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     Translated from the Russian by Fainna Glagoleva

     Copyright Translation into English Progress Publishers 1978
     First Printing 1978
     L. Kassil'
     Na anglijskom yazyke

     OCR: http://home.freeuk.com/russica2

     In Search of Justice
     Who Discovered
     On the Big Tooth Continent,
     With a description
     Of the amazing events
     That took place
     On the Wandering Islands,
     And also many other things,
     As told by
     Who now goes by the name of
     And including a great number
     Of secret documents, sea charts,
     The Coat of Arms and the flag


     On  the evening  of  October  11, 1492,  the 68th  day of  his  voyage,
Christopher  Columbus  noticed  a  moving light  on  the  horizon.  Columbus
followed the light and discovered America.
     On  the evening  of February  8,  1914,  my brother and  I, having been
punished,  were  sitting in  the corner. After twelve minutes of this he was
pardoned,  as being the younger, but refused to leave  me until  my sentence
was up  and  so stayed put.  For a while  we  were engrossed in  picking our
noses. On the 4th minute, when we tired of this, we discovered Schwambrania.

     The disappearance of  the queen  brought everything  to  a  head.  This
happened in  broad  daylight,  and  the  light of day  dimmed. It was Papa's
queen, and that was what made everything so terrible. Papa was a great chess
fan,  and everyone knows  what  an  important  figure the queen  is  on  the
     The lost queen was part of a new set made to order especially for Papa,
who was very proud of it.
     We were not to touch the figures for anything, yet it was impossible to
keep our hands off them.
     The  lovely lacquered  pieces fired  our imaginations, prompting  us to
invent any number of exciting games for  them. Thus, the pawns could  either
be soldiers  or tenpins. There  were small  circles  of felt pasted on their
round  soles,  and so they slid  around like floor polishers. The rooks were
good wine glasses, while the kings could either be samovars or generals. The
round knobs that crowned the bishops were like light bulbs. We could harness
a pair of black and a pair of  white  horses to cardboard cabs and line them
up to wait  for fares, or else we could arrange them so that they  formed  a
merry-go-round. However, the queens  were the best of  all.  One queen was a
blonde and the other was a brunette. Either one could be a Christmas tree, a
cabby, a Chinese pagoda, a flower pot on a stand or a priest. Indeed, it was
impossible to keep our hands off them.
     On that memorable day  the white  cabby-queen's black horse  was taking
the black  priest-queen  to see  the  black  general-king. He  received  the
priest-queen most nobly. He set  the white samovar-king on  the  table, told
the pawns to polish the chequered  parquet floor and turned on  the electric
light-bishops. Then the king and queen each had two rookfuls of tea.
     When  at last  the  samovar-king cooled off and we became  tired of our
game, we decided to put the figures  back in their case. Horrors!  The black
queen was missing!
     We  bruised our  knees crawling about,  looking under the  chairs,  the
tables and the bookcases. All our efforts  were in vain. The  wretched queen
was gone. Vanished! We finally had to tell  Mamma, who soon had everyone  up
in  arms. No matter how hard we all looked, we could not find it. A terrible
storm was about to break over our cropped heads. Then Papa came home.
     This was no measly storm. A blizzard, a hurricane, a cyclone, a simoom,
a waterspout and a typhoon came crashing down  upon us! Papa was furious. He
called us vandals and  barbarians. He said that  one could even teach a wild
bear  to  handle things carefully,  and all  we knew  how to  do  was  wreck
everything  we touched, and he would  not stand for such destructiveness and
     "Into the corner, both of you! And stay there!" he shouted. "Vandals!"
     We looked at each other and burst into tears.
     "If I'd  have known  I  was going to have such  a  Papa, I'd never  get
borned!" Oska bawled.
     Mamma blinked hard.  She  was about to  shed a tear,  but  that did not
soften Papa's heart.  We  stumbled off  to  the "medicine  chest". For  some
reason or  other  that  was  the  name  given to the  dim storeroom near the
bathroom  and the kitchen. There were always  dusty jars and bottles  on the
small window-sill, which is probably how the room originally got its name.
     There was a small low bench in one comer known as "the dock". Papa, who
was a doctor, felt  it was wrong to  have children stand  in the corner when
they were punished and so had us sit in the corner instead.
     There we were, banished to that shameful bench. The medicine  chest was
as dim as a dungeon. Oska said:
     "He meant the circus,  didn't he? I mean, the part about bears being so
careful. Didn't he?"
     "Are vandals part of the circus, too?"
     "Vandals are robbers," I muttered.
     "That's what I thought." He sounded pleased.  "They have chains tied on
     Annushka, our cook,  stuck her head out of the kitchen and threw up her
     "Goodness! The master's lost his toy and so the babies have to sit here
in the  dark. My poor little sinners! Do you want me to bring you the cat to
play with?"
     "No!"  I  growled.  The resentment which  had  gradually died down  now
welled up in me again.
     As the  unhappy day drew to  a close the dim room became  darker still.
The Earth  was turning its back on  the Sun. The world, too, turned its back
on us. We  looked out  upon the unjust world from  our place of  shame.  The
world was very large, as I had learned  in geography, but there was no place
for  children in  it. Grown-ups were  in charge  of  everything on  all five
continents. They changed the  course of history, rode horses, hunted, sailed
ships, smoked, made real things, went
     off  to war, fell in love, saved people,  kidnapped people  and  played
chess. But  their  children were made to stand in corners. The grown-ups had
probably forgotten the games they had played as children  and the books they
had found so interesting. Indeed, they had probably forgotten all about that
part of their lives. Otherwise they would have let us play with  whomever we
wanted to,  climb fences, wade through puddles and pretend that  a  chessman
called a king was a boiling samovar.
     That was what we were thinking about as we sat in the corner.
     "Let's run away! We'll gallop off!" Oska said.
     "Go  ahead, what's keeping you? But  where'll you go? Everyplace you go
there'll be grown-ups, and you're just a little boy."
     At that moment I had a brainstorm. It cut through the gloom like a bolt
of lightning, so that I was not at all surprised to hear the roll of thunder
that followed (actually, Annushka had dropped the roasting pan).
     There was  no need to run away, to search for a  promised land. It  was
here,  somewhere  very  close  at hand.  We  had only  to invent it. I could
practically  see it in the gloom. There, by the bathroom door, were its palm
trees, ships, palaces and mountains.
     "There's land ahead, Oska!" I shouted excitedly. "Land! It's a new game
we can play all our lives!"
     Oska's one thought was a good future ahead. "I'll blow the whistle, and
I'll be the engineer!" he said. "What'll we play?"
     "It's going to  be a game about a land, our own land. We'll live  in it
every day, besides living here, and it'll belong to us. Left paddle ahead!"
     "Aye, aye, Sir! Left paddle ahead! Whoooo!"
     "Slow speed. Pay out the mooring line."
     "Shhh," Oska hissed, letting off steam.
     We disembarked from our bench onto a new shore.
     "What's it called?"
     At the time of the events described, our favourite book was Greek Myths
by  Gustav Schwab, and  so  we  decided to name our  new  land  Schwabrania.
However, the word sounded too much like the cotton swabs  Papa used  in  his
practice, so  we added an "m", making our new land Schwambrania. We were now
Schwambranians. All of the above was to be kept a deep dark secret.
     Mamma  soon let us out of our  dungeon. She  had no way of knowing that
she  was  now  dealing  with  two  citizens  of  a  great  nation  known  as
     A  week  later the black queen  surfaced. The cat had rolled  it into a
crack under the  trunk. However, Papa had by then ordered  a new queen,- and
so this  queen was  ours. We decided to make  it the keeper of the secret of
     Mamma had a beautiful little grotto made of seashells that she had  put
away behind the mirror of her dressing table and had forgotten all  about. A
pair of tiny filigree brass gates guarded the entrance to the cosy cave. The
cave was empty. We decided to hide our queen there.
     We  wrote  "C.W.S."  (Code Words  of Schwambrania) on a  slip of paper,
pulled away an edge of the felt circle on the bottom of the black  queen and
stuck the paper into the space. Then we put the queen in the cave and sealed
the   gates  with  sealing-wax.  The  queen  was  now   doomed  to   eternal
imprisonment. I will tell you of what happened to it later.

     Schwambrania was a land of volcanic origin.
     Red-hot growing forces boiled and bubbled within us. They  were held in
check by the stiff, rock-bound structure of our family and of the society in
which we lived.
     There  was so much we wanted to  know and still more that we  wanted to
learn how to do. But our teachers would only let us know as much as could be
found in our schoolbooks  and in silly children's stories,  and we  did  not
really know how to do anything, because we had never been taught to.
     We wanted to be a part of the adult  world,  but we were told to go and
play with our tin soldiers if we didn't want  to  get into  trouble with our
parents, teachers or the police.
     There  were  many  people in  our  town. They hurried up  and  down the
streets and often came into our yard, but we were only allowed  to associate
with the people our elders approved of.
     My brother  and I played Schwambrania for several years.  It became our
second country and was a mighty nation.  The Revolution,  that stern teacher
and excellent  educator, helped  us to overcome our old ties, and we finally
abandoned the tinfoil ruins of Schwambrania forever.
     I have saved  our  "Schwambranian letters" and  maps, the plans  of our
military campaigns  and  sketches  of the  flag  and  coat-of-arms.  I  have
referred to them to freshen my recollections while writing  this book. It is
the  story  of  Schwambrania,  with  tales  about  the   travels   of   many
Schwambranians and our own adventures there, as well as many other events.

     "But the earth still turns-if you
     don't believe me, sit on your
     very own buttocks-and

     Just  like any other country, Schwambrania had  a  terrain,  a climate,
flora, fauna and population all its own.
     Oska made the first map  of Schwambrania. He copied a large molar tooth
from a dentist's ad  he had seen, and  since it had three roots it  at  once
resembled a tulip, the crown  of the Nibelungs  and an  upside-down "M", the
letter  we had  added to the middle of  the  name of our new country. It was
very tempting to see some special meaning in this  and we did: we decided it
was a wisdom tooth,  signifying the wisdom of the Schwambranians.  Thus, the
new  country's  contours resembled a wisdom tooth. The surrounding ocean was
dotted  with islands and blots,  but  I must  say  that the  ink-spots  were
truthfully  marked  as such:  "Not an iland, an erer". The ocean was  marked
"Oshen". Oska drew wavy lines and inscribed them "waves". Then he marked the
"see"  and added two  arrows,  one pointing out  the "curant" and the  other
"this way is aposit". There  was also  a "beech", a straight-coursing  river
named the Halma,  the capital city of Schwambraena, the towns of Argonsk and
Drandzonsk, Foren  Shore Bay, "that side", a "peer", mountains and, finally,
"the place where the Earth curves".
     At the time  Oska was very much concerned about the spherical nature of
the ground underfoot and did his best to prove the roundness of the Earth to
himself. Luckily, we  knew nothing of  Mayakovsky's poetry, for Oska's pants
certainly would have been worn thin in his  efforts to see if he could slide
on it. However, he discovered another way of proving it. Before putting  the
finishing touches to his map of Schwambrania, he led me out of our yard with
a  very meaningful look on  his face. Beyond the granaries and near the main
square the remains of a mound could be seen.  Perhaps this  had once been  a
part of some earthen  foundation for a chapel, or perhaps it had once been a
large flower bed. Time had all  but levelled the little hump. Oska beamed as
he led me to it. He pointed grandly and said:
     "Here's the place where the Earth curves."
     I dared not contradict him.  Perhaps the Earth did curve  there. At any
rate, in order not to lose  face, for  he was my baby brother  after all,  I
said:  "Ha! That's  nothing!  You  should have  seen that  place in Saratov.
That's where the Earth re curves."
     Schwambrania was a truly symmetrical land, one  that could easily serve
an example for any ornament. To the West were mountains, a city and the sea.
To  East were mountains, a city and the sea. There was a bay on the left and
a bay  the right. This symmetry reflected  the true  justice  which governed
Schwambrania  and  the rules of our game. Unlike ordinary books, where  good
prevails and evil is vanquished on the very last page, ours was a land where
the heroes were rewarded  and the villains defeated at the  very start. Ours
was a country of complete well-being and exquisite perfection. There was not
even a jagged line in its contour.
     Symmetry  is  a   balance  of  lines,  a  linear  system  of   justice.
Schwambrania was a land of true justice, where all the good  things  in life
and even the terrain were  fairly distributed. There was a bay  on  the left
and a bay on the right, the city  of Drandzonsk in the West and the  city of
Argonsk in the East. Justice reigned.

     Now, as was only proper for a real nation, Schwambrania  had to have  a
history all its  own.  Six months of our  playing the game  covered  several
centuries of its existence.
     As I learned from my reading, the  past history of any  self-respecting
country was crammed full of wars. That was why Schwambrania had to work hard
to catch  up. However, there was no one it could fight. That was  why we had
to draw two curved lines  across the bottom of the  Big Tooth  Continent and
write "Fence" along one  of them. We  now  had two enemy nations in  the two
marked-off  comers.   One  was  "Caldonia",  a  combination  of   "cad"  and
"Caledonia",  and  the other was  "Balvonia",  a  combination  of "bad"  and
"Bolivia". The level ground situated between Caldonia and Balvonia was there
to serve as a battle-field. It was marked "War" on the map.
     We were  soon  to see the  same  word in  large  block letters  in  the
     We imagined that all real battles took place in  a special hard-packed,
cleanly-swept square area like a parade ground. The Earth never curved here,
for the ground was level and smooth.
     "The  war place is  paved like a  sidewalk,"  I  said  knowingly to  my
     "Is there a  Volga in  a war?" he  wanted to know. He  thought that the
Volga meant any river.
     To both  sides of the "War"  part on the map  were  the places  for the
prisoners of war. The three areas were clearly marked "prizon".
     All  wars in  Schwambrania  began  with the  postman ringing  the front
doorbell of the Emperor's palace. He would say:
     "There's a special delivery for you, Your Majesty. Sign here."
     "I wonder who it's from?" the Emperor would say, licking the tip of his
     Oska was the postman. I was the Emperor.
     "I  think I know that  handwriting," the postman would reply. "It looks
like it's from Balvonia. From their king."
     "Any letters from Caldonia?" the Emperor would ask.
     "They're  still  writing,"  the  postman  would  answer,  mimicking  to
perfection the reply of our postman, Neboga, for that was  what he would say
whenever we asked if there were any letters for us.
     "Lend me a hairpin, Queen!" the Emperor would shout and would then slit
open the envelope with a hairpin. A letter might read:

     "Dear Mr. King of Schwambrania,
     "How are you? We are fine, thank God. Yesterday we had a bad earthquake
and three volcanoes  erupted. Then  there was a terrible fire in  the palace
and a terrible flood. Last week we had a war against Caldonia. But we licked
them and captured all of  them. Because  the  Balvonians  are all very brave
heroes. And  all  the  Schwambranians  are  fools, idiots,  dunderheads  and
vandals.  And  we  want to fight you. God  willing, we  present you  with  a
manifesto in the newspapers. Come on out and fight a War. We'll lick you all
and capture you, too. If you don't fight a War, you're  all scaredy-cats and
sissies. And we despise you. You're all a bunch of idiots.
     "Regards to your missus the Queen and to the young man who's  the heir.
"Wherewith is the print of mine own boot.
     "The King of Balvonia"

     Upon  reading such a  letter, the  Emperor  would become very angry. He
would take his sword down from the wall and  summon his  knife-grinders.  He
would then send the Balvoniancad a telegram with a "paid reply". The message
would read:

     According to my History of  Russia textbook, either  Prince Yaroslav or
Prince Svyatoslav of yore had sent his enemies a similar warning. The Prince
would  telegraph this message to some warrior tribe of Pechenegs or Polovtsi
and would then ride off to settle their hash. However, it  would never do to
address such  an  impertinent fellow as the King  of Balvonia politely,  and
that was why  the Emperor of Schwambrania would angrily add  "rat": "I March
on you, rat!" Then the Emperor would summon the supplier of medicine to  His
Majesty's court,  whose  official title was Physician Extraordinary, and get
himself called up.
     "And how are  we  today?"  the  Physician Extraordinary would  inquire.
"How's our stomach? Uh  ... how's our stool, I  mean  throne, today? Breathe
deeply, please."
     Then the Emperor  would get into his coach and say:  "Come  on, fellow!
Don't spare the horses!"
     And he would go off to war. Everyone would cheer and salute, while  his
queen waved a clean hankie from her window.
     Naturally, Schwambrania won  all its  wars.  Balvonia  was defeated and
annexed. But  no sooner were  the "war parade grounds"  swept clean and  the
"prizon"  places  aired than Caldonia would declare  war on Schwambrania. It
would also be defeated.  A hole was made in the fortress wall, and from then
on the Schwambranians  could go to Caldonia without  paying  the fare, every
day except Sundays.
     There  was  a special place on  "that  side" for "Foren Land". That was
where  the  nasty  Piliguins lived.  They  roamed the icy  wastes  and  were
something of a cross between pilgrims and penguins.  The  Schwambranians had
met the Piliguins head-on on  the war  grounds on  several occasions and had
always  defeated  them.  However, we did not annex  their land,  for then we
would  have had no one to fight. Thus,  Piliguinia was  set aside for future
historic developments.

     When in Schwambrania, we lived on the main street of Drandzonsk, on the
1,001st  floor  of  a diamond house. When in Russia we lived in the  town of
Pokrovsk  on  the Volga River, opposite the city of Saratov. We lived on the
first floor of a house on Market Square.
     The screeching voices  of the women  vendors burst in  through the open
windows. The pungent dregs of the market were piled high on the square.  The
unharnessed horses  chomped loudly, and their feed-bags jerked  and  bobbed.
Wagons  raised their shafts heavenwards, imploringly.  There  were eatables,
junk,  groceries,  greens,  dry  goods,  embroideries  and  hot  food  rows.
Thin-rind watermelons  were  stacked  in pyramids  like  cannon-balls in the
movie The Defence of Sevastopol.
     This  was the film  then  being shown  at the  Eldorado,  the  electric
cinematographic theatre around the corner. There were always goats  outside.
Regular herds of goats crowded  around to munch  on the playbills which were
pasted to the billboards with flour-paste.
     Breshka Street  led  from the Eldorado to  our  house.  People used  to
promenade here in the evenings. The street  was only two blocks long, and so
the strollers would  jostle each other  as they  walked back  and forth  for
hours on end,  from one  corner  to  another, like  tiny waves  in a bathtub
splashing  first  against one side  and  then another.  The girls  from  the
outlying  farms  walked down  the middle  of the street.  They seemed to  be
sailing  along  unhurriedly,  swaying  slightly  as  they walked,  like  the
floating  watermelon rinds hitting the Volga piers. The dry,  staccato sound
of roasted  sunflower  seeds  being  cracked  floated  above  the crowd. The
sidewalks were black from discarded sunflower shells. The roasted seeds were
known locally as "Pokrovsk conversation".
     Standing  on the  sidelines  were young fellows wearing rubber galoshes
over their boots. They would flick away a garland of empty seed shells stuck
to  their lip with  a  magnificent  movement of  a pinky. A young  man would
address a girl with true politesse: "Mind if I latch on? How's about telling
us your name? What is it? Marusya? Katya?"
     "Go  on! Doesn't he  think he's  something!" the girl would scoff. "Oh,
well, what the heck, you might as well walk along."
     All evening long the babbling, sunflower seed-cracking crowd of country
boys and girls would stomp up and down in front of our windows.
     We would sit on the  windowsill in the dark parlour, looking out at the
darkening street. As busy  Breshka  Street floated by  us, invisible palaces
and  castles  rose on the windowsill and palm fonds waved, and  cannonade we
two alone could hear resounded all  around us.  The  destructive shrapnel of
our  imagination tore through the night. We were firing  upon Breshka Street
from our windowsill, which was Schwambrania.
     We could hear the whistles  of the  river boats on the Volga. They came
to us from the darkness of the night like  streamers bridging the  distance.
Some were very high and vibrated like the coiled  wire in bulb, while others
were low and rumbling like a piano's bass string. A boat was attached to the
other end of each streamer, lost in the dampness of the great river. We knew
the entire ledger of  these boat calls by heart, and could read the whistles
and  blasts  like  the  lines of  a  book.  Here  was  a velvety,  majestic,
high-rising   and  slowly  descending  "arrival"  whistle  of  the   Rus.  A
hoarse-voiced tug pulling a heavy barge scolded a rowboat. Two short, polite
blasts followed.  That was the Samolyot  and the  Kavkaz-Mercury approaching
each other. We even knew  that the Samolyot was  heading upstream  to Nizhny
Novgorod, while  the  Kavkaz-Mercury was  heading  downstream  to Astrakhan,
since the  Mercury,  obeying the rules of river etiquette,  was the first to
say hello.


     Our world was a bay jam-packed with boats. Life was an endless journey,
and each given day was  a  new voyage. It was quite natural, therefore, that
every  Schwambranian was a sailor. Each and every one had  a boat tied up in
his back  yard. Jack, the Sailor's Companion,  was  far  and  away the  most
highly respected of all Schwambranians.
     This  great  statesman  came  into being  because  of a small  handbook
entitled: The Sailor's Pocket Companion and Dictionary of Most-Used Phrases.
We bought this  dog-eared treasure at the market second-hand for five kopeks
and endowed our new hero, Jack, the Sailor's Companion, with all the  wisdom
between its covers.
     Since the handbook contained a vocabulary as well as a short section of
sailing  directions, Jack soon became  a  regular linguist, as he learned to
speak German, English, French and Italian.
     Speaking for Jack, I would read the vocabulary  aloud, line after line.
The result was most satisfying.
     "Thunder, lightning, waterspout, typhoon!" Jack, the Sailor's Companion
would  say.  "Donner, blitz, wasserhose! How do  you do, sir or madame, good
morning, bonjour. Do you speak any other language? Yes, I  speak  German and
French. Good morning, evening.  Goodbye, guten Morgen,  Abend, adieu. I have
come by boat, ship, on foot, on horseback; par mer, a pied, a cheval.... Man
overboard. Un uomo in mare.  What is the charge for saving him? Wie viel ist
der bergelon?"
     Sometimes Jack's imagination ran away with him, and I  would  blush for
shame at his whopping lies.
     "The pilot grounded us," Jack, the Sailor's Companion would say angrily
on page  103, but would  then  confess in  several languages (page 104):  "I
purposely ran aground to save the cargo."
     We began our day in Pokrovsk with an arrival whistle while still in our
beds.  This meant  we  had  returned  from a  night  spent in  Schwambrania.
Annushka would watch the morning ritual patiently.
     "Slow speed! Cast down  the mooring rope!" Oska commanded after  he had
sounded his fog horn.
     We cast off our blankets.
     "Stop! Let down the gangplank!"
     We swung our legs over the side of our beds.
     "All off! We've arrived!"
     "Good morning!"

     Our house was just another big boat. It had dropped anchor in the quiet
harbour  of Pokrovsk. Papa's consulting room was the bridge. No second class
passengers, meaning us,  were allowed there. The parlour was the first class
deck  house.  The dining room was the mess. The  terrace was  the  promenade
deck. Annushka's room  and the kitchen were the third  class deck, the  hold
and the  engine  room. Second class passengers were  not  allowed in  there,
either. That was really a shame,  because if there was ever any smoke in the
house it came from there.
     There smokestack was not  a make-believe one, but  a real one, and real
flames roared  in the furnace. Annushka, the  stoker and the  engineer, used
real tools:  a poker  and scoop.  The deck  house bell rang insistently. The
samovar whistled,  signalling our departure. As the water in it bubbled over
Annushka snatched it up  and carried it off to  the  mess, holding it as far
away  from her body as possible. That  was how babies were carried off  when
they had wet their diapers.
     We were summoned up on deck and had to leave the engine room.
     We always  left  the  kitchen  unwillingly,  because this was the  main
porthole of our house, a window to the outside world, so to speak. The  kind
of people  we  had been  told once and for all were  not the kind we were to
associate with were forever  coming and going here. The people  we were not.
to  associate with were:  ragmen, knife-grinders,  delivery  boys, plumbers,
glaziers,   postmen,   firemen,  organ-grinders,  beggars,   chimney-sweeps,
janitors, the neighbours' cooks, coal men, gypsy  fortune-tellers,  carters,
coopers, coachmen  and wood-cutters. They were  all third  class passengers.
And they were probably the best, the  most interesting people in  the world.
But  we were told that they were carriers of  the most dreadful diseases and
that their bodies swarmed with germs.
     One day Oska said to Levonty Abramkin, the master garbage man, "Are you
really  swamping, I  mean swaping, uh  ... you  know,  full of  measle  bugs
crawling all over you?"
     "What's  that?"  Levonty sounded  hurt.  "These here are natural  lice.
There's  no such  animal as measle bugs. There's worms, but that's something
you get in the stomach."
     "Oh!  Do you  have  worms  swarping  inside  your  stomach?" Oska cried
     This was the last  straw. Levonty pulled  on  his cap and  stalked out,
slamming the door behind him.
     The kitchen  was  a seat  of  learning. In  Schwambrania  the King  sat
enthroned  in  the  kitchen  and let  anyone  in  who  wanted  to  come. The
neighbourhood children would come carolling there on Christmas Eve.
     On  New  Year's  Day  our  precinct  policeman  would  call to pay  his
respects. He would click his heels and say:
     "My respects."
     He would be  offered  a glass of vodka  brought out on a saucer,  and a
silver rouble The policeman would take the rouble, offer his thanks and then
drink  to  our health Oska and I  stared into his  mouth. He would grunt and
then  stop  breathing  for moment. He  seemed to  be listening to some inner
process  in  his body, listening to the progress of the vodka,  as  it were,
down  into his policeman's stomach. Then he would click his  heels again and
     "What's he doing?" Oska whispered.
     "He's offering us his respects."
     "For a rouble?"
     The policeman seemed embarrassed.
     "What are you doing here, you rascals?" our father boomed.
     "Papa!  The  policeman's  giving us his respects  for a  rouble!"  Oska

     Papa was a very tall man with  a great mass of curly blond hair. He had
tremendous drive and never seemed to tire. After a hard day he could drink a
samovar-full of tea. His movements were quick and his voice loud. Sometimes,
when Papa got angry at a local  peasant who had come to him with an ailment,
he would begin to shout,  and we  feared the patient might die of fright, if
nothing else, for we certainly would have.
     However, Papa was also a very  cheerful person. Sometimes a man who had
come to complain  of a pain in the chest would soon forget about it and roar
with laughter as he gripped his sides. When Papa's  booming laugh sounded in
the house  the cat would dash under the sideboard and waves would  appear in
the fishbowl. He would  often scandalize Annushka by carrying Mamma into the
dining-room and say, "The lady of the house has arrived  for dinner,"  as he
sat her down.
     Papa liked to have  fun. As we sat at the table he would say, "Hey you,
Caldonians,  Balvonians and highwaymen, don't look so  glum." He would chuck
us under our chins and add, "Get your beards out of your soup."
     The King of Schwambrania  was aping Papa  when he  said, "Get some life
into those nags," to his driver.
     When Papa demanded another cot for the free community hospital he would
speak at the town meetings, and all the rich farmers would grumble, "No need
for that." Our local  paper, The Saratov  News, would carry a  report of the
meeting, describing  the chairman  calling our  father to order, while  "the
honourable doctor  demanded  that  Mr.  Gutnik's words be  included  in  the
minutes of the meeting and, in reply, Mr. Gutnik said that...".
     Papa knew everyone in town. Flower-decked wedding parties nearly always
felt it their duty to stop their sleighs outside our house, enveloping it in
a cloud of dazzling colour and song. Breshka Street was strewn  with wrapped
candies  that were  tossed into  the crowd by the handful from the  sleighs.
Hundreds of bells jangled on the beribboned yokes. Musicians  played  in the
rug-draped  lead sleighs.  The  red-faced, shrieking matchmakers would dance
right in  the broad sleighs, waving bouquets of paper flowers  tied  up with
     Papa was also remembered in connection with the following incident.
     At one  time  a gang of thugs  terrorized the town. The thugs  were all
middle-aged family men, and the police were not providing any protection for
the population.
     Then the people decided to take the law into their own hands. They drew
up  a  list of the most dangerous men  and the  crowd set out, going to each
house on the list in turn and murdering the men on the list.
     All this took place in the dead of night.
     One  of the ringleaders  found refuge in Papa's hospital. He really was
very sick. He  begged Papa to save him from the mob, going down on his knees
to plead for his life.
     "They're justified in  settling the score," Papa  said. "You  can thank
your lucky stars  you  got  sick when you did. Since  you'll  be my patient,
that's all  I'm  concerned  about  at present. I don't want to know anything
else. Get up and go lie down."
     The angry crowd surrounded the hospital. Men shouted and cursed outside
the locked gates. Papa went outside the fence to  face the crowd.  "What  do
you want?  I won't let you in, so you  might as well turn back! You'll bring
all sorts of germs into the surgical wards.  And we'll have to disinfect the
whole hospital."
     "You  just  hand  over Balbashenko,  Doctor.  We'll sign-a paper saying
we're responsible for him. We'll... take good care of him."
     "Balbashenko has a very high fever," Papa replied in a steely voice. "I
cannot discharge him now, and that's  final!  And stop all the noise. You're
frightening the other patients."
     The crowd advanced silently. Suddenly, an old stevedore stepped forward
and said,  "The doctor's right, boys.  That's according to their  laws. Come
on,  let's go. We'll take care of Balbashenko later.  Sorry to have bothered
you. Doc."
     Balbashenko was "taken care of three months later.

     Papa had a terrible temper. When  he was really angry he was deafening.
We would be chastised and  chastened,  reproved and reprimanded, admonished,
upbraided and raked over the coals. That was when Mamma entered the scene.
     She was  our soft pedal during  all of Papa's really excessive tirades.
He would always tone down in her presence.
     Mamma was a pianist and music teacher. All day long the house resounded
with  scales rippling up and down the  keyboard and  the drumming  of finger
exercises. The dull voice of a pupil with a cold could be heard counting out
loud: "One  an' two, an' three, one an' two, an' three...." Then Mamma would
sing, to  the  tune of Hanon's  immortal piano exercises: "One and five, and
three, and one, and four, and don't raise your elbows, and five and one...."
     It seemed this song was an accompaniment to all our childhood years. In
fact, all my memories can be sung to the tune of those finger exercises. All
save those associated with the sticky, fever-ridden days of diphtheria,  the
measles,  scarlet fever and  the croup come  back to me  minus this  musical
background, for then Mamma devoted herself entirely to restoring our health.
     Mamma was nearsighted. She  would bend low over the music,  so  that by
the  day's end she would be seeing  spots from  all the black squiggles that
were called notes.
     There was a bronze paper-holder on the  desk in Papa's consulting room.
It was made  in the  shape of a woman's delicate, tapering  hand  and held a
sheaf of prescription blanks, postal receipts and bills. Mamma's  hands were
just like that. As a pampered young damsel she had left her parents' home in
a large city to accompany  her husband to his rural practice in the wilds of
Vyatka region. She was to spend  many a sleepless night sitting by the dark,
frosted window, waiting up for  Papa.  There was a draught  from the window.
The flame of the small  night light flickered.  Bitter frost, a blizzard and
darkness enveloped  the house. Papa was  somewhere out in the  howling gale,
riding in a horse-drawn sleigh, on his way  to  patient in a village fifteen
miles away. Tiny  lights would  appear in the darkness,  but these  were not
lighted windows,  they  were  the  glittering  eyes of  wolves.  The distant
churchbell,  that  beacon of  all nights when blizzards raged,  faded in the
distance. Papa would follow the  sound. In time the dark houses of a village
would  appear  among  the  snowdrifts. There Papa would perform an emergency
operation by the glow of  a rushlight in a stuffy  log  cabin, rank with the
smell of sheepskin coats. Then he would wash his hands and head back home.

     In winter  there were  blizzards in  Pokrovsk,  too.  The steppe  would
attack  the settlement with snowstorms and sharp winds. Then the churchbells
of Pokrovsk would toll on through the night, guiding stragglers back to  the
snow-covered road.
     Our family was all at home in our warm house. The blizzard spun on like
a spindle, spinning its fine, frosty thread, howling in the chimney.  It was
our houseboat whistling from its safe berth in a sheltered harbour.
     The  guests  that evening  were our usual  visitors: Terpanian, the tax
inspector,  and  the  dentist,  a  tiny  man  named  Pufler.  Oska had  just
embarrassed everyone  by  confusing  his words and calling Pufler  a denture
instead of a dentist.
     Papa  and  the  tax inspector  were playing chess. Mamma was  playing a
minuet by Paderewski, and  Annushka was carrying in the  samovar, which  was
saying "puff", whistling and saying "wheeee...."
     Terpanian,  who was a jolly man, teased Annushka, as always, pretending
he was going to poke her in the ribs as he made a scarey noise.
     Annushka got frightened,  as she always did,  and shrieked,  making the
tax inspector laugh and say, "Yippee!"
     Papa looked at the clock and said, "All right, you rascals, off to bed!
We won't detain you any longer."
     We  politely  bid everyone  goodnight  and went  off to  sail  away  to
Schwambrania for the night.
     The mooring ropes were  cast  off,  which meant  we  had  taken off our
shoes.  Sailing  whistles  could  be heard  in  the  nursery. Then  the last
commands were sounded: "Left paddle ahead! Shhhhh! Whooo!"
     "Half speed ahead! Full steam ahead!"
     We were  Schwambranians again. We were sick and tired of  safe harbors,
of being barred  from the kitchen, of piano  exercises and patients  ringing
the front doorbell. We  were  sailing for our second homeland. The shores of
Big Tooth  Continent could be seen beyond the place where  the Earth curved.
The Black Queen, the keeper of the secret of Schwambrania, was imprisoned in
the seashell grotto. The palaces of Drandzonsk awaited us.
     We finally arrived. I stood on the bridge and pulled the whistle lever.
There was a loud blast.
     It was a loud approaching whistle. I opened my eyes. I was in Pokrovsk.
Back in our room. The whistle sounded again. An urgent blast hit the window.
The  room  was filled with  the  loud, oppressing sound of  the  whistle. It
passed through the house, dragging its feet.
     It did not stop. Then bells began ringing all over the house. The front
doorbell pealed. The bell for Papa's consulting room  rang in  the  kitchen.
The telephone was jangling. I could hear Papa shouting: "They  should all be
hanged!  Couldn't they have foreseen such a  thing? Well, it's  too late  to
talk about it now. Do you  have enough stretchers? I'm  on my way.  Have you
sent a horse for me? I'll be right over. The hospital's been alerted."
     The  whistle was  warning us about  some  great  calamity.  Mamma  came
rushing into our  room. She said there had been a terrible  accident at  the
bone-meal factory, where the high wall of the drying shed had collapsed. The
manager had told the workers to load too many  bones on it, and the wall was
very old.  He had  been  warned  that the wall might give  way.  Now  it had
collapsed  under great  weight,  falling on top  of  fifty men. Papa and the
other doctors had all rushed to the factory to try to save the victims.
     So. That's what.... That's what. That's what could happen. But never in
Schwambrania! Never!

     The collapse of the wall  in the bone-meal factory  brought  about  the
collapse of our faith in the well-being of the all-powerful tribe of adults.
Some  pretty  awful things were  going on  in their  world. That was when we
decided to take a very critical look at it. We found that:
     1. Not all grown-ups are in charge of world affairs, but only those who
wear  official  uniforms,  expensive  fur-lined  coats  and  starched  white
collars. All  the rest, and these form the majority, are called "undesirable
     2. The  owner of the  bone-meal factory,  who  is responsible  for  the
deaths  and  injuries  of  fifty  workers,  all  of  whom  are  "undesirable
acquaintances" got off  scot-free. The Schwambranians would  never have  let
him live among them.
     3. Oska and I don't have to work at all (except at our  lessons), while
Klavdia,   Annushka's  niece,  scrubs  floors  and  washes  dishes  for  the
neighbours  and can  only have a  piece of candy on Sundays.  Besides, she's
landless, for she has no Schwambrania to go to.
     We ended our list  of the  world's  injustices by drawing  a  long line
along the margin and  printing  a  stern  and angry  word  along  its entire
length. The word was: Injustices.

     We later added  our  own upbringing to  our list  of  injustices. I now
realize that I cannot really blame our parents, for  they lived in different
times, and there were many who  were much worse. The disgraceful way of life
of those times had a demoralizing effect on us, as it did on our parents. It
is strange to think that our parents believed they were quite progressive in
bringing  up their  children. For instance,  we had to mop up  the puddle we
made near the fishbowl ourselves and were forbidden to call Annushka to help
us. Papa spoke of this proudly and at length when he visited his friends. He
wished to  bring  us  up  in  a democratic spirit and,  to this  end,  would
sometimes take us for a buggy ride without a driver. He would hire a gig and
horse  and  we would ride off "to mix with  the  people". Papa, dressed in a
tussore  shirt,  would  drive.  He  would  shout  "Whoa!" "Hey,  there!" and
"Giddiyap!" with relish. However, there would always be some confusion if an
elegant  lady appeared on foot  on  the narrow  road  ahead. Then Papa would
sound embarrassed as he said, "Go on and sing something,  boys. But  make it
good and loud, so she'll turn  around. After all, I can't shout, 'Get out of
the way' can I? Especially since I think I know her."
     And  so  we would sing. When  this did not  work and the  lady kept  on
walking  slowly. Papa  would send  me on  ahead. I would climb down from  my
seat, catch up with the woman and say in my most polite voice:
     "Uh, Miss....  Lady....  Papa  wants you to move over, because we can't
pass.  We don't  want to  run you over." Though the women would always  step
aside, for some reason or other they were usually offended.
     Our  rides "to mix with the  people" ended  when Papa once sent  us all
tumbling into a ditch.

     In order  to  instil a love for the  birds and the beasts  in us and in
this way ennoble our souls, our parents would occasionally buy us a  pet. We
had dogs,  cats and fishes.  The fishes lived  in  a fishbowl.  One day  our
parents noticed  that the little goldfish were disappearing one by one. They
discovered that Oska had been fishing them out,  putting them in  matchboxes
and burying them in the sand.  He had been very much impressed by a  funeral
procession and had set up a regular fish cemetery in the yard.
     Then there was the very unpleasant encounter between Oska and the  cat,
which had scratched  him badly when  he  had  tried  to brush its teeth with
Papa's tooth-brush.
     The incident involving the kid was most unfortunate. The whole idea was
a mistake from the very beginning, though Papa had bought the kid especially
for  us.  It  was  black  and  small, and  curly-haired with a  hard,  round
forehead. It looked as if it might be a live Persian lamb  collar for Papa's
winter  coat.  Papa  brought the kid into the parlour. Its spindly legs slid
out from under it on the slippery linoleum.
     "He's all yours," Papa said. "And make sure you take good care of him!"
The kid  said "baa-aa" and dropped some marbles on the rug.  Then he nibbled
on the wallpaper in  the study and wet an armchair. Luckily, Papa was having
his after-dinner nap and so  had  no idea  of what was happening. We  played
with the frisky kid for a while,  then got tired of the  game and  went off,
forgetting all about our new curly-haired  pet. The kid disappeared. An hour
later there was a loud thumping on the piano keys,  though  there was no one
in the parlour. It was the kid jumping  on the keyboard. This woke Papa.  He
was in a hurry to leave for  his evening rounds at the hospital and  dressed
without putting on the  light.  He soon  came yawning  into the dining room.
Oska and I were so astonished we plopped down on the same chair. Mamma threw
up her hands. Papa looked at  his feet and  gasped. One of  his trouser legs
barely reached his knee. It hung in sticky,  chewed strips. So that was what
the kid had been up to! That very evening it was taken back  to its previous

     Father and  Mother worked hard from morning  till evening, while we, to
tell the  honest  truth,  were  the world's  greatest loafers.  We had  been
provided with a classical "perfect childhood". We had a gym of our  own, toy
trains,  automobiles and steamboats. We had  tutors to teach  us  languages,
drawing  and music. We  knew Grimm's Fairy  Tales by heart, as well as Greek
mythology and  the Russian epic poems. However,  all  this paled as far as I
was concerned  after  I  had  read  an  indifferent-looking  book called,  I
believe, The World Around Us.  It described in simple language how bread was
baked, how vinegar was obtained, how bricks were made, how steel was smelted
and how leather was  tanned. The book introduced me to the fascinating world
of things  and to the people who made  them. The  salt on our table had gone
through  a  grainer,  and  the cast  iron  pot  through a  blast furnace.  I
discovered that shoes, saucers, scissors, windowsills, steam engines and tea
had  all been invented, extracted,  produced  and made by the toil of  many,
many  people  and  were the result  of their knowledge and  skill. The story
about a sheepskin coat was no less interesting  than the tale  of the golden
fleece. I suddenly had a terrible urge to start making useful things myself.
However,  my old books and my teachers never  provided any information about
the people  who made  things, though they dwelled  ecstatically on the  many
royal heroes. We were being brought up as helpless, useless gentlemen, or as
an arrogant caste  of people whose lives were devoted to  "pure  brainwork".
True,  we  had building  blocks  with which  we  were  expected  to  produce
something imaginative. Our pent-up energy sought an outlet. We extracted the
couch springs in  order to discover the true construction of things and were
severely punished for our efforts.
     We even envied  a fellow named  Fektistka,  the  pock-marked tinsmith's
apprentice, who looked down on us for still being in short pants. Though  he
was illiterate, he  knew how to  make real pails, dustpans, tin mugs, basins
and tubs. However, when we saw him at the river one day, Fektistka showed us
the very real black-and-blue marks  and bruises on his bony body, the result
of the  hard lessons  his master's heavy hand taught him, for  the  tinsmith
beat Fektistka unmercifully. He made the boy work from dawn to dusk, fed him
scraps and  pummelled his  bony  back to  teach  him  the principles  of the
tinsmith's trade.

     We stopped envying Fektistka after that. Disturbing thoughts filled our
     It seemed that  people  who were engaged in mental work were  wholly at
the mercy  of ordinary things, while the skilled  workers who made them  had
none of their own.
     Whenever  the  toilet would  not flush properly or a lock got stuck, or
the piano  had  to be  moved,  Annushka was sent  downstairs to the basement
apartment where a railroadman and his family lived, to ask "someone" to come
up  and help. As soon as "someone" came upstairs the  things would obey him:
the piano would roll off to whenever it was supposed to go, the toilet would
cough  and begin to  work properly, and the lock would let  go  of the  key.
Mamma  would say, "He can fix everything," and would  then  be sure to count
the silver spoons in the sideboard.
     If,  on the other hand, the people  in the basement apartment wanted to
write to  a brother who lived in a distant village, they would come to  "the
gentleman" upstairs.  As  the railroadman watched  Papa's pen fly across the
sheet of paper, taking down  his  letter as  he dictated it, he would say in
wonder: "Ah,  that's  book learning  for you! How can  you compare it to our
trade! That's pure ignorance."
     In their heart  of hearts the  inhabitants of each  floor despised  the
inhabitants of the other.
     "What's so special about that?" Papa said, for his pride was hurt.  "So
he fixed the toilet. I'd like to see him perform an operation."
     Meanwhile, the  people downstairs were saying  to themselves: "I'd like
to see you crawling around on all fours under a locomotive's belly. Whisking
a pen around isn't anything to brag about."
     The relationship  between our two  floors could only be compared to the
relationship  of  the  blind  man and his leader,  a  legless  man,  in  the
well-known story. The blind  man carried the legless  man, who  looked ahead
from his perch on the other's shoulders. It was a doubtful alliance bound by
a grudging dependence upon each other.
     Still and all, the "undesirable acquaintances" knew how to make things.
Perhaps they would have taught us something, if  not for  the  fact that  we
were being brought up as "gentlemen who worked only  with  their brains", so
that  the closest we got to work was making paper boats and model factories.
We consoled ourselves with the thought that on the Big Tooth Continent every
last inhabitant not only knew a lot of fairy tales  by heart, but could also
bind them into a book if necessary.

     Oska was  a great one for confusing things. He had learned to read when
he  was  much too young  and  from the time he  was  four he could  remember
anything  at all, from the names on shop signs  to  articles in  the medical
encyclopaedia. He remembered everything he read, but this produced  chaos in
his  head,  for he  would  always  mix  up  the  strange  new  words he  had
discovered.  He was forever making everyone laugh. He would confuse "pomade"
and "pyramid" and said "monoclers" instead of "chroniclers".
     Once he  wanted  to  ask Mamma for a sandwich and instead said, "Mamma,
may I have a Greenwich?"
     "Good gracious!" Mamma exclaimed. "I'm sure he must be a child wonder!"
A day later Oska said, "There's a new wonder in the office, too, Mamma! They
bang on it and it types."
     What he meant, of course, was the Underwood typewriter.  However, there
were things he was very sure about. Mamma once read him a famous  story with
a moral about a boy who was  too lazy to pick up a horseshoe and then had to
pick up all the plums his father had purposely dropped on the road. "Did you
understand  the  meaning of the story?"  she  asked.  "Yes.  It's  about you
shouldn't eat dirty  plums off the ground." Oska felt that everyone  without
exception  was an old friend of his. He would strike up a  conversation with
anyone at all on  the  street,  overwhelming  the person with the  strangest
     I  once  left  him alone for a  while in  the  public  gardens. He  was
bouncing his ball and it landed in a flower bed. He reached  over to get it,
crushed some flowers, then saw the sign that said": "Keep off the grass" and
became frightened.
     He then decided to seek outside help. A tall woman dressed in black and
wearing  a straw hat was sitting  on a bench some distance away. She had her
bad to Oska, but he could see her shoulder-length curls.
     "My ball bounced into the 'keep off the flowers'," he said to the lady'
     The lady turned,  and Oska was terrified to  see  that she had  a heavy
beard. H forgot all about his ball. "Why do you have a beard on, lady?"
     "Do I look like a lady?"  the lady said in a deep, kindly voice. "I'm a
priest, m son."
     "A  priest-mason?"  Oska said doubtfully.  "Then  why  do you have on a
skirt?' He  knew a mason  was  a  bricklayer  and  imagined  it was  awfully
inconvenient to slap cement on bricks while wearing a skirt that reached  to
the ground.
     "This is not  a  skirt, it's a cassock, as is  only proper for a man of
the cloth."
     "Wait," Oska said, trying to recall  something. "I know. You're the man
which makes cloth. And there's a lady, too. It's music that comes out of the
gramophone She spins cloth of gold."
     "Aren't you a joker!" the priest laughed.  "But aren't you a Christian?
Who' your father? Your papa? Ah, a doctor. I see. Do you know about God?"
     "Yes. God's in the kitchen. Annushka hung him in the corner. His name's
Christ Has Risen."
     "God is everywhere,"  the priest said sternly. "At home, in the fields,
in the gardens.  He is everywhere. God can  hear us talking  here this  very
minute. He is with us every minute of the day and night."
     Oska looked around, but did not see  God  and so  he decided  that  the
priest  was  playing some new kind of game with  him.  "Is  God for real  or
     "I'll put it to you this way. How did all this come  about?" The priest
pointed to the flowers.
     "It  wasn't  me,  honest!  That's  how they were," Oska  said  quickly,
thinking the man had noticed the crushed flowers.
     "God created all this."
     Oska was happy the man thought it was all God's doing.
     "And God created you, too."
     "No, he didn't! Mamma made me."
     "And who made your mamma?"
     "Her mamma. Grandma!"
     "And what about the very first mamma?"
     "She just happened.  From out of a monkey," Oska said, for he and I had
already read My First Natural History Book.
     "Ugh!"  the perspiring  priest exclaimed.  "That's  a  godless, lawless
upbringing,  a corruption of infants' minds!" And he  stomped off,  with the
skirt of his habit raising a cloud of dust.
     Os ka recounted the conversation to me, word for  word. "And he was  so
funny looking! He had on a dress and a beard, too!"
     Our  family was not very  religious. Papa said that  God  could  hardly
exist, while Mamma said that God was nature, but, on the other hand, that He
could punish us.  As far as we were concerned,  God had originally  appeared
from our  nurse's bedtime  stories. He later entered  the house through  the
kitchen  door  which  was  left  slightly ajar.  God,  as  we imagined  Him,
consisted  of votive light,  church bells  and  the delicious  smell  of the
freshly-baked Easter cakes. At times He appeared as an angry, distant force,
thundering in the sky and keeping an eye on  such things as whether it was a
sin to stick your tongue  out at your  mother or not. There was a picture in
My First Bible  Stories of God sitting on a  cloud of  smoke,  creating  the
whole world on page 1. However, the  very  first book  we  read  on  natural
history dispersed the smoke. That did not leave God anything to sit on.

     But  it  did  leave something  called the Kingdom of  Heaven.  Whenever
beggars stopped at our house and Annushka turned them away she would console
them and herself with the  knowledge that all beggars, all poor people  and,
apparently,   all   people  who  came  under   the  heading  of  undesirable
acquaintances, would go straight  to  paradise after their proper  funerals,
and there they would promenade in the heavenly glades.
     One  day Oska and I decided that we had already been transported there.
Marisha, the neighbours' maid,  was getting married  at  Trinity Church, and
Annushka took us along.
     It  was as  beautiful  inside  the  church as in  Schwambrania, and the
church smelled good. There were  paintings all over  the walls of angels and
quite  a few of old men, all of whom were surrounded by puffy  clouds. There
were many lighted candles, although it was bright  daylight outside. As  for
beggars,  why, there were  as many beggars there as in paradise, and all  of
them were busy praying.
     Then the  main priest came out  and pretended that he was God. As  Oska
was to tell everyone later, he had on a big golden baby's vest, and then  he
put on a long bib over  his head, and it was all made of  gold, too. Then he
stood before a  stand, and a  sheet was spread  on the floor in front of it.
Marisha looked just like  a  princess, and she  and her groom  stood side by
side. Then they went into a huddle, like we did when we  were choosing sides
for a  game. They went over and stood  right on  the sheet. We couldn't hear
what they and  the priest were talking  about,  but Oska swore that they had
thought  of  a  charade and wanted  the priest  to guess whether  it was  "a
trunkful of money or a golden shore".  And then the priest  said, "Better or
worse?" And Marisha said, "You do?" Then the priest said to the groom:
     "Your wetted wife?" and the groom said: "I, too." And Marisha looked as
if  she was crying.  "Wasn't that silly?" Oska said.  "What was  she bawling
for? It's all make-believe anyway."
     After  that he  said they played "Who's got the ring?",  and  when they
were  through  with the game  the priest told them to  hold hands. Then they
played ring-around-a-rosie,  and  the priest  led them around the stand. The
choir sang and sang, and they ended by singing: "Hal, yell Loolia! Hal, yell
Loolia!" Then Marisha chose her groom and they kissed.
     After  our visit to the church we  decided that paradise  was a sort of
Schwambrania that the grown-ups had invented for poor people.
     In our own  Schwambrania I decided to establish a clergy of our own (at
first  Oska confused  clergy with  purging),  to make  things more  pompous.
Patriarch  Liverpill  was  the  chief  prelate  of Schwambrania. Instead  of
addressing him as "Your Grace", we used "Your Disgrace".

     All  fairy  tales  always had  happy  endings.  Scullery  maids  became
princesses,  sleeping  beauties  awoke, witches perished,  and lost  orphans
found their  parents. There was always a wedding on the last  page, with the
groom and bride living happily ever after.
     In  Schwambrania,  a land  that was half-real,  a happy ending was  the
glorious finishing touch of every adventure. Thus it was that we came to the
conclusion  that  people  could certainly  live  much happier lives  if they
followed our example and played make-believe.
     Actually, we were  to  discover that fairy tales  were the  only  place
where everyone lived happily ever after,  for a  real  fairy tale which  the
people around us tried to play at ended most unhappily.
     Everyone knows the story about the poor maid whose name  was Cinderella
and her mean old stepmother who made her work so hard. Everyone knows of the
doves that plucked all  the grain  from the ashes, and of the Good Fairy who
sent  her to  the  ball,  and of  the glass  slipper Cinderella  lost in the
     But I'm sure no one knows that the story of  Cinderella is  recorded in
the old Deportment Ledger, the  dread Black Book  of the  Pokrovsk Boys High
     The school supervisor,  nicknamed Seize'em,  recorded a new version  of
the story on the pages of the ledger. But his entry was very brief and acid.
That  is why I will have to tell  you the  story of Cinderella from Pokrovsk
myself. Her name was Marfusha. She was temporarily our parlour maid, and she
collected stamps.

     The stamps came from distant  cities and lands. The envelopes they were
pasted on contained letters of greetings, news, requests, thanks, as well as
the  latest  remedies  for alcoholism, anaemia and other  illnesses. Foreign
drug firms sent Papa information about their patent medicines.
     Marfusha would steam the stamps off the empty envelopes by holding them
over  the  samovar.  There were hundreds  of stamps in the brass-bound chest
under her bed, sorted into small cigarette boxes.
     My  brother  and I  delivered  the envelopes to  the kitchen. Philately
strengthened the bonds of friendship between Marfusha and us.
     She shared all her secrets with us.
     We knew that she was sweet on the driver who worked at Papa's hospital,
and that the clerk at the drugstore was a stuck-up good-for-nothing, because
he teased Marfusha and called her Marfusion.
     We also discovered  that if  a person sneezed you had  to  say: "Achoo,
match in your nose, a pair of  wheels and  the  axle end to  make  your nose
itch; wind take your sneeze, guts on  gunny sacks, tendons on a  wire, belly
on a yoke." Whew!
     In  the evenings Marfusha would unlock  her chest and let us admire her
     There were complete issues  of Peter the Great and other  monarchs. The
Alexanders were kept according  to  their numbers: Alexander I, II, and III.
The cancellation dates covered the emperors' noses. Cancelled eagles fluffed
their feathers on the  red, green and blue squares of paper with saw-toothed
edges. Weird lions hid behind the inked bars.
     We admired the collection, as Marfusha ran her hands  through the tsars
and eagles fondly and day-dreamed aloud:
     "I'll sell 'em soon's I get  two thousand of 'em. An' I'll buy myself a
fine lady's dress. There'll be ruffles down the front, and a bow behind, and
a dotted  veil to go  all around.  We'll  see who'll dare  call me Marfusion
then. We'll see...."

     Mitya  Lamberg had been expelled from the  2nd  Saratov High School for
having spoken  unfavourably  of the Bible class. He was then enrolled in the
Pokrovsk Boys High and came  to  live with us. Mitya said he was a victim of
reaction and considered it his sacred duty to annoy the authorities.
     He said: "I'm avenging, I  mean, taking vengeance on the authorities in
every one of its states: liquid, hard and gaseous."
     Mitya  regarded  his parents as the  authorities  of the liquid, drippy
state. He had  to accept  the  school principal  and teachers  as hard-state
authorities. He  regarded  the government,  the police and the local Zemstvo
inspector as the gaseous authorities  that seeped  into everything. The boys
had a special score to  settle with the Zemstvo  inspector.  The senior boys
spoke of  two schoolgirls named Zoya Shvydchenko and Emma  Uger. When school
was out in the afternoons the inspector' sleigh was often seen on the corner
waiting for  Zoya and Emma, and  the  gaseous  figure  of  the fat inspector
always accompanied one  or  the  other  girl  at the skating  rink. The boys
seethed. They threw snowballs at him from behind  a  fence.  The had drawn a
large black cat on the fence and written "Tomcat" under it.

     Our cousin Victor, a young artist, came to spend Christmas  with us. He
was long-nosed and full of fun and ideas.
     "He's nice, but his nose is way out to here," Marfusha said of him.
     There  was always  a  Christmas  Eve  masked  ball  at  the  Merchants'
Assembly, I  invitation only. Ladies we knew were busy having their costumes
made. My  parents had  also received  an  invitation. That  was  when  Mitya
Lambert  got  the  bright idea  of getting even with the  Zemstvo  inspector
during  the ball.  Pa]  was all for it.  Victor offered  his  services as an
artist. We began to think of the costumes.
     Everyone  was deep in thought that day.  From time to time Mitya  would
bread the silence by rushing excitedly into the dining-room, shouting.
     "I've got it! It's hilarious!"
     "What?" we'd all ask.
     "How about dressing  as a suicide? And the  message on the corpse, I me
on the costume can  be: 'The Zemstvo inspector has  driven  me  to my grave'
     "With the  orchestra playing a  Chopin march," Mamma quipped.  "Indeed,
it's too funny for words."
     "I've never laughed so hard in my life," Papa said sadly.
     Mitya was embarrassed. He did a handstand  and said as  his legs swayed
in  the  air:  "I'll stand here  like this till some good ideas flow into my
     At  last Papa had a brainstorm. It  really  was a  wonderful idea for a
costume.  Besides, his plan was magnificent in every other respect. Marfusha
was to go to the ball and flirt with the flirtatious inspector.
     We trooped off to the kitchen.
     "Fair Marfusha, we have come to inquire whether you'd like to go to the
ball at the Merchants' Assembly," Papa said solemnly.
     "Goodness gracious! But it's by invitation only. How'111 get in?"
     "You'll be the  queen of the ball, Marfusha. There's only one drawback.
We'll need all of your stamps. Can you bear to part with them?"
     "Just  think,  Marfusha!"  Mitya  pleaded.  "You'll  have  the  Zemstvo
inspector at your mercy. It's up to you. You'll be the queen of the ball."
     "Ah, well," Marfusha said after a  long pause. She sighed and bent down
to pull her chest out from under her bed.

     For the next two days everyone  worked on  Marfusha's costume. Piles of
cut-up  cardboard and paper were scattered all  over "the master's kitchen",
as Marfusha called Papa's study. There were streaks and smudges of paint and
gum-arabic on us all.  Tubes of  rubber cement spun out sticky thin threads.
Victor  strutted about with his nose in  the  air,  and there were  drops of
perspiration and india-ink on  his  face.  Papa tried to pull an Argentinian
stamp off  his jacket. Mamma was  giving Marfusha lessons in  deportment and
teaching  her a few  French phrases. Oska and I had  suddenly become Siamese
twins after accidentally sitting  down  on  a long strip of  ribbon that had
been covered with rubber cement. The ribbon stuck fast to our pants, glueing
us together.
     The evening of the ball Marfusha was powdered and  her hair was curled.
Then she was helped into her costume. It was a huge envelope,  addressed and
ready to  be posted.  There were  stamps a  foot long  on the corners of the
envelope. A good hundred  of Marfusha's stamps had been used to make up each
of the  costume  stamps.  Victor  had worked hard  to match the  colours and
shapes. There were crazy postmarks going every which way. The address on the
envelope had been done in a fine round hand and read:

     For: His Excellency
     and Northern Grace
     Captain Hatteras Square
     You'll know it when you are there.
     From: London, the City
     You'll find it if you're witty.

