The Insulted and the Injured, by Fyodor Dostoyevsky

Chapter V

AFTER the memorable evening I had spent with Prince Valkovsky at the restaurant, I was for some days in continual apprehension on Natasha’s account. With what evil was that cursed prince threatening her, and in what way did he mean to revenge himself on her, I asked myself every minute, and I was distracted by suppositions of all sorts. I came at last to the conclusion that his menaces were not empty talk, not mere bluster, and that as long as she was living with Alyosha, the prince might really bring about much unpleasantness for her. He was petty, vindictive, malicious, and calculating, I reflected. It would be difficult for him to forget an insult and to let pass any chance of avenging it. He had in any case brought out one point, and had expressed himself pretty clearly on that point: he insisted absolutely on Alyosha’s breaking off his connexion with Natasha, and was expecting me to prepare her for the approaching separation, and so to prepare her that there should be “no scenes, no idyllic nonsense, no Schillerism.” Of course, what he was most solicitous for was that Alyosha should remain on good terms with him, and should still consider him an affectionate father. This was very necessary to enable him the more conveniently to get control of Katya’s money. And so it was my task to prepare Natasha for the approaching separation. But I noticed a great change in Natasha; there was not a trace now of her old frankness with me; in fact, she seemed to have become actually mistrustful of me. My efforts to console her only worried her; my questions annoyed her more and more, and even vexed her. I would sit beside her sometimes, watching her. She would pace from one corner of the room to the other with her arms folded, pale and gloomy, as though oblivious of everything, even forgetting that I was there beside her. When she Happened to look at me (and she even avoided my eves), there was a gleam of impatient vexation in her face, and she turned away quickly. I realized that she was perhaps herself revolving some plan of her own for the approaching separation, and how could she think of it without pain and bitterness? And I was convinced that she had already made up her mind to the separation. Yet I was worried and alarmed by her gloomy despair. Moreover sometimes I did not dare to talk to her or try to comfort her, and so waited with terror for the end.

As for her harsh and forbidding manner with me, though that worried me and made me uneasy, yet I had faith in my Natasha’s heart. I saw that she was terribly wretched and that she was terribly overwrought. Any outside interference only excited vexation and annoyance. In such cases, especially, the intervention of friends who know one’s secrets is more annoying than anything. But I very well knew, too, that at the last minute Natasha would come back to me, and would seek comfort in my affection.

Of my conversation with the prince I said nothing, of course; my story would only have excited and upset her more. I only mentioned casually that I had been with the prince at the countess’s and was convinced that he was an awful scoundrel. She did not even question me about him, of which I was very glad; but she listened eagerly to what I told her of my interview with Katya. When she heard my account of it she said nothing about her either, but her pale face flushed, and on that day she seemed especially agitated. I concealed nothing about Katya, and openly confessed that even upon me she had made an excellent impression. Yes, and what was the use of hiding it? Natasha would have guessed, of course, that I was hiding something, and would only have been angry with me. And so I purposely told her everything as fully as possible, trying to anticipate her questions, for in her position I should have felt it hard to ask them; it could scarcely be an easy task to inquire with an air of unconcern into the perfections of one’s rival.

I fancied that she did not know yet that the prince was insisting on Alyosha’s accompanying the countess and Katya into the country, and took great pains to break this to her so as to soften the blow. But what was my amazement when Natasha stopped me at the first word and said that there was no need to comfort her and that she had known of this for the last five days.

“Good heavens!” I cried, “why, who told you?”

“Alyosha!”

“What? He has told you so already?”

“Yes, and I have made up my mind about everything, Vanya,” she added, with a look which clearly, and, as it were, impatiently warned me not to continue the conversation.

Alyosha came pretty often to Natasha’s, but always only for a minute; only on one occasion he stayed with her for several hours at a time, but that was when I was not there. He usually came in melancholy and looked at her with timid tenderness; but Natasha met him so warmly and affectionately that he always forgot it instantly and brightened up. He had taken to coming to see me very frequently too, almost every day. He was indeed terribly harassed and he could not remain a single moment alone with his distress, and kept running to me every minute for consolation.

What could I say to him? He accused me of coldness, of indifference, even of ill-feeling towards him; he grieved, he shed tears, went off to Katya’s, and there was comforted.

