The morning that followed the fateful interview with Dounia and her mother brought sobering influences to bear on Pyotr Petrovitch. Intensely unpleasant as it was, he was forced little by little to accept as a fact beyond recall what had seemed to him only the day before fantastic and incredible. The black snake of wounded vanity had been gnawing at his heart all night. When he got out of bed, Pyotr Petrovitch immediately looked in the looking-glass. He was afraid that he had jaundice. However his health seemed unimpaired so far, and looking at his noble, clear-skinned countenance which had grown fattish of late, Pyotr Petrovitch for an instant was positively comforted in the conviction that he would find another bride and, perhaps, even a better one. But coming back to the sense of his present position, he turned aside and spat vigorously, which excited a sarcastic smile in Andrey Semyonovitch Lebeziatnikov, the young friend with whom he was staying. That smile Pyotr Petrovitch noticed, and at once set it down against his young friend’s account. He had set down a good many points against him of late. His anger was redoubled when he reflected that he ought not to have told Andrey Semyonovitch about the result of yesterday’s interview. That was the second mistake he had made in temper, through impulsiveness and irritability . . . . Moreover, all that morning one unpleasantness followed another. He even found a hitch awaiting him in his legal case in the senate. He was particularly irritated by the owner of the flat which had been taken in view of his approaching marriage and was being redecorated at his own expense; the owner, a rich German tradesman, would not entertain the idea of breaking the contract which had just been signed and insisted on the full forfeit money, though Pyotr Petrovitch would be giving him back the flat practically redecorated. In the same way the upholsterers refused to return a single rouble of the instalment paid for the furniture purchased but not yet removed to the flat.
“Am I to get married simply for the sake of the furniture?” Pyotr Petrovitch ground his teeth and at the same time once more he had a gleam of desperate hope. “Can all that be really so irrevocably over? Is it no use to make another effort?” The thought of Dounia sent a voluptuous pang through his heart. He endured anguish at that moment, and if it had been possible to slay Raskolnikov instantly by wishing it, Pyotr Petrovitch would promptly have uttered the wish.
“It was my mistake, too, not to have given them money,” he thought, as he returned dejectedly to Lebeziatnikov’s room, “and why on earth was I such a Jew? It was false economy! I meant to keep them without a penny so that they should turn to me as their providence, and look at them! foo! If I’d spent some fifteen hundred roubles on them for the trousseau and presents, on knick-knacks, dressing-cases, jewellery, materials, and all that sort of trash from Knopp’s and the English shop, my position would have been better and . . . stronger! They could not have refused me so easily! They are the sort of people that would feel bound to return money and presents if they broke it off; and they would find it hard to do it! And their conscience would prick them: how can we dismiss a man who has hitherto been so generous and delicate?. . . . H’m! I’ve made a blunder.”
And grinding his teeth again, Pyotr Petrovitch called himself a fool — but not aloud, of course.
He returned home, twice as irritated and angry as before. The preparations for the funeral dinner at Katerina Ivanovna’s excited his curiosity as he passed. He had heard about it the day before; he fancied, indeed, that he had been invited, but absorbed in his own cares he had paid no attention. Inquiring of Madame Lippevechsel who was busy laying the table while Katerina Ivanovna was away at the cemetery, he heard that the entertainment was to be a great affair, that all the lodgers had been invited, among them some who had not known the dead man, that even Andrey Semyonovitch Lebeziatnikov was invited in spite of his previous quarrel with Katerina Ivanovna, that he, Pyotr Petrovitch, was not only invited, but was eagerly expected as he was the most important of the lodgers. Amalia Ivanovna herself had been invited with great ceremony in spite of the recent unpleasantness, and so she was very busy with preparations and was taking a positive pleasure in them; she was moreover dressed up to the nines, all in new black silk, and she was proud of it. All this suggested an idea to Pyotr Petrovitch and he went into his room, or rather Lebeziatnikov’s, somewhat thoughtful. He had learnt that Raskolnikov was to be one of the guests.
