But this was too much for the general.
"Here are twenty-five roubles, Marfa Borisovna . . . it is all that I can give . . . and I owe even these to the prince's generosity — my noble friend. I have been cruelly deceived. Such is . . . life . . . Now . . . Excuse me, I am very weak," he continued, standing in the centre of the room, and bowing to all sides. "I am faint; excuse me! Lenotchka . . . a cushion . . . my dear!"
Lenotchka, a little girl of eight, ran to fetch the cushion at once, and placed it on the rickety old sofa. The general meant to have said much more, but as soon as he had stretched himself out, he turned his face to the wall, and slept the sleep of the just.
With a grave and ceremonious air, Marfa Borisovna motioned the prince to a chair at one of the card-tables. She seated herself opposite, leaned her right cheek on her hand, and sat in silence, her eyes fixed on Muishkin, now and again sighing deeply. The three children, two little girls and a boy, Lenotchka being the eldest, came and leant on the table and also stared steadily at him. Presently Colia appeared from the adjoining room.
"I am very glad indeed to have met you here, Colia," said the prince. "Can you do something for me? I must see Nastasia Philipovna, and I asked Ardalion Alexandrovitch just now to take me to her house, but he has gone to sleep, as you see. Will you show me the way, for I do not know the street? I have the address, though; it is close to the Grand Theatre."
"Nastasia Philipovna? She does not live there, and to tell you the truth my father has never been to her house! It is strange that you should have depended on him! She lives near Wladimir Street, at the Five Corners, and it is quite close by. Will you go directly? It is just half-past nine. I will show you the way with pleasure."
Colia and the prince went off together. Alas! the latter had no money to pay for a cab, so they were obliged to walk.
"I should have liked to have taken you to see Hippolyte," said Colia. "He is the eldest son of the lady you met just now, and was in the next room. He is ill, and has been in bed all day. But he is rather strange, and extremely sensitive, and I thought he might be upset considering the circumstances in which you came . . . Somehow it touches me less, as it concerns my father, while it is HIS mother. That, of course, makes a great difference. What is a terrible disgrace to a woman, does not disgrace a man, at least not in the same way. Perhaps public opinion is wrong in condemning one sex, and excusing the other. Hippolyte is an extremely clever boy, but so prejudiced. He is really a slave to his opinions."
"Do you say he is consumptive?"
"Yes. It really would be happier for him to die young. If I were in his place I should certainly long for death. He is unhappy about his brother and sisters, the children you saw. If it were possible, if we only had a little money, we should leave our respective families, and live together in a little apartment of our own. It is our dream. But, do you know, when I was talking over your affair with him, he was angry, and said that anyone who did not call out a man who had given him a blow was a coward. He is very irritable to-day, and I left off arguing the matter with him. So Nastasia Philipovna has invited you to go and see her?"
"To tell the truth, she has not."
"Then how do you come to be going there?" cried Colia, so much astonished that he stopped short in the middle of the pavement. "And . . . and are you going to her At Home in that costume?"
"I don't know, really, whether I shall be allowed in at all. If she will receive me, so much the better. If not, the matter is ended. As to my clothes — what can I do?"
"Are you going there for some particular reason, or only as a way of getting into her society, and that of her friends?"
"No, I have really an object in going . . . That is, I am going on business it is difficult to explain, but . . . "
"Well, whether you go on business or not is your affair, I do not want to know. The only important thing, in my eyes, is that you should not be going there simply for the pleasure of spending your evening in such company — cocottes, generals, usurers! If that were the case I should despise and laugh at you. There are terribly few honest people here, and hardly any whom one can respect, although people put on airs — Varia especially! Have you noticed, prince, how many adventurers there are nowadays? Especially here, in our dear Russia. How it has happened I never can understand. There used to be a certain amount of solidity in all things, but now what happens? Everything is exposed to the public gaze, veils are thrown back, every wound is probed by careless fingers. We are for ever present at an orgy of scandalous revelations. Parents blush when they remember their old-fashioned morality. At Moscow lately a father was heard urging his son to stop at nothing — at nothing, mind you! — to get money! The press seized upon the story, of course, and now it is public property. Look at my father, the general! See what he is, and yet, I assure you, he is an honest man! Only . . . he drinks too much, and his morals are not all we could desire. Yes, that's true! I pity him, to tell the truth, but I dare not say so, because everybody would laugh at me — but I do pity him! And who are the really clever men, after all? Money-grubbers, every one of them, from the first to the last. Hippolyte finds excuses for money-lending, and says it is a necessity. He talks about the economic movement, and the ebb and flow of capital; the devil knows what he means. It makes me angry to hear him talk so, but he is soured by his troubles. Just imagine-the general keeps his mother-but she lends him money! She lends it for a week or ten days at very high interest! Isn't it disgusting? And then, you would hardly believe it, but my mother — Nina Alexandrovna — helps Hippolyte in all sorts of ways, sends him money and clothes. She even goes as far as helping the children, through Hippolyte, because their mother cares nothing about them, and Varia does the same."
"Well, just now you said there were no honest nor good people about, that there were only money-grubbers — and here they are quite close at hand, these honest and good people, your mother and Varia! I think there is a good deal of moral strength in helping people in such circumstances."
"Varia does it from pride, and likes showing off, and giving herself airs. As to my mother, I really do admire her — yes, and honour her. Hippolyte, hardened as he is, feels it. He laughed at first, and thought it vulgar of her — but now, he is sometimes quite touched and overcome by her kindness. H'm! You call that being strong and good? I will remember that! Gania knows nothing about it. He would say that it was encouraging vice."
"Ah, Gania knows nothing about it? It seems there are many things that Gania does not know," exclaimed the prince, as he considered Colia's last words.
"Do you know, I like you very much indeed, prince? I shall never forget about this afternoon."
"I like you too, Colia."
"Listen to me! You are going to live here, are you not?" said Colia. "I mean to get something to do directly, and earn money. Then shall we three live together? You, and I, and Hippolyte? We will hire a flat, and let the general come and visit us. What do you say?"
"It would be very pleasant," returned the prince. "But we must see. I am really rather worried just now. What! are we there already? Is that the house? What a long flight of steps! And there's a porter! Well, Colia I don't know what will come of it all."
The prince seemed quite distracted for the moment.
"You must tell me all about it tomorrow! Don't be afraid. I wish you success; we agree so entirely I that can do so, although I do not understand why you are here. Good-bye!" cried Colia excitedly. "Now I will rush back and tell Hippolyte all about our plans and proposals! But as to your getting in — don't be in the least afraid. You will see her. She is so original about everything. It's the first floor. The porter will show you."