“Screw!” laughed Hippolyte.

Nina Alexandrovna was very fond of him, and had grown quite confidential with him of late. Ptitsin, as was well known, was engaged in the business of lending out money on good security, and at a good rate of interest. He was a great friend of Gania’s.

“He is sorry for his sins now, prince,” cried Keller. “He did not want to let you know he was here; he was hidden over there in the corner,--but he repents now, he feels his guilt.”

“Yes, it’s a droll situation; I really don’t know what advice to give you,” replied Evgenie, laughing. Hippolyte gazed steadfastly at him, but said nothing. To look at him one might have supposed that he was unconscious at intervals.
“I shall just say two words to him, that’s all,” said her mother, silencing all objection by her manner; she was evidently seriously put out. “You see, prince, it is all secrets with us, just now--all secrets. It seems to be the etiquette of the house, for some reason or other. Stupid nonsense, and in a matter which ought to be approached with all candour and open-heartedness. There is a marriage being talked of, and I don’t like this marriage--”

“Why, don’t you, aren’t you--” began the general, in alarm.

“No, no, excuse me, most revered prince,” Lebedeff interrupted, excitedly. “Since you must have observed yourself that this is no joke, and since at least half your guests must also have concluded that after all that has been said this youth _must_ blow his brains out for honour’s sake--I--as master of this house, and before these witnesses, now call upon you to take steps.”

“Well, what do you think of the arrangement, prince?”
“Only quite lately. His sister has been working like a rat to clear the way for him all the winter.”
“Well, bring them, with or without respect, provided always you do not drop them on the way; but on the condition,” went on the lady, looking full at him, “that you do not cross my threshold. I do not intend to receive you today. You may send your daughter Vera at once, if you like. I am much pleased with her.”
“In the first place, my dear prince, don’t be angry with me. I would have come to see you yesterday, but I didn’t know how Lizabetha Prokofievna would take it. My dear fellow, my house is simply a hell just now, a sort of sphinx has taken up its abode there. We live in an atmosphere of riddles; I can’t make head or tail of anything. As for you, I feel sure you are the least to blame of any of us, though you certainly have been the cause of a good deal of trouble. You see, it’s all very pleasant to be a philanthropist; but it can be carried too far. Of course I admire kind-heartedness, and I esteem my wife, but--”
However, a week later she received another letter from the same source, and at last resolved to speak.
“Not railways, properly speaking, presumptuous youth, but the general tendency of which railways may be considered as the outward expression and symbol. We hurry and push and hustle, for the good of humanity! ‘The world is becoming too noisy, too commercial!’ groans some solitary thinker. ‘Undoubtedly it is, but the noise of waggons bearing bread to starving humanity is of more value than tranquillity of soul,’ replies another triumphantly, and passes on with an air of pride. As for me, I don’t believe in these waggons bringing bread to humanity. For, founded on no moral principle, these may well, even in the act of carrying bread to humanity, coldly exclude a considerable portion of humanity from enjoying it; that has been seen more than once.”
“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.
“What did you mean, sir, that he didn’t exist? Explain yourself,” he repeated, angrily.

“What! that I’ll cut her throat, you mean?”

Aglaya left without saying good-bye. But the evening was not to end without a last adventure. An unexpected meeting was yet in store for Lizabetha Prokofievna.

Lebedeff clasped his hands in supplication.
“Yes--that’s a copy of a Holbein,” said the prince, looking at it again, “and a good copy, too, so far as I am able to judge. I saw the picture abroad, and could not forget it--what’s the matter?”
“Last week? In the night? Have you gone cracked, my good friend?”
Even if there seems something strange about the match, the general and his wife said to each other, the “world” will accept Aglaya’s fiance without any question if he is under the patronage of the princess. In any case, the prince would have to be “shown” sooner or later; that is, introduced into society, of which he had, so far, not the least idea. Moreover, it was only a question of a small gathering of a few intimate friends. Besides Princess Bielokonski, only one other lady was expected, the wife of a high dignitary. Evgenie Pavlovitch, who was to escort the princess, was the only young man.

“Does she know about father, do you think--or not?”

This evening there were no strangers present--no one but the immediate members of the family. Prince S. was still in town, occupied with the affairs of Evgenie Pavlovitch’s uncle.

“It is difficult to judge when such beauty is concerned. I have not prepared my judgment. Beauty is a riddle.”

