AT that moment there was a rather loud peal of thunder, and heavy raindrops pattered on the window-panes. The room grew dark. Anna Andreyevna seemed alarmed and crossed herself. We were all startled.
“It will soon be over,” said the old man, looking towards the window. Then he got up and began walking up and down the room.
Nellie looked askance at him. She was in a state of extreme abnormal excitement. I saw that, though she seemed to avoid looking at me.
“Well, what next?” asked the old man, sitting down in his easy-chair again.
Nellie looked round timidly.
“So you didn’t see your grandfather again?”
“Yes, I did . . . ”
“Yes, yes! Tell us, darling, tell us,” Anna Andreyevna put in hastily.
“I didn’t see him for three weeks,” said Nellie, “not till it was quite winter. It was winter then and the snow had fallen. When I met grandfather again at the same place I was awfully pleased . . . for mother was grieving that he didn’t come. When I saw him I ran to the other side of the street on purpose that he might see I ran away from him. Only I looked round and saw that grandfather was following me quickly, and then ran to overtake me, and began calling out to me, ‘Nellie, Nellie!’ And Azorka was running after me. I felt sorry for him and I stopped. Grandfather came up, took me by the hand and led me along, and when he saw I was crying, he stood still, looked at me, bent down and kissed me. Then he saw that my shoes were old, and he asked me if I had no others. I told him as quickly as I could that mother had no money, and that the people at our lodging only gave us something to eat out of pity. Grandfather said nothing, but he took me to the market and bought me some shoes and told me to put them on at once, and then he took me home with him, and went first into a shop and bought a pie and two sweetmeats, and when we arrived he told me to eat the pie; and he looked at me while I ate it, and then gave me the sweetmeats. And Azorka put his paws on the table and asked for some pie, too; I gave him some, and grandfather laughed. Then he took me, made me stand beside him, began stroking my head, and asked me whether I had learnt anything and what I knew. I answered him, and he told me whenever I could to come at three o’clock in the afternoon, and that he would teach me himself. Then he told me to turn away and look out of the window till he told me to look round again. I did as he said, but I peeped round on the sly, and I saw him unpick the bottom corner of his pillow and take out four roubles. Then he brought them to me and said, ‘That’s only for you.’ I was going to take them, but then I changed my mind and said, ‘If it’s only for me I won’t take them.’ Grandfather was suddenly angry, and said to me, ‘Well do as you please, go away.’ I went away, and he didn’t kiss me.
“When I got home I told mother everything. And mother kept getting worse and worse. A medical student used to come and see the coffin-maker; he saw mother and told her to take medicine.
“I used to go and see grandfather often. Mother told me to. Grandfather bought a New Testament and a geography book, and began to teach me; and sometimes he used to tell me what countries there are, and what sort of people live in them, and all the seas, and how it used to be in old times, and how Christ forgave us all. When I asked him questions he was very much pleased, and so I often asked him questions, and he kept telling me things, and he talked a lot about God. And. sometimes we didn’t have lessons, but played with Azorka. Azorka began to get fond of me and I taught him to jump over a stick, and grandfather used to laugh and pat me on the head. Only grandfather did not often laugh. One time he would talk a great deal, and then he would suddenly be quiet and seem to fall asleep, though his eyes were open. And so he would sit till it was dark, and when it was dark he would become so dreadful, so old. . . . Another time I’d come and find him sitting in his chair thinking, and he’d hear nothing; and Azorka would be lying near him. I would wait and wait and cough; and still grandfather wouldn’t look round. And so I’d go away. And at home mother would be waiting for me. She would he there, and I would tell her everything, everything, so that night would come on — while I’d still be telling her and she’d still be listening about grandfather; what he’d done that day, and what he’d said to me, the stories he had told and the lessons he’d given me. And when I told her how I’d made Azorka jump over a stick and how grandfather had laughed, she suddenly laughed, too, and she would laugh and be glad for a long time and make me repeat it again and then begin to pray. And I was always thinking that mother loved grandfather so much and grandfather didn’t love her at all, and when I went to grandfather’s I told him on purpose how much mother loved him and was always asking about him. He listened, looking so angry, but still he listened and didn’t say a word. Then I asked him why it was that mother loved him so much that she was always asking about him, while he never asked about mother. Grandfather got angry and turned me out of the room. I stood outside the door for a little while; and he suddenly opened the door and called me in again; and still he was angry and silent. And afterwards when we began reading the Gospel I asked him again why Jesus Christ said ‘Love one another and forgive injuries’ and yet he wouldn’t forgive mother. Then he jumped up and said that mother had told me that, put me out again and told me never to dare come and see him again. And I said that I wouldn’t come and see him again anyhow, and went away. . . . And next day grandfather moved from his lodgings.”
