The House of the Dead, by Fyodor Dostoyevsky

Chapter 9.

The Escape

A little while after the Major resigned, our prison was subjected to a thorough reorganization. The “hard labour” hitherto inflicted, and the other regulations, were abolished, and the place put upon the footing of the military convict establishments of Russia. As a result of this, prisoners of the second category were no longer sent there; this class was, for the future, to be composed of prisoners who were regarded as still on the military footing, that is to say, men who, in spite of sentence, did not forfeit for ever their civic status. They were soldiers still, but had undergone corporal punishment; they were sentenced for comparatively short periods, six years at most; when they had served their time, or in case of pardon, they went into the ranks again, as before. Men guilty of a second offence were sentenced to twenty years of imprisonment. Up to the time I speak of, we had a section of soldier-prisoners among us, but only because they did not know where else to dispose of them. Now the place was to be occupied by soldiers exclusively. As to the civilian convicts, who were stripped of all civic rights, branded, cropped, and shaven, these were to remain in the fortress to finish their time; but as no fresh prisoners of this class were to come in, and those there would get their discharge successively, at the end of ten years there would be no civilian convicts left in the place, according to the arrangements. The line of division between the classes of prisoners there was maintained; from time to time there came in other military criminals of high position, sent to our place for security, before being forwarded to Eastern Siberia, for the more aggravated penalties that awaited them there.

There was no change in our general way of life. The work we had to do and the discipline observed were the same as before; but the administrative system was entirely altered, and made more complex. An officer, commandant of companies, was assigned to be at the head of the prison; he had under his orders four subaltern officers who mounted guard by turns. The “invalids” were superseded by twelve non-commissioned officers, and an arsenal superintendent. The convicts were divided into sections of ten, and corporals chosen among them; the power of these over the others was, as may be supposed, nominal. As might be expected, Akim Akimitch got this promotion.

All these new arrangements were confided to the Governor to carry out, who remained in superior command over the whole establishment. The changes did not go further than this. At first the convicts were not a little excited by this movement, and discussed their new guardians a good deal among themselves, trying to make out what sort of fellows they were; but when they saw that everything went on pretty much as usual they quieted down, and things resumed their ordinary course. We had got rid of the Major, and that was something; everybody took fresh breath and fresh courage. The fear that was in all hearts grew less; we had some assurance that in case of need we could go to our superiors and lodge our complaint, and that a man could not be punished without cause, and would not, unless by mistake.

Brandy was brought in as before, although we had subaltern officers now where “invalids” were before. These subalterns were all worthy, careful men, who knew their place and business. There were some among them who had the idea that they might give themselves grand airs, and treat us like common soldiers, but they soon gave it up and behaved like the others. Those who did not seem to be well able to get into their heads what the ways of our prison really were, had sharp lessons about it from the convicts themselves, which led to some lively scenes. One sub-officer was confronted with brandy, which was of course too much for him; when he was sober again we had a little explanation with him; we pointed out that he had been drinking with the prisoners, and that, accordingly, etc. etc.; he became quite tractable. The end of it was that the subalterns closed their eyes to the brandy business. They went to market for us, just as the invalids used to, and brought the prisoners white bread, meat, anything that could be got in without too much risk. So I never could understand why they had gone to the trouble of turning the place into a military prison. The change was made two years before I left the place; I had two years to bear of it still.

I see little use in recording all I saw and went through later at the convict establishment day by day. If I were to tell it all, all the daily and hourly occurrences, I might write twice or thrice as many chapters as this book ought to contain, but I should simply tire the reader and myself. Substantially all that I might write has been already embodied in the narrative as it stands so far; and the reader has had the opportunity of getting a tolerable idea of what the life of a convict of the second class really was. My wish has been to portray the state of things at the establishment, and as it affected myself, accurately and yet forcibly; whether I have done so others must judge. I cannot pronounce upon my own work, but I think I may well draw it to a close; as I move among these recollections of a dreadful past, the old suffering comes up again and all but strangles me.

