For criticizing

There was a quiet growth of new feelings within me. I felt that each
man sent out to me a sharp, thin ray which touched me unseen and
imperceptibly reached my heart. And I accepted these hidden rays ever
more willingly.

At times the workingmen assembled in Mikhail’s rooms, and then I felt
that a burning cloud formed from their thoughts, which surrounded me
and carried me strangely upward with itself.

Suddenly every one began to understand me more and more. I stood in
their circle, and they were my body and I was their soul and their
will, and my speech was their voice. And at times it was I that was a
part of the body, and I heard the cry of my own soul from other mouths,
and it sounded good when I heard it. But when time passed and there was
silence I again remained alone and for myself.

I remembered my former communion with God in my prayers. Then I had
been glad when I could wipe myself out from my memory and cease to
exist. In my relationship with people I did not lose myself; instead I
grew larger, taller, and the strength of my soul increased many-fold.
In this, too, lay self-forgetfulness, but it did not destroy me. It
quenched my bitter thoughts and the anguish of isolation.

I realized this mistily and vaguely. I felt that a new seed was growing
in my soul, but I could not understand it. I only knew that it pulled
me determinedly toward people.

In those days I worked in the factory for forty kopecks a day, carrying
on my shoulders heavy trays of iron, slag and brick. I hated this
hellish place, with its dirt and its noise and its hubbub, and its heat
which tortured the body.

The factory had fastened itself onto the earth and pressed itself into
her and sucked her insatiably night and day. It was out of breath from
greed and groaned and spit out of its red-hot jaws fiery blood drawn
from the earth. It cooled off, grew black, then again began to melt
iron and to boil and thunder, flattening out the red iron and squirting
up sparks and trembling in its whole frame, as it pulled out long
strips like nerves, from the body of the earth.

The wild labor seemed to me something terrible, something bordering on
the insane. This groaning monster, devastating the lap of the earth,
was digging an abyss under itself, and knowing that some day it would
fall into it, screeched eagerly, with a thousand voices: “Hurry! Hurry!
Hurry!”

In fire and noise, under a rain of burning sparks, blackened men
worked. It was no place for them. About them everything threatened to
burn them by fiery death or to crush them by heavy iron; everything
deafened and blinded. The unbearable heat dried up the blood, but they
did their work quietly, walking about with a masterly confidence, like
devils in hell, fearing nothing and knowing nothing.

They lifted small levers with strong hands, and all around and above
them hands and jaws of enormous machines moved quietly and terribly,
crumbling the iron. It was hard to know whose mind and whose will
reigned here. At times it was man who controlled and governed this
factory according to his wishes. But other times it seemed that all
the people and the whole factory were subject to the devil and that
he laughed aloud, triumphantly and horribly as he saw the mad and
difficult rush created by greed.

The workers said to one another: “It is time to go to work.” Were the
men masters of their work, or did it drive and crush them? I did not
know. Work seemed difficult and masterful, but the human mind was sharp
and quick. Sometimes there would ring out amid this devilish noise of
whirring machines a victorious and care-free song. I would smile in my
heart, remembering the story of Ivan the Fool, who rode on a whale up
to heaven to catch the wonder-bird, Phoenix.

The people in the factory, though they were not friendly to me, were
all bold and proud. They were abusive, foul-mouthed and often drunk;
yet they were free and fearless people. They were different from the
pilgrims and the tillers of the soil, who offended me with their
servile, confused souls, their hopeless complainings and their petty
cheatings in their affairs with God and themselves. These people were
bold in thought, and although they were hurt by the slavery of their
labor, and grew angry with one another and even fought, yet if the
bosses ever acted unfairly, thereby rousing their sense of justice,
they would stand together against them as one man.

And those workingmen who followed Mikhail were always among the first,
spoke louder than the rest and seemed to fear nothing. Formerly, when
I did not think about the people, I did not notice men; but now as
I looked upon them I wished to detect differences, so that each one
might stand out separately before me. I succeeded in this and yet not
entirely. Their speech was different and each one had his own face,
but their faith-was the same and their plans were one. Without haste,
friendly and sincerely, they were building something new. Each one of
them, among his fellows, was like a pleasant light; like a meadow in
a thick wood for the wanderer who had lost his way. Each one drew to
himself the workingmen who were wider awake than the rest, and all
these followers of Mikhail were held together by one plan, and they
created a spiritual circle in the factory, a fire of brightly burning
thoughts.

At first the workingmen were not friendly to me. They shouted and made
fun of me.

“Oh, you red-haired fly! You cloister-bug! You foul one! Parasite!”

