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   Chapter 3 III WHY SHOULD I BE HANGED

The Seven Who Were Hanged By Leonid Andreyev Characters: 23411

Updated: 2017-11-29 00:04


Two weeks before the terrorists had been tried the same military district court, with a different set of judges, had tried and condemned to death by hanging Ivan Yanson, a peasant.

Ivan Yanson was a workman for a well-to-do farmer, in no way different from other workmen. He was an Esthonian by birth, from Vezenberg, and in the course of several years, passing from one farm to another, he had come close to the capital. He spoke Russian very poorly, and as his master was a Russian, by name Lazarev, and as there were no Esthonians in the neighborhood, Yanson had practically remained silent for almost two years. In general, he was apparently not inclined to talk, and was silent not only with human beings, but even with animals. He would water the horse in silence, harness it in silence, moving about it, slowly and lazily, with short, irresolute steps, and when the horse, annoyed by his manner, would begin to frolic, to become capricious, he would beat it in silence with a heavy whip. He would beat it cruelly, with stolid, angry persistency, and when this happened at a time when he was suffering from the aftereffects of a carouse, he would work himself into a frenzy. At such times the crack of the whip could be heard in the house, with the frightened, painful pounding of the horse's hoofs upon the board floor of the barn. For beating the horse his master would beat Yanson, but then, finding that he could not be reformed, paid no more attention to him.

Once or twice a month Yanson became intoxicated, usually on those days when he took his master to the large railroad station, where there was a refreshment bar. After leaving his master at the station, he would drive off about half a verst away, and there, stalling the sled and the horse in the snow on the side of the road, he would wait until the train had gone. The sled would stand sideways, almost overturned, the horse standing with widely spread legs up to his belly in a snow-bank, from time to time lowering his head to lick the soft, downy snow, while Yanson would recline in an awkward position in the sled as if dozing away. The unfastened ear-lappets of his worn fur cap would hang down like the ears of a setter, and the moist sweat would stand under his little reddish nose.

Soon he would return to the station, and would quickly become intoxicated.

On his way back to the farm, the whole ten versts, he would drive at a fast gallop. The little horse, driven to madness by the whip, would rear, as if possessed by a demon; the sled would sway, almost overturn, striking against poles, and Yanson, letting the reins go, would half sing, half exclaim abrupt, meaningless phrases in Esthonian. But more often he would not sing, but with his teeth gritted together in an onrush of unspeakable rage, suffering and delight, he would drive silently on as though blind. He would not notice those who passed him, he would not call to them to look out, he would not slacken his mad pace, either at the turns of the road or on the long slopes of the mountain roads. How it happened at such times that he crushed no one, how he himself was never dashed to death in one of these mad rides, was inexplicable.

He would have been driven from this place, as he had been driven from other places, but he was cheap and other workmen were not better, and thus he remained there two years. His life was uneventful. One day he received a letter, written in Esthonian, but as he himself was illiterate, and as the others did not understand Esthonian, the letter remained unread; and as if not understanding that the letter might bring him tidings from his native home, he flung it into the manure with a certain savage, grim indifference. At one time Yanson tried to make love to the cook, but he was not successful, and was rudely rejected and ridiculed. He was short in stature, his face was freckled, and his small, sleepy eyes were somewhat of an indefinite color. Yanson took his failure indifferently, and never again bothered the cook.

But while Yanson spoke but little, he was listening to something all the time. He heard the sounds of the dismal, snow-covered fields, with their heaps of frozen manure resembling rows of small, snow-covered graves, the sounds of the blue, tender distance, of the buzzing telegraph wires, and the conversation of other people. What the fields and telegraph wires spoke to him he alone knew, and the conversation of the people were disquieting, full of rumors about murders and robberies and arson. And one night he heard in the neighboring village the little church bell ringing faintly and helplessly, and the crackling of the flames of a fire. Some vagabonds had plundered a rich farm, had killed the master and his wife, and had set fire to the house.

And on their farm, too, they lived in fear; the dogs were loose, not only at night, but also during the day, and the master slept with a gun by his side. He wished to give such a gun to Yanson, only it was an old one with one barrel. But Yanson turned the gun about in his hand, shook his head and declined it. His master did not understand the reason and scolded him, but the reason was that Yanson had more faith in the power of his Finnish knife than in the rusty gun.

"It would kill me," he said, looking at his master sleepily with his glassy eyes, and the master waved his hand in despair.

"You fool! Think of having to live with such workmen!"

