Reference > Fiction > Nonfiction > Warner, et al., eds. > The Library

C.D. Warner, et al., comp.  The Library of the World’s Best Literature.
An Anthology in Thirty Volumes.  1917.
The Bible Reading
By Fyodor Dostoyevsky (1821–1881)

RASKOLNIKOFF went straight to the water-side, where Sonia was living. The three-storied house was an old building, painted green. The young man had some difficulty in finding the dvornik, and got from him vague information about the quarters of the tailor Kapernasumoff. After having discovered in a corner of the yard the foot of a steep and gloomy staircase, he ascended to the second floor, and followed the gallery facing the court-yard. Whilst groping in the dark, and asking himself how Kapernasumoff’s lodgings could be reached, a door opened close to him; he seized it mechanically.  1
  “Who is there?” asked a timid female voice.  2
  “It is I. I am coming to see you,” replied Raskolnikoff, on entering a small ante-room. There on a wretched table stood a candle, fixed in a candlestick of twisted metal.  3
  “Is that you? Good heavens!” feebly replied Sonia, who seemed not to have strength enough to move from the spot.  4
  “Where do you live? Is it here?” And Raskolnikoff passed quickly into the room, trying not to look the girl in the face.  5
  A moment afterwards Sonia rejoined him with the candle, and remained stock still before him, a prey to an indescribable agitation. This unexpected visit had upset her—nay, even frightened her. All of a sudden her pale face colored up, and tears came into her eyes. She experienced extreme confusion, united with a certain gentle feeling. Raskolnikoff turned aside with a rapid movement and sat down on a chair, close to the table. In the twinkling of an eye he took stock of everything in the room.  6
  This room was large, with a very low ceiling, and was the only one let out by the Kapernasumoffs; in the wall, on the left-hand side, was a door giving access to theirs. On the opposite side, in the wall on the right, there was another door, which was always locked. That was another lodging, having another number. Sonia’s room was more like an out-house, of irregular rectangular shape, which gave it an uncommon character. The wall, with its three windows facing the canal, cut it obliquely, forming thus an extremely acute angle, in the back portion of which nothing could be seen, considering the feeble light of the candle. On the other hand, the other angle was an extremely obtuse one. This large room contained scarcely any furniture. In the right-hand corner was the bed; between the bed and the door, a chair; on the same side, facing the door of the next set, stood a deal table, covered with a blue cloth; close to the table were two rush chairs. Against the opposite wall, near the acute angle, was placed a small chest of drawers of unvarnished wood, which seemed out of place in this vacant spot. This was the whole of the furniture. The yellowish and worn paper had everywhere assumed a darkish color, probably the effect of the damp and coal smoke. Everything in the place denoted poverty. Even the bed had no curtains. Sonia silently considered the visitor, who examined her room so attentively and so unceremoniously.
*        *        *        *        *
  “Her lot is fixed,” thought he,—“a watery grave, the mad-house, or a brutish existence!” This latter contingency was especially repellent to him, but skeptic as he was, he could not help believing it a possibility. “Is it possible that such is really the case?” he asked himself. “Is it possible that this creature, who still retains a pure mind, should end by becoming deliberately mire-like? Has she not already become familiar with it, and if up to the present she has been able to bear with such a life, has it not been so because vice has already lost its hideousness in her eyes? Impossible again!” cried he, on his part, in the same way as Sonia had cried a moment ago. “No, that which up to the present has prevented her from throwing herself into the canal has been the fear of sin and its punishment. May she not be mad after all? Who says she is not so? Is she in full possession of all her faculties? Is it possible to speak as she does? Do people of sound judgment reason as she reasons? Can people anticipate future destruction with such tranquillity, turning a deaf ear to warnings and forebodings? Does she expect a miracle? It must be so. And does not all this seem like signs of mental derangement?”  8
  To this idea he clung obstinately. Sonia mad! Such a prospect displeased him less than the other ones. Once more he examined the girl attentively. “And you—you often pray to God, Sonia?” he asked her.  9
  No answer. Standing by her side, he waited for a reply. “What could I be, what should I be without God?” cried she in a low-toned but energetic voice, and whilst casting on Raskolnikoff a rapid glance of her brilliant eyes, she gripped his hand.  10
  “Come, I was not mistaken!” he muttered to himself.—“And what does God do for you?” asked he, anxious to clear his doubts yet more.  11
  For a long time the girl remained silent, as if incapable of reply. Emotion made her bosom heave. “Stay! Do not question me! You have no such right!” exclaimed she, all of a sudden, with looks of anger.  12
