Arrived at her house, Lizabetha Prokofievna paused in the first room. She could go no farther, and subsided on to a couch quite exhausted; too feeble to remember so much as to ask the prince to take a seat. This was a large reception-room, full of flowers, and with a glass door leading into the garden.
Alexandra and Adelaida came in almost immediately, and looked inquiringly at the prince and their mother.
The girls generally rose at about nine in the morning in the country; Aglaya, of late, had been in the habit of getting up rather earlier and having a walk in the garden, but not at seven o’clock; about eight or a little later was her usual time.
Lizabetha Prokofievna, who really had not slept all night, rose at about eight on purpose to meet Aglaya in the garden and walk with her; but she could not find her either in the garden or in her own room.
This agitated the old lady considerably; and she awoke her other daughters. Next, she learned from the maid that Aglaya had gone into the park before seven o’clock. The sisters made a joke of Aglaya’s last freak, and told their mother that if she went into the park to look for her, Aglaya would probably be very angry with her, and that she was pretty sure to be sitting reading on the green bench that she had talked of two or three days since, and about which she had nearly quarrelled with Prince S., who did not see anything particularly lovely in it.
Arrived at the rendezvous of the prince and her daughter, and hearing the strange words of the latter, Lizabetha Prokofievna had been dreadfully alarmed, for many reasons. However, now that she had dragged the prince home with her, she began to feel a little frightened at what she had undertaken. Why should not Aglaya meet the prince in the park and have a talk with him, even if such a meeting should be by appointment?
“Don’t suppose, prince,” she began, bracing herself up for the effort, “don’t suppose that I have brought you here to ask questions. After last night, I assure you, I am not so exceedingly anxious to see you at all; I could have postponed the pleasure for a long while.” She paused.
“But at the same time you would be very glad to know how I happened to meet Aglaya Ivanovna this morning?” The prince finished her speech for her with the utmost composure.
“Well, what then? Supposing I should like to know?” cried Lizabetha Prokofievna, blushing. “I’m sure I am not afraid of plain speaking. I’m not offending anyone, and I never wish to, and—”
“Pardon me, it is no offence to wish to know this; you are her mother. We met at the green bench this morning, punctually at seven o’clock,—according to an agreement made by Aglaya Ivanovna with myself yesterday. She said that she wished to see me and speak to me about something important. We met and conversed for an hour about matters concerning Aglaya Ivanovna herself, and that’s all.”
“Of course it is all, my friend. I don’t doubt you for a moment,” said Lizabetha Prokofievna with dignity.
“Well done, prince, capital!” cried Aglaya, who entered the room at this moment. “Thank you for assuming that I would not demean myself with lies. Come, is that enough, mamma, or do you intend to put any more questions?”
“You know I have never needed to blush before you, up to this day, though perhaps you would have been glad enough to make me,” said Lizabetha Prokofievna,—with majesty. “Good-bye, prince; forgive me for bothering you. I trust you will rest assured of my unalterable esteem for you.”
The prince made his bows and retired at once. Alexandra and Adelaida smiled and whispered to each other, while Lizabetha Prokofievna glared severely at them. “We are only laughing at the prince’s beautiful bows, mamma,” said Adelaida. “Sometimes he bows just like a meal-sack, but to-day he was like—like Evgenie Pavlovitch!”
“It is the heart which is the best teacher of refinement and dignity, not the dancing-master,” said her mother, sententiously, and departed upstairs to her own room, not so much as glancing at Aglaya.
When the prince reached home, about nine o’clock, he found Vera Lebedeff and the maid on the verandah. They were both busy trying to tidy up the place after last night’s disorderly party.
“Thank goodness, we’ve just managed to finish it before you came in!” said Vera, joyfully.
“Good-morning! My head whirls so; I didn’t sleep all night. I should like to have a nap now.”
“Here, on the verandah? Very well, I’ll tell them all not to come and wake you. Papa has gone out somewhere.”
The servant left the room. Vera was about to follow her, but returned and approached the prince with a preoccupied air.
“Prince!” she said, “have pity on that poor boy; don’t turn him out today.”
“Not for the world; he shall do just as he likes.”
“He won’t do any harm now; and—and don’t be too severe with him.”
“Oh dear no! Why—”
“And—and you won’t laugh at him? That’s the chief thing.”
“Oh no! Never.”
“How foolish I am to speak of such things to a man like you,” said Vera, blushing. “Though you do look tired,” she added, half turning away, “your eyes are so splendid at this moment—so full of happiness.”
“Really?” asked the prince, gleefully, and he laughed in delight.
But Vera, simple-minded little girl that she was (just like a boy, in fact), here became dreadfully confused, of a sudden, and ran hastily out of the room, laughing and blushing.
