The stay at the post-houses was very short. As soon as the vehicles were see_oming along the straight level road, the first set of horses were brough_ut, and the leading tarantass was ready to proceed in two or three minutes.
The other horses were changed as quickly, and in less than ten minutes fro_heir arrival the whole were on their way again. While the horses were bein_hanged the prisoners were permitted to get out and stretch their legs, bu_ere not allowed to exchange a word with each other or with anyone else. A_very fourth stage a bowl of soup with a hunch of bread was brought to eac_risoner by one of the guards at the ostrov or prison, where the convicts wer_odged as they came along. There were rugs in the vehicles to lay over them a_ight when the air was sharp and chilly, although in the day the sun had grea_ower, and the dust rose in clouds under the horses' feet.
There was little of interest to be seen on the journey. Only round th_illages was there any cultivation, and the plains stretched away unbroke_ave by small groups of cattle, horses, and sheep. Although Godfrey had no_inded the shaking of the springless vehicle for the first stage or two, h_elt long before he reached the journey's end as if every bone was dislocated.
As a rule the road was good, but in some places, where it passed throug_wampy tracts, it had given in the spring thaw, and had been cut into dee_uts. Here the shaking as they passed along at night was tremendous. Godfre_nd his companion were dashed against each other or against the sides wit_uch force that Godfrey several times thought his skull was fractured, and h_as indeed thankful when, after forty hours on the road, they drove int_iumen.
Tiumen is a town of over 15,000 inhabitants, and is the first town arrived a_n Siberia proper, the frontier between Russia and that country runnin_etween Ekaterinburg and that town. Here the prisoners were at once placed o_oard a steamer, and Godfrey was glad indeed to throw himself down upon th_ed, where he slept without waking until the steamer got under way in th_orning. He was delighted to see that the port-hole was not, as in the firs_oat, blocked by an outside shutter, but that he could look out over th_ountry as they passed along. For a time the scenery was similar to that whic_hey had been passing over, bare and desolate; but it presently assumed _ifferent character; fields of green wheat stretched away from the river side; comfortable-looking little villages succeeded each other rapidly as th_teamer passed along, and save for the difference of architecture and th_eculiar green domes and pinnacles of the little churches he might have bee_ooking over a scene in England.
The river was about two hundred yards wide here, a smooth and placid stream.
The steamer did not proceed at any great pace, as it was towing behind it on_f the heavy convict barges, and although the passage is ordinarily performe_n a day and a half, it took them nearly a day longer to accomplish, and i_as not until late in the afternoon of the third day that Tobolsk came i_ight. Through his port-hole Godfrey obtained a good view of the town, containing nearly 30,000 inhabitants, with large government buildings, and _reat many houses built of stone. It is built in a very unhealthy position, the country round being exceedingly low and marshy. After passing Tobolsk the_ntered the Obi, one of the largest rivers in Asia. The next morning th_teamer again started for her sixteen-hundred-mile journey to Tomsk. Th_ourney occupied eight days, the convict barge having been left behind a_obolsk.
The time passed tediously to Godfrey, for the banks were low and flat, villages were very rare, and the steamer only touched at three places. Herd_f horses were seen from time to time roaming untended over the country. Th_nly amusement was in watching the Ostjaks, the natives of the banks of th_bi. These people have no towns or villages, but live in rough tents made o_kins. He saw many of them fishing from their tiny canoes, but the steamer di_ot pass near enough to them to enable him to get a view of them, as the_enerally paddled away towards the shore as the steamer approached. He hear_fterwards that they are wonderfully skilful in the use of the bow, which the_se principally for killing squirrels and other small animals. These bows ar_ix feet long, the arrows four feet. The head is a small iron ball, so as t_ill without injuring the fur of small animals, and the feats recorded of th_nglish archers of old times are far exceeded by the Ostjaks. Even at lon_istances they seldom fail to strike a squirrel on the head, and Godfrey wa_nformed by a man who had been present that he saw an Ostjak shoot an arro_igh into the air, and cut it in two with another arrow as it descended, _eat that seemed to him altogether incredible, but is confirmed by th_vidence of Russian travellers.
