The day passed in a motley blur of recollections, in a depressing state of exhaustion, which tightly clutched at the mother’s body and soul. The faces of the young men flashed before her mental vision, the banner blazed, the songs clamored at her ear, the little officer skipped about, a gray stain before her eyes, and through the whirlwind of the procession she saw the gleam of Pavel’s bronzed face and the smiling sky-blue eyes of Andrey.
She walked up and down the room, sat at the window, looked out into the street, and walked away again with lowered eyebrows. Every now and then she started, and looked about in an aimless search for something. She drank water, but could not slake her thirst, nor quench the smoldering fire of anguish and injury in her bosom. The day was chopped in two. It began full of meaning and content, but now it dribbled away into a dismal waste, which stretched before her endlessly. The question swung to and fro in her barren, perplexed mind:
Korsunova came in. Waving her hands, she shouted, wept, and went into raptures; stamped her feet, suggested this and that, made promises, and threw out threats against somebody. All this failed to impress the mother.
“Aha!” she heard the squeaking voice of Marya. “So the people have been stirred up! At last the whole factory has arisen! All have arisen!”
“Yes, yes!” said the mother in a low voice, shaking her head. Her eyes were fixed on something that had already fallen into the past, had departed from her along with Andrey and Pavel. She was unable to weep. Her heart was dried up, her lips, too, were dry, and her mouth was parched. Her hands shook, and a cold, fine shiver ran down her back, setting her skin aquiver.
In the evening the gendarmes came. She met them without surprise and without fear. They entered noisily, with a peculiarly jaunty air, and with a look of gayety and satisfaction in their faces. The yellow-faced officer said, displaying his teeth:
“Well, how are you? The third time I have the honor, eh?”
She was silent, passing her dry tongue along her lips. The officer talked a great deal, delivering a homily to her. The mother realized what pleasure he derived from his words. But they did not reach her; they did not disturb her; they were like the insistent chirp of a cricket. It was only when he said: “It’s your own fault, little mother, that you weren’t able to inspire your son with reverence for God and the Czar,” that she answered dully, standing at the door and looking at him: “Yes, our children are our judges. They visit just punishment upon us for abandoning them on such a road.”
“Wha-at?” shouted the officer. “Louder!”
“I say, the children are our judges,” the mother repeated with a sigh.
He said something quickly and angrily, but his words buzzed around her without touching her. Marya Korsunova was a witness. She stood beside the mother, but did not look at her; and when the officer turned to her with a question, she invariably answered with a hasty, low bow: “I don’t know, your Honor. I am just a simple, ignorant woman. I make my living by peddling, stupid as I am, and I know nothing.”
“Shut up, then!” commanded the officer.
She was ordered to search Vlasova. She blinked her eyes, then opened them wide on the officer, and said in fright:
“I can’t, your Honor!”
The officer stamped his feet and began to shout. Marya lowered her eyes, and pleaded with the mother softly:
“Well, what can be done? You have to submit, Pelagueya Nilovna.”
As she searched and felt the mother’s dress, the blood mounting to her face, she murmured:
“Oh, the dogs!”
“What are you jabbering about there?” the officer cried rudely, looking into the corner where she was making the search.
“It’s about women’s affairs, your Honor,” mumbled Marya, terrorized.
On his order to sign the search warrant the mother, with unskilled hand, traced on the paper in printed shining letters:
“Pelagueya Nilovna, widow of a workingman.”
They went away, and the mother remained standing at the window. With her hands folded over her breast, she gazed into vacancy without winking, her eyebrows raised. Her lips were compressed, her jaws so tightly set that her teeth began to pain her. The oil burned down in the lamp, the light flared up for a moment, and then went out. She blew on it, and remained in the dark. She felt no malice, she harbored no sense of injury in her heart. A dark, cold cloud of melancholy settled on her breast, and impeded the beating of her heart. Her mind was a void. She stood at the window a long time; her feet and eyes grew weary. She heard Marya stop at the window, and shout: “Are you asleep, Pelagueya? You unfortunate, suffering woman, sleep! They abuse everybody, the heretics!” At last she dropped into bed without undressing, and quickly fell into a heavy sleep, as if she had plunged into a deep abyss.
