|Site Map > Electronic Library > Fyodor Dostoevsky > Crime and Punishment > CHAPTER I|
Listen to audiobooks at Litphonix
previous: PART IV
"Can this be still a dream?" Raskolnikov thought once more.
He looked carefully and suspiciously at the unexpected visitor.
"Svidrigailov! What nonsense! It can't be!" he said at last aloud in bewilderment.
His visitor did not seem at all surprised at this exclamation.
"I've come to you for two reasons. In the first place, I wanted to make your personal acquaintance, as I have already heard a great deal about you that is interesting and flattering; secondly, I cherish the hope that you may not refuse to assist me in a matter directly concerning the welfare of your sister, Avdotya Romanovna. For without your support she might not let me come near her now, for she is prejudiced against me, but with your assistance I reckon on . . ."
"You reckon wrongly," interrupted Raskolnikov.
"They only arrived yesterday, may I ask you?"
Raskolnikov made no reply.
"It was yesterday, I know. I only arrived myself the day before. Well, let me tell you this, Rodion Romanovitch, I don't consider it necessary to justify myself, but kindly tell me what was there particularly criminal on my part in all this business, speaking without prejudice, with common sense?"
Raskolnikov continued to look at him in silence.
"That in my own house I persecuted a defenceless girl and 'insulted her with my infamous proposals' - is that it? (I am anticipating you.) But you've only to assume that I, too, am a man /et nihil humanum/ . . . in a word, that I am capable of being attracted and falling in love (which does not depend on our will), then everything can be explained in the most natural manner. The question is, am I a monster, or am I myself a victim? And what if I am a victim? In proposing to the object of my passion to elope with me to America or Switzerland, I may have cherished the deepest respect for her and may have thought that I was promoting our mutual happiness! Reason is the slave of passion, you know; why, probably, I was doing more harm to myself than anyone!"
"But that's not the point," Raskolnikov interrupted with disgust. "It's simply that whether you are right or wrong, we dislike you. We don't want to have anything to do with you. We show you the door. Go out!"
Svidrigailov broke into a sudden laugh.
"But you're . . . but there's no getting round you," he said, laughing in the frankest way. "I hoped to get round you, but you took up the right line at once!"
"But you are trying to get round me still!"
"What of it? What of it?" cried Svidrigailov, laughing openly. "But this is what the French call /bonne guerre/, and the most innocent form of deception! . . . But still you have interrupted me; one way or another, I repeat again: there would never have been any unpleasantness except for what happened in the garden. Marfa Petrovna . . ."
"You have got rid of Marfa Petrovna, too, so they say?" Raskolnikov interrupted rudely.
"Oh, you've heard that, too, then? You'd be sure to, though. . . . But as for your question, I really don't know what to say, though my own conscience is quite at rest on that score. Don't suppose that I am in any apprehension about it. All was regular and in order; the medical inquiry diagnosed apoplexy due to bathing immediately after a heavy dinner and a bottle of wine, and indeed it could have proved nothing else. But I'll tell you what I have been thinking to myself of late, on my way here in the train, especially: didn't I contribute to all that . . . calamity, morally, in a way, by irritation or something of the sort. But I came to the conclusion that that, too, was quite out of the question."
"I wonder you trouble yourself about it!"
"But what are you laughing at? Only consider, I struck her just twice with a switch - there were no marks even . . . don't regard me as a cynic, please; I am perfectly aware how atrocious it was of me and all that; but I know for certain, too, that Marfa Petrovna was very likely pleased at my, so to say, warmth. The story of your sister had been wrung out to the last drop; for the last three days Marfa Petrovna had been forced to sit at home; she had nothing to show herself with in the town. Besides, she had bored them so with that letter (you heard about her reading the letter). And all of a sudden those two switches fell from heaven! Her first act was to order the carriage to be got out. . . . Not to speak of the fact that there are cases when women are very, very glad to be insulted in spite of all their show of indignation. There are instances of it with everyone; human beings in general, indeed, greatly love to be insulted, have you noticed that? But it's particularly so with women. One might even say it's their only amusement."