On the day that Natasha told me that she knew that Alyosha was going away (it was a week after my conversation with the prince) he ran in to me in despair, embraced me, fell on my neck, and sobbed like a child. I was silent, and waited to see what he would say.

“I’m a low, abject creature, Vanya,” he began. “Save me from myself. I’m not crying because I’m low and abject, but because through me Natasha will be miserable. I am leaving her to misery . . . Vanya, my dear, tell me, decide for me, which of them do I love most, Natasha or Katya?”

“That I can’t decide, Alyosha,” I answered. “You ought to know better than I . . .”

“No, Vanya, that’s not it; I’m not so stupid as to ask such a question; but the worst of it is that I can’t tell myself. I ask myself and I can’t answer. But you look on from outside and may see more clearly than I do. . . . Well, even though you don’t know, tell me how it strikes you?”

“It seems to me you love Katya best.”

“You think that! No, no, not at all! You’ve not guessed right. I love Natasha beyond everything. I can never leave her, nothing would induce me; I’ve told Katya so, and she thoroughly agrees with me. Why are you silent? I saw you smile just now. Ech Vanya, you have never comforted me when I’ve been too miserable, as I am now. . . . Good-bye!”

He ran out of the room, having made an extraordinary impression on the astonished Nellie, who had been listening to our conversation in silence. At the time she was still ill, and was lying in bed and taking medicine. Alyosha never addressed her, and scarcely took any notice of her on his visits.

Two hours later he turned up again, and I was amazed at his joyous countenance. He threw himself on my neck again and embraced me.

“The thing’s settled,” he cried, “all misunderstandings are over. I went straight from you to Natasha. I was upset, I could not exist without her. When I went in I fell at her feet and kissed them; I had to do that, I longed to do it. If I hadn’t I should have died of misery. She embraced me in silence, crying. Then I told her straight out that I loved Katya more than I love her.”

“What did she say?

“She said nothing, she only caressed me and comforted me — me, after I had told her that! She knows how to comfort one, Ivan Petrovitch! Oh, I wept away all my sadness with her — I told her everything. I told her straight out that I was awfully fond of Katya, but however much I loved her, and whomever I loved, I never could exist without her, Natasha, that I should die without her. No, Vanya, I could not live without her, I feel that; no! And so we made up our minds to be married at once, and as it can’t be done before I go away because it’s Lent now, and we can’t get married in Lent, it shall be when I come back, and that will be the first of June. My father will allow it, there can be no doubt of that. And as for Katya, well, what of it! I can’t live without Natasha, you know. . . . We’ll be married, and go off there at once to Katya’s . . . ”

Poor Natasha! What it must have cost her to comfort this boy, to bend over him, listen to his confession and invent the fable of their speedy marriage to comfort the naive egoist. Alyosha really was comforted for some days. He used to fly round to Natasha’s because his faint heart was not equal to bearing his grief alone. But yet, as the time of their separation grew nearer, he relapsed into tears and fretting again, and would again dash round to me and pour out his sorrow. Of late he had become so bound up with Natasha that he could not leave her for a single day, much less for six weeks. He was fully convinced, however, up to the very last minute, that he was only leaving her for six weeks and that their wedding would take place on his return. As for Natasha, she fully realized that her whole life was to be transformed, that Alyosha would never come back to her, and that this was how it must be.

The day of their separation was approaching. Natasha was ill, pale, with feverish eyes and parched lips. From time to time she talked to herself, from time to time threw a rapid and searching glance at me. She shed no tears, did not answer my questions, and quivered like a leaf on a tree when she heard Alyosha’s ringing voice; she glowed like a sunset and flew to meet him; kissed and embraced him hysterically, laughed . . . Alyosha gazed at her, asking with anxiety after her health, tried to comfort her by saying that he was not going for long, and that then they would be married. Natasha made a visible effort, controlled herself, and suppressed her tears. She did not cry before him.

Once he said that he must leave her money enough for all the time he was away, and that she need not worry, because his father had promised to give him plenty for the journey. Natasha frowned. When we were left alone I told her I had a hundred and fifty roubles for her in case of need. She did not ask where the money came from. This was two days before Alyosha’s departure, and the day before the first and last meeting between Natasha and Katya. Katya had sent a note by Alyosha in which she asked Natasha’s permission to visit her next day, and at the same time she wrote to me and begged me, too, to be present at their interview.

