HIPPOLYTE, who had fallen asleep during Lebedeff's discourse, now suddenly woke up, just as though someone had jogged him in the side. He shuddered, raised himself on his arm, gazed around, and grew very pale. A look almost of terror crossed his face as he recollected.
"What! are they all off? Is it all over? Is the sun up?" He trembled, and caught at the prince's hand. "What time is it? Tell me, quick, for goodness' sake! How long have I slept?" he added, almost in despair, just as though he had overslept something upon which his whole fate depended.
"You have slept seven or perhaps eight minutes," said Evgenie Pavlovitch.
Hippolyte gazed eagerly at the latter, and mused for a few moments.
"Oh, is that all?" he said at last. "Then I — "
He drew a long, deep breath of relief, as it seemed. He realized that all was not over as yet, that the sun had not risen, and that the guests had merely gone to supper. He smiled, and two hectic spots appeared on his cheeks.
"So you counted the minutes while I slept, did you, Evgenie Pavlovitch?" he said, ironically. "You have not taken your eyes off me all the evening — I have noticed that much, you see! Ah, Rogojin! I've just been dreaming about him, prince," he added, frowning. "Yes, by the by," starting up, "where's the orator? Where's Lebedeff? Has he finished? What did he talk about? Is it true, prince, that you once declared that 'beauty would save the world'? Great Heaven! The prince says that beauty saves the world! And I declare that he only has such playful ideas because he's in love! Gentlemen, the prince is in love. I guessed it the moment he came in. Don't blush, prince; you make me sorry for you. What beauty saves the world? Colia told me that you are a zealous Christian; is it so? Colia says you call yourself a Christian."
The prince regarded him attentively, but said nothing.
"You don't answer me; perhaps you think I am very fond of you?" added Hippolyte, as though the words had been drawn from him.
"No, I don't think that. I know you don't love me."
"What, after yesterday? Wasn't I honest with you?"
"I knew yesterday that you didn't love me."
"Why so? why so? Because I envy you, eh? You always think that, I know. But do you know why I am saying all this? Look here! I must have some more champagne — pour me out some, Keller, will you?"
"No, you're not to drink any more, Hippolyte. I won't let you." The prince moved the glass away.
"Well perhaps you're right," said Hippolyte, musing. "They might say — yet, devil take them! what does it matter? — prince, what can it matter what people will say of us THEN, eh? I believe I'm half asleep. I've had such a dreadful dream — I've only just remembered it. Prince, I don't wish you such dreams as that, though sure enough, perhaps, I DON'T love you. Why wish a man evil, though you do not love him, eh? Give me your hand — let me press it sincerely. There — you've given me your hand — you must feel that I DO press it sincerely, don't you? I don't think I shall drink any more. What time is it? Never mind, I know the time. The time has come, at all events. What! they are laying supper over there, are they? Then this table is free? Capital, gentlemen! I — hem! these gentlemen are not listening. Prince, I will just read over an article I have here. Supper is more interesting, of course, but — "
Here Hippolyte suddenly, and most unexpectedly, pulled out of his breast-pocket a large sealed paper. This imposing-looking document he placed upon the table before him.
The effect of this sudden action upon the company was instantaneous. Evgenie Pavlovitch almost bounded off his chair in excitement. Rogojin drew nearer to the table with a look on his face as if he knew what was coming. Gania came nearer too; so did Lebedeff and the others — the paper seemed to be an object of great interest to the company in general.
"What have you got there?" asked the prince, with some anxiety.
"At the first glimpse of the rising sun, prince, I will go to bed. I told you I would, word of honour! You shall see!" cried Hippolyte. "You think I'm not capable of opening this packet, do you?" He glared defiantly round at the audience in general.
The prince observed that he was trembling all over.
"None of us ever thought such a thing!" Muishkin replied for all. "Why should you suppose it of us? And what are you going to read, Hippolyte? What is it?"
"Yes, what is it?" asked others. The packet sealed with red wax seemed to attract everyone, as though it were a magnet.
"I wrote this yesterday, myself, just after I saw you, prince, and told you I would come down here. I wrote all day and all night, and finished it this morning early. Afterwards I had a dream."
"Hadn't we better hear it tomorrow?" asked the prince timidly.
"Tomorrow 'there will be no more time!'" laughed Hippolyte, hysterically. "You needn't be afraid; I shall get through the whole thing in forty minutes, at most an hour! Look how interested everybody is! Everybody has drawn near. Look! look at them all staring at my sealed packet! If I hadn't sealed it up it wouldn't have been half so effective! Ha, ha! that's mystery, that is! Now then, gentlemen, shall I break the seal or not? Say the word; it's a mystery, I tell you — a secret! Prince, you know who said there would be 'no more time'? It was the great and powerful angel in the Apocalypse."
"Better not read it now," said the prince, putting his hand on the packet.
"No, don't read it!" cried Evgenie suddenly. He appeared so strangely disturbed that many of those present could not help wondering.
"Reading? None of your reading now!" said somebody; "it's supper-time." "What sort of an article is it? For a paper? Probably it's very dull," said another. But the prince's timid gesture had impressed even Hippolyte.
"Then I'm not to read it?" he whispered, nervously. "Am I not to read it?" he repeated, gazing around at each face in turn. "What are you afraid of, prince?" he turned and asked the latter suddenly.
"What should I be afraid of?"
"Has anyone a coin about them? Give me a twenty-copeck piece, somebody!" And Hippolyte leapt from his chair.
"Here you are," said Lebedeff, handing him one; he thought the boy had gone mad.
"Vera Lukianovna," said Hippolyte, "toss it, will you? Heads, I read, tails, I don't."
Vera Lebedeff tossed the coin into the air and let it fall on the table.