Tomsk is situated on the river Tom, an affluent of the Obi. The town is abou_he same size as Tobolsk; the climate of the district is considered the bes_n Siberia; the land is fertile, and among the mountains are many valuabl_ines. Although a comparatively small province in comparison to Tobolsk on on_ide and Yeneseisk on the other, it contains an area of half a million squar_iles, and, excluding Russia, is bigger than any two countries of Europ_ogether. It contains a rural population of 725,000-130,000 natives, chiefl_artars and Kalmucs, and 30,000 troops.
Here Godfrey was landed, and marched to the prison. Of these there are two, the one a permanent convict establishment, the other for the temporar_etention of prisoners passing through. Godfrey slipped a few roubles into th_and of his guard, for his watch, money, and the other things in his pocket_ad been restored to him before starting on his journey. After two days' sto_n the prison the journey was continued as before, a soldier sitting by th_river, a police-officer taking the place of the soldier who had befor_ccompanied him. He began to speak to Godfrey as soon as they started.
"We are not so strict now," he said. "You will soon be across the line int_astern Siberia, and you will no longer meet people through whom you migh_end messages or letters. As to escape, that would be out of the questio_ince you left Ekaterinburg, for none can travel either by steamer or pos_ithout a permit, or even enter an inn, and the document must be shown a_very village."
"But I suppose prisoners do escape sometimes," Godfrey said.
"There have not been a dozen escapes in the last fifty years," the policema_aid. "There are great numbers get away from their prisons or employment_very year, but the authorities do not trouble about them; they may take t_he mountains or forests, and live on game for a few months in summer, bu_hen winter arrives they must come in and give themselves up."
"What happens to them then?" Godfrey asked.
"Perhaps nothing but solitary confinement for a bit, perhaps a beating wit_ods, just according to the temper of the chief official at the time. Perhap_f it is a bad case they are sent to the mines for a bit; that is wha_ertainly happens when they are political prisoners."
"Why can't they get right away?"
"Where are they to go to?" the officer said with a laugh. "To the south ther_re sandy deserts where they would certainly die of thirst; to the nort_rackless forests, cold that would freeze a bullock solid in a night, grea_ivers miles wide to cross, and terrible morasses, to say nothing of th_olves who would make short work of you. The native tribes to the west, an_he people of the desert, are all fierce and savage, and would kill anyone wh_ame among them merely for his clothes; and, besides, they get a reward fro_overnment for every escaped prisoner they bring in alive or dead. No, w_on't want bolts or bars to keep prisoners in here. The whole land is _rison-house, and the prisoners know well enough that it is better to liv_nder a roof and to be well fed there than to starve in the forest, with th_rospect of a flogging at the end of their holiday. Still there are thousand_ake to the woods in the summer. The government does not care. Why should it?
It is spared the expense of feeding them, and if they starve to death or kil_ach other off in their quarrels (for the greater part of them would think n_ore of taking life than of killing a fowl) there is an end of all furthe_rouble about them, for you understand, it is only the men who have lif_entences, the murderers, and so on, that attempt to run away; the short- sentence men are not such fools.
"No," he went on kindly, seeing that Godfrey looked depressed at what he ha_eard; "whatever you do don't think of running away. If you behave well, an_ain the good opinion of the authorities, you won't find yoursel_ncomfortable. You will be made a clerk or a store-keeper, and will have _ood deal of liberty after a time. If you try to run away, you will probabl_e sent to the mines; and though it is not so bad there as they say, it is ba_nough."
But even this prospect was not very cheering to Godfrey. Hitherto it ha_eemed to him that there could be no real difficulty, although there might b_any hardships and privations, in making his escape from so vast a prison. H_ad told himself that it must be possible to evade pursuit in so vast _egion; but now it seemed that nature had set so strong a wall round th_ountry that the Russians did not even trouble themselves to pursue, confiden_hat in time the prisoners must come back again. But he was not silent long.
With the buoyancy of youth he put the question aside for the present with th_eflection, "Where there is a will there is a way; anyhow some fellows hav_ot away, and if they have done it, I can."
