The Brothers Karamazov, by Fyodor Dostoyevsky

Chapter 14

The Peasants Stand Firm

THIS was how Fetyukovitch concluded his speech, and the enthusiasm of the audience burst like an irresistible storm. It was out of the question to stop it: the women wept, many of the men wept too, even two important personages shed tears. The President submitted, and even postponed ringing his bell. The suppression of such an enthusiasm would be the suppression of something sacred, as the ladies cried afterwards. The orator himself was genuinely touched.

And it was at this moment that Ippolit Kirillovitch got up to make certain objections. People looked at him with hatred. “What? What’s the meaning of it? He positively dares to make objections,” the ladies babbled. But if the whole world of ladies, including his wife, had protested he could not have been stopped at that moment. He was pale, he was shaking with emotion, his first phrases were even unintelligible, he gasped for breath, could hardly speak clearly, lost the thread. But he soon recovered himself. Of this new speech of his I will quote only a few sentences.

“ . . . I am reproached with having woven a romance. But what is this defence if not one romance on the top of another? All that was lacking was poetry. Fyodor Pavlovitch, while waiting for his mistress, tears open the envelope and throws it on the floor. We are even told what he said while engaged in this strange act. Is not this a flight of fancy? And what proof have we that he had taken out the money? Who heard what he said? The weak-minded idiot, Smerdyakov, transformed into a Byronic hero, avenging society for his illegitimate birth — isn’t this a romance in the Byronic style? And the son who breaks into his father’s house and murders him without murdering him is not even a romance — this is a sphinx setting us a riddle which he cannot solve himself. If he murdered him, he murdered him, and what’s the meaning of his murdering him without having murdered him — who can make head or tail of this?

“Then we are admonished that our tribune is a tribune of true and sound ideas and from this tribune of ‘sound ideas’ is heard a solemn declaration that to call the murder of a father ‘parricide’ is nothing but a prejudice! But if parricide is a prejudice, and if every child is to ask his father why he is to love him, what will become of us? What will become of the foundations of society? What will become of the family? Parricide, it appears, is only a bogy of Moscow merchants’ wives. The most precious, the most sacred guarantees for the destiny and future of Russian justice are presented to us in a perverted and frivolous form, simply to attain an object — to obtain the justification of something which cannot be justified. ‘Oh, crush him by mercy,’ cries the counsel for the defence; but that’s all the criminal wants, and to-morrow it will be seen how much he is crushed. And is not the counsel for the defence too modest in asking only for the acquittal of the prisoner? Why not found a charity in the honour of the parricide to commemorate his exploit among future generations? Religion and the Gospel are corrected — that’s all mysticism, we are told, and ours is the only true Christianity which has been subjected to the analysis of reason and common sense. And so they set up before us a false semblance of Christ! ‘What measure ye mete so it shall be meted unto you again,’ cried the counsel for the defence, and instantly deduces that Christ teaches us to measure as it is measured to us and this from the tribune of truth and sound sense! We peep into the Gospel only on the eve of making speeches, in order to dazzle the audience by our acquaintance with what is, anyway, a rather original composition, which may be of use to produce a certain effect — all to serve the purpose! But what Christ commands us is something very different: He bids us beware of doing this, because the wicked world does this, but we ought to forgive and to turn the other cheek, and not to measure to our persecutors as they measure to us. This is what our God has taught us and not that to forbid children to murder their fathers is a prejudice. And we will not from the tribune of truth and good sense correct the Gospel of our Lord, Whom the counsel for the defence deigns to call only ‘the crucified lover of humanity,’ in opposition to all orthodox Russia, which calls to Him, ‘For Thou art our God!’”