Andrey Semyonovitch had been at home all the morning. The attitude of Pyotr Petrovitch to this gentleman was strange, though perhaps natural. Pyotr Petrovitch had despised and hated him from the day he came to stay with him and at the same time he seemed somewhat afraid of him. He had not come to stay with him on his arrival in Petersburg simply from parsimony, though that had been perhaps his chief object. He had heard of Andrey Semyonovitch, who had once been his ward, as a leading young progressive who was taking an important part in certain interesting circles, the doings of which were a legend in the provinces. It had impressed Pyotr Petrovitch. These powerful omniscient circles who despised everyone and showed everyone up had long inspired in him a peculiar but quite vague alarm. He had not, of course, been able to form even an approximate notion of what they meant. He, like everyone, had heard that there were, especially in Petersburg, progressives of some sort, nihilists and so on, and, like many people, he exaggerated and distorted the significance of those words to an absurd degree. What for many years past he had feared more than anything was being shown up and this was the chief ground for his continual uneasiness at the thought of transferring his business to Petersburg. He was afraid of this as little children are sometimes panic-stricken. Some years before, when he was just entering on his own career, he had come upon two cases in which rather important personages in the province, patrons of his, had been cruelly shown up. One instance had ended in great scandal for the person attacked and the other had very nearly ended in serious trouble. For this reason Pyotr Petrovitch intended to go into the subject as soon as he reached Petersburg and, if necessary, to anticipate contingencies by seeking the favour of “our younger generation.” He relied on Andrey Semyonovitch for this and before his visit to Raskolnikov he had succeeded in picking up some current phrases. He soon discovered that Andrey Semyonovitch was a commonplace simpleton, but that by no means reassured Pyotr Petrovitch. Even if he had been certain that all the progressives were fools like him, it would not have allayed his uneasiness. All the doctrines, the ideas, the systems, with which Andrey Semyonovitch pestered him had no interest for him. He had his own object — he simply wanted to find out at once what was happening here. Had these people any power or not? Had he anything to fear from them? Would they expose any enterprise of his? And what precisely was now the object of their attacks? Could he somehow make up to them and get round them if they really were powerful? Was this the thing to do or not? Couldn’t he gain something through them? In fact hundreds of questions presented themselves.
Andrey Semyonovitch was an anæmic, scrofulous little man, with strangely flaxen mutton-chop whiskers of which he was very proud. He was a clerk and had almost always something wrong with his eyes. He was rather soft-hearted, but self-confident and sometimes extremely conceited in speech, which had an absurd effect, incongruous with his little figure. He was one of the lodgers most respected by Amalia Ivanovna, for he did not get drunk and paid regularly for his lodgings. Andrey Semyonovitch really was rather stupid; he attached himself to the cause of progress and “our younger generation” from enthusiasm. He was one of the numerous and varied legion of dullards, of half-animate abortions, conceited, half-educated coxcombs, who attach themselves to the idea most in fashion only to vulgarise it and who caricature every cause they serve, however sincerely.
Though Lebeziatnikov was so good-natured, he, too, was beginning to dislike Pyotr Petrovitch. This happened on both sides unconsciously. However simple Andrey Semyonovitch might be, he began to see that Pyotr Petrovitch was duping him and secretly despising him, and that “he was not the right sort of man.” He had tried expounding to him the system of Fourier and the Darwinian theory, but of late Pyotr Petrovitch began to listen too sarcastically and even to be rude. The fact was he had begun instinctively to guess that Lebeziatnikov was not merely a commonplace simpleton, but, perhaps, a liar, too, and that he had no connections of any consequence even in his own circle, but had simply picked things up third-hand; and that very likely he did not even know much about his own work of propaganda, for he was in too great a muddle. A fine person he would be to show anyone up! It must be noted, by the way, that Pyotr Petrovitch had during those ten days eagerly accepted the strangest praise from Andrey Semyonovitch; he had not protested, for instance, when Andrey Semyonovitch belauded him for being ready to contribute to the establishment of the new “commune,” or to abstain from christening his future children, or to acquiesce if Dounia were to take a lover a month after marriage, and so on. Pyotr Petrovitch so enjoyed hearing his own praises that he did not disdain even such virtues when they were attributed to him.
Pyotr Petrovitch had had occasion that morning to realise some five-per-cent bonds and now he sat down to the table and counted over bundles of notes. Andrey Semyonovitch who hardly ever had any money walked about the room pretending to himself to look at all those bank notes with indifference and even contempt. Nothing would have convinced Pyotr Petrovitch that Andrey Semyonovitch could really look on the money unmoved, and the latter, on his side, kept thinking bitterly that Pyotr Petrovitch was capable of entertaining such an idea about him and was, perhaps, glad of the opportunity of teasing his young friend by reminding him of his inferiority and the great difference between them.
