Mother, by Maksim Gorky

Chapter XVIII

Several days later Vyesovshchikov came in, as shabby, untidy, and disgruntled as ever.

“Haven’t you heard who killed Isay?” He stopped in his clumsy pacing of the room to turn to Pavel.

“No!” Pavel answered briefly.

“There you got a man who wasn’t squeamish about the job! And I’d always been preparing to do it myself. It was my job — just the thing for me!”

“Don’t talk nonsense, Nikolay,” Pavel said in a friendly manner.

“Now, really, what’s the matter with you?” interposed the mother kindly. “You have a soft heart, and yet you keep barking like a vicious dog. What do you go on that way for?”

At this moment she was actually pleased to see Nikolay. Even his pockmarked face looked more agreeable to her. She pitied him as never before.

“Well, I’m not fit for anything but jobs like that!” said Nikolay dully, shrugging his shoulders. “I keep thinking, and thinking where my place in the world is. There is no place for me! The people require to be spoken to, and I cannot. I see everything; I feel all the people’s wrongs; but I cannot express myself: I have a dumb soul.” He went over to Pavel with drooping head; and scraping his fingers on the table, he said plaintively, and so unlike himself, childishly, sadly: “Give me some hard work to do, comrade. I can’t live this life any longer. It’s so senseless, so useless. You are all working in the movement, and I see that it is growing, and I’m outside of it all. I haul boards and beams. Is it possible to live for the sake of hauling timber? Give me some hard work.”

Pavel clasped his hand, pulling him toward himself.

“We will!”

From behind the curtains resounded the Little Russian’s voice:

“Nikolay, I’ll teach you typesetting, and you’ll work as a compositor for us. Yes?”

Nikolay went over to him and said:

“If you’ll teach me that, I’ll give you my knife.”

“To the devil with your knife!” exclaimed the Little Russian and burst out laughing.

“It’s a good knife,” Nikolay insisted. Pavel laughed, too.

Vyesovshchikov stopped in the middle of the room and asked:

“Are you laughing at me?”

“Of course,” replied the Little Russian, jumping out of bed. “I’ll tell you what! Let’s take a walk in the fields! The night is fine; there’s bright moonshine. Let’s go!”

“All right,” said Pavel.

“And I’ll go with you, too!” declared Nikolay. “I like to hear you laugh, Little Russian.”

“And I like to hear you promise presents,” answered the Little Russian, smiling.

While Andrey was dressing in the kitchen, the mother scolded him:

“Dress warmer! You’ll get sick.” And when they all had left, she watched them through the window; then looked at the ikon, and said softly: “God help them!”

She turned off the lamp and began to pray alone in the moonlit room.

The days flew by in such rapid succession that the mother could not give much thought to the first of May. Only at night, when, exhausted by the noise and the exciting bustle of the day, she went to bed, tired and worn out, her heart would begin to ache.

“Oh, dear, if it would only be over soon!”

At dawn, when the factory whistle blew, the son and the Little Russian, after hastily drinking tea and snatching a bite, would go, leaving a dozen or so small commissions for the mother. The whole day long she would move around like a squirrel in a wheel, cook dinner, and boil lilac-colored gelatin and glue for the proclamations. Some people would come, leave notes with her to deliver to Pavel, and disappear, infecting her with their excitement.

The leaflets appealing to the working people to celebrate the first of May flooded the village and the factory. Every night they were posted on the fences, even on the doors of the police station; and every day they were found in the factory. In the mornings the police would go around, swearing, tearing down and scraping off the lilac-covered bills from the fences. At noon, however, these bills would fly over the streets again, rolling to the feet of the passers-by. Spies were sent from the city to stand at the street corners and carefully scan the working people on their gay passages from and to the factory at dinner time. Everybody was pleased to see the impotence of the police, and even the elder workingmen would smile at one another:

“Things are happening, aren’t they?”

All over, people would cluster into groups hotly discussing the stirring appeals. Life was at boiling point. This spring it held more of interest to everybody, it brought forth something new to all; for some it was a good excuse to excite themselves — they could pour out their malicious oaths on the agitators; to others, it brought perplexed anxiety as well as hope; to others again, the minority, an acute delight in the consciousness of being the power that set the village astir.

