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III. Allies by Chance


It was a dark autumn night. There was no let up to the fine, drizzling rain. A heavy mist rose from the ground and enveloped everything in its damp veil, so much so, the human eye could not see through it. All around there was just silence, darkness and sadness, as in a realm of the dead. It was one of those nights when the weather made breathing difficult and life miserable. Then decent people took shelter in their dwellings as soon as dusk had fallen, and yellow circles of glimmering light appeared in the windows of squat peasant cottages. Yet every one of those inside had a feeling of gnawing uneasiness and tried to think of something that would cheer him or her up, at least a little... Some men mended their boots, others wove mittens, still others tried something else... For women and girls it was usually spinning or sewing. Children would just clamber onto the stove and doze away. The room would be warm and still but rather murky; for it would be lighted only by the faint, pea-sized flame of a primitive lamp placed on an upturned pot in the middle of the common bed of boards, the long-unsnuffed wick barely burning... The whole room would be plunged in deep gloom, for the bad weather would make itself felt even inside. Even if no rainwater leaked through a shabby roof, the weather pressed against the windows; and, although no thick mist got in from outside, the weather still hovered inside in a kind of mute sadness, plunging people into gloom, filling their hearts with sorrow and lulling them to sleep. A girl would sing her favorite song, but then her voice would break and grow weaker and quieter, until finally the singing stopped and the needle froze in the unfinished embroidery... Her head would droop and sway and then she would be asleep.
"What's the matter with you, Marusya?" her mother would ask her. "Are you sleeping? That's some girl!"
The daughter would start, open her eyes and hurriedly resume her work. But before she could finish a line of her pattern, she would see her mother's head sink down over the hatchel. Then the spindle would drop from the woman's hands and strike against the floor and wake her up.
"Pah! Why do I get so dozy, I wonder?" the mother would mutter in surprise.
"Weren't you making fun of me not so long ago?" the daughter would exult.
"So I was but somehow I dropped off myself."
"My work, too, keeps falling from my hands," the father would break in. "I'd say we should eat supper now and then go to bed."
In this way, more or less, such an evening would pass off indoors. But God help those whom such weather caught in travel! They would be chilled to the marrow and soaked to the skin, and they would be shivering all the time, as in a fever. It would be pitch-dark and eerie, and they would be dying to sleep; but they would be so cold and wet that their bones would ache. To make it worse, the road would be terribly muddy, and the horses would barely drag themselves along.
The whole day before that night was like that. When the dawn arrived, it did not greet the world with a single smile of sunshine but wrapped itself in a veil of bluish mist, hid behind a screen of jelly-thick fog and hung low over the black earth. Before long it gave way to a dull, cheerless day which lingered on until night began to fall. People moved like shadows in that mist, unable to see one another even at five paces; their voices did not carry far, as in good weather, but died in that steam only a short way off... Everybody felt heavy, sulky and sad.
Chipka, however, was strangely content and cheerful, as if in defiance of the people and nature itself. Over and over, he whistled a merry tune, puffing at his pipe. He worked in the barn making a trough for pigs and did not step into the house even once during the whole day. Dusk had already begun to fall when Motrya finally persuaded him to come and eat his dinner.
"What's so important about that trough that makes you skip your meals, son?"
"It's just that the day has been really fine, Mother," he grinned.
"Fine indeed! There hasn't been a soul out on the street."
Chipka ate his dinner and went back to his trough. He kept on working in the barn until nightfall. When he again came into the house after finishing his usual household chores, it was completely dark.
"I won't be having supper, Mother," he told her. Then he threw on a coat and quickly went out.
"Where are you going?" Motrya called after him.
But he was already gone.
She ate supper alone and lay down to rest.
Going out of the yard, Chipka made straight for the fields. About a mile outside the village, he cupped his hands around his mouth and hooted like an owl. The plaintive sound carried far across the fields but failed to produce either a response or an echo. Only some dogs began barking in the village.
He walked on. Some two hundred yards later he hooted again. A voice, also sounding like an owl, echoed a long way off. Chipka ran toward it straight across the plowed field. He hooted once more and got a similar response that now sounded nearer. Presently some dark shadows loomed ahead in the gray mist.
"Who's there?" a man's voice called to him.
"Owl!" Chipka shouted back.
The shadows stirred, drew nearer and grew in size.
