The mother folded Yegor's hands over his breast and adjusted his head, which was strangely warm, on the pillow. Then silently wiping her eyes, she went to Liudmila, bent over her, and quietly stroked her thick hair. The woman slowly turned around to her, her dull eyes widened in a sickly way. She rose to her feet, and with trembling lips whispered:
"I've known him for a long time. We were in exile together. We went there together on foot, we sat in prison together; at times it was intolerable, disgusting; many fell in spirit."
Her dry, loud groans stuck in her throat. She overcame them with an effort, and bringing her face nearer to the mother's she continued in a quick whisper, moaning without tears:
"Yet he was unconquerably jolly. He joked and laughed, and covered up his suffering in a manly way, always striving to encourage the weak. He was always good, alert, kind. There, in Siberia, idleness depraves people, and often calls forth ugly feelings toward life. How he mastered such feelings! What a comrade he was! If you only knew. His own life was hard and tormented; but I know that nobody ever heard him complain, not a soul—never! Here was I, nearer to him than others. I'm greatly indebted to his heart, to his mind.[Pg 324] He gave me all he could of it; and though exhausted, he never asked either kindness or attention in return."
She walked up to Yegor, bent down and kissed him. Her voice was husky as she said mournfully:
"Comrade, my dear, dear friend, I thank you with all my heart! Good-by. I shall work as you worked—unassailed by doubt—all my life—good-by!"
The dry, sharp groans shook her body, and gasping for breath she laid her head on the bed at Yegor's feet. The mother wept silent tears which seared her cheeks. For some reason she tried to restrain them. She wanted to fondle Liudmila, and wanted to speak about Yegor with words of love and grief. She looked through her tears at his swollen face, at his eyes calmly covered by his drooping eyelids as in sleep, and at his dark lips set in a light, serene smile. It was quiet, and a bleak brightness pervaded the room.
Ivan Danilovich entered, as always, with short, hasty steps. He suddenly stopped in the middle of the room, and thrust his hands into his pockets with a quick gesture.
"Did it happen long ago?" His voice was loud and nervous.
Neither woman replied. He quietly swung about, and wiping his forehead went to Yegor, pressed his hand, and stepped to one side.
"It's not strange—with his heart. It might have happened six months ago."
His voice, high-pitched and jarringly loud for the occasion, suddenly broke off. Leaning his back against the wall, he twisted his beard with nimble fingers, and winking his eyes, rapidly looked at the group by the bed.
"One more!" he muttered.
Liudmila rose and walked over to the window. The[Pg 325] mother raised her head and glanced around with a sigh. A minute afterwards they all three stood at the open window, pressing close against one another, and looked at the dusky face of the autumn night. On the black tops of the trees glittered the stars, endlessly deepening the distance of the sky.
Liudmila took the mother by the hand, and silently pressed her head to her shoulders. The physician nervously bit his lips and wiped his eyeglasses with his handkerchief. In the stillness beyond the window the nocturnal noise of the city heaved wearily, and cold air blew on their faces and shoulders. Liudmila trembled; the mother saw tears running down her cheeks. From the corridor of the hospital floated confused, dismal sounds. The three stood motionless at the window, looking silently into the darkness.
The mother felt herself not needed, and carefully freeing her hand, went to the door, bowing to Yegor.
"Are you going?" the physician asked softly without looking around.
In the street she thought with pity of Liudmila, remembering her scant tears. She couldn't even have a good cry. Then she pictured to herself Liudmila and the physician in the extremely light white room, the dead eyes of Yegor behind them. A compassion for all people oppressed her. She sighed heavily, and hastened her pace, driven along by her tumultuous feelings.
"I must hurry," she thought in obedience to a sad but encouraging power that jostled her from within.
