The mother went to the room in the tavern, sat herself at the table in front of the samovar, took a piece of bread in her hand, looked at it, and slowly put it back on the plate. She was not hungry; the feeling in her breast rose again and flushed her with nausea. She grew faint and dizzy; the blood was sucked from her heart. Before her stood the face of the blue-eyed peasant. It was a face that expressed nothing and failed to arouse confidence. For some reason the mother did not want to tell herself in so many words that he would betray her. The suspicion lay deep in her breast — a dead weight, dull and motionless.
“He scented me!” she thought idly and faintly. “He noticed — he guessed.” Further than this her thoughts would not go, and she sank into an oppressive despondency. The nausea, the spiritless stillness beyond the window that replaced the noise, disclosed something huge, but subdued, something frightening, which sharpened her feeling of solitude, her consciousness of powerlessness, and filled her heart with ashen gloom.
The young girl came in and stopped at the door.
“Shall I bring you an omelette?”
“No, thank you, I don’t want it; the shouts frightened me.”
The girl walked up to the table and began to speak excitedly in hasty, terror-stricken tones:
“How the police commissioner beat him! I stood near and could see. All his teeth were broken. He spit out and his teeth fell on the ground. The blood came thick — thick and dark. You couldn’t see his eyes at all; they were swollen up. He’s a tar man. The sergeant is in there in our place drunk, but he keeps on calling for whisky. They say there was a whole band of them, and that this bearded man was their elder, the hetman. Three were captured and one escaped. They seized a teacher, too; he was also with them. They don’t believe in God, and they try to persuade others to rob all the churches. That’s the kind of people they are; and our peasants, some of them pitied him — that fellow — and others say they should have settled him for good and all. We have such mean peasants here! Oh, my! oh, my!”
The mother, by giving the girl’s disconnected, rapid talk her fixed attention, tried to stifle her uneasiness, to dissipate her dismal forebodings. As for the girl, she must have rejoiced in an auditor. Her words fairly choked her and she babbled on in lowered voice with greater and greater animation:
“Papa says it all comes from the poor crop. This is the second year we’ve had a bad harvest. The people are exhausted. That’s the reason we have such peasants springing up now. What a shame! You ought to hear them shout and fight at the village assemblies. The other day when Vosynkov was sold out for arrears he dealt the starosta (bailiff) a cracking blow on the face. ‘There are my arrears for you!’ he says.”
Heavy steps were heard at the door. The mother rose to her feet with difficulty. The blue-eyed peasant came in, and taking off his hat asked:
“Where is the baggage?”
He lifted the valise lightly, shook it, and said:
“Why, it’s empty! Marya, show the guest the way to my house,” and he walked off without looking around.
“Are you going to stay here overnight?” asked the girl.
“Yes. I’m after lace; I buy lace.”
“They don’t make lace here. They make lace in Tinkov and in Daryina, but not among us.”
“I’m going there to-morrow; I’m tired.”
On paying for the tea she made the girl very happy by handing her three kopecks. On the road the girl’s feet splashed quickly in the mud.
“If you want to, I’ll run over to Daryina, and I’ll tell the women to bring their lace here. That’ll save your going there. It’s about eight miles.”
“That’s not necessary, my dear.”
The cold air refreshed the mother as she stepped along beside the girl. A resolution slowly formulated itself in her mind — confused, but fraught with a promise. She wished to hasten its growth, and asked herself persistently: “How shall I behave? Suppose I come straight out with the truth?”
It was dark, damp, and cold. The windows of the peasants’ huts shone dimly with a motionless reddish light; the cattle lowed drowsily in the stillness, and short halloos reverberated through the fields. The village was clothed in darkness and an oppressive melancholy.
“Here!” said the girl, “you’ve chosen a poor lodging for yourself. This peasant is very poor.” She opened the door and shouted briskly into the hut: “Aunt Tatyana, a lodger has come!” She ran away, her “Good-by!” flying back from the darkness.
