Two Captains is one of the most renowned novel of the Russian writer Veniamin Kaverin. The plot spans from 1912 to 1944. The real prototype for Captain Tatarinov was Lieutenant Georgii Brusilov, who in 1912 organized a privately funded expedition seeking a west-to-east Northern sea route. The steamship "St. Anna," specially built for the expedition, left Petersburg on 28 July 1912. Near the shores of Yamal peninsula it was seized by ice and carried in the ice drift to the north of the Kara Sea. The expedition survived two hard winters. Of the 14 people who left the stranded steamship in 1914, only two made it to one of the islands of Frants-Joseph Land and were spotted and taken aboard "St. Foka", the ship of the expedition of G.Y.Sedov. The ship log they had kept with them contained the most important of the scientific data, after the study of which Sedov's expedition found the previously unknown island in the Kara Sea, Vize Island. The ultimate fate of "St.Anna" and its remaining crew is still unknown. In 1946 his novel Two Captains became the winner of the USSR State Literature Award.

VENIAMIN KAVERIN

TWO CAPTAINS

Translation from the Russian

Translated by Bernard Isaacs

(Abridged by the Author)

The Foreign Languages Publishing House

MOSCOW 1945

CONTENTS

Author's Preface

BOOK ONE

PART ONE.

Childhood

Chapter 1. The Letter. In Search of the Blue Crab

Chapter 2. Father

Chapter 3. The Petition

Chapter 4. The Village

Chapter 5. Doctor Ivan Ivanovich. I Learn to Speak

Chapter 6. Father's Death. I Refuse to Speak

Chapter 7. Mother

Chapter 8. Pyotr Skovorodnikov

Chapter 9. Stroke, Stroke, Stroke, Five, Twenty, a Hundred

Chapter 10. Aunt Dasha

Chapter 11. A Talk with Pyotr

Chapter 12. Scaramouch Joins the Death Battalion

Chapter 13. Journey's End

Chapter 14. We Run Away. I Pretend to Be Asleep

Chapter 15. To Strive, to Seek, to Find and Not to Yield

Chapter 16. My First Flight

Chapter 17. Clay Modelling

Chapter 18. Nikolai Antonich

PART TWO.

Food for Thought

Chapter 1. I Listen to Fairy-Tales

Chapter 2. School

Chapter 3. The Old Lady From Ensk

Chapter 4. More Food for Thought.

Chapter 5. Is There Salt in Snow?

Chapter 6. I Go Visiting

Chapter 7. The Tatarinovs

Chapter 8. Korablev Proposes

Chapter 9. The Rejected Suito

Chapter 10. I Go Away

Chapter 11. A Serious Talk

Chapter 12. I Start Thinking

Chapter 13. The Silver Fifty-Kopeck Piece

PART THREE.

Old Letters

Chapter 1. Four Years

Chapter 2. The Trial of Eugene Onegin

Chapter 3. At the Skating-Rink

Chapter 4. Changes

Chapter 5. Katya's Father

Chapter 6. More Changes

Chapter 7. Marginal Notes

Chapter 8. The Ball

Chapter 9. My First Date. Insomnia

Chapter 10. Troubles

Chapter 11. I Go to Ensk

Chapter 12. Home Again

Chapter 13. The Old Letters

Chapter 14. A Rendezvous in Cathedral Gardens. "Do Not Trust That Man"

Chapter 15. We Go for Walks. I Visit Mother's Grave. Day of Departure

Chapter 16. What Awaited Me in Moscow

Chapter 17. I Burn My Boats

Chapter 18. An Old Friend

Chapter 19. It Could All Have Been Different

Chapter 20. Maria Vasilievna

Chapter 21. In the Dead of Night

Chapter 22. It Isn't Him

Chapter 23. Slander

Chapter 24. Our Last Meeting

PART FOUR.

The North

Chapter 1. Flying School

Chapter 2. Sanyo's Wedding

Chapter 3. I Write to Doctor Ivan Ivanovich.

Chapter 4. I Receive a Reply.

Chapter 5. Three Years

Chapter 6. I Meet the Doctor

Chapter 7. I Read the Diaries.

Chapter 8. I think we have met.

Chapter 9. Good Night!.

Chapter 10. The Flight

Chapter 11. The Blizzard

Chapter 12. What Is a Primus-Stove?

Chapter 13. The Old Boat-Hook

Chapter 14. Vanokan

PART FIVE.

For the Heart

Chapter 1. I Meet Katya

Chapter 2. Korablev's Anniversary

Chapter 3. Without Title

Chapter 4. News Galore

Chapter 5. At the Theatre

Chapter 6. Still More Comes to Light

Chapter 7. "We Have a Visitor!"

Chapter 8. True to a Memory

Chapter 9. It Is Decided-She Goes Away.

Chapter 10. Sivtsev-Vrazhek

Chapter 11. A Hectic Day

Chapter 12. Romashka

BOOK TWO

PART SIX. From the Diary of Katya Tatarinova YOUTH CONTINUES

PART SEVEN. From the Diary of Katya Tatarinova SEPARATION.

PART EIGHT.

Told by Sanya Grigoriev. To strive, to seek

Chapter 1. He

Chapter 2. All We Could

Chapter 3. "Is That You, Owl?"

Chapter 4. Old Scores

Chapter 5. In the Aspen Wood

Chapter 6. Nobody Will Know

Chapter 7. Alone

Chapter 8. The Boys

Chapter 9. Dealing with Love.

Chapter 10. The Verdict

Chapter 11. I Look for Katya

Chapter 12. I Meet Hydrographer R.

Chapter 13. Decision.

Chapter 14. Friends Who Were Not at Home

Chapter 15. An Old Acquaintance. Katya's Portrait

Chapter 16. "You Won't Kill Me"

Chapter 17. The Shadow

PART NINE.

To Find and Not to Yield

Chapter 1. This Is Not the End Yet.

Chapter 2. The Doctor Serves in the Arctic

Chapter 3. To Those at Sea

Chapter 4. Ranging Wide

Chapter 5. Back at Zapolarie

Chapter 6. Victory

PART TEN.

The Last Page

Chapter 1. The Riddle Is Solved

Chapter 2. The Unbelievable

Chapter 3. It Was Katya

Chapter 4. The Farewell Letters

Chapter 5. The Last Page

Chapter 6. The Homecoming

Chapter 7. Two Conversations

Chapter 8. My Paper

Chapter 9. And the Last.

Epilogue

AUTHOR 'S PREFACE

I recall a spring day in 1921, when Maxim Gorky first invited to his home a group of young Leningrad writers, myself among them. He lived in Kronwerk Street and the windows of his flat overlooked Alexandrovsky Park. We trooped in, so many of us that we took quite a time getting seated, the bolder ones closer to the host, the more timid on the ottoman, from which it was a job getting up afterwards-it was so soft and sagged almost to the floor. I shall always remember that ottoman of Gorky's. When I lowered myself on to it I saw my outstretched feet encased in shabby soldier's boots. I couldn't hide them away. As for getting up-it was not to be thought of. Those boots worried me until I noticed a pair just as bad, if not worse, on Vsevolod Ivanov, who was sitting next to Gorky.

Alice in her wonderland underwent strange transformations on almost every page of Carroll’s book. At one moment she becomes so small that she freely goes down a rabbit's hole, the next so tall that she can speak only with birds living in the tree-tops. Something like that was happening to me at Gorky's place. At one moment I thought I ought to put in a word of my own in the conversation that had started between Gorky and my older companions, a word so profound that it would make them all sit up. The next minute I shrank so small on that low uncomfortable ottoman that I felt a sort of Tom Thumb, not that brave little fellow we all know, but a somewhat timorous Tom Thumb, at once timorous and proud.

Gorky began to speak with approval about Ivanov's latest short story "The Brazier of Archangel Gabriel". It was this that started me on my transformations. Ivanov's story was far removed from anything that interested me in literature, and I took Gorky's high opinion of it as a harsh verdict on all my hopes and dreams. Gorky read the story out aloud. His face softened, his eyes grew tender and his gestures betrayed that benign mood so familiar to everyone who had seen Gorky in moments of pure rapture.

He dabbed his eyes with his handkerchief and began to speak about the story. His admiration for it did not prevent him from seeing its shortcomings. Some of his remarks applied even to the choice of words.

"What is the work of a writer?" he asked, and for the first time I heard some very curious things. The work of a writer, it appeared, was simply work, the daily, maybe hourly work of writing, writing on paper or in one's mind. It meant piles of rough copies, dozens of crossed-out versions. It meant patience, because talent imposed upon the writer a peculiar pattern of life in which patience was the most important thing of all. It was the life of Zola, who used to strap himself to his chair; of Goncharov, who took about twenty years writing his novel Obryv (Precipice); of Jack London, who died of fatigue, whatever his doctors may have said. It was hard life of self-dedication, full of trials and disappointments. "Don't you believe those who say that it is easy bread," Gorky said.

To describe a writer's work in all its diversity is no light task. I may get nearest to doing this by simply answering the numerous letters I have received in connection with my novel Two Captains and thus telling the story of how this one novel at least came to be written.

The questions my correspondents ask chiefly concern the two heroes of my novel-Sanya Grigoriev and Captain Tatarinov. Many of them ask whether it was my own life that I described in Two Captains. Some want to know whether the story of Captain Tatarinov was invented by me. Others search for the name in books of geography and encyclopaedias and are surprised to find that the activities of Captain Tatarinov have left no visible traces in the history of Arctic exploration. Some want to know where Sanya Grigoriev and Katya Tatarinova are living at present and what rank Sanya was promoted to after the war. Others ask the author's advice as to what job they should devote their lives. The mother of a boy, known as the terror of the town, whose pranks often verged on hooliganism, wrote me that after reading my novel her son had become a different person, and shortly afterwards I received a letter from Alexander Rokotov himself which showed that the boy was intelligent and talented as well as mischievous. Some years have passed since then, and student Rokotov of the Aviation Institute has acquired expert knowledge in aircraft construction.

It took me about five years to write this novel. When the first book was finished the war started, and it was not until 1944 that I returned to my work. The idea of writing this novel originated in 1937, after I had met a man whom I have portrayed in Two Captains under the name of Sanya Grigoriev. This man told me the story of his life-a life filled with hard work, self-dedication and love of his country. I made it a rule from the very first page not to invent anything, or hardly anything. In fact, even such a curious detail as the muteness of little Sanya has not been invented by me. His mother and father, his sister and friends have been described exactly as they first appeared to me in the narrative of my chance acquaintance, who afterwards became my friend. Of some of the personages of my future book I learned from him very little. Korablev, for example, was sketchily described in his narrative as a man with a quick searching eye, which invariably made the schoolchildren speak the truth; other characteristics were a moustache and a walking stick and a habit of sitting over a book late into the night. This outline had to be filled in by the author's imagination in order to create a character study of a Soviet schoolteacher.

The story, as told to me, was really a very simple one. It was the story of a boy who had had a cheerless childhood and was brought up by Soviet society, by people who had taken the place of his dead parents and had sustained in him the dream he had cherished in his ardent and honest heart since early childhood.

Nearly all the circumstances of this boy's life, and later of his youth and manhood, have been retained in the novel. His childhood years, however, were spent on the Volga and his school years in Tashkent-places with which I am not very familiar. I have therefore transferred the early scene of my book to my own hometown, which I have named Ensk. No wonder my fellow townsmen have so easily deciphered the town's real name. My school years (the senior forms) were spent in Moscow, and I have been able to describe in my book a Moscow school of the early twenties with greater authenticity than I could have achieved with a Tashkent school.

I might mention another question which my correspondents ask me, namely, to what extent the novel Two Captains is autobiographical. To a considerable extent everything, from the first to the last page, that Sanya Grigoriev has seen has been seen by the author with his own eyes. Our two lives ran parallel, so to speak. But when Sanya Grigoriev's profession came into the book I had to drop the "personal" material and make a study of the life of pilots, of which I had known very little until then.

Invaluable assistance in studying aeronautics was given me by Senior Lieutenant S. Y. Klebanov, who died the death of a hero in 1943. He was a talented pilot, a brave officer and a fine, upright man. I was proud of his friendship. During my work on the second volume I came across (among the materials of the War Study Commission) testimonials of Klebanov's brother-officers showing that my high opinion of him was shared by his comrades.

It is difficult, well nigh impossible, to give any complete answer to the question of how one or another character of a literary work is created, especially if the narrative is in the first person. Apart from those observations, reminiscences, and impressions which I have mentioned, my book contains thousands of others which had no direct bearings on the story as told to me and which served as the groundwork for Two Captains. Imagination, as everyone knows, plays a tremendous role in a writer's work. And it is on this that one must speak before passing to the story of my second principal character Captain Tatarinov.

Don't look for his name in encyclopaedias or handbooks. Don't try to prove, as one pupil did at a geography lesson, that it was Tatarinov and not Vilkitsky who discovered Novaya Zemlya. For the older of my two captains I used the story of two brave explorers of the Arctic. One of them supplied me with the courageous character of a man pure in thought and clear in aim-qualities that bespeak a noble soul. This was Sedan. From the other I took the actual story of his voyage. This was Brusilov. The drift of my St. Maria repeats exactly the drift of Brusilov's St. Anne. The diaries of Navigating Officer Klimov quoted in my novel are based on the diary of Albanov, Navigating Officer of the St. Anne, one of the two surviving members of that tragic expedition. The historical material alone, however, did not seem enough to me. I knew that there lived in Leningrad a painter and writer by the name of Nikolai Pinegin, a friend of Sedov's and one of those who had brought his schooner the St. Phocas back to the mainland after the death of Sedov. We met, and Pinegin not only told me a lot more about Sedov and gave me a vivid picture of the man, but explained the tragedy of his life, the life of a great explorer slandered and refused recognition by reactionary circles of society in tsarist Russia. Incidentally, during one of my meetings with Pinegin the latter treated me to some tinned food which he had picked up at Cape Flora in 1914, and to my amazement I found it excellent. I mention this trivial detail because it is characteristic of Pinegin and of the range of interests into which I was drawn during my visits to this "Arctic home".

Later, when the first volume had already appeared, Sedov's widow gave me a lot of interesting information. The summer of 1941 found me working hard on the second volume, in which I intended to make wide use of the story of the famous airman Levanevsky. My plan was thought out, the materials were studied and the first chapters written. V. Y. Vize, the well-known scientist and Arctic explorer, approved the contents of the future "Arctic" chapters and told me many interesting things about the work of search parties. But the war broke out and I had to dismiss for a long time the very idea of finishing the novel. I wrote front-line reportage, war sketches and short stories. However, the hope of being able to take up the novel again apparently did not leave me, otherwise I would not have found myself asking the editor of Izvestia to send me to the Northern Front. It was there, among the airmen and submarines of the Northern Fleet that I realised that the characters of my book would appear blurred and sketchy if I did not describe how, together with all the Soviet people, they had borne the dreadful ordeals of the war and won it.

I had known from books, reports and personal impressions what peacetime life was like among those people, who had worked to turn the Northern Country into a smiling hospitable land, who had tapped the incalculable resources that lay within the Arctic Circle, who had built towns, docks, mines and factories there. Now, during the war, I saw all this prodigious energy dedicated to the defence of this land and of these gains. I might be told that the same thing happened in every corner of our land. Of course it did, but the severe conditions of the North gave to it a special, expressive touch.

I don't think I have been able to answer all the questions of my correspondents. Who served as the prototype of Nikolai Antonich? Where did I get Nina Kapitonovna? What truth is there in the story of Sanya's and Katya's love?

To answer these questions I would have to ascertain, if only approximately, to what extent one or another figure was an actor in real life. As regards Nikolai Antonich, for instance, no such effort on my part would be needed. I have changed only a few outward features in my portrait of the real headmaster of the Moscow school which I finished in 1919. The same applies to Nina Kapitonovna, who could but recently be met in Sivtsev Vrazhek, wearing the same green jacket and carrying the same shopping bag. As for the love of Sanya and Katya, I had had only the youthful period of this story told to me. Exercising the prerogative of the novelist, I drew from this story my own conclusions, which seemed to me only natural for the hero of my book.

One schoolboy, by the way, wrote telling me that exactly the same thing had happened to him-he had fallen in love with a girl and kissed her in the school grounds. "So that now that your book Two Captains is finished, you can write about me," the boy suggested.

Here is another incident which, indirectly, answers the question as to what truth there is in the love of Sanya and Katya. One day I received a letter from Ordzhonikidze (Northern Caucasus) from a lady named Irina N. who wrote, "After reading your novel I feel certain that you are the man I have been looking for these last eighteen years. I am persuaded of this not only by the details of my life given in the novel, which could be known to you alone, but also by the places and even the dates of our meetings in Triumfalnaya Square and outside the Bolshoi Theatre…" I replied that I had never made any dates with my correspondent in Triumfalnaya Square or outside the Bolshoi Theatre, and that I would have to make inquiries of the Arctic pilot who had served as the prototype for my hero. But the war started and this strange correspondence broke off.

Irina N.'s letter reminds me of another incident, which equated literature, as it were, with real life. During the blockade of Leningrad, in the grim, forever memorable days of late autumn of 1941, the Leningrad Radio Broadcasting Committee asked me to convey a message to the young Communists of the Baltic in the name of Sanya Grigoriev. I pointed out that although I had portrayed in Sanya Grigoriev a definite person, a bomber pilot, who was fighting at the time on the Central Front, he was nevertheless only a literary character.

"So what of it," was the answer. "It makes no difference. Write as if the name of your literary hero could be found in the telephone book."

I consented, of course. In the name of Sanya Grigoriev I wrote a message to the Komsomol boys and girls of Leningrad and the Baltic, and in response letters addressed to my literary hero came pouring in, expressing confidence in victory.

I remember myself a boy of nine entering my first library; it was quite a small one, but seemed very big to me then. Behind a tall barrier, under paraffin lamp, stood a smooth-haired woman in spectacles wearing a black dress with a white collar. The barrier was so high-at least to me-and the lady in black so forbidding that I all but turned tail. In a voice overloud through shyness I reported that I had already turned nine and was therefore entitled to become a card holder. The forbidding lady laughed and bending over the barrier the better to see the new reader retorted that she had heard of no such rule.

In the end, though, I managed to join the library, and the time flew so quickly in reading that one day I discovered with surprise that the barrier was not all that high, nor the lady as forbidding as I had first thought.

This was the first library in which I felt at home, and ever since then I have always had this feeling when coming into a house, large or small, in which there are bookshelves along the walls and people standing by them thinking only one thing-that these books were there to be read. So it was in childhood. And so it was in youth, with long hours spent in the vast Shchedrin public library in Leningrad. Working in the Archives Department, I penetrated into the very heart of the temple of temples. Raising my eyes-tired, because reading manuscripts makes them tire quickly-I watched the noiseless work of the librarians and experienced again and again a feeling of gratitude. That feeling has remained for a lifetime. Wherever I go, to whatever place fate brings me, I always ask first thing, "Is there a library here?" And when I am told, "There is," that town or township, farm or village, becomes closer, as if irradiating a warm, unexpected light.

In Schwarz's play "The Snow Queen", the privy councillor, a dour individual who deals in ice, asks the storyteller whether there are any children in the house, and on learning that there are, he shudders, because at the sound of children's voices the ice of the blackest soul melts. So does a house in which there are books differ from those in which there are none.

The best writers can be compared to scouts into the future, to those brave explorers of new and unknown spaces, of whom Fridtjof Nansen, the famous Norwegian explorer, wrote: "Let us follow the narrow tracks of the sled runners and those little black dots laying a railway, as it were, into the heart of the unknown. The wind howls and sweeps across these tracks leading into the snowy wastes. Soon they will disappear, but a trail has been blazed, we have acquired a new banner, and this deed will shine forever through the ages."

V. Kaverin

BOOK ONE

PART ONE

CHILDHOOD

Chapter one

THE LETTER. IN SEARCH OF THE BLUE CRAB

I remember the big dirty yard and the squat little houses with the fence round them. The yard stood on the edge of the river, and in the spring, when the flood-water subsided, it was littered with bits of wood and shells, and sometimes with things far more interesting. On one occasion, for instance, we found a postman's bag full of letters, and afterwards the waters brought down the postman himself and deposited him carefully on the bank. He was lying on his back, quite a young man, fair-haired, in postman's uniform with shining buttons; he must have polished them up before setting out on this last round.

A policeman took the bag, but Aunt Dasha kept the letters-they were soaking wet and of no further use to anybody. Not all of them were soaked though. The bag had been a new one, made of leather, and was closed tight. Every evening Aunt Dasha used to read one of the letters out, sometimes to me alone, sometimes to the whole yard. It was so interesting that even the old women, who used to go to Skovorodnikov's to play cards, would drop the game and join us. There was one letter which Aunt Dasha used to read more often than any other, so often, in fact, that I soon got to know it by heart. Many years have passed since then, but I can still remember it from the first word to the last. "Dear Maria Vasilievna,

"I hasten to inform you that Ivan Lvovich is alive and well. Four months ago, on his orders, I left the schooner along with thirteen of the crew. I hope to see you soon, so I shall not describe our difficult journey across the pack-ice to Franz Josef Land. We suffered terrible hardships and privations. I will only say that I was the only one of our party to reach Cape Flora safely (not counting a pair of frostbitten feet). I was picked up by the St. Phocas, of Lieutenant Sedov's Expedition, and taken to Archangel. Although I have survived, I have little reason to rejoice, as I shall soon be undergoing an operation, after which I can only trust in God's mercy, for God alone knows how I'm going to live without feet. What I have to tell you is this.

The St. Maria became icebound in the Kara Sea and since October 1912 has been drifting steadily north with the Arctic icefields. When we left the schooner she was in latitude 82° 55'. She is standing in the middle of an icefield, or rather that was where she was from the autumn of 1912 until the day I left her. She may be free of the ice this year, but I think this is more likely to happen next year, when she will be round about the spot where the Fram broke free. The men who have remained in her have enough victuals to last until October or November of next year. In any case, I hasten to assure you that we did not leave the ship because she was in a hopeless plight. I had to carry out Captain's orders, of course, but I must admit that they fell in with my own wishes. When I was leaving the ship with the thirteen men, Ivan Lvovich gave me a packet addressed to the Head of the Hydrographical Board-who has since died-and a letter for you. I dare not risk mailing them, because, being the only survivor, I am anxious to preserve all evidence of my honourable conduct. I therefore ask you to send for them or come to Archangel yourself, as I shall be spending at least three months in hospital.

"Awaiting your reply, I remain your obedient servant.

"I. Klimov, Navigating Officer."

The address had been washed away, but had obviously been written in the same bold upright hand on the thick yellowed envelope.

This letter must have become for me something in the nature of a prayer, for I used to repeat it every evening while waiting for my father to come home.

He used to come in late from the wharf. The steamers arrived now every day and took on cargoes, not of flax and grain as they used to do, but of heavy cases containing cartridges and gun parts. Burly, thickset and moustached, he used to come in wearing a cloth cap and tarpaulin trousers. Mother would talk and talk, while he ate in silence, once in a while clearing his throat or wiping his moustache. Then he would take us children-my sister and me-and lie down to sleep. He smelt of hemp, sometimes of apples or grain, and sometimes of rancid machine-oil, and I remember what a depressing effect that smell had on me.

It must have been on one such cheerless evening, as I lay beside my father, that I first became aware of my surroundings. The squalid little room With its low ceiling, its walls pasted over with newspapers, and a big crack under the window through which drew cold air and the tang of the river-such was our home. The dark, beautiful woman with her hair let down, sleeping on the floor on two sacks filled with straw, was my mother. The little feet sticking out from under the patchwork quilt belonged to my sister. The dark skinny boy in the outsize trousers who crept shivering out of bed and stole into the yard was me.

A likely spot had been selected long ago, string had been prepared and even dry twigs piled up at the Gap; all I needed now to go out after the blue crabs was a piece of rotting meat. The bed of our river was all different colours, and so were the crabs in it-black, green, and yellow. These were baited with frogs and lured with a bonfire. But the blue crab, as all of us boys firmly believed, could only be taken with rotting meat. The day before I had had a stroke of luck at last: I had managed to steal a piece of meat from Mother and kept it in the sun all day. It was putrid now-one did not have to take it into one's hand to find that out.

I ran down to the Gap along the river bank: here brushwood had been piled up for a fire. In the distance one could see the towers, Pokrovsky Tower on one bank, Spassky on the other. When the war broke out they were used as army leather goods depots. Pyotr Skovorodnikov used to say that devils once dwelt in Spassky Tower and that he had actually seen them ferrying over to our side, after which they had scuttled their boat and made their home Pokrovsky Tower. He said the devils were fond of smoking and drinking, they had bullet-heads, and many of them were lame, having hurt themselves when they dropped from the sky. In Pokrovsky Tower they raised families and in fine weather went down to the river to steal the tobacco which the fishermen tied to their nets to appease the water-sprites.

So I was not really surprised when, as I was blowing up my little fire, I saw a thin black shape in the gap of the old ramparts.

"What are you doing here, shaver?" the devil said, just like any ordinary human being.

I couldn't have answered him even if I had wanted to. All I could do was just stare and shake.

At that moment the moon sailed out from behind the clouds, and I could make out the figure of the watchman across the river, walking round the leather depot-a burly man with a rifle sticking up behind his back.

"Catching crabs?"

He sprang down lightly and squatted by the fire.

"What's the matter with you, swallowed your tongue, silly?"

No, it wasn't a devil. It was a skinny hatless man with a walking stick which he kept slapping against his leg. I couldn't make out his face, but I noticed he had nothing on under his jacket and was wearing a scarf in place of a shirt.

"Don't want to speak, you rascal, eh?" He prodded me with his stick. "Come on, answer me! Answer! Or I'll-"

Without getting up, he grabbed my leg and pulled me towards him. I gave a sort of croaky sound.

"Ah, you're a deaf mute, I see!"

He let go of me and sat there for quite a while, poking among the embers with his stick.

"Fine town, this," he said disgustedly. "A dog in every blessed yard; brutes of policemen. Damned crab-eaters!"

And he started to swear.

Had I known what was to happen within the hour, I should have tried to remember what he said, although just the same I could not have repeated his words to anybody. He went on swearing for quite a time, and even spat in the fire and gnashed his teeth. Then he fell silent, his head thrown back and knees clasped in his hands. I stole a glance at him and could have felt sorry for him had he not been so unpleasant.

Suddenly the man sprang to his feet. In a few minutes he was on the pontoon bridge, which the soldiers had recently put across the river, and I caught a last glimpse of him on the opposite bank before he disappeared.

My fire had gone out, but even without it I could see clearly that there wasn't a single blue crab among my catch, and a pretty good catch it was. Just ordinary black crabs, none too big either-they went for a kopeck a pair at the local pub.

A cold wind began to draw from somewhere behind me. My trousers billowed out and I began to feel cold. It was time to go home. I was casting my line, baited with meat, for the last time when I saw the watchman on the opposite bank running down the slope. Spassky Tower stood high above the river and the hillside leading down to the river bank was littered with stones. There was no sign of anybody on the hillside, which was lit up brightly by the moon, yet for some reason the watchman unslung this rifle as he ran.

"Halt!"

He did not fire, but just clicked the bolt, and, at that very moment I saw the man he was after on the pontoon bridge. I am choosing my words carefully, because even now I am not quite certain it was the man, who, an hour ago, had been sitting by my fire. But I can still see the scene before my eyes: the quiet banks, the widening moon path on the water running straight from where I was to the barges of the pontoon bridge, and on the bridge the long shadows of two running figures.

The watchman ran heavily and once he even stopped to take breath. But the one who was running ahead seemed to find the going still harder, for he suddenly stopped and crouched down by the handrail. The watchman ran up to him, shouting, then suddenly reeled back, as if he had been struck from below. He hung on the handrail, slowly slipping down, while the murderer was already disappearing behind the rampart.

I don't know why, but that night no one was guarding the pontoon bridge. The sentry-box stood empty, and except for the watchman, who was lying on his side with his arms stretched forward, there was not a soul in sight. A large undressed hide lay beside him, and when, shaking with terror, I went up to him, he started to yawn slowly. Years afterwards I learned that many people yawn just before they die. Then he heaved a deep sigh, as though with relief, and grew still.

Not knowing what to do, I bent over him, then ran to the sentry-box-that was when I saw it was empty-and back again to the watchman. I couldn't even shout, not only because I was a mute at the time, but from sheer terror. Now voices could be heard from the bank, and I rushed back to the place where I had been fishing for crabs. Never again in my life did I run so fast; my heart hammered wildly and I could scarcely breathe. I had no time to cover up the crabs with grass and I lost half of them by the time I got home. But who cared about crabs then!

With a thumping heart I opened the door noiselessly. In the single room of our home it was dark, all were fast asleep and no one had seen me go and come. In a moment I was lying in my old place beside my father, but I could not fall asleep for a long time. Before my eyes was the moonlit bridge and on it the two long running shadows.

Chapter Two

FATHER

Two vexations awaited me the next morning. For one thing, Mother had found the crabs and cooked them. There went my twenty kopeks and with them the hope of new hooks and spoonbait for catching pike. Secondly, I had lost my penknife. It was Father's knife, really, but as the blade was broken he had given it to me. I searched for it everywhere, inside the house and in the yard, but it seemed to have vanished into thin air.

The search kept me occupied till twelve o'clock when I had to go down to the wharf with Father's lunch. This was my duty, and very proud of it I was.

The men were still at work when I arrived. One wheelbarrow had got stuck between the planks and all traffic between the ship's side and the bank was stopped. The men behind were shouting and swearing, and two men were leaning their weight on a crowbar, trying to lift the barrow back into the wheel-track. Father passed round them in his leisurely way. He bent over and said something to them. That is how I have remembered him-a big man with a round, moustached face, broad-shouldered, lifting the heavily-laden wheelbarrow with ease. I was never to see him like that again.

He kept looking at me as he ate, as much as to say, "What's wrong, Sanya?" when a stout police-officer and three policemen appeared at the waterside. One of them shouted "Gaffer! "-that was what they called the ganger-and said something to him. The ganger gasped and crossed himself, and they all came towards us.

"Are you Ivan Grigoriev?" the officer asked, slipping his sword round behind him.

"Yes."

"Take him!" the police-officer cried, reddening. "He's arrested." Voices were raised in astonishment. Father stood up, and all fell silent.

"What for?" "None o' your lip! Grab him!"

The policemen went up to Father and laid hold of him. Father shook his shoulder, and they fell back, one of them drawing his sword.

"What is this, sir?" Father said. "Why are you arresting me? I'm not just anybody, everyone here knows me."

"Oh no they don't, my lad," the officer answered. "You're a criminal. Grab him!"

Again the policemen stepped towards Father. "Don't wave that herring about, you fool," Father said quietly through clenched teeth to the one who had drawn his sword. "I'm a family man, sir," he said, addressing the officer. "I've been working on this wharf for twenty years. What have I done? You tell'em all, so's they know what I'm being taken for. Otherwise people will really think I am a criminal."

"Playing the saint, eh?" the officer shouted. "Don't I know your kind! Come along!"

The policemen seemed to be hesitating. "Well?"

"Wait a minute, sir, I'll go myself," Father said. "Sanya," he bent down to me, "run along to your mother and tell her-Oh, you can't, of course, you're…"

He wanted to say that I was dumb, but checked himself. He never uttered that word, as though he hoped that one day I'd start speaking. He looked around in silence.

"I'll go with him, Ivan," said the ganger. "Don't worry." "Yes, do, Uncle Misha. And another thing…" Father got three rubles out of his pocket and handed them to the ganger. "Give them to her. Well, goodbye." They answered him in chorus.

He patted me on the head, saying: "Don't cry, Sanya." I didn't even know I was crying.

Even now I shudder at the memory of how Mother took on when she heard that Father had been arrested. She did not cry, but as soon as the ganger had gone, she sat down on the bed, and clenching her teeth, banged her head violently against the wall. My sister and I started howling, but she did not as much as glance at us. She kept beating her head against the wall, muttering something to herself. Then she got up, put on her shawl and went out.

Aunt Dasha managed the house for us all that day. We slept, or rather, my sister slept while I lay with open eyes, thinking, first about my father, how he had said goodbye to them all, then about the fat

police-officer, then about his little boy in a sailor suit whom I had seen in the Governor's garden, then about the three-wheeler this boy had been riding (if only I had one like that!) and finally about nothing at all until mother came back. She looked dark and haggard, and Aunt Dasha ran up to her.

I don't know why, but it suddenly occurred to me that the policemen had hacked Father to pieces, and for several minutes I lay without stirring, beside myself with grief, hearing nothing. Then I realised that I was wrong: he was alive, but they wouldn't let Mother see him. Three times she repeated that they had arrested him for murder-the watchman had been killed in the night on the pontoon bridge-before I grasped that the night was last night, and the watchman was that very watchman, and the pontoon bridge was that very same bridge on which he had lain with outstretched arms. I jumped up, rushed to my mother and cried out. She took me in her arms. She must have thought I had taken fright. But I was already "speaking"…

If only I had been able to speak then!

I wanted to tell her everything, absolutely everything-how I had stolen away to the Sands to catch crabs and how the dark man with the walking stick had appeared in the gap in the ramparts and how he had sworn and ground his teeth and then spat in the fire and gone off. No easy thing for a boy of eight who could barely utter two or three inarticulate words.

"The children are upset too," Aunt Dasha said with a sigh when I had stopped, thinking I had made myself clear, and looked at Mother.

"It isn't that. He wants to tell me something. Is there something you know, Sanya?"

Oh, if only I could speak! I started again, describing what I had seen. Mother understood me better than anyone else, but this time I saw with despair that she did not understand a word. How could she? How far removed from that scene on the pontoon bridge were the attempts of that thin, dark little boy to describe it, as he flung himself about the room, clad in nothing but his shirt. At one moment he threw himself upon the bed to show how soundly his father had slept that night, the next he jumped on to a chair and raised tightly clenched fists over a puzzled-looking Aunt Dasha.

After a while she made the sign of the cross over me. "The boys must have been beating him."

I shook my head vigorously.

"He's telling how they arrested his father," said Mother. "How the policeman threatened him. Isn't that right, Sanya?"

I started to cry, my face buried in her lap. She carried me to the bed and I lay there for a long time, listening to them talking and thinking how to communicate to them my amazing secret.

Chapter Three

THE PETITION

I am sure that in the long run I would have managed it somehow, if Mother hadn't taken ill the next morning. She had always seemed a bit queer to me, but I had never seen her so queer before.

Previously, when she would suddenly start standing at the window for hours on end, or jumping up in the middle of the night and sitting at the table in her nightdress until the morning. Father would take her back to the home village for a few days, and she would come back recovered. But Father wasn't there any more, and, besides, it was doubtful whether the trip would have helped her now.

She stood in the passage, bareheaded and barefooted, and did not even turn her head when somebody came into the house. She was silent all the time, except when she uttered two or three words in a distracted manner.

What's more, she seemed to be afraid of me, somehow. When I started to "speak", she stopped up her ears with a tortured expression. She passed a hand over her eyes and forehead as if trying to recollect something. She was so queer that even Aunt Dasha crossed herself furtively when Mother, in answer to her pleadings, turned and fixed her with a dreadful stare.

It must have been a fortnight before she came round. She still had fits of absent-mindedness, but little by little she began to talk, go outside into the yard and work. Ever more often now the word "petition" was on her lips. The first to utter it was old Skovorodnikov, then Aunt Dasha picked it up, and after her the whole yard. A petition must be lodged!

That day Mother went out and took us with her-me and my sister. We were going to the "Chambers" to hand in a petition. The "Chambers" were a dark building behind tall iron railings in Market Square.

My sister and I waited for a long time, sitting on an iron seat in the dimly lit high-ceilinged corridor. Messengers hurried to and fro with papers, doors slammed. Then Mother came back, seized my sister's hand, and we all started off at a run. The room we went into was barriered off, and I couldn't see the person to whom Mother was speaking and bowing humbly. But I heard a cold indifferent voice, and this voice, to my horror, was saying something which I alone in all the world could disprove.

"Ivan Grigoriev…" I heard the rustle of pages being turned over. "Article 1454 of the Criminal Code. Premeditated murder. What do you want, my dear woman?"

"Your Honour," my mother said in a tense unfamiliar voice, "he's not guilty. He never killed anyone."

"The court will go into that."

I had been standing all the time on tiptoes, my head thrown back so far that it bade fair to drop off, but all I could see across the barrier was a hand with long dry fingers, in which a pair of spectacles was being slowly dangled.

"Your Honour," Mother said again, "I want to hand in a petition to the court. Our whole yard has signed it."

"You may lodge a petition on payment of one ruble stamp duty."

"It's been paid. It wasn't his knife they found, Your Honour."

Knife? Had I heard aright?

"On that point we have the evidence of the accused himself."

"Maybe it was a week since he lost it."

Looking up, I could see Mother's lips trembling.

"Someone would have picked it up, my dear woman. Anyway, the court will go into that."

I heard nothing more. At that moment it dawned on me why my father had been arrested. It wasn't he, it was me who had lost that knife-an old clasp-knife with a wooden handle. The knife I had searched for the morning after the murder. The knife which could have dropped out of my pocket when I bent over the watchman on the pontoon bridge. The knife on whose handle Pyotr Skovorodnikov had burned out my name with a magnifying glass.

Looking back on it now I begin to realise that the officials who sat behind high barriers in dimly-lit halls would not have believed my story anyway. But at the time! The more I thought about it the heavier it weighed on my mind. It was my fault, then, that they had arrested Father. It was my fault that we were now going hungry. It was my fault that Mother had had to sell the new cloth coat for which she had been saving a whole year, my fault that she had had to go to the "Chambers" and speak in such an unfamiliar voice and bow so humbly to that unseen person with the long, horrible, dry fingers in which there slowly dangled a pair of spectacles.

Never before had I felt my dumbness so strongly.

Chapter Four

THE VILLAGE

The last of the rafts had passed down the river. The lights in the rafters' drifting huts were no longer visible at night when I woke up. There was emptiness on the river, emptiness in the yard and emptiness in the house.

Mother did washing in the hospital. She left the house first thing in the morning while we were still asleep, and I went to the Skovorodnikovs and listened to the old man swearing to himself.

Grey and unkempt, in steel-rimmed glasses, he sat on a low leather-covered stool in the little dark kitchen, stitching boots. When he was not stitching boots he was making nets or carving figures of birds and horses out of aspen wood. He had brought this trade with him from the Volga, where he had been born.

He was fond of me, probably because I was the only person he could talk to without being answered back. He cursed doctors, officials, tradesmen, and, with especial virulence, priests.

"If a man be dying, dare he murmur against it? The priests say no. But I say yes! What is murmuring?"

I didn't know what murmuring meant.

"Murmuring is discontent. And what is discontent? It's wanting more than's been allotted to you. The priests say you mustn't. Why?"

I didn't know why.

"Because 'dust thou art and to dust thou shalt return'. To the earth, that is."

He gave a bitter laugh.

"And what does the earth need? No more than is allotted to it."

So it was autumn now, and even the crabs, which had lately become a staple item in our domestic fare, had hidden themselves away in their holes and refused to be enticed out by my frogs. We were going hungry, and Mother finally decided to send me and my sister to the village.

I had never been in the country, but I knew that my father had a farm there. A farm! How disappointed I was on discovering that this was simply a cottage with a household plot, a little, overgrown vegetable garden in the middle of which stood a few aged apple trees.

The house was a small one, which having once slumped on its side, remained leaning sideways. The roof was tilted, the window-panes were smashed and the base logs were bent. The Russian stove seemed to be all right until we started a fire in it. Smoke-blackened benches were ranged around the walls, and in one corner hung an icon, on whose grimy panels a face could just be made out.

Whatever its faults, it was our house, and we undid our bundles, stuffed out mattresses with straw, glazed the windows and settled down to live in it.

Mother stayed with us only about three weeks, then went back to town. Grandma Petrovna agreed to take her place. She was Father's aunt, and that made her a sort of grandmother to us. She was a kind-hearted old woman, even though it was hard to get used to her grey beard and moustache. The only drawback was that she herself needed looking after. In fact, my sister and I looked after her all the winter, carrying water and heating her stove, since her cottage, which was little better than ours, was quite close.

That winter I grew attached to my sister. She was getting on for eight. Everyone in our family was dark, but she was fair, with fuzzy little pigtails and blue eyes. We were all rather taciturn, especially Mother, but my sister would start off talking the moment she opened her eyes. I never saw her cry, and it was the easiest thing in the world to make her laugh. Her name was Sanya, too, the same as mine-1 being Alexander and she Alexandra. Aunt Dasha had taught her to sing, and every evening she sang long songs in such a serious, thin little voice that you couldn't help laughing.

And how handy she was at housekeeping, and she only seven, mind you! Of course, running the house was a simple affair-in one corner of the attic lay potatoes, in another beets, cabbages, onions and salt. For bread we went to Petrovna's.

So there we were, two children in an empty house, in a remote snowed-up village. Every morning we used to tread a path in the snow to Petrovna's cottage. Only in the evenings did we feel a bit scared. It was so quiet you could almost hear the soft sound of the falling snow, and amidst this stillness the wind would suddenly start moaning in the chimney.

Chapter Five

DOCTOR IVAN IVANOVICH. I LEARN TO SPEAK

Then one evening, when we had just gone to bed and my sister had just fallen silent, dropping off to sleep as she always did with the last uttered word, and that saddening hush fell upon the world, with the wind beginning to moan in the chimney, I heard a tap on the window.

A tall bearded man in a sheepskin coat and cap with ear-flaps stood there; he was so stiff with cold that when I lit the lamp and let him in he could not even close the door behind him. Screening the light with my hand, I noticed that his nose was quite white-frost-nipped. He bent to take off his knapsack and suddenly sat down on the floor.

That was how he first appeared before me, the man I am indebted to for being able to write this story-frozen almost to death, crawling towards me on all fours. He tried to put his trembling fingers into his mouth, and sat on the floor breathing heavily. I started to help him off with his coat. He muttered something and slumped over on his side in a dead faint.

I had once seen Mother lying in a faint and Aunt Dasha had breathed into her mouth. I did exactly the same now. My visitor was lying by the warm stove and I don't know what it was in the end that brought him round; I only knew that I blew like mad till I felt dizzy. However that may be, he came to, sat up and began warming himself up vigorously. The colour returned to his nose. He even attempted a smile when I poured him out a mug of hot water.

"Are you children alone here?"

Before Sanya could answer "Yes," the man was asleep. He dropped off so suddenly that I was afraid he had died. But as though in answer to my thoughts he started to snore.

He came round properly the next day. I woke up to find him sitting on the stove ledge with my sister and they were talking. She already knew that his name was Ivan Ivanovich, that he had lost his way, and that we were not to say a word about him to anyone, otherwise they'd put him in irons. I remember that my sister and I grasped at once that our visitor was in some sort of danger and we tacitly decided never to breathe a word about him to anyone. It was easier for me, of course, to keep quiet, than it was for Sanya.

Ivan Ivanovich sat on the stove ledge with his hands tucked under him, listening while she chattered away. He had been told everything: that Father had been put in prison, that we handed in a petition, that Mother had brought us here and gone back to town, that I was dumb, that Grandma Petrovna lived here-second house from the well-and that she, too, had a beard, only it was smaller and grey.

"Ah, you little darlings," said Ivan Ivanovich, jumping down from the stove.

He had light-coloured eyes, but his beard was black and smooth. At first I thought it strange that he made so many unnecessary gestures; it seemed as if at any moment he would reach for his ear round the back of his head or scratch the sole of his foot. But I soon got used to him. When talking, he would suddenly pick something up and begin tossing it in the air or balancing it on his hand like a juggler.

"I say, children, I'm a doctor, you know," he said one day. "You just tell me if there's anything wrong with you. I'll put you right in a tick."

We were both well, but for some reason he refused to go and see the village elder, whose daughter was sick.

But in such a position
I'm in a terrible funk
In case the Inquisition
Is tipped off by the monk,

he said with a laugh,

It was from him that I first heard poetry. He often quoted verses, sometimes even sang them or muttered them, his eyebrows raised as he squatted before the fire Turkish fashion.

At first he seemed pleased that I couldn't ask him anything, especially when he woke up in the night at the slightest sound of steps outside the window and lay for a long time leaning on his elbow, listening. Or when he hid himself in the attic and sat there till dark-he spent a whole day there once, I remember. St. George's Day it was. Or when he refused to meet Petrovna.

But after two or three days he became interested in my dumbness.

"Why don't you speak? Don't you want to?"

I looked at him in silence.

"I tell you, you must speak. You can hear, so you ought to be able to speak. It's a very rare case yours-I mean being dumb but not deaf. Maybe you're deaf and dumb?"

I shook my head.

"In that case we're going to make you speak."

He took some instruments from his knapsack, complained about the light being poor, though it was a bright sunny day, and started fiddling about with my ear.

"Ear vulgaris," he remarked with satisfaction. "An ordinary ear."

He withdrew to a corner and whispered: "Sap."

"Did you hear that?"

I laughed.

"You've got a good ear, like a dog's." He winked at Sanya who was staring at us open-mouthed. "You can hear splendidly. Why the dickens don't you speak then?"

He took my tongue between his finger and thumb and pulled it out so far that I got frightened and made a croaky sound.

"What a throat you have, my dear chap! A regular Chaliapin. Well, well!"

He looked at me for a minute, then said gravely: "You'll have to learn, old chap. Can you talk to yourself at all? In your mind?"

He tapped my forehead.

"In your head-get me?"

I mumbled an affirmative.

"What about saying it aloud then? Say out loud whatever you can.' Now, then, say 'yes'."

I could hardly say anything. Nevertheless I did bring out a "yes".

"Fine! Try again."

I said it again.

"Now whistle."

I whistled.

"Now say 'oo'."

I said "oo".

"You're a lazybones, that's what the matter with you! Now, then, repeat after me…"

He did not know that I spoke everything in my mind. I'm sure that's the reason why I have remembered my earliest years so distinctly. But my dumb mental speech fell far short of all those "ees", '"os" and "yoos", of all those unfamiliar movements of lips, tongue and throat in which the simplest words got stuck. I managed to repeat after him separate sounds, chiefly vowel sounds, but putting them together and uttering them smoothly, without "barking", the way he bade me, was some job.

Three words I coped with at once: they were "ear", "mamma" and "stove". It was as if I had pronounced them before and merely had to recall them. As a matter of fact that's how it was. Mother told that I had begun to speak at the age of two and then had suddenly gone dumb after an illness.

My teacher slept on the floor, slipping some shiny metallic object under his mattress and using his sheepskin coat as a blanket, but I kept tossing about, drinking water, sitting up in bed and gazing at the frostwork on the window. I was thinking of how I would go home and start talking to Mother and Aunt Dasha. I recollected the moment when I first realised that I couldn't speak: it was in the evening, and Mother thought I was asleep; pale, erect, with black plaits hanging down in front, she gazed at me for a long time. It was then that there first occurred to me the bitter thought that was to poison my early years: "I'm not as good as others, and she's ashamed of me."

I kept repeating "ее", "о", "уоо" all night, too happy to go to sleep I did not doze off until dawn. Sanya woke me when the day was full.

"I've been over to Grandma's, and you're still asleep," she rattled off. "Grandma's kitten has got lost. Where's Ivan Ivanovich?"

His mattress lay on the floor and you could still see the depressions where his head, shoulders and legs had been. But Ivan Ivanovich himself was not there. He used to put his knapsack under his head, but that too was missing. He used to cover himself with his sheepskin coat, but that too was gone.

"Ivan Ivanovich!"

We ran up into the attic, but there was nobody there.

"I swear to God he was asleep when I went to Grandma's. I remember looking at him and thinking: while he's asleep I'll run over to Grandma's. Oh, Sanya, look!"

On the table lay a little black tube with two round knobs at the ends, one of them flat and slightly bigger, the other small and deeper. We remembered that Ivan Ivanovich had taken this from his knapsack together with other instruments when he had looked into my ear.

Where had he gone? Ivan Ivanovich!

He had vanished, gone without saying a word to anyone!

Chapter Six

FATHER'S DEATH. I REFUSE TO SPEAК

All through the winter I practised speaking. First thing in the morning, barely awake, I uttered loudly six words which Ivan Ivanovich had instructed me to say every day: "hen", "saddle", "box", "snow", "drink" and "Abraham". How difficult it was! And how well, how differently my sister pronounced these words.

But I kept at it. I repeated them a thousand times a day, like an incantation that was to help me somehow. I even dreamed them. I dreamed of some mysterious Abraham putting a hen in a box or going out of the house in a hat, carrying a saddle on his shoulder.

My tongue would not obey me, my lips barely stirred. Many a time I felt like hitting Sanya, who could not help laughing at me. In the night I woke up, heavy with misery, feeling that II would never learn to speak and would always remain a freak, as my Mother had once called me. The next moment I was trying to pronounce that word too-"freak". I remember succeeding at last and falling asleep happy.

The day when, on waking up, I did not utter my six magic words, was one of the saddest in my life.

Petrovna woke us early that day, which was odd in itself, because it was we who usually went to her in the mornings to light the fire and put on the kettle. She came in, tapping her stick and stopped in front of the icon. She stood there for some time, muttering and crossing herself. Then she called to my sister and bade her light the lamp.

Years later, a grown-up man, I saw a picture of Baba-Yaga in a fairy-tale book. She was the image of Petrovna-the same bent, bearded figure leaning on a gnarled stick. But Petrovna was a kind Baba-Yaga, and that day… that day she sat down on a bench with a heavy sigh, and I even thought I saw tears rolling down her beard. "Get down, Sanya!" she said. "Come to me." I went up to her.

"You're a big boy now, Sanya," she went on, patting me on the head. "Yesterday a letter came from your mother saying that Ivan is ill."

She wept.

"He was taken very bad in prison. His head and legs have swollen up. She writes that she doesn't know whether he's still alive or not." My sister started crying.

"Ah well, it's God's will," Petrovna said. "God's will," she repeated with angry vehemence and looked up at the icon again.

She had only told us that Father had fallen ill, but that evening, in church, I realised that he was dead. Grandma had taken us to church to "pray for his health", as she said.

Oddly enough, after three months spent in the village, I hardly knew anybody except two or three boys with whom I went: skiing. I never went anywhere because I was ashamed of my handicap. And now, in church, I saw our whole village-a crowd of women and old men, poorly dressed, silent and as cheerless as we were. They stood in darkness; candles were burning only in the front, where the priest was reading prayers in a long-drawn-out manner. Many people were sighing and crossing themselves.

They were doing this because he was dead, and my sister and I were standing in the darkness of the church because he had died. And we were standing and "praying for his health" because he was dead.

Petrovna took my sister back with her, and I went home and sat on for a long time without lighting the lamp. The cockroaches, which Grandma had brought to us on purpose-for good luck-rustled on the cold stove. I ate potatoes and wept.

Dead, and I would never see him again! There they were, carrying him out of the Chambers, out of that room where Mother and I had handed in the petition… I stopped eating and clenched my teeth at the memory of that cold voice and the hand with the long dry fingers slowly dangling a pair of spectacles. You wait! I'll pay you back for this! Some day you'll be bowing to me, and I'll tell you: "My dear man, the court will go into this…" There they were, bearing the coffin down the corridor, while messengers hurried past with papers and nobody sees or cares to see him being carried out. Only Aunt Dasha comes forward to meet it in a black shawl, like a nun. She comes forward, weeping. Then we stop, someone stands at the door, the coffin sways in the men's hands and is lowered to the floor. Mother bows, and looking up, I can see her lips quivering.

I came to myself at the sound of my own voice. I must have been feverish, because I was uttering some incoherent nonsense, cursing myself and also, for some reason, my mother, and carrying on a conversation with Ivan Ivanovich, although I knew perfectly well that he had left long ago and that even his tracks in the field had kept for only two days until the snow had covered them up.

But I had spoken-spoken loudly and clearly! I could now speak and explain what had happened that night on the pontoon bridge;

I could show that knife was mine, that I had lost it when I bent over the murdered man. Too late! A whole lifetime too late; he was now beyond any help of mine.

I lay in the dark with my head in my hands. It was cold indoors, my feet were chilled, but I stayed like that till morning. I decided that I would not speak any more. Why should I? All the same he was dead and I would never see him again. It did not matter any more.

Chapter Seven

MOTHER

I have no very clear memory of the February Revolution, and until our return to town I did not understand that word. But I do remember associating all the strange excitement and puzzling talk around me with my nocturnal visitor who had taught me to speak.

Spring passed before I was aware of it. But summer began on the day when the Neptune, hooting and backing in a menacing way, moored alongside the wharf where Mother and us two had been waiting for it since the morning. We were going back to town. Mother was taking us home. She looked thinner and younger, and was wearing a new coat and a new brightly coloured shawl.

I had often thought, during the winter, of how astonished she would be to hear me speak. But she only embraced me and laughed. She had changed a lot during the winter. All the time she was thinking about something-I could tell that by the quick changes of expression in her face: at one moment she looked anxious and was silent, the next she smiled, all to herself. Petrovna decided that she was going mad, and one day she asked her about it. Mother smiled and said she wasn't. In our presence she rarely mentioned Father, but whenever she spoke kindly to me I knew she was thinking of him. My sister she had always loved.

On the boat her mind was busy all the time. She kept raising her eyebrows and shaking her head, as if arguing with somebody mentally.

How poor and neglected our yard seemed to me when we got home! That year nobody had seen to the drain ditches, and the muddy water with bits of wood floating on it, had remained standing under every porch. The low sheds looked more ramshackle than ever, and the gaps in the fence were wide enough to drive a cart through, while back of the Skovorodnikovs' house a mountain of stinking bones, hoofs and scraps of hides lay piled up.

The old man was making glue. "Everybody thinks this is just ordinary glue," he said to me. "It's an all-purpose glue. It'll fix anything-iron, glass, even bricks, if anyone's fool enough to want to glue bricks together. I invented it myself. Skovorodnikov's Skin Glue. And the stronger it stinks the stronger it sticks."

He regarded me suspiciously over the top of his glasses.

"Well, let's hear you say something."

I spoke. He nodded approvingly.

"Ah, that's too bad about Ivan!"

Aunt Dasha was away, and did not come back before a couple of weeks. If there was anyone I gladdened-and frightened too-it was she! We were sitting in the kitchen in the evening, and she kept asking me how we had lived in the village, and answered her own questions.

"Poor things, you must have felt pretty lonesome out there, all on your own. Who cooked for you? Petrovna? Petrovna."

"No, not Petrovna," I said suddenly. "We did our own cooking."

I shall never forget the look on Aunt Dasha's face when I uttered those words. Her mouth fell open and she shook her head and hiccupped.

"And we weren't lonely," I added, laughing heartily. "We missed you, though, Aunt Dasha. Why didn't you come to see us?"

She hugged me.

"My darling, what's this? You can speak? You're able to speak? And he keeps quiet, pretending, the young rascal! Well, tell me all about it."

And I told her about the freezing doctor who had knocked at our cottage one night, how we had hidden him for three days and nights, how he had taught me to say "ее", "о" and "yoo" and the word ‘ear'

Chapter Eight

PYOTR SKOVORODNIKOV

Aunt Dasha said that I had changed a lot since I had begun to speak. I felt this myself too. The previous summer I had shunned the other boys, restrained by a painful sense of my own deficiency. I was morbidly shy, sullen, and very sad. Now I was so different it was hard to believe.

In two or three months I had caught up with the boys of my own age. Pyotr Skovorodnikov, who was twelve, became my best friend. He was a lanky, ginger boy with a will of his own.

It was at Pyotr's that I saw books for the first time in my life. They were Tales of Derringdo in Previous Wars, Yuri Miloslavsky and A Guide to Letter Writing on the cover of which was a picture of a bewhiskered young man in a red shirt with a pen in his hand, and above him, in a pale-blue oval frame, young woman.

It was over this Guide to Letter Writing which we read together, that we became friends. There was something mysterious about those different modes of address: "My dear friend", or "Dear Sir". I was reminded of the navigating officer's letter and recited it aloud for the first time.

We were sitting in Cathedral Gardens. Across the river we could see out yard and the houses, looking very small, much smaller than they really were. There was tiny Aunt Dasha coming out onto her doorstep and sitting down there to clean fish. I could almost see the silvery scales flying about and falling glistening at her feet. And there was Karlusha, the town's madman, always scowling or grinning, walking along the bank and stopping at our gate-to talk to Aunt Dasha, probably.

I kept looking at them all the time I was reciting the letter. Pyotr listened attentively.

"Gee, isn't that smashing!" he said. "What a memory. I knew it, too, but I'd forgotten it." Unfortunately, we rarely spent our time together so well. Pyotr was busy; he was employed "selling cigarettes for the Chinese". The Chinese, who lived in the Pokrovsky quarter, made cigarettes and employed boys to sell them. I can see one of them as if he were before me now, a man named Li-small, sallow, with a weazened face, but fairly good-natured: he was considered more generous with the "treat" allowance than the other Chinese. This allowance formed our clear wage (later I, too, took up this trade). We were allowed to treat everyone-"Please, have a smoke"-but the customer who was naive enough to accept the invitation always paid cash down for it. This money was ours. The cigarettes were packed in boxes of two hundred and fifty, labelled "Katyk", "Alexander III", and we sold them at the railway station, alongside the trains, and on the boulevards.

The autumn of 1917 was drawing near, and I should not be telling the truth if I tried to make out that I saw, felt or in the least understood the profound significance of those days for me, for the entire country and the world at large. I saw nothing and understood nothing. I had even forgotten the vague excitement which I had experienced in the spring, when we were living in the country. I simply lived from day to day, trading in cigarettes and catching crabs-yellow, green and grey crabs, with never any luck for a blue one.

This easy life was to end all too soon, however.

Chapter Nine

STROKE, STROKE, STROKE, FIVE, TWENTY, A HUNDRED…

He must have been coming to our place before we got back to town, because everyone in the yard knew him, and that attitude of faint amusement towards him on the part of the Skovorodnikovs and Aunt Dasha had already taken shape. But now he began to call nearly every day. Sometimes he brought something, but, honestly, I never ate a single of his plums, or his pods, or his caramels.

