A reflection by Tony Seed
(Updated May 15) In truth, I confess that I never paid much attention to Mother’s and Father’s Day, perhaps due to the commercialism and false sentimentalism. As I grow older I am more attentive, especially this year of the pandemic, and more and more appreciative and respectful of my own mother and her strength, and the value of life. On her passing at the age of 93, we said “she moved the earth.” And to the other mothers in my family! Sarah, partner of son Nick, “super mom,” thoughtful and indefatigable. They have three growing children, 3, 5 and 17. The love of the children is unconditional. Courtney, son Marty’s partner, is an American, with a gracious personality and intelligent insights on the murky US politics. All the women of our extended family have a great independent spirit and a sense of justice. My former wife raised two fine young men, all the while working in a hospital for a livelihood and playing a leading in her trade union and in progressive politics. Four generations of women on my late mother’s side were creators, fine artists, graphic designers and writers. Some are single mothers, who personify the exceptional courage of the single mom, as they had to take care not only of their life but of future life. Some singlehandedly raised children who were disabled. My oldest sister has been the anchor for our younger brother, also disabled, and my youngest the rock of her late husband, infirmed with serious health issues, both mothers in their own right. My mothers include the diligent health care workers I have met since moving to Ontario, many working two jobs, underpaid, exploited and discriminated, without organization or voice during the pandemic to demand equal status and modern standards for all. Yes, the pantheon of mothers are real heroines for whom we have much social love.
May 9th this year is also Liberation of Europe Day. Canadians of Russian origin organize the March of the Immortal Regiment to proudly celebrate the peoples’ historic victory in the anti-fascist war and commemorate those who gave their lives for peace, freedom and democracy. Participants bring portraits of relatives or others who took part in the anti-fascist war to honour their contribution as well as Soviet flags, banners and a giant ribbon of Saint George (used in high military decorations in Russia and the Soviet Union). 
Today, this anniversary, held under conditions of the COVID-19 pandemic, took the form of a car rally. This initiative has an added significance, coming under the most difficult circumstances of state-organized attempts to marginalize them, humiliate them and extinguish their being. Every minute of every day Canadians and women of Russian, Vietnamese, Korean, Chinese, Arabic and Muslim origin suffer the indignity and humiliation of the pressure that they must overtly prove that they are worthy Canadians by accepting what are called “Canadian values” or risk being demonized as “foreign agents.” They are supposed to prove through every word and action that they are opposed to the governments of their countries of origin; moderate, not extremist; civilized, not medieval; democratic, not lovers of authoritarianism, theocracy, terrorism and all kinds of other buzz words on the basis of which reaction tries to criminalize belief, culture and being. One Russian woman I met in Toronto had been forced to pass as Ukrainian in order to work at a RBC branch in a well-to-do Ukrainian neighbourhood. Others stood their ground and publicly condemned the defamation of the Russian community of Canada. 
Knowing that this is the case, the anti-fascist initiative of the Russian community takes on even greater meaning. It gives expression to social responsibility, to defend their dignity as human beings in the most profound sense of what it means to be human and Canadian, in the true sense which recognizes that being Canadian means to accept all languages, cultures and beliefs as equal and the contribution of all human persons as essential to the well-being of the society upon which they depend for their living.
Our family traditions were forged in part in the anti-fascist World War II. Amongst the millions of those from the peoples of Europe, Asia, Africa and the entire world who fought were my father, four uncles and my father-in-law, all of whom were fortunate to came back. My sister’s mother-in-law, a Jew of Hungarian origin, was liberated from Auschwitz by the Red Army. Many of her family did not survive. The members of our family enlisted for the noble ideals of humanity and a sense of duty: to defeat Hitlerite fascism. They contributed to the democratic personality that emerged, which was codified in the verdicts of the Nuremberg Trials and the international rule of law espoused by the United Nations in its founding Charter.
Battle of the Atlantic
My late father was born and raised in Cobourg, a small harbour town in Ontario. Not for him the trenches, he wanted to go to sea. He joined the navy and served in convoy duty during the Battle of the Atlantic from the ports of Sydney and Halifax. His duty included escorting the Murmansk Run convoys of the merchant ships and deployments in the Caribbean of all places, which was included in the peculiar geography of the Battle of the Atlantic due to the oil routes to the USA, as today. He had experience with both aristocratic British and American naval commanders which he readily shares in his memoirs entitled Pick and Shovel. As a student in high school he had specifically researched the Soviet Union and its Five-Year Plans of the 1930s and come to learn about and admire its achievements. He became a worthy solicitor who worked in the field of law, was a member of the Bar Association of Canada and lived his life according to his own principles, come what may. Politically a conservative, he never had an ill word to say about the Red Army and Joseph Stalin whom he respected from afar. He and his wife considered themselves privileged to be able to visit historic St. Petersburg in Russia and its famous museums and art galleries late in life.