Now Chipka could make out the outline of a human figure. Coming nearer, he recognized Lushnya, Matnya and Patsyuk. There were also five men whom he did not know.
"Good evening, mates!" Chipka greeted them.
"So what do you say, brothers? Where are we going fishing tonight?"
"Where we can hope to catch plenty," one of them said.
"We haven't decided yet," Lushnya explained. "These men here are for visiting Hershko in Stavishche, but I bet you'd rather try the Krasnohorka estate."
"Hershko would be fine," Chipka replied. "It's all the same to me.
"You got any tools?" one of the strangers asked him.
"Here's my tool!" Chipka held up a balled fist. "Those who taste it once won't be eager to get a second helping; and if I use it all the way on somebody, he won't get back to his feet..."
"You'd better go easy on that thing, smart Cossack," a tall stout man cautioned him.
Chipka had an impression he had heard that voice before, but he could not remember where.
"You don't know him yet," another fellow, who wore Russian-style clothes, said to the stout man. "When we were out walking the last time, he didn't recognize me in the dark and hit me on the head with that tool of his and my eyes nearly jumped out of my head..."
"Well, that's the kind we need," said the stout man. "Only mind you we play by the rules: all you get is split into equal shares; and if you get caught, you keep telling them you know nobody and nothing even if they hang you!"
"Ha!" Chipka scoffed. "We've got another rule: if one gets caught, he dies. You get into the jail and strangle him, just to make sure."
"That's the boy for us!" everybody shouted, clapping their hands with devilish glee.
"Now let's get down to work... Come on!" the stout man called and started walking. The rest followed suit.
About two hundred yards away they bumped into two wagons, invisible in the dark. Another stranger stood there by the horses.
"Aw, what the hell! May the devil take you all!" he cursed them. "I waited and waited and even dropped off for a while, but you just seemed to have vanished into thin air... I should've gone home long ago..."
"Don't fret! We've been a long time, but we've gotten ourselves a real treasure," the stout man told him, pointing to Chipka.
"Big deal!" the stranger scoffed and, without so much as a glance at Chipka, jumped onto a wagon.
Following his example, the other men piled onto the two wagons. Then they quickly rolled across the fields, hoofs clattering and sending splashes of mud flying in all directions.
Shortly before dawn, the two wagons were coming back, driven toward the Hudzes' hamlet and laden with the "fishermen." Some of them were sprawled out, sleeping; others were sitting and swaying, dozing; two men were driving. As they reached the yard, the stout man jumped down and went to the house.
"Yavdokha! Yavdokha!" he called through a window. "Open up!"
"Why, that's Maxim!" Chipka thought to himself in amazement. So that was why the voice had sounded familiar... That surely explained why he had been getting richer, building up his hamlet every summer.
A light glimmered through a crack in the shutter, a door squeaked, a chain clanged behind the gate as dogs rushed to it. The gate opened. The wagons drove up to the porch and came to a halt.
"You go right in, mates," Maxim told them. "We'll have some supper. Sidir and I will unharness the horses."
"All right, let's unharness them," Sidir said in Russian, jumping down from the wagon.
The rest of them also clambered down and trooped into the dark passage and from there into the room where light showed. Chipka walked with the others feeling somewhat dazed; he was elated and gripped by fear... Maybe she had forgotten him and would not even recognize him... Or maybe...
Now they found themselves inside the house. The room was large and clean; the lime benches along the walls were scrubbed so thoroughly they were almost shiny; in a corner there were some icons in copper frames, and a number of glazed pictures hung on the walls. A candle was burning on a big table that stretched almost the entire length of the room.
"Good evening to you in your home!" everybody greeted Maxim's wife who stood in the middle of the room, holding some keys.
"Or rather good morning," she replied.
"Is it morning already?" one of them asked.
"It's going to be light soon," she said.
"Why, I'd say it's been just an hour since we left here."
"You must've been pretty busy then. Has your game been worth the candle?"
"Ask him!" the man in the Russian clothes pointed to Chipka. "We've now decided to make him our chieftain."
"Now who could this be?" asked Yavdokha, eyeing Chipka somewhat sceptically. "I may have seen him before."
"There's no need, Auntie, to gape at me as if I were a wolf or something," said Chipka, feeling ill at ease under her scrutinizing stare. "I'm made the same way as the rest."
"Could I have seen you some place?"
