Insulted and Injured
BUT as soon as I came in again I felt my head going round and fell
down in the middle of the room. I remember nothing but Elena's shriek. She
clasped her hands and flew to support me.
That is the last moment that remains in my memory....
When I regained consciousness I found myself in bed. Elena told me later on
that, with the help of the porter who came in with some eatables, she had
carried me to the sofa.
I woke up several times, and always saw Elena's compas- sionate and anxious
little face leaning over me. But I remember all that as in a dream, as through a
mist, and the sweet face of the poor child came to me in glimpses, through my
stupor, like a vision, like a picture. She brought me something to drink,
arranged my bedclothes, or sat looking at me with a distressed and frightened
face, and smoothing my hair with her fingers.
Once I remember her gentle kiss on my face. Another time, suddenly waking up
in the night, by the light of the smouldering candle that had been set on a
little table by my bedside I saw Elena lying with her face on my pillow with her
warm cheek resting on her hand, and her pale lips half parted in an uneasy
sleep. But it was only early next morning that I fully regained consciousness.
The candle had completely burnt out. The vivid rosy beams of early sunrise were
already playing on the wall.
Elena was sitting at the table, asleep, with her tired little head pillowed
on her left arm, and I remember I gazed a long time at her childish face, full,
even in sleep, of an unchildlike sadness and a sort of strange, sickly beauty.
It was pale, with long arrowy eyelashes lying on the thin cheeks, and
pitch-black hair that fell thick and heavy in a careless knot on one side. Her
other arm lay on my pillow. Very softly I kissed that thin little arm. But the
poor child did not wake, though there was a faint glimmer of a smile on her pale
lips. I went on gazing at her, and so quietly fell into a sound healing sleep.
This time I slept almost till midday. When I woke up I felt almost well again. A
feeling of weakness and heaviness in my limbs was the only trace left of my
illness, I had had such sudden nervous attacks before; I knew them very well.
The attack generally passed off within twenty-four hours, though the symptoms
were acute and violent for that time.
It was nearly midday. The first thing I saw was the curtain I had bought the
day before, which was hanging on a string across the corner. Elena had arranged
it, screening off the corner as a separate room for herself. She was sitting
before the stove boiling the kettle. Noticing that I was awake she smiled cheer-
fully and at once came up to me.
"My dear," I said, taking her hand, "you've been looking after me all night.
I didn't know you were so kind."
"And how do you know I've been looking after you? Perhaps I've been asleep
all night," she said, looking at me with shy and good-humoured slyness, and at
the same time flushing shame- facedly at her own words.
"I woke up and saw you. You only fell asleep at day break."
"Would you like some tea?" she interrupted, as though feeling it difficult to
continue the conversation, as all delicately modest and sternly truthful people
are apt to when they are praised.
"I should," I answered, "but did you have any dinner yesterday?"
"I had no dinner but I had some supper. The porter brought it. But don't you
talk. Lie still. You're not quite well yet," she added, bringing me some tea and
sitting down on my bed.
"Lie still, indeed! I will lie still, though, till it gets dark, and then I'm
going out. I really must, Lenotchka."
"Oh, you must, must you! Who is it you're going to see? Not the gentleman who
was here yesterday?"
"No, I'm not going to him."
"Well, I'm glad you're not. It was he upset you yesterday.
To his daughter then?"
"What do you know about his daughter?
"I heard all you said yesterday," she answered, looking down.
Her face clouded over. She frowned.
"He's a horrid old man," she added.
"You know nothing about him. On the contrary, he's a very kind man."
"No, no, he's wicked. I heard," she said with conviction.
"Why, what did you hear?"
"He won't forgive his daughter..."
"But he loves her. She has behaved badly to him; and he is anxious and
worried about her."
"Why doesn't he forgive her? If he does forgive her now she shouldn't go back
"How so? Why not?"
"Because he doesn't deserve that she should love him," she answered hotly.
"Let her leave him for ever and let her go begging, and let him see his daughter
begging, and be miserable."
Her eyes flashed and her cheeks glowed. "There must be something behind her
words," I thought.
"Was it to his home you meant to send me?" she added after a pause.
"No. I'd better get a place as a servant."
"Ah, how wrong is all that you're saying, Lenotchka! And what nonsense! Who
would take you as a servant?"
"Any peasant," she answered impatiently, looking more and more downcast.
She was evidently hot-tempered.
"A peasant doesn't want a girl like you to work for him," I said, laughing.
"Well, a gentleman's family, then."
"You live in a gentleman's family, with your temper?"
The more irritated she became, the more abrupt were her answers "But you'd
never stand it."
"Yes I would. They'd scold me, but I'd say nothing on purpose. They'd beat
me, but I wouldn't speak, I wouldn't speak. Let them beat me - I wouldn't cry
for anything. That would annoy them even more if I didn't cry."