     After Marfusha was sealed into the large envelope  a small envelope was
set or her head for a hat. It, too, had stamps on each  of its four corners.
There was a poem on the paper envelope-hat which read:

     Never -will you guess my name,
     All your guesses are in vain.
     No one here can hint or tell,
     None will be of any help.
     Every Zoya, Emma, Mae
     Will be deaf and dumb today.

     Marfusha's  slippers had also  been covered  with postage  stamps.  She
looked very attractive in her envelope-gown.
     "You're  so beautiful, Marfusha!" Oska said. "You're just as  beautiful
as the lady on the shampoo picture, only beautifuller."
     A white silk mask with silver edging hid most of Marfusha's face.
     Victor was elected to be the honourary postman.
     No  one in town  knew  him.  Besides, he  had stuck  on  a large  black
moustache  And donned  Mamma's black hat with  the ostrich feather. This and
his own Ion nose made him look  both sinister and  romantic at  one  and the
same time. H might have been a Spanish grandee, or a Rumanian organ-grinder.

     Victor and his  precious letter drove  up to  the Assembly  building in
style. Um-pa-pa, um-pa-pa  went the bass drum in  the brightly-lit ballroom.
Victor handed  Marfusha down from  the cab and then helped her  off with her
coat. He bowed low with reverence.
     "Guten tag, comment allez-vous? Bene,  bene!" he  said and  twirled his
frozen moustache.
     The  porters  regarded them respectfully. Bright lights, music  and the
shrieks and laughter of a party in full swing enveloped them. Once upstairs,
Marfusha was immediately  surrounded and everyone began reading the  message
on  the envelope. For a moment a burst  of  laughter drowned  out the music.
Then,  just as suddenly, it stopped. Through  the slits in her mask Marfusha
glimpsed the baffled Zemstvo inspector's face.
     He read the message  and turned red. However, Marfusha's dainty feet in
their stamp-covered slippers caught his roving eye. "Harrumph," he said. "My
dear Anonymous, may I have this waltz?"
     "Mais oui," Anonymous replied. "Parlez-vous francaise?"
     The Zemstvo inspector was taken aback, for he did not parlez a  word of
French. One of the merchants, Adolph Stark, came to his aid and between them
they tried to make her understand  that  the  inspector wished to dance with
her. The music boomed. The musicians puffed out their cheeks. It seemed that
the very walls  were expanding from the booming of the drum. The music wrung
everyone's  heart out like a  wet hankie.  The inspector treated Marfusha to
ice  cream.  Adolph  Stark melted away  as  quickly as it did.  The  Zemstvo
inspector kissed her hand. All the other ladies were  dying of envy. Guesses
as  to her identity  and paper streamers filled  the  air. Confetti showered
down. Marfusha's little plate was soon piled high with ballots, for everyone
was voting hers the best costume.
     "Stop the music!" the Zemstvo inspector shouted.
     The orchestra, which was blaring away, stopped playing as suddenly as a
gramophone that had run down.
     "Ladies  and  Gentlemen!"  the  inspector announced. "The  'Letter' has
received the most votes and First Prize. A gold watch! Three cheers  for the
lovely Anonymous! And now let us open the envelope!"
     There  was a babble of voices.  Confetti bombs burst  overhead. Someone
whispered in  Marfusha's ear: "Good for you,  fair  Marfusha.  Good for you!
Keep it up!"
     Mitya was standing  around with a group of his  classmates.  They  were
laughing. Then he went over to the Zemstvo inspector and said:
     "You know, I think I recognize Anonymous. It's the well-known.... Oh, I
shouldn't have said that! I promised not to tell!"
     "I beg you to," the Zemstvo  inspector whispered.  "To  hell  with your
promise. Tell me who she is! Would you care for some ice cream?"
     "No, don't  even ask,"  Mitya  said  as he polished  off a  dish of ice
     "Let's open the letter, everybody!" the Zemstvo inspector shouted.
     At  that very  moment  a long-nosed  stranger  with  a  huge  moustache
appeared in the ballroom.
     Spouting  angry gibberish  "Carramba peppermint oleonapht, sept  accord
dominant!"  he  took  Marfusha's arm  and steered  her  quickly towards  the
     The Zemstvo  inspector  rushed  after  them,  with  all  the  colourful
harlequins, dominoes, hussars, flower  baskets,  Chinese dolls, butterflies,
Gypsies  and  princesses  in  tow.  However, Victor's  impressive  nose  and
moustache kept them all at bay.
     Mitya  and his classmates cut the  crowd off as  if by  accident  while
Marfusha buttoned up her coat and the sleigh pulled away.
     Victor jumped into the  moving sleigh, which  then carried them swiftly
along  the sleeping streets. Marfusha's  eyelids drooped.  The street lamps,
like  some  great jellyfish,  slowly moved their  golden  beams.  Cinderella
returned to the kitchen.
     That night a new gold watch ticked away softly near the empty chest.
     Marfusha was  sound asleep. She had had  a wonderful time and  was very
tired. The torn envelope, that shell  of the magic evening, lay empty by the
bed. Four pairs of shoes stood guard outside her door.
     They would have to be shined the next morning.

     The Pokrovsk society column of the  Saratov News  carried the following
     "There  was a  masquerade  at the  Merchants' Assembly  last Wednesday.
Among the many striking costumes the most popular by far was one called 'The
Anonymous Letter'.
     "The costume was ingeniously made in the shape of an envelope with real
cancelled  postage  stamps on it and a witty address. It  was  quite  justly
awarded the First  Prize,  a gold watch which was bestowed by Mr. Razudanov,
the Zemstvo inspector.
     "Despite the insistence  of  the other  guests,  the mysterious  damsel
refused to reveal her  identity and was carried  off by a person  unknown to
the gathering. Rumour has it that she is a well-known actress."
     Two  days later, when the town was  still alive with  gossip as to  her
identity, Papa was called in to see  the Zemstvo inspector's wife, who had a
migraine headache. After he had attended to his patient. Papa had a glass of
tea with the inspector.
     "My dear doctor, you should have come to the masquerade. You don't know
what you missed. There was a young lady there who, ah, I can't even begin to
describe  her. It was a barb in my direction, I  must admit,  but you should
have seen  those dainty feet! And  those lovely hands! You can always tell a
lady by her  hands and feet, I'm sure she is a foreigner. You know, I  can't
get her out of my mind."
     "Indeed? I really don't think she's that extraordinary. It was only our
parlourmaid Marfusha."
     "Wha-a-at?"  The inspector sat bolt upright. His face turned livid, his
jaw sagged and his eyes bulged.
     Papa  could  contain  his  laughter  no   longer  and  roared  so,  the
inspector's wife had another migrain attack.


     Here ends  the story  of  the  last Cinderella.  A  young page from the
palace did not open the kitchen door and hand Marfusha a glass slipper.
     However, a trace of Cinderella's famous slipper appeared on  a page  of
the school's Deportment Ledger, for the doves that had plucked the gold dust
from the pot of ashes for Marfusha were made to pay for what they had done.
     Several days later a rubber galosh of tremendous proportions was  found
nailed  to  the Zemstvo inspector's front porch. That very same morning  the
following notices were pasted on various fences:

     "I hereby  order the  entire female  population  of Pokrovsk  to appear
before the Zemstvo inspector  in order  to  try on  a  slipper,  lost  by  a
mysterious lady who attended  the masquerade at the Merchants' Assembly. The
lady whose foot it fits  will be immediately appointed Zemstvo inspectoress.
The Zemstvo inspector pledges to be forever under this slipper's heel.

     (Signed) Razudanov Zemstvo Inspector"

     They said that  the next morning,  while the  galosh was  still  on the
porch, a peasant woman who  had heard of the order  tried  her luck, but her
foot was too big.
     "It's just a bit tight," she said sadly and spat into the galosh.
     Mitya  and three  of his  classmates were reprimanded  "for  unbecoming
conduct in a public place and unbridled mischief, detrimental to  the school
and the school system". Their marks for behaviour for the term were lowered.
Such is the epilogue. It is quite unlike the end of the old fairy tale.

     I took my school entrance examination that spring.  Dmitry Alexeyevich,
my tutor, came to the house early on the fateful morning and made me go over
some  rules of grammar. Before  leaving for  the hospital Papa put his large
hand on my head, tilted my head back and said:
     "Well, how's the old bean?"
     Mamma accompanied me to school. She was very nervous,  and as we walked
along  she glanced at me again and  again with the greatest concern and kept
saying, "The one thing  I want you to remember is  not to  be nervous! Speak
loudly  and  clearly,  and don't  rush. Think carefully before you answer  a
     Dmitry Alexeyevich  walked along on the other  side. He was drilling me
in  the  multiplication table. We  reached "9 times  9" and the  school yard
     The  day  was  full   of  grammar.  At  the  noisy  market  adjectives,
interjections and  numerals  filled the air. An inanimate locomotive  on the
spur line near the granary tried to confuse me by tooting and moving like an
animate object. When we  reached the  school door  Dmitry Alexeyevich became
very solemn, although by looking through his pince-nez I could see  his kind
and gentle eyes.
     "All right. This is it," he said and then quickly added: "What part  of
speech is a school?"
     "An inanimate common noun!" "And a schoolboy?" "An animate...."
     At that very moment a  big,  tall boy wearing the school uniform opened
the door.  He glanced  at my  sailor suit with  contempt  and  said  glumly:
"You're wrong, sonny. A schoolboy's an inanimate object."
     I was stunned and baffled both by the size and by the muttered words of
this great scholar.
     A chill of nervous tension scooted along the school corridor. There was
a roll-call. The examiners' table  was covered with a heavy green cloth. The
first part of the entrance examination was a dictation.
     I thought that everyone in the classroom could hear my heart pounding.
     Anxious mothers peeped through the door, searching out the  bowed heads
of their sons, hoping they would get the tricky words right.
     I did. But I was so nervous I left off the last letter of my own name.
     Next came a written test in arithmetic and our oral examinations.
     I named all the parts of speech in a test sentence in Russian  grammar.
Then the priest  came over to me  and handed me a  book  written  in  church
Slavonic. At  this the Russian teacher, a  blond, curly-haired, fair-bearded
man spoke up rather hesitantly:
     "I  don't believe  he  needs  to know that,  Father.  I mean, being  of
another  faith and all...." He  seemed very embarrassed,  as if he had  said
something impolite. I, too, blushed.
     "All the more reason why he should," the priest replied sternly. "Here,
read from here."
     I  read and translated  the page he had  opened. Several  days later my
parents were informed that I had been accepted.

     We spent  the summer in the  country. I felt that I had taken along  my
new and  very impressive title of a schoolboy to the pine and linden forests
of Khvalyn, where I proudly  carried it to the top of the famed chalk hills,
the  ravines  of  Teremshan  and  the  maze  of  wild raspberry  patches  we
frequented on the sly.
     At that time Russia, Europe and the world were just launching a war.
     We returned home by boat. New  recruits were being transported  by  the
same boat. Newsboys at the various landings shouted the headlines: "Read the
latest  dispatches! Three  thousand  prisoners of  war! Read all  about  our
     Weeping, dishevelled women  of all ages crowded near  the  boat at  the
landings They were seeing off  their conscripted husbands, fathers, sons and
brothers.  The  parting  whistle  drowned  out  their  wailing,  the  ragged
cheerings of the men, the floundering band. The stem traced a large, foaming
arc  in the  water, and the  whistle sounded again.  The  sound  of it  hung
suspended in the air. All was still for a moment, and then there was another
long, anxious blast.
     The crystal  pendants  of  the chandelier  in  the  first-class  saloon
tinkled in time to the  engine's strokes. A piano crashed. The air was heavy
with the smells of the Volga, chowder and perfume. Ladies laughed.
     Looking through the saloon window, I could see the steep  bank drifting
away. A string of farm wagons lumbered forlornly up the road from the pier.
     They had seen their men off.
     My new  leather school  satchel introduced a manly,  army smell to  our
stateroom. The new term  was  to begin  in two days, and  my  school uniform
awaited  me   at   home.   My  school  days  were  beginning.  Farewell,  my
neighbourhood friends! I practically felt as if I had been conscripted. When
we  got home m head  was shaved, as was the custom for new boys. Papa said I
looked like scarecrow.
     "Just like a soldier-boy," Wirkel, the tailor,  said as he  adjusted my

     That was a magnificent time. My grandeur  and  my first long pants were
universally recognized.
     Boys in the street shouted "squab!" at me, for the colour of the school
uniform  was dove-grey, and pupils of the Boys  School were called squabs. I
was proud to have joined the chosen.
     The sun shone  on my belly and was reflected in the brass buckle  of my
leather  belt, stamped with the black  letters of the  school.  The  raised,
shiny  metal buttons  of my  dove-grey shirt were like silver lady  bugs. On
that very  solemn and  frightening August day  I climbed  the  steps  of the
school in my new shoes (the left was a bit tight).
     I  was immediately engulfed by the subdued murmur of the corridor.  Out
there  in the August day, beyond the school doors,  were the  cottage in the
country, the chalk hills, the summer and freedom.
     A little old man wearing a tunic  with  a medal pinned on his chest was
coming towards me. He appeared grave and angry,  as everyone did to  me that
day. Recalling my mother's  instructions,  I clicked my heels and bowed low,
having first removed my cap.
     "Well, hello, hello," the old man said. "Hang your cap over there. I'll
bet you're in the first grade, aren't you? Over there, third to the left."
     Once again I bowed low and respectfully.
     "Go on, that's enough  bowing!"  he said and chuckled. Then  he  got  a
floor brush from a corner and went off to sweep the corridor.
     The boys in my class  were all huge and as hairless as I, who must have
been the smallest. Some giants in worn or faded school uniforms were walking
up and down. These were boys who had been left back. One of them crooked his
finger at me.
     "C'mon over and  sit by me.  The seat's  empty.  Whacher  name?  Mine's
Say it!" I couldn't.
     "Never  mind. You'll  learn. D'you  chew oilcake?  No? Got anything  to
smoke? No? D'you know how the farmer sold his eggs at the market?"
     I had  never heard that story. The big fellow said I was  a ninny. Just
then a  lively, big-eared, dishevelled boy who had  also been left back came
over to our double desk. First  he sized me up. Then he sat down on the desk
and said:
     "Are you  the doctor's  son? You  are, aren't you? Doctor's riding on a
swine, with his sonny on behind! Whose  button is this?"  He had got hold of
one of the shiny buttons on my cuff.
     "Mine. Can't you see?"
     "Well, if it's yours,  you can  have it!"  he cried,  tore  it  off and
handed it t  "And whose  button is this?" he said, getting hold of  the next
     I had learned my lesson and said I did not know.
     "You don't  know?" he  shouted. "That means it's not yours, is it?"  At
which  he tore off the second button and threw it down. The class burst into
laughter. I would have certainly lost all my buttons if the school inspector
had not entered a moment. Everyone  rose as one  man. I liked this  form  of
greeting.  The  inspector's sly and lively eyes scrutinized  us.  His  bushy
beard, combed and parted down the middle  like a swallow's tail, brushed the
various decorations on his tunic. He spoke in a kind and friendly voice.
     "Well now, you  shiny, brand-new boys!  Had your fill of  running wild?
Watch your step  now,  you rascals. 'Tention! Stepan Gavrya!  Pull  in  your
belly! Get it back  into your  satchel!  You're repeating the year,  but you
haven't even  learn  stand  straight, you oaf!  Want  to  be put down in the
Deportment Ledger? Look at the mane you've grown! Get a haircut!"
     Then  the  inspector  took  out a list and called  the roll. At this he
intentionally confused the names of the big boys who had been left back.
     "Shoefeld!"  he called  instead of Kufeld. "Varekukhonko!"  instead  of
     It was finally my turn.
     "Here!" I shouted at the top of my voice.
     The  inspector  raised an  eyebrow. "Look how small  he is, but what  a
voice! I can see now why they named you Leo. How old are you?"
     I  wanted  to  get  in.  right  with  the  big  boys  and  so  quipped,
     He replied evenly: "You  know, Leo, king of  the beasts, you scoundrel,
that I'll make you stay after school, and that  will teach you  to be witty.
Wait  a minute cried, as if I  were about to  leave. "Wait!  Why  are  there
buttons on your cuff?  That's against regulations. There's no  need  to have
buttons where they're not  supposed to  be." He came up  to me  and took  my
sleeve,  pulled a pair of funny-looking  pincers from his pocket  and nipped
off the offending buttons.
     Now I was dressed strictly according to regulations.

     My name was soon entered in the Black Book.
     I was lacking several textbooks, and so Mamma, my brother and I set out
for them to the neighboring city of Saratov.
     School had started. The first page of my school  ledger had been filled
in, the first pages of the textbook  read,  and  a mass of new and important
information gleaned.  I felt very  learned.  The Cleopatra, a  small steamer
that  was taking us across to Saratov, was passing the familiar shoreline of
Osokorye Island, but I no longer regarded it merely as an island. It was now
"a tract of land completely surrounded by water".
     We  bought the books  I  needed  in  Saratov  and  then  stopped  by  a
photographer's  studio   to   have  our  pictures  taken.  The  photographer
immortalized the stiff  school cap and cockade  and my new  shoes.  Then  we
walked down  German Street. My cap crowned my  head like  a saint's halo. My
shoes creaked like an organ.
     We dropped in  at  Jean's Cafe and Confectionary. Mamma ordered  coffee
and pastries  called napoleons. It was cool and  dim inside, but I could see
myself  in my  new  shoes  and uniform  in  the  large mirror.  At the table
opposite was a thin, stiff-backed man. He was talking to a woman at his side
and looking over at our table. His eyes were as dead and dull as a fish's on
the  kitchen  table. I  stared hard at him.  The napoleon  got  stuck in  my
throat, just as Napoleon had in the snows  of Russia.  It was our principal,
Juvenal Stomolitsky.
     I jumped up. My  lips were  sticky from the pastry  and  from  fear.  I
bowed. I sat down. I got up again. The principal nodded and turned away.
     Soon we  rose to leave. At the door I  bowed again. The day was ruined.
The napoleon rumbled uneasily in my stomach.
     Our class  supervisor entered the classroom during the long recess  the
following day. He asked  for my ledger.  This is what he wrote  on the  page
devoted to "Conduct and Deportment":
     Pupils of secondary schools are forbidden to patronize cafes, even when
accompanied by their parents.
     Kuzmenko, another boy  who had been left back, read the entry and said:
"Good for you! You've started  out right. Congratulations!  Keep up the good
     To tell the truth, I had been terrified, but his words cheered me up. I
shrugged and said: "I stuck my neck out that time. What the hell!"
     From then on we called confectionaries conductionaries.

     The Pokrovsk Boys High School was just like every other boys school. It
had cold tile floors that were kept clean  by being swept with damp sawdust.
There was a  long corridor and class-rooms leading off  it. The corridor was
filled by  the short incoming tides  of  recess  and drained  again  by  the
outgoing tides of the lessons.
     There was a school  bell. Its pealing had a double meaning. One, at the
end  of  a  lesson,  was  exciting  and  carefree. It pealed: "Ring! Fun and
     The other sounded when recess was  over.  It announced the beginning of
another  lesson. It  was  a mean old  grouch:  "Br-rats!  I'll wr-ring  your
     Lessons,  lessons  and  lessons.  There  was  the  class  ledger.   The
Deportment Ledger. "Leave the classroom!" "Go stand in the corner!"
     There were  prayers and  chapel.  Royal days. Tunics. The gold-stitched
silence  of  the  services.  Standing  at attention.  Boys fainting from the
closeness and from the strain of standing still for two hours in a row.
     The dove-grey overcoats. The  dove-grey boredom. I counted the  days by
the pages of  my  ledger. It  had  a column for the  schedule. A column  for
assignments. A column for marks.  Each week  ended with the signature of our
class supervisor. Sunday alone, the shortest day in the week, did not have a
space of  its own in my ledger. Every other day was strictly regimented. 18.
Pupils of secondary schools are forbidden to go outdoors  after  7 p.m. from
November 1st to March 1st. 20. Pupils are not allowed to attend the theatre,
cinematograph or other places of  amusement without  special permission from
the school inspector  in  each given instance. Pupils are strictly forbidden
to frequent confectionaries, cafes, restaurants, public gardens, etc.
     Note: The  above  places of amusement  in  Pokrovsk include  the Public
Gardens Market Square and the railroad stations.
     These  rules  were printed  on our school  cards, and  every breach  of
conduct that flaunted the  sacred rules meant a demerit.  They say all roads
lead  to Rome. At  the Boys School all roads  led  to the Deportment Ledger.
Every boy's name was entered in it at one time or another. There were simple
demerits:  boys  were   left  without   lunch;  there  were  reprimands  and
expulsions. It was a terrible book! A secret book. A Dove Book.
     There is a legend  about  a Dove Book which fell  from the  skies  many
centuries ago and which supposedly contained all the secrets of Creation. It
was a wonderful book,  something like a ledger  for the planets. None of the
wise men could read it all  and  understand it, for its secret meanings were
too deep for them. We boy regarded the Deportment Ledger as just such a Dove
Book,  for the authorities kept careful watch over its secrets.  None  of us
ever dreamed of reading the entries in it.

     Unfledged doves are  called squabs. We were called  squabs,  because of
our dove grey school uniforms. Our school's Deportment Ledger, its Dove Book
had the  lives  of three  hundred  squabs  recorded  in  it.  Three  hundred
unfledged doves trapped in a cage.
     The town of Pokrovsk was once a settlement. It was a rich settlement, a
grain-selling   centre  of   Russia.   Huge,   five-storey   granaries  with
turret-roofs lined the bank of the Volga here. Tens  of millions of  bushels
of wheat were stored in this granary row. Clouds of pigeons blotted  out the
sun. The grain was loaded on barges. Small tugboats guided the barges out of
the bay, just as a boy-guide leads a blind man.
     Ukrainian  tillers lived  in Pokrovsk, as well as rich farmers,  German
colonists, boatmen,  stevedores, workers of the lumber mills, the  bone-meal
factory and  a small  number  of Russian  peasants.  In  summer they  became
bronzed by the steppe  sun, they drove camels, gathered on the water  meadow
on holidays which usually ended in endless fights along the river bank. They
raced  their boats against Saratov boats. In winter they  drank heavily, had
weddings and danced on Breshka Street. They  ate  sunflower seeds. The  rich
farmers met in council. Then, if ever  the question of a new school, a paved
road or some similar undertaking was  raised,  they would shout it down with
their usual "resolution" of: "No need for it!"
     Slush and mud were ankle-deep  on  the streets. Such  was  the state of
affairs in Pokrovsk, just seven kilometres from the city of Saratov.
     And  then the overgrown  sons of the wild  and  carefree steppes, these
huge, bold  savages from the farms, were forcibly driven into the classrooms
of Pokrovsk Boys School, had their  hair cropped  close, their names entered
in the Ledger and their bodies stuffed into the school uniform.
     It is difficult, it is all but impossible to  describe the things  that
went on in that school. There  were constant fights. Boys fought singly, and
one  class fought  another. Bottoms of  long  school coats were ripped  off.
Knuckles were cracked against enemy  jaws. Among the weapons  used were  ice
skates, school satchels, lead weights. Skulls were cracked. The seniors (Oh,
those ruling classes!) would take two small boys by the legs and batter each
other with our swinging heads. True,  there were some first-year boys so big
they drove the fear of God into the meanest seniors.
     I was rarely  hit, since I was  so  little they were afraid they  might
kill  me. Still and all, I was accidentally knocked unconscious two or three
     They had their own special game of soccer that was played on empty lots
with old telegraph poles or stone  posts that were  lying on the ground. The
object of the game was to roll  a pole across the lot into the other  team's
field,  using their feet alone. As often as not, a pole would roll over some
fallen players, mangling and crushing them.
     During classes they  cribbed  and prompted  each other outrageously and
with  great imagination, inventing the most  complex and outlandish devices.
Desks, floorboards, blackboards and  lecterns  were all rigged.  There was a
special  delivery  service and a  telegraph. During written tests  they even
managed to get the answers from the senior classes.
     Some boys, to spite the teachers, would  hunch over and thus be sent to
stand  in a corner  "to  straighten  up",  where  they  persisted  to  cause
themselves great discomfort by standing  hunchbacked, although at home these
were strong boys with excellent postures.
     The boys chewed  oilcakes  in class, played  cards, fenced with knives,
traded  lea weights,  and read the  adventures of  Nat Pinkerton. There were
some  lessons during which half  of the pupils were  being punished and were
lined  up along  the walls, while  another  quarter  was out smoking in  the
washroom or else banished from the classroom. But a  few heads bobbed  above
the desks.
     The boys ignited phosphorus in order to produce  a mighty stench.  That
meant the room had to be aired, which left no time for the lesson.
     A squeegee would be  tacked under the teacher's lectern,  and when  the
string was jerked the toy would squeak. The teacher would rush  up and down,
but still squeaked. He would search the desks, and still it squeaked.
     "Stand up, all of you! And stay there!"
     Every boy would be on his feet, but still, the toy Went on squeaking.
     The  inspector would  be  summoned.  Still,  it went  on squeaking. The
pupils  would be  made to sit at their desks  for  two hours and would  miss
their lunch.
     Still, it went on squeaking-
     The boys stole things at the market, they fought the town boys on every
corner  they  beat up  policemen. They  poured  every sort of mess into  the
inkwells  of those  teachers whom  they disliked. During  lessons they would
slowly  vibrate a split  penpoint that had been stuck into  a desk,  and the
screeching sound it produce would set your teeth on edge.

     Juvenal  Stomolitsky,  the  principal, was  tall, thin,  unbending  and
careful! pressed. His eyes were round, heavy-lidded and leaden. That was why
he had bee nicknamed Fish-Eye.
     Fish-Eye  was a protege of Kasso, the  Minister of  Education  who  was
loathed  by  all. Fish-Eye  valued drilling,  absolute  quiet and discipline
above all  else. As classes  ended each  day he would  take  up  his station
outside the  cloakroom. We were to pass by him in review after we had put on
our  caps and coats. We had to stop as w approached, remove our  caps by the
visor (and only by the visor!) and bow low.
     Once, when I was in a hurry to get  home, I grasped the hatband instead
of the visor when I doffed my cap.
     "Stop!" the  principal  commanded. "Go back and return again. You  must
learn to greet me properly."
     He  never shouted. His voice was as dull and colourless as an empty tin
can. When angry  he would say:  "Abominable boy!" This was his most terrible
reprimand   and  always  meant  a  poor   mark  for  deportment  and   other
unpleasantneses in the future.
     No matter whether he appeared in a classroom  or in the Teacher's Room,
conversation would  immediately  die  down.  Everyone  would rise.  A  tense
silence followed. The  atmosphere  would  become  so stifling  you felt  you
wanted to open a window and shout.
     Fish-Eye liked to enter a classroom unexpectedly. The pupils would jump
to  their feet with a great rattling of desk tops. The teacher would  become
red  in the  face,  stumble in  the  middle of  a word and look just like  a
schoolboy who was caught smoking.
     The principal would sit down by  the lectern, making sure that each boy
called on would bow to him first  and then to the teacher. Once the district
inspector, a little  grey-haired  old man with  a large  star on  his chest,
visited the school.  The principal escorted him to one of the classrooms and
motioned with his eyes to a boy who  was being  called upon to recite to bow
first to the district inspector, then to him and, finally, to the teacher.
     The  following notations,  thanks to old  Fish-Eye, were to be found in
the Black Book:

     Andrei Glukhin was seen by  the principal wearing  his coat thrown over
his  shoulders. He is to be left  after school for four hours. Stepan Gavrya
... was seen  in town by  the principal wearing a shirt  with an embroidered
collar.  Six  hours after school. Nikolai  Avdotenko  was absent from school
without permission on October 13th and 14th. To be left in  class for twelve
hours (on two successive holidays).

     (Nikolai Avdotenko's aunt died on October 13th. He had been living with
her family.)
     The district inspector was pleased  with the way the principal  ran the
school.  "I'm very  pleathed, thir," he  lisped. "Thith  ith  an exthemplary


     The Teachers' Room was at the end  of the corridor, to the right of the
principal's office.  Continents and oceans  were rolled  up  and stuck  away
behind  a bookcase in a  corner.  The  huge  round eyeglasses of the earth's
hemisphere gazed down from a wall.  The glass door of the bookcase reflected
His Majesty, by the Grace of God, a blue  ribbon, a carefully-groomed beard,
an arrow-straight part and rows of decorations, the Tsar of all Russia. (The
actual portrait of the tsar hung  opposite).' The Black Book was kept in the
bookcase.  On top of the bookcase a lop-sided  squirrel offered its shedding
tail as a moustache for a  goddess. The  goddess was old and made of plaster
of  Paris. Her name was Venus. Whenever  the  bookcase door was  opened  the
goddess  swayed  gently  and  seemed about to  sneeze.  And the bookcase was
opened whenever someone reached for the Deportment Ledger. Caesar Karpovich,
the  school supervisor, was the  keeper of the key to  the bookcase. We  had
nicknamed him Seize'em and he was the butt of all our pranks. He had a glass
eye, something he tried very hard to conceal. However, the moment  he turned
it on us, we made faces at him and thumbed our noses.
     New  boys who had  not yet discovered  he had a  glass  eye admired the
courage of the pranksters. Seize'em was  the author of  at least half of all
the entries in the Deportment Ledger,  for he  was responsible for the boys'
behaviour, both in school and out.
     He would  ambush  us on Breshka  Street, which was strictly off-limits.
Seize'em  stalked  the  streets after seven p.m.  in  search  of boys  still
outdoors. He would come calling to see if an absent boy was  really sick. He
would lie in wait  for boys outside the  Dawn Cinema. He spent his days  and
nights busily tracking  down culprits  to provide fuel for the Ledger. Still
and all, the boys managed  to trick  him  brazenly. Once,  for instance,  he
waylaid  a  group  of sixth-grade boys inside  the Dawn Cinema.  They locked
themselves  in one of the boxes. Seize'em went for a policeman, and together
they tried to force the door of the box. As the film flickered on the screen
the boys tore down the drapes of their box, knotted them and slide  down the
drape-rope into the orchestra. First to appear on the screen were a  pair of
dangling legs. Then the boys fell into the laps of the audience. There was a
general commotion, during which they escaped through an emergency exit.
     Wisps  of cigarette smoke drifted about in  the Teachers' Room, snaking
around the globes  and stuffed birds. There was  a table beside the bookcase
where the class ledgers were kept, witnesses of the good, bad or indifferent
progress of every boy in the  school. The school  inspector  usually  leafed
through them during recess.

     The boys  almost liked Inspector Nikolai Romashov. He was a well-built,
handsome  man  who wore  his hair in a short brush cut. His  dark eyes  were
often narrowed, and he had a sharp tongue that was often rude.
     He,  too,  followed his own  educational  methods.  If, for instance, a
given class had committed some collective crime or did not wish to hand over
an offender, Romashov  would appear after  lessons,  entering the  classroom
slowly and facing the boys, all of  whom  would stand  stiffly at attention.
Then, raising his head high, he would survey them. It seemed  that his beard
swept over the tops of our heads.
     "Where's the monitor?"  he  would say in  a chillingly calm  voice. "Go
over and shut the door. So."
     The monitor would  shut the door tightly.  The  boys, hungry  and tired
after five hours of study, would stand at attention. Romashov would continue
his inspection  of the class through his beard.  He  would then take a  book
from his pocket,  sit down at  the  lectern and become engrossed in  it. The
boys stood at attention. For ten minutes. For half an hour.
     After  about an hour's reading,  the inspector would  suddenly put  his
book aside  and begin  his harangue  in  a  soft  but  resounding  baritone,
speaking calmly throughout:
     "Well?  What  have you to say  for yourselves,  muttonheads? Addlepated
hooligans. Dimwitted pigeon fanciers! What a brainless collection  of dolts!
Morons! I'll have you publicly castigated in front of the whole  school, you
numskulls! Pigheaded  charlatans! Nitwits! Whose stupid head is that? Ah, is
that you, Gavrya? I mean you, too, by the way. Why are  you turning your mug
away? You're the top-ranking dunce here! Well? I'll  bet you feel ashamed of
yourselves, you louts. Scoundrels! Idiots! I'll see you get what's coming to
you, you blackguards. Here you are, left  after school. And  there's  dinner
waiting at  home. Hot soup. Roast beef. I can smell  the savoury  sauce." At
this  the inspector  would  sniff  loudly and smack his  lips. "Ha!  Hungry,
aren't you? I'll bet you are.  And  you're sure to get your backsides tanned
when you get  home. Your fathers will  see to that. I'll send a  note along,
telling your dads to let down your pants and give you a good whacking in the
rear   deportment  ledger.  There's  nothing  to  laugh  at,  you  lummoxes!
Rattlebrained whelps! Left after school! For shame!"
     After  carrying on  in this vein  for  about an hour, he  would finally
dismiss the class, but one at a time, with long intervals in between. We all
felt faint by then.

     Romashov had  divided all the  boys into two groups: the lambs and  the
hilly goats. That, too, was how he introduced the pupils of a class to a new
     "Be seated, idlers! Here, you see, are the lambs, the crammers, the 'A'
students,  the goody-goodies. And  here are the  'F'  and  'D' students, the
left-backs,   the    dinner-missers,   the   blabbermouths,   loafers    and
back-benchers. Aleferenko! Shove your  belly  into your satchel! Look  at it
hanging over your belt!"
     The  inspector was in  charge of seating the class. Thus,  he  had  the
wildest, laziest and  worst pupils  in the front rows. The farther back  and
closer  to the windows, the better the marks a boy had. However, a very warm
relationship based  on prompting and cribbing existed all along the diagonal
line between the far  left "A"  comer of  the class and the front right  "D"

     The Black Book contained eight  incomprehensible  entries.  These eight
mysteriously  similar  notations  all  bore  the  same  date. The  following
paragraph was repeated eight times:

     "(Name) of the ... grade has been severely reprimanded for the last and
final  time for outrageous hooliganism. His deportment  mark for the term is
"C" ("C-"). He is to be punished by twenty hours of compulsory schoolwork on
successive  holidays.  His  parents  have been  notified.  (Signed)... Class
supervisor. (Signed) Inspector...."

     These eight entries refer to a scandalous and tragic event which in its
time had the entire town up in arms. However, no  one  knew the end  of  the
story or the names of the real participants in the events.  There is  not  a
word in  the Black Book  about Bloodhound Kozodav, the Afon  Recruit  or the
Tavern,  that  third-rate  joint run  by Madame  Kolenkorovna. Mokeich,  the
now-departed  school janitor, divulged the sector  of the Black Book to  me.
Here it is.

     There were  no electric bells  in the  city  about  eighteen years ago.
Instead,  there  were  wire  handles  on  the  porches,  somewhat  like  the
pull-chains  of old-fashioned  toilets. And  you pulled the handle  when you
rang. Then  a new  doctor arrived in Pokrovsk. They said he was  very much a
man for  modern  technology  and scientific  development. Indeed, the doctor
subscribed to Niva, a  literary magazine, and had battery-run electric bells
installed  in  his  apartment.  A little  white bell-button appeared on  the
outside door beneath the doctor's card. The patients would press the button,
at  which a  loud-voiced  bell  would  suddenly come to  life in the  foyer.
Everybody  agreed this  was  wonderful. The doctor  soon  had a  flourishing
practice,  and  it  became the height  of  fashion  in Pokrovsk  to  have an
electric bell  on one's front porch. Five years later  there  was  hardly  a
house  with  a  porch  that  did  not  have  a  bell-button. The  bells  had
variously-pitched voices. Some buzzed, others tinkled,  still others rasped,
and  there were those that  simply rang.  Some bells had instruction notices
tacked up beside the buttons, such as: "Please don't bang  on the  door. Put
your finger on the pip for to ring the bell."
     The people of Pokrovsk were proud of their cultured ringing. They spoke
of their  doorbells with love and interest. When meeting in the street, they
would inquire after the health of a doorbell.
     "Hello,  Pyotr! How are you?  And  how's the  new  arrival? Did the man
install it yet?"
     "Yes, thanks. What a beauty! Come on over and hear  it ring. It's got a
voice like a canary."
     When  matchmakers praised a girl's  dowry  they would say: "She'll have
her own wing of a house with a 'lectric bell on the porch."
     Mlynar, the richest man  in town, had seven  different bells installed,
one  for each  day  of  the week.  The bell with the liveliest sound was for
Sundays. The gloomiest-ever bells jangled on fast-days.
     The Afon Recruit would be  sent for whenever  a bell went out of order.
The Recruit doctored old bells, installed new ones and was reputed to be the
best  "bell man"  in town.  His  fame was widespread,  and his place  in the
annals  of Pokrovsk was as  honourable as that of  Lake Sapsayevo, still the
best swamp in the area, or Lazar, the best of the cabbies, who is still hale
and hearty, or the granary fire, surely the best of all fires.

     The Afon  Recruit  lived at the  market  place, by the meat  rows  that
smelled of fresh  blood. He  lived in  the Tavern, as its inhabitants called
their  filthy,  comfortless hovel. A large pit  near the Tavern was  forever
filled  with  foul-smelling puddles,  and  stray  dogs would scrounge around
there, dragging out long ropes of  intestines  or messes of entrails, all of
which  swarmed  with  blue-bottle  flies.  The  market's  hardware  section,
resounding with hammering and clanging, was a short way off.
     The Afon Recruit lived in the Tavern. No one knew  where  he  was from,
how he had got his nickname or of what nationality he was. But everyone knew
him. He was strong, as swarthy as a roasted nut, thin, wiry, and as agile as
a pennant  in the wind. He had a huge round earring in his  left  ear, and a
long black moustache sprang from under his hooked nose. The  left tip of his
moustache pointed  skyward, while the right pointed down, which fact made it
resemble a  washbasin  faucet.  His pearly  teeth were forever flashing in a
smile.  His hands were forever busy, doing  some piece of work or other. And
his hands  were of a  kind  called "golden hands"  in Russian.  He  could do
anything. He  was a mechanic, a barber, a magician,  a watchmaker-you simply
had to name it.
     He was the most respected man in the Tavern. Everyone followed his lead
and liked him. No one could remember ever having seen him angry. Even when a
heated argument  led to ugly  knives, the Afon Recruit's  smile flashed more
brightly than the blades. He  would materialize between  the  fighters as if
from thin air to shove them apart. Then, flying onto one of the bunks like a
dervish, he would shout:
     "Attenshun,  pu-leeze! Presenting the ver-ry  latest hocus-pocus magic:
black, white, striped and polka-dotted! Ladies, gents and esquires! Entendez
a sec! Voulez vous have a look! Stupendous! A-mazing! Alley-oop!"
     Tiny boxes and balls would come pouring out of his pocket to be juggled
over his head. His  hat spun on a cane which he balanced on  the  tip of his
nose as he lit cigarettes inside his  coat sleeves.  A woman's voice issured
from  his innards,  and  it was singing. Meanwhile, his torn sole  gaped and
said "Merci". The quarrel was forgotten instantly.
     Dunka Kolenkorovna, a half-wit, was the mistress of  the Tavern. Kostya
Gonchar, the town fool, was her favorite lodger. He was absolutely harmless,
for his  great joy in life  was adorning his person with anything  bright or
shiny. He  went  about town in his rags hung with pictures cut out of  Niva,
the  tops  of tea tins,  ads for various brands of cigarettes, empty lozenge
tins,  beads, paper  flowers,  playing  cards, bits  of harness  and  broken
teaspoons. The townsfolk  were indulgent and  gave him whatever  bright  and
useless odds and ends they had. To this very day whenever anyone in Pokrovsk
is dressed too gaudily someone will say:
     "Look at him! He's dolled up like Kostya Gonchar!"
     Bloodhound Kozodav,  the  policeman  whose beat  was the  market place,
liked to drop  in at the Tavern.  Kozodav possessed everything  an exemplary
policeman  needed: a pair of fierce moustaches, a badge, a whistle, a sword,
a deep, gruff  voice, a blue-red lump of a  nose, a medal,  and  braided red
shoulder  straps, the envy of  Kostya Gonchar. Bloodhound Kozodav would drop
in  at the Tavern to have a drink  on  the house, play a game  of cards, and
have a heart-to-heart talk with Joseph Pikus, the sage travelling salesman.
     The other inhabitants of  the Tavern were Levonti Abramkin, a nightman,
Hersta, a German organ-grinder, his parrot that had been trained to pick out
"lucky" fortune cards, Chi Sun-cha, a tubercular Chinaman, and Shebarsha and
Krivopatrya, two bosom friends and petty thieves.

     In the evenings  boys from our school would sneak into the Tavern. Here
they could  enjoy oilcakes, relax in pleasant company, forget for an hour or
two the  strictly regulated  life  of the  school  and  play  cards  without
worrying about Seize'em pouncing on them.  Here no one ever  asked you  what
your term  mark  for  Russian  grammar  was  or whether you  had  done  your
homework. We were always welcome. The inhabitants of the Tavern joined us in
berating the school rules and  regulations, and many  were quite prepared to
beat up the Latin teacher for giving a boy an  undeserved "F". Chi  Sun-cha,
who was always so reserved, would get all worked up.
     "Why so bad Latin teacher?"  he would say as he cut out coloured  paper
festoons. "Boy good. Why he get 'F'?"
     We would bring the men books we thought were good, the latest news, our
school  lunches  and  junk  for Kostya  Gonchar.  In  exchange  we  received
invaluable information in such varied fields as  the art  of jimmying locks,
forging signatures, and the Odessa version of ju-jitsu.
     The Afon Recruit was a great one for discussing  a book he had read and
always drew us into these discussions. In the beginning, the other  men made
fun  of him, saying that the  devil had taken on a bunch of babes, but  soon
nearly  every other inhabitant of the Tavern was  taking part in our  heated
debates. To  top it all, Vasya  Gorbyl, one  of the "babes", gave  Shebarsha
such a beating that we were  all treated with special respect from  that day
on. At first, our reading was limited to adventure  stories. Thus, we sailed
80,000 Leagues Under the Sea, found Captain Grant's Children and nearly lost
our  own  heads  over  the  Headless Horseman.  Then  Stepan  Gavrya,  alias
Atlantis, brought  some banned  political  books to  the Tavern.  The Tavern
inhabitants listened to the story of the Paris Commune with bated breath.
     We schoolboys were pledged to secrecy about these visits to the Tavern.
     Many of  our  fellow classmates had no idea where the  so-called  Hefty
Gang hung out after school. Whenever Bloodhound Kozodav put in an unexpected
appearance  at the  Tavern the banned books were  whisked  out of sight  and
Bloodhound was  offered a drink. He would soon  be  in a benevolent mood and
would whisper confidentially:
     "Lissen, boys, don't  poke  your noses  out for 'nother half-hour. That
Seize'em's sniffing around Breshka Street. I'll give you a sign soon's all's


     In September the  leaves began to fall  and the grass  turned yellow in
the Public Gardens, which somehow resembled  the worn fur  collar  of an old
winter coat.
     In September the boys of our school picked a fight with the town boys.
     Vanya Makhas, a fifth-grade boy,  was out walking with  a girl from the
Girls School. Some  boys  from Berezhnaya  Street who were sitting on one of
the park benches began baiting him.
     "Hey, sonny! Don't you pick your girls from our street."
     Makhas  escorted the  girl to the fountain and said:  "Pardon me.  I'll
only be a minute. I'll be back in  a sec." Then  he returned  to the  bench,
went up to the  fellow and struck him, knocking him against  the wire fence.
The next moment the fight had turned into a free-for-all. The boys fought in
silence, for  there were teachers sitting on the benches of  the next  walk.
The town boys knew this, too, and felt it unfair to shout and thus put their
enemies at a disadvantage.
     Some  park watchmen  who  were passing  broke  up  the  fight, and  the
appearance of Seize'em on the scene put a stop to the slaughter.
     That  was  when  the town fathers  asked the  principal  to include the
Public Gardens  in  the  list  of  off-limits  places  for  schoolboys.  The
principal was only too pleased to comply. Thus, the boys of  our school were
deprived of their  last  recreation spot.  They  tried to  protest,  but the
Parents' Committee upheld the principal's ruling.


     That very day a secret emergency meeting was held at the  Tavern. Hefty
and Atlantis were the only two boys present.
     Atlantis was  boiling mad. "It's  against the  law! There's no place we
can  go anyway, and  now this! I don't give a damn for  this whole town  any
     "You  know  what I'd suggest?"  Joseph said. "Why don't  you  send  the
district supervisor a telegram with a  paid reply?  You shouldn't be silent.
Why, it's a regular ghetto for schoolboys.  You can't  go here, you can't go
there. So where can you go?"
     "Alley-oop!  To hell with the telegram!" the Recruit interrupted.  "No.
This calls for some hard thinking. La!"
     "Bash  their  heads  in  and  be  done  with  it!" Krivopatrya  shouted
cheerfully from his  upper bunk. He was  lying  with his head  and shoulders
over the side, spitting intently, trying to send the spittle through a  ring
he had made of his fingers.
     "That's no  good. We've got to make  them  all suffer. Tar  and feather
them. They're all to blame.  The  Town Council and the Parents' Committee. A
bunch of rotten pigs. And we  have to be sure we don't get caught. Otherwise
they'll  expel  us.  It'll  take  a lot of  brains to  think  of something,"
Atlantis said.
     "The boys'll  all  stick together. Once we get started  they won't know
what hit them," Hefty added.
     A silence fell. The plotters were lost in thought. Water  dripped  from
the roof.
     Suddenly Joseph jumped to his feet, smacked himself on the forehead and
exclaimed: "Eureka! Eureka, which, in Greek, means 'I have the answer'! This
head has come up with an amazing idea. What?"
     "For God's sake! What is it?"
     "What's all  this noise and commotion? Where do you think you  are,  at
school or in a respectable tavern?"
     "Are you going to tell us or not? What're you waiting for?"
     "Shh! Quiet,  please! My  idea is a fix of an idea. It has nothing  but
good sides  for all of us, and not a single bad side. Now listen, everybody.
What is the exception of my conception? I mean, what is the conception of my
exceptional idea? Now, this is what you do...." At this Joseph began cutting
the air, using his thin fingers like a pair of scissors. He went on  cutting
the air for several minutes, then looked around  at each of  us in turn. His
eyes shone as he spoke in a momentous whisper:
     "The doorbells...."

     Hefty chose eight fine boys  from different grades for the bell-cutting
campaign. First, the following manifesto was drawn up:
     "Boys!  The  Public  Gardens  are  now off-limits.  (Be  sure  nobody's
watching you read this!) Our enemies are Fish-Eye, the Town Council and  the
Parents. Which means the whole town's against us. And that  means  we've got
to get even, and make sure they never forget it. This town will never forget
what we're going to do to them. In this place  everybody's proud as peacocks
of their doorbells. Fellows! We of the Committee of  War and  Vengeance have
decided  to cut off all the  doorbells in Pokrovsk. Each  of us, on The Day,
will  cut off the doorbell outside his  house. Our parents are on Fish-Eye's
     "The Committee of  War and  Vengeance will appoint local boys to do the
job  in  the  houses where  there  aren't any Boys School fellows. It'll  be
another  St.  Bartholomew's Night for doorbells! Boys! Don't  spare a single
bell!  We've  been  driven  to  this.  We've  been  deprived  of   our  last
recreational vestige.
     "The Committee of War and Vengeance has appointed the following boys to
be  in  charge  of their  class. Obey their orders! In view of the danger of
expulsion, we're using their nicknames.
     "1st grade-Marusya
     "2nd grade-Honeycomb
     "3rd grade-Atlantis
     "4th grade-Donder-Bong
     "5th grade-Meatball
     "6th grade-Satrap (The Ghost of Hamlet's Father)
     "7th grade-Fishnet (I inhabit)
     "8th grade-King of the Jews
     "The man in charge-Hefty
     "The doorbells will be handed over to the monitors. They will pass them
on to the  Committee  that will hand them over of a cripple,  who will trade
them  for gunpowder, bullets, pop-guns,  etc. The  day of  St. Bartholomew's
Night  will be  announced by the  monitors. The  signal  to begin is a white
triangle, pasted to the windowpane.
     "Don't break the big bell in the Teachers' Room or they might guess who
did it. If anybody rats, he'll get a bell stuffed down his throat! Down with
the doorbells!
     "One for all!
     "All for one!
     "Long live War and Vengeance!
     "Sign this and pass it on, but not to Lizarsky or Dimwit.
     "Cmte. for W. & V. 1915"

     Copies of  the manifesto began circulating throughout the  school, read
to the whispering of prompting during classes, amidst the jostling commotion
of recess and the stale  cigarette smoke  of the washrooms. There  were  two
hundred and sixty-eight  coats hanging on pegs in the cloakroom. Two hundred
and sixty-six signatures appeared  under  the manifestoes.  The two boys who
were kept out of it  were  Lizarsky, the police  officer's son, and his best
friend. Dimwit.
     War had been declared.

     Five days later the ringleaders met at the Tavern. Although it was late
in the afternoon, each one came carrying his heavily-packed school  satchel.
However,  instead of  the  usual  dull grammar books  and  figure-laden math
books,  they now  contained  severed bell-buttons.  The white, black,  grey,
mother-of-pearl, enamel, yellow, stiff  and worn  buttons (the latter  would
stay depressed and keep on ringing the  bell) stared out of  their wooden or
metal circles, squares, ovals and rosettes that were lacquered, or-rusty, of
fumed or stained oak, or walnut. The wires protruded like torn ligaments.
     Every family was now waiting for the Afon Recruit to call. He spent the
next  two  weeks  installing new bells, bringing  the stilled voices back to
life, as he was wont to  say.  Then, when  the  last button had been screwed
into place, he said to Hefty: "Your turn! You start a week from today."
     The following Saturday was a muddy day. More than one rubber drowned in
the puddles, more than one galosh  sank on the main  street of Pokrovsk that
day.  However, when  the townspeople finally trudged home  from church  that
evening, losing their  rubbers, their way and  their  strength, they fumbled
about outside their front doors in the darkness in vain  and struck matches,
cupping  their  hands  to shield  the  flames from  the wind.  There were no
bell-buttons in sight. That night everyone discovered that the new bells had
been cut off.
     "What's  going on?" was the worried refrain the following day at  Mass,
on  the  street corners, at the front gates and  on the benches outside  the
houses.  "Good  Lord!  In bright daylight, too! It's  highway robbery. Maybe
they've got a whole gang at it."
     "Imagine! I mixed the dough and set it out to rise. Then I went outside
for a breath of air and to have a chat  with my  neighbour. Grinya was doing
his homework. Well, we talked for  a bit, and I went back. I wanted to close
the front  door  and, gracious! There  was no doorbell. And  not  a soul  in
sight, mind you."
     The  poor  woman could  never  imagine that  her  dear  son  Grinya,  a
snub-nosed fifth-grade boy, had cut off the button.

     The  town was  in  the dumps.  No  one attempted to  have a  new button
installed. The schoolboys were  jubilant. Outside every  front door a bright
circle or square with holes where the nails had been gaped forlornly.
     The Zemstvo inspector was the only one to summon the  Afon Recruit. "Go
on, put in a new one!" he said. "Go  on, you  scoundrel. And make sure  it's
screwed on tight this time! I know your kind." And he shook his finger.
     The Recruit cast a guarded look at him.
     "Don't  play the innocent. I know you. You barely stick it to the wall,
so's the brats can pry it  off quicker.  I know you bums. They get them off,
and a  black thief like you shovels in the profits. But  you  won't get away
with  it this time! I'll post policeman here. I'll have a man on duty  round
the clock."
     The Recruit installed  a  new  button and hurried  back to the  Tavern,
where the boys were waiting for him.
     "I  just  put in a new pip for the  Zemstvo Inspector. Don't touch  it.
He'll have bloodhound there day and night."
     "To hell  with  all coppers!" Venya  Razudanov, alias Satrap,  and  the
Zemstvo  inspector's  own son,  shouted  belligerently.  He  was  stocky and
stubborn, a true copy  of his father,  and that was how he had got his other
nickname, the Ghost of Hamlet's Father.
     "Wait  a minute, my  militant boy," Joseph Pukis said. "What kind of an
aplombic tone of voice  is that?  Stop and think. You may have to part  with
your school cap  instead of another doorbell. Why spit in the  wind? Caution
above all.'
     "That's right, Satrap. You got to be careful. If  you get  caught, I'll
take care  of you good." At this Hefty held his monstrous, mallet-like  fist
up to Satrap's face.
     As  always,  his  fist was  admired  and discussed at length.  Everyone
tested it an exclaimed:
     "Boy, that's some fist! Look at the size of it!"
     "In these days a good-sized fist is better  than a  so-so head," Joseph
     "Big, good fist," Chi Sun-cha exclaimed. "Boswain fist like so. Ah! Lot
of h teeth."
     "I'll cut off the button anyway!" the Zemstvo Inspector's son muttered.


     It was as black as pitch.
     Then, as our eyes  became  accustomed to the  dark, we made out a  door
with plaque  on it. It read: "G. V. Razudanov, Zemstvo Inspector." Beside it
was new bell-button.  We were  on the second floor landing  and  could see a
stretch of staircase. Down below under the stairs  was a  head  with a lumpy
nose and long  moustaches, topped by a cap with a cockade. It was Bloodhound
Kozodav. I-was cold. He shivered.  He  raised his collar. He kept  blinking.
His eyelids dropped. Kozodav was dying to sleep.
     The clock in the dining-room of  the  Zemstvo  Inspector's house struck
two. On the table were a sandwich on  a plate and a glass  of milk, left out
for someone.
     There were steps on the stairs. It was  the sound of muddy rubbers. One
foot stumbled on a tread. "Dammit! It's as dark as hell."
     A  match  flared.  A  hand  in  a  kid  glove held  the  match  to  the
bell-button. Another match was struck and went out, and then another.
     "The Recruit really did his damnedest!"
     Kozodav's head was somewheres down below.  Above it were a pair of feet
shod in shoes and rubbers.
     Kozodav, who had dozed off for a minute, came to his senses and clumped
up the stairs  hurriedly. "Got  you this time!"  he bellowed. He was heaving
mightily, and his moustache bristled as  he raised a whistle to his lips. He
grabbed the intruder by the collar with his free hand  and whistled.  "Help!
Murder! I got'im!"
     The intruder turned  calmly and brushed the policeman's  hand  from his
collar with a regal gesture. It was Venya Razudanov, the Zemstvo Inspector's
son. He  was  more than indignant.  "What's  the matter with you, you  fool?
Can't you see who I am?"
     "I'm  s-s-sorry! I  d-didn't recognize you  in  the  dark. I'm  awfully
sorry. I thought it was someone creeping up here after the bell."
     The door  opened.  The Zemstvo  Inspector,  wearing his wife's dressing
gown and carrying a double-barrelled  shotgun, emerged onto the landing. The
sleepy-eyed, frightened faces of his wife, sister-in-law and maid peeped out
from behind him.
     "What's going on here?"
     Kozodav snapped to attention, his hand  frozen in a  salute. Venya  was
the one to explain.
     "This idiot was  sound asleep on his  feet and decided I was a burglar,
Papa. And he missed whoever it was that got the bell."
     All eyes  were  now  on the door jamb.  There  were torn wires and nail
holes where the  bell button had  so  recently been. Then everyone turned to
Kozodav. He went up to the door, unable to believe his eyes. He ran his hand
over the spot and  shrugged.  The  Zemstvo inspector shook him by the collar
and yelled: "Get out, you idiot! You let him get away!"
     Venya, meanwhile, was playing the part of a hurt, insulted boy. "I'm so
tired, Mamma. I spent half the  night studying. And this is what I came home
     The next  scene  concerned the family alone. There was a kiss  for  the
poor boy. Fade-out. In other words, the end of the chapter.
     The brightly-polished bell button made a bulge in the pocket of Venya's

     "I want those bell-snatchers  caught! Hear me?" the police officer said
to Kozodav. "You've  become the  laughing-stock of this  whole town! If  you
catch them, you'll get a fifty-rouble bonus. If you  don't, I'll make things
so hot for you, you'll cook to a frizzle!"
     Bloodhound threw himself into the job.
     He was  walking through  the  market.  No,  he was not  walking, he was
sailing. The red braiding of the shoulder straps which adorned his  powerful
shoulders rose and fell like oars  in the human stream of the market.  There
Kozodav  came  upon Kostya Gonchar,  the  Tavern simpleton. He was wandering
about  the  market,  looking  as  festive  as  a  Christmas  tree.  Two  new
acquisitions gleamed on his belly: a shiny ad for  Triangle Galoshes and ...
a large red  rosette with a bell-button in  the centre.  At the sight of the
bell-button Kozodav made a  beeline for Kostya. He promised  to give him his
fine red shoulder straps, gold tassels and anything else he wanted if Kostya
would  tell him where he  had gotten the bell. And Kostya beaming  brightly,
told him  all  he  knew.... He  said he had  stolen the  bell from under the
Recruit's bunk.
     "The Recruit hid it, but I felt around and  found it. There's lots more
there! One an' twenty times more, an'...."
     At which Kozodav  promised  him a thousand  other glittering treasures.
Kostya  brought him  a  torn copy of the  Manifesto  issued  by  the War and
Vengeance Committee. The ringleaders were as good as caught. In order to get
all the other Bloodhound decided to tempt  Joseph, too. He dropped in at the
Tavern, sat down on Joseph's bunk, and cleared his throat politely.
     "Ah, sir  honourable policeman," Pukis  said. "So you  want to see  me?
What a I do for you?"
     Bloodhound moved closer, looked around and nudged Joseph. "You sure are
tricky one, Joseph! Why don't you just tell me how you  and  the Recruit cut
off t] bell? I won't tell a soul. I just want to hear  how you did it.  Come
on, quit pretending."
     "I don't understand you one bit." Joseph's face, which had been placid,
took' a  surprised look. "Though I'm Joseph and you're a  policeman, I don't
know h< you dreamed this up."
     Kozodav  pulled  out  his wallet and rustled  the  crisp  notes inside.
Joseph cor nued unperturbed:
     "And  besides,  and  I  hope  you  won't  take offence,  I  think,  sir
honourable policeman, that you're a great honourable scoundrel!"
     Kozodav shook  his fist at him, slammed the door and  was off. He  soon
came to a halt and  took the  Manifesto from his  pocket. The  top  and  the
bottom had  been torn off, but the list of monitors was intact. He  pondered
over it a while, then tore Satrap's name out of it and said to himself: "The
Zemstvo  Inspector'11  give me a  fiver  for  this scrap  of  paper,  or his
sonny-boy'll be  expelled, too."  He  set  his  cap on  straight and  headed
towards  the  precinct  and from  there  to  the  Boys  School,  to  see the

     The monotonous  wind cooled  the puddles like tea poured into a saucer.
The telephone  wires  hummed. At ten a.m. the switchboard operator connected
the precinct station with the green-papered office beyond the Teachers' Room
by way  of these windblown, humming wires. The principal, as sallow-faced as
the  green  wallpaper  of his  office,  and  as slow-moving  and joyless  as
dictation,  cranked his telephone, sat back  in  his  armchair,  removed the
receiver and raised it to his ear.
     "Hello," he said.
     Lessons were in progress. Half an hour later every classroom  heard two
men walking down the  corridor.  Their  steps were loud  and  alien. The one
whose gait was  slow  and heavy wore boots  that squeaked. The other tinkled
and jungled  at every step. The boys  listened  intently.  They raised their
heads  from their notebooks, ponies, cracks in their desks, banned books and
trump cards. Anxious eyes were fixed on the doors.