"You could... I don't know."
"Aren't you Varenik's son?"
"Who's Varenik's son?" asked Maxim, coming in with Sidir.
"This lad here." His wife pointed to Chipka.
"You must be wrong," Maxim said, grinning. "He's too hard for that. * (* Varenik (Ukr.) a dumpling; a short fat person). Ax or Hammer would be a more fitting name. He took on that Russian who was staying overnight with Hershko and knocked him out cold with a single blow! That Russian fellow was like a bear, I tell you! When he grabbed me and squeezed me, my heart sank to my boots! I'm quite sure he would've killed me, if it hadn't been for this lad here. The boys would've brought back only my dead body with most of the bones broken, though, because that bear of a fellow would surely have crushed them... So this lad has really saved me, thank him!"
"Did that Russian have any stuff on him to pay for all the trouble he gave us?" somebody asked.
"There's enough for all here," said Chipka, getting a heavy purse out of his pocket and throwing it on the table. "He had almost as much as the Jew!" He pulled out another purse, which he also threw on the table.
They pressed round the table.
"We'll have to divide it, brothers," Maxim Hudz spoke. "And now, old girl, see if we can offer the boys something to eat."
Yavdokha darted into another room. Before long the table was laden with all kinds of food: borshch, kasha, a roast pig. She must have been cooking all the while waiting for the guests to come back from the job.
Maxim, too, dived into the other room, and a cask half full of vodka appeared on the table.
The "brothers" sat down on the benches round the table. Maxim made a couple of rounds pouring drinks, and when he was through, only a funnel rattled on the bottom of the empty cask. Then all of them fell on the food as avidly as if they had gone hungry for at least three days... Yavdokha went into the other room.
"Do you know Varenichenko, ** Halya?" she asked her daughter. (** i. e. Varenik's son)
"Varenichenko? No, I don't know him."
"He lives on the other side of Piski. He's the son of that Varenik who had two wives at the same time, so they say..."
"No, I don't remember."
"Come and have a look at him. He's really a handsome lad broad shoulders, hair raven-black, and eyes brown, clear and sparkling!"
The girl got out of bed, quickly put on a skirt, threw on a vest, seized a roast pig and went in.
"Have you, too, had enough sleep?" her father asked her. Halya did not reply. She placed the roast pig on the table, her eyes fixed on Chipka.
"Good morning, old friend!" she spoke, smiling gently at him.
"Good morning, Halya."
His heart throbbed; he was happy and glad to see that Halya still remembered him.
"How come you know him?" her father asked.
"He scared me once, nasty fellow, right there in the fields," she twittered merrily, pointing toward the place where Chipka had surprised her.
"How did he scare you?"
"That was simple: I was sitting plaiting a wreath, and he sneaked up on me..."
"Aha..." the father said. "Now go back to sleep, magpie."
"You bet I'm not going to stick here gaping at him!" the girl blurted out and darted out of the room.
You are my paradise, my happiness, Chipka thought. You haven't yet run away from me!
After the meal, they divided the booty. Every one of them packed away about three hundred rubles. Then they brought in some straw, spread it on the floor, covered it with clothes and lay down side by side.

* * *

Before long, they were all sleeping like logs. Only Chipka was still awake. He kept turning from side to side, as if something was biting him; he felt heavy and was suffocating. When he closed his eyelids, Halya's image appeared before him. She was not the slightest bit different from what she looked like in the flesh just as pretty, gay, bold and pert. To think that she was the daughter of a bandit! Incredible and amazing! There was nothing strange about poor fellows like him loafers and ruffians, often hungry, wearing rags, without a penny to their names, their hands empty, their feet bare, their mouths hungry to rob and use their fists and stick their heads into all kinds of dangerous adventures... That was all right. But what about the old soldier? His house was a paradise, his wife was like a lady; his daughter, an only child, looked like an angel... The man also owned plenty of cattle and was really wealthy. So what about him?... Actually, he was a rascal and a robber, the same as Chipka and his kind! Why? What for? What made him do it? Amazing and incredible!