The mother stopped at the threshold and peered about with her palm above her eyes. The hut was very small, but its cleanness and neatness caught the eye at once. From behind the stove a young woman bowed silently and disappeared. On a table in a corner toward the front of the room burned a lamp. The master of the hut sat at the table, tapping his fingers on its edge. He fixed his glance on the mother’s eyes.
“Come in!” he said, after a deliberate pause.
“Tatyana, go call Pyotr. Quick!”
The woman hastened away without looking at her guest. The mother seated herself on the bench opposite the peasant and looked around — her valise was not in sight. An oppressive stillness filled the hut, broken only by the scarcely audible sputtering of the lamplight. The face of the peasant, preoccupied and gloomy wavered in vague outline before the eyes of the mother, and for some reason caused her dismal annoyance.
“Well, why doesn’t he say something? Quick!”
“Where’s my valise?” Her loud, stern question coming suddenly was a surprise to herself. The peasant shrugged his shoulders and thoughtfully gave the indefinite answer:
“It’s safe.” He lowered his voice and continued gloomily: “Just now, in front of the girl, I said on purpose that it was empty. No, it’s not empty. It’s very heavily loaded.”
“Well, what of it?”
The peasant rose, approached her, bent over her, and whispered: “Do you know that man?”
The mother started, but answered firmly:
Her laconic reply, as it were, kindled a light within her which rendered everything outside clear. She sighed in relief. Shifting her position on the bench, she settled herself more firmly on it, while the peasant laughed broadly.
“I guessed it — when you made the sign — and he, too. I asked him, whispering in his ear, whether he knows the woman standing on the steps.”
“And what did he say?”
“He? He says ‘there are a great many of us.’ Yes —‘there are a great many of us,’ he says.”
The peasant looked into the eyes of his guest questioningly, and, smiling again, he continued:
“He’s a man of great force, he is brave, he speaks straight out. They beat him, and he keeps on his own way.”
The peasant’s uncertain, weak voice, his unfinished, but clear face, his open eyes, inspired the mother with more and more confidence. Instead of alarm and despondency, a sharp, shooting pity for Rybin filled her bosom. Overwhelmed by her feelings, unable to restrain herself, she suddenly burst out in bitter malice:
“Robbers, bigots!” and she broke into sobs.
The peasant walked away from her, sullenly nodding his head.
“The authorities have hired a whole lot of assistants to do their dirty work for them. Yes, yes.” He turned abruptly toward the mother again and said softly: “Here’s what I guessed — that you have papers in the valise. Is that true?”
“Yes,” answered the mother simply, wiping away her tears. “I was bringing them to him.”
He lowered his brows, gathered his beard into his hand, and looking on the floor was silent for a time.
“The papers reached us, too; some books, also. We need them all. They are so true. I can do very little reading myself, but I have a friend — he can. My wife also reads to me.” The peasant pondered for a moment. “Now, then, what are you going to do with them — with the valise?”
The mother looked at him.
“I’ll leave it to you.”
He was not surprised, did not protest, but only said curtly, “To us,” and nodded his head in assent. He let go of his beard, but continued to comb it with his fingers as he sat down.
With inexorable, stubborn persistency the mother’s memory held up before her eyes the scene of Rybin’s torture. His image extinguished all thoughts in her mind. The pain and injury she felt for the man obscured every other sensation. Forgotten was the valise with the books and newspapers. She had feelings only for Rybin. Tears flowed constantly; her face was gloomy; but her voice did not tremble when she said to her host:
“They rob a man, they choke him, they trample him in the mud — the accursed! And when he says, ‘What are you doing, you godless men?’ they beat and torture him.”
“Power,” returned the peasant. “They have great power.”
“From where do they get it?” exclaimed the mother, thoroughly aroused. “From us, from the people — they get everything from us.”
“Ye-es,” drawled the peasant. “It’s a wheel.” He bent his head toward the door, listening attentively. “They’re coming,” he said softly.
“Our people, I suppose.”
His wife entered. A freckled peasant, stooping, strode into the hut after her. He threw his cap into a corner, and quickly went up to their host.
