Alyosha had come an hour before the interview to prepare Natasha. I arrived at the very moment when Katya's carriage drew up at the gate. Katya was accompanied by an old French lady, who after many persuasions and much hesitation had consented at last to accompany her. She had even agreed to let Katya go up to Natasha without her, but only on condition that Alyosha escorted her while she remained in the carriage. Katya beckoned to me, and without getting out of the carriage asked me to call Alyosha down. I found Natasha in tears. Alyosha and she were both crying. Hearing that Katya was already there, she got up from the chair, wiped her eyes, and in great excitement stood up, facing the door. She was dressed that morning all in white. Her dark brown hair was smoothly parted and gathered back in a thick knot. I particularly liked that way of doing her hair. Seeing that I was remaining with her, Natasha asked me, too, to go and meet the visitor.
"I could not get to Natasha's before," said Katya as she mounted the stairs. "I've been so spied on that it's awful. I've been persuading Mme. Albert for a whole fortnight, and at last she consented. And you have never once been to see me, Ivan Petrovitch! I couldn't write to you either, and I don't feel inclined to. One can't explain anything in a letter. And how I wanted to see you.... Good heavens, how my heart is beating."
"The stairs are steep," I answered.
"Yes . . . the stairs . . . . tell me, what do you think, won't Natasha be angry with me?"
"Well . . . why should she after all? I shall see for myself directly. There's no need to ask questions."
I gave her my arm. She actually turned pale, and I believe she was very much frightened. On the last landing she stopped to take breath; but she looked at me and went up resolutely.
She stopped once more at the door and whispered to me. "I shall simply go in and say I had such faith in her that I was not afraid to come. . . . But why am I talking? I'm certain that Natasha is the noblest creature, Isn't she?"
She went in timidly as though she were a culprit, and looked intently at Natasha, who at once smiled at her. Then Katya ran swiftly to her, seized her hand and pressed her plump little lips to Natasha's. Then without saying a word to Natasha, she turned earnestly and even sternly to Alyosha and asked him to leave us for half an hour alone.
"Don't be cross, Alyosha," she added, "it's because I have a great deal to talk about with Natasha, of very important and serious things, that you ought not to hear. Be good, and go away. But you stay, Ivan Petrovitch. You must hear all our conversation."
"Let us sit down," she said to Natasha when Alyosha had left the room. "I'll sit like this, opposite you, I want to look at you first."
She sat down almost exactly opposite Natasha, and gazed at her for some minutes. Natasha responded with an involuntary smile.
"I have seen your photograph already," said Katya. "Alyosha showed it to me."
"Well, am I like my portrait?"
"You are nicer," said Katya earnestly and decisively. "And I thought you would be nicer."
"Really? And I keep looking at you. How pretty you are!"
"Me! How can you ...! You darling!" she added, taking Natasha's hand with her own, which trembled, and both relapsed into silence, gazing at each other.
"I must tell you, my angel," Katya broke the silence, "we have only half an hour to be together; Mme. Albert would hardly consent to that, and we have a great deal to discuss.... I want ... I must ... Well, I'll simply ask you--do you care very much for Alyosha?"
"Yes, very much."
"If so ... if you care very much for Alyosha ... then ... you must care for his happiness too," she added timidly, in a whisper.
"Yes. I want him to be happy. . ."
"Yes.... But this is the question--shall I make him happy? Have I the right to say so, for I'm taking him away from you. If you think, and we decide now, that he will be happier with you, then ... then . . ."
"That's settled already, Katya dear. You see yourself that it's all settled," Natasha answered softly, and she bowed her head. It was evidently difficult for her to continue the conversation.
Katya, I fancy, was prepared for a lengthy discussion on the question which of them would make Alyosha happy and which of them ought to give him up. But after Natasha's answer she understood that everything was settled already and there was nothing to discuss. With her pretty lips half opened, she gazed with sorrow and perplexity at Natasha, still holding her hand.
"And you love him very much?" Natasha asked suddenly.
"Yes; and there's another thing I wanted to ask you, and I came on purpose: tell me, what do you love him for exactly?" "I don't know," answered Natasha, and there was a note of bitter impatience in her voice.
"Is he clever; what do you think?" asked Katya.
