"Yes, it is really much too late to send to town now," said Evgenie Pavlovitch, who had escaped from Aglaya as rapidly as possible. "I am sure the shops are shut in Petersburg; it is past eight o'clock," he added, looking at his watch.
"We have done without him so far," interrupted Adelaida in her turn. "Surely we can wait until to-morrow."
"Besides," said Colia, "it is quite unusual, almost improper, for people in our position to take any interest in literature. Ask Evgenie Pavlovitch if I am not right. It is much more fashionable to drive a waggonette with red wheels."
"You got that from some magazine, Colia," remarked Adelaida.
"He gets most of his conversation in that way," laughed Evgenie Pavlovitch. "He borrows whole phrases from the reviews. I have long had the pleasure of knowing both Nicholai Ardalionovitch and his conversational methods, but this time he was not repeating something he had read; he was alluding, no doubt, to my yellow waggonette, which has, or had, red wheels. But I have exchanged it, so you are rather behind the times, Colia."
The prince had been listening attentively to Radomski's words, and thought his manner very pleasant. When Colia chaffed him about his waggonette he had replied with perfect equality and in a friendly fashion. This pleased Muishkin.
At this moment Vera came up to Lizabetha Prokofievna, carrying several large and beautifully bound books, apparently quite new.
"What is it?" demanded the lady.
"This is Pushkin," replied the girl. "Papa told me to offer it to you."
"What? Impossible!" exclaimed Mrs. Epanchin.
"Not as a present, not as a present! I should not have taken the liberty," said Lebedeff, appearing suddenly from behind his daughter. "It is our own Pushkin, our family copy, Annenkoff's edition; it could not be bought now. I beg to suggest, with great respect, that your excellency should buy it, and thus quench the noble literary thirst which is consuming you at this moment," he concluded grandiloquently.
"Oh! if you will sell it, very good — and thank you. You shall not be a loser! But for goodness' sake, don't twist about like that, sir! I have heard of you; they tell me you are a very learned person. We must have a talk one of these days. You will bring me the books yourself?"
"With the greatest respect . . . and . . . and veneration," replied Lebedeff, making extraordinary grimaces.
"Well, bring them, with or without respect, provided always you do not drop them on the way; but on the condition," went on the lady, looking full at him, "that you do not cross my threshold. I do not intend to receive you today. You may send your daughter Vera at once, if you like. I am much pleased with her."
"Why don't you tell him about them?" said Vera impatiently to her father. "They will come in, whether you announce them or not, and they are beginning to make a row. Lef Nicolaievitch," — she addressed herself to the prince — "four men are here asking for you. They have waited some time, and are beginning to make a fuss, and papa will not bring them in."
"Who are these people?" said the prince.
"They say that they have come on business, and they are the kind of men, who, if you do not see them here, will follow you about the street. It would be better to receive them, and then you will get rid of them. Gavrila Ardalionovitch and Ptitsin are both there, trying to make them hear reason."
"Pavlicheff's son! It is not worth while!" cried Lebedeff. "There is no necessity to see them, and it would be most unpleasant for your excellency. They do not deserve . . . "
"What? Pavlicheff's son!" cried the prince, much perturbed. "I know . . . I know — but I entrusted this matter to Gavrila Ardalionovitch. He told me . . . "
At that moment Gania, accompanied by Ptitsin, came out to the terrace. From an adjoining room came a noise of angry voices, and General Ivolgin, in loud tones, seemed to be trying to shout them down. Colia rushed off at once to investigate the cause of the uproar.
"This is most interesting!" observed Evgenie Pavlovitch.
"I expect he knows all about it!" thought the prince.
"What, the son of Pavlicheff? And who may this son of Pavlicheff be?" asked General Epanchin with surprise; and looking curiously around him, he discovered that he alone had no clue to the mystery. Expectation and suspense were on every face, with the exception of that of the prince, who stood gravely wondering how an affair so entirely personal could have awakened such lively and widespread interest in so short a time.
Aglaya went up to him with a peculiarly serious look
"It will be well," she said, "if you put an end to this affair yourself AT ONCE: but you must allow us to be your witnesses. They want to throw mud at you, prince, and you must be triumphantly vindicated. I give you joy beforehand!"
"And I also wish for justice to be done, once for all," cried Madame Epanchin, "about this impudent claim. Deal with them promptly, prince, and don't spare them! I am sick of hearing about the affair, and many a quarrel I have had in your cause. But I confess I am anxious to see what happens, so do make them come out here, and we will remain. You have heard people talking about it, no doubt?" she added, turning to Prince S.
"Of course," said he. "I have heard it spoken about at your house, and I am anxious to see these young men!"
