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Existentialism
Fyodor Dostoyevsky (1821 - 1881)
Crime and Punishment
translated by Constance Garnett



Fyodor Dostoevsky
- Life
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- the brothers karamazov
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Chapter Seven

-

THE DOOR was as before opened a tiny crack, and again two sharp

and suspicious eyes stared at him out of the darkness. Then

Raskolnikov lost his head and nearly made a great mistake.

Fearing the old woman would be frightened by their being alone,

and not hoping that the sight of him would disarm her suspicions, he

took hold of the door and drew it towards him to prevent the old woman

from attempting to shut it again. Seeing this she did not pull the

door back, but she did not let go the handle so that he almost dragged

her out with it on to the stairs. Seeing that she was standing in

the doorway not allowing him to pass, he advanced straight upon her.

She stepped back in alarm, tried to say something, but seemed unable

to speak and stared with open eyes at him.

"Good evening, Alyona Ivanovna," he began, trying to speak easily,

but his voice would not obey him, it broke and shook. "I have

come... I have brought something... but we'd better come in... to

the light...."

And leaving her, he passed straight into the room uninvited. The old

woman ran after him; her tongue was unloosed.

"Good heavens! What it is? Who is it? What do you want?"

"Why, Alyona Ivanovna, you know me... Raskolnikov... here, I brought

you the pledge I promised the other day..." and he held out the

pledge.

The old woman glanced for a moment at the pledge, but at once stared

in the eyes of her uninvited visitor. She looked intently, maliciously

and mistrustfully. A minute passed; he even fancied something like a

sneer in her eyes, as though she had already guessed everything. He

felt that he was losing his head, that he was almost frightened, so

frightened that if she were to look like that and not say a word for

another half minute, he thought he would have run away from her.

"Why do you look at me as though you did not know me?" he said

suddenly, also with malice. "Take it if you like, if not I'll go

elsewhere, I am in a hurry."

He had not even thought of saying this, but it was suddenly said

of itself. The old woman recovered herself, and her visitor's resolute

tone evidently restored her confidence.

"But why, my good sir, all of a minute.... What is it?" she asked,

looking at the pledge.

"The silver cigarette case; I spoke of it last time, you know."

She held out her hand.

"But how pale you are, to be sure... and your hands are trembling

too? Have you been bathing, or what?"

"Fever," he answered abruptly. "You can't help getting pale... if

you've nothing to eat," he added, with difficulty articulating the

words.

His strength was failing him again. But his answer sounded like

the truth; the old woman took the pledge.

"What is it?" she asked once more, scanning Raskolnikov intently,

and weighing the pledge in her hand.

"A thing... cigarette case.... Silver.... Look at it."

"It does not seem somehow like silver.... How he has wrapped it up!"

Trying to untie the string and turning to the window, to the light

(all her windows were shut, in spite of the stifling heat), she left

him altogether for some seconds and stood with her back to him. He

unbuttoned his coat and freed the axe from the noose, but did not

yet take it out altogether, simply holding it in his right hand

under the coat. His hands were fearfully weak, he felt them every

moment growing more numb and more wooden. He was afraid he would let

the axe slip and fall.... A sudden giddiness came over him.

"But what has he tied it up like this for?" the old woman cried with

vexation and moved towards him.

He had not a minute more to lose. He pulled the axe quite out, swung

it with both arms, scarcely conscious of himself, and almost without

effort, almost mechanically, brought the blunt side down on her

head. He seemed not to use his own strength in this. But as soon as he

had once brought the axe down, his strength returned to him.

The old woman was as always bareheaded. Her thin, light hair,

streaked with grey, thickly smeared with grease, was plaited in a

rat's tail and fastened by a broken horn comb which stood out on the

nape of her neck. As she was so short, the blow fell on the very top

of her skull. She cried out, but very faintly, and suddenly sank all

of a heap on the floor, raising her hands to her head. In one hand she

still held "the pledge." Then he dealt her another and another blow

with the blunt side and on the same spot. The blood gushed as from

an overturned glass, the body fell back. He stepped back, let it fall,

and at once bent over her face; she was dead. Her eyes seemed to be

starting out of their sockets, the brow and the whole face were

drawn and contorted convulsively.