He had curly hair-even his moustache was curly-and he was pie-faced, but fairly well-built. He had a deep voice, which I found very unpleasant. He was taking treatment for black-heads, which were very noticeable on his swarthy skin. But for all his pimples and curls, for all his deep repulsive voice, Mother, unfortunately, had taken a fancy to him. Why else should he be visiting us almost every day? Yes, she liked him. She became quite a different woman when he was there, laughing and almost as talkative as he was. Once I found her sitting by herself, smiling, and I guessed from her face that she was thinking of him. On another occasion, when talking to Aunt Dasha, she said of someone: "Ever so many abnormalities." Those words were his.

His name was Timoshkin, but for some reason he called himself Scaramouch-to this day I can't make out what he meant by it. I only remember that he liked to tell my mother that "life had tossed him about like a twig". In saying this he would put on a meaningful look and gaze at Mother with an air of fatuous profundity.

And this Scaramouch now visited us every evening. Here is one such evening.

The kitchen lamp hangs on the wall and my shock-headed shadow covers the exercise book, ink-well and my hand as it moves the squeaky pen laboriously across the paper.

I am sitting at the table, my tongue pushing out my cheek with the effort of concentration, and tracing strokes with my pen-one stroke, a second, a third, a hundredth, a thousandth. I must have made a million strokes, because my teacher had declared that until they are "popindicular", I cannot make any further progress. He is sitting beside me, teaching me, with now and again an indulgent glance at Mother. He teaches me not only how to write, but how to live, too, and those endless stupid moralisings make me feel dizzy. The strokes come out wonky, pot-bellied, anything but straight and "popindicular".

"Every man's keen to snatch his titbit from life," he said. "And that's what everyone should go after, it's only natural, man is made that way. But will such a titbit guarantee security-that's another matter."

Stroke, stroke, stroke, five, twenty, a hundred…

"Now take me. I got into a difficult atmosphere from a child, and I could never count on my mother's labour power. That was out of the question. On the contrary, when our domestic affairs went to wrack and ruin and my father, accused of horse-stealing, was sentenced to imprisonment, it was I, and no other, who was obliged to become the breadwinner."

Stroke, stroke, fat one, thin one, crooked one, five, twenty, a hundred…

"The saddest thing of all was that my father, on coming out of prison, took to drink, and when a man indulges in liquor his house goes to wrack and ruin. Then death struck him down, most sudden and untimely, being the result of his skinning the carcass of a horse."

I know exactly what happened afterwards to my teacher's father. He became bloated and "the coffin they'd started to make had to be altered in a hurry, because the figure of the dead man was three times its living size". I once dreamt of this horrid death.

Stroke, stroke, stroke… The pen squeaks, stroke, blot…

"And so our family hearth became desolated. But I did not lose heart and did not become a burden to my mother at the age of eleven."

My teacher looks at me. Though I'm only ten, I begin to fidget uneasily on my stool.

"I entered the employ of a restaurant, and became a servant and errand-boy, but was no longer an extra mouth living on my mother's earnings."

My mother is sitting at the same table, listening to him spellbound. She is mending shirts-Father's shirts-and I know who she is mending them for. It is with presentiment of ill that I look up at my mother's pale face, at her black hair parted in the middle, at her slim hands-and turn back to my strokes. I feel like drawing one long line through the strokes, they would make a lovely fence-but I mustn't. The strokes must be "popindicular".

"Meanwhile," Scaramouch goes on, "my mother became noticeably addicted to acts of charity. What do I do? Seeing that this tendency was adversely affecting my development I turned to my uncle Nikita Zuyev of never-to-be-forgotten memory, and asked him to influence my mother."

This was the hundredth time I was hearing about that uncle of never-to-be-forgotten memory, and I pictured a fat old man with the same pimply face arriving in the village in a wide country sledge, taking off his yellow sheepskin coat as he comes in, and crossing himself in front of the icon. He beats the mother, while little Scaramouch stands by and calmly watches his mother being beaten.

Strokes, strokes… But the fence is there already-done long ago, and though I know very well what I am in for, I quickly draw the sun, some birds and clouds above the fence. Scaramouch glances at me as he talks, and I hastily cover up the sun and the birds with my sleeve. Too late! He picks up my exercise book. His eyebrows go up. I stand up.

"Now just have a look, Aksinya Fyodorovna, what your dear little son has been doing!"

And my mother, who had never beaten us children while Father was alive, seizes my ear and bangs my head on the table.

My lessons came to an end the day that Scaramouch moved into our house. The day before that there had been the wedding, which Aunt Dasha, pleading illness, did not attend. I remember how smart Mother looked at the wedding. She wore a jacket of white velvet, a gift from the bridegroom, and had her hair done like a girl's, with braids wound crosswise round her head. She talked and drank and smiled, but every now and then she passed her hand across her face with a strange expression. Scaramouch made a speech in which he drew attention to the service he was rendering the poor family, which was "definitely heading for ruin inasmuch as its erstwhile breadwinner had left behind him a scene of devastation", and mentioned, among other things, that he had opened to me the door of "general education", by which he evidently meant those "popindicular" strokes of his.

I don't think Mother heard the speech at all. She sat with lowered head at her bridegroom's side, and then, with a sudden frown, stared in front of her with a look of perplexity.

Skovorodnikov, who had been drinking heavily, went up to her and slapped her on the shoulder.

"Ah, Aksinya, you've given a lark to catch a…"

She smiled weakly, hastily.

For about two months after the wedding my stepfather worked in the wharf office, and though it was very painful to see him come in and sprawl in the place where my father used to sit, and eat with his spoon from his plate, life was bearable so long as I kept to myself, ran away and did not return home until he was asleep. But shortly he was kicked out of the office for some shady business, and then life became unbearable. The unhappy idea of taking in hand our upbringing, my and my sister's, entered that muddled head of his, and from then on I did not have a moment to myself.

Looking back, I realise that he had been employed in his youth as a servant. Obviously, he must have seen somewhere all those absurd and queer things he was making me and my sister perform.

First of all, he demanded that we come and greet him in the morning, though we slept on the floor within two paces of his bed. And we did so. But no power on earth could force me to say: "Good morning. Daddy!" It wasn't a good morning, and he wasn't Daddy. We dare not sit down at the table before him, and we had to ask permission to get up. We had to thank him, though Mother still did the washing at the hospital, and my sister cooked the dinner, which was bought with Mother's money and mine. I remember the despair that seized me when poor Sanya rose from the table and with the clumsy curtsy he had taught her, said for the first time: "Thank you, Daddy." I felt like throwing my plate with the unfinished porridge into that fat face! But I did not do it, and regret it to this day.

Chapter Ten

AUNT DASHA

I would not, perhaps, be recalling this period of my life were it not for the dear figure that rises before me-that of Aunt Dasha, whom, for the first time, I then came consciously to appreciate and love.

I used to go to her and just sit there, saying nothing-she knew everything as it was. To comfort me she used to tell me the story of her life. At twenty-five she was already a widow. Her husband had been killed at the very beginning of the Russo-Japanese War. I learnt with surprise that she was not yet forty. I had thought her an old woman, especially when she put on her spectacles of an evening and read to us those letters which the flood-water had brought to our yard (she was still reading them). She read one letter every evening. It had become for her a sort of ritual. The ritual began with her trying to guess the contents of a letter from its envelope and from the address, which in most cases had been entirely washed away.

And then would come the reading, performed unhurriedly, with long sighs and grumblings when any words were illegible. Aunt Dasha rejoiced with the strangers in their joys and shared with them their sorrows; some she scolded, others she praised. In short, these letters might have been addressed to her personally, the way she took them. She read books in just the same way. She dealt with the family and love affairs of dukes and counts, heroes of the supplements to the Homeland magazine, as though all those dukes and counts lived in the yard next door.

"That Baron L., now," she would say animatedly, "I knew he would jilt Madame de Sans-le-Sou. My love, my love-and then this! A fine fellow, I must say!"

When, escaping from the presence of Scaramouch I spent the evenings with her, she was already finishing her mail, with only some fifteen letters left to read. Among them was one which I must quote here. Aunt Dasha could not understand it, but it seemed to me, already at that time, that it had some bearing on the letter of the navigating officer.

Here it is (the opening lines Aunt Dasha was unable to decipher):

"One thing I beg of you: do not trust that man! It can positively be said that we owe all our misfortunes to him alone. Suffice it to say that most of the sixty dogs he sold to us at Archangel had had to be shot while we were still at Novaya Zemlya. That's the price we had to pay for that good office. Not I alone, but the whole expedition send him our curses. We were taking a chance, we knew that we were running a risk, but we did not expect such a blow. It remains for us to do all we can. There is so much I could tell you about our voyage! Stories enough to last Katya a whole winter. But what a price we are having to pay, good God! I don't want you to think that our plight is hopeless. Still, you shouldn't look forward too much-"

Aunt Dasha read it hesitatingly, glancing at me over her spectacles with a schoolteacherish expression. I did not realise, listening to her, that within several years I would be making painful efforts to recall every word of this letter.

The letter was a long one, on seven or eight sheets-giving a detailed account of life on an icebound ship that was slowly drifting northwards. I was particularly amused to find out that there was ice even in the cabins and every morning it had to be hacked away with an axe.

I could recount in my own words how sailor Skachkov, while hunting a bear, had fallen to his death in a crevasse, or how everyone was worn out looking after sick engineer Tisse. But the only words I remember from the original were the few lines I have quoted here. Aunt Dasha went on with her reading and sighing, and shifting scenes rose before me as through a mist: white tents on white snow; panting dogs hauling sledges; a huge man, a giant in fur boots and a tall fur cap striding towards the sledges like a priest in a fur surplice.

Chapter Eleven

A TALK WITH PYOTR

It was while hunched over my "popindicular" strokes that the idea of running away first occurred to me. I had not been drawing those birds and clouds above the fence for nothing! Afterwards I forgot this idea. But with each passing day I found it harder to return home.

I saw very little of my mother. She left the house while I was still asleep. Sometimes, when I woke up in the night, I would see her at the table. White as chalk from fatigue, she was eating slowly, and even Scaramouch quailed a little when he met her dark scowling gaze.

I was very fond of my sister. Sometimes I wished I wasn't. I remember that beast Scaramouch beating her cruelly because she had spilt a wineglassful of vegetable oil. He sent her from the table, but I secretly brought her some potatoes. She wept bitterly while she ate, then suddenly reminded herself of the coloured glass beads which she feared she had lost when he was beating her. The beads were found. She laughed, finished her potato and started crying again.

I suppose autumn was drawing near, because Pyotr and I, strolling in Cathedral Gardens, were kicking up dead leaves with our bare feet. Pyotr was making up a story about the old excavation under the hillside being a tunnel that ran under the river to the opposite bank. He even claimed to have walked through it halfway.

"I walked all night," Pyotr said in a casual way. "Skeletons all over the place. Rats too."

From the hill we could see the Pokrovsky Monastery on the high bluff of the river-a white building surrounded by low walls, beyond which stretched meadows, now pale green, now yellow, changing colours in the wind like a sea.

"There are no rats in Turkestan," Pyotr added thoughtfully. "They have jumping rabbits there, and field rats out in the steppe. But they're different-they eat grass, like rabbits."

He often talked about Turkestan. According to him, it was a city where pears, apples and oranges grew right in the streets, so that you could pick as many as you liked and nobody would plug you with a charge of salt in your backside the way the watchmen did in our orchards. People there slept on carpets in the open air, as there was no winter there, and went about in oriental robes-no boots or overcoats for you.

"Turks live there. All armed to the teeth. Curved swords with silver trimmings, knives in their girdles and cartridge belts across their chests. Let's go there, eh?"

I decided that he was joking. But he wasn't. Paling slightly, he suddenly turned away and gazed at the distant bank, where an old fisherman of our acquaintance was dozing over his fishing rods, which were mounted in the shingle at the water's edge. We said nothing for awhile.

"What about your Dad? Will he let you go?"

"Catch me asking him! He's got other things on his mind."

"What things?"

"He's going to marry," Pyotr said with contempt.

I was astounded.

"Who?"

"Aunt Dasha."

"Tell me another one."

"He told her that if she didn't marry him he'd sell the house and go round the villages tinning pots and pans. She refused at first, then she consented. Must be in love, I suppose," Pyotr added contemptuously and spat.

I couldn't believe it. Aunt Dasha! Marrying old Skovorodnikov?

Pyotr scowled and changed the subject. Two years ago his mother had died, and he, sobbing, beside himself, had wandered out of the yard and off such a long way that they found him with difficulty. I remembered how the boys used to tease him about it.

We talked a little more, then lay down on our backs with outspread arms and stared up into the sky. Pyotr said that if you lay like that for twenty minutes without blinking you could see the stars and the moon in broad daylight. So there we were, lying and gazing. The sky was clear and spacious: somewhere high up the clouds were chasing each other. My eyes had filled with tears, but I was trying with all my might not to blink. There was no sign of any moon, and as for the stars I guessed at once that Pyotr was fibbing.

Somewhere a motor started throbbing. I thought at first that it was an army truck revving at the wharf (the wharf was below us, under the ramparts). But the sound drew nearer. "It's an aeroplane," Pyotr said.

It was lit up by the sun, a grey shape resembling a beautiful winged fish. The clouds advanced towards it; it was flying against the wind. I was amazed to see how easily it avoided the clouds. Now it was already beyond the Pokrovsky Monastery, and a black cross-shaped shadow ran after it over the meadows on the other side of the river. Long after it had disappeared I fancied I could still see its tiny grey wings way out in the distance.

Chapter Twelve

SCARAMOUCH JOINS THE DEATH BATTALION

Pyotr had an uncle in Moscow and our entire plan was built upon this uncle of his. The uncle worked on the railway-Pyotr would have me believe as engine-driver, but I suspected as fireman. At any rate, Pyotr had always called him a fireman. Five years before this engine-driver-cum-fireman had worked on Moscow-Tashkent trains. I am so exact about those five years because there had been no letters from this uncle now for five years. But Pyotr said this did not signify, because his uncle had always written very rarely; he was sure that he was still working on the same trains, all the more so since his last letter had come from Samara. We looked at the map together and found that Samara did indeed lie between Moscow and Tashkent.

In short, all we had to do was to find this uncle. Pyotr knew his address, but even if he didn't, one could always find a man by his name. We did not have the slightest doubt about the name-it was Skovorodnikov, the same as Pyotr's.

We envisaged the second stage of our journey as a simple matter of Pyotr's uncle taking us from Moscow to Tashkent on his locomotive. But how were we to get to Moscow?

Pyotr did not try to persuade me. He listened stony faced to my timid objections. He did not answer me: all was clear to him. The only thing clear to me was that but for Scaramouch I would not be going anywhere. And suddenly it turned out that Scaramouch himself was going away. He was going and I was staying.

It was a memorable day. He turned up in army uniform, in brand-new, shiny, squeaky boots, his cap tilted to one side and a cowlick of curls protruding from under it, and placed two hundred rubles on the table.

In those days this was an unheard of sum of money and Mother covered it with her hands in an involuntary gesture of greed.

But it was not the money that staggered me and Pyotr and all the boys in our yard-oh, no! It was a different thing altogether. On the sleeve of his army tunic were embroidered a skull and crossbones. My stepfather had joined a Death Battalion.

A man with a drum would suddenly appear at a public gathering or outdoor fete-wherever a crowd assembled. He would beat his drum to command silence. Then another man, usually an officer with the same skull and crossbones on his sleeve, would begin to speak. In the name of the Provisional Government he called upon all to join the Death Battalion. But though he declared that everyone who signed on would receive sixty rubles a month plus officer's kit and dislocation allowance, nobody cared to die for the Provisional Government and only rogues of my stepfather's type joined the death battalions.

But that day, when he came home solemn and grim in his new uniform, bringing two hundred rubles, nobody thought him a rogue. Even Aunt Dasha, who loathed him, came out and bowed to him in a stiff, unnatural way.

In the evening he invited guests and made a speech.

"All these procedures carried out by the authorities," he said, "are designed to safeguard the liberty of the revolution against the paupers, the absolute majority of whom consists of Jews. The paupers and the Bolsheviks are scheming a vile adventure, which is bound to jeopardise all the fruits of the existing regime. For us, champions of freedom, this tragedy is dealt with very simply. We are taking arms into our hands, and woe to him who, for the sake of gratifying his personal ambition, shall make an attempt upon the revolution and freedom! We have paid a high price for freedom. We will not surrender it cheaply. Such in general outline is the situation of the moment!"

Mother was very gay that evening. In her white velvet jacket, which became her so well, she moved round the guests with a bottle of wine and kept refilling each glass. Stepfather's friend, an amiable little fat man, who was also in the Death Battalion, stood up and respectfully proposed her health. He had laughed heartily during my stepfather's speech, but was now very grave. Raising his glass aloft, he clinked glasses with Mother and said briefly, "Hurrah!"

Everyone shouted "Hurrah". Mother was embarrassed. Slightly flushed, she stepped into the middle of the room and bowed low in the old-fashioned way.

"What a beauty!" the fat little man said aloud.

Chapter Thirteen

JOURNEY'S END

It must have been some time past two; I had been asleep for quite a while and was awakened by a cry. Tobacco smoke hung motionless over the table; everyone had left long ago, and my stepfather lay asleep on the floor, his arms and legs spread wide. The cry was repeated. I recognised Aunt Dasha's voice and went to the window. A woman was lying in the yard and Aunt Dasha was blowing noisily into her mouth.

"Aunt Dasha!"

Not seeming to hear me, Aunt Dasha jumped up, ran round our house and knocked on the window.

"Water! Pyotr Ivanovich! Aksinya's lying out here!"

I opened the door. She came in and started to rouse my stepfather.

"Pyotr Ivanich! Oh, my God!" My stepfather did nothing but mumble. "Aksinya-she must be carried in – she must have fallen in the yard and hurt herself. Pyotr Ivanich!"

My stepfather sat up with closed eyes, then lay down again. We couldn't wake him and had to give it up.

We spent the whole night trying to bring Mother round and she did not come to herself until dawn. It had been an ordinary fainting fit, but in falling she had struck her head on the stones. Unfortunately we learnt of this from the doctor only the following evening. The doctor ordered ice to be applied. But we all thought it odd to buy ice, and Aunt Dasha decided to apply a wet towel instead.

I remember Sanya running out into the yard to wet the towel in a bucket, and coming back wiping the tears away with the flat of her hand. Mother lay still, as pale as she always was. Not once did she ask about my stepfather, who the next day had joined his battalion, but she would not let me or my sister out other sight. She was racked by fits of nausea and kept screwing up her eyes every minute as though trying to make something out. This, for some reason, upset Aunt Dasha very much. She was laid up for three weeks and seemed to be on the mend. And then suddenly it "came over" her.

One morning I woke up towards daybreak to find her sitting on the bed, her bare feet lowered to the floor.

"Mum!"

She looked at me sullenly, and it dawned on me that she could not see me.

"Mum! Mamma!"

Still with the same intent, stern expression, she pushed my hands aside when I tried to get her back into bed.

From that day she stopped eating and the doctor ordered her to be fed forcibly with eggs and butter. It was excellent advice, but we had no money and there were neither eggs nor butter to be had in the town.

Aunt Dasha scolded her and wept, but Mother lay brooding, her black plaits lying across her breast, and not uttering a word. Only once, when Aunt Dasha announced in despair that she knew why Mother wasn't eating-it was because she did not want to live-Mother muttered something, frowned and turned away.

She had become very affectionate towards me since she was taken ill and even seemed to love me as much as she did my sister. Very often she looked at me steadily for a long time with a sort of surprise. She had never wept before her illness, but now she cried every day and I guess why. She was sorry she hadn't loved me before this and was remorseful at having forgotten Father, and maybe begging forgiveness for Scaramouch and for all that he had done to us. But a sort of stupefaction came over me. I couldn't put my hand to anything and my mind was a blank. Our last conversation together was like that too-neither I nor she had uttered a word. She only beckoned me and took my hand, shaking her head and trying hard to control her quivering lips. I realised that she wanted to say goodbye. But I stood there like a block of wood with my head lowered, staring doggedly down at the floor.

The next day she died.

My stepfather, in full dress uniform, with a rifle slung over his shoulder and a hand grenade at his belt, stood in the passage weeping, but no one paid any attention to him.

On the day of the funeral my sister had a headache and was made to stay at home. My stepfather, who had been called out to his battalion that morning, was late for the carrying-out, and after waiting a good two hours for him, we set out behind the coffin on our own- "we" being Skovorodnikov, Aunt Dasha and myself.

They walked. Aunt Dasha holding on to an iron ring to keep from lagging behind, while me they sat in the hearse.

As we were passing through Market Square I saw a sentry standing at the gates of the "Chambers" and some men in civilian clothes bustling about in the garden behind the railings, one of them dragging a machine gun. The shops were closed, the streets deserted, and after Sergievsky Street we did not meet a soul. What was the matter?

The hearse driver in his dirty robe was in a hurry and kept whipping up the horse. It was all Aunt Dasha and Skovorodnikov could do to keep up with it. We came out onto Posadsky Common-a muddy patch of wasteland between the town and Posad suburb leading down to the river across Mill Bridge. A short sharp crackle rang out in the distance; the driver cast a frightened glance over his shoulder and hesitantly raised his whip. Aunt Dasha caught up with us and started to scold.

"Man alive! Are you crazy? You're not carting firewood!" "There's shooting over there," the driver growled. A path was dug out in the hillside leading down to the river, and we drove down it for several minutes without seeing anything on the sides. They were shooting somewhere, but less and less frequently. Mill Bridge, from which I had often fished for gudgeon, came into view. Suddenly the driver stood up and lashed out at the horse; it dashed off and we raced along the bank, leaving Skovorodnikov and Aunt Dasha far behind.

It must have been bullets, because chips of wood flew from the hearse and one of them hit me in the face. The carved wooden upright I was gripping for support creaked, shook loose and fell into the roadway as the hearse jolted. I heard Skovorodnikov shouting somewhere behind us, and Aunt Dasha scolding in a tearful voice.

Pulling his cap down lower and twirling his whip over his head, the driver drove the horse straight towards the bridge, as though he couldn't see that the approach to it was blocked with logs, planks and bricks. The horse reared, and stopped dead in its tracks.

Among the men who ran out from behind this barrier I recognised the compositor who had rented a room the previous summer at the fortune-teller's in the next yard to ours. He was carrying a rifle and inside the leather belt, which looked so odd over an ordinary overcoat, he wore a service revolver. They were all armed, some even with swords.

The driver clambered down, hitched up the skirt of Us robe, stuck his whip into his high boot and began to swear.

"What the hell-couldn't you see it's a funeral? You nearly shot my horse!"

"We weren't shooting, you came under the cadets' fire," the compositor said. "And couldn't you see there was a barricade here, you dolt?"

"What's your name?" the driver shouted. "You'll answer for this! Who's going to pay for repairs?" He walked round the hearse, touching the damaged places. "You've smashed one o' the spokes!"

"Fool!" the compositor said again. "Didn't I tell you it wasn't us! Why should we fire on coffins! Fathead!"

"Who are you burying, lad?" an elderly man in a tall fur cap, on which hung a piece of red ribbon in place of a cockade, asked me quietly.

"My mother," I brought out with difficulty.

He took off his cap.

"Quiet there, comrades," he said. "This is a funeral. This boy here is burying his mother. You ought to know better."

They all stared at me. I must have looked pretty wretched because, when everything was patched up and Aunt Dasha, weeping, had caught up with us, and we had driven onto the bridge through the mill, I found in the pocket of my coat two lumps of sugar and a white biscuit.

Tired out, we returned home after the funeral by way of the opposite bank.

There was a glow in the sky over the town: the barracks of the Krasnoyarsk Regiment were on fire. At the pontoon bridge Skovorodnikov hailed a man of his acquaintance who was on point-duty, and they started a long conversation, from which I understood nothing: someone somewhere had pulled up the track, a cavalry corps was making for Petrograd, and the Death Battalion was holding the railway station. The name "Kerensky" kept cropping up all the time with various additions. I could hardly stand on my feet, and Aunt Dasha moaned and sighed.

My sister was asleep when we returned. Without undressing, I sat down next to her on the bed.

I don't know why, but Aunt Dasha did not spend that night with us, the first night we were left alone. She brought me some porridge, but I did not feel like eating, and she put the plate on the window-sill. On the window-sill, not on the table where Mother had lain that morning. That morning. And now it was night. Sanya was sleeping in her bed, in the place where she had been lying with that little wreath on her brow.

I got up and went over to the window. It was dark outside, and a fiery glow hung over the river, where bands of black smoke flared up with yellow streaks and died down.

The barracks were on fire they said, but it was beyond the railway, a long way off and in quite a different direction. I recalled how she had taken my hand, shaking her head and fighting back her tears. Why hadn't I said anything to her? She had so wanted me to say something, even if it was a single word.

I could hear the pebbles rolling up on the shore; the wind had probably risen and it started raining. For a long time, thinking of nothing, I watched the big heavy raindrops rolling down the window-pane, first slowly, then faster and faster.

I dreamt that someone pulled the door open, ran into the room and flung his wet army coat on the floor. It was some time before I realised that this was no dream. It was my stepfather, dashing about the house, pulling off his tunic as he ran. He tugged away at it, gnashing his teeth, but it clung to his back. At last, clad only in his trousers, he rushed over to his box and pulled a haversack out of it.

"Pyotr Ivanich!"

He glanced at me but did not answer. With matted hair, his face glistening with sweat, he was hastily thrusting linen into the haversack from the box. He rolled up a blanket, pressed it down with his knee and strapped it. All the time his mouth worked with vicious fury, and I could see his clenched teeth-the big, long teeth of a wolf.

He put on three shirts and shoved a fourth into his haversack. He must have forgotten that I was not asleep, or he would not have had the nerve to snatch Mother's velvet jacket from the nail on which it hung and thrust it into the haversack along with the rest.

"Pyotr Ivanich!"

"Shut up!" he said, looking up. "Go to hell, all of you!"

He changed his boots and put on his coat, then suddenly noticed the skull and crossbones on the sleeve. With an oath he threw the coat off again and started ripping off the emblem with his teeth. He flung his haversack on his back and was gone-gone out of my life. All that remained were his muddy footmarks of the floor and the empty tin box of Katyk cigarettes in which he kept his studs and ' tiepins.

Everything became clear the next day. The Military Revolutionary Committee proclaimed Soviet power in the town. The Death Battalion and the volunteers who had come out against the Soviets had been defeated.

Chapter Fourteen

WE RUN AWAY. I PRETEND TO BE ASLEEP

Where did Pyotr get the idea that you could travel free now on all the railways? The rumour about free tramcars must have reached him in this exaggerated form.

"Grown-ups have to have official travel papers," he said with assurance. "But we don't need anything."

He was no longer silent. He remonstrated with me, teased me, accused me of cowardice, and sneered. Everything that was happening on Earth, merely went to prove, in his view, that we had to make tracks for Turkestan without a moment's delay. Old Skovorodnikov proclaimed himself a Bolshevik and made Aunt Dasha take down the icons. Pyotr cashed in on this situation by arguing that life in the yard would now be impossible.

I don't know whether he would have succeeded in the end in taking me into the venture had not Aunt Dasha and Skovorodnikov

decided in family council to place Sanya and me into an orphanage. With tears in her eyes Aunt Dasha declared that she would visit us at the orphanage every day, that she would put us in there only for the winter, and we would return for sure in the summer. In the orphanage we would be fed, taught and clothed. They would give us new boots, two shirts each, an overcoat and cap, stockings and drawers. I remember asking her, "What are drawers?"

We knew the orphanage children. They were sickly looking kids in grey jackets and crumpled grey trousers. They were ever so smart at shooting birds with their catapults; they afterwards roasted and ate the birds in their garden. That's how they were fed in the orphanage! Altogether they were a "bad lot", and we had scraps with them, and now I was to become one of them!

I went to Pyotr the same day and told him I was willing. We had very little money-only ten rubles. We sold Mother's boots in the second-hand market for another ten. That made it twenty. With the utmost precautions we removed a blanket from the house; with equal precaution we returned it; nobody had wanted to buy it, though we asked very little for it-four fifty, I believe. That was just the amount we had spent on food as we hawked our blanket round the market. Total: fifteen rubles fifty kopecks.

Pyotr wanted to flog his books, but luckily nobody bought them. I say "luckily", because those books now occupy a place of honour in my library. On second thought, we did manage to sell one of them-Yuri Miloslavsky, I believe. Total: sixteen rubles.

We figured that this money would get us to Pyotr's uncle, and once there we had the thrilling prospect of life aboard a railway engine to look forward to. I remember the question whether we should carry arms or not caused no little argument. Pyotr had a knife; which he called a dagger. We made a sheath for it out of an old boot. Everything else was in order: stout boots, overcoats in good condition (Pyotr's even had a fur collar) and a pair of trousers apiece.

I was very gloomy that day and Aunt Dasha made several attempts to cheer me up. Poor Aunt Dasha! If she only knew that we had put off our departure because we were counting on her cookies. The next day she was to take Sanya and me down to the orphanage, and she spent the day baking cookies "for the road". She was baking them all day and kept taking off her glasses and blowing her nose.

She made me give a solemn promise not to steal, not to smoke, not to be rude, not to be lazy, not to get drunk, not to swear or fight-more taboos than there were in the Ten Commandments. To my little sister, who was very sad, she gave a magnificent ribbon of pre-war manufacture.

Of course, we could have simply slipped out of the house and disappeared. But Pyotr decided that this was too tame, and he drew up a rather intricate plan which had an air of fascinating mystery about it.

In the first place, we were to swear to each other a "blood-oath of friendship". It ran like this:

"Whoever breaks this oath shall receive no mercy until he has counted all the sand grains in the sea, all the leaves in the forest, all the raindrops falling from the sky. When he tries to go forward, he will go back, when he wants to go left he will go right. The moment I fling my cap to the ground thunderbolts shall strike him who breaks this oath. To strive, to seek, to find, and not to yield."

We had to utter this oath in turn, then shake hands and fling our caps down together. This was performed in Cathedral Gardens on the eve of our departure. I recited the oath by heart, while Pyotr read it "off the cuff. After that he pricked his finger with a pin and wrote "P.S." on the paper in blood, the letters standing for Pyotr Skovorodnikov. I scrawled with some difficulty the initials "A.G.", standing for Alexander Grigoriev.

Secondly, I was to go to bed at ten and pretend to be asleep, though nobody was curious to know whether I was asleep or only pretending. At three in the morning Pyotr was to give three whistles outside the window-the prearranged signal that all was in order, the coast was clear and we could decamp.

This was far more dangerous than it would have been in the daytime, when things really were in order, the coast clear, and nobody would have noticed that we had run away. In the night we risked being grabbed by the patrols-the town was under martial law-and the dogs were let loose at night all along the river bank. But Pyotr commanded and I obeyed. And then came the crucial night, my last night in the paternal home.

Aunt Dasha was sitting at the table, mending my shirt. Though they provided you with linen at the orphanage, here was one shirt more, to be on the safe side. In front of her was the lamp with the blue shade which had been Aunt Dasha's wedding presence Mother. It looked sort of abashed now, as though it felt ill at ease in our deserted house. It was dark in the corners. The kettle hung over the stove, but its shadow looked more like a huge upturned nose than a kettle. From a crack under the window came whiffs of cool air and the tang of the river. Aunt Dasha was sewing and talking. She took something from the table and the circle of light on the ceiling began to quiver. It was ten o'clock. I pretended to be asleep.

"Now mind, Sanya, you must always do as your brother tells you," Aunt Dasha was telling my sister. "Being a girl, you must lean on him. We womenfolk always lean on the men. He'll stand up for you."

My heart was wrung, but I tried not think of Sanya. "And you, too, Sanya," Aunt Dasha said to me, and I could see a tear creep down from under her glasses and fall on my shirt, "take care of your sister. You'll be in different sections, but I'll ask them to allow you to visit her every day."

"All right, Aunt Dasha."

"Ah, my God, if only Aksinya were alive…"

She turned up the wick, threaded her needle and took up her work again with a sigh.

I am not asleep, I am pretending to be asleep. Half past eleven. Twelve. Aunt Dasha gets up. For the last, the very last time I see her kind face above the lamp, lit up from below. She places her hand over the rim of the glass and blows. Darkness. She makes the sign of the cross over us in the dark and lies down. She is spending that night with us.

It's all very well to pretend you're asleep when you're not sleepy! I open my eyes with an effort. What's the time? Three o'clock is still a long way off. A sound of drunken singing comes from the river. The pebbles roll on the bank. But still there is no signal. Just the wall clock ticking and Aunt Dasha sighing as she tosses from side to side.

To keep awake, I sit up and rest my head on my knees. I am pretending to be asleep. I hear a whistle, but I can't wake up.

Afterwards Pyotr told me he had whistled himself as hoarse as a gypsy until he wakened me. But he kept whistling all the time I was putting on my boots and my overcoat and stuffing the cookings into the haversack. Was he cross! He ordered me to turn up the collar of my overcoat and we made off.

Everything went well. Nobody touched us-neither dogs nor men. To be on the safe side, though, we made a detour of about two miles round the town. On the way I tried to find out from Pyotr whether he was sure that travelling on the railways these days was free of charge. He told me he was sure; if the worst came to the worst we could hide under the seats. It was two nights' travel to Moscow. The passenger train was due to leave at 5.40.

But when, to avoid the patrols, we jumped the fence some half a mile from the station we found that there was no 5.40 train. The wet, black rails glinted dully, and yellow lanterns burned dimly at the points. What were we to do? Wait at the station till morning? Impossible: the patrols might catch us. Return home?

At that moment a bearded coupler all covered with grease, crawled out from under a freight train and came towards us, stepping over the sleepers.

"Please, mister," Pyotr accosted him boldly, "how do we get to Moscow from here-on the right or on the left!"

The man looked at him, then at me. I turned cold. "Now he'll hand us over to the commandant's."

"It's three hundred miles to Moscow, my lads."

"Please, mister, we only want to know-is it on the right or on the left?"

The coupler laughed.

"On the left."

"Thank you. Come along to the left, Sanya!"

Chapter Fifteen

TO STRIVE. TO SEEK, TO FIND AND NOT TO YIELD

All journeys are much alike when the travellers are eleven or twelve years old, when they travel under the carriages and do not wash for months. You only have to scan a few books dealing with the life of waifs to see this for yourself. That is why I am not going to describe our journey from our town of Ensk to Moscow.

Aunt Dasha's commandments were soon forgotten. We swore, fought and smoked (sometimes dried dung, to keep warm); sometimes it was an aunt travelling to Orenburg for salt who had lost us on the way; at other times we were refugees who were going to join our grandma in Moscow. We gave ourselves out to be brothers-this made a touching impression. As we couldn't sing, I recited on the trains the letter from the navigating officer. I remember how, at Vyshny Volochok station, a young-looking though grey-haired naval man made me repeat the letter twice.

"Very strange," he said, looking at me closely with his stern grey eyes. "Lieutenant Sedov's expedition? Very strange."

We were not waifs, though. Like Captain Hatteras (Pyotr told me about him with a wealth of detail which Jules Verne himself had never suspected), we were going forward, forever forward. Not only because in Turkestan there was bread, while here there were none. We were going out to discover a new land of sunny cities and rich orchards. We had sworn an oath to each other.

What a help that oath was to us!

Once at Staraya Russa we strayed from the road and lost our way in the forest. I lay down in the snow and closed my eyes. Pyotr tried to scare me with talk about wolves, he swore and even hit me, but all in vain. I couldn't take another step. So then he took off his cap and flung it down in the snow.

"You swore an oath, Sanya," he said, "to strive, to seek, to find and not to yield. D'you mean to say you've sworn falsely? Didn't you say yourself-no mercy for whoever breaks the oath?"

I started to cry, but I got up. Late that night we arrived at a village. It was a village of Old Believers, but one old woman nevertheless took us in, fed us and even washed us in the bathhouse.

And so, passing from village to village, from station to station, we at last reached Moscow.

On the way we had sold or bartered for food nearly everything that we had brought with us. Even Pyotr's knife and its sheath, I remember, was sold for two pieces of meat-jelly.

The only things that remained unsold were the papers with the oath written on them in blood "P.S." and "A.G." and the address of Pyotr's uncle.

That uncle! How often we had talked about him! In the end I -came to see him as a sort of Grand Patriarch of Steam Engines-beard streaming in the wind, funnel belching smoke, boiler ejecting steam…

And then, at last, Moscow! One frosty February night we clambered out through the window of the lavatory in which we had been travelling during the last stage of our journey, and jumped down on to the track. We couldn't see Moscow, it was hidden in the dark, and besides, we weren't interested in it. This was just Moscow, whereas that Uncle lived at Moscow Freight Yard, Depot 7, Repair Shop. For two hours we blundered amidst the maze of diverging tracks. Day began to break by the time we reached Depot 7, a bleak building with dark oval windows and a tall oval door on which hung a padlock. The uncle wasn't there. And there wasn't anybody you could ask about him. Later in the morning we learned at the Depot Committee that Uncle had gone off to the front.

So that was that! We went out and sat down on the platform.. It was goodbye to the streets where oranges grew, goodbye to the nights under the open sky, goodbye to the knife under the girdle and the curved sword ornamented in silver!

Just to make sure, Pyotr went back to the committee to ask whether his uncle was married. No, Uncle was a single man. He lived, it transpired, in a railway truck and had gone off to the front in the same truck.

It was quite light by this time and we could now see Moscow-houses upon houses (they all looked like railway stations to me), great heaps of snow, an occasional tramcar, then again houses and houses.

What was to be done! The weeks that followed were about the toughest we had known. The things we did for a living! We took up queues for people. We did jobs for ex-bourgeois, shovelling snow off the pavements in front of the houses when "compulsory labour service" was introduced. We cleaned the stables at the circus. We slept on landings, in cemeteries and in attics.

Then, suddenly, everything changed.

We were walking, I remember, down Bozhedomka Street, yearning only for one thing-to come across a bonfire somewhere; in those days bonfires were sometimes lighted in the centre of the city. But there was nothing doing. Snow, darkness, silence! It was a cold night. All house entrances were locked. We walked along in silence, shivering. It looked as if Pyotr would have to fling his cap down again, but at that very moment, tipsy voices reached us from one of the gateways we had just passed. Pyotr went into the yard. I sat on a curb stone, my teeth chattering with cold and my freezing fingers thrust into my mouth. Pyotr came back.

"Come on!" he said joyfully. "They'll let us in!"

Chapter Sixteen

MY FIRST FLIGHT

It's good to sleep when you have a roof over your head! It's good, in a bitter frost, to sit around an iron stove, chopping and feeding bits of wood into it, until the tin smoke pipes begin to roar! But better still, while weighing out salt and flour, is it to think that Turkestan itself had been promised us in return for our work. We had stumbled upon a den of black-marketeering war cripples. Their boss, a lame Pole with a scalded face, promised to take us with him to Turkestan. We learned that it was not a city, but a country, whose capital was Tashkent, that same Tashkent to which our cripples used to go every two or three weeks.

Those crooks employed us to pack food products. We got no wages, only board and lodging. But we were glad to have that.

But for the boss's wife, life wouldn't have been at all bad. But the woman got on our nerves.

Fat, with bulging eyes, her belly shaking, she would come running into the shed where we were packaging the food to see whether everything was safe.

"Pfef A pfef Jak smiesz tak rоbiс?” "How dare you work like this?"

I don't know about robic, but it was a sore temptation while weighing out salted pork fat not to nip off at least a tiny bit for yourself. Lump sugar just got itself stuck into your sleeve or pocket. But we put up with her. Had we known that we should no more see Turkestan than our own ears, that old hag might have really found herself short of quite a few things.

One day, when we had been working for over two months with this gang, she came rushing into the shed clad only in a dressing gown. In her hand was the padlock with which she locked up the shed at night. Eyes popping, she stopped in the doorway, looked over the shoulder and went very pale.

"No knocking, no banging," she whispered, clutching her head. "No shouting! Keep quiet!"

Before we knew where we were, she shot home to bolt, breathing heavily, then hung up the padlock and went away.

It was so unexpected that for a minute or so we really kept quiet. Then Pyotr swore and lay down on the floor. I followed suit, and we both put an eye to the crack under the door to see what was going on.

At first all was quiet-the empty yard, the thawing snow with yellow footprints filled with water. Then there appeared strange legs in a pair of black high boots: after that another pair of legs, then a third. The legs were making for the annex across the yard. Two pairs disappeared, the third remaining on the doorstep. The butt of a rifle came to rest beside them.

"A round-up," Pyotr whispered and sprang to his feet.

In the dark he bumped his head against mine and I bit my tongue. But this was no time to think of bitten tongues.

"We must run for it!"

Who knows-my life might have taken quite a different turn if we had taken some rope with us. There was plenty of rope in the shed. But we didn't think of it until we were up in the loft. The shed was brick-built, with a loft, a lean-to roof, and a round opening in the rear wall which gave on to the yard next door.

Pyotr poked his head through this opening and took a look round. He had scratched a cheek when we had removed a plank from the ceiling in the darkness, and now he kept wiping the blood away with his fist every minute.

"Let's jump, eh?"

But it was no easy thing, jumping through a small opening in a sheer wall from a height of fifteen or eighteen feet, unless you took a dive, head foremost. You had to crawl through this opening feet foremost, sitting bent up almost double, then push free from the wall and drop to the ground. That's what Pyotr did. I had half a mind to go back for some rope, when he was already sitting in the hole. He couldn't turn round. He just said, "Come on, Sanya. Don't be afraid." And he was gone. I looked out, my heart in my mouth. He was all right. He had dropped on to a heap of wet snow on the other side of the fence, which at this point came close up to our shed.

"Come on!"

I crawled out and sat down, knees drawn up to my chin. I could now see the whole of the next-door yard. A little girl there was playing with a hand sled outside an old house with columns, and a crow was sitting on a drainpipe. The girl stopped and looked at us with curiosity. The crow glanced at us incuriously, then turned away and drew its head between its wings.

"Come on!"

Besides the girl and the crow, there was a man in the yard, a man in a leather overcoat. He was standing at the point where our annex adjoined the next yard. I saw him finish his cigarette, throw away the fag end and coolly walk towards us.

"Come on!" Pyotr cried desperately.

As I started feebly to push off from the wall with my hands everything suddenly came into motion. The crow took wing, the girl backed away in fright. Pyotr made a dash for the gateway, and the leathered man gave chase. At that moment I understood everything. But it was too late-I was hurtling down.

Such was my first flight-down in a straight line from a height of fifteen feet, without a parachute; I shouldn't call it a successful flight. I struck the fence with my chest, jumped up and fell again. The last thing I saw was Pyotr dashing out into the street and slamming the gate in the face of the man in the leather coat.

Chapter Seventeen

CLAY MODELLING

It was very silly, of course, to run away when you hadn't done anything wrong. After all, we weren't blackmarketeers, we had been only working for them. Our captors wouldn't do anything to us, they'd simply question us and let us go. But it was too late now for regrets. The man in the leather coat gripped my arm and marched me off-to jail probably. I had been caught, while Pyotr had got away. I was alone now. It was already evening, the sun was going down, and the daws were circling slowly over the trees along the Strastnoi Boulevard. I wasn't crying, but I must have looked pretty miserable, because the man in the leather coat looked at me closely and let go of my arm. He realised that I wouldn't run away.

He brought me into a large well-lighted room on the fifth floor of a huge building at Nikitsky Gate. It was a children's reception centre of the Education Department, where I was to spend three memorable days.

My heart sank when I saw all those ugly customers. Some were playing cards, squatting around a clay-built stove, some were taking down the wooden valance rods from the high windows and feeding them straight into the stove, while others were sleeping or building a house out of old frames and canvases stacked haphazardly in a corner. At night, when it got colder inside the reception centre than outside, these house owners lighted a primus-stove and exacted payment for admission into their house at the rate of a couple of cigarettes or a piece of bread. And gazing incuriously with the sightless white eyes upon all this chaos there stood on tall pedestals plaster figures of Hercules, of Apollo, Diana and other Greek gods.

The only human faces there were those of the gods. Waking up from the cold towards morning with chattering teeth, I glanced at them fearfully. They were probably thinking: "You poor mutt, you! What made you run away from home? That orphanage? You'd be back in the spring and find some job helping the old folks. And now what? Now you're all alone. If you die no one will remember you. Only Pyotr will be running around Moscow, looking for you, and Aunt Dasha will heave a sigh. Ask for some clothes, my lad, and hotfoot it home!" They changed your clothes at the Education Department, they burned your old ones and gave you trousers and a shirt instead. Many waifs deliberately let themselves be rounded up in order to change their ragged clothes.

All those three days I kept silent. For a boy who had only recently learned to speak that was not at all difficult. Who was there to talk to anyway! Every time they brought in a new batch of waifs I caught myself looking to see if Pyotr was among them. But he wasn't, and that was just as well. I sat apart and kept silent.

What with hunger, cold and misery, I started modelling. There were lots of white sculptor's clay in this former art studio. I picked up a lump, soaked it in hot water and started to knead it between my fingers. Almost without realising what I was doing, I had made a toad. I gave it big nostrils and goggle-eyes, then tried my hand on a hare. It was all pretty poor, of course. But at the sight of the familiar features of Frisky emerging from the shapeless lump of clay something stirred within me. I was to remember that moment. Nobody had seen me modelling: an old thief, who had by some miracle landed in the reception centre for homeless children, was describing how they worked at the railway stations in "two-men teams". I stood apart by the window, holding my breath as I gazed at the little lump of clay with long ears sticking out of it, and I couldn't make out why it stirred me so.

After that I modelled a horse with a thick-combed mane. Then it struck me-why, old Skovorodnikov's horses-that's what it was! The figures he used to carve out of wood!

I don't know why, but the discovery bucked me up. I fell asleep in a cheerful mood. I had a feeling as though these figurines were going to be my salvation. They would enable me to get out of this place, help me to find Pyotr, help me to return home and him to reach Turkestan. They would help my sister at the orphanage, Pyotr's uncle at the front, and everybody who roamed the streets at night in cold and hungry Moscow. That's how I prayed-not to God, no! to the toad, the horse and the hare, which were drying on the window-sill, covered with scraps of newspaper.

I daresay some other boy in my place would have become an idol worshipper and I have had everlasting faith in the toad, the horse and the hare. Because they did help me!

The next day a commission from the Education Department came to the reception centre and that place was done away with from now on and for aye. The thieves were packed off to jail, the waifs to orphanages, and the beggars to their homes. All that remained in the spacious art studio were the Greek gods Apollo and Diana and Hercules.

"What's this?" said one of the commission members, a tousled unshaven youth, whom everybody called simply Alee. "Ivan Andreyevich, look at this sculpture!"

Ivan Andreyevich, no less unkempt and unshaven, but older put on his pince-nez and studied the figures.

"Typical Russian figure work from Sergiev Posad," he said. "Interesting. Who did this? You?"

"Yes."

"What's your name?"

"Alexander Grigoriev."

"Would you like to study?"

I looked at him and said nothing. I must have had a pretty rough time of it during those months of hungry street life, because all of a sudden my face twisted and the floodgates opened everywhere- from eyes to nose.

"He'd like to," said commissioner Alee. "Where shall we send him, Ivan Andreyevich?"

"To Nikolai Antonich's, I think," the other answered, carefully replacing my hare on the window-sill.

"Why, of course! Nikolai Antonich has just that bent in art. Well, Alexander Grigoriev, do you want to go to Nikolai Antonich's?"

"He doesn't know him, Alee. Better write it down. Alexander Grigoriev… How old are you?"

"Eleven."

I had added six months to my age.

"Eleven. Have you put that down? To Tatarinov, Commune School No. 4."

Chapter Eighteen

NIKOLAI ANTONICH

The fat girl from the Education Department, who somehow resembled Aunt Dasha, left me in a long dimly-lit corridor of a room, saying that she would soon be back. It was in the cloakroom. Empty racks, looking like skinny people with horns, stood in open cupboards. All along the wall-doors and doors. One of them was of glass. I saw myself in it for the first time since I had left home. What a sight! A pale-faced boy with a round cropped head looked at me despondently; he was very small, smaller than I thought. A peaked nose, down-drawn mouth.

The fat girl returned and we went to see Nikolai Antonich. He was a stout pale man with scant hair combed back over his balding head. A gold tooth gleamed in his mouth, and I, in my usual stupid way, stared at that tooth and could not keep my eyes off it.

Nikolai Antonich was talking to a group of boys of about sixteen who crowded round him arguing and interrupting each other. He heard them out, twiddling his stubby fingers, which reminded me of hairy caterpillars-cabbage-worms I believe they're called. He was unhurried, condescending, dignified.

We came forward.

"A waif?"

"No."

"From the Education Department," the fat girl explained and placed a paper on the desk.

"Where do you come from, Grigoriev?" Nikolai Antonich demanded after reading the paper.

I told him.

"And what are you doing here, in Moscow?"

"Passing through," I said.

"Oh, I see. Where were you going?"

I took a deep breath and said nothing. I had been asked all these questions a hundred times.

"All right, we'll discuss that some other time," Nikolai Antonich said. He wrote something on the back of the paper. "You won't run away, will you?"

I was quite sure that I would, but to be on the safe side I said, "No."

We went out. In the doorway I looked back. Nikolai Antonich was gazing after me with a thoughtful air. What was he thinking? One thing he was definitely not thinking was that Fate itself had appeared to him that day in the shape of a half-starved ragamuffin in outsize boots and regulation jacket from which protruded a skinny neck.

____________________

PART TWO

FOOD FOR THOUGHT

Chapter one

I LISTEN TO FAIRY-TALES

"I'll stick it till the first warm day," I had firmly decided. As soon as the frosts let go, it was goodbye for me at the children's home. They'd never see me again. But things worked out differently. I didn't run away at all. What kept me there were the reading sessions.

First thing in the morning we went to the bakery for bread, then lessons began. We were counted as Form I, though some of us were old enough to be studying in Form 6.

Our teacher was an old lady by the name of Serafima Petrovna, who came to school with a rucksack on her back. I really couldn't say what she taught us exactly.

I remember the Duck lesson. It was three lessons in one-geography, nature study and Russian. At the nature study lesson we studied the duck as such: what sort of wings it had, what sort of feet, how it swam, and so on. At the geography lesson the same duck was studied as a denizen of the Earth: you had to point out on the map where it lived and where it didn't. At the Russian lesson Serafima Petrovna taught us to write "d-u-c-k" and read to us something from Brehm about ducks. She mentioned, in passing, that the German for duck was so-and-so, and the French so-and-so. This, I believe, was called at the time the "complex method". It was all sort of "incidental". It is quite likely that Serafima Petrovna got this method mixed up a bit. She was an old lady and wore a mother-of-pearl watch pinned to her breast, so that in answering her we always looked to see what time it was.

In the evening she read to us. It was from her that I first heard the fairy-tale about Sister Alyonushka and Brother Ivanushka.

Sister, dear sister, Swim out, swim out to me. Fires are burning high, Pots are boiling, Knives are ringing, And I am going to die.

All Baba and the Forty Thieves made a particularly strong impression upon me. "Open Sesame!" It grieved me to learn, years later, upon reading the Thousand and One Nights in a new translation, that the word should be Simsim and not Sesame, which was a plant, something like hemp. Sesame had magic, it was a wonder-working word. I was terribly disappointed to learn that it was just ordinary hemp.

Without exaggeration it can be said that these tales simply knocked me flat. More than anything else in the world now I wanted to learn to read, like Serafima Petrovna.

On the whole, I liked the life in the children's home. It was snug and warm there, and they fed and taught you in the bargain. It wasn't dull, at least not very. The other boys treated me well-probably because I was a small chap.

At the very outset I made friends with two boys and we did not waste a minute of our spare time.

One of my new chums was Romashov whom we nicknamed Romashka which means "a daisy". He was a skinny lad with a big head on which grew yellow matted hair. He had a flattened nose, unnaturally round eyes and a square chin-altogether a wicked-looking piece of work for a face. We became friends over some picture puzzles. I was good at guessing them and this won his admiration.

The other one was Valya Zhukov, a lazy boy with a head full of plans. At one moment he was all for getting a job at the Zoo, learning to tame lions, the next he was raving to join the fire brigade. After a visit to the bakery he wanted to become a baker; he would come away from the theatre with the firm intention of becoming an actor. Valya was fond of dogs. All the dogs in the neighbourhood treated him with great respect.

But all the same, Valya was just Valya, and Romashka was just Romashka. Neither of them came anywhere near Pyotr.

I can't describe how I missed him.

I went round all the places we had roamed together, inquired about him from all the street waifs and strays, and hung round the reception centres and children's homes. He was nowhere to be found. Had he gone to Turkestan, travelling in some box under an International Sleeping Car, I wondered. Or had he returned home on foot from hungry Moscow? Who could say?

It was then, during my daily wanderings, that I came to know Moscow and to love it. It was mysterious, vast, snowed-up, preoccupied with hunger and war. Maps were hung up in public places, and the red thread held by little flags passed somewhere between Kursk and Kharkov and was nearing Moscow. Okhotny Ryad, the old shopping centre, was a long, low row of painted wooden stalls and shops. Futurist artists had daubed strange pictures on its walls-people with green faces, churches with falling cupolas. Similar pictures decorated the tall fence on Tverskaya. ROSTA placards (Caricatures, often with verse, put on the walls in the street for propaganda purposes in the '20s.) hung in the shop windows, saying:

Munch your pineapples,

Chew your grouse,

Your last day is coming, Bourgeois louse!

These were the first verses I learned to read by myself.

Chapter Two

SCHOOL

I believe I have already mentioned that the Education Department regarded our children's home as a sort of hatchery for budding talent. The Department considered that we were distinguished by having gifts for music, painting or literature. Therefore, after lessons we were allowed to do as we pleased. We were supposed to be freely developing our talents. And so we were. Some of us ran down to the Moskva River to help the firemen catch fish in the ice-holes, while others loitered about the Sukharevka Market, helping themselves to anything that lay in temptation's way.

I spent most of my time indoors, however. We lived on the floor below the school rooms and all school life passed before my eyes. It was an odd, puzzling, complex life. I hung around groups of senior pupils, giving an ear to their conversation. New attitudes, new ideas, new people. All this was as unlike life in Ensk, my home town, as Ensk was unlike Moscow. For a long time it all baffled me and kept me wondering.

One day I happened upon a meeting of fifth-formers, who were discussing the question of whether or not to study. One scruffy-looking schoolboy, who was greeted with cries of "Go it, Shrimpy!", argued that on no account should they be forced to study. Attendance at school should be voluntary, and marks given only by a majority vote.

"Bravo, Shrimpy!"

"Hear, hear!"

"Generally speaking, comrades, it's just a question of teaching staff. Now take those teachers whose lessons are attended by an absolute minority. I suggest that we set them a limit of five pupils. If less than five come to the lesson, the teacher should get no rations that day."

"Hear, hear!"

"Sap!"

"Go and eat coke!"

"Bravo!"

Evidently they had in mind not all the teachers, but only one of them, because they all suddenly turned their heads, whispering and nudging one another, at the sight of a tall man with walrus moustache who appeared in the doorway, and stood with folded arms, listening attentively to the speaker.

"Who's that?" I asked Varya, a fat girl with thick plaits.

"That's Whiskers, my boy," Varya answered.

"What do you mean, whiskers?"

"Fancy not knowing that!"

I was soon to discover who it was that everyone in School 4 called "Whiskers".

He was the geography teacher, Korablev, whom the whole school heartily disliked. For one thing, the consensus of opinion was that he was a fool and an ignorant one at that. Secondly, he turned up for his lesson every blessed day and sat it out, even though there might be only three pupils in his class. This simply got everyone's goat.

I looked at Korablev. I must have been staring, because all of a sudden he stared back at me, ever so faintly aping my goggled look. I even fancied that he smiled into his moustache. But Shrimpy was holding forth again, and Korablev, turning his twinkling eye away from me, listened to him with close attention.

Chapter Three

THE OLD LADY FROM ENSK

I remember that day distinctly-a sunny day, with spring rain that kept coming and going-the day I met the thin old lady in the green velvet coat in Kudrinskaya Square. She was carrying a shopping bag full of all kinds of things-potatoes, sorrel leaves, onions-and in her other hand a big umbrella. Though she obviously found the bag heavy, she walked along briskly with an air of preoccupation, and I could hear her counting to herself in a whisper: "Mushrooms-half a pound-five hundred rubles; washing blue-a hundred and fifty; beetroot-a hundred and fifty; milk-a pint-a hundred and fifty; prayer for the dead-seven hundred and sixty rubles; three eggs-three hundred rubles; confession-five hundred rubles." Prices were like that in those days.

Finally, she drew a light sigh and put the bag down on a dry stone to recover her breath.

"Let me help you, Grandma," I said.

"Go away, you rascal! I know your kind!"

She shook a threatening finger at me and picked up her bag.

I walked on. But we were both going in the same direction and presently drew level with each other again. The old lady was obviously anxious to get rid of me, but her burden made it difficult for her to get away.

"Look here. Grandma, if you think I'm going to steal anything, then I'll help you for nothing," I said. "Cross my heart I will, I just can't see you dragging that load."

The old lady got angry. She clutched her bag to her with one arm and began to wave her umbrella at me with the other as though fighting off a bee.

"Get along with you! I've had three lemons* stolen already. I know you."

"Just as you like. It was the street boys who stole them from you, but I'm from a children's home."

"You're just as bad a lot as the others."

She looked at me and I at her. Her nose was slightly tilted and had a purposeful look about it. She seemed a kind old soul. Maybe she took a fancy to me too, because she suddenly stopped brandishing her umbrella and demanded: "Who are your parents?"

"I haven't any."

"Where d'you come from? Moscow?"

I realised at once that if I said I was a Muscovite, she would chase me away. She probably thought it was Moscow boys who had stolen her money.

"No," I said, "I'm from Ensk."

Would you believe it, she was from Ensk too! Her eyes lit up and her face grew kinder still.

"You're fibbing, you little liar," she said sternly. "The one who stole the lemon from me said he wasn't from Moscow either. If you're from Ensk, where did you live there?"

"On the Peshchinka, back of the Market Square."

"I don't believe you." This without conviction. "Peshchinka, you say? There may be Peshchinkas in other places too. I don't remember you."

"You must have left the town a long time ago, when I was still little."

"It wasn't long ago, it was only recently. Come on, take the bag by one handle, I'll take the other. Don't jerk it."