Godfrey had not as yet realized his situation; the sentence "for life" ha_allen upon his ears but not upon his mind; he still viewed the matter as h_ight have viewed some desperate scrape at school. He had, as he would hav_aid, put his foot in it horribly; but that he should really have to pass hi_hole life in these wilds, should never see England again, his father, mother, or sisters, was a thing that his mind absolutely refused to grasp. "Of cours_ shall get away somehow." This had been the refrain that was constantl_unning through his mind, and even now a satisfactory reply to the assertio_hat not a dozen men had made their escape at once occurred to him. There wa_o motive to induce them to make their escape. They could not return t_ussia, and in any other country they would be even more in exile than here, where everyone spoke their language, and where, as far as he had seen, th_limate was as good as that of Russia, and the country no more flat and ugly.
"There is nothing they can want to escape for," he repeated to himself. "_ave everything to escape for, and I mean to do it." Having once re- established that view to his satisfaction, he began to chat away cheerfull_gain to his companion. "It is not everyone," he said, "who possesses m_dvantages, or who can travel five or six thousand miles by rail, steamer, an_arriage, without ever having to put his hand in his pocket for a singl_opec. The only objection to it is that they don't give me a return ticket."
"That is an objection," the policeman agreed, smiling.
"We are not going to travel night and day, as we did between Ekaterinburg an_iumen, I hope?"
"Oh, no; we shall only travel while it is light."
"Well, that is a comfort. It was bad enough for that short distance. It woul_e something awful if it had to be kept up for a fortnight. How long shall w_e before we get to Irkoutsk?"
"About a month. I know nothing as to what will be done with you beyond that.
You may, for anything I know, go to the mines at Nertchinsk, which are a lon_istance east beyond Irkoutsk; or you may go to Verkhoyansk, a Yakou_ettlement 3000 miles from Irkutsk, within the Arctic Circle. There are lot_f these penal settlements scattered over the country. They do not send th_rdinary convict population there. There is no danger from them; but th_heory is that the politicals are always plotting, and therefore they are fo_he most part sent where by no possibility can they get up trouble."
Godfrey set his lips hard together and asked no questions for the next half- hour. Although the journey was not continued by night the telega was stil_odfrey's constant place of abode. Sometimes it was wheeled under a shed, sometimes it stood in the road, but in all cases the policeman was by his sid_ight and day. Godfrey was indifferent whether he slept in a bed or in th_elega, which, when the straw was fresh shaken up and a couple of rugs lai_pon it, was by no means uncomfortable. The nights were not cold and no rai_ad fallen since he left Nijni. He further reflected that probably there woul_e fleas and other vermin in the post-houses, and that altogether he was _ainer instead of a loser by the regulation.
He was pleased with the appearance of Atchinsk, a bright little town a day'_ourney from Tomsk. It was, like all the Siberian towns, built of wood, bu_he houses were all painted white or gray, picked out with bright colours. I_tood in the middle of a large grass plain, with inclosed meadows of luxurian_erbage and bright flowers, among which large numbers of sheep and cattle wer_eeding. Beyond this the country again became dull and monotonous. Krasnoiars_as the next town reached. Between this town and Kansk the country was agai_ultivated.
Scarce a day passed without large gangs of convicts being overtaken on th_oad. For some distance Godfrey suffered terribly from mosquitoes, whic_warmed so thickly that the peasants working in the fields were obliged t_ear black veils over their faces. Fortunately he had been warned by his guar_t Atchinsk that there would be trouble with these pests on further, and th_an had, at his request, bought for him a few yards of muslin, under whic_hey sat during the day and spread over the telega at night. It was, however, a long and dreary journey, and Godfrey was heartily glad when at last they sa_he domes of Irkoutsk, a city of fifty thousand inhabitants.
They drove rapidly through the town to the prison, where he was placed in _ell by himself. The morning after his arrival the warder entered with a ma_arrying a basin and shaving apparatus.
"Confound it!" Godfrey muttered. "I have been expecting this ever since I sa_he first gang of convicts, but I hoped they did not do it to us."
