The Brothers Karamazov, by Fyodor Dostoyevsky

Chapter 8

Over the Brandy

THE controversy was over. But, strange to say, Fyodor Pavlovitch, who had been so gay, suddenly began frowning. He frowned and gulped brandy, and it was already a glass too much.

“Get along with you, Jesuits!” he cried to the servants. “Go away, Smerdyakov. I’ll send you the gold piece I promised you to-day, but be off! Don’t cry, Grigory. Go to Marfa. She’ll comfort you and put you to bed. The rascals won’t let us sit in peace after dinner,” he snapped peevishly, as the servants promptly withdrew at his word.

“Smerdyakov always pokes himself in now, after dinner. It’s you he’s so interested in. What have you done to fascinate him?” he added to Ivan.

“Nothing whatever,” answered Ivan. “He’s pleased to have a high opinion of me; he’s a lackey and a mean soul. Raw material for revolution, however, when the time comes.”

“There will be others and better ones. But there will be some like him as well. His kind will come first, and better ones after.”

“And when will the time come?”

“The rocket will go off and fizzle out, perhaps. The peasants are not very fond of listening to these soup-makers, so far.”

“Ah, brother, but a Balaam’s ass like that thinks and thinks, and the devil knows where he gets to.”

“He’s storing up ideas,” said Ivan, smiling.

“You see, I know he can’t bear me, nor anyone else, even you, though you fancy that he has a high opinion of you. Worse still with Alyosha, he despises Alyosha. But he doesn’t steal, that’s one thing, and he’s not a gossip, he holds his tongue, and doesn’t wash our dirty linen in public. He makes capital fish pasties too. But, damn him, is he worth talking about so much?”

“Of course he isn’t.”

“And as for the ideas he may be hatching, the Russian peasant, generally speaking, needs thrashing. That I’ve always maintained. Our peasants are swindlers, and don’t deserve to be pitied, and it’s a good thing they’re still flogged sometimes. Russia is rich in birches. If they destroyed the forests, it would be the ruin of Russia. I stand up for the clever people. We’ve left off thrashing the peasants, we’ve grown so clever, but they go on thrashing themselves. And a good thing too. ‘For with what measure ye mete it shall be measured to you again,’ or how does it go? Anyhow, it will be measured. But Russia’s all swinishness. My dear, if you only knew how I hate Russia. . . . That is, not Russia, but all this vice! But maybe I mean Russia. Tout cela c’est de la cochonnerie. . . . 4 Do you know what I like? I like wit.”

4 All this is filthiness.

“You’ve had another glass. That’s enough.”

“Wait a bit. I’ll have one more, and then another, and then I’ll stop. No, stay, you interrupted me. At Mokroe I was talking to an old man, and he told me: ‘There’s nothing we like so much as sentencing girls to be thrashed, and we always give the lads the job of thrashing them. And the girl he has thrashed to-day, the young man will ask in marriage to-morrow. So it quite suits the girls, too,’ he said. There’s a set of de Sades for you! But it’s clever, anyway. Shall we go over and have a look at it, eh? Alyosha, are you blushing? Don’t be bashful, child. I’m sorry I didn’t stay to dinner at the Superior’s and tell the monks about the girls at Mokroe. Alyosha, don’t be angry that I offended your Superior this morning. I lost my temper. If there is a God, if He exists, then, of course, I’m to blame, and I shall have to answer for it. But if there isn’t a God at all, what do they deserve, your fathers? It’s not enough to cut their heads off, for they keep back progress. Would you believe it, Ivan, that that lacerates my sentiments? No, you don’t believe it as I see from your eyes. You believe what people say, that I’m nothing but a buffoon. Alyosha, do you believe that I’m nothing but a buffoon?”

“No, I don’t believe it.”

“And I believe you don’t, and that you speak the truth. You look sincere and you speak sincerely. But not Ivan. Ivan’s supercilious. . . . I’d make an end of your monks, though, all the same. I’d take all that mystic stuff and suppress it, once for all, all over Russia, so as to bring all the fools to reason. And the gold and the silver that would flow into the mint!”

“But why suppress it?” asked Ivan.

“That Truth may prevail. That’s why.”

“Well, if Truth were to prevail, you know, you’d be the first to be robbed and suppressed.”

“Ah! I dare say you’re right. Ah, I’m an ass!” burst out Fyodor Pavlovitch, striking himself lightly on the forehead. “Well, your monastery may stand then, Alyosha, if that’s how it is. And we clever people will sit snug and enjoy our brandy. You know, Ivan, it must have been so ordained by the Almighty Himself. Ivan, speak, is there a God or not? Stay, speak the truth, speak seriously. Why are you laughing again?”

“I’m laughing that you should have made a clever remark just now about Smerdyakov’s belief in the existence of two saints who could move mountains.”

“Why, am I like him now, then?”

“Very much.”

