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CHAPTER XXXIV. THE PRISONERS START FOR SIBERIA.
The gang of prisoners, among whom was Maslova, was to leave Moscow by rail at 3 p.m.; therefore, in order to see the gang start, and walk to the station with the prisoners Nekhludoff meant to reach the prison before 12 o'clock.
The night before, as he was packing up and sorting his papers, he came upon his diary, and read some bits here and there. The last bit written before he left for Petersburg ran thus: "Katusha does not wish to accept my sacrifice; she wishes to make a sacrifice herself. She has conquered, and so have I. She makes me happy by the inner change, which seems to me, though I fear to believe it, to be going on in her. I fear to believe it, yet she seems to be coming back to life." Then further on he read. "I have lived through something very hard and very joyful. I learnt that she has behaved very badly in the hospital, and I suddenly felt great pain. I never expected that it could be so painful. I spoke to her with loathing and hatred, then all of a sudden I called to mind how many times I have been, and even still am, though but in thought, guilty of the thing that I hated her for, and immediately I became disgusting to myself, and pitied her and felt happy again. If only we could manage to see the beam in our own eye in time, how kind we should be." Then he wrote: "I have been to see Nathalie, and again self-satisfaction made me unkind and spiteful, and a heavy feeling remains. Well, what is to be done? Tomorrow a new life will begin. A final good-bye to the old! Many new impressions have accumulated, but I cannot yet bring them to unity."
When he awoke the next morning Nekhludoff's first feeling was regret about the affair between him and his brother-in-law.
"I cannot go away like this," he thought. "I must go and make it up with them." But when he looked at his watch he saw that he had not time to go, but must hurry so as not to be too late for the departure of the gang. He hastily got everything ready, and sent the things to the station with a servant and Taras, Theodosia's husband, who was going with them. Then he took the first isvostchik he could find and drove off to the prison.
The prisoners' train started two hours before the train by which he was going, so Nekhludoff paid his bill in the lodgings and left for good.
It was July, and the weather was unbearably hot. From the stones, the walls, the iron of the roofs, which the sultry night had not cooled, the beat streamed into the motionless air. When at rare intervals a slight breeze did arise, it brought but a whiff of hot air filled with dust and smelling of oil paint.
There were few people in the streets, and those who were out tried to keep on the shady side. Only the sunburnt peasants, with their bronzed faces and bark shoes on their feet, who were mending the road, sat hammering the stones into the burning sand in the sun; while the policemen, in their holland blouses, with revolvers fastened with orange cords, stood melancholy and depressed in the middle of the road, changing from foot to foot; and the tramcars, the horses of which wore holland hoods on their heads, with slits for the ears, kept passing up and down the sunny road with ringing bells.
When Nekhludoff drove up to the prison the gang had not left the yard. The work of delivering and receiving the prisoners that had commenced at 4 A.M. was still going on. The gang was to consist of 623 men and 64 women; they had all to be received according to the registry lists. The sick and the weak to be sorted out, and all to be delivered to the convoy. The new inspector, with two assistants, the doctor and medical assistant, the officer of the convoy, and the clerk, were sitting in the prison yard at a table covered with writing materials and papers, which was placed in the shade of a wall. They called the prisoners one by one, examined and questioned them, and took notes. The rays of the sun had gradually reached the table, and it was growing very hot and oppressive for want of air and because of the breathing crowd of prisoners that stood close by.
"Good gracious, will this never come to an end!" the convoy officer, a tall, fat, red-faced man with high shoulders, who kept puffing the smoke, of his cigarette into his thick moustache, asked, as he drew in a long puff. "You are killing me. From where have you got them all? Are there many more?" the clerk inquired.
"Twenty-four men and the women."
"What are you standing there for? Come on," shouted the convoy officer to the prisoners who had not yet passed the revision, and who stood crowded one behind the other. The prisoners had been standing there more than three hours, packed in rows in the full sunlight, waiting their turns.
While this was going on in the prison yard, outside the gate, besides the sentinel who stood there as usual with a gun, were drawn up about 20 carts, to carry the luggage of the prisoners and such prisoners as were too weak to walk, and a group of relatives and friends waiting to see the prisoners as they came out and to exchange a few words if a chance presented itself and to give them a few things. Nekhludoff took his place among the group. He had stood there about an hour when the clanking of chains, the noise of footsteps, authoritative voices, the sound of coughing, and the low murmur of a large crowd became audible.