We carried the bag and chatted. I told her how Pyotr and I had headed for Turkestan and got stranded in Moscow. She listened with interest.

"Hoity-toity! What cleverdicks! Globe-trotters, eh? Of all the crazy ideas!"

As we passed our street I pointed out our school to her.

"We do belong to the same places, I see," the old lady said enigmatically.

She lived in the Second Tverskaya-Yamskaya, in a little brick-built house. I knew it by sight.

"That's where our headmaster lives," I said. "Maybe you know him-Nikolai Antonich."

(*In those days of inflation a million ruble treasury note was popularly called a "lemon". -Tr.).

"Is that so!" the old lady said. "And what's he like? Is he a good Head?"

"Rather!"

I couldn't make out why she laughed. We went upstairs and stopped in front of a door upholstered in clean oilcloth. There was a name on the doorplate written in fanciful lettering which I hadn't time to read.

Whispering to herself, the old woman drew a key from her coat. I turned to go, but she stopped me.

"I did it for nothing. Grandma."

"Then sit with me a bit for nothing."

She tiptoed into the little entrance hall and began to take her coat off without putting on the light. She removed the coat, a tasselled shawl, a sleeveless jacket, then another smaller shawl, a kerchief and so on. Then she opened her umbrella and after that she disappeared. The next moment the kitchen door opened and a little girl appeared in the doorway. I was almost ready to believe that this was my old lady who had magically turned into a little girl. But the next moment the old lady herself reappeared. She stepped out of a cupboard in which she had been hanging up her shawls and things.

"And this is Katerina Ivanovna," she said.

Katerina Ivanovna was about twelve, no older than I. But what a difference! I wish I had the same poise she had, the same proud set of the head, the same way of looking one straight in the face with her dark bright eyes. She was rosy, but demure and had the same purposeful nose as the old lady. All in all, she was pretty, but gave herself airs-you could tell that at once.

"You can congratulate me, Katerina Ivanovna," the old lady said, peeling off more clothes. "They've pinched a lemon again."

"Didn't I tell you to keep your money in your coat pocket," Katerina Ivanovna said with annoyance.

"Coat pocket, you say? That's just where they pinched it from."

"Then you've been counting again. Grandma."

"No I wasn't! I had this young man here escorting me."

The girl looked at me. Till then she hadn't seemed to notice me.

"He carried my bag for me. How's your mother?"

"We're taking her temperature now," the girl said, regarding me coolly.

"Tut, tut!" the old lady said, thrown into a flutter. "Why so late? You know the doctor said she was to have it taken at noon."

She hurried out and the girl and I were left by ourselves. For two minutes or so we said nothing. Then frowning, she asked me gravely:

"Have you read Helen Robinson'!"

"No."

"Robinson Crusoe?

"No."

"Why not?"

I was about to tell her that it was only six months since I had learned to read properly, but checked myself in time.

"I haven't got them."

"What form are you in?"

"I'm not in any form."

"He's a traveller," said the old lady, coming back. "Ninety-eight point seven. He was footing it to Turkestan. Treat him nicely, Katya."

"Footing it? What d'you mean?"

"What I say. He hoofed it all the way."

In the hall, under the mirror, stood a little table, and Katya drew a chair up to it, settled herself in it with her head resting on her hand and said, "Well, tell me about it."

I had no desire to tell her anything-she gave herself such airs. If we had made it and got to Turkestan that would be a different matter. I therefore answered politely, "Oh, I don't feel like it. Some other time perhaps."

The old lady put bread and jam in front of me, but I declined it, saying, "I told you I did it for nothing."

I don't know why, but I got upset. I was even pleased that Katya had reddened when I refused to tell her my story and made for the door.

"Come, come, don't be angry," the old lady said as she saw me out. "What's your name?"

"Grigoriev, Alexander."

"Well, Alexander Grigoriev, goodbye, and thank you."

I stood for a while on the landing, trying to make out the name on the doorplate. Kazarinov… no, it wasn't Kazarinov…

"N. A. Tatarinov," I read it out suddenly.

Gosh! Tatarinov, Nikolai Antonich. Our Head. This was his flat.

Chapter Four

MORE FOOD FOR THOUGHT

We spent the summer at Silver Woods, just outside Moscow, in an old deserted house which had lots of little passage steps, carved wooden ceilings and corridors that unexpectedly ended in blank walls. The whole place creaked-the doors in one key, the shutters in another. One large room was boarded up, but even in there something creaked and rustled, and suddenly there would come a measured rattling sound like that of a little hammer in a striking clock tapping without striking the bell. In the attic grew puffballs and foreign books lay scattered about with pages torn out of them and covers missing.

Before the Revolution the house had belonged to an old gypsy countess. A gypsy countess! How mysterious! It was rumoured that before she died she had hidden away her valuables. Romashka searched for the treasure all through the summer. Puny, big-headed, he prowled around the house with a stick, tapping and listening. He tapped at night until he got a clip on the ear from one of the older boys. At thirteen he was determined to get rich. Whenever he spoke about money his pale ears would begin to burn. He was a born treasure-seeker-superstitious and greedy.

Lilac grew thickly round the tumbledown arbours. Statues lined the green paths. They were quite unlike those Greek gods. Those had been remote, with white sightless eyes, whereas these were people, just like us.

Life was good only at the beginning of the summer, when we first moved into Silver Woods. Afterwards things got worse. They all but stopped feeding us. Our children's home was put under a system of "self-supply". We caught fish and crabs, we sold lilac at the stadium when anything was on there, and simply helped ourselves to anything we could lay hands on. In the evenings we lit fires in the garden and roasted what we had bagged.

Here is a description of one such evening-they were all much alike.

We are sitting around our fire, tired out, hungry and ill-tempered. Everything is black with smoke-the mess-tin, the sticks from which it hangs, our faces and hands. Like cannibals getting ready to devour Captain Cook, we sit in silence, staring into the fire. The smouldering brands suddenly blaze up and fall apart, and a cap of curling, dark-red smoke, hangs over the fire.

We are a "commune". The whole children's home is divided into communes. Foraging on one's own is a hard job. Each commune has its chairman, its own fire and its own reserve supply-whatever has not been eaten that day and is left over for the next.

Our chairman is Stepka Ivanov, a fifteen-year-old boy with a smooth mug. He is a greedy-guts and bully whom everyone fears.

"What about a game o' knuckles?" Stepka says lazily.

All are silent. No one cares to play knuckles. Stepka is sated, that's why he wants to play.

"All right, Stepka. Only it's dark, you know," says Romashka.

"Know where it's dark? Get up!"

There was nothing our chairman liked more in the world than to play knucklebones. But he cheated and everyone knew it. All except Valya and I sucked up to him, especially Romashka. Romashka even lost to him on purpose so's to keep in with him.

If you think we were roasting some dainty gamebird over our fire you are mistaken. In our mess-tin, seized in battle from the kitchen, we were cooking soup. It is real "soup made from sausage stick", as in the fairy-tale which Serafima Petrovna had read to us during the winter. The difference, if any, is that while that soup had been made from a mouse's tail, ours had any odd thing put into that came to hand, sometimes even frogs' legs.

And yet it wasn't a bad summer. It had stuck in my memory not because we were poorly fed. I was used to that. I don't remember ever having had a decent meal those days. The reason I remember this summer was quite a different one. It was then for the first time that I gained a sense of self-respect.

It happened at the end of August, shortly before we went back to town, and around one of those fires on which we were cooking our supper. Stepka all of a sudden announced a new procedure for eating. Up to now we had eaten from the one pot in turn, spoon by spoon. Stepka started, as chairman, then Romashka, and so on. But now we were to tuck in all together while the soup was still hot, the quickest getting the most.

Nobody liked the new arrangement. No wonder! With a chairman like ours no one stood a chance. He could wolf down the whole pot in no time.

"Nothing doing," Valya said with decision.

This was greeted with a hubbub of approval. Stepka slowly got up, dusted his knees and hit Valya in the face. It was a smashing blow that sent the blood gushing over his face. It must have got into his eyes too, because he started to wave his arms about like a blind man. "Well," Stepka drawled, "anyone else asking for it?"

I was the smallest boy in the commune, and he could have mopped up the floor with me, of course. Nevertheless I hit out at Stepka. All at once he staggered and slumped down. I don't know where I had struck him, but he sat on the ground blinking, wearing a sort of thoughtful expression. The next minute he was up and made a rush at me, but now the other boys took my part. Stepka was thrashed like the cur he was. While he lay by the fire, howling, we hastily elected another chairman-me. Stepka, of course, did not vote. In any case he would have been in a minority of one, because I was elected unanimously.

Oddly enough, this scrap was my first act of social service. I heard the boys say of me: "He's got plenty of guts." I had guts! Now, what sort of person was I? Here was food for thought indeed.

Chapter Five

IS THERE SALT IN SNOW?

Nothing changed in our school life that year except that I had now become a pupil of Form 3. As usual, Korablev turned up at school at 10 a.m. He would arrive in a long autumn overcoat and a wide-brimmed hat, leisurely comb his moustache in front of the looking-glass and go in to his classroom.

He asked no questions and set no homework. He simply related something or read to us. It turned out that he had been a traveller and had been all over the world. In India he had seen yogi conjurors who had been buried in the ground for a year and then got up as alive and well as anything. In China he had eaten the tastiest of Chinese dishes-rotten eggs. In Persia he had witnessed the sacrificial feats of the Mohammedans.

It was not until several years later that I learned he had never been outside Russia. He had made it all up, but how interestingly! Although, for some reason many had said that he was a fool, none could maintain that he knew nothing.

As before, the chief figure at our school was the Head, Nikolai Antonich. He made all decisions, went into everything, attended all meetings. The senior boys visited him at home to "thrash things out". One day I was lounging about the assembly hall, trying to make up my mind whether to go down to the Moskva River or to Sparrow Hills, when the doors of the teachers' room opened and Nikolai Antonich beckoned to me.

"Grigoriev," he said (he had a reputation for knowing everyone in the school by name). "You know where I live, don't you?"

I said that I did.

"And do you know what a lactometer is?"

I said that I didn't.

"It's an instrument which tells you how much water there is in the milk. As we know," he went on, raising a finger, "the women who sell milk on the market dilute their milk with water. If you put the lactometer in such milk you will see how much milk there is and how much water. Do you understand?"

"Yes."

"Well, go and fetch it to me."

He wrote a note.

"Mind you don't break it. It's made of glass."

I was to give the note to Nina Kapitonovna. I had no idea that this was the name of the old lady from Ensk. But instead of the old lady, the door was opened by a spare little woman in a black dress.

"What do you want, boy?"

"Nikolai Antonich sent me."

The woman, of course, was Katya's mother and the old lady's daughter. All three had the same purposeful noses, the same dark, lively eyes. But the granddaughter and her grandmother were brighter looking. The daughter had a drooping careworn expression.

"Lactometer?" she said in a puzzled tone, after she had read the note. "Ah, yes!"

She went into the kitchen and returned with the lactometer in her hand. I was disappointed. It was just like a thermometer, only a little bigger.

"Be careful you don't break it."

"Me break it?" I replied with scorn.

I remember distinctly that the daring idea of testing the lactometer for snow salt struck me a minute or two after Katya's mother had shut the door behind me.

I had just reached the bottom of the stairs and stood there gripping the instrument with my hand in my pocket. Pyotr had once said that snow had salt in it. Would the lactometer show that salt or was Pyotr fibbing? That was the question. It needed testing.

I chose a quiet spot behind a shed, next to a refuse dump. A little house was built of bricks in the trodden-down snow, from which a black thread, resting on pegs, ran round the back of the shed- the children had probably been playing a field telephone. I breathed on the lactometer and with a beating heart stuck it into the snow next to the little house. You can judge what a stupid head I was when I tell you that, after a while, I pulled the lactometer out of the snow and finding no change in it, I stuck it back again upside down.

Nearby, I heard someone gasp. I turned round.

"Run! You'll be blown up!" came a shout from inside the shed.. It all happened in a matter of seconds. A girl in an unbuttoned overcoat rushed out of the shed towards me. "Katya," I thought, and reached for the instrument. But Katya grasped my arm and dragged me away. I tried to push her off and we both fell in the snow. Bang! Pieces of brick flew through the air, and powdery snow rose behind us in a white cloud and settled on us.

I had been under fire once before, at my mother's funeral, but this was much more terrifying. Rumblings and explosions still came from the refuse dump, and each time I lifted my head Katya quivered and said, "Smashing, eh?"

At last I sprang to my feet.

"The lactometer!" I yelled and ran like mad towards the dust-heap. "Where is it?"

At the spot where I had stuck it in the snow there was a deep hole.

"It's exploded!"

Katya was still sitting in the snow. Her face was pale and her eyes shone.

"Silly ass, it was firedamp that exploded," she said scornfully. "And now you'd better run for it, because the policeman will soon pop-and he'll nab you. He won't catch me though."

"The lactometer!" I repeated in despair, feeling that my lips were beginning to quiver and my face twitch. "Nikolai Antonich sent me for it. I put it in the snow. Where is it?"

Katya got up. There was a frost in the yard and she was without a hat, her dark hair parted in the middle and one plait stuffed in her mouth. I wasn't looking at her at the time and didn't remember this until afterwards.

"I've saved your life," she said with a little sniff. "You'd have been killed on the spot, hit right in the back. You owe your life to me. What were you doing here around my firedamp anyway?"

I did not answer. I was choking with fury.

"I would have you know, though," she added solemnly, "that even if it had been a cat coming near the gas I should have saved it just the same. Makes no difference to me."

I walked out of the yard in silence. But where was I to go? I couldn't go back to the school-that much was clear.

Katya caught up with me at the gate.

"Hey, you, Nikolai Antonich!" she shouted. "Where are you off to? Going to snitch?"

I went for her. Did I enjoy it! I paid her back for everything-for the ruined lactometer, for the tip-tilted nose, for my not being able to go back to school and for her having saved my life when nobody asked her to.

She gave as good as she got, though. Stepping back, she planted a blow in my stomach. I grabbed her by the plait and poked her nose into the snow. She leapt to her feet.

"That wasn't fair, your backheeling," she said briskly. "If it wasn't for that I'd have laid into you good and proper. I thrash all the boys in our form. What form are you in? Wasn't it you who helped Grandma to carry her bag? You're in the third form, aren't you?"

"Yes," I said drearily.

She looked at me.

"Fancy making all that fuss over a silly thermometer," she said contemptuously. "If you like I'll say it was me who did it. I don't care. Wait a minute."

She ran off and was back in a few minutes wearing a small hat and looking quite different, sort of impressive, and with ribbons in her plaits.

"I told Grandma you'd been here. She's sleeping. She asked why you didn't come in. It's a good thing that lactometer is broken, she says. It was such a nuisance, having to stick it into the milk every time. It didn't show right anyway. It's Nikolai Antonich's idea, but Grandma can always tell whether the milk's good or not by tasting it."

The nearer we got to the school the more pronounced became Katya's gravity of manner. She walked up the stairs, head thrown back, eyes narrowed, with an aloof air.

Nikolai Antonich was in the teachers' room where I had left him.

"Don't say anything, I'll tell him myself," I muttered to Katya.

She gave a contemptuous sniff, one of her plaits arching out from under her hat.

It was this conversation that started off the string of riddles of which I shall write in the next chapter.

The thing was that Nikolai Antonich, that suave Nikolai Antonich with his grand air of patronage, whom we were accustomed to regard as lord and master of School 4-vanished the moment Katya crossed the threshold. In his place was a new Nikolai Antonich, one who smiled unnaturally when he spoke, leaned across the table, opening his eyes wide and raising his eyebrows as though Katya were speaking of God knows what extraordinary things. Was he afraid of her, I wondered?

"Nikolai Antonich, you sent him for the lactometer, didn't you?" Katya said motioning to me with her eyes in an offhand manner.

"I did, Katya."

"Very well. I've broken it."

Nikolai Antonich looked grave.

"She's fibbing, " I said glumly. "It exploded."

"I don't understand. Shut up, Grigoriev! What's it all about, Katya, explain."

"There's nothing to explain," Katya answered with a proud toss of her head. "I broke the lactometer, that's all."

"I see. But I believe I sent this boy for it, didn't I?"

"And he hasn't brought it because I broke it."

"She's fibbing," I repeated.

Katya's eyes snapped at me.

"That's all very well, Katya," Nikolai Antonich said, pursing his lips benignly. "But you see, they've delivered milk to the school and I've put off breakfast in order to test the quality of this milk before deciding whether or not to continue taking it from our present milk women. It seems I have been waiting for nothing. What's more, it appears that a valuable instrument has been broken, and broken in circumstances which are anything but clear. Now you explain, Grigoriev, what it's all about."

"What a frightful bore! I'm going, Nikolai Antonich," Katya announced.

Nikolai Antonich looked at her. Somehow it struck me at that moment that he hated her.

"All right, Katya, run along," he said in a mild tone. "I'll have it out here with this boy."

"In that case I'll wait."

She settled herself in a chair and impatiently chewed the end of her plait while we were talking. I daresay if she had gone away the talk would not have ended so amicably. The lactometer affair was forgiven. Nikolai Antonich even recalled the fact that I had been sent to his school as a sculptor-to-be. Katya listened with interest.

From that day on we became friends. She liked me for not letting her take the blame on herself and not mentioning the firedamp explosion when telling my story.

"You thought I was going to catch it, didn't you?" she said, when we came out of the school.

"Mmm."

"Not likely! Come and see us. Grandma's invited you."

Chapter Six

I GO VISITING

I woke up that morning with the thought: should I go or not? Two things worried me – my trousers, and Nikolai Antonich. The trousers were not exactly picture-look, being neither short nor long, and patched at the knees. As for Nikolai Antonich, he was Head of the school, you will remember, that's to say a rather formidable personage. What if he suddenly started questioning me about this, that and the other? Nevertheless, when lessons were over, I polished my boots, and wetted, brushed and parted my hair. I was going to pay a visit!

How awkward I felt, how shy I was! My confounded hair kept sticking up on the top of my head and I had to keep it down with spit. Nina Kapitonovna was telling Katya and me something, when all of a sudden she commanded: "Shut your mouth!" I had been staring at her open-mouthed.

Katya showed me round the flat. In one of the rooms she lived herself with her mother, in another Nikolai Antonich, and the third was used as a dining-room. The desk-set in Nikolai Antonich's room represented "a scene from the life of Ilya of Murom", as Katya explained to me. In fact, the inkwell was made in the shape of a bearded head wearing a spiked helmet, the ashtray represented two crossed, ancient Russian gauntlets, and so on. The ink was under the helmet, which meant that Nikolai Antonich had to dip his pen right into the hero's skull. This stuck me as odd.

Between the windows stood a bookcase; I had never seen so many books together. Over the bookcase hung a half-length portrait of a naval officer with a broad brow, a square jaw and dancing grey eyes.

I noticed a similar but smaller portrait in the dining-room and a still smaller one in Katya's room over the bed.

"My Father," Katya explained, glancing at me sideways. And I had been thinking that Nikolai Antonich was her father! On second thoughts, though, she would hardly have called her own father by his name and patronymic. "Stepfather," I thought, but the next moment decided that he couldn't be. I knew what a stepfather was. This did not look like it.

Then Katya showed me a mariner's compass-a very interesting gadget. It was a brass hoop on a stand with a little bowl swinging in it, and in the bowl, under a glass cover, a needle. Whichever way you turned the bowl, even if you held it upside down, the needle would still keep swinging and the anchor at the tip would point North. "Such a compass can stand any gale." "What's it doing here?" "Father gave it to me." "Where is he?"

Katya's face darkened.

"I don't know."

"He divorced her mother and left her," I decided immediately. I had heard of such cases.

I noticed that there was a lot of pictures in the flat, and very good ones, too, I thought. One was really beautiful-it showed a straight wide path in a garden and pine trees lit up by the sun.

"That's a Levitan," Katya said in a casual, grown-up way.

I didn't know at the time that Levitan was the name of the artist, and decided that this must be the name of the place painted in the picture.

Then the old lady called us in to have tea with saccharin.

"So that's the sort you are, Alexander Grigoriev," she said. "You went and broke the lactometer."

She asked me to tell her all about Ensk, even the post-office there. "What about the post-office?" she said. She was rattled because I hadn't heard of some people by the name of Bubenchikov.

"And the orchard by the synagogue! Never heard of it? Tell me another! You must have gone after those apples scores of times."

She heaved a sigh.

"It's a long time since we left Ensk. I didn't want to move, believe me! It was all Nikolai Antonich's doing. He came down. It's no use waiting any longer, he says. We'll leave our address, and if need be they'll find us. We sold all our things, this is all that's left, and came here, to Moscow."

"Grandma!" Katya said sternly.

"What d'you mean-Grandma?"

"At it again?"

"All right. I won't. We're all right here."

I understood nothing-whom they had been waiting for or why it was no use waiting any longer. I did not ask any questions, of course, all the more as Nina Kapitonovna changed the subject herself.

That was how I spent my time at our headmaster's flat in Tverskaya-Yamskaya Street.

When I was leaving Katya gave me the book Helen Robinson against my word of honour that I would not bend back the covers or dirty the pages.

Chapter Seven

THE TATARINOVS

The Tatarinovs had no domestic help, and Nina Kapitonovna had a pretty hard time of it considering her age. I helped her. Together we kindled the stove, chopped firewood, and even washed up. I found it interesting there. The flat was a sort of Ali Baba's cave to me, what with its treasures, perils and riddles. The old lady was the treasure, and Maria Vasilievna the riddle, while Nikolai Antonich stood for things perilous and disagreeable.

Maria Vasilievna was a widow-or maybe she wasn't, because one day I heard Nina Kapitonovna say of her with a sigh: "Neither widowed nor married." The odd thing about it was that she grieved so much for her husband. She always went about in a black dress, like a nun. She was studying at a medical institute. I thought it rather strange at the time that a mother should be studying. All of a sudden she would stop talking and going anywhere, either to her institute or to work (she was also working), but would sit with her feet up on the couch and smoke. Katya would then say: "Mummy's pining," and everybody would be short-tempered and gloomy.

Nikolai Antonich, as I soon learnt, was not her husband at all, and was unmarried for all that he was forty-five. "What is he to you?" I once asked Katya. "Nothing."

She was fibbing, of course, for she and her mother bore the same surname as Nikolai Antonich. He was Katya's uncle, or rather a cousin once removed. He was a relative, yet they weren't very nice to him. That, too, struck me as odd, especially since he, on the contrary, was very obliging to everybody, too much so in fact.

The old lady was fond of the movies and did not miss a single picture, and Nikolai Antonich used to go with her, even booking the tickets in advance. Over the supper she would start telling enthusiastically what the film was about (at such times, by the way, she strongly resembled Katya), while Nikolai Antonich patiently listened, though he had just returned from the cinema with her.

Yet she seemed to feel sorry for him. I saw him once playing patience, his head bent low, lingers drumming on the table, and caught her looking at him with compassion.

If anyone treated him cruelly, it was Maria Vasilievna. What he did not do for her! He brought her tickets for the theatre, staying at home himself. He gave her flowers. I heard him begging her to take care of herself and give up her job. He was no less attentive to her visitors. The moment anyone came to see her, he would be there on the spot. Very genial, he would engage the guest in conversation, while Maria Vasilievna sat on the couch, smoking and brooding.

He was his most amiable when Korablev called. He obviously looked at Whiskers as his own guest, for he would drag him off at once to his own room or into the dining-room and not allow him to talk shop. Generally, everybody brightened up when Korablev came, especially Maria Vasilievna. Wearing a new dress with a white collar, she would lay the table herself and do the honours, looking more beautiful than ever. She would even laugh sometimes when Korablev, after combing his moustache before the mirror, began paying noisy court to the old lady. Nikolai Antonich laughed too.and paled. It was an odd trait of his-he always turned pale when he laughed.

He did not like me. For a long time I never suspected it. At first he merely showed surprise at seeing me, then he started to make a wry face and became sort of sniffy. Then he started lecturing:

"Is that the way to say 'thank you'?" He had heard me thank the old lady for something. "Do you know what 'thank you' means? Bear in mind that the course your whole life will take depends upon whether you know this or not, whether you understand it or not. We live in human society, and one of the motive forces of that society is the sense of gratitude. Perhaps you have heard that I once had a cousin. Repeatedly, throughout his life, I rendered him material as well as moral assistance. He turned out to be ungrateful. And the result? It disastrously affected his whole life."

Listening to him somehow made me aware of the patches on my trousers. Yes, I wore broken-down boots, I was small, grubby and far too pale. I was one thing and they, the Tatarinovs, quite another. They were rich and I was poor. They were clever and learned people, and I was a fool. Here indeed was something to think about!

I was not the only one to whom Nikolai Antonich held forth about his cousin. It was his pet subject. He claimed that he had cared for him all his life, ever since he was a child at Genichesk, on the shores of the Sea of Azov. His cousin came from a poor fisherman's family, and but for Nikolai Antonich, would have remained a fisherman, like his father, his grandfather and seven generations of his forefathers. Nikolai Antonich, "having noticed in the boy remarkable talents and a penchant for reading", had taken him to Rostov-on-Don and pulled strings to get his cousin enrolled in a nautical school. During the winter he paid him a "monthly allowance", and in the summer he got him a job as seaman in vessels plying between Batum and Novorossiisk. He was instrumental in getting his brother a billet in the navy, where he passed his exam as naval ensign. With great difficulty, Nikolai Antonich got permission for him to take his exams for a course at Naval College and afterwards assisted him financially when, on graduation, he had to get himself a new uniform. In short, he had done a great deal for his cousin, which explained why he was so fond of talking about him. He spoke slowly, going into great detail, and the women listened to him with something akin to awed reverence.

I don't know why, but it seemed to me that at those moments they felt indebted to him, deeply indebted for all that he had done for his cousin. As a matter of fact they did owe him an unpayable debt, because that cousin, whom Nikolai Antonich alternately referred to as "my poor" or "missing" cousin, was Maria Vasilievna's husband, consequently Katya's father.

Everything in the flat used to belong to him and now belonged to Maria Vasilievna and Katya. The pictures, too, for which, according to the old lady, "the Tretyakov Gallery was offering big money", and some "insurance policy" or other for which eight thousand rubles was payable at a Paris bank.

The one person least interested in all these intricate affairs and relationships among the grown-ups was Katya. She had more important things to attend to. She carried on a correspondence with two girl friends in Ensk, and had a habit of leaving these letters lying about everywhere, so that anyone who felt like it, even visitors, could read them. She wrote her friends exactly what they wrote her. One friend, say, would write that she had dreamt of having lost her handbag, when all of a sudden Misha Kuptsov- "you remember me writing about him"-came towards her with the bag in his hand. And Katya would reply to her friend that she dreamt she had lost, not a handbag, but a penholder or a ribbon, and that Shura Golubentsev – "you remember me writing about him"-had found it and brought it to her. Her friend would write that she had been to the cinema, and Katya would reply that so had she, though in fact she had stayed indoors. Later it occurred to me that her friends were older than her and she was copying them.

Her classmates, however, she treated rather high-handedly. There was one little girl by the name of Kiren-at least that was what the Tatarinovs called her-whom she ordered about more than anybody else. Katya got cross because Kiren was not fond of reading. "Have you read Dubrovsky, Kiren?" "Yes." "Don't tell lies." "Spit in my eye."

"Then why didn't Masha marry Dubrovsky – tell me that." "She did." "Fiddlesticks!" "But I read that she did marry him."

Katya tried the same thing on me when I returned Helen Robinson, but there was nothing doing. I could go on reciting word for word from any point. She did not like to show surprise and merely said:

"Learned it off by heart, like a parrot."

I daresay she considered herself as good as Helen Robinson and was sure that in a similar desperate plight she would have been just as brave. If you ask me, though, a person who was preparing herself for such an extraordinary destiny ought not to have spent so much time in front of the mirror, especially considering that no mirrors are to be found on desert islands. And Katya did stand a lot in front of mirrors.

The winter I started visiting the Tatarinovs Katya's latest fad was explosions. Her fingers were always burnt black and she had a smell of percussion cap and gunpowder about her, like Pyotr once had. Potassium chlorate lay in the folds of the books she gave me. Then the explosions stopped abruptly. Katya had settled down to read The Century of Discovery.

This was an excellent book which gave the life-stories of Christopher Columbus, Hernan Cortes and other famous seafarers and conquerors of the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries. Amerigo Vespucci, after whom America is named, was pictured in front of a globe, with a pair of compasses, which he held over an open book-a bearded, jolly-looking man. Vasco Nunez de Balboa, armour-clad, with plumed helmet, was knee-deep in the water. He looked to me like some Russian Vaska who had turned up in the Pacific. I was keen on the book too. But Katya! She was simply mad on it. She mooned about like one in a dream, only awakening to impart the information that "Cortes, accompanied by the good wishes of the Tiascalans, set out on his expedition and within a few days reached the populous capital city of the Incas."

The cat, who before The Century of Discovery was called simply Vasena, she renamed Ixtacihuatl – it appears that there is a mountain by the name in Mexico. She tried Popocatepetl – the name of another mountain-on Nina Kapitonovna, but it wouldn't work. The old lady refused to answer to any name but "Grandma".

In short, if there was anything that Katya regretted at all seriously, it was that she had not conquered Mexico and discovered Peru.

But there was more to this, as the future showed. I knew what she was dreaming about. She wanted to become a ship's captain.

Chapter Eight

KORABLEV PROPOSES

Now what but good, one would think, could I expect from this acquaintance? Yet in a little less than six months I was kicked out.

It was a Sunday and the Tatarinovs were expecting visitors. Katya was drawing a picture of "the Spaniards' first encounter with the Indians" from The Century of Discovery, and Nina Kapitonovna drafted me into the kitchen. She was rather excited and kept listening and saying to me: "Sh-sh, there goes the bell."

"It's out in the street, Nina Kapitonovna."

But she kept listening.

In the end, she went out into the dining-room and missed the bell when it did ring. I opened the door. Korablev came in wearing a light overcoat and a light-coloured hat. I had never seen him looking so smart.

His voice shook slightly as he inquired whether Maria Vasilievna was at home. I said she was. But he stood there for several more seconds without taking his things off. Then he went in to Maria Vasilievna and I saw Nina Kapitonovna tiptoeing back from the dining-room. Why the tiptoes and that excited mysterious air?

From that moment on everything started to go wrong with us. Nina Kapitonovna, who was peeling potatoes, found the knife slipping from her fingers. She kept running out into the dining-room, as though to fetch something, but returned empty-handed. At first she returned in silence, making sundry mysterious signs with her hands, which could be interpreted roughly as: "Goodness gracious, what's going to happen?"

Then she started muttering. After that she sighed and broke the news. And amazing news it was! Korablev had come to propose to Maria Vasilievna. I knew, of course, what "propose" meant. He wanted to marry her and had come to ask whether or not she would have him.

Would she accept or would she not? If I had not been in the kitchen Nina Kapitonovna would have debated this point with her pots and pans. She could not keep silent.

"He says, I'll give my all, my whole life," she reported on her third or fourth trip to the dining-room. "I'll live for you."

"Is that so?" I threw in.

"I'll live for you," Nina Kapitonovna solemnly repeated. "I see the life you lead. It's unenviable, I can't bear to see it."

She started on the potatoes, but soon went out again and returned with moist eyes.

"He's always yearned for a family, he says. I was a lonely man, and I need nobody but you, he says. I've been sharing your grief for a long time. Something like that."

The "something like that" was Nina Kapitonovna's own contribution. Ten minutes later she went out again and came back looking puzzled.

"I'm tired of these people," she said blinking. "They don't let me get on with my work. You know who I mean. Believe me, he's a terrible man."

She sighed and sat down.

"No, she won't marry him. She's heartbroken and he's getting on in years."

For nothing better to say, I could only repeat: "Is that so?"

"Believe me, he's a terrible man," Nina Kapitonovna repeated thoughtfully. "Maybe! Good Lord! Maybe!"

I sat as quiet as a mouse. The dinner was forgotten. White beads of water rolled over the stove as the water in which the potatoes were swimming kept boiling and boiling.

The old lady went out again and this time spent some fifteen minutes in the dining-room. She came back frowning and threw up her hands.

"She's turned him down!" she announced. "Rejected him. My God! Such a man!"

I don't think she quite knew herself whether to be glad or disappointed that Maria Vasilievna had refused Korablev.

"It's a pity," I said.

She looked at me in astonishment.

"She could marry," I added. "She's still young."

"Stuff and nonsense!" Nina Kapitonovna began angrily. Then suddenly becoming sedate and dignified, she sailed out of the kitchen and met Korablev in the hall. He was very pale. Maria Vasilievna stood in the doorway silently watching him as he put on his coat. Her eyes showed that she had recently been crying.

"Poor man, poor man!" Nina Kapitonovna said as though to herself.

Korablev kissed her hand and she kissed him on the forehead, for

which she had to stand on tiptoe and he had to bend down.

"Ivan Pavlovich, you are my friend and our friend," Nina Kapitonovna said gravely. "I want you to know that this house is like your own home. You are Maria's best friend, too, I know. She knows it

too."

Korablev bowed in silence. I felt very sorry for him. I simply couldn't understand why Maria Vasilievna had refused him. I thought

them a suitable pair.

The old lady must have been expecting Maria Vasilievna to call her in and tell her all about it-how Korablev had proposed and how she had refused him. But Maria Vasilievna did not call her. On the contrary, she locked herself in her room and could be heard pacing the floor inside.

Katya finished her drawing of "the Spaniards' first encounter with the Indians" and wanted to show it to her mother, but Maria Vasilievna said from behind the closed door: "Later on, darling."

Somehow the place became dreary after Korablev had left and drearier still when Nikolai Antonich came home and briskly announced that there would be six for dinner, and not three as he had expected.

Willy-nilly, Nina Kapitonovna was obliged to set about it in earnest. Even Katya was called in to help cut out little rounds of dough for the meat pastries with a tumbler. She fell to work with a will, getting flushed and covering herself with flour-nose, hair and all – but she soon tired of it and decided to cut out the rounds with an old inkwell instead of the tumbler, because it made star-shaped rounds.

"It's so much prettier. Grandma," she pleaded.

Then she heaped the stars together and announced that she was going to bake a pie of her own. In short, she was not much of a help.

Six people to dinner! Who could they be? I looked out of the kitchen and counted them coming in.

The first to arrive was the Director of Studies Ruzhichek, nicknamed the Noble Thaddeus. I don't know where he got that nickname-everybody knew only too well how noble he was! Next came the teacher Likho, a stout, bald man with a peculiar elongated head. Then the German-cum-French teacher, herself a German. Our Serafima arrived with the watch on her breast, and last of all an unexpected guest in the person of Vozhikov from the eighth form. In fact, we had here nearly all the members of the School Council. This was rather odd, inviting particularly the whole School Council to dinner.

I sat in the kitchen, listening to their conversation. The doors were open. They started talking about Korablev. Would you believe it! It appeared that he was sucking up to the Soviets. He was trying his damnest "to carve out a career" for himself. He had dyed his moustache. He had organised a school theatre only to "win popularity". He had been married and had driven his wife into an early grave. At meetings, they said, he shed "crocodile tears".

So far this had been conversation, until I heard the voice of Nikolai Antonich and realised that it wasn't conversation but a conspiracy. They wanted to kick Korablev out of the school.

Nikolai Antonich worked up to his subject from afar:

"Pedagogics has always envisaged art as an external factor in education…"

Then he got round to Korablev and first of all "gave him his due for his gifts". It appeared that "the cause of his late wife's death" was nothing to do with us. All that concerned us was "the measure and extent of his influence upon the children". "What worries us is the harmful trend which Ivan Pavlovich is giving to the school, and that is the only reason why we should act as our pedagogic duty prompts us to act-do our duty as loyal Soviet teachers."

Nina Kapitonovna raised a chatter of empty plates and I could not catch exactly what his pedagogic duty prompted Nikolai Antonich to do. But when Nina Kapitonovna served the second dish I gathered from the general conversation what it was they were after.

First, at the next meeting of the School Council Korablev was to be asked to "confine himself to the teaching of geography as prescribed by the syllabus". Second, his activities were to be assessed as "a vulgarisation of the idea of manual education". Third, the school theatre was to be closed down. Fourth and fifth, something else. Korablev, of course, would resent it and would leave. As the Noble Thaddeus said: "Good riddance."

Yes, this was a mean plan and I was surprised that Nina Kapitonovna said nothing. But I soon realised what it was. Round about the middle of the second course she started lamenting the fact that Maria Vasilievna had rejected Korablev. She thought of nothing else, heard nothing else. She kept muttering and shrugging her shoulders, and once even said out aloud: "Well, well! Who asks Mother these days?"

She must have felt sore about Maria Vasilievna not having sought her advice before refusing Korablev.

The guests had gone, but I still couldn't make up my mind what to do.

What beastly luck that Korablev had come to propose on that day of all days. He would have done better to stay at home. I would then have been able to tell Maria Vasilievna all I had heard. But now it was awkward, even impossible, because she had not come out for dinner; she had locked herself in and would not admit anyone. Katya had sat down to her homework. Nina Kapitonovna suddenly announced that she was dog tired and sleepy. She lay down and fell asleep at once. I sighed and took my leave.

Chapter Nine

THE REJECTED SUITOR

Lame Japhet, the duty man at the Children's Home, had looked in twice to see if we were asleep or larking about.

The night lamp had been switched on in the corridor. Valya Zhukov's eyelids quivered in his sleep like a dog's. Maybe he was dreaming about dogs? Romashka was snoring. I was the only one awake, thinking all the time. Each thought more daring than the other. I saw myself getting up at the meeting of the school and denouncing Nikolai Antonich, revealing to everyone the mean plan to drive Korablev out of the school. Or I saw myself writing a letter to Korablev. While composing it I fell asleep.

Strangely enough, when I woke up (while the rest were still asleep) I continued the letter from the very point I had left off. I started to recollect the letters which Aunt Dasha had once read to me. At last I made up my mind.

It was still quite early-just gone seven o'clock and it was as dark as night outside. But that did not deter me, of course. Lame Japhet tried to stop me, but I dodged past him and ran out by the back way.

Korablev lived in Vorotnikovsky Street, in a one-storey wooden annex with shutters and a veranda like a summer bungalow. For some reason I was sure that he was not asleep. Obviously, a rejected suitor who had received his rebuff from Maria Vasilievna only the day before, could not be asleep. As a matter of fact, he wasn't. A light was burning in the room and he was standing at the window staring out into the yard-staring so hard that one would think there was God knows what out there. So hard and absorbed that he did not notice me, though I was standing right under the window and making signs to him with my hands.

"Ivan Pavlovich!"

But Ivan Pavlovich frowned, shook his head and moved away.

"Ivan Pavlovich, open the door, it's me!"

He returned a few minutes later with his coat thrown over his shoulders and came out on to the veranda.

"It's me, Grigoriev," I repeated, afraid that he might have forgotten me. He looked at me in an odd sort of way. "I've come to tell you something. They want to shut down the theatre and have you-"

I don't think I said "kicked out". But maybe I did, because he suddenly came to himself.

"Come in," he said tersely.

His place was always clean and tidy, with books on the shelves, a white counterpane on the bed and a cover on the pillow. Everything shipshape. The only thing that wasn't was the host himself, it seems. At one moment he screwed up his eyes, the next he opened them wide, as though things in front of him were getting blurred. I'm sure he had not been to bed that night. I had never seen him looking so tired.

"Ah, Sanya," he said haltingly. "What is it?" "I was going to write you a letter, Ivan Pavlovich," I said earnestly. "It's all because of the school theatre, really. They say you've driven your wife to an early grave."

"Hold on!" he laughed. "Who says I've driven my wife to her grave?"

"All of 'em. 'The cause of his late wife's death is nothing to do with us. Vulgarisation of the idea-that's what worries us.' " "I don't understand a thing," Korablev said gravely. "Yes, vulgarisation," I repeated firmly. I had been memorising these words since the previous day:

"vulgarisation", "popularity", "loyal duty". I had said "vulgarisation", now there remained "popularity" and "loyal duty".

"At the meetings he sheds crocodile tears," I plunged on. "He started that theatre stunt in order to win popularity. Yes, 'popularity'. He sucks up to the Soviets. We must do our loyal duty."

I may have got it a bit mixed up, but it was easier for me to rattle off by heart what I had heard the night before than to tell it in my own words. Anyway, Korablev understood me. Understood me perfectly well. His eyes immediately lost their former clouded look and a tinge of colour mounted to his cheeks and he paced up and down the room.

"This is great fun," he muttered, though there was no fun in it for him at all. "And, of course, the boys and girls don't want to see the theatre closed down?" "Sure they don't."

"Is it because of the theatre that you've come?" I was silent. Perhaps it was because of the theatre. Or perhaps because the school would be a dull place without Korablev. Or perhaps because I didn't like the mean way they were plotting to get rid of him.

"What fools!" Korablev said suddenly. "What abysmally dull fools!"

He squeezed my hand, and started pacing the room again with a thoughtful air. During his pacing he went out, probably into the kitchen, fetched a boiling kettle, brewed tea and got glasses down from a small cupboard on the wall.

"I was thinking of leaving, but now I've decided to stay," he said. "We'll fight. What d'you say, Sanya? And now let's have some tea."

I don't know whether they ever held that School Council meeting at which Korablev was to pay heavily for "vulgarising the idea of manual education". Obviously it wasn't held, because he had not been made to pay for it. Every morning old Whiskers combed his moustache in front of the mirror as though nothing had happened and went in to take his lessons.

Within a few days the theatre announced production of Ostrovsky's play Every Man Has a Fool in His Sleeve, with Grisha Faber in the leading role.

Two dark, curly-haired boys from the local branch of the Komsomol came down to organise a Komsomol group in our school. Valya asked from the floor whether Children's Home boys could enrol in the group, and they said, yes, they could, provided they had reached the age of fourteen. I did not know myself how old I was. I figured that I was getting on for thirteen. To be on the safe side I said I was fourteen. All the same they wouldn't believe me. It may have been because I was small for my age that time.

The only teachers who attended this meeting were Korablev and Nikolai Antonich. Korablev made a rather impressive speech, first congratulating us briefly on the formation of the Group, then criticising us at length for being poor pupils and hooligans. Nikolai Antonich also made a speech. It was a fine speech, in which he greeted the Branch representatives, whom he described as the young generation, and ended up by reciting a poem of Nekrasov's.

After the meeting I met him in the corridor and said: "Good morning, Nikolai Antonich!" For some reason he did not answer me.

In short, all was in order, and I don't know what made me suddenly change my mind about going to the Tatarinovs and decide to meet Katya in the street the next day and give her the modelling-knife and clay she had asked for. Within half an hour, however, I had changed my mind again.

The old lady answered the door, but kept it on the chain, when she saw me. She seemed to be debating with herself whether to let me in or not. Then she quickly opened the door, whispered to me:

"Go into the kitchen," and gave me a gentle push in the back.

While I hesitated, rather surprised, Nikolai Antonich came into the hall, and seeing me, he switched on the light.

"A-ah!" he said in a suppressed voice. "You're here."

He gripped my shoulder roughly.

"You ungrateful sneak, scoundrel, spy! Get out of this house and stay out! Do you hear?"

His lips drew back in a snarl and I caught the glint of a gold tooth in his mouth. This was the last thing I saw in the home of the Tatarinovs. With one hand Nikolai Antonich opened the door and with the other he threw me out onto the landing like a pup.

Chapter Ten

I GO AWAY

There was nobody in the Children's Home, nobody in the school. Everyone had gone out-it was a Sunday. Only Romashka wandered about the empty rooms, counting something to himself-probably his future wealth-and the cook in the kitchen sang as he prepared dinner. I settled myself in a warm cosy corner by the stove and fell to thinking.

Yes, this was Korablev's doing. I had tried to help him, and this was how he had repaid me. He had gone to Nikolai Antonich and given me away.

They had been right-Nikolai Antonich, and the German-cum-French teacher and even Likho, who had said that Korablev shed "crocodile tears" at meetings. He was a cad. To think that I had been sorry for him because Maria Vasilievna had rejected him!

Romashka was sitting by the window, counting.

"Goodbye, Romashka," I said to him. "I'm going away."

"Where to?"

"Turkestan," I said, though a minute before that I had not had a thought about Turkestan.

"You're kidding!"

I slipped off the pillow-case and stuffed all my belongings into it-a shirt, a spare pair of trousers, and the black tube which Doctor Ivan Ivanovich had left with me long ago. I smashed all my toads and hares and flung them into the rubbish-bin. The figure of the girl with the ringlets on her forehead who looked a little like Katya went in there too.

Romashka watched me with interest. He was still counting in a whisper, but with nothing like his previous fervour.

"If for one ruble forty thousand, then for a hundred rubles…"

Goodbye school! I would never study any more. What for? I had been taught to read, write and count. What more did I need? Good enough for me. And nobody would miss me when I was gone. Maybe Valya would remember me for a moment, and then forget.

"Then for a hundred rubles four hundred," Romashka whispered. "Four hundred thousand per cent on a hundred rubles."

But I would be coming back. And Korablev, who would be kicked out of the school, would come to me moaning and begging me to forgive him. No fear!

Then suddenly I recollected how he had stood by the window when I called on him, staring into the yard, very sad and a little tipsy. It couldn't be him, surely? Why should he have betrayed me? On the contrary, he had probably given no sign, pretending not to know anything about that secret council. I was wrong to suspect him. It wasn't him at all. Then who could it be?

"Ah, it's Valya!" I suddenly said to myself. "When I got back from the Tatarinovs I had told him everything. It was Valya!"

But Valya, I remember, had started snoring in the middle of my story. Besides, Valya would never do a thing like that.

Romashka, maybe? I looked at him. Pale, with red ears, he sat on the window-sill, multiplying away like mad. I fancied that he was watching me furtively like a bird, with one round flat eye. But he knew nothing, how could he?

Now that I had firmly decided that it was not Korablev, there was no sense in going away. But my head was aching and my ears were ringing, and somehow I felt that I had to go, I couldn't stay, not after Г had told Romashka I was going.

With a sigh, I picked up my bundle, nodded to Romashka and went out. I must have been running a temperature, because on going out into the street I was surprised to find it so cold. But then, while still in the entrance, I had taken off my jacket and put my overcoat on over my shirt. I had decided to flog the jacket-I figured that it would fetch round about fifteen million.

For the same reason-my temperature and headache-I have no clear memory of what I did at the Sukharevka black market, though I spent practically the whole day there. All I remember was standing in front of a stall from which came a smell of fried onions, holding up my jacket and saying in a weak voice: "Anybody want a jacket?"

I remember being surprised at having such a weak voice. I remember noticing in the crowd a huge man wearing two shipskin coats. He was wearing one with his arms in the sleeves, while the other-the one he was selling-was thrown over his shoulders. I found it very odd that wherever I went, hawking my merchandise, I kept running into this man. He stood motionless, huge, bearded, clad in two coats, gloomily naming his price without looking at the customers, who turned back the skirts and fingered the collar.

I stood about, trying to warm myself, and noticed that though I no longer felt cold, my fingers were blue. I was very thirsty, and several times I decided-no more: if I don't sell the thing in half an hour, I'll go to the teashop and swap it for a glass of hot tea. But the next moment I had a sort of hunch that a buyer would turn up in a minute, and so I decided to stick it for another half hour.

I remember it was a sort of consolation to see that the tall man had not been able to sell his coat either.

I felt like eating a little snow, but the snow at Sukharevka was very dirty and the boulevard was a long way off. In the end I did go to the boulevard and ate some snow, which, strange to say, seemed warm to me. I think I was sick, or maybe I wasn't. All I knew was that I was sitting in the snow and somebody was holding me up by the shoulders because I had gone limp. At last the support was removed and I lay down and stretched my legs out luxuriously. Somebody was saying something over me, it sounded like: "He's had a fit. He's an epileptic." Then they tried to take my pillow-slip bundle and I heard them coaxing me: "Don't be silly, we're putting it under your head!", but I clung to it and wouldn't let go. The man in the two coats passed by slowly, then suddenly threw one of the coats over me. But that was already delirium and I understood that perfectly well. They were still tugging at the pillow-slip. I heard a woman's voice saying: "He won't let go of his bundle." Then a man's: "Never mind, lay him down with his bundle." And again: "Looks like the Spanish 'flu."

Then the world went dark.

I was at death's door, and twice they screened me off from the other patients in the ward. Cyanosis is always a sign of approaching death, and I had it so bad that all the doctors except one, gave me up as a bad job and only exclaimed every morning with surprise: "What, still alive?"

All this I learned when I came round.

Be that as it may, I did not die. On the contrary, I got better.

One day I opened my eyes and was about to jump out of bed, thinking I was in the Children's Home. Someone's hand arrested me. Somebody's face, half-forgotten yet so familiar, drew close to mine. Believe it or not, it was doctor Ivan Ivanovich.

"Doctor," I said to him, and what with joy and weakness I started crying. "Doctor, ear!"

He looked at me closely, probably thinking that I was still delirious.

"Hen, saddle, box, snow, drink, Abraham," I said, feeling the tears pouring right down into my mouth. "It's me, Doctor. I'm Sanya. Don't you remember, that village, Doctor? We hid you. You taught me."

He looked at me closely again, then blew out his cheeks and let the air out noisily.

"Oho!" he said, and laughed. "Do I remember! Where's your sister? Fancy that! All you could say then was 'ear' and that sounded like a bark. So you've learnt to speak, eh? And moved to Moscow too? Took it into your head to die?"

I wanted to tell him that I wasn't thinking of dying at all, just the opposite, when he suddenly put his hand over my mouth, whipped out a handkerchief with the other and wiped my face and nose.

"Lie still, old chap," he said. "You mustn't talk yet. Who knows what you'll be up to next-you've been dying so many times. One word too many and you may pop off."

Chapter Eleven

A SERIOUS TALK

If you think that, having come round, I was on the road to recovery, you are mistaken. Hardly had I pulled through the Spanish 'flu than I went down with meningitis. And again it was Ivan Ivanovich who refused to acknowledge that my game was up.

He sat for hours at my bedside, studying the strange movements which I made with my eyes and hands. In the end I came to again, and though I lay for a long time with my eyes rolled up to the sky, I was no longer in.

"No longer in danger of dying," as Ivan Ivanovich put it, "but in danger of remaining an idiot for the rest of your life."

I was lucky. I did not remain an idiot, and after my illness I even felt somehow more sensible than I was before. It was a fact, though the illness had nothing to do with it.

Be that as it may, I spent all of six months in hospital. During that time Ivan Ivanovich and I saw each other almost every other day. We talked together about old times. It appears that he had been in exile. In 1914, for being a member of the Bolshevik Party, he had been sentenced to penal servitude and then to exile for life. I don't know where he served his sentence, but his place of exile was somewhere far away, by the Barents Sea.

"I escaped from there," he said laughing, "and came running straight to your village and nearly froze to death on the way."

That's when I learnt why he had stayed awake nights in our cottage. He had left the black tube-the stethoscope-with me and my sister as a keepsake. One word leading to another, I told him the story of when and why I had run away from the Children's Home.

He heard me out attentively, and for some reason kept looking straight in my mouth.

"Yes, wonderful," he said thoughtfully. "A rare case indeed."

I thought he meant my running away from the Home being a rare case and was about to tell him it wasn't such a rare thing as he thought, when he said again:

"Not deaf and dumb, but dumb without being deaf. Stummheit ohne Taubheir. To think that he couldn't say 'Mummy'! And now, a regular orator!"

And he began telling the other doctors about me.

I was a bit disappointed that the doctor had not said a word about the affair that had made me leave the Home, and if anything, had seemed to let it drift past his ears. But I was mistaken, for one fine day the door of our ward opened and the nurse said: "A visitor for Grigoriev."

And in came Korablev.

"Hullo, Sanya!"

"Hullo, Ivan Pavlovich!"

The whole ward stared at us with curiosity.

Perhaps that was why he started by only talking about my illness. But when all had switched their attention back to their own affairs, he began to scold me. And a good piece of his mind did he give me! He told me, word for word, exactly what I had thought about him and said it was my duty to go to him and tell him: "Ivan Pavlovich, you're a cad" if I thought he was one. But I had not done this, because I was a typical individualist. He relented a bit when, completely crushed,. I asked: "Ivan Pavlovich, what's an idividualist?"

In short, he kept going at me until visiting time was over. In taking his leave, however, he shook my hand warmly and said he would come again.

"When?"

"In a day or two. I'm going to have a serious talk with you."

The next visiting day Valya Zhukov came to see me and for two blessed hours talked about his hedgehog. On leaving he reminded himself that Korablev sent me his regards and said he would call on me one of these days.

I twigged at once that this was going to be the serious conversation. Very interesting! Going to give me some more of his mind, I thought.

The talk started with Korablev asking me what I wanted to be.

"I don't know," I said. "An artist, perhaps."

His eyebrows went up and he said:

"No good."

Truth to tell, I had never thought of what I wanted to be. In my heart of hearts I wanted to be somebody like Vasco Nufiez de Balboa. But Ivan Pavlovich's "no good" had been so positive that it put my back up.

"Why not?"

"For many reasons," Korablev said firmly. "For one thing because you haven't enough character."

I was dumbfounded. It had never occurred to me that I had no character.

"Nothing of the sort," I said sulkily. "I have a strong character."

"No you haven't. How can a man have a character when he doesn't know what he'll be doing the next hour. If you had any character you'd be doing better at school. But you were studying poorly."

"Ivan Pavlovich," I cried in despair, "I only had one 'unsatisfactory' mark."

"But you could study very well if you wanted to."

He paused, waiting for me to say something, but I was silent.

"You have more imagination than intelligence."

He paused again.

"And generally, it's high time you figured out what you're going to make of your life and what you are in this world for. Now you say, 'I want to be an artist.' But to become that, my dear boy, you'd have to become quite a different person."

Chapter Twelve

I START THINKING

It's all very well to say you've got to become quite a different person. But how are you to do it? I didn't agree that I had done so badly in my studies. Only one "unsatisfactory", and in arithmetic at that, and only because one day I had cleaned my boots and Ruzhichek had called me out and said:

"What do you polish your boots with, Grigoriev? Bad eggs in paraffin oil?"

I had answered him back, and from that day on he had kept giving me "unsatisfactory" marks. Nevertheless, I felt that Korablev was right and that I had to become quite a different person. Did I really lack character? I'd have to check that. I must make a resolution to do something and do it. For a start I resolved to read A Hunter's Sketches, which I had started to read the year before and given up because I found it very dull.

Strange! I took the book again from the hospital library, and after some five pages I found it duller than ever. More than anything else in the world now I wished I had not made that resolution. But I had to keep my word, even if I had given it to myself, whispered it under my blanket.

I waded through A Hunter's Sketches and decided that Korablev was wrong. I did have character.

I ought to test my mettle again. Every morning, say, do the daily dozen and then take a sponge down with cold water straight from the tap. Or get through the year in arithmetic with "excellent" marks. But all this could wait until I went back to school. Meanwhile I must think and think.

At last Ivan Ivanovich examined me for the last time and said I was fit to be discharged from hospital. What a glorious day that was! We parted, but he gave me his address and told me to call on him.

"Not later than the twentieth, mind," he said. "Or you may not find me in, old chap."

I left the hospital, bundle in my hand, and after walking a block, sat down on a curbstone-I was that weak. But how good I felt! What a big place Moscow was! 1 had forgotten it. And how noisy the streets were! I felt dizzy, but I knew that I wouldn't fall. I was well and would live. I had recovered. Goodbye, hospital! Hail, school!

Truth to tell, I was a bit disappointed at the rather cool reception I was given at the school. Romashka was the only one to ask me: "Better?" And that in a tone of voice as though he was rather disappointed that I had not died.

Valya was glad to see me, but he had other things on his mind. His hedgehog had got lost and he suspected that the cook, on Nikolai Antonich's orders, had thrown it into the dust-bin.

Big changes had taken place in the school during those six months. For one thing it was half its size, some of the senior classes having been transferred to other schools.

Secondly, it had been painted and whitewashed-the once dirty rooms with their grimy windows and black ceilings were simply unrecognisable.

Third, the Komsomol Group was now the talk of the school. The tubby Varya was now its secretary. She must have been a good secretary, because when I got back I found the little room of the Komsomol office the most interesting place in the school. Though I wasn't a member of the Komsomol yet, I was given an assignment by Varya only two days after coming out of the hospital. I was to draw an aeroplane soaring among the clouds and write over it the motto: "Young people, join the S.F.A.F.!"(S.F.A.F.-Society of Friends of the Air Force.-translator)

My fingers were still stiff and not like my own, but I set to work with a will

Chapter Thirteen

THE SILVER FIFTY-KOPECK PIECE

The day I intended to call on Doctor Ivan Ivanovich the school was thrown into commotion first thing in the morning.

Valya's hedgehog had been found. It appears that he had somehow got into the attic and landed inside an old cabbage cask, where he had spent over a fortnight. He was in very bad shape and there was nothing for it but to take him to the university, where a laboratory of some kind bought hedgehogs. Valya wrapped him up in an old pair of trousers and went off. He was back within an hour, looking sad, and sat down on his bed.

"They'll cut him open," he said, fighting back his tears.

"What d'you mean?"

"What I said. They'll slit his belly open and rummage about inside. Poor thing."

"Never mind," I said. "You'll buy another one. How much did you get for him?"

Valya opened his fist. The hedgehog had been more dead than alive and they had given him only twenty kopecks.

"I have thirty," I said. "Let's put them together and buy a spinning-tackle." I said that about the spinning-tackle on purpose, to cheer him up.

We put our money together and even exchanged our ten and fifteen-kopeck coins for one new silver fifty-kopeck piece.

This hedgehog business of Valya's had detained me, and by the time I started out for the doctor's place darkness had begun to fall. He lived a good distance away, on Zubovsky Boulevard, and the trams were no longer free of charge like they were in 1920.1 wangled it, though, took a free ride.

Only one window had a light in it in the house on Zubovsky Boulevard-a white house with columns, standing back in a garden- and I decided that this must be the doctor's room. I was wrong. The doctor, as it happened, lived on the first floor, whereas the light was burning on the ground floor. Flat No. 8. Here it was. Under the number was scrawled in chalk: "Pavlov lives here, not Levenson." Pavlov was my doctor Ivan Ivanovich.

