The Brothers Karamazov, by Fyodor Dostoyevsky

Chapter 7

The Second Visit to Smerdyakov

BY that time Smerdyakov had been discharged from the hospital. Ivan knew his new lodging, the dilapidated little wooden house, divided in two by a passage, on one side of which lived Marya Kondratyevna and her mother, and on the other, Smerdyakov. No one knew on what terms he lived with them, whether as a friend or as a lodger. It was supposed afterwards that he had come to stay with them as Marya Kondratyevna’s betrothed, and was living there for a time without paying for board or lodging. Both mother and daughter had the greatest respect for him and looked upon him as greatly superior to themselves.

Ivan knocked, and, on the door being opened, went straight into the passage. By Marya Kondratyevna’s directions he went straight to the better room on the left, occupied by Smerdyakov. There was a tiled stove in the room and it was extremely hot. The walls were gay with blue paper, which was a good deal used however, and in the cracks under it cockroaches swarmed in amazing numbers, so that there was a continual rustling from them. The furniture was very scanty: two benches against each wall and two chairs by the table. The table of plain wood was covered with a cloth with pink patterns on it. There was a pot of geranium on each of the two little windows. In the corner there was a case of ikons. On the table stood a little copper samovar with many dents in it, and a tray with two cups. But Smerdyakov had finished tea and the samovar was out. He was sitting at the table on a bench. He was looking at an exercise-book and slowly writing with a pen. There was a bottle of ink by him and a flat iron candlestick, but with a composite candle. Ivan saw at once from Smerdyakov’s face that he had completely recovered from his illness. His face was fresher, fuller, his hair stood up jauntily in front, and was plastered down at the sides. He was sitting in a parti-coloured, wadded dressing-gown, rather dirty and frayed, however. He had spectacles on his nose, which Ivan had never seen him wearing before. This trifling circumstance suddenly redoubled Ivan’s anger: “A creature like that and wearing spectacles!”

Smerdyakov slowly raised his head and looked intently at his visitor through his spectacles; then he slowly took them off and rose from the bench, but by no means respectfully, almost lazily, doing the least possible required by common civility. All this struck Ivan instantly; he took it all in and noted it at once — most of all the look in Smerdyakov’s eyes, positively malicious, churlish and haughty. “What do you want to intrude for?” it seemed to say; “we settled everything then; why have you come again?” Ivan could scarcely control himself.

“It’s hot here,” he said, still standing, and unbuttoned his overcoat.

“Take off your coat,” Smerdyakov conceded.

Ivan took off his coat and threw it on a bench with trembling hands. He took a chair, moved it quickly to the table and sat down. Smerdyakov managed to sit down on his bench before him.

“To begin with, are we alone?” Ivan asked sternly and impulsively. “Can they overhear us in there?”

“No one can hear anything. You’ve seen for yourself: there’s a passage.”

“Listen, my good fellow; what was that you babbled, as I was leaving the hospital, that if I said nothing about your faculty of shamming fits, you wouldn’t tell the investigating lawyer all our conversation at the gate? What do you mean by all? What could you mean by it? Were you threatening me? Have I entered into some sort of compact with you? Do you suppose I am afraid of you?”

Ivan said this in a perfect fury, giving him to understand with obvious intention that he scorned any subterfuge or indirectness and meant to show his cards. Smerdyakov’s eyes gleamed resentfully, his left eye winked, and he at once gave his answer, with his habitual composure and deliberation. “You want to have everything above-board; very well, you shall have it,” he seemed to say.

“This is what I meant then, and this is why I said that, that you, knowing beforehand of this murder of your own parent, left him to his fate, and that people mightn’t after that conclude any evil about your feelings and perhaps of something else, too — that’s what I promised not to tell the authorities.”

Though Smerdyakov spoke without haste and obviously controlling himself, yet there was something in his voice, determined and emphatic, resentful and insolently defiant. He stared impudently at Ivan. A mist passed before Ivan’s eyes for the first moment.

“How? What? Are you out of your mind?”

“I’m perfectly in possession of all my faculties.”

“Do you suppose I knew of the murder?” Ivan cried at last, and he brought his fist violently on the table. “What do you mean by ‘something else, too’? Speak, scoundrel!”

Smerdyakov was silent and still scanned Ivan with the same insolent stare.

“Speak, you stinking rogue, what is that ‘something else, too’?”

“The ‘something else’ I meant was that you probably, too, were very desirous of your parent’s death.”

Ivan jumped up and struck him with all his might on the shoulder, so that he fell back against the wall. In an instant his face was bathed in tears. Saying, “It’s a shame, sir, to strike a sick man,” he dried his eyes with a very dirty blue check handkerchief and sank into quiet weeping. A minute passed.

