“The air is fresh, but in my apartment it is not so in any sense of the word. Let us walk slowly, sir. I should be glad of your kind interest.”
“I too have something important to say to you,” observed Alyosha, “only I don't know how to begin.”
“To be sure you must have business with me. You would never have looked in upon me without some object. Unless you come simply to complain of the boy, and that's hardly likely. And, by the way, about the boy: I could not explain to you in there, but here I will describe that scene to you. My tow was thicker a week ago—I mean my beard. That's the nickname they give to my beard, the schoolboys most of all. Well, your brother Dmitri Fyodorovitch was pulling me by my beard, I'd done nothing, he was in a towering rage and happened to come upon me. He dragged me out of the tavern into the market-place; at that moment the boys were coming out of school, and with them Ilusha. As soon as he saw me in such a state he rushed up to me. ‘Father,’ he cried, ‘father!’ He caught hold of me, hugged me, tried to pull me away, crying to my assailant, ‘Let go, let go, it's my father, forgive him!’—yes, he actually cried ‘forgive him.’ He clutched at that hand, that very hand, in his little hands and kissed it.... I remember his little face at that moment, I haven't forgotten it and I never shall!”
“I swear,” cried Alyosha, “that my brother will express his most deep and sincere regret, even if he has to go down on his knees in that same market-place.... I'll make him or he is no brother of mine!”
“Aha, then it's only a suggestion! And it does not come from him but simply from the generosity of your own warm heart. You should have said so. No, in that case allow me to tell you of your brother's highly chivalrous soldierly generosity, for he did give expression to it at the time. He left off dragging me by my beard and released me: ‘You are an officer,’ he said, ‘and I am an officer, if you can find a decent man to be your second send me your challenge. I will give satisfaction, though you are a scoundrel.’ That's what he said. A chivalrous spirit indeed! I retired with Ilusha, and that scene is a family record imprinted for ever on Ilusha's soul. No, it's not for us to claim the privileges of noblemen. Judge for yourself. You've just been in our mansion, what did you see there? Three ladies, one a cripple and weak-minded, another a cripple and hunchback and the third not crippled but far too clever. She is a [pg 223] student, dying to get back to Petersburg, to work for the emancipation of the Russian woman on the banks of the Neva. I won't speak of Ilusha, he is only nine. I am alone in the world, and if I die, what will become of all of them? I simply ask you that. And if I challenge him and he kills me on the spot, what then? What will become of them? And worse still, if he doesn't kill me but only cripples me: I couldn't work, but I should still be a mouth to feed. Who would feed it and who would feed them all? Must I take Ilusha from school and send him to beg in the streets? That's what it means for me to challenge him to a duel. It's silly talk and nothing else.”
“He will beg your forgiveness, he will bow down at your feet in the middle of the market-place,” cried Alyosha again, with glowing eyes.
“I did think of prosecuting him,” the captain went on, “but look in our code, could I get much compensation for a personal injury? And then Agrafena Alexandrovna3 sent for me and shouted at me: ‘Don't dare to dream of it! If you proceed against him, I'll publish it to all the world that he beat you for your dishonesty, and then you will be prosecuted.’ I call God to witness whose was the dishonesty and by whose commands I acted, wasn't it by her own and Fyodor Pavlovitch's? ‘And what's more,’ she went on, ‘I'll dismiss you for good and you'll never earn another penny from me. I'll speak to my merchant too’ (that's what she calls her old man) ‘and he will dismiss you!’ And if he dismisses me, what can I earn then from any one? Those two are all I have to look to, for your Fyodor Pavlovitch has not only given over employing me, for another reason, but he means to make use of papers I've signed to go to law against me. And so I kept quiet, and you have seen our retreat. But now let me ask you: did Ilusha hurt your finger much? I didn't like to go into it in our mansion before him.”
“Yes, very much, and he was in a great fury. He was avenging you on me as a Karamazov, I see that now. But if only you had seen how he was throwing stones at his school-fellows! It's very dangerous. They might kill him. They are children and stupid. A stone may be thrown and break somebody's head.”
