovensky came here for was to settle your business once for all, and he is fully authorised to do so, that is at the first good opportunity, to get rid of you, as a man who knows too much and might give them away. I repeat that this is certain, and allow me to add that they are, for some reason, convinced that you are a spy, and that if you haven’t informed against them yet, you will. Is that true?”
Shatov made a wry face at hearing such a question asked in such a matter-of fact tone.
“If I were a spy, whom could I inform?” he said angrily, not giving a direct answer. “No, leave me alone, let me go to the devil!” he cried suddenly, catching again at his original idea, which agitated him violently. Apparently it affected him more deeply than the news of his own danger. “You, you, Stavrogin, how could you mix yourself up with such shameful, stupid, second-hand absurdity? You a member of the society? What an exploit for Stavrogin!” he cried suddenly, in despair.
He clasped his hands, as though nothing could be a bitterer and more inconsolable grief to him than such a discovery.
“Excuse me,” said Nikolay Vsyevolodovitch, extremely surprised, “but you seem to look upon me as a sort of sun, and on yourself as an insect in comparison. I noticed that even from your letter in America.”
“You … you know.… Oh, let us drop me altogether,” Shatov broke off suddenly, “and if you can explain anything about yourself explain it.… Answer my question!” he repeated feverishly.
“With pleasure. You ask how I could get into such a den? After what I have told you, I’m bound to be frank with you to some extent on the subject. You see, strictly speaking, I don’t belong to the society at all, and I never have belonged to it, and I’ve much more right than you to leave them, because I never joined them. In fact, from the very beginning I told them that I was not one of them, and that if I’ve happened to help them it has simply been by accident as a man of leisure. I took some part in reorganising the society, on the new plan, but that was all. But now they’ve changed their views, and have made up their minds that it would be dangerous to let me go, and I believe I’m sentenced to death too.”
“Oh, they do nothing but sentence to death, and all by means of sealed documents, signed by three men and a half. And you think they’ve any power!”
“You’re partly right there and partly not,” Stavrogin answered with the same indifference, almost listlessness. “There’s no doubt that there’s a great deal that’s fanciful about it, as there always is in such cases: a handful magnifies its size and significance. To my thinking, if you will have it, the only one is Pyotr Verhovensky, and it’s simply good-nature on his part to consider himself only an agent of the society. But the fundamental idea is no stupider than others of the sort. They are connected with the Internationale. They have succeeded in establishing agents in Russia, they have even hit on a rather original method, though it’s only theoretical, of course. As for their intentions here, the movements of our Russian organisation are something so obscure and almost always unexpected that really they might try anything among us. Note that Verhovensky is an obstinate man.”
“He’s a bug, an ignoramus, a buffoon, who understands nothing in Russia!” cried Shatov spitefully.
“You know him very little. It’s quite true that none of them understand much about Russia, but not much less than you and I do. Besides, Verhovensky is an enthusiast.”
“Verhovensky an enthusiast?”
“Oh, yes. There is a point when he ceases to be a buffoon and becomes a madman. I beg you to remember your own expression: ‘Do you know how powerful a single man may be?’ Please don’t laugh about it, he’s quite capable of pulling a trigger. They are convinced that I am a spy too. As they don’t know how to do things themselves, they’re awfully fond of accusing people of being spies.”
“But you’re not afraid, are you?”
“N—no. I’m not very much afraid.… But your case is quite different. I warned you that you might anyway keep it in mind. To my thinking there’s no reason to be offended in being threatened with danger by fools; their brains don’t affect the question. They’ve raised their hand against better men than you or me. It’s a quarter past eleven, though.” He looked at his watch and got up from his chair. “I wanted to ask you one quite irrelevant question.”
“For God’s sake!” cried Shatov, rising impulsively from his seat.
“I beg your pardon?” Nikolay Vsyevolodovitch looked at him inquiringly.
“Ask it, ask your question for God’s sake,” Shatov repeated in indescribable excitement, “but on condition that I ask you a question too. I beseech you to allow me … I can’t … ask your question!”
Stavrogin waited a moment and then began. “I’ve heard that you have some influence on Marya Timofyevna, and that she was fond of seeing you and hearing you talk. Is that so?”
“Yes … she used to listen …” said Shatov, confused.
“Within a day or two I intend to make a public announcement of our marriage here in the town.”
