When the examination of the articles of material evidence was finished, the president announced that the investigation was now concluded and immediately called on the prosecutor to proceed, hoping that as the latter was also a man, he, too, might feel inclined to smoke or dine, and show some mercy on the rest. But the public prosecutor showed mercy neither to himself nor to any one else. He was very stupid by nature, but, besides this, he had had the misfortune of finishing school with a gold medal and of receiving a reward for his essay on “Servitude” when studying Roman Law at the University, and was therefore self-confident and self-satisfied in the highest degree (his success with the ladies also conducing to this) and his stupidity had become extraordinary.
When the word was given to him, he got up slowly, showing the whole of his graceful figure in his embroidered uniform. Putting his hand on the desk he looked round the room, slightly bowing his head, and, avoiding the eyes of the prisoners, began to read the speech he had prepared while the reports were being read.
“Gentlemen of the jury! The business that now lies before you is, if I may so express myself, very characteristic.”
The speech of a public prosecutor, according to his views, should always have a social importance, like the celebrated speeches made by the advocates who have become distinguished. True, the audience consisted of three women — a semptress, a cook, and Simeon’s sister — and a coachman; but this did not matter. The celebrities had begun in the same way. To be always at the height of his position, i.e., to penetrate into the depths of the psychological significance of crime and to discover the wounds of society, was one of the prosecutor’s principles.
“You see before you, gentlemen of the jury, a crime characteristic, if I may so express myself, of the end of our century; bearing, so to say, the specific features of that very painful phenomenon, the corruption to which those elements of our present-day society, which are, so to say, particularly exposed to the burning rays of this process, are subject.”
The public prosecutor spoke at great length, trying not to forget any of the notions he had formed in his mind, and, on the other hand, never to hesitate, and let his speech flow on for an hour and a quarter without a break.
Only once he stopped and for some time stood swallowing his saliva, but he soon mastered himself and made up for the interruption by heightened eloquence. He spoke, now with a tender, insinuating accent, stepping from foot to foot and looking at the jury, now in quiet, business-like tones, glancing into his notebook, then with a loud, accusing voice, looking from the audience to the advocates. But he avoided looking at the prisoners, who were all three fixedly gazing at him. Every new craze then in vogue among his set was alluded to in his speech; everything that then was, and some things that still are, considered to be the last words of scientific wisdom: the laws of heredity and inborn criminality, evolution and the struggle for existence, hypnotism and hypnotic influence.
According to his definition, the merchant Smelkoff was of the genuine Russian type, and had perished in consequence of his generous, trusting nature, having fallen into the hands of deeply degraded individuals.
Simeon Kartinkin was the atavistic production of serfdom, a stupefied, ignorant, unprincipled man, who had not even any religion. Euphemia was his mistress, and a victim of heredity; all the signs of degeneration were noticeable in her. The chief wire-puller in this affair was Maslova, presenting the phenomenon of decadence in its lowest form. “This woman,” he said, looking at her, “has, as we have to-day heard from her mistress in this court, received an education; she cannot only read and write, but she knows French; she is illegitimate, and probably carries in her the germs of criminality. She was educated in an enlightened, noble family and might have lived by honest work, but she deserts her benefactress, gives herself up to a life of shame in which she is distinguished from her companions by her education, and chiefly, gentlemen of the jury, as you have heard from her mistress, by her power of acting on the visitors by means of that mysterious capacity lately investigated by science, especially by the school of Charcot, known by the name of hypnotic influence. By these means she gets hold of this Russian, this kind-hearted Sadko, [Sadko, the hero of a legend] the rich guest, and uses his trust in order first to rob and then pitilessly to murder him.”
“Well, he is piling it on now, isn’t he?” said the president with a smile, bending towards the serious member.
“A fearful blockhead!” said the serious member.
Meanwhile the public prosecutor went on with his speech. “Gentlemen of the jury,” gracefully swaying his body, “the fate of society is to a certain extent in your power. Your verdict will influence it. Grasp the full meaning of this crime, the danger that awaits society from those whom I may perhaps be permitted to call pathological individuals, such as Maslova. Guard it from infection; guard the innocent and strong elements of society from contagion or even destruction.”
