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

Lazarus

by Leonid Andreyev

I II III IV V VI

V

And it came about finally that Lazarus was summoned to Rome by the
great Augustus.

They dressed him in gorgeous garments as though it had been ordained
that he was to remain a bridegroom to an unknown bride until the very
day of his death. It was as if an old coffin, rotten and falling
apart, were regilded over and over, and gay tassels were hung on it.
And solemnly they conducted him in gala attire, as though in truth it
were a bridal procession, the runners loudly sounding the trumpet that
the way be made for the ambassadors of the Emperor. But the roads
along which he passed were deserted. His entire native land cursed the
execrable name of Lazarus, the man miraculously brought to life, and
the people scattered at the mere report of his horrible approach. The
trumpeters blew lonely blasts, and only the desert answered with a
dying echo.

Then they carried him across the sea on the saddest and most gorgeous
ship that was ever mirrored in the azure waves of the Mediterranean.
There were many people aboard, but the ship was silent and still as a
coffin, and the water seemed to moan as it parted before the short
curved prow. Lazarus sat lonely, baring his head to the sun, and
listening in silence to the splashing of the waters. Further away the
seamen and the ambassadors gathered like a crowd of distressed
shadows. If a thunderstorm had happened to burst upon them at that
time or the wind had overwhelmed the red sails, the ship would
probably have perished, for none of those who were on her had strength
or desire enough to fight for life. With supreme effort some went to
the side of the ship and eagerly gazed at the blue, transparent abyss.
Perhaps they imagined they saw a naiad flashing a pink shoulder
through the waves, or an insanely joyous and drunken centaur galloping
by, splashing up the water with his hoofs. But the sea was deserted
and mute, and so was the watery abyss.

Listlessly Lazarus set foot on the streets of the Eternal City, as
though all its riches, all the majesty of its gigantic edifices, all
the lustre and beauty and music of refined life, were simply the echo
of the wind in the desert, or the misty images of hot running sand.
Chariots whirled by; the crowd of strong, beautiful, haughty men
passed on, builders of the Eternal City and proud partakers of its
life; songs rang out; fountains laughed; pearly laughter of women
filled the air, while the drunkard philosophised and the sober ones
smilingly listened; horseshoes rattled on the pavement. And surrounded
on all sides by glad sounds, a fat, heavy man moved through the centre
of the city like a cold spot of silence, sowing in his path grief,
anger and vague, carking distress. Who dared to be sad in Rome?
indignantly demanded frowning citizens; and in two days the
swift-tongued Rome knew of Lazarus, the man miraculously raised from
the grave, and timidly evaded him.

There were many brave men ready to try their strength, and at their
senseless call Lazarus came obediently. The Emperor was so engrossed
with state affairs that he delayed receiving the visitor, and for
seven days Lazarus moved among the people.

A jovial drunkard met him with a smile on his red lips. "Drink,
Lazarus, drink!" he cried, "Would not Augustus laugh to see you
drink!" And naked, besotted women laughed, and decked the blue hands
of Lazarus with rose-leaves. But the drunkard looked into the eyes of
Lazarus—and his joy ended forever. Thereafter he was always drunk. He
drank no more, but was drunk all the time, shadowed by fearful dreams,
instead of the joyous reveries that wine gives. Fearful dreams became
the food of his broken spirit. Fearful dreams held him day and night
in the mists of monstrous fantasy, and death itself was no more
fearful than the apparition of its fierce precursor.

Lazarus came to a youth and his lass who loved each other and were
beautiful in their love. Proudly and strongly holding in his arms his
beloved one, the youth said, with gentle pity: "Look at us, Lazarus,
and rejoice with us. Is there anything stronger than love?"

And Lazarus looked at them. And their whole life they continued to
love one another, but their love became mournful and gloomy, even as
those cypress trees over the tombs that feed their roots on the
putrescence of the grave, and strive in vain in the quiet evening hour
to touch the sky with their pointed tops. Hurled by fathomless
life-forces into each other's arms, they mingled their kisses with
tears, their joy with pain, and only succeeded in realising the more
vividly a sense of their slavery to the silent Nothing. Forever
united, forever parted, they flashed like sparks, and like sparks went
out in boundless darkness.

Lazarus came to a proud sage, and the sage said to him: "I already
know all the horrors that you may tell me, Lazarus. With what else can
you terrify me?"

Only a few moments passed before the sage realised that the knowledge
of the horrible is not the horrible, and that the sight of death is
not death. And he felt that in the eyes of the Infinite wisdom and
folly are the same, for the Infinite knows them not. And the
boundaries between knowledge and ignorance, between truth and
falsehood, between top and bottom, faded and his shapeless thought was
suspended in emptiness. Then he grasped his grey head in his hands and
cried out insanely: "I cannot think! I cannot think!"

Thus it was that under the cool gaze of Lazarus, the man miraculously
raised from the dead, all that serves to affirm life, its sense and
its joys, perished. And people began to say it was dangerous to allow
him to see the Emperor; that it were better to kill him and bury him
secretly, and swear he had disappeared. Swords were sharpened and
youths devoted to the welfare of the people announced their readiness
to become assassins, when Augustus upset the cruel plans by demanding
that Lazarus appear before him.

Even though Lazarus could not be kept away, it was felt that the heavy
impression conveyed by his face might be somewhat softened. With that
end in view expert painters, barbers and artists were secured who
worked the whole night on Lazarus' head. His beard was trimmed and
curled. The disagreeable and deadly bluishness of his hands and face
was covered up with paint; his hands were whitened, his cheeks rouged.
The disgusting wrinkles of suffering that ridged his old face were
patched up and painted, and on the smooth surface, wrinkles of
good-nature and laughter, and of pleasant, good-humoured cheeriness,
were laid on artistically with fine brushes.

Lazarus submitted indifferently to all they did with him, and soon was
transformed into a stout, nice-looking old man, for all the world a
quiet and good-humoured grandfather of numerous grandchildren. He
looked as though the smile with which he told funny stories had not
left his lips, as though a quiet tenderness still lay hidden in the
corner of his eyes. But the wedding-dress they did not dare to take
off; and they could not change his eyes—the dark, terrible eyes from
out of which stared the incomprehensible There.

» Next page

© 2005-2006 Waverley Internet Design