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Lazarus

by Leonid Andreyev

I II III IV V VI

III

No one took care of Lazarus, and no friends or kindred remained with
him. Only the great desert, enfolding the Holy City, came close to the
threshold of his abode. It entered his home, and lay down on his couch
like a spouse, and put out all the fires. No one cared for Lazarus.
One after the other went away, even his sisters, Mary and Martha. For
a long while Martha did not want to leave him, for she knew not who
would nurse him or take care of him; and she cried and prayed. But one
night, when the wind was roaming about the desert, and the rustling
cypress trees were bending over the roof, she dressed herself quietly,
and quietly went away. Lazarus probably heard how the door was
slammed—it had not shut properly and the wind kept knocking it
continually against the post—but he did not rise, did not go out, did
not try to find out the reason. And the whole night until the morning
the cypress trees hissed over his head, and the door swung to and fro,
allowing the cold, greedily prowling desert to enter his dwelling.
Everybody shunned him as though he were a leper. They wanted to put a
bell on his neck to avoid meeting him. But some one, turning pale,
remarked it would be terrible if at night, under the windows, one
should happen to hear Lazarus' bell, and all grew pale and assented.

Since he did nothing for himself, he would probably have starved had
not his neighbours, in trepidation, saved some food for him. Children
brought it to him. They did not fear him, neither did they laugh at
him in the innocent cruelty in which children often laugh at
unfortunates. They were indifferent to him, and Lazarus showed the
same indifference to them. He showed no desire to thank them for their
services; he did not try to pat the dark hands and look into the
simple shining little eyes. Abandoned to the ravages of time and the
desert, his house was falling to ruins, and his hungry, bleating goats
had long been scattered among his neighbours. His wedding garments had
grown old. He wore them without changing them, as he had donned them
on that happy day when the musicians played. He did not see the
difference between old and new, between torn and whole. The brilliant
colours were burnt and faded; the vicious dogs of the city and the
sharp thorns of the desert had rent the fine clothes to shreds.

During the day, when the sun beat down mercilessly upon all living
things, and even the scorpions hid under the stones, convulsed with a
mad desire to sting, he sat motionless in the burning rays, lifting
high his blue face and shaggy wild beard.

While yet the people were unafraid to speak to him, same one had asked
him: "Poor Lazarus! Do you find it pleasant to sit so, and look at the
sun?" And he answered: "Yes, it is pleasant."

The thought suggested itself to people that the cold of the three days
in the grave had been so intense, its darkness so deep, that there was
not in all the earth enough heat or light to warm Lazarus and lighten
the gloom of his eyes; and inquirers turned away with a sigh.

And when the setting sun, flat and purple-red, descended to earth,
Lazarus went into the desert and walked straight toward it, as though
intending to reach it. Always he walked directly toward the sun, and
those who tried to follow him and find out what he did at night in the
desert had indelibly imprinted upon their mind's vision the black
silhouette of a tall, stout man against the red background of an
immense disk. The horrors of the night drove them away, and so they
never found out what Lazarus did in the desert; but the image of the
black form against the red was burned forever into their brains. Like
an animal with a cinder in its eye which furiously rubs its muzzle
against its paws, they foolishly rubbed their eyes; but the impression
left by Lazarus was ineffaceable, forgotten only in death.

There were people living far away who never saw Lazarus and only heard
of him. With an audacious curiosity which is stronger than fear and
feeds on fear, with a secret sneer in their hearts, some of them came
to him one day as he basked in the sun, and entered into conversation
with him. At that time his appearance had changed for the better and
was not so frightful. At first the visitors snapped their fingers and
thought disapprovingly of the foolish inhabitants of the Holy City.
But when the short talk came to an end and they went home, their
expression was such that the inhabitants of the Holy City at once knew
their errand and said: "Here go some more madmen at whom Lazarus has
looked." The speakers raised their hands in silent pity.

Other visitors came, among them brave warriors in clinking armour, who
knew not fear, and happy youths who made merry with laughter and song.
Busy merchants, jingling their coins, ran in for awhile, and proud
attendants at the Temple placed their staffs at Lazarus' door. But no
one returned the same as he came. A frightful shadow fell upon their
souls, and gave a new appearance to the old familiar world.

Those who felt any desire to speak, after they had been stricken by
the gaze of Lazarus, described the change that had come over them
somewhat like this:

All objects seen by the eye and palpable to the hand became empty,
light and transparent, as though they were light shadows in the
darkness; and this darkness enveloped the whole universe. It was
dispelled neither by the sun, nor by the moon, nor by the stars, but
embraced the earth like a mother, and clothed it in a boundless black
veil.

Into all bodies it penetrated, even into iron and stone; and the
particles of the body lost their unity and became lonely. Even to the
heart of the particles it penetrated, and the particles of the
particles became lonely.

The vast emptiness which surrounds the universe, was not filled with
things seen, with sun or moon or stars; it stretched boundless,
penetrating everywhere, disuniting everything, body from body,
particle from particle.

In emptiness the trees spread their roots, themselves empty; in
emptiness rose phantom temples, palaces and houses—all empty; and in
the emptiness moved restless Man, himself empty and light, like a
shadow.

There was no more a sense of time; the beginning of all things and
their end merged into one. In the very moment when a building was
being erected and one could hear the builders striking with their
hammers, one seemed already to see its ruins, and then emptiness where
the ruins were.

A man was just born, and funeral candles were already lighted at his
head, and then were extinguished; and soon there was emptiness where
before had been the man and the candles.

And surrounded by Darkness and Empty Waste, Man trembled hopelessly
before the dread of the Infinite.

So spoke those who had a desire to speak. But much more could probably
have been told by those who did not want to talk, and who died in
silence.

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