You are here: RussianShortStories.com > Leonid Andreyev > Lazarus

Lazarus

by Leonid Andreyev

I II III IV V VI

IV

At that time there lived in Rome a celebrated sculptor by the name of
Aurelius. Out of clay, marble and bronze he created forms of gods and
men of such beauty that this beauty was proclaimed immortal. But he
himself was not satisfied, and said there was a supreme beauty that he
had never succeeded in expressing in marble or bronze. "I have not yet
gathered the radiance of the moon," he said; "I have not yet caught
the glare of the sun. There is no soul in my marble, there is no life
in my beautiful bronze." And when by moonlight he would slowly wander
along the roads, crossing the black shadows of the cypress-trees, his
white tunic flashing in the moonlight, those he met used to laugh
good-naturedly and say: "Is it moonlight that you are gathering,
Aurelius? Why did you not bring some baskets along?"

And he, too, would laugh and point to his eyes and say: "Here are the
baskets in which I gather the light of the moon and the radiance of
the sun."

And that was the truth. In his eyes shone moon and sun. But he could
not transmit the radiance to marble. Therein lay the greatest tragedy
of his life. He was a descendant of an ancient race of patricians, had
a good wife and children, and except in this one respect, lacked
nothing.

When the dark rumour about Lazarus reached him, he consulted his wife
and friends and decided to make the long voyage to Judea, in order
that he might look upon the man miraculously raised from the dead. He
felt lonely in those days and hoped on the way to renew his jaded
energies. What they told him about Lazarus did not frighten him. He
had meditated much upon death. He did not like it, nor did he like
those who tried to harmonise it with life. On this side, beautiful
life; on the other, mysterious death, he reasoned, and no better lot
could befall a man than to live—to enjoy life and the beauty of
living. And he already had conceived a desire to convince Lazarus of
the truth of this view and to return his soul to life even as his body
had been returned. This task did not appear impossible, for the
reports about Lazarus, fearsome and strange as they were, did not tell
the whole truth about him, but only carried a vague warning against
something awful.

Lazarus was getting up from a stone to follow in the path of the
setting sun, on the evening when the rich Roman, accompanied by an
armed slave, approached him, and in a ringing voice called to him:
"Lazarus!"

Lazarus saw a proud and beautiful face, made radiant by fame, and
white garments and precious jewels shining in the sunlight. The ruddy
rays of the sun lent to the head and face a likeness to dimly shining
bronze—that was what Lazarus saw. He sank back to his seat
obediently, and wearily lowered his eyes.

"It is true you are not beautiful, my poor Lazarus," said the Roman
quietly, playing with his gold chain. "You are even frightful, my poor
friend; and death was not lazy the day when you so carelessly fell
into its arms. But you are as fat as a barrel, and 'Fat people are not
bad,' as the great Csar said. I do not understand why people are so
afraid of you. You will permit me to stay with you over night? It is
already late, and I have no abode."

Nobody had ever asked Lazarus to be allowed to pass the night with
him.

"I have no bed," said he.

"I am somewhat of a warrior and can sleep sitting," replied the Roman.
"We shall make a light."

"I have no light."

"Then we will converse in the darkness like two friends. I suppose you
have some wine?"

"I have no wine."

The Roman laughed.

"Now I understand why you are so gloomy and why you do not like your
second life. No wine? Well, we shall do without. You know there are
words that go to one's head even as Falernian wine."

With a motion of his head he dismissed the slave, and they were alone.
And again the sculptor spoke, but it seemed as though the sinking sun
had penetrated into his words. They faded, pale and empty, as if
trembling on weak feet, as if slipping and falling, drunk with the
wine of anguish and despair. And black chasms appeared between the two
men—like remote hints of vast emptiness and vast darkness.

"Now I am your guest and you will not ill-treat me, Lazarus!" said the
Roman. "Hospitality is binding even upon those who have been three
days dead. Three days, I am told, you were in the grave. It must have
been cold there... and it is from there that you have brought this bad
habit of doing without light and wine. I like a light. It gets dark so
quickly here. Your eyebrows and forehead have an interesting line:
even as the ruins of castles covered with the ashes of an earthquake.
But why in such strange, ugly clothes? I have seen the bridegrooms of
your country, they wear clothes like that—such ridiculous
clothes—such awful garments... Are you a bridegroom?"

