The Brothers Karamazov, by Fyodor Dostoyevsky

Chapter 5

A Sudden Catastrophe

I MAY note that he had been called before Alyosha. But the usher of the court announced to the President that, owing to an attack of illness or some sort of fit, the witness could not appear at the moment, but was ready to give his evidence as soon as he recovered. But no one seemed to have heard it and it only came out later.

His entrance was for the first moment almost unnoticed. The principal witnesses, especially the two rival ladies, had already been questioned. Curiosity was satisfied for the time; the public was feeling almost fatigued. Several more witnesses were still to be heard, who probably had little information to give after all that had been given. Time was passing. Ivan walked up with extraordinary slowness, looking at no one, and with his head bowed, as though plunged in gloomy thought. He was irreproachably dressed, but his face made a painful impression, on me at least: there was an earthy look in it, a look like a dying man’s. His eyes were lustreless; he raised them and looked slowly round the court. Alyosha jumped up from his seat and moaned “Ah!” I remember that, but it was hardly noticed.

The President began by informing him that he was a witness not on oath, that he might answer or refuse to answer, but that, of course, he must bear witness according to his conscience, and so on, and so on. Ivan listened and looked at him blankly, but his face gradually relaxed into a smile, and as soon as the President, looking at him in astonishment, finished, he laughed outright.

“Well, and what else?” he asked in a loud voice.

There was a hush in the court; there was a feeling of something strange. The President showed signs of uneasiness.

“You . . . are perhaps still unwell?” he began, looking everywhere for the usher.

“Don’t trouble yourself, your excellency, I am well enough and can tell you something interesting,” Ivan answered with sudden calmness and respectfulness.

“You have some special communication to make?” the President went on, still mistrustfully.

Ivan looked down, waited a few seconds and, raising his head, answered, almost stammering:

“No . . . I haven’t. I have nothing particular.”

They began asking him questions. He answered, as it were, reluctantly, with extreme brevity, with a sort of disgust which grew more and more marked, though he answered rationally. To many questions he answered that he did not know. He knew nothing of his father’s money relations with Dmitri. “I wasn’t interested in the subject,” he added. Threats to murder his father he had heard from the prisoner. Of the money in the envelope he had heard from Smerdyakov.

“The same thing over and over again,” he interrupted suddenly, with a look of weariness. “I have nothing particular to tell the court.”

“I see you are unwell and understand your feelings,” the President began.

He turned to the prosecutor and the counsel for the defence to invite them to examine the witness, if necessary, when Ivan suddenly asked in an exhausted voice:

“Let me go, your excellency, I feel very ill.”

And with these words, without waiting for permission, he turned to walk out of the court. But after taking four steps he stood still, as though he had reached a decision, smiled slowly, and went back.

“I am like the peasant girl, your excellency . . . you know. How does it go? ‘I’ll stand up if I like, and I won’t if I don’t.’ They were trying to put on her sarafan to take her to church to be married, and she said, ‘I’ll stand up if I like, and I won’t if I don’t.’ . . . It’s in some book about the peasantry.”

“What do you mean by that?” the President asked severely.

“Why, this,” Ivan suddenly pulled out a roll of notes. “Here’s the money . . . the notes that lay in that envelope” (he nodded towards the table on which lay the material evidence), “for the sake of which our father was murdered. Where shall I put them? Mr. Superintendent, take them.”

The usher of the court took the whole roll and handed it to the President.

“How could this money have come into your possession if it is the same money?” the President asked wonderingly.

“I got them from Smerdyakov, from the murderer, yesterday. . . . I was with him just before he hanged himself. It was he, not my brother, killed our father. He murdered him and I incited him to do it . . . Who doesn’t desire his father’s death?”

“Are you in your right mind?” broke involuntarily from the President.

“I should think I am in my right mind . . . in the same nasty mind as all of you . . . as all these . . . ugly faces.” He turned suddenly to the audience. “My father has been murdered and they pretend they are horrified,” he snarled, with furious contempt. “They keep up the sham with one another. Liars! They all desire the death of their fathers. One reptile devours another. . . . If there hadn’t been a murder, they’d have been angry and gone home ill-humoured. It’s a spectacle they want! Panem et circenses.28 Though I am one to talk! Have you any water? Give me a drink for Christ’s sake!” He suddenly clutched his head.

28 Bread and circuses.

The usher at once approached him. Alyosha jumped up and cried, “He is ill. Don’t believe him: he has brain fever.” Katerina Ivanovna rose impulsively from her seat and, rigid with horror, gazed at Ivan. Mitya stood up and greedily looked at his brother and listened to him with a wild, strange smile.

“Don’t disturb yourselves. I am not mad, I am only a murderer,” Ivan began again. “You can’t expect eloquence from a murderer,” he added suddenly for some reason and laughed a queer laugh.

