Part 5 out of 6
murderers. Lo! Where is Jesus? I ask you, where is Jesus?"
There was something compelling in the hoarse voice of Judas, and
Thomas replied obediently--
"You know yourself, Judas, that our Master was crucified yesterday."
"But how came you to permit it? Where was your love? Thou, Beloved
Disciple, and thou, Rock, where were you all when they were
crucifying your Friend on the tree?"
"What could we do, judge thou?" said Thomas, with a gesture of
"Thou asketh that, Thomas? Very well!" and Judas threw his head
back, and fell upon him angrily. "He who loves does not ask what can
be done--he goes and does it--he weeps, he bites, he throttles the
enemy, and breaks his bones! He, that is, who loves! If your son
were drowning would you go into the city and inquire of the passers
by: 'What must I do? My son is drowning!' No, you would rather
throw yourself into the water and drown with him. One who loved
Peter replied grimly to the violent speech of Judas:
"I drew a sword, but He Himself forbade."
"Forbade? And you obeyed!" jeered Judas. "Peter, Peter, how could
you listen to Him? Does He know anything of men, and of fighting?"
"He who does not submit to Him goes to hell fire."
"Then why did you not go, Peter? Hell fire! What's that? Now,
supposing you had gone--what good's your soul to you, if you dare not
throw it into the fire, if you want to?"
"Silence!" cried John, rising. "He Himself willed this sacrifice.
His sacrifice is beautiful!"
"Is a sacrifice ever beautiful, Beloved Disciple? Wherever there is
a sacrifice, then there is an executioner, and there traitors!
Sacrifice--that is suffering for one and disgrace for all the others!
Traitors, traitors, what have ye done with the world? Now they look
at it from above and below, and laugh and cry: 'Look at that world,
upon it they crucified Jesus!' And they spit on it--as I do!"
Judas angrily spat on the ground.
"He took upon Him the sin of all mankind. His sacrifice is
beautiful," John insisted.
"No! you have taken all sin upon yourselves. You, Beloved Disciple,
will not a race of traitors take their beginning from you, a
pusillanimous and lying breed? O blind men, what have ye done with
the earth? You have done your best to destroy it, ye will soon be
kissing the cross on which ye crucified Jesus! Yes, yes, Judas gives
ye his word that ye will kiss the cross!"
"Judas, don't revile!" roared Peter, pushing. "How could we slay
all His enemies? They are so many!"
"And thou, Peter!" exclaimed John in anger, "dost thou not perceive
that he is possessed of Satan? Leave us, Tempter! Thou'rt full of
lies. The Teacher forbade us to kill."
"But did He forbid you to die? Why are you alive, when He is dead?
Why do your feet walk, why does your tongue talk trash, why do your
eyes blink, when He is dead, motionless, speechless? How do your
cheeks dare to be red, John, when His are pale? How can you dare to
shout, Peter, when He is silent? What could you do? You ask Judas?
And Judas answers you, the magnificent, bold Judas Iscariot replies:
'Die!' You ought to have fallen on the road, to have seized the
soldiers by the sword, by the hands, and drowned them in a sea of
your own blood--yes, die, die! Better had it been, that His Father
should have cause to cry out with horror, when you all enter there!"
Judas ceased with raised head. Suddenly he noticed the remains of a
meal upon the table. With strange surprise, curiously, as though for
the first time in his life he looked on food, he examined it, and
"What is this? You have been eating? Perhaps you have also been
Peter, who had begun to feel Judas to be some one, who could command
obedience, drooping his head, tersely replied: "I slept, I slept and
Thomas said, resolutely and firmly:
"This is all untrue, Judas. Just consider: if we had all died, who
would have told the story of Jesus? Who would have conveyed His
teaching to mankind if we had all died, Peter and John and I?"
"But what is the truth itself in the mouths of traitors? Does it
not become a lie? Thomas, Thomas, dost thou not understand, that
thou art now only a sentinel at the grave of dead Truth? The
sentinel falls asleep, and the thief cometh and carries away the
truth; say, where is the truth? Cursed be thou, Thomas! Fruitless,
and a beggar shalt thou be throughout the ages, and all you with him,
"Accursed be thou thyself, Satan!" cried John, and James and Matthew
and all the other disciples repeated his cry; only Peter held his
"I am going to Him," said Judas, stretching his powerful hand on
high. "Who will follow Iscariot to Jesus?"
"I--I also go with thee," cried Peter, rising.
But John and the others stopped him in horror, saying:
"Madman! Thou hast forgotten, that he betrayed the Master into the
hands of His enemies."
Peter began to lament bitterly, striking his breast with his fist:
"Whither, then, shall I go? O Lord! whither shall I go?"
. . . . . . . .
Judas had long ago, during his solitary walks, marked the place
where he intended to make an end of himself after the death of Jesus.
It was upon a hill high above Jerusalem. There stood but one tree,
bent and twisted by the wind, which had torn it on all sides, half
withered. One of its broken, crooked branches stretched out towards
Jerusalem, as though in blessing or in threat, and this one Judas had
chosen on which to hang a noose.
But the walk to the tree was long and tedious, and Judas Iscariot
was very weary. The small, sharp stones, scattered under his feet,
seemed continually to drag him backwards, and the hill was high,
stern, and malign, exposed to the wind. Judas was obliged to sit
down several times to rest, and panted heavily, while behind him,
through the clefts of the rock, the mountain breathed cold upon his
"Thou too art against me, accursed one!" said Judas contemptuously,
as he breathed with difficulty, and swayed his heavy head, in which
all the thoughts were now petrifying.
Then he raised it suddenly, and opening wide his now fixed eyes,
"No, they were too bad for Judas. Thou hearest Jesus? Wilt Thou
trust me now? I am coming to Thee. Meet me kindly, I am weary--very
weary. Then Thou and I, embracing like brothers, shall return to
earth. Shall we not?"
Again he swayed his petrifying head, and again he opened his eyes,
"But maybe Thou wilt be angry with Judas when he arrives? And Thou
wilt not trust him? And wilt send him to hell? Well! What then! I
will go to hell. And in Thy hell fire I will weld iron, and weld
iron, and demolish Thy heaven. Dost approve? Then Thou wilt believe
in me. Then Thou wilt come back with me to earth, wilt Thou not,
Eventually Judas reached the summit and the crooked tree, and there
the wind began to torment him. And when Judas rebuked it, it began
to blow soft and low, and took leave and flew away.
"Right! But as for them, they are curs!" said Judas, making a
slip-knot. And since the rope might fail him and break, he hung it
over a precipice, so that if it broke, he would be sure to meet his
death upon the stones. And before he shoved himself off the brink
with his foot, and hanged himself, Judas Iscariot once more anxiously
prepared Jesus for his coming:
"Yes, meet me kindly, Jesus. I am very weary."
He leapt. The rope strained, but held. His neck stretched, but his
hands and feet were crossed, and hung down as though damp.
He died. Thus, in the course of two days, one after another, Jesus
of Nazareth and Judas Iscariot, the Traitor, left the world.
All the night through, like some monstrous fruit, Judas swayed over
Jerusalem, and the wind kept turning his face now to the city, and
now to the desert--as though it wished to exhibit Judas to both city
and desert. But in whichever direction his face, distorted by death,
was turned, his red eyes suffused with blood, and now as like one
another as two brothers, incessantly looked towards the sky. In the
morning some sharp-sighted person perceived Judas hanging above the
city, and cried out in horror.
People came and took him down, and knowing who he was, threw him
into a deep ravine, into which they were in the habit of throwing
dead horses and cats and other carrion.
The same evening all the believers knew of the terrible death of the
Traitor, and the next day it was known to all Jerusalem. Stony
Judaea knew of it and green Galilee; and from one sea to the other,
distant as it was, the news flew of the death of the Traitor.
Neither faster nor slower, but with equal pace with Time itself, it
went, and as there is no end to Time so will there be no end to the
stories about the Traitor Judas and his terrible death.
And all--both good and bad--will equally anathematise his shameful
memory; and among all peoples, past and present, will he remain alone
in his cruel destiny--Judas Iscariot, the Traitor.
"THE MAN WHO FOUND THE TRUTH"
I was twenty-seven years old and had just maintained my thesis for
the degree of Doctor of Mathematics with unusual success, when I was
suddenly seized in the middle of the night and thrown into this
prison. I shall not narrate to you the details of the monstrous
crime of which I was accused--there are events which people should
neither remember nor even know, that they may not acquire a feeling
of aversion for themselves; but no doubt there are many people among
the living who remember that terrible case and "the human brute," as
the newspapers called me at that time. They probably remember how
the entire civilised society of the land unanimously demanded that
the criminal be put to death, and it is due only to the inexplicable
kindness of the man at the head of the Government at the time that I
am alive, and I now write these lines for the edification of the weak
and the wavering.
I shall say briefly: My father, my elder brother, and my sister
were murdered brutally, and I was supposed to have committed the
crime for the purpose of securing a really enormous inheritance.
I am an old man now; I shall die soon, and you have not the
slightest ground for doubting when I say that I was entirely innocent
of the monstrous and horrible crime, for which twelve honest and
conscientious judges unanimously sentenced me to death. The death
sentence was finally commuted to imprisonment for life in solitary
It was merely a fatal linking of circumstances, of grave and
insignificant events, of vague silence and indefinite words, which
gave me the appearance and likeness of the criminal, innocent though
I was. But he who would suspect me of being ill-disposed toward my
strict judges would be profoundly mistaken. They were perfectly
right, perfectly right. As people who can judge things and events
only by their appearance, and who are deprived of the ability to
penetrate their own mysterious being, they could not act differently,
nor should they have acted differently.
It so happened that in the game of circumstances, the truth
concerning my actions, which I alone knew, assumed all the features
of an insolent and shameless lie; and however strange it may seem to
my kind and serious reader, I could establish the truth of my
innocence only by falsehood, and not by the truth.
