KOLYA leaned against the fence with an air of dignity, waiting for Alyosha to appear. Yes, he had long wanted to meet him. He had heard a great deal about him from the boys, but hitherto he had always maintained an appearance of disdainful indifference when he was mentioned, and he had even “criticised” what he heard about Alyosha. But secretely he had a great longing to make his acquaintance; there was something sympathetic and attractive in all he was told about Alyosha. So the present moment was important: to begin with, he had to show himself at his best, to show his independence. “Or he’ll think of me as thirteen and take me for a boy, like the rest of them. And what are these boys to him? I shall ask him when I get to know him. It’s a pity I am so short, though. Tuzikov is younger than I am, yet he is half a head taller. But I have a clever face. I am not good-looking. I know I’m hideous, but I’ve a clever face. I mustn’t talk too freely; if I fall into his arms all at once, he may think — Tfoo! how horrible if he should think —!”
Such were the thoughts that excited Kolya while he was doing his utmost to assume the most independent air. What distressed him most was his being so short; he did not mind so much his “hideous” face, as being so short. On the wall in a corner at home he had the year before made a pencil-mark to show his height, and every two months since he anxiously measured himself against it to see how much he had gained. But alas! he grew very slowly, and this sometimes reduced him almost to despair. His face was in reality by no means “hideous”; on the contrary, it was rather attractive, with a fair, pale skin, freckled. His small, lively grey eyes had a fearless look, and often glowed with feeling. He had rather high cheekbones; small, very red, but not very thick, lips; his nose was small and unmistakably turned up. “I’ve a regular pug nose, a regular pug nose,” Kolya used to mutter to himself when he looked in the looking-glass, and he always left it with indignation. “But perhaps I haven’t got a clever face?” he sometimes thought, doubtful even of that. But it must not be supposed that his mind was preoccupied with his face and his height. On the contrary, however bitter the moments before the looking-glass were to him, he quickly forgot them, and forgot them for a long time, “abandoning himself entirely to ideas and to real life,” as he formulated it to himself.
Alyosha came out quickly and hastened up to Kolya. Before he reached him, Kolya could see that he looked delighted. “Can he be so glad to see me?” Kolya wondered, feeling pleased. We may note here, in passing, that Alyosha’s appearance had undergone a complete change since we saw him last. He had abandoned his cassock and was wearing now a wellcut coat, a soft, round hat, and his hair had been cropped short. All this was very becoming to him, and he looked quite handsome. His charming face always had a good-humoured expression; but there was a gentleness and serenity in his good-humour. To Kolya’s surprise, Alyosha came out to him just as he was, without an overcoat. He had evidently come in haste. He held out his hand to Kolya at once.
“Here you are at last! How anxious we’ve been to see you!”
“There were reasons which you shall know directly. Anyway, I am glad to make your acquaintance. I’ve long been hoping for an opportunity, and have heard a great deal about you,” Kolya muttered, a little breathless.
“We should have met anyway. I’ve heard a great deal about you, too; but you’ve been a long time coming here.”
“Tell me, how are things going?”
“Ilusha is very ill. He is certainly dying.”
“How awful! You must admit that medicine is a fraud, Karamazov,” cried Kolya warmly.
“Ilusha has mentioned you often, very often, even in his sleep, in delirium, you know. One can see that you used to be very, very dear to him . . . before the incident . . . with the knife. . . . Then there’s another reason. . . . Tell me, is that your dog?”
“Not Zhutchka?” Alyosha looked at Kolya with eyes full of pity. “Is she lost for ever?”