He found him incredibly inattentive and irritable, though he, Andrey Semyonovitch, began enlarging on his favourite subject, the foundation of a new special “commune.” The brief remarks that dropped from Pyotr Petrovitch between the clicking of the beads on the reckoning frame betrayed unmistakable and discourteous irony. But the “humane” Andrey Semyonovitch ascribed Pyotr Petrovitch’s ill-humour to his recent breach with Dounia and he was burning with impatience to discourse on that theme. He had something progressive to say on the subject which might console his worthy friend and “could not fail” to promote his development.
“There is some sort of festivity being prepared at that . . . at the widow’s, isn’t there?” Pyotr Petrovitch asked suddenly, interrupting Andrey Semyonovitch at the most interesting passage.
“Why, don’t you know? Why, I was telling you last night what I think about all such ceremonies. And she invited you too, I heard. You were talking to her yesterday . . .”
“I should never have expected that beggarly fool would have spent on this feast all the money she got from that other fool, Raskolnikov. I was surprised just now as I came through at the preparations there, the wines! Several people are invited. It’s beyond everything!” continued Pyotr Petrovitch, who seemed to have some object in pursuing the conversation. “What? You say I am asked too? When was that? I don’t remember. But I shan’t go. Why should I? I only said a word to her in passing yesterday of the possibility of her obtaining a year’s salary as a destitute widow of a government clerk. I suppose she has invited me on that account, hasn’t she? He-he-he!”
“I don’t intend to go either,” said Lebeziatnikov.
“I should think not, after giving her a thrashing! You might well hesitate, he-he!”
“Who thrashed? Whom?” cried Lebeziatnikov, flustered and blushing.
“Why, you thrashed Katerina Ivanovna a month ago. I heard so yesterday . . . so that’s what your convictions amount to . . . and the woman question, too, wasn’t quite sound, he-he-he!” and Pyotr Petrovitch, as though comforted, went back to clicking his beads.
“It’s all slander and nonsense!” cried Lebeziatnikov, who was always afraid of allusions to the subject. “It was not like that at all, it was quite different. You’ve heard it wrong; it’s a libel. I was simply defending myself. She rushed at me first with her nails, she pulled out all my whiskers. . . . It’s permissable for anyone, I should hope, to defend himself and I never allow anyone to use violence to me on principle, for it’s an act of despotism. What was I to do? I simply pushed her back.”
“He-he-he!” Luzhin went on laughing maliciously.
“You keep on like that because you are out of humour yourself. . . . But that’s nonsense and it has nothing, nothing whatever to do with the woman question! You don’t understand; I used to think, indeed, that if women are equal to men in all respects, even in strength (as is maintained now) there ought to be equality in that, too. Of course, I reflected afterwards that such a question ought not really to arise, for there ought not to be fighting and in the future society fighting is unthinkable . . . and that it would be a queer thing to seek for equality in fighting. I am not so stupid . . . though, of course, there is fighting . . . there won’t be later, but at present there is . . . confound it! How muddled one gets with you! It’s not on that account that I am not going. I am not going on principle, not to take part in the revolting convention of memorial dinners, that’s why! Though, of course, one might go to laugh at it. . . . I am sorry there won’t be any priests at it. I should certainly go if there were.”
“Then you would sit down at another man’s table and insult it and those who invited you. Eh?”
“Certainly not insult, but protest. I should do it with a good object. I might indirectly assist the cause of enlightenment and propaganda. It’s a duty of every man to work for enlightenment and propaganda and the more harshly, perhaps, the better. I might drop a seed, an idea. . . . And something might grow up from that seed. How should I be insulting them? They might be offended at first, but afterwards they’d see I’d done them a service. You know, Terebyeva (who is in the community now) was blamed because when she left her family and . . . devoted . . . herself, she wrote to her father and mother that she wouldn’t go on living conventionally and was entering on a free marriage and it was said that that was too harsh, that she might have spared them and have written more kindly. I think that’s all nonsense and there’s no need of softness; on the contrary, what’s wanted is protest. Varents had been married seven years, she abandoned her two children, she told her husband straight out in a letter: ‘I have realised that I cannot be happy with you. I can never forgive you that you have deceived me by concealing from me that there is another organisation of society by means of the communities. I have only lately learned it from a great-hearted man to whom I have given myself and with whom I am establishing a community. I speak plainly because I consider it dishonest to deceive you. Do as you think best. Do not hope to get me back, you are too late. I hope you will be happy.’ That’s how letters like that ought to be written!”