At one time Raskolnikov thought of getting up and walking out and so finishing the interview. But some curiosity and even a sort of prudence made him linger for a moment.
"You are fond of fighting?" he asked carelessly.
"No, not very," Svidrigailov answered, calmly. "And Marfa Petrovna and I scarcely ever fought. We lived very harmoniously, and she was always pleased with me. I only used the whip twice in all our seven years (not counting a third occasion of a very ambiguous character). The first time, two months after our marriage, immediately after we arrived in the country, and the last time was that of which we are speaking. Did you suppose I was such a monster, such a reactionary, such a slave driver? Ha, ha! By the way, do you remember, Rodion Romanovitch, how a few years ago, in those days of beneficent publicity, a nobleman, I've forgotten his name, was put to shame everywhere, in all the papers, for having thrashed a German woman in the railway train. You remember? It was in those days, that very year I believe, the 'disgraceful action of the /Age/' took place (you know, 'The Egyptian Nights,' that public reading, you remember? The dark eyes, you know! Ah, the golden days of our youth, where are they?). Well, as for the gentleman who thrashed the German, I feel no sympathy with him, because after all what need is there for sympathy? But I must say that there are sometimes such provoking 'Germans' that I don't believe there is a progressive who could quite answer for himself. No one looked at the subject from that point of view then, but that's the truly humane point of view, I assure you."
After saying this, Svidrigailov broke into a sudden laugh again. Raskolnikov saw clearly that this was a man with a firm purpose in his mind and able to keep it to himself.
"I expect you've not talked to anyone for some days?" he asked.
"Scarcely anyone. I suppose you are wondering at my being such an adaptable man?"
"No, I am only wondering at your being too adaptable a man."
"Because I am not offended at the rudeness of your questions? Is that it? But why take offence? As you asked, so I answered," he replied, with a surprising expression of simplicity. "You know, there's hardly anything I take interest in," he went on, as it were dreamily, "especially now, I've nothing to do. . . . You are quite at liberty to imagine though that I am making up to you with a motive, particularly as I told you I want to see your sister about something. But I'll confess frankly, I am very much bored. The last three days especially, so I am delighted to see you. . . . Don't be angry, Rodion Romanovitch, but you seem to be somehow awfully strange yourself. Say what you like, there's something wrong with you, and now, too . . . not this very minute, I mean, but now, generally. . . . Well, well, I won't, I won't, don't scowl! I am not such a bear, you know, as you think."
Raskolnikov looked gloomily at him.
"You are not a bear, perhaps, at all," he said. "I fancy indeed that you are a man of very good breeding, or at least know how on occasion to behave like one."
"I am not particularly interested in anyone's opinion," Svidrigailov answered, dryly and even with a shade of haughtiness, "and therefore why not be vulgar at times when vulgarity is such a convenient cloak for our climate . . . and especially if one has a natural propensity that way," he added, laughing again.
"But I've heard you have many friends here. You are, as they say, 'not without connections.' What can you want with me, then, unless you've some special object?"
"That's true that I have friends here," Svidrigailov admitted, not replying to the chief point. "I've met some already. I've been lounging about for the last three days, and I've seen them, or they've seen me. That's a matter of course. I am well dressed and reckoned not a poor man; the emancipation of the serfs hasn't affected me; my property consists chiefly of forests and water meadows. The revenue has not fallen off; but . . . I am not going to see them, I was sick of them long ago. I've been here three days and have called on no one. . . . What a town it is! How has it come into existence among us, tell me that? A town of officials and students of all sorts. Yes, there's a great deal I didn't notice when I was here eight years ago, kicking up my heels. . . . My only hope now is in anatomy, by Jove, it is!"
"But as for these clubs, Dussauts, parades, or progress, indeed, maybe - well, all that can go on without me," he went on, again without noticing the question. "Besides, who wants to be a card-sharper?"