A woman with a baby in her arms answered the door and kept "shushing" all the time while she asked me what I wanted. I told her. Still shushing, she said the doctor was in, but she thought he was asleep.

"Knock at the door, though," she whispered. "He may be awake."

"I'm not asleep," the doctor called out from somewhere. "Who is it?"

"A boy."

"Let him in."

This was my first visit to the doctor and I was surprised to find his room in such disorder. On the floor, amidst a jumble of packets of tea and tobacco, lay leather gloves and curious but handsome fur high boots. The whole room was cluttered with open suitcases and rucksacks. And amidst this chaos, a tripod in his hand, stood Doctor Ivan Ivanovich.

"Ah, Sanya," he said cheerfully. "You've come. Well, how goes it? Alive and kicking?"

"Fit as a fiddle."

"Fine! Do you cough?"

"No."

"Good lad! I've written an article about you, old chap."

I thought he was joking.

"A rare case of dumbness," said the doctor. "You can read it yourself in number seventeen of The Medical Journal. Patient G. That's you, old chap. You've made a name for yourself. Only as a patient, though, so far. The future is still yours."

He started to sing: "The future is still yours, still yours, still yours!" then suddenly pounced on one of the largest suitcases, slammed the lid down and sat down on it the better to shut it.

The doctor spoke quite a lot that day. I had never seen him so jolly. Suddenly he decided that I had to be given something as a present and gave me the leather gloves. Though they were old ones, they were still very good and did up by means of a strap. I was on the point of refusing, but he didn't give me a chance. He thrust them at me, saying: "Take them and shut up."

I ought to have thanked him for the present, but instead I said: "Are you going away?"

"Yes," the doctor said. "I'm going to the Far North, inside the Arctic Circle. Heard of it?"

I vaguely recalled the letter of the navigating officer.

"Yes."

"I left my fiancйe there, old chap. Know what that is?"

"Yes."

"No you don't. At least you know, but don't understand."

I began to examine the various queer things he was taking with him: fur trousers with triangular leather seats, metal boot soles with straps to them, and so on. And the doctor kept talking all the time while he packed. One suitcase refused to stay shut. He took it by the lid and tipped it out onto the bed. A large photograph fell at my feet. It was a yellowed photograph, pretty old, bent in a number of places. On the back was written in a large round hand: "Ship's company of the schooner St. Maria". I started to examine the photograph, and to my surprise I found Katya's father on it. Yes, it was him all right. He was sitting right in the middle of the crew, his arms folded across his chest, exactly as in the portrait hanging in the Tatarinovs' dining-room. I couldn't find the doctor on the photograph, though, and asked him why this was.

"The reason is, old chap, that I didn't sail in the schooner St. Maria," the doctor said, puffing mightily as he strapped down the suitcase.

He took the photograph from me and looked round where to put it.

"Somebody left it as a keepsake."

I wanted to ask who that person was, whether it was Katya's father, but he had already slipped the photograph into a book and put the book in one of the rucksacks.

"Well, Sanya," he said, "I've got to be going. Write and tell me what you're doing and how you're getting on. Don't forget, old chap, you're a rare specimen!"

I wrote down his address and we said goodbye.

It had gone ten by the time I reached the Home and I was a little afraid the doors would be locked. But they weren't. They were open and the lights were on in all the rooms. What could it be?

I tore pell-mell into the dormitory. Empty! The beds were made- the boys must have been preparing to turn in.

"Uncle Petya!" I yelled and saw the cook coming out of the kitchen in a new suit, with his hat in his hand. "What's happened?"

"I'm invited to the meeting," he informed me in a mysterious whisper. I heard no more, as I was running upstairs into the school.

The assembly hall was packed to overflowing and boys and girls crowded round the doorway and in the corridor. But I got in all right. 1 sat down in the front row, not on a seat, but on the floor right in front of the platform.

It was an important meeting chaired by Varya. Very red, she sat among the platform party with a pencil in her hand, tossing back a lock of hair which kept tumbling over her nose. Other boys and girls from the Komsomol Group sat on either side of her, busily writing something down. And over the heads of the platform party, facing the hall, hung my poster. I caught my breath. It was my poster-an aeroplane soaring among the clouds, and over it the words: "Young People, Join the S.F.A.F.!" What my poster had to do with it I couldn't make out for quite a time, because all the speakers to a man were talking about some ultimatum or other. It wasn't until Korablev took the floor that the thing became clear to me.

"Comrades!" he said quietly but distinctly. "The Soviet Government has had an ultimatum presented to it. On the whole, you have taken the proper measure of this document. We must give our own answer to that ultimatum. We must set up at our school a local group of the Society of Friends of the Air Force!"

Everyone clapped, and thereafter clapped after each phrase Korablev uttered. He ended up by pointing to my poster and it made me feel proud.

Then Nikolai Antonich took the floor, and he, too, made a very good speech, and after that Varya announced that the Komsomol Group were joining the S.F.A.F. in a body. Those who wished to sign on could do so at her office tomorrow from ten to ten, meanwhile she proposed taking a collection for Soviet aviation and sending the money in to Pravda.

I must have been very excited, because Valya, who was also sitting on the floor a little way off, looked at me in surprise. I got out the silver fifty-kopeck piece and showed it to him. He twigged. He wanted to ask me something, probably something about the spinning-tackle, but checked himself and just nodded.

I jumped up on to the platform and gave the coin to Varya.

"Ivan Pavlovich," I said to Korablev, who was standing in the corridor smoking a cigarette in a long holder, "at what age do they take on airmen?"

He looked at me gravely.

"I don't know, Sanya. I don't think they'd take you yet."

Not take me? I thought of the oath Pyotr and I had once sworn to each other in Cathedral Gardens: "To strive, to seek, to find and not to yield". I did not say it out loud, though. Korablev would not have understood anyway.

____________________

PART THREE

OLD LETTERS

Chapter one

FOUR YEARS

As in the old silent films, I see a big clock with the hand showing years instead of hours. One-full circle and I see myself at lesson-time with Korablev, sharing the same desk with Romashka. We have made a bet, a bet that I will not cry out or pull my hand away if Romashka slashes me across the fingers with a penknife. It is a test of willpower. According to the "rules for developing willpower" I must learn "not to give vent to my feelings". Every evening I repeat these rules over and over, and now at last I have a chance of putting myself to the test.

The whole class is watching us. Nobody is listening to Korablev, though today's lesson is an interesting one; it's a lesson about the manners and customs of the Chukchi people. "Come on!" I say to Romashka.

And that cold-blooded beast saws at my finger with his penknife. I do not cry out, but I can't help pulling my hand away and I lose the bet.

A gasp and a whisper ran round the desks. Bleeding, I purposely give a loud laugh to show that I don't feel the slightest pain, and suddenly Korablev orders me out of the classroom. I leave the room with my hand thrust in my pocket. "You needn't come back."

But I do come back. It is an interesting lesson and I listen to it outside the door, sitting on the floor.

Rules for developing willpower! I had spent a whole year over them. I had tried not only to "conceal my feelings", but "not to care for the opinion of people I disdain". I don't remember which of these rules was the harder-the first one, probably, because my face always gave me away.

"Sleep as little as possible, for in sleep the will is absent – this was no hard task either, not for a man like me. I leant to make my "plan for the whole day first thing in the morning", and have been following this rule all my life. As for the main rule, "remember the purpose of your existence", I did not have to repeat that too often, as this purpose was clear to me even in those days.

Another full circle: an early winter morning in 1925. I wake up before anyone else, and I lie there thinking, not quite sure whether I am awake or still asleep. I am thinking of the Tatarinovs. I had not been to see them for two years. Nikolai Antonich still hates me. There isn't a single sibilant in my name, yet he contrives to hiss it. Nina Kapitonovna still loves me; the other day Korablev passed on to me her "regards and greetings". I wonder how Maria Vasilievna is getting on? Still sitting on the couch and smoking? And Katya?

I look at the clock. Getting on for seven. Time to get up. I had made a vow to get up before the bell goes. I run on tiptoe to the washroom and do my exercises in front of the open window. It is cold, snowflakes fly in at the window, whirling, settling on my shoulders, melting. I wash down to my waist, then start reading my book. That wonderful book of Amundsen's about the South Pole, which I am reading for the fourth time.

Yet another full circle, and I see myself in a small familiar room in which, for three years, I have spent nearly all my evenings. I have been given my first assignment by the Komsomol Group-to take charge of the collective reading of the newspapers. The first time is rather terrifying, because you have to answer questions too. I know "the present situation", "the national policy" and "world problems". Best of all, though, I know the world flying records for altitude, endurance and duration. What if I am suddenly asked about price cuts? But everything goes off smoothly.

Another full circle, and I am seventeen.

The whole school is assembled in the hall. Behind a long red table sit the members of the court. On the left-counsel for the defence; on the right-the public prosecutor. In the dock-the defendant.

"Defendant, what is your first name?"

"Eugene."

"Surname?"

"Onegin."

That was a memorable day.

Chapter Two

THE TRIAL OF EUGENE ONEGIN*

* (Eugene Onegin-the title and principal character of Pushkin's poem -Tr.)

At first no one in the school took any interest in the idea. But when one of the actresses of our school theatre suggested staging "The Trial of Eugene Onegin" in costume, the whole school started talking about it.

Grisha Faber was invited to play the leading role. He was studying now at the Theatrical School, but would sometimes come to see our first nights for old times' sake. Our own actors were to play the part of witnesses. No period costume could be found for the Larin's nurse and so we had to let ourselves be persuaded that nurses in Pushkin's day dressed much the same as they did in ours. The defence was entrusted to Valya, our tutor Sutkin was to be the public prosecutor and I the judge.

The offender, wearing a wig, a blue tail-coat, shoes with bows on them and knee-length stockings, sat in the dock, coolly cleaning his nails with a broken pencil. Every now and then he would pass a remote supercilious eye over the public and the members of the court. That must have been his idea of how Eugene Onegin would have borne himself in similar circumstances.

Old Mrs Larina and her daughters and the nurse sat in the witnesses' room (what used to be the teachers' room). They, on the contrary, were all in a dither, especially the nurse, who was remarkably youthful and pretty for her years. Counsel for the defence was excited too. He kept nervously tapping a bulky file with documents. The material evidence-two old pistols-lay on the table before me. At my back I could hear the producers whispering hurriedly among themselves.

"Do you plead guilty?" I asked Grisha. "Guilty of what?"

"Of murder under guise of a duel," the producers prompted in a whisper.

"Of murder under guise of a duel," I said, adding, after consulting the charge-sheet, "of the poet Vladimir Lensky, aged eighteen."

"Never!" Grisha said haughtily. "One has to distinguish between a duel and murder."

"In that case, we shall proceed to examine the witnesses," I said. "Citizeness Larina, what evidence can you give in this affair?"

At rehearsal this had gone off smoothly, but here everyone felt that it did not work. Everyone except Grisha, who was quite in his element. At one moment he produced a comb and started to groom his side-burns, the next he tried to stare at the members of the court out of countenance, or tossed his head proudly with a defiant smile. When the witness, old Mrs Larina, spoke about Onegin having been treated in their home like one of the family, Grisha covered his eyes with one hand and placed the other on his heart to show how he was suffering. He acted wonderfully and I noticed that the female witnesses, especially Tatiana and Olga, just couldn't keep their eyes off him. I don't blame Tatiana-after all, she was in love with him in the story-but Olga, now, she was completely out of character. The audience, too, had eyes only for Grisha and no one paid the slightest attention to us.

I called the next witness-Tatiana. My, she talked nineteen to the dozen! She was absolutely unlike Pushkin's Tatiana, and the only point of resemblance, if there was one, were the curls falling to her shoulders and the heel-length gown. To my question whether she considered Onegin guilty of murder, she gave the evasive reply that Onegin was an egoist.

I called on the defence counsel, and from then on everything was topsy-turvy. For one thing, because the defence counsel talked sheer drivel. Secondly, because I had caught sight of Katya.

Of course, in four years she had changed a lot. But her hair, worn in plaits, had the same ringlets on the forehead. She screwed her eyes up in the same old independent way and had the same purposeful nose-I think I should have recognised her by that nose if she lived to a hundred.

She was listening attentively to Valya. It was our biggest mistake, giving the defence to Valya, whose only interest in life was zoology. He started off with the very strange statement that duels were to be observed also in the animal kingdom, but nobody considered them as murder. Then he warmed to the subject of rodents and became so carried away that you kept wondering how he would find his way back to the defence of Eugene Onegin. Katya, though, was listening to him with interest. I knew from former years that when she began to chew on her plait, it meant she was interested. She was the only girl who took no notice of Grisha.

Valya finished rather abruptly, and then came the prosecutor's turn. He was as dull as ditch-water. He spent a whole blessed hour trying to prove that although it was the nineteenth-century society of landowners and bureaucrats who had killed Lensky, nevertheless Eugene Onegin was fully responsible for this murder, "since all duels are murder, premeditated murder".

To cut a long story short, the prosecutor held that Eugene Onegin should be sentenced to ten years' imprisonment with confiscation of his property.

Nobody had expected such a demand, and laughter broke out in the hall. Grisha sprang to his feet proudly, I gave him permission to speak.

Actors are said to feel the mood of an audience. That is what Grisha must have felt, because he led off, shouting at the top of his voice, in order, as he afterwards explained, to "enthuse the audience". This he failed to do. His speech had one fault-you couldn't tell whether he was speaking for himself or for Onegin. Onegin would hardly have said that "even today his hand would not falter in sending a bullet into Lensky's heart".

Anyway, everyone drew a sigh of relief when he sat down, wiping his brow and very pleased with himself.

"The court is retiring to confer."

"Hurry up, you fellows."

"What a bore."

"Dragging it out."

These comments were perfectly justified, and we decided, by tacit consent, to rush through our verdict. To my astonishment, the majority of the members of the court agreed with the public prosecutor. Ten years with confiscation of property. It was clear that Eugene Onegin had nothing to do with it. The sentence was intended for Grisha, who had bored everyone to death, everyone except the witnesses Tatiana and Olga. But I said that it was not fair: Grisha had acted well and without him the whole show would have been a wash-out. We agreed on five years.

"Stand!" the usher called. The members of the court filed in.

Everyone stood up. I read the sentence.

"It isn't right!".

"Acquit him!"

"Shame!"

"All right, comrades," I said morosely. "I think it's wrong too. I consider that Eugene Onegin should be acquitted, and Grisha should have a vote of thanks. Who's in favour?"

All raised their hands, laughing.

"Adopted unanimously. The meeting is closed."

I was furious. I shouldn't have taken on this thing. Perhaps we should have treated the whole trial as a joke. But how? I felt that everyone saw how lacking in resource and wit I was.

It was in this bad humour that I went out into the cloakroom, and whom should I meet but Katya. She had just got her coat and was making her way to a clear space near the exit.

"Hullo!" she said with a laugh. "Hold my coat, will you. Some trial that was!"

She spoke this as if we had parted only the day before.

"Hullo!" I answered sullenly.

She looked at me with interest.

"You've changed."

"Why?"

"Stuck-up. Well, get your coat and let's go!"

"Where?"

"Oh, where, where! To the comer, if that suits you. You're not very polite."

I went downstairs with her without my coat, but she sent me back.

"It's cold and windy."

This is how I remember her when I caught up with her at the street corner: she was wearing a grey fur cap with the earflaps down, and the ringlets on her forehead had come covered with hoarfrost while I ran back to the school. The wind whipped back the skirt of her coat and she leaned slightly forward, holding it down with her hand. She was of medium height, slim and, I believe, very pretty. I say "I believe" because at that time I did not think about it. Certainly no girl at our school would have dared to order me about like that:

"Get your coat and let's go!"

But then this was Katya, the kid whose hair I had pulled and nose I had poked into the snow. Yes, it was Katya all right!

"I say, why do they all call you 'Captain'? Is it because you want to go to nautical school?"

"I don't know yet," I said, though I had long ago made up my mind that I would go not to a nautical school but to a flying school.

I saw her to the gate of the familiar house and she asked me in.

"It's awkward."

"Why? Your being on bad terms with Nikolai Antonich is no concern of mine. Grandma was talking about you the other day too. Come in."

"No, it's awkward."

Katya shrugged coldly.

"Just as you please."

I caught up with her in the yard.

"How silly of you, Katya! I'm telling you it's awkward. Let's go somewhere together, eh? What about the skating-rink?"

Katya looked at me, then suddenly cocked up her nose, the way she did when a child.

"I'll see," she said importantly. "Phone me up tomorrow round about four. Ouch, how cold it is! Even your teeth freeze."

Chapter Three

AT THE SKATING-RINK

Back in those years when I was mad on Amundsen, a simple thought had occurred to me. It was this: if Amundsen had used an aeroplane he would have reached the South Pole in a fraction of the time. What a hard time he had had, fighting his way day after day through the endless snowy wilderness! For two months he had trudged behind his dogs, who had ended by eating each other. But in an aeroplane he could have reached the Pole in twenty-four hours. He would not have had friends enough and acquaintances whose names he could use for all the mountain peaks, glaciers and plateaux he would have discovered during the flight.

Every day I copied out long passages from accounts of polar expeditions. I cut out from the newspapers paragraphs concerning the first flights to the North and pasted them into an old ledger. On the first page of this ledger was written: "From (Forward) is the name of his ship. 'Forward' he says, and forward he strives. Nansen about Amundsen." This was my motto too. Mentally, in an aeroplane, I followed Scott, and Shackleton, and Robert Peary. Along all their routes. And since I had an aeroplane at my disposal, I had to study its design.

Following point 3 of my Rules: "Wilful will do't", I read The Theory of Aircraft Construction. Ugh, what agony it was! If there was anything I did not understand, I just learnt it off by heart to be on the safe side.

Every day I took my imaginary aeroplane to pieces. I studied the engine and airscrew. I fitted it with the most up-to-date instruments. I knew it like the back of my own hand. The only thing I didn't know about it was how to fly it. And that was just what I wanted to learn.

I kept my resolution a secret, even from Korablev. At school they considered that I had too many irons in the fire as it was and I did not want them to say of my interest in aviation: "The latest fad!" This was no fad.

Then suddenly I revealed my secret. To whom? To Katya.

That day we had arranged to go to the skating-rink first thing in the morning, but something kept cropping up to prevent us. First Katya put it off, then I. At last we started out, but our skating started off on the wrong foot. For one thing, we had to wait half an hour in the frost, because the rink was snowed up and closed while they were clearing it. Secondly, Katya's heel broke off the first time round and we had to tie the skate down with a strap, which I had brought with me just in case. But my strap kept coming undone. We had to go back to the cloakroom and ask the help of the dour, red-faced mechanic who was grinding skates there. At last, all was in order. It had started snowing again and we skated for a long time hand in hand, in big half-circles, now to the right, now to the left. This figure is called "curve eight".

Then we sat down right in front of the bandstand, and Katya suddenly brought her flushed face with its dancing black eyes close to mine. I thought she wanted to say something in my ear and said loudly: "Eh?"

She laughed.

"Nothing. It's hot."

"Katya," I said, "shall I tell you something? You won't tell anybody, will you?"

"Not a soul."

"I'm going to flying school."

She blinked, then stared hard at me.

"You've made up your mind?"

"Uhu."

"Positively?"

I nodded.

The band suddenly struck up and I didn't catch what she said as she shook the snow from her jacket and frock.

"I don't hear you!"

She grasped my hand and we skated down to the other side of the rink, to the children's play area. It was dark and quiet there, and all snowed up. The toboggan slide had fir trees planted along the sides and little fir trees grew around the area. We might have been in a wood, somewhere out of town.

"Will they take you?"

"The school?"

"Yes."

It was a dreadful question. Every morning I did my daily dozen on Anokhin's system and took a cold sponge down on Muller's. I felt my muscles and thought: "What if they don't take me?" I had my eyes, ears and heart examined. The school doctor said I was healthy. But there were different kinds of health; how was he to know I wanted to enter a flying school? What if I had bad nerves? Or something else wrong with me? My height! My height, damn it! During the last year I had grown only by three-quarters of an inch.

"They'll take me," I said confidently.

Katya regarded me with what looked like respect.

Chapter Four

CHANGES

I never talked with Katya about her domestic affairs. I only asked her how Maria Vasilievna was getting on and she answered: "Thanks, she's all right."

"And Nina Kapitonovna?"

"Thanks, she's all right."

Maybe it was all right, but I didn't think so. Katya's spirits dropped when she had to go home. Obviously, things had gone wrong at home. Shortly afterwards I met Maria Vasilievna and she confirmed me in this belief.

We met at the theatre at a performance of Princess Turandot. Katya had managed to get three tickets, the third being for Nina Kapitonovna. But Nina Kapitonovna, for some reason, could not go, and so I took the ticket instead.

We arrived at the theatre from different places and Katya was very nearly late. She came running in after the ticket-collector had closed the doors.

"Where's Mum?"

Her mother was in her seat. She called to us as we made our way to our seats, stepping on somebody's feet in the darkness.

There had been a lot of talk at school about Princess Turandot' and we had even tried to stage it. So, during the first act, I had no time to look at Maria Vasilievna. I only noticed that she was just as beautiful, if not more so. She wore her hair differently, exposing the whole of her high white forehead. She sat erect and had eyes for nothing but the stage.

In the interval, however, I had a good look at her and was upset.

She had gone thinner and looked older. Her eyes were enormous and altogether sombre. It occurred to me that anyone seeing her for the first time might well be startled by that gloomy look.

We talked about Princess Turandot and Katya declared that she did not like it very much. I did not know whether I liked it or not, so I agreed with Katya. Maria Vasilievna thought it was wonderful.

"You and Katya are too young, you don't understand."

She asked me about Korablev, how he was getting on, and I thought a tinge of colour came into her face when I said: "He's quite all right."

As a matter of fact he was feeling none too good. He had not forgotten, of course, that she had refused him.

She may have been a bit sorry for this now. Otherwise she wouldn't be asking about him in such detail. She was even interested to know what forms he was teaching and how he got on with the pupils.

I answered in monosyllables and in the end she got cross with me.

"Faugh, Sanya, I can't get a word out of you! 'Yes', 'no'. Have you swallowed your tongue?" she said with annoyance.

Then, going off at a tangent, she began to talk about Nikolai Antonich. Very odd. She said that she considered him a fine man. I said nothing.

The interval was over and we went in for the second act. During the next interval she started talking about Nikolai Antonich again. I noticed that Katya frowned. Her lips stirred as if she was about to say something, but she checked herself.

We walked round the foyer, Maria Vasilievna talking all the time about Nikolai Antonich. It was unbearable. It was also astonishing, because I had not forgotten what her former attitude to him had been.

Nothing of the sort! The man was kindness and nobility itself. All his life he had helped his cousin (it was the first time I had heard Maria Vasilievna refer to her late husband as Ivan) even when he himself was having a bad time. He had given his whole fortune to fit out his last hapless expedition.

"Nikolai Antonich believed in him," she said earnestly.

All this I had heard from Nikolai Antonich himself, almost in the same phrases. Maria Vasilievna never used to repeat his words before. There was something behind this. For all the eagerness and earnest-ness with which she spoke I sensed that she was trying to persuade herself that Nikolai Antonich really was a remarkable person and that her late husband owed everything to him.

This was on my mind all through the third act. I decided that I would ask Katya about her father point blank. The portrait of the naval officer with the broad brow, the set jaw and light dancing eyes suddenly rose before me. What was this expedition from which he had never returned?

After the show we lingered in the auditorium until the cloakroom crowds had thinned out.

"I say, Sanya, why don't you ever drop in?" Maria Vasilievna said.

I mumbled something.

"I'm sure Nikolai Antonich has long forgotten that silly affair," she went on. "If you like, I'll talk to him about it."

The last thing I wanted was for her to get permission from Nikolai Antonich for me to call on them. I was on the point of saying, "Thanks, I'd rather you didn't," when Katya interposed, saying that it was nothing whatever to do with Nikolai Antonich, as I would be coming to see her and not him.

"Oh, no!" Maria Vasilievna said, startled. "Why only you? He'll be coming to see me, too, and Mother."

Chapter Five

KATYA'S FATHER

Now that expedition. What kind of man was Katya's father? All I knew was that he had been a naval officer and was dead. But was he? Katya never spoke of him as dead. Except for Nikolai Antonich, who constantly referred to him as "my late cousin", the Tatarinovs did not talk about him very often. His portraits hung in all the rooms, but they seldom spoke about him.

In the end I got tired of speculating, all the more as one could simply ask Katya where her father was and whether he was alive or dead. That's what I did.

And this is what she told me.

She was only three, but she clearly remembered the day her father went away. He was a tall man in naval blues and had big hands. Early in the morning, while she was still asleep, he had come into her room and bent over her cot. He patted her head and said something. It sounded like: "Look, Maria, how pale she is. Promise me she'll be out in the fresh air as much as possible." And Katya had opened her eyes just a wee bit and seen her mother's tear-stained face. But she gave no sign she was awake-it was such fun pretending to be asleep. Afterwards they were sitting in a big brightly lit hall at a long table on which stood white little hillocks. These were table-napkins. Katya was so fascinated by these table-napkins that she did not notice that her mother had left her and in her place now sat Grandma, who kept sighing and saying: "My goodness!" And Mother, in a strange unfamiliar dress with puffed sleeves, sat next to Father and winked to Katya from afar.

It was very jolly at table, there were lots of people, all laughing and talking together loudly. Then Father got up, a glass of wine in his hand, and everyone fell silent. Katya did not understand what he was saying, but she remembered everyone clapping and cheering when he had finished, and again Grandma muttered "My goodness!" and sighed. Then everyone said goodbye to Father and to some other sailors, and at parting he had tossed Katya high up in the air with his kind, big hands.

"Well, Maria darling," he had said to Mother. And they had kissed each other on both cheeks.

This had been a farewell dinner and send-off of Captain Tatarinov at the Ensk railway station. He had come to Ensk in May 1912 to say goodbye to his family, and in the middle of June he had set sail from St. Petersburg in the schooner St. Maria bound for Vladivostok.

At first everything went on as before, except that something quite new had appeared in life-letters from Daddy. "There will soon be a letter from Daddy." And a letter there would be. Sometimes it took a week or two coming, but it always came. And then came the last letter, sent from Yugorsky Shar in the Arctic. It really was the last, but Mother was not particularly worried; she even said that this was as it should be: the St. Maria was sailing in places where there was no post, nothing but ice and snow.

It was as it should be. Daddy himself had written that there would be no more letters. Still, it was very sad, and Mother became more and more silent and sad every day.

"A letter from Daddy" was a splendid thing. Grandma, for instance, always baked a pie when a letter came from Daddy. And now, instead of that splendid thing which cheered everyone up, there appeared in life that long and dreary phrase: "It is as it should be," or "There can't be anything yet."

These words were repeated every day, especially in the evenings, when Katya went to bed and Mother and Grandma kept talking and talking. And Katya listened. She had long been wanting to say:

"Maybe the wolves have eaten him up," but she knew that would make Mother angry, so she didn't.

Father was "wintering". Here in town summer had come long since, while he was still "wintering". This was very odd, but Katya asked no questions. She had heard Grandma one day say to a neighbour: "We keep saying he's wintering, but God knows whether he's alive or not."

Then Mother wrote a petition to "His Most Gracious Majesty". Katya remembered that petition very well-she was a big girl by now. The wife of Captain Tatarinov petitioned that an auxiliary expedition be fitted out to rescue her unfortunate husband. She pointed out that the main reason for the voyage "was undoubtedly national pride and our country's honour". She hoped that "His Most Excellent Majesty" would not leave without support a brave explorer, always ready to give his life for the sake of the "nation's glory".

Katya thought of "His Most Gracious Majesty" as some sort of religious procession led by a bishop in a crimson hat. It turned out to be simply the Tsar. For a long time the Tsar did not answer and Grandma used to scold him every evening. At last a letter came from his chancellery. Very politely, the chancellery advised Mother to apply to the Minister of Marine. But it wasn't worthwhile applying to him. The matter had already been reported to him and he had said: "It's a pity Captain Tatarinov has not returned. I should have had him prosecuted for negligence in the handling of government property."

Then Nikolai Antonich had come to Ensk and new words had appeared in the house: "No hope whatever." He had said this to Grandma in a whisper. But everyone got to know about it somehow- Grandma's relations, the Bubenchikovs, and Katya's friends. Everyone except Mother.

No hope whatever. He would never come back. Never say something funny, never argue with Grandma about it being "good for you to drink a glass of vodka before dinner and if it didn't do you good, it did not harm either, and since it did no harm it was nice". Never again would he make fun of Mother for taking so long to dress when they went to the theatre. No one would hear him sing in the mornings as he dressed: "What is our life? A game!"

No hope whatever! He had remained somewhere far away, in the Far North, amid the snow and ice, and no one from his expedition had come back.

Nikolai Antonich said Father himself was to blame. The expedition had been fitted out excellently. There had been five tons of flour alone, over a ton and a half of Australian tinned meat, and twenty hams; more than a hundredweight of Skorikov's beaf-tea cubes, and biscuits, macaroni and coffee galore. Half the mess room had been partitioned off and biscuit stowed away in it. They had even taken asparagus-eighty pounds of it. Jam and nuts. And all this bought with Nikolai Antonich's money. Eighty splendid huskies, so that in case of an emergency they could return home by dog-teams.

In short, if Daddy had lost his life it was undoubtedly his own fault. One could imagine him, for instance, being in a hurry where he should have bided his time. According to Nikolai Antonich, he had always done things in a hurry. However that may be, he had remained out there in the Far North and nobody knew whether he was alive or dead, because none of the crew of thirty had come back.

But in their own home he was still alive and had remained so for a long time. Who knows but that the door might suddenly open and he would walk in! Just as he had been that last day at the Ensk railway station. In his blue uniform, and stiff collar open at the throat. Cheerful, with big hands.

A good many things in the house were still associated with him. Mother smoked, and everyone knew she had started to smoke when he was lost. Grandma chased Katya out of the house-and that was him again, for he had given orders that Katya was to have plenty of fresh air. The learned books with the queer titles in the narrow glass-fronted bookcase, which were lent to nobody, were his books. Then they had moved to Moscow, to Nikolai Antonich's flat, and everything was changed. No one now hoped that the door would suddenly open and he would come in. For this was a strange house, in which he had never been.

Chapter Six

MORE CHANGES

Maybe I would not have gone to the Tatarinovs had not Katya promised to show me the Captain's books and maps. I looked up the route and found it to be that famous Northeast Passage for which men had been searching for three hundred years. Finally, the Swedish explorer Nordenskiold navigated it in 1878. It was no easy job, no doubt, because it was a full quarter of a century before another explorer, Vilkitsky, repeated the journey, only in the opposite direction. In short, all this was so interesting that I decided to go.

Nothing had changed in the Tatarinovs' flat, except that there were noticeably fewer things about. Among others, the Levitan, which I had liked so much, had gone-that picture of a straight wide garden path and pine trees lit up by the sun. I asked Katya what had happened to it.

"Given away," was Katya's curt reply.

I said nothing.

"Presented to Nikolai Antonich," she added with sudden venom. "He adores Levitan."

It looked as if other things besides the Levitan had gone to Nikolai Antonich, because the dining-room had an empty sort of look. The ship's compass, though, stood in its old place with the needle still pointing North.

Nobody was at home, neither Maria Vasilievna nor the old lady.

Afterwards the old lady came in. I heard her taking her things off in the hall and complaining to Katya that everything had got so dear again-cabbage was sixteen kopecks, veal thirty kopecks, a prayer for the dead forty kopecks, eggs one ruble twenty kopecks.

I laughed and went out into the hall.

"What about lemons, Nina Kapitonovna?"

She looked round puzzled.

"Didn't the boys pinch a lemon?"

"Sanya!" exclaimed Nina Kapitonovna, throwing up her hands.

She dragged me to the window and looked me over from all sides. The inspection displeased her.

"Too short," she said with chagrin. "You don't grow."

She looked quite old, stooped and thin. The familiar green velvet coat hung loosely on her shoulders. But she still had the same brisk, preoccupied air, which now was quite cheerful. She was overjoyed to see me, much more so than I had expected.

Katya and I spent a long time looking through the Captain's books and charts. There was Nansen's Farthest North and Sailing Directions for the Kara Sea and others. There were not many books as books go, but each one was interesting. I was dying to ask for one to read, but of course I understood very well that this was not the thing to do. I was therefore surprised when Katya suddenly said:

"Would you like to borrow some?"

"May I?"

"You may," Katya said without looking at me.

I did not ponder much over the reason why this trust was shown me and set about selecting the books I wanted to read. I would have taken the lot if I could, but that was impossible, so I selected five of them. Among them, by the way, was a booklet by the Captain himself entitled: Causes of the Failure of the Greely Expedition.

I had timed my visit to the Tatarinovs so as not to run into Nikolai Antonich there. At that hour he was always at a meeting of the Teachers' Council. But the meeting must have been put off, because he came in. Katya and I were so busy chatting that we did not hear the doorbell ring and only became aware of him when footsteps sounded in the next room, followed by a dignified cough. Katya frowned and slammed the door shut.

In almost the same instant it was opened again and Nikolai Antonich appeared in the doorway.

"I've asked you a thousand times, Katya, not to slam the door," he said. "It's time you got out of these habits…"

He saw me at once, of course, but he did not say anything, just narrowed his eyes slightly and nodded. I nodded back.

"We live in human society," he went on blandly. "And one of the motive forces of this society is consideration for others. You know perfectly well, Katya, that I can't stand doors being banged. One can only presume that you are doing this on purpose. But I don't want to think that, no, I don't…"

And so on and so forth.

I realised at once that all this waffle was just meant to tease Katya. He had never dared to talk to her like that before, I remember.

He went away at last, but we no longer had felt like looking through the Captain's books. Besides, all the time Nikolai Antonich had been talking, Katya had stood screening the table on which the books lay. He had not noticed anything. But I knew what it was all about-she did not want him to know she was letting me take those books.

In short, a damp was thrown over our spirits and I began to take my leave. I came home with a heavy feeling. I was sorry for them all- for Maria Vasilievna, for the old lady, for Katya. I didn't like the changes in the Tatarinovs' home at all.

Chapter Seven

MARGINAL NOTES

It was my last year at school, and really I should have been applying myself to my studies instead of going to skating-rinks and paying visits. I was doing well in some subjects (mathematics and geography, for instance) and not so well in others-literature, for example.

Literature in our school was taught by Likho, a very stupid man, whom the whole school called "Old Moke". He always went about in a tall Kuban cap, and we used to draw that cap on the blackboard with donkey's ears sticking out of it. Likho did not like me for a number of reasons. In the first place, one day, while dictating something, he said "carnaval" instead of "carnival". I corrected him and we argued about it, and I suggested sending an inquiry to the Academy of Sciences. He resented this.

Secondly, most of the pupils wrote their compositions from the books and articles-they would read a piece of criticism and copy it out. This was not my way. I wrote my essay first, then read the critics. And this was what Likho did not like! He wrote over my essays:

"Trying to be original. Poor!" In short, I was very much afraid I would get bad marks for literature at the end of the year.

For our final, school-leaving essay, Likho offered us a number of subjects, the most interesting of which I thought to be "The Peasantry in Post-Revolution Literature". I went to work on it in earnest, but soon cooled off-possibly because of the books Katya had lent me. After these books, my own essay seemed as dull as ditch-water to me.

To say that these books were interesting is to say nothing. They were books which had belonged to Katya's father, an Arctic sea-captain lost amid the snow and ice, like Franklin, Andree and others.

I never read anything so slowly in all my life. Nearly every page had markings on it, some passages were underlined and there were question marks and exclamation marks in the margins. The Captain either "quite agreed" or "absolutely disagreed". He argued with Nansen-to my astonishment. He reproached him for having turned back when within two hundred and fifty miles of the Pole. On the chart affixed to Nansen's book, the extreme northern point of his drift was ringed with a red pencil. Apparently, this occupied the Captain's mind very much, because he returned to it again and again in the margins of other books. "The ice itself will solve the problem," was written down the side of one page. I turned the page and suddenly a small sheet of yellowed paper fell out of the book. It had writing on it in the same hand. This is what it said:

"The human mind was so absorbed by this problem, that the solving of it, despite the desolate graves which most of the explorers had found there, had become a sheer national contest. Nearly all civilised countries took part in this contest with the exception of Russia, although the impulse towards discovery of the North Pole was very strong among the Russians even in Lomonosov's time and is still strong today. Amundsen is determined at all costs to win for Norway the honour of reaching the Pole, but we will set out this year and prove to the world that Russians too are capable of such a feat."

This must have been a fragment from some memorandum, for written on the back of it was: "To the Head of the Hydrographical Board" with the date "April 17th 1911".

So that was what Katya's father was after! He wanted, like Nansen, to go as far North as possible with the drifting ice and then make the Pole on dog-teams. By force of habit I figured out how much quicker it would be by aeroplane.

What puzzled me was this: in the summer of 1912 the schooner St. Maria had set sail for Vladivostok from St. Petersburg. Where did the North Pole come in?

Chapter Eight

THE BALL

"The Peasantry in Post-Revolutionary Literature" was finished. Fed up, I dashed it off in a single night. I had other debts, too-German, for instance, which I hated. In short, at the end of the half-year Katya and I had been to the skating-rink only once, and then we had not skated. The ice was very rough, as hockey teams had been training on it since the morning. We just drank tea at the buffet. It was our last meeting before the holidays. After that came lessons and more lessons, reading and more reading. I got up at six in the morning and sat over Aircraft Construction.

And now the half-year was over. Eleven free days! The first thing I did was to phone Katya and invite her to our school for the fancy-dress ball.

Katya arrived rather late, when I had all but run to the phone to ring her up. She came half-frozen, red as a beetroot, and while still in the cloakroom ran straight to the stove. I took care of her coat and galoshes.

"What a frost!" she said, laying her cheek to the warm stove. "Must be two hundred degrees!"

She was wearing a blue velvet dress with a lace collar and had a big blue bow in her hair.

It was amazing how that bow and the blue dress became her, and that string of coral beads round her neck! She was robust, yet light and slender. In short, hardly had we entered the hall, where the dancing had already begun, than the school's best dancers dropped their partners and made a beeline for her. For the first time in my life I regretted that I did not dance. But there! I tried to look as though I did not care and went into the performers' dressing-rooms. But they were getting ready to come on, and the girls chased me out. I went back into the hall just as the waltz was finishing. I hailed Katya. We sat down and began chatting.

"Who's that?" she suddenly asked me, horrified.

I looked.

"Where?"

"Over there, the one with the red hair."

It was only Romashka. He had smartened up and I thought he looked quite presentable. But Katya was looking at him with distaste.

"Can't you see-he's just horrible," she said, "You're used to him, you don't notice it. He's like Uriah Heep."

"Like who?"

"Uriah Heep."

I pretended I knew who Uriah Heep was, and said meaningfully: "Ah!"

But Katya was not one to be easily taken in.

"Ugh, you-fancy not having read Dickens. And he's supposed to be intelligent."

"Who says that?"

"Everybody. I was talking to a girl from your school one day, and she said: 'Grigoriev is a distinct individuality.'"

Just then the band struck up again and our P. T. instructor, whom everyone called just Gosha, asked Katya to dance and I was left alone again. This time the performers let me in and even found some work for me to do. I had to make up one of the girls as a rabbi. Some job! I spent over half an hour at it and when I got back into the hall Katya was still dancing-this time with Valya.

Someone pinned a number on me-they were playing "Post". I sat there like a convict with a number on my chest, feeling bored. Suddenly I got two letters at once: "Stop pritending. Say frankly whom you like. Reply to No. 140." It was written just like that- "pritending". The other note was enigmatic: "Grigoriev is a distinct individuality, but he hasn't read Dickens." I wagged a finger at Katya. She laughed, dropped Valya and sat down next to me.

"It's great fun here," she said, "but terribly hot. Well, will you learn to dance now?"

I said I would not, and we went into my classroom. It had been turned into a sort of crushroom, with armchairs in the corners and electric lamps shaded with red and blue paper. We sat down on my desk-the farthest one in the right-hand row. I don't remember what we talked about, I think it was about the talking films. Katya had her doubts about them, but I cited proofs showing the comparative speeds of sound and light.

She was all blue-we were sitting under a blue lamp-and perhaps that was what made me so bold. I had long been wanting to kiss her, from the moment she had come in frozen and flushed and laid her cheek against the stove. But it had been impossible then. Now, when she was all blue, it was possible. I stopped in the middle of a sentence, closed my eyes and kissed her on the cheek.

Did she flare up!

"What does this mean?" she demanded.

I was silent. My heart was thumping and I was afraid that she was going to say "I don't want to know you any more" or something like that.

"How disgusting!" she said with indignation.

"No, it isn't," I said, dismayed.

For a minute we said nothing, then Katya asked me to bring her some water. When I returned with the water she read me a whole lecture. She proved as plain as a pikestaff that I had no feelings for her, that "I only imagined it", and that if it had been another girl in her place at the moment I would have kissed her too.

"You're just trying to persuade yourself," she said with conviction, "but actually it's nothing of the sort!"

She was ready to admit that I had not intended to insult her-I hadn't, had I? Still I should not have acted that way precisely because I was only deceiving myself, and there was no real feeling…

"No love," she added, and I felt, in that semi-darkness, that she blushed.

By way of reply I took her hand and passed it over my face and eyes. She did not withdraw it, and for several minutes we sat silent on my desk in the dimly lit classroom. We sat in the classroom where I asked questions and floundered, where I stood at the blackboard and proved theorems-on my desk, in which lay Valya's crumpled cribs. It was so strange. But so good! I can't tell you how good I felt at that moment!

Then I fancied there was somebody in the corner breathing hard. I looked round and saw Romashka. I don't know what made him breathe so hard, but he had a very ugly look on his face. Naturally, he saw at once that we had spotted him. He muttered something and came up with a queasy smile.

"Why don't you introduce me, Grigoriev?"

I stood up. I must have looked anything but affable, because he blinked in a scared sort of way and went out. It was rather funny, the way he took sudden fright. We both started giggling, and Katya said that he not only resembled Uriah Heep, but he was like an owl, a ginger owl with a hook-nose and round eyes. She had guessed right- Romashka was sometimes teased at school by being called Owl. We went back into the hall.

The dancing was over and the concert part of the programme had started with scenes from The Government Inspector, which our theatre was rehearsing.

Katya and I sat together in the third row, but we heard nothing. At least, I didn't. And I don't think she did either. I whispered to her:

"We'll have another talk. Yes?"

She looked at me gravely and nodded.

Chapter Nine

MY FIRST DATE. INSOMNIA

It wasn't the first time it happened with me that life, after moving in one direction-in a straight line, let's say-suddenly made a sharp turn, executing "Immelmanns" and "Barrels". (Figures in aerobatics).

This happened when, a boy of eight, I had lost my penknife near the murdered watchman on the pontoon bridge. This happened at the Education Department's reception centre, when, out of sheer boredom, I had begun to model figure-work. This happened when I found myself a reluctant witness to the conspiracy against Korablev and was ignominiously ejected from the Tatarinov home. And this is what happened now, when I was expelled again-this time for good!

The new turn in my life started this way. Katya and I had arranged to meet in Oruzheiny Street, outside the tinsmith's shop, but she did not turn up.

Everything seemed to have gone wrong that sad day. I ran away from the sixth lesson-it was silly, because Likho had said he would give back our homework after the lesson. I wanted to think over our conversation. But how could I think when, after a few minutes, I was frozen stiff and all I could do was stamp my feet and rub my nose and ears like mad.

Yet it was all devilishly interesting! What an extraordinary change had come about since the previous day! Yesterday, for instance, I could say: "Katya's a stupid head!" But not today. Yesterday I could have ticked her off for being late, but not today. But most interesting of all was to think that this was the very same Katya who had once asked me whether I had read Helen Robinson, who had busted the lactometer and got it in the neck from me. Could this be her?

"Yes!" I thought joyfully.

But she was not she now, and I was not I.

A whole hour had passed, though. It was quiet in that street, and only the small tinsmith with the big nose came out of his workshop several times and eyed me suspiciously. I turned my back on him, but this only seemed to deepen his suspicions. I crossed to the other side of the road, but he still stood in the doorway amid clouds of vapour, like God on the ceiling of the cathedral at Ensk. I was obliged to move away, down towards the Tverskaya.

They had had dinner by the time I got back to the school. I went into the kitchen to warm myself and got told off by the cook, who gave me a plate of lukewarm potatoes. I ate the potatoes and went off in search of Valya. But Valya was at the Zoo. Likho had given my homework to Romashka.

Being upset, I did not notice the state of excitement Romashka was thrown into when he saw me. He went all of a dither when I came into the library where we were in the habit of doing our homework. He laughed several times without apparent reason and hastily handed me my homework.

" 'Old Moke' at it again," he said ingratiatingly. "If I were you, I'd complain."

I thumbed through my work. Down the side of every page was drawn a red line and at the bottom it was written: "Idealism. Extremely poor."

"Fathead," I commented coolly and walked out. Romashka came running after me. I was surprised at the way he fawned on me that day, running ahead of me and peering into my face. I suppose he was glad that I had done so badly with my homework. The real reason for this behaviour never occurred to me.

I was in bed before the boys had returned from their excursion. I really should not have gone to bed so early. Sleep fled my eyes the moment I shut them and turned over on my side.

It was the first case of insomnia in my life. I lay very still, thinking. About what? About everything under the sun, I believe. About Korablev and how I would take my homework to him tomorrow and ask him to read it. About the tinsmith who had taken me for a thief. About Katya's father's booklet Causes of the Failure of the Greely Expedition.

But whatever my thoughts, they always came back to her. I began to doze, and all of a sudden found myself thinking of her with such tenderness that it took my breath away and my heart started beating slowly and loudly. I saw her more distinctly than if she had been at my side. I could feel the touch of her hand on my eyes.

"Ah, well, if you've fallen in love, you've fallen in love. Now let's get some sleep, my dear chap," I said to myself.

But now that I was feeling so happy I thought it a pity to go to sleep, though I did feel a bit sleepy. I fell asleep when day began to break and Uncle Petya in the kitchen started grumbling at Makhmet, our kitten.

Chapter Ten

TROUBLES

The first date and first insomnia, though something new, were still part of the good old life. The troubles started the next day, however.

I phoned Katya after breakfast, but had no luck. Nikolai Antonich answered the phone.

"Who wants her?"

"A friend."

"What friend?" I was silent.

"Well?"

I hung up.

At eleven I entrenched myself in a greengrocer's shop from which I could see the whole length of Tverskaya-Yamskaya. Nobody took me for a thief this time. I pretended to be using the phone, bought some pickled apples and hung around the doorway with a casual air. I was waiting for Nina Kapitonovna. I knew from previous years exactly when she returned from the market. At last she appeared small, bent, in her green velvet coat, carrying her umbrella-in such a frost'-and the invariable shopping bag.

"Nina Kapitonovna!"

She glanced at me coldly and walked on without saying a word. I was dumbfounded.

"Nina Kapitonovna!"

She set her bag down, straightened up and looked at me resentfully. "Look here, young man," she said sternly, "I shouldn't like to quarrel with you for old time's sake. But don't let me see or hear you any more." Her head shook slightly.

"You go this way, we go that! And no writing or phoning, please! I don't mind telling you this-I never would have believed it! I see I was mistaken!"

She snatched up her bag, and-bang!-shut the gate right in my face. I stared after her open-mouthed. Which one of us had gone mad? I or she?

This was the first disagreeable conversation. It was followed by a second, and then by a third.

Going home, I met Likho at the front door. I couldn't have chosen a worse time to talk to him about my essay.

We mounted the stairs together, he, as usual, with his head in the air, twisting his nose this way and that in such a stupid fashion that I was strongly tempted to kick him.

"Mr Likho," I suddenly said, "I received my homework. You write:

'Idealism'. This isn't a mark, it's an accusation, which has to be proved first."

"We'll talk about that some other time."

"No, we'll talk about it now," I said. "I'm a Komsomol member and you accuse me of idealism. You don't know a thing about it." "What, what's that?" he demanded, glaring at me. "You have no idea about idealism," I went on, noting with satisfaction that with every word of mine his ugly mug grew longer. "You're just trying to be nasty to me, that's why you've written:

'Idealism.' No wonder they say of you-"

I paused for a moment, feeling that I was about to say something shockingly rude. I said it nevertheless:

"That you have a head like a coconut, hard outside and watery inside."

This was so unexpected that we were both thunderstruck. Then, with flaring nostrils, he said briefly and ominously: "I see!" And off he strode.

Exactly an hour after this conversation Korablev sent for me. This was an ominous sign, for Korablev seldom summoned anyone to his house.

It was long since I had seen him looking so angry. With bent head, he paced the room and when I came in, he drew aside with something like distaste.

"Look here!" he started, his moustache bristling. "You're giving me a fine account of yourself. It makes pleasant news!"

"Ivan Pavlovich, I'll explain everything to you in a minute," I said, trying hard to speak calmly. "I don't like the critics, that's true. But that doesn't make me an idealist. The other boys and girls copy everything out from the critics. And that's what he likes. Let him first prove that I'm an idealist. He ought to know that for me that's an insult."

I held my exercise book out to him but he did not even glance at it.

"You'll have to explain your conduct at the Teachers' Council."

"Certainly! Ivan Pavlovich," I said suddenly, "is it long since you were at the Tatarinovs?"

"Why?"

"Nothing."

"Well, my lad," he said quietly, "I see you had some reason for being rude to Likho. Sit down and tell me all about it. No fibs, mind."

I would not have told my own mother that I had fallen in love with Katya and had been thinking about her all night. That was impossible. But I had long been wanting to tell Korablev about the changes that had taken place in the home of the Tatarinovs, changes which I did not like at all.

He heard me out, pacing from comer to corner of the room. From time to time he stopped and looked around with a sad expression. My story seemed to distress him. At one moment his hand even went to his head, but he caught himself and made as if he were stroking his forehead.

"All right," he said when I asked him to telephone the Tatarinovs and find out what it was all about. "I'll do that. You call back in an hour."

"Make it half an hour, Ivan Pavlovich!" He smiled-a sad, good-natured smile.

I came back to find Korablev sitting on the sofa, smoking. The shaggy green service jacket, which he always wore when he felt out of sorts, was thrown over his shoulders and the soft collar of his shirt was undone.

"Well, old chap, you shouldn't have asked me to phone them," he said. "Now I know all your secrets." "What secrets?"

He looked at me as though he were seeing me for the first time. "You've got to be able to keep them," he went on. "And you're no good at that. Today, for instance, you're courting someone and tomorrow the whole school gets to know about it. It wouldn't be so bad if it were only the school."

I must have looked pretty sheepish, because Korablev smiled in spite of himself, just the ghost of a smile. At least twenty thoughts raced through my head all at once: "Who's done this? Romashka! I'll kill him! That's why Katya didn't come. That's why the old lady snubbed me."

"I love her, Ivan Pavlovich," I said firmly. He spread his hands.

"I don't care whether the whole school talks about it or not!" "The school maybe," Korablev said. "But don't you care what Maria Vasilievna and Nina Kapitonovna may say about it?" "No I don't!" I protested hotly. "But weren't you shown the door at their house?" "What house? It isn't her house. She dreams of the day she'll finish school and leave that house."

"Just a minute… Do you mean to say you intend to marry her?" I collected myself somewhat. "That's nobody's business!"

"Of course not," Korablev hastily put in. "I'm afraid it's not so simple though. You'll have to ask Katya, after all. Perhaps she isn't planning to get married yet. In any case you'll have to wait till she gets back from Ensk."

"Ah," I said very calmly. "So they've sent her away? Fine." Korablev looked at me again, this time with unconcealed curiosity.

"Her aunt has fallen ill and she's gone to visit her," he said. "She'll be away several days and will be back for the beginning of the term. That shouldn't worry you."

"I'm not worrying, Ivan Pavlovich. As for Likho, I'll apologise to him, if you wish. But let him take back his statement about my being an idealist."

Then, for fifteen minutes, as though nothing had happened, as though Katya had not been sent away, as though I had not decided to kill Romaska, we sat calmly discussing my homework. Then I took my leave, after getting permission to call again the next day.

Chapter Eleven

I GO TO ENSК

That Romashka! I did not doubt for a moment that it was his doing. Who else could it be? He had been in the classroom and seen me kiss Katya.

I stared with hatred at his cot and the bedside table and waited for him in the dormitory for half an hour. Then I wrote a note demanding an explanation and threatening that if I did not get it I would denounce him as a cad in front of the whole school. Then I tore the note up and went to see Valya at the Zoo.

He was with his rodents, of course. In a dirty lab coat, a pencil behind his ear and a big notebook under his arm, he was standing by a cage and feeding bats, who were eating out of his hand. He was feeding worms to them, looking mightily pleased.

I hailed him. He looked round and I asked: "Have you got any money?"

"Twenty-seven rubles," Valya said proudly.

"Let's have 'em."

This was cruel, as I knew that Valya was saving up to buy some snakes or other. But what could I do? I had only seventeen rubles, and the fare cost that much more.

Valya blinked, then looked at me gravely and got out the money.

"I'm going away."

"Where to?"

"To Ensk."

"What for?"

"Tell you when I get back. Meanwhile, let me tell you-Romashka's a cad. You're chummy with him, because you don't know what a cad he is. And if you do know, then you're a cad yourself. That's all. So long."

I had one foot outside the door when Valya called me back, and in such a queer voice that I spun round.

"Sanya," he muttered, "I'm not chummy with him. Besides…"

He fell silent.

"It's my fault," he went on with an air of decision. "I should have warned you. You remember that business about Korablev, don't you?"

"I should say so!"

"Well, it was him!"

"What about him?"

"He went to Nikolai Antonich and told him everything."

"No!"

In a flash I recollected that evening when, on returning from the Tatarinovs, I had told Valya about the conspiracy they were hatching against Korablev.

"But I only told you about it."

"Yes, but Romashka was eavesdropping."

"Why didn't you tell me?"

Valya hung his head.

"He made me give my word of honour," he muttered. "Besides, he threatened that he'd look at me at night. You know I hate being looked at at night. It's silly, I know. It started with me waking up once to find him looking at me."

"You're simply a fool, that's all."

"He writes everything down in a book and then snitches to Nikolai Antonich," Valya went on miserably. "He makes life hell for me. He narks on people and then tells me all about it. I stop my ears, but he goes on telling."

"You're a poor yap, you are!" I said. "I've no time to talk to you now, but I think you ought to write to the Komsomol group about that little book of his. I never thought he'd bully you like that. How many words of honour did you give him?"

"I don't remember," Valya mumbled.

"We'll count 'em up."

He looked at me mournfully.

From the Zoo I went to the railway station to book my ticket, and from there back to school. I had a good case of drawing instruments and decided to take it with me to sell if I was up against it.

And now to all the follies I had committed was added another one-one that I had to pay for with interest.

When I entered the dormitory there were about ten people there, among them Tania Velichko, a girl from my form. They were all engaged in some occupation, some reading and others talking. Nobody was paying any attention to Romashka, who was kneeling by my bed and rummaging in my box.

This new act of treachery was the last straw. The blood rushed to my head and I went over to him with an even tread and said to him in an even voice: "What are you looking for, Romashka?"

He looked up at me with startled eyes, and worked up as I was at that moment, I could not help noticing his striking resemblance to an owl-with that white face of his and those big red ears.

"Katya's letters?" I went on. "Want to hand them over to Nikolai Antonich? Here they are. Take 'em."

And I kicked him hard in the face.

I had spoken in a quiet voice, so nobody expected that I was going to hit him. I believe I gave him two or three more kicks. I would have killed him but for Tania Velichko. While the boys stood open-mouthed, she rushed between us, grabbed hold of me and pushed me away with such force that I sat down on the bed.

"You're crazy."

As if through a mist I saw her face and realised that she was looking at me with abhorrence. I recollected myself.

"I'll explain everything, boys," I said shakily.

They were all silent. Romashka lay on the floor with his head thrown back. There was a blue bruise on his cheek. I took my box and went out.

I wandered heavy-hearted about the railway station for nearly three hours. I felt beastly as I read the newspaper, studied the timetable, and drank tea in the third-class buffet. I was hungry, but the tea seemed tasteless and the sandwiches wouldn't go down my throat. I somehow felt sullied after that scene in the dormitory. Ah, well, I didn't have to go back to school anyway. But the instrument case? Who the hell needed it? As if I couldn't get the money for my return fare from Aunt Dasha!"

Chapter Twelve

HOME AGAIN

One impression has remained with me after that journey through the places where Pyotr Skovorodnikov and I used to ramble, stealing and begging – an impression of incomparable freedom.

For the first time in my life I was travelling by rail with a ticket. I could sit at the window, chat with my fellow-passengers, or smoke, had I been a smoker. I did not have to crawl under the seat when the ticket-collector came round. I handed him my ticket with a casual air, without interrupting my conversation. It was an extraordinary sensation-a feeling of spaciousness, though the carriage was pretty crowded. I found it amusing, and I was thinking now about Ensk- about my sister, Aunt Dasha, and how I would spring a surprise on them and they would not recognise me.

With this thought I fell asleep and slept so long that my fellow-passengers began to wonder whether I was alive or not.

How good it is to return to one's home town after an absence of eight years! Everything is so familiar yet unfamiliar. Could that be the governor's house? I had thought it so huge once. Could that be Zastennaya Street? Was it so narrow and crooked? And is it Lopukhinsky Boulevard? The boulevard gladdened me, though: all down the main avenue, behind the lime trees, stretched a line of splendid new buildings. The black lime trees looked like a pencil drawing on a white background and their black shadows lay aslant on the white snow- it made a beautiful picture.

I walked fast, and at every step I kept recognising old landmarks or viewing new ones with surprise. There was the orphanage in which Aunt Dasha had been going to put my sister and me; it was now a green colour and a big marble plaque had appeared on the wall with gold lettering on it. I could not believe my eyes-it said: "Alexander Pushkin stayed in this house in 1824". Well I never! In that house! What airs the orphanage kids would have given themselves had they known this!

And here were the "Chambers", where Mother and I had once handed in a petition. The place did not look half as imposing now. The old low grating had been removed from the windows and at the gate hung a signboard saying: Cultural Centre.