"Really, Elena! What bitterness, and how proud you are! You must have seen a
lot of trouble. . . ."
I got up and went to my big table. Elena remained on the sofa, looking
dreamily at the floor and picking at the edge of the sofa. She did not speak. I
wondered whether she were angry at what I had said.
Standing by the table I mechanically opened the books I had brought the day
before, for the compilation, and by degrees I became absorbed in them. It often
happens to me that I go and open a book to look up something, and go on reading
so that I forget everything.
"What are you always writing?" Elena asked with a timid smile, coming quietly
to the table.
"All sorts of things, Lenotchka. They give me money for it."
"No, not petitions."
And I explained to her as far as I could that I wrote all sorts of stories
about different people, and that out of them were made books that are called
novels. She listened with great curiosity.
"Is it all true - what you write?"
"No, I make it up."
"Why do you write what isn't true?"
"Why, here, read it. You see this book; you've looked at it already. You can
read, can't you?"
"Well, you'll see then. I wrote this book."
"You? I'll read it .... "
She was evidently longing to say something, but found it difficult, and was
in great excitement. Something lay hidden under her questions.
"And are you paid much for this?" she asked at last.
"It's as it happens. Sometimes a lot, sometimes nothing, because the work
doesn't come off. It's difficult work, Lenotchka."
"Then you're not rich?"
"No, not rich."
"Then I shall work and help you."
She glanced at me quickly, flushed, dropped her eyes, and taking two steps
towards me suddenly threw her arms round me, and pressed her face tightly
against my breast; I looked at her with amazement.
"I love you ... I'm not proud," she said. "You said I was proud yesterday.
No, no, I'm not like that. I love you. You are the only person who cares for me.
. . ."
But her tears choked her. A minute later they burst out with as much violence
as the day before. She fell on her knees before me, kissed my hands, my feet....
"You care for me!" she repeated. "You're the only one, the only one."
She embraced my knees convulsively. All the feeling which she had repressed
for so long broke out at once, in an uncon-.
trollable outburst, and I understood the strange stubbornness of a heart that
for a while shrinkingly masked its feeling, the more harshly, the more
stubbornly as the need for expression and utterance grew stronger, till the
inevitable outburst came, when the whole being forgot itself and gave itself up
to the craving for love, to gratitude, to affection and to tears. She sobbed
till she became hysterical. With an effort I loosened her arms, lifted her up
and carried her to the sofa. For a long time she went on sobbing, hiding her
face in the pillow as though ashamed to look at me. But she held my hand tight,
and kept it pressed to her heart.
By degrees she grew calmer, but still did not raise her face to me. Twice her
eyes flitted over my face, and there was a great softness and a sort of timorous
and shrinking emotion in them.
At last she flushed and smiled.
"Are you better?" I asked, "my sensitive little Lenotchka, my sick little
"Not Lenotchka, no..." she whispered, still hiding her face from me.
"Not Lenotchka? What then?"
"Nellie? Why must it be Nellie? If you like; it's a very pretty name. I'll
call you so if that's what you wish."
"That's what mother called me. And no one else ever called me that, no one
but she.... And I would not have anyone call me so but mother. But you call me
so. I want you to. I will always love you, always."
"A loving and proud little heart," I thought. "And how long it has taken me
to win the right to call you Nellie!"
But now I knew her heart was gained for ever.
"Nellie, listen," I said, as soon as she was calmer. "You say that no one has
ever loved you but your mother. Is it true your grandfather didn't love you?"
"No, he didn't."
"Yet you cried for him; do you remember, here, on the stairs?"
For a minute she did not speak.
"No, he didn't love me.... He was wicked."
A look of pain came into her face.
"But we mustn't judge him too harshly, Nellie, I think he had grown quite
childish with age. He seemed out of his mind when he died. I told you how he
"Yes. But he had only begun to be quite forgetful in the last month. He would
sit here all day long, and if I didn't come to him he would sit on for two or
three days without eating or drinking. He used to be much better before."
"What do you mean by 'before'?"
"Before mother died."
"Then it was you brought him food and drink, Nellie?"
"Yes, I used to."
"Where did you get it? From Mme. Bubnov?"
"No, I never took anything from Bubnov," she said emphati- cally, with a
"Where did you get it? You had nothing, had you?"
Nellie turned fearfully pale and said nothing; she bent a long, long look
"I used to beg in the streets.... When I had five kopecks I used to buy him
bread and snuff. . . ."
"And he let you! Nellie! Nellie!"
"At first I did it without telling him, But when he found out he used to send
me out himself. I used to stand on the bridge and beg of passers-by, and he used
to walk up and down near the bridge, and when he saw me given anything he used
to rush at me and take the money, as though I wanted to hide it from him, and
were not getting it for him."
As she said this she smiled a sarcastic, bitter smile.
