The House of the Dead, by Fyodor Dostoyevsky

Chapter 3.

The Hospital4 (continued).

I have spoken here of punishments and of those who have administered them, because I got a very clear idea on the subject during my stay in the hospital. Until then I knew of them only by general report. In our room were confined all the prisoners from the battalion who were to receive the spitzruten rods, as well as those from the military establishment in our town and in the district surrounding it.

During my first few days I looked at all that surrounded me with such greedy eyes that these strange manners, these men who had just been flogged or were about to be flogged, left upon me a terrible impression. I was agitated, frightened.

As I listened to the conversation or narratives of the other prisoners on this subject, I put to myself questions which I endeavoured in vain to solve. I wished to know all the degrees of the sentences; the punishments, and their shades; and to learn the opinion of the convicts themselves. I tried to represent to myself the psychological condition of the men flogged.

It rarely happened, as I have already said, that the prisoner approached the fatal moment in cold blood, even if he had been beaten several times before. The condemned man experiences a fear which is very terrible, but purely physical—an unconscious fear which upsets his moral nature.

During my several years’ stay in the convict prison I was able to study at leisure the prisoners who wished to leave the hospital, where they had remained some time to have their damaged backs cured before receiving the second half of their punishment. This interruption in the punishment is always called for by the doctor who assists at the execution.

If the number of strokes to be received is too great for them to be administered all at once, it is divided according to advice given by the doctor on the spot. It is for him to see if the prisoner is in a condition to undergo the whole of his punishment, or if his life is in danger.

Five hundred, one thousand, and even one thousand five hundred strokes with the stick are administered at once. But if it is two or three thousand the punishment is divided into two or three doses.

Those whose back had been cured after the first administration, and who are to undergo a second, were sad, sombre and silent the day they went out, and the evening before. They were almost in a state of torpor. They engaged in no conversation, and remained perfectly silent.

It is worthy of remark that the prisoners avoid addressing those who are about to be punished, and, above all, never make any allusion to the subject, neither in consolation nor in superfluous words. No attention whatever is paid to them, which is certainly the best thing for the prisoner.

There are exceptions, however.

The convict Orloff, of whom I have already spoken, was sorry that his back did not get more quickly cured, for he was anxious to get his leave-ticket in order that he might take the rest of his flogging, and then be assigned to a convoy of prisoners, when he meant to escape during the journey. He had a passionate, ardent nature, and with only that object in view.

A cunning rascal, he seemed very pleased when he first came; but he was in a state of abnormal excitement, though he endeavoured to conceal it. He had been afraid of being left on the ground, and dying before half of his punishment had been undergone. He had heard steps taken in his case, by the authorities, when he was still being tried, and he thought he could not survive the punishment. But when he had received his first dose he recovered his courage.

When he came to the hospital I had never seen such wounds as his; but he was in the best spirits. He now hoped to be able to live. The stories which had reached him were untrue, or the execution would not have been interrupted.

He now began to think of a long Siberian journey, possibly of escaping to liberty, fields, and forests.

Two days after he had left the hospital he came back to die—on the very couch which he had occupied during my stay there.

He had been unable to support the second half of his punishment; but I have already spoken of this man.

All the prisoners without exception, even the most pusillanimous, even those who were beforehand tormented night and day, supported it courageously when it came. I scarcely ever heard groans during the night following the execution; our people, as a rule, knew how to endure pain.

I questioned my companion often in reference to this pain, that I might know to what kind of suffering it might be compared. It was no idle curiosity which urged me. I repeat that I was moved and frightened; but it was in vain, I could get no satisfactory reply.

“It burns like fire!” was the general answer; they all said the same thing.

First I tried to question M—tski. “It burns like fire! like hell! It seems as if one’s back were in a furnace.”

I made one day a strange observation, which may or may not have been well founded, although the opinion of the convicts themselves confirms my views; namely, that the rods are the most terrible punishment in use among us.

