The Insulted and the Injured, by Fyodor Dostoyevsky

Chapter IX

I LOOKED at him eagerly, although I had seen him many times before that minute. I looked into his eyes, as though his expression might explain all that bewildered me, might explain how this boy could enthral her, could arouse in her love so frantic that it made her forget her very first duty and sacrifice all that had been till that moment most holy to her. The prince took both my hands and pressed them warmly, and the look in his eyes, gentle and candid, penetrated to my heart.

I felt that I might be mistaken in my conclusions about him if only from the fact that he was my enemy. Yes, I was not fond of him; and I’m sorry to say I never could care for him — and was perhaps alone among his acquaintances in this. I could not get over my dislike of many things in him, even of his elegant appearance, perhaps, indeed, because it was too elegant. Afterwards I recognized that I had been prejudiced in my judgement. He was tall, slender and graceful; his face was rather long and always pale; he had fair hair, large, soft, dreamy, blue eyes, in which there were occasional flashes of the most spontaneous, childish gaiety. The full crimson lips of his small, exquisitely modelled mouth almost always had a grave expression, and this gave a peculiarly unexpected and fascinating charm to the smile which suddenly appeared on them, and was so naive and candid that, whatever mood one was in, one felt instantly tempted to respond to it with a similar smile. He dressed not over-fashionably, but always elegantly; it was evident that this elegance cost him no effort whatever, that it was innate in him.

It is true that he had some unpleasant traits, some of the bad habits characteristic of aristocratic society: frivolity, self-complacency, and polite insolence. But he was so candid and simple at heart that he was the first to blame himself for these defects, to regret them and mock at them. I fancy that this boy could never tell a lie even in jest, or if he did tell one it would be with no suspicion of its being wrong. Even egoism in him was rather her attractive, just perhaps because it was open and not concealed. There was nothing reserved about him. He was weak, confiding, and fainthearted; he had no will whatever. To deceive or injure him would have been as sinful and cruel as deceiving and injuring a child. He was too simple for his age and had scarcely any notion of real life; though, indeed, I believe he would not have any at forty. Men like him are destined never to grow up. I fancy that hardly any man could have disliked him; he was as affectionate as a child. Natasha had spoken truly; he might have been guilty of an evil action if driven to it by some strong influence, but if he had recognized the result of the action afterwards, I believe he would have died of regret. Natasha instinctively felt that she would have mastery and dominion over him that he would even be her victim. She had had a foretaste of the joys of loving passionately and torturing the man that she loved simply because she loved him, and that was why, perhaps, she was in haste to be the first to sacrifice herself. But his eyes, too, were bright with love, and he looked at her rapturously. She looked at me triumphantly. At that instant she forgot everything — her parents, and her leave-taking and her suspicions. She was happy.

“Vanya!” she cried. “I’ve been unfair to him and I’m not worthy of him. I thought you weren’t coming, Alyosha. Forget my evil thoughts, Vanya! I’ll atone for it!” she added, looking at him with infinite love.

He smiled, kissed her hand, and still keeping his hold of her hand turned to me, and said:

“Don’t blame me either. I’ve been wanting to embrace you as a brother for ever so long; she has told me so much about you! We’ve somehow not made friends or got on together till now. Let us be friends, and . . . forgive us,” he added, flushing slightly and speaking in an undertone, but with such a charming smile that I could not help responding to his greeting with my whole heart.

“Yes, yes, Alyosha,” Natasha chimed in, “ he’s on our side, he’s a brother to us, he has forgiven us already, and without him we shall not be happy. I’ve told you already. . . . Ah, we’re cruel children, Alyosha! But we will live all three together. . . . Vanya!” she went on, and her lips began to quiver. “You’ll go back home now to them. You have such a true heart that though they won’t forgive me, yet when they see that you’ve forgiven me it may soften them a little. Tell them everything, everything, in your own words, from your heart; find the right words. . . . Stand up for me, save me. Explain to them all the reasons as you understand it. You know, Vanya, I might not have brought myself to it, if you hadn’t happened to be with me today! You are my salvation. I rested all my hopes on you at once, for I felt that you would know how to tell them, so that at least the first awfulness would be easier for them. Oh, my God, my God! . . . Tell them from me, Vanya, that I know I can never be forgiven now; if they forgive me, God won’t forgive; but that if they curse me I shall always bless them and pray for them to the end of my life. My whole heart is with them! Oh, why can’t we all be happy! Why, why! . . . My God, what have I done!” she cried out suddenly, as though realizing, and trembling all over with horror she hid her face in her hands.

Alyosha put his arm round her and held her close to him without speaking. Several minutes of silence followed.

“And you could demand such a sacrifice?” I cried, looking at him reproachfully.

