THE old man came in. He looked at us with curiosity and as though ashamed of something, frowned and went up to the table.
“Where’s the samovar?” he asked. “Do you mean to say she couldn’t bring it till now?”
“It’s coming, my dear, it’s coming. Here, she’s brought it!” said Anna Andreyevna fussily.
Matryona appeared with the samovar as soon as she saw Nikolay Serge, as though she had been waiting to bring it till he came in. She was an old, tried and devoted servant, but the most self-willed and grumbling creature in the world, with an obstinate and stubborn character. She was afraid of Nikolay Sergeyitch and always curbed her tongue in his presence. But she made-up for it with Anna Andreyevna, was rude to her at every turn, and openly attempted to govern her mistress, though at the same time she had a warm and genuine affection for her and for Natasha. I had known Matryona in the old days at Ichmenyevka.
“Hm! . . . It’s not pleasant when one’s wet through and they won’t even get one tea,” the old man muttered.
Anna Andreyevna at once made a sign to me. He could not endure these mysterious signals; and though at the minute he tried not to look at us, one could see from his face that Anna Andreyevna had just signalled to me about him, and that he was fully aware of it.
“I have been to see about my case, Vanya,” he began suddenly. “It’s a wretched business. Did I tell you? It’s going against me altogether. It appears I’ve no proofs; none of the papers I ought to have. My facts cannot be authenticated it seems. Hm! . . . ”
He was speaking of his lawsuit with the prince, which was still dragging on, but had taken a very bad turn for Nikolay Sergevitch. I was silent, not knowing what to answer. He looked suspiciously at me.
“Well!” he brought out suddenly, as though irritated by our silence, “the quicker the better! They won’t make a scoundrel of me, even if they do decide I must pay. I have my conscience, so let them decide. Anyway, the case will be over; it will be settled. I shall be ruined . . . I’ll give up everything and go to Siberia.”
“Good heavens! What a place to go to! And why so far?” Anna Andreyevna could not resist saying.
“And here what are we near?” he asked gruffly, as though glad of the objection.
“Why, near people . . . anyway,” began Anna Andreyevna, and she glanced at me in distress.
“What sort of people?” he cried, turning his feverish eyes from me to her and back again. “What people? Robbers, slanderers, traitors? There are plenty such everywhere; don’t be uneasy, we shall find them in Siberia too. If you don’t want to come with me you can stay here. I won’t take you against your will.”
“Nikolay Sergeyitch, my dear! With whom should I stay without you? Why, I’ve no one but you in the whole . . . ”
She faltered, broke off, and turned to me with a look of alarm, as though begging for help and support. The old man was irritated and was ready to take offence at anything; it was impossible to contradict him.
“Come now, Anna Andreyevna,” said I. “It’s not half as bad in Siberia as you think. If the worst comes to the worst and you have to sell Ichmenyevka, Nikolay Sergeyitch’s plan is very good in fact. In Siberia you might get a good private job, and then . . . ”
“Well, you’re talking sense, Ivan, anyway. That’s just what I thought. I’ll give up everything and go away.”
“Well, that I never did expect,” cried Anna Andreyevna, flinging up her hands. “And you too, Vanya! I didn’t expect it of you! . . . Why, you’ve never known anything but kindness from us and now . . . ”
“Ha, ha, ha! What else did you expect? Why, what are we to live upon, consider that! Our money spent, we’ve come to our last farthing. Perhaps you’d like me to go to Prince Pyotr Alexandrovitch and beg his pardon, eh?”
Hearing the prince’s name, Anna Andreyevna trembled with alarm. The teaspoon in her hand tinkled against the saucer.
“Yes, speaking seriously,” the old man went on, working himself up with malicious, obstinate pleasure, “what do you think, Vanya? Shouldn’t I really go to him? Why go to Siberia? I’d much better comb my hair, put on my best clothes, and brush myself tomorrow; Anna Andreyevna will get me a new shirt-front (one can’t go to see a person like that without!), buy me gloves, to be the correct thing; and then I’ll go to his excellency: ‘Your excellency, little father, benefactor! Forgive me and have pity on me! Give me a crust of bread! I’ve a wife and little children! . . .‘Is that right, Anna Andreyevna? Is that what you want?”
“My dear; I want nothing! I spoke without thinking. Forgive me if I vexed you, only don’t shout,” she brought out, trembling more and more violently in her terror.
I am convinced that everything was topsy-turvy and aching in his heart at that moment, as he looked at his poor wife’s tears and alarm. I am sure that he was suffering far more than she was, but he could not control himself. So it is sometimes with the most good-natured people of weak nerves, who in spite of their kindliness are carried away till they find enjoyment in their own grief and anger, and try to express themselves at any cost, even that of wounding some other innocent creature, always by preference the one nearest and dearest. A woman sometimes has a craving to feel unhappy and aggrieved, though she has no misfortune or grievance. There are many men like women in this respect, and men, indeed, by no means feeble, and who have very little that is feminine about them. The old man had a compelling impulse to quarrel, though he was made miserable by it himself.
I remember that the thought dawned on me at the time: hadn’t he perhaps really before this gone out on some project such as Anna Andreyevna suspected? What if God had softened his heart, and he had really been going to Natasha, and had changed his mind on the way, or something had gone wrong and made him give up his intentions, as was sure to happen; and so he had returned home angry and humiliated, ashamed of his recent feelings and wishes, looking out for someone on whom to vent his anger for his weakness, and pitching on the very ones whom he suspected of sharing the same feeling and wishes. Perhaps when he wanted to forgive his daughter, he pictured the joy and rapture of his poor Anna Andreyevna, and when it came to nothing she was of course the first to suffer for it.
