Mother, by Maksim Gorky

Chapter XIV

The mother and Nikolay, walking up to the window, watched the girl pass through the yard and disappear beyond the gate. Nikolay whistled quietly, sat down at the table and began to write.

“She’ll occupy herself with this affair, and it’ll be easier for her,” the mother reflected.

“Yes, of course!” responded Nikolay, and turning around to the mother with a kind smile on his face, asked: “And how about you, Nilovna — did this cup of bitterness escape you? Did you never know the pangs for a beloved person?”

“Well!” exclaimed the mother with a wave of her hand. “What sort of a pang? The fear they had whether they won’t marry me off to this man or that man?”

“And you liked no one?”

She thought a little, and answered:

“I don’t recall, my dear! How can it be that I didn’t like anybody? I suppose there was somebody I was fond of, but I don’t remember.”

She looked at him, and concluded simply, with sad composure: “My husband beat me a lot; and everything that was before him was effaced from my soul.”

Nikolay turned back to the table; the mother walked out of the room for a minute. On her return Nikolay looked at her kindly and began to speak softly and lovingly. His reminiscences stroked her like a caress.

“And I, you see, was like Sashenka. I loved a girl: a marvelous being, a wonder, a — guiding star; she was gentle and bright for me. I met her about twenty years ago, and from that time on I loved her. And I love her now, too, to speak the truth. I love her all so — with my whole soul — gratefully — forever!”

Standing by his side the mother saw his eyes lighted from within by a clear, warm light. His hands folded over the back of the chair, and his head leaning on them, he looked into the distance; his whole body, lean and slender, but powerful, seemed to strive upward, like the stalk of a plant toward the sun.

“Why didn’t you marry? You should have!”

“Oh, she’s been married five years!”

“And before that — what was the matter? Didn’t she love you?”

He thought a while, and answered:

“Yes, apparently she loved me; I’m certain she did. But, you see, it was always this way: I was in prison, she was free; I was free, she was in prison or in exile. That’s very much like Sasha’s position, really. Finally they exiled her to Siberia for ten years. I wanted to follow her, but I was ashamed and she was ashamed, and I remained here. Then she met another man — a comrade of mine, a very good fellow, and they escaped together. Now they live abroad. Yes ——”

Nikolay took off his glasses, wiped them, held them up to the light and began to wipe them again.

“Ah, you, my dear!” the mother exclaimed lovingly, shaking her head. She was sorry for him; at the same time something compelled her to smile a warm, motherly smile. He changed his pose, took the pen in his hand, and said, punctuating the rhythm of his speed with waves of his hand:

“Family life always diminishes the energy of a revolutionist. Children must be maintained in security, and there’s the need to work a great deal for one’s bread. The revolutionist ought without cease to develop every iota of his energy; he must deepen and broaden it; but this demands time. He must always be at the head, because we — the workingmen — are called by the logic of history to destroy the old world, to create the new life; and if we stop, if we yield to exhaustion, or are attracted by the possibility of a little immediate conquest, it’s bad — it’s almost treachery to the cause. No revolutionist can adhere closely to an individual — walk through life side by side with another individual — without distorting his faith; and we must never forget that our aim is not little conquests, but only complete victory!”

His voice became firm, his face paled, and his eyes kindled with the force that characterized him. The bell sounded again. It was Liudmila. She wore an overcoat too light for the season, her cheeks were purple with the cold. Removing her torn overshoes, she said in a vexed voice:

“The date of the trial is appointed — in a week!”

“Really?” shouted Nikolay from the room.

The mother quickly walked up to him, not understanding whether fright or joy agitated her. Liudmila, keeping step with her, said, with irony in her low voice:

“Yes, really! The assistant prosecuting attorney, Shostak, just now brought the incriminating acts. In the court they say, quite openly, that the sentence has already been fixed. What does it mean? Do the authorities fear that the judges will deal too mercifully with the enemies of the government? Having so long and so assiduously kept corrupting their servants, is the government still unassured of their readiness to be scoundrels?”

Liudmila sat on the sofa, rubbing her lean cheeks with her palms; her dull eyes burned contemptuous scorn, and her voice filled with growing wrath.

“You waste your powder for nothing, Liudmila!” Nikolay tried to soothe her. “They don’t hear you.”

“Some day I’ll compel them to hear me!”

The black circles under her eyes trembled and threw an ominous shadow on her face. She bit her lips.

“You go against me — that’s your right; I’m your enemy. But in defending your power don’t corrupt people; don’t compel me to have instinctive contempt for them; don’t dare to poison my soul with your cynicism!”

