The Brothers Karamazov, by Fyodor Dostoyevsky

Chapter 7

Mitya’s Great Secret Received with Hisses

“GENTLEMEN,” he began, still in the same agitation, “I want to make a full confession: that money was my own.”

The lawyer’s faces lengthened. That was not at all what they expected.

“How do you mean?” faltered Nikolay Parfenovitch, “when at five o’clock on the same day, from your own confession-”

“Damn five o’clock on the same day and my own confession! That’s nothing to do with it now! That money was my own, my own, that is, stolen by me . . . not mine, I mean, but stolen by me, and it was fifteen hundred roubles, and I had it on me all the time, all the time . . . ”

“But where did you get it?”

“I took it off my neck, gentlemen, off this very neck . . . it was here, round my neck, sewn up in a rag, and I’d had it round my neck a long time, it’s a month since I put it round my neck . . . to my shame and disgrace!”

“And from whom did you . . . appropriate it?”

“You mean, ‘steal it’? Speak out plainly now. Yes, I consider that I practically stole it, but, if you prefer, I ‘appropriated it.’ I consider I stole it. And last night I stole it finally.”

“Last night? But you said that it’s a month since you . . . obtained it? . . . ”

“Yes. But not from my father. Not from my father, don’t be uneasy. I didn’t steal it from my father, but from her. Let me tell you without interrupting. It’s hard to do, you know. You see, a month ago, I was sent for by Katerina Ivanovna, formerly my betrothed. Do you know her?”

“Yes, of course.”

“I know you know her. She’s a noble creature, noblest of the noble. But she has hated me ever so long, oh, ever so long . . . and hated me with good reason, good reason!”

“Katerina Ivanovna!” Nikolay Parfenovitch exclaimed with wonder. The prosecutor, too, stared.

“Oh, don’t take her name in vain! I’m a scoundrel to bring her into it. Yes, I’ve seen that she hated me . . . a long while. . . . From the very first, even that evening at my lodging . . . but enough, enough. You’re unworthy even to know of that. No need of that at all. . . . I need only tell you that she sent for me a month ago, gave me three thousand roubles to send off to her sister and another relation in Moscow (as though she couldn’t have sent it off herself!) and I . . . it was just at that fatal moment in my life when I . . . well, in fact, when I’d just come to love another, her, she’s sitting down below now, Grushenka. I carried her off here to Mokroe then, and wasted here in two days half that damned three thousand, but the other half I kept on me. Well, I’ve kept that other half, that fifteen hundred, like a locket round my neck, but yesterday I undid it, and spent it. What’s left of it, eight hundred roubles, is in your hands now, Nikolay Parfenovitch. That’s the change out of the fifteen hundred I had yesterday.”

“Excuse me. How’s that? Why, when you were here a month ago you spent three thousand, not fifteen hundred, everybody knows that.”

“Who knows it? Who counted the money? Did I let anyone count it?”

“Why, you told everyone yourself that you’d spent exactly three thousand.”

“It’s true, I did. I told the whole town so, and the whole town said so. And here, at Mokroe, too, everyone reckoned it was three thousand. Yet I didn’t spend three thousand, but fifteen hundred. And the other fifteen hundred I sewed into a little bag. That’s how it was, gentlemen. That’s where I got that money yesterday. . . . ”

“This is almost miraculous,” murmured Nikolay Parfenovitch.

“Allow me to inquire,” observed the prosecutor at last, “have you informed anyone whatever of this circumstance before; I mean that you had fifteen hundred left about you a month ago?”

“I told no one.”

“That’s strange. Do you mean absolutely no one?”

“Absolutely no one. No one and nobody.”

