When she opened her eyes the room was filled by the cold, white glimmer of a clear wintry day. The hostess, with a book in her hand, lay on the sofa, and smiling unlike herself looked into her face.
“Oh, father!” the mother exclaimed, for some reason embarrassed. “Just look! Have I been asleep a long time?”
“Good morning!” answered Liudmila. “It’ll soon be ten o’clock. Get up and we’ll have tea.”
“Why didn’t you wake me up?”
“I wanted to. I walked up to you; but you were so fast asleep and smiled so in your sleep!”
With a supple, powerful movement of her whole body she rose from the sofa, walked up to the bed, bent toward the face of the mother, and in her dull eyes the mother saw something dear, near, and comprehensible.
“I was sorry to disturb you. Maybe you were seeing a happy vision.”
“I didn’t see anything.”
“All the same — but your smile pleased me. It was so calm, so good — so great.” Liudmila laughed, and her laugh sounded velvety. “I thought of you, of your life — your life is a hard one, isn’t it?”
The mother, moving her eyebrows, was silent and thoughtful.
“Of course it’s hard!” exclaimed Liudmila.
“I don’t know,” said the mother carefully. “Sometimes it seems sort of hard; there’s so much of all, it’s all so serious, marvelous, and it moves along so quickly, one thing after the other — so quickly ——”
The wave of bold excitement familiar to her overflowed her breast, filling her heart with images and thoughts. She sat up in bed, quickly clothing her thoughts in words.
“It goes, it goes, it goes all to one thing, to one side, and like a fire, when a house begins to burn, upward! Here it shoots forth, there it blazes out, ever brighter, ever more powerful. There’s a great deal, of hardship, you know. People suffer; they are beaten, cruelly beaten; and everyone is oppressed and watched. They hide, live like monks, and many joys are closed to them; it’s very hard. And when you look at them well you see that the hard things, the evil and difficult, are around them, on the outside, and not within.”
Liudmila quickly threw up her head, looked at her with a deep, embracing look. The mother felt that her words did not exhaust her thoughts, which vexed and offended her.
“You’re not speaking about yourself,” said her hostess softly.
The mother looked at her, arose from the bed, and dressing asked:
“Not about myself? Yes; you see in this, in all that I live now, it’s hard to think of oneself; how can you withdraw into yourself when you love this thing, and that thing is dear to you, and you are afraid for everybody and are sorry for everybody? Everything crowds into your heart and draws you to all people. How can you step to one side? It’s hard.”
Liudmila laughed, saying softly:
“And maybe it’s not necessary.”
“I don’t know whether it’s necessary or not; but this I do know — that people are becoming stronger than life, wiser than life; that’s evident.”
Standing in the middle of the room, half-dressed, she fell to reflecting for a moment. Her real self suddenly appeared not to exist — the one who lived in anxiety and fear for her son, in thoughts for the safekeeping of his body. Such a person in herself was no longer; she had gone off to a great distance, and perhaps was altogether burned up by the fire of agitation. This had lightened and cleansed her soul, and had renovated her heart with a new power. She communed with herself, desiring to take a look into her own heart, and fearing lest she awaken some anxiety there.
“What are you thinking about?” Liudmila asked kindly, walking up to her.
“I don’t know.”
The two women were silent, looking at each other. Both smiled; then Liudmila walked out of the room, saying:
“What is my samovar doing?”
The mother looked through the window. A cold, bracing day shone in the street; her breast, too, shone bright, but hot. She wanted to speak much about everything, joyfully, with a confused feeling of gratitude to somebody — she did not know whom — for all that came into her soul, and lighted it with a ruddy evening light. A desire to pray, which she had not felt for a long time, arose in her breast. Somebody’s young face came to her memory, somebody’s resonant voice shouted, “That’s the mother of Pavel Vlasov!” Sasha’s eyes flashed joyously and tenderly. Rybin’s dark, tall figure loomed up, the bronzed, firm face of her son smiled. Nikolay blinked in embarrassment; and suddenly everything was stirred with a deep but light breath.
