The Brothers Karamazov, by Fyodor Dostoyevsky

Book VIII

Mitya

Chapter 1

Kuzma Samsonov

BUT Dmitri, to whom Grushenka, flying away to a new life, had left her last greetings, bidding him remember the hour of her love for ever, knew nothing of what had happened to her, and was at that moment in a condition of feverish agitation and activity. For the last two days he had been in such an inconceivable state of mind that he might easily have fallen ill with brain fever, as he said himself afterwards. Alyosha had not been able to find him the morning before, and Ivan had not succeeded in meeting him at the tavern on the same day. The people at his lodgings, by his orders, concealed his movements.

He had spent those two days literally rushing in all directions, “struggling with his destiny and trying to save himself,” as he expressed it himself afterwards, and for some hours he even made a dash out of the town on urgent business, terrible as it was to him to lose sight of Grushenka for a moment. All this was explained afterwards in detail, and confirmed by documentary evidence; but for the present we will only note the most essential incidents of those two terrible days immediately preceding the awful catastrophe that broke so suddenly upon him.

Though Grushenka had, it is true, loved him for an hour, genuinely and sincerely, yet she tortured him sometimes cruelly and mercilessly. The worst of it was that he could never tell what she meant to do. To prevail upon her by force or kindness was also impossible: she would yield to nothing. She would only have become angry and turned away from him altogether, he knew that well already. He suspected, quite correctly, that she, too, was passing through an inward struggle, and was in a state of extraordinary indecision, that she was making up her mind to something, and unable to determine upon it. And so, not without good reason, he divined, with a sinking heart, that at moments she must simply hate him and his passion. And so, perhaps, it was, but what was distressing Grushenka he did not understand. For him the whole tormenting question lay between him and Fyodor Pavlovitch.

Here, we must note, by the way, one certain fact: he was firmly persuaded that Fyodor Pavlovitch would offer, or perhaps had offered, Grushenka lawful wedlock, and did not for a moment believe that the old voluptuary hoped to gain his object for three thousand roubles. Mitya had reached this conclusion from his knowledge of Grushenka and her character. That was how it was that he could believe at times that all Grushenka’s uneasiness rose from not knowing which of them to choose, which was most to her advantage.

Strange to say, during those days it never occurred to him to think of the approaching return of the “officer,” that is, of the man who had been such a fatal influence in Grushenka’s life, and whose arrival she was expecting with such emotion and dread. It is true that of late Grushenka had been very silent about it. Yet he was perfectly aware of a letter she had received a month ago from her seducer, and had heard of it from her own lips. He partly knew, too, what the letter contained. In a moment of spite Grushenka had shown him that letter, but to her astonishment he attached hardly any consequence to it. It would be hard to say why this was. Perhaps, weighed down by all the hideous horror of his struggle with his own father for this woman, he was incapable of imagining any danger more terrible, at any rate for the time. He simply did not believe in a suitor who suddenly turned up again after five years’ disappearance, still less in his speedy arrival. Moreover, in the “officer’s” first letter which had been shown to Mitya, the possibility of his new rival’s visit was very vaguely suggested. The letter was very indefinite, high-flown, and full of sentimentality. It must be noted that Grushenka had concealed from him the last lines of the letter, in which his return was alluded to more definitely. He had, besides, noticed at that moment, he remembered afterwards, a certain involuntary proud contempt for this missive from Siberia on Grushenka’s face. Grushenka told him nothing of what had passed later between her and this rival; so that by degrees he had completely forgotten the officer’s existence.

He felt that whatever might come later, whatever turn things might take, his final conflict with Fyodor Pavlovitch was close upon him, and must be decided before anything else. With a sinking heart he was expecting every moment Grushenka’s decision, always believing that it would come suddenly, on the impulse of the moment. All of a sudden she would say to him: “Take me, I’m yours for ever,” and it would all be over. He would seize her and bear her away at once to the ends of the earth. Oh, then he would bear her away at once, as far, far away as possible; to the farthest end of Russia, if not of the earth, then he would marry her, and settle down with her incognito, so that no one would know anything about them, there, here, or anywhere. Then, oh then, a new life would begin at once!

Of this different, reformed and “virtuous” life (“it must, it must be virtuous”) he dreamed feverishly at every moment. He thirsted for that reformation and renewal. The filthy morass, in which he had sunk of his own free will, was too revolting to him, and, like very many men in such cases, he put faith above all in change of place. If only it were not for these people, if only it were not for these circumstances, if only he could fly away from this accursed place — he would be altogether regenerated, would enter on a new path. That was what he believed in, and what he was yearning for.