     The third grade was having a math test. Once  again all became still in
the corridor outside. Pens scratched. Hefty had made  a mistake in a problem
and couldn't  get the answer right. The steps in the corridor had  made  him
nervous. Stepan  Atlantis, whose heart had also skipped a beat, saw that his
chum  was having trouble and sent him  the following note: "Relax.  Fish-Eye
isn't a man-eater."
     But  he  was, as far as they were concerned. The classroom door opened.
There was a rattle of desk tops as the boys rose.  Seize'em entered, beaming
foully and twirling his key chain. The key on it was the key to the bookcase
where the Black Book was kept.
     "Stepan Gavrya! Go to the principal's office!" he commanded.
     Atlantis towered over his desk. He looked dazed.
     "Hurry up!" Seize'em said. "And take your books."
     An  anxious hum filled the classroom. He  was to  take his books!  That
meant was leaving for good. He wouldn't be coming back.
     Hefty  waited. He had lowered his head,  as  if to ward off a blow, but
Seized said nothing to him. Bloodhound Kozodav, being vary of Hefty's fists,
had torn his name off the list, too.
     Atlantis'  hands shook  as he got his  books together, put  them in his
satchel a then  headed towards  the door. On the  way out he slipped Hefty a
rolled-up  scrap of paper. Atlantis stopped in the doorway.  He was about to
say  something,  but  Seize'em  shoved  him out.  The boys  waited in  tense
silence.  The  math  teacher  wiped  the  foggy  lenses  of  his  spectacles
     Hefty unrolled  the scrap of  paper.  It contained the solution  to the
problem, done step-by-step. Even in this last  moment Stepan had come to his
friend's aid. Hi  sat  there motionlessly for a minute with his head lowered
and his  eyes on his desk. Then he rose  quickly,  swayed, filled  his broad
barrel chest  with air, glowered said in a voice that was a statement, not a
     "May I leave the room."
     "There's only ten minutes left till the end of the lesson," the teacher
     "May  I  leave  the  room?"  Hefty  exhaled stubbornly and stepped into
     "Well, if you really can't wait."
     The stunned boys  watched Hefty stuff  his  books into his  satchel and
lumber towards the door, satchel in  hand. A terrible silence  settled  over
the third grade.
     Hefty did not look back. He went straight out, into the empty corridor,
and once there he  suddenly felt very small and doomed. And he heard, coming
from  be! the closed door, a shriek  of laughter rise up over the desks, the
inkwells  and lectern amidst  the  shocked silence of the boys  he had left.
Then it changed into gurgling scream.  It was little Petya Yachmenny  in the
first row who had become  hysterical from the tension. Hefty threw back  his
shoulders and stalked towards the principal's office.

     Kozodav was breathing heavily. He was breathing heavily  and poking his
:finger at  the  boys lined up  in  front of  him.  "Yes,  sir!  This  one's
Honeycomb, and this one's Atlantis. That's their nicknames."
     The other man was rocking  back  and forth in a tilted chair. His spurs
jungled and  he  twirled his small  black  moustache.  "Well, well....  Such
conspirators! Well, well, boys."
     The seven of them stood stiffly before the desk. There were only seven,
since  the  Zemstvo  Inspector's son  was missing. The soot  of  misery  and
despair was settling on their faces.
     "So. Indeed," the principal said curtly, and  his voice sounded as if a
twig had snapped. "I thank you. Well, you wretches, what have you to say for
yourselves? For shame! For shame! It's  disgraceful! Who else was in on this
with you? Oh,  so you won't tell? Miserable creatures. You're no more than a
bunch of thugs. You'll all  be expelled. You're  a  disgrace  to  the school
emblem. Nothing you can say will change matters. I want to see your parents.
I'm very sorry for them. Having sons like you is enough to break a  parent's
heart. You scoundrels."
     The seven raised their eyes and heaved a collective sigh. Indeed, there
were their parents.  They could expect their  mothers' tears. And  scolding.
And their fathers'  chairs being pushed back in  anger. Perhaps even a cuff.
Their  dinners would be  getting cold on the table.  "You'll  end up being a
stevedore!" And the empty days stretching on ahead.
     Then the  King  of the  Jews said rudely,  "Let's not bring our parents
into this. It's bad enough as it is."
     "Silence! Do you want to be blacklisted for good?"
     Just then Hefty entered. He leaned  a hand on the edge of the desk, and
the desk creaked. Moving  his jaw slowly,  he seemed to be chewing his words
as he said, "I'm in on it, too. I'm the ringleader."
     "Well. You can consider yourself dismissed. You're also expelled."
     Eight overcoats were missing from the cloakroom now.
     Eight boys trudged across the muddy square, their  feet dragging in the
ooze.  They  were  bent  under  the  weight of  their  school  satchels  and
misfortune. They looked back  at  the school a last time and one of them, it
was Hefty, the boys in the  classroom saw it  was he, shook his fist angrily
at the building.  Everyone in the school who had seen them wanted  to shout,
pound their fists on  their  desks, turn over the lecterns and catch up with
the eight  boys outside. But  the boys in classrooms were pupils, and pupils
were not allowed to make any  noise or express comradely feelings until they
were permitted  to do so by the bell,  which measured out  their portions of
     Penpoints scratched across paper and left many a blot.

     While the fifth lesson  of  the day was in progress, Joseph  Pukis, his
face very grave, entered the deserted corridor. The janitor was busy washing
the floor Joseph greeted him politely. He spoke beseechingly.
     "Mr. Janitor! I really have to see the principal. It's a matter of life
and the contrary."
     The  principal saw Joseph  in  the  Teachers' Room. He was in a  hurry.
"Yes? What can I do for you? Um.... I don't have very much time."
     "Mister Principal,  Sir, I'm  an old wandering Jew,  and  I can see the
happiness of a family man in your face. I'll bet anything that your children
will never go ban foot or wanton."
     "Get to  the point!  I have no  children. And I have no time to  waste,
     "Just one little minute,  Sir. You expelled eight boys today. And I ask
you, what did  you  expel them? But do I  have  a right  to  ask you?  No! A
thousand  times no. But I have a kind heart. And when you have a kind heart,
you have to speak up. I'm very sorry for  those boys. And I'm still  sorrier
for their parents, who nursed and upbrang them.  Sir  Principal,  you  don't
have any  children.  May God give  y children.  You don't  know how oi-oi-oi
terrible it is when your boy comes home and...."
     "That's enough!" The principal  rose. "This conversation is  senseless.
The exit is over there."
     "Just one little  minute more!" Joseph cried, grabbing the  principal's
sleeve. "But do you know that all those bells, the devil take them, were cut
off by all your pupils? How many boys are there in the school?"
     "There were  two hundred  and  seventy-two until  today," the principal
replied despite himself.
     "Well, at least  two hundred and sixty of them did  the cutting. How do
you that?  And  what  if I  tell you that your best  pupil, the son  of  the
honourable Zemstvo Inspector, may  he live to  be  a hundred,  also  did the
cutting,  and even a  lot better  than  many of the others? The  police only
showed you a piece of it." Joseph took out the complete Manifesto and handed
it to  the principal. The principal paled. There on the sheet of paper  were
the  signatures of  the boys  of all eight  grades.  He pointed  to  a chair
contemptuously and said, "Sit down ... please."
     Then Joseph  told  him  of  his  terms.  The  eight  boys  were  to  be
reinstated. The police would search the Tavern and would find the bells. The
Afon  Recruit  would  lie  low  for  a  while.  He had  agreed  to this. The
townspeople would think that s bums from the  Tavern had cut off the  bells,
and in this way the  boys would be exonerated. That would put an end  to the
scandal.  If, on  the other hand,  the principal did not reinstate the boys,
the very next day the entire town, the entire region  and the entire  school
district would discover  what was going  on under  the roof of the  Pokrovsk
Boys School and what the sons of some Zemstvo inspectors were up to.
     "All right. They'll  be reinstated, but  their names will be entered in
the  Ledger." He pulled out his wallet. "How much  do I owe you for this ...
for this, and to ensure your silence?"
     Joseph jumped to his  feet. Joseph leaned across the desk. Joseph said,
"Sir! You don't have to pay me, Sir. But I swear by the memory of my mother,
may she  rest in  peace  and quiet,  that the time will come when  you'll be
repaid  by me  and by us, and by those eight boys who  went off like whipped
dogs, and you'll be repaid with good interest!"
     Thus ends the saga of the Afon Recruit.

     "FS" AND "D'S"

     After the doorbell  scandal life at  school seemed to have resumed  its
natural  course.  There  were  fewer  bloody  brawls,  fewer rows  and  less
thieving. However, the rules became still stricter.
     Seize'em was forever  shaking the plaster foundations of Antiquity when
he unlocked the bookcase to get the Deportment Ledger and disturbed the aged
     Pupils were  absolutely forbidden  to be  seen on or  near the railroad
platform  and  the Public Gardens.  Paralysing, grey boredom oozed over from
one day to the next, from one page of our books to the next.  The Deportment
Ledger was a sword that  hung over our  heads.  Rows of  boys being punished
would be  lined  up along  the walls during classes. The  pages of the class
journals filled up with broken fences of "F's" and big fat "D's".

     Veniamin Pustynin, the Latin teacher,  who was nicknamed Roach Whiskers
for his  long, bristling moustache (or, Roachius, to give it a Latin ending)
sowed "F's" and "D's" with a vengeance. He had another nickname as well, one
our class usually used, and that was Crookneck.
     Roachius was thin and  had a  long  nose, and  really  did  look like a
crook.  Above  his  stiffly starched winged collar he had an  extremely long
neck that swayed from side to side just like a  big question  mark. And  so,
wherever he  went,  Roachius would  find a  big question  mark.  It would be
staring at him from the blackboard, the lectern, the  seat of his chair, the
back of his coat, the door to his house. The question marks would  be erased
but would reappear the following day. Roachius would turn pale, lose  weight
and fill our notebooks and report cards with "F's".
     He had a  passion for  little notebooks in  which we  were supposed  to
write down  Latin words. Whenever he called  on a pupil he demanded that the
boy come up to the blackboard with his little Latin notebook.
     "So," he would say. "I see  you've learned the lesson. Now let's have a
look at your  notebook. I want to see  what new words you've put down. What?
You left  it at home? And you dared to come up to the blackboard without it?
Go back to your seat." And he would give the boy an "F".
     No amount of pleading helped. It was an "F", and that was all there was
to it.
     There  were two  boys  in  my  class  whose  last  names  were similar:
Alekseyenko and Aleferenko. One day Alekseyenko left his hateful notebook at
home. Roachius entered the  classroom, sat down at the lectern,  put on  his
pince-nez and said softly:
     "Ale ... ferenko!"
     Aleferenko, whose  seat was  behind Alekseyenko, rose and  went to  the
front of the class, while Alekseyenko, who  in  his terror  had decided that
his name had been called, jumped to his  feet and mumbled in a rolling bass,
"I  forgot my notebook...." He stopped short,  for he  had suddenly  noticed
Aleferenko approaching  the lectern,  and  cursed  himself  for being such a
fool. Roachius calmly dipped his pen into the  inkwell. "Actually,  I called
on  Aleferenko,  but since you've confessed your guilt, you'll get what  you
deserve." And he gave him an "F".

     The bell  rang, bringing recess to an  end.  The noise in the classroom
died down.
     He was coming!
     The boys rose in a body.
     The history teacher was coming. He had fine blond hair parted  down the
middle,  a very  young,  pale, thin face and  huge blue eyes.  His head  was
tilted slightly in a kindly manner. His collar was snow-white. Kirill  Ukhov
burst into the classroom and tossed the class journal onto the lectern.
     The boys stood at attention.
     Ukhov looked them over,  rushed over to the lectern, then  into  one of
the  aisles  and  crouched  down.   Suddenly  his  blue  eyes  flashed.  His
high-pitched voice  rose  to a shout: "Who!  Dared! To sit!  Down! I haven't
said ... 'Be seated'.  Get up and stay up!  And you! And you, too!  And you!
Wretches!  All the others,  be seated. Hands  on your  desks.  Both of them.
Where's your other hand?  Stand  up and stay up! And  you, over to the wall!
Right there! Well? Silence! Whose desk creaked? Shalferov, was it yours? Get
up! Silence!"
     Fourteen  boys  stood all  through  the  lesson.  The  history  teacher
expounded on ancient kings and famous steeds. He kept fixing  his  tie,  his
hair, his cuffs. A gold bracelet glinted under his  left cuff.  It  was  the
gift of some legendary noblewoman.
     Fourteen boys were standing.  The lesson dragged  on and on. Their legs
became numb. Finally, Ukhov glanced at his watch. The gold lid clicked shut.
Some of the boys by the wall cleared their throats tentatively.
     "Caught cold?" Ukhov inquired with concern. "Monitor, close the window,
there's a draught."
     The monitor closed the window. The  lesson continued. The punished boys
continued to  stand by the wall,  shifting  their weight  from one  foot  to
another. Then, after  having glanced at his watch several times, Ukhov would
suddenly say: "All right, team, be seated."
     The bell always rang exactly a minute later.

     Our French  teacher's  name was Matryona Martynovna Badeikina,  but she
insisted we refer to her as Mathilde Martynovna. We never argued the point.
     She   called   the   first-to-third   grade   boys   "polliwogs",   the
third-to-sixth grade boys "dearies" and the senior boys "gentlemen". She was
definitely  afraid of the polliwogs.  Some of them had moustaches as wild as
the  weeds on an empty  lot,  and their voices were so deep and fearful they
frightened the camels on the street. Besides, whenever a polliwog came up to
the  lectern to recite  a  lesson, the smell of  home-grown  tobacco  was so
strong on his breath it nearly made poor Mathilde sick.
     "Don't  come  any closer!"  she  would  wail.  "The  smell, pardon,  is
     "It was the  tomato pie I had," the  polliwog would  explain  politely.
"The smell's because I'm burping."
     "Ah,  mon dieu!  What  has  the pie  to do with it?  You're  absolutely
drenched in nicotine."
     "Oh, no, Matryona ... I mean, Mathilde Martynovna! I don't smoke.  And,
uh ... please, pooeejekiteh la class?" (This should have been "Pui-je quitte
la class?")
     This would melt Matryona's heart. One had only to ask for permission to
leave the room in  French for her to beam  happily. Actually, we thought she
was  too  sensitive.  If  anyone  wrote  some  obscenity  in  French on  the
blackboard,  or tacked a  dead rat  to the lectern, or  did anything else in
jest,  she  would always get  offended.  She  would enter it  in  the  class
journal, get  all  huffy, cover  her face with  her ham and  just  sit there
saying nothing. And we would be silent, too. Then, at a sign from Hefty, the
desks  would begin  to  close  in on the lectern slowly.  We  were  great at
coasting  around  in  our desks,  with our knees raising them  and our  feet
moving  along  the  floor.  When all  the  boys  grouped  around  her  in  a
semicircle, we would chant softly:
     "Je vous aime, je vous aime, je vous aime."
     Matryona Martynovna would take her hands from her face and see the des]
all  around  her. Then  Hefty  would  rise  and say  in  a  deep,  touching,
chivalrous voice:
     "Pardon, Mathilde Martynovna!  Don't be  too hard on your polliwogs....
Haw Scratch out what you wrote in the journal or we won't let you out."
     Matryona would beam and scratch it out.
     The boys would then beat a solemn tattoo on their desk tops. The back n
would play taps. The desks would retreat.
     However, we soon tired of declaring our love  to the mam'-selle and so,
instead of "je vous aime" we  began saying "Novouzensk", which  sounded just
like  it. In fact, when we chanted it, you couldn't tell the difference. And
so poor Mathilde went  on imagining  that the  boys all loved  her, while we
were chanting the name a nearby town.
     However, it all ended sadly. Other objects besides  our desks soon fell
prey to < wanderlust. Thus, a large bookcase once set out down the corridor,
and  Seize'em's galoshes glided out of  the Teachers'  Room. However, when a
lectern, with He  and  a friend under it  to provide  motor power, reared up
just  before a lesson a galloped around,  the principal's spirit took a hand
in  the  table-tilting  and the t culprits had their names  put  down in the
Black  Book,  while the rest of the class  was made to stay after school for
two hours and miss their dinners.


     Looking  through  the classroom windows  that morning  we could see the
fluttering red, blue and white slices of the flag.
     It was a  red-letter day on the  calendar, marked by the notation: "His
Royal Majesty's Birthday."
     The cracked bell of Pokrovsk's Peter and Paul Church rang out:
     "An-ton! An-ton! An-ton!
     And a lit-the ring and bong-bong,
     And a lit-the ring and bong-bong."
     There was a special service at the school at eleven o'clock.
     The boys  were lined up  in pairs. The stiff, silver-stitched edges  of
our high collars cut into our necks.
     All was still. There  was a smell of  incense  in the air.  It was very
close. The priest, the very same one who hit the boys over the head with the
Bible during Bible classes as he admonished them, saying "Stand up straight,
you dolt!" was now solemnly reading the  service  in  a nasal voice. He  was
dressed in  glittering robes  for the  occasion.  The choir sang. The small,
hairy precentor scurried up and down.
     We were to stand stiffly at attention for two long hours. We could  not
so  much as move a muscle. My nose itched, but I dared  not  scratch it. Our
arms had to be in line with the seams of our trousers. All was still. It was
hot and stuffy.
     "Long life to the Tsar! Glo-ory to him!"
     "Bozhenov's going to be sick, Nikolai Ilyich."
     "Shhh! Not a word! He would't dare!"
     "Glo-oo-ry to him!"
     "Honest,  Nikolai  Ilyich. He  can't hold it in  any  more. He's  going
     All was still.  And  suffocating.  My nose itched. This was discipline.
Hands  and arms in  line  with  your seams. The second hour was drawing to a
     "Go-oo-d save the Tsar!"
     The principal took a  step forward, and it seemed that  he  had fired a
child's popgun when he cried: "Hooray!"
     The walls shook. The principal again cried:
     And once more. Heave-ho, all together now!
     "Nukolai Ilyich! Bozhenov's throwing up all over the floor!"
     "God save the Tsar...."
     Bozhenov was carried out.  He had fainted.  The service was over. Now I
could at  last scratch  my nose  and unbutton the  top  button  of my  stiff

     We had always known, from Annushka having told  us, that "science knows
many  mitacs". This was the secret formula for guessing a card trick, and it
always  helped  you to pick  the right  pair. Which meant  that science  was
indeed all-powerful and did know many ... uh... mitacs. But no one knew what
a "mitac" was. We looked for the word in the  encyclopaedia, but although we
found "Mitau" (with a notation:  "see Jelgova"), we couldn't find a trace of
     I next learned of the  significance of  science in school. However, the
overwhelming of science was not proved as conclusively to us there as it was
in  Annushka's card trick. Science,  as  dry  and undigestible  as  sawdust,
rained  upon  us from the  lectern, powdering our  heads  generously  in the
process.  None of the teachers could  tell  us anything  definite  about the
mitacs. The second-year pupils suggested I ask the Latin teacher.
     "Where  did  you hear  that word?" he  asked,  playing  for  time,  for
Roachius was a very conceited man.
     The big boys fell silent, waiting to see what would come next.
     "Our cook said..." I began amidst the general uproar.
     "Go  stand  in the  corner till the bell  rings," he  snapped,  turning
beet-red. "Thank God the curriculum does not call  for the study of pots and
pans. Stop up your spout, you moron!"
     And  I stopped up my spout. I  realized that the  school curriculum was
not intended to satisfy, as they then said, our spiritual requirements.
     In search of the truth I once  again  fled to the wide  open  spaces of
Schwambrania. The  main character of our arithmetic  book, modestly known as
"A man". the very same one who had bought 25 3/4 yards of cloth at 3 roubles
a yard and  had  then  resold  it at 5 roubles a yard, was  losing a  lot of
money,  because  of Schwambrania.  And two travellers, one setting out  from
point  A and  the other  from point B,  could never  meet, because they were
wandering about in Schwambrania. However,  the  population of  Schwambrania,
represented by Oska, greeted my return with joy.

     Having returned to the  Big Tooth  Continent, I immediately set  out to
carry  out some reforms. Firstly,  Schwambrania had  to be  given a definite
place on the map We found a good  spot for it in the Southern Hemisphere, in
the middle of  the ocean. Thus,  whenever it was winter in Pokrovsk, it  was
summer in Schwambrania, or the only kind of game that is any fun is one that
takes you far away to another clime.
     Now Schwambrania was firmly set on the map. The Big Tooth Continent was
situated in the Pacific Ocean to the east of Australia, having absorbed some
of  the  islands of  Oceania. Its northern borders,  reaching  as far as the
equator,  had a flourishing tropical flora, while its southern borders  were
frozen wastelands, lying in close proximity to the Antarctic.
     I then shook  the contents of all the books  I had ever  read onto  the
soil  of Schwambrania. Oska,  who  was  determined to keep abreast, was busy
learning new words and confusing  them terribly. No sooner would I come home
from school than he would draw me aside and whisper:
     "I've got news for you! Jack went to  Camera, to hunt chocolates, and a
hundred wild Balkans attacked  him, and  started killing him!  And just then
Miss  Terracota started smoking.  It's  a good  thing his faithful dog Sarah
Bemhardt saved him just in time."
     And it was  up to me to figure  out  that Oska meant the Cameroons, not
camera,  cannibals, not the Balkans, and cachalots, not chocolates.  It  was
easy to guess that he had confused Sarah Bemhardt and a St. Bernard dog. And
the reason he called the volcano  a Miss  was because I had  told  him about
emissions of rocks.

     We were growing older. The letters of my script had firmly taken hands,
and my  lines were now as even as rows  of soldiers. Now that we  were a bit
older we became convinced that there was very  little symmetry in the world,
and that there were no absolutely  straight  lines, completely round circles
or flat  surfaces. Nature,  we discovered, was  contradictory, imperfect and
zig-zagged. This state of affairs had come about as a result of the constant
battles  being waged  by the forces of  nature.  The jagged  contours of the
continents were a  reflection of this struggle.  The  sea battered into  the
mainland, while the continents thrust their fingers into the  blue locks  of
the sea.
     The time had come for us to review the borders of Schwambrania. Thus, a
new map was drawn up.
     That  was  when we  noticed that all struggle was not confined  to  the
realm of geography. All of life  was  ruled by some sort of struggle,  which
hummed  in  the hold of history and propelled it. Even our own  Schwambrania
became  dull and  lifeless without it.  Our game  became as uneventful  as a
stagnant pond  of  water.  At that time we  did not yet know  what sort of a
struggle powered history. Living in our  cosy apartment, we had no chance to
discover anything about the great, all-consuming struggle for  survival, and
so decided that  every war,  every overthrown government, etc.,  was no more
than a  struggle between good  and evil. It was as simple  as that. That was
why  we had  to put several scoundrels  in  Schwambrania to liven things up.
Bloodthirsty  Count  Chatelains  Urodenal  became  the  chief  scoundrel  of
     At the  time all the magazines carried ads for Chatelain's  Urodenal, a
popular patent remedy for kidney and liver stones. The ads carried a picture
of  a man  racked by pain, with the  pain  depicted as  pincers gripping the
unfortunate's body; or else, there was a picture of a  man  using  a clothes
brush  to brush  a  huge  human  kidney.  We  decided  that  these would  be
considered the crimes committed by the bloodthirsty count.

     Although the rooftops belonged to the real world,  they were high above
the  dull earth and were not subject to its laws. The roofs were occupied by
Schwambranians.  Up and  down  the steep sides, over the attics and eaves, I
set off  on my  dizzying journeys.  I could  travel the length of a block by
going from roof to roof and never once touch the ground. It was wonderful to
watch the sky at twilight as I lay  on  the cooling iron  roof,  between the
chimney and the  birdhouse  pole.  The  sky  was  so close as it  drifted by
overhead, and the roof drifted off into the clouds. The starling on duty was
whistling on the mast. The day, like a great ship, was sailing into evening,
raising the red oars of sunset and casting shadows as pointed as the tips of
an anchor into the yard.
     However, no one was allowed to be out on the roofs. The janitor and his
broom guarded the heavenly approaches. He was vigilant and unbending.
     People who lived in  other houses and saw me  thundering  across  their
roofs  would shout:  "Shame  on you!  A doctor's  son gallivanting over  the
rooftops!" Actually, I could not understand why a doctor's son was doomed to
crawl  on  the ground. But  the  confounded label of  "doctor's son"  was  a
killjoy, a ball-and-chain that forced us to be goody-goodies.
     One  day  the janitor tracked me down.  He came crashing over  the iron
roof  after  me.  I wanted  to  jump into the  next  yard,  but  someone had
unleashed a  vicious-looking mutt there.  In  another  yard  the  owner  was
standing outside  in his long Johns and a  vest. He  said he would guarantee
"an  earboxing and  scolderation".  Just  then I  noticed  a ladder  leaning
against an adjoining roof. I stuck my  tongue out at the janitor and escaped
across the third yard.

     The little yard  I found  myself  in was  full of lilac bushes  in full
bloom, which made it seem  as though everything  in sight  was covered  with
lavender froth.
     I heard someone approaching lightly from behind. A smiling  girl with a
long  golden  braid  came running out  of  the  garden.  She  was carrying a
jump-rope. She stopped and stared at me. I backed away towards the gate.
     "What made you run like that?"
     "The janitor."
     The girl had dancing dark eyes that looked like the  black India rubber
balls we used  for playing stickball. I felt that I  had to  bat a long one,
but I couldn't run. The  rules of the game said that you'd surely be blocked
if another player stood opposite.
     "Are you afraid of janitors?"
     "I don't want  to waste my time on them!" I said in a deep  bass voice.
"Actually, I spit  on them, through  my teeth and  over my shoulder." And  I
stuck my hands into my pockets.
     The  girl  looked  at  me  with awe.  "What do you  mean  by over  your
     I showed her how it was done. We were silent for a while. Then the girl
said, "What grade are you in?"
     "The first."
     "So am I." She beamed.
     We were silent again.
     "One of the girls in my class can wiggle her  ears.  We all  envy her,"
she said.
     "That's nothing! There's a  fellow in my class who can spit and hit the
ceiling. He's this big! He can lay  you flat with his right hand tied behind
his back. And if he hits a desk top with his fist he can crack it. Only they
won't let him do it. Otherwise, he sure as anything would."
     We were silent again. An organ-grinder began playing a mournful song. I
looked around the yard in search of a  topic for conversation. The house was
sailing through  the sky.  A large kite with a rag tail  shot over the roof,
dipped, straightened and tugged away as it soared higher still.
     "My buckle will  never get yellow," I said to my own surprise, "because
it's nickel-plated. If you want to, you can touch it."  I  unbuckled my belt
and  held it  out  to  her. The girl  touched the  buckle politely. I became
bolder, took  off my school cap and showed her where my first and last names
had been written in  indelible ink  inside the hatband to make sure it would
not get lost. The girl read my name.
     "My name's Taya. My  full name is Taisia Opilova. What do they call you
short? Lenny?"
     "No, Lelya. Glad to know you."
     "Lelya? That's a girl's name!"
     "It is not. Lola is."
     We thus became acquainted.

     From then on T, a free  son of Schwambrania, climbed down the roof into
lilac  valley  each  day.  Taya  Opilova  was" fated  to become  the  Eve of
Schwabrania. Oska was dead set  against it. He said he wouldn't  take a girl
into the game for all the  pastries in the world. True enough, there had not
been a single girl Schwambrania until  then. I tried to make  him understand
that  in  any  s  respecting book  fair maidens  were always  kidnapped  and
rescued,  and that r they could  be  kidnapped and rescued  in Schwambrania,
too. Besides, I ha wonderful name for the first Schwambranian girl: Countess
Cascara Sagrada, daughter of Count  Cascara Barbe.  I had  borrowed the name
from a back cove  Niva and recalled that it had been described as  "mild and
gentle".  Oska  fin  had  to  agree,  and so,  little  by  little,  I  began
introducing Cascara, meaning  Taya the customs and ways of  Schwambrania. At
first she couldn't understand what was all about, but then gradually came to
know  the  history and geography of Big Tooth  Continent. She was  sworn  to
     I finally conquered her heart when I put on my cardboard epaulettes and
said  I was  going off to war with Piliguinia and  would  bring  her  back a
     I returned from my Piliguinian  campaign the following day and galloped
along the roof, carrying my trophies: two cream-filled pastries. One for her
and one me. Oska had had a bite of mine.
     I jumped off the wall and froze in my  tracks. A strange boy dressed in
uniform of the Cadet School was walking up and down in the garden with Taya.
He was much  older and taller than I.  He  had real shoulder straps, a  real
bayonet in a holster, and was terribly stuck-up.
     "Ah!" he said at the sight of me. "Is this your Schwambroman?"
     Taya had told him all about it.
     "Look here, you civilian boy,"  the  cadet said in a very superior tone
of voice.
     "How could you have given a young lady such a disgusting name? You know
what Cascara Sagrada is?  It's,  pardon the expression, constipation  pills.
You filthy civvy! Anybody can tell you're a doctor's sonny-boy."
     This was the last straw.
     "Once a cadet  always a cad!"  I shouted and scrambled up  the roof.  I
threw half of the pastry at the  cadet and  then ate the other pastry  and a
     I stretched out on the roof. I was very upset by what had happened. The
starling on  duty was whistling overhead.  I sailed  away  to  Schwambrania,
proud and lonely, and the day,  like  a great ship, sailed into evening. The
sunset raised its red oars, and shadows as  pointed as the tips of an anchor
fell upon the yard.
     "To hell with everything!" I said.
     But this did not apply to Schwambrania.

     A battle  was raging in the house. Brother was set against brother. The
disposition  of warring forces  was  as follows: Schwambrania was in  Papa's
consulting office and Piliguinia was in the dining-room. The parlour was the
battle-field. The stockade for prisoners of war was in the dark foyer.
     Naturally,  as  the  elder  brother,  I  was  a  Schwambranian.  I  was
advancing, protected by the armchair and a clump of potted rubber plants and
rhododendrons. My brother Oska  had  dug in behind the Piliguinian threshold
of the dining-room. He was shouting:
     "Bang! Zing! Zing! I shot you dead twice,  but you  keep on crawling. I
say fins!"
     "No,  not fins! It's  called a truce!  And anyway, you didn't shoot  me
dead, you just grazed me through."
     Klavdia,  a girl from next door, was pining away in the foyer, that  is
the stockade. She had been  invited  over especially to be a prisoner-of-war
and was, in turn, a Schwambranian or a Piliguinian Army nurse.
     "Will you let me  out of  prisoner-of-war soon?" she  said timidly, for
she had become very bored sitting around in the dark doing nothing.
     "Not yet!" I  shouted.  "Our glorious forces have completed  an orderly
retreat to  pre-established  positions  under the  overwhelming pressure  of
enemy forces." I had borrowed  the sentence  from  the newspapers. The daily
frontline  dispatches were  full of fine-sounding,  vague  expressions which
were  used to  conceal various military setbacks, losses, defeats and routs,
and all together they went under the grand heading of news from the "theatre
of military operations".
     The  glossy  pictures  in  Niva  portrayed  fine, well  groomed  troops
ceremoniously  carrying  on a  picturesque  war.  The  generals'  impressive
shoulders  bore  gilded clusters  of  epaulettes.  Their tunics  heaved with
galaxies  of glittering  medals. The brave Cossack hero Kuzma  Kriuchkov was
shown  accomplishing his  great  feat over  and  over again  on pictures  in
calendars,  on  cigarette boxes, post cards and  candy boxes.  He was  shown
defeating a troop, a squadron, a whole regiment  of Germans, and always with
a lock of hair curling out from under  his rakishly tilted cap.  Each school
service ended  with a  special  prayer for  the  truly Christian  troops. We
schoolboys wore patriotic tricoloured scarfs as we  sold little Allied flags
in the streets, putting the coppers in collection boxes and proudly saluting
the trim officers.
     The  war  eclipsed  everything.  "Louder  the  victory  march!  We  are
victorious, and the enemy is on the run!" There were notices and manifestoes
everywhere. "The original has been signed by His Imperial Majesty." The war,
that  great,  beautiful,  magnificent  war,  had  captured  our  minds,  our
conversation, our dreams, our games.
     The only game we played was war.
     The truce had ended.  My troops were battling at the approaches  to the
foyer. Annushka, who was a neutral, suddenly  appeared on the  battle-field,
demanding  that Klavdia be  released  immediately,  because  her  mother was
waiting for her in the kitchen.
     We all said  "fins", which meant  a  truce,  and ran  to  the  kitchen.
Klavdia mother,  who was our neighbour's  cook, always  had a puffy, swollen
face.  She  was seated  at  the kitchen table. A grey envelope  was lying in
front  of her. She  greeted  us and picked it  up  gingerly, saying, "It's a
letter from your brother, Klavdia." He voice sounded strangely anxious. "Ask
the young man to read it to us. Dear Lon I hope he's all right."
     I saw the sacred postmark: "From the Army in the Field". I accepted the
envelope solemnly.  My fingertips  filled with  awe and excitement. It was a
letter  from over  there! A letter  from the front lines! "March  along,  my
friends, to war, hussar bold and daring!"
     I began reading in a bright, excited voice: "Dear Mother, I'm not going
to send this  letter myself, because I was badly  wounded, and  my right arm
was amputate above the elbow...."
     I was thunderstruck, I could not continue. Klavdia's mother screamed. H
dishevelled head fell upon the  table top  and she  sobbed loudly. I  wanted
very much to  console  her somehow, and  myself,  too,  for I felt  that the
reputation of t war had been badly damaged by this close  scrape with  gore,
and so I said hesitantly:
     "He'll probably be decorated for this. Maybe he'll get  a silver medal.
May he'll even get a St. George Cross."
     Somehow, I felt I had not said the right thing.

     A  dull algebra  lesson was in progress. Our math teacher was sick, and
his classes had been taken over temporarily by the  dullest of  all possible
excise tax clerks  w was dodging the draft. His name was Gennady Alexeyevich
Samlykov, and soon nicknamed him Old Nag.
     Soldiers of the  214th Regiment were drilling on the square outside the
school. Their marching  songs  and the shouted commands  of  their  officers
drifted through  the open windows, confusing the  algebraic  formulas. "Hey,
Kitty, Kitty, Kitty, Madrid and Oporto!" they sang. "Line up! Count off!"
     "Curly,  curly,   curly  ringlets,  little  Curlylocks,  you're  mine!"
"Hup-two-three-four!  Left!  Keep your line straight!" "Come when the  bugle
calls, brave men to battle!" "Watch your  feet! Where the hell  d'you  think
you are? Stand up straight!"
     "Yes, Sir!"
     This  loud, rending  "hooray"  burst forth from their gaping mouths and
straining throats in a hoarse, salivery roar. Their bayonets sunk  into  the
dummy. Twisted strands of straw burst from the torn sack of a belly.
     "Who's  that  looking  out  the   window?  Repeat  what  I  just  said,
     Huge  Martynenko, alias  Hefty,  tore  his  eyes  from the  window  and
lumbered to his feet.
     "Well,  what  did I  just say?" Old Nag  persisted. "So you don't know?
Well, what is the squared sum of two cathetuses?"
     "It's ... uh...." Hefty mumbled  and  suddenly winked  at  us and said:
"It's right face ... count off ... plus doubled ranks."
     We all burst out laughing.
     "You get an T for that! Go stand by the wall!"
     "Yes, Sir!" Hefty  snapped and  did a military turn at the wall. We all
grinned. Our penpoints screeched.
     "Leave the room immediately, Martynenko!"
     "Parade step ... eyes on the lectern ... down the hall... march!" Hefty
     "This  is  abominable!" Old Nag shouted as he jumped to his feet. "I'll
put your name down in the Ledger! You'll be left after school!"
     "Curly locks, curly locks...." a snatch of song drifted  in through the
window. "What the  hell do  you  think  you're  doing?  You're to  stand  at
attention with a full pack for three hours.... Curly locks, curly locks...."

     Cr-rack!  went  something  inside  the  wood-burning  stove behind  the
blackboard. Cr-rack!  Bang-bang!  One of the boys, knowing Old Nag's fear of
guns and shooting,  had  put some  cartridges  inside the  tiled stove.  The
teacher blanched  as  acrid fumes seeped into  the room. He  ran behind  the
blackboard,  stepping on what seemed to be  a  crumpled  piece of paper. The
boys held their breath. Bang! The paper exploded, making Old Nag jump a yard
off the floor. No sooner had the sole of his other shoe come down again than
it caused another explosion. The boys, convulsed with silent laughter, began
sliding off their seats to disappear under their  desks. The enraged teacher
turned  to face  the class  and  saw no one.  Not a soul. We shook  from the
laughter under our desks.
     "Scoundrels!" Old  Nag screamed.  "I'll put you  all down!" He  tiptoed
cautiously  towards  the  lectern.  The soles of his  shoes were smoking. He
picked up  his  snuff box,  a true friend  in hard times,  but since he  had
unwisely left it  on the windowsill in the corridor for  a moment before the
lesson had begun,  we had long since added  a pinch of gun-powder and pepper
to it.
     Old Nag's quivering nostrils drew in the fiendish mixture. For a moment
he  just stood  there.  His mouth was  wide  open and  his eyes seemed to be
popping out of his head. Then a terrible, earth-shattering sneeze shook  his
     Once again the classroom  became inhabited. Our laughter made our desks
shake. Then Hefty raised his hand and said, "Second gun! Fire!"
     "Ah-ah-choo!" the unfortunate Old Nag compiled.
     "Third gun...."
     "Pshoo! Ah!"
     The door opened unexpectedly. We rose, as the principal entered. He had
been attracted  by  the sound  of the shooting, our ribald laughter  and the
teacher's hysterical sneezing.
     "What's  going on here?" His voice was steely as he took  in  Old Nag's
crimson face and the angelic countenances of the rows of boys.
     "They.... Oh! Ah!" Old Nag attempted to speak. "Pshoo! Ah!"
     At this  point the monitor  decided to  intercede. "He  just  keeps  on
sneezing, Sir!"
     "I haven't asked you for an explanation!" The truth of the matter began
to  dawn  on  him.  "Insufferable  wretches!  Come  to  my  office,  Gennady
     Old Nag stumbled along after the principal, sneezing all the way.
     He did not return to the classroom.
     We had got rid of Old Nag for good.

     "There's a smell of  gunpowder  in the air!" the grown-ups  were saying
and shaking their heads.
     The smell  of  gunpowder snaked  through the  classrooms,  making  them
inflammable. Every  desk became a powder magazine, an arsenal and storeroom.
Each and every day there were new entries in the Deportment Ledger.

     "The  school inspector has taken  from Vitaly Talianov,  a fourth-grade
pupil  who  attempted  to run off to war and was apprehended at the  pier, a
Smith and Wesson revolver  and  bullets, and a tea kettle  he stole from the
ragman, who has identified it. His parents have been notified.
     Nikolai Shcherbinin, a second-grade  pupil, was found to have concealed
in his  desk:  one officer's  shoulder strap, a  sword knot,  a  package  of
gunpowder and a hollow metal tube of unknown purpose. His satchel contained:
a piece of a bayonet, a toy revolver, one spur, a soldier's tobacco pouch, a
cockade,  a  beanshooter  and a hand grenade (discharged). He  has been left
after school twice for three hours each time.
     "Terenti  Marshutin, a  fifth-grade pupil,  fired  off  a home-made gun
during the lesson, breaking a window  and fouling the air. He insists it was
an accident. He has been expelled for a week."

     The boys rattled when they walked, for the pockets of each were full of
cartridge shells. We collected them on the firing range beyond the cemetery.
The  wind played tick-tack-toe  among the graves.  The  rabbit-ears  of  the
windmills  protruded from  behind the hill. An Army camp  languished on  the
small plain.  The 214th Infantry  Regiment was displaced in  wooden barracks
there. The wind carried the smell of cabbage soup, cheap tobacco, boots, and
other glorious aromas of the army's rear guard.
     The pupils of the  Pokrovsk Boys  School and the privates of the  214th
Infantry Regiment had established firm  business ties and were carrying on a
brisk trade. We  passed our sandwiches, cucumbers, apples  and various other
civilian dainties through the barbed-wire fence  of the  camp, and in return
received such  coveted items  of  army  life as  empty  magazines,  buckles,
cockades and torn shoulder straps. Officer's shoulder straps were especially
prized.  Sidor  Dolbanov,  an N.C.O.,  traded me a tar-specked  lieutenant's
shoulder  strap for two ham sandwiches, a piece of chocolate and five  of my
father's Triumph cigarettes.
     "I'm giving you  this real cheap," he said during the transaction. "I'm
only doing  it because you're  a  friend  of mine.  The way  I see  it,  you
schoolboys  are  doing your hitch just like us. They make  you wear uniforms
and drill, too. Right?"
     Sidor Dolbanov was a great one  for discoursing  on  education. "Except
that military science  takes  a lot of brains, so's you can't compare it  to
your schooling," he  philosophised  as he wolfed down  our sandwiches. "Yes,
sir, this isn't 'rithmetic or algebra, or any such like. You tell me this if
you're so smart: how many men are there in a regiment?"
     "We  didn't study that yet," I said, feeling very  embarrassed and  not
knowing the answer.
     "That's  what  I mean. What  about your  class commander, boys? Is he a
mean old bitch?"
     "He's very strict. He'll make you stand by the wall, put your name down
in the Black Book or keep you hours after school for nothing at all."
     "What a louse! Which makes him just like our company commander."
     "Do you have a company supervisor, too?"
     "No, he's  no supervisor,  he's  a  bitch of a commander. He's  hell on
wheels, that's him,  Lieutenant Gennady Alexeyevich Samlykov."" "Old Nag!" I

     The older  boys of. our school  were strolling down Breshka Street with
some junior lieutenants. Although it  was against school rules, an exception
had been made for  our  glorious  Army officers. Soldiers saluted  them. The
older schoolgirls who  helped roll bandages made eyes at them. We were green
with envy.
     One day the school inspector entered our classroom during a lesson. His
beard looked kindly and reverential,
     "The first contingent of wounded from the front lines has just arrived.
We are  going  to welcome them. You there, in  the back rows! I'm talking to
you! Tutin! I'll leave you after  school for an hour, you dummox!  Now, as I
was saying, the entire school will go out  to welcome our glorious  soldiers
who ... ah ... have suffered so, defending the tsar and the Christian faith.
In a word, line up in pairs! And I want  you to behave properly outside, you
cutthroats, savages, jailbirds! Anyone who doesn't will be sorry he was ever
     The streets were crowded and ablaze with tricoloured flags. The wounded
were being transported,  one man  to  a vehicle, in the decked-out carriages
belonging to the town's wealthy citizens, with an aristocratic lady from the
local philanthropic society  dressed  as  an Army nurse supporting  him. The
procession resembled a wedding train. Policemen saluted it.
     The wounded were put up in  a new dispensary housed in a former primary
school. The flustered ladies were in charge there. A gala concert was to  be
held in one of the  large wards. The  wounded  men,  freshly-shaven, washed,
perfumed,  surrounded by  pillows  and boxes  of  candy, sat in  embarrassed
silence, listening to the  bombastic speeches  of the town fathers. Some  of
the men were holding crutches that had been adorned with bows.
     Shvetsov,  a   fourth-grade  boy,  recited  a  poem  entitled  "Belgian
children". Six  second-grade boys were lined up behind him to  accompany his
recital with various tableaux. The Zemstvo inspector's daughter played  "The
Skylark"  by  Glinka   on  the  piano.  The  wounded  fidgeted   and  seemed
uncomfortable.  The last to  perform was the  town druggist, an amateur poet
and  tenor. Then  a tall young blond soldier  rose from  one of the cots and
cleared his throat shyly.
     "Speech! Speech!" everyone shouted, applauding loudly.
     When the noise  finally  died  down, the  soldier  said, "I'd  like  to
say.... Doctor, Sir,  and  ladies and gentlemen, and nurses,  and  everybody
else. Uh, we're very grateful to you for all this,  for everything, but we'd
rather,  I mean, we've been travelling for three days and three nights,  and
we haven't had any sleep, and that's what we really need."

     Soldiers were being flogged in the barracks. One officer called another
an  Armenian  mug  at  the  Officer's Club, and  the insulted  man shot  the
offender point-blank, killing him on the spot. By now the wounded were being
brought in any which way and dumped wherever there was available space.
     Then  our   forces  took  Peremyshl.  A  crowd  of  shopkeepers,  shady
characters from  the suburbs  and a few officials walked through the streets
with  a portrait of the  tsar like an icon at  the head of the  column. They
infected the air with howling tricoloured flutterings and the sour stench of
raw liquor. It was quite as if some celebration  were being warmed up over a
spirit burner.
     Once  again the  school  inspector  went  from classroom  to  classroom
carrying his solemn, parted, victorious beard as majestically as  if it were
a gonfalon.
     We  poured  out  onto  the porch  of  the school building to greet  the
demonstrators and,  at  a  signal  from the principal, we cheered. There was
something  disgusting about  the bellowing crowd of demonstrators. It seemed
that they needed but  a little push to start rioting and killing. We felt as
if a  mindless, suffocating,  insurmountable force was  engulfing us. It was
like  being on the bottom of a pile during  a free-for-all, squashed under a
great, crushing, suffocating weight, unable to expand your lungs to cry out.
     However, it all ended without incident,  not counting a call that night
to my father, to save the  life  of  a  "patriot" who had got  drunk on wood
     The  demonstration  made an  indelible impression  on  Oska, that great
confuser of things, imitator  and day-dreamer, who always managed  to find a
new meaning  for  each object, seeing in  each  its second  soul. His  great
passion at  the time was an old toilet seat. First,  he stuck a samovar pipe
through the hole and  made believe it was a Maxim machine-gun. Then  he  put
the toilet seat on his hobby horse, and it served as a yoke. Though this was
not exactly in the  best of taste,  still,  it was permissible. However, the
day after the  demonstration Oska organized a Schwambranian demonstration in
the yard, and this one was truly blasphemous. Klavdia had attached someone's
long drawers  with  ties  at  the  ankles  to a  floor  brush to serve as  a
gonfalon.  Oska  carried the ill-fated  toilet seat,  which now served  as a
frame for the portrait of the tsar, Nicholas  II, Ruler of all Russia, which
he had cut out of a magazine.
     The  indignant  janitor  handed  the  demonstrators  over  to  Papa and
threatened to inform the police, but was quickly pacified by a tip.
     "Children are very sensitive to the spirit of the times," the grown-ups
said meaningfully.
     The spirit of the times, an offensive spirit, seeped into everything.

     That winter the boys of  our school  and the girls of the  Girls School
were  all taken to the Army camp to be shown a  mock battle.  It was a cold,
snowy day.
     A  colonel  explained the battle  to the ladies  of  the  philanthropic
society. The ladies warmed their hands in their muffs and oh-ed  and  ah-ed,
and  whenever  a  shot  was  fired they clapped their  hands to  their ears.
However, the battle was very unimpressive and certainly did not resemble the
battle scenes pictured in Niva. Black shapes were crawling across the field.
Fires dotted  the scene, blending to produce a smokescreen. Then other fires
were lit. We were told these were signal fires.
     From a  distance  the  cross-firing,  as it  advanced  along the lines,
sounded like a pennant flapping  in the wind. The stench of the trenches was
     "They're attacking," the colonel said.
     The   dark  shapes   were   running   and   shouting   "Hooray!"   very
     "The battle is over," the colonel said.
     "Which side won?" the spectators inquired, having understood nothing.
     The colonel was silent for a moment and then said: "That side." Then he
looked  up  and warned everyone:  "The  bomb-thrower  is about  to  go  into
     Indeed, it did and very loudly at that. The  ladies  became frightened,
the cabbies'  horses bolted, and the cabbies cursed in  the direction of the
     The battle was over.
     The company that had taken part in  the action passed in formation, led
by  a  sly-looking  junior lieutenant.  When  they  came  abreast of us  the
soldiers burst  into  a  dirty  song  with  a  practiced air,  some  of them
whistling shrilly and straining their cold throats.
     The  girls  exchanged glances.  The  boys roared. One  of the  teachers
cleared  his  throat.  The  fat headmistress  of  the  Girls  School  became
     "Lieutenant!" the colonel shouted. "What's going on? Stop the singing."
     Bringing up the rear, stumbling in  boots that were much too  large and
becoming entangled  in  the long  flaps of his great-coat was a small,  puny
soldier. He tried  to keep  in step,  hopping  and skipping  to keep up, but
still fell behind. The boys recognized him. He was the father of  one of the
poor boys.
     "Hey, look  at that dopey soldier! His  son's in the third grade. There
he is!"
     Everyone laughed.  The little man picked up the flaps of  his greatcoat
and set off at a trot as  he  tried to  catch up with his  company. His head
bobbed at the end of his long neck. His son stood on the  sidelines, staring
at the ground. His face was covered with red blotches.
     Oska was waiting for me impatiently when I  got  home, for he wanted to
hear all about the battle.
     "Was there a lot of shooting?"
     "I never knew war wasn't one bit nice at all," I replied.

     The year was drawing to a close. It was vacation time. On December  31,
1916,  our  parents  went  to  a New  Year's  party. Before  leaving.  Mamma
explained to us at length that "New Year's is not a children's party at all,
and you must go to bed at the usual time".
     Oska  tooted a sailing signal and sailed off  to Schwambrania  for  the
night. Meanwhile, my  friend and classmate Grisha Fedorov came to visit  me.
We cracked nuts and played lotto  for a while. Then, having nothing  else to
do, we went fishing in Papa's fishbowl. Finally,  we got bored of this, too,
turned off the light,  sat down by the window and,  after  warming  the pane
with our breath, made little  holes on the  frozen glass and looked out into
the street.
     The  moon was shining, and dull  blue shadows lay across the  snow. The
air was full of powdery, brilliant glitter. The street seemed magnificent.
     "Let's go for a walk," Grisha said.
     However, it was against school rules to be seen out on the street after
seven  o'clock  in December.  Our supervisor Seize'em would go  out  hunting
schoolboys each night, stomping up and down the streets to find them.
     I immediately imagined Seize'em pouncing on us from behind some corner,
his gold eagle-crested buttons glittering as he shouted:
     "Silence! What's your name? Stand up straight!"
     Such an encounter was  nothing to look forward to. It meant a poor mark
for deportment and  being left behind  in an empty  classroom for four hours
after  school. Perhaps there would even be something else  in store as a New
Year's surprise. Seize'em was a great one for such things.
     "Don't worry,  he's probably  at some New Year's party himself," Grisha
     "He's probably stuffing himself someplace."
     It didn't take much coaxing for me to give in. We put on our  overcoats
and dashed out.
     The town's small hotel  and  the  Vesuvius Restaurant were both located
not  far  from our house. That evening  the Vesuvius seemed to be  erupting.
Streams of  light poured  forth from  the  windows, while the earth trembled
from the dancing within.
     At the  hitching  post  outside the hotel we saw an elegant high sleigh
with a  velvet seat  and  a fox-lined lap rug.  The runners  were of figured
iron. A  large dappled  grey horse  was  harnessed to  the  curved lacquered
shafts. It was Gambit, the famous pacer and the best trotter in town. We had
no trouble recognizing both the horse and the carriage, for they belonged to
Karl Zwanzig, a very wealthy man.

     At that moment I had a wild idea.
     "You  know  what, Grisha?" I said, turning  cold  at my  own  boldness.
"Let's go for a ride. Zwanzig won't be ready to leave for a long time. We'll
just ride as far as there and around the church, and back again. I  know how
to drive."
     I didn't have to say it twice, A minute later  we had unhitched Gambit,
climbed  up onto the high velvet  seat and wrapped the furry rug around  our
     I  picked up the firm, heavy reins,  clicked my tongue as cabbies  did,
cleared my throat and said in a deep voice: "Giddiyap! Go on, boy!"
     Gambit  turned, rolled  a  large eye  at me  and  looked  away. I  even
imagined he had shrugged contemptuously, if horses did such things.
     "I bet he only understands German," Grisha said. Then he shouted: "Hey!
     This made no impression on  Gambit, either. Finally, I smacked him hard
with the twisted reins. The very same second I was  thrown  back. If not for
Grisha, who caught me by  the  belt,  I would have sailed right  out of  the
sleigh. Gambit surged forward and was off. He hadn't bolted. He was trotting
swiftly as he always did, with  me  grasping the  reins  tightly  as we sped
along  the deserted street. What a shame that none of our friends were there
to see us!
     "Let's call  for Atlantis. He  lives right around that corner. We still
have plenty of time," I said and tugged at the left rein. Gambit  turned the
corner obediently. There was Atlantis' house.
     "Hey, there! Whoa!"
     But Gambit did not  stop. No matter how hard I pulled at the reins, the
pacer paid no attention to me. He kept on trotting swiftly.  Atlantis' house
was soon left far behind.
     "Let's not call  for him, Grisha.  He's  not  much fun. Let's  call for
Labanda  instead. He lives over there." I had wound the reins around my hand
in advance and now braced my feet against the front board.
     But Gambit did not stop outside Labanda's house either. I was beginning
to worry.
     "Listen, Grisha, do you know what to do to make him stop?"
     "Whoa! Stop!" he shouted as loudly as he could. We pulled on  the reins
     However, the powerful pacer paid no  attention to our shouts or  to the
pull  of the reins. He kept trotting faster and faster, racing us along  the
dark streets.
     "He doesn't understand Russian!" Grisha said in a scared voice. "And we
don't know what  'whoa' is in German. Nobody ever taught us  that. You know,
he'll just keep on going. We can't stop him."
     "We don't want to ride any more! Stop!" we both shouted.
     But Gambit kept on stubbornly.

     I  tried  to  recall  everything  I knew about talking  to  horses  and
everything I had ever read about it.
     "Whoa! Stop, boy! Come on, dove!"
     But,  as  ill luck would have it, I kept  thinking  of  expressions the
likes of which could  only  be found  in some saga, things such as: "0,  you
wolf's repast, 0, you sack of grass" or, worse  still, expressions to make a
horse go faster: "Git up!... Let's see some life in you!... Here we go!"
     Having used up my vocabulary of horse  words, I tried some camel words.
"Tratrr, tratrr... chok, chok!" I shouted, imitating the camel drivers.
     But Gambit did not understand camel talk.
     "Tsob-tsobeh, tsob-tsobeh!"  I croaked, recalling the Ukrainian ox-cart
     That didn't help either.
     The bell on Trinity Church began to strike One, two, three times.... It
struck twelve times.
     That meant we had ridden into the New Year. Were we just going to go on
driving down the streets like that for  the rest of our natural lives?  When
would the confounded horse stop?
     The  moon shone down  on us mysteriously.  The  stillness  of the empty
streets, where  one year had just ended  and another had  just begun, seeked
menacing. Were we doomed to riding in this sleigh forever?
     I had become panic-stricken.
     Suddenly, two rows of highly-polished  brass  buttons  glinted  in  the
moonlight,  appearing  from around  a  corner.  It was Seize'em. Gambit  was
racing straight at him.
     I dropped the reins in terror.
     "Silence!  What's  all the noise  about? What's your name? Stand still,
stupid!" Seize'em shrilled.
     Then a miracle happened.
     Gambit froze in his tracks.

     We tumbled out  of  the  sleigh,  raced around  the  horse and, drawing
abreast  of the  supervisor,  tipped  our caps politely, grasping the patent
leather visors with our fingertips to bare our unruly heads  as we bowed low
to Seize'em, saying:  "Good evening, Seize ... Caesar Karpovich!" in unison.
"Happy New Year, Caesar Karpovich!"
     Seize'em drew his pince-nez slowly from a case which he took out of his
pocket and settled the lenses on the bridge of his nose.
     "Aha!" he beamed. "Two friends.  I recognize you! Lovely,  just lovely!
Excellent! Magnificent!  Now we'll just write both your names down." At this
he  took his famous notebook from the  inner pocket of  his overcoat. "We'll
write down both names. First one, then the other, and  they'll both  be left
after school as soon as  vacation ends. Four hours each, and no dinner. Four
hours for one, and four hours for the other. Happy New Year, children!"
     Then Seize'em stared  at the sleigh.  "One moment, boys. Have  you Herr
Zwanzig's permission to take his sleigh? Hm?"
     We interrupted each  other in our haste to assure him that Herr Zwanzig
had actually asked us to take Gambit for a run to warm him up a bit.
     "Excellent," he  murmured. "We'll  all  go back  together now  and  see
whether you are telling the truth or not. Come."
     The very notion of finding ourselves  in the fiendish sleigh  again was
so terrible that we suggested he ride  alone, promising to walk along beside
     The unsuspecting supervisor clambered up onto the high  seat. He tucked
the luxurious fur rug around his legs, picked up the  reins, yanked them and
clicked his  tongue.  When this had no effect, he let the reins fall lightly
on Gambit's bad that  very moment we were tossed  aside. Clumps of snow flew
into our faces. When  we had brushed the  snow from our eyes  and shaken the
snow  off our clothes the  careening sleigh  was just disappearing  around a
bend, with our unfortunate supervisor hanging on for dear life and bellowing
something unintelligible.
     Meanwhile, Herr Karl Zwanzig, Gambit's owner, came pounding arc another
corner.  His  coat was unbuttoned and his  tie was askew. He was roaring the
top of his voice: "Help! Morder! Poleez! Shtop dem!"
     We could hear a police whistle in the distance.
     We never tried to find out how it all ended. Seize'em never said a word
of the night's adventure when we returned to school after our vacation.
     Thus did the New Year begin. It was now 1917.

