Arkady gaidar and his books


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Chapter Two


Several months had passed since I met Jackdaw.

In Salnikov Street, next door to the huge building of the Seminary, there stood a little house with a garden. The man in the street, on passing by its open windows, through which faces could be seen floating in a haze of strong tobacco smoke, would quicken his step and spit angrily when out of hearing: "This is where the provocateurs meet!"

This was the Bolsheviks' club. There were altogether some twenty Bolsheviks in the town, but the house was always crowded. It was open to everybody, but it was frequented mainly by soldiers from the hospital, Austrian prisoners of war and workers from the tanneries and felt factories.

I spent practically all my free time there. At first I had gone there with Jackdaw out of curiosity, then through habit, and after that I was drawn into the maelstrom, swept off my feet. Like the peelings of a potato under a sharp knife, all the rubbish with which my head had been stuffed fell away from me.

Our Bolsheviks did not speak at church disputes or at meetings among the tradespeople. They held meetings outside the workers' bunk-houses, outside the town and in the war-wearied villages.

I remember a meeting once held at Kamenka.

"We must go for sure! There'll be a real fight. Kruglikov himself is going to speak there for the S.R.s. You should hear him sing," Jackdaw said. "After a speech of his at Ivanovskoye the peasants were so bamboozled they all but went for us."

"Let's go," I said eagerly. "Why is it you never take your revolver with you, Semyon Ivanovich? It's always lying about just anywhere. Once you stuck it in the tobacco tin, and yesterday I saw it in the bread basket. I always carry mine about with me. I even put it under my pillow when I go to bed."

Jackdaw laughed, and his beard with crumbs of makhorka on it shook.

"What a kid you still are!" he said. "Now, if things turn out badly for us, I'd simply catch it in the neck, but if I tried to draw my revolver they'd probably make potted meat of me. We'll use revolvers when the time comes, but just now our best weapon is the word. Baskakov is going to speak today for our people."

"Baskakov?" I said, surprised. "But he's such a bad speaker. He can hardly put his sentences together. Between one word and the next you can fall asleep."

"That's how he is here, but you should hear him at meetings."

The road to Kamenka ran across an old rotting bridge, past uncut flood meadows and small channels overgrown with tall dense reeds. Peasant carts coming from town stretched along the road. Barefooted peasant women with empty milk cans trudged home from the market. We were in no hurry, but when a droshky packed with S.R.s overtook us, we quickened our steps.

Groups of peasants from the neighbouring villages flocked to the square from all sides along the wide streets. The meeting had not yet begun, but the noise and hubbub could be heard at a distance.

I saw Fedka among the crowd. He snooped backwards and forwards, thrusting leaflets into the hands of passers-by. Seeing me, he ran up.

"Oho! So you've come too. Gee, it's going to be exciting today! Here, take a batch and help me hand them out."

He gave me a batch of some dozen leaflets. I unfolded one of them. They were S.R. leaflets in favour of war to a victorious finish and against desertion. I gave them back to him.

"No, Fedka, I'm not going to hand out these leaflets. Do it yourself if you want."

Fedka spat in disgust.

"You're a fool. You're not with them, are you?" he said, jerking his head in the direction of Jackdaw and Baskakov. "You're a nice one, I must say. And I relied on you!"

With a contemptuous shrug, Fedka disappeared among the crowd.

"He relied on me," I said to myself with an ironical smile. "As if I haven't got a head of my own!"

"To a victorious finish..." I heard a quiet voice next to me.

Turning round, I saw a bareheaded peasant with a pock-marked face. He was barefooted, too, and in one hand he held a leaflet, and in the other a torn bridle. He must have been engaged mending it and had come out of his hut to hear what people were saying.

"To a victorious finish—I like that!" he repeated, eyeing the crowd with a puzzled wondering look. He shook his head, sat down on the doorstep, and poking a finger at the leaflet shouted into the ear of the deaf old man sitting next to him:

"Again to a victorious finish. We've been hearing that since nineteen fourteen. How d'you make that out, Grandpa Prokhor?"

A cart was rolled out into the middle of the square. A chairman, whom no one had elected—a perky little fellow—got up on the cart and shouted:

"Citizens! I declare the meeting open. I give the floor to Comrade Kruglikov, the Socialist-Revolutionary, who will report on the Provisional Government, on the war and the present situation."

The chairman jumped off the cart. For a minute or so there was no one on the "platform". Then all of a sudden Kruglikov sprang up on it, stood up to his full height and raised his hand. The hubbub was silenced.

