by Maxim Gorky

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Part II - Chapter XVII

At home they sat on the sofa closely pressed together, and the mother resting in the quiet again began to speak about Sasha's going to Pavel. Thoughtfully raising her thick eyebrows, the girl looked into the distance with her large, dreamy eyes. A contemplative expression rested on her pale face.

"Then, when children will be born to you, I will come to you and dandle them. We'll begin to live there no worse than here. Pasha will find work. He has golden hands."

"Yes," answered Sasha thoughtfully. "That's good—" And suddenly starting, as if throwing something away, she began to speak simply in a modulated voice. "He won't commence to live there. He'll go away, of course."

"And how will that be? Suppose, in case of children?"

"I don't know. We'll see when we are there. In such a case he oughtn't to reckon with me, and I cannot constrain him. He's free at any moment. I am his comrade—a wife, of course. But the conditions of his work are such that for years and years I cannot regard our bond as a usual one, like that of others. It will be hard, I know it, to part with him; but, of course, I'll manage to. He knows that I'm not capable of regarding[Pg 470] a man as my possession. I'm not going to constrain him, no."

The mother understood her, felt that she believed what she said, that she was capable of carrying it out; and she was sorry for her. She embraced her.

"My dear girl, it will be hard for you."

Sasha smiled softly, nestling her body up to the mother's. Her voice sounded mild, but powerful. Red mounted to her face.

"It's a long time till then; but don't think that I—that it is hard for me now. I'm making no sacrifices. I know what I'm doing, I know what I may expect. I'll be happy if I can make him happy. My aim, my desire is to increase his energy, to give him as much happiness and love as I can—a great deal. I love him very much and he me—I know it—what I bring to him, he will give back to me—we will enrich each other by all in our power; and, if necessary, we will part as friends."

Sasha remained silent for a long time, during which the mother and the young woman sat in a corner of the room, tightly pressed against each other, thinking of the man whom they loved. It was quiet, melancholy, and warm.

Nikolay entered, exhausted, but brisk. He immediately announced:

"Well, Sashenka, betake yourself away from here, as long as you are sound. Two spies have been after me since this morning, and the attempt at concealment is so evident that it savors of an arrest. I feel it in my bones—somewhere something has happened. By the way, here I have the speech of Pavel. It's been decided to publish it at once. Take it to Liudmila. Pavel spoke well, Nilovna; and his speech will play a part. Look out for[Pg 471] spies, Sasha. Wait a little while—hide these papers, too. You might give them to Ivan, for example."

While he spoke, he vigorously rubbed his frozen hands, and quickly pulled out the drawers of his table, picking out papers, some of which he tore up, others he laid aside. His manner was absorbed, and his appearance all upset.

"Do you suppose it was long ago that this place was cleared out? And look at this mass of stuff accumulated already! The devil! You see, Nilovna, it would be better for you, too, not to sleep here to-night. It's a sorry spectacle to witness, and they may arrest you, too. And you'll be needed for carrying Pavel's speech about from place to place."

"Hm, what do they want me for? Maybe you're mistaken."

Nikolay waved his forearm in front of his eyes, and said with conviction:

"I have a keen scent. Besides, you can be of great help to Liudmila. Flee far from evil."

The possibility of taking a part in the printing of her son's speech was pleasant to her, and she answered:

"If so, I'll go. But don't think I'm afraid."

"Very well. Now, tell me where my valise and my linen are. You've grabbed up everything into your rapacious hands, and I'm completely robbed of the possibility of disposing of my own private property. I'm making complete preparations—this will be unpleasant to them."

Sasha burned the papers in silence, and carefully mixed their ashes with the other cinders in the stove.

"Sasha, go," said Nikolay, putting out his hand to her. "Good-by. Don't forget books—if anything new and interesting appears. Well, good-by, dear comrade. Be more careful."[Pg 472]

"Do you think it's for long?" asked Sasha.

"The devil knows them! Evidently. There's something against me. Nilovna, are you going with her? It's harder to track two people—all right?"

"I'm going." The mother went to dress herself, and it occurred to her how little these people who were striving for the freedom of all cared for their personal freedom. The simplicity and the businesslike manner of Nikolay in expecting the arrest both astonished and touched her. She tried to observe his face carefully; she detected nothing but his air of absorption, overshadowing the usual kindly soft expression of his eyes. There was no sign of agitation in this man, dearer to her than the others; he made no fuss. Equally attentive to all, alike kind to all, always calmly the same, he seemed to her just as much a stranger as before to everybody and everything except his cause. He seemed remote, living a secret life within himself and somewhere ahead of people. Yet she felt that he resembled her more than any of the others, and she loved him with a love that was carefully observing and, as it were, did not believe in itself. Now she felt painfully sorry for him; but she restrained her feelings, knowing that to show them would disconcert Nikolay, that he would become, as always under such circumstances, somewhat ridiculous.

When she returned to the room she found him pressing Sasha's hand and saying:

"Admirable! I'm convinced of it. It's very good for him and for you. A little personal happiness does not do any harm; but—a little, you know, so as not to make him lose his value. Are you ready, Nilovna?" He walked up to her, smiling and adjusting his glasses. "Well, good-by. I want to think that for three months, four months—well, at most half a year—half a year is[Pg 473] a great deal of a man's life. In half a year one can do a lot of things. Take care of yourself, please, eh? Come, let's embrace." Lean and thin he clasped her neck in his powerful arms, looked into her eyes, and smiled. "It seems to me I've fallen in love with you. I keep embracing you all the time."

