But he was already holding her in his arms!
He lifted her up like a child and carried her to his chair, sat her down, and fell on his knees before her. He kissed her hands and her feet, he hastened to kiss her, hastened to gaze at her as though he could not yet believe that she was with him, that he saw and heard her again--her, his daughter, his Natasha. Anna Andreyevna embraced her, sobbing, pressed her head to her bosom and seemed almost swooning in these embraces and unable to utter a word.
"My dear! ... My life! ... My joy! ..." the old man exclaimed incoherently, clasping Natasha's hands and gazing like a lover at her pale, thin, but lovely face, and into her eyes which glistened with tears. "My joy, my child!" he repeated, and paused again, and with reverent Transports gazed at her. "Why, why did you tell me she was thinner?" he said, turning to us with a hurried, childlike smile, though he was still on his knees before her. "She's thin, it's true, she's pale, but look how pretty she is! Lovelier than she used to be, yes, even lovelier!" he added, his voice breaking from the joyful anguish which seemed rending his heart in two.
"Get up, father. Oh, do get up," said Natasha. "I want to kiss you, too. . ."
"Oh, the darling! Do you hear, Annushka, do you hear how sweetly she said that."
And he embraced her convulsively.
"No, Natasha, it's for me, for me to lie at your feet, till my heart tells me that you've forgiven me, for I can never, never deserve your forgiveness now! I cast you off, I cursed you; do you hear, Natasha, I cursed you! I was capable of that! . . . And you, you, Natasha, could you believe that I had cursed you! She did believe it, yes, she did! She ought not to have believed it! She shouldn't have believed it, she simply shouldn't! Cruel little heart! why didn't you come to me? You must have known I should receive you.... Oh, Natasha, you must remember how I used to love you! Well, now I've loved you all this time twice as much, a thousand times as much as before. I've loved you with every drop of my blood. I would have torn my heart out, torn it into shreds and laid it at your feet. Oh! my joy!"
"Well, kiss me then, you cruel man, kiss me on any lips, on my face, as mother kisses me!" exclaimed Natasha in a faint, weak voice, full of joyful tears.
"And on your dear eyes, too! Your dear eyes! As I used to, do you remember?" repeated the old man after a long, sweet embrace. "Oh, Natasha! Did you sometimes dream of us? I dreamed of you almost every night, and every night you came to me and I cried over you. Once you came as a little thing, as you were when you were ten years old and were just beginning to have music lessons, do you remember? I dreamed you came in a short frock, with pretty little shoes on, and red little hands ... she used to have such red little hands then, do you remember, Annushka? She came up to me, sat on my knee and put her arms round me... And you, you bad girl! You could believe I cursed you, that I wouldn't have welcomed you if you'd come? Why, I . . . listen Natasha, why, I often went to see you, and your mother didn't know, and no one knew; sometimes I'd stand under your windows, sometimes I'd wait half a day, somewhere on the pavement near your gate, on the chance of seeing you in the distance if you came out! Often in the evening there would be a light burning in your window; how often I went to your window, Natasha, only to watch your light, only to see your shadow on the window-pane, to bless you for the night. And did you bless me at night, did you think of me? Did your heart tell you that I was at the window? And how often in the winter I went up your stairs, and stood on the dark landing listening at your door, hoping to hear your voice. Aren't you laughing? Me curse you? Why, one evening I came to you; I wanted to forgive you, and only turned back at the door... Oh, Natasha!"
He got up, lifted her out of the chair and held her close, close to his heart.
"She is here, near my heart again!" he cried. "Oh Lord, I thank Thee for all, for all, for Thy wrath and for Thy mercy! . . .And for Thy sun which is shining upon us again after the storm! For all this minute I thank Thee! Oh, we may be insulted and injured, but we're together again, and now the proud and haughty who have insulted and injured us may triumph! Let them throw stones at us! Have no fear, Natasha.... We will go hand in hand and I will say to them, 'This is my darling, this is my beloved daughter, my innocent daughter whom you have insulted and injured, but whom I love and bless for ever and ever!'"
"Vanya, Vanya," Natasha cried in a weak voice, holding out her hand to me from her father's arms.
Oh, I shall never forget that at that moment she thought of me and called to me!
"Where is Nellie?" asked the old man, looking round.
"Ah, where is she?" cried his wife. "My darling! We're forgetting her!"
But she was not in the room. She had slipped away unnoticed into the bedroom. We all went in. Nellie was standing in the comer behind the door, hiding from us in a frightened way.
"Nellie, what's the matter with you, my child?" cried the old man, trying to put his arm round her.
But she bent on him a strange, long gaze.
"Mother, where's mother?" she brought out, as though in delirium. "Mere is my mother?" she cried once more, stretching out her trembling hands to us.
And suddenly a fearful, unearthly shriek broke from her bosom; her face worked convulsively, and she fell on the floor in a terrible fit.
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