Later on, when I was already in prison, in going over in detail the
story of the crime and the trial, and picturing myself in the place
of one of my judges, I came to the inevitable conclusion each time
that I was guilty. Then I produced a very interesting and
instructive work; having set aside entirely the question of truth and
falsehood on general principles, I subjected the facts and the words
to numerous combinations, erecting structures, even as small children
build various structures with their wooden blocks; and after
persistent efforts I finally succeeded in finding a certain
combination of facts which, though strong in principle, seemed so
plausible that my actual innocence became perfectly clear, exactly
and positively established.
To this day I remember the great feeling of astonishment, mingled
with fear, which I experienced at my strange and unexpected
discovery; by telling the truth I lead people into error and thus
deceive them, while by maintaining falsehood I lead them, on the
contrary, to the truth and to knowledge.
I did not yet understand at that time that, like Newton and his
famous apple, I discovered unexpectedly the great law upon which the
entire history of human thought rests, which seeks not the truth, but
verisimilitude, the appearance of truth--that is, the harmony between
that which is seen and that which is conceived, based on the strict
laws of logical reasoning. And instead of rejoicing, I exclaimed in
an outburst of naive, juvenile despair: "Where, then, is the truth?
Where is the truth in this world of phantoms and falsehood?" (See my
"Diary of a Prisoner" of June 29, 18--.)
I know that at the present time, when I have but five or six more
years to live, I could easily secure my pardon if I but asked for it.
But aside from my being accustomed to the prison and for several
other important reasons, of which I shall speak later, I simply have
no right to ask for pardon, and thus break the force and natural
course of the lawful and entirely justified verdict. Nor would I
want to hear people apply to me the words, "a victim of judicial
error," as some of my gentle visitors expressed themselves, to my
sorrow. I repeat, there was no error, nor could there be any error
in a case in which a combination of definite circumstances inevitably
lead a normally constructed and developed mind to the one and only
I was convicted justly, although I did not commit the crime--such is
the simple and clear truth, and I live joyously and peacefully my
last few years on earth with a sense of respect for this truth.
The only purpose by which I was guided in writing these modest notes
is to show to my indulgent reader that under the most painful
conditions, where it would seem that there remains no room for hope
or life--a human being, a being of the highest order, possessing a
mind and a will, finds both hope and life. I want to show how a
human being, condemned to death, looked with free eyes upon the
world, through the grated window of his prison, and discovered the
great purpose, harmony, and beauty of the universe--to the disgrace
of those fools who, being free, living a life of plenty and
happiness, slander life disgustingly.
Some of my visitors reproach me for being "haughty"; they ask me
where I secured the right to teach and to preach; cruel in their
reasoning, they would like to drive away even the smile from the face
of the man who has been imprisoned for life as a murderer.
No. Just as the kind and bright smile will not leave my lips, as an
evidence of a clear and unstained conscience, so my soul will never
be darkened, my soul, which has passed firmly through the defiles of
life, which has been carried by a mighty will power across these
terrible abysses and bottomless pits, where so many daring people
have found their heroic, but, alas! fruitless, death.
And if the tone of my confessions may sometimes seem too positive to
my indulgent reader, it is not at all due to the absence of modesty
in me, but it is due to the fact that I firmly believe that I am
right, and also to my firm desire to be useful to my neighbour as far
as my faint powers permit.
Here I must apologise for my frequent references to my "Diary of a
Prisoner," which is unknown to the reader; but the fact is that I
consider the complete publication of my "Diary" too premature and
perhaps even dangerous. Begun during the remote period of cruel
disillusions, of the shipwreck of all my beliefs and hopes, breathing
boundless despair, my note book bears evidence in places that its
author was, if not in a state of complete insanity, on the brink of
insanity. And if we recall how contagious that illness is, my
caution in the use of my "Diary" will become entirely clear.
O, blooming youth! With an involuntary tear in my eye I recall your
magnificent dreams, your daring visions and outbursts, your
impetuous, seething power--but I should not want your return,
blooming youth! Only with the greyness of the hair comes clear
wisdom, and that great aptitude for unprejudiced reflection which
makes of all old men philosophers and often even sages.
Those of my kind visitors who honour me by expressing their delight
and even--may this little indiscretion be forgiven me!--even their
adoration of my spiritual clearness, can hardly imagine what I was
when I came to this prison. The tens of years which have passed over
my head and which have whitened my hair cannot muffle the slight
agitation which I experience at the recollection of the first moments
when, with the creaking of the rusty hinges, the fatal prison doors
opened and then closed behind me forever.
Not endowed with literary talent, which in reality is an indomitable
inclination to invent and to lie, I shall attempt to introduce myself
to my indulgent reader exactly as I was at that remote time.
I was a young man, twenty-seven years of age--as I had occasion to
mention before--unrestrained, impetuous, given to abrupt deviations.
A certain dreaminess, peculiar to my age; a self-respect which was
easily offended and which revolted at the slightest insignificant
provocation; a passionate impetuosity in solving world problems; fits
of melancholy alternated by equally wild fits of merriment--all this
gave the young mathematician a character of extreme unsteadiness, of
sad and harsh discord.
I must also mention the extreme pride, a family trait, which I
inherited from my mother, and which often hindered me from taking the
advice of riper and more experienced people than myself; also my
extreme obstinacy in carrying out my purposes, a good quality in
itself, which becomes dangerous, however, when the purpose in
question is not sufficiently well founded and considered.
Thus, during the first days of my confinement, I behaved like all
other fools who are thrown into prison. I shouted loudly and, of
course, vainly about my innocence; I demanded violently my immediate
freedom and even beat against the door and the walls with my fists.
The door and the walls naturally remained mute, while I caused myself
a rather sharp pain. I remember I even beat my head against the
wall, and for hours I lay unconscious on the stone floor of my cell;
and for some time, when I had grown desperate, I refused food, until
the persistent demands of my organism defeated my obstinacy.
I cursed my judges and threatened them with merciless vengeance. At
last I commenced to regard all human life, the whole world, even
Heaven, as an enormous injustice, a derision and a mockery.
Forgetting that in my position I could hardly be unprejudiced, I came
with the self-confidence of youth, with the sickly pain of a
prisoner, gradually to the complete negation of life and its great
Those were indeed terrible days and nights, when, crushed by the
walls, getting no answer to any of my questions, I paced my cell
endlessly and hurled one after another into the dark abyss all the
great valuables which life has bestowed upon us: friendship, love,
reason and justice.
In some justification to myself I may mention the fact that during
the first and most painful years of my imprisonment a series of
events happened which reflected themselves rather painfully upon my
psychic nature. Thus I learned with the profoundest indignation that
the girl, whose name I shall not mention and who was to become my
wife, married another man. She was one of the few who believed in my
innocence; at the last parting she swore to me to remain faithful to
me unto death, and rather to die than betray her love for me--and
within one year after that she married a man I knew, who possessed
certain good qualities, but who was not at all a sensible man. I did
not want to understand at that time that such a marriage was natural
on the part of a young, healthy, and beautiful girl. But, alas! we
all forget our natural science when we are deceived by the woman we
love--may this little jest be forgiven me! At the present time Mme.
N. is a happy and respected mother, and this proves better than
anything else how wise and entirely in accordance with the demands of
nature and life was her marriage at that time, which vexed me so
I must confess, however, that at that time I was not at all calm. Her
exceedingly amiable and kind letter in which she notified me of her
marriage, expressing profound regret that changed circumstances and a
suddenly awakened love compelled her to break her promise to me--that
amiable, truthful letter, scented with perfume, bearing the traces of
her tender fingers, seemed to me a message from the devil himself.
The letters of fire burned my exhausted brains, and in a wild
ecstasy I shook the doors of my cell and called violently:
"Come! Let me look into your lying eyes! Let me hear your lying
voice! Let me but touch with my fingers your tender throat and pour
into your death rattle my last bitter laugh!"
From this quotation my indulgent reader will see how right were the
judges who convicted me for murder; they had really foreseen in me a
My gloomy view of life at the time was aggravated by several other
events. Two years after the marriage of my fiancee, consequently
three years after the first day of my imprisonment, my mother died--
she died, as I learned, of profound grief for me. However strange it
may seem, she remained firmly convinced to the end of her days that I
had committed the monstrous crime. Evidently this conviction was an
inexhaustible source of grief to her, the chief cause of the gloomy
melancholy which fettered her lips in silence and caused her death
through paralysis of the heart. As I was told, she never mentioned my
name nor the names of those who died so tragically, and she bequeathed
the entire enormous fortune, which was supposed to have served as the
motive for the murder, to various charitable organisations. It is
characteristic that even under such terrible conditions her motherly
instinct did not forsake her altogether; in a postscript to the will
she left me a considerable sum, which secures my existence whether I
am in prison or at large.
Now I understand that, however great her grief may have been, that
alone was not enough to cause her death; the real cause was her
advanced age and a series of illnesses which had undermined her once
strong and sound organism. In the name of justice, I must say that
my father, a weak-charactered man, was not at all a model husband and
family man; by numerous betrayals, by falsehood and deception he had
led my mother to despair, constantly offending her pride and her
strict, unbribable truthfulness. But at that time I did not
understand it; the death of my mother seemed to me one of the most
cruel manifestations of universal injustice, and called forth a new
stream of useless and sacrilegious curses.
I do not know whether I ought to tire the attention of the reader
with the story of other events of a similar nature. I shall mention
but briefly that one after another my friends, who remained my
friends from the time when I was happy and free, stopped visiting me.
According to their words, they believed in my innocence, and at first
warmly expressed to me their sympathy. But our lives, mine in prison
and theirs at liberty, were so different that gradually under the
pressure of perfectly natural causes, such as forgetfulness, official
and other duties, the absence of mutual interests, they visited me
ever more and more rarely, and finally ceased to see me entirely. I
cannot recall without a smile that even the death of my mother, even
the betrayal of the girl I loved did not arouse in me such a
hopelessly bitter feeling as these gentlemen, whose names I remember
but vaguely now, succeeded in wresting from my soul.
