The Brothers Karamazov, by Fyodor Dostoyevsky

Chapter 6

Precocity

“WHAT do you think the doctor will say to him?” Kolya asked quickly. “What a repulsive mug, though, hasn’t he? I can’t endure medicine!”

“Ilusha is dying. I think that’s certain,” answered Alyosha, mournfully.

“They are rogues! Medicine’s a fraud! I am glad to have made your acquaintance, though, Karamazov. I wanted to know you for a long time. I am only sorry we meet in such sad circumstances.”

Kolya had a great inclination to say something even warmer and more demonstrative, but he felt ill at ease. Alyosha noticed this, smiled, and pressed his hand.

“I’ve long learned to respect you as a rare person,” Kolya muttered again, faltering and uncertain. “I have heard you are a mystic and have been in the monastery. I know you are a mystic, but . . . that hasn’t put me off. Contact with real life will cure you. . . . It’s always so with characters like yours.”

“What do you mean by mystic? Cure me of what?” Alyosha was rather astonished.

“Oh, God and all the rest of it.”

“What, don’t you believe in God?”

“Oh, I’ve nothing against God. Of course, God is only a hypothesis, but . . . I admit that He is needed . . . for the order of the universe and all that . . . and that if there were no God He would have to be invented,” added Kolya, beginning to blush. He suddenly fancied that Alyosha might think he was trying to show off his knowledge and to prove that he was “grown up.” “I haven’t the slightest desire to show off my knowledge to him,” Kolya thought indignantly. And all of a sudden he felt horribly annoyed.

“I must confess I can’t endure entering on such discussions,” he said with a final air. “It’s possible for one who doesn’t believe in God to love mankind, don’t you think so? Voltaire didn’t believe in God and loved mankind?” (“I am at it again,” he thought to himself.)

“Voltaire believed in God, though not very much, I think, and I don’t think he loved mankind very much either,” said Alyosha quietly, gently, and quite naturally, as though he were talking to someone of his own age, or even older. Kolya was particularly struck by Alyosha’s apparent diffidence about his opinion of Voltaire. He seemed to be leaving the question for him, little Kolya, to settle.

“Have you read Voltaire?” Alyosha finished.

“No, not to say read. . . . But I’ve read Candide in the Russian translation . . . in an absurd, grotesque, old translation.. (At it again! again!)”

“And did you understand it?”

“Oh, yes, everything. . . . That is . . . Why do you suppose I shouldn’t understand it? There’s a lot of nastiness in it, of course. . . . Of course I can understand that it’s a philosophical novel and written to advocate an idea. . . . ” Kolya was getting mixed by now. “I am a Socialist, Karamazov, I am an incurable Socialist,” he announced suddenly, apropos of nothing.

“A Socialist?” laughed Alyosha. “But when have you had time to become one? Why, I thought you were only thirteen?”

Kolya winced.

“In the first place I am not thirteen, but fourteen, fourteen in a fortnight,” he flushed angrily, “and in the second place I am at a complete loss to understand what my age has to do with it? The question is what are my convictions, not what is my age, isn’t it?”

“When you are older, you’ll understand for yourself the influence of age on convictions. I fancied, too, that you were not expressing your own ideas,” Alyosha answered serenely and modestly, but Kolya interrupted him hotly:

“Come, you want obedience and mysticism. You must admit that the Christian religion, for instance, has only been of use to the rich and the powerful to keep the lower classes in slavery. That’s so, isn’t it?”

“Ah, I know where you read that, and I am sure someone told you so!” cried Alyosha.

“I say, what makes you think I read it? And certainly no one told so. I can think for myself. . . . I am not opposed to Christ, if you like. He was a most humane person, and if He were alive to-day, He would be found in the ranks of the revolutionists, and would perhaps play a conspicuous part. . . . There’s no doubt about that.”

“Oh, where, where did you get that from? What fool have you made friends with?” exclaimed Alyosha.

“Come, the truth will out! It has so chanced that I have often talked to Mr. Rakitin, of course, but . . . old Byelinsky said that, too, so they say.”

“Byelinsky? I don’t remember. He hasn’t written that anywhere.”

“If he didn’t write it, they say he said it. I heard that from a . . . but never mind.”

“And have you read Byelinsky?”

“Well, no . . . I haven’t read all of him, but . . . I read the passage about Tatyana, why she didn’t go off with Onyegin.”

“Didn’t go off with Onyegin? Surely you don’t . . . understand that already?”

