The Brothers Karamazov, by Fyodor Dostoyevsky

Chapter 2

At His Father’s

FIRST of all, Alyosha went to his father. On the way he remembered that his father had insisted the day before that he should come without his brother Ivan seeing him. “Why so?” Alyosha wondered suddenly. “Even if my father has something to say to me alone, why should I go in unseen? Most likely in his excitement yesterday he meant to say something different,” he decided. Yet he was very glad when Marfa Ignatyevna, who opened the garden gate to him (Grigory, it appeared, was ill in bed in the lodge), told him in answer to his question that Ivan Fyodorovitch had gone out two hours ago.

“And my father?”

“He is up, taking his coffee,” Marfa answered somewhat drily.

Alyosha went in. The old man was sitting alone at the table wearing slippers and a little old overcoat. He was amusing himself by looking through some accounts, rather inattentively however. He was quite alone in the house, for Smerdyakov too had gone out marketing. Though he had got up early and was trying to put a bold face on it, he looked tired and weak. His forehead, upon which huge purple bruises had come out during the night, was bandaged with a red handkerchief; his nose too was swollen terribly in the night, and some smaller bruises covered it in patches, giving his whole face a peculiarly spiteful and irritable look. The old man was aware of this, and turned a hostile glance on Alyosha as he came in.

“The coffee is cold,” he cried harshly; “I won’t offer you any. I’ve ordered nothing but a Lenten fish soup to-day, and I don’t invite anyone to share it. Why have you come?”

“To find out how you are,” said Alyosha.

“Yes. Besides, I told you to come yesterday. It’s all of no consequence. You need not have troubled. But I knew you’d come poking in directly.”

He said this with almost hostile feeling. At the same time he got up and looked anxiously in the looking-glass (perhaps for the fortieth time that morning) at his nose. He began, too, binding his red handkerchief more becomingly on his forehead.

“Red’s better. It’s just like the hospital in a white one,” he observed sententiously. “Well, how are things over there? How is your elder?”

“He is very bad; he may die to-day,” answered Alyosha. But his father had not listened, and had forgotten his own question at once.

“Ivan’s gone out,” he said suddenly. “He is doing his utmost to carry off Mitya’s betrothed. That’s what he is staying here for,” he added maliciously, and, twisting his mouth, looked at Alyosha.

“Surely he did not tell you so?” asked Alyosha.

“Yes, he did, long ago. Would you believe it, he told me three weeks ago? You don’t suppose he too came to murder me, do you? He must have had some object in coming.”

“What do you mean? Why do you say such things?” said Alyosha, troubled.

“He doesn’t ask for money, it’s true, but yet he won’t get a farthing from me. I intend living as long as possible, you may as well know, my dear Alexey Fyodorovitch, and so I need every farthing, and the longer I live, the more I shall need it,” he continued, pacing from one corner of the room to the other, keeping his hands in the pockets of his loose greasy overcoat made of yellow cotton material. “I can still pass for a man at five and fifty, but I want to pass for one for another twenty years. As I get older, you know, I shan’t be a pretty object. The wenches won’t come to me of their own accord, so I shall want my money. So I am saving up more and more, simply for myself, my dear son Alexey Fyodorovitch. You may as well know. For I mean to go on in my sins to the end, let me tell you. For sin is sweet; all abuse it, but all men live in it, only others do it on the sly, and I openly. And so all the other sinners fall upon me for being so simple. And your paradise, Alexey Fyodorovitch, is not to my taste, let me tell you that; and it’s not the proper place for a gentleman, your paradise, even if it exists. I believe that I fall asleep and don’t wake up again, and that’s all. You can pray for my soul if you like. And if you don’t want to, don’t, damn you! That’s my philosophy. Ivan talked well here yesterday, though we were all drunk. Ivan is a conceited coxcomb, but he has no particular learning . . . nor education either. He sits silent and smiles at one without speaking — that’s what pulls him through.”

Alyosha listened to him in silence.

“Why won’t he talk to me? If he does speak, he gives himself airs. Your Ivan is a scoundrel! And I’ll marry Grushenka in a minute if I want to. For if you’ve money, Alexey Fyodorovitch, you have only to want a thing and you can have it. That’s what Ivan is afraid of, he is on the watch to prevent me getting married and that’s why he is egging on Mitya to marry Grushenka himself. He hopes to keep me from Grushenka by that (as though I should leave him my money if I don’t marry her!). Besides if Mitya marries Grushenka, Ivan will carry off his rich betrothed, that’s what he’s reckoning on! He is a scoundrel, your Ivan!”

“How cross you are! It’s because of yesterday; you had better lie down,” said Alyosha.

