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Part 1 Chapter 34

THE ABSURDITY OF LAW--REFLECTIONS OF A JURYMAN.

On coming into the Law Courts Nekhludoff met the usher of yesterday, who to-day seemed to him much to be pitied, in the corridor, and asked him where those prisoners who had been sentenced were kept, and to whom one had to apply for permission to visit them. The usher told him that the condemned prisoners were kept in different places, and that, until they received their sentence in its final form, the permission to visit them depended on the president. "I'll come and call you myself, and take you to the president after the session. The president is not even here at present. After the session! And now please come in; we are going to commence."

Nekhludoff thanked the usher for his kindness, and went into the jurymen's room. As he was approaching the room, the other jurymen were just leaving it to go into the court. The merchant had again partaken of a little refreshment, and was as merry as the day before, and greeted Nekhludoff like an old friend. And to-day Peter Gerasimovitch did not arouse any unpleasant feelings in Nekhludoff by his familiarity and his loud laughter. Nekhludoff would have liked to tell all the jurymen about his relations to yesterday's prisoner. "By rights," he thought, "I ought to have got up yesterday during the trial and disclosed my guilt."

He entered the court with the other jurymen, and witnessed the same procedure as the day before.

"The judges are coming," was again proclaimed, and again three men, with embroidered collars, ascended the platform, and there was the same settling of the jury on the high-backed chairs, the same gendarmes, the same portraits, the same priest, and Nekhludoff felt that, though he knew what he ought to do, he could not interrupt all this solemnity. The preparations for the trials were just the same as the day before, excepting that the swearing in of the jury and the president's address to them were omitted.

The case before the Court this day was one of burglary. The prisoner, guarded by two gendarmes with naked swords, was a thin, narrow-chested lad of 20, with a bloodless, sallow face, dressed in a grey cloak. He sat alone in the prisoner's dock. This boy was accused of having, together with a companion, broken the lock of a shed and stolen several old mats valued at 3 roubles [the rouble is worth a little over two shillings, and contains 100 copecks] and 67 copecks. According to the indictment, a policeman had stopped this boy as he was passing with his companion, who was carrying the mats on his shoulder. The boy and his companion confessed at once, and were both imprisoned. The boy's companion, a locksmith, died in prison, and so the boy was being tried alone. The old mats were lying on the table as the objects of material evidence. The business was conducted just in the same manner as the day before, with the whole armoury of evidence, proofs, witnesses, swearing in, questions, experts, and cross-examinations. In answer to every question put to him by the president, the prosecutor, or the advocate, the policeman (one of the witnesses) in variably ejected the words: "just so," or "Can't tell." Yet, in spite of his being stupefied, and rendered a mere machine by military discipline, his reluctance to speak about the arrest of this prisoner was evident. Another witness, an old house proprietor, and owner of the mats, evidently a rich old man, when asked whether the mats were his, reluctantly identified them as such. When the public prosecutor asked him what he meant to do with these mats, what use they were to him, he got angry, and answered: "The devil take those mats; I don't want them at all. Had I known there would be all this bother about them I should not have gone looking for them, but would rather have added a ten-rouble note or two to them, only not to be dragged here and pestered with questions. I have spent a lot on isvostchiks. Besides, I am not well. I have been suffering from rheumatism for the last seven years." It was thus the witness spoke.

The accused himself confessed everything, and looking round stupidly, like an animal that is caught, related how it had all happened. Still the public prosecutor, drawing up his shoulders as he had done the day before, asked subtle questions calculated to catch a cunning criminal.

In his speech he proved that the theft had been committed from a dwelling-place, and a lock had been broken; and that the boy, therefore, deserved a heavy punishment. The advocate appointed by the Court proved that the theft was not committed from a dwelling-place, and that, though the crime was a serious one, the prisoner was not so very dangerous to society as the prosecutor stated. The president assumed the role of absolute neutrality in the same way as he had done on the previous day, and impressed on the jury facts which they all knew and could not help knowing. Then came an interval, just as the day before, and they smoked; and again the usher called out "The judges are coming," and in the same way the two gendarmes sat trying to keep awake and threatening the prisoner with their naked weapons.