The prosecutor bent over to the President in obvious dismay. The two other judges communicated in agitated whispers. Fetyukovitch pricked up his ears as he listened: the hall was hushed in expectation. The President seemed suddenly to recollect himself.

“Witness, your words are incomprehensible and impossible here. Calm yourself, if you can, and tell your story . . . if you really have something to tell. How can you confirm your statement . . . if indeed you are not delirious?”

“That’s just it. I have no proof. That cur Smerdyakov won’t send you proofs from the other world . . . in an envelope. You think of nothing but envelopes — one is enough. I’ve no witnesses . . . except one, perhaps,” he smiled thoughtfully.

“Who is your witness?”

“He has a tail, your excellency, and that would be irregular! Le diable n’existe point! Don’t pay attention: he is a paltry, pitiful devil,” he added suddenly. He ceased laughing and spoke as it were, confidentially. “He is here somewhere, no doubt — under that table with the material evidence on it, perhaps. Where should he sit if not there? You see, listen to me. I told him I don’t want to keep quiet, and he talked about the geological cataclysm . . . idiocy! Come, release the monster . . . he’s been singing a hymn. That’s because his heart is light! It’s like a drunken man in the street bawling how ‘Vanka went to Petersburg,’ and I would give a quadrillion quadrillions for two seconds of joy. You don’t know me! Oh, how stupid all this business is! Come, take me instead of him! I didn’t come for nothing. . . . Why, why is everything so stupid? . . . ”

And he began slowly, and as it were reflectively, looking round him again. But the court was all excitement by now. Alyosha rushed towards him, but the court usher had already seized Ivan by the arm.

“What are you about?” he cried, staring into the man’s face, and suddenly seizing him by the shoulders, he flung him violently to the floor. But the police were on the spot and he was seized. He screamed furiously. And all the time he was being removed, he yelled and screamed something incoherent.

The whole court was thrown into confusion. I don’t remember everything as it happened. I was excited myself and could not follow. I only know that afterwards, when everything was quiet again and everyone understood what had happened, the court usher came in for a reprimand, though he very reasonably explained that the witness had been quite well, that the doctor had seen him an hour ago, when he had a slight attack of giddiness, but that, until he had come into the court, he had talked quite consecutively, so that nothing could have been foreseen — that he had, in fact, insisted on giving evidence. But before everyone had completely regained their composure and recovered from this scene, it was followed by another. Katerina Ivanovna had an attack of hysterics. She sobbed, shrieking loudly, but refused to leave the court, struggled, and besought them not to remove her. Suddenly she cried to the President:

“There is more evidence I must give at once . . . at once! Here is a document, a letter . . . take it, read it quickly, quickly! It’s a letter from that monster . . . that man there, there!” she pointed to Mitya. “It was he killed his father, you will see that directly. He wrote to me how he would kill his father! But the other one is ill, he is ill, he is delirious!” she kept crying out, beside herself.

The court usher took the document she held out to the President, and she, dropping into her chair, hiding her face in her hands, began convulsively and noiselessly sobbing, shaking all over, and stifling every sound for fear she should be ejected from the court. The document she had handed up was that letter Mitya had written at the Metropolis tavern, which Ivan had spoken of as a “mathematical proof.” Alas! its mathematical conclusiveness was recognised, and had it not been for that letter, Mitya might have escaped his doom or, at least, that doom would have been less terrible. It was, I repeat, difficult to notice every detail. What followed is still confused to my mind. The President must, I suppose, have at once passed on the document to the judges, the jury, and the lawyers on both sides. I only remember how they began examining the witness. On being gently asked by the President whether she had recovered sufficiently, Katerina Ivanovna exclaimed impetuously:

“I am ready, I am ready! I am quite equal to answering you,” she added, evidently still afraid that she would somehow be prevented from giving evidence. She was asked to explain in detail what this letter was and under what circumstances she received it.

“I received it the day before the crime was committed, but he wrote it the day before that, at the tavern — that is, two days before he committed the crime. Look, it is written on some sort of bill!” she cried breathlessly. “He hated me at that time, because he had behaved contemptibly and was running after that creature . . . and because he owed me that three thousand. . . . Oh! he was humiliated by that three thousand on account of his own meanness! This is how it happened about that three thousand. I beg you, I beseech you, to hear me. Three weeks before he murdered his father, he came to me one morning. I knew he was in want of money, and what he wanted it for. Yes, yes — to win that creature and carry her off. I knew then that he had been false to me and meant to abandon me, and it was I, I, who gave him that money, who offered it to him on the pretext of his sending it to my sister in Moscow. And as I gave it him, I looked him in the face and said that he could send it when he liked, ‘in a month’s time would do.’ How, how could he have failed to understand that I was practically telling him to his face, ‘You want money to be false to me with your creature, so here’s the money for you. I give it to you myself. Take it, if you have so little honour as to take it!’ I wanted to prove what he was, and what happened? He took it, he took it, and squandered it with that creature in one night. . . . But he knew, he knew that I knew all about it. I assure you he understood, too, that I gave him that money to test him, to see whether he was so lost to all sense of honour as to take it from me. I looked into his eyes and he looked into mine, and he understood it all and he took it — he carried off my money!