But all this could only be on condition of the first, the happy solution of the question. There was another possibility, a different and awful ending. Suddenly she might say to him: “Go away. I have just come to terms with Fyodor Pavlovitch. I am going to marry him and don’t want you” — and then . . . but then . . . But Mitya did not know what would happen then. Up to the last hour he didn’t know. That must be said to his credit. He had no definite intentions, had planned no crime. He was simply watching and spying in agony, while he prepared himself for the first, happy solution of his destiny. He drove away any other idea, in fact. But for that ending a quite different anxiety arose, a new, incidental, but yet fatal and insoluble difficulty presented itself.

If she were to say to him: “I’m yours; take me away,” how could he take her away? Where had he the means, the money to do it? It was just at this time that all sources of revenue from Fyodor Pavlovitch, doles which had gone on without interruption for so many years, ceased. Grushenka had money, of course, but with regard to this Mitya suddenly evinced extraordinary pride; he wanted to carry her away and begin the new life with her himself, at his own expense, not at hers. He could not conceive of taking her money, and the very idea caused him a pang of intense repulsion. I won’t enlarge on this fact or analyse it here, but confine myself to remarking that this was his attitude at the moment. All this may have arisen indirectly and unconsciously from the secret stings of his conscience for the money of Katerina Ivanovna that he had dishonestly appropriated. “I’ve been a scoundrel to one of them, and I shall be a scoundrel again to the other directly,” was his feeling then, as he explained after: “and when Grushenka knows, she won’t care for such a scoundrel.”

Where then was he to get the means, where was he to get the fateful money? Without it, all would be lost and nothing could be done, “and only because I hadn’t the money. Oh, the shame of it!”

To anticipate things: he did, perhaps, know where to get the money, knew, perhaps, where it lay at that moment. I will say no more of this here, as it will all be clear later. But his chief trouble, I must explain however obscurely, lay in the fact that to have that sum he knew of, to have the right to take it, he must first restore Katerina Ivanovna’s three thousand — if not, “I’m a common pick-pocket, I’m a scoundrel, and I don’t want to begin a new life as a scoundrel,” Mitya decided. And so he made up his mind to move heaven and earth to return Katerina Ivanovna that three thousand, and that first of all. The final stage of this decision, so to say, had been reached only during the last hours, that is, after his last interview with Alyosha, two days before, on the high-road, on the evening when Grushenka had insulted Katerina Ivanovna, and Mitya, after hearing Alyosha’s account of it, had admitted that he was a scoundrel, and told him to tell Katerina Ivanovna so, if it could be any comfort to her. After parting from his brother on that night, he had felt in his frenzy that it would be better “to murder and rob someone than fail to pay my debt to Katya. I’d rather everyone thought me a robber and a murderer; I’d rather go to Siberia than that Katya should have the right to say that I deceived her and stole her money, and used her money to run away with Grushenka and begin a new life! That I can’t do!” So Mitya decided, grinding his teeth, and he might well fancy at times that his brain would give way. But meanwhile he went on struggling. . . .

Strange to say, though one would have supposed there was nothing left for him but despair — for what chance had he, with nothing in the world, to raise such a sum? — yet to the very end he persisted in hoping that he would get that three thousand, that the money would somehow come to him of itself, as though it might drop from heaven. That is just how it is with people who, like Dmitri, have never had anything to do with money, except to squander what has come to them by inheritance without any effort of their own, and have no notion how money is obtained. A whirl of the most fantastic notions took possession of his brain immediately after he had parted with Alyosha two days before, and threw his thoughts into a tangle of confusion. This is how it was he pitched first on a perfectly wild enterprise. And perhaps to men of that kind in such circumstances the most impossible, fantastic schemes occur first, and seem most practical.

He suddenly determined to go to Samsonov, the merchant who was Grushenka’s protector, and to propose a “scheme” to him, and by means of it to obtain from him at once the whole of the sum required. Of the commercial value of his scheme he had no doubt, not the slightest, and was only uncertain how Samsonov would look upon his freak, supposing he were to consider it from any but the commercial point of view. Though Mitya knew the merchant by sight, he was not acquainted with him and had never spoken a word to him. But for some unknown reason he had long entertained the conviction that the old reprobate, who was lying at death’s door, would perhaps not at all object now to Grushenka’s securing a respectable position, and marrying a man “to be depended upon.” And he believed not only that he would not object, but that this was what he desired, and, if opportunity arose, that he would be ready to help. From some rumour, or perhaps from some stray word of Grushenka’s, he had gathered further that the old man would perhaps prefer him to Fyodor Pavlovitch for Grushenka.

