The countess lived in good style. The rooms were furnished comfortably and with taste, though not at all luxuriously. Everything, however, had the special character of a temporary residence, not the permanent established habitation of a wealthy family with all the style of the aristocracy, and all the whims that they take for necessities. There was a rumour that the countess was going in the summer to her ruined and mortgaged property in the province of Simbirsk, and that the prince would accompany her. I had heard this already, and wondered uneasily how Alyosha would behave when Katya went away with the countess, I had not vet spoken of this to Natasha. I was afraid to. But from some signs I had noticed, I fancied that she, too, knew of the rumour. But she was silent and suffered in secret.
The countess gave me an excellent reception, held out her hand to me cordially, and repeated that she had long wished to, make my acquaintance. She made tea herself from a handsome silver samovar, round which we all sat, the prince, and I and another gentleman, elderly and extremely aristocratic wearing a star on his breast, somewhat starchy and diplomatic in his manners. This visitor seemed an object of great respect. The countess had not, since her return from abroad, had time that winter to make a large circle of acquaintances in Petersburg and to establish her position as she had hoped and reckoned upon doing. There was no one besides this gentleman, and no one else came in all the evening. I looked about for Katerina Fyodorovna; she was in the next room with Alyosha, but hearing that we had arrived she came in at once. The prince kissed her hand politely, and the countess motioned her towards me. The prince at once introduced us. I looked at her with impatient attention. She was a short, soft little blonde dressed in a white frock, with a mild and serene expression of face, with eyes of perfect blue, as Alyosha had said, she had the beauty of youth, that was all. I had expected to meet the perfection of beauty, but it was not a case of beauty. The regular, softly outlined oval of the face, the fairly correct features, the thick and really splendid hair, the simple and homely style in which it was arranged, the gentle, attentive expression--all this I should have passed by without paying special attention to it if I had met her elsewhere. But this was only the first impression, and I succeeded in getting a fuller insight into her in the course of that evening. The very way in which she shook hands with me, standing looking into my face with a sort of naively exaggerated intentness, without saying a word, impressed me by its strangeness, and I could not help smiling at her. It was evident, I felt at once, that I had before me a creature of the purest heart. The countess watched her intently. After shaking hands Katya walked away from me somewhat hurriedly, and sat down at the other end of the room with Alyosha. As he greeted me Alyosha whispered: "I'm only here for a minute. I'm just going there."
The "diplomat," I don't know his name and call him a diplomat simply to call him something, talked calmly and majestically, developing some idea. The countess listened to him attentively. The prince gave him an encouraging and flattering smile. The orator often addressed himself to him, apparently appreciating him as a listener worthy of his attention. They gave me some tea and left me in peace, for which I was very thankful. Meanwhile I was looking at the countess. At first sight she attracted me in spite of myself. Perhaps she was no longer young, but she seemed to me not more than twenty-eight. Her face was still fresh, and in her first youth she must have been very beautiful. Her dark. brown hair was still fairly thick; her expression was extremely kindly, but frivolous, and mischievously mocking. But just now she was evidently keeping herself in check. There was a look of great intelligence, too, in her eyes, but even more of good-nature and gaiety. It seemed to me that her predominant characteristic was a certain levity, an eagerness for enjoyment, and a sort of good-natured egoism; a great deal of egoism, perhaps, She was absolutely guided by the prince, who had an extraordinary influence on her. I knew that they had a liaison; I had heard, too, that he had been anything but a jealous lover while they had been abroad; but I kept fancying, and I think so still, that apart from their former relations there was something else, some rather mysterious tie binding them together, something like a mutual obligation resting upon motives of self-interest . . . in fact there certainly was something of the sort. I knew, too, that by now the prince was tired of her, and yet their relations had not been broken off. Perhaps what kept them together especially was their design for Katya,, which must have owed its initiative to the prince. By persuading her to help him bring about Alyosha's marriage with her stepdaughter, the prince had good reasons for getting out of marriage with the countess, which she really had urged upon him. So, at least, I concluded from facts dropped in all simplicity by Alyosha; even he could not help noticing something. I kept fancying, too, partly from Alyosha's talk, that although the countess was completely under the prince's control he had some reason for being afraid of her. Even Alyosha had noticed this. I learnt afterwards that the prince was very anxious to get the countess married to someone else, and that it was partly with that object he was sending her off to Simbirsk, hoping to pick up a suitable husband for her in the province.