"That was all when mother was dead," she added. "Then he seemed to have gone
quite out of his mind."
"So he must have loved your mother very much. How was it he didn't live with
"No, he didn't love her.... He was wicked and didn't forgive her ... like
that wicked old man yesterday," she said quietly, almost in a whisper, and grew
paler and paler.
I started. The plot of a whole drama seemed to flash before my eyes. That
poor woman dying in a cellar at the coffin-maker's, her orphan child who visited
from time to time the old grand- father who had cursed her mother, the queer
crazy old fellow who had been dying in the confectioner's shop after his dog's
"And Azorka used to be mother's dog," said Nellie suddenly, smiling at some
reminiscence. "Grandfather used to be very fond of mother once, and when mother
went away from him she left Azorka behind. And that's why he was so fond of
He didn't forgive mother, but when the dog died he died too," Nellie added
harshly, and the smile vanished from her face.
"What was he in old days, Nellie?" I asked her after a brief pause.
"He used to be rich. . . . I don't know what he was," she answered. "He had
some sort of factory. So mother told me.
At first she used to think I was too little and didn't tell me every- thing.
She used to kiss me and say, 'You'll know everything, the time will come when
you'll know everything, poor, unhappy child!' She was always calling me poor and
unhappy. And sometimes at night when she thought I was asleep (though I was only
pretending to be asleep on purpose) she used to be always crying over me, she
would kiss me and say 'poor, unhappy child'!"
"What did your mother die of?"
"Of consumption; it's six weeks ago."
"And you do remember the time when your grandfather was rich?"
"But I wasn't born then. Mother went away from grand- father before I was
"With whom did she go?
"I don't know," said Nellie softly, as though hesitating. "She went abroad
and I was born there."
"In Switzerland. I've been everywhere. I've been in Italy and in Paris too."
I was surprised.
"And do you remember it all, Nellie?"
"I remember a great deal."
"How is it you know Russian so well, Nellie?
"Mother used to teach me Russian even then. She was Russian because her
mother was Russian. But grandfather was English, but he was just like a Russian
too. And when we came to Russia a year and a half ago I learnt it thoroughly.
Mother was ill even then. Then we got poorer and poorer. Mother was always
crying. At first she was a long time looking for grand- father here in
Petersburg, and always crying and saying that she had behaved badly to him. How
she used to cry! And when she knew grandfather was poor she cried more than
ever. She often wrote letters to him, and he never answered."
"Why did your mother come back here? Was it only to see her father?"
"I don't know. But there we were so happy." And Nellie's eyes sparkled.
"Mother used to live alone, with me. She had one friend, a kind man like you. He
used to know her before she went away. But he died out there and mother came
back . . ."
"So it was with him that your mother went away from your grandfather?"
"No, not with him. Mother went away with someone else, and he left her . . ."
"Who was he, Nellie?"
Nellie glanced at me and said nothing. She evidently knew the name of the man
with whom her mother had gone away and who was probably her father. It was
painful to her to speak that name even to me.
I did not want to worry her with questions. Hers was a strange character,
nervous and fiery, though she suppressed her impulses, lovable, though she
entrenched herself behind a barrier of pride and reserve. Although she loved me
with her whole heart, with the most candid and ingenuous love, almost as she had
loved the dead mother of whom she could not speak without pain, yet all the
while I knew her she was rarely open with me, and except on that day she rarely
felt moved to speak to me of her past; on the contrary, she was, as it were,
austerely reserved with me, but on that day through convulsive sobs of misery
that interrupted her story, she told me in the course of several hours all that
most distressed and tortured her in her memories, and I shall never forget that
terrible story, but the greater part of it will be told later....
It was a fearful story. It was the story of a woman abandoned and living on
after the wreck of her happiness, sick, worn out and forsaken by everyone,
rejected by the last creature to whom she could look - her father, once wronged
by her and crazed by intolerable sufferings and humiliations. It was the story
of a woman driven to despair, wandering through the cold, filthy streets of
Petersburg, begging alms with the little girl whom she regarded as a baby; of a
woman who lay dying for months in a damp cellar, while her father, refusing to
forgive her to the last moment of her life, and only at the last moment
relenting, hastened to forgive her only to find a cold corpse instead of the
woman he loved above everything on earth.
It was a strange story of the mysterious, hardly comprehensible relations of
the crazy old man with the little grandchild who already understood him, who
already, child as she was, under- stood many things that some men do not attain
to in long years of their smooth and carefully guarded lives. It was a gloomy
story, one of those gloomy and distressing dramas which are so often played out
unseen, almost mysterious, under the heavy sky of Petersburg, in the dark secret
corners of the vast town, in the midst of the giddy ferment of life, of dull
egoism, of clashing interests, of gloomy vice and secret crimes, in that lowest
hell of senseless and abnormal life....
But that story will be told later....