The Brothers Karamazov HTML version

7. The Controversy
BUT Balaam's ass had suddenly spoken. The subject was a strange one. Grigory
had gone in the morning to make purchases, and had heard from the shopkeeper
Lukyanov the story of a Russian soldier which had appeared in the newspaper of
that day. This soldier had been taken prisoner in some remote part of Asia, and
was threatened with an immediate agonising death if he did not renounce
Christianity and follow Islam. He refused to deny his faith, and was tortured,
flayed alive, and died, praising and glorifying Christ. Grigory had related the story
at table. Fyodor Pavlovitch always liked, over the dessert after dinner, to laugh
and talk, if only with Grigory. This afternoon he was in a particularly good-
humoured and expansive mood. Sipping his brandy and listening to the story, he
observed that they ought to make a saint of a soldier like that, and to take his
skin to some monastery. "That would make the people flock, and bring the
money in."
Grigory frowned, seeing that Fyodor Pavlovitch was by no means touched, but,
as usual, was beginning to scoff. At that moment Smerdyakov, who was standing
by the door, smiled. Smerdyakov often waited at table towards the end of dinner,
and since Ivan's arrival in our town he had done so every day.
"What are you grinning at?" asked Fyodor Pavlovitch, catching the smile
instantly, and knowing that it referred to Grigory.
"Well, my opinion is," Smerdyakov began suddenly and unexpectedly in a loud
voice, "that if that laudable soldier's exploit was so very great there would have
been, to my thinking, no sin in it if he had on such an emergency renounced, so
to speak, the name of Christ and his own christening, to save by that same his
life, for good deeds, by which, in the course of years to expiate his cowardice."
"How could it not be a sin? You're talking nonsense. For that you'll go straight to
hell and be roasted there like mutton," put in Fyodor Pavlovitch.
It was at this point that Alyosha came in, and Fyodor Pavlovitch, as we have
seen, was highly delighted at his appearance.
"We're on your subject, your subject," he chuckled gleefully, making Alyosha sit
down to listen.
"As for mutton, that's not so, and there'll be nothing there for this, and there
shouldn't be either, if it's according to justice," Smerdyakov maintained stoutly.
"How do you mean 'according to justice'?" Fyodor Pavlovitch cried still more
gaily, nudging Alyosha with his knee.