Comrades!" the voice of Pavel was heard. "Soldiers are people the same as ourselves. They will not strike us! Why should they beat us? Because we bear the truth necessary for all? This our truth is necessary to them, too. Just now they do not understand this; but the time is nearing when they will rise with us, when they will march, not under the banner of robbers and murderers, the banner which the liars and beasts order them to call the banner of glory and honor, but under our banner of freedom and goodness! We ought to go forward so that they should understand our truth the sooner. Forward, comrades! Ever forward!"
Pavel's voice sounded firm, the words rang in the air distinctly. But the crowd fell asunder; one after the other the people dropped off to the right or to the left, going toward their homes, or leaning against the fences. Now the crowd had the shape of a wedge, and its point was Pavel, over whose head the banner of the laboring people was burning red.
At the end of the street, closing the exit to the square, the mother saw a low, gray wall of men, one just like the other, without faces. On the shoulder of each a bayonet was smiling its thin, chill smile; and from this entire immobile wall a cold gust blew down on the workmen, striking the breast of the mother and penetrating her heart.[Pg 226]
She forced her way into the crowd among people familiar to her, and, as it were, leaned on them.
She pressed closely against a tall, lame man with a clean-shaven face. In order to look at her, he had to turn his head stiffly.
"What do you want? Who are you?" he asked her.
"The mother of Pavel Vlasov," she answered, her knees trembling beneath her, her lower lip involuntarily dropping.
"Ha-ha!" said the lame man. "Very well!"
"Comrades!" Pavel cried. "Onward all your lives. There is no other way for us! Sing!"
The atmosphere grew tense. The flag rose and rocked and waved over the heads of the people, gliding toward the gray wall of soldiers. The mother trembled. She closed her eyes, and cried: "Oh—oh!"
None but Pavel, Andrey, Samoylov, and Mazin advanced beyond the crowd.
The limpid voice of Fedya Mazin slowly quivered in the air.
"'In mortal strife—'" he began the song.
"'You victims fell—'" answered thick, subdued voices. The words dropped in two heavy sighs. People stepped forward, each footfall audible. A new song, determined and resolute, burst out: "You yielded up your lives for them."
Fedya's voice wreathed and curled like a bright ribbon.
"A-ha-ha-ha!" some one exclaimed derisively. "They've struck up a funeral song, the dirty dogs!"
"Beat him!" came the angry response.
The mother clasped her hands to her breast, looked about, and saw that the crowd, before so dense, was now[Pg 227] standing irresolute, watching the comrades walk away from them with the banner, followed by about a dozen people, one of whom, however, at every forward move, jumped aside as if the path in the middle of the street were red hot and burned his soles.
"The tyranny will fall—" sounded the prophetic song from the lips of Fedya.
"And the people will rise!" the chorus of powerful voices seconded confidently and menacingly.
But the harmonious flow of the song was broken by the quiet words:
"He is giving orders."
"Charge bayonets!" came the piercing order from the front.
The bayonets curved in the air, and glittered sharply; then fell and stretched out to confront the banner.
"They're coming!" said the lame man, and thrusting his hands into his pockets made a long step to one side.
The mother, without blinking, looked on. The gray line of soldiers tossed to and fro, and spread out over the entire width of the street. It moved on evenly, coolly, carrying in front of itself a fine-toothed comb of sparkling bayonets. Then it came to a stand. The mother took long steps to get nearer to her son. She saw how Andrey strode ahead of Pavel and fenced him off with his long body. "Get alongside of me!" Pavel shouted sharply. Andrey was singing, his hands clasped behind his back, his head uplifted. Pavel pushed him with his shoulder, and again cried:
"At my side! Let the banner be in front!"
"Disperse!" called a little officer in a thin voice, brandishing a white saber. He lifted his feet high, and without bending his knees struck his soles on the ground[Pg 228] irritably. The high polish on his boots caught the eyes of the mother.
To one side and somewhat behind him walked a tall, clean-shaven man, with a thick, gray mustache. He wore a long gray overcoat with a red underlining, and yellow stripes on his trousers. His gait was heavy, and like the Little Russian, he clasped his hands behind his back. He regarded Pavel, raising his thick gray eyebrows.
The mother seemed to be looking into infinity. At each breath her breast was ready to burst with a loud cry. It choked her, but for some reason she restrained it. Her hands clutched at her bosom. She staggered from repeated thrusts. She walked onward without thought, almost without consciousness. She felt that behind her the crowd was getting thinner; a cold wind had blown on them and scattered them like autumn leaves.
