On the 11th day Rubashov is first taken to the yard to exercise. The warder tells him the regulations, including the prohibition on conversation. Then he opens the door of No. 406: Rip Van Winkle is wearing black boots and frayed (but neat) trousers, his face covered with gray stubble. He gives Rubashov a friendly nod, and Rubashov realizes the man may not be entirely mad. They go outside, where the sky is pale blue. Rubashov realizes that he can’t see through his own window, nor that of No. 402 (whom he’d never heard being taken out of his cell). The old man is humming “Arise, ye wretched of the earth.” Rubashov tries to imagine what it would be like to be cut off from the world for 20 years. Despite all his practice in thinking through others’ minds, here he cannot.
Rubashov’s day-to-day situation continues to improve in material terms, as he’s allowed out of his cell and into the fresh air. For the first time he meets one of his companion prisoners (not No. 402, who will remain a mystery), the Rip Van Winkle character, who still seems obsessed with the First International anthem. Rubashov finds himself fascinated by this man’s long imprisonment, but even his penchant for imagining other minds and situations fails him, as he himself has been saturated in present-day politics for so long.
Back in the building, the old man looks back at Rubashov with a hopeless look. Rubashov tries to tap at him in the cell, but he doesn’t answer. No. 402, meanwhile, wants every detail about outside. Each day they’re taken outside, and Rubashov starts to notice that the guards don’t enforce the rule about no talking. He brings his notebook to the courtyard, and gives it to No. 406, who eagerly draws a sketch of their country, with remarkable accuracy. He looks for Rubashov’s approval, but Rubashov is slightly embarrassed. The man claims he can do this with his eyes shut—he has been able to for 20 years—and he does so.
No. 406 seems to fixate on silly, obsessive projects rather than, like Rubashov, concentrating on the intellectual implications of his imprisonment. His situation reveals another way that totalitarianism can work on people, depriving them of their ability to think for themselves, and locking them within the space of their own mind. Rubashov is a different kind of prisoner, though he is, in another sense, captive to ideology.
As they move back inside, the expression of fear returns to No. 406, and he whispers to Rubashov that he was put in the wrong train, and they thought he didn’t notice. He tells Rubashov not to tell anyone he knows. One day they’ll get there all the same, he says.
No. 406’s whispers may sound like conspiracy theories, and yet Rubashov knows all too well that they are both inhabiting a space of constant surveillance and intrigue.