Insulted and Injured
FIVE days after Smith's death, I moved into his lodging. All that
day I felt insufferably sad. The weather was cold and gloomy. the wet snow kept
falling, interspersed with rain.
Only towards evening the sun peeped out, and a stray sunbeam probably from
curiosity glanced into my room. I had begun to regret having moved here. Though
the room was large it was so low-pitched, so begrimed with soot, so musty, and
so unpleasantly empty in spite of some little furniture. I thought then that I
should certainly ruin what health I had left in that room. And so it came to
All that morning I had been busy with my papers, sorting and arranging them.
For want of a portfolio I had packed them in a pillow-case. They were all
crumpled and mixed up. Then I sat down to write. I was still working at my long
novel then; but I could not settle down to it. My mind was full of other things.
I threw down my pen and sat by the window. It got dark, and I felt more and
more depressed. Painful thoughts of all kinds beset me. I kept fancying that I
should die at last in Petersburg.
Spring was at hand. " I believe I might recover," I thought, "if I could get
out of this shell into the light of day, into the fields and woods." It was so
long since I had seen them. I remember, too, it came into my mind how nice it
would be if by some magic, some enchantment, I could forget everything that had
happened in the last few years; forget everything, refresh my mind, and begin
again with new energy. In those days, I still dreamed of that and hoped for a
renewal of life. "Better go into an asylum," I thought, "to get one's brain
turned upside down and rearranged anew, and then be cured again." I still had a
thirst for life and a faith in it! ... But I remember even then I laughed. "What
should I have to do after the madhouse? Write novels again? . . . "
So I brooded despondently, and meanwhile time was passing, Night had come on.
That evening I had promised to see Natasha.
I had had a letter from her the evening before, earnestly begging me to go
and see her. I jumped up and began getting ready. I had an overwhelming desire
to get out of my room, even into the rain and the sleet.
As it got darker my room seemed to grow larger and larger, as though the
walls were retreating. I began to fancy that every night I should see Smith at
once in every corner. He would sit and stare at me as he had at Adam Ivanitch,
in the restaurant, and Azorka would lie at his feet. At that instant I had an
adventure which made a great impression upon me.
I must frankly admit, however, that, either owing to the derangement of my
nerves, or my new impressions in my new lodgings, or my recent melancholy, I
gradually began at dusk to sink into that condition which is so common with me
now at night in my illness, and which I call mysterious horror. It is a most
oppressive, agonizing state of terror of something which I don't know how to
define, and something passing all understanding and outside the natural order of
things, which yet may take shape this very minute, as though in mockery of all
the conclusions of reason, come to me and stand before me as an undeniable fact,
hideous, horrible, and relentless. This fear usually becomes more and more
acute, in spite of all the protests of reason, so much so that although the mind
sometimes is of exceptional clarity at such moments, it loses all power of
resistance. It is unheeded, it becomes useless, and this inward division
intensifies the agony of suspense. It seems to me something like the anguish of
people who are afraid of the dead. But in my distress the indefiniteness of the
apprehension makes my suffering even more acute.
I remember I was standing with my back to the door and taking my hat from the
table, when suddenly at that very instant the thought struck me that when I
turned round I should inevitably see Smith: at first he would softly open the
door, would stand in the doorway and look round the room, then looking down
would come slowly towards me, would stand facing me, fix his lustreless eyes
upon me and suddenly laugh in my face, a long, toothless, noiseless chuckle, and
his whole body would shake with laughter and go on shaking a long time. The
vision of all this suddenly formed an extraordinarily vivid and distinct picture
in my mind, and at the same time I was suddenly seized by the fullest, the most
absolute conviction that all this would infallibly, inevitably come to pass;
that it was already happening, only I hadn't seen it because I was standing with
my back to the door, and that just at that very instant perhaps the door was
opening. I looked round quickly, and - the door actually was opening, softly,
noiselessly, just as I had imagined it a minute before. I cried out. For a long
time no one appeared, as though the door had opened of itself. All at once I saw
in the doorway a strange figure, whose eyes, as far as I could make out in the
dark, were scrutinizing me obstinately and intently. A shiver ran over all my
limbs; to my intense horror I saw that it was a child, a little girl, and if it
had been Smith himself he would not have frightened me perhaps so much as this
strange and unexpected apparition of an unknown child in my room at such an
hour, and at such a moment.
