She walked with her head down, rapidly, in silence, without looking at me. But as she came out of the street on to the embankment she stopped short, and took my arm.
"I'm stifling," she whispered. "My heart grips me. . . . I'm stifling."
"Come back, Natasha," I cried in alarm.
"Surely you must have seen, Vanya, that I've gone away for ever, left them for ever, and shall never go back," she said, looking at me with inexpressible anguish.
My heart sank. I had foreseen all this on my way to them. I had seen it all as it were in a mist, long before that day perhaps, yet now her words fell upon me like a thunderbolt.
We walked miserably along the embankment. I could not speak. I was reflecting, trying to think, and utterly at a loss. My heart was in a whirl. It seemed so hideous, so impossible!
"You blame me, Vanya?" she said at last.
"No ... but ... but I can't believe it; it cannot be!" I answered, not knowing what I was saying.
"Yes, Vanya, it really is so! I have gone away from them and I don't know what will become of them or what will become of me!"
"You're going to him, Natasha? Yes?"
"Yes," she answered.
"But that's impossible!" I cried frantically. "Don't you understand that it's impossible, Natasha, my poor girl! Why, it's madness. Why you'll kill them, and ruin yourself! Do you understand that, Natasha?"
"I know; but what am I to do? I can't help it," she said and her voice was as full of anguish as though she were facing the scaffold.
"Come back, come back, before it's too late," I besought her; and the more warmly, the more emphatically I implored her, the more I realized the uselessness of my entreaties, and the absurdity of them at that moment. "Do you understand, Natasha, what you are doing to your father? Have you thought of that? You know his father is your father's enemy. Why, the prince has insulted your father, has accused him of stealing money; why, he called him a thief. You know why they've gone to law with one another.... Good heavens! and that's not the worst. Do you know, Natasha (Oh, God, of course you know it all!) ... do you know that the prince suspected your father and mother of having thrown you and Alyosha together on purpose, when Alyosha was staying in the country with you? Think a minute, only fancy what you father went through then owing to that slander; why, his hair has turned grey in these two years! Look at him! And what's more, you know all this, Natasha. Good heavens! To say nothing of what it will mean to them both to lose you for ever. Why, you're their treasure, all that is left them in their old age. I don't want to speak of that, you must know it for yourself. Remember that your father thinks you have been slandered without cause, insulted by these snobs, unavenged! And now, at this very time, it's all flared up again, all this old rankling enmity has grown more bitter than ever, because you have received Alyosha. The prince has insulted your father again. The old man's anger is still hot at this fresh affront, and suddenly now all this, all this, all these accusations will turn out to be true! Everyone who knows about it will justify the prince now, and throw the blame on you and your father. Why, what will become of him now? It will kill him outright! Shame, disgrace, and through whom? Through you, his daughter, his one precious child! And your mother? Why, she won't outlive your old father, you know. Natasha, Natasha! What are you about? Turn back! Think what you are doing!"
She did not speak. At last she glanced at me, as it were, reproachfully. And there was such piercing anguish, such suffering in her eyes that I saw that apart from my words her wounded heart was bleeding already. I saw what her decision was costing her, and how I was torturing her, lacerating her with my useless words that came too late. I saw all that, and yet I could not restrain myself and went on speaking.
"Why, you said yourself just now to Anna Andreyevna that perhaps you would not go out of the house ... to the service, So you meant to stay; so you were still hesitating?"
She only smiled bitterly in reply. And why did I ask that? I might have understood that all was irrevocably settled. But I was beside myself, too.
"Can you love him so much?" I cried, looking at her with a sinking at the heart, scarcely knowing what I was asking.
"What can I say to you, Vanya? You see, he told me to come, and here I am waiting for him," she said with the same bitter smile.
"But listen, only listen," I began again, catching at a straw; "this can all be arranged differently, quite differently; you need not go away from the house. I'll tell you how to manage, Natasha. I'll undertake to arrange it all for you, meetings, and everything. Only don't leave home. I will carry your letters; why not? It would be better than what you're doing. I know how to arrange it; I'll do anything for both of you. You'll see. And then you won't ruin yourself, Natasha, dear, as you're doing.... For you'll ruin yourself hopelessly, as it is, hopelessly. Only agree, Natasha, and everything will go well and happily, and you can love each other as much as you like. And when your fathers have left off quarrelling (for they're bound to leave off some day)- then . . ."
"Enough, Vanya, stop!" she interrupted, pressing my hand tightly, and smiling through her tears. "Dear, kind Vanya! You're a good, honourable man! And not one word of yourself! I've deserted you, and you forgive everything, you think of nothing but my happiness. You are ready to carry letters for us."