Our mother was born and raised in Winnipeg and her two brothers and two brothers-in-law also fought in the war in the army and the air force. She commemorated the Canadian veterans, who numbered some 1.1 million including Newfoundland (then a British colony) and 136,000 from Quebec, of whom more than 44,000 lost their lives and 54,000 were wounded, in a poignant portrait memorializing a merchant mariner entitled “The Veteran.” Portraiture was her most difficult genre but her work portrays a quiet dignity, forbearance and modesty. Her choice was deliberate. These steadfast seamen held a special place in the hearts of my parents; they were second to none in their contribution to the victory. The Battle of the Atlantic is too well-known to need recalling here in any detail. But a few points should be mentioned . They manned over 450 Canadian ships during the war bringing tanks, munitions and sacks of Canadian flour to the Soviet Union and the British Isles. Travelling over frigid and submarine-infested waters in the vast sea areas between Canada and Europe, the seamen braved many perils. As a reminder, the range of the convoy escort was usually some 600 miles from shore and the waves that took down the Ocean Ranger oil rig in 1982 were 18 stories high. “Some days and nights,” my father writes aboard the HMCS Wallaceburg, “the sea could be very round and the waves very high. The ship would roll from one side over to the other side, then right itself, which brought forth a collective sigh of relief. Then it would roll again from side to side. The waves were about three feet high and especially treacherous off the Grand Banks.”
The feats of the courageous convoys to northern Russia are however virtually unknown: if they actually managed to survive the Atlantic crossing, they then faced further appalling hazards from German positions in northern Norway. After the carnage suffered by the PQ-17 convoy, abandoned at the order of the British Admiralty in June 1942 – one of the greatest maritime disasters in history – Churchill even used it to justify suspending the convoys as, he told Stalin, “too dangerous.” Stalin replied: “No major task can be carried out in wartime without risk or losses. You know of course that the Soviet Union is suffering far greater losses.”
As many as 3,000 Canadian and British “survivors” were hospitalized in terribly crowded facilities in Murmansk and Leningrad and taken care of by Russian families after injuries at sea. They continue to be held today in high esteem by Russia, as recounted recently by its ambassador to Canada in an impassioned tribute. These intrepid seamen suffered the highest death rate in the Canadian Service with 72 ships lost. Excluded for decades after the war by successive governments from Remembrance Day and Battle of the Atlantic ceremonies, they had to fight a long, bitter second battle – including a desperate hunger strike in 1998 – for official recognition as well as pensions. Due to their criminal treatment, my father refused to participate in such ceremonies or wear his service medals, apart from the 50th anniversary of VE Day.
The motives of Canadians and Russians can never be defamed by self-serving posturing and memory politics. In 2017 I was enraged to read an egotistical speech by Chrystia Freeland throwing mud at the heroism and blood of the veterans. In a sleight of hand, she now claimed that her paternal grandfather (Freeland) and others of his generation – her maternal grandfather (Chomiak), editor of the collaborationist newspaper Krakivs’ki visti, was a publicist of the nazi state who called for the actual recruitment of Ukrainians into Hitler’s SS. – had joined the forces for reasons of employment or to seek adventure, not to defeat a common enemy. It was not for nothing that even Canadian Prime Minister Mackenzie King himself, who negotiated with Hitler in Berlin in June 1937, had congratulated Stalin on May 13, 1945 with the warm message stating that Canada will never forget ‘the tenacity and the heroism of the armies and the peoples of the USSR’.” 
Such respect and principle, the friendship between two peoples, can never be forgotten nor erased by the crude falsification of history. Self-serving official dogmas attribute the war jointly to Nazi Germany and the USSR, falsely equate the two, and go so far as to deny and defame the courage and sacrifice of the Soviet Union under the leadership of J.V. Stalin in the defeat of the Hitlerites. The peoples that made up Soviet Russia and the Soviet Republics – Russians, Ukrainians, Georgians, Armenians, Belarusians, Jews, Uzbeks, Tatars, Kazakhs and people of many other nationalities – rose as one and broke the back of the Nazi war machine at tremendous cost. All of them fought for peace, freedom and democracy so that humanity would never again know the scourge of fascism and war, a reality that remains today. NATO now invokes what it gratuitously calls a “Fourth Battle of the Atlantic” to justify the militarization of the Atlantic and the northwestern and eastern states of Europe. 
