Alyosha left his father's house feeling even more exhausted and dejected in spirit than when he had entered it. His mind too seemed shattered and unhinged, while he felt that he was afraid to put together the disjointed fragments and form a general idea from all the agonizing and conflicting experiences of the day. He felt something bordering upon despair, which he had never known till then. Towering like a mountain above all the rest stood the fatal, insoluble question: How would things end between his father and his brother Dmitri with this terrible woman? Now he had himself been a witness of it, he had been present and seen them face to face. Yet only his brother Dmitri could be made unhappy, terribly, completely unhappy: there was trouble awaiting him. It appeared too that there were other people concerned, far more so than Alyosha could have supposed before. There was something positively mysterious in it, too. Ivan had made a step towards him, which was what Alyosha had been long desiring. Yet now he felt for some reason that he was frightened at it. And these women? Strange to say, that morning he had set out for Katerina Ivanovna's in the greatest embarrassment; now he felt nothing of the kind. On the contrary, he was hastening there as though expecting to find guidance from her. Yet to give her this message was obviously more difficult than before. The matter of the three thousand was decided irrevocably, and Dmitri, feeling himself dishonored and losing his last hope, might sink to any depth. He had, moreover, told him to describe to Katerina Ivanovna the scene which had just taken place with his father.
It was by now seven o'clock, and it was getting dark as Alyosha entered the very spacious and convenient house in the High Street occupied by Katerina Ivanovna. Alyosha knew that she lived with [pg 157] two aunts. One of them, a woman of little education, was that aunt of her half-sister Agafya Ivanovna who had looked after her in her father's house when she came from boarding-school. The other aunt was a Moscow lady of style and consequence, though in straitened circumstances. It was said that they both gave way in everything to Katerina Ivanovna, and that she only kept them with her as chaperons. Katerina Ivanovna herself gave way to no one but her benefactress, the general's widow, who had been kept by illness in Moscow, and to whom she was obliged to write twice a week a full account of all her doings.
When Alyosha entered the hall and asked the maid who opened the door to him to take his name up, it was evident that they were already aware of his arrival. Possibly he had been noticed from the window. At least, Alyosha heard a noise, caught the sound of flying footsteps and rustling skirts. Two or three women, perhaps, had run out of the room.
Alyosha thought it strange that his arrival should cause such excitement. He was conducted however to the drawing-room at once. It was a large room, elegantly and amply furnished, not at all in provincial style. There were many sofas, lounges, settees, big and little tables. There were pictures on the walls, vases and lamps on the tables, masses of flowers, and even an aquarium in the window. It was twilight and rather dark. Alyosha made out a silk mantle thrown down on the sofa, where people had evidently just been sitting; and on a table in front of the sofa were two unfinished cups of chocolate, cakes, a glass saucer with blue raisins, and another with sweetmeats. Alyosha saw that he had interrupted visitors, and frowned. But at that instant the portière was raised, and with rapid, hurrying footsteps Katerina Ivanovna came in, holding out both hands to Alyosha with a radiant smile of delight. At the same instant a servant brought in two lighted candles and set them on the table.
“Thank God! At last you have come too! I've been simply praying for you all day! Sit down.”
Alyosha had been struck by Katerina Ivanovna's beauty when, three weeks before, Dmitri had first brought him, at Katerina Ivanovna's special request, to be introduced to her. There had been no conversation between them at that interview, however. Supposing [pg 158] Alyosha to be very shy, Katerina Ivanovna had talked all the time to Dmitri to spare him. Alyosha had been silent, but he had seen a great deal very clearly. He was struck by the imperiousness, proud ease, and self-confidence of the haughty girl. And all that was certain, Alyosha felt that he was not exaggerating it. He thought her great glowing black eyes were very fine, especially with her pale, even rather sallow, longish face. But in those eyes and in the lines of her exquisite lips there was something with which his brother might well be passionately in love, but which perhaps could not be loved for long. He expressed this thought almost plainly to Dmitri when, after the visit, his brother besought and insisted that he should not conceal his impressions on seeing his betrothed.
“You'll be happy with her, but perhaps—not tranquilly happy.”
“Quite so, brother. Such people remain always the same. They don't yield to fate. So you think I shan't love her for ever.”
“No; perhaps you will love her for ever. But perhaps you won't always be happy with her.”