And as if himself overcome by the significance of the expected verdict, the public prosecutor sank into his chair, highly delighted with his speech.
The sense of the speech, when divested of all its flowers of rhetoric, was that Maslova, having gained the merchant’s confidence, hypnotised him and went to his lodgings with his key meaning to take all the money herself, but having been caught in the act by Simeon and Euphemia had to share it with them. Then, in order to hide the traces of the crime, she had returned to the lodgings with the merchant and there poisoned him.
After the prosecutor had spoken, a middle-aged man in swallow-tail coat and low-cut waistcoat showing a large half-circle of starched white shirt, rose from the advocates’ bench and made a speech in defence of Kartinkin and Botchkova; this was an advocate engaged by them for 300 roubles. He acquitted them both and put all the blame on Maslova. He denied the truth of Maslova’s statements that Botchkova and Kartinkin were with her when she took the money, laying great stress on the point that her evidence could not be accepted, she being charged with poisoning. “The 2,500 roubles,” the advocate said, “could have been easily earned by two honest people getting from three to five roubles per day in tips from the lodgers. The merchant’s money was stolen by Maslova and given away, or even lost, as she was not in a normal state.”
The poisoning was committed by Maslova alone; therefore he begged the jury to acquit Kartinkin and Botchkova of stealing the money; or if they could not acquit them of the theft, at least to admit that it was done without any participation in the poisoning.
In conclusion the advocate remarked, with a thrust at the public prosecutor, that “the brilliant observations of that gentleman on heredity, while explaining scientific facts concerning heredity, were inapplicable in this case, as Botchkova was of unknown parentage.” The public prosecutor put something down on paper with an angry look, and shrugged his shoulders in contemptuous surprise.
Then Maslova’s advocate rose, and timidly and hesitatingly began his speech in her defence.
Without denying that she had taken part in the stealing of the money, he insisted on the fact that she had no intention of poisoning Smelkoff, but had given him the powder only to make him fall asleep. He tried to go in for a little eloquence in giving a description of how Maslova was led into a life of debauchery by a man who had remained unpunished while she had to bear all the weight of her fall; but this excursion into the domain of psychology was so unsuccessful that it made everybody feel uncomfortable. When he muttered something about men’s cruelty and women’s helplessness, the president tried to help him by asking him to keep closer to the facts of the case. When he had finished the public prosecutor got up to reply. He defended his position against the first advocate, saying that oven if Botchkova was of unknown parentage the truth of the doctrine of heredity was thereby in no way invalidated, since the laws of heredity were so far proved by science that we can not only deduce the crime from heredity, but heredity from the crime. As to the statement made in defence of Maslova, that she was the victim of an imaginary (he laid a particularly venomous stress on the word imaginary) betrayer, he could only say that from the evidence before them it was much more likely that she had played the part of temptress to many and many a victim who had fallen into her hands. Having said this he sat down in triumph. Then the prisoners were offered permission to speak in their own defence.
Euphemia Botchkova repeated once more that she knew nothing about it and had taken part in nothing, and firmly laid the whole blame on Maslova. Simeon Kartinkin only repeated several times: “It is your business, but I am innocent; it’s unjust.” Maslova said nothing in her defence. Told she might do so by the president, she only lifted her eyes to him, cast a look round the room like a hunted animal, and, dropping her head, began to cry, sobbing aloud.
“What is the matter?” the merchant asked Nekhludoff, hearing him utter a strange sound. This was the sound of weeping fiercely kept back. Nekhludoff had not yet understood the significance of his present position, and attributed the sobs he could hardly keep back and the tears that filled his eyes to the weakness of his nerves. He put on his pince-nez in order to hide the tears, then got out his handkerchief and began blowing his nose.
Fear of the disgrace that would befall him if every one in the court knew of his conduct stifled the inner working of his soul. This fear was, during this first period, stronger than all else.
Last updated Sunday, March 27, 2016 at 12:00