Chipka peered into the black gloom, straining his eyes and ears. Yet he saw nothing and heard nothing. It was quiet and sad. Suddenly, something thrashed about... His flesh crept, and his hair stood on end. "Cock-a-doodle-doo!" a rooster crowed nearby and grew silent... Chipka spat and turned over to the other side. It again became quiet and sad... Then one of the "brothers" shouted in his sleep, "Stun him, mate!... Come on, come on... that's the way!... fine!..." That hollow cry carried across the room, sounding horrible and eerie, like a voice from a grave; it reached Chipka's ears and trailed off, as if swallowed by the darkness of night. The fellow must be dreaming of his recent experiences, Chipka thought with a shudder. And he was still wide awake, and it seemed sleep would never come... Should he go out for a smoke?
Quietly, he rose to his feet, groped for the door and tiptoed into the passage. It was pitch-dark there. It took him some time to find the outer door. It groaned and growled like a dog but would not open. Soon, however, it yielded under Chipka's strong hand and opened, scraping against the earthen floor.
He went out onto the porch. Thick, chilling rain splashed on his burning face. He spat.
"When will you stop at last, damn you?" he grumbled and backed into the passage, wiping his face with the sleeve of his coat. Pausing in the doorway, he dropped his hand into his pocket, took out his tobacco pouch and his pipe, filled the bowl, groped inside the pouch for the flint and steel and applied the tinder. He struck the steel against the flint and bright sparks flew like tiny stars. The darkness brightened smilingly, seeing that speck of light. The tinder hissed. Chipka took it carefully, placed it in the bowl and pressed it down with his fingernail. He drew at the pipe once, did it again and a faint glow lit up the passage. The thick smoke drifted upward in short wisps and curled above him, merging into darkness... The metal lid knocked against the bowl, and the steel clinked against the flint as it dropped into the pouch. Chipka tied up the string and thrust the pouch back into his pocket.
Leaving the door open a crack, he leaned against the doorjamb and blew the smoke outside, where it mixed with the rain and melted away in the night. The darkness was black and impenetrable; Chipka could not see beyond the doorjamb no matter how hard he screwed up and strained his sharp eyes to make out the old soldier's yard... Only bats sometimes flitted past.
It was then that he heard the squeaking of a door. Somebody's soft footsteps pattered in the passage. Chipka opened the bowl lid and dragged at the pipe. As the glow again lit up the passage, he was stunned by what he saw. Before him stood Halya! Wearing just her skirt and a thin blouse, slightly opened on her chest, with her loose braids snaking down her milky neck and to her shoulders that seemed to be chiseled out of white marble, she stood there like a mermaid, holding a small pitcher.
"Halya!" he gasped softly.
"Have you been smoking here, bad boy?" she chattered, recognizing him. "Why, you've filled up the whole passage with smoke! It's impossible to breathe in here!"
"Halya, my dear! Why have you come out barefoot? It's been raining, there's mud all over the place... You might dirty your little white feet."
"Why do you care? You never did before."
"Well, I really do now, Halya," he whispered softly, barely able to breathe.
"Oh, sure, you are all so kind and thoughtful and at the same time you slash people's throats as calmly as if you were killing chickens," she spoke sternly.
Her tone expressed anger, reproach and disgust. "What about your father?" Chipka thought. "And you yourself?..." he almost said aloud, but his tongue refused to obey him, and emotion took his breath away.
"We slash no throats," he uttered with difficulty, catching his breath. "We just equalize the rich and the poor..."
"Equalize?! Step aside, let me rinse the pitcher..."
She pushed him away from the door, and he reeled back into the passage. Stepping out onto the porch, she dumped the water out of the pitcher, and the rain beat down against her face.
"Ugh!" she cried out, shivering. "How cold it is!" She darted back inside and ran straight into Chipka who stood there, one of his hands on the doorjamb and the other one holding the door.
As soon as he felt her hot breasts against his chest, he put down his outspread arms and wrapped them around her body. The girl trembled, pushed forward... and then leaned her head against him.
"Halya, my dear girl!..." Chipka whispered, his heart hammering wildly in his chest. "Do you love me, my darling?" In the dark passage his eyes burned like those of a wild beast about to spring at its prey.
"Let me go..." she murmured, struggling. "Get off... go away!" But she pressed herself even closer to him.
Hardly realizing what he was doing, Chipka sank to the floor and seated the girl on his knees. Before she could quite understand what was happening to her, Halya snuggled against him. Her heart thrashed about like a fish in a net... Neither of them spoke. A minute passed... another... yet another...
"Where were you last summer?" she whispered. "You stopped coming to your field. Somebody else was coming instead of you. Is that your brother?"
