|Бібліотека ім. Панаса Мирного >>Твори Панаса Мирного >> Do oxen low when mangers are full? >> XII. The Army|
The recruits were marched from their native parts all the way to Muscovy. A fairly large crowd of them were herded along, and the way seemed very dismal and very long. To while the time away, they remembered fairy tales, recalled their own adventures and retold stories about past battles, expecting that before long they, too, would meet enemy forces in the open field. Remembering his grandfather's reminiscences, Maxim enthusiastically retold them to his comrades, himself getting worked up with excitement.
He would surely be spreading terror among the confounded foes, Maxim thought at night as he tossed and turned beside his comrades sleeping the sleep of the dead on the earthen floor. Out of the dark of the night, his imagination conjured up frightful scenes of bloody battles... Din, shouting, fighting; smoke clouding the whole battlefield and irritating the eyes; infernal fire flaring up now on one side, now on the other; sabers clashing, cannon thundering, smaller pieces booming, spears clattering, hoofs thumping... There are Tartars galloping away at a break-neck-speed... "Aha, blasted Tartars!" he cries and goes after them on his fast black horse... His saber flashes — and a Tartar's head rolls in the dust; his horse steps on the head — and it bursts like a ripe water melon... The vision took Maxim's breath away... Oh, God, let it be soon!
In the morning, they got up and were driven back onto the road. Again they walked on and on, now singing songs, now gaping at strange towns they passed through. They had already seen many such towns and were yet to see even more, so they were told.
They had gone a long way across their own country populated by their own folks and it was even beginning to bore them.
"Is this Muscovy still far?" they asked one another.
"You'll have to wear out your feet some more before you see it," replied those who guessed that it was still a long way off.
Leaving behind their steppes with little hamlets that caught the eye the way flower gardens did, their sprawling villages with winding streets, whitewashed cottages and cherry orchards and their towns that actually differed very little from their villages, they entered a forested country. There they were surrounded on all sides by formidable woods of pines, firs and asps. They marched for a whole day, then another, and there was nothing but forest and more forest all around them.
"That's where Muscovy begins," a man said.
"Is that so? Well, it surely looks pretty grim to me... All you see are just trees with only a small patch of sky above."
Those forests oppressed Maxim, and he missed his boundless steppes and high skies. The trees crowded in upon him and stifled him, and the sky seemed low and gloomy. It was indeed low and gloomy, for the fall was not far away. Dark-gray clouds sailed across the sky and it often rained.
Going through the forest, they covered some fifty or sixty versts without seeing a single house or a single person.
"But where are their hamlets, or villages, or towns?" the men wondered. "Aren't there any people here at all?"
"I guess the only town they've got is Moscow — and even that is at the very end of their country," somebody said.
They got grim and cheerless and plodded on in silence, their heads down.
Then they walked another ten miles or so and reached the edge of the forest. Smoke curled up from under the board roof of a blackish cabin. All their eyes became fixed on it.
"What's this — a forge?" Maxim asked.
"It's a village," said the noncom in charge of their party.
"But these must surely be forges on the edge of it."
"No, they are just izbas."
"What's an izba?"
"It's what you call a house, bumpkin."
Maxim broke into laughter.
"Houses — I'll be damned!" He turned to his countrymen. "Why, our forges are cleaner than these houses. And to think that they still praise their country. That's some country, too! God save me from seeing another one like this ever again."
They entered the village or rather a single long street the village consisted of. It was all quite unfamiliar. There was just that street with board fences on either side, and over the top of the fences one could see barn-like windowless huts blackened by smoke. Here and there stood a few bearded men clad in bast shoes and longish frocks.
"But those are Muscovites!" Maxim explained, having heard their speech.
"That's what they are... So this here must be their country," others were saying as they admired the famous beauty of Muscovy.