The men around the red banner moved closer and closer together. The faces of the soldiers were clearly seen across the entire width of the street, monstrously flattened, stretched out in a dirty yellowish band. In it were unevenly set variously colored eyes, and in front the sharp bayonets glittered crudely. Directed against the breasts of the people, although not yet touching them, they drove them apart, pushing one man after the other away from the crowd and breaking it up.
Behind her the mother heard the trampling noise of those who were running away. Suppressed, excited voices cried:
"Drop the banner, Pavel!" Vyesovshchikov said glumly. "Give it to me! I'll hide it!"[Pg 229]
He grabbed the pole with his hand; the flag rocked backward.
"Let go!" thundered Pavel.
Nikolay drew his hand back as if it had been burned. The song died away. Some persons crowded solidly around Pavel; but he cut through to the front. A sudden silence fell.
Around the banner some twenty men were grouped, not more, but they stood firmly. The mother felt drawn to them by awe and by a confused desire to say something to them.
"Take this thing away from him, lieutenant." The even voice of the tall old man was heard. He pointed to the banner. A little officer jumped up to Pavel, snatched at the flag pole, and shouted shrilly:
The red flag trembled in the air, moving to the right and to the left, then rose again. The little officer jumped back and sat down. Nikolay darted by the mother, shaking his outstretched fist.
"Seize them!" the old man roared, stamping his feet. A few soldiers jumped to the front, one of them flourishing the butt end of his gun. The banner trembled, dropped, and disappeared in a gray mass of soldiers.
"Oh!" somebody groaned aloud. And the mother yelled like a wild animal. But the clear voice of Pavel answered her from out of the crowd of soldiers:
"Good-by, mother! Good-by, dear!"
"He's alive! He remembered!" were the two strokes at the mother's heart.
"Good-by, mother dear!" came from Andrey.
Waving her hands, she raised herself on tiptoe, and tried to see them. There was the round face of Andrey[Pg 230] above the soldiers' heads. He was smiling and bowing to her.
"Oh, my dear ones! Andriusha! Pasha!" she shouted.
"Good-by, comrades!" they called from among the soldiers.
A broken, manifold echo responded to them. It resounded from the windows and the roofs.
The mother felt some one pushing her breast. Through the mist in her eyes she saw the little officer. His face was red and strained, and he was shouting to her:
"Clear out of here, old woman!"
She looked down on him, and at his feet saw the flag pole broken in two parts, a piece of red cloth on one of them. She bent down and picked it up. The officer snatched it out of her hands, threw it aside, and shouted again, stamping his feet:
"Clear out of here, I tell you!"
A song sprang up and floated from among the soldiers: "Arise, awake, you workingmen!"
Everything was whirling, rocking, trembling. A thick, alarming noise, resembling the dull hum of telegraph wires, filled the air. The officer jumped back, screaming angrily:
"Stop the singing, Sergeant Kraynov!"
The mother staggered to the fragment of the pole, which he had thrown down, and picked it up again.
The song became confused, trembled, expired. Somebody took the mother by the shoulders, turned her around, and shoved her from the back.[Pg 231]
"Go, go! Clear the street!" shouted the officer.
About ten paces from her, the mother again saw a thick crowd of people. They were howling, grumbling, whistling, as they backed down the street. The yards were drawing in a number of them.
"Go, you devil!" a young soldier with a big mustache shouted right into the mother's ear. He brushed against her and shoved her onto the sidewalk. She moved away, leaning on the flag pole. She went quickly and lightly, but her legs bent under her. In order not to fall she clung to walls and fences. People in front were falling back alongside of her, and behind her were soldiers, shouting: "Go, go!"
The soldiers got ahead of her; she stopped and looked around. Down the end of the street she saw them again scattered in a thin chain, blocking the entrance to the square, which was empty. Farther down were more gray figures slowly moving against the people. She wanted to go back; but uncalculatingly went forward again, and came to a narrow, empty by-street into which she turned. She stopped again. She sighed painfully, and listened. Somewhere ahead she heard the hum of voices. Leaning on the pole she resumed her walk. Her eyebrows moved up and down, and she suddenly broke into a sweat; her lips quivered; she waved her hands, and certain words flashed up in her heart like sparks, kindling in her a strong, stubborn desire to speak them, to shout them.
The by-street turned abruptly to the left; and around the corner the mother saw a large, dense crowd of people. Somebody's voice was speaking loudly and firmly:
"They don't go to meet the bayonets from sheer audacity. Remember that!"
"Just look at them. Soldiers advance against them, and they stand before them without fear. Y-yes!"[Pg 232]
"Think of Pasha Vlasov!"