Besides, I cannot be sure of my memory as to all I saw in these last years, for the faculty seems blunted as regards the later compared with the earlier period of my imprisonment, there is a good deal I am sure I have quite forgotten. But I remember only too well how very, very slow these last two years were, how very sad, how the days seemed as if they never would come to evening, something like water falling drop by drop. I remember, too, that I was filled with a mighty longing for my resurrection from that grave which gave me strength to bear up, to wait, and to hope. And so I got to be hardened and enduring; I lived on expectation, I counted every passing day; if there were a thousand more of them to pass at the prison I found satisfaction in thinking that one of them was gone, and only nine hundred and ninety-nine to come. I remember, too, that though I had round me a hundred persons in like case, I felt myself more and more solitary, and though the solitude was awful I came to love it. Isolated thus among the convict-crowd I went over all my earlier life, analysing its events and thoughts minutely; I passed my former doings in review, and sometimes was pitiless in condemnation of myself; sometimes I went so far as to be grateful to fate for the privilege of such loneliness, for only that could have caused me so severely to scrutinise my past, so searchingly to examine its inner and outer life. What strong and strange new germs of hope came in those memorable hours up in my soul! I weighed and decided all sorts of issues, I entered into a compact with myself to avoid the errors of former years, and the rocks on which I had been wrecked; I laid down a programme for my future, and vowed that I would stick to it; I had a sort of blind and complete conviction that, once away from that place, I should be able to carry out everything I made my mind up to; I looked for my freedom with transports of eager desire; I wanted to try my strength in a renewed struggle with life; sometimes I was clutched, as by fangs, by an impatience which rose to fever heat. It is painful to go back to these things, most painful; nobody, I know, can care much about it at all except myself; but I write because I think people will understand, and because there are those who have been, those who yet will be, like myself, condemned, imprisoned, cut off from life, in the flower of their age, and in the full possession of all their strength.

But all this is useless. Let me end my memoirs with a narrative of something interesting, for I must not close them too abruptly.

What shall it be? Well, it may occur to some to ask whether it was quite impossible to escape from the jail, and if during the time I spent there no attempt of the kind was made. I have already said that a prisoner who has got through two or three years thinks a good deal of it, and, as a rule, concludes that it is best to finish his time without running more risks, so that he may get his settlement, on the land or otherwise, when set at liberty. But those who reckon in this way are convicts sentenced for comparatively short times; those who have many years to serve are always ready to run some chances. For all that the attempts at escape were quite infrequent. Whether that was attributable to the want of spirit in the convicts, the severity of the military discipline enforced, or, after all, to the situation of the town, little favourable to escapes, for it was in the midst of the open steppe, I really cannot say. All these motives no doubt contributed to give pause. It was difficult enough to get out of the prison at all; in my time two convicts tried it; they were criminals of importance.

When our Major had been got rid of, A—v, the spy, was quite alone with nobody to back him up. He was still quite young, but his character grew in force with every year; he was a bold, self-asserting fellow, of considerable intelligence. I think if they had set him at liberty he would have gone on spying and getting money in every sort of shameful way, but I don’t think he would have let himself be caught again; he would have turned his experiences as a convict to far too much good for that. One trick he practised was that of forging passports, at least so I heard from some of the convicts. I think this fellow was ready to risk everything for a change in his position. Circumstances gave me the opportunity of getting to the bottom of this man’s disposition and seeing how ugly it was; he was simply revolting in his cold, deep wickedness, and my disgust with him was more than I could get over. I do believe that if he wanted a drink of brandy, and could only have got it by killing some one, he would not have hesitated one moment if it was pretty certain the crime would not come out. He had learned there, in that jail, to look on everything in the coolest calculating way. It was on him that the choice of Koulikoff—of the special section—fell, as we are to see.

