(One guilty of a Crime)
Adapted from Anton Chekhov's short story
The Scene: Magistrate shouts: Semyon, bring in the prisoner.
Two guards bring in the criminal.
Before the examining magistrate stands a puny, exceedingly scrawny little peasant in a calico shirt and patched trousers. His face is overgrown with hair and eaten with pockmarks, and his eyes, barely visible through his thick, beetling brows, have an expression of sullen sternness. On his head a whole mop of long-uncombed, matted hair, which endows him with a still greater spiderlike sternness. He is barefoot.
Magistrate: Denis Grigoriev! Come closer and answer my questions. Is it a fact that on the seventh day of July the railroad watchman Ivan Semyonovich Akinfov, proceeding along the line in the morning, at the ninety-first mile post found you unscrewing on of the nuts by means of which the rails are fastened to the ties. Here is that nut! With which nut he also detained you. Is that how it went?
Denis Grigoriev: Wha?
Magistrate: Did it all go as Akinfov explains?
Denis Grigoriev: Sure it did.
Magistrate: Good. Now, why were you unscrewing the nut?
Denis Grigoriev: Wha?
Magistrate: Drop this ĎWha?í of yours and answer the question: why were you unscrewing the nut?
Denis Grigoriev: His voice is raspy. Looks at the ceiling
If I didnít need it, I wouldnít have been unscrewing it.
Magistrate: And why did you need this nut?
Denis Grigoriev: That nut there? We make sinkers out of Ďem
Magistrate: We who?
Denis Grigoriev: Us folk the Klimovo peasants, that is.
Magistrate: Listen, brother, donít play the idiot here. Talk sense. Thereís no point in lying about sinkers!
Denis Grigoriev: mumbling, blinking his eyes. Never lied in all my born days, so now Iím lying. Could we do without a sinker, your Honor? If you put a live worm or a minnow on a hook, howíll it ever go down without a sinker? Lying Denis smirks. Who the devil needs live bait if it floats up top! Your perch, your pike, your burbot always bites on the bottom, and if the bait floats up top, itís only good for catching gobies, and even thatís rare Gobies donít live in our river. Itís fish that likes space.
Magistrate: What are you telling me about gobies for?
Denis Grigoriev: Wha? But you asked yourself! The gentry here fish the same way too. Not even the merest lad would go fishing without a sinker. Of course, if somebodyís got no sense at all, heíll try and fish without a sinker, a fool does is as a fool does.
Magistrate: So you tell me that you were unscrewing this nut in order to make a sinker out of it?
Denis Grigoriev: What else? Canít play knucklebone with it!
Magistrate: But you could use a bit of lead for a sinker, a bullet, a nail of some sort.
Denis Grigoriev: You wonít find lead lying about, youíve got to buy it, and a nailís no good. Thereís nothing better than a nut. Itís heavy, and itís got a hole in it.
Magistrate: He pretends to be such a fool! As if he was born yesterday or fell from the moon! Donít you understand, dunderhead, what this unscrewing leads to? If the watchman hadnít spotted it, a train might have hone off the rails, people might have been killed! Youíd have killed people!
Denis Grigoriev: God forbid, Your Honor! Why kill? Are we heathens or villains of some kind? Thank the Lord, my good sir, weíve lived our life without any killing, such thought never even enter our head, Queen of Heaven, save us and have mercy. How could you, sir!
Magistrate: And what do you think causes train accidents? Unscrew two or three nuts, and youíve got yourself an accident!
Denis Grigoriev: Smirks and squints his eyes mistrustfully at the magistrate. Well! All these years the whole village has been unscrewing nuts and the Lordís preserved us, so now itís an accident killing people. If I took away the rail or, say put a log across the tracks, well then the train might go off, but this, pah! A nut!
Magistrate: But you must understand, the nuts fasten the rail to the tie.
Denis Grigoriev: We understand that we donít unscrew all of them, we leave some, we donít do it mindlessly we understand.
He yawns and makes a cross over his mouth.
Magistrate: Last year a train went off the rails here, now I see why.
Denis Grigoriev: Beg pardon, sir?
Magistrate: Now. I said, I see why a train went off the rails last year... I understand.
Denis Grigoriev: Thatís what you get educated for, so youíll understand, most merciful judges. The lord knew who to give understanding to. And here youíve considered how and what, but a watchmanís the same as a peasant, heís got no understanding, he just grabs you by the scruff of the neck and drags you off. Reason first, and then drag! Like they say ó peasant thoughts. Write this down, too, Your Honor, that he hit me twice in the teeth and the chest.
Magistrate: When they searched your place, they found a second nut. When and where did you unscrew it?
Denis Grigoriev: You mean the one under the little red trunk?
Magistrate: I donít know where it was, I only know they found it. When did you unscrew it?
Denis Grigoriev: I didnít unscrew it. It was Ignashka, the son of one-eyed Semyon, gave it to me. I mean the one that was under the little trunk, and the one that was in the sledge in the yard I unscrewed along with Mitrofan.
Magistrate: Which Mitrofan?
Denis Grigoriev: Mitrofan Petrov. Youíve never heard of him? He makes nets and sells them to the gentry. He needs a lot of these same nuts. Reckon maybe a dozen for each net.
Magistrate: Listen. Article one thousand and eighty-one of the Criminal Code says that any deliberate damage to the railway, in case it endangers the transport availing itself of those railways, and with the perpetratorís knowledge and that the consequence thereof will be an accident ó understand? And you couldnít help knowing what this unscrewing would lead to D will be punishable by a term at hard labor.
Denis Grigoriev: Of course, you know best. Weíre ignorant folk, what do we understand?
Magistrate: You understand everything! Youíre lying and dissembling!
Denis Grigoriev: Why lie? Ask in the village, if you donít believe me. Without a sinker you only get bleak. You wonít even get gudgeon, the worst of the lot, without a sinker.
Magistrate: Smiling. Next youíll be talking about gobies again.
Denis Grigoriev: Weíve got no gobies here. If we fish on top without a sinker, using butterflies for bait, we get chub, and even thatís rare.
Magistrate: Well, be quiet! Silence ensues. Denis shifts from one foot to the other; stares at the table covered with green baize, and blink his eyes strenuously, as if what he sees before him is not baize but the sun. The Magistrate is writing rapidly.
Denis Grigoriev: Can I go?
Magistrate: No! I must put you under arrest and send you to prison.
Denis Grigoriev: He stops blinking and raising his thick eyebrows, looks questioningly at the official. That is, how do you mean ó to prison? Your Honor! I havenít got time, I have to go to the fair, and also get three roubles from Yegor for the lard.
Magistrate: Quiet, donít disturb me.
Denis Grigoriev: To prison. If it was for something, Iíd go, but like this, for a fleabite. Why? Seems I didnít steal, I didnít fight, and if youíve got doubts about arrears, Your Honor, donít believe the headman. Better ask mister permanent member. An ungodly fellow that headman.
Denis Grigoriev: Mutters Iím quiet as it is. Iíll swear an oath the headmanís account is a pack of lies. We are three brothers: Kuzma Grigoriev, that is, and Yegor Grigoriev and me, Denis Grigoriev.
Magistrate: Youíre disturbing me. Shouts Hey, Semyon! Take him away.
Denis Grigoriev: Two stalwart soldiers take him and lead him from the chambers. He Shouts. We are three brothers. Brotherís not answerable for brother, Kuzma doesnít pay and you, Denis, have to answer. Judges. Our late master, the general, died, may he rest in peace, otherwise heíd show you judges something. Youíve got to judge knowingly, not just anyhow. Give a whipping, even, but so as itís for reason, in all fairness.