"Why, have you been a card-sharper then?"
"How could I help being? There was a regular set of us, men of the best society, eight years ago; we had a fine time. And all men of breeding, you know, poets, men of property. And indeed as a rule in our Russian society the best manners are found among those who've been thrashed, have you noticed that? I've deteriorated in the country. But I did get into prison for debt, through a low Greek who came from Nezhin. Then Marfa Petrovna turned up; she bargained with him and bought me off for thirty thousand silver pieces (I owed seventy thousand). We were united in lawful wedlock and she bore me off into the country like a treasure. You know she was five years older than I. She was very fond of me. For seven years I never left the country. And, take note, that all my life she held a document over me, the IOU for thirty thousand roubles, so if I were to elect to be restive about anything I should be trapped at once! And she would have done it! Women find nothing incompatible in that."
"If it hadn't been for that, would you have given her the slip?"
"I don't know what to say. It was scarcely the document restrained me. I didn't want to go anywhere else. Marfa Petrovna herself invited me to go abroad, seeing I was bored, but I've been abroad before, and always felt sick there. For no reason, but the sunrise, the bay of Naples, the sea - you look at them and it makes you sad. What's most revolting is that one is really sad! No, it's better at home. Here at least one blames others for everything and excuses oneself. I should have gone perhaps on an expedition to the North Pole, because /j'ai le vin mauvais/ and hate drinking, and there's nothing left but wine. I have tried it. But, I say, I've been told Berg is going up in a great balloon next Sunday from the Yusupov Garden and will take up passengers at a fee. Is it true?"
"Why, would you go up?"
"I . . . No, oh, no," muttered Svidrigailov really seeming to be deep in thought.
"What does he mean? Is he in earnest?" Raskolnikov wondered.
"No, the document didn't restrain me," Svidrigailov went on, meditatively. "It was my own doing, not leaving the country, and nearly a year ago Marfa Petrovna gave me back the document on my nameday and made me a present of a considerable sum of money, too. She had a fortune, you know. 'You see how I trust you, Arkady Ivanovitch'-that was actually her expression. You don't believe she used it? But do you know I managed the estate quite decently, they know me in the neighbourhood. I ordered books, too. Marfa Petrovna at first approved, but afterwards she was afraid of my over-studying."
"You seem to be missing Marfa Petrovna very much?"
"Missing her? Perhaps. Really, perhaps I am. And, by the way, do you believe in ghosts?"
"Why, ordinary ghosts."
"Do you believe in them?"
"Perhaps not, /pour vous plaire/. . . . I wouldn't say no exactly."
"Do you see them, then?"
Svidrigailov looked at him rather oddly.
"Marfa Petrovna is pleased to visit me," he said, twisting his mouth into a strange smile.
"How do you mean 'she is pleased to visit you'?"
"She has been three times. I saw her first on the very day of the funeral, an hour after she was buried. It was the day before I left to come here. The second time was the day before yesterday, at daybreak, on the journey at the station of Malaya Vishera, and the third time was two hours ago in the room where I am staying. I was alone."
"Were you awake?"
"Quite awake. I was wide awake every time. She comes, speaks to me for a minute and goes out at the door - always at the door. I can almost hear her."
"What made me think that something of the sort must be happening to you?" Raskolnikov said suddenly.
At the same moment he was surprised at having said it. He was much excited.
"What! Did you think so?" Svidrigailov asked in astonishment. "Did you really? Didn't I say that there was something in common between us, eh?"
"You never said so!" Raskolnikov cried sharply and with heat.
"I thought I did. When I came in and saw you lying with your eyes shut, pretending, I said to myself at once, 'Here's the man.'"
"What do you mean by 'the man?' What are you talking about?" cried Raskolnikov.
"What do I mean? I really don't know. . . ." Svidrigailov muttered ingenuously, as though he, too, were puzzled.
For a minute they were silent. They stared in each other's faces.