For me, this unity is personified by another remarkable painting I discovered recently at the Art Gallery of Ontario. It commemorated the visit to the USA and Canada in mid-1942 of the famed woman sniper, Lt. Lyudmila Pavlichenko of Ukraine, whose courage and steadfastness symbolized these defenders of their Motherland – wounded four times, her total of confirmed kills by that time was 309, including 36 enemy snipers. She had already lost both her father and her husband to the German occupants. The aim of her visit, personally organized by Stalin, was simple, as she recounts in her memoir, Lady Death. “The Americans knew nothing of the present war and we had to convey our knowledge and perception of it in such a way that they realized that it was a life-and-death struggle for the future of all humanity. We would not have to make anything up. The main thing for each of us was to be ourselves. Of course, it was a challenge to find oneself suddenly in a completely foreign world.” She was accompanied by Vladimir Pchelintsev (fellow sniper) and Nikolai Krasavchenko (Moscow fuel commissioner).
In speeches across America and often before thousands in the company of Eleanor Roosevelt, the woman sniper had made the case for a U.S. commitment to fighting the Nazis in Europe, which Stalin had repeatedly requested and which the Anglo-American powers refused through much of the war and before – during the 1930s. And in doing so, she drove home the point that women were not only capable, but essential to the fight. In Chicago, she stood before large crowds. “Gentlemen,” she famously said, “I am 25 years old and I have killed 309 fascist occupants by now. Don’t you think, gentlemen, that you have been hiding behind my back for too long?” Her words settled on the crowd, then caused a surging roar of support. In Canada she was presented with a sighted Winchester rifle now on display at the Central Armed Forces Museum in Moscow. While visiting Toronto they were greeted by thousands of people. This reception reflected by the painting by Paraskeva Clark signalled the people’s demand for the opening of a second front in Europe and iron unity in a just cause. This cannot be denied. 
It seems to me that Mother is a timeless book that unites both events of May 9th! I downloaded a copy and am popularizing it by e-mailing it to all the ladies from my family and friends. The famous novel of revolutionary conversion and struggle. This novel of Russia before the 1905 Revolution is without question the masterpiece of Maxim Gorky, Russia’s greatest living writer, whom I first read at the age of 16. Into one passionate, astonishing book has been gathered the spirit of the heroic struggle against the Tsar’s autocracy.
Written in 1905-06 it was based on real life events in 1902. The unsuccessful revolution of 1905 was the precursor to the Great October Socialist Revolution of 1917. Gorky’s mother was the hero – the seemingly passive hero of this bloody and tear-drenched drama. There arose then a great cloud of tears, grief, moans, destitution, cries of despair and anger, passionate, heart-wrenching bewilderment, a searching for a way out; a fiery question mark rose over the land as a terrible nightmare: where was one to find the truth? In this and his other works the people of Russia stand forth in a flood of light. His novel perfectly shows how the revolutionary spirit, the universal desire for a new life, arose among a mother as amongst the workers. This unquenchable spirit is embodied in the impassioned defence by oppressed humanity of the cause of peace, freedom and democracy in today’s conditions and its unity in action against a common enemy.
On May 9, let us profoundly honour the memory of all those who fought to defeat fascism by working to make Canada a zone for peace, opposing Canada’s political and economic integration into the U.S. war machine and opposing the use of force to resolve conflicts between nations and within nations.
Happy Mother’s Day to all the moms today, those who are with us, and those who left us.
1. May 9, 2021 marked 76 years since the anti-fascist front of the peoples, with the communists, resistance movements and the Soviet Union at the head, achieved victory over Nazi-Fascism in Europe. At midnight, Moscow time on May 9, 1945 Germany signed its unconditional surrender to the Allied powers in Berlin. Since then, May 9 has been celebrated in the former Soviet Union and around the world as Victory Day to honour those who fought and sacrificed their lives to contain fascism and to repeat humanity’s call of Never Again!
The March of the Immortal Regiment began in 2012 in Tomsk, Russia. Another 120 cities and towns participated the following year with rallies and parades and millions of people have taken part in subsequent years in Russia and other former Soviet republics and around the world. More than 25 million Soviet citizens were killed during the war and countless more suffered terrible injuries. Millions also took part in the resistance movements throughout Europe and Asia. Canadians hold solemn events in several cities, including Montreal, Ottawa, Toronto, Edmonton and Vancouver, to pay tribute. As many as 2,000 participants gathered in Montreal and 1,000 in Toronto in 2018, for example and another 8,000 in a series of community events in Toronto in 2017. The event also commemorated the anniversary of the Odessa Massacre, in which some 50 people were killed at the Trade Unions House in Odessa, Ukraine on May 2, 2014 by fascist criminals backed by the coup regime in Kiev.
