THE CRUSHED FLOWER
AND OTHER STORIES
By Leonid Andreyev
Translated by Herman Bernstein
THE CRUSHED FLOWER
A STORY WHICH WILL NEVER BE FINISHED
ON THE DAY OF THE CRUCIFIXION
THE SERPENT'S STORY
LOVE, FAITH AND HOPE
JUDAS ISCARIOT AND OTHERS
"THE MAN WHO FOUND THE TRUTH"
THE CRUSHED FLOWER
His name was Yura.
He was six years old, and the world was to him enormous, alive and
bewitchingly mysterious. He knew the sky quite well. He knew its deep
azure by day, and the white-breasted, half silvery, half golden clouds
slowly floating by. He often watched them as he lay on his back upon the
grass or upon the roof. But he did not know the stars so well, for he went
to bed early. He knew well and remembered only one star—the green,
bright and very attentive star that rises in the pale sky just before you
go to bed, and that seemed to be the only star so large in the whole sky.
But best of all, he knew the earth in the yard, in the street and in the
garden, with all its inexhaustible wealth of stones, of velvety grass, of
hot sand and of that wonderfully varied, mysterious and delightful dust
which grown people did not notice at all from the height of their enormous
size. And in falling asleep, as the last bright image of the passing day,
he took along to his dreams a bit of hot, rubbed off stone bathed in
sunshine or a thick layer of tenderly tickling, burning dust.
When he went with his mother to the centre of the city along the large
streets, he remembered best of all, upon his return, the wide, flat stones
upon which his steps and his feet seemed terribly small, like two little
boats. And even the multitude of revolving wheels and horses' heads did
not impress themselves so clearly upon his memory as this new and
unusually interesting appearance of the ground.
Everything was enormous to him—the fences, the dogs and the people—but
that did not at all surprise or frighten him; that only made everything
particularly interesting; that transformed life into an uninterrupted
miracle. According to his measures, various objects seemed to him as
His father—ten yards tall.
His mother—three yards.
The neighbour's angry dog—thirty yards.
Their own dog—ten yards, like papa.
Their house of one story was very, very tall—a mile.
The distance between one side of the street and the other—two miles.
Their garden and the trees in their garden seemed immense, infinitely
The city—a million—just how much he did not know.
And everything else appeared to him in the same way. He knew many people,
large and small, but he knew and appreciated better the little ones with
whom he could speak of everything. The grown people behaved so foolishly
and asked such absurd, dull questions about things that everybody knew,
that it was necessary for him also to make believe that he was foolish. He
had to lisp and give nonsensical answers; and, of course, he felt like
running away from them as soon as possible. But there were over him and
around him and within him two entirely extraordinary persons, at once big
and small, wise and foolish, at once his own and strangers—his
father and mother.
They must have been very good people, otherwise they could not have been
his father and mother; at any rate, they were charming and unlike other
people. He could say with certainty that his father was very great,
terribly wise, that he possessed immense power, which made him a person to
be feared somewhat, and it was interesting to talk with him about unusual
things, placing his hand in father's large, strong, warm hand for safety's
Mamma was not so large, and sometimes she was even very small; she was
very kind hearted, she kissed tenderly; she understood very well how he
felt when he had a pain in his little stomach, and only with her could he
relieve his heart when he grew tired of life, of his games or when he was
the victim of some cruel injustice. And if it was unpleasant to cry in
father's presence, and even dangerous to be capricious, his tears had an
unusually pleasant taste in mother's presence and filled his soul with a
peculiar serene sadness, which he could find neither in his games nor in
laughter, nor even in the reading of the most terrible fairy tales.
It should be added that mamma was a beautiful woman and that everybody was
in love with her. That was good, for he felt proud of it, but that was
also bad—for he feared that she might be taken away. And every time
one of the men, one of those enormous, invariably inimical men who were
busy with themselves, looked at mamma fixedly for a long time, Yura felt
bored and uneasy. He felt like stationing himself between him and mamma,
and no matter where he went to attend to his own affairs, something was
drawing him back.
Sometimes mamma would utter a bad, terrifying phrase:
"Why are you forever staying around here? Go and play in your own room."
There was nothing left for him to do but to go away. He would take a book
along or he would sit down to draw, but that did not always help him.
Sometimes mamma would praise him for reading but sometimes she would say
"You had better go to your own room, Yurochka. You see, you've spilt water
on the tablecloth again; you always do some mischief with your drawing."
And then she would reproach him for being perverse. But he felt worst of
all when a dangerous and suspicious guest would come when Yura had to go
to bed. But when he lay down in his bed a sense of easiness came over him
and he felt as though all was ended; the lights went out, life stopped;
In all such cases with suspicious men Yura felt vaguely but very strongly
that he was replacing father in some way. And that made him somewhat like
a grown man—he was in a bad frame of mind, like a grown person, but,
therefore, he was unusually calculating, wise and serious. Of course, he
said nothing about this to any one, for no one would understand him; but,
by the manner in which he caressed father when he arrived and sat down on
his knees patronisingly, one could see in the boy a man who fulfilled his
duty to the end. At times father could not understand him and would simply
send him away to play or to sleep—Yura never felt offended and went
away with a feeling of great satisfaction. He did not feel the need of
being understood; he even feared it. At times he would not tell under any
circumstances why he was crying; at times he would make believe that he
was absent minded, that he heard nothing, that he was occupied with his
own affairs, but he heard and understood.
And he had a terrible secret. He had noticed that these extraordinary and
charming people, father and mother, were sometimes unhappy and were hiding
this from everybody. Therefore he was also concealing his discovery, and
gave everybody the impression that all was well. Many times he found mamma
crying somewhere in a corner in the drawing room, or in the bedroom—his
own room was next to her bedroom—and one night, very late, almost at
dawn, he heard the terribly loud and angry voice of father and the weeping
voice of mother. He lay a long time, holding his breath, but then he was
so terrified by that unusual conversation in the middle of the night that
he could not restrain himself and he asked his nurse in a soft voice:
"What are they saying?"
And the nurse answered quickly in a whisper:
"Sleep, sleep. They are not saying anything."
"I am coming over to your bed."
"Aren't you ashamed of yourself? Such a big boy!"
"I am coming over to your bed."
Thus, terribly afraid lest they should be heard, they spoke in whispers
and argued in the dark; and the end was that Yura moved over to nurse's
bed, upon her rough, but cosy and warm blanket.
In the morning papa and mamma were very cheerful and Yura pretended that
he believed them and it seemed that he really did believe them. But that
same evening, and perhaps it was another evening, he noticed his father
crying. It happened in the following way: He was passing his father's
study, and the door was half open; he heard a noise and he looked in
quietly—father lay face downward upon his couch and cried aloud.
There was no one else in the room. Yura went away, turned about in his
room and came back—the door was still half open, no one but father
was in the room, and he was still sobbing. If he cried quietly, Yura could
understand it, but he sobbed loudly, he moaned in a heavy voice and his
teeth were gnashing terribly. He lay there, covering the entire couch,
hiding his head under his broad shoulders, sniffing heavily—and that
was beyond his understanding. And on the table, on the large table covered
with pencils, papers and a wealth of other things, stood the lamp burning
with a red flame, and smoking—a flat, greyish black strip of smoke
was coming out and bending in all directions.
Suddenly father heaved a loud sigh and stirred. Yura walked away quietly.
And then all was the same as ever. No one would have learned of this; but
the image of the enormous, mysterious and charming man who was his father
and who was crying remained in Yura's memory as something dreadful and
extremely serious. And, if there were things of which he did not feel like
speaking, it was absolutely necessary to say nothing of this, as though it
were something sacred and terrible, and in that silence he must love
father all the more. But he must love so that father should not notice it,
and he must give the impression that it is very jolly to live on earth.
And Yura succeeded in accomplishing all this. Father did not notice that
he loved him in a special manner; and it was really jolly to live on
earth, so there was no need for him to make believe. The threads of his
soul stretched themselves to all—to the sun, to the knife and the
cane he was peeling; to the beautiful and enigmatic distance which he saw
from the top of the iron roof; and it was hard for him to separate himself
from all that was not himself. When the grass had a strong and fragrant
odour it seemed to him that it was he who had such a fragrant odour, and
when he lay down in his bed, however strange it may seem, together with
him in his little bed lay down the enormous yard, the street, the slant
threads of the rain and the muddy pools and the whole, enormous, live,
fascinating, mysterious world. Thus all fell asleep with him and thus all
awakened with him, and together with him they all opened their eyes. And
there was one striking fact, worthy of the profoundest reflection—if
he placed a stick somewhere in the garden in the evening it was there also
in the morning; and the knuckle-bones which he hid in a box in the barn
remained there, although it was dark and he went to his room for the
night. Because of this he felt a natural need for hiding under his pillow
all that was most valuable to him. Since things stood or lay there alone,
they might also disappear of their accord, he reasoned. And in general it
was so wonderful and pleasant that the nurse and the house and the sun
existed not only yesterday, but every day; he felt like laughing and
singing aloud when he awoke.
When people asked him what his name was he answered promptly:
But some people were not satisfied with this alone, and they wanted to
know his full name—and then he replied with a certain effort:
And after a moment's thought he added:
"Yura Mikhailovich Pushkarev."
An unusual day arrived. It was mother's birthday. Guests were expected in
the evening; military music was to play, and in the garden and upon the
terrace parti-coloured lanterns were to burn, and Yura need not go to bed
at 9 o'clock but could stay up as late as he liked.
Yura got up when all were still sleeping. He dressed himself and jumped
out quickly with the expectation of miracles. But he was unpleasantly
surprised—the rooms were in the same disorder as usual in the
morning; the cook and the chambermaid were still sleeping and the door was
closed with a hook—it was hard to believe that the people would stir
and commence to run about, and that the rooms would assume a holiday
appearance, and he feared for the fate of the festival. It was still worse
in the garden. The paths were not swept and there was not a single lantern
there. He grew very uneasy. Fortunately, Yevmen, the coachman, was washing
the carriage behind the barn in the back yard and though he had done this
frequently before, and though there was nothing unusual about his
appearance, Yura clearly felt something of the holiday in the decisive way
in which the coachman splashed the water from the bucket with his sinewy
arms, on which the sleeves of his red blouse were rolled up to his elbows.
Yevmen only glanced askance at Yura, and suddenly Yura seemed to have
noticed for the first time his broad, black, wavy beard and thought
respectfully that Yevmen was a very worthy man. He said:
"Good morning, Yevmen."
Then all moved very rapidly. Suddenly the janitor appeared and started to
sweep the paths, suddenly the window in the kitchen was thrown open and
women's voices were heard chattering; suddenly the chambermaid rushed out
with a little rug and started to beat it with a stick, as though it were a
dog. All commenced to stir; and the events, starting simultaneously in
different places, rushed with such mad swiftness that it was impossible to
catch up with them. While the nurse was giving Yura his tea, people were
beginning to hang up the wires for the lanterns in the garden, and while
the wires were being stretched in the garden, the furniture was rearranged
completely in the drawing room, and while the furniture was rearranged in
the drawing room, Yevmen, the coachman, harnessed the horse and drove out
of the yard with a certain special, mysterious mission.
Yura succeeded in concentrating himself for some time with the greatest
difficulty. Together with father he was hanging up the lanterns. And
father was charming; he laughed, jested, put Yura on the ladder; he
himself climbed the thin, creaking rungs of the ladder, and finally both
fell down together with the ladder upon the grass, but they were not hurt.
Yura jumped up, while father remained lying on the grass, hands thrown
back under his head, looking with half-closed eyes at the shining,
infinite azure of the sky. Thus lying on the grass, with a serious
expression on his face, apparently not in the mood for play, father looked
very much like Gulliver longing for his land of giants. Yura recalled
something unpleasant; but to cheer his father up he sat down astride upon
his knees and said:
"Do you remember, father, when I was a little boy I used to sit down on
your knees and you used to shake me like a horse?"
But before he had time to finish he lay with his nose on the grass; he was
lifted in the air and thrown down with force—father had thrown him
high up with his knees, according to his old habit. Yura felt offended;
but father, entirely ignoring his anger, began to tickle him under his
armpits, so that Yura had to laugh against his will; and then father
picked him up like a little pig by the legs and carried him to the
terrace. And mamma was frightened.
"What are you doing? The blood will rush to his head!"
After which Yura found himself standing on his legs, red faced,
dishevelled, feeling very miserable and terribly happy at the same time.
The day was rushing fast, like a cat that is chased by a dog. Like
forerunners of the coming great festival, certain messengers appeared with
notes, wonderfully tasty cakes were brought, the dressmaker came and
locked herself in with mamma in the bedroom; then two gentlemen arrived,
then another gentleman, then a lady—evidently the entire city was in
a state of agitation. Yura examined the messengers as though they were
strange people from another world, and walked before them with an air of
importance as the son of the lady whose birthday was to be celebrated; he
met the gentlemen, he escorted the cakes, and toward midday he was so
exhausted that he suddenly started to despise life. He quarrelled with the
nurse and lay down in his bed face downward in order to have his revenge
on her; but he fell asleep immediately. He awoke with the same feeling of
hatred for life and a desire for revenge, but after having looked at
things with his eyes, which he washed with cold water, he felt that both
the world and life were so fascinating that they were even funny.
When they dressed Yura in a red silk rustling blouse, and he thus clearly
became part of the festival, and he found on the terrace a long, snow
white table glittering with glass dishes, he again commenced to spin about
in the whirlpool of the onrushing events.
"The musicians have arrived! The musicians have arrived!" he cried,
looking for father or mother, or for any one who would treat the arrival
of the musicians with proper seriousness. Father and mother were sitting
in the garden—in the arbour which was thickly surrounded with wild
grapes—maintaining silence; the beautiful head of mother lay on
father's shoulder; although father embraced her, he seemed very serious,
and he showed no enthusiasm when he was told of the arrival of the
musicians. Both treated their arrival with inexplicable indifference,
which called forth a feeling of sadness in Yura. But mamma stirred and
"Let me go. I must go."
"Remember," said father, referring to something Yura did not understand
but which resounded in his heart with a light, gnawing alarm.
"Stop. Aren't you ashamed?" mother laughed, and this laughter made Yura
feel still more alarmed, especially since father did not laugh but
maintained the same serious and mournful appearance of Gulliver pining for
his native land....
But soon all this was forgotten, for the wonderful festival had begun in
all its glory, mystery and grandeur. The guests came fast, and there was
no longer any place at the white table, which had been deserted but a
while before. Voices resounded, and laughter and merry jests, and the
music began to play. And on the deserted paths of the garden where but a
while ago Yura had wandered alone, imagining himself a prince in quest of
the sleeping princess, now appeared people with cigarettes and with loud
free speech. Yura met the first guests at the front entrance; he looked at
each one carefully, and he made the acquaintance and even the friendship
of some of them on the way from the corridor to the table.
Thus he managed to become friendly with the officer, whose name was
Mitenka—a grown man whose name was Mitenka—he said so himself.
Mitenka had a heavy leather sword, which was as cold as a snake, which
could not be taken out—but Mitenka lied; the sword was only fastened
at the handle with a silver cord, but it could be taken out very nicely;
and Yura felt vexed because the stupid Mitenka instead of carrying his
sword, as he always did, placed it in a corner in the hallway as a cane.
But even in the corner the sword stood out alone—one could see at
once that it was a sword. Another thing that displeased Yura was that
another officer came with Mitenka, an officer whom Yura knew and whose
name was also Yura Mikhailovich. Yura thought that the officer must have
been named so for fun. That wrong Yura Mikhailovich had visited them
several times; he even came once on horseback; but most of the time he
came just before little Yura had to go to bed. And little Yura went to
bed, while the unreal Yura Mikhailovich remained with mamma, and that
caused him to feel alarmed and sad; he was afraid that mamma might be
deceived. He paid no attention to the real Yura Mikhailovich: and now,
walking beside Mitenka, he did not seem to realise his guilt; he adjusted
his moustaches and maintained silence. He kissed mamma's hand, and that
seemed repulsive to little Yura; but the stupid Mitenka also kissed
mamma's hand, and thereby set everything aright.
But soon the guests arrived in such numbers, and there was such a variety
of them, as if they had fallen straight from the sky. And some of them
seemed to have fallen near the table, while others seemed to have fallen
into the garden. Suddenly several students and ladies appeared in the
path. The ladies were ordinary, but the students had holes cut at the left
side of their white coats—for their swords. But they did not bring
their swords along, no doubt because of their pride—they were all
very proud. And the ladies rushed over to Yura and began to kiss him. Then
the most beautiful of the ladies, whose name was Ninochka, took Yura to
the swing and swung him until she threw him down. He hurt his left leg
near the knee very painfully and even stained his little white pants in
that spot, but of course he did not cry, and somehow his pain had quickly
disappeared somewhere. At this time father was leading an
important-looking bald-headed old man in the garden, and he asked
"Did you get hurt?"
But as the old man also smiled and also spoke, Yurochka did not kiss
father and did not even answer him; but suddenly he seemed to have lost
his mind—he commenced to squeal for joy and to run around. If he had
a bell as large as the whole city he would have rung that bell; but as he
had no such bell he climbed the linden tree, which stood near the terrace,
and began to show off. The guests below were laughing and mamma was
shouting, and suddenly the music began to play, and Yura soon stood in
front of the orchestra, spreading his legs apart and, according to his old
but long forgotten habit, put his finger into his mouth. The sounds seemed
to strike at him all at once; they roared and thundered; they made his
legs tingle, and they shook his jaw. They played so loudly that there was
nothing but the orchestra on the whole earth—everything else had
vanished. The brass ends of some of the trumpets even spread apart and
opened wide from the great roaring; Yura thought that it would be
interesting to make a military helmet out of such a trumpet.
Suddenly Yura grew sad. The music was still roaring, but now it was
somewhere far away, while within him all became quiet, and it was growing
ever more and more quiet. Heaving a deep sigh, Yura looked at the sky—it
was so high—and with slow footsteps he started out to make the
rounds of the holiday, of all its confused boundaries, possibilities and
distances. And everywhere he turned out to be too late; he wanted to see
how the tables for card playing would be arranged, but the tables were
ready and people had been playing cards for a long time when he came up.
He touched the chalk and the brush near his father and his father
immediately chased him away. What of that, what difference did that make
to him? He wanted to see how they would start to dance and he was sure
that they would dance in the parlour, but they had already commenced to
dance, not in the parlour, but under the linden trees. He wanted to see
how they would light the lanterns, but the lanterns had all been lit
already, every one of them, to the very last of the last. They lit up of
themselves like stars.
Mamma danced best of all.
Night arrived in the form of red, green and yellow lanterns. While there
were no lanterns, there was no night. And now it lay everywhere. It
crawled into the bushes; it covered the entire garden with darkness, as
with water, and it covered the sky. Everything looked as beautiful as the
very best fairy tale with coloured pictures. At one place the house had
disappeared entirely; only the square window made of red light remained.
And the chimney of the house was visible and there a certain spark
glistened, looked down and seemed to think of its own affairs. What
affairs do chimneys have? Various affairs.
Of the people in the garden only their voices remained. As long as some
one walked near the lanterns he could be seen; but as soon as he walked
away all seemed to melt, melt, melt, and the voice above the ground
laughed, talked, floating fearlessly in the darkness. But the officers and
the students could be seen even in the dark—a white spot, and above
it a small light of a cigarette and a big voice.
And now the most joyous thing commenced for Yura—the fairy tale. The
people and the festival and the lanterns remained on earth, while he
soared away, transformed into air, melting in the night like a grain of
dust. The great mystery of the night became his mystery, and his little
heart yearned for still more mystery; in its solitude his heart yearned
for the fusion of life and death. That was Yura's second madness that
evening—he became invisible. Although he could enter the kitchen as
others did, he climbed with difficulty upon the roof of the cellar over
which the kitchen window was flooded with light and he looked in; there
people were roasting something, busying themselves, and did not know that
he was looking at them—and yet he saw everything! Then he went away
and looked at papa's and mamma's bedroom; the room was empty; but the beds
had already been made for the night and a little image lamp was burning—he
saw that. Then he looked into his own room; his own bed was also ready,
waiting for him. He passed the room where they were playing cards, also as
an invisible being, holding his breath and stepping so lightly, as though
he were soaring in the air. Only when he reached the garden, in the dark,
he drew a proper breath. Then he resumed his quest. He came over to people
who were talking so near him that he could touch them with his hand, and
yet they did not know that he was there, and they continued to speak
undisturbed. He watched Ninochka for a long time until he learned all her
life—he was almost trapped. Ninochka even exclaimed:
"Yurochka, is that you?"
He lay down behind a bush and held his breath. Thus Ninochka was deceived.
And she had almost caught him! To make things more mysterious, he started
to crawl instead of walk—now the alleys seemed full of danger. Thus
a long time went by—according to his own calculations at the time,
ten years went by, and he was still hiding and going ever farther away
from the people. And thus he went so far that he was seized with dread—between
him and the past, when he was walking like everybody else, an abyss was
formed over which it seemed to him impossible to cross. Now he would have
come out into the light but he was afraid—it was impossible; all was
lost. And the music was still playing, and everybody had forgotten him,
even mamma. He was alone. There was a breath of cold from the dewy grass;
the gooseberry bush scratched him, the darkness could not be pierced with
his eyes, and there was no end to it. O Lord!
Without any definite plan, in a state of utter despair, Yura now crawled
toward a mysterious, faintly blinking light. Fortunately it turned out to
be the same arbour which was covered with wild grapes and in which father
and mother had sat that day. He did not recognise it at first! Yes, it was
the same arbour. The lights of the lanterns everywhere had gone out, and
only two were still burning; a yellow little lantern was still burning
brightly, and the other, a yellow one, too, was already beginning to
blink. And though there was no wind, that lantern quivered from its own
blinking, and everything seemed to quiver slightly. Yura was about to get
up to go into the arbour and there begin life anew, with an imperceptible
transition from the old, when suddenly he heard voices in the arbour. His
mother and the wrong Yura Mikhailovich, the officer, were talking. The
right Yura grew petrified in his place; his heart stood still; and his
"Stop. You have lost your mind! Somebody may come in here."
Yura Mikhailovich said:
"I am twenty-six years old to-day. I am old!"
Yura Mikhailovich said:
"He does not know anything. Is it possible that he does not know anything?
He does not even suspect? Listen, does he shake everybody's hand so
"What a question! Of course he does! That is—no, not everybody."
Yura Mikhailovich said:
"I feel sorry for him."
And she laughed strangely. Yurochka understood that they were talking of
him, of Yurochka—but what did it all mean, O Lord? And why did she
Yura Mikhailovich said:
"Where are you going? I will not let you go."
"You offend me. Let me go! No, you have no right to kiss me. Let me go!"
They became silent. Now Yurochka looked through the leaves and saw that
the officer embraced and kissed mamma. Then they spoke of something, but
he understood nothing; he heard nothing; he suddenly forgot the meaning of
words. And he even forgot the words which he knew and used before. He
remembered but one word, "Mamma," and he whispered it uninterruptedly with
his dry lips, but that word sounded so terrible, more terrible than
anything. And in order not to exclaim it against his will, Yura covered
his mouth with both hands, one upon the other, and thus remained until the
officer and mamma went out of the arbour.
When Yura came into the room where the people were playing cards, the
serious, bald-headed man was scolding papa for something, brandishing the
chalk, talking, shouting, saying that father did not act as he should have
acted, that what he had done was impossible, that only bad people did such
things, that the old man would never again play with father, and so on.
And father was smiling, waving his hands, attempting to say something, but
the old man would not let him, and he commenced to shout more loudly. And
the old man was a little fellow, while father was big, handsome and tall,
and his smile was sad, like that of Gulliver pining for his native land of
tall and handsome people.
Of course, he must conceal from him—of course, he must conceal from
him that which happened in the arbour, and he must love him, and he felt
that he loved him so much. And with a wild cry Yura rushed over to the
bald-headed old man and began to beat him with his fists with all his
"Don't you dare insult him! Don't you dare insult him!"
O Lord, what has happened! Some one laughed; some one shouted. Father
caught Yura in his arms, pressed him closely, causing him pain, and cried:
"Where is mother? Call mother."
Then Yura was seized with a whirlwind of frantic tears, of desperate sobs
and mortal anguish. But through his frantic tears he looked at his father
to see whether he had guessed it, and when mother came in he started to
shout louder in order to divert any suspicion. But he did not go to her
arms; he clung more closely to father, so that father had to carry him
into his room. But it seemed that he himself did not want to part with
Yura. As soon as he carried him out of the room where the guests were he
began to kiss him, and he repeated:
"Oh, my dearest! Oh, my dearest!"
And he said to mamma, who walked behind him:
"Just think of the boy!"
"That is all due to your whist. You were scolding each other so, that the
child was frightened."
Father began to laugh, and answered:
"Yes, he does scold harshly. But Yura, oh, what a dear boy!"
In his room Yura demanded that father himself undress him. "Now, you are
getting cranky," said father. "I don't know how to do it; let mamma
"But you stay here."
Mamma had deft fingers and she undressed him quickly, and while she was
removing his clothes Yura held father by the hand. He ordered the nurse
out of the room; but as father was beginning to grow angry, and he might
guess what had happened in the arbour, decided to let him go. But while
kissing him he said cunningly:
"He will not scold you any more, will he?"
Papa smiled. Then he laughed, kissed Yura once more and said:
"No, no. And if he does I will throw him across the fence."
"Please, do," said Yura. "You can do it. You are so strong."
"Yes, I am pretty strong. But you had better sleep! Mamma will stay here
with you a while."
"I will send the nurse in. I must attend to the supper."
"There is plenty of time for that! You can stay a while with the child."
But mamma insisted:
"We have guests! We can't leave them that way."
But father looked at her steadfastly, and shrugged his shoulders. Mamma
decided to stay.
"Very well, then, I'll stay here. But see that Maria does not mix up the
Usually it was thus: when mamma sat near Yura as he was falling asleep she
held his hand until the last moment—that is what she usually did.
But now she sat as though she were all alone, as though Yura, her son, who
was falling asleep, was not there at all—she folded her hands in her
lap and looked into the distance. To attract her attention Yura stirred,
but mamma said briefly:
And she continued to look. But when Yura's eyes had grown heavy and he was
falling asleep with all his sorrow and his tears, mamma suddenly went down
on her knees before the little bed and kissed Yura firmly many, many
times. But her kisses were wet—hot and wet.
"Why are your kisses wet? Are you crying?" muttered Yura.
"Yes, I am crying."
"You must not cry."
"Very well, I won't," answered mother submissively.
And again she kissed him firmly, firmly, frequently, frequently. Yura
lifted both hands with a heavy movement, clasped his mother around the
neck and pressed his burning cheek firmly to her wet and cold cheek. She
was his mother, after all; there was nothing to be done. But how painful;
how bitterly painful!
A STORY WHICH WILL NEVER BE FINISHED
Exhausted with the painful uncertainty of the day, I fell asleep, dressed,
on my bed. Suddenly my wife aroused me. In her hand a candle was
flickering, which appeared to me in the middle of the night as bright as
the sun. And behind the candle her chin, too, was trembling, and enormous,
unfamiliar dark eyes stared motionlessly.
"Do you know," she said, "do you know they are building barricades on our
It was quiet. We looked straight into each other's eyes, and I felt my
face turning pale. Life vanished somewhere and then returned again with a
loud throbbing of the heart. It was quiet and the flame of the candle was
quivering, and it was small, dull, but sharp-pointed, like a crooked
"Are you afraid?" I asked.
The pale chin trembled, but her eyes remained motionless and looked at me,
without blinking, and only now I noticed what unfamiliar, what terrible
eyes they were. For ten years I had looked into them and had known them
better than my own eyes, and now there was something new in them which I
am unable define. I would have called it pride, but there was something
different in them, something new, entirely new. I took her hand; it was
cold. She grasped my hand firmly and there was something new, something I
had not known before, in her handclasp.
She had never before clasped my hand as she did this time.
"How long?" I asked.
"About an hour already. Your brother has gone away. He was apparently
afraid that you would not let him go, so he went away quietly. But I saw
It was true then; the time had arrived. I rose, and, for some reason,
spent a long time washing myself, as was my wont in the morning before
going to work, and my wife held the light. Then we put out the light and
walked over to the window overlooking the street. It was spring; it was
May, and the air that came in from the open window was such as we had
never before felt in that old, large city. For several days the factories
and the roads had been idle; and the air, free from smoke, was filled with
the fragrance of the fields and the flowering gardens, perhaps with that
of the dew. I do not know what it is that smells so wonderfully on spring
nights when I go out far beyond the outskirts of the city. Not a lantern,
not a carriage, not a single sound of the city over the unconcerned stony
surface; if you had closed your eyes you would really have thought that
you were in a village. There a dog was barking. I had never before heard a
dog barking in the city, and I laughed for happiness.
"Listen, a dog is barking."
My wife embraced me, and said:
"It is there, on the corner."
We bent over the window-sill, and there, in the transparent, dark depth,
we saw some movement—not people, but movement. Something was moving
about like a shadow. Suddenly the blows of a hatchet or a hammer
resounded. They sounded so cheerful, so resonant, as in a forest, as on a
river when you are mending a boat or building a dam. And in the
presentiment of cheerful, harmonious work, I firmly embraced my wife,
while she looked above the houses, above the roofs, looked at the young
crescent of the moon, which was already setting. The moon was so young, so
strange, even as a young girl who is dreaming and is afraid to tell her
dreams; and it was shining only for itself.
"When will we have a full moon?..."
"You must not! You must not!" my wife interrupted. "You must not speak of
that which will be. What for? IT is afraid of words. Come here."
It was dark in the room, and we were silent for a long time, without
seeing each other, yet thinking of the same thing. And when I started to
speak, it seemed to me that some one else was speaking; I was not afraid,
yet the voice of the other one was hoarse, as though suffocating for
"What shall it be?"
"You will be with them. It will be enough for them to have a mother. I
"And I? Can I?"
I know that she did not stir from her place, but I felt distinctly that
she was going away, that she was far—far away. I began to feel so
cold, I stretched out my hands—but she pushed them aside.
"People have such a holiday once in a hundred years, and you want to
deprive me of it. Why?" she said.
"But they may kill you there. And our children will perish."
"Life will be merciful to me. But even if they should perish—"
And this was said by her, my wife—a woman with whom I had lived for
ten years. But yesterday she had known nothing except our children, and
had been filled with fear for them; but yesterday she had caught with
terror the stern symptoms of the future. What had come over her? Yesterday—but
I, too, forgot everything that was yesterday.
"Do you want to go with me?"
"Do not be angry"—she thought that I was afraid, angry—"Don't
be angry. To-night, when they began to knock here, and you were still
sleeping, I suddenly understood that my husband, my children—all
these were simply temporary... I love you, very much"—she found my
hand and shook it with the same new, unfamiliar grasp—"but do you
hear how they are knocking there? They are knocking, and something seems
to be falling, some kind of walls seem to be falling—and it is so
spacious, so wide, so free. It is night now, and yet it seems to me that
the sun is shining. I am thirty years of age, and I am old already, and
yet it seems to me that I am only seventeen, and that I love some one with
my first love—a great, boundless love."
"What a night!" I said. "It is as if the city were no more. You are right,
I have also forgotten how old I am."
"They are knocking, and it sounds to me like music, like singing of which
I have always dreamed—all my life. And I did not know whom it was
that I loved with such a boundless love, which made me feel like crying
and laughing and singing. There is freedom—do not take my happiness
away, let me die with those who are working there, who are calling the
future so bravely, and who are rousing the dead past from its grave."
"There is no such thing as time."
"What do you say?"
"There is no such thing as time. Who are you? I did not know you. Are you
a human being?"
She burst into such ringing laughter as though she were really only
seventeen years old.
"I did not know you, either. Are you, too, a human being? How strange and
how beautiful it is—a human being!"
That which I am writing happened long ago, and those who are sleeping now
in the sleep of grey life and who die without awakening—those will
not believe me: in those days there was no such thing as time. The sun was
rising and setting, and the hand was moving around the dial—but time
did not exist. And many other great and wonderful things happened in those
days.... And those who are sleeping now the sleep of this grey life and
who die without awakening, will not believe me.
"I must go," said I.
"Wait, I will give you something to eat. You haven't eaten anything
to-day. See how sensible I am: I shall go to-morrow. I shall give the
children away and find you."
"Comrade," said I.
Through the open windows came the breath of the fields, and silence, and
from time to time, the cheerful strokes of the axe, and I sat by the table
and looked and listened, and everything was so mysteriously new that I
felt like laughing. I looked at the walls and they seemed to me to be
transparent. As if embracing all eternity with one glance, I saw how all
these walls had been built, I saw how they were being destroyed, and I
alone always was and always will be. Everything will pass, but I shall
remain. And everything seemed to me strange and queer—so unnatural—the
table and the food upon it, and everything outside of me. It all seemed to
me transparent and light, existing only temporarily.
"Why don't you eat?" asked my wife.
"Bread—it is so strange."
She glanced at the bread, at the stale, dry crust of bread, and for some
reason her face became sad. Still continuing to look at it, she silently
adjusted her apron with her hands and her head turned slightly, very
slightly, in the direction where the children were sleeping.
"Do you feel sorry for them?" I asked.
She shook her head without removing her eyes from the bread.
"No, but I was thinking of what happened in our life before."
How incomprehensible! As one who awakens from a long sleep, she surveyed
the room with her eyes and all seemed to her so incomprehensible. Was this
the place where we had lived?
"You were my wife."
"And there are our children."
"Here, beyond the wall, your father died."
"Yes. He died. He died without awakening."
The smallest child, frightened at something in her sleep, began to cry.
And this simple childish cry, apparently demanding something, sounded so
strange amid these phantom walls, while there, below, people were building
She cried and demanded—caresses, certain queer words and promises to
soothe her. And she soon was soothed.
"Well, go!" said my wife in a whisper.
"I should like to kiss them."
"I am afraid you will wake them up."
"No, I will not."
It turned out that the oldest child was awake—he had heard and
understood everything. He was but nine years old, but he understood
everything—he met me with a deep, stern look.
"Will you take your gun?" he asked thoughtfully and earnestly.
"It is behind the stove."
"How do you know? Well, kiss me. Will you remember me?"
He jumped up in his bed, in his short little shirt, hot from sleep, and
firmly clasped my neck. His arms were burning—they were so soft and
delicate. I lifted his hair on the back of his head and kissed his little
"Will they kill you?" he whispered right into my ear.
"No, I will come back."
But why did he not cry? He had cried sometimes when I had simply left the
house for a while: Is it possible that IT had reached him, too? Who knows?
So many strange things happened during the great days.
I looked at the walls, at the bread, at the candle, at the flame which had
kept flickering, and took my wife by the hand.
"Well—'till we meet again!"
"Yes—'till we meet again!"
That was all. I went out. It was dark on the stairway and there was the
odour of old filth. Surrounded on all sides by the stones and the
darkness, groping down the stairs, I was seized with a tremendous,
powerful and all-absorbing feeling of the new, unknown and joyous
something to which I was going.
ON THE DAY OF THE CRUCIFIXION
On that terrible day, when the universal injustice was committed and Jesus
Christ was crucified in Golgotha among robbers—on that day, from
early morning, Ben-Tovit, a tradesman of Jerusalem, suffered from an
unendurable toothache. His toothache had commenced on the day before,
toward evening; at first his right jaw started to pain him, and one tooth,
the one right next the wisdom tooth, seemed to have risen somewhat, and
when his tongue touched the tooth, he felt a slightly painful sensation.
After supper, however, his toothache had passed, and Ben-Tovit had
forgotten all about it—he had made a profitable deal on that day,
had bartered an old donkey for a young, strong one, so he was very
cheerful and paid no heed to any ominous signs.
And he slept very soundly. But just before daybreak something began to
disturb him, as if some one were calling him on a very important matter,
and when Ben-Tovit awoke angrily, his teeth were aching, aching openly and
maliciously, causing him an acute, drilling pain. And he could no longer
understand whether it was only the same tooth that had ached on the
previous day, or whether others had joined that tooth; Ben-Tovit's entire
mouth and his head were filled with terrible sensations of pain, as though
he had been forced to chew thousands of sharp, red-hot nails, he took some
water into his mouth from an earthen jug—for a minute the acuteness
of the pain subsided, his teeth twitched and swayed like a wave, and this
sensation was even pleasant as compared with the other.
Ben-Tovit lay down again, recalled his new donkey, and thought how happy
he would have been if not for his toothache, and he wanted to fall asleep.
But the water was warm, and five minutes later his toothache began to rage
more severely than ever; Ben-Tovit sat up in his bed and swayed back and
forth like a pendulum. His face became wrinkled and seemed to have shrunk,
and a drop of cold perspiration was hanging on his nose, which had turned
pale from his sufferings. Thus, swaying back and forth and groaning for
pain, he met the first rays of the sun, which was destined to see Golgotha
and the three crosses, and grow dim from horror and sorrow.
Ben-Tovit was a good and kind man, who hated any injustice, but when his
wife awoke he said many unpleasant things to her, opening his mouth with
difficulty, and he complained that he was left alone, like a jackal, to
groan and writhe for pain. His wife met the undeserved reproaches
patiently, for she knew that they came not from an angry heart—and
she brought him numerous good remedies: rats' litter to be applied to his
cheek, some strong liquid in which a scorpion was preserved, and a real
chip of the tablets that Moses had broken. He began to feel a little
better from the rats' litter, but not for long, also from the liquid and
the stone, but the pain returned each time with renewed intensity.
During the moments of rest Ben-Tovit consoled himself with the thought of
the little donkey, and he dreamed of him, and when he felt worse he
moaned, scolded his wife, and threatened to dash his head against a rock
if the pain should not subside. He kept pacing back and forth on the flat
roof of his house from one corner to the other, feeling ashamed to come
close to the side facing the street, for his head was tied around with a
kerchief like that of a woman. Several times children came running to him
and told him hastily about Jesus of Nazareth. Ben-Tovit paused, listened
to them for a while, his face wrinkled, but then he stamped his foot
angrily and chased them away. He was a kind man and he loved children, but
now he was angry at them for bothering him with trifles.
It was disagreeable to him that a large crowd had gathered in the street
and on the neighbouring roofs, doing nothing and looking curiously at
Ben-Tovit, who had his head tied around with a kerchief like a woman. He
was about to go down, when his wife said to him:
"Look, they are leading robbers there. Perhaps that will divert you."
"Let me alone. Don't you see how I am suffering?" Ben-Tovit answered
But there was a vague promise in his wife's words that there might be a
relief for his toothache, so he walked over to the parapet unwillingly.
Bending his head on one side, closing one eye, and supporting his cheek
with his hand, his face assumed a squeamish, weeping expression, and he
looked down to the street.
On the narrow street, going uphill, an enormous crowd was moving forward
in disorder, covered with dust and shouting uninterruptedly. In the middle
of the crowd walked the criminals, bending down under the weight of their
crosses, and over them the scourges of the Roman soldiers were wriggling
about like black snakes. One of the men, he of the long light hair, in a
torn blood-stained cloak, stumbled over a stone which was thrown under his
feet, and he fell. The shouting grew louder, and the crowd, like coloured
sea water, closed in about the man on the ground. Ben-Tovit suddenly
shuddered for pain; he felt as though some one had pierced a red-hot
needle into his tooth and turned it there; he groaned and walked away from
the parapet, angry and squeamishly indifferent.
"How they are shouting!" he said enviously, picturing to himself their
wide-open mouths with strong, healthy teeth, and how he himself would have
shouted if he had been well. This intensified his toothache, and he shook
his muffled head frequently, and roared: "Moo-Moo...."
"They say that He restored sight to the blind," said his wife, who
remained standing at the parapet, and she threw down a little cobblestone
near the place where Jesus, lifted by the whips, was moving slowly.
"Of course, of course! He should have cured my toothache," replied
Ben-Tovit ironically, and he added bitterly with irritation: "What dust
they have kicked up! Like a herd of cattle! They should all be driven away
with a stick! Take me down, Sarah!"
The wife proved to be right. The spectacle had diverted Ben-Tovit slightly—perhaps
it was the rats' litter that had helped after all—he succeeded in
falling asleep. When he awoke, his toothache had passed almost entirely,
and only a little inflammation had formed over his right jaw. His wife
told him that it was not noticeable at all, but Ben-Tovit smiled cunningly—he
knew how kind-hearted his wife was and how fond she was of telling him
Samuel, the tanner, a neighbour of Ben-Tovit's, came in, and Ben-Tovit led
him to see the new little donkey and listened proudly to the warm praises
for himself and his animal.
Then, at the request of the curious Sarah, the three went to Golgotha to
see the people who had been crucified. On the way Ben-Tovit told Samuel in
detail how he had felt a pain in his right jaw on the day before, and how
he awoke at night with a terrible toothache. To illustrate it he made a
martyr's face, closing his eyes, shook his head, and groaned while the
grey-bearded Samuel nodded his head compassionately and said:
"Oh, how painful it must have been!"
Ben-Tovit was pleased with Samuel's attitude, and he repeated the story to
him, then went back to the past, when his first tooth was spoiled on the
left side. Thus, absorbed in a lively conversation, they reached Golgotha.
The sun, which was destined to shine upon the world on that terrible day,
had already set beyond the distant hills, and in the west a narrow,
purple-red strip was burning, like a stain of blood. The crosses stood out
darkly but vaguely against this background, and at the foot of the middle
cross white kneeling figures were seen indistinctly.
The crowd had long dispersed; it was growing chilly, and after a glance at
the crucified men, Ben-Tovit took Samuel by the arm and carefully turned
him in the direction toward his house. He felt that he was particularly
eloquent just then, and he was eager to finish the story of his toothache.
Thus they walked, and Ben-Tovit made a martyr's face, shook his head and
groaned skilfully, while Samuel nodded compassionately and uttered
exclamations from time to time, and from the deep, narrow defiles, out of
the distant, burning plains, rose the black night. It seemed as though it
wished to hide from the view of heaven the great crime of the earth.
THE SERPENT'S STORY
Hush! Hush! Hush! Come closer to me. Look into my eyes!
I always was a fascinating creature, tender, sensitive, and grateful. I
was wise and I was noble. And I am so flexible in the writhing of my
graceful body that it will afford you joy to watch my easy dance. Now I
shall coil up into a ring, flash my scales dimly, wind myself around
tenderly and clasp my steel body in my gentle, cold embraces. One in many!
One in many!
Hush! Hush! Look into my eyes!
You do not like my writhing and my straight, open look? Oh, my head is
heavy—therefore I sway about so quietly. Oh, my head is heavy—therefore
I look so straight ahead, as I sway about. Come closer to me. Give me a
little warmth; stroke my wise forehead with your fingers; in its fine
outlines you will find the form of a cup into which flows wisdom, the dew
of the evening-flowers. When I draw the air by my writhing, a trace is
left in it—the design of the finest of webs, the web of
dream-charms, the enchantment of noiseless movements, the inaudible hiss
of gliding lines. I am silent and I sway myself. I look ahead and I sway
myself. What strange burden am I carrying on my neck?
I love you.
I always was a fascinating creature, and loved tenderly those I loved.
Come closer to me. Do you see my white, sharp, enchanting little teeth?
Kissing, I used to bite. Not painfully, no—just a trifle. Caressing
tenderly, I used to bite a little, until the first bright little drops
appeared, until a cry came forth which sounded like the laugh produced by
tickling. That was very pleasant—think not it was unpleasant;
otherwise they whom I kissed would not come back for more kisses. It is
now that I can kiss only once—how sad—only once! One kiss for
each—how little for a loving heart, for a sensitive soul, striving
for a great union! But it is only I, the sad one, who kiss but once, and
must seek love again—he knows no other love any more: to him my one,
tender, nuptial kiss is inviolable and eternal. I am speaking to you
frankly; and when my story is ended—I will kiss you.
I love you.
Look into my eyes. Is it not true that mine is a magnificent, a powerful
look? A firm look and a straight look? And it is steadfast, like steel
forced against your heart. I look ahead and sway myself, I look and I
enchant; in my green eyes I gather your fear, your loving, fatigued,
submissive longing. Come closer to me. Now I am a queen and you dare not
fail to see my beauty; but there was a strange time—Ah, what a
strange time! Ah, what a strange time! At the mere recollection I am
agitated—Ah, what a strange time! No one loved me. No one respected
me. I was persecuted with cruel ferocity, trampled in the mud and jeered—Ah,
what a strange time it was! One in many! One in many!
I say to you: Come closer to me.
Why did they not love me? At that time I was also a fascinating creature,
but without malice; I was gentle and I danced wonderfully. But they
tortured me. They burnt me with fire. Heavy and coarse beasts trampled
upon me with the dull steps of terribly heavy feet; cold tusks of bloody
mouths tore my tender body—and in my powerless sorrow I bit the
sand, I swallowed the dust of the ground—I was dying of despair.
Crushed, I was dying every day. Every day I was dying of despair. Oh, what
a terrible time that was! The stupid forest has forgotten everything—it
does not remember that time, but you have pity on me. Come closer to me.
Have pity on me, on the offended, on the sad one, on the loving one, on
the one who dances so beautifully.
I love you.
How could I defend myself? I had only my white, wonderful, sharp little
teeth—they were good only for kisses. How could I defend myself? It
is only now that I carry on my neck this terrible burden of a head, and my
look is commanding and straight, but then my head was light and my eyes
gazed meekly. Then I had no poison yet. Oh, my head is so heavy and it is
hard for me to hold it up! Oh, I have grown tired of my look—two
stones are in my forehead, and these are my eyes. Perhaps the glittering
stones are precious—but it is hard to carry them instead of gentle
eyes—they oppress my brain. It is so hard for my head! I look ahead
and sway myself; I see you in a green mist—you are so far away. Come
closer to me.
You see, even in sorrow I am beautiful, and my look is languid because of
my love. Look into my pupil; I will narrow and widen it, and give it a
peculiar glitter—the twinkling of a star at night, the playfulness
of all precious stones—of diamonds, of green emeralds, of yellowish
topaz, of blood-red rubies. Look into my eyes: It is I, the queen—I
am crowning myself, and that which is glittering, burning and glowing—that
robs you of your reason, your freedom and your life—it is poison. It
is a drop of my poison.
How has it happened? I do not know. I did not bear ill-will to the living.
I lived and suffered. I was silent. I languished. I hid myself hurriedly
when I could hide myself; I crawled away hastily. But they have never seen
me weep—I cannot weep; and my easy dance grew ever faster and ever
more beautiful. Alone in the stillness, alone in the thicket, I danced
with sorrow in my heart—they despised my swift dance and would have
been glad to kill me as I danced. Suddenly my head began to grow heavy—How
strange it is!—My head grew heavy. Just as small and beautiful, just
as wise and beautiful, it had suddenly grown terribly heavy; it bent my
neck to the ground, and caused me pain. Now I am somewhat used to it, but
at first it was dreadfully awkward and painful. I thought I was sick.
And suddenly... Come closer to me. Look into my eyes. Hush! Hush! Hush!
And suddenly my look became heavy—it became fixed and strange—I
was even frightened! I want to glance and turn away—but cannot. I
always look straight ahead, I pierce with my eyes ever more deeply, I am
as though petrified. Look into my eyes. It is as though I am petrified, as
though everything I look upon is petrified. Look into my eyes.
I love you. Do not laugh at my frank story, or I shall be angry. Every
hour I open my sensitive heart, for all my efforts are in vain—I am
alone. My one and last kiss is full of ringing sorrow—and the one I
love is not here, and I seek love again, and I tell my tale in vain—my
heart cannot bare itself, and the poison torments me and my head grows
heavier. Am I not beautiful in my despair? Come closer to me.
I love you.
Once I was bathing in a stagnant swamp in the forest—I love to be
clean—it is a sign of noble birth, and I bathe frequently. While
bathing, dancing in the water, I saw my reflection, and as always, fell in
love with myself. I am so fond of the beautiful and the wise! And suddenly
I saw—on my forehead, among my other inborn adornments, a new,
strange sign—Was it not this sign that has brought the heaviness,
the petrified look, and the sweet taste in my mouth? Here a cross is
darkly outlined on my forehead—right here—look. Come closer to
me. Is this not strange? But I did not understand it at that time, and I
liked it. Let there be no more adornment. And on the same day, on that
same terrible day, when the cross appeared, my first kiss became also my
last—my kiss became fatal. One in many! One in many!
