When the padlock rattled and the door opened to let Maslova into the cell, all turned towards her. Even the deacon’s daughter stopped for a moment and looked at her with lifted brows before resuming her steady striding up and down.
Korableva stuck her needle into the brown sacking and looked questioningly at Maslova through her spectacles. “Eh, eh, deary me, so you have come back. And I felt sure they’d acquit you. So you’ve got it?” She took off her spectacles and put her work down beside her on the shelf bed.
“And here have I and the old lady been saying, ‘Why, it may well be they’ll let her go free at once.’ Why, it happens, ducky, they’ll even give you a heap of money sometimes, that’s sure,” the watchman’s wife began, in her singing voice: “Yes, we were wondering, ‘Why’s she so long?’ And now just see what it is. Well, our guessing was no use. The Lord willed otherwise,” she went on in musical tones.
“Is it possible? Have they sentenced you?” asked Theodosia, with concern, looking at Maslova with her bright blue, child-like eyes; and her merry young face changed as if she were going to cry.
Maslova did not answer, but went on to her place, the second from the end, and sat down beside Korableva.
“Have you eaten anything?” said Theodosia, rising and coming up to Maslova.
Maslova gave no reply, but putting the rolls on the bedstead, took off her dusty cloak, the kerchief off her curly black head, and began pulling off her shoes. The old woman who had been playing with the boy came up and stood in front of Maslova. “Tz, tz, tz,” she clicked with her tongue, shaking her head pityingly. The boy also came up with her, and, putting out his upper lip, stared with wide open eyes at the roll Maslova had brought. When Maslova saw the sympathetic faces of her fellow-prisoners, her lips trembled and she felt inclined to cry, but she succeeded in restraining herself until the old woman and the boy came up. When she heard the kind, pitying clicking of the old woman’s tongue, and met the boy’s serious eyes turned from the roll to her face, she could bear it no longer; her face quivered and she burst into sobs.
“Didn’t I tell you to insist on having a proper advocate?” said Norableva. “Well, what is it? Exile?”
Maslova could not answer, but took from inside the roll a box of cigarettes, on which was a picture of a lady with hair done up very high and dress cut low in front, and passed the box to Korableva. Korableva looked at it and shook her head, chiefly because see did not approve of Maslova’s putting her money to such bad use; but still she took out a cigarette, lit it at the lamp, took a puff, and almost forced it into Maslova’s hand. Maslova, still crying, began greedily to inhale the tobacco smoke. “Penal servitude,” she muttered, blowing out the smoke and sobbing.
“Don’t they fear the Lord, the cursed soul-slayers?” muttered Korableva, “sentencing the lass for nothing.” At this moment the sound of loud, coarse laughter came from the women who were still at the window. The little girl also laughed, and her childish treble mixed with the hoarse and screeching laughter of the others. One of the convicts outside had done something that produced this effect on the onlookers.
“Lawks! see the shaved hound, what he’s doing,” said the red-haired woman, her whole fat body shaking with laughter; and leaning against the grating she shouted meaning less obscene words.
“Ugh, the fat fright’s cackling,” said Korableva, who disliked the red-haired woman. Then, turning to Maslova again, she asked: “How many years?”
“Four,” said Maslova, and the tears ran down her cheeks in such profusion that one fell on the cigarette. Maslova crumpled it up angrily and took another.
Though the watchman’s wife did not smoke she picked up the cigarette Maslova had thrown away and began straightening it out, talking unceasingly.
“There, now, ducky, so it’s true,” she said. “Truth’s gone to the dogs and they do what they please, and here we were guessing that you’d go free. Norableva says, ‘She’ll go free.’ I say, ‘No,’ say I. ‘No, dear, my heart tells me they’ll give it her.’ And so it’s turned out,” she went on, evidently listening with pleasure to her own voice.
The women who had been standing by the window now also came up to Maslova, the convicts who had amused them having gone away. The first to come up were the woman imprisoned for illicit trade in spirits, and her little girl. “Why such a hard sentence?” asked the woman, sitting down by Maslova and knitting fast.
“Why so hard? Because there’s no money. That’s why! Had there been money, and had a good lawyer that’s up to their tricks been hired, they’d have acquitted her, no fear,” said Korableva. “There’s what’s-his-name — that hairy one with the long nose. He’d bring you out clean from pitch, mum, he would. Ah, if we’d only had him!”
“Him, indeed,” said Khoroshavka. “Why, he won’t spit at you for less than a thousand roubles.”
“Seems you’ve been born under an unlucky star,” interrupted the old woman who was imprisoned for incendiarism. “Only think, to entice the lad’s wife and lock him himself up to feed vermin, and me, too, in my old days —” she began to retell her story for the hundredth time. “If it isn’t the beggar’s staff it’s the prison. Yes, the beggar’s staff and the prison don’t wait for an invitation.”
“Ah, it seems that’s the way with all of them,” said the spirit trader; and after looking at her little girl she put down her knitting, and, drawing the child between her knees, began to search her head with deft fingers. “Why do you sell spirits?” she went on. “Why? but what’s one to feed the children on?”
These words brought back to Maslova’s mind her craving for drink.
“A little vodka,” she said to Korableva, wiping the tears with her sleeve and sobbing less frequently.
“All right, fork out,” said Korableva.
Last updated Sunday, March 27, 2016 at 12:00