I sat still and listened, not knowing how I could quickly secure a tête-à-tête interview with Katerina Fyodorovna. The diplomat was answering some questions of the countess's about the present political position, about the reforms that were being instituted, and whether they were to be dreaded or not. He said a great deal at great length, calmly, like one having authority. He developed his idea subtly and cleverly, but the idea was a repulsive one. He kept insisting that the whole spirit of reform and improvement would only too soon bring forth certain results, that seeing those results "they would come to their senses," and that not only in society (that is, of course, in a certain part of it) would this spirit of reform pass away, but they would learn their mistake from experience, and then with redoubled energy would return to the old traditions; that the experience, though distressing, would be of great benefit, because it would teach them to maintain that salutary tradition, would give fresh grounds for doing so, and that consequently it was to be hoped that the extreme limit of recklessness would be reached as soon as possible. "They cannot get on without us," he concluded that no society has ever stood its ground without us. We shall lose nothing. On the contrary we stand to win. We shall rise to the surface, and our motto at the moment should be 'pire ca va, mieux ca est!' Prince Valkovsky smiled to him with revolting sympathy. The orator was completely satisfied with himself. I was so stupid as to want to protest; my heart was boiling. But what checked me was the malignant expression of the prince; he stole a glance in my direction, and it seemed to me that he was just expecting some strange and youthful outburst from me. Perhaps he even wanted this in order to enjoy my compromising myself. Meanwhile I felt convinced that the diplomat would not notice my protest, nor perhaps me either. It was revolting for me to sit with them; but Alyosha rescued me.
He came up to me quietly, touched me on the shoulder, and asked to have a few words with me. I guessed he came with a message from Katya. And so it was. A minute later I was sitting beside her. At first she kept watching me intently as though saying to herself: "So that's what you're like," and for the first minute neither of us could find words to begin our conversation. I felt sure though that when once she began she would be ready to go on without stopping till next morning. The "five or six hours talk" of which Alyosha had spoken came back to my mind. Alyosha sat by us, waiting impatiently for us to begin.
"Why don't you say something?" he began, looking at us with a smile. "They come together and sit silent."
"Ach, Alyosha, how can you . . . we'll begin directly," answered Katya. "We have so much to talk over together, Ivan Petrovitch, that I don't know where to begin. We've been late in getting to know one another; we ought to have met long ago, though I've known you for ages. And I was very anxious to see you! I was even thinking of writing you a letter . . ."
"What about?" I asked, smiling involuntarily.
"Ever so many things," she answered earnestly. "Why, if only to know whether it's true what Alyosha says, that Natalya Nikolaevna is not hurt at his leaving her alone at such a time. Can anyone behave as he does? Why are you here now, tell me that, please?"
"Why, good heavens, I'm just going! I just said that I should only be here for a minute, simply to look at you two and see how you talk to one another, and then I'll be off to Natasha."
"Well, here we are together, we're sitting here, do you see? He's always like that," she added, flushing a little and pointing her finger at him. "'One minute,' he always says, 'just one minute' and, mind, he'll stay on till midnight and then it's too late to go there. 'She won't be angry,' he says, 'she's kind.' That's how he looks at it. Is that right? Is that generous?"
"Well, I'll go if you like," Alyosha responded plaintively, "but I do want dreadfully to stay with you two. . . ."
"What do you want with us? On the contrary we must talk of lots of things alone. Listen, don't be cross. It's necessary--take that in thoroughly."
"If it's necessary I'll be off at once--what is there to be cross at? I'll just look in for a minute on Levinka, and then go on to her at once. I say, Ivan Petrovitch," he added, taking up his hat to go, "do you know that my father wants to refuse to take the money he won by his lawsuit with Ichmenyev?"
"I know. He told me."
"How generous he is in doing that. Katya won't believe that he's acting generously. Talk to her about that. Good- bye, Katya, and please don't doubt that I love Natasha. And why do you both always tie me down like this, scold me, and look after me--as though you had to watch over me? She knows how I love her, and is sure of me, and I'm sure that she's sure of me. I love her, apart from anything, apart from any obligations. I don't know how I love her, I simply love her. And so there's no need to question me as though I were to blame. You can ask Ivan Petrovitch, he's here now and he will confirm what I say, that Natasha's jealous, and though she loves me so much there's a great deal of egoism in her love, for she will never sacrifice anything for me."