2. The demonization of the Russian community and all those opposing the war policy of the government and NATO as “Russian agents” and “Russian disinformation” is extensive and organized by the security services and their fronts. One example is the slanderous attack by one Marcus Kolga of the Macdonald-Laurier Institute (MLI) in the Toronto Star on July 16, 2017, against the Russian Congress of Canada (RCC). In a public statement condemning the article as “a smear job disguised as journalism,” the RCC stated:
“Mr. Kolga slanders the Russian Congress of Canada by claiming that we are a proxy group for the Kremlin. He insinuates that our organization was ‘hastily concocted’ by Moscow’s agents to support foreign policies of the Russian government. He further slanders our advocacy and outreach activities as ‘parroting’ of the Russian propaganda and questions the grassroots nature of the organization. Once again, no facts are given to the reader to prop up any of these libellous accusations. The Russian Congress of Canada was formed in October 2014 as a grassroots organization that unifies and represents the interests of the entire Russian Canadian community from the former Soviet Union in a non-partisan manner. We are a public organization, solely relying on fundraising and membership dues. The Congress activities include advocacy and outreach, as well as activities of cultural, historical and social nature. It aims to preserve and popularize Russian language and Russian culture in Canada to contribute to the multicultural fabric of the Canadian society, and to improve the Canada-Russia ties….
“None of this is any different from typical activities of other diaspora organizations in Canada, including, for example, the Estonian Foundation of Canada or the Estonian-Canadian Chamber of Commerce, which Mr. Kolga heads as one of its directors.
“However, the origins of the Russian Congress of Canada are somewhat different. It was created in response to the unprecedented amount of disinformation, intolerance and Cold War stereotype thinking, channelled through the diaspora nationalist organizations and anti-Russian special interest groups to the Canadian news media and policy-makers.”
More recently, this same Kolgas has, in a report entitled Stemming the Virus on “the threat of Russian disinformation,” fired feebly at the Esprit de Corps, which describes itself as “Canada’s only independent monthly military magazine.” It covers Army, Navy, Air Force, and other defence and security issues related to the Canadian Forces. What is its crime? It allegedly “frequently echoes the anti-NATO views common on pro-Russian websites.” This publication, which actually supports NATO, published an article by Alexander Darchiev, Russian ambassador to Canada (see fn 3, below) and has taken stands against Nazi monument in Canada, the deployment of Canadian forces to Latvia and the glorification of Nazi SS divisions by current governments in Eastern Europe.
MLI is simply following the lead of the U.S. State Department and NATO. The Globe and Mail reported on February 28, 2021 that Kolga’s agency, a website called “DisinfoWatch.org,” is funded by “the U.S. State Department’s Global Engagement Center, an organization created by former U.S. president Barack Obama to counter foreign propaganda” (Steven Chase, “Canada among targets of Twitter accounts shut down for links to Kremlin and proxies,” Globe and Mail). The newspaper does not mention that it is a corporate sponsor of the NATO Association of Canada and hence by its own definition is a “proxy” for the White House. Other funding reportedly comes from the U.S. Donner Foundation, oil and mining corporations, the Charles Koch Foundation and the Atlas Network based in the United States, and the Republic of Latvia.
MLI is interfaced with the Department of National Defence, CSIS, the cartel political parties and NATO in the “national security structure” which operates in the name of preventing foreign interference in Canadian elections and opposing “fake news”. Along with lowering the level of political discourse and culture through ad hominem slander of individuals and organizations, the aim of its disinformation is to divert Canadian electors so they do not work things out for themselves and even to deny freedom of conscience and assembly. The fact that this agenda is all driven from abroad, specifically by those in charge of the U.S. war machine and its NATO political wing, the Atlantic Council, does not stop these agencies from claiming that it is to safeguard the Canadian democracy from foreign interference.
For a discussion on the significance of disinformation regarding “malicious foreign actors,” see the “Government Preparations for 2019 Federal Election”, TML Weekly Information Project, February 2, 2019 – No. 3. The series includes the articles “Mobilization of police powers cannot but deepen crisis of legitimacy,” by Anna Di Carlo; “Canada to lead G7 Rapid Response Mechanism”; and “What the ministers and others had to say on anti-foreign interference and anti-fake news plans (excerpts).” On Kolga’s personal agenda, see also Richard Sanders, “Is Esprit de Corps on trial for being on target against Nazism?,” Esprit de Corps, April 6, 2021, and Aidan Jonah, “Macdonald-Laurier Institute launches ‘anti-disinformation’ project run by senior fellow who defends Estonian Nazi collaborators,” Mint Press, April 22, 2021;
3. Stalin-Churchill correspondence reprinted in Stewart Richardson (ed.), The Secret History of World War II: Wartime Letters and Cables of Roosevelt, Stalin, and Churchill, New York: Richardson and Steirman / Novosti, 1986, pp. 6- 7, 38. They were suspended by the British until September, 1942. The tragedy of the Arctic convoys, the role of the Russian seamen, and the generous hospitality and care of the Canadian and British mariners by the Soviet Union is curiously absent from or mentioned only cursorily in most WW2 naval history books. The Battle of the Atlantic, by contrast, has been extensively documented. Stan Winer, Between the Lies: Rise of the Media-Military-Industrial Complex, London: Southern Universities Press, 2004, pp. 209-210.
