The Insulted and the Injured, by Fyodor Dostoyevsky

Chapter VI

ANNA ANDREYEVNA had long been expecting me. What I had told her the day before, about Natasha’s note, had greatly excited her curiosity; and she had expected me much earlier in the morning, by ten o’clock at the latest. By the time I turned up at two o’clock in the afternoon the poor woman’s agonies of suspense had reached an extreme pitch. She was longing, too, to talk to me of the new hopes aroused in her the day before, and of Nikolay Sergeyitch, who had been ailing since then, who was gloomy, and at the same time seemed specially tender to her. When I made my appearance she received me with an expression of coldness and displeasure in her face, hardly opened her mouth, and showed no sign of interest, almost as though she would ask why I had come, and what possessed me to drop in every day. She was angry at my coming so late. But I was in a hurry, and without further delay I described to her the whole scene at Natasha’s the evening before. As soon as she heard of the elder prince’s visit and his solemn proposal, her assumed indifference vanished instantly. I cannot find words to describe how delighted she was; she seemed quite beside herself, crossed herself, shed tears, bowed down before the ikons, embraced me, and was on the point of running to Nikolay Sergeyitch to tell him of her joy.

Bless me, my dear, why, it’s all the insults and humiliation he’s been through that are making him ill, and as soon as he knows that full reparation will be made to Natasha, he’ll forget it all in a twinkling.”

I had much ado to dissuade her. Though the good lady had lived twenty-five years with her husband she did not understand him. She was desperately anxious, too, to set off with me immediately to Natasha’s. I put it to her not only that Nikolay Sergeyitch would disapprove of her action, but that we might even ruin the whole business by going. With difficulty she was brought to think better of it, but she detained me another half-hour unnecessarily, talking herself the whole time.

“With whom shall I be left here?” she said, “sitting alone within four walls with such joy in my heart?”

At last I persuaded her to let me go, reminding her that Natasha must be sick of waiting for me. She made the sign of the cross several times to bless me on my way, sent a special blessing to Natasha, and almost shed tears when I absolutely refused to come back again that evening, unless anything special had happened at Natasha’s. I did not see Nicholay Sergeyitch on this occasion; he had been awake all night, complained of a headache, a chill, and was now asleep in his study.

Natasha, too, had been expecting me all the morning. When I went in she was, as usual, walking up and down the room, with her hands clasped, meditating. Even now when I think of her I always see her alone in a poor room, dreamy, deserted, waiting with folded hands and downcast eyes, walking aimlessly up and down.

Still walking up and down she asked me in a low voice why I was so late. I gave her a brief account of all my adventures, but she scarcely listened. One could see she was in great anxiety about something.

“Anything fresh?” I asked her.

“Nothing fresh,” she answered. But I guessed at once from her face that there was something fresh, and that she was expecting me on purpose to tell me, and she would tell me, not at once but just as I was going, as she always did.

That was always our habit. I was used to her and I waited. We began, of course, talking of the previous evening. I was particularly struck by the fact that we were quite agreed in our impression of Prince Valkovsky; and she positively disliked him, disliked him much more than she had at the time. And when we analysed the visit, point by point, Natasha suddenly said:

“Listen, Vanya, you know it’s always like that, if one doesn’t like a man at first, it’s almost a sure sign that one will like him afterwards. That’s how it’s always been with me, anyway.”

“Let us hope so, Natasha. And this is my opinion, and it’s a final one. I went over it all, and what I deduced was that though the prince was perhaps Jesuitical, he is giving his consent to your marriage genuinely and in earnest.”

Natasha stood still in the middle of the room and looked at me sternly. Her whole face was transformed; her lips twitched a little.

“But how could he in a case like this begin deceiving and . . . lying?”

“Of course not, of course not!” I assented hurriedly.

“Of course he wasn’t lying. It seems to me there’s no need to think of that. There’s no excuse to be found for such deception. And, indeed, am I so abject in his eyes that he could jeer at me like that? Could any man be capable of such an insult?”

“Of course not, of course not,” I agreed, thinking to myself, “you’re thinking of nothing else as you pace up and down, my poor girl, and very likely you’re more doubtful about it than I am.”

“Ah, how I could wish he were coming back sooner!” she said. “He wanted to spend the whole evening with me, and then. . . . It must have been important business, since he’s given it all up and gone away. You don’t know what it was, Vanya? You haven’t heard anything?”

“The Lord only knows. You know he’s always making money. I’ve heard he’s taking up a share in some contract in Petersburg. We know nothing about business, Natasha.”

“Of course we don’t. Alyosha talked of some letter yesterday.”

“News of some sort. Has Alyosha been here?

“Yes.”

“Early?”

“At twelve o’clock; he sleeps late, you know. He stayed a little while. I sent him off to Katerina Fyodorovna. Shouldn’t I have, Vanya?”

“Why, didn’t he mean to go himself?”

“Yes, he did.”

She was about to say more, but checked herself. I looked at her and waited. Her face was sad. I would have questioned her, but she sometimes particularly disliked questions.

“He’s a strange boy.” she said at last, with a slight twist of her mouth, trying not to look at me.

