The first of these things was at the house of Madame Hohlakov, and he hurried there to get it over as quickly as possible and not be too late for Mitya. Madame Hohlakov had been slightly ailing for the last three weeks: her foot had for some reason swollen up, [pg 644] and though she was not in bed, she lay all day half-reclining on the couch in her boudoir, in a fascinating but decorous déshabillé. Alyosha had once noted with innocent amusement that, in spite of her illness, Madame Hohlakov had begun to be rather dressy—top-knots, ribbons, loose wrappers, had made their appearance, and he had an inkling of the reason, though he dismissed such ideas from his mind as frivolous. During the last two months the young official, Perhotin, had become a regular visitor at the house.
Alyosha had not called for four days and he was in haste to go straight to Lise, as it was with her he had to speak, for Lise had sent a maid to him the previous day, specially asking him to come to her “about something very important,” a request which, for certain reasons, had interest for Alyosha. But while the maid went to take his name in to Lise, Madame Hohlakov heard of his arrival from some one, and immediately sent to beg him to come to her “just for one minute.” Alyosha reflected that it was better to accede to the mamma's request, or else she would be sending down to Lise's room every minute that he was there. Madame Hohlakov was lying on a couch. She was particularly smartly dressed and was evidently in a state of extreme nervous excitement. She greeted Alyosha with cries of rapture.
“It's ages, ages, perfect ages since I've seen you! It's a whole week—only think of it! Ah, but you were here only four days ago, on Wednesday. You have come to see Lise. I'm sure you meant to slip into her room on tiptoe, without my hearing you. My dear, dear Alexey Fyodorovitch, if you only knew how worried I am about her! But of that later, though that's the most important thing, of that later. Dear Alexey Fyodorovitch, I trust you implicitly with my Lise. Since the death of Father Zossima—God rest his soul!” (she crossed herself)—“I look upon you as a monk, though you look charming in your new suit. Where did you find such a tailor in these parts? No, no, that's not the chief thing—of that later. Forgive me for sometimes calling you Alyosha; an old woman like me may take liberties,” she smiled coquettishly; “but that will do later, too. The important thing is that I shouldn't forget what is important. Please remind me of it yourself. As soon as my tongue runs away with me, you just say ‘the important thing?’ Ach! how do I know now what is of most importance? Ever since [pg 645] Lise took back her promise—her childish promise, Alexey Fyodorovitch—to marry you, you've realized, of course, that it was only the playful fancy of a sick child who had been so long confined to her chair—thank God, she can walk now!... that new doctor Katya sent for from Moscow for your unhappy brother, who will to-morrow—But why speak of to-morrow? I am ready to die at the very thought of to-morrow. Ready to die of curiosity.... That doctor was with us yesterday and saw Lise.... I paid him fifty roubles for the visit. But that's not the point, that's not the point again. You see, I'm mixing everything up. I am in such a hurry. Why am I in a hurry? I don't understand. It's awful how I seem growing unable to understand anything. Everything seems mixed up in a sort of tangle. I am afraid you are so bored you will jump up and run away, and that will be all I shall see of you. Goodness! Why are we sitting here and no coffee? Yulia, Glafira, coffee!”
Alyosha made haste to thank her, and said that he had only just had coffee.
“At Agrafena Alexandrovna's.”
“At ... at that woman's? Ah, it's she has brought ruin on every one. I know nothing about it though. They say she has become a saint, though it's rather late in the day. She had better have done it before. What use is it now? Hush, hush, Alexey Fyodorovitch, for I have so much to say to you that I am afraid I shall tell you nothing. This awful trial ... I shall certainly go, I am making arrangements. I shall be carried there in my chair; besides I can sit up. I shall have people with me. And, you know, I am a witness. How shall I speak, how shall I speak? I don't know what I shall say. One has to take an oath, hasn't one?”
“Yes; but I don't think you will be able to go.”
