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CHAPTER LIV. PRISONERS AND FRIENDS.
The office consisted of two rooms. The first room, with a large, dilapidated stove and two dirty windows, had a black measure for measuring the prisoners in one corner, and in another corner hung a large image of Christ, as is usual in places where they torture people. In this room stood several jailers. In the next room sat about twenty persons, men and women in groups and in pairs, talking in low voices. There was a writing table by the window.
The inspector sat down by the table, and offered Nekhludoff a chair beside him. Nekhludoff sat down, and looked at the people in the room.
The first who drew his attention was a young man with a pleasant face, dressed in a short jacket, standing in front of a middle-aged woman with dark eyebrows, and he was eagerly telling her something and gesticulating with his hands. Beside them sat an old man, with blue spectacles, holding the hand of a young woman in prisoner's clothes, who was telling him something. A schoolboy, with a fixed, frightened look on his face, was gazing at the old man. In one corner sat a pair of lovers. She was quite young and pretty, and had short, fair hair, looked energetic, and was elegantly dressed; he had fine features, wavy hair, and wore a rubber jacket. They sat in their corner and seemed stupefied with love. Nearest to the table sat a grey-haired woman dressed in black, evidently the mother of a young, consumptive-looking fellow, in the same kind of jacket. Her head lay on his shoulder. She was trying to say something, but the tears prevented her from speaking; she began several times, but had to stop. The young man held a paper in his hand, and, apparently not knowing what to do, kept folding and pressing it with an angry look on his face.
Beside them was a short-haired, stout, rosy girl, with very prominent eyes, dressed in a grey dress and a cape; she sat beside the weeping mother, tenderly stroking her. Everything about this girl was beautiful; her large, white hands, her short, wavy hair, her firm nose and lips, but the chief charm of her face lay in her kind, truthful hazel eyes. The beautiful eyes turned away from the mother for a moment when Nekhludoff came in, and met his look. But she turned back at once and said something to the mother.
Not far from the lovers a dark, dishevelled man, with a gloomy face, sat angrily talking to a beardless visitor, who looked as if he belonged to the Scoptsy sect.
At the very door stood a young man in a rubber jacket, who seemed more concerned about the impression he produced on the onlooker than about what he was saying. Nekhludoff, sitting by the inspector's side, looked round with strained curiosity. A little boy with closely-cropped hair came up to him and addressed him in a thin little voice.
"And whom are you waiting for?"
Nekhludoff was surprised at the question, but looking at the boy, and seeing the serious little face with its bright, attentive eyes fixed on him, answered him seriously that he was waiting for a woman of his acquaintance.
"Is she, then, your sister?" the boy asked.
"No, not my sister," Nekhludoff answered in surprise.
"And with whom are you here?" he inquired of the boy.
"I? With mamma; she is a political one," he replied.
"Mary Pavlovna, take Kolia!" said the inspector, evidently considering Nekhludoff's conversation with the boy illegal.
Mary Pavlovna, the beautiful girl who had attracted Nekhludoff's attention, rose tall and erect, and with firm, almost manly steps, approached Nekhludoff and the boy.
"What is he asking you? Who you are?" she inquired with a slight smile, and looking straight into his face with a trustful look in her kind, prominent eyes, and as simply as if there could be no doubt whatever that she was and must be on sisterly terms with everybody.
"He likes to know everything," she said, looking at the boy with so sweet and kind a smile that both the boy and Nekhludoff were obliged to smile back.
"He was asking me whom I have come to see."
"Mary Pavlovna, it is against the rules to speak to strangers. You know it is," said the inspector.
"All right, all right," she said, and went back to the consumptive lad's mother, holding Kolia's little hand in her large, white one, while he continued gazing up into her face.
"Whose is this little boy?" Nekhludoff asked of the inspector.
"His mother is a political prisoner, and he was born in prison," said the inspector, in a pleased tone, as if glad to point out how exceptional his establishment was.
"Is it possible?"
"Yes, and now he is going to Siberia with her."
"And that young girl?"
"I cannot answer your question," said the inspector, shrugging his shoulders. "Besides, here is Doukhova."
Turn to the next chapter: CHAPTER LV. VERA DOUKHOVA EXPLAINS.