"Vice! Oh, that's what you are after! But I'll answer you in order, first about women in general; you know I am fond of talking. Tell me, what should I restrain myself for? Why should I give up women, since I have a passion for them? It's an occupation, anyway."
"So you hope for nothing here but vice?"
"Oh, very well, for vice then. You insist on its being vice. But anyway I like a direct question. In this vice at least there is something permanent, founded indeed upon nature and not dependent on fantasy, something present in the blood like an ever-burning ember, for ever setting one on fire and, maybe, not to be quickly extinguished, even with years. You'll agree it's an occupation of a sort."
"That's nothing to rejoice at, it's a disease and a dangerous one."
"Oh, that's what you think, is it! I agree, that it is a disease like everything that exceeds moderation. And, of course, in this one must exceed moderation. But in the first place, everybody does so in one way or another, and in the second place, of course, one ought to be moderate and prudent, however mean it may be, but what am I to do? If I hadn't this, I might have to shoot myself. I am ready to admit that a decent man ought to put up with being bored, but yet . . . "
"And could you shoot yourself?"
"Oh, come!" Svidrigailov parried with disgust. "Please don't speak of it," he added hurriedly and with none of the bragging tone he had shown in all the previous conversation. His face quite changed. "I admit it's an unpardonable weakness, but I can't help it. I am afraid of death and I dislike its being talked of. Do you know that I am to a certain extent a mystic?"
"Ah, the apparitions of Marfa Petrovna! Do they still go on visiting you?"
"Oh, don't talk of them; there have been no more in Petersburg, confound them!" he cried with an air of irritation. "Let's rather talk of that . . . though . . . H'm! I have not much time, and can't stay long with you, it's a pity! I should have found plenty to tell you."
"What's your engagement, a woman?"
"Yes, a woman, a casual incident . . . . No, that's not what I want to talk of."
"And the hideousness, the filthiness of all your surroundings, doesn't that affect you? Have you lost the strength to stop yourself?"
"And do you pretend to strength, too? He-he-he! You surprised me just now, Rodion Romanovitch, though I knew beforehand it would be so. You preach to me about vice and aesthetics! You — a Schiller, you — an idealist! Of course that's all as it should be and it would be surprising if it were not so, yet it is strange in reality . . . . Ah, what a pity I have no time, for you're a most interesting type! And, by-the-way, are you fond of Schiller? I am awfully fond of him."
"But what a braggart you are," Raskolnikov said with some disgust.
"Upon my word, I am not," answered Svidrigailov laughing. "However, I won't dispute it, let me be a braggart, why not brag, if it hurts no one? I spent seven years in the country with Marfa Petrovna, so now when I come across an intelligent person like you — intelligent and highly interesting — I am simply glad to talk and, besides, I've drunk that half-glass of champagne and it's gone to my head a little. And besides, there's a certain fact that has wound me up tremendously, but about that I . . . will keep quiet. Where are you off to?" he asked in alarm.
Raskolnikov had begun getting up. He felt oppressed and stifled and, as it were, ill at ease at having come here. He felt convinced that Svidrigailov was the most worthless scoundrel on the face of the earth.
"A-ach! Sit down, stay a little!" Svidrigailov begged. "Let them bring you some tea, anyway. Stay a little, I won't talk nonsense, about myself, I mean. I'll tell you something. If you like I'll tell you how a woman tried 'to save' me, as you would call it? It will be an answer to your first question indeed, for the woman was your sister. May I tell you? It will help to spend the time."
"Tell me, but I trust that you . . . "
"Oh, don't be uneasy. Besides, even in a worthless low fellow like me, Avdotya Romanovna can only excite the deepest respect."