The Brothers Karamazov, by Fyodor Dostoyevsky

Chapter 6

For Awhile a Very Obscure One

AND Ivan, on parting from Alyosha, went home to Fyodor Pavlovitch’s house. But, strange to say, he was overcome by insufferable depression, which grew greater at every step he took towards the house. There was nothing strange in his being depressed; what was strange was that Ivan could not have said what was the cause of it. He had often been depressed before, and there was nothing surprising at his feeling so at such a moment, when he had broken off with everything had brought him here, and was preparing that day to make a new start and enter upon a new, unknown future. He would again be as solitary as ever, and though he had great hopes, and great — too great — expectations from life, he could not have given any definite account of his hopes, his expectations, or even his desires.

Yet at that moment, though the apprehension of the new and unknown certainly found place in his heart, what was worrying him was something quite different. “Is it loathing for my father’s house?” he wondered. “Quite likely; I am so sick of it; and though it’s the last time I shall cross its hateful threshold, still I loathe it. . . . No, it’s not that either. Is it the parting with Alyosha and the conversation I had with him? For so many years I’ve been silent with the whole world and not deigned to speak, and all of a sudden I reel off a rigmarole like that.” certainly might have been the youthful vexation of youthful inexperience and vanity — vexation at having failed to express himself, especially with such a being as Alyosha, on whom his heart had certainly been reckoning. No doubt that came in, that vexation, it must have done indeed; but yet that was not it, that was not it either. “I feel sick with depression and yet I can’t tell what I want. Better not think, perhaps.”

Ivan tried “not to think,” but that, too, was no use. What made his depression so vexatious and irritating was that it had a kind of casual, external character — he felt that. Some person or thing seemed to be standing out somewhere, just as something will sometimes obtrude itself upon the eye, and though one may be so busy with work or conversation that for a long time one does not notice it, yet it irritates and almost torments one till at last one realises, and removes the offending object, often quite a trifling and ridiculous one — some article left about in the wrong place, a handkerchief on the floor, a book not replaced on the shelf, and so on.

At last, feeling very cross and ill-humoured, Ivan arrived home, and suddenly, about fifteen paces from the garden gate, he guessed what was fretting and worrying him.

On a bench in the gateway the valet Smerdyakov was sitting enjoying the coolness of the evening, and at the first glance at him Ivan knew that the valet Smerdyakov was on his mind, and that it was this man that his soul loathed. It all dawned upon him suddenly and became clear. just before, when Alyosha had been telling him of his meeting with Smerdyakov, he had felt a sudden twinge of gloom and loathing, which had immediately stirred responsive anger in his heart. Afterwards, as he talked, Smerdyakov had been forgotten for the time; but still he had been in his mind, and as soon as Ivan parted with Alyosha and was walking home, the forgotten sensation began to obtrude itself again. “Is it possible that a miserable, contemptible creature like that can worry me so much?” he wondered, with insufferable irritation.

It was true that Ivan had come of late to feel an intense dislike for the man, especially during the last few days. He had even begun to notice in himself a growing feeling that was almost of hatred for the creature. Perhaps this hatred was accentuated by the fact that when Ivan first came to the neighbourhood he had felt quite differently. Then he had taken a marked interest in Smerdyakov, and had even thought him very original. He had encouraged him to talk to him, although he had always wondered at a certain incoherence, or rather restlessness, in his mind, and could not understand what it was that so continually and insistently worked upon the brain of “the contemplative.” They discussed philosophical questions and even how there could have been light on the first day when the sun, moon, and stars were only created on the fourth day, and how that was to be understood. But Ivan soon saw that, though the sun, moon, and stars might be an interesting subject, yet that it was quite secondary to Smerdyakov, and that he was looking for something altogether different. In one way and another, he began to betray a boundless vanity, and a wounded vanity, too, and that Ivan disliked. It had first given rise to his aversion. Later on, there had been trouble in the house. Grushenka had come on the scene, and there had been the scandals with his brother Dmitri — they discussed that, too. But though Smerdyakov always talked of that with great excitement, it was impossible to discover what he desired to come of it. There was, in fact, something surprising in the illogicality and incoherence of some of his desires, accidentally betrayed and always vaguely expressed. Smerdyakov was always inquiring, putting certain indirect but obviously premeditated questions, but what his object was he did not explain, and usually at the most important moment he would break off and relapse into silence or pass to another subject. But what finally irritated Ivan most and confirmed his dislike for him was the peculiar, revolting familiarity which Smerdyakov began to show more and more markedly. Not that he forgot himself and was rude; on the contrary, he always spoke very respectfully, yet he had obviously begun to consider — goodness knows why! — that there was some sort of understanding between him and Ivan Fyodorovitch. He always spoke in a tone that suggested that those two had some kind of compact, some secret between them, that had at some time been expressed on both sides, only known to them and beyond the comprehension of those around them. But for a long while Ivan did not recognise the real cause of his growing dislike and he had only lately realised what was at the root of it.

