All this would have been perfectly sincere on his part. He had never for a moment entertained the idea of the possibility of this girl loving him, or even of such a thing as himself falling in love with her. The possibility of being loved himself, "a man like me," as he put it, he ranked among ridiculous suppositions. It appeared to him that it was simply a joke on Aglaya's part, if there really were anything in it at all; but that seemed to him quite natural. His preoccupation was caused by something different.
As to the few words which the general had let slip about Aglaya laughing at everybody, and at himself most of all — he entirely believed them. He did not feel the slightest sensation of offence; on the contrary, he was quite certain that it was as it should be.
His whole thoughts were now as to next morning early; he would see her; he would sit by her on that little green bench, and listen to how pistols were loaded, and look at her. He wanted nothing more.
The question as to what she might have to say of special interest to himself occurred to him once or twice. He did not doubt, for a moment, that she really had some such subject of conversation in store, but so very little interested in the matter was he that it did not strike him to wonder what it could be. The crunch of gravel on the path suddenly caused him to raise his head.
A man, whose face it was difficult to see in the gloom, approached the bench, and sat down beside him. The prince peered into his face, and recognized the livid features of Rogojin.
"I knew you'd be wandering about somewhere here. I didn't have to look for you very long," muttered the latter between his teeth.
It was the first time they had met since the encounter on the staircase at the hotel.
Painfully surprised as he was at this sudden apparition of Rogojin, the prince, for some little while, was unable to collect his thoughts. Rogojin, evidently, saw and understood the impression he had made; and though he seemed more or less confused at first, yet he began talking with what looked like assumed ease and freedom. However, the prince soon changed his mind on this score, and thought that there was not only no affectation of indifference, but that Rogojin was not even particularly agitated. If there were a little apparent awkwardness, it was only in his words and gestures. The man could not change his heart.
"How did you — find me here?" asked the prince for the sake of saying something.
"Keller told me (I found him at your place) that you were in the park. 'Of course he is!' I thought."
"Why so?" asked the prince uneasily.
Rogojin smiled, but did not explain.
"I received your letter, Lef Nicolaievitch — what's the good of all that? — It's no use, you know. I've come to you from HER, — she bade me tell you that she must see you, she has something to say to you. She told me to find you today."
"I'll come tomorrow. Now I'm going home — are you coming to my house?"
"Why should I? I've given you the message. — Goodbye!"
"Won't you come?" asked the prince in a gentle voice.
"What an extraordinary man you are! I wonder at you!" Rogojin laughed sarcastically.
"Why do you hate me so?" asked the prince, sadly. "You know yourself that all you suspected is quite unfounded. I felt you were still angry with me, though. Do you know why? Because you tried to kill me — that's why you can't shake off your wrath against me. I tell you that I only remember the Parfen Rogojin with whom I exchanged crosses, and vowed brotherhood. I wrote you this in yesterday's letter, in order that you might forget all that madness on your part, and that you might not feel called to talk about it when we met. Why do you avoid me? Why do you hold your hand back from me? I tell you again, I consider all that has passed a delirium, an insane dream. I can understand all you did, and all you felt that day, as if it were myself. What you were then imagining was not the case, and could never be the case. Why, then, should there be anger between us?"
"You don't know what anger is!" laughed Rogojin, in reply to the prince's heated words.
He had moved a pace or two away, and was hiding his hands behind him.
"No, it is impossible for me to come to your house again," he added slowly.
"Why? Do you hate me so much as all that?"
"I don't love you, Lef Nicolaievitch, and, therefore, what would be the use of my coming to see you? You are just like a child — you want a plaything, and it must be taken out and given you — and then you don't know how to work it. You are simply repeating all you said in your letter, and what's the use? Of course I believe every word you say, and I know perfectly well that you neither did or ever can deceive me in any way, and yet, I don't love you. You write that you've forgotten everything, and only remember your brother Parfen, with whom you exchanged crosses, and that you don't remember anything about the Rogojin who aimed a knife at your throat. What do you know about my feelings, eh?" (Rogojin laughed disagreeably.) "Here you are holding out your brotherly forgiveness to me for a thing that I have perhaps never repented of in the slightest degree. I did not think of it again all that evening; all my thoughts were centred on something else — "
"Not think of it again? Of course you didn't!" cried the prince. "And I dare swear that you came straight away down here to Pavlofsk to listen to the music and dog her about in the crowd, and stare at her, just as you did today. There's nothing surprising in that! If you hadn't been in that condition of mind that you could think of nothing but one subject, you would, probably, never have raised your knife against me. I had a presentiment of what you would do, that day, ever since I saw you first in the morning. Do you know yourself what you looked like? I knew you would try to murder me even at the very moment when we exchanged crosses. What did you take me to your mother for? Did you think to stay your hand by doing so? Perhaps you did not put your thoughts into words, but you and I were thinking the same thing, or feeling the same thing looming over us, at the same moment. What should you think of me now if you had not raised your knife to me — the knife which God averted from my throat? I would have been guilty of suspecting you all the same — and you would have intended the murder all the same; therefore we should have been mutually guilty in any case. Come, don't frown; you needn't laugh at me, either. You say you haven't 'repented.' Repented! You probably couldn't, if you were to try; you dislike me too much for that. Why, if I were an angel of light, and as innocent before you as a babe, you would still loathe me if you believed that SHE loved me, instead of loving yourself. That's jealousy — that is the real jealousy.
"But do you know what I have been thinking out during this last week, Parfen? I'll tell you. What if she loves you now better than anyone? And what if she torments you BECAUSE she loves you, and in proportion to her love for you, so she torments you the more? She won't tell you this, of course; you must have eyes to see. Why do you suppose she consents to marry you? She must have a reason, and that reason she will tell you some day. Some women desire the kind of love you give her, and she is probably one of these. Your love and your wild nature impress her. Do you know that a woman is capable of driving a man crazy almost, with her cruelties and mockeries, and feels not one single pang of regret, because she looks at him and says to herself, 'There! I'll torment this man nearly into his grave, and then, oh! how I'll compensate him for it all with my love!'"
Rogojin listened to the end, and then burst out laughing:
"Why, prince, I declare you must have had a taste of this sort of thing yourself — haven't you? I have heard tell of something of the kind, you know; is it true?"
"What? What can you have heard?" said the prince, stammering.
Rogojin continued to laugh loudly. He had listened to the prince's speech with curiosity and some satisfaction. The speaker's impulsive warmth had surprised and even comforted him.
"Why, I've not only heard of it; I see it for myself," he said. "When have you ever spoken like that before? It wasn't like yourself, prince. Why, if I hadn't heard this report about you, I should never have come all this way into the park — at midnight, too!"
"I don't understand you in the least, Parfen."
"Oh, SHE told me all about it long ago, and tonight I saw for myself. I saw you at the music, you know, and whom you were sitting with. She swore to me yesterday, and again today, that you are madly in love with Aglaya Ivanovna. But that's all the same to me, prince, and it's not my affair at all; for if you have ceased to love HER, SHE has not ceased to love YOU. You know, of course, that she wants to marry you to that girl? She's sworn to it! Ha, ha! She says to me, 'Until then I won't marry you. When they go to church, we'll go too-and not before.' What on earth does she mean by it? I don't know, and I never did. Either she loves you without limits or — yet, if she loves you, why does she wish to marry you to another girl? She says, 'I want to see him happy,' which is to say — she loves you."