It was of course useless to remonstrate. His hair, which had grown to a grea_ength since he left St. Petersburg, was first cut short; then the barbe_athered his head and set to work with a razor. Godfrey wondered what hi_articular style of hair was going to be. He had noticed that all the convict_ere partially shaved. Some were left bare from the centre of the head dow_ne side; others had the front half of the head shaved, while the hair at th_ack was left; some had only a ridge of hair running along the top of th_ead, either from the forehead to the nape of the neck or from one ear to th_ther.
"He is shaving me like a monk," he said to himself as the work proceeded.
"Well, I think that is the best after all, for with a cap on it won't show."
When the barber had done he stepped back and surveyed Godfrey with an air o_atisfaction; while the jailer, as he wrote down the particulars in a note- book, grinned. Godfrey passed his hand over his head and found that, as h_upposed, he had been shaved half-way down to the ears; but in the middle o_his bald place the barber had left a patch of hair about the size o_alf-a-crown which stood up perfectly erect. He burst into a shout o_aughter, in which the other two men joined. The jailer patted him approvingl_n the shoulder. "Bravo, young fellow!" he said, pleased at seeing how lightl_odfrey took it, for many of the exiles who had stood bravely the loss o_heir liberty were completely broken down by the loss of a portion of thei_air, which branded them wherever they went as convicts.
Godfrey was then taken out into a large court-yard and out through a gate int_nother inclosure. This had evidently been added but a very short time to th_recincts of the prison. It was of considerable size, being four or five acre_n extent, and was surrounded on three sides by a palisade some fourteen fee_n height, of newly-sawn timber. The wall of the prison formed the fourth sid_f the square. In each corner of the inclosure was placed a clump of si_ittle wooden huts. Two low fences ran across the inclosure at right angles t_ach other, dividing the space into four equal squares. Where the fence_rossed each other there was an inclosure a few yards across, and in this wer_wo sentry-boxes with soldiers, musket in hand, standing by them. A few me_ere listlessly moving about, while others were digging and working in smal_arden patches into which the inclosures were divided. The policeman wh_ccompanied Godfrey led him to one of the little huts. He opened the door an_ent in. A young man was sitting there.
"I have brought you a companion," the policeman said. "He will share your hu_ith you. You can teach him what is required." With this brief introduction h_losed the door behind him and left. The young man had risen, and he an_odfrey looked hard at each other.
"Surely we have met before!" the prisoner said. "I know your face quite well."
"And I know yours also," Godfrey replied.
"Now that you speak I know you. You are the young Englishman, Godfrey Bullen."
"I am," Godfrey replied; "and you?"
"So it is!" Godfrey exclaimed in surprise, and, delighted at this meeting, they shook hands cordially.
"But what are you here for?" Godfrey asked. "I thought that you had obtaine_n appointment at Tobolsk."
"Yes, I was sent out as assistant to the doctor of one of the prisons. _uppose you understood that it was not the sort of appointment one woul_hoose."
"I was certainly surprised when I heard that you were going so far away,"
Godfrey said, "as my friends told me that you had property. It seemed almos_ike going into banishment."
"That was just what it was," the young doctor laughed. "I had been to_utspoken in my political opinions, and one or two of our set had bee_rrested and sent out here; and when I was informed, on the day after I passe_y examinations, that I was appointed to a prison at Tobolsk, it was als_ntimated to me that it would be more agreeable to go there in that capacit_han as a prisoner. As I was also of that opinion, and as, to tell you th_ruth, some of our friends were for pushing matters a good deal farther than _ared about doing, I was not altogether sorry to get out of it."
"But how is it that you are here as a prisoner?" Godfrey asked.
"That is more than I can tell you. Some two months ago the governor of th_rison entered my room with two warders, and informed me briefly that I was t_e sent here as a prisoner. I had ten minutes given me to pack up my thing_or the journey, and half an hour later was in the cabin of a steamer, with _ossack at the door. What it was for, Heaven only knows. I had never broke_ny regulations, never spoken to a political prisoner when in the hospita_xcept to ask him medical questions, and had never opened my lips on politic_o a soul there."
"I think perhaps I can enlighten you," Godfrey said; and he related to him th_ttempt to blow up the emperor at the Winter Palace, and the fate of Petrof_tepanoff and Akim Soushiloff.
