The Brothers Karamazov
A Little Demon
GOING in to Lise, he found her half reclining in the invalid-chair, in which she had been wheeled when she was unable to walk. She did not move to meet him, but her sharp, keen eyes were simply riveted on his face. There was a feverish look in her eyes, her face was pale and yellow. Alyosha was amazed at the change that had taken place in her in three days. She was positively thinner. She did not hold out her hand to him. He touched the thin, long fingers which lay motionless on her dress, then he sat down facing her, without a word.
“I know you are in a hurry to get to the prison,” Lise said curtly, “and mamma’s kept you there for hours; she’s just been telling you about me and Yulia.”
“How do you know?” asked Alyosha.
“I’ve been listening. Why do you stare at me? I want to listen and I do listen, there’s no harm in that. I don’t apologise.”
“You are upset about something?”
“On the contrary, I am very happy. I’ve only just been reflecting for the thirtieth time what a good thing it is I refused you and shall not be your wife. You are not fit to be a husband. If I were to marry you and give you a note to take to the man I loved after you, you’d take it and be sure to give it to him and bring an answer back, too. If you were forty, you would still go on taking my love-letters for me.”
She suddenly laughed.
“There is something spiteful and yet open-hearted about you,” Alyosha smiled to her.
“The open-heartedness consists in my not being ashamed of myself with you. What’s more, I don’t want to feel ashamed with you, just with you. Alyosha, why is it I don’t respect you? I am very fond of you, but I don’t respect you. If I respected you, I shouldn’t talk to you without shame, should I?”
“But do you believe that I am not ashamed with you?”
“No, I don’t believe it.”
Lise laughed nervously again; she spoke rapidly.
“I sent your brother, Dmitri Fyodorovitch, some sweets in prison. Alyosha, you know, you are quite pretty! I shall love you awfully for having so quickly allowed me not to love you.”
“Why did you send for me to-day, Lise?”
“I wanted to tell you of a longing I have. I should like some one to torture me, marry me and then torture me, deceive me and go away. I don’t want to be happy.”
“You are in love with disorder?”
“Yes, I want disorder. I keep wanting to set fire to the house. I keep imagining how I’ll creep up and set fire to the house on the sly; it must be on the sly. They’ll try to put it out, but it’ll go on burning. And I shall know and say nothing. Ah, what silliness! And how bored I am!”
She waved her hand with a look of repulsion.
“It’s your luxurious life,” said Alyosha, softly”
“Is it better, then, to be poor?”
“Yes, it is better.”
“That’s what your monk taught you. That’s not true. Let me be rich and all the rest poor, I’ll eat sweets and drink cream and not give any to anyone else. Ach, don’t speak, don’t say anything”; she shook her hand at him, though Alyosha had not opened his mouth. “You’ve told me all that before, I know it all by heart. It bores me. If I am ever poor, I shall murder somebody, and even if I am rich, I may murder someone, perhaps — why do nothing! But do you know, I should like to reap, cut the rye? I’ll marry you, and you shall become a peasant, a real peasant; we’ll keep a colt, shall we? Do you know Kalganov?”
“He is always wandering about, dreaming. He says, ‘Why live in real life? It’s better to dream. One can dream the most delightful things, but real life is a bore.’ But he’ll be married soon for all that; he’s been making love to me already. Can you spin tops?”
“Well, he’s just like a top: he wants to be wound up and set spinning and then to be lashed, lashed, lashed with a whip. If I marry him, I’ll keep him spinning all his life. You are not ashamed to be with me?”
“You are awfully cross, because I don’t talk about holy things. I don’t want to be holy. What will they do to one in the next world for the greatest sin? You must know all about that.”
“God will censure you.” Alyosha was watching her steadily.
“That’s just what I should like. I would go up and they would censure me, and I would burst out laughing in their faces. I should dreadfully like to set fire to the house, Alyosha, to our house; you still don’t believe me?”
“Why? There are children of twelve years old, who have a longing to set fire to something and they do set things on fire, too. It’s a sort of disease.”
