In the street the frozen atmosphere enveloped her body invigoratingly, penetrated into her throat, tickled her nose, and for a second suppressed the breathing in her bosom. The mother stopped and looked around. Near to her, at the corner of the empty street, stood a cabman in a shaggy hat; at a slight distance a man was walking, bent, his head sunk in his shoulders; and in front of him a soldier was running in a jump, rubbing his ears.
“The soldier must have been sent to the store,” she thought, and walked off listening with satisfaction to the youthful crunching of the snow under her feet. She arrived at the station early; her train was not yet ready; but in the dirty waiting room of the third class, blackened with smoke, there were numerous people already. The cold drove in the railroad workmen; cabmen and some poorly dressed, homeless people came in to warm themselves; there were passengers, also a few peasants, a stout merchant in a raccoon overcoat, a priest and his daughter, a pockmarked girl, some five soldiers, and bustling tradesmen. The men smoked, talked, drank tea and whisky at the buffet; some one laughed boisterously; a wave of smoke was wafted overhead; the door squeaked as it opened, the windows rattled when the door was jammed to; the odor of tobacco, machine oil, and salt fish thickly beat into the nostrils.
The mother sat near the entrance and waited. When the door opened a whiff of fresh air struck her, which was pleasant to her, and she took in deep breaths. Heavily dressed people came in with bundles in their hands; they clumsily pushed through the door, swore, mumbled, threw their things on the bench or on the floor, shook off the dry rime from the collars of their overcoats and their sleeves and wiped it off their beards and mustaches, all the time puffing and blowing.
A young man entered with a yellow valise in his hand, quickly looked around, and walked straight to the mother.
“To Moscow, to your niece?” he asked in a low voice.
“Yes, to Tanya.”
He put the valise on the bench near her, quickly whipped out a cigarette, lighted it, and raising his hat, silently walked toward the other door. The mother stroked the cold skin of the valise, leaned her elbows on it, and, satisfied, began again to look around at the people. In a few moments she arose and walked over to the other bench, nearer to the exit to the platform. She held the valise lightly in her hand; it was not large, and she walked with raised head, scanning the faces that flashed before her.
One man in a short overcoat and its collar raised jostled against her and jumped back, silently waving his hand toward his head. Something familiar about him struck her; she glanced around and saw that he was looking at her with one eye gleaming out of his collar. This attentive eye pricked her; the hand in which she held the valise trembled; she felt a dull pain in her shoulder, and the load suddenly grew heavy.
“I’ve seen him somewhere,” she thought, and with the thought suppressed the unpleasant, confused feeling in her breast. She would not permit herself to define the cold sensation that already pressed her heart quietly but powerfully. It grew and rose in her throat, filling her mouth with a dry, bitter taste, and compelling her to turn around and look once more. As she turned he carefully shifted from one foot to the other, standing on the same spot; it seemed he wanted something, but could not decide what. His right hand was thrust between the buttons of his coat, the other he kept in his pocket. On account of this the right shoulder seemed higher than the left.
Without hastening, she walked to the bench and sat down carefully, slowly, as if afraid of tearing something in herself or on herself. Her memory, aroused by a sharp premonition of misfortune, quickly presented this man twice to her imagination — once in the field outside the city, after the escape of Rybin; a second time in the evening in the court. There at his side stood the constable to whom she had pointed out the false way taken by Rybin. They knew her; they were tracking her — this was evident.
“Am I caught?” she asked, and in the following second answered herself, starting: “Maybe there is still —” and immediately forcing herself with a great effort, she said sternly: “I’m caught. No use.”
She looked around, and her thoughts flashed up in sparks and expired in her brain one after the other.
“Leave the valise? Go away?”
But at the same time another spark darted up more glaringly: “How much will be lost? Drop the son’s word in such hands?”
She pressed the valise to herself trembling. “And to go away with it? Where? To run?”
These thoughts seemed to her those of a stranger, somebody from the outside, who was pushing them on her by main force. They burned her, and their burns chopped her brain painfully, lashed her heart like fiery whipcords. They were an insult to the mother; they seemed to be driving her away from her own self, from Pavel, and everything which had grown to her heart. She felt that a stubborn, hostile force oppressed her, squeezed her shoulder and breast, lowered her stature, plunging her into a fatal fear. The veins on her temples began to pulsate vigorously, and the roots of her hair grew warm.
Then with one great and sharp effort of her heart, which seemed to shake her entire being, she quenched all these cunning, petty, feeble little fires, saying sternly to herself: “Enough!”
She at once began to feel better, and she grew strengthened altogether, adding: “Don’t disgrace your son. Nobody’s afraid.”