"What's that?" I asked in amazement, hardly able to believe my ears.
"What are you saying, Alyosha?" Katya almost screamed, clasping her hands.
"Why, what is there so surprising in that? Ivan Petrovitch knows it. She's always insisting that I should stay with her. Not that she insists, exactly, but one can see that's what she wants."
"Aren't you ashamed? Aren't you ashamed?" said Katya, turning crimson with anger.
"What is there to be ashamed of? What a person you are, really, Katya! I love her more than she thinks, and if she really loves me as I love her, she certainly would sacrifice her pleasure to me. It's true she lets me go herself, but I see from her face that she hates doing it, so that it comes to the same thing as if she didn't let me."
"Oh, there's something behind that," cried Katya, turning to me again with flashing, angry eyes. "Own up, Alyosha, own up at once, it's your father who has put all that into your head. He's been talking to you today, hasn't he? And please don't try and deceive me: I shall find out directly! Is it so or not?"
"Yes, he has been talking," Alyosha answered in confusion, "what of it? He talked in such a kind and friendly way today, and kept praising her to me. I was quite surprised, in fact, that he should praise her like that after she had insulted him so."
"And you, you believed it?" said I. "You, for whom she has given up everything she could give up! And even now, this very day, all her anxiety was on your account, that you might not be bored, that you might not be deprived of the possibility of seeing Katerina Fyodorovna. She said that to me today herself. And you believe those false insinuations at once. Aren't you ashamed?"
"Ungrateful boy! But that's just it. He's never ashamed of anything," said Katya, dismissing him with a wave of her hand, as though he were lost beyond all hope.
"But really, how you talk!" Alyosha continued in a plaintive voice. "And you're always like that, Katya! You're always suspecting me of something bad... . . I don't count, Ivan Petrovitch! You think I don't love Natasha. I didn't mean that when I said she was an egoist. I only meant that she loves me too much, so that it's all out of proportion, and I suffer for it, and she too. And my father never does influence me, though he's tried to. I don't let him. He didn't say she was an egoist in any bad sense; I understood him. He said exactly what I said just now: that she loves me so much, too much, so intensely, that it amounts to simple egoism and that that makes me suffer and her too, and that I shall suffer even more hereafter. He told the truth, and spoke from love of me, and it doesn't at all follow that he meant anything offensive to Natasha; on the contrary, he saw the strength of her love, her immense, almost incredible love . . ."
But Katya interrupted him and would not let him finish. She began hotly upbraiding him, and maintaining that the prince had only praised Natasha to deceive him by a show of kindness, all in order to destroy their attachment, with the idea of invisibly and imperceptibly turning Alyosha against her. Warmly and cleverly she argued that Natasha loved him, that no love could forgive the way he was treating her, and that he himself, Alyosha, was the real egoist. Little by little Katya reduced him to utter misery and complete penitence. He sat beside us, utterly crushed, staring at the floor with a look of suffering on his face and gave up attempting to answer. But Katya was relentless. I kept looking at her with the greatest interest. I was eager to get to know this strange girl. She was quite a child, but a strange child, a child of convictions, with steadfast principles, and with a passionate, innate love of goodness and justice. If one really might call her a child she belonged to that class of thinking children who are fairly numerous in our Russian families. It was evident that she had pondered on many subjects. It would have been interesting to peep into that little pondering head and to see the mixture there of quite childish images and fancies with serious ideas and notions gained from experience of life (for Katya really had lived), and at the same time with ideas of which she had no real knowledge or experience, abstract theories she had got out of books, though she probably mistook them for generalizations gained by her own experience. These abstract ideas must have been very numerous. In the course of that evening and subsequently I studied her, I believe, pretty thoroughly; her heart was ardent and receptive. In some cases she, as it were, disdained self-control, putting genuineness before everything, and looking upon every restraint on life as a conventional prejudice. And she seemed to pride herself on that conviction, which is often the case indeed with persons of ardent temperament, even in those who are not very young. But it was just that that gave her a peculiar