“What was your reason for this reticence? What was your motive for making such a secret of it? To be more precise: You have told us at last your secret, in your words, so ‘disgraceful,’ though in reality — that is, of course, comparatively speaking — this action, that is, the appropriation of three thousand roubles belonging to someone else, and, of course, only for a time is, in my view at least, only an act of the greatest recklessness and not so disgraceful, when one takes into consideration your character. . . . Even admitting that it was an action in the highest degree discreditable, still, discreditable is not ‘disgraceful.’ . . . Many people have already guessed, during this last month, about the three thousand of Katerina Ivanovna’s that you have spent, and I heard the legend myself, apart from your confession. . . . Mihail Makarovitch, for instance, had heard it, too, so that indeed, it was scarcely a legend, but the gossip of the whole town. There are indications, too, if I am not mistaken, that you confessed this yourself to someone, I mean that the money was Katerina Ivanovna’s, and so, it’s extremely surprising to me that hitherto, that is, up to the present moment, you have made such an extraordinary secret of the fifteen hundred you say you put by, apparently connecting a feeling of positive horror with that secret. . . . It’s not easy to believe that it could cost you such distress to confess such a secret. . . . You cried out, just now, that Siberia would be better than confessing it . . . ”

The prosecutor ceased speaking. He was provoked. He did not conceal his vexation, which was almost anger, and gave vent to all his accumulated spleen, disconnectedly and incoherently, without choosing words.

“It’s not the fifteen hundred that’s the disgrace, but that I put it apart from the rest of the three thousand,” said Mitya firmly.

“Why?” smiled the prosecutor irritably. “What is there disgraceful, to your thinking, in your having set aside half of the three thousand you had discreditably, if you prefer, ‘disgracefully,’ appropriated? Your taking the three thousand is more important than what you did with it. And by the way, why did you do that — why did you set apart that half, for what purpose, for what object did you do it? Can you explain that to us?”

“Oh, gentlemen, the purpose is the whole point!” cried Mitya. “I put it aside because I was vile, that is, because I was calculating, and to be calculating in such a case is vile . . . and that vileness has been going on a whole month.”

“It’s incomprehensible.”

“I wonder at you. But I’ll make it clearer. Perhaps it really is incomprehensible. You see, attend to what I say. I appropriate three thousand entrusted to my honour; I spend it on a spree, say I spend it all, and next morning I go to her and say, ‘Katya, I’ve done wrong, I’ve squandered your three thousand’; well, is that right? No, it’s not right — it’s dishonest and cowardly; I’m a beast, with no more self-control than a beast, that’s so, isn’t it? But still I’m not a thief? Not a downright thief, you’ll admit! I squandered it, but I didn’t steal it. Now a second, rather more favourable alternative: follow me carefully, or I may get confused again — my head’s going round — and so, for the second alternative: I spend here only fifteen hundred out of the three thousand, that is, only half. Next day I go and take that half to her: ‘Katya, take this fifteen hundred from me, I’m a low beast, and an untrustworthy scoundrel, for I’ve wasted half the money, and I shall waste this, too, so keep me from temptation!’ Well, what of that alternative? I should be a beast and a scoundrel, and whatever you like; but not a thief, not altogether a thief, or I should not have brought back what was left, but have kept that, too. She would see at once that since I brought back half, I should pay back what I’d spent, that I should never give up trying to, that I should work to get it and pay it back. So in that case I should be a scoundrel, but not a thief, you may say what you like, not a thief!”

“I admit that there is a certain distinction,” said the prosecutor, with a cold smile. “But it’s strange that you see such a vital difference.”

“Yes, I see a vital difference. Every man may be a scoundrel, and perhaps every man is a scoundrel, but not everyone can be a thief; it takes an arch-scoundrel to be that. Oh, of course, I don’t know how to make these fine distinctions . . . but a thief is lower than a scoundrel, that’s my conviction. Listen, I carry the money about me a whole month; I may make up my mind to give it back to-morrow, and I’m a scoundrel no longer; but I cannot make up my mind, you see, though I’m making up my mind every day, and every day spurring myself on to do it, and yet for a whole month I can’t bring myself to it, you see. Is that right to your thinking, is that right?”

