The Insulted and the Injured, by Fyodor Dostoyevsky

Chapter II

HE literally flew in with a beaming face, gay and joyous. It was evident that he had spent those four days gaily and happily. One could see from his face that he had something he was longing to tell us.

“Here I am!” he cried out, addressing us all, “I, who ought to have been here before anyone. But I’ll tell you everything directly, everything, everything! I hadn’t time to say two words to you this morning, daddy, and I had so much to say to you. It’s only in his sweet moments he lets me speak to him like that,” he interrupted himself, addressing me. “I assure you at other times he forbids it! And I’ll tell you what he does. He begins to use my full name. But from this day I want him always to have good minutes, and I shall manage it! I’ve become quite a different person in these last four days, utterly, utterly different, and I’ll tell you all about it. But that will be presently. The great thing now is that she’s here. Her she is! Again! Natasha, darling, how are you, my angel!” he said, sitting down beside her and greedily kissing her hand. How I’ve been missing you all this time! But there it is! I couldn’t help it! I wasn’t able to manage it, my darling! You look a little thinner, you’ve grown so pale . . .”

He rapturously covered her hands with kisses, and looked eagerly at her with his beautiful eyes, as though he could never look enough. I glanced at Natasha, and from her face I guessed that our thoughts were the same: he was absolutely innocent. And indeed when and how could this innocent be to blame? A bright flush suddenly overspread Natasha’s pale cheeks, as though all the blood had suddenly rushed from her heart to her head. Her eyes flashed and she looked proudly at Prince Valkovsky.

“But where . . . have you been so many days?” she said in a suppressed and breaking voice. She was breathing in hard uneven gasps. My God, how she loved him!”

“To be sure I must have seemed to blame, and it’s not only seeming, indeed! Of course I’ve been to blame, and I know it myself, and I’ve come knowing it. Katya told me yesterday today that no woman could forgive such negligence (she knows all that happened here on Tuesday; I told her next day): I argued with her, I maintained that there is such a woman and her name is Natasha, and that perhaps there was only one other woman equal to her in the world and that was Katya; and I came here of course knowing I’d won the day. Could an angel like you refuse to forgive? ‘He’s not come, so something must have kept him. It’s not that he doesn’t love me!’ — that’s what my Natasha will think! As though one could leave off loving you! As though it were possible! My whole heart has been aching for you. I’m to blame all the same. But when you know all about it you’ll be the first to stand up for me. I’ll tell you all about it directly; I want to open my heart to you all; that’s what I’ve come for. I wanted to fly to you today (I was free for half a minute) to give you a flying kiss, but I didn’t succeed even in that. Katya sent for me on important business. That was before you saw me in the carriage, father. That was the second time I was driving to Katya after a second note. Messengers are running all day long with notes between the two houses. Ivan Petrovitch, I only had time to read your note last night and you are quite right in all you say in it. But what could I do? It was a physical impossibility! And so I thought ‘tomorrow evening I’ll set it all straight,’ for it was impossible for me not to come to you this evening, Natasha.”

“What note?” asked Natasha.

“He went to my rooms and didn’t find me. Of course he pitched into me roundly in the letter he left for me for not having been to see you. And he’s quite right. It was yesterday.”

Natasha glanced at me.

“But if you had time to be with Katerina Fyodorovna from morning till night . . .” Prince Valkovsky began.

“I know, I know what you’ll say,” Alyosha interrupted. “If I could be at Katya’s I ought to have had twice as much reason to be here. I quite agree with you and will add for myself not twice as much reason but a million times as much. But, to begin with, there are strange unexpected events in life which upset everything and turn it topsy-turvy, and it’s just things of that sort that have been happening to me. I tell you I’ve become an utterly different person during the last days. New all over to the tips of my fingers. So they must have been important events!”

“Oh, dear me, but what has happened to you? Don’t keep us in suspense, please!” cried Natasha, smiling at Alyosha’s heat.

He really was rather absurd, he talked very fast, his words rushed out pell-mell in a quick, continual patter. He was longing to tell us everything, to speak, to talk. But as he talked he still held Natasha’s hand and continually raised it to his lips as though he could never kiss it enough.