"That's all nonsense!" Raskolnikov shouted with vexation. "What does she say when she comes to you?"
"She! Would you believe it, she talks of the silliest trifles and - man is a strange creature - it makes me angry. The first time she came in (I was tired you know: the funeral service, the funeral ceremony, the lunch afterwards. At last I was left alone in my study. I lighted a cigar and began to think), she came in at the door. 'You've been so busy to-day, Arkady Ivanovitch, you have forgotten to wind the diningroom clock,' she said. All those seven years I've wound that clock every week, and if I forgot it she would always remind me. The next day I set off on my way here. I got out at the station at daybreak; I'd been asleep, tired out, with my eyes half open, I was drinking some coffee. I looked up and there was suddenly Marfa Petrovna sitting beside me with a pack of cards in her hands. 'Shall I tell your fortune for the journey, Arkady Ivanovitch?' She was a great hand at telling fortunes. I shall never forgive myself for not asking her to. I ran away in a fright, and, besides, the bell rang. I was sitting to-day, feeling very heavy after a miserable dinner from a cookshop; I was sitting smoking, all of a sudden Marfa Petrovna again. She came in very smart in a new green silk dress with a long train. 'Good day, Arkady Ivanovitch! How do you like my dress? Aniska can't make like this.' (Aniska was a dressmaker in the country, one of our former serf girls who had been trained in Moscow, a pretty wench.) She stood turning round before me. I looked at the dress, and then I looked carefully, very carefully, at her face. 'I wonder you trouble to come to me about such trifles, Marfa Petrovna.' 'Good gracious, you won't let one disturb you about anything!' To tease her I said, 'I want to get married, Marfa Petrovna.' 'That's just like you, Arkady Ivanovitch; it does you very little credit to come looking for a bride when you've hardly buried your wife. And if you could make a good choice, at least, but I know it won't be for your happiness or hers, you will only be a laughing-stock to all good people.' Then she went out and her train seemed to rustle. Isn't it nonsense, eh?"
"But perhaps you are telling lies?" Raskolnikov put in.
"I rarely lie," answered Svidrigailov thoughtfully, apparently not noticing the rudeness of the question.
"And in the past, have you ever seen ghosts before?"
"Y-yes, I have seen them, but only once in my life, six years ago. I had a serf, Filka; just after his burial I called out forgetting 'Filka, my pipe!' He came in and went to the cupboard where my pipes were. I sat still and thought 'he is doing it out of revenge,' because we had a violent quarrel just before his death. 'How dare you come in with a hole in your elbow?' I said. 'Go away, you scamp!' He turned and went out, and never came again. I didn't tell Marfa Petrovna at the time. I wanted to have a service sung for him, but I was ashamed."
"You should go to a doctor."
"I know I am not well, without your telling me, though I don't know what's wrong; I believe I am five times as strong as you are. I didn't ask you whether you believe that ghosts are seen, but whether you believe that they exist."
"No, I won't believe it!" Raskolnikov cried, with positive anger.
"What do people generally say?" muttered Svidrigailov, as though speaking to himself, looking aside and bowing his head. "They say, 'You are ill, so what appears to you is only unreal fantasy.' But that's not strictly logical. I agree that ghosts only appear to the sick, but that only proves that they are unable to appear except to the sick, not that they don't exist."
"Nothing of the sort," Raskolnikov insisted irritably.
"No? You don't think so?" Svidrigailov went on, looking at him deliberately. "But what do you say to this argument (help me with it): ghosts are, as it were, shreds and fragments of other worlds, the beginning of them. A man in health has, of course, no reason to see them, because he is above all a man of this earth and is bound for the sake of completeness and order to live only in this life. But as soon as one is ill, as soon as the normal earthly order of the organism is broken, one begins to realise the possibility of another world; and the more seriously ill one is, the closer becomes one's contact with that other world, so that as soon as the man dies he steps straight into that world. I thought of that long ago. If you believe in a future life, you could believe in that, too."