“That’s not true, that’s not true; there may be children, but that’s not what I mean.”
“You take evil for good; it’s a passing crisis; it’s the result of your illness, perhaps.”
“You do despise me, though! It’s simply that I don’t want to do good, I want to do evil, and it has nothing to do with illness.”
“Why do evil?”
“So that everything might be destroyed. Ah, how nice it would be if everything were destroyed! You know, Alyosha, I sometimes think of doing a fearful lot of harm and everything bad, and I should do it for a long while on the sly and suddenly everyone would find it out. Everyone will stand round and point their fingers at me and I would look at them all. That would be awfully nice. Why would it be so nice, Alyosha?”
“I don’t know. It’s a craving to destroy something good or, as you say, to set fire to something. It happens sometimes.”
“I not only say it, I shall do it.”
“I believe you.”
“Ah, how I love you for saying you believe me. And you are not lying one little bit. But perhaps you think that I am saying all this on purpose to annoy you?”
“No, I don’t think that... though perhaps there is a little desire to do that in it, too.”
“There is a little. I never can tell lies to you,” she declared, with a strange fire in her eyes.
What struck Alyosha above everything was her earnestness. There was not a trace of humour or jesting in her face now, though, in old days, fun and gaiety never deserted her even at her most “earnest” moments.
“There are moments when people love crime,” said Alyosha thoughtfully.
“Yes, yes! You have uttered my thought; they love crime, everyone loves crime, they love it always, not at some ‘moments.’ You know, it’s as though people have made an agreement to lie about it and have lied about it ever since. They all declare that they hate evil, but secretly they all love it.”
“And are you still reading nasty books?”
“Yes, I am. Mamma reads them and hides them under her pillow and I steal them.”
“Aren’t you ashamed to destroy yourself?”
“I want to destroy myself. There’s a boy here, who lay down between the railway lines when the train was passing. Lucky fellow! Listen, your brother is being tried now for murdering his father and everyone loves his having killed his father.”
“Loves his having killed his father?”
“Yes, loves it; everyone loves it! Everybody says it’s so awful, but secretly they simply love it. I for one love it.”
“There is some truth in what you say about everyone,” said Alyosha softly.
“Oh, what ideas you have!” Lise shrieked in delight. “And you a monk, too! You wouldn’t believe how I respect you, Alyosha, for never telling lies. Oh, I must tell you a funny dream of mine. I sometimes dream of devils. It’s night; I am in my room with a candle and suddenly there are devils all over the place, in all the corners, under the table, and they open the doors; there’s a crowd of them behind the doors and they want to come and seize me. And they are just coming, just seizing me. But I suddenly cross myself and they all draw back, though they don’t go away altogether, they stand at the doors and in the corners, waiting. And suddenly I have a frightful longing to revile God aloud, and so I begin, and then they come crowding back to me, delighted, and seize me again and I cross myself again and they all draw back. It’s awful fun, it takes one’s breath away.”
“I’ve had the same dream, too,” said Alyosha suddenly.
“Really?” cried Lise, surprised. “I say, Alyosha, don’t laugh, that’s awfully important. Could two different people have the same dream?”
“It seems they can.”
“Alyosha, I tell you, it’s awfully important,” Lise went on, with really excessive amazement. “It’s not the dream that’s important, but your having the same dream as me. You never lie to me, don’t lie now; is it true? You are not laughing?”
Lise seemed extraordinarily impressed and for half a minute she was silent.
“Alyosha, come and see me, come and see me more often,” she said suddenly, in a supplicating voice.
“I’ll always come to see you, all my life,” answered Alyosha firmly.
“You are the only person I can talk to, you know,” Lise began again. “I talk to no one but myself and you. Only you in the whole world. And to you more readily than to myself. And I am not a bit ashamed with you, not a bit. Alyosha, why am I not ashamed with you, not a bit? Alyosha, is it true that at Easter the Jews steal a child and kill it?”
“I don’t know.”
