The searchers appeared at the very time they were not expected, nearly a month after this anxious night. Nikolay Vyesovshchikov was at Pavel's house talking with him and Andrey about their newspaper. It was late, about midnight. The mother was already in bed. Half awake, half asleep, she listened to the low, busy voices. Presently Andrey got up and carefully picked his way through and out of the kitchen, quietly shutting the door after him. The noise of the iron bucket was heard on the porch. Suddenly the door was flung wide open; the Little Russian entered the kitchen, and announced in a loud whisper:
"I hear the jingling of spurs in the street!"
The mother jumped out of bed, catching at her dress with a trembling hand; but Pavel came to the door and said calmly:
"You stay in bed; you're not feeling well."
A cautious, stealthy sound was heard on the porch. Pavel went to the door and knocking at it with his hand asked:
A tall, gray figure tumultuously precipitated itself through the doorway; after it another; two gendarmes pushed Pavel back, and stationed themselves on either side of him, and a loud mocking voice called out:
"No one you expect, eh?"[Pg 63]
The words came from a tall, lank officer, with a thin, black mustache. The village policeman, Fedyakin, appeared at the bedside of the mother, and, raising one hand to his cap, pointed the other at her face and, making terrible eyes, said:
"This is his mother, your honor!" Then, waving his hand toward Pavel: "And this is he himself."
"Pavel Vlasov?" inquired the officer, screwing up his eyes; and when Pavel silently nodded his head, he announced, twirling his mustache:
"I have to make a search in your house. Get up, old woman!"
"Who is there?" he asked, turning suddenly and making a dash for the door.
"Your name?" His voice was heard from the other room.
Two other men came in from the porch: the old smelter Tveryakov and his lodger, the stoker Rybin, a staid, dark-colored peasant. He said in a thick, loud voice:
"Good evening, Nilovna."
She dressed herself, all the while speaking to herself in a low voice, so as to give herself courage:
"What sort of a thing is this? They come at night. People are asleep and they come——"
The room was close, and for some reason smelled strongly of shoe blacking. Two gendarmes and the village police commissioner, Ryskin, their heavy tread resounding on the floor, removed the books from the shelves and put them on the table before the officer. Two others rapped on the walls with their fists, and looked under the chairs. One man clumsily clambered up on the stove in the corner. Nikolay's pockmarked face became covered with red patches, and his little gray eyes were[Pg 64] steadfastly fixed upon the officer. The Little Russian curled his mustache, and when the mother entered the room, he smiled and gave her an affectionate nod of the head.
Striving to suppress her fear, she walked, not sideways as always, but erect, her chest thrown out, which gave her figure a droll, stilted air of importance. Her shoes made a knocking sound on the floor, and her brows trembled.
The officer quickly seized the books with the long fingers of his white hand, turned over the pages, shook them, and with a dexterous movement of the wrist flung them aside. Sometimes a book fell to the floor with a light thud. All were silent. The heavy breathing of the perspiring gendarmes was audible; the spurs clanked, and sometimes the low question was heard: "Did you look here?"
The mother stood by Pavel's side against the wall. She folded her arms over her bosom, like her son, and both regarded the officer. The mother felt her knees trembling, and her eyes became covered with a dry mist.
Suddenly the piercing voice of Nikolay cut into the silence:
"Why is it necessary to throw the books on the floor?"
The mother trembled. Tveryakov rocked his head as if he had been struck on the back. Rybin uttered a peculiar cluck, and regarded Nikolay attentively.
The officer threw up his head, screwed up his eyes, and fixed them for a second upon the pockmarked, mottled, immobile face. His fingers began to turn the leaves of the books still more rapidly. His face was yellow and pale; he twisted his lips continually. At times he opened his large gray eyes wide, as if he suffered from an intolerable[Pg 65] pain, and was ready to scream out in impotent anguish.
"Soldier!" Vyesovshchikov called out again. "Pick the books up!"
All the gendarmes turned their eyes on him, then looked at the officer. He again raised his head, and taking in the broad figure of Nikolay with a searching stare, he drawled:
"Well, well, pick up the books."
One gendarme bent down, and, looking slantwise at Vyesovshchikov, began to collect the books scattered on the floor.
"Why doesn't Nikolay keep quiet?" the mother whispered to Pavel. He shrugged his shoulders. The Little Russian drooped his head.
"What's the whispering there? Silence, please! Who reads the Bible?"
"I!" said Pavel.
"Aha! And whose books are all these?"
"Mine!" answered Pavel.
"So!" exclaimed the officer, throwing himself on the back of the chair. He made the bones of his slender hand crack, stretched his legs under the table, and adjusting his mustache, asked Nikolay: "Are you Andrey Nakhodka?"
"Yes!" answered Nikolay, moving forward. The Little Russian put out his hand, took him by the shoulder, and pulled him back.
"He made a mistake; I am Andrey!"
The officer raised his hand, and threatening Vyesovshchikov with his little finger, said:
He began to search among his papers. From the street the bright, moonlit night looked on through the[Pg 66] window with soulless eyes. Some one was loafing about outside the window, and the snow crunched under his tread.
"You, Nakhodka, you have been searched for political offenses before?" asked the officer.
"Yes, I was searched in Rostov and Saratov. Only there the gendarmes addressed me as 'Mr.'"
The officer winked his right eye, rubbed it, and showing his fine teeth, said:
"And do you happen to know, Mr. Nakhodka—yes, you, Mr. Nakhodka—who those scoundrels are who distribute criminal proclamations and books in the factory, eh?"
