Mother, by Maksim Gorky

Chapter XVI

She silently nodded her head and smiled, satisfied that her son had spoken so bravely, perhaps still more satisfied that he had finished. The thought darted through her mind that the speech was likely to increase the dangers threatening Pavel; but her heart palpitated with pride, and his words seemed to settle in her bosom.

Andrey arose, swung his body forward, looked at the judges sidewise, and said:

“Gentlemen of the defense ——”

“The court is before you, and not the defense!” observed the judge of the sickly face angrily and loudly. By Andrey’s expression the mother perceived that he wanted to tease them. His mustache quivered. A cunning, feline smirk familiar to her lighted up his eyes. He stroked his head with his long hands, and fetched a breath.

“Is that so?” he said, swinging his head. “I think not. That you are not the judges, but only the defendants ——”

“I request you to adhere to what directly pertains to the case,” remarked the old man dryly.

“To what directly pertains to the case? Very well! I’ve already compelled myself to think that you are in reality judges, independent people, honest ——”

“The court has no need of your characterization.”

“It has no need of SUCH a characterization? Hey? Well, but after all I’m going to continue. You are men who make no distinction between your own and strangers. You are free people. Now, here two parties stand before you; one complains, ‘He robbed me and did me up completely’; and the other answers, ‘I have a right to rob and to do up because I have arms’——”

“Please don’t tell anecdotes.”

“Why, I’ve heard that old people like anecdotes — naughty ones in particular.”

“I’ll prohibit you from speaking. You may say something about what directly pertains to the case. Speak, but without buffoonery, without unbecoming sallies.”

The Little Russian looked at the judges, silently rubbing his head.

“About what directly pertains to the case?” he asked seriously. “Yes; but why should I speak to you about what directly pertains to the case? What you need to know my comrade has told you. The rest will be told you; the time will come, by others ——”

The old judge rose and declared:

“I forbid you to speak. Vasily Samoylov!”

Pressing his lips together firmly the Little Russian dropped down lazily on the bench, and Samoylov arose alongside of him, shaking his curly hair.

“The prosecuting attorney called my comrades and me ‘savages,’ ‘enemies of civilization’——”

“You must speak only about that which pertains to your case.”

“This pertains to the case. There’s nothing which does not pertain to honest men, and I ask you not to interrupt me. I ask you what sort of a thing is your civilization?”

“We are not here for discussions with you. To the point!” said the old judge, showing his teeth.

Andrey’s demeanor had evidently changed the conduct of the judges; his words seemed to have wiped something away from them. Stains appeared on their gray faces. Cold, green sparks burned in their eyes. Pavel’s speech had excited but subdued them; it restrained their agitation by its force, which involuntarily inspired respect. The Little Russian broke away this restraint and easily bared what lay underneath. They looked at Samoylov, and whispered to one another with strange, wry faces. They also began to move extremely quickly for them. They gave the impression of desiring to seize him and howl while torturing his body with voluptuous ecstasy.

“You rear spies, you deprave women and girls, you put men in the position which forces them to thievery and murder; you corrupt them with whisky — international butchery, universal falsehood, depravity, and savagery — that’s your civilization! Yes, we are enemies of this civilization!”

“Please!” shouted the old judge, shaking his chin; but Samoylov, all red, his eyes flashing, also shouted:

“But we respect and esteem another civilization, the creators of which you have persecuted, you have allowed to rot in dungeons, you have driven mad ——”

“I forbid you to speak! Hm — Fedor Mazin!”

Little Mazin popped up like a cork from a champagne bottle, and said in a staccato voice:

“I— I swear! — I know you have convicted me ——”

He lost breath and paled; his eyes seemed to devour his entire face. He stretched out his hand and shouted:

“I— upon my honest word! Wherever you send me — I’ll escape — I’ll return — I’ll work always — all my life! Upon my honest word!”

Sizov quacked aloud. The entire public, overcome by the mounting wave of excitement, hummed strangely and dully. One woman cried, some one choked and coughed. The gendarmes regarded the prisoners with dull surprise, the public with a sinister look. The judges shook, the old man shouted in a thin voice:

“Ivan Gusev!”

“I don’t want to speak.”

