THE BROTHERS KARAMAZOV
Chapter 4 - A Lady of Little Faith
A visitor looking on the scene of his conversation with the
peasants and his blessing them shed silent tears and wiped them away
with her handkerchief. She was 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 could not go on for emotion. "Oh, I understand the
people's love for you. I love the people myself. I want to love
them. And who could help loving them, our splendid 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 to fall 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 healed my Lise, healed her
completely, merely by praying over her last Thursday and laying your
hands upon her. We have hastened here to kiss those hands, to pour out
our feelings and our homage."
"What do you mean by healed? But she is still lying down in her
"But her night fevers have entirely ceased ever since Thursday,"
said the lady with nervous haste. "And that's not all. Her legs are
stronger. This mourning she got up well; she had slept all night. Look
at her rosy cheeks, her bright eyes! 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 a whole minute without
any support. She wagers that in a fortnight she'll be dancing a
quadrille. I've called in Doctor Herzenstube. He shrugged his
shoulders and said, 'I am amazed; I can make nothing of it.' And would
you have us not come here to disturb you, not fly here to thank you?
Lise, thank him- thank him!"
Lise's pretty little laughing face became suddenly serious. She
rose in her chair as far as she could and, looking at the elder,
clasped her hands before him, but could not restrain herself and broke
"It's at him," she said, pointing to Alyosha, with childish
vexation at herself for not being able to repress her mirth.
If anyone had looked at Alyosha standing a step behind the
elder, he would have caught a quick flush crimsoning his cheeks in
an instant. His eyes shone and he looked down.
"She has a message for you, Alexey Fyodorovitch. How are you?" the
mother went on, holding out her exquisitely gloved hand to Alyosha.
The elder turned round and all at once looked attentively at
Alyosha. The latter went nearer to Lise and, smiling in a strangely
awkward way, held out his hand to her too. Lise assumed an important
"Katerina Ivanovna has sent you this through me." She handed him a
little note. "She particularly begs you to go and see her as soon as
possible; that you will not fail her, but will be sure to come."
"She asks me to go and see her? Me? What for?" Alyosha muttered in
great astonishment. 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, but she must see you about it.... Why, of
course, I can't say. But she wants to see you 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
"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 awaits her! 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 sudden animation. "I told mamma you'd be sure not to go. I said
you were saving your soul. How splendid you are I've always thought
you were splendid. How glad I am 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 come to see us. Yet Lise has told me twice that she is never
happy except with you."
Alyosha raised his downcast eyes and again flushed, and again
smiled without knowing why. But the elder was no longer watching
him. He had begun talking to a monk who, as mentioned before, had been
awaiting his entrance by Lise's chair. 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 Saint
Sylvester, 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 whenever he liked.
"How can you presume to do such deeds?" the monk asked suddenly,
pointing solemnly and significantly at Lise. He was referring to her
"It's too early, of course, to speak of that. Relief is not
complete cure, and may proceed from different causes. But if there has
been any healing, it is by no power but God's will. It's all from God.
Visit me, Father," he added to the monk. "It's not often I can see
visitors. I am ill, and I know that my days are numbered."
"Oh, no, no! God will not take you from us. You will live a
long, long time yet," cried the lady. "And in what way are you ill?
You look so well, so gay and happy."
"I am extraordinarily better to-day. But I know that it's only for
a moment. I understand my disease now thoroughly. If I seem so happy
to you, you could never say anything that would please me so much. For
men are made for happiness, 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 the holy martyrs were happy."
"Oh, how you speak! What bold and lofty words" cried the lady.
"You seem to pierce with your words. And yet- happiness, happiness-
where is it? Who can say of himself that he is happy? Oh, since you
have been so good as to let us see 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 am suffering! Forgive me! I
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 an enigma And no one, no one can solve it. Listen! You
are a healer, you are deeply versed in the human soul, and of course I
dare not expect you to believe me entirely, but I assure you on my
word of honour that I am not speaking lightly now. The thought of
the life beyond the grave distracts me to anguish, to terror. And I
don't know to whom to appeal, and have not dared to all my life. And
now I am so bold as to ask you. Oh, God! What will you think of me
She clasped her hands.
"Don't distress yourself about my opinion of you," said the elder.
"I quite believe in the sincerity of your suffering."
"Oh, how thankful I am to you! You see, I shut my eyes and ask
myself if everyone has faith, where did it come from? And then they do
say that it all comes from terror at the menacing phenomena of nature,
and that none of it's real. And I say to myself, 'What if I've been
believing all my life, and when I come to die there's nothing but
the burdocks growing on my grave?' as I read in some author. It's
awful! How- how can I get back my faith? But I only believed when I
was a little child, mechanically, without thinking of anything. How,
how is one to prove it? have come now to lay my soul before you and to
ask you about it. If I let this chance slip, no one all my life will
answer me. How can I prove it? How can I convince myself? Oh, how
unhappy I am! I stand and look about me and see that scarcely anyone
else cares; no one troubles his head about it, and I'm the only one
who can't stand it. It's deadly- 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 and indefatigably. In as far as you advance in love you
will grow surer of the reality of God and of the immortality of your
soul. If you attain to perfect self-forgetfulness in the love of
your neighbour, then you will believe without 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 so love humanity that- would you believe it?- I often dream
of forsaking all that I have, leaving Lise, and becoming a sister of
mercy. I close my eyes and think and dream, and at that moment I
feel full of strength to overcome all obstacles. No wounds, no
festering sores could at that moment frighten me. I would bind them up
and wash them with my own hands. I would nurse the afflicted. 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 agonising question. I shut my eyes and ask myself, 'Would you
persevere long on that path? And if the patient whose wounds you are
washing did not meet you with gratitude, but worried you with his
whims, without valuing or remarking your charitable services, began
abusing you and rudely commanding you, and complaining to the superior
authorities of you (which often happens when people 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, if
anything could dissipate my love to humanity, it would be ingratitude.
