AT MIDDAY on the 22nd, Pierre was walking along the muddy, slippery road uphill, looking at his feet and at the unevenness of the road. From time to time he glanced at the familiar crowd around him, and then again at his feet. Both that crowd and those feet were alike his and familiar to him. The purplish, bandy-legged, grey dog was running merrily along at the side of the road; sometimes picking up a hind leg, and skipping along on three paws as a sign of content and briskness, or barking at the crows that perched on the carrion. The grey dog was sleeker and merrier than in Moscow. All around lay the flesh of different animals— from men to horses—in different stages of decomposition, and the marching soldiers prevented wolves from coming near it, so that the grey dog could feast to her heart's content.
Rain had been falling since early morning; and it seemed continually as though in another minute it would cease and the sky would clear, when, after a short break, the rain came on again more heavily. The road, saturated with rain, could soak up no more, and streams flowed along the ruts.
Pierre walked, looking from side to side, counting his steps, and reckoning them off in threes on his fingers. Inwardly addressing the rain, he said to it, “Now then, come on then, pelt away!”
It seemed to him that he was thinking of nothing at all; but somewhere deep down his soul was pondering something grave and consolatory. That something was the subtlest, spiritual deduction arising from his talk the night before with Karataev.
Getting chilled by the dying fire on the previous night's halt, Pierre had got up and moved to the next fire, which was burning better. There Platon was sitting, with a coat put over his head, like a priest's chasuble. In his flexible, pleasant voice, feeble now from illness, he was telling the soldiers a story Pierre had heard already. It was past midnight, the time when Karataev's fever usually abated, and he was particularly lively. As he drew near the fire and heard Platon's weak, sickly voice, and saw his piteous mien in the bright firelight, Pierre felt a pang at heart. He was frightened at his own pity for this man, and would have gone away, but there was no other fire to go to, and trying not to look at Platon, he sat down by it.
“Well, how is your fever?” he asked.
“How is my fever? Weep over sickness, and God won't give you death,” said Karataev, and he went back at once to the story he had begun.
“And so, brother,” he went on with a smile on his thin, white face, and a peculiar, joyful light in his eyes, “And so, brother …”
Pierre had heard the story long before. Karataev had told it to him, about six times already, and always with special joyful emotion. But well as Pierre knew the story, he listened to it now as though it were something new, and the subdued ecstasy, which Karataev evidently felt in telling it, infected Pierre too.
It was the story of an old merchant, who had lived in good works and in the fear of God with his family, and had made a journey one day with a companion, a rich merchant, to Makary.
Both the merchants had put up at an inn and gone to sleep; and next day the rich merchant had been found robbed, and with his throat cut. A knife, stained with blood, was found under the old merchant's pillow. The merchant was tried, sentenced to be flogged, and to have his nostrils slit—all according to the law in due course, as Karataev said—and sent to hard labour.
“And so, brother” (it was at this point in the story that Pierre found Karataev) “ten years or more passed by after that. The old man lives on in prison. He submits, as is fitting; he does nothing wrong. Only he prays to God for death. Very well. And so at night-time they are gathered together, the convicts, just as we are here, and the old man with them. And so they fall to talking of what each is suffering for, and how he has sinned against God. One tells how he took a man's life, another two, another had set fire to something, and another was a runaway just for no reason. So they began asking the old man, ‘What,' they say, ‘are you suffering for, grandfather?' ‘I am suffering, dear brethren,' says he, ‘for my own sins, and for other men's sins. I have not taken a life, nor taken other men's goods, save what I have bestowed on poorer brethren. I was a merchant, dear brethren, and I had great wealth.' And he tells them this and that, and how the whole thing had happened. ‘For myself,' says he, ‘I do not grieve. God has chastened me. The only thing,' says he, ‘I am sorry for my old wife and my children.' And so the old man fell a-weeping. And it so happened that in that company there was the very man, you know, who had killed the merchant. ‘Where did it happen, grandfather?' says he. ‘When and in what month?' and so he asked him all about it. His heart began to ache. He goes up to the old man like this—and falls down at his feet. ‘You are suffering for me, old man,' says he. ‘It's the holy truth; this man is tormented innocently, for nothing, lads,' says he. ‘I did that deed,' says he, ‘and put the knife under his head when he was asleep. Forgive me, grandfather, for Christ's sake!' says he.”
Karataev paused, smiling blissfully, and gazing at the fire, as he rearranged the logs.
“The old man, he says, ‘God forgive you,' says he, ‘but we are all sinners before God,' says he. ‘I am suffering for my own sins.' And he wept with bitter tears. What do you think, darling?” said Karataev, his ecstatic smile growing more and more radiant, as though the great charm and whole point of his story lay in what he was going to tell now, “what do you think, darling, that murderer confessed of himself to the police. ‘I have killed six men,' says he (for he was a great criminal), ‘but what I am most sorry for is this old man. Let him not weep through my fault.' He confessed. It was written down, and a paper sent off to the right place. The place was far away. Then came a trial. Then all the reports were written in due course, by the authorities, I mean. It was brought to the Tsar. Then a decree comes from the Tsar to let the merchant go free; to give him the recompense they had awarded him. The paper comes; they fall to looking for the old man. Where was that old man who had suffered innocently? The paper had come from the Tsar, and they fell to looking for him.” Karataev's lower jaw quivered. “But God had pardoned him already—he was dead! So it happened, darling!” Karataev concluded, and he gazed a long while straight before him, smiling silently.
Not the story itself, but its mysterious import, the ecstatic gladness that beamed in Karataev's face as he told it, the mysterious significance of that gladness vaguely filled and rejoiced Pierre's soul now.