The door of the chamber opened, and a distinguished, athletic-looking man with a flowing mane of hair came in and greeted me. I was startled, as if awakening from a bad dream, and looked at that handsome, friendly, smiling face.
“Good morning, Mr. Beilis. Don’t be alarmed. My name is Karabchevsky, and I am your lawyer.”
I had known that he was to be one of my lawyers at the trial, but I had seen only Messrs. Grigorovitch-Barsky, Gruzenberg, Zarudny and Margolin. They often came to visit me in the prison. Until the trial, I had never met the other two, Messrs. Maklakoff and Karabchevsky.
The sudden appearance of Karabchevsky made a strong impression on me. It was as if a beam of light had penetrated the room. His friendly greeting and cheerful tone not only freed me from the nightmare of my thoughts, it also made me feel as if I was to be released at once from my very imprisonment.
The famous advocate came closer and said, “Be of good cheer, Mr. Beilis. Keep up your courage. I would be happy to come closer to you and shake your hand, but unfortunately, an exceptional rule has been declared in your case, and no one, not even your lawyer, is allowed to come within four steps of you. If I were to violate this ruling, I would be severely reprimanded. So tell me, how do you feel? How have you been?”
His cordial and friendly words had such a strong effect on me that I forgot I was a prisoner. I felt as if I were a free man surrounded by friends. However, all it took was one look at my escorts, who were ceaselessly watching my every movement, to make me realize I was still very much in their clutches.
I began feeling hungry, and also, I wanted to smoke. I mentioned this to Karabchevsky.
“Is there any way I can have something to eat, or perhaps smoke a cigarette? I will starve if I am to wait for food to be brought to me from the prison. I have some money to buy food from the court restaurant.”
While I was speaking, the colonel who was in charge of the guards who escorted me came into the room.
Karabchevsky turned to the colonel and asked, “Why isn’t this man allowed to smoke?”
The colonel responded sharply, “Because prisoners are not allowed to smoke.”
“That may be,” Mr. Karabchevsky replied, “but right now this man is not in prison. Besides that, he must be given something to eat. The trial is about to begin, and it will be long and arduous. He will need every bit of his strength. It is a serious matter, and I implore you to grant Mr. Beilis these two requests. If you do not, even though it may not even be in your power to do so, I will nevertheless feel compelled to complain publicly at his trial of his mistreatment. A man like Mr. Beilis certainly should not be subjected to such ordeals.”
Mr. Karabchevsky’s words made quite an impression on the colonel. He realized instantly that he was no longer dealing with Beilis the Jew but with Karabchevsky, the distinguished Russian lawyer. Karabchevsky’s threat to make the issue a public one must have been taken seriously, for the colonel asked to be given a few minutes to consult with his superiors. Apparently, the problem was not a simple one, and he could not assume responsibility for handling it alone.
As the colonel turned to leave the room, he quietly called over the guard. “Go ahead and let him smoke,” he said.
Pulling a three-ruble bill out of his pocket, Karabchevsky then went over to the soldier and said, “Here, take this and go find him some cigarettes.”
A few minutes later, the soldier returned with some excellent cigarettes. Karabchevsky was very pleased that he had been able to procure for me so quickly both the privilege and the pleasure of enjoying a smoke. It helped put my mind at ease.
When the Colonel returned, he announced that the appropriate authorities had decided to allow me to purchase some food from the restaurant located in the courthouse.
“Well, Mr. Beilis,” my lawyer said with a genuine sense of accomplishment, “if there is anything else you need or want, all you have to do is tell your lawyers about it. We will certainly do everything we can to help you. All you have to do is not give up. After all, your fate is not totally controlled by those who have imprisoned you. You are in the hands of God, and in ours. My colleagues and I are eager to get on with this trial. Of course, we pray to God that such trials don’t have to take place in Russia, so that our beloved country could be spared the shame, but since we have to go through with it, I want you to know that we are honored to play a part in exposing the falsity of these ludicrous charges against you. You will see for yourself. The truth will emerge victorious. I have to leave for a little while, but we’ll be together again shortly. Dasvedania!”
Karabchevsky’s inspiring words, coming as they did from such a sincere and noble person, filled me with strength and confidence. With renewed faith, I fervently believed in a speedy salvation.
After this incident, the attitude of the soldiers who were guarding me also changed perceptibly, and they became extremely helpful and pleasant. They had never seen a common prisoner treated with such civility. And hadn’t the lawyer implied that I wasn’t a prisoner at all? They had never heard of anything like this before. What with the guard getting a three-ruble tip and the colonel being sent out to get restaurant food, they realized that this was a unique situation, and they responded accordingly.
A soldier brought me some food from the restaurant. From then on, before he would go to the restaurant to bring me a meal, he would first politely ask what dish I would prefer. Since we were paying good money for it, he wanted to make sure that I received the most appetizing and nourishing food available. I found it impossible to believe that a prison soldier was behaving towards me in such a courteous manner.
I began to feel considerably better. For one thing, for the first time in many, many months, I had a really good glass of tea. This, and the decent food, made me feel much stronger. However, it was still too early to celebrate. Even though those hellish days of suffering and waiting were behind me, the terrible ordeal of my trial still lay ahead. And beyond that, I dared not even imagine.
It must be said, however, that for a prisoner who had been secluded from the world of the living for so many long and weary months, even an hour of ease and pleasure is a great good fortune in itself.
While I was relishing my reverie, the door opened and the colonel announced, “Bring the prisoner into the Courtroom! The trial is about to begin.”
I repeated this last phrase over and over again.
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