I have spoken before of Koulikoff. He was no longer young, but full of ardour, life, and vigour, and endowed with extraordinary faculties. He felt his strength, and wanted still to have a life of his own; there are some men who long to live in a rich, abounding life, even when old age has got hold of them. I should have been a good deal surprised if Koulikoff had not tried to escape; but he did. Which of the two, Koulikoff and A—v, had the greater influence over the other I really cannot say; they were a goodly couple, and suited each other to a hair, so they soon became as thick as possible. I fancy that Koulikoff reckoned on A—v to forge a passport for him; besides, the latter was of the noble class, belonged to good society, a circumstance out of which a good deal could be made if they managed to get back into Russia. Heaven only knows what compacts they made, or what plans and hopes they formed; if they got as far as Russia they would at all events leave behind them Siberia and vagabondage. Koulikoff was a versatile man, capable of playing many a part on the stage of life, and had plenty of ability to go upon, whatever direction his efforts took. To such persons the jail is strangulation and suffocation. So the two set about plotting their escape.

But to get away without a soldier to act as escort was impossible; so a soldier had to be won. In one of the battalions stationed at our fortress was a Pole of middle life—an energetic fellow worthy of a better fate—serious, courageous. When he arrived first in Siberia, quite young, he had deserted, for he could not stand his sufferings from nostalgia. He was captured and whipped. During two years he formed part of the disciplinary companies to which offenders are sent; then he rejoined his battalion, and, showing himself zealous in the service, had been rewarded by promotion to the rank of corporal. He had a good deal of self-love, and spoke like a man who had no small conceit of himself.

I took particular notice of the man sometimes when he was among the soldiers who had charge of us, for the Poles had spoken to me about him; and I got the idea that his longing for his native country had taken the form of a chill, fixed, deadly hatred for those who kept him away from it. He was the sort of man to stick at nothing, and Koulikoff showed that his scent was good, when he pitched on this man to be an accomplice in his flight. This corporal’s name was Kohler. Koulikoff and he settled their plans and fixed the day. It was the month of June, the hottest of the year. The climate of our town and neighbourhood was pretty equable, especially in summer, which is a very good thing for tramps and vagabonds. To make off far after leaving the fortress was quite out of the question, it being situated on rising ground and in uncovered country, for though surrounded by woods, these are a considerable distance away. A disguise was indispensable, and to procure it they must manage to get into the outskirts of the town, where Koulikoff had taken care some time before to prepare a den of some sort. I don’t know whether his worthy friends in that part of the town were in the secret. It may be presumed they were, though there is no evidence. That year, however, a young woman who led a gay life and was very pretty, settled down in a nook of that same part of the city, near the county. This young person attracted a good deal of notice, and her career promised to be something quite remarkable; her nickname was “Fire and Flame.” I think that she and the fugitives concerted the plans of escape together, for Koulikoff had lavished a good deal of attention and money on her for more than a year. When the gangs were formed each morning, the two fellows, Koulikoff and A—v, managed to get themselves sent out with the convict Chilkin, whose trade was that of stove-maker and plasterer, to do up the empty barracks when the soldiers went into camp. A—v and Koulikoff were to help in carrying the necessary materials. Kohler got himself put into the escort on the occasion; as the rules required three soldiers to act as escort for two prisoners, they gave him a young recruit whom he was doing corporal’s duty upon, drilling and training him. Our fugitives must have exercised a great deal of influence over Kohler to deceive him, to cast his lot in with them, serious, intelligent, and reflective man as he was, with so few more years of service to pass in the army.

They arrived at the barracks about six o’clock in the morning; there was nobody with them. After having worked about an hour, Koulikoff and A—v told Chilkin that they were going to the workshop to see some one, and fetch a tool they wanted. They had to go carefully to work with Chilkin, and speak in as natural a tone as they could. The man was from Moscow, by trade a stove-maker, sharp and cunning, keen-sighted, not talkative, fragile in appearance, with little flesh on his bones. He was the sort of person who might have been expected to pass his life in honest working dress, in some Moscow shop, yet here he was in the “special section,” after many wanderings and transfers among the most formidable military criminals; so fate had ordered.

