"I've heard so. Well, we'll leave that question just now. Why am I a scandal-monger? Why did she call me a scandal-monger? And mind, AFTER she had heard every word I had to tell her, and had asked all sorts of questions besides — but such is the way of women. For HER sake I entered into relations with Rogojin — an interesting man! At HER request I arranged a personal interview between herself and Nastasia Philipovna. Could she have been angry because I hinted that she was enjoying Nastasia Philipovna's 'leavings'? Why, I have been impressing it upon her all this while for her own good. Two letters have I written her in that strain, and I began straight off today about its being humiliating for her. Besides, the word 'leavings' is not my invention. At all events, they all used it at Gania's, and she used it herself. So why am I a scandal-monger? I see — I see you are tremendously amused, at this moment! Probably you are laughing at me and fitting those silly lines to my case —
"'Maybe sad Love upon his setting smiles, And with vain hopes his farewell hour beguiles.
"Ha, ha, ha!"
Hippolyte suddenly burst into a fit of hysterical laughter, which turned into a choking cough.
"Observe," he gasped, through his coughing, "what a fellow Gania is! He talks about Nastasia's 'leavings,' but what does he want to take himself?"
The prince sat silent for a long while. His mind was filled with dread and horror.
"You spoke of a meeting with Nastasia Philipovna," he said at last, in a low voice.
"Oh — come! Surely you must know that there is to be a meeting today between Nastasia and Aglaya Ivanovna, and that Nastasia has been sent for on purpose, through Rogojin, from St. Petersburg? It has been brought about by invitation of Aglaya Ivanovna and my own efforts, and Nastasia is at this moment with Rogojin, not far from here — at Dana Alexeyevna's — that curious friend of hers; and to this questionable house Aglaya Ivanovna is to proceed for a friendly chat with Nastasia Philipovna, and for the settlement of several problems. They are going to play at arithmetic — didn't you know about it? Word of honour?"
"It's a most improbable story."
"Oh, very well! if it's improbable — it is — that's all! And yet — where should you have heard it? Though I must say, if a fly crosses the room it's known all over the place here. However, I've warned you, and you may be grateful to me. Well — au revoir — probably in the next world! One more thing — don't think that I am telling you all this for your sake. Oh, dear, no! Do you know that I dedicated my confession to Aglaya Ivanovna? I did though, and how she took it, ha, ha! Oh, no! I am not acting from any high, exalted motives. But though I may have behaved like a cad to you, I have not done HER any harm. I don't apologize for my words about 'leavings' and all that. I am atoning for that, you see, by telling you the place and time of the meeting. Goodbye! You had better take your measures, if you are worthy the name of a man! The meeting is fixed for this evening — that's certain."
Hippolyte walked towards the door, but the prince called him back and he stopped.
"Then you think Aglaya Ivanovna herself intends to go to Nastasia Philipovna's tonight?" he asked, and bright hectic spots came out on his cheeks and forehead.
"I don't know absolutely for certain; but in all probability it is so," replied Hippolyte, looking round. "Nastasia would hardly go to her; and they can't meet at Gania's, with a man nearly dead in the house."
"It's impossible, for that very reason," said the prince. "How would she get out if she wished to? You don't know the habits of that house — she COULD not get away alone to Nastasia Philipovna's! It's all nonsense!"
"Look here, my dear prince, no one jumps out of the window if they can help it; but when there's a fire, the dandiest gentleman or the finest lady in the world will skip out! When the moment comes, and there's nothing else to be done — our young lady will go to Nastasia Philipovna's! Don't they let the young ladies out of the house alone, then?"
"I didn't mean that exactly."
"If you didn't mean that, then she has only to go down the steps and walk off, and she need never come back unless she chooses: Ships are burned behind one sometimes, and one doesn't care to return whence one came. Life need not consist only of lunches, and dinners, and Prince S's. It strikes me you take Aglaya Ivanovna for some conventional boarding-school girl. I said so to her, and she quite agreed with me. Wait till seven or eight o'clock. In your place I would send someone there to keep watch, so as to seize the exact moment when she steps out of the house. Send Colia. He'll play the spy with pleasure — for you at least. Ha, ha, ha!"
Hippolyte went out.
There was no reason for the prince to set anyone to watch, even if he had been capable of such a thing. Aglaya's command that he should stay at home all day seemed almost explained now. Perhaps she meant to call for him, herself, or it might be, of course, that she was anxious to make sure of his not coming there, and therefore bade him remain at home. His head whirled; the whole room seemed to be turning round. He lay down on the sofa, and closed his eyes.
One way or the other the question was to be decided at last — finally.
Oh, no, he did not think of Aglaya as a boarding-school miss, or a young lady of the conventional type! He had long since feared that she might take some such step as this. But why did she wish to see Nastasia?
He shivered all over as he lay; he was in high fever again.
No! he did not account her a child. Certain of her looks, certain of her words, of late, had filled him with apprehension. At times it had struck him that she was putting too great a restraint upon herself, and he remembered that he had been alarmed to observe this. He had tried, all these days, to drive away the heavy thoughts that oppressed him; but what was the hidden mystery of that soul? The question had long tormented him, although he implicitly trusted that soul. And now it was all to be cleared up. It was a dreadful thought. And "that woman" again! Why did he always feel as though "that woman" were fated to appear at each critical moment of his life, and tear the thread of his destiny like a bit of rotten string? That he always HAD felt this he was ready to swear, although he was half delirious at the moment. If he had tried to forget her, all this time, it was simply because he was afraid of her. Did he love the woman or hate her? This question he did not once ask himself today; his heart was quite pure. He knew whom he loved. He was not so much afraid of this meeting, nor of its strangeness, nor of any reasons there might be for it, unknown to himself; he was afraid of the woman herself, Nastasia Philipovna. He remembered, some days afterwards, how during all those fevered hours he had seen but HER eyes, HER look, had heard HER voice, strange words of hers; he remembered that this was so, although he could not recollect the details of his thoughts.
He could remember that Vera brought him some dinner, and that he took it; but whether he slept after dinner, or no, he could not recollect.
He only knew that he began to distinguish things clearly from the moment when Aglaya suddenly appeared, and he jumped up from the sofa and went to meet her. It was just a quarter past seven then.