The Possessed

by Fyodor Dostoevsky

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Chapter III - The Duel


THE NEXT DAY, at two o’clock in the afternoon, the duel took place as arranged. Things were hastened forward by Gaganov’s obstinate desire to fight at all costs. He did not understand his adversary’s conduct, and was in a fury. For a whole month he had been insulting him with impunity, and had so far been unable to make him lose patience. What he wanted was a challenge on the part of Nikolay Vsyevolodovitch, as he had not himself any direct pretext for challenging him. His secret motive for it, that is, his almost morbid hatred of Stavrogin for the insult to his family four years before, he was for some reason ashamed to confess. And indeed he regarded this himself as an impossible pretext for a challenge, especially in view of the humble apology offered by Nikolay Stavrogin twice already. He privately made up his mind that Stavrogin was a shameless coward; and could not understand how he could have accepted Shatov’s blow. So he made up his mind at last to send him the extraordinarily rude letter that had finally roused Nikolay Vsyevolodovitch himself to propose a meeting. Having dispatched this letter the day before, he awaited a challenge with feverish impatience, and while morbidly reckoning the chances at one moment with hope and at the next with despair, he got ready for any emergency by securing a second, to wit, Mavriky Nikolaevitch Drozdov, who was a friend of his, an old schoolfellow, a man for whom he had a great respect. So when Kirillov came next morning at nine o’clock with his message he found things in readiness. All the apologies and unheard-of condescension of Nikolay Vsyevolodovitch were at once, at the first word, rejected with extraordinary exasperation. Mavriky Nikolaevitch, who had only been made acquainted with the position of affairs the evening before, opened his mouth with surprise at such incredible concessions, and would have urged a reconciliation, but seeing that Gaganov, guessing his intention, was almost trembling in his chair, refrained, and said nothing. If it had not been for the promise given to his old schoolfellow he would have retired immediately; he only remained in the hope of being some help on the scene of action. Kirillov repeated the challenge. All the conditions of the encounter made by Stavrogin were accepted on the spot, without the faintest objection. Only one addition was made, and that a ferocious one. If the first shots had no decisive effect, they were to fire again, and if the second encounter were inconclusive, it was to be followed by a third. Kirillov frowned, objected to the third encounter, but gaining nothing by his efforts agreed on the condition, however, that three should be the limit, and that “a fourth encounter was out of the question.” This was conceded. Accordingly at two o’clock in the afternoon the meeting took place at Brykov, that is, in a little copse in the outskirts of the town, lying between Skvoreshniki and the Shpigulin factory. The rain of the previous night was over, but it was damp, grey, and windy. Low, ragged, dingy clouds moved rapidly across the cold sky. The tree-tops roared with a deep droning sound, and creaked on their roots; it was a melancholy morning.

Mavriky Nikolaevitch and Gaganov arrived on the spot in a smart char-à-banc with a pair of horses driven by the latter. They were accompanied by a groom. Nikolay Vsyevolodovitch and Kirillov arrived almost at the same instant. They were not driving, they were on horseback, and were also followed by a mounted servant. Kirillov, who had never mounted a horse before, sat up boldly, erect in the saddle, grasping in his right hand the heavy box of pistols which he would not entrust to the servant. In his inexperience he was continually with his left hand tugging at the reins, which made the horse toss his head and show an inclination to rear. This, however, seemed to cause his rider no uneasiness. Gaganov, who was morbidly suspicious and always ready to be deeply offended, considered their coming on horseback as a fresh insult to himself, inasmuch as it showed that his opponents were too confident of success, since they had not even thought it necessary to have a carriage in case of being wounded and disabled. He got out of his char-à-banc, yellow with anger, and felt that his hands were trembling, as he told Mavriky Nikolaevitch. He made no response at all to Nikolay Vsyevolodovitch’s bow, and turned away. The seconds cast lots. The lot fell on Kirillov’s pistols. They measured out the barrier and placed the combatants. The servants with the carriage and horses were moved back three hundred paces. The weapons were loaded and handed to the combatants.

I’m sorry that I have to tell my story more quickly and have no time for descriptions. But I can’t refrain from some comments. Mavriky Nikolaevitch was melancholy and preoccupied. Kirillov, on the other hand, was perfectly calm and unconcerned, very exact over the details of the duties he had undertaken, but without the slightest fussiness or even curiosity as to the issue of the fateful contest that was so near at hand. Nikolay Vsyevolodovitch was paler than usual. He was rather lightly dressed in an overcoat and a white beaver hat. He seemed very tired, he frowned from time to time, and seemed to feel it superfluous to conceal his ill-humour. But Gaganov was at this moment more worthy of mention than anyone, so that it is quite impossible not to say a few words about him in particular.