The proceedings showed that this boy was apprenticed by his father at a tobacco factory, where he remained five years. This year he had been discharged by the owner after a strike, and, having lost his place, he wandered about the town without any work, drinking all he possessed. In a traktir [cheap restaurant] he met another like himself, who had lost his place before the prisoner had, a locksmith by trade and a drunkard. One night, those two, both drunk, broke the lock of a shed and took the first thing they happened to lay hands on. They confessed all and were put in prison, where the locksmith died while awaiting the trial. The boy was now being tried as a dangerous creature, from whom society must be protected.

"Just as dangerous a creature as yesterday's culprit," thought Nekhludoff, listening to all that was going on before him. "They are dangerous, and we who judge them? I, a rake, an adulterer, a deceiver. We are not dangerous. But, even supposing that this boy is the most dangerous of all that are here in the court, what should he done from a common-sense point of view when he has been caught? It is clear that he is not an exceptional evil-doer, but a most ordinary boy; every one sees it--and that he has become what he is simply because he got into circumstances that create such characters, and, therefore, to prevent such a boy from going wrong the circumstances that create these unfortunate beings must be done away with.

"But what do we do? We seize one such lad who happens to get caught, knowing well that there are thousands like him whom we have not caught, and send him to prison, where idleness, or most unwholesome, useless labour is forced on him, in company of others weakened and ensnared by the lives they have led. And then we send him, at the public expense, from the Moscow to the Irkoutsk Government, in company with the most depraved of men.

"But we do nothing to destroy the conditions in which people like these are produced; on the contrary, we support the establishments where they are formed. These establishments are well known: factories, mills, workshops, public-houses, gin-shops, brothels. And we do not destroy these places, but, looking at them as necessary, we support and regulate them. We educate in this way not one, but millions of people, and then catch one of them and imagine that we have done something, that we have guarded ourselves, and nothing more can be expected of us. Have we not sent him from the Moscow to the Irkoutsk Government?" Thus thought Nekhludoff with unusual clearness and vividness, sitting in his high-backed chair next to the colonel, and listening to the different intonations of the advocates', prosecutor's, and president's voices, and looking at their self-confident gestures. "And how much and what hard effort this pretence requires," continued Nekhludoff in his mind, glancing round the enormous room, the portraits, lamps, armchairs, uniforms, the thick walls and large windows; and picturing to himself the tremendous size of the building, and the still more ponderous dimensions of the whole of this organisation, with its army of officials, scribes, watchmen, messengers, not only in this place, but all over Russia, who receive wages for carrying on this comedy which no one needs. "Supposing we spent one-hundredth of these efforts helping these castaways, whom we now only regard as hands and bodies, required by us for our own peace and comfort. Had some one chanced to take pity on him and given some help at the time when poverty made them send him to town, it might have been sufficient," Nekhludoff thought, looking at the boy's piteous face. "Or even later, when, after 12 hours' work at the factory, he was going to the public-house, led away by his companions, had some one then come and said, 'Don't go, Vania; it is not right,' he would not have gone, nor got into bad ways, and would not have done any wrong.

"But no; no one who would have taken pity on him came across this apprentice in the years he lived like a poor little animal in the town, and with his hair cut close so as not to breed vermin, and ran errands for the workmen. No, all he heard and saw, from the older workmen and his companions, since he came to live in town, was that he who cheats, drinks, swears, who gives another a thrashing, who goes on the loose, is a fine fellow. Ill, his constitution undermined by unhealthy labour, drink, and debauchery--bewildered as in a dream, knocking aimlessly about town, he gets into some sort of a shed, and takes from there some old mats, which nobody needs--and here we, all of us educated people, rich or comfortably off, meet together, dressed in good clothes and fine uniforms, in a splendid apartment, to mock this unfortunate brother of ours whom we ourselves have ruined.

"Terrible! It is difficult to say whether the cruelty or the absurdity is greater, but the one and the other seem to reach their climax."

Nekhludoff thought all this, no longer listening to what was going on, and he was horror-struck by that which was being revealed to him. He could not understand why he had not been able to see all this before, and why others were unable to see it.

