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CHAPTER XXIII. THE TRIAL - THE VERDICT.
At last the president finished his speech, and lifting the list of questions with a graceful movement of his arm he handed it to the foreman, who came up to take it. The jury, glad to be able to get into the debating-court, got up one after the other and left the room, looking as if a bit ashamed of themselves and again not knowing what to do with their hands. As soon as the door was closed behind them a gendarme came up to it, pulled his sword out of the scabbard, and, holding it up against his shoulder, stood at the door. The judges got up and went away. The prisoners were also led out. When the jury came into the debating-room the first thing they did was to take out their cigarettes, as before, and begin smoking. The sense of the unnaturalness and falseness of their position, which all of them had experienced while sitting in their places in the court, passed when they entered the debating-room and started smoking, and they settled down with a feeling of relief and at once began an animated conversation.
"'Tisn't the girl's fault. She's got mixed up in it," said the kindly merchant. "We must recommend her to mercy."
"That's just what we are going to consider," said the foreman. "We must not give way to our personal impressions."
"The president's summing up was good," remarked the colonel.
"Good? Why, it nearly sent me to sleep!"
"The chief point is that the servants could have known nothing about the money if Maslova had not been in accord with them," said the clerk of Jewish extraction.
"Well, do you think that it was she who stole the money?" asked one of the jury.
"I will never believe it," cried the kindly merchant; "it was all that red-eyed hag's doing."
"They are a nice lot, all of them," said the colonel.
"But she says she never went into the room."
"Oh, believe her by all means."
"I should not believe that jade, not for the world."
"Whether you believe her or not does not settle the question," said the clerk.
"The girl had the key," said the colonel.
"What if she had?" retorted the merchant.
"And the ring?"
"But didn't she say all about it?" again cried the merchant. "The fellow had a temper of his own, and had had a drop too much besides, and gave the girl a licking; what could be simpler? Well, then he's sorry - quite naturally. 'There, never mind,' says he; 'take this.' Why, I heard them say he was six foot five high; I should think he must have weighed about 20 stones."
"That's not the point," said Peter Gerasimovitch. "The question is, whether she was the instigator and inciter in this affair, or the servants?"
"It was not possible for the servants to do it alone; she had the key."
This kind of random talk went on for a considerable time. At last the foreman said: "I beg your pardon, gentlemen, but had we not better take our places at the table and discuss the matter? Come, please." And he took the chair.
The questions were expressed in the following manner.
1. Is the peasant of the village Borki, Krapivinskia district, Simeon Petrov Kartinkin, 33 years of age, guilty of having, in agreement with other persons, given the merchant Smelkoff, on the 17th January, 188-, in the town of N - - -, with intent to deprive him of life, for the purpose of robbing him, poisoned brandy, which caused Smelkoff's death, and of having stolen from him about 2,500 roubles in money and a diamond ring?
2. Is the meschanka Euphemia Ivanovna Botchkova, 43 years of age, guilty of the crimes described above?
3. Is the meschanka Katerina Michaelovna Maslova, 27 years of age, guilty of the crimes described in the first question?
4. If the prisoner Euphemia Botchkova is not guilty according to the first question, is she not guilty of having, on the 17th January, in the town of N - - , while in service at the hotel Mauritania, stolen from a locked portmanteau, belonging to the merchant Smelkoff, a lodger in that hotel, and which was in the room occupied by him, 2,500 roubles, for which object she unlocked the portmanteau with a key she brought and fitted to the lock?
The foreman read the first question.
"Well, gentlemen, what do you think?" This question was quickly answered. All agreed to say "Guilty," as if convinced that Kartinkin had taken part both in the poisoning and the robbery. An old artelshik, [member of an artel, an association of workmen, in which the members share profits and liabilities] whose answers were all in favour of acquittal, was the only exception.
The foreman thought he did not understand, and began to point out to him that everything tended to prove Kartinkin's guilt. The old man answered that he did understand, but still thought it better to have pity on him. "We are not saints ourselves," and he kept to his opinion.
The answer to the second question concerning Botchkova was, after much dispute and many exclamations, answered by the words, "Not guilty," there being no clear proofs of her having taken part in the poisoning - a fact her advocate had strongly insisted on. The merchant, anxious to acquit Maslova, insisted that Botchkova was the chief instigator of it all. Many of the jury shared this view, but the foreman, wishing to be in strict accord with the law, declared they had no grounds to consider her as an accomplice in the poisoning. After much disputing the foreman's opinion triumphed.
