The Brothers Karamazov, by Fyodor Dostoyevsky

Chapter 7

A Young Man Bent on a Career

ALYOSHA helped Father Zossima to his bedroom and seated him on his bed. It was a little room furnished with the bare necessities. There was a narrow iron bedstead, with a strip of felt for a mattress. In the corner, under the ikons, was a reading-desk with a cross and the Gospel lying on it. The elder sank exhausted on the bed. His eyes glittered and he breathed hard. He looked intently at Alyosha, as though considering something.

“Go, my dear boy, go. Porfiry is enough for me. Make haste, you are needed there, go and wait at the Father Superior’s table.”

“Let me stay here,” Alyosha entreated.

“You are more needed there. There is no peace there. You will wait, and be of service. If evil spirits rise up, repeat a prayer. And remember, my son” — the elder liked to call him that — “this is not the place for you in the future. When it is God’s will to call me, leave the monastery. Go away for good.”

Alyosha started.

“What is it? This is not your place for the time. I bless you for great service in the world. Yours will be a long pilgrimage. And you will have to take a wife, too. You will have to bear all before you come back. There will be much to do. But I don’t doubt of you, and so I send you forth. Christ is with you. Do not abandon Him and He will not abandon you. You will see great sorrow, and in that sorrow you will be happy. This is my last message to you: in sorrow seek happiness. Work, work unceasingly. Remember my words, for although I shall talk with you again, not only my days but my hours are numbered.”

Alyosha’s face again betrayed strong emotion. The corners of his mouth quivered.

“What is it again?” Father Zossima asked, smiling gently. “The worldly may follow the dead with tears, but here we rejoice over the father who is departing. We rejoice and pray for him. Leave me, I must pray. Go, and make haste. Be near your brothers. And not near one only, but near both.”

Father Zossima raised his hand to bless him. Alyosha could make no protest, though he had a great longing to remain. He longed, moreover, to ask the significance of his bowing to Dmitri, the question was on the tip of his tongue, but he dared not ask it. He knew that the elder would have explained it unasked if he had thought fit. But evidently it was not his will. That action had made a terrible impression on Alyosha; he believed blindly in its mysterious significance. Mysterious, and perhaps awful.

As he hastened out of the hermatage precincts to reach the monastery in time to serve at the Father Superior’s dinner, he felt a sudden pang at his heart, and stopped short. He seemed to hear again Father Zossima’s words, foretelling his approaching end. What he had foretold so exactly must infallibly come to pass. Alyosha believed that implicitly. But how could he go? He had told him not to weep, and to leave the monastery. Good God! It was long since Alyosha had known such anguish. He hurried through the copse that divided the monastery from the hermitage, and unable to bear the burden of his thoughts, he gazed at the ancient pines beside the path. He had not far to go — about five hundred paces. He expected to meet no one at that hour, but at the first turn of the path he noticed Rakitin. He was waiting for someone.

“Are you waiting for me?” asked Alyosha, overtaking him.

“Yes,” grinned Rakitin. “You are hurrying to the Father Superior, I know; he has a banquet. There’s not been such a banquet since the Superior entertained the Bishop and General Pahatov, do you remember? I shan’t be there, but you go and hand the sauces. Tell me one thing, Alexey, what does that vision mean? That’s what I want to ask you.”

“What vision?”

“That bowing to your brother, Dmitri. And didn’t he tap the ground with his forehead, too!”

“You speak of Father Zossima?”

“Yes, of Father Zossima,”

“Tapped the ground?”

“Ah, an irreverent expression! Well, what of it? Anyway, what does that vision mean?”

“I don’t know what it means, Misha.”

“I knew he wouldn’t explain it to you There’s nothing wonderful about it, of course, only the usual holy mummery. But there was an object in the performance. All the pious people in the town will talk about it and spread the story through the province, wondering what it meant. To my thinking the old man really has a keen nose; he sniffed a crime. Your house stinks of it.”

Rakitin evidently had something he was eager to speak of.

“It’ll be in your family, this crime. Between your brothers and your rich old father. So Father Zossima flopped down to be ready for what may turn up. If something happens later on, it’ll be: ‘Ah, the holy man foresaw it, prophesied it!’ though it’s a poor sort of prophecy, flopping like that. ‘Ah, but it was symbolic,’ they’ll say, ‘an allegory,’ and the devil knows what all! It’ll be remembered to his glory: ‘He predicted the crime and marked the criminal!’ That’s always the way with these crazy fanatics; they cross themselves at the tavern and throw stones at the temple. Like your elder, he takes a stick to a just man and falls at the feet of a murderer.”

