Part 6 out of 6
more exact, there was no smoke from the cigar, but a faintly reddish
light was seen. It is characteristic that I did not sense the odour
of tobacco either at that time or later--I had long given up smoking.
Here--I must confess my weakness, but the illusion was striking--I
commenced to speak to the hallucination. Advancing as closely as
possible--the body did not retreat as I approached, but remained
perfectly motionless--I said to the ghost:
"I thank you, father. You know how your son is suffering, and you
have come--you have come to testify to my innocence. I thank you,
father. Give me your hand, and with a firm filial hand-clasp I will
respond to your unexpected visit. Don't you want to? Let me have
your hand. Give me your hand, or I will call you a liar!"
I stretched out my hand, but of course the hallucination did not
deem it worth while to respond, and I was forever deprived of the
opportunity of feeling the touch of a ghost. The cry which I uttered
and which so upset my friend, the jailer, creating some confusion in
the prison, was called forth by the sudden disappearance of the
phantom--it was so sudden that the space in the place where the
corpse had been seemed to me more terrible than the corpse itself.
Such is the power of human imagination when, excited, it creates
phantoms and visions, peopling the bottomless and ever silent
emptiness with them. It is sad to admit that there are people,
however, who believe in ghosts and build upon this belief nonsensical
theories about certain relations between the world of the living and
the enigmatic land inhabited by the dead. I understand that the
human ear and eye can be deceived--but how can the great and lucid
human mind fall into such coarse and ridiculous deception?
I asked the jailer:
"I feel a strange sensation, as though there were the odour of cigar
smoke in my cell. Don't you smell it?"
The jailer sniffed the air conscientiously and replied:
"No I don't. You only imagined it."
If you need any confirmation, here is a splendid proof that all I
had seen, if it existed at all, existed only in the net of my eye.
Something altogether unexpected has happened; the efforts of my
friends, the Warden and his wife, were crowned with success, and for
two months I have been free, out of prison.
I am happy to inform you that immediately upon my leaving the prison
I occupied a very honourable position, to which I could hardly have
aspired, conscious of my humble qualities. The entire press met me
with unanimous enthusiasm. Numerous journalists, photographers, even
caricaturists (the people of our time are so fond of laughter and
clever witticisms), in hundreds of articles and drawings reproduced
the story of my remarkable life. With striking unanimity the
newspapers assigned to me the name of "Master," a highly flattering
name, which I accepted, after some hesitation, with deep gratitude.
I do not know whether it is worth mentioning the few hostile notices
called forth by irritation and envy--a vice which so frequently
stains the human soul. In one of these notices, which appeared, by
the way, in a very filthy little newspaper, a certain scamp, guided
by wretched gossip and baseless rumours about my chats in our prison,
called me a "zealot and liar." Enraged by the insolence of the
miserable scribbler, my friends wanted to prosecute him, but I
persuaded them not to do it. Vice is its own proper punishment.
The fortune which my kind mother had left me and which had grown
considerably during the time I was in prison has enabled me to settle
down to a life of luxury in one of the most aristocratic hotels. I
have a large retinue of servants at my command and an automobile--a
splendid invention with which I now became acquainted for the first
time--and I have skilfully arranged my financial affairs. Live
flowers brought to me in abundance by my charming lady visitors give
to my nook the appearance of a flower garden or even a bit of a
tropical forest. My servant, a very decent young man, is in a state
of despair. He says that he had never seen such a variety of flowers
and had never smelled such a variety of odours at the same time. If
not for my advanced age and the strict and serious propriety with
which I treat my visitors, I do not know how far they would have gone
in the expression of their feelings. How many perfumed notes! How
many languid sighs and humbly imploring eyes! There was even a
fascinating stranger with a black veil--three times she appeared
mysteriously, and when she learned that I had visitors she
disappeared just as mysteriously.
