WE had not far to go, to the Torgovoy Bridge. For the first minute we were silent. I kept wondering how he would begin. I fancied that he would try me, sound me, probe me. But he spoke without any beating about the bush, and went straight to the point.
“I am very uneasy about one circumstance, Ivan Petrovitch,” he began, “about which I want to speak to you first of all, and to ask your advice. I made up my mind some time ago to forgo what I have won from my lawsuit and to give up the disputed ten thousand to Ichmenyev. How am I to do this?”
“It cannot be that you really don’t know how to act,” was the thought that flashed through my mind. “Aren’t you making fun of me?”
“I don’t know, prince,” I answered as simply as I could; “in something else, that is, anything concerning Natalya Nikolaevna, I am ready to give you any information likely to be of use to you or to us, but in this matter you must know better than I do.”
“No, no, I don’t know so well, of course not. You know them, and perhaps Natalya Nikolaevna may have given you her views on the subject more than once, and they would be my guiding principle. You can be a great help to me. It’s an extremely difficult matter. I am prepared to make a concession. I’m even determined to make a concession, however other matters may end. You understand? But how, and in what form, to make that concession? That’s the question. The old man’s proud and obstinate. Very likely he’ll insult me for my good-nature, and throw the money in my face.”
“But excuse me. How do you look upon that money? As your own or as his?”
“I won the lawsuit, so the money’s mine.”
“But in your conscience?”
“Of course I regard it as mine,” he answered, somewhat piqued at my unceremoniousness. “But I believe you don’t know all the facts of the case. I don’t accuse the old man of intentional duplicity, and I will confess I’ve never accused him. It was his own choice to take it as an insult. He was to blame for carelessness, for not looking more sharply after business entrusted to him. And by our agreement he was bound to be responsible for some of his mistakes. But, do you know, even that’s not really the point. What was really at the bottom of it was our quarrelling, our mutual recriminations at the time, in fact, wounded vanity on both sides. I might not have taken any notice of that paltry ten thousand, but you know, of course, how the whole case began and what it arose from. I’m ready to admit that I was suspicious and perhaps unjust (that is, unjust at the time), but I wasn’t aware of it, and in my vexation and resentment of his rudeness I was unwilling to let the chance slip, and began the lawsuit. You may perhaps think all that not very generous on my part. I don’t defend myself; only I may observe that anger, or, still more, wounded pride is not the same as lack of generosity, but is a natural human thing, and I confess, I repeat again, that I did not know Ichmenyev at all, and quite believed in those rumours about Alyosha and his daughter, and so was able to believe that the money had been intentionally stolen. . . . But putting that aside, the real question is, what am I to do now? I might refuse the money, but if at the same time I say that I still consider my claim was a just one, it comes to my giving him the money, and, add to that the delicate position in regard to Natalya Nikolaevna, he’ll certainly fling the money in my face . . . .”
“There, you see, you say yourself he’ll fling it in your face so you do consider him an honest man, and that’s why you can be perfectly certain that he did not steal your money. And if so, why shouldn’t you go to him and tell him straight out that you consider your claim as unjustified. That would be honourable, and Ichmenyev would not perhaps find it difficult then to accept his money.”
“Hm! His money . . . that’s just the question; what sort of position do you put me into? Go to him and tell him I consider my claim illegal. ‘Why did you make it then, if you considered it illegal?’ that’s what every one would say to my face. And I’ve not deserved it, for my claim was legal. I have never said and never written that he stole the money, but I am still convinced of his carelessness, his negligence, and incapacity in managing business. That money is undoubtedly mine, and therefore it would be mortifying to make a false charge against myself, and finally, I repeat, the old man brought the ignominy of it upon himself, and you want to force me to beg his pardon for that ignominy — that’s hard.”
“It seems to me that if two men wanted to be reconciled, then . . .”
“You think it’s easy?
“No, sometimes it’s very far from easy, especially . . .”
“Especially if there are other circumstances connected with it. Yes, there I agree with you, prince. The position of Natalya Nikolaevna and of your son ought to be settled by you in all those points that depend upon you, and settled so as to be fully satisfactory to the Ichmenyevs. Only then can you be quite sincere with Ichmenyev about the lawsuit too. Now, while nothing has been settled, you have only one course open to you: to acknowledge the injustice of your claim, and to acknowledge it openly, and if necessary even publicly, that’s my opinion. I tell you so frankly because you asked me my opinion yourself. And probably you do not wish me to be insincere with you. And this gives me the courage to ask you why you are troubling your head about returning this money to Ichmenyev? If you consider that you were just in your claim, why return it? Forgive my being so inquisitive, but this has such an intimate bearing upon other circumstances.”
“And what do you think?” he asked suddenly, as though he had not heard my question. “Are you so sure that old Ichmenyev would refuse the ten thousand if it were handed to him without any of these evasions and . . . and . . . and blandishments?”
“Of course he would refuse it.”
I flushed crimson and positively trembled with indignation. This impudently sceptical question affected me as though he had spat into my face. My resentment was increased by something else: the coarse, aristocratic manner in which, without answering my question, and apparently without noticing it, he interrupted it with another, probably to give me to understand that I had gone too far and had been too familiar in venturing to ask him such a question. I detested, I loathed that aristocratic manoeuvre and had done my utmost in the past to get Alyosha out of it.
“Hm! You are too impulsive, and things are not done in real life as you imagine,” the prince observed calmly, at my exclamation. “But I think that Natalya Nikolaevna might do something to decide the question; you tell her that she might give some advice.”
“Not a bit of it,” I answered roughly. “You did not deign to listen to what I was saying to you just now, but interrupted me. Natalya Nikolaevna will understand that if you return the money without frankness and without all those blandishments, as you call them, it amounts to your paying the father for the loss of his daughter, and her for the loss of Alyosha — in other words your giving them money compensation . . .”
“Hm! . . . so that’s how you understand me, my excellent Ivan Petrovitch,” the prince laughed. Why did he laugh?
“And meanwhile,” he went on, “there are so many, many things we have to talk over together. But now there’s no time. I only beg you to understand one thing: Natalya Nikolaevna and her whole future are involved in the matter, and all this depends to some extent on what we decide. You are indispensable, you’ll see for yourself. So if you are still devoted to Natalya Nikolaevna, you can’t refuse to go frankly into things with me, however little sympathy you may feel for me. But here we are . . . a bientot.”
Last updated Sunday, March 27, 2016 at 11:53