When they were billeted for the night, Maxim wanted to spit. Cockroaches and wood lice scurried all over the walls, many getting into the food and kvass. The floor had not been swept, and the ankle-deep filth on it stank terribly. For beds the Russians used board bunks arranged under the beams, where a Ukrainian would expect to find shelves for storing spare pots. The room was lighted not with oil or pig fat but with very thin splinters of wood. Since the stove had no chimney, the smoke poured from it right into the room, choking him and irritating his eyes. Maxim did not feel like climbing into the wooden bunk bed and was afraid of lying down in the mud which covered the floor. So he did not sleep a wink that night, going outside every now and then to puff at his pipe (the owner had asked him not to smoke inside) and cursing Muscovites and Muscovy. For the first time he had seen a Muscovite in his own home. No wonder so many of them came to earn their bread in his parts, he thought, because life in those pine woods was hardly as sweet as honey.
In the morning, they were driven on.
Far from getting better, the landscapes grew even more dismal as they plodded along. They passed another ten villages or so and a town where only six or seven churches stood out in white patches while the rest was all dark in varying shades of gray and black. Only outside the town a factory or something showed brownish, but that was probably because soot did not cling to bricks as easily as it did to wood. Or maybe that factory had been built not long ago. The men's spirits sank even lower. Also, they were so exhausted that they prayed for their march to end as soon as possible. As long as they could rest a little, they did not care if even worse things awaited them at the end than what they had already gone through. They had been marching for two weeks and two days.
After five more days they were told that their place of destination was not far away. Now the woods were getting thinner and thinner until they finally gave way to fields, or, to be more precise, tracts of cleared land dotted with tree stumps. That area, too, must have been covered with trees not too long ago. Presently, some tall shapes appeared in the distance, here and there. Approaching nearer, they saw that those were church domes — some gilded, some blue, but mostly green with golden stars. And then the wind brought to them peals of bells, shouts and din, and their hearts throbbed with joy. At long last they would be able to take some rest!
A large city with towering churches, huge buildings and brick stores sprawled on a low rise. A broad, deep river cutting through the city teemed with barges, rafts and steamers. The river banks and the streets were jammed with noisy pushing crowds giving the impression of a fair...
The recruits were overwhelmed by this display of urban wealth. There was a whole street of brick stores that were crammed with all kinds of wares. Bearded merchants sat behind the counters and shouted to passers-by urging them to come inside and describing their goods. There were also markets with plenty of foods and drinks. Maxim could not help thinking how it would all have looked in Piski. Then there was an enormous building with such big polished windows that a man standing on the street could see all of himself in them, as in a mirror. The streets were broad, straight and paved with stone.
"So that's the kind of people they are," Maxim told himself. "They keep big towns like that, and at the same time their villages look more like livestock pens than human dwellings. They must've hauled all the best things there were in the country here..."
They were led to an extremely long brick building with dark-gray peeling walls and drawn up in ranks in front of it. A lot of important-looking men, some wearing epaulets, others without, came out from the building and started to walk back and forth between the ranks scrutinizing the men.
"Oh, what a fine fellow you are!" one of them said, staring at Maxim.
"Try to grow just as big yourself," Maxim snapped.
Everybody burst into laughter. The young officer shot him a stern glance and moved on.
"To the barracks!" somebody in front of them shouted.
They were led inside.
The rooms were spacious but dark and dismal. Rivulets of moisture streamed down the moldy walls. Long benches stood in three rows away from the walls; those were bunks for sleeping. The earthen floor was littered, and the air was thick and heavy. The whole barracks stank like a garbage dump.
"Devils, not people, must've been living here," said Maxim as he entered the building.
As they lay down to sleep on the long bunks, the men felt grim and gloomy. Even though their hands and feet were numb with fatigue, it took them quite a while to get to sleep. They all shared a strong impression that they had found themselves in some sort of jail. What if their families could see their wanderings? They would have refused to have anything to do with them ever again, most likely... Some of the men wept as they recalled their homes. Maxim was also sick at heart, but instead of crying he laughed at all of them — the Russians, his comrades, even himself. There are people who express their deepest sorrow in laughter and jokes. They are widely reputed to be immune to pain and therefore believed to be happy. Maxim, too, could be called happy in this sense.
