THE CRUSHED FLOWER AND OTHER STORIES
THE CRUSHED FLOWER AND OTHER STORIES
Translated by Herman Bernstein
The Crushed Flower
A Story Which Will Never Be Finished
On the Day of the Crucifixion
The Serpent's Story
Love Faith and Hope
Judas Iscariot and Others
"The Man Who Found the Truth"
THE CRUSHED FLOWER
His name was Yura.
He was six years old and the world was to him enormous alive and
bewitchingly mysterious. He knew the sky quite well. He knew its
deep azure by day and the white-breasted half silvery half golden
clouds slowly floating by. He often watched them as he lay on his
back upon the grass or upon the roof. But he did not know the stars
so well for he went to bed early. He knew well and remembered only
one star--the green bright and very attentive star that rises in the
pale sky just before you go to bed and that seemed to be the only
star so large in the whole sky.
But best of all he knew the earth in the yard in the street and in
the garden with all its inexhaustible wealth of stones of velvety
grass of hot sand and of that wonderfully varied mysterious and
delightful dust which grown people did not notice at all from the
height of their enormous size. And in falling asleep as the last
bright image of the passing day he took along to his dreams a bit of
hot rubbed off stone bathed in sunshine or a thick layer of tenderly
tickling burning dust.
When he went with his mother to the centre of the city along the
large streets he remembered best of all upon his return the wide
flat stones upon which his steps and his feet seemed terribly small
like two little boats. And even the multitude of revolving wheels
and horses' heads did not impress themselves so clearly upon his
memory as this new and unusually interesting appearance of the ground.
Everything was enormous to him--the fences the dogs and the people--
but that did not at all surprise or frighten him; that only made
everything particularly interesting; that transformed life into an
uninterrupted miracle. According to his measures various objects
seemed to him as follows:
His father--ten yards tall.
His mother--three yards.
The neighbour's angry dog--thirty yards.
Their own dog--ten yards like papa.
Their house of one story was very very tall--a mile.
The distance between one side of the street and the other--two miles.
Their garden and the trees in their garden seemed immense
The city--a million--just how much he did not know.
And everything else appeared to him in the same way. He knew many
people large and small but he knew and appreciated better the
little ones with whom he could speak of everything. The grown people
behaved so foolishly and asked such absurd dull questions about
things that everybody knew that it was necessary for him also to
make believe that he was foolish. He had to lisp and give
nonsensical answers; and of course he felt like running away from
them as soon as possible. But there were over him and around him and
within him two entirely extraordinary persons at once big and small
wise and foolish at once his own and strangers--his father and mother.
They must have been very good people otherwise they could not have
been his father and mother; at any rate they were charming and
unlike other people. He could say with certainty that his father was
very great terribly wise that he possessed immense power which
made him a person to be feared somewhat and it was interesting to
talk with him about unusual things placing his hand in father's
large strong warm hand for safety's sake.
Mamma was not so large and sometimes she was even very small; she
was very kind hearted she kissed tenderly; she understood very well
how he felt when he had a pain in his little stomach and only with
her could he relieve his heart when he grew tired of life of his
games or when he was the victim of some cruel injustice. And if it
was unpleasant to cry in father's presence and even dangerous to be
capricious his tears had an unusually pleasant taste in mother's
presence and filled his soul with a peculiar serene sadness which he
could find neither in his games nor in laughter nor even in the
reading of the most terrible fairy tales.
It should be added that mamma was a beautiful woman and that
everybody was in love with her. That was good for he felt proud of
it but that was also bad--for he feared that she might be taken
away. And every time one of the men one of those enormous
invariably inimical men who were busy with themselves looked at
mamma fixedly for a long time Yura felt bored and uneasy. He felt
like stationing himself between him and mamma and no matter where he
went to attend to his own affairs something was drawing him back.
Sometimes mamma would utter a bad terrifying phrase:
"Why are you forever staying around here? Go and play in your own
There was nothing left for him to do but to go away. He would take
a book along or he would sit down to draw but that did not always
help him. Sometimes mamma would praise him for reading but sometimes
she would say again:
"You had better go to your own room Yurochka. You see you've
spilt water on the tablecloth again; you always do some mischief with
And then she would reproach him for being perverse. But he felt
worst of all when a dangerous and suspicious guest would come when
Yura had to go to bed. But when he lay down in his bed a sense of
easiness came over him and he felt as though all was ended; the
lights went out life stopped; everything slept.