I have hitherto not had occasion to describe his appearance. He was a tall man of thirty-three, and well fed, as the common folk express it, almost fat, with lank flaxen hair, and with features which might be called handsome. He had retired from the service with the rank of colonel, and if he had served till he reached the rank of general he would have been even more impressive in that position, and would very likely have become an excellent fighting general.

I must add, as characteristic of the man, that the chief cause of his leaving the army was the thought of the family disgrace which had haunted him so painfully since the insult paid to his father by Nikolay Vsyevolodovitch four years before at the club. He conscientiously considered it dishonourable to remain in the service, and was inwardly persuaded that he was contaminating the regiment and his companions, although they knew nothing of the incident. It’s true that he had once before been disposed to leave the army long before the insult to his father, and on quite other grounds, but he had hesitated. Strange as it is to write, the original design, or rather desire, to leave the army was due to the proclamation of the 19th of February of the emancipation of the serfs. Gaganov, who was one of the richest landowners in the province, and who had not lost very much by the emancipation, and was, moreover, quite capable of understanding the humanity of the reform and its economic advantages, suddenly felt himself personally insulted by the proclamation. It was something unconscious, a feeling; but was all the stronger for being unrecognised. He could not bring himself, however, to take any decisive step till his father’s death. But he began to be well known for his “gentlemanly” ideas to many persons of high position in Petersburg, with whom he strenuously kept up connections. He was secretive and self-contained. Another characteristic: he belonged to that strange section of the nobility, still surviving in Russia, who set an extreme value on their pure and ancient lineage, and take it too seriously. At the same time he could not endure Russian history, and, indeed, looked upon Russian customs in general as more or less piggish. Even in his childhood, in the special military school for the sons of particularly wealthy and distinguished families in which he had the privilege of being educated, from first to last certain poetic notions were deeply rooted in his mind. He loved castles, chivalry; all the theatrical part of it. He was ready to cry with shame that in the days of the Moscow Tsars the sovereign had the right to inflict corporal punishment on the Russian boyars, and blushed at the contrast. This stiff and extremely severe man, who had a remarkable knowledge of military science and performed his duties admirably, was at heart a dreamer. It was said that he could speak at meetings and had the gift of language, but at no time during the thirty-three years of his life had he spoken. Even in the distinguished circles in Petersburg, in which he had moved of late, he behaved with extraordinary haughtiness. His meeting in Petersburg with Nikolay Vsyevolodovitch, who had just returned from abroad, almost sent him out of his mind. At the present moment, standing at the barrier, he was terribly uneasy. He kept imagining that the duel would somehow not come off; the least delay threw him into a tremor. There was an expression of anguish in his face when Kirillov, instead of giving the signal for them to fire, began suddenly speaking, only for form, indeed, as he himself explained aloud.

“Simply as a formality, now that you have the pistols in your hands, and I must give the signal, I ask you for the last time, will you not be reconciled? It’s the duty of a second.”

As though to spite him, Mavriky Nikolaevitch, who had till then kept silence, although he had been reproaching himself all day for his compliance and acquiescence, suddenly caught up Kirillov’s thought and began to speak:

“I entirely agree with Mr. Kirillov’s words.… This idea that reconciliation is impossible at the barrier is a prejudice, only suitable for Frenchmen. Besides, with your leave, I don’t understand what the offence is. I’ve been wanting to say so for a long time … because every apology is offered, isn’t it?”

He flushed all over. He had rarely spoken so much, and with such excitement.

“I repeat again my offer to make every possible apology,” Nikolay Vsyevolodovitch interposed hurriedly.

“This is impossible,” shouted Gaganov furiously, addressing Mavriky Nikolaevitch, and stamping with rage. “Explain to this man,” he pointed with his pistol at Nikolay Vsyevolodovitch, “if you’re my second and not my enemy, Mavriky Nikolaevitch, that such overtures only aggravate the insult. He feels it impossible to be insulted by me!… He feels it no disgrace to walk away from me at the barrier! What does he take me for, after that, do you think?… And you, you, my second, too! You’re simply irritating me that I may miss.”

He stamped again. There were flecks of foam on his lips.

“Negotiations are over. I beg you to listen to the signal!” Kirillov shouted at the top of his voice. “One! Two! Three!”

