Mother, by Maksim Gorky

Chapter VIII

The next morning a number of men and women stood at the gate of the hospital waiting for the coffin of their comrade to be carried out to the street. Spies watchfully circled about, their ears alert to catch each sound, noting faces, manners, and words. From the other side of the street a group of policemen with revolvers at their belts looked on. The impudence of the spies, the mocking smiles of the police ready to show their power, were strong provocatives to the crowd. Some joked to cover their excitement; others looked down on the ground sullenly, trying not to notice the affronts; still others, unable to restrain their wrath, laughed in sarcasm at the government, which feared people armed with nothing but words. The pale blue sky of autumn gleamed upon the round, gray paving stones of the streets, strewn with yellow leaves, which the wind kept whirling about under the people’s feet.

The mother stood in the crowd. She looked around at the familiar faces and thought with sadness: “There aren’t many of you, not many.”

The gate opened, and the coffin, decorated with wreaths tied with red ribbons, was carried out. The people, as if inspired with one will, silently raised their hats. A tall officer of police with a thick black mustache on a red face unceremoniously jostled his way through the crowd, followed by the soldiers, whose heavy boots trampled loudly on the stones. They made a cordon around the coffin, and the officer said in a hoarse, commanding voice:

“Remove the ribbons, please!”

The men and women pressed closely about him. They called to him, waving their hands excitedly and trying to push past one another. The mother caught the flash of pale, agitated countenances, some of them with quivering lips and tears.

“Down with violence!” a young voice shouted nervously. But the lonely outcry was lost in the general clamor.

The mother also felt bitterness in her heart. She turned in indignation to her neighbor, a poorly dressed young man.

“They don’t permit a man’s comrades even to bury him as they want to. What do they mean by it?”

The hubbub increased and hostility waxed strong. The coffin rocked over the heads of the people. The silken rustling of the ribbons fluttering in the wind about the heads and faces of the carriers could be heard amid the noise of the strife.

The mother was seized with a shuddering dread of the possible collision, and she quickly spoke in an undertone to her neighbors on the right and on the left:

“Why not let them have their way if they’re like that? The comrades ought to yield and remove the ribbons. What else can they do?”

A loud, sharp voice subdued all the other noises:

“We demand not to be disturbed in accompanying on his last journey one whom you tortured to death!”

Somebody — apparently a girl — sang out in a high, piping voice:

“In mortal strife your victims fell.”

“Remove the ribbons, please, Yakovlev! Cut them off!” A saber was heard issuing from its scabbard. The mother closed her eyes, awaiting shouts; but it grew quieter.

The people growled like wolves at bay; then silently drooping their heads, crushed by the consciousness of impotence, they moved forward, filling the street with the noise of their tramping. Before them swayed the stripped cover of the coffin with the crumpled wreaths, and swinging from side to side rode the mounted police. The mother walked on the pavement; she was unable to see the coffin through the dense crowd surrounding it, which imperceptibly grew and filled the whole breadth of the street. Back of the crowd also rose the gray figures of the mounted police; at their sides, holding their hands on their sabers, marched the policemen on foot, and everywhere were the sharp eyes of the spies, familiar to the mother, carefully scanning the faces of the people.

“Good-by, comrade, good-by!” plaintively sang two beautiful voices.

“Don’t!” a shout was heard. “We will be silent, comrades — for the present.”

The shout was stern and imposing; it carried an assuring threat, and it subdued the crowd. The sad songs broke off; the talking became lower; only the noise of heavy tramping on the stones filled the street with its dull, even sound. Over the heads of the people, into the transparent sky, and through the air it rose like the first peal of distant thunder. People silently bore grief and revolt in their breasts. Was it possible to carry on the war for freedom peacefully? A vain illusion! Hatred of violence, love of freedom blazed up and burned the last remnants of the illusion to ashes in the hearts that still cherished it. The steps became heavier, heads were raised, eyes looked cold and firm, and feeling, outstripping thought, brought forth resolve. The cold wind, waxing stronger and stronger, carried an unfriendly cloud of dust and street litter in front of the people. It, blew through their garments and their hair, blinded their eyes and struck against their breasts.