I will add that at the present time I have had the honour of being
elected an honourary member of numerous humanitarian organisations
such as "The League of Peace," "The League for Combating Juvenile
Criminality," "The Society of the Friends of Man," and others.
Besides, at the request of the editor of one of the most widely read
newspapers, I am to begin next month a series of public lectures, for
which purpose I am going on a tour together with my kind impresario.
I have already prepared my material for the first three lectures
and, in the hope that my reader may be interested, I shall give the
synopsis of these lectures.
Chaos or order? The eternal struggle between chaos and order. The
eternal revolt and the defeat of chaos, the rebel. The triumph of
law and order.
What is the soul of man? The eternal conflict in the soul of man
between chaos, whence it came, and harmony, whither it strives
irresistibly. Falsehood, as the offspring of chaos, and Truth, as
the child of harmony. The triumph of truth and the downfall of
THE EXPLANATION OF THE SACRED FORMULA OF THE IRON GRATE
As my indulgent reader will see, justice is after all not an empty
sound, and I am getting a great reward for my sufferings. But not
daring to reproach fate which was so merciful to me, I nevertheless
do not feel that sense of contentment which, it would seem, I ought
to feel. True, at first I was positively happy, but soon my habit
for strictly logical reasoning, the clearness and honesty of my
views, gained by contemplating the world through a mathematically
correct grate, have led me to a series of disillusions.
I am afraid to say it now with full certainty, but it seems to me that
all their life of this so-called freedom is a continuous self-deception
and falsehood. The life of each of these people, whom I have seen
during these days, is moving in a strictly defined circle, which is
just as solid as the corridors of our prison, just as closed as the
dial of the watches which they, in the innocence of their mind, lift
every minute to their eyes, not understanding the fatal meaning of the
eternally moving hand, which is eternally returning to its place, and
each of them feels this, even as the circus horse probably feels it,
but in a state of strange blindness each one assures us that he is
perfectly free and moving forward. Like the stupid bird which is
beating itself to exhaustion against the transparent glass obstacle,
without understanding what it is that obstructs its way, these people
are helplessly beating against the walls of their glass prison.
I was greatly mistaken, it seems, also in the significance of the
greetings which fell to my lot when I left the prison. Of course I
was convinced that in me they greeted the representative of our
prison, a leader hardened by experience, a master, who came to them
only for the purpose of revealing to them the great mystery of
purpose. And when they congratulated me upon the freedom granted to
me I responded with thanks, not suspecting what an idiotic meaning
they placed on the word. May I be forgiven this coarse expression,
but I am powerless now to restrain my aversion for their stupid life,
for their thoughts, for their feelings.
Foolish hypocrites, fearing to tell the truth even when it adorns
them! My hardened truthfulness was cruelly taxed in the midst of
these false and trivial people. Not a single person believed that I
was never so happy as in prison. Why, then, are they so surprised at
me, and why do they print my portraits? Are there so few idiots that
are unhappy in prison? And the most remarkable thing, which only my
indulgent reader will be able to appreciate, is this: Often
distrusting me completely, they nevertheless sincerely go into
raptures over me, bowing before me, clasping my hands and mumbling at
every step, "Master! Master!"
If they only profited by their constant lying--but, no; they are
perfectly disinterested, and they lie as though by some one's higher
order; they lie in the fanatical conviction that falsehood is in no
way different from the truth. Wretched actors, even incapable of a
decent makeup, they writhe from morning till night on the boards of
the stage, and, dying the most real death, suffering the most real
sufferings, they bring into their deathly convulsions the cheap art
of the harlequin. Even their crooks are not real; they only play the
roles of crooks, while remaining honest people; and the role of
honest people is played by rogues, and played poorly, and the public
sees it, but in the name of the same fatal falsehood it gives them
wreaths and bouquets. And if there is really a talented actor who
can wipe away the boundary between truth and deception, so that even
they begin to believe, they go into raptures, call him great, start a
subscription for a monument, but do not give any money. Desperate
cowards, they fear themselves most of all, and admiring delightedly
the reflection of their spuriously made-up faces in the mirror, they
howl with fear and rage when some one incautiously holds up the
mirror to their soul.
