The Brothers Karamazov, by Fyodor Dostoyevsky

Chapter 6

Why Is Such a Man Alive?

DMITRI FYODOROVITCH, a young man of eight and twenty, of medium height and agreeable countenance, looked older than his years. He was muscular, and showed signs of considerable physical strength. Yet there was something not healthy in his face. It was rather thin, his cheeks were hollow, and there was an unhealthy sallowness in their colour. His rather large, prominent, dark eyes had an expression of firm determination, and yet there was a vague look in them, too. Even when he was excited and talking irritably, his eyes somehow did not follow his mood, but betrayed something else, sometimes quite incongruous with what was passing. “It’s hard to tell what he’s thinking,” those who talked to him sometimes declared. People who saw something pensive and sullen in his eyes were startled by his sudden laugh, which bore witness to mirthful and light-hearted thoughts at the very time when his eyes were so gloomy. A certain strained look in his face was easy to understand at this moment. Everyone knew, or had heard of, the extremely restless and dissipated life which he had been leading of late, as well as of the violent anger to which he had been roused in his quarrels with his father. There were several stories current in the town about it. It is true that he was irascible by nature, “of an unstable and unbalanced mind,” as our justice of the peace, Katchalnikov, happily described him.

He was stylishly and irreproachably dressed in a carefully buttoned frock-coat. He wore black gloves and carried a top hat. Having only lately left the army, he still had moustaches and no beard. His dark brown hair was cropped short, and combed forward on his temples. He had the long, determined stride of a military man. He stood still for a moment on the threshold, and glancing at the whole party went straight up to the elder, guessing him to be their host. He made him a low bow, and asked his blessing. Father Zossima, rising in his chair, blessed him. Dmitri kissed his hand respectfully, and with intense feeling, almost anger, he said:

“Be so generous as to forgive me for having kept you waiting so long, but Smerdyakov, the valet sent me by my father, in reply to my inquiries, told me twice over that the appointment was for one. Now I suddenly learn — ”

“Don’t disturb yourself,” interposed the elder. “No matter. You are a little late. It’s of no consequence. . . . ”

“I’m extremely obliged to you, and expected no less from your goodness.”

Saying this, Dmitri bowed once more. Then, turning suddenly towards his father, made him, too, a similarly low and respectful bow. He had evidently considered it beforehand, and made this bow in all seriousness, thinking it his duty to show his respect and good intentions.

Although Fyodor Pavlovitch was taken unawares, he was equal to the occasion. In response to Dmitri’s bow he jumped up from his chair and made his son a bow as low in return. His face was suddenly solemn and impressive, which gave him a positively malignant look. Dmitri bowed generally to all present, and without a word walked to the window with his long, resolute stride, sat down on the only empty chair, near Father Paissy, and, bending forward, prepared to listen to the conversation he had interrupted.

Dmitri’s entrance had taken no more than two minutes, and the conversation was resumed. But this time Miusov thought it unnecessary to reply to Father Paissy’s persistent and almost irritable question.

“Allow me to withdraw from this discussion,” he observed with a certain well-bred nonchalance. “It’s a subtle question, too. Here Ivan Fyodorovitch is smiling at us. He must have something interesting to say about that also. Ask him.”

“Nothing special, except one little remark,” Ivan replied at once. “European Liberals in general, and even our liberal dilettanti, often mix up the final results of socialism with those of Christianity. This wild notion is, of course, a characteristic feature. But it’s not only Liberals and dilettanti who mix up socialism and Christianity, but, in many cases, it appears, the police — the foreign police, of course — do the same. Your Paris anecdote is rather to the point, Pyotr Alexandrovitch.”