You love precious stones, but think, my beloved, how far more precious is
a little drop of my poison. It is such a little drop.—Have you ever
seen it? Never, never. But you shall find it out. Consider, my beloved,
how much suffering, painful humiliation, powerless rage devoured me: I had
to experience in order to bring forth this little drop. I am a queen! I am
a queen! In one drop, brought forth by myself, I carry death unto the
living, and my kingdom is limitless, even as grief is limitless, even as
death is limitless. I am queen! My look is inexorable. My dance is
terrible! I am beautiful! One in many! One in many!
Do not fall. My story is not yet ended. Come closer to me.
And then I crawled into the stupid forest, into my green dominion.
Now it is a new way, a terrible way! I was kind like a queen; and like a
queen I bowed graciously to the right and to the left. And they—they
ran away! Like a queen I bowed benevolently to the right and to the left—and
they, queer people—they ran away. What do you think? Why did they
run away? What do you think? Look into my eyes. Do you see in them a
certain glimmer and a flash? The rays of my crown blind your eyes, you are
petrified, you are lost. I shall soon dance my last dance—-do not
fall. I shall coil into rings, I shall flash my scales dimly, and I shall
clasp my steel body in my gentle, cold embraces. Here I am! Accept my only
kiss, my nuptial kiss—in it is the deadly grief of all oppressed
lives. One in many! One in many!
Bend down to me. I love you.
LOVE, FAITH AND HOPE
According to his passport, he was called Max Z. But as it was stated in
the same passport that he had no special peculiarities about his features,
I prefer to call him Mr. N+1. He represented a long line of young men who
possess wavy, dishevelled locks, straight, bold, and open looks,
well-formed and strong bodies, and very large and powerful hearts.
All these youths have loved and perpetuated their love. Some of them have
succeeded in engraving it on the tablets of history, like Henry IV;
others, like Petrarch, have made literary preserves of it; some have
availed themselves for that purpose of the newspapers, wherein the
happenings of the day are recorded, and where they figured among those who
had strangled themselves, shot themselves, or who had been shot by others;
still others, the happiest and most modest of all, perpetuated their love
by entering it in the birth records—by creating posterity.
The love of N+1 was as strong as death, as a certain writer put it; as
strong as life, he thought.
Max was firmly convinced that he was the first to have discovered the
method of loving so intensely, so unrestrainedly, so passionately, and he
regarded with contempt all who had loved before him. Still more, he was
convinced that even after him no one would love as he did, and he felt
sorry that with his death the secret of true love would be lost to
mankind. But, being a modest young man, he attributed part of his
achievement to her—to his beloved. Not that she was perfection
itself, but she came very close to it, as close as an ideal can come to
There were prettier women than she, there were wiser women, but was there
ever a better woman? Did there ever exist a woman on whose face was so
clearly and distinctly written that she alone was worthy of love—of
infinite, pure, and devoted love? Max knew that there never were, and that
there never would be such women. In this respect, he had no special
peculiarities, just as Adam did not have them, just as you, my reader, do
not have them. Beginning with Grandmother Eve and ending with the woman
upon whom your eyes were directed—before you read these lines—the
same inscription is to be clearly and distinctly read on the face of every
woman at a certain time. The difference is only in the quality of the ink.
A very nasty day set in—it was Monday or Tuesday—when Max
noticed with a feeling of great terror that the inscription upon the dear
face was fading. Max rubbed his eyes, looked first from a distance, then
from all sides; but the fact was undeniable—the inscription was
fading. Soon the last letter also disappeared—the face was white
like the recently whitewashed wall of a new house. But he was convinced
that the inscription had disappeared not of itself, but that some one had
wiped it off. Who?
Max went to his friend, John N. He knew and he felt sure that such a true,
disinterested, and honest friend there never was and never would be. And
in this respect, too, as you see, Max had no special peculiarities. He
went to his friend for the purpose of taking his advice concerning the
mysterious disappearance of the inscription, and found John N. exactly at
the moment when he was wiping away that inscription by his kisses. It was
then that the records of the local occurrences were enriched by another
unfortunate incident, entitled "An Attempt at Suicide."
. . . . . . . .
It is said that death always comes in due time. Evidently, that time had
not yet arrived for Max, for he remained alive—that is, he ate,
drank, walked, borrowed money and did not return it, and altogether he
showed by a series of psycho-physiological acts that he was a living
being, possessing a stomach, a will, and a mind—but his soul was
dead, or, to be more exact, it was absorbed in lethargic sleep. The sound
of human speech reached his ears, his eyes saw tears and laughter, but all
that did not stir a single echo, a single emotion in his soul. I do not
know what space of time had elapsed. It may have been one year, and it may
have been ten years, for the length of such intermissions in life depends
on how quickly the actor succeeds in changing his costume.
One beautiful day—it was Wednesday or Thursday—Max awakened
completely. A careful and guarded liquidation of his spiritual property
made it clear that a fair piece of Max's soul, the part which contained
his love for woman and for his friends, was dead, like a
paralysis-stricken hand or foot. But what remained was, nevertheless,
enough for life. That was love for and faith in mankind. Then Max, having
renounced personal happiness, started to work for the happiness of others.
That was a new phase—he believed.
All the evil that is tormenting the world seemed to him to be concentrated
in a "red flower," in one red flower. It was but necessary to tear it
down, and the incessant, heart-rending cries and moans which rise to the
indifferent sky from all points of the earth, like its natural breathing,
would be silenced. The evil of the world, he believed, lay in the evil
will and in the madness of the people. They themselves were to blame for
being unhappy, and they could be happy if they wished. This seemed so
clear and simple that Max was dumfounded in his amazement at human
stupidity. Humanity reminded him of a crowd huddled together in a spacious
temple and panic-stricken at the cry of "Fire!"
Instead of passing calmly through the wide doors and saving themselves,
the maddened people, with the cruelty of frenzied beasts, cry and roar,
crush one another and perish—not from the fire (for it is only
imaginary), but from their own madness. It is enough sometimes when one
sensible, firm word is uttered to this crowd—the crowd calms down
and imminent death is thus averted. Let, then, a hundred calm, rational
voices be raised to mankind, showing them where to escape and where the
danger lies—and heaven will be established on earth, if not
immediately, then at least within a very brief time.
Max began to utter his word of wisdom. How he uttered it you will learn
later. The name of Max was mentioned in the newspapers, shouted in the
market places, blessed and cursed; whole books were written on what Max
N+1 had done, what he was doing, and what he intended to do. He appeared
here and there and everywhere. He was seen standing at the head of the
crowd, commanding it; he was seen in chains and under the knife of the
guillotine. In this respect Max did not have any special peculiarities,
either. A preacher of humility and peace, a stern bearer of fire and
sword, he was the same Max—Max the believer. But while he was doing
all this, time kept passing on. His nerves were shattered; his wavy locks
became thin and his head began to look like that of Elijah the Prophet;
here and there he felt a piercing pain....
The earth continued to turn light-mindedly around the sun, now coming
nearer to it, now retreating coquettishly, and giving the impression that
it fixed all its attention upon its household friend, the moon; the days
were replaced by other days, and the dark nights by other dark nights,
with such pedantic German punctuality and correctness that all the
artistic natures were compelled to move over to the far north by degrees,
where the devil himself would break his head endeavouring to distinguish
between day and night—when suddenly something happened to Max.
Somehow it happened that Max became misunderstood. He had calmed the crowd
by his words of wisdom many a time before and had saved them from mutual
destruction but now he was not understood. They thought that it was he who
had shouted "Fire!" With all the eloquence of which he was capable he
assured them that he was exerting all his efforts for their sake alone;
that he himself needed absolutely nothing, for he was alone, childless;
that he was ready to forget the sad misunderstanding and serve them again
with faith and truth—but all in vain. They would not trust him. And
in this respect Max did not have any special peculiarities, either. The
sad incident ended for Max in a new intermission.
. . . . . . . .
Max was alive, as was positively established by medical experts, who had
made a series of simple tests. Thus, when they pricked a needle into his
foot, he shook his foot and tried to remove the needle. When they put food
before him, he ate it, but he did not walk and did not ask for any loans,
which clearly testified to the complete decline of his energy. His soul
was dead—as much as the soul can be dead while the body is alive. To
Max all that he had loved and believed in was dead. Impenetrable gloom
wrapped his soul. There were neither feelings in it, nor desires, nor
thoughts. And there was not a more unhappy man in the world than Max, if
he was a man at all.
But he was a man.
According to the calendar, it was Friday or Saturday, when Max awakened as
from a prolonged sleep. With the pleasant sensation of an owner to whom
his property has been restored which had wrongly been taken from him, Max
realised that he was once more in possession of all his five senses.
His sight reported to him that he was all alone, in a place which might in
justice be called either a room or a chimney. Each wall of the room was
about a metre and a half wide and about ten metres high. The walls were
straight, white, smooth, with no openings, except one through which food
was brought to Max. An electric lamp was burning brightly on the ceiling.
It was burning all the time, so that Max did not know now what darkness
was. There was no furniture in the room, and Max had to lie on the stone
floor. He lay curled together, as the narrowness of the room did not
permit him to stretch himself.
His sense of hearing reported to him that until the day of his death he
would not leave this room.... Having reported this, his hearing sank into
inactivity, for not the slightest sound came from without, except the
sounds which Max himself produced, tossing about, or shouting until he was
hoarse, until he lost his voice.
Max looked into himself. In contrast to the outward light which never went
out he saw within himself impenetrable, heavy, and motionless darkness. In
that darkness his love and faith were buried.
Max did not know whether time was moving or whether it stood motionless.
The same even, white light poured down on him—the same silence and
quiet. Only by the beating of his heart Max could judge that Chronos had
not left his chariot. His body was aching ever more from the unnatural
position in which it lay, and the constant light and silence were growing
ever more tormenting. How happy are they for whom night exists, near whom
people are shouting, making noise, beating drums; who may sit on a chair,
with their feet hanging down, or lie with their feet outstretched, placing
the head in a corner and covering it with the hands in order to create the
illusion of darkness.
Max made an effort to recall and to picture to himself what there is in
life; human faces, voices, the stars.... He knew that his eyes would never
in life see that again. He knew it, and yet he lived. He could have
destroyed himself, for there is no position in which a man can not do
that, but instead Max worried about his health, trying to eat, although he
had no appetite, solving mathematical problems to occupy his mind so as
not to lose his reason. He struggled against death as if it were not his
deliverer, but his enemy; and as if life were to him not the worst of
infernal tortures—but love, faith, and happiness. Gloom in the Past,
the grave in the Future, and infernal tortures in the Present—and
yet he lived. Tell me, John N., where did he get the strength for that?
A misty February twilight is descending over the ocean. The newly fallen
snow has melted and the warm air is heavy and damp. The northwestern wind
from the sea is driving it silently toward the mainland, bringing in its
wake a sharply fragrant mixture of brine, of boundless space, of
undisturbed, free and mysterious distances.
In the sky, where the sun is setting, a noiseless destruction of an
unknown city, of an unknown land, is taking place; structures, magnificent
palaces with towers, are crumbling; mountains are silently splitting
asunder and, bending slowly, are tumbling down. But no cry, no moan, no
crash of the fall reaches the earth—the monstrous play of shadows is
noiseless; and the great surface of the ocean, as though ready for
something, as though waiting for something, reflecting it faintly, listens
to it in silence.
Silence reigns also in the fishermen's settlement. The fishermen have gone
fishing; the children are sleeping and only the restless women, gathered
in front of the houses, are talking softly, lingering before going to
sleep, beyond which there is always the unknown.
The light of the sea and the sky behind the houses, and the houses and
their bark roofs are black and sharp, and there is no perspective: the
houses that are far and those that are near seem to stand side by side as
if attached to one another, the roofs and the walls embracing one another,
pressing close to one another, seized with the same uneasiness before the
Right here there is also a little church, its side wall formed crudely of
rough granite, with a deep window which seems to be concealing itself.
A cautious sound of women's voices is heard, softened by uneasiness and by
the approaching night.
"We can sleep peacefully to-night. The sea is calm and the rollers are
breaking like the clock in the steeple of old Dan."
"They will come back with the morning tide. My husband told me that they
will come back with the morning tide."
"Perhaps they will come back with the evening tide. It is better for us to
think they will come back in the evening, so that our waiting will not be
"But I must build a fire in the stove."
"When the men are away from home, one does not feel like starting a fire.
I never build a fire, even when I am awake; it seems to me that fire
brings a storm. It is better to be quiet and silent."
"And listen to the wind? No, that is terrible."
"I love the fire. I should like to sleep near the fire, but my husband
does not allow it."
"Why doesn't old Dan come here? It is time to strike the hour."
"Old Dan will play in the church to-night; he cannot bear such silence as
this. When the sea is roaring, old Dan hides himself and is silent—he
is afraid of the sea. But, as soon as the waves calm down, Dan crawls out
quietly and sits down to play his organ."
The women laugh softly.
"He reproaches the sea."
"He is complaining to God against it. He knows how to complain well. One
feels like crying when he tells God about those who have perished at sea.
Mariet, have you seen Dan to-day? Why are you silent, Mariet?"
Mariet is the adopted daughter of the abbot, in whose house old Dan, the
organist, lives. Absorbed in thought, she does not hear the question.
"Mariet, do you hear? Anna is asking you whether you have seen Dan
"Yes, I think I have. I don't remember. He is in his room. He does not
like to leave his room when father goes fishing."
"Dan is fond of the city priests. He cannot get used to the idea of a
priest who goes fishing, like an ordinary fisherman, and who goes to sea
with our husbands."
"He is simply afraid of the sea."
"You may say what you like, but I believe we have the very best priest in
"That's true. I fear him, but I love him as a father."
"May God forgive me, but I would have been proud and always happy, if I
were his adopted daughter. Do you hear, Mariet?"
The women laugh softly and tenderly.
"Do you hear, Mariet?"
"I do. But aren't you tired of always laughing at the same thing? Yes, I
am his daughter—Is it so funny that you will laugh all your life at
The women commence to justify themselves confusedly.
"But he laughs at it himself."
"The abbot is fond of jesting. He says so comically: 'My adopted
daughter,' and then he strikes himself with his fist and shouts: 'She's my
real daughter, not my adopted daughter. She's my real daughter.'"
"I have never known my mother, but this laughter would have been
unpleasant to her. I feel it," says Mariet.
The women grow silent. The breakers strike against the shore dully with
the regularity of a great pendulum. The unknown city, wrapped with fire
and smoke, is still being destroyed in the sky; yet it does not fall down
completely; and the sea is waiting. Mariet lifts her lowered head.
"What were you going to say, Mariet?"
"Didn't he pass here?" asks Mariet in a low voice.
Another woman answers timidly:
"Hush! Why do you speak of him? I fear him. No, he did not pass this way."
"He did. I saw from the window that he passed by."
"You are mistaken; it was some one else."
"Who else could that be? Is it possible to make a mistake, if you have
once seen him walk? No one walks as he does."
"Naval officers, Englishmen, walk like that."
"No. Haven't I seen naval officers in the city? They walk firmly, but
openly; even a girl could trust them."
"Oh, look out!"
Frightened and cautious laughter.
"No, don't laugh. He walks without looking at the ground; he puts his feet
down as if the ground itself must take them cautiously and place them."
"But if there's a stone on the road? We have many stones here."
"He does not bend down, nor does he hide his head when a strong wind
"Of course not. Of course not. He does not hide his head."
"Is it true that he is handsome? Who has seen him at close range?"
"I," says Mariet.
"No, no, don't speak of him; I shall not be able to sleep all night. Since
they settled on that hill, in that accursed castle, I know no rest; I am
dying of fear. You are also afraid. Confess it."
"Well, not all of us are afraid."
"What have they come here for? There are two of them. What is there for
them to do here in our poor land, where we have nothing but stones and the
"They drink gin. The sailor comes every morning for gin."
"They are simply drunkards who don't want anybody to disturb their
drinking. When the sailor passes along the street he leaves behind him an
odour as of an open bottle of rum."
"But is that their business—drinking gin? I fear them. Where is the
ship that brought them here? They came from the sea."
"I saw the ship," says Mariet.
The women begin to question her in amazement.
"You? Why, then, didn't you say anything about it? Tell us what you know."
Mariet maintains silence. Suddenly one of the women exclaims:
"Ah, look! They have lit a lamp. There is a light in the castle!"
On the left, about half a mile away from the village, a faint light flares
up, a red little coal in the dark blue of the twilight and the distance.
There upon a high rock, overhanging the sea, stands an ancient castle, a
grim heritage of grey and mysterious antiquity. Long destroyed, long
ruined, it blends with the rocks, continuing and delusively ending them by
the broken, dented line of its batteries, its shattered roofs, its
half-crumbled towers. Now the rocks and the castle are covered with a
smoky shroud of twilight. They seem airy, devoid of any weight, and almost
as fantastic as those monstrous heaps of structures which are piled up and
which are falling so noiselessly in the sky. But while the others are
falling this one stands, and a live light reddens against the deep blue—and
it is just as strange a sight as if a human hand were to kindle a light in
Turning their heads in that direction, the women look on with frightened
"Do you see," says one of them. "It is even worse than a light on a
cemetery. Who needs a light among the tombstones?"
"It is getting cold toward night and the sailor must have thrown some
branches into the fireplace, that's all. At least, I think so," says
"And I think that the abbot should have gone there with holy water long
"Or with the gendarmes! If that isn't the devil himself, it is surely one
of his assistants."
"It is impossible to live peacefully with such neighbours close by."
"I am afraid for the children."
"And for your soul?"
Two elderly women rise silently and go away. Then a third, an old woman,
"We must ask the abbot whether it isn't a sin to look at such a light."
She goes off. The smoke in the sky is ever increasing and the fire is
subsiding, and the unknown city is already near its dark end. The sea
odour is growing ever sharper and stronger. Night is coming from the
Their heads turned, the women watch the departing old woman. Then they
turn again toward the light.
Mariet, as though defending some one, says softly:
"There can't be anything bad in light. For there is light in the candles
on God's altar."
"But there is also fire for Satan in hell," says another old woman,
heavily and angrily, and then goes off. Now four remain, all young girls.
"I am afraid," says one, pressing close to her companion.
The noiseless and cold conflagration in the sky is ended; the city is
destroyed; the unknown land is in ruins. There are no longer any walls or
falling towers; a heap of pale blue gigantic shapes have fallen silently
into the abyss of the ocean and the night. A young little star glances at
the earth with frightened eyes; it feels like coming out of the clouds
near the castle, and because of its inmost neighbourship the heavy castle
grows darker, and the light in its window seems redder and darker.
"Good night, Mariet," says the girl who sat alone, and then she goes off.
"Let us also go; it is getting cold," say the other two, rising. "Good
"Why are you alone, Mariet? Why are you alone, Mariet, in the daytime and
at night, on week days and on merry holidays? Do you love to think of your
"Yes, I do. I love to think of Philipp."
The girl laughs.
"But you don't want to see him. When he goes out to sea, you look at the
sea for hours; when he comes back—you are not there. Where are you
"I love to think of Philipp."
"Like a blind man he gropes among the houses, forever calling: 'Mariet!
Mariet! Have you not seen Mariet?'"
They go off laughing and repeating:
"Good night, Mariet. 'Have you not seen Mariet! Mariet!'"
The girl is left alone. She looks at the light in the castle. She hears
soft, irresolute footsteps.
Old Dan, of small stature, slim, a coughing old man with a clean-shaven
face, comes out from behind the church. Because of his irresoluteness, or
because of the weakness of his eyes, he steps uncertainly, touching the
ground cautiously and with a certain degree of fear.
"Is that you, Dan?"
"The sea is calm, Dan. Are you going to play to-night?"
"Oho! I shall ring the bell seven times. Seven times I shall ring it and
send to God seven of His holy hours."
He takes the rope of the bell and strikes the hour—seven ringing and
slow strokes. The wind plays with them, it drops them to the ground, but
before they touch it, it catches them tenderly, sways them softly and with
a light accompaniment of whistling carries them off to the dark coast.
"Oh, no!" mutters Dan. "Bad hours, they fall to the ground. They are not
His holy hours and He will send them back. Oh, a storm is coming! O Lord,
have mercy on those who are perishing at sea!"
He mutters and coughs.
"Dan, I have seen the ship again to-day. Do you hear, Dan?"
"Many ships are going out to sea."
"But this one had black sails. It was again going toward the sun."
"Many ships are going out to sea. Listen, Mariet, there was once a wise
king—Oh, how wise he was!—and he commanded that the sea be
lashed with chains. Oho!"
"I know, Dan. You told me about it."
"Oho, with chains! But it did not occur to him to christen the sea. Why
did it not occur to him to do that, Mariet? Ah, why did he not think of
it? We have no such kings now."
"What would have happened, Dan?"
He whispers softly:
"All the rivers and the streams have already been christened, and the
cross of the Lord has touched even many stagnant swamps; only the sea
remained—that nasty, salty, deep pool."
"Why do you scold it? It does not like to be scolded," Mariet reproaches
"Oho! Let the sea not like it—I am not afraid of it. The sea thinks
it is also an organ and music for God. It is a nasty, hissing, furious
pool. A salty spit of satan. Fie! Fie! Fie!"
He goes to the doors at the entrance of the church muttering angrily,
threatening, as though celebrating some victory:
"Dan! Why don't you light candles when you play? Dan, I don't love my
betrothed. Do you hear, Dan?"
Dan turns his head unwillingly.
"I have heard it long ago, Mariet. Tell it to your father."
"Where is my mother, Dan?"
"Oho! You are mad again, Mariet? You are gazing too much at the sea—yes.
I am going to tell—I am going to tell your father, yes."
He enters the church. Soon the sounds of the organ are heard. Faint in the
first, long-drawn, deeply pensive chords, they rapidly gain strength. And
with a passionate sadness, their human melodies now wrestle with the dull
and gloomy plaintiveness of the tireless surf. Like seagulls in a storm,
the sounds soar amidst the high waves, unable to rise higher on their
overburdened wings. The stern ocean holds them captive by its wild and
eternal charms. But when they have risen, the lowered ocean roars more
dully; now they rise still higher—and the heavy, almost voiceless
pile of water is shaking helplessly. Varied voices resound through the
expanse of the resplendent distances. Day has one sorrow, night has
another sorrow, and the proud, ever rebellious, black ocean suddenly seems
to become an eternal slave.
Her cheek pressed against the cold stone of the wall, Mariet is listening,
all alone. She is growing reconciled to something; she is grieving ever
Suddenly, firm footsteps are heard on the road; the cobblestones are
creaking under the vigorous steps—and a man appears from behind the
church. He walks slowly and sternly, like those who do not roam in vain,
and who know the earth from end to end. He carries his hat in his hands;
he is thinking of something, looking ahead. On his broad shoulders is set
a round, strong head, with short hair; his dark profile is stern and
commandingly haughty, and, although the man is dressed in a partly
military uniform, he does not subject his body to the discipline of his
clothes, but masters it as a free man. The folds of his clothes fall
Mariet greets him:
He walks on quite a distance, then stops and turns his head slowly. He
waits silently, as though regretting to part with his silence.
"Did you say 'Good evening' to me?" he asks at last.
"Yes, to you. Good evening."
He looks at her silently.
"Well, good evening. This is the first time I have been greeted in this
land, and I was surprised when I heard your voice. Come nearer to me. Why
don't you sleep when all are sleeping? Who are you?"
"I am the daughter of the abbot of this place."
"Have priests children? Or are there special priests in your land?"
"Yes, the priests are different here."
"Now, I recall, Khorre told me something about the priest of this place."
"Who is Khorre?"
"My sailor. The one who buys gin in your settlement."
He suddenly laughs again and continues:
"Yes, he told me something. Was it your father who cursed the Pope and
declared his own church independent?"
"And he makes his own prayers? And goes to sea with the fishermen? And
punishes with his own hands those who disobey him?"
"Yes. I am his daughter. My name is Mariet. And what is your name?"
"I have many names. Which one shall I tell you?"
"The one by which you were christened."
"What makes you think that I was christened?"
"Then tell me the name by which your mother called you."
"What makes you think that I had a mother? I do not know my mother."
Mariet says softly:
"Neither do I know my mother."
Both are silent. They look at each other kindly.
"Is that so?" he says. "You, too, don't know your mother? Well, then, call
"Yes. Do you like the name? I have invented it myself—Haggart. It's
a pity that you have been named already. I would have invented a fine name
Suddenly he frowned.
"Tell me, Mariet, why is your land so mournful? I walk along your paths
and only the cobblestones creak under my feet. And on both sides are huge
"That is on the road to the castle—none of us ever go there. Is it
true that these stones stop the passersby with the question: 'Where are
"No, they are mute. Why is your land so mournful? It is almost a week
since I've seen my shadow. It is impossible! I don't see my shadow."
"Our land is very cheerful and full of joy. It is still winter now, but
soon spring will come, and sunshine will come back with it. You shall see
He speaks with contempt:
"And you are sitting and waiting calmly for its return? You must be a fine
set of people! Ah, if I only had a ship!"
"What would you have done?"
He looks at her morosely and shakes his head suspiciously.
"You are too inquisitive, little girl. Has any one sent you over to me?"
"No. What do you need a ship for?"
Haggart laughs good-naturedly and ironically:
"She asks what a man needs a ship for. You must be a fine set of people.
You don't know what a man needs a ship for! And you speak seriously? If I
had a ship I would have rushed toward the sun. And it would not matter how
it sets its golden sails, I would overtake it with my black sails. And I
would force it to outline my shadow on the deck of my ship. And I would
put my foot upon it this way!"
He stamps his foot firmly. Then Mariet asks, cautiously:
"Did you say with black sails?"
"That's what I said. Why do you always ask questions? I have no ship, you
He puts on his hat, but does not move. Mariet maintains silence. Then he
says, very angrily:
"Perhaps you, too, like the music of your old Dan, that old fool?"
"You know his name?"
"Khorre told me it. I don't like his music, no, no. Bring me a good,
honest dog, or beast, and he will howl. You will say that he knows no
music—he does, but he can't bear falsehood. Here is music. Listen!"
He takes Mariet by the hand and turns her roughly, her face toward the
"Do you hear? This is music. Your Dan has robbed the sea and the wind. No,
he is worse than a thief, he is a deceiver! He should be hanged on a
sailyard—your Dan! Good-bye!"
He goes, but after taking two steps he turns around.
"I said good-bye to you. Go home. Let this fool play alone. Well, go."
Mariet is silent, motionless. Haggart laughs:
"Are you afraid perhaps that I have forgotten your name? I remember it.
Your name is Mariet. Go, Mariet."
She says softly:
"I have seen your ship."
Haggart advances to her quickly and bends down. His face is terrible.
"It is not true. When?"
"It is not true! Which way was it going?"
"Toward the sun."
"Last evening I was drunk and I slept. But this is not true. I have never
seen it. You are testing me. Beware!"
"Shall I tell you if I see it again?"
"How can you tell me?"
"I shall come up your hill."
Haggart looks at her attentively.
"If you are only telling me the truth. What sort of people are there in
your land—false or not? In the lands I know, all the people are
false. Has any one else seen that ship?"
"I don't know. I was alone on the shore. Now I see that it was not your
ship. You are not glad to hear of it."
Haggart is silent, as though he has forgotten her presence.
"You have a pretty uniform. You are silent? I shall come up to you."
Haggart is silent. His dark profile is stern and wildly gloomy; every
motion of his powerful body, every fold of his clothes, is full of the
dull silence of the taciturnity of long hours, or days, or perhaps of a
"Your sailor will not kill me? You are silent. I have a betrothed. His
name is Philipp, but I don't love him. You are now like that rock which
lies on the road leading to the castle."
Haggart turns around silently and starts.
"I also remember your name. Your name is Haggart."
He goes away.
"Haggart!" calls Mariet, but he has already disappeared behind the house.
Only the creaking of the scattered cobblestones is heard, dying away in
the misty air. Dan, who has taken a rest, is playing again; he is telling
God about those who have perished at sea.
The night is growing darker. Neither the rock nor the castle is visible
now; only the light in the window is redder and brighter.
The dull thuds of the tireless breakers are telling the story of different
A strong wind is tossing the fragment of a sail which is hanging over the
large, open window. The sail is too small to cover the entire window, and,
through the gaping hole, the dark night is breathing inclement weather.
There is no rain, but the warm wind, saturated with the sea, is heavy and
Here in the tower live Haggart and his sailor, Khorre. Both are sleeping
now a heavy, drunken sleep. On the table and in the corners of the room
there are empty bottles, and the remains of food; the only taburet is
overturned, lying on one side. Toward evening the sailor got up, lit a
large illumination lamp, and was about to do more, but he was overcome by
intoxication again and fell asleep upon his thin mattress of straw and
seagrass. Tossed by the wind, the flame of the illumination-lamp is
quivering in yellow, restless spots over the uneven, mutilated walls,
losing itself in the dark opening of the door, which leads to the other
rooms of the castle.
Haggart lies on his back, and the same quivering yellow shades run
noiselessly over his strong forehead, approach his closed eyes, his
straight, sharply outlined nose, and, tossing about in confusion, rush
back to the wall. The breathing of the sleeping man is deep and uneven;
from time to time his heavy, strange hand lifts itself, makes several
weak, unfinished movements, and falls down on his breast helplessly.
Outside the window the breakers are roaring and raging, beating against
the rocks—this is the second day a storm is raging in the ocean. The
ancient tower is quivering from the violent blows of the waves. It
responds to the storm with the rustling of the falling plaster, with the
rattling of the little cobblestones as they are torn down, with the
whisper and moans of the wind which has lost its way in the passages. It
whispers and mutters like an old woman.
The sailor begins to feel cold on the stone floor, on which the wind
spreads itself like water; he tosses about, folds his legs under himself,
draws his head into his shoulders, gropes for his imaginary clothes, but
is unable to wake up—his intoxication produced by a two days' spree
is heavy and severe. But now the wind whines more powerfully than before;
something heaves a deep groan. Perhaps a part of a destroyed wall has sunk
into the sea. The quivering yellow spots commence to toss about upon the
crooked wall more desperately, and Khorre awakes.
He sits up on his mattress, looks around, but is unable to understand
The wind is hissing like a robber summoning other robbers, and filling the
night with disquieting phantoms. It seems as if the sea were full of
sinking vessels, of people who are drowning and desperately struggling
with death. Voices are heard. Somewhere near by people are shouting,
scolding each other, laughing and singing, like madmen, or talking
sensibly and rapidly—it seems that soon one will see a strange human
face distorted by horror or laughter, or fingers bent convulsively. But
there is a strong smell of the sea, and that, together with the cold,
brings Khorre to his senses.
"Noni!" he calls hoarsely, but Haggart does not hear him. After a moment's
thought, he calls once more:
"Captain. Noni! Get up."
But Haggart does not answer and the sailor mutters:
"Noni is drunk and he sleeps. Let him sleep. Oh, what a cold night it is.
There isn't enough warmth in it even to warm your nose. I am cold. I feel
cold and lonesome, Noni. I can't drink like that, although everybody knows
I am a drunkard. But it is one thing to drink, and another to drown in gin—that's
an entirely different matter. Noni—you are like a drowned man,
simply like a corpse. I feel ashamed for your sake, Noni. I shall drink
He rises, and staggering, finds an unopened bottle and drinks.
"A fine wind. They call this a storm—do you hear, Noni? They call
this a storm. What will they call a real storm?"
He drinks again.
"A fine wind!"
He goes over to the window and, pushing aside the corner of the sail,
"Not a single light on the sea, or in the village. They have hidden
themselves and are sleeping—they are waiting for the storm to pass.
B-r-r, how cold! I would have driven them all out to sea; it is mean to go
to sea only when the weather is calm. That is cheating the sea. I am a
pirate, that's true; my name is Khorre, and I should have been hanged long
ago on a yard, that's true, too—but I shall never allow myself such
meanness as to cheat the sea. Why did you bring me to this hole, Noni?"
He picks up some brushwood, and throws it into the fireplace.
"I love you, Noni. I am now going to start a fire to warm your feet. I
used to be your nurse, Noni; but you have lost your reason—that's
true. I am a wise man, but I don't understand your conduct at all. Why did
you drop your ship? You will be hanged, Noni, you will be hanged, and I
will dangle by your side. You have lost your reason, that's true!"
He starts a fire, then prepares food and drink.
"What will you say when you wake up? 'Fire.' And I will answer, 'Here it
is.' Then you will say, 'Something to drink.' And I will answer, 'Here it
is.' And then you will drink your fill again, and I will drink with you,
and you will prate nonsense. How long is this going to last? We have lived
this way two months now, or perhaps two years, or twenty years—I am
drowning in gin—I don't understand your conduct at all, Noni."
"Either I have lost my mind from this gin, or a ship is being wrecked near
by. How they are crying!"
He looks out of the window.
"No, no one is here. It is the wind. The wind feels weary, and it plays
all by itself. It has seen many shipwrecks, and now it is inventing. The
wind itself is crying; the wind itself is scolding and sobbing; and the
wind itself is laughing—the rogue! But if you think that this rag
with which I have covered the window is a sail, and that this ruin of a
castle is a three-masted brig, you are a fool! We are not going anywhere!
We are standing securely at our moorings, do you hear?"
He pushes the sleeping man cautiously.
"Get up, Noni. I feel lonesome. If we must drink, let's drink together—I
feel lonesome. Noni!"
Haggart awakens, stretches himself and says, without opening his eyes:
"Here it is."
"Something to drink."
"Here it is! A fine wind, Noni. I looked out of the window, and the sea
splashed into my eyes. It is high tide now and the water-dust flies up to
the tower. I feel lonesome, Noni. I want to speak to you. Don't be angry!"
"Soon the fire will burn better. I don't understand your actions. Don't be
angry, Noni, but I don't understand your actions! I am afraid that you
have lost your mind."
"Did you drink again?"
"Give me some."
He drinks from the mouth of the bottle lying on the floor, his eyes
wandering over the crooked mutilated walls, whose every projection and
crack is now lighted by the bright flame in the fireplace. He is not quite
sure yet whether he is awake, or whether it is all a dream. With each
strong gust of wind the flame is hurled from the fireplace, and then the
entire tower seems to dance—the last shadows melt and rush off into
the open door.
"Don't drink it all at once, Noni! Not all at once!" says the sailor and
gently takes the bottle away from him. Haggart seats himself and clasps
his head with both hands.
"I have a headache. What is that cry? Was there a shipwreck?"
"No, Noni. It is the wind playing roguishly."
"Give me the bottle."
He drinks a little more and sets the bottle on the table. Then he paces
the room, straightening his shoulders and his chest, and looks out of the
window. Khorre looks over his shoulder and whispers:
"Not a single light. It is dark and deserted. Those who had to die have
died already, and the cautious cowards are sitting on the solid earth."
Haggart turns around and says, wiping his face:
"When I am intoxicated, I hear voices and singing. Does that happen to
you, too, Khorre? Who is that singing now?"
"The wind is singing, Noni—only the wind."
"No, but who else? It seems to me a human being is singing, a woman is
singing, and others are laughing and shouting something. Is that all
nothing but the wind?"
"Only the wind."
"Why does the wind deceive me?" says Haggart haughtily.
"It feels lonesome, Noni, just as I do, and it laughs at the human beings.
Have you heard the wind lying like this and mocking in the open sea? There
it tells the truth, but here—it frightens the people on shore and
mocks them. The wind does not like cowards. You know it."
Haggart says morosely:
"I heard their organist playing not long ago in church. He lies."
"They are all liars."
"No!" exclaims Haggart angrily. "Not all. There are some who tell the
truth there, too. I shall cut your ears off if you will slander honest
people. Do you hear?"
They are silent; they listen to the wild music of the sea. The wind has
evidently grown mad. Having taken into its embrace a multitude of
instruments with which human beings produce their music—harps,
reed-pipes, priceless violins, heavy drums and brass trumpets—it
breaks them all, together with a wave, against the sharp rocks. It dashes
them and bursts into laughter—only thus does the wind understand
music—each time in the death of an instrument, each time in the
breaking of strings, in the snapping of the clanging brass. Thus does the
mad musician understand music. Haggart heaves a deep sigh and with some
amazement, like a man just awakened from sleep, looks around on all sides.
Then he commands shortly:
"Give me my pipe."
"Here it is."
Both commence to smoke.
"Don't be angry, Noni," says the sailor. "You have become so angry that
one can't come near you at all. May I chat with you?"
"There are some who do tell the truth there, too," says Haggart sternly,
emitting rings of smoke.
"How shall I say it you, Noni?" answers the sailor cautiously but
stubbornly. "There are no truthful people there. It has been so ever since
the deluge. At that time all the honest people went out to sea, and only
the cowards and liars remained upon the solid earth."
Haggart is silent for a minute; then he takes the pipe from his mouth and
"Have you invented it yourself?"
"I think so," says Khorre modestly.
"Clever! And it was worth teaching you sacred history for that! Were you
taught by a priest?"
"Yes. In prison. At that time I was as innocent as a dove. That's also
from sacred scriptures, Noni. That's what they always say there."
"He was a fool! It was not necessary to teach you, but to hang you," says
Haggart, adding morosely: "Don't talk nonsense, sailor. Hand me a bottle."
They drink. Khorre stamps his foot against the stone floor and asks:
"Do you like this motionless floor?"
"I should have liked to have the deck of a ship dancing under my feet."
"Noni!" exclaims the sailor enthusiastically. "Noni! Now I hear real
words! Let us go away from here. I cannot live like this. I am drowning in
gin. I don't understand your actions at all, Noni! You have lost your
mind. Reveal yourself to me, my boy. I was your nurse. I nursed you, Noni,
when your father brought you on board ship. I remember how the city was
burning then and we were putting out to sea, and I didn't know what to do
with you; you whined like a little pig in the cook's room. I even wanted
to throw you overboard—you annoyed me so much. Ah, Noni, it is all
so touching that I can't bear to recall it. I must have a drink. Take a
drink, too, my boy, but not all at once, not all at once!"
They drink. Haggart paces the room heavily and slowly, like a man who is
imprisoned in a dungeon but does not want to escape.
"I feel sad," he says, without looking at Khorre. Khorre, as though
understanding, shakes his head in assent.
"Sad? I understand. Since then?"
"Ever since then."
"Ever since we drowned those people? They cried so loudly."
"I did not hear their cry. But this I heard—something snapped in my
heart, Khorre. Always sadness, everywhere sadness! Let me drink!"
"He who cried—am I perhaps afraid of him, Khorre? That would be
fine! Tears were trickling from his eyes; he wept like one who is
unfortunate. Why did he do that? Perhaps he came from a land where the
people had never heard of death—what do you think, sailor?"
"I don't remember him, Noni. You speak so much about him, while I don't
"He was a fool," says Haggart. "He spoilt his death for himself, and
spoilt me my life. I curse him, Khorre. May he be cursed. But that doesn't
"They have good gin on this coast," says Khorre. "He'll pass easily, Noni.
If you have cursed him there will be no delay; he'll slip into hell like
Haggart shakes his head:
"No, Khorre, no! I am sad. Ah, sailor, why have I stopped here, where I
hear the sea? I should go away, far away on land, where the people don't
know the sea at all, where the people have never heard about the sea—a
thousand miles away, five thousand miles away!"
"There is no such land."
"There is, Khorre. Let us drink and laugh, Khorre. That organist lies.
Sing something for me, Khorre—you sing well. In your hoarse voice I
hear the creaking of ropes. Your refrain is like a sail that is torn by
the storm. Sing, sailor!"
Khorre nods his head gloomily.
"No, I will not sing."
"Then I shall force you to pray as they prayed!"
"You will not force me to pray, either. You are the Captain, and you may
kill me, and here is your revolver. It is loaded, Noni. And now I am going
to speak the truth, Captain! Khorre, the boatswain, speaks to you in the
name of the entire crew."
"Drop this performance, Khorre. There is no crew here. You'd better drink
"But the crew is waiting for you, you know it. Captain, is it your
intention to return to the ship and assume command again?"
"Captain, is it perhaps your intention to go to the people on the coast
and live with them?"
"I can't understand your actions, Noni. What do you intend to do,
Haggart drinks silently.
"Not all at once, Noni, not at once. Captain, do you intend to stay in
this hole and wait until the police dogs come from the city? Then they
will hang us, and not upon a mast, but simply on one of their foolish
"Yes. The wind is getting stronger. Do you hear, Khorre? The wind is
"And the gold which we have buried here?" He points below, with his
"The gold? Take it and go with it wherever you like."
The sailor says angrily:
"You are a bad man, Noni. You have only set foot on earth a little while
ago, and you already have the thoughts of a traitor. That's what the earth
"Be silent, Khorre. I am listening. Our sailors are singing. Do you hear?
No, that's the wine rushing to my head. I'll be drunk soon. Give me
"Perhaps you will go to the priest? He would absolve your sins."
"Silence!" roars Haggart, clutching at his revolver.
Silence. The storm is increasing. Haggart paces the room in agitation,
striking against the walls. He mutters something abruptly. Suddenly he
seizes the sail and tears it down furiously, admitting the salty wind. The
illumination lamp is extinguished and the flame in the fireplace tosses
about wildly—like Haggart.
"Why did you lock out the wind? It's better now. Come here."
"You were the terror of the seas!" says the sailor.
"Yes, I was the terror of the seas."
"You were the terror of the coasts! Your famous name resounded like the
surf over all the coasts, wherever people live. They saw you in their
dreams. When they thought of the ocean, they thought of you. When they
heard the storm, they heard you, Noni!"
"I burnt their cities. The deck of my ship is shaking under my feet,
Khorre. The deck is shaking under me!"
He laughs wildly, as if losing his senses.
"You sank their ships. You sent to the bottom the Englishman who was
"He had ten guns more than I."
"And you burnt and drowned him. Do you remember, Noni, how the wind
laughed then? The night was as black as this night, but you made day of
it, Noni. We were rocked by a sea of fire."
Haggart stands pale-faced, his eyes closed. Suddenly he shouts
"Yes," Khorre jumps up.
"Whistle for everybody to go up on deck."
The boatswain's shrill whistle pierces sharply into the open body of the
storm. Everything comes to life, and it looks as though they were upon the
deck of a ship. The waves are crying with human voices. In semi-oblivion,
Haggart is commanding passionately and angrily:
"To the shrouds!—The studding sails! Be ready, forepart! Aim at the
ropes; I don't want to sink them all at once. Starboard the helm, sail by
the wind. Be ready now. Ah, fire! Ah, you are already burning! Board it
now! Get the hooks ready."
And Khorre tosses about violently, performing the mad instructions.
"Be braver, boys. Don't be afraid of tears! Eh, who is crying there? Don't
dare cry when you are dying. I'll dry your mean eyes upon the fire. Fire!
Fire everywhere! Khorre—sailor! I am dying. They have poured molten
tar into my chest. Oh, how it burns!"
"Don't give way, Noni. Don't give way. Recall your father. Strike them on
the head, Noni!"
"I can't, Khorre. My strength is failing. Where is my power?"
"Strike them on the head, Noni. Strike them on the head!"
"Take a knife, Khorre, and cut out my heart. There is no ship, Khorre—there
is nothing. Cut out my heart, comrade—throw out the traitor from my
"I want to play some more, Noni. Strike them on the head!"
"There is no ship, Khorre, there is nothing—it is all a lie. I want
He takes a bottle and laughs:
"Look, sailor—here the wind and the storm and you and I are locked.
It is all a deception, Khorre!"
"I want to play."
"Here my sorrow is locked. Look! In the green glass it seems like water,
but it isn't water. Let us drink, Khorre—there on the bottom I see
my laughter and your song. There is no ship—there is nothing! Who is
He seizes his revolver. The fire in the fire-place is burning faintly; the
shadows are tossing about—but two of these shadows are darker than
the others and they are walking. Khorre shouts:
A man's voice, heavy and deep, answers:
"Hush! Put down your weapons. I am the abbot of this place."
"Fire, Noni, fire! They have come for you."
"I have come to help you. Put down your knife, fool, or I will break every
bone in your body without a knife. Coward, are you frightened by a woman
and a priest?"
Haggart puts down his revolver and says ironically:
"A woman and a priest! Is there anything still more terrible? Pardon my
sailor, Mr. abbot, he is drunk, and when he is drunk he is very reckless
and he may kill you. Khorre, don't turn your knife."
"He has come after you, Noni."
"I have come to warn you; the tower may fall. Go away from here!" says the
"Why are you hiding yourself, girl? I remember your name; your name is
Mariet," says Haggart.
"I am not hiding. I also remember your name—it is Haggart," replies
"Was it you who brought him here?"
"I have told you that they are all traitors, Noni," says Khorre.
"It is very cold here. I will throw some wood into the fireplace. May I do
it?" asks Mariet.
"Do it," answers Haggart.
"The tower will fall down before long," says the abbot. "Part of the wall
has caved in already; it is all hollow underneath. Do you hear?"
He stamps his foot on the stone floor.
"Where will the tower fall?"
"Into the sea, I suppose! The castle is splitting the rocks."
"Do you hear, Khorre? This place is not as motionless as it seemed to you—while
it cannot move, it can fall. How many people have you brought along with
you, priest, and where have you hidden them?"
"Only two of us came, my father and I," says Mariet.
"You are rude to a priest. I don't like that," says the abbot.
"You have come here uninvited. I don't like that either," says Haggart.
"Why did you lead me here, Mariet? Come," says the abbot.
Haggart speaks ironically:
"And you leave us here to die? That is unChristian, Christian."
"Although I am a priest, I am a poor Christian, and the Lord knows it,"
says the abbot angrily. "I have no desire to save such a rude scamp. Let
us go, Mariet."
"Captain?" asks Khorre.
"Be silent, Khorre," says Haggart. "So that's the way you speak, abbot; so
you are not a liar?"
"Come with me and you shall see."
"Where shall I go with you?"
"To my house."
"To your house? Do you hear, Khorre? To the priest! But do you know whom
you are calling to your house?"
"No, I don't know. But I see that you are young and strong. I see that
although your face is gloomy, it is handsome, and I think that you could
be as good a workman as others."
"A workman? Khorre, do you hear what the priest says?"
Both laugh. The abbot says angrily:
"You are both drunk."
"Yes, a little! But if I were sober I would have laughed still more,"
"Don't laugh, Haggart," says Mariet.
Haggart replies angrily:
"I don't like the tongues of false priests, Mariet—they are coated
with truth on top, like a lure for flies. Take him away, and you, girl, go
away, too! I have forgotten your name!"
He sits down and stares ahead sternly. His eyebrows move close together,
and his hand is pressed down heavily by his lowered head, by his strong
"He does not know you, father! Tell him about yourself. You speak so well.
If you wish it, he will believe you, father. Haggart!"
Haggart maintains silence.
Silence. Khorre whispers mysteriously:
"He feels sad. Girl, tell the priest that he feels sad."
"Khorre," begins Mariet. Haggart looks around quickly.
"What about Khorre? Why don't you like him, Mariet? We are so much like
"He is like you?" says the woman with contempt. "No, Haggart! But here is
what he did: He gave gin to little Noni again to-day. He moistened his
finger and gave it to him. He will kill him, father."
"Is that so bad? He did the same to me."
"And he dipped him in cold water. The boy is very weak," says Mariet
"I don't like to hear you speak of weakness. Our boy must be strong.
Khorre! Three days without gin."
He shows him three fingers.
"Who should be without gin? The boy or I?" asks Khorre gloomily.
"You!" replies Haggart furiously. "Begone!"
The sailor sullenly gathers his belongings—the pouch, the pipe, and
the flask—and wabbling, goes off. But he does not go far—he
sits down upon a neighbouring rock. Haggart and his wife look at him.
The work is ended. Having lost its gloss, the last neglected fish lies on
the ground; even the children are too lazy to pick it up; and an
indifferent, satiated foot treads it into the mud. A quiet, fatigued
conversation goes on, mingled with gay and peaceful laughter.
"What kind of a prayer is our abbot going to say to-day? It is already
time for him to come."
"And do you think it is so easy to compose a good prayer? He is thinking."
"Selly's basket broke and the fish were falling out. We laughed so much!
It seems so funny to me even now!"
