The Brothers Karamazov, by Fyodor Dostoyevsky

Chapter 9

The Galloping Troika. The End of the Prosecutor’s Speech

IPPOLIT KIRILLOVITCH had chosen the historial method of exposition, beloved by all nervous orators, who find in its limitation a check on their own eager rhetoric. At this moment in his speech he went off into a dissertation on Grushenka’s “first lover,” and brought forward several interesting thoughts on this theme.

“Karamazov, who had been frantically jealous of everyone, collapsed, so to speak, and effaced himself at once before this first lover. What makes it all the more strange is that he seems to have hardly thought of this formidable rival. But he had looked upon him as a remote danger, and Karamazov always lives in the present. Possibly he regarded him as a fiction. But his wounded heart grasped instantly that the woman had been concealing this new rival and deceiving him, because he was anything but a fiction to her, because he was the one hope of her life. Grasping this instantly, he resigned himself.

“Gentlemen of the jury, I cannot help dwelling on this unexpected trait in the prisoner’s character. He suddenly evinces an irresistible desire for justice, a respect for woman and a recognition of her right to love. And all this at the very moment when he had stained his hands with his father’s blood for her sake! It is true that the blood he had shed was already crying out for vengeance, for, after having ruined his soul and his life in this world, he was forced to ask himself at that same instant what he was and what he could be now to her, to that being, dearer to him than his own soul, in comparison with that former lover who had returned penitent, with new love, to the woman he had once betrayed, with honourable offers, with the promise of a reformed and happy life. And he, luckless man, what could he give her now, what could he offer her?

“Karamazov felt all this, knew that all ways were barred to him by his crime and that he was a criminal under sentence, and not a man with life before him! This thought crushed him. And so he instantly flew to one frantic plan, which, to a man of Karamazov’s character, must have appeared the one inevitable way out of his terrible position. That way out was suicide. He ran for the pistols he had left in pledge with his friend Perhotin and on the way, as he ran, he pulled out of his pocket the money, for the sake of which he had stained his hands with his father’s gore. Oh, now he needed money more than ever. Karamazov would die, Karamazov would shoot himself and it should be remembered! To be sure, he was a poet and had burnt the candle at both ends all his life. ‘To her, to her! and there, oh, there I will give a feast to the whole world, such as never was before, that will be remembered and talked of long after! In the midst of shouts of wild merriment, reckless gypsy songs and dances I shall raise the glass and drink to the woman I adore and her new-found happiness! And then, on the spot, at her feet, I shall dash out my brains before her and punish myself! She will remember Mitya Karamazov sometimes, she will see how Mitya loved her, she will feel for Mitya!’

“Here we see in excess a love of effect, a romantic despair and sentimentality, and the wild recklessness of the Karamazovs. Yes, but there is something else, gentlemen of the jury, something that cries out in the soul, throbs incessantly in the mind, and poisons the heart unto death — that something is conscience, gentlemen of the jury, its judgment, its terrible torments! The pistol will settle everything, the pistol is the only way out! But beyond — I don’t know whether Karamazov wondered at that moment ‘What lies beyond,’ whether Karamazov could, like Hamlet, wonder ‘What lies beyond.’ No, gentlemen of the jury, they have their Hamlets, but we still have our Karamazovs!”

Here Ippolit Kirillovitch drew a minute picture of Mitya’s preparations, the scene at Perhotin’s, at the shop, with the drivers. He quoted numerous words and actions, confirmed by witnesses, and the picture made a terrible impression on the audience. The guilt of this harassed and desperate man stood out clear and convincing, when the facts were brought together.

“What need had he of precaution? Two or three times he almost confessed, hinted at it, all but spoke out.” (Then followed the evidence given by witnesses.) “He even cried out to the peasant who drove him, ‘Do you know, you are driving a murderer!’ But it was impossible for him to speak out, he had to get to Mokroe and there to finish his romance. But what was awaiting the luckless man? Almost from the first minute at Mokroe he saw that his invincible rival was perhaps by no means so invincible, that the toast to their new-found happiness was not desired and would not be acceptable. But you know the facts, gentlemen of the jury, from the preliminary inquiry. Karamazov’s triumph over his rival was complete and his soul passed into quite a new phase, perhaps the most terrible phase through which his soul has passed or will pass.

