The Brothers Karamazov
Notes on the Life of the Deceased Priest and Monk, the Elder Zossima,
Taken from His Own Words by Alexey Fyodorovitch Karamazov
(c) Recollections of Father Zossima's Youth before he became a Monk. The Duel
I SPENT a long time, almost eight years, in the military cadet
school at Petersburg, and in the novelty of my surroundings there,
many of my childish impressions grew dimmer, though I forgot
nothing. I picked up so many new habits and opinions that I was
transformed into a cruel, absurd, almost savage creature. A surface
polish of courtesy and society manners I did acquire together with
the French language.
But we all, myself included, looked upon the soldiers in our
service as cattle. I was perhaps worse than the rest in that
respect, for I was so much more impressionable than my companions.
By the time we left the school as officers, we were ready to lay
down our lives for the honour of the regiment, but no one of us had
any knowledge of the real meaning of honour, and if anyone had
known it, he would have been the first to ridicule it. Drunkenness,
debauchery and devilry were what we almost prided ourselves on. I
don’t say that we were bad by nature, all these young men
were good fellows, but they behaved badly, and I worst of all. What
made it worse for me was that I had come into my own money, and so
I flung myself into a life of pleasure, and plunged headlong into
all the recklessness of youth.
I was fond of reading, yet strange to say, the Bible was the one
book I never opened at that time, though I always carried it about
with me, and I was never separated from it; in very truth I was
keeping that book “for the day and the hour, for the month
and the year,” though I knew it not.
After four years of this life, I chanced to be in the town of K.
where our regiment was stationed at the time. We found the people
of the town hospitable, rich, and fond of entertainments. I met
with a cordial reception everywhere, as I was of a lively
temperament and was known to be well off, which always goes a long
way in the world. And then a circumstance happened which was the
beginning of it all.
I formed an attachment to a beautiful and intelligent young girl
of noble and lofty character, the daughter of people much
respected. They were well-to-do people of influence and position.
They always gave me a cordial and friendly reception. I fancied
that the young lady looked on me with favour and my heart was
aflame at such an idea. Later on I saw and fully realised that I
perhaps was not so passionately in love with her at all, but only
recognised the elevation of her mind and character, which I could
not indeed have helped doing. I was prevented, however, from making
her an offer at the time by my selfishness; I was loath to part
with the allurements of my free and licentious bachelor life in the
heyday of my youth, and with my pockets full of money. I did drop
some hint as to my feelings however, though I put off taking any
decisive step for a time. Then, all of a sudden, we were ordered
off for two months to another district.
On my return two months later, I found the young lady already
married to a rich neighbouring landowner, a very amiable man, still
young though older than I was, connected with the best Petersburg
society, which I was not, and of excellent education, which I also
was not. I was so overwhelmed at this unexpected circumstance that
my mind was positively clouded. The worst of it all was that, as I
learned then, the young landowner had been a long while betrothed
to her, and I had met him indeed many times in her house, but
blinded by my conceit I had noticed nothing. And this particularly
mortified me; almost everybody had known all about it, while I knew
nothing. I was filled with sudden irrepressible fury. With flushed
face I began recalling how often I had been on the point of
declaring my love to her, and as she had not attempted to stop me
or to warn me, she must, I concluded, have been laughing at me all
the time. Later on, of course, I reflected and remembered that she
had been very far from laughing at me; on the contrary, she used to
turn off any love-making on my part with a jest and begin talking
of other subjects; but at that moment I was incapable of reflecting
and was all eagerness for revenge. I am surprised to remember that
my wrath and revengeful feelings were extremely repugnant to my own
nature, for being of an easy temper, I found it difficult to be
angry with anyone for long, and so I had to work myself up
artificially and became at last revolting and absurd.
I waited for an opportunity and succeeded in insulting my
“rival” in the presence of a large company. I insulted
him on a perfectly extraneous pretext, jeering at his opinion upon
an important public event — it was in the year 1826 —
my jeer was, so people said, clever and effective. Then I forced
him to ask for an explanation, and behaved so rudely that he
accepted my challenge in spite of the vast inequality between us,
as I was younger, a person of no consequence, and of inferior rank.
I learned afterwards for a fact that it was from a jealous feeling
on his side also that my challenge was accepted; he had been rather
jealous of me on his wife’s account before their marriage; he
fancied now that if he submitted to be insulted by me and refused
to accept my challenge, and if she heard of it, she might begin to
despise him and waver in her love for him. I soon found a second in
a comrade, an ensign of our regiment. In those days though duels
were severely punished, yet duelling was a kind of fashion among
the officers — so strong and deeply rooted will a brutal
prejudice sometimes be.
It was the end of June, and our meeting was to take place at
seven o’clock the next day on the outskirts of the town
— and then something happened that in very truth was the
turning point of my life. In the evening, returning home in a
savage and brutal humour, I flew into a rage with my orderly
Afanasy, and gave him two blows in the face with all my might, so
that it was covered with blood. He had not long been in my service
and I had struck him before, but never with such ferocious cruelty.