“I said the rain would soon he over; see it is over, the sun’s come out . . . look, Vanya,” said Nikolay Sergeyitch, turning to the window.
Anna Andreyevna turned to him with extreme surprise, and suddenly there was a flash of indignation in the eyes of the old lady, who had till then been so meek and over-awed. Silently she took Nellie’s hand and made her sit on her knee.
“Tell me, my angel” she said, “I will listen to you. Let the hardhearted . . .”
She burst into tears without finishing. Nellie looked questioningly at me, as though in hesitation and dismay. The old man looked at me, seemed about to shrug his shoulders, but at once turned away.
“Go on, Nellie,” I said.
“For three days I didn’t go to grandfather,” Nellie began again; “and at that time mother got worse. All our money was gone and we had nothing to buy medicine with, and nothing to eat, for the coffin-maker and his wife had nothing either, and they began to scold us for living at their expense. Then on the third day I got up and dressed. Mother asked where I was going. I said to grandfather to ask for money, and she was glad, for I had told mother already about how he had turned me out, and had told her that I didn’t want to go to him again, though she cried and tried to persuade me to go. I went and found out that grandfather had moved, so I went to look for him in the new house. As soon as I went in to see him in his new lodging he jumped up, rushed at me and stamped; and I told him at once that mother was very ill, that we couldn’t get medicine without money, fifty kopecks, and that we’d nothing to eat . . . Grandfather shouted and drove me out on to the stairs and latched the door behind me. But when he turned me out I told him I should sit on the stairs and not go away until he gave me the money. And I sat down on the stairs. In a little while he opened the door, and seeing I was sitting there he shut it again. Then, after a long time he opened it again, saw me, and shut it again. And after that he opened it several times and looked out. Afterwards he came out with Azorka, shut the door and passed by me without saying a word. And I didn’t say a word, but went on sitting there and sat there till it got dark.”
“My darling!” cried Anna Andreyevna, “but it must have been so cold on the staircase!”
“I had on a warm coat,” Nellie answered.
“A coat, indeed! . . . Poor darling, what miseries you’ve been through! What did he do then, your grandfather?”
Nellie’s lips began to quiver, but she made an extraordinary effort and controlled herself.
“He came back when it was quite dark and stumbled against me as he came up, and cried out, ‘Who is it?’ I said it was I. He must have thought I’d gone away long ago, and when he saw I was still there he was very much surprised, and for a long while he stood still before me. Suddenly he hit the steps with his stick, ran and opened his door, and a minute later brought me out some coppers and threw them to me on the stairs.
“‘Here, take this!’ he cried. ‘That’s all I have, take it and tell your mother that I curse her.’ And then he slammed the door. The money rolled down the stairs. I began picking it up in the dark. And grandfather seemed to understand that he’d thrown the money about on the stairs, and that it was difficult for me to find it in the dark; he opened the door and brought out a candle, and by candlelight I soon picked it up. And grandfather picked some up, too, and told me that it was seventy kopecks altogether, and then he went away. When I got home I gave mother the money and told her everything; and mother was worse, and I was ill all night myself, and next day, too, I was all in a fever. I was angry with grandfather. I could think of nothing else; and when mother was asleep I went out to go to his lodging, and before I got there I stopped on the bridge, and then he passed by. . .”
“Arhipov,” I said. “The man I told you about, Nikolay Sergeyitch — the man who was with the young merchant at Mme. Bubnov’s and who got a beating there. Nellie saw him then for the first time . . . Go on, Nellie.”