“I can sit up. Ah, you put me out! Ah! this trial, this savage act, and then they are all going to Siberia, some are getting married, and all this so quickly, so quickly, everything's changing, and at last—nothing. All grow old and have death to look forward to. Well, so be it! I am weary. This Katya, cette charmante personne, has disappointed all my hopes. Now she is going to follow one of your brothers to Siberia, and your other brother is going to follow [pg 646] her, and will live in the nearest town, and they will all torment one another. It drives me out of my mind. Worst of all—the publicity. The story has been told a million times over in all the papers in Moscow and Petersburg. Ah! yes, would you believe it, there's a paragraph that I was ‘a dear friend’ of your brother's ——, I can't repeat the horrid word. Just fancy, just fancy!”
“Impossible! Where was the paragraph? What did it say?”
“I'll show you directly. I got the paper and read it yesterday. Here, in the Petersburg paper Gossip. The paper began coming out this year. I am awfully fond of gossip, and I take it in, and now it pays me out—this is what gossip comes to! Here it is, here, this passage. Read it.”
And she handed Alyosha a sheet of newspaper which had been under her pillow.
It was not exactly that she was upset, she seemed overwhelmed and perhaps everything really was mixed up in a tangle in her head. The paragraph was very typical, and must have been a great shock to her, but, fortunately perhaps, she was unable to keep her mind fixed on any one subject at that moment, and so might race off in a minute to something else and quite forget the newspaper.
Alyosha was well aware that the story of the terrible case had spread all over Russia. And, good heavens! what wild rumors about his brother, about the Karamazovs, and about himself he had read in the course of those two months, among other equally credible items! One paper had even stated that he had gone into a monastery and become a monk, in horror at his brother's crime. Another contradicted this, and stated that he and his elder, Father Zossima, had broken into the monastery chest and “made tracks from the monastery.” The present paragraph in the paper Gossip was under the heading, “The Karamazov Case at Skotoprigonyevsk.” (That, alas! was the name of our little town. I had hitherto kept it concealed.) It was brief, and Madame Hohlakov was not directly mentioned in it. No names appeared, in fact. It was merely stated that the criminal, whose approaching trial was making such a sensation—retired army captain, an idle swaggerer, and reactionary bully—was continually involved in amorous intrigues, and particularly popular with certain ladies “who were pining in solitude.” One such lady, a pining widow, who tried to seem young though she had a grown-up [pg 647] daughter, was so fascinated by him that only two hours before the crime she offered him three thousand roubles, on condition that he would elope with her to the gold mines. But the criminal, counting on escaping punishment, had preferred to murder his father to get the three thousand rather than go off to Siberia with the middle-aged charms of his pining lady. This playful paragraph finished, of course, with an outburst of generous indignation at the wickedness of parricide and at the lately abolished institution of serfdom. Reading it with curiosity, Alyosha folded up the paper and handed it back to Madame Hohlakov.
“Well, that must be me,” she hurried on again. “Of course I am meant. Scarcely more than an hour before, I suggested gold mines to him, and here they talk of ‘middle-aged charms’ as though that were my motive! He writes that out of spite! God Almighty forgive him for the middle-aged charms, as I forgive him! You know it's— Do you know who it is? It's your friend Rakitin.”
“Perhaps,” said Alyosha, “though I've heard nothing about it.”
“It's he, it's he! No ‘perhaps’ about it. You know I turned him out of the house.... You know all that story, don't you?”
“I know that you asked him not to visit you for the future, but why it was, I haven't heard ... from you, at least.”
“Ah, then you've heard it from him! He abuses me, I suppose, abuses me dreadfully?”
“Yes, he does; but then he abuses every one. But why you've given him up I haven't heard from him either. I meet him very seldom now, indeed. We are not friends.”
