For some minutes we all said nothing. Natasha sat in thought, sorrowful and exhausted. All her energy had suddenly left her. She looked straight before her seeing nothing, holding Alyosha's hand in hers and seeming lost in oblivion. He was quietly giving vent to his grief in tears, looking at her from time to time with timorous curiosity.
At last he began timidly trying to comfort her, besought her not to be angry, blamed himself; it was evident that he was very anxious to defend his father, and that this was very much on his mind. He began on the subject several times, but did not dare to speak out, afraid of rousing Natasha's wrath again. He protested his eternal unchanging love, and hotly justified his devotion to Katya, continually repeating that he only loved Katya as a sister, a dear, kind sister, whom he could not abandon altogether; that that would be really coarse and cruel on his part, declaring that if Natasha knew Katya they would be friends at once, so much so that they would never part and never quarrel. This idea pleased him particularly. The poor fellow was perfectly truthful. He did not understand her apprehensions, and indeed had no clear understanding of what she had just said to his father. All he understood was that they had quarrelled, and that above all lay like a stone on his heart.
"You are blaming me on your father's account?" asked Natasha.
"How can I blame you?" he said with bitter feeling, "when I'm the cause, and it's all my fault? It's I who have driven you into such a fury, and in your anger you blamed him too, because you wanted to defend me. You always stand up for me, and I don't deserve it. You had to fix the blame on someone, so you fixed it on him. And he's really not to blame!" cried Alyosha, warming up. "And was it with that thought he came here? Was that what he expected?"
But seeing that Natasha was looking at him with distress and reproach, he was abashed at once.
"Forgive me, I won't, I won't," he said. "It's all my fault!"
"Yes, Alyosha," she went on with bitter feeling. "Now he has come between us and spoilt all our peace, for all our lives. You always believed in me more than in anyone. Now he has poured distrust and suspicion of me into your heart; you blame me; he has already taken from me half your heart. The black cat has run between us."
"Don't speak like that, Natasha. Why, do you talk of the black cat?"
He was hurt by the expression.
"He's won you by his false kindness, his false generosity," Natasha continued. "And now he will set you more and more against me."
"I swear that it isn't so," said Alyosha with still greater heat. "He was irritated when he said he was 'in too great a hurry.' You will see tomorrow, in a day or two, he'll think better of it; and if he's so angry that he really won't have our marriage I swear I won't obey him. I shall have the strength, perhaps, for that. And do you know who will help us?" he cried, delighted with his idea. "Katya will help us! And you will see, you will see what a wonderful creature she is! You will see whether she wants to be your rival and part us. And how unfair you were just now when you said that I was one of those who might change the day after marriage! It was bitter to me to hear that! No, I'm not like that, and if I went often to see Katya . . ."
"Hush, Alyosha! Go and see her whenever you like. That wasn't what I meant just now. You didn't understand it all. Be happy with anyone you like. I can't ask more of your heart than it can give me..."
Mavra came in.
"Am I to bring in the tea? It's no joke to keep the samovar boiling for two hours. It's eleven o'clock."
She spoke rudely and crossly. She was evidently out of humour and angry with Natasha. The fact was that ever since Tuesday she had been in the greatest delight that her young lady (whom she was very fond of) was to be married, and had already had time to proclaim it all over the house and neighbourhood, in the shop, and to the porter. She had been boasting of it and relating triumphantly that a prince, a man of consequence, and a general, awfully rich, had come himself to beg her young lady's consent, and she, Mavra, had heard it with her own cars; and now, suddenly, it had all ended in smoke. The prince had gone away furious, and no tea had been offered to him, and of course it was all her young lady's fault. Mavra had heard her speaking disrespectfully to him.
"Oh ... yes," answered Natasha.
"And the savouries?"
"Yes, bring them too."
Natasha was confused.
"We've been making such preparations, such preparations," Mavra went on. "I've been run off my feet ever since yesterday. I ran to the Nevsky for wine, and here . . ."
And she went out, slamming the door angrily.
Natasha reddened and looked at me rather strangely.
Meanwhile tea was served, and with it savouries. There was game, fish of some sort, two bottles of excellent wine from Eliseyev. What were all these preparations for, I wondered.
"You see what I am, Vanya," said Natasha, going up to the table, and she was ashamed even to face me. "I foresaw it would all end as it has ended, you know; and still I thought that perhaps it wouldn't end so. I thought Alyosha might come, and begin to make peace, and we should be reconciled. All my suspicions would turn out to be unjust. I should be convinced . . . and I got a supper ready on the chance. I thought perhaps we should sit and talk till late."
Poor Natasha! She blushed so deeply as she said this.
Alyosha was delighted.
