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Chapter 23

I got up very early. I had waked up almost every half hour through the night, and gone up to look intently at my poor little visitor. She was in a fever and slightly delirious. But towards morning she fell into a sound sleep. A good sign, I thought, but when I waked in the morning I decided to run for the doctor' while the poor little thing was still asleep. I knew a doctor, a very good-natured old bachelor, who with his German house- keeper had lived in Vladimirsky Street from time immemorial. I set off to him. He promised to be with me at ten o'clock. It was eight when I reached him. I felt much inclined to call in at Masloboev's on the way, but I thought better of it. He was sure not to be awake yet after yesterday; besides, Elena might wake up and be frightened at finding herself alone in my room. In her feverish state she might well forget how and when she had come there.

She waked up at the moment when I went into the room. I went up to her and cautiously asked her how she felt. She did not answer, but bent a long, long, intent look upon me with her expressive black eyes. I thought from the look in her eyes that she was fully conscious and understood what had happened. Her not answering me perhaps was just her invariable habit. Both on the previous day and on the day before that when she had come to see me she had not uttered a word in answer to some of my questions, but had only looked into my face with her slow, persistent stare, in which there was a strange pride as well as wonder and wild curiosity. Now I noticed a severity, even a sort of mistrustfulness in her eyes. I was putting my hand on her forehead to feel whether she were still feverish, but quietly, with- out a word, she put back my hand with her little one and turned away from me to the wall. I walked away that I might not worry her.

I had a big copper kettle. I had long used it instead of a samovar, for boiling water. I had wood, the porter had brought me up enough to last for five days. I lighted the stove, fetched some water and put the tea-pot on. I laid the tea-things on the table. Elena turned towards me and watched it all with curiosity. I asked her whether she would not have something. But again she turned away from me and made no answer.

"Why is she angry with me?" I wondered. "Queer little girl!"

My old doctor came at ten o'clock as he had promised.

He examined the patient with German thoroughness, and greatly cheered me by saying that though she was feverish there was no special danger. He added that she probably had another chronic disease, some irregularity in the action of the heart, "but that point would want special watching, for now she's out of danger. " More from habit than necessity he prescribed her a mixture and some powders, and at once proceeded to ask me how she came to be with me. At the same time he looked about my room wanderingly. The old man was an awful chatterbox. He was struck with Elena. She pulled her hand away when he tried to feel her pulse, and would not show him her tongue; to all his questions she did not answer one word. All the while she stared intently at the enormous Stanislav Order that hung upon his neck.

"Most likely her head is aching badly," said the old man, but how she does stare!"

I did not think it necessary to tell him all about Elena, so I put him off, saying it was a long story.

"Let me know if there's any need," said he as he went away "But at present there's no danger. "

I made up my mind to stay all day with Elena, and to leave her alone as rarely as possible till she was quite well. But knowing that Natasha and Anna Andreyevna would be worried if they expected me in vain, I decided to let Natasha know by post that I could not be with her that day. I could not write to Anna Andreyevna. She had asked me herself once for all not to send her letters, after I had once sent her news when Natasha was ill.

"My old man scowls when he sees a letter from you," she said. "He wants to know, poor dear, what's in the letter, and he can't ask, he can't bring himself to. And so he's upset for the whole day. And besides, my dear, you only tantalize me with letters. What's the use of a dozen lines? One wants to ask the details and you're not there. "

And so I wrote only to Natasha, and when I took the prescription to the chemist's I posted the letter.

Meanwhile Elena fell asleep again. She moaned faintly and started in her sleep. The doctor had guessed right, she had a bad headache. From time to time she cried out and woke up. She looked at me with positive vexation, as though my attention was particularly irksome. I must confess this wounded me.

At eleven o'clock Masloboev turned up. He was preoccupied and seemed absent-minded; he only came in for a minute, and was in a great hurry to get away.

"Well, brother, I didn't expect that you lived in great style, he observed, looking round, "but I didn't think I should find you in such a box. This is a box, not a lodging. But that's nothing though what does matter is that all these outside worries take you off your work. I thought of that yesterday when we were driving to Bubnov's. By natural temperament, brother, and by social position I'm one of those people who can do nothing sensible themselves, but can read sermons to other people. Now, listen, I'll look in, perhaps, to-morrow or next day, and you be sure to come and see me on Sunday morning. I hope by then the problem of this child will be completely settled; then we'll talk things over seriously, for you need looking after in earnest. You can't go on living like this. I only dropped a hint yesterday, but now I'll put it before you logically. And tell me, in short, do you look on it as a dishonour to take money from me for a time?"

