The Insulted and the Injured, by Fyodor Dostoyevsky

Chapter XIV

IT was late, ten o’clock, when I got to Natasha’s. She was living at that time in Fontanka, near the Semyonov bridge, on the fourth floor, in the dirty block of buildings belonging to the merchant Kolotushkin. When first she left home she had lived for a time with Alyosha in a very nice flat, small, but pretty and convenient, on the third storey of a house in Liteyny. But the young prince’s resources were soon exhausted. He did not become a music teacher, but borrowed money and was soon very heavily in debt. He spent his money on decorating the flat and on making presents to Natasha, who tried to check his extravagance, scolded him, and sometimes even cried about it. Alyosha, with his emotional and impressionable nature, revelled sometimes for a whole week in dreams of how he would make her a present and how she would receive it, making of this a real treat for himself, and rapturously telling me beforehand of his dreams and anticipations. Then he was so downcast at her tears and reproofs that one felt sorry for him, and as time went on these presents became the occasion of reproaches, bitterness, and quarrels. Moreover, Alyosha spent a great deal of money without telling Natasha, was led away by his companions and was unfaithful to her. He visited all sorts of Josephines and Minnas; though at the same time he loved her dearly. His love for her was a torment to him. He often came to see me depressed and melancholy, declaring that he was not worth Natasha’s little finger, that he was coarse and wicked, incapable of understanding her and unworthy of her love. He was to some extent right. There was no sort of equality between them; he felt like a child compared with her, and she always looked upon him as a child. He repented with tears of his relations with Josephine, while he besought me not to speak of them to Natasha. And when, timid and trembling after these open confessions, he went back to her with me (insisting on my coming, declaring that he was afraid to look at her after what he had done, and that I was the one person who could help him through), Natasha knew from the first glance at him what was the matter. She was terribly jealous, and I don’t know how it was she always forgave him all his lapses. This was how it usually happened: Alyosha would go in with me, timidly address her, and look with timid tenderness into her eyes. She guessed at once that he had been doing wrong, but showed no sign of it, was never the first to begin on the subject, on the contrary, always redoubled her caresses and became tenderer and more lively — and this was not acting or premeditated strategy on her part. No; for her fine nature there was a sort of infinite bliss in forgiving and being merciful; as though in the very process of forgiving Alyosha she found a peculiar, subtle charm. It is true that so far it was only the question of Josephines. Seeing her kind and forgiving, Alyosha could not restrain himself and at once confessed the whole story without being asked any questions — to relieve his heart and “to be the same as before,” as she said. When he had received her forgiveness he grew ecstatic at once, sometimes even cried with joy and emotion kissed and embraced her. Then at once his spirits rose, and he would begin with childlike openness giving her a full account of his adventures with Josephine; he smiled and laughed, blessed Natasha, and praised her to the skies, and the evening ended happily and merrily. When all his money was spent he began selling things. As Natasha insisted upon it, a cheap little flat in Fontanka was found for her. Their things went on being sold; Natasha now even sold her clothes and began looking for work. When Alyosha heard of it his despair knew no bounds, he cursed himself, cried out that he despised himself, but meantime did nothing to improve the position. By now this last resource was exhausted; nothing was left for Natasha but work, and that was very poorly paid!

At first when they lived together, there had been a violent quarrel between Alyosha and his father. Prince Valkovsky’s designs at the time to marry his son to Katerina Fyodorovna Filimonov, the countess’s stepdaughter, were so far only a project. But the project was a cherished one. He took Alyosha to see the young lady, coaxed him to try and please her, and attempted to persuade him by arguments and severity. But the plan fell through owing to the countess. Then Alyosha’s father began to shut his eyes to his son’s affair with Natasha, leaving it to time. Knowing Alyosha’s fickleness and frivolity he hoped that the love affair would soon be over. As for the possibility of his marrying Natasha, the prince had till lately ceased to trouble his mind about it. As for the lovers they put off the question till a formal reconciliation with his father was possible, or vaguely till some change of circumstances. And Natasha was evidently unwilling to discuss the subject. Alyosha told me in secret that his father was in a way rather pleased at the whole business. He was pleased at the humiliation of Ichmenyev. For form’s sake, he kept up a show of displeasure with his son, decreased his by no means liberal allowance (he was exceedingly stingy with him), and threatened to stop even that. But he soon went away to Poland in pursuit of the countess, who had business there. He was still as actively set on his project of the match. For though Alyosha was, it is true, rather young to be married, the girl was very wealthy, and it was too good a chance to let slip. The prince at last attained his object. The rumour reached us that the match was at last agreed upon. At the time I am describing, the prince had only just returned to Petersburg. He met his son affectionately, but the persistence of Alyosha’s connexion with Natasha was an unpleasant surprise to him. He began to have doubts, to feel nervous. He sternly and emphatically insisted on his son’s breaking it off, but soon hit upon a much more effectual mode of attack, and carried off Alyosha to the countess. Her step-daughter, though she was scarcely more than a child, was almost a beauty, gay, clever, and sweet, with a heart of rare goodness and a candid, uncorrupted soul. The prince calculated that the lapse of six months must have had some effect, that Natasha could no longer have the charm of novelty, and that his son would not now look at his proposed fiancee with the same eyes as he had six months before. He was only partly right in his reckoning . . . Alyosha certainly was attracted. I must add that the father became all at once extraordinarily affectionate to him (though he still refused to give him money). Alyosha felt that his father’s greater warmth covered an unchanged, inflexible determination, and he was unhappy-but not so unhappy as he would have been if he had not seen Katerina Fyodorovna every day. I knew that he had not shown himself to Natasha for five days. On my way to her from the Ichmenyevs I guessed uneasily what she wanted to discuss with me. I could see a light in her window a long way off. It had long been arranged between us that she should put a candle in the window if she were in great and urgent need of me, so that if I happened to pass by (and this did happen nearly every evening) I might guess from the light in the window that I was expected and she needed me. Of late she had often put the candle in the window. . .

Last updated Friday, March 7, 2014 at 15:49