"He's no brother to me, Halya. He's my enemy who almost separated us forever..."
"Well, I was wondering. I couldn't understand what had happened to you. I even thought you had died, maybe... Or married."
"Would you have been sorry for me... if I'd died? Would you?"
Instead of replying, she cuddled up to him.
"Halya!..." he called her in a low voice.
"Do you love me, honey? Do you... do you really care for me?"
Her arms twisted like snakes around his neck and hugged it tightly; her lips brushed against his and then merged with them in a long, hot kiss... In his ecstasy, Chipka released his grip on her. The girl slipped out of his arms and ran away.
Chipka came to his senses. She had been there only a short while ago, he thought and groped all around him. Yet nothing stirred or rustled there. He rose from the floor. The passage was dark, empty and hushed. He searched it from top to bottom, but the girl was not there. It occurred to him that she had slipped out quite noiselessly, without so much as a squeak of the door. He strained his ears. The house was as silent as the grave. "She's gone!" he told himself aloud, bolted the outer door and quietly made his way back to the room where the drunk "brothers" were snoring away.
After that he tossed and turned on his pile of straw for a long time, listening to the throbbing of his heart, the patter of rain against the window panes, the crowing of roosters and the muttering of the sleeping men. He marveled at the unexpectedness of it, feeling as delighted as a child with a new toy and as bewildered as a thief who, having stolen a bag of moldy dried crusts from a beggar, has discovered inside it a huge sum of money. It was almost dawn when he finally closed his eyelids and subsided into an untroubled, pleasant slumber.

* * *

The men woke up rather late. The rain, as drizzly as the night before, continued to fall, making everybody drowsy.
"Get up, brothers, it's time!" Lushnya thundered, springing up from the straw.
One after another, they clambered to their feet. Matnya alone did not stir. The rest of them filed out to wash their faces with the water from the barrel that stood in the passage. When they returned, Matnya was still lying there, yawning his head off. A while later, their host joined them.
"I say, Uncle Maxim," drawled Matnya, sprawled like a boar on its litter. "Could we get more of the same to cure our hangovers?"
"Are we supposed to pour it down your throat while you lie there?" Lushnya asked before Maxim could say anything.
"Surely, I can get up for that!"
Saying this, Matnya jumped to his feet and made for the table just as he was: his hair tousled, his face sleepy and unwashed. Maxim said good morning to them and went out.
"We should probably tidy up," one of them said. "Look at this garbage."
"If somebody wants to do it," Matnya said, yawning, "he may go ahead."
Lushnya looked at him sharply. "What about you?"
"To me this place is good enough as it is."
"What if you get no vodka?"
"Why wouldn't I?"
"Because of the straw."
"What does it matter? Now it won't get into my glass, will it?"
While Lushnya and Matnya were thus engaged in conversation, the others took an armful each and carried the straw outside. Maxim reappeared with the same cask as the night before; he was followed by his wife carrying two loaves in one hand and a big bowl of sauerkraut in the other.
"It looks like we are going to wet our throats after all," said Matnya, grinning, as he saw the cask.
"You should at least wash your mug first," Lushnya chided him.
"Why the hell am I to do it, if the rain will wash it for me just the same?"
"Well, brother Maxim, I see you've got some really fine boys here," one of the soldiers, a gunner, called to the host.
"Wait till you see our feats, mate," Lushnya exclaimed, slapping the gunner on the back and flopping down on the bench beside him. "You ought to stay with us a bit longer and see for yourself what we're worth."
"I can already tell you're pretty good. Take that one," the gunner waved his hand toward Chipka. "Why he'd knock a gun off position just by looking at it! Wow, what a fellow!"
Chipka did not hear any of this. After the night's meeting he sat quietly in a corner and kept casting sharp glances at the door through which Halya entered the night before. His thoughts wandered off, and he was totally oblivious to the blabbering of the others. The room was as noisy and unruly as a Jewish school, and the din died down only when Maxim began to pour the drinks. Then everybody grew silent, mouths began to chew and hands reached for sauerkraut and pickled cucumbers. They ate in silence, making up for the missed breakfast, their teeth crunching on the sauerkraut and cucumbers, their mouths working hard, noisily...
"Too dry!" Matnya shouted after a while, choking down a good handful of sauerkraut.
"Let's wet it," said Maxim, reaching for the cask.