What had he done to deserve such severe punishment? I had not the least idea; he never showed the least resentment or sour feeling, and went on in a quiet, inoffensive way; now and then he got as drunk as a lord; but, apart from that, his conduct was perfectly good. Of course he was not in the secret, so he had to be thrown off the scent. Koulikoff told him, with a wink, that they were going to get some brandy, which had been hidden the day before in the workshop, which suited Chilkin’s book perfectly; he had not the least notion of what was up, and remained alone with the young recruit, while Koulikoff, A—v, and Kohler betook themselves to the suburbs of the town.

Half-an-hour passed; the men did not come back. Chilkin began to think, and the truth dawned upon him. He remembered that Koulikoff had not seemed at all like himself, that he had seen him whispering and winking to A—v; he was sure of that, and the whole thing seemed suspicious to him. Kohler’s behaviour had struck him, too; when he went off with the two convicts, the corporal had given the recruit orders what he was to do in his absence, which he had never known him do before. The more Chilkin thought over the matter the less he liked it. Time went on; the convicts did not return; his anxiety was great; for he saw that the authorities would suspect him of connivance with the fugitives, so that his own skin was in danger. If he made any delay in giving information of what had occurred, suspicion of himself would grow into conviction that he knew what the men intended when they left him, and he would be dealt with as their accomplice. There was no time to lose.

It came into his mind, then, that Koulikoff and A—v had become markedly intimate for some time, and that they had been often seen laying their heads together behind the barracks, by themselves. He remembered, too, that he had more than once fancied that they were up to something together.

He looked attentively at the soldier with him as escort; the fellow was yawning, leaning on his gun, and scratching his nose in the most innocent manner imaginable; so Chilkin did not think it necessary to speak of his anxieties to this man: he told him simply to come with him to the engineers’ workshops. His object was to ask if anybody there had seen his companions; but nobody there had, so Chilkin’s suspicions grew stronger and stronger. If only he could think that they had gone to get drunk and have a spree in the outskirts of the town, as Koulikoff often did. No, thought Chilkin, that was not so. They would have told him, for there was no need to make a mystery of that. Chilkin left his work, and went straight back to the jail.

It was about nine o’clock when he reached the sergeant-major, to whom he mentioned his suspicions. That officer was frightened, and at first could not believe there was anything in it all. Chilkin had, in fact, expressed no more than a vague misgiving that all was not as it should be. The sergeant-major ran to the Major, who in his turn ran to the Governor. In a quarter-of-an-hour all necessary measures were taken. The Governor–General was communicated with. As the convicts in question were persons of importance, it might be expected that the matter would be seriously viewed at St. Petersburg. A—v was classed among political prisoners, by a somewhat random official proceeding, it would seem; Koulikoff was a convict of the “special section,” that is to say, as a criminal of the blackest dye, and, what was worse, was an exsoldier. It was then brought to notice that according to the regulations each convict of the “special section” ought to have two soldiers assigned as escort when he went to work; the regulations had not been observed as to this, so that everybody was exposed to serious trouble. Expresses were sent off to all the district offices of the municipality, and all the little neighbouring towns, to warn the authorities of the escape of the two convicts, and a full description furnished of their persons. Cossacks were sent out to hunt them up, letters sent to the authorities of all adjoining Governmental districts. And everybody was frightened to death.

The excitement was quite as great all through the prison; as the convicts returned from work, they heard the tremendous news, which spread rapidly from man to man; all received it with deep, though secret satisfaction. Their emotion was as natural as it was great. The affair broke the monotony of their lives, and gave them something to think of; but, above all, it was an escape, and as such, something to sympathise with deeply, and stirred fibres in the poor fellows which had long been without any exciting stimulus; something like hope and a disposition to confront their fate set their hearts beating, for the incident seemed to show that their hard lot was not hopelessly unchangeable.