“That’s the whole point — what has happened to me,” Alyosha went on. “Ah, my friends, the things I’ve been seeing and doing, the people I’ve got to know! To begin with Katya! Such a perfect creature! I didn’t know her a bit, not a bit till now. Even the other day, that Tuesday when I talked about her, do you remember, Natasha, with such enthusiasm, even then I hardly knew her a bit. She hasn’t shown her real self to me till now. But now we’ve got to know each other thoroughly. We call each other Katya and Alyosha. But I’ll begin at the beginning. To begin with, Natasha, if only you could hear all that she said to me when I spoke to her about you the other day, Wednesday it was, and told her all that had happened here. . . . And by the way, I remember how stupid I was when I came to see you on Wednesday! You greeted me with enthusiasm, you were full of our new position; you wanted to talk to me about it all; you were sad, and at the same time you were full of mischief and playing with me; while I was trying to be dignified. Oh, fool, fool that I was! Would you believe it, I was longing to show off, to boast that I was soon to be a husband, a dignified person, and to think of my showing off to you! Ah, how you must have laughed at me, and how I deserved your ridicule!

Prince Valkovsky sat in silence, looking with a sort of triumphantly ironical smile at Alyosha. He seemed to be glad that his son was showing himself so flighty and even ridiculous. I watched him carefully all that evening, and came to the conclusion that he was not at all fond of his son, though he was always talking of his warm fatherly devotion to him.

“From you I went to Katya,” Alyosha rattled on. “I’ve told you already that it was only that morning we got to know each other thoroughly, and it’s queer how it happened . . . I don’t remember how it was . . . some warm words, some feelings, thoughts frankly uttered and we were friends for ever. You must know her, you must, Natasha. How she talked to me, how she interpreted you to me. How she explained to me what a treasure you are. By degrees she made me understand all her ideas, all her views of life; she’s such an earnest, such an enthusiastic girl! She talked of duty, of our mission in life, of how we all ought to serve humanity and, as we thoroughly agreed, after five or six hours of conversation, we ended by swearing eternal friendship, and that we would work together all our lives!

“Work at what?” asked his father in astonishment.

“I’m so changed, father, that all this must surprise you. I know all your objections beforehand,” Alyosha responded triumphantly. “You are all practical people, you have so many grave, severe principles that are out of date. You look with mistrust, with hostility, with derision at everything new, everything young and fresh. But I’m not the same now as you knew me a few days ago. I’m a different man! I look everything and everyone in the world boldly in the face. If I know that my conviction is right I will follow it up to its utmost limit. and if I’m not turned aside from my path I’m an honest man. That’s enough for me. You can say what you like after that. I believe in myself.”

“Oh-ho!” said the prince jeeringly.

Natasha looked round at us uneasily. She was afraid for Alyosha. It often happened that he showed to great disadvantage in conversation, and she knew it. She did not want Alyosha to make himself ridiculous before us, and especially before his father.

“What are you saying, Alyosha? I suppose it’s some sort of philosophy,” she said. “Someone’s been lecturing you . . . You’d much better tell us what you’ve been doing.”

“But I am telling you! “ cried Alyosha. “You see, Katya has two distant relations, cousins of some sort, called Levinka and Borinka. One’s a student, the other’s simply a young man. She’s on friendly terms with them, and they’re simply extraordinary men. They hardly ever go to the countess’s, on principle. When Katya and I talked of the destiny of man, of our mission in life and all that, she mentioned them to me, and gave me a note to them at once; I flew immediately to make their acquaintance. We became close friends that very evening. There were about twelve fellows of different sorts there. Students, officers, artists. There was one author. They all know you, Ivan Petrovitch. That is, they’ve read your books and expect great things of you in the future. They told me so themselves. I told them I knew you and promised to introduce them to you. They all received me with open arms like a brother. I told them straight off that I should soon be a married man, so they received me as a married man. They live on the fifth storey right under the roof. They meet as often as they can, chiefly on Wednesdays at Levinka’s and Borinka’s. They’re all fresh young people filled with ardent love for all humanity. We all talked of our present, of our future, of science and literature, and talked so well, so frankly and simply . . . . There’s, a high-school boy who comes too. You should see how they behave to one another, how generous they are! I’ve never seen men like them before! Where have I been all this time? What have I seen? What ideas have I grown up in? You’re the only one Natasha, who has ever told me anything of this sort. Ah, Natasha, you simply must get to know them; Katya knows them already. They speak of her almost with reverence. And Katya’s told Levinka and Borinka already that when she comes into her property she’ll subscribe a million to the common cause at once.”

“And I suppose Levinka and Borinka and all their crew will be the trustees for that million?” Prince Valkovsky asked.