“One may say with certainty, gentlemen of the jury,” the prosecutor continued, “that outraged nature and the criminal heart bring their own vengeance more completely than any earthly justice. What’s more, justice and punishment on earth positively alleviate the punishment of nature and are, indeed, essential to the soul of the criminal at such moments, as its salvation from despair. For I cannot imagine the horror and moral suffering of Karamazov when he learnt that she loved him, that for his sake she had rejected her first lover, that she was summoning him, Mitya, to a new life, that she was promising him happiness — and when? When everything was over for him and nothing was possible!

“By the way, I will note in parenthesis a point of importance for the light it throws on the prisoner’s position at the moment. This woman, this love of his, had been till the last moment, till the very instant of his arrest, a being unattainable, passionately desired by him but unattainable. Yet why did he not shoot himself then, why did he relinquish his design and even forget where his pistol was? It was just that passionate desire for love and the hope of satisfying it that restrained him. Throughout their revels he kept close to his adored mistress, who was at the banquet with him and was more charming and fascinating to him than ever — he did not leave her side, abasing himself in his homage before her.

“His passion might well, for a moment, stifle not only the fear of arrest, but even the torments of conscience. For a moment, oh, only for a moment! I can picture the state of mind of the criminal hopelessly enslaved by these influences — first, the influence of drink, of noise and excitement, of the thud of the dance and the scream of the song, and of her, flushed with wine, singing and dancing and laughing to him! Secondly, the hope in the background that the fatal end might still be far off, that not till next morning, at least, they would come and take him. So he had a few hours and that’s much, very much! In a few hours one can think of many things. I imagine that he felt something like what criminals feel when they are being taken to the scaffold. They have another long, long street to pass down and at walking pace, past thousands of people. Then there will be a turning into another street and only at the end of that street the dread place of execution! I fancy that at the beginning of the journey the condemned man, sitting on his shameful cart, must feel that he has infinite life still before him. The houses recede, the cart moves on — oh, that’s nothing, it’s still far to the turning into the second street and he still looks boldly to right and to left at those thousands of callously curious people with their eyes fixed on him, and he still fancies that he is just such a man as they. But now the turning comes to the next street. Oh, that’s nothing, nothing, there’s still a whole street before him, and however many houses have been passed, he will still think there are many left. And so to the very end, to the very scaffold.

“This I imagine is how it was with Karamazov then. ‘They’ve not had time yet,’ he must have thought, ‘I may still find some way out, oh, there’s still time to make some plan of defence, and now, now — she is so fascinating!’

“His soul was full of confusion and dread, but he managed, however, to put aside half his money and hide it somewhere — I cannot otherwise explain the disappearance of quite half of the three thousand he had just taken from his father’s pillow. He had been in Mokroe more than once before, he had caroused there for two days together already, he knew the old big house with all its passages and outbuildings. I imagine that part of the money was hidden in that house, not long before the arrest, in some crevice, under some floor, in some corner, under the roof. With what object? I shall be asked. Why, the catastrophe may take place at once, of course; he hadn’t yet considered how to meet it, he hadn’t the time, his head was throbbing and his heart was with her, but money — money was indispensable in any case! With money a man is always a man. Perhaps such foresight at such a moment may strike you as unnatural? But he assures us himself that a month before, at a critical and exciting moment, he had halved his money and sewn it up in a little bag. And though that was not true, as we shall prove directly, it shows the idea was a familiar one to Karamazov, he had contemplated it. What’s more, when he declared at the inquiry that he had put fifteen hundred roubles in a bag (which never existed) he may have invented that little bag on the inspiration of the moment, because he had two hours before divided his money and hidden half of it at Mokroe till morning, in case of emergency, simply not to have it on himself. Two extremes, gentlemen of the jury, remember that Karamazov can contemplate two extremes and both at once.

“We have looked in the house, but we haven’t found the money. It may still be there or it may have disappeared next day and be in the prisoner’s hands now. In any case he was at her side, on his knees before her, she was lying on the bed, he had his hands stretched out to her and he had so entirely forgotten everything that he did not even hear the men coming to arrest him. He hadn’t time to prepare any line of defence in his mind. He was caught unawares and confronted with his judges, the arbiters of his destiny.

