A visitor looking on the scene of his conversation with the peasants and hi_lessing them shed silent tears and wiped them away with her handkerchief. Sh_as a sentimental society lady of genuinely good disposition in many respects.
When the elder went up to her at last she met him enthusiastically.
"Ah, what I have been feeling, looking on at this touching scene!… "She coul_ot go on for emotion. "Oh, I understand the people's love for you. I love th_eople myself. I want to love them. And who could help loving them, ou_plendid Russian people, so simple in their greatness!"
"How is your daughter's health? You wanted to talk to me again?"
"Oh, I have been urgently begging for it, I have prayed for it! I was ready t_all on my knees and kneel for three days at your windows until you let me in.
We have come, great healer, to express our ardent gratitude. You have heale_y Lise, healed her completely, merely by praying over her last Thursday an_aying your hands upon her. We have hastened here to kiss those hands, to pou_ut our feelings and our homage."
"What do you mean by healed? But she is still lying down in her chair."
"But her night fevers have entirely ceased ever since Thursday," said the lad_ith nervous haste. "And that's not all. Her legs are stronger. This mournin_he got up well; she had slept all night. Look at her rosy cheeks, her brigh_yes! She used to be always crying, but now she laughs and is gay and happy.
This morning she insisted on my letting her stand up, and she stood up for _hole minute without any support. She wagers that in a fortnight she'll b_ancing a quadrille. I've called in Doctor Herzenstube. He shrugged hi_houlders and said, 'I am amazed; I can make nothing of it.' And would yo_ave us not come here to disturb you, not fly here to thank you? Lise, than_im- thank him!"
Lise's pretty little laughing face became suddenly serious. She rose in he_hair as far as she could and, looking at the elder, clasped her hands befor_im, but could not restrain herself and broke into laughter.
"It's at him," she said, pointing to Alyosha, with childish vexation a_erself for not being able to repress her mirth.
If anyone had looked at Alyosha standing a step behind the elder, he woul_ave caught a quick flush crimsoning his cheeks in an instant. His eyes shon_nd he looked down.
"She has a message for you, Alexey Fyodorovitch. How are you?" the mother wen_n, holding out her exquisitely gloved hand to Alyosha.
The elder turned round and all at once looked attentively at Alyosha. Th_atter went nearer to Lise and, smiling in a strangely awkward way, held ou_is hand to her too. Lise assumed an important air.
"Katerina Ivanovna has sent you this through me." She handed him a littl_ote. "She particularly begs you to go and see her as soon as possible; tha_ou will not fail her, but will be sure to come."
"She asks me to go and see her? Me? What for?" Alyosha muttered in grea_stonishment. His face at once looked anxious.
"Oh, it's all to do with Dmitri Fyodorovitch and- what has happened lately,"
the mother explained hurriedly. "Katerina Ivanovna has made up her mind, bu_he must see you about it… . Why, of course, I can't say. But she wants to se_ou at once. And you will go to her, of course. It is a Christian duty."
"I have only seen her once," Alyosha protested with the same perplexity.
"Oh, she is such a lofty, incomparable creature If only for her suffering… .
Think what she has gone through, what she is enduring now Think what await_er! It's all terrible, terrible!
"Very well, I will come," Alyosha decided, after rapidly scanning the brief, enigmatic note, which consisted of an urgent entreaty that he would come, without any sort of explanation.
"Oh, how sweet and generous that would be of you" cried Lise with sudde_nimation. "I told mamma you'd be sure not to go. I said you were saving you_oul. How splendid you are I've always thought you were splendid. How glad _m to tell you so!"
"Lise!" said her mother impressively, though she smiled after she had said it.
"You have quite forgotten us, Alexey Fyodorovitch," she said; "you never com_o see us. Yet Lise has told me twice that she is never happy except wit_ou."
Alyosha raised his downcast eyes and again flushed, and again smiled withou_nowing why. But the elder was no longer watching him. He had begun talking t_ monk who, as mentioned before, had been awaiting his entrance by Lise'_hair. He was evidently a monk of the humblest, that is of the peasant, class, of a narrow outlook, but a true believer, and, in his own way, a stubborn one.
He announced that he had come from the far north, from Obdorsk, from Sain_ylvester, and was a member of a poor monastery, consisting of only ten monks.
The elder gave him his blessing and invited him to come to his cell wheneve_e liked.
"How can you presume to do such deeds?" the monk asked suddenly, pointin_olemnly and significantly at Lise. He was referring to her "healing."
"It's too early, of course, to speak of that. Relief is not complete cure, an_ay proceed from different causes. But if there has been any healing, it is b_o power but God's will. It's all from God. Visit me, Father," he added to th_onk. "It's not often I can see visitors. I am ill, and I know that my day_re numbered."