     Mamma and Papa  had  just  gone  visiting. The  front door slammed. The
draught made the doors  fly open  all  through the house.  We heard Annushka
turn the  light off in the parlour. Then she went back to the kitchen. There
was an eeriness in the  quiet that settled on the house.  The  clock  in the
dining room ticked loudly. The  wind  rattled the windows. I sat down at the
table and pretended to be doing homework. Oska was drawing steamships. There
were very many of them, each had  smoke pouring from its stacks.  I took his
red-and-blue  pencil  and be colouring the pronouns in my Latin book, making
all the vowels red and all consonants blue. Suddenly Oska said,
     "How do people know that the Earth is round?"
     I knew the answer to that question, because it was on the first page of
geography book, and I went into a long explanation about a ship sailing far.
away  until it disappeared completely beyond the horizon. Since you couldn't
sit any longer, it meant the Earth was round.
     My explanation did not satisfy him.
     "Maybe the ship sank? Huh? Maybe it just sank."
     "Don't bother  me. Can't you see I'm  doing  my  homework?" I continued
colouring the pronouns.
     All was silence again.
     "I know how people know the Earth's round."
     "I'm glad you do."
     "Well, I do! It's because the globe is round. There!"
     "You're a round-headed ninny, that's what."
     Oska pouted. Trouble was brewing. Just then  the  telephone rang in our
fat consulting room. We raced to be  the first  to get there. The office was
dark, deserted  and  scary. I  turned  on  the light. The  room  immediately
changed its appear;
     like a  developed  negative. The  windows had been light,  but now they
became dark. The  panes had  been  black,  and  now  they  were  white. Most
important, however, office no longer frightened us. I picked up the receiver
and spoke in Papa's sc voice:
     It  was our  favourite Uncle  Lyosha, phoning  from Saratov. He had not
been us in ages.  Mamma had told us that he had gone very far away, but Oska
had eavesdropped and  learned that, strangely, he had been put in prison for
against the tsar and the war. Now he had  apparently been released. That was
     "When are you coming to see us?" we shouted into the phone.
     "I will soon," he replied, and I could hear  him chuckle.  "I  want you
Mamma and Papa that I phoned and said there's been a revolution in R There's
a Provisional Government now. The tsar's abdicated. Repeat what I he said to
me, and he sounded excited.
     "How did it happen?" I shouted.
     "You're too little to understand."
     "No, I'm not! Not if you tell me. I'm in the third grade."
     And so our uncle, speaking from Saratov on the other side of the Volga,
went on  hurriedly  to  explain the  meaning  of the  war,  the  revolution,
equality and fraternity to me.
     "Are you all through speaking?" a voice interrupted. "Your time is up."
     Click!  We  were disconnected. I  stood  there,  feeling  as if  I  had
suddenly become about three years older, feeling that  I  was about to burst
from excitement.
     I glanced at  Oska.  He seemed terribly  embarrassed.  "Shame  on  you!
What's the use of you knowing the Earth's round?"
     "I held in all the time you were talking. It was an accident."
     I ran to the kitchen. Annushka had a visitor. He  was a wounded soldier
she  knew,  a man who always looked  sullen.  There was a  small silver  St.
George Cross on his chest. I shouted excitedly:
     "Annushka! First of all, there's been a revolution, and freedom, and no
more  tsar! And, secondly,  Oska wet  his pants.  Find him another  pair." I
related everything my uncle had just told me. Then Annushka's soldier-friend
stood up. His  left arm was in a sling. He embraced me with his right arm. I
was stunned. He squeezed me hard as he said:
     "That's the best piece of news you could have brought us! I  can't even
believe it."  Then he  shook his  big fist at someone outside the window and
added, "You'll get what's coming to you now! Our time's come!"
     I  looked at the  window,  but  saw no  one. Meanwhile, the soldier was
     "Pardon  me,  young man,  but  this is  the best  news I've ever heard.
Why.... Good Lord.... Thanks a  million!" He sounded as if there was a  lump
in his throat.

     I went  to the dining-room, got  up on a chair and knocked on the brass
cover of the  stove's air duct.  It served as a direct line to Anna and Vera
Zhivilsky who lived  upstairs and whose  stove was directly above ours. If I
knocked on the cover of our duct  they could hear  me. I  could  hear Anna's
voice in the duct.
     "Hello, Anna!  I have some great news!  There's been a  revolution, and
there's a soldier here right now."
     "You don't know what I have! Guess."
     "Has there been another revolution someplace?"
     "No! My  godmother gave  me a set  of doll  dishes, and it  even  has a
     I slammed down the receiver... that is, I slammed  the  brass lid shut.
No, they would never understand.  I put on my  fur hat and  coat quickly and
ran to my  friend  next door.  My  Latin homework would have to be done some
other time.


     There was a smell of spring in the air. The sky was studded with  stars
that  glittered like the buttons  on the school inspector's tunic.  I dashed
down the deserted street. The moon ran along beside me like  a dog, stopping
at  each and  every telegraph pole. The houses all had their shutters closed
tight. How  could people be  sleeping at  a time  like this? After there had
been a revolution! I felt like shouting a the top of my voice.
     Two rows of gleaming brass  buttons were  floating towards  us.  It was
Seize'em The  faithful  moon and I turned and  fled. The moon hid behind the
poles and  fences, while I tried to keep  well within the shadows they cast.
Alas! He had spotted me.
     "Stop! Stop, you scoundrel! Police!" he shrilled. But he had not called
my  name, and that meant he had not  recognized me. I kept  on running.  The
moon and Seize'em followed close behind. He  was my  enemy, but the moon was
my ally.
     It darted behind a roof, the better to conceal me.
     I  was mistaken. Seize'em had recognized me. The next day the following
entry was made on my page in the Deportment Ledger:
     "Seen by the  inspector out  on  the street after 7  p.m. Did not  stop
running despite having been ordered to."
     The moon was not mentioned.

     Oska and I escorted Annushka and her soldier-friend into the parlour an
marched  up and down, with Annushka's red kerchief  tied to  Papa's  walking
stick The soldier shouldered Oska's toy  rifle and  brandished it  as we all

     Up and down the mountains
     Did a schoolboy go,
     Shouting, "Down with that old tsar!"
     His red flag waving so.

     There  was a wonderful smell of polished army boots in the  parlour. My
brother and I and the soldier had become the best of friends. He let each of
us lick the paper of his home-rolled cigarette.
     Oska fidgeted as he sat on the soldier's lap.  Finally, he said: "Who's
strongest, a whale or an elephant? What if they  have a  fight? Which one'll
     "I don't know. Tell me."
     "I don't know, either. And  Papa doesn't know,  and Uncle doesn't know.
Nobody knows."
     We discussed the whale and elephant  problem for a while.  The  soldier
and I said the  elephant would win, and just  to  be spiteful, Annushka said
the  whale  would. Then the soldier  went over to the piano, sat down on the
stool and  tried  to sing The Marseillaise, accompanying himself  by hitting
one single note.
     Annushka finally realized it was way past our bedtime.
     "At ease!" the soldier said and we tramped off to bed.


     Moonbeams  had marked the floor of our room off into hopscotch squares.
We might  actually have  played  in them.  But we  were lying in  our  beds,
talking about  the revolution. I  told Oska whatever I had  learned from our
uncle and also what I had read in the newspapers about the war, the workers,
the tsar and the pogroms.
     Suddenly Oska said, "What's a Jew, Lelya?"
     "It's a kind of  people. There are  all kinds. Like Russians, Americans
and Chinese. And Germans, and Frenchmen. And there are Jews, too."
     "Are  we Jews?  For real,  or  for make-believe?  Give me  your word of
honour that we're Jews."
     "My word of honour we are."
     Oska  was  stunned by  this discovery. He tossed about for  quite  some
time. I was half-asleep when he whispered, trying not to wake me, "Lelya!"
     "Is Mamma a Jew, too?"
     "Yes. Go to sleep."
     As  I drifted  off  to sleep I imagined  myself speaking  to  the Latin
teacher the  next day  and saying:  "We've had enough  of the old regime and
being made to  line  up along the walls. You have  no right  to  do that any
     We slept.
     Papa and  Mamma returned  late that night. I woke up. As is  often  the
case when people return late from visiting friends or the theatre, they were
tired and irritable.
     "That was an  excellent cake," Papa was saying. "We never have anything
like it. I wonder where all the money goes?"
     I  could hear Mamma's  surprise at finding  the butt  of a  home-rolled
cigarette in  the candle-holder on  the piano.  Papa  went off to gargle.  I
heard the tinkle of the glass stopper hitting the water pitcher. Suddenly my
father called my mother in a voice that was  unusually  loud for such a late
hour. Mamma  asked  him  something.  He sounded happy and excited. They  had
found my note, telling them the great news. I had written it before going to
bed and had stuck it in the mouth of the pitcher.
     They tiptoed  into the nursery. Father sat down on the  edge of my  bed
and put his arm around me. "You spell 'revolution' with an 'o', not  an 'a'.
Revolution. Ahh!" he said and tweaked my nose.
     Just then  Oska woke up. He had  apparently been thinking of his  great
discovery all the time, even in his sleep.
     "It's late. Go back to sleep."
     "Mamma," he repeated, sitting up in bed, "is our cat a Jew, too?"


     The next morning Annushka  woke Oska  and  me up by singing: "Arise, ye
workingmen, arise! Time for school!"
     The workingmen  (Oska  and I)  jumped  out  of bed.  During breakfast I
remembered  the Latin  pronouns I should have learned  by heart: hie,  haec,
     Oska and I left the house together. It  was warm.  It was thawing.  The
cabbies'  horses shook their feedbags.  Oska, as  usual,  thought  they were
nodding to him. He was  a very polite boy, and so he stopped beside each and
every horse, nodded to it and said,
     "Good morning, horsie!"
     The  horses said nothing. The cabbies, who knew Oska by  now, said good
morning for them. One horse was drinking from a bucket.
     "Do you give him cocoa, too?" Oska wanted to know.
     I dashed off to school. Nobody knew a  thing yet.  I would be the first
to tell them. I whipped off my coat, burst into the classroom and shouted as
I swung my satchel: "Fellows! The tsar's been overthrowed!"
     There was a moment of stunned silence.
     Seize'em whom  I had not noticed, had a fit of coughing  and turned red
in  the face. He began  shouting:  "Are you  crazy?  I'll see to  you later!
Hurry! Time for chapel! Line up in pairs."
     But the boys surrounded me. They jostled each other and snowed me under
with questions.
     The corridor rang from the sound of marching  feet. The boys were being
lined up for morning prayers.
     The principal,  as dried-up, stiff and solemn as ever, strode along the
corridor, his well-pressed legs flashing. The brass buckles jangled.
     The  priest, as black  in  his cassock as an ink-blot in  a  penmanship
notebook, put on his chasuble. The service began.
     We stood there whispering. The long grey lines were restless.  Everyone
seemed to be whispering.
     "There's been a revolution in Petrograd."
     "Is that up on top of the map, where the Baltic Sea is?"
     "Yes. It's a big circle. You'd even find it on a blank map."
     "The history teacher said  there's  a  statue of Peter the Great there.
And the houses are bigger than churches."
     "I wonder what a revolution's like?"
     "It's  like  the  one in 1905 when we were  at war  with Japan.  People
demonstrated in  the streets, and  they had red flags, and the Cossacks  and
the police used their whips on them. And they shot them, too."
     "What rats!"
     "Golly,  we're going to have a written  test  today. I'll  probably get
another 'D'. Ah, who cares!"
     "Our Father who art in Heaven...."
     "That takes care  of the tsar. They sure got rid of  him. It serves him
right! Why'd he get us into the war?"
     "Shut up! D'you think there'll be less homework now?"
     "...For ever and ever. Amen."
     "What grade's  the heir in? I'll bet he never gets anything  but 'A's'.
He has nothing to worry about. No teacher'll ever give him a hard time."
     "Don't worry. Things'11 change now. He'll get his fair  share of 'D's',
too. It's about time he finds out what it's all about!"
     "Wait!  What's  the  genitive  plural?  Never  mind, I'll copy  it  off
     A note was being  passed along the  rows. It had been written by Stepan
Atlantis.  (Later  the note  and  Atlantis'  name were  both entered  in the
Ledger.) It read:
     "Don't sing 'God save the tsar'. Pass this on."
     "Today's chapter is from the Gospel according to Saint Luke."
     A shy,  freckle-faced  third year boy read the parable in  a  faltering
voice. The inspector prompted him, reading over his shoulder.
     The concluding prayer  followed: "...for the solace of  our parents and
the glory of our Church and Fatherland."
     Now,  in  just  another moment! We  all tensed.  The  "ruling  classes"
cleared their throats. Harrumph!
     The small,  long-haired precentor of Trinity Church honked loudly as he
blew his nose. At this a purple vein that resembled a big fat worm bulged in
his scrawny neck. We always  expected it to burst. The precentor stuffed his
coloured  handkerchief  back into  his  back pocket through the slit  in his
worn,  shiny frock coat. The tuning fork in his right hand seemed to fly up.
A  high metallic  "ping"  floated  above  the stuffy corridor. He fixed  his
greasy starched  collar, extracted his skinny, plucked-looking neck from it,
drew his little eyebrows together and sounded the key in a languorous voice:
     "Laa.... Laa-aa."
     We waited.  The  precentor  rose up  on tiptoe. His  arms  swooped  up,
raising  us in song. He began to sing in a high-pitched, screechy voice that
sounded like a finger being run down a window-pane: "God save the tsar...."
     The boys were  silent. Two or three hesitant  voices joined  in. Hefty,
who was  standing behind the  singers, said, as if  he were  making a mental
note of it: "Well, well...."
     The voices wilted.
     Meanwhile,  the precentor  faced  the silent  choir and waved  his arms
wildly. His sugary voice squawked: "Mighty ... and powerful, reign...."
     We could contain our laughter no longer. It rose as a great squall. The
teachers tried hard not to join us. The long corridor resounded with rolling
peals of laughter.
     The inspector chuckled. Seize'em's stomach jiggled. The first-year boys
shrieked  and  giggled.  The towering overgrown boys  bellowed.  The janitor
snickered. "Ha-ha ... ho-ho ... ho-ho-ho ... he-he-he ... ah-ha-ha...."
     The one exception was the principal. He  was as straight  and stiff  as
ever,  though paler  than usual.  "Silence!" he said  and stamped  his foot.
Everything seemed squashed into silence beneath his gleaming boot.
     At this point Mitya Lamberg, a senior and  leader among the older boys,
shouted: "Quiet! I  don't have a very strong voice."  And he started singing
The Marseillaise.

     I  was  standing  on my desk, making  a  speech. Two boys appeared from
behind the brick stove at the far  end of the room. It was  the shopkeeper's
son  Baldin  and  the  police  officer's  son  Lizarsky.  They always  stuck
together, reminding  us  of a  boat and barge. Lizarsky,  who  was short and
stocky and always swung his arms when he walked, would  lead the way, towing
lanky, dark-haired  Baldin behind. Lizarsky came over to my desk and grabbed
me by the collar.
     "What are you yelling about?" He swung at me.
     Stepan  Gavrya, alias Atlantis, shouldered Lizarsky away. "What's it to
you, you monarchist?"
     "Who asked you? Sock'im, Baldy!
     Baldin  was eating sunflower seeds  indifferently. Someone standing  in
back of him sang a ditty:
     See the boat that tows a barge,
     Goodness me!
     On the barge are seeds so large,
     Baldin shoved  his shoulder  into  Stepan's  chest. The usual  muttered
conversation followed:
     "Who do you think you are?"
     "That's none of your business."
     "Take it easy."
     "Who asked you?"
     The  fight that followed  probably burst  into flame  from  the  sparks
Baldin saw. A couple of other "monarchists" came  to his aid. A second later
it was a free-for-all.  Not until the  monitor shouted, "Ma'msele's coming!"
did the two  sides retreat to  their desks. A truce was  declared until  the
long recess.

     It was a glorious  day. It was thawing. Boys were playing mumbly-peg on
the  drying walks. A  huge spotted pig was scratching  its side on a post in
the sun opposite school. Its black spots were like inkblots on a white piece
of blotting paper. We poured out into  the yard. There was a sea of sunlight
and not a single policeman in sight.
     "Everybody who's against the tsar, over here!" Stepan  Gavrya  shouted.
"Hey,  you monarchists! How many of  you are there  to a  pound when  you're
     "Whoever's for the tsar, over here! Kill the bums!" Lizarsky screeched.
     A moment later the air was full of snowballs flying back and forth. The
battle raged. I was soon hit in the eye with such a hard-packed  snowball it
made me dizzy. I saw green and purple  stars, but our side was winning.  The
"monarchists" had been forced back to the gate.
     "Surrender!" we shouted.
     They  managed to  get out of the yard. As we raced  after  them we fell
into a trap.
     A junior high school was located nearby. We had always been at war with
the Juniors. They called us squabs and never missed a chance to pick a fight
with us (nor  did we). Our "monarchists",  those traitors, had  gone over to
the Juniors,  who did not know what the fight was all about,  but fell on us
     "Kill the squabs! Get the pigeons!"  the horde  whistled and shouted as
it attacked.
     "Wait!" Atlantis shouted. "Wait!"
     Everyone stopped. He climbed onto a snowdrift, fell through it, climbed
up  again  and took off his  cap. "Listen,  fellows,  quit fighting.  That's
enough. From now  on there's  going to  be,  uh,  what's  the  word,  Lenny?
Eternity?  No. Fraternity! For everyone. And  there won't be  any more wars.
What a life! We'll all be on the same side from now on."
     He  was silent  for a moment, not  knowing  what else to say.  Then  he
jumped down and went over to one of the Juniors. "Give me five," he said and
shook the boy's hand.
     "Hooray!" I shouted, surprising myself.
     The boys began to cheer and laugh. Soon we were one happy crowd.
     Then the schoolbell pealed angrily.

     "Roachius is steaming in!" the  monitor shouted and  rushed back to his
     The  door  opened.  We stood  up  noisily. The Latin  teacher  entered,
bringing in the quiet of the  deserted  corridor. He went to the lectern and
twirled his stringy, roach-like moustache until the tips bristled.
     His gold pince-nez spurred the bridge of his nose and galloped down the
rows  until his eye came to rest  on my swollen cheek. "What's that supposed
to be?" His slim finger was pointing at me.
     I  rose, and  in a dull,  hopeless  voice replied,  "I hurt  myself.  I
slipped and fell."
     "So   you   fell,   did  you?  I  see....  Poor  child.   Well,  Mister
Revolutionary, march  up to the front of the  class. So! It's a real beauty.
Have a look, gentlemen! So. What was the homework for today?"
     I stood at attention in front of the lectern and said nothing. Roachius
drummed  his fingers on the top of a desk.  My silence was anguished. It was
full of despair.
     "So. So you don't know. I gather you've had  no time  to look in to it.
You were too busy making a revolution. Sit down. You've just earned yourself
an 'F'."
     An indignant murmur filled the classroom. His pen pecked  at the ink in
the inkwell, soared over the lectern like a hawk, peered down from  above to
find my name in the class journal and....

     When the next semester
     Does stumble to an end,
     The teacher will present me
     With another "F', my friend.

     The  "monarchists" in the last row behind the stove snickered. This was
more than I could bear.  I breathed heavily.  The  boys shuffled their feet.
The teacher's knuckles rapped on the top of the lectern.
     "Silence! What's going on here? Do you want to get  reported again?  We
haven't been strict enough with you!"
     When the noise died down I said stubbornly, speaking through  my tears,
"But the tsar's been overthrowed anyway."

     Our last lesson that day was nature study.
     This  subject  was  taught by our  favourite teacher,  Nikita Pavlovich
Kamyshov,  a  jolly  man  with  a  long moustache. His classes  were  always
interesting  and full of fun. He entered the room with a springy step, waved
us  down  to our seats  and said  with  a smile:  "Well, my  doves,  what  a
situation, hm? There's been a revolution. That's really something."
     This encouraged us, and we all began shouting at once.
     "Tell us about it! Tell us about the tsar!"
     "Shush,  my doves!" he said,  raising  a  finger. "Shush!  Even  though
there's been a  revolution, there must be silence above all. Fine. Secondly,
though we are now on  to the study of the  solid-hoofed species, it is still
too early to speak about the tsar."
     Stepan Atlantis raised his hand. All eyes were on him. We  expected him
to oblige with a practical joke.
     "What is it, Gavrya?"
     "Someone's smoking in class."
     "I've never known you to  be a tattletale. All right,  who has dared to
smoke in class?"
     "The tsar," Stepan said impudently.
     "What? Who did you say?"
     "The tsar's smoking. Nicholas II."
     Indeed! There was a  portrait of  the  tsar  on  the wall, and someone,
apparently Stepan,  had poked  a hole  in the comer of the  tsar's mouth and
stuck a lighted cigarette in the hole.
     The tsar was smoking. We all burst out laughing. The teacher joined us.
Suddenly, he became very serious  and  raised  his  hand.  The laughter died
     "Nicholas Romanoff, leave the room!"  he said solemnly. And so the tsar
was banished from the classroom.

     There was a  high fence between the yard of the  Girls School  and  our
school. There  were cracks in the fence. During  recess the boys would  pass
notes to girls  through the cracks. The  girls' teachers were always on  the
lookout to make sure that we did not come near the fence, but it didn't help
anyway.  Close  ties  existed between  the two yards, and  they were kept up
through the years.
     Once, when the senior boys were having a grand old  time, they got hold
of me during recess, swung me and tossed me  over the fence into the  girls'
yard. The  girls  flocked around. I was  so embarrassed I was ready  to cry.
Three minutes later their headmistress got me out of their clutches. She led
me  solemnly  into our  Teachers' Room.  My appearance  was rather  bizarre,
somewhat like that of Kostya Gonchar, the town fool  who  would deck himself
out in anything gaudy  that came to hand.  There  were flowers in my pocket,
chocolate on my lips,  a bright candy  wrapper  stuck in my belt, a pigeon's
feather  in my cockade, a paper devil on a string  around  my neck, and  one
trouser  leg was saucily tied with a pink ribbon  and  bow. All of the boys,
and even  the  teachers, nearly  collapsed at the sight of me. I never  went
near  the fence again  from that  day  on. That  was why, when the boys  now
picked me to be a delegate and go over to  the girls' side, I remembered the
candy wrapper, the headmistress and the pink bow, and flatly refused.
     "Go on!"  Stepan Atlantis said. "Why don't you want to? You're the best
man  for  the  job,  being as  you're  so polite. Well, never  mind, I'll go
myself, it's easy. After all, somebody has to explain things to them."
     And so Stepan climbed over the fence.
     We all pressed close to the cracks.
     The  girls were  running  around,  playing tag,  shrieking and laughing
loudly. Stepan jumped down  into their  yard.  "Oh!" they cried, stood still
for a moment and then rushed to  the fence  like chicks  coming to  a  hen's
clucking. They surrounded him. He saluted and introduced himself as follows:
"Stepan Atlantis." Then he took his hand from his visor for a moment to wipe
his nose. "You can call me Gavrya, but Stepan is better."
     "Who does he think he is, climbing over the fence like that? Hooligan!"
a small girl named Foxy said, puckering her lips.
     "I'm not a hooligan. I'm a delegate. I'll bet you're all still  for the
tsar, aren't you? Ha! What a bunch of ninnies!"
     Then  Stepan took a  deep  breath and  made a  long  speech,  carefully
choosing his words, for he wanted to sound polite.
     "Listen,  girls!  There  was a revolution  yesterday, and  the tsar was
booted out. I mean,  kicked  out. None  of  us sang 'God  save  the tsar' at
prayers this morning, and we're all for the revolution. I mean, for freedom.
We want to overthrow the principal, too. Are you for freedom or not?"
     "What's it like?" Foxy asked.
     "That  means there won't be a tsar  or a principal. They won't  make us
stand  along the walls any more, and we'll elect  whoever  we want  to be in
charge and tell us what to do. It'll really be great! And we can hang out on
Breshka Street. I mean, walk around there, whenever we want to."
     "I guess I'm for freedom," Foxy drawled after some thought. "What about
you, girls?"
     The girls were now all for freedom.

     Stepan Atlantis came  to see me late that evening. He came up the  back
stairs and called me  out the  kitchen. He looked very  mysterious. Annushka
was wiping the wet glassware. The glasses squeaked loudly. Stepan glanced at
her, as if taking her into his confidence, and said,
     "You know, the teachers want  to get rid  of  Fish-Eye. Honest. I heard
them  talking  about it.  I  was  walking  behind  the  history teacher  and
Roachius, and they  were saying  they'd report him to the committee. 'Pon my
honour. You know what";
     Tomorrow, when we  go to that whad-diya-call-it, manifestation,  when I
raise my hand, we're all going to shout: 'Down with the principal!' Mind you
don't forget I can't stay.  I  have to see the other  fellows,  and I'm dead
beat. Well,  reservoir!"* He turned at the door and said threateningly: "And
if Lizarsky opens up his trap again, I'll settle his hash. See if I don't."

     There  was no school the next day. Both the Boys and the Girls  schools
had joined  the  demonstration  in town. The principal  phoned in to  say he
would not be in due to a bad cold ... cough-cough!
     Everything was so unusual,  so new and so  fascinating. We gathered for
the  demonstration. The teachers shook  the older  pupils' hands. They joked
and talked with them as equals. The Clerks' Club band was blaring. The cream
of  our local society, portly  officials of  the Escise Tax Bureau,  the tax
inspector, the railroad officials, the  thin-legged telegraph  operators and
postal clerks were all marching along in broken lines, vainly trying to keep
in  step.  There  were  caps,  cockades  piping,  tabs  and  silver  buttons
everywhere. Everyone  was carrying a  slip  of  paper  with the words of The
Marseillaise printed on it  which had been  handed out  somewhere along  the
line. The officials, having donned their spectacles, peered a their slips as
intently as if this was some  piece  of business correspondence and  sang in
joyless voices.
     The mayor, who had already been  deposed, appeared on the porch  o  the
district council office. He was wearing a pair of rubbers over red-and white
felt boots.  The ex-mayor took  off his hat and said in a hoarse  and solemn
     "Ladies and gentlemen! There's  been a revolution in Petrograd  and all
over Russia. His  Imperial Majesty ... that bloody despot... has  abdicated.
All  power ha gone over to the Provisional Government. Long  may it live! I,
for one, say. hooray!"
     The crowd cheered.
     Atlantis shouted, "And down with the principal!"
     But nothing came of this. The principal had not  appeared, and Stepan's
plan collapsed.
     A group  of teachers and the school inspector were  arguing heatedly on
the corner of Breshka Street. Stepan listened  to what they were saying. The
inspector was saying ponderously:
     "The Committee of the Duma will review our petition this evening, and I
believe the result  will be favourable. Then we will show Mister Stomolitsky
the door. The time of callous officialdom is over. Yes, indeed."
     Stepan dashed back  to where we were. The day suddenly seemed brighter,
and the inspector  suddenly  seemed  such a  good  fellow you'd think he had
never put Stepan's name down in the Ledger.
     More  and  more people  were  joining the ranks  of the  demonstrators.
Workers of the lumber yards, the printshop, the bone-meal factory, mechanics
from the railroad depot, plump bakers,  broad-shouldered stevedores, boatmen
and bearded peasants all dressed up in their Sunday best were marching along
     The  echo of the bass drum pounded  against the walls of the granaries.
The  cheering rolled  along the  streets  in  a  great, sweeping  wave.  The
schoolgirls smiled warmly. The soft  breeze  fingered  the  telegraph wires,
strumming The Marseillaise. It was so good, so wonderful and exhilarating to
breathe, to  march along in  an overcoat that was unbuttoned  and  flapping,
against all the sacred school rules.


     The  clock in  the  vestibule  had long  since struck nine, but  still,
lessons had not begun. The classrooms were churning and boiling.  Amidst the
general buzzing voices would bubble up and burst like soap bubbles. Seize'em
was  patrolling the  corridor,  chasing the  boys  back into the classrooms.
There was a light square on the wall in the Teachers' Room where  the tsar's
portrait had hung. The teachers  were walking up  and down in tense silence,
enveloped by clouds of cigarette smoke.
     At last Atlantis, who was always in on everything,  decided to find out
what was  up  and went off  to the Teachers' Room, supposedly to  get a wall
map. He was back in no time, and bursting with news. He did two somersaults,
jumped onto the lectern, did a handstand there and, with his feet  waving to
and fro in. the air, he astounded us with a joyous howl:
     "Fellows! The Committee kicked the principal out!" Oh, joy! There was a
wild  slamming   of   desk  tops,  cheers  and  yelps.  The   commotion  was
     Hefty,  who was dizzy from joy, kept  pounding the boy next to him over
the  head  with  his geometry book and  shouting:  "They've kicked him  out!
Kicked him out! Kicked him out! Hear that? They've kicked him out!"
     Just then the heavy door opened at the end  of the  corridor into which
glee  waves  of  joy  were  pouring  from  every classroom,  and  a pair  of
highly-polish boots on  a pair of  unbending legs squeaked  softly into  the
Teachers' Room. The teachers rose as the  principal entered, although  their
usual  greeting did not folio Stomolitsky took instant  notice of this. "Eh,
what seems to be the matter, gentlemen?"
     "The matter,  Sir, lies in the fact that  you  ... but  perhaps you had
better read yourself," the inspector said and his beard rose and fell gently
as he spoke. He handed the principal  a sheet of paper as carefully as if he
wished Stomolitsky sign something important.
     The principal took  the proffered sheet. One word  stood out among  all
the rest and this was "Dismissal". However, he refused to accept defeat.
     "Eh  ... the District Board appointed me, and  I am  responsible to  it
alone,"  said  in  an  icy  voice.  "And,  furthermore, I  shall report this
unlawful action to Board immediately. And now," at this he clicked open  the
top of his gold pocket watch, "I suggest you all go to your classes."
     "What?" Kirill Ukhov,  the history teacher, exclaimed and yanked at his
angrily. "You.... You've been dismissed! It's something we all insisted  on,
and not a point that's up for discussion. Gentlemen! Say something! What the
hell is this anyway!"
     Boys  were  clustering  in the  doorway.  Though  they  were  dying  of
curiosity, they  said  nothing. Those  in the  back  rows  pressed  forward,
propelling those  in the front through the door.  As  they stumbled into the
Teachers' Room  they  straighter their jackets, fixed their belts and looked
rather embarrassed. Stepan Gavrya elbowed his way through, looked  at  Ukhov
with burning eyes and suddenly cried.
     "That's right, Kirill Mikhailovich!" Then he lunged towards Stomolitsky
"Down with the principal!"
     A dead silence followed.  Suddenly it  was as if  an avalanche had come
crash down upon the Teachers' Room, crushing and submerging all in its wake.
     "Down with him! Get out! Down with the principal! Hooray!"
     The  corridor echoed from the noise. Windows rattled. The entire  build
seemed  to  be shaking  from  the  wild  pounding of  feet, the  roaring and
     For the first time in his life  the principal  seemed  shaken and bent.
Creases seemed to have suddenly appeared in his well-pressed trousers.
     The inspector feigned concern. He cocked his  eyes at the door politely
and said,
     "I  think you'd  better leave, Sir. I'm afraid we cannot guarantee your
     "You  haven't  heard  the end of this yet!" the  principal muttered and
stalked out.
     The bottom of his jacket caught on the door knob.
     He hurried to his office, clapped  on his cockaded cap  and put on  his
overcoat on  the  run,  so  that  his  arms missed the armholes.  He  dashed
outside. The janitor hobbled out onto the porch after him.
     "Sir! You've forgotten your rubbers! Your rubbers. Sir!"
     The principal  did not turn  back, his  skinny legs took him across the
muddy puddles, his shiny boots sinking into the  snow. The janitor stood  on
the porch, holding the principal's rubbers and clucking his tongue:
     "Tut-tut-tut! My-my!  Good Lord! That's the revolution for you! Look at
the principal go, and  without  his  rubbers!"  Then  he chuckled. "See  him
skittering! A real gee-raffe he is. My-my! A body can't help laughing! Shake
a leg! Looks just like one of them ostriches, he does."
     The boys poured out onto the porch. They were laughing and shouting.
     "Hey, watch him leg it! Bally-ho! Goodbye, Fish-Eye!"
     A snowball hit his back.
     "Whee! Keep on going! Jailer! Warden!"
     It was enough  to take your breath  away. There was the principal, just
think  of  it: the principal!-whom the boys  but yesterday  had to  greet by
standing stiffly at attention,  before whom they had quaked and tipped their
caps (always holding them by  the visor!), whose office they  had  passed on
tiptoe  only-there  was  the  principal,  running  away  so  shamefully,  so
helplessly and, to top it all, having left his rubbers behind!
     They could  see the teachers' pleased faces in the windows. The janitor
     "Quit the ruckus! Shame on you! And you being educated boys!"
     Atlantis crept  up behind him, snatched one of the principal's  rubbers
from him and  sent it sailing after Stomolitsky.  The  boys  roared. Then he
stuck two fingers  in  his mouth  and whistled shrilly, with a trill at  the
end.  Only  true pigeon fanciers knew how to whistle like that, and Stepan's
tumbler pigeons were famous in town.
     When we trooped noisily back to  the classrooms, our faces flushed from
excitement, the teachers scolded us half-heartedly, saying:
     "That  wasn't nice  at  all,  gentlemen. Your behaviour was abominable.
Don't you realize that?"
     But we could see they were only saying that because they had to.

     We called an  emergency  meeting  on  a pile of  logs in the yard after
school  that day,  and  pupils of all the  eight  grades came to the popular
assembly.  We were going to elect  delegates  to  the  joint meeting of  the
Teachers' Council and the Parents Committee. The one item on the agenda was:
"Relieving the principal his duties."
     Mitya Lamberg chaired the meeting.  He presided grandly on the logs and
     "And now, gentlemen, present your candidates."
     "Where are we supposed to present them?"
     "Ha-ha-ha!" "Gentlemen! Nominate your candidates!"
     "Hey, Martynenko! You nominate him one! Ho-ho!"
     "Gentlemen!  Let's have some order! After all, you're  not  a  bunch of
prim school boys. And let's have some quiet at a time like this!"
     "Quit it, fellows!"
     The noise  finally died down. The election was set  into  motion. Mitya
Lamb Stepan Atlantis and Shura Gvozdilo, a fourth-grade boy, were elected.
     "Any more questions?"
     "Yes!" Atlantis scrambled up to the top of the pile. "Listen,  fellows.
It  serious matter, and  no fooling. We've got to  make it stick and present
Fish-Eye with all  our complaints. And there's something  else. There should
be delegates from both sides, and no monkey-business about it!"
     "That's right, Stepan! Delegates from both sides!"
     "Three cheers for the delegates!"
     As the boys tossed Stepan into the air a varied,  assortment of  things
dropped of  his pockets. They included  some popgun  corks,  cartridges,  an
oilcake, a  slug  of  lead and a pocket edition  of  The  Adventures  of Nat
Pinkerton. Mitya pounded an old pot which had served as the  chairman's bell
and was now a  drum. The boys carried  the delegates out through the gate on
their shoulders. Everyone cheered.
     The sun, tired from its steep climb during the day, had stopped to rest
on school  roof which was wet  from the melted snow, shiny and slippery. The
slipped, burned the windows opposite, plopped into a large puddle and winked
at the merry crowd of boys in a rainbow of colours.

     The indignant  principal had one last  resort: he went to  the  Parents
Committee for help.
     This was not an easy thing for him to do, since he considered the boys'
parents enemies of the state and had always forbidden the teachers to become
friendly them. As far as he was concerned, parents existed only as people to
whom he addressed reminders  of non-payment of tuition fees or notices which
were intended to draw their attention to  the poor behaviour of their  sons.
He regarded any interference in  school affairs on their part as a violation
of its sanctity.  If it were up to him, he would have  thrown out the phrase
"for the solace of our parents" from the morning prayer.
     However,  this was no time for settling scores. The  principal  trudged
over to see the veterinary, Shalferov, Chairman  of the  Parents  Committee,
who was known in town as the horse doctor.
     The principal arrived during Shalferov's office hours. The horse doctor
was so surprised to see him that he forgot  to offer Stomolitsky a chair. He
hastily  wiped his hand on a  greenish smock that was covered with unsightly
spots and then offered  it to the principal  who  was a dandy and a stickler
for cleanliness. The vet's hand smelled of fresh milk, stables and something
nauseatingly acrid.  The principal felt his stomach jump, but he  shook  the
proffered hand readily.
     They conversed as they  stood  in the cold foyer. It was cluttered with
milk cans, large bottles, wilted rubber plants and geranium  pots. A cat was
digging a hole in a box of sand in  the corner. Never  realizing that it was
witnessing an historical event involving the fall  of the principal, the cat
raised its tail and held it out stiffly.
     The horse  doctor listened  to the ashen-faced  principal's  story  and
promised his support. The principal thanked him humbly. The horse doctor was
hard-pressed for time, for a  cow was bellowing  out in the yard, and he had
to give  it  an  enema. Shalferov suggested that  the principal speak to the
Secretary of the Parents Committee.

     My  father  was Secretary  of the Parents Committee. The principal felt
very awkward about asking him for favours, since but a short while before my
father had applied  for the position  of school doctor when there had been a
vacancy,  and  the principal  had  written  the  following  on  my  father's
     "We would prefer a doctor who is not of the Jewish faith."
     Father had just returned from the hospital where he had been operating.
He was washing up and gargling. The water bubbled  in his throat, so that it
seemed that Papa had come to a boil.
     The principal awaited him in the parlour.
     Goldfish  were swimming  in  the  fishbowl, dragging their  long, filmy
tails  along the bottom. One fish whose head looked like an aviator's helmet
(for  it had big  bulging eyes), swam  right up to  the  glass.  The  fish's
insolent  orb  stared at the  principal.  Recalling the  unpleasant nickname
given to him by the boys, he turned away in annoyance.
     Just then  the parlour door opened and  Oska  entered, pulling  along a
large and mournful  hobby horse. The horse had long since lost its youth and
its tail. It got stuck in the doorway and very nearly fell apart.
     Then Oska  noticed  the principal. He paused to look at him,  then came
closer and said, "Are you a patient?"
     "No. I've come on business."
     "Oh,  I know! You're the horse doctor. You smell  like a horse  doctor.
Don't you? You cure cows and cats, and dogs, and colties, and all the  rest.
I know. Can you cure my horse?  He has a train engine in his stomach. It got
in, but it can't get out."
     "You're  mistaken,   child,"  Stomolitsky  said  huffily.  I'm  not   a
veterinary, I'm the principal of the Boys School."
     "Oh."  Oska gasped respectfully. He  stared hard at the principal. "Are
you really the principal? You scared me. Lelya says you're very strict, even
the teachers  are scared of you. What's your  name? Snail?... No. Crab?... I
know! Shark-Eye!"
     "My name is Stomolitsky," the principal said sourly. "And what is .your
     "Oska. But why does everybody call you Shark-Eye?"
     "Don't ask stupid questions. Why don't you tell me ... ahem ... whether
you know  how to  read. You do? Well, then tell me ... mm ... ah.... Can you
tell me where the Volga flows. Do you know the answer?"
     "Sure. The Volga flows into  Saratov.  Now see if you know this:  if an
elephant and a whale have a fight, who'll win?"
     The principal was forced to admit that he did not know.
     Oska consoled  him by saying, "Nobody knows. Papa doesn't know, and the
soldier doesn't know. But why do they call you Shark-Eye? Was that your name
when you were little?"
     "That is quite enough! Why don't you tell me your horse's name?"
     "Horse. Everybody knows that. Horses don't have last names."
     "You're wrong. For instance, Alexander the Great had a  horse that  was
called Busifal."
     "And you're Fish-Eye, aren't you? Not Shark-Eye. I got mixed up. But  I
said i1 right now, didn't I?"
     Papa entered.
     "What a bright boy you have!" the principal said smiling angelically as
he bowed.

     Whirr! Buzz!
     The ventilator  in  the  Teachers'  Room  sounded like  a huge fly on a
windowpane. It was suffocating in the heated room. Now and then a board of a
desk in one  of the dark, deserted classrooms would creak. The clock in  the
downstairs hall ticked loudly.
     "I will now call to order the joint  meeting  of  the Parents Committee
and the Teachers' Council."
     The Parents Committee was seated at a large table. Facing them in a row
were the teachers.  Mitya Lamberg and Shura Gvozdilo huddled together at the
far end of the table. Shura seemed lost. Lamberg, who was  older and bigger,
was trying not to look too awed.  The inspector  had  barred Stepan Atlantis
from the meeting,  saying,  "You  can  expect  anything  from that rascal. I
wouldn't trust him for a minute."
     "I'll be very quiet," Stepan had promised.
     "Show him out!" the inspector had said to the janitor.
     "Out  you go,  my  boy."  The janitor  had pushed the protesting Stepan
lightly. "Some delegate! Troublemaker!"
     Stepan  had been deeply hurt. "Well, don't blame me if nothing comes of
this. Reservoir. Adieu."
     At the very outset of the meeting the lights went out.  It was  a usual
power failure. The Teachers' Room was plunged into darkness, Mitya stuck his
hand  into  his pocket to  get  his  matches, but suddenly realized  that  a
non-smoking schoolboy was not supposed to have  matches  in  his pocket. The
janitor brought in a kerosene lamp with a round green shade that resembled a
parachute. The  lamp  was hung over the table.  It swayed slightly,  casting
flickering shadows  that  made the  noses of the people around the table now
grow very long, now become very short.
     The inspector was the first speaker. He spoke smoothly and wittily, and
his forked  beard, so like  a snake's  forked tongue,  bobbed  up  and  down
     The fathers of the boys who lived on farmsteads were breathing heavily.
Their eyes  drooped  as  Romashov droned  on.  The long-haired priest put  a
strand of hair behind  his ear, the  better  to hear him. The  tax collector
wiped his glasses intently,  as if he were going to  examine each and  every
one of the inspector's words through his spectacles. The shopkeeper bent one
plump finger after another meaningfully, in time to the inspector's words.
     Gutnik,  the fat miller  and  a  member of the Duma,  spoke up for  the
principal. "How can  you teachers take things into your own hands like this?
Let  me tell  you, it's not  right. You should have asked the District Board
first. Stomolitsky was always a man  for law and order. We knew that when he
was in charge, everything was as it should be. That's why he should stay on.
And I have a feeling that that's just how things will be. Besides, these are
troubled times. It's like everything was on  fire all  over. And the boys'll
start acting up. Aren't I right?"
     The parents began to nod in agreement. The men were afraid to let their
sons have  too  much freedom. If you let the reins go  just a little,  you'd
never again be able to manage that crowd of pigeon-fanciers, dare-devils and


     Nikita Pavlovich Kamyshov, the geography and science teacher, jumped to
his  feet excitedly. Mitya and Shura looked at  their favourite teacher with
hope. He was very intent and spoke heatedly. Every sentence he uttered was a
line in Fish-Eye's unwritten Ledger.
     "Gentlemen! What's the matter? The tsar's been dethroned, but we ... we
can't even get rid of the principal! You're the parents! Your children, your
sons came here to this hateful place, to get  an education. But what sort of
an  education could they get?  What,  I ask you, could they  get here, these
children, when we teachers,  we grown-up people, were suffocating? There was
no air  to  breathe. It was  disgraceful!  We had  a  regular  barracks-room
atmosphere! Why, if a boy was seen wearing a soft collar he was made to stay
after school for eight hours! My God! Now, when the air  has become  cleaner
all over Russia, we here, in our house, are afraid  to open a window and air
the  premises!"  He  yanked  at his  long,  drooping  moustache  and  dashed
breathlessly out of the room.
     It became very still.
     The principal, who  had been sitting  unobtrusively in a corner,  broke
the  quiet  with his flat voice. He had turned green from  the light of  the
lampshade and from bile. He tried  to explain away Kamyshov's accusations by
saying: "He's trying to get even. There's the law  ... and discipline ... my
duty ... the Board."
     He was interrupted by  Robiiko, a huge, dark-haired man, as tall as the
freight trains he drove were long. The trainman crashed his fist down on the
table  and said: "What's  the  use  of  all  this  talk? If there's  been  a
revolution,  that means  these are  revolutionary times!  We  go straight on
through  without  any  stops.  As  for  the principal,  we  haven't yet seen
anything good except bad from him. And  I  say we ought to ask the boys. Let
their delegates  have the floor. Otherwise,  what  was the use  of  electing
     Mitya rattled off the speech he had learned by heart.
     "And what do you say?" the chairman said, turning to Shura Gvozdilo.
     Shura jumped  up. His arms were  plastered to  his sides, as if he were
reciting a lesson.
     The principal's fishy eyes stared at him with loathing.
     Shura  cocked  a  wary eye at Stomolitsky.  Who could tell? Perhaps  he
would remain at his post and get even later. Shura swallowed the lump in his
throat. His heart  sank, all the way down to his heels, but  just then Mitya
squeezed his  foot so hard between his  own heels that Shura's heart bounded
back  into  place  again.  Shura  tossed his head, swallowed hard again  and
suddenly felt better.
     "We're all for down with the principal!" he shouted.
     Someone  had jarred the lamp. It  was swaying.  Once again  the shadows
began  to move. They were  shalfing their heads  reproachfully.  Noses began
growing longer  and getting shorter again, and the principal's dejected nose
seemed the longest of all.

     The  meeting dragged  on  far into the night.  At last,  the  following
resolution was drawn up:
     "Juvenal  Bogdanovich Stomolitsky  is to  be  relieved of  his  post as
principal of the Boys School. Nikolai Ilyich Romashov, the school inspector,
is  to be temporarily appointed principal until the District Board  confirms
his appointment."
     The former principal left the meeting in silence without saying goodbye
to anyone.  Romashov  fluffed  his  beard  with  a victorious  air. The  new
principal's pleased beard no longer looked like a snake's forked tongue but,
rather, like a chunk of bread with a dent in the middle.
     Shura  had  become  much  bolder.  He mentioned  setting  up  a student
council. The flame in the lamp leaped from the sudden burst of laughter that
followed. Someone even slapped his back.
     "Ah, it's good to be young! Such spit and fire!"
     "Delegates of those snot-nosed babies! Ha-ha-ha!"
     Shura was embarrassed. He sniffled and rubbed his belt buckle.
     The discussion passed  on to another matter. The parents began to yawn,
covering  their  mouths with their  hands. Shura could  barely keep his eyes
open.  The green parachute-lamp  floated above the  table. The  flame hissed
faintly,  casting ragged shadows. Waves of heat rose from the  lamp glasses.
He was dying  to  sleep.  To top it all,  the ventilator  whirred on  and on
     The principal had been kicked  out. Shura felt he  had accomplished his
mission,  but  the teachers,  parents  and  the  new  principal  were  still
debating, and he felt it was impossible to simply get up and leave. That was
when  he construed  a very adult sentence about his presence no longer being
required and, therefore, it being possible for  him  to  leave  the meeting.
Shura  rose. He  opened his  mouth to say  all this when he realized he  had
forgotten the first word of the sentence. As  he searched  for it he  forgot
all the others. The words seemed happy to have escaped  from his drowsy mind
and  pranced  about in front of  his  sleepy eyes. "Presence", a  very adult
word, had just donned  a tunic with  gold  buttons and climbed into the lamp
glass  insolently. The flame stuck  its  tongue out  at him,  and "possible"
started tossing  the dot  over the "i"  at him.  It  was attached to  a long
rubber  band and bounced  off his head just like the paper  balls  that  Chi
Sun-cha sold at the market.
     "What is it you wish to say?" the chairman inquired.
     All eyes were on Shura.
     He tugged at the bottom of his jacket in despair and said: "May I leave
the room?"


     Shura went outside. The sky  was as  black as a blackboard. A cloud-rag
had wiped  it clean  of all  the  star designs.  A dense  black silence  had
engulfed the town. For  the first few  moments after  leaving the  Teachers'
Room he stumbled about in the  dark like a  fly in an inkblot.  At last,  he
made out the shape of a human figure.
     "Is that you, Shura? I'm frozen stiff."
     "Well? What happened?"
     Shura  dragged  on each word to  make  an impression. "Nothing special,
really. Naturally,  we  got  what  we wanted.  Fish-Eye  got  the sack.  The
inspector's taking his place for the time being."
     "Wait a minute! What about the student council?"
     "Ha!  Anything else you'd like?  They laughed  their  heads off when  I
mentioned it."
     "What? Then what did you get? That's no revolution! They kicked out the
principal and put the inspector in his place. Ah!" Stepan disappeared in the
dark. Shura Gvozdilo shrugged and headed home. The night watchman's clapper,
that wooden cuckoo of all provincial nights, sounded in the  stillness. Soon
the parents and teachers trudged home across the dark square.
     Seize'em was the last  to leave. He  had  stayed on in order  to  enter
Lamberg and Gvozdilo's  names in the Black Book-just  in case.  And  so that
memorable  day came  to a close  with  the  Ledger  and  Seize'em's  spindly

     A  new portrait was  hung  in the Teachers' Room. It was  a portrait of
Alexander Kerensky. His hair was cut in a short brush, and  the tabs  of his
wing collar stood out stiffly.
     The teachers  pledged allegiance  to  the Provisional  Government at  a
special service. The general morning prayers were  discontinued.  Instead, a
short prayer  was read in each classroom before lessons began each  morning.
Finally, the liberal-minded new principal took a bold step and did away with
the old system of grading our work.
     "All these  'F's',  'D's' and  'A-minuses' are unpedagogical," Romashov
said, addressing the Parents Committee.
     From  that day on the teachers no longer  gave us "F's" and "A's". They
now   wrote  "Poor"  instead  of   "F",  "Unsatisfactory"  instead  of  "D",
"Satisfactory" instead of "C", "Good" instead of "B" and "Excellent" instead
of "A". Then, in order to keep up the idea of pluses and minuses, they began
writing  "Very  good",  "Not  quite satisfactory", "Nearly  excellent", etc.
Roachius was very dissatisfied with the new system of grading and once wrote
"Very poor,  with two minuses" on Hefty's test paper. This was also the mark
he gave him for the term.
     "If 'Poor'  is an 'F',"  Hefty mused, "then the grade  he  gave me  for
Latin this term is someplace way down the line. Probably a 'Z'. What if it's
even worse than that?"


     The plot our house was on belonged to a large grain company. A winnower
was forever whirring under an overhang. Golden dunes of wheat rose on canvas
spread out on the ground,  and the broad-shouldered scales would jerk  their
iron  shoulders  like  a   person  who  was   trying  to  scratch  his  back
unobtrusively.  All  day long women were  busy patching canvas sacks in  the
yard,  sewing with long needles  as  they  sang  mournful songs of love  and
     One of the  sack-menders was  taken  on as a  cook for the family  of a
company  employee. The  cook had a  son named Arkasha, who attended  primary
school. Arkasha  was small for  his  age and so  full of freckles  his  face
looked like a piece of canvas covered with spilled grains of wheat. He was a
very bright boy and wanted very much to go on to high school.
     There  was  a  Ladies'  Charity  Committee  in  our town, and  the lady
Arkasha's  mother worked  for belonged to it.  At her  urging  the Committee
decided to sponsor the gifted boy. That was how Arkasha Portyanko came to be
a scholarship pupil in my grade, having passed the entrance examination with
flying colours.
     He was a  very serious  and kind-hearted boy, and  he  and I became the
best of friends. He was not a quiet boy, but his mild pranks and jokes  were
quite unlike the rough play  of his classmates. He was an honour pupil,  and
as  each  term ended he  would take  his excellent report card  home  to his
mother in the kitchen.  There was a line  marked "Parent's signature" at the
bottom,  and  his  mother would sign it  laboriously  and with  great pride,
placing a dot at the end of her name as reverently as if she were lighting a
votive candle in church.

     All the boys in my class knew  that  Arkasha was in  love.  The blaring
formula of his love  appeared regularly on the blackboard: "Arkasha + Lucy =
!!"  Lucy  was  the  daughter  of  the wealthy  chairwoman  of  the  Ladies'
Committee. When Arkasha's  mother discovered whom her son had a crush on she
shook her head.  "Good  Lord!  What  a girl  you've chosen! Have  a  look at
yourself! You'll be the death of me yet!"
     However, Lucy liked Arkasha very much. He would meet  her in the arbour
and they  would read together. The sun  shining through  the leaves showered
warm bits of its confetti on them. One day Arkasha brought Lucy a bouquet of
     At Christmas Lucy's  mother had a  party for  her. Lucy invited Arkasha
without having  asked her mother's  permission to do so. Arkasha set out for
the party in his  well-brushed,  well-pressed school uniform. He entered the
brightly-lit hall  and  was  imagining  the  delights that  awaited him when
Lucy's mother suddenly blocked  his way. She was a  tall woman with rustling
skirts and seemed very  much disturbed to have discovered a cook's son about
to attend her daughter's party.
     "Come  back some other time,  child," she said in a sugary  voice, "and
use  the  back  stairs. Lucy's busy.  She can't see you now. Here  are  some
sweets for you and your mother."
     Arkasha did not  see Lucy again after that. He missed her very much. He
looked wan and began slipping in his studies.
     In February of 1917, soon after the revolution, a portly gentleman in a
fine,  fur-lined  coat  was speaking animatedly  to  a  crowd  of  people on
Troitskaya Square, saying  that now there were  no more  masters and no more
slaves,  that from now on everyone was equal. Arkasha believed every word of
what he said, for it seemed to him that since a wealthy man was saying there
would  be no more masters, it must be so. That  was when he decided to write
Lucy a letter. I found it in the Ledger  several years later together with a
single dried lily-of-the-valley.

     "My dearest sweetheart Lucy,
     "Since there has now been  an overthrow of the tsarist regime, it means
everybody  is  equal and free. There are no more masters, and  nobody has  a
right to  insult me and send me packing from a Christmas party like  then. I
miss you  so much. My  mother says  I even  lost weight.  I don't go  to the
skating  rink any  more,  but not because  I'm  jealous, as  Lizarsky  says,
watching him  and you skating together.  How  do you like that,  he says. To
hell (scratched out)  To blazes with  him. I'm  not  one bit jealous. He got
what  was coming to him, because he's a monarchist (that means he's  for the
tsar), and that's why he's so mad. And now, dear Lucy, you and I can be like
a brother and a sister,  that is, if you want to. That's because there was a
revolution and we're equals  now. Actually,  though, you're a hundred  times
better than I am. I can't tell you how much I miss you. My word of honour. I
keep thinking about  you when I do my homework,  and even when I sleep I see
you in my dreams. Just as clear as day. We had the word 'lucid' in spelling,
and I wrote 'Lucy'.  You  spend all your time with Petya Lizarsky. He's  the
one who cribs his math from me  and then says he solved the problem himself.
And he  holds  your arm. I'm  not  one bit jealous,  though.  It's  strange,
though,  because  you're  so smart,  and  pretty, and good, and intelligent,
Lucy, and there you  are, walking out, arm-in-arm with a monarchist. There's
liberty, fraternity and equality now, so that no one will be angry at you if
you go  out with me.  I won't ever  say anything about  you  going out  with
Petya, because that  was during the tsar's reign and three hundred years  of
the autocracy.
     "My  mother  and I have never  been very happy. My greatest joy was the
revolution and you, dear Lucy. And I never cried like I did that day of your
     "I finally decided to write to you, though it means I have no pride. If
you haven't  forgotten me and want  to  be  friends again, write me a  note.
It'll be the happiest day of my life. . "This flower is from that bouquet.
     "Yours truly,
     "Arkasha Portyanko, 3rd grade.
     "P.S. Please excuse the blots. And please tear up this letter."

     The  algebra teacher had a very strange last name: Monokhordov. He  had
fiery  red hair and huge round  jowls, which earned  him  his  nickname, Red
     He was  forever giggling,  and this constant  merriment was  weird  and
impossible to understand.
     "He-he-he!" he would giggle shrilly. "He-he-he! You don't know a thing.
Here, he-he-he  ... you  should have written a  plus  sign, not a  minus ...
he-he-he.... That's why I've ... he-he-he ... given you  ... he-he-he ... an
     Arkasha  had taken out the letter he had  written  and was  reading  it
under his desk. He was so engrossed that he did not see Monokhordov creep up
on  him. Arkasha jumped, but it was too late. The  teacher's  thick fingers,
covered generously with red hairs, closed on the letter.
     "Ha-ha-ha! A letter! He-he, it's not sealed.  This should be very, very
interesting... he-he ... I'd like to know what  you've been doing  ... he-he
... during my class!"
     "Please give it back!" Arkasha shouted, shaking visibly.
     "Oh, no ... he-he-he. I'm sorry, but... he-he ... this is my trophy."
     A  reddish giggling filled the  classroom. Monokhordov went back to the
lectern and pored over the letter. A boy he had called  on and had forgotten
all about stood by the blackboard unhappily.  His fingers were full of chalk
dust. The teacher was busy reading.
     "He-he-he  ... very amusing...," he said as he came to the end. "Rather
interesting. A letter ... he-he ... to his lady-love. I will  read it  aloud
... he-he-he ... as a lesson to you all."
     "Read it! Read  it!" everyone shouted excitedly, drowning out Arkasha's
desperate pleas.
     Monokhordov kept stopping  every now and then to get the giggles out as
he read the letter addressed to Lucy aloud  from beginning  to end. The boys
yowled. Arkasha was as white as a sheet. He had never  been so humiliated in
his life.

     "You're  starting young,  Portyanko ...  he-he ... very young." Arkasha
knew that  he could never send Lucy the defiled  letter. All the lofty words
he had used and which had  caused such ribald laughter now seemed stupid  to
him,  too. However,  the terrible hurt  he felt made him say in a very quiet
and menacing voice:
     "Please give me my letter."
     The boys stopped laughing instantly.
     "Oh,  no,"  Monokhordov  chuckled. "This'll  go  into  the  Ledger  ...
     Then Arkasha  exploded.  "Don't  you  dare! You've  no  right  to!"  he
screamed and stamped his feet. "Reading somebody else's letter's the same as
     "Get  out! This minute!" Monokhordov bellowed and his  fat jowls shook.
'Don't you ever forget that you're a charity boy. You'll fly out of here ...
he-he ... ike a balloon."
     The  dried lily-of-the-valley cracked faintly as the hard covers of the
class journal snapped shut over it. Later, the new principal  gave Arkasha a
dressing down.
     "You scoundrel," he said softly. "How dare you talk to your elders like
that? I'll expel you, you brat. You'll  end your  days at hard  labour,  you
ingrate. Just who do you think you are? Hm?"
     Arkasha was again reminded that he was a charity boy, that he  was only
there because of the kindness of others, and that the revolution had nothing
to  do  with anything. There  had to  be order, above all, and he,  Arkasha,
would be  expelled in no  time if this  order were disturbed. Arkasha's name
was entered  in the Ledger.  He was left after school for two hours. In  the
end, what he gathered  was that the world was  still the same  old place and
that it was still divided into the rich and the poor.

