"Who was by him at night?"
"I, and Burdovsky, and Kostia Lebedeff. Keller stayed a little while, and then went over to Lebedeff's to sleep. Ferdishenko slept at Lebedeff's, too; but he went away at seven o'clock. My father is always at Lebedeff's; but he has gone out just now. I dare say Lebedeff will be coming in here directly; he has been looking for you; I don't know what he wants. Shall we let him in or not, if you are asleep? I'm going to have a nap, too. By-the-by, such a curious thing happened. Burdovsky woke me at seven, and I met my father just outside the room, so drunk, he didn't even know me. He stood before me like a log, and when he recovered himself, asked hurriedly how Hippolyte was. 'Yes,' he said, when I told him, 'that's all very well, but I REALLY came to warn you that you must be very careful what you say before Ferdishenko.' Do you follow me, prince?"
"Yes. Is it really so? However, it's all the same to us, of course."
"Of course it is; we are not a secret society; and that being the case, it is all the more curious that the general should have been on his way to wake me up in order to tell me this."
"Ferdishenko has gone, you say?"
"Yes, he went at seven o'clock. He came into the room on his way out; I was watching just then. He said he was going to spend 'the rest of the night' at Wilkin's; there's a tipsy fellow, a friend of his, of that name. Well, I'm off. Oh, here's Lebedeff himself! The prince wants to go to sleep, Lukian Timofeyovitch, so you may just go away again."
"One moment, my dear prince, just one. I must absolutely speak to you about something which is most grave," said Lebedeff, mysteriously and solemnly, entering the room with a bow and looking extremely important. He had but just returned, and carried his hat in his hand. He looked preoccupied and most unusually dignified.
The prince begged him to take a chair.
"I hear you have called twice; I suppose you are still worried about yesterday's affair."
"What, about that boy, you mean? Oh dear no, yesterday my ideas were a little — well — mixed. Today, I assure you, I shall not oppose in the slightest degree any suggestions it may please you to make."
"What's up with you this morning, Lebedeff? You look so important and dignified, and you choose your words so carefully," said the prince, smiling.
"Nicolai Ardalionovitch!" said Lebedeff, in a most amiable tone of voice, addressing the boy. "As I have a communication to make to the prince which concerns only myself — "
"Of course, of course, not my affair. All right," said Colia, and away he went.
"I love that boy for his perception," said Lebedeff, looking after him. "My dear prince," he continued, "I have had a terrible misfortune, either last night or early this morning. I cannot tell the exact time."
"What is it?"
"I have lost four hundred roubles out of my side pocket! They're gone!" said Lebedeff, with a sour smile.
"You've lost four hundred roubles? Oh! I'm sorry for that."
"Yes, it is serious for a poor man who lives by his toil."
"Of course, of course! How was it?"
"Oh, the wine is to blame, of course. I confess to you, prince, as I would to Providence itself. Yesterday I received four hundred roubles from a debtor at about five in the afternoon, and came down here by train. I had my purse in my pocket. When I changed, I put the money into the pocket of my plain clothes, intending to keep it by me, as I expected to have an applicant for it in the evening."
"It's true then, Lebedeff, that you advertise to lend money on gold or silver articles?"
"Yes, through an agent. My own name doesn't appear. I have a large family, you see, and at a small percentage — "
"Quite so, quite so. I only asked for information — excuse the question. Go on."
"Well, meanwhile that sick boy was brought here, and those guests came in, and we had tea, and — well, we made merry — to my ruin! Hearing of your birthday afterwards, and excited with the circumstances of the evening, I ran upstairs and changed my plain clothes once more for my uniform [Civil Service clerks in Russia wear uniform.] — you must have noticed I had my uniform on all the evening? Well, I forgot the money in the pocket of my old coat — you know when God will ruin a man he first of all bereaves him of his senses — and it was only this morning at half-past seven that I woke up and grabbed at my coat pocket, first thing. The pocket was empty — the purse gone, and not a trace to be found!"
"Dear me! This is very unpleasant!"
"Unpleasant! Indeed it is. You have found a very appropriate expression," said Lebedeff, politely, but with sarcasm.
"But what's to be done? It's a serious matter," said the prince, thoughtfully. "Don't you think you may have dropped it out of your pocket whilst intoxicated?"
"Certainly. Anything is possible when one is intoxicated, as you neatly express it, prince. But consider — if I, intoxicated or not, dropped an object out of my pocket on to the ground, that object ought to remain on the ground. Where is the object, then?"
"Didn't you put it away in some drawer, perhaps?"
"I've looked everywhere, and turned out everything."
"I confess this disturbs me a good deal. Someone must have picked it up, then."
"Or taken it out of my pocket — two alternatives."
"It is very distressing, because WHO — ? That's the question!"
"Most undoubtedly, excellent prince, you have hit it — that is the very question. How wonderfully you express the exact situation in a few words!"
"Come, come, Lebedeff, no sarcasm! It's a serious — "
"Sarcasm!" cried Lebedeff, wringing his hands. "All right, all right, I'm not angry. I'm only put out about this. Whom do you suspect?"
"That is a very difficult and complicated question. I cannot suspect the servant, for she was in the kitchen the whole evening, nor do I suspect any of my children."
"I should think not. Go on."
"Then it must be one of the guests."
"Is such a thing possible?"
"Absolutely and utterly impossible — and yet, so it must be. But one thing I am sure of, if it be a theft, it was committed, not in the evening when we were all together, but either at night or early in the morning; therefore, by one of those who slept here. Burdovsky and Colia I except, of course. They did not even come into my room."
"Yes, or even if they had! But who did sleep with you?"
"Four of us, including myself, in two rooms. The general, myself, Keller, and Ferdishenko. One of us four it must have been. I don't suspect myself, though such cases have been known."
"Oh! do go on, Lebedeff! Don't drag it out so."
"Well, there are three left, then — Keller firstly. He is a drunkard to begin with, and a liberal (in the sense of other people's pockets), otherwise with more of the ancient knight about him than of the modern liberal. He was with the sick man at first, but came over afterwards because there was no place to lie down in the room and the floor was so hard."
"You suspect him?"
"I DID suspect him. When I woke up at half-past seven and tore my hair in despair for my loss and carelessness, I awoke the general, who was sleeping the sleep of innocence near me. Taking into consideration the sudden disappearance of Ferdishenko, which was suspicious in itself, we decided to search Keller, who was lying there sleeping like a top. Well, we searched his clothes thoroughly, and not a farthing did we find; in fact, his pockets all had holes in them. We found a dirty handkerchief, and a love-letter from some scullery-maid. The general decided that he was innocent. We awoke him for further inquiries, and had the greatest difficulty in making him understand what was up. He opened his mouth and stared — he looked so stupid and so absurdly innocent. It wasn't Keller."
"Oh, I'm so glad!" said the prince, joyfully. "I was so afraid."
"Afraid! Then you had some grounds for supposing he might be the culprit?" said Lebedeff, frowning.
"Oh no — not a bit! It was foolish of me to say I was afraid! Don't repeat it please, Lebedeff, don't tell anyone I said that!"
"My dear prince! your words lie in the lowest depth of my heart — it is their tomb!" said Lebedeff, solemnly, pressing his hat to the region of his heart.
"Thanks; very well. Then I suppose it's Ferdishenko; that is, I mean, you suspect Ferdishenko?"
"Whom else?" said Lebedeff, softly, gazing intently into the prince s face.
"Of course — quite so, whom else? But what are the proofs?"