The Insulted and the Injured, by Fyodor Dostoyevsky

Chapter V

IN the morning Nellie told me some rather strange details about the visit of the previous evening. Indeed, the very fact that Masloboev had taken it into his head to come that evening at all was strange. He knew for a fact that I should not be at home. I had warned him of it myself at our last meeting, and I remembered it distinctly. Nellie told me that at first she had been unwilling to open the door, because she was afraid — it was eight o’clock in the evening. But he persuaded her to do so through the door, assuring her that if he did not leave a note for me that evening it would be very bad for me next day. When she let him in he wrote the note at once, went up to her, and sat down beside her on the sofa.

“I got up, and didn’t want to talk to him,” said Nellie. “I was very much afraid of him; he began to talk of Mme. Bubnov, telling me how angry she was, that now she wouldn’t dare to take me, and began praising you; said that he was a great friend of yours and had known you as a little boy. Then I began to talk to him. He brought out some sweets, and asked me to take some. I didn’t want to; then he began to assure me he was a good-natured man, and that he could sing and dance. He jumped up and began dancing. It made me laugh. Then he said he’d stay a little longer — ‘I’ll wait for Vanya, maybe he’ll come in’; and he did his best to persuade me not to be afraid of him, but to sit down beside him. I sat down, but I didn’t want to say anything to him. Then he told me he used to know mother and grandfather and then I began to talk, And he stayed a long time . . . ”

“What did you talk about?”

“About mother . . . Mme. Bubnov . . . grandfather. He stayed two hours.”

Nellie seemed unwilling to say what they had talked about. I did not question her, hoping to hear it all from Masloboev. But it struck me that Masloboev had purposely come when I was out, in order to find Nellie alone. “What did he do that for?” I wondered.

She showed me three sweetmeats he had given her. They were fruit-drops done up in green and red paper, very nasty ones, probably bought at a greengrocer’s shop. Nellie laughed as she showed me them.

“Why didn’t you eat them?” I asked.

“I don’t want to,” she answered seriously, knitting her brows. “I didn’t take them from him; he left them on the sofa himself . . . .”

I had to run about a great deal that day. I began saying good-bye to Nellie.

“Will you be dull all alone?” I asked her as I went away.

“Dull and not dull. I shall be dull because you won’t be here for a long while.”

And with what love she looked at me as she said this. She had been looking at me tenderly all that morning, and she seemed so gay, so affectionate, and at the same time there was something shamefaced, even timid, in her manner, as though she were afraid of vexing me in some way, and losing my affection and . . . and of showing her feelings too strongly, as though she were ashamed of them.

“And why aren’t you dull then? You said you were ‘dull and not dull.’” I could not help asking, smiling to her — she had grown sweet and precious to me.

“I know why,” she answered laughing and for some reason abashed again.

We were talking in the open doorway. Nellie was standing before me with her eyes cast down, with one hand on my shoulder, and with the other pinching my sleeve.

“What is it, a secret?” I asked.

“No . . . it’s nothing. . . . I’ve . . . I’ve begun reading your book while you were away.” she brought out in a low voice, and turning a tender, penetrating look upon me she flushed crimson.

“Ah, that’s it! Well, do you like it?”

I felt the embarrassment of an author praised to his face, but I don’t know what I would have given to have kissed her at that moment. But it seemed somehow impossible to kiss her. Nellie was silent for a moment.

“Why, why did he die?” she asked with an expression of the deepest sadness, stealing a glance at me and then dropping her eyes again.

“Who?”

“Why, that young man in consumption . . . in the book.”

“It couldn’t be helped. It had to be so, Nellie.”

“It didn’t have to at all,” she answered, hardly above a whisper, but suddenly, abruptly, almost angrily, pouting and staring still more obstinately at the floor.

Another minute passed.

“And she . . . they . . . the girl and the old man,” she whispered, still plucking at my sleeve, more hurriedly than before. Will they live together? And will they leave off being poor?”

“No, Nellie, she’ll go far away; she’ll marry a country gentleman, and he’ll be left alone,” I answered with extreme regret, really sorry that I could not tell her something more comforting.

“Oh, dear! . . . How dreadful! Ach, what people! I don’t want to read it now!”

