Insulted and Injured
BUT I had hardly stepped out on the muddy wet pavement of the
Prospect when I ran against a passer-by, who was hastening somewhere with his
head down, apparently lost in thought. To my intense amazement I recognized my
old friend Ichmenyev.
It was an evening of unexpected meetings for me. I knew that the old man had
been taken seriously unwell three days before; and here I was meeting him in
such wet weather in the street.
Moreover it had never been his habit to go out in the evening, and since
Natasha had gone away, that is, for the last six months, he had become a regular
stay-at-home. He seemed to be excep- tionally delighted to see me, like a man
who has at last found a friend with whom he can talk over his ideas. He seized
my hand, pressed it warmly, and without asking where I was going, drew me along
with him. He was upset about something, jerky and hurried in his manner. "Where
had he been going?" I wondered.
It would have been tactless to question him. He had become terribly
suspicious, and sometimes detected some offensive hint, some insult, in the
simplest inquiry or remark.
I looked at him stealthily. His face showed signs of illness he had grown
much thinner of late. His chin showed a week's growth of beard. His hair, which
had turned quite grey, hung down in disorder under his crushed hat, and lay in
long straggling tails on the collar of his shabby old great-coat. I had noticed
before that at some moments he seemed, as it were, forgetful, forgot for
instance that he was not alone in the room, and would talk to himself,
gesticulating with his hands. It was painful to look at him.
"Well, Vanya, well?" he began. "Where were you going? I've come out, my boy,
you see; business. Are you quite well?"
"Are you quite well?" I answered. "You were ill only the other day, and here
you are, out."
The old man seemed not to hear what I said and made no answer.
"How is Anna Andreyevna?"
"She's quite well, quite well .... Though she's rather poorly, too. She's
rather depressed . . . she was speaking of you, wondering why you hadn't been.
Were you coming to see us now, Vanya, or not? Maybe I'm keeping you, hindering
you from something," he asked suddenly, looking at me distrustfully and
The sensitive old man had become so touchy and irritable that if I had
answered him now that I wasn't going to see them, he would certainly have been
wounded, and have parted from me coldly. I hastened to say that I was on my way
to look in on Anna Andreyevna, though I knew I was already late, and might not
have time to see Natasha at all.
"That's all right," said the old man, completely pacified by my answer,
"that's all right."
And he suddenly sank into silence and pondered, as though he had left
"Yes, that's all right," he repeated mechanically, five minutes later, as
though coming to himself after a long reverie. "Hm! You know, Vanya, you've
always been like a son to us. God has not blessed us ... with a son, but He has
sent us you. That's what I've always thought. And my wife the same . . . yes!
And you've always been tender and respectful to us, like a grateful son. God
will bless you for it, Vanya, as we two old people bless and love you.... Yes!"
His voice quavered. He paused a moment.
"Well ... well? You haven't been ill, have you? Why have you not been to see
us for so long?"
I told him the whole incident of Smith, apologizing for having let Smith's
affairs keep me, telling him that I had besides been almost ill, and that with
all this on my hands it was a long way to go to Vassilyevsky Island (they lived
there then). I was almost blurting out that I had nevertheless made time to see
Natasha, but stopped myself in time.
My account of Smith interested my old friend very much.
He listened more attentively. Hearing that my new lodging was damp, perhaps
even worse than my old one, and that the rent was six roubles a month, he grew
positively heated. He had become altogether excitable and impatient. No one but
Anna Andreyevna could soothe him at such moments, and even she was not always
"Hm! This is what comes of your literature, Vanya! It's brought you to a
garret, and it will bring you to the graveyard I said so at the time. I foretold
it! ... Is B. still writing reviews?"
"No, he died of consumption. I told you so before, I believe."
"Dead, hm, dead! Yes, that's just what one would expect.
Has he left anything to his wife and children? You told me he had a wife,
didn't you? ... What do such people marry for?"
"No, he's left nothing," I answered.
