Another way of passing time

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Music was also cultivated. Our choir had an extensive repertory, in which the melancholy moods of Little Russia were contrasted with the dramatic Great Russian folk-songs. It included operatic choruses, and, of course, the revolutionary songs so dear to us all—the Marseillaise and many others. After Commandant Nikolin had departed, 254and we were less harried and thwarted, one of our geniuses constructed a violin, upon which various gifted friends practised with great assiduity: not—it must be confessed—exactly to the edification of the rest of us who had perforce to listen. Posen and one or two others tortured the ears of their comrades further by truly terrible musical performances on ordinary hair-combs.

was to invent riddles and act charades, which was especially fashionable in our “Sanhedrin.” And when some new-comers brought with them a few packs of cards, the game of whist—then just coming into vogue in Russia—so carried away some of our party that they were at it literally day and night. On the whole, however, card-playing did not find much favour among us.

Physical exercise would have been most welcome to many of us, but as long as the “tom-cat” ruled the roast it was possible only in a very restricted measure; all he would consent to was that in winter we should make a sledge-track in a part of the yard where the ground sloped slightly, and we there disported ourselves on little sledges made by ourselves.


One of Nikolin’s successors saw no objection to our laying out a garden, and during the next spring we were extremely busy over this. Some of our number, great lovers of nature, exhibited quite passionate energy in this pursuit; they worked at their beds with most industrious care, watered, manured, and weeded untiringly, and tended each plant as though it were a beloved child. All sorts of different plants and flowers were cultivated. I myself had a special affection for sunflowers, which reminded me of my South Russian home; wherever possible I sowed their seeds, and in summer my fosterlings shot up magnificently, their thick stems standing erect along our “boulevard,” as we called the path by the stockade, whence, by looking through the chinks, we could see the road and the commandant’s house.

When the tall 255plants hung down their heads, it seemed as though they looked down on us poor captives and wondered at the cruelty of man to man. “So many young men wasting their best years, half their lives, here in prison, only because they strove for the welfare of their country as they understood it!” And when the sunflowers straightened themselves and held aloft their golden crowns, they might be saying, “Do not lose courage, poor convicts! The time will come when you too with proudly lifted heads shall return to your beloved home.”


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