She was silent, kissing his forehead and cheeks, and her hands quivered. For fear he might notice it, she unclasped them.

"Go. Very well. Be careful to-morrow. This is what you should do—send the boy in the morning—Liudmila has a boy for the purpose—let him go to the house porter and ask him whether I'm home or not. I'll forewarn the porter; he's a good fellow, and I'm a friend of his. Well, good-by, comrades. I wish you all good."

On the street Sasha said quietly to the mother:

"He'll go as simply as this to his death, if necessary. And apparently he'll hurry up a little in just the same way; when death stares him in the face he'll adjust his eyeglasses, and will say 'admirable,' and will die."

"I love him," whispered the mother.

"I'm filled with astonishment; but love him—no. I respect him highly. He's sort of dry, although good and even, if you please, sometimes soft; but not sufficiently human—it seems to me we're being followed. Come, let's part. Don't enter Liudmila's place if you think a spy is after you."

"I know," said the mother. Sasha, however, persistently added: "Don't enter. In that case, come to me. Good-by for the present."

She quickly turned around and walked back. The mother called "Good-by" after her.

Within a few minutes she sat all frozen through at the stove in Liudmila's little room. Her hostess, Liudmila,[Pg 474] in a black dress girded up with a strap, slowly paced up and down the room, filling it with a rustle and the sound of her commanding voice. A fire was crackling in the stove and drawing in the air from the room. The woman's voice sounded evenly.

"People are a great deal more stupid than bad. They can see only what's near to them, what it's possible to grasp immediately; but everything that's near is cheap; what's distant is dear. Why, in reality, it would be more convenient and pleasanter for all if life were different, were lighter, and the people were more sensible. But to attain the distant you must disturb yourself for the immediate present——"

Nilovna tried to guess where this woman did her printing. The room had three windows facing the street; there was a sofa and a bookcase, a table, chairs, a bed at the wall, in the corner near it a wash basin, in the other corner a stove; on the walls photographs and pictures. All was new, solid, clean; and over all the austere monastic figure of the mistress threw a cold shadow. Something concealed, something hidden, made itself felt; but where it lurked was incomprehensible. The mother looked at the doors; through one of them she had entered from the little antechamber. Near the stove was another door, narrow and high.

"I have come to you on business," she said in embarrassment, noticing that the hostess was regarding her.

"I know. Nobody comes to me for any other reason."

Something strange seemed to be in Liudmila's voice. The mother looked in her face. Liudmila smiled with the corners of her thin lips, her dull eyes gleamed behind her glasses. Turning her glance aside, the mother handed her the speech of Pavel.[Pg 475]

"Here. They ask you to print it at once."

And she began to tell of Nikolay's preparations for the arrest.

Liudmila silently thrust the manuscript into her belt and sat down on a chair. A red gleam of the fire was reflected on her spectacles; its hot smile played on her motionless face.

"When they come to me I'm going to shoot at them," she said with determination in her moderated voice. "I have the right to protect myself against violence; and I must fight with them if I call upon others to fight. I cannot understand calmness; I don't like it."

The reflection of the fire glided across her face, and she again became austere, somewhat haughty.

"Your life is not very pleasant," the mother thought kindly.

Liudmila began to read Pavel's speech, at first reluctantly; then she bent lower and lower over the paper, quickly throwing aside the pages as she read them. When she had finished she rose, straightened herself, and walked up to the mother.

"That's good. That's what I like; although here, too, there's calmness. But the speech is the sepulchral beat of a drum, and the drummer is a powerful man."

She reflected a little while, lowering her head for a minute:

"I didn't want to speak with you about your son; I have never met him, and I don't like sad subjects of conversation. I know what it means to have a near one go into exile. But I want to say to you, nevertheless, that your son must be a splendid man. He's young—that's evident; but he is a great soul. It must be good and terrible to have such a son."

"Yes, it's good. And now it's no longer terrible."[Pg 476]

Liudmila settled her smoothly combed hair with her tawny hand and sighed softly. A light, warm shadow trembled on her cheeks, the shadow of a suppressed smile.

"We are going to print it. Will you help me?"

"Of course."

"I'll set it up quickly. You lie down; you had a hard day; you're tired. Lie down here on the bed; I'm not going to sleep; and at night maybe I'll wake you up to help me. When you have lain down, put out the lamp."

She threw two logs of wood into the stove, straightened herself, and passed through the narrow door near the stove, firmly closing it after her. The mother followed her with her eyes, and began to undress herself, thinking reluctantly of her hostess: "A stern person; and yet her heart burns. She can't conceal it. Everyone loves. If you don't love you can't live."

Fatigue dizzied her brain; but her soul was strangely calm, and everything was illumined from within by a soft, kind light which quietly and evenly filled her breast. She was already acquainted with this calm; it had come to her after great agitation. At first it had slightly disturbed her; but now it only broadened her soul, strengthening it with a certain powerful but impalpable thought. Before her all the time appeared and disappeared the faces of her son, Andrey, Nikolay, Sasha. She took delight in them; they passed by without arousing thought, and only lightly and sadly touching her heart. Then she extinguished the lamp, lay down in the cold bed, shriveled up under the bed coverings, and suddenly sank into a heavy sleep.


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