In all such cases with suspicious men Yura felt vaguely but very
strongly that he was replacing father in some way. And that made him
somewhat like a grown man--he was in a bad frame of mind like a
grown person but therefore he was unusually calculating wise and
serious. Of course he said nothing about this to any one for no
one would understand him; but by the manner in which he caressed
father when he arrived and sat down on his knees patronisingly one
could see in the boy a man who fulfilled his duty to the end. At
times father could not understand him and would simply send him away
to play or to sleep--Yura never felt offended and went away with a
feeling of great satisfaction. He did not feel the need of being
understood; he even feared it. At times he would not tell under any
circumstances why he was crying; at times he would make believe that
he was absent minded that he heard nothing that he was occupied
with his own affairs but he heard and understood.
And he had a terrible secret. He had noticed that these
extraordinary and charming people father and mother were sometimes
unhappy and were hiding this from everybody. Therefore he was also
concealing his discovery and gave everybody the impression that all
was well. Many times he found mamma crying somewhere in a corner in
the drawing room or in the bedroom--his own room was next to her
bedroom--and one night very late almost at dawn he heard the
terribly loud and angry voice of father and the weeping voice of
mother. He lay a long time holding his breath but then he was so
terrified by that unusual conversation in the middle of the night
that he could not restrain himself and he asked his nurse in a soft
"What are they saying?"
And the nurse answered quickly in a whisper:
"Sleep sleep. They are not saying anything."
"I am coming over to your bed."
"Aren't you ashamed of yourself? Such a big boy!"
"I am coming over to your bed."
Thus terribly afraid lest they should be heard they spoke in
whispers and argued in the dark; and the end was that Yura moved over
to nurse's bed upon her rough but cosy and warm blanket.
In the morning papa and mamma were very cheerful and Yura pretended
that he believed them and it seemed that he really did believe them.
But that same evening and perhaps it was another evening he noticed
his father crying. It happened in the following way: He was passing
his father's study and the door was half open; he heard a noise and
he looked in quietly--father lay face downward upon his couch and
cried aloud. There was no one else in the room. Yura went away
turned about in his room and came back--the door was still half open
no one but father was in the room and he was still sobbing. If he
cried quietly Yura could understand it but he sobbed loudly he
moaned in a heavy voice and his teeth were gnashing terribly. He lay
there covering the entire couch hiding his head under his broad
shoulders sniffing heavily--and that was beyond his understanding.
And on the table on the large table covered with pencils papers and
a wealth of other things stood the lamp burning with a red flame
and smoking--a flat greyish black strip of smoke was coming out and
bending in all directions.
Suddenly father heaved a loud sigh and stirred. Yura walked away
quietly. And then all was the same as ever. No one would have
learned of this; but the image of the enormous mysterious and
charming man who was his father and who was crying remained in Yura's
memory as something dreadful and extremely serious. And if there
were things of which he did not feel like speaking it was absolutely
necessary to say nothing of this as though it were something sacred
and terrible and in that silence he must love father all the more.
But he must love so that father should not notice it and he must
give the impression that it is very jolly to live on earth.
And Yura succeeded in accomplishing all this. Father did not notice
that he loved him in a special manner; and it was really jolly to
live on earth so there was no need for him to make believe. The
threads of his soul stretched themselves to all--to the sun to the
knife and the cane he was peeling; to the beautiful and enigmatic
distance which he saw from the top of the iron roof; and it was hard
for him to separate himself from all that was not himself. When the
grass had a strong and fragrant odour it seemed to him that it was he
who had such a fragrant odour and when he lay down in his bed
however strange it may seem together with him in his little bed lay
down the enormous yard the street the slant threads of the rain and
the muddy pools and the whole enormous live fascinating
mysterious world. Thus all fell asleep with him and thus all
awakened with him and together with him they all opened their eyes.
And there was one striking fact worthy of the profoundest reflection
--if he placed a stick somewhere in the garden in the evening it was
there also in the morning; and the knuckle-bones which he hid in a
box in the barn remained there although it was dark and he went to
his room for the night. Because of this he felt a natural need for
hiding under his pillow all that was most valuable to him. Since
things stood or lay there alone they might also disappear of their
accord he reasoned. And in general it was so wonderful and pleasant
that the nurse and the house and the sun existed not only yesterday
but every day; he felt like laughing and singing aloud when he awoke.
