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CHAPTER XXXVIII. THE CONVICT TRAIN.
When Nekhludoff came to the station, the prisoners were all seated in railway carriages with grated windows. Several persons, come to see them off, stood on the platform, but were not allowed to come up to the carriages.
The convoy was much troubled that day. On the way from the prison to the station, besides the two Nekhludoff had seen, three other prisoners had fallen and died of sunstroke. One was taken to the nearest police station like the first two, and the other two died at the railway station. [In Moscow, in the beginning of the eighth decade of this century, five convicts died of sunstroke in one day on their way from the Boutyrki prison to the Nijni railway station.] The convoy men were not troubled because five men who might have been alive died while in their charge. This did not trouble them, but they were concerned lest anything that the law required in such cases should be omitted. To convey the bodies to the places appointed, to deliver up their papers, to take them off the lists of those to be conveyed to Nijni - all this was very troublesome, especially on so hot a day.
It was this that occupied the convoy men, and before it could all be accomplished Nekhludoff and the others who asked for leave to go up to the carriages were not allowed to do so. Nekhludoff, however, was soon allowed to go up, because he tipped the convoy sergeant. The sergeant let Nekhludoff pass, but asked him to be quick and get his talk over before any of the authorities noticed. There were 15 carriages in all, and except one carriage for the officials, they were full of prisoners. As Nekhludoff passed the carriages he listened to what was going on in them. In all the carriages was heard the clanging of chains, the sound of bustle, mixed with loud and senseless language, but not a word was being said about their dead fellow-prisoners. The talk was all about sacks, drinking water, and the choice of seats.
Looking into one of the carriages, Nekhludoff saw convoy soldiers taking the manacles off the hands of the prisoners. The prisoners held out their arms, and one of the soldiers unlocked the manacles with a key and took them off; the other collected them.
After he had passed all the other carriages, Nekhludoff came up to the women's carriages. From the second of these he heard a woman's groans: "Oh, oh, oh! O God! Oh, oh! O God!"
Nekhludoff passed this carriage and went up to a window of the third carriage, which a soldier pointed out to him. When he approached his face to the window, he felt the hot air, filled with the smell of perspiration, coming out of it, and heard distinctly the shrill sound of women's voices. All the seats were filled with red, perspiring, loudly-talking women, dressed in prison cloaks and white jackets. Nekhludoff's face at the window attracted their attention. Those nearest ceased talking and drew closer. Maslova, in her white jacket and her head uncovered, sat by the opposite window. The white-skinned, smiling Theodosia sat a little nearer. When she recognised Nekhludoff, she nudged Maslova and pointed to the window. Maslova rose hurriedly, threw her kerchief over her black hair, and with a smile on her hot, red face came up to the window and took hold of one of the bars.
"Well, it is hot," she said, with a glad smile.
"Did you get the things?
"Yes, thank you."
"Is there anything more you want?" asked Nekhludoff, while the air came out of the hot carriage as out of an oven.
"I want nothing, thank you."
"If we could get a drink?" said Theodosia.
"Yes, if we could get a drink," repeated Maslova.
"Why, have you not got any water?"
"They put some in, but it is all gone."
"Directly, I will ask one of the convoy men. Now we shall not see each other till we get to Nijni."
"Why? Are you going?" said Maslova, as if she did not know it, and looked joyfully at Nekhludoff.
"I am going by the next train."
Maslova said nothing, but only sighed deeply.
"Is it true, sir, that 12 convicts have been done to death?" said a severe-looking old prisoner with a deep voice like a man's.
It was Korableva.
"I did not hear of 12; I have seen two," said Nekhludoff.
"They say there were 12 they killed. And will nothing be done to them? Only think! The fiends!"
"And have none of the women fallen ill?" Nekhludoff asked.
"Women are stronger," said another of the prisoners - a short little woman, and laughed; "only there's one that has taken it into her head to be delivered. There she goes," she said, pointing to the next carriage, whence proceeded the groans.
"You ask if we want anything," said Maslova, trying to keep the smile of joy from her lips; "could not this woman be left behind. suffering as she is? There, now, if you would tell the authorities."
"Yes, I will."
"And one thing more; could she not see her husband, Taras?" she added, pointing with her eyes to the smiling Theodosia.
"He is going with you, is he not?"
"Sir, you must not talk," said a convoy sergeant, not the one who had let Nekhludoff come up. Nekhludoff left the carriage and went in search of an official to whom he might speak for the woman in travail and about Taras, but could not find him, nor get an answer from any of the convoy for a long time. They were all in a bustle; some were leading a prisoner somewhere or other, others running to get themselves provisions, some were placing their things in the carriages or attending on a lady who was going to accompany the convoy officer, and they answered Nekhludoff's questions unwillingly. Nekhludoff found the convoy officer only after the second bell had been rung. The officer with his short arm was wiping the moustaches that covered his mouth and shrugging his shoulders, reproving the corporal for something or other.
"What is it you want?" he asked Nekhludoff.
You've got a woman there who is being confined, so I thought best - "
"Well, let her be confined; we shall see later on," and briskly swinging his short arms, he ran up to his carriage. At the moment the guard passed with a whistle in his hand, and from the people on the platform and from the women's carriages there arose a sound of weeping and words of prayer.
Nekhludoff stood on the platform by the side of Taras, and looked how, one after the other, the carriages glided past him, with the shaved heads of the men at the grated windows. Then the first of the women's carriages came up, with women's heads at the windows, some covered with kerchiefs and some uncovered, then the second, whence proceeded the same groans, then the carriage where Maslova was. She stood with the others at the window, and looked at Nekhludoff with a pathetic smile.
Turn to the next chapter: CHAPTER XXXIX. BROTHER AND SISTER.