“Nikolay was right,” said Liudmila, entering again. “He must surely have been arrested. I sent the boy there, as you told me to. He said policemen are hiding in the yard; he did not see the house porter; but he saw the policeman who was hiding behind the gates. And spies are sauntering about; the boy knows them.”
“So?” The mother nodded her head. “Ah, poor fellow!”
And she sighed, but without sadness, and was quietly surprised at herself.
“Lately he’s been reading a great deal to the city workingmen; and in general it was time for him to disappear,” Liudmila said with a frown. “The comrades told him to go, but he didn’t obey them. I think that in such cases you must compel and not try to persuade.”
A dark-haired, red-faced boy with beautiful eyes and a hooked nose appeared in the doorway.
“Shall I bring in the samovar?” he asked in a ringing voice.
“Yes, please, Seryozha. This is my pupil; have you never met him before?”
“He used to go to Nikolay sometimes; I sent him.”
Liudmila seemed to the mother to be different to-day — simpler and nearer to her. In the supple swaying of her stately figure there was much beauty and power; her sternness had mildened; the circles under her eyes had grown larger during the night, her face paler and leaner; her large eyes had deepened. One perceived a strained exertion in her, a tightly drawn chord in her soul.
The boy brought in the samovar.
“Let me introduce you: Seryozha — Pelagueya Nilovna, the mother of the workingman whom they sentenced yesterday.”
Seryozha bowed silently and pressed the mother’s hand. Then he brought in bread, and sat down to the table. Liudmila persuaded the mother not to go home until they found out whom the police were waiting for there.
“Maybe they are waiting for you. I’m sure they’ll examine you.”
“Let them. And if they arrest me, no great harm. Only I’d like to have Pasha’s speech sent off.”
“It’s already in type. To-morrow it’ll be possible to have it for the city and the suburb. We’ll have some for the districts, too. Do you know Natasha?”
“Then take it to her.”
The boy read the newspaper, and seemed not to be listening to the conversation; but at times his eyes looked from the pages of the newspaper into the face of the mother; and when she met their animated glance she felt pleased and smiled. She reproached herself for these smiles. Liudmila again mentioned Nikolay without any expression of regret for his arrest and, to the mother, it seemed in perfectly natural tones. The time passed more quickly than on the other days. When they had done drinking tea it was already near midday.
“However!” exclaimed Liudmila, and at the same time a knock at the door was heard. The boy rose, looked inquiringly at Liudmila, prettily screwing up his eyes.
“Open the door, Seryozha. Who do you suppose it is?” And with a composed gesture she let her hand into the pocket of the skirt, saying to the mother: “If it is the gendarmes, you, Pelagueya Nilovna, stand here in this corner, and you, Ser ——”
“I know. The dark passage,” the little boy answered softly, disappearing.
The mother smiled. These preparations did not disturb her; she had no premonition of a misfortune.
The little physician walked in. He quickly said:
“First of all, Nikolay is arrested. Aha! You here, Nilovna? They’re interested in you, too. Weren’t you there when he was arrested?”
“He packed me off, and told me to come here.”
“Hm! I don’t think it will be of any use to you. Secondly, last night several young people made about five hundred hektograph copies of Pavel’s speech — not badly done, plain and clear. They want to scatter them throughout the city at night. I’m against it. Printed sheets are better for the city, and the hektograph copies ought to be sent off somewhere.”
“Here, I’ll carry them to Natasha!” the mother exclaimed animatedly. “Give them to me.”
She was seized with a great desire to sow them broadcast, to spread Pavel’s speech as soon as possible. She would have bestrewn the whole earth with the words of her son, and she looked into the doctor’s face with eyes ready to beg.
“The devil knows whether at this time you ought to take up this matter,” the physician said irresolutely, and took out his watch. “It’s now twelve minutes of twelve. The train leaves at 2.05, arrives there 5.15. You’ll get there in the evening, but not sufficiently late — and that’s not the point!”
“That’s not the point,” repeated Liudmila, frowning.
“What then?” asked the mother, drawing up to them. “The point is to do it well; and I’ll do it all right.”
