Leonid Andreyev

II

Someone careless lifted the veil. With a careless whiff of a word let fly someone destroyed the bright charms and revealed the truth in its ugly nakedness. The thought had not yet crystallized in that head of his when the mouth asked, smiling:

“Why don’t you tell us, Lazarus, what was there?”

And, struck by the question, everyone fell silent. It was as if they had only just realized that for three days Lazarus was dead, and they stared curiously, waiting for an answer. But Lazarus was silent.

“Don’t you want to tell us,” the questioner was taken aback. “Is it really that dreadful there?”

And again his thought followed his words; if it went in front he would not offer the question, which, at that very moment, made his heart tense up from an intolerable fear. And everyone became anxious, and already with anguish they awaited Lazarus’ words, but he remained silent, cold, and stern, and his eyes were lowered. And now again, as if for the first time, they noticed the frightening blueness of his face and his repulsive corpulence; on the table, as if forgotten by Lazarus, lay his blue-purple hand—and all eyes were helplessly riveted to it, as if they were waiting for it to give them the answer they desired. The musicians were still playing; but now the silence had reached them too, and, like water poured over smoldering coals, it extinguished the merry sounds. The pipe fell silent; so too did the resonant drums and the bubbling gusli; and, as if a string had snapped, the zither called out in a trembling, broken note. And all was silent.

“You don’t want to?” repeated the questioner, unable to hold back his talkative tongue. All was still, and the blue-purple hand lay motionless. And now it stirred a little, and everyone sighed with relief and raised their eyes. Solemnly and dreadfully, taking them all in with a single gaze, the resurrected Lazarus was staring back at them.

This was the third day after Lazarus left the tomb. From that time on many experienced the destructive power of his gaze, but neither those who were broken by it forever, nor those who, in the very springs of life, just as mysterious as death, found the will to resist, could ever explain that dreadful thing that lay motionless inside his black pupils. Lazarus’ stare was calm and plain, having neither the wish to conceal anything nor a desire to say anything—a cold stare even, like that of someone infinitely indifferent to life. And many careless people encountered him up close and did not notice him, and afterwards with surprise and fear found out who that calm, fat man was who brushed them with the edge of his lavish, bright garments. When he stared the sun did not stop shining, the fountain did not cease burbling, and the native sky remained just as clear blue, but a human being, caught by his mysterious gaze, would at once stop sensing the sun, would at once cease hearing the fountain, and he would no longer recognize his native sky. Sometimes a man would weep bitterly; sometimes he would rip out his hair in despair and call other people for help, but what happened more often was that he would begin to die, calmly and indifferently, and he would continue dying for many years, would die before everyone’s eyes, would die colorless, listless and dull, like a tree, withering in silence atop rocky soil. And the former, those who shouted and raged, sometimes returned to life, but the latter—never.

“So you don’t want to tell us, Lazarus, what you saw there?” repeated the questioner for the third time. But by now his voice was indifferent and dim, and a dead, gray boredom peered blandly through his eyes. And that same dead boredom covered all their faces, like dust, and the guests looked at each other with dull stupefaction, and they could not understand why they gathered and why they sat at the rich table. They stopped talking. They thought with indifference that perhaps it was time to go home, but they could not overcome the viscous and lazy boredom that fatigued their muscles, and they continued to sit, all torn apart from one another like faint lights scattered across the night sky.

But the musicians were paid to play, and once again they took their instruments, and once again the sounds of studied joy and studied sadness began to flow and dance. The same familiar harmony unfolded in them, but the guests listened in bewilderment: they did not know why it was necessary and why it was good for people to pull strings, inflate their cheeks, blow into thin pipes and make strange, discordant noises.

“Oh, how badly they play!” someone said.

The musicians felt insulted and left. After them, one by one, followed the guests, for night had already arrived. And when darkness fell all around them and it was already becoming easier to breathe—suddenly, before every one of them appeared the image of Lazarus in a dread glow: the blue face of a corpse, the garments of a bridegroom, lavish and bright, and a cold stare, in the depths of which something dreadful was frozen. They stood in every corner as if turned to stone, and darkness surrounded them, and in that darkness the terrible vision burned brighter and brighter, a supernatural image of the one who for three days remained under the mysterious dominion of death. For three days he was dead: for three days the sun rose and set, and he was dead; children played, water burbled over the rocks, hot dust rose above the road—but he was dead. And now he is again among people—touching them—looking at them—looking at them!—and through the black circles of his pupils, as if through dark panes of glass, the ungraspable Beyond was staring back at them.

Chapter III →
This button toggles paragraph anchors, displayed as a pilcrow “¶” at the beginning of every paragraph. Bookmark these links in your browser to keep your place within the text.