“That’s false, that’s false! It’s a shame to talk like that, father!” Alyosha cried with heat. “I suspect what you’re thinking! We certainly have talked about that million, and spent a long time discussing how to use it. We decided at last on public enlightenment before everything else . . . ”

“Yes, I see that I did not quite know Katerina Fyodorovna, certainly,” Prince Valkovsky observed as it were to himself, still with the same mocking smile. “I was prepared for many things from her, but this . . . ”

“Why this?” Alyosha broke in. “Why do you think it so odd? Because it goes somewhat beyond your established routine? because no one has subscribed a million before, and she subscribes it? What of it! What if she doesn’t want to live at the expense of others, for living on those millions means living at the expense of others (I’ve only just found that out). She wants to be of service to her country and all, and to give her mite to the common cause. We used to read of that mite in our copy-books, and when that mite means a million you think there’s something wrong about it! And what does it all rest on, this common sense that’s so much praised and that I believed in so? Why do you look at me like that, father? As though you were looking at a buffoon, a fool! What does it matter my being a fool? Natasha, you should have heard what Katya said about that, ‘It’s not the brains that matter most, but that which guides them — the character, the heart, generous qualities, progressive ideas.’ But better still, Bezmygin has a saying about that that’s full of genius. Bezmygin is a friend of Levinka’s and Borinka’s, and between ourselves he is a man of brains and a real leader of genius. Only yesterday he said in conversation, ‘The fool who recognizes that he is a fool is no longer a fool.’ How true that is! One hears utterances like that from him every minute. He positively scatters truths.”

“A sign of genius, certainly,” observed Prince Valkovsky.

“You do nothing but laugh. But I’ve never heard anything like that from you, and I’ve never heard anything like it from any of your friends either. On the contrary, in your circle you seem to be hiding all this, to be grovelling on the ground, so that all figures, all noses may follow precisely certain measurements, certain rules — as though that were possible; as though that were not a thousand times more impossible than what we talk about and what we think. And yet they call us Utopian! You should have heard what they said to me yesterday . . . ”

“Well, but what is it you talk and think about? Tell us, Alyosha. I can’t quite understand yet,” said Natasha.

“Of everything in general that leads up to progress, to humanity, to love, it’s all in relation to contemporary questions. We talk about the need of a free press, of the reforms that are beginning, of the love of humanity, of the leaders of today; we criticize them and read them. But above all we’ve promised to be perfectly open with one another and to tell everything about ourselves, plainly, openly, without hesitation. Nothing but openness and straightforwardness can attain our object. That’s what Bezmygin is striving most for. I told Katya about that and she is in complete sympathy with Bezmygin. And so all of us, under Bezmygin’s leadership, have promised to act honestly and straightforwardly all our lives, and not to be disconcerted in any way, not to be ashamed of our enthusiasm, our fervour, our mistakes, and to go straight forward whatever may be said of us and however we may be judged. If you want to be respected by others, the great thing is to respect yourself. Only by that, only by self-respect, will you compel others to respect you. That’s what Bezmygin says, and Katya agrees with him entirely. We’re agreeing now upon our convictions in general, and have resolved to pursue the study of ourselves severally, and when we meet to explain ourselves to each other.”

“What a string of nonsense!” cried Prince Valkovsky uneasily. “And who is this Bezmygin? No, it can’t be left like this . . . ”

“What can’t be left?” cried Alyosha. “Listen, father, why I say all this before you. It’s because I want and hope to bring you, too, into our circle. I’ve pledged myself in your name already. You laugh; well, I knew you’d laugh! But hear me out. You are kind and generous, you’ll understand. You don’t know, you’ve never seen these people, you haven’t heard them. Supposing you have heard of all this and have studied it all, you are horribly learned, yet you haven’t seen them themselves, have not been in their house, and so how can you judge of them correctly? You only imagine that you know them. You be with them, listen to them, and then — then I’ll give you my word you’ll be one of us. Above all I want to use every means I can to rescue you from ruin in the circle to which you have so attached yourself, and so save you from your convictions.”

Prince Valkovsky listened to this sally in silence, with a malignant sneer; there was malice in his face. Natasha was watching him with unconcealed repulsion. He saw it, but pretended not to notice it. But as soon as Alyosha had finished, his father broke into a peal of laughter. He fell back in his chair as though he could not control himself. But the laughter was certainly not genuine. He was quite unmistakably laughing simply to wound and to humiliate his son as deeply as possible. Alyosha was certainly mortified. His whole face betrayed intense sadness. But he waited patiently until his father’s merriment was over.

“Father,” he began mournfully, “why are you laughing at me? I have come to you frankly and openly. If, in your opinion, what I say is silly, teach me better, and don’t laugh at me. And what do you find to laugh at? At what is for me good and holy now? Why, suppose I am in error, suppose this is all wrong, mistaken, suppose I am a little fool as you’ve called me several times; if I am making a mistake I’m sincere and honest in it; I’ve done nothing ignoble. I am enthusiastic over lofty ideas. They may be mistaken, but what they rest upon is holy. I’ve told you that you and all your friends have never yet said anything to me that could guide me, or influence me. Refute them, tell me something better than they have said, and I will follow you, but do not laugh at me, for that grieves me very much.”

