From the main street four mounted policemen flourishing their knouts came riding into the by-street directly at the crowd.
"What sort of talking is going on?"
The people scowled, giving way to the horses unwillingly. Some climbed up on fences; raillery was heard here and there.
"They put pigs on horses; they grunt: 'Here we are, leaders, too!'" resounded a sonorous, provoking voice.
The Little Russian was left alone in the middle of the street; two horses shaking their manes pressed at him. He stepped aside, and at the same time the mother grasped his hand, pulling him away grumbling:
"You promised to stick to Pasha; and here you are running up against the edge of a knife all by yourself."
"I plead guilty," said the Little Russian, smiling at Pavel. "Ugh! What a force of police there is in the world!"
"All right," murmured the mother.
An alarming, crushing exhaustion came over her. It rose from within her and made her dizzy. There was a strange alternation of sadness and joy in her heart. She wished the afternoon whistle would sound.
They reached the square where the church stood.[Pg 218] Around the church within the paling a thick crowd was sitting and standing. There were some five hundred gay youth and bustling women with children darting around the groups like butterflies. The crowd swung from side to side. The people raised their heads and looked into the distance in different directions, waiting impatiently.
"Mitenka!" softly vibrated a woman's voice. "Have pity on yourself!"
"Stop!" rang out the response.
And the grave Sizov spoke calmly, persuasively:
"No, we mustn't abandon our children. They have grown wiser than ourselves; they live more boldly. Who saved our cent for the marshes? They did. We must remember that. For doing it they were dragged to prison; but we derived the benefit. The benefit was for all."
The whistle blew, drowning the talk of the crowd. The people started. Those sitting rose to their feet. For a moment the silence of death prevailed; all became watchful, and many faces grew pale.
"Comrades!" resounded Pavel's voice, ringing and firm.
A dry, hot haze burned the mother's eyes, and with a single movement of her body, suddenly strengthened, she stood behind her son. All turned toward Pavel, and drew up to him, like iron filings attracted by a magnet.
"Brothers! The hour has come to give up this life of ours, this life of greed, hatred, and darkness, this life of violence and falsehood, this life where there is no place for us, where we are no human beings."
He stopped, and everybody maintained silence, moving still closer to him. The mother stared at her son. She saw only his eyes, his proud, brave, burning eyes.[Pg 219]
"Comrades! We have decided to declare openly who we are; we raise our banner to-day, the banner of reason, of truth, of liberty! And now I raise it!"
A flag pole, white and slender, flashed in the air, bent down, cleaving the crowd. For a moment it was lost from sight; then over the uplifted faces the broad canvas of the working people's flag spread its wings like a red bird.
Pavel raised his hand—the pole swung, and a dozen hands caught the smooth white rod. Among them was the mother's hand.
"Long live the working people!" he shouted.
Hundreds of voices responded to his sonorous call.
"Long live the Social Democratic Workingmen's Party, our party, comrades, our spiritual mother."
The crowd seethed and hummed. Those who understood the meaning of the flag squeezed their way up to it. Mazin, Samoylov, and the Gusevs stood close at Pavel's side. Nikolay with bent head pushed his way through the crowd. Some other people unknown to the mother, young and with burning eyes, jostled her.
"Long live the working people of all countries!" shouted Pavel.
And ever increasing in force and joy, a thousand-mouthed echo responded in a soul-stirring acclaim.
The mother clasped Pavel's hand, and somebody else's, too. She was breathless with tears, yet refrained from shedding them. Her legs trembled, and with quivering lips she cried:
"Oh, my dear boys, that's true. There you are now——"
A broad smile spread over Nikolay's pockmarked face; he stared at the flag and, stretching his hand toward it, roared out something; then caught the mother[Pg 220] around the neck with the same hand, kissed her, and laughed.
"Comrades!" sang out the Little Russian, subduing the noise of the crowd with his mellow voice. "Comrades! We have now started a holy procession in the name of the new God, the God of Truth and Light, the God of Reason and Goodness. We march in this holy procession, comrades, over a long and hard road. Our goal is far, far away, and the crown of thorns is near! Those who don't believe in the might of truth, who have not the courage to stand up for it even unto death, who do not believe in themselves and are afraid of suffering—such of you, step aside! We call upon those only who believe in our triumph. Those who cannot see our goal, let them not walk with us; only misery is in store for them! Fall into line, comrades! Long live the first of May, the holiday of freemen!"
The crowd drew closer. Pavel waved the flag. It spread out in the air and sailed forward, sunlit, smiling, red, and glowing.
"Let us renounce the old world!" resounded Fedya Mazin's ringing voice; and scores of voices took up the cry. It floated as on a mighty wave.
"Let us shake its dust from our feet."
The mother marched behind Mazin with a smile on her dry lips, and looked over his head at her son and the flag. Everywhere, around her, was the sparkle of fresh young cheerful faces, the glimmer of many-colored eyes; and at the head of all—her son and Andrey. She heard their voices, Andrey's, soft and humid, mingled in friendly accord with the heavy bass of her son: "Rise up, awake, you workingmen! On, on, to war, you hungry hosts!" [Pg 221]
Men ran toward the red flag, raising a clamor; then joining the others, they marched along, their shouts lost in the broad sounds of the song of the revolution.