She dreamed she saw a yellow sandy mound beyond the marsh on the road to the city. At the edge, which descended perpendicularly to the ditch, from which sand was being taken, stood Pavel singing softly and sonorously with the voice of Andrey:
“Rise up, awake, you workingmen!”
She walked past the mound along the road to the city, and putting her hand to her forehead looked at her son. His figure was clearly and sharply outlined against the sky. She could not make up her mind to go up to him. She was ashamed because she was pregnant. And she held an infant in her arms, besides. She walked farther on. Children were playing ball in the field. There were many of them, and the ball was a red one. The infant threw himself forward out of her arms toward them, and began to cry aloud. She gave him the breast, and turned back. Now soldiers were already at the mound, and they turned the bayonets against her. She ran quickly to the church standing in the middle of the field, the white, light church that seemed to be constructed out of clouds, and was immeasurably high. A funeral was going on there. The coffin was wide, black, and tightly covered with a lid. The priest and deacon walked around in white canonicals and sang:
“Christ has arisen from the dead.”
The deacon carried the incense, bowed to her, and smiled. His hair was glaringly red, and his face jovial, like Samoylov’s. From the top of the dome broad sunbeams descended to the ground. In both choirs the boys sang softly:
“Christ has arisen from the dead.”
“Arrest them!” the priest suddenly cried, standing up in the middle of the church. His vestments vanished from his body, and a gray, stern mustache appeared on his face. All the people started to run, and the deacon, flinging the censer aside, rushed forward, seizing his head in his hands like the Little Russian. The mother dropped the infant on the ground at the feet of the people. They ran to the side of her, timidly regarding the naked little body. She fell on her knees and shouted to them: “Don’t abandon the child! Take it with you!”
“Christ has arisen from the dead,” the Little Russian sang, holding his hands behind his back, and smiling. He bent down, took the child, and put it on the wagon loaded with timber, at the side of which Nikolay was walking slowly, shaking with laughter. He said:
“They have given me hard work.”
The street was muddy, the people thrust their faces from the windows of the houses, and whistled, shouted, waved their hands. The day was clear, the sun shone brightly, and there was not a single shadow anywhere.
“Sing, mother!” said the Little Russian. “Oh, what a life!”
And he sang, drowning all the other sounds with his kind, laughing voice. The mother walked behind him, and complained:
“Why does he make fun of me?”
But suddenly she stumbled and fell in a bottomless abyss. Fearful shrieks met her in her descent.
She awoke, shivering and yet perspiring. She put her ear, as it were, to her own breast, and marveled at the emptiness that prevailed there. The whistle blew insistently. From its sound she realized that it was already the second summons. The room was all in disorder; the books and clothes lay about in confusion; everything was turned upside down, and dirt was trampled over the entire floor.
She arose, and without washing or praying began to set the room in order. In the kitchen she caught sight of the stick with the piece of red cloth. She seized it angrily, and was about to throw it away under the oven, but instead, with a sigh, removed the remnant of the flag from the pole, folded it carefully, and put it in her pocket. Then she began to wash the windows with cold water, next the floor, and finally herself; then dressed herself and prepared the samovar. She sat down at the window in the kitchen, and once more the question came to her:
“What now? What am I to do now?”
Recollecting that she had not yet said her prayers, she walked up to the images, and after standing before them for a few seconds, she sat down again. Her heart was empty.
The pendulum, which always beat with an energy seeming to say: “I must get to the goal! I must get to the goal!” slackened its hasty ticking. The flies buzzed irresolutely, as if pondering a certain plan of action.
Suddenly she recalled a picture she had once seen in the days of her youth. In the old park of the Zansaylovs, there was a large pond densely overgrown with water lilies. One gray day in the fall, while walking along the pond, she had seen a boat in the middle of it. The pond was dark and calm, and the boat seemed glued to the black water, thickly strewn with yellow leaves. Profound sadness and a vague sense of misfortune were wafted from that boat without a rower and without oars, standing alone and motionless out there on the dull water amid the dead leaves. The mother had stood a long time at the edge of the pond meditating as to who had pushed the boat from the shore and why. Now it seemed to her that she herself was like that boat, which at the time had reminded her of a coffin waiting for its dead. In the evening of the same day she had learned that the wife of one of Zansaylov’s clerks had been drowned in the pond — a little woman with black disheveled hair, who always walked at a brisk gait.
