WHILE he feasted his eyes upon Aglaya, as she talked merrily with Evgenie and Prince N., suddenly the old anglomaniac, who was talking to the dignitary in another corner of the room, apparently telling him a story about something or other — suddenly this gentleman pronounced the name of "Nicolai Andreevitch Pavlicheff" aloud. The prince quickly turned towards him, and listened.
The conversation had been on the subject of land, and the present disorders, and there must have been something amusing said, for the old man had begun to laugh at his companion's heated expressions.
The latter was describing in eloquent words how, in consequence of recent legislation, he was obliged to sell a beautiful estate in the N. province, not because he wanted ready money — in fact, he was obliged to sell it at half its value. "To avoid another lawsuit about the Pavlicheff estate, I ran away," he said. "With a few more inheritances of that kind I should soon be ruined!"
At this point General Epanchin, noticing how interested Muishkin had become in the conversation, said to him, in a low tone:
"That gentleman — Ivan Petrovitch — is a relation of your late friend, Mr. Pavlicheff. You wanted to find some of his relations, did you not?"
The general, who had been talking to his chief up to this moment, had observed the prince's solitude and silence, and was anxious to draw him into the conversation, and so introduce him again to the notice of some of the important personages.
"Lef Nicolaievitch was a ward of Nicolai Andreevitch Pavlicheff, after the death of his own parents," he remarked, meeting Ivan Petrovitch's eye.
"Very happy to meet him, I'm sure," remarked the latter. "I remember Lef Nicolaievitch well. When General Epanchin introduced us just now, I recognized you at once, prince. You are very little changed, though I saw you last as a child of some ten or eleven years old. There was something in your features, I suppose, that — "
"You saw me as a child!" exclaimed the prince, with surprise.
"Oh! yes, long ago," continued Ivan Petrovitch, "while you were living with my cousin at Zlatoverhoff. You don't remember me? No, I dare say you don't; you had some malady at the time, I remember. It was so serious that I was surprised — "
"No; I remember nothing!" said the prince. A few more words of explanation followed, words which were spoken without the smallest excitement by his companion, but which evoked the greatest agitation in the prince; and it was discovered that two old ladies to whose care the prince had been left by Pavlicheff, and who lived at Zlatoverhoff, were also relations of Ivan Petrovitch.
The latter had no idea and could give no information as to why Pavlicheff had taken so great an interest in the little prince, his ward.
"In point of fact I don't think I thought much about it," said the old fellow. He seemed to have a wonderfully good memory, however, for he told the prince all about the two old ladies, Pavlicheff's cousins, who had taken care of him, and whom, he declared, he had taken to task for being too severe with the prince as a small sickly boy — the elder sister, at least; the younger had been kind, he recollected. They both now lived in another province, on a small estate left to them by Pavlicheff. The prince listened to all this with eyes sparkling with emotion and delight.
He declared with unusual warmth that he would never forgive himself for having travelled about in the central provinces during these last six months without having hunted up his two old friends.
He declared, further, that he had intended to go every day, but had always been prevented by circumstances; but that now he would promise himself the pleasure — however far it was, he would find them out. And so Ivan Petrovitch REALLY knew Natalia Nikitishna! — what a saintly nature was hers! — and Martha Nikitishna! Ivan Petrovitch must excuse him, but really he was not quite fair on dear old Martha. She was severe, perhaps; but then what else could she be with such a little idiot as he was then? (Ha, ha.) He really was an idiot then, Ivan Petrovitch must know, though he might not believe it. (Ha, ha.) So he had really seen him there! Good heavens! And was he really and truly and actually a cousin of Pavlicheff's?
"I assure you of it," laughed Ivan Petrovitch, gazing amusedly at the prince.
"Oh! I didn't say it because I DOUBT the fact, you know. (Ha, ha.) How could I doubt such a thing? (Ha, ha, ha.) I made the remark because — because Nicolai Andreevitch Pavlicheff was such a splendid man, don't you see! Such a high-souled man, he really was, I assure you."
The prince did not exactly pant for breath, but he "seemed almost to CHOKE out of pure simplicity and goodness of heart," as Adelaida expressed it, on talking the party over with her fiance, the Prince S., next morning.
"But, my goodness me," laughed Ivan Petrovitch, "why can't I be cousin to even a splendid man?"
"Oh, dear!" cried the prince, confused, trying to hurry his words out, and growing more and more eager every moment: "I've gone and said another stupid thing. I don't know what to say. I — I didn't mean that, you know — I — I — he really was such a splendid man, wasn't he?"
The prince trembled all over. Why was he so agitated? Why had he flown into such transports of delight without any apparent reason? He had far outshot the measure of joy and emotion consistent with the occasion. Why this was it would be difficult to say.
He seemed to feel warmly and deeply grateful to someone for something or other — perhaps to Ivan Petrovitch; but likely enough to all the guests, individually, and collectively. He was much too happy.
Ivan Petrovitch began to stare at him with some surprise; the dignitary, too, looked at him with considerable attention; Princess Bielokonski glared at him angrily, and compressed her lips. Prince N., Evgenie, Prince S., and the girls, all broke off their own conversations and listened. Aglaya seemed a little startled; as for Lizabetha Prokofievna, her heart sank within her.
This was odd of Lizabetha Prokofievna and her daughters. They had themselves decided that it would be better if the prince did not talk all the evening. Yet seeing him sitting silent and alone, but perfectly happy, they had been on the point of exerting themselves to draw him into one of the groups of talkers around the room. Now that he was in the midst of a talk they became more than ever anxious and perturbed.
"That he was a splendid man is perfectly true; you are quite right," repeated Ivan Petrovitch, but seriously this time. "He was a fine and a worthy fellow — worthy, one may say, of the highest respect," he added, more and more seriously at each pause; "and it is agreeable to see, on your part, such — "
"Wasn't it this same Pavlicheff about whom there was a strange story in connection with some abbot? I don't remember who the abbot was, but I remember at one time everybody was talking about it," remarked the old dignitary.
"Yes — Abbot Gurot, a Jesuit," said Ivan Petrovitch. "Yes, that's the sort of thing our best men are apt to do. A man of rank, too, and rich — a man who, if he had continued to serve, might have done anything; and then to throw up the service and everything else in order to go over to Roman Catholicism and turn Jesuit — openly, too — almost triumphantly. By Jove! it was positively a mercy that he died when he did — it was indeed — everyone said so at the time."
The prince was beside himself.
"Pavlicheff? — Pavlicheff turned Roman Catholic? Impossible!" he cried, in horror.