But her look of hopelessness, as she trembled with fear before him, touched him. He seemed ashamed of his wrath, and for a minute controlled himself. We were all silent. I was trying not to look at him. But the good moment did not last long. At all costs he must express himself by some outburst, or a curse if need be.
“You see, Vanya,” he said suddenly, “I’m sorry. I didn’t want to speak, but the time has come when I must speak out openly without evasion, as every straightforward man ought . . . do you understand, Vanya? I’m glad you have come, and so I want to say aloud in your presence so that others may hear that I am sick of all this nonsense, all these tears, and sighs, an misery. What I have torn out of my heart, which bleeds and aches perhaps, will never be back in my heart again. Yes! I’ve said so and I’ll act on it. I’m speaking of what happened six months ago — you understand, Vanya? And I speak of this so openly, so directly, that you may make no mistake about my words,” he added, looking at me with blazing eyes and obviously avoiding his wife’s frightened glances. “I repeat: this is nonsense; I won’t have it! . . . It simply maddens me that everyone looks upon me as capable of having such a low, weak feeling, as though I were a fool, as though I were the most abject scoundrel . . . they imagine I am going mad with grief . . . Nonsense! I have castaway, I have forgotten my old feelings! I have no memory of it! No! no! no! and no! . . . ”
He jumped up from his chair, and struck the table so that the cups tinkled.
“Nicholay Sergeyitch! Have you no feeling for Anna Andreyevna! Look what you are doing to her!” I said, unable to restrain myself and looking at him almost with indignation. But it was only pouring oil on the flames.
“No, I haven’t!” he shouted, trembling and turning white. “I haven’t, for no one feels for me! For in my own house they’re all plotting against me in my dishonour and on the side of my depraved daughter, who deserves my curse, and an punishment! . . .”
“Nikolay Sergeyitch, don’t curse her! . . . Anything you like only don’t curse our daughter!” screamed Anna Andreyevna.
“I will curse her!” shouted the old man, twice as loud as before; “because, insulted and dishonoured as I am, I am expected to go to the accursed girl and ask her forgiveness. Yes, yes, that’s it! I’m tormented in this way in my own house day and night, day and night, with tears and sighs and stupid hints! They try to soften me. . . . Look, Vanya, look,” he added, with trembling hands hastily taking papers out of his side-pocket, “here are the notes of our case. It’s made out that I’m a thief, that I’m a cheat, that I have robbed my benefactor! . . . I am discredited, disgraced, because of her! There, there, look, look! . . .”
And he began polling out of the side-pocket of his coat various papers, and throwing them on the table one after another, hunting impatiently amongst them for the one he wanted to show me; but, as luck would have it, the one he sought was not forthcoming. Impatiently he pulled out of his pocket all he had clutched in his hand, and suddenly something fell heavily on the table with a clink. Anna Andreyevna uttered a shriek. It was the lost locket.
I could scarcely believe my eyes. The blood rushed to the old man’s head and flooded his cheeks; he started. Anna Andreyevna stood with clasped hands looking at him imploringly. Her face beamed with joyful hope. The old man’s flush, his shame before us. . . . Yes, she was not mistaken, she knew now how her locket had been lost!
She saw that he had picked it up, had been delighted at his find, and, perhaps, quivering with joy, had jealously hidden it from all eyes; that in solitude, unseen by all, he had gazed at the face of his adored child with infinite love, had gazed and could not gaze enough; that perhaps like the poor mother he had shut himself away from everyone to talk to his precious Natasha, imagining her replies and answering them himself; and at night with agonizing grief, with suppressed sobs, he had caressed and kissed the dear image, and instead of curses invoked forgiveness and blessings on her whom he would not see and cursed before others.
“My dear, so you love her still!” cried Anna Andreyevna, unable to restrain herself further in the presence of the stern father who had just cursed her Natasha.
But no sooner had he heard her exclamation than an insane fury flashed in his eyes. He snatched up the locket, threw it violently on the ground, and began furiously stamping on it.
“I curse you, I curse you, for ever and ever!” he shouted hoarsely, gasping for breath. “For ever! For ever!”
“Good God!” cried the mother. “Her! My Natasha! Her little face! . . . trampling on it! Trampling on it! Tyrant cruel, unfeeling, proud man!”
Hearing his wife’s wail the frantic old man stopped short, horrified at what he was doing. All at once he snatched up the locket from the floor and rushed towards the door, but he had not taken two steps when he fell on his knees, and dropping his arms on the sofa before him let his head fall helplessly.
He sobbed like a child, like a woman. Sobs wrung his breast as though they would rend it. The threatening old man became all in a minute weaker than a child. Oh, now he could not have cursed her; now he felt no shame before either of us, and in a sudden rush of love covered with kisses the portrait he had just been trampling underfoot. It seemed as though all his tenderness, all his love for his daughter so long restrained, burst out now with irresistible force and shattered his whole being.
“Forgive, forgive her!” Anna Andreyevna exclaimed, sobbing, bending over him and embracing him, “Bring her back to her home, my dear, and at the dread day of judgement God will reward you for your mercy and humility! . . . ”
“No, no! Not for anything! Never!” he exclaimed in a husky choking voice, “never! never!”
Last updated Sunday, March 27, 2016 at 11:53