To the fourth question concerning Botchkova the answer was "Guilty." But on the artelshik's insistence she was recommended to mercy.
The third question, concerning Maslova, raised a fierce dispute. The foreman maintained she was guilty both of the poisoning and the theft, to which the merchant would not agree. The colonel, the clerk and the old artelshik sided with the merchant, the rest seemed shaky, and the opinion of the foreman began to gain ground, chiefly because all the jurymen were getting tired, and preferred to take up the view that would bring them sooner to a decision and thus liberate them.
From all that had passed, and from his former knowledge of Maslova, Nekhludoff was certain that she was innocent of both the theft and the poisoning. And he felt sure that all the others would come to the same conclusion. When he saw that the merchant's awkward defence (evidently based on his physical admiration for her, which he did not even try to hide) and the foreman's insistence, and especially everybody's weariness, were all tending to her condemnation, he longed to state his objections, yet dared not, lest his relations with Maslova should be discovered. He felt he could not allow things to go on without stating his objection; and, blushing and growing pale again, was about to speak when Peter Gerasimovitch, irritated by the authoritative manner of the foreman, began to raise his objections and said the very things Nekhludoff was about to say.
"Allow me one moment," he said. "You seem to think that her having the key proves she is guilty of the theft; but what could be easier than for the servants to open the portmanteau with a false key after she was gone?
"Of course, of course," said the merchant.
"She could not have taken the money, because in her position she would hardly know what to do with it."
"That's just what I say," remarked the merchant.
"But it is very likely that her coming put the idea into the servants' heads and that they grasped the opportunity and shoved all the blame on her." Peter Gerasimovitch spoke so irritably that the foreman became irritated too, and went on obstinately defending the opposite views; but Peter Gerasimovitch spoke so convincingly that the majority agreed with him, and decided that Maslova was not guilty of stealing the money and that the ring was given her.
But when the question of her having taken part in the poisoning was raised, her zealous defender, the merchant, declared that she must be acquitted, because she could have no reason for the poisoning. The foreman, however, said that it was impossible to acquit her, because she herself had pleaded guilty to having given the powder.
"Yes, but thinking it was opium," said the merchant.
"Opium can also deprive one of life," said the colonel, who was fond of wandering from the subject, and he began telling how his brother-in-law's wife would have died of an overdose of opium if there had not been a doctor near at hand to take the necessary measures. The colonel told his story so impressively, with such self-possession and dignity, that no one had the courage to interrupt him. Only the clerk, infected by his example, decided to break in with a story of his own: "There are some who get so used to it that they can take 40 drops. I have a relative - ," but the colonel would not stand the interruption, and went on to relate what effects the opium had on his brother-in-law's wife.
"But, gentlemen, do you know it is getting on towards five o'clock?" said one of the jury.
"Well, gentlemen, what are we to say, then?" inquired the foreman. "Shall we say she is guilty, but without intent to rob? And without stealing any property? Will that do?" Peter Gerasimovitch, pleased with his victory, agreed.
"But she must be recommended to mercy," said the merchant.
All agreed; only the old artelshik insisted that they should say "Not guilty."
"It comes to the same thing," explained the foreman; "without intent to rob, and without stealing any property. Therefore, 'Not guilty,' that's evident."
"All right; that'll do. And we recommend her to mercy," said the merchant, gaily.
They were all so tired, so confused by the discussions, that nobody thought of saying that she was guilty of giving the powder but without the intent of taking life. Nekhludoff was so excited that he did not notice this omission, and so the answers were written down in the form agreed upon and taken to the court.
Rabelais says that a lawyer who was trying a case quoted all sorts of laws, read 20 pages of judicial senseless Latin, and then proposed to the judges to throw dice, and if the numbers proved odd the defendant would he right, if not, the plaintiff.