At first it seems absurd, impossible, yet five hundred strokes of the rods, four hundred even, are enough to kill a man. Beyond five hundred death is almost certain; the most robust man will be unable to support a thousand rods, whereas five hundred sticks are endured without much inconvenience, and without the least risk in the world of losing one’s life. A man of ordinary build supports a thousand sticks without danger; even two thousand sticks will not kill a man of ordinary strength and constitution. All the convicts declared that rods were worse than sticks or ramrods.

“Rods hurt more and torture more!” they said.

They must torture more than sticks, that is certain, that is evident; for they irritate much more forcibly the nervous system, which they excite beyond measure. I do not know whether any person still exists, but such did a short time ago, to whom the whipping of a victim procured a delight which recalls the Marquis de Sade and the Marchioness Brinvilliers. I think this delight must consist in the sinking of the heart, and that these nobles must have experienced pain and delight at the same time.

There are people who, like tigers, are greedy for blood. Those who have possessed unlimited power over the flesh, blood, and soul of their fellow-creatures, of their brethren according to the law of Christ, those who have possessed this power and who have been able to degrade with a supreme degradation, another being made in the image of God; these men are incapable of resisting their desires and their thirst for sensations. Tyranny is a habit capable of being developed, and at last becomes a disease. I declare that the best man in the world can become hardened and brutified to such a point, that nothing will distinguish him from a wild beast. Blood and power intoxicate; they aid the development of callousness and debauchery; the mind then becomes capable of the most abnormal cruelty in the form of pleasure; the man and the citizen disappear for ever in the tyrant; and then a return to human dignity, repentance, moral resurrection, becomes almost impossible.

That the possibility of such license has a contagious effect on the whole of society there is no doubt. A society which looks upon such things with an indifferent eye, is already infected to the marrow. In a word, the right granted to a man to inflict corporal punishment on his fellow-men, is one of the plague-spots of our society. It is the means of annihilating all civic spirit. Such a right contains in germ the elements of inevitable, imminent decomposition.

Society despises an executioner by trade, but not a lordly executioner. Every manufacturer, every master of works, must feel an irritating pleasure when he reflects that the workman he has beneath his orders is dependent upon him with the whole of his family. A generation does not, I am sure, extirpate so quickly what is hereditary in it. A man cannot renounce what is in his blood, what has been transmitted to him with his mother’s milk; these revolutions are not accomplished so quickly. It is not enough to confess one’s fault. That is very little! Very little indeed! It must be rooted out, and that is not done so quickly.

I have spoken of the executioners. The instincts of an executioner are in germ in nearly every one of our contemporaries; but the animal instincts of the man have not developed themselves in a uniform manner. When they stifle all other faculties, the man becomes a hideous monster.

There are two kinds of executioners, those who of their own will are executioners and those who are executioners by duty, by reason of office. He who, by his own will, is an executioner, is in all respects below the salaried executioner, whom, however, the people look upon with repugnance, and who inspires them with disgust, with instinctive mystical fear. Whence comes this almost superstitious horror for the latter, when one is only indifferent and indulgent to the former?

I know strange examples of honourable men, kind, esteemed by all their friends, who found it necessary that a culprit should be whipped until he would implore and beg for mercy; it seemed to them a natural thing, a thing recognised as indispensable. If the victim did not choose to cry out, his executioner, whom in other respects I should consider a good man, looked upon it as a personal offence; he meant, in the first instance, to inflict only a light punishment, but directly he failed to hear the habitual supplications, “Your nobility!” “Have mercy!” “Be a father to me!” “Let me thank God all my life!” he became furious, and ordered that fifty more blows should be administered, hoping thus, at last, to obtain the necessary cries and supplications; and at last they came.

“Impossible! he is too insolent,” cried the man in question, very seriously.

As for the executioner by office, he is a convict who has been chosen for this function. He passes an apprenticeship with an old hand, and as soon as he knows his trade remains in the convict prison, where he lives by himself. He has a room, which he shares with no one. Sometimes, indeed, he has a separate establishment, but he is always under guard. A man is not a machine. Although he whips by virtue of his office, he sometimes becomes furious, and beats with a certain pleasure. Notwithstanding he has no hatred for his victim, a desire to show his skill in the art of whipping may sharpen his vanity. He works as an artist; he knows well that he is a reprobate, and that he excites everywhere superstitious dread. It is impossible that this should exercise no influence upon him, and not irritate his brutal instincts.