Already the sun had disappeared. A gigantic black shadow was
approaching fast from the west, as if prodigious bare feet were
rustling over the sand. And the chill breezes stole up behind.

"In the darkness you seem even bigger, Lazarus, as though you had
grown stouter in these few minutes. Do you feed on darkness,
perchance?... And I would like a light... just a small light... just a
small light. And I am cold. The nights here are so barbarously cold...
If it were not so dark, I should say you were looking at me, Lazarus.
Yes, it seems, you are looking. You are looking. You are looking at
me!... I feel it—now you are smiling."

The night had come, and a heavy blackness filled the air.

"How good it will be when the sun rises again to-morrow... You know I
am a great sculptor... so my friends call me. I create, yes, they say
I create, but for that daylight is necessary. I give life to cold
marble. I melt the ringing bronze in the fire, in a bright, hot fire.
Why did you touch me with your hand?"

"Come," said Lazarus, "you are my guest." And they went into the
house. And the shadows of the long evening fell on the earth...

The slave at last grew tired waiting for his master, and when the sun
stood high he came to the house. And he saw, directly under its
burning rays, Lazarus and his master sitting close together. They
looked straight up and were silent.

The slave wept and cried aloud: "Master, what ails you, Master!"

The same day Aurelius left for Rome. The whole way he was thoughtful
and silent, attentively examining everything, the people, the ship,
and the sea, as though endeavouring to recall something. On the sea a
great storm overtook them, and all the while Aurelius remained on deck
and gazed eagerly at the approaching and falling waves. When he
reached home his family were shocked at the terrible change in his
demeanour, but he calmed them with the words: "I have found it!"

In the dusty clothes which he had worn during the entire journey and
had not changed, he began his work, and the marble ringingly responded
to the resounding blows of the hammer. Long and eagerly he worked,
admitting no one. At last, one morning, he announced that the work was
ready, and gave instructions that all his friends, and the severe
critics and judges of art, be called together. Then he donned gorgeous
garments, shining with gold, glowing with the purple of the byssin.

"Here is what I have created," he said thoughtfully.

His friends looked, and immediately the shadow of deep sorrow covered
their faces. It was a thing monstrous, possessing none of the forms
familiar to the eye, yet not devoid of a hint of some new unknown
form. On a thin tortuous little branch, or rather an ugly likeness of
one, lay crooked, strange, unsightly, shapeless heaps of something
turned outside in, or something turned inside out—wild fragments
which seemed to be feebly trying to get away from themselves. And,
accidentally, under one of the wild projections, they noticed a
wonderfully sculptured butterfly, with transparent wings, trembling as
though with a weak longing to fly.

"Why that wonderful butterfly, Aurelius?" timidly asked some one.

"I do not know," answered the sculptor.

The truth had to be told, and one of his friends, the one who loved
Aurelius best, said: "This is ugly, my poor friend. It must be
destroyed. Give me the hammer." And with two blows he destroyed the
monstrous mass, leaving only the wonderfully sculptured butterfly.

After that Aurelius created nothing. He looked with absolute
indifference at marble and at bronze and at his own divine creations,
in which dwelt immortal beauty. In the hope of breathing into him once
again the old flame of inspiration, with the idea of awakening his
dead soul, his friends led him to see the beautiful creations of
others, but he remained indifferent and no smile warmed his closed
lips. And only after they spoke to him much and long of beauty, he
would reply wearily:

"But all this is—a lie."

And in the daytime, when the sun was shining, he would go into his
rich and beautifully laid-out garden, and finding a place where there
was no shadow, would expose his bare head and his dull eyes to the
glitter and burning heat of the sun. Red and white butterflies
fluttered around; down into the marble cistern ran splashing water
from the crooked mouth of a blissfully drunken Satyr; but he sat
motionless, like a pale shadow of that other one who, in a far land,
at the very gates of the stony desert, also sat motionless under the
fiery sun.

» Next page

© 2005-2006 Waverley Internet Design