Laughter. Two fishermen look at the sail in the distance.
"All my life I have seen large ships sailing past us. Where are they
going? They disappear beyond the horizon, and I go off to sleep; and I
sleep, while they are forever going, going. Where are they going? Do you
"I should like to go with them. When they speak of America my heart begins
to ring. Did you say America on purpose, or is that the truth?"
Several old women are whispering:
"Wild Gart is angry again at his sailor. Have you noticed it?"
"The sailor is displeased. Look, how wan his face is."
"Yes, he looks like the evil one when he is compelled to listen to a
psalm. But I don't like Wild Gart, either. No. Where did he come from?"
They resume their whispers. Haggart complains softly:
"Why have you the same name, Mariet, for everybody? It should not be so in
a truthful land."
Mariet speaks with restrained force, pressing both hands to her breast:
"I love you so dearly, Gart; when you go out to sea, I set my teeth
together and do not open them until you come back. When you are away, I
eat nothing and drink nothing; when you are away, I am silent, and the
women laugh: 'Mute Mariet!' But I would be insane if I spoke when I am
HAGGART—Here you are again compelling me to smile. You must not,
Mariet—I am forever smiling.
MARIET—I love you so dearly, Gart. Every hour of the day and the
night I am thinking only of what I could still give to you, Gart. Have I
not given you everything? But that is so little—everything! There is
but one thing I want to do—to keep on giving to you, giving! When
the sun sets, I present you the sunset; when the sun rises, I present you
the sunrise—take it, Gart! And are not all the storms yours? Ah,
Haggart, how I love you!
HAGGART—I am going to toss little Noni so high to-day that I will
toss him up to the clouds. Do you want me to do it? Let us laugh, dear
little sister Mariet. You are exactly like myself. When you stand that
way, it seems to me that I am standing there—I have to rub my eyes.
Let us laugh! Some day I may suddenly mix things up—I may wake up
and say to you: "Good morning, Haggart!"
MARIET—Good morning, Mariet.
HAGGART—I will call you Haggart. Isn't that a good idea?
MARIET—And I will call you Mariet.
HAGGART—Yes—no. You had better call me Haggart, too.
"You don't want me to call you Mariet?" asks Mariet sadly.
The abbot and old Dan appear. The abbot says in a loud, deep voice:
"Here I am. Here I am bringing you a prayer, children. I have just
composed it; it has even made me feel hot. Dan, why doesn't the boy ring
the bell? Oh, yes, he is ringing. The fool—he isn't swinging the
right rope, but that doesn't matter; that's good enough, too. Isn't it,
Two thin but merry bells are ringing.
Mariet is silent and Haggart answers for her:
"That's good enough. But what are the bells saying, abbot?"
The fishermen who have gathered about them are already prepared to laugh—the
same undying jest is always repeated.
"Will you tell no one about it?" says the abbot, in a deep voice, slily
winking his eye. "Pope's a rogue! Pope's a rogue!"
The fishermen laugh merrily.
"This man," roars the abbot, pointing at Haggart, "is my favourite man! He
has given me a grandson, and I wrote the Pope about it in Latin. But that
wasn't so hard; isn't that true, Mariet? But he knows how to look at the
water. He foretells a storm as if he himself caused it. Gart, do you
produce the storm yourself? Where does the wind come from? You are the
All laugh approval. An old fisherman says:
"That's true, father. Ever since he has been here, we have never been
caught in a storm."
"Of course it is true, if I say it. 'Pope's a rogue! Pope's a rogue!'"
Old Dan walks over to Khorre and says something to him. Khorre nods his
head negatively. The abbot, singing "Pope's a rogue," goes around the
crowd, throws out brief remarks, and claps some people on the shoulder in
a friendly manner.
"Hello, Katerina, you are getting stout. Oho! Are you all ready? And
Thomas is missing again—this is the second time he has stayed away
from prayer. Anna, you are rather sad—that isn't good. One must live
merrily, one must live merrily! I think that it is jolly even in hell, but
in a different way. It is two years since you have stopped growing,
Philipp. That isn't good."
Philipp answers gruffly:
"Grass also stops growing if a stone falls upon it."
"What is still worse than that—worms begin to breed under the rock."
Mariet says softly, sadly and entreatingly:
"Don't you want me to call you Mariet?"
Haggart answers obstinately and sternly:
"I don't. If my name will be Mariet, I shall never kill that man. He
disturbs my life. Make me a present of his life, Mariet. He kissed you."
"How can I present you that which is not mine? His life belongs to God and
"That is not true. He kissed you; do I not see the burns upon your lips?
Let me kill him, and you will feel as joyful and care-free as a seagull.
Say 'yes,' Mariet."
"No; you shouldn't do it, Gart. It will be painful to you."
Haggart looks at her and speaks with deep irony.
"Is that it? Well, then, it is not true that you give me anything. You
don't know how to give, woman."
"I am your wife."
"No! A man has no wife when another man, and not his wife, grinds his
knife. My knife is dull, Mariet!"
Mariet looks at him with horror and sorrow.
"What did you say, Haggart? Wake up; it is a terrible dream, Haggart! It
is I—look at me. Open your eyes wider, wider, until you see me well.
Do you see me, Gart?"
Haggart slowly rubs his brow.
"I don't know. It is true I love you, Mariet. But how incomprehensible
your land is—in your land a man sees dreams even when he is not
asleep. Perhaps I am smiling already. Look, Mariet."
The abbot stops in front of Khorre.
"Ah, old friend, how do you do? You are smiling already. Look, Mariet."
"I don't want to work," ejaculates the sailor sternly.
"You want your own way? This man," roars the abbot, pointing at Khorre,
"thinks that he is an atheist. But he is simply a fool; he does not
understand that he is also praying to God—but he is doing it the
wrong way, like a crab. Even a fish prays to God, my children; I have seen
it myself. When you will be in hell, old man, give my regards to the Pope.
Well, children, come closer, and don't gnash your teeth. I am going to
start at once. Eh, you, Mathias—you needn't put out the fire in your
pipe; isn't it the same to God what smoke it is, incense or tobacco, if it
is only well meant. Why do you shake your head, woman?"
WOMAN—His tobacco is contraband.
YOUNG FISHERMAN—God wouldn't bother with such trifles. The abbot
thinks a while:
"No; hold on. I think contraband tobacco is not quite so good. That's an
inferior grade. Look here; you better drop your pipe meanwhile, Mathias;
I'll think the matter over later. Now, silence, perfect silence. Let God
take a look at us first."
All stand silent and serious. Only a few have lowered their heads. Most of
the people are looking ahead with wide-open, motionless eyes, as though
they really saw God in the blue of the sky, in the boundless, radiant,
distant surface of the sea. The sea is approaching with a caressing
murmur; high tide has set in.
"My God and the God of all these people! Don't judge us for praying, not
in Latin but in our own language, which our mothers have taught us. Our
God! Save us from all kinds of terrors, from unknown sea monsters; protect
us against storms and hurricanes, against tempests and gales. Give us calm
weather and a kind wind, a clear sun and peaceful waves. And another
thing, O Lord! we ask You; don't allow the devil, to come close to our
bedside when we are asleep. In our sleep we are defenceless, O Lord! and
the devil terrifies us, tortures us to convulsions, torments us to the
very blood of our heart. And there is another thing, O Lord! Old Rikke,
whom You know, is beginning to extinguish Your light in his eyes and he
can make nets no longer—"
Rikke frequently shakes his head in assent.
"I can't, I can't!"
"Prolong, then, O Lord! Your bright day and bid the night wait. Am I
"And here is still another, the last request, O Lord. I shall not ask any
more: The tears do not dry up in the eyes of our old women crying for
those who have perished. Take their memory away, O Lord, and give them
strong forgetfulness. There are still other trifles, O Lord, but let the
others pray whose turn has come before You. Amen."
Silence. Old Dan tugs the abbot by the sleeve, and whispers something in
ABBOT—Dan is asking me to pray for those who perished at sea.
The women exclaim in plaintive chorus:
"For those who perished at sea! For those who died at sea!"
Some of them kneel. The abbot looks tenderly at their bowed heads,
exhausted with waiting and fear, and says:
"No priest should pray for those who died at sea—these women should
pray. Make it so, O Lord, that they should not weep so much!"
Silence. The incoming tide roars more loudly—the ocean is carrying
to the earth its noise, its secrets, its bitter, briny taste of unexplored
Soft voices say:
"The sea is coming."
"High tide has started."
"The sea is coming."
Mariet kisses her father's hand.
"Woman!" says the priest tenderly. "Listen, Gart, isn't it strange that
this—a woman"—he strokes his daughter tenderly with his finger
on her pure forehead—"should be born of me, a man?"
"And is it not strange that this should have become a wife to me, a man?"
He embraces Mariet, bending her frail shoulders.
"Let us go to eat, Gart, my son. Whoever she may be, I know one thing
well. She has prepared for you and me an excellent dinner."
The people disperse quickly. Mariet says confusedly and cheerfully:
"I'll run first."
"Run, run," answers the abbot. "Gart, my son, call the atheist to dinner.
I'll hit him with a spoon on the forehead; an atheist understands a sermon
best of all if you hit him with a spoon."
He waits and mutters:
"The boy has commenced to ring the bells again. He does it for himself,
the rogue. If we did not lock the steeple, they would pray there from
morning until night."
Haggart goes over to Khorre, near whom Dan is sitting.
"Khorre! Let us go to eat—the priest called you."
"I don't want to go, Noni."
"So? What are you going to do here on shore?"
"I will think, Noni, think. I have so much to think to be able to
understand at least something."
Haggart turns around silently. The abbot calls from the distance:
"He is not coming? Well, then, let him stay there. And Dan—never
call Dan, my son"—says the priest in his deep whisper, "he eats at
night like a rat. Mariet purposely puts something away for him in the
closet for the night; when she looks for it in the morning, it is gone.
Just think of it, no one ever hears when he takes it. Does he fly?"
Both go off. Only the two old men, seated in a friendly manner on two
neighbouring rocks, remain on the deserted shore. And the old men resemble
each other so closely, and whatever they may say to each other, the
whiteness of their hair, the deep lines of their wrinkles, make them kin.
The tide is coming.
"They have all gone away," mutters Khorre. "Thus will they cook hot soup
on the wrecks of our ship, too. Eh, Dan! Do you know he ordered me to
drink no gin for three days. Let the old dog croak! Isn't that so, Noni?"
"Of those who died at sea... Those who died at sea," mutters Dan. "A son
taken from his father, a son from his father. The father said go, and the
son perished in the sea. Oi, oi, oi!"
"What are you prating there, old man? I say, he ordered me to drink no
gin. Soon he will order, like that King of yours, that the sea be lashed
"Oho! With chains."
"Your king was a fool. Was he married, your king?"
"The sea is coming, coming!" mutters Dan. "It brings along its noise, its
secret, its deception. Oh, how the sea deceives man. Those who died at sea—yes,
yes, yes. Those who died at sea."
"Yes, the sea is coming. And you don't like it?" asks Khorre, rejoicing
maliciously. "Well, don't you like it? I don't like your music. Do you
hear, Dan? I hate your music!"
"Oho! And why do you come to hear it? I know that you and Gart stood by
the wall and listened."
Khorre says sternly:
"It was he who got me out of bed."
"He will get you out of bed again."
"No!" roars Khorre furiously. "I will get up myself at night. Do you hear,
Dan? I will get up at night and break your music."
"And I will spit into your sea."
"Try," says the sailor distrustfully. "How will you spit?"
"This way," and Dan, exasperated, spits in the direction of the sea. The
frightened Khorre, in confusion, says hoarsely:
"Oh, what sort of man are you? You spat! Eh, Dan, look out; it will be bad
for you—you yourself are talking about those who died at sea."
Dan shouts, frightened:
"Who speaks of those that perished at sea? You, you dog!"
He goes away, grumbling and coughing, swinging his hand and stooping.
Khorre is left alone before the entire vastness of the sea and the sky.
"He is gone. Then I am going to look at you, O sea, until my eyes will
burst of thirst!"
The ocean, approaching, is roaring.
At the very edge of the water, upon a narrow landing on the rocky shore,
stands a man—a small, dark, motionless dot. Behind him is the cold,
almost vertical slope of granite, and before his eyes the ocean is rocking
heavily and dully in the impenetrable darkness. Its mighty approach is
felt in the open voice of the waves which are rising from the depths. Even
sniffing sounds are heard—it is as though a drove of monsters,
playing, were splashing, snorting, lying down on their backs, and panting
contentedly, deriving their monstrous pleasures.
The ocean smells of the strong odour of the depths, of decaying seaweeds,
of its grass. The sea is calm to-day and, as always, alone.
And there is but one little light in the black space of water and night—the
distant lighthouse of the Holy Cross.
The rattle of cobblestones is heard from under a cautious step: Haggart is
coming down to the sea along a steep path. He pauses, silent with
restraint, breathing deeply after the strain of passing the dangerous
slope, and goes forward. He is now at the edge—he straightens
himself and looks for a long time at him who had long before taken his
strange but customary place at the very edge of the deep. He makes a few
steps forward and greets him irresolutely and gently—Haggart greets
him even timidly:
"Good evening, stranger. Have you been here long?"
A sad, soft, and grave voice answers:
"Good evening, Haggart. Yes, I have been here long."
"You are watching?"
"I am watching and listening."
"Will you allow me to stand near you and look in the same direction you
are looking? I am afraid that I am disturbing you by my uninvited presence—for
when I came you were already here—but I am so fond of this spot.
This place is isolated, and the sea is near, and the earth behind is
silent; and here my eyes open. Like a night-owl, I see better in the dark;
the light of day dazzles me. You know, I have grown up on the sea, sir."
"No, you are not disturbing me, Haggart. But am I not disturbing you? Then
I shall go away."
"You are so polite, sir," mutters Haggart.
"But I also love this spot," continues the sad, grave voice. "I, too, like
to feel that the cold and peaceful granite is behind me. You have grown up
on the sea, Haggart—tell me, what is that faint light on the right?"
"That is the lighthouse of the Holy Cross."
"Aha! The lighthouse of the Holy Cross. I didn't know that. But can such a
faint light help in time of a storm? I look and it always seems to me that
the light is going out. I suppose it isn't so."
Haggart, agitated but restrained, says:
"You frighten me, sir. Why do you ask me what you know better than I do?
You want to tempt me—you know everything."
There is not a trace of a smile in the mournful voice—nothing but
"No, I know little. I know even less than you do, for I know more. Pardon
my rather complicated phrase, Haggart, but the tongue responds with so
much difficulty not only to our feeling, but also to our thought."
"You are polite," mutters Haggart agitated. "You are polite and always
calm. You are always sad and you have a thin hand with rings upon it, and
you speak like a very important personage. Who are you, sir?"
"I am he whom you called—the one who is always sad."
"When I come, you are already here; when I go away, you remain. Why do you
never want to go with me, sir?"
"There is one way for you, Haggart, and another for me."
"I see you only at night. I know all the people around this settlement,
and there is no one who looks like you. Sometimes I think that you are the
owner of that old castle where I lived. If that is so I must tell you the
castle was destroyed by the storm."
"I don't know of whom you speak."
"I don't understand how you know my name, Haggart. But I don't want to
deceive you. Although my wife Mariet calls me so, I invented that name
myself. I have another name—my real name—of which no one has
ever heard here."
"I know your other name also, Haggart. I know your third name, too, which
even you do not know. But it is hardly worth speaking of this. You had
better look into this dark sea and tell me about your life. Is it true
that it is so joyous? They say that you are forever smiling. They say that
you are the bravest and most handsome fisherman on the coast. And they
also say that you love your wife Mariet very dearly."
"O sir!" exclaims Haggart with restraint, "my life is so sad that you
could not find an image like it in this dark deep. O sir! my sufferings
are so deep that you could not find a more terrible place in this dark
"What is the cause of your sorrow and your sufferings, Haggart?"
"Life, sir. Here your noble and sad eyes look in the same direction my
eyes look—into this terrible, dark distance. Tell me, then, what is
stirring there? What is resting and waiting there, what is silent there,
what is screaming and singing and complaining there in its own voices?
What are the voices that agitate me and fill my soul with phantoms of
sorrow, and yet say nothing? And whence comes this night? And whence comes
my sorrow? Are you sighing, sir, or is it the sigh of the ocean blending
with your voice? My hearing is beginning to fail me, my master, my dear
The sad voice replies:
"It is my sigh, Haggart. My great sorrow is responding to your sorrow. You
see at night like an owl, Haggart; then look at my thin hands and at my
rings. Are they not pale? And look at my face—is it not pale? Is it
not pale—is it not pale? Oh, Haggart, my dear Haggart."
They grieve silently. The heavy ocean is splashing, tossing about,
spitting and snorting and sniffing peacefully. The sea is calm to-night
and alone, as always.
"Tell Haggart—" says the sad voice.
"Very well. I will tell Haggart."
"Tell Haggart that I love him."
Silence—and then a faint, plaintive reproach resounds softly:
"If your voice were not so grave, sir, I would have thought that you were
laughing at me. Am I not Haggart that I should tell something to Haggart?
But no—I sense a different meaning in your words, and you frighten
me again. And when Haggart is afraid, it is real terror. Very well, I will
tell Haggart everything you have said."
"Adjust my cloak; my shoulder is cold. But it always seems to me that the
light over there is going out. You called it the lighthouse of the Holy
Cross, if I am not mistaken?"
"Yes, it is called so here."
"Aha! It is called so here."
"Must I go now?" asks Haggart.
"And you will remain here?"
"I will remain here."
Haggart retreats several steps.
Again the cobblestones rattle under his cautious steps; without looking
back, Haggart climbs the steep rocks.
Of what great sorrow speaks this night?
"Your hands are in blood, Haggart. Whom have you killed, Haggart?"
"Silence, Khorre, I killed that man. Be silent and listen—he will
commence to play soon. I stood here and listened, but suddenly my heart
sank, and I cannot stay here alone."
"Don't confuse my mind, Noni; don't tempt me. I will run away from here.
At night, when I am already fast asleep, you swoop down on me like a
demon, grab me by the neck, and drag me over here—I can't understand
anything. Tell me, my boy, is it necessary to hide the body?"
"Why didn't you throw it into the sea?"
"Silence! What are you prating about? I have nothing to throw into the
"But your hands are in blood."
"Silence, Khorre! He will commence soon. Be silent and listen—I say
to you—Are you a friend to me or not, Khorre?"
He drags him closer to the dark window of the church. Khorre mutters:
"How dark it is. If you raised me out of bed for this accursed music—"
"Yes, yes; for this accursed music."
"Then you have disturbed my honest sleep in vain; I want no music, Noni."
"So! Was I perhaps to run through the street, knock at the windows and
shout: 'Eh, who is there; where's a living soul? Come and help Haggart,
stand up with him against the cannons.'"
"You are confusing things, Noni. Drink some gin, my boy. What cannons?"
He drags him away from the window.
"Oh, you shake me like a squall!"
"Silence! I think he looked at us from the window; something white flashed
behind the window pane. You may laugh. Khorre—if he came out now I
would scream like a woman."
He laughs softly.
"Are you speaking of Dan? I don't understand anything, Noni."
"But is that Dan? Of course it is not Dan—it is some one else. Give
me your hand, sailor."
"I think that you simply drank too much, like that time—remember, in
the castle? And your hand is quivering. But then the game was different—"
Khorre lowers his voice:
"But your hand is really in blood. Oh, you are breaking my fingers!"
"If you don't keep still, dog, I'll break every bone of your body! I'll
pull every vein out of your body, if you don't keep still, you dog!"
Silence. The distant breakers are softly groaning, as if complaining—the
sea has gone far away from the black earth. And the night is silent. It
came no one knows whence and spread over the earth; it spread over the
earth and is silent; it is silent, waiting for something. And ferocious
mists have swung themselves to meet it—the sea breathed phantoms,
driving to the earth a herd of headless submissive giants. A heavy fog is
"Why doesn't he light a lamp?" asks Khorre sternly but submissively.
"He needs no light."
"Perhaps there is no one there any longer."
"Yes, he's there."
"A fog is coming. How quiet it is! There's something wrong in the air—what
do you think, Noni?"
The first soft sounds of the organ resound. Some one is sitting alone in
the dark and is speaking to God in an incomprehensible language about the
most important things. And however faint the sounds—suddenly the
silence vanishes, the night trembles and stares into the dark church with
all its myriads of phantom eyes. An agitated voice whispers:
"Listen! He always begins that way. He gets a hold of your soul at once!
Where does he get the power? He gets a hold of your heart!"
"I don't like it."
"Listen! Now he makes believe he is Haggart, Khorre! Little Haggart in his
mother's lap. Look, all hands are filled with golden rays; little Haggart
is playing with golden rays. Look!"
"I don't see it, Noni. Leave my hand alone, it hurts."
"Now he makes believe he is Haggart! Listen!"
The oppressive chords resound faintly. Haggart moans softly.
"What is it, Noni? Do you feel any pain?"
"Yes. Do you understand of what he speaks?"
"He speaks of the most important—of the most vital, Khorre—if
we could only understand it—I want to understand it. Listen, Khorre,
listen! Why does he make believe that he is Haggart? It is not my soul. My
soul does not know this."
"I don't know. What terrible dreams there are in this land! Listen. There!
Now he will cry and he will say: 'It is Haggart crying.' He will call God
and will say: 'Haggart is calling.' He lies—Haggart did not call,
Haggart does not know God."
He moans again, trying to restrain himself.
"Do you feel any pain?"
Haggart exclaims in a muffled voice:
"What is it, Noni?"
"Why don't you tell him that it isn't Haggart? It is a lie!" whispers
Haggart rapidly. "He thinks that he knows, but he does not know anything.
He is a small, wretched old man with red eyes, like those of a rabbit, and
to-morrow death will mow him down. Ha! He is dealing in diamonds, he
throws them from one hand to the other like an old miser, and he himself
is dying of hunger. It is a fraud, Khorre, a fraud. Let us shout loudly,
Khorre, we are alone here."
He shouts, turning to the thundering organ:
"Eh, musician! Even a fly cannot rise on your wings, even the smallest fly
cannot rise on your wings. Eh, musician! Let me have your torn hat and I
will throw a penny into it; your lie is worth no more. What are you
prating there about God, you rabbit's eyes? Be silent, I am shamed to
listen to you. I swear, I am ashamed to listen to you! Don't you believe
me? You are still calling? Whither?"
"Strike them on the head, Noni."
"Be silent, you dog! But what a terrible land! What are they doing here
with the human heart? What terrible dreams there are in this land?"
He stops speaking. The organ sings solemnly.
"Why did you stop speaking, Noni?" asks the sailor with alarm.
"I am listening. It is good music, Khorre. Have I said anything?"
"You even shouted, Noni, and you forced me to shout with you."
"That is not true. I have been silent all the time. Do you know, I haven't
even opened my mouth once! You must have been dreaming, Khorre. Perhaps
you are thinking that you are near the church? You are simply sleeping in
your bed, sailor. It is a dream."
Khorre is terrified.
"Drink some gin, Noni."
"I don't need it. I drank something else already."
"Be silent, Khorre. Don't you see that everything is silent and is
listening, and you alone are talking? The musician may feel offended!"
He laughs quietly. Brass trumpets are roaring harmoniously about the
triumphant conciliation between man and God. The fog is growing thicker.
A loud stamping of feet—some one runs through the deserted street in
"Noni!" whispers the sailor. "Who ran by?"
"Noni! Another one is running. Something is wrong."
Frightened people are running about in the middle of the night—the
echo of the night doubles the sound of their footsteps, increasing their
terror tenfold, and it seems as if the entire village, terror-stricken, is
running away somewhere. Rocking, dancing silently, as upon waves, a
lantern floats by.
"They have found him, Khorre. They have found the man I killed, sailor! I
did not throw him into the sea; I brought him and set his head up against
the door of his house. They have found him."
Another lantern floats by, swinging from side to side. As if hearing the
alarm, the organ breaks off at a high chord. An instant of silence,
emptiness of dread waiting, and then a woman's sob of despair fills it up
to the brim.
The mist is growing thicker.
The flame in the oil-lamp is dying out, having a smell of burning. It is
near sunrise. A large, clean, fisherman's hut. A skilfully made little
ship is fastened to the ceiling, and even the sails are set. Involuntarily
this little ship has somehow become the centre of attraction and all those
who speak, who are silent and who listen, look at it, study each familiar
sail. Behind the dark curtain lies the body of Philipp—this hut
belonged to him.
The people are waiting for Haggart—some have gone out to search for
him. On the benches along the walls, the old fishermen have seated
themselves, their hands folded on their knees; some of them seem to be
slumbering; others are smoking their pipes. They speak meditatively and
cautiously, as though eager to utter no unnecessary words. Whenever a
belated fisherman comes in, he looks first at the curtain, then he
silently squeezes himself into the crowd, and those who have no place on
the bench apparently feel embarrassed.
The abbot paces the room heavily, his hands folded on his back, his head
lowered; when any one is in his way, he quietly pushes him aside with his
hand. He is silent and knits his brows convulsively. Occasionally he
glances at the door or at the window and listens.
The only woman present there is Mariet. She is sitting by the table and
constantly watching her father with her burning eyes. She shudders
slightly at each loud word, at the sound of the door as it opens, at the
noise of distant footsteps.
At night a fog came from the sea and covered the earth. And such perfect
quiet reigns now that long-drawn tolling is heard in the distant
lighthouse of the Holy Cross. Warning is thus given to the ships that have
lost their way in the fog.
Some one in the corner says:
"Judging from the blow, it was not one of our people that killed him. Our
people can't strike like that. He stuck the knife here, then slashed over
there, and almost cut his head off."
"You can't do that with a dull knife!"
"No. You can't do it with a weak hand. I saw a murdered sailor on the
wharf one day—he was cut up just like this."
"And where is his mother?" asks some one, nodding at the curtain.
"Selly is taking care of her. Selly took her to her house."
An old fisherman quietly asks his neighbour:
"Who told you?"
"Francina woke me. Who told you, Marle?"
"Some one knocked on my window."
"Who knocked on your window?"
"I don't know."
"How is it you don't know? Who was the first to see?"
"Some one passed by and noticed him."
"None of us passed by. There was nobody among us who passed by."
A fisherman seated at the other end, says:
"There was nobody among us who passed by. Tell us, Thomas."
Thomas takes out his pipe:
"I am a neighbour of Philipp's, of that man there—" he points at the
curtain. "Yes, yes, you all know that I am his neighbour. And if anybody
does not know it—I'll say it again, as in a court of justice: I am
his neighbour—I live right next to him—" he turns to the
An elderly fisherman enters and forces himself silently into the line.
"Well, Tibo?" asks the abbot, stopping.
"Haven't you found Haggart?"
"No. It is so foggy that they are afraid of losing themselves. They walk
and call each other; some of them hold each other by the hand. Even a
lantern can't be seen ten feet away."
The abbot lowers his head and resumes his pacing. The old fisherman
speaks, without addressing any one in particular.
"There are many ships now staring helplessly in the sea."
"I walked like a blind man," says Tibo. "I heard the Holy Cross ringing.
But it seems as if it changed its place. The sound comes from the left
"The fog is deceitful."
Old Desfoso says:
"This never happened here. Since Dugamel broke Jack's head with a shaft.
That was thirty—forty years ago."
"What did you say, Desfoso?" the abbot stops.
"I say, since Dugamel broke Jack's head—"
"Yes, yes!" says the abbot, and resumes pacing the room.
"Then Dugamel threw himself into the sea from a rock and was dashed to
death—that's how it happened. He threw himself down."
Mariet shudders and looks at the speaker with hatred. Silence.
"What did you say, Thomas?"
Thomas takes his pipe out of his mouth.
"Nothing. I only said that some one knocked at my window."
"You don't know who?"
"No. And you will never know. I came out, I looked—and there Philipp
was sitting at his door. I wasn't surprised—Philipp often roamed
about at night ever since—"
He stops irresolutely. Mariet asks harshly:
"Since when? You said 'since.'"
Silence. Desfoso replies frankly and heavily:
"Since your Haggart came. Go ahead, Thomas, tell us about it."
"So I said to him: 'Why did you knock, Philipp? Do you want anything?' But
he was silent."
"And he was silent?"
"He was silent. 'If you don't want anything, you had better go to sleep,
my friend,' said I. But he was silent. Then I looked at him—his
throat was cut open."
Mariet shudders and looks at the speaker with aversion. Silence. Another
fisherman enters, looks at the curtain and silently forces his way into
the crowd. Women's voices are heard behind the door; the abbot stops.
"Eh, Lebon! Chase the women away," he says. "Tell them, there is nothing
for them to do here."
Lebon goes out.
"Wait," the abbot stops. "Ask how the mother is feeling; Selly is taking
care of her."
"You say, chase away the women, abbot? And your daughter? She is here."
The abbot looks at Mariet. She says:
"I am not going away from here."
Silence. The abbot paces the room again; he looks at the little ship
fastened to the ceiling and asks:
"Who made it?"
All look at the little ship.
"He," answers Desfoso. "He made it when he wanted to go to America as a
sailor. He was always asking me how a three-masted brig is fitted out."
They look at the ship again, at its perfect little sails—at the
little rags. Lebon returns.
"I don't know how to tell you about it, abbot. The women say that Haggart
and his sailor are being led over here. The women are afraid."
Mariet shudders and looks at the door; the abbot pauses.
"Oho, it is daybreak already, the fog is turning blue!" says one fisherman
to another, but his voice breaks off.
"Yes. Low tide has started," replies the other dully.
Silence. Then uneven footsteps resound. Several young fishermen with
excited faces bring in Haggart, who is bound, and push Khorre in after
him, also bound. Haggart is calm; as soon as the sailor was bound,
something wildly free appeared in his movements, in his manners, in the
sharpness of his swift glances.
One of the men who brought Haggart says to the abbot in a low voice:
"He was near the church. Ten times we passed by and saw no one, until he
called: 'Aren't you looking for me?' It is so foggy, father."
The abbot shakes his head silently and sits down. Mariet smiles to her
husband with her pale lips, but he does not look at her. Like all the
others, he has fixed his eyes in amazement on the toy ship.
"Hello, Haggart," says the abbot.
"You call me father?"
"You are mistaken, Haggart. I am not your father."
The fishermen exchanged glances contentedly.
"Well, then. Hello, abbot," says Haggart with indifference, and resumes
examining the little ship. Khorre mutters:
"That's the way, be firm, Noni."
"Who made this toy?" asks Haggart, but no one replies.
"Hello, Gart!" says Mariet, smiling. "It is I, your wife, Mariet. Let me
untie your hands."
With a smile, pretending that she does not notice the stains of blood, she
unfastens the ropes. All look at her in silence. Haggart also looks at her
bent, alarmed head.
"Thank you," he says, straightening his hands.
"It would be a good thing to untie my hands, too," said Khorre, but there
is no answer.
ABBOT—Haggart, did you kill Philipp?
ABBOT—Do you mean to say—eh, you, Haggart—that you
yourself killed him with your own hands? Perhaps you said to the sailor:
"Sailor, go and kill Philipp," and he did it, for he loves you and
respects you as his superior? Perhaps it happened that way! Tell me,
Haggart. I called you my son, Haggart.
HAGGART—No, I did not order the sailor to do it. I killed Philipp
with my own hand.
KHORRE—Noni! Tell them to unfasten my hands and give me back my
"Don't be in a hurry," roars the priest. "Be bound awhile, drunkard! You
had better be afraid of an untied rope—it may be formed into a
But obeying a certain swift movement or glance of Haggart, Mariet walks
over to the sailor and opens the knots of the rope. And again all look in
silence upon her bent, alarmed head. Then they turn their eyes upon
Haggart. Just as they looked at the little ship before, so they now look
at him. And he, too, has forgotten about the toy. As if aroused from
sleep, he surveys the fishermen, and stares long at the dark curtain.
ABBOT—Haggart, I am asking you. Who carried Philipp's body?
HAGGART—I. I brought it and put it near the door, his head against
the door, his face against the sea. It was hard to set him that way, he
was always falling down. But I did it.
ABBOT—Why did you do it?
HAGGART—I don't know exactly. I heard that Philipp has a mother, an
old woman, and I thought this might please them better—both him and
ABBOT—(With restraint.) You are laughing at us?
HAGGART—No. What makes you think I am laughing? I am just as serious
as you are. Did he—did Philipp make this little ship?
No one answers. Mariet, rising and bending over to Haggart across the
"Didn't you say this, Haggart: 'My poor boy, I killed you because I had to
kill you, and now I am going to take you to your mother, my dear boy'?"
"These are very sad words. Who told them to you, Mariet?" asks Haggart,
"I heard them. And didn't you say further: 'Mother, I have brought you
your son, and put him down at your door—take your boy, mother'?"
Haggart maintains silence.
"I don't know," roars the abbot bitterly. "I don't know; people don't kill
here, and we don't know how it is done. Perhaps that is as it should be—to
kill and then bring the murdered man to his mother's threshold. What are
you gaping at, you scarecrow?"
Khorre replies rudely:
"According to my opinion, he should have thrown him into the sea. Your
Haggart is out of his mind; I have said it long ago."
Suddenly old Desfoso shouts amid the loud approval of the others:
"Hold your tongue! We will send him to the city, but we will hang you like
a cat ourselves, even if you did not kill him."
"Silence, old man, silence!" the abbot stops him, while Khorre looks over
their heads with silent contempt. "Haggart, I am asking you, why did you
take Philipp's life? He needed his life just as you need yours."
"He was Mariet's betrothed—and—"
"And—I don't want to speak. Why didn't you ask me before, when he
was alive? Now I have killed him."
"But"—says the abbot, and there is a note of entreaty in his heavy
voice. "But it may be that you are already repenting, Haggart? You are a
splendid man, Gart. I know you; when you are sober you cannot hurt even a
fly. Perhaps you were intoxicated—that happens with young people—and
Philipp may have said something to you, and you—"
"No? Well, then, let it be no. Am I not right, children? But perhaps
something strange came over you—it happens with people—suddenly
a red mist will get into a man's head, the beast will begin to howl in his
breast, and—In such cases one word is enough—"
"No, Philipp did not say anything to me. He passed along the road, when I
jumped out from behind a large rock and stuck a knife into his throat. He
had no time even to be scared. But if you like—" Haggart surveys the
fishermen with his eyes irresolutely—"I feel a little sorry for him.
That is, just a little. Did he make this toy?"
The abbot lowers his head sternly. And Desfoso shouts again, amidst sobs
of approval from the others:
"No! Abbot, you better ask him what he was doing at the church. Dan saw
them from the window. Wouldn't you tell us what you and your accursed
sailor were doing at the church? What were you doing there? Speak."
Haggart looks at the speaker steadfastly and says slowly:
"I talked with the devil."
A muffled rumbling follows. The abbot jumps from his place and roars
"Then let him sit on your neck! Eh, Pierre, Jules, tie him down as fast as
you can until morning. And the other one, too. And in the morning—in
the morning, take him away to the city, to the Judges. I don't know their
accursed city laws"—cries the abbot in despair—"but they will
hang you, Haggart! You will dangle on a rope, Haggart!"
Khorre rudely pushes aside the young fisherman who comes over to him with
a rope, and says to Desfoso in a low voice:
"It's an important matter, old man. Go away for a minute—he oughtn't
to hear it," he nods at Haggart.
"I don't trust you."
"You needn't. That's nothing. Noni, there is a little matter here. Come,
come, and don't be afraid. I have no knife."
The people step aside and whisper. Haggart is silently waiting to be
bound, but no one comes over to him. All shudder when Mariet suddenly
commences to speak:
"Perhaps you think that all this is just, father? Why, then, don't you ask
me about it? I am his wife. Don't you believe that I am his wife? Then I
will bring little Noni here. Do you want me to bring little Noni? He is
sleeping, but I will wake him up. Once in his life he may wake up at night
in order to say that this man whom you want to hang in the city is his
"Don't!" says Haggart.
"Very well," replies Mariet obediently. "He commands and I must obey—he
is my husband. Let little Noni sleep. But I am not sleeping, I am here.
Why, then, didn't you ask me: 'Mariet, how was it possible that your
husband, Haggart, should kill Philipp'?"
Silence. Desfoso, who has returned and who is agitated, decides:
"Let her speak. She is his wife."
"You will not believe, Desfoso," says Mariet, turning to the old fisherman
with a tender and mournful smile. "Desfoso, you will not believe what
strange and peculiar creatures we women are!"
Turning to all the people with the same smile, she continues:
"You will not believe what queer desires, what cunning, malicious little
thoughts we women have. It was I who persuaded my husband to kill Philipp.
Yes, yes—he did not want to do it, but I urged him; I cried so much
and threatened him, so he consented. Men always give in—isn't that
Haggart looks at his wife in a state of great perplexity, his eyebrows
brought close to each other. Mariet continues, without looking at him,
still smiling as before:
"You will ask me, why I wanted Philipp's death? Yes, yes, you will ask
this question, I know it. He never did me any harm, that poor Philipp,
isn't that true? Then I will tell you: He was my betrothed. I don't know
whether you will be able to understand me. You, old Desfoso—you
would not kill the girl you kissed one day? Of course not. But we women
are such strange creatures—you can't even imagine what strange,
suspicious, peculiar creatures we are. Philipp was my betrothed, and he
She wipes her mouth and continues, laughing:
"Here I am wiping my mouth even now. You have all seen how I wiped my
mouth. I am wiping away Philipp's kisses. You are laughing. But ask your
wife, Desfoso—does she want the life of the man who kissed her
before you? Ask all women who love—even the old women! We never grow
old in love. We are born so, we women."
Haggart almost believes her. Advancing a step forward, he asks:
"You urged me? Perhaps it is true, Mariet—I don't remember."
"Do you hear? He has forgotten. Go on, Gart. You may say that it was your
own idea? That's the way you men are—you forget everything. Will you
say perhaps that I—"
"Mariet!" Haggart interrupts her threateningly.
Mariet, turning pale, looking sorrowfully at his terrible eyes which are
now steadfastly fixed upon her, continues, still smiling:
"Go on, Gart! Will you say perhaps that I—Will you say perhaps that
I dissuaded you? That would be funny—"
HAGGART—No, I will not say that. You lie, Mariet! Even I, Haggart—just
think of it, people—even I believed her, so cleverly does this woman
HAGGART—You are laughing? Abbot, I don't want to be the husband of
your daughter—she lies.
ABBOT—You are worse than the devil, Gart! That's what I say—You
are worse than the devil, Gart!
HAGGART—You are all foolish people! I don't understand you; I don't
know now what to do with you. Shall I laugh? Shall I be angry? Shall I
cry? You want to let me go—why, then, don't you let me go? You are
sorry for Philipp. Well, then, kill me—I have told you that it was I
who killed the boy. Am I disputing? But you are making grimaces like
monkeys that have found bananas—or have you such a game in your
land? Then I don't want to play it. And you, abbot, you are like a juggler
in the marketplace. In one hand you have truth and in the other hand you
have truth, and you are forever performing tricks. And now she is lying—she
lies so well that my heart contracts with belief. Oh, she is doing it
And he laughs bitterly.
MARIET—Forgive me, Gart.
HAGGART—When I wanted to kill him, she hung on my hand like a rock,
and now she says that she killed him. She steals from me this murder; she
does not know that one has to earn that, too! Oh, there are queer people
in your land!
"I wanted to deceive them, not you, Gart. I wanted to save you," says
"My father taught me: 'Eh, Noni, beware! There is one truth and one law
for all—for the sun, for the wind, for the waves, for the beasts—and
only for man there is another truth. Beware of this truth of man, Noni!'
so said my father. Perhaps this is your truth? Then I am not afraid of it,
but I feel very sad and very embittered. Mariet, if you sharpened my knife
and said: 'Go and kill that man'—it may be that I would not have
cared to kill him. 'What is the use of cutting down a withered tree?'—I
would have said. But now—farewell, Mariet! Well, bind me and take me
to the city."
He waits haughtily, but no one approaches him. Mariet has lowered her head
upon her hands, her shoulders are twitching. The abbot is also absorbed in
thought, his large head lowered. Desfoso is carrying on a heated
conversation in whispers with the fishermen. Khorre steps forward and
speaks, glancing at Haggart askance:
"I had a little talk with them, Noni—they are all right, they are
good fellows, Noni. Only the priest—but he is a good man, too—am
I right, Noni? Don't look so crossly at me, or I'll mix up the whole
thing! You see, kind people, it's this way: this man, Haggart, and I have
saved up a little sum of money, a little barrel of gold. We don't need it,
Noni, do we? Perhaps you will take it for yourselves? What do you think?
Shall we give them the gold, Noni? You see, here I've entangled myself
He winks slyly at Mariet, who has now lifted her head.
"What are you prating there, you scarecrow?" asks the abbot.
"Here it goes, Noni; I am straightening it out little by little! But where
have we buried it, the barrel? Do you remember, Noni? I have forgotten.
They say it's from the gin, kind people; they say that one's memory fails
from too much gin. I am a drunkard, that's true."
"If you are not inventing—then you had better choke yourself with
your gold, you dog!" says the abbot.
HAGGART—To-morrow you will get a hundred lashes. Abbot, order a
hundred lashes for him!
ABBOT—With pleasure, my son. With pleasure.
The movements of the fishermen are just as slow and languid, but there is
something new in their increased puffing and pulling at their pipes, in
the light quiver of their tanned hands. Some of them arise and look out of
the window with feigned indifference.
"The fog is rising!" says one, looking out of the window. "Do you hear
what I said about the fog?"
"It's time to go to sleep. I say, it's time to go to sleep!"
Desfoso comes forward and speaks cautiously:
"That isn't quite so, abbot. It seems you didn't say exactly what you
ought to say, abbot. They seem to think differently. I don't say anything
for myself—I am simply talking about them. What do you say, Thomas?"
THOMAS—We ought to go to sleep, I say. Isn't it true that it is time
to go to sleep?
MARIET (softly)—Sit down, Gart. You are tired to-night. You don't
An old fisherman says:
"There used to be a custom in our land, I heard, that a murderer was to
pay a fine for the man he killed. Have you heard about it, Desfoso?"
Another voice is heard:
"Philipp is dead. Philipp is dead already, do you hear, neighbour? Who is
going to support his mother?"
"I haven't enough even for my own! And the fog is rising, neighbour."
"Abbot, did you hear us say: 'Gart is a bad man; Gart is a
good-for-nothing, a city trickster?' No, we said: 'This thing has never
happened here before,'" says Desfoso.
Then a determined voice remarks:
"Gart is a good man! Wild Gart is a good man!"
DESFOSO—If you looked around, abbot, you couldn't find a single,
strong boat here. I haven't enough tar for mine. And the church—is
that the way a good church ought to look? I am not saying it myself, but
it comes out that way—it can't be helped, abbot.
Haggart turns to Mariet and says:
"Do you hear, woman?"
"Why don't you spit into their faces?"
"I can't. I love you, Haggart. Are there only ten Commandments of God? No,
there is still another: 'I love you, Haggart.'"
"What sad dreams there are in your land."
The abbot rises and walks over to the fishermen.
"Well, what did you say about the church, old man? You said something
interesting about the church, or was I mistaken?"
He casts a swift glance at Mariet and Haggart.
"It isn't the church alone, abbot. There are four of us old men: Legran,
Stoffle, Puasar, Kornu, and seven old women. Do I say that we are not
going to feed them? Of course, we will, but don't be angry, father—it
is hard! You know it yourself, abbot—old age is no fun."
"I am an old man, too!" begins old Rikke, lisping, but suddenly he flings
his hat angrily to the ground. "Yes, I am an old man. I don't want any
more, that's all! I worked, and now I don't want to work. That's all! I
don't want to work."
He goes out, swinging his hand. All look sympathetically at his stooping
back, at his white tufts of hair. And then they look again at Desfoso, at
his mouth, from which their words come out. A voice says:
"There, Rikke doesn't want to work any more."
All laugh softly and forcedly.
"Suppose we send Gart to the city—what then?" Desfoso goes on,
without looking at Haggart. "Well, the city people will hang him—and
then what? The result will be that a man will be gone, a fisherman will be
gone—you will lose a son, and Mariet will lose her husband, and the
little boy his father. Is there any joy in that?"
"That's right, that's right!" nods the abbot, approvingly. "But what a
mind you have, Desfoso!"
"Do you pay attention to them, Abbot?" asked Haggart.
"Yes, I do, Haggart. And it wouldn't do you any harm to pay attention to
them. The devil is prouder than you, and yet he is only the devil, and
"What's the use of pride? Pride isn't necessary."
He turns to Haggart, his eyes still lowered; then he lifts his eyes and
"Gart! But you don't need to kill anybody else. Excepting Philipp, you
don't feel like killing anybody else, do you?"
"Only Philipp, and no more? Do you hear? Only Philipp, and no more. And
another question—Gart, don't you want to send away this man, Khorre?
We would like you to do it. Who knows him? People say that all this
trouble comes through him."
Several voices are heard:
"Through him. Send him away, Gart! It will be better for him!"
The abbot upholds them.
"You, too, priest!" says Khorre, gruffly. Haggart looks with a faint smile
at his angry, bristled face, and says:
"I rather feel like sending him away. Let him go."
"Well, then, Abbot," says Desfoso, turning around, "we have decided, in
accordance with our conscience—to take the money. Do I speak
One voice answers for all:
DESFOSO—Well, sailor, where is the money?
HAGGART—Give it to them.
KHORRE (rudely)—"Then give me back my knife and my pipe first! Who
is the eldest among you—you? Listen, then: Take crowbars and shovels
and go to the castle. Do you know the tower, the accursed tower that fell?
Go over there—"
He bends down and draws a map on the floor with his crooked finger. All
bend down and look attentively; only the abbot gazes sternly out of the
window, behind which the heavy fog is still grey. Haggart whispers in a
fit of rage:
"Mariet, it would have been better if you had killed me as I killed
Philipp. And now my father is calling me. Where will be the end of my
sorrow, Mariet? Where the end of the world is. And where is the end of the
world? Do you want to take my sorrow, Mariet?"
"I do, Haggart."
"No, you are a woman."
"Why do you torture me, Gart? What have I done that you should torture me
so? I love you."
"My tongue lied. I love you."
"A serpent has a double tongue, but ask the serpent what it wants—and
it will tell you the truth. It is your heart that lied. Was it not you,
girl, that I met that time on the road? And you said: 'Good evening.' How
you have deceived me!"
Desfoso asks loudly:
"Well, abbot? You are coming along with us, aren't you, father. Otherwise
something wrong might come out of it. Do I speak properly?"
The abbot replies merrily:
"Of course, of course, children. I am going with you. Without me, you will
think of the church. I have just been thinking of the church—of the
kind of church you need. Oh, it's hard to get along with you, people!"
The fishermen go out very slowly—they are purposely lingering.
"The sea is coming," says one. "I can hear it."
"Yes, yes, the sea is coming! Did you understand what he said?"
The few who remained are more hasty in their movements. Some of them
politely bid Haggart farewell.
"I am thinking, Haggart, what kind of a church we need. This one will not
do, it seems. They prayed here a hundred years; now it is no good, they
say. Well, then, it is necessary to have a new one, a better one. But what
shall it be?"
"'Pope's a rogue, Pope's a rogue.' But, then, I am a rogue, too. Don't you
think, Gart, that I am also something of a rogue? One moment, children, I
am with you."
There is some crowding in the doorway. The abbot follows the last man with
his eyes and roars angrily:
"Eh, you, Haggart, murderer! What are you smiling at? You have no right to
despise them like that. They are my children. They have worked—have
you seen their hands, their backs? If you haven't noticed that, you are a
fool! They are tired. They want to rest. Let them rest, even at the cost
of the blood of the one you killed. I'll give them each a little, and the
rest I will throw out into the sea. Do you hear, Haggart?"
"I hear, priest."
The abbot exclaims, raising his arms:
"O Lord! Why have you made a heart that can have pity on both the murdered
and the murderer! Gart, go home. Take him home, Mariet, and wash his
"To whom do you lie, priest?" asks Haggart, slowly. "To God or to the
devil? To yourself or to the people? Or to everybody?"
He laughs bitterly.
"Eh, Gart! You are drunk with blood."
"And with what are you drunk?"
