Mother, by Maksim Gorky

Chapter IX

Sofya was already at home when they reached the house. She met the mother with a cigarette in her teeth. She was somewhat ruffled, but, as usual, bold and assured of manner. Putting the wounded man on the sofa, she deftly unbound his head, giving orders and screwing up her eyes from the smoke of her cigarette.

“Ivan Danilovich!” she called out. “He’s been brought here. You are tired, Nilovna. You’ve had enough fright, haven’t, you? Well, rest now. Nikolay, quick, give Nilovna some tea and a glass of port.”

Dizzied by her experience, the mother breathing heavily and feeling a sickly pricking in her breast, said: “Don’t bother about me.”

But her entire anxious being begged for attention and kindnesses.

From the next room entered Nikolay with a bandaged hand, and the doctor, Ivan Danilovich, all disheveled, his hair standing on end like the spines of a hedgehog. He quickly stepped to Ivan, bent over him, and said:

“Water, Sofya Ivanovich, more water, clean linen strips, and cotton.”

The mother walked toward the kitchen; but Nikolay took her by the arm with his left hand, and led her into the dining room.

“He didn’t speak to you; he was speaking to Sofya. You’ve had enough suffering, my dear woman, haven’t you?”

The mother met Nikolay’s fixed, sympathetic glance, and, pressing his head, exclaimed with a groan she could not restrain:

“Oh, my darling, how fearful it was! They mowed the comrades down! They mowed them down!”

“I saw it,” said Nikolay, giving her a glass of wine, and nodding his head. “Both sides grew a little heated. But don’t be uneasy; they used the flats of their swords, and it seems only one was seriously wounded. I saw him struck, and I myself carried him out of the crowd.”

His face and voice, and the warmth and brightness of the room quieted Vlasova. Looking gratefully at him, she asked:

“Did they hit you, too?”

“It seems to me that I myself through carelessness knocked my hand against something and tore off the skin. Drink some tea. The weather is cold and you’re dressed lightly.”

She stretched out her hand for the cup and saw that her fingers were stained with dark clots of blood. She instinctively dropped her hands on her knees. Her skirt was damp. Ivan Danilovich came in in his vest, his shirt sleeves rolled up, and in response to Nikolay’s mute question, said in his thin voice:

“The wound on his face is slight. His skull, however, is fractured, but not very badly. He’s a strong fellow, but he’s lost a lot of blood. We’ll take him over to the hospital.”

“Why? Let him stay here!” exclaimed Nikolay.

“To-day he may; and — well — to-morrow, too; but after that it’ll be more convenient for us to have him at the hospital. I have no time to pay visits. You’ll write a leaflet about the affair at the cemetery, won’t you?”

“Of course!”

The mother rose quietly and walked into the kitchen.

“Where are you going, Nilovna?” Nikolay stopped her with solicitude. “Sofya can get along by herself.”

She looked at him and started and smiled strangely.

“I’m all covered with blood.”

While changing her dress she once again thought of the calmness of these people, of their ability to recover from the horrible, an ability which clearly testified to their manly readiness to meet any demand made on them for work in the cause of truth. This thought, steadying the mother, drove fear from her heart.

When she returned to the room where the sick man lay, she heard Sofya say, as she bent over him:

“That’s nonsense, comrade!”

“Yes, I’ll incommode you,” he said faintly.

“You keep still. That’s better for you.”

The mother stood back of Sofya, and puffing her hand on her shoulders peered with a smile into the face of the sick man. She related how he had raved in the presence of the cabman and frightened her by his lack of caution. Ivan heard her; his eyes turned feverishly, he smacked his lips, and at times exclaimed in a confused low voice: “Oh, what a fool I am!”

“We’ll leave you here,” Sofya said, straightening out the blanket. “Rest.”

The mother and Sofya went to the dining room and conversed there in subdued voices about the events of the day. They already regarded the drama of the burial as something remote, and looked with assurance toward the future in deliberating on the work of the morrow. Their faces wore a weary expression, but their thoughts were bold.

They spoke of their dissatisfaction with themselves. Nervously moving in his chair and gesticulating animatedly the physician, dulling his thin, sharp voice with an effort, said:

“Propaganda! propaganda! There’s too little of it now. The young workingmen are right. We must extend the field of agitation. The workingmen are right, I say.”

Nikolay answered somberly:

“From everywhere come complaints of not enough literature, and we still cannot get a good printing establishment. Liudmila is wearing herself out. She’ll get sick if we don’t see that she gets assistance.”

“And Vyesovshchikov?” asked Sofya.