4. Last year Alexander Darchiev, Russian ambassador to Canada, wrote an impassioned tribute to the seamen:
“Canada’s contribution to the war efforts of the anti-Hitler coalition was widely known and appreciated in the Soviet Union….A special praise and admiration has always been extended in Russia to the heroic Canadian sailors who braved the perilous Murmansk Run convoys to deliver weaponry and supplies in support of the USSR. These important missions from the sea ports of Saint John’s and Halifax to the Russian Arctic harbours of Murmansk and Archangelsk took a heavy toll. Eighty-five Allied merchant vessels and 16 warships were lost to heavy German attacks. One particularly ill-fated convoy – PQ17 – lost 24 out of 35 ships at a cost of 153 lives.
“Alex Polowin is one of those Canadian heroes. He joined the Navy in 1942 at the age of 17 and he currently resides in Ottawa. In 2013 Polowin was recognized for the noble service with the Russian medal which is named in honour of Admiral Fyodor Ushakov.
‘Mr. Polowin, whose name is now given to one of Ottawa’s streets, said in an interview that ‘he’s fiercely proud of his contribution’ to the war effort.”
He reminds that “Echoing other world leaders, Prime Minister Mackenzie King congratulated Joseph Stalin on May 13, 1945 with the warm message stating that Canada will never forget ‘the tenacity and the heroism of the armies and the peoples of the USSR’.”
See H.E. Alexander Darchiev, “Canada and Russia’s common legacy: Victory of Nazi Germany,” tonyseed.wordpress.com, March 11, 2020. His article was first published in Esprit de Corps.
5. When the Canadian government privatized the merchant fleet after the war, it decreed the merchant marine a civilian service. Many mariners found themselves unemployed, without the nominal benefits other uniformed veterans received: low-income loans for home and business purchases, land grants, civil service jobs, free university education or on-the-job-training.
The struggle to get the same benefits as veterans was led by the Merchant Marine Association. An early result was the unveiling of a monument on the Halifax waterfront to commemorate their contribution. It was a proud day. In 1992, after decades of pressure and lobbying, they were granted full benefits. It was a pyrrhic victory. The government refused to compensate them for what they had lost over five decades. Many potential recipients were elderly and in ill health. In 1998 three seafarers – Ossie Maclean, Ward Duke and Randolph Hope – were forced to go on a hunger strike on Parliament Hill. They aimed to shame the Canadian government, to underscore the fact that time was running out for the wrong to be set right. They said that the government was purposefully and cold-bloodedly delaying payment so that the “problem” would be solved through attrition. On February 1, 2000 George Baker, Minister of Veterans Affairs, finally announced a tax-free package payable to Merchant Marines (2,300 members) and their surviving spouses (about 7,300 individuals in total). The maximum package was a mere $20,000 for war-related service of more than 24 months. Alas, it was too late for many. For a discussion, see Robin Oakley, “Ernest Grundy, Merchant Mariner,” Shunpiking Magazine, May 2000, No 33.
6. In his own words: “My sizing up of the man as I sat and talked with him was that he is really one who truly loves his fellow-men, and his country, and would make any sacrifice for their good.” See “Mackenzie King’s infamous praise of Adolf Hitler, the Nazi program and his ‘understanding’ of Hitler’s ambitions to the East (Austria and Czechoslovakia),” W.L. Mackenzie King’s Diary, 29 June 1937, National Archives of Canada, Shunpiking Online Dossier on the 60th Anniversary of the Defeat of Fascism in Europe, May-June 2005,
7. This “battle” is now openly being waged against Russia, the new “aggressive maritime power.” At the NATO Summit held in Brussels July 11-12, 2018 it authorized the strengthening of its control structure, creating a new joint NATO command, Atlantic Command.. Its headquarters – the Norfolk Naval Station in Virginia. Admiral James Foggo III of the Sixth Fleet and Commander of US Naval Forces in Europe claims that the “Fourth Battle of the Atlantic” has already begun, after the battles of the two World Wars against German U-boats, and that of the Cold War against Soviet submarines which has now become hot. During the periods of relative detente in transatlantic-Russian relations, the US Navy dissolved its Second Fleet in 2011, reestablishing it on May 4, 2018. The Navy declared the Second Fleet operationally capable in May, 2019. For a discussion, see Tony Seed, “Research notes: The militarized Atlantic – From Norfolk and Halifax to the Irish and Baltic seas,” tonyseed.wordpress.com, September 6, 2020.
8. Lyudmila Pavlichenko, Lady Death: The Memoirs of Stalin’s Sniper, Greenhill Books, 2018 (first published by Veche Publishers in Moscow in 2015 as I – Sniper: In Battles for Sevastapol and Odessa), p. 178.