"What horror! What pain! My friends, you have left me alone! My
friends, do you understand what you have done? You have left me
alone. Can you conceive of leaving a human being alone? Even a
serpent has its mate, even a spider has its comrade--and you have
left a human being alone! You have given him a soul--and left him
alone! You have given him a heart, a mind, a hand for a handshake,
lips for a kiss--and you have left him alone! What shall he do now
that you have left him alone?"
Thus I exclaimed in my "Diary of a Prisoner," tormented by woeful
perplexities. In my juvenile blindness, in the pain of my young,
senseless heart, I still did not want to understand that the
solitude, of which I complained so bitterly, like the mind, was an
advantage given to man over other creatures, in order to fence around
the sacred mysteries of his soul from the stranger's gaze.
Let my serious reader consider what would have become of life if man
were robbed of his right, of his duty to be alone. In the gathering
of idle chatterers, amid the dull collection of transparent glass
dolls, that kill each other with their sameness; in the wild city
where all doors are open, and all windows are open--passers-by look
wearily through the glass walls and observe the same evidences of the
hearth and the alcove. Only the creatures that can be alone possess
a face; while those that know no solitude--the great, blissful,
sacred solitude of the soul--have snouts instead of faces.
And in calling my friends "perfidious traitors" I, poor youth that I
was, could not understand the wise law of life, according to which
neither friendship, nor love, nor even the tenderest attachment of
sister and mother, is eternal. Deceived by the lies of the poets,
who proclaimed eternal friendship and love, I did not want to see
that which my indulgent reader observes from the windows of his
dwelling--how friends, relatives, mother and wife, in apparent
despair and in tears, follow their dead to the cemetery, and after a
lapse of some time return from there. No one buries himself together
with the dead, no one asks the dead to make room in the coffin, and
if the grief-stricken wife exclaims, in an outburst of tears, "Oh,
bury me together with him!" she is merely expressing symbolically the
extreme degree of her despair--one could easily convince himself of
this by trying, in jest, to push her down into the grave. And those
who restrain her are merely expressing symbolically their sympathy
and understanding, thus lending the necessary aspect of solemn grief
to the funeral custom.
Man must subject himself to the laws of life, not of death, nor to
the fiction of the poets, however beautiful it may be. But can the
fictitious be beautiful? Is there no beauty in the stern truth of
life, in the mighty work of its wise laws, which subjects to itself
with great disinterestedness the movements of the heavenly
luminaries, as well as the restless linking of the tiny creatures
called human beings?
Thus I lived sadly in my prison for five or six years.
The first redeeming ray flashed upon me when I least expected it.
Endowed with the gift of imagination, I made my former fiancee the
object of all my thoughts. She became my love and my dream.
Another circumstance which suddenly revealed to me the ground under
my feet was, strange as it may seem, the conviction that it was
impossible to make my escape from prison.
During the first period of my imprisonment, I, as a youthful and
enthusiastic dreamer, made all kinds of plans for escape, and some of
them seemed to me entirely possible of realisation. Cherishing
deceptive hopes, this thought naturally kept me in a state of tense
alarm and hindered my attention from concentrating itself on more
important and substantial matters. As soon as I despaired of one
plan I created another, but of course I did not make any progress--I
merely moved within a closed circle. It is hardly necessary to
mention that each transition from one plan to another was accompanied
by cruel sufferings, which tormented my soul, just as the eagle
tortured the body of Prometheus.
One day, while staring with a weary look at the walls of my cell, I
suddenly began to feel how irresistibly thick the stone was, how
strong the cement which kept it together, how skilfully and
mathematically this severe fortress was constructed. It is true, my
first sensation was extremely painful; it was, perhaps, a horror of
I cannot recall what I did and how I felt during the two or three
months that followed. The first note in my diary after a long period
of silence does not explain very much. Briefly I state only that
they made new clothes for me and that I had grown stout.
The fact is that, after all my hopes had been abandoned, the
consciousness of the impossibility of my escape once for all
extinguished also my painful alarm and liberated my mind, which was
then already inclined to lofty contemplation and the joys of
But the following is the day I consider as the first real day of my
liberation. It was a beautiful spring morning (May 6) and the balmy,
invigourating air was pouring into the open window; while walking
back and forth in my cell I unconsciously glanced, at each turn, with
a vague interest, at the high window, where the iron grate outlined
its form sharply and distinctly against the background of the azure,
"Why is the sky so beautiful through these bars?" I reflected as I
walked. "Is not this the effect of the aesthetic law of contrasts,
according to which azure stands out prominently beside black? Or is
it not, perhaps, a manifestation of some other, higher law, according
to which the infinite may be conceived by the human mind only when it
is brought within certain boundaries, for instance, when it is
enclosed within a square?"
When I recalled that at the sight of a wide open window, which was
not protected by bars, or of the sky, I had usually experienced a
desire to fly, which was painful because of its uselessness and
absurdity--I suddenly began to experience a feeling of tenderness for
the bars; tender gratitude, even love. Forged by hand, by the weak
human hand of some ignorant blacksmith, who did not even give himself
an account of the profound meaning of his creation; placed in the
wall by an equally ignorant mason, it suddenly represented in itself
a model of beauty, nobility and power. Having seized the infinite
within its iron squares, it became congealed in cold and proud peace,
frightening the ignorant, giving food for thought to the intelligent
and delighting the sage!
In order to make the further narrative clearer to my indulgent
reader, I am compelled to say a few words about the exclusive, quite
flattering, and, I fear, not entirely deserved, position which I
occupy in our prison. On one hand, my spiritual clearness, my rare
and perfect view of life, and the nobility of my feelings, which
impress all those who speak to me; and, on the other hand, several
rather unimportant favours which I have done to the Warden, have
given me a series of privileges, of which I avail myself, rather
moderately, of course, not desiring to upset the general plan and
system of our prison.
Thus, during the weekly visiting days, my visitors are not limited
to any special time for their interviews, and all those who wish to
see me are admitted, sometimes forming quite a large audience. Not
daring to accept altogether the assurances made somewhat ironically
by the Warden, to the effect that I would be "the pride of any
prison," I may say, nevertheless, without any false modesty, that my
words are treated with proper respect, and that among my visitors I
number quite a few warm and enthusiastic admirers, both men and
women. I shall mention that the Warden himself and some of his
assistants honour me by their visits, drawing from me strength and
courage for the purpose of continuing their hard work. Of course I
use the prison library freely, and even the archives of the prison;
and if the Warden politely refused to grant my request for an exact
plan of the prison, it is not at all because of his lack of
confidence in me, but because such a plan is a state secret....
Our prison is a huge five-story building. Situated in the outskirts
of the city, at the edge of a deserted field, overgrown with high
grass, it attracts the attention of the wayfarer by its rigid
outlines, promising him peace and rest after his endless wanderings.
Not being plastered, the building has retained its natural dark red
colour of old brick, and at close view, I am told, it produces a
gloomy, even threatening, impression, especially on nervous people,
to whom the red bricks recall blood and bloody lumps of human flesh.
The small, dark, flat windows with iron bars naturally complete the
impression and lend to the whole a character of gloomy harmony, or
stern beauty. Even during good weather, when the sun shines upon our
prison, it does not lose any of its dark and grim importance, and is
constantly reminding the people that there are laws in existence and
that punishment awaits those who break them.
My cell is on the fifth story, and my grated window commands a
splendid view of the distant city and a part of the deserted field to
the right. On the left, beyond the boundary of my vision, are the
outskirts of the city, and, as I am told, the church and the cemetery
adjoining it. Of the existence of the church and even the cemetery I
had known before from the mournful tolling of the bells, which custom
requires during the burial of the dead.
Quite in keeping with the external style of architecture, the
interior arrangement of our prison is also finished harmoniously and
properly constructed. For the purpose of conveying to the reader a
clearer idea of the prison, I will take the liberty of giving the
example of a fool who might make up his mind to run away from our
prison. Admitting that the brave fellow possessed supernatural,
Herculean strength and broke the lock of his room--what would he
find? The corridor, with numerous grated doors, which could
withstand cannonading--and armed keepers. Let us suppose that he
kills all the keepers, breaks all the doors, and comes out into the
yard--perhaps he may think that he is already free. But what of the
walls? The walls which encircle our prison, with three rings of stone?
I omitted the guard advisedly. The guard is indefatigable. Day and
night I hear behind my doors the footsteps of the guard; day and
night his eye watches me through the little window in my door,
controlling my movements, reading on my face my thoughts, my
intentions and my dreams. In the daytime I could deceive his
attention with lies, assuming a cheerful and carefree expression on
my face, but I have rarely met the man who could lie even in his
sleep. No matter how much I would be on my guard during the day, at
night I would betray myself by an involuntary moan, by a twitch of
the face, by an expression of fatigue or grief, or by other
manifestations of a guilty and uneasy conscience. Only very few
people of unusual will power are able to lie even in their sleep,
skilfully managing the features of their faces, sometimes even
preserving a courteous and bright smile on their lips, when their
souls, given over to dreams, are quivering from the horrors of a
monstrous nightmare--but, as exceptions, these cannot be taken into
consideration. I am profoundly happy that I am not a criminal, that
my conscience is clear and calm.
"Read, my friend, read," I say to the watchful eye as I lay myself
down to sleep peacefully. "You will not be able to read anything on
And it was I who invented the window in the prison door.
I feel that my reader is astonished and smiles incredulously,
mentally calling me an old liar, but there are instances in which
modesty is superfluous and even dangerous. Yes, this simple and
great invention belongs to me, just as Newton's system belongs to
Newton, and as Kepler's laws of the revolution of the planets belong
Later on, encouraged by the success of my invention, I devised and
introduced in our prison a series of little innovations, which were
concerned only with details; thus the form of chains and locks used
in our prison has been changed.
The little window in the door was my invention, and, if any one
should dare deny this, I would call him a liar and a scoundrel.
I came upon this invention under the following circumstances: One
day, during the roll call, a certain prisoner killed with the iron
leg of his bed the Inspector who entered his cell. Of course the
rascal was hanged in the yard of our prison, and the administration
light mindedly grew calm, but I was in despair--the great purpose of
the prison proved to be wrong since such horrible deeds were
possible. How is it that no one had noticed that the prisoner had
broken off the leg of his bed? How is it that no one had noticed the
state of agitation in which the prisoner must have been before
committing the murder?