“Why? I suppose something’s happened?”

“No, nothing; I just thought so. . . . He was sweet, though. . . . But already . . .”

“All his cares and anxieties are over now,” said I.

Natasha looked intently and searchingly at me. She felt inclined perhaps to answer, “he hadn’t many cares or anxieties before,” but she fancied that my words covered the same thought. She pouted.

But she became friendly and cordial again at once. This time she was extraordinarily gentle. I spent more than an hour with her. She was very uneasy. The prince had frightened her. I noticed from some of her questions that she was very anxious to know what sort of impression she had made on him. Had she behaved properly? Hadn’t she betrayed her joy too openly? Had she been too ready to take offence? Or on the contrary too conciliatory? He mustn’t imagine anything. He mustn’t laugh at her! He mustn’t feel contempt for her! . . . Her cheeks glowed like fire at the thought!

How can you be so upset simply at a bad man’s imagining something? Let him imagine anything!” said I.

“Why is he bad?” she asked.

Natasha was suspicious but pure-hearted and straightforward. Her doubts came from no impure source. She was proud and with a fine pride, and would not endure what she looked upon as higher than anything to be turned into a laughing-stock before her. She would, of course, have met with contempt the contempt of a base man, but at the same time her heart would have ached at mockery of what she thought sacred, whoever had been the mocker. This was not due to any lack of firmness. It arose partly from too limited a knowledge of the world, from being unaccustomed to people from having been shut up in her own little groove. She had spent all her life in her own little corner and had hardly left it. And finally that characteristic of good-natured people, inherited perhaps from her father — the habit of thinking highly of people, of persistently thinking them better that they really are, warmly exaggerating everything good in them — was highly developed in her. It is hard for such people to be disillusioned afterwards; and it is hardest of all when one feels one is oneself to blame. Why did one expect more than could be given? And such a disappointment is always in store for such people. It is best for them to stay quietly in their corners and not to go out into the world; I have noticed, in fact, that they really love their corners so much that they grow shy and unsociable in them. Natasha, however, had suffered many misfortunes, many mortifications, She was already a wounded creature, and she cannot be blamed, if indeed there be any blame in what I have said.

But I was in a hurry and got up to go. She was surprised and almost cried at my going, though she had shown no particular affection for me all the while I was with her; on the contrary, she seemed rather colder to me than usual. She kissed me warmly and looked for a long time into my face.

“Listen,” she said. “Alyosha was very absurd this morning and quite surprised me. He was very sweet, very happy apparently. but flew in, such a butterfly — such a dandy, and kept prinking before the looking-glass. He’s a little too unceremonious now. . . . Yes, and he didn’t stay long. Fancy, he brought me some sweets.”

“Sweets? Why, that’s very charming and simple-hearted, Ah, what a pair you are. Now you’ve begun watching and spying on one another, studying each other’s faces, and reading hidden thoughts in them (and understanding nothing about it). He’s not different. He’s merry and schoolboyish as he always was. But you, you!”

And whenever Natasha changed her tone and came to me with some complaint against Alyosha, or to ask for a solution of some ticklish question, or to tell me some secret, expecting me to understand her at half a word, she always, I remember, looked at me with a smile, as it were imploring me to answer somehow so that she should feel happy at heart at once. And I remember, too, I always in such cases assumed a severe and harsh tone as though scolding someone, and this happened quite unconsciously with me, but it was always successful. My severity and gravity were what was wanted; they seemed more authoritative, and people sometimes feel an irresistible craving to be scolded. Natasha was sometimes left quite consoled.

“No, Vanya, you see,” she went on, keeping one of her little hands on my shoulder, while her other pressed my hand and her eyes looked into mine, “I fancied that he was somehow too little affected . . . he seemed already such a man — you know, as though he’d been married ten years but was still polite to his wife. Isn’t that very premature? . . . He laughed, and prinked, but just as though all that didn’t matter, as though it only partly concerned me, not as it used to be . . . he was in a great hurry to see Katerina Fyodorovna. . . . If I spoke to him he didn’t listen to me, or began talking of something else, you know, that horrid, aristocratic habit we’ve both been getting him out of. In fact, he was too . . . even indifferent it seemed . . . but what am I saying! Here I’m doing it, here I’ve begun! Ah, what exacting, capricious despots we all are, Vanya! Only now I see it! We can’t forgive a man for a trifling change in his face, and God knows what has made his face change! You were right, Vanya, in reproaching me just now! It’s all my fault! We make our own troubles and then we complain of them. . . . Thanks, Vanya, you have quite comforted me. Ah, if he would only come today! But there perhaps he’ll be angry for what happened this morning.”

“Surely you haven’t quarrelled already!” I cried with surprise.

“I made no sign! But I was a little sad, and though he came in so cheerful he suddenly became thoughtful, and I fancied he said good-bye coldly. Yes, I’ll send for him. . . . You come, too, today, Vanya.”

“Yes, I’ll be sure to, unless I’m detained by one thing.”

“Why, what thing is it?”

“I’ve brought it on myself! But I think I’m sure to come all the same. ”

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