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I found Natasha alone. She was slowly walking up and down the room, with her hands clasped on her bosom, lost in thought. A samovar stood on the table almost burnt out. It had been got ready for me long before. With a smile she held out her hand to me without speaking. Her face was pale and had an expression of suffering. There was a look of martyrdom, tenderness, patience, in her smile. Her clear blue eyes seemed to have grown bigger, her hair looked thicker from the wanness and thinness of her face.
"I began to think you weren't coming," she said, giving me her hand. "I was meaning to send Mavra to inquire; I was afraid you might be ill again."
"No, I'm not ill. I was detained. I'll tell you directly. But what's the matter, Natasha, what's happened?"
"Nothing's happened," she answered, surprised. "Why?"
"Why, you wrote . . . you wrote yesterday for me to come, and fixed the hour that I might not come before or after; and that's not what you usually do."
"Oh, yes! I was expecting him yesterday."
"Why, hasn't be been here yet?"
"No. I thought if he didn't come I must talk things over with you," she added, after a pause
"And this evening, did you expect him?"
"No, this evening he's there."
"What do you think, Natasha, won't he come back at all?"
"Of course he'll come," she answered, looking at me with peculiar earnestness. She did not like the abruptness of my question. We lapsed into silence, walking up and down the room.
"I've been expecting you all this time, Vanya", she began again with a smile. "And do you know what I was doing? I've been walking up and down, reciting poetry. Do you remember the bells, the winter road, 'My samovar boils on the table of oak' . . .? We read it together:
"The snowstorm is spent; there's a glimmer of light From the millions of dim watching eyes of the night.
"There's the ring of a passionate voice in my ears In the song of the bell taking part; Oh, when will my loved one return from afar To rest on my suppliant heart? My life is no life! Rosy beams of the dawn Are at play on the pane's icy screen; My samovar boils on my table of oak, With the bright crackling fire the dark corner awoke, And my bed with chintz curtains is seen.
"How fine that is. How tormenting those verses are, Vanya. And what a vivid, fantastic picture! It's just a canvas with a mere pattern chalked on it. You can embroider what you like! Two sensations: the earliest, and the latest. That samovar, that chintz curtain--how homelike it all is. It's like some little cottage in our little town at home; I feel as though I could see that cottage: a new one made of logs not yet weather-boarded ... And then another picture:
"Of a sudden I hear the same voice ringing out With the bell; its sad accents I trace; Oh, where's my old friend? And I fear he'll come in With eager caress and embrace. What a life, I endure! But my tears are in vain. Oh, how dreary my room! Through the chinks the wind blows And outside the house but one cherry-tree grows, Perhaps that has perished by now though--who knows? It's hid by the frost on the pane. The flowers on the curtain have lost their gay tone, And I wander sick; all my kinsfolk I shun, There's no one to scold me or love me, not one, The old woman grumbles alone....
'I wander sick.' That sick is so well put in. 'There's no one to scold me.' That tenderness, what softness in that line; and what agonies of memory, agonies one has caused oneself, and one broods over them. Heavens, how fine it is! How true it is! ..."
She ceased speaking, as though struggling with a rising spasm in her throat.
"Dear Vanya!" she said a minute later, and she paused again, as though she had forgotten what she meant to say, or had spoken without thinking, from a sudden feeling.
Meanwhile we still walked up and down the room. A lamp burned before the ikon. Of late Natasha had become more and more devout, and did not like one to speak of it to her.
"Is to-morrow a holiday?" I asked. "Your lamp is lighted."
"No, it's not a holiday ... but, Vanya, sit down. You must be tired. Will you have tea? I suppose you've not had it yet?"
"Let's sit down, Natasha. I've had tea already."
"Where have you come from?"
That's how we always referred to her old home.
"From them? How did you get time? Did you go of your own accord? Or did they ask you?"