With a feeling of disgust and irritation he tried to pass in at the gate without speaking or looking at Smerdyakov. But Smerdyakov rose from the bench, and from that action alone, Ivan knew instantly that he wanted particularly to talk to him. Ivan looked at him and stopped, and the fact that he did stop, instead of passing by, as he meant to the minute before, drove him to fury. With anger and repulsion he looked at Smerdyakov’s emasculate, sickly face, with the little curls combed forward on his forehead. His left eye winked and he grinned as if to say, “Where are you going? You won’t pass by; you see that we two clever people have something to say to each other.”

Ivan shook. “Get away, miserable idiot. What have I to do with you?” was on the tip of his tongue, but to his profound astonishment he heard himself say, “Is my father still asleep, or has he waked?”

He asked the question softly and meekly, to his own surprise, and at once, again to his own surprise, sat down on the bench. For an instant he felt almost frightened; he remembered it afterwards. Smerdyakov stood facing him, his hands behind his back, looking at him with assurance and almost severity.

“His honour is still asleep,” he articulated deliberately (“You were the first to speak, not I,” he seemed to say). “I am surprised at you, sir,” he added, after a pause, dropping his eyes affectedly, setting his right foot forward, and playing with the tip of his polished boot.

“Why are you surprised at me?” Ivan asked abruptly and sullenly, doing his utmost to restrain himself, and suddenly realising, with disgust, that he was feeling intense curiosity and would not, on any account, have gone away without satisfying it.

“Why don’t you go to Tchermashnya, sir?” Smerdyakov suddenly raised his eyes and smiled familiarly. “Why I smile you must understand of yourself, if you are a clever man,” his screwed-up left eye seemed to say.

“Why should I go to Tchermashnya?” Ivan asked in surprise.

Smerdyakov was silent again.

“Fyodor Pavlovitch himself has so begged you to,” he said at last, slowly and apparently attaching no significance to his answer. “I put you off with a secondary reason,” he seemed to suggest, “simply to say something.”

“Damn you! Speak out what you want!” Ivan cried angrily at last, passing from meekness to violence.

Smerdyakov drew his right foot up to his left, pulled himself up, but still looked at him with the same serenity and the same little smile.

“Substantially nothing — but just by way of conversation.”

Another silence followed. They did not speak for nearly a minute. Ivan knew that he ought to get up and show anger, and Smerdyakov stood before him and seemed to be waiting as though to see whether he would be angry or not. So at least it seemed to Ivan. At last he moved to get up. Smerdyakov seemed to seize the moment.

“I’m in an awful position, Ivan Fyodorovitch. I don’t know how to help myself,” he said resolutely and distinctly, and at his last word he sighed. Ivan Fyodorovitch sat down again.

“They are both utterly crazy, they are no better than little children,” Smerdyakov went on. “I am speaking of your parent and your brother Dmitri Fyodorovitch. Here Fyodor Pavlovitch will get up directly and begin worrying me every minute, ‘Has she come? Why hasn’t she come?’ and so on up till midnight and even after midnight. And if Agrafena Alexandrovna doesn’t come (for very likely she does not mean to come at all) then he will be at me again to-morrow morning, ‘Why hasn’t she come? When will she come?’ — as though I were to blame for it. On the other side it’s no better. As soon as it gets dark, or even before, your brother will appear with his gun in his hands: ‘Look out, you rogue, you soup-maker. If you miss her and don’t let me know she’s been — I’ll kill you before anyone.’ When the night’s over, in the morning, he, too, like Fyodor Pavlovitch, begins worrying me to death. ‘Why hasn’t she come? Will she come soon?’ And he, too, thinks me to blame because his lady hasn’t come. And every day and every hour they get angrier and angrier, so that I sometimes think I shall kill myself in a fright. I can’t depend them, sir.”