“Is that Terebyeva the one you said had made a third free marriage?”
“No, it’s only the second, really! But what if it were the fourth, what if it were the fifteenth, that’s all nonsense! And if ever I regretted the death of my father and mother, it is now, and I sometimes think if my parents were living what a protest I would have aimed at them! I would have done something on purpose . . . I would have shown them! I would have astonished them! I am really sorry there is no one!”
“To surprise! He-he! Well, be that as you will,” Pyotr Petrovitch interrupted, “but tell me this; do you know the dead man’s daughter, the delicate-looking little thing? It’s true what they say about her, isn’t it?”
“What of it? I think, that is, it is my own personal conviction that this is the normal condition of women. Why not? I mean, distinguons. In our present society it is not altogether normal, because it is compulsory, but in the future society it will be perfectly normal, because it will be voluntary. Even as it is, she was quite right: she was suffering and that was her asset, so to speak, her capital which she had a perfect right to dispose of. Of course, in the future society there will be no need of assets, but her part will have another significance, rational and in harmony with her environment. As to Sofya Semyonovna personally, I regard her action as a vigorous protest against the organisation of society, and I respect her deeply for it; I rejoice indeed when I look at her!”
“I was told that you got her turned out of these lodgings.”
Lebeziatnikov was enraged.
“That’s another slander,” he yelled. “It was not so at all! That was all Katerina Ivanovna’s invention, for she did not understand! And I never made love to Sofya Semyonovna! I was simply developing her, entirely disinterestedly, trying to rouse her to protest. . . . All I wanted was her protest and Sofya Semyonovna could not have remained here anyway!”
“Have you asked her to join your community?”
“You keep on laughing and very inappropriately, allow me to tell you. You don’t understand! There is no such rôle in a community. The community is established that there should be no such rôles. In a community, such a rôle is essentially transformed and what is stupid here is sensible there, what, under present conditions, is unnatural becomes perfectly natural in the community. It all depends on the environment. It’s all the environment and man himself is nothing. And I am on good terms with Sofya Semyonovna to this day, which is a proof that she never regarded me as having wronged her. I am trying now to attract her to the community, but on quite, quite a different footing. What are you laughing at? We are trying to establish a community of our own, a special one, on a broader basis. We have gone further in our convictions. We reject more! And meanwhile I’m still developing Sofya Semyonovna. She has a beautiful, beautiful character!”
“And you take advantage of her fine character, eh? He-he!”
“No, no! Oh, no! On the contrary.”
“Oh, on the contrary! He-he-he! A queer thing to say!”
“Believe me! Why should I disguise it? In fact, I feel it strange myself how timid, chaste and modern she is with me!”
“And you, of course, are developing her . . . he-he! trying to prove to her that all that modesty is nonsense?”
“Not at all, not at all! How coarsely, how stupidly — excuse me saying so — you misunderstand the word development! Good heavens, how . . . crude you still are! We are striving for the freedom of women and you have only one idea in your head. . . . Setting aside the general question of chastity and feminine modesty as useless in themselves and indeed prejudices, I fully accept her chastity with me, because that’s for her to decide. Of course if she were to tell me herself that she wanted me, I should think myself very lucky, because I like the girl very much; but as it is, no one has ever treated her more courteously than I, with more respect for her dignity . . . I wait in hopes, that’s all!”
“You had much better make her a present of something. I bet you never thought of that.”
“You don’t understand, as I’ve told you already! Of course, she is in such a position, but it’s another question. Quite another question! You simply despise her. Seeing a fact which you mistakenly consider deserving of contempt, you refuse to take a humane view of a fellow creature. You don’t know what a character she is! I am only sorry that of late she has quite given up reading and borrowing books. I used to lend them to her. I am sorry, too, that with all the energy and resolution in protesting — which she has already shown once — she has little self-reliance, little, so to say, independence, so as to break free from certain prejudices and certain foolish ideas. Yet she thoroughly understands some questions, for instance about kissing of hands, that is, that it’s an insult to a woman for a man to kiss her hand, because it’s a sign of inequality. We had a debate about it and I described it to her. She listened attentively to an account of the workmen’s associations in France, too. Now I am explaining the question of coming into the room in the future society.”