And there were the ramparts. My heart beat faster at the sight of them. A granite embankment stretched before me, and I hardly recognised our poor old shelving river bank. But what astonished me more than anything was to find our houses gone and in their place a public garden had been laid out and on the seats sat nannies holding infants wrapped up like little mummies. I had expected anything but this. I stood for a long time on the ramparts surveying with amazement the garden, the granite embankment and the boulevard, on which we used to play tipcat. On the site of the common back of the small grocery and oil shops there now stood a tall grey building, outside which a guard in a huge sheepskin coat strode up and down. I accosted him.

"The town power station," he answered importantly, when I pointed to the building and asked what it was.

"Do you happen to know where Skovorodnikov lives?"

"The judge?"

"No."

"Then I don't know. We have only one man here by that name-

the judge."

I walked away. Could it be that old Skovorodnikov had become a judge? I turned round to have another look at the fine tall building erected on the site of our wretched old houses, and decided that it could be.

"What does the judge look like? Is he tall?"

"Yes."

"With whiskers?"

"No, he has no whiskers," the guard said. He sounded sort of offended for old Skovorodnikov.

H'm, no whiskers. Not much hope.

"Where does that judge live?"

"In Gogolevsky Street, in what used to be Marcouse's house.

I knew the house, one of the best in the town, with lions' heads on either side of the entrance. Again I was nonplussed. There was nothing for it but to go down to Gogolevsky Street, and I went, little hoping that old Skovorodnikov had shaved off his moustache, become a judge and taken up residence in such a posh house.

In less than half an hour I was in Gogolevsky Street at the Marcouse house. The lions' heads were eight years older, but as impressive and fearsome as ever. I stood irresolute at the wide covered entrance door. Should I ring or not? Or should I ask a policeman where the Address Bureau was?

Muslin curtains in Aunt Dasha's taste hung in the windows and that decided me. I rang the bell.

The door was opened by a girl of about sixteen in a blue flannel dress, her smoothly brushed hair parted in the middle. She was of a dark complexion, and that puzzled me. "Do the Skovorodnikovs live here?" "Yes."

"And is… er… Darya Gavrilovna at home?" I said, giving Aunt Dasha her full title.

"She'll soon be in," the girl said, smiling and regarding me with curiosity. She smiled just like Sanya, but Sanya was fair and had curly hair and blue eyes. No, this wasn't Sanya. "May I wait?" "Certainly."

I took my coat off in the hall and she showed me into a large well-furnished room. The place of honour in it was occupied by a grand piano. This did not look much like Aunt Dasha.

I was gazing about me with what must have been a rather sheepish and happy expression, because the girl was staring at me with all her eyes. All of a sudden she tilted her head and cocked up an eyebrow exactly the way Mother used to do. I realised that it was Sanya after all. "Sanya?" I queried, somewhat uncertainly. She looked surprised. "Yes."

"But you were fair," I went on in a shaky voice. "How comes it? When we lived in the village you were quite fair. But now you're all on the darkish side."

She was dumbfounded, even her mouth fell open. "What village?"

"When Father died!" I said, and laughed. "Don't say you've forgotten! Don't you remember me?"

I felt choky in the throat. After all I had loved her very much and hadn't seen her for eight years, and she looking so much like Mother.

"Sanya," she brought out at last. "My God! Why, we had given you up for dead long ago." She embraced me.

"Sanya, Sanya! Is it really you! But sit down, why are you standing? Where have you come from? When did you arrive?"

We sat down side by side, but she jumped up the next moment and ran into the hall to get my box.

"Wait a minute! Don't go away. Tell me how you're getting on. How's Aunt Dasha?"

"How about yourself? Why didn't you write to us? We've been searching for you. We even put notices in the papers." "I didn't see them," I said remorsefully.

Only now did I fully realise how beastly I had behaved. Fancy forgetting that I had such a sister. And such a wonderful Aunt Dasha, who couldn't even be told that I had come back, because she was likely to die of joy, as Sanya explained to me.

"And Pyotr's been looking for you too," she went on. "He wrote to Tashkent not long ago. He thought maybe you were living in Tashkent."

"Pyotr?"

"Why, yes."

"Skovorodnikov?"

"Who else?"

"Where is he?"

"In Moscow," Sanya said.

I was amazed.

"Has he been there long?"

"Ever since you two ran away."

Pyotr in Moscow! I couldn't believe my ears.

"But, Sanya, I live in Moscow myself!"

"No?"

"Yes, really. How is he, what's he doing?"

"He's all right. He's finishing school this year."

"The devil he is! I'm finishing too. Have you got any photos of him?"

I thought Sanya was somewhat embarrassed when I asked for a photo of him. She said: "In a minute" and went out, returning almost immediately, as if she had taken Pyotr's photo out of her pocket.

"My, isn't he handsome," I said and started laughing. "Ginger?"

"Yes."

"Gee, isn't it grand! And the old man? How's the old man? Is it true?"

"Is what true?"

"That he's a judge?"

"Why, he's been a judge these last five years."

We kept asking questions and interrupting each other and asking more questions. We started the samovar going and made up the stove, and then the bell tinkled in the hall.

"Aunt Dasha!"

"You stay here," Sanya whispered. "I'll break the news to her. She has a heart condition, you know."

She went out and I heard the following conversation in the next room.

"Now don't get excited, Aunt Dasha, please. I have very good news so there's no need to be upset."

"Well, out with it then!"

"You decided not to bake any pies today, Aunt Dasha, but you'll have to."

"Pyotr has arrived?"

"That would be nice too, but no, it's not Pyotr. You won't get excited, Aunt Dasha, will you?"

"I won't."

"Honestly?"

"Drat the girl! Honestly."

"That's who's come!" Sanya announced, throwing open the kitchen door.

The remarkable thing is that Aunt Dasha recognised me at first glance.

"Sanya," she said quietly.

She embraced me. Then she sat down and closed her eyes. I took her hand.

"My darling boy! Alive? Where have you been? We've been searching the world for you."

"I know, Aunt Dasha. It's all my fault."

"His fault! Good heavens! He comes back and talks about his fault! Dear, dear boy. What a bonny lad you've grown! And so handsome!"

Aunt Dasha had always thought me a good looker.

Then the judge came in. The guard had been right-the old man had shaved off his moustache. He looked ten years younger and it was now hard to believe that he had once boiled skin-glue and built such hopes upon it.

He knew that I had come back, as Sanya had telephoned him.

"Well, prodigal son," he said, hugging me. "Aren't you afraid I'll have your head off, you rascal, you?"

What could I say for myself? I only grunted penitently.

Later that night he and I were left alone. The old man wanted to know what I had been doing and how I had been living since I had left the town. Like the judge he was, he questioned me rigorously about all my affairs, school and private.

I told him I wanted to be an airman, and he gazed at me long and steadily from under his bushy eyebrows.

"The air force?"

"An Arctic pilot. In the air force, if necessary."

"A dangerous, but interesting job," he said after a pause.

One thing I didn't tell him, though that I had come to Ensk in the wake of Katya. I couldn't bring myself to tell him that if it hadn't been for Katya it would very likely be a long time before I came back to my home town, to my home.

Chapter Thirteen

THE OLD LETTERS

I slept until eleven. Sanya had gone a long time ago, the old man was at work and Aunt Dasha had already put the dinner on, as she informed me.

While I drank my tea she kept making horrified comments on how little I was eating.

"So that's how they feed you!" she said tartly. "The gypsy fed his horse better, and that croaked."

"You know, Aunt Dasha, I was looking for you at the old place. The houses have been pulled down I see?"

"Yes," Aunt Dasha said with a sigh.

"Aunt Dasha, do you know the Bubenchikovs?"

The Bubenchikovs were relations of Nina Kapitonovna, and I had no doubt that Katya had gone to them.

"The people who were pronounced? Who doesn't know them?"

"Pronounced?"

"The priest pronounced the ban on them," said Aunt Dasha. "They sent him packing, so he pronounced 'em. That was a long time ago, before the Revolution. You were a little boy then. Why do you ask?"

"People in Moscow asked me to give them their regards," I lied.

Aunt Dasha shook her head doubtfully.

"Ah, I see…"

I asked Aunt Dasha for an envelope and some paper and sat down to write a letter. "I'll write to Katya and Sanya will deliver it."

"Katya," I wrote. "As you see, I am back in Ensk, and I'm dying to see you. Come down to Cathedral Gardens at four. This note will be delivered to you-guess by whom? By my sister. A. Grigoriev."

"Aunt Dasha, Pyotr used to have some interesting books. Where are they? Where do you keep books, anyway?"

Pyotr's books were discovered in Sanya's room, on a bric-a-brac stand. Evidently no great store was set by them, because they stood on the bottom shelf among all sorts of junk. I felt a bit sad when I picked up The Ghastly Night or the Most Marvellous Adventures of a Don Cossack in the Caucasus Mountains. Dammit, what a wretch of a little fellow I was then!

A package wrapped in a yellowed newspaper dropped on the floor during my energetic search for A Guide To Letter Writing. It was the batch of old letters. I recognised them immediately. They were letters which the river had one day washed up into our yard in a post bag. Those long winter evenings, when Aunt Dasha used to read them to us, came back to me. How wonderful, how delightful those readings had seemed to me!

Other people's letters! And who knows where these people now were? This letter, for instance, in its thick yellowed envelope. Maybe somebody had not slept nights, waiting for it?

Mechanically I opened the envelope and read several lines:

"Dear Maria Vasilievna,

"I hasten to inform you that Ivan Lvovich is alive and well. Four months ago, on his orders, I left the schooner along with thirteen of the crew…"

I read on and could not believe my eyes. It was the letter of the navigating officer, which I used to know by heart and which I had recited on the trains on my way to Moscow! But it was not this that struck me.

"The St. Maria," I read on, "became icebound in the Kara Sea and since October 1912 has been drifting steadily north with the Arctic icefields."

The St. Maria'. Why, that was the name of Captain Tatarinov's schooner! I turned back the sheet and read the letter again.

"Dear Maria Vasilievna"-Maria Vasilievna! I hasten to inform you that Ivan Lvovich…" Ivan Lvovich! Katya was called Katerina Ivanovna-the patronymic was from the name Ivan!

Aunt Dasha decided that I had gone crazy, because I suddenly emitted a yell and started frantically to search among the old letters.

I knew what I was after, though. Aunt Dasha had once read to me another of those letters describing the life amid the icefloes and about the sailor who had fallen to his death and how they had to chop the ice away in the cabins.

"Aunt Dasha, are they all here?" "Goodness gracious, what's happened?"

"Nothing, Aunt Dasha. There should be one particular letter here." I didn't hear myself speak. Ah, here it was! "My darling, my own dear, sweet Maria,

"It's nearly now two years since I sent you a letter through the telegraph dispatch office on Yugorsky Shar. And what a lot of changes ' there have been since then, I can't tell you! To begin with, we were standing on a straight set course, but since October 1912 have been drifting slowly north with the Arctic ice. Willy-nilly, we had to abandon our original plan of making Vladivostok along the coast of Siberia. But this proved to be a blessing in disguise. It has given me quite a new idea. I hope it does not strike you, as it does some of my companions, as childish or foolhardy…"

The first sheet ended here. I turned it over, but could make out nothing except a few disconnected words which stood out amid the smudges and stains.

The second sheet started with a description of the schooner:

"…in some places reaching a considerable depth. Amid one such icefield stands our St. Maria snowed up to the gunwale. At times a garland of hoarfrost breaks off the rigging and comes down with a soft swishing sound. As you see, dear Maria, I've become a poet. We have a real poet on board, though-our cook Kolpakov. A cheerful soul! He goes about all day long singing his poem. Here are four lines from it for a keepsake:

Under the flag of Mother Russia,

In the good ship Saint Maria,

We shall sail the Siberian coast along

With our Captain brave and strong.

"I read this endless letter of mine over and over again, and find that I am simply gossiping when I have so many important things to tell you. I am sending with Klimov a packet addressed to the head of the Hydrographical Board, containing my observations, official letters and a report giving the story of our drift. Just in case, I am writing you, too, about our discovery: north of the Taimyr Peninsula the map shows no land whatever. But situated in latitude 79°35', between meridians 86 and 87 east of Greenwich, we observed a sharply defined silvery strip, slightly convex, running out from the very horizon. On April 3rd this strip became an opaque patch of moonlight, and the next day we saw clouds of a very queer shape, resembling a mist enveloping distant mountains. I am convinced that this is land. Unfortunately, I couldn't leave the ship in her present plight in order to explore it. But its turn will come. Meantime, I have named it after you, so now you will find on every map a heartfelt greeting from your…"

Here ended the reverse side of the second sheet. I laid it aside and started on the third. The first few lines were washed away. Then came:

"It's galling to think that everything could have turned out differently. I know he will try to put himself right with you, perhaps he will even persuade you that it is all my own/fault. One thing I beg of you: do not trust that man. It can positively be said that we owe all our misfortunes to him alone. Suffice it to say that most of the sixty dogs he sold to us at Archangel had to be shot while we were still at Novaya Zemlya. That's the price we had to pay for that good office. Not I alone, but the whole expedition send him our curses. We were taking a chance, we knew that we were running a risk, but we did not expect such a blow. It remains for us to do all we can. What a lot I could tell you about our voyage! Stories enough to last Katya a whole winter. But what a price we are having to pay, good God! I don't want you to think that our plight is hopeless. Still, you shouldn't look forward too much…"

Like a flash of lightning in a forest that suddenly illumines everything around and transforms the dark scene so that you can even make out the leaves on a tree which a moment before had worn the shape of a beast or a giant, the whole thing dawned on me as I read these lines. Even trivial details which I never thought I could remember came back to me.

I understood Nikolai Antonich's hypocritical speeches about his "poor cousin". I understood that false solemnity of expression he wore when speaking about his cousin, the pucker between his brows deepening as though you, too, were partly to blame for what had happened. The full depth of the man's baseness, the show he made of being proud of his own nobility, were brought home to me. He had not been named in the letter, but that it was he who was meant I did not have the slightest doubt.

My throat went dry through excitement and I was talking to myself so loudly that Aunt Dasha was seriously alarmed. "Sanya, what's the matter with you?"

"Nothing, Aunt Dasha. Where do you keep the rest of these old letters?"

"They're all there."

"That can't be! Don't you remember reading me this letter once? It was a long one, on eight sheets."

"I don't remember, dear."

I found nothing more in the packet-only these three sheets out of the eight. But they were enough!

I changed the "come at four" in Katya's letter to "come at three", then to "come at two". But as it was already two o'clock I changed it back to three.

Chapter Fourteen

A RENDEZVOUS IN CATHEDRAL GARDENS. "DO NOT TRUST THA ТMAN"

I had been to Cathedral Gardens a thousand times as a boy, but it had never struck me then as being such a beautiful place. It stood high on a hill overlooking the confluence of two rivers-the Peschinka and the Tikhaya, and was surrounded by the old ramparts. These were in an excellent state of preservation, but the towers seemed to have shrunk since Pyotr and I had last met there to take the "blood-oath of friendship".

At last they came-Katya and Sanya. I saw Sanya, wrapped in an old-womanish, yellow sheepskin coat, wave her hand around as much as to say, "this is Cathedral Gardens", and immediately take her leave with a mysterious nod of the head. "Katya!" I cried. She started, saw me and laughed.

We spent half an hour scolding each other: I her for not having told me she was going away, and she me, for not having waited for her letter before coming. Then we both recollected that we had not spoken to each other about the most important thing of all. It appeared that Nikolai Antonich had had a talk with Katya. "In the name of my poor cousin" he had forbidden her to see me. He had delivered a long speech and wept.

"Believe me or not, Sanya," Katya said gravely, "but I saw it with my own eyes, honestly!"

"Well, well," I said and placed my hand on my chest.

There, in my breast pocket, wrapped in a piece of lint which I had got from Aunt Dasha, lay Captain Tatarinov's letter.

"Listen, Katya," I began on a firm note, "I want to tell you a story. It's like this. Imagine that you're living on the bank of a river and one fine day a postman's bag turns up on this bank. It hasn't dropped from the skies, of course, it's been washed up by the water. The postman drowned. And his bag falls into the hands of a woman who's very fond of reading. And this woman has a boy of eight among her neighbours who's very fond of listening. So one day she reads him a letter which begins 'Dear Maria Vasilievna'."

Katya looked up at me, startled.

" 'I hasten to inform you that Ivan Lvovich is alive and well," I went on quickly. "Four months ago, on his orders…' ":.

I recited the letter of the navigating officer in a single breath. I did not stop once, though Katya clutched my sleeve several times in horror and amazement.

"Did you see this letter?" she asked, her face white. "He was writing about Father?" she asked again, as though there could be any doubt about it.

"Yes. But that's not all."

And I told her how Aunt Dasha had one day come upon another letter describing life aboard an icebound ship which was slowly drifting north.

" 'My darling, my own dear, sweet Maria,' " I began reciting from memory, then stopped.

A cold shiver ran up my spine and a choking sensation gripped my throat as I suddenly saw before me, as in a dream, the bleak, prematurely aged face of Maria Vasilievna, her brows puckered in gloom. She had been about the same age as Katya was now when he wrote her that letter, and Katya was a little girl always waiting for "a letter from Daddy". That letter had come at last!

"Here it is," I said, drawing it from my breast pocket wrapped up in the piece of lint. "Sit down and read it. I'll go away and come back when you've finished."

Needless to say, I didn't go anywhere. I stood under the tower of St. Martin and watched Katya all the time while she was reading. I felt very sorry for her and warm inside whenever I thought about her, but cold when I thought how dreadful it must be for her to read those letters. I saw her push her hair back with an unconscious gesture when it got into her eyes, then stand up as if trying to make out some difficult word. I wasn't sure till then whether it was a joy or sorrow to get a letter like that. But looking at her now, I realised what grief, what terrible grief it was. I realised that she had never given up hope. Thirteen years ago her father had disappeared in the icy wastes of the Arctic, a thing that could only mean death from cold and starvation. But for her he had died only that day!

When I went back to her, Katya's eyes were red and she was sitting on the garden seat with her hands in her lap, holding the letters.

"Not feeling cold?" I asked, at a loss for words.

"I haven't been able to make out some words… Here: 'I beg of you…

"Ah, that! It reads: 'I beg of you, do not trust that man.' "

Katya called on us that evening, but we did not speak about the old letters-we had agreed on that beforehand. Katya was very sad. Everyone was nice to her, especially Sanya, who had become attached to her immediately as only girls know how. Afterwards Sanya and I saw her home.

The old folks were still up when we got back. The judge, somewhat belatedly, was scolding Aunt Dasha for not having delivered that mail-"at least those letters where the address could be made out"- and could find only one extenuating circumstance: that it had happened ten years ago. Aunt Dasha was talking about Katya. My fate, she thought, was decided.

"I think she's very nice," she said, sighing. "Beautiful and sad. Healthy girl."

I asked Sanya for the map of the Soviet North and showed her the route which Captain Tatarinov was to have taken from Leningrad to Vladivostok. Only then did I remind myself of his discovery. What land could that be lying north of the Taimyr Peninsula? "Why, that must be Severnaya Zemlya!" Sanya said. What the devil! It was Severnaya Zemlya (Northern Land) discovered in 1913 by Lieutenant Vilkitsky. Latitude 79°35,' between 86 and 87 longitude. Very strange!

"Hold on!" I said, and must have gone a bit pale, because Aunt Dasha looked at me anxiously. "I've got it! First it was a silvery strip running out from the very horizon. On April 3rd the strip became an opaque patch. April 3rd!"

"Sanya," Aunt Dasha began in alarm.

"Hold on! April 3rd. Now Vilkitsky discovered Severnaya Zemlya in the autumn, I don't remember when, but it was in the autumn, some time in September or October. In the autumn, six months later! That's to say he discovered nothing at all, dammit, because it had already been discovered."

"Sanya!" It was the judge speaking now.

"Discovered and named after Maria Vasilievna," I went on, pressing my finger hard on Severnaya Zemlya as though afraid there might be some other mistake about it. "Named after Maria Vasilievna. Maria Land, or something like that. Now sit down and I'll explain it all to you."

Talk about sleep after a day like that! I drank water and studied the map. The dining-room was hung with pictures of the town, and I studied them, too, for a long time without realising that they were Sanya's paintings and that she was studying painting and dreamt of going to the Academy of Arts. I looked at the map again. I recollected that the name Severnaya Zemlya had been given to these islands only recently and that Vilkitsky had named them Nicholas II Land.

Poor Captain Tatarinov! He had been surprisingly, extraordinarily unlucky. There was not a single mention of him in any geography book and nobody in the world knew what he had done.

I felt a cold shiver of pity and rapture, and went to bed, as it had gone five and from outside in the street came the sounds of a sweeping broom. But I couldn't fall asleep. Disjointed phrases from the Captain's letter haunted me, and I could hear Aunt Dasha's voice reading the letter and see her peering over her spectacles, sighing and faltering. I recollected a scene, which had once presented itself to my imagination-a scene of white tents in the snow, huskies harnessed to sledges, a giant of a man in fur boots and a tall fur cap-and I wished that this had all happened to me, that I had been on board that ship which was slowly moving to her doom with the drifting ice and that I had been the Captain who wrote that farewell letter to his wife, and could not finish it. "I have named it after you, so now you will find on every map a heartfelt greeting from your…"

I wondered how that sentence ended? Then something slowly passed through my head, very slowly, almost reluctantly, and I sat' up in bed, half incredulous, feeling that in another minute I would go mad. Go mad remembering this: "greeting from your Mongotimo Hawk's Claw, as you used to call me. God, how long ago that was! I am not complaining, though…"

"I am not complaining, though," I repeated, muttering, fumbling and groping among my memories for some missing word. "I am not complaining. We shall see each other again and all will be well. But one thought, one thought torments me!"

I jumped up, switched on the light and rushed over to the table on which lay the pencils and maps.

"It's galling to think," I was now writing on one of the maps, "that everything could have turned out differently. Misfortunes dogged us, but our main misfortune was the mistake for which we are now having to pay every hour, every minute of the day-the mistake I made in entrusting the fitting out of our expedition to Nikolai." Nikolai? Was it Nikolai? Yes, it was!

I paused at this point; beyond it there was a sort of gap in my memory, and after that there had come something-I remembered that now quite clearly-something about a sailor named Skachkov, who had fallen into a crevasse and been crushed to death. But this was not the thing. This was the general context of the letter, not the actual text, of which I could recall nothing more, except a few disconnected words.

I got no sleep at all. The judge was up at eight and got a fright when he saw me sitting in my underwear over a map of the North, from which I had managed to read all the details of the ill-fated voyage of the St. Maria- details which would have astonished Captain Tatarinov himself had he returned.

We had arranged the previous evening to go to the town's museum. Sanya was keen on showing us this museum, which was the pride of Ensk. It was housed in an old mansion, once the residence of a rich merchant. On the second floor was an exhibition of paintings by Sanya's teacher, the artist Tuva, and she took us to see these first of all. The artist was there in person-a genial little man in a velvet blouse a la Tolstoy and with a mop of black hair in which gleamed thick grey strands. His paintings were not bad, though rather monotonous-all Ensk and Ensk. Ensk by day and by night, in moonlight and sunlight, the old town and the new town. We praised them fulsomely, though-this Tuva was such a nice man and Sanya gazed at him with such adoration.

She must have guessed that Katya and I wanted to have a talk, because she suddenly excused herself and stayed behind on some trifling pretext, while we went downstairs into a large hall in which stood knights in chain-mail, which stuck out from under their breastplates like a shirt under a man's waistcoat.

Naturally, I was all eagerness to tell Katya about my nocturnal discoveries. She saved me the trouble of starting the conversation by starting it herself.

"Sanya," she said, when we stopped in front of a Stephen Bathori man-at-arms, who somehow reminded me of Korablev. "I've been thinking about who he meant in that phrase: 'Don't trust that man.' "

"Well?"

"I've come to the conclusion that it… it's not him."

We were silent. She stared fixedly at the man-at-arms.

"But it was about him," I retorted grimly. "By the way, your father discovered Severnaya Zemlya. It was he, and not Vilkitsky at all. I've established the fact."

This news, which a few years later was to create a sensation among all the world's geographers, produced no effect whatever on Katya.

"What makes you think," she went on, speaking with an effort, "that it's he… Nikolai Antonich? The letter doesn't say so, does it?"

"Oh, yes it does," I said, feeling that I was beginning to lose my temper. "For one thing, take those dogs. Who had boasted a thousand times that he had bought excellent dogs for the expedition? Secondly-"

"Secondly what?"

"Secondly, last night I recollected another passage from that letter. Here it is."

And I recited the passage which began with the words: "Mongotimo Hawk's Claw." I recited it loudly and distinctly, like poetry, and Katya listened to it wide-eyed, grave as a statue. Suddenly her eyes went cold and I thought that she didn't believe me.

"Don't you believe me?"

She paled and said quietly:

"I do."

We then dropped the subject. I only asked whether she remembered where "Mongotimo Hawk's Claw" came from, and she said she did not remember-Gustave Aimard, perhaps. Then she asked, did I realise how terrible this would be for her mother.

"All this is much worse than you think," she remarked sadly, just like a grown-up. "Life's very hard for Mother, not to mention what she's lived through. And Nikolai Antonich-"

Katya broke off. Then she explained to me what it was all about. This, too, was a discovery, no less surprising, perhaps, than Captain Tatarinov's discovery of Severnaya Zemlya. It appeared that Nikolai Antonich had been in love with Maria Vasilievna for many years. The year before, when she was ill, he slept, if he slept at all, in his clothes, and engaged a nurse, though this was quite unnecessary. When she got better he took her down to Sochi and fixed her up in the Hotel Riviera, though a sanatorium would have been much cheaper. In the spring he had gone to Leningrad and brought back a very expensive fur jacket for Maria Vasilievna. He never went to bed if she was not at home. He persuaded her to give up the university, because it was hard for her to work and study at the same time. But the most surprising thing of all had happened that winter. All of a sudden Maria Vasilievna said she did not want to see him any more. And he disappeared. Went away in the clothes he stood in and did not come home for ten days. Where he had been living was a mystery-probably in a hotel room. At this point Nina Kapitonovna stood up for him. She said this was nothing short of an "inquisition", and fetched him home herself. But Maria Vasilievna did not speak to him for a whole month.

Nikolai Antonich madly in love-I couldn't imagine it! Nikolai Antonich with his stubby fingers and his gold tooth-and so old. Nevertheless, as Katya went on with her story, I could picture that complex and painful relationship. I could imagine what Maria Vasilievna's life had been, during those long years. Such a beautiful woman left stranded at twenty. "Neither widowed nor married." For the sake of her husband's memory she forced herself to live in her memories. I could imagine Nikolai Antonich courting her for years, suave, persistent, patient. He had succeeded in convincing her-and others too-that he alone understood and loved her husband. Katya was right. For Maria Vasilievna this letter would be a terrible blow. It would be better, perhaps, to leave it on the shelf in Sanya's room, between Tsar Kolokol and The Adventures of a Don Cossack in the Caucasus.

Chapter Fifteen

WE GO FOR WALKS. I VISIT MOTHER'S GRAVE.

DAY OF DEPARTURE

The week I spent in Ensk was anything but a gay one. But then what wonderful memories it left me with for the rest of my life.

Katya and I went for walks every day. I showed her my favourite old spots and spoke about my childhood. I remember reading somewhere that archaeologists were able to reconstruct the history and customs of a whole people from a single preserved inscription. That's how it was with me, when, from the few surviving old nooks in my hometown, I reconstructed for Katya the story of my previous life.

I spent only one day away from Katya, the day I went to the cemetery. I expected to find no trace of Mother's grave after all those years. But I found it. It was enclosed in a broken-down wooden fence and you could still make out the inscription on the awry cross:

"Sacred to the memory of…" Of course, it was winter and all the graves were snowed up, yet you could tell at once that this was a neglected grave.

Saddened, I walked among the paths, calling up memories of my

mother. How old would she have been now? Forty. Still quite a young woman. With a pang I thought how happily she could have been living now, the way Aunt Dasha, say, was living. I recollected her tired, heavy glance, her hands corroded by washing, and how she could not eat anything of an evening because she was dead tired.

I found the keeper, who was chopping wood outside the tumbledown chapel.

"Granddad," I said to him, "you have here the grave of Aksinya Grigorieva. It's along this path here, the second from the corner." I think he was pretending when he said he knew the grave I was talking about.

"Couldn't it be tidied up? I'll pay for it." The keeper went down the path, looked at the grave and came back.

"That grave is being cared for," he said. "You can't see it because it's winter now. Some of the others aren't being cared for, but this one is."

I gave him three rubles and went away.

And then the last day came round, the day of parting. It found Aunt Dasha astir at six, busy baking pies. Smeared with flour, wearing her spectacles, she came into the dining-room where I was sleeping, the edge of an envelope between her fingers.

"Must wake Sanya up," she said. "Here's a letter from Pyotr. And so it was, brief, but "pertinent", as the judge put it. First, he explained why he had not come home for the holidays. It was because he had been visiting Leningrad with an excursion party. Secondly, he was astonished to hear that I had turned up and expressed himself feelingly on that point. Third, he went for me baldheaded for not having written, not having looked for him and generally for having "behaved like an unfeeling horse". Fourth, the envelope contained another letter, addressed to my sister, who laughed and said: "The silly fool, he could have just added a postscript." I don't suppose he could, though, because Sanya took the letter and sat reading it in her room for three full hours, until I came charging in demanding that she put a stop to Aunt Dasha, who was piling up a stack of pies for my journey.

The judge came home specially to have dinner with me for the last time. He brought a bottle of wine. We drank, and he made a speech. A jolly good speech it was too. He compared Pyotr and me to eagles and expressed the hope that we would return more than once to the nest.

We sat so long over dinner that we nearly missed the train. We drove to the station in cabs. I had never travelled so luxuriously before-sitting back in a cab with a hamper at my feet.

We arrived to find Katya standing on the carriage steps with the two old Bubenchikov aunts exhorting her not to catch cold during the journey, to keep an eye on her luggage, not to go out on the carriage platform, to wire them on arrival, remember them to everybody and not to forget to write.

My seat was in another carriage, so we merely bowed a greeting to Katya and the Bubenchikovs. Katya waved to us and the old ladies nodded primly.

The second bell. I embraced Sanya and Aunt Dasha. The judge reminded me to look up Pyotr and I gave my word of honour that I would call on him the day I arrived. I invited Sanya to come and see me in Moscow and she promised to come for her spring holidays-it appeared that she had already made arrangements about this with Pyotr.

The third bell. I was in the carriage. Sanya was writing something in the air and I wrote back at a guess: "Okay." Aunt Dasha began to cry quietly and the last thing I saw was Sanya taking the handkerchief from her and, with a laugh, wiping away her tears. The train pulled out, and that dear old railway station slipped past me. We gathered speed. In another moment the platform came to an end. Goodbye, Ensk.

At the next station I changed places with an oldish gentleman, who found my lower berth more convenient for him, and moved into Katya's carriage. For one thing, it was more airy, for another it was Katya's.

She had quite settled in. On the little table lay a clean napkin and the window was curtained. You'd think she'd been living in that carriage a hundred years.

We had both only just had dinner, but we simply had to see what the old folks had put in our hampers. We had an apple each and treated our travelling companion to one. He was a little, unshaven, blue-black man in spectacles, who kept making guesses as to who we were: brother and sister-no, we didn't look like it. Husband and wife – too young.

It was some time past two in the morning and our unshaven companion was snoring his head off, while Katya and I were still standing in the corridor, chatting. We wrote with our fingers on the frozen panes-first initials, then the opening letters of words.

"Just like in Anna Karenina," said Katya.

I didn't think it was like Anna Karenina or anything else for that matter.

Katya stood beside me and looked sort of new, different. She wore her hair in grown-up style, parted in the middle, and a surprisingly new ear peeped out from under her dark attractive hair. Her teeth, too, looked new when she smiled. Never before had she turned her head, when I began to speak, with that easy yet proud gesture of a beautiful woman. She was a new and entirely different girl, and I felt that I was terribly in love with her.

Suddenly, through the window, we could see the wires dipping and rising, and a dark field came into view covered with dark snow. I don't know at what speed the train was going-it could not have been more than forty kilometres an hour-but it seemed to me that we were rushing along at magical speed. The world lay before me. I did not know what it had in store for me. But I did know that this was forever, that Katya was mine and I hers for as long as we live.

Chapter Sixteen

WHAТ АWAITED ME IN MOSCOW

Imagine yourself returning to your home, in which you had spent half your life, to suddenly find yourself being stared at in surprise, as if you had come to the wrong place. That was what I experienced when I returned to school after visiting Ensk.

The first person I met, down in the cloakroom, was Romashka. He scowled when he saw me, then grinned.

"Hullo!" he said in a tone of malicious glee. "Tishoo! Bless you!"

The cad seemed very pleased.

None of the other boys were about-it was the last day before term began. Korablev passed down the corridor and I ran after him.

"Good morning, Ivan Pavlovich!"

"Ah, it's you!" he said gravely. "Come and see me, I want to speak to you."

____________________

The portrait of a young woman stood on Korablev's desk, and for the moment I did not recognise Maria Vasilievna-she was much too beautiful. She was wearing a coral necklace, the same one Katya had worn at our school ball. The sight of that necklace somehow bucked me up. It was like a greeting from Katya.

"Ivan Pavlovich, what's the matter?" I began.

"This is the matter," Korablev said slowly. "They're going to expel you from the school."

"What for?"

"Don't you know?" "I don't."

Korablev eyed me sternly. "I don't like that at all." "Honestly, I don't, Ivan Pavlovich."

"For nine days AWOL," he said, turning down one finger. "For insulting Likho. For fighting."

"I see! Very good," I said very calmly. "But before expelling me be so good as to hear me out." "Go ahead."

"Ivan Pavlovich," I began in a solemn tone, "you want to know why I socked Romashka one in his ugly mug?" "Leave the 'ugly mugs' out of it," Korablev said. "All right. I gave him one in his ugly mug because he's a cad. For one thing, he told the Tatarinovs about me and Katya. Secondly, he listens to what the boys say about Nikolai Antonich and narks on them. Third, I found him rummaging in my box. It was a regular search. The boys saw me catch him at it, and I hit him, it's true. I admit, it wasn't right to use my boot, but I'm only human after all. It was more than flesh and blood could stand. It might have happened to anybody."

"All right. Go on."

"As for Likho, you know about that already. Let him first prove that I am an idealist. Did you read my essay?" "Yes, it's bad."

"That may be, but there isn't a hint of idealism in it. You can take that from me." "All right. Go on." "That's all. What else is there?"

"What else? Do you know they have had the police searching for you?"

"Ivan Pavlovich… Well, that was wrong of me, perhaps. I did tell Valya, but I suppose that doesn't count. All right. But do you mean to say they're going to expel me because I went off on holiday-where do you think?-to my hometown where I haven't been for eight years?"

I knew there was going to be ructions when Korablev mentioned the police, and I wasn't mistaken. He went for me baldheaded, shouting at the top of his voice, and I could only slip in an occasional timid: "Ivan Pavlovich!" "Hold your tongue!"

And he would pause himself for a moment, but only to draw breath for a renewed attack.

It slowly dawned on me that I really had a lot to answer for. But would they really expel me? If they did, then all was lost. It was goodbye to flying school. Goodbye to life! Korablev stopped at last.

"Your behaviour has been outrageous!" he said.

"Ivan Pavlovich," I began in a voice that was croaky, rather than tremulous. "I'm not going to argue with you, though on many points you are not right. But never mind. You don't want them to expel me, do you?"

Korablev was silent, then he said: "And if I don't?"

"Then tell me what I have to do?"

"You must apologise to Likho."

"All right. But first let him-"

"I've spoken to him!" Korablev interrupted with annoyance. "He's crossed out the 'idealism'. But the mark remains the same. Secondly, you must apologise to Romashka too."

"Never!"

"But you admitted yourself that it wasn't right."

"All the same. You can expel me, but I won't apologise to him."

"Look here, Sanya," Korablev said gravely, "I had great difficulty in persuading them to call you before a meeting of the Teachers' Council. But now I'm beginning to regret taking all that trouble. If you come there and start saying your 'Never! You can expel me!' they'll expel you for certain. You may be sure of that."

He laid special emphasis on these words and I understood from his expression whom he had in mind. Nikolai Antonich immediately appeared before me, suave, smooth-spoken and verbose. That one would do everything to get me expelled.

"I don't think you have the right to risk your whole future through petty vanity."

"It isn't petty vanity, it's a point of honour!" I said warmly. "Would you have me hush up this Romashka affair just because it affects Nikolai Antonich, who has the power to decide whether I'm to be expelled or not? Would you have me act so meanly? Never! I know why he'll insist on having me expelled. He wants to get rid of me, wants me to go away somewhere so's not to meet Katya. Not likely! I'll tell them everything at the Teachers' Council. I'll tell them that Romashka is a cad and only a cad would apologise to him." Korablev became thoughtful.

"Wait a minute," he said. "You say Romashov eavesdrops on the boys and then reports to Nikolai Antonich what they say about him. But how can you prove it?" "I have a witness-Valya." "Valya whom?" "Zhukov."

"H'm that's interesting," Korablev said. "Why has Valya kept quiet about this? He's your chum, isn't he?"

"Romashka has some influence over him. He looks at him at night, and Valya can't stand it. Besides, he made Valya give his word of honour he would not babble about what Romashka had told him. Valya's a fool, of course, to have given his word of honour, but once he's given it he must keep his mouth shut. Isn't that so?"

Korablev stood up. He paced the room, took out a comb and tidied his moustache, then his eyebrows, and then his moustache again. He was thinking. My heart hammered, but I did not say another word. I let him think. I even breathed more quietly so's not to distract him.

"Very well, Sanya. You're not schooled in cunning, anyway," Korablev said at last. "Put the thing to the Teachers' Council exactly the way you have told me. But on one condition-"

"What's that, Ivan Pavlovich?"

"That you keep cool. You just said, for instance, that Nikolai Antonich wants to get you expelled because of Katya. You shouldn't say that at the Council meeting."

"Ivan Pavlovich, what do you take me for? Don't I understand?"

"You understand, all right, but you get too excited. I tell you what, Sanya, let's make this arrangement. I'll keep my hand on the table like this, palm downwards, and you'll keep your eye on it as you speak. If I start drumming the table, that means you're getting excited. If I don't, you aren't."

"All right, Ivan Pavlovich. Thank you. When's the meeting?"

"Today at three. But they'll call you in a bit later."

He asked me to send Valya to him and we parted.

Chapter Seventeen

I BURN MY BOATS

It was an ordinary meeting in our small teachers' room, at a table covered with a blue cloth with ragged tassels. But it seemed to me that they were all looking at me with a sort of enigmatic, meaningful expression. Korablev gave a laugh when I came in, and I thought:

"That's on purpose."

"Well, Grigoriev," Nikolai Antonich began in a mild tone, "you know, of course, why we have called you to this meeting. You have distressed us, and not only us, but, I may say, the whole school. Distress us by your wanton behaviour, which is unworthy of the human society in which we live, and to whose development we must contribute to the best of our ability and powers."

I said:

"Please put your questions."

"Allow me, please, Nikolai Antonich," Korablev put in quickly. "Grigoriev, tell us please where you spent the nine days since you ran away from school?"

"I did not run away, I went to Ensk," I said calmly. "My sister lives there and I haven't seen her for eight years. Judge Skovorodnikov can confirm this-I stayed with him: 13, Gogolevskaya Street, formerly the Marcouse Mansion."

If I had said frankly that I had spent those nine days with Katya Tatarinova, who had been sent away to keep us from meeting each other at least during the holidays, my words could not have had a more disconcerting effect on Nikolai Antonich. He paled, blinked and cocked his head sharply to one side.

"Why didn't you tell anybody you were going away?" Korablev asked.

I admitted that I was guilty of a breach of discipline and promised that it would never happen again.

"Excellent, Grigoriev," said Nikolai Antonich. "Now that is an excellent answer. It remains for us to hope that you will have just as satisfactory explanations for your other actions."

He looked at me affectionately. His composure was marvellous! "Now tell us what happened between you and Mr Likho." To this day I can't understand why, in telling the story of my relations with Likho, I did not mention a word about "idealism". It may have been because I considered that since Likho had withdrawn his accusation there was nothing to talk about. This was a bad mistake. Besides, I should not have mentioned that I wrote my essays without referring to the "critics". It did not go down well. Korablev frowned and laid his hand on the table.

"So you don't like the critics?" Nikolai Antonich said dryly. "What did you say to Mr Likho? Please repeat it word for word."

Repeat to the Teachers' Council what I had said to Likho? Impossible! If Likho had not been such a fathead he would have intervened at this point to have this question withdrawn. But he just stared at me with an air of triumph. "Well," Nikolai Antonich prompted.

"Nikolai Antonich, allow me," Korablev interposed. "We know what he said to Mr Likho. We'd like to know what explanation he gives to his conduct."

"I beg your pardon!" said Likho. "I insist that he repeat what he said! I never heard such things even from the defectives at the Dostoyevsky School."

I was silent. Had I been able to read thoughts at a distance, I would have read in Korablev's eyes: "Sanya, tell them he accused you of 'idealism'."

"Well!" Nikolai Antonich repeated indulgently. "I don't remember," I muttered.

It was silly, because everybody saw at once that I was lying. Likho snorted.

"Today he insults me for giving him a bad mark, tomorrow he'll cut my throat," he said. "What hooliganism!"

I felt like giving him a punch on the nose, like I had very nearly done that time on the stairs, but I didn't, of course. I clenched my teeth and stared at Korablev's hand. He was drumming lightly on the table.

"It was a bad essay, I admit," I said, trying to keep cool and thinking with hatred how to extricate myself from this stupid position. "It may not have earned an 'extremely feeble' mark, because there isn't such a mark, but it wasn't up to the mark, I admit. Anyway, if the Council decides that I ought to apologise, then I'll apologise."

Obviously, this was another silly thing to say. All started talking together, saying God knows what, and Korablev eyed me with unconcealed annoyance.

"Yes, Grigoriev," Nikolai Antonich said with a deprecating smile. "So you are ready to apologise to Mr Likho only if the Council takes a decision to that effect. In other words, you don't feel guilty. Ah, well! We'll make a note of that and pass to the next question."

"Risk your whole future through petty vanity," the words came back to me.

"I apologise," I said awkwardly, turning to Likho. But Nikolai Antonich was speaking again, and Likho made out as if he had not heard me.

"Now this vicious attack on Romashov. You kicked him in the face, Grigoriev, inflicting serious injuries, which have noticeably affected the health of your comrade Romashov. How do you explain this conduct, the like of which has never been heard of within the walls of our school?"

I think I hated him more than ever at that moment for the smooth meandering way he spoke. But Korablev's fingers rose warningly above the table and I kept my temper.

"For one thing, I don't consider Romashov a comrade of mine. Secondly, I hit him only once. Thirdly, he doesn't show any sign of impaired health."

This roused a storm of indignation, but Korablev nodded his head ever so slightly.

"My conduct can be explained in this way," I proceeded more calmly. "I consider Romashov a cad and can prove it at any time. Instead of a beating, we should try him by a court of honour and have the whole school attend the trial."

Nikolai Antonich wanted to stop me, but I plunged on.

"I affirm that Romashov is influencing the weaker boys psychologically, trying to get a hold on them. If you want an example I can give it to you-Valya Zhukov. Romashov takes advantage of the fact that Valya is nervous and scares the life out of him. What does he do? First he gets him to give his word of honour to keep mum, then tells him all his low-down secrets. I was simply amazed when I heard about it. A Komsomol boy who gives his word not to tell anybody anything-about what? About what he hasn't heard yet himself! What do you call that? And that's not all!"

Korablev had been drumming the table for some time, but I was no longer worrying whether I was excited or not. I don't think I was a bit excited.

"And that's not all! Now I ask you," I said loudly, turning to Nikolai Antonich, "could such a person as Romashov exist in our school if he did not have protectors? He could not. And he does have them! At least, I know one of them-Nikolai Antonich!"

Spoken like a man! I never thought I'd had it in me to tell him this straight to his face! The room was silent, the whole Council waiting to see what would happen. Nikolai Antonich gave a laugh and paled. He always did go a bit pale when he laughed.

"Can this be proved? Easy as anything. Nikolai Antonich has always been interested in what they say about him in the school. I don't know why he should be. The fact remains that he hired Romashov for this purpose. I say 'hired' because Romashov never does anything for nothing. He hired him, and Romashov started eavesdropping on the boys and reporting to Nikolai Antonich what they said about him, and afterwards he gets Zhukov to give him his word of honour not to blab and tells him all about his talebearing. You may ask me-why did you keep silent if you knew about this? I got to know this just before I went away, and Zhukov promised me to write to the Komsomol Group about it, but he's only done that today."

I stopped speaking. Korablev removed his hand from the table and turned to Nikolai Antonich with a look of interest. He was the only one, by the way, who bore himself with ease. The other teachers looked embarrassed.

"Have you finished your explanations, Grigoriev?" said Nikolai Antonich in a level voice, as though nothing had happened.

"Yes."

"Are there any questions?"

"Nikolai Antonich," said Korablev in a courteous tone, "I believe we can dismiss Grigoriev. Don't you think we ought to invite Zhukov or Romashov in now?"

Nikolai Antonich undid the top button of his waistcoat and placed his hand over his heart. He had gone paler still and a strand of hair combed back over his head suddenly came loose and tumbled over his forehead. He fell back in his chair and closed his eyes. Everyone rushed over to him. So ended the meeting.

Chapter Eighteen

AN OLD FRIEND

My speech at the Teachers' Council was the talk of the school, and I found myself a very busy man. To say that I felt a hero would be an exaggeration. Nevertheless, the girls from other classes came to look at me and commented audibly on my appearance. For the first time in my life my short stature was overlooked.

I was therefore disagreeably surprised when, at the height of my glory, the Komsomol Group passed on me a severe reprimand and warning. The Teachers' Council was not meeting owing to Nikolai Antonich's illness, but Korablev said that they might decide to transfer me to another school.

This did not make pleasant hearing, and what's more, it was unfair. I had nothing to say against the Group's decision. But to have me transferred to another school! For what? For having shown up Romashka for the cad he was? For having shown up Nikolai Antonich, who was his protector? I was in such a cheerless mood that, sitting in the library, I heard a loud whisper in the doorway: "Which one?" • I looked up to see a tall young fellow with a mop of red hair eyeing me questioningly from the doorway. Red-haired people always cultivate shocks of hair, but this chap's had a wild sort of look, like those you see on primitive man in your geography textbook. I leapt to my feet and rushed towards him, overthrowing a chair.

"Pyotr!"

We pumped each other's hands, then, on second thoughts, embraced.

He was very much like his photograph, which Sanya had shown me, except that on the photograph his hair was smoothed down. Was I glad! I did not feel the slightest embarrassment-it was like meeting my own brother.

"Pyotr! This is a surprise! Gee, I'm glad to see you!"

He laughed.

"I thought you were living in Turkestan. Didn't you make it?"

"What about you?"

"I did," said Pyotr. "But I didn't like it. Much too hot out there, you feel thirsty all the time. I was run in, got fed up and came back. You'd have kicked the bucket there."

We put on our coats and started down the stairs, talking away all the time. And here a very strange encounter took place.

On the landing outside the geography room stood a woman in a coat with a squirrel collar. She was standing by the banisters looking down the well of the staircase-for a moment I thought she was going to throw herself down the well, because she swayed by the banisters with her eyes closed. We must have frightened her, and she moved uncertainly towards the door. It was Maria Vasilievna. I recognised her at once, though she was in an unfamiliar guise. Perhaps, if I had been alone, she would have spoken to me. But I was with Pyotr, so she just nodded to me in response to my awkward bow and turned away.

She had grown thinner since I last saw her and her face was mask-like and sombre. With this thought in my mind I went out into the street, and Pyotr and I went for a walk together-just the two of us again, again in winter, again in Moscow, after a long separation.

"Remember?" we kept saying, as we dug up old memories, walking very quickly for some reason. It was snowing and there were lots of children on the boulevards. One young nursemaid looked at us and laughed.

"Hey, what are we running like this for?" said Pyotr, and we slowed down.

"Pyotr, I've got a proposal," I said, when, having walked our fill, we were sitting in a cafe in Tverskaya.

"Go ahead!"

"I'm going to make a phone-call, and you sit here, drink your coffee and say nothing."

The telephone was some distance from our table, right near the entrance, and I deliberately spoke loudly.

"Katya, I'd like you to meet a friend. Can you come along? What are you doing? By the way, I want to speak with you."

"So do I. I'd come, but everybody's ill here." She sounded sad and I felt a sudden urgent desire to see her.

"What do you mean, everybody? I've just seen Maria Vasilievna."

"Where?"

"She was calling on Korablev."

"Ah," Katya said in a rather odd voice. "No, Grandma's ill. Sanya, I gave Mother those letters," she added in a whisper, and I involuntarily pressed the receiver closer to my ear. "I told her that we had met in Ensk and then I gave it to her."

"And how did she take it?" I asked, also in a whisper.

"Very badly. I'll tell you later. Very badly."

She fell silent and I could hear her breathing through the telephone. We said goodbye and I returned to the table with a sense of guilt. I felt dejected and uneasy, and Pyotr seemed to guess my state of mind.

"I say," he began, deliberately going off on a new tack, "did you discuss this flying school plan of yours with Father?"

"Yes."

"What does he say?"

"He approves."

Pyotr sat with his long legs stretched out, thoughtfully fingering the places where a beard and moustache would be growing in the course of time.

"I must talk things over with him too," he murmured. "You see, last year I wanted to enter the Academy of Arts."

"Well?"

"But this year I've changed my mind."

"Why?"

"I may not have the talent for it."

I started laughing. But he looked serious and worried.

"Well, if you'd like to know, I think it strange, your wanting to go in for art. I always thought of you as becoming an explorer, say, or a sea captain."

"That's more interesting, of course," Pyotr said irresolutely. "But I like painting."

"Have you shown your work to anybody?"

"Yes, to X-."

He gave the name of a well-known painter.

"Well?"

"He says it's not bad."

"That settles it, then! It would be cockeyed if you, with your talent, were to go to some flying school or other! You may be ruining a future Repin in you."

"Oh, I don't know."

"I'm not so sure."

"You're kidding," Pyotr said with annoyance. "This is a serious matter."

We left the cafe, and wandered about Tverskaya for half an hour, talking about everything under the sun, switching from our Ensk to Shanghai, which had just been captured by the People's Army, from Shanghai to Moscow, to my school, from my school to Pyotr's, trying to impress upon each other that we were not living in this world just any old how, but with a philosophical purpose…

Chapter Nineteen

IT COULD ALL HAVE BEEN DIFFERENT

Gone were those remote times when, coming in after ten o'clock, we had, with fast-beating heart, to sidle round the fearsome Japhet, who, clad in his huge sheepskin coat, sat on a stool at the entrance and slept-if you were lucky to find him asleep. But now I was in my last year and could come in whenever I liked.

It wasn't very late, though-round about twelve. The boys were still chatting. Valya was writing something, sitting on his bed with his legs tucked under him.

"I say, Sanya, Korablev wants to see you," he said. "That's if you came in before twelve. What's the time now?"

"Half past eleven."

"Hurry up!"

I slipped into my overcoat and ran off to see Korablev.

Ours was a most extraordinary conversation, one that I shall never forget as long as I live, and I must describe it with perfect calm. I must keep calm, especially now, when so many years have passed. It could all have been different, of course. It could all have been different if I had but realised what every word of mine meant for her, if I had been able to foresee what would happen after our conversation. But there is no end of these "ifs" and there is nothing I can blame myself for. Here, then, is the conversation that took place.

When I came in I found Maria Vasilievna with Korablev. She had been sitting there all the evening. But she had come to see, not him, but me, and she said as much in her very first words.

She sat erect with a blank face, patting her hair from time to time with a slim hand. Wine and biscuits stood on the table, and Korablev kept refilling his glass while she only took one sip at hers. She kept smoking all the time and there was ash all over the place, even on her knees. She was wearing the familiar string of coral beads and gave little tugs at it several times as though it were strangling her. That's all.

"The navigating officer writes that he cannot risk sending this letter through the post," she said. "Yet both letters were in the same post-bag. How do you account for that?"

I said that I did not know. One would have to ask the officer about that, if he were still alive. She shook her head. "If he were alive!"

"Perhaps his relatives would know? And then, Maria Vasilievna," I said in a sudden flash of inspiration, "the navigating officer was picked up by Lieutenant Sedov's expedition. They would know. He told them everything, I'm sure of it." "Yes, maybe," she answered.

"And then there's that packet for the Hydrographical Board. If the navigating officer sent the letter through the post he probably sent that packet by the same mail. We must find that out." Maria Vasilievna again said: "Yes."

I paused. I had been speaking alone, and Korablev had not yet uttered a word.

"What were you doing in Ensk?" she asked me suddenly. "Have you relatives there?"

I said yes, I had. A sister.

"I love Ensk," she remarked, addressing herself to Korablev. "It's wonderful there. Such gardens! I've never been in any gardens since."

And suddenly she started talking about Ensk. She said she had three aunts living there who did not believe in God and were very proud of it, and one of them had graduated in philosophy at Heidelberg. I had never known her to talk so much. She sat there pale and beautiful, with shining eyes, smoking and smoking.

"Katya told me you remembered some more passages from this letter," she suddenly switched back from the subject of her aunts and hometown. "But I couldn't get her to tell me what it was." "Yes, I do remember them."

I was expecting her to ask me what they were, but she said nothing. It was as if she were afraid to hear them from me.

"Well, Sanya?" Korablev said in a brisk tone of voice that was obviously feigned.

"It ended like this," I said. " 'Greetings from you…' Is that right?"

Maria Vasilievna nodded.

"And it went on: '…from your Mongotimo Hawk's Claw…' "

"Mongotimo?" Korablev queried, astonished.

"Yes, Mongotimo," I repeated firmly.

"Montigomo Hawk's Claw," said Maria Vasilievna, and for the first time her voice shook slightly. "I used to call him that."

"Montigomo, if you say so," I said. "I remember it as Mongotimo… 'as you once called me. God, how long ago that was. I am not complaining, though. We shall see each other again and all will be well. But one thought, one thought torments me.' 'One thought' comes twice, it's not me repeating it, that's how it was in the letter."

Maria Vasilievna nodded again.

" 'It's galling to think,' " I went on, " 'that everything could have turned out differently. Misfortunes dogged us, but our main misfortune was the mistake for which we are now having to pay every hour, every minute of the day-the mistake I made in entrusting the fitting out of our expedition to Nikolai.' "

I may have overstressed the last word, because Maria Vasilievna, who had been very pale already, went still paler. She sat before us, now white as death, smoking and smoking. Then she said something that sounded very queer and made me think for the first time that she might be a bit mad. But I did not attach any importance to it, as I thought that Korablev, too, was a bit mad that evening. He, of all people, should have realised what was happening to her! But he had lost his head completely. I daresay he was picturing Maria Vasilievna marrying him the very next day.

"Nikolai Antonich fell ill after that meeting," she said to Korablev. "I wanted to call the doctor, but he wouldn't let me. I haven't spoken to him about these letters. He's upset as it is. I don't think I ought to just now-what do you say?"

She was crushed, confounded, but I still understood nothing.

"If that's the case I'll do it myself!" I retorted. "I'll send him a copy. Let him read it."

"Sanya!" Korablev cried, coming to himself.

"Excuse me, Ivan Pavlovich, but I'll have my say. I feel very strongly about this. It's a fact that the expedition ended in disaster through his fault. That's a historical fact. He is charged with a terrible crime. And I consider, if it comes to that, that Maria Vasilievna, as Captain Tatarinov's wife, ought to bring this accusation against him herself."

She wasn't Captain Tatarinov's wife, she was his widow. She was now the wife of Nikolai Antonich, and so would have to bring this accusation against her own husband. But I hadn't tumbled to this either.

"Sanya!" Korablev shouted again.

But I had already stopped. I had nothing more to say. Our conversation continued, though there was nothing more to talk about. I only said that the land mentioned in the letter was Severnaya Zemlya and that, consequently, Severnaya Zemlya had been discovered by Captain Tatarinov. All those geographical terms, "longitude", "latitude", sounded strange in that room at that hour. Korablev paced furiously up and down the room. Maria Vasilievna smoked incessantly, and the stubs, pink from her lipstick, formed a small mound in the ashtray before her. She was motionless and calm, and only tugged feebly now and again at her coral necklace. How far away from her was that Severnaya Zemlya, lying between some meridians or other!

That was all. Taking leave of her, I began muttering something again, but Korablev advanced upon me with a stern frown and I found myself bundled out of the room.

Chapter Twenty

MARIA VASILIEVNA

What surprised me more than anything was that Maria Vasilievna had not said a word about Katya. Katya and I had spent nine days together in Ensk, yet Maria Vasilievna never mentioned it.

This silence was suspicious, and it was on my mind that night until I fell asleep, and then again in the morning during Physics, Social Science and Literature. I thought about it after school, too, when I wandered aimlessly about the streets. I remember stopping in front of a billboard and mechanically reading the titles of the plays, when a girl suddenly came round the corner and crossed the street at a run. She was without a hat and wore nothing but a light dress with short sleeves-in such a frost! Perhaps that was why I did not immediately recognise her.

"Katya!"

She looked round but did not stop, and merely waved her hand. I overtook her.

"Why haven't you got your coat on, Katya? What's the matter?"

She wanted to say something, but her teeth were cluttering and she had to clench them and fight for self-control before being able to say:

"I'm going for a doctor. Mother's very ill."

"What is it?"

"I don't know. I think she's poisoned herself."

There are moments when life suddenly changes gear, and everything seems to gain momentum, speeding and changing faster than you can realise.

From the moment I heard the words: "I think she's poisoned herself, everything changed into high gear, and the words kept ringing in my head with frightful insistence.

We ran to one doctor in Pimenovsky Street, then to another doctor who lived over the former Hanzhonkov's cimena and burst into a quiet, tidy flat with dust-sheets over the furniture and were met by a surly old woman wearing what looked like another dark-blue dust-sheet.

She heard us out with a deprecating shake of the head and left the room. On her way out she took something off the table in case we might pinch it.

A few minutes later the doctor came in. He was a tubby pink-faced man with a close-cropped grey head and a cigar in his mouth.

"Well, young people?"

