On Sunday morning at five o’clock, when a whistle sounded in the corridor of the women’s ward of the prison, Korableva, who was already awake, called Maslova.
“Oh, dear! life again,” thought Maslova, with horror, involuntarily breathing in the air that had become terribly noisome towards the morning. She wished to fall asleep again, to enter into the region of oblivion, but the habit of fear overcame sleepiness, and she sat up and looked round, drawing her feet under her. The women had all got up; only the elder children were still asleep. The spirit-trader was carefully drawing a cloak from under the children, so as not to wake them. The watchman’s wife was hanging up the rags to dry that served the baby as swaddling clothes, while the baby was screaming desperately in Theodosia’s arms, who was trying to quiet it. The consumptive woman was coughing with her hands pressed to her chest, while the blood rushed to her face, and she sighed loudly, almost screaming, in the intervals of coughing. The fat, red-haired woman was lying on her back, with knees drawn up, and loudly relating a dream. The old woman accused of incendiarism was standing in front of the image, crossing herself and bowing, and repeating the same words over and over again. The deacon’s daughter sat on the bedstead, looking before her, with a dull, sleepy face. Khoroshavka was twisting her black, oily, coarse hair round her fingers. The sound of slipshod feet was heard in the passage, and the door opened to let in two convicts, dressed in jackets and grey trousers that did not reach to their ankles. With serious, cross faces they lifted the stinking tub and carried it out of the cell. The women went out to the taps in the corridor to wash. There the red-haired woman again began a quarrel with a woman from another cell.
“Is it the solitary cell you want?” shouted an old jailer, slapping the red-haired woman on her bare, fat back, so that it sounded through the corridor. “You be quiet.”
“Lawks! the old one’s playful,” said the woman, taking his action for a caress.
“Now, then, be quick; get ready for the mass.” Maslova had hardly time to do her hair and dress when the inspector came with his assistants.
“Come out for inspection,” cried a jailer.
Some more prisoners came out of other cells and stood in two rows along the corridor; each woman had to place her hand on the shoulder of the woman in front of her. They were all counted.
After the inspection the woman warder led the prisoners to church. Maslova and Theodosia were in the middle of a column of over a hundred women, who had come out of different cells. All were dressed in white skirts, white jackets, and wore white kerchiefs on their heads, except a few who had their own coloured clothes on. These were wives who, with their children, were following their convict husbands to Siberia. The whole flight of stairs was filled by the procession. The patter of softly-shod feet mingled with the voices and now and then a laugh. When turning, on the landing, Maslova saw her enemy, Botchkova, in front, and pointed out her angry face to Theodosia. At the bottom of the stairs the women stopped talking. Bowing and crossing themselves, they entered the empty church, which glistened with gilding. Crowding and pushing one another, they took their places on the right.
After the women came the men condemned to banishment, those serving their term in the prison, and those exiled by their Communes; and, coughing loudly, they took their stand, crowding the left side and the middle of the church.
On one side of the gallery above stood the men sentenced to penal servitude in Siberia, who had been let into the church before the others. Each of them had half his head shaved, and their presence was indicated by the clanking of the chains on their feet. On the other side of the gallery stood those in preliminary confinement, without chains, their heads not shaved.
The prison church had been rebuilt and ornamented by a rich merchant, who spent several tens of thousands of roubles on it, and it glittered with gay colours and gold. For a time there was silence in the church, and only coughing, blowing of noses, the crying of babies, and now and then the rattling of chains, was heard. But at last the convicts that stood in the middle moved, pressed against each other, leaving a passage in the centre of the church, down which the prison inspector passed to take his place in front of every one in the nave.
Last updated Sunday, March 27, 2016 at 12:00