Alyosha pronounced these words with extreme sincerity and a sort of severe dignity. Natasha watched him sympathetically. The prince heard his son with genuine amazement, and instantly changed his tone.

“I did not mean to grieve you, my dear,” he answered. “0n the contrary I am sorry for you. You are preparing to take such a step in life that it is only seemly for you to leave off being such a feather-headed boy. That’s what is in my mind. I could not help laughing, and had no wish to hurt your feelings.”

“Why was it that I thought so?” said Alyosha, with bitter feeling. “Why has it seemed for a long time past that you look at me as though you were antagonistic to me, with cold mockery, not like a father? Why is it I feel that if I were in your place I should not laugh so offensively as you do at me? Listen, let us speak openly with one another, at once, and for ever, that there may be no further misunderstanding. And . . . I want to tell you the whole truth. I thought when I came here that there was some misunderstanding. It was not like this that I expected to meet you all together. Am I right? If I am, wouldn’t it be better for each of us to say openly what he feels. How much evil may be averted by openness!”

“Speak, speak, Alyosha,” said Prince Valkovsky. “What you propose is very sensible. Perhaps you ought to have begun with that,” he added, glancing at Natasha.

“Don’t be angry with my perfect frankness,” began Alyosha. “You desire it and call for it yourself. Listen, you have agreed to my marriage with Natasha; you’ve made us happy by doing so, and for the sake of it you have overcome your own feelings. You have been magnanimous and we have all appreciated your generosity. But why is it now that with a sort of glee you keep hinting that I’m a ridiculous boy, and am not fit to be a husband? What’s more, you seem to want to humiliate me and make me ridiculous, and even contemptible, in Natasha’s eyes. You are always delighted when you can make me look absurd. I’ve noticed that before now, for a long time past. As though you were trying for some reason to show us that our marriage is absurd and foolish, and that we are not fitted for one another. It’s really as though you didn’t believe yourself in what you design for us; as though you look upon it all as a joke, as an absurd fancy, as a comic farce. I don’t think so only from what you’ve said today. That very evening, that Tuesday when I came back to you from here, I heard some strange expressions from you which surprised and hurt me. And on Wednesday, too, as you were going away you made some allusions to our present position, and spoke of her, not slightingly, quite the contrary, but yet not as I would like to hear you speak, somehow too lightly, without affection, without the respect for her. . . . It’s difficult to describe, but the tone was clear; one feels it in one’s heart. Tell me that I’m mistaken. Reassure me, comfort me and . . . and her, for you’ve wounded her too. I guessed that from the first moment I came in . . . ”

Alyosha said this with warmth and resolution. Natasha listened to him with a certain triumph, and, her face glowing with excitement, she said, as though to herself, once or twice during his speech, “Yes, yes. That’s true.” Prince Valkovsky was taken aback.

