One of the men who came in was a short, thin, young man, who had a cloth-covered sheepskin coat on, and high top-boots. He stepped lightly and quickly, carrying two steaming teapots, and holding a loaf wrapped in a cloth under his arm.
“Well, so our prince has put in an appearance again,” he said, as he placed the teapot beside the cups, and handed the bread to Rintzeva. “We have bought wonderful things,” he continued, as he took off his sheepskin, and flung it over the heads of the others into the corner of the bedstead. “Markel has bought milk and eggs. Why, we’ll have a regular ball to-day. And Rintzeva is spreading out her aesthetic cleanliness,” he said, and looked with a smile at Rintzeva, “and now she will make the tea.”
The whole presence of this man — his motion, his voice, his look — seemed to breathe vigour and merriment. The other newcomer was just the reverse of the first. He looked despondent and sad. He was short, bony, had very prominent cheek bones, a sallow complexion, thin lips and beautiful, greenish eyes, rather far apart. He wore an old wadded coat, top-boots and goloshes, and was carrying two pots of milk and two round boxes made of birch bark, which he placed in front of Rintzeva. He bowed to Nekhludoff, bending only his neck, and with his eyes fixed on him. Then, having reluctantly given him his damp hand to shake, he began to take out the provisions.
Both these political prisoners were of the people; the first was Nabatoff, a peasant; the second, Markel Kondratieff, a factory hand. Markel did not come among the revolutionists till he was quite a man, Nabatoff only eighteen. After leaving the village school, owing to his exceptional talents Nabatoff entered the gymnasium, and maintained himself by giving lessons all the time he studied there, and obtained the gold medal. He did not go to the university because, while still in the seventh class of the gymnasium, he made up his mind to go among the people and enlighten his neglected brethren. This he did, first getting the place of a Government clerk in a large village. He was soon arrested because he read to the peasants and arranged a co-operative industrial association among them. They kept him imprisoned for eight months and then set him free, but he remained under police supervision. As soon as he was liberated he went to another village, got a place as schoolmaster, and did the same as he had done in the first village. He was again taken up and kept fourteen months in prison, where his convictions became yet stronger. After that he was exiled to the Perm Government, from where he escaped. Then he was put to prison for seven months and after that exiled to Archangel. There he refused to take the oath of allegiance that was required of them and was condemned to be exiled to the Takoutsk Government, so that half his life since he reached manhood was passed in prison and exile. All these adventures did not embitter him nor weaken his energy, but rather stimulated it. He was a lively young fellow, with a splendid digestion, always active, gay and vigorous. He never repented of anything, never looked far ahead, and used all his powers, his cleverness, his practical knowledge to act in the present. When free he worked towards the aim he had set himself, the enlightening and the uniting of the working men, especially the country labourers. When in prison he was just as energetic and practical in finding means to come in contact with the outer world, and in arranging his own life and the life of his group as comfortably as the conditions would allow. Above all things he was a communist. He wanted, as it seemed to him, nothing for himself and contented himself with very little, but demanded very much for the group of his comrades, and could work for it either physically or mentally day and night, without sleep or food. As a peasant he had been industrious, observant, clever at his work, and naturally self-controlled, polite without any effort, and attentive not only to the wishes but also the opinions of others. His widowed mother, an illiterate, superstitious, old peasant woman, was still living, and Nabatoff helped her and went to see her while he was free. During the time he spent at home he entered into all the interests of his mother’s life, helped her in her work, and continued his intercourse with former playfellows; smoked cheap tobacco with them in so-called “dog’s feet,” [a kind of cigarette that the peasants smoke, made of a bit of paper and bent at one end into a hook] took part in their fist fights, and explained to them how they were all being deceived by the State, and how they ought to disentangle themselves out of the deception they were kept in. When he thought or spoke of what a revolution would do for the people he always imagined this people from whom he had sprung himself left in very nearly the same conditions as they were in, only with sufficient land and without the gentry and without officials. The revolution, according to him, and in this he differed from Novodvoroff and Novodvoroff’s follower, Markel Kondratieff, should not alter the elementary forms of the life of the people, should not break down the whole edifice, but should only alter the inner walls of the beautiful, strong, enormous old structure he loved so dearly. He was also a typical peasant in his views on religion, never thinking about metaphysical questions, about the origin of all origin, or the future life. God was to him, as also to Arago, an hypothesis, which he had had no need of up to now. He had no business with the origin of the world, whether Moses or Darwin was right. Darwinism, which seemed so important to his fellows, was only the same kind of plaything of the mind as the creation in six days. The question how the world had originated did not interest him, just because the question how it would be best to live in this world was ever before him. He never thought about future life, always bearing in the depth of his soul the firm and quiet conviction inherited from his forefathers, and common to all labourers on the land, that just as in the world of plants and animals nothing ceases to exist, but continually changes its form, the manure into grain, the grain into a food, the tadpole into a frog, the caterpillar into a butterfly, the acorn into an oak, so man also does not perish, but only undergoes a change. He believed in this, and therefore always looked death straight in the face, and bravely bore the sufferings that lead towards it, but did not care and did not know how to speak about it. He loved work, was always employed in some practical business, and put his comrades in the way of the same kind of practical work.