charm. She was very fond of thinking and getting at the truth of things, but was so far from being pedantic, so full of youthful ways that from the first moment one began to love all these originalities in her, and to accept them. I thought of Levinka and Borinka, and it seemed to me that that was all in the natural order of things. And, strange to say, her face, in which I had seen nothing particularly handsome at first sight, seemed that evening to grow finer and more attractive every minute. This naive combination in her of the child and the thinking woman, this childlike and absolutely genuine thirst for truth and justice, and absolute faith in her impulses--all this lighted up her face with a fine glow of sincerity, giving it a lofty, spiritual beauty, and one began to understand that it was not so easy to gauge the full significance of that beauty which was not all at once apparent to every ordinary unsympathetic eye. And I realized that Alyosha was bound to be passionately attached to her. If he was himself incapable of thought and reasoning he was especially attracted by those who could do his thinking, and even wishing, for him, and Katya had already taken him under her wing. His heart was generous, and it instantly surrendered without a struggle to everything that was fine and honourable. And Katya had spoken openly of many things before him already with sympathy and all the sincerity of a child. He was absolutely without a will of his own. She had a very great deal of strong, insistent, and fervidly concentrated will; and Alyosha would only attach himself to one who could dominate and even command him. It was partly through this that Natasha had attracted him at the beginning of their relations, but Katya had a great advantage over Natasha in the fact that she was still a child herself and seemed likely to remain so for a long time. This childishness, her bright intelligence, and at the same time a certain lack of judgement, all this made her more akin to Alyosha. He felt this, and so Katya attracted him more and more. I am certain that when they talked alone together, in the midst of Katya's earnest discussion of "propaganda" they sometimes relapsed into childish trivialities. And though Katya probably often lectured Alyosha and already had him under her thumb, he was evidently more at home with her than with Natasha. They were more equals, and that meant a great deal.
"Stop, Katya, stop. That's enough; you always have the best of it, and I'm always wrong, That's because your heart is purer than mine," said Alyosha, getting up and giving her his hand at parting. I'm going straight to her and I won't look in on Levinka. . ."
"There's nothing for you to do at Levinka's. But you're very sweet to obey and go now."
"And you're a thousand times sweeter than anybody," answered Alyosha sadly. "Ivan Petrovitch, I've a word or two I want to say to you."
We moved a couple of paces away.
"I've behaved shamefully today," he whispered to me. "I've behaved vilely, I've sinned against everyone in the world, and these two more than all. After dinner today father introduced me to Mlle. Alexandrine (a French girl)--a fascinating creature. I . . . was carried away and . . . but what's the good of talking . . . .I'm unworthy to be with them. . . . Good-bye, Ivan Petrovitch!"
"He's a kind, noble-hearted boy," Katya began hurriedly, when I had sat down beside her again, "but we'll talk a great deal about him later; first of all we must come to an understanding; what is your opinion of the prince?"
"He's a very horrid man."
"I think so too. So we're agreed about that, and so we shall be able to decide better. Now, of Natalya Nikolaevna . . . Do you know, Ivan Petrovitch, I am still, as it were, in the dark; I've been looking forward to you to bring me light. You must make it all clear to me, for about many of the chief points I can judge only by guesswork from what Alyosha tells me. There is no one else from whom I can learn anything. Tell me, in the first place (this is the chief point) what do you think: will Alyosha and Natasha be happy together or not? That's what I must know before everything, that I may make up my mind once for all how I must act."
"How can one tell that with any certainty?"
"No, of course, not with certainty," she interrupted, "but what do you think, for you are a very clever man?"
"I think that they can't be happy."
"They're not suited."
"That's just what I thought"
And she clasped her hands as though deeply distressed.
"Tell me more fully. Listen, I'm awfully anxious to see Natasha, for there's a great deal I must talk over with her, and it seems to me that she and I can settle everything together. I keep picturing her to myself now. She must be very clever, serious, truthful, and beautiful. Isn't she?"
"I was sure of it. Well, if she is like that how could she love a baby like Alyosha? Explain that. I often wonder about it."