And this same Ivan Yanson, who distrusted a gun, one winter evening, when the other workmen had been sent away to the station, committed a very complicated attempt at robbery, murder and rape. He did it in a surprisingly simple manner. He locked the cook in the kitchen, lazily, with the air of a man who is longing to sleep, walked over to his master from behind and swiftly stabbed him several times in the back with his knife. The master fell unconscious, and the mistress began to run about, screaming, while Yanson, showing his teeth and brandishing his knife, began to ransack the trunks and the chests of drawers. He found the money he sought, and then, as if noticing the mistress for the first time, and as though unexpectedly even to himself, he rushed upon her in order to violate her. But as he had let his knife drop to the floor, the mistress proved stronger than he, and not only did not allow him to harm her, but almost choked him into unconsciousness. Then the master on the floor turned, the cook thundered upon the door with the oven-fork, breaking it open, and Yanson ran away into the fields. He was caught an hour later, kneeling down behind the corner of the barn, striking one match after another, which would not ignite, in an attempt to set the place on fire.

A few days later the master died of blood poisoning, and Yanson, when his turn among other robbers and murderers came, was tried and condemned to death. In court he was the same as always; a little man, freckled, with sleepy, glassy eyes. It seemed as if he did not understand in the least the meaning of what was going on about him; he appeared to be entirely indifferent. He blinked his white eyelashes, stupidly, without curiosity; examined the sombre, unfamiliar courtroom, and picked his nose with his hard, shriveled, unbending finger. Only those who had seen him on Sundays at church would have known that he had made an attempt to adorn himself. He wore on his neck a knitted, muddy-red shawl, and in places had dampened the hair of his head. Where the hair was wet it lay dark and smooth, while on the other side it stuck up in light and sparse tufts, like straws upon a hail-beaten, wasted meadow.

When the sentence was pronounced-death by hanging-Yanson suddenly became agitated. He reddened deeply and began to tie and untie the shawl about his neck as though it were choking him. Then he waved his arms stupidly and said, turning to the judge who had not read the sentence, and pointing with his finger at the judge who read it:

"He said that I should be hanged."

"Who do you mean?" asked the presiding judge, who had pronounced the sentence in a deep, bass voice. Every one smiled; some tried to hide their smiles behind their mustaches and their papers. Yanson pointed his index finger at the presiding judge and answered angrily, looking at him askance:

"You!"

"Well?"

Yanson again turned his eyes to the judge who had been silent, restraining a smile, whom he felt to be a friend, a man who had nothing to do with the sentence, and repeated:

"He said I should be hanged. Why must I be hanged?"

"Take the prisoner away."

But Yanson succeeded in repeating once more, convincingly and weightily:

"Why must I be hanged?"

He looked so absurd, with his small, angry face, with his outstretched finger, that even the soldier of the convoy, breaking the rule, said to him in an undertone as he led him away from the courtroom:

"You are a fool, young man!"

"Why must I be hanged?" repeated Yanson stubbornly.

"They'll swing you up so quickly that you'll have no time to kick."

"Keep still!" cried the other convoy angrily. But he himself could not refrain from adding:

"A robber, too! Why did you take a human life, you fool? You must hang for that!"

"They might pardon him," said the first soldier, who began to feel sorry for Yanson.

"Oh, yes! They'll pardon people like him, will they? Well, we've talked enough."

But Yanson had become silent again.

He was again placed in the cell in which he had already sat for a month and to which he had grown accustomed, just as he had become accustomed to everything: to blows, to vodka, to the dismal, snow-covered fields, with their snow-heaps resembling graves.

And now he even began to feel cheerful when he saw his bed, the familiar window with the grating, and when he was given something to eat-he had not eaten anything since morning. He had an unpleasant recollection of what had taken place in the court, but of that he could not think-he was unable to recall it. And death by hanging he could not picture to himself at all.

Although Yanson had been condemned to death, there were many others similarly sentenced, and he was not regarded as an important criminal. They spoke to him accordingly, with neither fear nor respect, just as they would speak to prisoners who were not to be executed. The warden, on learning of the verdict, said to him:

"Well, my friend, they've hanged you!"

"When are they going to hang me?" asked Yanson distrustfully. The warden meditated a moment.

"Well, you'll have to wait-until they can get together a whole party. It isn't worth bothering for one man, especially for a man like you. It is necessary to work up the right spirit."

"And when will that be?" persisted Yanson. He was not at all offended that it was not worth while to hang him alone. He did not believe it, but considered it as an excuse for postponing the execution, preparatory to revoking it altogether. And he was seized with joy; the confused, terrible moment, of which it was so painful to think, retreated far into the distance, becoming fictitious and improbable, as death always seems.

"When? When?" cried the warden, a dull, morose old man, growing angry. "It isn't like hanging a dog, which you take behind the barn-and it is done in no time. I suppose you would like to be hanged like that, you fool!"

"I don't want to be hanged," and suddenly Yanson frowned strangely. "He said that I should be hanged, but I don't want it."

