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Mother


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“I declare…” said the little old man and, squashing the next words with his thin lips, he stood up.

Noise, sighs, quiet exclamations, coughing and shuffling filled the courtroom. The defendants were led away and, as they were leaving, they smiled and nodded their heads to relatives and acquaintances, while Ivan Gusev called to someone in a low voice:

“Never fear, Yegor!…”

The mother and Sizov went out into the corridor.

“Will you come and have some tea at the eating house?” the old man asked her solicitously and pensively. “We’ve got an hour and a half!”

“I don’t want to.”

“Well, I won’t go either. No, what about those lads, eh? They sit there as if they were the only real people, and everyone else was neither here nor there. And Fedka, eh?”

Samoilov’s father came up to them, holding his hat in his hand. He smiled sullenly and said:

“My Grigory? He’s refused a defence counsel and doesn’t want to speak. He was the first, you hear, to think that one up. Your lad, Pelageya, was all for barristers, but mine says: ‘Don’t want one!’ And then four of them refused…”

Next to him stood his wife. Blinking her eyes frequently, she wiped her nose with the end of her headscarf. Samoilov took his beard in his hand and, gazing at the floor, continued:

“You know, I’ll be damned! You look at them, the devils, and you can see they were wrong to do all this, ruining themselves to no end. Then suddenly you start thinking – or maybe they’re right? You remember them growing and growing at the factory, always being seized, but like ruffs in a river, not dying out, no! And again you think – perhaps they’ve got the force behind them?”

“It’s hard for us to understand this business, Stepan Petrov!” said Sizov.

“It is hard, yes!” Samoilov agreed.

Taking a deep breath through her nose, his wife remarked:

“They’re all well, curse them…”

And, unable to suppress the smile on her broad, flabby face, she continued:

“Don’t you be angry, Nilovna – I did blurt out to you a little while back that, you know, your son’s to blame. But the devil only knows who’s most to blame, if truth be known! Look at what the gendarmes and spies said about our Grigory. He did what he could as well, the red-haired devil!”

She was evidently proud of her son, without, perhaps, understanding her feeling, but her feeling was familiar to the mother, and she answered her words with a kind smile and quiet words:

“A young heart’s always closer to the truth…”

People were wandering about the corridor, gathering in groups, conversing excitedly and thoughtfully in muffled voices. Hardly anybody was standing by themselves – clearly visible on everyone’s faces was a desire to talk, to ask, to listen. In this narrow white tube between two walls people were roaming backwards and forwards, as though buffeted by a strong wind, and everyone seemed to be seeking an opportunity to find a firm, solid foothold on something.

Bukin’s elder brother, tall and drained of colour as well, was turning around quickly in all directions, waving his arms and arguing:

“The volost elder Klepanov’s out of place in this business…”

“Be quiet, Konstantin!” urged his father, a little old man, looking around warily.

“No, I’m going to say it! There’s a rumour going round about him that he killed his bailiff last year over the bailiff’s wife. And she’s living with him now, so how’s that to be understood? And, what’s more, he’s well known as a thief…”

“Oh good gracious, Konstantin!”

“That’s right!” said Samoilov. “That’s right! The trial’s not really correct…”

Bukin heard his voice and quickly came over, bringing everyone with him, and, waving his arms around, red with excitement, he shouted:

“For theft, for murder, people get tried by a jury, ordinary people, peasants, townsmen, fine! But people who’re against the authorities get tried by the authorities – how come? If you upset me, and I give you one in the teeth, and then you try me for it, of course I’ll end up guilty, but who was the first to upset someone, you? You!”

A guard, grey-haired and hook-nosed with medals on his chest, pushed the crowd apart and, wagging a finger, said to Bukin:

“Hey, stop shouting! This a tavern, is it?”

“Permit me, Mister War Hero, I understand! Listen, if I hit you, and I’m the one to try you, what do you suppose…”

“I’m ordering you be taken out of here!” said the guard sternly.

