Insulted and Injured
I WENT straight to Alyosha's. He lived with his father in Little
Morskaya. Prince Valkovsky had a rather large flat, though he lived alone.
Alyosha had two splendid rooms in the flat. I had very rarely been to see him,
only once before, I believe, in fact.
He had come to see me much oftener, especially at first, during the early
period of his connexion with Natasha.
He was not at home. I went straight to his rooms and wrote him the following
"Alyosha, you seem to have gone out of your mind. As on Tuesday
evening your father himself asked Natasha to do you the honour of becoming your
wife, and you were delighted at his doing so, as I saw myself, you must admit
that your behaviour is somewhat strange. Do you know what you are doing to
Natasha? In any case this note will remind you that your behaviour towards your
future wife is unworthy and frivolous in the extreme. I am very well aware that
I have no right to lecture you, but I don't care about that in the least.
"P.S.-She knows nothing about this letter, and in fact it was not she who
told me about you."
I sealed up the letter and left it on his table. In answer to my question the
servant said that Alexey Petrovitch was hardly ever at home, and that he would
not be back now till the small hours of the morning.
I could hardly get home. I was overcome with giddiness, and my legs were weak
and trembling. My door was open. Nikolay Sergeyitch Ichmenyev was sitting
waiting for me. He was sitting at the table watching Elena in silent wonder, and
she, too, was watching him with no less wonder, though she was obstinately
silent. "To be sure," I thought, "he must think her queer."
"Well, my boy, I've been waiting for you for a good hour, and I must confess
I had never expected to find things . . . like this," he went on, looking round
the room, with a scarcely perceptible sign towards Elena.
His face expressed his astonishment. But looking at him more closely I
noticed in him signs of agitation and distress. His face was paler than usual.
"Sit down, sit down," he said with a preoccupied and anxious air. "I've come
round to you in a hurry. I've something to say to you. But what's the matter?
You don't look yourself."
"I'm not well. I've been giddy all day."
"Well, mind, you mustn't neglect that. Have you caught cold, or what?"
"No, it's simply a nervous attack. I sometimes have them.
But aren't you unwell?"
"No, no! It's nothing; it's excitement. I've something to say. Sit down."
I moved a chair over and sat down at the table, facing him.
The old man bent forward to me, and said in a half whisper:
"Mind, don't look at her, but seem as though we were speaking of something
else. What sort of visitor is this you've got here?"
"I'll explain to you afterwards, Nikolay Sergeyitch. This poor girl is
absolutely alone in the world. She's the grandchild of that old Smith who used
to live here and died at the con- fectioner's."
"Ah, so he had a grandchild! Well, my boy, she's a queer little thing! How
she stares, how she stares! I tell you plainly if you hadn't come in I couldn't
have stood it another five minutes. She would hardly open the door, and all this
time not a word! It's quite uncanny; she's not like a human being.
But how did she come here? I suppose she came to see her grandfather, not
knowing he was died?"
"Yes, she has been very unfortunate. The old man thought of her when he was
"Hm! She seems to take after her grandfather. You'll tell me all about that
later. Perhaps one could help her somehow, in some way, if she's so unfortunate.
But now, my boy, can't you tell her to go away, for I want to talk to you of
"But she's nowhere to go. She's living here."
I explained in a few words as far as I could, adding that he could speak
before her, that she was only a child.
"To be sure . . . she's a child. But you have surprised me, my boy. She's
staying with you! Good heavens!
And the old man looked at her again in amazement.
Elena, feeling that we were talking about her, sat silent, with her head
bent, picking at the edge of the sofa with her fingers.
She had already had time to put on her new dress, which fitted her perfectly.
Her hair had been brushed more carefully than usual, perhaps in honour of the
new dress. Altogether, if it had not been for the strange wildness of her
expression, she would have been a very pretty child.
"Short and clear, that's what I have to tell you," the old man began again.
"It's a long business, an important business."
He sat looking down, with a grave and meditative air and in spite of his
haste and his "short and clear," he could find no words to begin. "What's
coming?" I wondered.
"Do you know, Vanya, I've come to you to ask a very great favour. But first .
. . as I realize now myself, I must explain to you certain circumstances . . .
very delicate circumstances."
He cleared his throat and stole a look at me; looked and flushed red; flushed
and was angry with himself for his awkwardness; he was angry and pressed on.
"Well, what is there to explain! You understand yourself The long and short
of it is, I am challenging Prince Valkovsky to a duel, and I beg you to make the
arrangements and be my second."
I fell back in my chair and gazed at him, beside myself with astonishment.
"Well, what are you staring at? I've not gone out of my mind."
"But, excuse me, Nikolay Sergeyitch! On what pretext P With what object? And,
in fact, how is it possible?"