“That’s true, Katya,” Mitya roared suddenly, “I looked into your eyes and I knew that you were dishonouring me, and yet I took your money. Despise me as a scoundrel, despise me, all of you! I’ve deserved it!”

“Prisoner,” cried the President, “another word and I will order you to be removed.”

“That money was a torment to him,” Katya went on with impulsive haste. “He wanted to repay it me. He wanted to, that’s true; but he needed money for that creature, too. So he murdered his father, but he didn’t repay me, and went off with her to that village where he was arrested. There, again, he squandered the money he had stolen after the murder of his father. And a day before the murder he wrote me this letter. He was drunk when he wrote it. I saw it at once, at the time. He wrote it from spite, and feeling certain, positively certain, that I should never show it to anyone, even if he did kill him, or else he wouldn’t have written it. For he knew I shouldn’t want to revenge myself and ruin him! But read it, read it attentively — more attentively, please — and you will see that he had described it all in his letter, all beforehand, how he would kill his father and where his money was kept. Look, please, don’t overlook that, there’s one phrase there, ‘I shall kill him as soon as Ivan has gone away.’ he thought it all out beforehand how he would kill him,” Katerina Ivanovna pointed out to the court with venomous and malignant triumph. Oh! it was clear she had studied every line of that letter and detected every meaning underlining it. “If he hadn’t been drunk, he wouldn’t have written to me; but, look, everything is written there beforehand, just as he committed the murder after. A complete programme of it!” she exclaimed frantically.

She was reckless now of all consequences to herself, though, no doubt, she had foreseen them even a month ago, for even then, perhaps, shaking with anger, she had pondered whether to show it at the trial or not. Now she had taken the fatal plunge. I remember that the letter was read aloud by the clerk, directly afterwards, I believe. It made an overwhelming impression. They asked Mitya whether he admitted having written the letter.

“It’s mine, mine!” cried Mitya. “I shouldn’t have written it if I hadn’t been drunk! . . . We’ve hated each other for many things, Katya, but I swear, I swear I loved you even while I hated you, and you didn’t love me!”

He sank back on his seat, wringing his hands in despair. The prosecutor and counsel for the defence began cross-examining her, chiefly to ascertain what had induced her to conceal such a document and to give her evidence in quite a different tone and spirit just before.

“Yes, yes. I was telling lies just now. I was lying against my honour and my conscience, but I wanted to save him, for he has hated and despised me so!” Katya cried madly. “Oh, he has despised me horribly, he has always despised me, and do you know, he has despised me from the very moment that I bowed down to him for that money. I saw that. . . . I felt it at once at the time, but for a long time I wouldn’t believe it. How often I have read it in his eyes, ‘You came of yourself, though.’ Oh, he didn’t understand, he had no idea why I ran to him, he can suspect nothing but baseness, he judged me by himself, he thought everyone was like himself!” Katya hissed furiously, in a perfect frenzy. “And he only wanted to marry me, because I’d inherited a fortune, because of that, because of that! I always suspected it was because of that! Oh, he is a brute! He was always convinced that I should be trembling with shame all my life before him, because I went to him then, and that he had a right to despise me forever for it, and so to be superior to me — that’s why he wanted to marry me! That’s so, that’s all so! I tried to conquer him by my love — a love that knew no bounds. I even tried to forgive his faithlessness; but he understood nothing, nothing! How could he understand indeed? He is a monster! I only received that letter the next evening: it was brought me from the tavern — and only that morning, only that morning I wanted to forgive him everything, everything — even his treachery!”

The President and the prosecutor, of course, tried to calm her. I can’t help thinking that they felt ashamed of taking advantage of her hysteria and of listening to such avowals. I remember hearing them say to her, “We understand how hard it is for you; be sure we are able to feel for you,” and so on, and so on. And yet they dragged the evidence out of the raving, hysterical woman. She described at last with extraordinary clearness, which is so often seen, though only for a moment, in such overwrought states, how Ivan had been nearly driven out of his mind during the last two months trying to save “the monster and murderer,” his brother.