9. On her visit to the United States, see also Gilbert King, “Eleanor Roosevelt and the Soviet Sniper,” smithsonianmag.com, February 21, 2013; “Feared female Soviet snipers, Nazi killers,” Novorossio Today, tonyseed.wordpress.com, March 10, 2016; “Lieutenant Liudmila Pavlichenko to the American People,” Soviet Russia Today; volume 11, number 6 (October 1942), Marxists Internet Archive; Henry Sakaida, Heroines of the Soviet Union, 1941-45, Osprey Publishing, Ltd., 2003.
With a file from cpcml.ca
An excerpt from Mother by Maxim Gorky, 1906
From Part I, Chapter XI
At noon, calmly and in a businesslike way she put the books around her bosom, and so skillfully and snugly that Yegor announced, smacking his lips with satisfaction:
“Sehr gut! as the German says when he has drunk a keg of beer. Literature has not changed you, granny. You still remain the good, tall, portly, elderly woman. May all the numberless gods grant you their blessings on your enterprise!”
Within half an hour she stood at the factory gate, bent with the weight of her burden, calm and assured. Two guards, irritated by the oaths and raillery of the workingmen, examined all who entered the gate, handling them roughly and swearing at them. A policeman and a thin-legged man with a red face and alert eyes stood at one side. The mother, shifting the rod resting on her shoulders, with a pail suspended from either end of it, watched the man from the corner of her eye. She divined that he was a spy.
A tall, curly-headed fellow with his hat thrown back over his neck, cried to the guardsmen who searched him:
“Search the head and not the pockets, you devils!”
“There is nothing but lice on your head,” retorted one of the guardsmen.
“Catching lice is an occupation more suited to you than hunting human game!” rejoined the workman. The spy scanned him with a rapid glance.
“Will you let me in?” asked the mother. “See, I’m bent double with my heavy load. My back is almost breaking.”
“Go in! Go in!” cried the guard sullenly. “She comes with arguments, too.”
The mother walked to her place, set her pails on the ground, and wiping the perspiration from her face looked around her.
The Gusev brothers, the locksmiths, instantly came up to her, and the older of them, Vasily, asked aloud, knitting his eyebrows:
“Got any pirogs?”
“I’ll bring them to-morrow,” she answered.
This was the password agreed upon. The faces of the brothers brightened. Ivan, unable to restrain himself, exclaimed:
“Oh, you jewel of a mother!”
Vasily squatted down on his heels, looked into the pot, and a bundle of books disappeared into his bosom.
“Ivan!” he said aloud. “Let’s not go home, let’s get our dinner here from her!” And he quickly shoved the books into the legs of his boots. “We must give our new peddler a lift, don’t you think so?”
“Yes, indeed!” Ivan assented, and laughed aloud.
The mother looked carefully about her, and called out:
“Sour cabbage soup! Hot vermicelli soup! Roast meat!”
Then deftly and secretly taking out one package of books after the other, she shoved them into the hands of the brothers. Each time a bundle disappeared from her hands, the sickly, sneering face of the officer of gendarmes flashed up before her like a yellow stain, like the flame of a match in a dark room, and she said to him in her mind, with a feeling of malicious pleasure:
“Take this, sir!” And when she handed over the last package she added with an air of satisfaction: “And here is some more, take it!”
Workmen came up to her with cups in their hands, and when they were near Ivan and Vasily, they began to laugh aloud. The mother calmly suspended the transfer of the books, and poured sour soup and vermicelli soup, while the Gusevs joked her.
“How cleverly Nilovna does her work!”
“Necessity drives one even to catching mice,” remarked a stoker somberly. “They have snatched away your breadgiver, the scoundrels! Well, give us three cents’ worth of vermicelli. Never mind, mother! You’ll pull through!”
“Thanks for the good word!” she returned, smiling.
He walked off to one side and mumbled, “It doesn’t cost me much to say a good word!”
“But there’s no one to say it to!” observed a blacksmith, with a smile, and shrugging his shoulders in surprise added: “There’s a life for you, fellows! There’s no one to say a good word to; no one is worth it. Yes, sir!”
Vasily Gusev rose, wrapped his coat tightly around him, and exclaimed:
“What I ate was hot, and yet I feel cold.”
Then he walked away. Ivan also rose, and ran off whistling merrily.
Cheerful and smiling, Nilovna kept on calling her wares:
“Hot! Hot! Sour soup! Vermicelli soup! Porridge!”
She thought of how she would tell her son about her first experience; and the yellow face of the officer was still standing before her, perplexed and spiteful. His black mustache twitched uneasily, and his upper lip turned up nervously, showing the gleaming white enamel of his clenched teeth. A keen joy beat and sang in her heart like a bird, her eyebrows quivered, and continuing deftly to serve her customers she muttered to herself:
“There’s more! There’s more!”