And, believe me, though it’s forty years ago, I recall it now
with shame and pain. I went to bed and slept for about three hours;
when I waked up the day was breaking. I got up — I did not
want to sleep any more — I went to the window — opened
it, it looked out upon the garden; I saw the sun rising; it was
warm and beautiful, the birds were singing.
“What’s the meaning of it?” I thought.
“I feel in my heart as it were something vile and shameful.
Is it because I am going to shed blood? No,” I thought,
“I feel it’s not that. Can it be that I am afraid of
death, afraid of being killed? No, that’s not it,
that’s not it at all.”... And all at once I knew what
it was: it was because I had beaten Afanasy the evening before! It
all rose before my mind, it all was, as it were, repeated over
again; he stood before me and I was beating him straight on the
face and he was holding his arms stiffly down, his head erect, his
eyes fixed upon me as though on parade. He staggered at every blow
and did not even dare to raise his hands to protect himself. That
is what a man has been brought to, and that was a man beating a
fellow creature! What a crime! It was as though a sharp dagger had
pierced me right through. I stood as if I were struck dumb, while
the sun was shining, the leaves were rejoicing and the birds were
trilling the praise of God.... I hid my face in my hands, fell on
my bed and broke into a storm of tears. And then I remembered by
brother Markel and what he said on his death-bed to his servants:
“My dear ones, why do you wait on me, why do you love me, am
I worth your waiting on me?”
“Yes, am I worth it?” flashed through my mind.
“After all what am I worth, that another man, a fellow
creature, made in the likeness and image of God, should serve
me?” For the first time in my life this question forced
itself upon me. He had said, “Mother, my little heart, in
truth we are each responsible to all for all, it’s only that
men don’t know this. If they knew it, the world would be a
paradise at once.”
“God, can that too be false?” I thought as I wept.
“In truth, perhaps, I am more than all others responsible for
all, a greater sinner than all men in the world.” And all at
once the whole truth in its full light appeared to me: what was I
going to do? I was going to kill a good, clever, noble man, who had
done me no wrong, and by depriving his wife of happiness for the
rest of her life, I should be torturing and killing her too. I lay
thus in my bed with my face in the pillow, heedless how the time
was passing. Suddenly my second, the ensign, came in with the
pistols to fetch me.
“Ah,” said he, “it’s a good thing you
are up already, it’s time we were off, come along!”
I did not know what to do and hurried to and fro undecided; we
went out to the carriage, however.
“Wait here a minute,” I said to him.
“I’ll be back directly, I have forgotten my
And I ran back alone, to Afanasy’s little room.
“Afanasy,” I said, “I gave you two blows on
the face yesterday, forgive me,” I said.
He started as though he were frightened, and looked at me; and I
saw that it was not enough, and on the spot, in my full
officer’s uniform, I dropped at his feet and bowed my head to
“Forgive me,” I said.
Then he was completely aghast.
“Your honour... sir, what are you doing? Am I worth
And he burst out crying as I had done before, hid his face in
his hands, turned to the window and shook all over with his sobs. I
flew out to my comrade and jumped into the carriage.
“Ready,” I cried. “Have you ever seen a
conqueror?” I asked him. “Here is one before
I was in ecstasy, laughing and talking all the way, I
don’t remember what about.
He looked at me. “Well, brother, you are a plucky fellow,
you’ll keep up the honour of the uniform, I can
So we reached the place and found them there, waiting us. We
were placed twelve paces apart; he had the first shot. I stood
gaily, looking him full in the face; I did not twitch an eyelash, I
looked lovingly at him, for I knew what I would do. His shot just
grazed my cheek and ear.
“Thank God,” I cried, “no man has been
killed,” and I seized my pistol, turned back and flung it far
away into the wood. “That’s the place for you,” I
I turned to my adversary.
“Forgive me, young fool that I am, sir,” I said,
“for my unprovoked insult to you and for forcing you to fire
at me. I am ten times worse than you and more, maybe. Tell that to
the person whom you hold dearest in the world.”
I had no sooner said this than they all three shouted at me.
“Upon my word,” cried my adversary, annoyed,
“if you did not want to fight, why did not you let me
“Yesterday I was a fool, to-day I know better,” I
answered him gaily.
“As to yesterday, I believe you, but as for to-day, it is
difficult to agree with your opinion,” said he.
“Bravo,” I cried, clapping my hands. “I agree
with you there too, I have deserved it!”
“Will you shoot, sir, or not?”
“No, I won’t,” I said; “if you like,
fire at me again, but it would be better for you not to
The seconds, especially mine, were shouting too: “Can you
disgrace the regiment like this, facing your antagonist and begging
his forgiveness! If I’d only known this!”
I stood facing them all, not laughing now.
“Gentlemen,” I said, “is it really so
wonderful in these days to find a man who can repent of his
stupidity and publicly confess his wrongdoing?”
“But not in a duel,” cried my second again.
“That’s what’s so strange,” I said.