In short, I am a hired servant, I expect my payment at once- that
is, praise, and the repayment of love with love. Otherwise I am
incapable of loving anyone.'"
She was in a very paroxysm of self-castigation, and, concluding,
she looked with defiant resolution at the elder.
"It's just the same story as a doctor once told me," observed
the elder. "He was a man getting on in years, and undoubtedly
clever. He spoke as frankly as you, though in jest, in bitter jest. 'I
love humanity,' he said, 'but I wonder at myself. The more I love
humanity in general, the less I love man in particular. In my dreams,'
he said, 'I have often come to making enthusiastic schemes for the
service of humanity, and perhaps I might actually have faced
crucifixion if it had been suddenly necessary; and yet I am
incapable of living in the same room with anyone for two days
together, as I know by experience. 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 the best of men: one because he's
too long over his dinner; another because he has a cold and keeps on
blowing his nose. I become hostile to people the moment they come
close to me. But it has always happened that the more I detest men
individually the more ardent becomes my love for humanity.'
"But what's to be done? What can one do in such a case? Must one
"No. It is enough that you are distressed at it. Do what you
can, and it will be reckoned unto you. Much is done already in you
since you can so deeply and sincerely know yourself. If you have
been talking to me so sincerely, simply to gain approbation for your
frankness, as you did from me just now, then, of course, you will
not attain to anything in the achievement of real love; it will all
get no further than dreams, and your whole life will slip away like
a phantom. In that case you will naturally cease to think of the
future life too, and will of yourself grow calmer after a fashion in
"You have crushed me! Only now, as you speak, I understand that
I was really only seeking your approbation for my sincerity when I
told you I could not endure ingratitude. You have revealed me to
myself. You have seen through me and explained me to myself
"Are you speaking the truth? Well, now, after such a confession, I
believe that you are sincere and good at heart. If you do not attain
happiness, always remember 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 bad within you
will grow purer from the very fact of your observing it in yourself.
Avoid fear, too, though fear is only the consequence of every sort
of falsehood. Never be frightened at your own faint-heartedness in
attaining love. Don't be frightened overmuch even at your evil
actions. I am sorry I can say nothing more consoling to you, for
love in action is a harsh and dreadful thing compared with love in
dreams. Love in dreams is greedy for immediate action, rapidly
performed and in the sight of all. Men will even give their lives if
only the ordeal does not last long but is soon over, with all
looking on and applauding as though on the stage. But active love is
labour and fortitude, and for some people too, perhaps, a complete
science. But I predict that just when you see with horror that in
spite of all your efforts you are getting farther from your goal
instead of nearer to it- at that very moment I predict that you will
reach it and behold clearly the miraculous power of the Lord who has
been all the time loving and mysteriously guiding you. Forgive me
for not being able to stay longer with you. They are waiting for me.
The lady was weeping.
"Lise, Lise! Bless her- bless her!" she cried, starting up
"She does not deserve to be loved. I have seen her naughtiness all
along," the elder said jestingly. "Why have you been laughing at
Lise had in fact been occupied in mocking at him all the time. She
had noticed before that Alyosha was shy and tried not to look at
her, and she found this extremely amusing. She waited intently to
catch his eye. Alyosha, unable to endure her persistent stare, was
irresistibly and suddenly drawn to glance at her, and at once she
smiled triumphantly in his face. Alyosha was even more disconcerted
and vexed. At last he turned away from her altogether and hid behind
the elder's back. After a few minutes, drawn by the same
irresistible force, he turned again to see whether he was being looked
at or not, and found Lise almost hanging out of her chair to peep
sideways at him, eagerly waiting for him to look. Catching his eye,
she laughed so that the elder could not help saying, "Why do you
make fun of him like that, naughty girl?"
Lise suddenly and quite unexpectedly blushed. Her eyes flashed and
her face became quite serious. She began speaking quickly and
nervously in a warm and resentful voice:
"Why has he forgotten everything, then? He used to carry me
about when I was little. We used to play together. He used to come
to teach me to read, do you know. 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 me all at once. Am I going to
eat him? Why doesn't he want to come near me? Why doesn't he talk? Why
won't he come and see us? It's not that you won't let him. We know
that he goes everywhere. It's not good manners for me to invite him.
He ought to have thought of it first, if he hasn't forgotten me. No,
now he's saving his soul! Why have you put that long gown on him? If
he runs he'll fall."
And suddenly she hid her face in her hand and went off into
irresistible, prolonged, nervous, inaudible laughter. The elder
listened to her with a smile, and blessed her tenderly. As she
kissed his hand she suddenly pressed it to her eyes and began crying.
"Don't be angry with me. I'm silly and good for nothing... and
perhaps Alyosha's right, quite right, in not wanting to come and see
such a ridiculous girl."
"I will certainly send him," said the elder.