“He cannot live in the city. He won’t be able to go to work until he can enter the new printing establishment. And one man is still needed for it.”

“Won’t I do?” the mother asked quietly.

All three looked at her in silence for a short while.

“No, it’s too hard for you, Nilovna,” said Nikolay. “You’ll have to live outside the city and stop your visits to Pavel, and in general ——”

With a sigh the mother said:

“For Pasha it won’t be a great loss. And so far as I am concerned these visits, too, are a torment; they tear out my heart. I’m not allowed to speak of anything; I stand opposite my son like a fool. And they look into my mouth and wait to see something come out that oughtn’t.”

Sofya groped for the mother’s hand under the table and pressed it warmly with her thin fingers. Nikolay looked at the mother fixedly while explaining to her that she would have to serve in the new printing establishment as a protection to the workers.

“I understand,” she said. “I’ll be a cook. I’ll be able to do it; I can imagine what’s needed.”

“How persistent you are!” remarked Sofya.

The events of the last few days had exhausted the mother; and now as she heard of the possibility of living outside the city, away from its bustle, she greedily grasped at the chance.

But Nikolay changed the subject of conversation.

“What are you thinking about, Ivan?” He turned to the physician.

Raising his head from the table, the physician answered sullenly:

“There are too few of us. That’s what I’m thinking of. We positively must begin to work more energetically, and we must persuade Pavel and Andrey to escape. They are both too invaluable to be sitting there idle.”

Nikolay lowered his brows and shook his head in doubt, darting a glance at the mother.

As she realized the embarrassment they must feel in speaking of her son in her presence, she walked out into her own room.

There, lying in bed with open eyes, the murmur of low talking in her ears, she gave herself up to anxious thoughts. She wanted to see her son at liberty, but at the same time the idea of freeing him frightened her. She felt that the struggle around her was growing keener and that a sharp collision was threatening. The silent patience of the people was wearing away, yielding to a strained expectation of something new. The excitement was growing perceptibly. Bitter words were tossed about. Something novel and stirring was wafted from all quarters; every proclamation evoked lively discussions in the market place, in the shops, among servants, among workingmen. Every arrest aroused a timid, uncomprehending, and sometimes unconscious sympathy when judgment regarding the causes of the arrest was expressed. She heard the words that had once frightened her — riot, socialism, politics — uttered more and more frequently among the simple folk, though accompanied by derision. However, behind their ridicule it was impossible to conceal an eagerness to understand, mingled with fear and hope, with hatred of the masters and threats against them.

Agitation disturbed the settled, dark life of the people in slow but wide circles. Dormant thoughts awoke, and men were shaken from their usual forced calm attitude toward daily events. All this the mother saw more clearly than others, because she, better than they, knew the dismal, dead face of existence; she stood nearer to it, and now saw upon it the wrinkles of hesitation and turmoil, the vague hunger for the new. She both rejoiced over the change and feared it. She rejoiced because she regarded this as the cause of her son; she feared because she knew that if he emerged from prison he would stand at the head of all, in the most dangerous place, and — he would perish.

She often felt great thoughts needful to everybody stirring in her bosom, but scarcely ever was able to make them live in words; and they oppressed her heart with a dumb, heavy sadness. Sometimes the image of her son grew before her until it assumed the proportions of a giant in the old fairy tales. He united within himself all the honest thoughts she had heard spoken, all the people that she liked, everything heroic of which she knew. Then, moved with delight in him, she exulted in quiet rapture. An indistinct hope filled her. “Everything will be well — everything!” Her love, the love of a mother, was fanned into a flame, a veritable pain to her heart. Then the motherly affection hindered the growth of the broader human feeling, burned it; and in place of a great sentiment a small, dismal thought beat faint-heartedly in the gray ashes of alarm: “He will perish; he will fall!”

Late that night the mother sank into a heavy sleep, but rose early, her bones stiff, her head aching. At mid-day she was sitting in the prison office opposite Pavel and looking through a mist in her eyes at his bearded, swarthy face. She was watching for a chance to deliver to him the note she held tightly in her hand.

“I am well and all are well,” said Pavel in a moderated voice. “And how are you?”

“So so. Yegor Ivanovich died,” she said mechanically.

“Yes?” exclaimed Pavel, and dropped his head.

“At the funeral the police got up a fight and arrested one man,” the mother continued in her simple-hearted way.

The thin-lipped assistant overseer of the prison jumped from his chair and mumbled quickly:

“Cut that out; it’s forbidden! Why don’t you understand? You know politics are prohibited.”

