The door was locked. It was necessary to go after the watchman. Tamara with difficulty sought out a bald, ancient old man, grown over as though with bog moss by entangled gray bristles; with little rheumy eyes and an enormous, reddish, dark-blue granulous nose, on the manner of a cookie.
He unlocked the enormous hanging lock, pushed away the bolt and opened the rusty, singing door. The cold, damp air together with the mixed smell of the dampness of stones, frankincense, and dead flesh breathed upon the girls. They fell back, huddling closely into a timorous flock. Tamara alone went after the watchman without wavering.
It was almost dark in the chapel. The autumn light penetrated scantily through the little, narrow prison-like window, barred with an iron grating. Two or three images without chasubles, dark and without visages, hung upon the walls. Several common board coffins were standing right on the floor, upon wooden carrying shafts. One in the middle was empty, and the taken-off lid was lying alongside.
“What sort is yours, now?” asked the watchman hoarsely and took some snuff. “Do you know her face or not?”
“I know her.”
“Well, then, look! I’ll show them all to you. Maybe this one? ...”
And he took the lid off one of the coffins, not yet fastened down with nails. A wrinkled old woman, dressed any old way in her tatters, with a swollen blue face, was lying there. Her left eye was closed; while the right was staring and gazing immovably and frightfully, having already lost its sparkle and resembling mica that had lain for a long time.
“Not this one, you say? Well, look ... Here’s more for you!” said the watchman; and one after the other, opening the lids, exhibited the decedents—all, probably, the poorest of the poor: picked up on the streets, intoxicated, crushed, maimed and mutilated, beginning to decompose. Certain ones had already begun to show on their hands and faces bluish-green spots, resembling mould—signs of putrefaction. One man, without a nose, with an upper hare-lip cloven in two, had worms, like little white dots, swarming upon his sore-eaten face. A woman who had died from hydropsy, reared like a whole mountain from her board couch, bulging out the lid.
All of them had been hastily sewn up after autopsy, repaired, and washed by the moss-covered watchman and his mates. What affair was it of theirs if, at times, the brain got into the stomach; while the skull was stuffed with the liver and rudely joined with the help of sticking plaster to the head? The watchmen had grown used to everything during their night-marish, unlikely, drunken life; and, by the bye, almost never did their voiceless clients prove to have either relatives or acquaintances...
A heavy odour of carrion—thick, cloying, and so viscid that to Tamara it seemed as though it was covering all the living pores of her body just like glue—stood in the chapel.