“Is that possible?” Shatov whispered, almost with horror.
“I don’t quite understand you. There’s no sort of difficulty about it, witnesses to the marriage are here. Everything took place in Petersburg, perfectly legally and smoothly, and if it has not been made known till now, it is simply because the witnesses, Kirillov, Pyotr Verhovensky, and Lebyadkin (whom I now have the pleasure of claiming as a brother-in-law) promised to hold their tongues.”
“I don’t mean that … You speak so calmly … but good! Listen! You weren’t forced into that marriage, were you?”
“No, no one forced me into it.” Nikolay Vsyevolodovitch smiled at Shatov’s importunate haste.
“And what’s that talk she keeps up about her baby?” Shatov interposed disconnectedly, with feverish haste.
“She talks about her baby? Bah! I didn’t know. It’s the first time I’ve heard of it. She never had a baby and couldn’t have had: Marya Timofyevna is a virgin.”
“Ah! That’s just what I thought! Listen!”
“What’s the matter with you, Shatov?”
Shatov hid his face in his hands, turned away, but suddenly clutched Stavrogin by the shoulders.
“Do you know why, do you know why, anyway,” he shouted, “why you did all this, and why you are resolved on such a punishment now!”
“Your question is clever and malignant, but I mean to surprise you too; I fancy I do know why I got married then, and why I am resolved on such a punishment now, as you express it.”
“Let’s leave that … of that later. Put it off. Let’s talk of the chief thing, the chief thing. I’ve been waiting two years for you.”
“I’ve waited too long for you. I’ve been thinking of you incessantly. You are the only man who could move … I wrote to you about it from America.”
“I remember your long letter very well.”
“Too long to be read? No doubt; six sheets of notepaper. Don’t speak! Don’t speak! Tell me, can you spare me another ten minutes?… But now, this minute … I have waited for you too long.”
“Certainly, half an hour if you like, but not more, if that will suit you.”
“And on condition, too,” Shatov put in wrathfully, “that you take a different tone. Do you hear? I demand when I ought to entreat. Do you understand what it means to demand when one ought to entreat?”
“I understand that in that way you lift yourself above all ordinary considerations for the sake of loftier aims,” said Nikolay Vsyevolodovitch with a faint smile. “I see with regret, too, that you’re feverish.”
“I beg you to treat me with respect, I insist on it!” shouted Shatov, “not my personality—I don’t care a hang for that, but something else, just for this once. While I am talking … we are two beings, and have come together in infinity … for the last time in the world. Drop your tone, and speak like a human being! Speak, if only for once in your life with the voice of a man. I say it not for my sake but for yours. Do you understand that you ought to forgive me that blow in the face if only because I gave you the opportunity of realising your immense power.… Again you smile your disdainful, worldly smile! Oh, when will you understand me! Have done with being a snob! Understand that I insist on that. I insist on it, else I won’t speak, I’m not going to for anything!”
His excitement was approaching frenzy. Nikolay Vsyevolodovitch frowned and seemed to become more on his guard.
“Since I have remained another half-hour with you when time is so precious,” he pronounced earnestly and impressively, “you may rest assured that I mean to listen to you at least with interest … and I am convinced that I shall hear from you much that is new.”
He sat down on a chair.
“Sit down!” cried Shatov, and he sat down himself.
“Please remember,” Stavrogin interposed once more, “that I was about to ask a real favour of you concerning Marya Timofyevna, of great importance for her, anyway.…”
“What?” Shatov frowned suddenly with the air of a man who has just been interrupted at the most important moment, and who gazes at you unable to grasp the question.
“And you did not let me finish,” Nikolay Vsyevolodovitch went on with a smile.
“Oh, nonsense, afterwards!” Shatov waved his hand disdainfully, grasping, at last, what he wanted, and passed at once to his principal theme.
“Do you know,” he began, with flashing eyes, almost menacingly, bending right forward in his chair, raising the forefinger of his right hand above him (obviously unaware that he was doing so), “do you know who are the only ‘god-bearing’ people on earth, destined to regenerate and save the world in the name of a new God, and to whom are given the keys of life and of the new world … Do you know which is that people and what is its name?”
“From your manner I am forced to conclude, and I think I may as well do so at once, that it is the Russian people.”
“And you can laugh, oh, what a race!” Shatov burst out.
