"What did you mean, sir, that he didn't exist? Explain yourself," he repeated, angrily.
"Because he DIDN'T exist — never could and never did — there! You'd better drop the subject, I warn you!"
"And this is my son — my own son — whom I — oh, gracious Heaven! Eropegoff — Eroshka Eropegoff didn't exist!"
"Ha, ha! it's Eroshka now," laughed Hippolyte.
"No, sir, Kapitoshka — not Eroshka. I mean, Kapiton Alexeyevitch — retired major — married Maria Petrovna Lu — Lu — he was my friend and companion — Lutugoff — from our earliest beginnings. I closed his eyes for him — he was killed. Kapiton Eropegoff never existed! tfu!"
The general shouted in his fury; but it was to be concluded that his wrath was not kindled by the expressed doubt as to Kapiton's existence. This was his scapegoat; but his excitement was caused by something quite different. As a rule he would have merely shouted down the doubt as to Kapiton, told a long yarn about his friend, and eventually retired upstairs to his room. But today, in the strange uncertainty of human nature, it seemed to require but so small an offence as this to make his cup to overflow. The old man grew purple in the face, he raised his hands. "Enough of this!" he yelled. "My curse — away, out of the house I go! Colia, bring my bag away!" He left the room hastily and in a paroxysm of rage.
His wife, Colia, and Ptitsin ran out after him.
"What have you done now?" said Varia to Gania. "He'll probably be making off THERE again! What a disgrace it all is!"
"Well, he shouldn't steal," cried Gania, panting with fury. And just at this moment his eye met Hippolyte's.
"As for you, sir," he cried, "you should at least remember that you are in a strange house and — receiving hospitality; you should not take the opportunity of tormenting an old man, sir, who is too evidently out of his mind."
Hippolyte looked furious, but he restrained himself.
"I don't quite agree with you that your father is out of his mind," he observed, quietly. "On the contrary, I cannot help thinking he has been less demented of late. Don't you think so? He has grown so cunning and careful, and weighs his words so deliberately; he spoke to me about that Kapiton fellow with an object, you know! Just fancy — he wanted me to — "
"Oh, devil take what he wanted you to do! Don't try to be too cunning with me, young man!" shouted Gania. "If you are aware of the real reason for my father's present condition (and you have kept such an excellent spying watch during these last few days that you are sure to be aware of it) — you had no right whatever to torment the — unfortunate man, and to worry my mother by your exaggerations of the affair; because the whole business is nonsense — simply a drunken freak, and nothing more, quite unproved by any evidence, and I don't believe that much of it!" (he snapped his fingers). "But you must needs spy and watch over us all, because you are a-a — "
"Screw!" laughed Hippolyte.
"Because you are a humbug, sir; and thought fit to worry people for half an hour, and tried to frighten them into believing that you would shoot yourself with your little empty pistol, pirouetting about and playing at suicide! I gave you hospitality, you have fattened on it, your cough has left you, and you repay all this — "
"Excuse me — two words! I am Varvara Ardalionovna's guest, not yours; YOU have extended no hospitality to me. On the contrary, if I am not mistaken, I believe you are yourself indebted to Mr. Ptitsin's hospitality. Four days ago I begged my mother to come down here and find lodgings, because I certainly do feel better here, though I am not fat, nor have I ceased to cough. I am today informed that my room is ready for me; therefore, having thanked your sister and mother for their kindness to me, I intend to leave the house this evening. I beg your pardon — I interrupted you — I think you were about to add something?"
"Oh — if that is the state of affairs — " began Gania.
"Excuse me — I will take a seat," interrupted Hippolyte once more, sitting down deliberately; "for I am not strong yet. Now then, I am ready to hear you. Especially as this is the last chance we shall have of a talk, and very likely the last meeting we shall ever have at all."
Gania felt a little guilty.
"I assure you I did not mean to reckon up debits and credits," he began, "and if you — "
"I don't understand your condescension," said Hippolyte. "As for me, I promised myself, on the first day of my arrival in this house, that I would have the satisfaction of settling accounts with you in a very thorough manner before I said good-bye to you. I intend to perform this operation now, if you like; after you, though, of course."
"May I ask you to be so good as to leave this room?"
"You'd better speak out. You'll be sorry afterwards if you don't."
"Hippolyte, stop, please! It's so dreadfully undignified," said Varia.
"Well, only for the sake of a lady," said Hippolyte, laughing. "I am ready to put off the reckoning, but only put it off, Varvara Ardalionovna, because an explanation between your brother and myself has become an absolute necessity, and I could not think of leaving the house without clearing up all misunderstandings first."
"In a word, you are a wretched little scandal-monger," cried Gania, "and you cannot go away without a scandal!"
"You see," said Hippolyte, coolly, "you can't restrain yourself. You'll be dreadfully sorry afterwards if you don't speak out now. Come, you shall have the first say. I'll wait."
Gania was silent and merely looked contemptuously at him.
"You won't? Very well. I shall be as short as possible, for my part. Two or three times to-day I have had the word 'hospitality' pushed down my throat; this is not fair. In inviting me here you yourself entrapped me for your own use; you thought I wished to revenge myself upon the prince. You heard that Aglaya Ivanovna had been kind to me and read my confession. Making sure that I should give myself up to your interests, you hoped that you might get some assistance out of me. I will not go into details. I don't ask either admission or confirmation of this from yourself; I am quite content to leave you to your conscience, and to feel that we understand one another capitally."
"What a history you are weaving out of the most ordinary circumstances!" cried Varia.
"I told you the fellow was nothing but a scandalmonger," said Gania.
"Excuse me, Varia Ardalionovna, I will proceed. I can, of course, neither love nor respect the prince, though he is a good-hearted fellow, if a little queer. But there is no need whatever for me to hate him. I quite understood your brother when he first offered me aid against the prince, though I did not show it; I knew well that your brother was making a ridiculous mistake in me. I am ready to spare him, however, even now; but solely out of respect for yourself, Varvara Ardalionovna.
"Having now shown you that I am not quite such a fool as I look, and that I have to be fished for with a rod and line for a good long while before I am caught, I will proceed to explain why I specially wished to make your brother look a fool. That my motive power is hate, I do not attempt to conceal. I have felt that before dying (and I am dying, however much fatter I may appear to you), I must absolutely make a fool of, at least, one of that class of men which has dogged me all my life, which I hate so cordially, and which is so prominently represented by your much esteemed brother. I should not enjoy paradise nearly so much without having done this first. I hate you, Gavrila Ardalionovitch, solely (this may seem curious to you, but I repeat) — solely because you are the type, and incarnation, and head, and crown of the most impudent, the most self-satisfied, the most vulgar and detestable form of commonplaceness. You are ordinary of the ordinary; you have no chance of ever fathering the pettiest idea of your own. And yet you are as jealous and conceited as you can possibly be; you consider yourself a great genius; of this you are persuaded, although there are dark moments of doubt and rage, when even this fact seems uncertain. There are spots of darkness on your horizon, though they will disappear when you become completely stupid. But a long and chequered path lies before you, and of this I am glad. In the first place you will never gain a certain person."
"Come, come! This is intolerable! You had better stop, you little mischief-making wretch!" cried Varia. Gania had grown very pale; he trembled, but said nothing.