“For I ought to have owned my fault as soon as I got here,
before he had fired a shot, before leading him into a great and
deadly sin; but we have made our life so grotesque, that to act in
that way would have been almost impossible, for only after I had
faced his shot at the distance of twelve paces could my words have
any significance for him, and if I had spoken before, he would have
said, ‘He is a coward, the sight of the pistols has
frightened him, no use to listen to him.’ Gentlemen,” I
cried suddenly, speaking straight from my heart, “look around
you at the gifts of God, the clear sky, the pure air, the tender
grass, the birds; nature is beautiful and sinless, and we, only we,
are sinful and foolish, and we don’t understand that life is
heaven, for we have only to understand that and it will at once be
fulfilled in all its beauty, we shall embrace each other and
I would have said more but I could not; my voice broke with the
sweetness and youthful gladness of it, and there was such bliss in
my heart as I had never known before in my life.
“All this is rational and edifying,” said my
antagonist, “and in any case you are an original
“You may laugh,” I said to him, laughing too,
“but afterwards you will approve of me.”
“Oh, I am ready to approve of you now,” said he;
“will you shake hands? for I believe you are genuinely
“No,” I said, “not now, later on when I have
grown worthier and deserve your esteem, then shake hands and you
will do well.”
We went home, my second upbraiding me all the way, while I
kissed him. All my comrades heard of the affair at once and
gathered together to pass judgment on me the same day.
“He has disgraced the uniform,” they said;
“Let him resign his commission.”
Some stood up for me: “He faced the shot,” they
“Yes, but he was afraid of his other shot and begged for
“If he had been afraid of being shot, he would have shot
his own pistol first before asking forgiveness, while he flung it
loaded into the forest. No, there’s something else in this,
I enjoyed listening and looking at them. “My dear friends
and comrades,” said I, “don’t worry about my
resigning my commission, for I have done so already. I have sent in
my papers this morning and as soon as I get my discharge I shall go
into a monastery — it’s with that object I am leaving
When I had said this every one of them burst out laughing.
“You should have told us of that first, that explains
everything, we can’t judge a monk.”
They laughed and could not stop themselves, and not scornfully,
but kindly and merrily. They all felt friendly to me at once, even
those who had been sternest in their censure, and all the following
month, before my discharge came, they could not make enough of me.
“Ah, you monk,” they would say. And everyone said
something kind to me, they began trying to dissuade me, even to
pity me: “What are you doing to yourself?”
“No,” they would say, “he is a brave fellow,
he faced fire and could have fired his own pistol too, but he had a
dream the night before that he should become a monk, that’s
why he did it.”
It was the same thing with the society of the town. Till then I
had been kindly received, but had not been the object of special
attention, and now all came to know me at once and invited me; they
laughed at me, but they loved me. I may mention that although
everybody talked openly of our duel, the authorities took no notice
of it, because my antagonist was a near relation of our general,
and as there had been no bloodshed and no serious consequences, and
as I resigned my commission, they took it as a joke. And I began
then to speak aloud and fearlessly, regardless of their laughter,
for it was always kindly and not spiteful laughter. These
conversations mostly took place in the evenings, in the company of
ladies; women particularly liked listening to me then and they made
the men listen.
“But how can I possibly be responsible for all?”
everyone would laugh in my face. “Can I, for instance, be
responsible for you?”
“You may well not know it,” I would answer,
“since the whole world has long been going on a different
line, since we consider the veriest lies as truth and demand the
same lies from others. Here I have for once in my life acted
sincerely and, well, you all look upon me as a madman. Though you
are friendly to me, yet, you see, you all laugh at me.”
“But how can we help being friendly to you?” said my
hostess, laughing. The room was full of people. All of a sudden the
young lady rose, on whose account the duel had been fought and whom
only lately I had intended to be my future wife. I had not noticed
her coming into the room. She got up, came to me and held out her
“Let me tell you,” she said, “that I am the
first not to laugh at you, but on the contrary I thank you with
tears and express my respect for you for your action
Her husband, too, came up and then they all approached me and
almost kissed me. My heart was filled with joy, but my attention
was especially caught by a middle-aged man who came up to me with
the others. I knew him by name already, but had never made his
acquaintance nor exchanged a word with him till that evening.
(d) The Mysterious Visitor.
He had long been an official in the town; he was in a prominent
position, respected by all, rich and had a reputation for
benevolence. He subscribed considerable sums to the almshouse and
the orphan asylum; he was very charitable, too, in secret, a fact
which only became known after his death. He was a man of about
fifty, almost stern in appearance and not much given to
conversation. He had been married about ten years and his wife, who
was still young, had borne him three children. Well, I was sitting
alone in my room the following evening, when my door suddenly
opened and this gentleman walked in.
I must mention, by the way, that I was no longer living in my
former quarters. As soon as I resigned my commission, I took rooms
with an old lady, the widow of a government clerk. My
landlady’s servant waited upon me, for I had moved into her
rooms simply because on my return from the duel I had sent Afanasy
back to the regiment, as I felt ashamed to look him in the face
after my last interview with him. So prone is the man of the world
to be ashamed of any righteous action.