“What crime? What do you mean?”

Alyosha stopped dead. Rakitin stopped, too.

“What murderer? As though you didn’t know! I’ll bet you’ve thought of it before. That’s interesting, too, by the way. Listen, Alyosha, you always speak the truth, though you’re always between two stools. Have you thought of it or not? Answer.”

“I have,” answered Alyosha in a low voice. Even Rakitin was taken aback.

“What? Have you really?” he cried.

“I . . . I’ve not exactly thought it,” muttered Alyosha, “but directly you began speaking so strangely, I fancied I had thought of it myself.”

“You see? (And how well you expressed it!) Looking at your father and your brother Mitya to-day you thought of a crime. Then I’m not mistaken?”

“But wait, wait a minute,” Alyosha broke in uneasily, “What has led you to see all this? Why does it interest you? That’s the first question.”

“Two questions, disconnected, but natural. I’ll deal with them separately. What led me to see it? I shouldn’t have seen it, if I hadn’t suddenly understood your brother Dmitri, seen right into the very heart of him all at once. I caught the whole man from one trait. These very honest but passionate people have a line which mustn’t be crossed. If it were, he’d run at your father with a knife. But your father’s a drunken and abandoned old sinner, who can never draw the line — if they both themselves go, they’ll both come to grief.”

“No, Misha, no. If that’s all, you’ve reassured me. It won’t come to that.”

“But why are you trembling? Let me tell you; he may be honest, our Mitya (he is stupid, but honest), but he’s — a sensualist. That’s the very definition and inner essence of him. It’s your father has handed him on his low sensuality. Do you know, I simply wonder at you, Alyosha, how you can have kept your purity. You’re a Karamazov too, you know! In your family sensuality is carried to a disease. But now, these three sensualists are watching one another, with their knives in their belts. The three of them are knocking their heads together, and you may be the fourth.”

“You are mistaken about that woman. Dmitri despises her,” said Alyosha, with a sort of shudder.

“Grushenka? No, brother, he doesn’t despise her. Since he has openly abandoned his betrothed for her, he doesn’t despise her. There’s something here, my dear boy, that you don’t understand yet. A man will fall in love with some beauty, with a woman’s body, or even with a part of a woman’s body (a sensualist can understand that), and he’ll abandon his own children for her, sell his father and mother, and his country, Russia, too. If he’s honest, he’ll steal; if he’s humane, he’ll murder; if he’s faithful, he’ll deceive. Pushkin, the poet of women’s feet, sung of their feet in his verse. Others don’t sing their praises, but they can’t look at their feet without a thrill — and it’s not only their feet. Contempt’s no help here, brother, even if he did despise Grushenka. He does, but he can’t tear himself away.”

“I understand that,” Alyosha jerked out suddenly.

“Really? Well, I dare say you do understand, since you blurt it out at the first word,” said Rakitin, malignantly. “That escaped you unawares, and the confession’s the more precious. So it’s a familiar subject; you’ve thought about it already, about sensuality, I mean! Oh, you virgin soul! You’re a quiet one, Alyosha, you’re a saint, I know, but the devil only knows what you’ve thought about, and what you know already! You are pure, but you’ve been down into the depths. . . . I’ve been watching you a long time. You’re a Karamazov yourself; you’re a thorough Karamazov — no doubt birth and selection have something to answer for. You’re a sensualist from your father, a crazy saint from your mother. Why do you tremble? Is it true, then? Do you know, Grushenka has been begging me to bring you along. ‘I’ll pull off his cassock,’ she says. You can’t think how she keeps begging me to bring you. I wondered why she took such an interest in you. Do you know, she’s an extraordinary woman, too!”

“Thank her and say I’m not coming,” said Alyosha, with a strained smile. “Finish what you were saying, Misha. I’ll tell you. my idea after.”