  “I expected as much!” was the man’s thought.  13
  “God does everything for me!” murmured the girl rapidly, and her eyes sank.  14
  “At last I have the explanation!” he finished mentally, whilst eagerly looking at her.  15
  He experienced a new, strange, almost unhealthy feeling on watching this pale, thin, hard-featured face, these blue and soft eyes which could yet dart such lights and give utterance to such passion; in a word, this feeble frame, yet trembling with indignation and anger, struck him as weird,—nay, almost fantastic. “Mad! she must be mad!” he muttered once more. A book was lying on the chest of drawers. Raskolnikoff had noticed it more than once whilst moving about the room. He took it and examined it. It was a Russian translation of the Gospels, a well-thumbed leather-bound book.  16
  “Where does that come from?” asked he of Sonia, from the other end of the room.  17
  The girl still held the same position, a pace or two from the table. “It was lent me,” replied Sonia, somewhat loth, without looking at Raskolnikoff.  18
  “Who lent it you?”  19
  “Elizabeth—I asked her to!”  20
  “Elizabeth. How strange!” he thought. Everything with Sonia assumed to his mind an increasingly extraordinary aspect. He took the book to the light, and turned it over. “Where is mention made of Lazarus?” asked he abruptly.  21
  Sonia, looking hard on the ground, preserved silence, whilst moving somewhat from the table.  22
  “Where is mention made of the resurrection of Lazarus? Find me the passage, Sonia.”  23
  The latter looked askance at her interlocutor. “That is not the place—it is the Fourth Gospel,” said she dryly, without moving from the spot.  24
  “Find me the passage and read it out!” he repeated, and sitting down again rested his elbow on the table, his head on his hand, and glancing sideways with gloomy look, prepared to listen.  25
  Sonia at first hesitated to draw nearer to the table. The singular wish uttered by Raskolnikoff scarcely seemed sincere. Nevertheless she took the book. “Have you ever read the passage?” she asked him, looking at him from out the corners of her eyes. Her voice was getting harder and harder.  26
  “Once upon a time. In my childhood. Read!”  27
  “Have you never heard it in church?”  28
  “I—I never go there. Do you go often yourself?”  29
  “No,” stammered Sonia.  30
  Raskolnikoff smiled. “I understand, then, you won’t go to-morrow to your father’s funeral service?”  31
  “Oh, yes! I was at church last week. I was present at a requiem mass.”  32
  “Whose was that?”  33
  “Elizabeth’s. She was assassinated by means of an axe.”  34
  Raskolnikoff’s nervous system became more and more irritated. He was getting giddy. “Were you friends with her?”  35
  “Yes. She was straightforward. She used to come and see me—but not often. She was not able. We used to read and chat. She sees God.”  36
  Raskolnikoff became thoughtful. “What,” asked he himself, “could be the meaning of the mysterious interviews of two such idiots as Sonia and Elizabeth? Why, I should go mad here myself!” thought he. “Madness seems to be in the atmosphere of the place!—Read!” he cried all of a sudden, irritably.  37
  Sonia kept hesitating. Her heart beat loud. She seemed afraid to read. He considered “this poor demented creature” with an almost sad expression. “How can that interest you, since you do not believe?” she muttered in a choking voice.  38
  “Read! I insist upon it! Used you not to read to Elizabeth?”  39
  Sonia opened the book and looked for the passage. Her hands trembled. The words stuck in her throat. Twice did she try to read without being able to utter the first syllable.  40
  “Now a certain man was sick, named Lazarus, of Bethany,” she read, at last, with an effort; but suddenly, at the third word, her voice grew wheezy, and gave way like an overstretched chord. Breath was deficient in her oppressed bosom. Raskolnikoff partly explained to himself Sonia’s hesitation to obey him; and in proportion as he understood her better, he insisted still more imperiously on her reading. He felt what it must cost the girl to lay bare to him, to some extent, her heart of hearts. She evidently could not, without difficulty, make up her mind to confide to a stranger the sentiments which probably since her teens had been her support, her viaticum—when, what with a sottish father and a stepmother demented by misfortune, to say nothing of starving children, she heard nothing but reproach and offensive clamor. He saw all this, but he likewise saw that notwithstanding this repugnance, she was most anxious to read,—to read to him, and that now,—let the consequences be what they may! The girl’s look, the agitation to which she was a prey, told him as much, and by a violent effort over herself Sonia conquered the spasm which parched her throat, and continued to read the eleventh chapter of the Gospel according to St. John. She thus reached the nineteenth verse:—
          “And many of the Jews came to Martha and Mary, to comfort them concerning their brother. Then Martha, as soon as she heard that Jesus was coming, went and met him; but Mary sat still in the house. Then said Martha unto Jesus, Lord, if thou hadst been here, my brother had not died. But I know that even now, whatsoever thou wilt ask of God, God will give it thee.”