"That can't be explained, Katerina Fyodorovna. It's difficult to imagine how people can fall in love and what makes them. Yes, he's a child. But you know how one may love a child." (My heart melted looking at her and at her eyes fastened upon me intently with profound, earnest and impatient attention.) "And the less Natasha herself is like a child, the more serious she is, the more readily she might fall in love with him. He's truthful, sincere, awfully naive, and sometimes charmingly naive! Perhaps she fell in love with him--how shall I express it?--as it were from a sort of compassion. A generous heart may love from compassion. I feel though that I can't give any explanation, but I'll ask you instead: do you love him?"
I boldly asked her this question and felt that I could not disturb the infinite childlike purity of her candid soul by the abruptness of such a question.
"I really don't know yet," she answered me quietly, looking me serenely in the face, "but I think I love him very much. . . ."
"There, you see. And can you explain why you love him?"
"There's no falsehood in him," she answered after thinking a moment, "and I like it when he looks into my eyes and says something. Tell me, Ivan Petrovitch, here I'm talking about this to you, I'm a girl and you're a man, am I doing right in this, or not?"
"Why, what is there in it?"
"Nothing. Of course there's nothing in it. But they," she glanced at the group sitting round the samovar, "they would certainly say it was wrong. Are they right or not?"
"No. Why, you don't feel in your heart you've done wrong, so . . ."
"That's how I always do," she broke in, evidently in haste to get in as much talk with me as she could. "When I'm confused about anything I always look into my own heart, and when it's at ease then I'm at ease. That's how I must always behave. And I speak as frankly to you as I would speak to myself because for one thing you are a splendid man and I know about your past, with Natasha, before Alyosha's time, and I cried when I heard about it."
"Why, who told you?"
"Alyosha, of course, and he had tears in his eyes himself when he told me. That was very nice of him, and I liked him for it. I think he likes you better than you like him, Ivan Petrovitch. It's in things like that I like him. And another reason why I am so open with you is that you're a very clever man, and you can give me advice and teach me about a great many things."
"How do you know that I'm clever enough to teach you?"
"Oh, well, you needn't ask!"
She grew thoughtful.
"I didn't mean to talk about that really. Let's talk of what matters most. Tell me, Ivan Petrovitch; here I feel now that I'm Natasha's rival, I know I am, how am I to act? That's why I asked you: would they be happy. I think about it day and night. Natasha's position is awful, awful! He has quite left off loving her, you know, and he loves me more and more. That is so, isn't it?"
"It seems so."
"Yet he is not deceiving her. He doesn't know that he is ceasing to love her, but no doubt she knows it. How miserable she must be!"
"What do you want to do, Katerina Fyodorovna?"
"I have a great many plans," she answered seriously, "and meanwhile I'm all in a muddle. That's why I've been so impatient to see you, for you to make it all clear to me. You know all that so much better than I do. You're a sort of divinity to me now, you know. Listen, this is what I thought at first: if they love one another they must be happy, and so I ought to sacrifice myself and help them--oughtn't I?"
"I know you did sacrifice yourself."
"Yes, I did. But afterwards when he began coming to me and caring more and more for me, I began hesitating, and I'm still hesitating whether I ought to sacrifice myself or not. That's very wrong, isn't it?"
"That's natural," I answered, "that's bound to be so and it's not your fault."
"I think it is. You say that because you are very kind. I think it is because my heart is not quite pure. If I had a pure heart I should know how to behave. But let us leave that. Afterwards I heard more about their attitude to one another, from the prince, from maman, from Alyosha himself, and guessed they were not suited, and now you've confirmed it. I hesitated more than ever, and now I'm uncertain what to do. If they're going to be unhappy, you know, why, they had better part. And so I made up my mind to ask you more fully about it, and to go myself to Natasha, and to settle it all with her."
"But settle it how? That's the question."
"I shall say to her, 'You love him more than anything, don't you, and so you must care more for his happiness than your own, and therefore you must part from him.'"
"Yes, but how will she receive that? And even if she agrees with you will she be strong enough to act on it?"
"That's what I think about day and night, and ... and ..."
And she suddenly burst into tears.
"You don't know how sorry I am for Natasha," she whispered, her lips quivering with tears.
There was nothing more to be said. I was silent, and I too felt inclined to cry as I watched her, for no particular reason, from a vague feeling like tenderness. what a charming child she was! I no longer felt it necessary to ask her why she thought she could make Alyosha happy.