“There’s a book here in which I read about the trial of a Jew, who took a child of four years old and cut off the fingers from both hands, and then crucified him on the wall, hammered nails into him and crucified him, and afterwards, when he was tried, he said that the child died soon, within four hours. That was ‘soon’! He said the child moaned, kept on moaning and he stood admiring it. That’s nice!”
“Nice; I sometimes imagine that it was I who crucified him. He would hang there moaning and I would sit opposite him eating pineapple compote. I am awfully fond of pineapple compote. Do you like it?”
Alyosha looked at her in silence. Her pale, sallow face was suddenly contorted, her eyes burned.
“You know, when I read about that Jew I shook with sobs all night. I kept fancying how the little thing cried and moaned (a child of four years old understands, you know), and all the while the thought of pineapple compote haunted me. In the morning I wrote a letter to a certain person, begging him particularly to come and see me. He came and I suddenly told him all about the child and the pineapple compote. All about it, all, and said that it was nice. He laughed and said it really was nice. Then he got up and went away. He was only here five minutes. Did he despise me? Did he despise me? Tell me, tell me, Alyosha, did he despise me or not?” She sat up on the couch, with flashing eyes.
“Tell me,” Alyosha asked anxiously, “did you send for that person?”
“Yes, I did.”
“Did you send him a letter?”
“Simply to ask about that, about that child?”
“No, not about that at all. But when he came, I asked him about that at once. He answered, laughed, got up and went away.”
“That person behaved honourably,” Alyosha murmured.
“And did he despise me? Did he laugh at me?”
“No, for perhaps he believes in the pineapple compote himself. He is very ill now, too, Lise.”
“Yes, he does believe in it,” said Lise, with flashing eyes.
“He doesn’t despise anyone,” Alyosha went on. “Only he does not believe anyone. If he doesn’t believe in people, of course, he does despise them.”
“Then he despises me, me?”
“Good.” Lise seemed to grind her teeth. “When he went out laughing, I felt that it was nice to be despised. The child with fingers cut off is nice, and to be despised is nice...”
And she laughed in Alyosha’s face, a feverish malicious laugh.
“Do you know, Alyosha, do you know, I should like — Alyosha, save me!” She suddenly jumped from the couch, rushed to him and seized him with both hands. “Save me!” she almost groaned. “Is there anyone in the world I could tell what I’ve told you? I’ve told you the truth, the truth. I shall kill myself, because I loathe everything! I don’t want to live, because I loathe everything! I loathe everything, everything. Alyosha, why don’t you love me in the least?” she finished in a frenzy.
“But I do love you!” answered Alyosha warmly.
“And will you weep over me, will you?”
“Not because I won’t be your wife, but simply weep for me?”
“Thank you! It’s only your tears I want. Everyone else may punish me and trample me under foot, everyone, everyone, not excepting anyone. For I don’t love anyone. Do you hear, not anyone! On the contrary, I hate him! Go, Alyosha; it’s time you went to your brother”; she tore herself away from him suddenly.
“How can I leave you like this?” said Alyosha, almost in alarm.
“Go to your brother, the prison will be shut; go, here’s your hat. Give my love to Mitya, go, go!”
And she almost forcibly pushed Alyosha out of the door. He looked at her with pained surprise, when he was suddenly aware of a letter in his right hand, a tiny letter folded up tight and sealed. He glanced at it and instantly read the address, “To Ivan Fyodorovitch Karamazov.” He looked quickly at Lise. Her face had become almost menacing.
“Give it to him, you must give it to him!” she ordered him, trembling and beside herself. “To-day, at once, or I’ll poison myself! That’s why I sent for you.”
And she slammed the door quickly. The bolt clicked. Alyosha put the note in his pocket and went straight downstairs, without going back to Madame Hohlakov; forgetting her, in fact. As soon as Alyosha had gone, Lise unbolted the door, opened it a little, put her finger in the crack and slammed the door with all her might, pinching her finger. Ten seconds after, releasing her finger, she walked softly, slowly to her chair, sat up straight in it and looked intently at her blackened finger and at the blood that oozed from under the nail. Her lips were quivering and she kept whispering rapidly to herself:
“I am a wretch, wretch, wretch, wretch!”