A Laceration in the Drawing-Room

But in the drawing-room the conversation was already over. Katerina Ivanovna was greatly excited, though she looked resolute. At the moment Alyosha and Madame Hohlakov entered, Ivan Fyodorovitch stood up to take leave. His face was rather pale, and Alyosha looked at him anxiously. For this moment was to solve a doubt, a harassing enigma which had for some time haunted Alyosha. During the preceding month it had been several times suggested to him that his brother Ivan was in love with Katerina Ivanovna, and, what was more, that he meant “to carry her off” from Dmitri. Until quite lately the idea seemed to Alyosha monstrous, though it worried him extremely. He loved both his brothers, and dreaded such rivalry between them. Meantime, Dmitri had said outright on the previous day that he was glad that Ivan was his rival, and that it was a great assistance to him, Dmitri. In what way did it assist him? To marry Grushenka? But that Alyosha considered the worst thing possible. Besides all this, Alyosha had till the evening before implicitly believed that Katerina Ivanovna had a steadfast and passionate love for Dmitri; but he had only believed it till the evening before. He had fancied, too, that she was incapable of loving a man like Ivan, and that she did love Dmitri, and loved him just as he was, in spite of all the strangeness of such a passion.

But during yesterday’s scene with Grushenka another idea had struck him. The word “lacerating,” which Madame Hohlakov had just uttered, almost made him start, because half waking up towards daybreak that night he had cried out, “Laceration, laceration,” probably applying it to his dream. He had been dreaming all night of the previous day’s scene at Katerina Ivanovna’s. Now Alyosha was impressed by Madame Hohlakov’s blunt and persistent assertion that Katerina Ivanovna was in love with Ivan, and only deceived herself through some sort of pose, from “self-laceration,” and tortured herself by her pretended love for Dmitri from some fancied duty of gratitude. “Yes,” he thought, “perhaps the whole truth lies in those words.” But in that case what was Ivan’s position? Alyosha felt instinctively that a character like Katerina Ivanovna’s must dominate, and she could only dominate some one like Dmitri, and never a man like Ivan. For Dmitri might at last submit to her domination “to his own happiness” (which was what Alyosha would have desired), but Ivan—no, Ivan could not submit to her, and such submission would not give him happiness. Alyosha could not help believing that of Ivan. And now all these doubts and reflections flitted through his mind as he entered the drawing-room. Another idea, too, forced itself upon him: “What if she loved neither of them—neither Ivan nor Dmitri?”

It must be noted that Alyosha felt as it were ashamed of his own thoughts and blamed himself when they kept recurring to him during the last month. “What do I know about love and women and how can I decide such questions?” he thought reproachfully, after such doubts and surmises. And yet it was impossible not to think about it. He felt instinctively that this rivalry was of immense importance in his brothers’ lives and that a great deal depended upon it.

“One reptile will devour the other,” Ivan had pronounced the day before, speaking in anger of his father and Dmitri. So Ivan looked upon Dmitri as a reptile, and perhaps had long done so. Was it perhaps since he had known Katerina Ivanovna? That phrase had, of course, escaped Ivan unawares yesterday, but that only made it more important. If he felt like that, what chance was there of peace? Were there not, on the contrary, new grounds for hatred and hostility in their family? And with which of them was Alyosha to sympathise? And what was he to wish for each of them? He loved them both, but what could he desire for each in the midst of these conflicting interests? He might go quite astray in this maze, and Alyosha’s heart could not endure uncertainty, because his love was always of an active character. He was incapable of passive love. If he loved any one, he set to work at once to help him. And to do so he must know what he was aiming at; he must know for certain what was best for each, and having ascertained this it was natural for him to help them both. But instead of a definite aim, he found nothing but uncertainty and perplexity on all sides. “It was lacerating,” as was said just now. But what could he understand even in this “laceration”? He did not understand the first word in this perplexing maze.

Seeing Alyosha, Katerina Ivanovna said quickly and joyfully to Ivan, who had already got up to go. “A minute! Stay another minute! I want to hear the opinion of this person here whom I trust absolutely. Don’t go away,” she added, addressing Madame Hohlakov. She made Alyosha sit down beside her, and Madame Hohlakov sat opposite, by Ivan.

  By PanEris using Melati.

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