“Well, then, I'll tell you all about it. There's no help for it, I'll confess, for there is one point in which I was perhaps to blame. Only a little, little point, so little that perhaps it doesn't count. You see, my dear boy”—Madame Hohlakov suddenly looked arch and a charming, though enigmatic, smile played about her lips—“you see, I suspect ... You must forgive me, Alyosha. I am like a mother to you.... No, no; quite the contrary. I speak to you now as though you were my father—mother's quite out of place. Well, it's as though I were confessing to Father Zossima, that's just it. I called you a monk just now. Well, that poor young man, your friend, Rakitin (Mercy on us! I can't be angry with him. I feel cross, but not very), that frivolous young man, would you believe [pg 648] it, seems to have taken it into his head to fall in love with me. I only noticed it later. At first—a month ago—he only began to come oftener to see me, almost every day; though, of course, we were acquainted before. I knew nothing about it ... and suddenly it dawned upon me, and I began to notice things with surprise. You know, two months ago, that modest, charming, excellent young man, Pyotr Ilyitch Perhotin, who's in the service here, began to be a regular visitor at the house. You met him here ever so many times yourself. And he is an excellent, earnest young man, isn't he? He comes once every three days, not every day (though I should be glad to see him every day), and always so well dressed. Altogether, I love young people, Alyosha, talented, modest, like you, and he has almost the mind of a statesman, he talks so charmingly, and I shall certainly, certainly try and get promotion for him. He is a future diplomat. On that awful day he almost saved me from death by coming in the night. And your friend Rakitin comes in such boots, and always stretches them out on the carpet.... He began hinting at his feelings, in fact, and one day, as he was going, he squeezed my hand terribly hard. My foot began to swell directly after he pressed my hand like that. He had met Pyotr Ilyitch here before, and would you believe it, he is always gibing at him, growling at him, for some reason. I simply looked at the way they went on together and laughed inwardly. So I was sitting here alone—no, I was laid up then. Well, I was lying here alone and suddenly Rakitin comes in, and only fancy! brought me some verses of his own composition—a short poem, on my bad foot: that is, he described my foot in a poem. Wait a minute—how did it go?
A captivating little foot.
It began somehow like that. I can never remember poetry. I've got it here. I'll show it to you later. But it's a charming thing—charming; and, you know, it's not only about the foot, it had a good moral, too, a charming idea, only I've forgotten it; in fact, it was just the thing for an album. So, of course, I thanked him, and he was evidently flattered. I'd hardly had time to thank him when in comes Pyotr Ilyitch, and Rakitin suddenly looked as black as night. I could see that Pyotr Ilyitch was in the way, for Rakitin certainly wanted to say something after giving me the verses. I [pg 649] had a presentiment of it; but Pyotr Ilyitch came in. I showed Pyotr Ilyitch the verses and didn't say who was the author. But I am convinced that he guessed, though he won't own it to this day, and declares he had no idea. But he says that on purpose. Pyotr Ilyitch began to laugh at once, and fell to criticizing it. ‘Wretched doggerel,’ he said they were, ‘some divinity student must have written them,’ and with such vehemence, such vehemence! Then, instead of laughing, your friend flew into a rage. ‘Good gracious!’ I thought, ‘they'll fly at each other.’ ‘It was I who wrote them,’ said he. ‘I wrote them as a joke,’ he said, ‘for I think it degrading to write verses.... But they are good poetry. They want to put a monument to your Pushkin for writing about women's feet, while I wrote with a moral purpose, and you,’ said he, ‘are an advocate of serfdom. You've no humane ideas,’ said he. ‘You have no modern enlightened feelings, you are uninfluenced by progress, you are a mere official,’ he said, ‘and you take bribes.’ Then I began screaming and imploring them. And, you know, Pyotr Ilyitch is anything but a coward. He at once took up the most gentlemanly tone, looked at him sarcastically, listened, and apologized. ‘I'd no idea,’ said he. ‘I shouldn't have said it, if I had known. I should have praised it. Poets are all so irritable,’ he said. In short, he laughed at him under cover of the most gentlemanly tone. He explained to me afterwards that it was all sarcastic. I thought he was in earnest. Only as I lay there, just as before you now, I thought, ‘Would it, or would it not, be the proper thing for me to turn Rakitin out for shouting so rudely at a visitor in my house?’ And, would you believe it, I lay here, shut my eyes, and wondered, would it be the proper thing or not. I kept worrying and worrying, and my heart began to beat, and I couldn't make up my mind whether to make an outcry or not. One voice seemed to be telling me, ‘Speak,’ and the other ‘No, don't speak.’ And no sooner had the second voice said that than I cried out, and fainted. Of course, there was a fuss. I got up suddenly and said to Rakitin, ‘It's painful for me to say it, but I don't wish to see you in my house again.’ So I turned him out. Ah! Alexey Fyodorovitch, I know myself I did wrong. I was putting it on. I wasn't angry with him at all, really; but I suddenly fancied—that was what did it—that it would be such a fine scene.... And yet, believe me, it was quite natural, for I really shed [pg 650] tears and cried for several days afterwards, and then suddenly, one afternoon, I forgot all about it. So it's a fortnight since he's been here, and I kept wondering whether he would come again. I wondered even yesterday, then suddenly last night came this Gossip. I read it and gasped. Who could have written it? He must have written it. He went home, sat down, wrote it on the spot, sent it, and they put it in. It was a fortnight ago, you see. But, Alyosha, it's awful how I keep talking and don't say what I want to say. Ah! the words come of themselves!”