“I ask your permission to drop this subject altogether,” Miusov repeated. “I will tell you instead, gentlemen, another interesting and rather characteristic anecdote of Ivan Fyodorovitch himself. Only five days ago, in a gathering here, principally of ladies, he solemnly declared in argument that there was nothing in the whole world to make men love their neighbours. That there was no law of nature that man should love mankind, and that, if there had been any love on earth hitherto, it was not owing to a natural law, but simply because men have believed in immortality. Ivan Fyodorovitch added in parenthesis that the whole natural law lies in that faith, and that if you were to destroy in mankind the belief in immortality, not only love but every living force maintaining the life of the world would at once be dried up. Moreover, nothing then would be immoral, everything would be lawful, even cannibalism. That’s not all. He ended by asserting that for every individual, like ourselves, who does not believe in God or immortality, the moral law of nature must immediately be changed into the exact contrary of the former religious law, and that egoism, even to crime, must become not only lawful but even recognised as the inevitable, the most rational, even honourable outcome of his position. From this paradox, gentlemen, you can judge of the rest of our eccentric and paradoxical friend Ivan Fyodorovitch’s theories.”

“Excuse me,” Dmitri cried suddenly; “if I’ve heard aright, crime must not only be permitted but even recognised as the inevitable and the most rational outcome of his position for every infidel! Is that so or not?”

“Quite so,” said Father Paissy.

“I’ll remember it.”

Having uttered these words Dmitri ceased speaking as suddenly as he had begun. Everyone looked at him with curiosity.

“Is that really your conviction as to the consequences of the disappearance of the faith in immortality?” the elder asked Ivan suddenly.

“Yes. That was my contention. There is no virtue if there is no immortality.”

“You are blessed in believing that, or else most unhappy.”

“Why unhappy?” Ivan asked smiling.

“Because, in all probability you don’t believe yourself in the immortality of your soul, nor in what you have written yourself in your article on Church Jurisdiction.”

“Perhaps you are right! . . . But I wasn’t altogether joking,” Ivan suddenly and strangely confessed, flushing quickly.

“You were not altogether joking. That’s true. The question is still fretting your heart, and not answered. But the martyr likes sometimes to divert himself with his despair, as it were driven to it by despair itself. Meanwhile, in your despair, you, too, divert yourself with magazine articles, and discussions in society, though you don’t believe your own arguments, and with an aching heart mock at them inwardly. . . . That question you have not answered, and it is your great grief, for it clamours for an answer.”

“But can it be answered by me? Answered in the affirmative?” Ivan went on asking strangely, still looking at the elder with the same inexplicable smile.

“If it can’t be decided in the affirmative, it will never be decided in the negative. You know that that is the peculiarity of your heart, and all its suffering is due to it. But thank the Creator who has given you a lofty heart capable of such suffering; of thinking and seeking higher things, for our dwelling is in the heavens. God grant that your heart will attain the answer on earth, and may God bless your path.”

The elder raised his hand and would have made the sign of the cross over Ivan from where he stood. But the latter rose from his seat, went up to him, received his blessing, and kissing his hand went back to his place in silence. His face looked firm and earnest. This action and all the preceding conversation, which was so surprising from Ivan, impressed everyone by its strangeness and a certain solemnity, so that all were silent for a moment, and there was a look almost of apprehension in Alyosha’s face. But Miusov suddenly shrugged his shoulders. And at the same moment Fyodor Pavlovitch jumped up from his seat.

“Most pious and holy elder,” he cried pointing to Ivan, “that is my son, flesh of my flesh, the dearest of my flesh! He is my most dutiful Karl Moor, so to speak, while this son who has just come in, Dmitri, against whom I am seeking justice from you, is the undutiful Franz Moor — they are both out of Schiller’s Robbers, and so I am the reigning Count von Moor! Judge and save us! We need not only your prayers but your prophecies!”

“Speak without buffoonery, and don’t begin by insulting the members of your family,” answered the elder, in a faint, exhausted voice. He was obviously getting more and more fatigued, and his strength was failing.

