Alexei reaches Madame Khokhlakov’s stone house—one of the best and most beautiful homes in town. Madame Khokhlakov also has an estate in another district and her own house in Moscow. She inherited her house in town “from her fathers and grandfathers.” She runs out to the front hall to greet Alexei. She asks him if he received her letter about the miracle. He confirms that he did, and then says that the elder Zosima will die today. Madame Khokhlakov says she knows. She adds that Katerina Ivanovna is in the house with Ivan.
Madame Khokhlakov is a woman who lives in privilege because of her lineage. It’s interesting that she inherits her property—this indicates that she either received it as part of a dowry and kept it after her husband disappeared (it’s assumed that he died), or that she benefited from the expansion of inheritance rights for women in 1731.
Madame Khokhlakov then asks Alexei if he knows why Lise is in hysterics. Lise’s strained voice emerges from one of the side rooms and says that it’s her mother and not her who’s in hysterics. Madame Khokhlakov says that she had Herzenstube come in to check on Lise. As usual, he could make nothing of her reactions. She says that as soon as Lise knew Alexei was coming, “she screamed and had a fit.”
Given Lise’s seemingly calm reaction to Alexei’s presence, it seems that her mother has either misjudged or overreacted to what was probably an expression of excitement over seeing Alexei. Madame Khokhlakov is overprotective of her daughter.
Alexei asks Madame Khokhlakov for a rag with which to wrap his finger. Madame Khokhlakov shrieks at the ugly wound. Lise also sees Alexei’s finger and swings open the door to her room. Frightened, she demands that they quickly wash the wound. Madame Khokhlakov offers to send for Herzenstube. Alexei assures them that he’s fine. Lise sends her mother away to get some antiseptic for the wound. She then asks Alexei how it happened, and he describes the episode with the schoolboys.
The ugly wound on Alexei’s middle finger will later be replicated by Lise when she smashes her finger in a door. Like Alexei, her identity is inseparable from her sense that she deserves to suffer. In this instance, she swings open her door to offer loving tenderness to Alexei. When they next meet, she will close it and commit an act of viciousness against herself.
Lise then asks Alexei to give her the letter that she sent him yesterday, which she believes he has in his pocket. He assures her that he doesn’t have it. She asks him if he laughed at her words and he assures her that he didn’t. In fact, he says that, after the elder Zosima dies, he must leave the monastery and finish his studies. When “the legal time comes,” he says, he will marry Lise. She points out that she’s in a wheelchair, but Alexei assures her that he’ll wheel her around, though he thinks that she’ll overcome her paralysis by then.
Lise is afraid that Alexei will think her words were nothing more than the infatuated ramblings of a little girl. By referring to “the legal time,” Alexei means that he can’t marry fourteen-year-old Lise until she’s sixteen, which became the legal age of marriage for girls after 1830.
Alexei announces that he must go to see Katerina Ivanovna. It upsets Lise that he’s leaving her, though he offers to return to her rooms before going back to the monastery. Madame Khokhlakov leaves with Alexei and tells him, “in a quick whisper,” about the comedy that’s ensuing between Ivan and Katerina. Katerina clearly loves Ivan but is persuading herself that she loves Dmitri.
The “comedy” is that both Katerina and Ivan are too proud to tell each other the truth. Katerina is persuading herself that she loves Dmitri because she made a commitment to him, and her relationship with him gives her purpose.