These words painfully impressed the whole party; but especially her parents. Lizabetha Prokofievna summoned a secret council of two, and insisted upon the general's demanding from the prince a full explanation of his relations with Nastasia Philipovna. The general argued that it was only a whim of Aglaya's; and that, had not Prince S. unfortunately made that remark, which had confused the child and made her blush, she never would have said what she did; and that he was sure Aglaya knew well that anything she might have heard of the prince and Nastasia Philipovna was merely the fabrication of malicious tongues, and that the woman was going to marry Rogojin. He insisted that the prince had nothing whatever to do with Nastasia Philipovna, so far as any liaison was concerned; and, if the truth were to be told about it, he added, never had had.
Meanwhile nothing put the prince out, and he continued to be in the seventh heaven of bliss. Of course he could not fail to observe some impatience and ill-temper in Aglaya now and then; but he believed in something else, and nothing could now shake his conviction. Besides, Aglaya's frowns never lasted long; they disappeared of themselves.
Perhaps he was too easy in his mind. So thought Hippolyte, at all events, who met him in the park one day.
"Didn't I tell you the truth now, when I said you were in love?" he said, coming up to Muishkin of his own accord, and stopping him.
The prince gave him his hand and congratulated him upon "looking so well."
Hippolyte himself seemed to be hopeful about his state of health, as is often the case with consumptives.
He had approached the prince with the intention of talking sarcastically about his happy expression of face, but very soon forgot his intention and began to talk about himself. He began complaining about everything, disconnectedly and endlessly, as was his wont.
"You wouldn't believe," he concluded, "how irritating they all are there. They are such wretchedly small, vain, egotistical, COMMONPLACE people! Would you believe it, they invited me there under the express condition that I should die quickly, and they are all as wild as possible with me for not having died yet, and for being, on the contrary, a good deal better! Isn't it a comedy? I don't mind betting that you don't believe me!"
The prince said nothing.
"I sometimes think of coming over to you again," said Hippolyte, carelessly. "So you DON'T think them capable of inviting a man on the condition that he is to look sharp and die?"
"I certainly thought they invited you with quite other views."
"Ho, ho! you are not nearly so simple as they try to make you out! This is not the time for it, or I would tell you a thing or two about that beauty, Gania, and his hopes. You are being undermined, pitilessly undermined, and — and it is really melancholy to see you so calm about it. But alas! it's your nature — you can't help it!"
"My word! what a thing to be melancholy about! Why, do you think I should be any happier if I were to feel disturbed about the excavations you tell me of?"
"It is better to be unhappy and know the worst, than to be happy in a fool's paradise! I suppose you don't believe that you have a rival in that quarter?"
"Your insinuations as to rivalry are rather cynical, Hippolyte. I'm sorry to say I have no right to answer you! As for Gania, I put it to you, CAN any man have a happy mind after passing through what he has had to suffer? I think that is the best way to look at it. He will change yet, he has lots of time before him, and life is rich; besides — besides . . . " the prince hesitated. "As to being undermined, I don't know what in the world you are driving at, Hippolyte. I think we had better drop the subject!"
"Very well, we'll drop it for a while. You can't look at anything but in your exalted, generous way. You must put out your finger and touch a thing before you'll believe it, eh? Ha! ha! ha! I suppose you despise me dreadfully, prince, eh? What do you think?"
"Why? Because you have suffered more than we have?"
"No; because I am unworthy of my sufferings, if you like!"
"Whoever CAN suffer is worthy to suffer, I should think. Aglaya Ivanovna wished to see you, after she had read your confession, but — "
"She postponed the pleasure — I see — I quite understand!" said Hippolyte, hurriedly, as though he wished to banish the subject. "I hear — they tell me — that you read her all that nonsense aloud? Stupid @ bosh it was — written in delirium. And I can't understand how anyone can be so I won't say CRUEL, because the word would be humiliating to myself, but we'll say childishly vain and revengeful, as to REPROACH me with this confession, and use it as a weapon against me. Don't be afraid, I'm not referring to yourself."