They face each other. Mariet cries angrily, placing herself between them:
"May a thunder strike you down, both of you, that's what I am praying to
God. May a thunder strike you down! What are you doing with my heart? You
are tearing it with your teeth like greedy dogs. You didn't drink enough
blood, Gart, drink mine, then! You will never have enough, Gart, isn't
"Now, now," says the abbot, calming them. "Take him home, Mariet. Go home,
Gart, and sleep more."
Mariet comes forward, goes to the door and pauses there.
"Gart! I am going to little Noni."
"Are you coming along with me?"
"I am going to little Noni. What shall I tell him about his father when he
Haggart is silent. Khorre comes back and stops irresolutely at the
threshold. Mariet casts at him a glance full of contempt and then goes
"Here it is, Noni. Drink it, my boy, but not all at once, not all at once,
Haggart drinks; he examines the room with a smile.
"Nobody. Did you see him, Khorre? He is there, behind the curtain. Just
think of it, sailor—here we are again with him alone."
"Go home, Noni!"
"Right away. Give me some gin."
"And they? They have gone?"
"They ran, Noni. Go home, my boy! They ran off like goats. I was laughing
so much, Noni."
"Take down that toy, Khorre. Yes, yes, a little ship. He made it, Khorre."
They examine the toy.
"Look how skilfully the jib was made, Khorre. Good boy, Philipp! But the
halyards are bad, look. No, Philipp! You never saw how real ships are
fitted out—real ships which rove over the ocean, tearing its grey
waves. Was it with this toy that you wanted to quench your little thirst—fool?"
He throws down the little ship and rises:
"Call them! I assume command again, Khorre!"
The sailor turns pale and shouts enthusiastically:
"Noni! Captain! My knees are trembling. I will not be able to reach them
and I will fall on the way."
"You will reach them! We must also take our money away from these people—what
do you think, Khorre? We have played a little, and now it is enough—what
do you think, Khorre?"
He laughs. The sailor looks at him, his hands folded as in prayer, and he
"These are your comrades, Haggart? I am so glad to see them. You said,
Gart, yes—you said that their faces were entirely different from the
faces of our people, and that is true. Oh, how true it is! Our people have
handsome faces, too—don't think our fishermen are ugly, but they
haven't these deep, terrible sears. I like them very much, I assure you,
Gart. I suppose you are a friend of Haggart's—you have such stern,
fine eyes? But you are silent? Why are they silent, Haggart; did you
forbid them to speak? And why are you silent yourself, Haggart? Haggart!"
Illuminated by the light of torches, Haggart stands and listens to the
rapid, agitated speech. The metal of the guns and the uniforms vibrates
and flashes; the light is also playing on the faces of those who have
surrounded Haggart in a close circle—these are his nearest, his
friends. And in the distance there is a different game—there a large
ship is dancing silently, casting its light upon the black waves, and the
black water plays with them, pleating them like a braid, extinguishing
them and kindling them again.
A noisy conversation and the splashing of the waters—and the
dreadful silence of kindred human lips that are sealed.
"I am listening to you, Mariet," says Haggart at last. "What do you want,
Mariet? It is impossible that some one should have offended you. I ordered
them not to touch your house."
"Oh, no, Haggart, no! No one has offended me!" exclaimed Mariet
cheerfully. "But don't you like me to hold little Noni in my arms? Then I
will put him down here among the rocks. Here he will be warm and
comfortable as in his cradle. That's the way! Don't be afraid of waking
him, Gart; he sleeps soundly and will not hear anything. You may shout,
sing, fire a pistol—the boy sleeps soundly."
"What do you want, Mariet? I did not call you here, and I am not pleased
that you have come."
"Of course, you did not call me here, Haggart; of course, you didn't. But
when the fire was started, I thought: 'Now it will light the way for me to
walk. Now I will not stumble.' And I went. Your friends will not be
offended, Haggart, if I will ask them to step aside for awhile? I have
something to tell you, Gart. Of course, I should have done that before, I
understand, Gart; but I only just recalled it now. It was so light to
Haggart says sternly:
"Step aside, Flerio, and you all—step aside with him."
They all step aside.
"What is it that you have recalled, Mariet? Speak! I am going away forever
from your mournful land, where one dreams such painful dreams, where even
the rocks dream of sorrow. And I have forgotten everything."
Gently and submissively, seeking protection and kindness, the woman
presses close to his hand.
"O, Haggart! O, my dear Haggart! They are not offended because I asked
them so rudely to step aside, are they? O, my dear Haggart! The galloons
of your uniform scratched my cheek, but it is so pleasant. Do you know, I
never liked it when you wore the clothes of our fishermen—it was not
becoming to you, Haggart. But I am talking nonsense, and you are getting
angry, Gart. Forgive me!"
"Don't kneel. Get up."
"It was only for a moment. Here, I got up. You ask me what I want? This is
what I want: Take me with you, Haggart! Me and little Noni, Haggart!"
"You say that, Mariet? You say that I should take you along? Perhaps you
are laughing, woman? Or am I dreaming again?"
"Yes, I say that: Take me with you. Is this your ship? How large and
beautiful it is, and it has black sails, I know it. Take me on your ship,
Haggart. I know, you will say: 'We have no women on the ship,' but I will
be the woman: I will be your soul. Haggart, I will be your song, your
thoughts, Haggart! And if it must be so, let Khorre give gin to little
Noni—he is a strong boy."
"Eh, Mariet?" says Haggart sternly. "Do you perhaps want me to believe you
again? Eh, Mariet? Don't talk of that which you do not know, woman. Are
the rocks perhaps casting a spell over me and turning my head? Do you hear
the noise, and something like voices? That is the sea, waiting for me.
Don't hold my soul. Let it go, Mariet."
"Don't speak, Haggart! I know everything. It was not as though I came
along a fiery road, it was not as though I saw blood to-day. Be silent,
Haggart! I have seen something more terrible, Haggart! Oh, if you could
only understand me! I have seen cowardly people who ran without defending
themselves. I have seen clutching, greedy fingers, crooked like those of
birds, like those of birds, Haggart! And out of these fingers, which were
forced open, gold was taken. And suddenly I saw a man sobbing. Think of
it, Haggart! They were taking gold from him, and he was sobbing."
She laughs bitterly. Haggart advances a step toward her and puts his heavy
hand upon her shoulder:
"Yes, yes, Mariet. Speak on, girl, let the sea wait."
Mariet removes his hand and continues:
"'No,' I thought. 'These are not my brethren at all!' I thought and
laughed. And father shouted to the cowards: 'Take shafts and strike them.'
But they were running. Father is such a splendid man."
"Father is a splendid man," Haggart affirms cheerfully.
"Such a splendid man! And then one sailor bent down close to Noni—perhaps
he did not want to do any harm to him, but he bent down to him too
closely, so, I fired at him from your pistol. Is it nothing that I fired
at our sailor?"
"He had a comical face! You killed him, Mariet."
"No. I don't know how to shoot. And it was he who told me where you were.
O Haggart, O brother!"
She sobs, and then she speaks angrily with a shade of a serpentine hiss in
"I hate them! They were not tortured enough; I would have tortured them
still more, still more. Oh, what cowardly rascals they are! Listen,
Haggart, I was always afraid of your power—to me there was always
something terrible and incomprehensible in your power. 'Where is his God?'
I wondered, and I was terrified. Even this morning I was afraid, but now
that this night came, this terror has fled, and I came running to you over
the fiery road: I am going with you, Haggart. Take me, Haggart, I will be
the soul of your ship!"
"I am the soul of my ship, Mariet. But you will be the song of my
liberated soul, Mariet. You shall be the song of my ship, Mariet! Do you
know where we are going? We are going to look for the end of the world,
for unknown lands, for unknown monsters. And at night Father Ocean will
sing to us, Mariet!"
"Embrace me, Haggart. Ah, Haggart, he is not a God who makes cowards of
human beings. We shall go to look for a new God."
Haggart whispers stormily:
"I lied when I said that I have forgotten everything—I learned this
in your land. I love you, Mariet, as I love fire. Eh, Flerio, comrade!" He
shouts cheerfully: "Eh, Flerio, comrade! Have you prepared a salute?"
"I have, Captain. The shores will tremble when our cannons speak."
"Eh, Flerio, comrade! Don't gnash your teeth, without biting—no one
will believe you. Did you put in cannon balls—round, east-iron, good
cannon balls? Give them wings, comrade—let them fly like blackbirds
on land and sea."
"I love to think how the cannon ball flies, Mariet. I love to watch its
invisible flight. If some one comes in its way—let him! Fate itself
strikes down like that. What is an aim? Only fools need an aim, while the
devil, closing his eyes, throws stones—the wise game is merrier this
way. But you are silent! What are you thinking of, Mariet?"
"I am thinking of them. I am forever thinking of them."
"Are you sorry for them?" Haggart frowns.
"Yes, I am sorry for them. But my pity is my hatred, Haggart. I hate them,
and I would kill them, more and more!"
"I feel like flying faster—my soul is so free. Let us jest, Mariet!
Here is a riddle, guess it: For whom will the cannons roar soon? You
think, for me? No. For you? no, no, not for you, Mariet! For little Noni,
for him—for little Noni who is boarding the ship to-night. Let him
wake up from this thunder. How our little Noni will be surprised! And now
be quiet, quiet—don't disturb his sleep—don't spoil little
The sound of voices is heard—a crowd is approaching.
"Where is the captain?"
"Here. Halt, the captain is here!"
"It's all done. They can be crammed into a basket like herrings."
"Our boatswain is a brave fellow! A jolly man."
Khorre, intoxicated and jolly, shouts:
"Not so loud, devils! Don't you see that the captain is here? They scream
like seagulls over a dead dolphin."
Mariet steps aside a little distance, where little Noni is sleeping.
KHORRE—Here we are, Captain. No losses, Captain. And how we laughed,
HAGGART—You got drunk rather early. Come to the point.
KHORRE—Very well. The thing is done, Captain. We've picked up all
our money—not worse than the imperial tax collectors. I could not
tell which was ours, so I picked up all the money. But if they have buried
some of the gold, forgive us, Captain—we are not peasants to plough
Laughter. Haggart also laughs.
"Let them sow, we shall reap."
"Golden words, Noni. Eh, Tommy, listen to what the Captain is saying. And
another thing: Whether you will be angry or not—I have broken the
music. I have scattered it in small pieces. Show your pipe, Tetyu! Do you
see, Noni, I didn't do it at once, no. I told him to play a jig, and he
said that he couldn't do it. Then he lost his mind and ran away. They all
lost their minds there, Captain. Eh, Tommy, show your beard. An old woman
tore half of his beard out, Captain—now he is a disgrace to look
upon. Eh, Tommy! He has hidden himself, he's ashamed to show his face,
Captain. And there's another thing: The priest is coming here."
Khorre, astonished, asks:
"Are you here? If she came to complain, I must report to you, Captain—the
priest almost killed one of our sailors. And she, too. I ordered the men
to bind the priest—"
"I don't understand your actions, Noni—"
Haggart, restraining his rage, exclaims:
"I shall have you put in irons! Silence!"
With ever-growing rage:
"You dare talk back to me, riff-raff! You—"
Mariet cautions him:
"Gart! They have brought father here."
Several sailors bring in the abbot, bound. His clothes are in disorder,
his face is agitated and pale. He looks at Mariet with some amazement, and
lowers his eyes. Then he heaves a sigh.
"Untie him!" says Mariet. Haggart corrects her restrainedly:
"Only I command here, Mariet. Khorre, untie him."
Khorre unfastens the knots. Silence.
"You have arranged a fine night, Haggart!"
Haggart speaks with restraint:
"It is unpleasant for me to see you. Why did you come here? Go home,
priest, no one will touch you. Keep on fishing—and what else were
you doing? Oh, yes—make your own prayers. We are going out to the
ocean; your daughter, you know, is also going with me. Do you see the
ship? That is mine. It's a pity that you don't know about ships—you
would have laughed for joy at the sight of such a beautiful ship! Why is
he silent, Mariet? You had better tell him."
ABBOT—Prayers? In what language? Have you, perhaps, discovered a new
language in which prayers reach God? Oh, Haggart, Haggart!
He weeps, covering his face with his hands. Haggart, alarmed, asks:
"You are crying, abbot?"
"Look, Gart, he is crying. Father never cried. I am afraid, Gart."
The abbot stops crying. Heaving a deep sigh, he says:
"I don't know what they call you: Haggart or devil or something else—I
have come to you with a request. Do you hear, robber, with a request? Tell
your crew not to gnash their teeth like that—I don't like it."
Haggart replies morosely:
"Go home, priest! Mariet will stay with me."
"Let her stay with you. I don't need her, and if you need her, take her.
Take her, Haggart. But—"
He kneels before him. A murmur of astonishment. Mariet, frightened,
advances a step to her father.
"Father! You are kneeling?"
ABBOT—Robber! Give us back the money. You will rob more for
yourself, but give this money to us. You are young yet, you will rob some
HAGGART—You are insane! There's a man—he will drive the devil
himself to despair! Listen, priest, I am shouting to you: You have simply
lost your mind!
The abbot, still kneeling, continues:
"Perhaps, I have—by God, I don't know. Robber, dearest, what is this
to you? Give us this money. I feel sorry for them, for the scoundrels!
They rejoiced so much, the scoundrels. They blossomed forth like an old
blackthorn which has nothing but thorns and a ragged bark. They are
sinners. But am I imploring God for their sake? I am imploring you.
Mariet looks now at Haggart, now at the priest. Haggart is hesitating. The
abbot keeps muttering:
"Robber, do you want me to call you son? Well, then—son—it
makes no difference now—I will never see you again. It's all the
same! Like an old blackthorn, they bloomed—oh, Lord, those
scoundrels, those old scoundrels!"
"No," Haggart replied sternly.
"Then you are the devil, that's who you are. You are the devil," mutters
the abbot, rising heavily from the ground. Haggart shows his teeth,
"Do you wish to sell your soul to the devil? Yes? Eh, abbot—don't
you know yet that the devil always pays with spurious money? Let me have a
He seizes a torch and lifts it high over his head—he covers his
terrible face with fire and smoke.
"Look, here I am! Do you see? Now ask me, if you dare!"
He flings the torch away. What does the abbot dream in this land full of
monstrous dreams? Terrified, his heavy frame trembling, helplessly pushing
the people aside with his hands, he retreats. He turns around. Now he sees
the glitter of the metal, the dark and terrible faces; he hears the angry
splashing of the waters—and he covers his head with his hands and
walks off quickly. Then Khorre jumps up and strikes him with a knife in
"Why have you done it?"—the abbot clutches the hand that struck him
"Just so—for nothing!"
The abbot falls to the ground and dies.
"Why have you done it?" cries Mariet.
"Why have you done it?" roars Haggart.
And a strange voice, coming from some unknown depths, answers with
"You commanded me to do it."
Haggart looks around and sees the stern, dark faces, the quivering glitter
of the metal, the motionless body; he hears the mysterious, merry dashing
of the waves. And he clasps his head in a fit of terror.
"Who commanded? It was the roaring of the sea. I did not want to kill him—no,
Sombre voices answer:
"You commanded. We heard it. You commanded."
Haggart listens, his head thrown back. Suddenly he bursts into loud
"Oh, devils, devils! Do you think that I have two ears in order that you
may lie in each one? Go down on your knees, rascal!"
He hurls Khorre to the ground.
"String him up with a rope! I would have crushed your venomous head myself—but
let them do it. Oh, devils, devils! String him up with a rope."
Khorre whines harshly:
"Me, Captain! I was your nurse, Noni."
"I? Noni! Your nurse? You squealed like a little pig in the cook's room.
Have you forgotten it, Noni?" mutters the sailor plaintively.
"Eh," shouts Haggart to the stern crowd. "Take him!"
Several men advance to him. Khorre rises.
"If you do it to me, to your own nurse—then you have recovered,
Noni! Eh, obey the captain! Take me! I'll make you cry enough, Tommy! You
are always the mischief-maker!"
Grim laughter. Several sailors surround Khorre as Haggart watches them
sternly. A dissatisfied voice says:
"There is no place where to hang him here. There isn't a single tree
"Let us wait till we get aboard ship! Let him die honestly on the mast."
"I know of a tree around here, but I won't tell you," roars Khorre
hoarsely. "Look for it yourself! Well, you have astonished me, Noni. How
you shouted, 'String him up with a rope!' Exactly like your father—he
almost hanged me, too. Good-bye, Noni, now I understand your actions. Eh,
gin! and then—on the rope!"
Khorre goes off. No one dares approach Haggart; still enraged, he paces
back and forth with long strides. He pauses, glances at the body and paces
again. Then he calls:
"Flerio! Did you hear me give orders to kill this man?"
"You may go."
He paces back and forth again, and then calls:
"Flerio! Have you ever heard the sea lying?"
"If they can't find a tree, order them to choke him with their hands."
He paces back and forth again. Mariet is laughing quietly.
"Who is laughing?" asks Haggart in fury.
"I," answers Mariet. "I am thinking of how they are hanging him and I am
laughing. O, Haggart, O, my noble Haggart! Your wrath is the wrath of God,
do you know it? No. You are strange, you are dear, you are terrible,
Haggart, but I am not afraid of you. Give me your hand, Haggart, press it
firmly, firmly. Here is a powerful hand!"
"Flerio, my friend, did you hear what he said? He says the sea never
"You are powerful and you are just—I was insane when I feared your
power, Gart. May I shout to the sea: 'Haggart, the Just'?"
"That is not true. Be silent, Mariet, you are intoxicated with blood. I
don't know what justice is."
"Who, then, knows it? You, you, Haggart! You are God's justice, Haggart.
Is it true that he was your nurse? Oh, I know what it means to be a nurse;
a nurse feeds you, teaches you to walk—you love a nurse as your
mother. Isn't that true, Gart—you love a nurse as a mother? And yet—'string
him up with a rope, Khorre'!"
She laughs quietly.
A loud, ringing laughter resounds from the side where Khorre was led away.
Haggart stops, perplexed.
"What is it?"
"The devil is meeting his soul there," says Mariet.
"No. Let go of my hand! Eh, who's there?"
A crowd is coming. They are laughing and grinning, showing their teeth.
But noticing the captain, they become serious. The people are repeating
one and the same name:
"Khorre! Khorre! Khorre!"
And then Khorre himself appears, dishevelled, crushed, but happy—the
rope has broken. Knitting his brow, Haggart is waiting in silence.
"The rope broke, Noni," mutters Khorre hoarsely, modestly, yet with
dignity. "There are the ends! Eh, you there, keep quiet! There is nothing
to laugh at—they started to hang me, and the rope broke, Noni."
Haggart looks at his old, drunken, frightened, and happy face, and he
laughs like a madman. And the sailors respond with roaring laughter. The
reflected lights are dancing more merrily upon the waves—as if they
are also laughing with the people.
"Just look at him, Mariet, what a face he has," Haggart is almost choking
with laughter. "Are you happy? Speak—are you happy? Look, Mariet,
what a happy face he has! The rope broke—that's very strong—it
is stronger even than what I said: 'String him up with a rope.' Who said
it? Don't you know, Khorre? You are out of your wits, and you don't know
anything—well, never mind, you needn't know. Eh, give him gin! I am
glad, very glad that you are not altogether through with your gin. Drink,
"Eh, the boatswain wants a drink! Gin!"
Khorre drinks it with dignity, amid laughter and shouts of approval.
Suddenly all the noise dies down and a sombre silence reigns—a
woman's strange voice drowns the noise—so strange and unfamiliar, as
if it were not Mariet's voice at all, but another voice speaking with her
"Haggart! You have pardoned him, Haggart?"
Some of the people look at the body; those standing near it step aside.
Haggart asks, surprised:
"Whose voice is that? Is that yours, Mariet? How strange! I did not
recognise your voice."
"You have pardoned him, Haggart?"
"You have heard—the rope broke—"
"Tell me, did you pardon the murderer? I want to hear your voice,
A threatening voice is heard from among the crowd:
"The rope broke. Who is talking there? The rope broke."
"Silence!" exclaims Haggart, but there is no longer the same commanding
tone in his voice. "Take them all away! Boatswain! Whistle for everybody
to go aboard. The time is up! Flerio! Get the boats ready."
Khorre whistles. The sailors disperse unwillingly, and the same
threatening voice sounds somewhere from the darkness:
"I thought at first it was the dead man who started to speak. But I would
have answered him too: 'Lie there! The rope broke.'"
Another voice replies:
"Don't grumble. Khorre has stronger defenders than you are."
"What are you prating about, devils?" says Khorre. "Silence! Is that you,
Tommy? I know you, you are always the mischief-maker—"
"Come on, Mariet!" says Haggart. "Give me little Noni, I want to carry him
to the boat myself. Come on, Mariet."
"Eh, Mariet! The dreams are ended. I don't like your voice, woman—when
did you find time to change it? What a land of jugglers! I have never seen
such a land before!"
"Eh, Haggart! The dreams are ended. I don't like your voice, either—little
Haggart! But it may be that I am still sleeping—then wake me.
Haggart, swear that it was you who said it: 'The rope broke.' Swear that
my eyes have not grown blind and that they see Khorre alive. Swear that
this is your hand, Haggart!"
Silence. The voice of the sea is growing louder—there is the splash
and the call and the promise of a stern caress.
Silence. Khorre and Flerio come up to Haggart.
"All's ready, Captain," says Flerio.
"They are waiting, Noni. Go quicker! They want to feast to-night, Noni!
But I must tell you, Noni, that they—"
HAGGART—Did you say something, Flerio? Yes, yes, everything is
ready. I am coming. I think I am not quite through yet with land. This is
such a remarkable land, Flerio; the dreams here drive their claws into a
man like thorns, and they hold him. One has to tear his clothing, and
perhaps his body as well. What did you say, Mariet?
MARIET—Don't you want to kiss little Noni? You shall never kiss him
"No, I don't want to."
"You will go alone."
"Yes, I will go alone."
"Did you ever cry, Haggart?"
"Who is crying now? I hear some one crying bitterly."
"That is not true—it is the roaring of the sea."
"Oh, Haggart! Of what great sorrow does that voice speak?"
"Be silent, Mariet. It is the roaring of the sea."
"Is everything ended now, Haggart?"
"Everything is ended, Mariet."
Mariet, imploring, says:
"Gart! Only one motion of the hand! Right here—against the heart—Gart!"
"No. Leave me alone."
"Only one motion of the hand! Here is your knife. Have pity on me, kill me
with your hand. Only one motion of your hand, Gart!"
"Let go. Give me my knife."
"Gart, I bless you! One motion of your hand, Gart!"
Haggart tears himself away, pushing the woman aside:
"No! Don't you know that it is just as hard to make one motion of the hand
as it is for the sun to come down from the sky? Good-bye, Mariet!"
"You are going away?"
"Yes, I am going away. I am going away, Mariet. That's how it sounds."
"I shall curse you, Haggart. Do you know! I shall curse you, Haggart. And
little Noni will curse you, Haggart—Haggart!"
Haggart exclaims cheerfully and harshly:
"Eh, Khorre. You, Flerio, my old friend. Come here, give me your hand—Oh,
what a powerful hand it is! Why do you pull me by the sleeve, Khorre? You
have such a funny face. I can almost see how the rope snapped, and you
came down like a sack. Flerio, old friend, I feel like saying something
funny, but I have forgotten how to say it. How do they say it? Remind me,
Flerio. What do you want, sailor?"
Khorre whispers to him hoarsely:
"Noni, be on your guard. The rope broke because they used a rotten rope
intentionally. They are betraying you! Be on your guard, Noni. Strike them
on the head, Noni."
Haggart bursts out laughing.
"Now you have said something funny. And I? Listen, Flerio, old friend.
This woman who stands and looks—No, that will not be funny!"
He advances a step.
"Khorre, do you remember how well this man prayed? Why was he killed? He
prayed so well. But there is one prayer he did not know—this one—'To
you I bring my great eternal sorrow; I am going to you, Father Ocean!'"
And a distant voice, sad and grave, replies:
"Oh, Haggart, my dear Haggart."
But who knows—perhaps it was the roaring of the waves. Many sad and
strange dreams come to man on earth.
"All aboard!" exclaims Haggart cheerily, and goes off without looking
around. Below, a gay noise of voices and laughter resounds. The
cobblestones are rattling under the firm footsteps—Haggart is going
He goes, without turning around.
He has gone away.
Loud shouting is heard—the sailors are greeting Haggart. They drink
and go off into the darkness. On the shore, the torches which were cast
aside are burning low, illumining the body, and a woman is rushing about.
She runs swiftly from one spot to another, bending down over the steep
rocks. Insane Dan comes crawling out.
"Is that you, Dan? Do you hear, they are singing, Dan? Haggart has gone
"I was waiting for them to go. Here is another one. I am gathering the
pipes of my organ. Here is another one."
"Be accursed, Dan!"
"Oho? And you, too, Mariet, be accursed!"
Mariet clasps the child in her arms and lifts him high. Then she calls
"Haggart, turn around! Turn around, Haggart! Noni is calling you. He wants
to curse you, Haggart. Turn around! Look, Noni, look—that is your
father. Remember him, Noni. And when you grow up, go out on every sea and
find him, Noni. And when you find him—hang your father high on a
mast, my little one."
The thundering salute drowns her cry. Haggart has boarded his ship. The
night grows darker and the dashing of the waves fainter—the ocean is
moving away with the tide. The great desert of the sky is mute and the
night grows darker and the dashing of the waves ever fainter.
JUDAS ISCARIOT AND OTHERS
Jesus Christ had often been warned that Judas Iscariot was a man of very
evil repute, and that He ought to beware of him. Some of the disciples,
who had been in Judaea, knew him well, while others had heard much about
him from various sources, and there was none who had a good word for him.
If good people in speaking of him blamed him, as covetous, cunning, and
inclined to hypocrisy and lying, the bad, when asked concerning him,
inveighed against him in the severest terms.
"He is always making mischief among us," they would say, and spit in
contempt. "He always has some thought which he keeps to himself. He creeps
into a house quietly, like a scorpion, but goes out again with an
ostentatious noise. There are friends among thieves, and comrades among
robbers, and even liars have wives, to whom they speak the truth; but
Judas laughs at thieves and honest folk alike, although he is himself a
clever thief. Moreover, he is in appearance the ugliest person in Judaea.
No! he is no friend of ours, this foxy-haired Judas Iscariot," the bad
would say, thereby surprising the good people, in whose opinion there was
not much difference between him and all other vicious people in Judaea.
They would recount further that he had long ago deserted his wife, who was
living in poverty and misery, striving to eke out a living from the
unfruitful patch of land which constituted his estate. He had wandered for
many years aimlessly among the people, and had even gone from one sea to
the other,—no mean distance,—and everywhere he lied and
grimaced, and would make some discovery with his thievish eye, and then
suddenly disappear, leaving behind him animosity and strife. Yes, he was
as inquisitive, artful and hateful as a one-eyed demon. Children he had
none, and this was an additional proof that Judas was a wicked man, that
God would not have from him any posterity.
None of the disciples had noticed when it was that this ugly, foxy-haired
Jew first appeared in the company of Christ: but he had for a long time
haunted their path, joined in their conversations, performed little acts
of service, bowing and smiling and currying favour. Sometimes they became
quite used to him, so that he escaped their weary eyes; then again he
would suddenly obtrude himself on eye and ear, irritating them as
something abnormally ugly, treacherous and disgusting. They would drive
him away with harsh words, and for a short time he would disappear, only
to reappear suddenly, officious, flattering and crafty as a one-eyed
There was no doubt in the minds of some of the disciples that under his
desire to draw near to Jesus was hidden some secret intention—some
malign and cunning scheme.
But Jesus did not listen to their advice; their prophetic voice did not
reach His ears. In that spirit of serene contradiction, which ever
irresistibly inclined Him to the reprobate and unlovable, He deliberately
accepted Judas, and included him in the circle of the chosen. The
disciples were disturbed and murmured under their breath, but He would sit
still, with His face towards the setting sun, and listen abstractedly,
perhaps to them, perhaps to something else. For ten days there had been no
wind, and the transparent atmosphere, wary and sensitive, continued ever
the same, motionless and unchanged. It seemed as though it preserved in
its transparent depths every cry and song made during those days by men
and beasts and birds—tears, laments and cheerful song, prayers and
curses—and that on account of these crystallised sounds the air was
so heavy, threatening, and saturated with invisible life. Once more the
sun was sinking. It rolled heavily downwards in a flaming ball, setting
the sky on fire. Everything upon the earth which was turned towards it:
the swarthy face of Jesus, the walls of the houses, and the leaves of the
trees—everything obediently reflected that distant, fearfully
pensive light. Now the white walls were no longer white, and the white
city upon the white hill was turned to red.
And lo! Judas arrived. He arrived bowing low, bending his back, cautiously
and timidly protruding his ugly, bumpy head—just exactly as his
acquaintances had described. He was spare and of good height, almost the
same as that of Jesus, who stooped a little through the habit of thinking
as He walked, and so appeared shorter than He was. Judas was to all
appearances fairly strong and well knit, though for some reason or other
he pretended to be weak and somewhat sickly. He had an uncertain voice.
Sometimes it was strong and manly, then again shrill as that of an old
woman scolding her husband, provokingly thin, and disagreeable to the ear,
so that ofttimes one felt inclined to tear out his words from the ear,
like rough, decaying splinters. His short red locks failed to hide the
curious form of his skull. It looked as if it had been split at the nape
of the neck by a double sword-cut, and then joined together again, so that
it was apparently divided into four parts, and inspired distrust, nay,
even alarm: for behind such a cranium there could be no quiet or concord,
but there must ever be heard the noise of sanguinary and merciless strife.
The face of Judas was similarly doubled. One side of it, with a black,
sharply watchful eye, was vivid and mobile, readily gathering into
innumerable tortuous wrinkles. On the other side were no wrinkles. It was
deadly flat, smooth, and set, and though of the same size as the other, it
seemed enormous on account of its wide-open blind eye. Covered with a
whitish film, closing neither night nor day, this eye met light and
darkness with the same indifference, but perhaps on account of the
proximity of its lively and crafty companion it never got full credit for
When in a paroxysm of joy or excitement, Judas would close his sound eye
and shake his head. The other eye would always shake in unison and gaze in
silence. Even people quite devoid of penetration could clearly perceive,
when looking at Judas, that such a man could bring no good....
And yet Jesus brought him near to Himself, and once even made him sit next
to Him. John, the beloved disciple, fastidiously moved away, and all the
others who loved their Teacher cast down their eyes in disapprobation. But
Judas sat on, and turning his head from side to side, began in a somewhat
thin voice to complain of ill-health, and said that his chest gave him
pain in the night, and that when ascending a hill he got out of breath,
and when he stood still on the edge of a precipice he would be seized with
a dizziness, and could scarcely restrain a foolish desire to throw himself
down. And many other impious things he invented, as though not
understanding that sicknesses do not come to a man by chance, but as a
consequence of conduct not corresponding with the laws of the Eternal.
Thus Judas Iscariot kept on rubbing his chest with his broad palm, and
even pretended to cough, midst a general silence and downcast eyes.
John, without looking at the Teacher, whispered to his friend Simon Peter—
"Aren't you tired of that lie? I can't stand it any longer. I am going
Peter glanced at Jesus, and meeting his eye, quickly arose.
"Wait a moment," said he to his friend.
Once more he looked at Jesus; sharply as a stone torn from a mountain, he
moved towards Judas, and said to him in a loud voice, with expansive,
"You will come with us, Judas."
He gave him a kindly slap on his bent back, and without looking at the
Teacher, though he felt His eye upon him, resolutely added in his loud
voice, which excluded all objection, just as water excludes air—
"It does not matter that you have such a nasty face. There fall into our
nets even worse monstrosities, and they sometimes turn out very tasty
food. It is not for us, our Lord's fishermen, to throw away a catch,
merely because the fish have spines, or only one eye. I saw once at Tyre
an octopus, which had been caught by the local fishermen, and I was so
frightened that I wanted to run away. But they laughed at me. A fisherman
from Tiberias gave me some of it to eat, and I asked for more, it was so
tasty. You remember, Master, that I told you the story, and you laughed,
too. And you, Judas, are like an octopus—but only on one side."
And he laughed loudly, content with his joke. When Peter spoke, his words
resounded so forcibly, that it seemed as though he were driving them in
with nails. When Peter moved, or did anything, he made a noise that could
be heard afar, and which called forth a response from the deafest of
things: the stone floor rumbled under his feet, the doors shook and
rattled, and the very air was convulsed with fear, and roared. In the
clefts of the mountains his voice awoke the inmost echo, and in the
morning-time, when they were fishing on the lake, he would roll about on
the sleepy, glittering water, and force the first shy sunbeams into
For this apparently he was loved: when on all other faces there still lay
the shadow of night, his powerful head, and bare breast, and freely
extended arms were already aglow with the light of dawn.
The words of Peter, evidently approved as they were by the Master,
dispersed the oppressive atmosphere. But some of the disciples, who had
been to the seaside and had seen an octopus, were disturbed by the
monstrous image so lightly applied to the new disciple. They recalled the
immense eyes, the dozens of greedy tentacles, the feigned repose—and
how all at once: it embraced, clung, crushed and sucked, all without one
wink of its monstrous eyes. What did it mean? But Jesus remained silent,
He smiled with a frown of kindly raillery on Peter, who was still telling
glowing tales about the octopus. Then one by one the disciples
shame-facedly approached Judas, and began a friendly conversation, with
him, but—beat a hasty and awkward retreat.
Only John, the son of Zebedee, maintained an obstinate silence; and Thomas
had evidently not made up his mind to say anything, but was still weighing
the matter. He kept his gaze attentively fixed on Christ and Judas as they
sat together. And that strange proximity of divine beauty and monstrous
ugliness, of a man with a benign look, and of an octopus with immense,
motionless, dully greedy eyes, oppressed his mind like an insoluble
He tensely wrinkled his smooth, upright forehead, and screwed up his eyes,
thinking that he would see better so, but only succeeded in imagining that
Judas really had eight incessantly moving feet. But that was not true.
Thomas understood that, and again gazed obstinately.
Judas gathered courage: he straightened out his arms, which had been bent
at the elbows, relaxed the muscles which held his jaws in tension, and
began cautiously to protrude his bumpy head into the light. It had been
the whole time in view of all, but Judas imagined that it had been
impenetrably hidden from sight by some invisible, but thick and cunning
veil. But lo! now, as though creeping out from a ditch, he felt his
strange skull, and then his eyes, in the light: he stopped and then
deliberately exposed his whole face. Nothing happened; Peter had gone away
somewhere or other. Jesus sat pensive, with His head leaning on His hand,
and gently swayed His sunburnt foot. The disciples were conversing
together, and only Thomas gazed at him attentively and seriously, like a
conscientious tailor taking measurement. Judas smiled; Thomas did not
reply to the smile; but evidently took it into account, as he did
everything else, and continued to gaze. But something unpleasant alarmed
the left side of Judas' countenance as he looked round. John, handsome,
pure, without a single fleck upon his snow-white conscience, was looking
at him out of a dark corner, with cold but beautiful eyes. And though he
walked as others walk, yet Judas felt as if he were dragging himself along
the ground like a whipped cur, as he went up to John and said: "Why are
you silent, John? Your words are like golden apples in vessels of silver
filigree; bestow one of them on Judas, who is so poor."
John looked steadfastly into his wide-open motionless eye, and said
nothing. And he looked on, while Judas crept out, hesitated a moment, and
then disappeared in the deep darkness of the open door.
Since the full moon was up, there were many people out walking. Jesus went
out too, and from the low roof on which Judas had spread his couch he saw
Him going out. In the light of the moon each white figure looked bright
and deliberate in its movements; and seemed not so much to walk as to
glide in front of its dark shadow. Then suddenly a man would be lost in
something black, and his voice became audible. And when people reappeared
in the moonlight, they seemed silent—like white walls, or black
shadows—as everything did in the transparent mist of night. Almost
every one was asleep when Judas heard the soft voice of Jesus returning.
All in and around about the house was still. A cock crew; somewhere an
ass, disturbed in his sleep, brayed aloud and insolently as in daytime,
then reluctantly and gradually relapsed into silence. Judas did not sleep
at all, but listened surreptitiously. The moon illumined one half of his
face, and was reflected strangely in his enormous open eye, as on the
frozen surface of a lake.
Suddenly he remembered something, and hastily coughed, rubbing his
perfectly healthy chest with his hairy hand: maybe some one was not yet
asleep, and was listening to what Judas was thinking!
They gradually became used to Judas, and ceased to notice his ugliness.
Jesus entrusted the common purse to him, and with it there fell on him all
household cares: he purchased the necessary food and clothing, distributed
alms, and when they were on the road, it was his duty to choose the place
where they were to stop, or to find a night's lodging.
All this he did very cleverly, so that in a short time he had earned the
goodwill of some of the disciples, who had noticed his efforts. Judas was
an habitual liar, but they became used to this, when they found that his
lies were not followed by any evil conduct; nay, they added a special
piquancy to his conversation and tales, and made life seem like a comic,
and sometimes a tragic, tale.
According to his stories, he seemed to know every one, and each person
that he knew had some time in his life been guilty of evil conduct, or
even crime. Those, according to him, were called good, who knew how to
conceal their thoughts and acts; but if one only embraced, flattered, and
questioned such a man sufficiently, there would ooze out from him every
untruth, nastiness, and lie, like matter from a pricked wound. He freely
confessed that he sometimes lied himself; but affirmed with an oath that
others were still greater liars, and that if any one in this world was
ever deceived, it was Judas.
Indeed, according to his own account, he had been deceived, time upon
time, in one way or another. Thus, a certain guardian of the treasures of
a rich grandee once confessed to him, that he had for ten years been
continually on the point of stealing the property committed to him, but
that he was debarred by fear of the grandee, and of his own conscience.
And Judas believed him—and he suddenly committed the theft, and
deceived Judas. But even then Judas still trusted him—and then he
suddenly restored the stolen treasure to the grandee, and again deceived
Judas. Yes, everything deceived him, even animals. Whenever he pets a dog
it bites his fingers; but when he beats it with a stick it licks his feet,
and looks into his eyes like a daughter. He killed one such dog, and
buried it deep, laying a great stone on the top of it—but who knows?
Perhaps just because he killed it, it has come to life again, and instead
of lying in the trench, is running about cheerfully with other dogs.
All laughed merrily at Judas' tale, and he smiled pleasantly himself,
winking his one lively, mocking eye—and by that very smile confessed
that he had lied somewhat; that he had not really killed the dog. But he
meant to find it and kill it, because he did not wish to be deceived. And
at these words of Judas they laughed all the more.
But sometimes in his tales he transgressed the bounds of probability, and
ascribed to people such proclivities as even the beasts do not possess,
accusing them of such crimes as are not, and never have been. And since he
named in this connection the most honoured people, some were indignant at
the calumny, while others jokingly asked:
"How about your own father and mother, Judas—were they not good
Judas winked his eye, and smiled with a gesture of his hands. And the
fixed, wide-open eye shook in unison with the shaking of his head, and
looked out in silence.
"But who was my father? Perhaps it was the man who used to beat me with a
rod, or may be—a devil, a goat or a cock.... How can Judas tell? How
can Judas tell with whom his mother shared her couch. Judas had many
fathers: to which of them do you refer?"
But at this they were all indignant, for they had a profound reverence for
parents; and Matthew, who was very learned in the scriptures, said
severely in the words of Solomon:
"'Whoso slandereth his father and his mother, his lamp shall be
extinguished in deep darkness.'"
But John the son of Zebedee haughtily jerked out: "And what of us? What
evil have you to say of us, Judas Iscariot?"
But he waved his hands in simulated terror, whined, and bowed like a
beggar, who has in vain asked an alms of a passer-by: "Ah! they are
tempting poor Judas! They are laughing at him, they wish to take in the
poor, trusting Judas!" And while one side of his face was crinkled up in
buffooning grimaces, the other side wagged sternly and severely, and the
never-closing eye looked out in a broad stare.
More and louder than any laughed Simon Peter at the jokes of Judas
Iscariot. But once it happened that he suddenly frowned, and became silent
and sad, and hastily dragging Judas aside by the sleeve, he bent down, and
asked in a hoarse whisper—
"But Jesus? What do you think of Jesus? Speak seriously, I entreat you."
Judas cast on him a malign glance.
"And what do you think?"
Peter whispered with awe and gladness—
"I think that He is the son of the living God."
"Then why do you ask? What can Judas tell you, whose father was a goat?"
"But do you love Him? You do not seem to love any one, Judas."
And with the same strange malignity, Iscariot blurted out abruptly and
sharply: "I do."
Some two days after this conversation, Peter openly dubbed Judas "my
friend the octopus"; but Judas awkwardly, and ever with the same
malignity, endeavoured to creep away from him into some dark corner, and
would sit there morosely glaring with his white, never-closing eye.
Thomas alone took him quite seriously. He understood nothing of jokes,
hypocrisy or lies, nor of the play upon words and thoughts, but
investigated everything positively to the very bottom. He would often
interrupt Judas' stories about wicked people and their conduct with short
"You must prove that. Did you hear it yourself? Was there any one present
besides yourself? What was his name?"
At this Judas would get angry, and shrilly cry out, that he had seen and
heard everything himself; but the obstinate Thomas would go on
cross-examining quietly and persistently, until Judas confessed that he
had lied, or until he invented some new and more probable lie, which
provided the others for some time with food for thought. But when Thomas
discovered a discrepancy, he would immediately come and calmly expose the
Usually Judas excited in him a strong curiosity, which brought about
between them a sort of friendship, full of wrangling, jeering, and
invective on the one side, and of quiet insistence on the other. Sometimes
Judas felt an unbearable aversion to his strange friend, and, transfixing
him with a sharp glance, would say irritably, and almost with entreaty—
"What more do you want? I have told you all."
"I want you to prove how it is possible that a he-goat should be your
father," Thomas would reply with calm insistency, and wait for an answer.
It chanced once, that after such a question, Judas suddenly stopped
speaking and gazed at him with surprise from head to foot. What he saw was
a tall, upright figure, a grey face, honest eyes of transparent blue, two
fat folds beginning at the nose and losing themselves in a stiff,
evenly-trimmed beard. He said with conviction:
"What a stupid you are, Thomas! What do you dream about—a tree, a
wall, or a donkey?"
Thomas was in some way strangely perturbed, and made no reply. But at
night, when Judas was already closing his vivid, restless eye for sleep,
he suddenly said aloud from where he lay—the two now slept together
on the roof—
"You are wrong, Judas. I have very bad dreams. What think you? Are people
responsible for their dreams?"
"Does, then, any one but the dreamer see a dream?" Judas replied.
Thomas sighed gently, and became thoughtful. But Judas smiled
contemptuously, and firmly closed his roguish eye, and quickly gave
himself up to his mutinous dreams, monstrous ravings, mad phantoms, which
rent his bumpy skull to pieces.
When, during Jesus' travels about Judaea, the disciples approached a
village, Iscariot would speak evil of the inhabitants and foretell
misfortune. But almost always it happened that the people, of whom he had
spoken evil, met Christ and His friends with gladness, and surrounded them
with attentions and love, and became believers, and Judas' money-box
became so full that it was difficult to carry. And when they laughed at
his mistake, he would make a humble gesture with his hands, and say:
"Well, well! Judas thought that they were bad, and they turned out to be
good. They quickly believed, and gave money. That only means that Judas
has been deceived once more, the poor, confiding Judas Iscariot!"
But on one occasion, when they had already gone far from a village, which
had welcomed them kindly, Thomas and Judas began a hot dispute, to settle
which they turned back, and did not overtake Jesus and His disciples until
the next day. Thomas wore a perturbed and sorrowful appearance, while
Judas had such a proud look, that you would have thought that he expected
them to offer him their congratulations and thanks upon the spot.
Approaching the Master, Thomas declared with decision: "Judas was right,
Lord. They were ill-disposed, stupid people. And the seeds of your words
has fallen upon the rock." And he related what had happened in the
After Jesus and His disciples left it, an old woman had begun to cry out
that her little white kid had been stolen, and she laid the theft at the
door of the visitors who had just departed. At first the people had
disputed with her, but when she obstinately insisted that there was no one
else who could have done it except Jesus, many agreed with her, and even
were about to start in pursuit. And although they soon found the kid
straying in the underwood, they still decided that Jesus was a deceiver,
and possibly a thief.
"So that's what they think of us, is it?" cried Peter, with a snort.
"Lord, wilt Thou that I return to those fools, and—"
But Jesus, saying not a word, gazed severely at him, and Peter in silence
retired behind the others. And no one ever referred to the incident again,
as though it had never occurred, and as though Judas had been proved
wrong. In vain did he show himself on all sides, endeavouring to give to
his double, crafty, hooknosed face an expression of modesty. They would
not look at him, and if by chance any one did glance at him, it was in a
very unfriendly, not to say contemptuous, manner.
From that day on Jesus' treatment of him underwent a strange change.
Formerly, for some reason or other, Judas never used to speak directly
with Jesus, who never addressed Himself directly to him, but nevertheless
would often glance at him with kindly eyes, smile at his rallies, and if
He had not seen him for some time, would inquire: "Where is Judas?"
But now He looked at him as if He did not see him, although as before, and
indeed more determinedly than formerly, He sought him out with His eyes
every time that He began to speak to the disciples or to the people; but
He was either sitting with His back to him, so that He was obliged, as it
were, to cast His words over His head so as to reach Judas, or else He
made as though He did not notice him at all. And whatever He said, though
it was one thing one day, and then next day quite another, although it
might be the very thing that Judas was thinking, it always seemed as
though He were speaking against him. To all He was the tender, beautiful
flower, the sweet-smelling rose of Lebanon, but for Judas He left only
sharp thorns, as though Judas had neither heart, nor sight, nor smell, and
did not understand, even better than any, the beauty of tender, immaculate
"Thomas! Do you like the yellow rose of Lebanon, which has a swarthy
countenance and eyes like the roe?" he inquired once of his friend, who
"Rose? Yes, I like the smell. But I have never heard of a rose with a
swarthy countenance and eyes like a roe!"
"What? Do you not know that the polydactylous cactus, which tore your new
garment yesterday, has only one beautiful flower, and only one eye?"
But Thomas did not know this, although only yesterday a cactus had
actually caught in his garment and torn it into wretched rags. But then
Thomas never did know anything, though he asked questions about
everything, and looked so straight with his bright, transparent eyes,
through which, as through a pane of Phoenician glass, was visible a wall,
with a dismal ass tied to it.
Some time later another occurrence took place, in which Judas again proved
to be in the right.
At a certain village in Judaea, of which Judas had so bad an opinion, that
he had advised them to avoid it, the people received Christ with
hostility, and after His sermon and exposition of hypocrites they burst
into fury, and threatened to stone Jesus and His disciples. Enemies He had
many, and most likely they would have carried out their sinister
intention, but for Judas Iscariot. Seized with a mad fear for Jesus, as
though he already saw the drops of ruby blood upon His white garment,
Judas threw himself in blind fury upon the crowd, scolding, screeching,
beseeching, and lying, and thus gave time and opportunity to Jesus and His
disciples to escape.
Amazingly active, as though running upon a dozen feet, laughable and
terrible in his fury and entreaties, he threw himself madly in front of
the crowd and charmed it with a certain strange power. He shouted that the
Nazarene was not possessed of a devil, that He was simply an impostor, a
thief who loved money as did all His disciples, and even Judas himself:
and he rattled the money-box, grimaced, and beseeched, throwing himself on
the ground. And by degrees the anger of the crowd changed into laughter
and disgust, and they let fall the stones which they had picked up to
throw at them.
"They are not fit to die by the hands of an honest person," said they,
while others thoughtfully followed the rapidly disappearing Judas with
Again Judas expected to receive congratulations, praise, and thanks, and
made a show of his torn garments, and pretended that he had been beaten;
but this time, too, he was greatly mistaken. The angry Jesus strode on in
silence, and even Peter and John did not venture to approach Him: and all
whose eyes fell on Judas in his torn garments, his face glowing with
happiness, but still somewhat frightened, repelled him with curt, angry
It was just as though he had not saved them all, just as though he had not
saved their Teacher, whom they loved so dearly.
