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Part 3 Chapter 8

NEKHLUDOFF AND THE OFFICER.

This halting station, like all such stations along the Siberian road, was surrounded by a courtyard, fenced in with a palisade of sharp-pointed stakes, and consisted of three one-storied houses. One of them, the largest, with grated windows, was for the prisoners, another for the convoy soldiers, and the third, in which the office was, for the officers.

There were lights in the windows of all the three houses, and, like all such lights, they promised, here in a specially deceptive manner, something cosy inside the walls. Lamps were burning before the porches of the houses and about five lamps more along the walls lit up the yard.

The sergeant led Nekhludoff along a plank which lay across the yard up to the porch of the smallest of the houses.

When he had gone up the three steps of the porch he let Nekhludoff pass before him into the ante-room, in which a small lamp was burning, and which was filled with smoky fumes. By the stove a soldier in a coarse shirt with a necktie and black trousers, and with one top-boot on, stood blowing the charcoal in a somovar, using the other boot as bellows. [The long boots worn in Russia have concertina-like sides, and when held to the chimney of the somovar can be used instead of bellows to make the charcoal inside burn up.] When he saw Nekhludoff, the soldier left the somovar and helped him off with his waterproof; then went into the inner room.

"He has come, your honour."

"Well, ask him in," came an angry voice.

"Go in at the door," said the soldier, and went back to the somovar.

In the next room an officer with fair moustaches and a very red face, dressed in an Austrian jacket that closely fitted his broad chest and shoulders, sat at a covered table, on which were the remains of his dinner and two bottles; there was a strong smell of tobacco and some very strong, cheap scent in the warm room. On seeing Nekhludoff the officer rose and gazed ironically and suspiciously, as it seemed, at the newcomer.

"What is it you want?" he asked, and, not waiting for a reply, he shouted through the open door:

"Bernoff, the somovar! What are you about?"

"Coming at once."

"You'll get it 'at once' so that you'll remember it," shouted the officer, and his eyes flashed.

"I'm coming," shouted the soldier, and brought in the somovar. Nekhludoff waited while the soldier placed the somovar on the table. When the officer had followed the soldier out of the room with his cruel little eyes looking as if they were aiming where best to hit him, he made the tea, got the four-cornered decanter out of his travelling case and some Albert biscuits, and having placed all this on the cloth he again turned to Nekhludoff. "Well, how can I he of service to you?"

"I should like to be allowed to visit a prisoner," said Nekhludoff, without sitting down.

"A political one? That's forbidden by the law," said the officer.

"The woman I mean is not a political prisoner," said Nekhludoff.

"Yes. But pray take a scat," said the officer. Nekhludoff sat down.

"She is not a political one, but at my request she has been allowed by the higher authorities to join the political prisoners--"

"Oh, yes, I know," interrupted the other; "a little dark one? Well, yes, that can be managed. Won't you smoke?" He moved a box of cigarettes towards Nekhludoff, and, having carefully poured out two tumblers of tea, he passed one to Nekhludoff. "If you please," he said.

"Thank you; I should like to see--"

"The night is long. You'll have plenty of time. I shall order her to be sent out to you."

"But could I not see her where she is? Why need she be sent for?" Nekhludoff said.

"In to the political prisoners? It is against the law."

"I have been allowed to go in several times. If there is any danger of my passing anything in to them I could do it through her just as well."

"Oh, no; she would be searched," said the officer, and laughed in an unpleasant manner.

"Well, why not search me?"

"All right; we'll manage without that," said the officer, opening the decanter, and holding it out towards Nekhludoff's tumbler of tea. "May I? No? Well, just as you like. When you are living here in Siberia you are too glad to meet an educated person. Our work, as you know, is the saddest, and when one is used to better things it is very hard. The idea they have of us is that convoy officers are coarse, uneducated men, and no one seems to remember that we may have been born for a very different position."

This officer's red face, his scents, his rings, and especially his unpleasant laughter disgusted Nekhludoff very much, but to-day, as during the whole of his journey, he was in that serious, attentive state which did not allow him to behave slightingly or disdainfully towards any man, but made him feel the necessity of speaking to every one "entirely," as he expressed to himself, this relation to men. When he had heard the officer and understood his state of mind, he said in a serious manner:

"I think that in your position, too, some comfort could be found in helping the suffering people," he said.

