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Alexei Ivanovich Velchaninov is a land owner who stays in Saint Petersburg for a trial about a piece of land. He receives a visit from Pavel Pavlovich Trusotsky, an old acquaintance who recently became a widower. Velchaninov had an affair with Trusotsky's wife Natalia, and he realizes that he is the biological father of Liza, Trusotsky's eight-year-old daughter. Velchaninov, who doesn't want Liza to be raised by an alcoholic, brings Liza to a foster family.Fyodor Mikhaylovich sometimes transliterated Dostoevsky, was a Russian novelist, journalist, and short-story writer whose psychological penetration into the human soul had a profound influence on the 20th century novel.Dostoevsky was the second son of a former army doctor. He was educated at home and at a private school. Shortly after the death of his mother in 1837 he was sent to St. Petersburg, where he entered the Army Engineering College. Dostoevsky's father died in 1839, most likely of apoplexy, but it was rumored that he was murdered by his own serfs. Dostoevsky graduated as a military engineer, but resigned in 1844 to devote himself to writing. His first novel, Poor Folk appeared in 1846.That year he joined a group of utopian socialists. He was arrested in 1849 and sentenced to death, commuted to imprisonment in Siberia. Dostoevsky spent four years in hard labor and four years as a soldier in Semipalatinsk, a city in what it is today Kazakhstan.Dostoevsky returned to St. Petersburg in 1854 as a writer with a religious mission and published three works that derive in different ways from his Siberia experiences: The House of the Dead , (1860) a fictional account of prison life, The Insulted and Injured, which reflects the author's refutation of naive Utopianism in the face of evil, and Winter Notes on Summer Impressions, his account of a trip to Western Europe.
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SUMMER HAD COME, AND VELCHANINOFF, contrary to his expectations, was still in St. Petersburg. His trip to the south of Russia had fallen through, and there seemed no end to the business which had detained him.
This business—which was a lawsuit as to certain property—had taken a very disagreeable aspect. Three months ago the thing had appeared to be by no means complicated—in fact, there had seemed to be scarcely any question as to the rights and wrongs of the matter, but all seemed to change suddenly.
“Everything else seems to have changed for the worse, too!” said Velchaninoff to himself, over and over again.
He was employing a clever lawyer—an eminent man, and an expensive one, too; but in his impatience and suspicion he began to interfere in the matter himself. He read and wrote papers—all of which the lawyer put into his waste-paper basket—holus bolus; called in continually at the courts and offices, made inquiries, and confused and worried everybody concerned in the matter; so at least the lawyer declared, and begged him for mercy’s sake to go away to the country somewhere.
But he could not make up his mind to do so. He stayed in town and enjoyed the dust, and the hot nights, and the closeness of the air of St. Petersburg, things which are enough to destroy anyone’s nerves. His lodgings were somewhere near the Great Theatre; he had lately taken them, and did not like them. Nothing went well with him; his hypochondria increased with each day, and he had long been a victim to that disorder.
Velchaninoff was a man who had seen a great deal of the world; he was not quite young, thirty-eight years old—perhaps thirty-nine, or so; and all this “old age,” as he called it, had “fallen upon him quite unawares.” However, as he himself well understood, he had aged more in the quality than in the number of the years of his life; and if his infirmities were really creeping upon him, they must have come from within and not from outside causes. He looked young enough still. He was a tall, stout man, with light-brown thick hair, without a suspicion of white about it, and a light beard that reached half way down his chest. At first sight you might have supposed him to be of a lax, careless disposition or character, but on studying him more closely you would have found that, on the contrary, the man was decidedly a stickler for the proprieties of this world, and withal brought up in the ways and graces of the very best society. His manners were very good—free but graceful—in spite of this lately-acquired habit of grumbling and reviling things in general. He was still full of the most perfect, aristocratic self-confidence: probably he did not himself suspect to how great an extent this was so, though he was a most decidedly intelligent, I may say clever, even talented man. His open, healthy-looking face was distinguished by an almost feminine refinement, which quality gained him much attention from the fair sex. He had large blue eyes—eyes which ten years ago had known well how to persuade and attract; such clear, merry, careless eyes they had been, that they invariably brought over to his side any person he wished to gain. Now, when he was nearly forty years old, their ancient, kind, frank expression had died out of them, and a certain cynicism—a cunning—an irony very often, and yet another variety of expression, of late—an expression of melancholy or pain, undefined but keen, had taken the place of the earlier attractive qualities of his eyes. This expression of melancholy especially showed itself when he was alone; and it was a strange fact that the gay, careless, happy fellow of a couple of years ago, the man who could tell a funny story so inimitably, should now love nothing so well as to be all alone. He intended to throw up most of his friends—a quite unnecessary step, in spite of his present financial difficulties. Probably his vanity was to blame for this intention: he could not bear to see his old friends in his present position; with his vain suspicious character it would be most unpalatable to him.