“Where to? What for?”

“Outside. So you don’t yell…”

Bukin looked round at everyone and said in a low voice:

“The main thing for them is for people to be silent…”

“And what did you think?!” the old man shouted, stern and rude.

Bukin spread his hands and began to talk more quietly:

“And again, why are the people not admitted to the trial, but only relatives? If you’re giving a fair trial, give it in front of everyone – what’s there to be afraid of?”

Samoilov repeated, but louder now:

“It’s not an honest trial – that’s right!…”

The mother wanted to tell him what she had heard from Nikolai about the unlawfulness of the trial, but she had not understood it properly and had in part forgotten the words. Trying to remember them, she moved away from the other people and noticed that she was being looked at by some young man with a fair moustache. He kept his right hand in his trouser pocket, which made his left shoulder lower, and this peculiarity of his figure seemed familiar to the mother. But he turned his back on her and, preoccupied with her memories, she immediately forgot about him.

But a minute later her hearing caught the sound of a question in a low voice:

“That woman?”

And louder, more joyfully, someone replied:

“Yes!”

She looked around. The man with the crooked shoulders was standing sideways on to her and saying something to his neighbour, a black-bearded lad in a short coat and knee-length boots.

Again her memory gave an uneasy start but formed nothing that was clear. Flaring up imperiously in her breast was the desire to talk to people about her son’s truth; she wanted to hear what people would say against that truth, and on the basis of their words she wanted to guess what the decision of the court would be.

“Is this really a trial?” she began cautiously in a low voice, turning to Sizov. “They’re trying to find out who did what, but why it was done, they don’t ask. And they’re all old – the young should be tried by the young…”

“Yes,” said Sizov, “it’s hard for us to understand this business, it’s hard!” And he shook his head pensively.

A guard opened the door of the courtroom and cried:

“Relations! Show your tickets…”

Unhurriedly, a sullen voice said:

“Tickets – like going to the circus!”

There could now be sensed in all of the people an indistinct irritation, a vague bad temper; they had started to be more relaxed, making a noise and arguing with the guards.

XXV

As he took his seat on the bench, Sizov was grumbling about something.

“What are you saying?” asked the mother.

“Nothing! The people are fools…”

A little bell rang. Someone announced indifferently:

“The court is in session…”

Again everyone stood up, and again, in the same order, the judges came in and took their seats. The defendants were led in.

“Hold tight!” Sizov whispered. “The Procurator’s going to speak.”

The mother stretched out her neck, thrust her whole body forward and froze in new expectation of something fearf

ul.

Standing sideways on to the judges with his head turned towards them and leaning his elbow on the lectern, the Procurator took a breath and, waving his right hand jerkily in the air, began to speak. The mother could not make out the first words; the Procurator’s voice was smooth and rich and flowed unevenly, now slowly, now quicker. The words would be stretched out monotonously into a long row, like cotton stitching, then suddenly fly out in a hurry, circling like a swarm of black flies over a block of sugar. But she found nothing fearful in them, nothing threatening. Cold as snow and grey as ash, they came pouring and pouring out, filling the courtroom with something annoyingly tiresome, like fine, dry dust. This speech, short on feeling and long on words, must have failed to reach Pavel and his comrades and evidently had no effect on them whatsoever, for they all sat calmly and, conversing soundlessly as before, they would sometimes smile, sometimes frown in order to conceal a smile.

“He’s lying!” whispered Sizov.

She could not have said that. She heard the Procurator’s words and understood that he was accusing everyone, not singling anyone out; having spoken about Pavel, he began to speak about Fedya, and having set him alongside Pavel, he insistently moved Bukin towards them – it seemed he was packing everyone up, sewing them up in a single sack and stacking them up close to one another. But the meaning of his words on the surface did not satisfy, or touch, or frighten her; she had, after all, been expecting something fearful, and she stubbornly looked for it behind the words, in the face, the eyes, the voice of the Procurator, in his white hand, flashing unhurriedly through the air. There was something fearsome, she could feel it, but it was elusive and did not lend itself to definition as it covered her heart again with a dry and caustic coating.

