Raskolnikov gave back the pen; but instead of getting up and going away, he put his elbows on the table and pressed his head in his hands. He felt as if a nail were being driven into his skull. A strange idea suddenly occurred to him, to get up at once, to go up to Nikodim Fomitch, and tell him everything that had happened yesterday, and then to go with him to his lodgings and to show him the things in the hole in the corner. The impulse was so strong that he got up from his seat to carry it out. "Hadn't I better think a minute?" flashed through his mind. "No, better cast off the burden without thinking." But all at once he stood still, rooted to the spot. Nikodim Fomitch was talking eagerly with Ilya Petrovitch, and the words reached him:
"It's impossible, they'll both be released. To begin with, the whole story contradicts itself. Why should they have called the porter, if it had been their doing? To inform against themselves? Or as a blind? No, that would be too cunning! Besides, Pestryakov, the student, was seen at the gate by both the porters and a woman as he went in. He was walking with three friends, who left him only at the gate, and he asked the porters to direct him, in the presence of the friends. Now, would he have asked his way if he had been going with such an object? As for Koch, he spent half an hour at the silversmith's below, before he went up to the old woman and he left him at exactly a quarter to eight. Now just consider . . . "
"But excuse me, how do you explain this contradiction? They state themselves that they knocked and the door was locked; yet three minutes later when they went up with the porter, it turned out the door was unfastened."
"That's just it; the murderer must have been there and bolted himself in; and they'd have caught him for a certainty if Koch had not been an ass and gone to look for the porter too. He must have seized the interval to get downstairs and slip by them somehow. Koch keeps crossing himself and saying: 'If I had been there, he would have jumped out and killed me with his axe.' He is going to have a thanksgiving service — ha, ha!"
"And no one saw the murderer?"
"They might well not see him; the house is a regular Noah's Ark," said the head clerk, who was listening.
"It's clear, quite clear," Nikodim Fomitch repeated warmly.
"No, it is anything but clear," Ilya Petrovitch maintained.
Raskolnikov picked up his hat and walked towards the door, but he did not reach it . . . .
When he recovered consciousness, he found himself sitting in a chair, supported by someone on the right side, while someone else was standing on the left, holding a yellowish glass filled with yellow water, and Nikodim Fomitch standing before him, looking intently at him. He got up from the chair.
"What's this? Are you ill?" Nikodim Fomitch asked, rather sharply.
"He could hardly hold his pen when he was signing," said the head clerk, settling back in his place, and taking up his work again.
"Have you been ill long?" cried Ilya Petrovitch from his place, where he, too, was looking through papers. He had, of course, come to look at the sick man when he fainted, but retired at once when he recovered.
"Since yesterday," muttered Raskolnikov in reply.
"Did you go out yesterday?"
"Though you were ill?"
"At what time?"
"And where did you go, my I ask?"
"Along the street."
"Short and clear."
Raskolnikov, white as a handkerchief, had answered sharply, jerkily, without dropping his black feverish eyes before Ilya Petrovitch's stare.
"He can scarcely stand upright. And you . . . " Nikodim Fomitch was beginning.
"No matter," Ilya Petrovitch pronounced rather peculiarly.
Nikodim Fomitch would have made some further protest, but glancing at the head clerk who was looking very hard at him, he did not speak. There was a sudden silence. It was strange.
"Very well, then," concluded Ilya Petrovitch, "we will not detain you."
Raskolnikov went out. He caught the sound of eager conversation on his departure, and above the rest rose the questioning voice of Nikodim Fomitch. In the street, his faintness passed off completely.
"A search — there will be a search at once," he repeated to himself, hurrying home. "The brutes! they suspect."
His former terror mastered him completely again.