     The Schwambranian Fleet set out on a great voyage  around the continent
in order to chart the exact boundaries of Schwambrania.  The ships  set sail
in the middle of 1916 and did not dock until November 1917. The significance
of this  voyage in the history of  Schwambrania was great, indeed, as can be
seer from the documents which have come down to us. My Schwambranian archive
contain a detailed map of Schwambrania and the log of the  flagship Brenabor
There is no sense  quoting it in  full here,  as it is very long  and rather
dull. Today's  readers will find many of  its pages hard to understand. That
is why the account o the  voyage is given in a revised and abridged form and
some  things  are  explained  in  parenthesis.  I have  tried to  retain the
Schwambranian style of writing wherever possible.
     I would also like to explain the following:
     At  the  time  in  question,  Brenabor  Case  IV  was  the  Emperor  of
Schwambrania We borrowed the name complete from a well-known  ad of the day.
That  was  when  two  automobiles   were  added  to  the  coat  of  arms  of
Schwambrania, although  it already boasted  the Schwambranian  wisdom tooth,
the Black Queen,  Keeper of the  Secret, and the ship of  Jack, the Sailor's
     King Brenabor No. 4  was a  rather easy-going fellow. Still and all, he
was a monarch, and none of  us wanted to be him. Then again,  we didn't want
to be plain commoners, either. That was when Brenabor adopted us. We decided
he had picked  us  up at  sea when  we  were very  little. The  vicious  old
Chatelains Urodena had put us, new-born, into an empty sauerkraut barrel and
had tossed us into the sea. King Brenabor was out rowing when he got a whiff
of stale cabbage and rescued us.
     At that time nearly  every children's story had an orphan in it. A tale
about  an adopted child was both fashionable and  touching. As for the smell
of stale cabbage, that  did not in any way make us less attractive, for many
parents insisted that all children, and not only adopted ones, were found in
cabbage patches.
     The squadron was made up of the following ships: the flagship Brenabor,
Beef Stroganoff, the Jules Verne, the Liquid Metal, the  Prince Courant, the
Cascara Sagrada, the Gratis, the Valiant, the Gambit,  and the Donnerwetter.
Despite his  youth, Admiral  and  Captain Ardelar Case, meaning  me, was  ii
command of the squadron.  Oska was the  Vice-Admiral  and  Chief Able-Bodied
Seaman.  His name was  Satanrex. The name was  of operatic origin. The local
druggist often  sang  at our home musicales.  He had  a  deep basso and sang
Mephistopheles'  aria, which included the words "Satan wreaks his  vengeance
there".  Hi ran his words together when he sang, and  so the first two words
sounded like "Satanrex". Oska kept asking everyone who Satanrex was.
     Jack, the Sailor's Companion, was our faithful guardian at sea.

     Page 1 of Admiral Ardelar Case's diary  began as follows: "The sun rose
in  the morning and  shone above the horizon. The view of  the sea was  very
beautiful. A hundred  thousand soldiers  and a million people were there  to
see  us  off.  A  brass  band  was  blasting  away,  and it  was  a  regular
manifestation.  New Schlyamburg was all illustrated  (This is an error.  The
admiral wanted to say "illuminated".).  I had on a pair of white bell-bottom
flannel trousers, white shoes and spurs, a starched collar, a light-blue bow
tie, a  long-waisted  purple Circassian coat  with gold  cartridge slots and
epaulets, a short crimson cape lined with  a tiger-skin and a captain's  cap
with a plume. I led the way. I was tall and lithe."
     The ships were moored at the pier. The second whistle  had sounded. The
stevedores were  busy loading pastries and thousands of tubes of  strawberry
     The Navy-passenger dreadnought Brenabor was  so huge  that  street cars
and hacks coursed back  and forth along the deck, charging twenty kopecks to
take you from  the  stern  to the  bow,  although  oats were  very cheap  in
Schwambrania. The Brenabor's six stacks smoked like six huge fires. It had a
ten  thousand camel-power whistle,  and  its masts  were so high  they  were
always capped with snow.
     "Attention in the engine room!" I said.
     "Stand by!" Jack, the  Sailor's  Companion, said. "Steh fertig bei  der
     The tsar was there to see us off. He  climbed  up on a barrel  and said
the following manifesto:
     "Yo-ho-ho, ye Schwambranian knights in shining armour! We, by the Grace
of God,  Emperor of  Schwambrania, Tsar  of Caldonia, Balvonia et cetera, et
cetera, command you to have a bon voyage  both ways. If you  happen to see a
war anyplace, get right  into the fight and slash away! Give the enemy their
comeuppance. Men! All the centuries, as many  as there were and will be, are
looking down on you from the tops of these masts! Forward march, my friends,
on your voyage! Bugles,  blare a song of  victory! And  be sure  to go below
deck if you  get caught in a squall or a  storm so's you  won't  catch cold.
Forward,  fearless knights! Off to the rolling seas, heading  southwest. God
bless us and Godspeed!"
     At this, everyone burst into the Schwambranian anthem, composed by  the
Vice-Admiral, and having all the stresses on the first syllable:

     "Hoo-ray, hoo-ray!" they all shouted,
     The Schwambranians.
     "Hoo-ray, hoo-ray!" they were clouted!
     But not one of them was murdered,
     All of them survived.
     And they blasted all the others.
     Lo! They're strong and live!

     The Brenabor sounded its ten thousand camel-power whistle for the third
time. Riders tumbled, and their horses galloped off. Anyone standing was now
sitting. Anyone sitting was now  lying. As  for those that  had been  lying,
there  wasn't much else they could  do. The ships  cast  off. The voyage had
     "Don't forget to write!" the tsar shouted.
     The squadron was going full steam ahead. The  pennants fluttered in the
breeze. The tall, sleek Brenabor led the caravan,  going  a hundred knots an
hour.  The wind was blowing up. The waves churned. The sun went down in  the

     The  voyage was progressing well, with the sun coming up in the morning
and going down in the evening. If  we are to believe the Admiral's log,  the
wind was becoming stronger with each passing day. The squadron  did not drop
anchor a Port  Manteau  and  passed  Cape  Gialmar,  coming round the tip of
Cacophonia   and  Cape  Rugby   as  it  headed  for  Drandzonsk.   A  small,
single-breasted  ship  was sent out to meet  us (Another  error.  Suits  are
single-breasted,  not  ships.),  and  the people  of  Drandzonsk offered  us
Triumph  cigarettes. We stopped  for a smoke and continued  on our  way. Two
days later we dropped anchor in Medusa Harbour.
     Vast,  masculine forests stretched  off into the distance beyond Medusa
(Naturally, there  are  no  such forests. One  sometimes speaks of a  virgin
forest,  but the  admiral  was  a  woman-hater.).  There,  in the  masculine
forests,  we hunted wild run toddies. The rum  toddies  were  animals we had
discovered in an ad of the well known Shustov Distilleries. Rum toddies were
not to be found in any other country except Schwambrania. They had the  head
of a buffalo and the body of a horse, s'  that they  both kicked and butted.
They were ferocious.
     Then  Satanrex and  I  explored the  Cor-i-Dor Desert.  Everything  was
deserted  in the desert. Meanwhile,  the squadron  under Jack, the  Sailor's
Companion  rounded Cape Pudding  and steamed into Balvonsk. We  boarded  our
ship again and continued on our way. The Piliguinian  Fleet was sighted  off
Cape Charade, with the vile cad, Count Chatelains Urodenal, in command.
     "Ah, main royal  yard!" Jack, Sailor's  Companion,  cursed. "Fore royal
standin  backstay! Unter  lissel  left  and  right, too!  Plombiren Sie  die
Schiffsraume! Seal the  holds!" And he began to  flash his eyes.  Chatelains
Urodenal picked up his  megaphone and  declared war  on us. A battle  at sea
followed.  Our ships and their  ships attacked each other  and tried to send
over boarding parties. What followed was a regular Trafalgar, which ended as
our Waterloo. The Liquid  Metal,  Donnerwetter and the Boef  a la Stroganoff
were all sunk, and the others were towed off by the Piliguinians. They  took
them off to their  prison, which  was on Garlandia, a  desert island in  the
Arsenic Ocean. Our valiant Brenabor was the only ship that did not surrender
to the enemy and managed to break through the fiery circle. The lone vessel,
its sails billowing, sped across the ocean blue. There was an island in that
ocean. It was a bleak granite island without a  sign of life.  It was  named
Punishment Isle and  was a part of the Liverpill Archipelago. Cape Comer was
on that island and there,  in a seashell grotto, the  Black  Queen lived. We
dropped anchor. The Queen did not look bad, although she was a bit mouldy.
     Then we  passed the dangerous islands of  Quinine, Biomalt,  Cocoa  and
Codlive-roil. As we drew alongside Cape  Colt, we sighted  the tops  of  the
Overthere Mts. and the inaccessible  Peak Puzzle, so we turned westwards and
entered Seven Scholars Bay.
     We were approaching Elfin Island.

     The Prince and the Pauper, Max  and Moritz, Bobus and Bubus, Tom Sawyer
and Huck Finn, Oliver Twist,  the  Little Women and the Little Men, and when
they  were  grown, Captain  Grant's Children,  Little  Lord Fauntleroy,  the
Twelve   Huntsmen,  the  Three   Spinners,  the  Seven  Wise  Scholars,  the
Thirty-three Knights, who were the  nephews of Uncle Chernomor, the Last Day
of Pompeii, and the One Thousand and One Nights all came out to welcome us.
     "Long live Your Royal Brilliance!" they shouted.
     There was a  green oak on the island. And  a  gold chain on the oak.  A
puss-in-boots walked round and  round it, looking very wise. When he went to
the right, he would read a book out  loud, and when  he went to the left, he
would  turn  on a gramophone. Just  like Durov's  famous  circus animals.  A
sphinx sat on the top of a cliff, making up riddles and charades.
     Familiar  characters from many books lived here, for Elfin Island was a
forest  preserve for  all the famous characters we had ever read about. They
lived here out of time and place.
     A large  company  was riding  towards us, led by the Mysterious  Knight
with his  visor down. Next came  the Headless Horseman. Don Quixote  whipped
his old nag on,  with his  faithful sword-bearer Sancho Panza trotting along
on a donkey.  Sancho  was carrying some windmill slats that Don Quixote  had
hacked  off  some place or other. Then came Ivan the Fool  on the Humpbacked
Horse. He stuck out his tongue as he rode by. Then  came the  Three Knights,
Ilya Muromets, Alyosha Popovich and Dobrynya Nikitich  on their three mighty
steeds.  The  horses were  harnessed to the  Tsar-Cannon. Nat Pinkerton, the
well-known  detective, crept along in  their wake.  He was  looking for  the
Mysterious Knight and was being  shadowed  by the famous detective, Sherlock
     A man with long  hair and a  long  beard  and clothed in  animal  skins
appeared  from behind  some  bushes. A wise  old  parrot was perched  on his
shoulder. The parrot was plucking fortune cards from his master's pocket.
     "Rrrr-robinson Crr-rusoe!" the parrot squawked.
     We  recognized  the  great  hermit.  Following  Robinson  was a  savage
carrying  several parcels. He was completely naked.  He didn't  have on  any
pants  at all.  All he had on  was a calendar leaf for a loincloth. The word
written on the page was:
     "Friday". At  the  sight of us Robinson begged our pardon and asked Don
Quixote to lend him his shaving basin, which Don Quixote did. Robinson  went
off to shave, while Friday, having stopped to  gossip with Sancho  Panza and
ask his advice about something, ran  off to put on  some  clothes in a house
with a sign outside that read:

     Ladies and Men's
     Valiant Little Tailor
     Sews seven cloaks at a stroke

     "They mean us," the Seven Wise Scholars said.
     That evening our visit was marked by  a gala  fete and fireworks in the
Mysterious  Garden. Bluebirds  and Blue Herons were there.  Golden Cockerels
crowed, and geese laid golden eggs, while squirrels whistled popular tunes.
     We were there, too, and drank  mead with the rest, but since  we had no
moustaches, it did not flow down our chests.

     The days of  the festivities coincided  with  the  first  days  of  the
revolution Russia.  Reality  was  wonderful. It turned everything  about  us
topsy-turvy. The following telegram was received from Schwambrania:

     The people of Schwambrania  are worried.  Indignant over the  Battle of
Charade. Brenabor partially abdicated. Chatelains Urodenal temporary ruler.

     Half an hour later the Brenabor, having sealed the holds and raised the
red  flag,  sailed  at full steam off  to  the  Brightasday Sea.  We  passed
Lilliputia, Shellacputia, Port Folio and  Getamoveonio. We rechristened  our
ship. It  was now  the  Carshandar and Jupiter.  The  crew was  all  for the
republic and had renounced the traitor of  a tsar. After all, Brenabor No. 4
had  temporarily  installed the  villian  Chatelains  Urodenal  in  order to
preserve his  crown. Urodenal's troops were  guarding the Hopscotch Plateau,
having dug in along the  Nitty, Plotzky and  Socko-Pocko canyons.  We had no
choice but to  press  on  towards  the  Candelabra Mountains. There, in  the
northern  foothills,  the  republican  conspirators  were hiding  out in the
environs of Port Rait. We took them on  board. Then, rounding Cape Clock and
bypassing  Knuckle  duster, we  sailed for  the free shores  of  Carshandar,
dropping anchor in Port Yippee.  The Carshandarians  welcomed us  with  open
arms.  Carshandar  was  enveloped in  a revolutionary  uprising.  Urodenal's
landing  party was only able  to take Condora. We set siege  to Condora from
the Lilac Sea. Condora fell. We absconded  with  great riches. Then, passing
Cape Rick-Rack  and  Cape Billbock, we stopped off at Port  Ico, and finally
dropped anchor on the Carshandar Riviera. I  changed my last name and became
Ardelar de Carshandar.
     In  order to  prepare a coup on the entire continent, I  stowed away in
the sealed hold of one of the ships and  made  my way  to New Shiyamburg.  I
lived in the capital, disguised  as an Indian. However, on the very  eve  of
the  uprising,  Brenabor recognized  me  by  the scar  in my  left  eyebrow.
Urodenal had me arrested and brought me before a court martial.
     The trial of Admiral de Carshandar lasted a whole day (Sunday). This is
how the Admiral described it in his diary:
     "The  courtroom was full of  people  who  were staring at  me with open
curiosity.  I was in the dock,  so handsome and lithe. Four guards had their
rifles trained on me, to make  sure I didn't escape. The former Brenabor was
the chief  justice. He really  hated  my  guts.  Count  Chatelains Urodenal,
black-haired and a cad, was prosecuting me personally.
     "There was no brass band at all. Satanrex was my lawyer. They had sworn
they  wouldn't  arrest  him or  throw him  into  jail. The  prosecutor lied,
telling everyone to their  face that I was  a crook, but my  lawyer got even
and said  that Urodenal was  a crook if there  ever  was one. Then  Brenabor
said: 'Mr. Prisoner  at the Bar! You have five minutes to give them  a peace
of  mind.' Then  I rose, so  tall  and  lithe, and  the courtroom died down.
'Honourable Judges!'  I shouted. 'You  are  under  arrest in the name of the
Free  Continent  of  Big  Tooth!'  In  a flashing  eye  Jack,  the  Sailor's
Companion,  dashed into  the  courtroom  with some revolutionaries  and they
overthrew the tyrants. Everyone cheered, and there was a general ovation."
     The admiral did not mention the sunset that day. Apparently, due to the
coup, there was a continuous sunrise over Schwambrania.

     All sorts of  meetings were being  held  everywhere, for the  grown-ups
were quite carried away by politics. My own  mother had been elected  to the
Council of Deputies by the Ladies' Circle. Papa was Vice-Chairman of the new
Duma. Since the Duma and the Council were at odds. Papa and Mamma were, too.
     I was burning with a desire  to enter politics, since T, too, wanted to
attend  meetings,  make speeches and  elect  candidates.  That  was  when  I
received a letter  from my  friend Vitya Expromptov in Saratov. He described
his  Boy  Scout troop in  such  glorious terms that I decided to  organize a
branch in my school.
     I read whatever I could about scouting. Then one day after classes were
over and the boys were buckling their satchels, I climbed  onto  the lectern
and made a long speech.
     "Gentlemen, we've had enough of fighting during recesses, playing cards
and being disunited. We should band together, that is, like  a  club.... And
we won't lie,  smoke or curse. We'll  drill, have our own  clubroom and hold
club meetings. We'll elect a leader,  and we'll be  young scouts. I mean Boy
Scouts. What do you say? Who wants to be a Boy Scout?"
     Practically every boy  there  wanted  to  be  one.  The  commotion that
followed was unimaginable.  Nikolai Ilyich looked in to  see what  was going
on. He said that if we didn't stop yelling, he'd have all our names put down
in the Ledger before we ever drew up a list of future Boy Scouts.

     The following Sunday the first scout meeting was held in school. To  my
surprise, there were a great  many boys  from other grades and  even several
     We  conducted  our  meeting  just like  adults:  we  stood up  and made
speeches, and someone kept the minutes.
     Two  troops were  formed. I  was elected  scout leader. Shalferov,  the
horse  doctor's son, was elected Treasurer, for he was considered  to be the
most honest of us all.
     Our Rules were based on  the scout law: we would not smoke, drink,  lie
or use bad language, but would  be courteous, cheerful, do a good deed every
day, always smile, and  salute our superiors on  the street by raising three
fingers to  our caps. The three fingers stood for the three  commandments of
the  scout  oath: "...to  do my duty to God  and my country and to obey  the
scout  law." Actually, the Handbook said: "...and my monarch", but  we  used
the alternative "country". There was  a  hitch as far as God was  concerned,
for  Stepan  Atlantis suddenly announced that he was  an atheist. We had  to
convince him that God was  actually like your conscience and, anyway. He had
only been included to make things sound right. We finally convinced him, and
Stepan solemnly  raised  three fingers and repeated  the scout oath. He then
promised to stop smoking within a week.
     We signed up quite a few parents  as sponsors. They donated money which
we  used  to  buy a tricoloured flag  and  an old  automobile horn  that was
missing its rubber bulb. This home-made bugle called for  a great  amount of
wind. It would then produce a loud and  horrible  sound. Hefty was  the only
one who had  the necessary lung power, and  so he was elected bugler. He was
flattered  and tried  his  best, blowing  so  hard it  made trucks veer  and
steamships green with envy.
     We were given  a room in  the local children's library to serve  as our
clubhouse. By then so many other boys had signed up, we had  formed two more
troops. I was now a troop leader. Boys saluted me on the street. I felt very

     All  the  preparatory  work  was finally  completed.  The clubroom  was
furnished, the flag displayed, the scout promise  made, the patrol and troop
leaders  elected, the scout law learned  by heart. Every one of  us knew who
Lord Baden-Powell was and what St. George had to do with scouting.
     However,  nobody knew  what  to  do after  all  of the  above  had been
accomplished. We  decided to stage a mock battle between  the two troops  on
granary row, but the watchmen chased us away.
     We tried  doing good  deeds, deciding we would  patrol the town and fix
street benches and fences, and  help old  ladies carry their  shopping bags.
However, schoolboys had a bad reputation in Pokrovsk, and the very first old
lady  whom Atlantis tried to help  began screaming wildly the moment he took
hold of her heavy bag. A crowd  gathered  on the spot. Stepan barely managed
to escape.
     I then  discovered that my fellow-scouts were doing their good deeds in
the following manner:  they would sneak up to a  stout fence in the dark and
pry off some boards. The following morning they would appear on the scene as
benefactors  and  mend it with  goody-goody expressions.  They received  ten
points at the Good Deed Contest for this.
     We soon became very bored with scouting.
     There  was no  use expecting any help  from  St.  George, our  heavenly
patron. Lord Baden-Powell, wearing a broad-brimmed Boer campaign hat, smiled
down at us from the wall portrait. He couldn't suggest anything of interest,
     Once again the boys began smelling strongly of tobacco.

     The autumn  of 1917  was  the first autumn during which  Russia was not
ruled by a tsar.
     This  autumn  was  just like any other, a  time  of melons, shoals  and
second exams for  the boys  who  had not been promoted. At this time a barge
carrying bearers of the St. George Cross for Valour docked at Saratov. There
was a  Museum  of War  Trophies on the  barge, and so the entire  school was
taken to see this floating embodiment of patriotism.
     A slogan painted  on the side of  the  barge read: "War to a Victorious
End!" You could still make out  the lettering underneath that had  not  been
completely erased.  It  read:  "For our  country, our tsar...." Every single
member of the crew had been awarded  the St. George Cross.  Nearly  all were
missing an arm  or  a  leg, and some  were missing both. Artificial legs and
crutches creaked and tapped along the deck. However, every  man had a little
St. George Cross dangling on his chest.
     We  roamed the barge for three hours, sticking our  heads into the wide
barrels  of  the  Austrian howitzers and fingering the  silk of  the Turkish
banners  that had been captured in battle. We  saw a tremendous German shell
called a "trunk".  You could pack the death of an entire company into one of
them. Finally,  the amiable curator showed us the museum's main  exhibit. It
was a German  helmet,  taken off a dead  officer.  It's outstanding features
were the  hair of the killed man that was stuck to the  inside of the helmet
and real, dried German blood. The curator spoke of this with relish.
     The curator  was an  officer.  He  stood  on his own,  natural legs and
gesticulated with his own undamaged, well-cared for hands.

     Stepan did not  say a word all the  way  back, but that very evening he
came over to the scout clubroom and quarrelled with the rest of us.
     "Did you notice the smell there, fellows? Just like the  butcher stalls
at the market. That's the smell of blood. It hits you right in the nose. But
what the hell's it all about? After all, they're all human beings."
     "We  have  to fight  to a  glorious, victorious end," one  of  the boys
     "You're  a damn  fool! Just aping what somebody else said. What's there
in  it for us? To hell with  you  and  your precious  St.  George.  Go  play
soldiers, and  maybe  you'll get  a St. George  Cross,  too. As for the  Boy
Scouts, what the hell good are you if you're all  for the  war? Cross me off
your damn list.  Understand? I've  had enough  of fooling around." He pulled
out a pack of forbidden cigarettes and lit one up insolently.
     We  stood around  in silence, feeling somehow  embarrassed. Then  Hefty
grunted, slowly pulled out his own pack of cigarettes, went over to Atlantis
and said, "Give me a light. The game's over. Let's go."
     Sir Robert Baden-Powell was smiling down at us from the wall. There was
nothing funny  about it at all, but according to the scout  law, a scout was
always supposed to be cheerful. Sir Robert grinned, just like Monokhordov.

     Once, during a  geography lesson in the first grade, Stepan Gavrya, who
had been left  back, raised his hand from where  he  sat in the last row and
said, "Is it  true what it says in books about  Atlantis? I mean, that there
really is a place like that?"
     "Perhaps. Why?"  Kamyshov,  our geography teacher, asked with a  smile.
"Because I'm going to  find it,  that's what. I'll look around in the ocean,
and I know I'll find it. I'm a darn good diver, you know."
     That was when Stepan got his nickname. From that day on he became known
as  Atlantis. Stepan, that devoted pigeon fancier and dare-devil, really did
dream of finding the lost Atlantis.
     Sitting in a hayloft, sneezing from the fragrant dust, he described his
future to his friends. "I'll pump all the water out of there and fix all the
doors in the palaces, and you've  never seen the kind of life we're going to
have. It'll  really be a lark! There won't be any  principals there,  and no
Latin, that's for sure."
     He  left stifled  within  the  stone walls of  the  school. Stepan  was
hot-headed. His  head  was  as hot as a  watermelon  in a melon patch  on  a
blazing July  day. Learning came very hard to him. He  was from a very small
farm outside  the town, and  all  of  the vast, endless steppe was  his back
yard. He  was used to shouting at camels,  and his  foghorn voice shook  the
official stillness of the school every time he opened his mouth.
     "Gavrya,"  a  teacher would say, calling  on him.  "Yah?"  Stepan would
bellow in reply and then be reprimanded. He had run away  to  join the army,
but had been returned home from the very first railroad station. Then he had
run away again and had been caught again. He did not like to talk about it.

     Stepan  had strange,  funny  ideas  about life.  First,  before  really
getting the hang of a  thing, he would  see it upside-down, as it were. They
said he  had even learned to read  upside-down in the beginning. This is how
it had all come about. Stepan's elder brother was  being prepared for school
by a  teacher who came to the house to  teach him to read.  Stepan was still
very small and was not supposed to participate in these lessons. The teacher
would open the primer, and Stepan's brother, who sat by her side, would read
aloud.  Stepan  would  sit  across  the table from them,  leaning over as he
listened to every word. However, when he looked at the book he would see all
the words upside-down, and that was  how he remembered them. That was how he
learned to  read: from  right to  left and  upside-down. He later had a very
hard time learning to read the correct way.
     Stepan suddenly became very grown-up after the boys' visit to the barge
to  see the wounded soldiers. He was forever going off someplace and reading
books we knew nothing  about. He would often drop by at  my house, but would
spend  his  time  in  the  kitchen  talking to  Annushka's  soldier. Another
frequent  visitor there was a Czech named Kardac, a prisoner-of-war who  had
been in the Austrian Army. The three of them would argue heatedly. After one
such argument  Stepan said to me in  a puzzled voice "What  do you know?  It
looks like I  have everything upside-down  again. Can you beat that! I was a
damn fool talking about Atlantis the way I did.  We  can have a pretty  good
life here, too, you know. That's something I never thought about."

     Hungry  women standing in  line for  bread at the market fell  upon the
mayor. Dogs howled at night, and the  wooden clappers sounded feebly  in the
awkward  hands of the  volunteer home  guardsmen.  The city council  was  in
session  every single day. A cold,  damp wind  was  blowing  from the Volga,
tossing  scraps  of foam  onto  the  bank.  Torn  shreds  of  proclamations:
"Citizens!... The Constituent Assembly..." waltzed along the dusty streets.
     Something  very heavy was dropped in Saratov  beyond the Volga  at four
o'clock  in the  afternoon. This was followed by a  great gust of  wind. The
windows rattled. Boom!
     And then again, twice in a row:
     Boom!... Boom!
     It seemed  as  though  someone  was swinging  a tremendous rug  beater,
beating  out  a fantastic rug that was miles long. People would stop on  the
street and look up at the sky. Crows winged back and forth. Crowds of idlers
dotted  the rooftops,  as they usually did  when there was a fire someplace.
Those standing on the pavement shouted:
     "See anything?"
     "Sure. As clear as day. That was some explosion."
     "Who's shooting?"
     "Who knows? Probably the Cadets!"
     From the  top of the  school building we could see tiny white puffs  of
smoke rising  over  Saratov. They  quickly  expanded to become dark,  ragged
clouds.  Half  a  minute later a heavy blow would come crashing down  on the
roof, deafening us slightly. By night time there was a red glow of fire over
Saratov. Nobody turned on their lights in Pokrovsk that night. The sky was a
feverish crimson.

     At nine o'clock  the following morning boys in long great-coats hurried
across the square as always. Their pencil boxes rattled in their satchels.
     A dull grey morning  crept into the classrooms. The lectern  creaked as
the  sleepy-eyed history teacher leaned on it. The monitor, crossing himself
automatically, rattled off the morning prayer. Then  he  handed  the teacher
the class journal and reported on the absent pupils:
     "Stepan Gavrya is absent."
     The teacher had not had enough sleep. He yawned and scratched his chin.
"And so the Emperor Justinian the Great and  ... aag-ah-haa ... Theodora ...
(he was overcome by yawning). And The-agh-aah-do-oh-ra...."
     It  was  terribly  dull to have  to  listen  to  an account of ancient,
long-dead  emperors at a time when real,  live  people  were  making history
right there, across the Volga.  There was a loud murmuring in the classroom.
Finally, Aleferenko got up and said:
     "Would you please explain all about  what's going on  in  Russia  right
     "Gentlemen!" The teacher was indignant. "In the first  place, I'm not a
newspaper. Secondly, you are too young to  discuss politics. Now, where were
we? Justi...."
     "You sure are old," someone in the back row muttered.
     "Old regime, that's what you are!"
     "What? Get up and stand by the wall!"
     "Don't listen to him, Kolya!" the boys shouted.  "Who does he  think he
is, Justinian the Great?"
     "Get out!"
     But  just then a deep,  mighty, all-consuming  sound burst in  from the
sires. carried in on the wings of  the  wind. It was the  bone-meal  factory
whistle.  It was immediately caught up by the piping whistle of the railroad
depot.  The lumber yards on the  hill  joined in  various trebles. The flour
mill whistled. The cannery buzzed like some distant  bumblebee. A river boat
on the Volga piped frantically, wildly.
     The morning was full of their songs.
     The inspector dashed into the classroom. Confusion was entangled in his
beard like a fly. No one rose to greet him.

     Annushka's soldier friend, Kharkusha, was  making a speech on the river
ban He was standing on the pier, gesticulating with his good hand. From afar
he seemed to be conducting the orchestra  of  whistles. We  elbowed  our way
through the crowd.
     A boat was rapidly approaching the pier. It was  the Tamara. Its wheels
turning  smartly, slapping  the water, and two ridges of white foam  rose on
either side of the prow. A red flag looked as if it was about to fly off the
mast. The  boat was now  close enough for us to see the men and machine-guns
on its deck. The men looking weary but determined, and as set as if they had
been bolted to the deck.
     This was the revolution docking at Pokrovsk.  The captain on the bridge
was wearing a red armband. Standing next to him  with a rifle slung over his
should and  his cap  tilted back was Atlantis. I recognized the man standing
next to him. They were workers from the lumber yards.
     "Hey! Look! It's Stepan!"  my classmates  yelled.  "Atlantis! How'd you
     Petya Yachmenny, a very proper boy, shook his head and said, "Why'd you
play hookey? You'll get in trouble now."
     "Oh, no,  I won't!" Stepan said and laughed. He leaped over the railing
and  on the pier  as the  boat was  docking. "Not on your  life I won't! The
Black Book's good as dead and buried now. For good!"
     The tie  ropes had been secured,  and now  the boat  was hissing as  it
bumped  against  the  pier  The  captain  was  issuing  commands  through  a
megaphone. Men with red armbands were lining up on the deck.
     "These're our men," Atlantis said proudly.
     "They're Bolsheviks," people murmured in the crowd.
     "Ready!" the captain said.

     At  the end of  the  spring  term  we  burned the  school diaries  that
contained our day-to-day marks. Such  was the old school custom. This  time,
however, it seemed to have acquired a new significance, one that we were all
aware of.
     A huge bonfire blazed in the school yard. We pranced about it in a wild
Indian  dance  as   the   flames  consumed  our  "D's"   as  our  reprimands
disintegrated and the days we had attended school went up in smoke.
     "Hooray!" we shouted,  three hundred strong. "Hoor-rray! We're burning!
the  last! diaries! of the old regime! They'll never return!  An end  to all
diaries! An end to no dinners! Death to the ledgers! Hooray! The last school
ledgers in the world are burning! No more cramming or demerits! There go the
ledgers of the old regime!"
     Hefty and Stepan made their way to the deserted Teachers' Room.
     The bookcase containing the Black  Book was locked. The squirrel's tail
was tickling  dusty Venus' nose. A huge papier-mache  model of  a  human eye
stared at the boys in amazement. Then Hefty kicked in the door panel.
     The Black Book was removed from the bookcase.
     "Into the fire with it!" Atlantis  yelled  as he appeared on the porch,
carrying the thick Ledger. "We'll roast Seize'em's tattling!"
     But  every  single boy  wanted to touch the Dove  Book, to read what it
said about him, to discover its secrets. All the ledgers of  previous  years
were  then tossed into  the flames. The last was read aloud by  the bonfire,
and we had a grand old time listening to its loathsome pages. We  decided to
preserve it for posterity, and Stepan was  elected to be the  Keeper of  the
Ledger, since  at  least  a  quarter  of  all the  mischief  reported  in it
concerned the boy who had once decided to set out in search of Atlantis.
     The  old ledgers were going up in flames.  Their hard covers writhed in
the fire. Then Forsunov, one of the seniors, came out on the porch. He was a
member of the local Council of Deputies.
     "Let's  have a  minute  of  quiet, comrades," he said.  "The Council of
Deputies has  decided to fire all  the  old regime teachers. This means that
Romashov,  Roachius,  Ukhov and  Monokhordov will  all  go. We'll  have  new
teachers.  We'll elect  our own representatives  to  the  Teachers' Council.
Everything'll be different now. This is the end of the Black Book."
     Three hundred boys in grey school uniforms marched around the fire that
was now  dying down. They  hooted and  howled, and shouted gleefully as they
carried the unmasked and helpless Black Book  at the head of this unheard-of
funeral procession.
     Meanwhile, a mound  of charred, brittle pages was curling up amidst the

     We spent  the  summer of  1918 on the  Carshandar  Riviera  in Northern
Schwambrania and in the village of Kvasnikovka, which was twelve  kilometres
from Pokrovsk.
     We battled all through  the summer, stamping out large  settlements  of
toadstools and cutting down every nettle in  sight  with  bloodthirsty glee.
Naturally, quite a few innocent mushrooms and harmless dandelions lost their
lives in  the fray.  It  was rainy summer,  and weeds and  grass sprouted in
great  profusion. Then  one  day  w  captured  the  worst  villain  of  all,
Death-Cap-Poison-Emir. It was an amazing  mushroom with a stem as large as a
tenpin and  a dark-red cap dotted with white bumps that looked  like  a huge
chunk of sausage. There could be  no  doubt about it: this was the chieftain
of all toadstools.
     We carried Death-Cap-Emir home with  great  pomp, walking along  in the
shade of its umbrella-cap. Suddenly, two men  appeared on the road. They had
con from the ravine and were walking towards us.
     "That's some umbrella! Whaddya know!"  one  of them said. He had big ea
that wiggled when  he spoke. The man was wearing a ragged khaki field jacket
and puttees.  There was a  visible stubble  on  his chin. In fact, there was
something definitely nettle-like about him  that made me  feel itchy when he
looked at us.
     "He made me all itchy inside," Oska said to me afterwards.
     Just then the other man came up. His grin  revealed two rows  of rotten
teeth.  T second man was pale and puny.  He  had on a  linen  shirt  with  a
standing collar and  a large mushroom-like hat. He reminded me  of  a rotten
     "Won't   you   treat  us  to   that  dainty  titbit,  young  men?"  the
toadstool-man said.
     "Don't be stingy,  brother," the  nettle-man said. "We're damn  hungry.
And  everything's  common property now, even  mushrooms, by  the way.  Am  I
right, brothers?"
     "How'd you know we're brothers?" Oska asked.
     "I know everything."
     "Everybody's brothers now," the toadstool-man added. Then he went on in
very solemn voice: "Young men, judging by the look of your swords, I can see
1 you are a pair of fine, upstanding knights. Help your suffering fellow-men
in t of trial, brothers,  or  I'll be forced by the pangs  of hunger  to eat
this  mushroom the  poison-mushroom variety, and I will  die at your feet in
terrible convulsions
     "That's  for sure. We're more  dead than alive  anyway," the nettle-man
     We were horror-stricken when he bit  off a small piece of the death-cap
began to writhe. The toadstool-man would have pulled his hair in despair had
he had any,  but he was bald. We stood there in stunned  silence and then hi
something knocking inside the dead man.
     "His heart's still ticking," Oska said uncertainly.
     "That's my spirit entering and leaving my body in turns, Brother,"  the
dead  said  sorrowfully. "Here  I am, dying of hunger,  poor soul,  and  all
because of  the  revolution. What did I shed my  blood  for? Call  your dear
mamma, boys. Maybe she can save this  orphan. Tell her a man is dying and is
willing to trade a watch or a clock for some bacon."
     The  nettle-man  then began  pulling  pocket  watches,  locket-watches,
stopwatches,  alarm clocks  and  chronometers  from his pockets.  We  stared
spellbound  in  awe  at this  great  treasure.  The environs  of Kvasnikovka
resounded with a mighty ticking.

     Half  an  hour later  the summer people  and  the  local  village women
crowded  around  the two  men. The  nettle-man was pulling wall  clocks  and
cuckoo  clocks  from his bag and winding them up,  while the  toadstool-man,
like  some circus magician,  was pulling a length of  silk material from his
stomach  and  growing  thinner by  the  second. He  then  came up  with  the
following from his knapsack:
     two desk sets, a pair of bedroom slippers, a small fish bowl (no fish),
an icon, a pair of curling irons, several gramophone  records, a dog collar,
a starched dickey, an enamel bedpan and a  mouse-trap. His floppy hat turned
out to be a lampshade.
     "Do you have a sewing machine?" one of the village woman asked.
     "I did have one, but I traded it in Tambov."
     As  the trading was proceeding at a lively pace, the nettle-man  made a
speech, just as if he were at a meeting.
     "Now, my dear ladies, women and everybody else, you  can see what we've
come to,  and  all  on  account of those Bolsheviks. And, mind, we shed  our
working-class blood for them, down to the very last drop, my dear ladies and
women. We're both from Petrograd."
     "Look! The Commissar's coming!" a boy shouted.
     The nimble men quickly stuffed their wares back into their sacks.
     "Let's see  your papers," Commissar Chubarkov said when he had  got out
of the gig. "And stop agitating!"
     "How can you say such a thing?  You're  supposed  to be one of us," the
nettle-man replied calmly.
     "I'm not one of you, and  don't you  ever  forget it,"  Chubarkov  said
angrily and  put  his  hand in his  pocket. "Let's see your papers, you damn
     The toadstool-man's hands shook as he pulled out a scrap of paper. This
was what was  written on it: "The bearer is an  assistant bookkeeper ... and
research worker."
     The nettle-man had no identification papers  at all. He  himself seemed
dismayed about it.
     "Pack  up your junk and get  going, both of you, before I  pull you in.
There's too many of you toadstools popping up all over!" Chubarkov said.
     "You're mistaken! We're just travellers  on our  way. In fact, we don't
even  have many  personal property.  You can search us  if you want to," the
toadstool-man said.
     "I've no time to waste on you. You're lucky I'm in a hurry, I'll bet it
o'clock by now."
     "Cu-ckoo,  cu-ckoo,  cu-ckoo!" went the cuckoo clock in the nettle-mans

     Pokrovsk had changed during our absence.  The market was gone, and some
former rich men were sweeping the  market square. The owner of the bone-meal
factory  was one  of them. We  crossed off  the  second item on our  list of
injustices. A  speakers' platform had been  erected in the  place where  the
Earth curved, and  a machine-gun  now protruded from the window of  the  big
house on  Breshka Street  where  an overweight  fox-terrier  used to bark at
passers-by. A red flag hung out over the window.
     We saw the nettle-man again in Pokrovsk. He was leading a gang of k mob
of deserters had gathered outside  a  wine shop early that morning, de  that
they  be  given  wine. The big  plate-glass  windows  silently reflected the
crowd. Then the nettle-man picked up a metal rod and whacked the window. The
shattered glass said "zing".
     An hour later Breshka Street was reeling drunk. Women carried off pails
of  Port wine on yokes. There were  puddles  of wine  on the  road, and wine
flowed gutters. Men lay down on the ground  and drank straight from them. Sc
had their arms around the deserters. Oranges that had been allocate orphans'
home  were rolling down  Breshka  Street. Pigs slobbered over the oranges. A
huge fat  sow  was splashing in a  puddle  of Madeira.  A  spotted  hog  was
miserable on the corner, throwing up champagne.
     Commissar Chubarkov came galloping up in his gig. He jumped down before
it had drawn to a stop.
     "In  the  name  of revolutionary  order,  I  have to  ask  you  all  to
please..." the commissar was saying.
     "Where were you before?" the schoolboys demanded.
     Chubarkov coaxed them, pleaded with them, demanded and warned them.
     "Everything  belongs  to everybody!" the drunken mob shouted, aping the
nettle-man's words. "We shed our blood, down to the very last drop...."
     That was when the machine-gun  in the  window of the big house began to
chatter,  sending  a  first round over  the drunken heads. The  cowardly mob
vanished into thin air.
     Oska  and  I  recalled  playing  Schwambrania  on  the  windowsill  and
making-believe we were shooting down Breshka Street, but at that time it was
     Half an  hour  later some  Red Army men dragged a drowned man from  the
cellar of the shop. He had probably fallen down and drowned in wine.
     Chubarkov went over to the body, had a look and shook  his head when he
recognized it. "Cuckoo," the Commissar said.

     Stepan  Atlantis sent me  the  following  note while we  were  away  in
Kvasnikovka  for the  summer:  "Be at  school on  the  1st. The CWS will  be
opened. That sure will be something! S. Gavrya."
     It took  me some time to figure out what "the CWS" stood for. Suddenly,
it  dawned  on me.  It  meant "The Code Words of Schwambrania".  Someone had
discovered the secret of  the seashell grotto, had  let out  our Black Queen
and found the note. Stepan knew all about Schwambrania now, and he was going
to tell everyone else about  it, too. Oska and I were stunned. Harsh reality
had come crashing into our cosy little world.
     However, when we returned home after the summer we saw that the seal on
the gate to the grotto had not been  touched. The Black Queen, the keeper of
the  secret,  was still serving  her sentence inside, deep within the cobweb
gloom.  But how had Stepan learned about Schwambrania? I decided to have  it
out with him.  He was a great one for imagining and make-believe himself and
had even earned his nickname because of his dream of discovering Atlantis. I
decided  that Schwambrania  and Atlantis might become friendly nations after
     Stepan was  very happy to see me. He  had grown taller  over the summer
and somehow seemed older.
     "Still alive and kicking?" he said.
     "As you see. How'd you find out about the CWS?" I asked hesitantly.
     "What's so strange about that? All the fellows know about it."
     "Thanks for blabbering it to everybody.  I thought  you were my friend.
That's  the  most important thing in my life."  I wanted to explain why this
was so and told Stepan all about the  volcanic  land,  saying I  thought the
Schwambranians and the people of Atlantis should be allies.
     Stepan listened  intently.  Then he sighed and put out  the sparks that
had  appeared in his  eyes.  "I don't think about Atlantis any more. I've no
use  for that  kind of make-believe  now. I've no time for  it.  There's the
revolution. All  those  secrets  were all right  for tsarist  times. But now
there's  too  much  to  be  done.  Still,  I  like what  you made  up  about
Schwambrania. But the CWS has nothing to do with it. That's  what we'll have
instead of the Boys School now. A Common Work School."


     A red flag waved over the school building on the 1st of August. We were
all gathered in the yard  outside. It was a bright, sunny day. Kamyshov, our
new principal, came out on the porch to greet us.
     "Hello, doves! Congratulations on  your new status. You are  now pupils
of the Soviet Common Work School. Congratulations."
     We thanked him and congratulated him, too.
     "Now,  since  I've been  appointed  Commissar  of  Health,  I  want  to
introduce your  new, temporary principal, Comrade  Chubarkov.  He's also the
Military Commissar. I hope you'll get on."
     Chubarkov was not greeted with applause. He said, "Comrades! You're all
educated boys. Now you take me, for instance. I was an uneducated stevedore.
You've  all  got book-learning, but I  went to the school  of hard knocks. I
want to say a few words about your new school, and what the name stands for.
First of all, it's  school that all children can go to. That's for sure. And
why is it called a work school? Because it's for the children of all working
people, and you'll learn to  work well  here, both  mentally and physically.
That's  for  sure. And it's  a common school,  because  there  won't be  any
special schools  for the  rich and  the nobility  any more. All children are
equal now,  and they'll all get an equal chance to study. And so's this will
all  be  for  the good  of  the  revolution, I  ask  you,  in  the  name  of
revolutionary order, to attend school  regularly and to take  care of things
here, and then everything will be just dandy."
     "Where were you before?" Hefty and a couple  of the older boys shouted.
"Down with the Commissar! We want Kamyshov!"
     "In the name of revolutionary order, I'll have to ask you to accept the
Council's decision. Kamyshov has just been  transferred  to another job. And
that's  that. Before, only rich  people had the money to take care of  their
health. Now everybody's going to be healthy. It's a very important job,  and
all the more so since there's a lot of  typhus going  around now. And that's
     Comrade Chubarkov, Bertelyov, one of our  teachers, Forsunov, a  member
of the City Council,  Stepan Atlantis  and two senior boys were appointed to
the School  Council. Some  of the seniors hissed.  Then Chubarkov  said that
since women were now the complete equals of men, we would have girls in  our
classes. And that was that!

     The Boys and Girls schools were to merge. But then the classrooms would
be too  small. That was why the grades were divided into "A" and "B". We set
up a special committee to choose the girls we wanted to have in our class. I
was  the chairman and  Stepan was my  assistant. We  spent a  good half-hour
grooming ourselves in front  of  the cloakroom  mirror.  Every pleat was  in
place.  Hefty,  the  class  strong-man, had pulled  our  belts  as tight  as
possible, making our chests protrude mightily, though we were barely able to
breathe as a result. However, we bore the discomfort stoically. Stepan asked
someone to  spit on  his cowlick. There were a great many volunteers, but he
only let me do it.
     "Not too thick! And don't hawk."
     I did my best. Stepan smoothed down the cowlick.
     "You sure look like you could take anyone on!" Hefty said  as he looked
us over with  fatherly concern.  "Real chic! They'll all  fall in love  with
you. Be sure you pick the prettiest ones."
     We set  off for the  Girls School, escorted by an honour guard  of five
boys. School  was in  session there.  The  corridor was a haven of peace and
quiet.  Muted  rivers   and  lakes,  petals  and  stems,   conjugations  and
declensions seeped out from under the  classroom doors. Old desks were piled
up in a  far  corner  next to  a  brand-new piano, which  had probably  been
requisitioned from some wealthy home.
     "Let's take the music back, too," Stepan said.
     We had already found out that the fourth grade had been left to its own
resources, since the Russian teacher was ill. In order to occupy  the  girls
their school marm had told them to read aloud in turn. She was seated at the
lectern, embroidering a handkerchief. A plump girl was declaiming:

     "Who rides there, who gallops, engulfed by the gloom?"

     "We do," came a voice from the corridor.
     The classroom doors  burst open  and  a  weird  procession  rolled  in,
accompanied  by  a victorious rumbling. This  was  better  than the  wildest
Schwambranian dreams.
     Leading the way  like tanks were  two desks moving in single file. Each
had a flag stuck in the inkwell hole. Stepan and I had arrived on the desks.
The piano followed grandly in our wake with five boys pushing it.
     The  wheels screeched like stuck pigs. A list of the  boys of our class
was balanced on the music stand, our caps were hung on the candlesticks, and
the soft pedal had on a straw slipper someone had found in the yard.
     "Here we are!" Stepan said. "You're not having a lesson now anyway, are
     A stunned silence greeted us.
     "What is this!" the school marm shrieked. The sound was so loud it made
a sensitive string inside the piano vibrate for some time.
     "It's a peaceful deputation," I said and then played a popular waltz as
I stood at the keyboard.
     The  school marm stormed out of  the room. The girls finally awoke from
their stupor.
     "Most equal  girls!" I said, launching into my speech. "Most very equal
girls!" I repeated and proceeded still  more heatedly:  "I want  to tell you
about what I want to tell you."
     By now  all  the  girls were smiling. This  encouraged  me.  I  went on
briskly to say that now we would all be going to  the same school, girls and
boys  together, like brothers and sisters, like bread and butter, like bacon
and eggs, like Napoleon and Bonaparte, like Rimsky and Korsakov.
     "How'11 we sit, boys separately, or a boy and  a girl at each desk?"  a
tall, serious-looking girl asked. "I don't want to sit next to a boy."
     "The boys'll pull our braids," a fat girl said in  a deep voice.  "They
might even try to kiss us."
     Our deputation exhibited  great indignation.  I  played  "Storm on  the
Volga", banging away at the keys, and Stepan spat in disgust and said,
     "Kiss? Ugh! I'd rather eat a toad!"
     "Can  we play  staring games?"  the smallest girls  asked all together.
They had huge bows on the tops of their heads.
     "Hm." I pondered over this for a minute. "What do you say, Stepan?"
     "I'd say they can," he replied condescendingly.
     After several  other equally important details  had  been discussed and
the official, polite part was over, we  began, most impolitely, to pick  the
girls who we wanted as classmates.
     The girls, meanwhile, were busy prettying up.
     The first girl  whose name I  put down on my list was Taya Opilova, She
had a long golden braid.
     "I look terrible today. I hab a code (have a cold)," she said.
     As we  compiled our  list, we gave  each girl a  nickname, entering  it
beside  her real name. Thus, we wrote "Bamboo" next to a  tall  girl's name,
"Squirts",  beside two small  girls' names, and "Madame Hippo" beside  a fat
girl's  name.  There were also Sonya-Personya,  Fifi, Beanpole,  Lilly-Pill,
Monkey-face and Grind.
     The girls we hadn't picked said we were idiots.
     Once outside,  Stepan said, "We'll  have  to cut out the  swearing  now
until they get used to it."
     A  few moments  later we came upon  a deputation  from our  brother "B"
class.  There was a heated exchange on  the subject  of our having got there
first, after which our appearance and mood were lightly marred.

     The pigeons  were  dying out  in granary  row. The  wind rustled in the
empty granaries, whispering the  terrible word "ruin". "No need  for a spoon
in time of ruin," the janitor said sadly  as he observed the way things were
going in school.
     And the way  they  were was enough  to make  horses  shy. All  day long
someone or  other  was playing  "Chopsticks" on the piano with  one  finger.
Dum-de-dum-de.... The piano was rolled down the corridor, from one classroom
to another,  depending on which  teacher  had not come to school. The  given
room  would then  turn  into  a  dance  floor.  Pupils would  leave  without
permission. Someone sang a ditty: "Karapet, my dear  friend, why do you look
so bad? I look bad, my dear friend, 'cause I always feel sad."
     As soon  as the  bell for classes rang,  the teachers tried to coax the
pupils back to their rooms.
     "You  used to be  such a good student," Alexander  Karlovich,  our kind
math teacher, said in despair as he caught me by the sleeve. "Come along and
I'll tell you about a most interesting thing concerning  the trigonometrical
functions  of an angle. You'll  be surprised at how interesting  it is. It's
like reading a good book."
     I was too polite to refuse. We entered the empty classroom. Someone was
playing "Chopsticks" in the adjoining room. Alexander Karlovich sat down  at
the lectern. I took a seat in the first row. Everything was fine, if not for
the fact that there were no other pupils present. I was the whole class.
     "Go to the board, please," the teacher said.
     As I  went over to the blackboard I  saw the schedule  for the next day
tacked  upon the wall. Oho! The  next day was going to be a  hard one. There
would  be five  lessons.  The first was  music appreciation, the second  was
drawing, the third was  a mid-morning  snack,  the fourth was  shop  and the
fifth was gym.
     "Well, let us begin," the teacher said, addressing the empty classroom.
     Someone was still playing "Chopsticks".

     We  had all  grown  and now protruded from our school  great-coats like
trees above a picket fence. The buttons  on our  chests had retreated to the
very edge of the seams under pressure of our expanding masculinity. The belt
in back  had crept all the way up from our waist to our shoulder blades, but
we staunchly continued  wearing  our old uniforms. There was  a  bluish spot
that resembled a  butterfly on our faded  caps,  left by the cockades we had
     One day Comrade Chubarkov brought seven new boys to my class. They were
variously clad, but none was  wearing a school uniform, though they all  had
on the same broad belts with the letters "JHS" on the buckle. They clustered
behind Chubarkov's broad back.
     "Quiet,  everybody!"  Chubarkov  said.   "Now,  hello!  Onto  the  next
question. Since  the  school is  now a common school,  it means everybody is
going to study together. I want  to introduce these  boys. They're  from the
junior high. I want you all to be friends."
     "Down with the  Juniors!" the  boys in the back rows shouted. "We don't
want them here! They don't know half of what we do!"
     Chubarkov, who had reached the door, turned back. "Anybody  who doesn't
want  to study  with the rest can  study at home  with a tutor.  And  that's
that!" He stalked out.
     The Juniors clustered by the lectern uncertainly.
     "Hello,  privileged  classes,"  said Kostya  Rudenko, an  olive-skinned
Junior whose nickname  was Beetle.  We knew  him  from  our  street  fights.
"Hello, boys and girls," Kostya Beetle said politely.
     "Wa yo fa puh?" Hefty said.
     ("Want your face pushed in?" some of our boys interpreted.)
     "We dyo be me?" Kostya Beetle replied calmly.
     ("When did you ever beat me?" the Junior explained.)
     Our boys were taking off their watches to  make  sure they would not be
broken during the fight. The girls were entrusted with their safekeeping.
     "You're  just a bunch of  uniformless Juniors," Hefty  muttered  as  he
advanced on Kostya. "Look at you, shoving your way into our high school from
your lousy junior high.  You don't even have silver buttons,  you don't even
have school uniforms. But you're all shoving your way up, aren't you?"
     "We know more than  you do. What  do you know about logarithms?" Kostya
     Hefty had never heard of them. "I don't give a damn for that! I'll push
your face in, and that'll teach you."
     Still and  all,  he was put out.  I could  see  some  of  my classmates
leafing through their geometry books. Since I knew the  answer, I raised  my
hand to save the honour of my class.
     Stepan Atlantis slapped down my palm. "They'll manage  without you," he
said softly. "It serves him right. Good for Kostya. He made Hefty eat humble
pie. Come on, sit down, boys. There are a lot of empty vacancies."
     The Juniors  began taking  seats  timidly amidst  the chilling silence.
Kostya  found  a  seat  beside  the  Squirts,  two  little  girls  who  were
     "Don't sit next to us," they said, tossed their bows and  moved away in
a huff.

     Having girls in  the  classroom brought  about many  changes, the  most
important of which was a new staring game. The game caught on like wildfire,
with  everyone  playing it. The players would  sit  opposite each other  and
stare into each other's eyes. If one of the players' eyes began to tear from
the strain and he blinked, he would  be eliminated. We had popeyed champions
among the girls and the boys. We even held a staring match. Now the hours in
school slipped happily away.
     A contest organized to determine the champion "crazy-gazer"  lasted for
the  whole of two lessons and part of the long recess.  Liza-Scandalizer was
competing  against Volodya Labanda.  They  did not take  their unseeing eyes
from each other for two and a half hours. During the physics lesson that day
the  teacher was amazed at the  unusual quiet in the classroom. Not  knowing
what to make of it he explained the principles of a water level to the class
and then tiptoed out.
     Towards  the end of  the  long  recess Volodya  put his hand  over  his
smarting eyes. He threw in the  towel. Liza, however, kept on staring at him
motionlessly  from under her  brows. The girls were jubilant. They  squealed
and shrieked, and carried on. We stuck our fingers in our ears.
     However, Liza-Scandalizer  kept on staring at  the same spot. Her  head
was  tilted strangely. The Squirts bent down to look at her and bounced away
in terror. Then we all saw that Liza's  eyes had rolled way up, so that only
the whites were visible. She was in a dead faint.

     The boys tried hard  to  be polite when the  girls  were  present.  The
really outrageous inscriptions were scraped off the desk tops and the walls.
When the boys wanted to  wipe their noses with their  hands they went behind
the blackboard. Polite  notes  and messages in  tiny  envelopes  were passed
during classes. Thus:
     "Good morning, Valya. May I see you to your corner on a matter of great
secrecy? If  you show this to Serge, I'll brain him, and it'll be piggish of
you besides. Kolya. P.S. Excuse the messy writing."
     Each  day  there was "dancing till  dawn".  We made sure  during  these
evening parties  that none of the boys  from  the "B"  class danced with our
girls. Anyone found guilty of  this crime was dragged off to one of the dark
and empty classrooms. After a brief  and prejudiced questioning, the culprit
was  beaten. Naturally,  his  friends  panted for revenge. Soon  these daily
massacres in the deserted classrooms  took on such  a scope that the seniors
had to post armed monitors  at the doors. Their  rifles were a leftover from
the home guards. Sometimes, the monitors would  fire into the darkness, just
in case. The dancing couples soon got used to the sound of shooting.
     Hefty, who had taken part in the looting of the wine shop, had set up a
small wine cellar in the classroom  stove.  Madame  Hippo  was never one  to
refuse a drink. She was a  plump, overgrown  young lady who intimidated both
the boys and the girls. She  whipped a boy who had insulted her with his own
belt, right  there on the lectern in front of everybody. As for me, she once
knocked me down on  to the tile floor so hard it  took at least five minutes
for me to feel I was still alive, although not quite at that.
     Stepan Atlantis looked  glum. Whenever he met any  of  the other  boys'
parents they would say: "Well?  Are you satisfied now?  Are  you  having the
time of your life at school? It's a disgrace, that's what it is. How can you
even call it a school?"
     Stepan tried  to  call the wild farm boys to order. He was supported by
the Juniors and some of his friends, but no one listened to us.
     "When are we going to start studying again?" we said unhappily.
     "There's no time for studying now. This isn't the old regime. We've had
enough!" Hefty replied.
     "You're stupid.  Now at last  we can  really  learn  something," Kostya
Beetle protested.
     "It's  fellows like you Junior Bolsheviks that need some book-learning.
We old boys'll manage as it is. We know all we need to know."
     That day Count Chatelains Urodenal and  Jack,  the  Sailor's  Companion
also got into a learned argument. War was declared.