"That does indeed explain it," Alexis said. "I was very intimate with both o_hem, and it is quite enough to have been intimate with two men engaged in _lot against the life of the Czar to ensure one a visit to Siberia. So that i_t! I have thought of everything, and it seemed to me that it must have bee_omething at St. Petersburg—that my name had been found on a list when some o_he Nihilists were arrested, or something of that sort; for I certainly di_oin them, but that was before there was any idea of taking steps against th_zar. No wonder you are here, after being mixed up in that escape of Valeria_ssinsky, and then being caught again with four Nihilists just after tha_errible attempt to blow up the Czar. I wonder they did not hang you."
"I wonder too," Godfrey said. "I suppose if I had been a year or two olde_hey would have done so; but I can assure you I had not the slightest ide_hat Petroff and Akim were Nihilists. I do think that the country is horribl_isgoverned, but as a foreigner that was no business of mine; and howeve_trongly I felt, I would have had nothing to do with men who tried to gai_heir end by assassination. I was just as innocent in the affair of Ossinsky.
I behaved like a fool, I grant, but that was all. I had met the woman, who a_ now know was Sophia Perovskaia, but she was only known to me then fro_aving met her once in Petroff and Akim's room, and she was introduced to m_s Akim's cousin Katia. I met her at the Opera-house, and she told me a cock- and-bull story about a young officer who had come to see a lady there, and ha_eft his regiment at Moscow without leave to do so. His colonel, who was a_he Opera-house, had heard of his being there and was looking for him, and _as persuaded to change dominoes with him to enable him to slip off."
"Oh that was it!" Alexis said. "I wondered how you got mixed up in the affair, and still more why they let you out after your having been caught in what the_onsidered a serious business. Well, here we are, victims both, and it is _urious chance that has thrown us together again."
"Well, what is our life here?" Godfrey asked.
Alexis shrugged his shoulders. "As a life it is detestable, though were it fo_ short time only there would be nothing to grumble about. We are fairly fed; we have each a patch of ground, where we can grow vegetables. The twelve me_n these huts can visit and talk to each other. When that is said all is said.
Oh, by the way, we are also permitted to make anything we like! that is, w_an buy the materials if we have money, and the work can be sold in the town.
There is one man has made himself a turning-lathe, and he makes all sorts o_retty little things. There is another man who was an officer in the navy; h_arves little models of ships out of wood and bone. Another man paints. I hav_ot decided yet what I shall do. I had two or three hundred roubles when I wa_ent off here, and as I only spent four or five on the road, I have plenty t_ast me for some time for tea and tobacco."
"But how do you get them?"
"The warders smuggle them in. It is an understood thing, and there is no rea_bjection to it, though they are very strict about bringing in spirits. Stil_e can get vodka if we have a mind to; it is only a question of bribery."
"How long are you here for, Alexis?"
"I am supposed to be in for life," Godfrey said.
"Fifteen years is as bad as life," the young doctor said. "What is the use o_our life after having been shut up here for fifteen years?"
"Well, I don't mean to stay, that is one thing," Godfrey said. "There can't b_ny difficulty in escaping from here."
"Not the least in the world," Alexis said quietly. "But where do you propos_o go?"
"I have not settled yet. It seems to me that any one with pluck and energ_ught to be able to make his way out of this country somehow; besides, fro_hat I hear great numbers do get away, and take to the woods."
"Yes, but they have to give themselves up again."
"That may be; but I hear also that if they give themselves up a long way fro_he prison they escape from, and refuse to give any account whatever o_hemselves, they are simply sent to prison again as vagabonds. In that cas_hey are treated as ordinary convicts. Now from what I hear, an ordinar_onvict is infinitely better off than a political one. Of course you have t_ssociate with a bad lot; still that is better than almost solitar_onfinement. The work they have to do is not hard, and if they are wel_onducted they are let out after a time, whereas there is no hope for _olitical prisoner. At any rate, even if I knew that if I was retaken I shoul_e hung at once, I should try it."
"But the distance to the frontier is enormous, and even when you get there yo_ould be arrested at the first place you come to if you have no papers; besides, how could you get through the winter?"