“Why, you seem to take me for little Smurov,” said Kolya, with a grin of irritation. “But please don’t suppose I am such a revolutionist. I often disagree with Mr. Rakitin. Though I mention Tatyana, I am not at all for the emancipation of women. I acknowledge that women are a subject race and must obey. Les femmes tricottent,16 Napoleon said.” Kolya, for some reason, smiled, “And on that question at least I am quite of one mind with that pseudo-great man. I think, too, that to leave one’s own country and fly to America is mean, worse than mean — silly. Why go to America when one may be of great service to humanity here? Now especially. There’s a perfect mass of fruitful activity open to us. That’s what I answered.”

16 Let the women knit.

“What do you mean? Answered whom? Has someone suggested your going to America already?”

“I must own, they’ve been at me to go, but I declined. That’s between ourselves, of course, Karamazov; do you hear, not a word to anyone. I say this only to you. I am not at all anxious to fall into the clutches of the secret police and take lessons at the Chain bridge.

Long will you remember

The house at the Chain bridge.

Do you remember? It’s splendid. Why are you laughing? You don’t suppose I am fibbing, do you?” (“What if he should find out that I’ve only that one number of The Bell in father’s book case, and haven’t read any more of it?” Kolya thought with a shudder.)

“Oh no, I am not laughing and don’t suppose for a moment that you are lying. No, indeed, I can’t suppose so, for all this, alas! is perfectly true. But tell me, have you read Pushkin — Onyegin, for instance? . . . You spoke just now of Tatyana.”

“No, I haven’t read it yet, but I want to read it. I have no prejudices, Karamazov; I want to hear both sides. What makes you ask?”

“Oh, nothing.”

“Tell me, Karamazov, have you an awful contempt for me?” Kolya rapped out suddenly and drew himself up before Alyosha, as though he were on drill. “Be so kind as to tell me, without beating about the bush.”

“I have a contempt for you?” Alyosha looked at him wondering. “What for? I am only sad that a charming nature such as yours should be perverted by all this crude nonsense before you have begun life.”

“Don’t be anxious about my nature,” Kolya interrupted, not without complacency. “But it’s true that I am stupidly sensitive, crudely sensitive. You smiled just now, and I fancied you seemed to-”

“Oh, my smile meant something quite different. I’ll tell you why I smiled. Not long ago I read the criticism made by a German who had lived in Russia, on our students and schoolboys of to-day. ‘Show a Russian schoolboy,’ he writes, ‘a map of the stars, which he knows nothing about, and he will give you back the map next day with corrections on it.’ No knowledge and unbounded conceit — that’s what the German meant to say about the Russian schoolboy.”

“Yes, that’s perfectly right,” Kolya laughed suddenly, “exactly so! Bravo the German! But he did not see the good side, what do you think? Conceit may be, that comes from youth, that will be corrected if need be, but, on the other hand, there is an independent spirit almost from childhood, boldness of thought and conviction, and not the spirit of these sausage makers, grovelling before authority. . . . But the German was right all the same. Bravo the German! But Germans want strangling all the same. Though they are so good at science and learning they must be strangled.”

“Strangled, what for?” smiled Alyosha.

“Well, perhaps I am talking nonsense, I agree. I am awfully childish sometimes, and when I am pleased about anything I can’t restrain myself and am ready to talk any stuff. But, I say, we are chattering away here about nothing, and that doctor has been a long time in there. But perhaps he’s examining the mamma and that poor crippled Nina. I liked that Nina, you know. She whispered to me suddenly as I was coming away, ‘Why didn’t you come before?’ And in such a voice, so reproachfully! I think she is awfully nice and pathetic.”

“Yes, yes! Well, you’ll be coming often, you will see what she is like. It would do you a great deal of good to know people like that, to learn to value a great deal which you will find out from knowing these people,” Alyosha observed warmly. “That would have more effect on you than anything.”

“Oh, how I regret and blame myself for not having come sooner!” Kolya exclaimed, with bitter feeling.

“Yes, it’s a great pity. You saw for yourself how delighted the poor child was to see you. And how he fretted for you to come!”

“Don’t tell me! You make it worse! But it serves me right. What kept me from coming was my conceit, my egoistic vanity, and the beastly wilfulness, which I never can get rid of, though I’ve been struggling with it all my life. I see that now. I am a beast in lots of ways, Karamazov!”