     We were  given lump sugar and hot  tea  during the  long recess. We had
never known such luxuries in the old school.
     Now  each of us received  a  large mug  of  carrot-tea and two lumps of
sugar. There was  no sugar in the stores in Pokrovsk  at the time, so that I
would have my tea in  school without sugar and  take the two precious  lumps
home. My faithful Oska would be waiting for me. He always greeted me  in the
same way:
     "I've got news for you!" he'd say and go  on  to inform me of the day's
events in Schwambrania.
     I would give him the sugar, and we would admire  the snow-white, porous
cubes. We put them away in a  little box that contained the sugar  stores of
Schwambrania. It was not to be touched. It was intended for some future gala
events. On Sundays  we each had a  lump at the dinner given by the President
of Schwambrania. Our sugar stores  kept growing. We  made  great plans as we
discussed the thickness of the future layers of sugar. The sweet geometry of
those daydreams brought about a wonderful flow of saliva.
     Once, however, our sugar was the cause of bloodshed.
     I was chosen to be in charge of handing out the sugar in my class. This
was not  only  a sweet  job,  but an honorary  one.  No one ever  doubted my
     "Huh, you're the commissar  of food," the boys  said. "Don't  you think
you're a big cheese."
     Hefty, who was a brash and enterprising fellow, once suggested a tricky
deal. It had to do with the left-over sugar intended for pupils who happened
to be absent. Hefty suggested that I hold back the extra portions instead of
returning them to the school office and then share them with him. Naturally,
this  tempting  deal   held  promise  of  a  great  windfall  of  sugar  for
Schwambrania.  If  this had  happened in our old school, I  would never have
hesitated and  would  have  considered  it  my  sacred duty to  outsmart the
authorities. Now, however,  boys  we had elected were on the  Council.  They
trusted  me. They had chosen  me  for the  job of distributing the  sugar. I
couldn't betray them.
     And  so I refused, and my staunchness and honesty  took my breath away.
Hefty  got  even with me that very day. As I was handing out  the  sugar,  I
dropped several lumps. I bent under the desk to retrieve them. At  that very
moment  Hefty  grabbed my  collar  and shoved my  head  down. I  cracked  my
forehead against the  edge of the bench and  was soon sporting a huge  bump.
Besides, the cut was bleeding. Two of  the  lumps of sugar turned pink.  The
girls stared  at my forehead with pity and told me  to put a wet compress on
it, but I went on handing out the sugar, trying not to get any blood on  the
other lumps. I took the two pink ones for myself.  Taya Opilova gave  me her
handkerchief. Then, feeling bloody and exhilarated, I  went down the hall to
the room next to the  Teachers' Room. There  was a bit of red bunting tacked
to the door. The room was full of smoke, noise and rifles.
     "Comrades!" I  said,  addressing the  smoke and  the  noise.  "See? I'm
bleeding because of our sugar rations, and anyway, fellows, I've  long since
accepted your platform. Please put me down as a sympathizer."
     The noise lessened and the smoke  increased. Someone said:  "Your  papa
will put you in the corner for sympathizing, and he'll  make you take castor
oil to  be sure you  stop sympathizing. He's  a  doctor and he knows what to
     The smoke hid my disappointment.
     Nevertheless, I showed  off the  bump on my  forehead proudly  all week
long, just as if it were a decoration.

     And the children in schools
     wept for him.
     "One Thousand and One
     The 35th night

     That morning I left for school earlier than I usually did, for I had to
stop by at the Education  Department  and  pick  up the  sugar for my class.
There  was a  large  silent  crowd  on  Breshka  Street  where  the  morning
newspapers were posted on a wall outside a shop. I could not see the  middle
of the  sheet over the  heads of  the others.  All I could make out were the
margins and the pale,  greenish newsprint  with the  name  of the newspaper:
     I read the  headline: "Battles Rage on All Fronts." At  closer range  I
read part of a  usual  dispatch: "...Our troops are still  advancing  in the
Urals and have taken several towns.  Our  forces  have retreated to Yelabuga
Pier on the Kama. American troops have landed in Archangelsk. The workers of
Archangelsk refuse to  support the rule of the Conciliators.  The insurgents
continue their struggle in the Ukraine."
     On the bottom of the page,  below someone's elbow, I made out the small
type of yesterday's paper:
     "The food  section  of  the Moscow  Council of Workers'  and  Soldiers'
Deputies brings the following to the attention of all inhabitants of Moscow.
Tomorrow,  August 30, no  bread  ration cards  of  the  general type will be
honoured. One-quarter of a pound of bread  will be  issued to holders of the
stub of the additional bread  ration card and of children's cards for ages 2
to 12, coupon No. 13...."
     The crowd was strangely silent. I could not understand what was  wrong.
Then  the Czech, Kardac,  the Austrian prisoner-of-war, and  two Red  Guards
made their way through the crowd to the newspaper. Kardac was very pale. One
of his puttees had got loose and was trailing along the ground.
     "Read it out loud," he said.
     Someone read the following:

     August 30, 1918. 10:40 p.m.

     Several hours  ago there was a  heinous attempt to  assassinate Comrade
Lenin.... We  call for  calm  and  organization.  All should remain at their
posts. Close your ranks!
     (Signed) Y. Sverdlov,
     Chairman, All-Russia Central Executive Committee.

     Kardac was stunned. He  stared unbelievingly into the  mouth of the man
who was reading. Then he struck his fist against his cheek and moaned.
     "One bullet entering under the left  shoulder blade..." the voice  went
on reading and stumbled.
     "So,"  Hefty said calmly and  tore off a corner  of  the paper  to roll
himself a cigarette. Kardac rushed at  him, grabbed him by the shoulders and
began shaking him. "I'll roll you  up so tight you'll  shrivel!" he shouted.
The Red Guards  shouldered their way over.  Hefty broke free. He walked away
without once looking back.
     I dashed off to school.
     Lenin  was  wounded!  Lenin!  The  most important  man. The man who had
undertaken  to  destroy  all  the  lists of  world-wide injustice  had  been
     The school building buzzed like a beehive.
     The  Juniors and  some  of  our  boys  were lying on the floor  in  our
classroom. They had borrowed an anatomical chart from the Teachers' Room and
spread it out. Stabbing  at it  with our pencils, we tried to decide whether
the wounds were dangerous or not. Kostya Beetle was sitting on his desk with
his chin propped  on  o hand and his penknife in the other.  "What if he ...
dies?" Kostya said in a d voice. Then he carved the name  "LENIN" on the top
of his desk.  Mokeich, c janitor and the keeper of all school property, came
in just then. He looked Kostya severely and  opened his mouth  to  scold him
for  spoiling  the desk, which now  belonged to the people, but then sighed,
stood there silently for a while a finally left.
     Heavy steps sounded on the stairs. The Seniors stopped outside the door
with 1 red bunting to stack their rifles. Forsunov and  Stepan Atlantis, two
members oft Council, entered  our  classroom  during the long recess. Stepan
was just back from Saratov with the latest news.
     "Comrade  Lenin's  condition..."  Forsunov  read  the  dispatch  aloud,
"condition ... according to the evening bulletins has improved considerably.
I temperature is 37.6, pulse-88, respiration-34."
     "Listen," Atlantis said  to me, "we want to ask you for a  favour. Your
old ma a doctor. Call him up  and ask him  what he thinks about Comrade Lent
     Several minutes later I was pressing the  receiver  to  my ear.  It was
still  warm  from  someone  having  used  the  telephone  before me.  I  was
surrounded by respectful crowd.
     "Is this the hospital? May I speak to the doctor, please.... Papa? This
is me. The boys here and the Council asked me  to  ask you ... about Comrade
Lenin. His respiration's thirty-four. Is that dangerous?"
     Papa  replied  in  his usual doctor's  voice, "It's too  early  to  say
anything definitive yet, but it's  very serious. However, there is still  no
reason to fear a fatal o come."
     "Thank him for us," Stepan whispered.
     That  day  we  learned a  new  song  in  our singing  class.  It had  a
fine-sounding 1 difficult name: "The Internationale".
     Back home Oska greeted me as always, "I've got news for you!"
     "I  know,"  I said,  interrupting. "Everybody  knows. Papa  said he may
     That was the first evening we did not play Schwambrania.

     I learned my ABCs
     from signboards.
     by snatches.
     Wading through pages
     of tin and iron.

     Oska was enrolled in school. Oska was now a full-fledged schoolboy.
     Kocherygin, a house  painter and artist  who  was  temporarily  put  in
charge  of  the primary  grades,  wrote the following on Oska's application:
"He's lacking  in age, but he's accepted, on account of being bright. He can
read fine print."
     When Mamma came home she sounded truly surprised as she called Oska and
said, "They've accepted  you! What a shame that the boys don't wear uniforms
any more." Mamma was very proud of him.
     "Just think how much sugar we'll have now!" Oska said  dreamily.  "I'll
be getting sugar, too."
     I lectured  to him in brief  on "The New Boy, His Rights and Duties, or
How not to Get Beaten".
     Oska wore  my  old school cap on his first day. The cap revolved freely
on his head.
     "Why'd you put that on?" the temporary principal asked, peering down to
get a look at him under the visor.
     "That's my uniform."
     "I still think you're much too little to be starting in school."
     "I guess  you think you're  big, don't you?" Oska said, having confused
the main points of my lecture as to what to say to whom.
     However, he shut up just in time.
     "That's no way to  talk. After all, you're a doctor's son. Is that  the
way they bring up their children?"
     "I'm sorry. I got mixed up. I  wanted to say good  things come in small
     "Can you  really read  small print?"  Kocherygin  inquired.  There  was
undisguised respect in his voice.
     "Yes. And  I can read  big print  from across the street,  and all  the
street signs, and I know a lot of them by heart."
     "The street signs,  you  say?" The former  sign-painter warmed  to  him
     "You really mean it? By heart? All right, tell  me what's on  the signs
on the corner of Khorolsky and Breshka streets."
     Oska  was  silent for a  moment.  Then  he rattled  off the  following:
"Ararat  fruit  shop fruits wines  P.  Batrayev stovemaker chimneys swept no
     "I did the signs," the temporary principal said modestly.
     "You have a very good handwriting." Oska was a very polite boy.
     "What's the new sign on the Stock Exchange?"
     "The 'Stock Exchange' part is crossed out and it doesn't count. It says
'Freedom House' now."
     "Right. Run along, sonny. You've been enrolled."
     "A new boy, a new  boy!"  the children  chanted  when Oska entered  the
     "Better  than  an  old  boy!"  Oska  replied  hurriedly,  recalling  my
     The children were astounded.
     He was spared a beating.

     Richard  Sinyagin,  a wrestler known  as the Steel  Mask  and  a former
stevedore was our gym teacher. At the time an  International wrestling match
was being  held in the  Saratov Circus. Richard  Sinyagin went to Saratov to
participate in the match.  The  referee, one Benedetto, presented him to the
audience as  "The Mystery  wrestler. The Steel Mask". Soon  after  playbills
informed the public that there would be "a decisive bout to the end, with no
time limit,  no break between rounds". The contestants were the  Steel  Mask
and  the  Mask  of  Death.  Naturally,  all  this was pure hocus-pocus.  The
wrestlers puffed and grunted conscientiously  K the  forty minutes  they had
previously agreed upon, after which the Steel Mask threw himself expertly to
the  mut. When  the audience's palms had begun to stir from clapping and the
noise finally died down, the referee wrung his hands gingerly and announced:
"Alas!  The Mask  of Death has  won in forty-five  minutes  in  fair combat.
Richard Sinyagin, Champion of the World and of Pokrovsk, is the Steel Mask."
     In school the next day Sinyagin tried his  best  to convince us that he
had  be< thrown unfairly. The boys did not hide their disapproval.  Then, in
order to pro his strength, Sinyagin let about eight boys  climb all over him
like monkeys  on  tree. Then he lifted a desk, with Madame Hippo and  two of
her  friends seated  on  the attached  bench.  He  raised the desk  and  its
inhabitants and set it on another desk. "There," he said.
     At this, the lesson ended.

     We  boys always respected  strong men.  Now  we  worshipped  them.  The
staring  game  was completely  forgotten,  and  wrestling  became  king.  It
squashed us in "decisive, no time limit" bouts, contorted us and threw us in
standing  backheels and  armlocks, battering us from  wall  to  wall  in the
classrooms and  down  the long corridors,  bruising our  backs  on the  tile
floors, with Hefty Martynenko the one exception, for his back never  touched
the floor. Hefty was the champion of champions, the unchallenged champion of
the school and the vicinity.
     Naturally, all this had a definite influence on the affairs of state in
Schwambrania. We  had  always imagined the world to  be divided  in  two. At
first, there were "desirable and undesirable acquaintances". Then there were
seafarers   and  landlubbers,  the  good  and  the  bad.  After  my  fateful
conversation with  Stepan Atlantis, I came to  realize that "good" and "bad"
were  no  longer  sufficient for  judging  things. We  now discovered a  new
division among  people, and  this was to be yet  another of our errors.  The
world and the Schwambranians were now divided into strong men and weaklings.
From  that day  on the  lives of the  Schwambranians  were spent  in endless
championship matches and contests. One Pafnuti Synecdoche became Champion of
Schwambrania, his might eclipsing even that of Jack, the Sailor's Companion,
the man who threw Chatelains Urodenal.
     Oska became  obsessed with  wrestling. He was the smallest child in his
class. Any  boy could throw  him, even with one arm tied behind his back, as
the saying goes. However, once he got home he made up for his  wounded pride
by wrestling  the chairs and pillows. He had  table-tournaments between  his
two hands,  with  each one squeezing and wringing the other until  the right
hand finally  threw the left,  knocking  it silly.  Oska's most constant and
serious opponent was the sofa  bolster. Quite often Oska  would be  found on
the floor of  the nursery with his arms  flung out and the bolster on top of
him, supposedly having thrown him.
     "That's against the rules!" Oska would shout. "He  tripped me  and then
got me in a nelson!"
     The bolster won the return  match as well,  but  was punished by  being
taken out in the yard and beaten with a rug beater.
     Then Oska arranged a bout between Kolya  Anfisov of the  primary school
and Grisha Fyodorov, the second strongest boy in my class. The bout was held
in  our yard on a Sunday, with  all the  preparations  having  been made the
previous day. The mat was drawn on the ground with a piece of chalk, and the
inside  of the  circle  was swept and sprinkled  with  sand.  When the  fans
crowded round the next day, Oska took out a toy whistle and I said:
     "We will now see, I mean witness, a wrestling match between two  strong
     Presenting Anfisov (Primary  School) and  Fyodorov (Secondary  School).
This  is going  to be a bout without  breaks, an honest fight, with  no time
limit or monkey-business, to the bitter end. Let's have  a fanfare. Maestro!
Whistle again,  Oska!  We  all know  a foul when we see  one.  Jury,  I mean
judges, take your seats by the barrel."
     Oska, Hefty and  Filipich, the janitor, went over  to the bench  by the
barrel. I called the first round.
     The champions shook hands and danced away from  each other. Anfisov was
tall and bony. Fyodorov was small and stocky, and resembled a Shetland pony.
They stalked  each other for several  seconds, then suddenly Anfisov grabbed
Fyodorov, pinning his arms to his body.
     The audience froze. Even the wind in the yard died down.
     "Leggo o'his arms!" Filipich yelled.
     "Let go!" the older boys shouted.
     "That's fair!" the younger boys cried.
     I  whistled. Oska  tooted.  The  jury  squabbled, and  during  all this
commotion Anfisov threw Fyodorov.
     "Hooray! It's all fair and square!" the younger boys shouted.
     "You can get  a hand  through! It doesn't  count!" the big boys yelled,
but no  matter how  I tried,  I couldn't  squeeze my  hand  under Fyodorov's
shoulder-blades,  for they were  pressed hard to the ground. Shame burned us
as a brand. Fyodorov rose sheepishly and shook the dust off his clothes.
     "Why don't you lie down again? Take a rest," Hefty jeered.
     The future stretched ahead like a graveyard.
     The  runts were jubilant. Hefty  finally lunged at them, slamming their
champion down first. He then proceeded to slaughter  the  innocents, driving
the small  boys into a  far corner of the  yard and then stacking them  like

     That was when Stepan Atlantis  entered the yard. "Pardon me as a matter
of procedure, but what's the fight on the agenda today?"
     I told him what had happened. Hefty shifted the pile of small boys into
a floundering pyramid and came over to us.
     "A bunch of  big louts like you playing at wrestling. Fooling around in
decisive times like these!"
     "You're all  wrong, Stepan.  This does wonders  for you.  Here, feel my
muscle. See what 1 mean?  If a fellow's strong,  he don't  give a  damn  for
anyone. You know why you and Lelya stick to the Juniors? Because you're both
yellow.  You think  if  you can't  fend  for  yourselves,  your gang'll come
running.  Ha! Well, I can do without your gang.  I can stick  up for myself.
See my fist?"
     "All brawn  and no brain,"  Stepan said. "What  do you think you can do
all by yourself? Where'11 it get you? If our gang, as you say, or, actually,
society goes after you, you'll never know what hit you. That's how strong we
     "Sure, if it's everybody against one. But that's not fair."
     "Was it fair when  everybody  had to work for one boss? How  many hired
hands did your fat old man drive like slaves?"
     "What's the matter? Did you forget your family has a farm, too?"
     "Don't you compare us.  Our plot  was the size of a hankie. You had  an
orchard and a garden, and land stretching off in all directions."
     "But those damn comrades of yours  set up a commune there and chased us
     "1 know all about it. You tried  to bury your grain in the  cellar when
people were starving, but I made my old man give up whatever we could spare.
And don't think  my mother wasn't  after me! I  had to  stay over  at Kostya
Beetle's place.  And then he had to hide out at my place. We're all for  one
and one for all. And we're against people like you."
     "You mean you'd go against your own friends?" Hefty said very softly.
     "Former friends." Stepan's voice was barely audible.
     Silence slipped across the yard like a shadow. Then Hefty sighed loudly
and headed towards the gate. He was slumped over. His shoulder blades, which
had never known defeat, looked as if they had at last touched the mat.

     The next day my class decided to spend the algebra lesson analysing the
scrap between Hefty and Atlantis. Hefty sullenly refused  to participate. We
were expecting Alexander Karlovich, our  math teacher, but instead a strange
little old man in a clean  and  well-pressed tunic entered the classroom. He
was puny, nearsighted and bald, with a brush of mousy hair growing up around
his bald pate, so that it resembled a lagoon in an atoll.
     "Who's the bald dome?" Hefty inquired.
     The class roared.
     "Eh-mew-eh.... This?" the old  man said, poking a finger at his lowered
pate "Why?"
     "Un ... nothing special,"  Hefty replied. He  had  not expected  such a
     "Perhaps baldness has now been ... eh-mew-eh ... outlawed?" the old man
     Everyone gazed at him respectfully.
     "Not at all.  Any way you like." Hefty did  not know how  to get out of
the mess.
     "That's very kind of you.  Let's  get  acquainted.... Eh-mew-eh.... I'm
your new  history  teacher. My name is Semyon  Ignatyevich  Kirikov.  Eh ...
mew-eh.... Good morning, troglodytes!"
     This was a word we had never heard before and so we were at a loss, not
knowing whether  he had  meant it  as praise  or  whether it was an  insult.
Stepan Atlantis rose.
     "I've a question to ask. What rock did you crawl out from under? That's
in the first place. And what did you call us? That's in the second."
     The troglodytes stamped their feet and rattled their desk tops.
     "Sit down, you creature.  Troglodytes were ... eh  ... mew-eh  ... were
cavemen,   cave   dwellers,   primitive  people.  Our   ...  eh-mew-eh   ...
great-great-great-progenitors, our forefathers, while you ...  eh-mew-eh ...
you are young troglodytes."
     "Does that mean I'm a troglodytess?" Madame Hippo demanded.
     "Not at all! You are positively a mammoths or a brontosauruses."
     "He's all right!" we whispered excitedly.
     The old man turned out to be a cunning conqueror. By the time the first
lesson  was over he  had captivated  us completely.  Stepan,  who was  never
lavish with  praise,  conceded that "the old  man's  all  right". We  had no
trouble giving our new  teacher a nickname. We named him E-muet,  the French
mute "e", and pronounced  it in French, eh-mew-eh. Kirikov did not enunciate
his words. He seemed to chew on them, mumbling in between and peppering each
phrase  with his  constant  eh-mew-ehs. E-muet did not take offence.  He was
cheerful and kindly. The girls wrote notes to him.
     E-muet called each of us a creature.
     "Creature Aleferenko! Rise!"
     And Aleferenko would rise.
     "Now then, creature. Let's go back ... eh-mew-eh  ... you cave dweller,
to what we spoke of at our last lesson."
     "We spoke of  hand picks  and the Stone  Age. It was all awfully boring
and prehistoric. No wars. No nothing."
     "Be seated, creature. Today's lesson will be duller still."
     And  he  would  drone  on  dishing out the next portion of  prehistoric
information. Having  rattled  it  off, he would immediately cheer up, post a
sentry at the door and spend  the other half of  the lesson reading aloud to
us from a 1912 copy of Satirikon, a humorous magazine, or else he would tell
us hunting yarns.  An attentive silence was one  of the honours bestown upon
Kirikov. His triumphant bald pate  gradually acquired  an aura  of glory. He
became  a living legend. Despite his near-sightedness, E-muet had discovered
that the class was divided into various parties, and so he,  too, divided us
into troglodytes (the old school  boys) and anthropoids (the  Juniors). This
completely won over the old school boys.
     However, it somehow seemed to me  that every  now and then something so
vague you  couldn't  put your finger on it, but  something evil and familiar
poked its ugly head out of this kindly old man. It  would rise up at the end
of some  of his jokes,  apparent but  as unpronounceable as e-muet, the mute
"e" in French.

     At his fourth  lesson E-muet  addressed a  long speech to us.  He  even
mumbled and hemmed and  hawed less than usual that day. However, there was a
strong smell of liquor on his breath.
     "Troglodytes and anthropoids! I want  to light the sacred fire of truth
in your caves.  I will tell you why they make me tell you about troglodytes,
but forbid me to tell  you about  emperors.  Listen, my  primitive brothers,
mammoths and brontosauruses ... eh-mew-eh.... History has ended...."
     "No, it hasn't! The bell for recess didn't ring yet!" someone shouted.
     "Which  protozoan amoeba said  that?  I'm  not speaking  of our history
lesson. I'm speaking ... eh-mew-eh ... of the  history of mankind ... of its
magnificent,  martial history, so full of pomp and circumstance. History has
come  full circle. The Bolsheviks have  turned Russia back ... eh-mew-eh ...
to  the  primitive  state,  to  the  primordial  darkness.  There  is  chaos
everywhere, and ruin.... There is no kerosene.... We shall lose our fire....
We  shall  be  naked  ...  for  there  is  no cloth.... A return  to bestial
primitiveness  awaits  us,  my  dear troglodytes.... The iron tracks for our
trains will become evergrown! Eh-mew-eh ... the last  match will go out, and
the primordial night will be upon us."
     "How can it, when there'll be electricity everywhere?" Stepan cried.
     "Shut  up! He's right!"  Hefty said. "The commune wrecked everything on
our farm."
     "Who  cares  about  primitive times?  Tell us  about  when  there  were
knights!" someone shouted.
     Everyone began stamping. The troglodytes jumped over their desks.
     "So  let's  get down  on all  fours,  my dear troglodytes," E-muet said
cheerfully, "and let's raise a hoary cry in praise of the eternal night into
which we shall descend. Raghhhh! Ow-ww!"
     "Ow-ww!" everyone hawled gleefully.
     Some,  throwing themselves into  the act, scrambled down the aisles  on
all fours, making the  rest of the class double  over. Then someone began to

     Ah, when the night's dark,
     Oh, I'm so scared then,
     My own Marusya!
     Oh, Marusya,
     Stop your chatter,
     See me home first.

     At the  lectern  Kirikov  was chanting like a witch doctor.  Once again
something very familiar flitted across his  contorted  face, but I  couldn't
seem to grasp that  elusive  "something". I, too, was caught  up  in macabre
merriment of  my classmates. I felt that I, too, wanted  to crawl and howl a
bit. The lack  of a  tail  was  disappointing, but  did not really spoil the
general  impression.  I  could  practically  feel the  soil of  Schwambrania
shuddering under the heavy tread of the advancing mammoths.
     "Hey, fellows, stop it!" Kostya Beetle shouted,  coming to his  senses.
"Tell them he's pulling the wool over their eyes, Stepan. Hey, Stepan!"
     But Stepan had  disappeared. I hated to think that he  had run off. The
mammoths  raised  their trunks  like  question  marks  and  stopped  at  the
Schwambranian border, not knowing what to do.
     Forsunov,  President  of  the  Student Council, and  then  Stepan  came
running in.  The troglodytes were  instantly  swept forward  into  the  20th
century. The mammoths galloped off the Big Tooth Continent.  Kirikov's  bald
pate lost its shine.
     "You can get into  a  lot of  trouble for filling their heads with such
nonsense," Forsunov said softly.
     "You lousy bourgeois. You  saboteur!" Stepan added,  sticking his  head
over Forsunov's shoulder.
     "Eh-mew-eh,  I  was simply presenting the  basic  ideas of,  eh-mew-eh,
anarchism Naked man on the naked earth, and no personal property."
     "Toadstool!"   I  shouted   joyously,  taking   myself   by   surprise.
"Toadstool," I repeated with conviction, for I had recreated  the nettle-man
in my mind's eye,  our  summer of Kvasnikovka, the  many clocks and watches,
Death-Cap-Poison-Emi  and  the personal  property  of the bald man with  the
sack. And now E-muet, a mut and silent "e", had become an open "e".
     Kirikov was exposed and relieved of his teaching post. The  anthropoids
welcomed his  removal, but the troglodytes,  led by Hefty, resented it. They
began plotting their revenge, choosing the following day as the date for the
massacre of the Juniors and calling it a "universal ruckus".
     "We're going  to have a  St.  Bartholomew's Night tomorrow morning,"  I
whispered to Oska that night.
     Oska, who was always one to confuse -words when  he was wide awake, now
mumbled sleepily, "Are they going to kill the Hottentots?"
     "The Huguenots,  not the Hottentots, and, anyway,  not the Huguenots at
all, but  the Juniors, and they're not going to kill them dead, they'll just
beat them up."
     "Did tryglodytors fight in the arena in Ancient Rome, too?" he suddenly
     "No, gladiators. Troglodytes are...."
     There were still a few lost  mammoths roaming  about in Schwambrania. I
told Oska they were hiding out among the huge prehistoric ferns.
     "Fammoths graze in the merns," he mumbled sleepily.

     The universal ruckus was  invented ages  ago.  It  was the greatest and
most terrible kind of schoolboy revolt. A universal ruckus was only resorted
to in  extreme cases,  when all  other  means of resisting  the  authorities
failed. I had never yet witnessed such an event, though school legends still
recalled the  last  one.  It  had  taken  place in  1912,  after  the  three
ringleaders  of an attack on the principal's doorman  had been expelled. The
doorman had informed on the boys and had been pelted with rotten eggs.
     And  so, the troglodytes decided to declare a  Great  General Universal
Ruckus,  with  Hefty in command. He looked somewhat preoccupied when he came
to school the  next morning, but he was calm. There was an ugly semblance of
calm in the air. No one played "Chopsticks". No one  wrestled. No one played
the staring game. The corridor, always a churning stream, emptied the moment
the bell  rang. The stunned teachers  walked  along  this strangely deserted
river bed.  They were greeted by  a  dead  silence  when  they entered their
respective classrooms.
     Our  first lesson was  Russian  grammar. The teacher,  a  curly-haired,
blond-bearded man named Melkovsky, peeped in the door cautiously. The moment
he  appeared the  troglodytes, displaying their former  training,  jumped to
their feet like  so many jack-in-the-boxes and  stood at attention by  their
desks. The anthropoids and Stepan  were a few moments behind the others. The
general upward  sweep  lifted  me,  too.  We  stood  there  respectfully  at
     "Now, now! Be seated  everyone," Melkovsky said and waved his hand, for
he had become unaccustomed to such reverence.
     The pupils were settling back slowly. Melkovsky tested the lectern with
the tip of his shoe. It did not explode. Then he mounted it cautiously.
     "The morning prayer, Monitor!" Hefty snapped.
     "Are you crazy?" Stepan said.
     An oppressive silence descended upon us.
     "0, Gracious Saviour, bless  us this day  and..." Volodya  Labanda, the
monitor that day, intoned.
     Some of the boys were crossing themselves from force of habit. "Perhaps
I'd better leave," Melkovsky mumbled. He was thoroughly confused.
     Just then the monitor popped up beside him, carrying the class journal,
and  the  puzzled teacher  heard  the monitor's patter, as in the "good old"
Boys School days:
     "Absent   today   are   Stepan  Gavrya,  Konstantin  Rudenko,   Nikolai
Makukhin..." and he went on to read the list of all the Juniors.
     "Wait! Stop!" supposedly absent boys shouted  and jumped to their feet.
"You're lying! We're here!"
     "You'll soon be  absent," Hefty said. There  was a smirk on  his  face.
"The  Ruckus  is  on,  troglodytes!" He stuck  two fingers  in his mouth and
whistled so shrilly it hurt our ears.
     The "B"  class  in the adjoining  room whistled back.  Then eight other
whistles  were carried  down  the corridor,  and a rumble echoed through the
school.  Classes were disrupted. The Juniors were dragged out  by the  feet,
thrown out  the doors and  windows. Textbooks fluttered down, flapping their
pages like  huge butterflies.  The girls  took care  of  the  shrieking  and
screaming part of it.  Ink was shed in our classroom. A blackboard was being
carried  down the  hall like  an icon. "Attention, everybody! Down with  the
anthropoid  Juniors! Long live S. I. Kirikov! Demand his reinstatement," the
message on the blackboard read.
     Five  minutes  later  there  was not  a single  anthropoid left  in the
building. Troglodyte patrols were guarding the exits. The desks had all been
turned over.
     The Great Universal Ruckus had begun.

     The Commissar  tethered  his horse to the door. Then he  pulled  up his
boots and  stalked  down  the corridor.  It was deserted. Everyone was at an
emergency meeting in a large classroom  turned into an auditorium. Hefty sat
at a table on the rostrum, looking well in the  role of chairman and victor.
He  was flanked  by  Forsunov and a  senior named  Rothmeller, the  son of a
wealthy sausage merchant. Rothmeller  had just finished  speaking.  Forsunov
was gazing at the table.
     A troglodyte patrol was guarding the entrance.  The Juniors, rather the
worse for wear  and hardly anthropoids any  longer, were laying siege to the
door. The  troglodytes  moved  aside  to let  the commissar through.  Stepan
Atlantis  slipped  in  under cover  of  his broad back, but  the troglodytes
dragged him back into the corridor.
     "The next speaker is Commissar Chubarkov," Hefty said.
     "And that's that!" the boys shouted in unison.
     "What's the ruckus?"
     "It's universal!" came a chorus.
     "Wait a minute, boys!"
     "We're not minute-boys!"
     "Comrades!" the Commissar said.
     "We're no comrades of yours!"
     "Then who are you?" Chubarkov was getting really angry.
     "Tro-glo-dytes!" they chanted.
     "What? Trouble-tykes? All right. That's enough! I say it's time to stop
the nonsense. And that's that."
     "Where were you before?" they jeered.
     "Meaning what?"  Chubarkov thundered.  "It's  a  stupid  question.  You
didn't  dare open your mouths when Stomolitsky was the principal. And that's
for sure! I can just see  him getting into  a debate with you! He'd put your
names down in the Black Book in no time, or have you expelled."
     "And that's that!" someone yelled from the back rows where the worst of
the die-hard troglodytes clustered. "And that's  all there is to it! We want
     The  troglodytes were out of control.  However,  it was no easy  job to
outshout the  booming  voice  of  the  former Volga stevedore  accustomed to
speaking at mass meetings.
     "I really  am  surprised," he was saying slowly and forcefully, and the
noise  began  to  die  down. "Can't you  understand what's happening? You're
getting  a modern  education.  What's so fascinating about all those  tsars?
Here in the Common Work School you'll  get to know about your people,  about
where they  came from, how they got to  be  what they  are,  and about their
development.  As  for Kirikov, who turned out to be a black-marketeer on the
side,  all he  did was stuff your  heads  full  of  nonsense. What  sort  of
darkness was  he talking about when education  brings light?  Enlightenment.
And don't you forget that under the old regime they kept this light from the
workers  and  the peasants. They wanted  to keep them ignorant and backward.
Can you imagine  all the people that are going to get an education now? Take
me,  for instance." He  suddenly became shy.  "As soon as things quiet down,
I'll be going off to Petrograd to study, too. Now why, comrades, do  you and
those uh, trouble-tykes, let every no-good, low-down snake-in-the-grass turn
your young eyes away from the truth and  keep the other fellows from getting
out  of  that old primitive darkness  and into the  light? Why do you  think
they're worse than you? You think their daddies aren't as rich as yours?"


     What followed was  to  become legend.  A deafening clatter was heard in
the corridor, followed by Mokeich  shouting: "Stop! Where d'you think you're
     The troglodyte guard at  the  door suddenly parted, and Stepan Atlantis
galloped  into the  auditorium  astride the Commissar's  horse.  The Juniors
burst in after him, sweeping away whatever remained of the guards.
     "Whoa! He got loose! I barely managed to catch him, Comrade Commissar."
Indeed, Stepan was a wily fellow.
     The horse whinnied softly.
     "Excuse me,"  the  Commissar said.  He  was  apparently addressing  his
horse. "I'll be through here  in a  minute,  that's for sure. This is what I
think, boys. You've  had  your  row, and now it's time to settle down. We'll
put it to a vote to make it legal, and that's that!"
     Hefty  and  Rothmeller  were whispering uneasily. Stepan, still astride
the Commissar's horse, looked the troglodytes  over. The horse  shifted  its
weight delicately, as if fearful  of stepping on someone's toes. Hefty rose.
His former swagger was gone. Once again Stepan had won the day.
     "They've ridden roughshod over you," Hefty said.
     No  one replied. Our math teacher, Alexander Karlovich  Bertelyov, went
over to the table on the rostrum. He was serious, as always.
     "My friends!" he said and  dropped  his pince-nez nervously. Then,  for
the next few minutes, he slapped his hand around on the table nearsightedly,
as  if he were  trying  to  catch  a  grasshopper.  He finally  located  his
pince-nez  and brought the world back  into focus again.  He  continued: "My
friends, I am  not  interested  in politics  and  am  not used to  your mass
meetings. I have only asked for the floor from  a purely scientific point of
view. It so happened that, due to an oversight on our  part, Kirikov, and no
offence meant,  tried to  teach you  something that  was pure, unadulterated
hogwash.  A  lot  of obscurantist  nonsense that  could  never  stand  up to
criticism, and  certainly not from a purely scientific point of view. In the
end, the revolution  leads  to progress.  It  brings great new layers of the
population into contact with education.  And you, my friends,  want to stand
in their  way. But  you have no right to! How could  you? Why,  it's a crime
from a scientific point of view! Many comrades ... Juniors, as you call them
... are very gifted in  mathematics. Take Rudenko, for instance. He's a very
fast learner. But you, my friends, have been poisoned by the die-hard spirit
of the old  school  and are  used to thinking  that attending classes  is  a
shameful  way of spending  your time. For shame! In conclusion, I would like
to tell you a historical  anecdote. The Roman emperor Caligula  once brought
his horse  into the  senate and ordered  the  senators to bow to it. I would
never have bowed to that arrogant creature,  my  friends.  However, if today
the presence of  Comrade Chubarkov's horse at  this meeting will further the
establishment of friendly  relations and order in the school, then today, on
behalf of science, I bow my head to our four-legged guest."
     At this Alexander Karlovich bowed to the horse.
     The horse backed away nervously at the sound of  the deafening applause
that followed. The matter was then taken to  a vote, which brought defeat to
Hefty and  his troglodytes. Everyone  pledged to start  studying in earnest,
beginning the  very  next  day.  Then Stepan made a  short  speech  from the
     "E-muet in French is a letter you write  but don't ever pronounce. So I
have a suggestion. It'll make  things easier for us and do them a good  turn
while they're at it. Let's write a letter to the French workers, or to their
children, and tell them to do away with that e-muet."
     The proposal  to  write  such a  letter to the children of  France  was
unanimously  adopted. As we were about to disperse, a group of Red Army  men
suddenly entered the auditorium.
     "There! See? He wanted to shut us up by force!" Hefty shouted.
     Everyone was startled.
     "Quiet,  everybody!" one  of  the  men  said.  "Let's be a little  more
disciplined here. Comrades! The close proximity of the  front lines has  put
the town under martial  law. The 4th  Army  will need  this building for its
headquarters.  Please  see  that the building  is cleared  tomorrow, Comrade
     No one spoke. Then, in the stillness, the commissar's horse breathed in
loudly and whinnied.
     The  horses of the  4th  Army that  were tethered  outside whinnied  in

     The town became a large army camp.  Countless wagon trains lumbered  up
and  down the  streets,  tying themselves into knots  at  the intersections.
Unshaven men in greatcoats untangled the knots. They  were in  charge of the
town.  Orderlies  rode  their horses up onto  the pavements,  handing in and
accepting envelopes at the windows of the various offices. The camels in the
wagon trains threw their heads back and bellowed loudly. Their sticky saliva
fell upon Breshka Street. The camel drivers shouted hoarsely: "Tratr! Tratr!
Chok! Chok!" Fountains of spray rose on the river where shells hit the water
and  then fell helplessly back again  seconds later.  Finally, a slow-motion
boom would come crashing  down upon  the town.  Soldiers practised  throwing
hand grenades on the river bank.
     An elephantine-like armoured car raised its cannon-trunk on the square.
The live camels were followed  by hopping iron ostriches, those  dock-tailed
gigs with tall  stacks,  the army field kitchens. It seemed then to Oska and
me that the vehicles on the square were playing our favourite game of animal
lotto  called  "The Cameroons  Races", where  each card  had a  picture of a
running elephant,  camel  or ostrich.  Near the storehouses  some  men  were
moving a  pile of barrels with black  numbers painted on the bottoms. A  fat
man would call out a number, another  man would consult some papers and then
stamp them, as if the rubber stamp  were a large  lotto disc. Every now  and
then a rider on a lathered horse would appear.
     "What about accommodations?" they'd be asked.
     "Everything's full up!"
     And the players had to crawl under the trucks to sleep.
     A  strange  sign had  been  put  up  on the  school  building. It read:
"Travtochok". Translated into  everyday language, it was  supposed  to stand
for something like:
     "Vehicles of the special column's  automotive unit". Actually,  though,
no one knew exactly what the mysterious "Travtochok" stood for.
     Not  more than two or three  automobiles were usually parked outside of
"Travtochok", but the former school yard was always jam-packed with  camels.
The  people  of  Pokrovsk lost  no  time  in  renaming  the  unpronounceable
"Travtochok"  into Tratrchok, which,  when translated  from  camel-language,
meant "whoa" and "giddiyap".
     Our school began moving from one place to another. In the beginning, we
were  transferred to the former seminary building. A day later we were moved
to  a small  house with  a fire-tower.  Naturally, the  tower drew us like a
magnet. It seemed to beg us to use it for some prank, if only to spit on the
heads of passers-by or shout "Fire!". However, we did not feel up to pranks.
There  was  a restlessness  in  the  crowded classrooms, and boys  talked in
whispers in the back  rows. The day after the general ruckus Volodya Labanda
stopped Alexander Karlovich in the street.
     Volodya stared  at the  ground and scuffed the dirt with the tip of his
shoe like  a  horse  as he said:  "You  talked about Kostya Rudenko being so
gifted. I used to do math problems  pretty good, too, didn't I?  You  said I
was good in math, too."
     "Of course I remember. You definitely have a good head for mathematics,
but you're lazy."
     "No,  I'm  not.  We just felt  like  horsing around  since freedom  was
declared. I don't  think it  was fair of you  to talk about the Juniors like
that  and not say anything  good  about anybody  else. They'll think they're
better than everybody now."
     "Aha! So  my  arrow struck  home!"  Alexander Karlovich  exclaimed.  He
sounded  quite  pleased. "Well, why  don't you  try to catch up with them? I
must warn  you,  though,  that  it  won't  be  easy. They're doing quadratic
equations now."
     "We'll manage. You'll see!"

     That very same day we  agreed that the Juniors  had become stuck-up and
that we could not  tolerate such a state of affairs any  longer. Which meant
we would have to catch up with them. The  girls promised to keep up with us.
We retrieved our  dusty schoolbooks and amazed our  parents  by  poring over
them.  We discovered that we had dropped very  far  behind  and had  to stay
after  school and study  till late at  night  at  home in order to catch up.
Alexander Karlovich, who had lost weight on a teacher's skimpy food rations,
would selflessly stay on  after classes.  We  stole  bread for  him from the
storeroom and  placed it on  the lectern.  He  would  proudly refuse it, but
then, being  carried  away  by  a problem, would begin  pinching off  pieces
unthinkingly, until he had accidentally eaten it all.
     "That's some freedom you've got! You used to be  swell fellows, but now
you're all bookworms. Why don't you go ahead and ask them to give you marks?
Ah!" Hefty would say and spit in disgust.
     He was especially hard on  Stepan,  who said he couldn't care less  and
went on studying furiously, for he told us that revolutionaries had to climb
right onto the barricades of learning, too.
     We felt we had covered so  much ground in algebra  in two  and  a  half
weeks that we  asked  Alexander Karlovich  to  test  one of us. He called on
Labanda.  The  Juniors  were amazed.  Never  before  had the pupils  been so
intent.  The  only  sound in  the classroom was that of  the  chalk  hitting
against the blackboard as it produced heavy white figures. Labanda was doing
a problem that involved a reservoir and two pipes. Everything was proceeding
nicely. Water kept pouring in through one pipe and out through the other. It
soon became  clear that if both pipes were open the reservoir would fill  in
six hours. But  then suddenly something happened and it began draining as we
watched. Labanda had hit a shoal. He chewed on his nail.
     "Think," Alexander Karlovich said.
     "I'm thinking," Labanda said unhappily. "If we subtract  two pipes from
four pails...."
     Go back to the beginning and do all your figuring out loud."
     We had spotted the mistake. Labanda had written a minus sign instead of
a  plus sign at the very start. Now the minus had  surfaced and stoppered up
one of the pipes. We were dying to prompt him. However,  we did not  want to
expose his lack of knowledge, not with  the Juniors looking on. Just then we
heard   someone   whispering.   Someone   was   prompting.   It  was  Kostya
Rudenko-Beetle.  And then the rest of  the  class, which had once been known
for its imaginative  prompting  and shameless  cribbing,  the class that had
always considered  it a terrible crime to refuse to offer illegal help, this
very same class now began stamping loudly to drown out the whispering voice.
The boys shouted:
     "Quit it, Rudenko! Let him do it himself!"
     This bucked Labanda up. He concentrated, found the error and solved the
problem. Then,  in order to inform Pokrovsk of this, we raised a flag on the
fire-tower. We had painted the following message on it: "X= 18 pails".


     Our joy did not last long.
     Two days  later Labanda rushed into the room and said that the parallel
"B" grade,  which we  had  more or less  forgotten  about, since it was  now
located in another building,  was up to equations of  the highest order with
several unknown quantities. It didn't seem possible.
     "You're lying!" someone shouted.
     "Tell us another!" Stepan said.
     "I'll drop dead if I am!" Labanda even crossed himself.
     We were crushed.
     At this point Kostya Beetle said he knew how to  solve them  and  would
show  the "B's" how to  do it. Stepan  was dead set  against  it. He said it
didn't count if only one person could do them, it would just be singling out
the best pupil, like before, but that what counted was if everybody could do
them.  Once again  we  all rushed to  our textbooks.  We  would come back to
school in the evenings and Kostya would help us. Hefty never  came  to these
after-school sessions. He  would say that  a hungry stomach was  not fit for
learning,  that  this  was  no time for studying  and that, anyway, he could
solve any problem we could and  better. When all the unknown quantities were
brought out into the open, we challenged the "B's" to an algebra match. They
accepted  the  challenge. We  decided  it would be a  joint written test  in
algebra, with teams made up of the best mathematicians in each grade. Stepan
Gavrya,  Volodya Labanda, Kostya Beetle, Zoya 'Beanpole, and  I  were on the
"A" team. Hefty  joined us the day before  the  test. We were very reluctant
about having him on the team, but he swore he wouldn't let us down.

     The evening  before the test our team met at school for a last practice
session. Alexander Karlovich,  looking very weary, made us  review the whole
book. Then he  gave  us several tricky problems which  we finally solved. He
was very pleased from a "purely scientific point  of view",  .but  he gasped
when  he looked at the clock, for it  was midnight, and since  we were under
martial law, there was an eleven o'clock curfew.
     "Well, comrades, tnat means we spend the  night  in the kennel.  That's
for sure!"
     "Come on. If they stop us we'll say we're going  to the  drugstore  for
medicine," Labanda said.
     Stepan and I walked along together. A searchlight swept the low,  heavy
sky.  Someone  was singing: "Ah, when the night's dark".  A  military patrol
stopped us at the corner.
     "We're  going to the drugstore. He's the doctor's son. We've got to get
there," Stepan said.
     "You don't say? And  what are you going for? Castor oil?" the  Red Army
man inquired.
     "How'd you guess? That's just what we need. You see...."
     "Wait a bit  and you'll get a  big dose of  it.  Lapanin!"  the soldier
called. "Take these two fellows in."
     We were  escorted  to headquarters, where we  met  some other  midnight
seekers of castor oil. A short  while later Alexander Karlovich  was brought
in. He was indignant from every possible point of view.
     "Good evening, Alexander Karlovich!" Stepan said cheerfully.
     "I'd say it was good night," the teacher muttered. "Nice to see you all
     Next the soldiers brought in  a  glum-looking black-marketeer.  He  was
carrying a big sack. "Who came in last?" he said matter-of-factly.
     "I did. Why?" Alexander Karlovich replied.
     "I'll  be  next after you tomorrow morning  and don't  forget!" The man
then stretched out on the floor. He was snoring a moment later.
     Heavy clouds of cheap tobacco smoke curled up under the electric  bulb.
Our guard was examining one of his boots intently, tapping the welt with his
rifle butt. This night before the test was passing sleeplessly, stupidly.
     Two hours  later Chubarkov phoned.  We were finally released. Alexander
Karlovich stopped at the  threshold, having recalled  something,  and turned
back. He had  a hard  time  waking the man on the  floor.  "Pardon  me.  I'm
leaving now. So you'll have to be next after someone else."
     We bumped  into another  military  patrol on Breshka Street. They  were
taking the "B" team to headquarters. They, too, had  been brushing up before
the test.
     "I'll bet you were going for castor oil," Stepan said.
     "No. For iodine."

     "All contestants  will  now  take  their  seats,"  Forsunov, the  chief
referee, said solemnly.
     The sleepy-eyed mathematicians sat down. To make sure there would be no
cribbing each contestant shared a desk with a member of the opposite team.
     Alexander  Karlovich and the "B's" math teacher were both nervous. They
resembled  managers whose boxers  were in  the ring  for  their first  bout.
Alexander  Karlovich  went over  to each  of our boys  and whispered: "Think
first. And don't rush. Be sure you don't mix up your signs. If there are any
problems on proportions they'll be stuck because that's their weak  point. I
know it for a fact. But the main thing is to think."
     Forsunov asked the teachers to take  their places. Alexander  Karlovich
and his colleague sat at the large table. Mokeich  was already seated  there
beside an empty chair left for the commissar.
     Beanpole  Zoya, our class champion, looked more stern than  usual.  The
girls  who were not taking part in the match kept glancing at  us anxiously.
They  filled  the  inkwells to  the top, tried out the pens,  sharpened  the
pencils and wished everyone good  luck. Then they went out into the corridor
where the audience crowded in a doorway, promising to be very quiet.
     Mokeich took out  his  large conductor's  pocket watch. Forsunov placed
the  watch on the  table to mark  the time  each  contestant  spent  on  the
problem. If  both teams solved it, the one  whose separate members solved it
sooner would be the winner and get the prize, which was a  double portion of
sugar. Besides, the pupil who solved it first would become the school's best
     "I'm counting on  everybody's honesty," Forsunov said. "I was the  best
cribber under the old principal, and that's why I'm warning you:  as long as
I'm  here  and  watching, nobody'll ever crib anything and get away with it.
     "Huh! What d'you think we're going to do? Cheat on our own side?"
     We were cut to the quick. Indeed! This wasn't tsarist times.
     "On your mark! Get ready!" Forsunov said.

     "Two travellers going  in the same direction set out from two different
cities, with  one traveller following the other. After some days, the number
of which equals the sum  of miles covered in  a  day, the  second  traveller
caught up with the first one.  The second traveller  had by then covered 525
miles. The distance between the two cities  was 175 miles.  How many miles a
day did each one cover?"
     The starting time had been marked. The travellers were on the road, and
everyone was  engrossed  in the problem. A stillness settled on the backs of
our heads, pressing them closer to the desks. The test was under way.
     However,  we  did  not  experience  the  familiar  sense  of  fear  and
uncertainty which  had  confused both thoughts and  numbers  during  the old
school exams,  when one's only desire was to grasp  at the minutes that were
slipping away so feverishly, so hopelessly, and hold them back at all costs.
Ahead of us then lay the finish line and the pillory in the shape of an "F".
     But now a written test was in process and we were not scared! Alexander
Karlovich winked at us encouragingly. We recalled what he  had said. Indeed!
We  all  thought  hard.  Everything  seemed  simple enough.  There were  two
travellers, A and B. A was gradually catching up with B. And we had to catch
up with the "B's", too.
     Chubarkov  entered  the  classroom. His heavy tread and  jingling spurs
made Alexander Karlovich hiss angrily and stare pointedly first at his boots
and then at us. The Commissar unbuckled his spurs and tiptoed to his seat.
     "Who's getting the upper hand?" he whispered to Forsunov.
     "They've just started."
     The  Commissar gazed at us fondly. Fifteen minutes passed  in  complete
silence. I was  coming along nicely, with no accidents on the road. Beanpole
had filled two pages. Stepan's notepaper  was still blank. Kostya Beetle had
half-risen from his seat to re-check what he had written.  He had solved the
problem. He was the first!
     Suddenly Hefty  raced down the aisle.  He loomed over the judges' table
and  held  his  paper  on  high.  He  was  triumphant. Forsunov  accepted it
doubtfully. Hefty had the answer right.
     "Well?" the Commissar asked.
     "That's that!" Hefty  replied. The boys waiting outside in the corridor
applauded wildly.
     Once again Hefty had come out on top.
     After the bell had rung the judges checked our papers and announced the
winners.  Eight members  of  the "A" team had  solved the problem,  but only
seven ot the "B" team had. Our side had won. We had not only caught  up with
the "B's",  we had overtaken them. Besides,  our classmate Hefty was now the
school's math champion. Though he was very heavy, the boys threw him up into
the air as a sign of homage  to a victor. In  the process something fell out
of his pocket.
     Beanpole bent down to pick it up and shouted, "Look!"
     "Damn fool," Hefty  muttered.  He tried to snatch whatever  it was from
her. "Give it back! I was only doing  it for your sake anyway. If that's the
way you want it, to hell with you! Go on and lose. See if I care."
     Beanpole was holding a small  booklet. The title page read: "Key to all
problems in Algebra II by Shaposhnikov and Valtsev."
     "Traitor!" Labanda shouted and rammed his fist into Hefty's face.
     The return blow sent Labanda flying.
     It  took Chubarkov  and Mokeich to hold  Hefty back. Forsunov then said
that the "A's" had  not overtaken the "B's", but had caught up with them. We
shared both glory and sugar.

     Our school had become a true nomad, forever moving from one building to
     We  were  forever  dragging  desks, bookcases, globes  and  blackboards
through the streets of town. The traffic coming  our way was made up largely
of stretchers and hearses. The terrible camels of Tratrchok, the mobile unit
of the 4th Army, pulled  the hearses. The streets smelled of carbolic  acid,
for an epidemic of typhus had swept the region.
     Commissar Chubarkov  was on the go day and night. His  unshaven  cheeks
had become so hollow it seemed he must certainly bite them when he spoke. He
was in  charge of moving the hospitals and  doubling up the various offices.
He also  helped us drag  our school property from place  to place. Chubarkov
was here, there and everywhere.
     "And  that's that!"  his  voice  would boom  on  Atkarskaya Street,  on
Kobzarevsky Street and on Breshka Street. "Hang on a while! It won't be long
now! And then, boys, the trees and the mountains will dance. Like the saying
goes:  It's not much fun  to see the ram butting Sam, but  it'll soon be the
other way around, and Sam'll be butting the ram. That's a fact!"
     Late  one afternoon  he came to  another  new  school  address. He  was
hoarse, his eyes  were  sunken and red-rimmed,  and  yellow  specks of crude
tobacco stuck to his lips. He smelled strongly of carbolic acid.
     "Comrades! I've come to ask you to  donate some of your time." He spoke
with difficulty. "They sounded me  out about  it at Headquarters, and I said
that my boys would surely do it, 'cause even algebra was like snapping their
fingers  to  them.  I told them you knew how to  figure out all  the unknown
quantities,  so's  make  them  known.  So,  boys,  who  wants  to  help  the
     "I do!" we shouted.
     "That depends on what it is," Hefty said and looked at his watch.
     Chubarkov then  said  that  we would have to put  up big posters in the
barracks and on Breshka Street, warning  everyone about  typhus, and that it
was a rush job.  The new  shipment of  posters had not arrived from Saratov,
and all the ones on hand at HQ  had been put up. That meant we would have to
make the posters  ourselves. There would have to be a big figure  of a louse
and a caption written in large block letters.
     He had brought along a roll of grey wrapping paper and water colours.
     It was  deathly cold in the classroom, for  the school  was not heated,
and it was five o'clock, time for us to have gone home long ago.
     "I'd have done it myself, but I'm no good  at drawing, that's for sure.
And you can't even draw .a louse if you've no talent for it. Zoya, here, and
Stepan and  Lelya have.  I saw them draw a  picture of me on the  blackboard
once. Oh, yes, I did. And it was a real good likeness, too. No mistake about
who it was."
     "Let's  do some drawing from life,"  Stepan suggested craftily. "If any
of you don't remember what  they look like, Hefty here  will  lend us a few.
His are nice and fat."
     "That'll do, Gavrya!" Alexander Karlovich snapped. "I suggest you start
working instead of wasting time."
     "This is a special emergency drawing lesson, fellows!" Stepan shouted.
     "It's late."
     "It's too cold in here."
     "It's time to go home." This  voice came from Hefty's corner. "It'll be
like it used to be, being left after school with no dinner."
     "You don't say?"  I jumped onto my desk. "Listen, fellows! Who wants to
stay after school today as  Red volunteer dinner-missers,  to draw the fight
typhus posters? If  anybody thinks  he's back  in the Boys  School, and left
after school, he can get out! Well? What do you say?"
     It was awfully cold. And we  were  awfully hungry. It was  going on six
o'clock. Hefty scooped up his books and left. He was followed by some of the
others, who tried not to meet our eyes  as they  filed  out. There were  not
many  of them. The best boys and girls stayed on, and Labanda, Kostya Beetle
and Beanpole Zoya were among them.
     We  lit the  oil  wick  lamps. The Commissar got  a  fire  going in the
bow-legged iron stove and took out the paints.  We spread the  paper out  on
the floor and set to work on the project. There were no paint brushes, so we
made do with bits of paper rolled up  tight and painted the fine parts  with
our fingers. Most of the letters were shaky. Thus, "typhus" looked as if its
knees  were buckling. The insects were much more impressive, although Stepan
and Kostya Beetle had an argument as to the exact number of legs and feelers
     "Ha! Your name's Beetle, but you don't even know how many legs it has!"
Stepan said.
     We  put it to a vote and decided  not to be stingy about the legs. Soon
we had fuzzy centipedes slithering all over our posters. We crawled about on
the cold floor. The commissar, who was dead tired  after a long  day, helped
us in every possible  way: he laid out the paints, cut the paper and thought
up slogans for the posters.  He  had a terrible  headache. We could hear him
moaning softly every now and then.
     "Why  don't  you go home, Comrade Chubarkov?" we said. "Look how  tired
you are. We can manage without you."
     But he would not, no matter how we coaxed him. He even  managed to keep
up our spirits by telling us what a wonderful job we were doing.
     Stepan and I had gone off into a  corner to compose a caption in verse.
We  had  a  hard time with the unruly words,  but  then all  of a sudden the
pieces seemed to  fall into place and  the caption was ready.  We thought it
was excellent  and felt that the Commissar would like it, too. We carried it
over to him proudly. It read:

     When all is neat and clean,
     No louse is ever seen.
     Lice lay you flat.
     And that's that!

     The Commissar  stared at  it blindly. He mumbled  something and  swayed
strangely at the desk.
     "Why can't they meet?" he whispered.  "They should.  That's for  sure."
     "Them. A and B. The travel... lers."
     Alexander Karlovich bent  over him anxiously. The Commissar was burning
up with the dread fever called typhus.

     Chubarkov was dying. We could speak of nothing else in class.
     When I came home Oska was waiting for me in the hall. "They've sent the
Commissar away to  camp for three days so he'll get well quick. I heard Papa
calling headquarters. And he said camp for three days."
     "What are you talking about?  You've got everything mixed up again. And
you know, it's not funny any more."
     "Honest! I heard him."
     Papa  returned from the  hospital just then. His eyes  were so  serious
that Oska, who would usually begin  to climb  all  over him, hung back. Papa
took off his  coat.  The hall was immediately filled with the  smells of the
     Then Papa went off to wash up, with us trailing behind. He scrubbed his
large doctor's  hands thoroughly with soap as he always did and  brushed his
short nails with a nail brush. Then he gargled his throat, throwing back his
head so that the water seemed to be boiling in his throat.
     We stood there watching the procedure that was  so familiar to us both.
Neither of us said a word. Finally, I spoke.
     "Why did Oska say you sent the commissar away to camp, Papa?"
     "Which camp? Don't talk nonsense."
     "But that's  what you  said.  I  heard you," Oska insisted. "You  said:
'Camp for three days'."
     Papa  chuckled  ruefully.  "Silly!  He's  getting  camphor  injections.
Understand? Every six hours. Because his heart is so  weak," Papa explained,
turning to speak to  me as he wiped his hands. "We can't get his temperature
down, and he's terribly undernourished.  The man had been killing himself at
his job. And goodness  knows what he's  been eating. That's  what  we're  up
     "It's very bad, isn't it?"
     "It's worse than bad." Papa spoke brusquely  and tossed the towel  over
the headboard. "Our one hope is his natural strength. We'll do our best."
     "Will he be sick long?"
     "It's typhus. Who knows? We're expecting the crisis soon."
     The  moment  I entered  the  classroom  on  the  following  day  I  was
surrounded  by my friends  and some of the  older  pupils. They had all been
waiting for me.
     "When's the crisis? What did your old man say?"
     But the  crisis  had not begun, and the Commissar's  fever kept  rising
every day, while his strength ebbed with each passing hour.
     Would it really be "that's that", as the  Commissar  himself would have
said in such a case?
     Stepan and Kostya would rush off to the hospital  after school each day
to ask about Chubarkov's condition. But what could the nurse on duty say? He
had a raging fever. He was unconscious and delirious.
     Things looked bad.