"Are you fond of music?" she asked, growing a little calmer, though she was still subdued by her recent tears.
"Yes," I answered, with some surprise.
"If there were time I'd play you Beethoven's third concerto. That's what I'm playing now. All those feelings are in it . . . just as I feel them now. So it seems to me. But that must be another time, now we must talk."
We began discussing how she could meet Natasha, and how it was all to be arranged. She told me that they kept a watch on her, and though her stepmother was kind and fond of her, she would never allow her to make friends with Natalya Nikolaevna, and so she had decided to have recourse to deception. She sometimes went a drive in the morning, but almost always with the countess. Sometimes the countess didn't go with her but sent her out alone with a French lady, who was ill just now. Sometimes the countess had headaches, and so she would have to wait until she had one. And meanwhile she would over persuade her Frenchwoman (an old lady who was some sort of companion), for the latter was very good-natured. The upshot of it was that it was impossible to fix beforehand what day she would be able to visit Natasha.
"You won't regret making Natasha's acquaintance," I said.
"She is very anxious to know you too, and she must, if only to know to whom she is giving up Alyosha. Don't worry too much about it all. Time will settle it all, without your troubling You are going into the country, aren't you?"
"Quite soon. In another month perhaps," she answered "And I know the prince is insisting on it."
"What do you think--will Alyosha go with you?"
"I've thought about that," she said, looking intently at me. "He will go, won't he?"
"Yes, he will."
"Good heavens, how it will all end I don't know. I tell you what, Ivan Petrovitch, I'll write to you about everything, I'll write to you often, fully. Now I'm going to worry you, too. Will you often come and see us?"
"I don't know, Katerina Fyodorovna. That depends upon circumstances. Perhaps I may not come at all."
"It will depend on several considerations, and chiefly what terms I am on with the prince."
"He's a dishonest man," said Katya with decision. "I tell you what, Ivan Petrovitch, how if I should come to see you? Will that be a good thing, or not?"
"What do you think yourself?"
"I think it would be a good thing. In that way I could bring you news," she added with a smile. "And I say this because I like you very much as well as respect you. And could learn a great deal from you. And I like you. . . . And it's not disgraceful my speaking of it, is it?"
"Why should it be? You're as dear to me already as on of my own family."
"Then you want to be my friend?
"Oh yes, yes!" I answered.
"And they would certainly say it was disgraceful and that a young girl ought not to behave like this," she observed, again indicating the group in conversation at the tea table.
I may mention here that the prince seemed purposely to leave us alone that we might talk to our heart's content.
"I know very well," she added, "that the prince wants my money. They think I'm a perfect baby, and in fact they tell me so openly. But I don't think so. I'm not a child now. They're strange people: they're like children themselves What are they in such a fuss about?"
"Katerina Fyodorovna, I forgot to ask you, who are these Levinka and Borinka whom Alyosha goes to see so often?"
"They're distant relations. They're very clever and very honest, but they do a dreadful lot of talking. . . . I know them . . ."
And she smiled.
"Is it true that you mean to give them a million later on?
"Oh, well, you see, what if I do? They chatter so much about that million that it's growing quite unbearable. Of course I shall be delighted to contribute to everything useful; what's the good of such an immense fortune? But what though I am going to give it some day, they're already dividing it, discussing it, shouting, disputing what's the best use to make of it, they even quarrel about it, so that it's quite queer. They're in too great a hurry. But they're honest all the same and clever. They are studying. That's better than going on as other people do. Isn't it?"
And we talked a great deal more. She told me almost her whole life, and listened eagerly to what I told her. She kept insisting that I should tell her more about Natasha and Alyosha. It was twelve o'clock when Prince Valkovsky came and let me know it was time to take leave. I said good-bye. Katya pressed my hand warmly and looked at me expressively. The countess asked me to come again; the prince and I went out.
I cannot refrain from one strange and perhaps quite inappropriate remark. From my three hours' conversation with Katya I carried away among other impressions the strange but positive conviction that she was still such a child that she had no idea of the inner significance of the relations of the sexes. This gave an extraordinarily comic flavour to some of her reflections, and in general to the serious tone in which she talked of many very important matters.
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