"Do you want to see some fools?" said he to Thomas, who was thoughtfully
walking in the rear. "Look! There they go along the road in a crowd, like
a flock of sheep, kicking up the dust. But you are wise, Thomas, you creep
on behind, and I, the noble, magnificent Judas, creep on behind like a
dirty slave, who has no place by the side of his masters."
"Why do you call yourself magnificent?" asked Thomas in surprise.
"Because I am so," Judas replied with conviction, and he went on talking,
giving more details of how he had deceived the enemies of Jesus, and
laughed at them and their stupid stones.
"But you told lies," said Thomas.
"Of course I did," quickly assented Iscariot. "I gave them what they asked
for, and they gave me in return what I wanted. And what is a lie, my
clever Thomas? Would not the death of Jesus be the greatest lie of all?"
"You did not act rightly. Now I believe that a devil is your father. It
was he that taught you, Judas."
The face of Judas grew pale, and something suddenly came over Thomas, and
as if it were a white cloud, passed over and concealed the road and Jesus.
With a gentle movement Judas just as suddenly drew Thomas to himself,
pressed him closely with a paralysing movement, and whispered in his ear—
"You mean, then, that a devil has instructed me, don't you, Thomas? Well,
I saved Jesus. Therefore a devil loves Jesus and has need of Him, and of
the truth. Is it not so, Thomas? But then my father was not a devil, but a
he-goat. Can a he-goat want Jesus? Eh? And don't you want Him yourselves,
and the truth also?"
Angry and slightly frightened, Thomas freed himself with difficulty from
the clinging embrace of Judas, and began to stride forward quickly. But he
soon slackened his pace as he endeavoured to understand what had taken
But Judas crept on gently behind, and gradually came to a standstill. And
lo! in the distance the pedestrians became blended into a parti-coloured
mass, so that it was impossible any longer to distinguish which among
those little figures was Jesus. And lo! the little Thomas, too, changed
into a grey spot, and suddenly—all disappeared round a turn in the
Looking round, Judas went down from the road and with immense leaps
descended into the depths of a rocky ravine. His clothes blew out with the
speed and abruptness of his course, and his hands were extended upwards as
though he would fly. Lo! now he crept along an abrupt declivity, and
suddenly rolled down in a grey ball, rubbing off his skin against the
stones; then he jumped up and angrily threatened the mountain with his
"You too, damn you!"
Suddenly he changed his quick movements into a comfortable, concentrated
dawdling, chose a place by a big stone, and sat down without hurry. He
turned himself, as if seeking a comfortable position, laid his hands side
by side on the grey stone, and heavily sank his head upon them. And so for
an hour or two he sat on, as motionless and grey as the grey stone itself,
so still that he deceived even the birds. The walls of the ravine rose
before him, and behind, and on every side, cutting a sharp line all round
on the blue sky; while everywhere immense grey stones obtruded from the
ground, as though there had been at some time or other, a shower here, and
as though its heavy drops had become petrified in endless split, upturned
skull, and every stone in it was like a petrified thought; and there were
many of them, and they all kept thinking heavily, boundlessly, stubbornly.
A scorpion, deceived by his quietness, hobbled past, on its tottering
legs, close to Judas. He threw a glance at it, and, without lifting his
head from the stone, again let both his eyes rest fixedly on something—both
motionless, both veiled in a strange whitish turbidness, both as though
blind and yet terribly alert. And lo! from out of the ground, the stones,
and the clefts, the quiet darkness of night began to rise, enveloped the
motionless Judas, and crept swiftly up towards the pallid light of the
sky. Night was coming on with its thoughts and dreams.
That night Judas did not return to the halting-place. And the disciples,
forgetting their thoughts, busied themselves with preparations for their
meal, and grumbled at his negligence.
Once, about mid-day, Jesus and His disciples were walking along a stony
and hilly road devoid of shade, and, since they had been more than five
hours afoot, Jesus began to complain of weariness. The disciples stopped,
and Peter and his friend John spread their cloaks and those of the other
disciples, on the ground, and fastened them above between two high rocks,
and so made a sort of tent for Jesus. He lay down in the tent, resting
from the heat of the sun, while they amused Him with pleasant conversation
and jokes. But seeing that even talking fatigued Him, and being themselves
but little affected by weariness and the heat, they went some distance off
and occupied themselves in various ways. One sought edible roots among the
stones on the slope of the mountain, and when he had found them brought
them to Jesus; another, climbing up higher and higher, searched musingly
for the limits of the blue distance, and failing, climbed up higher on to
new, sharp-pointed rocks. John found a beautiful little blue lizard among
the stones, and smiling brought it quickly with tender hands to Jesus. The
lizard looked with its protuberant, mysterious eyes into His, and then
crawled quickly with its cold body over His warm hand, and soon swiftly
disappeared with tender, quivering tail.
But Peter and Philip, not caring about such amusements, occupied
themselves in tearing up great stones from the mountain, and hurling them
down below, as a test of their strength. The others, attracted by their
loud laughter, by degrees gathered round them, and joined in their sport.
Exerting their strength, they would tear up from the ground an ancient
rock all overgrown, and lifting it high with both hands, hurl it down the
slope. Heavily it would strike with a dull thud, and hesitate for a
moment; then resolutely it would make a first leap, and each time it
touched the ground, gathering from it speed and strength, it would become
light, furious, all-subversive. Now it no longer leapt, but flew with
grinning teeth, and the whistling wind let its dull round mass pass by.
Lo! it is on the edge—with a last, floating motion the stone would
sweep high, and then quietly, with ponderous deliberation, fly downwards
in a curve to the invisible bottom of the precipice.
"Now then, another!" cried Peter. His white teeth shone between his black
beard and moustache, his mighty chest and arms were bare, and the sullen,
ancient rocks, dully wondering at the strength which lifted them,
obediently, one after another, precipitated themselves into the abyss.
Even the frail John threw some moderate-sized stones, and Jesus smiled
quietly as He looked at their sport.
"But what are you doing, Judas? Why do you not take part in the game? It
seems amusing enough?" asked Thomas, when he found his strange friend
motionless behind a great grey stone.
"I have a pain in my chest. Moreover, they have not invited me."
"What need of invitation! At all events, I invite you; come! Look what
stones Peter throws!"
Judas somehow or other happened to glance sideward at him, and Thomas
became, for the first time, indistinctly aware that he had two faces. But
before he could thoroughly grasp the fact, Judas said in his ordinary
tone, at once fawning and mocking—
"There is surely none stronger than Peter? When he shouts, all the asses
in Jerusalem think that their Messiah has arrived, and lift up their
voices too. You have heard them before now, have you not, Thomas?"
Smiling politely; and modestly wrapping his garment round his chest, which
was overgrown with red curly hairs, Judas stepped into the circle of
And since they were all in high good humour, they met him with mirth and
loud jokes, and even John condescended to vouchsafe a smile, when Judas,
pretending to groan with the exertion, laid hold of an immense stone. But
lo! he lifted it with ease, and threw it, and his blind, wide-open eye
gave a jerk, and then fixed itself immovably on Peter; while the other
eye, cunning and merry, was overflowing with quiet laughter.
"No! you throw again!" said Peter in an offended tone.
And lo! one after the other they kept lifting and throwing gigantic
stones, while the disciples looked on in amazement. Peter threw a great
stone, and then Judas a still bigger one. Peter, frowning and
concentrated, angrily wielded a fragment of rock, and struggling as he
lifted it, hurled it down; then Judas, without ceasing to smile, searched
for a still larger fragment, and digging his long fingers into it, grasped
it, and swinging himself together with it, and paling, sent it into the
gulf. When he had thrown his stone, Peter would recoil and so watch its
fall; but Judas always bent himself forward, stretched out his long
vibrant arms, as though he were going to fly after the stone. Eventually
both of them, first Peter, then Judas, seized hold of an old grey stone,
but neither one nor the other could move it. All red with his exertion,
Peter resolutely approached Jesus, and said aloud—
"Lord! I do not wish to be beaten by Judas. Help me to throw this stone."
Jesus made answer in a low voice, and Peter, shrugging his broad shoulders
in dissatisfaction, but not daring to make any rejoinder, came back with
"He says: 'But who will help Iscariot?'"
Then glancing at Judas, who, panting with clenched teeth, was still
embracing the stubborn stone, he laughed cheerfully—
"Look what an invalid he is! See what our poor sick Judas is doing!"
And even Judas laughed at being so unexpectedly exposed in his deception,
and all the others laughed too, and even Thomas allowed his pointed, grey,
overhanging moustache to relax into a smile.
And so in friendly chat and laughter, they all set out again on the way,
and Peter, quite reconciled to his victor, kept from time to time digging
him in the ribs, and loudly guffawed—
"There's an invalid for you!"
All of them praised Judas, and acknowledged him victor, and all chatted
with him in a friendly manner; but Jesus once again had no word of praise
for Judas. He walked silently in front, nibbling the grasses, which He
plucked. And gradually, one by one, the disciples craved laughing, and
went over to Jesus. So that in a short time it came about, that they were
all walking ahead in a compact body, while Judas—the victor, the
strong man—crept on behind, choking with dust.
And lo! they stood still, and Jesus laid His hand on Peter's shoulder,
while with His other He pointed into the distance, where Jerusalem had
just become visible in the smoke. And the broad, strong back of Peter
gently accepted that slight sunburnt hand.
For the night they stayed in Bethany, at the house of Lazarus. And when
all were gathered together for conversation, Judas thought that they would
now recall his victory over Peter, and sat down nearer. But the disciples
were silent and unusually pensive. Images of the road they had traversed,
of the sun, the rocks and the grass, of Christ lying down under the
shelter, quietly floated through their heads, breathing a soft
pensiveness, begetting confused but sweet reveries of an eternal movement
under the sun. The wearied body reposed sweetly, and thought was merged in
something mystically great and beautiful—and no one recalled Judas!
Judas went out, and then returned. Jesus was discoursing, and His
disciples were listening to Him in silence.
Mary sat at His feet, motionless as a statue, and gazed into His face with
upturned eyes. John had come quite close, and endeavoured to sit so that
his hand touched the garment of the Master, but without disturbing Him. He
touched Him and was still. Peter breathed loud and deeply, repeating under
his breath the words of Jesus.
Iscariot had stopped short on the threshold, and contemptuously letting
his gaze pass by the company, he concentrated all its fire on Jesus. And
the more he looked the more everything around Him seemed to fade, and to
become clothed with darkness and silence, while Jesus alone shone forth
with uplifted hand. And then, lo! He was, as it were, raised up into the
air, and melted away, as though He consisted of mist floating over a lake,
and penetrated by the light of the setting moon, and His soft speech began
to sound tenderly, somewhere far, far away. And gazing at the wavering
phantom, and drinking in the tender melody of the distant dream-like
words, Judas gathered his whole soul into his iron fingers, and in its
vast darkness silently began building up some colossal scheme. Slowly, in
the profound darkness, he kept lifting up masses, like mountains, and
quite easily heaping them one on another: and again he would lift up and
again heap them up; and something grew in the darkness, spread noiselessly
and burst its bounds. His head felt like a dome, in the impenetrable
darkness of which the colossal thing continued to grow, and some one,
working on in silence, kept lifting up masses like mountains, and piling
them one on another and again lifting up, and so on and on... whilst
somewhere in the distance the phantom-like words tenderly sounded.
Thus he stood blocking the doorway, huge and black, while Jesus went on
talking, and the strong, intermittent breathing of Peter repeated His
words aloud. But on a sudden Jesus broke off an unfinished sentence, and
Peter, as though waking from sleep, cried out exultingly—
"Lord! to Thee are known the words of eternal life!"
But Jesus held His peace, and kept gazing fixedly in one direction. And
when they followed His gaze they perceived in the doorway the petrified
Judas with gaping mouth and fixed eyes. And, not understanding what was
the matter, they laughed. But Matthew, who was learned in the Scriptures,
touched Judas on the shoulder, and said in the words of Solomon—
"'He that looketh kindly shall be forgiven; but he that is met within the
gates will impede others.'"
Judas was silent for a while, and then fretfully and everything about him,
his eyes, hands and feet, seemed to start in different directions, as
those of an animal which suddenly perceives the eye of man upon him. Jesus
went straight to Judas, as though words trembled on His lips, but passed
by him through the open, and now unoccupied, door.
In the middle of the night the restless Thomas came to Judas' bed, and
sitting down on his heels, asked—
"Are you weeping, Judas?"
"No! Go away, Thomas."
"Why do you groan, and grind your teeth? Are you ill?"
Judas was silent for a while, and then fretfully there fell from his lips
distressful words, fraught with grief and anger—
"Why does not He love me? Why does He love the others? Am I not handsomer,
better and stronger than they? Did not I save His life while they ran away
like cowardly dogs?"
"My poor friend, you are not quite right. You are not good-looking at all,
and your tongue is as disagreeable as your face. You lie and slander
continually; how then can you expect Jesus to love you?"
But Judas, stirring heavily in the darkness, continued as though he heard
"Why is He not on the side of Judas, instead of on the side of those who
do not love Him? John brought Him a lizard; I would bring him a poisonous
snake. Peter threw stones; I would overthrow a mountain for His sake. But
what is a poisonous snake? One has but to draw its fangs, and it will coil
round one's neck like a necklace. What is a mountain, which it is possible
to dig down with the hands, and to trample with the feet? I would give to
Him Judas, the bold, magnificent Judas. But now He will perish, and
together with him will perish Judas."
"You are speaking strangely, Judas!"
"A withered fig-tree, which must needs be cut down with the axe, such am
I: He said it of me. Why then does He not do it? He dare not, Thomas! I
know him. He fears Judas. He hides from the bold, strong, magnificent
Judas. He loves fools, traitors, liars. You are a liar, Thomas; have you
never been told so before?"
Thomas was much surprised, and wished to object, but he thought that Judas
was simply railing, and so only shook his head in the darkness. And Judas
lamented still more grievously, and groaned and ground his teeth, and his
whole huge body could be heard heaving under the coverlet.
"What is the matter with Judas? Who has applied fire to his body? He will
give his son to the dogs. He will give his daughter to be betrayed by
robbers, his bride to harlotry. And yet has not Judas a tender heart? Go
away, Thomas; go away, stupid! Leave the strong, bold, magnificent Judas
Judas had concealed some denarii, and the deception was discovered, thanks
to Thomas, who had seen by chance how much money had been given to them.
It was only too probable that this was not the first time that Judas had
committed a theft, and they all were enraged. The angry Peter seized Judas
by his collar and almost dragged him to Jesus, and the terrified Judas
paled but did not resist.
"Master, see! Here he is, the trickster! Here's the thief. You trusted
him, and he steals our money. Thief! Scoundrel! If Thou wilt permit, I'll—"
But Jesus held His peace. And attentively regarding him, Peter suddenly
turned red, and loosed the hand which held the collar, while Judas shyly
rearranged his garment, casting a sidelong glance on Peter, and assuming
the downcast look of a repentant criminal.
"So that's how it's to be," angrily said Peter, as he went out, loudly
slamming the door. They were all dissatisfied, and declared that on no
account would they consort with Judas any longer; but John, after some
consideration, passed through the door, behind which might be heard the
quiet, almost caressing, voice of Jesus. And when in the course of time he
returned, he was pale, and his downcast eyes were red as though with
"The Master says that Judas may take as much money as he pleases." Peter
laughed angrily. John gave him a quick reproachful glance, and suddenly
flushing, and mingling tears with anger, and delight with tears, loudly
"And no one must reckon how much money Judas receives. He is our brother,
and all the money is as much his as ours: if he wants much let him take
much, without telling any one, or taking counsel with any. Judas is our
brother, and you have grievously insulted him—so says the Master.
Shame on you, brother!"
In the doorway stood Judas, pale and with a distorted smile on his face.
With a light movement John went up to him and kissed him three times.
After him, glancing round at one another, James, Philip and the others
came up shamefacedly; and after each kiss Judas wiped his mouth, but gave
a loud smack as though the sound afforded him pleasure. Peter came up
"We were all stupid, all blind, Judas. He alone sees, He alone is wise.
May I kiss you?"
"Why not? Kiss away!" said Judas as in consent.
Peter kissed him vigorously, and said aloud in his ear—
"But I almost choked you. The others kissed you in the usual way, but I
kissed you on the throat. Did it hurt you?"
"I will go and tell Him all. I was angry even with Him," said Peter sadly,
trying noiselessly to open the door.
"And what are you going to do, Thomas?" asked John severely. He it was who
looked after the conduct and the conversation of the disciples.
"I don't know yet. I must consider."
And Thomas thought long, almost the whole day. The disciples had dispersed
to their occupations, and somewhere on the other side of the wall, Peter
was shouting joyfully—but Thomas was still considering. He would
have come to a decision more quickly had not Judas hindered him somewhat
by continually following him about with a mocking glance, and now and
again asking him in a serious tone—
"Well, Thomas, and how does the matter progress?"
Then Judas brought his money-box, and shaking the money and pretending not
to look at Thomas, began to count it—
"Twenty-one, two, three.... Look, Thomas, a bad coin again. Oh! what
rascals people are; they even give bad money as offerings. Twenty-four...
and then they will say again that Judas has stolen it... twenty-five,
Thomas approached him resolutely... for it was already towards evening,
"He is right, Judas. Let me kiss you."
"Will you? Twenty-nine, thirty. It's no good. I shall steal again.
"But how can you steal, when it is neither yours nor another's? You will
simply take as much as you want, brother."
"It has taken you a long time to repeat His words! Don't you value time,
you clever Thomas?"
"You seem to be laughing at me, brother."
"And consider, are you doing well, my virtuous Thomas, in repeating His
words? He said something of His own, but you do not. He really kissed me—you
only defiled my mouth. I can still feel your moist lips upon mine. It was
so disgusting, my good Thomas. Thirty-eight, thirty-nine, forty. Forty
denarii. Thomas, won't you check the sum?"
"Certainly He is our Master. Why then should we not repeat the words of
"Is Judas' collar torn away? Is there now nothing to seize him by? The
Master will go out of the house, and Judas will unexpectedly steal three
more denarii. Won't you seize him by the collar?"
"We know now, Judas. We understand."
"Have not all pupils a bad memory? Have not all masters been deceived by
their pupils? But the master has only to lift the rod, and the pupils cry
out, 'We know, Master!' But the master goes to bed, and the pupils say:
'Did the Master teach us this?' And so, in this case, this morning you
called me a thief, this evening you call me brother. What will you call me
Judas laughed, and lifting up the heavy rattling money-box with ease, went
"When a strong wind blows it raises the dust, and foolish people look at
the dust and say: 'Look at the wind!' But it is only dust, my good Thomas,
ass's dung trodden underfoot. The dust meets a wall and lies down gently
at its foot, but the wind flies farther and farther, my good Thomas."
Judas obligingly pointed over the wall in illustration of his meaning, and
"I am glad that you are merry," said Thomas, "but it is a great pity that
there is so much malice in your merriment."
"Why should not a man be cheerful, who has been kissed so much, and who is
so useful? If I had not stolen the three denarii would John have known the
meaning of delight? Is it not pleasant to be a hook, on which John may
hang his damp virtue out to dry, and Thomas his moth-eaten mind?"
"I think that I had better be going."
"But I am only joking, my good Thomas. I merely wanted to know whether you
really wished to kiss the old obnoxious Judas—the thief who stole
the three denarii and gave them to a harlot."
"To a harlot!" exclaimed Thomas in surprise. "And did you tell the Master
"Again you doubt, Thomas. Yes, to a harlot. But if you only knew, Thomas,
what an unfortunate woman she was. For two days she had had nothing to
"Are you sure of that?" said Thomas in confusion.
"Yes! Of course I am. I myself spent two days with her, and saw that she
ate and drank nothing except red wine. She tottered from exhaustion, and I
was always falling down with her."
Thereupon Thomas got up quickly, and, when he had gone a few steps away,
he flung out at Judas:
"You seem to be possessed of Satan, Judas."
And as he went away, he heard in the approaching twilight how dolefully
the heavy money-box rattled in Judas' hands. And Judas seemed to laugh.
But the very next day Thomas was obliged to acknowledge that he had
misjudged Judas, so simple, so gentle, and at the same time so serious was
Iscariot. He neither grimaced nor made ill-natured jokes; he was neither
obsequious nor scurrilous, but quietly and unobtrusively went about his
work of catering. He was as active as formerly, as though he did not have
two feet like other people, but a whole dozen of them, and ran noiselessly
without that squeaking, sobbing, and laughter of a hyena, with which he
formerly accompanied his actions. And when Jesus began to speak, he would
seat himself quickly in a corner, fold his hands and feet, and look so
kindly with his great eyes, that many observed it. He ceased speaking evil
of people, but rather remained silent, so that even the severe Matthew
deemed it possible to praise him, saying in the words of Solomon:
"'He that is devoid of wisdom despiseth his neighbour: but a man of
understanding holdeth his peace.'"
And he lifted up his hand, hinting thereby at Judas' former evil-speaking.
In a short time all remarked this change in him, and rejoiced at it: only
Jesus looked on him still with the same detached look, although he gave no
direct indication of His dislike. And even John, for whom Judas now showed
a profound reverence, as the beloved disciple of Jesus, and as his own
champion in the matter of the three denarii, began to treat him somewhat
more kindly, and even sometimes entered into conversation with him.
"What do you think, Judas," said he one day in a condescending manner,
"which of us, Peter or I, will be nearest to Christ in His heavenly
Judas meditated, and then answered—
"I suppose that you will."
"But Peter thinks that he will," laughed John.
"No! Peter would scatter all the angels with his shout; you have heard him
shout. Of course, he will quarrel with you, and will endeavour to occupy
the first place, as he insists that he, too, loves Jesus. But he is
already advanced in years, and you are young; he is heavy on his feet,
while you run swiftly; you will enter there first with Christ? Will you
"Yes, I will not leave Jesus," John agreed.
On the same day Simon Peter referred the very same question to Judas. But
fearing that his loud voice would be heard by the others, he led Judas out
to the farthest corner behind the house.
"Well then, what is your opinion about it?" he asked anxiously. "You are
wise; even the Master praises you for your intellect. And you will speak
"You, of course," answered Iscariot without hesitation. And Peter
exclaimed with indignation, "I told him so!"
"But, of course, he will try even there to oust you from the first place."
"But what can he do, when you already occupy the place? Won't you be the
first to go there with Jesus? You will not leave Him alone? Has He not
named you the ROCK?"
Peter put his hand on Judas' shoulder, and said with warmth: "I tell you,
Judas, you are the cleverest of us all. But why are you so sarcastic and
malignant? The Master does not like it. Otherwise you might become the
beloved disciple, equally with John. But to you neither," and Peter lifted
his hand threateningly, "will I yield my place next to Jesus, neither on
earth, nor there! Do you hear?"
Thus Judas endeavoured to make himself agreeable to all, but, at the same
time, he cherished hidden thoughts in his mind. And while he remained ever
the same modest, restrained and unobtrusive person, he knew how to make
some especially pleasing remark to each. Thus to Thomas he said:
"The fool believeth every word: but the prudent taketh heed to his paths."
While to Matthew, who suffered somewhat from excess in eating and
drinking, and was ashamed of his weakness, he quoted the words of Solomon,
the sage whom Matthew held in high estimation:
"'The righteous eateth to the satisfying of his soul: but the belly of the
wicked shall want.'"
But his pleasant speeches were rare, which gave them the greater value.
For the most part he was silent, listening attentively to what was said,
and always meditating.
When reflecting, Judas had an unpleasant look, ridiculous and at the same
time awe-inspiring. As long as his quick, crafty eye was in motion, he
seemed simple and good-natured enough, but directly both eyes became fixed
in an immovable stare, and the skin on his protruding forehead gathered
into strange ridges and creases, a distressing surmise would force itself
on one, that under that skull some very peculiar thoughts were working. So
thoroughly apart, peculiar, and voiceless were the thoughts which
enveloped Iscariot in the deep silence of secrecy, when he was in one of
his reveries, that one would have preferred that he should begin to speak,
to move, nay, even, to tell lies. For a lie, spoken by a human tongue, had
been truth and light compared with that hopelessly deep and unresponsive
"In the dumps again, Judas?" Peter would cry with his clear voice and
bright smile, suddenly breaking in upon the sombre silence of Judas'
thoughts, and banishing them to some dark corner. "What are you thinking
"Of many things," Iscariot would reply with a quiet smile. And perceiving,
apparently, what a bad impression his silence made upon the others, he
began more frequently to shun the society of the disciples, and spent much
time in solitary walks, or would betake himself to the flat roof and there
sit still. And more than once he startled Thomas, who has unexpectedly
stumbled in the darkness against a grey heap, out of which the hands and
feet of Judas suddenly started, and his jeering voice was heard.
But one day, in a specially brusque and strange manner, Judas recalled his
former character. This happened on the occasion of the quarrel for the
first place in the kingdom of heaven. Peter and John were disputing
together, hotly contending each for his own place nearest to Jesus. They
reckoned up their services, they measured the degrees of their love for
Jesus, they became heated and noisy, and even reviled one another without
restraint. Peter roared, all red with anger. John was quiet and pale, with
trembling hands and biting speech. Their quarrel had already passed the
bounds of decency, and the Master had begun to frown, when Peter looked up
by chance on Judas, and laughed self-complacently: John, too, looked at
Judas, and also smiled. Each of them recalled what the cunning Judas had
said to him. And foretasting the joy of approaching triumph, they, with
silent consent, invited Judas to decide the matter.
Peter called out, "Come now, Judas the wise, tell us who will be first,
nearest to Jesus, he or I?"
But Judas remained silent, breathing heavily, his eyes eagerly questioning
the quiet, deep eyes of Jesus.
"Yes," John condescendingly repeated, "tell us who will be first, nearest
Without taking his eyes off Christ, Judas slowly rose, and answered
quietly and gravely:
Jesus let His gaze fall slowly. And quietly striking himself on the breast
with a bony finger, Iscariot repeated solemnly and sternly: "I, I shall be
nearest to Jesus!" And he went out. Struck by his insolent freak, the
disciples remained silent; but Peter suddenly recalling something,
whispered to Thomas in an unexpectedly gentle voice:
"So that is what he is always thinking about! See?"
Just at this time Judas Iscariot took the first definite step towards the
Betrayal. He visited the chief priest Annas secretly. He was very roughly
received, but that did not disturb him in the least, and he demanded a
long private interview. When he found himself alone with the dry, harsh
old man, who looked at him with contempt from beneath his heavy
overhanging eyelids, he stated that he was an honourable man who had
become one of the disciples of Jesus of Nazareth with the sole purpose of
exposing the impostor, and handing Him over to the arm of the law.
"But who is this Nazarene?" asked Annas contemptuously, making as though
he heard the name of Jesus for the first time.
Judas on his part pretended to believe in the extraordinary ignorance of
the chief priest, and spoke in detail of the preaching of Jesus, of His
miracles, of His hatred for the Pharisees and the Temple, of His perpetual
infringement of the Law, and eventually of His wish to wrest the power out
of the hands of the priesthood, and to set up His own personal kingdom.
And so cleverly did he mingle truth with lies, that Annas looked at him
more attentively, and lazily remarked: "There are plenty of impostors and
madmen in Judah."
"No! He is a dangerous person," Judas hotly contradicted. "He breaks the
law. And it were better that one man should perish, rather than the whole
Annas, with an approving nod, said—
"But He, apparently, has many disciples."
"And they, it seems probable, have a great love for Him?"
"Yes, they say that they love Him, love Him much, more than themselves."
"But if we try to take Him, will they not defend Him? Will they not raise
Judas laughed long and maliciously. "What, they? Those cowardly dogs, who
run if a man but stoop down to pick up a stone. They indeed!"
"Are they really so bad?" asked Annas coldly.
"But surely it is not the bad who flee from the good; is it not rather the
good who flee from the bad? Ha! ha! They are good, and therefore they
flee. They are good, and therefore they hide themselves. They are good,
and therefore they will appear only in time to bury Jesus. They will lay
Him in the tomb themselves; you have only to execute Him."
"But surely they love Him? You yourself said so."
"People always love their teacher, but better dead than alive. While a
teacher's alive he may ask them questions which they will find difficult
to answer. But, when a teacher dies, they become teachers themselves, and
then others fare badly in turn. Ha! ha!"
Annas looked piercingly at the Traitor, and his lips puckered—which
indicated that he was smiling.
"You have been insulted by them. I can see that."
"Can one hide anything from the perspicacity of the astute Annas? You have
pierced to the very heart of Judas. Yes, they insulted poor Judas. They
said he had stolen from them three denarii—as though Judas were not
the most honest man in Israel!"
They talked for some time longer about Jesus, and His disciples, and of
His pernicious influence on the people of Israel, but on this occasion the
crafty, cautious Annas gave no decisive answer. He had long had his eyes
on Jesus, and in secret conclave with his own relatives and friends, with
the authorities, and the Sadducees, had decided the fate of the Prophet of
Galilee. But he did not trust Judas, who he had heard was a bad,
untruthful man, and he had no confidence in his flippant faith in the
cowardice of the disciples, and of the people. Annas believed in his own
power, but he feared bloodshed, feared a serious riot, such as the
insubordinate, irascible people of Jerusalem lent itself to so easily; he
feared, in fact, the violent intervention of the Roman authorities. Fanned
by opposition, fertilised by the red blood of the people, which vivifies
everything on which it falls, the heresy would grow stronger, and stifle
in its folds Annas, the government, and all his friends. So, when Iscariot
knocked at his door a second time Annas was perturbed in spirit and would
not admit him. But yet a third and a fourth time Iscariot came to him,
persistent as the wind, which beats day and night against the closed door
and blows in through its crevices.
"I see that the most astute Annas is afraid of something," said Judas when
at last he obtained admission to the high priest.
"I am strong enough not to fear anything," Annas answered haughtily. And
Iscariot stretched forth his hands and bowed abjectly.
"What do you want?"
"I wish to betray the Nazarene to you."
"We do not want Him."
Judas bowed and waited, humbly fixing his gaze on the high priest.
"But I am bound to return. Am I not, revered Annas?"
"You will not be admitted. Go away!"
But yet again and again Judas called on the aged Annas, and at last was
Dry and malicious, worried with thought, and silent, he gazed on the
Traitor, and, as it were, counted the hairs on his knotted head. Judas
also said nothing, and seemed in his turn to be counting the somewhat
sparse grey hairs in the beard of the high priest.
"What? you here again?" the irritated Annas haughtily jerked out, as
though spitting upon his head.
"I wish to betray the Nazarene to you."
Both held their peace, and continued to gaze attentively at each other.
Iscariot's look was calm; but a quiet malice, dry and cold, began slightly
to prick Annas, like the early morning rime of winter.
"How much do you want for your Jesus?"
"How much will you give?"
Annas, with evident enjoyment, insultingly replied: "You are nothing but a
band of scoundrels. Thirty pieces—that's what we will give."
And he quietly rejoiced to see how Judas began to squirm and run about—agile
and swift as though he had a whole dozen feet, not two.
"Thirty pieces of silver for Jesus!" he cried in a voice of wild madness,
most pleasing to Annas. "For Jesus of Nazareth! You wish to buy Jesus for
thirty pieces of silver? And you think that Jesus can be betrayed to you
for thirty pieces of silver?" Judas turned quickly to the wall, and
laughed in its smooth, white fence, lifting up his long hands. "Do you
hear? Thirty pieces of silver! For Jesus!"
With the same quiet pleasure, Annas remarked indifferently:
"If you will not deal, go away. We shall find some one whose work is
And like old-clothes men who throw useless rags from hand to hand in the
dirty market-place, and shout, and swear and abuse each other, so they
embarked on a rabid and fiery bargaining. Intoxicated with a strange
rapture, running and turning about, and shouting, Judas ticked off on his
fingers the merits of Him whom he was selling.
"And the fact that He is kind and heals the sick, is that worth nothing at
all in your opinion? Ah, yes! Tell me, like an honest man!"
"If you—" began Annas, who was turning red, as he tried to get in a
word, his cold malice quickly warming up under the burning words of Judas,
who, however, interrupted him shamelessly:
"That He is young and handsome—like the Narcissus of Sharon, and the
Lily of the Valley? What? Is that worth nothing? Perhaps you will say that
He is old and useless, and that Judas is trying to dispose of an old bird?
"If you—" Annas tried to exclaim; but Judas' stormy speech bore away
his senile croak, like down upon the wind.
"Thirty pieces of silver! That will hardly work out to one obolus for each
drop of blood! Half an obolus will not go to a tear! A quarter to a groan.
And cries, and convulsions! And for the ceasing of His heartbeats? And the
closing of His eyes? Is all this to be thrown in gratis?" sobbed Iscariot,
advancing toward the high priest and enveloping him with an insane
movement of his hands and fingers, and with intervolved words.
"Includes everything," said Annas in a choking voice.
"And how much will you make out of it yourself? Eh? You wish to rob Judas,
to snatch the bit of bread from his children. No, I can't do it. I will go
on to the market-place, and shout out: 'Annas has robbed poor Judas.
Wearied, and grown quite dizzy, Annas wildly stamped about the floor in
his soft slippers, gesticulating: "Be off, be off!"
But Judas on a sudden bowed down, stretching forth his hands submissively:
"But if you really.... But why be angry with poor Judas, who only desires
his children's good. You also have children, young and handsome."
"We shall find some one else. Be gone!"
"But I—I did not say that I was unwilling to make a reduction. Did I
ever say that I could not too yield? And do I not believe you, that
possibly another may come and sell Jesus to you for fifteen oboli—nay,
for two—for one?"
And bowing lower and lower, wriggling and flattering, Judas submissively
consented to the sum offered to him. Annas shamefacedly, with dry,
trembling hand, paid him the money, and silently looking round, as though
scorched, lifted his head again and again towards the ceiling, and moving
his lips rapidly, waited while Judas tested with his teeth all the silver
pieces, one after another.
"There is now so much bad money about," Judas quickly explained.
"This money was devoted to the Temple by the pious," said Annas, glancing
round quickly, and still more quickly turning the ruddy bald nape of his
neck to Judas' view.
"But can pious people distinguish between good and bad money! Only rascals
can do that."
Judas did not take the money home, but went beyond the city and hid it
under a stone. Then he came back again quietly with heavy, dragging steps,
as a wounded animal creeps slowly to its lair after a severe and deadly
fight. Only Judas had no lair; but there was a house, and in the house he
perceived Jesus. Weary and thin, exhausted with continual strife with the
Pharisees, who surrounded Him every day in the Temple with a wall of
white, shining, scholarly foreheads, He was sitting, leaning His cheek
against the rough wall, apparently fast asleep. Through the open window
drifted the restless noises of the city. On the other side of the wall
Peter was hammering, as he put together a new table for the meal, humming
the while a quiet Galilean song. But He heard nothing; he slept on
peacefully and soundly. And this was He, whom they had bought for thirty
pieces of silver.
Coming forward noiselessly, Judas, with the tender touch of a mother, who
fears to wake her sick child—with the wonderment of a wild beast as
it creeps from its lair suddenly, charmed by the sight of a white
flowerlet—he gently touched His soft locks, and then quickly
withdrew his hand. Once more he touched Him, and then silently crept out.
"Lord! Lord!" said he.
And going apart, he wept long, shrinking and wriggling and scratching his
bosom with his nails and gnawing his shoulders. Then suddenly he ceased
weeping and gnawing and gnashing his teeth, and fell into a sombre
reverie, inclining his tear-stained face to one side in the attitude of
one listening. And so he remained for a long time, doleful, determined,
from every one apart, like fate itself.
. . . . . . . .
Judas surrounded the unhappy Jesus, during those last days of His short
life, with quiet love and tender care and caresses. Bashful and timid like
a maid in her first love, strangely sensitive and discerning, he divined
the minutest unspoken wishes of Jesus, penetrating to the hidden depth of
His feelings, His passing fits of sorrow, and distressing moments of
weariness. And wherever Jesus stepped, His foot met something soft, and
whenever He turned His gaze, it encountered something pleasing. Formerly
Judas had not liked Mary Magdalene and the other women who were near
Jesus. He had made rude jests at their expense, and done them little
unkindnesses. But now he became their friend, their strange, awkward ally.
With deep interest he would talk with them of the charming little
idiosyncrasies of Jesus, and persistently asking the same questions, he
would thrust money into their hands, their very palms—and they
brought a box of very precious ointment, which Jesus liked so much, and
anointed His feet. He himself bought for Jesus, after desperate
bargaining, an expensive wine, and then was very angry when Peter drank
nearly all of it up, with the indifference of a person who looks only to
quantity; and in that rocky Jerusalem almost devoid of trees, flowers, and
greenery he somehow managed to obtain young spring flowers and green
grass, and through these same women to give them to Jesus.
For the first time in his life he would take up little children in his
arms, finding them somewhere about the courts and streets, and unwillingly
kiss them to prevent their crying; and often it would happen that some
swarthy urchin with curly hair and dirty little nose, would climb up on
the knees of the pensive Jesus, and imperiously demand to be petted. And
while they enjoyed themselves together, Judas would walk up and down at
one side like a severe jailor, who had himself, in springtime, let a
butterfly in to a prisoner, and pretends to grumble at the breach of
On an evening, when together with the darkness, alarm took post as sentry
by the window, Iscariot would cleverly turn the conversation to Galilee,
strange to himself but dear to Jesus, with its still waters and green
banks. And he would jog the heavy Peter till his dulled memory awoke, and
in clear pictures in which everything was loud, distinct, full of colour,
and solid, there arose before his eyes and ears the dear Galilean life.
With eager attention, with half-open mouth in child-like fashion, and with
eyes laughing in anticipation, Jesus would listen to his gusty, resonant,
cheerful utterance, and sometimes laughed so at his jokes, that it was
necessary to interrupt the story for some minutes. But John told tales
even better than Peter. There was nothing ludicrous, nor startling, about
his stories, but everything seemed so pensive, unusual, and beautiful,
that tears would appear in Jesus' eyes, and He would sigh softly, while
Judas nudged Mary Magdalene and excitedly whispered to her—
"What a narrator he is! Do you hear?"
"No, be more attentive. You women never make good listeners."
Then they would all quietly disperse to bed, and Jesus would kiss His
thanks to John, and stroke kindly the shoulder of the tall Peter.
And without envy, but with a condescending contempt, Judas would witness
these caresses. Of what importance were these tales and kisses and sighs
compared with what he, Judas Iscariot, the red-haired, misshapen Judas,
begotten among the rocks, could tell them if he chose?
With one hand betraying Jesus, Judas tried hard with the other to
frustrate his own plans. He did not indeed endeavour to dissuade Jesus
from the last dangerous journey to Jerusalem, as did the women; he even
inclined rather to the side of the relatives of Jesus, and of those
amongst His disciples who looked for a victory over Jerusalem as
indispensable to the full triumph of His cause. But he kept continually
and obstinately warning them of the danger, and in lively colours depicted
the threatening hatred of the Pharisees for Jesus, and their readiness to
commit any crime if, either secretly or openly, they might make an end of
the Prophet of Galilee. Each day and every hour he kept talking of this,
and there was not one of the believers before whom Judas had not stood
with uplifted finger and uttered this serious warning:
"We must look after Jesus. We must defend for Jesus, when the hour comes."
But whether it was the unlimited faith which the disciples had in the
miracle-working power of their Master, or the consciousness of their own
uprightness, or whether it was simply blindness, the alarming words of
Judas were met with a smile, and his continual advice provoked only a
grumble. When Judas procured, somewhere or other, two swords, and brought
them, only Peter approved of them, and gave Judas his meed of praise,
while the others complained:
"Are we soldiers that we should be made to gird on swords? Is Jesus a
captain of the host, and not a prophet?"
"But if they attempt to kill Him?"
"They will not dare when they perceive how all the people follow Him."
"But if they should dare! What then?"
John replied disdainfully—
"One would think, Judas, that you were the only one who loved Jesus!"
And eagerly seizing hold of these words, and not in the least offended,
Judas began to question impatiently and hotly, with stern insistency:
"But you love Him, don't you?"
And there was not one of the believers who came to Jesus whom he did not
ask more than once: "Do you love Him? Dearly love Him?"
And all answered that they loved Him.
He used often to converse with Thomas, and holding up his dry, hooked
forefinger, with its long, dirty nail, in warning, would mysteriously say:
"Look here, Thomas, the terrible hour is drawing near. Are you prepared
for it? Why did you not take the sword I brought you?"
Thomas would reply with deliberation:
"We are men unaccustomed to the use of arms. If we were to take issue with
the Roman soldiery, they would kill us all, one after the other. Besides,
you brought only two swords, and what could we do with only two?"
"We could get more. We could take them from the Roman soldiers," Judas
impatiently objected, and even the serious Thomas smiled through his
"Ah! Judas! Judas! But where did you get these? They are like Roman
"I stole them. I could have stolen more, only some one gave the alarm, and
Thomas considered a little, then said sorrowfully—
"Again you acted ill, Judas. Why do you steal?"
"There is no such thing as property."
"No, but to-morrow they will ask the soldiers: 'Where are your swords?'
And when they cannot find them they will be punished though innocent."
The consequence was, that after the death of Jesus the disciples recalled
these conversations of Judas, and determined that he had wished to destroy
them, together with the Master, by inveigling them into an unequal and
murderous conflict. And once again they cursed the hated name of Judas
Iscariot the Traitor.
But the angry Judas, after each conversation, would go to the women and
weep. They heard him gladly. The tender womanly element, that there was in
his love for Jesus, drew him near to them, and made him simple,
comprehensible, and even handsome in their eyes, although, as before, a
certain amount of disdain was perceptible in his attitude towards them.
"Are they men?" he would bitterly complain of the disciples, fixing his
blind, motionless eye confidingly on Mary Magdalene. "They are not men.
They have not an oboles' worth of blood in their veins!"
"But then you are always speaking ill of others," Mary objected.
"Have I ever?" said Judas in surprise. "Oh, yes, I have indeed spoken ill
of them; but is there not room for improvement in them? Ah! Mary, silly
Mary, why are you not a man, to carry a sword?"
"It is so heavy, I could not lift it!" said Mary smilingly.
"But you will lift it, when men are too worthless. Did you give Jesus the
lily that I found on the mountain? I got up early to find it, and this
morning the sun was so beautiful, Mary! Was He pleased with it? Did He
"Yes, He was pleased. He said that its smell reminded Him of Galilee."
"But surely, you did not tell Him that it was Judas—Judas Iscariot—who
got it for Him?"
"Why, you asked me not to tell Him."
"Yes, certainly, quite right," said Judas, with a sigh. "You might have
let it out, though, women are such chatterers. But you did not let it out;
no, you were firm. You are a good woman, Mary. You know that I have a wife
somewhere. Now I should be glad to see her again; perhaps she is not a bad
woman either. I don't know. She said, 'Judas was a liar and malignant,' so
I left her. But she may be a good woman. Do you know?"
"How should I know, when I have never seen your wife?"
"True, true, Mary! But what think you, are thirty pieces of silver a large
sum? Is it not rather a small one?"
"I should say a small one."
"Certainly, certainly. How much did you get when you were a harlot, five
pieces of silver or ten? You were an expensive one, were you not?"
Mary Magdalene blushed, and dropped her head till her luxuriant, golden
hair completely covered her face, so that nothing but her round white chin
"How bad you are, Judas; I want to forget about that, and you remind me of
"No, Mary, you must not forget that. Why should you? Let others forget
that you were a harlot, but you must remember. It is the others who should
forget as soon as possible, but you should not. Why should you?"
"But it was a sin!"
"He fears who never committed a sin, but he who has committed it, what has
he to fear? Do the dead fear death; is it not rather the living? No, the
dead laugh at the living and their fears."
Thus by the hour would they sit and talk in friendly guise, he—already
old, dried-up and misshapen, with his bulbous head and monstrous
double-sided face; she—young, modest, tender, and charmed with life
as with a story or a dream.
But time rolled by unconcernedly, while the thirty pieces of silver lay
under the stone, and the terrible day of the Betrayal drew inevitably
near. Already Jesus had ridden into Jerusalem on the ass's back, and the
people, strewing their garments in the way, had greeted Him with
enthusiastic cries of "Hosanna! Hosanna! He that cometh in the name of the
So great was the exultation, so unrestrainedly did their loving cries rend
the skies, that Jesus wept, but His disciples proudly said:
"Is not this the Son of God with us?"
And they themselves cried out with enthusiasm: "Hosanna! Hosanna! He that
cometh in the name of the Lord!"
That evening it was long before they went to bed, recalling the
enthusiastic and joyful reception. Peter was like a madman, as though
possessed by the demon of merriment and pride. He shouted, drowning all
voices with his leonine roar; he laughed, hurling his laughter at their
heads, like great round stones; he kept kissing John and James, and even
gave a kiss to Judas. He noisily confessed that he had had great fears for
Jesus, but that he feared nothing now, that he had seen the love of the
people for Him.
Swiftly moving his vivid, watchful eye, Judas glanced in surprise from
side to side. He meditated, and then again listened, and looked. Then he
took Thomas aside, and pinning him, as it were, to the wall with his keen
gaze, he asked in doubt and fear, but with a certain confused hopefulness:
"Thomas! But what if He is right? What if He be founded upon a rock, and
we upon sand? What then?"
"Of whom are you speaking?"
"How, then, would it be with Judas Iscariot? Then I should be obliged to
strangle Him in order to do right. Who is deceiving Judas? You or he
himself? Who is deceiving Judas? Who?"
"I don't understand you, Judas. You speak very unintelligently. 'Who is
deceiving Jesus?' 'Who is right?'"
And Judas nodded his head and repeated like an echo:
"Who is deceiving Judas? Who?"
And the next day, in the way in which Judas raised his hand with thumb
bent back, and by the way in which he looked at Thomas, the same
strange question was implied:
"Who is deceiving Judas? Who is right?"
 Does our author refer to the Roman sign of disapprobation, vertere,
or convertere, pollicem?—Tr.
And still more surprised, and even alarmed, was Thomas, when suddenly in
the night he heard the loud, apparently glad voice of Judas:
"Then Judas Iscariot will be no more. Then Jesus will be no more. Then
there will be Thomas, the stupid Thomas! Did you ever wish to take the
earth and lift it? And then, possibly hurl it away?"
"That's impossible. What are you talking about, Judas?"
"It's quite possible," said Iscariot with conviction, "and we will lift it
up some day when you are asleep, stupid Thomas. Go to sleep. I'm enjoying
myself. When you sleep your nose plays the Galilean pipe. Sleep!"
But now the believers were already dispersed about Jerusalem, hiding in
houses and behind walls, and the faces of those that met them looked
mysterious. The exultation had died down. Confused reports of danger found
their way in; Peter, with gloomy countenance, tested the sword given to
him by Judas, and the face of the Master became even more melancholy and
stern. So swiftly the time passed, and inevitably approached the terrible
day of the Betrayal. Lo! the Last Supper was over, full of grief and
confused dread, and already had the obscure words of Jesus sounded
concerning some one who should betray Him.
"You know who will betray Him?" asked Thomas, looking at Judas with his
straight-forward, clear, almost transparent eyes.
"Yes, I know," Judas replied harshly and decidedly. "You, Thomas, will
betray Him. But He Himself does not believe what He says! It is full time!
Why does He not call to Him the strong, magnificent Judas?"
No longer by days, but by short, fleeting hours, was the inevitable time
to be measured. It was evening; and evening stillness and long shadows lay
upon the ground—the first sharp darts of the coming night of mighty
contest—when a harsh, sorrowful voice was heard. It said:
"Dost Thou know whither I go, Lord? I go to betray Thee into the hands of
And there was a long silence, evening stillness, and swift black shadows.
"Thou art silent, Lord? Thou commandest me to go?"
And again silence.
"Allow me to remain. But perhaps Thou canst not? Or darest not? Or wilt
And again silence, stupendous, like the eyes of eternity.
"But indeed Thou knowest that I love Thee. Thou knowest all things. Why
lookest Thou thus at Judas? Great is the mystery of Thy beautiful eyes,
but is mine less? Order me to remain! But Thou art silent. Thou art ever
silent. Lord, Lord, is it for this that in grief and pains have I sought
Thee all my life, sought and found! Free me! Remove the weight; it is
heavier than even mountains of lead. Dost Thou hear how the bosom of Judas
Iscariot is cracking under it?"