She looked at the judges: they were undoubtedly bored, listening to this speech. The lifeless yellow and grey faces expressed nothing. The Procurator’s words spilt a fog out into the air, imperceptible to the eye, but which kept growing and thickening around the judges, enveloping them more tightly in a cloud of indifference and weary expectation. The senior judge did not move, he had withered in his upright pose and the little grey dots behind the lenses of his glasses would at times disappear, diffusing across his face.

And seeing this dead apathy, this mild indifference, the mother asked herself in puzzlement:

“Are they judging?”

The question was pinching her heart and, gradually squeezing the expectation of something fearsome out of it, was stinging her throat with a sharp sensation of hurt.

The Procurator’s speech broke off unexpectedly somehow; he made several quick little stitches, bowed to the judges and sat down, rubbing his hands. The Marshal of the Nobility began nodding his head to him, opening his eyes wide, and the Mayor reached out his hand, while the elder gazed at his belly and smiled.

But his speech had evidently not gladdened the judges, for they did not stir.

“I call upon the defence counsel,” said the little old man, lifting some piece of paper up to his face, “acting for Fedoseyev, Markov and Zagorov.”

A barrister whom the mother had seen at Nikolai’s stood up. His face was good-natured and broad, his little eyes smiled radiantly and it seemed as if there were two blades poking out from beneath his reddish eyebrows, cutting something in the air like scissors. He began to speak unhurriedly, sonorously and clearly, but the mother could not listen closely to his speech, for Sizov was whispering in her ear:

“Did you understand what he was saying? Did you? Deranged, he says, crazy people. Is that Fyodor?”

She did not reply, dispirited by painful disenchantment. Her hurt was growing, depressing her soul. It now became clear to Vlasova why she had expected justice, had thought to see stern, honest competition between her son’s truth and the truth of his judges. She had imagined that the judges would spend a long time carefully questioning Pavel in detail all about the life of his heart, that they would examine with penetrating eyes all of her son’s thoughts and deeds, all of his days. And when they saw his innocence, they would say justly and loudly:

“This man is innocent!”

But there had been nothing of the sort: it seemed as if the defendants were a long way out of sight for the judges, while for the defendants the judges were superfluous. Exhausted, the mother lost interest in the trial and, aggrieved, not listening to any words, thought:

“Is this really a trial?”

“That’s telling them!” Sizov whispered approvingly.

There was already another barrister trying to speak, a small man with a sharp, pale and mocking face, but the judges were stopping him.

The Procurator leapt up and said something quickly and angrily about protocol, then the little old man began speaking in admonishment; tilting his head deferentially, the defence counsel listened to them and began his speech again.

“Pick away!” remarked Sizov. “Pick them to pieces!”

Animation was increasing in the courtroom, combative passion was sparkling, the barrister was irritating the old skin of the judges with his barbed words. The judges seemed to move closer together, puffed themselves up and swelled to ward off the sharp and biting thrusts of the words.

But then up got Pavel, and it suddenly became unexpectedly quiet. The mother’s entire body rocked forward. Pavel calmly began to speak:

“A man of the party, I acknowledge only the judgement of my party and will not speak in my defence; but, because my comrades who have also rejected any defence wish it, I shall try to explain to you what you haven’t understood. The Procurator has called our appearance beneath the banner of social democracy a rebellion against supreme authority and has regarded us all the time as rebels against the Tsar. I must declare that for us the autocracy is not the only chain that has shackled the body of the country, it is merely the first and the nearest chain that we are duty-bound to tear off the people…”

The quietness was deepening to the sound of the firm voice, and it was as though it were moving the walls of the courtroom further apart. Pavel seemed to be shifting far to one side, away from anyone else, and becoming more prominent.