Alyosha had given his opinion at the time, blushing, and angry with himself for having yielded to his brother's entreaties and put such “foolish” ideas into words. For his opinion had struck him as awfully foolish immediately after he had uttered it. He felt ashamed too of having given so confident an opinion about a woman. It was with the more amazement that he felt now, at the first glance at Katerina Ivanovna as she ran in to him, that he had perhaps been utterly mistaken. This time her face was beaming with spontaneous good-natured kindliness, and direct warm-hearted sincerity. The “pride and haughtiness,” which had struck Alyosha so much before, was only betrayed now in a frank, generous energy and a sort of bright, strong faith in herself. Alyosha realized at the first glance, at the first word, that all the tragedy of her position in relation to the man she loved so dearly was no secret to her; that she perhaps already knew everything, positively everything. And yet, in spite of that, there was such brightness in her face, such faith in the future. Alyosha felt at once that he had gravely wronged her in his thoughts. He was conquered and captivated immediately. Besides all this, he noticed at her first words that she was in great excitement, an excitement perhaps quite exceptional and almost approaching ecstasy.
“I was so eager to see you, because I can learn from you the whole truth—from you and no one else.”
“I have come,” muttered Alyosha confusedly, “I—he sent me.”
“Ah, he sent you! I foresaw that. Now I know everything—everything!” cried Katerina Ivanovna, her eyes flashing. “Wait a moment, Alexey Fyodorovitch, I'll tell you why I've been so longing to see you. You see, I know perhaps far more than you do yourself, and there's no need for you to tell me anything. I'll tell you what I want from you. I want to know your own last impression of him. I want you to tell me most directly, plainly, coarsely even (oh, as coarsely as you like!), what you thought of him just now and of his position after your meeting with him to-day. That will perhaps be better than if I had a personal explanation with him, as he does not want to come to me. Do you understand what I want from you? Now, tell me simply, tell me every word of the message he sent you with (I knew he would send you).”
“He told me to give you his compliments—and to say that he would never come again—but to give you his compliments.”
“His compliments? Was that what he said—his own expression?”
“Accidentally perhaps he made a mistake in the word, perhaps he did not use the right word?”
“No; he told me precisely to repeat that word. He begged me two or three times not to forget to say so.”
Katerina Ivanovna flushed hotly.
“Help me now, Alexey Fyodorovitch. Now I really need your help. I'll tell you what I think, and you must simply say whether it's right or not. Listen! If he had sent me his compliments in passing, without insisting on your repeating the words, without emphasizing them, that would be the end of everything! But if he particularly insisted on those words, if he particularly told you not to forget to repeat them to me, then perhaps he was in excitement, beside himself. He had made his decision and was frightened at it. He wasn't walking away from me with a resolute step, but leaping headlong. The emphasis on that phrase may have been simply bravado.”
“Yes, yes!” cried Alyosha warmly. “I believe that is it.”
“And, if so, he's not altogether lost. I can still save him. Stay! [pg 160] Did he not tell you anything about money—about three thousand roubles?”
“He did speak about it, and it's that more than anything that's crushing him. He said he had lost his honor and that nothing matters now,” Alyosha answered warmly, feeling a rush of hope in his heart and believing that there really might be a way of escape and salvation for his brother. “But do you know about the money?” he added, and suddenly broke off.
“I've known of it a long time; I telegraphed to Moscow to inquire, and heard long ago that the money had not arrived. He hadn't sent the money, but I said nothing. Last week I learnt that he was still in need of money. My only object in all this was that he should know to whom to turn, and who was his true friend. No, he won't recognize that I am his truest friend; he won't know me, and looks on me merely as a woman. I've been tormented all the week, trying to think how to prevent him from being ashamed to face me because he spent that three thousand. Let him feel ashamed of himself, let him be ashamed of other people's knowing, but not of my knowing. He can tell God everything without shame. Why is it he still does not understand how much I am ready to bear for his sake? Why, why doesn't he know me? How dare he not know me after all that has happened? I want to save him for ever. Let him forget me as his betrothed. And here he fears that he is dishonored in my eyes. Why, he wasn't afraid to be open with you, Alexey Fyodorovitch. How is it that I don't deserve the same?”
The last words she uttered in tears. Tears gushed from her eyes.
“I must tell you,” Alyosha began, his voice trembling too, “what happened just now between him and my father.”
And he described the whole scene, how Dmitri had sent him to get the money, how he had broken in, knocked his father down, and after that had again specially and emphatically begged him to take his compliments and farewell. “He went to that woman,” Alyosha added softly.
