The Brothers Karamazov, by Fyodor Dostoyevsky

Chapter 4

At the Hohlakovs’

ALYOSHA soon reached Madame Hohlakov’s house, a handsome stone house of two stories, one of the finest in our town. Though Madame Hohlakov spent most of her time in another province where she had an estate, or in Moscow, where she had a house of her own, yet she had a house in our town too, inherited from her forefathers. The estate in our district was the largest of her three estates, yet she had been very little in our province before this time. She ran out to Alyosha in the hall.

“Did you get my letter about the new miracle?” She spoke rapidly and nervously.

“Yes”

“Did you show it to everyone? He restored the son to his mother!”

“He is dying to-day,” said Alyosha.

“I have heard, I know, oh, how I long to talk to you, to you or someone, about all this. No, to you, to you! And how sorry I am I can’t see him! The whole town is in excitement, they are all suspense. But now — do you know Katerina Ivanovna is here now?”

“Ah, that’s lucky,” cried Alyosha. “Then I shall see her here. She told me yesterday to be sure to come and see her to-day.”

“I know, I know all. I’ve heard exactly what happened yesterday — and the atrocious behaviour of that — creature. C’est tragique, and if I’d been in her place I don’t know what I should have done. And your brother Dmitri Fyodorovitch, what do you think of him? — my goodness! Alexey Fyodorovitch, I am forgetting, only fancy; your brother is in there with her, not that dreadful brother who was so shocking yesterday, but the other, Ivan Fyodorovitch, he is sitting with her talking; they are having a serious conversation. If you could only imagine what’s passing between them now — it’s awful, I tell you it’s lacerating, it’s like some incredible tale of horror. They are ruining their lives for no reason anyone can see. They both recognise it and revel in it. I’ve been watching for you! I’ve been thirsting for you! It’s too much for me. that’s the worst of it. I’ll tell you all about it presently, but now I must speak of something else, the most important thing — I had quite forgotten what’s most important. Tell me, why has Lise been in hysterics? As soon as she heard you were here, she began to be hysterical!”

“Maman, it’s you who are hysterical now, not I,” Lise’s voice carolled through a tiny crack of the door at the side. Her voice sounded as though she wanted to laugh, but was doing her utmost to control it. Alyosha at once noticed the crack, and no doubt Lise was peeping through it, but that he could not see.

“And no wonder, Lise, no wonder . . . your caprices will make me hysterical too. But she is so ill, Alexey Fyodorovitch, she has been so ill all night, feverish and moaning! I could hardly wait for the morning and for Herzenstube to come. He says that he can make nothing of it, that we must wait. Herzenstube always comes and says that he can make nothing of it. As soon as you approached the house, she screamed, fell into hysterics, and insisted on being wheeled back into this room here.”

“Mamma, I didn’t know he had come. It wasn’t on his account I wanted to be wheeled into this room.”

“That’s not true, Lise, Yulia ran to tell you that Alexey Fyodorovitch was coming. She was on the lookout for you.”

“My darling mamma, it’s not at all clever of you. But if you want to make up for it and say something very clever, dear mamma, you’d better tell our honoured visitor, Alexey Fyodorovitch, that he has shown his want of wit by venturing to us after what happened yesterday and although everyone is laughing at him.”

“Lise, you go too far. I declare I shall have to be severe. Who laughs at him? I am so glad he has come, I need him, I can’t do without him. Oh, Alexey Fyodorovitch, I am exceedingly unhappy!”

“But what’s the matter with you, mamma, darling?”

“Ah, your caprices, Lise, your fidgetiness, your illness, that awful night of fever, that awful everlasting Herzenstube, everlasting, everlasting, that’s the worst of it! Everything, in fact, everything. . . . Even that miracle, too! Oh, how it has upset me, how it has shattered me, that miracle, dear Alexey Fyodorovitch! And that tragedy in the drawing-room, it’s more than I can bear, I warn you. I can’t bear it. A comedy, perhaps, not a tragedy. Tell me, will Father Zossima live till to-morrow, will he? Oh, my God! What is happening to me? Every minute I close my eyes and see that it’s all nonsense, all nonsense.”