“An unseemly farce which I foresaw when I came here!” cried Dmitri indignantly. He too leapt up. “Forgive it, reverend Father,” he added, addressing the elder. “I am not a cultivated man, and I don’t even know how to address you properly, but you have been deceived and you have been too good-natured in letting us meet here. All my father wants is a scandal. Why he wants it only he can tell. He always has some motive. But I believe I know why — ”

“They all blame me, all of them!” cried Fyodor Pavlovitch in his turn. “Pyotr Alexandrovitch here blames me too. You have been blaming me, Pyotr Alexandrovitch, you have!” he turned suddenly to Miusov, although the latter was not dreaming of interrupting him. “They all accuse me of having hidden the children’s money in my boots, and cheated them, but isn’t there a court of law? There they will reckon out for you, Dmitri Fyodorovitch, from your notes, your letters, and your agreements, how much money you had, how much you have spent, and how much you have left. Why does Pyotr Alexandrovitch refuse to pass judgment? Dmitri is not a stranger to him. Because they are all against me, while Dmitri Fyodorovitch is in debt to me, and not a little, but some thousands of which I have documentary proof. The whole town is echoing with his debaucheries. And where he was stationed before, he several times spent a thousand or two for the seduction of some respectable girl; we know all about that, Dmitri Fyodorovitch, in its most secret details. I’ll prove it. . . . Would you believe it, holy Father, he has captivated the heart of the most honourable of young ladies of good family and fortune, daughter of a gallant colonel, formerly his superior officer, who had received many honours and had the Anna Order on his breast. He compromised the girl by his promise of marriage, now she is an orphan and here; she is betrothed to him, yet before her very eyes he is dancing attendance on a certain enchantress. And although this enchantress has lived in, so to speak, civil marriage with a respectable man, yet she is of an independent character, an unapproachable fortress for everybody, just like a legal wife — for she is virtuous, yes, holy Fathers, she is virtuous. Dmitri Fyodorovitch wants to open this fortress with a golden key, and that’s why he is insolent to me now, trying to get money from me, though he has wasted thousands on this enchantress already. He’s continually borrowing money for the purpose. From whom do you think? Shall I say, Mitya?”

“Be silent!” cried Dmitri, “wait till I’m gone. Don’t dare in my presence to asperse the good name of an honourable girl! That you should utter a word about her is an outrage, and I won’t permit it!” He was breathless.

He was breathless. “Mitya! Mitya!” cried Fyodor Pavlovitch hysterically, squeezing out a tear. “And is your father’s blessing nothing to you? If I curse you, what then?”

“Shameless hypocrite! “exclaimed Dmitri furiously.

“He says that to his father! his father What would he be with others? Gentlemen, only fancy; there’s a poor but honourable man living here, burdened with a numerous family, a captain who got into trouble and was discharged from the army, but not publicly, not by court-martial, with no slur on his honour. And three weeks ago, Dmitri seized him by the beard in a tavern, dragged him out into the street and beat him publicly, and all because he is an agent in a little business of mine.”

“It’s all a lie! Outwardly it’s the truth, but inwardly a lie!” Dmitri was trembling with rage. “Father, I don’t justify my action. Yes, I confess it publicly, I behaved like a brute to that captain, and I regret it now, and I’m disgusted with myself for my brutal rage. But this captain, this agent of yours, went to that lady whom you call an enchantress, and suggested to her from you, that she should take I.O.U.s of mine which were in your possession, and should sue me for the money so as to get me into prison by means of them, if I persisted in claiming an account from you of my property. Now you reproach me for having a weakness for that lady when you yourself incited her to captivate me! She told me so to my face. . . . She told me the story and laughed at you. . . . You wanted to put me in prison because you are jealous of me with her, because you’d begun to force your attentions upon her; and I know all about that, too; she laughed at you for that as well — you hear — she laughed at you as she described it. So here you have this man, this father who reproaches his profligate son! Gentlemen, forgive my anger, but I foresaw that this crafty old man would only bring you together to create a scandal. I had come to forgive him if he held out his hand; to forgive him, and ask forgiveness! But as he has just this minute insulted not only me, but an honourable young lady, for whom I feel such reverence that I dare not take her name in vain, I have made up my mind to show up his game, though he is my father. . . . ”