Liudmila looked fixedly at her, and chafing her forehead, remarked:
“It’s dangerous for you.”
“Why?” the mother challenged hotly.
“That’s why!” said the physician quickly and brokenly. “You disappeared from home an hour before Nikolay’s arrest. You went away to the mill, where you are known as the teacher’s aunt; after your arrival at the mill the naughty leaflets appear. All this will tie itself into a noose around your neck.”
“They won’t notice me there,” the mother assured them, warming to her desire. “When I return they’ll arrest me, and ask me where I was.” After a moment’s pause she exclaimed: “I know what I’ll say. From there I’ll go straight to the suburb; I have a friend there — Sizov. So I’ll say that I went there straight from the trial; grief took me there; and he, too, had the same misfortune, his nephew was sentenced; and I spent the whole time with him. He’ll uphold me, too. Do you see?”
The mother was aware that they were succumbing to the strength of her desire, and strove to induce them to give in as quickly as possible. She spoke more and more persistently, joy arising within her. And they yielded.
“Well, go,” the physician reluctantly assented.
Liudmila was silent, pacing thoughtfully up and down the room. Her face clouded over and her cheeks fell in. The muscles of her neck stretched noticeably as if her head had suddenly grown heavy; it involuntarily dropped on her breast. The mother observed this. The physician’s reluctant assent forced a sigh from her.
“You all take care of me,” the mother said, smiling. “You don’t take care of yourselves.” And the wave of joy mounted higher and higher.
“It isn’t true. We look out for ourselves. We ought to; and we very much upbraid those who uselessly waste their power. Ye-es. Now, this is the way you are to do. You will receive the speeches at the station.” He explained to her how the matter would be arranged; then looking into her face, he said: “Well, I wish you success. You’re happy, aren’t you?” And he walked away still gloomy and dissatisfied. When the door closed behind him Liudmila walked up to the mother, smiling quietly.
“You’re a fine woman! I understand you.” Taking her by the arm, she again walked up and down the room. “I have a son, too. He’s already thirteen years old; but he lives with his father. My husband is an assistant prosecuting attorney. Maybe he’s already prosecuting attorney. And the boy’s with him. What is he going to be? I often think.” Her humid, powerful voice trembled. Then her speech flowed on again thoughtfully and quietly. “He’s being brought up by a professed enemy of those people who are near me, whom I regard as the best people on earth; and maybe the boy will grow up to be my enemy. He cannot live with me; I live under a strange name. I have not seen him for eight years. That’s a long time — eight years!”
Stopping at the window, she looked up at the pale, bleak sky, and continued: “If he were with me I would be stronger; I would not have this wound in my heart, the wound that always pains. And even if he were dead it would be easier for me —” She paused again, and added more firmly and loudly: “Then I would know he’s merely dead, but not an enemy of that which is higher than the feeling of a mother, dearer and more necessary than life.”
“My darling,” said the mother quietly, feeling as if something powerful were burning her heart.
“Yes, you are happy,” Liudmila said with a smile. “It’s magnificent — the mother and the son side by side. It’s rare!”
The mother unexpectedly to herself exclaimed:
“Yes, it is good!” and as if disclosing a secret, she continued in a lowered voice: “It is another life. All of you — Nikolay Ivanovich, all the people of the cause of truth — are also side by side. Suddenly people have become kin — I understand all — the words I don’t understand; but everything else I understand, everything!”
“That’s how it is,” Liudmila said. “That’s how.”
The mother put her hand on Liudmila’s breast, pressing her; she spoke almost in a whisper, as if herself meditating upon the words she spoke.
“Children go through the world; that’s what I understand; children go into the world, over all the earth, from everywhere toward one thing. The best hearts go; people of honest minds; they relentlessly attack all evil, all darkness. They go, they trample falsehood with heavy feet, understanding everything, justifying everybody — justifying everybody, they go. Young, strong, they carry their power, their invincible power, all toward one thing — toward justice. They go to conquer all human misery, they arm themselves to wipe away misfortune from the face of the earth; they go to subdue what is monstrous, and they will subdue it. We will kindle a new sun, somebody told me; and they will kindle it. We will create one heart in life, we will unite all the severed hearts into one — and they will unite them. We will cleanse the whole of life — and they will cleanse it.”