The host nodded in confirmation.
“Stepan,” said the wife, standing at the oven, “maybe our guest wants to eat something.”
“No, thank you, my dear.”
The freckled peasant moved toward the mother and said quietly, in a broken voice:
“Now, then, permit me to introduce myself to you. My name is Pyotr Yegorov Ryabinin, nicknamed Shilo — the Awl. I understand something about your affairs. I can read and write. I’m no fool, so to speak.” He grasped the hand the mother extended to him, and wringing it, turned to the master of the house.
“There, Stepan, see, Varvara Nikolayevna is a good lady, true. But in regard to all this, she says it is nonsense, nothing but dreams. Boys and different students, she says, muddle the people’s mind with absurdities. However, you saw just now a sober, steady man, as he ought to be, a peasant, arrested. Now, here is she, an elderly woman, and as to be seen, not of blue blood. Don’t be offended — what’s your station in life?”
He spoke quickly and distinctly, without taking breath. His little beard shook nervously, and his dark eyes, which he screwed up, rapidly scanned the mother’s face and figure. Ragged, crumpled, his hair disheveled, he seemed just to have come from a fight, in which he had vanquished his opponent, and still to be flushed with the joy of victory. He pleased the mother with his sprightliness and his simple talk, which at once went straight to the point. She gave him a kind look as she answered his question. He once more shook her hand vigorously, and laughed softly.
“You see, Stepan, it’s a clean business, an excellent business. I told you so. This is the way it is: the people, so to speak, are beginning to take things into their own hands. And as to the lady — she won’t tell you the truth; it’s harmful to her. I respect her, I must say; she’s a good person, and wishes us well — well, a little bit, and provided it won’t harm her any. But the people want to go straight, and they fear no loss and no harm — you see? — all life is harmful to them; they have no place to turn to; they have nothing all around except ‘Stop!’ which is shouted at them from all sides.”
“I see,” said Stepan, nodding and immediately adding: “She’s uneasy about her baggage.”
Pyotr gave the mother a shrewd wink, and again reassured her:
“Don’t be uneasy; it’s all right. Everything will be all right, mother. Your valise is in my house. Just now when he told me about you — that you also participate in this work and that you know that man — I said to him: ‘Take care, Stepan! In such a serious business you must keep your mouth shut.’ Well, and you, too, mother, seem to have scented us when we stood near you. The faces of honest people can be told at once. Not many of them walk the streets, to speak frankly. Your valise is in my house.” He sat down alongside of her and looked entreatingly into her eyes. “If you wish to empty it we’ll help you, with pleasure. We need books.”
“She wants to give us everything,” remarked Stepan.
“First rate, mother! We’ll find a place for all of it.” He jumped to his feet, burst into a laugh, and quickly pacing up and down the room said contentedly: “The matter is perfectly simple: in one place it snaps, and in another it is tied up. Very well! And the newspaper, mother, is a good one, and does its work — it peels the people’s eyes open; it’s unpleasant to the masters. I do carpentry work for a lady about five miles from here — a good woman, I must admit. She gives me various books, sometimes very simple books. I read them over — I might as well fall asleep. In general we’re thankful to her. But I showed her one book and a number of a newspaper; she was somewhat offended. ‘Drop it, Pyotr!’ she said. ‘Yes, this,’ she says, ‘is the work of senseless youngsters; from such a business your troubles can only increase; prison and Siberia for this,’ she says.”
He grew abruptly silent, reflected for a moment, and asked: “Tell me, mother, this man — is he a relative of yours?”
Pyotr threw his head back and laughed noiselessly, very well satisfied with something. To the mother, however, it seemed the very next instant that, in reference to Rybin, the word “stranger” was not in place; it jarred upon her.
“I’m not a relative of his; but I’ve known him for a long time, and I look up to him as to an elder brother.”
