“I was leading a wild life then. Father said just now that I spent several thousand roubles in seducing young girls. That’s a swinish invention, and there was nothing of the sort. And if there was, I didn’t need money simply for that. With me money is an accessory, the overflow of my heart, the framework. To-day she would be my lady, to-morrow a wench out of the streets in her place. I entertained them both. I threw away money by the handful on music, rioting, and Gypsies. Sometimes I gave it to the ladies, too, for they’ll take it greedily, that must be admitted, and be pleased and thankful for it. Ladies used to be fond of me: not all of them, but it happened, it happened. But I always liked side-paths, little dark back-alleys behind the main road — there one finds adventures and surprises, and precious metal in the dirt. I am speaking figuratively, brother. In the town I was in, there were no such back-alleys in the literal sense, but morally there were. If you were like me, you’d know what that means. I loved vice, I loved the ignominy of vice. I loved cruelty; am I not a bug, am I not a noxious insect? In fact a Karamazov! Once we went, a whole lot of us, for a picnic, in seven sledges. It was dark, it was winter, and I began squeezing a girl’s hand, and forced her to kiss me. She was the daughter of an official, a sweet, gentle, submissive creature. She allowed me, she allowed me much in the dark. She thought, poor thing, that I should come next day to make her an offer (I was looked upon as a good match, too). But I didn’t say a word to her for five months. I used to see her in a corner at dances (we were always having dances), her eyes watching me. I saw how they glowed with fire — a fire of gentle indignation. This game only tickled that insect lust I cherished in my soul. Five months later she married an official and left the town, still angry, and still, perhaps, in love with me. Now they live happily. Observe that I told no one. I didn’t boast of it. Though I’m full of low desires, and love what’s low, I’m not dishonourable. You’re blushing; your eyes flashed. Enough of this filth with you. And all this was nothing much — wayside blossoms a la Paul de Kock — though the cruel insect had already grown strong in my soul. I’ve a perfect album of reminiscences, brother. God bless them, the darlings. I tried to break it off without quarrelling. And I never gave them away, I never bragged of one of them. But that’s enough. You can’t suppose I brought you here simply to talk of such nonsense. No, I’m going to tell you something more curious; and don’t be surprised that I’m glad to tell you, instead of being ashamed.”
“You say that because I blushed,” Alyosha said suddenly. “I wasn’t blushing at what you were saying or at what you’ve done. I blushed because I am the same as you are.”
“You? Come, that’s going a little too far!”
“No, it’s not too far,” said Alyosha warmly (obviously the idea was not a new one). “The ladder’s the same. I’m at the bottom step, and you’re above, somewhere about the thirteenth. That’s how I see it. But it’s all the same. Absolutely the same in kind. Anyone on the bottom step is bound to go up to the top one.”
“Then one ought not to step on at all.”
“Anyone who can help it had better not.”
“But can you?”
“I think not.”
“Hush, Alyosha, hush, darling! I could kiss your hand, you touch me so. That rogue Grushenka has an eye for men. She told me once that she’d devour you one day. There, there, I won’t! From this field of corruption fouled by flies, let’s pass to my tragedy, also befouled by flies, that is, by every sort of vileness. Although the old man told lies about my seducing innocence, there really was something of the sort in my tragedy, though it was only once, and then it did not come off. The old man who has reproached me with what never happened does not even know of this fact; I never told anyone about it. You’re the first, except Ivan, of course — Ivan knows everything. He knew about it long before you. But Ivan’s a tomb.”
“Ivan’s a tomb?”
Alyosha listened with great attention.
“I was lieutenant in a line regiment, but still I was under supervision, like a kind of convict. Yet I was awfully well received in the little town. I spent money right and left. I was thought to be rich; I thought so myself. But I must have pleased them in other ways as well. Although they shook their heads over me, they liked me. My colonel, who was an old man, took a sudden dislike to me. He was always down upon me, but I had powerful friends, and, moreover, all the town was on my side, so he couldn’t do me much harm. I was in fault myself for refusing to treat him with proper respect. I was proud. This obstinate old fellow, who was really a very good sort, kind-hearted and hospitable, had had two wives, both dead. His first wife, who was of a humble family, left a daughter as unpretentious as herself. She was a young woman of four and twenty when I was there, and was living with her father and an aunt, her mother’s sister. The aunt was simple and illiterate; the niece was simple but lively. I like to say nice things about people. I never knew a woman of more charming character than Agafya — fancy, her name was Agafya Ivanovna! And she wasn’t bad-looking either, in the Russian style: tall, stout, with a full figure, and beautiful eyes, though a rather coarse face. She had not married, although she had had two suitors. She refused them, but was as cheerful as ever. I was intimate with her, not in ‘that’ way, it was pure friendship. I have often been friendly with women quite innocently. I used to talk to her with shocking frankness, and she only laughed. Many woman like such freedom, and she was a girl too, which made it very amusing. Another thing, one could never think of her as a young lady. She and her aunt lived in her father’s house with a sort of voluntary humility, not putting themselves on an equality with other people. She was a general favourite, and of use of everyone, for she was a clever dressmaker. She had a talent for it. She gave her services freely without asking for payment, but if anyone offered her payment, she didn’t refuse. The colonel, of course, was a very different matter. He was one of the chief personages in the district. He kept open house, entertained the whole town, gave suppers and dances. At the time I arrived and joined the battalion, all the town was talking of the expected return of the colonel’s second daughter, a great beauty, who had just left a fashionable school in the capital. This second daughter is Katerina Ivanovna, and she was the child of the second wife, who belonged to a distinguished general’s family; although, as I learnt on good authority, she too brought the colonel no money. She had connections, and that was all. There may have been expectations, but they had come to nothing.