It was much the same in this case. The resolution was taken, not because everybody agreed upon it, but because the president, who had been summing up at such length, omitted to say what he always said on such occasions, that the answer might be, "Yes, guilty, but without the intent of taking life;" because the colonel had related the story of his brother-in-law's wife at such great length; because Nekhludoff was too excited to notice that the proviso "without intent to take life" had been omitted, and thought that the words "without intent" nullified the conviction; because Peter Gerasimovitch had retired from the room while the questions and answers were being read, and chiefly because, being tired, and wishing to get away as soon as possible, all were ready to agree with the decision which would bring matters to an end soonest.
The jurymen rang the bell. The gendarme who had stood outside the door with his sword drawn put the sword back into the scabbard and stepped aside. The judges took their seats and the jury came out one by one.
The foreman brought in the paper with an air of solemnity and handed it to the president, who looked at it, and, spreading out his hands in astonishment, turned to consult his companions. The president was surprised that the jury, having put in a proviso - without intent to rob - did not put in a second proviso - without intent to take life. From the decision of the jury it followed that Maslova had not stolen, nor robbed, and yet poisoned a man without any apparent reason.
"Just see what an absurd decision they have come to," he whispered to the member on his left. "This means penal servitude in Siberia, and she is innocent."
"Surely you do not mean to say she is innocent? answered the serious member.
"Yes, she is positively innocent. I think this is a case for putting Article 817 into practice (Article 817 states that if the Court considers the decision of the jury unjust it may set it aside)."
"What do you think?" said the president, turning to the other member. The kindly member did not answer at once. He looked at the number on a paper before him and added up the figures; the sum would not divide by three. He had settled in his mind that if it did divide by three he would agree to the president's proposal, but though the sum would not so divide his kindness made him agree all the same.
"I, too, think it should he done," he said.
"And you?" asked the president, turning to the serious member.
"On no account," he answered, firmly. "As it is, the papers accuse the jury of acquitting prisoners. What will they say if the Court does it? I, shall not agree to that on any account."
The president looked at his watch. "It is a pity, but what's to be done?" and handed the questions to the foreman to read out. All got up, and the foreman, stepping from foot to foot, coughed, and read the questions and the answers. All the Court, secretary, advocates, and even the public prosecutor, expressed surprise. The prisoners sat impassive, evidently not understanding the meaning of the answers. Everybody sat down again, and the president asked the prosecutor what punishments the prisoners were to be subjected to.
The prosecutor, glad of his unexpected success in getting Maslova convicted, and attributing the success entirely to his own eloquence, looked up the necessary information, rose and said: "With Simeon Kartinkin I should deal according to Statute 1,452 paragraph 93. Euphemia Botchkova according to Statute . . ., etc. Katerina Maslova according to Statute . . .,etc."
All three punishments were the heaviest that could he inflicted.
"The Court will adjourn to consider the sentence," said the president, rising. Everybody rose after him, and with the pleasant feeling of a task well done began to leave the room or move about in it.
"D'you know, sirs, we have made a shameful hash of it?" said Peter Gerasimovitch, approaching Nekhludoff, to whom the foreman was relating something. "Why, we've got her to Siberia."
"What are you saying?" exclaimed Nekhludoff. This time he did not notice the teacher's familiarity.
"Why, we did not put in our answer 'Guilty, but without intent of causing death.' The secretary just told me the public prosecutor is for condemning her to 15 years' penal servitude."
"Well, but it was decided so," said the foreman.
Peter Gerasimovitch began to dispute this, saying that since she did not take the money it followed naturally that she could not have had any intention of committing murder.
"But I read the answer before going out," said the foreman, defending himself, "and nobody objected."
"I had just then gone out of the room," said Peter Gerasimovitch, turning to Nekhludoff, "and your thoughts must have been wool-gathering to let the thing pass."
"I never imagined this," Nekhludoff replied.
"Oh, you didn't?"
"Oh, well, we can get it put right," said Nekhludoff.
"Oh, dear no; it's finished."
Nekhludoff looked at the prisoners. They whose fate was being decided still sat motionless behind the grating in front of the soldiers. Maslova was smiling. Another feeling stirred in Nekhludoff's soul. Up to now, expecting her acquittal and thinking she would remain in the town, he was uncertain how to act towards her. Any kind of relations with her would be so very difficult. But Siberia and penal servitude at once cut off every possibility of any kind of relations with her. The wounded bird would stop struggling in the game-bag, and no longer remind him of its existence.
Turn to the next chapter: CHAPTER XXIV. THE TRIAL - THE SENTENCE.