“Gentlemen of the jury, there are moments in the execution of our duties when it is terrible for us to face a man, terrible on his account, too! The moments of contemplating that animal fear, when the criminal sees that all is lost, but still struggles, still means to struggle, the moments when every instinct of self-preservation rises up in him at once and he looks at you with questioning and suffering eyes, studies you, your face, your thoughts, uncertain on which side you will strike, and his distracted mind frames thousands of plans in an instant, but he is still afraid to speak, afraid of giving himself away! This purgatory of the spirit, this animal thirst for self-preservation, these humiliating moments of the human soul, are awful, and sometimes arouse horror and compassion for the criminal even in the lawyer. And this was what we all witnessed then.

“At first he was thunderstruck and in his terror dropped some very compromising phrases. ‘Blood! I’ve deserved it!’ But he quickly restrained himself. He had not prepared what he was to say, what answer he was to make, he had nothing but a bare denial ready. ‘I am not guilty of my father’s death.’ That was his fence for the moment and behind it he hoped to throw up a barricade of some sort. His first compromising exclamations he hastened to explain by declaring that he was responsible for the death of the servant Grigory only. ‘Of that bloodshed I am guilty, but who has killed my father, gentlemen, who has killed him? Who can have killed him, if not I?’ Do you hear, he asked us that, us, who had come to ask him that question! Do you hear that uttered with such premature haste — ‘if not I’ — the animal cunning, the naivete the Karamazov impatience of it? ‘I didn’t kill him and you mustn’t think I did! I wanted to kill him, gentlemen, I wanted to kill him,’ he hastens to admit (he was in a hurry, in a terrible hurry), ‘but still I am not guilty, it is not I murdered him.’ He concedes to us that he wanted to murder him, as though to say, you can see for yourselves how truthful I am, so you’ll believe all the sooner that I didn’t murder him. Oh, in such cases the criminal is often amazingly shallow and credulous.

“At that point one of the lawyers asked him, as it were incidentally, the most simple question, ‘Wasn’t it Smerdyakov killed him?’ Then, as we expected, he was horribly angry at our having anticipated him and caught him unawares, before he had time to pave the way to choose and snatch the moment when it would be most natural to bring in Smerdyakov’s name. He rushed at once to the other extreme, as he always does, and began to assure us that Smerdyakov could not have killed him, was not capable of it. But don’t believe him, that was only his cunning; he didn’t really give up the idea of Smerdyakov; on the contrary, he meant to bring him forward again; for, indeed, he had no one else to bring forward, but he would do that later, because for the moment that line was spoiled for him. He would bring him forward perhaps next day, or even a few days later, choosing an opportunity to cry out to us, ‘You know I was more sceptical about Smerdyakov than you, you remember that yourselves, but now I am convinced. He killed him, he must have done!’ And for the present he falls back upon a gloomy and irritable denial. Impatience and anger prompted him, however, to the most inept and incredible explanation of how he looked into his father’s window and how he respectfully withdrew. The worst of it was that he was unaware of the position of affairs, of the evidence given by Grigory.

“We proceeded to search him. The search angered, but encouraged him, the whole three thousand had not been found on him, only half of it. And no doubt only at that moment of angry silence, the fiction of the little bag first occurred to him. No doubt he was conscious himself of the improbability of the story and strove painfully to make it sound more likely, to weave it into a romance that would sound plausible. In such cases the first duty, the chief task of the investigating lawyers, is to prevent the criminal being prepared, to pounce upon him unexpectedly so that he may blurt out his cherished ideas in all their simplicity, improbability and inconsistency. The criminal can only be made to speak by the sudden and apparently incidental communication of some new fact, of some circumstance of great importance in the case, of which he had no previous idea and could not have foreseen. We had such a fact in readiness — that was Grigory’s evidence about the open door through which the prisoner had run out. He had completely forgotten about that door and had not even suspected that Grigory could have seen it.

“The effect of it was amazing. He leapt up and shouted to us, ‘Then Smerdyakov murdered him, it was Smerdyakov!’ and so betrayed the basis of the defence he was keeping back, and betrayed it in its most improbable shape, for Smerdyakov could only have committed the murder after he had knocked Grigory down and run away. When we told him that Grigory saw the door was open before he fell down, and had heard Smerdyakov behind the screen as he came out of his bedroom — Karamazov was positively crushed. My esteemed and witty colleague, Nikolay Parfenovitch, told me afterwards that he was almost moved to tears at the sight of him. And to improve matters, the prisoner hastened to tell us about the much-talked-of little bag — so be it, you shall hear this romance!