“That's just what has happened. He has been bruised by a stone [pg 224] to-day. Not on the head but on the chest, just above the heart. He came home crying and groaning and now he is ill.”
“And you know he attacks them first. He is bitter against them on your account. They say he stabbed a boy called Krassotkin with a pen-knife not long ago.”
“I've heard about that too, it's dangerous. Krassotkin is an official here, we may hear more about it.”
“I would advise you,” Alyosha went on warmly, “not to send him to school at all for a time till he is calmer ... and his anger is passed.”
“Anger!” the captain repeated, “that's just what it is. He is a little creature, but it's a mighty anger. You don't know all, sir. Let me tell you more. Since that incident all the boys have been teasing him about the ‘wisp of tow.’ Schoolboys are a merciless race, individually they are angels, but together, especially in schools, they are often merciless. Their teasing has stirred up a gallant spirit in Ilusha. An ordinary boy, a weak son, would have submitted, have felt ashamed of his father, sir, but he stood up for his father against them all. For his father and for truth and justice. For what he suffered when he kissed your brother's hand and cried to him ‘Forgive father, forgive him,’—that only God knows—and I, his father. For our children—not your children, but ours—the children of the poor gentlemen looked down upon by every one—know what justice means, sir, even at nine years old. How should the rich know? They don't explore such depths once in their lives. But at that moment in the square when he kissed his hand, at that moment my Ilusha had grasped all that justice means. That truth entered into him and crushed him for ever, sir,” the captain said hotly again with a sort of frenzy, and he struck his right fist against his left palm as though he wanted to show how “the truth” crushed Ilusha. “That very day, sir, he fell ill with fever and was delirious all night. All that day he hardly said a word to me, but I noticed he kept watching me from the corner, though he turned to the window and pretended to be learning his lessons. But I could see his mind was not on his lessons. Next day I got drunk to forget my troubles, sinful man as I am, and I don't remember much. Mamma began crying, too—I am very fond of mamma—well, I spent my last penny drowning my troubles. Don't despise me for [pg 225] that, sir, in Russia men who drink are the best. The best men amongst us are the greatest drunkards. I lay down and I don't remember about Ilusha, though all that day the boys had been jeering at him at school. ‘Wisp of tow,’ they shouted, ‘your father was pulled out of the tavern by his wisp of tow, you ran by and begged forgiveness.’ ”
“On the third day when he came back from school, I saw he looked pale and wretched. ‘What is it?’ I asked. He wouldn't answer. Well, there's no talking in our mansion without mamma and the girls taking part in it. What's more, the girls had heard about it the very first day. Varvara had begun snarling. ‘You fools and buffoons, can you ever do anything rational?’ ‘Quite so,’ I said, ‘can we ever do anything rational?’ For the time I turned it off like that. So in the evening I took the boy out for a walk, for you must know we go for a walk every evening, always the same way, along which we are going now—from our gate to that great stone which lies alone in the road under the hurdle, which marks the beginning of the town pasture. A beautiful and lonely spot, sir. Ilusha and I walked along hand in hand as usual. He has a little hand, his fingers are thin and cold—he suffers with his chest, you know. ‘Father,’ said he, ‘father!’ ‘Well?’ said I. I saw his eyes flashing. ‘Father, how he treated you then!’ ‘It can't be helped, Ilusha,’ I said. ‘Don't forgive him, father, don't forgive him! At school they say that he has paid you ten roubles for it.’ ‘No, Ilusha,’ said I, ‘I would not take money from him for anything.’ Then he began trembling all over, took my hand in both his and kissed it again. ‘Father,’ he said, ‘father, challenge him to a duel, at school they say you are a coward and won't challenge him, and that you'll accept ten roubles from him.’ ‘I can't challenge him to a duel, Ilusha,’ I answered. And I told briefly what I've just told you. He listened. ‘Father,’ he said, ‘anyway don't forgive it. When I grow up I'll call him out myself and kill him.’ His eyes shone and glowed. And of course I am his father, and I had to put in a word: ‘It's a sin to kill,’ I said, ‘even in a duel.’ ‘Father,’ he said, ‘when I grow up, I'll knock him down, knock the sword out of his hand, I'll fall on him, wave my sword over him and say: “I could kill you, but I forgive you, so there!” ’ You see what the workings of his little mind have been during these two days; he [pg 226] must have been planning that vengeance all day, and raving about it at night.