Pavel and Andrey scarcely ever went to bed. They came home just before the morning whistle sounded, tired, hoarse, and pale. The mother knew that they held meetings in the woods and the marsh; that squads of mounted police galloped around the village, that spies were crawling all over, holding up and searching single workingmen, dispersing groups, and sometimes making an arrest. She understood that her son and Andrey might be arrested any night. Sometimes she thought that this would be the best thing for them.

Strangely enough, the investigation of the murder of Isay, the record clerk, suddenly ceased. For two days the local police questioned the people in regard to the matter, examining about ten men or so, and finally lost interest in the affair.

Marya Korsunova, in a chat with the mother, reflected the opinion of the police, with whom she associated as amicably as with everybody:

“How is it possible to find the guilty man? That morning some hundred people met Isay, and ninety of them, if not more, might have given him the blow. During these eight years he has galled everybody.”

The Little Russian changed considerably. His face became hollow-cheeked; his eyelids got heavy and drooped over his round eyes, half covering them. His smiles were wrung from him unwillingly, and two thin wrinkles were drawn from his nostrils to the corners of his lips. He talked less about everyday matters; on the other hand, he was more frequently enkindled with a passionate fire; and he intoxicated his listeners with his ecstatic words about the future, about the bright, beautiful holiday, when they would celebrate the triumph of freedom and reason. Listening to his words, the mother felt that he had gone further than anybody else toward the great, glorious day, and that he saw the joys of that future more vividly than the rest. When the investigations of Isay’s murder ceased, he said in disgust and smiling sadly:

“It’s not only the people they treat like trash, but even the very men whom they set on the people like dogs. They have no concern for their faithful Judases, they care only for their shekels — only for them.” And after a sullen silence, he added: “And I pity that man the more I think of him. I didn’t intend to kill him — didn’t want to!”

“Enough, Andrey,” said Pavel severely.

“You happened to knock against something rotten, and it fell to pieces,” added the mother in a low voice.

“You’re right — but that’s no consolation.”

He often spoke in this way. In his mouth the words assumed a peculiar, universal significance, bitter and corrosive.

At last, it was the first of May! The whistle shrilled as usual, powerful and peremptory. The mother, who hadn’t slept a minute during the night, jumped out of bed, made a fire in the samovar, which had been prepared the evening before, and was about, as always, to knock at the door of her son’s and Andrey’s room, when, with a wave of her hand she recollected the day, and went to seat herself at the window, leaning her cheek on her hand.

Clusters of light clouds, white and rosy, sailed swiftly across the pale blue sky, like huge birds frightened by the piercing shriek of the escaping steam. The mother watched the clouds, absorbed in herself. Her head was heavy, her eyes dry and inflamed from the sleepless night. A strange calm possessed her breast, her heart was beating evenly, and her mind dwelt on only common, everyday things.

“I prepared the samovar too early; it will boil away. Let them sleep longer to-day; they’ve worn themselves out, both of them.”

A cheerful ray of sun looked into the room. She held her hand out to it, and with the other gently patted the bright young beam, smiling kindly and thoughtfully. Then she rose, removed the pipe from the samovar, trying not to make a noise, washed herself, and began to pray, crossing herself piously, and noiselessly moving her lips. Her face was radiant, and her right eyebrow kept rising gradually and suddenly dropping.

The second whistle blew more softly with less assurance, a tremor in its thick and mellow sound. It seemed to the mother that the whistle lasted longer to-day than ever. The clear, musical voice of the Little Russian sounded in the room:

“Pavel, do you hear? They’re calling.”

The mother heard the patter of bare feet on the floor and some one yawn with gusto.

“The samovar is ready,” she cried.

“We’re getting up,” Pavel answered merrily.

“The sun is rising,” said the Little Russian. “The clouds are racing; they’re out of place to-day.” He went into the kitchen all disheveled but jolly after his sleep. “Good morning, mother dear; how did you sleep?”