The whole of the following day the mother was busy with preparations for the funeral. In the evening when she, Nikolay, and Sofya were drinking tea, quietly talking about Yegor, Sashenka appeared, strangely brimming[Pg 326] over with good spirits, her cheeks brilliantly red, her eyes beaming happily. She seemed to be filled with some joyous hope. Her animation contrasted sharply with the mournful gloom of the others. The discordant note disturbed them and dazzled them like a fire that suddenly flashes in the darkness. Nikolay thoughtfully struck his fingers on the table and smiled quietly.
"You're not like yourself to-day, Sasha."
"Perhaps," she laughed happily.
The mother looked at her in mute remonstrance, and Sofya observed in a tone of admonishment:
"And we were talking about Yegor Ivanovich."
"What a wonderful fellow, isn't he?" she exclaimed. "Modest, proof against doubt, he probably never yielded to sorrow. I have never seen him without a joke on his lips; and what a worker! He is an artist of the revolution, a great master, who skillfully manipulates revolutionary thoughts. With what simplicity and power he always draws his pictures of falsehood, violence and untruth! And what a capacity he has for tempering the horrible with his gay humor which does not diminish the force of facts but only the more brightly illumines his inner thought! Always droll! I am greatly indebted to him, and I shall never forget his merry eyes, his fun. And I shall always feel the effect of his ideas upon me in the time of my doubts—I love him!"
She spoke in a moderated voice, with a melancholy smile in her eyes. But the incomprehensible fire of her gaze was not extinguished; her exultation was apparent to everybody.
People love their own feelings—sometimes the very feelings that are harmful to them—are enamored of them, and often derive keen pleasure even from grief, a pleasure that corrodes the heart. Nikolay, the mother, and Sofya[Pg 327] were unwilling to let the sorrowful mood produced by the death of their comrade give way to the joy brought in by Sasha. Unconsciously defending their melancholy right to feed on their sadness, they tried to impose their feelings on the girl.
"And now he's dead," announced Sofya, watching her carefully.
Sasha glanced around quickly, with a questioning look. She knit her eyebrows and lowered her head. She was silent for a short time, smoothing her hair with slow strokes of her hand.
"He's dead?" She again cast a searching glance into their faces. "It's hard for me to reconcile myself to the idea."
"But it's a fact," said Nikolay with a smile.
Sasha arose, walked up and down the room, and suddenly stopping, said in a strange voice:
"What does 'to die' signify? What died? Did my respect for Yegor die? My love for him, a comrade? The memory of his mind's labor? Did that labor die? Did all our impressions of him as of a hero disappear without leaving a trace? Did all this die? This best in him will never die out of me, I know. It seems to me we're in too great a hurry to say of a man 'he's dead.' That's the reason we too soon forget that a man never dies if we don't wish our impressions of his manhood, his self-denying toil for the triumph of truth and happiness to disappear. We forget that everything should always be alive in living hearts. Don't be in a hurry to bury the eternally alive, the ever luminous, along with a man's body. The church is destroyed, but God is immortal."
Carried away by her emotions she sat down, leaning her elbows on the table, and continued more thoughtfully[Pg 328] in a lower voice, looking smilingly through mist-covered eyes at the faces of the comrades:
"Maybe I'm talking nonsense. But life intoxicates me by its wonderful complexity, by the variety of its phenomena, which at times seem like a miracle to me. Perhaps we are too sparing in the expenditure of our feelings. We live a great deal in our thoughts, and that spoils us to a certain extent. We estimate, but we don't feel."
"Did anything good happen to you?" asked Sofya with a smile.
"Yes," said Sasha, nodding her head. "I had a whole night's talk with Vyesovshchikov. I didn't use to like him. He seemed rude and dull. Undoubtedly that's what he was. A dark, immovable irritation at everybody lived in him. He always used to place himself, as it were, like a dead weight in the center of things, and wrathfully say, 'I, I, I.' There was something bourgeois in this, low, and exasperating." She smiled, and again took in everybody with her burning look.