When people asked him what his name was he answered promptly:
But some people were not satisfied with this alone and they wanted
to know his full name--and then he replied with a certain effort:
And after a moment's thought he added:
"Yura Mikhailovich Pushkarev."
An unusual day arrived. It was mother's birthday. Guests were
expected in the evening; military music was to play and in the
garden and upon the terrace parti-coloured lanterns were to burn and
Yura need not go to bed at 9 o'clock but could stay up as late as he
Yura got up when all were still sleeping. He dressed himself and
jumped out quickly with the expectation of miracles. But he was
unpleasantly surprised--the rooms were in the same disorder as usual
in the morning; the cook and the chambermaid were still sleeping and
the door was closed with a hook--it was hard to believe that the
people would stir and commence to run about and that the rooms would
assume a holiday appearance and he feared for the fate of the
festival. It was still worse in the garden. The paths were not
swept and there was not a single lantern there. He grew very uneasy.
Fortunately Yevmen the coachman was washing the carriage behind
the barn in the back yard and though he had done this frequently
before and though there was nothing unusual about his appearance
Yura clearly felt something of the holiday in the decisive way in
which the coachman splashed the water from the bucket with his sinewy
arms on which the sleeves of his red blouse were rolled up to his
elbows. Yevmen only glanced askance at Yura and suddenly Yura seemed
to have noticed for the first time his broad black wavy beard and
thought respectfully that Yevmen was a very worthy man. He said:
"Good morning Yevmen."
Then all moved very rapidly. Suddenly the janitor appeared and
started to sweep the paths suddenly the window in the kitchen was
thrown open and women's voices were heard chattering; suddenly the
chambermaid rushed out with a little rug and started to beat it with
a stick as though it were a dog. All commenced to stir; and the
events starting simultaneously in different places rushed with such
mad swiftness that it was impossible to catch up with them. While
the nurse was giving Yura his tea people were beginning to hang up
the wires for the lanterns in the garden and while the wires were
being stretched in the garden the furniture was rearranged
completely in the drawing room and while the furniture was
rearranged in the drawing room Yevmen the coachman harnessed the
horse and drove out of the yard with a certain special mysterious
Yura succeeded in concentrating himself for some time with the
greatest difficulty. Together with father he was hanging up the
lanterns. And father was charming; he laughed jested put Yura on
the ladder; he himself climbed the thin creaking rungs of the
ladder and finally both fell down together with the ladder upon the
grass but they were not hurt. Yura jumped up while father remained
lying on the grass hands thrown back under his head looking with
half-closed eyes at the shining infinite azure of the sky. Thus
lying on the grass with a serious expression on his face apparently
not in the mood for play father looked very much like Gulliver
longing for his land of giants. Yura recalled something unpleasant;
but to cheer his father up he sat down astride upon his knees and said:
"Do you remember father when I was a little boy I used to sit down
on your knees and you used to shake me like a horse?"
But before he had time to finish he lay with his nose on the grass;
he was lifted in the air and thrown down with force--father had
thrown him high up with his knees according to his old habit. Yura
felt offended; but father entirely ignoring his anger began to
tickle him under his armpits so that Yura had to laugh against his
will; and then father picked him up like a little pig by the legs and
carried him to the terrace. And mamma was frightened.
"What are you doing? The blood will rush to his head!"
After which Yura found himself standing on his legs red faced
dishevelled feeling very miserable and terribly happy at the same
The day was rushing fast like a cat that is chased by a dog. Like
forerunners of the coming great festival certain messengers appeared
with notes wonderfully tasty cakes were brought the dressmaker came
and locked herself in with mamma in the bedroom; then two gentlemen
arrived then another gentleman then a lady--evidently the entire
city was in a state of agitation. Yura examined the messengers as
though they were strange people from another world and walked before
them with an air of importance as the son of the lady whose birthday
was to be celebrated; he met the gentlemen he escorted the cakes
and toward midday he was so exhausted that he suddenly started to
despise life. He quarrelled with the nurse and lay down in his bed
face downward in order to have his revenge on her; but he fell asleep
immediately. He awoke with the same feeling of hatred for life and a
desire for revenge but after having looked at things with his eyes
which he washed with cold water he felt that both the world and life
were so fascinating that they were even funny.
When they dressed Yura in a red silk rustling blouse and he thus
clearly became part of the festival and he found on the terrace a
long snow white table glittering with glass dishes he again
commenced to spin about in the whirlpool of the onrushing events.