By taking up the question so directly I thus approached considerably
the solution of the problem; and indeed, after two or three weeks had
elapsed I arrived simply and even unexpectedly at my great discovery.
I confess frankly that before telling my discovery to the Warden of
the prison I experienced moments of a certain hesitation, which was
quite natural in my position of prisoner. To the reader who may
still be surprised at this hesitation, knowing me to be a man of a
clear, unstained conscience, I will answer by a quotation from my
"Diary of a Prisoner," relating to that period:
"How difficult is the position of the man who is convicted, though
innocent, as I am. If he is sad, if his lips are sealed in silence,
and his eyes are lowered, people say of him: 'He is repenting; he is
suffering from pangs of conscience.'
"If in the innocence of his heart he smiles brightly and kindly, the
keeper thinks: 'There, by a false and feigned smile, he wishes to
hide his secret.'
"No matter what he does, he seems guilty--such is the force of the
prejudice against which it is necessary to struggle. But I am
innocent, and I shall be myself, firmly confident that my spiritual
clearness will destroy the malicious magic of prejudice."
And on the following day the Warden of the prison pressed my hand
warmly, expressing his gratitude to me, and a month later little
holes were made in all doors in every prison in the land, thus
opening a field for wide and fruitful observation.
The entire system of our prison life gives me deep satisfaction.
The hours for rising and going to bed, for meals and walks are
arranged so rationally, in accordance with the real requirements of
nature, that soon they lose the appearance of compulsion and become
natural, even dear habits. Only in this way can I explain the
interesting fact that when I was free I was a nervous and weak young
man, susceptible to colds and illness, whereas in prison I have grown
considerably stronger and that for my sixty years I am enjoying an
enviable state of health. I am not stout, but I am not thin, either;
my lungs are in good condition and I have saved almost all my teeth,
with the exception of two on the left side of the jaw; I am good
natured, even tempered; my sleep is sound, almost without any dreams.
In figure, in which an expression of calm power and self-confidence
predominates, and in face, I resemble somewhat Michaelangelo's
"Moses"--that is, at least what some of my friendly visitors have
But even more than by the regular and healthy regime, the
strengthening of my soul and body was helped by the wonderful, yet
natural, peculiarity of our prison, which eliminates entirely the
accidental and the unexpected from its life. Having neither a family
nor friends, I am perfectly safe from the shocks, so injurious to
life, which are caused by treachery, by the illness or death of
relatives--let my indulgent reader recall how many people have
perished before his eyes not of their own fault, but because
capricious fate had linked them to people unworthy of them. Without
changing my feeling of love into trivial personal attachments, I thus
make it free for the broad and mighty love for all mankind; and as
mankind is immortal, not subjected to illness, and as a harmonious
whole it is undoubtedly progressing toward perfection, love for it
becomes the surest guarantee of spiritual and physical soundness.
My day is clear. So are also my days of the future, which are
coming toward me in radiant and even order. A murderer will not
break into my cell for the purpose of robbing me, a mad automobile
will not crush me, the illness of a child will not torture me, cruel
treachery will not steal its way to me from the darkness. My mind is
free, my heart is calm, my soul is clear and bright.
The clear and rigid rules of our prison define everything that I
must not do, thus freeing me from those unbearable hesitations,
doubts, and errors with which practical life is filled. True,
sometimes there penetrates even into our prison, through its high
walls, something which ignorant people call chance, or even Fate, and
which is only an inevitable reflection of the general laws; but the
life of the prison, agitated for a moment, quickly goes back to its
habitual rut, like a river after an overflow. To this category of
accidents belong the above-mentioned murder of the Inspector, the
rare and always unsuccessful attempts at escape, and also the
executions, which take place in one of the remotest yards of our
There is still another peculiarity in the system of our prison,
which I consider most beneficial, and which gives to the whole thing
a character of stern and noble justice. Left to himself, and only to
himself, the prisoner cannot count upon support, or upon that
spurious, wretched pity which so often falls to the lot of weak
people, disfiguring thereby the fundamental purposes of nature.
I confess that I think, with a certain sense of pride, that if I am
now enjoying general respect and admiration, if my mind is strong, my
will powerful, my view of life clear and bright, I owe it only to
myself, to my power and my perseverance. How many weak people would
have perished in my place as victims of madness, despair, or grief?
But I have conquered everything! I have changed the world. I gave
to my soul the form which my mind desired. In the desert, working
alone, exhausted with fatigue, I have erected a stately structure in
which I now live joyously and calmly, like a king. Destroy it--and
to-morrow I shall begin to build a new structure, and in my bloody
sweat I shall erect it! For I must live!
Forgive my involuntary pathos in the last lines, which is so
unbecoming to my balanced and calm nature. But it is hard to
restrain myself when I recall the road I have travelled. I hope,
however, that in the future I shall not darken the mood of my reader
with any outbursts of agitated feelings. Only he shouts who is not
confident of the truth of his words; calm firmness and cold
simplicity are becoming to the truth.
P.S.--I do not remember whether I told you that the criminal who
murdered my father has not been found as yet.
Deviating from time to time from the calm form of a historical
narrative I must pause on current events. Thus I will permit myself
to acquaint my readers in a few lines with a rather interesting
specimen of the human species which I have found accidentally in our
One afternoon a few days ago the Warden came to me for the usual
chat, and among other things told me there was a very unfortunate man
in prison at the time upon whom I could exert a beneficent influence.
I expressed my willingness in the most cordial manner, and for
several days in succession I have had long discussions with the
artist K., by permission of the Warden. The spirit of hostility,
even of obstinacy, with which, to my regret, he met me at his first
visit, has now disappeared entirely under the influence of my
discussion. Listening willingly and with interest to my ever
pacifying words he gradually told me his rather unusual story after a
series of persistent questions.
He is a man of about twenty-six or twenty-eight, of pleasant appearance,
and rather good manners, which show that he is a well-bred man. A
certain quite natural unrestraint in his speech, a passionate vehemence
with which he talks about himself, occasionally a bitter, even ironical
laughter, followed by painful pensiveness, from which it is difficult
to arouse him even by a touch of the hand-- these complete the make-up
of my new acquaintance. Personally to me he is not particularly
sympathetic, and however strange it may seem I am especially annoyed
by his disgusting habit of constantly moving his thin, emaciated fingers
and clutching helplessly the hand of the person with whom he speaks.
K. told me very little of his past life.
"Well, what is there to tell? I was an artist, that's all," he
repeated, with a sorrowful grimace, and refused to talk about the
"immoral act" for which he was condemned to solitary confinement.
"I don't want to corrupt you, grandpa--live honestly," he would jest
in a somewhat unbecoming familiar tone, which I tolerated simply
because I wished to please the Warden of the prison, having learned
from the prisoner the real cause of his sufferings, which sometimes
assumed an acute form of violence and threats. During one of these
painful minutes, when K.'s will power was weak, as a result of
insomnia, from which he was suffering, I seated myself on his bed and
treated him in general with fatherly kindness, and he blurted out
everything to me right there and then.
Not desiring to tire the reader with an exact reproduction of his
hysterical outbursts, his laughter and his tears, I shall give only
the facts of his story.
K.'s grief, at first not quite clear to me, consists of the fact
that instead of paper or canvas for his drawings he was given a large
slate and a slate pencil. (By the way, the art with which he
mastered the material, which was new to him, is remarkable. I have
seen some of his productions, and it seems to me that they could
satisfy the taste of the most fastidious expert of graphic arts.
Personally I am indifferent to the art of painting, preferring live
and truthful nature.) Thus, owing to the nature of the material,
before commencing a new picture, K. had to destroy the previous one
by wiping it off his slate, and this seemed to lead him every time to
the verge of madness.
"You cannot imagine what it means," he would say, clutching my hands
with his thin, clinging fingers. "While I draw, you know, I forget
entirely that it is useless; I am usually very cheerful and I even
whistle some tune, and once I was even incarcerated for that, as it is
forbidden to whistle in this cursed prison. But that is a trifle--for
I had at least a good sleep there. But when I finish my picture--no,
even when I approach the end of the picture, I am seized with a sensation
so terrible that I feel like tearing the brain from my head and trampling
it with my feet. Do you understand me?"
"I understand you, my friend, I understand you perfectly, and I
sympathise with you."
"Really? Well, then, listen, old man. I make the last strokes with
so much pain, with such a sense of sorrow and hopelessness, as though
I were bidding good-bye to the person I loved best of all. But here
I have finished it. Do you understand what it means? It means that
it has assumed life, that it lives, that there is a certain
mysterious spirit in it. And yet it is already doomed to death, it
is dead already, dead like a herring. Can you understand it at all?
I do not understand it. And, now, imagine, I--fool that I am--I
nevertheless rejoice, I cry and rejoice. No, I think, this picture I
shall not destroy; it is so good that I shall not destroy it. Let it
live. And it is a fact that at such times I do not feel like drawing
anything new, I have not the slightest desire for it. And yet it is
dreadful. Do you understand me?"
"Perfectly, my friend. No doubt the drawing ceases to please you on
the following day--"
"Oh, what nonsense you are prating, old man! (That is exactly what
he said. 'Nonsense.') How can a dying child cease to please you?
Of course, if he lived, he might have become a scoundrel, but when he
is dying-- No, old man, that isn't it. For I am killing it myself.
I do not sleep all night long, I jump up, I look at it, and I love it
so dearly that I feel like stealing it. Stealing it from whom? What
do I know? But when morning sets in I feel that I cannot do without
it, that I must take up that cursed pencil again and create anew.
What a mockery! To create! What am I, a galley slave?"
"My friend, you are in a prison."
"My dear old man! When I begin to steal over to the slate with the
sponge in my hand I feel like a murderer. It happens that I go
around it for a day or two. Do you know, one day I bit off a finger
of my right hand so as not to draw any more, but that, of course, was
only a trifle, for I started to learn drawing with my left hand.
