Insulted and Injured


SHE held her hat in her hand and laid it down on the piano; then she came up to me and held out her hand without speaking. Her lips faintly quivered, as though she wanted to utter something, some greeting to me, but she said nothing.

It was three weeks since we had seen each other. I looked at her with amazement and dread. How she had changed in those three weeks! My heart ached as I looked at those pale, hollow cheeks, feverishly parched lips, and eyes that gleamed under the long dark lashes with a feverish fire and a sort of passionate determination.

But, my God, how lovely she was! Never before, or since, have I seen her as she was on that fatal day. Was it the same, the same Natasha, the same girl who only a year ago had listened to my novel with her eyes fixed on me and her lips following mine, who had so gaily and carelessly laughed and jested with her father and me at supper afterwards; was it the same Natasha who in that very room had said "Yes" to me, hanging her head and flushing all over?

We heard the deep note of the bell ringing for vespers. She started. Anna Andreyevna crossed herself.

"You're ready for church, Natasha, and they're ringing for the service. Go, Natasha, go and pray. It's a good thing it's so near. And you'll get a walk, too, at the same time. Why sit shut up indoors? See how pale you are, as though you were bewitched."

"Perhaps ... I won't go . . . to-day," said Natasha slowly, in a low voice, almost a whisper. "I'm . . . not well," she added, and turned white as a sheet.

"You'd better go, Natasha. You wanted to just now and fetched your hat. Pray, Natasha, pray that God may give you good health," Anna Andreyevna persuaded her daughter, looking timidly at her, as though she were afraid of her.

"Yes, go, and it will be a walk for you, too," the old man added, and he, too, looked uneasily at his daughter. "Mother is right. Here, Vanya will escort you."

I fancied that Natasha's lips curled in a bitter smile. She went to the piano, picked up her hat and put it on. Her hands were trembling. All her movements seemed as it were unconscious, as though she did not know what she were doing. Her father and mother watched her attentively.

"Good-bye," she said, hardly audibly.

"My angel, why 'good-bye'? Is it so faraway? A blow in the wind will do you good. See how pale you are. Ah, I forgot (I forget everything), I've finished a scapular for you; there's a prayer sewn into it, my angel; a nun from Kiev taught it to me last year; a very suitable prayer. I sewed it in just now. Put it on, Natasha. Maybe God will send you good health. You are all we have."

And the mother took out of her work-drawer a golden cross that Natasha wore round her neck; on the same ribbon was hung a scapular she had just finished.

"May it bring you health," she added, crossing her daughter and putting the cross on. "At one time I used to bless you every night before you slept, and said a prayer, and you repeated it after me. But now you're not the same, and God does not vouch- safe you a quiet spirit. Ach, Natasha, Natasha! Your mother's prayer is no help to you. . . ."

And the mother began crying.

Natasha kissed her mother's hand without speaking, and took a step towards the door. But suddenly she turned quickly back and went up to her father. Her bosom heaved.

"Daddy, you cross ... your daughter, too," she brought out in a gasping voice, and she sank on her knees before him.

We were all perplexed at this unexpected and too solemn action. For a few seconds her father looked at her quite at a loss.

"Natasha, my little one, my girl, my darling, what's the matter with you?" he cried at last, and tears streamed from his eyes. "Why are you grieving? Why are you crying day and night? I see it all, you know. I don't sleep, it night, but stand and listen at your door. Tell me everything, Natasha, tell me all about it. I'm old, and we . . ."

He did not finish; he raised her and embraced her, and held her close. She pressed convulsively against his breast, and hid her head on his shoulder.

"It's nothing, nothing, it's only . . . I'm not well", she kept repeating, choking with suppressed tears.

"May God bless you as I bless you, my darling child, my precious child!" said the father. "May He send you peace of heart for ever, and protect you from all sorrow. Pray to God, my love, that my sinful prayer may reach Him."

"And my blessing, my blessing, too, is upon you," added the mother, dissolving into tears.

"Good-bye," whispered Natasha.

At the door she stood still again, took one more look at them, tried to say something more, but could not and went quickly out of the room. I rushed after her with a foreboding of evil.

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