Insulted and Injured
AFTER the memorable evening I had spent with Prince Valkovsky at the
restaurant, I was for some days in continual apprehension on Natasha's account.
With what evil was that cursed prince threatening her, and in what way did he
mean to revenge himself on her, I asked myself every minute, and I was
distracted by suppositions of all sorts. I came at last to the conclusion that
his menaces were not empty talk, not mere bluster, and that as long as she was
living with Alyosha, the prince might really bring about much unpleasantness for
her. He was petty, vindic- tive, malicious, and calculating, I reflected. It
would be difficult for him to forget an insult and to let pass any chance of
avenging it. He had in any case brought out one point, and had expressed himself
pretty clearly on that point : he insisted absolutely on Alyosha's breaking off
his connexion with Natasha, and was expecting me to prepare her for the
approaching separation, and so to prepare her that there should be "no scenes,
no idyllic nonsense, no Schillerism." Of course, what he was most solicitous for
was that Alyosha should remain on good terms with him, and should still consider
him an affectionate father. This was very necessary to enable him the more
conveniently to get control of Katya's money. And so it was my task to prepare
Natasha for the approaching separation. But I noticed a great change in Natasha;
there was not a trace now of her old frankness with me; in fact, she seemed to
have become actually mistrustful of me.
My efforts to console her only worried her; my questions annoyed her more and
more, and even vexed her. I would sit beside her sometimes, watching her. She
would pace from one corner of the room to the other with her arms folded, pale
and gloomy, as though oblivious of everything, even forgetting that I was there
beside her. When she Happened to look at me (and she even avoided my eves),
there was a gleam of impatient vexation in her face, and she turned away
quickly. I realized that she was perhaps herself revolving some plan of her own
for the approach- ing separation, and how could she think of it without pain and
bitterness? And I was convinced that she had already made up her mind to the
separation. Yet I was worried and alarmed by her gloomy despair. Moreover
sometimes I did not dare to talk to her or try to comfort her, and so waited
with terror for the end.
As for her harsh and forbidding manner with me, though that worried me and
made me uneasy, yet I had faith in my Natasha's heart. I saw that she was
terribly wretched and that she was terribly overwrought. Any outside
interference only excited vexation and annoyance. In such cases, especially, the
inter- vention of friends who know one's secrets is more annoying than anything.
But I very well knew, too, that at the last minute Natasha would come back to
me, and would seek comfort in my affection.
Of my conversation with the prince I said nothing, of course; my story would
only have excited and upset her more. I only mentioned casually that I had been
with the prince at the countess's and was convinced that he was an awful
She did not even question me about him, of which I was very glad; but she
listened eagerly to what I told her of my interview with Katya. When she heard
my account of it she said nothing about her either, but her pale face flushed,
and on that day she seemed especially agitated. I concealed nothing about Katya,
and openly confessed that even upon me she had made an excellent impression.
Yes, and what was the use of hiding it? Natasha would have guessed, of course,
that I was hiding some- thing, and would only have been angry with me. And so I
purposely told her everything as fully as possible, trying to anticipate her
questions, for in her position I should have felt it hard to ask them; it could
scarcely be an easy task to inquire with an air of unconcern into the
perfections of one's rival.
I fancied that she did not know yet that the prince was in- sisting on
Alyosha's accompanying the countess and Katya into the country, and took great
pains to break this to her so as to soften the blow. But what was my amazement
when Natasha stopped me at the first word and said that there was no need to
comfort her and that she had known of this for the last five days.
"Good heavens!" I cried, "why, who told you?"
"What? He has told you so already?"
"Yes, and I have made up my mind about everything, Vanya," she added, with a
look which clearly, and, as it were, impatiently warned me not to continue the
Alyosha came pretty often to Natasha's, but always only for a minute; only on
one occasion he stayed with her for several hours at a time, but that was when I
was not there. He usually came in melancholy and looked at her with timid
tenderness; but Natasha met him so warmly and affectionately that he always
forgot it instantly and brightened up. He had taken to coming to see me very
frequently too, almost every day. He was indeed terribly harassed and he could
not remain a single moment alone with his distress, and kept running to me every
minute for consolation.
What could I say to him? He accused me of coldness, of indifference, even of
ill-feeling towards him; he grieved, he shed tears, went off to Katya's, and
there was comforted.