"What are their sufferings? You don't know what these people are."

"They are not special people," said Nekhludoff; "they are just such people as others, and some of them are quite innocent."

"Of course, there are all sorts among them, and naturally one pities them. Others won't let anything off, but I try to lighten their condition where I can. It's better that I should suffer, but not they. Others keep to the law in every detail, even as far as to shoot, but I show pity. May I?--Take another," he said, and poured out another tumbler of tea for Nekhludoff.

"And who is she, this woman that you want to see?" he asked.

"It is an unfortunate woman who got into a brothel, and was there falsely accused of poisoning, and she is a very good woman," Nekhludoff answered.

The officer shook his head. "Yes, it does happen. I can tell you about a certain Ernma who lived in Kasan. She was a Hungarian by birth, but she had quite Persian eyes," he continued, unable to restrain a smile at the recollection; "there was so much chic about her that a countess--"

Nekhludoff interrupted the officer and returned to the former topic of conversation.

"I think that you could lighten the condition of the people while they are in your charge. And in acting that way I am sure you would find great joy!" said Nekhludoff, trying to pronounce as distinctly as possible, as he might if talking to a foreigner or a child.

The officer looked at Nekhludoff impatiently, waiting for him to stop so as to continue the tale about the Hungarian with Persian eyes, who evidently presented herself very vividly to his imagination and quite absorbed his attention.

"Yes, of course, this is all quite true," he said, "and I do pity them; but I should like to tell you about Emma. What do you think she did--?"

"It does not interest me," said Nekhludoff, "and I will tell you straight, that though I was myself very different at one time, I now hate that kind of relation to women."

The officer gave Nekhludoff a frightened look.

"Won't you take some more tea?" he said.

"No, thank you."

"Bernoff!" the officer called, "take the gentleman to Vakouloff. Tell him to let him into the separate political room. He may remain there till the inspection."

这个旅站也跟西伯利亚沿途所有的旅站一样,有一个用尖头圆木桩围起来的院子,院子里有三座住人的平房。最大的一座装有铁窗,住着犯人。另一座住着押解兵。再有一座住着军官,还设有办公室。这三座房子此刻灯火通明,照例使人产生一种错觉,以为里面一定很漂亮舒适,特别是在这个旅站。每座房子入口处都点着灯,围墙四周另外有五六盏灯,把院子照亮。一个军士领着聂赫留朵夫走过一块木板,来到那座最小的房子门口。他登上三级台阶,让聂赫留朵夫走在前面,进入点着一盏小灯、弥漫着煤烟味的前室。火炉旁有个穿粗布衬衫和黑色长裤、系领带的士兵,一只脚穿着长统黄皮靴,弯着腰,拿另一只靴统子给茶炊扇风。他一看见聂赫留朵夫,就丢下茶炊,帮聂赫留朵夫脱下皮衣,然后走进里屋。

“他来了,长官。”

“哦,叫他进来!”传出来一个怒气冲冲的声音。

“您从这门进去吧,”那士兵说着继续烧茶炊。

在点着一盏吊灯的第二个房间里,有一个脸色通红、留着很长淡黄色小胡子的军官,身穿紧裹宽阔胸膛和肩膀的奥地利式上装,坐在桌旁。桌上铺着桌布,放着吃剩的饭菜和两个酒瓶。在这个温暖的房间里,除了烟草味,还弥漫着一股刺鼻的劣等香水的气味。押解官看见聂赫留朵夫,欠了欠身,又象嘲讽又象疑惑地盯住他。

“您有什么事?”他问,不等对方答话,就对着门口嚷道:

“别尔诺夫!茶炊什么时候烧好哇?”

“马上就好。”

“我马上给你点颜色瞧瞧,好叫你记住!”押解官对他白了一眼,骂道。

“来了!”士兵嘴里叫着,端着茶炊走进来。

聂赫留朵夫等士兵把茶放好(军官睁着一双小眼睛,恶狠狠地盯住这个士兵,仿佛要看准一个地方,动手打他)。等茶炊放好,押解官就开始煮茶。接着从旅行食品箱里拿出一个盛白兰地的方玻璃瓶和一些夹心饼干。他把这些东西放在桌上,转身对聂赫留朵夫说:

“那么我能为您效点什么劳哇?”