What is this necessity for creating! To create by all means, create
for suffering--create with the knowledge that it will all perish! Do
you understand it?"
"Finish it, my friend, don't be agitated; then I will expound to you
Unfortunately, my advice hardly reached the ears of K. In one of
those paroxysms of despair, which frighten the Warden of our prison,
K. began to throw himself about in his bed, tear his clothes, shout
and sob, manifesting in general all the symptoms of extreme
mortification. I looked at the sufferings of the unfortunate youth
with deep emotion (compared with me he was a youth), vainly endeavouring
to hold his fingers which were tearing his clothes. I knew that for
this breach of discipline new incarceration awaited him.
"O, impetuous youth," I thought when he had grown somewhat calmer,
and I was tenderly unfolding his fine hair which had become
entangled, "how easily you fall into despair! A bit of drawing,
which may in the end fall into the hands of a dealer in old rags, or
a dealer in old bronze and cemented porcelain, can cause you so much
suffering!" But, of course, I did not tell this to my youthful
friend, striving, as any one should under similar circumstances, not
to irritate him by unnecessary contradictions.
"Thank you, old man," said K., apparently calm now. "To tell the
truth you seemed very strange to me at first; your face is so
venerable, but your eyes. Have you murdered anybody, old man?"
I deliberately quote the malicious and careless phrase to show how
in the eyes of lightminded and shallow people the stamp of a terrible
accusation is transformed into the stamp of the crime itself.
Controlling my feeling of bitterness, I remarked calmly to the
"You are an artist, my child; to you are known the mysteries of the
human face, that flexible, mobile and deceptive masque, which, like
the sea, reflects the hurrying clouds and the azure ether. Being
green, the sea turns blue under the clear sky and black when the sky
is black, when the heavy clouds are dark. What do you want of my
face, over which hangs an accusation of the most cruel crime?"
But, occupied with his own thoughts, the artist apparently paid no
particular attention to my words and continued in a broken voice:
"What am I to do? You saw my drawing. I destroyed it, and it is
already a whole week since I touched my pencil. Of course," he
resumed thoughtfully, rubbing his brow, "it would be better to break
the slate; to punish me they would not give me another one--"
"You had better return it to the authorities."
"Very well, I may hold out another week, but what then? I know
myself. Even now that devil is pushing my hand: 'Take the pencil,
take the pencil.'"
At that moment, as my eyes wandered distractedly over his cell, I
suddenly noticed that some of the artist's clothes hanging on the
wall were unnaturally stretched, and one end was skilfully fastened
by the back of the cot. Assuming an air that I was tired and that I
wanted to walk about in the cell, I staggered as from a quiver of
senility in my legs, and pushed the clothes aside. The entire wall
was covered with drawings!
The artist had already leaped from his cot, and thus we stood facing
each other in silence. I said in a tone of gentle reproach:
"How did you allow yourself to do this, my friend? You know the
rules of the prison, according to which no inscriptions or drawing on
the walls are permissible?"
"I know no rules," said K. morosely.
"And then," I continued, sternly this time, "you lied to me, my
friend. You said that you did not take the pencil into your hands
for a whole week."
"Of course I didn't," said the artist, with a strange smile, and
even a challenge. Even when caught red-handed, he did not betray any
signs of repentance, and looked rather sarcastic than guilty. Having
examined more closely the drawings on the wall, which represented
human figures in various positions, I became interested in the
strange reddish-yellow colour of an unknown pencil.
"Is this iodine? You told me that you had a pain and that you
"No. It is blood."
I must say frankly that I even liked him at that moment.
"How did you get it?"
"From my hand."
"From your hand? But how did you manage to hide yourself from the
eye that is watching you?"
He smiled cunningly, and even winked.
"Don't you know that you can always deceive if only you want to do
My sympathies for him were immediately dispersed. I saw before me a
man who was not particularly clever, but in all probability terribly
spoiled already, who did not even admit the thought that there are
people who simply cannot lie. Recalling, however, the promise I had
made to the Warden, I assumed a calm air of dignity and said to him
tenderly, as only a mother could speak to her child:
"Don't be surprised and don't condemn me for being so strict, my
friend. I am an old man. I have passed half of my life in this
prison; I have formed certain habits, like all old people, and
submitting to all rules myself, I am perhaps overdoing it somewhat in
demanding the same of others. You will of course wipe off these
drawings yourself--although I feel sorry for them, for I admire them
sincerely--and I will not say anything to the administration. We
will forget all this, as if nothing had happened. Are you satisfied?"
He answered drowsily:
"In our prison, where we have the sad pleasure of being confined,
everything is arranged in accordance with a most purposeful plan and
is most strictly subjected to laws and rules. And the very strict
order, on account of which the existence of your creations is so
short lived, and, I may say, ephemeral, is full of the profoundest
wisdom. Allowing you to perfect yourself in your art, it wisely
guards other people against the perhaps injurious influence of your
productions, and in any case it completes logically, finishes,
enforces, and makes clear the meaning of your solitary confinement.
What does solitary confinement in our prison mean? It means that the
prisoner should be alone. But would he be alone if by his
productions he would communicate in some way or other with other
By the expression of K.'s face I noticed with a sense of profound
joy that my words had produced on him the proper impression, bringing
him back from the realm of poetic inventions to the land of stern but
beautiful reality. And, raising my voice, I continued:
"As for the rule you have broken, which forbids any inscription or
drawing on the walls of our prison, it is not less logical. Years
will pass; in your place there may be another prisoner like you--and
he may see that which you have drawn. Shall this be tolerated? Just
think of it! And what would become of the walls of our prison if
every one who wished it were to leave upon them his profane marks?"
"To the devil with it!"
This is exactly how K. expressed himself. He said it loudly, even
with an air of calmness.
"What do you mean to say by this, my youthful friend?"
"I wish to say that you may perish here, my old friend, but I shall
leave this place."
"You can't escape from our prison," I retorted, sternly.
"Have you tried?"
"Yes, I have tried."
He looked at me incredulously and smiled. He smiled!
"You are a coward, old man. You are simply a miserable coward."
I--a coward! Oh, if that self-satisfied puppy knew what a tempest
of rage he had aroused in my soul he would have squealed for fright
and would have hidden himself on the bed. I--a coward! The world
has crumbled upon my head, but has not crushed me, and out of its
terrible fragments I have created a new world, according to my own
design and plan; all the evil forces of life--solitude, imprisonment,
treachery, and falsehood--all have taken up arms against me, but I
have subjected them all to my will. And I who have subjected to
myself even my dreams--I am a coward?
But I shall not tire the attention of my indulgent reader with these
lyrical deviations, which have no bearing on the matter. I continue.
After a pause, broken only by K.'s loud breathing, I said to him
"I--a coward! And you say this to the man who came with the sole
aim of helping you? Of helping you not only in word but also in deed?"
"You wish to help me? In what way?"
"I will get you paper and pencil."
The artist was silent. And his voice was soft and timid when he
"And--my drawings--will remain?"
"Yes; they will remain."
It is hard to describe the vehement delight into which the exalted
young man was thrown; naive and pure-hearted youth knows no bounds
either in grief or in joy. He pressed my hand warmly, shook me,
disturbing my old bones; he called me friend, father, even "dear old
phiz" (!) and a thousand other endearing and somewhat naive names.
To my regret our conversation lasted too long, and, notwithstanding
the entreaties of the young man, who would not part with me, I
hurried away to my cell.
I did not go to the Warden of the prison, as I felt somewhat
agitated. At that remote time I paced my cell until late in the
night, striving to understand what means of escaping from our prison
that rather foolish young man could have discovered. Was it possible
to run away from our prison? No, I could not admit and I must not
admit it. And gradually conjuring up in my memory everything I knew
about our prison, I understood that K. must have hit upon an old
plan, which I had long discarded, and that he would convince himself
of its impracticability even as I convinced myself. It is impossible
to escape from our prison.
But, tormented by doubts, I measured my lonely cell for a long time,
thinking of various plans that might relieve K.'s position and thus
divert him from the idea of making his escape. He must not run away
from our prison under any circumstances. Then I gave myself to
peaceful and sound sleep, with which benevolent nature has rewarded
those who have a clear conscience and a pure soul.
By the way, lest I forget, I shall mention the fact that I destroyed
my "Diary of a Prisoner" that night. I had long wished to do it, but
the natural pity and faint-hearted love which we feel for our
blunders and our shortcomings restrained me; besides, there was
nothing in my "Diary" that could have compromised me in any way. And
if I have destroyed it now it is due solely to my desire to throw my
past into oblivion and to save my reader from the tediousness of long
complaints and moans, from the horror of sacrilegious cursings. May
it rest in peace!
Having conveyed to the Warden of our prison the contents of my
conversation with K., I asked him not to punish the young man for
spoiling the walls, which would thus betray me, and I, to save the
youth, suggested the following plan, which was accepted by the Warden
after a few purely formal objections.
"It is important for him," I said, "that his drawings should be
preserved, but it is apparently immaterial to him in whose possession
these drawings are. Let him, then, avail himself of his art, paint
your portrait, Mr. Warden, and after that the portraits of the entire
staff of your officials. To say nothing of the honour you would show
him by this condescension--an honour which he will surely know how to
appreciate--the painting may be useful to you as a very original
ornament in your drawing room or study. Besides, nothing will
prevent us from destroying the drawings if we should not care for
them, for the naive and somewhat selfish young man apparently does
not even admit the thought that anybody's hand would destroy his
Smiling, the Warden suggested, with a politeness that flattered me
extremely, that the series of portraits should commence with mine. I
quote word for word that which the Warden said to me:
"Your face actually calls for reproduction on canvas. We shall hang
your portrait in the office."
The zeal of creativeness--these are the only words I can apply to
the passionate, silent agitation in which K. reproduced my features.
Usually talkative, he now maintained silence for hours, leaving
unanswered my jests and remarks.
"Be silent, old man, be silent--you are at your best when you are
silent," he repeated persistently, calling forth an involuntary smile
by his zeal as a professional.