My indulgent reader should accept all this relatively, not
forgetting that certain grumblings are natural in old age. Of
course, I have met quite a number of most worthy people, absolutely
truthful, sincere, and courageous; I am proud to admit that I found
among them also a proper estimate of my personality. With the
support of these friends of mine I hope to complete successfully my
struggle for truth and justice. I am sufficiently strong for my
sixty years, and, it seems, there is no power that could break my
At times I am seized with fatigue owing to their absurd mode of
life. I have not the proper rest even at night.
The consciousness that while going to bed I may absent-mindedly have
forgotten to lock my bedroom door compels me to jump from my bed
dozens of times and to feel the lock with a quiver of horror.
Not long ago it happened that I locked my door and hid the key under
my pillow, perfectly confident that my room was locked, when suddenly
I heard a knock, then the door opened, and my servant entered with a
smile on his face. You, dear reader, will easily understand the
horror I experienced at this unexpected visit--it seemed to me that
some one had entered my soul. And though I have absolutely nothing
to conceal, this breaking into my room seems to me indecent, to say
I caught a cold a few days ago--there is a terrible draught in their
windows--and I asked my servant to watch me at night. In the morning
I asked him, in jest:
"Well, did I talk much in my sleep?"
"No, you didn't talk at all."
"I had a terrible dream, and I remember I even cried."
"No, you smiled all the time, and I thought--what fine dreams our
Master must see!"
The dear youth must have been sincerely devoted to me, and I am
deeply moved by such devotion during these painful days.
To-morrow I shall sit down to prepare my lectures. It is high time!
My God! What has happened to me? I do not know how I shall tell my
reader about it. I was on the brink of the abyss, I almost perished.
What cruel temptations fate is sending me! Fools, we smile, without
suspecting anything, when some murderous hand is already lifted to
attack us; we smile, and the very next instant we open our eyes wide
with horror. I--I cried. I cried. Another moment and deceived, I
would have hurled myself down, thinking that I was flying toward the
It turned out that "the charming stranger" who wore a dark veil, and
who came to me so mysteriously three times, was no one else than Mme.
N., my former fiancee, my love, my dream and my suffering.
But order! order! May my indulgent reader forgive the involuntary
incoherence of the preceding lines, but I am sixty years old, and my
strength is beginning to fail me, and I am alone. My unknown reader,
be my friend at this moment, for I am not of iron, and my strength is
beginning to fail me. Listen, my friend; I shall endeavour to tell
you exactly and in detail, as objectively as my cold and clear mind
will be able to do it, all that has happened. You must understand
that which my tongue may omit.
I was sitting, engaged upon the preparation of my lecture, seriously
carried away by the absorbing work, when my servant announced that
the strange lady in the black veil was there again, and that she
wished to see me. I confess I was irritated, that I was ready to
decline to see her, but my curiosity, coupled with my desire not to
offend her, led me to receive the unexpected guest. Assuming the
expression of majestic nobleness with which I usually greet my
visitors, and softening that expression somewhat by a smile in view
of the romantic character of the affair, I ordered my servant to open
"Please be seated, my dear guest," I said politely to the stranger,
who stood as dazed before me, still keeping the veil on her face.
She sat down.
"Although I respect all secrecy," I continued jestingly, "I would
nevertheless ask you to remove this gloomy cover which disfigures
you. Does the human face need a mask?"
The strange visitor declined, in a state of agitation.
"Very well, I'll take it off, but not now--later. First I want to
see you well."