"They are Nihilists, are they not?"
"No, they are not Nihilists," explained Lebedeff, who seemed much excited. "This is another lot — a special group. According to my nephew they are more advanced even than the Nihilists. You are quite wrong, excellency, if you think that your presence will intimidate them; nothing intimidates them. Educated men, learned men even, are to be found among Nihilists; these go further, in that they are men of action. The movement is, properly speaking, a derivative from Nihilism — though they are only known indirectly, and by hearsay, for they never advertise their doings in the papers. They go straight to the point. For them, it is not a question of showing that Pushkin is stupid, or that Russia must be torn in pieces. No; but if they have a great desire for anything, they believe they have a right to get it even at the cost of the lives, say, of eight persons. They are checked by no obstacles. In fact, prince, I should not advise you . . . "
But Muishkin had risen, and was on his way to open the door for his visitors.
"You are slandering them, Lebedeff," said he, smiling.
"You are always thinking about your nephew's conduct. Don't believe him, Lizabetha Prokofievna. I can assure you Gorsky and Daniloff are exceptions — and that these are only . . . mistaken. However, I do not care about receiving them here, in public. Excuse me, Lizabetha Prokofievna. They are coming, and you can see them, and then I will take them away. Please come in, gentlemen!"
Another thought tormented him: He wondered was this an arranged business — arranged to happen when he had guests in his house, and in anticipation of his humiliation rather than of his triumph? But he reproached himself bitterly for such a thought, and felt as if he should die of shame if it were discovered. When his new visitors appeared, he was quite ready to believe himself infinitely less to be respected than any of them.
Four persons entered, led by General Ivolgin, in a state of great excitement, and talking eloquently.
"He is for me, undoubtedly!" thought the prince, with a smile. Colia also had joined the party, and was talking with animation to Hippolyte, who listened with a jeering smile on his lips.
The prince begged the visitors to sit down. They were all so young that it made the proceedings seem even more extraordinary. Ivan Fedorovitch, who really understood nothing of what was going on, felt indignant at the sight of these youths, and would have interfered in some way had it not been for the extreme interest shown by his wife in the affair. He therefore remained, partly through curiosity, partly through good-nature, hoping that his presence might be of some use. But the bow with which General Ivolgin greeted him irritated him anew; he frowned, and decided to be absolutely silent.
As to the rest, one was a man of thirty, the retired officer, now a boxer, who had been with Rogojin, and in his happier days had given fifteen roubles at a time to beggars. Evidently he had joined the others as a comrade to give them moral, and if necessary material, support. The man who had been spoken of as "Pavlicheff's son," although he gave the name of Antip Burdovsky, was about twenty-two years of age, fair, thin and rather tall. He was remarkable for the poverty, not to say uncleanliness, of his personal appearance: the sleeves of his overcoat were greasy; his dirty waistcoat, buttoned up to his neck, showed not a trace of linen; a filthy black silk scarf, twisted till it resembled a cord, was round his neck, and his hands were unwashed. He looked round with an air of insolent effrontery. His face, covered with pimples, was neither thoughtful nor even contemptuous; it wore an expression of complacent satisfaction in demanding his rights and in being an aggrieved party. His voice trembled, and he spoke so fast, and with such stammerings, that he might have been taken for a foreigner, though the purest Russian blood ran in his veins. Lebedeff's nephew, whom the reader has seen already, accompanied him, and also the youth named Hippolyte Terentieff. The latter was only seventeen or eighteen. He had an intelligent face, though it was usually irritated and fretful in expression. His skeleton-like figure, his ghastly complexion, the brightness of his eyes, and the red spots of colour on his cheeks, betrayed the victim of consumption to the most casual glance. He coughed persistently, and panted for breath; it looked as though he had but a few weeks more to live. He was nearly dead with fatigue, and fell, rather than sat, into a chair. The rest bowed as they came in; and being more or less abashed, put on an air of extreme self-assurance. In short, their attitude was not that which one would have expected in men who professed to despise all trivialities, all foolish mundane conventions, and indeed everything, except their own personal interests.
"Antip Burdovsky," stuttered the son of Pavlicheff.
"Vladimir Doktorenko," said Lebedeff's nephew briskly, and with a certain pride, as if he boasted of his name.
"Keller," murmured the retired officer.
"Hippolyte Terentieff," cried the last-named, in a shrill voice.
They sat now in a row facing the prince, and frowned, and played with their caps. All appeared ready to speak, and yet all were silent; the defiant expression on their faces seemed to say, "No, sir, you don't take us in!" It could be felt that the first word spoken by anyone present would bring a torrent of speech from the whole deputation.