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CHAPTER XXXV. NOT MEN BUT STRANGE AND TERRIBLE CREATURES?
The procession was such a long one that the carts with the luggage and the weak started only when those in front were already out of sight. When the last of the carts moved, Nekhludoff got into the trap that stood waiting for him and told the isvostchik to catch up the prisoners in front, so that he could see if he knew any of the men in the gang, and then try and find out Maslova among the women and ask her if she had received the things he sent.
It was very hot, and a cloud of dust that was raised by a thousand tramping feet stood all the time over the gang that was moving down. the middle of the street. The prisoners were walking quickly, and the slow-going isvostchik's horse was some time in catching them up. Row upon row they passed, those strange and terrible-looking creatures, none of whom Nekhludoff knew.
On they went, all dressed alike, moving a thousand feet all shod alike, swinging their free arms as if to keep up their spirits. There were so many of them, they all looked so much alike, and they were all placed in such unusual, peculiar circumstances, that they seemed to Nekhludoff to be not men but some sort of strange and terrible creatures. This impression passed when he recognised in the crowd of convicts the murderer Federoff, and among the exiles Okhotin the wit, and another tramp who had appealed to him for assistance. Almost all the prisoners turned and looked at the trap that was passing them and at the gentleman inside. Federoff tossed his head backwards as a sign that he had recognised Nekhludoff, Okhotin winked, but neither of them bowed, considering it not the thing.
As soon as Nekhludoff came up to the women he saw Maslova; she was in the second row. The first in the row was a short-legged, black-eyed, hideous woman, who had her cloak tucked up in her girdle. This was Koroshavka. The next was a pregnant woman, who dragged herself along with difficulty. The third was Maslova; she was carrying her sack on her shoulder, and looking straight before her. Her face looked calm and determined. The fourth in the row was a young, lovely woman who was walking along briskly, dressed in a short cloak, her kerchief tied in peasant fashion. This was Theodosia.
Nekhludoff got down and approached the women, meaning to ask Maslova if she had got the things he had sent her, and how she was feeling, but the convoy sergeant, who was walking on that side, noticed him at once, and ran towards him.
"You must not do that, sir. It is against the regulations to approach the gang," shouted the sergeant as he came up.
But when he recognised Nekhludoff (every one in the prison knew Nekhludoff) the sergeant raised his fingers to his cap, and, stopping in front of Nekhludoff, said: "Not now; wait till we get to the railway station; here it is not allowed. Don't lag behind; march!" he shouted to the convicts, and putting on a brisk air, he ran back to his place at a trot, in spite of the heat and the elegant new boots on his feet.
Nekhludoff went on to the pavement and told the isvostchik to follow him; himself walking, so as to keep the convicts in sight. Wherever the gang passed it attracted attention mixed with horror and compassion. Those who drove past leaned out of the vehicles and followed the prisoners with their eyes. Those on foot stopped and looked with fear and surprise at the terrible sight. Some came up and gave alms to the prisoners. The alms were received by the convoy. Some, as if they were hypnotised, followed the gang, but then stopped, shook their heads, and followed the prisoners only with their eyes. Everywhere the people came out of the gates and doors, and called others to come out, too, or leaned out of the windows looking, silent and immovable, at the frightful procession. At a cross-road a fine carriage was stopped by the gang. A fat coachman, with a shiny face and two rows of buttons on his back, sat on the box; a married couple sat facing the horses, the wife, a pale, thin woman, with a light-coloured bonnet on her head and a bright sunshade in her hand, the husband with a top-hat and a well-cut light-coloured overcoat. On the seat in front sat their children - a well-dressed little girl, with loose, fair hair, and as fresh as a flower, who also held a bright parasol, and an eight-year-old boy, with a long, thin neck and sharp collarbones, a sailor hat with long ribbons on his head.
The father was angrily scolding the coachman because he had not passed in front of the gang when he had a chance, and the mother frowned and half closed her eyes with a look of disgust, shielding herself from the dust and the sun with her silk sunshade, which she held close to her face.
The fat coachman frowned angrily at the unjust rebukes of his master - who had himself given the order to drive along that street - and with difficulty held in the glossy, black horses, foaming under their harness and impatient to go on.
The policeman wished with all his soul to please the owner of the fine equipage by stopping the gang, yet felt that the dismal solemnity of the procession could not be broken even for so rich a gentleman. He only raised his fingers to his cap to show his respect for riches, and looked severely at the prisoners as if promising in any case to protect the owners of the carriage from them. So the carriage had to wait till the whole of the procession had passed, and could only move on when the last of the carts, laden with sacks and prisoners, rattled by. The hysterical woman who sat on one of the carts, and had grown calm, again began shrieking and sobbing when she saw the elegant carriage. Then the coachman tightened the reins with a slight touch, and the black trotters, their shoes ringing against the paving stones, drew the carriage, softly swaying on its rubber tires, towards the country house where the husband, the wife, the girl, and the boy with the sharp collar-bones were going to amuse themselves. Neither the father nor the mother gave the girl and boy any explanation of what they had seen, so that the children had themselves to find out the meaning of this curious sight. The girl, taking the expression of her father's and mother's faces into consideration, solved the problem by assuming that these people were quite another kind of men and women than her father and mother and their acquaintances, that they were bad people, and that they had therefore to be treated in the manner they were being treated.
Therefore the girl felt nothing but fear, and was glad when she could no longer see those people.
But the boy with the long, thin neck, who looked at the procession of prisoners without taking his eyes off them, solved the question differently.
He still knew, firmly and without any doubt, for he had it from God, that these people were just the same kind of people as he was, and like all other people, and therefore some one had done these people some wrong, something that ought not to have been done, and he was sorry for them, and felt no horror either of those who were shaved and chained or of those who had shaved and chained them. And so the boy's lips pouted more and more, and he made greater and greater efforts not to cry, thinking it a shame to cry in such a case.
Turn to the next chapter: CHAPTER XXXVI. THE TENDER MERCIES OF THE LORD.