"Capital, that's much better!" cried Lebedeff, and seizing the key he made off in haste.
Colia stopped a moment as though he wished to say something; but Lebedeff dragged him away.
Hippolyte looked around at the laughing guests. The prince observed that his teeth were chattering as though in a violent attack of ague.
"What brutes they all are!" he whispered to the prince. Whenever he addressed him he lowered his voice.
"Let them alone, you're too weak now — "
"Yes, directly; I'll go away directly. I'll — "
Suddenly he embraced Muishkin.
"Perhaps you think I am mad, eh?" he asked him, laughing very strangely.
"No, but you — "
"Directly, directly! Stand still a moment, I wish to look in your eyes; don't speak — stand so — let me look at you! I am bidding farewell to mankind."
He stood so for ten seconds, gazing at the prince, motionless, deadly pale, his temples wet with perspiration; he held the prince's hand in a strange grip, as though afraid to let him go.
"Hippolyte, Hippolyte, what is the matter with you?" cried Muishkin.
"Directly! There, that's enough. I'll lie down directly. I must drink to the sun's health. I wish to — I insist upon it! Let go!"
He seized a glass from the table, broke away from the prince, and in a moment had reached the terrace steps.
The prince made after him, but it so happened that at this moment Evgenie Pavlovitch stretched out his hand to say good-night. The next instant there was a general outcry, and then followed a few moments of indescribable excitement.
Reaching the steps, Hippolyte had paused, holding the glass in his left hand while he put his right hand into his coat pocket.
Keller insisted afterwards that he had held his right hand in his pocket all the while, when he was speaking to the prince, and that he had held the latter's shoulder with his left hand only. This circumstance, Keller affirmed, had led him to feel some suspicion from the first. However this may be, Keller ran after Hippolyte, but he was too late.
He caught sight of something flashing in Hippolyte's right hand, and saw that it was a pistol. He rushed at him, but at that very instant Hippolyte raised the pistol to his temple and pulled the trigger. There followed a sharp metallic click, but no report.
When Keller seized the would-be suicide, the latter fell forward into his arms, probably actually believing that he was shot. Keller had hold of the pistol now. Hippolyte was immediately placed in a chair, while the whole company thronged around excitedly, talking and asking each other questions. Every one of them had heard the snap of the trigger, and yet they saw a live and apparently unharmed man before them.
Hippolyte himself sat quite unconscious of what was going on, and gazed around with a senseless expression.
Lebedeff and Colia came rushing up at this moment.
"What is it?" someone asked, breathlessly — "A misfire?"
"Perhaps it wasn't loaded," said several voices.
"It's loaded all right," said Keller, examining the pistol, "but — "
"What! did it miss fire?"
"There was no cap in it," Keller announced.
It would be difficult to describe the pitiable scene that now followed. The first sensation of alarm soon gave place to amusement; some burst out laughing loud and heartily, and seemed to find a malicious satisfaction in the joke. Poor Hippolyte sobbed hysterically; he wrung his hands; he approached everyone in turn — even Ferdishenko — and took them by both hands, and swore solemnly that he had forgotten — absolutely forgotten — "accidentally, and not on purpose," — to put a cap in — that he "had ten of them, at least, in his pocket." He pulled them out and showed them to everyone; he protested that he had not liked to put one in beforehand for fear of an accidental explosion in his pocket. That he had thought he would have lots of time to put it in afterwards — when required — and, that, in the heat of the moment, he had forgotten all about it. He threw himself upon the prince, then on Evgenie Pavlovitch. He entreated Keller to give him back the pistol, and he'd soon show them all that "his honour — his honour," — but he was "dishonoured, now, for ever!"
He fell senseless at last — and was carried into the prince's study.
Lebedeff, now quite sobered down, sent for a doctor; and he and his daughter, with Burdovsky and General Ivolgin, remained by the sick man's couch.
When he was carried away unconscious, Keller stood in the middle of the room, and made the following declaration to the company in general, in a loud tone of voice, with emphasis upon each word.
"Gentlemen, if any one of you casts any doubt again, before me, upon Hippolyte's good faith, or hints that the cap was forgotten intentionally, or suggests that this unhappy boy was acting a part before us, I beg to announce that the person so speaking shall account to me for his words."
No one replied.
The company departed very quickly, in a mass. Ptitsin, Gania, and Rogojin went away together.
The prince was much astonished that Evgenie Pavlovitch changed his mind, and took his departure without the conversation he had requested.
"Why, you wished to have a talk with me when the others left?" he said.
"Quite so," said Evgenie, sitting down suddenly beside him, "but I have changed my mind for the time being. I confess, I am too disturbed, and so, I think, are you; and the matter as to which I wished to consult you is too serious to tackle with one's mind even a little disturbed; too serious both for myself and for you. You see, prince, for once in my life I wish to perform an absolutely honest action, that is, an action with no ulterior motive; and I think I am hardly in a condition to talk of it just at this moment, and — and — well, we'll discuss it another time. Perhaps the matter may gain in clearness if we wait for two or three days — just the two or three days which I must spend in Petersburg."
Here he rose again from his chair, so that it seemed strange that he should have thought it worth while to sit down at all.
The prince thought, too, that he looked vexed and annoyed, and not nearly so friendly towards himself as he had been earlier in the night.
"I suppose you will go to the sufferer's bedside now?" he added.
"Yes, I am afraid . . . " began the prince.
"Oh, you needn't fear! He'll live another six weeks all right. Very likely he will recover altogether; but I strongly advise you to pack him off tomorrow."
"I think I may have offended him by saying nothing just now. I am afraid he may suspect that I doubted his good faith, — about shooting himself, you know. What do you think, Evgenie Pavlovitch?"
"Not a bit of it! You are much too good to him; you shouldn't care a hang about what he thinks. I have heard of such things before, but never came across, till tonight, a man who would actually shoot himself in order to gain a vulgar notoriety, or blow out his brains for spite, if he finds that people don't care to pat him on the back for his sanguinary intentions. But what astonishes me more than anything is the fellow's candid confession of weakness. You'd better get rid of him tomorrow, in any case.
"Do you think he will make another attempt?"
"Oh no, not he, not now! But you have to be very careful with this sort of gentleman. Crime is too often the last resource of these petty nonentities. This young fellow is quite capable of cutting the throats of ten people, simply for a lark, as he told us in his 'explanation.' I assure you those confounded words of his will not let me sleep."
"I think you disturb yourself too much."
"What an extraordinary person you are, prince! Do you mean to say that you doubt the fact that he is capable of murdering ten men?"
"I daren't say, one way or the other; all this is very strange — but — "
"Well, as you like, just as you like," said Evgenie Pavlovitch, irritably. "Only you are such a plucky fellow, take care you don't get included among the ten victims!"
"Oh, he is much more likely not to kill anyone at all," said the prince, gazing thoughtfully at Evgenie. The latter laughed disagreeably.
"Well, au revoir! Did you observe that he 'willed' a copy of his confession to Aglaya Ivanovna?"
"Yes, I did; I am thinking of it."
"In connection with 'the ten,' eh?" laughed Evgenie, as he left the room.