“There! you say that,” the old man observed suddenly, as though it had struck him for the first time, “and I am not angry with you. But if Ivan said it, I should be angry with him. It is only with you I have good moments, else you know I am an ill-natured man.”

“You are not ill-natured, but distorted,” said Alyosha with a smile.

“Listen. I meant this morning to get that ruffian Mitya locked up and I don’t know now what I shall decide about it. Of course in these fashionable days fathers and mothers are looked upon as a prejudice, but even now the law does not allow you to drag your old father about by the hair, to kick him in the face in his own house, and brag of murdering him outright — all in the presence of witnesses. If I liked, I could crush him and could have him locked up at once for what he did yesterday.”

“Then you don’t mean to take proceedings?”

“Ivan has dissuaded me. I shouldn’t care about Ivan, but there’s another thing.”

And bending down to Alyosha, he went on in a confidential half-whisper.

“If I send the ruffian to prison, she’ll hear of it and run to see him at once. But if she hears that he has beaten me, a weak old man, within an inch of my life, she may give him up and come to me . . . For that’s her way, everything by contraries. I know her through and through! Won’t you have a drop of brandy? Take some cold coffee and I’ll pour a quarter of a glass of brandy into it, it’s delicious, my boy.”

“No, thank you. I’ll take that roll with me if I may,” said Alyosha, and taking a halfpenny French roll he put it in the pocket of his cassock. “And you’d better not have brandy, either,” he suggested apprehensively, looking into the old man’s face.

“You are quite right, it irritates my nerves instead of soothing them. Only one little glass. I’ll get it out of the cupboard.”

He unlocked the cupboard, poured out a glass, drank it, then locked the cupboard and put the key back in his pocket.

“That’s enough. One glass won’t kill me.”

“You see you are in a better humour now,” said Alyosha, smiling.

“Um! I love you even without the brandy, but with scoundrels I am a scoundrel. Ivan is not going to Tchermashnya — why is that? He wants to spy how much I give Grushenka if she comes. They are all scoundrels! But I don’t recognise Ivan, I don’t know him at all. Where does he come from? He is not one of us in soul. As though I’d leave him anything! I shan’t leave a will at all, you may as well know. And I’ll crush Mitya like a beetle. I squash black-beetles at night with my slipper; they squelch when you tread on them. And your Mitya will squelch too. Your Mitya, for you love him. Yes you love him and I am not afraid of your loving him. But if Ivan loved him I should be afraid for myself at his loving him. But Ivan loves nobody. Ivan is not one of us. People like Ivan are not our sort, my boy. They are like a cloud of dust. When the wind blows, the dust will be gone. . . . I had a silly idea in my head when I told you to come to-day; I wanted to find out from you about Mitya. If I were to hand him over a thousand or maybe two now, would the beggarly wretch agree to take himself off altogether for five years or, better still, thirty-five, and without Grushenka, and give her up once for all, eh?”

“I— I’ll ask him,” muttered Alyosha. “If you would give him three thousand, perhaps he-”

“That’s nonsense! You needn’t ask him now, no need! I’ve changed my mind. It was a nonsensical idea of mine. I won’t give him anything, not a penny, I want my money myself,” cried the old man, waving his hand. “I’ll crush him like a beetle without it. Don’t say anything to him or else he will begin hoping. There’s nothing for you to do here, you needn’t stay. Is that betrothed of his, Katerina Ivanovna, whom he has kept so carefully hidden from me all this time, going to marry him or not? You went to see her yesterday, I believe?”

“Nothing will induce her to abandon him.”

“There you see how dearly these fine young ladies love a rake and a scoundrel. They are poor creatures I tell you, those pale young ladies, very different from — Ah, if I had his youth and the looks I had then (for I was better-looking than he at eight and twenty) I’d have been a conquering hero just as he is. He is a low cad! But he shan’t have Grushenka, anyway, he shan’t! I’ll crush him!”

His anger had returned with the last words.

“You can go. There’s nothing for you to do here to-day,” he snapped harshly.

Alyosha went up to say good-bye to him, and kissed him on the shoulder.

“What’s that for?” The old man was a little surprised. “We shall see each other again, or do you think we shan’t?”

“Not at all, I didn’t mean anything.”

“Nor did I, I did not mean anything,” said the old man, looking at him. “Listen, listen,” he shouted after him, “make haste and come again and I’ll have a fish soup for you, a fine one, not like to-day. Be sure to come! Come to-morrow, do you hear, to-morrow!”

And as soon as Alyosha had gone out of the door, he went to the cupboard again and poured out another half-glass.

“I won’t have more!” he muttered, clearing his throat, and again he locked the cupboard and put the key in his pocket. Then he went into his bedroom, lay down on the bed, exhausted, and in one minute he was asleep.

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