I have mentioned already that the door opened as slowly and noiselessly as
though she were afraid to come in. Standing in the doorway she gazed at me in a
perplexity that was almost stupe- faction. At last softly and slowly she
advanced two steps into the room and stood before me, still without uttering a
I examined her more closely. She was a girl of twelve or thirteen, short,
thin, and as pale as though she had just had some terrible illness, and this
pallor showed up vividly her great, shining black eyes. With her left hand she
held a tattered old shawl, and with it covered her chest, which was still
shivering with the chill of evening. Her whole dress might be described as rags
Her thick black hair was matted and uncombed. We stood so for two minutes,
staring at one another.
"Where's grandfather?" she asked at last in a husky, hardly audible voice, as
though there was something wrong with her throat or chest.
All my mysterious panic was dispersed at this question. It was an inquiry for
Smith; traces of him had unexpectedly turned up.
"Your grandfather? But he's dead!" I said suddenly, being taken unawares by
her question, and I immediately regretted my abruptness. For a minute she stood
still in the same position, then she suddenly began trembling all over, so
violently that it seemed as though she were going to be overcome by some sort of
dangerous, nervous fit. I tried to support her so that she did not fall. In a
few minutes she was better, and I saw that she was making an unnatural effort to
control her emotion before me.
"Forgive me, forgive me, girl! Forgive me, my child!" I said. "I told you so
abruptly, and who knows perhaps it's a mistake ... poor little thing! ... Who is
it you're looking for? The old man who lived here?"
"Yes," she articulated with an effort, looking anxiously at me.
"His name was Smith? Was it?" I asked.
"Then he ... yes, then he is dead.... Only don't grieve, my dear. Why haven't
you been here? Where have you come from now? He was buried yesterday; he died
suddenly. . . . So you're his granddaughter?"
The child made no answer to my rapid and incoherent questions.
She turned in silence and went quietly out of the room. I was so astonished
that I did not try to stop her or question her further.
She stopped short in the doorway, and half-turning asked me "Is Azorka dead,
"Yes, Azorka's dead, too," I answered, and her question struck me as strange;
it seemed as though she felt sure that Azorka must have died with the old man.
Hearing my answer the girl went noiselessly out of the room and carefully
closed the door after her.
A minute later I ran after her, horribly vexed with myself for having let her
go. She went out so quickly that I did not hear her open the outer door on to
"She hasn't gone down the stairs yet," I thought, and I stood still to
listen. But all was still, and there was no sound of foot- steps. All I heard
was the slam of a door on the ground floor, and then all was still again.
I went hurriedly downstairs. The staircase went from my flat in a spiral from
the fifth storey down to the fourth, from the fourth it went straight. It was a
black, dirty staircase, always dark, such as one commonly finds in huge blocks
let out in tiny flats. At that moment it was quite dark. Feeling my way down to
the fourth storey, I stood still, and I suddenly had a feeling that there was
someone in the passage here, hiding from me. I began groping with my hands. The
girl was there, right in the corner, and with her face turned to the wall was
crying softly and inaudibly.
"Listen, what are you afraid of?" I began. "I frightened you so, I'm so
sorry. Your grandfather spoke of you when he was dying; his last words were of
you.... I've got some books, no doubt they're yours. What's your name? Where do
you live? He spoke of Sixth Street . . ."
But I did not finish. She uttered a cry of terror as though at my knowing
where she lived; pushed me away with her thin, bony, little hand, and ran
downstairs. I followed her; I could till hear her footsteps below. Suddenly they
ceased.... When I ran out into the street she was not to be seen. Running as far
as Voznesensky Prospect I realized that all my efforts were in vain.
She had vanished. "Most likely she hid from me somewhere," I thought "on her