She burst into tears.
"I know how you loved me, Vanya, and how you love me still, and you've not reproached me with one bitter word all this time, while I, I ... my God I how badly I've treated you! Do you remember, Vanya, do you remember our time together? It would have been better if I'd never met him; never seen him! I could have lived with you, with you, dear, kind Vanya, my dear one. No, I'm not worthy of you! You see what I am; at such a minute I remind you of our past happiness, though you're wretched enough without that! Here you've not been to see us for three weeks: I swear to you, Vanya, the thought never once entered my head that you hated me and had cursed me. I knew why you did not come! You did not want to be in our way and to be a living reproach to us. And wouldn't it have been painful for you to see us? And how I've missed you, Vanya, how I've missed you! Vanya, listen, if I love Alyosha madly, insanely, yet perhaps I love you even more as a friend. I feel, I know that I couldn't go on living without you. I need you. I need your soul, your heart of gold.... Oh, Vanya, what a bitter, terrible time is before us!"
She burst into a flood of tears; yes, she was very wretched.
"Oh, how I have been longing to see you," she went on, mastering her tears. "How thin you've grown, how ill and pale you are. You really have been ill, haven't you, Vanya? And I haven't even asked! I keep talking of myself. How are you getting on with the reviewers now? what about your new novel? Is it going well?"
"As though we could talk about novels, as though we could talk about me now, Natasha! As though my work mattered. That's all right, let it be! But tell me, Natasha, did he insist himself that you should go to him?"
"No, not only he, it was more I. He did say so, certainly, but I too.... You see, dear, I'll tell you everything; they're making a match for him with a very rich girl, of very high rank and related to very grand people. His father absolutely insists on his marrying her, and his father, as you know, is an awful schemer; he sets every spring working; and it's a chance that wouldn't come once in ten years.... Connexions, money ... and they say she's very pretty, and she has education, a good heart, every- thing good; Alyosha's attracted by her already, and what's more his father's very anxious to get it over, so as to get married himself. And so he's determined to break it off between us. He's afraid of me and my influence on Alyosha. . ."
"But do you mean to say that the prince knows of your love?" I interrupted in surprise. "Surely he only suspects it; and is not at all sure of it?"
"He knows it. He knows all about it."
"Why, who told him? "
"Alyosha told him everything a little while ago. He told me himself that he had told him all about it."
"Good God, what is going on! He tells all this himself and at such a time?"
"Don't blame him, Vanya," Natasha broke in; "don't jeer at him. He can't be judged like other people. Be fair. He's not like you and me. He's a child. He's not been properly brought up. He doesn't understand what he's doing. The first impression, the influence of the first person he meets can turn him away from what he has promised a minute before. He has no character. He'll vow to be true to you, and that very day he will just as truthfully, just as sincerely, devote himself to someone else; and what's more he'll be the first person to come and tell you about it. He may do something bad; but yet one can't blame him for it, but can only feel sorry for him. He's even capable of self-sacrifice, and if you knew what sacrifice! But only till the next new impression, then he'll forget it all. So he'll forget me if I'm not continually with him. That's what he's like!"
"Ach, Natasha, but perhaps that's all not true, that's only gossip. How can a boy like that get married!"
"I tell you his father has special objects of his own."
"But how do you know that this young lady is so charming, and that he is already attracted by her?"
"Why, he told me so himself."
"What! Told you himself that he might love another woman, and demands this sacrifice from you now?"
"No, Vanya, no. You don't know him. You've not been much with him. You must know him better before you judge of him. There isn't a truer and purer heart than his in the world. Why, would it be better if he were to he? And as for his being attracted by her, why, if he didn't see me for a week he'd fall in love with some one else and forget me, and then when he saw me he'd be at my feet again. No! It's a good thing I know it, that it's not concealed from me, or else I should be dying of suspicion. Yes, Vanya! I have come to the conclusion; if I'm not always with him continually, every minute, he will cease to love me, forget me, and give me up. He's like that; any other woman can attract him. And then what should I do? I should die . . . die indeed I I should be glad to die now. But what will it be for me to live without him? That would be worse than death itself, worse than any agony! Oh, Vanya, Vanya! It does mean something that I've abandoned my father and mother for him! Don't try and persuade me, everything's decided! He must be near me every hour, every minute. I can't go back. I know that I am ruined and that I'm ruining others.... Ach, Vanya!" she cried suddenly and began trembling all over "what if he doesn't love me even now! What if it's true what you said of him just now" (I had never said it), "that he's only deceiving me, that he only seems to be so truthful and sincere, and is really wicked and vain! I'm defending him to you now, and perhaps this very minute he's laughing at me with another woman ... and I, I'm so abject that I've thrown up everything and am walking about the streets looking for him.... Ach, Vanya!"