“Calm yourself, I beg of you; on the contrary, I was expecting something of the sort from you.”
“You expected something of the sort? And don’t you know those words yourself?”
“I know them very well. I see only too well what you’re driving at. All your phrases, even the expression ‘god-bearing people’ is only a sequel to our talk two years ago, abroad, not long before you went to America.… At least, as far as I can recall it now.”
“It’s your phrase altogether, not mine. Your own, not simply the sequel of our conversation. ‘Our’ conversation it was not at all. It was a teacher uttering weighty words, and a pupil who was raised from the dead. I was that pupil and you were the teacher.”
“But, if you remember, it was just after my words you joined their society, and only afterwards went away to America.”
“Yes, and I wrote to you from America about that. I wrote to you about everything. Yes, I could not at once tear my bleeding heart from what I had grown into from childhood, on which had been lavished all the raptures of my hopes and all the tears of my hatred.… It is difficult to change gods. I did not believe you then, because I did not want to believe, I plunged for the last time into that sewer.… But the seed remained and grew up. Seriously, tell me seriously, didn’t you read all my letter from America, perhaps you didn’t read it at all?”
“I read three pages of it. The two first and the last. And I glanced through the middle as well. But I was always meaning …”
“Ah, never mind, drop it! Damn it!” cried Shatov, waving his hand. “If you’ve renounced those words about the people now, how could you have uttered them then?… That’s what crushes me now.”
“I wasn’t joking with you then; in persuading you I was perhaps more concerned with myself than with you,” Stavrogin pronounced enigmatically.
“You weren’t joking! In America I was lying for three months on straw beside a hapless creature, and I learnt from him that at the very time when you were sowing the seed of God and the Fatherland in my heart, at that very time, perhaps during those very days, you were infecting the heart of that hapless creature, that maniac Kirillov, with poison … you confirmed false malignant ideas in him, and brought him to the verge of insanity.… Go, look at him now, he is your creation … you’ve seen him though.”
“In the first place, I must observe that Kirillov himself told me that he is happy and that he’s good. Your supposition that all this was going on at the same time is almost correct. But what of it? I repeat, I was not deceiving either of you.”
“Are you an atheist? An atheist now?”
“Just as I was then.”
“I wasn’t asking you to treat me with respect when I began the conversation. With your intellect you might have understood that,” Shatov muttered indignantly.
“I didn’t get up at your first word, I didn’t close the conversation, I didn’t go away from you, but have been sitting here ever since submissively answering your questions and … cries, so it seems I have not been lacking in respect to you yet.”
Shatov interrupted, waving his hand.
“Do you remember your expression that ‘an atheist can’t be a Russian,’ that ‘an atheist at once ceases to be a Russian’? Do you remember saying that?”
“Did I?” Nikolay Vsyevolodovitch questioned him back.
“You ask? You’ve forgotten? And yet that was one of the truest statements of the leading peculiarity of the Russian soul, which you divined. You can’t have forgotten it! I will remind you of something else: you said then that ‘a man who was not orthodox could not be Russian.’”
“I imagine that’s a Slavophil idea.”
“The Slavophils of to-day disown it. Nowadays, people have grown cleverer. But you went further: you believed that Roman Catholicism was not Christianity; you asserted that Rome proclaimed Christ subject to the third temptation of the devil. Announcing to all the world that Christ without an earthly kingdom cannot hold his ground upon earth, Catholicism by so doing proclaimed Antichrist and ruined the whole Western world. You pointed out that if France is in agonies now it’s simply the fault of Catholicism, for she has rejected the iniquitous God of Rome and has not found a new one. That’s what you could say then! I remember our conversations.”
“If I believed, no doubt I should repeat it even now. I wasn’t lying when I spoke as though I had faith,” Nikolay Vsyevolodovitch pronounced very earnestly. “But I must tell you, this repetition of my ideas in the past makes a very disagreeable impression on me. Can’t you leave off?”
“If you believe it?” repeated Shatov, paying not the slightest attention to this request. “But didn’t you tell me that if it were mathematically proved to you that the truth excludes Christ, you’d prefer to stick to Christ rather than to the truth? Did you say that? Did you?”
“But allow me too at last to ask a question,” said Nikolay Vsyevolodovitch, raising his voice. “What is the object of this irritable and … malicious cross-examination?”
“This examination will be over for all eternity, and you will never hear it mentioned again.”