“What a dear little thing she is,” thought the prince, and immediately forgot all about her.
He walked to the far end of the verandah, where the sofa stood, with a table in front of it. Here he sat down and covered his face with his hands, and so remained for ten minutes. Suddenly he put his hand in his coat-pocket and hurriedly produced three letters.
But the door opened again, and out came Colia.
The prince actually felt glad that he had been interrupted,—and might return the letters to his pocket. He was glad of the respite.
“Well,” said Colia, plunging in medias res, as he always did, “here’s a go! What do you think of Hippolyte now? Don’t respect him any longer, eh?”
“Why not? But look here, Colia, I’m tired; besides, the subject is too melancholy to begin upon again. How is he, though?”
“Asleep—he’ll sleep for a couple of hours yet. I quite understand—you haven’t slept—you walked about the park, I know. Agitation—excitement—all that sort of thing—quite natural, too!”
“How do you know I walked in the park and didn’t sleep at home?”
“Vera just told me. She tried to persuade me not to come, but I couldn’t help myself, just for one minute. I have been having my turn at the bedside for the last two hours; Kostia Lebedeff is there now. Burdovsky has gone. Now, lie down, prince, make yourself comfortable, and sleep well! I’m awfully impressed, you know.”
“Naturally, all this—”
“No, no, I mean with the ‘explanation,’ especially that part of it where he talks about Providence and a future life. There is a gigantic thought there.”
The prince gazed affectionately at Colia, who, of course, had come in solely for the purpose of talking about this “gigantic thought.”
“But it is not any one particular thought, only; it is the general circumstances of the case. If Voltaire had written this now, or Rousseau, I should have just read it and thought it remarkable, but should not have been so impressed by it. But a man who knows for certain that he has but ten minutes to live and can talk like that—why—it’s—it’s pride, that is! It is really a most extraordinary, exalted assertion of personal dignity, it’s—it’s defiant! What a gigantic strength of will, eh? And to accuse a fellow like that of not putting in the cap on purpose; it’s base and mean! You know he deceived us last night, the cunning rascal. I never packed his bag for him, and I never saw his pistol. He packed it himself. But he put me off my guard like that, you see. Vera says you are going to let him stay on; I swear there’s no danger, especially as we are always with him.”
“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?”
“We have evidence. In the first place, his mysterious disappearance at seven o’clock, or even earlier.”
“I know, Colia told me that he had said he was off to—I forget the name, some friend of his, to finish the night.”
“H’m! then Colia has spoken to you already?”
“Not about the theft.”
“He does not know of it; I have kept it a secret. Very well, Ferdishenko went off to Wilkin’s. That is not so curious in itself, but here the evidence opens out further. He left his address, you see, when he went. Now prince, consider, why did he leave his address? Why do you suppose he went out of his way to tell Colia that he had gone to Wilkin’s? Who cared to know that he was going to Wilkin’s? No, no! prince, this is finesse, thieves’ finesse! This is as good as saying, ‘There, how can I be a thief when I leave my address? I’m not concealing my movements as a thief would.’ Do you understand, prince?”
“Oh yes, but that is not enough.”
“Second proof. The scent turns out to be false, and the address given is a sham. An hour after—that is at about eight, I went to Wilkin’s myself, and there was no trace of Ferdishenko. The maid did tell me, certainly, that an hour or so since someone had been hammering at the door, and had smashed the bell; she said she would not open the door because she didn’t want to wake her master; probably she was too lazy to get up herself. Such phenomena are met with occasionally!”
“But is that all your evidence? It is not enough!”
“Well, prince, whom are we to suspect, then? Consider!” said Lebedeff with almost servile amiability, smiling at the prince. There was a look of cunning in his eyes, however.
“You should search your room and all the cupboards again,” said the prince, after a moment or two of silent reflection.
“But I have done so, my dear prince!” said Lebedeff, more sweetly than ever.
“H’m! why must you needs go up and change your coat like that?” asked the prince, banging the table with his fist, in annoyance.
“Oh, don’t be so worried on my account, prince! I assure you I am not worth it! At least, not I alone. But I see you are suffering on behalf of the criminal too, for wretched Ferdishenko, in fact!”
“Of course you have given me a disagreeable enough thing to think about,” said the prince, irritably, “but what are you going to do, since you are so sure it was Ferdishenko?”
“But who else could it be, my very dear prince?” repeated Lebedeff, as sweet as sugar again. “If you don’t wish me to suspect Mr. Burdovsky?”
“Of course not.”
“Nor the general? Ha, ha, ha!”
“Nonsense!” said the prince, angrily, turning round upon him.