The mother went to him and whispered:

“Andriusha, keep close to him.”

“Certainly. As long as it depends on us, we’ll always stick to each other, you may be sure.”

“What’s that whispering about?” Pavel asked.

“Nothing. She told me to wash myself better, so the girls will look at me,” replied the Little Russian, going out on the porch to wash himself.

“‘Rise up, awake, you workingmen,’” Pavel sang softly.

As the day grew, the clouds dispersed, chased by the wind. The mother got the dishes ready for the tea, shaking her head over the thought of how strange it was for both of them to be joking and smiling all the time on this morning, when who knew what would befall them in the afternoon. Yet, curiously enough, she felt herself calm, almost happy.

They sat a long time over the tea to while away the hours of expectation. Pavel, as was his wont, slowly and scrupulously mixed the sugar in the glass with his spoon, and accurately salted his favorite crust from the end of the loaf. The Little Russian moved his feet under the table — he never could at once settle his feet comfortably — and looked at the rays of sunlight playing on the wall and ceiling.

“When I was a youngster of ten years,” he recounted, “I wanted to catch the sun in a glass. So I took the glass, stole to the wall, and bang! I cut my hand and got a licking to boot. After the licking I went out in the yard and saw the sun in a puddle. So I started to trample the mud with my feet. I covered myself with mud, and got another drubbing. What was I to do? I screamed to the sun: ‘It doesn’t hurt me, you red devil; it doesn’t hurt me!’ and stuck out my tongue at him. And I felt comforted.”

“Why did the sun seem red to you?” Pavel asked, laughing.

“There was a blacksmith opposite our house, with fine red cheeks, and a huge red beard. I thought the sun resembled him.”

The mother lost patience and said:

“You’d better talk about your arrangements for the procession.”

“Everything’s been arranged,” said Pavel.

“No use talking of things once decided upon. It only confuses the mind,” the Little Russian added. “If we are all arrested, Nikolay Ivanovich will come and tell you what to do. He will help you in every way.”

“All right,” said the mother with a heavy sigh.

“Let’s go out,” said Pavel dreamily.

“No, rather stay indoors,” replied Andrey. “No need to annoy the eyes of the police so often. They know you well enough.”

Fedya Mazin came running in, all aglow, with red spots on his cheeks, quivering with youthful joy. His animation dispelled the tedium of expectation for them.

“It’s begun!” he reported. “The people are all out on the street, their faces sharp as the edge of an ax. Vyesovshchikov, the Gusevs, and Samoylov have been standing at the factory gates all the time, and have been making speeches. Most of the people went back from the factory, and returned home. Let’s go! It’s just time! It’s ten o’clock already.”

“I’m going!” said Pavel decidedly.

“You’ll see,” Fedya assured them, “the whole factory will rise up after dinner.”

And he hurried away, followed by the quiet words of the mother:

“Burning like a wax candle in the wind.”

She rose and went into the kitchen to dress.

“Where are you going, mother?”

“With you,” she said.

Andrey looked at Pavel pulling his mustache. Pavel arranged his hair with a quick gesture, and went to his mother.

“Mother, I will not tell you anything; and don’t you tell me anything, either. Right, mother?”

“All right, all right! God bless you!” she murmured.

When she went out and heard the holiday hum of the people’s voices — an anxious and expectant hum — when she saw everywhere, at the gates and windows, crowds of people staring at Andrey and her son, a blur quivered before her eyes, changes from a transparent green to a muddy gray.

People greeted them — there was something peculiar in their greetings. She caught whispered, broken remarks:

“Here they are, the leaders!”

“We don’t know who the leaders are!”

“Why, I didn’t say anything wrong.”

At another place some one in a yard shouted excitedly:

“The police will get them, and that’ll be the end them!”

“What if they do?” retorted another voice.

Farther on a crying woman’s voice leaped frightened the window to the street:

“Consider! Are you a single man, are you? They are bachelors and don’t care!”

When they passed the house of Zosimov, the man without legs, who received a monthly allowance from the factory because of his mutilation, he stuck his head through, the window and cried out:

“Pavel, you scoundrel, they’ll wring your head off for your doings, you’ll see!”