“Well, you see they’ve got off in spite of them! Why shouldn’t we?”

The thought came into every man’s mind, and made him stiffen his back and look at his neighbours in a defiant sort of way. All the convicts seemed to grow an inch taller on the strength of it, and to look down a bit upon the sub-officers. The heads of the place soon came running up, as you may imagine. The Governor now arrived in person. We fellows looked at them all with some assurance, with a touch of contempt, and with a very set expression of face, as though to say: “Well, you there? We can get out of your clutches when we’ve a mind to.”

All the men were quite sure there would be a general searching of everything and everybody; so everything that was at all contraband was carefully hidden; for the authorities would want to show that precious wisdom of theirs which may be reckoned on after the event. The expectation was verified; there was a mighty turning of everything upside down and topsy-turvy, a general rummage, with the discovery of exactly nothing, as they might have known.

When the time came for going out to work after dinner the usual escorts were doubled. When night came, the officers and sub-officers on service came pouncing on us at every moment to see if we were off our guard, and if anything could be got out of us; the lists were gone over once more than the usual number of times, which extra mustering only gave more trouble for nothing; we were hunted out of the court-yard that our names might be gone through again. Then, when in barrack, they reckoned us up another time, as if they never could be done with the exercise.

The convicts were not at all disturbed by all this bustling absurdity. They put on a very unconcerned demeanour, and, as is always the case in such a conjuncture, behaved in the prettiest manner all that evening and night. “We won’t give them any handle anyhow,” was the general feeling. The question with the authorities was whether some among us were not in complicity with those who had got away, so a careful watch was kept over our doings, and a careful ear for our conversations; but nothing came of it.

“Not such fools, those fellows, as to leave anybody behind who was in the secret!”

“When you go at that sort of thing you lie low and play low!”

“Koulikoff and A—v know enough to have covered up their tracks. They’ve done the trick in first-rate style, keeping things to themselves; they’ve mizzled, the rascals; clever chaps, those, they could get through shut doors!”

The glory of Koulikoff and A—v had grown a hundred cubits higher than it was. Everybody was proud of them. Their exploit, it was felt, would be handed down to the most distant posterity, and outlive the jail itself.

“Rattling fellows, those!” said one.

“Can’t get away from here, eh? That’s their notion, is it? Just look at those chaps!”

“Yes,” said a third, looking very superior, “but who is it that has got away? Tip-top fellows. You can’t hold a candle to them.”

At any other time the man to whom anything of that sort was said would have replied angrily enough, and defended himself; now the observation was met with modest silence.

“True enough,” was said. “Everybody’s not a Koulikoff or an A—v, you’ve got to show what you’re made of before you’ve a right to speak.”

“I say, pals, after all, why do we remain in the place?” struck in a prisoner seated by the kitchen window; he spoke drawlingly, but the man, you could see, enjoyed it all; he slowly rubbed his cheek with the palm of his hand. “Why do we stop? It’s no life at all, we’ve been buried, though we’re alive and kicking. Now isn’t it so?”

“Oh, curse it, you can’t get out of prison as easy as shaking off an old boot. I tell you it sticks to your calves. What’s the good of pulling a long face over it?”

“But, look here; there is Koulikoff now,” began one of the most eager, a mere lad.

“Koulikoff!” exclaimed another, looking askance at the young fellow. “Koulikoff! They don’t turn out Koulikoffs by the dozen.”

“And A—v, pals, there’s a lad for you!”

“Aye, aye, he’ll get Koulikoff just where he wants him, as often as he wants him. He’s up to everything, he is.”

“I wonder how far they’ve got; that’s what I want to know,” said one.

Then the talk went off into details: Had they got far from the town? What direction did they go off in? Which gave them the best chance? Then they discussed distances, and as there were convicts who knew the neighbourhood well, these were attentively listened to.

