It was "heads."
"Then I read it," said Hippolyte, in the tone of one bowing to the fiat of destiny. He could not have grown paler if a verdict of death had suddenly been presented to him.
"But after all, what is it? Is it possible that I should have just risked my fate by tossing up?" he went on, shuddering; and looked round him again. His eyes had a curious expression of sincerity. "That is an astonishing psychological fact," he cried, suddenly addressing the prince, in a tone of the most intense surprise. "It is . . . it is something quite inconceivable, prince," he repeated with growing animation, like a man regaining consciousness. "Take note of it, prince, remember it; you collect, I am told, facts concerning capital punishment . . . They told me so. Ha, ha! My God, how absurd!" He sat down on the sofa, put his elbows on the table, and laid his head on his hands. "It is shameful — though what does it matter to me if it is shameful?
"Gentlemen, gentlemen! I am about to break the seal," he continued, with determination. "I-I — of course I don't insist upon anyone listening if they do not wish to."
With trembling fingers he broke the seal and drew out several sheets of paper, smoothed them out before him, and began sorting them.
"What on earth does all this mean? What's he going to read?" muttered several voices. Others said nothing; but one and all sat down and watched with curiosity. They began to think something strange might really be about to happen. Vera stood and trembled behind her father's chair, almost in tears with fright; Colia was nearly as much alarmed as she was. Lebedeff jumped up and put a couple of candles nearer to Hippolyte, so that he might see better.
"Gentlemen, this — you'll soon see what this is," began Hippolyte, and suddenly commenced his reading.
"It's headed, 'A Necessary Explanation,' with the motto, 'Apres moi le deluge!' Oh, deuce take it all! Surely I can never have seriously written such a silly motto as that? Look here, gentlemen, I beg to give notice that all this is very likely terrible nonsense. It is only a few ideas of mine. If you think that there is anything mysterious coming — or in a word — "
"Better read on without any more beating about the bush," said Gania.
"Affectation!" remarked someone else.
"Too much talk," said Rogojin, breaking the silence for the first time.
Hippolyte glanced at him suddenly, and when their eye, met Rogojin showed his teeth in a disagreeable smile, and said the following strange words: "That's not the way to settle this business, my friend; that's not the way at all."
Of course nobody knew what Rogojin meant by this; but his words made a deep impression upon all. Everyone seemed to see in a flash the same idea.
As for Hippolyte, their effect upon him was astounding. He trembled so that the prince was obliged to support him, and would certainly have cried out, but that his voice seemed to have entirely left him for the moment. For a minute or two he could not speak at all, but panted and stared at Rogojin. At last he managed to ejaculate:
"Then it was YOU who came — YOU — YOU?"
"Came where? What do you mean?" asked Rogojin, amazed. But Hippolyte, panting and choking with excitement, interrupted him violently.
"YOU came to me last week, in the night, at two o'clock, the day I was with you in the morning! Confess it was you!"
"Last week? In the night? Have you gone cracked, my good friend?"
Hippolyte paused and considered a moment. Then a smile of cunning — almost triumph — crossed his lips.
"It was you," he murmured, almost in a whisper, but with absolute conviction. "Yes, it was you who came to my room and sat silently on a chair at my window for a whole hour — more! It was between one and two at night; you rose and went out at about three. It was you, you! Why you should have frightened me so, why you should have wished to torment me like that, I cannot tell — but you it was."
There was absolute hatred in his eyes as he said this, but his look of fear and his trembling had not left him.
"You shall hear all this directly, gentlemen. I-I — listen!"
He seized his paper in a desperate hurry; he fidgeted with it, and tried to sort it, but for a long while his trembling hands could not collect the sheets together. "He's either mad or delirious," murmured Rogojin. At last he began.
For the first five minutes the reader's voice continued to tremble, and he read disconnectedly and unevenly; but gradually his voice strengthened. Occasionally a violent fit of coughing stopped him, but his animation grew with the progress of the reading — as did also the disagreeable impression which it made upon his audience, — until it reached the highest pitch of excitement.
Here is the article.
MY NECESSARY EXPLANATION.
"Apres moi le deluge.
"Yesterday morning the prince came to see me. Among other things he asked me to come down to his villa. I knew he would come and persuade me to this step, and that he would adduce the argument that it would be easier for me to die' among people and green trees,' — as he expressed it. But today he did not say 'die,' he said 'live.' It is pretty much the same to me, in my position, which he says. When I asked him why he made such a point of his 'green trees,' he told me, to my astonishment, that he had heard that last time I was in Pavlofsk I had said that I had come 'to have a last look at the trees.'
"When I observed that it was all the same whether one died among trees or in front of a blank brick wall, as here, and that it was not worth making any fuss over a fortnight, he agreed at once. But he insisted that the good air at Pavlofsk and the greenness would certainly cause a physical change for the better, and that my excitement, and my DREAMS, would be perhaps relieved. I remarked to him, with a smile, that he spoke like a materialist, and he answered that he had always been one. As he never tells a lie, there must be something in his words. His smile is a pleasant one. I have had a good look at him. I don't know whether I like him or not; and I have no time to waste over the question. The hatred which I felt for him for five months has become considerably modified, I may say, during the last month. Who knows, perhaps I am going to Pavlofsk on purpose to see him! But why do I leave my chamber? Those who are sentenced to death should not leave their cells. If I had not formed a final resolve, but had decided to wait until the last minute, I should not leave my room, or accept his invitation to come and die at Pavlofsk. I must be quick and finish this explanation before tomorrow. I shall have no time to read it over and correct it, for I must read it tomorrow to the prince and two or three witnesses whom I shall probably find there.