The pleasant voice of the stranger did not call forth any
recollections in me. Deeply interested and even flattered, I
submitted to my strange visitor all the treasures of my mind,
experience and talent. With enthusiasm I related to her the edifying
story of my life, constantly illuminating every detail with a ray of
the Great Purpose. (In this I availed myself partly of the material
on which I had just been working, preparing my lectures.) The
passionate attention with which the strange lady listened to my
words, the frequent, deep sighs, the nervous quiver of her thin
fingers in her black gloves, her agitated exclamations--inspired me.
Carried away by my own narrative, I confess, I did not pay proper
attention to the queer behaviour of my strange visitor. Having lost
all restraint, she now clasped my hands, now pushed them away, she
cried and availing herself of each pause in my speech, she implored:
"Don't, don't, don't! Stop speaking! I can't listen to it!"
And at the moment when I least expected it she tore the veil from
her face, and before my eyes--before my eyes appeared her face, the
face of my love, of my dream, of my boundless and bitter sorrow.
Perhaps because I lived all my life dreaming of her alone, with her
alone I was young, with her I had developed and grown old, with her I
was advancing to the grave--her face seemed to me neither old nor
faded--it was exactly as I had pictured it in my dreams--it seemed
endlessly dear to me.
What has happened to me? For the first time in tens of years I forgot
that I had a face--for the first time in tens of years I looked helplessly,
like a youngster, like a criminal caught red-handed, waiting for some
"You see! You see! It is I. It is I! My God, why are you silent?
Don't you recognise me?"
Did I recognise her? It were better not to have known that face at
all! It were better for me to have grown blind rather than to see
"Why are you silent ? How terrible you are! You have forgotten me!"
Of course, I should have continued in this manner; I saw how she
staggered. I saw how with trembling fingers, almost falling, she was
looking for her veil; I saw that another word of courageous truth,
and the terrible vision would vanish never to appear again. But some
stranger within me--not I--not I--uttered the following absurd,
ridiculous phrase, in which, despite its chilliness, rang so much
jealousy and hopeless sorrow:
"Madam, you have deceived me. I don't know you. Perhaps you
entered the wrong door. I suppose your husband and your children are
waiting for you. Please, my servant will take you down to the
Could I think that these words, uttered in the same stern and cold
voice, would have such a strange effect upon the woman's heart? With
a cry, all the bitter passion of which I could not describe, she
threw herself before me on her knees, exclaiming:
"So you do love me!"
Forgetting that our life had already been lived, that we were old,
that all had been ruined and scattered like dust by Time, and that it
can never return again; forgetting that I was grey, that my shoulders
were bent, that the voice of passion sounds strangely when it comes
from old lips--I burst into impetuous reproaches and complaints.
"Yes, I did deceive you!" her deathly pale lips uttered. "I knew
that you were innocent--"
"Be silent. Be silent."
"Everybody laughed at me--even your friends, your mother whom I
despised for it--all betrayed you. Only I kept repeating: 'He is
Oh, if this woman knew what she was doing to me with her words! If
the trumpet of the angel, announcing the day of judgment, had
resounded at my very ear, I would not have been so frightened as now.
What is the blaring of a trumpet calling to battle and struggle to
the ear of the brave? It was as if an abyss had opened at my feet.
It was as if an abyss had opened before me, and as though blinded by
lightning, as though dazed by a blow, I shouted in an outburst of
wild and strange ecstasy:
"Be silent! I--"
If that woman were sent by God, she would have become silent. If
she were sent by the devil, she would have become silent even then.
But there was neither God nor devil in her, and interrupting me, not
permitting me to finish the phrase, she went on:
"No, I will not be silent. I must tell you all. I have waited for
you so many years. Listen, listen!"
But suddenly she saw my face and she retreated, seized with horror.
"What is it? What is the matter with you? Why do you laugh? I am
afraid of your laughter! Stop laughing! Don't! Don't!"
But I was not laughing at all, I only smiled softly. And then I
said very seriously, without smiling:
"I am smiling because I am glad to see you. Tell me about yourself."