     I  heard  the  phone ring in  my  sleep  that  night. I  was completely
awakened  by a loud pounding on the front door. Then I heard Stepan's  voice
     "Honest  to  God, Doctor.  I was  just  there.  They chased me out. His
heart's  nearly stopping. He's  having  that, what-d'you-call-it?  The nurse
said cry-sis."
     "Shh! Not so loud, you'll wake everyone up! They've just called me. I'm
on my way  there now. I don't want any panic. A crisis means a sharp drop in
temperature. What is it, Lelya?"
     I stood there wrapped in my  blanket, but my teeth were chattering from
     "I'm going with you, Papa."
     "Are you crazy?"
     "Why can Stepan go?"
     "If Stepan thinks he's going anywhere,  I'll tell  the nurses to  throw
him out. I don't believe anyone asked you to take part in a consultation."
     Papa dressed quickly  and  left,  banging  the front  door  behind him.
Stepan, feeling completely disheartened, stayed.
     The long, cold hours of  the night dragged on  endlessly, Oska woke up.
When he saw Stepan sitting  on my bed he sat up on his own, but at the sight
of two fists, mine and Stepan's,  being shaken at  him,  he darted under the
blankets again. However, I could see his  curious eye flash and knew he  was
not sleeping, but listening to our every word.
     "Do you think he'll pull through?" Stepan whispered.
     We spoke of our Commissar at length. He really was a wonderful man. And
most of the fellows and girls at school were on his side now, because he was
fair and always stood  up  for justice. He took care of our troglodytes good
that time, and there was a reason why Alexander Karlovich respected him so.
     "I know he wants to go  off to fight. He volunteered, but they wouldn't
accept his application.  They  told him they needed good men to work for the
revolution on the home front, too," Stepan said.
     "If he ever does go off, things'll be awful again."
     "That's for sure. He's on our side, but he's a mean one for discipline.
And if he goes off...."
     We suddenly fell silent, crushed by one and the same idea: how could we
be  discussing  whether he'd go off to fight or  not when now, at  this very
moment, our Commissar was fighting for his life. Perhaps.... The pendulum of
the  old wall clock  in  the dining-room swished  back  and forth loudly and
menacingly: "Yes-no ... he will-he won't...." It was  as  if it were telling
his fortune, ticking  off one second after another, as one did the petals of
a daisy.
     "Yes-no ...he will-he won't."
     Just  then a key turned in the lock.  I could hear  Papa taking off his
rubbers. Stepan and I dashed into the hall.
     We were afraid to ask, and it was so dark there that  we could not  see
the expression on my father's face.
     "Why aren't you asleep, night owls?" Papa grumbled in the darkness, but
he did not sound angry. On the contrary, he sounded triumphant.  "All right,
all  right. I know what you're going to  say. Well,  I think  he'll make it.
Your Commissar's sleeping like a baby. Something I hope you'll both be doing
in another  minute.  Off  to  bed with  you! I'll  be going on my rounds  in
another two hours."
     " 'Hoo-ray,  hoo-ray,'  they all shouted, the Schwambranians."  Indeed,
this one time they had every reason in the world to.

     The  Commissar was getting better! But he was  still very weak. The day
before he had finally  been discharged from the hospital and moved to a room
in a house that had once belonged to a rich merchant. Stepan had been to see
him. Now we all crowded around Stepan to hear his report.
     "He said that when  he  was  delirious he  kept  thinking  about  those
travellers.  You  know, about  A and  B.  The ones in the  algebra  problem.
Remember? He said he annoyed everyone to death there, asking  them why those
men couldn't meet. They kept  on travelling and  travelling,  and when  they
finally did meet he started getting better right away."
     "That's  because  he was probably  thinking about  us all the time, and
what  with the  high  fever and  all..." Beanpole  Zoya said, sounding  very
     "Sure. They  only let me visit him for  ten minutes. There's a hospital
nurse  on duty there. All he kept saying was: how are  things in school? And
are  we behaving  well? And  how's  Alexander Karlovich making  out  all  by
himself? And is Hefty doing any better in algebra?"
     Everyone turned to look at Hefty. His face became  crimson. He shrugged
his big  shoulders and  was about  to say something  nasty, but his eyes met
Stepan's and he turned away.
     "So  what I say  is let's  take things  easy  for  a while and not fool
around too much," Stepan said. "If he starts  getting upset  I know it'll be
the end of him. Ask Lelya  if you don't  believe me. That's what  the doctor
said. Didn't he? So  let's not pull any  pranks for a while. 'Cause  anybody
who  does might get  a good crack on the head. I'm warning  you. Am I right.
     "You bet. After all, we're human beings. And you'd  have to be a pretty
low-down louse to make him sick again. I mean you, too, Hefty."
     "You just worry about yourself."  Hefty sounded  hurt. "Aren't  you all
such  little  darlings!"  He  shoved  Labanda  out of  the way  and left the
     "The Commissar asked  me to bring him something to  read," Stepan said.
"I went over  to your house, but your brother  wouldn't lend me anything. He
said wait till you get home. Will you give me a book? I'll take it over."
     "I can take it over myself."
     I wondered what kind of book  the Commissar would like. While I browsed
through  the shelves, Oska said, "Stepan asked for  ... uh ... I forgot  the
name. Kristomonto."
     "Wait. Let me think."
     He  knitted his brows and puckered his lips. "Oh, I know! He didn't say
Kristomonto, he said Sacramento. That's it!"
     "There's  no such  book. The Mennonites who come here from  out-of-town
sometimes  curse like that. You know: 'Donnerwetter, sacramento!'  It's like
saying, 'For God's sake!' Well, what was the book Stepan wanted?"
     "He  said it was  about  a count,  and there's  a  gun  like it,"  Oska
     Ah! Now I knew. It wasn't Kristomonto, and it wasn't Sacramento, It was
Monte Cristo! The Count  of Monte Cristo. But I didn't have that book. Then,
true to my Schwambranian taste in books, I chose a volume of Greek mythology
and Robinson Crusoe.
     I wrapped the two books carefully in a sheet of old newspaper  and went
off to visit the Commissar.
     The Commissar's room was very  poor. A newspaper  was spread out on the
table instead of a cloth, and the spout of a tin kettle protruded from under
a quilted jacket that had been thrown over it to  keep it warm. A  soldier's
mess tin was cooling forlornly on the woodstove that had gone out. There was
a small stack of books on  a bamboo bookstand.  The title of the  one on top
was: "Political Literacy". The  only item of luxury in the room was the bed.
It was  so wide you  could lie  across it, the  headboard and footboard were
scalloped  and upholstered in bright carpeting. Why, this was no bed, it was
a two-horse  sleigh! It had probably  belonged to the merchant. Portraits of
Karl Marx and Lenin were tacked to the peeling walls. A large poster printed
in heavy type hung on the wall over the bed. It depicted a Red Army man in a
cloth  helmet with a five-pointed red star on it. No matter from which angle
I looked at the poster, the soldier seemed to be staring straight at me, and
his finger  seemed to be  pointing straight at  me as he asked in the stern,
demanding words of the caption: "Have you volunteered for the Red Army?"
     I  didn't feel too sure of myself  to  begin with. No one had met me at
the door. The hospital nurse was apparently gone, and I had to knock several
times before I heard a very faint  voice that was apparently the Commissar's
say: "Come in."
     The Commissar's hair was cut very short. He had lost so much weight you
could see his bony shoulder through the outsized collar of his cotton shirt.
He smiled at me weakly and somewhat shyly.
     "Hello. Well... now  that  the doctors are  through with me, I  see the
doctors' sons are taking over. That means I should be getting better. That's
for sure. Well, how are you crocodiles coming along?"
     He asked me all about life at school. Then I read aloud to him from the
Labours of Hercules, trying to put the right feeling into my voice, but as I
read of the nine-headed Hydra of  Lernea  whose heads  Hercules chopped off,
one after another, I got carried away by the story. I had chosen this second
labour  of Hercules, because I  had often heard  speakers at  mass  meetings
refer to the rabid,  many-headed hydra of the counter-revolutionary  forces.
And so I read  on of the hero who defeated the fierce monster and  let  out'
its poisonous black blood.
     The commissar was asleep. He  had probably  fallen asleep in the middle
of the  story. His broad but  bony chest rose  and fell evenly. I sat there,
not knowing what to do. Should I leave? It somehow seemed impolite to do so.
Should I go on  sitting there? That was silly. And then,  who could tell how
long I would have to wait?
     It  was very  still in the  room,  the only  sounds  being those of the
Commissar's breathing and a feeble crack  now and then from the  cooling tin
kettle  on the table.  The Red  Army man  on the poster had not for a moment
taken his burning gaze from me, and his finger  pointed directly at me.  But
now  I, too,  could not take my eyes from  him. It  was pretty much like our
staring  game  in  school.  However,  his  hard  eyes  bored  through  me so
relentlessly I felt I was going to blink and lose.
     "Water," the  Commissar whispered, though his pale eyelids did not even
flicker in his dark, sunken sockets.
     I rushed to pour some  water into a mug. The tea was still warm. I held
the mug as he drank. He opened his eyes a bit and looked at me gratefully.
     "Pour yourself some  tea. It's only carrot-tea, though. And  there's no
sugar. They won't let  me have saccharine. They say it's  no  good for  your
kidneys, not after typhus."
     I didn't  want  to offend him  and so  poured myself some of the cloudy
brew.  It had a burnt taste, it was not sweet, it was tepid and tasteless. A
plan was forming in my mind. I would carry it out the very next day.
     I  raised my  eyes over  the  rim of  the  mug as I  sipped and glanced
cautiously at the wall  opposite. The Red Army man was still staring at  me,
but he couldn't make me feel uneasy any longer. I knew what I had to do.

     I went  to visit the Commissar  the  next day. There were four lumps of
sugar  in my pocket, my  school ration  for that and the  following day. The
Commissar  looked  slightly  better. His  eyes were brighter,  and  when  he
smiled, the  old sharp glint was back  again, even  though it came and went.
When it did his eyes became dull again. That meant he was still very weak.
     "I hope you won't  be angry about yesterday and me popping off to sleep
when you  were reading. I'm not my old self  yet,  and my  head feels fuzzy.
Besides, that was  a pretty tall  tale. I had a look  at this other book you
brought me,  the one about Robinson. I like it better, though it's not  what
I'd care  to read  about now. I feel bad enough lying here all  by myself. I
want to get back  out among people  again. In  times  like these, every  man
counts,  and here I  am, like Robinson, wasting  my time on a desert island.
It's  enough to  make you  sick! Well,  that's that. It's  time for me to be
getting  up and about.  I  put my feet down off the bed  yesterday. Come on,
doctor's son, give me a hand. I'll see how things go today."
     "I don't think you should yet. Papa said  you have to stay  in bed till
you're stronger."
     "Never mind what Papa said. All those doctors  and their  medicines are
meant for different, more delicate people. You know our  kind. We're  tough!
Come on, let's not waste time talking."
     He got his  thin  legs over the side  of the bed by raising  and moving
each one by the knee with  both hands.  Then  he stuck each foot into a felt
boot that was standing by the bed.
     "Now you give me some support on this side, and I'll hold on to the bed
on the  other. All right,  here  we go. You  know the  old stevedore's  cry:
heave-ho, heave-ho ... there she goes!"
     He  rose with great difficulty.  I stuck my shoulder under  his armpit.
The Commissar took a step and fell over heavily on  me. I barely  managed to
steady  him  and  get him  back  into bed.  He  lay  there  panting, looking
miserable and strangely pitiful.
     "That's  it, fellow. Taps. That's for sure.  Go on  home.  What are you
staring at? I said, go on home! Well? What is it? Think the Commissar's done
for? You're mistaken, my boy! I'll show you some real walking yet."
     A large tear made  its  way  slowly  through the  stubble of his yellow
cheek.  I was  really  frightened.  Our  Commissar,  our  cheerful Commissar
Chubarkov, so loud-voiced and hearty, a man  who could out-holler any crowd,
was sobbing softly in his bed, as the Red Army man on the poster pointed his
finger at me accusingly and his eyes bored into me. But it wasn't my fault.
     I rushed over to the table,  poured some  of the  yellow brew from  the
kettle under the quilted  jacket and slipped  my two days' sugar ration into
the mug. The Commissar held it in his trembling hands. He had calmed down  a
bit and took a slow sip. Then he licked his lips.
     "I've never had anything so sweet! Seems like pure honey. How come?" He
looked at me  suspiciously. Then he peered into the mug. The  four lumps had
probably not dissolved completely.  "So you decided  to pamper me? I'll  bet
you  put your  whole  week's rations in here.  You should've left yourself a
lump. Now you'll have to drink yours plain again."
     I hastily poured myself a full mug of brew from the  kettle, took a sip
and  was dazed.  A molasses-thick, sickeningly-sweet syrup stuck to my lips.
It took me a few moments to realize what had happened.
     "Was anyone here to see you today?" I asked.
     "Indeed! I'll bet your whole class was here. Kostya, Labanda,  Zoya and
Stepan, of  course. They  were all here. They lit  the stove and boiled  the
kettle. But they  didn't feel like  having any  tea. What's the matter?  Why
aren't you  drinking yours? See, I  said  it  wouldn't  be  any good without
sugar. Well, if you're  not going  to have it, we  might as well try walking
again. Give  me a hand. I think I  feel  stronger after your brew. Come  on,
give us a hand here!"
     The Commissar leaned on me and tried learning to walk again.

     Our wandering school moved from one place to another,  and Schwambrania
wandered along with it. The turbulent events in the life of Pokrovsk and our
school naturally affected the internal affairs and  geographical location of
the Big Tooth  Continent. There were  constant  disorders  in  Schwambrania,
because it was forever changing the order of things in the country.
     Lice had  come out from hiding in  Pokrovsk  and had  become  official.
Typhus had put red crosses on everything. Oska insisted we have a death toll
in  Schwambrania, too,  and  I had  to agree.  The  statistics  of real-life
situations called for a death toll in Schwambrania.  That was why a cemetery
appeared  there. We then went over the  list of Schwambranian kings, heroes,
champions, villains and seafarers, and spent  a  long time  deciding whom we
would  bury.  I  tried  to  limit  the  death  toll  to  such  insignificant
Schwambranians as the former Royal Water-Carrier,  or the Master of  Foreign
Affairs. But my bloodthirsty  brother  would  have nothing  of the kind.  He
demanded great losses, as was only true in real life.
     "What kind of  a game is  it if nobody dies? They just go on living and
living! Let somebody die who we'll feel sorry for."
     After   long   deliberations  Jack,  the  Sailor's  Companion  died  in
Schwambrania.  The  cruel Count Chatelains Urodenal  had  filled his kidneys
with  stones.  As he  lay dying. Jack, the  Sailor's  Companion,  exclaimed,
leafing through the last page of the conversation manual: "Je vais a.... Ich
gehe nach.... Ferma la machinal Finished with engine!"
     He  then departed, and  though he  wanted to  wish everyone well, there
were no such words in the manual. A brass band  played at his funeral. There
were  life  buoys instead of wreaths,  and  a gold anchor and visiting  card
adorned his grave.
     Despite  the  terrible  loss,  the  constant  changes  in  climate  and
politics, the  Big Tooth  Continent extended  across  our  every thought and
     The Black Queen, Keeper of the Secret, pined away in cobweby loneliness
behind the brass gate of the seashell grotto. Schwambrania lived on.
     One day  Oska came hurrying home from school.  He was terribly excited,
for a soldier  had come up to him on the street  in broad daylight and asked
for directions to Schwambrania. Oska had become so confused he had run away.
We set right out to find the  mysterious stranger, but there was no trace of
him.  Oska said that maybe he was a real live lost Schwambranian. Naturally,
I  made fun of him, reminding him that we had invented Schwambrania and all,
its inhabitants.  Still and  all, I noticed  that Oska had begun to sort  of
believe in its actual existence.

     Schwambrania  soon  became known  to Oska's classmates.  From  the very
start he had made  a name for himself  in  school. One of the boys had asked
the teacher where sugar came from.
     "I know," Oska had replied. "Sugar comes from school."
     That was the day Kocherygin,  the temporary principal,  was keeping the
children  in check, since the botany teacher  was absent.  "That's where  it
comes  from,"  he  said. Then Oska said that sugar came from  kerosene which
spurted up from the ground.
     Kocherygin seemed stumped. The  next day he told  the children  that he
had looked into the matter and learned that saccharine came from the ground,
but from coal, not kerosene. However, he regarded Oska with new respect.
     Oska  immediately  took advantage of  this  and  drew  the  outline  of
Schwambrania on the large wall map in the classroom. Since the geography and
botany teacher was still absent, Kocherygin took over once again. His finger
suddenly got lost in the mountains of the Big Tooth Continent.
     "What  country's this?" he  said, pointing  to the strange  land.  "Hm?
Anybody knows?"
     Nobody did.
     "It's Schwambrania," Oska teased.
     "What's that?"
     "Schwambrania!" Oska became serious.
     "Never heard of it."
     "I did. A soldier I know even left for there yesterday."
     "How come it's not in the book?" his classmates demanded.
     "It's not on the map yet, because it's a very new country."
     "Go on, tell us about it," Kocherygin said.
     And so  Oska  went over to the big map and spent the rest of the lesson
talking about Schwambrania. He spoke in detail of the flora and fauna of the
Big Tooth  Continent, and his classmates listened  with bated breath  to his
story  of the wild 1  rum-toddies who inhabited the canyons of the  Northern
Candelabras. He told  them  of the wars against Piliguinia, of the overthrow
of Brenabor, of the adventures of the deceased Jack, the Sailor's Companion,
of the evil deeds  of Chatelains Urodenal. Kocherygin was quite pleased with
the Schwambranian geography lesson.
     Oska  returned  home  in  the best of spirits. He  was  beaming. "We're
studying about Schwambrania in school now," he said proudly.
     I nearly collapsed.
     However, the  very  next day Kocherygin brought a very embarrassed Oska
home.  He  was  holding  Oska's  hand,  trying  to   talk  him  out  of  his
Schwambranian  fantasy.  A  group  of  his  classmates   followed,  shouting
"Schwamp! Bramp!" The new  principal told our parents of Oska's strange idea
of geography and asked them to somehow influence the stubborn Schwambranian.
Oska  sniffled and  spoke  of  the  mysterious  soldier who  had  asked  for
directions to Schwambrania.
     A few days later  Oska  and  I were out for a walk.  Two poorly-dressed
young peasants came up to us on the square. They were carrying knapsacks. We
were overcome by a terrible premonition.
     "Listen,  boys, can you tell  us  how to get to Red Army  Headquarters?
We're looking for Captain Schambardin."
     So that was who the mysterious soldier had been looking for!

     Typhus  rolled along the  streets  in step with the even tread  of  the
stretcher-bearers  and pallbearers. Typhus raged in the  delirious  cries of
the stricken and was a murmur in the funeral  corteges. The Tratrchok camels
pulled the hearses.
     Our school was moving again.
     Schwambrania  dashed about  in  search  of a  stable  policy,  changing
rulers, climates  and latitudes.  Our house alone  stood steadfastly at  its
moorings at the same old latitude and longitude. It had rusted and sunk into
the riverbed and  was no longer a boat  but heavy,  stranded  barge that had
turned into an island. Storms had not yet invaded it, since Mamma was afraid
of draughts and kept the windows closed.
     Still, some changes had taken place. Papa now wore an army field jacket
instead of a morning coat. The red cross on his breast pocket signified that
he was an  army doctor.  He was attached  to the casualty-clearing  station.
Then, the people who we  had once been  told were  undesirable acquaintances
and had  only come up the back stairs were now all coming to the front door.
Even the water-carrier,  who,  it would seem, would  save time and effort by
coming straight into the kitchen,  now rang the front doorbell  insistently.
He trudged through the apartment, leaving puddles  and wet  tracks,  and his
pails were full of dignity.
     Oska and  I welcomed this degradation of the front hall. A  draught  of
disrespect had now been established between it and the kitchen. We could now
strike out the first point on our list of the world's injustices (concerning
"undesirable acquaintances").
     The plumber and the carpenter were the first to ring the front doorbell
after the revolution. Annushka opened the door and asked them to  wait while
she went to tell Papa that "two men wanted to see Comrade Doctor".
     "Who are they?" Mamma wanted to know.
     "Well, sort of men," Annushka said. (She divided all of Papa's patients
into gentlemen, men and peasants.)
     Papa  went out into  the  front  hall. "There's  something we'd like to
discuss," one of them said.
     "What seems to  be bothering you?" Papa asked, for he thought he  was a
     "They've no sense of  duty," the plumber said. "The town council closed
down the  hospital under Kerensky, and that  means the  working people won't
get any care when they need it. We've been appointed commissars."
     Papa could never forgive Kerensky,  because  during his short  reign in
Russia the rich,  tight-fisted town fathers  had closed  down the  municipal
hospital, saying, as they usually did, "No need for it."
     And now two Bolshevik commissars had come  to see him and tell him that
the Soviets had decreed that  the hospital was to be  opened immediately and
that Papa was to be in charge of it.

     Papa asked the commissars to have tea with him. After they had gone, he
paced up  and  down humming happily,  "Marusya  took  some  poison,  to  the
hospital she'll go."
     "This is a real government! It's  showing good  cultural sense. How can
you  even compare your Constituent  Assembly  to  it? It was  just like  our
district meeting. 'No need for it' on a nation-wide scale."
     "Your  Constituent Assembly" was said especially to spite  my aunts. At
the  time, starving aunts seemed to have  descended  upon us  from  all over
Russia.  One had come from Vitebsk  the  other had escaped from  Samara. The
Samara and  Vitebsk  aunts  were  sisters. Both wore pince-nez on black silk
cords and  looked very much  alike. Papa had nicknamed them  the Constituent
Assembly. Oska and I nicknamed them Aunt Neces and Aunt Sary.
     They were both terribly educated and spent hours  discussing literature
and arguing over politics, and if some of  their information jarred with the
encyclopaedia, they would say it was a printing error.
     Then a third aunt arrived from Petrograd. She said she was as good as a
     "Will you be better'n a Bolshevik soon?" Oska asked.
     However, months passed, but  our aunt still did not become a Bolshevik.
She  was  now  saying  that to all  intents and purposes  she  was nearly  a
     The  Petrograd aunt found a job at Tratrchok, while Aunt Neces and Aunt
Sary both went  to work for the District Food  Committee. In their free time
they told us "true life  stories", had heated discussions and meddled in our
upbringing.  Our  aunts insisted that we be tutored at  home, for they  were
firmly convinced that the Soviet school system was detrimental to upbringing
of a child  from an  intellectual family and to his sensitive personality (I
believe that is the way they put it).
     They took it upon themselves to tutor us, as they considered themselves
authorities in the field of  child  psychology.  Their  constant admonitions
exhausted us. They wanted to take part in everything we did, to play all our
games.  They  were  overjoyed   when  they   discovered  the  existence   of
Schwambrania and said it was so-oo exciting and simply  divine. They  begged
to be let in on the secrets of  our world of make-believe and promised to be
of help. Schwambrania was in danger of being overrun by aunts.
     That was when the Schwambranian commanders played a trick on them. They
led  the  aunts  off  into the heart of  Schwambrania  and  there, during an
initiation ceremony, painted them with water colours, made them crawl  under
beds, locked them in a cave with wild beasts, which meant locking  them in a
storeroom with  wild rats, and made  them  sing the Schwambranian anthem ten
times in a row.
     "'Hoo-ray, hoo-ray!' they all shouted, the Schwambranians,"  our tired,
painted aunts sang in  the darkness. " 'Hoo-ray!' Eeek! Something's crawling
up my skirt! 'Hoo-ray, hoo-ray!' They were clouted! Do-re-mi-nians!"
     However, when we  then  explained the rules  and holds of wrestling and
told them to wrestle without breaks or a time limit  to a final victory, our
poor aunts became indignant. They said Schwambrania was  a crude game and  a
stupid country,  unworthy of well brought  up boys. This was why the  famous
Schwambranian poet (obviously inspired  by  Lermontov)  wrote  the following
stanza in his Aunt Neces' autograph book.
     Three lively aunts all live in our apartment,
     Thank God there are no more in this department!

     "Your father's an  intellectual, but  he's  all right," Stepan Atlantis
said. "You can see he's on  our side. And you're an all-out sympathizer. One
of your aunts  has an  idea of what's going on,  but  those  other  two  are
awfully backward." He was leaving our house after a two-hour long discussion
on the individual and society.
     The Constituent  Assembly  aunts used such long words that I caught  my
Petrograd aunt sneaking off to the dictionary every  now and then to look up
unfamiliar  "isms" and "substances". According  to my first two  aunts,  the
free intelligent  self was the core, and everything else revolved around it.
And whatever the self believed,  was so. Whatever it wished things to be was
the way they were, and to hell with everything else! Stepan, however, argued
that, like the saying went, you  didn't call off a wedding  if one guest was
missing. He said that the  group, with  everyone  pulling together, was  the
main thing. As for the  self, if it got too stuck-up you  could always catch
it by the collar and give it a good shake. My  aunts replied that Stepan and
I were crude realists,  believing only  in that which everyone could see and
feel. Realists  were also called materialists. They believed  that the world
undoubtedly existed and governed all ideas and individuals. But my aunts did
not agree with this. They got terribly excited  and even  shouted. They said
the  world  had  no  right  to order free ideas and the  individual  around,
because, they  said,  perhaps  the  world would  never have existed  without
ideas.  Yes, undoubtedly,  only  the reasoning  individual  existed. Perhaps
everything else existed only as it appeared to it, only as in a dream.
     "Are we individual?" Oska wanted to know.
     "As far as you yourselves are concerned, undoubtedly," Aunt Sary said.
     We thought this was a great idea and decided  it would all come in very
handy in Schwambrania.
     Indeed, what if we were really Schwambranians and Pokrovsk, our school,
home and the  revolution were  all a part of  some dream? We were stunned by
the very thought of it.
     Our aunts sat down on the couch and Aunt Neces began reading aloud from
a Russian history book: "The Vikings, Rurik, Truvor and Sinehus came to rule
Ancient Rus."
     Oska and I decided  to have a look at Schwambranian history, meanwhile,
and began singing, throwing chairs around and making  as much of a racket as
possible. Our aunts asked us  to be a little more considerate.  They said it
was a lack of respect for the individual.
     "Our individual is dreaming that you're not here at all," Oska said.
     "Maybe we just imagined you?" I added.
     Our  aunts spoke  about our behaviour  to Mamma.  She came in to have a
look but we were doubtful of her existence as  well. Mamma burst into  tears
and spoke about our behaviour to Papa.
     "What sort of nursery solipsism is this?" Papa demanded. "I'm going  to
suddenly imagine  that the two of you have been sent to stand in a corner at
this advanced age."
     We were given no dinner. Papa said that, after all, the soup was only a
dream, and Oska and I were such  free-thinking individuals, it wouldn't take
any  effort on our part to imagine that  we were full, while he said that he
recalled dreaming  that we had had our dinner and had even said "thank you".
In  a  word, we  had to accept the  fact  that our soup  was not an idea but
reality, and that there were millions of other individuals except ourselves,
and that we could not exist without them.

     The self had been tossed out of the centre of the universe as far as we
were concerned. We were caught up in the great whirl of events in school and
on the street. However, the centrifugal  forces could do nothing  about  the
state of  affairs at home. Our home staunchly  remained the reliable core of
our existence. We felt that everything else was whirling around it like some
great and dangerous merry-go-round. Such was the case until the day on which
a stocky  man appeared in the front hall during Papa's  office hours. He had
on a  pair of black boots protected by galoshes and a holster, and carried a
briefcase. Annushka said it was one of the commissars.
     "Sorry  to  inconvenience  you,  but  I'm going  in next.  I'm  here on
business,"  he said to the patients  in the waiting room. "We're all here on
business!" "Who does he think he is?"
     "He thinks he's a  gentleman," a fat farm woman said. A sack on her lap
moved, and a live duck-offering quacked inside it.
     Water splashed in the washstand in the office. Then the door opened and
a man came out, buttoning his shirt collar. The Commissar went right in.
     "Good day. I'm  sorry to bother you, coming in  out of  turn, but  it's
revolutionary  duty, Comrade Doctor. You see, I'm here  as the Commandant of
     "Sit down,  Comrade Usyshko," Papa said, recognizing  the shoemaker who
had formerly made all our  shoes  and had often  borrowed  books from Papa's
library. "What's the good news these days?"
     "You'll have to move to another apartment, Comrade Doctor. Tratrchok is
expanding. They  don't have enough space any more. I'm  sorry to bother you,
but you'll have to move in two days."
     "Well. They've finally got to me," Papa said to himself. Aloud he said,
adjusting  his breast-pocket  flap with the red  cross on it. "I'm going  to
protest. Comrade Usyshko. I won't  let anyone throw me out  so high-handedly
in two days'  time, as if  I were some bourgeois. I believe that the working
intelligentsia has  the right  to  expect a more considerate approach on the
part of the government with whom it is working in complete contact."
     "All right.  I'll  give  you an extra day, but  no more.  I won't argue
about  that  contact part. And I've  personally found  you a fine  place  on
Kobzar Street.  It's  in Pustodumov's  former house.  A fine apartment.  And
we'll take care of the moving."
     "You understand that I'll have to see it first."
     "As you like. We don't  charge any for looking. So I'll send the wagons
over on the sixth. I'll be going now." As he turned, his eyes fell on Papa's
shoes. "You still wearing them?"
     "Yes!" Papa said angrily.
     "How's the left one? Not too tight? Remember, I said it'd only be tight
at first and that it'd stretch?"
     "To  be frank. Comrade Usyshko, I think you  were better at  that  job,
     "That depends which way you look at it. Comrade Doctor." The Commandant
chuckled.  "You used  to order your shoes, but now  some  things, if  you'll
pardon my saying so, aren't done to your  measurements any  more. Maybe some
things don't fit very well."
     The news of the coming move stunned Oska and me. We saw  that centre of
the world had shifted, and  history was not made  according to the wishes of
our home.
     Copernicus' contemporaries  had  most  probably found themselves in the
same predicament. They had always believed that  Man was the centre  of  the
Universe and that the Earth was the  centre of Creation. Then they were told
that the Earth was only a speck among thousands of similar planets, and that
it  travelled around  the  Sun,  governed  by  forces that  were  not of its

     A  most unusual caravan was moving along Breshka Street.  Ten camels of
the Tratrchok were carrying our possessions.
     The  drapes and  curtains were  rolled  up  like campaign banners.  The
dismantled beds, adorned by shiny brass knobs, clattered and jangled like  a
collection of maces  belonging to a Cossack chief. The armoured coats of the
samovars gleamed. The large pier glass spread out like a  lake, with Breshka
Street splashing in it upside-down.  The innerspring jelly of the mattresses
jiggled. A  set of hobbled bentwood chairs jostled and trotted atop  another
wagon like a little herd of colts.
     The piano in its white cloth cover rode along  in an upright  position.
Seen from  the side, it resembled a surgeon in a white smock,  but  from the
front it was a steed wearing a horse-cloth. The merry driver had one hand on
the reins and the other stuck through the slit in  the cloth.  He was poking
at the keys, trying to pick out a simple tune as the wagon rolled along.
     Our belongings looked indecent. The washstand and sideboard,  which had
always been upright, lay  on their backs with  the doors gazing at the  sky.
Passers-by  stared  at us. Our personal, private life was bared to all eyes.
We felt uneasy  and wished we could renounce  it all. Papa walked along  the
sidewalk, as if none of this had anything to do with  him,  but Mamma walked
bravely on at  the head  of the procession, right behind the first wagon, as
wan and unhappy as a widow following the pallbearers. She was holding a list
of our belongings, quite like a list of the dead for a church service.
     Oska walked ahead of us, carrying the cat. Annushka sat on a  high pile
of things on the first wagon like a maharaja atop an elephant, and the front
of  a potted  palm served  as a fan. She was  holding a stuffed owl. I  came
next,   carrying  the  precious   grotto  and  its   chess-piece   prisoner.
Schwambrania was moving to a new geographical location.
     A line of aunts brought up the rear.
     The new  apartment  greeted  us  with a hollow chill.  A  taunting echo
mimicked us.
     The drivers were busy moving our heavy bookcases. Papa poured some pure
alcohol into a measuring glass, added water and treated the drivers to it. I
could hear the' men talking.
     "It goes right through you!"
     "It's the best medicine! Castor oil for your brains. Cleans them out in
a flash."
     "Get over on the other side. Look  at all them books! What do they want
with so many?"
     "You think it's easy poking about in somebody's insides? It takes a lot
of reading, maybe a thousand books, and  then you can make a mistake and sew
up the wrong thing."
     Our aunts  tracked  along behind the drivers  to  see  that they didn't
pinch  anything, for, as our aunts said, nowadays people were very  free and
easy with other people's possessions. There was an elegant chandelier with a
fringe of glass beads in  one of  the rooms. It  had  been  left  behind  by
Pustodumov. My aunts stood admiring it.
     "Well? I see you've  put up  a chandelier," the commandant said, for he
had just arrived on the scene. "That's some fine light! I'll bet it came all
the way from Petrograd."
     My aunts seemed embarrassed. As I opened  my mouth to tell him whose it
was, my Aunt Neces stepped  in front of me, blocking me like a screen. "Yes,
you're right. It was made in Petrograd," she said quickly.
     After he  had gone my aunts  explained rather sheepishly that what they
had done was right, since Pustodumov would never get it back anyway, and the
country would manage without it.

     The  rooms were no longer as hollow-sounding, for our furniture muffled
the echoes. We found a cosy corner for the Queen's grotto that we could turn
into a circus, railroad station or prison.
     Schwambrania was re-established.
     Papa climbed the stepladder and stood there, hammer in hand, to hang up
a  portrait  of  Doctor  Pirogov  and  a  portrait  of  Lev Tolstoy  by  the
Academician Pasternak. Papa was making a speech. The ladder was his rostrum.
     "Today  I  had occasion once again to see that we are all the miserable
slaves of our possessions. This tremendous pile of junk has us in its power.
It has  bound us hand and  foot.  I would have gladly left half of all  this
behind! Children! (Take  that  nail  out  of your  mouth this minute, Lelya!
Haven't you ever heard about hygiene?) As I said, children, learn to despise
     Then Oska and I went off to the dining-room  to hang up  a hand-painted
plate in bas-relief. Sticking up  from the surface of the plate was a castle
and  knights  on  prancing steeds.  The nail came  loose, sending the  plate
crashing to the floor. The knights perished. The castle was in ruins.
     Papa came running at the  sound of china breaking. He shouted at us. He
called us vandals and barbarians. He said that even bears could be taught to
handle things carefully. He went on to enumerate a long  and woeful list  of
things which we had  annihilated: the  black  queen, his cane, fountain pen,
etc., etc.
     We sighed.  Then I reminded Papa that  he  had  just told us to despise
possessions. At this he hit the ceiling. He said that one should first learn
to take care  of things, then  to earn the money to buy  them, and then only
could one begin to despise them.
     That evening Mamma wandered about desolately. She  had  made a list  of
all the small things, so as not to misplace them and then waste time looking
for them. She had been searching for the list for over an hour.

     The  sand  went  slowly  to  the  bottom in the  stirred water  of  the
fishbowl.  Fish   darted   through  the  emerald-green   water  plants  like
brightly-plumed hummingbirds, swishing  close to the green-glowing glass and
feeling quite at home.
     The walls of our new apartment had lost their chilling strangeness. The
rooms  were  becoming  lived  in.  The  cosiness  of  our  former  home  was
transported to our new one. Gazing up at the  chandelier during supper. Papa
said,  "The  revolution  ...  (eat  your  carrots,  Oska,  they're  full  of
vitamins!) The revolution is full of cruel justice. Indeed. Whom should this
apartment belong to? A moneybags  merchant  or a doctor? Actually, I believe
that the proletariat and the intelligentsia can find a common language."
     "Goodness! Aren't we all Communists at heart!" my aunts exclaimed.
     The following day our piano was rolled away.
     A gala event was being planned  by the Tratrchok offices. An army choir
was rehearsing a  Red Cross Cantata. The choir needed the use of a piano for
a week, and so they requisitioned ours.
     Mamma had  gone out. In her purse was the license, issued to her by the
District Department of Education. It stated that she was a music teacher and
verified  her  ownership  of  the piano. Papa  made  a  small  speech to the
abductors on the subject of the intelligentsia and the proletariat, and also
mentioned the need for mutual contact. However, this  made no  impression on
them.  Then Papa  said that  it wasn't a  matter of  the  piano,  it was the
principle of  the thing that counted, and that he would not sit idly by, but
would  go as high as Lenin if need be. Then Papa sat  down to write a letter
to the editors of Izvestia, a newspaper published in the capital.
     They carried the  piano  out like a body  at  a  funeral, with Annushka
bewailing its fate and my aunts dropping copious tears.
     When Mamma returned and learned of what had happened she sank down on a
chair and  blinked rapidly.  Then she spoke very  quickly, saying: "Did  you
take out the package?"
     At this Papa,  too, plopped into a chair. My aunts seemed petrified. We
then learned that  Mamma had tied a little bundle to the inside of the piano
top.  It  contained four  pieces  of  expensive  toilet soap and a sheaf  of
now-worthless, pre-revolutionary paper money. It was Oska's and my  turn  to
become terror-stricken now, for a week before we had seen Mamma tying up the
little bundle and had decided that she would hide it  in  a very safe place.
Since we, too, had quite a few things that were to be kept in secret, we had
stuck a sheaf of official  Schwambranian papers into  the  bundle when Mamma
had gone out of the room. Our sheaf contained maps, secret  campaign  plans,
Brenabor's manifestoes,  coats-of-arms,  letters of famous men, metaphorical
posters and other secret manuscripts from the Schwambranian chancellery. Now
all this  had been carted off to Tratrchok. Schwambrania  was in danger. The
piano tuner might discover our cache.
     Mamma rose, wiped her eyes and set out  for  Tratrchok.  I said I would
accompany her. She was very touched and did not suspect that  we were on our
way to salvage Schwambrania's valuables.

     When we  got to  Tratrchok  Mamma  told a commander who had a  drooping
moustache that she had to  remove a package of personal letters from  inside
the piano. He winked at her meaningfully, said "Aha! Love letters!" and told
her to go right ahead.
     The piano was in a large hall. It seemed to be crouching fearfully in a
far  corner.  Red  Army  soldiers  sat  around  on  the benches, chewing  on
sunflower  seeds. Two  men were  sitting on crates  by  the piano. They were
trying to play "Chopsticks". They stopped when they saw us.  Mamma went over
to  the piano and caressed the keys with  a  delicate, rippling  scale.  The
piano whinnied  like a horse that has recognized its  master.  The  soldiers
stared at us. The  commander untied the package,  winked at  Mamma again and
again said, "Love letters".
     "  'Hooray!  Hooray!'  they all  shouted,"  I  hummed as  we  left  the
Tratrchok premises.
     As  we  were crossing  the  square,  someone  behind us  shouted: "Hey,
Madame! Come on back!"
     It was the commander. He was out of breath from running when he reached
us. Mamma trembled as she pressed the package to her breast. At  that moment
an earthquake shook Schwambrania.
     "Come on back, lady. The boys are awfully mad. They say you spoiled the
piano on  purpose,  so  it won't be of any  use  to us.  They  say you  took
something out of it and now it's ruined."
     "You're talking nonsense! That's probably because none of you  know how
to play."
     "You're  wrong there. It was all right until you took that package out.
So you'll have to come back and tie it inside again."
     We trudged back to Tratrchok.
     The  soldiers greeted us with an angry rumble.  They crowded around the
piano.  They  were  shoving  and shouting,  saying  that  Mamma had  spoiled
national property on  purpose, that this was sabotage, and that  people  got
themselves shot for being saboteurs.
     "Take it  easy,  boys," their commander said, but  we could see he  was
also upset.
     Mamma  strode  over  to  the piano.  The soldiers stopped  talking. She
played a chord, but the piano did not respond with its usual fine sound. The
sound it made was dull and  barely audible. It  rose and died away like some
distant thunder.
     Mamma looked at me.  She was aghast. Then she brought her hands down on
keys as hard as she could, but the chord was a whisper again. The  soldiers,
however, roared.
     "You spoiled it! She did it on purpose!"
     "It's the soft pedal!" I cried, guessing what the matter was.
     When the commander had pulled the package  out he  had tripped the soft
stop, lowering the strip  of felt  onto the  strings. Mamma yanked at it and
the piano responded with such a loud chord it was as if cotton wads had been
removed from our ears.
     The soldiers  beamed. They asked us to tie the package  back inside the
piano  again, just  to make sure.  We did, but the piano did not  sound  any
louder.  We were  then  told we  could have our package back. The shamefaced
young soldiers asked Mamma to play something lively.
     "I don't play polkas, comrades," Mamma said acidly. "You had better ask
my son."
     They  did and I clambered up onto a crate. I was surrounded  by beaming
faces. As  I  could  not reach the  pedals from my high  perch,  one of  the
soldiers volunteered to help. He depressed it carefully and kept his foot on
it all through my performance. I played every single march,  polka and ditty
I knew, and all of  them  as loudly as  possible. Some  of the men were soon
tapping in time, and then, suddenly, a young soldier dashed to the middle of
the room, spread his  arms wide, as if he were going to embrace someone, and
tapped  his foot gingerly, as  though to test the  floor. Then  he  began to
dance inside the wide  circle that formed in an instant. He tossed his  head
and stamped as he danced. Then he began to sing a ditty in a clear voice:

     It's a pity, it's a shame,
     It's an awful darn disgrace!
     See the bourgeois and their dames
     Crawling out from every place!

     The commander cut him short. Then he turned to Mamma and said in a very
polite and respectful manner: "Madame, I mean, as we now say. Citizen, would
you please  play us something yourself? Something  more inspiring. The  boys
and I would all appreciate it very much. Say, some overture from an opera."
     Mamma sat down on the crate. She  wiped the keys with her handkerchief.
My pedal specialist offered his help  and foot again, but  Mamma said  she'd
manage herself.
     Mamma played the  Overture  from "Prince Igor" for them.  She was  very
serious and played exceptionally well.
     The  soldiers  stood around  the piano in  silence.  They  followed her
fingers  with  rapt attention, leaning over each other's shoulders. Finally,
Mamma removed her hands slowly and gently  from the keyboard. The last chord
drifted up in their wake like a wisp of cobweb and then died away.
     The men all moved back  as she raised  her  hands, but were  silent for
several  seconds  after. It seemed  they were listening to the  last, fading
notes. Then only did they begin clapping wildly. Their arms were extended as
they clapped, and  they held  their hands close  to  Mamma's face,  for they
wanted her to see that they were clapping, not merely to hear them.
     "A great talent. No doubt about it," the commander said and sighed.
     We had once again  reached  the middle  of the square, but the applause
coming from the porch of Tratrchok continued. Mamma listened to it modestly.
     "You can't  imagine the ennobling effect music has on people!" she said
later to my aunts.
     "You can't ennoble  such  people. If they'd been ennobled, they'd  have
returned the piano," Aunt Sary said.
     A  month later,  after  the  piano had long  since  been returned,  the
following lines appeared in the "Replies to Our Readers" column of Izvestia:
     To a Doctor from Pokrovsk
     You  piano  has  been  illegally  requisitioned  as  it  is a  means of

     Papa was  jubilant.  He carried the clipping  around  in his wallet and
showed it to all his friends.
     When Stepan Atlantis found out about it,  he said, "Was that your piano
they  wrote about in the paper? Hm! You sure spread it all over the country!
That's what private ownership does to you!"

     The secret package was now  tucked away into a drawer  of Mamma's desk,
and the  desk was now  a  part of the  furnishings belonging to  one of  our
neighbours, for we now shared our apartment with others, having had three of
our rooms borrowed in succession. Chubarkov, who was recuperating, was given
one room, something that pleased us both immensely.
     "Now we  can be like Robinson Crusoe and Friday," he  said,  unbuckling
his belt and holster and laying them  on the table. "Will  you  lend me  the
     "Sure!" I examined the gun. "Is it loaded?"
     "Sure. Don't touch it."
     My  aunts peeped  in,  examined  the  Commissar's  broad shoulders  and
uptilted  nose  critically and departed with an indignant sniff. "No manners
at all! He's a regular martinet!"
     The Commissar winked in their direction  and said, "They don't look too
     "They never are," I said.
     "But we are," Oska said.
     "That's that then.  If boys  like you  are,  I'll make out."  Chubarkov
smiled  fondly.  Then he  lifted Oska up and sat him on his knee.  The  blue
cloth  of his  narrow  breeches  was  stretched  tight. "Anybody  here  play
checkers?" His question was unexpected.
     "That's no fun. Chess is much better. Do you play chess?"
     "No. Never had a chance to learn."
     "Lelya'11 teach you  quick.  He  knows all the movings. The white ones,
and the  black ones, and the back and front ones, too. All I know is how the
horse  moves." Oska jumped down and began  hopping  in  the  squares of  the
linoleum. He stopped  suddenly, stood on one foot and said, "We  put a queen
in jail. We put her away  in a kennel  long ago, when there  wasn't any war,
but there was a tsar. That's how long ago!"
     I glared at him, and he said no more.
     In  order  to cut  short  this unnecessary  and  risky conversation,  I
suggested that  the  Commissar and I  have  a game of  checkers.  He took  a
printed  checkerboard from  his  knapsack and dumped the checkers  out  of a
little  pouch. Then he set  them up, and  we bent  over the cardboard field,
forehead to forehead.
     "Your move," he said.
     In no time I saw I  was up against a  serious  opponent. The  Commissar
would send his pieces into the most unexpected squares with a light flick of
his middle finger.  He set up traps and made two-for-one shots, scooping  my
checkers up  lightly and  saying as he did, "Haven't had time to learn chess
yet, but I  know a bit about checkers. What are you  doing? Look here! You'd
better jump  or I'll huff, that's for  sure. Ah, that's  better.  Now here's
where we plaster back your ears. And reach the king row. My king. And that's
     Five minutes  later I found myself with one blocked piece on the board.
It was a disgraceful defeat.
     I immediately  set  up the pieces  again and suggested we  have another
game. Ten minutes later my  last two pieces were blocked  in a  corner.  The
Commissar had  rolled himself a cigarette and  was cheerfully blowing  thick
clouds of smoke at that unhappy corner.

     Oska was crushed by  my defeat. He decided to try his  own hand against
the invincible Commissar.
     "Do you know how to play cat-and-mouse?"
     "Cat-and-mouse?" The Commissar sounded genuinely puzzled.
     "I'll show you," Oska said and got  up  on  the Commissar's  lap again.
"You put your hand  out like this, and I'll try to slap it. But  you have to
yank it away,  so's I don't.  If I miss,  it's your turn to slap me. We  all
play it in school."
     "Let's give it  a  try."  Chubarkov  laid his  huge hand, the hand of a
stevedore, on the card table.
     Oska took aim.  He  raised  his left  hand but quickly brought down his
right. Slap! The Commissar did not have a chance to yank his hand away.
     "What'd  you know! You tricked me that time! Let's do it again. I think
I've got the hang of it. Go on, try again!"
     Oska repeated the manoeuvre, but  his palm came down hard on the table,
since Chubarkov had yanked his hand away  at the very last moment. "Aha!" he
said and seemed very pleased with himself. "Now you put down your paw."

     A short while  later someone  knocked  and  Papa  entered.  We  quickly
removed our puffed hands from the table  and hid them  behind our backs, for
they were as  red as a goose's feet and  itched  badly from the  Commissar's
slaps. However, Papa must have heard something of what was going on from the
     "What's wrong with your hands, boys?"
     "Oh, Papa! Come on  in!  We're  playing cat-and-mouse.  The Commissar's
real good at it, too. Even better than Vitya Ponomarenko."
     "He's a  real sharp fellow, your Oska is," the  Commissar  said and  he
sounded a bit embarrassed.  "You have to keep your eye on  him all the time.
But he cheats. He hits you in mid-air, and that's against the rules."
     "No, I don't! I don't cheat! You're real sharp yourself!"
     "This is abominable! Look at your hands! It's unhygienic. Pardon me for
saying so. Comrade Commissar,  but my children are used to more  intelligent
games. This is no way for them to be spending their time."
     "They're getting hardened," Chubarkov said, trying to stick up for us.
     "It's good training! You have to have a good eye and be quick."
     "Nonsense! What a thing to be proud  of! You don't  need any brains for
this kind of a game."
     The Commissar looked at him slyly. "I wouldn't say so. Doctor. It seems
easy when you're on the sidelines,  but it takes some brains. Why  don't you
     "If you don't mind, I'd rather not."
     "That's a pity."
     "Come on, Papa!"
     "He's scared! Papa's scared!" Oska shouted.
     Papa shrugged. "I don't see what there is to be afraid of. And I  don't
see that you need any brains for it, either. But if you insist. Well...."
     "That's  that," the Commissar said and put  his huge paw  on the table.
"Your turn, Doctor."
     Papa raised his white, antiseptic, surgeon's hand high into the air. He
shrugged disdainfully again and  smacked  the empty table  top in the  place
where  the  Commissar's hand  had just been  lying,  but  had been  suddenly
whisked away.
     We were ecstatic.
     "Well, Doc? You still say there's nothing to it?"
     "One minute.  That  didn't  count. One  minute,  please.  I  think  I'm
beginning to see what it's all about. Very well. You put your hand here, and
I hit from here. Excellent. All right, let's try it again."
     The Commissar,  keeping a  wary eye  on  Papa, placed his  hand  on the
table. He was  ready  to  jerk it away in a  flash. Papa made  several false
moves, and each time Chubarkov's hand jerked slightly. Then Papa pinned down
the Commissar's hand with a sudden loud slap.
     "Oho! You  sure  have  a surgical sledge-hammer,"  Chubarkov  said  and
rubbed his swelling hand. "You'll make a good player. But you won't catch me
napping again, that's for sure."
     "Come on, put your hand down. I have another turn. Wait a minute!" Papa
took off his jacket and pulled up a chair. "We'll see who's the smart fellow
here. Aha!"
     When our aunts peeped into  the  room several minutes  later  they were
flabbergasted.  The  Commissar and Papa were sitting  at the table, one with
his  shirt  out over his  breeches  and  no belt  on and  the other  in  his
shirtsleeves. They were taking  turns  slapping each other's hands  soundly,
missing and slapping the table top.
     "Got you!" said the Commissar.
     "Aha!" Papa boomed.
     Oska and  I were hopping around  excitedly, egging them on, though they
were quite carried away  with  the game as it were. The little table creaked
and swayed under their blows.
     The  sacred  rules  of propriety  hammered into  us by  our  aunts were
creaking and rocking as well.

     An elegant army man who wore laced boots moved into the second room. He
carried in his suitcase, examined the room, cleaned his nails, beat a tattoo
on the table with his finger-tips and said, "So".
     "You can always tell a gentleman,"  my aunts, who had been watching him
stealthily, decided and entered to greet the newcomer.
     The  gentleman jumped up, kissed  their hands in turn  and gave each of
the  three one of his  gilt-edged visiting cards.  The  name on the card was
Edmond  Flegontovich La Bazri de Bazan. The fine type in the lower left-hand
corner read: "Marxist".
     Despite his fine-sounding name,  Edmond  Flegontovich La Bazri de Bazan
turned out to be completely  non-Schwambranian in character. He actually did
exist,  though, and  was well  known  in Pokrovsk. La  Bazri  de Bazan first
appeared in town shortly  after the revolution and became the editor  of the
Volga  Stormy  Petrel, a  small  newspaper published  in Pokrovsk. He became
famous  after he printed  a banner  headline on Christmas, greeting  all the
readers on behalf  of "the 1918th anniversary of the birth of the Socialist,
J.  Christ". The following  day the paper had a new  editor. At the  time in
question, La Bazri de Bazan was on the Tratrchok  staff. He held the rank of
aide-de-camp for special missions, but since he was chiefly responsible  for
arranging lectures, shows and debates,  he soon found his  rank unofficially
referred  to  as  "aide-de-camp  for  special  intermissions". The  soldiers
nicknamed him Bags-and-Sacks.
     The Committee  to Combat Desertion set up its headquarters in the third
room, and penitent deserters  trooped in  and out all day long. They trekked
in guiltily to the committee, but since they usually took  the wrong turn in
the apartment,  they  would as often as  not lay their  guilty heads  on our
tables and windowsills. They wandered through the rooms and held meetings in
the kitchen.  In  the  mornings they would tramp  into  the parlour  without
knocking and wake Oska and me and  our aunts, who slept on the other side of
the  wardrobes  that  divided the  room.  Our aunts  would  appeal to  their
consciences, but the deserters would assure them that they were no strangers
and would not hurt anyone, after which the men would curl up by the door and
go to sleep.  Whenever a little  girl  came  for  a piano lesson, they would
crowd around  the  piano and  follow  her rippling  fingers  up and down the
keyboard admiringly.  "Just  look at that!.  No bigger'n a  baby,  but watch
those fingers go!" they would say.
     Strangers kept drifting in and  out of every door,  but they all seemed
to  be  desirable acquaintances.  Mamma  soon got used to the draughts.  The
draughts  drew the  red  flags  in through the windows.  The house  became a
thoroughfare, with the corridor serving as  an extension of the street.  For
some  reason or other, no one noticed the gate, and so they  passed  through
our  apartment  to  reach  the  back  yard  from the street.  Day  and night
typewriters clattered overhead  in the army office on the second  floor. One
night they  clattered louder and  faster than usual, and in the  morning  we
discovered that the people upstairs had been testing a new machine-gun.  Tin
pails clanged in the  yard  near the tethering post. Hardened deserters  who
were  under arrest sat around  on  the porch railing. Sentries walked up and
down  with measured steps. Oska hopped and skipped along behind them, trying
to keep  in  step and  looking very intent as he shouldered his  toy gun. He
would peep into Bags-and-Sacks' windows as he paraded back and forth,  since
our manuscripts  were  locked up  in  the  desk  there.  Oska  was  guarding
Schwambranian property.

     The  Commissar  was reading his way  through the  third volume  of  the
encyclopaedia before going to bed. He had already read the first two volumes
and intended to go through  the entire set. My aunts despised  him in  their
hearts and cautioned me against being too friendly with, as they referred to
him, a  martinet. However, Oska  and I tagged  along  after  him whenever we
could. We accompanied him to the stables to groom the army horses and shared
his dream of big ships.
     Bags-and-Sacks' room reeked  of perfume. Cuff  links,  little  bottles,
boxes,  wine glasses,  cigarette holders  and nail files were  scattered all
over the windowsills. There  was a photograph  of Vera Kholodnaya, a popular
silent  screen  star,  on the  wall.  Bags-and-Sacks was  polite. He  always
stepped aside to let someone pass in the cramped corridor and often  clicked
his heels. My  Petrograd aunt said he was certainly more like a marquis than
a Marxist.  The marquis entertained every evening.  His visitors were ladies
in uniform and men in civilian clothes, the ex-town fathers and ex-volunteer
nurse's  aides.  Bags-and-Sacks'  guests were very  noisy. A  guitar twanged
mournfully far into the  night, while he sang in a grating voice of the King
of France playing chess on  the parquet  floor with  his  jester. Aunt Neces
would wake up and sigh.
     "He's a very fine gentleman," she said. "It's certainly no fault of his
that he has neither a voice for singing nor an ear for music. I simply can't
understand why he insists on singing."
     One day  La Bazri  de  Bazan  got  the Commissar drunk. Chubarkov  kept
refusing, but the  marquis kept coaxing him to  drink. "Go on, drink up. The
proletariat has nothing to lose but its chains."
     After a  while the Commissar came  into  our room in  his stocking feet
with the straps of his breeches dangling. "I'm nearly through with the third
volume,  Doctor,  but  what's the use?  I guess  hauling sacks is my  limit.
That's for sure." And he kneeled over. When someone tried to help him to his
feet he jumped  up and dashed  out into yard. Five  minutes later he entered
from  the street.  He  was tightly belted and every button of his tunic  was
buttoned. He  was  very official-looking. His spurs  jangled. His  face  was
strained and intent.
     "Where's that Army  guy who just made  a  fool of  himself?" he rasped.
"Lolling around drunk, disgracing our Soviet system. Where is he? He's under
arrest! And that's that." He searched the room. Papa  stood  in front of the
mirror,  so the Commissar  would not find himself. Before leaving, Chubarkov
turned in  the  doorway and  shook an unbending  finger at everyone. "See it
doesn't happen again! And that's that!"