I made up my mind that I would certainly be at Natasha’s by twelve o’clock (the hour fixed by Katya) regardless of all obstacles; and there were many difficulties and delays. Apart from Nellie, I had for the last week had a great deal of worry with the Ichmenyevs.

Anna Andreyevna sent for me one morning, begging me to throw aside everything and hasten to her at once on account of a matter of urgency which admitted of no delay. When I arrived I found her alone. She was walking about the room in a fever of agitation and alarm, in tremulous expectation of her husband’s return. As usual it was a long time before I could get out of her what was the matter and why she was in such a panic, and at the same time it was evident that every moment was precious. At last after heated and irrelevant reproaches such as “Why didn’t I come, why did I leave her all alone in her sorrow?” so that “Goodness knows what had been happening in my absence,” she told me that for the last three days Nikolay Sergeyitch had been in a state of agitation “that was beyond all description.”

“He’s simply not like himself,” she said, “he’s in a fever, at night he prays in secret on his knees before the ikons. He babbles in his sleep, and by day he’s like some one half crazy. We were having soup yesterday, and he couldn’t find the spoon set beside him; you ask him one thing and he answers another. He has taken to running out of the house every minute, he always says ‘I’m going out on business, I must see the lawyer,’ and this morning he locked himself up in his study. ‘I have to write an important statement relating to my legal business,’ he said. Well, thinks I, how are you going to write a legal statement when you can’t find your spoon? I looked through the keyhole, though he was sitting writing, and he all the while crying his eyes out. A queer sort of business statement he’ll write like that, thinks I. Though maybe he’s grieving for our Ichmenyevka. So it’s quite lost then! While I was thinking that, he suddenly jumped up from the table and flung the pen down on the table; he turned crimson and his eyes flashed, he snatched up his cap and came out to me. ‘I’m coming back directly, Anna Andreyevna,’ he said. He went out and I went at once to his writing-table. There’s such a mass of papers relating to our lawsuit lying there that he never lets me touch it. How many times have I asked him: ‘Do let me lift up those papers, if it’s only for once, I want to dust the table’, ‘Don’t you dare!’ he shouts, and waves his arms. He’s become so impatient here in Petersburg and so taken to shouting, So I went up to the table and began to look what paper it was he had been writing. For I knew for a fact he had not taken it with him but had thrust it under another paper when he got up from the table. And here, look, Ivan Petrovitch, dear, what I have found.”

And she gave me a sheet of note-paper half covered with writing but so blotted that in some places it was illegible.

Poor old man! From the first line one could tell what and to whom he was writing. It was a letter to Natasha, his adored Natasha. He began warmly and tenderly, he approached her with forgiveness, and urged her to come to him. It was difficult to make out the whole letter, it was written jerkily and unevenly, with numerous blots. It was only evident that the intense feeling which had led him to take up the pen and to write the first lines, full of tenderness, was quickly followed by other emotions. The old man began to reproach his daughter, describing her wickedness in the bitterest terms, indignantly reminding her of her obstinacy, reproaching her for heartlessness in not having once, perhaps, considered how she was treating her father and mother. He threatened her with retribution and a curse for her pride, and ended by insisting that she should return home promptly and submissively, “and only then perhaps after a new life of humility and exemplary behaviour in the bosom of your family we will decide to forgive you,” he wrote. It was evident that after the first few lines he had taken his first generous feeling for weakness, had begun to be ashamed of it, and finally, suffering from tortures of wounded pride, he had ended in anger and threats. Anna Andreyevna stood facing me with her hand clasped, waiting in an agony of suspense to hear what I should say about the letter.

I told her quite truly how it struck me, that is that her husband could not bear to go on living without Natasha, and that one might say with certainty that their speedy reconciliation was inevitable, though everything depended on circumstances, expressed at the same time my conjecture that probably the failure of his lawsuit had been a great blow and shock to him, to say nothing of the mortification of his pride at the prince’s triumph over him, and his indignation at the way the case had been decided. At such a moment the heart cannot help seeking for sympathy, and he thought with a still more passionate longing of her whom he had always loved more than anyone on earth. And perhaps too he might have heard (for he was on the alert and knew all about Natasha) that Alyosha was about to abandon her. He might realize what she was going through now and how much she needed to be comforted. But yet he could not control himself, considering that he had been insulted and injured by his daughter. It had probably occurred to him that she would not take the first step, that possibly she was not thinking of him and felt no longing for reconciliation. “That’s what he must have thought,” I said in conclusion, “and that’s why he didn’t finish his letter, and perhaps it would only lead to fresh mortification which would be felt even more keenly than the first, and might, who knows, put off the reconciliation indefinitely . . .”