She was pained and displeased not to find the word she wanted, and she could not suppress a quiet groan. A sad stillness pervaded the hut. Pyotr leaned his head upon one shoulder; his little beard, narrow and sharp, stuck out comically on one side, and gave his shadow swinging on the wall the appearance of a man sticking out his tongue teasingly. Stepan sat with his elbows on the table, and beat a tattoo on the boards. His wife stood at the oven without stirring; the mother felt her look riveted upon herself and often glanced at the woman’s face — oval, swarthy, with a straight nose, and a chin cut off short; her dark and thick eyebrows joined sternly, her eyelids drooped, and from under them her greenish eyes shone sharply and intently.
“A friend, that is to say,” said Pyotr quietly. “He has character, indeed he has; he esteems himself highly, as he ought to; he has put a high price on himself, as he ought to. There’s a man, Tatyana! You say ——”
“Is he married?” Tatyana interposed, and compressed the thin lips of her small mouth.
“He’s a widower,” answered the mother sadly.
“That’s why he’s so brave,” remarked Tatyana. Her utterance was low and difficult. “A married man like him wouldn’t go — he’d be afraid.”
“And I? I’m married and everything, and yet —” exclaimed Pyotr.
“Enough!” she said without looking at him and twisting her lips. “Well, what are you? You only talk a whole lot, and on rare occasions you read a book. It doesn’t do people much good for you and Stepan to whisper to each other on the corners.”
“Why, sister, many people hear me,” quietly retorted the peasant, offended. “I act as a sort of yeast here. It isn’t fair in you to speak that way.”
Stepan looked at his wife silently and again drooped his head.
“And why should a peasant marry?” asked Tatyana. “He needs a worker, they say. What work?”
“You haven’t enough? You want more?” Stepan interjected dully.
“But what sense is there in the work we do? We go half-hungry from day to day anyhow. Children are born; there’s no time to look after them on account of the work that doesn’t give us bread.” She walked up to the mother, sat down next to her, and spoke on stubbornly, no plaint nor mourning in her voice. “I had two children; one, when he was two years old, was boiled to death in hot water; the other was born dead — from this thrice-accursed work. Such a happy life! I say a peasant has no business to marry. He only binds his hands. If he were free he would work up to a system of life needed by everybody. He would come out directly and openly for the truth. Am I right, mother?”
“You are. You’re right, my dear. Otherwise we can’t conquer life.”
“Have you a husband?”
“He died. I have a son.”
“And where is he? Does he live with you?”
“He’s in prison.” The mother suddenly felt a calm pride in these words, usually painful to her. “This is the second time — all because he came to understand God’s truth and sowed it openly without sparing himself. He’s a young man, handsome, intelligent; he planned a newspaper, and gave Mikhail Ivanovich a start on his way, although he’s only half of Mikhail’s age. Now they’re going to try my son for all this, and sentence him; and he’ll escape from Siberia and continue with his work.”
Her pride waxed as she spoke. It created the image of a hero, and demanded expression in words. The mother needed an offset — something fine and bright — to balance the gloomy incident she had witnessed that day, with its senseless horror and shameless cruelty. Instinctively yielding to this demand of a healthy soul, she reached out for everything she had seen that was pure and shining and heaped it into one dazzling, cleansing fire.
“Many such people have already been born, more and more are being born, and they will all stand up for the freedom of the people, for the truth, to the very end of their lives.”
She forgot precaution, and although she did not mention names, she told everything known to her of the secret work for the emancipation of the people from the chains of greed. In depicting the personalities she put all her force into her words, all the abundance of love awakened in her so late by her rousing experiences. And she herself became warmly enamored of the images rising up in her memory, illumined and beautified by her feeling.
“The common cause advances throughout the world in all the cities. There’s no measuring the power of the good people. It keeps growing and growing, and it will grow until the hour of our victory, until the resurrection of truth.”
Her voice flowed on evenly, the words came to her readily, and she quickly strung them, like bright, varicolored beads, on strong threads of her desire to cleanse her heart of the blood and filth of that day. She saw that the three people were as if rooted to the spot where her speech found them, and that they looked at her without stirring. She heard the intermittent breathing of the woman sitting by her side, and all this magnified the power of her faith in what she said, and in what she promised these people.