"No, I simply love him . . ."
"And I too. I always feel somehow sorry for him."
"So do I," answered Natasha.
"What's to be done with him now? And how he could leave you for me I can't understand!" cried Katya. "Now that I've seen you I can't understand!"
Natasha looked on the ground and did not answer. Katya was silent for a time, and then getting up from her chair she gently embraced her. They embraced each other and both shed tears. Katya sat on the arm of Natasha's chair still holding her in her embrace, and began kissing her hands.
"If you only knew how I love you! " she said, weeping. "Let us be sisters, let us always write to one another ... and I will always love you.... I shall love you so ... love you so ..."
"Did he speak to you of our marriage in June?" asked Natasha.
"Yes. He said you'd consented. That's all just...to comfort him, isn't it?"
"That's how I understood it. I will love him truly, Natasha, and write to you about everything. It seems as though he will soon be my husband; it's coming to that; and they all say so. Darling Natasha, surely you will go ... home now?"
Natasha did not answer, but kissed her warmly in silence.
"Be happy!" she said.
"And ... and you ... and you too!" said Katya.
At that moment the door opened and Alyosha came in. He had been unable to wait the whole half-hour, and seeing them in each other's arms and both crying, he fell on his knees before Natasha and Katya in impotent anguish.
"Why are you crying?" Natasha said to him. "Because you're parting from me? But it's not for long. Won't you be back in June?"
"And then your marriage," Katya hastened to add through her tears, also to comfort Alyosha.
"But I can't leave you, I can't leave you for one day, Natasha. I shall die without you ... You don't know how precious you are to me now! especially now!"
"Well, then, this is what you must do," said Natasha, suddenly reviving, "the countess will stay for a little while in Moscow, won't she?"
"Yes, almost a week," put in Katya.
"A week! Then what could be better: you'll escort her to Moscow tomorrow; that will only take one day and then you can come back here at once. When they have to leave Moscow, we will part finally for a month and you will go back to Moscow to accompany them."
"Yes, that's it, that's it ... and you will have an extra four days to be together, anyway," said Katya, enchanted, exchanging a significant glance with Natasha.
I cannot describe Alyosha's rapture at this new project. He was at once completely comforted. His face was radiant with delight, he embraced Natasha, kissed Katya's hands, embraced me. Natasha looked at him with a mournful smile, but Katya could not endure it. She looked at me with feverish and glittering eyes, embraced Natasha, and got up to go. At that moment the Frenchwoman appropriately sent a servant to request her to cut the interview short and to tell her that the half-hour agreed upon was over.
Natasha got up. The two stood facing one another, holding hands, and seemed trying to convey with their eyes all that was stored up in their souls.
"We shall never see each other again, I suppose," said Katya.
"Never, Katya," answered Natasha.
"Well, then, let us say good-bye!"
They embraced each other.
"Do not curse me," Katya whispered hurriedly, I'll . . . always ... you may trust me ... he shall be happy . . . Come, Alyosha, take me down!" she articulated rapidly, taking his arm.
"Vanya," Natasha said to me in agitation and distress when they had gone, "you follow them . . . and don't come back. Alyosha will be with me till the evening, till eight o'clock. But he can't stay after. He's going away. I shall be left alone come at nine o'clock, please!"
When at nine o'clock, leaving Nellie with Alexandra Semyonovna (after the incident with the broken cup), I reached Natasha's, she was alone and impatiently expecting me. Mavra set the samovar for us. Natasha poured me out tea, sat down on the sofa, and motioned me to come near her. "So everything is over," she said, looking intently at me. Never shall I forget that look.
"Now our love, too, is over. Half a year of life! And it's my whole life," she added, gripping my hands.
Her hand was burning. I began persuading her to wrap herself up and go to bed.
"Presently, Vanya, presently, dear friend. Let me talk and recall things a little. I feel as though I were broken to pieces now ... tomorrow I shall see him for the last time at ten o'clock, for the last time!"
"Natasha, you're in a fever. You'll be shivering directly. ... Do think of yourself."
"Well, I've been waiting for you now, Vanya, for this half-hour, since he went away. And what do you think I've been thinking about? What do you think I've been wondering? I've been wondering, did I love him? Or didn't I? And what sort of thing our love was? What, do you think it's absurd, Vanya, that I should only ask myself that now?"