"Oh, no, no! God will not take you from us. You will live a long, long tim_et," cried the lady. "And in what way are you ill? You look so well, so ga_nd happy."
"I am extraordinarily better to-day. But I know that it's only for a moment. _nderstand my disease now thoroughly. If I seem so happy to you, you coul_ever say anything that would please me so much. For men are made fo_appiness, and anyone who is completely happy has a right to say to himself,
'I am doing God's will on earth.' All the righteous, all the saints, all th_oly martyrs were happy."
"Oh, how you speak! What bold and lofty words" cried the lady. "You seem t_ierce with your words. And yet- happiness, happiness- where is it? Who ca_ay of himself that he is happy? Oh, since you have been so good as to let u_ee you once more to-day, let me tell you what I could not utter last time, what I dared not say, all I am suffering and have been for so long! I a_uffering! Forgive me! I am suffering!"
And in a rush of fervent feeling she clasped her hands before him.
"From what specially?"
"I suffer… from lack of faith."
"Lack of faith in God?"
"Oh, no, no! I dare not even think of that. But the future life- it is such a_nigma And no one, no one can solve it. Listen! You are a healer, you ar_eeply versed in the human soul, and of course I dare not expect you t_elieve me entirely, but I assure you on my word of honour that I am no_peaking lightly now. The thought of the life beyond the grave distracts me t_nguish, to terror. And I don't know to whom to appeal, and have not dared t_ll my life. And now I am so bold as to ask you. Oh, God! What will you thin_f me now?"
She clasped her hands.
"Don't distress yourself about my opinion of you," said the elder. "I quit_elieve in the sincerity of your suffering."
"Oh, how thankful I am to you! You see, I shut my eyes and ask myself i_veryone has faith, where did it come from? And then they do say that it al_omes from terror at the menacing phenomena of nature, and that none of it'_eal. And I say to myself, 'What if I've been believing all my life, and whe_ come to die there's nothing but the burdocks growing on my grave?' as I rea_n some author. It's awful! How- how can I get back my faith? But I onl_elieved when I was a little child, mechanically, without thinking o_nything. How, how is one to prove it? have come now to lay my soul before yo_nd to ask you about it. If I let this chance slip, no one all my life wil_nswer me. How can I prove it? How can I convince myself? Oh, how unhappy _m! I stand and look about me and see that scarcely anyone else cares; no on_roubles his head about it, and I'm the only one who can't stand it. It'_eadly- deadly!"
"No doubt. But there's no proving it, though you can be convinced of it."
"By the experience of active love. Strive to love your neighbour actively an_ndefatigably. In as far as you advance in love you will grow surer of th_eality of God and of the immortality of your soul. If you attain to perfec_elf-forgetfulness in the love of your neighbour, then you will believ_ithout doubt, and no doubt can possibly enter your soul. This has been tried.
This is certain."
"In active love? There's another question and such a question! You see, I s_ove humanity that- would you believe it?- I often dream of forsaking all tha_ have, leaving Lise, and becoming a sister of mercy. I close my eyes an_hink and dream, and at that moment I feel full of strength to overcome al_bstacles. No wounds, no festering sores could at that moment frighten me. _ould bind them up and wash them with my own hands. I would nurse th_fflicted. I would be ready to kiss such wounds."
"It is much, and well that your mind is full of such dreams and not others.
Some time, unawares, you may do a good deed in reality."
"Yes. But could I endure such a life for long?" the lady went on fervently, almost frantically. "That's the chief question- that's my most agonisin_uestion. I shut my eyes and ask myself, 'Would you persevere long on tha_ath? And if the patient whose wounds you are washing did not meet you wit_ratitude, but worried you with his whims, without valuing or remarking you_haritable services, began abusing you and rudely commanding you, an_omplaining to the superior authorities of you (which often happens whe_eople are in great suffering)- what then? Would you persevere in your love, or not?' And do you know, I came with horror to the conclusion that, i_nything could dissipate my love to humanity, it would be ingratitude. I_hort, I am a hired servant, I expect my payment at once- that is, praise, an_he repayment of love with love. Otherwise I am incapable of loving anyone.'"
She was in a very paroxysm of self-castigation, and, concluding, she looke_ith defiant resolution at the elder.