The Little Russian swayed his body, and with a broad smile on his face was about to say something, when the irritating voice of Nikolay again rang out:
"This is the first time we have seen scoundrels here!"
Silence ensued. There was a moment of breathless suspense. The scar on the mother's face whitened, and her right eyebrow traveled upward. Rybin's black beard quivered strangely. He dropped his eyes, and slowly scratched one hand with the other.
"Take this dog out of here!" said the officer.
Two gendarmes seized Nikolay under the arm and rudely pulled him into the kitchen. There he planted his feet firmly on the floor and shouted:
"Stop! I am going to put my coat on."
The police commissioner came in from the yard and said:
"There is nothing out there. We searched everywhere!"
"Well, of course!" exclaimed the officer, laughing. "I knew it! There's an experienced man here, it goes without saying."[Pg 67]
The mother listened to his thin, dry voice, and looking with terror into the yellow face, felt an enemy in this man, an enemy without pity, with a heart full of aristocratic disdain of the people. Formerly she had but rarely seen such persons, and now she had almost forgotten they existed.
"Then this is the man whom Pavel and his friends have provoked," she thought.
"I place you, Mr. Andrey Onisimov Nakhodka, under arrest."
"What for?" asked the Little Russian composedly.
"I will tell you later!" answered the officer with spiteful civility, and turning to Vlasova, he shouted:
"Say, can you read or write?"
"No!" answered Pavel.
"I didn't ask you!" said the officer sternly, and repeated: "Say, old woman, can you read or write?"
The mother involuntarily gave way to a feeling of hatred for the man. She was seized with a sudden fit of trembling, as if she had jumped into cold water. She straightened herself, her scar turned purple, and her brow drooped low.
"Don't shout!" she said, flinging out her hand toward him. "You are a young man still; you don't know misery or sorrow——"
"Calm yourself, mother!" Pavel intervened.
"In this business, mother, you've got to take your heart between your teeth and hold it there tight," said the Little Russian.
"Wait a moment, Pasha!" cried the mother, rushing to the table and then addressing the officer: "Why do you snatch people away thus?"
"That does not concern you. Silence!" shouted the officer, rising.[Pg 68]
"Bring in the prisoner Vyesovshchikov!" he commanded, and began to read aloud a document which he raised to his face.
Nikolay was brought into the room.
"Hats off!" shouted the officer, interrupting his reading.
Rybin went up to Vlasova, and patting her on the back, said in an undertone:
"Don't get excited, mother!"
"How can I take my hat off if they hold my hands?" asked Nikolay, drowning the reading.
The officer flung the paper on the table.
"Sign!" he said curtly.
The mother saw how everyone signed the document, and her excitement died down, a softer feeling taking possession of her heart. Her eyes filled with tears—burning tears of insult and impotence—such tears she had wept for twenty years of her married life, but lately she had almost forgotten their acid, heart-corroding taste.
The officer regarded her contemptuously. He scowled and remarked:
"You bawl ahead of time, my lady! Look out, or you won't have tears left for the future!"
"A mother has enough tears for everything, everything! If you have a mother, she knows it!"
The officer hastily put the papers into his new portfolio with its shining lock.
"How independent they all are in your place!" He turned to the police commissioner.
"An impudent pack!" mumbled the commissioner.
"March!" commanded the officer.
"Good-by, Andrey! Good-by, Nikolay!" said Pavel warmly and softly, pressing his comrades' hands.
"That's it! Until we meet again!" the officer scoffed.[Pg 69]
Vyesovshchikov silently pressed Pavel's hands with his short fingers and breathed heavily. The blood mounted to his thick neck; his eyes flashed with rancor. The Little Russian's face beamed with a sunny smile. He nodded his head, and said something to the mother; she made the sign of the cross over him.
"God sees the righteous," she murmured.
At length the throng of people in the gray coats tumbled out on the porch, and their spurs jingled as they disappeared. Rybin went last. He regarded Pavel with an attentive look of his dark eyes and said thoughtfully: "Well, well—good-by!" and coughing in his beard he leisurely walked out on the porch.
Folding his hands behind his back, Pavel slowly paced up and down the room, stepping over the books and clothes tumbled about on the floor. At last he said somberly:
"You see how it's done! With insult—disgustingly—yes! They left me behind."
Looking perplexedly at the disorder in the room, the mother whispered sadly:
"They will take you, too, be sure they will. Why did Nikolay speak to them the way he did?"
"He got frightened, I suppose," said Pavel quietly. "Yes—It's impossible to speak to them, absolutely impossible! They cannot understand!"
"They came, snatched, and carried off!" mumbled the mother, waving her hands. As her son remained at home, her heart began to beat more lightly. Her mind stubbornly halted before one fact and refused to be moved. "How he scoffs at us, that yellow ruffian! How he threatens us!"
"All right, mamma!" Pavel suddenly said with resolution. "Let us pick all this up!"[Pg 70]
He called her "mamma," the word he used only when he came nearer to her. She approached him, looked into his face, and asked softly:
"Did they insult you?"
"Yes," he answered. "That's—hard! I would rather have gone with them."
It seemed to her that she saw tears in his eyes, and wishing to soothe him, with an indistinct sense of his pain, she said with a sigh:
"Wait a while—they'll take you, too!"
"They will!" he replied.
After a pause the mother remarked sorrowfully:
"How hard you are, Pasha! If you'd only reassure me once in a while! But you don't. When I say something horrible, you say something worse."
He looked at her, moved closer to her, and said gently:
"I cannot, mamma! I cannot lie! You have to get used to it."