And the last silence was abysmal, like the last glance of eternity.
But the evening stillness woke not, neither uttered cry nor plaint, nor
did its subtle air vibrate with the slightest tinkle—so soft was the
fall of the retreating steps. They sounded for a time, and then were
silent. And the evening stillness became pensive, stretched itself out in
long shadows, and then grew dark;—and suddenly night, coming to meet
it, all atremble with the rustle of sadly brushed-up leaves, heaved a last
sigh and was still.
There was a bustle, a jostle, a rattle of other voices, as though some one
had untied a bag of lively resonant voices, and they were falling out on
the ground, by one and two, and whole heaps. It was the disciples talking.
And drowning them all, reverberating from the trees and walls, and
tripping up over itself, thundered the determined, powerful voice of Peter—he
was swearing that never would he desert his Master.
"Lord," said he, half in anger, half in grief: "Lord! I am ready to go
with Thee to prison and to death."
And quietly, like the soft echo of retiring footsteps, came the inexorable
"I tell thee, Peter, the cock will not crow this day before thou dost deny
The moon had already risen when Jesus prepared to go to the Mount of
Olives, where He had spent all His last nights. But He tarried, for some
inexplicable reason, and the disciples, ready to start, were hurrying Him.
Then He said suddenly:
"He that hath a purse, let him take it, and likewise his scrip; and he
that hath no sword, let him sell his garment and buy one. For I say unto
you that this that is written must yet be accomplished in me: 'And he was
reckoned among the transgressors.'"
The disciples were surprised and looked at one another in confusion. Peter
"Lord, we have two swords here."
He looked searchingly into their kind faces, lowered His head, and said
"It is enough."
The steps of the disciples resounded loudly in the narrow streets, and
they were frightened by the sounds of their own footsteps; on the white
wall, illumined by the moon, their black shadows appeared—and they
were frightened by their own shadows. Thus they passed in silence through
Jerusalem, which was absorbed in sleep, and now they came out of the gates
of the city, and in the valley, full of fantastic, motionless shadows, the
stream of Kedron stretched before them. Now they were frightened by
everything. The soft murmuring and splashing of the water on the stones
sounded to them like voices of people approaching them stealthily; the
monstrous shades of the rocks and the trees, obstructing the road,
disturbed them, and their motionlessness seemed to them to stir. But as
they were ascending the mountain and approaching the garden, where they
had safely and quietly passed so many nights before, they were growing
ever bolder. From time to time they looked back at Jerusalem, all white in
the moonlight, and they spoke to one another about the fear that had
passed; and those who walked in the rear heard, in fragments, the soft
words of Jesus. He spoke about their forsaking Him.
In the garden they paused soon after they had entered it. The majority of
them remained there, and, speaking softly, began to make ready for their
sleep, outspreading their cloaks over the transparent embroidery of the
shadows and the moonlight. Jesus, tormented with uneasiness, and four of
His disciples went further into the depth of the garden. There they seated
themselves on the ground, which had not yet cooled off from the heat of
the day, and while Jesus was silent, Peter and John lazily exchanged words
almost devoid of any meaning. Yawning from fatigue, they spoke about the
coolness of the night; about the high price of meat in Jerusalem, and
about the fact that no fish was to be had in the city. They tried to
determine the exact number of pilgrims that had gathered in Jerusalem for
the festival, and Peter, drawling his words and yawning loudly, said that
they numbered 20,000, while John and his brother Jacob assured him just as
lazily that they did not number more than 10,000. Suddenly Jesus rose
"My soul is exceedingly sorrowful, even unto death; tarry ye here and
watch with Me," He said, and departed hastily to the grove and soon
disappeared amid its motionless shades and light.
"Where did He go?" said John, lifting himself on his elbow. Peter turned
his head in the direction of Jesus and answered fatiguedly:
"I do not know."
And he yawned again loudly, then threw himself on his back and became
silent. The others also became silent, and their motionless bodies were
soon absorbed in the sound sleep of fatigue. Through his heavy slumber
Peter vaguely saw something white bending over him, some one's voice
resounded and died away, leaving no trace in his dimmed consciousness.
"Simon, are you sleeping?"
And he slept again, and again some soft voice reached his ear and died
away without leaving any trace.
"You could not watch with me even one hour?"
"Oh, Master! if you only knew how sleepy I am," he thought in his slumber,
but it seemed to him that he said it aloud. And he slept again. And a long
time seemed to have passed, when suddenly the figure of Jesus appeared
near him, and a loud, rousing voice instantly awakened him and the others:
"You are still sleeping and resting? It is ended, the hour has come—the
Son of Man is betrayed into the hands of the sinners."
The disciples quickly sprang to their feet, confusedly seizing their
cloaks and trembling from the cold of the sudden awakening. Through the
thicket of the trees a multitude of warriors and temple servants was seen
approaching noisily, illumining their way with torches. And from the other
side the disciples came running, quivering from cold, their sleepy faces
frightened; and not yet understanding what was going on, they asked
"What is it? Who are these people with torches?"
Thomas, pale faced, his moustaches in disorder, his teeth chattering from
chilliness, said to Peter:
"They have evidently come after us."
Now a multitude of warriors surrounded them, and the smoky, quivering
light of the torches dispelled the soft light of the moon. In front of the
warriors walked Judas Iscariot quickly, and sharply turning his quick eye,
searched for Jesus. He found Him, rested his look for an instant upon His
tall, slender figure, and quickly whispered to the priests:
"Whomsoever I shall kiss, that same is He. Take Him and lead Him
cautiously. Lead Him cautiously, do you hear?"
Then he moved quickly to Jesus, who waited for him in silence, and he
directed his straight, sharp look, like a knife, into His calm, darkened
"Hail, Master!" he said loudly, charging his words of usual greeting with
a strange and stern meaning.
But Jesus was silent, and the disciples looked at the traitor with horror,
not understanding how the soul of a man could contain so much evil.
Iscariot threw a rapid glance at their confused ranks, noticed their
quiver, which was about to turn into a loud, trembling fear, noticed their
pallor, their senseless smiles, the drowsy movements of their hands, which
seemed as though fettered in iron at the shoulders—and a mortal
sorrow began to burn in his heart, akin to the sorrow Christ had
experienced before. Outstretching himself into a hundred ringing, sobbing
strings, he rushed over to Jesus and kissed His cold cheek tenderly. He
kissed it so softly, so tenderly, with such painful love and sorrow, that
if Jesus had been a flower upon a thin stalk it would not have shaken from
this kiss and would not have dropped the pearly dew from its pure petals.
"Judas," said Jesus, and with the lightning of His look He illumined that
monstrous heap of shadows which was Iscariot's soul, but he could not
penetrate into the bottomless depth. "Judas! Is it with a kiss you betray
the Son of Man?"
And He saw how that monstrous chaos trembled and stirred. Speechless and
stern, like death in its haughty majesty, stood Judas Iscariot, and within
him a thousand impetuous and fiery voices groaned and roared:
"Yes! We betray Thee with the kiss of love! With the kiss of love we
betray Thee to outrage, to torture, to death! With the voice of love we
call together the hangmen from their dark holes, and we place a cross—and
high over the top of the earth we lift love, crucified by love upon a
Thus stood Judas, silent and cold, like death, and the shouting and the
noise about Jesus answered the cry of His soul. With the rude
irresoluteness of armed force, with the awkwardness of a vaguely
understood purpose, the soldiers seized Him and dragged Him off—mistaking
their irresoluteness for resistance, their fear for derision and mockery.
Like a flock of frightened lambs, the disciples stood huddled together,
not interfering, yet disturbing everybody, even themselves. Only a few of
them resolved to walk and act separately. Jostled from all sides, Peter
drew out the sword from its sheath with difficulty, as though he had lost
all his strength, and faintly lowered it upon the head of one of the
priests—without causing him any harm. Jesus, observing this, ordered
him to throw away the useless weapon, and it fell under foot with a dull
thud, and so evidently had it lost its sharpness and destructive power
that it did not occur to any one to pick it up. So it rolled about under
foot, until several days afterwards it was found on the same spot by some
children at play, who made a toy of it.
The soldiers kept dispersing the disciples, but they gathered together
again and stupidly got under the soldiers' feet, and this went on so long
that at last a contemptuous rage mastered the soldiery. One of them with
frowning brow went up to the shouting John; another rudely pushed from his
shoulder the hand of Thomas, who was arguing with him about something or
other, and shook a big fist right in front of his straightforward,
transparent eyes. John fled, and Thomas and James fled, and all the
disciples, as many as were present, forsook Jesus and fled. Losing their
cloaks, knocking themselves against the trees, tripping up against stones
and falling, they fled to the hills terror-driven, while in the stillness
of the moonlight night the ground rumbled loudly beneath the tramp of many
feet. Some one, whose name did not transpire, just risen from his bed (for
he was covered only with a blanket), rushed excitedly into the crowd of
soldiers and servants. When they tried to stop him, and seized hold of his
blanket, he gave a cry of terror, and took to flight like the others,
leaving his garment in the hands of the soldiers. And so he ran
stark-naked, with desperate leaps, and his bare body glistened strangely
in the moonlight.
When Jesus was led away, Peter, who had hidden himself behind the trees,
came out and followed his Master at a distance. Noticing another man in
front of him, who walked silently, he thought that it was John, and he
called him softly:
"John, is that you?"
"And is that you, Peter?" answered the other, pausing, and by the voice
Peter recognised the traitor. "Peter, why did you not run away together
with the others?"
Peter stopped and said with contempt:
"Leave me, Satan!"
Judas began to laugh, and paying no further attention to Peter, he
advanced where the torches were flashing dimly and where the clanking of
the weapons mingled with the footsteps. Peter followed him cautiously, and
thus they entered the court of the high priest almost simultaneously and
mingled in the crowd of the priests who were warming themselves at the
bonfires. Judas warmed his bony hands morosely at the bonfire and heard
Peter saying loudly somewhere behind him:
"No, I do not know Him."
But it was evident that they were insisting there that he was one of the
disciples of Jesus, for Peter repeated still louder: "But I do not
understand what you are saying."
Without turning around, and smiling involuntarily, Judas shook his head
affirmatively and muttered:
"That's right, Peter! Do not give up the place near Jesus to any one."
And he did not see the frightened Peter walk away from the courtyard. And
from that night until the very death of Jesus, Judas did not see a single
one of the disciples of Jesus near Him; and amid all that multitude there
were only two, inseparable until death, strangely bound together by
sufferings—He who had been betrayed to abuse and torture and he who
had betrayed Him. Like brothers, they both, the Betrayed and the betrayer,
drank out of the same cup of sufferings, and the fiery liquid burned
equally the pure and the impure lips.
Gazing fixedly at the wood-fire, which imparted a feeling of warmth to his
eyes, stretching out his long, shaking hands to the flame, his hands and
feet forming a confused outline in the trembling light and shade, Iscariot
kept mumbling in hoarse complaint:
"How cold! My God, how cold it is!"
So, when the fishermen go away at night leaving an expiring fire of
drift-wood upon the shore, from the dark depth of the sea might something
creep forth, crawl up towards the fire, look at it with wild intentness,
and dragging all its limbs up to it, mutter in hoarse complaint:
"How cold! My God, how cold it is!"
Suddenly Judas heard behind him a burst of loud voices, the cries and
laughter of the soldiers full of the usual sleepy, greedy malice; and
lashes, short frequent strokes upon a living body. He turned round, a
momentary anguish running through his whole frame—his very bones.
They were scourging Jesus.
Has it come to that?
He had seen the soldiers lead Jesus away with them to their guardroom. The
night was already nearly over, the fires had sunk down and were covered
with ashes, but from the guardroom was still borne the sound of muffled
cries, laughter, and invectives. They were scourging Jesus.
As one who has lost his way, Iscariot ran nimbly about the empty
courtyard, stopped in his course, lifted his head and ran on again, and
was surprised when he came into collision with heaps of embers, or with
Then he clung to the wall of the guardroom, stretched himself out to his
full height, and glued himself to the window and the crevices of the door,
eagerly examining what they were doing. He saw a confined stuffy room,
dirty, like all guardrooms in the world, with bespitten floor, and walls
as greasy and stained as though they had been trodden and rolled upon. And
he saw the Man whom they were scourging. They struck Him on the face and
head, and tossed Him about like a soft bundle from one end of the room to
the other. And since He neither cried out nor resisted, after looking
intently, it actually appeared at moments as though it was not a living
human being, but a soft effigy without bones or blood. It bent itself
strangely like a doll, and in falling, knocking its head against the stone
floor it did not give the impression of a hard substance striking against
a hard substance, but of something soft and devoid of feeling. And when
one looked long, it became like some strange, endless game—and
sometimes it became almost a complete illusion.
After one hard kick, the man or effigy fell slowly on its knees before a
sitting soldier, he in turn flung it away, and turning over, it dropped
down before the next, and so on and on. A loud guffaw arose, and Judas
smiled too,—as though the strong hand of some one with iron fingers
had torn his mouth asunder. It was the mouth of Judas that was deceived.
Night dragged on, and the fires were still smouldering. Judas threw
himself from the wall, and crawled to one of the fires, poked up the
ashes, rekindled it, and although he no longer felt the cold, he stretched
his slightly trembling hands over the flames, and began to mutter
"Ah! how painful, my Son, my Son! How painful!"
Then he went again to the window, which was gleaming yellow with a dull
light between the thick grating, and once more began to watch them
scourging Jesus. Once before the very eyes of Judas appeared His swarthy
countenance, now marred out of human semblance, and covered with a forest
of dishevelled hair. Then some one's hand plunged into those locks, threw
the Man down, and rhythmically turning His head from one side to the
other, began to wipe the filthy floor with His face. Right under the
window a soldier was sleeping, his open mouth revealing his glittering
white teeth; and some one's broad back, with naked, brawny neck, barred
the window, so that nothing more could be seen. And suddenly the noise
"What's that? Why are they silent? Have they suddenly divined the truth?"
Momentarily the whole head of Judas, in all its parts, was filled with the
rumbling, shouting and roaring of a thousand maddened thoughts! Had they
divined? They understood that this was the very best of men—it was
so simple, so clear! Lo! He is coming out, and behind Him they are
abjectly crawling. Yes, He is coming here, to Judas, coming out a victor,
a hero, arbiter of the truth, a god....
"Who is deceiving Judas? Who is right?"
But no. Once more noise and shouting. They are scourging Him again. They
do not understand, they have not guessed, they are beating Him harder,
more cruelly than ever. The fires burn out, covered with ashes, and the
smoke above them is as transparently blue as the air, and the sky as
bright as the moon. It is the day approaching.
"What is day?" asks Judas.
And lo! everything begins to glow, to scintillate, to grow young again,
and the smoke above is no longer blue, but rose-coloured. It is the sun
"What is the sun?" asks Judas.
They pointed the finger at Judas, and some in contempt, others with hatred
and fear, said:
"Look, that is Judas the Traitor!"
This already began to be the opprobrious title, to which he had doomed
himself throughout the ages. Thousands of years may pass, nation may
supplant nation, and still the air will resound with the words, uttered
with contempt and fear by good and bad alike:
"Judas the Traitor!"
But he listened imperturbably to what was said of him, dominated by a
feeling of burning, all-subduing curiosity. Ever since the morning when
they led forth Jesus from the guardroom, after scourging Him, Judas had
followed Him, strangely enough feeling neither grief nor pain nor joy—only
an unconquerable desire to see and hear everything. Though he had had no
sleep the whole night, his body felt light; when he was crushed and
prevented from advancing, he elbowed his way through the crowd and
adroitly wormed himself into the front place; and not for a moment did his
vivid quick eye remain at rest. At the examination of Jesus before
Caiaphas, in order not to lose a word, he hollowed his hand round his ear,
and nodded his head in affirmation, murmuring:
"Just so! Thou hearest, Jesus?"
But he was a prisoner, like a fly tied to a thread, which, buzzing, flies
hither and thither, but cannot for one moment free itself from the
tractable but unyielding thread.
Certain stony thoughts lay at the back of his head, and to these he was
firmly bound; he knew not, as it were, what these thoughts were; he did
not wish to stir them up, but he felt them continually. At times they
would come to him all of a sudden, oppress him more and more, and begin to
crush him with their unimaginable weight, as though the vault of a rocky
cavern were slowly and terribly descending upon his head.
Then he would grip his heart with his hand, and strive to set his whole
body in motion, as though he were perishing with cold, and hasten to shift
his eyes to a fresh place, and again to another. When they led Jesus away
from Caiaphas, he met His weary eyes quite close, and, somehow or other,
unconsciously he gave Him several friendly nods.
"I am here, my Son, I am here," he muttered hurriedly, and maliciously
poked to some gaper in the back who stood in his way.
And now, in a huge shouting crowd, they all moved on to Pilate for the
last examination and trial, and with the same insupportable curiosity
Judas searched the faces of the ever swelling multitude. Many were quite
unknown to him; Judas had never seen them before, but some were there who
had cried, "Hosanna!" to Jesus, and at each step the number of them seemed
"Well, well!" thought Judas, and his head spun round as if he were drunk,
"the worst is over. Directly they will be crying: 'He is ours, He is
Jesus! What are you about?' and all will understand, and—"
But the believers walked in silence. Some hypocritically smiled, as if to
say: "The affair is none of ours!" Others spoke with constraint, but their
low voices were drowned in the rumbling of movement, and the loud
delirious shouts of His enemies.
And Judas felt better again. Suddenly he noticed Thomas cautiously
slipping through the crowd not far off, and struck by a sudden thought, he
was about to go up to him. At the sight of the traitor, Thomas was
frightened, and tried to hide himself. But in a little narrow street,
between two walls, Judas overtook him.
"Thomas, wait a bit!"
Thomas stopped, and stretching both hands out in front of him solemnly
pronounced the words:
Iscariot made an impatient movement of the hands.
"What a fool you are, Thomas! I thought that you had more sense than the
others. Satan indeed! That requires proof."
Letting his hands fall, Thomas asked in surprise:
"But did not you betray the Master? I myself saw you bring the soldiers,
and point Him out to them. If this is not treachery, I should like to know
"Never mind that," hurriedly said Judas. "Listen, there are many of you
here. You must all gather together, and loudly demand: 'Give up Jesus. He
is ours!' They will not refuse you, they dare not. They themselves will
"What do you mean! What are you thinking of!" said Thomas, with a decisive
wave of his hands. "Have you not seen what a number of armed soldiers and
servants of the Temple there are here? Moreover, the trial has not yet
taken place, and we must not interfere with the court. Surely he
understands that Jesus is innocent, and will order His release without
"You, then, think so too," said Judas thoughtfully. "Thomas, Thomas, what
if it be the truth? What then? Who is right? Who has deceived Judas?"
"We were all talking last night, and came to the conclusion that the court
cannot condemn the innocent. But if it does, why then—"
"Why, then it is no court. And it will be the worse for them when they
have to give an account before the real Judge."
"Before the real! Is there any 'real' left?" sneered Judas.
"And all of our party cursed you; but since you say that you were not the
traitor, I think you ought to be tried."
Judas did not want to hear him out; but turned right about, and hurried
down the street in the wake of the retreating crowd. He soon, however,
slackened his pace, mindful of the fact that a crowd always travels
slowly, and that a single pedestrian will inevitably overtake it.
When Pilate led Jesus out from his palace, and set Him before the people,
Judas, crushed against a column by the heavy backs of the soldiers,
furiously turning his head about to see something between two shining
helmets, suddenly felt clearly that the worst was over. He saw Jesus in
the sunshine, high above the heads of the crowd, blood-stained, pale with
a crown of thorns, the sharp spikes of which pressed into His forehead.
He stood on the edge of an elevation, visible from His head to His small,
sunburnt feet, and waited so calmly, was so serene in His immaculate
purity, that only a blind man, who perceived not the very sun, could fail
to see, only a madman would not understand. And the people held their
peace—it was so still, that Judas heard the breathing of the soldier
in front of him, and how, at each breath, a strap creaked somewhere about
"Yes, it will soon be over! They will understand immediately," thought
Judas, and suddenly something strange, like the dazzling joy of falling
from a giddy height into a blue sparkling abyss, arrested his heart-beats.
Contemptuously drawing his lips down to his rounded well-shaven chin,
Pilate flung to the crowd the dry, curt words—as one throws bones to
a pack of hungry hounds—thinking to cheat their longing for fresh
blood and living, palpitating flesh:
"You have brought this Man before me as a corrupter of the people, and
behold I have examined Him before you, and I find this Man guiltless of
that of which you accuse Him...."
Judas closed his eyes. He was waiting.
All the people began to shout, to sob, to howl with a thousand voices of
wild beasts and men:
"Put Him to death! Crucify Him! Crucify Him!" And as though in
self-mockery, as though wishing in one moment to plumb the very depths of
all possible degradation, madness and shame, the crowd cries out, sobs,
and demands with a thousand voices of wild beasts and men:
"Release unto us Barabbas! But crucify Him! Crucify Him!"
But the Roman had evidently not yet said his last word. Over his proud,
shaven countenance there passed convulsions of disgust and anger. He
understood! He has understood all along! He speaks quietly to his
attendants, but his voice is not heard in the roar of the crowd. What does
he say? Is he ordering them to bring swords, and to smite those maniacs?
"Water? What water? What for?"
Ah, lo! he washes his hands. Why does he wash his clean white hands all
adorned with rings? He lifts them and cries angrily to the people, whom
surprise holds in silence:
"I am innocent of the blood of this Just Person. See ye to it."
While the water is still dripping from his fingers on to the marble
pavement, something soft prostrates itself at his feet, and sharp, burning
lips kiss his hand, which he is powerless to withdraw, glue themselves to
it like tentacles, almost bite and draw blood. He looks down in disgust
and fear, and sees a great squirming body, a strangely twofold face, and
two immense eyes so queerly diverse from one another that, as it were, not
one being but a number of them clung to his hands and feet. He heard a
broken, burning whisper:
"O wise and noble... wise and noble."
And with such a truly satanic joy did that wild face blaze, that, with a
cry, Pilate kicked him away, and Judas fell backwards. And there he lay
upon the stone flags like an overthrown demon, still stretching out his
hand to the departing Pilate, and crying as one passionately enamoured:
"O wise, O wise and noble...."
Then he gathered himself up with agility, and ran away followed by the
laughter of the soldiery. Evidently there was yet hope. When they come to
see the cross, and the nails, then they will understand, and then.... What
then? He catches sight of the panic-stricken Thomas in passing, and for
some reason or other reassuringly nods to him; he overtakes Jesus being
led to execution. The walking is difficult, small stones roll under the
feet, and suddenly Judas feels that he is tired. He gives himself up
wholly to the trouble of deciding where best to plant his feet, he looks
dully around, and sees Mary Magdalene weeping, and a number of women
weeping—hair dishevelled, eyes red, lips distorted—all the
excessive grief of a tender woman's soul when submitted to outrage.
Suddenly he revives, and seizing the moment, runs up to Jesus:
"I go with Thee," he hurriedly whispers.
The soldiers drive him away with blows of their whips, and squirming so as
to avoid the blows, and showing his teeth at the soldiers, he explains
"I go with Thee. Thither. Thou understandest whither."
He wipes the blood from his face, shakes his fist at one of the soldiers,
who turns round and smiles, and points him out to the others. Then he
looks for Thomas, but neither he nor any of the disciples are in the crowd
that accompanies Jesus. Again he is conscious of fatigue, and drags one
foot with difficulty after the other, as he attentively looks out for the
sharp, white, scattered pebbles.
When the hammer was uplifted to nail Jesus' left hand to the tree, Judas
closed his eyes, and for a whole age neither breathed, nor saw, nor lived,
but only listened.
But lo! with a grating sound, iron strikes against iron, time after time,
dull, short blows, and then the sharp nail penetrating the soft wood and
separating its particles is distinctly heard.
One hand. It is not yet too late!
The other hand. It is not yet too late!
A foot, the other foot! Is all lost?
He irresolutely opens his eyes, and sees how the cross is raised, and
rocks, and is set fast in the trench. He sees how the hands of Jesus are
convulsed by the tension, how painfully His arms stretch, how the wounds
grow wider, and how the exhausted abdomen disappears under the ribs. The
arms stretch more and more, grow thinner and whiter, and become dislocated
from the shoulders, and the wounds of the nails redden and lengthen
gradually—lo! in a moment they will be torn away. No. It stopped.
All stopped. Only the ribs move up and down with the short, deep
On the very crown of the hill the cross is raised, and on it is the
crucified Jesus. The horror and the dreams of Judas are realised, he gets
up from his knees on which, for some reason, he has knelt, and gazes
Thus does a stern conqueror look, when he has already determined in his
heart to surrender everything to destruction and death, and for the last
time throws a glance over a rich foreign city, still alive with sound, but
already phantom-like under the cold hand of death. And suddenly, as
clearly as his terrible victory, Iscariot saw its ominous precariousness.
What if they should suddenly understand? It is not yet too late! Jesus
still lives. There He gazes with entreating, sorrowing eyes.
What can prevent the thin film which covers the eyes of mankind, so thin
that it hardly seems to exist at all, what can prevent it from rending?
What if they should understand? What if suddenly, in all their threatening
mass of men, women and children, they should advance, silently, without a
cry, and wipe out the soldiery, plunging them up to their ears in their
own blood, should tear from the ground the accursed cross, and by the
hands of all who remain alive should lift up the liberated Jesus above the
summit of the hill! Hosanna! Hosanna!
Hosanna? No! Better that Judas should lie on the ground. Better that he
should lie upon the ground, and gnashing his teeth like a dog, should
watch and wait until all these should rise up.
But what has come to Time? Now it almost stands still, so that one would
wish to push it with the hands, to kick it, beat it with a whip like a
lazy ass. Now it rushes madly down some mountain, and catches its breath,
and stretches out its hand in vain to stop itself. There weeps the mother
of Jesus. Let them weep. What avail her tears now? nay, the tears of all
the mothers in the world?
"What are tears?" asks Judas, and madly pushes unyielding Time, beats it
with his fists, curses it like a slave. It belongs to some one else, and
therefore is unamenable to discipline. Oh! if only it belonged to Judas!
But it belongs to all these people who are weeping, laughing, chattering
as in the market. It belongs to the sun; it belongs to the cross; to the
heart of Jesus, which is dying so slowly.
What an abject heart has Judas! He lays his hand upon it, but it cries
out: "Hosanna," so loud that all may hear. He presses it to the ground,
but it cries, "Hosanna, Hosanna!" like a babbler who scatters holy
mysteries broadcast through the street.
"Be still! Be still!"
Suddenly a loud broken lamentation, dull cries, the last hurried movements
towards the cross. What is it? Have they understood at last?
No, Jesus is dying. But can this be? Yes, Jesus is dying. His pale hands
are motionless, but short convulsions run over His face, and breast, and
legs. But can this be? Yes, He is dying. His breathing becomes less
frequent. It ceases. No, there is yet one sigh, Jesus is still upon the
earth. But is there another? No, no, no. Jesus is dead.
It is finished. Hosanna! Hosanna!
His horror and his dreams are realised. Who will now snatch the victory
from the hands of Iscariot?
It is finished. Let all people on earth stream to Golgotha, and shout with
their million throats, "Hosanna! Hosanna!" And let a sea of blood and
tears be poured out at its foot, and they will find only the shameful
cross and a dead Jesus!
Calmly and coldly Iscariot surveys the dead, letting his gaze rest for a
moment on that neck, which he had kissed only yesterday with a farewell
kiss; and slowly goes away. Now all Time belongs to him, and he walks
without hurry; now all the World belongs to him, and he steps firmly, like
a ruler, like a king, like one who is infinitely and joyfully alone in the
world. He observes the mother of Jesus, and says to her sternly:
"Thou weepest, mother? Weep, weep, and long will all the mothers upon
earth weep with thee: until I come with Jesus and destroy death."
What does he mean? Is he mad, or is he mocking—this Traitor? He is
serious, and his face is stern, and his eyes no longer dart about in mad
haste. Lo! he stands still, and with cold attention views a new,
It has become small, and he feels the whole of it under his feet. He looks
at the little mountains, quietly reddening under the last rays of the sun,
and he feels the mountains under his feet.
He looks at the sky opening wide its azure mouth; he looks at the small
round disc of the sun, which vainly strives to singe and dazzle, and he
feels the sky and the sun under his feet. Infinitely and joyfully alone,
he proudly feels the impotence of all forces which operate in the world,
and has cast them all into the abyss.
He walks farther on, with quiet, masterful steps. And Time goes neither
forward nor back: obediently it marches in step with him in all its
It is the end.
As an old cheat, coughing, smiling fawningly, bowing incessantly, Judas
Iscariot the Traitor appeared before the Sanhedrin. It was the day after
the murder of Jesus, about mid-day. There they were all, His judges and
murderers: the aged Annas with his sons, exact and disgusting likenesses
of their father, and his son-in-law Caiaphas, devoured by ambition, and
all the other members of the Sanhedrin, whose names have been snatched
from the memory of mankind—rich and distinguished Sadducees, proud
in their power and knowledge of the Law.
In silence they received the Traitor, their haughty faces remaining
motionless, as though no one had entered. And even the very least, and
most insignificant among them, to whom the others paid no attention,
lifted up his bird-like face and looked as though no one had entered.
Judas bowed and bowed and bowed, and they looked on in silence: as though
it were not a human being that had entered, but only an unclean insect
that had crept in, and which they had not observed. But Judas Iscariot was
not the man to be perturbed: they kept silence, and he kept on bowing, and
thought that if it was necessary to go on bowing till evening, he could do
At length Caiaphas inquired impatiently:
"What do you want?"
Judas bowed once more, and said in a loud voice—
"It is I, Judas Iscariot, who betrayed to you Jesus of Nazareth."
"Well, what of that? You have received your due. Go away!" ordered Annas;
but Judas appeared unconscious of the command, and continued bowing.
Glancing at him, Caiaphas asked Annas:
"How much did you give?"
"Thirty pieces of silver."
Caiaphas laughed, and even the grey-bearded Annas laughed, too, and over
all their proud faces there crept a smile of enjoyment; and even the one
with the bird-like face laughed. Judas, perceptibly blanching, hastily
interrupted with the words:
"That's right! Certainly it was very little; but is Judas discontented,
does Judas call out that he has been robbed? He is satisfied. Has he not
contributed to a holy cause—yes, a holy? Do not the most sage people
now listen to Judas, and think: He is one of us, this Judas Iscariot; he
is our brother, our friend, this Judas Iscariot, the Traitor! Does not
Annas want to kneel down and kiss the hand of Judas? Only Judas will not
allow it; he is a coward, he is afraid they will bite him."
"Drive the dog out! What's he barking about?"
"Get along with you. We have no time to listen to your babbling," said
Judas drew himself up and closed his eyes. The hypocrisy, which he had
carried so lightly all his life, suddenly became an insupportable burden,
and with one movement of his eyelashes he cast it from him. And when he
looked at Annas again, his glance was simple, direct, and terrible in its
naked truthfulness. But they paid no attention to this either.
"You want to be driven out with sticks!" cried Caiaphas.
Panting under the weight of the terrible words, which he was lifting
higher and higher, in order to hurl them hence upon the heads of the
judges, Judas hoarsely asked:
"But you know... you know... who He was... He, whom you condemned
yesterday and crucified?"
"We know. Go away!"
With one word he would straightway rend that thin film which was spread
over their eyes, and all the earth would stagger beneath the weight of the
merciless truth! They had a soul, they should be deprived of it; they had
a life, they should lose their life; they had light before their eyes,
eternal darkness and horror should cover them. Hosanna! Hosanna!
And these words, these terrible words, were tearing his throat asunder—
"He was no deceiver. He was innocent and pure. Do you hear? Judas deceived
you. He betrayed to you an innocent man."
He waits. He hears the aged, unconcerned voice of Annas, saying:
"And is that all you want to say?"
"You do not seem to have understood me," says Judas, with dignity, turning
pale. "Judas deceived you. He was innocent. You have slain the innocent."
He of the bird-like face smiles; but Annas is indifferent, Annas yawns.
And Caiaphas yawns, too, and says wearily:
"What did they mean by talking to me about the intellect of Judas
Iscariot? He is simply a fool, and a bore, too."
"What?" cries Judas, all suffused with dark madness. "But who are you, the
clever ones! Judas deceived you—hear! It was not He that he betrayed—but
you—you wiseacres, you, the powerful, you he betrayed to a shameful
death, which will not end, throughout the ages. Thirty pieces of silver!
Well, well. But that is the price of YOUR blood—blood filthy as the
dish-water which the women throw out of the gates of their houses. Oh!
Annas, old, grey, stupid Annas, chock-full of the Law, why did you not
give one silver piece, just one obolus more? At this price you will go
down through the ages!"
"Be off!" cries Caiaphas, growing purple in the face. But Annas stops him
with a motion of the hand, and asks Judas as unconcernedly as ever:
"Is that all?"
"Verily, if I were to go into the desert, and cry to the wild beasts:
'Wild beasts, have ye heard the price at which men valued their Jesus?'—what
would the wild beasts do? They would creep out of the lairs, they would
howl with anger, they would forget their fear of mankind, and would all
come here to devour you! If I were to say to the sea: 'Sea, knowest thou
the price at which men valued their Jesus?' If I were to say to the
mountains: 'Mountains, know ye the price at which men valued their Jesus?'
Then the sea and the mountains would leave their places, assigned to them
for ages, and would come here and fall upon your heads!"
"Does Judas wish to become a prophet? He speaks so loud!" mockingly
remarks he of the bird-like face, with an ingratiating glance at Caiaphas.
"To-day I saw a pale sun. It was looking at the earth, and saying: 'Where
is the Man?' To-day I saw a scorpion. It was sitting upon a stone and
laughingly said: 'Where is the Man?' I went near and looked into its eyes.
And it laughed and said: 'Where is the Man? I do not see Him!' Where is
the Man? I ask you, I do not see Him—or is Judas become blind, poor
And Iscariot begins to weep aloud.
He was, during those moments, like a man out of his mind, and Caiaphas
turned away, making a contemptuous gesture with his hand. But Annas
considered for a time, and then said:
"I perceive, Judas, that you really have received but little, and that
disturbs you. Here is some more money; take it and give it to your
He threw something, which rang shrilly. The sound had not died away,
before another, like it, strangely prolonged the clinking.
Judas had hastily flung the pieces of silver and the oboles into the faces
of the high priest and of the judges, returning the price paid for Jesus.
The pieces of money flew in a curved shower, falling on their faces, and
on the table, and rolling about the floor.
Some of the judges closed their hands with the palms outwards; others
leapt from their places, and shouted and scolded. Judas, trying to hit
Annas, threw the last coin, after which his trembling hand had long been
fumbling in his wallet, spat in anger, and went out.
"Well, well," he mumbled, as he passed swiftly through the streets,
scaring the children. "It seems that thou didst weep, Judas? Was Caiaphas
really right when he said that Judas Iscariot was a fool? He who weeps in
the day of his great revenge is not worthy of it—know'st thou that,
Judas? Let not thine eyes deceive thee; let not thine heart lie to thee;
flood not the fire with tears, Judas Iscariot!"
The disciples were sitting in mournful silence, listening to what was
going on without. There was still danger that the vengeance of Jesus'
enemies might not confine itself to Him, and so they were all expecting a
visit from the guard, and perhaps more executions. Near to John, to whom,
as the beloved disciple, the death of Jesus was especially grievous, sat
Mary Magdalene, and Matthew trying to comfort him in an undertone. Mary,
whose face was swollen with weeping, softly stroked his luxurious curling
hair with her hand, while Matthew said didactically, in the words of
"'The long suffering is better than a hero; and he that ruleth his own
spirit than one who taketh a city.'"
At this moment Judas knocked loudly at the door, and entered. All started
up in terror, and at first were not sure who it was; but when they
recognised the hated countenance, the red-haired, bulbous head, they
uttered a simultaneous cry.
Peter raised both hands and shouted:
"Get out of here, Traitor! Get out, or I will kill you."
But the others looked more carefully at the face and eyes of the Traitor,
and said nothing, merely whispering in terror:
"Leave him alone, leave him alone! He is possessed with a devil."
Judas waited until they had quite done, and then cried out in a loud
"Hail, ye eyes of Judas Iscariot! Ye have just seen the cold-blooded
murderers. Lo! Where is Jesus? I ask you, where is Jesus?"
There was something compelling in the hoarse voice of Judas, and Thomas
"You know yourself, Judas, that our Master was crucified yesterday."
"But how came you to permit it? Where was your love? Thou, Beloved
Disciple, and thou, Rock, where were you all when they were crucifying
your Friend on the tree?"
"What could we do, judge thou?" said Thomas, with a gesture of protest.
"Thou asketh that, Thomas? Very well!" and Judas threw his head back, and
fell upon him angrily. "He who loves does not ask what can be done—he
goes and does it—he weeps, he bites, he throttles the enemy, and
breaks his bones! He, that is, who loves! If your son were drowning would
you go into the city and inquire of the passers by: 'What must I do? My
son is drowning!' No, you would rather throw yourself into the water and
drown with him. One who loved would!"
Peter replied grimly to the violent speech of Judas:
"I drew a sword, but He Himself forbade."
"Forbade? And you obeyed!" jeered Judas. "Peter, Peter, how could you
listen to Him? Does He know anything of men, and of fighting?"
"He who does not submit to Him goes to hell fire."
"Then why did you not go, Peter? Hell fire! What's that? Now, supposing
you had gone—what good's your soul to you, if you dare not throw it
into the fire, if you want to?"
"Silence!" cried John, rising. "He Himself willed this sacrifice. His
sacrifice is beautiful!"
"Is a sacrifice ever beautiful, Beloved Disciple? Wherever there is a
sacrifice, then there is an executioner, and there traitors! Sacrifice—that
is suffering for one and disgrace for all the others! Traitors, traitors,
what have ye done with the world? Now they look at it from above and
below, and laugh and cry: 'Look at that world, upon it they crucified
Jesus!' And they spit on it—as I do!"
Judas angrily spat on the ground.
"He took upon Him the sin of all mankind. His sacrifice is beautiful,"
"No! you have taken all sin upon yourselves. You, Beloved Disciple, will
not a race of traitors take their beginning from you, a pusillanimous and
lying breed? O blind men, what have ye done with the earth? You have done
your best to destroy it, ye will soon be kissing the cross on which ye
crucified Jesus! Yes, yes, Judas gives ye his word that ye will kiss the
"Judas, don't revile!" roared Peter, pushing. "How could we slay all His
enemies? They are so many!"
"And thou, Peter!" exclaimed John in anger, "dost thou not perceive that
he is possessed of Satan? Leave us, Tempter! Thou'rt full of lies. The
Teacher forbade us to kill."
"But did He forbid you to die? Why are you alive, when He is dead? Why do
your feet walk, why does your tongue talk trash, why do your eyes blink,
when He is dead, motionless, speechless? How do your cheeks dare to be
red, John, when His are pale? How can you dare to shout, Peter, when He is
silent? What could you do? You ask Judas? And Judas answers you, the
magnificent, bold Judas Iscariot replies: 'Die!' You ought to have fallen
on the road, to have seized the soldiers by the sword, by the hands, and
drowned them in a sea of your own blood—yes, die, die! Better had it
been, that His Father should have cause to cry out with horror, when you
all enter there!"
Judas ceased with raised head. Suddenly he noticed the remains of a meal
upon the table. With strange surprise, curiously, as though for the first
time in his life he looked on food, he examined it, and slowly asked:
"What is this? You have been eating? Perhaps you have also been sleeping?"
Peter, who had begun to feel Judas to be some one, who could command
obedience, drooping his head, tersely replied: "I slept, I slept and ate!"
Thomas said, resolutely and firmly:
"This is all untrue, Judas. Just consider: if we had all died, who would
have told the story of Jesus? Who would have conveyed His teaching to
mankind if we had all died, Peter and John and I?"
"But what is the truth itself in the mouths of traitors? Does it not
become a lie? Thomas, Thomas, dost thou not understand, that thou art now
only a sentinel at the grave of dead Truth? The sentinel falls asleep, and
the thief cometh and carries away the truth; say, where is the truth?
Cursed be thou, Thomas! Fruitless, and a beggar shalt thou be throughout
the ages, and all you with him, accursed ones!"
"Accursed be thou thyself, Satan!" cried John, and James and Matthew and
all the other disciples repeated his cry; only Peter held his peace.
"I am going to Him," said Judas, stretching his powerful hand on high.
"Who will follow Iscariot to Jesus?"
"I—I also go with thee," cried Peter, rising.
But John and the others stopped him in horror, saying:
"Madman! Thou hast forgotten, that he betrayed the Master into the hands
of His enemies."
Peter began to lament bitterly, striking his breast with his fist:
"Whither, then, shall I go? O Lord! whither shall I go?"
. . . . .. . .
Judas had long ago, during his solitary walks, marked the place where he
intended to make an end of himself after the death of Jesus.
It was upon a hill high above Jerusalem. There stood but one tree, bent
and twisted by the wind, which had torn it on all sides, half withered.
One of its broken, crooked branches stretched out towards Jerusalem, as
though in blessing or in threat, and this one Judas had chosen on which to
hang a noose.
But the walk to the tree was long and tedious, and Judas Iscariot was very
weary. The small, sharp stones, scattered under his feet, seemed
continually to drag him backwards, and the hill was high, stern, and
malign, exposed to the wind. Judas was obliged to sit down several times
to rest, and panted heavily, while behind him, through the clefts of the
rock, the mountain breathed cold upon his back.
"Thou too art against me, accursed one!" said Judas contemptuously, as he
breathed with difficulty, and swayed his heavy head, in which all the
thoughts were now petrifying.
Then he raised it suddenly, and opening wide his now fixed eyes, angrily
"No, they were too bad for Judas. Thou hearest Jesus? Wilt Thou trust me
now? I am coming to Thee. Meet me kindly, I am weary—very weary.
Then Thou and I, embracing like brothers, shall return to earth. Shall we
Again he swayed his petrifying head, and again he opened his eyes,
"But maybe Thou wilt be angry with Judas when he arrives? And Thou wilt
not trust him? And wilt send him to hell? Well! What then! I will go to
hell. And in Thy hell fire I will weld iron, and weld iron, and demolish
Thy heaven. Dost approve? Then Thou wilt believe in me. Then Thou wilt
come back with me to earth, wilt Thou not, Jesus?"
Eventually Judas reached the summit and the crooked tree, and there the
wind began to torment him. And when Judas rebuked it, it began to blow
soft and low, and took leave and flew away.
"Right! But as for them, they are curs!" said Judas, making a slip-knot.
And since the rope might fail him and break, he hung it over a precipice,
so that if it broke, he would be sure to meet his death upon the stones.
And before he shoved himself off the brink with his foot, and hanged
himself, Judas Iscariot once more anxiously prepared Jesus for his coming:
"Yes, meet me kindly, Jesus. I am very weary."
He leapt. The rope strained, but held. His neck stretched, but his hands
and feet were crossed, and hung down as though damp.
He died. Thus, in the course of two days, one after another, Jesus of
Nazareth and Judas Iscariot, the Traitor, left the world.
All the night through, like some monstrous fruit, Judas swayed over
Jerusalem, and the wind kept turning his face now to the city, and now to
the desert—as though it wished to exhibit Judas to both city and
desert. But in whichever direction his face, distorted by death, was
turned, his red eyes suffused with blood, and now as like one another as
two brothers, incessantly looked towards the sky. In the morning some
sharp-sighted person perceived Judas hanging above the city, and cried out
People came and took him down, and knowing who he was, threw him into a
deep ravine, into which they were in the habit of throwing dead horses and
cats and other carrion.
The same evening all the believers knew of the terrible death of the
Traitor, and the next day it was known to all Jerusalem. Stony Judaea knew
of it and green Galilee; and from one sea to the other, distant as it was,
the news flew of the death of the Traitor.
Neither faster nor slower, but with equal pace with Time itself, it went,
and as there is no end to Time so will there be no end to the stories
about the Traitor Judas and his terrible death.
And all—both good and bad—will equally anathematise his
shameful memory; and among all peoples, past and present, will he remain
alone in his cruel destiny—Judas Iscariot, the Traitor.
"THE MAN WHO FOUND THE TRUTH"
I was twenty-seven years old and had just maintained my thesis for the
degree of Doctor of Mathematics with unusual success, when I was suddenly
seized in the middle of the night and thrown into this prison. I shall not
narrate to you the details of the monstrous crime of which I was accused—there
are events which people should neither remember nor even know, that they
may not acquire a feeling of aversion for themselves; but no doubt there
are many people among the living who remember that terrible case and "the
human brute," as the newspapers called me at that time. They probably
remember how the entire civilised society of the land unanimously demanded
that the criminal be put to death, and it is due only to the inexplicable
kindness of the man at the head of the Government at the time that I am
alive, and I now write these lines for the edification of the weak and the
I shall say briefly: My father, my elder brother, and my sister were
murdered brutally, and I was supposed to have committed the crime for the
purpose of securing a really enormous inheritance.
I am an old man now; I shall die soon, and you have not the slightest
ground for doubting when I say that I was entirely innocent of the
monstrous and horrible crime, for which twelve honest and conscientious
judges unanimously sentenced me to death. The death sentence was finally
commuted to imprisonment for life in solitary confinement.
It was merely a fatal linking of circumstances, of grave and insignificant
events, of vague silence and indefinite words, which gave me the
appearance and likeness of the criminal, innocent though I was. But he who
would suspect me of being ill-disposed toward my strict judges would be
profoundly mistaken. They were perfectly right, perfectly right. As people
who can judge things and events only by their appearance, and who are
deprived of the ability to penetrate their own mysterious being, they
could not act differently, nor should they have acted differently.
It so happened that in the game of circumstances, the truth concerning my
actions, which I alone knew, assumed all the features of an insolent and
shameless lie; and however strange it may seem to my kind and serious
reader, I could establish the truth of my innocence only by falsehood, and
not by the truth.
Later on, when I was already in prison, in going over in detail the story
of the crime and the trial, and picturing myself in the place of one of my
judges, I came to the inevitable conclusion each time that I was guilty.
Then I produced a very interesting and instructive work; having set aside
entirely the question of truth and falsehood on general principles, I
subjected the facts and the words to numerous combinations, erecting
structures, even as small children build various structures with their
wooden blocks; and after persistent efforts I finally succeeded in finding
a certain combination of facts which, though strong in principle, seemed
so plausible that my actual innocence became perfectly clear, exactly and
To this day I remember the great feeling of astonishment, mingled with
fear, which I experienced at my strange and unexpected discovery; by
telling the truth I lead people into error and thus deceive them, while by
maintaining falsehood I lead them, on the contrary, to the truth and to
I did not yet understand at that time that, like Newton and his famous
apple, I discovered unexpectedly the great law upon which the entire
history of human thought rests, which seeks not the truth, but
verisimilitude, the appearance of truth—that is, the harmony between
that which is seen and that which is conceived, based on the strict laws
of logical reasoning. And instead of rejoicing, I exclaimed in an outburst
of naive, juvenile despair: "Where, then, is the truth? Where is the truth
in this world of phantoms and falsehood?" (See my "Diary of a Prisoner" of
June 29, 18—.)
I know that at the present time, when I have but five or six more years to
live, I could easily secure my pardon if I but asked for it. But aside
from my being accustomed to the prison and for several other important
reasons, of which I shall speak later, I simply have no right to ask for
pardon, and thus break the force and natural course of the lawful and
entirely justified verdict. Nor would I want to hear people apply to me
the words, "a victim of judicial error," as some of my gentle visitors
expressed themselves, to my sorrow. I repeat, there was no error, nor
could there be any error in a case in which a combination of definite
circumstances inevitably lead a normally constructed and developed mind to
the one and only conclusion.
I was convicted justly, although I did not commit the crime—such is
the simple and clear truth, and I live joyously and peacefully my last few
years on earth with a sense of respect for this truth.
The only purpose by which I was guided in writing these modest notes is to
show to my indulgent reader that under the most painful conditions, where
it would seem that there remains no room for hope or life—a human
being, a being of the highest order, possessing a mind and a will, finds
both hope and life. I want to show how a human being, condemned to death,
looked with free eyes upon the world, through the grated window of his
prison, and discovered the great purpose, harmony, and beauty of the
universe—to the disgrace of those fools who, being free, living a
life of plenty and happiness, slander life disgustingly.