“But he began to come home from school badly beaten, I found out about it the day before yesterday, and you are right, I won't send him to that school any more. I heard that he was standing up against all the class alone and defying them all, that his heart was full of resentment, of bitterness—I was alarmed about him. We went for another walk. ‘Father,’ he asked, ‘are the rich people stronger than any one else on earth?’ ‘Yes, Ilusha,’ I said, ‘there are no people on earth stronger than the rich.’ ‘Father,’ he said, ‘I will get rich, I will become an officer and conquer everybody. The Tsar will reward me, I will come back here and then no one will dare—’ Then he was silent and his lips still kept trembling. ‘Father,’ he said, ‘what a horrid town this is.’ ‘Yes, Ilusha,’ I said, ‘it isn't a very nice town.’ ‘Father, let us move into another town, a nice one,’ he said, ‘where people don't know about us.’ ‘We will move, we will, Ilusha,’ said I, ‘only I must save up for it.’ I was glad to be able to turn his mind from painful thoughts, and we began to dream of how we would move to another town, how we would buy a horse and cart. ‘We will put mamma and your sisters inside, we will cover them up and we'll walk, you shall have a lift now and then, and I'll walk beside, for we must take care of our horse, we can't all ride. That's how we'll go.’ He was enchanted at that, most of all at the thought of having a horse and driving him. For of course a Russian boy is born among horses. We chattered a long while. Thank God, I thought, I have diverted his mind and comforted him.
“That was the day before yesterday, in the evening, but last night everything was changed. He had gone to school in the morning, he came back depressed, terribly depressed. In the evening I took him by the hand and we went for a walk; he would not talk. There was a wind blowing and no sun, and a feeling of autumn; twilight was coming on. We walked along, both of us depressed. ‘Well, my boy,’ said I, ‘how about our setting off on our travels?’ I thought I might bring him back to our talk of the day before. He didn't answer, but I felt his fingers trembling in my hand. Ah, I thought, it's a bad job; there's something fresh. We had reached the stone where we are now. I sat down on the stone. And [pg 227] in the air there were lots of kites flapping and whirling. There were as many as thirty in sight. Of course, it's just the season for the kites. ‘Look, Ilusha,’ said I, ‘it's time we got out our last year's kite again. I'll mend it, where have you put it away?’ My boy made no answer. He looked away and turned sideways to me. And then a gust of wind blew up the sand. He suddenly fell on me, threw both his little arms round my neck and held me tight. You know, when children are silent and proud, and try to keep back their tears when they are in great trouble and suddenly break down, their tears fall in streams. With those warm streams of tears, he suddenly wetted my face. He sobbed and shook as though he were in convulsions, and squeezed up against me as I sat on the stone. ‘Father,’ he kept crying, ‘dear father, how he insulted you!’ And I sobbed too. We sat shaking in each other's arms. ‘Ilusha,’ I said to him, ‘Ilusha darling.’ No one saw us then. God alone saw us, I hope He will record it to my credit. You must thank your brother, Alexey Fyodorovitch. No, sir, I won't thrash my boy for your satisfaction.”
He had gone back to his original tone of resentful buffoonery. Alyosha felt though that he trusted him, and that if there had been some one else in his, Alyosha's place, the man would not have spoken so openly and would not have told what he had just told. This encouraged Alyosha, whose heart was trembling on the verge of tears.
“Ah, how I would like to make friends with your boy!” he cried. “If you could arrange it—”
“Certainly, sir,” muttered the captain.
