The Brothers Karamazov, by Fyodor Dostoyevsky

Chapter 2

Smerdyakov with a Guitar

HE had no time to lose indeed. Even while he was saying good-bye to Lise, the thought had struck him that he must attempt some stratagem to find his brother Dmitri, who was evidently keeping out of his way. It was getting late, nearly three o’clock. Alyosha’s whole soul turned to the monastery, to his dying saint, but the necessity of seeing Dmitri outweighed everything. The conviction that a great inevitable catastrophe was about to happen grew stronger in Alyosha’s mind with every hour. What that catastrophe was, and what he would say at that moment to his brother, he could perhaps not have said definitely. “Even if my benefactor must die without me, anyway I won’t have to reproach myself all my life with the thought that I might have saved something and did not, but passed by and hastened home. If I do as I intend, I shall be following his great precept.”

His plan was to catch his brother Dmitri unawares, to climb over the fence, as he had the day before, get into the garden and sit in the summer-house. If Dmitri were not there, thought Alyosha, he would not announce himself to Foma or the women of the house, but would remain hidden in the summer-house, even if he had to wait there till evening. If, as before, Dmitri were lying in wait for Grushenka to come, he would be very likely to come to the summer-house. Alyosha did not, however, give much thought to the details of his plan, but resolved to act upon it, even if it meant not getting back to the monastery that day.

Everything happened without hindrance, he climbed over the hurdle almost in the same spot as the day before, and stole into the summer-house unseen. He did not want to be noticed. The woman of the house and Foma too, if he were here, might be loyal to his brother and obey his instructions, and so refuse to let Alyosha come into the garden, or might warn Dmitri that he was being sought and inquired for.

There was no one in the summer-house. Alyosha sat down and began to wait. He looked round the summer-house, which somehow struck him as a great deal more ancient than before. Though the day was just as fine as yesterday, it seemed a wretched little place this time. There was a circle on the table, left no doubt from the glass of brandy having been spilt the day before. Foolish and irrelevant ideas strayed about his mind, as they always do in a time of tedious waiting. He wondered, for instance, why he had sat down precisely in the same place as before, why not in the other seat. At last he felt very depressed — depressed by suspense and uncertainty. But he had not sat there more than a quarter of an hour, when he suddenly heard the thrum of a guitar somewhere quite close. People were sitting, or had only just sat down, somewhere in the bushes not more than twenty paces away. Alyosha suddenly recollected that on coming out of the summer-house the day before, he had caught a glimpse of an old green low garden-seat among the bushes on the left, by the fence. The people must be sitting on it now. Who were they?

A man’s voice suddenly began singing in a sugary falsetto, accompanying himself on the guitar:

With invincible force

I am bound to my dear.

O Lord, have mercy

On her and on me!

On her and on me!

On her and on me!

The voice ceased. It was a lackey’s tenor and a lackey’s song. Another voice, a woman’s, suddenly asked insinuatingly and bashfully, though with mincing affectation:

“Why haven’t you been to see us for so long, Pavel Fyodorovitch? Why do you always look down upon us?”

“Not at all answered a man’s voice politely, but with emphatic dignity. It was clear that the man had the best of the position, and that the woman was making advances. “I believe the man must be Smerdyakov,” thought Alyosha, “from his voice. And the lady must be the daughter of the house here, who has come from Moscow, the one who wears the dress with a tail and goes to Marfa for soup.”

“I am awfully fond of verses of all kinds, if they rhyme,” the woman’s voice continued. “Why don’t you go on?”

The man sang again:

What do I care for royal wealth

If but my dear one be in health?

Lord have mercy

On her and on me!

On her and on me!

On her and on me!

“It was even better last time,” observed the woman’s voice. “You sang ‘If my darling be in health’; it sounded more tender. I suppose you’ve forgotten to-day.”

“Poetry is rubbish!” said Smerdyakov curtly.

“Oh, no! I am very fond of poetry.”

“So far as it’s poetry, it’s essential rubbish. Consider yourself, who ever talks in rhyme? And if we were all to talk in rhyme, even though it were decreed by government, we shouldn’t say much, should we? Poetry is no good, Marya Kondratyevna.”