"Well, just as I thought! " he cried, with as much warmth as though the
matter closely and intimately concerned him, as though the deceased B. had been
his brother. "Nothing! Nothing, you may be sure. And, do you know, Vanya, I had
a presentiment he'd end like that, at the time when you used to be always
singing his praises, do you remember? It's easy to say left nothing! Hm! . . .
He's won fame. Even supposing it's lasting fame, it doesn't mean bread and
butter. I always had a foreboding about you, too, Vanya, my boy. Though I
praised you, I always had misgivings. So B.'s dead? Yes, and he well might be!
It's a nice way we live here, and ... a nice place! Look at it!"
And with a rapid, unconscious movement of his hand he pointed to the foggy
vista of the street, lighted up by the street- lamps dimly twinkling in the damp
mist, to the dirty houses, to the wet and shining flags of the pavement, to the
cross, sullen, drenched figures that passed by, to all this picture, hemmed in
by the dome of the Petersburg sky, black as though smudged with Indian ink. We
had by now come out into the square; before us in the darkness stood the
monument, lighted up below by jets of gas, and further away rose the huge dark
mass of St. Isaac's, hardly distinguishable against the gloomy sky.
You used to say, Vanya, that he was a nice man, good and generous, with
feeling, with a heart. Well, you see, they're all like that, your nice people,
your men with heart! All they can do is to beget orphans! Hm! ... and I should
think he must have felt cheerful at dying like that! E-e-ech! Anything to get
away from here! Even Siberia. . . . What is it, child?" he asked suddenly,
seeing a little girl on the pavement begging alms.
It was a pale, thin child, not more than seven or eight, dressed in filthy
rags; she had broken shoes on her little bare feet. She was trying to cover her
shivering little body with a sort of aged semblance of a tiny dress, long
outgrown. Her pale, sickly, wasted face was turned towards us. She looked
timidly, mutely at us without speaking, and with a look of resigned dread of
refusal held out her trembling little hand to us. My old friend started at
seeing her, and turned to her so quickly that he frightened her. She was
startled and stepped back.
"What is it? What is it, child?" he cried. "You're begging, eh? Here, here's
something for you ... take it!"
And, shaking with fuss and excitement, he began feeling in his pocket, and
brought out two or three silver coins. But it seemed to him too little. He found
his purse, and taking out a rouble note - all that was in it - put it in the
little beggar's hand.
" Christ keep you, my little one ... my child! God's angel be with you!"
And with a trembling hand he made the sign of the cross over the child
several times. But suddenly noticing that I was looking at him, he frowned, and
walked on with rapid steps.
"That's a thing I can't bear to see, Vanya," he began, after a rather
prolonged, wrathful silence. "Little innocent creatures shivering with cold in
the street . . . all through their cursed fathers and mothers. Though what
mother would send a child to anything so awful if she were not in misery
herself! . . . Most likely she has other helpless little ones in the corner at
home, and this is the eldest of them; and the mother ill herself very likely;
and ... hm! They're not prince's children! There are lots in the world, Vanya
... not prince's children! Hm!"
He paused for a moment, as though at a loss for words.
"You see, Vanya, I promised Anna Andreyevna," he began, faltering and
hesitating a little, "I promised her ... that is Anna Andreyevna and I agreed
together to take some little orphan to bring up ... some poor little girl, to
have her in the house altogether, do you understand? For it's dull for us old
people alone. Only, you see, Anna Andreyevna has begun to set herself against it
somehow. So you talk to her, you know, not from me, but as though it came from
yourself ... persuade her, do you understand? I've been meaning for a long time
to ask you to persuade her to agree; you see, it's rather awkward for me to
press her. But why talk about trifles! What's a child to me? I don't want one;
perhaps just as a comfort ... so as to hear a child's voice ...
but the fact is I'm doing this for my wife's sake - it'll be livelier for her
than being alone with me. But all that's nonsense.
Vanya, we shall be a long time getting there like this, you know; let's take
a cab. It's a long walk, and Anna Andreyevna will have been expecting us."
It was half-past seven when we arrived.