“Vasily Gusev!”

“Don’t want to.”

“Fedor Bukin!”

The whitish, faded fellow lifted himself heavily, and shaking his head slowly said in a thick voice:

“You ought to be ashamed. I am a heavy man, and yet I understand — justice!” He raised his hand higher than his head and was silent, half-closing his eyes as if looking at something at a distance.

“What is it?” shouted the old judge in excited astonishment, dropping back in his armchair.

“Oh, well, what’s the use?”

Bukin sullenly let himself down on the bench. There was something big and serious in his dark eyes, something somberly reproachful and naive. Everybody felt it; even the judges listened, as if waiting for an echo clearer than his words. On the public benches all commotion died down immediately; only a low weeping swung in the air. Then the prosecuting attorney, shrugging his shoulders, grinned and said something to the marshal of the nobility, and whispers gradually buzzed again excitedly through the hall.

Weariness enveloped the mother’s body with a stifling faintness. Small drops of perspiration stood on her forehead. Samoylov’s mother stirred on the bench, nudging her with her shoulder and elbow, and said to her husband in a subdued whisper:

“How is this, now? Is it possible?”

“You see, it’s possible.”

“But what is going to happen to him, to Vasily?”

“Keep still. Stop.”

The public was jarred by something it did not understand. All blinked in perplexity with blinded eyes, as if dazzled by the sudden blazing up of an object, indistinct in outline, of unknown meaning, but with horrible drawing power. And since the people did not comprehend this great thing dawning on them, they contracted its significance into something small, the meaning of which was, evident and clear to them. The elder Bukin, therefore, whispered aloud without constraint:

“Say, please, why don’t they permit them to talk? The prosecuting attorney can say everything, and as much as he wants to ——”

A functionary stood at the benches, and waving his hands at the people, said in a half voice:

“Quiet, quiet!”

The father of Samoylov threw himself back, and ejaculated broken words behind his wife’s ear:

“Of course — let us say they are guilty — but you’ll let them explain. What is it they have gone against? Against everything — I wish to understand — I, too, have my interest.” And suddenly: “Pavel says the truth, hey? I want to understand. Let them speak.”

“Keep still!” exclaimed the functionary, shaking his finger at him.

Sizov nodded his head sullenly.

But the mother kept her gaze fastened unwaveringly on the judges, and saw that they got more and more excited, conversing with one another in indistinct voices. The sound of their words, cold and tickling, touched her face, puckering the skin on it, and filling her mouth with a sickly, disgusting taste. The mother somehow conceived that they were all speaking of the bodies of her son and his comrades, their vigorous bare bodies, their muscles, their youthful limbs full of hot blood, of living force. These bodies kindled in the judges the sinister, impotent envy of the rich by the poor, the unwholesome greed felt by wasted and sick people for the strength of the healthy. Their mouths watered regretfully for these bodies, capable of working and enriching, of rejoicing and creating. The youths produced in the old judges the revengeful, painful excitement of an enfeebled beast which sees the fresh prey, but no longer has the power to seize it, and howls dismally at its powerlessness.

This thought, rude and strange, grew more vivid the more attentively the mother scrutinized the judges. They seemed not to conceal their excited greed — the impotent vexation of the hungry who at one time had been able to consume in abundance. To her, a woman and a mother, to whom after all the body of her son is always dearer than that in him which is called a soul, to her it was horrible to see how these sticky, lightless eyes crept over his face, felt his chest, shoulders, hands, tore at the hot skin, as if seeking the possibility of taking fire, of warming the blood in their hardened brains and fatigued muscles — the brains and muscles of people already half dead, but now to some degree reanimated by the pricks of greed and envy of a young life that they presumed to sentence and remove to a distance from themselves. It seemed to her that her son, too, felt this damp, unpleasant tickling contact, and, shuddering, looked at her.

He looked into the mother’s face with somewhat fatigued eyes, but calmly, kindly, and warmly. At times he nodded his head to her, and smiled — she understood the smile.

“Now quick!” she said.

Resting his hand on the table the oldest judge arose. His head sunk in the collar of his uniform, standing motionless, he began to read a paper in a droning voice.