Another round was poured. Again hands reached for the food and mouths chomped...
"I'm choking!" Matnya announced with a hiccup and put down his chunk of bread.
Everybody burst into laughter, eyeing Matnya's tousled hair and swollen face.
"Let's wash it down," said Maxim, taking the cask.
"You take him on, Uncle Maxim," Lushnya broke in, "and you'll soon be racking your brains trying to figure out how you can get rid of him!"
"Never mind!" Maxim said in Russian, holding out the glass to Matnya.
"You surely know the score, even though you're only a Ukrainian," the Russian gunner called to Matnya. "You ought to be in the Army, serving the Czar."
"We've tried serving in plenty of places, brother," replied Matnya, "only to find out that it's best to serve a fat barrel of vodka."
Guffaws filled the room.
"That's true, too!" the gunner moaned, laughing.
Maxim poured a third round. Now tongues loosened, laughter broke out, and the clamor rose. Tired of chewing, the mouths began to talk. Three fellows in a corner droned on about the present hardtimes; somebody else recalled how they had cheated the masters; others relived yesterday's adventure; and the rest reminisced about long-ago feats. There were twelve of them, which meant a dozen words even if every man uttered a single word. Now, with all of them talking at the same time about different things, it was impossible to make out anything. Amidst all that noise, no one could follow any single story.
Chipka alone was silent. He had eaten and drunk in silence and now remained dumb, his eyes fixed on the door.
"Why is our chieftain keeping mum?" wondered Matnya, looking at Chipka.
Chipka did not hear this, but the rest of them turned to look at him, exchanged glances and snickered. Chipka did not hear their laughter either.
"He may have spotted some sweet dish," Lushnya picked up. "He surely loves sweet things."
"Oh yes, that must be it," Sidir, who had unharnessed the horses with Maxim, broke in. "I was about to mention that pretty bird myself."
"May the Lord reward Uncle Maxim and Aunt Yavdokha," Patsyuk joined in. "They do everything for their own benefit, but there they worked really hard to make something nice for others to enjoy."
The room rang with peals of laughter. Guessing the reason, Maxim also laughed, almost noiselessly.
"Well, somebody will surely have to reward me nicely for her and more than once, too!" he said, laughing.
"I can get you a fine horse or whatever you want, Uncle," Lushnya proposed.
"He needs no horse not with such a mare as he's got already," Sidir joked crudely.
Then the door opened, and Halya gracefully stepped into the room. The banter ceased as everybody gaped at her, admiring her beauty and her blushing face, which seemed to have become still prettier overnight.
She quickly walked to the table, took some empty plates and, without looking at anybody not even Chipka, left the room. He sat there, goggling owlishly.
"I must thank God and the hosts for the meal and myself, too, for having eaten my fill," Lushnya broke the silence. "It's time to go home, brothers."
"Why?" Matnya protested. "Don't you like it here?... It's a nice warm place, and with all this vodka flowing round I'm ready to stick here for ages."
Laughing, they rose from the table.
"It's high time, indeed! If only this rain would stop... But we must be going just the same."
Chipka also stood up. They thanked the hosts, lighted their pipes and trooped out to go their separate ways. Chipka and his pals set off for Piski.
It was not until he had walked off some way into the fields that he discovered the absence of his tobacco pouch.
"Wait, brothers I've left something behind..."
He turned back and saw Halya who stood at the gate, calling:
"Whose pouch is this? Somebody's left a pouch..."
"What's that?" shouted one of those who had gone the other way.
"A pouch..." She held it up.
"A pouch? No, it's not ours!" And they walked on.
Chipka broke into a run. Meanwhile, Halya, examined the pouch, untied it, looked inside, fingered it and tied up the string again.
"It's mine, darling..." he said in a low voice, running up to her.
"You fool!... You've gotten flustered like a hen that misses a couple of chicks... You don't seem to know what you're doing."
She thrust the pouch into his hand and flitted into the wicket.
He looked at the pouch. What the devil? There had been just a handful of tobacco left inside, but now it seemed to have swollen. What could it be? He untied the string and felt something soft inside. Then he pulled out another pouch blue silk embroidered with flowers and trimmed with red fringe. His eyes lit up, and his face cracked into a smile.
"My dear girl... my love!" he whispered and hurried to rejoin his companions, his spirits raised.


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