“我要求探望一个女犯人,”聂赫留朵夫说,没有坐下来。

“是政治犯吗?法律规定,禁止探望,”押解官说。

“这个女人不是政治犯,”聂赫留朵夫说。

“您请坐,”押解官说。

聂赫留朵夫坐下来。

“她不是政治犯,”他又说了一遍,“但经我提出要求,最高长官批准让她同政治犯一起走……”

“啊,我知道了,”押解官打断他的话说。“就是那个黑头发的小娘们吧?好哇,可以。您抽烟吗?”

他把一盒香烟推到聂赫留朵夫面前,小心地倒了两杯茶,把一杯送到聂赫留朵夫面前。

“请,”他说。

“谢谢您。我想见一见……”

“夜很长,您有的是工夫。我派人去把她给您叫来就是了。”

“能不能不叫她出来,让我到他们那里去呢?”

“到政治犯那儿去吗?这是违法的。”

“我去过好几次了。要是您怕我把什么东西带给政治犯,那我通过她也可以转交。”

“哦,不,她要被抄身的,”押解官说,现出不愉快的笑容。

“哦,那你们可以先把我搜一搜。”

“哦,不搜也行,”押解官说,拿起一个开了塞子的酒瓶,送到聂赫留朵夫的茶杯上。“加一点好不好?哦,那么听便。一个人住在西伯利亚这种地方,能见到一个有教养的人,真是太高兴了。老实说,干我们这一行,真是再伤心也没有了。一个人过惯别种生活,来到这地方,苦透了。您要知道,人家一提到干我们这一行,当押解官,总认为都是没有教养的大老粗,可就是不想想,我们生下来干别的事也完全可以。”

押解官通红的脸、他的香水味、他的戒指,特别是他那难听的笑声,都很使聂赫留朵夫反感。不过,聂赫留朵夫今天也象整个旅行期间那样,抱着严肃谨慎的态度。他对任何人都不怠慢,也不蔑视,同谁说话都“一本正经”,这是他给自己规定的态度。他听了押解官这番话,以为他很同情受他管辖的那些人的苦难,因此心情沉重。聂赫留朵夫就严肃地对他说:

“我想,您做这种工作,可以设法减轻人家的痛苦,这样您就会比较心安了,”他说。

“他们有什么痛苦?他们本来就是这号人嘛。”

“他们有什么特别的地方?”聂赫留朵夫说。“还不跟大家一样都是人。其中还有无辜的呢。”

“当然,什么样的人都有。当然,很可怜。别的押解官丝毫不肯马虎,可我呢,总是尽可能减轻他们的痛苦。宁可我自己受理,再不然干脆枪毙,可我总是可怜他们。再来点茶吗?您吃吧,”他说着又给他倒茶。“您要见的女人,究竟是个什么人?”他问。

“她是个不幸的女人,落到一家妓院里,在那儿遭到诬告,说她毒死了人,其实她是个很好的女人,”聂赫留朵夫说。

押解官摇摇头。

“是啊,这种事情是有的。我可以告诉您,喀山就有过一个这样的女人,名字叫爱玛。她原是个匈牙利人,生有一双地地道道的波斯眼睛,”他继续说,一想到这事就情不自禁地笑起来。“风度好极了,简直象个伯爵夫人……”

聂赫留朵夫打断押解官的话,回到原来的话题上。

“我想,既然他们现在归您管,您就可以减轻他们的痛苦。您要是能这样做,我相信您会感到快乐的,”聂赫留朵夫说,尽量把话说得清楚些,就象同外国人或者孩子说话那样。

押解官眼睛闪闪发亮,瞧着聂赫留朵夫,显然急不及待地巴望他把话说完,好继续讲那生有一双波斯眼睛的匈牙利女人。她的形象显然生动地浮现在他的脑海里,把他的全部注意力都吸引了。

“是的,这话很对,确实是这样的,”他说。“我也很可怜他们。不过我还想跟您谈谈那个爱玛。您想她干出什么事来了……”

“我对这事不感兴趣,”聂赫留朵夫说,“不瞒您说,我以前也是另外一种人,可如今我痛恨这种对待女人的态度。”

押解官吃惊地对聂赫留朵夫瞧瞧。

“那么,再给您来点茶吗?”他说。

“不,谢谢。”

“别尔诺夫!”押解官叫道,“把这位先生带到瓦库洛夫那儿去,对他说,让这位先生到政治犯房间里,可以让他待到点名。”



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