"Come, don't quarrel," I interrupted. "You'd better tell me how things ended there yesterday. "

"Well, they ended most satisfactorily. My object was attained you understand. I've no time now. I only looked in for a minute to tell you I'm busy and have no time for you, and to find out by the way whether you're going to place her somewhere, or whether you mean to keep her yourself. Because it wants thinking over and settling. "

"That I don't know for certain yet, and I must own I was waiting to ask your advice. How could I keep her?"

"Why, as a servant. . . . "

"Please don't speak so loud. Though she's ill she's quite conscious, and I noticed she started when she saw you. No doubt she remembered yesterday. "

Then I told him about her behaviour and all the peculiarities I had noticed in her. Masloboev was interested in what I told him. I added that perhaps I could place her in a household, and told him briefly about my old friends. To my astonishment he knew something of Natasha's story, and when I asked him how he had heard of it:

"Oh," he said, "I heard something about it long ago in connexion with some business. I've told you already that I know Prince Valkovsky. That's a good idea of yours to send her to those old people. She'd only be in your way. And another thing, she wants some sort of a passport. Don't you worry about that. I'll undertake it. Good-bye. Come and see me often. Is she asleep now?"

"I think so," I answered.

But as soon as he had gone Elena called to me.

"Who's that?" she asked. Her voice shook, but she looked at me with the same intent and haughty expression. I can find no other word for it.

I told her Masloboev's name, and said that it was by his help I got her away from Mme. Bubnov's, and that Mme. Bubnov was very much afraid of him. Her cheeks suddenly flushed fiery red, probably at the recollection of the past.

"And she will never come here?" asked Elena, with a searching look at me.

I made haste to reassure her. She remained silent, and was taking my hand in her burning fingers, but she dropped it again at once as though recollecting herself.

"It cannot be that she really feels such an aversion for me," I thought. "It's her manner, or else ... or else the poor little thing has had so much trouble that she mistrusts everyone. "

At the hour fixed I went out to fetch the medicine, and at the same time went into a restaurant where they knew me and gave me credit. I took a pot with me, and brought back some chicken broth for Elena. But she would not eat, and the soup remained for the time on the stove.

I gave her her medicine and sat down to my work. I though she was asleep, but chancing to look round at her I saw that she had raised her head, and was intently watching me write. I pretended not to notice her.

At last she really did fall asleep, and to my great delight she slept quietly without delirium or moaning. I fell into a reverie Natasha, not knowing what was the matter, might well be angry with me for not coming to-day, would be sure, indeed, I reflected to be hurt at my neglect, just when, perhaps, she needed me most. She might at this moment have special worries, perhaps some service to ask of me, and I was staying away as though expressly.

As for Anna Andreyevna, I was completely at a loss as to how I should excuse myself to her next day. I thought it over and suddenly made up my mind to run round to both of them. I should only be absent about two hours. Elena was asleep and would not hear me go out. I jumped up, took my coat and cap but just as I was going out Elena called me. I was surprised. Could she have been pretending to be asleep?

I may remark in parenthesis that, though Elena made a show of not wanting to speak to me, these rather frequent appeals this desire to apply to me in every difficulty, showed a contrary feeling, and I confess it really pleased me.

"Where do you mean to send me?" she asked when I went up to her.

She generally asked her questions all of a sudden, when I did not expect them. This time I did not take in her meaning at first.

"You were telling your friend just now that you meant to place me in some household. I don't want to go. "

I bent down to her; she was hot all over, another attack of fever had come on. I began trying to soothe and pacify her assuring her that if she cared to remain with me I would not send her away anywhere. Saying this, I took off my coat and cap I could not bring myself to leave her alone in such a condition.

"No, go," she said, realizing at once that I was meaning to stay. "I'm sleepy; I shall go to sleep directly. "

"But how will you get on alone?" I said, uncertainly. "Though I'd be sure to be back in two hours' time. . . . "

"Well, go then. Suppose I'm ill for a whole year, you can't stay at home all the time. "

And she tried to smile, and looked strangely at me as though struggling with some kindly feeling stirring in her heart. Poor little thing! Her gentle, tender heart showed itself in glimpses in spite of her aloofness and evident mistrust.

First I ran round to Anna Andreyevna. She was waiting for me with feverish impatience and she greeted me with reproaches; she was in terrible anxiety. Nikolay Sergeyitch had gone out immediately after dinner, and she did not know where. I had a presentiment that she had not been able to resist telling him everything in hints, of course, as she always did. She practically admitted it herself, telling me that she could not resist sharing such joyful tidings with him, but that Nikolay Sergeyitch had become, to use her expression, "blacker than night, that he had said nothing. He wouldn't speak, wouldn't even answer my questions, and suddenly after dinner had got ready and gone out. " When she told me this Anna Andreyevna was almost trembling with dismay, and besought me to stay with her until Nikolay Sergeyitch came back. I excused myself and told her almost flatly that perhaps I should not come next day either, and that I had really hurried to her now to tell her so; this time we almost quarrelled. She shed tears, reproached me harshly and bitterly, and only when I was just going out at the door she suddenly threw herself on my neck, held me tight in both arms and told me not to be angry with a lonely creature like her, and not to resent her words.

