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Fyodor Dostoevsky >> Crime and Punishment (page 15)


The lady in mourning had done at last, and got up. All at once, with some noise, an officer walked in very jauntily, with a peculiar swing of his shoulders at each step. He tossed his cockaded cap on the table and sat down in an easy-chair. The small lady positively skipped from her seat on seeing him, and fell to curtsying in a sort of ecstasy; but the officer took not the smallest notice of her, and she did not venture to sit down again in his presence. He was the assistant superintendent. He had a reddish moustache that stood out horizontally on each side of his face, and extremely small features, expressive of nothing much except a certain insolence. He looked askance and rather indignantly at Raskolnikov; he was so very badly dressed, and in spite of his humiliating position, his bearing was by no means in keeping with his clothes. Raskolnikov had unwarily fixed a very long and direct look on him, so that he felt positively affronted.

"What do you want?" he shouted, apparently astonished that such a ragged fellow was not annihilated by the majesty of his glance.

"I was summoned… by a notice…" Raskolnikov faltered.

"For the recovery of money due, from the student," the head clerk interfered hurriedly, tearing himself from his papers. "Here!" and he flung Raskolnikov a document and pointed out the place. "Read that!"

"Money? What money?" thought Raskolnikov, "but… then… it's certainly not that."

And he trembled with joy. He felt sudden intense indescribable relief. A load was lifted from his back.

"And pray, what time were you directed to appear, sir?" shouted the assistant superintendent, seeming for some unknown reason more and more aggrieved. "You are told to come at nine, and now it's twelve!"

"The notice was only brought me a quarter of an hour ago," Raskolnikov answered loudly over his shoulder. To his own surprise he, too, grew suddenly angry and found a certain pleasure in it. "And it's enough that I have come here ill with fever."

"Kindly refrain from shouting!"

"I'm not shouting, I'm speaking very quietly, it's you who are shouting at me. I'm a student, and allow no one to shout at me."

The assistant superintendent was so furious that for the first minute he could only splutter inarticulately. He leaped up from his seat.

"Be silent! You are in a government office. Don't be impudent, sir!"

"You're in a government office, too," cried Raskolnikov, "and you're smoking a cigarette as well as shouting, so you are showing disrespect to all of us."

He felt an indescribable satisfaction at having said this.

The head clerk looked at him with a smile. The angry assistant superintendent was obviously disconcerted.

"That's not your business!" he shouted at last with unnatural loudness. "Kindly make the declaration demanded of you. Show him. Alexandr Grigorievitch. There is a complaint against you! You don't pay your debts! You're a fine bird!"

But Raskolnikov was not listening now; he had eagerly clutched at the paper, in haste to find an explanation. He read it once, and a second time, and still did not understand.

"What is this?" he asked the head clerk.

"It is for the recovery of money on an I.O.U., a writ. You must either pay it, with all expenses, costs and so on, or give a written declaration when you can pay it, and at the same time an undertaking not to leave the capital without payment, and nor to sell or conceal your property. The creditor is at liberty to sell your property, and proceed against you according to the law."

"But I… am not in debt to any one!"

"That's not our business. Here, an I.O.U. for a hundred and fifteen roubles, legally attested, and due for payment, has been brought us for recovery, given by you to the widow of the assessor Zarnitsyn, nine months ago, and paid over by the widow Zarnitsyn to one Mr. Tchebarov. We therefore summon you hereupon."

"But she is my landlady!"

"And what if she is your landlady?"

The head clerk looked at him with a condescending smile of compassion, and at the same time with a certain triumph, as at a novice under fire for the first time– as though he would say: "Well, how do you feel now?" But what did he care now for an I.O.U., for a writ of recovery! Was that worth worrying about now, was it worth attention even! He stood, he read, he listened, he answered, he even asked questions himself, but all mechanically. The triumphant sense of security, of deliverance from overwhelming danger, that was what filled his whole soul that moment without thought for the future, without analysis, without suppositions or surmises, without doubts and without questioning. It was an instant of full, direct, purely instinctive joy. But at that very moment something like a thunderstorm took place in the office. The assistant superintendent, still shaken by Raskolnikov's disrespect, still fuming and obviously anxious to keep up his wounded dignity, pounced on the unfortunate smart lady, who had been gazing at him ever since he came in with an exceedingly silly smile.