And perhaps for the first time in his life he laughed, a hoarse, absurd, yet gay and joyous laughter. It sounded like the cackling of a goose, Ga-ga-ga! The warden looked at him in astonishme

nt, then knit his brow sternly. This strange gayety of a man who was to be executed was an offence to the prison, as well as to the very executioner; it made them appear absurd. And suddenly, for the briefest instant, it appeared to the old warden, who had passed all his life in the prison, and who looked upon its laws as the laws of nature, that the prison and all the life within it was something like an insane asylum, in which he, the warden, was the chief lunatic.

"Pshaw! The devil take you!" and he spat aside. "Why are you giggling here? This is no dramshop!"

"And I don't want to be hanged-gaga-ga!" laughed Yanson.

"Satan!" muttered the inspector, feeling the need of making the sign of the cross.

This little man, with his small, wizened face-he resembled least of all the devil-but there was that in his silly giggling which destroyed the sanctity and the strength of the prison. If he laughed longer, it seemed to the warden as if the walls might fall asunder, the grating melt and drop out, as if the warden himself might lead the prisoners to the gates, bowing and saying: "Take a walk in the city, gentlemen; or perhaps some of you would like to go to the village?"

"Satan!"

But Yanson had stopped laughing, and was now winking cunningly.

"You had better look out!" said the warden, with an indefinite threat, and he walked away, glancing back of him.

Yanson was calm and cheerful throughout the evening. He repeated to himself, "I shall not be hanged," and it seemed to him so convincing, so wise, so irrefutable, that it was unnecessary to feel uneasy. He had long forgotten about his crime, only sometimes he regretted that he had not been successful in attacking his master's wife. But he soon forgot that, too.

Every morning Yanson asked when he was to be hanged, and every morning the warden answered him angrily:

"Take your time, you devil! Wait!" and he would walk off quickly before Yanson could begin to laugh.

And from these monotonously repeated words, and from the fact that each day came, passed and ended as every ordinary day had passed, Yanson became convinced that there would be no execution. He began to lose all memory of the trial, and would roll about all day long on his cot, vaguely and happily dreaming about the white melancholy fields, with their snow-mounds, about the refreshment bar at the railroad station, and about other things still more vague and bright. He was well fed in the prison, and somehow he began to grow stout rapidly and to assume airs.

"Now she would have liked me," he thought of his master's wife. "Now I am stout-not worse-looking than the master." But he longed for a drink of vodka, to drink and to take a ride on horseback, to ride fast, madly.

When the terrorists were arrested the news of it reached the prison. And in answer to Yanson's usual question, the warden said eagerly and unexpectedly:

"It won't be long now!"

He looked at Yanson calmly with an air of importance and repeated:

"It won't be long now. I suppose in about a week."

Yanson turned pale, and as though falling asleep, so turbid was the look in his glassy eyes, asked:

"Are you joking?"

"First you could not wait, and now you think I am joking. We are not allowed to joke here. You like to joke, but we are not allowed to," said the warden with dignity as he went away.

Toward evening of that day Yanson had already grown thinner. His skin, which had stretched out and had become smooth for a time, was suddenly covered with a multitude of small wrinkles, and in places it seemed even to hang down. His eyes became sleepy, and all his motions were now so slow and languid as though each turn of the head, each move of the fingers, each step of the foot were a complicated and cumbersome undertaking which required very careful deliberation. At night he lay on his cot, but did not close his eyes, and thus, heavy with sleep, they remained open until morning.

"Aha!" said the warden with satisfaction, seeing him on the following day. "This is no dramshop for you, my dear!"

With a feeling of pleasant gratification, like a scientist whose experiment had proved successful again, he examined the condemned man closely and carefully from head to foot. Now everything would go along as necessary. Satan was disgraced, the sacredness of the prison and the execution was re-established, and the old man inquired condescendingly, even with a feeling of sincere pity:

"Do you want to meet somebody or not?"

"What for?"

"Well, to say good-by! Have you no mother, for instance, or a brother?"

"I must not be hanged," said Yanson softly, and looked askance at the warden. "I don't want to be hanged."

The warden looked at him and waved his hand in silence.

Toward evening Yanson grew somewhat calmer.

The day had been so ordinary, the cloudy winter sky looked so ordinary, the footsteps of people and their conversation on matters of business sounded so ordinary, the smell of the sour soup of cabbage was so ordinary, customary and natural that he again ceased believing in the execution. But the night became terrible to him. Before this Yanson had felt the night simply as darkness, as an especially dark time, when it was necessary to go to sleep, but now he began to be aware of its mysterious and uncanny nature. In order not to believe in death, it was necessary to hear and see and feel ordinary things about him, footsteps, voices, light, the soup of sour cabbage. But in the dark everything was unnatural; the silence and the darkness were in themselves something like death.