“Gentlemen of the jury, I have told you already why I consider this romance not only an absurdity, but the most improbable invention that could have been brought forward in the circumstances. If one tried for a bet to invent the most unlikely story, one could hardly find anything more incredible. The worst of such stories is that the triumphant romancers can always be put to confusion and crushed by the very details in which real life is so rich and which these unhappy and involuntary storytellers neglect as insignificant trifles. Oh, they have no thought to spare for such details, their minds are concentrated on their grand invention as a whole, and fancy anyone daring to pull them up for a trifle! But that’s how they are caught. The prisoner was asked the question, ‘Where did you get the stuff for your little bag and who made it for you?’ ‘I made it myself.’ ‘And where did you get the linen?’ The prisoner was positively offended, he thought it almost insulting to ask him such a trivial question, and would you believe it, his resentment was genuine! But they are all like that. ‘I tore it off my shirt. “Then we shall find that shirt among your linen to-morrow, with a piece torn off.’ And only fancy, gentlemen of the jury, if we really had found that torn shirt (and how could we have failed to find it in his chest of drawers or trunk?) that would have been a fact, a material fact in support of his statement! But he was incapable of that reflection. ‘I don’t remember, it may not have been off my shirt, I sewed it up in one of my landlady’s caps.’ ‘What sort of a cap?’ ‘It was an old cotton rag of hers lying about.’ ‘And do you remember that clearly?’ ‘No, I don’t.’ And he was angry, very angry, and yet imagine not remembering it! At the most terrible moments of man’s life, for instance when he is being led to execution, he remembers just such trifles. He will forget anything but some green roof that has flashed past him on the road, or a jackdaw on a cross — that he will remember. He concealed the making of that little bag from his household, he must have remembered his humiliating fear that someone might come in and find him needle in hand, how at the slightest sound he slipped behind the screen (there is a screen in his lodgings).

“But, gentlemen of the jury, why do I tell you all this, all these details, trifles?” cried Ippolit Kirillovitch suddenly. “Just because the prisoner still persists in these absurdities to this moment. He has not explained anything since that fatal night two months ago, he has not added one actual illuminating fact to his former fantastic statements; all those are trivialities. ‘You must believe it on my honour.’ Oh, we are glad to believe it, we are eager to believe it, even if only on his word of honour! Are we jackals thirsting for human blood? Show us a single fact in the prisoner’s favour and we shall rejoice; but let it be a substantial, real fact, and not a conclusion drawn from the prisoner’s expression by his own brother, or that when he beat himself on the breast he must have meant to point to the little bag, in the darkness, too. We shall rejoice at the new fact, we shall be the first to repudiate our charge, we shall hasten to repudiate it. But now justice cries out and we persist, we cannot repudiate anything.”

Ippolit Kirillovitch passed to his final peroration. He looked as though he was in a fever, he spoke of the blood that cried for vengeance, the blood of the father murdered by his son, with the base motive of robbery! He pointed to the tragic and glaring consistency of the facts.

“And whatever you may hear from the talented and celebrated counsel for the defence,” Ippolit Kirillovitch could not resist adding, “whatever eloquent and touching appeals may be made to your sensibilities, remember that at this moment you are in a temple of justice. Remember that you are the champions of our justice, the champions of our holy Russia, of her principles, her family, everything that she holds sacred! Yes, you represent Russia here at this moment, and your verdict will be heard not in this hall only but will re-echo throughout the whole of Russia, and all Russia will hear you, as her champions and her judges, and she will be encouraged or disheartened by your verdict. Do not disappoint Russia and her expectations. Our fatal troika dashes on in her headlong flight perhaps to destruction and in all Russia for long past men have stretched out imploring hands and called a halt to its furious reckless course. And if other nations stand aside from that troika that may be, not from respect, as the poet would fain believe, but simply from horror. From horror, perhaps from disgust. And well it is that they stand aside, but maybe they will cease one day to do so and will form a firm wall confronting the hurrying apparition and will check the frenzied rush of our lawlessness, for the sake of their own safety, enlightenment and civilisation. Already we have heard voices of alarm from Europe, they already begin to sound. Do not tempt them! Do not heap up their growing hatred by a sentence justifying the murder of a father by his son I