She besieged me with questions. Her face grew still paler with emotion. I told her in detail of my meeting with her father, my conversation with her mother, and the scene with the locket. I told her in detail, describing every shade of feeling. I never concealed anything from her, She listened eagerly, catching every word I uttered, the tears glittered in her eyes. The scene with the locket affected her deeply.
"Stay, stay, Vanya," she said, often interrupting my story. "Tell me more exactly everything, everything as exactly as possible; you don't tell me exactly enough ......"
I repeated it again and again, replying every moment to her continual questions about the details.
"And you really think he was coming to see me?"
"I don't know, Natasha, and in fact I can't make up my mind; that he grieves for you and loves you is clear; but that he was coming to you is ... is . . ."
"And he kissed the locket?" she interrupted. "What did he say when he kissed it?"
"It was incoherent. Nothing but exclamations; he called you by the tenderest of names; he called for you."
"Called for me?"
She wept quietly.
"Poor things!" she said. "And if he knows everything," she added after a brief silence, "it's no wonder.. He hears a great deal about Alyosha's father, too."
"Natasha," I said timidly, "let us go to them."
"When?" she asked, turning pale and almost getting up from her chair.
She thought I was urging her to go at once.
"No, Vanya," she added, putting her two hands on my shoulders, and smiling sadly; "no, dear, that's what you're always saying, but ... we'd better not talk about it."
"Will this horrible estrangement never be ended?" I cried mournfully. "Can you be so proud that you won't take the first step? It's for you to do it; you must make the first advance. Perhaps your father's only waiting for that to forgive you.... He's your father; he has been injured by you! Respect his pride--it's justifiable, it's natural! You ought to do it. Only try, and he will forgive you unconditionally."
"Unconditionally! That's impossible. And don't reproach me, Vanya, for nothing. I'm thinking of it day and night, and I think of it now. There's not been a day perhaps since I left them that I haven't thought of it. And how often we have talked about it! You know yourself it's impossible."
"No, my dear, it's impossible. If I were to try I should only make him more bitter against me. There's no bringing back what's beyond recall. And you know what it is one can never bring back? One can never bring back those happy, childish days I spent with them. If my father forgave me he would hardly know me now. He loved me as a little girl; a grown-up child. He admired my childish simplicity. He used to pat me on the head just as when I was a child of seven and used to sit upon his knee and sing him my little childish songs. From my earliest childhood up to the last day he used to come to my bed and bless me for the night. A month before our troubles he bought me some ear-rings as a secret (but I knew all about it), and was as pleased as a child, imagining how delighted I should be with the present, and was awfully angry with everyone, and with me especially, when he found out that I had known all about him buying the ear-rings for a long time. Three days before I went away he noticed that I was depressed, and he became so depressed himself that it made him ill, and--would you believe it--to divert my mind he proposed taking tickets for the theatre! ... Yes, indeed, he thought that would set me right. I tell you he knew and loved me as a little girl, and refused even to think that I should one day be a woman... It's never entered his head. If I were to go home now he would not know me. Even if he did forgive me he'd meet quite a different person now. I'm not the same; I'm not a child now. I have gone through a great deal Even if he were satisfied with me he still would sigh for his past happiness, and grieve that I am not the same as I used to be when he loved me as a child. The past always seems best! It's remembered with anguish! Oh, how good the past was, Vanya!" she cried, carried away by her own words, and interrupting herself with this exclamation which broke painfully from her heart.
"That's all true that you say, Natasha," I said. "So he will have to learn to know and love you afresh. To know you especially. He will love you, of course. Surely you can't think that he's incapable of knowing and understanding you, he, with his heart?"