This moan broke with such anguish from her heart that my whole soul filled with grief. I realized that Natasha had lost all control of herself. Only a blind, insane, intense jealousy could have brought her to this frantic resolution. But jealousy flamed up in my heart, too, and suddenly burst out. I could not restrain myself. A horrid feeling drew me on.
"Natasha," I said, "there's only one thing I don't understand. How can you love him after what you've just said about him yourself? You don't respect him, you don't even believe in his love, and you're going to him irrevocably and are ruining every- one for his sake. What's the meaning of it? He'll torture you so as to spoil your whole life; yes, and you his, too. You love him too much, Natasha, too much! I don't understand such love!"
"Yes, I love him as though I were mad," she answered, turning pale as though in bodily pain. "I never loved you like that, Vanya. I know I've gone out of my mind, and don't love him as I ought to. I don't love him in the right way.... Listen, Vanya, I knew beforehand, and even in our happiest moments I felt that he would bring me nothing but misery. But what is to be done if even torture from him is happiness to me now? Do you suppose I'm going to him to meet joy? Do you suppose I don't know beforehand what's in store for me, or what I shall have to bear from him? Why, he's sworn to love me, made all sorts of promises; but I don't trust one of his promises. I don't set any value on them, and I never have, though I knew he wasn't lying to me, and can't lie. I told him myself, myself, that I don't want to bind him in any way. That's better with him; no one likes to be tied--I less than any. And yet I'm glad to be his slave, his willing slave; to put up with anything from him, anything, so long as he is with me, so long as I can look at him! I think he might even love another woman if only I were there, if only I might be near. Isn't it abject, Vanya?" she asked, suddenly looking at me with a sort of feverish, haggard look. For one instant it seemed to me she was delirious. "Isn't it abject, such a wish? What if it is? I say that it is abject myself. Yet if he were to abandon me I should run after him to the ends of the earth, even if he were to repulse me, even if he were to drive me away. You try to persuade me to go back-but what use is that? If I went back I should come away to-morrow. He would tell me to and I should come; he would call, would whistle to me like a dog, and I should run to him.... Torture! I don't shrink from any torture from him! I should know it was at his hands I was suffering! ... Oh, there's no telling it, Vanya!"
"And her father and mother?" I thought. She seemed to have already forgotten them.
"Then he's not going to marry you, Natasha?"
"He's promised to. He's promised everything. It's for that he's sent for me now; to be married to-morrow, secretly, out of town. But you see, he doesn't know what he's doing. Very likely he doesn't know how one gets married. And what a husband! It's absurd really. And if he does get married he won't be happy; he'll begin to reproach me.... I don't want him to reproach me with anything, ever. I'll give up everything for him, and let him do nothing for me! If he's going to be unhappy from being married, why make him unhappy?"
"Yes, this is a sort of frenzy, Natasha," said I. "Well, are you going straight to him now?"
"No, he promised to come here to fetch me. We agreed."
And she looked eagerly into the distance, but as yet there was no-one.
"And he's not here yet. And you've come first!" I cried with indignation.
Natasha staggered as though from a blow. Her face worked convulsively.
"He may not come at all," she said with bitter mockery.
The day before yesterday he wrote that if I didn't give him my word that I'd come, he would be obliged to put off his plan-of going away and marrying me; and his father will take him with him to the young lady. And he wrote it so simply, so naturally, as if it were nothing at all.... What if he really has gone to her, Vanya?"
I did not answer. She squeezed my hand tight, and her eyes glittered.
"He is with her," she brought out, scarcely audibly. "He hoped I would not come here, so that he might go to her, and say afterwards that he was in the right, that he told me beforehand I wouldn't, and I didn't. He's tired of me, so he stays away. Ach, my God! I'm mad! Why, he told me himself last time that I wearied him.... What am I waiting for?"
"Here he is," I cried, suddenly catching sight of him on the embankment in the distance.
Natasha started, uttered a shriek, gazed intently at Alyosha's approaching figure, and suddenly, dropping my hand, rushed to meet him. He, too, quickened his pace, and in a minute she was in his arms.
There was scarcely anyone in the street but ourselves. They kissed each other, laughed; Natasha laughed and cried both together, as though they were meeting after an endless separation. The colour rushed into her pale cheeks. She was like one possessed.... Alyosha noticed me and at once came up to me.
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