Part One. I

At the beginning of July, during an extremely hot spell, towards evening, a young man left the closet he rented from tenants in S——y Lane, walked out to the street, and slowly, as if indecisively, headed for the K——n Bridge.

He had safely avoided meeting his landlady on the stairs. His closet was located just under the roof of a tall, five-storied house, and was more like a cupboard than a room. As for the landlady, from whom he rented this closet with dinner and maid-service included, she lived one flight below, in separate rooms, and every time he went out he could not fail to pass by the landlady’s kitchen, the door of which almost always stood wide open to the stairs. And each time he passed by, the young man felt some painful and cowardly sensation, which made him wince with shame. He was over his head in debt to the landlady and was afraid of meeting her.

It was not that he was so cowardly and downtrodden, even quite the contrary; but for some time he had been in an irritable and tense state, resembling hypochondria. He was so immersed in himself and had isolated himself so much from everyone that he was afraid not only of meeting his landlady but of meeting anyone at all. He was crushed by poverty; but even his strained circumstances had lately ceased to burden him. He had entirely given up attending to his daily affairs and did not want to attend to them. As a matter of fact, he was not afraid of any landlady, whatever she might be plotting against him. But to stop on the stairs, to listen to all sorts of nonsense about this commonplace rubbish, which he could not care less about, all this badgering for payment, these threats and complaints, and to have to dodge all the while, make excuses, lie—oh, no, better to steal catlike down the stairs somehow and slip away unseen by anyone.

This time, however, as he walked out to the street, even he was struck by his fear of meeting his creditor.

“I want to attempt such a thing, and at the same time I’m afraid of such trifles!” he thought with a strange smile. “Hm…yes…man has it all in his hands, and it all slips through his fingers from sheer cowardice…That is an axiom…I wonder, what are people most afraid of? A new step, their own new word, that’s what they’re most afraid of…I babble too much, however. That’s why I don’t do anything, because I babble. However, maybe it’s like this: I babble because I don’t do anything. I’ve learned to babble over this past month, lying in a corner day in and day out, thinking about…cuckooland. Why on earth am I going now? Am I really capable of that? Is that something serious? No, not serious at all. I’m just toying with it, for the sake of fantasy. A plaything! Yes, a plaything, if you like!”

It was terribly hot out, and moreover it was close, crowded; lime, scaffolding, bricks, dust everywhere, and that special summer stench known so well to every Petersburger who cannot afford to rent a summer house—all at once these things unpleasantly shook the young man’s already overwrought nerves. The intolerable stench from the taverns, especially numerous in that part of the city, and the drunkards he kept running into even though it was a weekday, completed the loathsome and melancholy coloring of the picture. A feeling of the deepest revulsion flashed for a moment in the young man’s fine features. Incidentally, he was remarkably good-looking, taller than average, slender and trim, with beautiful dark eyes and dark blond hair. But soon he lapsed as if into deep thought, or even, more precisely, into some sort of oblivion, and walked on no longer noticing what was around him, and not wishing to notice. He only muttered something to himself from time to time, out of that habit of monologues he had just confessed to himself. And at the same moment he was aware that his thoughts sometimes became muddled and that he was very weak: it was the second day that he had had almost nothing to eat.

He was so badly dressed that another man, even an accustomed one, would have been ashamed to go out in such rags during the daytime. However, the neighborhood was such that it was hard to cause any surprise with one’s dress. The proximity of the Haymarket, the abundance of certain establishments, a population predominantly of craftsmen and artisans, who clustered in these central Petersburg streets and lanes, sometimes produced such a motley of types in the general panorama that to be surprised at meeting any sort of figure would even have been strange. But so much spiteful contempt was already stored up in the young man’s soul that, for all his sometimes very youthful touchiness, he was least ashamed of his rags in the street. It was a different matter when he met some acquaintances or former friends, whom he generally disliked meeting…And yet, when a drunk man who was just then being taken through the street in an enormous cart harnessed to an enormous cart-horse, no one knew why or where, suddenly shouted to him as he passed by: “Hey, you, German hatter!”—pointing at him and yelling at the top of his lungs—the young man suddenly stopped and convulsively clutched his hat. It was a tall, cylindrical Zimmerman hat,[1] but all worn out, quite faded, all holes and stains, brimless, and dented so that it stuck out at an ugly angle. Yet it was not shame but quite a different feeling, even more like fear, that seized him.

“I just knew it!” he muttered in confusion. “It’s just as I thought! That’s the worst of all! Some stupid thing like that, some trivial detail, can ruin the whole scheme! Yes, the hat is too conspicuous…Ludicrous, and therefore conspicuous…My rags certainly call for a cap, even if it’s some old pancake, not this monster. Nobody wears this kind, it can be noticed a mile away, and remembered…above all, it will be remembered later, so there’s evidence for you. Here one must be as inconspicuous as possible…Details, details above all! … It’s these details that ruin everything always…”

He did not have far to go; he even knew how many steps it was from the gate of his house: exactly seven hundred and thirty. Once, when he was far gone in his dreaming, he had counted them. At that time he did not yet believe in these dreams of his, and only chafed himself with their ugly but seductive audacity. Whereas now, a month later, he was beginning to look at them differently and, despite all those taunting monologues about his own powerlessness and indecision, had grown used, even somehow involuntarily, to regarding the “ugly” dream as a real undertaking, though he still did not believe himself. Now he was even going to make a trial of his undertaking, and at every step his excitement grew stronger and stronger.

