The Insulted and the Injured, by Fyodor Dostoyevsky

Chapter III

SHE got up and began to speak standing, unconscious of doing so in her excitement. After listening for a time, Prince Valkovsky too, stood up. The whole scene became quite solemn.

“Remember your own words on Tuesday.” Natasha began. “You said you wanted money, to follow the beaten track, importance in the world — do you remember?”

“I remember.”

“Well, to gain that money, to win all that success which was slipping out of your hands, you came here on Tuesday and made up this match, calculating that this practical joke would help you to capture what was eluding you.”

“Natasha!” I cried. “Think what you’re saying!”

“Joke! Calculating!” repeated the prince with an air of insulted dignity.

Alyosha sat crushed with grief and gazed scarcely comprehending.

“Yes, yes, don’t stop me. I have sworn to speak out,” Natasha went on, irritated. “Remember, Alyosha was not obeying you. For six whole months you had been doing your utmost to draw him away from me. He held out against you. And at last the time came when you could not afford to lose a moment. If you let it pass, the heiress, the money — above all the money, the three millions of dowry — would slip through your fingers. Only one course was left you, to make Alyosha love the girl you destined for him; you thought that if he fell in love with her he would abandon me.”

“Natasha! Natasha!” Alyosha cried in distress, “what are you saying?”

“And you have acted accordingly,” she went on, not heeding Alyosha’s exclamation, “but — it was the same old story again! Everything might have gone well, but I was in the way again. There was only one thing to give you hope. A man of your cunning and experience could not help seeing even then that Alyosha seemed at times weary of his old attachment. You could not fail to notice that he was beginning to neglect me, to be bored, to stay away for five days at a time. You thought he might get tired of it altogether and give me up, when suddenly on Tuesday Alyosha’s decided action came as a shock to you. What were you to do!”

“Excuse me,” cried Prince Valkovsky, “on the contrary, that fact . . .”

“I say,” Natasha went on emphatically, “you asked yourself that evening what you were to do, and resolved to sanction his marrying me not in reality but only in words, simply to soothe him. The date of the wedding could be deferred, you thought, indefinitely, and meanwhile the new feeling was growing; you saw that. And on the growth of this new love you rested all your hopes.”

“Novels, novels,” the prince pronounced, in an undertone, as though speaking to himself, “solitude, brooding, and novel-reading.”

“Yes, on this new love you rested everything,” Natasha repeated, without listening or attending to his words, more and more carried away in a fever of excitement. “And the chances in favour of this new love! It had begun before he knew all the girl’s perfections. At the very moment when he disclosed to her that evening that he could not love her, that duty and another love forbade it — the girl suddenly displayed such nobility of character, such sympathy for him and for her rival, such spontaneous forgiveness, that though he had believed in her beauty, he only realized then how splendid she was. When he came to me he talked of nothing but her, she had made such an impression upon him. Yes, he was bound next day to feel an irresistible impulse to see this noble being again, if only from gratitude. And, indeed, why shouldn’t he go to her? His old love was not in distress now, her future was secured, his whole life was to be given up to her, while the other would have only a minute. And how ungrateful Natasha would be if she were jealous even of that minute. And so without noticing it he robs his Natasha not of a minute, but of one day, two days, three. . . . And meantime, in those three days, the girl shows herself to him in a new and quite unexpected light. She is so noble, so enthusiastic, and at the same time such a naive child, and in fact so like himself in character. They vow eternal friendship and brotherhood, they wish never to be parted. In five or six hours of conversation his soul is opened to new sensations and his whole heart is won. The time will come at last, you reckon, when he will compare his old feeling with his new, fresh sensations. There everything is familiar and the same as usual; there it’s all serious and exacting; there he finds jealousy and reproaches; there he finds tears. . . . Or if there is lightness and playfulness, he is treated liked a child not an equal . . . But worst of all, its all familiar, the same as ever . . . .”

Tears and a spasm of bitterness choked her, but Natasha controlled herself for a minute longer.

“And what besides! Why, time. The wedding with Natasha is not fixed yet, you think; there’s plenty of time and all will change. . . . And then your words, hints, arguments, eloquence. . . . You may even be able to trump up something against that troublesome Natasha. You may succeed in putting her in an unfavourable light and . . . there’s no telling how it will be done; but the victory is yours! Alyosha! Don’t blame me, my dear! Don’t say that I don’t understand your love and don’t appreciate it. I know you love me even now, and that perhaps at this moment you don’t understand what I complain of. I know I’ve done very wrong to say all this. But what am I to do, understanding all this, and loving you more and more . . . simply madly!”

She hid her face in her hands, fell back in her chair, and sobbed like a child. Alyosha rushed to her with a loud exclamation. He could never see her cry without crying too.

Her sobs were, I think, of great service to the prince; Natasha’s vehemence during this long explanation, the violence of her attack on him which he was bound, if only from decorum, to resent, all this might be set down to an outburst of insane jealousy, to wounded love, even to illness. It was positively appropriate to show sympathy.

