Life flowed on swiftly. The days were diversified and full of color. Each one brought with it something new, and the new ceased to alarm the mother. Strangers came to the house in the evening more and more frequently, and they talked with Andrey in subdued voices with an engrossed air. Late at night they went out into the darkness, their collars up, their hats thrust low over their faces, noiselessly, cautiously. All seemed to feel a feverish excitement, which they kept under restraint, and had the air of wanting to sing and laugh if they only had the time. They were all in a perpetual hurry. All of them—the mocking and the serious, the frank, jovial youth with effervescing strength, the thoughtful and quiet—all of them in the eyes of the mother were identical in the persistent faith that characterized them; and although each had his own peculiar cast of countenance, for her all their faces blended into one thin, composed, resolute face with a profound expression in its dark eyes, kind yet stern, like the look in Christ's eyes on his way to Emmaus.
The mother counted them, and mentally gathered them together into a group around Pavel. In that throng he became invisible to the eyes of the enemy.
One day a vivacious, curly-haired girl appeared from the city, bringing some parcel for Andrey; and on leaving[Pg 156] she said to Vlasova, with a gleam in her merry eyes:
"Good-by!" the mother answered, restraining a smile. After seeing the girl to the door, she walked to the window and, smiling, looked out on the street to watch her comrade as she trotted away, nimbly raising and dropping her little feet, fresh as a spring flower and light as a butterfly.
"Comrade!" said the mother when her guest had disappeared from her view. "Oh, you dear! God grant you a comrade for all your life!"
She often noticed in all the people from the city a certain childishness, for which she had the indulgent smile of an elderly person; but at the same time she was touched and joyously surprised by their faith, the profundity of which she began to realize more and more clearly. Their visions of the triumph of justice captivated her and warmed her heart. As she listened to their recital of future victories, she involuntarily sighed with an unknown sorrow. But what touched her above all was their simplicity, their beautiful, grand, generous unconcern for themselves.
She had already come to understand a great deal of what was said about life. She felt they had in reality discovered the true source of the people's misfortune, and it became a habit with her to agree with their thoughts. But at the bottom of her heart she did not believe that they could remake the whole of life according to their idea, or that they would have strength enough to gather all the working people about their fire. Everyone, she knew, wants to fill his stomach to-day, and no one wants to put his dinner off even for a week, if he can eat it up at once. Not many would[Pg 157] consent to travel the long and difficult road; and not all eyes could see at the end the promised kingdom where all men are brothers. That's why all these good people, despite their beards and worn faces, seemed to her mere children.
"My dear ones!" she thought, shaking her head.
But they all now lived a good, earnest, and sensible life; they all spoke of the common weal; and in their desire to teach other people what they knew, they did not spare themselves. She understood that it was possible to love such a life, despite its dangers; and with a sigh she looked back to bygone days in which her past dragged along flatly and monotonously, a thin, black thread. Imperceptibly she grew conscious of her usefulness in this new life—a consciousness that gave her poise and assurance. She had never before felt herself necessary to anybody. When she had lived with her husband, she knew that if she died he would marry another woman. It was all the same to him whether a dark-haired or a red-haired woman lived with him and prepared his meals. When Pavel grew up and began to run about in the street, she saw that she was not needed by him. But now she felt that she was helping a good work. It was new to her and pleasant. It set her head erect on her shoulders.
She considered it her duty to carry the books regularly to the factory. Indeed, she elaborated a number of devices for escaping detection. The spies, grown accustomed to her presence on the factory premises, ceased to pay attention to her. She was searched several times, but always the day after the appearance of the leaflets in the factory. When she had no literature about her, she knew how to arouse the suspicion of the guards and spies. They would halt her, and she[Pg 158] would pretend to feel insulted, and would remonstrate with them, and then walk off blushing, proud of her clever ruse. She began to enjoy the fun of the game.
Vyesovshchikov was not taken back to the factory, and went to work for a lumberman. The whole day long he drove about the village with a pair of black horses pulling planks and beams after them. The mother saw him almost daily with the horses as they plodded along the road, their feet trembling under the strain and dropping heavily upon the ground. They were both old and bare-boned, their heads shook wearily and sadly, and their dull, jaded eyes blinked heavily. Behind them jerkingly trailed a long beam, or a pile of boards clattering loudly. And by their side Nikolay trudged along, holding the slackened reins in his hand, ragged, dirty, with heavy boots, his hat thrust back, uncouth as a stump just turned up from the ground. He, too, shook his head and looked down at his feet, refusing to see anything. His horses blindly ran into the people and wagons going the opposite direction. Angry oaths buzzed about him like hornets, and sinister shouts rent the air. He did not raise his head, did not answer them, but went on, whistling a sharp, shrill whistle, mumbling dully to the horses.