With a sinking heart and nervous trembling he came up to a most enormous house that faced a canal on one side and ——y Street on the other. The house was all small apartments inside, and was inhabited by all sorts of working people—tailors, locksmiths, cooks, various Germans, girls living on their own, petty clerkdom, and so on. People kept coming and going, darting through both gateways and across both courtyards. Three or four caretakers worked there. The young man was very pleased not to have met any one of them, and slipped inconspicuously from the gate directly to the stairway on the right. The stairway was dark and narrow, a “back” stairway, but he had known and made a study of all that before, and he liked the whole situation: in that darkness even a curious glance was no danger. “If I’m so afraid now, what if it really should somehow get down to the business itself? . . .” he thought involuntarily, going up to the fourth floor. There his way was blocked by some porters, ex-soldiers who were moving furniture out of one apartment. He already knew from before that a German, an official, had been living in that apartment with his family: “It means the German is now moving out; which means that on the fourth floor of this stairway, on this landing, for a while only the old woman’s apartment will be left occupied. That’s good… just in case…” he thought again, and rang at the old woman’s apartment. The bell jingled feebly, as though it were made not of brass but of tin. In the small apartments of such houses almost all the bells are like that. He had forgotten the ring of this bell, and now its peculiar ring seemed suddenly to remind him of something and bring it clearly before him…He jumped, so weak had his nerves become this time. In a short while the door was opened a tiny crack: the woman lodger was looking at the visitor through the crack with obvious mistrust, and only her little eyes could be seen glittering from the darkness. But seeing a number of people on the landing, she took courage and opened the door all the way. The young man stepped across the threshold into the dark entryway, divided by a partition, behind which was a tiny kitchen. The old woman stood silently before him, looking at him inquiringly. She was a tiny, dried-up old crone, about sixty, with sharp, spiteful little eyes and a small, sharp nose. She was bareheaded, and her colorless and only slightly graying hair was thickly greased. Her long, thin neck, which resembled a chicken’s leg, was wrapped in some flannel rags, and, despite the heat, a fur-trimmed jacket, completely worn out and yellow with age, hung loosely from her shoulders. The little old woman coughed and groaned all the time. The young man must have glanced at her with some peculiar glance, because the earlier mistrust suddenly flashed in her eyes again.

“Raskolnikov, a student, I was here a month ago,” the young man hastened to mutter with a half bow, recalling that he should be more courteous.

“I remember, dearie, I remember very well that you were,” the old woman said distinctly, still without taking her inquiring eyes from his face.

“And so again, ma’am…on the same little business . . .” Raskolnikov continued, a bit disconcerted and surprised by the old crone’s mistrust.

“Though maybe she’s always like that, and I didn’t notice it last time,” he thought, with an unpleasant feeling.

The old crone was silent for a moment, as if hesitating; then she stepped aside and, pointing towards the door to the room, allowed the visitor to go ahead, saying:

“Come in, dearie.”

The small room into which the young man walked, with yellow wallpaper, geraniums and muslin curtains in the windows, was at that moment brightly lit by the setting sun. “So the sun will be shining the same way then! … ” flashed as if haphazardly through Raskolnikov’s mind, and with a quick glance he took in everything in the room, in order to study and remember the layout as well as possible. But there was nothing special in the room. The furniture, all very old and of yellow wood, consisted of a sofa with a huge, curved wooden back, a round table of an oval shape in front of the sofa, a dressing table with a mirror between the windows, chairs against the walls, and two or three halfpenny prints in yellow frames portraying German damsels with birds in their hands—that was all the furniture there was. In the corner, an oil lamp was burning in front of a small icon. Everything was very clean: both furniture and floor were polished to a high lustre; everything shone. “Lizaveta’s work,” the young man thought. There was not a Speck of dust to be found in the whole apartment. “It’s wicked old widows who keep everything so clean,” Raskolnikov continued to himself, and he cast a curious sidelong glance at the cotton curtain hanging in the doorway to the second tiny room, where the old woman’s bed and chest of drawers stood, and where he had not yet peeked even once. The whole apartment consisted of these two rooms.

“What’s your business?” the little old woman said sternly, coming into the room and, as before, standing directly in front of him, so as to look him directly in the face.

“I’ve brought something to pawn; here, ma’am!” And he took an old, flat silver watch from his pocket. A globe was engraved on its back. The chain was of steel.

“But the time is up for your last pledge. It was a month to the day before yesterday.”

“I’ll give you interest for another month; be patient.”

“That’s as I please, dearie, whether I’ll be patient or sell your thing right now.”

“How much will you give for the watch, Alyona Ivanovna?”

“You bring me trifles, dearie, in my opinion it’s not worth anything. Last time I gave you two roubles for your ring, and you could buy one new from a jeweler for a rouble and a half.”

