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The Crushed Flower

Chapter 1

Translated by Herman Bernstein

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, infinitely tall.

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 room."

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 your drawing."

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 voice:

"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:

"Yura Mikhailovich."

And after a moment's thought he added:

"Yura Mikhailovich Pushkarev."