At this the President intervened and checked the over-zealous speaker, begging him not to exaggerate, not to overstep the bounds, and so on, as presidents always do in such cases. The audience, too, was uneasy. The public was restless: there were even exclamations of indignation. Fetyukovitch did not so much as reply; he only mounted the tribune to lay his hand on his heart and, with an offended voice, utter a few words full of dignity. He only touched again, lightly and ironically, on “romancing” and “psychology,” and in an appropriate place quoted, “Jupiter, you are angry, therefore you are wrong,” which provoked a burst of approving laughter in the audience, for Ippolit Kirillovitch was by no means like Jupiter. Then, a propos of the accusation that he was teaching the young generation to murder their fathers, Fetyukovitch observed, with great dignity, that he would not even answer. As for the prosecutor’s charge of uttering unorthodox opinions, Fetyukovitch hinted that it was a personal insinuation and that he had expected in this court to be secure from accusations “damaging to my reputation as a citizen and a loyal subject.” But at these words the President pulled him up, too, and Fetyukovitch concluded his speech with a bow, amid a hum of approbation in the court. And Ippolit Kirillovitch was, in the opinion of our ladies, “crushed for good.”

Then the prisoner was allowed to speak. Mitya stood up, but said very little. He was fearfully exhausted, physically and mentally. The look of strength and independence with which he had entered in the morning had almost disappeared. He seemed as though he had passed through an experience that day, which had taught him for the rest of his life something very important he had not understood till then. His voice was weak, he did not shout as before. In his words there was a new note of humility, defeat and submission.

“What am I to say, gentlemen of the jury? The hour of judgment has come for me, I feel the hand of God upon me! The end has come to an erring man! But, before God, I repeat to you, I am innocent of my father’s blood! For the last time I repeat, it wasn’t I killed him! I was erring, but I loved what is good. Every instant I strove to reform, but I lived like a wild beast. I thank the prosecutor, he told me many things about myself that I did not know; but it’s not true that I killed my father, the prosecutor is mistaken. I thank my counsel, too. I cried listening to him; but it’s not true that I killed my father, and he needn’t have supposed it. And don’t believe the doctors. I am perfectly sane, only my heart is heavy. If you spare me, if you let me go, I will pray for you. I will be a better man. I give you my word before God I will! And if you will condemn me, I’ll break my sword over my head myself and kiss the pieces. But spare me, do not rob me of my God! I know myself, I shall rebel! My heart is heavy, gentlemen . . . spare me!”

He almost fell back in his place: his voice broke: he could hardly articulate the last phrase. Then the judges proceeded to put the questions and began to ask both sides to formulate their conclusions. But I will not describe the details. At last the jury rose to retire for consultation. The President was very tired, and so his last charge to the jury was rather feeble. “Be impartial, don’t be influenced by the eloquence of the defence, but yet weigh the arguments. Remember that there is a great responsibility laid upon you,” and so on and so on.

The jury withdrew and the court adjourned. People could get up, move about, exchange their accumulated impressions, refresh themselves at the buffet. It was very late, almost one o’clock in the night, but nobody went away: the strain was so great that no one could think of repose. All waited with sinking hearts; though that is, perhaps, too much to say, for the ladies were only in a state of hysterical impatience and their hearts were untroubled. An acquittal, they thought, was inevitable. They all prepared themselves for a dramatic moment of general enthusiasm. I must own there were many among the men, too, who were convinced that an acquittal was inevitable. Some were pleased, others frowned, while some were simply dejected, not wanting him to be acquitted. Fetyukovitch himself was confident of his success. He was surrounded by people congratulating him and fawning upon him.

“There are,” he said to one group, as I was told afterwards, “there are invisible threads binding the counsel for the defence with the jury. One feels during one’s speech if they are being formed. I was aware of them. They exist. Our cause is won. Set your mind at rest.”

“What will our peasants say now?” said one stout, cross-looking, pock-marked gentleman, a landowner of the neighbourhood, approaching a group of gentlemen engaged in conversation.

“But they are not all peasants. There are four government clerks among them.”

“Yes, there are clerks,” said a member of the district council, joining the group.

“And do you know that Nazaryev, the merchant with the medal, a juryman?”

“What of him?”

“He is a man with brains.”

“But he never speaks.”

“He is no great talker, but so much the better. There’s no need for the Petersburg man to teach him: he could teach all Petersburg himself. He’s the father of twelve children. Think of that!”

“Upon my word, you don’t suppose they won’t acquit him?” one of our young officials exclaimed in another group.

“They’ll acquit him for certain,” said a resolute voice.