Possibly many of the readers of my novel will feel that in reckoning on such assistance, and being ready to take his bride, so to speak, from the hands of her protector, Dmitri showed great coarseness and want of delicacy. I will only observe that Mitya looked upon Grushenka’s past as something completely over. He looked on that past with infinite pity and resolved with all the fervour of his passion that when once Grushenka told him she loved him and would marry him, it would mean the beginning of a new Grushenka and a new Dmitri, free from every vice. They would forgive one another and would begin their lives afresh. As for Kuzma Samsonov, Dmitri looked upon him as a man who had exercised a fateful influence in that remote past of Grushenka’s, though she had never loved him, and who was now himself a thing of the past, completely done with, and, so to say, non-existent. Besides, Mitya hardly looked upon him as a man at all, for it was known to everyone in the town that he was only a shattered wreck, whose relations with Grushenka had changed their character and were now simply paternal, and that this had been so for a long time.

In any case there was much simplicity on Mitya’s part in all this, for in spite of all his vices, he was a very simple-hearted man. It was an instance of this simplicity that Mitya was seriously persuaded that, being on the eve of his departure for the next world, old Kuzma must sincerely repent of his past relations with Grushenka, and that she had no more devoted friend and protector in the world than this, now harmless, old man.

After his conversation with Alyosha, at the cross-roads, he hardly slept all night, and at ten o’clock next morning, he was at the house of Samsonov and telling the servant to announce him. It was a very large and gloomy old house of two stories, with a lodge and outhouses. In the lower story lived Samsonov’s two married sons with their families, his old sister, and his unmarried daughter. In the lodge lived two of his clerks, one of whom also had a large family. Both the lodge and the lower story were overcrowded, but the old man kept the upper floor to himself, and would not even let the daughter live there with him, though she waited upon him, and in spite of her asthma was obliged at certain fixed hours, and at any time he might call her, to run upstairs to him from below.

This upper floor contained a number of large rooms kept purely for show, furnished in the old-fashioned merchant style, with long monotonous rows of clumsy mahogany chairs along the walls, with glass chandeliers under shades, and gloomy mirrors on the walls. All these rooms were entirely empty and unused, for the old man kept to one room, a small, remote bedroom, where he was waited upon by an old servant with a kerchief on her head, and by a lad, who used to sit on the locker in the passage. Owing to his swollen legs, the old man could hardly walk at all, and was only rarely lifted from his leather armchair, when the old woman supporting him led him up and down the room once or twice. He was morose and taciturn even with this old woman.

When he was informed of the arrival of the “captain,” he at once refused to see him. But Mitya persisted and sent his name up again. Samsonov questioned the lad minutely: What he looked like? Whether he was drunk? Was he going to make a row? The answer he received was: that he was sober, but wouldn’t go away. The old man again refused to see him. Then Mitya, who had foreseen this, and purposely brought pencil and paper with him, wrote clearly on the piece of paper the words: “On most important business closely concerning Agrafena Alexandrovna,” and sent it up to the old man.

After thinking a little Samsonov told the lad to take the visitor to the drawing-room, and sent the old woman downstairs with a summons to his younger son to come upstairs to him at once. This younger son, a man over six foot and of exceptional physical strength, who was closely-shaven and dressed in the European style, though his father still wore a kaftan and a beard, came at once without a comment. All the family trembled before the father. The old man had sent for this giant, not because he was afraid of the “captain” (he was by no means of a timorous temper), but in order to have a witness in case of any emergency. Supported by his son and the servant lad, he waddled at last into the drawing-room. It may be assumed that he felt considerable curiosity. The drawing-room in which Mitya was awaiting him was a vast, dreary room that laid a weight of depression on the heart. It had a double row of windows, a gallery, marbled walls, and three immense chandeliers with glass lustres covered with shades.

Mitya was sitting on a little chair at the entrance, awaiting his fate with nervous impatience. When the old man appeared at the opposite door, seventy feet away, Mitya jumped up at once, and with his long, military stride walked to meet him. Mitya was well dressed, in a frock-coat, buttoned up, with a round hat and black gloves in his hands, just as he had been three days before at the elder’s, at the family meeting with his father and brothers. The old man waited for him, standing dignified and unbending, and Mitya felt at once that he had looked him through and through as he advanced. Mitya was greatly impressed, too, with Samsonov’s immensely swollen face. His lower lip, which had always been thick, hung down now, looking like a bun. He bowed to his guest in dignified silence, motioned him to a low chair by the sofa, and, leaning on his son’s arm he began lowering himself on to the sofa opposite, groaning painfully, so that Mitya, seeing his painful exertions, immediately felt remorseful and sensitively conscious of his insignificance in the presence of the dignified person he had ventured to disturb.

