"Beauty is difficult to judge; I'm not prepared yet. Beauty is a riddle."—Prince Lev Nikolayevich Myshkin
After nearly two years of amiable and eventually affectionate correspondence, Yevgeny Pavlovich Radomsky and Vera Lukyanovna Lebedeva were finally married in late spring. Though brought together by the most unfortunate circumstances, the friendship that had sprung up between them had deepened so that they seemed to know each other's feelings intimately without seeing each other in person for months at a time. Yevgeny Pavlovich still traveled abroad extensively over the course of their correspondence, returning to Petersburg in January after four months of absence.
He had visited Prince Myshkin a few weeks before his arrival in Petersburg and was anxious to relate news of him to Kolya Ivolgin, who, along with Vera Lukyanovna, was always eager to hear about the unfortunate man. The Yepanchins, too, would want to hear about the prince's condition, but, somehow remarkably, it had been made known to Yevgeny Pavlovich that only a few days prior to his arrival in Petersburg, Aglaya Ivanovna had made a sudden appearance with her Polish "count". It goes without saying that complete and total upheaval was visited upon the Yepanchin household after their arrival—it was rumored that the married couple had been at the house only half an hour before a quarrel had flared up. Aglaya Ivanovna had stormed out, her "count" behind her, swearing that "You all will regret this; mark my words!"
Precisely what they would regret, Yevgeny Pavlovich had not found out, and he admitted to himself that he did not want to know. His chief aim once he stepped off the train at the station was to visit Vera Lukyanovna. He remembered her heartfelt inquiries after his own welfare with warmth along with her anxieties about the prince. Though it was clear that Prince Myshkin's intolerable circumstances grieved her very much, her devotion to Yevgeny Pavlovich himself was manifest in the tenderness of her address and the depth of her feeling. As he sat in his carriage and made his way to the Lebedev's, he recalled the peculiar curve and swirl of her script. She always addressed him as "you" rather than "thou", as was proper, but to Yevgeny Pavlovich, her written "you" was more intimate than "thou" could ever be.
When he rang at the Lebedev's, he had hoped to find the master of the house absent. Although Lebedev had been present when the details of the disaster had come to light, Yevgeny Pavlovich had always sensed that his motives had rarely been genuine, and perhaps never had been so. Lebedev's manner always seemed insincere, and when Yevgeny Pavlovich thought of his past relations with the man, he recalled a tone that tasted of affected sweetness. Frankly, he detested the man. Yevgeny Pavlovich was disposed to laughter, gaiety, and pleasantness, but Lebedev's manner was of such repugnance to him that he often became irate and impatient. To his dismay, not only was Lebedev at home, but he was in the highest of spirits that day, having just returned from calling on the Yepanchins. Lebedev, like many people, found a great source of delight in the misfortune of others, especially when those experiencing the misfortune were from a family prominent in society. Lebedev spoke of General Yepanchin's and Lizaveta Prokofyevna's indignation at their daughter's arrival with great excitement in his voice—so much so that Yevgeny Pavlovich could not help the grimace that momentarily distorted his handsome face.
"Just imagine, sir, the state that Ivan Fyodorovich and the venerable Lizaveta Prokofyevna are in," Lebedev began gleefully when they entered the small drawing room after a brief greeting. "After nearly two years of barely hearing a thing from Aglaya Ivanovna, she suddenly shows up on her family's doorstep with her Pole in tow. The Pole's name, by the way, is Mazurski—not a count after all, but a man without title or fortune!" Lebedev, red-faced, gave a loud guffaw.
"Well, title and fortune aren't everything, after all," Yevgeny Pavlovich replied rather uncomfortably, shifting his weight from one foot to the other.
"True, sir, true—but they do help! And they say the man is a real scoundrel. Lizaveta Prokofyevna told me herself how the man waltzed into the house and demanded—my God, you wouldn't believe it—he demanded ten thousand roubles from them! Straight out, he demanded it, without ceremony—imagine, sir! Apparently he has many debts with certain disreputable persons, sir. "
Yevgeny Pavlovich frowned. "How do they live, then? He and Aglaya Ivanovna?"
"Very poorly, it is said. They are staying here in Petersburg, in a garrett at the top of a house near Liteiny Prospekt. The wonder, sir, is that if the two live so humbly, how can they presume to ask such a sum from Ivan Fyodorovich so boldly, as if it is their due? Especially when they all but abandoned the family. . ."
"Pardon me, Lukyan Timofeyevich, but is your eldest daughter at home?" Yevgeny Pavlovich interrupted impatiently.
"Yes, most esteemed Yevgeny Pavlovich, my Vera is here. . .but of course you'd want to speak to her," Lebedev replied, head nodding and eyes winking rapidly, though he suddenly hunched as if deflated. "She has been waiting many weeks for some news from you, sir. If she did not have my other children to distract her, I don't know what would have become of her nerves. . .Not to chastise you, sir, of course!" Lebedev added hurriedly. "Verochka is a dear child, my dearest treasure, since my honored wife passed away, sir."
"I never meant to cause grief to her or to yourself," Yevgeny Pavlovich said quietly but firmly. "May I go to her?"
"Wait just a moment, dear Yevgeny Pavlovich; I'll call her, sir."
Lebedev scurried out of the drawing room and down a corridor. Yevgeny Pavlovich heard his vexed cries of "Verochka! Verochka!" from the adjoining room, his shrill tones then mingling with the soft musical murmur that could only be the voice of Vera Lukyanovna. Soft steps alighted at the drawing room door, and she appeared. Yevgeny Pavlovich made a low and sweeping bow, tightening his grip on the soft round hat he had been holding in his hand since he arrived. Vera Lukyanovna, with a slight flush of pleasure and shining eyes, went straight to him and offered him her hand. Yevgeny Pavlovich brought the pale hand to his lips, unable to suppress a radiant smile.
