The Brothers Karamazov, by Fyodor Dostoyevsky

Chapter 10

“It Was He Who Said That”

ALYOSHA coming in told Ivan that a little over an hour ago Marya Kondratyevna had run to his rooms and informed him Smerdyakov had taken his own life. “I went in to clear away the samovar and he was hanging on a nail in the wall.” On Alyosha’s inquiring whether she had informed the police, she answered that she had told no one, “but I flew straight to you, I’ve run all the way.” She seemed perfectly crazy, Alyosha reported, and was shaking like a leaf. When Alyosha ran with her to the cottage, he found Smerdyakov still hanging. On the table lay a note: “I destroy my life of my own will and desire, so as to throw no blame on anyone.” Alyosha left the note on the table and went straight to the police captain and told him all about it. “And from him I’ve come straight to you,” said Alyosha, in conclusion, looking intently into Ivan’s face. He had not taken his eyes off him while he told his story, as though struck by something in his expression.

“Brother,” he cried suddenly, “you must be terribly ill. You look and don’t seem to understand what I tell you.”

“It’s a good thing you came,” said Ivan, as though brooding, and not hearing Alyosha’s exclamation. “I knew he had hanged himself.”

“From whom?”

“I don’t know. But I knew. Did I know? Yes, he told me. He told me so just now.”

Ivan stood in the middle of the room, and still spoke in the same brooding tone, looking at the ground.

“Who is he?” asked Alyosha, involuntarily looking round.

“He’s slipped away.”

Ivan raised his head and smiled softly.

“He was afraid of you, of a dove like you. You are a ‘pure cherub.’ Dmitri calls you a cherub. Cherub! . . . the thunderous rapture of the seraphim. What are seraphim? Perhaps a whole constellation. But perhaps that constellation is only a chemical molecule. There’s a constellation of the Lion and the Sun. Don’t you know it?”

“Brother, sit down,” said Alyosha in alarm. “For goodness’ sake, sit down on the sofa! You are delirious; put your head on the pillow, that’s right. Would you like a wet towel on your head? Perhaps it will do you good.”

“Give me the towel: it’s here on the chair. I just threw it down there.”

“It’s not here. Don’t worry yourself. I know where it is — here,” said Alyosha, finding a clean towel, folded up and unused, by Ivan’s dressing-table in the other corner of the room. Ivan looked strangely at the towel: recollection seemed to come back to him for an instant.

“Stay” — he got up from the sofa — “an hour ago I took that new towel from there and wetted it. I wrapped it round my head and threw it down here . . . How is it it’s dry? There was no other.”

“You put that towel on your head?” asked Alyosha.

“Yes, and walked up and down the room an hour ago . . . Why have the candles burnt down so? What’s the time?”

“Nearly twelve”

“No, no, no!” Ivan cried suddenly. “It was not a dream. He was here; he was sitting here, on that sofa. When you knocked at the window, I threw a glass at him . . . this one. Wait a minute. I was asleep last time, but this dream was not a dream. It has happened before. I have dreams now, Alyosha . . . yet they are not dreams, but reality. I walk about, talk and see . . . though I am asleep. But he was sitting here, on that sofa there. . . . He is frightfully stupid, Alyosha, frightfully stupid.” Ivan laughed suddenly and began pacing about the room.

“Who is stupid? Of whom are you talking, brother?” Alyosha asked anxiously again.

“The devil! He’s taken to visiting me. He’s been here twice, almost three times. He taunted me with being angry at his being a simple devil and not Satan, with scorched wings, in thunder and lightning. But he is not Satan: that’s a lie. He is an impostor. He is simply a devil — a paltry, trivial devil. He goes to the baths. If you undressed him, you’d be sure to find he had a tail, long and smooth like a Danish dog’s, a yard long, dun colour. . . . Alyosha, you are cold. You’ve been in the snow. Would you like some tea? What? Is it cold? Shall I tell her to bring some? C’est a ne pas mettre un chien dehors . . . ”

Alyosha ran to the washing-stand, wetted the towel, persuaded Ivan to sit down again, and put the wet towel round his head. He sat down beside him.

“What were you telling me just now about Lise?” Ivan began again. (He was becoming very talkative.) “I like Lise. I said something nasty about her. It was a lie. I like her . . . I am afraid for Katya to-morrow. I am more afraid of her than of anything. On account of the future. She will cast me off to-morrow and trample me under foot. She thinks that I am ruining Mitya from jealousy on her account! Yes, she thinks that! But it’s not so. To-morrow the cross, but not the gallows. No, I shan’t hang myself. Do you know, I can never commit suicide, Alyosha. Is it because I am base? I am not a coward. Is it from love of life? How did I know that Smerdyakov had hanged himself? Yes, it was he told me so.”

“And you are quite convinced that there has been someone here?” asked Alyosha.

“Yes, on that sofa in the corner. You would have driven him away. You did drive him away: he disappeared when you arrived. I love your face, Alyosha. Did you know that I loved your face? And he is myself, Alyosha. All that’s base in me, all that’s mean and contemptible. Yes, I am a romantic. He guessed it . . . though it’s a libel. He is frightfully stupid; but it’s to his advantage. He has cunning, animal cunning — he knew how to infuriate me. He kept taunting me with believing in him, and that was how he made me listen to him. He fooled me like a boy. He told me a great deal that was true about myself, though. I should never have owned it to myself. Do you know, Alyosha,” Ivan added in an intensely earnest and confidential tone, “I should be awfully glad to think that it was he and not I.”

“He has worn you out,” said Alyosha, looking compassionately at his brother.