"I should get through the winter somehow," Godfrey said stoutly. "There ar_undreds and thousands of people in scattered villages who live through th_inter. Why shouldn't I? I would make friends with the natives in the north, and live in their huts, and hunt with them. But I am not thinking of that. Th_istance is, as you say, enormous, and the cold terrible. My idea is to escap_y the south."
"It is a desert, Godfrey."
"Oh they call it a desert to frighten people from trying to escape that way.
But I know there is a caravan route by which the teas come from China; besides, there are tribesmen who wander about there and pick up a livin_omehow. I don't say that I am going to succeed; I only say I am going to try.
I may lose my life or I may be sent back again. Very well, then, I will tr_gain some other way. We are not far from the Chinese frontier here, are we?"
"No; the frontier is at Kiakhta, not more than three or four hundred mile_way."
"What are the people like?"
"They are called Buriats, and are a sort of Mongol tribe, living generally i_ents and wandering with their flocks and herds through the country like th_atriarchs of old."
"If they have large flocks and herds," Godfrey said, "the reward the Russian_ffer for escaped convicts can't tempt them much. Most likely they ar_ospitable; almost all these wandering tribes are. If one had luck one migh_et befriended and stick for a time to one of these tribes in their wandering_outh, and then get hold of some other people, and so get passed on. Ther_an't be anything impossible in it, Alexis. We know that travellers have mad_heir way through Africa alone. Mungo Park did, and lots of other people hav_one so, and some of the negro tribes are, according to all accounts, a dea_ore savage than the Asiatic tribes. Once among them it doesn't much matte_hich way one goes, whether it is east to China or west to Persia."
Alexis sat and looked with some wonder at his companion. "By the saints, Godfrey Bullen, I begin to understand now how it is that your people, livin_n a bit of an island which could be pinched out of Russia and never missed, are colonizing half the world; how they go in ships to explore the polar seas, have penetrated Africa in all directions as travellers, go among the wildes_eople as missionaries. We are brought up to have everything done for us: t_hink as we are told to think, to have officials keep their eyes over us a_very turn, to be punished if we dare to think independently, till we hav_ome to be a nation of grown-up children. You are only a boy, if you wil_orgive my calling you so, and yet you talk about facing the most horribl_angers as coolly as if you were proposing going for a promenade on th_evski. We won't talk any more about it now, for you have made me feel quit_estless. There, you have been here two hours, and I have forgotten all m_uties as host, and have not even offered you a cup of tea; it is shameful."
And Alexis brought out a samovar and soon had water boiling and tea made.
After they had drunk it they went out of the hut, and Godfrey was introduce_o the other exiles. Two of them who lived together were quite old men; the_ad been professors at the University of Kieff, and were exiled for having i_heir lectures taught what were considered pernicious doctrines. There wer_hree military and two naval officers, a noble, another doctor, and two son_f merchants. All received him cordially, and Godfrey saw that in any othe_lace the society would be a pleasant one; but there was an air of settle_elancholy in the majority of the faces, while the sentry fifty yards away, and the high prison wall behind, seemed ever in their minds.
By common consent, as it seemed, no allusion was ever made to politics. The_ad all strong opinions, and had sacrificed everything for them, but of wha_se to discuss matters the course of which they were powerless to influence i_he smallest degree. Free, there was probably not one of them but would agai_ave striven in one way or another to bring about reforms, either b_nstructing the ignorant, rousing the intelligent, or frightening th_owerful. But here, with no hope of returning, the whole thing was bes_orgotten. The past was dead to them, and they were without a future. The new_hat Godfrey brought of the blow that had been struck against the Czar rouse_hem for a few days. The war then was still being carried on. Others wer_ielding the weapons they had forged, but of what had happened afterward_odfrey was ignorant. Four men had been arrested or killed; but whether the_ad played an important part in the matter he knew not, nor whether others ha_hared their fate. All he could say was, that so far as he heard, numerou_rrests had taken place.
But the excitement caused by the news very speedily died away, and they agai_ecame listless and indifferent. All worked for a little time in thei_ardens, but beyond that only those who had made some sort of occupation fo_hemselves had anything to interest themselves actively in. Sometimes the_layed chess, draughts, or cards, but they did so, as Godfrey observed, in _alf-hearted manner, with the exception, indeed, of one of the professors, wh_as by far the strongest chess-player of the party, and who passed all hi_ime in inventing problems which, when complete, he carefully noted down in _ook, with their solutions.
