The round window of my cell looked out upon the prison-yard. It was a very high window, but by placing the table against the wall and climbing on it, I could see everything that was going on in the yard. Above the window, under the eaves, pigeons had built themselves a nest, and when I looked out of my window into the court below, they cooed above my head.

I had sufficient time to acquaint myself from my vantage-point with the inmates of the prison, and I knew that the merriest member of that sullen and humdrum crew went by the nickname of Notch.

He was a square-set, stout fellow, with a ruddy face and high forehead from under which his large eyes always shone brightly. He wore his cap on the back of his head, and his ears struck out on both sides of his funny head in a funny fashion. He never fastened the strings of his shirt-collar, he never buttoned his jacket, and every movement of his muscles made it plain that he housed a soul incapable of dejection and bitterness.

Always on the go, always full of laughter and noise, he was the idol of the prison; he was always surrounded by a crowd of gray-clad comrades, and he amused and entertained them by various curious pranks, brightening up their dull, bleak days with his hearty gaiety.

On one occasion he emerged from his cell for his walk with three rats ingeniously harnessed with strings as if they were horses. He ran after them through the yard, shouting that he was driving a troika. The rats, maddened by his shouts, rushed about, while the prisoners laughed like children, looking at this stout man and his troika.

Apparently he believed that he existed solely to divert people. To achieve this he stopped at nothing. Sometimes his inventiveness assumed cruel forms. Thus, for instance, he once managed to glue to the wall the hair of a prisoner, a mere boy who was sitting on the ground asleep against the wall, and when the glue had dried, he suddenly awoke him. The lad quickly leaped to his feet, and clutching his head with his slim, lean hands, fell weeping to the ground. The prisoners guffawed, and Notch was content. Afterwards—I saw it through the window—he comforted the boy, who had left quite a tuft of his hair on the wall.…

Besides Notch, there was yet another favorite in the prison—a plump auburn kitten, a playful little animal pampered by all. When they came out for their regular walk, the prisoners invariably hunted it up and played with it for a long time. They would pass it on from hand to hand, fun after it in the yard, let it scratch their hands and faces which were animated by this sport with the pet.

When the kitten appeared on the scene, it diverted the general attention from Notch, and the latter was by no means pleased with this preference. At heart Notch was an artist, and as such he had an inordinate amount of amour-propre. When his public devoted itself to the kitten, he, left alone, would sit down in a corner of the court-yard and from there watch his comrades, who in those moments forgot him. And from my window I watched him and felt everything that filled his soul during such moments. It seemed to me that Notch was bound to kill the kitten at the first opportunity, and I was sorry for the jolly prisoner. The desire to be the center of attention is pernicious to man, for nothing deadens the soul so quickly as the desire to please.

When you are in prison even the growth of mold on its walls seems interesting. It is therefore easy to understand the interest with which I followed from my window the little drama below, a man’s jealousy of a kitten, and it is easy to understand, too, the impatience with which I awaited the denouement. It came in this way.

One bright, sunny day, when the prisoners had poured out of their cells into the yard, Notch noticed in a corner a pail of green paint, left by the men who were painting the prison roof. He went up to it, pondered over it, and dipping his finger into the paint, smeared his mustaches with it. The green mustaches on his red phiz caused an outburst of laughter. A lad in the group, in imitation of Notch, proceeded to paint his upper lip; but Notch dipped his whole hand into the pail and dexterously smeared the boy’s

  By PanEris using Melati.

  Back Home Email this Search Discuss Bookmark Next page
Copyright: All texts on Bibliomania are © Ltd, and may not be reproduced in any form without our written permission. See our FAQ for more details.