THE worst was the silence, as of the grave, which reigned about me. In vain I knocked on the walls and struck the floor with my foot, listening for the faintest sound in reply. None was to be heard. One month passed, then two, three, fifteen months, but there was no reply to my knocks. We were only six then, scattered among thirty-six casemates, --- all my arrested comrades being kept in the Litóvskiy Zámok prison. When the non-commissioned officer entered my cell to take me out for a walk, and I asked him, "What kind of weather have we? Does it rain ?" he cast a furtive side glance at me, and without saying a word promptly retired behind the door, where a sentry and another non-commissioned officer kept watch upon him. The only living being from whom I could hear even a few words was the governor, who came to my cell every morning to say "good-morning" and ask whether I wanted to buy tobacco or paper. I tried to engage him in conversation; but he also cast furtive glances at the non-commissioned officers who stood in the half-opened door, as if to say, "You see, I am watched, too." Only the pigeons were not afraid to hold intercourse with me. Every morning and afternoon they came to my window to receive their food through the grating.
There were no sounds whatever except the squeak of the sentry's boots, the hardly perceptible noise of the shutter of the Judas, and the ringing of the bells on the fortress cathedral. They rang a "Lord save me" ("Góspodi pomílui") every quarter of an hour, --- one, two, three, four times. Then, each hour, the big bell struck slowly, with long intervals between successive strokes. A lugubrious canticle followed, chimed by the bells, which at every sudden change of temperature went out of tune, making at such times a horrible cacophony which sounded like the ringing of bells at a burial. At the gloomy hour of midnight, the canticle, moreover, was followed by the discordant notes of a "God save the Tsar." The ringing lasted a full quarter of an hour; and no sooner had it come to an end than a new "Lord save me" announced to the sleepless prisoner that a quarter of an hour of his uselessly spent life had gone in the meantime, and that many quarters of an hour, and hours, and days, and months of the same vegetative life would pass, before his keepers, or maybe death, would release him.
Every morning I was taken out for a half-hour's walk in the prison yard. This yard was a small pentagon with a narrow pavement round it, and a little building --- the bath house --- in the middle. But I liked those walks.
The need of new impressions is so great in prison that, when I walked in our narrow yard, I always kept my eyes fixed upon the high gilt spire of the fortress cathedral. This was the only thing in my surroundings which changed its aspect, and I liked to see it glittering like pure gold when the sun shone from a clear blue sky, or assuming a fairy aspect when a light bluish haze lay upon the town, or becoming steel gray when dark clouds obscured the sky.
During these walks I occasionally saw the daughter of the governor, a girl of eighteen or nineteen, as she came out from her father's apartment and had to walk a few steps in our yard in order to reach the entrance gate, the only issue from the building. She always hurried along, with her eyes cast down, as if she felt ashamed of being the daughter of a jailer. Her younger brother, on the contrary, a cadet whom I also saw once or twice in the yard, always looked straight in my face with such a frank expression of sympathy that I was struck with it and even mentioned it to some one after my release. Four or five years later, when he was already an officer, he was exiled to Siberia. He had joined the revolutionary party, and must have helped, I suppose, to carry on correspondence with prisoners in the fortress.
Winter is gloomy at St. Petersburg for those who cannot be out in the brightly lighted streets. It was still gloomier, of course, in a casemate. But dampness was even worse than darkness. The casemates are so damp that in order to drive away moisture they must be overheated, and I felt almost suffocated; but when at last I obtained my request, that the temperature should be kept lower than before, the outer wall became dripping with moisture, and the paper was as if a pail of water bad been poured upon it every day, --- the consequence being that I suffered a great deal from rheumatism.
With all that I was cheerful, continuing to write and to draw maps in the darkness, sharpening my lead pencils with a broken piece of glass which I had managed to get hold of in the yard; I faithfully walked my five miles a day in the cell, and performed gymnastic feats with my oak stool. Time went on. But then sorrow crept into my cell and nearly broke me down. My brother Alexander was arrested.