My portrait would remind you, my indulgent reader, of that
mysterious peculiarity of artists, according to which they very often
transmit their own feelings, even their external features, to the
subject upon which they are working. Thus, reproducing with
remarkable likeness, the lower part of my face, where kindness and
the expression of authoritativeness and calm dignity are so
harmoniously blended, K. undoubtedly introduced into my eyes his own
suffering and even his horror. Their fixed, immobile gaze; madness
glimmering somewhere in their depth; the painful eloquence of a deep
and infinitely lonely soul--all that was not mine.
"Is this I?" I exclaimed, laughing, when from the canvas this
terrible face, full of wild contradictions, stared at me. "My
friend, I do not congratulate you on this portrait. I do not think
it is successful."
"It is you, old man, you! It is well drawn. You criticise it
wrongly. Where will you hang it?"
He grew talkative again like a magpie, that amiable young man, and
all because his wretched painting was to be preserved for some time.
O impetuous, O happy youth! Here I could not restrain myself from a
little jest for the purpose of teaching a lesson to the self-confident
youngster, so I asked him, with a smile:
"Well, Mr. Artist, what do you think? Am I murderer or not?"
The artist, closing one eye, examined me and the portrait
critically. Then whistling a polka, he answered recklessly: "The
devil knows you, old man!"
I smiled. K. understood my jest at last, burst out laughing and
then said with sudden seriousness:
"You are speaking of the human face but do you know that there is
nothing worse in the world than the human face? Even when it tells
the truth, when it shouts about the truth, it lies, it lies, old man,
for it speaks its own language. Do you know, old man, a terrible
incident happened to me? It was in one of the picture galleries in
Spain. I was examining a portrait of Christ, when suddenly--Christ,
you understand, Christ--great eyes, dark, terrible suffering, sorrow,
grief, love--well, in a word--Christ. Suddenly I was struck with
something; suddenly it seemed to me that it was the face of the
greatest wrongdoer, tormented by the greatest unheard-of woes of
repentance-- Old man, why do you look at me so! Old man!"
Nearing my eyes to the very face of the artist, I asked him in a
cautious whisper, as the occasion required, dividing each word from
"Don't you think that when the devil tempted Him in the desert He did
not renounce him, as He said later, but consented, sold Himself--that
He did not renounce the devil, but sold Himself. Do you understand?
Does not that passage in the Gospels seem doubtful to you?"
Extreme fright was expressed on the face of my young friend. Forcing
the palms of his hands against my chest, as if to push me away, he
ejaculated in a voice so low that I could hardly hear his indistinct
"What? You say Jesus sold Himself? What for?"
I explained softly:
"That the people, my child, that the people should believe Him."
I smiled. K.'s eyes became round, as if a noose was strangling him.
Suddenly, with that lack of respect for old age which was one of his
characteristics, he threw me down on the bed with a sharp thrust and
jumped away into a corner. When I was slowly getting up from the
awkward position into which the unrestraint of that young man had
forced me--I fell backward, with my head between the pillow and the
back of the bed--he cried to me loudly:
"Don't you dare! Don't you dare get up, you Devil."
But I did not think of rising to my feet. I simply sat down on the
bed, and, thus seated, with an involuntary smile at the passionate
outburst of the youth, I shook my head good naturedly and laughed.
"Oh, young man, young man! You yourself have drawn me into this
But he stared at me stubbornly, wide eyed, and kept repeating:
"Sit there, sit there! I did not say this. No, no!"
"You said it, you, young man--you. Do you remember Spain, the
picture gallery! You said it and now you deny it, mocking my clumsy
old age. Oh!"
K. suddenly lowered his hands and admitted in a low voice:
"Yes. I said it. But you, old man--"
I do not remember what he said after that--it is so hard to recall all
the childish chatter of this kind, but unfortunately too light-minded
young man. I remember only that we parted as friends, and he pressed
my hand warmly, expressing to me his sincere gratitude, even calling me,
so far as I can remember, his "saviour."
By the way, I succeeded in convincing the Warden that the portrait
of even such a man as I, after all a prisoner, was out of place in
such a solemn official room as the office of our prison. And now the
portrait hangs on the wall of my cell, pleasantly breaking the cold
monotony of the pure white walls.
Leaving for a time our artist, who is now carried away by the
portrait of the Warden, I shall continue my story.
My spiritual clearness, as I had the pleasure of informing the reader
before, has built up for me a considerable circle of men and women
admirers. With self-evident emotion I shall tell of the pleasant
hours of our hearty conversations, which I modestly call "My talks."
It is difficult for me to explain how I deserved it, but the majority
of those who come to me regard me with a feeling of the profoundest
respect, even adoration, and only a few come for the purpose of
arguing with me, but these arguments are usually of a moderate and
proper character. I usually seat myself in the middle of the room,
in a soft and deep armchair, which is furnished me for this occasion
by the Warden; my hearers surround me closely, and some of them, the
more enthusiastic youths and maidens, seat themselves at my feet.
Having before me an audience more than half of which is composed of
women, and entirely disposed in my favour, I always appeal not so
much to the mind as to the sensitive and truthful heart. Fortunately
I possess a certain oratorical power, and the customary effects of
the oratorical art, to which all preachers, beginning in all
probability with Mohammed, have resorted, and which I can handle
rather cleverly, allow me to influence my hearers in the desired
direction. It is easily understood that to the dear ladies in my
audience I am not so much the sage, who has solved the mystery of the
iron grate, as a great martyr of a righteous cause, which they do not
quite understand. Shunning abstract discussions, they eagerly hang
on every word of compassion and kindness, and respond with the same.
Allowing them to love me and to believe in my immutable knowledge of
life, I afford them the happy opportunity to depart at least for a
time from the coldness of life, from its painful doubts and questions.
I say openly without any false modesty, which I despise even as I
despise hypocrisy, there were lectures at which I myself being in a
state of exaltation, called forth in my audience, especially in my
nervous lady visitors, a mood of intense agitation, which turned into
hysterical laughter and tears. Of course I am not a prophet; I am
merely a modest thinker, but no one would succeed in convincing my
lady admirers that there is no prophetic meaning and significance in
I remember one such lecture which took place two months ago. The
night before I could not sleep as soundly as I usually slept; perhaps
it was simply because of the full moon, which affects sleep,
disturbing and interrupting it. I vaguely remember the strange
sensation which I experienced when the pale crescent of the moon
appeared in my window and the iron squares cut it with ominous black
lines into small silver squares....
When I started for the lecture I felt exhausted and rather inclined
to silence than to conversation; the vision of the night before
disturbed me. But when I saw those dear faces, those eyes full of
hope and ardent entreaty for friendly advice; when I saw before me
that rich field, already ploughed, waiting only for the good seed to
be sown, my heart began to burn with delight, pity and love.
Avoiding the customary formalities which accompany the meetings of
people, declining the hands outstretched to greet me, I turned to the
audience, which was agitated at the very sight of me, and gave them
my blessing with a gesture to which I know how to lend a peculiar
"Come unto me," I exclaimed; "come unto me; you who have gone away
from that life. Here, in this quiet abode, under the sacred
protection of the iron grate, at my heart overflowing with love, you
will find rest and comfort. My beloved children, give me your sad
soul, exhausted from suffering, and I shall clothe it with light. I
shall carry it to those blissful lands where the sun of eternal truth
and love never sets."
Many had begun to cry already, but, as it was too early for tears, I
interrupted them with a gesture of fatherly impatience, and continued:
"You, dear girl, who came from the world which calls itself free--
what gloomy shadows lie on your charming and beautiful face! And
you, my daring youth, why are you so pale? Why do I see, instead of
the ecstasy of victory, the fear of defeat in your lowered eyes? And
you, honest mother, tell me, what wind has made your eyes so red?
What furious rain has lashed your wizened face? What snow has
whitened your hair, for it used to be dark?"
But the weeping and the sobs drowned the end of my speech, and
besides, I admit it without feeling ashamed of it, I myself brushed
away more than one treacherous tear from my eyes. Without allowing
the agitation to subside completely, I called in a voice of stern and
"Do not weep because your soul is dark, stricken with misfortunes,
blinded by chaos, clipped of its wings by doubts; give it to me and I
shall direct it toward the light, toward order and reason. I know
the truth. I have conceived the world! I have discovered the great
principle of its purpose! I have solved the sacred formula of the
iron grate! I demand of you--swear to me by the cold iron of its
squares that henceforth you will confess to me without shame or fear
all your deeds, your errors and doubts, all the secret thoughts of
your soul and the dreams and desires of your body!"
"We swear! We swear! We swear! Save us! Reveal to us the truth!
Take our sins upon yourself! Save us! Save us!" numerous
I must mention the sad incident which occurred during that same
lecture. At the moment when the excitement reached its height and
the hearts had already opened, ready to unburden themselves, a
certain youth, looking morose and embittered, exclaimed loudly,
evidently addressing himself to me:
"Liar! Do not listen to him. He is lying!"
The indulgent reader will easily believe that it was only by a great
effort that I succeeded in saving the incautious youth from the fury
of the audience. Offended in that which is most precious to a human
being, his faith in goodness and the divine purpose of life, my women
admirers rushed upon the foolish youth in a mob and would have beaten
him cruelly. Remembering, however, that there was more joy to the
pastor in one sinner who repents than in ten righteous men, I took
the young man aside where no one could hear us, and entered into a
brief conversation with him.
"Did you call me a liar, my child?"
Moved by my kindness, the poor young man became confused and
"Pardon me for my harshness, but it seems to me that you are not
telling the truth."
"I understand you, my friend. You must have been agitated by the
intense ecstasy of the women, and you, as a sensible man, not
inclined to mysticism, suspected me of fraud, of a hideous fraud.
No, no, don't excuse yourself. I understand you. But I wish you
would understand me. Out of the mire of superstitions, out of the
deep gulf of prejudices and unfounded beliefs, I want to lead their
strayed thoughts and place them upon the solid foundation of strictly
logical reasoning. The iron grate, which I mentioned, is not a
mystical sign; it is only a formula, a simple, sober, honest,
mathematical formula. To you, as a sensible man, I will willingly
explain this formula. The grate is the scheme in which are placed
all the laws guiding the universe, which do away with chaos,
substituting in its place strict, iron, inviolable order, forgotten
by mankind. As a brightminded man you will easily understand--"
"Pardon me. I did not understand you, and if you will permit me I--
But why do you make them swear?"