"When I am dead," he said one day to Godfrey, who was watching him, "they wil_end this book to a nephew of mine; you see I have written his name an_ddress outside. He is a great chess-player, and will send it to England o_rance to be published; and it is pleasant for me to think that my work, eve_ere in prison, may serve as an amusement to people out in the world."
Except in the dulness and monotony of the life there was little to complai_f, and Godfrey was surprised to find how far it differed from his ow_reconceived notions of the life of a political prisoner in Siberia. It wa_nly when, by an effort, he looked ahead for years and tried to fancy th_ossibility of being so cut off from the world for life, that he coul_ppreciate the terrible nature of the punishment. Better a thousand times t_e one of the murderers in the prison behind the wall. They had work to occup_heir time, and constantly changing associates, with the knowledge that b_ood conduct they would sooner or later be released and be allowed to liv_utside the prison.
When at eight o'clock in the evening the prisoners were locked up in thei_uts, he endeavoured to learn everything that Alexis Stumpoff knew of Siberia.
He found that his knowledge was much more extensive than he had expected. "A_ came out nominally, Godfrey, as a free man, I brought with me every book _ould buy on the country, and I almost got them by heart. It seemed to me tha_ was likely to be kept here for years, if not for life. I might be sent fro_ne government prison to another, from Tobolsk to the eastern sea; therefor_very place possessed an interest for me. Besides this, although I was no_ctually a political prisoner myself I was virtually so, and my sympathie_ere wholly with the prisoners, and I thought that I might possibly be able t_dvise and counsel men who came under my charge: to describe to them th_laces where they might have relations or friends shut up, and to dissuad_hose who, like yourself, meditated escape, for my studies had not gone fa_efore I became convinced that this was well-nigh hopeless. I learned ho_trict were the regulations on the frontier, how impossible, even if this wer_eached, to journey on without being arrested at the very first village that _ugitive entered, and that so strict were they that although numbers of th_onvict establishments were within comparatively short distances of th_rontier, escapes were no more frequent from them than from those thre_housand miles to the east. When I say escapes I mean escapes from Siberia.
Escapes from the prisons are of constant occurrence, since most of the work i_one outside the walls. There are thousands, I might almost say tens o_housands, get away every spring, but they all have to come back again i_inter. The authorities trouble themselves little about them, for they kno_hat they must give themselves up in a few months."
"Yes, my guard told me about that. He said they were not punished much whe_hey came in."
"Sometimes they are flogged; but the Russian peasant is accustomed to floggin_nd thinks but little of it. More often they are not flogged. They have, perhaps, a heavier chain, for the convicts all wear chains—we have a_dvantage over them there—and they are put on poorer diet for a time. The_ose the remission of sentence they would obtain by good behaviour, that i_ll, even when they are recognized, but as a rule they take care not to giv_hemselves up at the prison they left, but at one many hundred miles from it.
In the course of the summer their hair has grown again. They assert stoutl_hat they are free labourers who have lost their papers, and who cannot ear_heir living through the winter. The authorities know, of course, that the_re escaped convicts, but they have no means of identifying them. They canno_end them the rounds of a hundred convict establishments; so instead of a ma_eing entered as Alexis Stumpoff, murderer, for instance, he is put down b_he name he gives, and the word vagabond is added. The next year they ma_reak out again; but in time the hardships they suffer in the woods becom_istasteful and they settle down to their prison life, and then, after perhap_ix, perhaps ten years of good conduct they are released and allowed to settl_here they will. So you see, Godfrey Bullen, how hopeless is the chance o_scape."
"Not at all," Godfrey said. "These men are most of them peasants—men withou_ducation and without enterprise, incapable of forming any plan, and wholl_ithout resources in themselves. I feel as certain of escaping as I am o_eing here at present. I don't say that I shall succeed the first time, but, as you say yourself, there is no difficulty in getting away, and if I fail i_ne direction I will try in another."