We told him what it was all about, gave him the address and ran out. In the street, without further ado, I made Katya put on my coat. Her hair had come undone and she pinned it up as we ran along. But one of her plaits came loose again and she angrily pushed it under the coat.

An ambulance was standing at the door and we stopped dead in our tracks at the sight. The ambulance men were coming down the stairs with a stretcher on which lay Maria Vasilievna.

Her uncovered face was as white as it had been at Korablev's the night before, only now it looked as if carved in ivory.

I drew back against the banisters to let the stretcher pass, and Katya, with a piteous murmur "Mummy!", walked alongside it. But Maria Vasilievna did not open her eyes, and did not stir. I realised that she was going to die.

Sick at heart I stood in the yard watching them push the stretcher into the ambulance. I saw the old lady tuck the blanket round Maria Vasilievna's feet with trembling hands, saw the steam coming from everyone's mouth, the ambulance man's, too, as he produced a book that had to be signed, and from Nikolai Antonich's as he peered painfully from under his glasses and signed it.

"Not here," the man said roughly with a gesture of annoyance, and put the book away into the big pocket of his white overall.

Katya ran home and returned in her own coat, leaving mine in the kitchen. She got into the ambulance. The doors closed on Maria Vasilievna, who lay there white and ghastly, and the ambulance, starting off with a jerk like an ordinary lorry, sped on its way to the casualty ward.

Nikolai Antonich and the old lady were left alone in the courtyard. For a time they stood there in silence. Then he turned and went inside, moving his feet mechanically as though he were afraid of falling. I had never seen him like that before.

The old lady asked me to meet the doctor and tell him he was not needed. I ran off and met him in Triumfalnaya Square, at a tobacconist kiosk. The doctor was buying a box of matches.

"Dead?" he asked.

I told him that she was not and that the ambulance had taken her to hospital and I could pay him if he wanted.

"No need, no need," the doctor said gruffly.

I went back to find the old lady sitting in the kitchen, weeping. Nikolai Antonich was no longer there-he had gone off to the hospital.

"Nina Kapitonovna," I said, "is there anything I can do for you?" She blew her nose and wept and blew her nose again. This went on for a long time while I stood and waited. At last she asked me to help her on with her coat and we took a tram to the hospital.

Chapter Twenty One

ONE IN THE DEAD OF NIGHT

That night, with the sense of speed still whistling as it were in my ears as I hurtled on, though I was lying in my bed in the dark, it dawned on me that Maria Vasilievna's decision to do away with herself had been made when sitting in Korablev's room the night before. That's why she had been so calm and had smoked such a lot and said such queer things. Her mind was on some mysterious track of its own, of which we knew nothing. Everything she said was tinctured by the decision she had come to. It was not me she had been asking questions, but herself, and she answered them herself.

Perhaps she had thought that I was mistaken and that it was somebody else the letter referred to. Perhaps she had been hoping that the passages which I had remembered and which Katya had deliberately kept from her, would not have the terrible import she feared. Perhaps she had been hoping that Nikolai Antonich, who had done so much for her late husband-so much that that alone was reason enough for marrying him-would turn out to be not so guilty and base as she feared.

And I? Look what I had done!

I went hot and cold all over. I flung back the blanket and took deep breaths to steady myself and think matters out calmly. I went over that conversation again. How clear it was to me now! It was as if each word was turning slowly round before me and I could now see its other, hidden side.

"I love Ensk. It's wonderful there. Such gardens!" It had been pleasant to her to recall her youth at that moment. She was taking farewell, as it were, of her hometown-now that she had made her decision.

"Montigomo Hawk's Claw – I used to call him that." Her voice had shaken, because nobody else knew she had called him that, and so it was undeniable proof that I had remembered the words right.

"I haven't spoken to him about these letters. He's upset as it is. I don't think I ought to just now-what do you say?" And these words, too, which had seemed so odd to me yesterday-how clear they were now! He was her husband, perhaps the closest person in the world to her. And she simply did not want to upset him, knowing that she had troubles enough in store for him.

I had forgotten all about my deep breathing and was sitting up in bed, thinking and thinking. She had wanted to say goodbye to Korablev as well-that was it! He loved her, too, maybe more than anybody else did. She had wanted to take leave of the life which they might have made a go of. I had always had a feeling that it was Korablev she cared for.

I should have been asleep long ago, seeing that I had a very serious term-test facing me the next day, and that it was anything but pleasant to brood over the happenings of that unhappy day.

I must have fallen asleep, but only for a minute. Suddenly a voice close at my side said quietly: "She's dead." I opened my eyes, but nobody was there, of course. I must have said it myself.

And so, against my will, I found myself recalling how Nina Kapitonovna and I had gone to the hospital together. I tried to go to sleep, but I couldn't drive the memories away.

We had sat on a big white seat next to some doors, and it was some time before I realised that the stretcher with Maria Vasilievna on it was in the next room so close to us.

And then an elderly nurse had come out and said: "You have come to see Tatarinova? You may go in." And she herself hastily put a white gown on the old lady and tied the strings.

A chill struck my heart, I understood at once that she must be in a bad way if you were allowed in without a special permission. My heart went cold again when the elderly nurse went up to another nurse, somewhat younger, who was registering patients, and in answer to a question of hers, said: "Goodness, no! Not a chance."

Then began a long wait. I gazed at the white door and imagined them all-Nikolai Antonich, the old lady and Katya-standing around the stretcher on which Maria Vasilievna lay. Then somebody came out, leaving the door ajar for a moment, and I saw that it was not like that at all. There was no longer any stretcher there, and something white with a dark head lay on a low couch with somebody in white kneeling in front of it. I also saw a bare arm hanging down from the couch, and then the door shut. After that came a thin hoarse scream, and the nurse who was registering patients stopped for a minute, then resumed her writing and explaining. I don't know why, but I realised at once that the scream was Nikolai Antonich's. In such a thin little voice! Like a child's.

The elderly nurse came out and, with a business-like air that was obviously affected, began talking to some young man who stood kneading his hat in his hands. She glanced at me-because I had come with Nina Kapitonovna-then looked away at once. And I realised that Maria Vasilievna was dead.

Afterwards I heard the nurse saying to someone: "Such a pity, a beautiful woman." It all seemed to be happening in a dream, and I'm not sure whether it was she who said it or somebody else, as Katya and the old lady came out of the room in which she had died.

Chapter Twenty-Two

IT ISN'T HIM

Those were miserable days and I don't feel like dwelling on them, though I remember every conversation, every encounter, almost every thought. They were days which cast a large shadow, as it were, on my life.

Soon after Maria Vasilievna's funeral I sat down to work. It seemed to me that there was something like a sense of self-preservation in the fierce persistence with which I applied myself to my studies, thrusting all thoughts behind me. It was not easy, especially bearing in mind that when I went up to Katya at the funeral she turned away from me.

It happened like this. Unexpectedly, very many people came to the funeral-colleagues of Maria Vasilievna's and even students who had been at the Medical Institute with her. She had always seemed a lonely person, but apparently many people knew her and liked her. Among these strangers, all talking in whispers and gazing at the gateway, waiting for the coffin to be carried out, stood Korablev, hollow-eyed, his big moustache looking enormous on his haggard face.

Nikolai Antonich stood slightly apart with lowered head, and Nina Kapitonovna held his arm. It looked as if she was supporting him, though he stood quite straight. The Bubenchikov old ladies were there, too, looking like nuns in their old-fashioned black dresses.

Katya was standing next to them staring steadily at the gate. Her cheeks were rosy in spite of her grief, which was evident even in the impatient gesture with which she adjusted her hat when it kept slipping down on her forehead-probably she had not pinned her hair up properly.

Half an hour passed, but the coffin had not been carried out yet. And then suddenly I decided to go up to her.

It may not have been the right thing for me to do at such a moment as this-I don't know. But I wanted to say something to her, if only a single word.

"Katya!"

She had looked at me and turned away.

I sat over my books for days on end. This was my last semester at school, and I was determined to get "highly satisfactory" marks on all subjects. This was no simple task, especially when it came to Literature.

Came the day when even Likho, with an air of pained reluctance, gave me his "highly satisfactory". My passing-out essay did not worry me-I just dashed it off in accordance with the requirements of this loaf-head, knowing that he would give me a high mark if only through gratified pride.

I came out top of the class, with only Valya ahead of me. But then he had brilliant capabilities and was much cleverer than me.

But the shadow crept on. It was with an effort that Korablev brought himself to look at me whenever we met. Nikolai Antonich did not come to the school, and though no one mentioned our clash at the Teachers' Council, they all regarded me with a sort of reproach, as if that fainting fit of his at the council meeting and Maria Vasilievna's death vindicated him completely.

Everyone avoided me and I was lonelier than ever. But I little knew what blow awaited me.

One day, about a fortnight after Maria Vasilievna's death, I went in to see Korablev. I wanted to ask him to go with us to the Geology Museum (I was then a Young Pioneer leader and my group had asked to be taken to the museum).

But he came out to me in a very agitated state and told me to call later.

"When, Ivan Pavlovich?"

"I don't know. Later."

In the hall hung a coat and hat and on a side table lay the brown woollen scarf which I had seen the old lady was knitting. Korablev had Nikolai Antonich in his room. I went away.

What was Nikolai Antonich doing there? He hadn't been in Korablev’s place for at least four years. What was Korablev so upset about?

When I went back, Nikolai Antonich was no longer there. I remember everything as if it were yesterday: the stove was burning, and Korablev, wearing the thick shaggy jacket he always put on when he was a little tipsy or out of sorts, was sitting in front of the stove, gazing into the fire. He looked up when I came in, and said: "What have you done, Sanya! My God, what have you done!"

"Ivan Pavlovich!"

"My God, what have you done!" he repeated in a tone of despair. "It isn't him, it isn't him at all! He has proved it undeniably, incontestably."

"I don't understand, Ivan Pavlovich. What are you talking about?"

Korablev got up, then sat down and got up again.

"Nikolai Antonich has been to see me. He has proved me that the Captain's letter does not refer to him at all. It's some other Nikolai, some merchant by the name of von Vyshimirsky."

I was astounded.

"But Ivan Pavlovich, it's a lie. He's lying!"

"No, it's true," said Korablev. "It was a vast undertaking of which we know nothing. There were lots of people involved, merchants, ship chandlers and what not, and the Captain knew all about it from the very beginning. He knew that the expedition had been fitted out very badly, and he wrote to Nikolai Antonich about it. I saw his letters with my own eyes."

I could hardly believe my ears. I had always thought that the letter I had found at Ensk was the only one in existence, and this news about other letters from the Captain simply bowled me over.

"Lots of things went wrong with them," Korablev continued. "Some ship owner took the crew off just when they were putting out to sea, they managed, with great difficulty, to get a wireless telegraph installation, but had to leave it behind because they couldn't get an operator, and other troubles-so why should Nikolai Antonich be blamed for all this? It's as clear as anything, my God. And I-I guessed as much… But I-"

He broke off and suddenly I saw that he was crying. "Ivan Pavlovich," I said looking away. "It turns out then, that it's not his fault, but the fault of that 'von' somebody or other. In that case why did Nikolai Antonich always claim that he had been in charge of the whole business? Ask him how many beef tea cubes the expedition took with them, how much macaroni, biscuits and coffee. Why did he never mention this 'von' before?"

Korablev wiped his eyes and moustache with his handkerchief. He got some vodka from the cupboard, poured out half a tumbler and immediately poured a little back with a shaking hand. He drank the vodka and sat down again.

"Oh, what does it matter now?" he said with a wave of his hand. "But how blind I was, how terribly blind!" he exclaimed again in a tone of despair. "I should have persuaded her that it was impossible, incredible, that even if it was Nikolai Antonich-all the same you couldn't throw the blame for the failure of such a vast venture on a single man. I could have said that your insistence was due to your hatred of the man."

I listened to Korablev in silence. I had always liked him and had a great respect for him, and it was all the more unpleasant to me to see him in this abject state. He kept blowing his nose, and his hair and moustache were dishevelled.

"Whether I hate him or not," I said -quietly, "has nothing to do with it. I don't know what you meant by it, anyway. Do you mean that I stuck to my version for base personal motives?" Korablev was silent. "Ivan Pavlovich!" He was still silent.

"Ivan Pavlovich!" I shouted. "You think I got mixed up in this on purpose so's to have my revenge on Nikolai Antonich? Is that why you said that even if it was him and not some 'von' or other-all the same you couldn't throw the blame for the failure of such a vast enterprise on a single man? You believe it's all my fault? Why don't you answer? Do you?"

Korablev was silent. Everything went dark before my eyes and my heart pounded in my ears.

"Ivan Pavlovich," I said in a quivering but determined voice. "It remains for me now to prove that I am right, even if I have to die in the attempt. But I will prove it. I'll go and see Nikolai Antonich this very day and ask him to show me those documents and letters. He has convinced you, now let him convince me."

"Do whatever you like," Korablev said drearily.

I went away. He hadn't stirred and remained seated by the stove, weary and sunk in despair. We were both in despair, only with me this feeling was mixed with a sort of cool fury, whereas he was utterly desolated, old and alone in a cold, empty flat.

Chapter Twenty-Three

SLANDER

It was all very well to say I'd go and see him and ask him to show me those letters. I felt sick at the mere thought. I doubted whether he would even speak to me. As likely as not he'd throw me down the stairs without further ado. I couldn't very well fight him. After all, he was a sick old man.

I would have abandoned the idea but for a single thought that never left me – Katya.

I felt my head beginning to ache at the mere thought of how she had turned away from me at the funeral. Now I knew why she had done that: Nikolai Antonich had convinced her that it was all my fault.

I could imagine him talking to her and my heart sank. "That friend of yours has such an excellent memory. Why did he never mention those letters before his trip to Ensk?"

Why indeed? How could I have forgotten them? I, who had been so fascinated by them as a child? I, who had recited them by heart on the trains between Ensk and Moscow? To forget letters which had dropped upon our little town like a message from some distant stars?

I had only one explanation-judge for yourselves whether it is correct or not.

When Katya told me the story of her father, when I examined those old photographs of him in his regulation jacket with epaulettes and service cap, when I read his books, it had always seemed to me that all this belonged to a very distant past, at any rate years before I left Ensk. The letters, on the other hand, belonged to my childhood, that is, to quite a different time. It never occurred to me that these two entirely different periods followed close upon each other. This was not an error of memory, but quite a different kind of error.

I thought about that "von" a thousand times if I thought about him once. It was about him, then, that Captain Tatarinov had written:

"The whole expedition sends him our curses." It was about him, then, that he wrote: "We owe all our misfortunes to him alone." And Korablev had said that you couldn't throw the blame for the failure of such an enterprise on a single man. The Captain had thought otherwise.

So it was about him that he wrote: "That's the price we had to pay for that good office." But why should some "von" or other render Captain Tatarinov this good office? A good office could have been rendered by his rich cousin-no wonder he had always had so much to say about it.

In short, I had no plan of action whatever when, dressed in my Sunday best, I called on the Tatarinovs that evening and told the girl-a stranger to me-who answered the bell that I wanted to see Nikolai Antonich.

Through the open door I could see them drinking tea in the dining-room. Nina Kapitonovna was saying something in a low voice and I saw her sitting by the samovar in her striped shawl.

I don't know what Nikolai Antonich thought when he saw me, but when he appeared in the doorway he started and slightly recoiled. "What do you want?" "I wanted to talk to you." There was a brief pause, then he said: "Come in." I was about to go into his study, but he said: "No, this way." Afterwards I realised this had been a deliberate ruse on his part-to get me into the dining-room so as to deal with me in front of everybody.

They were all somewhat startled to see me following at his heels. The old Bubenchikov ladies, who were the last people I expected to see there, jumped up all together. Katya came into the dining-room through another door and stood stockstill in the doorway. I murmured: "Maybe it's inconvenient here." "No, it's quite convenient."

I should have said "good evening" the moment I came in, but now it was too late to say it. Nevertheless, I bowed. Nina Kapitonovna was the only one who responded-with a slight nod. "Well?"

"You told Ivan Pavlovich that Captain Tatarinov wrote you about a von Vyshimirsky. I want to know this because it makes me look as if I purposely tried to convince Maria Vasilievna of your guilt because I had a grudge against you. At least, that's what Korablev thinks. And others too. In short, I ask you to show me these letters which go to prove that some von Vyshimirsky or other is responsible for the loss of the expedition and that the death of-" (I swallowed the word) "and that all the rest is my fault."

It was rather a long speech, but as I had prepared it beforehand I rattled it off without a hitch. I only stumbled when I mentioned the death of Maria Vasilievna and again at the words "and others too", because I was thinking of Katya. She was still standing in the doorway, tensed, holding her breath.

Only now, during this speech, did I notice how old Nikolai Antonich had grown. With that hooked nose of his and the sagging jowls he was like an old bird, and even his gold tooth, which used to light up his whole face, had lost its brightness.

He breathed heavily as he listened to me. He seemed to be at a loss for a reply. Just then one of the Bubenchikov ladies asked in surprise: "Who is this?"

He drew his breath and began to speak.

"Who is this?" he queried with a hiss. "It's that foul slanderer I've been telling you about day in day out."

"Nikolai Antonich, if you're going to call names-"

"It's the person who killed her," Nikolai Antonich went on. His face quivered and he began to crack his knuckles. "That is the person who slandered me with the most frightful slander the imagination is capable of. But I'm not dead yet!"

Nobody thought he was, and I was about to tell him as much, when he started shouting again:

"I'm not dead yet!"

Nina Kapitonovna took hold of his arm. He wrenched it free.

"I could have had the law on him and have him condemned for everything… for all that he has done to poison my life. But there are other laws and other bars, and by these laws he will yet be made to feel one day what he has done. He killed her," said Nikolai Antonich, and the tears fairly gushed from his eyes. "She died because of him. Let him go on living if he can…"

Nina Kapitonovna pushed her chair back and took hold of his arm as though she were afraid he was going to fall. He stared at her dully. For a moment I doubted whether I was in the right. But only for a moment.

"Because of whom? My God, because of whom?" Nikolai Antonich went on. "Because of this guttersnipe, who is so devoid of feeling that he dares to come again to the house in which she died. Because of this guttersnipe of impure blood!"

I don't know what he meant by this and why his blood should be any purer than mine. No matter! I listened to him in silence. Katya stood by the wall, rigid and very straight.

"-who has dared to enter the house from which I kicked him out like the snake he is. What a fate mine has been, 0 God! I gave my whole life to her, I did everything a man could do for the woman he loves, and she dies on account of this vile, contemptible snake, who tells her that I am not I, that I had always deceived her, that I had killed her husband, my own cousin."

I was astonished to hear him speak with such passion and utter abandon. I felt that I had gone very pale. No matter! I knew how to answer him.

"Nikolai Antonich," I said, trying to keep cool and noticing that my tongue was obeying me none too well. "I won't reply to your epithets, because I understand the state you are in. You did turn me out, but I came back and will continue to come back until I have proved that I am absolutely innocent of the death of Maria Vasilievna. And if anyone is guilty, it's not me, but someone else. The fact is that you have certain letters of the late Captain Tatarinov which you have used to persuade Korablev and evidently everybody else that I have slandered you. Will you please show me those letters so that all can be persuaded that I am the vile snake you have just said I am."

The uproar that followed these words was terrific. The Bubenchikovs, still understanding nothing, started shouting again: "Who is this?" As nobody explained to them who I was they went on shouting louder still. Nina Kapitonovna was shouting at me too, demanding that I should go away. But Katya did not utter a word. She stood by the wall and looked from Nikolai Antonich to me and back again.

Abruptly, all fell silent. Nikolai Antonich pushed the old lady aside and went into his room from which he returned a moment later with a batch of letters in his hands. Not just one or two letters, but a batch, some forty or so. I don't think they were all Captain Tatarinov's letters, more probably they were miscellaneous letters from different people in connection with the expedition or something of that sort. He flung the letters at me, spat in my face and dropped into a chair. The old ladies rushed over to him.

Very likely, if he had spat in my face and hit the target, I would have knocked him down or even killed him. Nobody had ever spat in my face, and I would have killed the man who did, rules or no rules. But he missed. And the letters fell short too.

Naturally, I did not pick them up, though there was a moment when I very nearly picked one of them up-one which bore a big wax seal and the words St. Maria on it. But I did not pick them up. I was in this house for the last time. Katya stood between us, by the armchair in which he lay with clenched teeth, clutching at his heart. I looked at her, looked her straight in the face, which I was seeing for the last time.

"Ah, well," I said. "I'm not going to read these letters which you have thrown into my face. I'll do another thing. I'll find the expedition-1 don't believe it can have disappeared without a trace-and then we'll see who's right."

I wanted to take my leave of Katya and tell her that I would never forget the way she turned her back on me at the funeral, but Nikolai Antonich suddenly got up from the armchair and a hubbub arose again. The Bubenchikov aunts fell upon me and something struck me painfully on the back. I waved my hand with a hopeless gesture and went away.

Chapter Twenty-Four

OUR LAST MEETING

I was more lonely than ever, and buried myself in my books, with a sort of cold fury. I seemed to have lost even the faculty of thinking. And a good thing too. It was better that way.

Suddenly it struck me that they might not accept me in the flying school on account of my health, so I took up gymnastics seriously-high jumps, swallow dives, back-bends, bar exercises and whatnot. Every morning I felt my muscles and examined my teeth. What worried me most, though, was my short stature-all my recent troubles seemed to have made me shorter still.

At the end of March, however, I got together all the necessary documents and sent them to the Board of Osoaviakhim (*A voluntary society for the promotion of aviation and chemical defence.- Tr.) with an application asking to be sent to the School of Aeronautics in Leningrad. There is no need to explain why I wanted to leave Moscow.

Pyotr was going to Leningrad too. He had finally made up his mind to enter the Academy of Arts. Sanya, too, for the same reason.

During the spring holidays Pyotr and I went to Ensk, travelling again without tickets by the way, because we were saving our money for when we left school.

But this was quite a different trip and I myself had become quite a different person these last six months. Aunt Dasha was aghast when she saw me, and the judge declared that people looking as I did should answer for it before the law and that he would "take every step to discover the reasons for the defendant's lowered morale".

Pyotr was the only person to whom I had given an account – and a brief one at that-of my talk with Korablev and my interview with Nikolai Antonich. Pyotr came out with a surprising suggestion. After listening to my story he said: "I say, what if you do find it?"

"Find what?"

"The expedition."

"What if I do?" I said to myself.

A shiver of excitement ran through me at the thought. And again, as in distant childhood, dissolving views appeared before me: white tents in the snow; panting dogs hauling sledges; a huge man, a giant in fur boots, coming towards the sledges, and I, too, in fur boots and a huge fur cap, standing in the opening of a tent, pipe between my teeth…

There was little hope of such a meeting, however. Deep down in my heart I felt that I was right. But sometimes a chilling sense of doubt would creep into it, especially when I thought of that accursed "von". Shortly before my departure for Ensk, Korablev had told me that Nikolai Antonich had shown him the original power of attorney issued by Captain Tatarinov authorising Nikolai Ivanich von Vyshimirsky to conduct all the business of the expedition. "You were wrong," he had said with succinct cruelty.

I felt lonesome at Ensk, and thought that when I got back to Moscow and took up my books I would have no time to feel lone some. But I did find time. Bitter and silent, I wandered round the school.

Then one day, on coming home, I found a sealed note addressed to "A. Grigoriev, Form 9" lying on the table in the hall where the postman left all our mail.

I opened it and read:

"Sanya, I'd like to have a talk with you. If you're free, come to the public garden in Triumfalnaya Square today at half past seven."

It makes me laugh to think what a change came over everything the moment I read this note. Meeting Likho on the stairs, I said "good afternoon" to him, and at dinner I gave Valya my favourite dish of sweet cream of wheat with raisins.

Then came six o'clock. Then half-past six. Seven. Seven o'clock found me at Triumfalnaya Square. A quarter past. Half past. It was getting dark, but the street lamps had not been lighted yet, and all kinds of ridiculous thoughts came into my mind: "The lamps won't go on and I won't recognise her… The lamps will go on, but she won't come… The lamps won't go on and she won't recognise me…"

The lamps did go on, and that familiar public garden, where Pyotr and I once tried to sell cigarettes, where I had swotted a thousand times at my lessons on spring days, that noisy garden, in which one can swot only when one is seventeen, that old garden which was the meeting place for our whole school, and two others besides- that garden became transformed, like a theatre. In a moment we would meet. Ah, there she was!

We shook hands in silence. It was quite warm, being April 2nd, but all of a sudden it started snowing-as if on purpose to make me remember this day all my life.

"I'm glad you've come, Katya. I've been wanting to speak to you too. I couldn't explain that time, at your place, because Nikolai Antonich didn't give me a chance, the way he started shouting. Of course, if you believe him-"

I was afraid to finish the sentence, because if she did believe him I'd have to leave this garden, where we were sitting pale and grave and talking without looking at each other-leave this garden, which seemed to contain nobody else but us two, though someone was sitting on each garden seat and the dour-faced little keeper was limping up and down the paths.

"Don't let's talk about that any more."

"I can't help talking about it, Katya. If you believe him we have nothing to talk about anyway."

She looked at me, sad and quite grown-up-much older and wiser than I.

"He says it's all my fault," she said.

"Yours?"

"He says that once I believe this unnatural idea that it was he who was meant in Daddy's letter, then I was to blame for everything."

I recollected Korablev once saying to Maria Vasilievna: "Believe me, he's a terrible man." And the Captain had written about him:

"One thing I beg of you: do not trust that man." I leapt to my feet in despair and horror.

"Now he'll be saying it's your fault for fifteen years and you'll believe him, just as Maria Vasilievna did. Don't you realise if you're to blame he gets complete power over you, and you'll do everything he wants."

"I'll go away."

"Where?"

"I don't know yet. I've decided to take up geological survey. I'll graduate and go away."

"You won't go anywhere. You might be able to do it now, but in four years' time… I bet you won't go anywhere. He'll talk your head off, make you believe anything. Didn't Maria Vasilievna believe that he was kind and noble, and, what is more, that she was indebted to him for everything he had done? Why the hell doesn't he leave you alone! Didn't he say that it was all my fault?"

"He says you're just a murderer."

"I see."

"And that he could easily have you tried and shot."

"All right, everybody's to blame except him. And I tell you he's a scoundrel, and it's terrifying even to think that there are people like that in the world."

"Don't let's talk about it any more."

"All right. But tell me this: what do you believe out of all this nonsense?"

For a long time Katya said nothing. I sat down again beside her. My heart in my mouth, I took her hand and she did not move away, did not withdraw it.

"I don't believe you said it on purpose. You really did think it was him."

"I still think so."

"But you shouldn't have tried to persuade me of it, still less Mother."

"But it was him-"

Katya drew back and disengaged her hand.

"Let's not talk about it any more."

"All right, we shan't. Some day I'll prove to you it was him, even if I have to spend my whole life doing it."

"It isn't him. If you don't want me to go away don't let's talk about it any more."

"All right, we shan't."

And we let the matter drop. She asked me about the spring holidays, how I had spent my time at Ensk, how Sanya and the old folks were getting on. And I gave her regards from them. But I didn't say about how lonesome I had been at Ensk without her, especially when I wandered alone round the places where we had been together. I did not know now whether or not she loved me, and it was impossible to ask, though I was dying to all the time. The very word couldn't be uttered, now that we were sitting and talking, so grave and pale, with Katya looking so like her mother. I recalled our journey back to Moscow from Ensk, when we had written on the frosted window-pane with our fingers, and suddenly through the window, a dark field covered with snow had come into view. Everything had changed since then. And we could no longer be to each other what we were before. I was dying to know, though, whether she still loved me or not.

"Katya," I said suddenly. "Don't you love me any more?"

She gave me a startled look, then blushing, put her arms round my neck. We kissed with closed eyes-at least, mine were closed and I think hers were too, because afterwards we opened our eyes together. We kissed in the public garden in Triumfalnaya Square, in the garden where three schools could have seen us. But it was a bitter kiss, a kiss of farewell. Though we arranged to meet again, I felt that it had been our parting kiss.

That's why, after Katya had gone, I remained in the garden and wandered for a long time about the paths in anguish, then sat down on our seat, walked away and came back again. I took off my cap; my head felt hot and there was an ache in my heart. I couldn't go away.

When I got home I found a large envelope on my bedside table. It bore the Osoaviakhim stamp and my full name in a large hand. I tore open the envelope with trembling fingers. Osoaviakhim informed me that my papers had been accepted and that I was to present myself before a medical board on May and for enrolment in the flying school.

____________________

PART FOUR

THE NORTH

Chapter one

FLYING SCHOOL

The summer of 1928. I see myself walking the streets of Leningrad with a small bundle in my hands. The bundle contains my "leaving kit". All inmates of the children's home on leaving school received such a kit. It consisted of a spoon, a mug, two sets of underwear and "everything needed for the first night's lodging". Pyotr and I are living in the home of Semyon Ginsburg, a fitter at the Elektrosila Works and a former pupil of our school. Semyon's mother is afraid of the house-manager, so every morning I take my things away and bring them back again in the evening, making out as though I had just arrived. In the eating rooms we take the first course, costing fifteen kopecks, on even days, and the second course, costing twenty-five kopecks, on odd days. We wander about the vast, spacious city, along the embankments of the broad Neva, and Pyotr, who feels quite at home in Leningrad, tells me about the Bronze Horseman while I think, "Will they accept me or not?"

Three examining boards-medical, credentials and general education. Heart, lungs, ears, heart again. Who am I, where was I born, what school did I go to, and why do I want to become an airman?

Was it true that I was nineteen? Hadn't I added to my age-I didn't look it? Why was my recommendation from the Y.C.L. local signed "Grigoriev"-was he a brother of mine or just a namesake?

And now, at last, the day of all days. I stand outside the Aviation Museum. This is where we had our entrance examinations. It is a huge lion-guarded building in Roshal Prospekt. The lions look at me as if they, too, are about to ask me who I am, where I was born, and whether I am really nineteen.

But the really terrifying part of it comes when I mount the stairs and stand before the black showcase displaying the list of persons enrolled in the flying school.

I read the names in their alphabetical order: "Fadeyev, Fedorov, Frolov, Golomb, Gribkov, Hertz…" A mist swims before my eyes. I read again: "Fedorov, Frolov, Golomb, Gribkov, Hertz…" I'm not there! I take a deep breath and start again: Fedorov, Frolov, Golomb, Gribkov, Hertz. I stare at the list, which seems to contain all the names under the sun except my own, and I feel like a man would feel who has nothing more to live for.

I go home under a pouring rain. Fedorov, Frolov, Golomb… Lucky Golomb.

Pyotr opens the door and starts at seeing me, drenched and white.

"What's the matter?" "Pyotr, my name's not on the list." "Goon!"

Semyon's mother comes flying into the kitchen to ask whether the house-manager saw me coming in. I do not answer her. I sit on a chair and Pyotr stands facing me with a glum look.

The next morning we go together to the Aviation Museum and I find my name on the list. It was in another column along with several other boys whose names began with G. including a couple of Grigorievs-Ivan and Alexander. Pyotr said I hadn't been able to find it because I was too excited.

Time races on, and I see myself in the reading-room of the Aviation Museum, where we had faced the examiners. Thirteen men passed by the credentials and medical boards are lined up, and the School Superintendent, a big, jovial, red-haired man, comes out and says:

"Comrade air cadets, attention!"

Comrade air cadets! I am an air cadet! A cold shiver runs up my spine. I feel as if I had been dipped alternately in cold and hot water. I'm an air cadet! I'm going to fly! I do not hear what she Super is saying.

Time races on. We go to lectures straight from work at the factory where Semyon Ginsburg has fixed me up as fitter's mate.

We listen to lectures on materiel, the theory of aviation and the engine. After eight hours at work we feel very sleepy, but we listen to the lectures on materiel, the theory of aviation and engines, and once in a while Misha Golomb, who turned out to be as short as myself, leans up against my back and starts to snore gently. When his snores become too audible I carefully bump his head on the desk.

We study at flying school, but what little resemblance that school has to those that go by that name today! We have neither engines, nor aeroplanes, neither premises nor money. True, the Aviation Museum does display a few old sky wagons, in which one could imagine oneself doing air reconnaissance in a De Havilland or seeing a fighting plane in a Newport which last did service at the Civil War fronts. But you couldn't learn to fly on these distinguished "coffins".

We assemble engines. Armed with credentials of Osoaviakhim, that infallible warrant empowering us to take off the walls any aeroplane parts we might need, we make a round of all the recreation rooms and clubs of Leningrad. Sometimes we find these aeroplane parts in the office of the house management, hanging over the desk of the accounts clerk, who happens to be an aviation fan. We commandeer them and carry them off to the airfield. Sometimes this goes off peacefully, sometimes there is a row. Three times we visit the Clothing Workers' Club, accompanied by a technician, trying to prove to the club manager that the old engine standing in the foyer is of no propaganda value.

Our day starts with our trying, each in turn, to explain to Ivan Gribkov what "horizon" is. We have a fellow named Ivan Gribkov who has all the school trying to explain this to him. Afterwards came the instructors and flight training begins.

My instructor-he is our School Superintendent and has charge of materiel and supplies as well-is an old pilot of Civil War days, a big jovial man, who loves to tell extraordinary stories and can tell them for hours. He is quick-tempered, but quick to cool off, brave and superstitious. His idea of his duties as instructor is of the simplest order: he just swears at you, his language becoming stronger with the altitude. At last he stops swearing-for the first time in six months! It's wonderful! For ten minutes or so I fly in the rarest of good moods. I must be doing the stickwork jolly well, seeing that he doesn't swear at me! Despite the roar of the engine I seem to be flying in complete silence-quite a new experience for me!

But the next moment I see what it is. The intercom had got disconnected and the phone was dangling over the side. I catch it and together with it the close of what must have been a long speech:

"You clot. You shouldn't be flying, you ought to be serving in the sanitary brigade."

Another scene rises before me when I recall my first year in Leningrad. C. comes to the Corps Airfield every day. He has a modest job-flying passengers in an old war-scarred machine. But we know what kind of man he is, we know and love him long before he became known to and loved by the whole country. We know whom the airmen talk about when they gather at the Aviation Museum, which was a sort of club of ours in those days. We know whom our Chief is imitating when he says in a calm bass voice: "Well, how goes it? Can you manage the sharp bank? But no fibbing, mind?"

We run to this man as fast as our legs can carry us when he returns to the airfield after his amazing aerobatics, and the lovers of stunt flying, green as the grass, crawl away almost on all fours, while he looks at us from the cockpit, his goggles off, a flyer of amazing flair, a wizard of sky flying.

Together with the stethoscope which Doctor Ivan Ivanovich left me as a keepsake I carry a photo of this airman about with me wherever I go. He gave this photo to me not in Leningrad where I was an air cadet, but much later, several years afterwards, in Moscow. He wrote on it: "If it's worth doing at all, do it well." Those were his words. So this year passed, a hard but splendid year in Leningrad.

Chapter Two

SANYA'S WEDDING

I saw Sanya every Sunday and I must say-strange though it may sound coming from a brother-that I came to like her more and more.

She had just entered the Academy of Arts and had found a job with a children's publishing house. She knew all about our doings, Pyotr's and mine, and kept the old folks informed about us. She worked a lot at the Academy too, and although she lacked Pyotr's vivid talent she painted extremely well. She was fond of doing miniatures, an art that is nowadays almost completely neglected by our painters, and the fastidious care with which she executed all the minute details of faces and dress was simply remarkable. As in childhood, she liked to talk, and when provoked or carried away she would talk so fast and end up in such a rush that her listeners would be dazed. In short, she was a wonderful sister, and now she was getting married.

Of course, it is not hard to guess whom she was marrying, though of all the young men who gathered that evening at the studio of the photographer-artist Berenstein where she rented a room, Pyotr looked the least like a bridegroom. He sat unperturbed and silent beside a sharp-nosed boy, who was talking at him earnestly.

Altogether, it was an odd wedding. All the evening the guests argued about a cow-whether it was right for the artist Filippov to be painting a cow for the last two and a half years. He was said to have divided it into little squares and was painting each square separately. No one took any notice of the newlyweds. Sanya was kept very busy. There were not enough plates to go round and the guests had to be fed in two shifts. She sat down only for a moment, flushed and tired, in her new dress trimmed with lace, which somehow reminded me of Ensk and Aunt Dasha.

"Someone sends you regards," she said to me. "Guess who."

I guessed at once, but answered calmly:

"I don't know."

"Katya."

"Really? Thanks."

Sanya looked at me critically. Her face even paled slightly with annoyance. She realised, of course, that I was pretending.

"You like to fancy yourself a Childe Harold! Now don't you dare tell me a lie on my wedding-day. I'll write to her and say you kept asking me for this letter all day and I wouldn't give it to you."

"I'm not asking you for anything."

"In your heart you are," Sanya said with conviction. "Outwardly you're pretending you don't care. I can let you have it if you like, only you mustn't read the last page. You won't, will you?"

She thrust the letter into my hand and ran away. I read the letter, of course, the last page three times, seeing that it was about me. Katya did not send her regards to me at all, she just inquired how I was getting on and when I was graduating. To look at, it was just an ordinary letter, but really a very sad one. It had this passage in it, for instance: "It is now four o'clock and already dark here, and suddenly I fell asleep and when I woke up I couldn't make out what had happened to make me feel so good. It was because I had dreamt of Ensk and of my aunts getting me dressed for the journey."

I reread this passage several times, and recalled that memorable day, the day of our departure from Ensk. I remembered the old ladies, her aunts, shouting their last-minute admonitions as the train moved out, and how later I had moved into Katya's carriage and we had started to go through our baskets to see what the old folks had put in them. The little unshaven man who shared our compartment was trying to guess what we were, and Katya stood beside me in the corridor and I had looked at her, standing there, and talked to her. How hard it was to believe, now that she was so far away, that all this really happened…

Chapter Three

I WRITE TO DOCTOR IVAN IVANOVICH

I was angry with Katya, because I had wanted to say goodbye to her before leaving Moscow and had written to her, but she had not answered and had not come to meet me, though she knew I was going away for a long time and that perhaps we should never see each other again. I did not write to her any more, of course. No doubt Nikolai Antonich had succeeded in convincing her that I had slandered him "with the most dreadful slander which the human imagination is capable of, and that I was "a guttersnipe of impure blood" who had caused the death of her mother.

Ah, well, the future was still ours! The memory of that scene made me groan inwardly.

What could I do in Leningrad, working at the factory from eight till five and then at the flying school from five till midnight?

In the winter, before flight training began, we studied in the reading-room of the Aviation Museum. One day I asked the Custodian whether he knew anything about Captain Tatarinov and whether there were any books in the library about him or perhaps his own book Causes of the Failure of the Greely Expedition.

I don't know why, but the Custodian showed a great interest in the question.

"Captain Tatarinov?" he queried in surprise. "Oho! Why does that interest you?"

To answer that question I should have had to tell him everything you have read in this book. So I answered briefly:

"Oh, I just like reading about voyages of exploration." "Very little, if anything, is known about this voyage," said the Custodian. "Come along, let's go into the library."

Without him, of course, I would never have found anything, as it was all in the form of newspaper articles. There was only one book, or rather a booklet of some twenty-five pages entitled Woman at Sea. The Captain, I discovered, had not only written about the Greely Expedition,

The booklet went out to prove that a woman could become a sailor and quoted instances from the life of the fisher folk on the shores of the Sea of Azov, when women in dangerous situations had behaved as well as men and even shown themselves braver. The Captain wrote that he visualised a time when ships would carry "women engineers, women navigators and women captains".

As I read this booklet I recollected the Captain's notes on Nansen's voyage and his report concerning the 1911 expedition to the North Pole, and it struck me for the first time that he was not only a brave sailor, but a broadminded man of extraordinarily keen intellect.

The writers of some of the articles evidently thought otherwise. In the Peterburgskaya Gazeta, for instance, one journalist came out against the expedition on the grounds that the Council of Ministers had "turned down Captain Tatarinov's request for the necessary funds". Another newspaper carried an interesting photograph-a beautiful white ship which reminded me of the caravels in The Century of Discovery. It was the schooner St. Maria. She looked slim and graceful, too slim and graceful to make the voyage from St. Petersburg to Vladivostok along the shores of Siberia.

The next issue of the same newspaper carried a still more interesting photograph-the crew of the schooner. True, it was very difficult to make anything out on this photograph, but the arrangement of the group with the Captain seated in the middle, arms folded over his chest, struck me as very familiar. Where had I seen that photograph? Of course-at the Tatarinovs, among a lot of other photos, which Katya had once shown me. I continued thinking back. No, it was not at the Tatarinovs! It was at Doctor Ivan Ivanovich's -that's where I had seen it! And suddenly a very simple idea occurred to me. At the same time, however, it was an extraordinary one, which only Doctor Ivan Ivanovich could confirm. There and then I decided to write to him. It was about seven years since he had left Moscow, but I was quite certain that he was alive and well.

Chapter Four

I RECEIVE A REPLY

A month passed, then a second and a third. We had finished our theoretical studies and moved out to the Corps Airfield.

It was a Big Day at the airfield-September 25th, 1930. We still remember it by that name. It began as usual: 7 a.m. found us sitting by our "crates". At nine o'clock the instructor arrived and things began to happen. For one thing, he had brought with him an imposing-looking man in a Russian blouse and gold-rimmed spectacles. This we soon discovered to be the secretary of the District Party Committee. Secondly… But this "secondly" needs going into greater

detail.

We made several flights that day with the instructor, and he kept studying me all the time, and, contrary to custom, he did not swear at me.

"Well," he said at last. "Now fly solo."

I must have looked excited, because he regarded me for a moment with a searching, kindly look. He checked the instruments to see whether they were working properly, and fastened the straps in the first, now empty, cockpit.

"A routine round flight. Take off, start climbing. Don't turn until you're a hundred and fifty metres off the ground. Bank, then come in to land."

With a feeling as though it were not I but someone else doing it, I taxied to the end of the runway and raised my hand for permission to take off. The flight-controller waved his white flag for me to go. I opened the throttle and sent the machine down the airfield.

I had long forgotten that childish sense of disappointment I had experienced when, on the first taking to the air, I realised what flying meant. In those days I had always imagined that I would fly like a bird, whereas here I was sitting in an armchair just as if I were on the ground. I sat in the armchair and I had no time to think either of the earth or the sky. It was not until my tenth or eleventh solo flight that I noticed that the earth below me was patterned like a map and that we lived in a very precise geometrical world. I liked the shadows of the clouds scattered here and there on the ground, and altogether it dawned on me that the world was very beautiful.

And so this was my first solo flight. The instructor's cockpit is empty. The first turn. The cockpit is empty and the machine becomes airborne. A second turn. I am flying quite alone, with a wonderful sensation of complete freedom. A third turn. Time to land now. Fourth turn. Attention! I cut off the engine. The ground gets closer and closer. There it is, right under the machine. The landing run. The touch-down. It must have been a decent performance, seeing that even our grumpy instructor nodded approval, while Misha Golomb, behind his back, gave me the thumbs-up sign.

"Sanya, you're a topnotcher," he said, when we sat down on a grassy bank to have a smoke. "Honest, you are. By the way, there's a letter for you. I was at the Aviation Museum today and the doorman said: 'One for Grigoriev. Maybe you'll give it to him?'"

And he held out a letter to me. It was from Doctor Ivan Ivanovich.

"Dear Sanya, I am very glad to hear you are well. I am looking forward to welcoming you with your plane, as we have to use dogs here all the time for travelling. Now about the photograph. It was given to me by the navigating officer of the St. Maria, Ivan Klimov. He was brought to Archangel in 1914 with frostbitten feet and died in the hospital from blood-poisoning. He left a couple of notebooks and some letters-quite a lot of them, round about twenty, I believe. This, of course, was the mail, which he had brought with him from the ship, though he may have written some of the letters himself during his journey-he was picked up somewhere by Lieutenant Sedov's expedition. When he died the hospital posted these letters to their respective addresses, but the notebooks and photographs remained with me. As you are acquainted with Captain Tatarinov's family and are determined 'to present a correct picture of his life and death', you will naturally be interested to know about these notebooks. They are ordinary school copybooks and the writing in them, done in pencil, is unfortunately quite illegible. I tried several times to read them, but had to give it up. This is about all I know. This happened at the end of 1914 when the war had just started and nobody was interested in Captain Tatarinov's expedition. These notebooks and photographs are still in my possession and you can read them if you have the patience when you come, or rather fly out here. My address is: 24 Kirov Street, Zapolarie, Arctic Circle.

"I expect more letters from my interesting patient. Your doctor, I. Pavlov."

Just as I had thought! That photo had been left by the navigating officer. The doctor has seen the man with his own eyes. The very same man who had written: "I remain your obedient servant, I. Klimov, Navigating Officer." The very same man who had fascinated me for life with the glamorous words "latitude", "schooner", "expedition", "the From" and the extraordinary politeness of his "I hasten to inform you" and "I hope to see you soon".

I decided that as soon as I left school I would go to Zapolarie and read his notebooks. The doctor had given it up, but he wouldn't have done so if he had had the hope of finding in them as much as a single word to prove that he had been right, if somebody had spat in his face, if Katya had thought that he had killed her mother…

Chapter Five

THREE YEARS

Youth does not end in a single day; you do not mark that day off in the calendar: "Today my youth has ended." It passes imperceptibly, and it is gone before you know it.

From Leningrad they sent me to Balashov. After graduating from the flying school I started studying at another-this time under a real instructor and on a real machine.

I do not recall any period in my life when I worked so diligently.

"Do you know how you fly?" our School Superintendent had said to me back in Leningrad. "Like an old tub. For the North you have to be first rate."

I learnt night-flying, when you get into the dark the moment you take off, and while you are climbing you feel all the time as if you are making your way gropingly through a dark corridor. I learnt to fly blind, when everything around you is wrapped in a white mist and you seem to be flying through millions of years into a different geological epoch; as if you are being borne on and on in a Time-Machine instead of an aeroplane.

I learnt that an airman has to know the properties of the air, all its ways and whims, just as a good sailor knows the ways of the sea.

Those were the years when the Arctic, until then regarded as a remote and useless icy wilderness, had drawn closer to us and when the first great air jumps were attracting the whole country's attention. Every day articles about Polar expeditions by sea and air appeared in the newspapers and I read them with a thrill. I was longing for the North with all my heart.

Then, one day, when I was about to take one of the most difficult examination flights and was already seated in the cockpit, I saw a newspaper in the hands of my instructor. It had something in it which made me take off my helmet and goggles and climb out of the plane.

"Warm greetings and congratulations to the members of the expedition which has successfully solved the problem of navigating the Arctic Ocean" was printed in big letters right across the front page.

Paying no heed to what the astonished instructor was saying to me, I looked at the page again, trying to take it all in at a glance. "Great Northern Sea Route Opened", one article was headed. "The Sibiryakov in the Bering Strait" ran another. "Salute to the Victors" said a third. This was the news of the historic expedition of the Sibiryakov, which for the first time in history had navigated the Northern Sea Route in a single season-the route which Captain Tatarinov had attempted in the schooner St. Maria.

"What's the matter with you? Are you ill?"

"No, I'm all right."

"Altitude one thousand two hundred metres. Two sharp banks one way, then two the other. Four upward spins."

"Okay!"

I was so excited that I was almost on the point of asking permission to put off the flight.

All that day I thought of Katya, of poor Maria Vasilievna, and of the Captain, whose life had become so surprisingly interwoven with my own. But this time I was thinking of them in a different way and my grievances appeared to me now in a different, calmer light. Of course, I had not forgotten anything. I had not forgotten my last talk with Maria Vasilievna, in which every word of hers had had a secret meaning-her farewell to her youth and to life. itself. I had not forgotten how I had sat the next day in the waiting-room together with the old lady, and the door had opened revealing something white with a dark head and a bare arm dangling from a couch. I had not yet forgotten how Katya had turned away form me at the funeral, nor had I forgotten my dreams of meeting her in a few years' time and tossing to her the proofs showing that I had been right. I had not forgotten how Nikolai Antonich had spat in my face.

But all this suddenly presented itself to me like a play in which the chief character is offstage and appears only in the last act, and until then he is merely talked about. They all talked about a man whose portrait hangs on the wall-the portrait of a naval officer with a broad forehead, a square jaw and deep-set eyes. Yes, he was the chief character in this play. He was a great explorer, killed by non-recognition and his history had a significance far beyond the bounds of personal affairs and family relationships. The Great Northern Sea Route had been opened-that was his history. Through navigation of the Arctic Ocean in a single season-that had been his idea. The men who had solved the problem which had confronted mankind for four hundred years were his men. He could talk with them as equals.

What, compared with this, were my own dreams, hopes and desires! What did I want? Why did I become an airman? Why was I so keen on going to the North?

And now, as in my imaginary play, everything clicked into place and quite simple ideas came into my head concerning my future and my job.

I was keen on the North and on my profession as a polar airman because it was a profession which demanded from me endurance, courage and love for my country and my job.

Who knows but that I, too, one day may be named among those men who could have talked as equals with Captain Tatarinov?

A month before I finished the Balashov school I put in an application to be sent to the North. But the school would not let me go.

I was kept on as instructor and spent another whole year at Balashov. I would hardly call myself a good instructor. Of course, I could teach a man to fly without experiencing any desire to swear at him every minute. I understood my pupils. It was quite clear to me, for instance, why, on coming out of the plane, one man hastened to light up, while another wore an air of studied jollity. I was not a teacher by vocation and found it boring to have to explain a thousand times to others things I had learnt long ago.

In August 1933 I got leave and went to Moscow. My travelling warrant was made out for Ensk via Leningrad and people were expecting me in both these places. Nevertheless I decided to stop over in Moscow, where no one was expecting me.

Of course, I had no intention of phoning Katya, all the more as I had received only one greeting from her in all these three years-through Sanya-and everything was finished and long forgotten. So completely finished and forgotten that I even decided I would ring her up and had prepared for the occasion an opening phrase in a polite impersonal tone. But somehow, when I lifted the receiver in my room at the hotel, my hand began to shake and I found myself asking for another number instead-that of Korablev.

He was out of town, on his holiday, and the woman who answered the phone said that he would not be back until the beginning of the school year.

Valya, too, was out of town. I was politely informed that lecturer Zhukov was in the Far North and would be away for six months.

There was no one else I could phone in Moscow, unless it was some secretary or other member of the staff of the Civil Aviation Board. But I had no use for secretaries. I picked up the receiver and gave the number.

Nina Kapitonovna answered the phone-I recognised her kind firm voice at once.

"May I speak to Katya?"

"Katya?" she queried in surprise. "She's not here."

"Not at home?"

"Not at home and not in town. Who's that speaking?"

"Grigoriev," I said. "Could you give me her address?"

Nina Kapitonovna was silent awhile. Obviously, she hadn't recognised me. The world was full of Grigorievs.

"She's doing field work. Her address is: Geological Party of Moscow University, Troitsk."

I thanked her and rang off.

I did not stay long in Moscow. They received me very politely at the offices of the Northern Sea Route Administration and the Civil Aviation Board. My being sent to the North was out of the question, I was told, until the Balashov School released me.

I did not succeed in getting an assignment to the North until eighteen months later, and that quite by chance. In Leningrad I had made the acquaintance of an old Arctic pilot who wanted to return to Central Russia. He was getting too old to fly under the arduous conditions of the North. We made an exchange, he taking my place at the school and I getting an assignment as second pilot on one of the Far North air roots.

Chapter Six

I MEET THE DOCTOR

The house was not difficult to find, as the street consisted of a single house, all the rest existing only in the imagination of the builders of Zapolarie.

It was getting dark when I knocked on the doctor's door. The windows lit up and a shadow moved slowly across the blind. No one opened the door, and after waiting for a while, I quietly opened it myself and stepped into a clean spacious passage.

"Anybody at home?"

No one answered. A besom stood in the corner and I cleaned the snow off my high felt boots with it-the snow outside was knee-deep.

"Is there anybody here?"

A ginger kitten sprang out from under the hallstand, stared at me in fright and fled. Then the doctor appeared in the doorway.

Medically I suppose it would sound improbable, but the fact of the matter was that in all those years the doctor had not only not aged, but even managed to look younger. He more than ever now resembled that lanky, jolly, bearded doctor who had dropped down on me and my sister in the village that memorable winter.

"Do you want to see me?"

"Yes, Doctor, I'd like you to see a patient," I said quickly. "An interesting case of muteness without deafness. The man can hear everything but can't say 'mummy'."

The doctor slowly pushed his glasses up on his forehead.

"I beg your pardon…"

"I said an interesting case," I went on gravely. "The man can pronounce only six words: hen, saddle, box, snow, drink, Abraham. Patient G., case record described in a journal."

The doctor came up to me as if he were going to examine my tongue and ears, but he simply said: "Sanya!"

We embraced.

"So you've flown in after all!"

"Yes, I flew."

He put his arms round my shoulder and led me into the dining-room. A boy of about twelve was standing there who looked very much like the doctor. He gave me his hand and introduced himself: "Volodya."

"Yes, Doctor, I'd like you to see a patient," I said quickly. "An interesting case of muteness without deafness. The man can hear everything but can't say 'mummy'."

The doctor slowly pushed his glasses up on his forehead.

"I beg your pardon…"

"I said an interesting case," I went on gravely. "The man can pronounce only six words: hen, saddle, box, snow, drink, Abraham. Patient G., case record described in a journal."

The doctor came up to me as if he were going to examine my tongue and ears, but he simply said: "Sanya!"

We embraced.

"So you've flown in after all!"

"Yes, I Hew."

He put his arms round my shoulder and led me into the dining-room. A boy of about twelve was standing there who looked very much like the doctor. He gave me his hand and introduced himself:

"Volodya."

It was lighter here than in the passage, and the doctor looked me over again. I suspect he was strongly tempted to have a peek in my ear.

While we were sitting drinking tea the doctor's wife, Anna Stepanovna, came in. She was a tall, portly woman, who, in her anorak and reindeer-skin high boots, looked like some Northern god. She was just as big even when she took off her anorak and boots, and the tall doctor did not look so tall beside her. She had quite a young face and altogether she went very well with this clean wooden house with its yellow floor boards and country-style floor runners. There was something of old Russia about her, as there was of the town itself, though it was an entirely new town built only five or six years before. Afterwards I learned that she was a Pomor. (Pomor-a native of the White Sea maritime area – Tr.)

"Ivan Ivanovich," I said, when we had eaten everything on the table and started on the delicious home-made cloudberry wine, "do you remember those letters we wrote to each other when I was in Leningrad?"

"I do."

"You wrote me a very interesting letter about that navigating officer," I went on, "and I'd like to know whether you've kept those notebooks of his."

"Yes, I have them."

"Good. Now let me tell you something. It's a fairly long story, but I'm going to tell it nevertheless. As you know, it was you who once taught me to speak. So now you have only yourself to blame."

And I told him everything, beginning with the letters which Aunt Dasha used to read out to me. About Katya I said only a few words by way of information. But at this point in my story the doctor, for some reason, smiled, then quickly assumed a look of gravity.

"He was a very tired man, that navigator," he said. "He really died from fatigue, not gangrene. He had spent too much strength fighting death and hadn't enough left to live with. That was the impression he gave."

"You talked to him?"

"Yes."

"What about?"

"I think it was about some town down South," the doctor said. "Sukhumi, or maybe Baku. It was an obsession with him. Everyone was talking about the war in those days-it had just started, but he only talked about Sukhumi, how good it was down there, how warm. I suppose he came from there."

"Ivan Ivanovich, have you got his diaries here? In this house?"

"Yes."

"Let me see them."

These diaries had been on my mind for so long that I had begun to see them as thick books bound in black cloth. But the doctor went out and reappeared a few minutes later with two thin copybooks such as children use in school. I could hardly suppress my excitement as I opened one of them at random. "To Navigator Iv. Dm. Klimov.

"I order you and all those listed below, in accordance with your wishes and theirs, to leave the ship with the aim of reaching inhabited land…"

"Why, Doctor, he had an excellent hand! I can read it quite easily." "It's my excellent hand you're reading," the doctor said. "I have written out the parts I have been able to decipher on separate sheets. The rest is like this-look."

Saying which, he opened the copybook at the first page. I had seen some poor handwriting in my day, Valya Zhukov's, for instance; he used to write in such a way that the teachers for a long time thought he was doing it to annoy them. But handwriting such as this I had never seen in my life. It was like so many fishhooks the size of pinheads scattered higgledy-piggledy all over the page. The first few pages were smeared with some kind of grease and the pencil marks were barely visible on the yellow parchment-like paper. Further on came a hodgepodge of unfinished words, then a rough-drawn map, followed by another jumble of words, which no graphologist could have made head or tail of.

"All right," I said, closing the notebook. "I'll read this." The doctor looked at me with admiration. "I wish you success," he said earnestly.

Chapter Seven

I READ THE DIARIES

I would not call myself an impatient person. But I think that only a genius of patience could have waded through those diaries. Obviously, they had been written during halts, by the light of smoky wicks burning seal oil, in forty-five degrees of frost, with a frozen and tired hand. In some places the hand could be seen to have slipped, tracing a long, drooping, meaningless line.

But I had to read them!

Again and again I tackled this arduous job. Every night-and on flight-free days from early morning-I sat down at the table with a magnifying glass, engaged in the slow, painful task of transforming the fish-hooks into human words-now words of despair, now of hope. At first I went straight through, just sat down and read. And then I hit on a bright idea. I started to read whole pages at a time instead of trying to decipher the separate words.

In going through the diaries I noticed that some of the pages were written much more legibly than others-the order, for example, which the doctor had copied out. I copied from these passages all the letters from a to z and compiled a "Navigator's ABC" in which I reproduced exactly all the variants of his handwriting. With the aid of this alphabet the work proceeded much more rapidly. Very often a correct guess of one or two letters -made with the help of this alphabet would make all the rest clear.

And so, day after day, I deciphered these diaries.

The Diaries of Navigating Officer Ivan Klimov

Wednesday, May 27. Started out late and did 4 versts in 6 hours. Today is a red-letter day for us. We reckon that we have covered a distance of 100 versts from the ship. Of course, this is not much for a month's trek, but the going has been much harder than we had expected. We celebrated the occasion by cooking a soup from dried bilberries seasoned with two tins of condensed milk.

