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Fyodor Dostoevsky >> Crime and Punishment (page 34)


"That's enough, Rodya, I am sure that everything you do is very good," said his mother, delighted.

"Don't be too sure," he answered, twisting his mouth into a smile.

A silence followed. There was a certain constraint in all this conversation, and in the silence, and in the reconciliation, and in the forgiveness, and all were feeling it.

"It is as though they were afraid of me," Raskolnikov was thinking to himself, looking askance at his mother and sister. Pulcheria Alexandrovna was indeed growing more timid the longer she kept silent.

"Yet in their absence I seemed to love them so much," flashed through his mind.

"Do you know, Rodya, Marfa Petrovna is dead," Pulcheria Alexandrovna suddenly blurted out.

"What Marfa Petrovna?"

"Oh, mercy on us Marfa Petrovna Svidrigailov. I wrote you so much about her."

"A-a-h! Yes, I remember. So she's dead! Oh, really?" he roused himself suddenly, as if waking up. "What did she die of?"

"Only imagine, quite suddenly," Pulcheria Alexandrovna answered hurriedly, encouraged by his curiosity. "On the very day I was sending you that letter! Would you believe it, that awful man seems to have been the cause of her death. They say he beat her dreadfully."

"Why, were they on such bad terms?" he asked, addressing his sister.

"Not at all. Quite the contrary indeed. With her, he was always very patient, considerate even. In fact, all those seven years of their married life he gave way to her, too much so indeed, in many cases. All of a sudden he seems to have lost patience."

"Then he could not have been so awful if he controlled himself for seven years? You seem to be defending him, Dounia?"

"No, no, he's an awful man! I can imagine nothing more awful!" Dounia answered, almost with a shudder, knitting her brows, and sinking into thought.

"That had happened in the morning," Pulcheria Alexandrovna went on hurriedly. "And directly afterwards she ordered the horses to be harnessed to drive to the town immediately after dinner. She always used to drive to the town in such cases. She ate a very good dinner, I am told."

"After the beating?"

"That was always her habit; and immediately after dinner, so as not to be late in starting, she went to the bathhouse. You see, she was undergoing some treatment with baths. They have a cold spring there, and she used to bathe in it regularly every day, and no sooner had she got into the water when she suddenly had a stroke!"

"I should think so," said Zossimov.

"And did he beat her badly?"

"What does that matter!" put in Dounia.

"H'm! But I don't know why you want to tell us such gossip, mother," said Raskolnikov irritably, as it were in spite of himself.

"Ah, my dear, I don't know what to talk about," broke from Pulcheria Alexandrovna.

"Why, are you all afraid of me?" he asked, with a constrained smile.

"That's certainly true," said Dounia, looking directly and sternly at her brother. "Mother was crossing herself with terror as she came up the stairs."

His face worked, as though in convulsion.

"Ach, what are you saying, Dounia! Don't be angry, please, Rodya. Why did you say that, Dounia?" Pulcheria Alexandrovna began, overwhelmed "You see, coming here, I was dreaming all the way, in the train, how we should meet, how we should talk over everything together. And I was so happy, I did not notice the journey! But what am I saying? I am happy now. You should not, Dounia. I am happy now simply in seeing you, Rodya."

"Hush, mother," he muttered in confusion, not looking at her, but pressing her hand. "We shall have time to speak freely of everything!"

As he said this, he was suddenly overwhelmed with confusion and turned pale. Again that awful sensation he had known of late passed with deadly chill over his soul. Again it became suddenly plain and perceptible to him that he had just told a fearful lie that he would never now be able to speak freely of everything that he would never again be able to speak of anything to any one. The anguish of this thought was such that for a moment he almost forgot himself. He got up from his seat, and not looking at any one walked towards the door.

"What are you about?" cried Razumihin, clutching him by the arm.

He sat down again, and began looking about him, in silence. They were all looking at him in perplexity.