“And why have you meddled? Why did you begin to spy for Dmitri Fyodorovitch?” said Ivan irritably.

“How could I help meddling? Though, indeed, I haven’t meddled at all, if you want to know the truth of the matter. I kept quiet from the very beginning, not daring to answer; but he pitched on me to be his servant. He has had only one thing to say since: ‘I’ll kill you, you scoundrel, if you miss her.’ I feel certain, sir, that I shall have a long fit to-morrow.”

“What do you mean by ‘a long fit’?”

“A long fit, lasting a long time — several hours, or perhaps a day or two. Once it went on for three days. I fell from the garret that time. The struggling ceased and then began again, and for three days I couldn’t come back to my senses. Fyodor Pavlovitch sent for Herzenstube, the doctor here, and he put ice on my head and tried another remedy, too. . . . I might have died.”

“But they say one can’t tell with epilepsy when a fit is coming. What makes you say you will have one to-morrow?” Ivan inquired, with a peculiar, irritable curiosity.

“That’s just so. You can’t tell beforehand.”

“Besides, you fell from the garret then.”

“I climb up to the garret every day. I might fall from the garret again to-morrow. And, if not, I might fall down the cellar steps. I have to go into the cellar every day, too.”

Ivan took a long look at him.

“You are talking nonsense, I see, and I don’t quite understand you,” he said softly, but with a sort of menace. “Do you mean to pretend to be ill to-morrow for three days, eh?”

Smerdyakov, who was looking at the ground again, and playing with the toe of his right foot, set the foot down, moved the left one forward, and, grinning, articulated:

“If I were able to play such a trick, that is, pretend to have a fit — and it would not be difficult for a man accustomed to them — I should have a perfect right to use such a means to save myself from death. For even if Agrafena Alexandrovna comes to see his father while I am ill, his honour can’t blame a sick man for not telling him. He’d be ashamed to.”

“Hang it all!” Ivan cried, his face working with anger, “Why are you always in such a funk for your life? All my brother Dmitri’s threats are only hasty words and mean nothing. He won’t kill you; it’s not you he’ll kill!”

“He’d kill me first of all, like a fly. But even more than that, I am afraid I shall be taken for an accomplice of his when he does something crazy to his father.”

“Why should you be taken for an accomplice?”

“They’ll think I am an accomplice, because I let him know the signals as a great secret.”

“What signals? Whom did you tell? Confound you, speak more plainly.”

“I’m bound to admit the fact,” Smerdyakov drawled with pedantic composure, “that I have a secret with Fyodor Pavlovitch in this business. As you know yourself (if only you do know it) he has for several days past locked himself in as soon as night or even evening comes on. Of late you’ve been going upstairs to your room early every evening, and yesterday you did not come down at all, and so perhaps you don’t know how carefully he has begun to lock himself in at night, and even if Grigory Vassilyevitch comes to the door he won’t open to him till he hears his voice. But Grigory Vassilyevitch does not come, because I wait upon him alone in his room now. That’s the arrangement he made himself ever since this to-do with Agrafena Alexandrovna began. But at night, by his orders, I go away to the lodge so that I don’t get to sleep till midnight, but am on the watch, getting up and walking about the yard, waiting for Agrafena Alexandrovna to come. For the last few days he’s been perfectly frantic expecting her. What he argues is, she is afraid of him, Dmitri Fyodorovitch (Mitya, as he calls him), ‘and so,’ says he, ‘she’ll come the back-way, late at night, to me. You look out for her,’ says he, ‘till midnight and later; and if she does come, you run up and knock at my door or at the window from the garden. Knock at first twice, rather gently, and then three times more quickly, then,’ says he, ‘I shall understand at once that she has come, and will open the door to you quietly.’ Another signal he gave me in case anything unexpected happens. At first, two knocks, and then, after an interval, another much louder. Then he will understand that something has happened suddenly and that I must see him, and he will open to me so that I can go and speak to him. That’s all in case Agrafena Alexandrovna can’t come herself, but sends a message. Besides, Dmitri Fyodorovitch might come, too, so I must let him know he is near. His honour is awfully afraid of Dmitri Fyodorovitch, so that even if Agrafena Alexandrovna had come and were locked in with him, and Dmitri Fyodorovitch were to turn up anywhere near at the time, I should be bound to let him know at once, knocking three times. So that the first signal of five knocks means Agrafena Alexandrovna has come, while the second signal of three knocks means ‘something important to tell you.’ His honour has shown me them several times and explained them. And as in the whole universe no one knows of these signals but myself and his honour, so he’d open the door without the slightest hesitation and without calling out (he is awfully afraid of calling out aloud). Well, those signals are known to Dmitri Fyodorovitch too, now.”