The mother also rose from her chair, and as if failing to comprehend him, she said guiltily:

“I wasn’t discussing politics. I was telling about a fight — and they did fight; that’s true. They even broke one fellow’s head.”

“All the same, please keep quiet — that is to say, keep quiet about everything that doesn’t concern you personally — your family; in general, your home.”

Aware that his speech was confused, he sat down in his chair and arranged papers.

“I’m responsible for what you say,” he said sadly and wearily.

The mother looked around and quickly thrust the note into Pavel’s hand. She breathed a deep sigh of relief.

“I don’t know what to speak about.”

Pavel smiled:

“I don’t know either.”

“Then why pay visits?” said the overseer excitedly. “They have nothing to say, but they come here anyhow and bother me.”

“Will the trial take place soon?” asked the mother after a pause.

“The procurator was here the other day, and he said it will come off soon.”

“You’ve been in prison half a year already!”

They spoke to each other about matters of no significance to either. The mother saw Pavel’s eyes look into her face softly and lovingly. Even and calm as before, he had not changed, save that his wrists were whiter, and his beard, grown long, made him look older. The mother experienced a strong desire to do something pleasant for him — tell him about Vyesovshchikov, for instance. So, without changing her tone, she continued in the same voice in which she spoke of the needless and uninteresting things.

“I saw your godchild.” Pavel fixed a silent questioning look on her eyes. She tapped her fingers on her cheeks to picture to him the pockmarked face of Vyesovshchikov.

“He’s all right! The boy is alive and well. He’ll soon get his position — you remember how he always asked for hard work?”

Pavel understood, and gratefully nodded his head. “Why, of course I remember!” he answered, with a cheery smile in his eyes.

“Very well!” the mother uttered in a satisfied tone, content with herself and moved by his joy.

On parting with her he held her hand in a firm clasp.

“Thank you, mamma!” The joyous feeling of hearty nearness to him mounted to her head like a strong drink. Powerless to answer in words, she merely pressed his hand.

At home she found Sasha. The girl usually came to Nilovna on the days when the mother had visited Pavel.

“Well, how is he?”

“He’s well.”

“Did you hand him the note?”

“Of course! I stuck it into his hands very cleverly.”

“Did he read it?”

“On the spot? How could he?”

“Oh, yes; I forgot! Let us wait another week, one week longer. Do you think he’ll agree to it?”

“I don’t know — I think he will,” the mother deliberated. “Why shouldn’t he if he can do so without danger?”

Sasha shook her head.

“Do you know what the sick man is allowed to eat? He’s asked for some food.”

“Anything at all. I’ll get him something at once.” The mother walked into the kitchen, slowly followed by Sasha.

“Can I help you?”

“Thank you! Why should you?”

The mother bent at the oven to get a pot. The girl said in a low voice:

“Wait!”

Her face paled, her eyes opened sadly and her quivering lips whispered hotly with an effort:

“I want to beg you — I know he will not agree — try to persuade him. He’s needed. Tell him he’s essential, absolutely necessary for the cause — tell him I fear he’ll get sick. You see the date of the trial hasn’t been set yet, and six months have already passed — I beg of you!”

It was apparent that she spoke with difficulty. She stood up straight, in a tense attitude, and looked aside. Her voice sounded uneven, like the snapping of a taut string. Her eyelids drooping wearily, she bit her lips, and the fingers of her compressed hand cracked.

The mother was ruffled by her outburst; but she understood it, and a sad emotion took possession of her. Softly embracing Sasha, she answered:

“My dear, he will never listen to anybody except himself — never!”

For a short while they were both silent in a close embrace. Then Sasha carefully removed the mother’s hands from her shoulders.

“Yes, you’re right,” she said in a tremble. “It’s all stupidity and nerves. One gets so tired.” And, suddenly growing serious, she concluded: “Anyway, let’s give the sick man something to eat.”

In an instant she was sitting at Ivan’s bed, kindly and solicitously inquiring, “Does your head ache badly?”

“Not very. Only everything is muddled up, and I’m weak,” answered Ivan in embarrassment. He pulled the blanket up to his chin, and screwed up his eyes as if dazzled by too brilliant a light. Noticing that she embarrassed him by her presence and that he could not make up his mind to eat, Sasha rose and walked away. Then Ivan sat up in bed and looked at the door through which she had left.

“Be-au-tiful!” he murmured.

His eyes were bright and merry; his teeth fine and compact; his young voice was not yet steady as an adult’s.

“How old are you?” the mother asked thoughtfully.

“Seventeen years.”

“Where are your parents?”

“In the village. I’ve been here since I was ten years old. I got through school and came here. And what is your name, comrade?”

