THE prince now left the room and shut himself up in his own chamber. Colia followed him almost at once, anxious to do what he could to console him. The poor boy seemed to be already so attached to him that he could hardly leave him.
"You were quite right to go away!" he said. "The row will rage there worse than ever now; and it's like this every day with us — and all through that Nastasia Philipovna."
"You have so many sources of trouble here, Colia," said the prince.
"Yes, indeed, and it is all our own fault. But I have a great friend who is much worse off even than we are. Would you like to know him?"
"Yes, very much. Is he one of your school-fellows?"
"Well, not exactly. I will tell you all about him some day . . . . What do you think of Nastasia Philipovna? She is beautiful, isn't she? I had never seen her before, though I had a great wish to do so. She fascinated me. I could forgive Gania if he were to marry her for love, but for money! Oh dear! that is horrible!"
"Yes, your brother does not attract me much."
"I am not surprised at that. After what you . . . But I do hate that way of looking at things! Because some fool, or a rogue pretending to be a fool, strikes a man, that man is to be dishonoured for his whole life, unless he wipes out the disgrace with blood, or makes his assailant beg forgiveness on his knees! I think that so very absurd and tyrannical. Lermontoff's Bal Masque is based on that idea — a stupid and unnatural one, in my opinion; but he was hardly more than a child when he wrote it."
"I like your sister very much."
"Did you see how she spat in Gania's face! Varia is afraid of no one. But you did not follow her example, and yet I am sure it was not through cowardice. Here she comes! Speak of a wolf and you see his tail! I felt sure that she would come. She is very generous, though of course she has her faults."
Varia pounced upon her brother.
"This is not the place for you," said she. "Go to father. Is he plaguing you, prince?"
"Not in the least; on the contrary, he interests me."
"Scolding as usual, Varia! It is the worst thing about her. After all, I believe father may have started off with Rogojin. No doubt he is sorry now. Perhaps I had better go and see what he is doing," added Colia, running off.
"Thank God, I have got mother away, and put her to bed without another scene! Gania is worried — and ashamed — not without reason! What a spectacle! I have come to thank you once more, prince, and to ask you if you knew Nastasia Philipovna before?"
"No, I have never known her."
"Then what did you mean, when you said straight out to her that she was not really 'like that'? You guessed right, I fancy. It is quite possible she was not herself at the moment, though I cannot fathom her meaning. Evidently she meant to hurt and insult us. I have heard curious tales about her before now, but if she came to invite us to her house, why did she behave so to my mother? Ptitsin knows her very well; he says he could not understand her today. With Rogojin, too! No one with a spark of self-respect could have talked like that in the house of her . . . Mother is extremely vexed on your account, too . . .
"That is nothing!" said the prince, waving his hand.
"But how meek she was when you spoke to her!"
"Meek! What do you mean?"
"You told her it was a shame for her to behave so, and her manner changed at once; she was like another person. You have some influence over her, prince," added Varia, smiling a little.
The door opened at this point, and in came Gania most unexpectedly.
He was not in the least disconcerted to see Varia there, but he stood a moment at the door, and then approached the prince quietly.
"Prince," he said, with feeling, "I was a blackguard. Forgive me!" His face gave evidence of suffering. The prince was considerably amazed, and did not reply at once. "Oh, come, forgive me, forgive me!" Gania insisted, rather impatiently. "If you like, I'll kiss your hand. There!"
The prince was touched; he took Gania's hands, and embraced him heartily, while each kissed the other.
"I never, never thought you were like that," said Muishkin, drawing a deep breath. "I thought you — you weren't capable of — "
"Of what? Apologizing, eh? And where on earth did I get the idea that you were an idiot? You always observe what other people pass by unnoticed; one could talk sense to you, but — "
"Here is another to whom you should apologize," said the prince, pointing to Varia.
"No, no! they are all enemies! I've tried them often enough, believe me," and Gania turned his back on Varia with these words.
"But if I beg you to make it up?" said Varia.
"And you'll go to Nastasia Philipovna's this evening — "
"If you insist: but, judge for yourself, can I go, ought I to go?"
"But she is not that sort of woman, I tell you!" said Gania, angrily. "She was only acting."
"I know that — I know that; but what a part to play! And think what she must take YOU for, Gania! I know she kissed mother's hand, and all that, but she laughed at you, all the same. All this is not good enough for seventy-five thousand roubles, my dear boy. You are capable of honourable feelings still, and that's why I am talking to you so. Oh! DO take care what you are doing! Don't you know yourself that it will end badly, Gania?"
So saying, and in a state of violent agitation, Varia left the room.
"There, they are all like that," said Gania, laughing, "just as if I do not know all about it much better than they do."