“And what’s that, pray?”
“We had a debate lately on the question: Has a member of the community the right to enter another member’s room, whether man or woman, at any time . . . and we decided that he has!”
“It might be at an inconvenient moment, he-he!”
Lebeziatnikov was really angry.
“You are always thinking of something unpleasant,” he cried with aversion. “Tfoo! How vexed I am that when I was expounding our system, I referred prematurely to the question of personal privacy! It’s always a stumbling-block to people like you, they turn it into ridicule before they understand it. And how proud they are of it, too! Tfoo! I’ve often maintained that that question should not be approached by a novice till he has a firm faith in the system. And tell me, please, what do you find so shameful even in cesspools? I should be the first to be ready to clean out any cesspool you like. And it’s not a question of self-sacrifice, it’s simply work, honourable, useful work which is as good as any other and much better than the work of a Raphael and a Pushkin, because it is more useful.”
“And more honourable, more honourable, he-he-he!”
“What do you mean by ‘more honourable’? I don’t understand such expressions to describe human activity. ‘More honourable,’ ‘nobler’— all those are old-fashioned prejudices which I reject. Everything which is of use to mankind is honourable. I only understand one word: useful! You can snigger as much as you like, but that’s so!”
Pyotr Petrovitch laughed heartily. He had finished counting the money and was putting it away. But some of the notes he left on the table. The “cesspool question” had already been a subject of dispute between them. What was absurd was that it made Lebeziatnikov really angry, while it amused Luzhin and at that moment he particularly wanted to anger his young friend.
“It’s your ill-luck yesterday that makes you so ill-humoured and annoying,” blurted out Lebeziatnikov, who in spite of his “independence” and his “protests” did not venture to oppose Pyotr Petrovitch and still behaved to him with some of the respect habitual in earlier years.
“You’d better tell me this,” Pyotr Petrovitch interrupted with haughty displeasure, “can you . . . or rather are you really friendly enough with that young person to ask her to step in here for a minute? I think they’ve all come back from the cemetery . . . I heard the sound of steps . . . I want to see her, that young person.”
“What for?” Lebeziatnikov asked with surprise.
“Oh, I want to. I am leaving here to-day or to-morrow and therefore I wanted to speak to her about . . . However, you may be present during the interview. It’s better you should be, indeed. For there’s no knowing what you might imagine.”
“I shan’t imagine anything. I only asked and, if you’ve anything to say to her, nothing is easier than to call her in. I’ll go directly and you may be sure I won’t be in your way.”
Five minutes later Lebeziatnikov came in with Sonia. She came in very much surprised and overcome with shyness as usual. She was always shy in such circumstances and was always afraid of new people, she had been as a child and was even more so now. . . . Pyotr Petrovitch met her “politely and affably,” but with a certain shade of bantering familiarity which in his opinion was suitable for a man of his respectability and weight in dealing with a creature so young and so interesting as she. He hastened to “reassure” her and made her sit down facing him at the table. Sonia sat down, looked about her — at Lebeziatnikov, at the notes lying on the table and then again at Pyotr Petrovitch and her eyes remained riveted on him. Lebeziatnikov was moving to the door. Pyotr Petrovitch signed to Sonia to remain seated and stopped Lebeziatnikov.
“Is Raskolnikov in there? Has he come?” he asked him in a whisper.
“Raskolnikov? Yes. Why? Yes, he is there. I saw him just come in. . . . Why?”
“Well, I particularly beg you to remain here with us and not to leave me alone with this . . . young woman. I only want a few words with her, but God knows what they may make of it. I shouldn’t like Raskolnikov to repeat anything. . . . You understand what I mean?”
“I understand!” Lebeziatnikov saw the point. “Yes, you are right. . . . Of course, I am convinced personally that you have no reason to be uneasy, but . . . still, you are right. Certainly I’ll stay. I’ll stand here at the window and not be in your way . . . I think you are right . . .”
Pyotr Petrovitch returned to the sofa, sat down opposite Sonia, looked attentively at her and assumed an extremely dignified, even severe expression, as much as to say, “don’t you make any mistake, madam.” Sonia was overwhelmed with embarrassment.