Some of my visitors reproach me for being "haughty"; they ask me where I
secured the right to teach and to preach; cruel in their reasoning, they
would like to drive away even the smile from the face of the man who has
been imprisoned for life as a murderer.
No. Just as the kind and bright smile will not leave my lips, as an
evidence of a clear and unstained conscience, so my soul will never be
darkened, my soul, which has passed firmly through the defiles of life,
which has been carried by a mighty will power across these terrible
abysses and bottomless pits, where so many daring people have found their
heroic, but, alas! fruitless, death.
And if the tone of my confessions may sometimes seem too positive to my
indulgent reader, it is not at all due to the absence of modesty in me,
but it is due to the fact that I firmly believe that I am right, and also
to my firm desire to be useful to my neighbour as far as my faint powers
Here I must apologise for my frequent references to my "Diary of a
Prisoner," which is unknown to the reader; but the fact is that I consider
the complete publication of my "Diary" too premature and perhaps even
dangerous. Begun during the remote period of cruel disillusions, of the
shipwreck of all my beliefs and hopes, breathing boundless despair, my
note book bears evidence in places that its author was, if not in a state
of complete insanity, on the brink of insanity. And if we recall how
contagious that illness is, my caution in the use of my "Diary" will
become entirely clear.
O, blooming youth! With an involuntary tear in my eye I recall your
magnificent dreams, your daring visions and outbursts, your impetuous,
seething power—but I should not want your return, blooming youth!
Only with the greyness of the hair comes clear wisdom, and that great
aptitude for unprejudiced reflection which makes of all old men
philosophers and often even sages.
Those of my kind visitors who honour me by expressing their delight and
even—may this little indiscretion be forgiven me!—even their
adoration of my spiritual clearness, can hardly imagine what I was when I
came to this prison. The tens of years which have passed over my head and
which have whitened my hair cannot muffle the slight agitation which I
experience at the recollection of the first moments when, with the
creaking of the rusty hinges, the fatal prison doors opened and then
closed behind me forever.
Not endowed with literary talent, which in reality is an indomitable
inclination to invent and to lie, I shall attempt to introduce myself to
my indulgent reader exactly as I was at that remote time.
I was a young man, twenty-seven years of age—as I had occasion to
mention before—unrestrained, impetuous, given to abrupt deviations.
A certain dreaminess, peculiar to my age; a self-respect which was easily
offended and which revolted at the slightest insignificant provocation; a
passionate impetuosity in solving world problems; fits of melancholy
alternated by equally wild fits of merriment—all this gave the young
mathematician a character of extreme unsteadiness, of sad and harsh
I must also mention the extreme pride, a family trait, which I inherited
from my mother, and which often hindered me from taking the advice of
riper and more experienced people than myself; also my extreme obstinacy
in carrying out my purposes, a good quality in itself, which becomes
dangerous, however, when the purpose in question is not sufficiently well
founded and considered.
Thus, during the first days of my confinement, I behaved like all other
fools who are thrown into prison. I shouted loudly and, of course, vainly
about my innocence; I demanded violently my immediate freedom and even
beat against the door and the walls with my fists. The door and the walls
naturally remained mute, while I caused myself a rather sharp pain. I
remember I even beat my head against the wall, and for hours I lay
unconscious on the stone floor of my cell; and for some time, when I had
grown desperate, I refused food, until the persistent demands of my
organism defeated my obstinacy.
I cursed my judges and threatened them with merciless vengeance. At last I
commenced to regard all human life, the whole world, even Heaven, as an
enormous injustice, a derision and a mockery. Forgetting that in my
position I could hardly be unprejudiced, I came with the self-confidence
of youth, with the sickly pain of a prisoner, gradually to the complete
negation of life and its great meaning.
Those were indeed terrible days and nights, when, crushed by the walls,
getting no answer to any of my questions, I paced my cell endlessly and
hurled one after another into the dark abyss all the great valuables which
life has bestowed upon us: friendship, love, reason and justice.
In some justification to myself I may mention the fact that during the
first and most painful years of my imprisonment a series of events
happened which reflected themselves rather painfully upon my psychic
nature. Thus I learned with the profoundest indignation that the girl,
whose name I shall not mention and who was to become my wife, married
another man. She was one of the few who believed in my innocence; at the
last parting she swore to me to remain faithful to me unto death, and
rather to die than betray her love for me—and within one year after
that she married a man I knew, who possessed certain good qualities, but
who was not at all a sensible man. I did not want to understand at that
time that such a marriage was natural on the part of a young, healthy, and
beautiful girl. But, alas! we all forget our natural science when we are
deceived by the woman we love—may this little jest be forgiven me!
At the present time Mme. N. is a happy and respected mother, and this
proves better than anything else how wise and entirely in accordance with
the demands of nature and life was her marriage at that time, which vexed
me so painfully.
I must confess, however, that at that time I was not at all calm. Her
exceedingly amiable and kind letter in which she notified me of her
marriage, expressing profound regret that changed circumstances and a
suddenly awakened love compelled her to break her promise to me—that
amiable, truthful letter, scented with perfume, bearing the traces of her
tender fingers, seemed to me a message from the devil himself.
The letters of fire burned my exhausted brains, and in a wild ecstasy I
shook the doors of my cell and called violently:
"Come! Let me look into your lying eyes! Let me hear your lying voice! Let
me but touch with my fingers your tender throat and pour into your death
rattle my last bitter laugh!"
From this quotation my indulgent reader will see how right were the judges
who convicted me for murder; they had really foreseen in me a murderer.
My gloomy view of life at the time was aggravated by several other events.
Two years after the marriage of my fiancee, consequently three years after
the first day of my imprisonment, my mother died—she died, as I
learned, of profound grief for me. However strange it may seem, she
remained firmly convinced to the end of her days that I had committed the
monstrous crime. Evidently this conviction was an inexhaustible source of
grief to her, the chief cause of the gloomy melancholy which fettered her
lips in silence and caused her death through paralysis of the heart. As I
was told, she never mentioned my name nor the names of those who died so
tragically, and she bequeathed the entire enormous fortune, which was
supposed to have served as the motive for the murder, to various
charitable organisations. It is characteristic that even under such
terrible conditions her motherly instinct did not forsake her altogether;
in a postscript to the will she left me a considerable sum, which secures
my existence whether I am in prison or at large.
Now I understand that, however great her grief may have been, that alone
was not enough to cause her death; the real cause was her advanced age and
a series of illnesses which had undermined her once strong and sound
organism. In the name of justice, I must say that my father, a
weak-charactered man, was not at all a model husband and family man; by
numerous betrayals, by falsehood and deception he had led my mother to
despair, constantly offending her pride and her strict, unbribable
truthfulness. But at that time I did not understand it; the death of my
mother seemed to me one of the most cruel manifestations of universal
injustice, and called forth a new stream of useless and sacrilegious
I do not know whether I ought to tire the attention of the reader with the
story of other events of a similar nature. I shall mention but briefly
that one after another my friends, who remained my friends from the time
when I was happy and free, stopped visiting me. According to their words,
they believed in my innocence, and at first warmly expressed to me their
sympathy. But our lives, mine in prison and theirs at liberty, were so
different that gradually under the pressure of perfectly natural causes,
such as forgetfulness, official and other duties, the absence of mutual
interests, they visited me ever more and more rarely, and finally ceased
to see me entirely. I cannot recall without a smile that even the death of
my mother, even the betrayal of the girl I loved did not arouse in me such
a hopelessly bitter feeling as these gentlemen, whose names I remember but
vaguely now, succeeded in wresting from my soul.
"What horror! What pain! My friends, you have left me alone! My friends,
do you understand what you have done? You have left me alone. Can you
conceive of leaving a human being alone? Even a serpent has its mate, even
a spider has its comrade—and you have left a human being alone! You
have given him a soul—and left him alone! You have given him a
heart, a mind, a hand for a handshake, lips for a kiss—and you have
left him alone! What shall he do now that you have left him alone?"
Thus I exclaimed in my "Diary of a Prisoner," tormented by woeful
perplexities. In my juvenile blindness, in the pain of my young, senseless
heart, I still did not want to understand that the solitude, of which I
complained so bitterly, like the mind, was an advantage given to man over
other creatures, in order to fence around the sacred mysteries of his soul
from the stranger's gaze.
Let my serious reader consider what would have become of life if man were
robbed of his right, of his duty to be alone. In the gathering of idle
chatterers, amid the dull collection of transparent glass dolls, that kill
each other with their sameness; in the wild city where all doors are open,
and all windows are open—passers-by look wearily through the glass
walls and observe the same evidences of the hearth and the alcove. Only
the creatures that can be alone possess a face; while those that know no
solitude—the great, blissful, sacred solitude of the soul—have
snouts instead of faces.
And in calling my friends "perfidious traitors" I, poor youth that I was,
could not understand the wise law of life, according to which neither
friendship, nor love, nor even the tenderest attachment of sister and
mother, is eternal. Deceived by the lies of the poets, who proclaimed
eternal friendship and love, I did not want to see that which my indulgent
reader observes from the windows of his dwelling—how friends,
relatives, mother and wife, in apparent despair and in tears, follow their
dead to the cemetery, and after a lapse of some time return from there. No
one buries himself together with the dead, no one asks the dead to make
room in the coffin, and if the grief-stricken wife exclaims, in an
outburst of tears, "Oh, bury me together with him!" she is merely
expressing symbolically the extreme degree of her despair—one could
easily convince himself of this by trying, in jest, to push her down into
the grave. And those who restrain her are merely expressing symbolically
their sympathy and understanding, thus lending the necessary aspect of
solemn grief to the funeral custom.
Man must subject himself to the laws of life, not of death, nor to the
fiction of the poets, however beautiful it may be. But can the fictitious
be beautiful? Is there no beauty in the stern truth of life, in the mighty
work of its wise laws, which subjects to itself with great
disinterestedness the movements of the heavenly luminaries, as well as the
restless linking of the tiny creatures called human beings?
Thus I lived sadly in my prison for five or six years.
The first redeeming ray flashed upon me when I least expected it.
Endowed with the gift of imagination, I made my former fiancee the object
of all my thoughts. She became my love and my dream.
Another circumstance which suddenly revealed to me the ground under my
feet was, strange as it may seem, the conviction that it was impossible to
make my escape from prison.
During the first period of my imprisonment, I, as a youthful and
enthusiastic dreamer, made all kinds of plans for escape, and some of them
seemed to me entirely possible of realisation. Cherishing deceptive hopes,
this thought naturally kept me in a state of tense alarm and hindered my
attention from concentrating itself on more important and substantial
matters. As soon as I despaired of one plan I created another, but of
course I did not make any progress—I merely moved within a closed
circle. It is hardly necessary to mention that each transition from one
plan to another was accompanied by cruel sufferings, which tormented my
soul, just as the eagle tortured the body of Prometheus.
One day, while staring with a weary look at the walls of my cell, I
suddenly began to feel how irresistibly thick the stone was, how strong
the cement which kept it together, how skilfully and mathematically this
severe fortress was constructed. It is true, my first sensation was
extremely painful; it was, perhaps, a horror of hopelessness.
I cannot recall what I did and how I felt during the two or three months
that followed. The first note in my diary after a long period of silence
does not explain very much. Briefly I state only that they made new
clothes for me and that I had grown stout.
The fact is that, after all my hopes had been abandoned, the consciousness
of the impossibility of my escape once for all extinguished also my
painful alarm and liberated my mind, which was then already inclined to
lofty contemplation and the joys of mathematics.
But the following is the day I consider as the first real day of my
liberation. It was a beautiful spring morning (May 6) and the balmy,
invigourating air was pouring into the open window; while walking back and
forth in my cell I unconsciously glanced, at each turn, with a vague
interest, at the high window, where the iron grate outlined its form
sharply and distinctly against the background of the azure, cloudless sky.
"Why is the sky so beautiful through these bars?" I reflected as I walked.
"Is not this the effect of the aesthetic law of contrasts, according to
which azure stands out prominently beside black? Or is it not, perhaps, a
manifestation of some other, higher law, according to which the infinite
may be conceived by the human mind only when it is brought within certain
boundaries, for instance, when it is enclosed within a square?"
When I recalled that at the sight of a wide open window, which was not
protected by bars, or of the sky, I had usually experienced a desire to
fly, which was painful because of its uselessness and absurdity—I
suddenly began to experience a feeling of tenderness for the bars; tender
gratitude, even love. Forged by hand, by the weak human hand of some
ignorant blacksmith, who did not even give himself an account of the
profound meaning of his creation; placed in the wall by an equally
ignorant mason, it suddenly represented in itself a model of beauty,
nobility and power. Having seized the infinite within its iron squares, it
became congealed in cold and proud peace, frightening the ignorant, giving
food for thought to the intelligent and delighting the sage!
In order to make the further narrative clearer to my indulgent reader, I
am compelled to say a few words about the exclusive, quite flattering,
and, I fear, not entirely deserved, position which I occupy in our prison.
On one hand, my spiritual clearness, my rare and perfect view of life, and
the nobility of my feelings, which impress all those who speak to me; and,
on the other hand, several rather unimportant favours which I have done to
the Warden, have given me a series of privileges, of which I avail myself,
rather moderately, of course, not desiring to upset the general plan and
system of our prison.
Thus, during the weekly visiting days, my visitors are not limited to any
special time for their interviews, and all those who wish to see me are
admitted, sometimes forming quite a large audience. Not daring to accept
altogether the assurances made somewhat ironically by the Warden, to the
effect that I would be "the pride of any prison," I may say, nevertheless,
without any false modesty, that my words are treated with proper respect,
and that among my visitors I number quite a few warm and enthusiastic
admirers, both men and women. I shall mention that the Warden himself and
some of his assistants honour me by their visits, drawing from me strength
and courage for the purpose of continuing their hard work. Of course I use
the prison library freely, and even the archives of the prison; and if the
Warden politely refused to grant my request for an exact plan of the
prison, it is not at all because of his lack of confidence in me, but
because such a plan is a state secret....
Our prison is a huge five-story building. Situated in the outskirts of the
city, at the edge of a deserted field, overgrown with high grass, it
attracts the attention of the wayfarer by its rigid outlines, promising
him peace and rest after his endless wanderings. Not being plastered, the
building has retained its natural dark red colour of old brick, and at
close view, I am told, it produces a gloomy, even threatening, impression,
especially on nervous people, to whom the red bricks recall blood and
bloody lumps of human flesh. The small, dark, flat windows with iron bars
naturally complete the impression and lend to the whole a character of
gloomy harmony, or stern beauty. Even during good weather, when the sun
shines upon our prison, it does not lose any of its dark and grim
importance, and is constantly reminding the people that there are laws in
existence and that punishment awaits those who break them.
My cell is on the fifth story, and my grated window commands a splendid
view of the distant city and a part of the deserted field to the right. On
the left, beyond the boundary of my vision, are the outskirts of the city,
and, as I am told, the church and the cemetery adjoining it. Of the
existence of the church and even the cemetery I had known before from the
mournful tolling of the bells, which custom requires during the burial of
Quite in keeping with the external style of architecture, the interior
arrangement of our prison is also finished harmoniously and properly
constructed. For the purpose of conveying to the reader a clearer idea of
the prison, I will take the liberty of giving the example of a fool who
might make up his mind to run away from our prison. Admitting that the
brave fellow possessed supernatural, Herculean strength and broke the lock
of his room—what would he find? The corridor, with numerous grated
doors, which could withstand cannonading—and armed keepers. Let us
suppose that he kills all the keepers, breaks all the doors, and comes out
into the yard—perhaps he may think that he is already free. But what
of the walls? The walls which encircle our prison, with three rings of
I omitted the guard advisedly. The guard is indefatigable. Day and night I
hear behind my doors the footsteps of the guard; day and night his eye
watches me through the little window in my door, controlling my movements,
reading on my face my thoughts, my intentions and my dreams. In the
daytime I could deceive his attention with lies, assuming a cheerful and
carefree expression on my face, but I have rarely met the man who could
lie even in his sleep. No matter how much I would be on my guard during
the day, at night I would betray myself by an involuntary moan, by a
twitch of the face, by an expression of fatigue or grief, or by other
manifestations of a guilty and uneasy conscience. Only very few people of
unusual will power are able to lie even in their sleep, skilfully managing
the features of their faces, sometimes even preserving a courteous and
bright smile on their lips, when their souls, given over to dreams, are
quivering from the horrors of a monstrous nightmare—but, as
exceptions, these cannot be taken into consideration. I am profoundly
happy that I am not a criminal, that my conscience is clear and calm.
"Read, my friend, read," I say to the watchful eye as I lay myself down to
sleep peacefully. "You will not be able to read anything on my face!"
And it was I who invented the window in the prison door.
I feel that my reader is astonished and smiles incredulously, mentally
calling me an old liar, but there are instances in which modesty is
superfluous and even dangerous. Yes, this simple and great invention
belongs to me, just as Newton's system belongs to Newton, and as Kepler's
laws of the revolution of the planets belong to Kepler.
Later on, encouraged by the success of my invention, I devised and
introduced in our prison a series of little innovations, which were
concerned only with details; thus the form of chains and locks used in our
prison has been changed.
The little window in the door was my invention, and, if any one should
dare deny this, I would call him a liar and a scoundrel.
I came upon this invention under the following circumstances: One day,
during the roll call, a certain prisoner killed with the iron leg of his
bed the Inspector who entered his cell. Of course the rascal was hanged in
the yard of our prison, and the administration light mindedly grew calm,
but I was in despair—the great purpose of the prison proved to be
wrong since such horrible deeds were possible. How is it that no one had
noticed that the prisoner had broken off the leg of his bed? How is it
that no one had noticed the state of agitation in which the prisoner must
have been before committing the murder?
By taking up the question so directly I thus approached considerably the
solution of the problem; and indeed, after two or three weeks had elapsed
I arrived simply and even unexpectedly at my great discovery. I confess
frankly that before telling my discovery to the Warden of the prison I
experienced moments of a certain hesitation, which was quite natural in my
position of prisoner. To the reader who may still be surprised at this
hesitation, knowing me to be a man of a clear, unstained conscience, I
will answer by a quotation from my "Diary of a Prisoner," relating to that
"How difficult is the position of the man who is convicted, though
innocent, as I am. If he is sad, if his lips are sealed in silence, and
his eyes are lowered, people say of him: 'He is repenting; he is suffering
from pangs of conscience.'
"If in the innocence of his heart he smiles brightly and kindly, the
keeper thinks: 'There, by a false and feigned smile, he wishes to hide his
"No matter what he does, he seems guilty—such is the force of the
prejudice against which it is necessary to struggle. But I am innocent,
and I shall be myself, firmly confident that my spiritual clearness will
destroy the malicious magic of prejudice."
And on the following day the Warden of the prison pressed my hand warmly,
expressing his gratitude to me, and a month later little holes were made
in all doors in every prison in the land, thus opening a field for wide
and fruitful observation.
The entire system of our prison life gives me deep satisfaction. The hours
for rising and going to bed, for meals and walks are arranged so
rationally, in accordance with the real requirements of nature, that soon
they lose the appearance of compulsion and become natural, even dear
habits. Only in this way can I explain the interesting fact that when I
was free I was a nervous and weak young man, susceptible to colds and
illness, whereas in prison I have grown considerably stronger and that for
my sixty years I am enjoying an enviable state of health. I am not stout,
but I am not thin, either; my lungs are in good condition and I have saved
almost all my teeth, with the exception of two on the left side of the
jaw; I am good natured, even tempered; my sleep is sound, almost without
any dreams. In figure, in which an expression of calm power and
self-confidence predominates, and in face, I resemble somewhat
Michaelangelo's "Moses"—that is, at least what some of my friendly
visitors have told me.
But even more than by the regular and healthy regime, the strengthening of
my soul and body was helped by the wonderful, yet natural, peculiarity of
our prison, which eliminates entirely the accidental and the unexpected
from its life. Having neither a family nor friends, I am perfectly safe
from the shocks, so injurious to life, which are caused by treachery, by
the illness or death of relatives—let my indulgent reader recall how
many people have perished before his eyes not of their own fault, but
because capricious fate had linked them to people unworthy of them.
Without changing my feeling of love into trivial personal attachments, I
thus make it free for the broad and mighty love for all mankind; and as
mankind is immortal, not subjected to illness, and as a harmonious whole
it is undoubtedly progressing toward perfection, love for it becomes the
surest guarantee of spiritual and physical soundness.
My day is clear. So are also my days of the future, which are coming
toward me in radiant and even order. A murderer will not break into my
cell for the purpose of robbing me, a mad automobile will not crush me,
the illness of a child will not torture me, cruel treachery will not steal
its way to me from the darkness. My mind is free, my heart is calm, my
soul is clear and bright.
The clear and rigid rules of our prison define everything that I must not
do, thus freeing me from those unbearable hesitations, doubts, and errors
with which practical life is filled. True, sometimes there penetrates even
into our prison, through its high walls, something which ignorant people
call chance, or even Fate, and which is only an inevitable reflection of
the general laws; but the life of the prison, agitated for a moment,
quickly goes back to its habitual rut, like a river after an overflow. To
this category of accidents belong the above-mentioned murder of the
Inspector, the rare and always unsuccessful attempts at escape, and also
the executions, which take place in one of the remotest yards of our
There is still another peculiarity in the system of our prison, which I
consider most beneficial, and which gives to the whole thing a character
of stern and noble justice. Left to himself, and only to himself, the
prisoner cannot count upon support, or upon that spurious, wretched pity
which so often falls to the lot of weak people, disfiguring thereby the
fundamental purposes of nature.
I confess that I think, with a certain sense of pride, that if I am now
enjoying general respect and admiration, if my mind is strong, my will
powerful, my view of life clear and bright, I owe it only to myself, to my
power and my perseverance. How many weak people would have perished in my
place as victims of madness, despair, or grief? But I have conquered
everything! I have changed the world. I gave to my soul the form which my
mind desired. In the desert, working alone, exhausted with fatigue, I have
erected a stately structure in which I now live joyously and calmly, like
a king. Destroy it—and to-morrow I shall begin to build a new
structure, and in my bloody sweat I shall erect it! For I must live!
Forgive my involuntary pathos in the last lines, which is so unbecoming to
my balanced and calm nature. But it is hard to restrain myself when I
recall the road I have travelled. I hope, however, that in the future I
shall not darken the mood of my reader with any outbursts of agitated
feelings. Only he shouts who is not confident of the truth of his words;
calm firmness and cold simplicity are becoming to the truth.
P.S.—I do not remember whether I told you that the criminal who
murdered my father has not been found as yet.
Deviating from time to time from the calm form of a historical narrative I
must pause on current events. Thus I will permit myself to acquaint my
readers in a few lines with a rather interesting specimen of the human
species which I have found accidentally in our prison.
One afternoon a few days ago the Warden came to me for the usual chat, and
among other things told me there was a very unfortunate man in prison at
the time upon whom I could exert a beneficent influence. I expressed my
willingness in the most cordial manner, and for several days in succession
I have had long discussions with the artist K., by permission of the
Warden. The spirit of hostility, even of obstinacy, with which, to my
regret, he met me at his first visit, has now disappeared entirely under
the influence of my discussion. Listening willingly and with interest to
my ever pacifying words he gradually told me his rather unusual story
after a series of persistent questions.
He is a man of about twenty-six or twenty-eight, of pleasant appearance,
and rather good manners, which show that he is a well-bred man. A certain
quite natural unrestraint in his speech, a passionate vehemence with which
he talks about himself, occasionally a bitter, even ironical laughter,
followed by painful pensiveness, from which it is difficult to arouse him
even by a touch of the hand—these complete the make-up of my new
acquaintance. Personally to me he is not particularly sympathetic, and
however strange it may seem I am especially annoyed by his disgusting
habit of constantly moving his thin, emaciated fingers and clutching
helplessly the hand of the person with whom he speaks.
K. told me very little of his past life.
"Well, what is there to tell? I was an artist, that's all," he repeated,
with a sorrowful grimace, and refused to talk about the "immoral act" for
which he was condemned to solitary confinement.
"I don't want to corrupt you, grandpa—live honestly," he would jest
in a somewhat unbecoming familiar tone, which I tolerated simply because I
wished to please the Warden of the prison, having learned from the
prisoner the real cause of his sufferings, which sometimes assumed an
acute form of violence and threats. During one of these painful minutes,
when K.'s will power was weak, as a result of insomnia, from which he was
suffering, I seated myself on his bed and treated him in general with
fatherly kindness, and he blurted out everything to me right there and
Not desiring to tire the reader with an exact reproduction of his
hysterical outbursts, his laughter and his tears, I shall give only the
facts of his story.
K.'s grief, at first not quite clear to me, consists of the fact that
instead of paper or canvas for his drawings he was given a large slate and
a slate pencil. (By the way, the art with which he mastered the material,
which was new to him, is remarkable. I have seen some of his productions,
and it seems to me that they could satisfy the taste of the most
fastidious expert of graphic arts. Personally I am indifferent to the art
of painting, preferring live and truthful nature.) Thus, owing to the
nature of the material, before commencing a new picture, K. had to destroy
the previous one by wiping it off his slate, and this seemed to lead him
every time to the verge of madness.
"You cannot imagine what it means," he would say, clutching my hands with
his thin, clinging fingers. "While I draw, you know, I forget entirely
that it is useless; I am usually very cheerful and I even whistle some
tune, and once I was even incarcerated for that, as it is forbidden to
whistle in this cursed prison. But that is a trifle—for I had at
least a good sleep there. But when I finish my picture—no, even when
I approach the end of the picture, I am seized with a sensation so
terrible that I feel like tearing the brain from my head and trampling it
with my feet. Do you understand me?"
"I understand you, my friend, I understand you perfectly, and I sympathise
"Really? Well, then, listen, old man. I make the last strokes with so much
pain, with such a sense of sorrow and hopelessness, as though I were
bidding good-bye to the person I loved best of all. But here I have
finished it. Do you understand what it means? It means that it has assumed
life, that it lives, that there is a certain mysterious spirit in it. And
yet it is already doomed to death, it is dead already, dead like a
herring. Can you understand it at all? I do not understand it. And, now,
imagine, I—fool that I am—I nevertheless rejoice, I cry and
rejoice. No, I think, this picture I shall not destroy; it is so good that
I shall not destroy it. Let it live. And it is a fact that at such times I
do not feel like drawing anything new, I have not the slightest desire for
it. And yet it is dreadful. Do you understand me?"
"Perfectly, my friend. No doubt the drawing ceases to please you on the
"Oh, what nonsense you are prating, old man! (That is exactly what he
said. 'Nonsense.') How can a dying child cease to please you? Of course,
if he lived, he might have become a scoundrel, but when he is dying—No,
old man, that isn't it. For I am killing it myself. I do not sleep all
night long, I jump up, I look at it, and I love it so dearly that I feel
like stealing it. Stealing it from whom? What do I know? But when morning
sets in I feel that I cannot do without it, that I must take up that
cursed pencil again and create anew. What a mockery! To create! What am I,
a galley slave?"
"My friend, you are in a prison."
"My dear old man! When I begin to steal over to the slate with the sponge
in my hand I feel like a murderer. It happens that I go around it for a
day or two. Do you know, one day I bit off a finger of my right hand so as
not to draw any more, but that, of course, was only a trifle, for I
started to learn drawing with my left hand. What is this necessity for
creating! To create by all means, create for suffering—create with
the knowledge that it will all perish! Do you understand it?"
"Finish it, my friend, don't be agitated; then I will expound to you my
Unfortunately, my advice hardly reached the ears of K. In one of those
paroxysms of despair, which frighten the Warden of our prison, K. began to
throw himself about in his bed, tear his clothes, shout and sob,
manifesting in general all the symptoms of extreme mortification. I looked
at the sufferings of the unfortunate youth with deep emotion (compared
with me he was a youth), vainly endeavouring to hold his fingers which
were tearing his clothes. I knew that for this breach of discipline new
incarceration awaited him.
"O, impetuous youth," I thought when he had grown somewhat calmer, and I
was tenderly unfolding his fine hair which had become entangled, "how
easily you fall into despair! A bit of drawing, which may in the end fall
into the hands of a dealer in old rags, or a dealer in old bronze and
cemented porcelain, can cause you so much suffering!" But, of course, I
did not tell this to my youthful friend, striving, as any one should under
similar circumstances, not to irritate him by unnecessary contradictions.
"Thank you, old man," said K., apparently calm now. "To tell the truth you
seemed very strange to me at first; your face is so venerable, but your
eyes. Have you murdered anybody, old man?"
I deliberately quote the malicious and careless phrase to show how in the
eyes of lightminded and shallow people the stamp of a terrible accusation
is transformed into the stamp of the crime itself. Controlling my feeling
of bitterness, I remarked calmly to the impertinent youth:
"You are an artist, my child; to you are known the mysteries of the human
face, that flexible, mobile and deceptive masque, which, like the sea,
reflects the hurrying clouds and the azure ether. Being green, the sea
turns blue under the clear sky and black when the sky is black, when the
heavy clouds are dark. What do you want of my face, over which hangs an
accusation of the most cruel crime?"
But, occupied with his own thoughts, the artist apparently paid no
particular attention to my words and continued in a broken voice:
"What am I to do? You saw my drawing. I destroyed it, and it is already a
whole week since I touched my pencil. Of course," he resumed thoughtfully,
rubbing his brow, "it would be better to break the slate; to punish me
they would not give me another one—"
"You had better return it to the authorities."
"Very well, I may hold out another week, but what then? I know myself.
Even now that devil is pushing my hand: 'Take the pencil, take the
At that moment, as my eyes wandered distractedly over his cell, I suddenly
noticed that some of the artist's clothes hanging on the wall were
unnaturally stretched, and one end was skilfully fastened by the back of
the cot. Assuming an air that I was tired and that I wanted to walk about
in the cell, I staggered as from a quiver of senility in my legs, and
pushed the clothes aside. The entire wall was covered with drawings!
The artist had already leaped from his cot, and thus we stood facing each
other in silence. I said in a tone of gentle reproach:
"How did you allow yourself to do this, my friend? You know the rules of
the prison, according to which no inscriptions or drawing on the walls are
"I know no rules," said K. morosely.
"And then," I continued, sternly this time, "you lied to me, my friend.
You said that you did not take the pencil into your hands for a whole
"Of course I didn't," said the artist, with a strange smile, and even a
challenge. Even when caught red-handed, he did not betray any signs of
repentance, and looked rather sarcastic than guilty. Having examined more
closely the drawings on the wall, which represented human figures in
various positions, I became interested in the strange reddish-yellow
colour of an unknown pencil.
"Is this iodine? You told me that you had a pain and that you secured
"No. It is blood."
I must say frankly that I even liked him at that moment.
"How did you get it?"
"From my hand."
"From your hand? But how did you manage to hide yourself from the eye that
is watching you?"
He smiled cunningly, and even winked.
"Don't you know that you can always deceive if only you want to do it?"
My sympathies for him were immediately dispersed. I saw before me a man
who was not particularly clever, but in all probability terribly spoiled
already, who did not even admit the thought that there are people who
simply cannot lie. Recalling, however, the promise I had made to the
Warden, I assumed a calm air of dignity and said to him tenderly, as only
a mother could speak to her child:
"Don't be surprised and don't condemn me for being so strict, my friend. I
am an old man. I have passed half of my life in this prison; I have formed
certain habits, like all old people, and submitting to all rules myself, I
am perhaps overdoing it somewhat in demanding the same of others. You will
of course wipe off these drawings yourself—although I feel sorry for
them, for I admire them sincerely—and I will not say anything to the
administration. We will forget all this, as if nothing had happened. Are
He answered drowsily:
"In our prison, where we have the sad pleasure of being confined,
everything is arranged in accordance with a most purposeful plan and is
most strictly subjected to laws and rules. And the very strict order, on
account of which the existence of your creations is so short lived, and, I
may say, ephemeral, is full of the profoundest wisdom. Allowing you to
perfect yourself in your art, it wisely guards other people against the
perhaps injurious influence of your productions, and in any case it
completes logically, finishes, enforces, and makes clear the meaning of
your solitary confinement. What does solitary confinement in our prison
mean? It means that the prisoner should be alone. But would he be alone if
by his productions he would communicate in some way or other with other
By the expression of K.'s face I noticed with a sense of profound joy that
my words had produced on him the proper impression, bringing him back from
the realm of poetic inventions to the land of stern but beautiful reality.
And, raising my voice, I continued:
"As for the rule you have broken, which forbids any inscription or drawing
on the walls of our prison, it is not less logical. Years will pass; in
your place there may be another prisoner like you—and he may see
that which you have drawn. Shall this be tolerated? Just think of it! And
what would become of the walls of our prison if every one who wished it
were to leave upon them his profane marks?"
"To the devil with it!"
This is exactly how K. expressed himself. He said it loudly, even with an
air of calmness.
"What do you mean to say by this, my youthful friend?"
"I wish to say that you may perish here, my old friend, but I shall leave
"You can't escape from our prison," I retorted, sternly.
"Have you tried?"
"Yes, I have tried."
He looked at me incredulously and smiled. He smiled!
"You are a coward, old man. You are simply a miserable coward."
I—a coward! Oh, if that self-satisfied puppy knew what a tempest of
rage he had aroused in my soul he would have squealed for fright and would
have hidden himself on the bed. I—a coward! The world has crumbled
upon my head, but has not crushed me, and out of its terrible fragments I
have created a new world, according to my own design and plan; all the
evil forces of life—solitude, imprisonment, treachery, and falsehood—all
have taken up arms against me, but I have subjected them all to my will.
And I who have subjected to myself even my dreams—I am a coward?
But I shall not tire the attention of my indulgent reader with these
lyrical deviations, which have no bearing on the matter. I continue.
After a pause, broken only by K.'s loud breathing, I said to him sadly:
"I—a coward! And you say this to the man who came with the sole aim
of helping you? Of helping you not only in word but also in deed?"
"You wish to help me? In what way?"
"I will get you paper and pencil."
The artist was silent. And his voice was soft and timid when he asked,
"And—my drawings—will remain?"
"Yes; they will remain."
It is hard to describe the vehement delight into which the exalted young
man was thrown; naive and pure-hearted youth knows no bounds either in
grief or in joy. He pressed my hand warmly, shook me, disturbing my old
bones; he called me friend, father, even "dear old phiz" (!) and a
thousand other endearing and somewhat naive names. To my regret our
conversation lasted too long, and, notwithstanding the entreaties of the
young man, who would not part with me, I hurried away to my cell.
I did not go to the Warden of the prison, as I felt somewhat agitated. At
that remote time I paced my cell until late in the night, striving to
understand what means of escaping from our prison that rather foolish
young man could have discovered. Was it possible to run away from our
prison? No, I could not admit and I must not admit it. And gradually
conjuring up in my memory everything I knew about our prison, I understood
that K. must have hit upon an old plan, which I had long discarded, and
that he would convince himself of its impracticability even as I convinced
myself. It is impossible to escape from our prison.
But, tormented by doubts, I measured my lonely cell for a long time,
thinking of various plans that might relieve K.'s position and thus divert
him from the idea of making his escape. He must not run away from our
prison under any circumstances. Then I gave myself to peaceful and sound
sleep, with which benevolent nature has rewarded those who have a clear
conscience and a pure soul.
By the way, lest I forget, I shall mention the fact that I destroyed my
"Diary of a Prisoner" that night. I had long wished to do it, but the
natural pity and faint-hearted love which we feel for our blunders and our
shortcomings restrained me; besides, there was nothing in my "Diary" that
could have compromised me in any way. And if I have destroyed it now it is
due solely to my desire to throw my past into oblivion and to save my
reader from the tediousness of long complaints and moans, from the horror
of sacrilegious cursings. May it rest in peace!
Having conveyed to the Warden of our prison the contents of my
conversation with K., I asked him not to punish the young man for spoiling
the walls, which would thus betray me, and I, to save the youth, suggested
the following plan, which was accepted by the Warden after a few purely
"It is important for him," I said, "that his drawings should be preserved,
but it is apparently immaterial to him in whose possession these drawings
are. Let him, then, avail himself of his art, paint your portrait, Mr.
Warden, and after that the portraits of the entire staff of your
officials. To say nothing of the honour you would show him by this
condescension—an honour which he will surely know how to appreciate—the
painting may be useful to you as a very original ornament in your drawing
room or study. Besides, nothing will prevent us from destroying the
drawings if we should not care for them, for the naive and somewhat
selfish young man apparently does not even admit the thought that
anybody's hand would destroy his productions."
Smiling, the Warden suggested, with a politeness that flattered me
extremely, that the series of portraits should commence with mine. I quote
word for word that which the Warden said to me:
"Your face actually calls for reproduction on canvas. We shall hang your
portrait in the office."
The zeal of creativeness—these are the only words I can apply to the
passionate, silent agitation in which K. reproduced my features. Usually
talkative, he now maintained silence for hours, leaving unanswered my
jests and remarks.
"Be silent, old man, be silent—you are at your best when you are
silent," he repeated persistently, calling forth an involuntary smile by
his zeal as a professional.
My portrait would remind you, my indulgent reader, of that mysterious
peculiarity of artists, according to which they very often transmit their
own feelings, even their external features, to the subject upon which they
are working. Thus, reproducing with remarkable likeness, the lower part of
my face, where kindness and the expression of authoritativeness and calm
dignity are so harmoniously blended, K. undoubtedly introduced into my
eyes his own suffering and even his horror. Their fixed, immobile gaze;
madness glimmering somewhere in their depth; the painful eloquence of a
deep and infinitely lonely soul—all that was not mine.
"Is this I?" I exclaimed, laughing, when from the canvas this terrible
face, full of wild contradictions, stared at me. "My friend, I do not
congratulate you on this portrait. I do not think it is successful."
"It is you, old man, you! It is well drawn. You criticise it wrongly.
Where will you hang it?"
He grew talkative again like a magpie, that amiable young man, and all
because his wretched painting was to be preserved for some time. O
impetuous, O happy youth! Here I could not restrain myself from a little
jest for the purpose of teaching a lesson to the self-confident youngster,
so I asked him, with a smile:
"Well, Mr. Artist, what do you think? Am I murderer or not?"
The artist, closing one eye, examined me and the portrait critically. Then
whistling a polka, he answered recklessly: "The devil knows you, old man!"
I smiled. K. understood my jest at last, burst out laughing and then said
with sudden seriousness:
"You are speaking of the human face but do you know that there is nothing
worse in the world than the human face? Even when it tells the truth, when
it shouts about the truth, it lies, it lies, old man, for it speaks its
own language. Do you know, old man, a terrible incident happened to me? It
was in one of the picture galleries in Spain. I was examining a portrait
of Christ, when suddenly—Christ, you understand, Christ—great
eyes, dark, terrible suffering, sorrow, grief, love—well, in a word—Christ.
Suddenly I was struck with something; suddenly it seemed to me that it was
the face of the greatest wrongdoer, tormented by the greatest unheard-of
woes of repentance—Old man, why do you look at me so! Old man!"
Nearing my eyes to the very face of the artist, I asked him in a cautious
whisper, as the occasion required, dividing each word from the other:
"Don't you think that when the devil tempted Him in the desert He did not
renounce him, as He said later, but consented, sold Himself—that He
did not renounce the devil, but sold Himself. Do you understand? Does not
that passage in the Gospels seem doubtful to you?"
Extreme fright was expressed on the face of my young friend. Forcing the
palms of his hands against my chest, as if to push me away, he ejaculated
in a voice so low that I could hardly hear his indistinct words:
"What? You say Jesus sold Himself? What for?"
I explained softly:
"That the people, my child, that the people should believe Him."
I smiled. K.'s eyes became round, as if a noose was strangling him.
Suddenly, with that lack of respect for old age which was one of his
characteristics, he threw me down on the bed with a sharp thrust and
jumped away into a corner. When I was slowly getting up from the awkward
position into which the unrestraint of that young man had forced me—I
fell backward, with my head between the pillow and the back of the bed—he
cried to me loudly:
"Don't you dare! Don't you dare get up, you Devil."
But I did not think of rising to my feet. I simply sat down on the bed,
and, thus seated, with an involuntary smile at the passionate outburst of
the youth, I shook my head good naturedly and laughed.
"Oh, young man, young man! You yourself have drawn me into this
But he stared at me stubbornly, wide eyed, and kept repeating:
"Sit there, sit there! I did not say this. No, no!"
"You said it, you, young man—you. Do you remember Spain, the picture
gallery! You said it and now you deny it, mocking my clumsy old age. Oh!"
K. suddenly lowered his hands and admitted in a low voice:
"Yes. I said it. But you, old man—"
I do not remember what he said after that—it is so hard to recall
all the childish chatter of this kind, but unfortunately too light-minded
young man. I remember only that we parted as friends, and he pressed my
hand warmly, expressing to me his sincere gratitude, even calling me, so
far as I can remember, his "saviour."
By the way, I succeeded in convincing the Warden that the portrait of even
such a man as I, after all a prisoner, was out of place in such a solemn
official room as the office of our prison. And now the portrait hangs on
the wall of my cell, pleasantly breaking the cold monotony of the pure
Leaving for a time our artist, who is now carried away by the portrait of
the Warden, I shall continue my story.
My spiritual clearness, as I had the pleasure of informing the reader
before, has built up for me a considerable circle of men and women
admirers. With self-evident emotion I shall tell of the pleasant hours of
our hearty conversations, which I modestly call "My talks."
It is difficult for me to explain how I deserved it, but the majority of
those who come to me regard me with a feeling of the profoundest respect,
even adoration, and only a few come for the purpose of arguing with me,
but these arguments are usually of a moderate and proper character. I
usually seat myself in the middle of the room, in a soft and deep
armchair, which is furnished me for this occasion by the Warden; my
hearers surround me closely, and some of them, the more enthusiastic
youths and maidens, seat themselves at my feet.
Having before me an audience more than half of which is composed of women,
and entirely disposed in my favour, I always appeal not so much to the
mind as to the sensitive and truthful heart. Fortunately I possess a
certain oratorical power, and the customary effects of the oratorical art,
to which all preachers, beginning in all probability with Mohammed, have
resorted, and which I can handle rather cleverly, allow me to influence my
hearers in the desired direction. It is easily understood that to the dear
ladies in my audience I am not so much the sage, who has solved the
mystery of the iron grate, as a great martyr of a righteous cause, which
they do not quite understand. Shunning abstract discussions, they eagerly
hang on every word of compassion and kindness, and respond with the same.
Allowing them to love me and to believe in my immutable knowledge of life,
I afford them the happy opportunity to depart at least for a time from the
coldness of life, from its painful doubts and questions.
I say openly without any false modesty, which I despise even as I despise
hypocrisy, there were lectures at which I myself being in a state of
exaltation, called forth in my audience, especially in my nervous lady
visitors, a mood of intense agitation, which turned into hysterical
laughter and tears. Of course I am not a prophet; I am merely a modest
thinker, but no one would succeed in convincing my lady admirers that
there is no prophetic meaning and significance in my speeches.
I remember one such lecture which took place two months ago. The night
before I could not sleep as soundly as I usually slept; perhaps it was
simply because of the full moon, which affects sleep, disturbing and
interrupting it. I vaguely remember the strange sensation which I
experienced when the pale crescent of the moon appeared in my window and
the iron squares cut it with ominous black lines into small silver
When I started for the lecture I felt exhausted and rather inclined to
silence than to conversation; the vision of the night before disturbed me.
But when I saw those dear faces, those eyes full of hope and ardent
entreaty for friendly advice; when I saw before me that rich field,
already ploughed, waiting only for the good seed to be sown, my heart
began to burn with delight, pity and love. Avoiding the customary
formalities which accompany the meetings of people, declining the hands
outstretched to greet me, I turned to the audience, which was agitated at
the very sight of me, and gave them my blessing with a gesture to which I
know how to lend a peculiar majesty.
"Come unto me," I exclaimed; "come unto me; you who have gone away from
that life. Here, in this quiet abode, under the sacred protection of the
iron grate, at my heart overflowing with love, you will find rest and
comfort. My beloved children, give me your sad soul, exhausted from
suffering, and I shall clothe it with light. I shall carry it to those
blissful lands where the sun of eternal truth and love never sets."
Many had begun to cry already, but, as it was too early for tears, I
interrupted them with a gesture of fatherly impatience, and continued:
"You, dear girl, who came from the world which calls itself free—what
gloomy shadows lie on your charming and beautiful face! And you, my daring
youth, why are you so pale? Why do I see, instead of the ecstasy of
victory, the fear of defeat in your lowered eyes? And you, honest mother,
tell me, what wind has made your eyes so red? What furious rain has lashed
your wizened face? What snow has whitened your hair, for it used to be
But the weeping and the sobs drowned the end of my speech, and besides, I
admit it without feeling ashamed of it, I myself brushed away more than
one treacherous tear from my eyes. Without allowing the agitation to
subside completely, I called in a voice of stern and truthful reproach:
"Do not weep because your soul is dark, stricken with misfortunes, blinded
by chaos, clipped of its wings by doubts; give it to me and I shall direct
it toward the light, toward order and reason. I know the truth. I have
conceived the world! I have discovered the great principle of its purpose!
I have solved the sacred formula of the iron grate! I demand of you—swear
to me by the cold iron of its squares that henceforth you will confess to
me without shame or fear all your deeds, your errors and doubts, all the
secret thoughts of your soul and the dreams and desires of your body!"
"We swear! We swear! We swear! Save us! Reveal to us the truth! Take our
sins upon yourself! Save us! Save us!" numerous exclamations resounded.
I must mention the sad incident which occurred during that same lecture.
At the moment when the excitement reached its height and the hearts had
already opened, ready to unburden themselves, a certain youth, looking
morose and embittered, exclaimed loudly, evidently addressing himself to
"Liar! Do not listen to him. He is lying!"
The indulgent reader will easily believe that it was only by a great
effort that I succeeded in saving the incautious youth from the fury of
the audience. Offended in that which is most precious to a human being,
his faith in goodness and the divine purpose of life, my women admirers
rushed upon the foolish youth in a mob and would have beaten him cruelly.
Remembering, however, that there was more joy to the pastor in one sinner
who repents than in ten righteous men, I took the young man aside where no
one could hear us, and entered into a brief conversation with him.
"Did you call me a liar, my child?"
Moved by my kindness, the poor young man became confused and answered
"Pardon me for my harshness, but it seems to me that you are not telling
"I understand you, my friend. You must have been agitated by the intense
ecstasy of the women, and you, as a sensible man, not inclined to
mysticism, suspected me of fraud, of a hideous fraud. No, no, don't excuse
yourself. I understand you. But I wish you would understand me. Out of the
mire of superstitions, out of the deep gulf of prejudices and unfounded
beliefs, I want to lead their strayed thoughts and place them upon the
solid foundation of strictly logical reasoning. The iron grate, which I
mentioned, is not a mystical sign; it is only a formula, a simple, sober,
honest, mathematical formula. To you, as a sensible man, I will willingly
explain this formula. The grate is the scheme in which are placed all the
laws guiding the universe, which do away with chaos, substituting in its
place strict, iron, inviolable order, forgotten by mankind. As a
brightminded man you will easily understand—"
"Pardon me. I did not understand you, and if you will permit me I—But
why do you make them swear?"
"My friend, the soul of man, believing itself free and constantly
suffering from this spurious freedom, is demanding fetters for itself—to
some these fetters are an oath, to others a vow, to still others simply a
word of honour. You will give me your word of honour, will you not?"
"And by this you are simply striving to enter the harmony of the world,
where everything is subjected to a law. Is not the falling of a stone the
fulfilment of a vow, of the vow called the law of gravitation?"
I shall not go into detail about this conversation and the others that
followed. The obstinate and unrestrained youth, who had insulted me by
calling me liar, became one of my warmest adherents.
I must return to the others. During the time that I talked with the young
man, the desire for penitence among my charming proselytes reached its
height. Not patient enough to wait for me, they commenced in a state of
intense ecstasy to confess to one another, giving to the room an
appearance of a garden where dozens of birds of paradise were twittering
at the same time. When I returned, each of them separately unfolded her
agitated soul to me....