“How clever you are! How is it you’ve gone so deep into everything?” The woman’s voice was more and more insinuating.

“I could have done better than that. I could have known more than that, if it had not been for my destiny from my childhood up. I would have shot a man in a duel if he called me names because I am descended from a filthy beggar and have no father. And they used to throw it in my teeth in Moscow. It had reached them from here, thanks to Grigory Vassilyevitch. Grigory Vassilyevitch blames me for rebelling against my birth, but I would have sanctioned their killing me before I was born that I might not have come into the world at all. They used to say in the market, and your mamma too, with great lack of delicacy, set off telling me that her hair was like a mat on her head, and that she was short of five foot by a wee bit. Why talk of a wee bit while she might have said ‘a little bit,’ like everyone else? She wanted to make it touching, a regular peasant’s feeling. Can a Russian peasant be said to feel, in comparison with an educated man? He can’t be said to have feeling at all, in his ignorance. From my childhood up when I hear ‘a wee bit,’ I am ready to burst with rage. I hate all Russia, Marya Kondratyevna.”

“If you’d been a cadet in the army, or a young hussar, you wouldn’t have talked like that, but would have drawn your sabre to defend all Russia.”

“I don’t want to be a hussar, Marya Kondratyevna, and, what’s more, I should like to abolish all soldiers.”

“And when an enemy comes, who is going to defend us?”

“There’s no need of defence. In 1812 there was a great invasion of Russia by Napoleon, first Emperor of the French, father of the present one, and it would have been a good thing if they had conquered us. A clever nation would have conquered a very stupid one and annexed it. We should have had quite different institutions.”

“Are they so much better in their own country than we are? I wouldn’t change a dandy I know of for three young englishmen,” observed Marya Kondratyevna tenderly, doubtless accompanying her words with a most languishing glance.

“That’s as one prefers.”

“But you are just like a foreigner — just like a most gentlemanly foreigner. I tell you that, though it makes me bashful.”

“If you care to know, the folks there and ours here are just alike in their vice. They are swindlers, only there the scoundrel wears polished boots and here he grovels in filth and sees no harm in it. The Russian people want thrashing, as Fyodor Pavlovitch said very truly yesterday, though he is mad, and all his children.”

“You said yourself you had such a respect for Ivan Fyodorovitch.”

“But he said I was a stinking lackey. He thinks that I might be unruly. He is mistaken there. If I had a certain sum in my pocket, I would have left here long ago. Dmitri Fyodorovitch is lower than any lackey in his behaviour, in his mind, and in his poverty. He doesn’t know how to do anything, and yet he is respected by everyone. I may be only a soup-maker, but with luck I could open a cafe restaurant in Petrovka, in Moscow, for my cookery is something special, and there’s no one in Moscow, except the foreigners, whose cookery is anything special. Dmitri Fyodorovitch is a beggar, but if he were to challenge the son of the first count in the country, he’d fight him. Though in what way is he better than I am? For he is ever so much stupider than I am. Look at the money he has wasted without any need!”

“It must be lovely, a duel,” Marya Kondratyevna observed suddenly.

“How so?”

“It must be so dreadful and so brave, especially when young officers with pistols in their hands pop at one another for the sake of some lady. A perfect picture! Ah, if only girls were allowed to look on, I’d give anything to see one!”

“It’s all very well when you are firing at someone, but when he is firing straight in your mug, you must feel pretty silly. You’d be glad to run away, Marya Kondratyevna.”

“You don’t mean you would run away?” But Smerdyakov did not deign to reply. After a moment’s silence the guitar tinkled again, and he sang again in the same falsetto:

Whatever you may say,

I shall go far away.

Life will be bright and gay

In the city far away.

I shall not grieve,

I shall not grieve at all,

I don’t intend to grieve at all.

Then something unexpected happened. Alyosha suddenly sneezed. They were silent. Alyosha got up and walked towards them. He found Smerdyakov dressed up and wearing polished boots, his hair pomaded, and perhaps curled. The guitar lay on the garden-seat. His companion was the daughter of the house, wearing a light-blue dress with a train two yards long. She was young and would not have been bad-looking, but that her face was so round and terribly freckled.

“Will my brother Dmitri soon be back? asked Alyosha with as much composure as he could.