“In the first place, Sofya Semyonovna, will you make my excuses to your respected mamma. . . . That’s right, isn’t it? Katerina Ivanovna stands in the place of a mother to you?” Pyotr Petrovitch began with great dignity, though affably.
It was evident that his intentions were friendly.
“Quite so, yes; the place of a mother,” Sonia answered, timidly and hurriedly.
“Then will you make my apologies to her? Through inevitable circumstances I am forced to be absent and shall not be at the dinner in spite of your mamma’s kind invitation.”
“Yes . . . I’ll tell her . . . at once.”
And Sonia hastily jumped up from her seat.
“Wait, that’s not all,” Pyotr Petrovitch detained her, smiling at her simplicity and ignorance of good manners, “and you know me little, my dear Sofya Semyonovna, if you suppose I would have ventured to trouble a person like you for a matter of so little consequence affecting myself only. I have another object.”
Sonia sat down hurriedly. Her eyes rested again for an instant on the grey-and-rainbow-coloured notes that remained on the table, but she quickly looked away and fixed her eyes on Pyotr Petrovitch. She felt it horribly indecorous, especially for her, to look at another person’s money. She stared at the gold eye-glass which Pyotr Petrovitch held in his left hand and at the massive and extremely handsome ring with a yellow stone on his middle finger. But suddenly she looked away and, not knowing where to turn, ended by staring Pyotr Petrovitch again straight in the face. After a pause of still greater dignity he continued.
“I chanced yesterday in passing to exchange a couple of words with Katerina Ivanovna, poor woman. That was sufficient to enable me to ascertain that she is in a position — preternatural, if one may so express it.”
“Yes . . . preternatural . . .” Sonia hurriedly assented.
“Or it would be simpler and more comprehensible to say, ill.”
“Yes, simpler and more comprehen . . . yes, ill.”
“Quite so. So then from a feeling of humanity and so to speak compassion, I should be glad to be of service to her in any way, foreseeing her unfortunate position. I believe the whole of this poverty-stricken family depends now entirely on you?”
“Allow me to ask,” Sonia rose to her feet, “did you say something to her yesterday of the possibility of a pension? Because she told me you had undertaken to get her one. Was that true?”
“Not in the slightest, and indeed it’s an absurdity! I merely hinted at her obtaining temporary assistance as the widow of an official who had died in the service — if only she has patronage . . . but apparently your late parent had not served his full term and had not indeed been in the service at all of late. In fact, if there could be any hope, it would be very ephemeral, because there would be no claim for assistance in that case, far from it. . . . And she is dreaming of a pension already, he-he-he! . . . A go-ahead lady!”
“Yes, she is. For she is credulous and good-hearted, and she believes everything from the goodness of her heart and . . . and . . . and she is like that . . . yes . . . You must excuse her,” said Sonia, and again she got up to go.
“But you haven’t heard what I have to say.”
“No, I haven’t heard,” muttered Sonia.
“Then sit down.” She was terribly confused; she sat down again a third time.
“Seeing her position with her unfortunate little ones, I should be glad, as I have said before, so far as lies in my power, to be of service, that is, so far as is in my power, not more. One might for instance get up a subscription for her, or a lottery, something of the sort, such as is always arranged in such cases by friends or even outsiders desirous of assisting people. It was of that I intended to speak to you; it might be done.”
“Yes, yes . . . God will repay you for it,” faltered Sonia, gazing intently at Pyotr Petrovitch.
“It might be, but we will talk of it later. We might begin it to-day, we will talk it over this evening and lay the foundation so to speak. Come to me at seven o’clock. Mr. Lebeziatnikov, I hope, will assist us. But there is one circumstance of which I ought to warn you beforehand and for which I venture to trouble you, Sofya Semyonovna, to come here. In my opinion money cannot be, indeed it’s unsafe to put it into Katerina Ivanovna’s own hands. The dinner to-day is a proof of that. Though she has not, so to speak, a crust of bread for to-morrow and . . . well, boots or shoes, or anything; she has bought to-day Jamaica rum, and even, I believe, Madeira and . . . and coffee. I saw it as I passed through. To-morrow it will all fall upon you again, they won’t have a crust of bread. It’s absurd, really, and so, to my thinking, a subscription ought to be raised so that the unhappy widow should not know of the money, but only you, for instance. Am I right?”