“How are they known? Did you tell him? How dared you tell him?”

“It was through fright I did it. How could I dare to keep it back from him? Dmitri Fyodorovitch kept persisting every day, ‘You are deceiving me, you are hiding something from me! I’ll break both your legs for you.’ So I told him those secret signals that he might see my slavish devotion, and might be satisfied that I was not deceiving him, but was telling him all I could.”

“If you think that he’ll make use of those signals and try to get in, don’t let him in.”

“But if I should be laid up with a fit, how can I prevent him coming in then, even if I dared prevent him, knowing how desperate he is?”

“Hang it! How can you be so sure you are going to have a fit, confound you? Are you laughing at me?”

“How could I dare laugh at you? I am in no laughing humour with this fear on me. I feel I am going to have a fit. I have a presentiment. Fright alone will bring it on.”

“Confound it! If you are laid up, Grigory will be on the watch. Let Grigory know beforehand; he will be sure not to let him in.”

“I should never dare to tell Grigory Vassilyevitch about the signals without orders from my master. And as for Grigory Vassilyevitch hearing him and not admitting him, he has been ill ever since yesterday, and Marfa Ignatyevna intends to give him medicine to-morrow. They’ve just arranged it. It’s a very strange remedy of hers. Marfa Ignatyevna knows of a preparation and always keeps it. It’s a strong thing made from some herb. She has the secret of it, and she always gives it to Grigory Vassilyevitch three times a year when his lumbago’s so bad he is almost paralysed by it. Then she takes a towel, wets it with the stuff, and rubs his whole back for half an hour till it’s quite red and swollen, and what’s left in the bottle she gives him to drink with a special prayer; but not quite all, for on such occasions she leaves some for herself, and drinks it herself. And as they never take strong drink, I assure you they both drop asleep at once and sleep sound a very long time. And when Grigory Vassilyevitch wakes up he is perfectly well after it, but Marfa Ignatyevna always has a headache from it. So, if Marfa Ignatyevna carries out her intention to-morrow, they won’t hear anything and hinder Dmitri Fyodorovitch. They’ll be asleep.”

“What a rigmarole! And it all seems to happen at once, as though it were planned. You’ll have a fit and they’ll both be unconscious,” cried Ivan. “But aren’t you trying to arrange it so?” broke from him suddenly, and he frowned threateningly.

“How could I? . . . And why should I, when it all depends on Dmitri Fyodorovitch and his plans? . . . If he means to do anything, he’ll do it; but if not, I shan’t be thrusting him upon his father.”

“And why should he go to father, especially on the sly, if, as you say yourself, Agrafena Alexandrovna won’t come at all?” Ivan went on, turning white with anger. “You say that yourself, and all the while I’ve been here, I’ve felt sure it was all the old man’s fancy, and the creature won’t come to him. Why should Dmitri break in on him if she doesn’t come? Speak, I want to know what you are thinking!”

“You know yourself why he’ll come. What’s the use of what I think? His honour will come simply because he is in a rage or suspicious on account of my illness perhaps, and he’ll dash in, as he did yesterday through impatience to search the rooms, to see whether she hasn’t escaped him on the sly. He is perfectly well aware, too, that Fyodor Pavlovitch has a big envelope with three thousand roubles in it, tied up with ribbon and sealed with three seals. On it is written in his own hand ‘To my angel Grushenka, if she will come,’ to which he added three days later, ‘for my little chicken.’ There’s no knowing what that might do.”

“Nonsense!” cried Ivan, almost beside himself. “Dmitri won’t come to steal money and kill my father to do it. He might have killed him yesterday on account of Grushenka, like the frantic, savage fool he is, but he won’t steal.”