Anna Andreyevna cried as she listened to me. At last, when I said that I had to go at once to Natasha’s, and that I was late, she started, and informed me that she had forgotten the chief thing. When she took the paper from the table she had upset the ink over it. One corner was indeed covered with ink, and the old lady was terribly afraid that her husband would find out from this blot that she had been rummaging among his paper when he was out and had read his letter to Natasha. There were good grounds for her alarm; the very fact that we knew his secret might lead him through shame and vexation to persist in his anger, and through pride to be stubborn and unforgiving.

But on thinking it over I told my old friend not to worry herself. He had got up from his letter in such excitement that he might well have no clear recollection of details and would probably now think that he had blotted the letter himself. Comforting Anna Andreyevna in this way, I helped her to put the letter back where it had been before, and I bethought me to speak to her seriously about Nellie. It occurred to me that the poor forsaken orphan whose own mother had been cursed by an unforgiving father might, by the sad and tragic story of her life and of her mother’s death, touch the old man and move him to generous feelings. Everything was ready: everything was ripe in his heart; the longing for his daughter had already begun to get the upper hand of his pride and his wounded sanity. All that was needed was a touch, a favourable chance, and that chance might be provided by Nellie, My old friend listened to me with extreme attention. Her whole face lighted up with hope and enthusiasm. She began at once to reproach me for not having told her before; began impatiently questioning me about Nellie and ended by solemnly promising that she would of her own accord urge her husband to take the orphan girl into their house. She began to feel a genuine affection for Nellie, was sorry to hear that she was ill, questioned me about her, forced me to take the child a pot of jam which she ran herself to fetch from the store-room, brought me five roubles, thinking I shouldn’t have enough money for the doctor, and could hardly be pacified when I refused to take it, but consoled herself with the thought that Nellie needed clothes, so that she could be of use to her in that way. Then she proceeded to ransack all her chests and to overhaul all her wardrobe, picking out things she might give to the orphan.

I went off to Natasha’s. As I mounted the last flight of the staircase, which, as I have said, went round in a spiral, I noticed at her door a man who was on the point of knocking, but hearing my step he checked himself. Then, after some hesitation he apparently abandoned his intention and ran downstairs. I came upon him at the turn of the stairs, and what was my astonishment when I recognized Ichmenyev. It was very dark on the stairs even in the daytime. He shrank back against the wall to let me pass; and I remember the strange glitter in his eyes as he looked at me intently. I fancied that he flushed painfully. But anyway he was terribly taken aback, and even overcome with confusion.

“Ech, Vanya, why, it’s you!” he brought out in a shaky voice. “I’ve come here to see someone . . . a copying-clerk . . . on business . . . he’s lately moved . . . somewhere this way . . . but he doesn’t live here it seems . . . I’ve made a mistake . . . good-bye.”

And he ran quickly down the stairs.

I decided not to tell Natasha as yet of this meeting, but to wait at any rate till Alyosha had gone and she was alone. At the moment she was so unhinged that, though she would have understood and have realized the full importance of the fact, she would not have been capable of taking it in and feeling it as she would do at the moment of the last overwhelming misery and despair. This was not the moment.

I might have gone to the Ichmenyevs’ again that day and I felt a great inclination to do so. But I did not. I fancied my old friend would feel uncomfortable at the sight of me. He might even imagine that my coming was the result of having met him. I did not go to see them till two days later; my old friend was depressed, but he met me with a fairly unconcerned air and talked of nothing but his case.

“And I say, who was it you were going to see so high up, when we met, do you remember — when was it? — the day before yesterday, I fancy,” he asked suddenly, somewhat carelessly, though he avoided looking at me.

“A friend of mine lives there,” I answered, also keeping my eyes turned away.

“Ah! And I was looking for my clerk, Astafyev; I was told it was that house . . . but it was a mistake. Well, as I was just telling you . . in the Senate the decision . .” and so on, and so on.

He positively crimsoned as he turned the subject.