But his vanity began to change its nature in solitude. It did not grow less, on the contrary; but it seemed to develop into a special type of vanity which was unlike its old self. This new vanity suffered from entirely different causes, “higher causes, if I may so express it,” he said, “and if there really be higher and lower motives in this world.”
He defined these “higher things” as matters which he could not laugh at, or turn to ridicule when happening in his own individual experience. Of course it would be quite another thing with the same subjects in society; by himself he could not ridicule then; but put him among other people, and he would be the first to tear himself from all of those secret resolutions of his conscience made in solitude, and laugh them to scorn.
Very often, on rising from his bed in the morning, he would feel ashamed of the thoughts and feelings which had animated him during the long sleepless night—and his nights of late had been sleepless. He seemed suspicious of everything and everybody, great and small, and grew mistrustful of himself.
One fact stood out clearly, and that was that during those sleepless nights his thoughts and opinions took huge leaps and bounds, sometimes changing entirely from the thoughts and opinions of the daytime. This fact struck him very forcibly; and he took occasion to consult an eminent medical friend. He spoke in fun, but the doctor informed him that the fact of feelings and opinions changing during meditations at night, and during sleeplessness, was one long recognised by science; and that that was especially the case with persons of strong thinking power, and of acute feelings. He stated further that very often the beliefs of a whole life are uprooted under the melancholy influence of night and inability to sleep, and that often the most fateful resolutions are made under the same influence; that sometimes this impressionability to the mystic influence of the dark hours amounted to a malady, in which case measures must be taken, the radical manner of living should be changed, diet considered, a journey undertaken if possible, etc., etc.
Velchaninoff listened no further, but he was sure that in his own case there was decided malady.
Very soon his morning meditations began to partake of the nature of those of the night, but they were more bitter. Certain events of his life now began to recur to his memory more and more vividly; they would strike him suddenly, and without apparent reason: things which had been forgotten for ten or fifteen years—some so long ago that he thought it miraculous that he should have been able to recall them at all. But that was not all—for, after all, what man who has seen any life has not hundreds of such recollections of the past? The principal point was that all this past came back to him now with an absolutely new light thrown upon it, and he seemed to look at it from an entirely new and unexpected point of view. Why did some of his acts appear to him now to be nothing better than crimes? It was not merely in the judgment of his intellect that these things appeared so to him now—had it been only his poor sick mind, he would not have trusted it; but his whole being seemed to condemn him; he would curse and even weep over these recollections of the past! If anyone had told him a couple of years since that he would weep over anything, he would have laughed the idea to scorn.
At first he recalled the unpleasant experiences of his life: certain failures in society, humiliations; he remembered how some designing person had so successfully blackened his character that he was requested to cease his visits to a certain house; how once, and not so very long ago, he had been publicly insulted, and had not challenged the offender; how once an epigram had been fastened to his name by some witty person, in the midst of a party of pretty women and he had not found a reply; he remembered several unpaid debts, and how he had most stupidly run through two very respectable fortunes.
Then he began to recall facts belonging to a “higher” order. He remembered that he had once insulted a poor old grey-headed clerk, and that the latter had covered his face with his hands and cried, which Velchaninoff had thought a great joke at the time, but now looked upon in quite another light. Then he thought how he had once, merely for fun, set a scandal going about the beautiful little wife of a certain schoolmaster, and how the husband had got to hear the rumour. He (Velchaninoff) had left the town shortly after and did not know how the matter had ended; but now he fell to wondering and picturing to himself the possible consequences of his action; and goodness knows where this theme would not have taken him to if he had not suddenly recalled another picture: that of a poor girl, whom he had been ashamed of and never thought of loving, but whom he had betrayed and forsaken, her and her child, when he left St. Petersburg. He had afterwards searched for this girl and her baby for a whole year, but never found them.