“It would be shameful, disgraceful, not to acquit him cried the official. “Suppose he did murder him — there are fathers and fathers! And, besides, he was in such a frenzy. . . . He really may have done nothing but swing the pestle in the air, and so knocked the old man down. But it was a pity they dragged the valet in. That was simply an absurd theory! If I’d been in Fetyukovitch’s place, I should simply have said straight out: ‘He murdered him; but he is not guilty, hang it all!’

“That’s what he did, only without saying, ‘Hang it all!’”

“No, Mihail Semyonovitch, he almost said that, too,” put in a third voice.

“Why, gentlemen, in Lent an actress was acquitted in our town who had cut the throat of her lover’s lawful wife.”

“Oh, but she did not finish cutting it.”

“That makes no difference. She began cutting it.”

“What did you think of what he said about children? Splendid, wasn’t it?”

“Splended!”

“And about mysticism, too!”

“Oh, drop mysticism, do!” cried someone else; “think of Ippolit and his fate from this day forth. His wife will scratch his eyes out to-morrow for Mitya’s sake.”

“Is she here?”

“What an idea! If she’d been here she’d have scratched them out in court. She is at home with toothache. He he he!”

“He he he!”

In a third group:

“I dare say they will acquit Mitenka, after all.”

“I should not be surprised if he turns the Metropolis upside down to-morrow. He will be drinking for ten days!”

“Oh, the devil!”

“The devil’s bound to have a hand in it. Where should he be if not here?”

“Well, gentlemen, I admit it was eloquent. But still it’s not the thing to break your father’s head with a pestle! Or what are we coming to?”

“The chariot! Do you remember the chariot?”

“Yes; he turned a cart into a chariot!”

“And to-morrow he will turn a chariot into a cart, just to suit his purpose.”

“What cunning chaps there are nowadays! Is there any justice to be had in Russia?”

But the bell rang. The jury deliberated for exactly an hour, neither more nor less. A profound silence reigned in the court as soon as the public had taken their seats. I remember how the jurymen walked into the court. At last! I won’t repeat the questions in order, and, indeed, I have forgotten them. I remember only the answer to the President’s first and chief question: “Did the prisoner commit the murder for the sake of robbery and with premeditation?” (I don’t remember the exact words.) There was a complete hush. The foreman of the jury, the youngest of the clerks, pronounced, in a clear, loud voice, amidst the deathlike stillness of the court:

“Yes, guilty!”

And the same answer was repeated to every question: “Yes, guilty!” and without the slightest extenuating comment. This no one had expected; almost everyone had reckoned upon a recommendation to mercy, at least. The death-like silence in the court was not broken — all seemed petrified: those who desired his conviction as well as those who had been eager for his acquittal. But that was only for the first instant, and it was followed by a fearful hubbub. Many of the men in the audience were pleased. Some were rubbing their hands with no attempt to conceal their joy. Those who disagreed with the verdict seemed crushed, shrugged their shoulders, whispered, but still seemed unable to realise this. But how shall I describe the state the ladies were in? I thought they would create a riot. At first they could scarcely believe their ears. Then suddenly the whole court rang with exclamations: “What’s the meaning of it? What next?” They leapt up from their places. They seemed to fancy that it might be at once reconsidered and reversed. At that instant Mitya suddenly stood up and cried in a heart-rending voice, stretching his hands out before him:

“I swear by God and the dreadful Day of Judgment I am not guilty of my father’s blood! Katya, I forgive you! Brothers, friends, have pity on the other woman!”

He could not go on, and broke into a terrible sobbing wail that was heard all over the court in a strange, unnatural voice unlike his own. From the farthest corner at the back of the gallery came a piercing shriek — it was Grushenka. She had succeeded in begging admittance to the court again before the beginning of the lawyers’ speeches. Mitya was taken away. The passing of the sentence was deferred till next day. The whole court was in a hubbub but I did not wait to hear. I only remember a few exclamations I heard on the steps as I went out.

“He’ll have a twenty years’ trip to the mines!”

“Not less.”

“Well, our peasants have stood firm.”

“And have done for our Mitya.”

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