At times they struck me, but this I could not stand, and in such
cases I did not spare my fists. Though people admire strength, still
one cannot gain esteem and attention through his fists, and I would
have had to bear many beatings were it not that at one of my quarrels
a friend of Mikhail’s, one Gavriel Kostin, interfered. He was a young
metal pourer, very handsome and respected by the whole factory. Six men
had come up to me and their looks boded ill for my back. But he stood
next to me and said:

“Why do you provoke a man, comrades? Is he not as much a worker as the
rest of us? You do wrong, and against yourselves. Our strength lies in
close friendship.”

He said these few words, but he said them so well and so simply, as if
he were talking to children. The friends of Mikhail always made use of
every incident to spread their ideas.

Kostin embarrassed my opponents and the words touched my heart also. I
began to talk.

“I did not become a monk,” I said, “to have much to eat, but because my
soul was starved. I have lived and I have seen that everywhere labor is
endless and hunger common; that everywhere there is swindle and fraud,
bitterness and tears, brutality and every kind of darkness of the soul.
By whom was this arranged? Where is our righteous and wise God? Does He
see the infinite and eternal martyrdom of the people?”

A crowd collected about me and listened earnestly to my words. I
finished and there was silence.

Finally, the head model-maker, Kriokof, said to Kostin:

“That monk there sees things deeper than you and your comrades. He has
taken hold of the root of the matter.”

It pleased me to hear these words. Kriokof slapped me on my shoulder
and said:

“You have spoken well, brother, but all the same cut your hair by a
yard. Such a mane catches the dirt and looks funny.”

And some one called out:

“And is in the way in a fight.”

They were joking. Evidently their wrath had passed. Where there is
laughter, there is man; the animal is gone.

Kostin took me aside. “Be careful with such words, Matvei,” he said.
“You can get into prison for them.”

I was astonished. “What!”

“In prison,” he laughed.

“Why?”

“For criticizing.”

“Are you joking?”

“Ask Mikhail,” he said. “I have to go to work now.”

He went away.

I was very much astonished at his words. I could hardly believe them,
but in the evening Mikhail confirmed them. All evening he told me about
the cruel persecutions. It seemed that for such speeches as I had made
thousands of people suffered death, were sent to Siberia and to the
mines; yet, though the slaughter of Herod was in no way diminishing,
the faithful were ever increasing in numbers.

Something grew and became clear in my soul, and the speeches of Mikhail
and his comrades took on another meaning, for, first of all, if a man
was ready to give up his freedom and even his life for his faith,
it meant that he was a sincere believer, and he resembled the early
martyrs who followed the laws of Christ.

Mikhail’s words grew connected and blossomed out and came close to my
soul. I do not mean to say that I understood his words at once and
fathomed their depths, but for the first time that evening I felt their
close relationship to my heart, and the whole earth seemed to me a
Bethlehem saturated with the blood of children. I grew to understand
the keen desire of the Virgin Mother when, looking upon hell, she asked
of the Archangel Mikhail: “Oh, Archangel, let me suffer in this fire.
Let me take part in this great agony.” Only that here I did not see
sinners, but righteous ones, wishing to destroy the hell upon earth,
for the sake of which they were serenely prepared to undergo all
suffering.

“Perhaps there are no longer holy anchorites,” I said to Mikhail,
“because man is not going away from the world, but toward the world.”

“The true faith,” he answered, “comes out in a true movement.”

“Take me into this movement,” I begged of him.

Everything burned within me.

“No,” he answered. “Wait a while and consider it. It is still too soon
for you. If you, with your character, should fall into the enemy’s
noose at present, you would be entangled in it uselessly and for a long
time. On the other hand, you ought to go away after what you have said.
There is much that is still not clear to you, and you are not free
enough for our work. Its great beauty has captivated and allured you,
but though it is displayed before you in its whole strength you stand
before it as if you were standing in a square room from which you can
see the temple being built, in all its immensity and beauty. But it is
being built quietly and evenly day by day, and if you are not familiar
with the whole plan, the sublime temple will disappear and vanish from
your vision, and the vision, which was not deep in your soul, will
vanish and the labor of building will seem beyond your strength.”

“Why do you quench my ardor?” I asked him with pain. “I have found a
place for myself and was happy when I saw that I could be useful.”

He answered me calmly and sadly:

“I do not consider that you are capable of living by a plan which is
not clear to you, and I see that the consciousness of your relation to
the spirit of the working class has not yet arisen in your soul. You
have been sharpened by the friction of life, and you stand in advance
of the thought of the people. You do not look upon yourself as one of
them, but it seems to me that you consider yourself a hero, ready to
give alms to the weak from the overflow of your strength; that you
consider yourself something special, living for yourself, and that in
yourself is the beginning and end, and that you are not a link in the
exquisite and immense unending chain.”