“Don’t blame me,” he repeated. “I assure you that all this misery, terrible as it is, is only for the moment. I’m perfectly certain of it. We only need to have the courage to bear this moment; she said the very same to me herself. You know that what’s at the bottom of it all is family pride, these quite foolish squabbles, some stupid lawsuits! . . . But (I’ve been thinking about it for a long while, I assure you) . . . all this must be put a stop to. We shall all come together again; and then we shall be perfectly happy, and the old people will be reconciled when they see us. Who knows, perhaps, our marriage will be the first step to their reconciliation. I think, in fact, it’s bound to be so. What do you think?”

“You speak of your marriage. When is the wedding to be!” I asked, glancing at Natasha.

“To-morrow or the day after. The day after tomorrow at the latest — that’s settled. I don’t know much about it myself yet, you see; and in fact I’ve not made any arrangements. I thought that perhaps Natasha wouldn’t come today. Besides, my father insisted on taking me to see my betrothed today. (You know they’re making a match for me; has Natasha told you? But I won’t consent.) So you see I couldn’t make any definite arrangements. But anyway we shall be married the day after tomorrow. I think so, at least, for I don’t see how else it can be. To-morrow we’ll set off on the road to Pskov. I’ve a school-friend, a very nice fellow, living in the country not far-off, in that direction; you must meet him. There’s a priest in the village there; though I don’t know whether there is or not. I ought to have made inquiries, but I’ve not had time. . . . But all that’s of no consequence, really. What matters is to keep the chief thing in view. One might get a priest from a neighbouring village, what do you think? I suppose there are neighbouring villages! It’s a pity that I haven’t had time to write a line; I ought to have warned them we were corning. My friend may not be at home now perhaps. . . . But that’s no matter. So long as there’s determination everything will be settled of itself, won’t it? And meanwhile, till tomorrow or the day after, she will be here with me. I have taken a flat on purpose, where we shall live when we come back. I can’t go on living with my father, can I? You’ll come and see us? I’ve made it so nice. My school-friends will come and see us. We’ll have evenings . . . ”

I looked at him in perplexity and distress. Natasha’s eyes besought me to be kind and not to judge him harshly. She listened to his talk with a sort of mournful smile, and at the same time she seemed to be admiring him as one admires a charming, merry child, listening to its sweet but senseless prattle, I looked at her reproachfully. I was unbearably miserable.

“But your father?” I asked. “Are you so perfectly certain he’ll forgive you?”

“He must,” he replied. “What else is there left for him to do? Of course he may curse me at first; in fact, I’m sure he will. He’s like that; and so strict with me. He may even take some proceedings against me; have recourse to his parental authority, in fact. . . . But that’s not serious, you know. He loves me beyond anything. He’ll be angry and then forgive us. Then everyone will be reconciled, and we shall all be happy. Her father, too.”

“And what if he doesn’t forgive you? Have you thought of that?”

“He’s sure to forgive us, though perhaps not at once. But what then? I’ll show him that I have character. He’s always scolding me for not having character, for being feather-headed. He shall see now whether I’m feather-headed. To be a married man is a serious thing. I shan’t be a boy then. . . . I mean I shall be just like other people . . . that is, other married men. I shall live by my own work. Natasha says that’s ever so much better than living at other people’s expense, as we all do. If you only knew what a lot of fine things she says to me! I should never have thought of it myself — I’ve not been brought up like that, I haven’t been properly educated. It’s true, I know it myself, I’m feather-headed and scarcely fit for anything; but, do you know, a wonderful idea occurred to me the day before yesterday. I’ll tell you now though it’s hardly the moment, for Natasha, too, must hear, and you’ll give me your advice. You know I want to write stories and send them to the magazines just as you do. You’ll help me with the editors, won’t you? I’ve been reckoning upon you, and I lay awake all last night thinking of a novel, just as an experiment, and do you know, it might turn out a charming thing. I took the subject from a comedy of Scribe’s. . . . But I’ll tell you it afterwards. The great thing is they would pay for it. . . . You see, they pay you.”

I could not help smiling.

“You laugh,” he said, smiling in response. “But, I say,” he added with incredible simplicity, “don’t think I’m quite as bad as I seem. I’m really awfully observant, you’ll see that. Why shouldn’t I try? It might come to something. . . . But I dare say you’re right. Of course I know nothing of real life; that’s what Natasha tells me; and indeed everyone says so; I should be a queer sort of writer. You may laugh, you may laugh; you’ll set me right; you’ll be doing it for her sake, and you love her. I tell you the truth. I’m not good enough for her; I feel that; it’s a great grief to me, and I don’t know why she’s so fond of me. But I feel I’d give my life for her. I’ve really never been afraid of anything before, but at this moment I feel frightened. What is it we’re doing? Heavens, is it possible that when a man’s absolutely set upon his duty he shouldn’t have the brains and the courage to do it? You must help us, anyway; you’re our friend. You’re the only friend left us. For what can I do alone! Forgive me for reckoning on you like this. I think of you as such a noble man, and far superior to me. But I shall improve, believe me, and be worthy of you both.”