“There’s nothing to finish. It’s all clear. It’s the same old tune, brother. If even you are a sensualist at heart, what of your brother, Ivan? He’s a Karamazov, too. What is at the root of all you Karamazovs is that you’re all sensual, grasping and crazy! Your brother Ivan writes theological articles in joke, for some idiotic, unknown motive of his own, though he’s an atheist, and he admits it’s a fraud himself — that’s your brother Ivan. He’s trying to get Mitya’s betrothed for himself, and I fancy he’ll succeed, too. And what’s more, it’s with Mitya’s consent. For Mitya will surrender his betrothed to him to be rid of her, and escape to Grushenka. And he’s ready to do that in spite of all his nobility and disinterestedness. Observe that. Those are the most fatal people! Who the devil can make you out? He recognises his vileness and goes on with it! Let me tell you, too, the old man, your father, is standing in Mitya’s way now. He has suddenly gone crazy over Grushenka. His mouth waters at the sight of her. It’s simply on her account he made that scene in the cell just now, simply because Miusov called her an ‘abandoned creature.’ He’s worse than a tom-cat in love. At first she was only employed by him in connection with his taverns and in some other shady business, but now he has suddenly realised all she is and has gone wild about her. He keeps pestering her with his offers, not honourable ones, of course. And they’ll come into collision, the precious father and son, on that path! But Grushenka favours neither of them, she’s still playing with them, and teasing them both, considering which she can get most out of. For though she could filch a lot of money from the papa he wouldn’t marry her, and maybe he’ll turn stingy in the end, and keep his purse shut. That’s where Mitya’s value comes in; he has no money, but he’s ready to marry her. Yes, ready to marry her! to abandon his betrothed, a rare beauty, Katerina Ivanovna, who’s rich, and the daughter of a colonel, and to marry Grushenka, who has been the mistress of a dissolute old merchant, Samsonov, a coarse, uneducated, provincial mayor. Some murderous conflict may well come to pass from all this, and that’s what your brother Ivan is waiting for. It would suit him down to the ground. He’ll carry off Katerina Ivanovna, for whom he is languishing, and pocket her dowry of sixty thousand. That’s very alluring to start with, for a man of no consequence and a beggar. And, take note, he won’t be wronging Mitya, but doing him the greatest service. For I know as a fact that Mitya only last week, when he was with some Gipsy girls drunk in a tavern, cried out aloud that he was unworthy of his betrothed, Katya, but that his brother Ivan, he was the man who deserved her. And Katerina Ivanovna will not in the end refuse such a fascinating man as Ivan. She’s hesitating between the two of them already. And how has that Ivan won you all, so that you all worship him? He is laughing at you, and enjoying himself at your expense.”

“How do you know? How can you speak so confidently?” Alyosha asked sharply, frowning.

“Why do you ask, and are frightened at my answer? It shows that you know I’m speaking the truth.”

“You don’t like Ivan. Ivan wouldn’t be tempted by money.”

“Really? And the beauty of Katerina Ivanovna? It’s not only the money, though a fortune of sixty thousand is an attraction.”

“Ivan is above that. He wouldn’t make up to anyone for thousands. It is not money, it’s not comfort Ivan is seeking. Perhaps it’s suffering he is seeking.”

“What wild dream now? Oh, you — aristocrats!”

“Ah, Misha, he has a stormy spirit. His mind is in bondage. He is haunted by a great, unsolved doubt. He is one of those who don’t want millions, but an answer to their questions.”

“That’s plagiarism, Alyosha. You’re quoting your elder’s phrases. Ah, Ivan has set you a problem!” cried Rakitin, with undisguised malice. His face changed, and his lips twitched. “And the problem’s a stupid one. It is no good guessing it. Rack your brains — you’ll understand it. His article is absurd and ridiculous. And did you hear his stupid theory just now: if there’s no immortality of the soul, then there’s no virtue, and everything is lawful. (And by the way, do you remember how your brother Mitya cried out: ‘I will remember!’) An attractive theory for scoundrels! — (I’m being abusive, that’s stupid.) Not for scoundrels, but for pedantic poseurs, ‘haunted by profound, unsolved doubts.’ He’s showing off, and what it all comes to is, ‘on the one hand we cannot but admit’ and ‘on the other it must be confessed!’ His whole theory is a fraud! Humanity will find in itself the power to live for virtue even without believing in immortality. It will find it in love for freedom, for equality, for fraternity.”

Rakitin could hardly restrain himself in his heat, but, suddenly, as though remembering something, he stopped short.

“Well, that’s enough,” he said, with a still more crooked smile. “Why are you laughing? Do you think I’m a vulgar fool?”