"My friend, the soul of man, believing itself free and constantly
suffering from this spurious freedom, is demanding fetters for itself
--to some these fetters are an oath, to others a vow, to still others
simply a word of honour. You will give me your word of honour, will
"And by this you are simply striving to enter the harmony of the
world, where everything is subjected to a law. Is not the falling of
a stone the fulfilment of a vow, of the vow called the law of
I shall not go into detail about this conversation and the others
that followed. The obstinate and unrestrained youth, who had
insulted me by calling me liar, became one of my warmest adherents.
I must return to the others. During the time that I talked with the
young man, the desire for penitence among my charming proselytes
reached its height. Not patient enough to wait for me, they
commenced in a state of intense ecstasy to confess to one another,
giving to the room an appearance of a garden where dozens of birds of
paradise were twittering at the same time. When I returned, each of
them separately unfolded her agitated soul to me....
I saw how, from day to day, from hour to hour, terrible chaos was
struggling in their souls with an eager inclination for harmony and
order; how in the bloody struggle between eternal falsehood and
immortal truth, falsehood, through inconceivable ways, passed into
truth, and truth became falsehood. I found in the human soul all the
forces in the world, and none of them was dormant, and in the mad
whirlpool each soul became like a fountain, whose source is the abyss
of the sea and whose summit the sky. And every human being, as I
have learned and seen, is like the rich and powerful master who gave
a masquerade ball at his castle and illuminated it with many lights;
and strange masks came from everywhere and the master greeted them,
bowing courteously, and vainly asking them who they were; and new,
ever stranger, ever more terrible, masks were arriving, and the
master bowed to them ever more courteously, staggering from fatigue
and fear. And they were laughing and whispering strange words about
the eternal chaos, whence they came, obeying the call of the master.
And lights were burning in the castle--and in the distance lighted
windows were visible, reminding him of the festival, and the
exhausted master kept bowing ever lower, ever more courteously, ever
more cheerfully. My indulgent reader will easily understand that in
addition to a certain sense of fear which I experienced, the greatest
delight and even joyous emotion soon came upon me--for I saw that
eternal chaos was defeated and the triumphant hymn of bright harmony
was rising to the skies....
Not without a sense of pride I shall mention the modest offerings by
which my kind admirers were striving to express to me their feelings
of love and adoration. I am not afraid of calling out a smile on the
lips of my readers, for I feel how comical it is--I will say that
among the offerings brought me at first were fruit, cakes, all kinds
of sweet-meats. But I am afraid, however, that no one will believe
me when I say that I have actually declined these offerings,
preferring the observance of the prison regime in all its rigidness.
At the last lecture, a kind and honourable lady brought me a
basketful of live flowers. To my regret, I was compelled to decline
this present, too.
"Forgive me, madam, but flowers do not enter into the system of our
prison. I appreciate very much your magnanimous attention--I kiss
your hands, madam--" I said, "but I am compelled to decline the
flowers. Travelling along the thorny road to self-renunciation, I
must not caress my eyes with the ephemeral and illusionary beauty of
these charming lilies and roses. All flowers perish in our prison,
Yesterday another lady brought me a very valuable crucifix of ivory,
a family heirloom, she said. Not afflicted with the sin of
hypocrisy, I told my generous lady frankly that I do not believe in
"But at the same time," I said, "I regard with the profoundest
respect Him who is justly called the Saviour of the world, and I
honour greatly His services to mankind.
"If I should tell you, madam, that the Gospel has long been my
favourite book, that there is not a day in my life that I do not open
this great Book, drawing from it strength and courage to be able to
continue my hard course--you will understand that your liberal gift
could not have fallen into better hands. Henceforth, thanks to you,
the sad solitude of my cell will vanish; I am not alone. I bless
you, my daughter."
I cannot forego mentioning the strange thoughts brought out by the
crucifix as it hung there beside my portrait. It was twilight;
outside the wall the bell was tolling heavily in the invisible
church, calling the believers together; in the distance, over the
deserted field, overgrown with high grass, an unknown wanderer was
plodding along, passing into the unknown distance, like a little
black dot. It was as quiet in our prison as in a sepulchre. I
looked long and attentively at the features of Jesus, which were so
calm, so joyous compared with him who looked silently and dully from
the wall beside Him. And with my habit, formed during the long years
of solitude, of addressing inanimate things aloud, I said to the
"Good evening, Jesus. I am glad to welcome You in our prison.
There are three of us here: You, I, and the one who is looking from
the wall, and I hope that we three will manage to live in peace and
in harmony. He is looking silently, and You are silent, and Your
eyes are closed--I shall speak for the three of us, a sure sign that
our peace will never be broken."
They were silent, and, continuing, I addressed my speech to the
"Where are you looking so intently and so strangely, my unknown
friend and roommate? In your eyes I see mystery and reproach. Is it
possible that you dare reproach Him? Answer!"
And, pretending that the portrait answered, I continued in a
different voice with an expression of extreme sternness and boundless
"Yes, I do reproach Him. Jesus, Jesus! Why is Your face so pure,
so blissful? You have passed only over the brink of human
sufferings, as over the brink of an abyss, and only the foam of the
bloody and miry waves have touched You. Do You command me, a human
being, to sink into the dark depth? Great is Your Golgotha, Jesus,
but too reverent and joyous, and one small but interesting stroke is
missing--the horror of aimlessness!"
Here I interrupted the speech of the Portrait, with an expression of
"How dare you," I exclaimed; "how dare you speak of aimlessness in
They were silent; and suddenly Jesus, without opening His eyes--He
even seemed to close them more tightly--answered:
"Who knows the mysteries of the heart of Jesus?"
I burst into laughter, and my esteemed reader will easily understand
this laughter. It turned out that I, a cool and sober mathematician,
possessed a poetic talent and could compose very interesting comedies.
I do not know how all this would have ended, for I had already
prepared a thundering answer for my roommate when the appearance of
the keeper, who brought me food, suddenly interrupted me. But
apparently my face bore traces of excitement, for the man asked me
with stern sympathy:
"Were you praying?"
I do not remember what I answered.
Last Sunday a great misfortune occurred in our prison: The artist
K., whom the reader knows already, ended his life in suicide by
flinging himself from the table with his head against the stone
floor. The fall and the force of the blow had been so skilfully
calculated by the unfortunate young man that his skull was split in
two. The grief of the Warden was indescribable. Having called me to
the office, the Warden, without shaking hands with me, reproached me
in angry and harsh terms for having deceived him, and he regained his
calm, only after my hearty apologies and promises that such accidents
would not happen again. I promised to prepare a project for watching
the criminals which would render suicide impossible. The esteemed
wife of the Warden, whose portrait remained unfinished, was also
grieved by the death of the artist.
Of course, I had not expected this outcome, either, although a few
days before committing suicide, K. had provoked in me a feeling of
uneasiness. Upon entering his cell one morning, and greeting him, I
noticed with amazement that he was sitting before his slate once more
drawing human figures.
"What does this mean, my friend?" I inquired cautiously. "And how
about the portrait of the second assistant?"
"The devil take it!"
"The devil take it!"
After a pause I remarked distractedly:
"Your portrait of the Warden is meeting with great success.
Although some of the people who have seen it say that the right
moustache is somewhat shorter than the left--"
"Yes, shorter. But in general they find that you caught the
likeness very successfully."
K. had put aside his slate pencil and, perfectly calm, said:
"Tell your Warden that I am not going to paint that prison riffraff
After these words there was nothing left for me to do but leave him,
which I decided to do. But the artist, who could not get along
without giving vent to his effusions, seized me by the hand and said
with his usual enthusiasm:
"Just think of it, old man, what a horror! Every day a new
repulsive face appears before me. They sit and stare at me with
their froglike eyes. What am I to do? At first I laughed--I even
liked it--but when the froglike eyes stared at me every day I was
seized with horror. I was afraid they might start to quack--qua-qua!"
Indeed there was a certain fear, even madness, in the eyes of the
artist--the madness which shortly led him to his untimely grave.
"Old man, it is necessary to have something beautiful. Do you
"And the wife of the Warden? Is she not--"
I shall pass in silence the unbecoming expressions with which he
spoke of the lady in his excitement. I must, however, admit that to
a certain extent the artist was right in his complaints. I had been
present several times at the sittings, and noticed that all who had
posed for the artist behaved rather unnaturally. Sincere and naive,
conscious of the importance of their position, convinced that the
features of their faces perpetuated upon the canvas would go down to
posterity, they exaggerated somewhat the qualities which are so
characteristic of their high and responsible office in our prison. A
certain bombast of pose, an exaggerated expression of stern
authority, an obvious consciousness of their own importance, and a
noticeable contempt for those on whom their eyes were directed--all
this disfigured their kind and affable faces. But I cannot
understand what horrible features the artist found where there should
have been a smile. I was even indignant at the superficial attitude
with which an artist, who considered himself talented and sensible,
passed the people without noticing that a divine spark was glimmering
in each one of them. In the quest after some fantastic beauty he
light-mindedly passed by the true beauties with which the human soul
is filled. I cannot help feeling sorry for those unfortunate people
who, like K., because of a peculiar construction of their brains,
always turn their eyes toward the dark side, whereas there is so much
joy and light in our prison!
When I said this to K. I heard, to my regret, the same stereotyped
and indecent answer:
"The devil take it!"
All I could do was to shrug my shoulders. Suddenly changing his
tone and bearing, the artist turned to me seriously with a question
which, in my opinion, was also indecent:
"Why do you lie, old man?"
I was astonished, of course.
"Well, let it be the truth, if you like, but why? I am looking and
thinking. Why did you say that? Why?"