“I have,” said my visitor, “with great
interest listened to you speaking in different houses the last few
days and I wanted at last to make your personal acquaintance, so as
to talk to you more intimately. Can you, dear sir, grant me this
“I can, with the greatest pleasure, and I shall look upon
it as an honour.” I said this, though I felt almost dismayed,
so greatly was I impressed from the first moment by the appearance
of this man. For though other people had listened to me with
interest and attention, no one had come to me before with such a
serious, stern, and concentrated expression. And now he had come to
see me in my own rooms. He sat down.
“You are, I see, a man of great strength of
character” he said; “as you have dared to serve the
truth, even when by doing so you risked incurring the contempt of
“Your praise is, perhaps, excessive,” I replied.
“No, it’s not excessive,” he answered;
“believe me, such a course of action is far more difficult
than you think. It is that which has impressed me, and it is only
on that account that I have come to you,” he continued.
“Tell me, please, that is if you are not annoyed by my
perhaps unseemly curiosity, what were your exact sensations, if you
can recall them, at the moment when you made up your mind to ask
forgiveness at the duel. Do not think my question frivolous; on the
contrary, I have in asking the question a secret motive of my own,
which I will perhaps explain to you later on, if it is God’s
will that we should become more intimately acquainted.”
All the while he was speaking, I was looking at him straight
into the face and I felt all at once a complete trust in him and
great curiosity on my side also, for I felt that there was some
strange secret in his soul.
“You ask what were my exact sensations at the moment when
I asked my opponent’s forgiveness,” I answered;
“but I had better tell you from the beginning what I have not
yet told anyone else.” And I described all that had passed
between Afanasy and me, and how I had bowed down to the ground at
his feet. “From that you can see for yourself,” I
concluded, “that at the time of the duel it was easier for
me, for I had made a beginning already at home, and when once I had
started on that road, to go farther along it was far from being
difficult, but became a source of joy and happiness.”
I liked the way he looked at me as he listened. “All
that,” he said, “is exceedingly interesting. I will
come to see you again and again.”
And from that time forth he came to see me nearly every evening.
And we should have become greater friends, if only he had ever
talked of himself. But about himself he scarcely ever said a word,
yet continually asked me about myself. In spite of that I became
very fond of him and spoke with perfect frankness to him about all
my feelings; “for,” thought I, “what need have I
to know his secrets, since I can see without that that is a good
man? Moreover, though he is such a serious man and my senior, he
comes to see a youngster like me and treats me as his equal.”
And I learned a great deal that was profitable from him, for he was
a man of lofty mind.
“That life is heaven,” he said to me suddenly,
“that I have long been thinking about”; and all at once
he added, “I think of nothing else indeed.” He looked
at me and smiled. “I am more convinced of it than you are, I
will tell you later why.”
I listened to him and thought that he evidently wanted to tell
“Heaven,” he went on, “lies hidden within all
of us — here it lies hidden in me now, and if I will it, it
will be revealed to me to-morrow and for all time.”
I looked at him; he was speaking with great emotion and gazing
mysteriously at me, as if he were questioning me.
“And that we are all responsible to all for all, apart
from our own sins, you were quite right in thinking that, and it is
wonderful how you could comprehend it in all its significance at
once. And in very truth, so soon as men understand that, the
Kingdom of Heaven will be for them not a dream, but a living
“And when,” I cried out to him bitterly, “when
will that come to pass? and will it ever come to pass? Is not it
simply a dream of ours?”
“What then, you don’t believe it,” he said.
“You preach it and don’t believe it yourself. Believe
me, this dream, as you call it, will come to pass without doubt; it
will come, but not now, for every process has its law. It’s a
spiritual, psychological process. To transform the world, to
recreate it afresh, men must turn into another path
psychologically. Until you have become really, in actual fact, a
brother to everyone, brotherhood will not come to pass. No sort of
scientific teaching, no kind of common interest, will ever teach
men to share property and privileges with equal consideration for
all. Everyone will think his share too small and they will be
always envying, complaining and attacking one another. You ask when
it will come to pass; it will come to pass, but first we have to go
though the period of isolation.”
“What do you mean by isolation?” I asked him.