“He tortured himself,” she exclaimed, “he was always trying to minimise his brother’s guilt and confessing to me that he, too, had never loved his father, and perhaps desired his death himself. Oh, he has a tender, over-tender conscience! He tormented himself with his conscience! He told me everything, everything! He came every day and talked to me as his only friend. I have the honour to be his only friend!” she cried suddenly with a sort of defiance, and her eyes flashed. “He had been twice to see Smerdyakov. One day he came to me and said, ‘If it was not my brother, but Smerdyakov committed the murder’ (for the legend was circulating everywhere that Smerdyakov had done it), ‘perhaps I too am guilty, for Smerdyakov knew I didn’t like my father and perhaps believed that I desired my father’s death.’ Then I brought out that letter and showed it him. He was entirely convinced that his brother had done it, and he was overwhelmed by it. He couldn’t endure the thought that his own brother was a parricide! Only a week ago I saw that it was making him ill. During the last few days he has talked incoherently in my presence. I saw his mind was giving way. He walked about, raving; he was seen muttering in the streets. The doctor from Moscow, at my request, examined him the day before yesterday and told me that he was on the eve of brain fever — and all on his account, on account of this monster! And last night he learnt that Smerdyakov was dead! It was such a shock that it drove him out of his mind . . . and all through this monster, all for the sake of saving the monster!”

Oh, of course, such an outpouring, such an avowal is only possible once in a lifetime — at the hour of death, for instance, on the way to the scaffold! But it was in Katya’s character, and it was such a moment in her life. It was the same impetuous Katya who had thrown herself on the mercy of a young profligate to save her father; the same Katya who had just before, in her pride and chastity, sacrificed herself and her maidenly modesty before all these people, telling of Mitya’s generous conduct, in the hope of softening his fate a little. And now, again, she sacrificed herself; but this time it was for another, and perhaps only now — perhaps only at this moment — she felt and knew how dear that other was to her! She had sacrificed herself in terror for him; conceiving all of a sudden that he had ruined himself by his confession that it was he who had committed the murder, not his brother, she had sacrificed herself to save him, to save his good name, his reputation!

And yet one terrible doubt occurred to one — was she lying in her description of her former relations with Mitya? — that was the question. No, she had not intentionally slandered him when she cried that Mitya despised her for her bowing down to him! She believed it herself. She had been firmly convinced, perhaps ever since that bow, that the simplehearted Mitya, who even then adored her, was laughing at her and despising her. She had loved him with an hysterical, “lacerated” love only from pride, from wounded pride, and that love was not like love, but more like revenge. Oh! perhaps that lacerated love would have grown into real love, perhaps Katya longed for nothing more than that, but Mitya’s faithlessness had wounded her to the bottom of her heart, and her heart could not forgive him. The moment of revenge had come upon her suddenly, and all that had been accumulating so long and so painfully in the offended woman’s breast burst out all at once and unexpectedly. She betrayed Mitya, but she betrayed herself, too. And no sooner had she given full expression to her feelings than the tension of course was over and she was overwhelmed with shame. Hysterics began again: she fell on the floor, sobbing and screaming. She was carried out. At that moment Grushenka, with a wail, rushed towards Mitya before they had time to prevent her.

“Mitya,” she wailed, “your serpent has destroyed you! There, she has shown you what she is!” she shouted to the judges, shaking with anger. At a signal from the President they seized her and tried to remove her from the court. She wouldn’t allow it. She fought and struggled to get back to Mitya. Mitya uttered a cry and struggled to get to her. He was overpowered.

Yes, I think the ladies who came to see the spectacle must have been satisfied — the show had been a varied one. Then I remember the Moscow doctor appeared on the scene. I believe the President had previously sent the court usher to arrange for medical aid for Ivan. The doctor announced to the court that the sick man was suffering from a dangerous attack of brain fever, and that he must be at once removed. In answer to questions from the prosecutor and the counsel for the defence he said that the patient had come to him of his own accord the day before yesterday and that he had warned him that he had such an attack coming on, but he had not consented to be looked after. “He was certainly not in a normal state of mind: he told me himself that he saw visions when he was awake, that he met several persons in the street, who were dead, and that Satan visited him every evening,” said the doctor, in conclusion. Having given his evidence, the celebrated doctor withdrew. The letter produced by Katerina Ivanovna was added to the material proofs. After some deliberation, the judges decided to proceed with the trial and to enter both the unexpected pieces of evidence (given by Ivan and Katerina Ivanovna) on the protocol.

But I will not detail the evidence of the other witnesses, who only repeated and confirmed what had been said before, though all with their characteristic peculiarities. I repeat, all was brought together in the prosecutor’s speech, which I shall quote immediately. Everyone was excited, everyone was electrified by the late catastrophe, and all were awaiting the speeches for the prosecution and the defence with intense impatience. Fetyukovitch was obviously shaken by Katerina Ivanovna’s evidence. But the prosecutor was triumphant. When all the evidence had been taken, the court was adjourned for almost an hour. I believe it was just eight o’clock when the President returned to his seat and our prosecutor, Ippolit Kirillovitch, began his speech.

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