“Yet, when the young lady came from boarding-school on a visit, the whole town revived. Our most distinguished ladies — two ‘Excellencies’ and a colonel’s wife — and all the rest following their lead, at once took her up and gave entertainments in her honour. She was the belle of the balls and picnics, and they got up tableaux vivants in aid of distressed governesses. I took no notice, I went on as wildly as before, and one of my exploits at the time set all the town talking. I saw her eyes taking my measure one evening at the battery commander’s, but I didn’t go up to her, as though I disdained her acquaintance. I did go up and speak to her at an evening party not long after. She scarcely looked at me, and compressed her lips scornfully. ‘Wait a bit. I’ll have my revenge,’ thought I. I behaved like an awful fool on many occasions at that time, and I was conscious of it myself. What made it worse was that I felt that ‘Katenka’ was not an innocent boarding-school miss, but a person of character, proud and really high-principled; above all, she had education and intellect, and I had neither. You think I meant to make her an offer? No, I simply wanted to revenge myself, because I was such a hero and she didn’t seem to feel it.
“Meanwhile, I spent my time in drink and riot, till the lieutenant-colonel put me under arrest for three days. Just at that time father sent me six thousand roubles in return for my sending him a deed giving up all claims upon him — settling our accounts, so to speak, and saying that I wouldn’t expect anything more. I didn’t understand a word of it at the time. Until I came here, Alyosha, till the last few days, indeed, perhaps even now, I haven’t been able to make head or tail of my money affairs with father. But never mind that, we’ll talk of it later.
“Just as I received the money, I got a letter from a friend telling me something that interested me immensely. The authorities, I learnt, were dissatisfied with our lieutenant-colonel. He was suspected of irregularities; in fact, his enemies were preparing a surprise for him. And then the commander of the division arrived, and kicked up the devil of a shindy. Shortly afterwards he was ordered to retire. I won’t tell you how it all happened. He had enemies certainly. Suddenly there was a marked coolness in the town towards him and all his family. His friends all turned their backs on him. Then I took my first step. I met Agafya Ivanovna, with whom I’d always kept up a friendship, and said, ‘Do you know there’s a deficit of 4500 roubles of government money in your father’s accounts?’
“‘What do you mean? What makes you say so? The general was here not long ago, and everything was all right.’
“‘Then it was, but now it isn’t.’
“She was terribly scared.
“‘Don’t frighten me!’ she said. ‘Who told you so?’
“‘Don’t be uneasy,’ I said, ‘I won’t tell anyone. You know I’m as silent as the tomb. I only wanted, in view of “possibilities,” to add, that when they demand that 4500 roubles from your father, and he can’t produce it, he’ll be tried, and made to serve as a common soldier in his old age, unless you like to send me your young lady secretly. I’ve just had money paid me. I’ll give her four thousand, if you like, and keep the secret religiously.’
“‘Ah, you scoundrel!’ — that’s what she said. ‘You wicked scoundrel! How dare you!’
“She went away furiously indignant, while I shouted after her once more that the secret should be kept sacred. Those two simple creatures, Agafya and her aunt, I may as well say at once, behaved like perfect angels all through this business. They genuinely adored their ‘Katya,’ thought her far above them, and waited on her, hand and foot. But Agafya told her of our conversation. I found that out afterwards. She didn’t keep it back, and of course that was all I wanted.
“Suddenly the new major arrived to take command of the battalion. The old lieutenant-colonel was taken ill at once, couldn’t leave his room for two days, and didn’t hand over the government money. Dr. Kravchenko declared that he really was ill. But I knew for a fact, and had known for a long time, that for the last four years the money had never been in his hands except when the Commander made his visits of inspection. He used to lend it to a trustworthy person, a merchant of our town called Trifonov, an old widower, with a big beard and gold-rimmed spectacles. He used to go to the fair, do a profitable business with the money, and return the whole sum to the colonel, bringing with it a present from the fair, as well as interest on the loan. But this time (I heard all about it quite by chance from Trifonov’s son and heir, a drivelling youth and one of the most vicious in the world) — this time, I say, Trifonov brought nothing back from the fair. The lieutenant-colonel flew to him. ‘I’ve never received any money from you, and couldn’t possibly have received any.’ That was all the answer he got. So now our lieutenant-colonel is confined to the house, with a towel round his head, while they’re all three busy putting ice on it. All at once an orderly arrives on the scene with the book and the order to ‘hand over the battalion money immediately, within two hours.’ He signed the book (I saw the signature in the book afterwards), stood up, saying he would put on his uniform, ran to his bedroom, loaded his double-barrelled gun with a service bullet, took the boot off his right foot, fixed the gun against his chest, and began feeling for the trigger with his foot. But Agafya, remembering what I had told her, had her suspicions. She stole up and peeped into the room just in time. She rushed in, flung herself upon him from behind, threw her arms round him, and the gun went off, hit the ceiling, but hurt no one. The others ran in, took away the gun, and held him by the arms. I heard all about this afterwards. I was at home, it was getting dusk, and I was just preparing to go out. I had dressed, brushed my hair, scented my handkerchief, and taken up my cap, when suddenly the door opened, and facing me in the room stood Katerina Ivanovna.
