Nekhludoff was admitted by the advocate before his turn. The advocate at once commenced to talk about the Menshoffs’ case, which he had read with indignation at the inconsistency of the accusation.
“This case is perfectly revolting,” he said; “it is very likely that the owner himself set fire to the building in order to get the insurance money, and the chief thing is that there is no evidence to prove the Menshoffs’ guilt. There are no proofs whatever. It is all owing to the special zeal of the examining magistrate and the carelessness of the prosecutor. If they are tried here, and not in a provincial court, I guarantee that they will be acquitted, and I shall charge nothing. Now then, the next case, that of Theodosia Birukoff. The appeal to the Emperor is written. If you go to Petersburg, you’d better take it with you, and hand it in yourself, with a request of your own, or else they will only make a few inquiries, and nothing will come of it. You must try and get at some of the influential members of the Appeal Committee.”
“Well, is this all?”
“No; here I have a letter . . . I see you have turned into a pipe — a spout through which all the complaints of the prison are poured,” said the advocate, with a smile. “It is too much; you’ll not be able to manage it.”
“No, but this is a striking case,” said Nekhludoff, and gave a brief outline of the case of a peasant who began to read the Gospels to the peasants in the village, and to discuss them with his friends. The priests regarded this as a crime and informed the authorities. The magistrate examined him and the public prosecutor drew up an act of indictment, and the law courts committed him for trial.
“This is really too terrible,” Nekhludoff said. “Can it be true?”
“What are you surprised at?”
“Why, everything. I can understand the police-officer, who simply obeys orders, but the prosecutor drawing up an act of that kind. An educated man . . .”
“That is where the mistake lies, that we are in the habit of considering that the prosecutors and the judges in general are some kind of liberal persons. There was a time when they were such, but now it is quite different. They are just officials, only troubled about pay-day. They receive their salaries and want them increased, and there their principles end. They will accuse, judge, and sentence any one you like.”
“Yes; but do laws really exist that can condemn a man to Siberia for reading the Bible with his friends?”
“Not only to be exiled to the less remote parts of Siberia, but even to the mines, if you can only prove that reading the Bible they took the liberty of explaining it to others not according to orders, and in this way condemned the explanations given by the Church. Blaming the Greek orthodox religion in the presence of the common people means, according to Statute . . . the mines.”
“I assure you it is so. I always tell these gentlemen, the judges,” the advocate continued, “that I cannot look at them without gratitude, because if I am not in prison, and you, and all of us, it is only owing to their kindness. To deprive us of our privileges, and send us all to the less remote parts of Siberia, would be an easy thing for them.”
“Well, if it is so, and if everything depends on the Procureur and others who can, at will, either enforce the laws or not, what are the trials for?”
The advocate burst into a merry laugh. “You do put strange questions. My dear sir, that is philosophy. Well, we might have a talk about that, too. Could you come on Saturday? You will meet men of science, literary men, and artists at my house, and then we might discuss these general questions,” said the advocate, pronouncing the words “general questions” with ironical pathos. “You have met my wife? Do come.”
“Thank you; I will try to,” said Nekhludoff, and felt that he was saying an untruth, and knew that if he tried to do anything it would be to keep away froth the advocate’s literary evening, and the circle of the men of science, art, and literature.
The laugh with which the advocate met Nekhludoff’s remark that trials could have no meaning if the judges might enforce the laws or not, according to their notion, and the tone with which he pronounced the words “philosophy” and “general questions” proved to Nekhludoff how very differently he and the advocate and, probably, the advocate’s friends, looked at things; and he felt that in spite of the distance that now existed between himself and his former companions, Schonbock, etc., the difference between himself and the circle of the advocate and his friends was still greater.
Last updated Sunday, March 27, 2016 at 12:00