“I stopped him and asked him for some money, a silver rouble. He said, ‘A silver rouble?’ I said, ‘Yes.’ Then he laughed and said, ‘Come with me.’ I didn’t know whether to go. An old man in gold spectacles came up and heard me ask for the silver rouble. He stooped down and asked me why I wanted so much. I told him that mother was ill and that I wanted as much for medicine. He asked where we lived and wrote down the address, and gave me a rouble note. And when the other man saw the gentleman in spectacles he walked away and didn’t ask me to come with him any more. I went into a shop and changed the rouble. Thirty kopecks I wrapped up in paper and put apart for mother, and seventy kopecks I didn’t put in paper, but held it in my hand on purpose and went to grandfather’s. When I got there I opened the door, stood in the doorway, and threw all the money into the room, so that it rolled about the floor.
“‘There, take your money’ I said to him. ‘Mother doesn’t want it since you curse her.’ Then I slammed the door and ran away at once.”
Her eyes flashed, and she looked with naive defiance at the old man.
“Quite right, too,” said Anna Andreyevna, not looking at Nikolay Sergeyitch and pressing Nellie in her arms. “It served him right. Your grandfather was wicked and cruel-hearted. . .”
“H’m!” responded Nikolay Sergeyitch.
“Well, what then, what then?” Anna Andreyevna asked impatiently.
“I left off going to see grandfather and he left off coming to meet me,” said Nellie.
“Well, how did you get on then — your mother and you? Ah, poor things, poor things!”
“And mother got worse still, and she hardly ever got up,” Nellie went on, and her voice quivered and broke. “We had no more money, and I began to go out with the captain’s widow. She used to go from house to house, and stop good people in the street, too, begging; that was how she lived. She used to tell me she wasn’t a beggar, that she had papers to show her rank, and to show that she was poor, too. She used to show these papers, and people used to give her money for that. She used to tell me that there was no disgrace in begging from all. I used to go out with her, and people gave us money, and that’s how we lived. Mother found out about it because the other lodgers blamed her for being a beggar, and Mme. Bubnov herself came to mother and said she’d better let me go for her instead of begging in the street. She’d been to see mother before and brought her money, and when mother wouldn’t take it from her she said why was she so proud, and sent her things to eat. And when she said this about me mother was frightened and began to cry; and Mme. Bubnov began to swear at her, for she was drunk, and told her that I was a beggar anyway and used to go out with the captain’s widow,’ and that evening she turned the captain’s widow out of the house. When mother heard about it she began to cry; then she suddenly got out of bed, dressed, took my hand and led me out with her. Ivan Alexandritch tried to stop her, but she wouldn’t listen to him, and we went out. Mother could scarcely walk, and had to sit down every minute or two in the street, and I supported her. Mother kept saying that she would go to grandfather and that I was to take her there, and by then it was quite night. Suddenly we came into a big street; there a lot of carriages were waiting outside one of the houses, and a great many people were coming out; there were lights in all the windows and one could hear music. Mother stopped, clutched me and said to me then, ‘Nellie, be poor, be poor all your life; don’t go to him, whoever calls you, whoever comes to you. You might be there, rich and finely dressed, but I don’t want that. They are cruel and wicked, and this is what I bid you: remain poor, work, and ask for alms, and if anyone comes after you say ‘I won’t go with you!’ That’s what mother said to me when she was ill, and I want to obey her all my life,” Nellie added, quivering with emotion, her little face glowing; “and I’ll work and be a servant all my life, and I’ve come to you, too, to work and be a servant. I don’t want to be like a daughter. . .”
“Hush, hush, my darling, hush!” cried Anna Andreyevna, clasping Nellie warmly. “Your mother was ill, you know, when she said that.”
“She was out of her mind,” said the old man sharply.
“What if she were!” cried Nellie, turning quickly to him. “If she were out of her mind she told me so, and I shall do it all my life. And when she said that to me she fell down fainting.”
“Merciful heavens!” cried Anna Andreyevna. “Ill, in the street, in winter!”
“They would have taken us to the police, but a gentleman took our part, asked me our address, gave me ten roubles, and told them to drive mother to our lodging in his carriage, Mother never got up again after that, and three weeks afterwards she died . . . ”
“And her father? He didn’t forgive her after all, then?” cried Anna Andreyevna.