“Well, that shows I’m a Russian, too, and I have a Russian characteristic. And you may be caught in the same way, though you are a philosopher. Shall I catch you? What do you bet that I’ll catch you to-morrow? Speak, all the same, is there a God, or not? Only, be serious. I want you to be serious now.”

“No, there is no God.”

“Alyosha, is there a God?”

“There is.”

“Ivan, and is there immortality of some sort, just a little, just a tiny bit?”

“There is no immortality either.”

“None at all?”

“None at all.”

“There’s absolute nothingness then. Perhaps there is just something? Anything is better than nothing!”

“Alyosha, is there immortality?”

“God and immortality?”

“God and immortality. In God is immortality.”

“H’m! It’s more likely Ivan’s right. Good Lord! to think what faith, what force of all kinds, man has lavished for nothing, on that dream, and for how many thousand years. Who is it laughing at man? Ivan For the last time, once for all, is there a God or not? I ask for the last time!”

“And for the last time there is not.”

“Who is laughing at mankind, Ivan?”

“It must be the devil,” said Ivan, smiling.

“And the devil? Does he exist?”

“No, there’s no devil either.”

“It’s a pity. Damn it all, what wouldn’t I do to the man who first invented God! Hanging on a bitter aspen tree would be too good for, him.”

“There would have been no civilisation if they hadn’t invented God.”

“Wouldn’t there have been? Without God?”

“No. And there would have been no brandy either. But I must take your brandy away from you, anyway.”

“Stop, stop, stop, dear boy, one more little glass. I’ve hurt Alyosha’s feelings. You’re not angry with me, Alyosha? My dear little Alexey!”

“No, I am not angry. I know your thoughts. Your heart is better than your head.”

“My heart better than my head, is it? Oh Lord! And that from you. Ivan, do you love Alyosha?”

“You must love him” (Fyodor Pavlovitch was by this time very drunk). “Listen, Alyosha, I was rude to your elder this morning. But I was excited. But there’s wit in that elder, don’t you think, Ivan?”

“Very likely.”

“There is, there is. Il y a du Piron la-dedans.5 He’s a Jesuit, a Russian one, that is. As he’s an honourable person there’s a hidden indignation boiling within him at having to pretend and affect holiness.”

5 There’s something of Piron inside of him.

“But, of course, he believes in God.”

“Not a bit of it. Didn’t you know? Why, he tells everyone so, himself. That is, not everyone, but all the clever people who come to him. He said straight out to Governor Schultz not long ago: ‘Credo, but I don’t know in what.’”

“Really?”

“He really did. But I respect him. There’s something of Mephistopheles about him, or rather of ‘The hero of our time’ . . . Arbenin, or what’s his name? . . . You see, he’s a sensualist. He’s such a sensualist that I should be afraid for my daughter or my wife if she went to confess to him. You know, when he begins telling stories . . . The year before last he invited us to tea, tea with liqueur (the ladies send him liqueur), and began telling us about old times till we nearly split our sides. . . . Especially how he once cured a paralysed woman. ‘If my legs were not bad I know a dance I could dance you,’ he said. What do you say to that? ‘I’ve plenty of tricks in my time,’ said he. He did Demidov, the merchant, out of sixty thousand.”

“What, he stole it?”

“He brought him the money as a man he could trust, saying, ‘Take care of it for me, friend, there’ll be a police search at my place to-morrow.’ And he kept it. ‘You have given it to the Church,’ he declared. I said to him: ‘You’re a scoundrel,’ I said. ‘No,’ said he, ‘I’m not a scoundrel, but I’m broadminded.’ But that wasn’t he, that was someone else. I’ve muddled him with someone else . . . without noticing it. Come, another glass and that’s enough. Take away the bottle, Ivan. I’ve been telling lies. Why didn’t you stop me, Ivan, and tell me I was lying?”

“I knew you’d stop of yourself.”

“That’s a lie. You did it from spite, from simple spite against me. You despise me. You have come to me and despised me in my own house.”

“Well, I’m going away. You’ve had too much brandy.”

“I’ve begged you for Christ’s sake to go to Tchermashnya for a day or two, and you don’t go.”

“I’ll go to-morrow if you’re so set upon it.”

“You won’t go. You want to keep an eye on me. That’s what you want, spiteful fellow. That’s why you won’t go.”

The old man persisted. He had reached that state of drunkenness when the drunkard who has till then been inoffensive tries to pick a quarrel and to assert himself.

“Why are you looking at me? Why do you look like that? Your eyes look at me and say, ‘You ugly drunkard!’ Your eyes are mistrustful. They’re contemptuous. . . . You’ve come here with some design. Alyosha, here, looks at me and his eyes shine. Alyosha doesn’t despise me. Alexey, you mustn’t love Ivan.”

“Don’t be ill-tempered with my brother. Leave off attacking him,” Alyosha said emphatically.

“Oh, all right. Ugh, my head aches. Take away the brandy, Ivan. It’s the third time I’ve told you.”

He mused, and suddenly a slow, cunning grin spread over his face.