He could not go on. His eyes were glittering and he breathed with difficulty. But everyone in the cell was stirred. All except Father Zossima got up from their seats uneasily. The monks looked austere but waited for guidance from the elder. He sat still, pale, not from excitement but from the weakness of disease. An imploring smile lighted up his face; from time to time he raised his hand, as though to check the storm, and, of course, a gesture from him would have been enough to end the scene; but he seemed to be waiting for something and watched them intently as though trying to make out something which was not perfectly clear to him. At last Miusov felt completely humiliated and disgraced.

“We are all to blame for this scandalous scene,” he said hotly. “But I did not foresee it when I came, though I knew with whom I had to deal. This must be stopped at once! Believe me, your reverence, I had no precise knowledge of the details that have just come to light, I was unwilling to believe them, and I learn for the first time. . . . A father is jealous of his son’s relation with a woman of loose behaviour and intrigues with the creature to get his son into prison! This is the company in which I have been forced to be present! I was deceived. I declare to you all that I was as much deceived as anyone.”

“Dmitri Fyodorovitch,” yelled Fyodor Pavlovitch suddenly, in an unnatural voice, “if you were not my son I would challenge you this instant to a duel . . . with pistols, at three paces . . . across a handkerchief,” he ended, stamping with both feet.

With old liars who have been acting all their lives there are moments when they enter so completely into their part that they tremble or shed tears of emotion in earnest, although at that very moment, or a second later, they are able to whisper to themselves, “You know you are lying, you shameless old sinner! You’re acting now, in spite of your ‘holy’ wrath.”

Dmitri frowned painfully, and looked with unutterable contempt at his father.

“I thought . . . I thought,” he said. in a soft and, as it were, controlled voice, “that I was coming to my native place with the angel of my heart, my betrothed, to cherish his old age, and I find nothing but a depraved profligate, a despicable clown!”

“A duel!” yelled the old wretch again, breathless and spluttering at each syllable. “And you, Pyotr Alexandrovitch Miusov, let me tell you that there has never been in all your family a loftier, and more honest — you hear — more honest woman than this ‘creature,’ as you have dared to call her! And you, Dmitri Fyodorovitch, have abandoned your betrothed for that ‘creature,’ so you must yourself have thought that your betrothed couldn’t hold a candle to her. That’s the woman called a “creature”

“Shameful!” broke from Father Iosif.

“Shameful and disgraceful!” Kalganov, flushing crimson cried in a boyish voice, trembling with emotion. He had been silent till that moment.

“Why is such a man alive?” Dmitri, beside himself with rage, growled in a hollow voice, hunching up his shoulders till he looked almost deformed. “Tell me, can he be allowed to go on defiling the earth?” He looked round at everyone and pointed at the old man. He spoke evenly and deliberately.

“Listen, listen, monks, to the parricide!” cried Fyodor Pavlovitch, rushing up to Father Iosif. “That’s the answer to your ‘shameful!’ What is shameful? That ‘creature,’ that ‘woman of loose behaviour’ is perhaps holier than you are yourselves, you monks who are seeking salvation! She fell perhaps in her youth, ruined by her environment. But she loved much, and Christ himself forgave the woman ‘who loved much.’”

“It was not for such love Christ forgave her,” broke impatiently from the gentle Father Iosif.

“Yes, it was for such, monks, it was! You save your souls here, eating cabbage, and think you are the righteous. You eat a gudgeon a day, and you think you bribe God with gudgeon.”

“This is unendurable!” was heard on all sides in the cell.

But this unseemly scene was cut short in a most unexpected way. Father Zossima Father Zossima rose suddenly from his seat. Almost distracted with anxiety for the elder and everyone else, Alyosha succeeded, however, in supporting him by the arm. Father Zossima moved towards Dmitri and reaching him sank on his knees before him. Alyosha thought that he had fallen from weakness, but this was not so. The elder distinctly and deliberately bowed down at Dmitri’s feet till his forehead touched the floor. Alyosha was so astounded that he failed to assist him when he got up again. There was a faint smile on his lips.