“No, you have a charming nature, though it’s been distorted, and I quite understand why you have had such an influence on this generous, morbidly sensitive boy,” Alyosha answered warmly.

“And you say that to me!” cried Kolya; “and would you believe it, I thought — I’ve thought several times since I’ve been here — that you despised me! If only you knew how I prize your opinion!”

“But are you really so sensitive? At your age! Would you believe it, just now, when you were telling your story, I thought, as I watched you, that you must be very sensitive!”

“You thought so? What an eye you’ve got, I say! I bet that was when I was talking about the goose. That was just when I was fancying you had a great contempt for me for being in such a hurry to show off, and for a moment I quite hated you for it, and began talking like a fool. Then I fancied — just now, here — when I said that if there were no God He would have to be invented, that I was in too great a hurry to display my knowledge, especially as I got that phrase out of a book. But I swear I wasn’t showing off out of vanity, though I really don’t know why. Because I was so pleased? Yes, I believe it was because I was so pleased . . . though it’s perfectly disgraceful for anyone to be gushing directly they are pleased, I know that. But I am convinced now that you don’t despise me; it was all my imagination. Oh, Karamazov, I am profoundly unhappy. I sometimes fancy all sorts of things, that everyone is laughing at me, the whole world, and then I feel ready to overturn the whole order of things.”

“And you worry everyone about you,” smiled Alyosha.

“Yes, I worry everyone about me, especially my mother. Karamazov, tell me, am I very ridiculous now?”

“Don’t think about that, don’t think of it at all!” cried Alyosha. “And what does ridiculous mean? Isn’t everyone constantly being or seeming ridiculous? Besides, nearly all clever people now are fearfully afraid of being ridiculous, and that makes them unhappy. All I am surprised at is that you should be feeling that so early, though I’ve observed it for some time past,, not only in you. Nowadays the very children have begun to suffer from it. It’s almost a sort of insanity. The devil has taken the form of that vanity and entered into the whole generation; it’s simply the devil,” added Alyosha, without a trace of the smile that Kolya, staring at him, expected to see. “You are like everyone else,” said Alyosha, in conclusion, “that is, like very many others. Only you must not be like everybody else, that’s all.”

“Even if everyone is like that?”

“Yes, even if everyone is like that. You be the only one not like it. You really are not like everyone else, here you are not ashamed to confess to something bad and even ridiculous. And who will admit so much in these days? No one. And people have even ceased to feel the impulse to self-criticism. Don’t be like everyone else, even if you are the only one.”

“Splendid! I was not mistaken in you. You know how to console one. Oh, how I have longed to know you, Karamazov! I’ve long been eager for this meeting. Can you really have thought about me, too? You said just now that you thought of me, too?”

“Yes, I’d heard of you and had thought of you, too . . . and if it’s partly vanity that makes you ask, it doesn’t matter.”

“Do you know, Karamazov, our talk has been like a declaration of love,” said Kolya, in a bashful and melting voice. “That’s not ridiculous, is it?”

“Not at all ridiculous, and if it were, it wouldn’t matter, because it’s been a good thing.” Alyosha smiled brightly.

“But do you know, Karamazov, you must admit that you are a little ashamed yourself, now. . . . I see it by your eyes.” Kolya smiled with a sort of sly happiness.

“Why ashamed?”

“Well, why are you blushing?”

“It was you made me blush,” laughed Alyosha, and he really did blush. “Oh, well, I am a little, goodness knows why, I don’t know . . . ” he muttered, almost embarrassed.

“Oh, how I love you and admire you at this moment just because you are rather ashamed! Because you are just like me,” cried Kolya, in positive ecstasy. His cheeks glowed, his eyes beamed.

“You know, Kolya, you will be very unhappy in your life,” something made Alyosha say suddenly.

“I know, I know. How you know it all before hand!” Kolya agreed at once.

“But you will bless life on the whole, all the same.”

“Just so, hurrah! You are a prophet. Oh, we shall get on together, Karamazov! Do you know, what delights me most, is that you treat me quite like an equal. But we are not equals, no, we are not, you are better! But we shall get on. Do you know, all this last month, I’ve been saying to myself, ‘Either we shall be friends at once, for ever, or we shall part enemies to the grave!’”

“And saying that, of course, you loved me,” Alyosha laughed gaily.

“I did. I loved you awfully. I’ve been loving and dreaming of you. And how do you know it all beforehand? Ah, here’s the doctor. Goodness! What will he tell us? Look at his face!”

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