Even little children say that this man has neither father nor mother. Strange thing!

All the executioners I have known were intelligent men, possessing a certain degree of conceit. This conceit became developed in them through the contempt which they everywhere met with, and was strengthened, perhaps, by the consciousness of the fear with which they inspired their victims, and of the power over unfortunate wretches.

The theatrical paraphernalia surrounding them developed, perhaps, in them a certain arrogance. I had for some time an opportunity of meeting and observing at close quarters an ordinary executioner. He was a man about forty, muscular, dry, with an agreeable, intelligent face, surrounded by long curly hair. His manners were quiet and grave, his general demeanour becoming. He replied clearly and sensibly to all questions put to him, but with a sort of condescension as if he were in some way my superior. The officers of the guard spoke to him with a certain respect, which he fully appreciated, for which reason, in presence of his chiefs, he became polite, and more dignified than ever.

He never departed from the most refined politeness. I am sure that, when I was speaking to him, he felt incomparably superior to the man who was addressing him. I could read that in his countenance. Sometimes he was sent under escort, in summer, when it was very hot, to kill the dogs of the town with a long, very thin spear. These wandering dogs increased in numbers with such prodigious rapidity, and became so dangerous during the dog days, that, by the decision of the authorities, the executioner was ordered to destroy them. This degrading duty did not in any way humiliate him. It should have been seen with what gravity he walked through the streets of the town, accompanied by a soldier escorting him; how, with a single glance, he frightened the women and children; and how, from the height of his grandeur, he looked down upon the passers-by generally.

Executioners live at their ease. They have money to travel comfortably, and drink vodka. They derive most of their income from presents which the prisoners condemned to be flogged slip into their hands before the execution. When they have to do with convicts who are rich, they then fix a sum to be paid in proportion to the means of the victim. They will exact thirty roubles, sometimes more. The executioner has no right to spare his victim; and he does so at the risk of his own back. But for a suitable present he agrees not to strike too hard. People almost always give what he asks; should they in any case refuse, he would strike like a savage; and it is in his power to do so. He sometimes exacts a heavy sum from a man who is very poor. Then all the relations of the victim are put in movement. They bargain, try and beat him down, supplicate him; but it will not be well if they do not succeed in satisfying him. In such a case the superstitious fear inspired by the executioner stands them in good part. I had been told the most wonderful things—that at one blow the executioner can kill his man.

“Is this your experience?” I asked.

Perhaps so. Who knows? Their tone seemed to decide, if there could be any doubt about it. They also told me that he can strike a criminal in such a way that he will not feel the least pain, and without leaving a scar.

Even when the executioner receives a present not to whip too severely, he gives the first blow with all his strength. It is the custom! Then he administers the other blows with less severity, above all if he has been well paid.

I do not know why this is done. Is it to prepare the victim for the succeeding blows, which will appear less painful after the first cruel one; or do they want to frighten the criminal, so that he may know with whom he has to deal; or do they simply wish to display their vigour from vanity? In any case the executioner is slightly excited before the execution, and he is conscious of his strength and of his power. He is acting at the time; the public admires him, and is filled with terror. Accordingly, it is not without satisfaction that he cries out to his victim, “Look out! you are going to have it!”—customary and fatal words which precede the first blow.

It is difficult to imagine a human being degraded to such a point.

The first day of my stay at the hospital I listened attentively to the stories of the convicts, which broke the monotony of the long days.

In the morning, the doctor’s visit was the first diversion. Then came dinner, which it will be believed was the most important affair of our daily life. The portions were different according to the nature of the illness: some of the prisoners received nothing but broth with groats in it; others nothing but gruel; others a kind of semolina, which was much liked. The convicts ended by becoming effeminate and fastidious. The convalescents received a piece of boiled beef. The best food, which was reserved for the scorbutic patients, consisted of roast beef with onions, horseradish, and sometimes a small glass of spirits. The bread was, according to the illness, black or brown; the precision preserved in distributing the rations would make the patients laugh.