And the longer the night dragged the more dreadful it became. With the ignorant innocence of a child or a savage, who believe everything possible, Yanson felt like crying to the sun: "Shine!" He begged, he implored that the sun should shine, but the night drew its long, dark hours remorselessly over the earth, and there was no power that could hasten its course. And this impossibility, arising for the first time before the weak consciousness of Yanson, filled him with terror. Still not daring to realize it clearly, he already felt the inevitability of approaching death, and felt himself making the first step upon the gallows, with benumbed feet.

Day quieted him, but night again filled him with fear, and so it was until one night when he realized fully that death was inevitable, that it would come in three days at dawn with the sunrise.

He had never thought of what death was, and it had no image to him-but now he realized clearly, he saw, he felt that it had entered his cell and was looking for him, groping about with its hands. And to save himself, he began to run wildly about the room.

But the cell was so small that it seemed that its corners were not sharp but dull, and that all of them were pushing him into the center of the room. And there was nothing behind which to hide. And the door was locked. And it was dark. Several times he struck his body against the walls, making no sound, and once he struck against the door-it gave forth a dull, empty sound. He stumbled over something and fell upon his face, and then he felt that IT was going to seize him. Lying on his stomach, holding to the floor, hiding his face in the dark, dirty asphalt, Yanson howled in terror. He lay; and cried at the top of his voice until some one came. And when he was lifted from the floor and seated upon the cot, and cold water was poured over his head, he still did not dare open his tightly closed eyes. He opened one eye, and noticing some one's boot in one of the corners of the room, he commenced crying again.

But the cold water began to produce its effect in bringing him to his senses. To help the effect, the warden on duty, the same old man, administered medicine to Yanson in the form of several blows upon the head. And this sensation of life returning to him really drove the fear of death away. Yanson opened his eyes, and then, his mind utterly confused, he slept soundly for the remainder of the night. He lay on his back, with mouth open, and snored loudly, and between his lashes, which were not tightly closed, his flat, dead eyes, which were upturned so that the pupil did not show, could be seen.

Later, everything in the world-day and night, footsteps, voices, the soup of sour cabbage, produced in him a continuous terror, plunging him into a state of savage uncomprehending astonishment. His weak mind was unable to combine these two things which so monstrously contradicted each other-the bright day, the odor and taste of cabbage-and the fact that two days later he must die. He did not think of anything. He did not even count the hours, but simply stood in mute stupefaction before this contradiction which tore his brain in two. And he became evenly pale, neither white nor redder in parts, and appeared to be calm. Only he ate nothing and ceased sleeping altogether. He sat all night long on a stool, his legs crossed under him, in fright. Or he walked about in his cell, quietly, stealthily, and sleepily looking about him on all sides. His mouth was half-open all the time, as though from incessant astonishment, and before taking the most ordinary thing into his hands, he would examine it stupidly for a long time, and would take it distrustfully.

When he became thus, the wardens as well as the sentinel who watched him through the little window, ceased paying further attention to him. This was the customary condition of prisoners, and reminded the wardens of cattle being led to slaughter after a staggering blow.

"Now he is stunned, now he will feel nothing until his very death," said the warden, looking at him with experienced eyes. "Ivan! Do you hear? Ivan!"

"I must not be hanged," answered Yanson, in a dull voice, and his lower jaw again drooped.

"You should not have committed murder. You would not be hanged then," answered the chief warden, a young but very important-looking man with medals on his chest. "You committed murder, yet you do not want to be hanged?"

"He wants to kill human beings without paying for it. Fool! fool!" said another.

"I don't want to be hanged," said Yanson.

"Well, my friend, you may want it or not, that's your affair," replied the chief warden indifferently. "Instead of talking nonsense, you had better arrange your affairs. You still have something."

"He has nothing. One shirt and a suit of clothes. And a fur cap! A sport!"

Thus time passed until Thursday. And on Thursday, at midnight a number of people entered Yanson's cell, and one man, with shoulder-straps, said:

"Well, get ready. We must go."

Yanson, moving slowly and drowsily as before, put on everything he had and tied his muddy-red muffler about his neck. The man with shoulder-straps, smoking a cigarette, said to some one while watching Yanson dress:

"What a warm day this will be. Real spring."

Yanson's small eyes were closing; he seemed to be falling asleep, and he moved so slowly and stiffly that the warden cried to him:

"Hey, there! Quicker! Have you fallen asleep?"

Suddenly Yanson stopped.

"I don't want to be hanged," said he.

He was taken by the arms and led away, and began to stride obediently, raising his shoulders. Outside he found himself in the moist, spring air, and beads of sweat stood under his little nose. Notwithstanding that it was night, it was thawing very strongly and drops of water were dripping upon the stones. And waiting while the soldiers, clanking their sabres and bending their heads, were stepping into the unlighted black carriage, Yanson lazily moved his finger under his moist nose and adjusted the badly tied muffler about his neck.

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