The Brothers Karamazov

Part III, Book IX, Chapter I. The Beginning of Perhotin's Official Career

Pyotr Ilyitch Perhotin, whom we left knocking at the strong locked gates of the widow Morozov's house, ended, of course, by making himself heard. Fenya, who was still excited by the fright she had had two hours before, and too much “upset” to go to bed, was almost frightened into hysterics on hearing the furious knocking at the gate. Though she had herself seen him drive away, she fancied that it must be Dmitri Fyodorovitch knocking again, no one else could knock so savagely. She ran to the house-porter, who had already waked up and gone out to the gate, and began imploring him not to open it. But having questioned Pyotr Ilyitch, and learned that he wanted to see Fenya on very “important business,” the man made up his mind at last to open. Pyotr Ilyitch was admitted into Fenya's kitchen, but the girl begged him to allow the house-porter to be present, “because of her misgivings.” He began questioning her and at once learnt the most vital fact, that is, that when Dmitri Fyodorovitch had run out to look for Grushenka, he had snatched up a pestle from the mortar, and that when he returned, the pestle was not with him and his hands were smeared with blood.

“And the blood was simply flowing, dripping from him, dripping!” Fenya kept exclaiming. This horrible detail was simply the product of her disordered imagination. But although not “dripping,” Pyotr Ilyitch had himself seen those hands stained with blood, and had helped to wash them. Moreover, the question he had to decide was not how soon the blood had dried, but where Dmitri Fyodorovitch had run with the pestle, or rather, whether it really [pg 501] was to Fyodor Pavlovitch's, and how he could satisfactorily ascertain. Pyotr Ilyitch persisted in returning to this point, and though he found out nothing conclusive, yet he carried away a conviction that Dmitri Fyodorovitch could have gone nowhere but to his father's house, and that therefore something must have happened there.

“And when he came back,” Fenya added with excitement, “I told him the whole story, and then I began asking him, ‘Why have you got blood on your hands, Dmitri Fyodorovitch?’ and he answered that that was human blood, and that he had just killed some one. He confessed it all to me, and suddenly ran off like a madman. I sat down and began thinking, where's he run off to now like a madman? He'll go to Mokroe, I thought, and kill my mistress there. I ran out to beg him not to kill her. I was running to his lodgings, but I looked at Plotnikov's shop, and saw him just setting off, and there was no blood on his hands then.” (Fenya had noticed this and remembered it.) Fenya's old grandmother confirmed her evidence as far as she was capable. After asking some further questions, Pyotr Ilyitch left the house, even more upset and uneasy than he had been when he entered it.

The most direct and the easiest thing for him to do would have been to go straight to Fyodor Pavlovitch's, to find out whether anything had happened there, and if so, what; and only to go to the police captain, as Pyotr Ilyitch firmly intended doing, when he had satisfied himself of the fact. But the night was dark, Fyodor Pavlovitch's gates were strong, and he would have to knock again. His acquaintance with Fyodor Pavlovitch was of the slightest, and what if, after he had been knocking, they opened to him, and nothing had happened? Then Fyodor Pavlovitch in his jeering way would go telling the story all over the town, how a stranger, called Perhotin, had broken in upon him at midnight to ask if any one had killed him. It would make a scandal. And scandal was what Pyotr Ilyitch dreaded more than anything in the world.

Yet the feeling that possessed him was so strong, that though he stamped his foot angrily and swore at himself, he set off again, not to Fyodor Pavlovitch's but to Madame Hohlakov's. He decided that if she denied having just given Dmitri Fyodorovitch three thousand roubles, he would go straight to the police captain, but if she [pg 502] admitted having given him the money, he would go home and let the matter rest till next morning.

It is, of course, perfectly evident that there was even more likelihood of causing scandal by going at eleven o'clock at night to a fashionable lady, a complete stranger, and perhaps rousing her from her bed to ask her an amazing question, than by going to Fyodor Pavlovitch. But that is just how it is, sometimes, especially in cases like the present one, with the decisions of the most precise and phlegmatic people. Pyotr Ilyitch was by no means phlegmatic at that moment. He remembered all his life how a haunting uneasiness gradually gained possession of him, growing more and more painful and driving him on, against his will. Yet he kept cursing himself, of course, all the way for going to this lady, but “I will get to the bottom of it, I will!” he repeated for the tenth time, grinding his teeth, and he carried out his intention.