The other political prisoner from among the people, Markel Kondratieff, was a very different kind of man. He began to work at the age of fifteen, and took to smoking and drinking in order to stifle a dense sense of being wronged. He first realised he was wronged one Christmas when they, the factory children, were invited to a Christmas tree, got up by the employer’s wife, where he received a farthing whistle, an apple, a gilt walnut and a fig, while the employer’s children had presents given them which seemed gifts from fairyland, and had cost more than fifty roubles, as he afterwards heard.
When he was twenty a celebrated revolutionist came to their factory to work as a working girl, and noticing his superior qualities began giving books and pamphlets to Kondratieff and to talk and explain his position to him, and how to remedy it. When the possibility of freeing himself and others from their oppressed state rose clearly in his mind, the injustice of this state appeared more cruel and more terrible than before, and he longed passionately not only for freedom, but also for the punishment of those who had arranged and who kept up this cruel injustice. Kondratieff devoted himself with passion to the acquirement of knowledge. It was not clear to him how knowledge should bring about the realisation of the social ideal, but he believed that the knowledge that had shown him the injustice of the state in which he lived would also abolish that injustice itself. Besides knowledge would, in his opinion, raise him above others. Therefore he left off drinking and smoking, and devoted all his leisure time to study. The revolutionist gave him lessons, and his thirst for every kind of knowledge, and the facility with which he took it in, surprised her. In two years he had mastered algebra, geometry, history — which he was specially fond of — and made acquaintance with artistic and critical, and especially socialistic literature. The revolutionist was arrested, and Kondratieff with her, forbidden books having been found in their possession, and they were imprisoned and then exiled to the Vologda Government. There Kondratieff became acquainted with Novodvoroff, and read a great deal more revolutionary literature, remembered it all, and became still firmer in his socialistic views. While in exile he became leader in a large strike, which ended in the destruction of a factory and the murder of the director. He was again arrested and condemned to Siberia.
His religious views were of the same negative nature as his views of the existing economic conditions. Having seen the absurdity of the religion in which he was brought up, and having gained with great effort, and at first with fear, but later with rapture, freedom from it, he did not tire of viciously and with venom ridiculing priests and religious dogmas, as if wishing to revenge himself for the deception that had been practised on him.
He was ascetic through habit, contented himself with very little, and, like all those used to work from childhood and whose muscles have been developed, he could work much and easily, and was quick at any manual labour; but what he valued most was the leisure in prisons and halting stations, which enabled him to continue his studies. He was now studying the first volume of Karl Marks’s, and carefully hid the book in his sack as if it were a great treasure. He behaved with reserve and indifference to all his comrades, except Novodvoroff, to whom he was greatly attached, and whose arguments on all subjects he accepted as unanswerable truths.
He had an indefinite contempt for women, whom he looked upon as a hindrance in all necessary business. But he pitied Maslova and was gentle with her, for he considered her an example of the way the lower are exploited by the upper classes. The same reason made him dislike Nekhludoff, so that he talked little with him, and never pressed Nekhludoff’s hand, but only held out his own to be pressed when greeting him.
Last updated Sunday, March 27, 2016 at 12:00