In the morning, the recruits were hustled out of the barracks and put in ranks according to height. Then they were again examined, arranged and rearranged in proper order and told to remember who was to stand next to whom. Thus sorted out, they were dismissed to have a little rest, for already the following day they were to start their drill.
Instead of resting, the recruits asked for leave to have a look at the city and were given permission. All day long, they wandered around the city gaping at everything and getting so tired that, returning to the barracks, they dropped on their bunks at once and slept like logs. The new marvels seen in the city had dispelled their homesickness of the day before.
The drum rolled when day had hardly begun to break. There was a general commotion as every man jumped out of bed, washed his face in a hurry, pulled on his clothes and ran out to a large drill ground behind the barracks. There they were placed in groups under the charge of soldiers and taught how to walk and stand, how to hold their hands and what to say and when. Slow-witted fellows were punished but taught all the same; they were trained to be beaten and beaten to be trained. All this dragged on and on, day after day. "What are we doing it for? Who needs all this drilling? Why?" they asked themselves as they returned from the exercise ground. To them, their training was worse than any forced labor.
But for Maxim this was child's play. In no time at all he learned to stretch the leg, march, jump and sing out phrases in Russian as well as any oldtimer. Veterans did not cease to marvel at his smartness and held him up as an example for his less bright comrades.
Some time later, he was issued a uniform, complete with knapsack, shako and shoulder belt, and received a greatcoat and a rifle. Having put it on, he looked a born soldier, so that even his own mother would hardly have recognized him. Spry and snappy, he now was every inch a military man.
Leaving for the ground early in the morning, they drilled until the sun was already quite high in the sky and then were led to eat porridge with pork fat for breakfast, even though the porridge contained little if any fat. Then they had a little rest and were assembled for lunch. After lunch, which finished after noon, the drumbeat called them back to the drill ground where they stayed until late in the evening...
Months passed, a year... It was all the same.
Damn it all, Maxim thought. If only they were ordered to march somewhere or some enemies were found... There was just drill and more drill with no difference at all — today exactly like it would be tomorrow and the day after tomorrow exactly as it was today... Stretch your leg, shout, "One, two!" Slope arms! Arms down! Take aim a hundred times a day without firing even once. He had once wondered what the army was all about. Now he knew. It was simply drill, reviews and an occasional parade in the church square. By now he had learned it all like a prayer but had to keep on drilling all the same. It bored him to death.
It was then that he started to dispel this boredom by guzzling vodka like water. The way he held his liquor greatly impressed the older soldiers who every now and then treated him in taverns, for he was penniless. The money his mother had given him had long been spent on drinks.
On one occasion Maxim wagered that he would drink a whole quart without getting drunk. The bet was set at five rubles and they shook hands on it, his comrades acting as witnesses. A quart was ordered, and Maxim drained it in just three swallows. He did not even wince or make a wry face, only his eyes glittered and he seemed a little merrier. Taking out the money, his opponent held it out to him.
"What the hell do I need the money for?" Maxim snorted. "Come on, fellows, be my guests!"
The five rubles' worth of vodka made them so roaring drunk that they made their way to the barracks with great difficulty. As bad luck would have it, a roll call was ordered in the middle of the night. Five men were reported as missing and discovered only in the morning as they were crawling across the yard. Much to their distress, they were immediately locked up.
"Cheer up, brothers," Maxim encouraged them. "Company in distress makes trouble less. I'll get you off the hook."
"It's simple: just say I got the stuff and talked you into drinking."
"That's all. Leave the rest to me."