"It's just the same story as a doctor once told me," observed the elder. "H_as a man getting on in years, and undoubtedly clever. He spoke as frankly a_ou, though in jest, in bitter jest. 'I love humanity,' he said, 'but I wonde_t myself. The more I love humanity in general, the less I love man i_articular. In my dreams,' he said, 'I have often come to making enthusiasti_chemes for the service of humanity, and perhaps I might actually have face_rucifixion if it had been suddenly necessary; and yet I am incapable o_iving in the same room with anyone for two days together, as I know b_xperience. As soon as anyone is near me, his personality disturbs my self- complacency and restricts my freedom. In twenty-four hours I begin to hate th_est of men: one because he's too long over his dinner; another because he ha_ cold and keeps on blowing his nose. I become hostile to people the momen_hey come close to me. But it has always happened that the more I detest me_ndividually the more ardent becomes my love for humanity.'
"But what's to be done? What can one do in such a case? Must one despair?"
"No. It is enough that you are distressed at it. Do what you can, and it wil_e reckoned unto you. Much is done already in you since you can so deeply an_incerely know yourself. If you have been talking to me so sincerely, simpl_o gain approbation for your frankness, as you did from me just now, then, o_ourse, you will not attain to anything in the achievement of real love; i_ill all get no further than dreams, and your whole life will slip away like _hantom. In that case you will naturally cease to think of the future lif_oo, and will of yourself grow calmer after a fashion in the end."
"You have crushed me! Only now, as you speak, I understand that I was reall_nly seeking your approbation for my sincerity when I told you I could no_ndure ingratitude. You have revealed me to myself. You have seen through m_nd explained me to myself
"Are you speaking the truth? Well, now, after such a confession, I believ_hat you are sincere and good at heart. If you do not attain happiness, alway_emember that you are on the right road, and try not to leave it. Above all, avoid falsehood, every kind of falsehood, especially falseness to yourself.
Watch over your own deceitfulness and look into it every hour, every minute.
Avoid being scornful, both to others and to yourself. What seems to you ba_ithin you will grow purer from the very fact of your observing it i_ourself. Avoid fear, too, though fear is only the consequence of every sor_f falsehood. Never be frightened at your own faint-heartedness in attainin_ove. Don't be frightened overmuch even at your evil actions. I am sorry I ca_ay nothing more consoling to you, for love in action is a harsh and dreadfu_hing compared with love in dreams. Love in dreams is greedy for immediat_ction, rapidly performed and in the sight of all. Men will even give thei_ives if only the ordeal does not last long but is soon over, with all lookin_n and applauding as though on the stage. But active love is labour an_ortitude, and for some people too, perhaps, a complete science. But I predic_hat just when you see with horror that in spite of all your efforts you ar_etting farther from your goal instead of nearer to it- at that very moment _redict that you will reach it and behold clearly the miraculous power of th_ord who has been all the time loving and mysteriously guiding you. Forgive m_or not being able to stay longer with you. They are waiting for me. Good- bye."
The lady was weeping.
"Lise, Lise! Bless her- bless her!" she cried, starting up suddenly.
"She does not deserve to be loved. I have seen her naughtiness all along," th_lder said jestingly. "Why have you been laughing at Alexey?"
Lise had in fact been occupied in mocking at him all the time. She had notice_efore that Alyosha was shy and tried not to look at her, and she found thi_xtremely amusing. She waited intently to catch his eye. Alyosha, unable t_ndure her persistent stare, was irresistibly and suddenly drawn to glance a_er, and at once she smiled triumphantly in his face. Alyosha was even mor_isconcerted and vexed. At last he turned away from her altogether and hi_ehind the elder's back. After a few minutes, drawn by the same irresistibl_orce, he turned again to see whether he was being looked at or not, and foun_ise almost hanging out of her chair to peep sideways at him, eagerly waitin_or him to look. Catching his eye, she laughed so that the elder could no_elp saying, "Why do you make fun of him like that, naughty girl?"
Lise suddenly and quite unexpectedly blushed. Her eyes flashed and her fac_ecame quite serious. She began speaking quickly and nervously in a warm an_esentful voice:
"Why has he forgotten everything, then? He used to carry me about when I wa_ittle. We used to play together. He used to come to teach me to read, do yo_now. Two years ago, when he went away, he said that he would never forget me, that we were friends for ever, for ever, for ever! And now he's afraid of m_ll at once. Am I going to eat him? Why doesn't he want to come near me? Wh_oesn't he talk? Why won't he come and see us? It's not that you won't le_im. We know that he goes everywhere. It's not good manners for me to invit_im. He ought to have thought of it first, if he hasn't forgotten me. No, no_e's saving his soul! Why have you put that long gown on him? If he runs he'l_all."
And suddenly she hid her face in her hand and went off into irresistible, prolonged, nervous, inaudible laughter. The elder listened to her with _mile, and blessed her tenderly. As she kissed his hand she suddenly presse_t to her eyes and began crying.
"Don't be angry with me. I'm silly and good for nothing… and perhaps Alyosha'_ight, quite right, in not wanting to come and see such a ridiculous girl."