"Don't agitate yourself, Natasha."
"You see, Vanya, I decided that I didn't love him as an equal, as a woman usually loves a man. I loved him like . . . almost like a mother.... I even fancy that there's no love in the world in which two love each other like equals. What do you think?"
I looked at her with anxiety, and was afraid that it might be the beginning of brain-fever. Something seemed to carry her away. She seemed to be impelled to speech. Some of her words were quite incoherent, and at times she even pronounced them indistinctly. I was very much alarmed.
"He was mine," she went on. "Almost from the first time I met him I had an overwhelming desire that he should be mine, mine at once, and that he should not look at anyone, should not know anyone but me. . . . Katya expressed it very well this morning. I loved him, too, as though I were always sorry for him . . . I always had an intense longing, a perfect agony of longing when I was alone that he should be always happy, awfully happy. His face (you know the expression of his face, Vanya), I can't look at it without being moved; no one else has such an expression, and when he laughs it makes me turn cold and shudder... Really!..."
"People say about him . . . and you've said it, that he has no will and that he's ... not very clever, like a child. And that's what I loved in him more than anything.... would you believe it? I don't know, though, whether I loved that one thing; I just simply loved him altogether, and if he'd been different in some way, if he'd had will or been cleverer, perhaps I shouldn't have loved him so. Do you know, Vanya, I'll confess one thing to you. Do you remember we had a quarrel three months ago when he'd been to see that--what's her name--that Minna ... I knew of it, I found it out, and would you believe it, it hurt me horribly, and yet at the same time I was somehow pleased at it.... I don't know why ... the very thought that he was amusing himself--or no, it's not that--that, like a grown-up man together with other men he was running after pretty girls, that he too went to Minnas! I ... what bliss I got out of that quarrel; and then forgiving him . . . oh, my dear one!"
She looked into my face and laughed strangely. Then she sank into thought as though recalling everything. And for a long time she sat like that with a smile on her face, dreaming of the past.
"I loved forgiving him, Vanya," she went on. Do you know when he left me alone I used to walk about the room, fretting and crying, and then I would think that the worse he treated me the better ... yes! And do you know, I always picture him as a little boy. I sit and he lays his head on my knees and falls asleep, and I stroke his head softly and caress him ... I always imagined him like that when he was not with me ... Listen, Vanya," she added suddenly, "what a charming creature Katya is!"
It seemed to me that she was lacerating her own wounds on purpose, impelled to this by a sort of yearning, the yearning of despair and suffering.... and how often that is so with a heart that has suffered great loss.
"Katya, I believe, can make him happy," she went on.
She has character and speaks as though she had such conviction, and with him she's so grave and serious--and always talks to him about such clever things, as though she were grown up. And all the while she's a perfect child herself! The little dear, the little dear! Oh, I hope they'll be happy! I hope so, I hope so!"
And her tears and sobs burst out in a perfect torrent. It was quite half an hour before she came to herself and recovered some degree of self-control.
My sweet angel, Natasha! Even that evening in spite of her own grief she could sympathize with my anxieties, when, seeing that she was a little calmer, or, rather, wearied out, thinking to distract her mind I told her about Nellie. We parted that evening late. I stayed till she fell asleep, and as I went out I begged Mavra not to leave her suffering mistress all night.
"Oh ... for the end of this misery," I cried as I walked home. "To have it over quickly, quickly! Any end, anyhow, if only it can be quick!"
Next morning at nine o'clock precisely I was with her again. Alyosha arrived at the same time ... to say good-bye. I will not describe this scene, I don't want to recall it. Natasha seemed to have resolved to control herself, to appear cheerful and unconcerned, but she could not. She embraced Alyosha passionately, convulsively. She did not say much to him, but for a long while she looked intently at him with an agonizing and almost frantic gaze. She hung greedily on every word he uttered, and yet seemed to take in nothing that he said. I remember he begged her to forgive him, to forgive him for his love, and for all the injury he had done her, to forgive his infidelities, his love for Katya, his going away . . . he spoke incoherently, his tears choked him. He sometimes began suddenly trying to comfort her, saying that he was only going away for a month, or at the most five weeks; that he would be back in the summer, when they would be married, and that his father would consent, and above all that the day after tomorrow he would come back from Moscow, and then they would have four whole days together again, so now they were only being parted for one day....