The mother passed her hands over her eyes as if to rub her reminiscences away, and her thoughts fluttered like a varicolored ribbon. Overcome by her impressions of the day before, she sat for a long time, her eyes fixed upon the cup of tea grown cold. Gradually the desire came to see some wise, simple person, speak to him, and ask him many things.
As if in answer to her wish, Nikolay Ivanovich came in after dinner. When she saw him, however, she was suddenly seized with alarm, and failed to respond to his greeting.
“Oh, my friend,” she said softly, “there was no use for you to come here. If they arrest you here, too, then that will be the end of Pasha altogether. It’s very careless of you! They’ll take you without fail if they see you here.”
He clasped her hand tightly, adjusted his glasses on his nose, and bending his face close to her, explained to her in haste:
“I made an agreement with Pavel and Andrey, that if they were arrested, I must see that you move over to the city the very next day.” He spoke kindly, but with a troubled air. “Did they make a search in your house?”
“They did. They rummaged, searched, and nosed around. Those people have no shame, no conscience!” exclaimed the mother indignantly.
“What do they need shame for?” said Nikolay with a shrug of his shoulders, and explained to her the necessity of her going to the city.
His friendly, solicitous talk moved and agitated her. She looked at him with a pale smile, and wondered at the kindly feeling of confidence he inspired in her.
“If Pasha wants it, and I’ll be no inconvenience to you ——”
“Don’t be uneasy on that score. I live all alone; my sister comes over only rarely.”
“I’m not going to eat my head off for nothing,” she said, thinking aloud.
“If you want to work, you’ll find something to do.” Her conception of work was now indissolubly connected with the work that her son, Andrey, and their comrades were doing. She moved a little toward Nikolay, and looking in his eyes, asked:
“Yes? You say work will be found for me?”
“My household is a small one, I am a bachelor ——”
“I’m not talking about that, not about housework,” she said quietly. “I mean world work.”
And she heaved a melancholy sigh, stung and repelled by his failure to understand her. He rose, and bending toward her, with a smile in his nearsighted eyes, he said thoughtfully, “You’ll find a place for yourself in the work world, too, if you want it.”
Her mind quickly formulated the simple and clear thought: “Once I was able to help Pavel; perhaps I will succeed again. The greater the number of those who work for his cause, the clearer will his truth come out before the people.”
But these thoughts did not fully express the whole force and complexity of her desire.
“What could I do?” she asked quietly.
He thought a while, and then began to explain the technical details of the revolutionary work. Among other things, he said:
“If, when you go to see Pavel in prison, you tried to find out from him the address of the peasant who asked for a newspaper ——”
“I know it!” exclaimed the mother in delight. “I know where they are, and who they are. Give me the papers, I’ll deliver them. I’ll find the peasants, and do everything just as you say. Who will think that I carry illegal books? I carried books to the factory. I smuggled in more than a hundred pounds, Heaven be praised!”
The desire came upon her to travel along the road, through forests and villages, with a birch-bark sack over her shoulders, and a staff in her hand.
“Now, you dear, dear man, you just arrange it for me, arrange it so that I can work in this movement. I’ll go everywhere for you! I’ll keep going summer and winter, down to my very grave, a pilgrim for the sake of truth. Why, isn’t that a splendid lot for a woman like me? The wanderer’s life is a good life. He goes about through the world, he has nothing, he needs nothing except bread, no one abuses him, and so quietly, unnoticed, he roves over the earth. And so I’ll go, too; I’ll go to Andrey, to Pasha, wherever they live.”
She was seized with sadness when she saw herself homeless, begging for alms, in the name of Christ, at the windows of the village cottages.
Nikolay took her hand gently, and stroked it with his warm hand. Then, looking at the watch, he said:
“We’ll speak about that later. You are taking a dangerous burden upon your shoulders. You must consider very carefully what you intend doing.”