"Oh, Vanya, don't be unfair! What is there to understand in me? I didn't mean that. You see, there's something else: father's love is jealous, too; he's hurt that all began and was settled with Alyosha without his knowledge, that he didn't know it and failed to see it. He knows that he did not foresee it, and he puts down the unhappy consequences of our love and my flight to my 'ungrateful' secretiveness. I did not come to him at the beginning. I did not afterwards confess every impulse of my heart to him; on the contrary I hid it in myself. I concealed it from him and I assure you, Vanya, this is secretly a worse injury, a worse insult to him than the facts themselves--that I left them and have abandoned myself to my lover. Supposing he did meet me now like a father, warmly and affectionately, yet the seed of discord would remain. The next day, or the day after, there would be disappointments, misunderstandings, reproaches. What's more, he won't forgive without conditions, even if I say - and say it truly from the bottom of my heart--that I understand how I have wounded him and how badly I've behaved to him. And though it will hurt me if he won't understand how much all this happiness with Alyosha has cost me myself, what miseries I have been through, I will stifle my feelings, I will put up with anything--but that won't be enough for him. He will insist on an impossible atonement; he will insist on my cursing my past, cursing Alyosha and repenting of my love for him. He wants what's impossible, to bring back the past and to erase the last six months from our life. But I won't curse anyone, and I can't repent. It's no one's doing; it just happened so.... No, Vanya, it can't be now. The time has not come."
"When will the time come?"
"I don't know. . . . We shall have to work out our future happiness by suffering; pay for it somehow by fresh miseries. Everything is purified by suffering ... Oh, Vanya, how much pain there is in the world!"
I was silent and looked at her thoughtfully.
"Why do you look at me like that, Alyosha--I mean Vanya!" she said, smiling at her own mistake.
"I am looking at your smile, Natasha. Where did you get it? You used not to smile like that."
"Why, what is there in my smile?
"The old childish simplicity is still there, it's true. . . . But when you smile it seems as though your heart were aching dread- fully. You've grown thinner, Natasha, and your hair seems thicker.... What dress have you got on? You used to wear that at home, didn't you?"
"How you love me, Vanya," she said, looking at me affectionately. "And what about you? What are you doing? How are things going with you?"
"Just the same, I'm still writing my novel. But it's difficult, I can't get on. The inspiration's dried up. I dare say I could knock it off somehow, and it might turn out interesting. But it's a pity to spoil a good idea. It's a favourite idea of mine. But it must be ready in time for the magazine. I've even thought of throwing up the novel, and knocking off a short story, something light and graceful, and without a trace of pessimism. Quite without a trace.... Everyone ought to be cheerful and happy."
"You're such a hard worker, you poor boy! And how about Smith?"
"But Smith's dead."
"And he hasn't haunted you? I tell you seriously, Vanya, you're ill and your nerves are out of order; you're always lost in such dreams. When you told me about taking that room I noticed it in you. So the room's damp, not nice?"
"Yes, I had an adventure there this evening.... But I'll tell you about it afterwards."
She had left off listening and was sitting plunged in deep thought.
"I don't know how I could have left them then. I was in a fever," she added at last, looking at me with an expression that did not seem to expect an answer.
If I had spoken to her at that moment she would not have heard me.
"Vanya," she said in a voice hardly audible, "I asked you to come for a reason."
"What is it?"
"I am parting from him."
"You have parted, or you're going to part?"
"I must put an end to this life. I asked you to come that I might tell you everything, all, all that has been accumulating, and that I've hidden from you till now."
This was always how she began, confiding to me her secret intentions, and it almost always turned out that I had learnt the whole secret from her long before.
"Ach, Natasha, I've heard that from you a thousand times, Of course it's impossible for you to go on living together. Your relation is such a strange one. You have nothing in common. But will you have the strength? "
"It's only been an idea before, Vanya, but now I have quite made up my mind. I love him beyond everything, and yet it seems I am his worst enemy. I shall ruin his future. I must set him free. He can't marry me; he hasn't the strength to go against his father. I don't want to bind him either. And so I'm really glad he has fallen in love with the girl they are betrothing him to. It will make the parting easier for him. I ought to do it! It's my duty. . . If I love him I ought to sacrifice everything for him. I ought to prove my love for him; it's my duty! Isn't it?"