And she pushed away my arm angrily, turned her back on me quickly, walked away to the table and stood with her face to the corner, and her eyes on the ground . . . She was flushed all over, and breathed unsteadily, as though from some terrible disappointment.

“Come, Nellie, you’re angry,” I said, going up to her. “You know, it’s not true what’s written in it, it’s all made up; what is there to be angry about! You’re such a sensitive little girl!”

“I’m not angry,” she said timidly, looking up at me with clear and loving eyes; then she suddenly snatched my hand, pressed her face to my breast, and for some reason began crying,

But at the same moment she laughed — laughed and cried together. I, too, felt it was funny, and somehow . . . sweet. But nothing would make her lift her head, and when I began pulling her little face away from my shoulder she pressed it more and more closely against me, and laughed more and more.

At last this sentimental scene was over. We parted. I was in a hurry. Nellie, flushed, and still seeming as it were shame-faced, with eyes that shone like stars, ran after me out on the stairs, and begged me to come back early. I promised to be sure to be back to dinner, and as early as possible.

To begin with I went to the Ichmenyevs. They were both in Anna Andreyevna was quite ill; Nikolay Sergeyitch was sitting in his study. He heard that I had come, but I knew that, a usual, he would not come out for a quarter of an hour, so as to give us time to talk. I did not want to upset Anna Andreyevna too much, and so I softened my account of the previous evening as far as I could, but I told the truth. To my surprise, though my old friend was disappointed, she was not astonished to hear the possibility of a rupture.

“Well, my dear boy, it’s just as I thought,” she said. “When you’d gone I pondered over it, and made up my mind that it wouldn’t come to pass. We’ve not deserved such a blessing, besides he’s such a mean man; one can’t expect anything good to come from him. It shows what he is that he’s taking ten thousand roubles from us for nothing. He knows it’s for nothing, but he takes it all the same. He’s robbing us of our last crust of bread. Ichmenyevka will be sold. And Natasha’s right and sensible not to believe him. But do you know, my dear boy,” she went on dropping her voice, “my poor man! My poor man! He’s absolutely against this marriage. He let it out. ‘I won’t have it,’ said he. At first I thought it was only foolishness; no, meant it. What will happen to her then, poor darling? The he’ll curse her utterly. And how about Alyosha? What does he say?”

And she went on questioning me for a long time, and as usual she sighed and moaned over every answer I gave her. Of late I noticed that she seemed to have quite lost her balance. Every piece of news upset her. Her anxiety over Natasha was ruining her health and her nerves.

The old man came in in his dressing-gown and slippers. He complained of being feverish, but looked fondly at his wife, and all the time that I was there he was looking after her like a nurse peeping into her face, and seeming a little timid with her in fact There was a great deal of tenderness in the way he looked at her He was frightened at her illness; he felt he would be bereaved of everything on earth if he lost her.

I sat with them for an hour. When I took leave he came into the passage with me and began speaking of Nellie. He seriously thought of taking her into his house to fill the place of his daughter, Natasha. He began consulting me how to predispose Anna Andreyevna in favour of the plan. With special curiosity he questioned me about Nellie, asking whether I had found out anything fresh about her. I told him briefly, my story made an impression on him.

“We’ll speak of it again,” he said decisively. “And meanwhile . . . but I’ll come to you myself, as soon as I’m a little better. Then we’ll settle things.”

At twelve o’clock precisely I reached Masloboev’s. To my intense amazement the first person I met when I went in was Prince Valkovsky. He was putting on his overcoat in the entry, and Masloboev was officiously helping him and handing him his cane. He had already told me that he was acquainted with the prince, but yet this meeting astonished me extremely.

Prince Valkovsky seemed confused when he saw me.

“Ach, that’s you!” he cried, with somewhat exaggerated warmth. “What a meeting, only fancy! But I have just heard from Mr. Masloboev that he knew you. I’m glad, awfully glad to have met you. I was just wishing to see you, and hoping to call on you as soon as possible. You will allow me? I have a favour to ask of you. Help me, explain our present position. You understand, of course, that I am referring to what happened yesterday. . . . You are an intimate friend; you have followed the whole course of the affair; you have influence . . . I’m awfully sorry that I can’t stay now . . . Business . . . But in a few days, and perhaps sooner, I shall have the pleasure of calling on you. But now . . .”