“What is it you want of me, sir?” said the old man, deliberately, distinctly, severely, but courteously, when he was at last seated.

Mitya started, leapt up, but sat down again. Then he began at once speaking with loud, nervous haste, gesticulating, and in a positive frenzy. He was unmistakably a man driven into a corner, on the brink of ruin, catching at the last straw, ready to sink if he failed. Old Samsonov probably grasped all this in an instant, though his face remained cold and immovable as a statue’s.

“Most honoured sir, Kuzma Kuzmitch, you have no doubt heard more than once of my disputes with my father, Fyodor Pavlovitch Karamazov, who robbed me of my inheritance from my mother . . . seeing the whole town is gossiping about it . . . for here everyone’s gossiping of what they shouldn’t . . . and besides, it might have reached you through Grushenka . . . I beg your pardon, through Agrafena Alexandrovna . . . Agrafena Alexandrovna, the lady of whom I have the highest respect and esteem . . . ”

So Mitya began, and broke down at the first sentence. We will not reproduce his speech word for word, but will only summarise the gist of it. Three months ago, he said, he had of express intention (Mitya purposely used these words instead of “intentionally”) consulted a lawyer in the chief town of the province, “a distinguished lawyer, Kuzma Kuzmitch, Pavel Pavlovitch Korneplodov. You have perhaps heard of him? A man of vast intellect, the mind of a statesman . . . he knows you, too . . . spoke of you in the highest terms . . . ” Mitya broke down again. But these breaks did not deter him. He leapt instantly over the gaps, and struggled on and on.

This Korneplodov, after questioning him minutely, and inspecting the documents he was able to bring him (Mitya alluded somewhat vaguely to these documents, and slurred over the subject with special haste), reported that they certainly might take proceedings concerning the village of Tchermashnya, which ought, he said, to have come to him, Mitya, from his mother, and so checkmate the old villain, his father . . . “because every door was not closed and justice might still find a loophole.” In fact, he might reckon on an additional sum of six or even seven thousand roubles from Fyodor Pavlovitch, as Tchermashnya was worth, at least, twenty-five thousand, he might say twenty-eight thousand, in fact, “thirty, thirty, Kuzma Kuzmitch, and would you believe it, I didn’t get seventeen from that heartless man!” So he, Mitya, had thrown the business up for the time, knowing nothing about the law, but on coming here was struck dumb by a cross — claim made upon him (here Mitya went adrift again and again took a flying leap forward), “so will not you, excellent and honoured Kuzma Kuzmitch, be willing to take up all my claims against that unnatural monster, and pay me a sum down of only three thousand? . . . You see, you cannot, in any case, lose over it. On my honour, my honour, I swear that. Quite the contrary, you may make six or seven thousand instead of three.” Above all, he wanted this concluded that very day.

“I’ll do the business with you at a notary’s, or whatever it is . . . in fact, I’m ready to do anything. .. I’ll hand over all the deeds . . . whatever you want, sign anything . . . and we could draw up the agreement at once . . . and if it were possible, if it were only possible, that very morning. . . . You could pay me that three thousand, for there isn’t a capitalist in this town to compare with you, and so would save me from . . . save me, in fact . . . for a good, I might say an honourable action. . . . For I cherish the most honourable feelings for a certain person, whom you know well, and care for as a father. I would not have come, indeed, if it had not been as a father. And, indeed, it’s a struggle of three in this business, for it’s fate — that’s a fearful thing, Kuzma Kuzmitch! A tragedy, Kuzma Kuzmitch, a tragedy! And as you’ve dropped out long ago, it’s a tug-of-war between two. I’m expressing it awkwardly, perhaps, but I’m not a literary man. You see, I’m on the one side, and that monster on the other. So you must choose. It’s either I or the monster. It all lies in your hands-.the fate of three lives, and the happiness of two. . . . Excuse me, I’m making a mess of it, but you understand . . . I see from your venerable eyes that you understand . . . and if you don’t understand, I’m done for . . . so you see!”

