Leo Tolstoy, the great Russian novelist who became a Christian mystic near the end of his life, wrote the three stories in this collection around the time of the Revolution of 1905. All three explore Tolstoy's anguish at the political turmoil and the violence into which his beloved Russia appeared to be falling: his opposition in equal measure to the autocracy of the Czar, the senseless violence of the revolutionaries, and the materialist philosophy of Marxism.

The title tale recounts the fate of two young revolutionaries who have been thrown in prison. One of the young men has been sentenced to death by a bureaucrat who inwardly admits that he is not certain of the young man's guilt. The revolutionary accepts the Gospel before he dies and does so with dignity. The other is a Marxist whose inner resources eventually wear down, and he commits suicide in his cell.

All three stories, decently translated by Gordon Spence, demonstrate Tolstoy's pessimistic belief that only faith, religious love and divine salvation--not politics--could transform the world.

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