"You've arrived at a fortunate moment, Yevgeny Pavlovich," Vera began timidly, with genuine warmth. "Everything here seems turned upside down. It is really is good to see you again."
"Upside down, upside down indeed," Lebedev parroted from behind her, still standing by the doorway.
"Yes, I've heard about it," Yevgeny Pavlovich nodded, turning to glance back at Lebedev. Vera knew at once from this glance that her father had been excitedly relating all the Petersburg news to their visitor in his usual ingratiating way. The tiniest look of indignation and embarrassment flashed across Vera's face at that moment. Yevgeny Pavlovich noticed this, and not wanting her to worry herself, pressed her hand reassuringly. Vera positively beamed at him.
"Papa, may I have a word alone with Yevgeny Pavlovich?" she asked Lebedev.
"Why, yes, yes of course, my dear. . .no doubt you two have things to discuss. . ." Lebedev smiled in his usual much-too-obliging fashion. He laughed loudly for seemingly no reason at all, made several short, jerky bows, and went out.
The two sat side-by-side on a small leather divan. Before he had come to know her, Yevgeny Pavlovich had never thought of Vera Lebedev as a great beauty; in fact, being caught up as he had with Aglaya Ivanovna and the Yepanchins over a year ago, he hadn't thought of Vera at all. After coming to know her, however, he realized that her beauty lay in such things as the compassion and love for life contained in her gaze, her selflessness, her pale hands that fluttered like birds, her soft murmuring voice that was capable of instantly calming a crying child, and her seemingly unending concern for those around her. Vera was much more serious than he, but whenever Yevgeny Pavlovich laughed in his joyful and sincere way, Vera could not help the wide grin that played across her face. It was clear that her joy arose chiefly from the happiness of others. In the same way, it was the suffering of others that brought her the most pain—especially the suffering of Prince Myshkin, about whom she was regularly informed by Yevgeny Pavlovich himself through his letters.
"And how is our dear friend, the prince?" Vera asked solemnly, as though without any expectation of good news.
"He is much the same as the last time I visited him. As usual, Schneider has no hope for a recovery. As I've told you, I always have a talk with the prince, about whatever might come into my head at the time—it might even be nonsense. He sits facing a window. Apparently he can be quite hysterical when taken away from that window; for some reason the outside calms him. He doesn't speak at all. Sometimes when I'm speaking, he'll look into my face as if he understands my words, but apart from that there is no indication at all. He's made no sign that he remembers me, though he's usually calm when I speak to him."
As usually happened when she heard about the prince, Vera began to cry.
"He was the kindest man I knew," she said, shaking her head tearfully. "Why should such a man have come to this?"
"Yes, I've often thought the same thing myself," Yevgeny Pavlovich sighed, and taking Vera's hand, squeezed it hard. "I will continue to visit him, although without regular conversation, I believe it's unlikely that he will ever recover."
"Is he ever allowed outside the sanatorium?"
"Very rarely, it seems. Of course, he has to be accompanied by an attendant, and if there are a lot of people or activity around, he becomes confused and frantic."
There was a long pause. Vera seemed to mull over these facts for a moment. Then she took a shaky breath and spoke, her voice steady, yet full of feeling.
"If only you knew how much I long to be there for him. If I were near him, I would go to him every day, if just to speak to him. I wouldn't care if he didn't remember me. Do you know, I—I get so weary of staying here. Doing insignificant things, seeing the same people. I've never gone anywhere. I have an overwhelming desire to take up some cause and devote myself to it. If I had some influence or some money, I would go to Switzerland myself-to pay back the kindness that the prince showed me all the time I knew him. . ." she dropped off as if overcome and looked down at her lap. She had taken out a handkerchief and was twisting it absently between her fingers.
"Those are very noble sentiments, Vera Lukyanovna," Yevgeny Pavlovich breathed solemnly, touched by her words and the compassion that rang in them.
Later on, Yevgeny Pavlovich would recall that moment as when he decided once and for all that Vera Lebedeva would be his wife. He proposed marriage to her two weeks later, and it was decided that they would marry in late spring. An engagement dinner was given at Lebedev's in February, to which many people came, among them Ganya and Kolya Ivolgin, the Ptitsyns, who were expecting their first child, Prince Shch. and Adelaida Ivanovna, who were finally married, and the Yepanchins. Aglaya Ivanovna and her Mazurski could not have attended even if they wanted to, for they had left Petersburg and gone "Lord knows where", as Lizaveta Prokofyevna put it.
The wedding was an extremely happy occasion, and though Vera Lukyanovna had grown up in a relatively humble way, Yevgeny Pavlovich ensured that no expense was spared. Although the attention she received often overwhelmed her, Vera Lukyanovna was pleased. Her father was in extremely high spirits as well, and utterly devoted himself to Yevgeny Pavlovich so that the latter had even greater difficulty in avoiding him than usual. Everyone in the circle of the couple's acquaintance attended the wedding, and everyone enthusiastically admired Vera in her finery, noted the tender looks between bride and groom, and watched as the couple were crowned. The wedding was everything that it was expected to be. The only oddity went unnoticed by everyone except the bride and groom themselves: among the crowd that surrounded the church after the ceremony, the newlyweds suddenly glimpsed Aglaya Ivanovna and a man who could only be Mazurski. As beautiful as ever, though thinner, paler and more simply dressed, Aglaya Ivanovna looked at Yevgeny Pavlovich and Vera Lukyanovna with venomous contempt. The newlyweds looked at each other as though unsure of what they were seeing. When they tried to find Aglaya Ivanovna's face in the crowd again, she had gone.