Smerdyakov got up slowly; Marya Kondratyevna rose too.

“How am I to know about Dmitri Fyodorovitch? It’s not as if I were his keeper,” answered Smerdyakov quietly, distinctly, and superciliously.

“But I simply asked whether you do know?” Alyosha explained.

“I know nothing of his whereabouts and don’t want to.”

“But my brother told me that you let him know all that goes on in the house, and promised to let him know when Agrafena Alexandrovna comes.”

Smerdyakov turned a deliberate, unmoved glance upon him.

“And how did you get in this time, since the gate was bolted an hour ago?” he asked, looking at Alyosha.

“I came in from the back-alley, over the fence, and went straight to the summer-house. I hope you’ll forgive me, he added addressing Marya Kondratyevna. “I was in a hurry to find my brother.”

“Ach, as though we could take it amiss in you!” drawled Marya Kondratyevna, flattered by Alyosha’s apology. “For Dmitri Fyodorovitch often goes to the summer-house in that way. We don’t know he is here and he is sitting in the summer-house.”

“I am very anxious to find him, or to learn from you where he is now. Believe me, it’s on business of great importance to him.”

“He never tells us,” lisped Marya Kondratyevna.

“Though I used to come here as a friend,” Smerdyakov began again, “Dmitri Fyodorovitch has pestered me in a merciless way even here by his incessant questions about the master. ‘What news?’ he’ll ask. ‘What’s going on in there now? Who’s coming and going?’ and can’t I tell him something more. Twice already he’s threatened me with death

“With death?” Alyosha exclaimed in surprise.

“Do you suppose he’d think much of that, with his temper, which you had a chance of observing yourself yesterday? He says if I let Agrafena Alexandrovna in and she passes the night there, I’ll be the first to suffer for it. I am terribly afraid of him, and if I were not even more afraid of doing so, I ought to let the police know. God only knows what he might not do!”

“His honour said to him the other day, ‘I’ll pound you in a mortar!’” added Marya Kondratyevna.

“Oh, if it’s pounding in a mortar, it may be only talk,” observed Alyosha. “If I could meet him, I might speak to him about that too.”

“Well, the only thing I can tell you is this,” said Smerdyakov, as though thinking better of it; “I am here as an old friend and neighbour, and it would be odd if I didn’t come. On the other hand, Ivan Fyodorovitch sent me first thing this morning to your brother’s lodging in Lake Street, without a letter, but with a message to Dmitri Fyodorovitch to go to dine with him at the restaurant here, in the marketplace. I went, but didn’t find Dmitri Fyodorovitch at home, though it was eight o’clock. ‘He’s been here, but he is quite gone,’ those were the very words of his landlady. It’s as though there was an understanding between them. Perhaps at this moment he is in the restaurant with Ivan Fyodorovitch, for Ivan Fyodorovitch has not been home to dinner and Fyodor Pavlovitch dined alone an hour ago, and is gone to lie down. But I beg you most particularly not to speak of me and of what I have told you, for he’d kill me for nothing at all.”

“Brother Ivan invited Dmitri to the restaurant to-day?” repeated Alyosha quickly.

“That’s so.”

“The Metropolis tavern in the marketplace?”

“The very same.”

“That’s quite likely,” cried Alyosha, much excited. “Thank you, Smerdyakov; that’s important. I’ll go there at once.”

“Don’t betray me,” Smerdyakov called after him.

“Oh, no, I’ll go to the tavern as though by chance. Don’t be anxious.”

“But wait a minute, I’ll open the gate to you,” cried Marya Kondratyevna.

“No; it’s a short cut, I’ll get over the fence again.”

What he had heard threw Alyosha into great agitation. He ran to the tavern. It was impossible for him to go into the tavern in his monastic dress, but he could inquire at the entrance for his brothers and call them down. But just as he reached the tavern, a window was flung open, and his brother Ivan called down to him from it.

“Alyosha, can’t you come up here to me? I shall be awfully grateful.”

“To be sure I can, only I don’t quite know whether in this dress — ”

“But I am in a room apart. Come up the steps; I’ll run down to meet you.”

A minute later Alyosha was sitting beside his brother. Ivan was alone dining.

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