"Yes . . . from you it is quite natural."
"And you are not offended?"
"Why should I be offended?"
"Well, just listen, prince. I remained here last evening, partly because I have a great admiration for the French archbishop Bourdaloue. I enjoyed a discussion over him till three o'clock in the morning, with Lebedeff; and then . . . then — I swear by all I hold sacred that I am telling you the truth — then I wished to develop my soul in this frank and heartfelt confession to you. This was my thought as I was sobbing myself to sleep at dawn. Just as I was losing consciousness, tears in my soul, tears on my face (I remember how I lay there sobbing), an idea from hell struck me. 'Why not, after confessing, borrow money from him?' You see, this confession was a kind of masterstroke; I intended to use it as a means to your good grace and favour — and then — then I meant to walk off with a hundred and fifty roubles. Now, do you not call that base?"
"It is hardly an exact statement of the case," said the prince in reply. "You have confused your motives and ideas, as I need scarcely say too often happens to myself. I can assure you, Keller, I reproach myself bitterly for it sometimes. When you were talking just now I seemed to be listening to something about myself. At times I have imagined that all men were the same," he continued earnestly, for he appeared to be much interested in the conversation, "and that consoled me in a certain degree, for a DOUBLE motive is a thing most difficult to fight against. I have tried, and I know. God knows whence they arise, these ideas that you speak of as base. I fear these double motives more than ever just now, but I am not your judge, and in my opinion it is going too far to give the name of baseness to it — what do you think? You were going to employ your tears as a ruse in order to borrow money, but you also say — in fact, you have sworn to the fact — that independently of this your confession was made with an honourable motive. As for the money, you want it for drink, do you not? After your confession, that is weakness, of course; but, after all, how can anyone give up a bad habit at a moment's notice? It is impossible. What can we do? It is best, I think, to leave the matter to your own conscience. How does it seem to you?" As he concluded the prince looked curiously at Keller; evidently this problem of double motives had often been considered by him before.
"Well, how anybody can call you an idiot after that, is more than I can understand!" cried the boxer.
The prince reddened slightly.
"Bourdaloue, the archbishop, would not have spared a man like me," Keller continued, "but you, you have judged me with humanity. To show how grateful I am, and as a punishment, I will not accept a hundred and fifty roubles. Give me twenty-five — that will be enough; it is all I really need, for a fortnight at least. I will not ask you for more for a fortnight. I should like to have given Agatha a present, but she does not really deserve it. Oh, my dear prince, God bless you!"
At this moment Lebedeff appeared, having just arrived from Petersburg. He frowned when he saw the twenty-five rouble note in Keller's hand, but the latter, having got the money, went away at once. Lebedeff began to abuse him.
"You are unjust; I found him sincerely repentant," observed the prince, after listening for a time.
"What is the good of repentance like that? It is the same exactly as mine yesterday, when I said, 'I am base, I am base,' — words, and nothing more!"
"Then they were only words on your part? I thought, on the contrary . . . "
"Well, I don't mind telling you the truth — you only! Because you see through a man somehow. Words and actions, truth and falsehood, are all jumbled up together in me, and yet I am perfectly sincere. I feel the deepest repentance, believe it or not, as you choose; but words and lies come out in the infernal craving to get the better of other people. It is always there — the notion of cheating people, and of using my repentant tears to my own advantage! I assure you this is the truth, prince! I would not tell any other man for the world! He would laugh and jeer at me — but you, you judge a man humanely."
"Why, Keller said the same thing to me nearly word for word a few minutes ago!" cried Muishkin. "And you both seem inclined to boast about it! You astonish me, but I think he is more sincere than you, for you make a regular trade of it. Oh, don't put on that pathetic expression, and don't put your hand on your heart! Have you anything to say to me? You have not come for nothing . . . "
Lebedeff grinned and wriggled.
"I have been waiting all day for you, because I want to ask you a question; and, for once in your life, please tell me the truth at once. Had you anything to do with that affair of the carriage yesterday?"
Lebedeff began to grin again, rubbed his hands, sneezed, but spoke not a word in reply.
"I see you had something to do with it."
"Indirectly, quite indirectly! I am speaking the truth — I am indeed! I merely told a certain person that I had people in my house, and that such and such personages might be found among them."
"I am aware that you sent your son to that house — he told me so himself just now, but what is this intrigue?" said the prince, impatiently.
"It is not my intrigue!" cried Lebedeff, waving his hand.
"It was engineered by other people, and is, properly speaking, rather a fantasy than an intrigue!"
"But what is it all about? Tell me, for Heaven's sake! Cannot you understand how nearly it touches me? Why are they blackening Evgenie Pavlovitch's reputation?"
Lebedeff grimaced and wriggled again.
"Prince!" said he. "Excellency! You won't let me tell you the whole truth; I have tried to explain; more than once I have begun, but you have not allowed me to go on . . . "
The prince gave no answer, and sat deep in thought. Evidently he was struggling to decide.
"Very well! Tell me the truth," he said, dejectedly.
"Aglaya Ivanovna . . . " began Lebedeff, promptly.
"Be silent! At once!" interrupted the prince, red with indignation, and perhaps with shame, too. "It is impossible and absurd! All that has been invented by you, or fools like you! Let me never hear you say a word again on that subject!"
Late in the evening Colia came in with a whole budget of Petersburg and Pavlofsk news. He did not dwell much on the Petersburg part of it, which consisted chiefly of intelligence about his friend Hippolyte, but passed quickly to the Pavlofsk tidings. He had gone straight to the Epanchins' from the station.
"There's the deuce and all going on there!" he said. "First of all about the row last night, and I think there must be something new as well, though I didn't like to ask. Not a word about YOU, prince, the whole time! The most interesting fact was that Aglaya had been quarrelling with her people about Gania. Colia did not know any details, except that it had been a terrible quarrel! Also Evgenie Pavlovitch had called, and met with an excellent reception all round. And another curious thing: Mrs. Epanchin was so angry that she called Varia to her — Varia was talking to the girls — and turned her out of the house 'once for all' she said. I heard it from Varia herself — Mrs. Epanchin was quite polite, but firm; and when Varia said good-bye to the girls, she told them nothing about it, and they didn't know they were saying goodbye for the last time. I'm sorry for Varia, and for Gania too; he isn't half a bad fellow, in spite of his faults, and I shall never forgive myself for not liking him before! I don't know whether I ought to continue to go to the Epanchins' now," concluded Colia — "I like to be quite independent of others, and of other people's quarrels if I can; but I must think over it."
"I don't think you need break your heart over Gania," said the prince; "for if what you say is true, he must be considered dangerous in the Epanchin household, and if so, certain hopes of his must have been encouraged."
"What? What hopes?" cried Colia; "you surely don't mean Aglaya? — oh, no! — "
"You're a dreadful sceptic, prince," he continued, after a moment's silence. "I have observed of late that you have grown sceptical about everything. You don't seem to believe in people as you did, and are always attributing motives and so on — am I using the word 'sceptic' in its proper sense?"
"I believe so; but I'm not sure."