"The musicians have arrived! The musicians have arrived!" he cried
looking for father or mother or for any one who would treat the
arrival of the musicians with proper seriousness. Father and mother
were sitting in the garden--in the arbour which was thickly
surrounded with wild grapes--maintaining silence; the beautiful head
of mother lay on father's shoulder; although father embraced her he
seemed very serious and he showed no enthusiasm when he was told of
the arrival of the musicians. Both treated their arrival with
inexplicable indifference which called forth a feeling of sadness in
Yura. But mamma stirred and said:
"Let me go. I must go."
"Remember" said father referring to something Yura did not
understand but which resounded in his heart with a light gnawing
"Stop. Aren't you ashamed?" mother laughed and this laughter made
Yura feel still more alarmed especially since father did not laugh
but maintained the same serious and mournful appearance of Gulliver
pining for his native land....
But soon all this was forgotten for the wonderful festival had
begun in all its glory mystery and grandeur. The guests came fast
and there was no longer any place at the white table which had been
deserted but a while before. Voices resounded and laughter and
merry jests and the music began to play. And on the deserted paths
of the garden where but a while ago Yura had wandered alone
imagining himself a prince in quest of the sleeping princess now
appeared people with cigarettes and with loud free speech. Yura met
the first guests at the front entrance; he looked at each one
carefully and he made the acquaintance and even the friendship of
some of them on the way from the corridor to the table.
Thus he managed to become friendly with the officer whose name was
Mitenka--a grown man whose name was Mitenka--he said so himself.
Mitenka had a heavy leather sword which was as cold as a snake
which could not be taken out--but Mitenka lied; the sword was only
fastened at the handle with a silver cord but it could be taken out
very nicely; and Yura felt vexed because the stupid Mitenka instead
of carrying his sword as he always did placed it in a corner in the
hallway as a cane. But even in the corner the sword stood out alone--
one could see at once that it was a sword. Another thing that
displeased Yura was that another officer came with Mitenka an
officer whom Yura knew and whose name was also Yura Mikhailovich.
Yura thought that the officer must have been named so for fun. That
wrong Yura Mikhailovich had visited them several times; he even came
once on horseback; but most of the time he came just before little
Yura had to go to bed. And little Yura went to bed while the unreal
Yura Mikhailovich remained with mamma and that caused him to feel
alarmed and sad; he was afraid that mamma might be deceived. He paid
no attention to the real Yura Mikhailovich: and now walking beside
Mitenka he did not seem to realise his guilt; he adjusted his
moustaches and maintained silence. He kissed mamma's hand and that
seemed repulsive to little Yura; but the stupid Mitenka also kissed
mamma's hand and thereby set everything aright.
But soon the guests arrived in such numbers and there was such a
variety of them as if they had fallen straight from the sky. And
some of them seemed to have fallen near the table while others
seemed to have fallen into the garden. Suddenly several students and
ladies appeared in the path. The ladies were ordinary but the
students had holes cut at the left side of their white coats--for
their swords. But they did not bring their swords along no doubt
because of their pride--they were all very proud. And the ladies
rushed over to Yura and began to kiss him. Then the most beautiful
of the ladies whose name was Ninochka took Yura to the swing and
swung him until she threw him down. He hurt his left leg near the
knee very painfully and even stained his little white pants in that
spot but of course he did not cry and somehow his pain had quickly
disappeared somewhere. At this time father was leading an important-
looking bald-headed old man in the garden and he asked Yurochka
"Did you get hurt?"
But as the old man also smiled and also spoke Yurochka did not kiss
father and did not even answer him; but suddenly he seemed to have
lost his mind--he commenced to squeal for joy and to run around. If
he had a bell as large as the whole city he would have rung that
bell; but as he had no such bell he climbed the linden tree which
stood near the terrace and began to show off. The guests below were
laughing and mamma was shouting and suddenly the music began to
play and Yura soon stood in front of the orchestra spreading his
legs apart and according to his old but long forgotten habit put
his finger into his mouth. The sounds seemed to strike at him all at
once; they roared and thundered; they made his legs tingle and they
shook his jaw. They played so loudly that there was nothing but the
orchestra on the whole earth--everything else had vanished. The
brass ends of some of the trumpets even spread apart and opened wide
from the great roaring; Yura thought that it would be interesting to
make a military helmet out of such a trumpet.
Suddenly Yura grew sad. The music was still roaring but now it was
somewhere far away while within him all became quiet and it was
growing ever more and more quiet. Heaving a deep sigh Yura looked