I began to understand why he sent me back to earth and unconsciously
felt that his words were right.

“You should begin wandering again,” he said, “to look upon the life of
the people with new eyes. Do not take books along with you. Reading
will give you nothing. You do not yet believe that it is not human
intelligence which is found in books, but the infinite diversity of the
striving of the soul of the people toward freedom. Books do not seek to
master you, but give you the weapon for emancipation; you do not yet
understand how to hold this weapon in your hand.”

He spoke truly. Books were strangers to me at this time. I was used
to church writings, but I could not grasp worldly thought except with
great difficulty. The spoken word gave me much more than the written.
The thoughts which I gathered from books lay on the surface of my soul
and were quickly effaced and melted away by my fire. They did not
answer my principal question: What was the law which governed God, and
why, if man was made in His image, did He degrade him against His will?
And, moreover, whose was this will?

Side by side with this question, not antagonizing it, lived another.
Was God brought down from heaven on this earth, or was He raised from
earth up to heaven by the strength of the people? And here arose the
burning thought that the creation of God was the eternal work of the
whole people.

My heart was cut in two. I wanted to remain with these people, yet
something pulled me to go away and prove my new thought and to search
for this unknown something which robbed me of my liberty and confused
my spirit.

Uncle Peter urged me also: “You ought to go away for some time, Matvei.
There has been some dangerous talk about your speech.”

And soon things decided themselves without my control. One night
a messenger came on horseback from a neighboring factory with the
announcement that gendarmes were making house searches in their place
and that undoubtedly they would soon be here.

“Ah, it is too soon,” said Mikhail with anger.

There was a hurrying and scurrying to and fro and Uncle Peter cried to
me:

“Go, Matvei, go! You have nothing to do here. You did not make the soup
and you needn’t eat it.”

Mikhail insisted, looking straight into my face.

“You had better go away from here. Your presence will help very little
and may do some harm.”

I understood that they wanted to get rid of me, and it hurt me. But
at this time I felt that I was afraid of the gendarmes. I did not see
them, yet I feared them! I knew that it was not right to leave people
in their need, but I succumbed to their will. They sent me away.

I went up the mountain to the wood through underbrush, between tree
stumps. I stumbled as if I was held by my heels. Behind me a young boy
hurried along, Ivan Vikof, with a great pack on his back. He was sent
to hide books in the wood.

We ran forward to the edge of the wood. He found a hiding place and
buried his burden. He was calm, but not I.

“Will they come here?” I asked him.

“Who knows?” he answered. “Perhaps they will come here. You must hurry.”

He was an awkward boy, and he looked as if he were hacked out from an
oak-tree with an ax. His head was large, one shoulder was higher than
the other, his long arms were out of proportion, and his voice was sad.

“Are you afraid?” I asked him.

“Of what?”

“That they will come and take you.”

“If they only don’t find what I have hidden, I don’t care what they do.”

He arranged the books with care in the pit, covered them over, smoothed
the earth down and threw brush upon it. He sat down on the ground, and
seeing that I was getting ready to go away, he said:

“Some one will come with a note for you. Wait.” “What kind of a note?”

“I don’t know.”

I looked out from the trees into the valley. The factory breathed
heavily, like a strong man who is being choked. It seemed to me that
men were being pursued in the streets and that in the darkness they ran
after one another; they fought, they snarled in anger, ready to break
each other’s bones. And Ivan, without haste, was getting ready to go
down.

“Where are you going?”

“Home.”

“They will take you.”

“I am not long in the movement, and they do not know me. And if they
take me, there is no harm done. People come out wiser from prison.”

Here some one loudly and clearly asked me: “How is it, Matvei? You are
not afraid of God, and yet you fear the gendarmes.”

I looked at Ivan. He was standing and gazing down thoughtfully.

“What did you say?” I asked.

“You read many books in prison.”

“Is that all?”

“Isn’t that enough?”

There were several lies that were rotting within me, and shameful
questions shot up with piercing sparks. The night was cold, but I
burned.

“I am going with you.”

“You must not,” Ivan said sternly. “They will certainly arrest you.
This whole trouble began on account of your speech.”

“How?”

“A priest in Verkhotour gave it away.”

I sat down on the ground and said to myself:

“Then I have to go.”

But fear took hold of me.

“Some one is running,” Ivan whispered low.

I looked down from the mountain. Thick shadows were crawling over it.
The sky was clouded, the moon in its last quarter now showed itself,
now hid itself in the clouds. The whole earth about me moved, and from
this noiseless movement something oppressive and fearful fell on me. I
watched the torrents of shadows which flowed over the earth and which
covered up the undergrowth and my soul with black veils.