On the day that Natasha told me that she knew that Alyosha was going away (it
was a week after my conversation with the prince) he ran in to me in despair,
embraced me, fell on my neck, and sobbed like a child. I was silent, and waited
to see what he would say.
"I'm a low, abject creature, Vanya," he began. "Save me from myself. I'm not
crying because I'm low and abject, but because through me Natasha will be
miserable. I am leaving her to misery ... Vanya, my dear, tell me, decide for
me, which of them do I love most, Natasha or Katya?"
"That I can't decide, Alyosha," I answered. "You ought to know better than I
. . ."
"No, Vanya, that's not it; I'm not so stupid as to ask such a question; but
the worst of it is that I can't tell myself. I ask myself and I can't answer.
But you look on from outside and may see more clearly than I do.... Well, even
though you don't know, tell me how it strikes you?"
"It seems to me you love Katya best."
"You think that! No, no, not at all! You've not guessed right. I love Natasha
beyond everything. I can never leave her, nothing would induce me; I've told
Katya so, and she thoroughly agrees with me. Why are you silent? I saw you smile
just now. Ech Vanya, you have never comforted me when I've been too miserable,
as I am now.... Good-bye!"
He ran out of the room, having made an extraordinary im- pression on the
astonished Nellie, who had been listening to our conversation in silence. At the
time she was still ill, and was lying in bed and taking medicine. Alyosha never
addressed her, and scarcely took any notice of her on his visits.
Two hours later he turned up again, and I was amazed at his joyous
countenance. He threw himself on my neck again and embraced me.
"The thing's settled," he cried, "all misunderstandings are over. I went
straight from you to Natasha. I was upset, I could not exist without her. When I
went in I fell at her feet and kissed them; I had to do that, I longed to do it.
If I hadn't I should have died of misery. She embraced me in silence, crying.
Then I told her straight out that I loved Katya more than I love her."
"What did she say?
"She said nothing, she only caressed me and comforted me-- me, after I had
told her that! She knows how to comfort one, Ivan Petrovitch! Oh, I wept away
all my sadness with her - I told her everything. I told her straight out that I
was awfully fond of Katya, but however much I loved her, and whomever I loved, I
never could exist without her, Natasha, that I should die without her. No,
Vanya, I could not live without her, I feel that; no! And so we made up our
minds to be married at once, and as it can't be done before I go away because
it's Lent now, and we can't get married in Lent, it shall be when I come back,
and that will be the first of June. My father will allow it, there can be no
doubt of that. And as for Katya, well, what of it! I can't live without Natasha,
you know.... We'll be married, and go off there at once to Katya's ..."
Poor Natasha! What it must have cost her to comfort this boy, to bend over
him, listen to his confession and invent the fable of their speedy marriage to
comfort the naive egoist.
Alyosha really was comforted for some days. He used to fly round to Natasha's
because his faint heart was not equal to bearing his grief alone. But yet, as
the time of their separation grew nearer, he relapsed into tears and fretting
again, and would again dash round to me and pour out his sorrow. Of late he had
become so bound up with Natasha that he could not leave her for a single day,
much less for six weeks. He was fully convinced, however, up to the very last
minute, that he was only leaving her for six weeks and that their wedding would
take place on his return. As for Natasha, she fully realized that her whole life
was to be transformed, that Alyosha would never come back to her, and that this
was how it must be.
The day of their separation was approaching. Natasha was ill, pale, with
feverish eyes and parched lips. From time to time she talked to herself, from
time to time threw a rapid and searching glance at me. She shed no tears, did
not answer my questions, and quivered like a leaf on a tree when she heard
Alyosha's ringing voice; she glowed like a sunset and flew to meet him; kissed
and embraced him hysterically, laughed . . .
Alyosha gazed at her, asking with anxiety after her health, tried to comfort
her by saying that he was not going for long, and that then they would be
married. Natasha made a visible effort, controlled herself, and suppressed her
tears. She did not cry before him.
Once he said that he must leave her money enough for all the time he was
away, and that she need not worry, because his father had promised to give him
plenty for the journey. Natasha frowned. When we were left alone I told her I
had a hundred and fifty roubles for her in case of need. She did not ask where
the money came from. This was two days before Alyosha's departure, and the day
before the first and last meeting between Natasha and Katya. Katya had sent a
note by Alyosha in which she asked Natasha's permission to visit her next day,
and at the same time she wrote to me and begged me, too, to be present at their
I made up my mind that I would certainly be at Natasha's by twelve o'clock
(the hour fixed by Katya) regardless of all obstacles; and there were many
difficulties and delays. Apart from Nellie, I had for the last week had a great
deal of worry with the Ichmenyevs.