Contrary to my expectations, I found Natasha again alone. And, strange to say, it seemed to me that she was by no means so pleased to see me as she had been the day before and on other occasions; as though I were in the way or somehow annoying her. When I asked whether Alyosha had been there that day she answered :

"Of course he has, but he didn't stay long. He promised to look in this evening," she went on, hesitating. "And yesterday evening, was he here?"

"N-no. He was detained," she added quickly. "Well, Vanya, how are things going with you?"

I saw that she wanted to stave off our conversation and begin a fresh subject. I looked at her more intently. She was evidently upset. But noticing that I was glancing at her and watching her closely, she looked at me rapidly and, as it were, wrathfully and with such intensity that her eyes seemed to blaze at me. "She is miserable again," I thought, "but she doesn't want to speak to me about it. "

In answer to her question about my work I told her the whole story of Elena in full detail. She was extremely interested and even impressed by my story.

"Good heavens! And you could leave her alone, and ill! she cried.

I told her that I had meant not to come at all that day, but that I was afraid she would be angry with me and that she might be in need of me.

"Need," she said to herself as though pondering. "Perhaps I do need you, Vanya, but that had better be another time. Have you been to my people?"

I told her.

"Yes, God only knows how my father will take the news. Though what is there to take after all? . . . "

"What is there to take?" I repeated. "A transformation like this!"

"I don't know about that. . . . Where can he have gone again? That time before, you thought he was coming to me. Do you know, Vanya, come to me to-morrow if you can. I shall tell you something perhaps.... Only I'm ashamed to trouble you. But now you'd better be going home to your visitor. I expect it's two hours since you came out. "

"Yes, it is. Good-bye, Natasha. Well, and how was Alyosha with you to-day?"

"Oh, Alyosha. All right.... I wonder at your curiosity. "

"Good-bye for now, my friend. "

"Good-bye. "

She gave me her hand carelessly and turned away from my last, farewell look. I went out somewhat surprised. "She has plenty to think about, though," I thought. "It's no jesting matter. To-morrow she'll be the first to tell me all about it. "

I went home sorrowful, and was dreadfully shocked as soon as I opened the door. By now it was dark. I could make out Elena sitting on the sofa, her head sunk on her breast as though plunged in deep thought. She didn't even glance at me. She seemed lost to everything. I went up to her. She was muttering something to herself. "Isn't she delirious?" I thought.

"Elena, my, dear, what's the matter?" I asked, sitting beside her and putting my arm round her.

"I want to go away. . . . I'd better go to her," she said, not raising her head to look at me.

"Where? To whom?" I asked in surprise.

"To her. To Bubnov. She's always saying I owe her a lot of money; that she buried mother at her expense. I don't want her to say nasty things about mother. I want to work there, and pay her back. . . . Then I'll go away of myself. But now I'm going back to her. "

"Be quiet, Elena, you can't go back to her," I said. "She'll torment you. She'll ruin you. "

"Let her ruin me, let her torment me. " Elena caught up the words feverishly. "I'm not the first. Others better than I are tormented. A beggar woman in the street told me that. I'm poor and I want to be poor. I'll be poor all my life. My mother told me so when she was dying. I'll work.... I don't want to wear this dress. . . . "

"I'll buy you another one to-morrow. And I'll get you your books. You shall stay with me. I won't send you away to any- unless you want to go. Don't worry yourself. "

"I'll be a work-girl!"

"Very well, very well. Only be quiet. Lie down. Go to sleep. "

But the poor child burst into tears. By degrees her tears passed to sobs. I didn't know what to do with her. I offered her water and moistened her temples and her head. At last she sank on the sofa completely exhausted, and she was overcome by feverish shivering. I wrapped her up in what I could find and she fell into an uneasy sleep, starting and waking up continually. Though I had not walked far that day, I was awfully tired, and I decided to go to bed as early as possible. Tormenting doubts swarmed in my brain. I foresaw that I should have a lot of trouble with this child. But my chief anxiety was about Natasha and her troubles. Altogether, as I remember now, I have rarely been in a mood of such deep dejection as when I fell asleep that unhappy night.

Fyodor Dostoevsky