“I am speaking allegorically, of course; but he will be the murderer of a Zemarin family in the future. He is getting ready. ...”
“Gania and Varia and Ptitsin are a worthless lot! I shall not quarrel with them; but from this moment our feet shall not travel the same road. Oh, prince, I have felt much that is quite new to me since yesterday! It is a lesson for me. I shall now consider my mother as entirely my responsibility; though she may be safe enough with Varia. Still, meat and drink is not everything.”
So he walked back looking about him for the shop, and his heart beat with intolerable impatience. Ah! here was the very shop, and there was the article marked “60 cop.” Of course, it’s sixty copecks, he thought, and certainly worth no more. This idea amused him and he laughed.
“She spoke of some bills of Evgenie Pavlovitch’s,” said the prince, simply, “which Rogojin had bought up from someone; and implied that Rogojin would not press him.”
The general very nearly smiled, but thought better of it and kept his smile back. Then he reflected, blinked his eyes, stared at his guest once more from head to foot; then abruptly motioned him to a chair, sat down himself, and waited with some impatience for the prince to speak.
“I cannot sacrifice myself so, though I admit I did wish to do so once. Who knows, perhaps I still wish to! But I know for _certain_, that if she married me it would be her ruin; I know this and therefore I leave her alone. I ought to go to see her today; now I shall probably not go. She is proud, she would never forgive me the nature of the love I bear her, and we should both be ruined. This may be unnatural, I don’t know; but everything seems unnatural. You say she loves me, as if this were _love!_ As if she could love _me_, after what I have been through! No, no, it is not love.”
He soon heard that a messenger from the Epanchins’ had already been to inquire after him. At half-past eleven another arrived; and this pleased him.
“All I’m afraid of is--mother. I’m afraid this scandal about father may come to her ears; perhaps it has already. I am dreadfully afraid.”
“No--I don’t think I should run away,” replied the prince, laughing outright at last at Aglaya’s questions.
“Wait in the next room, please; and leave your bundle here,” said the door-keeper, as he sat down comfortably in his own easy-chair in the ante-chamber. He looked at the prince in severe surprise as the latter settled himself in another chair alongside, with his bundle on his knees.
“Oh, no, it is not the point, not a bit. It makes no difference, my marrying her--it means nothing.”
The happy state in which the family had spent the evening, as just recorded, was not of very long duration. Next day Aglaya quarrelled with the prince again, and so she continued to behave for the next few days. For whole hours at a time she ridiculed and chaffed the wretched man, and made him almost a laughing-stock.

“Prince Lef Nicolaievitch Muishkin; he knows me well.”

“Yes--I nearly was,” whispered the prince, hanging his head.
“I both believe it and explain it. I am but a poor creature, a beggar, an atom in the scale of humanity. Who has the least respect for Lebedeff? He is a target for all the world, the butt of any fool who chooses to kick him. But in interpreting revelation I am the equal of anyone, great as he may be! Such is the power of the mind and the spirit. I have made a lordly personage tremble, as he sat in his armchair... only by talking to him of things concerning the spirit. Two years ago, on Easter Eve, His Excellency Nil Alexeyovitch, whose subordinate I was then, wished to hear what I had to say, and sent a message by Peter Zakkaritch to ask me to go to his private room. ‘They tell me you expound the prophecies relating to Antichrist,’ said he, when we were alone. ‘Is that so?’ ‘Yes,’ I answered unhesitatingly, and I began to give some comments on the Apostle’s allegorical vision. At first he smiled, but when we reached the numerical computations and correspondences, he trembled, and turned pale. Then he begged me to close the book, and sent me away, promising to put my name on the reward list. That took place as I said on the eve of Easter, and eight days later his soul returned to God.”
Varia pounced upon her brother.
Rogojin looked intently at him again, as before.

“One might dispute your right to ask such questions,” observed Lebedeff’s nephew.

“She sprang forward and stood still in front of the reptile as if she had been turned to stone. The beast stopped too, but its tail and claws still moved about. I believe animals are incapable of feeling supernatural fright--if I have been rightly informed,--but at this moment there appeared to me to be something more than ordinary about Norma’s terror, as though it must be supernatural; and as though she felt, just as I did myself, that this reptile was connected with some mysterious secret, some fatal omen. “Well, have you finished?” said Lizabetha Prokofievna to Evgenie. “Make haste, sir; it is time he went to bed. Have you more to say?” She was very angry.

“Why should I?” asked Nastasia Philipovna, smiling slightly.

“What, Hippolyte? He found it out himself, of course. Why, you have no idea what a cunning little animal he is; dirty little gossip! He has the most extraordinary nose for smelling out other people’s secrets, or anything approaching to scandal. Believe it or not, but I’m pretty sure he has got round Aglaya. If he hasn’t, he soon will. Rogojin is intimate with him, too. How the prince doesn’t notice it, I can’t understand. The little wretch considers me his enemy now and does his best to catch me tripping. What on earth does it matter to him, when he’s dying? However, you’ll see; I shall catch _him_ tripping yet, and not he me.”
“Only because I seem to be giving you a lecture, all the time!”
“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, be calm--be calm! Get up!” he entreated, in despair.
“Just as before, sir, just as before! To a certain person, and from a certain hand. The individual’s name who wrote the letter is to be represented by the letter A.--” The sufferer was immediately taken to his room, and though he partially regained consciousness, he lay long in a semi-dazed condition.
“Bravo! That’s frank, at any rate!” shouted Ferdishenko, and there was general laughter.

“No, not yet. Very likely she never will. I suppose you haven’t forgotten about tonight, have you, Ivan Fedorovitch? You were one of those specially invited, you know.”

“I must say, again, _I_ can’t understand how you can expect anyone to tell you stories straight away, so,” said Adelaida. “I know I never could!”
The prince jumped up so furiously that Lebedeff ran towards the door; having gained which strategic position, however, he stopped and looked back to see if he might hope for pardon.