There were some who took absolutely nothing; the portions were exchanged in such a way that the food intended for one patient was eaten by another: those who were being kept on low diet, who received only small rations, bought those of the scorbutic patients; others would give any price for meat. There were some who ate two entire portions; it cost them a good deal, for they were generally sold at five kopecks each. If one had no meat to sell in our room the warder was sent to another section, and if he could not find any there he was asked to get some from the military “infirmary”—the free infirmary, as we called it.

There were always patients ready to sell their rations; poverty was general, and those who possessed a few kopecks used to send out to buy cakes and white bread, or other delicacies, at the market. Warders executed these commissions in a disinterested manner. The most painful moment was that which followed the dinner; some went to sleep, if they had no other way of passing their time; others either wrangled or told stories in a loud voice.

When no new patients were brought in, everything became very dull. The arrival of a new patient caused always a certain excitement, above all, if no one knew anything about him; he was questioned about his past life.

The most interesting ones were the birds of passage: they had always something to tell.

Of course they never spoke of their own little faults. If the prisoner did not enter upon this subject himself, no one questioned him about it.

The only thing he was asked was, what quarter he came from? who were with him on the road? what state the road was in? where he was being taken to? etc. Stimulated by the stories of the new comers, our comrades in their turn began to tell what they had seen and done; what was most talked about was the convoys, those in command of them, the men who carried the sentences into execution.

About this time, too, towards evening, the convicts who had been scourged came up; they always made a rather strong impression, as I have said; but it was not every day that any of these were brought to us, and everybody was bored to extinction, when nothing happened to give a fillip to the general relaxed and indolent state of feeling. It seemed, then, as though the sick themselves were exasperated at the very sight of those near them. Sometimes they squabbled violently.

Our convicts were in high glee when a madman was taken off for medical examination; sometimes those who were sentenced to be scourged, feigned insanity that they might get off. The trick was found out, or it would sometimes be that they voluntarily gave up the pretence. Prisoners, who during two or three days had done all sorts of wild things, suddenly became steady and sensible people, quieted down, and, with a gloomy smile, asked to be taken out of the hospital. Neither the other convicts nor the doctors said a word of remonstrance to them about the deceit, or brought up the subject of their mad pranks. Their names were put down on a list without a word being said, and they were simply taken elsewhere; after the lapse of some days they came back to us with their backs all wounds and blood.

On the other hand, the arrival of a genuine lunatic was a miserable thing to see all through the place. Those of the mentally unsound who were gay, lively, who uttered cries, danced, sang, were greeted at first with enthusiasm by the convicts.

“Here’s fun!” said they, as they looked on the grins and contortions of the unfortunates. But the sight was horribly painful and sad. I have never been able to look upon the mad calmly or with indifference. There was one who was kept three weeks in our room: we would have hidden ourselves, had there been any place to do it. When things were at the worst they brought in another. This one affected me very powerfully.

In the first year, or, to be more exact, during the first month of my exile, I went to work with a gang of kiln men to the tileries situate at two versts from our prison. We were set to repairing the kiln in which the bricks were baked in summer. That morning, in which M—tski and B. made me acquainted with the non-commissioned officer, superintendent of the works. This was a Pole already well on in life, sixty years old at least, of high stature, lean, of decent and even somewhat imposing exterior. He had been a long time in service in Siberia, and although he belonged to the lower orders he had been a soldier, and in the rising of 1830—M—tski and B. loved and esteemed him. He was always reading the Vulgate. I spoke to him; his talk was agreeable and intelligent; he told a story in a most interesting way; he was straightforward and of excellent temper. For two years I never saw him again, all I heard was that he had become a “case,” and that they were inquiring into it; and then one fine day they brought him into our room; he had gone quite mad.

He came in yelling, uttering shouts of laughter, and began to dance in the middle of the room with indecent gestures which recalled the dance known as Kamarinskaïa.