聂赫留朵夫一到法院,在走廊里遇见昨天那个民事执行吏,就向他打听已判决的犯人关在哪里,要同这类犯人见面须得到谁的批准。民事执行吏说,犯人关在不同的地方,在没有正式宣布判决以前,探望必须得到检察官的批准。

“等审讯结束后,我来告诉您,陪您去。检察官现在还没有来。您就等审讯结束吧。现在先请出庭陪审。马上就要开庭了。”

聂赫留朵夫觉得这个民事执行吏今天的模样特别可怜。

他谢了谢他的好意,向陪审员议事室走去。

他刚走近那个房间,陪审员正好纷纷从那里出来,到法庭上去。那个商人象昨天一样快乐,又吃过东西喝过酒了,一看见聂赫留朵夫,就象老朋友那样招呼他。彼得·盖拉西莫维奇的亲昵态度和大笑声,今天也没有使聂赫留朵夫反感。

聂赫留朵夫很想把他跟昨天那个女被告的关系告诉全体陪审员。“说实在的,”他想,“昨天开庭的时候我应该站起来,当众宣布我的罪状。”不过,他同其他几个陪审员一起走进法庭,同昨天一样的程序又开始了:又是“开庭了”的吆喝声,又是那三个有领章的法官登上高台,又是一片肃静,又是陪审员们在高背椅上就座,又是那几个宪兵,又是沙皇御像,又是那个司祭,——这当儿聂赫留朵夫觉得,尽管他有责任这样做,但今天同昨天一样,他无法打破这种庄严的法庭气氛。

开庭前的种种准备工作也跟昨天一样,只是少了陪审员宣誓和庭长对他们的讲话。

今天审讯的是一个撬锁窃盗案。被告由两名手持出鞘军刀的宪兵押到庭上。这是一个二十岁的小伙子,身材瘦削,脸色苍白,穿着一件灰色囚袍。他单独坐在被告席上,皱起眉头打量着一个个出庭的人。这个小伙子被控同一个伙伴撬开仓库的挂锁,从那里偷走价值三卢布六十七戈比的破旧粗地毯。起诉书控告说,这个小伙子跟一个掮粗地毯的同伙在一起走,被警察截获了。他们两人立即认罪,于是双双进了监狱。那个同伙原是个小炉匠,不久就死在牢里。这样,今天就剩下小伙子单独受审。破旧的粗地毯放在物证桌上。

审讯案件同昨天一模一样,有各种证据,有罪证,有证人,有证人宣誓,有审问,有鉴定人,有交相讯问,等等。那个作为证人的警察遇到庭长、检察官和辩护人问话,总是有气无力地回答几个字:“是,大人,”或者“我不知道,大人,”接着又是“是,大人,”……不过,尽管他显出当兵的那种呆头呆脑的神气,说着简单刻板的话,还是看得出他很可怜小伙子,不大愿意讲述逮捕的经过。

另一个证人是失主,也就是房东和粗地毯的所有者。这个小老头看来肝火很旺,问他那些地毯是不是他的,他勉强回答是他的。当副检察官问他打算拿这些地毯作什么用,他是不是很需要这些地毯时,他勃然大怒,回答说:

“哼,这些破地毯,去他妈的,我根本用不着。早知道会惹出这么多麻烦来,我才不去找它呢。我情愿倒贴一张红票子,就是两张也情愿,只要不把我拉到这儿来受审。我坐马车差不多已花了五卢布。我身体又不好。我有疝气,还有风湿痛。”

证人们就说了这样一些话。被告本人全部招认了。他好象一头被逮住的小野兽,茫然地左顾右盼,同时断断续续地把犯罪的经过前前后后说了一遍。

案情明明白白,可是副检察官象昨天一样,耸起肩膀,提出一些古怪的问题,想叫狡猾的罪犯上钩。

他在发言中证实,这个盗窃案发生在住人的房屋里,门锁被撬开,因此这个小伙子应受最严厉的惩罚。

法庭指定的辩护人却证实这个盗窃案不是在住人的房屋里犯的,因此罪行固然无可否认但罪犯还不致象副检察官所肯定的那样对社会构成严重危害。

庭长又象昨天那样装得不偏不倚,大公无私,并且向陪审员详细解释那些他们早就知道,其实也不可能不知道的规矩。法庭又象昨天一样暂停了几次,大家照样又是抽烟,又是民事执行吏高呼“开庭了”,两个宪兵又是竭力克制着睡意,拿着出鞘的军刀坐在那里,恫吓犯人。

通过审讯知道,这个小伙子原先被他父亲送到香烟厂当学徒,在那里过了五年。今年,工厂老板同工人发生纠纷,他被老板解雇了。他找不到活儿干,在城里游荡,把最后一个子儿都拿去喝酒。他在小饭馆里认识了那个比他更早失业、酒喝得更凶的小炉匠。他们一起喝醉了酒,深夜撬开门锁,把首先看到的东西拿走。他们被捕了,供认盗窃地毯,就被关进牢里。小炉匠不等审讯就死了。现在,这个小伙子被认为是个危险分子,必须同社会隔离,并且受到审讯。