“He’s reading the sentence,” said Sizov, listening.

It became quiet again, and everybody looked at the old man, small, dry, straight, resembling the stick held in his unseen hand. The other judges also stood up. The district elder inclined his head on one shoulder, and looked up to the ceiling; the mayor of the city crossed his hands over his chest; the marshal of the nobility stroked his beard. The judge with the sickly face, his puffy neighbor, and the prosecuting attorney regarded the prisoners sidewise. And behind the judges the Czar in a red military coat, with an indifferent white face looked down from his portrait over their heads. On his face some insect was creeping, or a cobweb was trembling.

“Exile!” Sizov said with a sigh of relief, dropping back on the bench. “Well, of course! Thank God! I heard that they were going to get hard labor. Never mind, mother, that’s nothing.”

Fatigued by her thoughts and her immobility, she understood the joy of the old man, which boldly raised the soul dragged down by hopelessness. But it didn’t enliven her much.

“Why, I knew it,” she answered.

“But, after all, it’s certain now. Who could have told beforehand what the authorities would do? But Fedya is a fine fellow, dear soul.”

They walked to the grill; the mother shed tears as she pressed the hand of her son. He and Fedya spoke words, smiled, and joked. All were excited, but light and cheerful. The women wept; but, like Vlasova, more from habit than grief. They did not experience the stunning pain produced by an unexpected blow on the head, but only the sad consciousness that they must part with the children. But even this consciousness was dimmed by the impressions of the day. The fathers and the mothers looked at their children with mingled sensations, in which the skepticism of parents toward their children and the habitual sense of the superiority of elders over youth blended strangely with the feeling of sheer respect for them, with the persistent melancholy thought that life had now become dull, and with the curiosity aroused by the young men who so bravely and fearlessly spoke of the possibility of a new life, which the elders did not comprehend but which seemed to promise something good. The very novelty and unusualness of the feeling rendered expression impossible. Words were spoken in plenty, but they referred only to common matters. The relatives spoke of linen and clothes, and begged the comrades to take care of their health, and not to provoke the authorities uselessly.

“Everybody, brother, will grow weary, both we and they,” said Samoylov to his son.

And Bukin’s brother, waving his hand, assured the younger brother:

“Merely justice, and nothing else! That they cannot admit.”

The younger Bukin answered:

“You look out for the starling. I love him.”

“Come back home, and you’ll find him in perfect trim.”

“I’ve nothing to do there.”

And Sizov held his nephew’s hand, and slowly said:

“So, Fedor; so you’ve started on your trip. So.”

Fedya bent over, and whispered something in his ear, smiling roguishly. The convoy soldier also smiled; but he immediately assumed a stern expression, and shouted, “Go!”

The mother spoke to Pavel, like the others, about the same things, about clothes, about his health, yet her breast was choked by a hundred questions concerning Sasha, concerning himself, and herself. Underneath all these emotions an almost burdensome feeling was slowly growing of the fullness of her love for her son — a strained desire to please him, to be near to his heart. The expectation of the terrible had died away, leaving behind it only a tremor at the recollection of the judges, and somewhere in a corner a dark impersonal thought regarding them.

“Young people ought to be tried by young judges, and not by old ones,” she said to her son.

“It would be better to arrange life so that it should not force people to crime,” answered Pavel.

The mother, seeing the Little Russian converse with everybody and realizing that he needed affection more than Pavel, spoke to him. Andrey answered her gratefully, smiling, joking kindly, as always a bit droll, supple, sinewy. Around her the talk went on, crossing and intertwining. She heard everything, understood everybody, and secretly marveled at the vastness of her own heart, which took in everything with an even joy, and gave back a clear reflection of it, like a bright image on a deep, placid lake.

Finally the prisoners were led away. The mother walked out of the court, and was surprised to see that night already hung over the city, with the lanterns alight in the streets, and the stars shining in the sky. Groups composed mainly of young men were crowding near the courthouse. The snow crunched in the frozen atmosphere; voices sounded. A man in a gray Caucasian cowl looked into Sizov’s face and asked quickly:

“What was the sentence?”

“Exile.”

“For all?”

“All.”

“Thank you.”

The man walked away.