At the word “Three” the combatants took aim at one another. Gaganov at once raised his pistol, and at the fifth or sixth step he fired. For a second he stood still, and, making sure that he had missed, advanced to the barrier. Nikolay Vsyevolodovitch advanced too, raising his pistol, but somehow holding it very high, and fired, almost without taking aim. Then he took out his handkerchief and bound it round the little finger of his right hand. Only then they saw that Gaganov had not missed him completely, but the bullet had only grazed the fleshy part of his finger without touching the bone; it was only a slight scratch. Kirillov at once announced that the duel would go on, unless the combatants were satisfied.

“I declare,” said Gaganov hoarsely (his throat felt parched), again addressing Mavriky Nikolaevitch, “that this man,” again he pointed in Stavrogin’s direction, “fired in the air on purpose … intentionally.… This is an insult again.… He wants to make the duel impossible!”

“I have the right to fire as I like so long as I keep the rules,” Nikolay Vsyevolodovitch asserted resolutely.

“No, he hasn’t! Explain it to him! Explain it!” cried Gaganov.

“I’m in complete agreement with Nikolay Vsyevolodovitch,” proclaimed Kirillov.

“Why does he spare me?” Gaganov raged, not hearing him. “I despise his mercy.… I spit on it.… I …”

“I give you my word that I did not intend to insult you,” cried Nikolay Vsyevolodovitch impatiently. “I shot high because I don’t want to kill anyone else, either you or anyone else. It’s nothing to do with you personally. It’s true that I don’t consider myself insulted, and I’m sorry that angers you. But I don’t allow any one to interfere with my rights.”

“If he’s so afraid of bloodshed, ask him why he challenged me,” yelled Gaganov, still addressing Mavriky Nikolaevitch.

“How could he help challenging you?” said Kirillov, intervening. “You wouldn’t listen to anything. How was one to get rid of you?”

“I’ll only mention one thing,” observed Mavriky Nikolaevitch, pondering the matter with painful effort. “If a combatant declares beforehand that he will fire in the air the duel certainly cannot go on … for obvious and … delicate reasons.”

“I haven’t declared that I’ll fire in the air every time,” cried Stavrogin, losing all patience. “You don’t know what’s in my mind or how I intend to fire again.… I’m not restricting the duel at all.”

“In that case the encounter can go on,” said Mavriky Nikolaevitch to Gaganov.

“Gentlemen, take your places,” Kirillov commanded. Again they advanced, again Gaganov missed and Stavrogin fired into the air. There might have been a dispute as to his firing into the air. Nikolay Vsyevolodovitch might have flatly declared that he’d fired properly, if he had not admitted that he had missed intentionally. He did not aim straight at the sky or at the trees, but seemed to aim at his adversary, though as he pointed the pistol the bullet flew a yard above his hat. The second time the shot was even lower, even less like an intentional miss. Nothing would have convinced Gaganov now.

“Again!” he muttered, grinding his teeth. “No matter! I’ve been challenged and I’ll make use of my rights. I’ll fire a third time … whatever happens.”

“You have full right to do so,” Kirillov rapped out. Mavriky Nikolaevitch said nothing. The opponents were placed a third time, the signal was given. This time Gaganov went right up to the barrier, and began from there taking aim, at a distance of twelve paces. His hand was trembling too much to take good aim. Stavrogin stood with his pistol lowered and awaited his shot without moving.

“Too long; you’ve been aiming too long!” Kirillov shouted impetuously. “Fire! Fire!”

But the shot rang out, and this time Stavrogin’s white beaver hat flew off. The aim had been fairly correct. The crown of the hat was pierced very low down; a quarter of an inch lower and all would have been over. Kirillov picked up the hat and handed it to Nikolay Vsyevolodovitch.

“Fire; don’t detain your adversary!” cried Mavriky Nikolaevitch in extreme agitation, seeing that Stavrogin seemed to have forgotten to fire, and was examining the hat with Kirillov. Stavrogin started, looked at Gaganov, turned round and this time, without the slightest regard for punctilio, fired to one side, into the copse. The duel was over. Gaganov stood as though overwhelmed. Mavriky Nikolaevitch went up and began saying something to him, but he did not seem to understand. Kirillov took off his hat as he went away, and nodded to Mavriky Nikolaevitch. But Stavrogin forgot his former politeness. When he had shot into the copse he did not even turn towards the barrier. He handed his pistol to Kirillov and hastened towards the horses. His face looked angry; he did not speak. Kirillov, too, was silent. They got on their horses and set off at a gallop.