Nikolay looked at her through his glasses, and screwing up his eyes, shook his head sadly. But she continued to speak as if those whom she detested stood before her. The mother listened with strained attention, understanding nothing, and instinctively repeating to herself one and the same words, “The trial — the trial will come off in a week!”

She could not picture to herself what it would be like; how the judges would behave toward Pavel. Her thoughts muddled her brain, covered her eyes with a gray mist, and plunged her into something sticky, viscid, chilling and paining her body. The feeling grew, entered her blood, took possession of her heart, and weighed it down heavily, poisoning in it all that was alive and bold.

Thus, in a cloud of perplexity and despondency under the load of painful expectations, she lived through one day, and a second day; but on the third day Sasha appeared and said to Nikolay:

“Everything is ready — to-day, in an hour!”

“Everything ready? So soon?” He was astonished.

“Why shouldn’t everything be ready? The only thing I had to do was to get a hiding place and clothes for Rybin. All the rest Godun took on himself. Rybin will have to go through only one ward of the city. Vyesovshchikov will meet him on the street, all disguised, of course. He’ll throw an overcoat over him, give him a hat, and show him the way. I’ll wait for him, change his clothes and lead him off.”

“Not bad! And who’s this Godun?”

“You’ve seen him! You gave talks to the locksmiths in his place.”

“Oh, I remember! A droll old man.”

“He’s a soldier who served his time — a roofer, a man of little education, but with an inexhaustible fund of hatred for every kind of violence and for all men of violence. A bit of a philosopher!”

The mother listened in silence to her, and something indistinct slowly dawned upon her.

“Godun wants to free his nephew — you remember him? You liked Yevchenko, a blacksmith, quite a dude.” Nikolay nodded his head. “Godun has arranged everything all right. But I’m beginning to doubt his success. The passages in the prison are used by all the inmates, and I think when the prisoners see the ladder many will want to run —” She closed her eyes and was silent for a while. The mother moved nearer to her. “They’ll hinder one another.”

They all three stood before the window, the mother behind Nikolay and Sasha. Their rapid conversation roused in her a still stronger sense of uneasiness and anxiety.

“I’m going there,” the mother said suddenly.

“Why?” asked Sasha.

“Don’t go, darling! Maybe you’ll get caught. You mustn’t!” Nikolay advised.

The mother looked at them and softly, but persistently, repeated: “No; I’m going! I’m going!”

They quickly exchanged glances, and Sasha, shrugging her shoulders, said:

“Of course — hope is tenacious!”

Turning to the mother she took her by the hand, leaned her head on her shoulder, and said in a new, simple voice, near to the heart of the mother:

“But I’ll tell you after all, mamma, you’re waiting in vain — he won’t try to escape!”

“My dear darling!” exclaimed the mother, pressing Sasha to her tremulously. “Take me; I won’t interfere with you; I don’t believe it is possible — to escape!”

“She’ll go,” said the girl simply to Nikolay.

“That’s your affair!” he answered, bowing his head.

“We mustn’t be together, mamma. You go to the garden in the lot. From there you can see the wall of the prison. But suppose they ask you what you are doing there?”

Rejoiced, the mother answered confidently:

“I’ll think of what to say.”

“Don’t forget that the overseers of the prison know you,” said Sasha; “and if they see you there ——”

“They won’t see me!” the mother laughed softly.

An hour later she was in the lot by the prison. A sharp wind blew about her, pulled her dress, and beat against the frozen earth, rocked the old fence of the garden past which the woman walked, and rattled against the low wall of the prison; it flung up somebody’s shouts from the court, scattered them in the air, and carried them up to the sky. There the clouds were racing quickly, little rifts opening in the blue height.

Behind the mother lay the city; in front the cemetery; to the right, about seventy feet from her, the prison. Near the cemetery a soldier was leading a horse by a rein, and another soldier tramped noisily alongside him, shouted, whistled, and laughed. There was no one else near the prison. On the impulse of the moment the mother walked straight up to them. As she came near she shouted:

“Soldiers! didn’t you see a goat anywhere around here?”

One of them answered:

“No.”

She walked slowly past them, toward the fence of the cemetery, looking slantwise to the right and the back. Suddenly she felt her feet tremble and grow heavy, as if frozen to the ground. From the corner of the prison a man came along, walking quickly, like a lamplighter. He was a stooping man, with a little ladder on his shoulder. The mother, blinking in fright, quickly glanced at the soldiers; they were stamping their feet on one spot, and the horse was running around them. She looked at the ladder — he had already placed it against the wall and was climbing up without haste. He waved his hand in the courtyard, quickly let himself down, and disappeared around the corner. That very second the black head of Mikhail appeared on the wall, followed by his entire body. Another head, with a shaggy hat, emerged alongside of his. Two black lumps rolled to the ground; one disappeared around the corner; Mikhail straightened himself up and looked about.