She waved her hand toward the sky.
“There’s the sun.”
And she struck her bosom.
“Here the most glorious heavenly sun of human happiness will be kindled, and it will light up the earth forever — the whole of it, and all that live upon it — with the light of love, the love of every man toward all, and toward everything.”
The words of forgotten prayers recurred to her mind, inspiring a new faith. She threw them from her heart like sparks.
“The children walking along the road of truth and reason carry love to all; and they clothe everything in new skies; they illumine everything with an incorruptible fire issuing from the depths of the soul. Thus, a new life comes into being, born of the children’s love for the entire world; and who will extinguish this love — who? What power is higher than this? Who will subdue it? The earth has brought it forth; and all life desires its victory — all life. Shed rivers of blood, nay, seas of blood, you’ll never extinguish it.”
She shook herself away from Liudmila, fatigued by her exaltation, and sat down, breathing heavily. Liudmila also withdrew from her, noiselessly, carefully, as if afraid of destroying something. With supple movement she walked about the room and looked in front of her with the deep gaze of her dim eyes. She seemed still taller, straighter, and thinner; her lean, stern face wore a concentrated expression, and her lips were nervously compressed. The stillness in the room soon calmed the mother, and noticing Liudmila’s mood she asked guiltily and softly:
“Maybe I said something that wasn’t quite right?”
Liudmila quickly turned around and looked at her as if in fright.
“It’s all right,” she said rapidly, stretching out her hand to the mother as if desiring to arrest something. “But we’ll not speak about it any more. Let it remain as it was said; let it remain. Yes.” And in a calmer tone she continued: “It’s time for you to start soon; it’s far.”
“Yes, presently. I’m glad! Oh, how glad I am! If you only knew! I’m going to carry the word of my son, the word of my blood. Why, it’s like one’s own soul!”
She smiled; but her smile did not find a clear reflection in the face of Liudmila. The mother felt that Liudmila chilled her joy by her restraint; and the stubborn desire suddenly arose in her to pour into that obstinate soul enveloped in misery her own fire, to burn her, too, let her, too, sound in unison with her own heart full of joy. She took Liudmila’s hands and pressed them powerfully.
“My dear, how good it is when you know that light for all the people already exists in life, and that there will be a time when they will begin to see it, when they will bathe their souls in it, and all, all, will take fire in its unquenchable flames.”
Her good, large face quivered; her eyes smiled radiantly; and her eyebrows trembled over them as if pinioning their flash. The great thoughts intoxicated her; she put into them everything that burned her heart, everything she had lived through; and she compressed the thoughts into firm, capacious crystals of luminous words. They grew up ever more powerful in the autumn heart, illuminated by the creative force of the spring sun; they blossomed and reddened in it ever more brightly.
“Why, this is like a new god that’s born to us, the people. Everything for all; all for everything; the whole of life in one, and the whole of life for everyone, and everyone for the whole of life! Thus I understand all of you; it is for this that you are on this earth, I see. You are in truth comrades all, kinsmen all, for you are all children of one mother, of truth. Truth has brought you forth; and by her power you live!”
Again overcome by the wave of agitation, she stopped, fetched breath, and spread out her arms as if for an embrace.
“And if I pronounce to myself that word ‘comrades’ then I hear with my heart — they are going! They are going from everywhere, the great multitude, all to one thing. I hear such a roaring, resonant and joyous, like the festive peal of the bells of all the churches of the world.”
She had arrived at what she desired. Liudmila’s face flashed in amazement. Her lips quivered; and one after the other large transparent tears dropped from her dull eyes and rolled down her cheeks.
The mother embraced her vigorously and laughed softly, lightly taking pride in the victory of her heart. When they took leave of each other Liudmila looked into the mother’s face, and asked her softly:
“Do you know that it is well with you?” And herself supplied the answer: “Very well. Like a morning on a high mountain.”
Last updated Sunday, March 27, 2016 at 11:55