Nekhludoff left home early. A peasant from the country was still driving along the side street and calling out in a voice peculiar to his trade, “Milk! milk! milk!”
The first warm spring rain had fallen the day before, and now wherever the ground was not paved the grass shone green. The birch trees in the gardens looked as if they were strewn with green fluff, the wild cherry and the poplars unrolled their long, balmy buds, and in shops and dwelling-houses the double window-frames were being removed and the windows cleaned.
In the Tolkoochi [literally, jostling market, where second-hand clothes and all sorts of cheap goods are sold] market, which Nekhludoff had to pass on his way, a dense crowd was surging along the row of booths, and tattered men walked about selling top-boots, which they carried under their arms, and renovated trousers and waistcoats, which hung over their shoulders.
Men in clean coats and shining boots, liberated from the factories, it being Sunday, and women with bright silk kerchiefs on their heads and cloth jackets trimmed with jet, were already thronging at the door of the traktir. Policemen, with yellow cords to their uniforms and carrying pistols, were on duty, looking out for some disorder which might distract the ennui that oppressed them. On the paths of the boulevards and on the newly-revived grass, children and dogs ran about, playing, and the nurses sat merrily chattering on the benches. Along the streets, still fresh and damp on the shady side, but dry in the middle, heavy carts rumbled unceasingly, cabs rattled and tramcars passed ringing by. The air vibrated with the pealing and clanging of church bells, that were calling the people to attend to a service like that which was now being conducted in the prison. And the people, dressed in their Sunday best, were passing on their way to their different parish churches.
The isvostchik did not drive Nekhludoff up to the prison itself, but to the last turning that led to the prison.
Several persons — men and women — most of them carrying small bundles, stood at this turning, about 100 steps from the prison. To the right there were several low wooden buildings; to the left, a two-storeyed house with a signboard. The huge brick building, the prison proper, was just in front, and the visitors were not allowed to come up to it. A sentinel was pacing up and down in front of it, and shouted at any one who tried to pass him.
At the gate of the wooden buildings, to the right, opposite the sentinel, sat a warder on a bench, dressed in uniform, with gold cords, a notebook in his hands. The visitors came up to him, and named the persons they wanted to see, and he put the names down. Nekhludoff also went up, and named Katerina Maslova. The warder wrote down the name.
“Why — don’t they admit us yet?” asked Nekhludoff.
“The service is going on. When the mass is over, you’ll be admitted.”
Nekhludoff stepped aside from the waiting crowd. A man in tattered clothes, crumpled hat, with bare feet and red stripes all over his face, detached himself from the crowd, and turned towards the prison.
“Now, then, where are you going?” shouted the sentinel with the gun.
“And you hold your row,” answered the tramp, not in the least abashed by the sentinel’s words, and turned back. “Well, if you’ll not let me in, I’ll wait. But, no! Must needs shout, as if he were a general.”
The crowd laughed approvingly. The visitors were, for the greater part, badly-dressed people; some were ragged, but there were also some respectable-looking men and women. Next to Nekhludoff stood a clean-shaven, stout, and red-cheeked man, holding a bundle, apparently containing under-garments. This was the doorkeeper of a bank; he had come to see his brother, who was arrested for forgery. The good-natured fellow told Nekhludoff the whole story of his life, and was going to question him in turn, when their attention was aroused by a student and a veiled lady, who drove up in a trap, with rubber tyres, drawn by a large thoroughbred horse. The student was holding a large bundle. He came up to Nekhludoff, and asked if and how he could give the rolls he had brought in alms to the prisoners. His fiancee wished it (this lady was his fiancee), and her parents had advised them to take some rolls to the prisoners.
“I myself am here for the first time,” said Nekhludoff, “and don’t know; but I think you had better ask this man,” and he pointed to the warder with the gold cords and the book, sitting on the right.