“Why, the isolation that prevails everywhere, above all in
our age — it has not fully developed, it has not reached its
limit yet. For everyone strives to keep his individuality as apart
as possible, wishes to secure the greatest possible fullness of
life for himself; but meantime all his efforts result not in
attaining fullness of life but self-destruction, for instead of
self-realisation he ends by arriving at complete solitude. All
mankind in our age have split up into units, they all keep apart,
each in his own groove; each one holds aloof, hides himself and
hides what he has, from the rest, and he ends by being repelled by
others and repelling them. He heaps up riches by himself and
thinks, ‘How strong I am now and how secure,’ and in
his madness he does not understand that the more he heaps up, the
more he sinks into self-destructive impotence. For he is accustomed
to rely upon himself alone and to cut himself off from the whole;
he has trained himself not to believe in the help of others, in men
and in humanity, and only trembles for fear he should lose his
money and the privileges that he has won for himself. Everywhere in
these days men have, in their mockery, ceased to understand that
the true security is to be found in social solidarity rather than
in isolated individual effort. But this terrible individualism must
inevitably have an end, and all will suddenly understand how
unnaturally they are separated from one another. It will be the
spirit of the time, and people will marvel that they have sat so
long in darkness without seeing the light. And then the sign of the
Son of Man will be seen in the heavens.... But, until then, we must
keep the banner flying. Sometimes even if he has to do it alone,
and his conduct seems to be crazy, a man must set an example, and
so draw men’s souls out of their solitude, and spur them to
some act of brotherly love, that the great idea may not
Our evenings, one after another, were spent in such stirring and
fervent talk. I gave up society and visited my neighbours much less
frequently. Besides, my vogue was somewhat over. I say this, not as
blame, for they still loved me and treated me good-humouredly, but
there’s no denying that fashion is a great power in society.
I began to regard my mysterious visitor with admiration, for
besides enjoying his intelligence, I began to perceive that he was
brooding over some plan in his heart, and was preparing himself
perhaps for a great deed. Perhaps he liked my not showing curiosity
about his secret, not seeking to discover it by direct question nor
by insinuation. But I noticed at last, that he seemed to show signs
of wanting to tell me something. This had become quite evident,
indeed, about a month after he first began to visit me.
“Do you know,” he said to me once, “that
people are very inquisitive about us in the town and wonder why I
come to see you so often. But let them wonder, for soon all will be
Sometimes an extraordinary agitation would come over him, and
almost always on such occasions he would get up and go away.
Sometimes he would fix a long piercing look upon me, and I thought,
“He will say something directly now.” But he would
suddenly begin talking of something ordinary and familiar. He often
complained of headache too.
One day, quite unexpectedly indeed, after he had been talking
with great fervour a long time, I saw him suddenly turn pale, and
his face worked convulsively, while he stared persistently at
“What’s the matter?” I said; “do you
feel ill?” — he had just been complaining of
“I... do you know... I murdered someone.”
He said this and smiled with a face as white as chalk.
“Why is it he is smiling?” The thought flashed through
my mind before I realised anything else. I too turned pale.
“What are you saying?” I cried.
“You see,” he said, with a pale smile, “how
much it has cost me to say the first word. Now I have said it, I
feel I’ve taken the first step and shall go on.”
For a long while I could not believe him, and I did not believe
him at that time, but only after he had been to see me three days
running and told me all about it. I thought he was mad, but ended
by being convinced, to my great grief and amazement. His crime was
a great and terrible one.
Fourteen years before, he had murdered the widow of a landowner,
a wealthy and handsome young woman who had a house in our town. He
fell passionately in love with her, declared his feeling and tried
to persuade her to marry him. But she had already given her heart
to another man, an officer of noble birth and high rank in the
service, who was at that time away at the front, though she was
expecting him soon to return. She refused his offer and begged him
not to come and see her. After he had ceased to visit her, he took
advantage of his knowledge of the house to enter at night through
the garden by the roof, at great risk of discovery. But, as often
happens, a crime committed with extraordinary audacity is more
successful than others.
Entering the garret through the skylight, he went down the
ladder, knowing that the door at the bottom of it was sometimes,
through the negligence of the servants, left unlocked. He hoped to
find it so, and so it was. He made his way in the dark to her
bedroom, where a light was burning. As though on purpose, both her
maids had gone off to a birthday party in the same street, without
asking leave. The other servants slept in the servants’
quarters or in the kitchen on the ground floor. His passion flamed
up at the sight of her asleep, and then vindictive, jealous anger
took possession of his heart, and like a drunken man, beside
himself, he thrust a knife into her heart, so that she did not even
cry out. Then with devilish and criminal cunning he contrived that
suspicion should fall on the servants. He was so base as to take
her purse, to open her chest with keys from under her pillow, and
to take some things from it, doing it all as it might have been
done by an ignorant servant, leaving valuable papers and taking
only money. He took some of the larger gold things, but left
smaller articles that were ten times as valuable. He took with him,
too, some things for himself as remembrances, but of that later.
Having done this awful deed. he returned by the way he had
Neither the next day, when the alarm was raised, nor at any time
after in his life, did anyone dream of suspecting that he was the
criminal. No one indeed knew of his love for her, for he was always
reserved and silent and had no friend to whom he would have opened
his heart. He was looked upon simply as an acquaintance, and not a
very intimate one, of the murdered woman, as for the previous
fortnight he had not even visited her. A serf of hers called Pyotr
was at once suspected, and every circumstance confirmed the
suspicion. The man knew — indeed his mistress did not conceal
the fact — that having to send one of her serfs as a recruit
she had decided to send him, as he had no relations and his conduct
was unsatisfactory. People had heard him angrily threatening to
murder her when he was drunk in a tavern. Two days before her
death, he had run away, staying no one knew where in the town. The
day after the murder, he was found on the road leading out of the
town, dead drunk, with a knife in his pocket, and his right hand
happened to be stained with blood. He declared that his nose had
been bleeding, but no one believed him. The maids confessed that
they had gone to a party and that the street door had been left
open till they returned. And a number of similar details came to
light, throwing suspicion on the innocent servant.