Several seconds of wavering seemed to have the effect of joining everything in her; her heart began to beat calmly.
“What’s going to happen now? How will they go about it with me?” she thought, her senses strung to a keener observation.
The spy called a station guard, and whispered something to him, directing his look toward her. The guard glanced at him and moved back. Another guard came, listened, grinned, and lowered his brows. He was an old man, coarse-built, gray, unshaven. He nodded his head to the spy, and walked up to the bench where the mother sat. The spy quickly disappeared.
The old man strode leisurely toward the mother, intently thrusting his angry eyes into the mother’s face. She sat farther back on the bench, trembling. “If they only don’t beat me, if they only don’t beat me!”
He stopped at her side; she raised her eyes to his face.
“What are you looking at?” he asked in a moderated voice.
“Hm! Thief! So old and yet ——”
It seemed to her that his words struck her face once, twice, rough and hoarse; they wounded her, as if they tore her cheeks, ripped out her eyes.
“I’m not a thief! You lie!” she shouted with all the power of her chest; and everything before her jumped and began to whirl in a whirlwind of revolt, intoxicating her heart with the bitterness of insult. She jerked the valise, and it opened.
“Look! look! All you people!” she shouted, standing up and waving the bundle of the proclamations she had quickly seized over her head. Through the noise in her ears she heard the exclamations of the people who came running up, and she saw them pouring in quickly from all directions.
“What is it?”
“There’s a spy!”
“What’s the matter?”
“She’s a thief, they say!”
“Would a thief shout?”
“Such a respectable one! My, my, my!”
“Whom did they catch?”
“I’m not a thief,” said the mother in a full voice, somewhat calmed at the sight of the people who pressed closely upon her from all sides.
“Yesterday they tried the political prisoners; my son was one of them, Vlasov. He made a speech. Here it is. I’m carrying it to the people in order that they should read, think about the truth.”
One paper was carefully pulled from her hands. She waved the papers in the air and flung them into the crowd.
“She won’t get any praise for that, either!” somebody exclaimed in a frightened voice.
“Whee-ee-w!” was the response.
The mother saw that the papers were being snatched up, were being hidden in breasts and pockets. This again put her firmly on her feet; more composed than forceful, straining herself to her utmost, and feeling how agitated pride grew in her raising her high above the people, how subdued joy flamed up in her, she spoke, snatching bundles of papers from the valise and throwing them right and left into some person’s quick, greedy hands.
“For this they sentenced my son and all with him. Do you know? I will tell you, and you believe the heart of a mother; believe her gray hair. Yesterday they sentenced them because they carried to you, to all the people, the honest, sacred truth. How do you live?”
The crowd grew silent in amazement, and noiselessly increased in size, pressing closer and closer together, surrounding the woman with a ring of living bodies.
“Poverty, hunger, and sickness — that’s what work gives to the poor people. This order of things pushes us to theft and to corruption; and over us, satiated and calm, live the rich. In order that we should obey the police, the authorities, the soldiers, all are in their hands, all are against us, everything is against us. We perish all our lives day after day in toil, always in filth, in deceit. And others enjoy themselves and gormandize themselves with our labor; and they hold us like dogs on chains, in ignorance. We know nothing, and in terror we fear everything. Our life is night, a dark night; it is a terrible dream. They have poisoned us with strong intoxicating poison, and they drink our blood. They glut themselves to corpulence, to vomiting — the servants of the devil of greed. Is it not so?”
“It’s so!” came a dull answer.
Back of the crowd the mother noticed the spy and two gendarmes. She hastened to give away the last bundles; but when her hand let itself down into the valise it met another strange hand.
“Take it, take it all!” she said, bending down.
A dirty face raised itself to hers, and a low whisper reached her:
“Whom shall I tell? Whom inform?”
She did not answer.
“In order to change this life, in order to free all the people, to raise them from the dead, as I have been raised, some persons have already come who secretly saw the truth in life; secretly, because, you know, no one can say the truth aloud. They hunt you down, they stifle you; they make you rot in prison, they mutilate you. Wealth is a force, not a friend to truth. Thus far truth is the sworn enemy to the power of the rich, an irreconcilable enemy forever! Our children are carrying the truth into the world. Bright people, clean people are carrying it to you. Thus far there are few of them; they are not powerful; but they grow in number every day. They put their young hearts into free truth, they are making it an invincible power. Along the route of their hearts it will enter into our hard life; it will warm us, enliven us, emancipate us from the oppression of the rich and from all who have sold their souls. Believe this.”
