The Idiot By Fyodor Dostoevsky Part II: Chapter 2

II

IT was the beginning of June, and for a whole week the weather in St. Petersburg had been magnificent. The Epanchins had a luxurious country-house at Pavlofsk, [One of the fashionable summer resorts near St. Petersburg.] and to this spot Mrs. Epanchin determined to proceed without further delay. In a couple of days all was ready, and the family had left town. A day or two after this removal to Pavlofsk, Prince Muishkin arrived in St. Petersburg by the morning train from Moscow. No one met him; but, as he stepped out of the carriage, he suddenly became aware of two strangely glowing eyes fixed upon him from among the crowd that met the train. On endeavouring to re-discover the eyes, and see to whom they belonged, he could find nothing to guide him. It must have been a hallucination. But the disagreeable impression remained, and without this, the prince was sad and thoughtful already, and seemed to be much preoccupied.

His cab took him to a small and bad hotel near the Litaynaya. Here he engaged a couple of rooms, dark and badly furnished. He washed and changed, and hurriedly left the hotel again, as though anxious to waste no time. Anyone who now saw him for the first time since he left Petersburg would judge that he had improved vastly so far as his exterior was concerned. His clothes certainly were very different; they were more fashionable, perhaps even too much so, and anyone inclined to mockery might have found something to smile at in his appearance. But what is there that people will not smile at?

The prince took a cab and drove to a street near the Nativity, where he soon discovered the house he was seeking. It was a small wooden villa, and he was struck by its attractive and clean appearance; it stood in a pleasant little garden, full of flowers. The windows looking on the street were open, and the sound of a voice, reading aloud or making a speech, came through them. It rose at times to a shout, and was interrupted occasionally by bursts of laughter.

Prince Muishkin entered the court-yard, and ascended the steps. A cook with her sleeves turned up to the elbows opened the door. The visitor asked if Mr. Lebedeff were at home.

"He is in there," said she, pointing to the salon.

The room had a blue wall-paper, and was well, almost pretentiously, furnished, with its round table, its divan, and its bronze clock under a glass shade. There was a narrow pier-glass against the wall, and a chandelier adorned with lustres hung by a bronze chain from the ceiling.

When the prince entered, Lebedeff was standing in the middle of the room, his back to the door. He was in his shirt-sleeves, on account of the extreme heat, and he seemed to have just reached the peroration of his speech, and was impressively beating his breast.

His audience consisted of a youth of about fifteen years of age with a clever face, who had a book in his hand, though he was not reading; a young lady of twenty, in deep mourning, stood near him with an infant in her arms; another girl of thirteen, also in black, was laughing loudly, her mouth wide open; and on the sofa lay a handsome young man, with black hair and eyes, and a suspicion of beard and whiskers. He frequently interrupted the speaker and argued with him, to the great delight of the others.

"Lukian Timofeyovitch! Lukian Timofeyovitch! Here's someone to see you! Look here! . . . a gentleman to speak to you! . . . Well, it's not my fault!" and the cook turned and went away red with anger.

Lebedeff started, and at sight of the prince stood like a statue for a moment. Then he moved up to him with an ingratiating smile, but stopped short again.

"Prince! ex-ex-excellency!" he stammered. Then suddenly he ran towards the girl with the infant, a movement so unexpected by her that she staggered and fell back, but next moment he was threatening the other child, who was standing, still laughing, in the doorway. She screamed, and ran towards the kitchen. Lebedeff stamped his foot angrily; then, seeing the prince regarding him with amazement, he murmured apologetically — "Pardon to show respect! . . . he-he!"

"You are quite wrong . . . " began the prince.

"At once . . . at once . . . in one moment!"

He rushed like a whirlwind from the room, and Muishkin looked inquiringly at the others.

They were all laughing, and the guest joined in the chorus.

"He has gone to get his coat," said the boy.

"How annoying!" exclaimed the prince. "I thought . . . Tell me, is he . . . "

"You think he is drunk?" cried the young man on the sofa. "Not in the least. He's only had three or four small glasses, perhaps five; but what is that? The usual thing!"

As the prince opened his mouth to answer, he was interrupted by the girl, whose sweet face wore an expression of absolute frankness.

"He never drinks much in the morning; if you have come to talk business with him, do it now. It is the best time. He sometimes comes back drunk in the evening; but just now he passes the greater part of the evening in tears, and reads passages of Holy Scripture aloud, because our mother died five weeks ago."

"No doubt he ran off because he did not know what to say to you," said the youth on the divan. "I bet he is trying to cheat you, and is thinking how best to do it."

Just then Lebedeff returned, having put on his coat.

"Five weeks!" said he, wiping his eyes. "Only five weeks! Poor orphans!"

"But why wear a coat in holes," asked the girl, "when your new one is hanging behind the door? Did you not see it?"

"Hold your tongue, dragon-fly!" he scolded. "What a plague you are!" He stamped his foot irritably, but she only laughed, and answered:

"Are you trying to frighten me? I am not Tania, you know, and I don't intend to run away. Look, you are waking Lubotchka, and she will have convulsions again. Why do you shout like that?"

"Well, well! I won't again," said the master of the house his anxiety getting the better of his temper. He went up to his daughter, and looked at the child in her arms, anxiously making the sign of the cross over her three times. "God bless her! God bless her!" he cried with emotion. "This little creature is my daughter Luboff," addressing the prince. "My wife, Helena, died — at her birth; and this is my big daughter Vera, in mourning, as you see; and this, this, oh, this pointing to the young man on the divan . . .

"Well, go on! never mind me!" mocked the other. "Don't be afraid!"

"Excellency! Have you read that account of the murder of the Zemarin family, in the newspaper?" cried Lebedeff, all of a sudden.

"Yes," said Muishkin, with some surprise.

"Well, that is the murderer! It is he — in fact — "

"What do you mean?" asked the visitor.

"I am speaking allegorically, of course; but he will be the murderer of a Zemarin family in the future. He is getting ready. . . . "

They all laughed, and the thought crossed the prince's mind that perhaps Lebedeff was really trifling in this way because he foresaw inconvenient questions, and wanted to gain time.

"He is a traitor! a conspirator!" shouted Lebedeff, who seemed to have lost all control over himself. "A monster! a slanderer! Ought I to treat him as a nephew, the son of my sister Anisia?"

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At the end of Part III, Nastasya and Rogozhin each ask Myshkin the same question. What was it?




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