The judges began stirring, ponderously and anxiously. The Marshal of the Nobility whispered something to the judge with the lazy face, the latter nodded his head and turned to the little old man, while from the other side at the same time the big judge was saying something in his ear. Swaying to right and left in his chair, the little old man said something to Pavel, but his voice was drowned in the even, broad flow of Vlasov’s speech.

“We are socialists. That means we are enemies of private property, which divides people, arms them against one another, creates an irreconcilable clash of interests, lies, in trying to conceal or justify that clash, and corrupts everyone with lying, hypocrisy and malice. We say that a society which regards a man only as a tool for its enrichment is antihuman, it is hostile to us; we cannot be reconciled with its morality, two-faced and mendacious; the cynicism and cruelty of its attitude to the individual are offensive to us; we want to, and we will, struggle against all forms of physical and moral enslavement of man by such a society, against all methods of crushing a man for the sake of cupidity. We, the workers, are the people by whose labour everything, from gigantic machines to children’s toys, is created, we are the people deprived of the right to struggle for their human dignity; everyone tries, and is able, to turn us into a tool for the achievement of their aims, and we now want to have freedom enough for it to give us the opportunity, with time, of gaining all power. Our slogans are simple: down with private property, all means of production to the people, all power to the people, obligatory labour for all. You see – we are not rebels!”

Pavel grinned, passed a hand slowly over his hair and the fire of his blue eyes flared up brighter.

“Please, get to the point!” said the president, loud and clear. He turned his chest towards Pavel and looked at him, and it seemed to the m

other that his dim left eye was burning with a bad, greedy fire. And all the judges were looking at her son in a way that made it seem as if their eyes were sticking to his face, fastening on to his body, thirsting for his blood, to use it to revive their own worn-out bodies. But he, erect, tall, standing firm and strong, was reaching an arm out towards them and saying in a low, distinct voice:

“We are revolutionaries, and will be so, just as long as some only command, and others only work. We stand against the society whose interests you are ordered to protect as its, and your, irreconcilable enemies, and reconciliation between us is impossible until we are victorious. We, the workers, will be victorious! Your masters are not at all as strong as they think. That same property, in accumulating and preserving which they sacrifice millions of the people they have enslaved, that same strength that gives them power over us, is the cause of hostile friction between them, destroys them physically and morally. Property demands too much effort for its protection and, in essence, all of you, our lords, are more slaves than we are, for you are enslaved spiritually, we only physically. You cannot renounce the yoke of prejudice and habit, the yoke which has deadened you spiritually, while nothing prevents us from being inwardly free; the venoms with which you poison us are weaker than those antidotes which, without intending it, you pour into our consciousness, which is growing, developing unceasingly, burning ever faster and drawing behind it all that is best, all that is spiritually healthy, even from your midst. Take a look – you no longer have anyone able to battle ideologically on behalf of your power, you have already expended all the arguments capable of protecting you from the pressure of historical justice, you cannot create anything new in the sphere of ideas, you are spiritually barren. Our ideas are growing, they are burning ever brighter, they are drawing in the masses, organizing them for the struggle for freedom. Consciousness of the great role of the worker fuses all the workers of the world together into one soul, and there is nothing you can use to hold back this process of the renewal of life except cruelty and cynicism. But cynicism is obvious, and cruelty irritates. And the hands that today are stifling us will soon be shaking our hands in a comradely way. Your energy is the mechanical energy of the growth of gold, it unites you in groups that are called upon to devour one another, while our energy is the vital force of the ever-growing consciousness of the solidarity of all workers. All that you do is criminal, for it is directed towards the enslavement of people; our work is freeing the world of the spectres and monsters born of your lying, malice and greed, monsters that have cowed the people. You have torn man away from life and destroyed him; socialism is uniting the world you have destroyed into a single, great whole, and it will happen!”




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