“All those who have a hard life, whom want and injustice crush — it’s the rich and the servitors of the rich who have overpowered them. The whole people ought to go out to meet those who perish in the dungeons for them, and endure mortal torture. Without gain to themselves they show where the road to happiness for all people lies. They frankly admit it is a hard road, and they force no one to follow them. But once you take your position by their side you will never leave them. You will see it is the true, the right road. With such persons the people may travel. Such persons will not be reconciled to small achievements; they will not stop until they will vanquish all deceit, all evil and greed. They will not fold their hands until the people are welded into one soul, until the people will say in one voice: ‘I am the ruler, and I myself will make the laws equal for all.’”
She ceased from exhaustion, and looked about. Her words would not be wasted here, she felt assured. The silence lasted for a minute, while the peasants regarded her as if expecting more. Pyotr stood in the middle of the hut, his hands clasped behind his back, his eyes screwed up, a smile quivering on his freckled face. Stepan was leaning one hand on the table; with his neck and entire body forward, he seemed still to be listening. A shadow on his face gave it more finish. His wife, sitting beside the mother, bent over, her elbows on her knees, and studied her feet.
“That’s how it is,” whispered Pyotr, and carefully sat on the bench, shaking his head.
Stepan slowly straightened himself, looked at his wife, and threw his hands in the air, as if grasping for something.
“If a man takes up this work,” he began thoughtfully in a moderated voice, “then his entire soul is needed.”
Pyotr timidly assented:
“Yes, he mustn’t look back.”
“The work has spread very widely,” continued Stepan.
“Over the whole earth,” added Pyotr.
They both spoke like men walking in darkness, groping for the way with their feet. The mother leaned against the wall, and throwing back her head listened to their careful utterances. Tatyana arose, looked around, and sat down again. Her green eyes gleamed dryly as she looked into the peasants’ faces with dissatisfaction and contempt.
“It seems you’ve been through a lot of misery,” she said, suddenly turning to the mother.
“You speak well. You draw — you draw the heart after your talk. It makes me think, it makes me think, ‘God! If I could only take a peep at such people and at life through a chink!’ How does one live? What life has one? The life of sheep. Here am I; I can read and write; I read books, I think a whole lot. Sometimes I don’t even sleep the entire night because I think. And what sense is there in it? If I don’t think, my existence is a purposeless existence; and if I do, it is also purposeless. And everything seems purposeless. There are the peasants, who work and tremble over a piece of bread for their homes, and they have nothing. It hurts them, enrages them; they drink, fight, and work again — work, work, work. But what comes of it? Nothing.”
She spoke with scorn in her eyes and in her voice, which was low and even, but at times broke off like a taut thread overstrained. The peasants were silent,, the wind glided by the window panes, buzzed through the straw of the roofs, and at times whined softly down the chimney. A dog barked, and occasional drops of rain pattered on the window. Suddenly the light flared in the lamp, dimmed, but in a second sprang up again even and bright.
“I listened to your talk, and I see what people live for now. It’s so strange — I hear you, and I think, ‘Why, I know all this.’ And yet, until you said it, I hadn’t heard such things, and I had no such thoughts. Yes.”
“I think we ought to take something to eat, and put out the lamp,” said Stepan, somberly and slowly. “People will notice that at the Chumakovs’ the light burned late. It’s nothing for us, but, it might turn out bad for the guest.”
Tatyana arose and walked to the oven.
“Ye-es,” Pyotr said softly, with a smile. “Now, friend, keep your ears pricked. When the papers appear among the people ——”
“I’m not speaking of myself. If they arrest me, it’s no great matter.”
The wife came up to the table and asked Stepan to make room.
He arose and watched her spread the table as he stood to one side.
“The price of fellows of our kind is a nickel a bundle, a hundred in a bundle,” he said with a smile.
The mother suddenly pitied him. He now pleased her more.
