When the police had led Pavel away, the mother sat down on the bench, and closing her eyes began to weep quietly. She leaned her back against the wall, as her husband used to do, her head thrown backward. Bound up in her grief and the injured sense of her impotence, she cried long, gently, and monotonously, pouring out all the pain of her wounded heart in her sobs. And before her, like an irremovable stain, hung that yellow face with the scant mustache, and the squinting eyes staring at her with malicious pleasure. Resentment and bitterness were winding themselves about her breast like black threads on a spool; resentment and bitterness toward those who tear a son away from his mother because he is seeking truth.
It was cold; the rain pattered against the window panes; something seemed to be creeping along the walls. She thought she heard, walking watchfully around the house, gray, heavy figures, with broad, red faces, without eyes, and with long arms. It seemed to her that she almost heard the jingling of their spurs.
"I wish they had taken me, too!" she thought.
The whistle blew, calling the people to work. This time its sounds were low, indistinct, uncertain. The door opened and Rybin entered. He stood before her, wiping the raindrops from his beard.
"They snatched him away, did they?" he asked.[Pg 94]
"Yes, they did, the dogs!" she replied, sighing.
"That's how it is," said Rybin, with a smile; "they searched me, too; went all through me—yes! Abused me to their heart's content, but did me no harm beyond that. So they carried off Pavel, did they? The manager tipped the wink, the gendarme said 'Amen!' and lo! a man has disappeared. They certainly are thick together. One goes through the people's pockets while the other holds the gun."
"You ought to stand up for Pavel!" cried the mother, rising to her feet. "It's for you all that he's gone!"
"Who ought to stand up for him?" asked Rybin.
"All of you!"
"You want too much! We'll do nothing of the kind! Our masters have been gathering strength for thousands of years; they have driven our hearts full of nails. We cannot unite at once. We must first extract from ourselves, each from the other, the iron spikes that prevent us from standing close to one another."
And thus he departed, with his heavy gait, leaving the mother to her grief, aggravated by the stern hopelessness of his words.
The day passed in a thick mist of empty, senseless longing. She made no fire, cooked no dinner, drank no tea, and only late in the evening ate a piece of bread. When she went to bed it occurred to her that her life had never yet been so humiliating, so lonely and void. During the last years she had become accustomed to live constantly in the expectation of something momentous, something good. Young people were circling around her, noisy, vigorous, full of life. Her son's thoughtful and earnest face was always before her, and he seemed to be the master and creator of this thrilling[Pg 95] and noble life. Now he was gone, everything was gone. In the whole day, no one except the disagreeable Rybin had called.
Beyond the window, the dense, cold rain was sighing and knocking at the panes. The rain and the drippings from the roof filled the air with a doleful, wailing melody. The whole house appeared to be rocking gently to and fro, and everything around her seemed aimless and unnecessary.
A gentle rap was heard at the door. It came once, and then a second time. She had grown accustomed to these noises; they no longer frightened her. A soft, joyous sensation thrilled her heart, and a vague hope quickly brought her to her feet. Throwing a shawl over her shoulders, she hurried to the door and opened it.
Samoylov walked in, followed by another man with his face hidden behind the collar of his overcoat and under a hat thrust over his eyebrows.
"Did we wake you?" asked Samoylov, without greeting the mother, his face gloomy and thoughtful, contrary to his wont.
"I was not asleep," she said, looking at them with expectant eyes.
Samoylov's companion took off his hat, and breathing heavily and hoarsely said in a friendly basso, like an old acquaintance, giving her his broad, short-fingered hand:
"Good evening, granny! You don't recognize me?"
"Is it you?" exclaimed Nilovna, with a sudden access of delight. "Yegor Ivanovich?"
"The very same identical one!" replied he, bowing his large head with its long hair. There was a good-natured smile on his face, and a clear, caressing look in his small gray eyes. He was like a samovar—rotund,[Pg 96] short, with thick neck and short arms. His face was shiny and glossy, with high cheek bones. He breathed noisily, and his chest kept up a continuous low wheeze.
"Step into the room. I'll be dressed in a minute," the mother said.
"We have come to you on business," said Samoylov thoughtfully, looking at her out of the corner of his eyes.
Yegor Ivanovich passed into the room, and from there said:
"Nikolay got out of jail this morning, granny. You know him?"
"How long was he there?" she asked.
"Five months and eleven days. He saw the Little Russian there, who sends you his regards, and Pavel, who also sends you his regards and begs you not to be alarmed. As a man travels on his way, he says, the jails constitute his resting places, established and maintained by the solicitous authorities! Now, granny, let us get to the point. Do you know how many people were arrested yesterday?"
"I do not. Why, were there any others arrested besides Pavel?" she exclaimed.
"He was the forty-ninth!" calmly interjected Yegor Ivanovich. "And we may expect about ten more to be taken! This gentleman here, for example."
"Yes; me, too!" said Samoylov with a frown.
Nilovna somehow felt relieved.
"He isn't there alone," she thought.
When she had dressed herself, she entered the room and, smiling bravely, said:
"I guess they won't detain them long, if they arrested so many."
"You are right," assented Yegor Ivanovich; "and if[Pg 97] we can manage to spoil this mess for them, we can make them look altogether like fools. This is the way it is, granny. If we were now to cease smuggling our literature into the factory, the gendarmes would take advantage of such a regrettable circumstance, and would use it against Pavel and his comrades in jail."
"How is that? Why should they?" the mother cried in alarm.
"It's very plain, granny," said Yegor Ivanovich softly. "Sometimes even gendarmes reason correctly. Just think! Pavel was, and there were books and there were papers; Pavel is not, and no books and no papers! Ergo, it was Pavel who distributed these books! Aha! Then they'll begin to eat them all alive. Those gendarmes dearly love so to unman a man that what remains of him is only a shred of himself, and a touching memory."