This word, when applied to her, always brought a smile to the mother’s face and touched her.

“Why do you want to know?”

The youth, after an embarrassed pause, explained:

“You see, a student of our circle, that is, a fellow who used to read to us, told us about Pavel’s mother — a workingman, you know — and about the first of May demonstration.”

She nodded her head and pricked up her ears.

“He was the first one who openly displayed the banner of our party,” the youth declared with pride — a pride which found a response in the mother’s heart.

“I wasn’t present; we were then thinking of making our own demonstration here in the city, but it fizzled out; we were too few of us then. But this year we will — you’ll see!”

He choked from agitation, having a foretaste of the future event. Then waving his spoon in the air, he continued:

“So Vlasova — the mother, as I was telling you — she, too, got into the party after that. They say she’s a wonder of an old woman.”

The mother smiled broadly. It was pleasant for her to hear the boy’s enthusiastic praise — pleasant, yet embarrassing. She even had to restrain herself from telling him that she was Vlasova, and she thought sadly, in derision of herself: “Oh, you old fool!”

“Eat more! Get well sooner for the sake of the cause!” She burst out all of a sudden, in agitation, bending toward him: “It awaits powerful young hands, clean hearts, honest minds. It lives by these forces! With them it holds aloof everything evil, everything mean!”

The door opened, admitting a cold, damp, autumn draught. Sofya entered, bold, a smile on her face, reddened by the cold.

“Upon my word, the spies are as attentive to me as a bridegroom to a rich bride! I must leave this place. Well, how are you, Vanya? All right? How’s Pavel, Nilovna? What! is Sasha here?”

Lighting a cigarette, she showered questions without waiting for answers, caressing the mother and the youth with merry glances of her gray eyes. The mother looked at her and smiled inwardly. “What good people I’m among!” she thought. She bent over Ivan again and gave him back his kindness twofold:

“Get well! Now I must give you wine.” She rose and walked into the dining room, where Sofya was saying to Sasha:

“She has three hundred copies prepared already. She’ll kill herself working so hard. There’s heroism for you! Unseen, unnoticed, it finds its reward and its praise in itself. Do you know, Sasha, it’s the greatest happiness to live among such people, to be their comrade, to work with them?”

“Yes,” answered the girl softly.

In the evening at tea Sofya said to the mother:

“Nilovna, you have to go to the village again.”

“Well, what of it? When?”

“It would be good if you could go to-morrow. Can you?”

“Yes.”

“Ride there,” advised Nikolay. “Hire post horses, and please take a different route from before — across the district of Nikolsk.” Nikolay’s somber expression was alarming.

“The way by Nikolsk is long, and it’s expensive if you hire horses.”

“You see, I’m against this expedition in general. It’s already begun to be unquiet there — some arrests have been made, a teacher was taken. Rybin escaped, that’s certain. But we must be more careful. We ought to have waited a little while still.”

“That can’t be avoided,” said Nilovna.

Sofya, tapping her fingers on the table, remarked:

“It’s important for us to keep spreading literature all the time. You’re not afraid to go, are you, Nilovna?”

The mother felt offended. “When have I ever been afraid? I was without fear even the first time. And now all of a sudden —” She drooped her head. Each time she was asked whether she was afraid, whether the thing was convenient for her, whether she could do this or that — she detected an appeal to her which placed her apart from the comrades, who seemed to behave differently toward her than toward one another. Moreover, when fuller days came, although at first disquieted by the commotion, by the rapidity of events, she soon grew accustomed to the bustle and responded, as it were, to the jolts she received from her impressions. She became filled with a zealous greed for work. This was her condition to-day; and, therefore, Sofya’s question was all the more displeasing to her.

“There’s no use for you to ask me whether or not I’m afraid and various other things,” she sighed. “I’ve nothing to be afraid of. Those people are afraid who have something. What have I? Only a son. I used to be afraid for him, and I used to fear torture for his sake. And if there is no torture — well, then?”

“Are you offended?” exclaimed Sofya.

“No. Only you don’t ask each other whether you’re afraid.”

Nikolay removed his glasses, adjusted them to his nose again, and looked fixedly at his sister’s face. The embarrassed silence that followed disturbed the mother. She rose guiltily from her seat, wishing to say something to them, but Sofya stroked her hand, and said quietly:

“Forgive me! I won’t do it any more.”

The mother had to laugh, and in a few minutes the three were speaking busily and amicably about the trip to the village.

http://ebooks.adelaide.edu.au/g/gorky/maksim/g66m/chapter29.html

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