“That’s enough! Leave off,” Ivan said peremptorily, sitting down again. “Don’t put me out of all patience.”

Smerdyakov took the rag from his eyes. Every line of his puckered face reflected the insult he had just received.

“So you thought then, you scoundrel, that together with Dmitri I meant to kill my father?”

“I didn’t know what thoughts were in your mind then,” said Smerdyakov resentfully; “and so I stopped you then at the gate to sound you on that very point.”

“To sound what, what?”

“Why, that very circumstance, whether you wanted your father to be murdered or not.”

What infuriated Ivan more than anything was the aggressive, insolent tone to which Smerdyakov persistently adhered.

“It was you murdered him?” he cried suddenly.

Smerdyakov smiled contemptuously.

“You know of yourself, for a fact, that it wasn’t I murdered him. And I should have thought that there was no need for a sensible man to speak of it again.”

“But why, why had you such a suspicion about me at the time?”

“As you know already, it was simply from fear. For I was in such a position, shaking with fear, that I suspected everyone. I resolved to sound you, too, for I thought if you wanted the same as your brother, then the business was as good as settled and I should be crushed like a fly, too.”

“Look here, you didn’t say that a fortnight ago.”

“I meant the same when I talked to you in the hospital, only I thought you’d understand without wasting words, and that being such a sensible man you wouldn’t care to talk of it openly.”

“What next! Come answer, answer, I insist: what was it . . . what could I have done to put such a degrading suspicion into your mean soul?”

“As for the murder, you couldn’t have done that and didn’t want to, but as for wanting someone else to do it, that was just what you did want.”

“And how coolly, how coolly he speakst But why should I have wanted it; what grounds had I for wanting it?”

“What grounds had you? What about the inheritance?” said Smerdyakov sarcastically, and, as it were, vindictively. “Why, after your parent’s death there was at least forty thousand to come to each of you, and very likely more, but if Fyodor Pavlovitch got married then to that lady, Agrafena Alexandrovna, she would have had all his capital made over to her directly after the wedding, for she’s plenty of sense, so that your parent would not have left you two roubles between the three of you. And were they far from a wedding, either? Not a hair’s-breadth: that lady had only to lift her little finger and he would have run after her to church, with his tongue out.”

Ivan restrained himself with painful effort.

“Very good,” he commented at last. “You see, I haven’t jumped up, I haven’t knocked you down, I haven’t killed you. Speak on. So, according to you, I had fixed on Dmitri to do it; I was reckoning on him?”

“How could you help reckoning on him? If he killed him, then he would lose all the rights of a nobleman, his rank and property, and would go off to exile; so his share of the inheritance would come to you and your brother Alexey Fyodorovitch in equal parts; so you’d each have not forty, but sixty thousand each. There’s not a doubt you did reckon on Dmitri Fyodorovitch.”

“What I put up with from you! Listen, scoundrel, if I had reckoned on anyone then, it would have been on you, not on Dmitri, and I swear I did expect some wickedness from you . . . at the time. . . . I remember my impression!

“I thought, too, for a minute, at the time, that you were reckoning on me as well,” said Smerdyakov, with a sarcastic grin. “So that it was just by that more than anything you showed me what was in your mind. For if you had a foreboding about me and yet went away, you as good as said to me, ‘You can murder my parent, I won’t hinder you!”’

“You scoundrel! So that’s how you understood it!”

“It was all that going to Tchermashnya. Why! You were meaning to go to Moscow and refused all your father’s entreaties to go to Tchermashnya — and simply at a foolish word from me you consented at once! What reason had you to consent to Tchermashnya? Since you went to Tchermashnya with no reason, simply at my word, it shows that you must have expected something from me.”

No, I swear I didn’t!” shouted Ivan, grinding his teeth.

“You didn’t? Then you ought, as your father’s son, to have had me taken to the lock-up and thrashed at once for my words then . . . or at least, to have given me a punch in the face on the spot, but you were not a bit angry, if you please, and at once in a friendly way acted on my foolish word and went away, which was utterly absurd, for you ought to have stayed to save your parent’s life. How could I help drawing my conclusions?”

Ivan sat scowling, both his fists convulsively pressed on his knees.

“Yes, I am sorry I didn’t punch you in the face,” he said with a bitter smile. “I couldn’t have taken you to the lock-up just then. Who would have believed me and what charge could I bring against you? But the punch in the face . . . oh, I’m sorry I didn’t think of it. Though blows are forbidden, I should have pounded your ugly face to a jelly.”

Smerdyakov looked at him almost with relish.