“And do you suppose that I can't put up with that woman? Does he think I can't? But he won't marry her,” she suddenly laughed nervously. “Could such a passion last for ever in a Karamazov? [pg 161] It's passion, not love. He won't marry her because she won't marry him.” Again Katerina Ivanovna laughed strangely.
“He may marry her,” said Alyosha mournfully, looking down.
“He won't marry her, I tell you. That girl is an angel. Do you know that? Do you know that?” Katerina Ivanovna exclaimed suddenly with extraordinary warmth. “She is one of the most fantastic of fantastic creatures. I know how bewitching she is, but I know too that she is kind, firm and noble. Why do you look at me like that, Alexey Fyodorovitch? Perhaps you are wondering at my words, perhaps you don't believe me? Agrafena Alexandrovna, my angel!” she cried suddenly to some one, peeping into the next room, “come in to us. This is a friend. This is Alyosha. He knows all about our affairs. Show yourself to him.”
“I've only been waiting behind the curtain for you to call me,” said a soft, one might even say sugary, feminine voice.
The portière was raised and Grushenka herself, smiling and beaming, came up to the table. A violent revulsion passed over Alyosha. He fixed his eyes on her and could not take them off. Here she was, that awful woman, the “beast,” as Ivan had called her half an hour before. And yet one would have thought the creature standing before him most simple and ordinary, a good-natured, kind woman, handsome certainly, but so like other handsome ordinary women! It is true she was very, very good-looking with that Russian beauty so passionately loved by many men. She was a rather tall woman, though a little shorter than Katerina Ivanovna, who was exceptionally tall. She had a full figure, with soft, as it were, noiseless, movements, softened to a peculiar over-sweetness, like her voice. She moved, not like Katerina Ivanovna, with a vigorous, bold step, but noiselessly. Her feet made absolutely no sound on the floor. She sank softly into a low chair, softly rustling her sumptuous black silk dress, and delicately nestling her milk-white neck and broad shoulders in a costly cashmere shawl. She was twenty-two years old, and her face looked exactly that age. She was very white in the face, with a pale pink tint on her cheeks. The modeling of her face might be said to be too broad, and the lower jaw was set a trifle forward. Her upper lip was thin, but the slightly prominent lower lip was at least twice as full, and looked pouting. But her magnificent, abundant dark brown hair, her sable-colored eyebrows [pg 162] and charming gray-blue eyes with their long lashes would have made the most indifferent person, meeting her casually in a crowd in the street, stop at the sight of her face and remember it long after. What struck Alyosha most in that face was its expression of childlike good nature. There was a childlike look in her eyes, a look of childish delight. She came up to the table, beaming with delight and seeming to expect something with childish, impatient, and confiding curiosity. The light in her eyes gladdened the soul—Alyosha felt that. There was something else in her which he could not understand, or would not have been able to define, and which yet perhaps unconsciously affected him. It was that softness, that voluptuousness of her bodily movements, that catlike noiselessness. Yet it was a vigorous, ample body. Under the shawl could be seen full broad shoulders, a high, still quite girlish bosom. Her figure suggested the lines of the Venus of Milo, though already in somewhat exaggerated proportions. That could be divined. Connoisseurs of Russian beauty could have foretold with certainty that this fresh, still youthful beauty would lose its harmony by the age of thirty, would “spread”; that the face would become puffy, and that wrinkles would very soon appear upon her forehead and round the eyes; the complexion would grow coarse and red perhaps—in fact, that it was the beauty of the moment, the fleeting beauty which is so often met with in Russian women. Alyosha, of course, did not think of this; but though he was fascinated, yet he wondered with an unpleasant sensation, and as it were regretfully, why she drawled in that way and could not speak naturally. She did so evidently feeling there was a charm in the exaggerated, honeyed modulation of the syllables. It was, of course, only a bad, underbred habit that showed bad education and a false idea of good manners. And yet this intonation and manner of speaking impressed Alyosha as almost incredibly incongruous with the childishly simple and happy expression of her face, the soft, babyish joy in her eyes. Katerina Ivanovna at once made her sit down in an arm-chair facing Alyosha, and ecstatically kissed her several times on her smiling lips. She seemed quite in love with her.