Friday, May 29. If we do reach the shore, may those men-1 do not want even to name them-remember May 29th, the day of their deliverance from death, and mark it every year. But though the men were saved, they lost a double-barrelled gun and the stove on which we did our cooking. As a result we had to eat raw meat yesterday and drink cold water diluted with milk. May God help me to reach the shore safely with this bunch of gaw-gaws!

Sunday, May 31. Here is the official document authorising me to leave with part of the crew:

"To Navigating Officer Ivan Klimov.

"I hereby order you and all those listed below, in accordance with your wishes and theirs, to leave the ship with the aim of reaching inhabited land, and to do this on the 10th inst., setting out across the ice on foot and taking with you sledges and kayaks as well as provisions for two months. On leaving this ship you are to head south until you sight land; on sighting which you are to act according to circumstances, but preferably try to make the British Channel between the islands of Franz-Josef Land, following it, as being best known, down to Cape Flora where you are likely to find food and' shelter. After that, time and circumstances permitting, you are to head for Spitsbergen. On reaching Spitsbergen you will be confronted with the difficult task of finding people there, as we do not know where they are to be located, but hope that you will be able to find people in the southern part of the island or at least some fishing vessel off the coast. You are to be accompanied by thirteen men of the crew, who have expressed their wish to go with you. Captain of the schooner St. Maria

Ivan Tatarinov" "April 10,1914 Arctic Ocean."

God knows how hard it was for me to go, leaving him in such a difficult, almost hopeless plight.

Tuesday, June 2. On board ship Engineer Komev had improvised four pairs of spectacles for us against the snow glare, the glasses of which were made from gin bottles. The leading sledges are drawn by the lucky ones who can see, while the "blinded" ones trail in their wake with closed eyes, which they open from time to time to peer at the track. The pitiless glare hurts the eyes. Here is a picture of our progress, which I shall never forget: we are trudging along with measured step, shoulders hunched forward, the harness straps tight round our chests, while we hold on to the side of the kayak with one hand. We walk with eyes tightly closed. Each carries a ski-pole in his right hand which, with mechanical precision, he throws forward, draws back to the right and slowly trails behind him. How monotonously and distinctly the snow crunches under the disk of the ski-pole. In spite of oneself one listens to this crunching, which seems to be repeating clearly: "Long, long way." We walk as though in a trance, mechanically pushing our feet forward and throwing our weight against the straps. Today I fancied that I was walking along a quayside on a hot summer's day, in the shade of some tall houses. These houses were eastern fruit stores, their doors were wide open and the aromatic, spicy odour of fresh and dried fruits came from them. There was a heady scent of oranges, peaches, dried apples and cloves. Persian tradesmen watered the asphalt pavement which was soft from the heat, and I could hear their calm, guttural speech. God, how good it smelt, how pleasantly cool it was. Stumbling over my pole brought me back to earth. I clutched the kayak and stared around me-snow, snow, snow, as far as the eyes could see. The sun is as blinding and painful to the eyes as ever.

Thursday, June 4. Today, following in Dunayev's tracks, I noticed that he was spitting blood. I examined his gums. The last few days he has been complaining about his legs.

Friday, June 5. I can't get Captain Tatarinov out of my mind. During the little speech he made when seeing us off he suddenly stopped, clenched his teeth and looked round with a sort of helpless smile. He was ill; I had left him when he was just out of his sickbed. God, what a frightful mistake it was! But I can't very well turn back.

Saturday, June 6. Morev has kept at me these three last days, saying that he has spotted, from the top of an ice-hummock, a perfectly level stretch of ice running far out to the south. "I saw it with my own eyes. Sir. As flat as flat can be." This morning he was missing from the tent. He had gone off without his skis and the tracks of his snow-shoes were faintly visible in the thin layer of dry snow. We searched for him all day, shouting, whistling and firing shots. He would have answered us, as he had a magazine rifle with a dozen cartridges. But we heard nothing.

Sunday, June 7. We made a mast about ten metres high out of kayaks, skis and ski-poles, attached two flags to it and hoisted it on a hilltop. If he is alive he will see our signals.

Tuesday, June 9. On our way again. Thirteen men left-an unlucky number. When shall we make land, be it even barren and inhospitable land, but land that stands still and on which you have no fear of being carried away to the north?

Wednesday, June 10. This evening I had another vision of a southern town, the sea front, a cafe by night with people in panama hats. Sukhumi? Again that spicy, aromatic odour of fruit, and the bitter thought: "Why did I go on this voyage to a cold, icebound sea, when it was so good sailoring in the south? There it was warm. One could go about in a shirt, and even barefooted. One could eat lots of oranges, grapes and apples." Strange, why was I never particularly fond of fruit? But chocolate, too, is good stuff, eaten with ship's biscuits, the way we eat it at our midday halt. Only we get very little of it-just one square each from the bar. How good it would be to have a plateful of these biscuits in front of you and a whole bar of chocolate all to yourself. How many more miles, how many hours, days and weeks before this will become possible!

Thursday, June 11. The going is hell. Deep snow with a lot of water under it. Open water blocks our path all the time. Did no more than three versts today. All day a mist and that dull light that makes the eyes hurt so much. I see this notebook now as though through a film and hot tears run down my cheeks. It will be Whitsun soon. How good it will be "there" this day, somewhere down south, and how bad here, on the floating ice, all cut up by open stretches of water, in latitude 82°! The ice shifts right before our eyes. One glade disappears to give way to another, like giants playing a game of chess on a gigantic chessboard.

Sunday, June 14. I have made a discovery of which I have said nothing to my companions: we are drifting past the land. Today we reached the latitude of Franz-Josef Land and are continuing to push south, but there is no sign of any island. We are being carried past the land. lean tell this both from my utterly useless chronometer, from the prevailing winds and from the direction of the line lowered in the water.

Monday, June 15. I abandoned him, a sick man, in a state of despair, which only he was capable of concealing. This robs me of all hope for our deliverance.

Tuesday, June 16. I now have two men with scurvy. Sotkin has fallen ill too, his gums are bleeding and swollen. I treat them by sending them forward on skis to find a way for us and giving them each at night a quinine water. This may be a harsh method of treatment, but I think the only possible one for a man whose morale has not broken down. The worst form of scurvy I had seen was that from which Captain Tatarinov had suffered. He had had it for close on six months and only by a superhuman effort of will did he force himself to recover, that is, he simply forbade himself to die. And this will, this broad, free mind and indomitable moral courage are doomed to perish.

Thursday, June 18. Latitude 81°. The rapidity of our southward drift is amazing.

Friday, June 19. At about four o'clock, E.S.-E. of our halting place I spotted "something". It was two pinkish cloudlets on the horizon, which did not change shape until hidden in the mist. I don't think we were ever surrounded by so many open lanes of water as now. Lots of pochards and screaming white gulls are flying about. Oh, these gulls! How often, at night, they keep me awake with their fuss and bustle and bickering over the entrails of a shot seal thrown out onto the ice. Like evil spirits they mock at us, laughing hysterically, screeching, whistling and all but cursing. How long, I wonder, will I be haunted by these "cries of the snow-white gull", by these sleepless nights in a tent, by this sun which never sets and shines through its canvas!

Saturday, June 20. During the week we have been halted we have drifted a whole degree southward with the ice.

Monday, June 22. In the evening, as usual, I climbed to the top of some pack-ice to scan the horizon. This time, E. of where I stood, I saw something which made me so excited that I had to sit down on the ice and start hastily rubbing both my eyes and my binoculars. It was a bright strip like a neat stroke made by a brush on a light-blue ground. At first I took it for the moon, but the left segment of that moon grew gradually dimmer while the right one became more sharply etched. During the night I went out four or five times to look through my binoculars and each time I found this piece of moon in the same place. I am surprised none of my companions saw it. How hard it was for me to restrain myself from running into the tent and shouting at the top of my voice: "What are you sitting here like dummies, why are you sleeping, don't you see we are being carried towards land?" But for some reason I kept it to myself. Who knows, maybe it was a mirage too. Hadn't I seen myself on the sea-front of a southern town on a hot summer's day, in the shade of tall buildings!

The first notebook ended on this sentence. The second started on July 11.

Saturday, July 11. We killed a seal from which we drew two bowls of blood. With this and some pochards we made a very good soup. When we are making tea or soup we are usually very serious about it. This morning we ate a pailful of soup and drank a pailful of tea; for dinner we ate a pailful of soup, drank a pail of tea; and now for supper we have eaten over a pound of meat each and are waiting impatiently for our pail of tea to boil. Our pail is a big one, shaped like a truncated cone. I daresay we wouldn't mind cooking and eating another pail of soup right now, only we feel we must restrict ourselves, "economise". Our appetites are more than wolfish; it is something abnormal.

And so we are now sitting on an island, and beneath us is not ice, on which we have been these last two years, but earth and moss. All is well but for one thought, which gives me no peace: why did the Captain not come with us? He did not want to leave his ship, he couldn't go back empty-handed. "They'll make short work of me if I come back empty-handed." And then that childish, foolhardy idea:

"Should desperate circumstances compel me to abandon ship I shall make for the land which we have discovered." Lately, I think, he had that land on the brain. We sighted it in April 1913.

Monday, July 13. To E.S.-E. the sea is free of ice right up to the horizon. Ah, St. Maria, this is where we could do with you, my beauty! This is where you could bowl along without using your engines!

Tuesday, July 14. Today Sotkin and Korolkov went to the tip of the island where they made a surprising discovery. Slightly inshore they saw a small mound built of stones. They were struck by its regular shape. On coming closer they saw an empty English beer bottle with a screw cap. The men quickly uncovered the mound and found an iron container under the stones. In it was a well-preserved British flag, and beneath it another bottle. This bottle had a paper pasted on it with several names and inside it was a note written in English. With some difficulty and by the joint efforts of Nils and myself, I made out that the British polar expedition led by Jackson, having sailed from Cape Flora in August 1897 had arrived at Cape Mary Harmsworth, where it had placed this flag and the note. The note said that all was well on the good ship Windward.

In this surprising manner all my doubts were cleared up: we were on Cape Mary Harmsworth, the south-western tip of Alexandra Land. Tomorrow we intend to go to the southern shore of the island and make for Cape Flora where this famous Englishman Jackson had his base.

Wednesday, July 15. Broke camp. We had the choice of either going all together across the glacier and dragging our baggage along or breaking up into two parties, one of which would go across the ice on skis while the other, consisting of five men, would sail along the icefield in the kayaks. We chose the latter method.

Thursday, July 16. In the morning Maxim and Nils started to bring the kayaks closer in to where we had halted, and Nils was carried out so far by the current that two men had to be sent to his aid. I looked through my binoculars and saw Nils ship his paddle and look at the approaching rescue craft with a helpless air. Nils must be very sick; it's the only way I can account for his behaviour. He acts rather strange-walks unsteadily and sits apart all the time. Today, for supper, we cooked two pochards and an eider.

Friday, July 17. Dirty weather. Still sitting on Cape Grant, waiting for the shore party. Weather cleared up at night. E.N.-E. ahead, seemingly quite near, we can see a rocky island across the icefield.

Can this be Northbrook, where Cape Flora is? We shall soon know whether I was right in trying to make this cape. Twenty years is a long time. There may be nothing left of Jackson's log houses. But what else could we do? Make a wide detour? Would my wretched, sick companions have stood it, their clothes, soaked in blubber oil, all in rags and full of vermin?

Saturday, July 18. Tomorrow, weather permitting, we will push on. I cannot wait any longer. Nils can hardly walk and Korolkov is almost as bad. Dunayev complains of pains in his legs, too, but he does not show signs of that apathy and exhaustion which frightens me in Nils and Korolkov. What can be delaying the walking party? In any case we cannot stay here any longer-it spells death.

Monday, July 20. Bell Island. When we stepped out of the kayaks we saw that Nils could not walk any more. He fell down and tried to crawl forward on all fours. We put up a tent of sorts, carried Nils into it and wrapped him up in our only blanket. He kept trying to crawl away, but then quieted down. Nils is a Dane. During his two years' service aboard the St. Maria he learned to speak Russian well. But since yesterday he has forgotten his Russian. What strikes me most of all is the blank, fear-stunned look in his eyes, the eyes of a man who has lost his reason. We boiled some broth and gave him half a cupful. He drank it and lay down. I feel sorry for him. He is a good sailor, a sensible, hard-working man. All went to sleep, but I took my rifle and went to look at Cape Flora from the cliffs.

Tuesday, July 21. Nils died in the night. He had not even thrown off the blanket we had wrapped him in. His face was serene, undistorted by death agonies. Within a couple of hours we carried out our dead comrade and laid him on a sledge. The grave was a shallow one, as the earth was frozen hard. No one shed a tear over this solitary, remote grave. His death did not come as a surprise to us and we took it as a matter of course. This was not callousness or heartlessness on our part. It was the abnormal torpor one feels in the face of death, a sense of irrevocable doom that haunted every one of us. It was with something akin to animosity that we now kept glancing at the next "candidate", Dunayev, trying to guess whether he would "make it or not". One of his mates even shouted at him angrily: "What are you sitting there like a wet hen? Want to go after Nils? Come on, get some driftwood, stir your stumps!" When Dunayev humbly rose to go, they shouted after him: "Now, no buckling, mind!" There was no resentment against Dunayev. Even the driftwood was of no importance now. It was resentment against the sickness which had claimed their comrade, it was a call to fight death to one's last breath. Buckling, when your legs give way under you as though paralysed, is very characteristic. After that your tongue refuses to obey you. The sick man articulates his words carefully, then gives it up in some confusion when he sees that nothing comes of it.

Wednesday, July 22. At three o'clock we started out for Cape Flora. My thoughts again were with Captain Tatarinov. I have no further doubt now that he was somewhat obsessed with this new land we had discovered. Lately he kept reproaching himself for not having sent out a party to explore it. He spoke about it also in Ms farewell speech to us. I shall never forget that leavetaking. That pale, inspired face with its inward look! How different from that once ruddy-faced, cheerful man with his fund of yarns and funny stories, the idol of his crew, a man who always came to his task, however difficult, with a joke on his lips! Nobody moved after his speech. He stood there with closed eyes, as though nerving himself for the last word of farewell. But instead of words, a low moan broke from his lips and tears glistened in the corners of his eyes. He began jerkily, then continued more calmly: "We all find it hard to say goodbye to friends with whom we have lived through two years of struggle and work. But we must remember that, although the expedition's main task has not been accomplished, we have done a good deal. By the labours of Russian men, some very important pages have been written in the history of the North, and Russia can be proud of them. It is up to us to show ourselves worthy successors of the Russian explorers of the North. And if we perish, our discovery must not perish with us. So let our friends report that through the efforts of our expedition an extensive territory, which we have named Maria Land, has been added to Russia." He stopped, then embraced each of us in turn and said: "I want to say to you not 'goodbye', but 'till we meet again'."

Thursday, July 30. There are only eight of us left now-four in the kayaks and four somewhere on Alexandra Land.

Saturday, August 1. This is what happened today: we were within two or three miles of Cape Flora when a strong Northeaster rose, which quickly built up to gale force and whipped up a heavy swell. Before we knew it we lost the second kayak in the mist, the one with Dunayev and Korolkov in it. It was impossible to battle against the wind and current in this swell, so we sought the protection on one of the larger icebergs, climbed up it and dragged our kayak on to it. We planted a mast at the top of the iceberg and hoisted a flag in the hope that Dunayev would see it and follow our example. It was pretty cold, and, being rather tired, we decided to get some sleep. We put on our parkas and lay down on the top of the iceberg head-to-toe, so that Maxim's feet were in my parka, behind my back, and my feet were in Maxim's parka, behind his back. We slept soundly for some 7 or 8 hours. Our awakening was frightful. We were wakened by a terrific crash and found ourselves hurtling down. The next moment our improvised double sleeping-bag was full of water; we were submerged and making desperate efforts to get out of this treacherous bag by trying to kick each other away. We were like cats thrown into the water to be drowned. I don't remember how many seconds we threshed about in the water, but it seemed a dreadfully long time to me. Together with thoughts of rescue and death, a kaleidoscope of scenes from our voyage whirled through my head-the death of Morev, Nils and the four who had set out on foot. Now it was our turn and nobody would ever know what had happened to us. At that moment my feet found Maxim's and we kicked each other free. The next moment found us standing drenched to the skin on the under-water foot of the iceberg, fishing out of the water our boots, caps, blanket and mittens which were floating round us in the water. Our parkas were so heavy that we had to lift each one out together, and the blanket sank before we could get to it. I cudgelled my brain what to do now. We would surely freeze to death! As if in answer to our question, our kayak dropped down into the water from the top of the iceberg: either the wind had blown it down or the ice had given way under it as it had under us. Now we knew what to do. We wrung out our socks and jackets, and put them on again, threw everything we had left into the kayak, got in and started paddling away. My God, how furiously we worked those paddles! It was this, I think, that saved us. In about six hours we approached Cape Flora…

Among the earlier entries made soon after the navigating officer had left the ship, I found an interesting chart. It had an old-fashioned look about it, and I thought it resembled the chart that was appended to Nansen's account of the voyage of the Fram.

But what surprised me was this: there was a chart of the drift of the St. Maria from October 1912 to April 1914, and the drift was shown as having taken place in the area of what was known as Petermann's Land. Who nowadays does not know that this land does not exist? But who knows that this fact was first established by Captain Tatarinov in the schooner St. Maria'.

What then did he accomplish, this Captain, whose name appears in no book of geography? He discovered Severnaya Zemlya and proved that Petermann's Land does not exist. He changed the map of the Arctic, yet he considered his expedition a failure.

But the most important thing was this: reading the diary for the fifth, sixth and seventh time from my own copy (with nothing now to interfere with the actual process of reading), my attention was drawn to the entries dealing with the Captain's attitude to this discovery:

"Lately he kept reproaching himself for not having sent out a party to explore it" (i.e. Severnaya Zemlya).

"If we perish, our discovery must not perish with us. So let our friends report that through the efforts of our expedition an extensive territory, which we have named Maria Land, has been added to Russia."

"Should desperate circumstances compel me to abandon ship I shall make for the land which we have discovered."

And the navigating officer called this idea childish and foolhardy.

Childish and foolhardy! The Captain's last letter which Aunt Dasha once read to me contained those two words.

"Willy-nilly, we had to abandon our original plan of making Vladivostok along the coast of Siberia. But this proved to be a blessing in disguise. It had given me quite a new idea. I hope it does not strike you, as it does some of my companions, as childish and foolhardy."

The page had ended with those words and the next sheet was missing. Now I knew what that idea was: he wanted to leave ship and head for that land. The expedition, which had been the principal aim of his life, had been a failure. He could not return home "empty-handed". His one desire was to reach that land, and it was clear to me that if any trace of the expedition were to be found anywhere, then it was in that land that it had to be sought.

Would I ever find out what had happened to this man, who had entrusted me, as it were, with the task of telling the story of his life and death? Had he left the ship to explore the land he had discovered, or had he died from hunger along with his men, leaving his schooner, icebound off the coast of Yamal, to drift for years along Nansen's route to Greenland with a dead crew? Or, one cold stormy night, when stars, moon and Northern Lights were blotted out, had the ship been crushed in the ice, her masts, topmasts and yards crushing to the deck, killing the men there, while the hull groaned and creaked in its death throes, and in some two hours the blizzard had cloaked the scene of the disaster in snow?

Or were men from the St. Maria still alive somewhere, on some Arctic desert island, men who could tell the story of the ship's fate and the fate of her Captain? Had not six Russian sailors lived for several years in an uninhabited corner of Spitzbergen, hunting bears and seals, eating their flesh, wearing their skins and using them to cover the floor of their hut, which they had built from ice and snow?

But how could they? Twenty years had passed since that "childish", "foolhardy" idea of abandoning ship and striking out for Maria Land had been voiced. Had they made for this land? Had they reached it?

Chapter Eight

"I THINK WE HAVE MET"

Volodya, the doctor's son, called for me at seven in the morning. Half awake, I heard him down below scolding his dogs Buska and Toga. We had arranged the day before to visit the local fur-breeding farm and he had suggested making the trip by dog-sledge.

When we had settled in the sledge he shouted briskly, like your true Nenets, "mush, mush!" and the dogs started off at a spanking speed. The snow dust struck my face, stinging my eyes and taking my breath away. When the sledge bounced over a snowdrift I clutched Volodya, who looked round in surprise. I let go of him and started to bounce up and down in my straps, which, I thought, were not drawn tight enough.

Whoosh! Without warning the dogs stopped dead in their tracks, all but catapulting me out of the sledge. Nothing alarming. It appeared that we had to turn off here, and Volodya had stopped the dogs to change direction. His dogs had one fault-they couldn't take a turning on the run.

We continued down the new track and after a while the dogs spurted forward and began to bark. Hark!-what was that? All of a sudden, as if in answer to the dogs a chorus of barks came from behind a clump of trees, first remote, then nearer and nearer. It was a long-drawn-out, wild, confused barking, which sent a chill up your spine.

"Volodya, why are there so many dogs here?"

"They're not dogs, they're foxes."

"Why do they bark?"

"They're cannies!" Volodya shouted over his shoulder. "They bark!"

I had, of course, seen ordinary foxes, but Volodya explained that this farm was breeding silvery-black foxes, and this was something quite different. There were no foxes like it anywhere else in the world. A white-tipped tail was considered beautiful, but here they were trying to breed a fox without a single white hair.

In short, he really got me interested, and I was very annoyed when, some fifteen minutes later, we arrived at the farm gate to find a watchman there with a rifle slung over his shoulder who told us that the farm was not open for inspection.

"What is it open for?"

"For scientific work," said the watchman.

"Could we see the director?"

"The director is out."

"Who's in charge?"

"The Senior Research Associate," the watchman said impressively.

"Ah, that's the man we want."

I left Volodya at the gate and went in search of the S.R.A. Obviously not many people came to the farm, for only a single narrow track ran through the snow-covered courtyard to the house which the watchman had pointed out to me. After shaking the snow off my boots I opened the door and found myself in a large low-ceilinged room which led into another larger room where a man was sitting at a desk. He got up on seeing me. He looked at me in a way that was very familiar and reminded me of Valya Zhukov. The same amiable, slightly mad expression. He even had the same dark down on his cheeks, only thicker and blacker. Could this be Valya? I voiced the thought:

"Valya! Is that you?"

"What?" he said in a bewildered way, cocking his head to one side as Valya used to do.

"Valya, you sonofagun!" I said, my heart giving an enormous bound. "What's the matter? Don't you recognise me?"

He smiled vaguely and gave me his hand.

"Why, yes," he said in an artificial tone. "I think we have met."

"Think? You think we have met!"

I grabbed his arm and dragged him to the window.

"Look, you cow!"

He looked and gave a vague little laugh.

"Dammit, don't you recognise me?" I said with amazement.

He blinked. Then the vagueness left his face, leaving a real, true Valya which you could confuse with no one else in the world.

"Sanya!" he yelled with a gasp. "Is that you?"

We embraced and started off arm in arm. In the doorway he kissed me again.

"So it's you? I’ll be jiggered! When did you arrive?"

"I didn't arrive, I live here."

"What d'you mean?"

"What I say. I've been here six months."

"No, really?" Valya muttered. "But of course, I'm seldom in town, or I might have run into you. H'm… Six months!"

He led me into another room, which looked much the same as the one we had just left, except that it had a bed in it and a gun hanging on the wall. The other room was his study and this was his bedroom. Somewhere nearby there was a laboratory, judging by the stink in the house. It struck me as funny how this animal smell went with Valya, with his absent-looking eyes, his shock of hair and that down on his cheeks. Valya had always carried the smell of some animal around with him.

I reminded myself that I had left Volodya at the gate, and Valya sent a junior research associate for him. This junior, by the way, was some thirty years older than Valya, an imposing bearded figure with a queer thin nose. Apparently, he had made an impression on Volodya, because they did not come in until half an hour later, chatting in a friendly fashion, and Volodya announced that Pavel Petrovich-that was the man's name-had promised to show him the fox kitchen.

"And even treat him to a fox dinner," said Pavel Petrovich.

"Show him the 'jungle'," Valya said.

Volodya flushed and held his breath when he heard the word. Jungle-it sounded so thrilling.

They went out, leaving Valya and me alone together. We started reminiscing about Korablev and the boys. After a while Valya reminded himself that the fox cubs had to be given their medicine.

"Have somebody give it to them."

"No, I've got to do that myself," Valya said. "It's Vigantol, for rickets. You wait here, I won't be long."

I did not want to part from him and we went off together.

Chapter Nine

GOOD NIGHT!

Valya persuaded me to stay the night, and we telephoned the doctor to say that Volodya would be returning home by himself.

We took a walk in the woods, then went back to Valya's room and had a drink together. He told me that he had seldom left the farm during the last six months. He was engaged in interesting work-examining the stomachs of sables in order to discover what they ate. He had several stomachs of his own, from the farm and some two hundred or so presented to him by some animal reservation. And he had discovered a very interesting thing: that when hunting small furbearers it was important to spare the ground squirrel, and this was the sable's staple diet.

I listened to him in silence. We were quite alone, in an empty house, and the room was absolutely bare-the big, comfortless room of a lonely man.

"Yes, that's interesting," I said, when Valya had finished. "So the sable needs ground squirrels to live on? Well, well! And d'you know what you need most of all? What you're badly in need of? A wife!"

Valya blinked, then laughed.

"What makes you think that?" he said irresolutely.

"Because you live like a dog. And d'you know what kind of wife you need? One who'd bring you sandwiches in your lab and wouldn't be demanding on your attention."

"I don't know," Valya muttered. "I'll marry eventually I suppose. When I'm through with my thesis I'll be quite free. I'll soon be going back to Moscow, you know. What about you?"

"What about me?"

"Why don't you marry?"

After a pause, I said: "Oh, it's different with me. I lead a different life-here today and at the other end of the earth tomorrow. I can't marry."

"No, you ought to marry too," Valya retorted, then, struck by a sudden thought, he added: "I say, do you remember coming to see me at the Zoo with Katya, who brought a friend along? What was her name? A tall girl with plaits."

His face assumed such a gentle, childish expression that I could not help laughing.

"Yes, of course. Kiren! Good-looking, isn't she?"

"Very," said Valya. "Very."

He wanted to give me his bed, but I preferred a shakedown on the floor. There were plenty of cots in the house, but I had always liked sleeping on the floor.

I did not feel like sleeping that night. We talked about everything under the sun, then harked back to the subject of Korablev.

"You know." Valya said, "I may be wrong, of course, but I have an idea that he was a little in love with Maria Vasilievna. Don't you think so?"

"Maybe."

"Because a very odd thing happened. One day, when I called to see him, I saw her portrait on his desk. I asked him something, because I happened to be going to Tatarinovs the next day, and he suddenly started talking about her. Then he fell silent, and he had such a look on his face… I decided there was something wrong there."

"You don't say so?" I said with annoyance. "What the hell-you must be living up in the clouds. A little in love! Why, he couldn't live without her! And all this was going on right under your nose. But you were busy with your snakes then!"

"No, really? Poor devil!"

"Poor devil's right."

After a pause I asked:

"Were you often at the Tatarinovs?"

"Not very often. About three times."

"How are they getting on?"

Valya rose on his elbow. He seemed to be trying to see my face in the dark, though I had spoken quite calmly.

"They're all right. Nikolai Antonich is a professor now."

"Is that so! What does he read?"

"Pedology," Valya said. "And a highly respected professor, I'd have you know. As a matter of fact…"

"As a matter of fact what?"

"I think you were mistaken about him."

"Do you?"

"Yes," Valya said with conviction. "You were wrong about him. Just look how he treats his pupils, for instance. Why, he's ready to go through fire and water for them. Romashov told me that last year-"

"Romashov? Where does he come in?"

"What d'you mean? It was he who took me to the Tatarinovs."

"How does he come to be there?"

"He's Nikolai Antonich's assistant. He's there every day. He's an intimate friend of the family."

"Wait a minute, what are you talking about? I don't understand. You mean Romashka?"

"Yes, of course," said Valya. "Only nobody calls him that now. By the way, I believe he's going to marry Katya."

I felt a sudden stab through the heart and sat up. Valya sat up, too, and stared at me blankly.

"What's the matter?" he asked. "Oh, of course. Damn it. I'd quite forgotten!"

He muttered something, then looked around with an air of bewilderment and got out of his bed.

"Well, not exactly going to marry-"

"Finish what you were going to say," I said quite calmly.

"What d'you mean 'finish'?" Valya stammered. "I didn't say anything. It was just my idea, it doesn't mean anything. I get funny ideas sometimes, you know."

"Valya!"

"I don't know anything!" Valya said in desperation. "It's only an idea. I get some crazy ideas sometimes. You don't have to believe me!"

"You have an idea that Romashov is going to marry Katya?"

"Hell, no! I tell you, no! Nothing of the sort! He started to dress up, that's all."

"Valya!"

"I swear I don't know anything more."

"Has he talked to you about it?"

"Well, yes. He told me he'd been saving up money since he was thirteen and had now taken and spent it all in six months. Has that got anything to do with it, you think?"

I was no longer listening to him. I lay on the floor, staring out at the sky, and it seemed to me that I was lying in some deep abyss and the whole world was humming and talking above me, while I was lying all alone with nobody to say a word to. The sky was still dark and the stars still visible, but already a faint, distant light was hovering over the earth, and I was thinking-here we had spent the whole night talking and this is where it has led us!

"Good night!"

"Good night!" I answered mechanically.

I wished now I had left with Volodya. A choking sensation came into my throat and I felt like getting up and going out into the fresh air, but I lay where I was, merely turning over onto my stomach with my face in my hands. So that was that! Incredible though it was, I could not stop thinking about it for a minute. The incredible thing about it was Romashka, for I could not imagine him and Katya together. But what made me think she had not forgotten me all this time? After all, we hadn't met for so many years.

Valya was asleep and my going out would probably have awakened him. But I did not feel like talking to him any more, and so I remained lying on my stomach, then on my back, then again on my stomach with my face in my hands.

Afterwards-it must have been round about seven-the telephone rang and Valya jumped up, sleepy-eyed, and ran into the next room dragging the blanket behind him.

"It's for you," he said, returning a moment later.

"Me?"

I threw my coat over my shoulders and went to the telephone.

"Sanya!" It was the doctor speaking. "Where've you disappeared to? I'm phoning from the Executive Committee office. I'm handing over the receiver."

"Comrade Grigoriev," said another voice. It was the Zapolarie police chief. "An urgent matter. You have to fly to Camp Vanokan with Doctor Pavlov. Do you know Ledkov?"

Did I know him! He was a member of the regional Executive Committee and one of the most respected men in the North country. Everyone knew him.

"He's wounded and needs urgent medical aid. When can you fly out?"

"Within an hour," I said.

"And you, doctor?"

I did not catch the doctor's answer.

"Instruments all in order? Good. I'll see you in an hour's time then, at the airfield."

Chapter Ten

THE FLIGHT

These were the people aboard the plane on the morning of March 5th when we took off and headed northeast: the doctor, anxious-looking, wearing dark glasses, which changed his appearance surprisingly, my air mechanic Luri, one of the most popular men in Zapolarie or wherever else in the Arctic he happened to appear for at least three or four days, and myself.

This was my fifteenth flight in the North, but my first flight to a district where they had never seen a plane before. Camp Vanokan was a very remote spot on one of the tributaries of the Pyasina. The doctor had been on the Pyasina before and said it should not be difficult to find Vanokan.

A member of the E.C. had been wounded. It had happened while he was out hunting-so it was believed. Anyway, the doctor and I had been asked to ascertain in what circumstances this had happened. We should arrive at Vanokan about three o'clock, before it grew dark. For an emergency, though, we took with us provisions for three men to last thirty days, a primus-stove, a flare gun with a supply of flares, a shotgun and cartridges, spades, a tent and an axe.

As for the weather, all I knew was that it was fine at Zapolarie but what it was like along our route I had no idea. There was no time to get a report and no one to give it.

And so all was in order when we took off from Zapolarie and headed northeast. All was in order, and I was no longer thinking about what I had heard from Valya the night before. Below me I could see the Yenisei-a broad, white band between white banks, along which ran a forest, now closing in, now drawing back. I had a slight headache after that sleepless night and sometimes there was a ringing in my ears, but only in my ears, for the engine was working splendidly.

After a while I left the line of the river, and the tundra began-a level, endless, snowy plain unrelieved by a single black dot, nothing whatever to catch the eye…

Why had I been so sure that this could never happen? I should have written to her when she sent me her regards through Sanya. But I had not wanted to make any advances to her until I had proved that I was blameless. You must never be too sure of a woman's love, however. Sure of her loving you in spite of everything.

Snow, snow, snow, wherever you looked. There were clouds ahead, and I climbed and drove into them. Better to fly blind than have this endless, dismal, white waste under you which distorted perspective.

I bore Romashka no particular malice, though if he had been here at the moment I should probably have killed him. I bore him no malice, simply because it was impossible to associate that man with Katya, that man with the scruffy thatch on his head and the flaming ears, who had decided at the age of thirteen to get rich and was always saving and counting his money. His wanting to marry her was just as senseless as his wanting, say, to suddenly become a different person other than himself, someone with Katya's candour and beauty.

We passed through the cloud-bank and entered another, beyond which snow was falling. The snow glittered somewhere down below under the sun, which was hidden from us by clouds.

My feet had begun to grow chilled and I regretted that I had put on a pair of fur boots which were a little too tight on me. I should have put on larger ones.

So my mind was made up-1 was going to Moscow. I would have to let her know I was coming, though. I must write her a letter, a letter that she would read and never forget.

We emerged from the layer of dark clouds, and the sun, as always happens when you emerge, seemed brighter than ever-but I still could not decide whether to begin my letter simply with "Katya" or "Dear Katya".

There were the mountains. They rested on the clouds, lit up by the sun, some bare, others covered with dazzling snow. Through the rare rifts in the clouds gorges could be seen, long picturesque gorges, spelling certain death in the event of a forced landing. I could not help thinking of this, then I went on composing my letter, continuing this until I was compelled to give my attention to other, more urgent matters.

There did not seem to be any wind, yet huge cloudlike caps of snow started to break away from the mountain tops and whirled up and up. Within ten minutes it was impossible to imagine that there had just been sun and sky above us. There was now neither earth, nor sun, nor sky. All was chaos and confusion. The wind caught up with us and struck us first from the left, then in front, then from the left again, blowing us off course, to where there was a mist and falling snow-small, brittle snow which stung your face and pierced through every buttonhole and gap in your clothing. Then night closed in. You could not see a thing around you, and for a time I flew the plane in utter darkness. I seemed to be running into walls, for all around us were real walls of snow bolstered up on all sides by the wind. At one moment I broke through them, at the next retreated and broke through again, or found myself far beneath them. It was a frightening experience to feel the plane suddenly dropping a hundred and fifty or two hundred metres, without your knowing how high the mountains were, as they were not marked on my map. All I could do was to wheel round in a half-circle and go back to the Yenisei. I would see the backs there, fly over the high bluffs and steer clear of the blizzard, or, if it came to the worst, return to Zapolarie.

Turning round was easier said than done. The plane began to shudder when I pressed my left foot down and we were flung aside again, but I continued swinging her round. I believe I said something to the machine. It was at that moment that I felt something was going wrong with the engine. This was too bad, because we still had those gorges beneath us, which I had been hoping we had left far behind. We caught glimpses of them here and there-long and utterly hopeless: nobody would find us there or ever know what had happened to us. I had to get away from these death traps, and I did, though I was having engine trouble and would have to put the plane down soon. I began to descend very slowly, keeping an eye on the turn indicator and thinking all the time about the ground, which was somewhere below me, though I did not know where it was or what it was like. Something was beating in my brain, like a clock ticking, and I talked loudly to myself and to the machine. But I was not afraid. I only remember feeling hot for a moment, when some great bulk swept past me. I flung the plane away from it and almost grazed the ground with my wing tip.

Chapter Eleven

THE BLIZZARD

I am not going to describe those three days and nights we spent in the tundra, not far from the banks of the Pyasina. One hour was like another, and only the first few minutes, when we had to make the plane fast somehow to prevent it being swept away by the blizzard, were different from the rest of the time.

Just try securing a plane down in the tundra, which is bare of vegetation, and with a force ten wind blowing! With the engine still running, we placed the plane with its tail to the wind. We thought of burying it, but the moment we touched the snow with a spade the wind blew it away. The plane was still being tossed about and we had to think of some reliable way of anchoring it, because the wind was building up and in half an hour it would be too late. We then did a simple thing-1 recommended it to all Arctic pilots-we tied ropes to the wings and to these in turn we attached skis, suitcases, a box containing cargo, and even a funnel-in short, everything that might help snowdrifts to form rapidly around them. Within fifteen minutes snowdrifts had piled up around these objects, but in other places under the plane the snow was still being blown away.

Now we could do nothing but wait. Not a very cheerful prospect, but the only thing we could do. To wait and wait-who knows how long!

I have already mentioned that we had everything to meet the emergency of a forced landing, but what can you do with a tent, say, if a simple thing like getting out of the plane is a complicated and agonising business, which you can only bring yourself to do once a day and then only because you have to get out once a day.

So passed the first day. A little less warmth. A little more sleepy. To keep from falling asleep I try all kinds of tricks which take a lot of time doing and are of little use. I try, for instance, to light the primus-stove, while I order Luri to light the blowlamp. A difficult task! It's hard to light a primus-stove when every minute you feel your own skin from head to foot, when you suddenly feel yourself going cold somewhere deep inside your ears, as if у our eardrums were freezing and when the snow immediately plasters your face, turning it into an icy mask. Luri tries to crack jokes, but the jokes freeze in mid-air, in a fifty-degree (C.) frost and there is nothing left for him but to joke about his ability to joke under any circumstances and at any time.

So ended our first night and the night after that. A little more sleepy still. And the snow kept rushing past us until it seemed as if all the world's snow was flying past us… The thing was not to let the mechanic fall asleep. He looked the strongest of us, but turned out to be the weakest. The doctor from time to time slapped him and shook him. Then the doctor himself began to doze and I had to shake him from time to time, politely but persistently.

"Nothing of the sort, Sanya. I wasn't sleeping at all," he muttered, opening his eyes with an effort. I no longer felt sleepy. Some years later I read Stefansson's The Friendly Arctic and realised that it was a mistake to go without sleep for such a long time. But at that time I was inexperienced in the ways of the Arctic and believed that to fall asleep in such a situation was courting certain death.

All the same I must have fallen asleep or else I was daydreaming, seeing myself boxed up deep in the earth, because overhead I could distinctly hear a street noise and the clanging and rattling of tramcars. It wasn't very terrifying, only somewhat distressing to find myself lying in that little box all alone, unable to stir hand or foot, and I having to fly somewhere without a minute to spare. Then suddenly I found myself in a street standing before the lighted window of a shop, while inside the shop was Katya, walking calmly up and down without looking at me. It was she without a doubt, though I was a little afraid that it would afterward turn out to be someone else or that something would prevent me from speaking to her. The next moment I rushed to the door of the shop, but it was already empty and dark inside, and on the glass door hung a notice: "Closed."

I opened my eyes, then shut them again, overjoyed at the sight that met them! The blizzard had died down. The snow no longer blinded us, but lay on the ground. Above it were the sun and sky, the immeasurably vast sky that one can only find at sea or in the tundra. Against this background of snow and sky, within two hundred paces of the plane, stood a man. He held a reindeer guiding pole in his hands and behind him stood reindeer harnessed to a sledge. Farther out, as though faintly etched, rose two little snow hills-without a doubt Nenets chooms – skin dwellings. This was the dark mass which I had shied away from when landing. They were now snowed up and only the conical open tops showed black. Around the chooms stood people, adults and children. They stood perfectly motionless, gazing at our aeroplane.

Chapter Twelve

WHAТ IS A PRIMUS-STOVE?

I never thought that thrushing one's feet into a fire could be such a joy. But it is sheer, unalloyed bliss! You feel the warmth flowing into your body, rising higher and higher, and at last, slowly, softly, warming the heart.

I felt nothing else, thought of nothing else. The doctor was muttering something behind me, but I was not listening to him, and did not care a hang about the spirits he was having rubbed into my feet.

The smoke of the tundra shrub they were burning, which is like the smoke of damp pinewood, hung over the hearth, but I did not care a hang for this smoke either-all I cared for was the warmth. I was warm-it was almost unbelievable!

The Nentsi were squatting round the fire and looking at us. Their faces were grave. The doctor was trying to tell them something in Nenets. They listened attentively and nodded understandingly. And then it transpired that they had understood nothing, and the doctor, with a gesture of annoyance, began to act the scene of a wounded man and an aeroplane flying to his aid. It would have been very funny had I been able to keep awake for as long as a minute at a stretch. He lay down, clutching his belly, then jumped up and rushed forward with raised arms. Suddenly he turned to me, saying in amazement:

"Would you believe it! They know all about it. They even know where Ledkov was wounded. It was attempted murder. Somebody shot at him."

He began speaking in Nenets again, and I guessed, through my drowsiness, that he was asking them whether they knew who had fired the shot.

"They say the man who fired the shot went home. Went home to think. He will think a day, two days. But he will come back."

I couldn't fight off sleep any longer. Everything began to swim before me, and I could have laughed through sheer joy at the thought of being able to go to sleep at last.

When I woke up it was quite light. A skin flap had been drawn aside and I saw the doctor standing in a dazzling triangle of light with the Nentsi sitting on their haunches around him. Some way off I could see the plane, and all this was so strongly reminiscent of a familiar film scene that I was afraid it would soon flash past and disappear. But it wasn't a film shot. It was the doctor asking the Nentsi where Vanokan was.

"There?" he shouted irritably, pointing south. "There, there!" the Nentsi cried. "There?" he asked, pointing east. "There."

Then the Nentsi all began pointing to the southeast and the doctor drew a huge map of the Arctic coastline in the snow. But that did not help matters, because the Nentsi regarded the map as a work of art, and one of them, quite a young fellow, drew a figure of a reindeer beside the map to show that he, too, could draw.

The first thing to do was to dig the aeroplane out of the snow. And we should never have been able to cope with this task if the Nentsi had not helped us. I had never seen snow which looked so little like snow. We hacked it with axes and spades and cut it with knives. When the last snow block had been cut out and thrown aside, we untied the fastenings, which I had recommended to the notice of Arctic pilots. Water to warm up the engine was being heated in all available pots and kettles. The young Nenets, who had drawn the reindeer in the snow and now volunteered to act as our navigator to show us the way to Vanokan, had said goodbye to his weeping wife, and this was very amusing, as his wife was wearing trousers of reindeer-skin and only the bits of coloured cloth in her hair distinguished her from the men. The sun came out from behind the high fleecy clouds-a sign of good weather-and I told the doctor, who was putting eye drops into somebody's eyes, that it was time to "get going". At that moment Luri came up to me and said that we could not take off.

A strut in the undercarriage was broken-no doubt this had happened when I shied clear of the tent-dwelling in landing. We hadn't noticed this until the Nentsi had cleared the snow away from the undercarriage.

It was four clear days and nights since we had left Zapolarie. No doubt they would be looking for us and would eventually find us, though the blizzard had carried us off course. They would find us-but could you be certain? Perhaps it was already too late for us to fly to Vanokan, unless we were flying to fetch a corpse?

This was my first real test in the North, and it was with dismay that I thought of having to return empty-handed without having done anything. Or, worse still, they would find me in the tundra, helpless as a puppy, beside a crippled aeroplane. What was to be done?

I called the doctor and asked him to gather the Nentsi.

It was an unforgettable meeting, the one we held in the choom around the fire, or rather around the smoke, which went out through a round hole above our heads. I can't make out how such a crowd of people could pack themselves into that choom\ A reindeer had been slaughtered in our honour, and the Nentsi were eating it raw, holding the meat in their teeth with one hand and cutting slices off close to their lips with amazing dexterity. It was a wonder they did not snip off the tips of their noses while they were at it!

Though I am not squeamish, I tried not to look at the way they dipped these strips in a cup of blood and dispatched them amid a smacking of lips.

"It's bad," I began my speech, "that we have taken on ourselves to help a wounded man, a respected man, and here we are, sitting with you these last four days, and unable to help him. Please, translate that, Doctor."

The doctor translated it.

"But what's still worse is that a lot of time has passed and we are still far away from Vanokan and don't even know exactly which way to fly-to the north or south, the east or west."

The doctor translated.

"Worse still, our aeroplane is damaged. And we can't mend it without your help."

The Nentsi began talking all together, but the doctor raised a hand and they fell silent. I had already noticed that they treated him with great respect.

"We would have fared badly but for you," I went on. "Without you we would have frozen to death, without you we could not have coped with the snow, under which our aeroplane was buried. Translate that, please."

The doctor translated.

"And one more request. We need a piece of wood. We need a small, but very strong piece of wood, a metre long. We shall then be able to mend the aeroplane and fly on further to help that worthy man."

I tried to speak as though I were mentally translating back from Nenets into Russian.

"Of course, I understand that wood is a very rare and precious thing. I would like to give you very much money for that piece of wood a metre long, but I have no money. I can offer you our primus-stove instead."

Luri-we had arranged this beforehand-pulled the stove out from under his anorak and held it up.

"You know, of course, what a primus-stove is. It's a machine that heats water, cooks meat and boils tea. How long does it take to start a fire? Half an hour. But a primus you can light in one minute. On a primus you can even bake pies. It's a splendid thing, a primus, a useful thing for the household."

Luri pumped it up and applied a match to it, and the flame shot up almost to the ceiling. But the damned thing, as if on purpose, wouldn't light, and we had to make believe that it was not supposed to light right away. This was no easy thing, considering that I had just said that lighting it was the work of a moment.

"Give us a piece of strong wood a metre long and we'll give you this primus-stove in exchange."

I was a little afraid the Nentsi would be offended by so modest a gift, but they weren't. They looked gravely at the primus in utter silence. Luri kept pumping it until the burner was red-hot and red sparks started to fly round it. Frankly, at that moment, out there in the wild remote tundra, in this Nenets choom, the thing looked even to me a live, burning, buzzing miracle! All sat silent, gazing at it with genuine respect.

Then an old man with a long pipe in his mouth, and a woman's shawl tied over his head, which in no way detracted from his dignity of mien, rose and said something in Nenets-it sounded to me like one very long sentence. He addressed himself to the doctor, but was replying to me. And this was how the doctor translated him:

"There are three ways of fighting smoke: by screening the smoke-hole on the weather side, which will make it draw better; by raising the nyuk, that is, the skin which serves as a door; by making a hole over the door to let the smoke out. But to receive a guest we have only one way-by giving him whatever he wants. Just now we shall eat reindeer and sleep. Afterwards we shall bring you all the wood we can find in our chooms. As for this magnificent primus, you may do whatever you wish with it."

Chapter Thirteen

THE OLD BOAT-HOOK

And so, no sooner was the reindeer eaten raw, head, ears, eyes and all, than the Nentsi started to drag out all the wooden things they possessed. A hollowed-out plate, a hook for hanging pots, some sort of weaving device in the shape of a board with round holes along the sides, sledge runners and skis.

"No good?"

They were surprised.

"But it's strong wood, it will last a hundred years."

They even dragged up a chair-back, which had found its way into the tundra God knows how. Our future navigator brought a god-a real idol, decorated with bits of coloured cloth, with a bullet-head and a nail driven in where a man has his navel.

"No good? But it's strong wood, it will last a hundred years."

To tell the truth, I felt ashamed of my primus when I saw this Nenets, after saying something sharply to his poor, tearful wife, bring out a tin-bound chest, which was evidently the show-piece in an otherwise empty choom. He came up to me, looking very pleased and deposited the chest in the snow.

"Take this chest," the doctor translated. "It has four strong planks. I am a Komsomol member, I don't need anything, I spit on your primus!"

I'm not sure the doctor translated this last sentence correctly. In any case, it was a fine action, and I wrung a young man's hand.

Have you ever felt your mind occupied by a single idea to the exclusion of all else, and then, all of a sudden, a storm bursts upon your life and you instantly forget what you were striving after only a moment ago with all your soul?

That was what happened to me when I saw an old brass-tipped boat-hook lying in the snow among some poles which were used to build tent dwellings.

Of course, the whole thing was bizarre, beginning from the moment that I started my lecture on the primus with the Nentsi listening to me gravely, and between us, as in a dream, a column of smoke rising up straight as though made of long grey ribbons.

Strange were those wooden household articles lying in the snow round the aeroplane. Strange, that sixty-year-old Nenets with his pipe in his mouth who issued a command to an old woman, and she brought out to us a piece of walrus bone.

But strangest of all was this boat-hook. There was hardly a thing in the world stranger than this.

At that moment Luri put his head out of the cockpit and hailed me, and I answered him from somewhere away, from that distant world into which this thing had suddenly transported me.

What was this boat-hook, then? Nothing much! Just an old brass hook on a pole. But on this old brass, now turned green, were clearly engraved the words: "Schooner St. Maria".

I looked back. Luri was still looking out of the cockpit, and he was undoubtedly Luri, with that beard of his, which I made fun of every day because he had grown it in imitation of the well-known Arctic airman F., and it did not in the least suit his young, vivacious face.

Some distance away, outside the farthest choom, stood the doctor, surrounded by the Nentsi.

Everything was in its place, just as it had been a moment ago. But before me lay the boat-hook with the words "Schooner St. Maria" engraved upon it.

"Luri," I said with deadly calm, "come here."

"Found something?" Luri shouted from the cockpit.

He jumped down, came up to me and started blankly at the boat-hook.

"Read that!"

Luri read it.

"It's from a ship," he said. "The schooner St. Maria."

"That can't be! It can't be, Luri!"

I picked up the boat-hook, cradling it in my arms like a child, and Luri must have thought I had gone mad, because he muttered something and ran to the doctor as fast as his legs could carry him. The doctor came up with an anxious look, took my head between slightly trembling hands and gazed into my eyes.

"Oh, go to hell!" I said with annoyance. "You think I'm off my rocker? Nothing of the sort. Doctor, this boat-hook is from off the St. Maria'."

The doctor removed his spectacles and began to study the boat-hook.

"The Nentsi must have found it on Severnaya Zemlya," I went on excitedly. "Not on Severnaya Zemlya, of course, but somewhere along the coast. Do you realise what this means, Doctor?"

By this time the Nentsi had gathered around, looking on impassively. This might have been the thousandth time they were seeing me showing the boat-hook to the doctor, shouting and getting worked up.

The doctor asked whose hook it was, and an old Nenets with an inscrutable, deeply-lined face, which looked as though carved out of wood, stepped forward and said something in Nenets.

"What does he say. Doctor? Where did he get this boat-hook?"

"Where did you get this boat-hook?" the doctor asked in Nenets.

The Nenets answered.

"He says he found it."

"Where?"

"In a boat," the doctor translated.

"In a boat? Where did he find the boat?"

"On the beach," the doctor translated.

"What beach?"

"The Taimyr."

"Doctor, the Taimyr!" I yelled in such a voice that it brought the old anxious look back into his face. "Taimyr! The coast nearest to Severnaya Zemlya! And where's the boat?"

"There is no more boat," the doctor translated. "Only a bit of it."

"What bit?"

"A bit of boat."

"Show me!"

Luri drew the doctor aside and they stood whispering together while the old man went to fetch the bit of boat. Apparently Luri still believed that my mind was unhinged.

The Nenets reappeared a few minutes later with a piece of tarpaulin-evidently the boat he had found on the coast of the Taimyr Peninsula had been made of tarpaulin.

"Not for sale," the doctor translated.

"Doctor, ask him if there were any other things in the boat? If there were, what things and what became of them?"

"There were some things," the doctor translated. "He doesn't know what became of them. It was a long time ago. Maybe as long as ten years. He says he was out hunting, and saw a sledge standing. On the sledge stood a boat and there were things in the boat. A gun was there, a bad one, couldn't shoot, no cartridges. Skis were there, bad ones. A man was there."

"A man?"

"Wait a minute, I may have got it wrong." The doctor hastily put his question again to the Nenets.

"Yes, one man," he repeated. "Dead, of course. Face eaten away by bears. He was lying in the boat too. That's all."

"Nothing else?"

"Nothing."

"Doctor, ask him whether he searched the man, was there anything in his pockets-papers, documents, maybe."

"There were."

"Where are they?"

"Where are they?" the doctor asked.

The Nenets shrugged. The question sounded rather silly to him.

"Is the boat-hook the only thing that was left? He must have been wearing something. What happened to his clothes?"

"No clothes."

"How's that?"

"Very simple," the doctor said tartly. "Or do you suppose he purposely kept them on the off chance of your dropping down on him from the blue some day with your aeroplane? Ten years! And probably another ten since he died!"

"Don't be angry. Doctor. It's all clear. The thing is to put this story down in writing and have you certify that you heard it with your own ears. Ask him what his name is."

"What's your name?" the doctor asked.

"Ivan Vilka."

"How old?"

"A hundred," the Nenets replied.

We were silent, but Luri held his sides with laughter.

"How old?" the doctor queried.

"A hundred years," Ivan Vilka repeated doggedly in pure Russian.

All the time while his story was being recorded in the choom he kept repeating that he was a hundred. He was probably less, at least he did not look a hundred. Yet the closer I studied that inscrutable wooden face, the more was it brought home to me that he was really very old. He was proud of his hundred years and persisted in repeating it until he was satisfied that we had recorded in the written statement:

"Hunter Ivan Vilka, a hundred years old."

Chapter Fourteen

VANOKAN

To this day it remains a mystery to me where the Nentsi got that length of log from which we made the strut we needed. They went off on skis during the night, probably to some neighbouring nomad camp, and when, next morning, we came out of the choom, where I had spent that I would hardly call the most restful night of my life, this piece of cedar wood lay at the entrance.

Indeed, it had been anything but a cheerful night. The doctor slept by the fire, the long ends of his cap, tied over his head, sticking comically over his anorak like a pair of hare's ears. Luri tossed about and coughed. I could not sleep. A Nenets woman sat by a cradle, and I lay a long time listening to the monotonous tune which she was singing with a sort of apathetic abandon. The same words were repeated every minute until it seemed to me that the whole song consisted of just those two or three words. The baby had long ago fallen asleep, but she kept on singing.

The feeling I had experienced during my conversation with Valya came back to me, and with such force that I wanted to get up and leave the choom, not to have to listen to this dolorous song. But I did not get up. The woman's song gradually grew slower and quieter and then stopped altogether. She was asleep. The whole world was asleep, except me. I lay in the dark, a poignant sense of loneliness and mortification creeping about my heart. Why did I have to make this discovery when all was over, when there was nothing more between us and never would be, and we could meet, if ever we did, as strangers? I tried to fight off this mood of melancholy, but I could not. I tried and tried until at last I fell asleep.

By midday we had repaired the undercarriage. We whittled the log down to the size and shape we wanted it and fixed it in place of the strut. For greater security we tied it down with ropes. The plane now looked a sorry sight, like a winged bird.

It was time to take our leave. The Nentsi gathered round the plane and shook hands all round and we thanked them for their help and wished them a lucky hunting. They laughed, looking pleased. Our navigator, smiling shyly, got into the plane. I don't know what he had said to his wife at parting, but she stood near the plane, looking gay in her fur parka, embroidered along the hem with coloured cloths, with a broad belt and a hood with a huge fur frill which surrounded her face like a halo.

By force of habit I raised my hand, as though asking to be flagged off.

"So long, comrades!"

We were off!

I will not describe how we flew to Vanokan, how our navigator astonished me by his ability to read the snowy wastes beneath us as if they were a map. Over one nomad camp he asked me to stop for a while and was very disappointed to learn that this could not be done.

We found Ledkov in a bad state. I had often met him at meetings and had once even flown him from Krasnoyarsk to Igarka. I had been impressed, among other things, by his knowledge of literature. I learnt that he had graduated from the Teachers' Training College in Leningrad and was generally an educated man. Until the age of twenty-three he had been a herdsman in the tundra and the Nentsi always spoke of him with pride and affection.

He was sitting on the bed, grinding his teeth with pain. The pain would suddenly lift him up. He would hoist himself out of the bed, gripping the back of it with one hand, and throw himself into a chair. It was terrible to see that big, strong body writhing in pain. Sometimes it abated for a few minutes, and then his face would assume a normal expression. Then it would start again. He bit his upper lip and his eyes-the stricken eyes of a strong man fighting for self-control-would begin to squint, and the next moment he would get up on his good leg and fling himself on the bed. But even there he kept tossing about, shifting from place to place. Whether it was because the bullet had hit some nerve-knot or the wound had festered I could not say. But never had I witnessed such a harrowing scene. It made one wince to look at him as he lay writhing on the bed in a vain attempt to still the excruciating pain, then suddenly, without warning, fling himself into a chair at the bedside.

The sight was enough to make any man lose his head, but not Ivan Ivanovich. On the contrary, he seemed to have suddenly grown younger. He bunched his lips and took on the appearance of a determined young army doctor before whom everyone quails. He immediately chased everyone out of the sick-room, including the Chairman of District Executive Committee who had insisted on being present during the examination of Ledkov.

He ordered paraffin lamps to be fetched from all over the settlement-"mind they don't smoke"-and hung them round the walls, making the room brighter than anyone had ever seen in Vanokan before. Then the door was slammed to and the sight of that dazzlingly bright room with the sick man lying on a dazzlingly white table and people in dazzlingly white gowns was shut from the astonished gaze of Vanokan.

Forty minutes later Ivan Ivanovich came out of the improvised operating theatre. The operation had just been a success, because he turned to me as he was taking off his gown and said something in Latin, then quoted Kozma Prutkov: "If you want to be happy, be.it!"

Early the next morning we left Vanokan and landed at Zapolarie three and a half hours later without further adventure.

The incident-the brilliant operation performed by the doctor under such difficult conditions, and our adventurous flight-was eventually reported in Izvestia. The paragraph ended with the words:

"The patient is making a rapid recovery." As a matter of fact he did recover quickly.

Luri and I received a vote of thanks and the doctor a testimonial from the Nenets National Area. The old boat-hook now hung in my room on the wall beside a large map showing the drift of the schooner St. Maria.

At the beginning of June I went to Moscow. Unfortunately I had very little time, having been allowed only ten days during which I had to see both to my own private affairs and to the private and public affairs of my Captain.