Next, they talked over the inhabitants of the neighbouring villages, of whom they seemed to think as badly as possible. There was nobody in the neighbourhood, the convicts believed, who would hesitate at all as to the course to be pursued; nothing would induce them to help the runaways; quite the other way, these people would hunt them down.

“If you only knew what bad fellows these peasants are! Rascally brutes!”

“Peasants, indeed! Worthless scamps!”

“These Siberians are as bad as bad can be. They think nothing of killing a man.”

“Oh, well, our fellows——”

“Yes, that’s it, they may come off second best. Our fellows are as plucky as plucky can be.”

“Well, if we live long enough, we shall hear something about them soon.”

“Well, now, what do you think? Do you think they really will get clean away?”

“I am sure, as I live, that they’ll never be caught,” said one of the most excited, giving the table a great blow with his fist.

“Hm! That’s as things turn out.”

“I’ll tell you what, friends,” said Skouratof, “if I once got out, I’d stake my life they’d never get me again.”


Everybody burst out laughing. They would hardly condescend to listen to him; but Skouratof was not to be put down.

“I tell you I’d stake my life on it!” with great energy. “Why, I made my mind up to that long ago. I’d find means of going through a key-hole rather than let them lay hands on me.”

“Oh, don’t you fear, when your belly got empty you’d just go creeping to a peasant and ask him for a morsel of something.”

Fresh laughter.

“I ask him for victuals? You’re a liar!”

“Hold your jaw, can’t you? We know what you were sent here for. You and your Uncle Vacia killed some peasant for bewitching your cattle.”12

More laughter. The more serious among them seemed very angry and indignant.

“You’re a liar,” cried Skouratof; “it’s Mikitka who told you that; I wasn’t in that at all, it was Uncle Vacia; don’t you mix my name up in it. I’m a Moscow man, and I’ve been on the tramp ever since I was a very small thing. Look here, when the priest taught me to read the liturgy, he used to pinch my ears, and say, ‘Repeat this after me: Have pity on me, Lord, out of Thy great goodness;’ and he used to make me say with him, ‘They’ve taken me up and brought me to the police-station out of Thy great goodness,’ and the like. I tell you that went on when I was quite a little fellow.”

All laughed heartily again; that was what Skouratof wanted; he liked playing clown. Soon the talk became serious again, especially among the older men and those who knew a good deal about escapes. Those among the younger convicts who could keep themselves quiet enough to listen, seemed highly delighted. A great crowd was assembled in and about the kitchen. There were none of the warders about; so everybody could give vent to his feelings in talk or otherwise. One man I noticed who was particularly enjoying himself, a Tartar, a little fellow with high cheek-bones, and a remarkably droll face. His name was Mametka, he could scarcely speak Russian at all, but it was odd to see the way he craned his neck forward into the crowd, and the childish delight he showed.

“Well, Mametka, my lad, iakchi.”

Iakchi, ouk, iakchi!“ said Mametka as well as he could, shaking his grotesque head. ”Iakchi.

“They’ll never catch them, eh? Iok.

Iok, iok!“ and Mametka waggled his head and threw his arms about.

“You’re a liar, then, and I don’t know what you’re talking about. Hey!”

“That’s it, that’s it, iakchi!” answered poor Mametka.

“All right, good, iakchi it is!”

Skouratof gave him a thump on the head, which sent his cap down over his eyes, and went out in high glee, and Mametka was quite chapfallen.

For a week or so a very tight hand was kept on everybody in the jail, and the whole neighbourhood was repeatedly and carefully searched. How they managed it I cannot tell, but the prisoners always seemed to know all about the measures taken by the authorities for recovering the runaways. For some days, according to all we heard, things went very favourably for them; no traces whatever of them could be found. Our convicts made very light of all the authorities were about, and were quite at their ease about their friends, and kept saying that nothing would ever be found out about them.

All the peasants round about were roused, we were told, and watching all the likely places, woods, ravines, etc.