"I don't believe in a future life," said Raskolnikov.
Svidrigailov sat lost in thought.
"And what if there are only spiders there, or something of that sort," he said suddenly.
"He is a madman," thought Raskolnikov.
"We always imagine eternity as something beyond our conception, something vast, vast! But why must it be vast? Instead of all that, what if it's one little room, like a bath house in the country, black and grimy and spiders in every corner, and that's all eternity is? I sometimes fancy it like that."
"Can it be you can imagine nothing juster and more comforting than that?" Raskolnikov cried, with a feeling of anguish.
"Juster? And how can we tell, perhaps that is just, and do you know it's what I would certainly have made it," answered Svidrigailov, with a vague smile.
This horrible answer sent a cold chill through Raskolnikov. Svidrigailov raised his head, looked at him, and suddenly began laughing.
"Only think," he cried, "half an hour ago we had never seen each other, we regarded each other as enemies; there is a matter unsettled between us; we've thrown it aside, and away we've gone into the abstract! Wasn't I right in saying that we were birds of a feather?"
"Kindly allow me," Raskolnikov went on irritably, "to ask you to explain why you have honoured me with your visit . . . and . . . and I am in a hurry, I have no time to waste. I want to go out."
"By all means, by all means. Your sister, Avdotya Romanovna, is going to be married to Mr. Luzhin, Pyotr Petrovitch?"
"Can you refrain from any question about my sister and from mentioning her name? I can't understand how you dare utter her name in my presence, if you really are Svidrigailov."
"Why, but I've come here to speak about her; how can I avoid mentioning her?"
"Very good, speak, but make haste."
"I am sure that you must have formed your own opinion of this Mr. Luzhin, who is a connection of mine through my wife, if you have only seen him for half an hour, or heard any facts about him. He is no match for Avdotya Romanovna. I believe Avdotya Romanovna is sacrificing herself generously and imprudently for the sake of . . . for the sake of her family. I fancied from all I had heard of you that you would be very glad if the match could be broken off without the sacrifice of worldly advantages. Now I know you personally, I am convinced of it."
"All this is very naive . . . excuse me, I should have said impudent on your part," said Raskolnikov.
"You mean to say that I am seeking my own ends. Don't be uneasy, Rodion Romanovitch, if I were working for my own advantage, I would not have spoken out so directly. I am not quite a fool. I will confess something psychologically curious about that: just now, defending my love for Avdotya Romanovna, I said I was myself the victim. Well, let me tell you that I've no feeling of love now, not the slightest, so that I wonder myself indeed, for I really did feel something . . ."
"Through idleness and depravity," Raskolnikov put in.
"I certainly am idle and depraved, but your sister has such qualities that even I could not help being impressed by them. But that's all nonsense, as I see myself now."
"Have you seen that long?"
"I began to be aware of it before, but was only perfectly sure of it the day before yesterday, almost at the moment I arrived in Petersburg. I still fancied in Moscow, though, that I was coming to try to get Avdotya Romanovna's hand and to cut out Mr. Luzhin."
"Excuse me for interrupting you; kindly be brief, and come to the object of your visit. I am in a hurry, I want to go out . . ."
"With the greatest pleasure. On arriving here and determining on a certain . . . journey, I should like to make some necessary preliminary arrangements. I left my children with an aunt; they are well provided for; and they have no need of me personally. And a nice father I should make, too! I have taken nothing but what Marfa Petrovna gave me a year ago. That's enough for me. Excuse me, I am just coming to the point. Before the journey which may come off, I want to settle Mr. Luzhin, too. It's not that I detest him so much, but it was through him I quarrelled with Marfa Petrovna when I learned that she had dished up this marriage. I want now to see Avdotya Romanovna through your mediation, and if you like in your presence, to explain to her that in the first place she will never gain anything but harm from Mr. Luzhin. Then, begging her pardon for all past unpleasantness, to make her a present of ten thousand roubles and so assist the rupture with Mr. Luzhin, a rupture to which I believe she is herself not disinclined, if she could see the way to it."