"Citizens of great free Russia! On behalf of the Party of Socialist-Revolutionaries I convey ardent greetings to you,"

Kruglikov started speaking. I listened to him, careful not to miss a word.

He spoke about the difficult conditions the Provisional Government was obliged to work in. The Germans were pressing on the front, dark forces—German spies and the Bolsheviks—were agitating in favour of Wilhelm.

"We had Tsar Nicholas, now there'll be Wilhelm. Do you want a tsar again?" he asked.

"No, we've had enough!" hundreds of voices answered from the crowd.

"We're tired of the war," Kruglikov went on. "Aren't we fed up with it? Isn't it time to finish with it?"

"Hear, hear!" the crowd responded with still greater unanimity.

"What's the idea, speaking off somebody else's programme," I whispered indignantly to Jackdaw. "They don't stand for ending the war, do they?"

Jackdaw nudged me in the ribs. "Shut up and listen."

"It's high time! There, you see," the S.R. continued, "you all say that to a man. But the Bolsheviks don't give the war-weary country a chance to get the war over with victory. They are demoralising the army, and the army is unfit for action. If we had a fighting-fit army we would deal the enemy a decisive winning blow and conclude peace. But we can't conclude peace now. Whose fault is that? Whose fault is it that our sons, brothers, husbands and fathers are rotting in the trenches instead of coming home to peaceful work? Who is putting off victory and dragging out the war? We, Socialist-Revolutionaries, solemnly declare: Long live the last decisive blow at the enemy, long live the victory of the revolutionary army over the German hordes, and after that—down with war and long live peace!"

The crowd breathed hard amid clouds of makhorka smoke. Shouts of approval were heard here and there.

Kruglikov began speaking about the Constituent Assembly, which was to be the master of the land, about the arbitrary seizure of the landed estates, and about the need for preserving order and carrying out the instructions and commands of the Provisional Government. He spun a fine web around the minds of his listeners. At first he stood up for the peasants, whom he reminded of their needs. When the crowd started to shout its approval— "Hear, hear!" "You're right!" "It couldn't be worse!"— Kruglikov, by imperceptible degrees, began to reverse. It suddenly turned out that the crowd, which had just agreed with him that without the land there was no freedom for the peasants, was led to the conclusion that in a free country the land could not be taken away from the landowners by seizure.

He ended his ninety-minute speech amid a loud hum of applause and curses hurled at the heads of the spies and the Bolsheviks.

"Baskakov is no match for Kruglikov," I thought. "Look how worked up they all are!"

To my surprise, Baskakov, who was standing next to me, puffing at his pipe, did not reveal the slightest intention of getting up on the platform.

The S.R.s huddled round the cart were somewhat puzzled, too, at the behaviour of the Bolsheviks. They decided that the Bolsheviks were waiting for somebody else to arrive, and so they let out another speaker. This one was much weaker than Kruglikov. He stammered in a low voice and repeated much of what had already been said. When he got down there was considerably less clapping.

Baskakov still stood smoking. His long narrow eyes were pursed and his face wore a good-humoured artless expression as much as to say: "Let 'em jabber. Who cares? I'm smoking my pipe, not interfering with anybody."

The third speaker was no better than the second one, and when he got down most of the audience started whistling, whooping and shouting:

"Hi, Mr. Chairman there!"

"Let's have other speakers, you chump!"

"Let's have those Bolsheviks! Why don't you give 'em the floor?"

Countering this charge, the chairman protested that he was giving the floor to anybody who wanted it, but the Bolsheviks didn't ask for it themselves, because they were probably afraid. He couldn't force them to speak.

"If you can't, then we can!"

"Gone and done the dirty and now they're trying to hide!"

"Drag 'em to the cart by the scruff of the neck! Let 'em speak out in front o' people. . . ."

The roar of the crowd frightened me. I glanced at Jackdaw. He was smiling, but pale.

"That'll do, Baskakov," he said. "It may end badly."

Baskakov cleared his throat with a loud noise, thrust his pipe away into his pocket and shambled towards the cart past the angry crowd, who made way for him.

He took his time. First he glanced incuriously at the knot of S.R.s around the cart, then wiped his forehead with the flat of his hand, ran his eye over the crowd, folded his huge fist into a fig, held it up for everyone to see, and said in a cool, loud, mocking voice:

"Seen that?"

Such an extraordinary opening startled me. It took the peasants, too, by surprise.

It immediately evoked angry cries:

"What's this?"

"What's the idea, showing people a fig?"

"Answer in words, damn you, not figs, if you don't want to get it in the neck!"