The convicts were wild with enthusiasm; but, for my part, account for it as you will, I felt utterly miserable. Three days after, we were all of us upset with it; he got into violent disputes with everybody, fought, groaned, sang in the dead of the night; his aberrations were so inordinate and disgusting as to bring our very stomachs up.

He feared nobody. They put the strait-waistcoat on him; but we were no whit better off for it, for he went on quarreling and fighting all round. At the end of three weeks, the room put up an unanimous entreaty to the head doctor that he might be removed to the other apartment reserved for the convicts. But after two days, at the request of the sick people in that other room, they brought him back to our infirmary. As we had two madmen there at once, both rooms kept sending them back and forward, and ended by taking one or the other of the two lunatics, turn and turn about. Everybody breathed more freely when they took them away from us, a good way off, somewhere or other.

There was another lunatic whom I remember—a very remarkable creature. They had brought in, during the summer, a man under sentence, who looked like a solid and vigorous fellow enough, of about forty-five years. His face was sombre and sad, pitted with small-pox, with little red and swollen eyes. He sat down by my side. He was extremely quiet; spoke to nobody, and seemed utterly absorbed in his own deep reflections.

Night fell; then he addressed me, and, without a word of preface, told me in a hurried and excited way—as if it were a mighty secret he were confiding—that he was to have two thousand strokes with the rod; but that he had nothing to fear, as the daughter of Colonel G—— was taking steps on his behalf.

I looked at him with surprise, and observed that, as I saw the affair, the daughter of a Colonel could be of little use in such a case. I had not yet guessed what sort of person I had to do with, for they had brought him to the hospital as a bodily sick person, not mentally. I then asked him what illness he was suffering from.

He answered that he knew nothing about it; that he had been sent among us for something or other; but that he was in good health, and that the Colonel’s daughter had fallen in love with him. Two weeks before she had passed in a carriage before the guard-house, where he was looking through the barred window, and she had gone head over ears in love at the mere sight of him.

After that important moment she had come three times to the guard-house on different pretexts. The first time with her father, ostensibly to visit her brother, who was the officer on service; the second with her mother, to distribute alms to the prisoners. As she passed in front of him she had muttered that she loved him and would get him out of prison.

He told me all this nonsense with minute and exact details; all of it pure figment of his poor disordered head. He believed devoutly and implicitly that his punishment would be graciously remitted. He spoke very calmly, and with all assurance of the passionate love he had inspired in this young lady.

This odd and romantic delusion about the love of quite a young girl of good breeding, for a man nearly fifty years and afflicted with a face so disfigured and gloomy, simply showed the fearful effect produced by the fear of the punishment he was to have, upon the poor, timid creature.

It may be that he had really seen some one through the bars of the window, and the insanity, germinating under excess of fear, had found shape and form in the delusion in question.

This unfortunate soldier, who, it may be warranted, had never given a thought to young ladies, had got this romance into his diseased fancy, and clung convulsively to this wild hope. I heard him in silence, and then told the story to the other convicts. When these questioned him in their natural curiosity, he preserved a chastely discreet silence.

Next day the doctor examined him. As the madman averred that he was not ill, he was put down on the list as qualified to be sent out. We learned that the physician had scribbled ”Sanat. est“ on the page, when it was quite too late to give him warning. Besides, we were ourselves not by any means sure what was really the matter with the man.

The error was with the authorities who had sent him to us, without specifying for what reason it was thought necessary to have him come into the hospital—which was unpardonable negligence.

However, two days later the unhappy creature was taken out to be scourged. We understood that he was dumbfounded by finding, contrary to his fixed expectation, that he really was to have the punishment. To the last moment he thought he would be pardoned, and when conducted to the front of the battalion, he began to cry for help.

As there was no room or bedding-place now in our apartment they sent him to the infirmary. I heard that for eight entire days he did not utter a single word, and remained in stupid and misery-stricken mental confusion. When his back was cured they took him off. I never heard a single further word about him.

As to the treatment of the sick and the remedies prescribed, those who were but slightly indisposed paid no attention whatever to the directions of the doctors, and never took their medicines; while, speaking generally, those really ill were very careful in following the doctor’s orders; they took their mixtures and powders; they took all the possible care they could of themselves; but they preferred external to internal remedies.