Anna Andreyevna sent for me one morning, begging me to throw aside everything
and hasten to her at once on account of a matter of urgency which admitted of no
delay. When I arrived I found her alone. She was walking about the room in a
fever of agitation and alarm, in tremulous expectation of her husband's return.
As usual it was a long time before I could get out of her what was the matter
and why she was in such a panic, and at the same time it was evident that every
moment was precious.
At last after heated and irrelevant reproaches such as "Why didn't I come,
why did I leave her all alone in her sorrow?" so that "Goodness knows what had
been happening in my absence," she told me that for the last three days Nikolay
Sergeyitch had been in a state of agitation "that was beyond all description."
"He's simply not like himself," she said, "he's in a fever, at night he prays
in secret on his knees before the ikons. He babbles in his sleep, and by day
he's like some one half crazy.
We were having soup yesterday, and he couldn't find the spoon set beside him;
you ask him one thing and he answers another.
He has taken to running out of the house every minute, he always says 'I'm
going out on business, I must see the lawyer,' and this morning he locked
himself up in his study. 'I have to write an important statement relating to my
legal business,' he said.
Well, thinks I, how are you going to write a legal statement when you can't
find your spoon? I looked through the keyhole, though he was sitting writing,
and he all the while crying his eyes out.
A queer sort of business statement he'll write like that, thinks I.
Though maybe he's grieving for our Ichmenyevka. So it's quite lost then!
While I was thinking that, he suddenly jumped up from the table and flung the
pen down on the table; he turned crimson and his eyes flashed, he snatched up
his cap and came out to me. 'I'm coming back directly, Anna Andreyevna,' he
said. He went out and I went at once to his writing-table.
There's such a mass of papers relating to our lawsuit lying there that he
never lets me touch it. How many times have I asked him: 'Do let me lift up
those papers, if it's only for once, I want to dust the table', 'Don't you
dare!' he shouts, and waves his arms. He's become so impatient here in
Petersburg and so taken to shouting, So I went up to the table and began to look
what paper it was he had been writing. For I knew for a fact he had not taken it
with him but had thrust it under another paper when he got up from the table.
And here, look, Ivan Petrovitch, dear, what I have found."
And she gave me a sheet of note-paper half covered with writing but so
blotted that in some places it was illegible.
Poor old man! From the first line one could tell what and to whom he was
writing. It was a letter to Natasha, his adored Natasha. He began warmly and
tenderly, he approached her with forgiveness, and urged her to come to him. It
was difficult to make out the whole letter, it was written jerkily and unevenly,
with numerous blots. It was only evident that the intense feeling which had led
him to take up the pen and to write the first lines, full of tenderness, was
quickly followed by other emotions.
The old man began to reproach his daughter, describing her wickedness in the
bitterest terms, indignantly reminding her of her obstinacy, reproaching her for
heartlessness in not having once, perhaps, considered how she was treating her
father and mother. He threatened her with retribution and a curse for her pride,
and ended by insisting that she should return home promptly and submissively,
"and only then perhaps after a new life of humility and exemplary behaviour in
the bosom of your family we will decide to forgive you," he wrote. It was
evident that after the first few lines he had taken his first generous feeling
for weakness, had begun to be ashamed of it, and finally, suffering from
tortures of wounded pride, he had ended in anger and threats. Anna Andreyevna
stood facing me with her hand clasped, waiting in an agony of suspense to hear
what I should say about the letter.
I told her quite truly how it struck me, that is that her husband could not
bear to go on living without Natasha, and that one might say with certainty that
their speedy reconciliation was inevitable, though everything depended on
circumstances, expressed at the same time my conjecture that probably the
failure of his lawsuit had been a great blow and shock to him, to say nothing of
the mortification of his pride at the prince's triumph over him, and his
indignation at the way the case had been decided. At such a moment the heart
cannot help seeking for sympathy, and he thought with a still more passionate
longing of her whom he had always loved more than anyone on earth.
And perhaps too he might have heard (for he was on the alert and knew all
about Natasha) that Alyosha was about to abandon her.