He laid the axe on the ground near the dead body and felt at once in

her pocket (trying to avoid the streaming body)- the same right hand

pocket from which she had taken the key on his last visit. He was in

full possession of his faculties, free from confusion or giddiness,

but his hands were still trembling. He remembered afterwards that he

had been particularly collected and careful, trying all the time not

to get smeared with blood.... He pulled out the keys at once, they

were all, as before, in one bunch on a steel ring. He ran at once into

the bedroom with them. It was a very small room with a whole shrine of

holy images. Against the other wall stood a big bed, very clean and

covered with a silk patchwork wadded quilt. Against a third wall was a

chest of drawers. Strange to say, so soon as he began to fit the

keys into the chest, so soon as he heard their jingling, a

convulsive shudder passed over him. He suddenly felt tempted again

to give it all up and go away. But that was only for an instant; it

was too late to go back. He positively smiled at himself, when

suddenly another terrifying idea occurred to his mind. He suddenly

fancied that the old woman might be still alive and might recover

her senses. Leaving the keys in the chest, he ran back to the body,

snatched up the axe and lifted it once more over the old woman, but

did not bring it down. There was no doubt that she was dead. Bending

down and examining her again more closely, he saw clearly that the

skull was broken and even battered in on one side. He was about to

feel it with his finger, but drew back his hand and indeed it was

evident without that. Meanwhile there was a perfect pool of blood. All

at once he noticed a string on her neck; he tugged at it, but the

string was strong and did not snap and besides, it was soaked with

blood. He tried to pull it out from the front of the dress, but

something held it and prevented its coming. In his impatience he

raised the axe again to cut the string from above on the body, but did

not dare, and with difficulty, smearing his hand and the axe in the

blood, after two minutes' hurried effort, he cut the string and took

it off without touching the body with the axe; he was not mistaken- it

was a purse. On the string were two crosses, one of Cyprus wood and

one of copper, and an image in silver filigree, and with them a

small greasy chamois leather purse with a steel rim and ring. The

purse was stuffed very full; Raskolnikov thrust it in his pocket

without looking at it, flung the crosses on the old woman's body and

rushed back into the bedroom, this time taking the axe with him.

He was in terrible haste, he snatched the keys, and began trying

them again. But he was unsuccessful. They would not fit in the

locks. It was not so much that his hands were shaking, but that he

kept making mistakes; though he saw for instance that a key was not

the right one and would not fit, still he tried to put it in. Suddenly

he remembered and realised that the big key with the deep notches,

which was hanging there with the small keys could not possibly

belong to the chest of drawers (on his last visit this had struck

him), but to some strong box, and that everything perhaps was hidden

in that box. He left the chest of drawers, and at once felt under

the bedstead, knowing that old women usually keep boxes under their

beds. And so it was; there was a good-sized box under the bed, at

least a yard in length, with an arched lid covered with red leather

and studded with steel nails. The notched key fitted at once and

unlocked it. At the top, under a white sheet, was a coat of red

brocade lined with hareskin; under it was a silk dress, then a shawl

and it seemed as though there was nothing below but clothes. The first

thing he did was to wipe his blood-stained hands on the red brocade.

"It's red, and on red blood will be less noticeable," the thought

passed through his mind; then he suddenly came to himself. "Good

God, am I going out of my senses?" he thought with terror.

But no sooner did he touch the clothes than a gold watch slipped

from under the fur coat. He made haste to turn them all over. There

turned out to be various articles made of gold among the

clothes-probably all pledges, unredeemed or waiting to be redeemed-

bracelets, chains, ear-rings, pins and such things. Some were in

cases, others simply wrapped in newspaper, carefully and exactly

folded, and tied round with tape. Without any delay, he began

filling up the pockets of his trousers and overcoat without

examining or undoing the parcels and cases; but he had not time to

take many....

He suddenly heard steps in the room where the old woman lay. He

stopped short and was still as death. But all was quiet, so it must

have been his fancy. All at once he heard distinctly a faint cry, as

though some one had uttered a low broken moan. Then again dead silence

for a minute or two. He sat squatting on his heels by the box and

waited holding his breath. Suddenly he jumped up, seized the axe and

ran out of the bedroom.

In the middle of the room stood Lizaveta with a big bundle in her

arms. She was gazing in stupefaction at her murdered sister, white

as a sheet and seeming not to have the strength to cry out. Seeing him

run out of the bedroom, she began faintly quivering all over, like a

leaf, a shudder ran down her face; she lifted her hand, opened her

mouth, but still did not scream. She began slowly backing away from

him into the corner, staring intently, persistently at him, but

still uttered no sound, as though she could not get breath to

scream. He rushed at her with the axe; her mouth twitched piteously,

as one sees babies' mouths, when they begin to be frightened, stare

intently at what frightens them and are on the point of screaming. And

this hapless Lizaveta was so simple and had been so thoroughly crushed

and scared that she did not even raise a hand to guard her face,

though that was the most necessary and natural action at the moment,

for the axe was raised over her face. She only put up her empty left

hand, but not to her face, slowly holding it out before her as

though motioning him away. The axe fell with the sharp edge just on

the skull and split at one blow all the top of the head. She fell

heavily at once. Raskolnikov completely lost his head, snatched up her

bundle, dropped it again and ran into the entry.