“You keep insisting that we are outside the limits of time and space.”
“Hold your tongue!” Shatov cried suddenly. “I am stupid and awkward, but let my name perish in ignominy! Let me repeat your leading idea.… Oh, only a dozen lines, only the conclusion.”
“Repeat it, if it’s only the conclusion.…” Stavrogin made a movement to look at his watch, but restrained himself and did not look.
Shatov bent forward in his chair again and again held up his finger for a moment.
“Not a single nation,” he went on, as though reading it line by line, still gazing menacingly at Stavrogin, “not a single nation has ever been founded on principles of science or reason. There has never been an example of it, except for a brief moment, through folly. Socialism is from its very nature bound to be atheism, seeing that it has from the very first proclaimed that it is an atheistic organisation of society, and that it intends to establish itself exclusively on the elements of science and reason. Science and reason have, from the beginning of time, played a secondary and subordinate part in the life of nations; so it will be till the end of time. Nations are built up and moved by another force which sways and dominates them, the origin of which is unknown and inexplicable: that force is the force of an insatiable desire to go on to the end, though at the same time it denies that end. It is the force of the persistent assertion of one’s own existence, and a denial of death. It’s the spirit of life, as the Scriptures call it, ‘the river of living water,’ the drying up of which is threatened in the Apocalypse. It’s the æsthetic principle, as the philosophers call it, the ethical principle with which they identify it, ‘the seeking for God,’ as I call it more simply. The object of every national movement, in every people and at every period of its existence is only the seeking for its god, who must be its own god, and the faith in Him as the only true one. God is the synthetic personality of the whole people, taken from its beginning to its end. It has never happened that all, or even many, peoples have had one common god, but each has always had its own. It’s a sign of the decay of nations when they begin to have gods in common. When gods begin to be common to several nations the gods are dying and the faith in them, together with the nations themselves. The stronger a people the more individual their God. There never has been a nation without a religion, that is, without an idea of good and evil. Every people has its own conception of good and evil, and its own good and evil. When the same conceptions of good and evil become prevalent in several nations, then these nations are dying, and then the very distinction between good and evil is beginning to disappear. Reason has never had the power to define good and evil, or even to distinguish between good and evil, even approximately; on the contrary, it has always mixed them up in a disgraceful and pitiful way; science has even given the solution by the fist. This is particularly characteristic of the half-truths of science, the most terrible scourge of humanity, unknown till this century, and worse than plague, famine, or war. A half-truth is a despot … such as has never been in the world before. A despot that has its priests and its slaves, a despot to whom all do homage with love and superstition hitherto inconceivable, before which science itself trembles and cringes in a shameful way. These are your own words, Stavrogin, all except that about the half-truth; that’s my own because I am myself a case of half-knowledge, and that’s why I hate it particularly. I haven’t altered anything of your ideas or even of your words, not a syllable.”
“I don’t agree that you’ve not altered anything,” Stavrogin observed cautiously. “You accepted them with ardour, and in your ardour have transformed them unconsciously. The very fact that you reduce God to a simple attribute of nationality …”
He suddenly began watching Shatov with intense and peculiar attention, not so much his words as himself.
“I reduce God to the attribute of nationality?” cried Shatov. “On the contrary, I raise the people to God. And has it ever been otherwise? The people is the body of God. Every people is only a people so long as it has its own god and excludes all other gods on earth irreconcilably; so long as it believes that by its god it will conquer and drive out of the world all other gods. Such, from the beginning of time, has been the belief of all great nations, all, anyway, who have been specially remarkable, all who have been leaders of humanity. There is no going against facts. The Jews lived only to await the coming of the true God and left the world the true God. The Greeks deified nature and bequeathed the world their religion, that is, philosophy and art. Rome deified the people in the State, and bequeathed the idea of the State to the nations. France throughout her long history was only the incarnation and development of the Roman god, and if they have at last flung their Roman god into the abyss and plunged into atheism, which, for the time being, they call socialism, it is solely because socialism is, anyway, healthier than Roman Catholicism. If a great people does not believe that the truth is only to be found in itself alone (in itself alone and in it exclusively); if it does not believe that it alone is fit and destined to raise up and save all the rest by its truth, it would at once sink into being ethnographical material, and not a great people. A really great people can never accept a secondary part in the history of Humanity, nor even one of the first, but will have the first part. A nation which loses this belief ceases to be a nation. But there is only one truth, and therefore only a single one out of the nations can have the true God, even though other nations may have great gods of their own. Only one nation is ‘god-bearing,’ that’s the Russian people, and … and … and can you think me such a fool, Stavrogin,” he yelled frantically all at once, “that I can’t distinguish whether my words at this moment are the rotten old commonplaces that have been ground out in all the Slavophil mills in Moscow, or a perfectly new saying, the last word, the sole word of renewal and resurrection, and … and what do I care for your laughter at this minute! What do I care that you utterly, utterly fail to understand me, not a word, not a sound! Oh, how I despise your haughty laughter and your look at this minute!”
