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CHAPTER L. THE VICE-GOVERNOR OF THE PRISON.
Awaking early the next morning, Nekhludoff remembered what he had done the day before, and was seized with fear.
But in spite of this fear, he was more determined than ever to continue what he had begun.
Conscious of a sense of duty, he left the house and went to see Maslennikoff in order to obtain from him a permission to visit Maslova in prison, and also the Menshoffs - mother and son - about whom Maslova had spoken to him. Nekhludoff had known this Maslennikoff a long time; they had been in the regiment together. At that time Maslennikoff was treasurer to the regiment.
He was a kind-hearted and zealous officer, knowing and wishing to know nothing beyond the regiment and the Imperial family. Now Nekhludoff saw him as an administrator, who had exchanged the regiment for an administrative office in the government where he lived. He was married to a rich and energetic woman, who had forced him to exchange military for civil service. She laughed at him, and caressed him, as if he were her own pet animal. Nekhludoff had been to see them once during the winter, but the couple were so uninteresting to him that he had not gone again.
At the sight of Nekhludoff Maslennikoff's face beamed all over. He had the same fat red face, and was as corpulent and as well dressed as in his military days. Then, he used to be always dressed in a well-brushed uniform, made according to the latest fashion, tightly fitting his chest and shoulders; now, it was a civil service uniform he wore, and that, too, tightly fitted his well-fed body and showed off his broad chest, and was cut according to the latest fashion. In spite of the difference in age (Maslennikoff was 40), the two men were very familiar with one another.
"Halloo, old fellow! How good of you to come! Let us go and see my wife. I have just ten minutes to spare before the meeting. My chief is away, you know. I am at the head of the Government administration," he said, unable to disguise his satisfaction.
"I have come on business."
"What is it?" said Maslennikoff, in an anxious and severe tone, putting himself at once on his guard.
"There is a person, whom I am very much interested in, in prison" (at the word "prison" Maslennikoff's face grew stern); "and I should like to have an interview in the office, and not in the common visiting-room. I have been told it depended on you."
"Certainly, mon cher," said Maslennikoff, putting both hands on Nekhludoff's knees, as if to tone down his grandeur; "but remember, I am monarch only for an hour."
"Then will you give me an order that will enable me to see her?"
"It's a woman?"
"What is she there for?"
"Poisoning, but she has been unjustly condemned."
"Yes, there you have it, your justice administered by jury, ils n'en font point d'autres," he said, for some unknown reason, in French. "I know you do not agree with me, but it can't be helped, c'est mon opinion bien arretee," he added, giving utterance to an opinion he had for the last twelve months been reading in the retrograde Conservative paper. "I know you are a Liberal."
"I don't know whether I am a Liberal or something else," Nekhludoff said, smiling; it always surprised him to find himself ranked with a political party and called a Liberal, when he maintained that a man should be heard before he was judged, that before being tried all men were equal, that nobody at all ought to be ill-treated and beaten, but especially those who had not yet been condemned by law. "I don't know whether I am a Liberal or not; but I do know that however had the present way of conducting a trial is, it is better than the old."
"And whom have you for an advocate?"
"I have spoken to Fanarin."
"Dear me, Fanarin!" said Meslennikoff, with a grimace, recollecting how this Fanarin had examined him as a witness at a trial the year before and had, in the politest manner, held him up to ridicule for half an hour.
"I should not advise you to have anything to do with him. Fanarin est un homme tare."
"I have one more request to make," said Nekhludoff, without answering him. "There's a girl whom I knew long ago, a teacher; she is a very pitiable little thing, and is now also imprisoned, and would like to see me. Could you give me a permission to visit her?"
Meslennikoff bent his head on one side and considered.
"She's a political one?"
"Yes, I have been told so."
"Well, you see, only relatives get permission to visit political prisoners. Still, I'll give you an open order. Je sais que vous n'abuserez pas. What's the name of your protegee? Doukhova? Elle est jolie?"
Maslennikoff shook his head disapprovingly, went up to the table, and wrote on a sheet of paper, with a printed heading: "The bearer, Prince Dmitri Ivanovitch Nekhludoff, is to be allowed to interview in the prison office the meschanka Maslova, and also the medical assistant, Doukhova," and he finished with an elaborate flourish.
"Now you'll be able to see what order we have got there. And it is very difficult to keep order, it is so crowded, especially with people condemned to exile; but I watch strictly, and love the work. You will see they are very comfortable and contented. But one must know how to deal with them. Only a few days ago we had a little trouble - insubordination; another would have called it mutiny, and would have made many miserable, but with us it all passed quietly. We must have solicitude on one hand, firmness and power on the other," and he clenched the fat, white, turquoise-ringed fist, which issued out of the starched cuff of his shirt sleeve, fastened with a gold stud. "Solicitude and firm power."
"Well, I don't know about that," said Nekhludoff. "I went there twice, and felt very much depressed."
"Do you know, you ought to get acquainted with the Countess Passek," continued Maslennikoff, growing talkative. "She has given herself up entirely to this sort of work. Elle fait beaucoup de bien. Thanks to her - and, perhaps I may add without false modesty, to me - everything has been changed, changed in such a way that the former horrors no longer exist, and they are really quite comfortable there. Well, you'll see. There's Fanarin. I do not know him personally; besides, my social position keeps our ways apart; but he is positively a bad man, and besides, he takes the liberty of saying such things in the court - such things!"
"Well, thank you," Nekhludoff said, taking the paper, and without listening further he bade good-day to his former comrade.
"And won't you go in to see my wife?"
"No, pray excuse me; I have no time now."
"Dear me, why she will never forgive me," said Maslennikoff, accompanying his old acquaintance down to the first landing, as he was in the habit of doing to persons of not the greatest, but the second greatest importance, with whom he classed Nekhludoff; "now do go in, if only for a moment."
But Nekhludoff remained firm; and while the footman and the door-keeper rushed to give him his stick and overcoat, and opened the door, outside of which there stood a policeman, Nekhludoff repeated that he really could not come in.
"Well, then; on Thursday, please. It is her 'at-home.' I will tell her you will come," shouted Maslennikoff from the stairs.
Turn to the next chapter: CHAPTER LI. THE CELLS.