Through the whole day she felt a sensation of delightful newness which embraced her heart as with a fondling caress. And in the evening, when she had concluded her work at Marya’s house, and was drinking tea, the splash of horses’ hoofs in the mud was heard, and the call of a familiar voice. She jumped up, hurried into the kitchen, and made straight for the door. Somebody walked quickly through the porch; her eyes grew dim, and leaning against the doorpost, she pushed the door open with her foot.
“Good evening, mother!” a familiar, melodious voice rang out, and a pair of dry, long hands were laid on her shoulders.
The joy of seeing Andrey was mingled in her bosom with the sadness of disappointment; and the two contrary feelings blended into one burning sensation which embraced her like a hot wave. She buried her face in Andrey’s bosom. He pressed her tightly to himself, his hands trembled. The mother wept quietly without speaking, while he stroked her hair, and spoke in his musical voice:
“Don’t cry, mother. Don’t wring my heart. Upon my honest word, they will let him out soon! They haven’t a thing against him; all the boys will keep quiet as cooked fish.”
Putting his long arm around the mother’s shoulders he led her into the room, and nestling up against him with the quick gesture of a squirrel, she wiped the tears from her face, while her heart greedily drank in his tender words.
“Pavel sends you his love. He is as well and cheerful as can be. It’s very crowded in the prison. They have thrown in more than a hundred of our people, both from here and from the city. Three and four persons have been put into one cell. The prison officials are rather a good set. They are exhausted with the quantity of work the gendarmes have been giving them. The prison authorities are not extremely rigorous, they don’t order you about roughly. They simply say: ‘Be quiet as you can, gentlemen. Don’t put us in an awkward position!’ So everything goes well. We talk with one another, we give books to one another, and we share our food. It’s a good prison! Old and dirty, but so soft and so light. The criminals are also nice people; they help us a good deal. Bukin, four others, and myself were released. It got too crowded. They’ll let Pavel go soon, too. I’m telling you the truth, believe me. Vyesovshchikov will be detained the longest. They are very angry at him. He scolds and swears at everybody all the time. The gendarmes can’t bear to look at him. I guess he’ll get himself into court, or receive a sound thrashing some day. Pavel tries to dissuade him. ‘Stop, Nikolay!’ he says to him. ‘Your swearing won’t reform them.’ But he bawls: ‘Wipe them off the face of the earth like a pest!’ Pavel conducts himself finely out there; he treats all alike, and is as firm as a rock! They’ll soon let him go.”
“Soon?” said the mother, relieved now and smiling. “I know he’ll be let out soon!”
“Well, if you know, it’s all right! Give me tea, mother. Tell me how you’ve been, how you’ve passed your time.”
He looked at her, smiling all over, and seemed so near to her, such a splendid fellow. A loving, somewhat melancholy gleam flashed from the depths of his round, blue eyes.
“I love you dearly, Andriusha!” the mother said, heaving a deep sigh, as she looked at his thin face grotesquely covered with tufts of hair.
“People are satisfied with little from me! I know you love me; you are capable of loving everybody; you have a great heart,” said the Little Russian, rocking in his chair, his eyes straying about the room
“No, I love you very differently!” insisted the mother. “If you had a mother, people would envy her because she had such a son.”
The Little Russian swayed his head, and rubbed it vigorously with both hands.
“I have a mother, somewhere!” he said in a low voice.
“Do you know what I did to-day?” she exclaimed, and reddening a little, her voice choking with satisfaction, she quickly recounted how she had smuggled literature into the factory.
For a moment he looked at her in amazement with his eyes wide open; then he burst out into a loud guffaw, stamped his feet, thumped his head with his fingers, and cried joyously:
“Oho! That’s no joke any more! That’s business! Won’t Pavel be glad, though! Oh, you’re a trump. That’s good, mother! You have no idea how good it is! Both for Pavel and all who were arrested with him!”
He snapped his fingers in ecstasy, whistled, and fairly doubled over, all radiant with joy. His delight evoked a vigorous response from the mother.
“My dear, my Andriusha!” she began, as if her heart had burst open, and gushed over merrily with a limpid stream of living words full of serene joy. “I’ve thought all my life, ‘Lord Christ in heaven! what did I live for?’ Beatings, work! I saw nothing except my husband. I knew nothing but fear! And how Pasha grew I did not see, and I hardly know whether I loved him when my husband was alive. All my concerns, all my thoughts were centered upon one thing – to feed my beast, to propitiate the master of my life with enough food, pleasing to his palate, and served on time, so as not to incur his displeasure, so as to escape the terrors of a beating, to get him to spare me but once! But I do not remember that he ever did spare me. He beat me so – not as a wife is beaten, but as one whom you hate and detest. Twenty years I lived like that, and what was up to the time of my marriage I do not recall. I remember certain things, but I see nothing! I am as a blind person. Yegor Ivanovich was here – we are from the same village – and he spoke about this and about that. I remember the houses, the people, but how they lived, what they spoke about, what happened to this one and what to that one – I forget, I do not see! I remember fires – two fires. It seems that everything has been beaten out of me, that my soul has been locked up and sealed tight. It’s grown blind, it does not hear!”