“Certainly, that’s not right; that I can quite understand, and that I don’t dispute,” answered the prosecutor with reserve. “And let us give up all discussion of these subtleties and distinctions, and, if you will be so kind, get back to the point. And the point is, that you have still not told us, although we’ve asked you, why, in the first place, you halved the money, squandering one half and hiding the other? For what purpose exactly did you hide it, what did you mean to do with that fifteen hundred? I insist upon that question, Dmitri Fyodorovitch.”

“Yes, of course!” cried Mitya, striking himself on the forehead; “forgive me, I’m worrying you, and am not explaining the chief point, or you’d understand in a minute, for it’s just the motive of it that’s the disgrace! You see, it was all to do with the old man, my dead father. He was always pestering Agrafena and I was jealous; I thought then that she was hesitating between me and him. So I kept thinking everyday, suppose she were to make up her mind all of a sudden, suppose she were to leave off tormenting me, and were suddenly to say to me, ‘I love you, not him; take me to the other end of the world.’ And I’d only forty copecks; how could I take her away, what could I do? Why, I’d be lost. You see, I didn’t know her then, I didn’t understand her, I thought she wanted money, and that she wouldn’t forgive my poverty. And so I fiendishly counted out the half of that three thousand, sewed it up, calculating on it, sewed it up before I was drunk, and after I had sewn it up, I went off to get drunk on the rest. Yes, that was base. Do you understand now?”

Both the lawyers laughed aloud.

“I should have called it sensible and moral on your part not to have squandered it all,” chuckled Nikolay Parfenovitch, “for after all what does it amount to?”

“Why, that I stole it, that’s what it amounts to! Oh, God, you horrify me by not understanding! Every day that I had that fifteen hundred sewn up round my neck, every day and every hour I said to myself, ‘You’re a thief! you’re a thief!’ Yes, that’s why I’ve been so savage all this month, that’s why I fought in the tavern, that’s why I attacked my father, it was because I felt I was a thief. I couldn’t make up my mind; I didn’t dare even to tell Alyosha, my brother, about that fifteen hundred: I felt I was such a scoundrel and such a pickpocket. But, do you know, while I carried it I said to myself at the same time every hour: ‘No, Dmitri Fyodorovitch, you may yet not be a thief.’ Why? Because I might go next day and pay back that fifteen hundred to Katya. And only yesterday I made up my mind to tear my amulet off my neck, on my way from Fenya’s to Perhotin. I hadn’t been able till that moment to bring myself to it. And it was only when I tore it off that I became a downright thief, a thief and a dishonest man for the rest of my life. Why? Because, with that I destroyed, too, my dream of going to Katya and saying, ‘I’m a scoundrel, but not a thief! Do you understand now? Do you understand?”

“What was it made you decide to do it yesterday?” Nikolay Parfenovitch interrupted.

“Why? It’s absurd to ask. Because I had condemned myself to die at five o’clock this morning, here, at dawn. I thought it made no difference whether I died a thief or a man of honour. But I see it’s not so, it turns out that it does make a difference. Believe me, gentlemen, what has tortured me most during this night has not been the thought that I’d killed the old servant, and that I was in danger of Siberia just when my love was being rewarded, and Heaven was open to me again. Oh, that did torture me, but not in the same way; not so much as the damned consciousness that I had torn that damned money off my breast at last and spent it, and had become a downright thief! Oh, gentlemen, I tell you again, with a bleeding heart, I have learnt a great deal this night. I have learnt that it’s not only impossible to live a scoundrel, but impossible to die a scoundrel. . . . No, gentlemen, one must die honest . . . ”

Mitya was pale. His face had a haggard and exhausted look, in spite of his being intensely excited.