Cupping-glasses, leeches, cataplasms, blood-lettings—in all which things the populace has so blind a confidence—were held in high honour in our hospital. Inflictions of that sort were regarded with satisfaction.

There was one thing quite strange, and to me interesting. Fellows, who stood without a murmur the frightful tortures caused by the rods and scourges, howled, and grinned, and moaned for the least little ailment. Whether it was all pretence or not, I really cannot say.

We had cuppings of a quite peculiar kind. The machine with which instantaneous incisions in the skin are produced, was all out of order, so they had to use the lancet.

For a cupping, twelve incisions are necessary; with a machine these are not painful at all, for it makes them instantaneously; with the lancet it is a different affair altogether—that cuts slowly, and makes the patient suffer. If you have to make ten openings there will be about one hundred and twenty pricks, and these very painful. I had to undergo it myself; besides the pain itself, it caused great nervous irritation; but the suffering was not so great that one could not contain himself from groaning if he tried.

It was laughable to see great, hulking fellows wriggling and howling. One couldn’t help comparing them to some men, firm and calm enough in really serious circumstances, but all ill-temper or caprice in the bosom of their families for nothing at all; if dinner is late or the like, then they’ll scold and swear; everything puts them out; they go wrong with everybody; the more comfortable they really are, the more troublesome are they to other people. Characters of this sort, common enough among the lower orders, were but too numerous in our prison, by reason of our company being forced on one another.

Sometimes the prisoners chaffed or insulted the thin-skins I speak of, and then they would leave off complaining directly; as if they only wanted to be insulted to make them hold their tongues.

Oustiantsef was no friend of grimacings of this kind, and never let slip an opportunity of bringing that sort of delinquent to his bearings. Besides, he was fond of scolding; it was a sort of necessity with him, engendered by illness and also his stupidity. He would first fix his gaze upon you for some time, and then treat you to a long speech of threatening and warning, and a tone of calm and impartial conviction. It looked as though he thought his function in this world was to watch over order and morality in general.

“He must poke his nose into everything,” the prisoners with a laugh used to say; for they pitied, and did what they could to avoid conflicts with him.

“Has he chattered enough? Three waggons wouldn’t be too much to carry away all his talk.”

“Why need you put your oar in? One is not going to put himself about for a mere idiot. What’s there to cry out about at a mere touch of a lancet?”

“What harm in the world do you fancy that is going to do you?”

“No, comrades,” a prisoner strikes in, “the cuppings are a mere nothing. I know the taste of them. But the most horrid thing is when they pull your ears for a long time together. That just shuts you up.”

All the prisoners burst out laughing.

“Have you had them pulled?”

“By Jove, yes, I should think he had.”

“That’s why they stick upright, like hop-poles.”

This convict, Chapkin by name, really had long and quite erect ears. He had long led a vagabond life, was still quite young, intelligent, and quiet, and used to talk with a dry sort of humour with much seriousness on the surface, which made his stories very comical.

“How in the world was I to know you had had your ears pulled and lengthened, brainless idiot?” began Oustiantsef, once more wrathfully addressing Chapkin, who, however, vouchsafed no attention to his companion’s obliging apostrophe.

“Well, who did pull your ears for you?” some one asked.

“Why, the police superintendent, by Jove, comrades! Our offence was wandering about without fixed place of abode. We had just got into K——, I and another tramp, Eptinie; he had no family name, that fellow. On the way we had fixed ourselves up a little in the hamlet of Tolmina; yes, there is a hamlet that’s got just that name—Tolmina. Well, we get to the town, and are just looking about us a little to see if there’s a good stroke of tramp-business to do, after which we mean to flit. You know, out in the open country you’re as free as air; but it’s not exactly the same thing in the town. First thing, we go into a public-house; as we open the door we give a sharp look all round. What’s there? A sunburnt fellow in a German coat all out at elbows, walks right up to us. One thing and another comes up, when he says to us:

“‘Pray excuse me for asking if you have any papers passport with you?’