Mitya broke off his clumsy speech with that, “so you see!” and jumping up from his seat, awaited the answer to his foolish proposal. At the last phrase he had suddenly become hopelessly aware that it had all fallen flat, above all, that he had been talking utter nonsense.

“How strange it is! On the way here it seemed all right, and now it’s nothing but nonsense.” The idea suddenly dawned on his despairing mind. All the while he had been talking, the old man sat motionless, watching him with an icy expression in his eyes. After keeping him for a moment in suspense, Kuzma Kuzmitch pronounced at last in the most positive and chilling tone:

“Excuse me, we don’t undertake such business.”

Mitya suddenly felt his legs growing weak under him.

“What am I to do now, Kuzma Kuzmitch?” he muttered, with a pale smile. “I suppose it’s all up with me — what do you think?”

“Excuse me . . . ”

Mitya remained standing, staring motionless. He suddenly noticed a movement in the old man’s face. He started.

“You see, sir, business of that sort’s not in our line,” said the old man slowly. “There’s the court, and the lawyers — it’s a perfect misery. But if you like, there is a man here you might apply to.”

“Good heavens! Who is it? You’re my salvation, Kuzma Kuzmitch,” faltered Mitya.

“He doesn’t live here, and he’s not here just now. He is a peasant, he does business in timber. His name is Lyagavy. He’s been haggling with Fyodor Pavlovitch for the last year, over your copse at Tchermashnya. They can’t agree on the price, maybe you’ve heard? Now he’s come back again and is staying with the priest at Ilyinskoe, about twelve versts from the Volovya station. He wrote to me, too, about the business of the copse, asking my advice. Fyodor Pavlovitch means to go and see him himself. So if you were to be beforehand with Fyodor Pavlovitch and to make Lyagavy the offer you’ve made me, he might possibly — ”

“A brilliant idea!” Mitya interrupted ecstatically. “He’s the very man, it would just suit him. He’s haggling with him for it, being asked too much, and here he would have all the documents entitling him to the property itself. Ha ha ha!”

And Mitya suddenly went off into his short, wooden laugh, startling Samsonov.

“How can I thank you, Kuzma Kuzmitch?” cried Mitya effusively.

“Don’t mention it,” said Samsonov, inclining his head.

“But you don’t know, you’ve saved me. Oh, it was a true presentiment brought me to you. . . . So now to this priest!

“No need of thanks.”

“I’ll make haste and fly there. I’m afraid I’ve overtaxed your strength. I shall never forget it. It’s a Russian says that, Kuzma Kuzmitch, a R-r-russian!”

“To be sure!” Mitya seized his hand to press it, but there was a malignant gleam in the old man’s eye. Mitya drew back his hand, but at once blamed himself for his mistrustfulness. “It’s because he’s tired,” he thought.

“For her sake! For her sake, Kuzma Kuzmitch! You understand that it’s for her,” he cried, his voice ringing through the room. He bowed, turned sharply round, and with the same long stride walked to the door without looking back. He was trembling with delight.

“Everything was on the verge of ruin and my guardian angel saved me,” was the thought in his mind. And if such a business man as Samsonov (a most worthy old man, and what dignity!) had suggested this course, then . . . then success was assured. He would fly off immediately. “I will be back before night, I shall be back at night and the thing is done. Could the old man have been laughing at me?” exclaimed Mitya, as he strode towards his lodging. He could, of course, imagine nothing but that the advice was practical “from such a business man” with an understanding of the business, with an understanding of this Lyagavy (curious surname!). Or — the old man was laughing at him.

Alas! The second alternative was the correct one. Long afterwards, when the catastrophe had happened, old Samsonov himself confessed, laughing, that he had made a fool of the “captain.” He was a cold, spiteful and sarcastic man, liable to violent antipathies. Whether it was the “captain’s” excited face, or the foolish conviction of the “rake and spendthrift,” that he, Samsonov, could be taken in by such a cock-and-bull story as his scheme, or his jealousy of Grushenka, in whose name this “scapegrace” had rushed in on him with such a tale to get money which worked on the old man, I can’t tell. But at the instant when Mitya stood before him, feeling his legs grow weak under him, and frantically exclaiming that he was ruined, at that moment the old man looked at him with intense spite, and resolved to make a laughing-stock of him. When Mitya had gone, Kuzma Kuzmitch, white with rage, turned to his son and bade him see to it that that beggar be never seen again, and never admitted even into the yard, or else he’d —

He did not utter his threat. But even his son, who often saw him enraged, trembled with fear. For a whole hour afterwards, the old man was shaking with anger, and by evening he was worse, and sent for the doctor.

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