“But now listen to something quite different!” Alyosha went on. “I have a message for you. That same brother of mine, Dmitri, has insulted his betrothed, too, a noble-hearted girl of whom you have probably heard. I have a right to tell you of her wrong; I ought to do so, in fact, for hearing of the insult done to you and learning all about your unfortunate position, she commissioned me at once—just now—to bring you this help from her—but only from her alone, not from Dmitri, who has abandoned her. Nor from me, his brother, nor from any one else, but from her, only from her! She entreats you to accept her help.... You have both been insulted by the same man. She thought of you only when she had [pg 228] just received a similar insult from him—similar in its cruelty, I mean. She comes like a sister to help a brother in misfortune.... She told me to persuade you to take these two hundred roubles from her, as from a sister, knowing that you are in such need. No one will know of it, it can give rise to no unjust slander. There are the two hundred roubles, and I swear you must take them unless—unless all men are to be enemies on earth! But there are brothers even on earth.... You have a generous heart ... you must see that, you must,” and Alyosha held out two new rainbow-colored hundred-rouble notes.
They were both standing at the time by the great stone close to the fence, and there was no one near. The notes seemed to produce a tremendous impression on the captain. He started, but at first only from astonishment. Such an outcome of their conversation was the last thing he expected. Nothing could have been farther from his dreams than help from any one—and such a sum!
He took the notes, and for a minute he was almost unable to answer, quite a new expression came into his face.
“That for me? So much money—two hundred roubles! Good heavens! Why, I haven't seen so much money for the last four years! Mercy on us! And she says she is a sister.... And is that the truth?”
“I swear that all I told you is the truth,” cried Alyosha.
The captain flushed red.
“Listen, my dear, listen. If I take it, I shan't be behaving like a scoundrel? In your eyes, Alexey Fyodorovitch, I shan't be a scoundrel? No, Alexey Fyodorovitch, listen, listen,” he hurried, touching Alyosha with both his hands. “You are persuading me to take it, saying that it's a sister sends it, but inwardly, in your heart won't you feel contempt for me if I take it, eh?”
“No, no, on my salvation I swear I shan't! And no one will ever know but me—I, you and she, and one other lady, her great friend.”
“Never mind the lady! Listen, Alexey Fyodorovitch, at a moment like this you must listen, for you can't understand what these two hundred roubles mean to me now.” The poor fellow went on rising gradually into a sort of incoherent, almost wild enthusiasm. [pg 229] He was thrown off his balance and talked extremely fast, as though afraid he would not be allowed to say all he had to say.
“Besides its being honestly acquired from a ‘sister,’ so highly respected and revered, do you know that now I can look after mamma and Nina, my hunchback angel daughter? Doctor Herzenstube came to me in the kindness of his heart and was examining them both for a whole hour. ‘I can make nothing of it,’ said he, but he prescribed a mineral water which is kept at a chemist's here. He said it would be sure to do her good, and he ordered baths, too, with some medicine in them. The mineral water costs thirty copecks, and she'd need to drink forty bottles perhaps; so I took the prescription and laid it on the shelf under the ikons, and there it lies. And he ordered hot baths for Nina with something dissolved in them, morning and evening. But how can we carry out such a cure in our mansion, without servants, without help, without a bath, and without water? Nina is rheumatic all over, I don't think I told you that. All her right side aches at night, she is in agony, and, would you believe it, the angel bears it without groaning for fear of waking us. We eat what we can get, and she'll only take the leavings, what you'd scarcely give to a dog. ‘I am not worth it, I am taking it from you, I am a burden on you,’ that's what her angel eyes try to express. We wait on her, but she doesn't like it. ‘I am a useless cripple, no good to any one.’ As though she were not worth it, when she is the saving of all of us with her angelic sweetness. Without her, without her gentle word it would be hell among us! She softens even Varvara. And don't judge Varvara harshly either, she is an angel too, she, too, has suffered wrong. She came to us for the summer, and she brought sixteen roubles she had earned by lessons and saved up, to go back with to Petersburg in September, that is now. But we took her money and lived on it, so now she has nothing to go back with. Though indeed she couldn't go back, for she has to work for us like a slave. She is like an overdriven horse with all of us on her back. She waits on us all, mends and washes, sweeps the floor, puts mamma to bed. And mamma is capricious and tearful and insane! And now I can get a servant with this money, you understand, Alexey Fyodorovitch, I can get medicines for the dear creatures, I can send my student to Petersburg, [pg 230] I can buy beef, I can feed them properly. Good Lord, but it's a dream!”