He shook my hand with exaggerated heartiness, exchanged a glance with Masloboev, and went away.

“Tell me for mercy’s sake . . . ” I began, as I went into the room.

“I won’t tell you anything,” Masloboev interrupted, hurriedly snatching up his cap and going towards the entry. “I’ve business. I must run, too, my boy. I’m late.”

“Why, you wrote to me yourself to come at twelve o’clock!”

“What if I did write twelve o’clock? I wrote to you yesterday, but today I’ve been written to myself, and such a piece of business that my head’s in a whirl! They’re waiting for me. Forgive me, Vanya, the only thing I can suggest to you by way of satisfaction is to punch my head for having troubled you for nothing. If you want satisfaction, punch it; only, for Christ’s sake, make haste! Don’t keep me. I’ve business. I’m late . . . ”

“What should I punch your head for? Make haste then if you’ve business . . . things unforeseen may happen to anyone. Only . . .”

“Yes, as for that only, let me tell you,” he interrupted, dashing out into the entry and putting on his coat (I followed his example). “I have business with you, too; very important business; that’s why I asked you to come; it directly concerns you and your interests. And as it’s impossible to tell you about it in one minute now, for goodness’ sake promise me to come to me today at seven o’clock, neither before nor after. I’ll be at home.”

“To-day,” I said uncertainly. “Well, old man, I did mean this evening to go . . .”

“Go at once, dear boy., where you meant to go this evening, and come this evening to me. For you can’t imagine, Vanya, the things I have to tell you.”

“But I say, what is it? I confess you make me curious.”

Meanwhile we had come out of the gate and were standing on the pavement.

“So you’ll come?” he asked insistently.

“I’ve told you I will.”

“No, give me your word of honour.”

“Foo! what a fellow! Very well, my word of honour.”

“Noble and excellent. Which way are you going?”

“This way,” I answered, pointing to the right.

“Well, this is my way,” said he, pointing to the left. “Good-bye, Vanya. Remember, seven o’clock.”

“Strange,” thought I, looking after him.

I had meant to be at Natasha’s in the evening. But as now I had given my word to Masloboev, I decided to call on Natasha at once. I felt sure I should find Alyosha there. And, as a fact, he was there, and was greatly delighted when I came in.

He was very charming, extremely tender with Natasha, and seemed positively to brighten up at my arrival. Though Natasha tried to be cheerful it was obviously an effort. Her face looked pale and ill, and she had slept badly. To Alyosha she showed an exaggerated tenderness.

Though Alyosha said a great deal and told her all sorts of things, evidently trying to cheer her up and to bring a smile to her lips, which seemed set in unsmiling gravity, he obviously avoided speaking of Katya or of his father. Evidently his efforts at reconciliation had not succeeded.

“Do you know what? He wants dreadfully to get away from me,” Natasha whispered to me hurriedly when he went out for a minute to give some order to Mavra. “But he’s afraid. And I’m afraid to tell him to go myself, for then perhaps he’ll stay on purpose; but what I’m most afraid of is his being bored with me, and getting altogether cold to me through that! What am I to do?”

“Good heavens, what a position you’ve put yourselves in! And how suspicious, how watchful you are of one another. Simply explain to him and have done with it. Why, he may well be weary of such a position.”

“What’s to be done?” she cried, panic-stricken.

“Wait a minute. I’ll arrange it all for you.”

And I went into the kitchen on the pretext of asking Mavra to clean one of my overshoes which was covered with mud.

“Be careful, Vanya,” she cried after me.

As soon as I went out to Mavra, Alyosha flew up to me as though he had been waiting for me.

“Ivan Petrovitch, my dear fellow, what am I to do? Do advise me. I promised yesterday to be at Katya’s just at this time today. I can’t avoid going. I love Natasha beyond expression; I would go through the fire for her, but you’ll admit that I can’t throw up everything over there . . . ”

“Well, go then.”

“But what about Natasha? I shall grieve her, you know. Ivan Petrovitch, do get me out of it somehow . . . .”

“I think you’d much better go. You know how she loves you; she will be thinking all the while that you are bored with her and staying with her against your will. It’s better to be more unconstrained. Come along, though. I’ll help you.”

