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CHAPTER VII. THE OFFICIALS OF THE COURT.
At last Matthew Nikitich also arrived, and the usher, a thin man, with a long neck and a kind of sideways walk, his nether lip protruding to one side, which made him resemble a turkey, came into the jurymen's room.
This usher was an honest man, and had a university education, but could not keep a place for any length of time, as he was subject to fits of drunkenness. Three months before a certain countess, who patronised his wife, had found him this place, and he was very pleased to have kept it so long.
"Well, sirs, is everybody here?" he asked, putting his pince-nez on his nose, and looking round.
"Everybody, I think," said the jolly merchant.
"All right; we'll soon see." And, taking a list from his pocket, he began calling out the names, looking at the men, sometimes through and sometimes over his pince-nez.
"Councillor of State, [grades such as this are common in Russia, and mean very little] J. M. Nikiforoff!"
"I am he," said the dignified-looking man, well versed in the habits of the law court.
"Ivan Semionovitch Ivanoff, retired colonel!
"Here!" replied a thin man, in the uniform of a retired officer.
"Merchant of the Second Guild, Peter Baklasheff!"
"Here we are, ready!" said the good-humoured merchant, with a broad smile.
"Lieutenant of the Guards, Prince Dmitri Nekhludoff!"
"I am he," answered Nekhludoff.
The usher bowed to him, looking over his pince-nez, politely and pleasantly, as if wishing to distinguish him from the others.
"Captain Youri Demitrievitch-Dantchenko, merchant; Grigori Euphimitch Kouleshoff," etc. All but two were present.
"Now please to come to the court, gentlemen," said the usher, pointing to the door, with an amiable wave of his hand.
All moved towards the door, pausing to let each other pass. Then they went through the corridor into the court.
The court was a large, long room. At one end there was a raised platform, with three steps leading up to it, on which stood a table, covered with a green cloth trimmed with a fringe of a darker shade. At the table were placed three arm-chairs, with high-carved oak backs; on the wall behind them hung a full-length, brightly-coloured portrait of the Emperor in uniform and ribbon, with one foot in advance, and holding a sword. In the right corner hung a case, with an image of Christ crowned with thorns, and beneath it stood a lectern, and on the same side the prosecuting attorney's desk. On the left, opposite the desk, was the secretary's table, and in front of it, nearer the public, an oak grating, with the prisoners' bench, as yet unoccupied, behind it. Besides all this, there were on the right side of the platform high-backed ashwood chairs for the jury, and on the floor below tables for the advocates. All this was in the front part of the court, divided from the back by a grating.
The back was all taken up by seats in tiers. Sitting on the front seats were four women, either servant or factory girls, and two working men, evidently overawed by the grandeur of the room, and not venturing to speak above a whisper.
Soon after the jury had come in the usher entered, with his sideward gait, and stepping to the front, called out in a loud voice, as if he meant to frighten those present, "The Court is coming!" Every one got up as the members stepped on to the platform. Among them the president, with his muscles and fine whiskers. Next came the gloomy member of the Court, who was now more gloomy than ever, having met his brother-in-law, who informed him that he had just called in to see his sister (the member's wife), and that she had told him that there would be no dinner there.
"So that, evidently, we shall have to call in at a cook shop," the brother-in-law added, laughing.
"It is not at all funny," said the gloomy member, and became gloomier still.
Then at last came the third member of the Court, the same Matthew Nikitich, who was always late. He was a bearded man, with large, round, kindly eyes. He was suffering from a catarrh of the stomach, and, according to his doctor's advice, he had begun trying a new treatment, and this had kept him at home longer than usual. Now, as he was ascending the platform, he had a pensive air. He was in the habit of making guesses in answer to all sorts of self-put questions by different curious means. Just now he had asked whether the new treatment would be beneficial, and had decided that it would cure his catarrh if the number of steps from the door to his chair would divide by three. He made 26 steps, but managed to get in a 27th just by his chair.
The figures of the president and the members in their uniforms, with gold-embroidered collars, looked very imposing. They seemed to feel this themselves, and, as if overpowered by their own grandeur, hurriedly sat down on the high backed chairs behind the table with the green cloth, on which were a triangular article with an eagle at the top, two glass vases - something like those in which sweetmeats are kept in refreshment rooms - an inkstand, pens, clean paper, and good, newly-cut pencils of different kinds.
The public prosecutor came in with the judges. With his portfolio under one arm, and swinging the other, he hurriedly walked to his seat near the window, and was instantly absorbed in reading and looking through the papers, not wasting a single moment, in hope of being ready when the business commenced. He had been public prosecutor but a short time, and had only prosecuted four times before this. He was very ambitious, and had firmly made up his mind to get on, and therefore thought it necessary to get a conviction whenever he prosecuted. He knew the chief facts of the poisoning case, and had already formed a plan of action. He only wanted to copy out a few points which he required.
The secretary sat on the opposite side of the platform, and, having got ready all the papers he might want, was looking through an article, prohibited by the censor, which he had procured and read the day before. He was anxious to have a talk about this article with the bearded member, who shared his views, but wanted to look through it once more before doing so.
Turn to the next chapter: CHAPTER VIII. SWEARING IN THE JURY.