Of this sort of recollections there were, alas! but too many; and each one seemed to bring along with it a train of others. His vanity began to suffer, little by little, under these memories. I have said that his vanity had developed into a new type of vanity. There were moments (few albeit) in which he was not even ashamed of having no carriage of his own, now; or of being seen by one of his former friends in shabby clothes; or when, if seen and looked at by such a person contemptuously, he was high-minded enough to suppress even a frown. Of course such moments of self-oblivion were rare; but, as I said before, his vanity began little by little to change away from its former quarters and to centre upon one question which was perpetually ranging itself before his intellect. “There is some power or other,” he would muse, sarcastically, “somewhere, which is extremely interested in my morals, and sends me these damnable recollections and tears of remorse! Let them come, by all means; but they have not the slightest effect on me! for I haven’t a scrap of independence about me, in spite of my wretched forty years, I know that for certain. Why, if it were to happen so that I should gain anything by spreading another scandal about that schoolmaster’s wife, (for instance, that she had accepted presents from me, or something of that sort), I should certainly spread it without a thought.”
But though no other opportunity ever did occur of maligning the schoolmistress, yet the very thought alone that if such an opportunity were to occur he would inevitably seize it was almost fatal to him at times. He was not tortured with memory at every moment of his life; he had intervals of time to breathe and rest in. But the longer he stayed, the more unpleasant did he find his life in St. Petersburg. July came in. At certain moments he felt inclined to throw up his lawsuit and all, and go down to the Crimea; but after an hour or so he would despise his own idea, and laugh at himself for entertaining it.
“These thoughts won’t be driven away by a mere journey down south,” he said to himself, “when they have once begun to annoy me; besides, if I am easy in my conscience now, I surely need not try to run away from any such worrying recollections of past days!” “Why should I go after all?” he resumed, in a strain of melancholy philosophizing; “this place is a very heaven for a hypochondriac like myself, what with the dust and the heat, and the discomfort of this house, what with the nonsensical swagger and pretence of all these wretched little ‘civil servants’ in the departments I frequent! Everyone is delightfully candid—and candour is undoubtedly worthy of all respect! I won’t go away—I’ll stay and die here rather than go!”
IT WAS THE THIRD OF July. The heat and closeness of the air had become quite unbearable. The day had been a busy one for Velchaninoff—he had been walking and driving about without rest, and had still in prospect a visit in the evening to a certain state councillor who lived somewhere on the Chornaya Riéchka (black stream), and whom he was anxious to drop in upon unexpectedly.
At six o’clock our hero issued from his house once more, and trudged off to dine at a restaurant on the Nefsky, near the police-bridge—a second-rate sort of place, but French. Here he took his usual corner, and ordered his usual dinner, and waited.
He always had a rouble1 dinner, and paid for his wine extra, which moderation he looked upon as a discreet sacrifice to the temporary financial embarrassment under which he was suffering.
He regularly went through the ceremony of wondering how he could bring himself to eat “such nastiness,” and yet as regularly he demolished every morsel, and with excellent show of appetite too, just as though he had eaten nothing for three days.
“This appetite can’t be healthy!” he murmured to himself sometimes, observing his own voracity. However, on this particular occasion, he sat down to his dinner in a miserably bad humour: he threw his hat angrily away somewhere, tipped his chair back,—and reflected.
He was in the sort of humour that if his next neighbour—dining at the little table near him—were to rattle his plate, or if the boy serving him were to make any little blunder, or, in fact, if any little petty annoyance were to put him out of a sudden, he was quite capable of shouting at the offender, and, in fact, of kicking up a serious row on the smallest pretext.
Soup was served to him. He took up his spoon, and was about to commence operations, when he suddenly threw it down again, and started from his seat. An unexpected thought had struck him, and in an instant he had realized why he had been plunged in gloom and mental perturbation during the last few days. Goodness knows why he thus suddenly became inspired, as it were, with the truth; but so it was. He jumped from his chair, and in an instant it all stood out before him as plain as his five fingers! “It’s all that hat!” he muttered to himself; “it’s all simply and solely that damnable round hat, with the crape band round it; that’s the reason and cause of all my worries these last days!”
He began to think; and the more he thought, the more dejected he became, and the more astonishing appeared the “remarkable circumstance of the hat.”
“But, hang it all, there is no circumstance!” he growled to himself. “What circumstance do I mean? There’s been nothing in the nature of an event or occurrence!”
