It was still quiet in the Okhrana when we arrived. As a rule, the Russian officials did not care to get up too early. The desk sergeant was busy with his books and issuing orders to some clerks and spies, who looked at me with cunning and piercing eyes.
My life was spent in such an ordinary way, that I never imagined I would be arrested and have to sit in the Okhrana, watched by a gorodovoy, who would not take his eyes from me even for a single second. But as the saying goes, there is no foolproof insurance against prison and death.
I sat there in a feverish state, hot and cold at the same time, with a fierce headache. I heard the stamping of horses’ hooves followed by the tinkling of spurs in the hall. The door opened, and the gendarmes, who had remained in my house for the search, entered. Seeing that the gendarmes were alone, I felt more assured. Then tea was brought in, and I was asked whether I would like something to eat. I declined, thanking them for their courtesy. Even though my tongue was dry as hot sand, I could not touch the tea. All that time I kept thinking, “What is going to happen next? Why have I been arrested?”
Finally, Colonel Kuliabko came in. He handed me a large sheet of paper that was a questionnaire. I was told to answer the following questions: Who are you? From where do you come? Who is your father? What is your religion? Do you have any relatives?
And finally, there was the question: What do you know about Yustchinsky’s murder?
Before he left the room, Kuliabko told me, “When you have answered the questions, ring the bell, and I’ll come back.”
When I read the last question, I felt as if there was a knife at my throat. At last I understood what had happened. I tried to find consolation in the form of the question: “What did I know about the murder?” Maybe, I would be no more than a witness.
I answered all the questions. As for the murder, I stated that I knew nothing beyond what people in the street were saying about it. Who had perpetrated it? And for what purpose? I did not know.
I rang the bell. Kuliabko entered and looked over my replies.
“Is this all?” he shouted. “Nonsense. If you don’t tell me the truth, I’ll send you up to the Petropavlovsky fortress.” (This was a well known and much feared political prison in Petrograd.) He banged the door furiously and left the room.
About four o’clock in the afternoon, I heard the weeping of a child that sounded like my own. I finally recognized the voice of one of my children. Out of sheer desperation, I began to knock my head against the wall. I knew that my son was very timid and nervous and that he was especially afraid of the police. I actually feared that he might die in their hands.
While he was crying, the door opened, and Kuliabko re-entered the room.
“See, your boy is also telling lies,” he said.
“What lies?” I entreated.
“Zhenia, come in!” He brought Tchebiriak’s son into the room, and turning towards me, he snapped, “Zhenia says that your boy used to play with Andriusha, and your boy denies it.”
Thereupon, the colonel led the Tchebiriak boy out of the room. A few minutes later, I heard footsteps in the hall. I looked through the grating and saw the gorodovoy leading my eight-year-old son away. I felt a violent tug at my heart as I saw the gorodovoy lock him in one of the cells. Initially, I had expected to be held for a few hours, interrogated and finally released. I was innocent, and they were bound to see that a mistake had occurred. But now, I didn’t know what to expect. I was only preoccupied with thoughts of my child. Why had they brought him into this hell?
That evening, a Russian woman came in and said to me, “Your child is here, but have no fear. I am looking after him. Please don’t worry. I am a mother myself. I understand your suffering and sympathize with you. Don’t worry. God saves the honest man.”
As nighttime approached, I realized it was Friday night and I would not be able to celebrate the Sabbath. I thought of what my Friday nights were usually like, with the candles on the table and the children dressed in their Sabbath best. Everyone was so warm and friendly. And now? The house was in shambles, and my wife must be beside herself with fear. There was no light, no joy. I knew my loved ones were weeping their eyes out. I almost forgot my own troubles, thinking of my imprisoned son and my mourning family. I rang the bell, and Kuliabko came in.
“Listen,” I said to him. “I don’t care what happens to me. The truth will win out and I’ll be released, but why keep my child a prisoner? You are yourself a father. My child could get sick here, and it will be on your conscience. Can’t you release my son?”
He shot me a smile. “All you have to do is tell me the truth.”
“What do you want, truth or falsehood?” I cried passionately. “Even if you insisted, I couldn’t tell you a lie. I am innocent!”
“Nonsense, nonsense,” he nonchalantly replied, dismissing the thought with a whisk of his hand. “I’ll just send you to jail, and then you’ll change your story.”
He went out with the usual banging of the door, and I remained alone. All along, I had anticipated that at any moment, in just one more minute, I would be freed. But when I heard the clock strike midnight, I realized I was expected to spend the night in that place. I could not sleep. From time to time, I heard the coughing of my son, and it made my brain reel.
Saturday morning, the Russian woman came in again and told me she had slept in the same room with my child. About noon, I heard someone ask my son, “Will you be able to get home by yourself, or shall I send a man to take you?”
An hour later, a gorodovoy came into my room and told me that he had taken my son to the streetcar, but the boy had refused to board it, running home on foot instead. Just knowing my son was free made me happier.
Sunday, I again heard children’s voices. It was my children. They must have been brought to the Okhrana for questioning. I was given permission to go out into the hall to see them, yet moments later, we were again separated.
I was kept in the Okhrana building for eight long days. None of the officials came to see me, but this only increased my anxiety. I hoped for the best but expected the worst. If they don’t even ask me anything, I thought, then this could continue without end. Why? Why? On the evening of August 3, a gorodovoy came and told me to get ready to go to the Investigating Attorney. This news cheered me up somewhat, for it meant that at last something was happening. At the very least, I’d find out how things stood. I dressed quickly, and was escorted by two gorodovoys to the Attorney.
During the short time I had spent in prison, I had almost forgotten what the streets looked like. I watched the people, so carefree, passing by, and I enjoyed the freedom and light as though I had never experienced them before. I was considerably weakened by the enforced seclusion and found it rather hard to walk. I asked my guard if we could use the streetcar.
“You are an arrested person, and you cannot travel with other people,” one of the gorodovoys answered abruptly.
As we proceeded, people on the street stopped to point at me. Some even recognized me, which only added to my pain.
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