Fear gained more and more mastery over him, especially after this

second, quite unexpected murder. He longed to run away from the

place as fast as possible. And if at that moment he had been capable

of seeing and reasoning more correctly, if he had been able to realise

all the difficulties of his position, the hopelessness, the

hideousness and the absurdity of it, if he could have understood how

many obstacles and, perhaps, crimes he had still to overcome or to

commit, to get out of that place and to make his way home, it is

very possible that he would have flung up everything, and would have

gone to give himself up, and not from fear, but from simple horror and

loathing of what he had done. The feeling of loathing especially

surged up within him and grew stronger every minute. He would not

now have gone to the box or even into the room for anything in the

world.

But a sort of blankness, even dreaminess had begun by degrees to

take possession of him; at moments he forgot himself, or rather,

forgot what was of importance, and caught at trifles. Glancing,

however, into the kitchen and seeing a bucket half full of water on

a bench, he bethought him of washing his hands and the axe. His

hands were sticky with blood. He dropped the axe with the blade in the

water, snatched a piece of soap that lay in a broken saucer on the

window, and began washing his hands in the bucket. When they were

clean, he took out the axe, washed the blade and spent a long time,

about three minutes, washing the wood where there were spots of

blood rubbing them with soap. Then he wiped it all with some linen

that was hanging to dry on a line in the kitchen and then he was a

long while attentively examining the axe at the window. There was no

trace left on it, only the wood was still damp. He carefully hung

the axe in the noose under his coat. Then as far as was possible, in

the dim light in the kitchen, he looked over his overcoat, his

trousers and his boots. At the first glance there seemed to be nothing

but stains on the boots. He wetted the rag and rubbed the boots. But

he knew he was not looking thoroughly, that there might be something

quite noticeable that he was overlooking. He stood in the middle of

the room, lost in thought. Dark agonising ideas rose in his mind-

the idea that he was mad and that at that moment he was incapable of

reasoning, of protecting himself, that he ought perhaps to be doing

something utterly different from what he was now doing. "Good God!" he

muttered "I must fly, fly," and he rushed into the entry. But here a

shock of terror awaited him such as he had never known before.

He stood and gazed and could not believe his eyes: the door, the

outer door from the stairs, at which he had not long before waited and

rung, was standing unfastened and at least six inches open. No lock,

no bolt, all the time, all that time! The old woman had not shut it

after him perhaps as a precaution. But, good God! Why, he had seen

Lizaveta afterwards! And how could he, how could he have failed to

reflect that she must have come in somehow! She could not have come

through the wall!

He dashed to the door and fastened the latch.

"But no, the wrong thing again. I must get away, get away...."

He unfastened the latch, opened the door and began listening on

the staircase.

He listened a long time. Somewhere far away, it might be in the

gateway, two voices were loudly and shrilly shouting, quarrelling

and scolding. "What are they about?" He waited patiently. At last

all was still, as though suddenly cut off; they had separated. He

was meaning to go out, but suddenly, on the floor below, a door was

noisily opened and some one began going downstairs humming a tune.

"How is it they all make such a noise!" flashed through his mind. Once

more he closed the door and waited. At last all was still, not a

soul stirring. He was just taking a step towards the stairs when he

heard fresh footsteps.

The steps sounded very far off, at the very bottom of the stairs,

but he remembered quite clearly and distinctly that from the first

sound he began for some reason to suspect that this was some one

coming there, to the fourth floor, to the old woman. Why? Were the

sounds somehow peculiar, significant? The steps were heavy, even and

unhurried. Now he had passed the first floor, now he was mounting

higher, it was growing more and more distinct! He could hear his heavy

breathing. And now the third storey had been reached. Coming here! And

it seemed to him all at once that he was turned to stone, that it

was like a dream in which one is being pursued, nearly caught and will

be killed, and is rooted to the spot and cannot even move one's arms.

