Leonid Andreyev

V

And now Lazarus was summoned by the great, divine Augustus himself.

They dressed Lazarus in lavish, ceremonial wedding garments—as if time has ratified them and until his very death he was to remain the groom of an unknown bride. It looked like an old, rotting coffin, already beginning to fall apart, was gilded anew and decorated with fresh, merry tassels. And they carried him in a ceremonious fashion, all dressed up and bright, as if it really was a wedding procession, and those at the head loudly sounded their pipes so that the people would clear the road for the emperor’s envoys. But the paths Lazarus took were deserted: the whole of his native country already cursed the hated name of the miraculously resurrected, and the people scattered from the first word of his dread approach. The copper pipes sounded alone, and only the desert replied with its lingering echo.

Then he was carried by sea. And this was the most decorated and most unhappy ship that was ever reflected in the azure waves of the Mediterranean Sea. There were many people on it but it was quiet and mute, like a tomb, and it was as if the hopeless water, skirting around the beautifully curved bow, was itself weeping. Lazarus sat there alone, offering the sun his uncovered head, and silently listened to the murmur of the streams, and, some distance away, the sailors and envoys feebly sat and lay like a hazy crowd of mournful shadows. If at this moment thunder struck and wind tore their sails, it is likely that the ship would perish since no one on board had either the strength or the will to fight for his life. With the last of their strength some approached the side of the ship and peered greedily into the deep, translucent abyss: would not a pink shoulder of a naiad flash in the waves, would not a merry, mad centaur rush past, hooves splashing? But the sea was empty, and the marine abyss was mute and deserted.

With indifference Lazarus stepped onto the streets of the Eternal City. It was as if all its riches, all the greatness of its buildings, erected by giants, all the glitter and beauty and music of refined life were but a wind’s echo in a desert, were but a glimmer of shifting sands. Chariots raced, crowds of strong, beautiful, haughty men moved about, builders of the Eternal City and the participants of its life; songs played—fountains and women laughed with their pearly laughter—the drunks philosophized—the sober listened to them with a smile—and hooves pounded, hooves pounded the cobblestones. And, surrounded from all sides by merry noise, in a cold patch of silence moved a fat, heavy man, sowing wrath, sorrow, and murky, draining melancholy in his path. “Who dares be sad in Rome?” the citizens frowned indignantly, and already two days later the whole of the chattering Rome knew about the miraculously resurrected and fearfully avoided him.

But there were also many brave people here who wished to try their strength, and Lazarus obediently answered their thoughtless calls. Busy with affairs of the state, the emperor delayed his reception, and for seven whole days the miraculously resurrected called on people.

Now Lazarus visited a jolly drunk, and the drunk greeted him with the laughter of his red lips.

“Drink, Lazarus, drink!” he shouted. “Oh how Augustus will laugh when he sees you drunk!”

And the naked drunk women laughed, and rose petals fell upon Lazarus’ blue hands. But the drunk looked into his eyes—and his joy was forever ended. He remained drunk for the rest of his life; he no longer drank anything, but he remained drunk—but, instead of the happy reveries furnished by wine, terrible dreams overshadowed his unfortunate head. Terrible dreams became the only nourishment for his afflicted soul. Day and night terrible dreams held him in a daze of their monstrous creations, and death itself was no more frightening than the manifestations of its harbingers.

Now Lazarus visited a young man and a girl who loved each other and were beautiful in their love. The young man, hugging his beloved proudly and firmly, spoke with a soft compassion:

“Look at us, Lazarus, and be happy with us. Is there anything more powerful than love?”

And Lazarus looked at them. And for the rest of their lives they continued to love each other, but their love became gloomy and melancholy, like those cypress trees that grow atop graves, nourishing their roots with decaying coffins, in vain seeking the sky with the points of their black peaks in the quiet evening hour. With the mysterious force of life they threw themselves into each other’s grasp, mixing kisses with tears, pleasure with pain, and twice felt themselves slaves: as obedient slaves to the necessities of life, and as compliant servants of the silent Nothingness. Forever coming together, forever drawing apart, they flashed, like sparks, and, like sparks, were extinguished in the boundless darkness.

Now Lazarus visited a proud sage, and the sage said to him:

“I already know of all the terrible things you can tell me Lazarus. What else can you frighten me with?”

Only a little time had passed, but already the sage could feel that the knowledge of what is terrible is not the terrible thing itself, and that the vision of death is not death itself. And he felt that wisdom and folly are equal before the face of the Infinite, for the Infinite knows them not. And the boundary between knowledge and ignorance, between truth and falsehood, between top and bottom, has disappeared, and his formless thoughts were left hanging in emptiness. He then gripped his gray head and cried deliriously:

“I cannot think! I cannot think!”

Thus everything which affirms life, its meaning and its joys, died under the indifferent gaze of the miraculously resurrected. And people started saying that it would be dangerous to let him see the emperor, that it would be better to kill him and, having buried him in secret, say that he fled no one knows where. Swords were already being sharpened and selfless young men, dedicated to the common good, were preparing themselves for the assassination, when Augustus ordered that Lazarus was to come see him next morning, thus upsetting their cruel plans.

If they could not eliminate Lazarus then they wanted to at least soften a little that heavy impression produced by his face. And with this aim they gathered skilled painters, barbers, and artists, and they spent the whole of the night laboring over Lazarus’ head. They trimmed his beard, curled it and gave it an attractive appearance. The deathly blue hue of his hands and face was unpleasant, and so they removed it with paint: whitened his hands and rosied his cheeks. The wrinkles of misery that plowed across his old face were repulsive, so they were covered up, painted over, completely smoothed out, and with a fine brush over the clean background they traced out the wrinkles of good-natured laughter and pleasant, amicable mirth.

Indifferently Lazarus submitted to all that they did to him and soon he turned into a naturally fat, handsome old man, a calm and good-natured grandfather of numerous grandchildren. The smile, with which he told funny tales, had not yet left his lips, the quiet softness of an old man still lingered in the corner of his eyes—thus he appeared. But they did not dare remove his wedding garments, and they could not change his eyes—dark and terrible panes of glass through which the ungraspable Beyond gazed upon men.

Chapter VI →
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