“Why don’t you speak?” he called impatiently to Kirillov, when they were not far from home.

“What do you want?” replied the latter, almost slipping off his horse, which was rearing.

Stavrogin restrained himself.

“I didn’t mean to insult that … fool, and I’ve insulted him again,” he said quietly.

“Yes, you’ve insulted him again,” Kirillov jerked out, “and besides, he’s not a fool.”

“I’ve done all I can, anyway.”


“What ought I to have done?”

“Not have challenged him.”

“Accept another blow in the face?”

“Yes, accept another.”

“I can’t understand anything now,” said Stavrogin wrathfully. “Why does every one expect of me something not expected from anyone else? Why am I to put up with what no one else puts up with, and undertake burdens no one else can bear?”

“I thought you were seeking a burden yourself.”

“I seek a burden?”


“You’ve … seen that?”


“Is it so noticeable?”


There was silence for a moment. Stavrogin had a very preoccupied face. He was almost impressed.

“I didn’t aim because I didn’t want to kill anyone. There was nothing more in it, I assure you,” he said hurriedly, and with agitation, as though justifying himself.

“You ought not to have offended him.”

“What ought I to have done then?”

“You ought to have killed him.”

“Are you sorry I didn’t kill him?”

“I’m not sorry for anything. I thought you really meant to kill him. You don’t know what you’re seeking.”

“I seek a burden,” laughed Stavrogin.

“If you didn’t want blood yourself, why did you give him a chance to kill you?”

“If I hadn’t challenged him, he’d have killed me simply, without a duel.”

“That’s not your affair. Perhaps he wouldn’t have killed you.”

“Only have beaten me?”

“That’s not your business. Bear your burden. Or else there’s no merit.”

“Hang your merit. I don’t seek anyone’s approbation.”

“I thought you were seeking it,” Kirillov commented with terrible unconcern.

They rode into the courtyard of the house.

“Do you care to come in?” said Nikolay Vsyevolodovitch.

“No; I’m going home. Good-bye.”

He got off the horse and took his box of pistols under his arm.

“Anyway, you’re not angry with me?” said Stavrogin, holding out his hand to him.

“Not in the least,” said Kirillov, turning round to shake hands with him. “If my burden’s light it’s because it’s from nature; perhaps your burden’s heavier because that’s your nature. There’s no need to be much ashamed; only a little.”

“I know I’m a worthless character, and I don’t pretend to be a strong one.”

“You’d better not; you’re not a strong person. Come and have tea.”

Nikolay Vsyevolodovitch went into the house, greatly perturbed.


He learned at once from Alexey Yegorytch that Varvara Petrovna had been very glad to hear that Nikolay Vsyevolodovitch had gone out for a ride—the first time he had left the house after eight days’ illness. She had ordered the carriage, and had driven out alone for a breath of fresh air “according to the habit of the past, as she had forgotten for the last eight days what it meant to breathe fresh air.”

“Alone, or with Darya Pavlovna?” Nikolay Vsyevolodovitch interrupted the old man with a rapid question, and he scowled when he heard that Darya Pavlovna “had declined to go abroad on account of indisposition and was in her rooms.”

“Listen, old man,” he said, as though suddenly making up his mind. “Keep watch over her all to-day, and if you notice her coming to me, stop her at once, and tell her that I can’t see her for a few days at least … that I ask her not to come myself.… I’ll let her know myself, when the time comes. Do you hear?”

“I’ll tell her, sir,” said Alexey Yegorytch, with distress in his voice, dropping his eyes.

“Not till you see clearly she’s meaning to come and see me of herself, though.”

“Don’t be afraid, sir, there shall be no mistake. Your interviews have all passed through me, hitherto. You’ve always turned to me for help.”

“I know. Not till she comes of herself, anyway. Bring me some tea, if you can, at once.”

The old man had hardly gone out, when almost at the same instant the door reopened, and Darya Pavlovna appeared in the doorway. Her eyes were tranquil, though her face was pale.

“Where have you come from?” exclaimed Stavrogin.

“I was standing there, and waiting for him to go out, to come in to you. I heard the order you gave him, and when he came out just now I hid round the corner, on the right, and he didn’t notice me.”

“I’ve long meant to break off with you, Dasha … for a while … for the present. I couldn’t see you last night, in spite of your note. I meant to write to you myself, but I don’t know how to write,” he added with vexation, almost as though with disgust.

“I thought myself that we must break it off. Varvara Petrovna is too suspicious of our relations.”

“Well, let her be.”

“She mustn’t be worried. So now we part till the end comes.”