“In the ordinary occasions of life,” he said in the same complacent and sententious tone in which he had taunted Grigory and argued with him about religion at Fyodor Pavlovitch’s table, “in the ordinary occasions of life, blows on the face are forbidden nowadays by law, and people have given them up, but in exceptional occasions of life people still fly to blows, not only among us but all over the world, be it even the fullest republic of France, just as in the time of Adam and Eve, and they never will leave off, but you, even in an exceptional case, did not dare.”

“What are you learning French words for?” Ivan nodded towards the exercise-book lying on the table.

“Why shouldn’t I learn them so as to improve my education, supposing that I may myself chance to go some day to those happy parts of Europe?”

“Listen, monster.” Ivan’s eyes flashed and he trembled all over. “I am not afraid of your accusations; you can say what you like about me, and if I don’t beat you to death, it’s simply because I suspect you of that crime and I’ll drag you to justice. I’ll unmask you.”

“To my thinking, you’d better keep quiet, for what can you accuse me of, considering my absolute innocence? And who would believe you? Only if you begin, I shall tell everything, too, for I must defend myself.”

“Do you think I am afraid of you now?”

“If the court doesn’t believe all I’ve said to you just now, the public will, and you will be ashamed.”

“That’s as much as to say, ‘It’s always worth while speaking to a sensible man,’ eh?” snarled Ivan.

“You hit the mark, indeed. And you’d better be sensible.”

Ivan got up, shaking all over with indignation, put on his coat, and without replying further to Smerdyakov, without even looking at him, walked quickly out of the cottage. The cool evening air refreshed him. There was a bright moon in the sky. A nightmare of ideas and sensations filled his soul. “Shall I go at once and give information against Smerdyakov? But what information can I give? He is not guilty, anyway. On the contrary, he’ll accuse me. And in fact, why did I set off for Tchermashnya then? What for? What for?” Ivan asked himself. “Yes, of course, I was expecting something and he is right . . . “ And he remembered for the hundredth time how, on the last night in his father’s house, he had listened on the stairs. But he remembered it now with such anguish that he stood still on the spot as though he had been stabbed. “Yes, I expected it then, that’s true! I wanted the murder, I did want the murder! Did I want the murder? Did I want it? I must kill Smerdyakov! If I don’t dare kill Smerdyakov now, life is not worth living!”

Ivan did not go home, but went straight to Katerina Ivanovna and alarmed her by his appearance. He was like a madman. He repeated all his conversation with Smerdyakov, every syllable of it. He couldn’t be calmed, however much she tried to soothe him: he kept walking about the room, speaking strangely, disconnectedly. At last he sat down, put his elbows on the table, leaned his head on his hands and pronounced this strange sentence: “If it’s not Dmitri, but Smerdyakov who’s the murderer, I share his guilt, for I put him up to it. Whether I did, I don’t know yet. But if he is the murderer, and not Dmitri, then, of course, I am the murderer, too.”

When Katerina Ivanovna heard that, she got up from her seat without a word, went to her writing-table, opened a box standing on it, took out a sheet of paper and laid it before Ivan. This was the document of which Ivan spoke to Alyosha later on as a “conclusive proof” that Dmitri had killed his father. It was the letter written by Mitya to Katerina Ivanovna when he was drunk, on the very evening he met Alyosha at the crossroads on the way to the monastery, after the scene at Katerina Ivanovna’s, when Grushenka had insulted her. Then, parting from Alyosha, Mitya had rushed to Grushenka. I don’t know whether he saw her, but in the evening he was at the Metropolis, where he got thoroughly drunk. Then he asked for pen and paper and wrote a document of weighty consequences to himself. It was a wordy, disconnected, frantic letter, a drunken letter, in fact. It was like the talk of a drunken man, who, on his return home, begins with extraordinary heat telling his wife or one of his household how he has just been insulted, what a rascal had just insulted him, what a fine fellow he is on the other hand, and how he will pay that scoundrel out; and all that at great length, with great excitement and incoherence, with drunken tears and blows on the table. The letter was written on a dirty piece of ordinary paper of the cheapest kind. It had been provided by the tavern and there were figures scrawled on the back of it. There was evidently not space enough for his drunken verbosity and Mitya not only filled the margins but had written the last line right across the rest. The letter ran as follows:

FATAL KATYA: To-morrow I will get the money and repay your three thousand and farewell, woman of great wrath, but farewell, too, my love! Let us make an end! To-morrow I shall try and get it from everyone, and if I can’t borrow it, I give you my word of honour I shall go to my father and break his skull and take the money from under the pillow, if only Ivan has gone. It I have to go to Siberia for it, I’ll give you back your three thousand. And farewell. I bow down to the ground before you, for I’ve been a scoundrel to you. Forgive me! No, better not forgive me, you’ll be happier and so shall I! Better Siberia than your love, for I love another woman and you got to know her too well to-day, so how can you forgive? I will murder the man who’s robbed me! I’ll leave you all and go to the East so as to see no one again. Not her either, for you are not my only tormentress; she is too. Farewel!