It was exactly eleven o'clock when he entered Madame Hohlakov's house. He was admitted into the yard pretty quickly, but, in response to his inquiry whether the lady was still up, the porter could give no answer, except that she was usually in bed by that time.

“Ask at the top of the stairs. If the lady wants to receive you, she'll receive you. If she won't, she won't.”

Pyotr Ilyitch went up, but did not find things so easy here. The footman was unwilling to take in his name, but finally called a maid. Pyotr Ilyitch politely but insistently begged her to inform her lady that an official, living in the town, called Perhotin, had called on particular business, and that if it were not of the greatest importance he would not have ventured to come. “Tell her in those words, in those words exactly,” he asked the girl.

She went away. He remained waiting in the entry. Madame Hohlakov herself was already in her bedroom, though not yet asleep. She had felt upset ever since Mitya's visit, and had a presentiment that she would not get through the night without the sick headache which always, with her, followed such excitement. She was surprised on hearing the announcement from the maid. She irritably declined to see him, however, though the unexpected visit at such an hour, of an “official living in the town,” who was a total stranger, roused her feminine curiosity intensely. But this time Pyotr Ilyitch [pg 503] was as obstinate as a mule. He begged the maid most earnestly to take another message in these very words:

“That he had come on business of the greatest importance, and that Madame Hohlakov might have cause to regret it later, if she refused to see him now.”

“I plunged headlong,” he described it afterwards.

The maid, gazing at him in amazement, went to take his message again. Madame Hohlakov was impressed. She thought a little, asked what he looked like, and learned that he was “very well dressed, young and so polite.” We may note, parenthetically, that Pyotr Ilyitch was a rather good-looking young man, and well aware of the fact. Madame Hohlakov made up her mind to see him. She was in her dressing-gown and slippers, but she flung a black shawl over her shoulders. “The official” was asked to walk into the drawing-room, the very room in which Mitya had been received shortly before. The lady came to meet her visitor, with a sternly inquiring countenance, and, without asking him to sit down, began at once with the question:

“What do you want?”

“I have ventured to disturb you, madam, on a matter concerning our common acquaintance, Dmitri Fyodorovitch Karamazov,” Perhotin began.

But he had hardly uttered the name, when the lady's face showed signs of acute irritation. She almost shrieked, and interrupted him in a fury:

“How much longer am I to be worried by that awful man?” she cried hysterically. “How dare you, sir, how could you venture to disturb a lady who is a stranger to you, in her own house at such an hour!... And to force yourself upon her to talk of a man who came here, to this very drawing-room, only three hours ago, to murder me, and went stamping out of the room, as no one would go out of a decent house. Let me tell you, sir, that I shall lodge a complaint against you, that I will not let it pass. Kindly leave me at once.... I am a mother.... I ... I—”

“Murder! then he tried to murder you, too?”

“Why, has he killed somebody else?” Madame Hohlakov asked impulsively.

“If you would kindly listen, madam, for half a moment, I'll explain [pg 504] it all in a couple of words,” answered Perhotin, firmly. “At five o'clock this afternoon Dmitri Fyodorovitch borrowed ten roubles from me, and I know for a fact he had no money. Yet at nine o'clock, he came to see me with a bundle of hundred-rouble notes in his hand, about two or three thousand roubles. His hands and face were all covered with blood, and he looked like a madman. When I asked him where he had got so much money, he answered that he had just received it from you, that you had given him a sum of three thousand to go to the gold-mines....”

Madame Hohlakov's face assumed an expression of intense and painful excitement.

“Good God! He must have killed his old father!” she cried, clasping her hands. “I have never given him money, never! Oh, run, run!... Don't say another word! Save the old man ... run to his father ... run!”

“Excuse me, madam, then you did not give him money? You remember for a fact that you did not give him any money?”

“No, I didn't, I didn't! I refused to give it him, for he could not appreciate it. He ran out in a fury, stamping. He rushed at me, but I slipped away.... And let me tell you, as I wish to hide nothing from you now, that he positively spat at me. Can you fancy that! But why are we standing? Ah, sit down.”

“Excuse me, I....”

“Or better run, run, you must run and save the poor old man from an awful death!”

“But if he has killed him already?”

“Ah, good heavens, yes! Then what are we to do now? What do you think we must do now?”

Meantime she had made Pyotr Ilyitch sit down and sat down herself, facing him. Briefly, but fairly clearly, Pyotr Ilyitch told her the history of the affair, that part of it at least which he had himself witnessed. He described, too, his visit to Fenya, and told her about the pestle. All these details produced an overwhelming effect on the distracted lady, who kept uttering shrieks, and covering her face with her hands....