“I am beginning to understand you, Dmitri Fyodorovitch,” the prosecutor said slowly, a soft and almost compassionate tone. “But all this, if you’ll excuse my saying so, is a matter of nerves, in my opinion . . . your overwrought nerves, that’s what it is. And why, for instance, should you not have saved yourself such misery for almost a month, by going and returning that fifteen hundred to the lady who had entrusted it to you? And why could you not have explained things to her, and in view of your position, which you describe as being so awful, why could you not have had recourse to the plan which would so naturally have occurred to one’s mind, that is, after honourably confessing your errors to her, why could you not have asked her to lend you the sum needed for your expenses, which, with her generous heart, she would certainly not have refused you in your distress, especially if it had been with some guarantee, or even on the security you offered to the merchant Samsonov, and to Madame Hohlakov? I suppose you still regard that security as of value?”

Mitya suddenly crimsoned.

“Surely you don’t think me such an out and out scoundrel as that? You can’t be speaking in earnest?” he said, with indignation, looking the prosecutor straight in the face, and seeming unable to believe his ears.

“I assure you I’m in earnest . . . Why do you imagine I’m not serious?” It was the prosecutor’s turn to be surprised.

“Oh, how base that would have been! Gentlemen, do you know, you are torturing me! Let me tell you everything, so be it. I’ll confess all my infernal wickedness, but to put you to shame, and you’ll be surprised yourselves at the depth of ignominy to which a medley of human passions can sink. You must know that I already had that plan myself, that plan you spoke of, just now, prosecutor! Yes, gentlemen, I, too, have had that thought in my mind all this current month, so that I was on the point of deciding to go to Katya — I was mean enough for that. But to go to her, to tell her of my treachery, and for that very treachery, to carry it out, for the expenses of that treachery, to beg for money from her, Katya (to beg, do you hear, to beg), and go straight from her to run away with the other, the rival, who hated and insulted her — to think of it! You must be mad, prosecutor!”

“Mad I am not, but I did speak in haste, without thinking . . . of that feminine jealousy . . . if there could be jealousy in this case, as you assert . . . yes, perhaps there is something of the kind,” said the prosecutor, smiling.

“But that would have been so infamous!” Mitya brought his fist down on the table fiercely. “That would have been filthy beyond everything! Yes, do you know that she might have given me that money, yes, and she would have given it, too; she’d have been certain to give it, to be revenged on me, she’d have given it to satisfy her vengeance, to show her contempt for me, for hers is an infernal nature, too, and she’s a woman of great wrath. I’d have taken the money, too, oh, I should have taken it; I should have taken it, and then, for the rest of my life . . . oh, God! Forgive me, gentlemen, I’m making such an outcry because I’ve had that thought in my mind so lately, only the day before yesterday, that night when I was having all that bother with Lyagavy, and afterwards yesterday, all day yesterday, I remember, till that happened . . . ”

“Till what happened?” put in Nikolay Parfenovitch inquisitively, but Mitya did not hear it.

“I have made you an awful confession,” Mitya said gloomily in conclusion. “You must appreciate it, and what’s more, you must respect it, for if not, if that leaves your souls untouched, then you’ve simply no respect for me, gentlemen, I tell you that, and I shall die of shame at having confessed it to men like you! Oh, I shall shoot myself! Yes, I see, I see already that you don’t believe me. What, you want to write that down, too?” he cried in dismay.

“Yes, what you said just now,” said Nikolay Parfenovitch, looking at him surprise, “that is, that up to the last hour you were still contemplating going to Katerina Ivanovna to beg that sum from her. . . . I assure you, that’s a very important piece of evidence for us, Dmitri Fyodorovitch, I mean for the whole case . . . and particularly for you, particularly important for you.”

“Have mercy, gentlemen!” Mitya flung up his hands. “Don’t write that, anyway; have some shame. Here I’ve torn my heart asunder before you, and you seize the opportunity and are fingering the wounds in both halves. . . . Oh, my God!”

In despair he hid his face in his hands.