My indulgent reader, who knows well what the truth has cost me, will
readily understand my profound indignation. I deliberately mention
this audacious and other calumnious phrases to show in what an
atmosphere of malice, distrust, and disrespect I have to plod along
the hard road of suffering. He insisted rudely:
"I have had enough of your smiles. Tell me plainly, why do you
Then, I admit, I flared up:
"You want to know why I speak the truth? Because I hate falsehood
and I commit it to eternal anathema! Because fate has made me a
victim of injustice, and as a victim, like Him who took upon Himself
the great sin of the world and its great sufferings, I wish to point
out the way to mankind. Wretched egoist, you know only yourself and
your miserable art, while I love mankind."
My anger grew. I felt the veins on my forehead swelling.
"Fool, miserable dauber, unfortunate schoolboy, in love with
colours! Human beings pass before you, and you see only their
froglike eyes. How did your tongue turn to say such a thing ? Oh,
if you only looked even once into the human soul! What treasures of
tenderness, love, humble faith, holy humility, you would have
discovered there! And to you, bold man, it would have seemed as if
you entered a temple--a bright, illuminated temple. But it is said
of people like you--'do not cast your pearls before swine.'"
The artist was silent, crushed by my angry and unrestrained speech.
Finally he sighed and said:
"Forgive me, old man; I am talking nonsense, of course, but I am so
unfortunate and so lonely. Of course, my dear old man, it is all
true about the divine spark and about beauty, but a polished boot is
also beautiful. I cannot, I cannot! Just think of it! How can a
man have such moustaches as he has ? And yet he is complaining that
the left moustache is shorter!"
He laughed like a child, and, heaving a sigh, added:
"I'll make another attempt. I will paint the lady. There is really
something good in her. Although she is after all--a cow."
He laughed again, and, fearing to brush away with his sleeve the
drawing on the slate, he cautiously placed it in the corner.
Here I did that which my duty compelled me to do. Seizing the
slate, I smashed it to pieces with a powerful blow. I thought that
the artist would rush upon me furiously, but he did not. To his weak
mind my act seemed so blasphemous, so supernaturally horrible, that
his deathlike lips could not utter a word.
"What have you done?" he asked at last in a low voice. "You have
And raising my hand I replied solemnly:
"Foolish youth, I have done that which I would have done to my heart
if it wanted to jest and mock me! Unfortunate youth, can you not see
that your art has long been mocking you, that from that slate of
yours the devil himself was making hideous faces at you?"
"Yes. The devil!"
"Being far from your wonderful art, I did not understand you at
first, nor your longing, your horror of aimlessness. But when I
entered your cell to-day and noticed you at your ruinous occupation,
I said to myself: It is better that he should not create at all than
to create in this manner. Listen to me."
I then revealed for the first time to this youth the sacred formula
of the iron grate, which, dividing the infinite into squares, thereby
subjects it to itself. K. listened to my words with emotion, looking
with the horror of an ignorant man at the figures which must have
seemed to him to be cabalistic, but which were nothing else than the
ordinary figures used in mathematics.
"I am your slave, old man," he said at last, kissing my hand with
his cold lips.
"No, you will be my favourite pupil, my son. I bless you."
And it seemed to me that the artist was saved. True, he regarded me
with great joy, which could easily be explained by the extreme
respect with which I inspired him, and he painted the portrait of the
Warden's wife with such zeal and enthusiasm that the esteemed lady
was sincerely moved. And, strange to say, the artist succeeded in
making so strangely beautiful the features of this woman, who was
stout and no longer young, that the Warden, long accustomed to the
face of his wife, was greatly delighted by its new expression. Thus
everything went on smoothly, when suddenly this catastrophe occurred,
the entire horror of which I alone knew.
Not desiring to call forth any unnecessary disputes, I concealed
from the Warden the fact that on the eve of his death the artist had
thrown a letter into my cell, which I noticed only in the morning. I
did not preserve the note, nor do I remember all that the unfortunate
youth told me in his farewell message; I think it was a letter of
thanks for my effort to save him. He wrote that he regretted
sincerely that his failing strength did not permit him to avail
himself of my instructions. But one phrase impressed itself deeply
in my memory, and you will understand the reason for it when I repeat
it in all its terrifying simplicity.
"I am going away from your prison," thus read the phrase.
And he really did go away. Here are the walls, here is the little window
in the door, here is our prison, but he is not there; he has gone away.
Consequently I, too, could go away. Instead of having wasted dozens of
years on a titanic struggle, instead of being tormented by the throes of
despair, instead of growing enfeebled by horror in the face of unsolved
mysteries, of striving to subject the world to my mind and my will, I
could have climbed the table and--one instant of pain--I would be free;
I would be triumphant over the lock and the walls, over truth and
falsehood, over joys and sufferings. I will not say that I had not
thought of suicide before as a means of escaping from our prison, but
now for the first time it appeared before me in all its attractiveness.
In a fit of base faint-heartedness, which I shall not conceal from my
reader, even as I do not conceal from him my good qualities; perhaps
even in a fit of temporary insanity I momentarily forgot all I knew
about our prison and its great purpose. I forgot--I am ashamed to say--
even the great formula of the iron grate, which I conceived and mastered
with such difficulty, and I prepared a noose made of my towel for the
purpose of strangling myself. But at the last moment, when all was ready,
and it was but necessary to push away the taburet, I asked myself, with
my habit of reasoning which did not forsake me even at that time: But
where am I going? The answer was: I am going to death. But what is
death? And the answer was: I do not know.
These brief reflections were enough for me to come to myself, and
with a bitter laugh at my cowardice I removed the fatal noose from my
neck. Just as I had been ready to sob for grief a minute before, so
now I laughed--I laughed like a madman, realising that another trap,
placed before me by derisive fate, had so brilliantly been evaded by
me. Oh, how many traps there are in the life of man! Like a cunning
fisherman, fate catches him now with the alluring bait of some truth,
now with the hairy little worm of dark falsehood, now with the
phantom of life, now with the phantom of death.
My dear young man, my fascinating fool, my charming silly fellow--who
told you that our prison ends here, that from one prison you did not
fall into another prison, from which it will hardly be possible for
you to run away? You were too hasty, my friend, you forgot to ask me
something else--I would have told it to you. I would have told you
that omnipotent law reigns over that which you call non-existence and
death just as it reigns over that which you call life and existence.
Only the fools, dying, believe that they have made an end of themselves
--they have ended but one form of themselves, in order to assume another
Thus I reflected, laughing at the foolish suicide, the ridiculous
destroyer of the fetters of eternity. And this is what I said
addressing myself to my two silent roommates hanging motionlessly on
the white wall of my cell:
"I believe and confess that our prison is immortal. What do you say
to this, my friends?"
But they were silent. And having burst into good-natured laughter--
What quiet roommates I have! I undressed slowly and gave myself to
peaceful sleep. In my dream I saw another majestic prison, and
wonderful jailers with white wings on their backs, and the Chief
Warden of the prison himself. I do not remember whether there were
any little windows in the doors or not, but I think there were. I
recall that something like an angel's eye was fixed upon me with
tender attention and love. My indulgent reader will, of course,
guess that I am jesting. I did not dream at all. I am not in the
habit of dreaming.
Without hoping that the Warden, occupied with pressing official
affairs, would understand me thoroughly and appreciate my idea
concerning the impossibility of escaping from our prison, I confined
myself, in my report, to an indication of several ways in which
suicides could be averted. With magnanimous shortsightedness
peculiar to busy and trusting people, the Warden failed to notice the
weak points of my project and clasped my hand warmly, expressing to
me his gratitude in the name of our entire prison.
On that day I had the honour, for the first time, to drink a glass
of tea at the home of the Warden, in the presence of his kind wife
and charming children, who called me "Grandpa." Tears of emotion
which gathered in my eyes could but faintly express the feelings that
came over me.
At the request of the Warden's wife, who took a deep interest in me,
I related in detail the story of the tragic murders which led me so
unexpectedly and so terribly to the prison. I could not find
expressions strong enough--there are no expressions strong enough in
the human language--to brand adequately the unknown criminal, who not
only murdered three helpless people, but who mocked them brutally in
a fit of blind and savage rage.
As the investigation and the autopsy showed, the murderer dealt the
last blows after the people had been dead. It is very possible,
however--even murderers should be given their due--that the man,
intoxicated by the sight of blood, ceased to be a human being and
became a beast, the son of chaos, the child of dark and terrible
desires. It was characteristic that the murderer, after having
committed the crime, drank wine and ate biscuits--some of these were
left on the table together with the marks of his blood-stained
fingers. But there was something so horrible that my mind could
neither understand nor explain: the murderer, after lighting a cigar
himself, apparently moved by a feeling of strange kindness, put a
lighted cigar between the closed teeth of my father.
I had not recalled these details in many years. They had almost
been erased by the hand of time, and now while relating them to my
shocked listeners, who would not believe that such horrors were
possible, I felt my face turning pale and my hair quivering on my
head. In an outburst of grief and anger I rose from my armchair, and
straightening myself to my full height, I exclaimed:
"Justice on earth is often powerless, but I implore heavenly
justice, I implore the justice of life which never forgives, I
implore all the higher laws under whose authority man lives. May the
guilty one not escape his deserved punishment! His punishment!"
Moved by my sobs, my listeners there and then expressed their zeal
and readiness to work for my liberation, and thus at least partly
redeem the injustice heaped upon me. I apologised and returned to my
Evidently my old organism cannot bear such agitation any longer;
besides, it is hard even for a strong man to picture in his
imagination certain images without risking the loss of his reason.
Only in this way can I explain the strange hallucination which
appeared before my fatigued eyes in the solitude of my cell. As
though benumbed I gazed aimlessly at the tightly closed door, when
suddenly it seemed to me that some one was standing behind me. I had
felt this deceptive sensation before, so I did not turn around for
some time. But when I turned around at last I saw--in the distance,
between the crucifix and my portrait, about a quarter of a yard above
the floor--the body of my father, as though hanging in the air. It
is hard for me to give the details, for twilight had long set in, but
I can say with certainty that it was the image of a corpse, and not
of a living being, although a cigar was smoking in its mouth. To be