The Brothers Karamazov
3. Peasant Women Who Have Faith
NEAR the wooden portico below, built on to the outer wall of the precinct, there
was a crowd of about twenty peasant women. They had been told that the elder
was at last coming out, and they had gathered together in anticipation. Two
ladies, Madame Hohlakov and her daughter, had also come out into the portico
to wait for the elder, but in a separate part of it set aside for women of rank.
Madame Hohlakov was a wealthy lady, still young and attractive, and always
dressed with taste. She was rather pale, and had lively black eyes. She was not
more than thirty-three, and had been five years a widow. Her daughter, a girl of
fourteen, was partially paralysed. The poor child had not been able to walk for
the last six months, and was wheeled about in a long reclining chair. She had a
charming little face, rather thin from illness, but full of gaiety. There was a gleam
of mischief in her big dark eyes with their long lashes. Her mother had been
intending to take her abroad ever since the spring, but they had been detained all
the summer by business connected with their estate. They had been staying a
week in our town, where they had come more for purposes of business than
devotion, but had visited Father Zossima once already, three days before.
Though they knew that the elder scarcely saw anyone, they had now suddenly
turned up again, and urgently entreated "the happiness of looking once again on
the great healer."
The mother was sitting on a chair by the side of her daughter's invalid carriage,
and two paces from her stood an old monk, not one of our monastery, but a
visitor from an obscure religious house in the far north. He too sought the elder's
But Father Zossima, on entering the portico, went first straight to the peasants
who were crowded at the foot of the three steps that led up into the portico.
Father Zossima stood on the top step, put on his stole, and began blessing the
women who thronged about him. One crazy woman was led up to him. As soon
as she caught sight of the elder she began shrieking and writhing as though in
the pains of childbirth. Laying the stole on her forehead, he read a short prayer
over her, and she was at once soothed and quieted.
I do not know how it may be now, but in my childhood I often happened to see
and hear these "possessed" women in the villages and monasteries. They used
to be brought to mass; they would squeal and bark like a dog so that they were
heard all over the church. But when the sacrament was carried in and they were
led up to it, at once the "possession" ceased, and the sick women were always
soothed for a time. I was greatly impressed and amazed at this as a child; but
then I heard from country neighbours and from my town teachers that the whole
illness was simulated to avoid work, and that it could always be cured by suitable