Maslova got the money, which she had also hidden in a roll, and passed the coupon to Korableva. Korableva accepted it, though she could not read, trusting to Khoroshavka, who knew everything, and who said that the slip of paper was worth 2 roubles 50 copecks, then climbed up to the ventilator, where she had hidden a small flask of vodka. Seeing this, the women whose places were further off went away. Meanwhile Maslova shook the dust out of her cloak and kerchief, got up on the bedstead, and began eating a roll.
“I kept your tea for you,” said Theodosia, getting down from the shelf a mug and a tin teapot wrapped in a rag, “but I’m afraid it is quite cold.” The liquid was quite cold and tasted more of tin than of tea, yet Maslova filled the mug and began drinking it with her roll. “Finashka, here you are,” she said, breaking off a bit of the roll and giving it to the boy, who stood looking at her mouth.
Meanwhile Korableva handed the flask of vodka and a mug to Maslova, who offered some to her and to Khoroshavka. These prisoners were considered the aristocracy of the cell because they had some money, and shared what they possessed with the others.
In a few moments Maslova brightened up and related merrily what had happened at the court, and what had struck her most, i.e., how all the men had followed her wherever she went. In the court they all looked at her, she said, and kept coming into the prisoners’ room while she was there.
“One of the soldiers even says, ‘It’s all to look at you that they come.’ One would come in, ‘Where is such a paper?’ or something, but I see it is not the paper he wants; he just devours me with his eyes,” she said, shaking her head. “Regular artists.”
“Yes, that’s so,” said the watchman’s wife, and ran on in her musical strain, “they’re like flies after sugar.”
“And here, too,” Maslova interrupted her, “the same thing. They can do without anything else. But the likes of them will go without bread sooner than miss that! Hardly had they brought me back when in comes a gang from the railway. They pestered me so, I did not know how to rid myself of them. Thanks to the assistant, he turned them off. One bothered so, I hardly got away.”
“What’s he like?” asked Khoroshevka.
“Dark, with moustaches.”
“It must be him.”
“Him — who?”
“Why, Schegloff; him as has just gone by.”
“What’s he, this Schegloff?”
“What, she don’t know Schegloff? Why, he ran twice from Siberia. Now they’ve got him, but he’ll run away. The warders themselves are afraid of him,” said Khoroshavka, who managed to exchange notes with the male prisoners and knew all that went on in the prison. “He’ll run away, that’s flat.”
“If he does go away you and I’ll have to stay,” said Korableva, turning to Maslova, “but you’d better tell us now what the advocate says about petitioning. Now’s the time to hand it in.”
Maslova answered that she knew nothing about it.
At that moment the red-haired woman came up to the “aristocracy” with both freckled hands in her thick hair, scratching her head with her nails.
“I’ll tell you all about it, Katerina,” she began. “First and foremost, you’ll have to write down you’re dissatisfied with the sentence, then give notice to the Procureur.”
“What do you want here?” said Korableva angrily; “smell the vodka, do you? Your chatter’s not wanted. We know what to do without your advice.”
“No one’s speaking to you; what do you stick your nose in for?”
“It’s vodka you want; that’s why you come wriggling yourself in here.”
“Well, offer her some,” said Maslova, always ready to share anything she possessed with anybody.
“I’ll offer her something.”
“Come on then,” said the red-haired one, advancing towards Korableva. “Ah! think I’m afraid of such as you?”
“That’s her as says it.”
“I? A slut? Convict! Murderess!” screamed the red-haired one.
“Go away, I tell you,” said Korableva gloomily, but the red-haired one came nearer and Korableva struck her in the chest. The red-haired woman seemed only to have waited for this, and with a sudden movement caught hold of Korableva’s hair with one hand and with the other struck her in the face. Korableva seized this hand, and Maslova and Khoroshavka caught the red-haired woman by her arms, trying to pull her away, but she let go the old woman’s hair with her hand only to twist it round her fist. Korableva, with her head bent to one side, was dealing out blows with one arm and trying to catch the red-haired woman’s hand with her teeth, while the rest of the women crowded round, screaming and trying to separate the fighters; even the consumptive one came up and stood coughing and watching the fight. The children cried and huddled together. The noise brought the woman warder and a jailer. The fighting women were separated; and Korableva, taking out the bits of torn hair from her head, and the red-haired one, holding her torn chemise together over her yellow breast, began loudly to complain.
“I know, it’s all the vodka. Wait a bit; I’ll tell the inspector tomorrow. He’ll give it you. Can’t I smell it? Mind, get it all out of the way, or it will be the worse for you,” said the warder. “We’ve no time to settle your disputes. Get to your places and be quiet.”
But quiet was not soon re-established. For a long time the women went on disputing and explaining to one another whose fault it all was. At last the warder and the jailer left the cell, the women grew quieter and began going to bed, and the old woman went to the icon and commenced praying.
“The two jailbirds have met,” the red-haired woman suddenly called out in a hoarse voice from the other end of the shelf beds, accompanying every word with frightfully vile abuse.
“Mind you don’t get it again,” Korableva replied, also adding words of abuse, and both were quiet again.
“Had I not been stopped I’d have pulled your damned eyes out,” again began the red-haired one, and an answer of the same kind followed from Korableva. Then again a short interval and more abuse. But the intervals became longer and longer, as when a thunder-cloud is passing, and at last all was quiet.
All were in bed, some began to snore; and only the old woman, who always prayed a long time, went on bowing before the icon and the deacon’s daughter, who had got up after the warder left, was pacing up and down the room again. Maslova kept thinking that she was now a convict condemned to hard labour, and had twice been reminded of this — once by Botchkova and once by the red-haired woman — and she could not reconcile herself to the thought. Korableva, who lay next to her, turned over in her bed.
“There now,” said Maslova in a low voice; “who would have thought it? See what others do and get nothing for it.”
“Never mind, girl. People manage to live in Siberia. As for you, you’ll not be lost there either,” Korableva said, trying to comfort her.
“I know I’ll not be lost; still it is hard. It’s not such a fate I want — I, who am used to a comfortable life.”
“Ah, one can’t go against God,” said Korableva, with a sigh. “One can’t, my dear.”
“I know, granny. Still, it’s hard.”
They were silent for a while.
“Do you hear that baggage?” whispered Korableva, drawing Maslova’s attention to a strange sound proceeding from the other end of the room.
This sound was the smothered sobbing of the red-haired woman. The red-haired woman was crying because she had been abused and had not got any of the vodka she wanted so badly; also because she remembered how all her life she had been abused, mocked at, offended, beaten. Remembering this, she pitied herself, and, thinking no one heard her, began crying as children cry, sniffing with her nose and swallowing the salt tears.
“I’m sorry for her,” said Maslova.
“Of course one is sorry,” said Korableva, “but she shouldn’t come bothering.”
Last updated Sunday, March 27, 2016 at 12:00