"Pretext! Object!" cried the old man. "That's good!"
"Very well, very well. I know what you'll say; but what good will you do by
your action? What will be gained by the duel! I must own I don't understand it."
"I thought you wouldn't understand. Listen, our lawsuit over (that is, it
will be over in a few days, There are only a few formalities to come). I have
lost the case. I've to pay ten thousand; that's the decree of the court.
Ichmenyevka is the security for it. So now this base man is secure of his money,
and giving up Ichmenyevka I have paid him the damages and become a free man. Now
I can hold up my head and say, 'You've been insulting me one way and another,
honoured prince, for the last two years; you have sullied my name and the honour
of my family, and I have been obliged to bear all this! I could not then
challenge you to a duel. You'd have said openly then, 'You cunning fellow, you
want to kill me in order not to pay me the money which you foresee you'll be
sentenced to pay sooner or later. No, first let's see how the case ends and then
you can challenge me.' Now, honoured prince, the case is settled, you are
secure, so now there are no difficulties, and so now will you be pleased to meet
me at the barrier?' That's what I have to say to you. What, to your thinking
haven't I the right to avenge myself, for everything, for everything?"
His eyes glittered. I looked at him for a long time without speaking. I
wanted to penetrate to his secret thought.
"Listen, Nikolay Sergeyitch," I said at last, making up my mind to speak out
on the real point without which we could not understand each other. "Can you be
perfectly open with me?
"I can," he answered firmly.
"Tell me plainly. Is it only the feeling of revenge that prompts you to
challenge him, or have you other objects in view?"
"Vanya," he answered, "you know that I allow no one to touch on certain
points with me, but I'll make an exception in the present case. For you, with
your clear insight, have seen at once that we can't avoid the point. Yes, I have
another aim. That aim is to save my lost daughter and to rescue her from the
path of ruin to which recent events are driving her now."
"But how will you save her by this duel? That's the question."
"By hindering all that is being plotted among them now.
Listen; don't imagine that I am actuated by fatherly tenderness or any
weakness of that sort. All that's nonsense! I don't display my inmost heart to
anyone. Even you don't know it.
My daughter has abandoned me, has left my house with a lover, and I have cast
her out of my heart - I cast her out once for all that very evening - you
remember? If you have seen me sobbing over her portrait, it doesn't follow that
I want to forgive her. I did not forgive her then. I wept for my lost happiness,
for my vain dreams, but not for her as she is now. I often weep perhaps. I'm not
ashamed to own it, just as I'm not ashamed to own that I once loved my child
more than anything on earth.
All this seems to belie my conduct now. You may say to me 'If it's so, if you
are indifferent to the fate of her whom you no longer look on as a daughter, why
do you interfere in what they are plotting there?' I answer: in the first place
that I don't want to let that base and crafty man triumph, and secondly, from a
common feeling of humanity. If she's no longer my daughter she's a weak
creature, defenceless and deceived, who is being still more deceived, that she
may be utterly ruined. I can't meddle directly, but indirectly, by a duel, I
can. If I am killed or my blood is shed, surely she won't step over our barrier,
perhaps over my corpse, and stand at the altar beside the son of my murderer,
like the daughter of that king (do you remember in the book you learnt to read
out of?) who rode in her chariot over her father's body? And, besides, if it
comes to a duel, our princes won't care for the marriage themselves. In short, I
don't want that marriage, and I'll do everything I can to prevent it. Do you
understand me now?"
"No. If you wish Natasha well, how can you make up your mind to hinder her
marriage, that is, the one thing that can establish her good name? She has all
her life before her; she will have need of her good name."
"She ought to spit on the opinion of the world. That's how she ought to look
at it. She ought to realize that the greatest disgrace of all for her lies in
that marriage, in being connected with those vile people, with that paltry
society. A noble pride - that should be her answer to the world. Then perhaps I
might consent to hold out a hand to her, and then we would see who dared cry
shame on my child!"
Such desperate idealism amazed me. But I saw at once that he was not himself
and was speaking in anger.
"That's too idealistic," I answered, "and therefore cruel.
You're demanding of her a strength which perhaps you did not give her at her
birth. Do you suppose that she is consenting to this marriage because she wants
to be a princess? Why, she's in love; it's passion; it's fate. You expect of her
a contempt for public opinion while you bow down before it yourself! The prince
has insulted you, has publicly accused you of a base scheme to ally yourself
with his princely house, and now you are reasoning that if she refuses them now
after a formal offer of marriage from their side it will, of course, be the
fullest and plainest refutation of the old calumny. That's what you will gain by
it. You are deferring to the opinion of the prince himself, and you're
struggling to make him recognize his mistake. You're longing to turn him into
derision, to revenge yourself on him, and for that you will sacrifice your
daughter's happiness. Isn't that egoism?"