The mother was pained by these silent funerals without priests and heart-oppressing chants, with thoughtful faces, frowning brows, and the heavy tramp of the feet. Her slowly circling thoughts formulated her impression in the melancholy phrase:

“There are not many of you who stand up for the truth, not many; and yet they fear you, they fear you!”

Her head bent, she strode along without looking around. It seemed to her that they were burying, not Yegor, but something else unknown and incomprehensible to her.

At the cemetery the procession for a long time moved in and out along the narrow paths amid the tombs until an open space was reached, which was sprinkled with wretched little crosses. The people gathered about the graves in silence. This austere silence of the living among the dead promised something strange, which caused the mother’s heart to tremble and sink with expectation. The wind whistled and sighed among the graves. The flowers trembled on the lid of the coffin.

The police, stretching out in a line, assumed an attitude of guard, their eyes on their captain. A tall, long-haired, black-browed, pale young man without a hat stood over the fresh grave. At the same time the hoarse voice of the captain was heard:

“Ladies and gentlemen!”

“Comrades!” began the black-browed man sonorously.

“Permit me!” shouted the police captain. “In pursuance of the order of the chief of police I announce to you that I cannot permit a speech!”

“I will say only a few words,” the young man said calmly. “Comrades! Over the grave of our teacher and friend let us vow in silence never to forget his will; let each one of us continue without ceasing to dig the grave for the source of our country’s misfortune, the evil power that crushes it — the autocracy!”

“Arrest him!” shouted the police captain. But his voice was drowned in the confused outburst of shouts.

“Down with the autocracy!”

The police rushed through the crowd toward the orator, who, closely surrounded on all sides, shouted, waving his hand:

“Long live liberty! We will live and die for it!”

The mother shut her eyes in momentary fear. The boisterous tempest of confused sounds deafened her. The earth rocked under her feet; terror impeded her breathing. The startling whistles of the policemen pierced the air. The rude, commanding voice of the captain was heard; the women cried hysterically. The wooden fences cracked, and the heavy tread of many feet sounded dully on the dry ground. A sonorous voice, subduing all the other voices, blared like a war trumpet:

“Comrades! Calm yourselves! Have more respect for yourselves! Let me go! Comrades, I insist, let me go!”

The mother looked up, and uttered a low exclamation. A blind impulse carried her forward with outstretched hands. Not far from her, on a worn path between the graves, the policemen were surrounding the long-haired man and repelling the crowd that fell upon them from all sides. The unsheathed bayonets flashed white and cold in the air, flying over the heads of the people, and falling quickly again with a spiteful hiss. Broken bits of the fence were brandished; the baleful shouts of the struggling people rose wildly.

The young man lifted his pale face, and his firm, calm voice sounded above the storm of irritated outcries:

“Comrades! Why do you spend your strength? Our task is to arm the heads.”

He conquered. Throwing away their sticks, the people dropped out of the throng one after the other; and the mother pushed forward. She saw how Nikolay, with his hat fallen back on his neck, thrust aside the people, intoxicated with the commotion, and heard his reproachful voice:

“Have you lost your senses? Calm yourselves!”

It seemed to her that one of his hands was red.

“Nikolay Ivanovich, go away!” she shouted, rushing toward him.

“Where are you going? They’ll strike you there!”

She stopped. Seizing her by the shoulder, Sofya stood at her side, hatless, her jacket open, her other hand grasping a young, light-haired man, almost a boy. He held his hands to his bruised face, and he muttered with tremulous lips: “Let me go! It’s nothing.”

“Take care of him! Take him home to us! Here’s a handkerchief. Bandage his face!” Sofya gave the rapid orders, and putting his hand into the mother’s ran away, saying:

“Get out of this place quickly, else they’ll arrest you!”

The people scattered all over the cemetery. After them the policemen strode heavily among the graves, clumsily entangling themselves in the flaps of their military coats, cursing, and brandishing their bayonets.

“Let’s hurry!” said the mother, wiping the boy’s face with the handkerchief. “What’s your name?”