He jumped up from his seat; there was positively foam on his lips.
“On the contrary Shatov, on the contrary,” Stavrogin began with extraordinary earnestness and self-control, still keeping his seat, “on the contrary, your fervent words have revived many extremely powerful recollections in me. In your words I recognise my own mood two years ago, and now I will not tell you, as I did just now, that you have exaggerated my ideas. I believe, indeed, that they were even more exceptional, even more independent, and I assure you for the third time that I should be very glad to confirm all that you’ve said just now, every syllable of it, but …”
“But you want a hare?”
“Your own nasty expression,” Shatov laughed spitefully, sitting down again. “To cook your hare you must first catch it, to believe in God you must first have a god. You used to say that in Petersburg, I’m told, like Nozdryov, who tried to catch a hare by his hind legs.”
“No, what he did was to boast he’d caught him. By the way, allow me to trouble you with a question though, for indeed I think I have the right to one now. Tell me, have you caught your hare?”
“Don’t dare to ask me in such words! Ask differently, quite differently.” Shatov suddenly began trembling all over.
“Certainly I’ll ask differently.” Nikolay Vsyevolodovitch looked coldly at him. “I only wanted to know, do you believe in God, yourself?”
“I believe in Russia.… I believe in her orthodoxy.… I believe in the body of Christ.… I believe that the new advent will take place in Russia.… I believe …” Shatov muttered frantically.
“And in God? In God?”
“I … I will believe in God.”
Not one muscle moved in Stavrogin’s face. Shatov looked passionately and defiantly at him, as though he would have scorched him with his eyes.
“I haven’t told you that I don’t believe,” he cried at last. “I will only have you know that I am a luckless, tedious book, and nothing more so far, so far.… But confound me! We’re discussing you not me.… I’m a man of no talent, and can only give my blood, nothing more, like every man without talent; never mind my blood either! I’m talking about you. I’ve been waiting here two years for you.… Here I’ve been dancing about in my nakedness before you for the last half-hour. You, only you can raise that flag!…”
He broke off, and sat as though in despair, with his elbows on the table and his head in his hands.
“I merely mention it as something queer,” Stavrogin interrupted suddenly. “Every one for some inexplicable reason keeps foisting a flag upon me. Pyotr Verhovensky, too, is convinced that I might ‘raise his flag,’ that’s how his words were repeated to me, anyway. He has taken it into his head that I’m capable of playing the part of Stenka Razin for them, ‘from my extraordinary aptitude for crime,’ his saying too.”
“What?” cried Shatov, “‘from your extraordinary aptitude for crime’?”
“H’m! And is it true?” he asked, with an angry smile. “Is it true that when you were in Petersburg you belonged to a secret society for practising beastly sensuality? Is it true that you could give lessons to the Marquis de Sade? Is it true that you decoyed and corrupted children? Speak, don’t dare to lie,” he cried, beside himself. “Nikolay Stavrogin cannot lie to Shatov, who struck him in the face. Tell me everything, and if it’s true I’ll kill you, here, on the spot!”
“I did talk like that, but it was not I who outraged children,” Stavrogin brought out, after a silence that lasted too long. He turned pale and his eyes gleamed.
“But you talked like that,” Shatov went on imperiously, keeping his flashing eyes fastened upon him. “Is it true that you declared that you saw no distinction in beauty between some brutal obscene action and any great exploit, even the sacrifice of life for the good of humanity? Is it true that you have found identical beauty, equal enjoyment, in both extremes?”
“It’s impossible to answer like this.… I won’t answer,” muttered Stavrogin, who might well have got up and gone away, but who did not get up and go away.