And, as in a dream, I saw her face and I heard her soft terrible
"You know that I love you. You know that all my life I loved you
alone. I lived with another and was faithful to him. I have
children, but you know they are all strangers to me--he and the
children and I myself. Yes, I deceived you, I am a criminal, but I
do not know how it happened. He was so kind to me, he made me
believe that he was convinced of your innocence--later I learned that
he did not tell the truth, and with this, just think of it, with this
he won me."
"I swear to you. For a whole year he followed me and spoke only of
you. One day he even cried when I told him about you, about your
sufferings, about your love."
"But he was lying!"
"Of course he was lying. But at that time he seemed so dear to me, so
kind that I kissed him on the forehead. Then we used to bring you flowers
to the prison. One day as we were returning from you--listen--he suddenly
proposed that we should go out driving. The evening was so beautiful--"
"And you went! How did you dare go out with him? You had just seen
my prison, you had just been near me, and yet you dared go with him.
"Be silent. Be silent. I know I am a criminal. But I was so
exhausted, so tired, and you were so far away. Understand me."
She began to cry, wringing her hands.
"Understand me. I was so exhausted. And he--he saw how I felt--and
yet he dared kiss me."
"He kissed you! And you allowed him ? On the lips?"
"No, no! Only on the cheek."
"No, no. I swear to you."
I began to laugh.
"You responded? And you were driving in the forest--you, my
fiancee, my love, my dream! And all this for my sake? Tell me!
In my rage I wrung her arms, and wriggling like a snake, vainly
trying to evade my look, she whispered:
"Forgive me; forgive me."
"How many children have you?"
But my reason forsook me, and in my growing rage I cried, stamping
"How many children have you? Speak, or I will kill you!"
I actually said this. Evidently I was losing my reason completely
if I could threaten to kill a helpless woman. And she, surmising
apparently that my threats were mere words, answered with feigned
"Kill me! You have a right to do it! I am a criminal. I deceived
you. You are a martyr, a saint! When you told me--is it true that
even in your thoughts you never deceived me--even in your thoughts!"
And again an abyss opened before me. Everything trembled,
everything fell, everything became an absurd dream, and in the last
effort to save my extinguishing reason I shouted:
"But you are happy! You cannot be unhappy; you have no right to be
unhappy! Otherwise I shall lose my mind."
But she did not understand. With a bitter laugh, with a senseless
smile, in which her suffering mingled with bright, heavenly joy, she
"I am happy! I--happy! Oh, my friend, only near you I can find
happiness. From the moment you left the prison I began to despise my
home. I am alone there; I am a stranger to all. If you only knew
how I hate that scoundrel! You are sensible; you must have felt that
you were not alone in prison, that I was always with you there--"
"Be silent! Be silent! If you only heard with what delight I
called him scoundrel!"
She burst into laughter, frightening me by the wild expression on
"Just think of it! All his life he embraced only a lie. And when,
deceived, happy, he fell asleep, I looked at him with wide-open eyes,
I gnashed my teeth softly, and I felt like pinching him, like
sticking him with a pin."
She burst into laughter again. It seemed to me that she was driving
wedges into my brain. Clasping my head, I cried:
"You lie! You lie to me!"
Indeed, it was easier for me to speak to the ghost than to the
woman. What could I say to her? My mind was growing dim. And how
could I repulse her when she, full of love and passion, kissed my
hands, my eyes, my face? It was she, my love, my dream, my bitter
"I love you! I love you!"
And I believed her--I believed her love. I believed everything.
And once more I felt that my locks were black, and I saw myself young
again. And I knelt before her and wept for a long time, and
whispered to her about my sufferings, about the pain of solitude,
about a heart cruelly broken, about offended, disfigured, mutilated
thoughts. And, laughing and crying, she stroked my hair. Suddenly
she noticed that it was grey, and she cried strangely:
"What is it? And life? I am an old woman already."
