the Right Side is inactive as of now.
A tiny, very thin little peasant stood before the examining magistrate.
He wore a striped shirt and patched trousers; his shaggy beard, his
pockmarked face, his eyes scarcely visible under their bushy,
overhanging brows gave him a harsh and forbidding expression, to which
a mane of matted, unkempt hair added a spider-like ferocity. He was
"Denis Grigorieff," began the magistrate, "come nearer and
answer my questions. While patrolling the track on the seventh of last
July, Ivan Akinfoff, the railroad watchman, found you at the one
hundred and forty-first verst (1.1 km or 0.7 Mi) unscrewing one of the
nuts that fasten the rails to the ties. Here is the nut you had when he
arrested you. Is this true?"
"Did everything happen as Akinfoff reports?"
"Yes; just as he reports."
"Very well. Now, what was your object in unscrewing that
"Stop your "What's that?" and answer my question; why did
you unscrew that nut?"
"If I hadn't needed the nut I wouldn't have unscrewed it,"
grunted Denis, glancing at the ceiling.
"What did you need it for?"
"What for? We make sinkers out of nuts."
"Whom do you mean by "we"?"
"We - the people, the peasants of Klimoff."
"Look here, man, no playing the idiot! Talk sense, and don't
lie to me about sinkers!"
"I never lied in my life," muttered Denis, blinking.
"How can one possibly fish without sinkers, your honor? If
you baited your hook with a shiner or a roach, do you think it would
sink to the bottom without a sinker? You tell me I am lying!" laughed
"A fine bait a shiner would make, floating on the top of the
water! Bass and pike and eels always take ground bait; a floating bait
would only be taken by a garfish, and they won't often take it. Anyway,
we haven't any garfish in our river; they like the open."
"Why are you talking to me about garfish?"
"What's that? Didn't you ask me about fishing? All the
gentlemen with us fish like that. The smallest boy knows more than to
fish without a sinker. Of course, there are some people who don't know
anything, and they go fishing without sinkers. Fools obey no laws."
"So you tell me you unscrewed this nut to use as a weight?"
"What else should I have unscrewed it for? To play
"But you might have made a weight out of a piece of lead or
a bullet or a nail or something."
"Lead does not grow on every bush; it has to be bought; and
a nail wouldn't do. There is nothing so good to make a weight of as a
nut. It is heavy and has a hole in it." .
"What a fool he is pretending to be! You act as if you were
one day old or had just dropped from the clouds. Don't you see, you
donkey, what the consequences of this unscrewing must be? If the
watchman hadn't found you, one of the trains might have run off the
track and killed everybody, and you would have killed them!"
"God forbid, your honor! Do you think we are wicked heathen?
Praise be to God, kind master, not only have we never killed anybody,
we have never even thought of it! Holy Mother preserve us and have
mercy upon us! How can you say such things?"
Denis smirked and winked incredulously at the magistrate.
"Huh! For how many years has the whole village been
unscrewing nuts, and not an accident yet? If I were to carry a rail
away, or even to put a log across the track, then, perhaps, the train
might upset, but, Lord! a nut, pooh!"
"But can't you understand that the nuts fasten the rails to
"Yes, we understand that, and so we don't unscrew them all;
we always leave some; we do it carefully; we understand."
Denis yawned and made the sign of the cross over his mouth .
"A train ran; off the track not far from here last year,"
said the magistrate. "Now I know why."
"What did you say?"
"Now, I say, I know why that train ran off the track last
"Yes; you have been educated to know these things, kind
master; you can understand just why everything is; but that watchman is
a peasant who doesn't know anything; he just grabbed me by the coat
collar and dragged me away. One ought to judge first and drag
afterward. But a peasant has the sense of a peasant. You might write
down, your honor, that he hit me twice - in the mouth and in the chest."
"Another nut was found when your house was searched. Where
did you unscrew that one, and when?"
"Do you mean the nut that was lying under the little red
"I haven't any idea where it was lying, but it was found.
Where did you unscrew it?"
"I didn't unscrew it; it was given to me by Ignashka, the
son of one-eyed Simon. That is, I am speaking of the nut under the
little chest; the one in the sleigh in the courtyard, Mitrofan and I
"Mitrofan Petroff. Haven't you heard of him? He's the man
that makes fishing-nets and sells them to the gentlemen. He needs a lot
of nuts in his business - a dozen to every net."
"Listen! In Article 108 I of the Code it says that "Whoever
intentionally commits an act of injury to a railroad, whereby an
accident might result to the trains, and who knows that such an
accident might result" - do you hear that? "who knows" - "shall be
severely punished." You could not but have known what this unscrewing
would lead to. The sentence is exile and hard labor."
"Of course, you know that better than I do. We people live
in darkness. How can we know such things?"
"You know all about it perfectly well. You are lying and
"Why should I lie? Ask anybody in the village if you don't
believe me. They never catch a thing but roach without a sinker; even
gudgeons hardly ever bite unless you use one."
"Now you are going to begin on those garfish again!" smiled
"We don't have garfish in our river. If we let the bait
float on the top without a sinker we sometimes catch a perch, but not
"Oh, stop talking!"
Silence fell. Denis stood first on one leg and then on the other and
stared at the table, winking rapidly as if he saw the sun before his
eyes and not a green table cover. The magistrate was writing quickly.
"I shall have to arrest you and send you to prison."
Denis stopped winking, raised his heavy eyebrows, and looked
inquiringly at the magistrate.
"How do you mean - to prison? Your honor, I haven't time! I
have to go to the fair to collect the three rubles that Gregory owes me
"Stop talking! Don't interrupt!"
"To prison! If there was any reason, of course I'd go, but,
living as I do - what is it for? I haven't robbed anyone; I haven't
even been fighting. If it's the payment of my rent you are thinking
about, you mustn't believe what the bailiff says, your honour. Ask
anyone of the gentlemen; that bailiff is a thief, sir!"
"I'll stop," mumbled Denis. "All the same, I'll swear under
oath that the bailiff has muddled his books. There are three brothers
in our family - Kuzma and Gregory and I - "
"You are interrupting me. Here, Simon!" called the
magistrate, "take this man away."
"There are three brothers in our family," murmured Denis as
two strapping soldiers took hold of him and led him out of the room.
"I can't be responsible for my brother. Kuzma won't pay his
debts, and I, Denis, have to suffer! You call yourselves judges! If our
old master, the general, were alive he would teach you judges your
business. You ought to be reasonable, and not condemn so wildly. Flog a
man if he deserves it - "