“Out of the way here!” shouted the gendarmes, pushing the people. They gave way to the jostling unwillingly, pressed the gendarmes with their mass, hindered them perhaps without desiring to do so. The gray-haired woman with the large, honest eyes in her kind face attracted them powerfully; and those whom life held asunder, whom it tore from one another, now blended into a whole, warmed by the fire of the fearless words which, perhaps, they had long been seeking and thirsting for in their hearts — their hearts insulted and revolted by the injustice of their severe life. Those who were near stood in silence. The mother saw their gloomy faces, their frowning brows, their eyes, and felt their warm breath on her face.
“Get up on the bench,” they said.
“I’ll be arrested immediately. It’s not necessary.”
“Speak quicker! They’re coming!”
“Go to meet the honest people. Seek those who advise all the poor disinherited. Don’t be reconciled, comrades, don’t! Don’t yield to the power of the powerful. Arise, you working people! you are the masters of life! All live by your labor; and only for your labor do they untie your hands. Behold! you are bound, and they have killed, robbed your soul. Unite with your heart and your mind into one power. It will overcome everything. You have no friends except yourselves. That’s what their only friends say to the working people, their friends who go to them and perish on the road to prison. Not so would dishonest people speak, not so deceivers.”
“Out of the way! Disperse!” the shouts of the gendarmes came nearer and nearer. There were more of them already; they pushed more forcibly; and the people in front of the mother swayed, catching hold of one another.
“Is that all you have in the valise?” whispered somebody.
“Take it! Take all!” said the mother aloud, feeling that the words disposed themselves into a song in her breast, and noticing with pain that her voice did not hold out, that it was hoarse, trembled, and broke.
“The word of my son is the honest word of a workingman, of an unsold soul. You will recognize its incorruptibility by its boldness. It is fearless, and if necessary it goes even against itself to meet the truth. It goes to you, working people, incorruptible, wise, fearless. Receive it with an open heart, feed on it; it will give you the power to understand everything, to fight against everything for the truth, for the freedom of mankind. Receive it, believe it, go with it toward the happiness of all the people, to a new life with great joy!”
She received a blow on the chest; she staggered and fell on the bench. The gendarmes’ hands darted over the heads of the people, and seizing collars and shoulders, threw them aside, tore off hats, flung them far away. Everything grew dark and began to whirl before the eyes of the mother. But overcoming her fatigue, she again shouted with the remnants of her power:
“People, gather up your forces into one single force!”
A large gendarme caught her collar with his red hand and shook her.
The nape of her neck struck the wall; her heart was enveloped for a second in the stifling smoke of terror; but it blazed forth again clearly, dispelling the smoke.
“Go!” said the gendarme.
“Fear nothing! There are no tortures worse than those which you endure all your lives!”
“Silence, I say!” The gendarme took her by the arm and pulled her; another seized her by the other arm, and taking long steps, they led her away.
“There are no tortures more bitter than those which quietly gnaw at your heart every day, waste your breast, and drain your power.”
The spy came running up, and shaking his fist in her face, shouted:
“Silence, you old hag!”
Her eyes widened, sparkled; her jaws quivered. Planting her feet firmly on the slippery stones of the floor, she shouted, gathering the last remnants of her strength:
“The resuscitated soul they will not kill.”
The spy struck her face with a short swing of his hand.
Something black and red blinded her eyes for a second. The salty taste of blood filled her mouth.
A clear outburst of shouts animated her:
“Don’t dare to beat her!”
“What is it?”
“Oh, you scoundrel!”
“Give it to him!”
“They will not drown reason in blood; they will not extinguish its truth!”
She was pushed in the neck and the back, beaten about the shoulders, on the head. Everything began to turn around, grow giddy in a dark whirlwind of shouts, howls, whistles. Something thick and deafening crept into her ear, beat in her throat, choked her. The floor under her feet began to shake, giving way. Her legs bent, her body trembled, burned with pain, grew heavy, and staggered powerless. But her eyes were not extinguished, and they saw many other eyes which flashed and gleamed with the bold sharp fire known to her, with the fire dear to her heart.
She was pushed somewhere into a door.
She snatched her hand away from the gendarmes and caught hold of the doorpost.
“You will not drown the truth in seas of blood ——”
They struck her hand.
“You heap up only malice on yourself, you unwise ones! It will fall on you ——”
Somebody seized her neck and began to choke her. There was a rattle in her throat.
“You poor, sorry creatures ——”
This web edition published by:
The University of Adelaide Library
University of Adelaide
South Australia 5005
Last updated Sunday, March 27, 2016 at 11:55