The old man sat gloomy and frowning, and for a long time he answered not a
"You're unjust to me, Vanya," he said at last, and a tear glistened on his
eyelashes. "I swear you are unjust. But let us leave that! I can't turn my heart
inside out before you," he went on, getting up and taking his hat. "One thing I
will say - you spoke just now of my daughter's happiness. I have absolutely and
literally no faith in that happiness. Besides which, the marriage will never
come off, apart from my interference."
"How so? What makes you think so? Perhaps you know something?" I cried with
"No. I know nothing special. But that cursed fox can never have brought
himself to such a thing. It's all nonsense, all a trap. I'm convinced of that,
and, mark my words, it will turn out so. And secondly, even if this marriage did
take place, which could only happen if that scoundrel has some special,
mysterious interests to be served by it - interests which no one knows any-
thing about, and I'm utterly at a loss to understand - tell me, ask your own
heart, will she be happy in that marriage? Taunts, humiliations, with the
partner of her life a wretched boy who is weary of her love already, and who
will begin to neglect her, insult her, and humiliate her as soon as he is
married. At the same time her own passion growing stronger as his grows cooler;
jealousy, tortures, hell, divorce, perhaps crime itself. . . . No, Vanya! If
you're all working for that end, and you have a hand in it, you'll have to
answer to God for it. I warn you, though it will be too late then! Good-bye."
I stopped him.
"Listen, Nikolay Sergeyitch. Let us decide to wait a bit. Let me assure you
that more than one pair of eyes is watching over this affair. And perhaps it
will be settled of itself in the best possible way without violence and
artificial interference, such as a duel, for instance. Time is the very best
arbiter. And, finally, let me tell you, your whole plan is utterly impossible.
Could you for a moment suppose that Prince Valkovsky would accept your
"Not accept it? What do you mean by that?"
"I swear he wouldn't; and believe me, he'd find a perfectly satisfactory way
out of it; he would do it all with pedantic dignity and meanwhile you would be
an object of derision. . ."
"Upon my word, my boy, upon my word! You simply over- whelm me! How could he
refuse to accept it? No, Vanya, you're simply a romancer, a regular romancer!
Why, do you suppose there is anything unbecoming in his fighting me? I'm just as
good as he is. I'm an old man, ail insulted father. You're a Russian author, and
therefore also a respectable person. You can be a second and ... and ... I can't
make out what more you want ......
"Well, you'll see. He'll bring forward such excuses that you'll be the first
to see that it will be utterly impossible for you to fight him."
"Hm! ... very well, my friend. Have it your own way wait, for a certain time,
that is. We'll see what time will do.
But one thing, my dear, give me your word of honour that you'll not speak of
this conversation there, nor to Anna Andreyevna."
"Do me another favour, Vanya: never begin upon the subject again."
"Very well. I promise."
"And one more request: I know, my dear, that it's dull for you perhaps, but
come and see us as often as ever you can. My poor Anna Andreyevna is so fond of
you, and ... and ... she's so wretched without you.... You understand, Vanya."
And he pressed my hand warmly. I promised him with all my heart.
"And now, Vanya, the last delicate question. Have you any money?
"Money?" I repeated with surprise.
"Yes." (And the old man flushed and looked down.) "I look at you, my boy, at
your lodgings ... at your circumstances ...
and when I think that you may have other, outside expenses (and that you may
have them just now), then ... Here, my boy, a hundred and fifty roubles as a
first instalment. . . ."
"A hundred and fifty! As a first instalment. And you've just lost your case!"
"Vanya, I see you didn't understand me at all! You may have exceptional calls
on you, understand that. In some cases money may help to an independent
position, an independent decision. Perhaps you don't need it now, but won't you
need it for something in the future? In any case I shall leave it with you.
It's all I've been able to get together. If you don't spend it you can give
it back. And now good-bye. My God, how pale you are! Why, you're quite ill . .
I took the money without protest. It was quite clear why he left it with me.
"I can scarcely stand up," I answered.
"You must take care of yourself, Vanya, darling! Don't go out to-day. I shall
tell Anna Andreyevna what a state you're in.
Oughtn't you to have a doctor? I'll see how you are to-morrow; I'll try my
best to come, anyway, if only I can drag my legs along myself. Now you'd better
lie down ... Well, good-bye.
Good-bye, little girl; she's turned her back! Listen, my dear, here are
another five roubles. That's for the child, but don't tell her I gave it her.
Simply spend it for her. Get her some shoes or underclothes. She must need all
sorts of things. Good-bye, my dear. . . ."
I went down to the gate with him. I had to ask the porter to go out to get
some food for me. Elena had had no dinner.