"And how about the Little Russian?"
"Hands behind his back and smiling, the devil!"
"My dear ones! My people!" the mother shouted, pushing into the crowd. They cleared the way for her respectfully. Somebody laughed:
"Look at her with the flag in her hand!"
"Shut up!" said another man sternly.
The mother with a broad sweep of her arms cried out:
"Listen for the sake of Christ! You are all dear people, you are all good people. Open up your hearts. Look around without fear, without terror. Our children are going into the world. Our children are going, our blood is going for the truth; with honesty in their hearts they open the gates of the new road—a straight, wide road for all. For all of you, for the sake of your young ones, they have devoted themselves to the sacred cause. They seek the sun of new days that shall always be bright. They want another life, the life of truth and justice, of goodness for all." "'Listen for the sake of Christ.'" "'Listen for the sake of Christ.'"
Her heart was rent asunder, her breast contracted, her throat was hot and dry. Deep inside of her, words were being born, words of a great, all-embracing love. They burned her tongue, moving it more powerfully and more freely. She saw that the people were listening to her words. All were silent. She felt that they were thinking as they surrounded her closely; and the desire grew in her, now a clear desire, to drive these people to follow her son, to follow Andrey, to follow all those who had fallen into the soldiers' hands, all those who were left entirely alone, all those who were abandoned. Looking at the sullen, attentive faces around her, she resumed with soft force:
"Our children are going in the world toward happiness. They went for the sake of all, and for Christ's truth—against all with which our malicious, false, avaricious ones have captured, tied, and crushed us. My dear ones—why it is for you that our young blood rose—for all the people, for all the world, for all the workingmen, they went! Then don't go away from them, don't renounce, don't forsake them, don't leave your children on a lonely path—they went just for the purpose of showing you all the path to truth, to take all on that path! Pity yourselves! Love them! Understand the children's hearts. Believe your sons' hearts; they have brought forth the truth; it burns in them; they perish for it. Believe them!"
Her voice broke down, she staggered, her strength gone. Somebody seized her under the arms.
"She is speaking God's words!" a man shouted hoarsely and excitedly. "God's words, good people! Listen to her!"
Another man said in pity of her:
"Look how she's hurting herself!"
"She's not hurting herself, but hitting us, fools, understand that!" was the reproachful reply.
A high-pitched, quavering voice rose up over the crowd:
"Oh, people of the true faith! My Mitya, pure soul, what has he done? He went after his dear comrades. She speaks truth—why did we forsake our children? What harm have they done us?"
The mother trembled at these words and replied with soft tears.
"Go home, Nilovna! Go, mother! You're all worn out," said Sizov loudly.
He was pale, his disheveled beard shook. Suddenly[Pg 234] knitting his brows he threw a stern glance about him on all, drew himself up to his full height, and said distinctly:
"My son Matvey was crushed in the factory. You know it! But were he alive, I myself would have sent him into the lines of those—along with them. I myself would have told him: 'Go you, too, Matvey! That's the right cause, that's the honest cause!'"
He stopped abruptly, and a sullen silence fell on all, in the powerful grip of something huge and new, but something that no longer frightened them. Sizov lifted his hand, shook it, and continued:
"It's an old man who is speaking to you. You know me! I've been working here thirty-nine years, and I've been alive fifty-three years. To-day they've arrested my nephew, a pure and intelligent boy. He, too, was in the front, side by side with Vlasov; right at the banner." Sizov made a motion with his hand, shrank together, and said as he took the mother's hand: "This woman spoke the truth. Our children want to live honorably, according to reason, and we have abandoned them; we walked away, yes! Go, Nilovna!"
"My dear ones!" she said, looking at them all with tearful eyes. "The life is for our children and the earth is for them."
"Go, Nilovna, take this staff and lean upon it!" said Sizov, giving her the fragment of the flag pole.
All looked at the mother with sadness and respect. A hum of sympathy accompanied her. Sizov silently put the people out of her way, and they silently moved aside, obeying a blind impulse to follow her. They walked after her slowly, exchanging brief, subdued remarks on the way. Arrived at the gate of her house, she turned to them, leaning on the fragment of the flag pole, and bowed in gratitude.[Pg 235]
"Thank you!" she said softly. And recalling the thought which she fancied had been born in her heart, she said: "Our Lord Jesus Christ would not have been, either, if people had not perished for his sake."
The crowd looked at her in silence.
She bowed to the people again, and went into her house, and Sizov, drooping his head, went in with her.
The people stood at the gates and talked. Then they began to depart slowly and quietly.