Her quick-drawn breath was almost a sob. She bent forward, and continued in a lowered voice: “When my husband died I turned to my son; but he went into this business, and I was seized with a pity for him, such a yearning pity – for if he should perish, how was I to live alone? What dread, what fright I have undergone! My heart was rent when I thought of his fate.
“Our woman’s love is not a pure love! We love that which we need. And here are you! You are grieving about your mother. What do you want her for? And all the others go and suffer for the people, they go to prison, to Siberia, they die for them, many are hung. Young girls walk alone at night, in the snow, in the mud, in the rain. They walk seven versts from the city to our place. Who drives them? Who pursues them? They love! You see, theirs is pure love! They believe! Yes, indeed, they believe, Andriusha! But here am I – I can’t love like that! I love my own, the near ones!”
“Yes, you can!” said the Little Russian, and turning away his face from her, he rubbed his head, face, and eyes vigorously as was his wont. “Everybody loves those who are near,” he continued. “To a large heart, what is far is also near. You, mother, are capable of a great deal. You have a large capacity of motherliness!”
“God grant it!” she said quietly. “I feel that it is good to live like that! Here are you, for instance, whom I love. Maybe I love you better than I do Pasha. He is always so silent. Here he wants to get married to Sashenka, for example, and he never told me, his mother, a thing about it.”
“That’s not true,” the Little Russian retorted abruptly. “I know it isn’t true. It’s true he loves her, and she loves him. But marry? No, they are not going to marry! She’d want to, but Pavel – he can’t! He doesn’t want to!”
“See how you are!” said the mother quietly, and she fixed her eyes sadly and musingly on the Little Russian’s face. “You see how you are! You offer up your own selves!”
“Pavel is a rare man!” the Little Russian uttered in a low voice. “He is a man of iron!”
“Now he sits in prison,” continued the mother reflectively. “It’s awful, it’s terrible! It’s not as it used to be before! Life altogether is not as it used to be, and the terror is different from the old terror. You feel a pity for everybody, and you are alarmed for everybody! And the heart is different. The soul has opened its eyes, it looks on, and is sad and glad at the same time. There’s much I do not understand, and I feel so bitter and hurt that you do not believe in the Lord God. Well, I guess I can’t help that! But I see and know that you are good people. And you have consecrated yourselves to a stern life for the sake of the people, to a life of hardship for the sake of truth. The truth you stand for, I comprehend: as long as there will be the rich, the people will get nothing, neither truth nor happiness, nothing! Indeed, that’s so, Andriusha! Here am I living among you, while all this is going on. Sometimes at night my thoughts wander off to my past. I think of my youthful strength trampled under foot, of my young heart torn and beaten, and I feel sorry for myself and embittered. But for all that I live better now, I see myself more and more, I feel myself more.”
The Little Russian arose, and trying not to scrape with his feet, began to walk carefully up and down the room, tall, lean, absorbed in thought.
“Well said!” he exclaimed in a low voice. “Very well! There was a young Jew in Kerch who wrote verses, and once he wrote:
“And the innocently slain,
Truth will raise to life again.”
“He himself was killed by the police in Kerch, but that’s not the point. He knew the truth and did a great deal to spread it among the people. So here you are one of the innocently slain. He spoke the truth!”
“There, I am talking now,” the mother continued. “I talk and do not hear myself, don’t believe my own ears! All my life I was silent, I always thought of one thing – how to live through the day apart, how to pass it without being noticed, so that nobody should touch me! And now I think about everything. Maybe I don’t understand your affairs so very well; but all are near me, I feel sorry for all, and I wish well to all. And to you, Andriusha, more than all the rest.”
He took her hand in his, pressed it tightly, and quickly turned aside. Fatigued with emotion and agitation, the mother leisurely and silently washed the cups; and her breast gently glowed with a bold feeling that warmed her heart.
Walking up and down the room the Little Russian said
“Mother, why don’t you sometimes try to befriend Vyesovshchikov and be kind to him? He is a fellow that needs it. His father sits in prison – a nasty little old man. Nikolay sometimes catches sight of him through the window and he begins to swear at him. That’s bad, you know. He is a good fellow, Nikolay is. He is fond of dogs, mice, and all sorts of animals, but he does not like people. That’s the pass to which a man can be brought.”
“His mother disappeared without a trace, his father is a thief and a drunkard,” said Nilovna pensively.
When Andrey left to go to bed, the mother, without being noticed, made the sign of the cross over him, and after about half an hour, she asked quietly, “Are you asleep, Andriusha?”
“Nothing! Good night!”
“Thank you, mother, thank you!” he answered gently.
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