This continued for about five minutes, during which several jailers went in and out of the gateway. At last the word of command was given. The gate opened with a thundering noise, the clattering of the chains became louder, and the convoy soldiers, dressed in white blouses and carrying guns, came out into the street and took their places in a large, exact circle in front of the gate; this was evidently a usual, often-practised manoeuvre. Then another command was given, and the prisoners began coming out in couples, with flat, pancake-shaped caps on their shaved heads and sacks over their shoulders, dragging their chained legs and swinging one arm, while the other held up a sack.
First came the men condemned to hard labour, all dressed alike in grey trousers and cloaks with marks on the back. All of them - young and old, thin and fat, pale and red, dark and bearded and beardless, Russians, Tartars, and Jews - came out, clattering with their chains and briskly swinging their arms as if prepared to go a long distance, but stopped after having taken ten steps, and obediently took their places behind each other, four abreast. Then without interval streamed out more shaved men, dressed in the same manner but with chains only on their legs. These were condemned to exile. They came out as briskly and stopped as suddenly, taking their places four in a row. Then came those exiled by their Communes. Then the women in the same order, first those condemned to hard labour, with grey cloaks and kerchiefs; then the exiled women, and those following their husbands of their own free will, dressed in their own town or village clothing. Some of the women were carrying babies wrapped in the fronts of their grey cloaks.
With the women came the children, boys and girls, who, like colts in a herd of horses, pressed in among the prisoners.
The men took their places silently, only coughing now and then, or making short remarks.
The women talked without intermission. Nekhludoff thought he saw Maslova as they were coming out, but she was at once lost in the large crowd, and he could only see grey creatures, seemingly devoid of all that was human, or at any rate of all that was womanly, with sacks on their backs and children round them, taking their places behind the men.
Though all the prisoners had been counted inside the prison walls, the convoy counted them again, comparing the numbers with the list. This took very long, especially as some of the prisoners moved and changed places, which confused the convoy.
The convoy soldiers shouted and pushed the prisoners (who complied obediently, but angrily) and counted them over again. When all had been counted, the convoy officer gave a command, and the crowd became agitated. The weak men and women and children rushed, racing each other, towards the carts, and began placing their bags on the carts and climbing up themselves. Women with crying babies, merry children quarrelling for places, and dull, careworn prisoners got into the carts.
Several of the prisoners took off their caps and came up to the convoy officer with some request. Nekhludoff found out later that they were asking for places on the carts. Nekhludoff saw how the officer, without looking at the prisoners, drew in a whiff from his cigarette, and then suddenly waved his short arm in front of one of the prisoners, who quickly drew his shaved head back between his shoulders as if afraid of a blow, and sprang back.
"I will give you a lift such that you'll remember. You'll get there on foot right enough," shouted the officer. Only one of the men was granted his request - an old man with chains on his legs; and Nekhludoff saw the old man take off his pancake-shaped cap, and go up to the cart crossing himself. He could not manage to get up on the cart because of the chains that prevented his lifting his old legs, and a woman who was sitting in the cart at last pulled him in by the arm.
When all the sacks were in the carts, and those who were allowed to get in were seated, the officer took off his cap, wiped his forehead, his bald head and fat, red neck, and crossed himself.
"March," commanded the officer. The soldiers' guns gave a click; the prisoners took off their caps and crossed themselves, those who were seeing them off shouted something, the prisoners shouted in answer, a row arose among the women, and the gang, surrounded by the soldiers in their white blouses, moved forward, raising the dust with their chained feet. The soldiers went in front; then came the convicts condemned to hard labour, clattering with their chains; then the exiled and those exiled by the Communes, chained in couples by their wrists; then the women. After them, on the carts loaded with sacks, came the weak. High up on one of the carts sat a woman closely wrapped up, and she kept shrieking and sobbing.
Turn to the next chapter: CHAPTER XXXV. NOT MEN BUT STRANGE AND TERRIBLE CREATURES?