The mother trembled and stopped. The exclamation aroused in her a sharp sensation of anger. She looked up at the thick, bloated face of the cripple, and he hid himself, cursing. Then she quickened her pace, overtook her son, and tried not to fall behind again. He and Andrey seemed not to notice anything; not to hear the outcries that pursued them. They moved calmly, without haste, and talked loudly about commonplaces. They were stopped by Mironov, a modest, elderly man, respected by everybody for his clean, sober life.

“Not working either, Daniil Ivanovich?” Pavel asked.

“My wife is going to be confined. Well, and such an exciting day, too,” Mironov responded, staring fixedly at the comrades. He said to them in an undertone:

“Boys, I hear you’re going to make an awful row — smash the superintendent’s windows.”

“Why, are we drunk?” exclaimed Pavel.

“We are simply going to march along the streets with flags, and sing songs,” said the Little Russian. “You’ll have a chance to hear our songs. They’re our confession of faith.”

“I know your confession of faith,” said Mironov thoughtfully. “I read your papers. You, Nilovna,” he exclaimed, smiling at the mother with knowing eyes, “are you going to revolt, too?”

“Well, even if it’s only before death, I want to walk shoulder to shoulder with the truth.”

“I declare!” said Mironov. “I guess they were telling the truth when they said you carried forbidden books to the factory.”

“Who said so?” asked Pavel.

“Oh, people. Well, good-by! Behave yourselves!”

The mother laughed softly; she was pleased to hear that such things were said of her. Pavel smilingly turned to her:

“Oh, you’ll get into prison, mother!”

“I don’t mind,” she murmured.

The sun rose higher, pouring warmth into the bracing freshness of the spring day. The clouds floated more slowly, their shadows grew thinner and more transparent, and crawled gently over the streets and roofs. The bright sunlight seemed to clean the village, to wipe the dust and dirt from the walls and the tedium from the faces. Everything assumed a more cheerful aspect; the voices sounded louder, drowning the far-off rumble and heavings of the factory machines.

Again, from all sides, from the windows and the yards, different words and voices, now uneasy and malicious, now thoughtful and gay, found their way to the mother’s ears. But this time she felt a desire to retort, to thank, to explain, to participate in the strangely variegated life of the day.

Off a corner of the main thoroughfare, in a narrow by-street, a crowd of about a hundred people had gathered, and from its depths resounded Vyesovshchikov’s voice:

“They squeeze our blood like juice from huckleberries.” His words fell like hammer blows on the people.

“That’s true!” the resonant cry rang out simultaneously from a number of throats.

“The boy is doing his best,” said the Little Russian. “I’ll go help him.” He bent low and before Pavel had time to stop him he twisted his tall, flexible body into the crowd like a corkscrew into a cork, and soon his singing voice rang out:

“Comrades! They say there are various races on the earth — Jews and Germans, English and Tartars. But I don’t believe it. There are only two nations, two irreconcilable tribes — the rich and the poor. People dress differently and speak differently; but look at the rich Frenchman, the rich German, or the rich Englishman, you’ll see that they are all Tartars in the way they treat their workingman — a plague on them!”

A laugh broke out in the crowd.

“On the other hand, we can see the French workingmen, the Tartar workingmen, the Turkish workingmen, all lead the same dog’s life, as we — we, the Russian workingmen.”

More and more people joined the crowd; one after the other they thronged into the by-street, silent, stepping on tiptoe, and craning their necks. Andrey raised his voice:

“The workingmen of foreign countries have already learned this simple truth, and to-day, on this bright first of May, the foreign working people fraternize with one another. They quit their work, and go out into the streets to look at themselves, to take stock of their immense power. On this day, the workingmen out there throb with one heart; for all hearts are lighted with the consciousness of the might of the working people; all hearts beat with comradeship, each and every one of them is ready to lay down his life in the war for the happiness of all, for freedom and truth to all — comrades!”

“The police!” some one shouted.

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Last updated Saturday, March 1, 2014 at 20:37