In one of the exiles’ cells Nekhludoff, to his surprise, recognised the strange old man he had seen crossing the ferry that morning. This old man was sitting on the floor by the beds, barefooted, with only a dirty cinder-coloured shirt on, torn on one shoulder, and similar trousers. He looked severely and enquiringly at the newcomers. His emaciated body, visible through the holes of his shirt, looked miserably weak, but in his face was even more concentrated seriousness and animation than when Nekhludoff saw him crossing the ferry. As in all the other cells, so here also the prisoners jumped up and stood erect when the official entered, but the old man remained sitting. His eyes glittered and his brows frowned with wrath.
“Get up,” the inspector called out to him.
The old man did not rise and only smiled contemptuously.
“Thy servants are standing before thee. I am not thy servant. Thou bearest the seal —” The old man pointed to the inspector’s forehead.
“Wha-a-t?” said the inspector threateningly, and made a step towards him.
“I know this man,” Nekhludoff hastened to say; “what is he imprisoned for?”
“The police have sent him here because he has no passport. We ask them not to send such, but they will do it,” said the inspector, casting an angry side look at the old man.
“And so it seems thou, too, art one of Antichrist’s army?” the old man said to Nekhludoff.
“No, I am a visitor,” said Nekhludoff.
“What, hast thou come to see how Antichrist tortures men? There, look, he has locked them up in a cage, a whole army of them. Men should cat bread in the sweat of their brow. And he has locked them up with no work to do, and feeds them like swine, so that they should turn into beasts.”
“What is he saying?” asked the Englishman.
Nekhludoff told him the old man was blaming the inspector for keeping men imprisoned.
“Ask him how he thinks one should treat those who do not keep to the laws,” said the Englishman.
Nekhludoff translated the question. The old man laughed in a strange manner, showing his teeth.
“The laws?” he repeated with contempt. “He first robbed everybody, took all the earth, all the rights away from men, killed all those who were against him, and then wrote laws, forbidding robbery and murder. He should have written these laws before.”
Nekhludoff translated. The Englishman smiled. “Well, anyhow, ask him how one should treat thieves and murderers at present?”
Nekhludoff again translated his question.
“Tell him he should take the seal of Antichrist off himself,” the old man said, frowning severely; “then there will he no thieves and murderers. Tell him so.”
“He is crazy,” said the Englishman, when Nekhludoff had translated the old man’s words, and, shrugging his shoulders, he left the cell.
“Do thy business and leave them alone. Every one for himself. God knows whom to execute, whom to forgive, and we do not know,” said the old man. “Every man be his own chief, then the chiefs will not be wanted. Go, go!” he added, angrily frowning and looking with glittering eyes at Nekhludoff, who lingered in the cell. “Hast thou not looked on long enough how the servants of Antichrist feed lice on men? Go, go!”
When Nekhludoff went out he saw the Englishman standing by the open door of an empty cell with the inspector, asking what the cell was for. The inspector explained that it was the mortuary.
“Oh,” said the Englishman when Nekhludoff had translated, and expressed the wish to go in.
The mortuary was an ordinary cell, not very large. A small lamp hung on the wall and dimly lit up sacks and logs of wood that were piled up in one corner, and four dead bodies lay on the bedshelves to the right. The first body had a coarse linen shirt and trousers on; it was that of a tall man with a small beard and half his head shaved. The body was quite rigid; the bluish hands, that had evidently been folded on the breast, had separated; the legs were also apart and the bare feet were sticking out. Next to him lay a bare-footed old woman in a white petticoat, her head, with its thin plait of hair, uncovered, with a little, pinched yellow face and a sharp nose. Beyond her was another man with something lilac on. This colour reminded Nekhludoff of something. He came nearer and looked at the body. The small, pointed beard sticking upwards, the firm, well-shaped nose, the high, white forehead, the thin, curly hair; he recognised the familiar features and could hardly believe his eyes. Yesterday he had seen this face, angry, excited, and full of suffering; now it was quiet, motionless, and terribly beautiful. Yes, it was Kryltzoff, or at any rate the trace that his material existence had left behind. “Why had he suffered? Why had he lived? Does he now understand?” Nekhludoff thought, and there seemed to be no answer, seemed to be nothing but death, and he felt faint. Without taking leave of the Englishman, Nekhludoff asked the inspector to lead him out into the yard, and feeling the absolute necessity of being alone to think over all that had happened that evening, he drove back to his hotel.
Last updated Sunday, March 27, 2016 at 12:00