It was strange! He fully believed in what he said, and that he would certainly return from Moscow in two days.... My then was he so miserable and crying?
At last eleven o'clock struck. It was with difficulty I persuaded him to go. The Moscow train left exactly at midday. There was only an hour left. Natasha said afterwards that she did not remember how she had looked at him for the last time. I remember that she made the sign of the cross over him, kissed him, and hiding her face in her hands rushed back into the room. I had to see Alyosha all the way downstairs to his carriage, or he would certainly have returned and never have reached the bottom.
"You are our only hope," he said, as we went downstairs.
"Dear Vanya! I have injured you, and can never deserve your love; but always be a brother to me; love her, do not abandon her, write to me about everything as fully, as minutely as possible, write as much as you can. The day after tomorrow I shall be here again for certain; for certain; for certain! But afterwards, when I go away, write to me!"
I helped him into his carriage.
"Till the day after tomorrow," he shouted to me as he drove off. "For certain!"
With a sinking heart I went upstairs, back to Natasha. She was standing in the middle of the room with her arms folded, gazing at me with a bewildered look, as though she didn't recognize me. Her coil of hair had fallen to one side; her eyes looked vacant and wandering. Mavra stood in the doorway gazing at her, panic-stricken.
Suddenly Natasha's eyes flashed.
"Ah! That's you! You!" she screamed at me. "Now you are left alone! You hate him! You never could forgive him for my loving him. . . Now you are with me again! He's come to comfort me again, to persuade me to go back to my father, who flung me off and cursed me. I knew it would be so, yesterday, two months ago.... I won't, I won't. I curse them, too... Go away! I can't bear the sight of you! Go away! Go away!"
I realized that she was frantic, and that the sight of me roused her anger to an intense pitch, I realized that this was bound to be so, and thought it better to go. I sat down. on the top stair outside and waited. From time to time I got up, opened the door, beckoned to Mavra and questioned her. Mavra was in tears.
An hour and a half passed like this. I cannot describe what I went through in that time. My heart sank and ached with an intolerable pain. Suddenly the door opened and Natasha ran out with her cape and hat on. She hardly seemed to know what she was doing, and told me herself afterwards that she did not know where she was running, or with what object.
Before I had time to jump up and hide myself, she saw me and stopped before me as though suddenly struck by something. "I realized all at once," she told me afterwards, "that in my cruelty and madness I had actually driven you away, you, my friend, my brother, my saviour! And when I saw that you, poor boy, after being insulted by me had not gone away, but were sitting on the stairs, waiting till I should call you back, my God! if you knew, Vanya, what I felt then! It was like a stab at my heart..."
"Vanya, Vanya!" she cried, holding out her hands to me. "You are here!"
And she fell into my arms.
I caught her up and carried her into the room. She was fainting! "What shall I do?" I thought. "She'll have brain-fever for certain!"
I decided to run for a doctor; something must be done to check the illness. I could drive there quickly. My old German was always at home till two o'clock. I flew to him, begging Mavra not for one minute, not for one second, to leave Natasha, and not to let her go out. Fortune favoured me. A little later and I should not have found my old friend at home. He was already in the street, just coming out of his house, when I met him. Instantly I put him in my cab, before he had time to be surprised, and we hastened back to Natasha.
Yes, fortune did favour me! During the half-hour of my absence something had happened to Natasha which might have killed her outright if the doctor and I had not arrived in the nick of time. Not a quarter of an hour after I had gone Prince Valkovsky had walked in. He had just been seeing the others off and had come to Natasha's straight from the railway station. This visit had probably been planned and thought out by him long before. Natasha told me that for the first minute she was not even surprised to see the prince. "My brain was in a whirl" she said.
He sat facing her, looking at her with a caressing and pathetic expression.
"My dear," he said, sighing, "I understand your grief; I know how hard it must be for you at this moment, and so I felt it my duty to come to you. Be comforted, if you can, if only that by renouncing Alyosha you have secured his happiness. But you understand that better than I, for you resolved on your noble action . . ."