"But what are you all so dull for?" he shouted, suddenly and quite unexpectedly. "Do say something! What's the use of sitting like this? Come, do speak. Let us talk. We meet together and sit in silence. Come, anything!"

"Thank God; I was afraid the same thing as yesterday was beginning again," said Pulcheria Alexandrovna, crossing herself.

"What is the matter, Rodya?" asked Avdotya Romanovna, distrustfully.

"Oh, nothing! I remembered something," he answered, and suddenly laughed.

"Well, if you remembered something; that's all right! I was beginning to think" muttered Zossimov, getting up from the sofa. "It is time for me to be off. I will look in again perhaps if I can" He made his bows, and went out.

"What an excellent man!" observed Pulcheria Alexandrovna.

"Yes, excellent, splendid, well-educated, intelligent," Raskolnikov began, suddenly speaking with surprising rapidity, and a liveliness he had not shown till then. "I can't remember where I met him before my illness. I believe I have met him somewhere- And this is a good man, too," he nodded at Razumihin. "Do you like him, Dounia?" he asked her; and suddenly, for some unknown reason, laughed.

"Very much," answered Dounia.

"Foo what a pig you are," Razumihin protested, blushing in terrible confusion, and he got up from his chair. Pulcheria Alexandrovna smiled faintly, but Raskolnikov laughed aloud.

"Where are you off to?"

"I must go."

"You need not at all. Stay. Zossimov has gone, so you must. Don't go. What's the time? Is it twelve o'clock? What a pretty watch you have got, Dounia. But why are you all silent again? I do all the talking."

"It was a present from Marfa Petrovna," answered Dounia.

"And a very expensive one!" added Pulcheria Alexandrovna.

"A-ah! What a big one! Hardly like a lady's."

"I like that sort," said Dounia.

"So it is not a present from her fiance," thought Razumihin, and was unreasonably delighted.

"I thought it was Luzhin's present," observed Raskolnikov.

"No, he has not made Dounia any presents yet."

"A-ah! And do you remember, mother, I was in love and wanted to get married?" he said suddenly, looking at his mother, who was disconcerted by the sudden change of subject and the way he spoke of it.

"Oh, yes, my dear."

Pulcheria Alexandrovna exchanged glances with Dounia and Razumihin.

"H'm, yes. What shall I tell you? I don't remember much indeed. She was such a sickly girl," he went on, growing dreamy and looking down again. "Quite an invalid. She was fond of giving alms to the poor, and was always dreaming of a nunnery, and once she burst into tears when she began talking to me about it. Yes, yes, I remember. I remember very well. She was an ugly little thing. I really don't know what drew me to her then I think it was because she was always ill. If she had been lame or hunchback, I believe I should have liked her better still," he smiled dreamily. "Yes, it was a sort of spring delirium."

"No, it was not only spring delirium," said Dounia, with warm feeling.

He fixed a strained intent look on his sister, but did not hear or did not understand her words. Then, completely lost in thought, he got up, went up to his mother, kissed her, went back to his place and sat down.

"You love her even now?" said Pulcheria Alexandrovna, touched.

"Her? Now? Oh, yes. You ask about her? No that's all now as it were, in another world and so long ago. And indeed everything happening here seems somehow far away." He looked attentively at them. "You now I seem to be looking at you from a thousand miles away but, goodness knows why we are talking of that! And what's the use of asking about it," he added with annoyance, and biting his nails, he fell into dreamy silence again.

"What a wretched lodging you have, Rodya! It's like a tomb," said Pulcheria Alexandrovna, suddenly breaking the oppressive silence. "I am sure it's quite half through your lodging you have become so melancholy."

"My lodging," he answered, listlessly. "Yes, the lodging had a great deal to do with it. I thought that, too. If only you knew, though, what a strange thing you said just now, mother," he said, laughing strangely.