“‘No, we haven’t.’

“‘Nor have we either. I have two comrades besides these with me who are in the service of General Cuckoo [forest tramps, i.e., who hear the birds sing]. We have been seeing life a bit, and just now haven’t a penny to bless ourselves with. May I take the liberty of requesting you to be so obliging as to order a quart of brandy?’

“‘With the greatest pleasure,’ that’s what we say to him. So we drink together. Then they tell us of a place where there’s a real good stroke of business to be done—a house at the end of the town belonging to a wealthy merchant fellow; lots of good things there, so we make up our minds to try the job during the night; five of us, and the very moment we are going at it they pounce on us, take us to the station-house, and then before the head of the police. He says, ‘I shall examine them myself.’ Out he goes with his pipe, and they bring in for him a cup of tea; a sturdy fellow it was, with whiskers. Besides us five, there were three other tramps, just brought in. You know, comrades, that there’s nothing in this world more funny than a tramp, because he always forgets everything he’s done. You may thump his head till you’re tired with a cudgel; all the same, you’ll get but one answer, that he has forgotten all about everything.

“The police superintendent then turns to me and asks me squarely,

“‘Who may you be?’

“I answer just like all the rest of them:

“‘I’ve forgotten all about it, your worship.’

“‘Just you wait; I’ve a word or two more to say to you. I know your phiz.’

“Then he gives me a good long stare. But I hadn’t seen him anywhere before, that’s a fact.

“Then he asks another of them, ‘Who are you?’

“‘Mizzle-and-scud, your worship.’

“‘They call you Mizzle-and-scud?’

“‘Precisely that, your worship.’

“‘Well and good, you’re Mizzle-and-scud! And you?’ to a third.

“‘Along-of-him, your worship.’

“‘But what’s your name—your name?’

“‘Me? I’m called Along-of-him, your worship.’

“‘Who gave you that name, hound?’

“‘Very worthy people, your worship. There are lots of worthy people about; nobody knows that better than your worship.’

“‘And who may these “worthy people” be?’

“‘Oh, Lord, it has slipped my memory, your worship. Do be so kind and gracious as to overlook it.’

“‘So you’ve forgotten them, all of them, these “worthy people”?’

“‘Every mother’s son of them, your worship.’

“‘But you must have had relations—a father, a mother. Do you remember them?’

“‘I suppose I must have had, your worship; but I’ve forgotten about ’em, my memory is so bad. Now I come to think about it, I’m sure I had some, your worship.’

“‘But where have you been living till now?’

“‘In the woods, your worship.’

“‘Always in the woods?’

“‘Always in the woods!’

“‘Winter too?’

“‘Never saw any winter, your worship.’

“‘Get along with you! And you—what’s your name?’

“‘Hatchets-and-axes, your worship.’

“‘And yours?’

“‘Sharp-and-mum, your worship.’

“‘And you?’

“‘Keen-and-spry, your worship.’

“‘And not a soul of you remembers anything that ever happened to you.’

“‘Not a mother’s son of us anything whatever.’

“He couldn’t help it; he laughed out loud. All the rest began to laugh at seeing him laugh! But the thing does not always go off like that. Sometimes they lay about them, these police, with their fists, till you get every tooth in your jaw smashed. Devilish big and strong these fellows, I can tell you.

“‘Take them off to the lock-up,’ said he. ‘I’ll see to them in a bit. As for you, stop here!’

“That’s me.

“‘Just you go and sit down there.’

“Where he pointed to there was paper, a pen, and ink; so thinks I, ‘What’s he up to now?’

“‘Sit down,’ he says again; ‘take the pen and write.’

“And then he goes and clutches at my ear and gives it a good pull. I looked at him in the sort of way the devil may look at a priest.

“‘I can’t write, your worship.’

“‘Write, write!’

“‘Have mercy on me, your worship!’

“‘Write your best; write, write!’

“And all the while he keeps pulling my ear, pulling and twisting. Pals, I’d rather have had three hundred strokes of the cat; I tell you it was hell.