Here she paused, to overcome the emotion which once more caused her voice to tremble.
          “Jesus saith unto her, Thy brother shall rise again. Martha saith unto him, I know that he shall rise again in the resurrection at the last day. Jesus said unto her, I am the Resurrection and the Life; he that believeth in me, though he were dead, yet shall he live; and whosoever liveth and believeth in me shall never die. Believest thou this? She saith unto him,”—
and although she had difficulty in breathing, Sonia raised her voice, as if in reading the words of Martha she was making her own confession of faith:—
          “Yea, Lord: I believe that thou art the Christ, the Son of God, which should come into the world.”
  She stopped, raised her eyes rapidly on him, but cast them down on her book, and continued to read. Raskolnikoff listened without stirring, without turning toward her, his elbows resting on the table, looking aside. Thus the reading continued till the thirty-second verse.
          “Then when Mary was come where Jesus was, and saw him, she fell down at his feet, saying unto him, Lord, if thou hadst been here, my brother had not died. When Jesus therefore saw her weeping, and the Jews also weeping which came with her, he groaned in the spirit and was troubled, and said, Where have ye laid him? They said unto him, Lord, come and see. Jesus wept. Then said the Jews, Behold how he loved him. And some of them said, Could not this man, which opened the eyes of the blind, have caused that even this man should not have died?”
  Raskolnikoff turned towards her and looked at her with agitation. His suspicion was a correct one. She was trembling in all her limbs, a prey to fever. He had expected this. She was getting to the miraculous story, and a feeling of triumph was taking possession of her. Her voice, strengthened by joy, had a metallic ring. The lines became misty to her troubled eyes, but fortunately she knew the passage by heart. At the last line, “Could not this man, which opened the eyes of the blind—” she lowered her voice, emphasizing passionately the doubt, the blame, the reproach of these unbelieving and blind Jews, who a moment after fell as if struck by lightning on their knees, to sob and to believe. “Yes,” thought she, deeply affected by this joyful hope, “yes, he—he who is blind, who dares not believe—he also will hear—will believe in an instant, immediately, now, this very moment!”
          “Jesus therefore, again groaning in himself, cometh to the grave. It was a cave, and a stone lay upon it. Jesus said, Take ye away the stone. Martha, the sister of him that was dead, saith unto him, Lord, by this time he stinketh: for he hath been dead four days.”
She strongly emphasized the word four.
          “Jesus saith unto her. Said I not unto thee, that if thou wouldst believe, thou shouldst see the glory of God? Then they took away the stone from the place where the dead was laid. And Jesus lifted up his eyes, and said, Father, I thank thee that thou hast heard me. And I knew that thou hearest me always; but because of the people which stand by I said it, that they may believe that thou hast sent me. And when he thus had spoken, he cried with a loud voice, Lazarus, come forth. And he that was dead came forth,”
(on reading these words Sonia shuddered, as if she herself had been witness to the miracle)
        “bound hand and foot with grave-clothes; and his face was bound about with a napkin. Jesus saith unto them, Loose him, and let him go. Then many of the Jews which came to Mary, and had seen the things which Jesus did, believed on him.”
  She read no more,—such a thing would have been impossible to her,—closed the book, and briskly rising, said in a low-toned and choking voice, without turning toward the man she was talking to, “So much for the resurrection of Lazarus.” She seemed afraid to raise her eyes on Raskolnikoff, whilst her feverish trembling continued. The dying piece of candle dimly lit up this low-ceiled room, in which an assassin and a harlot had just read the Book of books.  44

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