The mother had heard that song before. It had often been sung in a subdued tone; and the Little Russian had often whistled it. But now she seemed for the first time to hear this appeal to unite in the struggle. "We march to join our suffering mates."
The song flowed on, embracing the people.
Some one's face, alarmed yet joyous, moved along beside the mother's, and a trembling voice spoke, sobbing:
"Mitya! Where are you going?"
The mother interfered without stopping:
"Let him go! Don't be alarmed! Don't fear! I myself was afraid at first, too. Mine is right at the head—he who bears the standard—that's my son!"
"Murderers! Where are you going? There are soldiers over there!" And suddenly clasping the mother's hand in her bony hands, the tall, thin woman exclaimed: "My dear! How they sing! Oh, the sectarians! And Mitya is singing!"
"Don't be troubled!" murmured the mother. "It's a sacred thing. Think of it! Christ would not have been, either, if men hadn't perished for his sake."
This thought had flashed across the mother's mind all of a sudden and struck her by its simple, clear truth. She stared at the woman, who held her hand firmly in her clasp, and repeated, smiling:
"Christ would not have been, either, if men hadn't suffered for his sake."
Sizov appeared at her side. He took off his hat and waving it to the measure of the song, said:[Pg 222]
"They're marching openly, eh, mother? And composed a song, too! What a song, mother, eh?" "The Czar for the army soldiers must have, Then give him your sons——"
"They're not afraid of anything," said Sizov. "And my son is in the grave. The factory crushed him to death, yes!"
The mother's heart beat rapidly, and she began to lag behind. She was soon pushed aside hard against a fence, and the close-packed crowd went streaming past her. She saw that there were many people, and she was pleased. "Rise up, awake, you workingmen!"
It seemed as if the blare of a mighty brass trumpet were rousing men and stirring in some hearts the willingness to fight, in other hearts a vague joy, a premonition of something new, and a burning curiosity; in still others a confused tremor of hope and curiosity. The song was an outlet, too, for the stinging bitterness accumulated during years.
The people looked ahead, where the red banner was swinging and streaming in the air. All were saying something and shouting; but the individual voice was lost in the song—the new song, in which the old note of mournful meditation was absent. It was not the utterance of a soul wandering in solitude along the dark paths of melancholy perplexity, of a soul beaten down by want, burdened with fear, deprived of individuality, and colorless. It breathed no sighs of a strength hungering for space; it shouted no provoking cries of irritated courage ready to crush both the good and the bad indiscriminately. It did not voice the elemental instinct[Pg 223] of the animal to snatch freedom for freedom's sake, nor the feeling of wrong or vengeance capable of destroying everything and powerless to build up anything. In this song there was nothing from the old, slavish world. It floated along directly, evenly; it proclaimed an iron virility, a calm threat. Simple, clear, it swept the people after it along an endless path leading to the far distant future; and it spoke frankly about the hardships of the way. In its steady fire a heavy clod seemed to burn and melt—the sufferings they had endured, the dark load of their habitual feelings, their cursed dread of what was coming.
"They all join in!" somebody roared exultantly. "Well done, boys!"
Apparently the man felt something vast, to which he could not give expression in ordinary words, so he uttered a stiff oath. Yet the malice, the blind dark malice of a slave also streamed hotly through his teeth. Disturbed by the light shed upon it, it hissed like a snake, writhing in venomous words.
"Heretics!" a man with a broken voice shouted from a window, shaking his fist threateningly.
A piercing scream importunately bored into the mother's ears—"Rioting against the emperor, against his Majesty the Czar? No, no?"
Agitated people flashed quickly past her, a dark lava stream of men and women, carried along by this song, which cleared every obstacle out of its path.
Growing in the mother's breast was the mighty desire to shout to the crowd:
"Oh, my dear people!"
There, far away from her, was the red banner—she saw her son without seeing him—his bronzed forehead, his eyes burning with the bright fire of faith. Now she[Pg 224] was in the tail of the crowd among the people who walked without hurrying, indifferent, looking ahead with the cold curiosity of spectators who know beforehand how the show will end. They spoke softly with confidence.
"One company of infantry is near the school, and the other near the factory."
"The governor has come."
"Is that so?"
"I saw him myself. He's here."
Some one swore jovially and said:
"They've begun to fear our fellows, after all, haven't they? The soldiers have come and the governor——"
"Dear boys!" throbbed in the breast of the mother. But the words around her sounded dead and cold. She hastened her steps to get away from these people, and it was not difficult for her to outstrip their lurching gait.
Suddenly the head of the crowd, as it were, bumped against something; its body swung backward with an alarming, low hum. The song trembled, then flowed on more rapidly and louder; but again the dense wave of sounds hesitated in its forward course. Voices fell out of the chorus one after the other. Here and there a voice was raised in the effort to bring the song to its previous height, to push it forward: "Rise up, awake, you workingmen! On, on, to war, you hungry hosts!"
Though she saw nothing and was ignorant of what was happening there in front, the mother divined, and elbowed her way rapidly through the crowd.