On leaving me she demanded that I escort her to the threshold, like
a young man; and I did. Before going she said to me:
"I am coming back to-morrow. I know my children will deny me--my
daughter is to marry soon. You and I will go away. Do you love me?"
"We will go far, far away, my dear. You wanted to deliver some
lectures. You should not do it. I don't like what you say about
that iron grate. You are exhausted, you need a rest. Shall it be so?"
"Oh, I forgot my veil. Keep it, keep it as a remembrance of this
day. My dear!"
In the vestibule, in the presence of the sleepy porter, she kissed
me. There was the odour of some new perfume, unlike the perfume with
which her letter was scented. And her coquettish laugh was like a
sob as she disappeared behind the glass door.
That night I aroused my servant, ordered him to pack our things, and
we went away. I shall not say where I am at present, but last night
and to-night trees were rustling over my head and the rain was
beating against my windows. Here the windows are small, and I feel
much better. I wrote her a rather long letter, the contents of which
I shall not reproduce. I shall never see her again.
But what am I to do? May the reader pardon these incoherent
questions. They are so natural in a man in my condition. Besides, I
caught an acute rheumatism while travelling, which is most painful
and even dangerous for a man of my age, and which does not permit me
to reason calmly. For some reason or another I think very often
about my young friend K., who went to an untimely grave. How does he
feel in his new prison?
To-morrow morning, if my strength will permit me, I intend to pay a
visit to the Warden of our prison and to his esteemed wife. Our
I am profoundly happy to inform my dear reader that I have
completely recovered my physical as well as my spiritual powers. A
long rest out in the country, amid nature's soothing beauties; the
contemplation of village life, which is so simple and bright; the
absence of the noise of the city, where hundreds of wind-mills are
stupidly flapping their long arms before your very nose, and finally
the complete solitude, undisturbed by anything--all these have
restored to my unbalanced view of the world all its former steadiness
and its iron, irresistible firmness. I look upon my future calmly
and confidently, and although it promises me nothing but a lonely
grave and the last journey to an unknown distance, I am ready to meet
death just as courageously as I lived my life, drawing strength from
my solitude, from the consciousness of my innocence and my uprightness.
After long hesitations, which are not quite intelligible to me now,
I finally resolved to establish for myself the system of our prison
in all its rigidness. For that purpose, finding a small house in the
outskirts of the city, which was to be leased for a long term of
years, I hired it. Then with the kind assistance of the Warden of
our prison, (I cannot express my gratitude to him adequately enough
in words,) I invited to the new place one of the most experienced
jailers, who is still a young man, but already hardened in the strict
principles of our prison. Availing myself of his instruction, and
also of the suggestions of the obliging Warden, I have engaged
workmen who transformed one of the rooms into a cell. The
measurements as well as the form and all the details of my new, and,
I hope, my last dwelling are strictly in accordance with my plan. My
cell is 8 by 4 yards, 4 yards high, the walls are painted grey at the
bottom, the upper part of the walls and the ceiling are white, and
near the ceiling there is a square window 1 1/2 by 1 1/2 yards, with
a massive iron grate, which has already become rusty with age. In
the door, locked with a heavy and strong lock, which issues a loud
creak at each turn of the key, there is a small hole for observation,
and below it a little window, through which the food is brought and
received. The furnishing of the cell: a table, a chair, and a cot
fastened to the wall; on the wall a crucifix, my portrait, and the
rules concerning the conduct of the prisoners, in a black frame; and
in the corner a closet filled with books. This last, being a
violation of the strict harmony of my dwelling, I was compelled to do
by extreme and sad necessity; the jailer positively refused to be my
librarian and to bring the books according to my order, and to engage
a special librarian seemed to me to be an act of unnecessary
eccentricity. Aside from this, in elaborating my plans, I met with
strong opposition not only from the local population, which simply
declared me to be insane, but even from the enlightened people. Even
the Warden endeavoured for some time to dissuade me, but finally he
clasped my hand warmly, with an expression of sincere regret at not
being in a position to offer me a place in our prison.
