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"Yes, that solitary confinement is terrible for the young," said the aunt, shaking her head and also lighting a cigarette.
"I should say for every one," Nekhludoff replied.
"No, not for all," answered the aunt. "For the real revolutionists, I have been told, it is rest and quiet. A man who is wanted by the police lives in continual anxiety, material want, and fear for himself and others, and for his cause, and at last, when he is taken up and it is all over, and all responsibility is off his shoulders, he can sit and rest. I have been told they actually feel joyful when taken up. But the young and innocent (they always first arrest the innocent, like Lydia), for them the first shock is terrible. It is not that they deprive you of freedom; and the bad food and bad air--all that is nothing. Three times as many privations would be easily borne if it were not for the moral shock when one is first taken."
"Have you experienced it?"
"I? I was twice in prison," she answered, with a sad, gentle smile. "When I was arrested for the first time I had done nothing. I was 22, had a child, and was expecting another. Though the loss of freedom and the parting with my child and husband were hard, they were nothing when compared with what I felt when I found out that I had ceased being a human creature and had become a thing. I wished to say good-bye to my little daughter. I was told to go and get into the trap. I asked where I was being taken to. The answer was that I should know when I got there. I asked what I was accused of, but got no reply. After I had been examined, and after they had undressed me and put numbered prison clothes on me, they led me to a vault, opened a door, pushed me in, and left me alone; a sentinel, with a loaded gun, paced up and down in front of my door, and every now and then looked in through a crack--I felt terribly depressed. What struck me most at the time was that the gendarme officer who examined me offered me a cigarette. So he knew that people liked smoking, and must know that they liked freedom and light; and that mothers love their children, and children their mothers. Then how could they tear me pitilessly from all that was dear to me, and lock me up in prison like a wild animal? That sort of thing could not be borne without evil effects. Any one who believes in God and men, and believes that men love one another, will cease to believe it after all that. I have ceased to believe in humanity since then, and have grown embittered," she finished, with a smile.
Shoustova's mother came in at the door through which her daughter had gone out, and said that Lydia was very much upset, and would not come in again.
"And what has this young life been ruined for?" said the aunt. "What is especially painful to me is that I am the involuntary cause of it."
"She will recover in the country, with God's help," said the mother. "We shall send her to her father."
"Yes, if it were not for you she would have perished altogether," said the aunt. "Thank you. But what I wished to see you for is this: I wished to ask you to take a letter to Vera Doukhova," and she got the letter out of her pocket.
"The letter is not closed; you may read and tear it up, or hand it to her, according to how far it coincides with your principles," she said. "It contains nothing compromising."
Nekhludoff took the letter, and, having promised to give it to Vera Doukhova, he took his leave and went away. He scaled the letter without reading it, meaning to take it to its destination.
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