“It's very important for me to be in time to see my brother to-day,” Alyosha faltered.
“To be sure, to be sure! You bring it all back to me. Listen, what is an aberration?”
“What aberration?” asked Alyosha, wondering.
“In the legal sense. An aberration in which everything is pardonable. Whatever you do, you will be acquitted at once.”
“What do you mean?”
“I'll tell you. This Katya ... Ah! she is a charming, charming creature, only I never can make out who it is she is in love with. She was with me some time ago and I couldn't get anything out of her. Especially as she won't talk to me except on the surface now. She is always talking about my health and nothing else, and she takes up such a tone with me, too. I simply said to myself, ‘Well, so be it. I don't care’... Oh, yes. I was talking of aberration. This doctor has come. You know a doctor has come? Of course, you know it—the one who discovers madmen. You wrote for him. No, it wasn't you, but Katya. It's all Katya's doing. Well, you see, a man may be sitting perfectly sane and suddenly have an aberration. He may be conscious and know what he is doing and yet be in a state of aberration. And there's no doubt that Dmitri Fyodorovitch was suffering from aberration. They found out about aberration as soon as the law courts were reformed. It's all the good effect of the reformed law courts. The doctor has been here and questioned me about that evening, about the gold mines. ‘How did he seem then?’ he asked me. He must have been in a state of aberration. He came in shouting, ‘Money, money, three thousand! Give me three thousand!’ and then went away and immediately did the murder. ‘I don't want to murder him,’ he said, [pg 651] and he suddenly went and murdered him. That's why they'll acquit him, because he struggled against it and yet he murdered him.”
“But he didn't murder him,” Alyosha interrupted rather sharply. He felt more and more sick with anxiety and impatience.
“Yes, I know it was that old man Grigory murdered him.”
“Grigory?” cried Alyosha.
“Yes, yes; it was Grigory. He lay as Dmitri Fyodorovitch struck him down, and then got up, saw the door open, went in and killed Fyodor Pavlovitch.”
“But why, why?”
“Suffering from aberration. When he recovered from the blow Dmitri Fyodorovitch gave him on the head, he was suffering from aberration; he went and committed the murder. As for his saying he didn't, he very likely doesn't remember. Only, you know, it'll be better, ever so much better, if Dmitri Fyodorovitch murdered him. And that's how it must have been, though I say it was Grigory. It certainly was Dmitri Fyodorovitch, and that's better, ever so much better! Oh! not better that a son should have killed his father, I don't defend that. Children ought to honor their parents, and yet it would be better if it were he, as you'd have nothing to cry over then, for he did it when he was unconscious or rather when he was conscious, but did not know what he was doing. Let them acquit him—that's so humane, and would show what a blessing reformed law courts are. I knew nothing about it, but they say they have been so a long time. And when I heard it yesterday, I was so struck by it that I wanted to send for you at once. And if he is acquitted, make him come straight from the law courts to dinner with me, and I'll have a party of friends, and we'll drink to the reformed law courts. I don't believe he'd be dangerous; besides, I'll invite a great many friends, so that he could always be led out if he did anything. And then he might be made a justice of the peace or something in another town, for those who have been in trouble themselves make the best judges. And, besides, who isn't suffering from aberration nowadays?—you, I, all of us are in a state of aberration, and there are ever so many examples of it: a man sits singing a song, suddenly something annoys him, he takes a pistol and shoots the first person he comes across, and no one blames him for it. I read that lately, and all the doctors confirm it. The [pg 652] doctors are always confirming; they confirm anything. Why, my Lise is in a state of aberration. She made me cry again yesterday, and the day before, too, and to-day I suddenly realized that it's all due to aberration. Oh, Lise grieves me so! I believe she's quite mad. Why did she send for you? Did she send for you or did you come of yourself?”