"I see, I see," said the mother dejectedly. "O God! What's to be done, then?"
"They have trapped them all, the devil take them!" came Samoylov's voice from the kitchen. "Now we must continue our work the same as before, and not only for the cause itself, but also to save our comrades!"
"And there is no one to do the work," added Yegor, smiling. "We have first-rate literature. I saw to that myself. But how to get it into the factory, that's the question!"
"They search everybody at the gates now," said Samoylov.
The mother divined that something was expected of her. She understood that she could be useful to her son, and she hastened to ask:
"Well, now? What are we to do?"[Pg 98]
Samoylov stood in the doorway to answer.
"Pelagueya Nilovna, you know Marya Korsunova, the peddler."
"I do. Well?"
"Speak to her; see if you can't get her to smuggle in our wares."
"We could pay her, you know," interjected Yegor.
The mother waved her hands in negation.
"Oh, no! The woman is a chatterbox. No! If they find out it comes from me, from this house—oh, no!"
Then, inspired by a sudden idea, she began gladly and in a low voice:
"Give it to me, give it to me. I'll manage it myself. I'll find a way. I will ask Marya to make me her assistant. I have to earn my living, I have to work. Don't I? Well, then, I'll carry dinners to the factory. Yes, I'll manage it!"
Pressing her hands to her bosom, she gave hurried assurances that she would carry out her mission well and escape detection. Finally she exclaimed in triumph: "They'll find out—Pavel Vlasov is away, but his arm reaches out even from jail. They'll find out!"
All three became animated. Briskly rubbing his hands, Yegor smiled and said:
"It's wonderful, stupendous! I say, granny, it's superb—simply magnificent!"
"I'll sit in jail as in an armchair, if this succeeds," said Samoylov, laughing and rubbing his hands.
"You are fine, granny!" Yegor hoarsely cried.
The mother smiled. It was evident to her that if the leaflets should continue to appear in the factory, the authorities would be forced to recognize that it was not her son who distributed them. And feeling assured of success, she began to quiver all over with joy.[Pg 99]
"When you go to see Pavel," said Yegor, "tell him he has a good mother."
"I'll see him very soon, I assure you," said Samoylov, smiling.
The mother grasped his hand and said earnestly:
"Tell him that I'll do everything, everything necessary. I want him to know it."
"And suppose they don't put him in prison?" asked Yegor, pointing at Samoylov.
The mother sighed and said sadly:
"Well, then, it can't be helped!"
Both of them burst out laughing. And when she realized her ridiculous blunder, she also began to laugh in embarrassment, and lowering her eyes said somewhat slyly:
"Bothering about your own folk keeps you from seeing other people straight."
"That's natural!" exclaimed Yegor. "And as to Pavel, you need not worry about him. He'll come out of prison a still better man. The prison is our place of rest and study—things we have no time for when we are at large. I was in prison three times, and each time, although I got scant pleasure, I certainly derived benefit for my heart and mind."
"You breathe with difficulty," she said, looking affectionately at his open face.
"There are special reasons for that," he replied, raising his finger. "So the matter's settled, granny? Yes? To-morrow we'll deliver the matter to you—and the wheels that grind the centuried darkness to destruction will again start a-rolling. Long live free speech! And long live a mother's heart! And in the meantime, good-by."
"Good-by," said Samoylov, giving her a vigorous[Pg 100] handshake. "To my mother, I don't dare even hint about such matters. Oh, no!"
"Everybody will understand in time," said Nilovna, wishing to please him. "Everybody will understand."
When they left, she locked the door, and kneeling in the middle of the room began to pray, to the accompaniment of the patter of the rain. It was a prayer without words, one great thought of men, of all those people whom Pavel introduced into her life. It was as if they passed between her and the ikons upon which she held her eyes riveted. And they all looked so simple, so strangely near to one another, yet so lone in life.
Early next morning the mother went to Marya Korsunova. The peddler, noisy and greasy as usual, greeted her with friendly sympathy.
"You are grieving?" Marya asked, patting the mother on the back. "Now, don't. They just took him, carried him off. Where is the calamity? There is no harm in it. It used to be that men were thrown into dungeons for stealing, now they are there for telling the truth. Pavel may have said something wrong, but he stood up for all, and they all know it. Don't worry! They don't all say so, but they all know a good man when they see him. I was going to call on you right along, but had no time. I am always cooking and selling, but will end my days a beggar, I guess, all the same. My needs get the best of me, confound them! They keep nibbling and nibbling like mice at a piece of cheese. No sooner do I manage to scrape together ten rubles or so, when along comes some heathen, and makes away with all my money. Yes. It's hard to be a woman! It's a wretched business! To live alone is hard, to live with anyone, still harder!"[Pg 101]
"And I came to ask you to take me as your assistant," Vlasova broke in, interrupting her prattle.
"How is that?" asked Marya. And after hearing her friend's explanation, she nodded her head assentingly.
"That's possible! You remember how you used to hide me from my husband? Well, now I am going to hide you from want. Everyone ought to help you, for your son is perishing for the public cause. He is a fine chap, your son is! They all say so, every blessed soul of them. And they all pity him. I'll tell you something. No good is going to come to the authorities from these arrests, mark my word! Look what's going on in the factory! Hear them talk! They are in an ugly mood, my dear! The officials imagine that when they've bitten at a man's heel, he won't be able to go far. But it turns out that when ten men are hit, a hundred men get angry. A workman must be handled with care! He may go on patiently enduring and suffering everything that's heaped upon him for a long, long time, but then he can also explode all of a sudden!"