P.S. — I write my curse, but I adore you! I hear it in my heart. One string is left, and it vibrates. Better tear my heart in two! I shall kill myself, but first of all that cur. I shall tear three thousand from him and fling it to you. Though I’ve been a scoundrel to you, I am not a thief! You can expect three thousand. The cur keeps it under his mattress, in pink ribbon. I am not a thief, but I’ll murder my thief. Katya, don’t look disdainful. Dmitri is not a thief! but a murderer! He has murdered his father and ruined himself to hold his ground, rather than endure your pride. And he doesn’t love you.

P.P.S. — I kiss your feet, farewel!

P.P.P.S. — Katya, pray to God that someone’ll give me the money. Then I shall not be steeped in gore, and if no one does — I shall! Kill me!

Your slave and enemy,

D. KARAMAZOV

When Ivan read this “document” he was convinced. So then it was his brother, not Smerdyakov. And if not Smerdyakov, then not he, Ivan. This letter at once assumed in his eyes the aspect of a logical proof. There could be no longer the slightest doubt of Mitya’s guilt. The suspicion never occurred to Ivan, by the way, that Mitya might have committed the murder in conjunction with Smerdyakov, and, indeed, such a theory did not fit in with the facts. Ivan was completely reassured. The next morning he only thought of Smerdyakov and his gibes with contempt. A few days later he positively wondered how he could have been so horribly distressed at his suspicions. He resolved to dismiss him with contempt and forget him. So passed a month. He made no further inquiry about Smerdyakov, but twice he happened to hear that he was very ill and out of his mind.

“He’ll end in madness,” the young doctor Varvinsky observed about him, and Ivan remembered this. During the last week of that month Ivan himself began to feel very ill. He went to consult the Moscow doctor who had been sent for by Katerina Ivanovna just before the trial. And just at that time his relations with Katerina Ivanovna became acutely strained. They were like two enemies in love with one another. Katerina Ivanovna’s “returns” to Mitya, that is, her brief but violent revulsions of feeling in his favour, drove Ivan to perfect frenzy. Strange to say, until that last scene described above, when Alyosha came from Mitya to Katerina Ivanovna, Ivan had never once, during that month, heard her express a doubt of Mitya’s guilt, in spite of those “returns” that were so hateful to him. It is remarkable, too, that while he felt that he hated Mitya more and more every day, he realised that it was not on account of Katya’s “returns” that he hated him, but just because he was the murderer of his father. He was conscious of this and fully recognised it to himself

Nevertheless, he went to see Mitya ten days before the trial and proposed to him a plan of escape — a plan he had obviously thought over a long time. He was partly impelled to do this by a sore place still left in his heart from a phrase of Smerdyakov’s, that it was to his, Ivan’s, advantage that his brother should be convicted, as that would increase his inheritance and Alyosha’s from forty to sixty thousand roubles. He determined to sacrifice thirty thousand on arranging Mitya’s escape. On his return from seeing him, he was very mournful and dispirited; he suddenly began to feel that he was anxious for Mitya’s escape, not only to heal that sore place by sacrificing thirty thousand, but for another reason. “Is it because I am as much a murderer at heart?” he asked himself. Something very deep down seemed burning and rankling in his soul. His pride above all suffered cruelly all that month. But of that later. . . .

When, after his conversation with Alyosha, Ivan suddenly decided with his hand on the bell of his lodging to go to Smerdyakov, he obeyed a sudden and peculiar impulse of indignation. He suddenly remembered how Katerina Ivanovna had only just cried out to him in Alyosha’s presence: “It was you, you, persuaded me of his” (that is, Mitya’s) “guilt!” Ivan was thunderstruck when he recalled it. He had never once tried to persuade her that Mitya was the murderer; on the contrary, he had suspected himself in her presence, that time when he came back from Smerdyakov. It was she, she, who had produced that “document” and proved his brother’s guilt. And now she suddenly exclaimed: “I’ve been at Smerdyakov’s myself!” When had she been there? Ivan had known nothing of it. So she was not at all so sure of Mitya’s guilt! And what could Smerdyakov have told her? What, what, had he said to her? His heart burned with violent anger. He could not understand how he could, half an hour before, have let those words pass and not have cried out at the moment. He let go of the bell and rushed off to Smerdyakov. “I shall kill him, perhaps, this time,” he thought on the way.

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