I very impatiently remained sitting on the bench. My faithful guards, the soldiers, were still there. Why was I not being told to go home? Two and a half years of prison should have been enough, yet they apparently did not feel like letting go of me.
I was simply overwhelmed that the merciful Almighty who watches over the children of Israel had extended his kindness to me as well and shielded us once again from a terrible disaster. I thought of the joy that must be reigning in my home as my family and friends were being told the good tidings.
Finally, an official informed me that the Presiding Judge wished to see me in his chambers. I felt certain that I was going to be sent home at last.
In the Presiding Judge’s chambers, I found the jury, those simple peasants who had tried me. When I came in, one of the jurymen tugged at my coat and smiled. I later discovered he was one of those who had spoken on my behalf. He must have been too afraid to speak up, but I almost heard the twinkle in his eyes say, “Well, we pulled you out of that one, didn’t we?”
The Presiding Judge asked the members of the jury to leave, and we remained alone.
“Mr. Beilis,” he said, “you are a free man. I have no right to detain you one moment further. You can go home.”
I was about to bid him good night when he raised his finger, as if to say, “One moment, please.”
He spoke slowly. “If you could wait, there is something I would like to discuss with you. I think it would be better for you to return to prison for the night.”
I could hardly believe my ears. Had everyone gone mad? Had I endured these years of endless suffering and humiliation and at last reached the long-awaited day of my release only to be told that I should go back to prison? Why in the world should I want to do that? Why should they begrudge me the joy of finally being reunited with my family?
Of course, I should have known not to have expected anything favorable from this judge, especially after having heard his “impartial” summation. Never have I heard such an inflammatory speech.
He noticed my anxiety and apparently understood why I was so apprehensive. He tried to reassure me.
“Calm yourself, Mr. Beilis. I only suggest this to you for your own good. This verdict was one that the masses did not expect. The fury of the mob has been aroused, and you know how difficult it is to maintain control in such a situation. Need I remind you that it was in this city of Kiev that Prime Minister Stolypin was assassinated in His Majesty’s very presence? You know what that means. It did not occur so long ago. When the people are provoked, no one can be responsible for your safety. Besides, since you have been miraculously saved and have withstood the tribulations of two and a half years of imprisonment, surely you will be able to endure one more night. Do spend this night in prison, and allow the tempers to cool down. In the morning, you will be able to go home.”
I sensed that he was not telling me this out of the goodness of his heart, but what could I do? I was afraid that if I refused to take his “advice,” he could always find a way to do to me whatever he chose. Either way, I had no guarantees. I recalled the incident that had occurred only that morning, and I was afraid to confront the Deputy Warden again. He had threatened to kill me if he ever saw me again. Perhaps he was the reason I was being returned to jail? Nevertheless, I agreed to do as the Presiding Judge recommended.
“In that case,” he said, “we must submit a formal application. What shall we give as the reason?” He thought for a minute and said, “I have an idea. Here, write in your own name that you are requesting permission to spend tonight in prison in order to return the government’s clothes and to settle your account with the administration.” He wrote the application, and I signed it.
Meanwhile, the Chief of Police entered the judge’s chamber.
“Mr. Beilis, are you ready to go home?” he said. “I congratulate you upon your acquittal.”
The judge shot him an irate look. He was visibly displeased with the friendly tone the Chief of Police had used to address me.
“Mr. Beilis will spend this night in prison,” he said curtly. “Please see to it that he gets an escort.”
I left the courthouse, and a police escort drove me back to the prison, not as a prisoner but as a free man. I was in the same black coach, but everything else was quite different. Usually, it was dark inside. This time, there was a lamp burning in one corner. Ordinarily, I had been alone. This time, the Chief of Police rode with me. He was friendly and polite and even honored me with a cigarette. We chatted the whole way to prison. He kept asking me questions and wanted to know all about my years in prison.
“Well, praise the Lord,” he said. “I am so happy this business is over. The anxiety has made me ill, because I was responsible for your safe passage the entire time. It was also my job to maintain peace and quiet in this city for the two months of your trial. I had to be on constant guard to protect you from harm. I can tell you that it is no simple matter to control an angry mob. I feel a great deal of satisfaction knowing that you have been released.”
Once more, we had arrived at the dark and foreboding prison building, but I felt light at heart. I was free. On one of the streets, the coach had suddenly stopped. Upon inquiring why, the Chief of Police was informed by the escort that it was because of the military patrols that had been stationed along the road in order to clear the people off the streets.
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