"There, you see, Natasha! " he cried. "You didn't believe it yourself. Two hours ago you didn't believe in your suspicions yourself. Yes, it must all be set right. I'm to blame. It's all my fault and I'll make it all right. Natasha, let me go straight to my father. I must see him; he is hurt, he is offended; I must comfort him. I will tell him everything, speaking only for myself, only for myself! You shan't be mixed up in it. And I'll settle everything. Don't be angry with me for being so anxious to get to him and ready to leave you. It's not that at all. I am sorry for him; he will justify himself to you, you will see. Tomorrow I'll be with you as soon as it's light, and I'll spend the whole day with you. I won't go to Katya's."
Natasha did not detain him; she even urged him to go. She was dreadfully afraid that Alyosha would now force himself to stay with her from morning till night, and would weary of her. She only begged him to say nothing in her name, and tried to smile at him more cheerfully at parting. He was just on the point of going, but he suddenly went up to her, took her by both hands and sat down beside her. He looked at her with indescribable tenderness.
"Natasha, my darling, my angel, don't be angry with me, and don't let us ever quarrel. And give me your word that you'll always believe me, and I will believe you. There, my angel, I'll tell you now. We quarrelled once; I don't remember what about: it was my fault. We wouldn't speak to one another. I didn't want to be the first to beg pardon and I was awfully miserable. I wandered all over the town, lounged about everywhere, went to see my friends, and my heart was so heavy, so heavy.... And then the thought came into my mind, what if you fell ill, for instance, and died? And when I imagined that, I suddenly felt such despair as though I had really lost you for ever. My thoughts grew more and more oppressive and terrible. And little by little I began to imagine going to your tomb, falling upon it in despair, embracing it, and swooning with anguish. I imagined how I would kiss that tomb, and call you out of it, if only for a moment, and pray God for a miracle that for one moment you might rise up before me; I imagined how I would rush to embrace you, press you to me, kiss you, and die, it seemed, with bliss at being able once more for one instant to hold you in my arms as before. And as I was imagining that, the thought suddenly came to me: why, I shall pray to God for one minute of you, and meanwhile you have been with me six months, and during those six months how many times we've quarrelled, how many days we wouldn't speak to one another. For whole days we've been on bad terms and despised our happiness, and here I'm praying you to come for one minute from the tomb, and I'm ready to give my whole life for that minute. . . . When I fancied all that I couldn't restrain myself, but rushed to you as fast as I could; I ran here, and you were expecting me, and when we embraced after that quarrel I remember I held you in my arms as tightly as though I were really losing you, Natasha. Don't let us ever quarrel! It always hurts me so. And, good heavens, how could you imagine that I could leave you!"
Natasha was crying. They embraced each other warmly, and Alyosha swore once more that he would never leave her. Then he flew off to his father. He was firmly convinced that he would settle everything, that he would make everything come right.
"It's all ended! It's all over!" said Natasha, pressing my hand convulsively. "He loves me and he will never cease to love me. But he loves Katya, too, and in a little time he'll love her more than me. And that viper, the prince, will keep his eyes open, and then . . ."
"Natasha! I, too, believe that the prince is not acting straight forwardly, but . . ."
"You don't believe all I've said to him! I saw that from your face. But wait a little, you'll see for yourself whether I'm right. I was only speaking generally, but heaven knows what else he has in his mind! He's an awful man. I've been walking up and down this room for the last four days, and I see through it all. He had to set Alyosha free, to relieve his heart from the burden of sadness that's weighing on his life, from the duty of loving me. He thought of this project of marriage with the idea, too, of worming his way in between us and influencing us, and of captivating Alyosha by his generosity and magnanimity. That's the truth, that's the truth, Vanya! Alyosha's just that sort of character. His mind would be set at rest about me, his uneasiness on my account would be over. He would think, 'why, she's my wife now, and mine for life,' and would unconsciously pay more attention to Katya. The prince has evidently studied Katya, and realizes that she's suited to him, and that she may attract him more than I can. Ach, Vanya, you are my only hope now! He wants for some reason to approach you, to get to know you. Don't oppose this, and for goodness' sake, dear, try to find some way of going to the countess's soon; make friends with this Katya, study her thoroughly and tell me what she is like. I want to know what you think of her. No one knows me as you do, and you will understand what I want. Find out, too, how far their friendship goes, how much there is between them, what they talk about. It's Katya, Katya, you must observe chiefly. Show me this once more, dear, darling Vanya, show me this once more what a true friend you are to me! You are my hope, my only hope now."
It was nearly one o'clock by the time I got home. Nellie opened the door to me with a sleepy face. She smiled and looked at me brightly. The poor child was very much vexed with herself for having fallen asleep. She had been very anxious to sit up for me. She told me someone had been and inquired for me, had sat and waited for a time, and had left a note on the table for me. The note was from Masloboev. He asked me to go to him next day between twelve and one. I wanted to question Nellie, but I put it off till next morning, insisting that she should go to bed at once. The poor child was tired as it was with sitting up for me, and had only fallen asleep half an hour before I came in.
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