“Don’t worry yourself so, Dmitri Fyodorovitch,” observed the prosecutor, “everything that is written down will be read over to you afterwards, and what you don’t agree to we’ll alter as you like. But now I’ll ask you one little question for the second time. Has no one, absolutely no one, heard from you of that money you sewed up? That, I must tell you, is almost impossible to believe.”

“No one, no one, I told you so before, or you’ve not understood anything! Let me alone!”

“Very well, this matter is bound to be explained, and there’s plenty of time for it, but meantime, consider; we have perhaps a dozen witnesses that you yourself spread it abroad, and even shouted almost everywhere about the three thousand you’d spent here; three thousand, not fifteen hundred. And now, too, when you got hold of the money you had yesterday, you gave many people to understand that you had brought three thousand with you.”

“You’ve got not dozens, but hundreds of witnesses, two hundred witnesses, two hundred have heard it, thousands have heard it!” cried Mitya.

“Well, you see, all bear witness to it. And the word all means something.”

“It means nothing. I talked rot, and everyone began repeating it.”

“But what need had you to ‘talk rot,’ as you call it?”

“The devil knows. From bravado perhaps . . . at having wasted so much money. . . . To try and forget that money I had sewn up, perhaps . . . yes, that was why . . . damn it . . . how often will you ask me that question? Well, I told a fib, and that was the end of it; once I’d said it, I didn’t care to correct it. What does a man tell lies for sometimes?”

“That’s very difficult to decide, Dmitri Fyodorovitch, what makes a man tell lies,” observed the prosecutor impressively. “Tell me, though, was that ‘amulet,’ as you call it, on your neck, a big thing?”

“No, not big.”

“How big, for instance?”

“If you fold a hundred-rouble note in half, that would be the size.”

“You’d better show us the remains of it. You must have them somewhere.”

“Damnation, what nonsense! I don’t know where they are.”

“But excuse me: where and when did you take it off your neck? According to your own evidence you didn’t go home.”

“When I was going from Fenya’s to Perhotin’s, on the way I tore it off my neck and took out the money.”

“In the dark?”

“What should I want a light for? I did it with my fingers in one minute.”

“Without scissors, in the street?”

“In the market-place I think it was. Why scissors? It was an old rag. It was torn in a minute.”

“Where did you put it afterwards?”

“I dropped it there.”

“Where was it, exactly?”

“In the market-place, in the market-place! The devil knows whereabouts. What do you want to know for?”

“That’s extremely important, Dmitri Fyodorovitch. It would be material evidence in your favour. How is it you don’t understand that? Who helped you to sew it up a month ago?”

“No one helped me. I did it myself.”

“Can you sew?”

“A soldier has to know how to sew. No knowledge was needed to do that.”

“Where did you get the material, that is, the rag in which you sewed the money?”

“Are you laughing at me?”

“Not at all. And we are in no mood for laughing, Dmitri Fyodorovitch.”

“I don’t know where I got the rag from — somewhere, I suppose.”

“I should have thought you couldn’t have forgotten it?”

“Upon my word, I don’t remember. I might have torn a bit off my linen.”

“That’s very interesting. We might find in your lodgings to-morrow the shirt or whatever it is from which you tore the rag. What sort of rag was it, cloth or linen?”

“Goodness only knows what it was. Wait a bit . . . I believe I didn’t tear it off anything. It was a bit of calico. . . . I believe I sewed it up in a cap of my landlady’s.”

“In your landlady’s cap?”

“Yes. I took it from her.”

“How did you get it?”

“You see, I remember once taking a cap for a rag, perhaps to wipe my pen on. I took it without asking, because it was a worthless rag. I tore it up, and I took the notes and sewed them up in it. I believe it was in that very rag I sewed them. An old piece of calico, washed a thousand times.”

“And you remember that for certain now?”

“I don’t know whether for certain. I think it was in the cap. But, hang it, what does it matter?”