“No, I never dreamed of thinking you a vulgar fool. You are clever but . . . never mind, I was silly to smile. I understand your getting hot about it, Misha. I guess from your warmth that you are not indifferent to Katerina Ivanovna yourself; I’ve suspected that for a long time, brother, that’s why you don’t like my brother Ivan. Are you jealous of him?”

“And jealous of her money, too? Won’t you add that?”

“I’ll say nothing about money. I am not going to insult you.”

“I believe it, since you say so, but confound you, and your brother Ivan with you. Don’t you understand that one might very well dislike him, apart from Katerina Ivanovna. And why the devil should I like him? He condescends to abuse me, you know. Why haven’t I a right to abuse him?”

“I never heard of his saying anything about you, good or bad. He doesn’t speak of you at all.”

“But I heard that the day before yesterday at Katerina Ivanovna’s he was abusing me for all he was worth — you see what an interest he takes in your humble servant. And which is the jealous one after that, brother, I can’t say. He was so good as to express the opinion that, if I don’t go in for the career of an archimandrite in the immediate future and don’t become a monk, I shall be sure to go to Petersburg and get on to some solid magazine as a reviewer, that I shall write for the next ten years, and in the end become the owner of the magazine, and bring it out on the liberal and atheistic side, with a socialistic tinge, with a tiny gloss of socialism, but keeping a sharp lookout all the time, that is, keeping in with both sides and hoodwinking the fools. According to your brother’s account, the tinge of socialism won’t hinder me from laying by the proceeds and investing them under the guidance of some Jew, till at the end of my career I build a great house in Petersburg and move my publishing offices to it, and let out the upper stories to lodgers. He has even chosen the place for it, near the new stone bridge across the Neva, which they say is to be built in Petersburg.”

“Ah, Misha, that’s just what will really happen, every word of it,” cried Alyosha, unable to restrain a good-humoured smile.

“You are pleased to be sarcastic, too, Alexey Fyodorovitch.”

“No, no, I’m joking, forgive me. I’ve something quite different in my mind. But, excuse me, who can have told you all this? You can’t have been at Katerina Ivanovna’s yourself when he was talking about you?”

“I wasn’t there, but Dmitri Fyodorovitch was; and I heard him tell it with my own ears; if you want to know, he didn’t tell me, but I overheard him, unintentionally, of course, for I was sitting in Grushenka’s bedroom and I couldn’t go away because Dmitri Fyodorovitch was in the next room.”

“Oh yes, I’d forgotten she was a relation of yours.”

“A relation! That Grushenka a relation of mine!” cried Rakitin, turning crimson. “Are you mad? You’re out of your mind!”

“Why, isn’t she a relation of yours? I heard so.”

“Where can you have heard it? You Karamazovs brag of being an ancient, noble family, though your father used to run about playing the buffoon at other men’s tables, and was only admitted to the kitchen as a favour. I may be only a priest’s son, and dirt in the eyes of noblemen like you, but don’t insult me so lightly and wantonly. I have a sense of honour, too, Alexey Fyodorovitch, I couldn’t be a relation of Grushenka, a common harlot. I beg you to understand that!”

Rakitin was intensely irritated.

“Forgive me, for goodness’ sake, I had no idea . . . besides . . . how can you call her a harlot? Is she . . . that sort of woman?” Alyosha flushed suddenly. “I tell you again, I heard that she was a relation of yours. You often go to see her, and you told me yourself you’re not her lover. I never dreamed that you of all people had such contempt for her! Does she really deserve it?”

“I may have reasons of my own for visiting her. That’s not your business. But as for relationship, your brother, or even your father, is more likely to make her yours than mine. Well, here we are. You’d better go to the kitchen. Hullo! what’s wrong, what is it? Are we late? They can’t have finished dinner so soon! Have the Karamazovs been making trouble again? No doubt they have. Here’s your father and your brother Ivan after him. They’ve broken out from the Father Superior’s. And look, Father Isidor’s shouting out something after them from the steps. And your father’s shouting and waving his arms. I expect he’s swearing. Bah, and there goes Miusov driving away in his carriage. You see, he’s going. And there’s old Maximov running! — there must have been a row. There can’t have been any dinner. Surely they’ve not been beating the Father Superior! Or have they, perhaps, been beaten? It would serve them right!”

There was reason for Rakitin’s exclamations. There had been a scandalous, an unprecedented scene. It had all come from the impulse of a moment.

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