“Ivan.” Blood spurted from his mouth. “Don’t be worried; I don’t feel hurt. He hit me over the head with the handle of his saber, and I gave him such a blow with a stick that he howled,” the boy concluded, shaking his blood-stained fist. “Wait — it’ll be different. We’ll choke you without a fight, when we arise, all the working people.”

“Quick — hurry!” The mother urged him on, walking swiftly toward the little wicket gate. It seemed to her that there, behind the fence in the field, the police were lying in wait for them, ready to pounce on them and beat them as soon as they went out. But on carefully opening the gate, and looking out over the field clothed in the gray garb of autumn dusk, its stillness and solitude at once gave her composure.

“Let me bandage your face.”

“Never mind. I’m not ashamed to be seen with it as it is. The fight was honorable — he hit me — I hit him ——”

The mother hurriedly bandaged his wound. The sight of fresh, flowing blood filled her breast with terror and pity. Its humid warmth on her fingers sent a cold, fine tremor through her body. Then, holding his hand, she silently and quickly conducted the wounded youth through the field. Freeing his mouth of the bandage, he said with a smile:

“But where are you taking me, comrade? I can go by myself.”

But the mother perceived that he was reeling with faintness, that his legs were unsteady, and his hands twitched. He spoke to her in a weak voice, and questioned her without waiting for an answer:

“I’m a tinsmith, and who are you? There were three of us in Yegor Ivanovich’s circle — three tinsmiths — and there were twelve men in all. We loved him very much — may he have eternal life! — although I don’t believe in God — it’s they, the dogs, that dupe us with God, so that we should obey the authorities and suffer life patiently without kicking.”

In one of the streets the mother hailed a cab and put Ivan into it. She whispered, “Now be silent,” and carefully wrapped his face up in the handkerchief. He raised his hand to his face, but was no longer able to free his mouth. His hand fell feebly on his knees; nevertheless he continued to mutter through the bandages:

“I won’t forget those blows; I’ll score them against you, my dear sirs! With Yegor there was another student, Titovich, who taught us political economy — he was a very stern, tedious fellow — he was arrested.”

The mother, drawing the boy to her, put his head on her bosom in order to muffle his voice. It was not necessary, however, for he suddenly grew heavy and silent. In awful fear, she looked about sidewise out of the corners of her eyes. She felt that the policemen would issue from some corner, would see Ivan’s bandaged head, would seize him and kill him.

“Been drinking?” asked the driver, turning on the box with a benignant smile.

“Pretty full.”

“Your son?”

“Yes, a shoemaker. I’m a cook.”

Shaking the whip over the horse, the driver again turned, and continued in a lowered voice:

“I heard there was a row in the cemetery just now. You see, they were burying one of the politicals, one of those who are against the authorities. They have a crow to pick with the authorities. He was buried by fellows like him, his friends, it must be; and they up and begin to shout: ‘Down with the authorities! They ruin the people.’ The police began to beat them. It’s said some were hewed down and killed. But the police got it, too.” He was silent, shaking his head as if afflicted by some sorrow, and uttered in a strange voice: “They don’t even let the dead alone; they even bother people in their graves.”

The cab rattled over the stones. Ivan’s head jostled softly against the mother’s bosom. The driver, sitting half-turned from his horse, mumbled thoughtfully:

“The people are beginning to boil. Every now and then some disorder crops out. Yes! Last night the gendarmes came to our neighbors, and kept up an ado till morning, and in the morning they led away a blacksmith. It’s said they’ll take him to the river at night and drown him. And the blacksmith — well — he was a wise man — he understood a great deal — and to understand, it seems, is forbidden. He used to come to us and say: ‘What sort of life is the cabman’s life?’ ‘It’s true,’ we say, ‘the life of a cabman is worse than a dog’s.’”

“Stop!” the mother said.

Ivan awoke from the shock of the sudden halt, and groaned softly.

“It shook him up!” remarked the driver. “Oh, whisky, whisky!”

Ivan shifted his feet about with difficulty. His whole body swaying, he walked through the entrance, and said:

“Nothing — comrade, I can get along.”

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