They arrested him, and he was tried for the murder; but a week
after the arrest, the prisoner fell sick of a fever and died
unconscious in the hospital. There the matter ended and the judges
and the authorities and everyone in the town remained convinced
that the crime had been committed by no one but the servant who had
died in the hospital. And after that the punishment began.
My mysterious visitor, now my friend, told me that at first he
was not in the least troubled by pangs of conscience. He was
miserable a long time, but not for that reason; only from regret
that he had killed the woman he loved, that she was no more, that
in killing her he had killed his love, while the fire of passion
was still in his veins. But of the innocent blood he had shed, of
the murder of a fellow creature, he scarcely thought. The thought
that his victim might have become the wife of another man was
insupportable to him, and so, for a long time, he was convinced in
his conscience that he could not have acted otherwise.
At first he was worried at the arrest of the servant, but his
illness and death soon set his mind at rest, for the man’s
death was apparently (so he reflected at the time) not owing to his
arrest or his fright, but a chill he had taken on the day he ran
away, when he had lain all night dead drunk on the damp ground. The
theft of the money and other things troubled him little, for he
argued that the theft had not been committed for gain but to avert
suspicion. The sum stolen was small, and he shortly afterwards
subscribed the whole of it, and much more, towards the funds for
maintaining an almshouse in the town. He did this on purpose to set
his conscience at rest about the theft, and it’s a remarkable
fact that for a long time he really was at peace — he told me
this himself. He entered then upon a career of great activity in
the service, volunteered for a difficult and laborious duty, which
occupied him two years, and being a man of strong will almost
forgot the past. Whenever he recalled it, he tried not to think of
it at all. He became active in philanthropy too, founded and helped
to maintain many institutions in the town, did a good deal in the
two capitals, and in both Moscow and Petersburg was elected a
member of philanthropic societies.
At last, however, he began brooding over the past, and the
strain of it was too much for him. Then he was attracted by a fine
and intelligent girl and soon after married her, hoping that
marriage would dispel his lonely depression, and that by entering
on a new life and scrupulously doing his duty to his wife and
children, he would escape from old memories altogether. But the
very opposite of what he expected happened. He began, even in the
first month of his marriage, to be continually fretted by the
thought, “My wife loves me— but what if she
knew?” When she first told him that she would soon bear him a
child, he was troubled. “I am giving life, but I have taken
life.” Children came. “How dare I love them, teach and
educate them, how can I talk to them of virtue? I have shed
blood.” They were splendid children, he longed to caress
them; “and I can’t look at their innocent candid faces,
I am unworthy.”
At last he began to be bitterly and ominously haunted by the
blood of his murdered victim, by the young life he had destroyed,
by the blood that cried out for vengeance. He had begun to have
awful dreams. But, being a man of fortitude, he bore his suffering
a long time, thinking: “I shall expiate everything by this
secret agony.” But that hope, too, was vain; the longer it
went on, the more intense was his suffering.
He was respected in society for his active benevolence, though
everyone was overawed by his stern and gloomy character. But the
more he was respected, the more intolerable it was for him. He
confessed to me that he had thoughts of killing himself. But he
began to be haunted by another idea — an idea which he had at
first regarded as impossible and unthinkable, though at last it got
such a hold on his heart that he could not shake it off. He dreamed
of rising up, going out and confessing in the face of all men that
he had committed murder. For three years this dream had pursued
him, haunting him in different forms. At last he believed with his
whole heart that if he confessed his crime, he would heal his soul
and would be at peace for ever. But this belief filled his heart
with terror, for how could he carry it out? And then came what
happened at my duel.
“Looking at you, I have made up my mind.”
I looked at him.
“Is it possible,” I cried, clasping my hands,
“that such a trivial incident could give rise to a resolution
“My resolution has been growing for the last three
years,” he answered, “and your story only gave the last
touch to it. Looking at you, I reproached myself and envied
you.” He said this to me almost sullenly.
“But you won’t be believed,” I observed;
“it’s fourteen years ago.”
“I have proofs, great proofs. I shall show
Then I cried and kissed him.
“Tell me one thing, one thing,” he said (as though
it all depended upon me), “my wife, my children! My wife may
die of grief, and though my children won’t lose their rank
and property, they’ll be a convict’s children and for
ever! And what a memory, what a memory of me I shall leave in their
I said nothing.
“And to part from them, to leave them for ever? It’s
for ever, you know, for ever!” I sat still and repeated a
silent prayer. I got up at last, I felt afraid.
“Well?” He looked at me.