“It’s strange how things happen sometimes. No one had seen her in the street, so that no one knew of it in the town. I lodged with two decrepit old ladies, who looked after me. They were most obliging old things, ready to do anything for me, and at my request were as silent afterwards as two cast-iron posts. Of course I grasped the position at once. She walked in and looked straight at me, her dark eyes determined, even defiant, but on her lips and round mouth I saw uncertainty.
“‘My sister told me,’ she began, ‘that you would give me 4500 roubles if I came to you for it — myself. I have come . . . give me the money!’
“She couldn’t keep it up. She was breathless, frightened, her voice failed her, and the corners of her mouth and the lines round it quivered. Alyosha, are you listening, or are you asleep?”
“Mitya, I know you will tell the whole truth, said Alyosha in agitation.
“I am telling it. If I tell the whole truth just as it happened I shan’t spare myself. My first idea was a — Karamazov one. Once I was bitten by a centipede, brother, and laid up a fortnight with fever from it. Well, I felt a centipede biting at my heart then — a noxious insect, you understand? I looked her up and down. You’ve seen her? She’s a beauty. But she was beautiful in another way then. At that moment she was beautiful because she was noble, and I was a scoundrel; she in all the grandeur of her generosity and sacrifice for her father, and I— a bug! And, scoundrel as I was, she was altogether at my mercy, body and soul. She was hemmed in. I tell you frankly, that thought, that venomous thought, so possessed my heart that it almost swooned with suspense. It seemed as if there could be no resisting it; as though I should act like a bug, like a venomous spider, without a spark of pity. I could scarcely breathe. Understand, I should have gone next day to ask for her hand, so that it might end honourably, so to speak, and that nobody would or could know. For though I’m a man of base desires, I’m honest. And at that very second some voice seemed to whisper in my ear, ‘But when you come to-morrow to make your proposal, that girl won’t even see you; she’ll order her coachman to kick you out of the yard. “Publish it through all the town,” she would say, “I’m not afraid of you.” ‘I looked at the young lady, my voice had not deceived me. That is how it would be, not a doubt of it. I could see from her face now that I should be turned out of the house. My spite was roused. I longed to play her the nastiest swinish cad’s trick: to look at her with a sneer, and on the spot where she stood before me to stun her with a tone of voice that only a shopman could use.
“‘Four thousand! What do you mean? I was joking. You’ve been counting your chickens too easily, madam. Two hundred, if you like, with all my heart. But four thousand is not a sum to throw away on such frivolity. You’ve put yourself out to no purpose.’
“I should have lost the game, of course. She’d have run away. But it would have been an infernal revenge. It would have been worth it all. I’d have howled with regret all the rest of my life, only to have played that trick. Would you believe it, it has never happened to me with any other woman, not one, to look at her at such a moment with hatred. But, on my oath, I looked at her for three seconds, or five perhaps, with fearful hatred — that hate which is only a hair’s-breadth from love, from the maddest love!
“I went to the window, put my forehead against the frozen pane, and I remember the ice burnt my forehead like fire. I did not keep her long, don’t be afraid. I turned round, went up to the table, opened the drawer and took out a banknote for five thousand roubles (it was lying in a French dictionary). Then I showed it her in silence, folded it, handed it to her, opened the door into the passage, and, stepping back, made her a deep bow. a most respectful, a most impressive bow, believe me! She shuddered all over, gazed at me for a second, turned horribly pale-white as a sheet, in fact — and all at once, not impetuously but softly, gently, bowed down to my feet — not a boarding-school curtsey, but a Russian bow, with her forehead to the floor. She jumped up and ran away. I was wearing my sword. I drew it and nearly stabbed myself with it on the spot; why, I don’t know. It would have been frightfully stupid, of course. I suppose it was from delight. Can you understand that one might kill oneself from delight? But I didn’t stab myself. I only kissed my sword and put it back in the scabbard — which there was no need to have told you, by the way. And I fancy that in telling you about my inner conflict I have laid it on rather thick to glorify myself. But let it pass, and to hell with all who pry into the human heart! Well, so much for that ‘adventure’ with Katerina Ivanovna. So now Ivan knows of it, and you — no one else.”
Dmitri got up, took a step or two in his excitement, pulled out his handkerchief and mopped his forehead, then sat down again, not in the same place as before, but on the opposite side, so that Alyosha had to turn quite round to face him.
Last updated Tuesday, August 25, 2015 at 14:07