Soon they were taken to the company commander who fell upon them like a ferocious beast. Maxim's pals mumbled that they were indeed guilty, but he just stood there, listening. Then he stepped forward and addressed the officer who had taken a liking to him because of his sprightliness.
"That was all my fault, sir," he declared. "I got them drunk. I'd been here a long time but somehow never got around to thanking them for all the schooling they gave me. At last I picked a good night but it went wrong. Beat me as much as you like, sir — it'll only serve me right, too. But please don't punish my friends and teachers here!"
The officer liked that kind of talk. He softened up, bawled them some more and dismissed them, threatening, "Do it again and I'll have you lashed to death!"
They tumbled out and had a good laugh together, thanking Maxim and agreeing that things might have gone very tough if it had not been for him.
After that, Maxim became the life of the company. Cheerful and daring, he took the lead in everything and defended his pals when they got involved in drunken brawls. Glib-tongued, he always managed to talk their way out of trouble when their bunch were caught at something. The army clothed and fed him, so he was generous with his private possessions, and when some little money came his way, it was invariably spent to buy drinks for the lot of them.
His comrades adored him. Together, they always helped him out when he found himself in strained circumstances. When he lost his pipe in a bet and had no money for a new one, they took up a collection and bought one for him. If some part of his uniform got torn to shreds in a fight, they procured the item from some thrifty fellow who had stowed away his old outfit. In short, Maxim commanded general esteem.
He grew accustomed to such life. Oh, no, he thought, Muscovy was much better than his native parts after all. Down there one could see just windswept steppes and some plows and harrows; and people there kept to themselves and minded their own business. Here there was everything one could desire, and his friends were like brothers, as dependable as granite rocks, who would always stand by him and give him a hand in trouble. Why, living with them was surely better than back home with his parents!
As they say, Maxim lived in clover. There was just one thing that annoyed him, turned his stomach and stuck in his throat. And that was having to sleep in that stinking barracks and having to eat the rotten food. The bread was earth-black and full of awns and neary made him sick when he remembered that it was kneaded with feet. The cabbage made him wrinkle his nose, and the porridge was nauseating.
"Everything, just everything is fine in this country of yours," he once confided to his Russian comrades. "Only the grub is no good."
"You wait till Sunday," they told him. "Then we'll ask for a leave to go foraging. That'll be fine, if only we manage to make a deal with the sergeant major."
"What's foraging?" he asked.
"Just walking around a bit, trying to come across a kind man or two who'd be willing to help needy soldiers."
Maxim felt uneasy but did not say anything.
At daybreak on Sunday his buddies came running to shake him awake.
"Quick, get up, man!"
"What's the matter?"
"Get up, let's go to the captain."
"Oh, come on! Don't you remember?"
Maxim got up. Some more men awoke, and they talked it over together.
"How did it go with the sergeant major?" one of them asked.
"He's a son of a bitch!"
"Because. He asked for twenty-five rubles! He's a beast, man, you can take it from me. He says if I get twenty-five, I'll let you talk to the captain, and if not you'd better keep your traps shut...
"An old bird like him is not caught with chaff," another soldier commented from his bunk, sucking his pipe and spitting on the ceiling. "He knows perfectly well how it works out."
"Don't you understand, Mitrich, that it's a crying shame to charge so much. After all, he's fleecing his own men, not some strangers."
"Aw, come on. He can't tell a stranger from one of his own as long as he gets paid."
"Isn't he an animal? That's what he is — no doubt about it."
Thus spoke the soldiers while Maxim was washing his face and dressing. Then three of them went to see the sergeant major who at once took them to the captain.
"Well, Fedoseich?" the officer asked. "Is everything all right?"
"Everything's fine, sir. There's just one thing."
"And what's that?"
"It's hard for the boys, sir."
"What do you mean?"
"The provisions are bad, sir. They'd like to do some foraging sir."
"Where? What for?" the captain shouted. "I'll show them foraging!"