“Run, run!” whispered the mother, treading impatiently. Her ears were humming. Loud shouts were wafted to her. There on the wall appeared a third head. She clasped her hands in faintness. A light-haired head, without a beard, shook as if it wanted to tear itself away, but it suddenly disappeared behind the wall. The shouts came louder and louder, more and more boisterous. The wind scattered the thin trills of the whistles through the air. Mikhail walked along the wall — there! he was already beyond it, and traversed the open space between the prison and the houses of the city. It seemed to her as if he were walking very, very slowly, that he raised his head to no purpose. “Everyone who sees his face will remember it forever,” and she whispered, “Faster! faster!” Behind the wall of the prison something slammed, the thin sound of broken glass was heard. One of the soldiers, planting his feet firmly on the ground, drew the horse to him, and the horse jumped. The other one, his fist at his mouth, shouted something in the direction of the prison, and as he shouted he turned his head sidewise, with his ear cocked.

All attention, the mother turned her head in all directions, her eyes seeing everything, believing nothing. This thing which she had pictured as terrible and intricate was accomplished with extreme simplicity and rapidity, and the simpleness of the happenings stupefied her. Rybin was no longer to be seen — a tall man in a thin overcoat was walking there — a girl was running along. Three wardens jumped out from a corner of the prison; they ran side by side, stretching out their right hands. One of the soldiers rushed in front of them; the other ran around the horse, unsuccessfully trying to vault on the refractory animal, which kept jumping about. The whistles incessantly cut the air, their alarming, desperate shrieks aroused a consciousness of danger in the woman. Trembling, she walked along the fence of the cemetery, following the wardens; but they and the soldiers ran around the other corner of the prison and disappeared. They were followed at a run by the assistant overseer of the prison, whom she knew; his coat was unbuttoned. From somewhere policemen appeared, and people came running.

The wind whistled, leaped about as if rejoicing, and carried the broken, confused shouts to the mother’s ears.

“It stands here all the time.”

“The ladder?”

“What’s the matter with you then? The devil take you!”

“Arrest the soldiers!”

“Policeman!”

Whistles again. This hubbub delighted her and she strode on more boldly, thinking, “So, it’s possible — HE could have done it!”

But now pain for her son no longer entered her heart without pride in him also. And only fear for him weighed and oppressed her to stupefaction as before.

From the corner of the fence opposite her a constable with a black, curly beard, and two policemen emerged.

“Stop!” shouted the constable, breathing heavily. “Did you see — a man — with a beard — didn’t he run by here?”

She pointed to the garden and answered calmly:

“He went that way!”

“Yegorov, run! Whistle! Is it long ago?”

“Yes — I should say — about a minute!”

But the whistle drowned her voice. The constable, without waiting for an answer, precipitated himself in a gallop along the hillocky ground, waving his hands in the direction of the garden. After him, with bent head, and whistling, the policemen darted off.

The mother nodded her head after them, and, satisfied with herself, went home. When she walked out of the field into the street a cab crossed her way. Raising her head she saw in the vehicle a young man with light mustache and a pale, worn face. He, too, regarded her. He sat slantwise. It must have been due to his position that his right shoulder was higher than his left.

At home Nikolay met her joyously.

“Alive? How did it go?”

“It seems everything’s been successful!”

And slowly trying to reinstate all the details in her memory, she began to tell of the escape. Nikolay, too, was amazed at the success.

“You see, we’re lucky!” said Nikolay, rubbing his hands. “But how frightened I was on your account only God knows. You know what, Nilovna, take my friendly advice: don’t be afraid of the trial. The sooner it’s over and done with the sooner Pavel will be free. Believe me. I’ve already written to my sister to try to think what can be done for Pavel. Maybe he’ll even escape on the road. And the trial is approximately like this.” He began to describe to her the session of the court. She listened, and understood that he was afraid of something — that he wanted to inspirit her.

“Maybe you think I’ll say something to the judges?” she suddenly inquired. “That I’ll beg them for something?”

He jumped up, waved his hands at her, and said in an offended tone:

“What are you talking about? You’re insulting me!”

“Excuse me, please; excuse me! I really AM afraid — of what I don’t know.”

She was silent, letting her eyes wander about the room.