"But you won't persuade him, you know"
"I'm not going to persuade him. I shall be just the same with him if he comes in this minute. But I must find some means to make it easier for him to leave me without a conscience-prick. That's what worries me, Vanya. Help me. Can't you advise something?"
"There is only one way," I said: "to leave off loving him altogether and fall in love with someone else. But I doubt whether even that will do it; surely you know his character. Here he's not been to see you for five days. Suppose he had left you altogether. You've only to write that you are leaving him, and he'd run to you at once."
"Why do you dislike him, Vanya?"
"Yes, you, you! You're his enemy, secret and open. You can't speak of him without vindictiveness. I've noticed a thousand times that it's your greatest pleasure to humiliate him and blacken him! Yes, blacken him, it's the truth!"
"And you've told me so a thousand times already. Enough, Natasha, let's drop this conversation."
"I've been wanting to move into another lodging," she began again after a silence. "Don't be angry, Vanya."
"Why, he'd come to another lodging, and I assure you I'm not angry."
"Love, a new strong love, might hold him back. If he came back to me it would only be for a moment, don't you think?"
"I don't know, Natasha. Everything with him is so in- consistent. He wants to marry that girl, and to love you, too. He's somehow able to do all that at once."
"If I knew for certain that he loved her I would make up my mind ... Vanya! Don't hide anything from me! Do you know something you don't want to tell me?"
She looked at me with an uneasy, searching gaze.
"I know nothing, my dear. I give you my word of honour; I've always been open with you. But I'll tell you what I do think: very likely he's not nearly so much in love with the countess's stepdaughter as we suppose. It's nothing but attraction ...."
"You think so, Vanya? My God, if I were sure of that! Oh, how I should like to see him at this moment, simply to look at him! I should find out everything from his face! But he doesn't come! He doesn't come!"
"Surely you don't expect him, Natasha?"
"No, he's with her; I know. I sent to find out. How I should like to have a look at her, too.... Listen, Vanya, I'm talking nonsense, but is it really impossible for me to see her, is it impossible to meet her anywhere? What do you think?"
She waited anxiously to hear what I should say.
"You might see her. But simply to see her wouldn't amount to much."
"It would be enough for me only to see her; I should be able to tell then, for myself. Listen, I have become so stupid, you know. I walk up and down, up and down, here, always alone, always alone, always thinking; thoughts come rushing like a whirlwind! It's so horrible! One thing I've thought of, Vanya; couldn't you get to know her? You know the countess admired your novel (you said so yourself at the time). You sometimes go to Prince R--'s evenings; she's sometimes there. Manage to be presented to her. Or perhaps Alyosha could introduce you. Then you could tell me all about her."
"Natasha, dear, we'll talk of that later. Tell me, do you seriously think you have the strength to face a separation? Look at yourself now; you're not calm."
"I . . . shall . . . have!" she answered, hardly audibly.
"Anything for him. My whole life for his sake. But you know, Vanya, I can't bear his being with her now, and having forgotten me; he is sitting by her, talking, laughing, as he used to sit here, do you remember? He's looking into her eyes; he always does look at people like that--and it never occurs to him that I am here ... with you."
She broke off without finishing and looked at me in despair.
"Why, Natasha, only just now you were saying . . ."
"Let's separate both at once, of our own accord," she interrupted with flashing eyes. "I will give him my blessing for that . . . but it's hard, Vanya, that he should forget me first! Ah, Vanya, what agony it is! I don't understand myself. One thinks one thing, but it's different when it comes to doing it. What will become of me!"
"Hush, hush, Natasha, calm yourself."
"And now it's five days. Every hour, every minute.... If I sleep I dream of nothing but him, nothing but him! I tell you what, Vanya, let's go there. You take me!"
