Arkady gaidar and his books


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Chapter Three


At the first cottage a voice called out:

"Where the devil are you rushing? Hi, young scrub! Stop, you chump!"

The figure of a man with a rifle came out of the shadow of the cottage and went up to me.

"Where are you running to? Where d'you come from?" the sentry demanded, turning me round to face the moonlight.

"To you," I answered, panting. "You're comrades, aren't you—"

"We're comrades all right," he interrupted, "but who are your

'So am I—" I began jerkily. Unable to recover my breath, I handed him my case without a word.

"You are, eh?" the sentry queried in a more cheerful though still suspicious tone. "In that case, let's go and see the commander."

Despite the late hour the village was still awake. Horses were neighing. Gates creaked open to let peasant carts through, and someone yelled nearby:

"Dokukin! Do-ku-kin! Where the devil has he gone to?"

"What are you yelling about, Vaska?" my escort demanded as he drew level with the shouter.

"I'm looking for Mishka," the latter answered angrily. "We've been given sugar for two, and the boys say he's being sent ahead with the patrol." "He'll give it you tomorrow."

"Like fun he will! He'll eat it all up with his tea in the morning, the sweet-tooth!"

At this point the speaker saw me and immediately changed his tone, asking with curiosity:

"Who have you nabbed there, Chubuk? Taking him down to headquarters? Go ahead. They'll show him there what's what. Ugh, you swine," he suddenly swore at me and made a movement as if intending to prod me on with the butt of his rifle.

But my escort pushed him away and growled: "Get along with you. It's none o' your business. Just like a dog you are, snapping at a man before you know what it's all about!"

Clink, clink! Clink, clink! I heard a metallic tinkle from the side. A man in spurs, wearing a black papakha, a gleaming dragging sabre, and a Mauser in a wooden holster, with a whip slung across his arm, was leading a horse out of a gate.

At his side walked a bugler.

"Assembly," the man said, putting a foot in the stirrup.

"Ta-ta-ra-ta. .. tata..." the bugle sang out softly. "Ta-ta-ta-ta-a-a . . . ."

"Shebalov," my escort called out. "Wait a minute! I've brought a man here to see you."

"A man?" the other said, his foot still in the stirrup. "Who is he?"

"He say he's one of us. I daresay he's got documents."

"I have no time now," the commander answered, swinging into the saddle. "You're a literate man, Chubuk, check 'em yourself. If he's a friend, let him go wherever he wants to."

"I won't go anywhere," I spoke up, fearing to be left alone again. "I've been running about the woods as it is these last two days. I've come to stay with you."

"With us?" the man in the black papakha queried. "Maybe we have no need of you at all!"

"You do!" I repeated doggedly. "What am I to do with myself, all alone?"

"True enough! If he's really one of us, what can he do by himself?" my escort inserted. "This is a bad place for taking a stroll on your own these days. Don't beat about the bush, Shebalov, don't keep the man waiting. If he's lying, it's one thing, but if he's one of us, don't keep him on tenterhooks. Get off the horse, you've got plenty o' time."

"Chubuk!" the commander said sternly. "Is that the way to speak to your chief? Am I commander or not? I ask you—am I commander?"

"It's a fact!" Chubuk coolly agreed.

"In that case I'll get off without you telling me."

He sprang to the ground, tossed the bridle rein onto the fence and made for the cottage with a rattle of his sabre.

It was not until we were inside the cottage that I got a proper look at him in the dim light of a wick lamp. He had no beard or moustaches. His thin narrow face was coarse-grained. Thick whitish eyebrows met over the bridge of his nose, and from under them looked out a pair of kindly eyes, which he purposely screwed up, evidently to impart to his face a stern look. From the long time he spent reading my document, in the course of which his lips kept stirring slightly, I gathered that he was not very literate. After reading the document, he handed it to Chubuk, saying doubtfully:

"If it isn't a false document then it must be real. What do you say, Chubuk?"

"Uhu!" the other calmly agreed, filling his curved pipe with makhorka.

"Well, what are you doing here?" the commander asked.

Excitedly I began my story, fearing that they would not believe me. But apparently they did, because when I had finished the commander no longer pursed his eyes and he turned to Chubuk, saying genially:

"Strikes me that if this lad of ours is not lying he must be telling the truth! What do you say, Chubuk?"

"Uhu," the latter coolly observed, knocking the ash out of his pipe against the sole of his boot.

"What are we going to do with him?"

"We'll enrol him in Company One, Sukharev can give him the rifle Pashka used before he was killed," Chubuk suggested.

The commander thought this over, tapping his fingers on the table.

"All right, Chubuk, take him down to Company One and tell Sukharev to give him the rifle that Pashka used before he was killed. Let him have cartridges too—the usual ration. Let him enter this man in the list of our revolutionary detachment."

Chink-chink! Clink-clink!—rattled his sabre, spurs and Mauser. The commander pushed open the door and sauntered down to his horse.

"Come along," Chubuk said to me, and suddenly patted me on the back.

Again the bugle sang out its soft lilting song. The horses snorted louder, the carts creaked still more. I felt as happy as can be as I went, smiling, to meet my new comrades. We walked all night. In the morning we entrained at some wayside station. In the evening a battered engine was hitched to our troop train and we rolled on southward to join the combat units and workers' detachments fighting the Germans, the Gaidamaks and the Krasnovites, who had seized the Donbas.

Our detachment bore the proud name of Special Detachment of the Revolutionary Proletariat. There were not many men in it, only about a hundred and fifty. It was an unmounted force with its own mounted scout party of fifteen men under the command of Fedya Sirtsov. The detachment was commanded by Shebalov, a bootmaker, whose fingers had not yet healed from the cuts of the wax-ends and whose hands were still stained with blacking. He was quite a character, our commander. The boys treated him with respect, although they laughed at some of his weaknesses. One of these was his love of outward display. His horse was decorated with red ribbons, his spurs (which he must have dug up in some museum) were extraordinarily long-shanked, curved affairs such as I had seen only on pictures of medieval knights; his nickel-plated sabre reached to the ground and the wooden lid of his Mauser had a brass plate fitted into it bearing the engraved motto: "I'll die, but you'll perish, you skunk!" He was said to have left a wife and three children at home. The eldest was already working. He deserted from the front after the February revolution and sat stitching boots, and when the cadets started attacking the Kremlin, he put on his Sunday best, some customer's brand-new top boots just made to order, got himself a rifle from a workers' fighting squad in Arbat, and from then on, as he expressed it, "threw his lot in with the revolution".


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