“Calm yourself, don’t distress yourself, Natalya Nikolaevna,” Prince Valkovsky encouraged her. “This is frenzy, imagination, the fruits of solitude. You have been so exasperated by his thoughtless behaviour. It is only thoughtlessness on his part, you know. The most important fact on which you lay so much stress, what happened on Tuesday, ought rather to prove to you the depth of his love for you, while you have been imagining on the contrary . . . ”

“Oh, don’t speak to me, don’t torture me even now!” cried Natasha, weeping bitterly. “My heart has told me everything, has told me long ago! Do you suppose I don’t understand that our old love is over here in this room, alone . . . when he left me, forgot me I have been through everything, thought over everything What else have I to do? I don’t blame you, Alyosha. . . . Why are you deceiving me? Do you suppose I haven’t tried to deceive myself? Oh how often, how often! Haven’t I listened to every tone of his voice? Haven’t I learnt to read his face, his eyes? It’s all, all over. It’s all buried. . . . Oh! how wretched I am!”

Alyosha was crying on his knees before her.

“Yes, yes, it’s my fault! It’s all my doing!” he repeated through his sobs.

“No, don’t blame yourself, Alyosha. It’s other people our enemies. . . . It’s their doing . . . theirs!”

“But excuse me,” the prince began at last with some impatience, “what grounds have you for ascribing to me all these . . . crimes? These are all your conjectures. There’s no proof of them . . . ”

“No proof!” cried Natasha, rising swiftly from her easy chair. “You want proof, treacherous man. You could have had no other motive, no other motive when you came here with your project! You had to soothe your son, to appease his conscience-pricks that he might give himself up to Katya with a freer and easier mind. Without that he would always have remembered me, he would have held out against you, and you have got tired of waiting. Isn’t that true?”

“I confess,” said the prince, with a sarcastic smile, “if I had wanted to deceive you that would certainly have been my calculation. You are very . . . quick-witted, but you ought to have proofs before you insult people with such reproaches.”

“Proofs! But all your behaviour in the past when you were trying to get him away from me. A man who trains his son to disregard such obligations, and to play with them for the sake of worldly advantage, for the sake of money, is corrupting him! What was it you said just now about the staircase and the poorness of my lodging? Didn’t you stop the allowance you used to give him, to force us to part through poverty and hunger? This lodging and the staircase are your fault, and now you reproach him with it double-faced man! And what was it roused in you that night such warmth, such new and uncharacteristic convictions? And why was I so necessary to you? I’ve been walking up and down here for these four days; I’ve thought over everything, I have weighed every word you uttered, every expression of your face, and I’m certain that it has all been a pretence, a sham, a mean, insulting and unworthy farce. . . . I know you, I’ve known you for a long time. Whenever Alyosha came from seeing you I could read from his face all that you had been saying to him, all that you had been impressing on him. No, you can’t deceive me! Perhaps you have some other calculations now; perhaps I haven’t said the worst yet; but no matter! You have deceived me — that’s the chief thing. I had to tell you that straight to your face!”

“Is that all? Is that all the proof you have? But think, you frantic woman: by that farce, as you call my proposal on Tuesday, I bound myself too much, it would be too irresponsible on my part . . .

“How, how did you bind yourself! What does it mean for you to deceive me? And what does it signify to insult a girl in my position? A wretched runaway, cast off by her father, defenceless, who has disgraced herself, immoral! Is there any need to be squeamish with her if this joke can be of the very smallest use!”

“Only think what a position you are putting yourself into, Natalya Nikolaevna. You insist that you have been insulted by me. But such an insult is so great, so humiliating, that I can’t understand how you can even imagine it, much less insist on it. What must you be accustomed to, to be able to suppose this so easily, if you will excuse my saying so. I have the right to reproach you, because you are setting my son against me. If he does not attack me now on your account his heart is against me.

“No, father, no!” cried Alyosha, “If I haven’t attacked you it’s because I don’t believe you could be guilty of such an insult, and I can’t believe that such an insult is possible!

“Do you hear?” cried Prince Valkovsky.

“Natasha, it’s all my fault! Don’t blame him. It’s wicked and horrible.”

“Do you hear, Vanya? He is already against me!” cried Natasha.

“Enough!” said the prince. “We must put an end to this painful scene. This blind and savage outburst of unbridled jealousy shows your character in quite a new light. I am forewarned. We have been in too great a hurry. We certainly have been in too great a hurry. You have not even noticed how you have insulted me. That’s nothing to you. We were in too great a hurry . . . too great a hurry . . . my word ought to be sacred of course, but . . . I am a father, and I desire the happiness of my son . . .”

“You go back from your word!” cried Natasha, beside herself. “You are glad of the opportunity. But let me tell you that here, alone, I made up my mind two days ago to give him back his promise, and now I repeat it before every one. I give him up!”

“That is, perhaps, you want to reawaken his old anxieties again, his feeling of duty, all this worrying about his obligations (as you expressed it just now yourself), so as to bind him to you again. This is the explanation on your own theory. That is why I say so; but enough, time will decide. I will await a calmer moment for an explanation with you. I hope we may not break off all relations. I hope, too, that you may learn to appreciate me better. I meant today to tell you of my projects for your family, which would have shown you. . . . But enough! Ivan Petrovitch,” he added, coming up to me, “I have always wanted to know you better, and now, more than ever, I should appreciate it. I hope you understand me. I shall come and see you in a day or two if you will allow me.”

I bowed. It seemed to me, too, that now I could not avoid making his acquaintance. He pressed my hand, bowed to Natasha without a word, and went out with an air of affronted dignity.

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