“Yes, she sent for me, and I am just going to her.” Alyosha got up resolutely.
“Oh, my dear, dear Alexey Fyodorovitch, perhaps that's what's most important,” Madame Hohlakov cried, suddenly bursting into tears. “God knows I trust Lise to you with all my heart, and it's no matter her sending for you on the sly, without telling her mother. But forgive me, I can't trust my daughter so easily to your brother Ivan Fyodorovitch, though I still consider him the most chivalrous young man. But only fancy, he's been to see Lise and I knew nothing about it!”
“How? What? When?” Alyosha was exceedingly surprised. He had not sat down again and listened standing.
“I will tell you; that's perhaps why I asked you to come, for I don't know now why I did ask you to come. Well, Ivan Fyodorovitch has been to see me twice, since he came back from Moscow. First time he came as a friend to call on me, and the second time Katya was here and he came because he heard she was here. I didn't, of course, expect him to come often, knowing what a lot he has to do as it is, vous comprenez, cette affaire et la mort terrible de votre papa. But I suddenly heard he'd been here again, not to see me but to see Lise. That's six days ago now. He came, stayed five minutes, and went away. And I didn't hear of it till three days afterwards, from Glafira, so it was a great shock to me. I sent for Lise directly. She laughed. ‘He thought you were asleep,’ she said, ‘and came in to me to ask after your health.’ Of course, that's how it happened. But Lise, Lise, mercy on us, how she distresses me! Would you believe it, one night, four days ago, just after you saw her last time, and had gone away, she suddenly had a fit, screaming, shrieking, hysterics! Why is it I never have hysterics? Then, next day another fit, and the same thing on the third, and yesterday too, and then yesterday that aberration. She suddenly screamed out, ‘I hate Ivan Fyodorovitch. I insist on your never letting him come to [pg 653] the house again.’ I was struck dumb at these amazing words, and answered, ‘On what grounds could I refuse to see such an excellent young man, a young man of such learning too, and so unfortunate?’—for all this business is a misfortune, isn't it? She suddenly burst out laughing at my words, and so rudely, you know. Well, I was pleased; I thought I had amused her and the fits would pass off, especially as I wanted to refuse to see Ivan Fyodorovitch anyway on account of his strange visits without my knowledge, and meant to ask him for an explanation. But early this morning Lise waked up and flew into a passion with Yulia and, would you believe it, slapped her in the face. That's monstrous; I am always polite to my servants. And an hour later she was hugging Yulia's feet and kissing them. She sent a message to me that she wasn't coming to me at all, and would never come and see me again, and when I dragged myself down to her, she rushed to kiss me, crying, and as she kissed me, she pushed me out of the room without saying a word, so I couldn't find out what was the matter. Now, dear Alexey Fyodorovitch, I rest all my hopes on you, and, of course, my whole life is in your hands. I simply beg you to go to Lise and find out everything from her, as you alone can, and come back and tell me—me, her mother, for you understand it will be the death of me, simply the death of me, if this goes on, or else I shall run away. I can stand no more. I have patience; but I may lose patience, and then ... then something awful will happen. Ah, dear me! At last, Pyotr Ilyitch!” cried Madame Hohlakov, beaming all over as she saw Perhotin enter the room. “You are late, you are late! Well, sit down, speak, put us out of suspense. What does the counsel say. Where are you off to, Alexey Fyodorovitch?”
“Oh, yes. You won't forget, you won't forget what I asked you? It's a question of life and death!”
“Of course, I won't forget, if I can ... but I am so late,” muttered Alyosha, beating a hasty retreat.
“No, be sure, be sure to come in; don't say ‘If you can.’ I shall die if you don't,” Madame Hohlakov called after him, but Alyosha had already left the room.