Every time that Andrey's comrades gathered at the mother's house to read pamphlets or the new issue of the foreign papers, Nikolay came also, sat down in a corner, and listened in silence for an hour or two. When the reading was over the young people entered into long discussions; but Vyesovshchikov took no part in the arguments. He remained longer than the rest, and when alone, face to face with Andrey, he glumly put to him the question:
"And who is the most to blame? The Czar?"[Pg 159]
"The one to blame is he who first said: 'This is mine.' That man has now been dead some several thousand years, and it's not worth the while to bear him a grudge," said the Little Russian, jesting. His eyes, however, had a perturbed expression.
"And how about the rich, and those who stand up for them? Are they right?"
The Little Russian clapped his hands to his head; then pulled his mustache, and spoke for a long time in simple language about life and about the people. But from his talk it always appeared as if all the people were to blame, and this did not satisfy Nikolay. Compressing his thick lips tightly, he shook his head in demur, and declared that he could not believe it was so, and that he did not understand it. He left dissatisfied and gloomy. Once he said:
"No, there must be people to blame! I'm sure there are! I tell you, we must plow over the whole of life like a weedy field, showing no mercy!"
"That's what Isay, the record clerk, once said about us!" the mother said. For a while the two were silent.
"Yes, he's a bad man. He spies after everybody, fishes about everywhere for information. He has begun to frequent this street, and peers into our windows."
"Peers into your windows?"
The mother was already in bed and did not see his face. But she understood that she had said too much, because the Little Russian hastened to interpose in order to conciliate Nikolay.
"Let him peer! He has leisure. That's his way of killing time."
"No hold on!" said Nikolay. "There! He is to blame!"[Pg 160]
"To blame for what?" the Little Russian asked brusquely. "Because he's a fool?"
But Vyesovshchikov did not stop to answer and walked away.
The Little Russian began to pace up and down the room, slowly and languidly. He had taken off his boots as he always did when the mother was in bed in order not to disturb her. But she was not asleep, and when Nikolay had left she said anxiously:
"I'm so afraid of that man. He's just like an overheated oven. He does not warm things, but scorches them."
"Yes, yes!" the Little Russian drawled. "He's an irascible boy. I wouldn't talk to him about Isay, mother. That fellow Isay is really spying and getting paid for it, too."
"What's so strange in that? His godfather is a gendarme," observed the mother.
"Well, Nikolay will give him a dressing. What of it?" the Little Russian continued uneasily. "See what hard feelings the rulers of our life have produced in the rank and file? When such people as Nikolay come to recognize their wrong and lose their patience, what will happen then? The sky will be sprinkled with blood, and the earth will froth and foam with it like the suds of soap water."
"It's terrible, Andriusha!" the mother exclaimed in a low voice.
"They have swallowed flies, and have to vomit them now!" said Andrey after a pause. "And after all, mother, every drop of their blood that may be shed will have been washed in seas of the people's tears."
Suddenly he broke into a low laugh and added:
"That's true; but it's no comfort!"[Pg 161]
Once on a holiday the mother, on returning home from a store, opened the door of the porch, and remained fixed to the spot, suddenly bathed in the sunshine of joy. From the room she heard the sound of Pavel's voice.
"There she is!" cried the Little Russian.
The mother saw Pavel turn about quickly, and saw how his face lighted up with a feeling that held out the promise of something great to her.
"There you are—come home!" she mumbled, staggered by the unexpectedness of the event. She sat down.
He bent down to her with a pale face, little tears glistened brightly in the corners of his eyes, and his lips trembled. For a moment he was silent. The mother looked at him, and was silent also.
The Little Russian, whistling softly, passed by them with bent head and walked out into the yard.
"Thank you, mother," said Pavel in a deep, low voice, pressing her hand with his trembling fingers. "Thank you, my dear, my own mother!"
Rejoiced at the agitated expression of her son's face and the touching sound of his voice, she stroked his hair and tried to restrain the palpitation of her heart. She murmured softly:
"Christ be with you! What have I done for you? It isn't I who have made you what you are. It's you yourself——"
"Thank you for helping our great cause!" he said. "When a man can call his mother his own in spirit also—that's rare fortune!"
She said nothing, and greedily swallowed his words. She admired her son as he stood before her so radiant and so near.
"I was silent, mother dear. I saw that many things[Pg 162] in my life hurt you. I was sorry for you, and yet I could not help it. I was powerless! I thought you could never get reconciled to us, that you could never adopt our ideas as yours, but that you would suffer in silence as you had suffered all your life long. It was hard."