“Stuff and nonsense!” said our fellows, who had a grin on their faces most of the time, “they’re hidden at somebody’s place who’s a friend.”

“That’s certain; they’re not the fellows to chance things, they’ve made all sure.”

The general idea was, in fact, that they were still concealed in the suburbs of the town, in a cellar, waiting till the hue and cry was over, and for their hair to grow; that they would remain there perhaps six months at least, and then quietly go off. All the prisoners were in the most fanciful and romantic state of mind about the things. Suddenly, eight days after the escape, a rumour spread that the authorities were on their track. This rumour was at first treated with contempt, but towards evening there seemed to be more in it. The convicts became much excited. Next morning it was said in the town that the runaways had been caught, and were being brought back. After dinner there were further details; the story was that they had been seized at a hamlet, seventy versts away from the town. At last we had fully confirmed tidings. The sergeant-major positively asserted, immediately after an interview with the Major, that they would be brought into the guard-house that very night. They were taken; there could be no doubt of it.

It is difficult to convey an adequate idea of the way the convicts were affected by the news. At first their rage was great, then they were deeply dejected. Then they began to be bitter and sarcastic, pouring all their scorn, not on the authorities, but on the runaways who had been such fools as to get caught. A few began this, then nearly all joined, except a small number of the more serious, thoughtful ones, who held their tongues, and seemed to regard the thoughtless fellows with great contempt.

Poor Koulikoff and A—v were now just as heartily abused as they had been glorified before; the men seemed to take a delight in running them down, as though in being caught they had done something wantonly offensive to their mates. It was said, with high contempt, that the fellows had probably got hungry and couldn’t stand it, and had gone into a village to ask bread of the peasants, which, according to tramp etiquette, it appears, is to come down very low in the world indeed. In this supposition the men turned out to be quite mistaken; for what had happened was that the tracks of the runaways out of the town were discovered and followed up; they were ascertained to have got into a wood, which was surrounded, so that the fugitives had no recourse but to give themselves up.

They were brought in that night, tied hands and feet, under armed escort. All the convicts ran hastily to the palisades to see what would be done with them; but they saw nothing except the carriages of the Governor and the Major, which were waiting in front of the guard-house. The fugitives were ironed and locked up separately, their punishment being adjourned till the next day. The prisoners began all to sympathise with the unhappy fellows when they heard how they had been taken, and learned that they could not help themselves, and the anxiety about the issue was keen.

“They’ll get a thousand at least.”

“A thousand, is it? I tell you they’ll have it till the life is beaten out of them. A—v may get off with a thousand, but the other they’ll kill; why, he’s in the ‘special section.’”

They were wrong. A—v was sentenced to five hundred strokes, his previous good conduct told in his favour, and this was his first prison offence. Koulikoff, I believe, had fifteen hundred. The punishment, upon the whole, was mild rather than severe.

The two men showed good sense and feeling, for they gave nobody’s name as having helped them, and positively declared that they had made straight for the woods without going into anybody’s house. I was very sorry for Koulikoff; to say nothing of the heavy beating he got; he had thrown away all his chances of having his lot as a prisoner lightened. Later he was sent to another convict establishment. A—v did not get all he was sentenced to; the physicians interfered, and he was let off. But as soon as he was safe in the hospital he began blowing his trumpet again, and said he would stick at nothing now, and that they should soon see what he would do. Koulikoff was not changed a bit, as decorous as ever, and gave himself just the same airs as ever; manner or words to show that he had had such an adventure. But the convicts looked on him quite differently; he seemed to have come down a good deal in their estimation, and now to be on their own level every way, instead of being a superior creature. So it was that poor Koulikoff’s star paled; success is everything in this world.

12 The expression of the original is untranslatable; literally “you killed a cattle-kill.” This phrase means murder of a peasant, male or female, supposed to bewitch cattle. We had in our jail a murderer who had done this cattle-kill.—DOSTOÏEFFSKY’S NOTE.

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