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The president, who had to take the chair, had arrived early. The president was a tall, stout man, with long grey whiskers. Though married, he led a very loose life, and his wife did the same, so they did not stand in each other's way. This morning he had received a note from a Swiss girl, who had formerly been a governess in his house, and who was now on her way from South Russia to St. Petersburg. She wrote that she would wait for him between five and six p.m. in the Hotel Italia. This made him wish to begin and get through the sitting as soon as possible, so as to have time to call before six p.m. on the little red-haired Clara Vasilievna, with whom he had begun a romance in the country last summer. He went into a private room, latched the door, took a pair of dumb-bells out of a cupboard, moved his arms 20 times upwards, downwards, forwards, and sideways, then holding the dumb-bells above his head, lightly bent his knees three times.
"Nothing keeps one going like a cold bath and exercise," he said, feeling the biceps of his right arm with his left hand, on the third finger of which he wore a gold ring. He had still to do the moulinee movement (for he always went through those two exercises before a long sitting), when there was a pull at the door. The president quickly put away the dumb-bells and opened the door, saying, "I beg your pardon."
One of the members, a high-shouldered, discontented-looking man, with gold spectacles, came into the room. "Matthew Nikitich has again not come," he said, in a dissatisfied tone.
"Not yet?" said the president, putting on his uniform. "He is always late."
"It is extraordinary. He ought to be ashamed of himself," said the member, angrily, and taking out a cigarette.
This member, a very precise man, had had an unpleasant encounter with his wife in the morning, because she had spent her allowance before the end of the month, and had asked him to give her some money in advance, but he would not give way to her, and they had a quarrel. The wife told him that if he were going to behave so, he need not expect any dinner; there would be no dinner for him at home. At this point he left, fearing that she might carry out her threat, for anything might be expected from her. "This comes of living a good, moral life," he thought, looking at the beaming, healthy, cheerful, and kindly president, who, with elbows far apart, was smoothing his thick grey whiskers with his fine white hands over the embroidered collar of his uniform. "He is always contented and merry while I am suffering."
The secretary came in and brought some document.
"Thanks, very much," said the president, lighting a cigarette. "Which case shall we take first, then?"
"The poisoning case, I should say," answered the secretary, with indifference.
"All right; the poisoning case let it be," said the president, thinking that he could get this case over by four o'clock, and then go away. "And Matthew Nikitich; has he come?"
"He is here," replied the secretary.
"Then if you see him, please tell him that we begin with the poisoning case." Breve was the public prosecutor, who was to read the indictment in this case.
In the corridor the secretary met Breve, who, with up lifted shoulders, a portfolio under one arm, the other swinging with the palm turned to the front, was hurrying along the corridor, clattering with his heels.
"Michael Petrovitch wants to know if you are ready? the secretary asked.
"Of course; I am always ready," said the public prosecutor. "What are we taking first?
"The poisoning case."
"That's quite right," said the public prosecutor, but did not think it at all right. He had spent the night in a hotel playing cards with a friend who was giving a farewell party. Up to five in the morning they played and drank, so he had no time to look at this poisoning case, and meant to run it through now. The secretary, happening to know this, advised the president to begin with the poisoning case. The secretary was a Liberal, even a Radical, in opinion.
Breve was a Conservative; the secretary disliked him, and envied him his position.
"Well, and how about the Skoptzy?" [a religious sect] asked the secretary.
"I have already said that I cannot do it without witnesses, and so I shall say to the Court."
"Dear me, what does it matter?"
"I cannot do it," said Breve; and, waving his arm, he ran into his private room.
He was putting off the case of the Skoptzy on account of the absence of a very unimportant witness, his real reason being that if they were tried by an educated jury they might possibly be acquitted.
By an agreement with the president this case was to be tried in the coming session at a provincial town, where there would be more peasants, and, therefore, more chances of conviction.
The movement in the corridor increased. The people crowded most at the doors of the Civil Court, in which the case that the dignified man talked about was being heard.
An interval in the proceeding occurred, and the old woman came out of the court, whose property that genius of an advocate had found means of getting for his client, a person versed in law who had no right to it whatever. The judges knew all about the case, and the advocate and his client knew it better still, but the move they had invented was such that it was impossible not to take the old woman's property and not to hand it over to the person versed in law.
The old woman was stout, well dressed, and had enormous flowers on her bonnet; she stopped as she came out of the door, and spreading out her short fat arms and turning to her advocate, she kept repeating. "What does it all mean? just fancy!"
The advocate was looking at the flowers in her bonnet, and evidently not listening to her, but considering some question or other.
Next to the old woman, out of the door of the Civil Court, his broad, starched shirt front glistening from under his low-cut waistcoat, with a self-satisfied look on his face, came the celebrated advocate who had managed to arrange matters so that the old woman lost all she had, and the person versed in the law received more than 100,000 roubles. The advocate passed close to the old woman, and, feeling all eyes directed towards him, his whole bearing seemed to say: "No expressions of deference are required."
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