“She may be there . . .”
Mitya is jealous. He hides in the bushes in the dark outside the window, wondering whether his beloved is inside with the old man. He’s already peeked in through the window. He can’t see her. She could be there behind the screen, out of sight.
“. . . she’s not there.”
But he doesn’t think so. He knows she couldn’t be. Yet still he doubts. Reassuring himself as he walks away he says to himself:
“He’s alone, he’s alone!”
The old man is alone. She is somewhere else. (Where?) He ought to feel relieved. (But where is she?) And still he doubts.
“Strange to say, a queer, irrational vexation rose up in his heart that she was not here. ‘It’s not that she’s not here,’ he explained to himself, immediately. ‘but that I can’t tell for certain whether she is or not.’”
He knows and doesn’t know she’s not there. He knows but doesn’t know for certain, which can seem like not knowing. Sometimes you know something, and it is only afterward when you entertain doubt and demand certainty that suddenly you feel you don’t know it –– even though you do. Certainty is not necessary for knowing something.
“Is she here or not?”
There’s only one way to be sure. He creeps back up to the window to give the secret knock. An agreed sign between the old man and his servant, to announce her arrival. Mitya can see immediately that the old man is excited, and he quickly dashes away as the old man comes to the window. And opens the window and looks out, calling her name.
“‘He’s alone,’ Mitya decided.”
It’s clear, beyond doubt. Now he can leave . . . but he’s waited too long. Now he’s spotted and chased across the grounds by an old servant, he reaches for the instrument in his pocket as the servant catches him climbing the wall –– Mitya strikes, and the man collapses to the ground. Dead? If only Mitya had trusted himself, been sure of what he had known, the tragedy would have been avoided . . . (Dostoevsky has already said that Othello trusted too much, which is why, persuaded that Desdemona has been treacherous, he is lost –– “his ideal was destroyed.” Mitya has the opposite problem: he doesn’t trust anyone enough, not even himself, and this leads to the accident –– a tragedy, if the old servant dies, and a senseless one . . .)
(I’ve been reading The Karamazov Brothers by Fyodor Dostoevsky, translated by Constance Garnett, published by Wordsworth Classics in 2010.)