"I sat and listened," Natasha told me, "but at first I really did not understand him. I only remember that I stared and stared at him. He took my hand and began to press it in his. He seemed to find this very agreeable. I was so beside myself that I never thought of pulling my hand away."
"You realized," he went on, "that by becoming Alyosha's wife you might become an object of hatred to him later on, and you had honourable pride enough to recognize this, and make up your mind . . . but--I haven't come here to praise you. I only wanted to tell you that you will never, anywhere, find a truer friend than me! I sympathize with you and am sorry for you. I have been forced to have a share in all this against my will, but I have only done my duty. Your excellent heart will realize that and make peace with mine.... But it has been harder for me than for you--believe me."
"Enough, prince," said Natasha, "leave me in peace."
"Certainly, I will go directly," he answered, "but I love you as though you were my own daughter, and you must allow me to come and see you. Look upon me now as though I were your father and allow me be of use to you."
"I want nothing. Leave me alone," Natasha interrupted again.
"I know you are proud ... But I'm speaking sincerely, from my heart. What do you intend to do now? To make peace with your parents? That would be a good thing. But your father is unjust, proud and tyrannical; forgive me, but that is so. At home you would meet now nothing but reproaches and fresh suffering. But you must be independent, and it is my obligation, my sacred duty to look after you and help you now. Alyosha begged me not to leave you but to be a friend to you. But besides me there are people prepared to be genuinely devoted to you. You will, I hope, allow me to present to you Count Nainsky. He has the best of hearts, he is a kinsman of ours, and I may even say has been the protector of our whole family. He had done a great deal for Alyosha. Alyosha had the greatest respect and affection for him. He is a very powerful man with great influence, an old man, and it is quite possible for a girl, like you, to receive him. I have talked to him about you already. He can establish you, and, if you wish it, find you an excellent position ... with one of his relations. I gave him a full and straightforward account of our affair long ago, and I so enlisted his kind and generous feelings that now he keeps begging me to introduce him to you as soon as possible.... He is a man who has a feeling for everything beautiful, believe me--he is a generous old man, highly respected, able to recognize true worth, and indeed, not long ago he behaved in a most generous way to your father in certain case."
Natasha jumped up as though she had been stung. Now, at last, she understood him.
"Leave me, leave me at once!" she cried.
"But, my dear, you forget, the count may be of use to you father too ..."
"My father will take nothing from you. Leave me!"
Natasha cried again.
"Oh, how unjust and mistrustful you are! How have I deserved this!" exclaimed the prince, looking about him with some uneasiness. "You will allow me in any case," he went on taking a large roll out of his pocket, "you will allow me in any case to leave with you this proof of my sympathy, and especially the sympathy of Count Nainsky, on whose suggestion I am acting. This roll contains ten thousand roubles. Wait a moment, my dear," he said hurriedly, seeing that Natasha had jumped up from her seat angrily. "Listen patiently to everything. You know your father lost a lawsuit against me. This ten thousand will serve as a compensation which . . ."
"Go away!" cried Natasha, "take your money away! I see through you! Oh, base, base, base, man!"
Prince Valkovsky got up from his chair, pale with anger.
Probably he had come to feel his way, to survey the position, and no doubt was building a great deal on the effect of the ten thousand roubles on Natasha, destitute, and abandoned by everyone. The vile and brutal man had often been of service to Count Nainsky, a licentious old reprobate, in enterprises of this kind. But he hated Natasha, and realizing that things were not going smoothly he promptly changed his tone, and with spiteful joy hastened to insult her, that he might anyway not have come for nothing.
"That's not the right thing at all, my dear, for you to lose you temper," he brought out in a voice quivering with impatience to enjoy the effect of his insult, "that's not the right thing at all You are offered protection and you turn up your little nose... Don't you realize that you ought to be grateful to me? I might have put you in a penitentiary long ago, as the father of the young man you have led astray, but I haven't done it, he-he-he!
But by now we had come in. Hearing the voices while still in the kitchen, I stopped the doctor for a second and overheard the prince's last sentence. It was followed by his loathsome chuckle and a despairing cry from Natasha. "Oh, my God!" At that moment I opened the door and rushed at the prince.