“You see,” said Sizov. “They inquire.”

Suddenly they were surrounded by about ten men, youths, and girls, and explanations rained down, attracting still more people. The mother and Sizov stopped. They were questioned in regard to the sentence, as to how the prisoners behaved, who delivered the speeches, and what the speeches were about. All the voices rang with the same eager curiosity, sincere and warm, which aroused the desire to satisfy it.

“People! This is the mother of Pavel Vlasov!” somebody shouted, and presently all became silent.

“Permit me to shake your hand.”

Somebody’s firm hand pressed the mother’s fingers, somebody’s voice said excitedly:

“Your son will be an example of manhood for all of us.”

“Long live the Russian workingman!” a resonant voice rang out.

“Long live the proletariat!”

“Long live the revolution!”

The shouts grew louder and increased in number, rising up on all sides. The people ran from every direction, pushing into the crowd around the mother and Sizov. The whistles of the police leaped through the air, but did not deafen the shouts. The old man smiled; and to the mother all this seemed like a pleasant dream. She smilingly pressed the hands extended to her and bowed, with joyous tears choking her throat. Near her somebody’s clear voice said nervously:

“Comrades, friends, the autocracy, the monster which devours the Russian people to-day again gulped into its bottomless, greedy mouth ——”

“However, mother, let’s go,” said Sizov. And at the same time Sasha appeared, caught the mother under her arm, and quickly dragged her away to the other side of the street.

“Come! They’re going to make arrests. What? Exile? To Siberia?”

“Yes, yes.”

“And how did he speak? I know without your telling me. He was more powerful than any of the others, and more simple. And of course, sterner than all the rest. He’s sensitive and soft, only he’s ashamed to expose himself. And he’s direct, clear, firm, like truth itself. He’s very great, and there’s everything in him, everything! But he often constrains himself for nothing, lest he might hinder the cause. I know it.” Her hot half-whisper, the words of her love, calmed the mother’s agitation, and restored her exhausted strength.

“When will you go to him?” she asked Sasha, pressing her hand to her body. Looking confidently before her the girl answered:

“As soon as I find somebody to take over my work. I have the money already, but I might go per etappe. You know I am also awaiting a sentence. Evidently they are going to send me to Siberia, too. I will then declare that I desire to be exiled to the same locality that he will be.”

Behind them was heard the voice of Sizov:

“Then give him regards from me, from Sizov. He will know. I’m Fedya Mazin’s uncle.”

Sasha stopped, turned around, extending her hand. “I’m acquainted with Fedya. My name is Alexandra.”

“And your patronymic?”

She looked at him and answered:

“I have no father.”

“He’s dead, you mean?”

“No, he’s alive.” Something stubborn, persistent, sounded in the girl’s voice and appeared in her face. “He’s a landowner, a chief of a country district. He robs the peasants and beats them. I cannot recognize him as my father.”

“S-s-o-o!” Sizov was taken aback. After a pause he said, looking at the girl sidewise:

“Well, mother, good-by. I’m going off to the left. Stop in sometimes for a talk and a glass of tea. Good evening, lady. You’re pretty hard on your father — of course, that’s your business.”

“If your son were an ugly man, obnoxious to people, disgusting to you, wouldn’t you say the same about him?” Sasha shouted terribly.

“Well, I would,” the old man answered after some hesitation.

“That is to say that justice is dearer to you than your son; and to me it’s dearer than my father.”

Sizov smiled, shaking his head; then he said with a sigh:

“Well, well, you’re clever. Good-by. I wish you all good things, and be better to people. Hey? Well, God be with you. Good-by, Nilovna. When you see Pavel tell him I heard his speech. I couldn’t understand every bit of it; some things even seemed horrible; but tell him it’s true. They’ve found the truth, yes.”

He raised his hat, and sedately turned around the corner of the street.

“He seems to be a good man,” remarked Sasha, accompanying him with a smile of her large eyes. “Such people can be useful to the cause. It would be good to hide literature with them, for instance.”

It seemed to the mother that to-day the girl’s face was softer and kinder than usual, and hearing her remarks about Sizov, she thought:

“Always about the cause. Even to-day. It’s burned into her heart.”

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