At last when the unknown was mounting to the fourth floor, he

suddenly started, and succeeded in slipping neatly and quickly back

into the flat and closing the door behind him. Then he took the hook

and softly, noiselessly, fixed it in the catch. Instinct helped him.

When he had done this, he crouched holding his breath, by the door.

The unknown visitor was by now also at the door. They were now

standing opposite one another, as he had just before been standing

with the old woman, when the door divided them and he was listening.

The visitor panted several times. "He must be a big, fat man,"

thought Raskolnikov, squeezing the axe in his hand. It seemed like a

dream indeed. The visitor took hold of the bell and rang loudly.

As soon as the tin bell tinkled, Raskolnikov seemed to be aware of

something moving in the room. For some seconds he listened quite

seriously. The unknown rang again, waited and suddenly tugged

violently and impatiently at the handle of the door. Raskolnikov gazed

in horror at the hook shaking in its fastening, and in blank terror

expected every minute that the fastening would be pulled out. It

certainly did seem possible, so violently was he shaking it. He was

tempted to hold the fastening, but he might be aware of it. A

giddiness came over him again. "I shall fall down!" flashed through

his mind, but the unknown began to speak and he recovered himself at

once.

"What's up? Are they asleep or murdered? D-damn them!" he bawled

in a thick voice, "Hey, Alyona Ivanovna, old witch! Lizaveta Ivanovna,

hey, my beauty! open the door! Oh, damn them! Are they asleep or

what?"

And again, enraged, he tugged with all his might a dozen times at

the bell. He must certainly be a man of authority and an intimate

acquaintance.

At this moment light hurried steps were heard not far off, on the

stairs. Some one else was approaching. Raskolnikov had not heard

them at first.

"You don't say there's no one at home," the new-comer cried in a

cheerful, ringing voice, addressing the first visitor, who still

went on pulling the bell. "Good evening, Koch."

"From his voice he must be quite young," thought Raskolnikov.

"Who the devil can tell? I've almost broken the lock," answered

Koch. "But how do you come to know me?

"Why! The day before yesterday I beat you three times running at

billiards at Gambrinus'."

"Oh!"

"So they are not at home? That's queer? It's awfully stupid

though. Where could the old woman have gone? I've come on business."

"Yes; and I have business with her, too."

"Well, what can we do? Go back, I suppose, Aie-aie! And I was hoping

to get some money!" cried the young man.

"We must give it up, of course, but what did she fix this time

for? The old witch fixed the time for me to come herself. It's out

of my way. And where the devil she can have got to, I can't make

out. She sits here from year's end to year's end, the old hag; her

legs are bad and yet here all of a sudden she is out for a walk!"

"Hadn't we better ask the porter?"

"What?"

"Where she's gone and when she'll be back."

"Hm.... Damn it all!... We might ask.... But you know she never does

go anywhere."

And he once more tugged at the door-handle.

"Damn it all. There's nothing to be done, we must go!"

"Stay!" cried the young man suddenly. "Do you see how the door

shakes if you pull it?"

"Well?"

"That shows it's not locked, but fastened with the hook! Do you hear

how the hook clanks?"

"Well?"

"Why, don't you see? That proves that one of them is at home. If

they were all out, they would have locked the door from the outside

with the key and not with the hook from inside. There, do you hear how

the hook is clanking? To fasten the hook on the inside they must be at

home, don't you see. So there they are sitting inside and don't open

the door!"

"Well! And so they must be!" cried Koch, astonished. "What are

they about in there!" And he began furiously shaking the door.

"Stay!" cried the young man again. "Don't pull at it! There must

be something wrong..... Here, you've been ringing and pulling at the

door and still they don't open! So either they've both fainted or..."

"What?"

"I tell you what. Let's go fetch the porter, let him wake them up."

"All right."

Both were going down.

"Stay. You stop here while I run down for the porter."

"What for?"

"Well, you'd better."

"All right."

"I'm studying the law you see! It's evident, e-vi-dent there's

something wrong here!" the young man cried hotly, and he ran

downstairs.

Koch remained. Once more he softly touched the bell which gave one

tinkle, then gently, as though reflecting and looking about him, began

touching the door-handle pulling it and letting it go to make sure

once more that it was only fastened by the hook. Then puffing and

panting he bent down and began looking at the keyhole; but the key was

in the lock on the inside and so nothing could be seen.

Raskolnikov stood keeping tight hold of the axe. He was in a sort of

delirium. He was even making ready to fight when they should come

in. While they were knocking and talking together, the idea several

times occurred to him to end it all at once and shout to them

through the door. Now and then he was tempted to swear at them, to

jeer at them, while they could not open the door! "Only make haste!"

was the thought that flashed through his mind.