The fact of the matter was this: Nearly a fortnight since, he had met for the first time, somewhere about the corner of the Podiacheskaya, a gentleman with crape round his hat. There was nothing particular about the man—he was just like all others; but as he passed Velchaninoff he had stared at him so fixedly that it was impossible to avoid noticing him, and more than noticing—observing him attentively.
The man’s face seemed to be familiar to Velchaninoff. He had evidently seen him somewhere and at some time or other.
“But one sees thousands of people during one’s life,” thought Velchaninoff; “one can’t remember every face!” So he had gone on his way, and before he was twenty yards further, to all appearances he had forgotten all about the meeting, in spite of the strength of the first impression made upon him.
And yet he had not forgotten; for the impression remained all day, and a very original impression it was, too,—a kind of objectless feeling of anger against he knew not what. He remembered his exact feelings at this moment, a fortnight after the occurrence: how he had been puzzled by the angry nature of his sentiments at the time, and puzzled to such an extent that he had never for a moment connected his ill-humour with the meeting of the morning, though he had felt as cross as possible all day. But the gentleman with the crape band had not lost much time about reminding Velchaninoff of his existence, for the very next day he met the latter again, on the Nefsky Prospect and again he had stared in a peculiarly fixed way at him.
Velchaninoff flared up and spat on the ground in irritation—Russian like, but a moment after he was wondering at his own wrath. “There are faces, undoubtedly,” he reflected,“which fill one with disgust at first sight; but I certainly have met that fellow somewhere or other.
“Yes, I have met him before!” he muttered again, half an hour later.
And again, as on the last occasion, he was in a vile humour all that evening, and even went so far as to have a bad dream in the night; and yet it never entered his head to imagine that the cause of his bad temper on both occasions had been the accidental meeting with the gentleman in mourning, although on the second evening he had remembered and thought of the chance encounter two or three times.
He had even flared up angrily to think that “such a dirty-looking cad” should presume to linger in his memory so long; he would have felt it humiliating to himself to imagine for a moment that such a wretched creature could possibly be in any way connected with the agitated condition of his feelings.
Two days later the pair had met once more at the landing place of one of the small Neva ferry steamers.
On the third occasion Velchaninoff was ready to swear that the man recognised him, and had pressed through the crowd towards him; had even dared to stretch out his hand and call him by name. As to this last fact he was not quite certain, however. “At all events, who the deuce is he?” thought Velchaninoff, “and why can’t the idiot come up and speak to me if he really does recognise me; and if he so much wishes to do so?” With these thoughts Velchaninoff had taken a droshky and started off for the Smolney Monastery, where his lawyer lived.
Half an hour later he was engaged in his usual quarrel with that gentleman.
But that same evening he was in a worse humour than ever, and his night was spent in fantastic dreams and imaginings, which were anything but pleasant. “I suppose it’s bile!”he concluded, as he paid his matutinal visit to the looking-glass.
This was the third meeting.
Then, for five days there was not a sign of the man; and yet, much to his distaste, Velchaninoff could not, for the life of him, avoid thinking of the man with the crape band.
He caught himself musing over the fellow. “What have I to do with him?” he thought. “What can his business in St. Petersburg be?—he looks busy: and whom is he in mourning for? He clearly recognises me, but I don’t know in the least who he is! And why do such people as he is put crape on their hats? it doesn’t seem ‘the thing’ for them, somehow! I believe I shall recognise this fellow if I ever get a good close look at him!”
And there came over him that sensation we all know so well—the same feeling that one has when one can’t for the life of one think of the required word; every other word comes up; associations with the right word come up; occasions when one has used the word come up; one wanders round and round the immediate vicinity of the word wanted, but the actual word itself will not appear, though you may break your head to get at it!
“Let’s see, now: it was—yes—some while since. It was—where on earth was it? There was a—oh! devil take whatever there was or wasn’t there! What does it matter to me?” he broke off angrily of a sudden. “I’m not going to lower myself by thinking of a little cad like that!”
He felt very angry; but when, in the evening, he remembered that he had been so upset, and recollected the cause of his anger, he felt the disagreeable sensation of having been caught by someone doing something wrong.
This fact puzzled and annoyed him.
“There must be some reason for my getting so angry at the mere recollection of that man’s face,” he thought, but he didn’t finish thinking it out.
But the next evening he was still more indignant; and this time, he really thought, with good cause. “Such audacity is unparalleled!” he said to himself.
The fact of the matter is, there had been a fourth meeting with the man of the crape hat band. The latter had apparently arisen from the earth and confronted him. But let me explain what had happened.