PART FIVE

FOR THE HEART

Chapter one

I MEET KATYA

Ten days to break one engagement and arrange another is not much, considering that I had a lot of other business to attend to in Moscow. For one thing I was to read a paper before the Geographical Society on the subject of "A Forgotten Polar Expedition", and it was not even written yet. I also had to take up with the Northern Sea Route Administration the question of organising a search for the St. Maria.

Valya had done some preliminary work for me. He had arranged with the Geographical Society, for instance, for me to read the paper. But, of course, he could not write it for me.

I telephoned Katya. She answered the phone herself.

"This is Sanya," I said.

She was silent. Then, in the most ordinary voice, she said,

"Sanya?"

"That's right."

There was another pause.

"Are you in Moscow for long?"

"No, only a few days," I replied, also trying to speak in an ordinary voice, as if I were not seeing her that very moment with the untied earflaps of her fur cap and the overcoat, wet with snow, which she had worn the last time we met, in Triumfalnaya Square.

"On leave?"

"Both on leave and on business."

It required an effort to keep from asking her: "I hear that you see quite a lot of Romashov?" I made the effort and did not ask.

"And how is Sanya?" she suddenly asked, meaning my sister. "We used to correspond, then we stopped."

We began talking about Sanya, and Katya said that a Leningrad theatre had recently come to Moscow and was presenting Gorky's Mother, and the programme had said that the decor was by "Artist P. Skovorodnikov".

"You don't say?"

"Very good scenery too. Daring, yet simple." We went on talking

and talking about this and that in ordinary voices, until a feeling of horror came upon me at the thought that it would all end like this- with our talking ourselves out in ordinary voices, then parting and my not having any excuse to phone her again.

"Katya, I want to see you. When can you meet me?"

"As it happens, I'm free this evening."

"Nine o'clock, say?"

I waited for her to invite me home, but she did not, and we arranged

to meet-but where?

"What about the public garden at Triumfalnaya?"

"That garden doesn't exist any more," Katya said coldly.

We arranged to meet in the colonnade of the Bolshoi Theatre. That was all we spoke about on the telephone, and there was no sense in my going over each word the way I did all that long day in Moscow.

I went to the offices of the Civil Aviation Board, then went to see Valya at the Zoological Institute. I must have been wool-gathering, because Valya had to repeat to me several times that tomorrow was the twenty-fifth anniversary of Korablev's teaching career and there was to be a meeting to mark the occasion at the school.

Nine o'clock found me outside the Bolshoi Theatre.

It was the same Katya with those plaits coiled round her head and the curls on her forehead, which I always remembered when I thought of her. She was paler and more grown-up, no longer that girl who had kissed me once in a public garden in Triumfalnaya Square. She had acquired a certain restraint in manner and speech. Yet it was Katya all the same, and she had not grown to resemble Maria Vasilievna as strongly as I had feared. On the contrary, her original traits of character had become more pronounced, if anything, she was even more herself than before. She was wearing a short-sleeved white silk blouse with a blue polka-dot bow pinned at the neck, and she put on a severe expression when I tried, during our conversation, to peer into her face.

Wandering about Moscow that cheerless day, we might have been conversing through a wall in different rooms, with the door being opened a little now and again and Katya peeping out to see whether it was me or not. I talked and talked-I don't remember when I ever talked so much. But all this was not what I had wanted to tell her. I told her how I had made up my "Klimov alphabet" and what a job it had been to read his diaries. I told her how we had found the old boat-hook with the inscription "Schooner St. Maria" on it.

But not a word was said about why I had done all this. Not a word. As though the whole thing were long since dead and buried, and there had never been the pain and love, the death of Maria Vasilievna, my jealousy of Romashka, and all the living blood that throbbed in me and Katya.

They were building the Metro in Moscow and the most familiar places were fenced off, and we had to walk the length of these fences over sagging board-walks and then turn back, because the fence ended in a pit which had not been there yesterday and from which voices could now be heard and the noise of underground work.

Our conversation was like that too-all roundabout, hedged, with the most familiar places, known to us from childhood and school years, fenced off. We kept running into these fences, especially when we approached such dangerous ground as the subject of Nikolai Antonich.

I asked Katya whether she had received my letters-one from Leningrad and another from Balashov, and when she said she hadn't, I hinted at the possibility of their having fallen into strange hands.

"There are no strange hands in our house," Katya said sharply.

We returned to Theatre Square. It was already late in the evening, but flowers were still being sold from the stalls, and after Zapolarie it was strange to see so much of everything-people, cars, houses and electric lamps swinging this way and that.

We sat on a bench, and Katya listened to me with her chin propped up in her hand. I remembered how she had always liked to take her time settling herself comfortably the better to be able to listen. It struck me now what the change in her was. It was her eyes. They had grown sad.

It was our one good moment. Then I asked whether she remembered our last conversation in the garden in Triumfalnaya Square, but she did not answer. It was the most terrible of answers for me. It meant that the old answer: "Let's not talk about it any more", still stood.

Perhaps, if I had been able to have a good look into her eyes, I might have read more in them. But she averted them and I gave it up.

All I felt was that she was growing colder towards me with every passing minute. She nodded when I said: "I'll keep you informed." After a pause, she said:

"I wanted to tell you, Sanya, that I appreciate what you are doing. I was sure you had long forgotten the whole thing."

"As you see, I haven't."

"Do you mind if I tell Nikolai Antonich about our conversation?"

"Not at all. He'd be interested to learn about my discoveries. They concern him very closely, you know, more closely than he imagines."

They did not concern him as closely as all that and I had no grounds whatever for making such an insinuation. But I was very sore.

Katya regarded me with a thoughtful air. She seemed to be on the point of asking me something, but could not make up her mind. We said goodbye. I walked away disturbed, angry and tired, and in the hotel, for the first time in my life, I had a headache.

Chapter Two

KORABLEV'S ANNIVERSARY

To celebrate the anniversary of a secondary school teacher when the school had broken up for the summer and the pupils were away struck me as being an odd idea. I told Valya as much and doubted whether anybody would come.

But I was mistaken. The school was crowded. The boys and girls were still busy decorating the staircase with branches of birch and maple. A pile of branches lay on the floor in the cloakroom and a huge figure "25" hung over the entrance to the hall where the celebration meeting was to be held. The girls were arranging festoons and everybody was busy and preoccupied. The air of festive excitement made a cheering sight.

But I was not given a chance to spend much time reminiscing. I was in uniform and in a moment found myself sunounded. Whew! An airman! I was bombarded with questions.

Then a senior form girl, who reminded me of Varya-she was just as plump and rosy-came up to me and said, blushing, that Korablev was expecting me.

He was sitting in the teachers' room, looking older, slightly bent, his hair already grey. He now resembled Mark Twain-that was it. Though he had grown older, it seemed to me that he looked sturdier than when we had last met. His moustache, though greying, was bushier than ever and the loose, soft collar revealed a strong, red neck.

"Ivan Pavlovich, my hearty congratulations!" I said, and we embraced. "Congratulations!" I said between the kisses. "I hope all your pupils will be as grateful to you as I am."

"Thank you, Sanya. Thank you, dear boy," he said, giving me another hug. He was deeply moved and his lips quivered a little.

An hour later he was sitting on the platform, in that same hall where we had once held a court to try Eugene Onegin. And we, as guests of honour, sat on his left and right among the platform party. The latter consisted of Valya, who had put on a bright green tie for the occasion, Tania Velichko, now a construction engineer, who had grown into such a tall stout woman that it was difficult to believe this was the same slim, high-principled girl I had once known, and several other pupils of Korablev's, who had been juniors in our day and whom we had looked down upon as beings who were almost sub-human. Among this generation were a number of military trainees and I was delighted to recognise some of them who had belonged to my Pioneer group.

Then, glamorous and dignified in white spats and a heavy knitted waistcoat, arrived Grisha Faber, actor of the Moscow Drama Theatre. He, for one, hadn't changed a bit! With a lordly air of condescension, as though all this had been arranged for his benefit, he implanted a sovereign kiss upon Korablev's cheek and sat down with legs crossed negligently. He was so conspicuous among the platform party that it began to look as if it were his anniversary that was being celebrated and not Korablev's at all. He passed a languid eye over the audience, then took out his comb and combed his hair. I wrote him a note:

"Grisha, you blighter, hullo!" He read it and waved a hand to me with an indulgent smile.

It was a wonderful evening and a good one, because everybody who spoke spoke the pure truth. Nobody lied-doubtless because it was not hard to speak the pure truth about Korablev. He had never demanded anything else from his pupils. I wish people would speak the same way about me in twenty-five years as they did about Korablev that evening.

I, too, made a little speech, then I went up to Korablev to kiss him, and bumped foreheads with Valya, who had come up to do the same from the other side. My speech had received thin applause, but when we bumped foreheads the applause became thunderous.

Tania Velichko spoke after me, but I did not even heard her, for Nikolai Antonich had arrived.

He came in-stout, dignified, condescending. Dressed in wide trousers, and bending slightly forward, he made his way towards the platform. I saw our poor old Serafima, the one who used to do the "duck" teaching by the complex method, running ahead of him to clear the way for him, while he strode along, unsmiling, taking no notice other.

I had not seen him since that ugly scene, when he had shouted at me, crackling his knuckles, and then spat at me. I found that he had changed a great deal since then. Behind him walked another man, who was also rather stout and walked with his body bent forward, unsmiling.

I should never have guessed who this man was if Valya had not whispered to me at that moment: "There comes Romashka too."

What-that Romashka? That sleek-haired, solid figure with the big, white, presentable face, wearing that smart grey suit? What had become of his yellow matted hair? His unnaturally round eyes-the eyes of an owl-which never closed at night?

He was all neat, sleek, toned down, and even the square heavy jaw did not look so square now. If anything it was fuller and quite presentable too. If Romashka had been able to make a new face for himself he could not have made a better job of it. On someone who met him for the first time he might even have made an agreeable impression.

Nikolai Antonich stepped up on the platform, followed by Romashka, who did everything that Nikolai Antonich did. Nikolai Antonich congratulated Korablev in a cordial, though restrained manner, and shook hands with him, but did not kiss him. Romashka, too, only shook hands with him. Nikolai Antonich passed an eye over the platform party and first greeted the Head of the City Educational Department. Romashka followed suit, the only difference being that Romashka, oddly enough, carried himself more confidently, with greater assurance.

Nikolai Antonich did not notice me. That is, he made believe I was not there. But Romashka on drawing level with me, stopped and threw his hands up in mock surprise, as much as to say: "If that isn't Grigoriev!" As if I had never kicked him in his ugly face.

"Hullo, Romashka!" I said casually.

He winced, but the next moment pretended that we were old friends who were entitled to call each other "Sanya" and "Romashka". He sat down next to me and began talking, but I checked him rather contemptuously and turned away as though listening to Tania.

But I was not listening to Tania. Everything in me was boiling and seething, and it was only by an effort of will that I was able to keep a composed face.

After the meeting the guests were invited to table. Romashka overtook me in the corridor.

"The affair went on splendidly, didn't it?"

Even his voice had become mellower.

"Yes."

"It's a pity, really, that we meet so rarely. After all we're old friends. Where do you work?"

"In civil aviation."

"So I see," he said laughing. "I meant 'where' territorially."

"In the Far North."

"Yes, of course! I'd quite forgotten. Katya told me. At Zapolarie."

Katya! Katya had told him. I grew hot, but answered in a calm voice: "Yes, Zapolarie."

After a pause, he asked guardedly: "Are you here for long?"

"I don't know yet." My reply, too, was guarded. "Depends on a lot of things."

I was pleased with myself for having answered so calmly and guardedly, and from that moment I fully recovered my composure. I became cold and courteous, cunning as a snake.

"Katya told me you were going to read a paper. At the Scientists' Club, I believe?"

"No, the Geographical Society."

Romashka eyed me with pleasure. He looked as if I'd made him happy by saying I was going to read the paper at the Geographical Society and not at the Scientists' Club. And so he was, though I didn't know it at the time.

"What's it about?"

"Come and hear it," I said coolly. "You'll find it interesting."

He winced again, this time markedly.

"Yes," he said, "I'll have to make a note not to miss it." And he began to write in his pocket diary. "What's the paper called?"

"A Forgotten Polar Expedition."

"I say, isn't that about Ivan Lvovich's expedition?"

"Captain Tatarinov's expedition," I said dryly.

But he affected not to hear my correction.

"Some new information?"

The crafty gleam in his eyes told me at once what it was all about.

"Aha, you rat," I said to myself. "Nikolai Antonich put you up to this. Wanted you to find out whether I intend to prove again that it was he, and not some von Vyshimirsky or other, who is to blame for the disaster which overtook the expedition."

"Yes, new information," I said.

Romashka looked at me closely. For a fleeting moment I saw the old Romashka, calculating what per cent of profit would work out if I let the cat out of the bag.

"By the way," he said, "Nikolai Antonich also has some interesting documents concerning that expedition. He has a lot of letters, some of them very interesting. He has shown them to me. Why not get him to show them to you?"

"I see," I said to myself. "Nikolai Antonich has asked you to bring us together to talk this matter over. He's afraid of me. But he wants me to take the first step. Nothing doing!"

"Well, no," I answered casually. "He doesn't know much about it, really. Oddly enough, I know more about his own part in the expedition than he does himself."

This was a well-directed blow, and Romashka, who was a dimwit for all that he had greatly developed, suddenly opened his mouth and stared at me dumbly.

"Katya, Katya," I thought, my heart sore on her account and my own.

"Well, well, so that's how it is," Romashka muttered.

"That's how it is."

We had approached the table and our conversation came to an end. I sat through the evening with difficulty and only did so for Korablev's sake, so as not to hurt his feelings. I felt out of sorts and would have liked to down a few drinks but I took only one glass-to the hero of the day. It was Romashka who proposed the toast. He stood up and waited for a long time in dignified patience for the noise at the table to subside. A self-satisfied expression crossed his face when he delivered himself of a well-turned phrase. He said something about "the friendship which links all the pupils of our dear teacher". He turned to me when he said this, and raised his glass to show that he was drinking to me too. I politely raised my own glass. My own expression must have been none too amiable, because Korablev looked closely first at him, then at me, and suddenly-for the moment I couldn't remember what it meant-laid his hand on the table and motioned to it with his eyes. The fingers began drumming on the table. It was our old pre-arranged signal warning me to keep cool. We both laughed at the same time, and I cheered up a bit.

Chapter Three

WITHOUT A TITLE

I had an appointment that day with a member of the Pravda editorial staff whom I wished to tell about my discoveries. He had put me off twice, being too busy to see me, then at last he telephoned and I went to see him at the Pravda office.

He was a tall, attentive old chap in spectacles, who had a slight squint, so that he seemed to be looking away all the time, thinking of something else. "A specialist of a sort in aviation," he introduced himself. He seemed sincerely interested in my story-at any rate, he began to take it down on his writing pad as soon as I started speaking. He made me sketch a drawing of my method of anchoring a grounded aeroplane during a blizzard and said I ought to write an article about it for the Civil Aviation magazine. He phoned the magazine there and then and arranged when and to whom I was to hand in my article. He seemed to be well aware of the significance of the St. Maria expedition and said that now, when everybody was taking such a great interest in the Arctic, the subject was a timely and useful one.

"But there has already been an article about it," he said. "If I am not mistaken, in Soviet Arctic."

"In Soviet Arctic! "

"Yes, last year."

That was news indeed! An article about Captain Tatarinov's expedition in Soviet Arctic last year?

"I didn't see it," I said. "In any case, the writer cannot know what I know. I've deciphered the diaries of the navigating officer, the only survivor of the expedition to reach the mainland."

That was when I realised that the man before me was your true-born journalist. His eyes suddenly gleamed and he began taking me down quickly, even breaking his pencil in the process. Evidently it was something in the nature of a scoop. He said as much.

"Why, it's a sensation!"

Then he locked his office, and took me to see the "boss", as he declared in the corridor.

I repeated my story briefly to the "boss" and we agreed:

(a) that I would bring the diaries to the office the next day,

(b) that Pravda would send a reporter to my lecture, and

(c) that I would write an article about my discoveries and then "we shall see about where to publish it".

I should have raised the question, while there, of organising a search for the expedition, but decided that this was a special question which had nothing to do with the press. That was a pity, because the journalists would have been able to put me on to somebody at the Northern Sea Route Administration or even telephoned to that person for me. As it was, I spent two hours in the waiting-room for the honour of seeing one of the secretaries of the Head Office. I was shown into a private office, where I spent another half-hour. The secretary was busy. Every minute some sailor, airman, radio-operator, engineer, carpenter, agronomist or artist went in to see him, and all the time he had to pretend he knew all there was to know about aviation, agronomy, painting and radio engineering. At last he turned to me.

"It's only of historical interest," he said when I had rushed through my story. "We have other problems to deal with, more up-to-date."

I said I knew perfectly well that it wasn't the job of the Administration to organise searches for lost expeditions. But since a high-latitudes expedition was going out that year to Severnaya Zemlya, it was quite possible to give it the minor parallel task of exploring the area of Captain Tatarinov's ill-fated expedition.

"Tatarinov, Tatarinov…" the secretary said trying to recall something. "Didn't he write something about it?"

I said he could not have written about it, as the expedition had set out from St. Petersburg about twenty years ago and the last news of it was received in 1914.

"Yes, but who was the Tatarinov who wrote about it?"

"Tatarinov was the Captain," I explained patiently. "He set sail in the autumn of 1912 aboard the schooner St. Maria with the aim of navigating the Northern Sea Route, that is, that very Route in whose administrative offices we now happen to be sitting. The expedition was a failure, but incidentally Captain Tatarinov made important geographical discoveries. There is full reason to believe that Severnaya Zemlya, for instance, was discovered by him, not by Vilkitsky."

"To be sure, there was an article about that expedition and I read it," the secretary said.

"Whose article?"

"Tatarinov's, if I'm not mistaken. Tatarinov's expedition, Tatarinov's article. So what are you proposing?"

I repeated my suggestion.

"Very well, write a memo about it," the secretary said, sounding as if he felt sorry for my having to write a memo which would remain lying in his desk drawer.

I left.

It could not be just a coincidence. In a book-shop in Gorky Street I thumbed through all the issues of Soviet Arctic for the last year. The title of the article was "A Forgotten Expedition"-the title of my own paper!-and was signed "N. Tatarinov". It had been written by Nikolai Antonich!

It was a long article written in a reminiscent vein but with a faint touch of scholarship. It began by describing the schooner St. Maria as she lay at her moorings near Nikolayevsky Bridge in St. Petersburg in the summer of 1912: "The white paint on her walls and ceilings was still fresh, the polished mahogany of her furniture gleamed like a mirror and carpets covered the floors of her cabins. The storerooms and hold were packed with all kinds of supplies. They had everything conceivable-nuts, sweets, chocolate, different kinds of tinned fruit, pineapples, crates of jam jars, biscuits, and many other items, including such necessities as preserved meat and stacks of flour and cereals in bags."

It was amusing to see the way Nikolai Antonich began his article by first describing the food-for me this was further incriminating evidence. Further on, however, he was more circumspect. While mentioning that the expedition had been fitted out at public expense, he modestly hinted that it was to him that the idea of "following in the footsteps of Nordenskjold" first occurred. He spoke with bitterness about the obstacles which the reactionary press and the Ministry of Marine had put in his way. He quoted the note which the Minister of Marine wrote on the report concerning the loss of the St. Maria: "It is a pity that Captain Tatarinov has not returned. I should have had him prosecuted for negligence in the handling of government property."

Still more bitterly did he write about how the Archangel tradesmen had cheated his cousin by palming off on him poor, untrained dogs, which might well have been bought off any street urchin for twenty kopecks a pair, and how the whole business had gone to pieces the moment Nikolai Antonich was forced by illness to withdraw from it. He did not name the tradesmen-no fear! Only one of them was indicated by the initial V. Nikolai Antonich blamed V. for having supplied, at great profit to himself, meat which had had to be thrown overboard even before they reached Yugorsky Shar.

This part of the article was written knowledgeably. Nikolai Antonich even quoted Amundsen to the effect that the success of any expedition depends entirely on its provisioning, and brilliantly proved this point by the example of his "late cousin's" expedition. He quoted passages from his "late cousin's" letters, complaining bitterly of the speculators who took advantage of the fact that he had to cut short his stay at Archangel and put out to sea in a hurry.

Nikolai Antonich wrote practically nothing about the actual voyage, beyond mentioning that at Yugorsky Shar the St. Maria encountered a number of merchant vessels lying at anchor waiting for the break-up of the ice which filled the southern part of the Kara Sea. According to one of the skippers the St. Maria was seen heading into the Kara Sea at dawn on September 17th and was lost to view over the horizon behind an uninterrupted line of ice. "The task which I. L. Tatarinov set himself," Nikolai Antonich wrote, "was not fulfilled." "In passing, however, he made a remarkable discovery-that of Severnaya Zemlya, which he named 'Maria Land'."

I bought this issue of Soviet Arctic, all the more as it contained references to other articles by the same writer on the same subject, and returned to my hotel.

I returned in anything but a good humour. It seemed to me that since this lie had been printed, and so long ago into the bargain-over a year ago-then there was nothing more to be said. It was too late to challenge it, and nobody would listen to me if I did. He had forestalled me. It was a lie, but a lie mixed with truth. He had been the first to point out the significance of the expedition of the St. Maria. He had been the first to show that Severnaya Zemlya had been discovered by Captain Tatarinov six months before it was first sighted by Vilkitsky. He had taken this, of course, from the Captain's letter, which I had given to Katya. He had beaten me to it on all points.

I paced my room whistling.

Truth to tell, what I wanted most at that moment was to go to the railway station and book a ticket to Krasnoyarsk and from there fly to Zapolarie. But instead of going to the station I sat down to write my memorandum. I wrote it all day, and when you work all day all the cheerless thoughts that keep coming into your head have to go away again because the place is occupied.

Chapter Four

NEWS GALORE

I came in to find Korablev squatting in front of the stove, which he was making up. It was such a familiar scene-Korablev there at the stove in his old, shaggy jacket-that I even felt for a moment that all those years had never been, that I was still a schoolboy, and was going to get a wigging, as I did that time when I went to Ensk to see Katya. But then he turned round. "How old he has gone," I thought, and in a flash everything fell back into place.

"There you are at last!" Korablev said gruffly. "Why didn't you come and stay with me?"

"Thanks, Ivan Pavlovich."

"You wrote you'd stay with me, didn't you?"

"I'd be inconveniencing you."

He looked at me, closing one eye, as if the better to take me all in. It was the appraising look of a master examining his handiwork. The sight must have pleased him, because he stroked his moustache and told me to sit down.

"I didn't get a proper look at you yesterday," he said. "I was too busy."

He laid the table, got a bottle out of the cupboard, cut some bread, then got out some cold veal and cut it up. He was still living alone, but the damp old flat looked cosier and did not seem to be so damp. The only thing I didn't like was that while I was talking he was helping himself to the bottle without taking a bite. It worried me.

I said I was going to tell him only the bare essentials, but it is not easy to pick these out when after so many years you meet a person who is near and dear to you. Korablev questioned me about the North, about my work as an airman, and was displeased at the brief answers I gave him.

"Do you remember, Sanya, what you said to me when you were leaving Moscow? You said: 'It remains for me now to prove that I am right even if I have to die in the attempt.' Well, have you proved it?"

It was an unexpected question and I digested it. I remembered our talk all right. I remembered how Korablev had shouted: "What have you done, Sanya! My God, what have you done!" And how he had wept, saying that it was all my fault, because I had insisted that the Captain's letter referred to Nikolai Antonich when in fact it referred to some von Vyshimirsky or other.

I couldn't quite see why Korablev should have mentioned that talk of ours. But he must have had some reason for wanting me to remember it. He looked at me gravely and seemed secretly pleased about something.

"I don't know who cares whether I prove something or not," I said gloomily. "Who wants it?"

"That's just where you're mistaken, Sanya," Korablev said. "You want it, and I want it, and so does one other person. Especially since you have proved to be right."

I stared at him. Five years have passed since that talk of ours. I now knew more than anybody else in the world about Captain Tatarinov's expedition. I had found the navigator's diaries and read them-the hardest job I had ever undertaken. I had had the good luck of meeting that old Nenets, the last man who, with his own eyes, had seen a sledge belonging to the expedition, and on this sledge, a dead man who might have been the Captain himself. Yet I had not found a single piece of evidence to show that I was right.

And now, when I had returned to Moscow and called on my old teacher-who, I would have supposed, had long since forgotten about this affair-now he tells me: "You have proved to be right!"

"Ivan Pavlovich," I began rather shakily, "you really shouldn't say such things unless you have-"

I was going to say "irrefutable evidence", but he checked me. The doorbell rang. Korablev bit his lip and looked round anxiously.

"I say, Sanya… I have to see a certain person. Do you mind sitting here a bit?"

As he said this he led me into the next room, which was like a large bookcase cluttered up with books. Instead of a door it had a green curtain which was full of holes.

"And keep your ears open. It'll be worth your while."

I forgot to mention that Korablev that evening had struck me as behaving rather oddly. Several times he had started to whistle softly. He had paced the room with his hands clasped on his head and ended by chewing the pear stem with which he had been picking his teeth. After piloting me into the "bookcase" he hastily removed the vodka from the table, then took something out of his desk, chewed on it, then took several deep breaths with his mouth wide open, and went out to open the door.

Who do you think was with him when he came back into the room? Nina Kapitonovna! Yes, it was Nina Kapitonovna, bent, thinner than before, with the shadows of age round her eyes, and wearing the same old velvet coat.

She was saying something, but I was not listening. I was watching Korablev as he attended solicitously to his visitor's comfort. He was about to pour her out some tea, but she checked him.

"I don't want any. I've just had some. Well, how are you?"

"So-so, Nina Kapitonovna," Korablev said. "My back aches."

"How come? Making old bones! Fancy saying such a thing! Rub Born Bengue into your back if it aches. It helps."

"Born Bengue-what is that?"

"An ointment. Do you drink?"

"I don't, Nina Kapitonovna, honestly," Korablev said. "I've given ft up. Just once in a while, maybe, a small glass before dinner. Even the doctors advise it."

"No, you do drink. Now, when I was young I lived on a farm down south. My father was a Cossack, you know. He'd come in, hardly able to stand on his two legs, and say: 'That's nothing, if a man wants to kill himself he drinks a glass before dinner every day.' "

Korablev laughed. Nina Kapitonovna looked at him and began to laugh too. Then she told him a story about some winebibber of a countess who "used to down a glass of vodka first thing in the morning, as soon as she woke up. Then she'd start walking around. All yellow, puffy and blowsy. She'd walk around a bit, then have another one. In the morning she was still normal, but by dinnertime she was tight as a drum. In the evening she'd have a houseful o' visitors. Dressed beautifully, she'd sit down at the piano and sing. Talk about kind-hearted! Everyone went to her. With the most trifling things. A fine person, she was. But a drunkard!"

Apparently, this example did not exactly please Korablev, who tried to change the subject. He asked how Katya was getting on.

Nina Kapitonovna made a little deprecating gesture with her hand. "We quarrel," she said with a sigh. "She's so touchy. And awfully

proud! If she fails in one thing, she goes after another. That's why

she's so nervous, all on edge."

"Nervous?"

"Yes. And proud. And she won't talk," said Nina Kapitonovna. "I've had an eyeful of those who won't talk, you know. I don't like the look of it at all. I mean the way she keeps to herself. What's the sense? Why not unburden your mind? But she won't." "Why don't you ask her, Nina Kapitonovna?" "She won't say. I'm like that myself. I'll never say." "I met her once, she seemed all right to me," said Korablev. "She was going to the theatre-true, all by herself, and I thought it strange. But she was quite cheerful, she said, by the way, that she'd been offered a room in a Geological Institute house."

"They did offer her a room. But she hasn't moved in." "Why not?" "She feels sorry for him." "Sorry?" Korablev queried.

"Yes, sorry. For the sake of her mother's memory, and for his own sake, too. And when she's not there he's not himself. Soon as he comes in he asks: 'Where's Katya? Has she phoned?'" I guessed at once that "he" was Nikolai Antonich. "So she hasn't left. AU the time waiting for someone." Nina Kapitonovna moved her chair up closer to Korablev. "I read a letter once," she whispered slyly, looking round as if Katya might see her. "They must have become friends at Ensk when Katya was there for her holidays. His sister. And she writes: 'He keeps asking me in every letter, where is Katya, what's the matter with her, I'd give everything to see her. He can't live without you and I can't understand what this quarrel of yours is about.' "

"Excuse me, Nina Kapitonovna, I didn't get you. Whose sister?" "Whose? Why, that chap. That friend of yours." Korablev darted a look in my direction, and I met his eyes through a hole in the curtain. My sister? Sanya?

"Well, I suppose that's how it really is," said Korablev. "Very likely he can't live without her. I shouldn't be surprised."

" 'He keeps asking'," Nina Kapitonovna repeated pointedly, "And 'he can't live without you'. There! And she can't live without him."

Korablev again glanced in my direction. I fancied a smile lurking in his moustache. "Yet she thinks of marrying another."

"Nothing of the kind. He isn't of her choice. She has no use for that Romashov fellow. No more have I. That holy Joe." "Holy Joe?"

"That's what he is. Full o' taradiddle too. Whatever you tell him he's sure to add something to it right away. Thievish too." "Surely not, Nina Kapitonovna!"

"Thievish, I say. He took forty rubles from me, said it was to buy a present, and never gave it back. I didn't remind him, of course. And such a busybody, so nosy. My God! If it wasn't for my age-" She waved her hand with a rueful gesture.

You can imagine what my feelings were as I listened to this conversation! I looked at the old lady through the hole in the curtain, and that hole was like a lens in which everything that had happened between Katya and me was focussed, becoming clearer and clearer every minute. Everything came nearer and fell into place, and there was such a lot of it and all so good that my heart began to quiver, and I realised that I was terribly excited. The only thing I couldn't understand was this: I had never "kept asking" my sister and had never written to her that "I could not live without Katya".

"Sanya made that up, that's what it is," I said to myself. "She was fibbing. Yet it was all true."

Nina Kapitonovna was still speaking, but I was no longer listening. I had forgotten myself to such an extent that I began to walk up and down my "bookcase" and only recollected myself when I heard Korablev's warning cough.

And there I sat in the "bookcase" until Nina Kapitonovna went away. I don't know why she had come-maybe it was just to unburden her heart, Korablev kissed her hand at parting and she kissed him on the brow, the way they had always done when taking leave of each other.

I was lost in thought and did not hear him come back into the room until suddenly I saw his nose and moustache above me between the curtains.

"Still breathing?"

"Still breathing, Ivan Pavlovich."

"What have you to say?"

"That I'm a hopeless, drivelling idiot," I answered, clutching my head. "The way I spoke to her! My God! I did not understand a thing. Not a thing! And she was waiting for me to say something. What must her feelings have been, Ivan Pavlovich! What does she think of me!"

"Never mind, she'll change her mind."

"Never! Do you know what I told her? " I said to her: 'I'll keep you informed.'

Korablev laughed.

"Ivan Pavlovich!"

"But didn't you write that you couldn't live without her?"

"I didn't!" I cried despairingly. "Sanya made that all up. But it's true, Ivan Pavlovich! It's the absolute truth. I can't live without her, and the quarrel between us is really over nothing, because I thought she didn't love me any more. But what's to be done now? What's to be done?"

"Look here, Sanya, I have a business appointment at nine o'clock. At a theatre. So if you-"

"All right. I'm going. May I call on Katya now?"

"She'll show you the door, and she'll be quite right."

"I don't care if she does, Ivan Pavlovich!" I said, and suddenly embraced him. "Damn и all, I just don't know what to do now. What do you say?"

"I have to change just now," Korablev said, going into the "bookcase". "As for you, I suggest you pull yourself together."

I saw him take off his jacket, turn up the collar of his soft shirt and start tying his tie.

"Ivan Pavlovich!" I suddenly yelled. "Wait a minute. I quite forgot! You said I was right when we argued about whom the Captain's letter referred to."

"I did."

"Ivan Pavlovich!"

Korablev came out of the "bookcase" brushed and combed, in a new grey suit, looking young and presentable.

"Now, we're going to the theatre," he said gravely, "and you'll learn everything. Your job will be to sit and say nothing. Sit and listen. Is that clear?"

"I'm all in the dark. But let's go."

Chapter Five

AT THE THEATRE

The Moscow Drama Theatre! To judge from Grisha Faber's description, it was a big, real playhouse in which all the actors wore smart white spats like he did and spoke just as loudly and well. Something like the Moscow Art Theatre. But it turned out to be a little place in Sretenka up some side street.

The play that evening, as the illuminated showcase at the entrance announced, was Wolf's Trail, and we immediately found Grisha's name in the cast. He was playing the doctor. His name stood last in the list.

Grisha met us in the foyer, looking as resplendent as ever, and invited us at once to his dressing-room.

"I'll call him in as soon as the second act starts," he said mysteriously to Korablev.

I glanced questioningly at Korablev, but he was busy fitting a cigarette into his long holder and pretended not to have noticed my look.

There were three other actors in Grisha's dressing-room, who looked as if they belonged there. But when Grisha proffered us chairs there they tactfully went out, and he apologised for the place. "My private dressing-room is undergoing repairs," he said. We began talking about our school theatre, recalled the tragedy The Hour Has Struck, in which Grisha had played the part of a Jewish foster-child, and I said I thought him simply wonderful in that role. Grisha laughed, and suddenly the air of self-importance fell away from him.

"I don't understand what happened, Sanya. You used to draw well, I remember," he said. "What made you suddenly take to the sky? Hell, come and join our theatre. We'll make a scenic artist out 'of you. Not bad, eh?"

I said I had no objection. Then Grisha excused himself again-he had to go on very shortly and the make-up man was waiting for him- and went out. We were left alone.

"For God's sake, Ivan Pavlovich, what is it all about? What have you brought me here for? Who is 'he'? Who is it you want me to

meet?"

"You won't do anything silly, will you?"

"Ivan Pavlovich!"

"You've done one silly thing already," Korablev said. "Two, as a matter of fact. First, you didn't come and stay with me. Second, you told Katya: 'I'll keep you informed.' "

"But Ivan Pavlovich, how was I to know? You simply wrote to me that I should come to you. I never suspected it was so important. Now tell me, who are we waiting for here? Who's this person, and why do you want me to meet him?"

"All right," said Korablev. "Only don't forget-you've got to sit still and say nothing. The man is von Vyshimirsky."

We were sitting, you will remember, in Grisha's dressing-room in the Moscow Drama Theatre. But at that moment it seemed to me that all this was taking place, not in the dressing-room, but on the stage, because Korablev had hardly finished the sentence than into the room, ducking not to knock his head on the low lintel of the doorway, stepped von Vyshimirsky himself.

I guessed at once that it was he, though until that moment it had never occurred to me that the man ever existed. I had always thought that Nikolai Antonich had invented him in order to heap on him all my accusations. He had been no more than a name, and now here he was, suddenly materialising as a tall, weedy old man with a bent back and yellow-grey moustache. Nowadays, of course, he was simply Vyshimirsky, with no "von" handle to his name. He wore a uniform jacket with brass buttons-that of a cloakroom attendant.

Korablev said "good evening" to him. He responded easily, even patronisingly, with an extended hand.

"So this is who is waiting for me-Comrade Korablev," he said. "And not alone, but with his son. He is your son?" he added quickly, glancing swiftly from me to Korablev and back again.

"No he's not my son, he's a former pupil of mine. But he's an airman now and he wants to meet you."

"An airman and wants to meet me?" Vyshimirsky said with an unpleasant smile. "Why should an airman be interested in my poor person?"

"Your poor person interests him," said Korablev, "because he happens to be writing an account of Captain Tatarinov's expedition. And you, as we know, took a very active part in that expedition."

This remark did not exactly please Vyshimirsky, I could see. He darted another quick look at me, and something like suspicion-or was it fear?-flashed in his old rheumy eyes.

The next moment he assumed a dignified air and began to talk nineteen to the dozen. Almost every other word was "Comrade Korablev", and he boasted blatantly. He said that it had been a great, historic expedition, and that he had done a lot "to make it a shining success". While saying this, he kept fidgeting about all the time, standing up, making various motions with his hands, seizing his left whisker and nervously tugging it downward, and so on.

"But that was a very long time ago," he wound up in a surprised sort of way.

"Not so very long," Korablev interposed. "Just before the revolution."

"Yes, just before the revolution. In those days I wasn't working in an artel of disabled men. The work I'm doing now is only temporary, though, because I have important services to my credit. We put in some good work those days. Yes, very good work."

I was about to ask him what, exactly, that work was, but Korablev silenced me with a steady, blank gaze.

"You once told me something about this expedition," Korablev went on. "I remember you saying you have certain papers and letters. Would you please repeat your story to this young man, whom you can simply call Sanya. Name the day and hour he can come and see you and leave your address with him."

"Certainly! I shall be delighted. You can come and see me, though I must apologise beforehand for my lodgings. I used to have an eleven-room apartment, and I don't conceal the fact, on the contrary, I write it down whenever I have to fill up a questionnaire, because I have done good service for the people. On the strength of this I have applied for a special pension, and I shall get it, because I have rendered great services. This expedition is a mere drop in the ocean! I have built a bridge across the Volga."

And off he went again! With that tuft of grey hair sticking up on his head he resembled a harassed old bird.

Then the lamp in Grisha's dressing-room went out for a second-signalling the end of the act-and this spectre of a past age vanished as suddenly as it had appeared.

The whole conversation had lasted some five minutes, but it seemed to me that it had gone on for a very long time, as in a dream. Korablev looked at me and laughed; my face must have been a study.

"Ivan Pavlovich!"

"Yes, my boy?"

"Was that him?"

"It was."

"Can that be?"

"It can."

"The very same man?"

"The very same."

"What did he tell you? Does he know Nikolai Antonich? Does he go there?"

"Oh, no," Korablev said. "That he doesn't."

"Why not?"

"Because he hates Nikolai Antonich."

"Why?"

"For various reasons."

"What did he tell you? That power of attorney made out to von Vyshimirsky-where did it come from? You remember telling me

about it?"

"Ah! That's just it!" Korablev said. "The power of attorney! He nearly burst a blood vessel when I asked him about it."

"Ivan Pavlovich, tell me all about it, please, I beg you! D'you think it was nice, your telling me at the last moment that Vyshimirsky was coming? I was so flabbergasted he must have thought me an idiot."

"On the contrary, he took a fancy to you," Korablev answered gravely. "He has a grown-up daughter and he looks at every young man from one angle-whether he's eligible or not. You are definitely eligible-young, good-looking and an airman to boot."

"Ivan Pavlovich," I said reproachfully, "I don't know what's come over you, really. You've changed a lot, yes, you have. You know how important this is for me, yet you make fun of me."

"Oh, all right, Sanya, don't be angry. I'll tell you everything," said Korablev. "But first let's get out of here before Grisha catches us and makes us sit through a play at the Moscow Drama Theatre."

"How on earth did you find this Vyshimirsky fellow?" I asked.

"Very simple-his son goes to our school," Korablev replied.

Chapter Six

STILL MORE COMES TO LIGHT

I never understood anything about bills of exchange-the word itself had gone out of use when I started going to school. What's an "acknowledgment of loan"? What's an "endorsement"? What's a "policy"? Not in the political sense-everyone knows that. What's a "discount"?

When these and other banking terms occurred in books that I read it always reminded me of the "Chambers" at Ensk-the iron seats in the dimly-lit high corridor, and the unseen official behind the barrier to whom Mother had bowed so humbly. It was a reminder of the old, long-forgotten life, which gradually emerged from the dim past as Vyshimirsky unfolded to me the story of his misfortunes.

We were sitting in a small room with a basement window through which I could see a broom and a pair of legs-evidently belonging to the yardman. Everything in this room was old-the rickety chairs held together with strings, the dining table on which I leaned my elbow only to remove it at once because the panel bade fair to drop off. There was dirty upholstery material everywhere-on the window in lieu of curtains, on the shabby covering of the sofa, and even the clothes hanging on the wall were covered with the same stuff. The only new things in the room were some slats, reels and coils of wire with which Vyshimirsky's son was occupied over a table in a corner of the room. The boy was about twelve, with a round, sunburnt face. He, too, was quite new, and as far removed from the world which his father's story conjured up to me as heaven is from earth.

It was a long, disjointed tale, interspersed with references to bills of exchange and discounts, and full of digressions and a good deal of nonsense. Absolutely everything the old man had ever done in his lifetime he put down to his credit as a service rendered "to the people". He made much of his work as secretary to the Metropolitan Isidore, declaring that he had an intimate knowledge of the life of the clergy and had even made a special study of it in the hope that this might be "of benefit to the people". He was prepared to blow the lid off this Metropolitan at any moment.

Another job he laid to his credit was with some admiral by the name of Heckert. This admiral had "an insane son" and Vyshimirsky took him around restaurants so that nobody should guess that he was insane, a fact which "they tried to conceal".

Then he started talking about Nikolai Antonich, and I pricked up my ears. I had been convinced that Nikolai Antonich had always been a teacher. He was a typical schoolmaster. Even at home he was always lecturing, citing examples.

"Nothing of the sort," Vyshimirsky said with a vicious grimace. "He took that up when he was at the end of his tether. He was in business. He played the stock-market, he was a stock-jobber. A wealthy man who played the market and engaged in business."

This was the first piece of news. It was followed by a second. I asked what connection there was between Captain Tatarinov's expedition and stock-jobbing. What had made Nikolai Antonich take a hand in it? Was it because it was profitable?

"He would have taken a still more willing hand in it if the expedition had been to the next world," said Vyshimirsky. "He counted on that, counted very strongly." "I don't understand." "He was in love with the Captain's wife. There was quite a lot of talk about that at the time. Quite a lot. But the Captain did not suspect anything. He was a fine man, the Captain, but simple-minded. A regular sea-dog!" '

I was dumbfounded.

"Nikolai Antonich in love with Maria Vasilievna? Even in those days?"

"Yes, yes," Vyshimirsky repeated impatiently. "There were personal reasons. Get me-personal? Personal, person, personality. He would have given his whole fortune to have that Captain packed off to the next world. And pack him off he did."

But love or not love, business was business. Nikolai Antonich did not give up his fortune, on the contrary he doubled it. He took delivery of rotten clothing for the expedition and pocketed a bribe from the supplier. He took delivery of spoilt chocolate that smelt of kerosene, also in return for a bribe.

"Sabotage, deliberate sabotage," said Vyshimirsky. "It was planned as such!"

Evidently Vyshimirsky had not always held this negative view of the plan, considering his part in it and the fact that Nikolai Antonich had sent him to Archangel to meet the expedition and complete its fitting out.

This was where the power of attorney which Nikolai Antonich had shown to Korablev first comes into the picture. Together with this document Vyshimirsky had received money in cash and bills of exchange.

Sniffing angrily, the old man fished several bills out of the chest of drawers. A bill of exchange, broadly speaking, was a receipt for money stipulating that it was to be paid back at a stated time. Only this receipt was made out on thick state paper, which had watermarks and an expensive, impressive look. Vyshimirsky explained to me that these bills circulated in place of money. But they were not exactly money, because the "drawer" might suddenly declare that he had no money to meet them.

This left openings for all kinds of sharp practices, and Vyshimirsky accused Nikolai Antonich of one such swindle.

He accused him of having sent him, along with the power of attorney, bills of exchange which were no good, because the drawers were insolvent and unable to pay, and Nikolai Antonich had known this beforehand. Vyshimirsky did not know this and took the bills for money, all the more as the drawers were merchants and other people who were considered respectable in those days. He did not know this until the schooner had set sail, leaving debts to the amount of forty-eight thousand. Nobody, of course, would negotiate these dead bills.

And so Vyshimirsky had had to pay these debts out of his own pocket. Afterwards he had had to pay them over again, because Nikolai Antonich brought an action against him and the court ordered Vyshimirsky to repay all the monies which had been remitted to him in Archangel.

Of course, I have given only the gist of this story. The old man spent two hours telling it, and kept getting up and sitting down during its narration.

"I fought the case all the way to the Senate," he wound up grimly. "But I lost it."

That was the end of him, because his property came under the hammer. His house-he had a house-was sold too, and he moved into smaller rooms. His wife died of grief, leaving him with young children on his hands. Then, when the Revolution came, he found himself in a single room, the one he was now obliged to live in. Or course, this was "only temporary", because "the government would soon appreciate his services to the people at their true worth". Meanwhile, he was obliged to live there, and he had a grown-up daughter who knew two languages and couldn't get married owing to the cramped space they lived in-there was no room in it for the husband. But he would move out as soon as he got his special pension.

"I'll move anywhere, to a Disabled Persons' Home if need be," he said with a gesture of bitter resignation.

Obviously, this grown-up daughter of his was very keen of getting married and wanted him to move out.

"Nikolai Ivanovich," I said to him, "may I ask you one question? You say that he sent this power of attorney to you in Archangel. How did he get it back again?"

Vyshimirsky stood up. His nostrils dilated and the tuft of grey hair on his head quivered with anger.

"I threw the paper in his face," he said. "He ran out to get me some water, but I didn't stay to drink it. I had a fainting fit in the street. Oh, what's the use of talking!"

I heard him out with a painful feeling. There was something sordid about this story, as sordid as everything else around me in that room, so that all the time I felt like washing my hands. It had seemed to me that our talk would yield further evidence proving me in the right, evidence as new and surprising as the sudden appearance of this man himself had been. And so it did. Nevertheless, it was annoying to think that this new evidence was contaminated with dirt.

Then he started off again about his pension, saying that they were bound to give him a special pension, seeing that he had an employment record of over forty-five years. One young man had already called on him and collected his papers. He, too, was interested in Nikolai Antonich, by the way, but he did not call again.

"He promised to do something for me," said Vyshimirsky, "but he never came again."

"Interested in Nikolai Antonich?"

"Yes. He was interested, to be sure he was."

"Who was it?"

Vyshimirsky spread his hands.

"He called several times," he said. "I have a grown-up daughter, you know, and they sat together talking and drinking tea. Getting acquainted, you know."

The shadow of a smile crossed his face-evidently this acquaintance had raised certain hopes.

"Well, well," I said. "And he took some papers away, you say?"

"Yes. To help get my pension, a special pension."

"And he inquired about Nikolai Antonich?"

"Yes, he did. He even asked whether I knew anybody else. Whether anybody else knew what this ugly customer had been up to. I put him on to one man."

"That's interesting. Who is that young man?"

"A respectable-looking man, too," said Vyshimirsky. "He promised to do something. He said he had to have all those papers to get me a pension. A special pension."

I asked what his name was, but the old man could not remember.

"Something with a 'sha' in it," he said.

Then his grown-up daughter came in. I could see now why there was such a hurry to get her married. It was going to be a problem, not because there was "no room for a husband" but because to that lady's nose. It was a terrific nose, and it kept sniffing and snuffling with an alarmingly predatory air.

I greeted her politely, and she ran out, reappearing some minutes later looking quite a different person. She was wearing a normal dress now in place of that Arab burnous thing she had had on when she came in.

We fell into conversation, talking first about Korablev, who was the only acquaintance we had in common, then about his pupil, who was still fiddling about in his comer with his reels and coils and paying no attention to us whatever.

"Anyuta, what was the name of that young man?" her father asked timidly.

"What young man?"

"The one who promised to get me my pension."

Anyuta's nose twitched and her lips quivered, and a variety of expressions crossed her face. The strongest was indignation.

"I don’t remember-Romashov, I think," she answered carelessly.

Chapter Seven

"WE HAVE A VISITOR!"

Romashka! Romashka had been to see them! He had promised the old man assistance in getting him a special pension, he had paid court to Anyuta with the nose! In the end he had disappeared, taking some papers with him, and the old man could not even remember what kind of papers they were. At first I thought this was some other Romashov, some other man by the same name. But no, it was the same one. I described him in detail, and Anyuta said venomously:

"That's him!"

He had paid court to her, that was clear. Afterwards he had stopped paying court, otherwise she would not be calling him the names she did. He had got out of the old man everything he knew about Nikolai Antonich. He was collecting information. What for? Why had he taken from Vyshimirsky those papers, which only went to prove one thing – that before the revolution Nikolai Antonich had been no teacher, but just a mean stock-jobber?

I came away from Vyshimirsky with a reeling head. There could be only two solutions here-either that his purpose was to destroy all traces of this past, or to get some sort of hold over Nikolai Antonich.

A hold over him? But why? Wasn't he his pupil, his most devoted and loyal pupil? He had always been that, even at school, when he eavesdropped on the boys to hear what they were saying about Nikolai Antonich and then reported it to him. No, he was acting on instructions! Nikolai Antonich had asked him to find out what Vyshimirsky knew about him. It was a "plant". He had sent Romashov to take away the papers which might prove damaging to him.

I went into a cafe and had some ice-cream. Then I had a drink of something-some mineral water. I felt very hot and kept thinking and thinking. After all, many years had passed since Romashka and I had parted after finishing school. At that time he had been a nasty piece of work, a mean, cold soul. But he was sincerely devoted to Nikolai Antonich-at least, so we thought. Now I wasn't so sure. He may have changed. Perhaps, without Nikolai Antonich knowing it, out of pure devotion to him, he had decided to destroy papers which might cast a reflection on the good name of his teacher, his friend?

No, he would never do anything merely out of devotion to that man. There was some other motive behind this, I was sure. But I couldn't make out what that motive was. I could only go by the old set of relations which had existed between Nikolai Antonich and Romashka, as I knew very little about their present relations.

It might have been some very simple motive, something to do with promotion. Nikolai Antonich, it should be remembered, was a professor, and Romashka was his assistant. It might even be money-even as a schoolboy his ears used to burn at the mere mention of money. Something to do with his salary perhaps.

I phoned Valya. I wanted to consult him, seeing that he had been visiting the Tatarinovs in recent years, but he was not at home. He never was when he was most needed!

"No, it's not salary or a career," I went on thinking. "He'd get these by other, simpler means. You only have to look at him." It was time to go home, but evening was only just drawing in, a lovely Moscow evening so unlike my evenings at Zapolarie that I felt a desire to walk back to my hotel, though it was a good distance away.

And so I sauntered off, first in the direction of Gorky Street, then down Vorotnikovsky Street. Familiar places! I had passed my hotel and continued down Vorotnikovsky, then turned off into Sadovo-Triumfalnaya, past our school. And from there it was a stone's throw to 2nd Tverskaya-Yamskaya, where a few minutes later found me standing in front of a familiar house. I looked through the gate and saw a familiar tidy little courtyard and a familiar brickbuilt woodshed where I used to chop wood for the old lady. And there was the staircase down which I had tumbled head over heels, and there the door with the brass nameplate on which was inscribed in fanciful lettering: "N. A. Tatarinov".

"Katya, I've come to see you. You won't drive me away, will you?"

Afterwards Katya said that she realised at once the moment she saw me that I was "quite different" from what I had been the other day outside the Bolshoi Theatre. One thing she couldn't make out, though-why, coming to see her so suddenly and looking "quite different", I never took my eyes off Nikolai Antonich and Romashka the whole evening.

That was an exaggeration, of course, but I did glance at them now and again. My brain that evening was working at full exam-time pressure and I guessed and grasped things at a bare hint.

I forgot to mention that before leaving the cafe I had bought some flowers. I had walked to the Tatarinovs' house carrying a bunch of flowers and felt rather awkward. Ever since the days Pyotr and I had stolen gillyflowers from the gardening beds at Ensk and sold them for five kopecks a bunch to people coming out of the theatre, I had never walked through the streets carrying flowers. Now that I had come, I should have given the flowers to Katya. Instead, I put them down on the hall table beside my cap.

I just have shown some agitation, though, because when I spoke I couldn't keep the ring out of my voice. Katya looked at me quickly straight in the face.

We were about to go into her room, but at that moment Nina Kapitonovna came out of the dining-room. I bowed. She looked at me blankly and nodded stiffly.

"Grandma, this is Sanya. Don't you recognise him?"

"Sanya? Bless my heart! Is it really?"

She threw a startled look over the shoulder, and through the open door of the dining-room I saw Nikolai Antonich sitting in an armchair with a newspaper in his hands. He was at home!

"How do you do, Nina Kapitonovna!" I said warmly. "Do you still remember me? I bet you have forgotten me."

"No I haven't. Forgotten! Nothing of the sort," the old lady answered.

We were still embracing when Nikolai Antonich appeared in the doorway.

It was a moment of renewed mutual appraisal. He could have ignored me, as he had done at Korablev's anniversary party. He could have made it plain that we were strangers. Finally, he could have shown me the door if he had dared. But he did none of these things.

"Ah, our young eagle?" he said affably. "So you've come flying in at last? And high time too."

And he held his hand out to me unhesitatingly.

"How do you do, Nikolai Antonich."

Katya looked at us in surprise, and the old lady blinked dazedly, but I was tickled – I now felt up to any talk with Nikolai Antonich.

"Well,'well… That's fine," Nikolai Antonich said, regarding me gravely. "It seems only yesterday that we had a boy, and now he's an Arctic pilot, if you please. And what a profession to have chosen too! Good for you!"

"Quite an ordinary profession, Nikolai Antonich," I said "Just like any other."

"Any other? What about self-control? And courage in dangerous situations? And discipline? Not only service discipline, but moral discipline, too-self-discipline, so to speak."

It made me feel sick, as of old, to hear these bombastic, well-turned phrases of his, but I listened to him with courteous attention. He looked much older than he had at the anniversary party and his face was careworn. As we passed into the dining-room he put an arm round Katya's shoulders, and she drew away with a barely perceptible movement.

In the dining-room sat one of the Bubenchikov aunts, which one exactly I couldn't make out. My last encounter with the two of them had been a rather stormy one. Anyway, this aunt now greeted me quite nicely.

"Well, we're waiting," said Nikolai Antonich, when Nina Kapitonovna, fussing timidly around me, had poured me out some tea and moved up to me everything that lay on the table. "We're waiting to hear some tales of the Arctic. Flying blind, permafrost, drifting icefields snowy wastes!"

"Nothing to write home about, Nikolai Antonich," I answered cheerily. "Just icefields as icefields go."

Nikolai Antonich laughed.

"I once met an old friend who is now working in our trade delegation in Rome," he said. "I asked him: 'Well, what's Rome like?' And he answered: 'Nothing much. Just Rome.' "

His tone was condescending. Katya was listening to us with down-a cast eyes. To keep the ball rolling I started talking about the Nentsi, about the Arctic scenery, and even my flight to Vanokan with the doctor. Nina Kapitonovna wanted to know whether I flew very high, and this reminded me of Aunt Dasha's letter which I had received when still at school at Balashov: "Since it's not your lot to walk on the ground like other people, then I beg you, Sanya dear, to fly low."

I told them how Misha Golomb had got hold of that letter and how, ever since then, whenever I put on my flying-helmet, the boys at the airfield used to shout from all sides: "Sanya, don't fly high!"

Misha started a comic journal at the school entitled Fly Low. It ran a special section called: "Flying Techniques in Pictures" with verses like this:

It's good to glide when you get height,

Don't try daisy-clipping, though,

Don't risk your life on any flight,

Take Auntie's advice and fly low.

I must have made it a good story, because everyone laughed, loudest of all Nikolai Antonich. He held his sides with laughter. His face turned pale – it always did when he laughed.

Katya hardly sat at the table. She kept getting up and disappearing for long periods in the kitchen, and I had an idea that she went out in order to be alone and think things out. She had that sort of look when she came back into the room. On one such occasion she went up to the sideboard with a biscuit barrel and evidently forgot what she had gone there for. I looked her straight in the eye and she answered with an anxious puzzled look.

Nikolai Antonich must have noticed our exchange of glances. His face clouded and he began to speak still more slowly and smoothly.

Then Romashka arrived. Nina Kapitonovna answered the doorbell and I heard her say to him in the hall in a tone of timid malice:

"We have a visitor!"

He lingered in the hall for quite a time, preening himself, no doubt. When he came in he did not show the slightest surprise at seeing me.

"Ah, so that's who your visitor is," he said with a sour smile. "Very glad. Very glad to see you, very glad." His face belied his words. If anybody was glad it was me. From the moment he came in I watched his every movement. I did not take my eyes off him. What kind of man was he? How had he turned out? What was his attitude to Nikolai Antonich, to Katya? He went up to her and started chatting, and every movement, every word of his was a sort of riddle which I had to guess there and then, while my eyes kept drilling his face and I kept thinking about him.

Now that I saw them together, him and Katya, I could have laughed-so insignificant did he look beside her, so ugly and meanly. He sounded very sure of himself when he talked to her, "too sure" I made a mental note. He passed some humorous remark to Nina Kapitonovna, but nobody smiled. "Not even Nikolai Antonich," I made another mental note.

The two started talking shop, something to do with a student's thesis, which Nikolai Antonich considered poor, and Romashka considered good.

This was done, of course, to stress the fact that my presence meant nothing to them. I preferred it that way, if anything, because I was now able to sit and watch them, listening and thinking.

"No," I said to myself, "this is not the old Romashka, who was even proud of being at the complete beck and call of Nikolai Antonich. He talks to him in a slighting tone, almost offensive, and Nikolai Antonich answers wearily, wincing. Theirs is a difficult relationship, and Nikolai Antonich finds it irksome. I was right. Romashka had not been acting on his behalf. He had not taken those papers from Vyshimirsky in order to destroy them. He had done it so that he could sell them to Nikolai Antonich-that was more like him. And must have demanded a pretty stiff price too. That is, if he had sold them and was not still haggling."

Katya asked me something and I answered her. Romashka, who was listening to Nikolai Antonich, glanced at us uneasily, and suddenly an idea passed slowly through my mind and seemed to step a little to one side of the others as if waiting for me to come up closer. It was a very weird idea, but quite a valid one for anybody who had known Romashov since childhood. At the moment, however, I could not dwell on it because the thought was chilling and would not bear thinking of. I merely glanced at it, as it were, from the side.

Then Nikolai Antonich went into his study with Romashka and we were left with the old ladies, one of whom was deaf while the other pretended to be deaf.

"Katya," I said quietly, "Korablev asked you to call on him tomorrow at seven. Will you come?"

She nodded.

"Was it all right, my coming here? I wanted to see you ever so badly."

She nodded again.

"And please forget that evening when we last met. It was all wrong. Consider that we haven't met yet."

She looked at me in silence with a puzzled expression.

Chapter Eight