The next day Maslova’s case was to be examined at the Senate, and Nekhludoff and the advocate met at the majestic portal of the building, where several carriages were waiting. Ascending the magnificent and imposing staircase to the first floor, the advocate, who knew all the ins and outs of the place, turned to the left and entered through a door which had the date of the introduction of the Code of Laws above it.
After taking off his overcoat in the first narrow room, he found out from the attendant that the Senators had all arrived, and that the last had just come in. Fanarin, in his swallow-tail coat, a white tie above the white shirt-front, and a self-confident smile on his lips, passed into the next room. In this room there were to the right a large cupboard and a table, and to the left a winding staircase, which an elegant official in uniform was descending with a portfolio under his arm. In this room an old man with long, white hair and a patriarchal appearance attracted every one’s attention. He wore a short coat and grey trousers. Two attendants stood respectfully beside him. The old man with white hair entered the cupboard and shut himself in.
Fanarin noticed a fellow-advocate dressed in the same way as himself, with a white tie and dress coat, and at once entered into an animated conversation with him.
Nekhludoff was meanwhile examining the people in the room. The public consisted of about 15 persons, of whom two were ladies — a young one with a pince-nez, and an old, grey-haired one.
A case of libel was to be heard that day, and therefore the public were more numerous than usual — chiefly persons belonging to the journalistic world.
The usher, a red-cheeked, handsome man in a fine uniform, came up to Fanarin and asked him what his business was. When he heard that it was the case of Maslova, he noted something down and walked away. Then the cupboard door opened and the old man with the patriarchal appearance stepped out, no longer in a short coat but in a gold-trimmed attire, which made him look like a bird, and with metal plates on his breast. This funny costume seemed to make the old man himself feel uncomfortable, and, walking faster than his wont, he hurried out of the door opposite the entrance.
“That is Bay, a most estimable man,” Fanarin said to Nekhludoff, and then having introduced him to his colleague, he explained the case that was about to be heard, which he considered very interesting.
The hearing of the case soon commenced, and Nekhludoff, with the public, entered the left side of the Senate Chamber. They all, including Fanarin, took their places behind a grating. Only the Petersburg advocate went up to a desk in front of the grating.
The Senate Chamber was not so big as the Criminal Court; and was more simply furnished, only the table in front of the senators was covered with crimson, gold-trimmed velvet, instead of green cloth; but the attributes of all places of judgment, i.e., the mirror of justice, the icon, the emblem of hypocrisy, and the Emperor’s portrait, the emblem of servility, were there.
The usher announced, in the same solemn manner: “The Court is coming.” Every one rose in the same way, and the senators entered in their uniforms and sat down on highbacked chairs and leant on the table, trying to appear natural, just in the same way as the judges in the Court of Law. There were four senators present — Nikitin, who took the chair, a clean-shaved man with a narrow face and steely eyes; Wolf, with significantly compressed lips, and little white hands, with which he kept turning over the pages of the business papers; Skovorodnikoff, a heavy, fat, pockmarked man — the learned lawyer; and Bay, the patriarchal-looking man who had arrived last.
With the advocates entered the chief secretary and public prosecutor, a lean, clean-shaven young man of medium height, a very dark complexion, and sad, black eyes. Nekhludoff knew him at once, in spite of his curious uniform and the fact that he had not seen him for six years. He had been one of his best friends in Nekhludoff’s student days.
“The public prosecutor Selenin?” Nekhludoff asked, turning to the advocate.
“I know him well. He is a fine fellow.”
“And a good public prosecutor; business-like. Now he is the man you should have interested.”
“He will act according to his conscience in any case,” said Nekhludoff, recalling the intimate relations and friendship between himself and Selenin, and the attractive qualities of the latter — purity, honesty, and good breeding in its best sense.
“Yes, there is no time now,” whispered Fanarin, who was listening to the report of the case that had commenced.
The Court of Justice was accused of having left a decision of the Court of Law unaltered.
Nekhludoff listened and tried to make out the meaning of what was going on; but, just as in the Criminal Court, his chief difficulty was that not the evidently chief point, but some side issues, were being discussed. The case was that of a newspaper which had published the account of a swindle arranged by a director of a limited liability company. It seemed that the only important question was whether the director of the company really abused his trust, and how to stop him from doing it. But the questions under consideration were whether the editor had a right to publish this article of his contributor, and what he had been guilty of in publishing it: slander or libel, and in what way slander included libel, or libel included slander, and something rather incomprehensible to ordinary people about all sorts of statutes and resolutions passed by some General Department.
The only thing clear to Nekhludoff was that, in spite of what Wolf had so strenuously insisted on, the day before, i.e., that the Senate could not try a case on its merits, in this case he was evidently strongly in favour of repealing the decision of the Court of Justice, and that Selenin, in spite of his characteristic reticence, stated the opposite opinion with quite unexpected warmth. The warmth, which surprised Nekhludoff, evinced by the usually self-controlled Selenin, was due to his knowledge of the director’s shabbiness in money matters, and the fact, which had accidentally come to his cars, that Wolf had been to a swell dinner party at the swindler’s house only a few days before.
Now that Wolf spoke on the case, guardedly enough, but with evident bias, Selenin became excited, and expressed his opinion with too much nervous irritation for an ordinary business transaction.
It was clear that Selenin’s speech had offended Wolf. He grew red, moved in his chair, made silent gestures of surprise, and at last rose, with a very dignified and injured look, together with the other senators, and went out into the debating-room.
“What particular case have you come about?” the usher asked again, addressing Fanarin.
“I have already told you: Maslova’s case.”
“Yes, quite so. It is to be heard to-day, but —”
“But what?” the advocate asked.
“Well, you see, this case was to be examined without taking sides, so that the senators will hardly come out again after passing the resolution. But I will inform them.”
“What do you mean?”
“I’ll inform them; I’ll inform them.” And the usher again put something down on his paper.
The Senators really meant to pronounce their decision concerning the libel case, and then to finish the other business, Maslova’s case among it, over their tea and cigarettes, without leaving the debating-room.
Last updated Tuesday, August 25, 2015 at 14:14