“说他是个危险分子,那也同昨天那个女犯人一样,”聂赫留朵夫听着庭上人们的话,想。“他们是危险的,难道我们就不危险吗?……我是个放荡好色的人,是个骗子手,可是知道我底细的人不仅不鄙视我,还很尊敬我。难道我们就不危险吗?就算这个小伙子是整个法庭上最危险的人物,现在他落网了,应该拿他怎么办呢?

“这个小伙子分明不是什么坏蛋,而是一个极其普通的人。这一点大家都很清楚。他所以落到如此地步,无非因为他处在会产生这种人的环境里。因此,事情很清楚,要小伙子不至于变成这种人,必须努力消灭产生这种不幸的人的环境。

“可我们是怎么办的呢?我们抓住这样一个偶然落到我们手里的小伙子,明明知道还有成千上万这样的人逍遥在社会上,却把他关进监牢,使他终日无所事事,或者做些有害的无聊劳动,结交一批象他一样在生活上软弱无能因而迷途的人,然后由国库出钱把他夹在一批腐化堕落分子中间,从莫斯科省一直流放到伊尔库次克省。

“我们不但没有采取任何措施,来消除产生这种人的环境,还一味鼓励产生这种人的机构,也就是工厂、工场、作坊、小饭馆、酒店、妓院。我们不仅不取消这类机构,还认为它们是必不可少的,对它们进行鼓励和调节。

“我们用这种方式培养出来的人不止一个,而是千百万个。然后我们逮捕了一个,就自以为办了一件大事,保障了自己的安全,再也不用做什么事了,我们就把他从莫斯科省遣送到伊尔库次克省,”聂赫留朵夫坐在上校旁边,听着辩护人、检察官和庭长的不同音调,看着他们自以为是的姿态,情绪激动地思索着。“嘿,演这样的戏得耗费多少精力呀,”聂赫留朵夫环顾着这个大法庭,望望那些画像、灯盏、圈椅、军服以及厚墙和窗子,继续想。他想到这座宏伟的建筑物,还有那更加宏伟的整个机构,以及由全体官僚、文书、看守、差役等组成的庞大的队伍。这种队伍不仅这里有,而且俄国各地都有,他们领取薪金,就是为了表演这种无聊的闹剧。“要是我们用这种精力的百分之一来帮助那些被抛弃的人,那将会出现怎样的局面呢?可现在我们只把他们看作可以为我们的安宁和舒适服务的劳动力。其实,当他由于家境贫困从乡下来到城里时,只要有一个人怜悯他,周济他就好了。”聂赫留朵夫望着小伙子受惊的病容,暗自想着,“或者,当他进了城,在厂里做完十二小时工以后,被年纪大些的伙伴拉到小酒店里去时,要是有人对他说:‘别去,凡尼亚,到那里去不好,’小伙子也就不会去,不会堕落,不会做什么坏事了。

“但自从他在城里过着牛马般的学徒生活,为了防止生虱子而剃光头发,终日替师傅们东奔西跑买东西以来,从来没有一个人怜悯过他。正好相反,自从他住到城里以来,从师傅和伙伴嘴里听到的,不外乎‘谁会喝酒,谁会骂人,谁会打架,谁会放荡,谁就是好汉’这样的话。

“后来,有碍健康的繁重劳动、酗酒、放荡戕害了他的身心,他就变得头脑愚钝,举动轻狂,丧魂落魄,漫无目的地在城里乱闯,又一时糊涂溜到人家的板棚里,从那里拖走了毫无用处的破地毯。而我们这些丰衣足食、生活富裕、受过教育的人,非但不去设法消除促使这个小伙子堕落的原因,还要惩罚他,想以此来纠正这类事情。

“太可怕了!这种情形主要是由于残酷还是荒谬,谁也说不上来。不过,不论是残酷还是荒谬,都已达到登峰造极的地步。”

聂赫留朵夫一心思考着这问题,已经不在听庭上的审问了。这些想法使他自己也感到害怕。他感到奇怪的是,这种情况以前他怎么没有发现,别人怎么也没有看到。



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