"There's nothing to eat, sir," the noncom insisted. "They say they're starving."
"What are you talking about, old fool? Who's starving? I bet they've already sweetened you."
"No, sir! They say they'll give you a quarter of the total if you let them go."
Pensively, the officer twisted his mustache.
"Who's going?" he asked, after a pause.
"They are right here: Ivanov, Yevprakseyev and Maxim the Ukrainian. Come in, boys!" the sergeant major shouted, opening the door.
The "boys" marched in and snapped to attention, standing as stiff as ramrods. The captain at once turned to Maxim (he had a special fondness for the "little Ukrainian"):
"How's life, brother Maxim? Has it gotten so bad?"
"Very bad, sir. We've got nothing to eat."
"So you want to go foraging?"
"Yes, sir," they mumbled in chorus.
"Should we let them go, Fedoseich?" asked the captain, casting a sidelong glance at the noncom. "That would be easy enough... But what if you get caught?"
"No, sir, never..." they muttered all at once.
The officer did some more thinking.
"All right, you may go... Only mind you: I'll skin you alive if it goes wrong! Do you hear?"
"Well, may God help you. Dismissed."
"Thank you very much, sir!" they sang out before leaving the room.
The entire company stirred with excitement. Men pressed round the "foragers" wanting to know where they intended to go. Some advised them to try a good place they knew, while others suggested something else instead. The barracks buzzed like a beehive. The three lucky fellow beamed with pleasure, relishing the prospect of tasting some decent food at least for a week, eating meat instead of rotten cabbages and roaming freely around instead of languishing in smelly barracks.
"Why don't you take some holy images and call on merchants' houses?" a soldier suggested.
"Why not? That isn't such a bad idea," the foragers agreed.
They talked it over, got ready and were off. In the evening they returned, bringing nearly fifty rubles. The company rejoiced and exulted. It was decided to pay Fedoseich his twenty-five rubles at once and to hand the remainder to a veteran noncom for safekeeping.
Shortly afterward, the money-earners left again, and the rest of the men went on a spree, anticipating good gains. Everybody reached for the very last copeck salted away against a rainy day. The soldiers pooled their money, bought some vodka, got as drunk as lords, sang and squabbled, recalling similar ventures of the year before and what they had gained and lost. The liquor untied their tongues. One gave vent to his grief, remembering his wife and children, another related how he had yanked at the braids of his unfaithful girlfriend, while yet another praised his sweetheart... Every man had his own story to tell.
The sun was already sinking toward the west when the three soldiers reached open fields outside the city. They kept walking right on for another five miles or so. Ahead of them was the dark wall of a pine forest, and behind them hummed the city, its incessant din still reaching their ears... The men walked on and on. Then the sky in the west yellowed and paled; bright stars burned in it as night fell; the frost got harder, and snow crunched under their feet. They trudged on in silence. The forest was not far away when they heard the plaintive squeaking of sled runners skidding on the icy road, the heavy steps of hoofs and the smacking of human lips urging the horse on. Presently, a fully laden sled appeared. On it sat a burly bearded man dressed as a merchant.
"Stop!" shouted Ivanov and, dashing across the road, seized the bit. The horse halted.
This made Maxim's flesh creep. Wondering what would happen next, he stepped aside, looking at the scene. A third soldier, Yevprakseyev, approached the merchant.
"Good evening, mister merchant. I'm just curious what goods you may be carrying."
"Who are you to ask?" The man rose from the sled. "I see no reason why I have to answer to you. Get away!"
"You've got a pair of eyes, so you can see for yourself," said Yevprakseyev.
"Of course I see you're a soldier... But what do you want?"
"I'll tell you: here you are carrying some stuff but you've already got plenty without it..."
"Oh, come on!"
"You'd better save that kind of talk for the horse... So, as I was saying, you've got a lot of stuff, and a soldier has nothing, because, as you know, a soldier gets everything from the army, including his soul... Just be so kind as to donate something to help us carry on."