A little more, and their companionship, this mother and this sister, with him after three years' absence, this intimate tone of conversation, in face of the utter impossibility of really speaking about anything, would have been beyond his power of endurance. But there was one urgent matter which must be settled one way or the other that day so he had decided when he woke. Now he was glad to remember it, as a means of escape.

"Listen, Dounia," he began, gravely and drily, "of course I beg your pardon for yesterday, but I consider it my duty to tell you again that I do not withdraw from my chief point. It is me or Luzhin. If I am a scoundrel, you must not be. One is enough. If you marry Luzhin, I cease at once to look on you as a sister."

"Rodya, Rodya! It is the same as yesterday again," Pulcheria Alexandrovna cried, mournfully. "And why do you call yourself a scoundrel? I can't bear it. You said the same yesterday."

"Brother," Dounia answered firmly and with the same dryness. "In all this there is a mistake on your part. I thought it over at night, and found out the mistake. It is all because you seem to fancy I am sacrificing myself to some one and for some one. That is not the case at all. I am simply marrying for my own sake, because things are hard for me. Though, of course, I shall be glad if I succeed in being useful to my family. But that is not the chief motive for my decision."

"She is lying," he thought to himself, biting his nails vindictively. "Proud creature! She won't admit she wants to do it out of charity! Too haughty! Oh, base characters! They even love as though they hate. Oh, how I hate them all!"

"In fact," continued Dounia, "I am marrying Pyotr Petrovitch because of two evils I choose the less. I intend to do honestly all he expects of me, so I am not deceiving him. Why did you smile just now?" She, too, flushed, and there was a gleam of anger in her eyes.

"All?" he asked, with a malignant grin.

"Within certain limits. Both the manner and form of Pyotr Petrovitch's courtship showed me at once what he wanted. He may, of course, think too well of himself, but I hope he esteems me, too. Why are you laughing again?"

"And why are you blushing again? You are lying, sister. You are intentionally lying, simply from feminine obstinacy, simply to hold your own against me. You cannot respect Luzhin. I have seen him and talked with him. So you are selling yourself for money, and so in any case you are acting basely, and I am glad at least that you can blush for it."

"It is not true. I am not lying," cried Dounia, losing her composure. "I would not marry him if I were not convinced that he esteems me and thinks highly of me. I would not marry him if I were not firmly convinced that I can respect him. Fortunately, I can have convincing proof of it this very day and such a marriage is not a vileness, as you say! And even if you were right, if I really had determined on a vile action, is it not merciless on your part to speak to me like that? Why do you demand of me a heroism that perhaps you have not either? It is despotism; it is tyranny. If I ruin any one, it is only myself. I am not committing a murder. Why do you look at me like that? Why are you so pale? Rodya, darling, what's the matter?"

"Good heavens! You have made him faint," cried Pulcheria Alexandrovna.

"No, no, nonsense! It's nothing. A little giddiness not fainting. You have fainting on the brain. H'm, yes, what was I saying? Oh, yes. In what way will you get convincing proof to-day that you can respect him, and that he esteems you, as you said. I think you said to-day?"

"Mother, show Rodya Pyotr Petrovitch's letter," said Dounia.

With trembling hands, Pulcheria Alexandrovna gave him the letter. He took it with great interest, but, before opening it, he suddenly looked with a sort of wonder at Dounia.

"It is strange," he said, slowly, as though struck by a new idea. "What am I making such a fuss for? What is it all about? Marry whom you like!"

He said this as though to himself, but said it aloud, and looked for some time at his sister, as though puzzled. He opened the letter at last, still with the same look of strange wonder on his face. Then, slowly and attentively, he began reading, and read it through twice. Pulcheria Alexandrovna showed marked anxiety, and all indeed expected something particular.

"What surprises me," he began, after a short pause, handing the letter to his mother, but not addressing any one in particular, "is that he is a business man, a lawyer, and his conversation is pretentious indeed, and yet he writes such an uneducated letter."

They all started. They had expected something quite different.

Title: Crime and Punishment
Author: Fyodor Dostoevsky
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