“You don’t judge right, host,” she said. “A man mustn’t agree to the price put upon him by people from the outside, who need nothing of him except his blood. You, knowing yourself within, must put your own estimate on yourself — your price, not for your enemies, but for your friends.”
“What friends have we?” the peasant exclaimed softly. “Up to the first piece of bread.”
“And I say that the people have friends.”
“Yes, they have, but not here — that’s the trouble,” Stepan deliberated.
“Well, then create them here.”
Stepan reflected a while. “We’ll try.”
“Sit down at the table,” Tatyana invited her.
At supper, Pyotr, who had been subdued by the talk of the mother and appeared to be at a loss, began to speak again with animation:
“Mother, you ought to get out of here as soon as possible, to escape notice. Go to the next station, not to the city — hire the post horses.”
“Why? I’m going to see her off!” said Stepan.
“You mustn’t. In case anything happens and they ask you whether she slept in your house —‘She did.’ ‘When did she go?’ ‘I saw her off.’ ‘Aha! You did? Please come to prison!’ Do you understand? And no one ought to be in a hurry to get into prison; everybody’s turn will come. ‘Even the Czar will die,’ as the saying goes. But the other way: she simply spent the night in your house, hired horses, and went away. And what of it? Somebody passing through the village sleeps with somebody in the village. There’s nothing in that.”
“Where did you learn to be afraid, Pyotr?” Tatyana scoffed.
“A man must know everything, friend!” Pyotr exclaimed, striking his knee —“know how to fear, know how to be brave. You remember how a policeman lashed Vaganov for that newspaper? Now you’ll not persuade Vaganov for any amount of money to take a book in his hand. Yes; you believe me, mother, I’m a sharp fellow for every sort of a trick — everybody knows it. I’m going to scatter these books and papers for you in the best shape and form, as much as you please. Of course, the people here are not educated; they’ve been intimidated. However, the times squeeze a man and wide open go his eyes, ‘What’s the matter?’ And the book answers him in a perfectly simple way: ‘That’s what’s the matter — Think! Unite! Nothing else is left for you to do!’ There are examples of men who can’t read or write and can understand more than the educated ones — especially if the educated ones have their stomachs full. I go about here everywhere; I see much. Well? It’s possible to live; but you want brains and a lot of cleverness in order not to sit down in the cesspool at once. The authorities, too, smell a rat, as though a cold wind were blowing on them from the peasants. They see the peasant smiles very little, and altogether is not very kindly disposed and wants to disaccustom himself to the authorities. The other day in Smolyakov, a village not far from here, they came to extort the taxes; and your peasants got stubborn and flew into a passion. The police commissioner said straight out: ‘Oh, you damned scoundrels! why, this is disobedience to the Czar!’ There was one little peasant there, Spivakin, and says he: ‘Off with you to the evil mother with your Czar! What kind of a Czar is he if he pulls the last shirt off your body?’ That’s how far it went, mother. Of course, they snatched Spivakin off to prison. But the word remained, and even the little boys know it. It lives! It shouts! And perhaps in our days the word is worth more than a man. People are stupefied and deadened by their absorption in breadwinning. Yes.”
Pyotr did not eat, but kept on talking in a quick whisper, his dark, roguish eyes gleaming merrily. He lavishly scattered before the mother innumerable little observations on the village life — they rolled from him like copper coins from a full purse.
Stepan several times reminded him: “Why don’t you eat?” Pyotr would then seize a piece of bread and a spoon and fall to talking and sputtering again like a goldfinch. Finally, after the meal, he jumped to his feet and announced:
“Well, it’s time for me to go home. Good-by, mother!” and he shook her hand and nodded his head. “Maybe we shall never see each other again. I must say to you that all this is very good — to meet you and hear your speeches — very good! Is there anything in your valise beside the printed matter? A shawl? Excellent! A shawl, remember, Stepan. He’ll bring you the valise at once. Come, Stepan. Good-by. I wish everything good to you.”
After he had gone the crawling sound of the roaches became audible in the hut, the blowing of the wind over the roof and its knocking against the door in the chimney. A fine rain dripped monotonously on the window. Tatyana prepared a bed for the mother on the bench with clothing brought from the oven and the storeroom.
