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The Brothers Karamazov
Федор Михайлович Достоевский


“I thank you for all, daughter.”

“By the way, I have a thing to ask, not a great one. Here are sixty copecks. Give them, dear Father, to some one poorer than me. I thought as I came along, better give through him. He'll know whom to give to.”

“Thanks, my dear, thanks! You are a good woman. I love you. I will do so certainly. Is that your little girl?”

“My little girl, Father, Lizaveta.”

“May the Lord bless you both, you and your babe Lizaveta! You have gladdened my heart, mother. Farewell, dear children, farewell, dear ones.”

He blessed them all and bowed low to them.

Chapter IV. A Lady Of Little Faith

A visitor looking on the scene of his conversation with the peasants and his blessing them shed silent tears and wiped them away with her handkerchief. She was a sentimental society lady of genuinely good disposition in many respects. When the elder went up to her at last she met him enthusiastically.

“Ah, what I have been feeling, looking on at this touching scene!..” She could not go on for emotion. “Oh, I understand the people's love for you. I love the people myself. I want to love them. And who could help loving them, our splendid Russian people, so simple in their greatness!”

“How is your daughter's health? You wanted to talk to me again?”

“Oh, I have been urgently begging for it, I have prayed for it! I was ready to fall on my knees and kneel for three days at your windows until you let me in. We have come, great healer, to express our ardent gratitude. You have healed my Lise, healed her completely, merely by praying over her last Thursday and laying your hands upon her. We have hastened here to kiss those hands, to pour out our feelings and our homage.”

“What do you mean by healed? But she is still lying down in her chair.”

“But her night fevers have entirely ceased ever since Thursday,” said the lady with nervous haste. “And that's not all. Her legs are stronger. This morning she got up well; she had slept all night. Look at her rosy cheeks, her bright eyes! She used to be always crying, but now she laughs and is gay and happy. This morning she insisted on my letting her stand up, and she stood up for a whole minute without any support. She wagers that in a fortnight she'll be dancing a quadrille. I've called in Doctor Herzenstube. He shrugged his shoulders and said, ‘I am amazed; I can make nothing of it.’ And would you have us not come here to disturb you, not fly here to thank you? Lise, thank him – thank him!”

Lise's pretty little laughing face became suddenly serious. She rose in her chair as far as she could and, looking at the elder, clasped her hands before him, but could not restrain herself and broke into laughter.

“It's at him,” she said, pointing to Alyosha, with childish vexation at herself for not being able to repress her mirth.

If any one had looked at Alyosha standing a step behind the elder, he would have caught a quick flush crimsoning his cheeks in an instant. His eyes shone and he looked down.

“She has a message for you, Alexey Fyodorovitch. How are you?” the mother went on, holding out her exquisitely gloved hand to Alyosha.

The elder turned round and all at once looked attentively at Alyosha. The latter went nearer to Lise and, smiling in a strangely awkward way, held out his hand to her too. Lise assumed an important air.

“Katerina Ivanovna has sent you this through me.” She handed him a little note. “She particularly begs you to go and see her as soon as possible; that you will not fail her, but will be sure to come.”

“She asks me to go and see her? Me? What for?” Alyosha muttered in great astonishment. His face at once looked anxious. “Oh, it's all to do with Dmitri Fyodorovitch and – what has happened lately,” the mother explained hurriedly. “Katerina Ivanovna has made up her mind, but she must see you about it… Why, of course, I can't say. But she wants to see you at once. And you will go to her, of course. It is a Christian duty.”

“I have only seen her once,” Alyosha protested with the same perplexity.

“Oh, she is such a lofty, incomparable creature! If only for her suffering… Think what she has gone through, what she is enduring now! Think what awaits her! It's all terrible, terrible!”

“Very well, I will come,” Alyosha decided, after rapidly scanning the brief, enigmatic note, which consisted of an urgent entreaty that he would come, without any sort of explanation.

“Oh, how sweet and generous that would be of you!” cried Lise with sudden animation. “I told mamma you'd be sure not to go. I said you were saving your soul. How splendid you are! I've always thought you were splendid. How glad I am to tell you so!”

“Lise!” said her mother impressively, though she smiled after she had said it.

“You have quite forgotten us, Alexey Fyodorovitch,” she said; “you never come to see us. Yet Lise has told me twice that she is never happy except with you.”

Alyosha raised his downcast eyes and again flushed, and again smiled without knowing why. But the elder was no longer watching him. He had begun talking to a monk who, as mentioned before, had been awaiting his entrance by Lise's chair. He was evidently a monk of the humblest, that is of the peasant, class, of a narrow outlook, but a true believer, and, in his own way, a stubborn one. He announced that he had come from the far north, from Obdorsk, from Saint Sylvester, and was a member of a poor monastery, consisting of only ten monks. The elder gave him his blessing and invited him to come to his cell whenever he liked.

“How can you presume to do such deeds?” the monk asked suddenly, pointing solemnly and significantly at Lise. He was referring to her “healing.”

“It's too early, of course, to speak of that. Relief is not complete cure, and may proceed from different causes. But if there has been any healing, it is by no power but God's will. It's all from God. Visit me, Father,” he added to the monk. “It's not often I can see visitors. I am ill, and I know that my days are numbered.”

“Oh, no, no! God will not take you from us. You will live a long, long time yet,” cried the lady. “And in what way are you ill? You look so well, so gay and happy.”