"Oh, but I'm sorry you repudiate the confession, Hippolyte — it is sincere; and, do you know, even the absurd parts of it — and these are many" (here Hippolyte frowned savagely) "are, as it were, redeemed by suffering — for it must have cost you something to admit what you there say — great torture, perhaps, for all I know. Your motive must have been a very noble one all through. Whatever may have appeared to the contrary, I give you my word, I see this more plainly every day. I do not judge you; I merely say this to have it off my mind, and I am only sorry that I did not say it all THEN — "
Hippolyte flushed hotly. He had thought at first that the prince was "humbugging" him; but on looking at his face he saw that he was absolutely serious, and had no thought of any deception. Hippolyte beamed with gratification.
"And yet I must die," he said, and almost added: "a man like me @
"And imagine how that Gania annoys me! He has developed the idea — or pretends to believe — that in all probability three or four others who heard my confession will die before I do. There's an idea for you — and all this by way of CONSOLING me! Ha! ha! ha! In the first place they haven't died yet; and in the second, if they DID die — all of them — what would be the satisfaction to me in that? He judges me by himself. But he goes further, he actually pitches into me because, as he declares, 'any decent fellow' would die quietly, and that 'all this' is mere egotism on my part. He doesn't see what refinement of egotism it is on his own part — and at the same time, what ox-like coarseness! Have you ever read of the death of one Stepan Gleboff, in the eighteenth century? I read of it yesterday by chance."
"Who was he?"
"He was impaled on a stake in the time of Peter."
"I know, I know! He lay there fifteen hours in the hard frost, and died with the most extraordinary fortitude — I know — what of him?"
"Only that God gives that sort of dying to some, and not to others. Perhaps you think, though, that I could not die like Gleboff?"
"Not at all!" said the prince, blushing. "I was only going to say that you — not that you could not be like Gleboff — but that you would have been more like — "
"I guess what you mean — I should be an Osterman, not a Gleboff — eh? Is that what you meant?"
"What Osterman?" asked the prince in some surprise.
"Why, Osterman — the diplomatist. Peter's Osterman," muttered Hippolyte, confused. There was a moment's pause of mutual confusion.
"Oh, no, no!" said the prince at last, "that was not what I was going to say — oh no! I don't think you would ever have been like Osterman."
Hippolyte frowned gloomily.
"I'll tell you why I draw the conclusion," explained the prince, evidently desirous of clearing up the matter a little. "Because, though I often think over the men of those times, I cannot for the life of me imagine them to be like ourselves. It really appears to me that they were of another race altogether than ourselves of today. At that time people seemed to stick so to one idea; now, they are more nervous, more sensitive, more enlightened — people of two or three ideas at once — as it were. The man of today is a broader man, so to speak — and I declare I believe that is what prevents him from being so self-contained and independent a being as his brother of those earlier days. Of course my remark was only made under this impression, and not in the least — "
"I quite understand. You are trying to comfort me for the naiveness with which you disagreed with me — eh? Ha! ha! ha! You are a regular child, prince! However, I cannot help seeing that you always treat me like — like a fragile china cup. Never mind, never mind, I'm not a bit angry! At all events we have had a very funny talk. Do you know, all things considered, I should like to be something better than Osterman! I wouldn't take the trouble to rise from the dead to be an Osterman. However, I see I must make arrangements to die soon, or I myself — . Well — leave me now! Au revoir. Look here — before you go, just give me your opinion: how do you think I ought to die, now? I mean — the best, the most virtuous way? Tell me!"
"You should pass us by and forgive us our happiness," said the prince in a low voice.
"Ha! ha! ha! I thought so. I thought I should hear something like that. Well, you are — you really are — oh dear me! Eloquence, eloquence! Good-bye!"