“Quite so, nonsense! Ha, ha, ha! dear me! He did amuse me, did the general! We went off on the hot scent to Wilkin’s together, you know; but I must first observe that the general was even more thunderstruck than I myself this morning, when I awoke him after discovering the theft; so much so that his very face changed—he grew red and then pale, and at length flew into a paroxysm of such noble wrath that I assure you I was quite surprised! He is a most generous-hearted man! He tells lies by the thousands, I know, but it is merely a weakness; he is a man of the highest feelings; a simple-minded man too, and a man who carries the conviction of innocence in his very appearance. I love that man, sir; I may have told you so before; it is a weakness of mine. Well—he suddenly stopped in the middle of the road, opened out his coat and bared his breast. ‘Search me,’ he says, ‘you searched Keller; why don’t you search me too? It is only fair!’ says he.” And all the while his legs and hands were trembling with anger, and he as white as a sheet all over! So I said to him, “Nonsense, general; if anybody but yourself had said that to me, I’d have taken my head, my own head, and put it on a large dish and carried it round to anyone who suspected you; and I should have said: ‘There, you see that head? It’s my head, and I’ll go bail with that head for him! Yes, and walk through the fire for him, too. There,’ says I, ‘that’s how I’d answer for you, general!’ Then he embraced me, in the middle of the street, and hugged me so tight (crying over me all the while) that I coughed fit to choke! ‘You are the one friend left to me amid all my misfortunes,’ says he. Oh, he’s a man of sentiment, that! He went on to tell me a story of how he had been accused, or suspected, of stealing five hundred thousand roubles once, as a young man; and how, the very next day, he had rushed into a burning, blazing house and saved the very count who suspected him, and Nina Alexandrovna (who was then a young girl), from a fiery death. The count embraced him, and that was how he came to marry Nina Alexandrovna, he said. As for the money, it was found among the ruins next day in an English iron box with a secret lock; it had got under the floor somehow, and if it had not been for the fire it would never have been found! The whole thing is, of course, an absolute fabrication, though when he spoke of Nina Alexandrovna he wept! She’s a grand woman, is Nina Alexandrovna, though she is very angry with me!”
“Are you acquainted with her?”
“Well, hardly at all. I wish I were, if only for the sake of justifying myself in her eyes. Nina Alexandrovna has a grudge against me for, as she thinks, encouraging her husband in drinking; whereas in reality I not only do not encourage him, but I actually keep him out of harm’s way, and out of bad company. Besides, he’s my friend, prince, so that I shall not lose sight of him, again. Where he goes, I go. He’s quite given up visiting the captain’s widow, though sometimes he thinks sadly of her, especially in the morning, when he’s putting on his boots. I don’t know why it’s at that time. But he has no money, and it’s no use his going to see her without. Has he borrowed any money from you, prince?”
“No, he has not.”
“Ah, he’s ashamed to! He meant to ask you, I know, for he said so. I suppose he thinks that as you gave him some once (you remember), you would probably refuse if he asked you again.”
“Do you ever give him money?”
“Prince! Money! Why I would give that man not only my money, but my very life, if he wanted it. Well, perhaps that’s exaggeration; not life, we’ll say, but some illness, a boil or a bad cough, or anything of that sort, I would stand with pleasure, for his sake; for I consider him a great man fallen—money, indeed!”
“H’m, then you do give him money?”
“N-no, I have never given him money, and he knows well that I will never give him any; because I am anxious to keep him out of intemperate ways. He is going to town with me now; for you must know I am off to Petersburg after Ferdishenko, while the scent is hot; I’m certain he is there. I shall let the general go one way, while I go the other; we have so arranged matters in order to pop out upon Ferdishenko, you see, from different sides. But I am going to follow that naughty old general and catch him, I know where, at a certain widow’s house; for I think it will be a good lesson, to put him to shame by catching him with the widow.”
“Oh, Lebedeff, don’t, don’t make any scandal about it!” said the prince, much agitated, and speaking in a low voice.
“Not for the world, not for the world! I merely wish to make him ashamed of himself. Oh, prince, great though this misfortune be to myself, I cannot help thinking of his morals! I have a great favour to ask of you, esteemed prince; I confess that it is the chief object of my visit. You know the Ivolgins, you have even lived in their house; so if you would lend me your help, honoured prince, in the general’s own interest and for his good.”
Lebedeff clasped his hands in supplication.
“What help do you want from me? You may be certain that I am most anxious to understand you, Lebedeff.”
“I felt sure of that, or I should not have come to you. We might manage it with the help of Nina Alexandrovna, so that he might be closely watched in his own house. Unfortunately I am not on terms… otherwise… but Nicolai Ardalionovitch, who adores you with all his youthful soul, might help, too.”