"You are certainly mad," cried Raskolnikov not so much angered as astonished. "How dare you talk like that!"
"I knew you would scream at me; but in the first place, though I am not rich, this ten thousand roubles is perfectly free; I have absolutely no need for it. If Avdotya Romanovna does not accept it, I shall waste it in some more foolish way. That's the first thing. Secondly, my conscience is perfectly easy; I make the offer with no ulterior motive. You may not believe it, but in the end Avdotya Romanovna and you will know. The point is, that I did actually cause your sister, whom I greatly respect, some trouble and unpleasantness, and so, sincerely regretting it, I want - not to compensate, not to repay her for the unpleasantness, but simply to do something to her advantage, to show that I am not, after all, privileged to do nothing but harm. If there were a millionth fraction of self-interest in my offer, I should not have made it so openly; and I should not have offered her ten thousand only, when five weeks ago I offered her more, Besides, I may, perhaps, very soon marry a young lady, and that alone ought to prevent suspicion of any design on Avdotya Romanovna. In conclusion, let me say that in marrying Mr. Luzhin, she is taking money just the same, only from another man. Don't be angry, Rodion Romanovitch, think it over coolly and quietly."
Svidrigailov himself was exceedingly cool and quiet as he was saying this.
"I beg you to say no more," said Raskolnikov. "In any case this is unpardonable impertinence."
"Not in the least. Then a man may do nothing but harm to his neighbour in this world, and is prevented from doing the tiniest bit of good by trivial conventional formalities. That's absurd. If I died, for instance, and left that sum to your sister in my will, surely she wouldn't refuse it?"
"Very likely she would."
"Oh, no, indeed. However, if you refuse it, so be it, though ten thousand roubles is a capital thing to have on occasion. In any case I beg you to repeat what I have said to Avdotya Romanovna."
"No, I won't."
"In that case, Rodion Romanovitch, I shall be obliged to try and see her myself and worry her by doing so."
"And if I do tell her, will you not try to see her?"
"I don't know really what to say. I should like very much to see her once more."
"Don't hope for it."
"I'm sorry. But you don't know me. Perhaps we may become better friends."
"You think we may become friends?"
"And why not?" Svidrigailov said, smiling. He stood up and took his hat. "I didn't quite intend to disturb you and I came here without reckoning on it . . . though I was very much struck by your face this morning."
"Where did you see me this morning?" Raskolnikov asked uneasily.
"I saw you by chance. . . . I kept fancying there is something about you like me. . . . But don't be uneasy. I am not intrusive; I used to get on all right with card-sharpers, and I never bored Prince Svirbey, a great personage who is a distant relation of mine, and I could write about Raphael's /Madonna/ in Madam Prilukov's album, and I never left Marfa Petrovna's side for seven years, and I used to stay the night at Viazemsky's house in the Hay Market in the old days, and I may go up in a balloon with Berg, perhaps."
"Oh, all right. Are you starting soon on your travels, may I ask?"
"Why, on that 'journey'; you spoke of it yourself."
"A journey? Oh, yes. I did speak of a journey. Well, that's a wide subject. . . . if only you knew what you are asking," he added, and gave a sudden, loud, short laugh. "Perhaps I'll get married instead of the journey. They're making a match for me."
"How have you had time for that?"
"But I am very anxious to see Avdotya Romanovna once. I earnestly beg it. Well, good-bye for the present. Oh, yes. I have forgotten something. Tell your sister, Rodion Romanovitch, that Marfa Petrovna remembered her in her will and left her three thousand roubles. That's absolutely certain. Marfa Petrovna arranged it a week before her death, and it was done in my presence. Avdotya Romanovna will be able to receive the money in two or three weeks."
"Are you telling the truth?"
"Yes, tell her. Well, your servant. I am staying very near you."
As he went out, Svidrigailov ran up against Razumihin in the doorway.
Turn to the next chapter: CHAPTER II