“Go!” said I, “confess. Everything passes,
only the truth remains. Your children will understand, when they
grow up, the nobility of your resolution.”
He left me that time as though he had made up his mind. Yet for
more than a fortnight afterwards, he came to me every evening,
still preparing himself, still unable to bring himself to the
point. He made my heart ache. One day he would come determined and
“I know it will be heaven for me, heaven, the moment I
confess. Fourteen years I’ve been in hell. I want to suffer.
I will take my punishment and begin to live. You can pass through
the world doing wrong, but there’s no turning back. Now I
dare not love my neighbour nor even my own children. Good God, my
children will understand, perhaps, what my punishment has cost me
and will not condemn me! God is not in strength but in
“All will understand your sacrifice,” I said to him,
“if not at once, they will understand later; for you have
served truth, the higher truth, not of the earth.”
And he would go away seeming comforted, but next day he would
come again, bitter, pale, sarcastic.
“Every time I come to you, you look at me so inquisitively
as though to say, ‘He has still not confessed!’ Wait a
bit, don’t despise me too much. It’s not such an easy
thing to do as you would think. Perhaps I shall not do it at all.
You won’t go and inform against me then, will you?”
And far from looking at him with indiscreet curiosity, I was
afraid to look at him at all. I was quite ill from anxiety, and my
heart was full of tears. I could not sleep at night.
“I have just come from my wife,” he went on.
“Do you understand what the word ‘wife’ means?
When I went out, the children called to me, ‘Good-bye,
father, make haste back to read The Children’s Magazine with
us.’ No, you don’t understand that! No one is wise from
another man’s woe.”
His eyes were glittering, his lips were twitching. Suddenly he
struck the table with his fist so that everything on it danced
— it was the first time he had done such a thing, he was such
a mild man.
“But need I?” he exclaimed, “must I? No one
has been condemned, no one has been sent to Siberia in my place,
the man died of fever. And I’ve been punished by my
sufferings for the blood I shed. And I shan’t be believed,
they won’t believe my proofs. Need I confess, need I? I am
ready to go on suffering all my life for the blood I have shed, if
only my wife and children may be spared. Will it be just to ruin
them with me? Aren’t we making a mistake? What is right in
this case? And will people recognise it, will they appreciate it,
will they respect it?”
“Good Lord!” I thought to myself, “he is
thinking of other people’s respect at such a moment!”
And I felt so sorry for him then, that I believe I would have
shared his fate if it could have comforted him. I saw he was beside
himself. I was aghast, realising with my heart as well as my mind
what such a resolution meant.
“Decide my fate!” he exclaimed again.
“Go and confess,” I whispered to him. My voice
failed me, but I whispered it firmly. I took up the New Testament
from the table, the Russian translation, and showed him the Gospel
of St. John, chapter 12, verse 24:
“Verily, verily, I say unto you,
except a corn of wheat fall into
the ground and die, it abideth alone:
but if it die, it bringeth forth much fruit.”
I had just been reading that verse when he came in. He read
“That’s true,” he said, he smiled bitterly.
“It’s terrible the things you find in those
books,” he said, after a pause. “It’s easy enough
to thrust them upon one. And who wrote them? Can they have been
written by men?”
“The Holy Spirit wrote them,” said I.
“It’s easy for you to prate,” he smiled again,
this time almost with hatred.
I took the book again, opened it in another place and showed him
the Epistle to the Hebrews, chapter 10, verse 31. He read:
“It is a fearful thing to fall
into the hands of the living God.”
He read it and simply flung down the book. He was trembling all
“An awful text,” he said. “There’s no
denying you’ve picked out fitting ones.” He rose from
the chair. “Well!” he said, “good-bye, perhaps I
shan’t come again... we shall meet in heaven. So I have been
for fourteen years ‘in the hands of the living God,’
that’s how one must think of those fourteen years. To-morrow
I will beseech those hands to let me go.”
I wanted to take him in my arms and kiss him, but I did not dare
— his face was contorted add sombre. He went away.
“Good God,” I thought, “what has he gone to
face!” I fell on my knees before the ikon and wept for him
before the Holy Mother of God, our swift defender and helper. I was
half an hour praying in tears, and it was late, about midnight.
Suddenly I saw the door open and he came in again. I was
Where have you been?” I asked him.
“I think,” he said, “I’ve forgotten
something... my handkerchief, I think.... Well, even if I’ve
not forgotten anything, let me stay a little.”
He sat down. I stood over him.
“You sit down, too,” said he.
I sat down. We sat still for two minutes; he looked intently at
me and suddenly smiled. I remembered that — then he got up,
embraced me warmly and kissed me.
“Remember,” he said, “how I came to you a
second time. Do you hear, remember it!”
And he went out.
“To-morrow,” I thought.