"But what the devil is he about?..." Time was passing, one minute,

and another- no one came. Koch began to be restless.

"What the devil?" he cried suddenly and in impatience deserting

his sentry duty, he, too, went down, hurrying and thumping his heavy

boots on the stairs. The steps died away.

"Good heavens! What am I to do?"

Raskolnikov unfastened the hook, opened the door- there was no

sound. Abruptly, without any thought at all, he went out, closing

the door as thoroughly as he could, and went downstairs.

He had gone down three flights when he suddenly heard a loud voice

below- where could he go! There was nowhere to hide. He was just going

back to the flat.

"Hey there! Catch the brute!"

Somebody dashed out of a flat below, shouting, and rather fell

than ran down the stairs, bawling at the top of his voice.

"Mitka! Mitka! Mitka! Mitka! Mitka! Blast him!"

The shout ended in a shriek; the last sounds came from the yard; all

was still. But at the same instant several men talking loud and fast

began noisily mounting the stairs. There were three or four of them.

He distinguished the ringing voice of the young man. "They!"

Filled with despair he went straight to meet them, feeling "come

what must!" If they stopped him- all was lost; if they let him pass-

all was lost too; they would remember him. They were approaching; they

were only a flight from him- and suddenly deliverance! A few steps

from him on the right, there was an empty flat with the door wide

open, the flat on the second floor where the painters had been at

work, and which, as though for his benefit, they had just left. It was

they, no doubt, who had just run down, shouting. The floor had only

just been painted, in the middle of the room stood a pail and a broken

pot with paint and brushes. In one instant he had whisked in at the

open door and hidden behind the wall and only in the nick of time;

they had already reached the landing. Then they turned and went on

up to the fourth floor, talking loudly. He waited, went out on

tiptoe and ran down the stairs.

No one was on the stairs, nor in the gateway. He passed quickly

through the gateway and turned to the left in the street.

He knew, he knew perfectly well that at that moment they were at the

flat, that they were greatly astonished at finding it unlocked, as the

door had just been fastened, that by now they were looking at the

bodies, that before another minute had passed they would guess and

completely realise that the murderer had just been there, and had

succeeded in hiding somewhere, slipping by them and escaping. They

would guess most likely that he had been in the empty flat, while they

were going upstairs. And meanwhile he dared not quicken his pace much,

though the next turning was still nearly a hundred yards away. "Should

he slip through some gateway and wait somewhere in an unknown

street? No, hopeless! Should he fling away the axe? Should he take a

cab? Hopeless, hopeless!"

At last he reached the turning. He turned down it more dead than

alive. Here he was half way to safety, and here understood it; it

was less risky because there was a great crowd of people, and he was

lost in it like a grain of sand. But all he had suffered had so

weakened him that he could scarcely move. Perspiration ran down him in

drops, his neck was all wet. "My word, he has been going it!" some one

shouted at him when he came out on the canal bank.

He was only dimly conscious of himself now, and the farther he

went the worse it was. He remembered however, that on coming out on to

the canal bank, he was alarmed at finding few people there and so

being more conspicuous, and he had thought of turning back. Though

he was almost falling from fatigue, he went a long way round so as

to get home from quite a different direction.

He was not fully conscious when he passed through the gateway of his

house! he was already on the staircase before he recollected the

axe. And yet he had a very grave problem before him, to put it back

and to escape observation as far as possible in doing so. He was of

course incapable of reflecting that it might perhaps be far better not

to restore the axe at all, but to drop it later on in somebody's yard.

But it all happened fortunately, the door of the porter's room was

closed but not locked, so that it seemed most likely that the porter

was at home. But he had so completely lost all power of reflection

that he walked straight to the door and opened it. If the porter had

asked him "What do you want?" he would perhaps have simply handed

him the axe. But again the porter was not at home, and he succeeded in

putting the axe back under the bench, and even covering it with the

chunk of wood as before. He met no one, not a soul, afterwards on

the way to his room; the landlady's door was shut. When he was in

his room, he flung himself on the sofa just as he was- he did not

sleep, but sank into blank forgetfulness. If any one had come into his

room then, he would have jumped up at once and screamed. Scraps and

shreds of thoughts were simply swarming in his brain, but he could not

catch at one, he could not rest on one, in spite of all his

efforts....


Ce qu'on fait n'est jamais compris mais seulement loué ou blâmé. Nietzsche, Gay Science

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