“I should be very grateful,” Alyosha interrupted suddenly, “if you could give me a clean rag to bind up my finger with. I have hurt it, and it’s very painful.”

Alyosha unbound his bitten finger. The handkerchief was soaked with blood. Madame Hohlakov screamed and shut her eyes.

“Good heavens, what a wound, how awful!

But as soon as Lise saw Alyosha’s finger through the crack, she flung the door wide open.

“Come, come here,” she cried, imperiously. “No nonsense now! Good heavens, why did you stand there saying nothing about it all this time? He might have bled to death, mamma! How did you do it? Water, water! You must wash it first of all, simply hold it in cold water to stop the pain, and keep it there, keep it there. . . . Make haste, mamma, some water in a slop-basin. But do make haste,” she finished nervously. She was quite frightened at the sight of Alyosha’s wound.

“Shouldn’t we send for Herzenstube?” cried Madame Hohlakov.

“Mamma, you’ll be the death of me. Your Herzenstube will come and say that he can make nothing of it! Water, water! Mamma, for goodness’ sake go yourself and hurry Yulia, she is such a slowcoach and never can come quickly! Make haste, mamma, or I shall die.”

“Why, it’s nothing much,” cried Alyosha, frightened at this alarm.

Yulia ran in with water and Alyosha put his finger in it.

“Some lint, mamma, for mercy’s sake, bring some lint and that muddy caustic lotion for wounds, what’s it called? We’ve got some. You know where the bottle is, mamma; it’s in your bedroom in the right-hand cupboard, there’s a big bottle of it there with the lint.”

“I’ll bring everything in a minute, Lise, only don’t scream and don’t fuss. You see how bravely Alexey Fyodorovitch bears it. Where did you get such a dreadful wound, Alexey Fyodorovitch?”

Madame Hohlakov hastened away. This was all Lise was waiting for.

“First of all, answer the question, where did you get hurt like this?” she asked Alyosha, quickly. “And then I’ll talk to you about something quite different. Well?”

Instinctively feeling that the time of her mother’s absence was precious for her, Alyosha hastened to tell her of his enigmatic meeting with the school boys in the fewest words possible. Lise clasped her hands at his story.

“How can you, and in that dress too, associate with schoolboys?” she cried angrily, as though she had a right to control him. “You are nothing but a boy yourself if you can do that, a perfect boy! But you must find out for me about that horrid boy and tell me all about it, for there’s some mystery in it. Now for the second thing, but first a question: does the pain prevent you talking about utterly unimportant things, but talking sensibly?”

“Of course not, and I don’t feel much pain now.”

“That’s because your finger is in the water. It must be changed directly, for it will get warm in a minute. Yulia, bring some ice from the cellar and another basin of water. Now she is gone, I can speak; will you give me the letter I sent you yesterday, dear Alexey Fyodorovitch — be quick, for mamma will be back in a minute and I don’t want — ”

“I haven’t got the letter.”

“That’s not true, you have. I knew you would say that. You’ve got it in that pocket. I’ve been regretting that joke all night. Give me back the letter at once, give it me.”

“I’ve left it at home.”

“But you can’t consider me as a child, a little girl, after that silly joke! I beg your pardon for that silliness, but you must bring me the letter, if you really haven’t got it — bring to-day, you must, you must.”

“To-day I can’t possibly, for I am going back to the monastery and I shan’t come and see you for the next two days — three or four perhaps — for Father Zossima — ”

“Four days, what nonsense! Listen. Did you laugh at me very much?”

“I didn’t laugh at all.”

“Why not?”

“Because I believed all you said.”

“You are insulting me!”

“Not at all. As soon as I read it, I thought that all that would come to pass, for as soon as Father Zossima dies, I am to leave the monastery. Then I shall go back and finish my studies, and when you reach the legal age we will be married. I shall love you. Though I haven’t had time to think about it, I believe I couldn’t find a better wife than you, and Father Zossima tells me I must marry.”