"Where do they make smart fellows like you?"
"That's something you don't need to know... We're just asking you. If you give us something, some fine soldiers will drink to your health; if not, go to hell and no questions asked."
"Go to hell? Don't get too smart. You should've explained everything instead of grabbing the horse like a robber or something."
"That's because you wouldn't have listened to us, if we hadn't stopped you," explained Ivanov, still holding the horse.
"So are you going to give us something?" Yevprakseyev insisted.
"You may take this!" The merchant showed him a fist.
"All right, may God be your judge. Let him go, brother," Yevprakseyev told Ivanov.
The latter released the horse. Maxim joined them, and together they resumed walking toward the woods. The merchant looked after them thoughtfully. Suddenly, he shouted:
"Hey, you, what's-your-name!"
"What's the matter?" Yevprakseyev asked, turning around.
"Never mind, drive on."
"Come back, I tell you!"
The soldiers walked back to the merchant.
"Here's ten rubles for you, brothers. Drink the health of Paramon, God's humble slave." He held out a red bill to them.
"Thank you, mister merchtant. We won't forget. Paramon, is that right?"
"Paramon, brothers, Paramon!"
"Good-bye then. Have a safe drive."
"Good-bye, brothers. Are you going far?"
"To the villages."
"You on leave?"
"May God help you!"
"Thank you. Good-bye, good man."
Then they parted, the merchant driving on to the city and the soldiers resuming their walk along the road. Maxim was greatly surprised. "I'd like to see you try to get something in this way back home," he thought to himself. "Like hell you would."
"There's a generous man," he said to his comrades.
"Sure. Merchants are fine fellows, mostly. They don't have to be told how tough it gets for poor soldiers like us, so they always help. A nobleman, brother, is something else again. Those are sharp rascals... No use asking them — you won't get anything unless you knock them out cold."
Talking thus, the soldiers continued on their way through the forest. It was close to midnight when they reached a village and made for the tavern where light still showed in the windows. From inside came thin drunken voices crooning a Russian folk song.
The "foragers" went in, put down their bags and sat on a bench together.
"Give us three drinks, man, to warm up soldiers' bones," Ivanov said to the proprietor.
"And why should I give you anything?"
"And why not?"
"Because I'm not sure you've got money."
"What d'you need more money for? Haven't you gotten enough from the customers? Or don't they come to your joint any more?"
"Why, they do... thank God... there've been some good people."
"Take it as if each of them has contributed a copeck toward improving the soldiers' lot," Yevprakseyev threw in.
"No way. Forget it."
"But that's true."
"True or not, the people here have gotten out of hand. They now buy too little vodka."
"I'm not. Why should I?"
"Come on. Stop it."
"As you like. Just pay — that's all. I don't make any vodka, you know, I buy it too."
"I don't care if you buy it. You sell it at a profit anyway. But where can a soldier get any money? Don't you know that a soldier is never his own boss?"
"Filippych!" a tipsy native called to the owner. "Let them have their drinks, I tell you. I love soldiers, man, I know they belong to the government. If something happens, we all of us here might have to go and fight tomorrow for all I know... I hear those darned Turks don't obey our dear Czar... Give them!"
"Will you pay me for them?"
"I will — when I get the money. Give them!"
"Nothing doing. It's hard enough to make you pay for yourself, let alone others."
"Don't you trust a decent man's word, you bearded goat?" shouted Yevprakseyev, reaching for the owner's beard.
"Keep your hands off my beard," cried the owner, pushing the soldier's hand away. "I bet you would've worn one yourself if they hadn't shaved it off."
"Why would I ever let such an ugly thing as your beard spoil my noble face?"
"And you? What are you?"
"Don't you know, miserable profiteer? Can't you see what I am?"
"Anybody can see you're a soldier. So what if you are?"