I saw how, from day to day, from hour to hour, terrible chaos was
struggling in their souls with an eager inclination for harmony and order;
how in the bloody struggle between eternal falsehood and immortal truth,
falsehood, through inconceivable ways, passed into truth, and truth became
falsehood. I found in the human soul all the forces in the world, and none
of them was dormant, and in the mad whirlpool each soul became like a
fountain, whose source is the abyss of the sea and whose summit the sky.
And every human being, as I have learned and seen, is like the rich and
powerful master who gave a masquerade ball at his castle and illuminated
it with many lights; and strange masks came from everywhere and the master
greeted them, bowing courteously, and vainly asking them who they were;
and new, ever stranger, ever more terrible, masks were arriving, and the
master bowed to them ever more courteously, staggering from fatigue and
fear. And they were laughing and whispering strange words about the
eternal chaos, whence they came, obeying the call of the master. And
lights were burning in the castle—and in the distance lighted
windows were visible, reminding him of the festival, and the exhausted
master kept bowing ever lower, ever more courteously, ever more
cheerfully. My indulgent reader will easily understand that in addition to
a certain sense of fear which I experienced, the greatest delight and even
joyous emotion soon came upon me—for I saw that eternal chaos was
defeated and the triumphant hymn of bright harmony was rising to the
Not without a sense of pride I shall mention the modest offerings by which
my kind admirers were striving to express to me their feelings of love and
adoration. I am not afraid of calling out a smile on the lips of my
readers, for I feel how comical it is—I will say that among the
offerings brought me at first were fruit, cakes, all kinds of sweet-meats.
But I am afraid, however, that no one will believe me when I say that I
have actually declined these offerings, preferring the observance of the
prison regime in all its rigidness.
At the last lecture, a kind and honourable lady brought me a basketful of
live flowers. To my regret, I was compelled to decline this present, too.
"Forgive me, madam, but flowers do not enter into the system of our
prison. I appreciate very much your magnanimous attention—I kiss
your hands, madam—" I said, "but I am compelled to decline the
flowers. Travelling along the thorny road to self-renunciation, I must not
caress my eyes with the ephemeral and illusionary beauty of these charming
lilies and roses. All flowers perish in our prison, madam."
Yesterday another lady brought me a very valuable crucifix of ivory, a
family heirloom, she said. Not afflicted with the sin of hypocrisy, I told
my generous lady frankly that I do not believe in miracles.
"But at the same time," I said, "I regard with the profoundest respect Him
who is justly called the Saviour of the world, and I honour greatly His
services to mankind.
"If I should tell you, madam, that the Gospel has long been my favourite
book, that there is not a day in my life that I do not open this great
Book, drawing from it strength and courage to be able to continue my hard
course—you will understand that your liberal gift could not have
fallen into better hands. Henceforth, thanks to you, the sad solitude of
my cell will vanish; I am not alone. I bless you, my daughter."
I cannot forego mentioning the strange thoughts brought out by the
crucifix as it hung there beside my portrait. It was twilight; outside the
wall the bell was tolling heavily in the invisible church, calling the
believers together; in the distance, over the deserted field, overgrown
with high grass, an unknown wanderer was plodding along, passing into the
unknown distance, like a little black dot. It was as quiet in our prison
as in a sepulchre. I looked long and attentively at the features of Jesus,
which were so calm, so joyous compared with him who looked silently and
dully from the wall beside Him. And with my habit, formed during the long
years of solitude, of addressing inanimate things aloud, I said to the
"Good evening, Jesus. I am glad to welcome You in our prison. There are
three of us here: You, I, and the one who is looking from the wall, and I
hope that we three will manage to live in peace and in harmony. He is
looking silently, and You are silent, and Your eyes are closed—I
shall speak for the three of us, a sure sign that our peace will never be
They were silent, and, continuing, I addressed my speech to the portrait:
"Where are you looking so intently and so strangely, my unknown friend and
roommate? In your eyes I see mystery and reproach. Is it possible that you
dare reproach Him? Answer!"
And, pretending that the portrait answered, I continued in a different
voice with an expression of extreme sternness and boundless grief:
"Yes, I do reproach Him. Jesus, Jesus! Why is Your face so pure, so
blissful? You have passed only over the brink of human sufferings, as over
the brink of an abyss, and only the foam of the bloody and miry waves have
touched You. Do You command me, a human being, to sink into the dark
depth? Great is Your Golgotha, Jesus, but too reverent and joyous, and one
small but interesting stroke is missing—the horror of aimlessness!"
Here I interrupted the speech of the Portrait, with an expression of
"How dare you," I exclaimed; "how dare you speak of aimlessness in our
They were silent; and suddenly Jesus, without opening His eyes—He
even seemed to close them more tightly—answered:
"Who knows the mysteries of the heart of Jesus?"
I burst into laughter, and my esteemed reader will easily understand this
laughter. It turned out that I, a cool and sober mathematician, possessed
a poetic talent and could compose very interesting comedies.
I do not know how all this would have ended, for I had already prepared a
thundering answer for my roommate when the appearance of the keeper, who
brought me food, suddenly interrupted me. But apparently my face bore
traces of excitement, for the man asked me with stern sympathy:
"Were you praying?"
I do not remember what I answered.
Last Sunday a great misfortune occurred in our prison: The artist K., whom
the reader knows already, ended his life in suicide by flinging himself
from the table with his head against the stone floor. The fall and the
force of the blow had been so skilfully calculated by the unfortunate
young man that his skull was split in two. The grief of the Warden was
indescribable. Having called me to the office, the Warden, without shaking
hands with me, reproached me in angry and harsh terms for having deceived
him, and he regained his calm, only after my hearty apologies and promises
that such accidents would not happen again. I promised to prepare a
project for watching the criminals which would render suicide impossible.
The esteemed wife of the Warden, whose portrait remained unfinished, was
also grieved by the death of the artist.
Of course, I had not expected this outcome, either, although a few days
before committing suicide, K. had provoked in me a feeling of uneasiness.
Upon entering his cell one morning, and greeting him, I noticed with
amazement that he was sitting before his slate once more drawing human
"What does this mean, my friend?" I inquired cautiously. "And how about
the portrait of the second assistant?"
"The devil take it!"
"The devil take it!"
After a pause I remarked distractedly:
"Your portrait of the Warden is meeting with great success. Although some
of the people who have seen it say that the right moustache is somewhat
shorter than the left—"
"Yes, shorter. But in general they find that you caught the likeness very
K. had put aside his slate pencil and, perfectly calm, said:
"Tell your Warden that I am not going to paint that prison riffraff any
After these words there was nothing left for me to do but leave him, which
I decided to do. But the artist, who could not get along without giving
vent to his effusions, seized me by the hand and said with his usual
"Just think of it, old man, what a horror! Every day a new repulsive face
appears before me. They sit and stare at me with their froglike eyes. What
am I to do? At first I laughed—I even liked it—but when the
froglike eyes stared at me every day I was seized with horror. I was
afraid they might start to quack—qua-qua!"
Indeed there was a certain fear, even madness, in the eyes of the artist—the
madness which shortly led him to his untimely grave.
"Old man, it is necessary to have something beautiful. Do you understand
"And the wife of the Warden? Is she not—"
I shall pass in silence the unbecoming expressions with which he spoke of
the lady in his excitement. I must, however, admit that to a certain
extent the artist was right in his complaints. I had been present several
times at the sittings, and noticed that all who had posed for the artist
behaved rather unnaturally. Sincere and naive, conscious of the importance
of their position, convinced that the features of their faces perpetuated
upon the canvas would go down to posterity, they exaggerated somewhat the
qualities which are so characteristic of their high and responsible office
in our prison. A certain bombast of pose, an exaggerated expression of
stern authority, an obvious consciousness of their own importance, and a
noticeable contempt for those on whom their eyes were directed—all
this disfigured their kind and affable faces. But I cannot understand what
horrible features the artist found where there should have been a smile. I
was even indignant at the superficial attitude with which an artist, who
considered himself talented and sensible, passed the people without
noticing that a divine spark was glimmering in each one of them. In the
quest after some fantastic beauty he light-mindedly passed by the true
beauties with which the human soul is filled. I cannot help feeling sorry
for those unfortunate people who, like K., because of a peculiar
construction of their brains, always turn their eyes toward the dark side,
whereas there is so much joy and light in our prison!
When I said this to K. I heard, to my regret, the same stereotyped and
"The devil take it!"
All I could do was to shrug my shoulders. Suddenly changing his tone and
bearing, the artist turned to me seriously with a question which, in my
opinion, was also indecent:
"Why do you lie, old man?"
I was astonished, of course.
"Well, let it be the truth, if you like, but why? I am looking and
thinking. Why did you say that? Why?"
My indulgent reader, who knows well what the truth has cost me, will
readily understand my profound indignation. I deliberately mention this
audacious and other calumnious phrases to show in what an atmosphere of
malice, distrust, and disrespect I have to plod along the hard road of
suffering. He insisted rudely:
"I have had enough of your smiles. Tell me plainly, why do you speak so?"
Then, I admit, I flared up:
"You want to know why I speak the truth? Because I hate falsehood and I
commit it to eternal anathema! Because fate has made me a victim of
injustice, and as a victim, like Him who took upon Himself the great sin
of the world and its great sufferings, I wish to point out the way to
mankind. Wretched egoist, you know only yourself and your miserable art,
while I love mankind."
My anger grew. I felt the veins on my forehead swelling.
"Fool, miserable dauber, unfortunate schoolboy, in love with colours!
Human beings pass before you, and you see only their froglike eyes. How
did your tongue turn to say such a thing? Oh, if you only looked even once
into the human soul! What treasures of tenderness, love, humble faith,
holy humility, you would have discovered there! And to you, bold man, it
would have seemed as if you entered a temple—a bright, illuminated
temple. But it is said of people like you—'do not cast your pearls
The artist was silent, crushed by my angry and unrestrained speech.
Finally he sighed and said:
"Forgive me, old man; I am talking nonsense, of course, but I am so
unfortunate and so lonely. Of course, my dear old man, it is all true
about the divine spark and about beauty, but a polished boot is also
beautiful. I cannot, I cannot! Just think of it! How can a man have such
moustaches as he has? And yet he is complaining that the left moustache is
He laughed like a child, and, heaving a sigh, added:
"I'll make another attempt. I will paint the lady. There is really
something good in her. Although she is after all—a cow."
He laughed again, and, fearing to brush away with his sleeve the drawing
on the slate, he cautiously placed it in the corner.
Here I did that which my duty compelled me to do. Seizing the slate, I
smashed it to pieces with a powerful blow. I thought that the artist would
rush upon me furiously, but he did not. To his weak mind my act seemed so
blasphemous, so supernaturally horrible, that his deathlike lips could not
utter a word.
"What have you done?" he asked at last in a low voice. "You have broken
And raising my hand I replied solemnly:
"Foolish youth, I have done that which I would have done to my heart if it
wanted to jest and mock me! Unfortunate youth, can you not see that your
art has long been mocking you, that from that slate of yours the devil
himself was making hideous faces at you?"
"Yes. The devil!"
"Being far from your wonderful art, I did not understand you at first, nor
your longing, your horror of aimlessness. But when I entered your cell
to-day and noticed you at your ruinous occupation, I said to myself: It is
better that he should not create at all than to create in this manner.
Listen to me."
I then revealed for the first time to this youth the sacred formula of the
iron grate, which, dividing the infinite into squares, thereby subjects it
to itself. K. listened to my words with emotion, looking with the horror
of an ignorant man at the figures which must have seemed to him to be
cabalistic, but which were nothing else than the ordinary figures used in
"I am your slave, old man," he said at last, kissing my hand with his cold
"No, you will be my favourite pupil, my son. I bless you."
And it seemed to me that the artist was saved. True, he regarded me with
great joy, which could easily be explained by the extreme respect with
which I inspired him, and he painted the portrait of the Warden's wife
with such zeal and enthusiasm that the esteemed lady was sincerely moved.
And, strange to say, the artist succeeded in making so strangely beautiful
the features of this woman, who was stout and no longer young, that the
Warden, long accustomed to the face of his wife, was greatly delighted by
its new expression. Thus everything went on smoothly, when suddenly this
catastrophe occurred, the entire horror of which I alone knew.
Not desiring to call forth any unnecessary disputes, I concealed from the
Warden the fact that on the eve of his death the artist had thrown a
letter into my cell, which I noticed only in the morning. I did not
preserve the note, nor do I remember all that the unfortunate youth told
me in his farewell message; I think it was a letter of thanks for my
effort to save him. He wrote that he regretted sincerely that his failing
strength did not permit him to avail himself of my instructions. But one
phrase impressed itself deeply in my memory, and you will understand the
reason for it when I repeat it in all its terrifying simplicity.
"I am going away from your prison," thus read the phrase.
And he really did go away. Here are the walls, here is the little window
in the door, here is our prison, but he is not there; he has gone away.
Consequently I, too, could go away. Instead of having wasted dozens of
years on a titanic struggle, instead of being tormented by the throes of
despair, instead of growing enfeebled by horror in the face of unsolved
mysteries, of striving to subject the world to my mind and my will, I
could have climbed the table and—one instant of pain—I would
be free; I would be triumphant over the lock and the walls, over truth and
falsehood, over joys and sufferings. I will not say that I had not thought
of suicide before as a means of escaping from our prison, but now for the
first time it appeared before me in all its attractiveness. In a fit of
base faint-heartedness, which I shall not conceal from my reader, even as
I do not conceal from him my good qualities; perhaps even in a fit of
temporary insanity I momentarily forgot all I knew about our prison and
its great purpose. I forgot—I am ashamed to say—even the great
formula of the iron grate, which I conceived and mastered with such
difficulty, and I prepared a noose made of my towel for the purpose of
strangling myself. But at the last moment, when all was ready, and it was
but necessary to push away the taburet, I asked myself, with my habit of
reasoning which did not forsake me even at that time: But where am I
going? The answer was: I am going to death. But what is death? And the
answer was: I do not know.
These brief reflections were enough for me to come to myself, and with a
bitter laugh at my cowardice I removed the fatal noose from my neck. Just
as I had been ready to sob for grief a minute before, so now I laughed—I
laughed like a madman, realising that another trap, placed before me by
derisive fate, had so brilliantly been evaded by me. Oh, how many traps
there are in the life of man! Like a cunning fisherman, fate catches him
now with the alluring bait of some truth, now with the hairy little worm
of dark falsehood, now with the phantom of life, now with the phantom of
My dear young man, my fascinating fool, my charming silly fellow—who
told you that our prison ends here, that from one prison you did not fall
into another prison, from which it will hardly be possible for you to run
away? You were too hasty, my friend, you forgot to ask me something else—I
would have told it to you. I would have told you that omnipotent law
reigns over that which you call non-existence and death just as it reigns
over that which you call life and existence. Only the fools, dying,
believe that they have made an end of themselves—they have ended but
one form of themselves, in order to assume another form immediately.
Thus I reflected, laughing at the foolish suicide, the ridiculous
destroyer of the fetters of eternity. And this is what I said addressing
myself to my two silent roommates hanging motionlessly on the white wall
of my cell:
"I believe and confess that our prison is immortal. What do you say to
this, my friends?"
But they were silent. And having burst into good-natured laughter—What
quiet roommates I have! I undressed slowly and gave myself to peaceful
sleep. In my dream I saw another majestic prison, and wonderful jailers
with white wings on their backs, and the Chief Warden of the prison
himself. I do not remember whether there were any little windows in the
doors or not, but I think there were. I recall that something like an
angel's eye was fixed upon me with tender attention and love. My indulgent
reader will, of course, guess that I am jesting. I did not dream at all. I
am not in the habit of dreaming.
Without hoping that the Warden, occupied with pressing official affairs,
would understand me thoroughly and appreciate my idea concerning the
impossibility of escaping from our prison, I confined myself, in my
report, to an indication of several ways in which suicides could be
averted. With magnanimous shortsightedness peculiar to busy and trusting
people, the Warden failed to notice the weak points of my project and
clasped my hand warmly, expressing to me his gratitude in the name of our
On that day I had the honour, for the first time, to drink a glass of tea
at the home of the Warden, in the presence of his kind wife and charming
children, who called me "Grandpa." Tears of emotion which gathered in my
eyes could but faintly express the feelings that came over me.
At the request of the Warden's wife, who took a deep interest in me, I
related in detail the story of the tragic murders which led me so
unexpectedly and so terribly to the prison. I could not find expressions
strong enough—there are no expressions strong enough in the human
language—to brand adequately the unknown criminal, who not only
murdered three helpless people, but who mocked them brutally in a fit of
blind and savage rage.
As the investigation and the autopsy showed, the murderer dealt the last
blows after the people had been dead. It is very possible, however—even
murderers should be given their due—that the man, intoxicated by the
sight of blood, ceased to be a human being and became a beast, the son of
chaos, the child of dark and terrible desires. It was characteristic that
the murderer, after having committed the crime, drank wine and ate
biscuits—some of these were left on the table together with the
marks of his blood-stained fingers. But there was something so horrible
that my mind could neither understand nor explain: the murderer, after
lighting a cigar himself, apparently moved by a feeling of strange
kindness, put a lighted cigar between the closed teeth of my father.
I had not recalled these details in many years. They had almost been
erased by the hand of time, and now while relating them to my shocked
listeners, who would not believe that such horrors were possible, I felt
my face turning pale and my hair quivering on my head. In an outburst of
grief and anger I rose from my armchair, and straightening myself to my
full height, I exclaimed:
"Justice on earth is often powerless, but I implore heavenly justice, I
implore the justice of life which never forgives, I implore all the higher
laws under whose authority man lives. May the guilty one not escape his
deserved punishment! His punishment!"
Moved by my sobs, my listeners there and then expressed their zeal and
readiness to work for my liberation, and thus at least partly redeem the
injustice heaped upon me. I apologised and returned to my cell.
Evidently my old organism cannot bear such agitation any longer; besides,
it is hard even for a strong man to picture in his imagination certain
images without risking the loss of his reason. Only in this way can I
explain the strange hallucination which appeared before my fatigued eyes
in the solitude of my cell. As though benumbed I gazed aimlessly at the
tightly closed door, when suddenly it seemed to me that some one was
standing behind me. I had felt this deceptive sensation before, so I did
not turn around for some time. But when I turned around at last I saw—in
the distance, between the crucifix and my portrait, about a quarter of a
yard above the floor—the body of my father, as though hanging in the
air. It is hard for me to give the details, for twilight had long set in,
but I can say with certainty that it was the image of a corpse, and not of
a living being, although a cigar was smoking in its mouth. To be more
exact, there was no smoke from the cigar, but a faintly reddish light was
seen. It is characteristic that I did not sense the odour of tobacco
either at that time or later—I had long given up smoking. Here—I
must confess my weakness, but the illusion was striking—I commenced
to speak to the hallucination. Advancing as closely as possible—the
body did not retreat as I approached, but remained perfectly motionless—I
said to the ghost:
"I thank you, father. You know how your son is suffering, and you have
come—you have come to testify to my innocence. I thank you, father.
Give me your hand, and with a firm filial hand-clasp I will respond to
your unexpected visit. Don't you want to? Let me have your hand. Give me
your hand, or I will call you a liar!"
I stretched out my hand, but of course the hallucination did not deem it
worth while to respond, and I was forever deprived of the opportunity of
feeling the touch of a ghost. The cry which I uttered and which so upset
my friend, the jailer, creating some confusion in the prison, was called
forth by the sudden disappearance of the phantom—it was so sudden
that the space in the place where the corpse had been seemed to me more
terrible than the corpse itself.
Such is the power of human imagination when, excited, it creates phantoms
and visions, peopling the bottomless and ever silent emptiness with them.
It is sad to admit that there are people, however, who believe in ghosts
and build upon this belief nonsensical theories about certain relations
between the world of the living and the enigmatic land inhabited by the
dead. I understand that the human ear and eye can be deceived—but
how can the great and lucid human mind fall into such coarse and
I asked the jailer:
"I feel a strange sensation, as though there were the odour of cigar smoke
in my cell. Don't you smell it?"
The jailer sniffed the air conscientiously and replied:
"No I don't. You only imagined it."
If you need any confirmation, here is a splendid proof that all I had
seen, if it existed at all, existed only in the net of my eye.
Something altogether unexpected has happened; the efforts of my friends,
the Warden and his wife, were crowned with success, and for two months I
have been free, out of prison.
I am happy to inform you that immediately upon my leaving the prison I
occupied a very honourable position, to which I could hardly have aspired,
conscious of my humble qualities. The entire press met me with unanimous
enthusiasm. Numerous journalists, photographers, even caricaturists (the
people of our time are so fond of laughter and clever witticisms), in
hundreds of articles and drawings reproduced the story of my remarkable
life. With striking unanimity the newspapers assigned to me the name of
"Master," a highly flattering name, which I accepted, after some
hesitation, with deep gratitude. I do not know whether it is worth
mentioning the few hostile notices called forth by irritation and envy—a
vice which so frequently stains the human soul. In one of these notices,
which appeared, by the way, in a very filthy little newspaper, a certain
scamp, guided by wretched gossip and baseless rumours about my chats in
our prison, called me a "zealot and liar." Enraged by the insolence of the
miserable scribbler, my friends wanted to prosecute him, but I persuaded
them not to do it. Vice is its own proper punishment.
The fortune which my kind mother had left me and which had grown
considerably during the time I was in prison has enabled me to settle down
to a life of luxury in one of the most aristocratic hotels. I have a large
retinue of servants at my command and an automobile—a splendid
invention with which I now became acquainted for the first time—and
I have skilfully arranged my financial affairs. Live flowers brought to me
in abundance by my charming lady visitors give to my nook the appearance
of a flower garden or even a bit of a tropical forest. My servant, a very
decent young man, is in a state of despair. He says that he had never seen
such a variety of flowers and had never smelled such a variety of odours
at the same time. If not for my advanced age and the strict and serious
propriety with which I treat my visitors, I do not know how far they would
have gone in the expression of their feelings. How many perfumed notes!
How many languid sighs and humbly imploring eyes! There was even a
fascinating stranger with a black veil—three times she appeared
mysteriously, and when she learned that I had visitors she disappeared
just as mysteriously.
I will add that at the present time I have had the honour of being elected
an honourary member of numerous humanitarian organisations such as "The
League of Peace," "The League for Combating Juvenile Criminality," "The
Society of the Friends of Man," and others. Besides, at the request of the
editor of one of the most widely read newspapers, I am to begin next month
a series of public lectures, for which purpose I am going on a tour
together with my kind impresario.
I have already prepared my material for the first three lectures and, in
the hope that my reader may be interested, I shall give the synopsis of
Chaos or order? The eternal struggle between chaos and order. The eternal
revolt and the defeat of chaos, the rebel. The triumph of law and order.
What is the soul of man? The eternal conflict in the soul of man between
chaos, whence it came, and harmony, whither it strives irresistibly.
Falsehood, as the offspring of chaos, and Truth, as the child of harmony.
The triumph of truth and the downfall of falsehood.
THIRD LECTURE THE EXPLANATION OF THE SACRED FORMULA OF THE IRON GRATE
As my indulgent reader will see, justice is after all not an empty sound,
and I am getting a great reward for my sufferings. But not daring to
reproach fate which was so merciful to me, I nevertheless do not feel that
sense of contentment which, it would seem, I ought to feel. True, at first
I was positively happy, but soon my habit for strictly logical reasoning,
the clearness and honesty of my views, gained by contemplating the world
through a mathematically correct grate, have led me to a series of
I am afraid to say it now with full certainty, but it seems to me that all
their life of this so-called freedom is a continuous self-deception and
falsehood. The life of each of these people, whom I have seen during these
days, is moving in a strictly defined circle, which is just as solid as
the corridors of our prison, just as closed as the dial of the watches
which they, in the innocence of their mind, lift every minute to their
eyes, not understanding the fatal meaning of the eternally moving hand,
which is eternally returning to its place, and each of them feels this,
even as the circus horse probably feels it, but in a state of strange
blindness each one assures us that he is perfectly free and moving
forward. Like the stupid bird which is beating itself to exhaustion
against the transparent glass obstacle, without understanding what it is
that obstructs its way, these people are helplessly beating against the
walls of their glass prison.
I was greatly mistaken, it seems, also in the significance of the
greetings which fell to my lot when I left the prison. Of course I was
convinced that in me they greeted the representative of our prison, a
leader hardened by experience, a master, who came to them only for the
purpose of revealing to them the great mystery of purpose. And when they
congratulated me upon the freedom granted to me I responded with thanks,
not suspecting what an idiotic meaning they placed on the word. May I be
forgiven this coarse expression, but I am powerless now to restrain my
aversion for their stupid life, for their thoughts, for their feelings.
Foolish hypocrites, fearing to tell the truth even when it adorns them! My
hardened truthfulness was cruelly taxed in the midst of these false and
trivial people. Not a single person believed that I was never so happy as
in prison. Why, then, are they so surprised at me, and why do they print
my portraits? Are there so few idiots that are unhappy in prison? And the
most remarkable thing, which only my indulgent reader will be able to
appreciate, is this: Often distrusting me completely, they nevertheless
sincerely go into raptures over me, bowing before me, clasping my hands
and mumbling at every step, "Master! Master!"
If they only profited by their constant lying—but, no; they are
perfectly disinterested, and they lie as though by some one's higher
order; they lie in the fanatical conviction that falsehood is in no way
different from the truth. Wretched actors, even incapable of a decent
makeup, they writhe from morning till night on the boards of the stage,
and, dying the most real death, suffering the most real sufferings, they
bring into their deathly convulsions the cheap art of the harlequin. Even
their crooks are not real; they only play the roles of crooks, while
remaining honest people; and the role of honest people is played by
rogues, and played poorly, and the public sees it, but in the name of the
same fatal falsehood it gives them wreaths and bouquets. And if there is
really a talented actor who can wipe away the boundary between truth and
deception, so that even they begin to believe, they go into raptures, call
him great, start a subscription for a monument, but do not give any money.
Desperate cowards, they fear themselves most of all, and admiring
delightedly the reflection of their spuriously made-up faces in the
mirror, they howl with fear and rage when some one incautiously holds up
the mirror to their soul.
My indulgent reader should accept all this relatively, not forgetting that
certain grumblings are natural in old age. Of course, I have met quite a
number of most worthy people, absolutely truthful, sincere, and
courageous; I am proud to admit that I found among them also a proper
estimate of my personality. With the support of these friends of mine I
hope to complete successfully my struggle for truth and justice. I am
sufficiently strong for my sixty years, and, it seems, there is no power
that could break my iron will.
At times I am seized with fatigue owing to their absurd mode of life. I
have not the proper rest even at night.
The consciousness that while going to bed I may absent-mindedly have
forgotten to lock my bedroom door compels me to jump from my bed dozens of
times and to feel the lock with a quiver of horror.
Not long ago it happened that I locked my door and hid the key under my
pillow, perfectly confident that my room was locked, when suddenly I heard
a knock, then the door opened, and my servant entered with a smile on his
face. You, dear reader, will easily understand the horror I experienced at
this unexpected visit—it seemed to me that some one had entered my
soul. And though I have absolutely nothing to conceal, this breaking into
my room seems to me indecent, to say the least.
I caught a cold a few days ago—there is a terrible draught in their
windows—and I asked my servant to watch me at night. In the morning
I asked him, in jest:
"Well, did I talk much in my sleep?"
"No, you didn't talk at all."
"I had a terrible dream, and I remember I even cried."
"No, you smiled all the time, and I thought—what fine dreams our
Master must see!"
The dear youth must have been sincerely devoted to me, and I am deeply
moved by such devotion during these painful days.
To-morrow I shall sit down to prepare my lectures. It is high time!
My God! What has happened to me? I do not know how I shall tell my reader
about it. I was on the brink of the abyss, I almost perished. What cruel
temptations fate is sending me! Fools, we smile, without suspecting
anything, when some murderous hand is already lifted to attack us; we
smile, and the very next instant we open our eyes wide with horror. I—I
cried. I cried. Another moment and deceived, I would have hurled myself
down, thinking that I was flying toward the sky.
It turned out that "the charming stranger" who wore a dark veil, and who
came to me so mysteriously three times, was no one else than Mme. N., my
former fiancee, my love, my dream and my suffering.
But order! order! May my indulgent reader forgive the involuntary
incoherence of the preceding lines, but I am sixty years old, and my
strength is beginning to fail me, and I am alone. My unknown reader, be my
friend at this moment, for I am not of iron, and my strength is beginning
to fail me. Listen, my friend; I shall endeavour to tell you exactly and
in detail, as objectively as my cold and clear mind will be able to do it,
all that has happened. You must understand that which my tongue may omit.
I was sitting, engaged upon the preparation of my lecture, seriously
carried away by the absorbing work, when my servant announced that the
strange lady in the black veil was there again, and that she wished to see
me. I confess I was irritated, that I was ready to decline to see her, but
my curiosity, coupled with my desire not to offend her, led me to receive
the unexpected guest. Assuming the expression of majestic nobleness with
which I usually greet my visitors, and softening that expression somewhat
by a smile in view of the romantic character of the affair, I ordered my
servant to open the door.
"Please be seated, my dear guest," I said politely to the stranger, who
stood as dazed before me, still keeping the veil on her face.
She sat down.
"Although I respect all secrecy," I continued jestingly, "I would
nevertheless ask you to remove this gloomy cover which disfigures you.
Does the human face need a mask?"
The strange visitor declined, in a state of agitation.
"Very well, I'll take it off, but not now—later. First I want to see
The pleasant voice of the stranger did not call forth any recollections in
me. Deeply interested and even flattered, I submitted to my strange
visitor all the treasures of my mind, experience and talent. With
enthusiasm I related to her the edifying story of my life, constantly
illuminating every detail with a ray of the Great Purpose. (In this I
availed myself partly of the material on which I had just been working,
preparing my lectures.) The passionate attention with which the strange
lady listened to my words, the frequent, deep sighs, the nervous quiver of
her thin fingers in her black gloves, her agitated exclamations—inspired
Carried away by my own narrative, I confess, I did not pay proper
attention to the queer behaviour of my strange visitor. Having lost all
restraint, she now clasped my hands, now pushed them away, she cried and
availing herself of each pause in my speech, she implored:
"Don't, don't, don't! Stop speaking! I can't listen to it!"
And at the moment when I least expected it she tore the veil from her
face, and before my eyes—before my eyes appeared her face, the face
of my love, of my dream, of my boundless and bitter sorrow. Perhaps
because I lived all my life dreaming of her alone, with her alone I was
young, with her I had developed and grown old, with her I was advancing to
the grave—her face seemed to me neither old nor faded—it was
exactly as I had pictured it in my dreams—it seemed endlessly dear
What has happened to me? For the first time in tens of years I forgot that
I had a face—for the first time in tens of years I looked
helplessly, like a youngster, like a criminal caught red-handed, waiting
for some deadly blow.
"You see! You see! It is I. It is I! My God, why are you silent? Don't you
Did I recognise her? It were better not to have known that face at all! It
were better for me to have grown blind rather than to see her again!
"Why are you silent? How terrible you are! You have forgotten me!"
Of course, I should have continued in this manner; I saw how she
staggered. I saw how with trembling fingers, almost falling, she was
looking for her veil; I saw that another word of courageous truth, and the
terrible vision would vanish never to appear again. But some stranger
within me—not I—not I—uttered the following absurd,
ridiculous phrase, in which, despite its chilliness, rang so much jealousy
and hopeless sorrow:
"Madam, you have deceived me. I don't know you. Perhaps you entered the
wrong door. I suppose your husband and your children are waiting for you.
Please, my servant will take you down to the carriage."
Could I think that these words, uttered in the same stern and cold voice,
would have such a strange effect upon the woman's heart? With a cry, all
the bitter passion of which I could not describe, she threw herself before
me on her knees, exclaiming:
"So you do love me!"
Forgetting that our life had already been lived, that we were old, that
all had been ruined and scattered like dust by Time, and that it can never
return again; forgetting that I was grey, that my shoulders were bent,
that the voice of passion sounds strangely when it comes from old lips—I
burst into impetuous reproaches and complaints.
"Yes, I did deceive you!" her deathly pale lips uttered. "I knew that you
"Be silent. Be silent."
"Everybody laughed at me—even your friends, your mother whom I
despised for it—all betrayed you. Only I kept repeating: 'He is
Oh, if this woman knew what she was doing to me with her words! If the
trumpet of the angel, announcing the day of judgment, had resounded at my
very ear, I would not have been so frightened as now. What is the blaring
of a trumpet calling to battle and struggle to the ear of the brave? It
was as if an abyss had opened at my feet. It was as if an abyss had opened
before me, and as though blinded by lightning, as though dazed by a blow,
I shouted in an outburst of wild and strange ecstasy:
"Be silent! I—"
If that woman were sent by God, she would have become silent. If she were
sent by the devil, she would have become silent even then. But there was
neither God nor devil in her, and interrupting me, not permitting me to
finish the phrase, she went on:
"No, I will not be silent. I must tell you all. I have waited for you so
many years. Listen, listen!"
But suddenly she saw my face and she retreated, seized with horror.
"What is it? What is the matter with you? Why do you laugh? I am afraid of
your laughter! Stop laughing! Don't! Don't!"
But I was not laughing at all, I only smiled softly. And then I said very
seriously, without smiling:
"I am smiling because I am glad to see you. Tell me about yourself."
And, as in a dream, I saw her face and I heard her soft terrible whisper:
"You know that I love you. You know that all my life I loved you alone. I
lived with another and was faithful to him. I have children, but you know
they are all strangers to me—he and the children and I myself. Yes,
I deceived you, I am a criminal, but I do not know how it happened. He was
so kind to me, he made me believe that he was convinced of your innocence—later
I learned that he did not tell the truth, and with this, just think of it,
with this he won me."
"I swear to you. For a whole year he followed me and spoke only of you.
One day he even cried when I told him about you, about your sufferings,
about your love."
"But he was lying!"
"Of course he was lying. But at that time he seemed so dear to me, so kind
that I kissed him on the forehead. Then we used to bring you flowers to
the prison. One day as we were returning from you—listen—he
suddenly proposed that we should go out driving. The evening was so
"And you went! How did you dare go out with him? You had just seen my
prison, you had just been near me, and yet you dared go with him. How
"Be silent. Be silent. I know I am a criminal. But I was so exhausted, so
tired, and you were so far away. Understand me."
She began to cry, wringing her hands.
"Understand me. I was so exhausted. And he—he saw how I felt—and
yet he dared kiss me."
"He kissed you! And you allowed him? On the lips?"
"No, no! Only on the cheek."
"No, no. I swear to you."
I began to laugh.
"You responded? And you were driving in the forest—you, my fiancee,
my love, my dream! And all this for my sake? Tell me! Speak!"
In my rage I wrung her arms, and wriggling like a snake, vainly trying to
evade my look, she whispered:
"Forgive me; forgive me."
"How many children have you?"
But my reason forsook me, and in my growing rage I cried, stamping my
"How many children have you? Speak, or I will kill you!"
I actually said this. Evidently I was losing my reason completely if I
could threaten to kill a helpless woman. And she, surmising apparently
that my threats were mere words, answered with feigned readiness:
"Kill me! You have a right to do it! I am a criminal. I deceived you. You
are a martyr, a saint! When you told me—is it true that even in your
thoughts you never deceived me—even in your thoughts!"
And again an abyss opened before me. Everything trembled, everything fell,
everything became an absurd dream, and in the last effort to save my
extinguishing reason I shouted:
"But you are happy! You cannot be unhappy; you have no right to be
unhappy! Otherwise I shall lose my mind."
But she did not understand. With a bitter laugh, with a senseless smile,
in which her suffering mingled with bright, heavenly joy, she said:
"I am happy! I—happy! Oh, my friend, only near you I can find
happiness. From the moment you left the prison I began to despise my home.
I am alone there; I am a stranger to all. If you only knew how I hate that
scoundrel! You are sensible; you must have felt that you were not alone in
prison, that I was always with you there—"
"Be silent! Be silent! If you only heard with what delight I called him
She burst into laughter, frightening me by the wild expression on her
"Just think of it! All his life he embraced only a lie. And when,
deceived, happy, he fell asleep, I looked at him with wide-open eyes, I
gnashed my teeth softly, and I felt like pinching him, like sticking him
with a pin."
She burst into laughter again. It seemed to me that she was driving wedges
into my brain. Clasping my head, I cried:
"You lie! You lie to me!"
Indeed, it was easier for me to speak to the ghost than to the woman. What
could I say to her? My mind was growing dim. And how could I repulse her
when she, full of love and passion, kissed my hands, my eyes, my face? It
was she, my love, my dream, my bitter sorrow!
"I love you! I love you!"
And I believed her—I believed her love. I believed everything. And
once more I felt that my locks were black, and I saw myself young again.
And I knelt before her and wept for a long time, and whispered to her
about my sufferings, about the pain of solitude, about a heart cruelly
broken, about offended, disfigured, mutilated thoughts. And, laughing and
crying, she stroked my hair. Suddenly she noticed that it was grey, and
she cried strangely:
"What is it? And life? I am an old woman already."
On leaving me she demanded that I escort her to the threshold, like a
young man; and I did. Before going she said to me:
"I am coming back to-morrow. I know my children will deny me—my
daughter is to marry soon. You and I will go away. Do you love me?"
"We will go far, far away, my dear. You wanted to deliver some lectures.
You should not do it. I don't like what you say about that iron grate. You
are exhausted, you need a rest. Shall it be so?"
"Oh, I forgot my veil. Keep it, keep it as a remembrance of this day. My
In the vestibule, in the presence of the sleepy porter, she kissed me.
There was the odour of some new perfume, unlike the perfume with which her
letter was scented. And her coquettish laugh was like a sob as she
disappeared behind the glass door.
That night I aroused my servant, ordered him to pack our things, and we
went away. I shall not say where I am at present, but last night and
to-night trees were rustling over my head and the rain was beating against
my windows. Here the windows are small, and I feel much better. I wrote
her a rather long letter, the contents of which I shall not reproduce. I
shall never see her again.
But what am I to do? May the reader pardon these incoherent questions.
They are so natural in a man in my condition. Besides, I caught an acute
rheumatism while travelling, which is most painful and even dangerous for
a man of my age, and which does not permit me to reason calmly. For some
reason or another I think very often about my young friend K., who went to
an untimely grave. How does he feel in his new prison?
To-morrow morning, if my strength will permit me, I intend to pay a visit
to the Warden of our prison and to his esteemed wife. Our prison—
I am profoundly happy to inform my dear reader that I have completely
recovered my physical as well as my spiritual powers. A long rest out in
the country, amid nature's soothing beauties; the contemplation of village
life, which is so simple and bright; the absence of the noise of the city,
where hundreds of wind-mills are stupidly flapping their long arms before
your very nose, and finally the complete solitude, undisturbed by anything—all
these have restored to my unbalanced view of the world all its former
steadiness and its iron, irresistible firmness. I look upon my future
calmly and confidently, and although it promises me nothing but a lonely
grave and the last journey to an unknown distance, I am ready to meet
death just as courageously as I lived my life, drawing strength from my
solitude, from the consciousness of my innocence and my uprightness.
After long hesitations, which are not quite intelligible to me now, I
finally resolved to establish for myself the system of our prison in all
its rigidness. For that purpose, finding a small house in the outskirts of
the city, which was to be leased for a long term of years, I hired it.
Then with the kind assistance of the Warden of our prison, (I cannot
express my gratitude to him adequately enough in words,) I invited to the
new place one of the most experienced jailers, who is still a young man,
but already hardened in the strict principles of our prison. Availing
myself of his instruction, and also of the suggestions of the obliging
Warden, I have engaged workmen who transformed one of the rooms into a
cell. The measurements as well as the form and all the details of my new,
and, I hope, my last dwelling are strictly in accordance with my plan. My
cell is 8 by 4 yards, 4 yards high, the walls are painted grey at the
bottom, the upper part of the walls and the ceiling are white, and near
the ceiling there is a square window 1 1/2 by 1 1/2 yards, with a massive
iron grate, which has already become rusty with age. In the door, locked
with a heavy and strong lock, which issues a loud creak at each turn of
the key, there is a small hole for observation, and below it a little
window, through which the food is brought and received. The furnishing of
the cell: a table, a chair, and a cot fastened to the wall; on the wall a
crucifix, my portrait, and the rules concerning the conduct of the
prisoners, in a black frame; and in the corner a closet filled with books.
This last, being a violation of the strict harmony of my dwelling, I was
compelled to do by extreme and sad necessity; the jailer positively
refused to be my librarian and to bring the books according to my order,
and to engage a special librarian seemed to me to be an act of unnecessary
eccentricity. Aside from this, in elaborating my plans, I met with strong
opposition not only from the local population, which simply declared me to
be insane, but even from the enlightened people. Even the Warden
endeavoured for some time to dissuade me, but finally he clasped my hand
warmly, with an expression of sincere regret at not being in a position to
offer me a place in our prison.
I cannot recall the first day of my confinement without a bitter smile. A
mob of impertinent and ignorant idlers yelled from morning till night at
my window, with their heads lifted high (my cell is situated in the second
story), and they heaped upon me senseless abuse; there were even efforts—to
the disgrace of my townspeople—to storm my dwelling, and one heavy
stone almost crushed my head. Only the police, which arrived in time,
succeeded in averting the catastrophe. When, in the evening, I went out
for a walk, hundreds of fools, adults and children, followed me, shouting
and whistling, heaping abuse upon me, and even hurling mud at me. Thus,
like a persecuted prophet, I wended my way without fear amidst the
maddened crowd, answering their blows and curses with proud silence.
What has stirred these fools? In what way have I offended their empty
heads? When I lied to them, they kissed my hands; now, when I have
re-established the sacred truth of my life in all its strictness and
purity, they burst into curses, they branded me with contempt, they hurled
mud at me. They were disturbed because I dared to live alone, and because
I did not ask them for a place in the "common cell for rogues." How
difficult it is to be truthful in this world!
True, my perseverance and firmness finally defeated them. With the naivete
of savages, who honour all they do not understand, they commenced, in the
second year, to bow to me, and they are making ever lower bows to me,
because their amazement is growing ever greater, their fear of the
inexplicable is growing ever deeper. And the fact that I never respond to
their greetings fills them with delight, and the fact that I never smile
in response to their flattering smiles, fills them with a firm assurance
that they are guilty before me for some grave wrong, and that I know their
guilt. Having lost confidence in their own and other people's words, they
revere my silence, even as people revere every silence and every mystery.
If I were to start to speak suddenly, I would again become human to them
and would disillusion them bitterly, no matter what I would say; in my
silence I am to them like their eternally silent God. For these strange
people would cease believing their God as soon as their God would commence
to speak. Their women are already regarding me as a saint. And the
kneeling women and sick children that I often find at the threshold of my
dwelling undoubtedly expect of me a trifle—to heal them, to perform
a miracle. Well, another year or two will pass, and I shall commence to
perform miracles as well as those of whom they speak with such enthusiasm.
Strange people, at times I feel sorry for them, and I begin to feel really
angry at the devil who so skilfully mixed the cards in their game that
only the cheat knows the truth, his little cheating truth about the marked
queens and the marked kings. They bow too low, however, and this hinders
me from developing a sense of mercy, otherwise—smile at my jest,
indulgent reader—I would not restrain myself from the temptation of
performing two or three small, but effective miracles.
I must go back to the description of my prison.
Having constructed my cell completely, I offered my jailer the following
alternative: He must observe with regard to me the rules of the prison
regime in all its rigidness, and in that case he would inherit all my
fortune according to my will, or he would receive nothing if he failed to
do his duty. It seemed that in putting the matter before him so clearly I
would meet with no difficulties. Yet at the very first instance, when I
should have been incarcerated for violating some prison regulation, this
naive and timid man absolutely refused to do it; and only when I
threatened to get another man immediately, a more conscientious jailer,
was he compelled to perform his duty. Though he always locked the door
punctually, he at first neglected his duty of watching me through the
peephole; and when I tried to test his firmness by suggesting a change in
some rule or other to the detriment of common sense he yielded willingly
and quickly. One day, on trapping him in this way, I said to him:
"My friend, you are simply foolish. If you will not watch me and guard me
properly I shall run away to another prison, taking my legacy along with
me. What will you do then?"
I am happy to inform you that at the present time all these
misunderstandings have been removed, and if there is anything I can
complain of it is rather excessive strictness than mildness. Now that my
jailer has entered into the spirit of his position this honest man treats
me with extreme sternness, not for the sake of the profit but for the sake
of the principle. Thus, in the beginning of this week he incarcerated me
for twenty-four hours for violating some rule, of which, it seemed to me,
I was not guilty; and protesting against this seeming injustice I had the
unpardonable weakness to say to him:
"In the end I will drive you away from here. You must not forget that you
are my servant."
"Before you drive me away I will incarcerate you," replied this worthy
"But how about the money?" I asked with astonishment. "Don't you know that
you will be deprived of it?"
"Do I need your money? I would give up all my own money if I could stop
being what I am. But what can I do if you violate the rule and I must
punish you by incarcerating you?"
I am powerless to describe the joyous emotion which came over me at the
thought that the consciousness of duty had at last entered his dark mind,
and that now, even if in a moment of weakness I wanted to leave my prison,
my conscientious jailer would not permit me to do it. The spark of
firmness which glittered in his round eyes showed me clearly that no
matter where I might run away he would find me and bring me back; and that
the revolver which he often forgot to take before, and which he now cleans
every day, would do its work in the event I decided to run away.
And for the first time in all these years I fell asleep on the stone floor
of my dark cell with a happy smile, realising that my plan was crowned
with complete success, passing from the realm of eccentricity to the
domain of stern and austere reality. And the fear which I felt while
falling asleep in the presence of my jailer, my fear of his resolute look,
of his revolver; my timid desire to hear a word of praise from him, or to
call forth perhaps a smile on his lips, re-echoed in my soul as the
harmonious clanking of my eternal and last chains.
Thus I pass my last years. As before, my health is sound and my free
spirit is clear. Let some call me a fool and laugh at me; in their pitiful
blindness let others regard me as a saint and expect me to perform
miracles; an upright man to some people, to others—a liar and a
deceiver—I myself know who I am, and I do not ask them to understand
me. And if there are people who will accuse me of deception, of baseness,
even of the lack of simple honour—for there are scoundrels who are
convinced to this day that I committed murder—no one will dare
accuse me of cowardice, no one will dare say that I could not perform my
painful duty to the end. From the beginning till the end I remained firm
and unbribable; and though a bugbear, a fanatic, a dark horror to some
people, I may awaken in others a heroic dream of the infinite power of
I have long discontinued to receive visitors, and with the death of the
Warden of our prison, my only true friend, whom I visited occasionally, my
last tie with this world was broken. Only I and my ferocious jailer, who
watches every movement of mine with mad suspicion, and the black grate
which has caught in its iron embrace and muzzled the infinite—this
is my life. Silently accepting the low bows, in my cold estrangement from
the people I am passing my last road.
I am thinking of death ever more frequently, but even before death I do
not bend my fearless look. Whether it brings me eternal rest or a new
unknown and terrible struggle, I am humbly prepared to accept it.
Farewell, my dear reader! Like a vague phantom you appeared before my eyes
and passed, leaving me alone before the face of life and death. Do not be
angry because at times I deceived you and lied—you, too, would have
lied perhaps in my place. Nevertheless I loved you sincerely, and
sincerely longed for your love; and the thought of your sympathy for me
was quite a support to me in my moments and days of hardship. I am sending
you my last farewell and my sincere advice. Forget about my existence,
even as I shall henceforth forget about yours forever.
A deserted field, overgrown with high grass, devoid of an echo, extends
like a deep carpet to the very fence of our prison, whose majestic
outlines subdue my imagination and my mind. When the dying sun illumines
it with its last rays, and our prison, all in red, stands like a queen,
like a martyr, with the dark wounds of its grated windows, and the sun
rises silently and proudly over the plain—with sorrow, like a lover,
I send my complaints and my sighs and my tender reproach and vows to her,
to my love, to my dream, to my bitter and last sorrow. I wish I could
forever remain near her, but here I look back—and black against the
fiery frame of the sunset stands my jailer, stands and waits.
With a sigh I go back in silence, and he moves behind me noiselessly,
about two steps away, watching every move of mine.
Our prison is beautiful at sunset.