"Now he says: 'Comrades'—and you ought to hear how he says it, with what a stirring, tender love. He has grown marvelously simple and open-hearted, and possessed with a desire to work. He has found himself, he has measured his power, and knows what he is not. But the main thing is, a true comradely feeling has been born in him, a broad, loving comradeship, which smiles in the face of every difficulty in life."
Vlasova listened to Sasha attentively. She was glad to see this girl, always so stern, now softened, cheerful, and happy. Yet from some deeps of her soul arose the jealous thought: "And how about Pasha?"
"He's entirely absorbed in thoughts of the comrades," continued Sasha. "And do you know of what[Pg 329] he assures me? Of the necessity of arranging an escape for them. He says it's a very simple, easy matter."
Sofya raised her head, and said animatedly:
"And what do you think, Sasha? Is it feasible?"
The mother trembled as she set a cup of tea on the table. Sasha knit her brows, her animation gone from her. After a moment's silence, she said in a serious voice, but smiling in joyous confusion:
"He's convinced. If everything is really as he says, we ought to try. It's our duty." She blushed, dropped into a chair, and lapsed into silence.
"My dear, dear girl!" the mother thought, smiling. Sofya also smiled, and Nikolay, looking tenderly into Sasha's face, laughed quietly. The girl raised her head with a stern glance for all. Then she paled, and her eyes flashed, and she said dryly, the offense she felt evident in her voice:
"You're laughing. I understand you. You consider me personally interested in the case, don't you?"
"Why, Sasha?" asked Sofya, rising and going over to her.
Agitated, pale, the girl continued:
"But I decline. I'll not take any part in deciding the question if you consider it."
"Stop, Sasha," said Nikolay calmly.
The mother understood the girl. She went to her and kissed her silently on her head. Sasha seized her hand, leaned her cheek on it, and raised her reddened face, looking into the mother's eyes, troubled and happy. The mother silently stroked her hair. She felt sad at heart. Sofya seated herself at Sasha's side, her arm over her shoulder, and said, smiling into the girl's eyes:
"You're a strange person."[Pg 330]
"Yes, I think I've grown foolish," Sasha acknowledged. "But I don't like shadows."
"That'll do," said Nikolay seriously, but immediately followed up the admonition by the businesslike remark: "There can't be two opinions as to the escape, if it's possible to arrange it. But before everything, we must know whether the comrades in prison want it."
Sasha drooped her head. Sofya, lighting a cigarette, looked at her brother, and with a broad sweep of her arm dropped the match in a corner.
"How is it possible they should not want it?" asked the mother with a sigh. Sofya nodded to her, smiling, and walked over to the window. The mother could not understand the failure of the others to respond, and looked at them in perplexity. She wanted so much to hear more about the possibility of an escape.
"I must see Vyesovshchikov," said Nikolay.
"All right. To-morrow I'll tell you when and where," replied Sasha.
"What is he going to do?" asked Sofya, pacing through the room.
"It's been decided to make him compositor in a new printing place. Until then he'll stay with the forester."
Sasha's brow lowered. Her face assumed its usual severe expression. Her voice sounded caustic. Nikolay walked up to the mother, who was washing cups, and said to her:
"You'll see Pasha day after to-morrow. Hand him a note when you're there. Do you understand? We must know."
"I understand. I understand," the mother answered quickly. "I'll deliver it to him all right. That's my business."
"I'm going," Sasha announced, and silently shook[Pg 331] hands with everybody. She strode away, straight and dry-eyed, with a peculiarly heavy tread.
"Poor girl!" said Sofya softly.
"Ye-es," Nikolay drawled. Sofya put her hand on the mother's shoulder and gave her a gentle little shake as she sat in the chair.
"Would you love such a daughter?" and Sofya looked into the mother's face.
"Oh! If I could see them together, if only for one day!" exclaimed Nilovna, ready to weep.
"Yes, a bit of happiness is good for everybody."
"But there are no people who want only a bit of happiness," remarked Nikolay; "and when there's much of it, it becomes cheap."
Sofya sat herself at the piano, and began to play something low and doleful.