“I don’t know either why evil is hateful and good is beautiful, but I know why the sense of that distinction is effaced and lost in people like the Stavrogins,” Shatov persisted, trembling all over. “Do you know why you made that base and shameful marriage? Simply because the shame and senselessness of it reached the pitch of genius! Oh, you are not one of those who linger on the brink. You fly head foremost. You married from a passion for martyrdom, from a craving for remorse, through moral sensuality. It was a laceration of the nerves … Defiance of common sense was too tempting. Stavrogin and a wretched, half-witted, crippled beggar! When you bit the governor’s ear did you feel sensual pleasure? Did you? You idle, loafing, little snob. Did you?”
“You’re a psychologist,” said Stavrogin, turning paler and paler, “though you’re partly mistaken as to the reasons of my marriage. But who can have given you all this information?” he asked, smiling, with an effort. “Was it Kirillov? But he had nothing to do with it.”
“You turn pale.”
“But what is it you want?” Nikolay Vsyevolodovitch asked, raising his voice at last. “I’ve been sitting under your lash for the last half-hour, and you might at least let me go civilly. Unless you really have some reasonable object in treating me like this.”
“Of course, you’re in duty bound, anyway, to let me know your object. I’ve been expecting you to do so all the time, but you’ve shown me nothing so far but frenzied spite. I beg you to open the gate for me.”
He got up from the chair. Shatov rushed frantically after him. “Kiss the earth, water it with your tears, pray for forgiveness,” he cried, clutching him by the shoulder.
“I didn’t kill you … that morning, though … I drew back my hands …” Stavrogin brought out almost with anguish, keeping his eyes on the ground.
“Speak out! Speak out! You came to warn me of danger. You have let me speak. You mean to-morrow to announce your marriage publicly.… Do you suppose I don’t see from your face that some new menacing idea is dominating you?… Stavrogin, why am I condemned to believe in you through all eternity? Could I speak like this to anyone else? I have modesty, but I am not ashamed of my nakedness because it’s Stavrogin I am speaking to. I was not afraid of caricaturing a grand idea by handling it because Stavrogin was listening to me.… Shan’t I kiss your footprints when you’ve gone? I can’t tear you out of my heart, Nikolay Stavrogin!”
“I’m sorry I can’t feel affection for you, Shatov,” Stavrogin replied coldly.
“I know you can’t, and I know you are not lying. Listen. I can set it all right. I can ‘catch your hare’ for you.”
Stavrogin did not speak.
“You’re an atheist because you’re a snob, a snob of the snobs. You’ve lost the distinction between good and evil because you’ve lost touch with your own people. A new generation is coming, straight from the heart of the people, and you will know nothing of it, neither you nor the Verhovenskys, father or son; nor I, for I’m a snob too—I, the son of your serf and lackey, Pashka.… Listen. Attain to God by work; it all lies in that; or disappear like rotten mildew. Attain to Him by work.”
“God by work? What sort of work?”
“Peasants’ work. Go, give up all your wealth.… Ah! you laugh, you’re afraid of some trick?”
But Stavrogin was not laughing.
“You suppose that one may attain to God by work, and by peasants’ work,” he repeated, reflecting as though he had really come across something new and serious which was worth considering. “By the way,” he passed suddenly to a new idea, “you reminded me just now. Do you know that I’m not rich at all, that I’ve nothing to give up? I’m scarcely in a position even to provide for Marya Timofyevna’s future.… Another thing: I came to ask you if it would be possible for you to remain near Marya Timofyevna in the future, as you are the only person who has some influence over her poor brain. I say this so as to be prepared for anything.”
“All right, all right. You’re speaking of Marya Timofyevna,” said Shatov, waving one hand, while he held a candle in the other. “All right. Afterwards, of course.… Listen. Go to Tikhon.”
“To Tikhon, who used to be a bishop. He lives retired now, on account of illness, here in the town, in the Bogorodsky monastery.”
“What do you mean?”
“Nothing. People go and see him. You go. What is it to you? What is it to you?”
“It’s the first time I’ve heard of him, and … I’ve never seen anything of that sort of people. Thank you, I’ll go.”
Shatov lighted him down the stairs. “Go along.” He flung open the gate into the street.
“I shan’t come to you any more, Shatov,” said Stavrogin quietly as he stepped through the gateway.
The darkness and the rain continued as before.