“Would you believe it, I foresaw all this! I have that special faculty, whatever I imagine comes to pass. And how often I've looked at that awful man and always thought, that man will end by [pg 505] murdering me. And now it's happened ... that is, if he hasn't murdered me, but only his own father, it's only because the finger of God preserved me, and what's more, he was ashamed to murder me because, in this very place, I put the holy ikon from the relics of the holy martyr, Saint Varvara, on his neck.... And to think how near I was to death at that minute, I went close up to him and he stretched out his neck to me!... Do you know, Pyotr Ilyitch (I think you said your name was Pyotr Ilyitch), I don't believe in miracles, but that ikon and this unmistakable miracle with me now—that shakes me, and I'm ready to believe in anything you like. Have you heard about Father Zossima?... But I don't know what I'm saying ... and only fancy, with the ikon on his neck he spat at me.... He only spat, it's true, he didn't murder me and ... he dashed away! But what shall we do, what must we do now? What do you think?”

Pyotr Ilyitch got up, and announced that he was going straight to the police captain, to tell him all about it, and leave him to do what he thought fit.

“Oh, he's an excellent man, excellent! Mihail Makarovitch, I know him. Of course, he's the person to go to. How practical you are, Pyotr Ilyitch! How well you've thought of everything! I should never have thought of it in your place!”

“Especially as I know the police captain very well, too,” observed Pyotr Ilyitch, who still continued to stand, and was obviously anxious to escape as quickly as possible from the impulsive lady, who would not let him say good-by and go away.

“And be sure, be sure,” she prattled on, “to come back and tell me what you see there, and what you find out ... what comes to light ... how they'll try him ... and what he's condemned to.... Tell me, we have no capital punishment, have we? But be sure to come, even if it's at three o'clock at night, at four, at half-past four.... Tell them to wake me, to wake me, to shake me, if I don't get up.... But, good heavens, I shan't sleep! But wait, hadn't I better come with you?”

“N—no. But if you would write three lines with your own hand, stating that you did not give Dmitri Fyodorovitch money, it might, perhaps, be of use ... in case it's needed....”

“To be sure!” Madame Hohlakov skipped, delighted, to her [pg 506] bureau. “And you know I'm simply struck, amazed at your resourcefulness, your good sense in such affairs. Are you in the service here? I'm delighted to think that you're in the service here!”

And still speaking, she scribbled on half a sheet of notepaper the following lines:

I've never in my life lent to that unhappy man, Dmitri Fyodorovitch Karamazov (for, in spite of all, he is unhappy), three thousand roubles to-day. I've never given him money, never: That I swear by all that's holy!

K. Hohlakov.

“Here's the note!” she turned quickly to Pyotr Ilyitch. “Go, save him. It's a noble deed on your part!”

And she made the sign of the cross three times over him. She ran out to accompany him to the passage.

“How grateful I am to you! You can't think how grateful I am to you for having come to me, first. How is it I haven't met you before? I shall feel flattered at seeing you at my house in the future. How delightful it is that you are living here!... Such precision! Such practical ability!... They must appreciate you, they must understand you. If there's anything I can do, believe me ... oh, I love young people! I'm in love with young people! The younger generation are the one prop of our suffering country. Her one hope.... Oh, go, go!...”

But Pyotr Ilyitch had already run away or she would not have let him go so soon. Yet Madame Hohlakov had made a rather agreeable impression on him, which had somewhat softened his anxiety at being drawn into such an unpleasant affair. Tastes differ, as we all know. “She's by no means so elderly,” he thought, feeling pleased, “on the contrary I should have taken her for her daughter.”

As for Madame Hohlakov, she was simply enchanted by the young man. “Such sense! such exactness! in so young a man! in our day! and all that with such manners and appearance! People say the young people of to-day are no good for anything, but here's an example!” etc. So she simply forgot this “dreadful affair,” and it was only as she was getting into bed, that, suddenly recalling “how near death she had been,” she exclaimed: “Ah, it is awful, awful!”

But she fell at once into a sound, sweet sleep.

[pg 507]

I would not, however, have dwelt on such trivial and irrelevant details, if this eccentric meeting of the young official with the by no means elderly widow had not subsequently turned out to be the foundation of the whole career of that practical and precise young man. His story is remembered to this day with amazement in our town, and I shall perhaps have something to say about it, when I have finished my long history of the Brothers Karamazov.