Forgot your password?  

Resources for students & teachers

This eBook from the Gutenberg Project consists of approximately 283 pages of information about Best Russian Short Stories.

VI

Lazarus was untouched by the magnificence of the imperial apartments.  He remained stolidly indifferent, as though he saw no contrast between his ruined house at the edge of the desert and the solid, beautiful palace of stone.  Under his feet the hard marble of the floor took on the semblance of the moving sands of the desert, and to his eyes the throngs of gaily dressed, haughty men were as unreal as the emptiness of the air.  They looked not into his face as he passed by, fearing to come under the awful bane of his eyes; but when the sound of his heavy steps announced that he had passed, heads were lifted, and eyes examined with timid curiosity the figure of the corpulent, tall, slightly stooping old man, as he slowly passed into the heart of the imperial palace.  If death itself had appeared men would not have feared it so much; for hitherto death had been known to the dead only, and life to the living only, and between these two there had been no bridge.  But this strange being knew death, and that knowledge of his was felt to be mysterious and cursed.  “He will kill our great, divine Augustus,” men cried with horror, and they hurled curses after him.  Slowly and stolidly he passed them by, penetrating ever deeper into the palace.

Caesar knew already who Lazarus was, and was prepared to meet him.  He was a courageous man; he felt his power was invincible, and in the fateful encounter with the man “wonderfully raised from the dead” he refused to lean on other men’s weak help.  Man to man, face to face, he met Lazarus.

“Do not fix your gaze on me, Lazarus,” he commanded.  “I have heard that your head is like the head of Medusa, and turns into stone all upon whom you look.  But I should like to have a close look at you, and to talk to you before I turn into stone,” he added in a spirit of playfulness that concealed his real misgivings.

Approaching him, he examined closely Lazarus’ face and his strange festive clothes.  Though his eyes were sharp and keen, he was deceived by the skilful counterfeit.

“Well, your appearance is not terrible, venerable sir.  But all the worse for men, when the terrible takes on such a venerable and pleasant appearance.  Now let us talk.”

Augustus sat down, and as much by glance as by words began the discussion.  “Why did you not salute me when you entered?”

Lazarus answered indifferently:  “I did not know it was necessary.”

“You are a Christian?”

“No.”

Augustus nodded approvingly.  “That is good.  I do not like the Christians.  They shake the tree of life, forbidding it to bear fruit, and they scatter to the wind its fragrant blossoms.  But who are you?”

With some effort Lazarus answered:  “I was dead.”

“I heard about that.  But who are you now?”

Lazarus’ answer came slowly.  Finally he said again, listlessly and indistinctly:  “I was dead.”

Follow Us on Facebook