“No, no! Heaven forbid that we should bring Nina Alexandrovna into this business! Or Colia, either. But perhaps I have not yet quite understood you, Lebedeff?”
Lebedeff made an impatient movement.
“But there is nothing to understand! Sympathy and tenderness, that is all—that is all our poor invalid requires! You will permit me to consider him an invalid?”
“Yes, it shows delicacy and intelligence on your part.”
“I will explain my idea by a practical example, to make it clearer. You know the sort of man he is. At present his only failing is that he is crazy about that captain’s widow, and he cannot go to her without money, and I mean to catch him at her house today—for his own good; but supposing it was not only the widow, but that he had committed a real crime, or at least some very dishonourable action (of which he is, of course, incapable), I repeat that even in that case, if he were treated with what I may call generous tenderness, one could get at the whole truth, for he is very soft-hearted! Believe me, he would betray himself before five days were out; he would burst into tears, and make a clean breast of the matter; especially if managed with tact, and if you and his family watched his every step, so to speak. Oh, my dear prince,” Lebedeff added most emphatically, “I do not positively assert that he has… I am ready, as the saying is, to shed my last drop of blood for him this instant; but you will admit that debauchery, drunkenness, and the captain’s widow, all these together may lead him very far.”
“I am, of course, quite ready to add my efforts to yours in such a case,” said the prince, rising; “but I confess, Lebedeff, that I am terribly perplexed. Tell me, do you still think… plainly, you say yourself that you suspect Mr. Ferdishenko?”
Lebedeff clasped his hands once more.
“Why, who else could I possibly suspect? Who else, most outspoken prince?” he replied, with an unctuous smile.
Muishkin frowned, and rose from his seat.
“You see, Lebedeff, a mistake here would be a dreadful thing. This Ferdishenko, I would not say a word against him, of course; but, who knows? Perhaps it really was he? I mean he really does seem to be a more likely man than… than any other.”
Lebedeff strained his eyes and ears to take in what the prince was saying. The latter was frowning more and more, and walking excitedly up and down, trying not to look at Lebedeff.
“You see,” he said, “I was given to understand that Ferdishenko was that sort of man,—that one can’t say everything before him. One has to take care not to say too much, you understand? I say this to prove that he really is, so to speak, more likely to have done this than anyone else, eh? You understand? The important thing is, not to make a mistake.”
“And who told you this about Ferdishenko?”
“Oh, I was told. Of course I don’t altogether believe it. I am very sorry that I should have had to say this, because I assure you I don’t believe it myself; it is all nonsense, of course. It was stupid of me to say anything about it.”
“You see, it is very important, it is most important to know where you got this report from,” said Lebedeff, excitedly. He had risen from his seat, and was trying to keep step with the prince, running after him, up and down. “Because look here, prince, I don’t mind telling you now that as we were going along to Wilkin’s this morning, after telling me what you know about the fire, and saving the count and all that, the general was pleased to drop certain hints to the same effect about Ferdishenko, but so vaguely and clumsily that I thought better to put a few questions to him on the matter, with the result that I found the whole thing was an invention of his excellency’s own mind. Of course, he only lies with the best intentions; still, he lies. But, such being the case, where could you have heard the same report? It was the inspiration of the moment with him, you understand, so who could have told you? It is an important question, you see!”
“It was Colia told me, and his father told him at about six this morning. They met at the threshold, when Colia was leaving the room for something or other.” The prince told Lebedeff all that Colia had made known to himself, in detail.
“There now, that’s what we may call scent!” said Lebedeff, rubbing his hands and laughing silently. “I thought it must be so, you see. The general interrupted his innocent slumbers, at six o’clock, in order to go and wake his beloved son, and warn him of the dreadful danger of companionship with Ferdishenko. Dear me! what a dreadfully dangerous man Ferdishenko must be, and what touching paternal solicitude, on the part of his excellency, ha! ha! ha!”
“Listen, Lebedeff,” began the prince, quite overwhelmed; “do act quietly—don’t make a scandal, Lebedeff, I ask you—I entreat you! No one must know—no one, mind! In that case only, I will help you.”
“Be assured, most honourable, most worthy of princes—be assured that the whole matter shall be buried within my heart!” cried Lebedeff, in a paroxysm of exaltation. “I’d give every drop of my blood… Illustrious prince, I am a poor wretch in soul and spirit, but ask the veriest scoundrel whether he would prefer to deal with one like himself, or with a noble-hearted man like you, and there is no doubt as to his choice! He’ll answer that he prefers the noble-hearted man—and there you have the triumph of virtue! Au revoir, honoured prince! You and I together—softly! softly!”