"Don't you know? D'you need me to tell you what kind of man a soldier is? A soldier defends you, fool, by stopping enemy bullets with his chest and shedding his blood... That's what a soldier is!"
These words moved the customers to drunken pity.
"I say, Teryokha... The soldier's right, though... Oh, I wish I could tell you how right he is... A soldier's a poor devil... a military man... Czar's servant... That's nothing like you and me! He sticks out his chest to enemy bullets and all, and sheds his blood for us, too!"
Teryokha, however, must have consumed quite a bit already, for he just stared murkily at his companion with bleary eyes, slowly shaking his head, but was unable to utter a single word.
Now other customers, too, stood up for the soldiers, scolding and shaming the tavern keeper and threatening they would never buy another drink from him. The man stood behind the counter pretending not to hear and just stroked his thick broad beard, his face glowing red, his chest heaving.
"But why should we merely stare at him, brothers?" Yevprakseyev shouted to the drunken company. "Let's go get a whole pail while we are at it." He dashed behind the partition to the barrel.
"Touch it and I'll kill you!" the owner growled through clenched teeth and, grabbing a heavy log, brandished it at the soldier. Some men rushed to them and wrested the log out of his hands.
"So you think nothing of making an attempt on my life, bearded fool?!" Yevprakseyev roared, clutching the man's beard. The owner screamed.
"Get him down, brothers, grab him! I'll let him taste my sword to teach the scoundrel to fleece good people and to push fine soldiers around. Go get him!"
As one man, the village drunks fell upon the owner. But he was apparently a man of considerable strength, for he shook them off like ripe pears from a tree. Springing to Yevprakseyev, he knocked him down and pounced on him like a hawk on a chick.
Maxim could not bear to see his comrade being beaten up. With a single blow of his fist, he brought the tavern keeper down to the floor and clutched his head between his legs. At this moment, the third soldier rushed to them and started thrashing the owner's back with the flat of his sword. The owner did not resist or shout and only groaned. Having given him a good thrashing, the soldiers released him. The man broke into tears, cursing.
"Will you give us drinks now?" Yevprakseyev demanded.
"Get them — and may you choke on them!" the owner muttered through tears and went out to a back room.
The drunks giggled. The soldiers had a drink each and munched some bread.
"There's no time for more. We still got a lot of work to do. Good-bye, good people! Good-bye, mister... Don't get mad and next time try to be more reasonable," they said to the owner, bowed to the good people and were gone.
A couple of drunks tagged along. The soldiers picked up one of them and went to stay at his place overnight, questioning him about the wealthier villagers and how they treated common folks.
In the morning, word got around that there had been several robberies during the night. The tavern keeper, scratching his bruises, also related his own mishap. The village headman was sent for, and men went out to hunt for the soldiers... But the birds had already flown. As a matter of fact, they were busy selling their loot in another village.
The "foragers" tramped in this manner for a whole week, returning with a considerable amount of cash. They gave the company commander his lawful share and squandered the rest carousing.
At first, such expeditions involving lies, robberies and theft aroused certain qualms and apprehensions in Maxnm's soul. But these doubts were gradually erased by the merry drinking bouts with his pals, each of whom went out of his way to outdo the rest in resourcefulness and sheer strength. Soon they vanished altogether. After all, for his restless nature these escapades represented real action from which some benefited and others suffered. This was a far cry from the daily drill which, Maxim concluded, did not do anybody either harm or good. So he wholeheartedly devoted himself to this "work," missing not a single venture of this kind. There he put all of his brains and muscles to good use. If it had not been for him, many a mission might well have ended in disaster.
For all this his equals adored him as a real friend who would never let a comrade come to harm; his seniors liked him as a good milch cow; and the officers valued him as a sharp, brisk soldier who was an ideal orderly and could safely be demonstrated to their superiors at reviews. Soon Maxim received a promotion.
|Бібліотека ім. О. С. Пушкіна (м. Київ).