“I know you would all like it to be Zhutchka. I’ve heard all about it.” Kolya smiled mysteriously. “Listen, Karamazov, I’ll tell you all about it. That’s what I came for; that’s what I asked you to come out here for, to explain the whole episode to you before we go in,” he began with animation. “You see, Karamazov, Ilusha came into the preparatory class last spring. Well, you know what our preparatory class is — a lot of small boys. They began teasing Ilusha at once. I am two classes higher up, and, of course, I only look on at them from a distance. I saw the boy was weak and small, but he wouldn’t give in to them; he fought with them. I saw he was proud, and his eyes were full of fire. I like children like that. And they teased him all the more. The worst of it was he was horribly dressed at the time, his breeches were too small for him, and there were holes in his boots. They worried him about it; they jeered at him. That I can’t stand. I stood up for him at once, and gave it to them hot. I beat them, but they adore me, do you know, Karamazov?” Kolya boasted impulsively; “but I am always fond of children. I’ve two chickens in my hands at home now — that’s what detained me to-day. So they left off beating Ilusha and I took him under my protection. I saw the boy was proud. I tell you that, the boy was proud; but in the end he became slavishly devoted to me: he did my slightest bidding, obeyed me as though I were God, tried to copy me. In the intervals between the classes he used to run to me at once’ and I’d go about with him. On Sundays, too. They always laugh when an older boy makes friends with a younger one like that; but that’s a prejudice. If it’s my fancy, that’s enough. I am teaching him, developing him. Why shouldn’t I develop him if I like him? Here you, Karamazov, have taken up with all these nestlings. I see you want to influence the younger generation — to develop them, to be of use to them, and I assure you this trait in your character, which I knew by hearsay, attracted me more than anything. Let us get to the point, though. I noticed that there was a sort of softness and sentimentality coming over the boy, and you know I have a positive hatred of this sheepish sentimentality, and I have had it from a baby. There were contradictions in him, too: he was proud, but he was slavishly devoted to me, and yet all at once his eyes would flash and he’d refuse to agree with me; he’d argue, fly into a rage. I used sometimes to propound certain ideas; I could see that it was not so much that he disagreed with the ideas, but that he was simply rebelling against me, because I was cool in responding to his endearments. And so, in order to train him properly, the tenderer he was, the colder I became. I did it on purpose: that was my idea. My object was to form his character, to lick him into shape, to make a man of him . . . and besides . . . no doubt, you understand me at a word. Suddenly I noticed for three days in succession he was downcast and dejected, not because of my coldness, but for something else, something more important. I wondered what the tragedy was. I have pumped him and found out that he had somehow got to know Smerdyakov, who was footman to your late father — it was before his death, of course — and he taught the little fool a silly trick — that is, a brutal, nasty trick. He told him to take a piece of bread, to stick a pin in it, and throw it to one of those hungry dogs who snap up anything without biting it, and then to watch and see what would happen. So they prepared a piece of bread like that and threw it to Zhutchka, that shaggy dog there’s been such a fuss about. The people of the house it belonged to never fed it at all, though it barked all day. (Do you like that stupid barking, Karamazov? I can’t stand it.) So it rushed at the bread, swallowed it, and began to squeal; it turned round and round and ran away, squealing as it ran out of sight. That was Ilusha’s own account of it. He confessed it to me, and cried bitterly. He hugged me, shaking all over. He kept on repeating ‘He ran away squealing’: the sight of that haunted him. He was tormented by remorse, I could see that. I took it seriously. I determined to give him a lesson for other things as well. So I must confess I wasn’t quite straightforward, and pretended to be more indignant perhaps than I was. ‘You’ve done a nasty thing,’ I said, ‘you are a scoundrel. I won’t tell of it, of course, but I shall have nothing more to do with you for a time. I’ll think it over and let you know through Smurov’ — that’s the boy who’s just come with me; he’s always ready to do anything for me — ‘whether I will have anything to do with you in the future or whether I give you up for good as a scoundrel.’ He was tremendously upset. I must own I felt I’d gone too far as I spoke, but there was no help for it. I did what I thought best at the time. A day or two after, I sent Smurov to tell him that I would not speak to him again. That’s what we call it when two schoolfellows refuse to have anything more to do with one another. Secretly I only meant to send him to Coventry for a few days and then, if I saw signs of repentance, to hold out my hand to him again. That was my intention. But what do you think happened? He heard Smurov’s message, his eyes flashed. ‘Tell Krassotkin for me,’ he cried, ‘that I will throw bread with pins to all the dogs — all — all of them!’ ‘So he’s going in for a little temper. We must smoke it out of him.’ And I began to treat him with contempt; whenever I met him I turned away or smiled sarcastically. And just then that affair with his father happened. You remember? You must realise that he was fearfully worked up by what had happened already. The boys, seeing I’d given him up, set on him and taunted him, shouting, ‘Wisp of tow, wisp of tow!’ And he had soon regular skirmishes with them, which I am very sorry for. They seem to have given him one very bad beating. One day he flew at them all as they were coming out of school. I stood a few yards off, looking on. And, I swear, I don’t remember that I laughed; it was quite the other way, I felt awfully sorry for him; in another minute I would have run up to take his part. But he suddenly met my eyes. I don’t know what he fancied; but he pulled out a penknife, rushed at me, and struck at my thigh, here in my right leg. I didn’t move. I don’t mind owning I am plucky sometimes, Karamazov. I simply looked at him contemptuously, as though to say, ‘This is how you repay all my kindness! Do it again if you like, I’m at your service.’ But he didn’t stab me again; he broke down; he was frightened at what he had done; he threw away the knife, burst out crying, and ran away. I did not sneak on him, of course, and I made them all keep quiet, so it shouldn’t come to the ears of the masters. I didn’t even tell my mother till it had healed up. And the wound was a mere scratch. And then I heard that the same day he’d been throwing stones and had bitten your finger — but you understand now what a state he was in! Well, it can’t be helped: it was stupid of me not to come and forgive him — that is, to make it up with him — when he was taken ill. I am sorry for it now. But I had a special reason. So now I’ve told you all about it . . . but I’m afraid it was stupid of me.”
