"Well, old man," repeated the Governor, "tell me the truth: who has been digging under the wall?" Aksionov glanced at Makar Semyonich, and said, "I cannot say, your honour. It is not God's will that I should tell! Do what you like with me; I am your hands." However much the Governor! tried, Aksionov would say no more, and so the matter had to be left.
Makar Semyonich bent close over Aksionov, and whispered, "Ivan Dmitrich, forgive me!" "What for?" asked Aksionov. "It was I who killed the merchant and hid the knife among your things. I meant to kill you too, but I heard a noise outside, so I hid the knife in your bag and escaped out of the window." Aksionov was silent, and did not know what to say.
Now I have been sent here for nothing at all... Eh, but it's lies I'm telling you; I've been to Siberia before, but I did not stay long." "Where are you from?" asked some one. "From Vladimir. My family are of that town. My name is Makar, and they also call me Semyonich." Aksionov raised his head and said: "Tell me, Semyonich, do you know anything of the merchants Aksionov of Vladimir?
Makar Semyonich slid off the bed-shelf and knelt upon the ground. "Ivan Dmitrich," said he, "forgive me! For the love of God, forgive me! I will confess that it was I who killed the merchant, and you will be released and can go to your home." "It is easy for you to talk," said Aksionov, "but I have suffered for you these twenty-six years.
These words made Aksionov wonder whether this man knew who had killed the merchant; so he said, "Perhaps, Semyonich, you have heard of that affair, or maybe you've seen me before?" "How could I help hearing? The world's full of rumours. But it's a long time ago, and I've forgotten what I heard." "Perhaps you heard who killed the merchant?" asked Aksionov.
Makar Semyonich laughed, and replied: "It must have been him in whose bag the knife was found! If some one else hid the knife there, 'He's not a thief till he's caught, as the saying is. How could any one put a knife into your bag while it was under your head? It would surely have woke you up." When Aksionov heard these words, he felt sure this was the man who had killed the merchant.
That night, when Aksionov was lying on his bed and just beginning to doze, some one came quietly and sat down on his bed. He peered through the darkness and recognised Makar. "What more do you want of me?" asked Aksionov. "Why have you come here?" Makar Semyonich was silent. So Aksionov sat up and said, "What do you want? Go away, or I will call the guard!"
Are they still alive?" "Know them? Of course I do. The Aksionovs are rich, though their father is in Siberia: a sinner like ourselves, it seems! As for you, Gran'dad, how did you come here?" Aksionov did not like to speak of his misfortune. He only sighed, and said, "For my sins I have been in prison these twenty-six years." "What sins?" asked Makar Semyonich.
And his anger was so great against Makar Semyonich that he longed for vengeance, even if he himself should perish for it. He kept repeating prayers all night, but could get no peace. During the day he did not go near Makar Semyonich, nor even look at him. A fortnight passed in this way. Aksionov could not sleep at night, and was so miserable that he did not know what to do.
One night as he was walking about the prison he noticed some earth that came rolling out from under one of the shelves on which the prisoners slept. He stopped to see what it was. Suddenly Makar Semyonich crept out from under the shelf, and looked up at Aksionov with frightened face.