"Andriusha made me understand many things!" she declared, in her desire to turn her son's attention to his comrade.
"Yes, he told me about you," said Pavel, laughing.
"And Yegor, too! He is a countryman of mine, you know. Andriusha wanted to teach me to read, also."
"And you got offended, and began to study by yourself in secret."
"Oh, so he found me out!" she exclaimed in embarrassment. Then troubled by this abundance of joy which filled her heart she again suggested to Pavel:
"Shan't we call him in? He went out on purpose, so as not to disturb us. He has no mother."
"Andrey!" shouted Pavel, opening the door to the porch. "Where are you?"
"Here. I want to chop some wood."
"Never mind! There's time enough! Come here!"
"All right! I'm coming!"
But he did not come at once; and on entering the kitchen he said in a housekeeper-like fashion:
"We must tell Nikolay to bring us wood. We have very little wood left. You see, mother, how well Pavel looks? Instead of punishing the rebels, the government only fattens them."
The mother laughed. Her heart was still leaping with joy. She was fairly intoxicated with happiness. But a certain, cautious, chary feeling already called forth in her the wish to see her son calm as he always was.[Pg 163] She wanted this first joy in her life to remain fixed in her heart forever as live and strong as at first. In order to guard against the diminution of her happiness, she hastened to hide it, as a fowler secrets some rare bird that has happened to fall into his hands.
"Let's have dinner! Pasha, haven't you had anything to eat yet?" she asked with anxious haste.
"No. I learned yesterday from the warden that I was to be released, and I couldn't eat or drink anything to-day."
"The first person I met here was Sizov," Pavel communicated to Andrey. "He caught sight of me and crossed the street to greet me. I told him that he ought to be more careful now, as I was a dangerous man under the surveillance of the police. But he said: 'Never mind!' and you ought to have heard him inquire about his nephew! 'Did Fedor conduct himself properly in prison?' I wanted to know what is meant by proper behavior in prison, and he declared: 'Well, did he blab anything he shouldn't have against his comrades?' And when I told him that Fedya was an honest and wise young man, he stroked his beard and declared proudly: 'We, the Sizovs, have no trash in our family.'"
"He's a brainy old man!" said the Little Russian, nodding his head. "We often have talks with him. He's a fine peasant. Will they let Fedya out soon?"
"Yes, one of these days, I suppose. They'll let out all, I think. They have no evidence except Isay's, and what can he say?"
The mother walked up and down the room, and looked at her son. Andrey stood at the window with his hands clasped behind his back, listening to Pavel's narrative. Pavel also paced up and down the room. His[Pg 164] beard had grown, and small ringlets of thin, dark hair curled in a dense growth around his cheeks, softening the swarthy color of his face. His dark eyes had their stern expression.
"Sit down!" said the mother, serving a hot dish.
At dinner Andrey told Pavel about Rybin. When he had concluded Pavel exclaimed regretfully:
"If I had been home, I would not have let him go that way. What did he take along with him? A feeling of discontent and a muddle in his head!"
"Well," said Andrey, laughing, "when a man's grown to the age of forty and has fought so long with the bears in his heart, it's hard to make him over."
Pavel looked at him sternly and asked:
"Do you think it's impossible for enlightenment to destroy all the rubbish that's been crammed into a man's brains?"
"Don't fly up into the air at once, Pavel! Your flight will knock you up against the belfry tower and break your wings," said the Little Russian in admonition.
And they started one of those discussions in which words were used that were unintelligible to the mother. The dinner was already at an end, but they still continued a vehement debate, flinging at each other veritable rattling hailstones of big words. Sometimes their language was simpler:
"We must keep straight on our path, turning neither to the right nor to the left!" Pavel asserted firmly.
"And run headlong into millions of people who will regard us as their enemies!"
"You can't avoid that!"
"And what, my dear sir, becomes of your enlightenment?"[Pg 165]
The mother listened to the dispute, and understood that Pavel did not care for the peasants, but that the Little Russian stood up for them, and tried to show that the peasants, too, must be taught to comprehend the good. She understood Andrey better, and he seemed to her to be in the right; but every time he spoke she waited with strained ears and bated breath for her son's answer to find out whether the Little Russian had offended Pavel. But although they shouted at the top of their voices, they gave each other no offense.
Occasionally the mother asked:
"Is it so, Pavel?"
And he answered with a smile:
"Yes, it's so."
"Say, my dear sir," the Little Russian said with a good-natured sneer, "you have eaten well, but you have chewed your food up badly, and a piece has remained sticking in your throat. You had better gargle."
"Don't go fooling now!" said Pavel.
"I am as solemn as a funeral."
The mother laughed quietly and shook her head.