He might realize what she was going through now and how much she needed to be
comforted. But yet he could not control him- self, considering that he had been
insulted and injured by his daughter. It had probably occurred to him that she
would not take the first step, that possibly she was not thinking of him and
felt no longing for reconciliation. "That's what he must have thought," I said
in conclusion, "and that's why he didn't finish his letter, and perhaps it would
only lead to fresh mortification which would be felt even more keenly than the
first, and might, who knows, put off the reconciliation indefinitely . . ."
Anna Andreyevna cried as she listened to me. At last, when I said that I had
to go at once to Natasha's, and that I was late, she started, and informed me
that she had forgotten the chief thing. When she took the paper from the table
she had upset the ink over it. One corner was indeed covered with ink, and the
old lady was terribly afraid that her husband would find out from this blot that
she had been rummaging among his paper when he was out and had read his letter
to Natasha. There were good grounds for her alarm; the very fact that we knew
his secret might lead him through shame and vexation to persist in his anger,
and through pride to be stubborn and unforgiving.
But on thinking it over I told my old friend not to worry herself. He had got
up from his letter in such excitement that he might well have no clear
recollection of details and would probably now think that he had blotted the
Comforting Anna Andreyevna in this way, I helped her to put the letter back
where it had been before, and I bethought me to speak to her seriously about
Nellie. It occurred to me that the poor forsaken orphan whose own mother had
been cursed by an unforgiving father might, by the sad and tragic story of her
life and of her mother's death, touch the old man and move him to generous
feelings. Everything was ready: everything was ripe in his heart; the longing
for his daughter had already begun to get the upper hand of his pride and his
wounded sanity. All that was needed was a touch, a favourable chance, and that
chance might be provided by Nellie, My old friend listened to me with extreme
attention. Her whole face lighted up with hope and enthusiasm. She began at once
to reproach me for not having told her before; began impatiently questioning me
about Nellie and ended by solemnly promising that she would of her own accord
urge her husband to take the orphan girl into their house. She began to feel a
genuine affection for Nellie, was sorry to hear that she was ill, questioned me
about her, forced me to take the child a pot of jam which she ran herself to
fetch from the store-room, brought me five roubles, thinking I shouldn't have
enough money for the doctor, and could hardly be pacified when I refused to take
it, but consoled herself with the thought that Nellie needed clothes, so that
she could be of use to her in that way. Then she proceeded to ransack all her
chests and to overhaul all her wardrobe, picking out things she might give to
I went off to Natasha's. As I mounted the last flight of the staircase,
which, as I have said, went round in a spiral, I noticed at her door a man who
was on the point of knocking, but hearing my step he checked himself. Then,
after some hesitation he apparently abandoned his intention and ran downstairs.
I came upon him at the turn of the stairs, and what was my astonishment when I
recognized Ichmenyev. It was very dark on the stairs even in the daytime. He
shrank back against the wall to let me pass; and I remember the strange glitter
in his eyes as he looked at me intently. I fancied that he flushed painfully.
But anyway he was terribly taken aback, and even overcome with confusion.
"Ech, Vanya, why, it's you!" he brought out in a shaky voice.
"I've come here to see someone . . . a copying-clerk . . . on business ...
he's lately moved ... somewhere this way ... but he doesn't live here it seems
... I've made a mistake ... good-bye."
And he ran quickly down the stairs.
I decided not to tell Natasha as yet of this meeting, but to wait at any rate
till Alyosha had gone and she was alone. At the moment she was so unhinged that,
though she would have understood and have realized the full importance of the
fact, she would not have been capable of taking it in and feeling it as she
would do at the moment of the last overwhelming misery and despair. This was not
I might have gone to the Ichmenyevs' again that day and I felt a great
inclination to do so. But I did not. I fancied my old friend would feel
uncomfortable at the sight of me. He might even imagine that my coming was the
result of having met him.
I did not go to see them till two days later; my old friend was depressed,
but he met me with a fairly unconcerned air and talked of nothing but his case.
"And I say, who was it you were going to see so high up, when we met, do you
remember - when was it? - the day before yesterday, I fancy," he asked suddenly,
somewhat carelessly, though he avoided looking at me.
"A friend of mine lives there," I answered, also keeping my eyes turned away.
"Ah! And I was looking for my clerk, Astafyev; I was told it was that house
... but it was a mistake. Well, as I was just telling you . . in the Senate the
decision . ." and so on, and so on.
He positively crimsoned as he turned the subject.
