The cell in which Maslova was imprisoned was a large room 21 feet long and 10 feet broad; it had two windows and a large stove. Two-thirds of the space were taken up by shelves used as beds. The planks they were made of had warped and shrunk. Opposite the door hung a dark-coloured icon with a wax candle sticking to it and a bunch of everlastings hanging down from it. By the door to the right there was a dark spot on the floor on which stood a stinking tub. The inspection had taken place and the women were locked up for the night.
The occupants of this room were 15 persons, including three children. It was still quite light. Only two of the women were lying down: a consumptive woman imprisoned for theft, and an idiot who spent most of her time in sleep and who was arrested because she had no passport. The consumptive woman was not asleep, but lay with wide open eyes, her cloak folded under her head, trying to keep back the phlegm that irritated her throat, and not to cough.
Some of the other women, most of whom had nothing on but coarse brown holland chemises, stood looking out of the window at the convicts down in the yard, and some sat sewing. Among the latter was the old woman, Korableva, who had seen Maslova off in the morning. She was a tall, strong, gloomy-looking woman; her fair hair, which had begun to turn grey on the temples, hung down in a short plait. She was sentenced to hard labour in Siberia because she had killed her husband with an axe for making up to their daughter. She was at the head of the women in the cell, and found means of carrying on a trade in spirits with them. Beside her sat another woman sewing a coarse canvas sack. This was the wife of a railway watchman, [There are small watchmen’s cottages at distances of about one mile from each other along the Russian railways, and the watchmen or their wives have to meet every train.] imprisoned for three months because she did not come out with the flags to meet a train that was passing, and an accident had occurred. She was a short, snub-nosed woman, with small, black eyes; kind and talkative. The third of the women who were sewing was Theodosia, a quiet young girl, white and rosy, very pretty, with bright child’s eyes, and long fair plaits which she wore twisted round her head. She was in prison for attempting to poison her husband. She had done this immediately after her wedding (she had been given in marriage without her consent at the age of 16) because her husband would give her no peace. But in the eight months during which she had been let out on bail, she had not only made it up with her husband, but come to love him, so that when her trial came they were heart and soul to one another. Although her husband, her father-in-law, but especially her mother-in-law, who had grown very fond of her, did all they could to get her acquitted, she was sentenced to hard labour in Siberia. The kind, merry, ever-smiling Theodosia had a place next Maslova’s on the shelf bed, and had grown so fond of her that she took it upon herself as a duty to attend and wait on her. Two other women were sitting without any work at the other end of the shelf bedstead. One was a woman of about 40, with a pale, thin face, who once probably had been very handsome. She sat with her baby at her thin, white breast. The crime she had committed was that when a recruit was, according to the peasants’ view, unlawfully taken from their village, and the people stopped the police officer and took the recruit away from him, she (an aunt of the lad unlawfully taken) was the first to catch hold of the bridle of the horse on which he was being carried off. The other, who sat doing nothing, was a kindly, grey-haired old woman, hunchbacked and with a flat bosom. She sat behind the stove on the bedshelf, and pretended to catch a fat four-year-old boy, who ran backwards and forwards in front of her, laughing gaily. This boy had only a little shirt on and his hair was cut short. As he ran past the old woman he kept repeating, “There, haven’t caught me!” This old woman and her son were accused of incendiarism. She bore her imprisonment with perfect cheerfulness, but was concerned about her son, and chiefly about her “old man,” who she feared would get into a terrible state with no one to wash for him. Besides these seven women, there were four standing at one of the open windows, holding on to the iron bars. They were making signs and shouting to the convicts whom Maslova had met when returning to prison, and who were now passing through the yard. One of these women was big and heavy, with a flabby body, red hair, and freckled on her pale yellow face, her hands, and her fat neck. She shouted something in a loud, raucous voice, and laughed hoarsely. This woman was serving her term for theft. Beside her stood an awkward, dark little woman, no bigger than a child of ten, with a long waist and very short legs, a red, blotchy face, thick lips which did not hide her long teeth, and eyes too far apart. She broke by fits and starts into screeching laughter at what was going on in the yard. She was to be tried for stealing and incendiarism. They called her Khoroshavka. Behind her, in a very dirty grey chemise, stood a thin, miserable-looking pregnant woman, who was to be tried for concealment of theft. This woman stood silent, but kept smiling with pleasure and approval at what was going on below. With these stood a peasant woman of medium height, the mother of the boy who was playing with the old woman and of a seven-year-old girl. These were in prison with her because she had no one to leave them with. She was serving her term of imprisonment for illicit sale of spirits. She stood a little further from the window knitting a stocking, and though she listened to the other prisoners’ words she shook her head disapprovingly, frowned, and closed her eyes. But her seven-year-old daughter stood in her little chemise, her flaxen hair done up in a little pigtail, her blue eyes fixed, and, holding the red-haired woman by the skirt, attentively listened to the words of abuse that the women and the convicts flung at each other, and repeated them softly, as if learning them by heart. The twelfth prisoner, who paid no attention to what was going on, was a very tall, stately girl, the daughter of a deacon, who had drowned her baby in a well. She went about with bare feet, wearing only a dirty chemise. The thick, short plait of her fair hair had come undone and hung down dishevelled, and she paced up and down the free space of the cell, not looking at any one, turning abruptly every time she came up to the wall.
Last updated Sunday, March 27, 2016 at 12:00