A head moved among the brush, jumping like a ball among the branches.
Ivan whistled low and said:

“It is Kostia!”

I knew Kostia. He was a boy of about fifteen, blue-eyed, blond and
weak. He had finished school two years ago. Mikhail was preparing him
to be his assistant.

I understood that I was thinking about these little details on purpose,
for I wanted to put my thoughts aside and stifle my shame and my fear.

Kostia arrived panting, his voice broken.

“They have arrived. They have asked for you, Monk. Here, Uncle Peter
wrote a note and told me to take you to the Lobanofsky monastery. Let
us go.”

I rose and said to Ivan: “Good-by, brother. Greet them all for me and
ask them to forgive me.”

But Kostia pushed me and commanded me severely:

“Go along! Whom are you greeting? They are all taken like hens for the
market.”

We went along. Kostia went ahead, telling me in a low voice all that he
saw below, and I followed him. But I was pulled from all sides, by my
hands and the skirts of my coat, as if some one were asking me:

“Where are you going? You have entrapped people and you yourself are
escaping.”

I spoke aloud, to myself: “So on account of me people were lost!”

The boy answered: “Not on account of you, but on account of truth. Are
you truth? What a queer fellow!”

His words were funny and he himself was small, but still they struck
home. I wanted to set myself right before him, and I laid out my
thoughts as a beggar lays out the crumbs from his bag.

“Yes,” I said, “it is evident that a great untruth lives within me.”

He muttered, answering each one of my words like a conscience:

“Why great? You must always have something greater in you than any one
else.”

“Those are not his words,” I thought. “He has copied them from some
one.”

“Kostin was right when he called you a bell tower. But you are not the
kind that rings only for mass, but one which rings by itself, because
it was built crooked and the bells are badly hung.”

He remained silent, and then he added:

“I don’t like you, Monk. You are so strange.”

“How?”

“I don’t know. Are you really a Russian? I don’t think you are good.”

At any other time I would have become angry, but now I was silent.
I became suddenly weak, tired unto death. Night and the wood were
around us. Between the trees the gray darkness fell thickly and became
dense. It w as difficult to tell which was night and which was tree.
The moonbeams glistened above, broke themselves upon the body of the
darkness and vanished. It was quiet. All these people, beginning with
Juna, bore no fear. Some were filled with anger, others were always
gay, and most of them were quiet, modest people, who seemed to be
ashamed to show their goodness.

Kostia walked along the path, and his blond head shone like a light
before me. I recalled the youth of Bartholomew, the God-child Alexei
and others. No, that was not the right!

My thoughts were like water-hens in a puddle, jumping from stump to
stump.

“Have you read the 4 Lives of the Saints’?” I asked the boy.

“I read them when I was little. My mother made me. Why?”

“Did you like those chosen ones of God?”

“I don’t know. Ponteleimon I liked; and George also. He fought with the
dragon. But I don’t know what good it did the people to have dozens of
them made holy.”

Kostia grew in my eyes.

“If a Czar’s daughter or a rich man’s daughter believed in Christ and
underwent martyrdom for her belief, neither the Czar nor the kingdom
were ever better to the people for it? It is not spoken of in the
legends that the tyrant Czars became good.”

Then, after a silence, he said:

“Nor do I know of what good Christ’s martyrdom was. He wanted to
conquer suffering, and what came of it?”

He grew thoughtful and then added:

“Nothing came of it.”

I wanted to embrace him. Pity arose in my heart for Kostia, for Christ,
for all the people who remained in the village, for the whole human
world. And what of me? Where was my place? Where was I going?

The darkness of the short night was lifting, and from above a quiet
light came through the branches of the pine trees.

“You are not tired, Kostia?”

“I?” the small boy answered proudly. “No. I like to walk in the night.
It seems to me then that I walk through wonderland. I love fairy tales.”

At dawn we lay down to sleep. Kostia fell asleep quickly, as if he had
dived into a river, but I circled around my thoughts like a Tartar
beggar around a Christian church in winter. It is stormy and cold in
the street, but it is forbidden by Mohammed to enter the temple.

I decided upon something towards morning, and when the boy awoke, I
said to him:

“Forgive me that I made you walk with me for nothing. I am not going to
the monastery. I don’t want to hide.”

He looked at me seriously and said:

“You have already hidden.” Then, without looking at me, he began to
wave a twig.

“Well, good-by, dear.”

He bowed his head: “Good-by,” he answered.

I went away, then looked back. He stood there among the trees following
me with his eyes.

“Eh,” he cried, “good-by!”

It pleased me that he said it with more tenderness this time.

Share