"Yes, we will go! I've only been waiting for you! I've been thinking about it for the last three days. That was what I meant in my letter to you.... You must take me, you mustn't refuse me this. . . I've been expecting you ... for three days.... There's a party there this evening.... He's there ... let us go!"
She seemed almost delirious. There was a noise in the passage Mavra seemed to be wrangling with some one.
"Stay, Natasha, who's that?" I asked. "Listen."
She listened with an incredulous smile, and suddenly turned fearfully white.
"My God! Who's there?" she said, almost inaudibly.
She tried to detain me, but I went into the passage to Mavra. Yes! It actually was Alyosha. He was questioning Mavra about something. She refused at first to admit him.
"Where have you turned up from?" she asked, with an air of authority. "Well, what have you been up to? All right, then, go in, go in! You won't come it over me with your butter! Go in! I wonder what you've to say for yourself!"
"I'm not afraid of anyone! I'm going in!" said Alyosha, somewhat disconcerted, however.
"Well, go in then! You're a sauce-box!"
"Well, I'm going in! Ah! you're here, too!" he said, catching sight of me. "How nice it is that you're here Well, here I am, you see.... What had I better do?"
"Simply go in," I answered. "What are you afraid of?"
"I'm not afraid of anything, I assure you, for upon my word I'm not to blame. You think I'm to blame? You'll see; I'll explain it directly. Natasha, can I come in?" he cried with a sort of assumed boldness, standing before the closed door. No one answered.
"What's the matter?" he asked uneasily.
"Nothing; she was in there just now," I answered. "Can anything ..."
Alyosha opened the door cautiously and looked timidly about the room. There was no one to be seen.
Suddenly he caught sight of her in the corner, between the cupboard and the window. She stood as though in hiding, more dead than alive. As I recall it now I can't help smiling. Alyosha went up to her slowly and warily.
"Natasha, what is it? How are you, Natasha?" he brought out timidly, looking at her with a sort of dismay.
"Oh, it's all right!" she answered in terrible confusion, as though she were in fault. "You ... will you have some tea?"
"Natasha, listen." Alyosha began, utterly overwhelmed.
"You're convinced perhaps that I'm to blame. But I'm not, not a bit. You'll see; I'll tell you directly."
"What for?" Natasha whispered. "No, no, you needn't.... Come, give me your hand and . . . it's over . . . the same as before. . . ."
And she came out of the corner. A flush began to come into her cheeks. She looked down as though she were afraid to glance at Alyosha.
"Good God!" he cried ecstatically. "If I really were to blame I shouldn't dare look at her after that. Look, look!" he exclaimed, turning to me, "she thinks I am to blame; every- thing's against me; all appearances are against me! I haven't been here for five days! There are rumours that I'm with my betrothed--and what? She has forgiven me already! Already she says, 'Give me your hand and it's over'! Natasha, my darling, my angel! It's not my fault, and you must know that! Not the least little bit! Quite the contrary! Quite the contrary
"But ... but you were to be there now.... You were invited there now .... How is it you're here? Wh-what time is it?"
"Half-past ten! I have been there ... but I said I wasn't well and came away--and--and it's the first time, the first time I've been free these five days. It's the first time I've been able to tear myself away and come to you, Natasha. That is, I could have come before, but I didn't on purpose. And why? You shall know directly. I'll explain; that's just what I've come for, to explain. Only this time I'm really not a bit to blame, not a bit, not a bit!"
Natasha raised her head and looked at him.... But the eyes that met her were so truthful, his face was so full of joy, sincerity and good-humour, that it was impossible to disbelieve him. I expected that they would cry out and rush into each other's arms, as had often happened before at such reconciliations. But Natasha seemed overcome by her happiness; she let her head sink on her breast and ... began crying softly.... Then Alyosha couldn't restrain himself. He threw himself at her feet. He kissed her hands, her feet. He seemed frantic. I pushed an easy-chair towards her. She sank into it. Her legs were giving way beneath her.
THE END of PART I.
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