“Good-bye! Forgive me, all of you” he said, bowing on all sides to his guests.

Dmitri stood for a few moments in amazement. Bowing down to him — what did it mean? Suddenly he cried aloud, “Oh God!” hid his face in his hands, and rushed out of the room. All the guests flocked out after him, in their confusion not saying good-bye, or bowing to their host. Only the monks went up to him again for a blessing.

“What did it mean, falling at his feet like that? Was it symbolic or what?” said Fyodor Pavlovitch, suddenly quieted and trying to reopen conversation without venturing to address anybody in particular. They were all passing out of the precincts of the hermitage at the moment.

“I can’t answer for a madhouse and for madmen,” Miusov answered at once ill-humouredly, “but I will spare myself your company, Fyodor Pavlovitch, and, trust me, for ever. Where’s that monk?”

“That monk,” that is, the monk who had invited them to dine with the Superior, did not keep them waiting. He met them as soon as they came down the steps from the elder’s cell, as though he had been waiting for them all the time.

“Reverend Father, kindly do me a favour. Convey my deepest respect to the Father Superior, apologise for me, personally, Miusov, to his reverence, telling him that I deeply regret that owing to unforeseen circumstances I am unable to have the honour of being present at his table, greatly I should desire to do so,” Miusov said irritably to the monk.

“And that unforeseen circumstance, of course, is myself,” Fyodor Pavlovitch cut in immediately. “Do you hear, Father; this gentleman doesn’t want to remain in my company or else he’d come at once. And you shall go, Pyotr Alexandrovitch, pray go to the Father Superior and good appetite to you. I will decline, and not you. Home, home, I’ll eat at home, I don’t feel equal to it here, Pyotr Alexandrovitch, my amiable relative.”

“I am not your relative and never have been, you contemptible man!”

“I said it on purpose to madden you, because you always disclaim the relationship, though you really are a relation in spite of your shuffling. I’ll prove it by the church calendar. As for you, Ivan, stay if you like. I’ll send the horses for you later. Propriety requires you to go to the Father Superior, Pyotr Alexandrovitch, to apologise for the disturbance we’ve been making. . . . ”

“Is it true that you are going home? Aren’t you lying?”

“Pyotr Alexandrovitch! How could I dare after what’s happened! Forgive me, gentlemen, I was carried away! And upset besides! And, indeed, I am ashamed. Gentlemen, one man has the heart of Alexander of Macedon and another the heart of the little dog Fido. Mine is that of the little dog Fido. I am ashamed! After such an escapade how can I go to dinner, to gobble up the monastery’s sauces? I am ashamed, I can’t. You must excuse me!”

“The devil only knows, what if he deceives us?” thought Miusov, still hesitating, and watching the retreating buffoon with distrustful eyes. The latter turned round, and noticing that Miusov was watching him, waved him a kiss.

“Well, are you coming to the Superior?” Miusov asked Ivan abruptly.

“Why not? I was especially invited yesterday.”

“Unfortunately I feel myself compelled to go to this confounded dinner,” said Miusov with the same irritability, regardless of the fact that the monk was listening. “We ought, at least, to apologise for the disturbance, and explain that it was not our doing. What do you think?”

“Yes, we must explain that it wasn’t our doing. Besides, father won’t be there,” observed Ivan.

“Well, I should hope not! Confound this dinner!”

They all walked on, however. The monk listened in silence. On the road through the copse he made one observation however — that the Father Superior had been waiting a long time, and that they were more than half an hour late. He received no answer. Miusov looked with hatred at Ivan.

“Here he is, going to the dinner as though nothing had happened,” he thought. “A brazen face, and the conscience of a Karamazov!”

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Last updated Friday, March 7, 2014 at 15:49