At the usual time the jailer’s whistle sounded in the corridors of the prison, the iron doors of the cells rattled, bare feet pattered, heels clattered, and the prisoners who acted as scavengers passed along the corridors, filling the air with disgusting smells. The prisoners washed, dressed, and came out for revision, then went to get boiling water for their tea.
The conversation at breakfast in all the cells was very lively. It was all about two prisoners who were to be flogged that day. One, Vasiliev, was a young man of some education, a clerk, who had killed his mistress in a fit of jealousy. His fellow-prisoners liked him because he was merry and generous and firm in his behaviour with the prison authorities. He knew the laws and insisted on their being carried out. Therefore he was disliked by the authorities. Three weeks before a jailer struck one of the scavengers who had spilt some soup over his new uniform. Vasiliev took the part of the scavenger, saying that it was not lawful to strike a prisoner.
“I’ll teach you the law,” said the jailer, and gave Vasiliev a scolding. Vasiliev replied in like manner, and the jailer was going to hit him, but Vasiliev seized the jailer’s hands, held them fast for about three minutes, and, after giving the hands a twist, pushed the jailer out of the door. The jailer complained to the inspector, who ordered Vasiliev to be put into a solitary cell.
The solitary cells were a row of dark closets, locked from outside, and there were neither beds, nor chairs, nor tables in them, so that the inmates had to sit or lie on the dirty floor, while the rats, of which there were a great many in those cells, ran across them. The rats were so bold that they stole the bread from the prisoners, and even attacked them if they stopped moving. Vasiliev said he would not go into the solitary cell, because he had not done anything wrong; but they used force. Then he began struggling, and two other prisoners helped him to free himself from the jailers. All the jailers assembled, and among them was Petrov, who was distinguished for his strength. The prisoners got thrown down and pushed into the solitary cells.
The governor was immediately informed that something very like a rebellion had taken place. And he sent back an order to flog the two chief offenders, Vasiliev and the tramp, Nepomnishy, giving each thirty strokes with a birch rod. The flogging was appointed to take place in the women’s interviewing-room.
All this was known in the prison since the evening, and it was being talked about with animation in all the cells.
Korableva, Khoroshevka, Theodosia, and Maslova sat together in their corner, drinking tea, all of them flushed and animated by the vodka they had drunk, for Maslova, who now had a constant supply of vodka, freely treated her companions to it.
“He’s not been a-rioting, or anything,” Korableva said, referring to Vasiliev, as she bit tiny pieces off a lump of sugar with her strong teeth. “He only stuck up for a chum, because it’s not lawful to strike prisoners nowadays.”
“And he’s a fine fellow, I’ve heard say,” said Theodosia, who sat bareheaded, with her long plaits round her head, on a log of wood opposite the shelf bedstead on which the teapot stood.
“There, now, if you were to ask him,” the watchman’s wife said to Maslova (by him she meant Nekhludoff).
“I shall tell him. He’ll do anything for me,” Maslova said, tossing her head, and smiling.
“Yes, but when is he coming? and they’ve already gone to fetch them,” said Theodosia. “It is terrible,” she added, with a sigh.
“I once did see how they flogged a peasant in the village. Father-in-law, he sent me once to the village elder. Well, I went, and there” . . . The watchman’s wife began her long story, which was interrupted by the sound of voices and steps in the corridor above them.
The women were silent, and sat listening.
“There they are, hauling him along, the devils!” Khoroshavka said. “They’ll do him to death, they will. The jailers are so enraged with him because he never would give in to them.”
All was quiet again upstairs, and the watchman’s wife finished her story of how she was that frightened when she went into the barn and saw them flogging a peasant, her inside turned at the sight, and so on. Khoroshevka related how Schegloff had been flogged, and never uttered a sound. Then Theodosia put away the tea things, and Korableva and the watchman’s wife took up their sewing. Maslova sat down on the bedstead, with her arms round her knees, dull and depressed. She was about to lie down and try to sleep, when the woman warder called her into the office to see a visitor.
“Now, mind, and don’t forget to tell him about us,” the old woman (Menshova) said, while Maslova was arranging the kerchief on her head before the dim looking-glass. “We did not set fire to the house, but he himself, the fiend, did it; his workman saw him do it, and will not damn his soul by denying it. You just tell to ask to see my Mitri. Mitri will tell him all about it, as plain as can be. Just think of our being locked up in prison when we never dreamt of any ill, while he, the fiend, is enjoying himself at the pub, with another man’s wife.”
“That’s not the law,” remarked Korableva.
“I’ll tell him — I’ll tell him,” answered Maslova. “Suppose I have another drop, just to keep up courage,” she added, with a wink; and Korableva poured out half a cup of vodka, which Maslova drank. Then, having wiped her mouth and repeating the words “just to keep up courage,” tossing her head and smiling gaily, she followed the warder along the corridor.
Last updated Sunday, March 27, 2016 at 12:00