“You still insist on expecting the end?”

“Yes, I’m sure of it.”

“But nothing in the world ever has an end.”

“This will have an end. Then call me. I’ll come. Now, good-bye.”

“And what sort of end will it be?” smiled Nikolay Vsyevolodovitch.

“You’re not wounded, and … have not shed blood?” she asked, not answering his question.

“It was stupid. I didn’t kill anyone. Don’t be uneasy. However, you’ll hear all about it to-day from every one. I’m not quite well.”

“I’m going. The announcement of the marriage won’t be to-day?” she added irresolutely.

“It won’t be to-day, and it won’t be to-morrow. I can’t say about the day after to-morrow. Perhaps we shall all be dead, and so much the better. Leave me alone, leave me alone, do.”

“You won’t ruin that other … mad girl?”

“I won’t ruin either of the mad creatures. It seems to be the sane I’m ruining. I’m so vile and loathsome, Dasha, that I might really send for you, ‘at the latter end,’ as you say. And in spite of your sanity you’ll come. Why will you be your own ruin?”

“I know that at the end I shall be the only one left you, and … I’m waiting for that.”

“And what if I don’t send for you after all, but run away from you?”

“That can’t be. You will send for me.”

“There’s a great deal of contempt for me in that.”

“You know that there’s not only contempt.”

“Then there is contempt, anyway?”

“I used the wrong word. God is my witness, it’s my greatest wish that you may never have need of me.”

“One phrase is as good as another. I should also have wished not to have ruined you.”

“You can never, anyhow, be my ruin; and you know that yourself, better than anyone,” Darya Pavlovna said, rapidly and resolutely. “If I don’t come to you I shall be a sister of mercy, a nurse, shall wait upon the sick, or go selling the gospel. I’ve made up my mind to that. I cannot be anyone’s wife. I can’t live in a house like this, either. That’s not what I want.… You know all that.”

“No, I never could tell what you want. It seems to me that you’re interested in me, as some veteran nurses get specially interested in some particular invalid in comparison with the others, or still more, like some pious old women who frequent funerals and find one corpse more attractive than another. Why do you look at me so strangely?”

“Are you very ill?” she asked sympathetically, looking at him in a peculiar way. “Good heavens! And this man wants to do without me!”

“Listen, Dasha, now I’m always seeing phantoms. One devil offered me yesterday, on the bridge, to murder Lebyadkin and Marya Timofyevna, to settle the marriage difficulty, and to cover up all traces. He asked me to give him three roubles on account, but gave me to understand that the whole operation wouldn’t cost less than fifteen hundred. Wasn’t he a calculating devil! A regular shopkeeper. Ha ha!”

“But you’re fully convinced that it was an hallucination?”

“Oh, no; not a bit an hallucination! It was simply Fedka the convict, the robber who escaped from prison. But that’s not the point. What do you suppose I did! I gave him all I had, everything in my purse, and now he’s sure I’ve given him that on account!”

“You met him at night, and he made such a suggestion? Surely you must see that you’re being caught in their nets on every side!”

“Well, let them be. But you’ve got some question at the tip of your tongue, you know. I see it by your eyes,” he added with a resentful and irritable smile.

Dasha was frightened.

“I’ve no question at all, and no doubt whatever; you’d better be quiet!” she cried in dismay, as though waving off his question.

“Then you’re convinced that I won’t go to Fedka’s little shop?”

“Oh, God!” she cried, clasping her hands. “Why do you torture me like this?”

“Oh, forgive me my stupid joke. I must be picking up bad manners from them. Do you know, ever since last night I feel awfully inclined to laugh, to go on laughing continually forever so long. It’s as though I must explode with laughter. It’s like an illness.… Oh! my mother’s coming in. I always know by the rumble when her carriage has stopped at the entrance.”

Dasha seized his hand.

“God save you from your demon, and … call me, call me quickly!”

“Oh! a fine demon! It’s simply a little nasty, scrofulous imp, with a cold in his head, one of the unsuccessful ones. But you have something you don’t dare to say again, Dasha?”

She looked at him with pain and reproach, and turned towards the door.

“Listen,” he called after her, with a malignant and distorted smile. “If … Yes, if, in one word, if … you understand, even if I did go to that little shop, and if I called you after that—would you come then?”

She went out, hiding her face in her hands, and neither turning nor answering.

“She will come even after the shop,” he whispered, thinking a moment, and an expression of scornful disdain came into his face. “A nurse! H’m!… but perhaps that’s what I want.”

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