The Horse-Stealers and Other Stories
Ward No. 6
In the hospital yard there stands a small lodge surrounded by a perfect forest of burdocks,
nettles, and wild hemp. Its roof is rusty, the chimney is tumbling down, the steps at the
front-door are rotting away and overgrown with grass, and there are only traces left of the
stucco. The front of the lodge faces the hospital; at the back it looks out into the open
country, from which it is separated by the grey hospital fence with nails on it. These
nails, with their points upwards, and the fence, and the lodge itself, have that peculiar,
desolate, God-forsaken look which is only found in our hospital and prison buildings.
If you are not afraid of being stung by the nettles, come by the narrow footpath that leads
to the lodge, and let us see what is going on inside. Opening the first door, we walk into
the entry. Here along the walls and by the stove every sort of hospital rubbish lies littered
about. Mattresses, old tattered dressing-gowns, trousers, blue striped shirts, boots and
shoes no good for anything --all these remnants are piled up in heaps, mixed up and
crumpled, mouldering and giving out a sickly smell.
The porter, Nikita, an old soldier wearing rusty good-conduct stripes, is always lying on
the litter with a pipe between his teeth. He has a grim, surly, battered-looking face,
overhanging eyebrows which give him the expression of a sheep-dog of the steppes, and
a red nose; he is short and looks thin and scraggy, but he is of imposing deportment and
his fists are vigorous. He belongs to the class of simple-hearted, practical, and dull-witted
people, prompt in carrying out orders, who like discipline better than anything in the
world, and so are convinced that it is their duty to beat people. He showers blows on the
face, on the chest, on the back, on whatever comes first, and is convinced that there
would be no order in the place if he did not.
Next you come into a big, spacious room which fills up the whole lodge except for the
entry. Here the walls are painted a dirty blue, the ceiling is as sooty as in a hut without a
chimney--it is evident that in the winter the stove smokes and the room is full of fumes.
The windows are disfigured by iron gratings on the inside. The wooden floor is grey and
full of splinters. There is a stench of sour cabbage, of smouldering wicks, of bugs, and of
ammonia, and for the first minute this stench gives you the impression of having walked
into a menagerie.
There are bedsteads screwed to the floor. Men in blue hospital dressing-gowns, and
wearing nightcaps in the old style, are sitting and lying on them. These are the lunatics.
There are five of them in all here. Only one is of the upper class, the rest are all artisans.
The one nearest the door--a tall, lean workman with shining red whiskers and tear-stained
eyes--sits with his head propped on his hand, staring at the same point. Day and night he
grieves, shaking his head, sighing and smiling bitterly. He takes a part in conversation
and usually makes no answer to questions; he eats and drinks mechanically when food is