“‘Write, write!’ that was all he said.”

“Had the fellow gone mad? What the mischief was it?

“Bless us, no! A little while before, a secretary had done a stroke of business at Tobolsk: he had robbed the local treasury and gone off with the money; he had very big ears, just as I have. They had sent the fact all over the country. I answered to that description; that’s why he tormented me with his ‘Write, write!’ He wanted to find out if I could write, and to see my hand.

“‘A regular sharp chap that! Did it hurt?’

“‘Oh, Lord, don’t say a word about it, I beg.’

“Everybody burst out laughing.

“‘Well, you did write?’

“‘What the deuce was there to write? I set my pen going over the paper, and did it to such good account that he left off torturing me. He just gave me a dozen thumps, regulation allowance, and then let me go about my business: to prison, that is.’

“‘Do you really know how to write?’

“‘Of course I did. What d’ye mean? Used to very well; forgotten the whole blessed thing, though, ever since they began to use pens for it.’”

Thanks to the gossip talk of the convicts who filled the hospital, time was somewhat quickened for us. But still, Almighty God, how wearied and bored we were! Long, long were the days, suffocating in their monotony, one absolutely the same as another. If only I had had a single book.

For all that I went often to the infirmary, especially in the early days of my banishment, either because I was ill or because I needed rest, just to get out of the worse parts of the prison. In those life was indeed made a burden to us, worse even than in the hospital, especially as regards the effect upon moral sentiment and good feeling. We of the nobility were the never-ceasing objects of envious dislike, quarrels picked with us all the time, something done every moment to put us in the wrong, looks filled with menacing hatred unceasingly directed on us! Here, in the sick-rooms, one lived on a sort of footing of equality, there was something of comradeship.

The most melancholy moment of the twenty-four hours was evening, when night set in. We went to bed very early. A smoky lamp just gave us one point of light at the very end of the room, near the door. In our corner we were almost in complete darkness. The air was pestilential, stifling. Some of the sick people could not get to sleep, would rise up, and remain sitting for an hour together on their beds, with their heads bent, as though they were in deep reflection. These I would look at steadily, trying to guess what they might be thinking of; thus I tried to kill time. Then I became lost in my own reveries; the past came up to me again, showing itself to my imagination in large powerful outlines filled with high lights and massive shadows, details that at any other time would have remained in oblivion, presented themselves in vivid force, making on me an impression impossible under any other circumstances.

Then I would begin to muse dreamily on the future. When shall I leave this place of restraint, this dreadful prison? Whither betake myself? What will then befall me? Shall I return to the place of my birth? So I brood, and brood, until hope lives once again in my soul.

Another time I would begin to count, one, two, three, etc., to see if sleep could be won that way. I would set sometimes as far as three thousand, and was as wakeful as ever. Then somebody would turn in his bed.

Then there’s Oustiantsef coughing, that cough of the hopelessly-gone consumptive, and then he would groan feebly, and stammer, “My God, I’ve sinned, I’ve sinned!”

How frightful it was, that voice of the sick man, that broken, dying voice, in the midst of that silence so dead and complete! In a corner there are some sick people not yet asleep, talking in a low voice, stretched on their pallets. One of them is telling the story of his life, all about things infinitely far off; things that have fled for ever; he is talking of his trampings through the world, of his children, his wife, the old ways of his life. And the very accent of the man’s voice tells you that all those things are for ever over for him, that he is as a limb cut off from the world of men, cut off, thrown aside; there is another, listening intently to what he is saying. A weak, feeble sort of muttering and murmuring comes to one’s ear from far-off in the dreary room, a sound as of far-off water flowing somewhere. . . . I remember that one time, during a winter night that seemed as if it would never end, I heard a story which at first seemed as if it were the stammerings of a creature in nightmare, or the delirium of fever. Here it is:

4 What I relate about corporal punishment took place during my time. Now, as I am told, everything is changed, and is changing still.

https://ebooks.adelaide.edu.au/d/dostoyevsky/house-of-the-dead/part2.3.html

Last updated Sunday, March 27, 2016 at 11:53