“I am extraordinarily better to-day. But I know that it's only for a moment. I understand my disease now thoroughly. If I seem so happy to you, you could never say anything that would please me so much. For men are made for happiness, and any one who is completely happy has a right to say to himself, ‘I am doing God's will on earth.’ All the righteous, all the saints, all the holy martyrs were happy.”

“Oh, how you speak! What bold and lofty words!” cried the lady. “You seem to pierce with your words. And yet – happiness, happiness – where is it? Who can say of himself that he is happy? Oh, since you have been so good as to let us see you once more to-day, let me tell you what I could not utter last time, what I dared not say, all I am suffering and have been for so long! I am suffering! Forgive me! I am suffering!”

And in a rush of fervent feeling she clasped her hands before him.

“From what specially?”

“I suffer … from lack of faith.”

“Lack of faith in God?”

“Oh, no, no! I dare not even think of that. But the future life – it is such an enigma! And no one, no one can solve it. Listen! You are a healer, you are deeply versed in the human soul, and of course I dare not expect you to believe me entirely, but I assure you on my word of honor that I am not speaking lightly now. The thought of the life beyond the grave distracts me to anguish, to terror. And I don't know to whom to appeal, and have not dared to all my life. And now I am so bold as to ask you. Oh, God! What will you think of me now?”

She clasped her hands.

“Don't distress yourself about my opinion of you,” said the elder. “I quite believe in the sincerity of your suffering.”

“Oh, how thankful I am to you! You see, I shut my eyes and ask myself if every one has faith, where did it come from? And then they do say that it all comes from terror at the menacing phenomena of nature, and that none of it's real. And I say to myself, ‘What if I've been believing all my life, and when I come to die there's nothing but the burdocks growing on my grave?’ as I read in some author. It's awful! How – how can I get back my faith? But I only believed when I was a little child, mechanically, without thinking of anything. How, how is one to prove it? I have come now to lay my soul before you and to ask you about it. If I let this chance slip, no one all my life will answer me. How can I prove it? How can I convince myself? Oh, how unhappy I am! I stand and look about me and see that scarcely any one else cares; no one troubles his head about it, and I'm the only one who can't stand it. It's deadly – deadly!”

“No doubt. But there's no proving it, though you can be convinced of it.”

“How?”

“By the experience of active love. Strive to love your neighbor actively and indefatigably. In as far as you advance in love you will grow surer of the reality of God and of the immortality of your soul. If you attain to perfect self-forgetfulness in the love of your neighbor, then you will believe without doubt, and no doubt can possibly enter your soul. This has been tried. This is certain.”

“In active love? There's another question – and such a question! You see, I so love humanity that – would you believe it? – I often dream of forsaking all that I have, leaving Lise, and becoming a sister of mercy. I close my eyes and think and dream, and at that moment I feel full of strength to overcome all obstacles. No wounds, no festering sores could at that moment frighten me. I would bind them up and wash them with my own hands. I would nurse the afflicted. I would be ready to kiss such wounds.”

“It is much, and well that your mind is full of such dreams and not others. Sometime, unawares, you may do a good deed in reality.”

“Yes. But could I endure such a life for long?” the lady went on fervently, almost frantically. “That's the chief question – that's my most agonizing question. I shut my eyes and ask myself, ‘Would you persevere long on that path? And if the patient whose wounds you are washing did not meet you with gratitude, but worried you with his whims, without valuing or remarking your charitable services, began abusing you and rudely commanding you, and complaining to the superior authorities of you (which often happens when people are in great suffering) – what then? Would you persevere in your love, or not?’ And do you know, I came with horror to the conclusion that, if anything could dissipate my love to humanity, it would be ingratitude. In short, I am a hired servant, I expect my payment at once – that is, praise, and the repayment of love with love. Otherwise I am incapable of loving any one.”

She was in a very paroxysm of self-castigation, and, concluding, she looked with defiant resolution at the elder.

“It's just the same story as a doctor once told me,” observed the elder. “He was a man getting on in years, and undoubtedly clever. He spoke as frankly as you, though in jest, in bitter jest. ‘I love humanity,’ he said, ‘but I wonder at myself. The more I love humanity in general, the less I love man in particular. In my dreams,’ he said, ‘I have often come to making enthusiastic schemes for the service of humanity, and perhaps I might actually have faced crucifixion if it had been suddenly necessary; and yet I am incapable of living in the same room with any one for two days together, as I know by experience. As soon as any one is near me, his personality disturbs my self-complacency and restricts my freedom. In twenty-four hours I begin to hate the best of men: one because he's too long over his dinner; another because he has a cold and keeps on blowing his nose. I become hostile to people the moment they come close to me. But it has always happened that the more I detest men individually the more ardent becomes my love for humanity.’ ”

“But what's to be done? What can one do in such a case? Must one despair?”

“No. It is enough that you are distressed at it. Do what you can, and it will be reckoned unto you. Much is done already in you since you can so deeply and sincerely know yourself. If you have been talking to me so sincerely, simply to gain approbation for your frankness, as you did from me just now, then of course you will not attain to anything in the achievement of real love; it will all get no further than dreams, and your whole life will slip away like a phantom. In that case you will naturally cease to think of the future life too, and will of yourself grow calmer after a fashion in the end.”
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