“This is the first time we've met, Alexey Fyodorovitch,” she said rapturously. “I wanted to know her, to see her. I wanted to go to her, but I'd no sooner expressed the wish than she came to me. I [pg 163] knew we should settle everything together—everything. My heart told me so—I was begged not to take the step, but I foresaw it would be a way out of the difficulty, and I was not mistaken. Grushenka has explained everything to me, told me all she means to do. She flew here like an angel of goodness and brought us peace and joy.”
“You did not disdain me, sweet, excellent young lady,” drawled Grushenka in her sing-song voice, still with the same charming smile of delight.
“Don't dare to speak to me like that, you sorceress, you witch! Disdain you! Here, I must kiss your lower lip once more. It looks as though it were swollen, and now it will be more so, and more and more. Look how she laughs, Alexey Fyodorovitch! It does one's heart good to see the angel.”
Alyosha flushed, and faint, imperceptible shivers kept running down him.
“You make so much of me, dear young lady, and perhaps I am not at all worthy of your kindness.”
“Not worthy! She's not worthy of it!” Katerina Ivanovna cried again with the same warmth. “You know, Alexey Fyodorovitch, we're fanciful, we're self-willed, but proudest of the proud in our little heart. We're noble, we're generous, Alexey Fyodorovitch, let me tell you. We have only been unfortunate. We were too ready to make every sacrifice for an unworthy, perhaps, or fickle man. There was one man—one, an officer too, we loved him, we sacrificed everything to him. That was long ago, five years ago, and he has forgotten us, he has married. Now he is a widower, he has written, he is coming here, and, do you know, we've loved him, none but him, all this time, and we've loved him all our life! He will come, and Grushenka will be happy again. For the last five years she's been wretched. But who can reproach her, who can boast of her favor? Only that bedridden old merchant, but he is more like her father, her friend, her protector. He found her then in despair, in agony, deserted by the man she loved. She was ready to drown herself then, but the old merchant saved her—saved her!”
“You defend me very kindly, dear young lady. You are in a great hurry about everything,” Grushenka drawled again.
“Defend you! Is it for me to defend you? Should I dare to [pg 164] defend you? Grushenka, angel, give me your hand. Look at that charming soft little hand, Alexey Fyodorovitch! Look at it! It has brought me happiness and has lifted me up, and I'm going to kiss it, outside and inside, here, here, here!”
And three times she kissed the certainly charming, though rather fat, hand of Grushenka in a sort of rapture. She held out her hand with a charming musical, nervous little laugh, watched the “sweet young lady,” and obviously liked having her hand kissed.
“Perhaps there's rather too much rapture,” thought Alyosha. He blushed. He felt a peculiar uneasiness at heart the whole time.
“You won't make me blush, dear young lady, kissing my hand like this before Alexey Fyodorovitch.”
“Do you think I meant to make you blush?” said Katerina Ivanovna, somewhat surprised. “Ah, my dear, how little you understand me!”
“Yes, and you too perhaps quite misunderstand me, dear young lady. Maybe I'm not so good as I seem to you. I've a bad heart; I will have my own way. I fascinated poor Dmitri Fyodorovitch that day simply for fun.”
“But now you'll save him. You've given me your word. You'll explain it all to him. You'll break to him that you have long loved another man, who is now offering you his hand.”
“Oh, no! I didn't give you my word to do that. It was you kept talking about that. I didn't give you my word.”
“Then I didn't quite understand you,” said Katerina Ivanovna slowly, turning a little pale. “You promised—”
“Oh, no, angel lady, I've promised nothing,” Grushenka interrupted softly and evenly, still with the same gay and simple expression. “You see at once, dear young lady, what a willful wretch I am compared with you. If I want to do a thing I do it. I may have made you some promise just now. But now again I'm thinking: I may take to Mitya again. I liked him very much once—liked him for almost a whole hour. Now maybe I shall go and tell him to stay with me from this day forward. You see, I'm so changeable.”
“Just now you said—something quite different,” Katerina Ivanovna whispered faintly.
“Ah, just now! But, you know. I'm such a soft-hearted, silly [pg 165] creature. Only think what he's gone through on my account! What if when I go home I feel sorry for him? What then?”
“I never expected—”
“Ah, young lady, how good and generous you are compared with me! Now perhaps you won't care for a silly creature like me, now you know my character. Give me your sweet little hand, angelic lady,” she said tenderly, and with a sort of reverence took Katerina Ivanovna's hand.