Alyosha was delighted that he had brought him such happiness and that the poor fellow had consented to be made happy.
“Stay, Alexey Fyodorovitch, stay,” the captain began to talk with frenzied rapidity, carried away by a new day-dream. “Do you know that Ilusha and I will perhaps really carry out our dream. We will buy a horse and cart, a black horse, he insists on its being black, and we will set off as we pretended the other day. I have an old friend, a lawyer in K. province, and I heard through a trustworthy man that if I were to go he'd give me a place as clerk in his office, so, who knows, maybe he would. So I'd just put mamma and Nina in the cart, and Ilusha could drive, and I'd walk, I'd walk.... Why, if I only succeed in getting one debt paid that's owing me, I should have perhaps enough for that too!”
“There would be enough!” cried Alyosha. “Katerina Ivanovna will send you as much more as you need, and you know, I have money too, take what you want, as you would from a brother, from a friend, you can give it back later.... (You'll get rich, you'll get rich!) And you know you couldn't have a better idea than to move to another province! It would be the saving of you, especially of your boy—and you ought to go quickly, before the winter, before the cold. You must write to us when you are there, and we will always be brothers.... No, it's not a dream!”
Alyosha could have hugged him, he was so pleased. But glancing at him he stopped short. The man was standing with his neck outstretched and his lips protruding, with a pale and frenzied face. His lips were moving as though trying to articulate something; no sound came, but still his lips moved. It was uncanny.
“What is it?” asked Alyosha, startled.
“Alexey Fyodorovitch ... I ... you,” muttered the captain, faltering, looking at him with a strange, wild, fixed stare, and an air of desperate resolution. At the same time there was a sort of grin on his lips. “I ... you, sir ... wouldn't you like me to show you a little trick I know?” he murmured, suddenly, in a firm rapid whisper, his voice no longer faltering.
“A pretty trick,” whispered the captain. His mouth was twisted [pg 231] on the left side, his left eye was screwed up. He still stared at Alyosha.
“What is the matter? What trick?” Alyosha cried, now thoroughly alarmed.
“Why, look,” squealed the captain suddenly, and showing him the two notes which he had been holding by one corner between his thumb and forefinger during the conversation, he crumpled them up savagely and squeezed them tight in his right hand. “Do you see, do you see?” he shrieked, pale and infuriated. And suddenly flinging up his hand, he threw the crumpled notes on the sand. “Do you see?” he shrieked again, pointing to them. “Look there!”
And with wild fury he began trampling them under his heel, gasping and exclaiming as he did so:
“So much for your money! So much for your money! So much for your money! So much for your money!”
Suddenly he darted back and drew himself up before Alyosha, and his whole figure expressed unutterable pride.
“Tell those who sent you that the wisp of tow does not sell his honor,” he cried, raising his arm in the air. Then he turned quickly and began to run; but he had not run five steps before he turned completely round and kissed his hand to Alyosha. He ran another five paces and then turned round for the last time. This time his face was not contorted with laughter, but quivering all over with tears. In a tearful, faltering, sobbing voice he cried:
“What should I say to my boy if I took money from you for our shame?”
And then he ran on without turning. Alyosha looked after him, inexpressibly grieved. Oh, he saw that till the very last moment the man had not known he would crumple up and fling away the notes. He did not turn back. Alyosha knew he would not. He would not follow him and call him back, he knew why. When he was out of sight, Alyosha picked up the two notes. They were very much crushed and crumpled, and had been pressed into the sand, but were uninjured and even rustled like new ones when Alyosha unfolded them and smoothed them out. After smoothing them out, he folded them up, put them in his pocket and went to Katerina Ivanovna to report on the success of her commission.