“My dear boy,” he answered, “of course I can’t remember everything I’ve said to you; but it’s very strange you should have taken my words in that way. I’m quite ready to reassure you in every way I can. If I laughed just now that was quite natural. I tell you that I tried to hide under a laugh my bitter feeling. When I imagine that you are about to be a husband it seems to me now so utterly incredible, so absurd, excuse my saying so, even ludicrous. You reproach me for that laugh, but I tell you that it is all your doing. I am to blame, too. Perhaps I haven’t been looking after you enough of late, and so it’s only this evening that I have found out of what you are capable. Now I tremble when I think of your future with Natalya Nikolaevna. I have been in too great a hurry; I see that there is a great disparity between you. Love always passes, but incompatibility remains for ever. I’m not speaking now of your fate, but if your intentions are honest, do consider; you will ruin Natalya Nikolaevna as well as yourself, you certainly will! Here you’ve been talking for an hour of love for humanity, of the loftiness of your convictions, of the noble people you’ve made friends with. But ask Ivan Petrovitch what I said to him just now as we climbed up that nasty staircase to the fourth storey, and were standing at the door, thanking God that our lives and limbs were safe. Do you know the feeling that came into my mind in spite of myself? I was surprised that with your love for Natalya Nikolaevna you could bear to let her live in such a flat. How is it you haven’t realized that, if you have no means, if you are not in a position to do your duty, you have no right to be a husband, you have no right to undertake any responsibilities? Love alone is a small matter; love shows itself in deeds, but your motto is ‘live with me if you have to suffer with me’ — that’s not humane, you know, not honourable, to talk of love for all humanity, to go into raptures over the problems of the universe, and at the same time to sin against love without noticing it — it’s incomprehensible! Don’t interrupt me, Natalya Nikolaevna, let me finish. I feel it too bitterly, I must speak out. You’ve been telling us, Alyosha, that during these last days you’ve been attracted by everything that’s honourable, fine and noble, and you have reproached me that among my friends there are no such attractions, nothing but cold common sense. Only imagine, to be attracted by everything lofty and fine, and, after what happened here on Tuesday, to neglect for four whole days the woman who, one would have thought, must be more precious to you than anything on earth. You positively confess that you argued with with Katerina Fyodorovna that Natalya Nikolaevna is so generous and loves you so much that she will forgive you your behaviour. But what right have you to reckon on such forgiveness, and make bets about it? And is it possible you haven’t once reflected what distress, what bitter feelings, what doubts, what suspicions you’ve been inflicting on Natalya Nikolaevna all this time? Do you think that because you’ve been fascinated there by new ideas, you had the right to neglect your first duty? Forgive me, Natalya Nikolaevna, for breaking my word. But the present position is more important than any promise, you will realize that yourself. . . . Do you know, Alyosha, that I found Natalya Nikolaevna in such agonies of distress that it was plain what a hell you had made of these four days for her, which should, one would have thought, have been the happiest in her life. Such conduct on one side, and on the other — words, words, words . . . am I not right? And you can blame me when it’s entirely your own fault?”

Prince Valkovsky finished. He was really carried away by his own eloquence and could not conceal his triumph from us. When Alyosha heard of Natasha’s distress he looked at her with painful anxiety, but Natasha had already come to a decision.

“Never mind, Alyosha, don’t be unhappy,” she said. “Others are more to blame than you. Sit down and listen to what I have to say to your father. It’s time to make an end of it!”

“Explain yourself, Natalya Nikolaevna!” cried the prince. “I beg you most earnestly! For the last two hours I have been listening to these mysterious hints. It is becoming intolerable, and I must admit I didn’t expect such a welcome here.”

“Perhaps; because you expected so to fascinate us with words that we should not notice your secret intentions. What is there to explain to you? You know it all and understand it all yourself. Alyosha is right. Your first desire is to separate us. You knew beforehand, almost by heart, everything that would happen here, after last Tuesday, and you were reckoning on it all. I have told you already that you don’t take me seriously, nor the marriage you have planned. You are making fun of us, you are playing, and you have your own objects. Your game is a safe one. Alyosha was right when he reproached you for looking on all this as a farce. You ought, on the contrary, to be delighted and not scold Alyosha, for without knowing anything about it he has done all that you expected of him, and perhaps even more.”

I was petrified with astonishment, I had expected some catastrophe that evening. But I was utterly astounded at Natasha’s ruthless plain speaking and her frankly contemptuous tone. Then she really must know something, I thought, and has irrevocably determined upon a rupture. Perhaps she had been impatiently expecting the prince in order to tell him everything to his face. Prince Valkovsky turned a little pale. Alyosha’s face betrayed naive alarm and agonizing expectation.

“Think what you have just accused me of,” cried the prince, “and consider your words a little . . . I can make nothing of it!”

“Ah! So you don’t care to understand at a word,” said Natasha. “Even he, even Alyosha, understood you as I did, and we are not in any agreement about it. We have not even seen each other! He, too, fancied that you were playing an ignoble and insulting game with us, and he loves you and believes in you as though you were a god. You haven’t thought it necessary to be cautious and hypocritical enough with him, you reckoned that he would not see through you. But he has a tender, sensitive, impressionable heart, and your words, your tone, as he says, have left a trace in his heart . . .”

“I don’t understand a word of it, not a word of it,” repeated Prince Valkovsky, turning to me with an air of the utmost perplexity, as though he were calling me to witness. He was hot and angry.

“You are suspicious, you are agitated,” he went on, addressing her. “The fact is you are jealous of Katerina Fyodorovna, and so you’re ready to find fault with everyone, and me especially . . . and, allow me to say, you give one a strange idea of your character. . . . I am not accustomed to such scenes. I would not remain here another moment if it were not for my son’s interests. I am still waiting. Will you condescend to explain?”

“So you still persist and will not understand though you know all this by heart. Do you really want me to speak out?

“That is all I am anxious for.”

“Very well then, listen,” cried Natasha, her eyes flashing with anger. “I’ll tell you everything, everything.”

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