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CHAPTER II. AN INCIDENT OF THE MARCH.
This is what Mary Pavlovna and Katusha saw when they came up to the scene whence the noise proceeded. The officer, a sturdy fellow, with fair moustaches, stood uttering words of foul and coarse abuse, and rubbing with his left the palm of his right hand, which he had hurt in hitting a prisoner on the face. In front of him a thin, tall convict, with half his head shaved and dressed in a cloak too short for him and trousers much too short, stood wiping his bleeding face with one hand, and holding a little shrieking girl wrapped in a shawl with the other.
"I'll give it you" (foul abuse); "I'll teach you to reason" (more abuse); "you're to give her to the women!" shouted the officer. "Now, then, on with them."
The convict, who was exiled by the Commune, had been carrying his little daughter all the way from Tomsk, where his wife had died of typhus, and now the officer ordered him to be manacled. The exile's explanation that he could not carry the child if he was manacled irritated the officer, who happened to be in a bad temper, and he gave the troublesome prisoner a beating. [A fact described by Lineff in his "Transportation".] Before the injured convict stood a convoy soldier, and a black-bearded prisoner with manacles on one hand and a look of gloom on his face, which he turned now to the officer, now to the prisoner with the little girl.
The officer repeated his orders for the soldiers to take away the girl. The murmur among the prisoners grew louder.
"All the way from Tomsk they were not put on," came a hoarse voice from some one in the rear. "It's a child, and not a puppy."
"What's he to do with the lassie? That's not the law," said some one else.
"Who's that?" shouted the officer as if he had been stung, and rushed into the crowd.
"I'll teach you the law. Who spoke. You? You?"
"Everybody says so, because-" said a short, broad-faced prisoner.
Before he had finished speaking the officer hit him in the face.
"Mutiny, is it? I'll show you what mutiny means. I'll have you all shot like dogs, and the authorities will be only too thankful. Take the girl."
The crowd was silent. One convoy soldier pulled away the girl, who was screaming desperately, while another manacled the prisoner, who now submissively held out his hand.
"Take her to the women," shouted the officer, arranging his sword belt.
The little girl, whose face had grown quite red, was trying to disengage her arms from under the shawl, and screamed unceasingly. Mary Pavlovna stepped out from among the crowd and came up to the officer.
"Will you allow me to carry the little girl?" she said.
"Who are you?" asked the officer.
"A political prisoner."
Mary Pavlovna's handsome face, with the beautiful prominent eyes (he had noticed her before when the prisoners were given into his charge), evidently produced an effect on the officer. He looked at her in silence as if considering, then said: "I don't care; carry her if you like. It is easy for you to show pity; if he ran away who would have to answer?"
"How could he run away with the child in his arms?" said Mary Pavlovna.
"I have no time to talk with you. Take her if you like."
"Shall I give her?" asked the soldier.
"Yes, give her."
"Come to me," said Mary Pavlovna, trying to coax the child to come to her.
But the child in the soldier's arms stretched herself towards her father and continued to scream, and would not go to Mary Pavlovna.
"Wait a bit, Mary Pavlovna," said Maslova, getting a rusk out of her bag; "she will come to me."
The little girl knew Maslova, and when she saw her face and the rusk she let her take her. All was quiet. The gates were opened, and the gang stepped out, the convoy counted the prisoners over again, the bags were packed and tied on to the carts, the weak seated on the top. Maslova with the child in her arms took her place among the women next to Theodosia. Simonson, who had all the time been watching what was going on, stepped with large, determined strides up to the officer, who, having given his orders, was just getting into a trap, and said, "You have behaved badly."
"Get to your place; it is no business of yours."
"It is my business to tell you that you have behaved badly and I have said it," said Simonson, looking intently into the officer's face from under his bushy eyebrows.
"Ready? March!" the officer called out, paying no heed to Simonson, and, taking hold of the driver's shoulder, he got into the trap. The gang started and spread out as it stepped on to the muddy high road with ditches on each side, which passed through a dense forest.
Turn to the next chapter: CHAPTER III. MARY PAVLOVNA.