I cannot recall the first day of my confinement without a bitter
smile. A mob of impertinent and ignorant idlers yelled from morning
till night at my window, with their heads lifted high (my cell is
situated in the second story), and they heaped upon me senseless
abuse; there were even efforts--to the disgrace of my townspeople--to
storm my dwelling, and one heavy stone almost crushed my head. Only
the police, which arrived in time, succeeded in averting the
catastrophe. When, in the evening, I went out for a walk, hundreds
of fools, adults and children, followed me, shouting and whistling,
heaping abuse upon me, and even hurling mud at me. Thus, like a
persecuted prophet, I wended my way without fear amidst the maddened
crowd, answering their blows and curses with proud silence.
What has stirred these fools? In what way have I offended their
empty heads? When I lied to them, they kissed my hands; now, when I
have re-established the sacred truth of my life in all its strictness
and purity, they burst into curses, they branded me with contempt,
they hurled mud at me. They were disturbed because I dared to live
alone, and because I did not ask them for a place in the "common cell
for rogues." How difficult it is to be truthful in this world!
True, my perseverance and firmness finally defeated them. With the
naivete of savages, who honour all they do not understand, they
commenced, in the second year, to bow to me, and they are making ever
lower bows to me, because their amazement is growing ever greater,
their fear of the inexplicable is growing ever deeper. And the fact
that I never respond to their greetings fills them with delight, and
the fact that I never smile in response to their flattering smiles,
fills them with a firm assurance that they are guilty before me for
some grave wrong, and that I know their guilt. Having lost
confidence in their own and other people's words, they revere my
silence, even as people revere every silence and every mystery. If I
were to start to speak suddenly, I would again become human to them
and would disillusion them bitterly, no matter what I would say; in
my silence I am to them like their eternally silent God. For these
strange people would cease believing their God as soon as their God
would commence to speak. Their women are already regarding me as a
saint. And the kneeling women and sick children that I often find at
the threshold of my dwelling undoubtedly expect of me a trifle--to
heal them, to perform a miracle. Well, another year or two will
pass, and I shall commence to perform miracles as well as those of
whom they speak with such enthusiasm. Strange people, at times I
feel sorry for them, and I begin to feel really angry at the devil
who so skilfully mixed the cards in their game that only the cheat
knows the truth, his little cheating truth about the marked queens
and the marked kings. They bow too low, however, and this hinders me
from developing a sense of mercy, otherwise--smile at my jest,
indulgent reader--I would not restrain myself from the temptation of
performing two or three small, but effective miracles.
I must go back to the description of my prison.
Having constructed my cell completely, I offered my jailer the
following alternative: He must observe with regard to me the rules
of the prison regime in all its rigidness, and in that case he would
inherit all my fortune according to my will, or he would receive
nothing if he failed to do his duty. It seemed that in putting the
matter before him so clearly I would meet with no difficulties. Yet
at the very first instance, when I should have been incarcerated for
violating some prison regulation, this naive and timid man absolutely
refused to do it; and only when I threatened to get another man
immediately, a more conscientious jailer, was he compelled to perform
his duty. Though he always locked the door punctually, he at first
neglected his duty of watching me through the peephole; and when I
tried to test his firmness by suggesting a change in some rule or
other to the detriment of common sense he yielded willingly and
quickly. One day, on trapping him in this way, I said to him:
"My friend, you are simply foolish. If you will not watch me and
guard me properly I shall run away to another prison, taking my
legacy along with me. What will you do then?"
I am happy to inform you that at the present time all these
misunderstandings have been removed, and if there is anything I can
complain of it is rather excessive strictness than mildness. Now
that my jailer has entered into the spirit of his position this
honest man treats me with extreme sternness, not for the sake of the
profit but for the sake of the principle . Thus, in the beginning of
this week he incarcerated me for twenty-four hours for violating some
rule, of which, it seemed to me, I was not guilty; and protesting
against this seeming injustice I had the unpardonable weakness to say
"In the end I will drive you away from here. You must not forget
that you are my servant."
