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"Well, but I must do what I came here for," he said, trying to pick up courage. "What is to be done now?" He looked round for an official, and seeing a thin little man in the uniform of an officer going up and down behind the people, he approached him.
"Can you tell me, sir," he said, with exceedingly strained politeness of manner, "where the women are kept, and where one is allowed to interview them?"
"Is it the women's ward you want to go to?"
"Yes, I should like to see one of the women prisoners," Nekhludoff said, with the same strained politeness.
"You should have said so when you were in the hall. Who is it, then, that you want to see?"
"I want to see a prisoner called Katerina Maslova."
"Is she a political one?"
"No, she is simply . . ."
"What! Is she sentenced?"
"Yes; the day before yesterday she was sentenced," meekly answered Nekhludoff, fearing to spoil the inspector's good humour, which seemed to incline in his favour.
"If you want to go to the women's ward please to step this way," said the officer, having decided from Nekhludoff's appearance that he was worthy of attention. "Sideroff, conduct the gentleman to the women's ward," he said, turning to a moustached corporal with medals on his breast.
At this moment heart-rending sobs were heard coming from some one near the net.
Everything here seemed strange to Nekhludoff; but strangest of all was that he should have to thank and feel obligation towards the inspector and the chief warders, the very men who were performing the cruel deeds that were done in this house.
The corporal showed Nekhludoff through the corridor, out of the men's into the women's interviewing-room.
This room, like that of the men, was divided by two wire nets; but it was much smaller, and there were fewer visitors and fewer prisoners, so that there was less shouting than in the men's room. Yet the same thing was going on here, only, between the nets instead of soldiers there was a woman warder, dressed in a blue-edged uniform jacket, with gold cords on the sleeves, and a blue belt. Here also, as in the men's room, the people were pressing close to the wire netting on both sides; on the nearer side, the townspeople in varied attire; on the further side, the prisoners, some in white prison clothes, others in their own coloured dresses. The whole length of the net was taken up by the people standing close to it. Some rose on tiptoe to be heard across the heads of others; some sat talking on the floor.
The most remarkable of the prisoners, both by her piercing screams and her appearance, was a thin, dishevelled gipsy. Her kerchief had slipped off her curly hair, and she stood near a post in the middle of the prisoner's division, shouting something, accompanied by quick gestures, to a gipsy man in a blue coat, girdled tightly below the waist. Next the gipsy man, a soldier sat on the ground talking to prisoner; next the soldier, leaning close to the net, stood a young peasant, with a fair beard and a flushed face, keeping back his tears with difficulty. A pretty, fair-haired prisoner, with bright blue eyes, was speaking to him. These two were Theodosia and her husband. Next to them was a tramp, talking to a broad-faced woman; then two women, then a man, then again a woman, and in front of each a prisoner. Maslova was not among them. But some one stood by the window behind the prisoners, and Nekhludoff knew it was she. His heart began to beat faster, and his breath stopped. The decisive moment was approaching. He went up to the part of the net where he could see the prisoner, and recognised her at once. She stood behind the blue-eyed Theodosia, and smiled, listening to what Theodosia was saying. She did not wear the prison cloak now, but a white dress, tightly drawn in at the waist by a belt, and very full in the bosom. From under her kerchief appeared the black ringlets of her fringe, just the same as in the court.
"Now, in a moment it will be decided," he thought.
"How shall I call her? Or will she come herself?"
"She was expecting Bertha; that this man had come to see her never entered her head.
"Whom do you want?" said the warder who was walking between the nets, coming up to Nekhludoff.
"Katerina Maslova," Nekhludoff uttered, with difficulty.
"Katerina Maslova, some one to see you," cried the warder.
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