“Give me four roubles anyway—I’ll redeem it, it’s my father’s. I’ll be getting money soon.”

“A rouble and a half, sir, and interest paid in advance, if you like, sir.”

“A rouble and a half!” the young man exclaimed.

“As you please.” And the old crone held the watch out to him. The young man took it and became so angry that he wanted simply to leave; but he at once thought better of it, remembering that there was nowhere else to go and that he had also come for another reason.

“I’ll take it!” he said rudely.

The old crone felt in her pocket for her keys and went into the other room behind the curtain. The young man, left alone in the middle of the room, was listening with curiosity and figuring things out. She could be heard opening the chest of drawers. “Must be the top drawer,” he figured. “So she carries the keys in her right pocket…All in one bunch on a steel ring…And there’s one key, the biggest of them, three times bigger, with a toothed bit, certainly not for a drawer…It means there’s also some coffer, or a trunk…Now that’s curious. Trunks always have keys like that…But how mean this all is . . .”

The old crone came back.

“Here you are, dearie: if it’s ten kopecks to the rouble per month, you’ll owe me fifteen kopecks on a rouble and a half for the month to come, sir. And you also owe me twenty kopecks by the same reckoning for the previous two roubles. That makes thirty-five altogether. I now owe you altogether one rouble and fifteen kopecks for your watch. Here, take it, sir.”

“What! So now it’s one rouble and fifteen kopecks!”

“Right you are, sir.”

The young man did not argue and took the money. He looked at the old woman and made no move to leave, as if he still wanted to say or do something, but he himself did not seem to know precisely what . . .

“One of these days, Alyona Ivanovna, I may bring you yet another thing…silver…nice…a cigarette case…once I get it back from a friend of mine…” He became confused and fell silent.

“So, we’ll talk then, dearie.”

“Good-bye, ma’am…And you stay at home alone like this, your sister’s not here?” he asked as casually as he could, walking out to the entryway.

“What business do you have with her, dearie?”

“Nothing special. I just asked. And right away you…Good-bye, Alyona Ivanovna!”

Raskolnikov went out decidedly troubled. This trouble kept increasing more and more. On his way down the stairs he even stopped several times, as if suddenly struck by something. And finally, already in the street, he exclaimed:

“Oh, God, how loathsome this all is! And can it be, can it be that I…no, it’s nonsense, it’s absurd!” he added resolutely. “Could such horror really come into my head? But then, what filth my heart is capable of! … Above all, filthy, nasty, vile, vile! . .. And for the whole month I . . .”

But neither words nor exclamations could express his agitation. The feeling of boundless loathing that had begun to oppress and sicken his heart while he was still only on his way to the old woman now reached such proportions and became so clearly manifest that he did not know where to flee from his anguish. He went down the sidewalk like a drunk man, not noticing the passers-by and running into them, and was in the next street before he came to his senses. Looking around, he noticed that he was standing by a tavern, the entrance to which was downstairs from the sidewalk, in the basement. At that same moment two drunks came walking out the door and, supporting and cursing each other, climbed up to the street. Without another thought, Raskolnikov immediately went down the stairs. He had never gone into taverns before, but his head was spinning now, and besides he was tormented by a burning thirst. He wanted to drink some cold beer, all the more so in that he attributed his sudden weakness to hunger. He sat down in a dark and dirty corner, at a sticky little table, asked for beer, and greedily drank the first glass. He immediately felt all relieved, and his thoughts became clear. “It’s all nonsense,” he said hopefully, “and there was nothing to be troubled about! Just some physical disorder! One glass of beer, a piece of dry bread, and see—in an instant the mind gets stronger, the thoughts clearer, the intentions firmer! Pah, how paltry it all is! … ” But in spite of this scornful spitting, he already looked cheerful, as if he had freed himself all at once of some terrible burden, and cast an amiable glance around at the people there. Yet even at that moment he had a distant foreboding that all this receptiveness to the good was also morbid.

There were few people left in the tavern by then. Just after the two drunks he had run into on the stairs, a whole party left together, five men or so, with one wench and an accordion. After them the place became quiet and roomy. There remained one man who looked like a tradesman, drunk, but not very, sitting over a beer; his friend, fat, enormous, in a tight-waisted coat, and with a gray beard, who was quite drunk, had dozed off on a bench, and every once in a while, as if half awake, would suddenly start snapping his fingers, spreading his arms wide and jerking the upper part of his body without getting up from the bench, while he sang some gibberish, trying hard to recall the verses, something like:

“The whole year long he loved his wife, The who-o-ole year lo-o-o-ng he lo-o-oved his wife . . .”

Or again, suddenly waking up:

“Down Podyacheskaya he did go, He met a girl he used to know…”

But no one shared his happiness; his silent friend even looked upon all these outbursts with hostility and mistrust. There was yet another man there who in appearance resembled a retired official. He was sitting apart over his little crock, taking a sip every once in a while and looking around. He also seemed somewhat agitated.

 

[1] Zimmerman was a famous hatter with a shop on Nevsky Prospect in Petersburg. Dostoevsky owned a Zimmerman hat.

Contents

Обращение к пользователям