"Before you drive me away I will incarcerate you," replied this
"But how about the money?" I asked with astonishment. "Don't you
know that you will be deprived of it?"
"Do I need your money? I would give up all my own money if I could
stop being what I am. But what can I do if you violate the rule and
I must punish you by incarcerating you?"
I am powerless to describe the joyous emotion which came over me at
the thought that the consciousness of duty had at last entered his
dark mind, and that now, even if in a moment of weakness I wanted to
leave my prison, my conscientious jailer would not permit me to do
it. The spark of firmness which glittered in his round eyes showed
me clearly that no matter where I might run away he would find me and
bring me back; and that the revolver which he often forgot to take
before, and which he now cleans every day, would do its work in the
event I decided to run away.
And for the first time in all these years I fell asleep on the stone
floor of my dark cell with a happy smile, realising that my plan was
crowned with complete success, passing from the realm of eccentricity
to the domain of stern and austere reality. And the fear which I felt
while falling asleep in the presence of my jailer, my fear of his
resolute look, of his revolver; my timid desire to hear a word of praise
from him, or to call forth perhaps a smile on his lips, re-echoed in my
soul as the harmonious clanking of my eternal and last chains.
Thus I pass my last years. As before, my health is sound and my
free spirit is clear. Let some call me a fool and laugh at me; in
their pitiful blindness let others regard me as a saint and expect me
to perform miracles; an upright man to some people, to others--a liar
and a deceiver--I myself know who I am, and I do not ask them to
understand me. And if there are people who will accuse me of
deception, of baseness, even of the lack of simple honour--for there
are scoundrels who are convinced to this day that I committed murder--
no one will dare accuse me of cowardice, no one will dare say that I
could not perform my painful duty to the end. From the beginning
till the end I remained firm and unbribable; and though a bugbear, a
fanatic, a dark horror to some people, I may awaken in others a
heroic dream of the infinite power of man.
I have long discontinued to receive visitors, and with the death of
the Warden of our prison, my only true friend, whom I visited
occasionally, my last tie with this world was broken. Only I and my
ferocious jailer, who watches every movement of mine with mad
suspicion, and the black grate which has caught in its iron embrace
and muzzled the infinite--this is my life. Silently accepting the
low bows, in my cold estrangement from the people I am passing my
I am thinking of death ever more frequently, but even before death I
do not bend my fearless look. Whether it brings me eternal rest or a
new unknown and terrible struggle, I am humbly prepared to accept it.
Farewell, my dear reader! Like a vague phantom you appeared before
my eyes and passed, leaving me alone before the face of life and
death. Do not be angry because at times I deceived you and lied--
you, too, would have lied perhaps in my place. Nevertheless I loved
you sincerely, and sincerely longed for your love; and the thought of
your sympathy for me was quite a support to me in my moments and days
of hardship. I am sending you my last farewell and my sincere
advice. Forget about my existence, even as I shall henceforth forget
about yours forever.
A deserted field, overgrown with high grass, devoid of an echo,
extends like a deep carpet to the very fence of our prison, whose
majestic outlines subdue my imagination and my mind. When the dying
sun illumines it with its last rays, and our prison, all in red,
stands like a queen, like a martyr, with the dark wounds of its grated
windows, and the sun rises silently and proudly over the plain--with
sorrow, like a lover, I send my complaints and my sighs and my tender
reproach and vows to her, to my love, to my dream, to my bitter and
last sorrow. I wish I could forever remain near her, but here I look
back--and black against the fiery frame of the sunset stands my jailer,
stands and waits.
With a sigh I go back in silence, and he moves behind me noiselessly,
about two steps away, watching every move of mine.
Our prison is beautiful at sunset.