“My dear man, what have I to consider? What have I to live for if not for this cause? Of what use am I to anybody? A tree grows, it gives shade; it’s split into wood, and it warms people. Even a mere dumb tree is helpful to life, and I am a human being. The children, the best blood of man, the best there is of our hearts, give up their liberty and their lives, perish without pity for themselves! And I, a mother — am I to stand by and do nothing?”
The picture of her son marching at the head of the crowd with the banner in his hands flashed before her mind.
“Why should I lie idle when my son gives up his life for the sake of truth? I know now — I know that he is working for the truth. It’s the fifth year now that I live beside the woodpile. My heart has melted and begun to burn. I understand what you are striving for. I see what a burden you all carry on your shoulders. Take me to you, too, for the sake of Christ, that I may be able to help my son! Take me to you!”
Nikolay’s face grew pale; he heaved a deep sigh, and smiling, said, looking at her with sympathetic attention:
“This is the first time I’ve heard such words.”
“What can I say?” she replied, shaking her head sadly, and spreading her hands in a gesture of impotence. “If I had the words to express my mother’s heart —” She arose, lifted by the power that waxed in her breast, intoxicated her, and gave her the words to express her indignation. “Then many and many a one would weep, and even the wicked, the men without conscience would tremble! I would make them taste gall, even as they made Christ drink of the cup of bitterness, and as they now do our children. They have bruised a mother’s heart!”
Nikolay rose, and pulling his little beard with trembling fingers, he said slowly in an unfamiliar tone of voice:
“Some day you will speak to them, I think!”
He started, looked at his watch again, and asked in a hurry:
“So it’s settled? You’ll come over to me in the city?”
She silently nodded her head.
“When? Try to do it as soon as possible.” And he added in a tender voice: “I’ll be anxious for you; yes, indeed!”
She looked at him in surprise. What was she to him? With bent head, smiling in embarrassment, he stood before her, dressed in a simple black jacket, stooping, nearsighted.
“Have you money?” he asked, dropping his eyes.
He quickly whipped his purse out of his pocket, opened it, and handed it to her.
“Here, please take some.”
She smiled involuntarily, and shaking her head, observed:
“Everything about all of you is different from other people. Even money has no value for you. People do anything to get money; they kill their souls for it. But for you money is so many little pieces of paper, little bits of copper. You seem to keep it by you just out of kindness to people.”
Nikolay Ivanovich laughed softly.
“It’s an awfully bothersome article, money is. Both to take it and to give it is embarrassing.”
He caught her hand, pressed it warmly, and asked again:
“So you will try to come soon, won’t you?”
And he walked away quietly, as was his wont.
She got herself ready to go to him on the fourth day after his visit. When the cart with her two trunks rolled out of the village into the open country, she turned her head back, and suddenly had the feeling that she was leaving the place forever — the place where she had passed the darkest and most burdensome period of her life, the place where that other varied life had begun, in which the next day swallowed up the day before, and each was filled by an abundance of new sorrows and new joys, new thoughts and new feelings.
The factory spread itself like a huge, clumsy, dark-red, spider, raising its lofty smokestacks high up into the sky. The small one-storied houses pressed against it, gray, flattened out on the soot-covered ground, and crowded up in close clusters on the edge of the marsh. They looked sorrowfully at one another with their little dull windows. Above them rose the church, also dark red like the factory. The belfry, it seemed to her, was lower than the factory chimneys.
The mother sighed, and adjusted the collar of her dress, which choked her. She felt sad, but it was a dry sadness like the dust of the hot day.
“Gee!” mumbled the driver, shaking the reins over the horse. He was a bow-legged man of uncertain height, with sparse, faded hair on his face and head, and faded eyes. Swinging from side to side he walked alongside the wagon. It was evidently a matter of indifference to him whether he went to the right or the left.
“Gee!” he called in a colorless voice, with a comical forward stride of his crooked legs clothed in heavy boots, to which clods of mud were clinging. The mother looked around. The country was as bleak and dreary as her soul.
“You’ll never escape want, no matter where you go, auntie,” the driver said dully. “There’s no road leading away from poverty; all roads lead to it, and none out of it.”
Shaking its head dejectedly the horse sank its feet heavily into the deep sun-dried sand, which crackled softly under its tread. The rickety wagon creaked for lack of greasing.
Last updated Sunday, March 27, 2016 at 11:55