As they were speaking, the large iron door with a window in it opened, and an officer in uniform, followed by another warder, stepped out. The warder with the notebook proclaimed that the admittance of visitors would now commence. The sentinel stepped aside, and all the visitors rushed to the door as if afraid of being too late; some even ran. At the door there stood a warder who counted the visitors as they came in, saying aloud, 16, 17, and so on. Another warder stood inside the building and also counted the visitors as they entered a second door, touching each one with his hand, so that when they went away again not one visitor should be able to remain inside the prison and not one prisoner might get out. The warder, without looking at whom he was touching, slapped Nekhludoff on the back, and Nekhludoff felt hurt by the touch of the warder’s hand; but, remembering what he had come about, he felt ashamed of feeling dissatisfied and taking offence.
The first apartment behind the entrance doors was a large vaulted room with iron bars to the small windows. In this room, which was called the meeting-room, Nekhludoff was startled by the sight of a large picture of the Crucifixion.
“What’s that for?” he thought, his mind involuntarily connecting the subject of the picture with liberation and not with imprisonment.
He went on, slowly letting the hurrying visitors pass before, and experiencing a mingled feeling of horror at the evil-doers locked up in this building, compassion for those who, like Katusha and the boy they tried the day before, must be here though guiltless, and shyness and tender emotion at the thought of the interview before him. The warder at the other end of the meeting-room said something as they passed, but Nekhludoff, absorbed by his own thoughts, paid no attention to him, and continued to follow the majority of the visitors, and so got into the men’s part of the prison instead of the women’s.
Letting the hurrying visitors pass before him, he was the last to get into the interviewing-room. As soon as Nekhludoff opened the door of this room, he was struck by the deafening roar of a hundred voices shouting at once, the reason of which he did not at once understand. But when he came nearer to the people, he saw that they were all pressing against a net that divided the room in two, like flies settling on sugar, and he understood what it meant. The two halves of the room, the windows of which were opposite the door he had come in by, were separated, not by one, but by two nets reaching from the floor to the ceiling. The wire nets were stretched 7 feet apart, and soldiers were walking up and down the space between them. On the further side of the nets were the prisoners, on the nearer, the visitors. Between them was a double row of nets and a space of 7 feet wide, so that they could not hand anything to one another, and any one whose sight was not very good could not even distinguish the face on the other side. It was also difficult to talk; one had to scream in order to be heard.
On both sides were faces pressed close to the nets, faces of wives, husbands, fathers, mothers, children, trying to see each other’s features and to say what was necessary in such a way as to be understood.
But as each one tried to be heard by the one he was talking to, and his neighbour tried to do the same, they did their best to drown each other’s voices’ and that was the cause of the din and shouting which struck Nekhludoff when he first came in. It was impossible to understand what was being said and what were the relations between the different people. Next Nekhludoff an old woman with a kerchief on her head stood trembling, her chin pressed close to the net, and shouting something to a young fellow, half of whose head was shaved, who listened attentively with raised brows. By the side of the old woman was a young man in a peasant’s coat, who listened, shaking his head, to a boy very like himself. Next stood a man in rags, who shouted, waving his arm and laughing. Next to him a woman, with a good woollen shawl on her shoulders, sat on the floor holding a baby in her lap and crying bitterly. This was apparently the first time she saw the greyheaded man on the other side in prison clothes, and with his head shaved. Beyond her was the doorkeeper, who had spoken to Nekhludoff outside; he was shouting with all his might to a greyhaired convict on the other side.
When Nekhludoff found that he would have to speak in similar conditions, a feeling of indignation against those who were able to make and enforce these conditions arose in him; he was surprised that, placed in such a dreadful position, no one seemed offended at this outrage on human feelings. The soldiers, the inspector, the prisoners themselves, acted as if acknowledging all this to be necessary.
Nekhludoff remained in this room for about five minutes, feeling strangely depressed, conscious of how powerless he was, and at variance with all the world. He was seized with a curious moral sensation like seasickness.
Last updated Sunday, March 27, 2016 at 12:00