It so chanced that Velchaninoff had just met, accidentally, that very state-councillor mentioned a few pages back, whom he had been so anxious to see, and on whom he had intended to pounce unexpectedly at his country house. This gentleman evidently avoided Velchaninoff, but at the same time was most necessary to the latter in his lawsuit. Consequently, when Velchaninoff met him, the one was delighted, while the other was very much the reverse. Velchaninoff had immediately button-holed him, and walked down the street with him, talking; doing his very utmost to keep the sly old fox to the subject on which it was so necessary that he should be pumped. And it was just at this most important moment, when Velchaninoff’s intellect was all on the qui vive to catch up the slightest hints of what he wished to get at, while the foxy old councillor (aware of the fact) was doing his best to reveal nothing, that the former, taking his eyes from his companion’s face for one instant, beheld the gentleman of the crape hatband walking along the other side of the road, and looking at him—nay, watching him, evidently—and apparently smiling!
“Devil take him!” said Velchaninoff, bursting out into fury at once, while the “old fox” instantly disappeared, “and I should have succeeded in another minute. Curse that dirty little hound! he’s simply spying me. I’ll—I’ll hire somebody to—I’ll take my oath he laughed at me! D—n him, I’ll thrash him. I wish I had a stick with me. I’ll—I’ll buy one! I won’t leave this matter so. Who the deuce is he? I will know! Who is he?”
At last, three days after this fourth encounter, we find Velchaninoff sitting down to dinner at his restaurant, as recorded a page or two back, in a state of mind bordering upon the furious. He could not conceal the state of his feelings from himself, in spite of all his pride. He was obliged to confess at last, that all his anxiety, his irritation, his state of agitation generally, must undoubtedly be connected with, and absolutely attributed to, the appearance of the wretched-looking creature with the crape hatband, in spite of his insignificance.
“I may be a hypochondriac,” he reflected, “and I may be inclined to make an elephant out of a gnat; but how does it help me? What use is it to me if I persuade myself to believe that perhaps all this is fancy? Why, if every dirty little wretch like that is to have the power of upsetting a man like myself, why—it’s—it’s simply unbearable!”
Undoubtedly, at this last (fifth) encounter of to-day, the elephant had proved himself a very small gnat indeed. The “crape man” had appeared suddenly, as usual, and had passed by Velchaninoff, but without looking up at him this time; indeed, he had gone by with downcast eyes, and had even seemed anxious to pass unobserved. Velchaninoff had turned rapidly round and shouted as loud as ever he could at him.
“Hey!” he cried. “You! Crape hatband! You want to escape notice this time, do you? Who are you?”
Both the question and the whole idea of calling after the man were absurdly foolish, and Velchaninoff knew it the moment he had said the words. The man had turned round, stopped for an instant, lost his head, smiled—half made up his mind to say something,—had waited half a minute in painful indecision, then twisted suddenly round again, and“bolted” without a word. Velchaninoff gazed after him in amazement. “What if it be I that haunt him, and not he me, after all?” he thought. However, Velchaninoff ate up his dinner, and then drove off to pounce upon the town councillor at the latter’s house, if he could.
The councillor was not in; and he was informed that he would scarcely be at home before three or four in the morning, because he had gone to a “name’s-day party.”
Velchaninoff felt that this was too bad! In his rage he determined to follow and hunt the fellow up at the party: he actually took a droshky, and started off with that wild idea; but luckily he thought better of it on the way, got out of the vehicle and walked away towards the “Great Theatre,” near which he lived. He felt that he must have motion; also hemust absolutely sleep well this coming night: in order to sleep he must be tired; so he walked all the way home—a fairly long walk, and arrived there about half-past ten, as tired as he could wish.
His lodging, which he had taken last March, and had abused ever since, apologising to himself for living “in such a hole,” and at the same time excusing himself for the fact by the reflection that it was only for a while, and that he had dropped quite accidentally into St. Petersburg—thanks to that cursed lawsuit!—his lodging, I say, was by no means so bad as he made it out to be!
The entrance certainly was a little dark, and dirty-looking, being just under the arch of the gateway. But he had two fine large light rooms on the second floor, separated by the entrance hall: one of these rooms overlooked the yard and the other the street. Leading out of the former of these was a smaller room, meant to be used as a bedroom; but Velchaninoff had filled it with a disordered array of books and papers, and preferred to sleep in one of the large rooms, the one overlooking the street, to wit.
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