“I don’t know . . . this is only to-day, once in her life. . . . She was so anxious to do honour, to celebrate the memory. . . . And she is very sensible . . . but just as you think and I shall be very, very . . . they will all be . . . and God will reward . . . and the orphans . . .”
Sonia burst into tears.
“Very well, then, keep it in mind; and now will you accept for the benefit of your relation the small sum that I am able to spare, from me personally. I am very anxious that my name should not be mentioned in connection with it. Here . . . having so to speak anxieties of my own, I cannot do more . . .”
And Pyotr Petrovitch held out to Sonia a ten-rouble note carefully unfolded. Sonia took it, flushed crimson, jumped up, muttered something and began taking leave. Pyotr Petrovitch accompanied her ceremoniously to the door. She got out of the room at last, agitated and distressed, and returned to Katerina Ivanovna, overwhelmed with confusion.
All this time Lebeziatnikov had stood at the window or walked about the room, anxious not to interrupt the conversation; when Sonia had gone he walked up to Pyotr Petrovitch and solemnly held out his hand.
“I heard and saw everything,” he said, laying stress on the last verb. “That is honourable, I mean to say, it’s humane! You wanted to avoid gratitude, I saw! And although I cannot, I confess, in principle sympathise with private charity, for it not only fails to eradicate the evil but even promotes it, yet I must admit that I saw your action with pleasure — yes, yes, I like it.”
“That’s all nonsense,” muttered Pyotr Petrovitch, somewhat disconcerted, looking carefully at Lebeziatnikov.
“No, it’s not nonsense! A man who has suffered distress and annoyance as you did yesterday and who yet can sympathise with the misery of others, such a man . . . even though he is making a social mistake — is still deserving of respect! I did not expect it indeed of you, Pyotr Petrovitch, especially as according to your ideas . . . oh, what a drawback your ideas are to you! How distressed you are for instance by your ill-luck yesterday,” cried the simple-hearted Lebeziatnikov, who felt a return of affection for Pyotr Petrovitch. “And, what do you want with marriage, with legal marriage, my dear, noble Pyotr Petrovitch? Why do you cling to this legality of marriage? Well, you may beat me if you like, but I am glad, positively glad it hasn’t come off, that you are free, that you are not quite lost for humanity. . . . you see, I’ve spoken my mind!”
“Because I don’t want in your free marriage to be made a fool of and to bring up another man’s children, that’s why I want legal marriage,” Luzhin replied in order to make some answer.
He seemed preoccupied by something.
“Children? You referred to children,” Lebeziatnikov started off like a warhorse at the trumpet call. “Children are a social question and a question of first importance, I agree; but the question of children has another solution. Some refuse to have children altogether, because they suggest the institution of the family. We’ll speak of children later, but now as to the question of honour, I confess that’s my weak point. That horrid, military, Pushkin expression is unthinkable in the dictionary of the future. What does it mean indeed? It’s nonsense, there will be no deception in a free marriage! That is only the natural consequence of a legal marriage, so to say, its corrective, a protest. So that indeed it’s not humiliating . . . and if I ever, to suppose an absurdity, were to be legally married, I should be positively glad of it. I should say to my wife: ‘My dear, hitherto I have loved you, now I respect you, for you’ve shown you can protest!’ You laugh! That’s because you are of incapable of getting away from prejudices. Confound it all! I understand now where the unpleasantness is of being deceived in a legal marriage, but it’s simply a despicable consequence of a despicable position in which both are humiliated. When the deception is open, as in a free marriage, then it does not exist, it’s unthinkable. Your wife will only prove how she respects you by considering you incapable of opposing her happiness and avenging yourself on her for her new husband. Damn it all! I sometimes dream if I were to be married, pfoo! I mean if I were to marry, legally or not, it’s just the same, I should present my wife with a lover if she had not found one for herself. ‘My dear,’ I should say, ‘I love you, but even more than that I desire you to respect me. See!’ Am I not right?”
Pyotr Petrovitch sniggered as he listened, but without much merriment. He hardly heard it indeed. He was preoccupied with something else and even Lebeziatnikov at last noticed it. Pyotr Petrovitch seemed excited and rubbed his hands. Lebeziatnikov remembered all this and reflected upon it afterwards.
Last updated Sunday, March 27, 2016 at 11:53