“Dear Ivan Petrovitch, how kind you are!”

We went back; a minute later I said to him:

“I saw your father just now.”

“Where?” he cried, frightened.

“In the street, by chance. He stopped to speak to me a minute, and asked again to become better acquainted with me. He was asking about you, whether I knew where you were now. He was very anxious to see you, to tell you something.”

“Ach, Alyosha, you’d better go and show yourself,” Natasha put in, understanding what I was leading up to.

“But where shall I meet him now? Is he at home?”

“No, I remember he said he was going to the countess’s.”

“What shall I do, then?” Alyosha asked naively, looking mournfully at Natasha.

“Why, Alyosha, what’s wrong?” she said. “Do you really mean to give up that acquaintance to set my mind at rest? Why, that’s childish. To begin with, it’s impossible, and secondly, it would be ungrateful to Katya. You are friends — it’s impossible to break off relations so rudely. You’ll offend me at last if you think I’m so jealous. Go at once, go, I beg you, and satisfy your father.”

“Natasha, you’re an angel, and I’m not worth your little finger,” cried Alyosha rapturously and remorsefully. “You are so kind, while I . . . I . . . well, let me tell you, I’ve just been asking Ivan Petrovitch out there in the kitchen to help me to get away. And this was his plan. But don’t be hard on me, Natasha, my angel! I’m not altogether to blame, for I love you a thousand times more than anything on earth, and so I’ve made a new plan — to tell Katya everything and describe to her our present position and all that happened here yesterday. She’ll think of something to save us; she’s devoted to us, heart and soul . . . ”

“Well, go along,” said Natasha, smiling. “And I tell you what, I am very anxious to make Katya’s acquaintance myself. How can we arrange it?”

Alyosha’s enthusiasm was beyond all bounds. He began at once making plans for bringing about a meeting. To his mind it was very simple; Katya would find a way. He enlarged on his idea warmly, excitedly. He promised to bring an answer that day, within a couple of hours, and to spend the evening with Natasha.

“Will you really come?” asked Natasha, as she let him out.

“Can you doubt it? Good-bye, Natasha, good-bye my darling, my beloved for ever. Good-bye, Vanya. Ach, I called you Vanya by mistake. Listen, Ivan Petrovitch, I love you. Let me call you Vanya. Let’s drop formality.”

“Yes, let us.”

“Thank goodness! It’s been in my mind a hundred times, but I’ve never somehow dared to speak of it. Ivan Petrovitch — there I’ve done it again. You know, it’s so difficult to say Vanya all at once. I think that’s been described somewhere by Tolstoy: two people promise to call each other by their pet names, but they can’t do it and keep avoiding using any name at all. Ach, Natasha, do let’s read over ‘Childhood and Boyhood’ together. It is so fine.”

“Come, be off, be off I” Natasha drove him away, laughing. “He’s babbling with delight . . . .”

“Good-bye. In two hours time I shall be with you.”

He kissed her hand and hastened away.

“You see, you see, Vanya,” said she, and melted into tears.

I stayed with her for about two hours, tried to comfort her and succeeded in reassuring her. Of course, she was right about everything, in all her apprehensions. My heart was wrung with anguish when I thought of her present position. I was afraid but what could I do?

Alyosha seemed strange to me, too. He loved her no less than before; perhaps, indeed, his feeling was stronger, more poignant than ever, from remorse and gratitude. But at the same time, his new passion was taking a strong hold on his heart. It was impossible to see how it would end. I felt very inquisitive to see Katya. I promised Natasha again that I would make her acquaintance.

Natasha seemed to be almost cheerful at last. Among other things I told her all about Nellie, about Masloboev, and Mme. Bubnov, about my meeting Prince Valkovsky that morning at Masloboev’s, and the appointment I had made with the latter at seven o’clock. All this interested her extremely. I talked a little about her parents, but I said nothing for the present about her father’s visit to me; his project of a duel with the prince might have frightened her. She, too, thought it very strange that the prince should have anything to do with Masloboev, and that he should display such a great desire to make friends with me, though this could be to some extent explained by the position of affairs . . . .

At three o’clock I returned home. Nellie met me with her bright little face.

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