“In that case your landlady will remember that the thing was lost?”

“No, she won’t, she didn’t miss it. It was an old rag, I tell you, an old rag not worth a farthing.”

“And where did you get the needle and thread?”

“I’ll stop now. I won’t say any more. Enough of it!” said Mitya, losing his temper at last.

“It’s strange that you should have so completely forgotten where you threw the pieces in the market-place.”

“Give orders for the market-place to be swept to-morrow, and perhaps you’ll find it,” said Mitya sneering. “Enough, gentlemen, enough!” he decided, in an exhausted voice. “I see you don’t believe me! Not for a moment! It’s my fault, not yours. I ought not to have been so ready. Why, why did I degrade myself by confessing my secret to you? it’s a joke to you. I see that from your eyes. You led me on to it, prosecutor! Sing a hymn of triumph if you can. . . . Damn you, you torturers!”

He bent his head, and hid his face in his hands. The lawyers were silent. A minute later he raised his head and looked at them almost vacantly. His face now expressed complete, hopeless despair, and he sat mute and passive as though hardly conscious of what was happening. In the meantime they had to finish what they were about. They had immediately to begin examining the witnesses. It was by now eight o’clock in the morning. The lights had been extinguished long ago. Mihail Makarovitch and Kalganov, who had been continually in and out of the room all the while the interrogation had been going on, had now both gone out again. The lawyers, too, looked very tired. It was a wretched morning, the whole sky was overcast, and the rain streamed down in bucketfuls. Mitya gazed blankly out of window.

“May I look out of window?” he asked Nikolay Parfenovitch, suddenly.

“Oh, as much as you like,” the latter replied.

Mitya got up and went to the window. . . . The rain lashed against its little greenish panes. He could see the muddy road just below the house, and farther away, in the rain and mist, a row of poor, black, dismal huts, looking even blacker and poorer in the rain. Mitya thought of “Phoebus the golden-haired, and how he had meant to shoot himself at his first ray. “Perhaps it would be even better on a morning like this,” he thought with a smile, and suddenly, flinging his hand downwards, he turned to his “torturers.”

“Gentlemen,” he cried, “I see that I am lost! But she? Tell me about her, I beseech you. Surely she need not be ruined with me? She’s innocent, you know, she was out of her mind when she cried last night ‘It’s all my fault!’ She’s done nothing, nothing! I’ve been grieving over her all night as I sat with you. . . . Can’t you, won’t you tell me what you are going to do with her now?”

“You can set your mind quite at rest on that score, Dmitri Fyodorovitch,” the prosecutor answered at once, with evident alacrity. “We have, so far, no grounds for interfering with the lady in whom you are so interested. I trust that it may be the same in the later development of the case. . . . On the contrary, we’ll do everything that lies in our power in that matter. Set your mind completely at rest.”

“Gentlemen, I thank you. I knew that you were honest, straightforward people in spite of everything. You’ve taken a load off my heart. . . . Well, what are we to do now? I’m ready.”

“Well, we ought to make haste. We must pass to examining the witnesses without delay. That must be done in your presence and therefore-”

“Shouldn’t we have some tea first?” interposed Nikolay Parfenovitch, “I think we’ve deserved it!”

They decided that if tea were ready downstairs (Mihail Makarovitch had, no doubt, gone down to get some) they would have a glass and then “go on and on,” putting off their proper breakfast until a more favourable opportunity. Tea really was ready below, and was soon brought up. Mitya at first refused the glass that Nikolay Parfenovitch politely offered him, but afterwards he asked for it himself and drank it greedily. He looked surprisingly exhausted. It might have been supposed from his Herculean strength that one night of carousing, even accompanied by the most violent emotions, could have had little effect on him. But he felt that he could hardly hold his head up, and from time to time all the objects about him seemed heaving and dancing before his eyes. “A little more and I shall begin raving,” he said to himself.

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