“Here, dear young lady, I'll take your hand and kiss it as you did mine. You kissed mine three times, but I ought to kiss yours three hundred times to be even with you. Well, but let that pass. And then it shall be as God wills. Perhaps I shall be your slave entirely and want to do your bidding like a slave. Let it be as God wills, without any agreements and promises. What a sweet hand—what a sweet hand you have! You sweet young lady, you incredible beauty!”
She slowly raised the hands to her lips, with the strange object indeed of “being even” with her in kisses.
Katerina Ivanovna did not take her hand away. She listened with timid hope to the last words, though Grushenka's promise to do her bidding like a slave was very strangely expressed. She looked intently into her eyes; she still saw in those eyes the same simple-hearted, confiding expression, the same bright gayety.
“She's perhaps too naïve,” thought Katerina Ivanovna, with a gleam of hope.
Grushenka meanwhile seemed enthusiastic over the “sweet hand.” She raised it deliberately to her lips. But she held it for two or three minutes near her lips, as though reconsidering something.
“Do you know, angel lady,” she suddenly drawled in an even more soft and sugary voice, “do you know, after all, I think I won't kiss your hand?” And she laughed a little merry laugh.
“As you please. What's the matter with you?” said Katerina Ivanovna, starting suddenly.
“So that you may be left to remember that you kissed my hand, but I didn't kiss yours.”
There was a sudden gleam in her eyes. She looked with awful intentness at Katerina Ivanovna.
“Insolent creature!” cried Katerina Ivanovna, as though suddenly [pg 166] grasping something. She flushed all over and leapt up from her seat.
Grushenka too got up, but without haste.
“So I shall tell Mitya how you kissed my hand, but I didn't kiss yours at all. And how he will laugh!”
“Vile slut! Go away!”
“Ah, for shame, young lady! Ah, for shame! That's unbecoming for you, dear young lady, a word like that.”
“Go away! You're a creature for sale!” screamed Katerina Ivanovna. Every feature was working in her utterly distorted face.
“For sale indeed! You used to visit gentlemen in the dusk for money once; you brought your beauty for sale. You see, I know.”
Katerina Ivanovna shrieked, and would have rushed at her, but Alyosha held her with all his strength.
“Not a step, not a word! Don't speak, don't answer her. She'll go away—she'll go at once.”
At that instant Katerina Ivanovna's two aunts ran in at her cry, and with them a maid-servant. All hurried to her.
“I will go away,” said Grushenka, taking up her mantle from the sofa. “Alyosha, darling, see me home!”
“Go away—go away, make haste!” cried Alyosha, clasping his hands imploringly.
“Dear little Alyosha, see me home! I've got a pretty little story to tell you on the way. I got up this scene for your benefit, Alyosha. See me home, dear, you'll be glad of it afterwards.”
Alyosha turned away, wringing his hands. Grushenka ran out of the house, laughing musically.
Katerina Ivanovna went into a fit of hysterics. She sobbed, and was shaken with convulsions. Every one fussed round her.
“I warned you,” said the elder of her aunts. “I tried to prevent your doing this. You're too impulsive. How could you do such a thing? You don't know these creatures, and they say she's worse than any of them. You are too self-willed.”
“She's a tigress!” yelled Katerina Ivanovna. “Why did you hold me, Alexey Fyodorovitch? I'd have beaten her—beaten her!”
She could not control herself before Alyosha; perhaps she did not care to, indeed.
“She ought to be flogged in public on a scaffold!”
Alyosha withdrew towards the door.
“But, my God!” cried Katerina Ivanovna, clasping her hands. “He! He! He could be so dishonorable, so inhuman! Why, he told that creature what happened on that fatal, accursed day! ‘You brought your beauty for sale, dear young lady.’ She knows it! Your brother's a scoundrel, Alexey Fyodorovitch.”
Alyosha wanted to say something, but he couldn't find a word. His heart ached.
“Go away, Alexey Fyodorovitch! It's shameful, it's awful for me! To-morrow, I beg you on my knees, come to-morrow. Don't condemn me. Forgive me. I don't know what I shall do with myself now!”
Alyosha walked out into the street reeling. He could have wept as she did. Suddenly he was overtaken by the maid.
“The young lady forgot to give you this letter from Madame Hohlakov; it's been left with us since dinner-time.”
Alyosha took the little pink envelope mechanically and put it, almost unconsciously, into his pocket.