Though Ippolit Kirillovitch was genuinely moved, he wound up his speech with this rhetorical appeal — and the effect produced by him was extraordinary. When he had finished his speech, he went out hurriedly and, as I have mentioned before, almost fainted in the adjoining room. There was no applause in the court, but serious persons were pleased. The ladies were not so well satisfied, though even they were pleased with his eloquence, especially as they had no apprehensions as to the upshot of the trial and had full trust in Fetyukovitch. “He will speak at last and of course carry all before him.”

Everyone looked at Mitya; he sat silent through the whole of the prosecutor’s speech, clenching his teeth, with his hands clasped, and his head bowed. Only from time to time he raised his head and listened, especially when Grushenka was spoken of. When the prosecutor mentioned Rakitin’s opinion of her, a smile of contempt and anger passed over his face and he murmured rather audibly, “The Bernards!” When Ippolit Kirillovitch described how he had questioned and tortured him at Mokroe, Mitya raised his head and listened with intense curiosity. At one point he seemed about to jump up and cry out, but controlled himself and only shrugged his shoulders disdainfully. People talked afterwards of the end of the speech, of the prosecutor’s feat in examining the prisoner at Mokroe, and jeered at Ippolit Kirillovitch. “The man could not resist boasting of his cleverness,” they said.

The court was adjourned, but only for a short interval, a quarter of an hour or twenty minutes at most. There was a hum of conversation and exclamations in the audience. I remember some of them.

“A weighty speech,” a gentleman in one group observed gravely.

“He brought in too much psychology,” said another voice.

“But it was all true, the absolute truth!”

“Yes, he is first rate at it.”

“He summed it all up.”

“Yes, he summed us up, too,” chimed in another voice, “Do you remember, at the beginning of his speech, making out we were all like Fyodor Pavlovitch?”

“And at the end, too. But that was all rot.”

“And obscure too.”

“He was a little too much carried away.”

“It’s unjust, it’s unjust.”

“No, it was smartly done, anyway. He’s had long to wait, but he’s had his say, ha ha!”

“What will the counsel for the defence say?”

In another group I heard:

“He had no business to make a thrust at the Petersburg man like that; ‘appealing to your sensibilities’ — do you remember?”

“Yes, that was awkward of him.”

“He was in too great a hurry.”

“He is a nervous man.”

“We laugh, but what must the prisoner be feeling?”

“Yes, what must it be for Mitya?”

In a third group:

“What lady is that, the fat one, with the lorgnette, sitting at the end?”

“She is a general’s wife, divorced, I know her.”

“That’s why she has the lorgnette.”

“She is not good for much.”

“Oh no, she is a piquante little woman.”

“Two places beyond her there is a little fair woman, she is prettier.”

“They caught him smartly at Mokroe, didn’t they, eh?”

“Oh, it was smart enough. We’ve heard it before, how often he has told the story at people’s houses!

“And he couldn’t resist doing it now. That’s vanity.”

“He is a man with a grievance, he he!”

“Yes, and quick to take offence. And there was too much rhetoric, such long sentences.”

“Yes, he tries to alarm us, he kept trying to alarm us. Do you remember about the troika? Something about ‘They have Hamlets, but we have, so far, only Karamazovs!’ That was cleverly said!”

“That was to propitiate the liberals. He is afraid of them.”

“Yes, and he is afraid of the lawyer, too.”

“Yes, what will Fetyukovitch say?”

“Whatever he says, he won’t get round our peasants.”

“Don’t you think so?”

A fourth group:

“What he said about the troika was good, that piece about the other nations.”

“And that was true what he said about other nations not standing it.”

“What do you mean?”

“Why, in the English Parliment a Member got up last week and speaking about the Nihilists asked the Ministry whether it was not high time to intervene, to educate this barbarous people. Ippolit was thinking of him, I know he was. He was talking about that last week.”

“Not an easy job.”

“Not an easy job? Why not?”

“Why, we’d shut up Kronstadt and not let them have any corn. Where would they get it?”

“In America. They get it from America now.”

“Nonsense!”

But the bell rang, all rushed to their places. Fetyukovitch mounted the tribune.

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