And so it was. I did not know that evening that the next day was
his birthday. I had not been out for the last few days, so I had no
chance of hearing it from anyone. On that day he always had a great
gathering, everyone in the town went to it. It was the same this
time. After dinner he walked into the middle of the room, with a
paper in his hand — a formal declaration to the chief of his
department who was present. This declaration he read aloud to the
whole assembly. It contained a full account of the crime, in every
“I cut myself off from men as a monster. God has visited
me,” he said in conclusion. “I want to suffer for my
Then he brought out and laid on the table all the things he had
been keeping for fourteen years, that he thought would prove his
crime, the jewels belonging to the murdered woman which he had
stolen to divert suspicion, a cross and a locket taken from her
neck with a portrait of her betrothed in the locket, her notebook
and two letters; one from her betrothed, telling her that he would
soon be with her, and her unfinished answer left on the table to be
sent off next day. He carried off these two letters — what
for? Why had he kept them for fourteen years afterwards instead of
destroying them as evidence against him?
And this is what happened: everyone was amazed and horrified,
everyone refused to believe it and thought that he was deranged,
though all listened with intense curiosity. A few days later it was
fully decided and agreed in every house that the unhappy man was
mad. The legal authorities could not refuse to take the case up,
but they too dropped it. Though the trinkets and letters made them
ponder, they decided that even if they did turn out to be
authentic, no charge could be based on those alone. Besides, she
might have given him those things as a friend, or asked him to take
care of them for her. I heard afterwards, however, that the
genuineness of the things was proved by the friends and relations
of the murdered woman, and that there was no doubt about them. Yet
nothing was destined to come of it, after all.
Five days later, all had heard that he was ill and that his life
was in danger. The nature of his illness I can’t explain;
they said it was an affection of the heart. But it became known
that the doctors had been induced by his wife to investigate his
mental condition also, and had come to the conclusion that it was a
case of insanity. I betrayed nothing, though people ran to question
me. But when I wanted to visit him, I was for a long while
forbidden to do so, above all by his wife.
“It’s you who have caused his illness,” she
said to me; “he was always gloomy, but for the last year
people noticed that he was peculiarly excited and did strange
things, and now you have been the ruin of him. Your preaching has
brought him to this; for the last month he was always with
Indeed, not only his wife but the whole town were down upon me
and blamed me. “It’s all your doing,” they said.
I was silent and indeed rejoiced at heart, for I saw plainly
God’s mercy to the man who had turned against himself and
punished himself. I could not believe in his insanity.
They let me see him at last. he insisted upon saying good-bye to
me. I went in to him and saw at once, that not only his days, but
his hours were numbered. He was weak, yellow, his hands trembled,
he gasped for breath, but his face was full of tender and happy
“It is done!” he said. “I’ve long been
yearning to see you. Why didn’t you come?”
I did not tell him that they would not let me see him.
“God has had pity on me and is calling me to Himself. I
know I am dying, but I feel joy and peace for the first time after
so many years. There was heaven in my heart from the moment I had
done what I had to do. Now I dare to love my children and to kiss
them. Neither my wife nor the judges, nor anyone has believed it.
My children will never believe it either. I see in that God’s
mercy to them. I shall die, and my name will be without a stain for
them. And now I feel God near, my heart rejoices as in Heaven... I
have done my duty.”
He could not speak, he gasped for breath, he pressed my hand
warmly, looking fervently at me. We did not talk for long, his wife
kept peeping in at us. But he had time to whisper to me:
“Do you remember how I came back to you that second time,
at midnight? I told you to remember it. You know what I came back
for? I came to kill you!”
“I went out from you then into the darkness, I wandered
about the streets, struggling with myself. And suddenly I hated you
so that I could hardly bear it. Now, I thought, he is all that
binds me, and he is my judge. I can’t refuse to face my
punishment to-morrow, for he knows all. It was not that I was
afraid you would betray me (I never even thought of that), but I
thought, ‘How can I look him in the face if I don’t
confess?’ And if you had been at the other end of the earth,
but alive, it would have been all the same, the thought was
unendurable that you were alive knowing everything and condemning
me. I hated you as though you were the cause, as though you were to
blame for everything. I came back to you then, remembering that you
had a dagger lying on your table. I sat down and asked you to sit
down, and for a whole minute I pondered. If I had killed you, I
should have been ruined by that murder even if I had not confessed
the other. But I didn’t think about that at all, and I
didn’t want to think of it at that moment. I only hated you
and longed to revenge myself on you for everything. The Lord
vanquished the devil in my heart. But let me tell you, you were
never nearer death.”
A week later he died. The whole town followed him to the grave.
The chief priest made a speech full of feeling. All lamented the
terrible illness that had cut short his days. But all the town was
up in arms against me after the funeral, and people even refused to
see me. Some, at first a few and afterwards more, began indeed to
believe in the truth of his story, and they visited me and
questioned me with great interest and eagerness, for man loves to
see the downfall and disgrace of the righteous. But I held my
tongue, and very shortly after, I left the town, and five months
later by God’s grace I entered the safe and blessed path,
praising the unseen finger which had guided me so clearly to it.
But I remember in my prayer to this day, the servant of God,
Mihail, who suffered so greatly.