“But I am a cripple, wheeled about in a chair,” laughed Lise, flushing crimson.

“I’ll wheel you about myself, but I’m sure you’ll get well by then.”

“But you are mad,” said Lise, nervously, “to make all this nonsense out of a joke! Here’s mamma, very a propos, perhaps. Mamma, how slow you always are, how can you be so long! And here’s Yulia with the ice!

“Oh, Lise, don’t scream, above all things don’t scream. That scream drives me . . . How can I help it when you put the lint in another place? I’ve been hunting and hunting — I do believe you did it on purpose.”

“But I couldn’t tell that he would come with a bad finger, or else perhaps I might have done it on purpose. My darling mamma, you begin to say really witty things.”

“Never mind my being witty, but I must say you show nice feeling for Alexey Fyodorovitch’s sufferings! Oh, my dear Alexey Fyodorovitch, what’s killing me is no one thing in particular, not Herzenstube, but everything together, that’s what is too much for me.”

“That’s enough, mamma, enough about Herzenstube,” Lise laughed gaily. “Make haste with the lint and the lotion, mamma. That’s simply Goulard’s water, Alexey Fyodorovitch, I remember the name now, but it’s a splendid lotion. Would you believe it, Mamma, on the way here he had a fight with the boys in the street, and it was a boy bit his finger, isn’t he a child, a child himself? Is he fit to be married after that? For only fancy, he wants to be married, mamma. Just think of him married, wouldn’t it be funny, wouldn’t it be awful?”

And Lise kept laughing her thin hysterical giggle, looking slyly at Alyosha.

“But why married, Lise? What makes you talk of such a thing? It’s quite out of place and perhaps the boy was rabid.”

“Why, mamma! As though there were rabid boys!”

“Why not, Lise, as though I had said something stupid! Your boy might have been bitten by a mad dog and he would become mad and bite anyone near him. How well she has bandaged it, Alexey Fyodorovitch! I couldn’t have done it. Do you still feel the pain?”

“It’s nothing much now.”

“You don’t feel afraid of water?” asked Lise.

“Come, that’s enough, Lise, perhaps I really was rather too quick talking of the boy being rabid, and you pounced upon it at once. Katerina Ivanovna has only just heard that you are here, Alexey Fyodorovitch, she simply rushed at me, she’s dying to see you, dying!”

“Ach, mamma, go to them yourself. He can’t go just now, he is in too much pain.”

“Not at all, I can go quite well,” said Alyosha.

“What! You are going away? Is that what you say?”

“Well, when I’ve seen them, I’ll come back here and we can talk as much as you like. But I should like to see Katerina Ivanovna at once, for I am very anxious to be back at the monastery as soon as I can.”

“Mamma, take him away quickly. Alexey Fyodorovitch, don’t trouble to come and see me afterwards, but go straight back to your monastery and a good riddance. I want to sleep, I didn’t sleep all night.”

“Ah, Lise, you are only making fun, but how I wish you would sleep!” cried Madame Hohlakov.

“I don’t know what I’ve done. . . . I’ll stay another three minutes, five if you like,” muttered Alyosha.

“Even five! Do take him away quickly, mamma, he is a monster.”

“Lise, you are crazy. Let us go, Alexey Fyodorovitch, she is too capricious to-day. I am afraid to cross her. Oh, the trouble one has with nervous girls! Perhaps she really will be able to sleep after seeing you. How quickly you have made her sleepy, and how fortunate it is!”

“Ah, mamma, how sweetly you talk! I must kiss you for it, mamma.”

“And I kiss you too, Lise. Listen, Alexey Fyodorovitch,” Madame Hohlakov began mysteriously and importantly, speaking in a rapid whisper. “I don’t want to suggest anything, I don’t want to lift the veil, you will see for yourself what’s going on. It’s appalling. It’s the most fantastic farce. She loves your brother, Ivan, and she is doing her utmost to persuade herself she loves your brother, Dmitri. It’s appalling! I’ll go in with you, and if they don’t turn me out, I’ll stay to the end.”

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