“He’s been teasing me. And you know he does it so cleverly, so cleverly. ‘Conscience! What is conscience? I make it up for myself. Why am I tormented by it? From habit. From the universal habit of mankind for the seven thousand years. So let us give it up, and we shall be gods.’ It was he said that, it was he said that!”

“And not you, not you?” Alyosha could not help crying, looking frankly at his brother. “Never mind him, anyway; have done with him and forget him. And let him take with him all that you curse now, and never come back!”

“Yes, but he is spiteful. He laughed at me. He was impudent, Alyosha,” Ivan said, with a shudder of offence. “But he was unfair to me, unfair to me about lots of things. He told lies about me to my face. ‘Oh, you are going to perform an act of heroic virtue: to confess you murdered your father, that the valet murdered him at your instigation.’”

“Brother,” Alyosha interposed, “restrain yourself. It was not you murdered him. It’s not true!”

“That’s what he says, he, and he knows it. ‘You are going to perform an act of heroic virtue, and you don’t believe in virtue; that’s what tortures you and makes you angry, that’s why you are so vindictive.’ He said that to me about me and he knows what he says.”

“It’s you say that, not he,” exclaimed Alyosha mournfully, “and you say it because you are ill and delirious, tormenting yourself.”

“No, he knows what he says. ‘You are going from pride,’ he says. ‘You’ll stand up and say it was I killed him, and why do you writhe with horror? You are lying! I despise your opinion, I despise your horror!’ He said that about me. ‘And do you know you are longing for their praise — “he is a criminal, a murderer, but what a generous soul; he wanted to save his brother and he confessed.” That’s a lie Alyosha!” Ivan cried suddenly, with flashing eyes. “I don’t want the low rabble to praise me, I swear I don’t! That’s a lie! That’s why I threw the glass at him and it broke against his ugly face.”

“Brother, calm yourself, stop!” Alyosha entreated him.

“Yes, he knows how to torment one. He’s cruel,” Ivan went on, unheeding. “I had an inkling from the first what he came for. ‘Granting that you go through pride, still you had a hope that Smerdyakov might be convicted and sent to Siberia, and Mitya would be acquitted, while you would only be punished, with moral condemnation’ (‘Do you hear?’ he laughed then) — ‘and some people will praise you. But now Smerdyakov’s dead, he has hanged himself, and who’ll believe you alone? But yet you are going, you are going, you’ll go all the same, you’ve decided to go. What are you going for now?’ That’s awful, Alyosha. I can’t endure such questions. Who dare ask me such questions?”

“Brother,” interposed Alyosha — his heart sank with terror, but he still seemed to hope to bring Ivan to reason — “how could he have told you of Smerdyakov’s death before I came, when no one knew of it and there was no time for anyone to know of it?”

“He told me,” said Ivan firmly, refusing to admit a doubt. “It was all he did talk about, if you come to that. ‘And it would be all right if you believed in virtue,’ he said. ‘No matter if they disbelieve you, you are going for the sake of principle. But you are a little pig like Fyodor Pavlovitch, and what do you want with virtue? Why do you want to go meddling if your sacrifice is of no use to anyone? Because you don’t know yourself why you go! Oh, you’d give a great deal to know yourself why you go! And can you have made up your mind? You’ve not made up your mind. You’ll sit all night deliberating whether to go or not. But you will go; you know you’ll go. You know that whichever way you decide, the decision does not depend on you. You’ll go because you won’t dare not to go. Why won’t you dare? You must guess that for yourself. That’s a riddle for you!’ He got up and went away. You came and he went. He called me a coward, Alyosha! Le mot de l’enigme is that I am a coward. ‘It is not for such eagles to soar above the earth.‘It was he added that — he! And Smerdyakov said the same. He must be killed! Katya despises me. I’ve seen that for a month past. Even Lise will begin to despise me! ‘You are going in order to be praised.’ That’s a brutal lie! And you despise me too, Alyosha. Now I am going to hate you again! And I hate the monster, too! I hate the monster! I don’t want to save the monster. Let him rot in Siberia! He’s begun singing a hymn! Oh, to-morrow I’ll go, stand before them, and spit in their faces!”

He jumped up in a frenzy, flung off the towel, and fell to pacing up and down the room again. Alyosha recalled what he had just said. “I seem to be sleeping awake . . . I walk, I speak, I see, but I am asleep.” It seemed to be just like that now. Alyosha did not leave him. The thought passed through his mind to run for a doctor, but he was afraid to leave his brother alone: there was no one to whom he could leave him. By degrees Ivan lost consciousness completely at last. He still went on talking, talking incessantly, but quite incoherently, and even articulated his words with difficulty. Suddenly he staggered violently; but Alyosha was in time to support him. Ivan let him lead him to his bed. Alyosha undressed him somehow and put him to bed. He sat watching over him for another two hours. The sick man slept soundly, without stirring, breathing softly and evenly. Alyosha took a pillow and lay down on the sofa, without undressing.

As he fell asleep he prayed for Mitya and Ivan. He began to understand Ivan’s illness. “The anguish of a proud determination. An earnest conscience!” God, in Whom he disbelieved, and His truth were gaining mastery over his heart, which still refused to submit. “Yes,” the thought floated through Alyosha’s head as it lay on the pillow, “yes, if Smerdyakov is dead, no one will believe Ivan’s evidence; but he will go and give it.” Alyosha smiled softly. “God will conquer!” he thought. “He will either rise up in the light of truth, or . . . he’ll perish in hate, revenging on himself and on everyone his having served the cause he does not believe in,” Alyosha added bitterly, and again he prayed for Ivan.

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