When, following Katusha, Nekhludoff returned to the men’s room, he found every one there in agitation. Nabatoff, who went about all over the place, and who got to know everybody, and noticed everything, had just brought news which staggered them all. The news was that he had discovered a note on a wall, written by the revolutionist Petlin, who had been sentenced to hard labour, and who, every one thought, had long since reached the Kara; and now it turned out that he had passed this way quite recently, the only political prisoner among criminal convicts.
“On the 17th of August,” so ran the note, “I was sent off alone with the criminals. Neveroff was with me, but hanged himself in the lunatic asylum in Kasan. I am well and in good spirits and hope for the best.”
All were discussing Petlin’s position and the possible reasons of Neveroff’s suicide. Only Kryltzoff sat silent and preoccupied, his glistening eyes gazing fixedly in front of him.
“My husband told me that Neveroff had a vision while still in the Petropavlovski prison,” said Rintzeva.
“Yes, he was a poet, a dreamer; this sort of people cannot stand solitary confinement,” said Novodvoroff. “Now, I never gave my imagination vent when in solitary confinement, but arranged my days most systematically, and in this way always bore it very well.”
“What is there unbearable about it? Why, I used to be glad when they locked me up,” said Nabatoff cheerfully, wishing to dispel the general depression.
“A fellow’s afraid of everything; of being arrested himself and entangling others, and of spoiling the whole business, and then he gets locked up, and all responsibility is at an end, and he can rest; he can just sit and smoke.”
“You knew him well?” asked Mary Pavlovna, glancing anxiously at the altered, haggard expression of Kryltzoff’s face.
“Neveroff a dreamer?” Kryltzoff suddenly began, panting for breath as if he had been shouting or singing for a long time. “Neveroff was a man ‘such as the earth bears few of,’ as our doorkeeper used to express it. Yes, he had a nature like crystal, you could see him right through; he could not lie, he could not dissemble; not simply thin skinned, but with all his nerves laid bare, as if he were flayed. Yes, his was a complicated, rich nature, not such a — But where is the use of talking?” he added, with a vicious frown. “Shall we first educate the people and then change the forms of life, or first change the forms and then struggle, using peaceful propaganda or terrorism? So we go on disputing while they kill; they do not dispute — they know their business; they don’t care whether dozens, hundreds of men perish — and what men! No; that the best should perish is just what they want. Yes, Herzen said that when the Decembrists were withdrawn from circulation the average level of our society sank. I should think so, indeed. Then Herzen himself and his fellows were withdrawn; now is the turn of the Neveroffs.”
“They can’t all be got rid off,” said Nabatoff, in his cheerful tones. “There will always be left enough to continue the breed. No, there won’t, if we show any pity to them there,” Nabatoff said, raising his voice; and not letting himself be interrupted, “Give me a cigarette.”
“Oh, Anatole, it is not good for you,” said Mary Pavlovna. “Please do not smoke.”
“Oh, leave me alone,” he said angrily, and lit a cigarette, but at once began to cough and to retch, as if he were going to be sick. Having cleared his throat though, he went on:
“What we have been doing is not the thing at all. Not to argue, but for all to unite — to destroy them — that’s it.”
“But they are also human beings,” said Nekhludoff.
“No, they are not human, they who can do what they are doing — No — There, now, I heard that some kind of bombs and balloons have been invented. Well, one ought to go up in such a balloon and sprinkle bombs down on them as if they were bugs, until they are all exterminated — Yes. Because —” he was going to continue, but, flushing all over, he began coughing worse than before, and a stream of blood rushed from his mouth.
Nabatoff ran to get ice. Mary Pavlovna brought valerian drops and offered them to him, but he, breathing quickly and heavily, pushed her away with his thin, white hand, and kept his eyes closed. When the ice and cold water had eased Kryltzoff a little, and he had been put to bed, Nekhludoff, having said good-night to everybody, went out with the sergeant, who had been waiting for him some time.
The criminals were now quiet, and most of them were asleep. Though the people were lying on and under the bed shelves and in the space between, they could not all be placed inside the rooms, and some of them lay in the passage with their sacks under their heads and covered with their cloaks. The moans and sleepy voices came through the open doors and sounded through the passage. Everywhere lay compact heaps of human beings covered with prison cloaks. Only a few men who were sitting in the bachelors’ room by the light of a candle end, which they put out when they noticed the sergeant, were awake, and an old man who sat naked under the lamp in the passage picking the vermin off his shirt. The foul air in the political prisoners’ rooms seemed pure compared to the stinking closeness here. The smoking lamp shone dimly as through a mist, and it was difficult to breathe. Stepping along the passage, one had to look carefully for an empty space, and having put down one foot had to find place for the other. Three persons, who had evidently found no room even in the passage, lay in the anteroom, close to the stinking and leaking tub. One of these was an old idiot, whom Nekhludoff had often seen marching with the gang; another was a boy about twelve; he lay between the two other convicts, with his head on the leg of one of them.
When he had passed out of the gate Nekhludoff took a deep breath and long continued to breathe in deep draughts of frosty air.
Last updated Sunday, March 27, 2016 at 12:00