"Seen that?" Baskakov began again. "If you haven't, they'll show you one better," he jerked his head in the direction of the S.R.s. "Enough to make a cat sick, the way you citizens of free Russia swallow everything you're told. Now tell me this, citizens—what good has the revolution done you? You had a war, and you've still got it. You had no land, and you still haven't got it. The landowner lived next door and he's still there, alive and kicking. He should worry. You can whoop and hoot till you're blue in the face. This government, too, will stand up for the landowner. You ask the Vodovatovo villagers —what happened when they tried to get at the squire's land? They found a military detachment there. It was fine land all right, but there was nothing doing. You've stood it for three hundred years, you say? Go on, put up with it still longer. God loves patient souls, they say. Wait for the landowner to come and doff his cap, saying: 'Would you like some good land? Take it, please, do me a favour.' You can wait till doomsday. Have you heard that the Constituent Assembly, when it meets, is going to discuss the question—'Should the land be given to the peasantry with or without redemption payments?' Now then, count your money when you get home and see if you have enough to buy off the land. That's why there was a revolution, according to you—so that you could buy your own land off from the landowners? What the blazes, I ask you, did we need such a revolution for? Couldn't you have bought off the land for your own money without having a revolution?"

"What's that about redemption payments?" angered and worried voices were raised in the crowd.

"Just this..." Baskakov said, producing a crumpled leaflet from his pocket and reading out from it: " 'Justice demands that the landowners receive compensation for the land which is handed over from them to the peasants.' That's redemption payment for you. That's what the Cadet Party writes, and they're going to sit in the Constituent Assembly too. They, too, are going to fight for their own interests. But we, Bolsheviks, say bluntly: It's no good waiting for the Constituent Assembly, give us the land right away, without any discussions, without stalling, and without redemption payments! We've paid enough." "Paid enough!" hundreds of voices echoed in the crowd. "Discussions be damned! Like as not we'll get nothing again."

"Shut up, can't you! Let the Bolshevik speak! Maybe he'll say something hot again."

I stood open-mouthed next to Jackdaw. A sudden wave of joy and pride for Baskakov swept over me.

"Semyon Ivanovich!" I cried, pulling Jackdaw's sleeve. "And I thought that of him. Why, it's not even a speech he's making, he's simply talking to them."

"My, what a fine chap, what a clever chap Baskakov is!" I thought as I listened to his calm heavy words dropping into the excited crowd.

"Peace after victory?" Baskakov was saying. "Not a bad idea. We'll conquer Constantinople. We're desperately in need of Constantinople, we are! We'll conquer Berlin, too, while we're at it. I ask you"—Baskakov jabbed a finger at the peasant with the bridle, who had pushed his way forward—"I ask you: Has the German or the Turk borrowed money from you which he doesn't want to give back? Come on, my dear man, tell me what business you've got in Constantinople. Are you going to cart potatoes to the market there? Why don't you speak?"

The peasant reddened and blinked, then spread his hands and answered in an irate tone:

"I don't need it at all. . . . What do I want it for?"

"You don't want it, nor do I, nor does anyone else here. The merchants want it so's to carry on a profitable trade. If they want it let 'em fight for it. What's the peasant got to do with it? Why have they driven half your village off to the front? To help the merchants rake in the profits! What boobs you are! Big fellows with beards, yet anyone can twist you round his little finger."

"You've said it!" the peasant cried, smacking his leg. "Daze my eyes, the man's right!" He heaved a deep sigh and lowered his head.

"Well then, we tell you," Baskakov said, winding up, "we don't want peace after victory, until the cows come home, and more thousands of workers and peasants will have been maimed—we want peace now, without any victories. We haven't won a victory yet over the landowner on our own land. Am I right, brothers, or not? If anybody doesn't agree, let him come out here and say I'm a liar, say I wasn't telling you the truth. I've got nothing more to say!"

I remember, a moaning roar broke from the crowd. The S.R. Kruglikov, with a white face, jumped up, waving his arms in an attempt to make himself heard. He was pushed off the cart. Baskakov lighted his pipe, and the peasant with the pock-marked face, the one Baskakov had asked what he wanted Constantinople for, tugged at his sleeve, inviting him into his hut to have tea.

"With honey!" he said in a voice that was almost pleading. "We've still got a little left. Let your friends come, too."

We drank boiling water brewed with dried raspberries. There was a pleasant smell of honeycomb in the hut. The droshky loaded with S.R.s rolled past the window down the dusty road. Dry stuffy evening set in. Far away in town the bells were droning. The monks and clergy of the thirty churches were offering up prayers for the appeasement of the rebellious land.


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