I spat in his face, and slapped him on the cheek with all my might. He would have flung himself upon me, but seeing that there were two of us he took to his heels snatching up the roll of notes from the table. Yes, he did that. I saw it myself. I threw after him the rolling-pin, which I snatched from the kitchen table.... When I ran back into the room I saw the doctor was supporting Natasha, who was writhing and struggling out of his arms as though in convulsions. For a long time we could not soothe her; at last we succeeded in getting her to bed; she seemed to be in the delirium of brain-fever.
"Doctor, what's the matter with her? I asked with a sinking heart.
"Wait a little," he answered, "I must watch the attack more closely and then form my conclusions... but speaking generally things are very bad. It may even end in brain-fever ... But we will take measures however ..."
A new idea had dawned upon me. I begged the doctor to remain with Natasha for another two or three hours, and made him promise not to leave her for one minute. He promised me and I ran home.
Nellie was sitting in a corner, depressed and uneasy, and she looked at me strangely. I must have looked strange myself.
I took her hand, sat down on the sofa, took her on my knee, and kissed her warmly. She flushed.
"Nellie, my angel!" I said to her, "would you like to be our salvation? Would you like to save us all?"
She looked at me in amazement.
"Nellie, you are my one hope now! There is a father, you've seen him and know him. He has cursed his daughter, and he came yesterday to ask you to take his daughter's place. Now she, Natasha (and you said you loved her), has been abandoned by the man she loved, for whose sake she left her father. He's the son of that prince who came, do you remember one evening, to see me, and found you alone, and you ran away from him and were ill afterwards ... you know him, don't you? He's a wicked man!"
"I know," said Nellie, trembling and turning pale.
"Yes, he's a wicked man. He hates Natasha because his son Alyosha wanted to marry her. Alyosha went away today, and an hour later his father went to Natasha and insulted her, and threatened to put her in a penitentiary, and laughed at her. Do you understand me, Nellie?"
Her black eyes flashed, but she dropped them at once.
"I understand," she whispered, hardly audibly.
"Now Natasha is alone, ill. I've left her with our doctor while I ran to you myself. Listen, Nellie, let us go to Natasha's father. You don't like him, you didn't want to go to him. But now let us go together. We'll go in and I'll tell them that you want to stay with them now and to take the place of their daughter Natasha. Her father is ill now, because he has cursed Natasha, and because Alyosha's father sent him a deadly insult the other day. He won't hear of his daughter now, but he loves her, he loves her, Nellie, and wants to make peace with her. I know that. I know all that! That is so. Do you hear, Nellie?
"I hear," she said in the same whisper.
I spoke to her with my tears flowing. She looked timidly at me.
"Do you believe it?"
"So I'll go in with you, I'll take you in and they'll receive you, make much of you and begin to question you. Then I'll turn the conversation so that they will question you about your past life; about your mother and your grandfather. Tell them, Nellie, everything, just as you told it to me. Tell them simply, and don't keep anything back. Tell them how your mother was abandoned by a wicked man, how she died in a cellar at Mme. Bubnov's, how your mother and you used to go about the streets begging, what she said, and what she asked you to do when she was dying... Tell them at the same time about your grandfather, how he wouldn't forgive your mother, and how she sent you to him just before her death how she died. Tell them everything, everything! And when you tell them all that, the old man will feel it all, in his heart, too. You see, he knows Alyosha has left her today and she is left insulted and injured, alone and helpless, with no one to protect her from the insults of her enemy. He knows all that . . . Nellie, save Natasha! Will you go?"
"Yes." she answered, drawing a painful breath, and she looked at me with a strange, prolonged gaze. There was something like reproach in that gaze, and I felt it in my heart.
But I could not give up my idea. I had too much faith in it.
I took Nellie by the arm and we went out. It was past two o'clock in the afternoon. A storm was coming on. For some time past the weather had been hot and stifling, but now we heard in the distance the first rumble of early spring thunder. The wind swept through the dusty streets.
We got into a droshky. Nellie did not utter a word all the way, she only looked at me from time to time with the same strange and enigmatic eyes. Her bosom was heaving, and, holding her on the droshky, I felt against my hand the thumping of her little heart, which seemed as though it would leap out of her body.
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