“Well? Je suis a vous. Will you smoke? But wait a bit; we must be careful and not make a mess here,” said Maslennikoff, and brought an ashpan. “Well?”
“There are two matters I wish to ask you about.”
An expression of gloom and dejection came over Maslennikoff’s countenance, and every trace of the excitement, like that of the dog’s whom its master has scratched behind the cars, vanished completely. The sound of voices reached them from the drawing-room. A woman’s voice was heard, saying, “Jamais je ne croirais,” and a man’s voice from the other side relating something in which the names of la Comtesse Voronzoff and Victor Apraksine kept recurring. A hum of voices, mixed with laughter, came from another side. Maslennikoff tried to listen to what was going on in the drawing-room and to what Nekhludoff was saying at the same time.
“I am again come about that same woman,” said Nekhludoff.
“Oh, yes; I know. The one innocently condemned.”
“I would like to ask that she should be appointed to serve in the prison hospital. I have been told that this could be arranged.”
Maslennikoff compressed his lips and meditated. “That will be scarcely possible,” he said. “However, I shall see what can be done, and shall wire you an answer tomorrow.”
“I have been told that there were many sick, and help was needed.”
“All right, all right. I shall let you know in any case.”
“Please do,” said Nekhludoff.
The sound of a general and even a natural laugh came from the drawing-room.
“That’s all that Victor. He is wonderfully sharp when he is in the right vein,” said Maslennikoff.
“The next thing I wanted to tell you,” said Nekhludoff, “is that 130 persons are imprisoned only because their passports are overdue. They have been kept here a month.”
And he related the circumstances of the case.
“How have you come to know of this?” said Maslennikoff, looking uneasy and dissatisfied.
“I went to see a prisoner, and these men came and surrounded me in the corridor, and asked . . .”
“What prisoner did you go to see?”
“A peasant who is kept in prison, though innocent. I have put his case into the hands of a lawyer. But that is not the point.”
“Is it possible that people who have done no wrong are imprisoned only because their passports are overdue? And . . .”
“That’s the Procureur’s business,” Maslennikoff interrupted, angrily. “There, now, you see what it is you call a prompt and just form of trial. It is the business of the Public Prosecutor to visit the prison and to find out if the prisoners are kept there lawfully. But that set play cards; that’s all they do.”
“Am I to understand that you can do nothing?” Nekhludoff said, despondently, remembering that the advocate had foretold that the Governor would put the blame on the Procureur.
“Oh, yes, I can. I shall see about it at once.”
“So much the worse for her. C’est un souffre douleur,” came the voice of a woman, evidently indifferent to what she was saying, from the drawing-room.
“So much the better. I shall take it also,” a man’s voice was heard to say from the other side, followed by the playful laughter of a woman, who was apparently trying to prevent the man from taking something away from her.
“No, no; not on any account,” the woman’s voice said.
“All right, then. I shall do all this,” Maslennikoff repeated, and put out the cigarette he held in his white, turquoise-ringed hand. “And now let us join the ladies.”
“Wait a moment,” Nekhludoff said, stopping at the door of the drawing-room. “I was told that some men had received corporal punishment in the prison yesterday. Is this true?”
“Oh, that’s what you are after? No, mon cher, decidedly it won’t do to let you in there; you want to get at everything. Come, come; Anna is calling us,” he said, catching Nekhludoff by the arm, and again becoming as excited as after the attention paid him by the important person, only now his excitement was not joyful, but anxious.
Nekhludoff pulled his arm away, and without taking leave of any one and without saying a word, he passed through the drawing-room with a dejected look, went down into the hall, past the footman, who sprang towards him, and out at the street door.
“What is the matter with him? What have you done to him?” asked Anna of her husband.
“This is a la Francaise,” remarked some one.
“A la Francaise, indeed — it is a la Zoulou.”
“Oh, but he’s always been like that.”
Some one rose, some one came in, and the clatter went on its course. The company used this episode with Nekhludoff as a convenient topic of conversation for the rest of the “at-home.”
On the day following his visit to Maslennikoff, Nekhludoff received a letter from him, written in a fine, firm hand, on thick, glazed paper, with a coat-of-arms, and sealed with sealing-wax. Maslennikoff said that he had written to the doctor concerning Maslova’s removal to the hospital, and hoped Nekhludoff’s wish would receive attention. The letter was signed, “Your affectionate elder comrade,” and the signature ended with a large, firm, and artistic flourish. “Fool!” Nekhludoff could not refrain from saying, especially because in the word “comrade” he felt Maslennikoff’s condescension towards him, i.e., while Maslennikoff was filling this position, morally most dirty and shameful, he still thought himself a very important man, and wished, if not exactly to flatter Nekhludoff, at least to show that he was not too proud to call him comrade.
Last updated Sunday, March 27, 2016 at 12:00