"You shameful hussy!" he shouted suddenly at the top of his voice. (The lady in mourning had left the office.) "What was going on at your house last night? Eh! A disgrace again, you're a scandal to the whole street. Fighting and drinking again. Do you want the house of correction? Why, I have warned you ten times over that I would not let you off the eleventh! And here you are again, again, you… you…!"

The paper fell out of Raskolnikov's hands, and he looked wildly at the smart lady who was so unceremoniously treated. But he soon saw what it meant, and at once began to find positive amusement in the scandal. He listened with pleasure, so that he longed to laugh and laugh… all his nerves were on edge.

"Ilya Petrovitch!" the head clerk was beginning anxiously, but stopped short, for he knew from experience that the enraged assistant could not be stopped except by force.

As for the smart lady, at first she positively trembled before the storm. But strange to say, the more numerous and violent the terms of abuse became, the more amiable she looked, and the more seductive the smiles she lavished on the terrible assistant. She moved uneasily, and curtsied incessantly, waiting impatiently for a chance of putting in her word; and at last she found it.

"There was no sort of noise or fighting in my house, Mr. Captain," she pattered all at once, like peas dropping, speaking Russian confidently, though with a strong German accent, "and no sort of scandal, and his honour came drunk, and it's the whole truth I am telling, Mr. Captain, and I am not to blame…. Mine is an honourable house, Mr. Captain, and honourable behaviour, Mr. Captain, and I always, always dislike any scandal myself. But he came quite tipsy, and asked for three bottles again, and then he lifted up one leg, and began playing the pianoforte with one foot, and that is not at all right in an honourable house, and he ganz broke the piano, and it was very bad manners indeed and I said so. And he took up a bottle and began hitting every one with it. And then I called the porter, and Karl came, and he took Karl and hit him in the eye; and he hit Henriette in the eye, too, and gave me five slaps on the cheek. And it was so ungentlemanly in an honourable house, Mr. Captain, and I screamed. And he opened the window over the canal, and stood in the window, squealing like a little pig; it was a disgrace. The idea of squealing like a little pig at the window into the street! Fie upon him! And Karl pulled him away from the window by his coat, and it is true, Mr. Captain, he tore sein Rock. And then he shouted that man muss pay him fifteen roubles damages. And I did pay him, Mr. Captain, five roubles for sein Rock. And he is an ungentlemanly visitor and caused all the scandal. 'I will show you up,' he said, 'for I can write to all the papers about you.'"

"Then he was an author?"

"Yes, Mr. Captain, and what an ungentlemanly visitor in an honourable house…."

"Now then! Enough! I have told you already…"

"Ilya Petrovitch!" the head clerk repeated significantly.

The assistant glanced rapidly at him; the head clerk slightly shook his head.

"… So I tell you this, most respectable Luise Ivanovna, and I tell it you for the last time," the assistant went on. "If there is a scandal in your honourable house once again, I will put you yourself in the lock-up, as it is called in polite society. Do you hear? So a literary man, an author took five roubles for his coat-tail in an 'honourable house'? A nice set, these authors!"

And he cast a contemptuous glance at Raskolnikov. "There was a scandal the other day in a restaurant, too. An author had eaten his dinner and would not pay; 'I'll write a satire on you,' says he. And there was another of them on a steamer last week used the most disgraceful language to the respectable family of a civil councillor, his wife and daughter. And there was one of them turned out of a confectioner's shop the other day. They are like that, authors, literary men, students, town-criers… Pfoo! You get along! I shall look in upon you myself one day. Then you had better be careful! Do you hear?"