“A lively man!” remarked the mother.
The hostess looked at her sidewise.
“A light fellow,” she answered. “He rattles on and rattles on; you can’t but hear the rattling at a great distance.”
“And how is your husband?” asked the mother.
“So so. A good peasant; he doesn’t drink; we live peacefully. So so. Only he has a weak character.” She straightened herself, and after a pause asked:
“Why, what is it that’s wanted nowadays? What’s wanted is that the people should be stirred up to revolt. Of course! Everybody thinks about it, but privately, for himself. And what’s necessary is that he should speak out aloud. Some one person must be the first to decide to do it.” She sat down on the bench and suddenly asked: “Tell me, do young ladies also occupy themselves with this? Do they go about with the workingmen and read? Aren’t they squeamish and afraid?” She listened attentively to the mother’s reply and fetched a deep sigh; then drooping her eyelids and inclining her head, she said: “In one book I read the words ‘senseless life.’ I understood them very well at once. I know such a life. Thoughts there are, but they’re not connected, and they stray like stupid sheep without a shepherd. They stray and stray, with no one to bring them together. There’s no understanding in people of what must be done. That’s what a senseless life is. I’d like to run away from it without even looking around — such a severe pang one suffers when one understands something!”
The mother perceived the pang in the dry gleam of the woman’s green eyes, in her wizened face, in her voice. She wanted to pet and soothe her.
“You understand, my dear, what to do ——”
Tatyana interrupted her softly:
“A person must be able — The bed’s ready for you. Lie down and sleep.”
She went over to the oven and remained standing there erect, in silence, sternly centered in herself. The mother lay down without undressing. She began to feel the weariness in her bones and groaned softly. Tatyana walked up to the table, extinguished the lamp, and when darkness descended on the hut she resumed speech in her low, even voice, which seemed to erase something from the flat face of the oppressive darkness.
“You do not pray? I, too, think there is no God, there are no miracles. All these things were contrived to frighten us, to make us stupid.”
The mother turned about on the bench uneasily; the dense darkness looked straight at her from the window, and the scarcely audible crawling of the roaches persistently disturbed the quiet. She began to speak almost in a whisper and fearfully:
“In regard to God, I don’t know; but I do believe in Christ, in the Little Father. I believe in his words, ‘Love thy neighbor as thyself.’ Yes, I believe in them.” And suddenly she asked in perplexity: “But if there is a God, why did He withdraw his good power from us? Why did He allow the division of people into two worlds? Why, if He is merciful, does He permit human torture — the mockery of one man by another, all kinds of evil and beastliness?”
Tatyana was silent. In the darkness the mother saw the faint outline of her straight figure — gray on the black background. She stood motionless. The mother closed her eyes in anguish. Then the groaning, cold voice sullenly broke in upon the stillness again:
“The death of my children I will never forgive, neither God nor man — I will never forgive — NEVER!”
Nilovna uneasily rose from her bed; her heart understood the mightiness of the pain that evoked such words.
“You are young; you will still have children,” she said kindly.
The woman did not answer immediately. Then she whispered:
“No, no. I’m spoiled. The doctor says I’ll never be able to have a child again.”
A mouse ran across the floor, something cracked — a flash of sound flaring up in the noiselessness. The autumn rain again rustled on the thatch like light thin fingers running over the roof. Large drops of water dismally fell to the ground, marking the slow course of the autumn night. Hollow steps on the street, then on the porch, awoke the mother from a heavy slumber. The door opened carefully.
“Tatyana!” came the low call. “Are you in bed already?”
“Is she asleep?”
“It seems she is.”
A light flared up, trembled, and sank into the darkness.
The peasant walked over to the mother’s bed, adjusted the sheepskin over her, and wrapped up her feet. The attention touched the mother in its simplicity. She closed her eyes again and smiled. Stepan undressed in silence, crept up to the loft, and all became quiet.
Last updated Sunday, March 27, 2016 at 11:55