Aglaya was quite alone, and dressed, apparently hastily, in a light mantle. Her face was pale, as it had been in the morning, and her eyes were ablaze with bright but subdued fire. He had never seen that expression in her eyes before.
She gazed attentively at him.
"You are quite ready, I observe," she said, with absolute composure, "dressed, and your hat in your hand. I see somebody has thought fit to warn you, and I know who. Hippolyte?"
"Yes, he told me," said the prince, feeling only half alive.
"Come then. You know, I suppose, that you must escort me there? You are well enough to go out, aren't you?"
"I am well enough; but is it really possible? — "
He broke off abruptly, and could not add another word. This was his one attempt to stop the mad child, and, after he had made it, he followed her as though he had no will of his own. Confused as his thoughts were, he was, nevertheless, capable of realizing the fact that if he did not go with her, she would go alone, and so he must go with her at all hazards. He guessed the strength of her determination; it was beyond him to check it.
They walked silently, and said scarcely a word all the way. He only noticed that she seemed to know the road very well; and once, when he thought it better to go by a certain lane, and remarked to her that it would be quieter and less public, she only said, "it's all the same," and went on.
When they were almost arrived at Daria Alexeyevna's house (it was a large wooden structure of ancient date), a gorgeously-dressed lady and a young girl came out of it. Both these ladies took their seats in a carriage, which was waiting at the door, talking and laughing loudly the while, and drove away without appearing to notice the approaching couple.
No sooner had the carriage driven off than the door opened once more; and Rogojin, who had apparently been awaiting them, let them in and closed it after them.
"There is not another soul in the house now excepting our four selves," he said aloud, looking at the prince in a strange way.
Nastasia Philipovna was waiting for them in the first room they went into. She was dressed very simply, in black.
She rose at their entrance, but did not smile or give her hand, even to the prince. Her anxious eyes were fixed upon Aglaya. Both sat down, at a little distance from one another — Aglaya on the sofa, in the corner of the room, Nastasia by the window. The prince and Rogojin remained standing, and were not invited to sit.
Muishkin glanced at Rogojin in perplexity, but the latter only smiled disagreeably, and said nothing. The silence continued for some few moments.
An ominous expression passed over Nastasia Philipovna's face, of a sudden. It became obstinate-looking, hard, and full of hatred; but she did not take her eyes off her visitors for a moment.
Aglaya was clearly confused, but not frightened. On entering she had merely glanced momentarily at her rival, and then had sat still, with her eyes on the ground, apparently in thought. Once or twice she glanced casually round the room. A shade of disgust was visible in her expression; she looked as though she were afraid of contamination in this place.
She mechanically arranged her dress, and fidgeted uncomfortably, eventually changing her seat to the other end of the sofa. Probably she was unconscious of her own movements; but this very unconsciousness added to the offensiveness of their suggested meaning.
At length she looked straight into Nastasia's eyes, and instantly read all there was to read in her rival's expression. Woman understood woman! Aglaya shuddered.
"You know of course why I requested this meeting?" she said at last, quietly, and pausing twice in the delivery of this very short sentence.
"No — I know nothing about it," said Nastasia, drily and abruptly.
Aglaya blushed. Perhaps it struck her as very strange and impossible that she should really be sitting here and waiting for "that woman's" reply to her question.
At the first sound of Nastasia's voice a shudder ran through her frame. Of course "that woman" observed and took in all this.
"You know quite well, but you are pretending to be ignorant," said Aglaya, very low, with her eyes on the ground.
"Why should I?" asked Nastasia Philipovna, smiling slightly.
"You want to take advantage of my position, now that I am in your house," continued Aglaya, awkwardly.
"For that position YOU are to blame and not I," said Nastasia, flaring up suddenly. "I did not invite YOU, but you me; and to this moment I am quite ignorant as to why I am thus honoured."
Aglaya raised her head haughtily.
"Restrain your tongue!" she said. "I did not come here to fight you with your own weapons.
"Oh! then you did come 'to fight,' I may conclude? Dear me! — and I thought you were cleverer — "
They looked at one another with undisguised malice. One of these women had written to the other, so lately, such letters as we have seen; and it all was dispersed at their first meeting. Yet it appeared that not one of the four persons in the room considered this in any degree strange.
The prince who, up to yesterday, would not have believed that he could even dream of such an impossible scene as this, stood and listened and looked on, and felt as though he had long foreseen it all. The most fantastic dream seemed suddenly to have been metamorphosed into the most vivid reality.
One of these women so despised the other, and so longed to express her contempt for her (perhaps she had only come for that very purpose, as Rogojin said next day), that howsoever fantastical was the other woman, howsoever afflicted her spirit and disturbed her understanding, no preconceived idea of hers could possibly stand up against that deadly feminine contempt of her rival. The prince felt sure that Nastasia would say nothing about the letters herself; but he could judge by her flashing eyes and the expression of her face what the thought of those letters must be costing her at this moment. He would have given half his life to prevent Aglaya from speaking of them. But Aglaya suddenly braced herself up, and seemed to master herself fully, all in an instant.
"You have not quite understood," she said. "I did not come to quarrel with you, though I do not like you. I came to speak to you as . . . as one human being to another. I came with my mind made up as to what I had to say to you, and I shall not change my intention, although you may misunderstand me. So much the worse for you, not for myself! I wished to reply to all you have written to me and to reply personally, because I think that is the more convenient way. Listen to my reply to all your letters. I began to be sorry for Prince Lef Nicolaievitch on the very day I made his acquaintance, and when I heard — afterwards — of all that took place at your house in the evening, I was sorry for him because he was such a simple-minded man, and because he, in the simplicity of his soul, believed that he could be happy with a woman of your character. What I feared actually took place; you could not love him, you tortured him, and threw him over. You could not love him because you are too proud — no, not proud, that is an error; because you are too vain — no, not quite that either; too self-loving; you are self-loving to madness. Your letters to me are a proof of it. You could not love so simple a soul as his, and perhaps in your heart you despised him and laughed at him. All you could love was your shame and the perpetual thought that you were disgraced and insulted. If you were less shameful, or had no cause at all for shame, you would be still more unhappy than you are now."