Toward the end of December, 1874, I was allowed an interview with him and our sister Hélène, in the fortress, in the presence of a gendarme officer. Interviews, granted at long intervals, always bring both the prisoner and his relatives into a state of excitement. One sees beloved faces and hears beloved voices, knowing that the vision will last but a few moments; one feels so near to the other, and yet so far off, as there can be no intimate conversation before a stranger, an enemy and a spy. Besides, my brother and sister felt anxious for my health, upon which the dark, gloomy winter days and the dampness had already marked their first effects. We parted with heavy hearts.
A week after that interview I received, instead of an expected letter from my brother concerning the printing of my book, a short note from Polakóff. He informed me that henceforward he would read the proofs, and that I should have to address to him everything relative to the printing. From the very tone of the note I understood at once that something must be wrong with my brother. If it were only illness, Polakóff would have mentioned it. Days of fearful anxiety came upon me. Alexander must have been arrested, and I must have been the cause of it! Life suddenly ceased to have any meaning for me. My walks, my gymnastics, my work, lost interest. All the day long I went ceaselessly up and down my cell, thinking of nothing but Alexander's arrest. For me, an unmarried man, imprisonment was only personal inconvenience; but he was married, he passionately loved his wife, and they now had a boy, upon whom they had concentrated all the love that they had felt for their first two children.
Worst of all was the incertitude. What could he have done? For what reason had he been arrested? What were they going to do with him? Weeks passed; my anxiety became deeper and deeper; but there was no news, till at last I heard in a roundabout way that he had been arrested for a letter written to P.L. Lavróff.
I learned the details much later. After his last interview with me he wrote to his old friend, who at that time was editing a Russian socialist review, "Forward," in London. He mentioned in this letter his fears about my health; he spoke of the many arrests which were then being made in Russia; and he freely expressed his hatred of tne despotic rule. The letter was intercepted at the post-office by the Third Section, and they came on Christmas Eve to search his apartments. They carried out their search in an even more brutal manner than usual. After midnight half a dozen men made an irruption into his flat, and turned everything upside down. The very walls were examined; the sick child was taken out of its bed, that the bedding and the mattresses might be inspected. They found nothing, --- there was nothing to find.
My brother very much resented this search. With his customary frankness, he said to the gendarme officer who conducted it: "Against you, captain, I have no grievance. You have received little education, and you hardly understand what you are doing. But you, sir," he continued, turning towards the procureur, "you know what part you are playing in these proceedings. You have received a university education. You know the law, and you know that you are trampling all law, such as it is, under your feet, and covering the lawlessness of these men by your presence; you are simply --- a scoundrel!"
They swore hatred against him. They kept him imprisoned in the Third Section till May. My brother's child --- a charming boy, whom illness had rendered still more affectionate and intelligent --- was dying from consumption. The doctors said he had only a few days more to live. Alexander, who had never asked any favor of his enemies, asked them this time to permit him to see his child for the last time. He begged to be allowed to go home for one hour, upon his word of honor to return, or to be taken there under escort. They refused. They could not deny themselves that vengeance.
The child died, and its mother was thrown once more into a state bordering on insanity when my brother was told that he was to be transported to East Siberia, to a small town, Minusínsk. He would travel in a cart between two gendarmes, and his wife might follow later, but could not travel with him.
"Tell me, at least, what is my crime," he demanded; but there was no accusation of any sort against him beyond the letter. This transportation appeared so arbitrary, so much an act of mere revenge on the part of the Third Section, that none of our relatives could believe that the exile would last more than a few months. My brother lodged a complaint with the minister of the interior. The reply was that the minister could not interfere with the will of the chief of the gendarmes. Another complaint was lodged with the Senate. It was of no avail.
A couple of years later our sister Hélène, acting on her own
initiative, wrote a petition to the Tsar. Our cousin Dmítri, governor-general
of Khárkoff, aide-de-camp of the Emperor, and a favorite at the court, also
deeply incensed at this treatment by the Third Section, handed the petition
personally to the Tsar, and in so doing added a few words in support of it. But
the vindictiveness of the Románoffs was a family trait strongly developed in
Alexander II. He wrote upon the petition, "Pust posidít" (Let him remain some
time more). My brother stayed in Siberia twelve years, and never returned to
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