I repeated all this to Anna Andreyevna the same day, to cheer her up. I
besought her among other things not to look at him just now with a significant
air, not to sigh, or drop hints; in fact, not to betray in any way that she knew
of this last exploit of his. My old friend was so surprised and delighted that
at first she would not even believe me. She, for her part, told me that she had
already dropped a hint to Nikolay Sergeyitch about the orphan, but that he had
said nothing, though till then he had always been begging her to let them adopt
the child. We decided that next day she should speak to him openly, without any
hints or beating about the bush. But next day we were both in terrible alarm and
What happened was that Ichmenyev had an interview in the morning with the man
who had charge of his case, and the latter had informed him that he had seen the
prince, and that, though the prince was retaining possession of Ichmenyevka,
yet, "in consequence of certain family affairs," he had decided to com- pensate
the old man and to allow him the sum of ten thousand roubles. The old man came
straight from this visit to me, in a terrible state of excitement, his eyes were
flashing with fury. He called me, I don't know why, out of my flat on to the
stairs and began to insist that I should go at once to the prince and take him a
challenge to a duel.
I was so overwhelmed that for a long time I could not collect my ideas. I
began trying to dissuade him, But my old friend became so furious that he was
taken ill. I rushed into the flat for a glass of water, but when I came back I
found Ichmenyev no longer on the stairs.
Next day I went to see him, but he was not at home. He disappeared for three
On the third day we learnt what had happened. He had hurried off from me
straight to the prince's, had not found him at home and had left a note for him.
In his letter he said he had heard of the prince's intentions, that he looked
upon them as a deadly insult, and on the prince as a low scoundrel, and that he
therefore challenged him to a duel, warning him not to dare decline the
challenge or he should be publicly disgraced.
Anna Andreyevna told me that he returned home in such a state of perturbation
and excitement that he had to go to bed.
He had been very tender with her, but scarcely answered her questions, and
was evidently in feverish expectation of some- thing. Next morning a letter came
by the post. On reading it he had cried out aloud and clutched at his head. Anna
Andrey- evna was numb with terror. But he at once snatched up his hat and stick
and rushed out.
The letter was from the prince. Dryly, briefly, and courteously he informed
Ichmenyev that he, Prince Valkovsky, was not bound to give any account to anyone
of what he had said to the lawyer, that though he felt great sympathy with
Ichmenyev for the loss of his case, he could not feel it just for the man who
had lost a case to be entitled to challenge his rival to a duel by way of
revenge. As for the "public disgrace" with which he was threatened, the prince
begged Ichmenyev not to trouble himself about it, for there would be, and could
be, no public disgrace, that the letter would be at once sent to the proper
quarter, and that the police would no doubt be equal to taking steps for
preserving law and order.
Ichmenyev with the letter in his hand set off at once for the prince's. Again
he was not at home, but the old man learnt from the footman that the prince was
probably at Count Nainsky's.
Without wasting time on thought he ran to the count's. The count's porter
stopped him as he was running up the staircase.
Infuriated to the utmost the old man hit him a blow with his stick. He was at
once seized, dragged out on to the steps and handed over to a police officer,
who took him to the police station.
The count was informed. When the prince, who was present, explained to the
old profligate that this was Ichmenyev, the father of the charming young person
(the prince had more than once been of service to the old count in such
enterprises), the great gentleman only laughed and his wrath was softened. The
order was given that Ichmenyev should be discharged. But he was not released
till two days after, when (no doubt by the prince's orders) Ichmenyev was
informed that the prince had himself begged the count to be lenient to him.
The old man returned home in a state bordering on insanity, rushed to his bed
and lay for a whole hour without moving. At last he got up, and to Anna
Andreyevna's horror announced that he should curse his daughter for ever and
deprive her of his fatherly blessing.
Anna Andreyevna was horrified, but she had to look after the old man, and,
hardly knowing what she was doing, she waited upon him all that day and night,
wetting his head with vinegar and putting ice on it. He was feverish and
delirious. It was past two o'clock in the night when I left them. But next
morning Ichmenyev got up, and he came the same day to me to take Nellie home
with him for good. I have already described his scene with Nellie. This scene
shattered him completely. When he got home he went to bed. All this happened on
Good Friday, the day fixed for Katya to see Natasha, and the day before Alyosha
and Katya were to leave Petersburg. I was present at the interview. It took
place early in the morning, before Ichmenyev's visit, and before Nellie ran away
the first time.