“He is in very great need of money now — the greatest need, Ivan Fyodorovitch. You don’t know in what need he is,” Smerdyakov explained, with perfect composure and remarkable distinctness. “He looks on that three thousand as his own, too. He said so to me himself. ‘My father still owes me just three thousand,’ he said. And besides that, consider, Ivan Fyodorovitch, there is something else perfectly true. It’s as good as certain, so to say, that Agrafena Alexandrovna will force him, if only she cares to, to marry her — the master himself, I mean, Fyodor Pavlovitch — if only she cares to, and of course she may care to. All I’ve said is that she won’t come, but maybe she’s looking for more than that — I mean to be mistress here. I know myself that Samsonov, her merchant, was laughing with her about it, telling her quite openly that it would not be at all a stupid thing to do. And she’s got plenty of sense. She wouldn’t marry a beggar like Dmitri Fyodorovitch. So, taking that into consideration, Ivan Fyodorovitch, reflect that then neither Dmitri Fyodorovitch nor yourself and your brother, Alexey Fyodorovitch, would have anything after the master’s death, not a rouble, for Agrafena Alexandrovna would marry him simply to get hold of the whole, all the money there is. But if your father were to die now, there’d be some forty thousand for sure, even for Dmitri Fyodorovitch whom he hates so, for he’s made no will. . . . Dmitri Fyodorovitch knows all that very well.”

A sort of shudder passed over Ivan’s face. He suddenly flushed.

“Then why on earth,” he suddenly interrupted Smerdyakov, “do you advise me to go to Tchermashnya? What did you mean by that? If I go away, you see what will happen here.” Ivan drew his breath with difficulty.

“Precisely so,” said Smerdyakov, softly and reasonably, watching Ivan intently, however.

“What do you mean by ‘precisely so’?” Ivan questioned him, with a menacing light in his eyes, restraining himself with difficulty.

“I spoke because I felt sorry for you. If I were in your place I should simply throw it all up . . . rather than stay on in such a position,” answered Smerdyakov, with the most candid air looking at Ivan’s flashing eyes. They were both silent.

“You seem to be a perfect idiot, and what’s more . . . an awful scoundrel, too.” Ivan rose suddenly from the bench. He was about to pass straight through the gate, but he stopped short and turned to Smerdyakov. Something strange followed. Ivan, in a sudden paroxysm, bit his lip, clenched his fists, and, in another minute, would have flung himself on Smerdyakov. The latter, anyway, noticed it at the same moment, started, and shrank back. But the moment passed without mischief to Smerdyakov, and Ivan turned in silence, as it seemed in perplexity, to the gate.

“I am going away to Moscow to-morrow, if you care to know — early to-morrow morning. That’s all!” he suddenly said aloud angrily, and wondered himself afterwards what need there was to say this then to Smerdyakov.

“That’s the best thing you can do,” he responded, as though he had expected to hear it; “except that you can always be telegraphed for from Moscow, if anything should happen here.”

Ivan stopped again, and again turned quickly to Smerdyakov. But a change had passed over him, too. All his familiarity and carelessnes had completely disappeared. His face expressed attention and expectation, intent but timid and cringing.

“Haven’t you something more to say — something to add?” could be read in the intent gaze he fixed on Ivan.

“And couldn’t I be sent for from Tchermashnya, too — in case anything happened?” Ivan shouted suddenly, for some unknown reason raising his voice.

“From Tchermashnya, too . . . you could be sent for,” Smerdyakov muttered, almost in a whisper, looking disconcerted, but gazing intently into Ivan’s eyes.

“Only Moscow is farther and Tchermashnya is nearer. Is it to save my spending money on the fare, or to save my going so far out of my way, that you insist on Tchermashnya?”

“Precisely so . . . ” muttered Smerdyakov, with a breaking voice. He looked at Ivan with a revolting smile, and again made ready to draw back. But to his astonishment Ivan broke into a laugh, and went through the gate still laughing. Anyone who had seen his face at that moment would have known that he was not laughing from lightness of heart, and he could not have explained himself what he was feeling at that instant. He moved and walked as though in a nervous frenzy.

http://ebooks.adelaide.edu.au/d/dostoyevsky/d72b/chapter37.html

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