“Sometimes it seems to me that they’ll insult Pasha — scoff at him. ‘Ah, you peasant!’ they’ll say. ‘You son of a peasant! What’s this mess you’ve cooked up?’ And Pasha, proud as he is, he’ll answer them so ——! Or Andrey will laugh at them — and all the comrades there are hot-headed and honest. So I can’t help thinking that something will suddenly happen. One of them will lose his patience, the others will support him, and the sentence will be so severe — you’ll never see them again.”

Nikolay was silent, pulling his beard glumly as the mother continued:

“It’s impossible to drive this thought from my head. The trial is terrible to me. When they’ll begin to take everything apart and weigh it — it’s awful! It’s not the sentence that’s terrible, but the trial — I can’t express it.” She felt that Nikolay didn’t understand her fear; and his inability to comprehend kept her from further analysis of her timidities, which, however, only increased and broadened during the three following days. Finally, on the day of the trial, she carried into the hall of the session a heavy dark load that bent her back and neck.

In the street, acquaintances from the suburbs had greeted her. She had bowed in silence, rapidly making her way through the dense, crowd in the corridor of the courthouse. In the hall she was met by relatives of the defendants, who also spoke to her in undertones. All the words seemed needless; she didn’t understand them. Yet all the people were sullen, filled with the same mournful feeling which infected the mother and weighed her down.

“Let’s sit next to each other,” suggested Sizov, going to a bench.

She sat down obediently, settled her dress, and looked around. Green and crimson specks, with thin yellow threads between, slowly swam before her eyes.

“Your son has ruined our Vasya,” a woman sitting beside her said quietly.

“You keep still, Natalya!” Sizov chided her angrily.

Nilovna looked at the woman; it was the mother of Samoylov. Farther along sat her husband — bald-headed, bony-faced, dapper, with a large, bushy, reddish beard which trembled as he sat looking in front of himself, his eyes screwed up.

A dull, immobile light entered through the high windows of the hall, outside of which snow glided and fell lingeringly on the ground. Between the windows hung a large portrait of the Czar in a massive frame of glaring gilt. Straight, austere folds of the heavy crimson window drapery dropped over either side of it. Before the portrait, across almost the entire breadth of the hall, stretched the table covered with green cloth. To the right of the wall, behind the grill, stood two wooden benches; to the left two rows of crimson armchairs. Attendants with green collars and yellow buttons on their abdomens ran noiselessly about the hall. A soft whisper hummed in the turbid atmosphere, and the odor was a composite of many odors as in a drug shop. All this — the colors, the glitter, the sounds and odors — pressed on the eyes and invaded the breast with each inhalation. It forced out live sensations, and filled the desolate heart with motionless, dismal awe.

Suddenly one of the people said something aloud. The mother trembled. All arose; she, too, rose, seizing Sizov’s hand.

In the left corner of the hall a high door opened and an old man emerged, swinging to and fro. On his gray little face shook white, sparse whiskers; he wore eyeglasses; the upper lip, which was shaven, sank into his mouth as by suction; his sharp jawbones and his chin were supported by the high collar of his uniform; apparently there was no neck under the collar. He was supported under the arm from behind by a tall young man with a porcelain face, red and round. Following him three more men in uniforms embroidered in gold, and three garbed in civilian wear, moved in slowly. They stirred about the table for a long time and finally took seats in the armchairs. When they had sat down, one of them in unbuttoned uniform, with a sleepy, clean-shaven face, began to say something to the little old man, moving his puffy lips heavily and soundlessly. The old man listened, sitting strangely erect and immobile. Behind the glasses of his pince-nez the mother saw two little colorless specks.

At the end of the table, at the desk, stood a tall, bald man, who coughed and shoved papers about.

The little old man swung forward and began to speak. He pronounced clearly the first words, but what followed seemed to creep without sound from his thin, gray lips.

“I open ——”

“See!” whispered Sizov, nudging the mother softly and arising.

In the wall behind the grill the door opened, a soldier came out with a bared saber on his shoulder; behind him appeared Pavel, Andrey, Fedya Mazin, the two Gusevs, Samoylov, Bukin, Somov, and five more young men whose names were unknown to the mother. Pavel smiled kindly; Andrey also, showing his teeth as he nodded to her. The hall, as it were, became lighter and simpler from their smile; the strained, unnatural silence was enlivened by their faces and movements. The greasy glitter of gold on the uniforms dimmed and softened. A waft of bold assurance, the breath of living power, reached the mother’s heart and roused it. On the benches behind her, where up to that time the people had been waiting in crushed silence, a responsive, subdued hum was audible.

“They’re not trembling!” she heard Sizov whisper; and at her right side Samoylov’s mother burst into soft sobs.

“Silence!” came a stern shout.

“I warn you beforehand,” said the old man, “I shall have to ——”

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