“Oh, what a pity,” exclaimed Alyosha, with feeling, “that I didn’t know before what terms you were on with him, or I’d have come to you long ago to beg you to go to him with me. Would you believe it, when he was feverish he talked about you in delirium. I didn’t know how much you were to him! And you’ve really not succeeded in finding that dog? His father and the boys have been hunting all over the town for it. Would you believe it, since he’s been ill, I’ve three times heard him repeat with tears, ‘It’s because I killed Zhutchka, father, that I am ill now. God is punishing me for it.’ He can’t get that idea out of his head. And if the dog were found and proved to be alive, one might almost fancy the joy would cure him. We have all rested our hopes on you.”
“Tell me, what made you hope that I should be the one to find him?” Kolya asked, with great curiosity. “Why did you reckon on me rather than anyone else?”
“There was a report that you were looking for the dog, and that you would bring it when you’d found it. Smurov said something of the sort. We’ve all been trying to persuade Ilusha that the dog is alive, that it’s been seen. The boys brought him a live hare: he just looked at it, with a faint smile, and asked them to set it free in the fields. And so we did. His father has just this moment come back, bringing him a mastiff pup, hoping to comfort him with that; but I think it only makes it worse.”
“Tell me, Karamazov, what sort of man is the father? I know him, but what do you make of him — a mountebank, a buffoon?”
“Oh no; there are people of deep feeling who have been somehow crushed. Buffoonery in them is a form of resentful irony against those to whom they daren’t speak the truth, from having been for years humiliated and intimidated by them. Believe me, Krassotkin, that sort of buffoonery is sometimes tragic in the extreme. His whole life now is centred in Ilusha, and if Ilusha dies, he will either go mad with grief or kill himself. I feel almost certain of that when I look at him now.”
“I understand you, Karamazov. I see you understand human nature,” Kolya added, with feeling.
“And as soon as I saw you with a dog, I thought it was Zhutchka you were bringing.”
“Wait a bit, Karamazov, perhaps we shall find it yet; but this is Perezvon. I’ll let him go in now and perhaps it will amuse Ilusha more than the mastiff pup. Wait a bit, Karamazov, you will know something in a minute. But, I say, I am keeping you here!” Kolya cried suddenly. “You’ve no overcoat on in this bitter cold. You see what an egoist I am. Oh, we are all egoists, Karamazov!”
“Don’t trouble; it is cold, but I don’t often catch cold. Let us go in, though, and, by the way, what is your name? I know you are called Kolya, but what else?”
“Nikolay — Nikolay Ivanovitch Krassotkin, or, as they say in official documents, ‘Krassotkin son.’” Kolya laughed for some reason, but added suddenly, “Of course I hate my name Nikolay.”
“It’s so trivial, so ordinary.”
“You are thirteen?” asked Alyosha.
“No, fourteen — that is, I shall be fourteen very soon, in a fortnight. I’ll confess one weakness of mine, Karamazov, just to you, since it’s our first meeting, so that you may understand my character at once. I hate being asked my age, more than that . . . and in fact . . . there’s a libellous story going about me, that last week I played robbers with the preparatory boys. It’s a fact that I did play with them, but it’s a perfect libel to say I did it for my own amusement. I have reasons for believing that you’ve heard the story; but I wasn’t playing for my own amusement, it was for the sake of the children, because they couldn’t think of anything to do by themselves. But they’ve always got some silly tale. This is an awful town for gossip, I can tell you.”
“But what if you had been playing for your own amusement, what’s the harm?”
“Come, I say, for my own amusement! You don’t play horses, do you?”
“But you must look at it like this,” said Alyosha, smiling. “Grown-up people go to the theatre and there the adventures of all sorts of heroes are represented — sometimes there are robbers and battles, too — and isn’t that just the same thing, in a different form, of course? And young people’s games of soldiers or robbers in their playtime are also art in its first stage. You know, they spring from the growing artistic instincts of the young. And sometimes these games are much better than performances in the theatre; the only difference is that people go there to look at the actors, while in these games the young people are the actors themselves. But that’s only natural.”
“You think so? Is that your idea?” Kolya looked at him intently. “Oh, you know, that’s rather an interesting view. When I go home, I’ll think it over. I’ll admit I thought I might learn something from you. I’ve come to learn of you, Karamazov,” Kolya concluded, in a voice full of spontaneous feeling.
“And I of you,” said Alyosha, smiling and pressing his hand.
Kolya was much pleased with Alyosha. What struck him most was that he treated him exactly like an equal and that he talked to him just as if he were “quite grown up.”
“I’ll show you something directly, Karamazov; it’s a theatrical performance, too,” he said, laughing nervously. “That’s why I’ve come.”
“Let us go first to the people of the house, on the left. All the boys leave their coats in there, because the room is small and hot.”
“Oh, I’m only coming in for a minute. I’ll keep on my overcoat. Perezvon will stay here in the passage and be dead. Ici, Perezvon, lie down and be dead! You see how he’s dead. I’ll go in first and explore, then I’ll whistle to him when I think fit, and you’ll see, he’ll dash in like mad. Only Smurov must not forget to open the door at the moment. I’ll arrange it all and you’ll see something.”
Last updated Tuesday, August 25, 2015 at 14:07