I repeated all this to Anna Andreyevna the same day, to cheer her up. I besought her among other things not to look at him just now with a significant air, not to sigh, or drop hints; in fact, not to betray in any way that she knew of this last exploit of his. My old friend was so surprised and delighted that at first she would not even believe me. She, for her part, told me that she had already dropped a hint to Nikolay Sergeyitch about the orphan, but that he had said nothing, though till then he had always been begging her to let them adopt the child. We decided that next day she should speak to him openly, without any hints or beating about the bush. But next day we were both in terrible alarm and anxiety.

What happened was that Ichmenyev had an interview in the morning with the man who had charge of his case, and the latter had informed him that he had seen the prince, and that, though the prince was retaining possession of Ichmenyevka, yet, “in consequence of certain family affairs,” he had decided to compensate the old man and to allow him the sum of ten thousand roubles. The old man came straight from this visit to me, in a terrible state of excitement, his eyes were flashing with fury. He called me, I don’t know why, out of my flat on to the stairs and began to insist that I should go at once to the prince and take him a challenge to a duel.

I was so overwhelmed that for a long time I could not collect my ideas. I began trying to dissuade him, But my old friend became so furious that he was taken ill. I rushed into the flat for a glass of water, but when I came back I found Ichmenyev no longer on the stairs.

Next day I went to see him, but he was not at home. He disappeared for three whole days.

On the third day we learnt what had happened. He had hurried off from me straight to the prince’s, had not found him at home and had left a note for him. In his letter he said he had heard of the prince’s intentions, that he looked upon them as a deadly insult, and on the prince as a low scoundrel, and that he therefore challenged him to a duel, warning him not to dare decline the challenge or he should be publicly disgraced.

Anna Andreyevna told me that he returned home in such a state of perturbation and excitement that he had to go to bed. He had been very tender with her, but scarcely answered her questions, and was evidently in feverish expectation of something. Next morning a letter came by the post. On reading it he had cried out aloud and clutched at his head. Anna Andreyevna was numb with terror. But he at once snatched up his hat and stick and rushed out.

The letter was from the prince. Dryly, briefly, and courteously he informed Ichmenyev that he, Prince Valkovsky, was not bound to give any account to anyone of what he had said to the lawyer, that though he felt great sympathy with Ichmenyev for the loss of his case, he could not feel it just for the man who had lost a case to be entitled to challenge his rival to a duel by way of revenge. As for the “public disgrace” with which he was threatened, the prince begged Ichmenyev not to trouble himself about it, for there would be, and could be, no public disgrace, that the letter would be at once sent to the proper quarter, and that the police would no doubt be equal to taking steps for preserving law and order.

Ichmenyev with the letter in his hand set off at once for the prince’s. Again he was not at home, but the old man learnt from the footman that the prince was probably at Count Nainsky’s. Without wasting time on thought he ran to the count’s. The count’s porter stopped him as he was running up the staircase. Infuriated to the utmost the old man hit him a blow with his stick. He was at once seized, dragged out on to the steps and handed over to a police officer, who took him to the police station. The count was informed. When the prince, who was present, explained to the old profligate that this was Ichmenyev, the father of the charming young person (the prince had more than once been of service to the old count in such enterprises), the great gentleman only laughed and his wrath was softened. The order was given that Ichmenyev should be discharged. But he was not released till two days after, when (no doubt by the prince’s orders) Ichmenyev was informed that the prince had himself begged the count to be lenient to him.

The old man returned home in a state bordering on insanity, rushed to his bed and lay for a whole hour without moving. At last he got up, and to Anna Andreyevna’s horror announced that he should curse his daughter for ever and deprive her of his fatherly blessing.

Anna Andreyevna was horrified, but she had to look after the old man, and, hardly knowing what she was doing, she waited upon him all that day and night, wetting his head with vinegar and putting ice on it. He was feverish and delirious. It was past two o’clock in the night when I left them. But next morning Ichmenyev got up, and he came the same day to me to take Nellie home with him for good. I have already described his scene with Nellie. This scene shattered him completely. When he got home he went to bed. All this happened on Good Friday, the day fixed for Katya to see Natasha, and the day before Alyosha and Katya were to leave Petersburg. I was present at the interview. It took place early in the morning, before Ichmenyev’s visit, and before Nellie ran away the first time.

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