At this point he pressed my hand again, and his fine eyes were full of warm and sincere feeling. He held out his hand to me so confidingly, had such faith in my being his friend.

“She will help me to improve,” he went on. “But don’t think anything very bad of me; don’t be too grieved about us. I have great hopes, in spite of everything, and on the financial side we’ve no need to trouble. If my novel doesn’t succeed — to tell the truth I thought this morning that the novel is a silly idea, and I only talked about it to hear your opinion — I could, if the worst comes to the worst, give music-lessons. You didn’t know I was good at music? I’m not ashamed to live by work like that; I have quite the new ideas about that. Besides I’ve a lot of valuable knickknacks, things for the toilet; what do we want with them? I’ll sell them. And you know we can live for ever so long on that! And if the worst comes to the worst, I can even take a post in, some department. My father would really be glad. He’s always at me to go into the service, but I always make out I’m not well. (But I believe my name is put down for something.) But when he sees that marriage has done me good, and made me steady, and that I have really gone into the service, he’ll be delighted and forgive me . . . .”

“But, Alexey Petrovitch, have you thought what a terrible to-do there’ll be now between your father and hers? What will it be like in her home this evening, do you suppose?”

And I motioned towards Natasha, who had turned deadly pale at my words. I was merciless.

“Yes, yes, you’re right. It’s awful!” he answered. “I’ve thought about it already and grieved over it. But what can we do? You’re right; if only her parents will forgive us! And how I love them — if you only knew! They’ve been like a father and mother to me, and this is how I repay them! Ach, these quarrels, these lawsuits! You can’t imagine how unpleasant all that is now. And what are they quarrelling about! We all love one another so, and yet we’re quarrelling. If only they’d be reconciled and make an end of it! That’s what I’d do in their place. . . . I feel frightened at what you say. Natasha, it’s awful what we’re doing, you and I! I said that before. . . . You insisted on it yourself. . . . But, listen, Ivan Petrovitch, perhaps it will an be for the best, don’t you think? They’ll be reconciled, you know, in the end. We shall reconcile them. That is so, there’s no doubt of it. They can’t hold out against our love. . . . Let them curse us; we shall love them all the same, and they can’t hold out. You don’t know what a kind heart my father has sometimes. He only looks ferocious, but at other times he’s most reasonable. If you only knew how gently he talked to me today, persuading me! And I’m going against him today, and that makes me very sad. It’s all these stupid prejudices! It’s simple madness! Why, if he were to take a good look at her, and were to spend only half an hour with her, he would sanction everything at once.”

Alyosha looked tenderly and passionately at Natasha.

“I’ve fancied a thousand times with delight,” he went on babbling, “how he will love her as soon as he gets to know her, and how she’ll astonish everyone. Why, they’ve never seen a girl like her! My father is convinced that she is simply a schemer. It’s my duty to vindicate her honour, and I shall do it. Ah, Natasha, everyone loves you, everyone. Nobody could help loving you,” he added rapturously. “Though I’m not nearly good enough for you, still you must love me, Natasha, and I . . . you know me! And do we need much to make us happy! No, I believe, I do believe that this evening is bound to bring us all happiness, peace and harmony I Blessed be this evening! Isn’t it so, Natasha? But what’s the matter? But, my goodness, what’s the matter?”

She was pale as death. All the while Alyosha rambled on she was looking intently at him, but her eyes grew dimmer and more fixed, and her face turned whiter and whiter. I fancied at last that she had sunk into a stupor and did not hear him. Alyosha’s exclamation seemed to rouse her. She came to herself, looked round her, and suddenly rushed to me. Quickly, as though in haste and anxious to hide it from Alyosha, she took a letter out of her pocket and gave it to me. It was a letter to her father and mother, and had been written overnight. As she gave it me she looked intently at me as though she could not take her eyes off me. There was a look of despair in them; I shall never forget that terrible look. I was overcome by horror, too. I saw that only now she realized all the awfulness of what she was doing. She struggled to say something, began to speak, and suddenly fell fainting. I was just in time to catch her. Alyosha turned pale with alarm; he rubbed her temples, kissed her hands and her lips. In two minutes she came to herself. The cab in which Alyosha had come was standing not far off; he called it. When she was in the cab Natasha clutched my hand frantically, and a hot tear scalded my fingers. The cab started. I stood a long while watching it. All my happiness was ruined from that moment, and my life was broken in half. I felt that poignantly. . . . I walked slowly back to my old friends. I did not know what to say to them, how I should go in to them. My thoughts were numb; my legs were giving way beneath me.

And that’s the story of my happiness; so my love was over and ended. I will now take up my story where I left it.

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