“Don’t be angry with a feeble old man, Ivan. I know you don’t love me, but don’t be angry all the same. You’ve nothing to love me for. You go to Tchermashnya. I’ll come to you myself and bring you a present. I’ll show you a little wench there. I’ve had my eye on her a long time. She’s still running about bare-foot. Don’t be afraid of bare-footed wenches — don’t despise them — they’re pearls!”

And he kissed his hand with a smack.

“To my thinking,” he revived at once, seeming to grow sober the instant he touched on his favourite topic. “To my thinking . . . Ah, you boys! You children, little sucking-pigs, to my thinking . . . I never thought a woman ugly in my life — that’s been my rule! Can you understand that? How could you understand it? You’ve milk in your veins, not blood. You’re not out of your shells yet. My rule has been that you can always find something devilishly interesting in every woman that you wouldn’t find in any other. Only, one must know how to find it, that’s the point! That’s a talent! To my mind there are no ugly women. The very fact that she is a woman is half the battle . . . but how could you understand that? Even in vieilles filles, even in them you may discover something that makes you simply wonder that men have been such fools as to let them grow old without noticing them. Bare-footed girls or unattractive ones, you must take by surprise. Didn’t you know that? You must astound them till they’re fascinated, upset, ashamed that such a gentleman should fall in love with such a little slut. It’s a jolly good thing that there always are and will be masters and slaves in the world, so there always will be a little maid-of-all-work and her master, and you know, that’s all that’s needed for happiness. Stay . . . listen, Alyosha, I always used to surprise your mother, but in a different way. I paid no attention to her at all, but all at once, when the minute came, I’d be all devotion to her, crawl on my knees, kiss her feet, and I always, always — I remember it as though it were to-day — reduced her to that tinkling, quiet, nervous, queer little laugh. It was peculiar to her. I knew her attacks always used to begin like that. The next day she would begin shrieking hysterically, and this little laugh was not a sign of delight, though it made a very good counterfeit. That’s the great thing, to know how to take everyone. Once Belyavsky — he was a handsome fellow, and rich — used to like to come here and hang about her — suddenly gave me a slap in the face in her presence. And she — such a mild sheep — why, I thought she would have knocked me down for that blow. How she set on me! ‘You’re beaten, beaten now,’ she said, ‘You’ve taken a blow from him. You have been trying to sell me to him,’ she said . . . ‘And how dared he strike you in my presence! Don’t dare come near me again, never, never! Run at once, challenge him to a duel!’ . . . I took her to the monastery then to bring her to her senses. The holy Fathers prayed her back to reason. But I swear, by God, Alyosha, I never insulted the poor crazy girl! Only once, perhaps, in the first year; then she was very fond of praying. She used to keep the feasts of Our Lady particularly and used to turn me out of her room then. I’ll knock that mysticism out of her, thought I! ‘Here,’ said I, ‘you see your holy image. Here it is. Here I take it down. You believe it’s miraculous, but here, I’ll spit on it directly and nothing will happen to me for it!’ . . . When she saw it, good Lord! I thought she would kill me. But she only jumped up, wrung her hands, then suddenly hid her face in them, began trembling all over and fell on the floor . . . fell all of a heap. Alyosha, Alyosha, what’s the matter?”

The old man jumped up in alarm. From the time he had begun speaking about his mother, a change had gradually come over Alyosha’s face. He flushed crimson, his eyes glowed, his lips quivered. The old sot had gone spluttering on, noticing nothing, till the moment when something very strange happened to Alyosha. Precisely what he was describing in the crazy woman was suddenly repeated with Alyosha. He jumped up from his seat exactly as his mother was said to have done, wrung his hands, hid his face in them, and fell back in his chair, shaking all over in an hysterical paroxysm of sudden violent, silent weeping. His extraordinary resemblance to his mother particularly impressed the old man.

“Ivan, Ivan! Water, quickly! It’s like her, exactly as she used to be then, his mother. Spurt some water on him from your mouth, that’s what I used to do to her. He’s upset about his mother, his mother,” he muttered to Ivan.

“But she was my mother, too, I believe, his mother. Was she not?” said Ivan, with uncontrolled anger and contempt. The old man shrank before his flashing eyes. But something very strange had happened, though only for a second; it seemed really to have escaped the old man’s mind that Alyosha’s mother actually was the mother of Ivan too.

“Your mother?” he muttered, not understanding. “What do you mean? What mother are you talking about? Was she? . . . Why, damn it! of course she was yours too! Damn it! My mind has never been so darkened before. Excuse me, why, I was thinking Ivan . . . He he he!” He stopped. A broad, drunken, half senseless grin overspread his face.

At that moment a fearful noise, and clamour was heard in the hall, there were violent shouts, the door was flung open, and Dmitri burst into the room. The old man rushed to Ivan in terror.

“He’ll kill me! He’ll kill me! Don’t let him get at me!” he screamed, clinging to the skirt of Ivan’s coat.

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