With hurried deference, Luise Ivanovna fell to curtsying in all directions, and so curtsied herself to the door. But at the door, she stumbled backwards against a good-looking officer with a fresh, open face and splendid thick fair whiskers. This was the superintendent of the district himself, Nikodim Fomitch. Luise Ivanovna made haste to curtsy almost to the ground, and with mincing little steps, she fluttered out of the office.

"Again thunder and lightning– a hurricane!" said Nikodim Fomitch to Ilya Petrovitch in a civil and friendly tone. "You are aroused again, you are fuming again! I heard it on the stairs!"

"Well, what then!" Ilya Petrovitch drawled with gentlemanly nonchalance; and he walked with some papers to another table, with a jaunty swing of his shoulders at each step. "Here, if you will kindly look: an author, or a student, has been one at least, does not pay his debts, has given an I.O.U., won't clear out of his room, and complaints are constantly being lodged against him, and here he has been pleased to make a protest against my smoking in his presence! He behaves like a cad himself, and just look at him, please. Here's the gentleman, and very attractive he is!"

"Poverty is not a vice, my friend, but we know you go off like powder, you can't bear a slight, I daresay you took offence at something and went too far yourself," continued Nikodim Fomitch, turning affably to Raskolnikov. "But you were wrong there; he is a capital fellow, I assure you, but explosive, explosive! He gets hot, fires up, boils over, and no stopping him! And then it's all over! And at the bottom he's a heart of gold! His nickname in the regiment was the Explosive Lieutenant…."

"And what a regiment it was, too," cried Ilya Petrovitch, much gratified at this agreeable banter, though still sulky.

Raskolnikov had a sudden desire to say something exceptionally pleasant to them all. "Excuse me, Captain," he began easily, suddenly addressing Nikodim Fomitch, "will you enter into my position…. I am ready to ask pardon, if I have been ill-mannered. I am a poor student, sick and shattered (shattered was the word he used) by poverty. I am not studying, because I cannot keep myself now, but I shall get money…. I have a mother and sister in the province of X. They will send it to me, and I will pay. My landlady is a good-hearted woman, but she is so exasperated at my having lost my lessons, and not paying her for the last four months, that she does not even send up my dinner… and I don't understand this I.O.U. at all. She is asking me to pay her on this I.O.U. How am I to pay her? Judge for yourselves!…"

"But that is not our business, you know," the head clerk was observing.

"Yes, yes. I perfectly agree with you. But allow me to explain…" Raskolnikov put in again, still addressing Nikodim Fomitch, but trying his best to address Ilya Petrovitch also, though the latter persistently appeared to be rummaging among his papers and to be contemptuously oblivious of him. "Allow me to explain that I have been living with her for nearly three years and at first… at first… for why should I not confess it, at the very beginning I promised to marry her daughter, it was a verbal promise, freely given… she was a girl… indeed, I liked her, though I was not in love with her… a youthful affair in fact… that is, I mean to say, that my landlady gave me credit freely in those days, and I led a life of… I was very heedless…"

"Nobody asks you for these personal details, sir, we've no time to waste," Ilya Petrovitch interposed roughly and with a note of triumph; but Raskolnikov stopped him hotly, though he suddenly found it exceedingly difficult to speak.

"But excuse me, excuse me. It is for me to explain… how it all happened… In my turn… though I agree with you… it is unnecessary. But a year ago, the girl died of typhus. I remained lodging there as before, and when my landlady moved into her present quarters, she said to me… and in a friendly way… that she had complete trust in me, but still, would I not give her an I.O.U. for one hundred and fifteen roubles, all the debt I owed her. She said if only I gave her that, she would trust me again, as much as I liked, and that she would never, never– those were her own words– make use of that I.O.U. till I could pay of myself… and now, when I have lost my lessons and have nothing to eat, she takes action against me. What am I to say to that?"

"All these affecting details are no business of ours." Ilya Petrovitch interrupted rudely. "You must give a written undertaking but as for your love affairs and all these tragic events, we have nothing to do with that."

Title: Crime and Punishment
Author: Fyodor Dostoevsky
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