“He didn’t forgive her,” answered Nellie, mastering herself with a painful effort. “A week before her death mother called me to her and said, ‘Nellie, go once more to your grandfather, the last time, and ask him to come to me and forgive me. Tell him in a few days I shall be dead, leaving you all alone in the world. And tell him, too, that it’s hard for me to die . . . .’ I went and knocked at grandfather’s door. He opened it, and as soon as he saw me he meant to shut it again, but I seized the door with both hands and cried out to him:
“‘Mother’s dying, she’s asking for you; come along.’ But he pushed me away and slammed the door. I went back to mother, lay down beside her, hugged her in my arms and said nothing. Mother hugged me, too, and asked no questions.”
At this point Nikolay Sergeyitch leant his hands heavily on the table and stood up, but after looking at us all with strange, lustreless eyes, sank back into his easy-chair helplessly. Anna Andreyevna no longer looked at him. She was, sobbing over Nellie . . .
“The last day before mother died, towards evening she called me to her, took me by the hand and said:
“‘I shall die today, Nellie.’”
“She tried to say something more, but she couldn’t. I looked at her, but she seemed not to see me, only she held my hand tight in hers. I softly pulled away my hand and ran out of the house, and ran all the way to grandfather’s. When he saw me he jumped up from his chair and looked at me, and was so frightened that he turned quite pale and trembled. I seized his hand and only said:
“‘She’s just dying.’
“‘Then all of a sudden in a flurry he picked up his stick and ran after me; he even forgot his hat, and it was cold. I picked up his hat and put it on him, and we ran off together. I hurried him and told him to take a sledge because mother was just dying, but grandfather only had seven kopecks, that was all he had. He stopped a cab and began to bargain, but they only laughed at him and laughed at Azorka; Azorka was running with us, and we all ran on and on. Grandfather was tired and breathing hard, but he still hurried on, running. Suddenly he fell down, and his hat fell off. I helped him up and put his hat on, and led him by the hand, and only towards night we got home. But mother was already lying dead. When grandfather saw her he flung up his hands, trembled, and stood over her, but said nothing. Then I went up to my dead mother, seized grandfather’s hand and cried out to him:
“‘See, you wicked, cruel man. Look! . . . Look!
“Then grandfather screamed and fell down as though he were dead . . . ”
Nellie jumped up, freed herself from Anna Andreyevna’s arms, and stood in the midst of us, pale, exhausted, and terrified. But Anna Andreyevna flew to her, and embracing her again cried as though she were inspired.
“I’ll be a mother to you now, Nellie, and you shall be my child. Yes, Nellie, let us go, let us give up these cruel, wicked people.. Let them mock at people; God will requite them. Come, Nellie, come away from here, come!”
I have never, before or since, seen her so agitated, and I had never thought she could be so excited. Nikolay Sergeyitch sat up in his chair, stood up, and in a breaking voice asked:
“Where are you going, Anna Andreyevna?”
“To her, to my daughter, to Natasha!” she exclaimed, drawing Nellie after her to the door.
“Stay, stay! Wait!”
“No need to wait, you cruel, cold-hearted man! I have waited too long, and she has waited, but now, good-bye! . . . ”
Saying this, Anna Andreyevna turned away, glanced at her husband, and stopped, petrified. Nikolay Sergeyitch was reaching for his hat, and with feeble, trembling hands was pulling on his coat.
“You, too! . . . You coming with us, too!” she cried, clasping her hands in supplication, looking at him incredulously as though she dared not believe in such happiness.
“Natasha! Where is my Natasha? Where is she? Where’s my daughter?” broke at last from the old man’s lips. “Give me back my Natasha! Where, where is she?”
And seizing his stick, which I handed him, he rushed to the door.
“He has forgiven! Forgiven!” cried Anna Andreyevna.
But the old man did not get to the door. The door opened quickly and Natasha dashed into the room, pale, with flashing eyes as though she were in a fever. Her dress was crumpled and soaked with rain. The handkerchief with which she had covered her head had slipped on to her neck, and her thick, curly hair glistened with big raindrops. She ran in, saw her father, and falling on her knees before him, stretched out her hands to him.
Last updated Tuesday, August 25, 2015 at 14:07