     A terrible discovery was made one evening. La Bazri de Bazan  had  gone
off somewheres and Mamma wanted to see if the package was still in  the desk
drawer. It was not. The precious package containing the worthless  money and
our manuscripts was gone, as were four bars of fine toilet soap that she had
also  kept  there.  They  were all gone. The  Schwambranian secrets had been
     Papa and Mamma  went back  to the dining-room. We  were gathered around
the table for a meeting of the family council.
     "So that's what your marquis is like," Papa said.
     "Impossible!" all three aunts protested. "You can tell he's from a good
family. The Commissar probably picked the lock and requisitioned everything,
as they say."
     "Such audacity!" Mamma moaned. "And there was the soap, too. I couldn't
care less for the  money. It was just a pile  of paper that should have been
thrown out long ago."
     "Why'd you hide it then?" I asked.
     "Well, you never can tell...."
     We sat around  in silence  for some  time, staring  at the oilcloth. It
seemed that misfortune was spread out on the table like a dead fish.
     Papa rose and said he would notify the authorities.
     My aunts were aghast.
     "You  must be out of your mind!  How can  you complain to robbers about
the doings of robbers? Why, they'll arrest you and shoot you!"
     But Papa  brought  his  fist  down  on  the table  and the  Constituent
Assembly said no more. Then Papa cranked the telephone.
     "The Special  Section, please," he said in a special voice. "It's busy?
Then the Cheka."
     "Shhh!" Aunt Neces said in a frightened voice. She was used to uttering
these words in a fierce stage whisper.
     Two men came to the house shortly afterwards.  They  were both tall and
olive-skinned and  both had  small black moustaches.  They  were  dressed in
leather jackets and looked  like  drivers. Papa had informed  Chubarkov that
they  were  coming,  and  the  Commissar  joined  them  when  they   entered
Bags-and-Sacks' room. The marquis was at home.  He seemed taken  aback for a
moment, but then greeted the unexpected visitors with his usual familiarity.
"Come  on in.  Prenez  vos  places,  as  they say.  May  I  offer  a  little
     They searched  the room.  The  lost  soap fell  out  of  an  overturned
     "It's ours," Papa said.
     "I must disagree. It's mine," the marquis said.
     The  worthless paper money was  mixed  up  with some other  papers  and
charts. Oska and I exchanged glances.
     One of the men  leafed  through the papers, reading aloud: " 'Letter to
the tsar',  'Battle map',  'Guide to the city of P.'  'Secret Instructions',
'List of conspirators'. What's all this?"
     "I don't  know,"  the  marquis  replied.  He had  turned pale  when  he
realized that this was beginning to smell worse than merely soap.
     "How did you come by all this?"
     "I don't know. My word  of honour. None of this belongs  to me. Nor the
soap. I don't know a thing about it."
     Chubarkov went right  up to him  and cursed through  his teeth. It  was
very much as if he had spat in his face.
     Suddenly Oska made  his way through to the  front. I waved him  back. I
rolled my eyes like a jack-in-the-box, but he paid no attention.
     "That's  ours! Tell him to give it  back, 'cause  it  doesn't belong to
     The two men were examining the charts. They exchanged glances.
     "Mm?" one said quizzically.
     "Uh-huh," the other agreed.
     "Comrades!" I said. "My brother and I were playing, and we hid all this
next to the soap. That's all there is to it," I said.
     "We'll straighten it all out at headquarters," was the reply.
     Then  one  of the men put through a  call. "That you?  This is Schorge.
I've got him here.  Yes, we found it. Yes,  he confessed he stole it. But we
found something funny here. Yes. The boys say it's theirs. Yes. I  doubt it.
What? Both of  them? All  right!" and the  receiver clicked  like a pair  of
heels. He then  went over to Chubarkov and spoke to him. Chubarkov looked at
us awkwardly.
     "I'll tell you what,  boys,"  the Commissar  said. "Let's all go for  a
ride in  an automobile. The chief has specially  invited you  over. He wants
you  both to  tell him all about those papers of yours. And that's that. I'm
going along for the ride. All right? Then that's that."
     My aunts fainted like  so many  tenpins  rolling over. I,  too, felt  a
little  queasy. ' A large automobile took us to the Cheka. The night  rushed
at us. Like  true Schwambranians,  we  were  anxious to  reach the  scene of

     The office was  still. Two men were bent over our papers.  The light of
the  table  lamp was reflected  on  the shiny bald  head of  the fat man  in
eyeglasses. The other was a Lett. His blond eyelashes fluttered.
     "Well, boys, sit down  and tell us all  about it," the fat man said. He
seated Oska on his desk. There was a Browning gun on it.
     "Is it loaded?" Oska asked matter-of-factly and  then  went back to his
usual tone of voice. "Who are  you?  The chief chief? Are you? Then tell him
to give us our papers. You know how long it took us to draw everything?"
     "We'll do just that,  but first I want you to tell us all about it from
the very beginning. All right?"
     The Lett's  eyelashes  fluttered  again as  he  read our  Schwambranian
letters. I felt very ill-at-ease.
     "This is  just a lot of nonsense!" he said in an angry voice and handed
the papers to the fat man, who looked them over carefully.
     "Where's the city of P.?" the fat man asked.
     "That's Port Folio. The port in Folio."
     "And where would that be?"
     "In  Schwambrania," Oska  piped  up. "It's  a  make-believe country. My
brother discovered it all by himself. We've been playing it all our lives."
     "Your brother's  a real Columbus, isn't he?  Well, if it's only a game,
why'd you hide all this?"
     "So's it would be real secret. It's more interesting when  everything's
     The  chief  was  intrigued.  He   asked  us  to  tell   him  all  about
Schwambrania.  We  began our  story rather  reluctantly,  but were gradually
carried away by our  old game. We interrupted each other as we spoke of life
on the Big Tooth Continent. We told them what the coat-of-arms stood for and
all  about  the map. We enumerated all  the members of the Brenabor Dynasty,
described the wars,  journeys, revolutions and tournaments,  while Oska even
recalled the name of the last Minister of External Affairs. We stood to sing
the Schwambranian anthem and were about  to  argue  over the  last  cemetery
reforms when....
     The chief was laughing. He was roaring, choking and wiping  his tearing
eyes.  He  slapped his  bald  pate  and shook his head, but  could  not stop
     The  angry-looking  Lett was laughing, too.  His body shook, though his
pale  lips did not open and his eyes were shut tight. Something squeaked  in
his throat.
     Oska and I  looked  at them reproachfully. Then we smiled. Soon we were
laughing, too.
     "Oh!  You're  better than  a circus!" the chief  panted. "I thought I'd
die. Ah.... What did you call him? Brenabor? How'd you ever think of it? You
had it all figured out! I haven't heard of anything so good in a long time."
Then he suddenly became serious and said, "Do  you find it very difficult to
govern the country?"
     "It's not too bad. We manage. But sometimes things get mixed up."
     "Why'd you have to invent all that?"
     It  was a serious question.  I took a deep breath and said,  "We wanted
everything  to be beautiful. And everything really  is in Schwambrania.  All
the streets are paved, and all the boys have big  muscles. And parents don't
interfere. And you can have as much sugar as  you like. There are hardly any
funerals, and you can go to the movies every single day. As for the weather,
it's always sunny and it's  cool in the shade. All the poor people are rich.
And everybody's happy. And there aren't any lice at all."
     "You're wonderful boys!" the chief  said warmly. "We've got to make all
these  dreams come  true. And we'll have paved  streets everywhere,  and big
muscles,  and movies every day.  And we'll call off the funerals  and outlaw
the  lice. Just  wait!  It's easier  said than done,  so we'll  call off the
dreaming and get down  to work. I have no time to lecture you, not this late
at night. Look at the younger Schwambranian  yawning. He's opening his mouth
so  wide  he might swallow the whole continent. And  I'm sure your  mother's
worried. I'll phone her."
     The chief took us home in his car. He let Oska toot  the horn before we
said goodbye. He laughed and said he was very happy to have met some members
of  the Schwambranian tribe. He said  we  should  establish Soviet power  in
Schwambrania soon and then stop dreaming and help lay real pavements.
     "What happened to Bags-and-Sacks?" I said, feeling  that  we  were well
enough acquainted by now for me to ask him.
     "We'll send him off  to ... uh ... what's  its  name ... Pi-li-guinika.
You know, he  invented himself, too. But  he's a sleazy character and he was
playing for  money. Well, goodnights,  boys! Happy Schwambranian dreams  and
good real times ahead!"

     We were soon asked to move again. This time we were  given an apartment
on Atkarskaya  Street.  It  was  very far  from  the  centre  of  town.  The
centrifugal forces were at work.
     The actual moving was not  too much of a strain, for  we  had  by  then
become used to  all sorts  of  changes.  The greatness of the  Home  (with a
capital   "H")   had  long  since  been  debunked.  Our  belongings  crawled
shamefacedly into the crowded corners of our new place of  habitation. Since
there  was  not  enough room for everything, a wardrobe and a table wandered
off to our friends' house on the way.
     Our moving coincided with new great changes in Schwambrania. Once again
this  island  roaming  in  search of a  single, common universal  truth  had
undergone  considerable displacement.  After  our  visit  to  the  Cheka  we
approached the goal of all our wanderings in the great wide world.
     However, a  new,  an entirely new  passion gripped  Schwambrania. Three
days later we decided that this passion was at last the truth.
     It was the theatre.
     The Lunacharsky Municipal Theatre was opened in Pokrovsk in the defunct
Dawn Cinema. The troupe was made up of actors from  Petrograd and Moscow who
had  chosen  to  forego  future  fame in the capital  for satisfactory  food
rations in the provinces.
     We  were immediately  captivated by the actors' names, which had a true
Schwambranian ring.  There  was  Enriton,  Polonych and Vokar,  for example.
True, we later discovered that some  of the names had simply been  reversed,
so that a very ordinary Rakov had become Vokar.
     Kholmsky was  head  and  shoulders above  all the other  actors of  the
troupe. He was a  man  of many  talents whom  I met in Moscow  several years
later,  when he  was the manager of the  popular Theatre of Satire. Kholmsky
played  either  villains  or  Napoleons. Besides,  he was the playwright and
designer. The  City Council commissioned him  to do  the murals  for the new
theatre. Soon  the  walls were covered with  centaurs,  troubadours,  muses,
prophets and such like. Kholmsky was a man who was easily  carried  away and
was  liable to run to extremes. He bundled some of  his  painted  characters
into suits of mail, but had not a scrap  of covering left for the others. He
coloured their  bodies purple, which was wholly in keeping with the freezing
temperatures inside  the unheated building. Kholmsky  drew Venus de  Milo at
the  entrance.  He added a pair of arms at  the  suggestion  of the  council
members.  The  inscription  on the  pedestal  was: "Sow ye all  kindness and
wisdom eternal! Sow ye! The people will thank you sincerely."
     The people of Pokrovsk did not like his work.
     "He's supposed to be a Party  man, but he's gone  and drawn a bunch  of
naked  people.  You'd think  the  theatre  was  a  bathhouse!"  the audience
     Our Petrograd aunt turned out to be a great theatre-goer,  and she took
us  to  every single premiere. In  no time  we  were  able to  recognize the
members of the troupe,  both  coming and  going.  We were mesmerized by  the
theatre. We liked everything about it: the gong, the intermissions, the line
at the box office.
     At the time, the theatre resembled a railroad  station, and the curtain
was often delayed, as were the trains. The floor was littered with butts and
sunflower seed shells. The audience  sat bundled in winter coats with raised
collars. The applause was  wild, no matter that gloves  and  mittens muffled
the sound. All through  the performance the inclined floor of the hall shook
lightly and  emitted a rumbling sound. This  was the people in the  audience
tapping their feet softly to keep their toes warm.
     "The heat is excruciating! There's not a breath of  air!" the  queen on
stage fumed  as she fanned herself, though  steam escaped from  her mouth in
the cold air and she  had on a heavy quilted jacket  under her flimsy robes.
The prompter's whispering steamed upwards from his booth.
     The  audience  reeked  of   disinfectant.  We  were   doused  with  the
foul-smelling  liquid  before going  to the  theatre and  were  inspected by
candle light in the front hall upon returning.

     The Constituent Assembly sometimes went  to a play and  then  spent the
rest of the week criticizing it. Aunt Sary was nearly run out of the theatre
once. The  curtain had just  gone up, and  there was  a strong draught  from
backstage. My  aunt's  voice  complained from  the  front  row:  "There's  a
draught! Shut whatever it is!" She  said this loudly as if the curtain, that
magic veil that separated the two worlds, was no more than a window.
     The audience was truly offended.
     We  were  dying to go backstage. Grisha Fyodorov, an  influential, kind
soul and  the son of  the  troupe's hairdresser, took us to that workshop of
wonders. We were stunned at the sight of the unbelievable, crude props,  the
toy fruit and sackcloth scenery. But we gazed in awe at the grown people who
played  at  other  people's lives every  single day.  This was  better  than
     There was a painted inscription in the hall over the stage that read:


     This quotation became the new motto of Schwambrania.
     The  Schwambranians took to  the stage. The world was now divided  into
actors and audience. Daytime in Pokrovsk was like a drawn-out intermission.
     "Art takes one's mind  off  one's  dull, uninteresting life," my  aunts
said. "It transports one into a world of beauty."
     They argued  heatedly and  nearly  quarrelled  when they discussed  the
actions  of  the various  characters  in the previous  evening's  play. They
accused  these  invented personages, defended  them, loved  or  hated  them,
exactly  as Oska and I did  when  we played  Schwambrania. That was when  we
decided that the theatre  was  Schwambrania for  grown-ups. They  were  very
serious when they played their game.
     Once, during a  performance  of Sunset, the lights went  out. The  play
continued by the light of kerosene lamps which sent sooty streaks across the
painted sky.  The action was drawing  to  a close. The father had decided to
kill his daughter and had picked up his revolver.
     At that  very moment I noticed  that the lamp  closest to the wings had
begun to smoke badly. The  flame appeared as a tiny fountain over the rim of
the  lamp glass. The  father  walked towards his daughter. The flame reached
the edge of the sackcloth  pavilion. The father raised his gun.  The scenery
was about to catch  fire.  The daughter wrung  her hands. I am positive that
many other people besides myself were aware of the fact that the faulty lamp
might at any moment set fire to the  scenery. However,  the daughter fell to
her knees and  no one said a  word. They were  afraid  to spoil  the murder.
Schwambrania reigned in the theatre. The father cocked his gun.
     The scenery began to smoke.
     "Die, wretched woman!" the father exclaimed.
     "The lamp's smoking!" I shouted, breaking the spell.
     The  nimble actor was  up to par. He turned the wick down with one hand
and killed the ingenue with the other.
     The  theatre  was saved.  However,  no sooner had the curtain come down
than  the people sitting next to  me began scolding, saying that the theatre
was no place for boys, that I might  have waited before I shrieked, and that
now, instead of a murder, they had seen a stupid comedy, and they were sorry
they had  wasted their  money  on  tickets. In my  heart of  hearts I had to
confess that for the first time in my life I had betrayed Schwambrania.

     There were  two things  that had been bothering me  for  several years.
These were  an old locomotive that had  sunk  into  the  ground on Skuchnaya
Street  and  the  mysterious  charm-word  "mitac" which had been  a  part of
Annushka's card trick.
     Now, at last, I discovered the meaning of "mitac". A simple street sign
held the answer. It proved  more knowledgeable than the teachers  in  my old
school or the encyclopaedia. I couldn't believe my eyes when I read the word
"MITAC"  on  one of  the houses on Breshka  Street,  now  renamed  Communard
Square. I  ran over  and read  the  following:  "Municipal Institute  of the
Theatre and Cinema".
     Pokrovsk  was captivated  by the theatre. Everybody and his brother was
now  an  amateur  actor. Tratrchok,  the Department of Education,  the  Food
Committee  and Volga  Shipping all had their own troupes. Theatrical studios
mushroomed. Finally, all  the small studios joined forces  to become  MITAC,
which then established a children's  studio.  Since  our  school was  closed
down,  Oska and I enrolled. Stepan Atlantis  and Taya Opilova  soon followed
our example.
     We were  rehearsing a play called Prince Fork de Forkos. The prince was
in love with a princess, but the queen, her mother, was very proud and a bad
lot  in general, and  so the prince was  shown the door.  Then he  broke the
spell  that  had been  cast over a mushroom, and a fairy  came out of it and
gave the  prince  an apricot. The queen  ate it, and her  nose began getting
bigger  and  bigger.  Meanwhile, back on  Rodos  Island,  where  the  prince
lived.... In a word, the plot was very involved.
     Taya Opilova was  the princess. Both  Stepan and  I  wanted to  be  the
prince. We nearly  quarrelled over the part, because the prince was supposed
to declare his love for the princess, and the princess, we felt, would guess
that these were not simply lines from the text. Kramskoi, the director, said
Stepan would be the prince, since  he  was older than  I and taller, and his
voice was deeper. As if I couldn't talk in a deep voice if I wanted to!
     We  coaxed  Forsunov into being the great magician. Grisha Fyodorov was
our makeup man, as he was the son of a real hairdresser in a real theatre.
     Our first performance was at the MITAC. I was the court jester and Oska
was a gnome. His  was a  non-speaking part. We were both jittery. Grisha had
made us up for  our parts. The audience was buzzing impatiently  out in  the
hall, and the sound seemed dangerous, mocking and mysterious. It was time to
begin, but both Stepan and  Forsunov were missing. The director paced up and
down backstage.
     "Curtain time!" the audience shouted and stamped.
     The boys finally showed up. They were sober-faced and in a hurry.
     "So long, Leva!"  Stepan said. "All the Communists have been mobilized.
We're being  sent  to the  front lines. I'm a volunteer.  I had a  hard time
making them take me.  They said I was too young.  But  they finally did. Our
train's leaving soon. Goodbye!"
     Our hands met in a firm handshake. Stepan was silent for a moment, then
cleared his throat and  said softly, "I'll  bet you'll be  seeing Taya  home
alone now.  Well, I don't mind if  it's you. But don't let anyone else  near
her, hear?"
     The  audience  was  in  an uproar. Forsunov went  out in  front of  the
curtain. He had on his knapsack. The audience calmed down. Forsunov adjusted
a strap and said, "The performance has been postponed."
     "Till when?" the people shouted.
     "Till we wipe out the Whiteguards!"

     A day later Papa left for  the  Urals  Front. Papa was heading into the
thick of the typhus epidemic, for the dread  lice had infested the trenches.
Mamma and my aunts had packed three full suitcases  for him.  Papa took one.
He joked unhappily, saying that he didn't need a thing, since  they wouldn't
put  a burial mound over him  and  he didn't believe in the hereafter. Then,
according to the old Russian custom, we all sat down for a moment of silence
before the journey.
     "All  right,"  Papa said as  he  rose. He  kissed each of  us in  turn.
"You're the man of the house now," he said to me.
     As he  was leaving, he collided with a patient  who was just  entering.
The man moaned and bowed to him.
     "There are no more office hours. I'm leaving."
     "Please, Doctor!  It'll only take a minute!  I can't stand the pain any
more. And  who knows how long I'll have to wait till you get back. You might
even get yourself killed out there."
     Papa looked at the wall clock, then at the man, and  then at us. He set
down  his suitcase. "Take off  your things,"  he said  in  an  angry  voice,
ushering  the man into the office. "Don't forget,  seven drops after meals,"
he said to him ten minutes later as he got into the sleigh.
     After the sleigh  had  borne Papa off,  my aunts walked  away  from the
windows and all three began to wail.
     "No more of that, hear me? Dry up," I said rudely.
     My frightened  aunts stopped  weeping. However, the  stillness that had
descended upon our suddenly empty house was still worse. I clenched my fists
and left the room, my gait very much that of the man of the house.

     I don't recall how long it  was after  that, perhaps  a year, but maybe
only a month. There were no calendars in the stores, and so it was difficult
to follow the passing of time, which had somehow lost its  familiar quality.
When  my  old Boys  School uniform  was  traded  for  a slab  of  bacon, for
instance, the days were swallowed up, as it were. Other,  less filling days,
dragged  on like weeks. Endless,  hungry weeks. Our daily schedule was quite
unlike what it had once been. Before, dinner time had been the centre of the
day's  activities, the traditional  hour when the  family gathered, a solemn
repast, a  sacrament, the  ceremony of partaking of food, the main meal, and
the hours were counted off in terms of: "before dinner"  and "after dinner".
Now we often skipped dinner  altogether. We  ate whenever there was anything
to eat. At such times Mamma would say, "Let's have a bite."
     And we ate on the run, standing up, like people at a railroad  station,
since it was impossible to come in physical contact with the icy chairs. The
apartment  was freezing,  and each of  us grudged  sharing the warmth he had
hoarded up in his body with an inanimate thing like a chair.
     We moved about, trying to avoid all cold objects, for they could snatch
away some of our body's warmth. We took turns being the fire-tender. The one
on  duty  would crawl out from  under a pile  of  blankets and drapes in the
morning,  when  the thermometer pointed  to 5.  The  day's fire-tender, his
teeth chattering,  would  stick his feet into a pair of  icy felt boots  and
start  a fire  in the pot-bellied stove. It would become red-hot  and as the
temperature rose, the inhabitants of our apartment would rise, too. The bare
and empty  sideboard greeted  us with open arms.  Our breakfast consisted of
bland pumpkin mush, watermelon tea and saccharine.
     Mamma  was  now a  Music  School  teacher, but since  the school had no
facilities  for  practising, the lessons were conducted  in our  house.  The
little girls stepped  on the  piano pedals in  their  heavy  felt  boots and
roused  the chilly  innards of the  piano  with  their  icy fingers.  Mamma,
dressed in her  fur coat and gloves, would nimbly lift the  stuck keys  from
under their fingers.
     I,  too, was a  tutor.  A  buxom girl named Anna Kolomiitseva, who  was
older than  I,  came to the  house  to learn the three R's.  The payment for
these  lessons was  pound of meat  a month. It was hard-earned meat.  That's
when 1 learned the  real  meaning of work.  My  pupil  stubbornly refused to
trust  the letters of the alphabet, relying mostly on her own intuition. For
instance, there was her own name, Anna.
     "Aaa-nnn-nnaaa," she drawled. "Oh! It says Annie!"
     One day we were tackling the word "parasol".
     "Paa-raa-ss-sool," she stumbled along.
     "Well? Read it all together," I said.

     There-beyond sorrow's seas,
     sunlit lands

     After my pupil had gone, Oska and I went out to look  for straw to heat
the stove a bit. We made  use of its quick-heating qualities to  set out the
dough for bread and took turns  kneading the sticky mass with  our ice-cold,
swollen hands. The job called for frenzied  effort, and we imagined  that we
were pummelling the hated guts of the enemies of revolutionary mankind, from
Chatelains Urodenal to Admiral Kolchak.
     In the evening we all gathered  at the table. There was no electricity.
The single nightlight was only put on on Sundays, which then truly became  a
special day.  The weekdays  were illuminated  by  an  oil wick lamp  with  a
twisted length of cotton for  a wick. It was immersed in a cup of  sunflower
or linseed oil. A  tiny flickering  flame burned  at  the  tip  of the wick,
filling the room with writhing black shadows.
     My aunts  moved  the lamp closer. They  sat in a row, stony-  faced and
somewhat  unreal.  The lamp  cast a  faint light  on them.  The  Constituent
Assembly resembled madonnas in  pince-nez. My aunts read aloud in turn. Then
they spoke of the wonderful past and our ruined lives.
     "My God! What a beautiful life it  was!  Remember the Sobinov  recitals
and the literary magazines, and sugar was fifteen kopecks a pound. And now?"
     "Aunts!" I said in a voice belonging to the man of the house. I sat  in
a dark corner that  was now Schwambrania. "Listen to me! I'm asking you once
and for all  to keep your counter-revolutionary ideas to yourselves. It's no
skin off my nose, but it's wrong to be a bad influence on small children." I
would come closer to the table and  glance meaningfully in Oska's direction.
For some time now I  was aware that I  was  maturing  at a tremendous speed.
This feeling of being responsible for the household, far from oppressing me,
actually inspired  me. I felt that I had become more logical in my thinking,
that the necessary words  came to me  more  easily, that I was  more sure of
myself  in  many ways. I looked  reality  in  the face  now without  fear or
reproach. Our straw  patrol, frozen fingers and pumpkin mush  did not dampen
my spirits.  The  absence of a calendar, eating standing  up and wearing our
overcoats  indoors made  our way of life seem like  something  temporary and
transient, like something that was happening at a railroad station. However,
this was not but  another stage of the Schwambranians' wandering.  Life  was
moving in a definite direction, though  the road was  an unusually difficult
     "Don't worry, Mamma," I would say on the days when there were no lentil
beans,  no kerosene  and no letters from  Papa. "Keep your  chin up. Imagine
that we're on  a very long journey, travelling through deserts and over  all
kinds of high mountains. We're on our way to a new land. A wonderful land."
     "Where  to?  Your Schwambrania  again?"  she would reply in  a hopeless
     "No, not Schwambrania. A real  land. Who cares about oil wick lamps and
carrying straw, and frozen hands? Honestly, Mamma. Remember our  undesirable
acquaintances, Klavdia and Fektistka? Their whole lives were a hundred times
worse  than what  ours are  now  for just this little while. It'd  really be
unfair if we'd go  straight from  one good life to another. We're just  like
passengers as it is, not helping in any way. And my aunts didn't even bother
to  buy tickets. They should be put off the boat. Papa's  the only one,  and
even though I miss him, I'm glad he's doing his duty at the front lines."
     My   aunts   were  horrified.  "Goodness!  Just  imagine.  They've  had
everything! Even governesses! And look at them now! They're growing up to be
     1 dreamed of the day Stepan returned. I would  go out to meet him in my
patched felt boots, carrying an armload of rotten straw.
     "Hello, Stepan," I would say. "Give me five (but don't squeeze hard, my
hands are swollen). See? I'm the man of the house now, and I've forbidden my
aunts  to talk like  counter-revolutionaries.  I'm  rather  hungry, but that
doesn't matter. I'll gladly eat pumpkin mush till victory day."
     "Good for  you,"  Stepan  would say.  "Your thinking is all right. Hold
out. Mush is as good as bread."
     "But I  don't want  to be a passenger.  I  want  to be  a member of the
     "Well, that's just what you'll be, a sailor of the revolution."
     My daydreams broke off  here, like a  broken reel  in the movies, for I
did not know how to become a sailor of the revolution. And Mamma would never
have let me be one, anyway.

     Still and  all,  Schwambrania  lived on. It did not become  any smaller
territorially, though it now  took up much less of our time than before. One
day Schwambrania  suffered  a terrible blow. While  we were out Mamma traded
the  seashell   grotto  and  its  prisoner,  the  Black   Queen,  Keeper  of
Schwambrania's Secret, for three litres of kerosene at the railroad station.
Thus  did we lose her  forever. For half an hour we were frantic. The sun of
Schwambrania was about  to set for good.  But that evening we  turned on the
     Playing Schwambrania at that time  was mostly having imaginary  feasts.
Schwambrania was busy eating. It had dinners and suppers. It stuffed itself.
We savoured  the  fine-sounding long menus we  found in  the  cook  book. We
satisfied  our  raging  appetites somewhat  at  these  Schwambranian feasts.
However,  Schwambrania's  sugar  stores  were  only  disturbed  on holidays.
Georges Borman was Head Chef of Schwambrania. We discovered him on an old ad
for cocoa  and  chocolate. Georges Borman was the last of the  Schwambranian
personages, though he was a  personage  of  gastric  origin.  He, certainly,
could not cause any new errors.
     In  general,  Schwambrania  was  on  the decline.  However,  unexpected
circumstances brought about  a new  flourishing of  the Big Tooth Continent.
These circumstances lived in a large deserted house on our street.


     The  house  had been built by  a slightly mad  rich German named  Uger.
Uger's Mansion was one of the landmarks of Pokrovsk. People from out of town
were  shown  it.  They  marvelled  at  it.  It  was indeed a most  fantastic
structure. The owner had been possessed by vanity and a consuming desire for
luxury. He had decided to beautify Pokrovsk by putting up a unique building.
He craved for fame. However, he did not trust  the  architect and so drew up
the blueprints himself.  Construction proceeded under his  watchful eye. The
house was three stories high and had a basement. The people of Pokrovsk, all
of whom lived in one-story houses, threw back their  heads and  counted  the
floors on their fingers.
     Uger's  Mansion  was  a  cross between  a  prince's  towered  manse,  a
fairgrounds  pavilion and  the Hanging Gardens of  Semiramis. The windows of
one floor were  unlike those of the others.  There were  tall, round, square
and narrow windows.  There  were galleries with stained  glass panels.  Seen
from the side,  the house  resembled a patchwork quilt. The  entire pediment
was covered with murals. Mermaids frolicked below, ships sailed along at the
second story  level, while generals  of  all sizes and  shapes  adorned  the
third. Under the eaves hunters in Tyrol hats were depicted  shooting  tigers
and lions.
     The house would jingle and buzz at the slightest breeze, for twenty-two
weather-vanes  and  fifteen  tin whirligigs spun and whirred on the turrets,
while eight huge fans clanged as they  turned in the windows. This  clanging
and  jingling  so puzzled the pigeons that they avoided the  house,  to  say
nothing of prospective tenants.
     In  the beginning, the Junior High School  was located there,  but  the
weathervanes  and fans distracted the Juniors. A few heedless  tenants tried
to live there for  a while, but the Hanging Gardens of Semiramis would  sway
whenever  it  was  windy, the  floors  were springy, and the  window  frames
creaked. The mansion began falling apart like a house of cards. Uger died of
a broken heart. He was delirious at the end and said he wanted a weathervane
and a fan for a tombstone.
     Meanwhile, the house kept on falling apart bit by  bit. The door jambs,
banisters  and sometimes whole  galleries  crumbled  and disintegrated.  The
nearby  houses all  sported panes of  stained  glass.  Weathervanes that had
abandoned Uger's Mansion now spun on rooftops up and down the street.
     When  a blizzard  hastened  the process of  destruction the  neighbours
would converge, pulling sleds. They would take up their positions all around
the house and wait, sitting there like a pack of hyenas beside a dying lion.
They dragged the fallen pieces of the house off to their own houses on their
sleds, but did not have the courage to  openly attack and loot this building
that was of no use to anyone any longer.

     We knew  that  the  huge dead house  could  be  a  new, convenient  and
mysterious  place  for  our  game.  Soon Schwambrania  moved  into  all  the
remaining rooms. Once again the game became fun. We were not at all dismayed
by the  fact that everything was wrecked inside. Schwambranians brought  new
life to the ruins, and the dead house put off the fall of Schwambrania for a
long time.
     A rustling, creaking and  echoing filled  the  remains  of the mansion,
firing  our imaginations. The wind swished up  and down the  rickety stairs.
Fear haunted the dim, musty hallways,  and terror  crept along the walls  at
     This certainly  was  the  best  possible  place  for our  Schwambranian
adventures. We quickly surveyed the house, giving each room a beautiful name
of a Schwambranian city. The  country was  being restored to  life. However,
there was one  place we  had not yet  explored. This  was a dark, suspicious
passage  that  led  to a  basement filled with  debris.  We  set  out on  an
expedition to this uncharted land. Our  equipment  consisted of long  sticks
and  a  hanging votive light instead of a lantern. Then, following  the best
advice  of our various  camping books, we  tied a  rope  around our  waists,
attaching ourselves thus to each other. We now looked like spelunkers.
     We climbed down into the cave. The treads had long since fallen out  of
the  staircase. We  skidded  along slanted boards and  scrambled over  loose
bricks. I led the way. The light that was tied to the tip of my stick swayed
in front  of me. Oska plodded  along behind.  He was very staunch and brave,
and, to prove it, he kept  saying that he wasn't one bit scared, and that he
actually felt quite cosy. Just as he was saying how cosy  he was feeling for
the  sixth time, he  fell through the floor. A  rotten board had  given  way
under him, and Oska fell  into the  basement. Since we were tied together, 1
was  dragged  to  the very  edge of the hole  and  pulled  flat  against the
floorboards. The rope was very taut. It kept squeezing  my waist tighter and
tighter, cutting painfully into my middle.
     "Did you fall down?" I shouted into the black hole.
     "Not yet. I'm flying and flying, but I can't fall down to the bottom."
     I  lit the votive  light, which had gone out  during  the accident, and
lowered into the pit. There I  saw Oska. He was suspended by the rope around
his middle and  was revolving slowly. He kicked and squirmed as  he tried to
touch the floor.
     "Get me out of here, Lelya. It's awfully uncozy here. And the rope's so
     I  started  pulling  my  brother  up,  straining  as  hard  as I could.
Suddenly, there was a very unpleasant crack. The  boards I had been lying on
crumbled. I fell into the blackness and landed on top of him.
     "See? I fell down to the bottom. And the rope's not tight any more." He
sounded pleased.
     The little light was smashed.  Darkness  billowed  up around us in  the
cave.  A dense, sour-smelling  darkness filled the basement.  Wisps of  grey
light  filtered down through the hole we  had made. When our eyes had become
accustomed to the dark we noticed  quite a few strange objects that had been
concealed  by the  gloom. There was a crate  on legs,  some glass  and metal
vessels, and  strangely twisted and  spiralling tubes. We stumbled over some
sacks filled to the top with something or other.
     "It's hidden treasure," Oska said.
     "A secret one," I whispered.
     "This is big news!"
     "It  sure  is!  Real  hidden treasure for Schwambrania! We'll set  up a
     A sudden beam of light  hit the floor  between us. We tried to scatter,
but  something  grabbed  us  from behind and  sent us sprawling.  It was the
accursed  rope that  had caught us  by the waists and tripped  us up. A hand
pulled the rope towards a  lantern. We saw a terrible mug above the lantern:
a glittering upper lip, flaming nostrils and  white lids. The other features
of the mysterious face were lost in the darkness.
     Then  we heard a rough voice saying, "What the hell are you doing here?
     The upper lip glistened and "Why the hell are you  here? I'll kill you,
you brats! If I see you  trying to give me the slip, I'll plaster you like a
pair of puppies." Some terrible cursing followed.
     "What are you yapping  about?" I  said, trying to keep  my  teeth  from
     "You're not supposed to curse in  the presence of children," Oska said.
"Otherwise I will, too, and you'll be sorry."
     The rope  jerked, pulling us up to a huge fist  that was illuminated on
one side by the lantern. It  then revolved expressively, displaying, as some
menacing moon, all of its phases.
     "Let go of the rope! Who said you could hold  it like  that? Who do you
think you are?" I shouted.
     "He thinks this is  tsarist times,"  Oska added. "We'll  tell the Cheka
chief  on you. He's a very good friend  of  ours. We'll tell him  to  arrest
     "Don't  you threaten  me, you!" At this the  huge fist  was raised over
Oska's head.
     "Stop! Remove  your hand,  madman!"  a  voice piped  up  behind  us. It
sounded strangely  familiar.  "And take the chains  off the  prisoners,"  it
continued in  the  same pompous vein. "Sit down,  young wanderers. Greetings
from an old scholarly hermit. What brings you to my cave, troglodytes?"
     The fist disappeared.  Now  a bald pate gleamed  like  a lagoon  in the
light of  the  lantern.  It  belonged  to  E-muet, to the toadstool  teacher

     "Sit down. I recognized you. You're  a member of the wild tribe. You're
both sons of the great and noble land of Schwabria," Kirikov said.
     "Schwambrania," Oska corrected him. "How'd you know?"
     "I know everything. I live in the hallowed depths of your  country, but
in my  free time, when I'm not occupied with scholarly research, I  surface,
0, Schwambrania, and  the  day  before, and last week,  I heard you  playing
among these pitiful ruins.  What I mean  is, when  you became inhabitants of
fair Schwambromania."
     "Schwambrania,"  Oska  said. He sounded annoyed.  "What  are you  doing
     "And what's all this stuff?" I asked.
     There was a long silence.
     "0, Schwambranians, you have carelessly touched upon  the one secret of
my miserable life, a secret that gives me no peace of mind," Kirikov said in
an echoing voice.
     "Do you only have a piece of mind?" Oska inquired. "Do you live  in the
Iboney house?"
     "My soul is pure, and my mind is clear, but I have been unjustly passed
over by my fellow-men and the authorities. I am insulted and humiliated. But
I  am suffering  for the good  of mankind. If you swear you  won't breathe a
word of my  secret to  anyone,  I  will preserve your secret, the secret  of
     "Schwambrania," Oska muttered.
     We swore we would not. Kirikov held the lantern up to our faces, and we
solemnly pledged that we would preserve his secret to the grave.
     "Listen,  then, Schwambranian brothers!  I  am the  last  alchemist  on
earth.  I am science's Don Quixote, and this is my  faithful sword-bearer. I
have discovered the elixir of universal joy.  It makes the sick well and the
sorrowing  happy.  It  turns foes into  friends  and  strangers  into  bosom
     "Is that your game?" Oska asked.
     Kirikov snapped  that  his  elixir  was  not  a  game,  but  a  serious
scientific  discovery.  We then  found  out that the  cave  was  actually  a
laboratory where the  elixir was made. The  alchemist said  that in a year's
time,  when  the  last  experiments were completed,  he  would  publish  his
findings. He would then completely renovate the  house, have electricity put
in,  and  would give  us  the  entire top  floor  for Schwambrania.  In  the
meantime, however, we had to keep  quiet, no matter what. "I'm going to name
my  elixir of  universal  joy  in your honour, my young friends. It will  be
known as the Elixir of Schwambardia.
     "It's Schwamhrania. Schwambrania!" Oska shouted. "You can't even say it
right. What kind of an alphysics are you?"
     "I'm an alchemist, not an alphysics!" Kirikov sounded just as cross.
     We  visited  the  alchemist several  more  times. By the  light of  day
Kirikov and his  assistant Filenkin turned out  to be  very hospitable  men.
They told us of their progress and listened to the latest Schwambranian news
with  interest. The alchemist went so far as  to help us govern the country.
Schwambrania flourished.
     They worked  at  night. Their  secret  smoke  wafted  up  into the yard
through  a camouflaged  pipe and  was blown  away. Sometimes we even chopped
wood for their  stove. However, they never once showed us the elixir, saying
that it wasn't ready  yet. One day we  came  to see them and found them in a
very merry mood. They were singing  softly and clapping  warily. A fat woman
in bright felt boots and a bright shawl was part of the party.
     "See  how happy she is? She  just had the first  drops of the elixir of
world joy," the  alchemist said. "This is  Agrafena, I mean Agrippina, Queen
of Schwambrania. We'll crown her, and lead her to the throne. Hooray!"
     "We don't have any queen-ladies," Oska said glumly.
     "He's  right.  We'd  love  to have  her, but Schwambrania's a republic,
after all. If she wants to, she can be the president's wife," I explained.
     "All right then. She'll be  the president's wife. Agrafe ... eh- mew-eh
... Agrip-pina,  would  you  like  to  be  the  wife  of  the  President  of
     "You bet!" said Agrippina.

     A  young girl who  was  our cousin came  to stay with us. She was  from
Moscow and her name was Donna  Dina,  or Dindonna. Her real  name  was  just
Dina. Her black hair and  flashing black eyes,  which were as shiny  as  the
piano  top, and her teeth, which were as  white and even as the  ivory keys,
had earned her the name of Donna.
     Our aunts made sure that we understood we were to call her Cousin Dina.
However, Dina turned  out to be a  regular pal and  when she  first heard us
say, "Good morning, Cousin Dina," she burst out  laughing. When  she laughed
everything about her laughed: her eyes, her teeth and her hair.
     "Well,  then, good  morning, kinsmen!"  she replied. "How do you  spend
your time, if I may ask?"
     "In Schwambrania," Oska  replied, for he felt drawn to her immediately.
"And carrying straw. And we go out for walks. Will you go out with us?"
     "With pleasure. I'm sure to lose my way here alone."
     Even Oska had to agree that Dina was a beauty. She wore a real sailor's
middy-blouse,  given  to her by a  revolutionary sailor  from  Kronstadt. We
thought that  was wonderful. We escorted her around town. We  showed her the
ruins of Uger's Mansion, but did not say  a word about the alchemist or  his
elixir. Dina wanted to know all about Schwambrania. She was a little puzzled
by the fact that  in  such interesting  times as these  we  felt  a need for
make-believe. She  said it  was a  shame  and high time we  got down to real
work. Our friendship blossomed during our long walks.
     Young men would step aside politely to let Donna Dina pass. They nudged
each  other and looked  after her.  We  could hear them saying  what  a good
looker she was and beamed proudly.
     Dina had only been with us for three days when, to our joy, she stepped
on our aunts' toes, that is, hems. She criticized them for bringing us up in
such an old-fashioned way,  saying it was a  crime  to put  a damper on  the
social feelings that churned and boiled within us.
     "She's right! You can't imagine how my feelings churn! Especially after
pumpkin mush," Oska said.
     Dina hugged him and said  he hadn't  really understood, but  no matter.
The argument continued. Our aunts said that they had long since given up, as
far as we were concerned, that we had come completely under the influence of
the street and Bolshevism which, to their minds, was one and the same thing.
They  went on  to say such awful things it made Dina stand up and  slap  her
hand loudly on the table. Her face became flushed.
     "I think I forgot to mention the fact that I've  joined the Party," she
     "Are you as good as a Communist now?" Oska inquired.
     "I hope so," she replied cheerfully.
     My aunts were flabbergasted. They gaped. Then their mouths shut slowly.


     "My  dear kinsmen," Dina  said soon after. "Great vistas have opened up
before you. They are a challenge  to your boundless energy  and imagination.
But  you must  be social beings, dear kinsmen. It's high time you were!" She
had  just been  appointed Commissar Chubarkov's  assistant, in charge of the
children's library and reading-room.
     My  aunts'  definition  of  a  children's  library  was: an  officially
operated  hotbed of infectious diseases  which were to be found  lurking  in
profusion in the old books, as worn and torn as a ragman's clothes.
     Dina's idea of a  children's library was as follows: "It's not merely a
counter,  kinsmen. It's  not merely  a  place where  books are handed out. A
children's library should be the main  centre for educating  and bringing up
children outside the school.  It'll be  the  children's favourite clubhouse,
where each can  do as he likes. We'll teach children to respect good  books.
Oh, kinsmen, we'll have such a wonderful place! Your Schwambrania won't even
hold a candle to it! Everyone will want to belong to it. Just wait and see."
     However, in order to become such  a wonderful place, the library had to
have  more space. There were some  very rich people living in the  adjoining
apartment.  They had  been asked to  move  some  time before,  and  now Dina
decided to take matters into  her own hands.  She asked me to come along and
back her up.
     This would be the beginning of my volunteer work for the library.
     Dina was busy checking the catalogue and  library cards when I came in.
She was  surrounded  by  raggedy children. I  recognized many of  my  former
neighbourhood  enemies. There were also  some skinny children who lived near
the  railroad  tracks, some  stocky  boys  and  girls  from the  fishermen's
settlement,  and some  boys  who worked  at  the  cannery  and the bone-meal
factory. Some were filling in the  cards,  others  were pasting torn  pages,
while  still  others were  on  the  step ladders, placing the books  on  the
shelves. Everyone was  busy and you could  see they were  enjoying  the job.
This was the first children's book brigade.  They  obviously liked Dina  and
kept pestering her with questions.
     "Donna  Dina!  Donna  Dina! Who's Uncle  Tom's  cabin?" a  little  girl
wrapped in a huge shawl that  was  crossed on her  chest  and tied  in  back
     "Donna Dinovna!"  came  a voice from the top of a ladder. "Is Tolstoy a
place or a someone?"
     "Here's another helper, children," Dina  said, pointing to me. "Put his
name down on the list, Ukhorskov."
     I  was very offended. I had no intention of playing second fiddle here.
I had been  positive  Dina had intended  me to be in  charge  of everything.
However, I decided to say nothing for the time being.
     "I know you.  You're the doctor's  son. Won't  you  get in  trouble for
coming here with us?" somebody said.
     "Why should I get in trouble? Everybody's equal now."
     Ukhorskov, a tall boy with high  cheekbones,  came over to me. "Are you
going to be a doctor, too?" he said.
     "No. I'm  going to be  a sailor of the revolution." "That's  not bad. I
want to be an aviator."
     Commissar Chubarkov  came in just then. We hadn't seen each other for a
long time. "Oho! The younger  generation's shooting up! What does your  papa
write home about life in the trenches?"
     Then  we all trooped next door to help with the eviction. To  my horror
and embarrassment  the people were close relatives  of Taya Opilova. She was
sitting on a trunk in the front hall when we entered. For a moment I did not
know what to  say. Taya's eyes were full of contempt,  indignation, reproach
and God knows what else. My one desire was to sneak off.
     "I thought you were the doctor's son!" she said.
     "I'd rather be a doctor's son than an exploiter's daughter!" I snapped.
"That's that!" the commissar shouted. "You've had your say and that's that."
Ukhorskov  came  over to me. He  spoke in  a  whisper. "We're putting  out a
newspaper.  Come on over this evening. You can be the editor. You've changed
a lot. You've got a real fighting spirit now." "How come you know me?"
     "You don't recognize me, do you? Remember  the time I fixed  your basin
and pail? I'm Fektistka. I live in the children's home now.  I requisitioned
my boss' tools and  I make nifty cigarette lighters. Want me to make you one
that'll look just like a pistol? And it'll be a good lighter, too?"
     "I don't smoke."
     "You can use it to scare thugs."
     As I looked  at  this  tall, confident boy I could hardly recognize the
tinsmith's timid apprentice. Could  this be the same Fektistka whose  skinny
back had first  brought home to us  the difference between  those  who  made
things and those who owned them? Indeed, he had even acquired a last name!
     The Commissar was waiting for me  outside  the library. He took my arm.
"Uh, is  Comrade Dina ... uh,  a relative of yours?" He was trying  to sound
indifferent. "Is she your sister?"
     "Yes.  We're related."  I was very possessive.  Then  I turned into the
wind so the Commissar wouldn't hear me and added, "She's my cousin."
     "She's really educated." For some reason or other he sounded sad.
     "She sure is! She nearly practically graduated from the University."
     He sighed.

     No! I  was not elected editor of the children's newspaper. Horrible old
Dina told them I wasn't ready to take on such a job yet,  since I  liked  to
daydream  and  wasn't  sufficiently  politically  conscious,  or  some  such
nonsense. I had never expected anything like that from  her.  And so Klavdia
was elected  editor.  Yes,  the very same Klavdia who  had always  been  our
prisoner when Oska and I played war in Schwambrania.
     "I  know what Comrade  Dina  means," Klavdia  said  slyly.  "He's still
making-believe he's in a place called  Schwambrania. It's a game.  They used
to take me prisoner. But it's no fun to play that any more."
     The kids  all looked  at me  and smiled.  Strangely, they were friendly
smiles. Never before had I been so ashamed of Schwambrania.
     "I guess you've changed  places now, Klavdia. You're in charge from now
on, and you've  been freed  for  good.  But Lelya  's still  a  prisoner  of
Schwambrania. My poor kinsman." Dina smiled.
     Naturally,  I should have got up and walked out  on those smart alecks,
but  at that moment  I  doubted Schwambrania's right to existence  more than
ever before. I felt there was nothing I  could say in  its defence. The game
was obviously becoming outdated. It was like  an obsession, something  to be
ashamed  of, like a habit you want to  break. Klavdia, the new editor,  came
over to me and said,
     "Don't be mad. Say 'fins' and come out of prison."
     She was a thin and lively girl, and it was as clear as day that she had
no  use for a game like Schwambrania. That was when I mentally  crossed  out
Item  3, the  last on our  list of the world's injustices, the one  entitled
"Landless children". I wanted to belong to the same country she did,  and so
I stayed on.
     I was completely engrossed in the  busy, noisy affairs  of the library,
spending all  my free time there. My hands and  clothes were  full of paint,
paste and ink. I was piled  high  with  folders and obligations. Oska tagged
along and was soon everyone's pet. He was put in  charge of the chess table.
"And chairs" he added, after he had been elected.
     Ukhorskov, Klavdia and I  organized a literary club. A month  later the
first  issue of our magazine appeared. It was called Bold Thinking. I signed
my  name as the editor-in-chief. We  hardly visited the alchemist  any more,
for  we were too busy at  the library. In  the evenings everyone gathered in
the reading room, and the day's newspapers were read aloud.  This was really
"news", real dispatches from the front lines. Stepan Atlantis and perhaps my
father  were  somewheres out  there,  and  thus  were  also  part  of  these
     We  had  lectures,  literary  debates  and evening  and  morning social
events,  at  which  both actors  and  audience  were equally  thrilled.  The
library's  fame spread  throughout  Pokrovsk. Every day  new boys  and girls
would come in from the outskirts.
     We wore out  our shoes and the thresholds of the  various organizations
in an effort to  supply the library with kerosene and firewood. Dina and her
aide,  Zorka,  a  shy  and  gentle girl,  made terrible scenes at  the  city
council, arguing over every stick  of firewood.  Once,  when  there  was not
enough wood to  last out  the month, we all donated whatever we could. Small
frozen children brought a  board, a panel of a chest or an armful of sticks,
despite the fact that there was no firewood at home. Still, they brought the
wood to  the library. Once again hot flames made the stove doors  rattle. In
the  evening the  young  readers would  take their eyes from their books  to
listen  to their  wood  crackling  triumphantly  in  the  stove, to  see the
victorious  array of  bright sparks.  Each would look around possessively at
the  bookcases, the tables and  his  neighbours,  for each  felt himself the
master here.  The  merry crackling of the stove drowned  out the churning of
their empty stomachs.
     Chubarkov would stop  by for new books practically every day. He was an
avid reader and attended  all of our plays, debates  and  literary evenings.
His loud  applause  inspired us. He, however, was mostly inspired  by Dina's
presence.  Dina,  as he  put  it,  had a  great  cultural  influence on him.
Irresponsible people said he was simply in love. But that didn't concern us.

     In the midst of all our work we decided to set  an  evening aside for a
gala  performance. The  children invited their parents.  We  had  a  general
housecleaning in the library, got rid of the cobwebs and hung new posters on
the  walls. For some  reason or other, only mothers  came to the party. They
were given the best seats. They  fixed their  combs and hid their work-weary
hands under  the fronts of their shawls. Dina  and Zorka  offered  them  tea
without sugar, but there was apple butter.
     A very  new feeling of being a part of things and wanting  to prepare a
very special welcome,  to  be especially hospitable to the  guests, prompted
Oska and me to make a real sacrifice.
     I put on my coat and was about to dash back home.
     "Going for the Schwambranian sugar?" he said, guessing my intentions.
     Dina was really  touched. I  imagined what Stepan  Atlantis would  have
said, had he been there.
     "See, Stepan, I'm donating all our sweet private property  for the good
of everybody," I would say.
     "Good  for you!  That's exactly how a  sailor of the  revolution should
act," he would reply.
     Our hearts nearly burst  from pride as we watched the mothers  drinking
their tea with Schwambrania's sugar.
     The performance was Act Two of Nikolai Gogol's play The Marriage.
     "Just look at my boy," one of our mothers was saying. "Why, you'd think
he was a real dandy!"
     "Goodness! Is that Annie? I  swear it is. You'd never recognize  her in
that get-up."
     "There's Nina! Look at  her. I  never  knew  she could be  so high  and
     "Who's  the  skinny  boy? The  doctor's  son? I  might have guessed. He
speaks so politely."
     "My Serge learned  his  part so good he's saying  it faster'n  anybody.
What a rascal! The boy in the  booth  there  can hardly keep  up to tell him
what's next."
     "Where's your boy, Stepanida?"
     "You can't see him. He's holding the curtain."
     The  play  was  a smashing success. The  actors were smothered  in  the
motherly embraces of the  audience. Next on the program was Oska, reciting a
piece from The Sorochinskaya Fair.
     The audience sat back expectantly.
     "Do you  know what the Ukrainian night is like?" Oska began with  great
     "No! No, we don't! Tell us!" came several voices from the audience.
     "No, you do not know what it is like," he continued, obviously startled
by the response.
     "Of course we don't," the mothers replied. "How could we?  We never had
time for book-learning."
     Afterwards the  children took their  mothers  on  a tour of inspection,
showing them their drawings,  posters, magazines and the bulletin board with
newspaper clippings.
     "They've got themselves a whole kingdom of their  own here!" one of the
women exclaimed.
     Then there were games and dancing. At first, the women stood  along the
walls  shyly, but Dina and Zorka pulled  them into the middle of the room. I
played  a lively folk dance, four-handed,  counting Oska's two, and the room
began  to  spin  like  a huge top.  We had  had  many children's parties and
birthday parties at home, but none had ever been as much fun as this.
     "Thank you, Donna  Dinovna," the beaming mothers said. "And  you, Zorka
dear. And you, boys and girls. Our youth's gone and past, with no good times
to remember. But at least we've lived to see our children happy. Thank you."
     "You  should  thank  yourselves.  You  made all  this  possible,"  Dina
     Saucy Klavdia dragged me off to  the "Surprise Room". One corner of the
room  was hidden  by  some very  nice  drapes.  The  sign above  them  read:
"Panorama. View of a Moonlit Winter's Night".
     "Want a look?" she said. "Pay a forfeit."
     I paid a forfeit.
     Klavdia turned down the lamp. "Look!" She pulled the drapes apart.
     I saw  a  gold  frame. Within it  was a beautifully  made  scene  of  a
winter's night. The moon's milky-blue beams illuminated it. The granaries of
Pokrovsk had been copied very  well. The  tall water-tower was  set  in  the
middle of the deserted square.  Red lights glowed in the windows of the tiny
     "Doesn't it look real?"
     "Yes," I breathed. "I think it's even prettier than if it was real. Who
did it?"
     "Dina. And  she  said  to  be  sure I  showed it  to you." Klavdia  was
laughing. "Now look!"
     Suddenly, I saw a little horse and wagon moving across the panorama. At
that  instant the toy night dissolved, the  perspective  became deeper,  the
granaries  took  on  their  usual  size,  and I realized that  there was  no
panorama. The gilt frame  had been set in a large  window that  faced on the
square. I  had  been looking out  at  an ordinary  night in the real town of
Pokrovsk. I never would have dreamed that this beautiful night scene and our
wonderful  party could  have  taken place on our  ordinary  earth. A mist of
cheap tinfoil shrouded Schwambrania. The earth of Schwambrania was  slipping
away from under me. At that very  moment  I heard mocking laughter. I looked
around. Dina was standing there, surrounded by a crowd of boys and girls.
     "Well? Do you realize now that you need  a gold frame  to turn Pokrovsk
into Schwambrania?"
     They laughed. Oska  came over  to me and took my hand.  We  stood thus,
surrounded by  the  laughing  children.  Fektistka Ukhorskov  was  laughing.
Klavdia was laughing. Just as Oska  and I were about to join in the  general
merriment at  the expense of  the Big Tooth Continent, the hot blood of true
Schwambranians rushed to our heads. How dared they mock us!
     "Did you guess what  the trick is?" Dina asked. We said  nothing. "Then
I'll tell you. It's all  a matter of the old saying being true: the grass is
always greener on the  other side of the fence.  But a  well-known Communist
writer once said:  the proletariat doesn't have to build castles in the air,
because  it  can and is building  its  kingdom on earth. That's why we had a
proletarian revolution. To make the grass greener on our side."
     In  the  applause  that followed  I heard  the  echoes  of disenchanted
Schwambrania's fall.
     Oska and I, still holding hands, stalked out of the rollicking room.
     "Where are you going?"
     "Are your Schwambranian feelings hurt?"
     "Never  mind, they'll  come  back,"  Dina said. "Hey,  kinsmen,  wait a
minute! Never mind, they'll come back.  They'll come back to work and not to
play at make-believe."

     Revolutionary humanity, according to rumour, had another very dangerous
enemy besides Chatelains  Urodenal, my  aunts  and the  real,  live  Admiral
Kolchak. This was the Yo-ho-ho  Gang. They came from Atkarskaya, Petrovskaya
and Saratovskaya  streets.  Red-headed  Vaska Kandrash  (Kandrashov) was the
gang leader,  but Hefty Martynenko, my  overgrown former classmate, provided
the real leadership.
     "Yo-ho-ho! Yo-ho-ho!  Nobody can scare  us, ho!" was  their war-cry  as
they made the rounds of their domain.
     The children's library did not  escape attack. They came on a Sunday, a
week before Oska and I walked out. There were about fifteen of them and they
advanced in  a close and  wary bunch.  Vaska  Kandrash was in  the  lead. He
walked over to Donna Dina's desk and said,
     "Find me a nice snappy book. I want a real interesting one. You got one
by  Louis  Boussenard? No?  How about Nat Pinkerton? Not him  neither?  Some
Soviet library you got here!"
     "We  don't  have silly books like that. But we do have books that are a
lot  more  interesting. I can see you boys have a  real fighting spirit. The
way things are run here, every reader is in charge of the library. Would you
like to be our fighting  squad  and keep order in the reading room and guard
our book exhibit?  There are  a  lot of ruffians who tear the books and mess
the place up. I know I'll be able to rely on you."
     This  was most  unexpected. The  Yo-ho-hos  were  taken aback. The gang
members exchanged glances.
     "I'll bet you're the commander," Dina continued, addressing Kandrash.
     "Yes.  I am."  He  was  flattered. "How'd  you  guess?"  "That's common
knowledge. Well, what do you say? Can I rely on you to keep order here?"
     Once again the Yo-ho-hos looked uneasy.
     "Sure  you can. Who tramped all that snow in?" Kandrash bellowed at the
members of his gang. "What's the matter? You so sick you can't bend over and
brush it off your boots? Look at the mess!"
     The Yo-ho-hos jostled each other as they tumbled out  into the hall and
wiped their feet. Then they hung their hats on the pegs.
     Hefty could  not forgive the gang for this betrayal. He  caught up with
me one day as I was passing the library. He  was furious, for  he felt I was
chiefly responsible for the Yo-ho-hos changing sides. He grabbed my coat and
lifted me off the ground. The conversation was more than brief.
     When I was  finally able  to open  my  eyes  again a fight was  raging.
Ukhorskov  and the  Yo-ho-hos were  closing in on Hefty.  I  dashed into the
fray. They accepted me as one of them.
     "All of you to one?" Hefty roared.
     "No! All of us for one!" the boys replied and went on socking him.
     Never before had Hefty been so  badly  beaten. I knew  why he was being
hit. He was  a real  and  vicious enemy,  no matter that he may have been  a
rip-roaring  fellow.  He was getting what was coming  to him.  The line that
divided the world into two camps  had become very  clear to me. Hefty was on
the other side.  I was here, with  the boys  whom I had  come  back to  from
Schwambrania. I was  let in on the fight and hit Hefty with real pleasure. I
pummelled him on  my own behalf and  on behalf of  Stepan Atlantis. I socked
him  like  a  runaway Schwambranian  and  pounded him  like a  sailor of the
revolution. And we did him up fine.

     I  was jubilant  as I  returned  from  the  battlefield.  My  head  was
spinning, a result of our victory  and the hard  wallop delivered  by Hefty.
Oska met me in  the front  hall. " 'Hoo-ray, hoo-ray!' they all shouted, the
Schwambranians," I sang.
     "There's great news," Oska said in a stupid voice.
     The family was  gathered at  the table. Misfortune lay on the table, as
long as a pike.
     "Papa has typhus,"  Mamma said in a hospital whisper. "Uralsk  has been
cut off. It took the telegram nine days to reach us. Maybe he's already...."
     "'Hoo-ray, hooray!' They were clouted!"
     I was given some water. I got up from the floor unaided.
     We had no word of Papa in the two weeks that followed. For two weeks we
did not know whether we should speak of him  as someone who was alive, or as
someone who  had died. For  two  weeks we were afraid to mention him, for we
did not know whether to use the present or the past tense.
     It was during those  difficult days  that  we learned Stepan  had  been
killed. Stepan Gavrya, the boy who had wanted to find the lost Atlantis, had
died a hero's  death.  There  were various  versions of  what  had happened.
Volodya Labanda said a Red Army  man  had  told him that the whiteguards had
taken Stepan prisoner. As he faced a firing squad he had been told,
     "Stand against the wall!"
     And  Stepan supposedly had said,  "I'm  used to  that. I  used to stand
against the wall every day in school."
     Maybe Labanda  invented all  this.  I really don't know. But  I do know
that Stepan Gavrya, alias Atlantis, was killed. He would never see me become
a  sailor  of  the  revolution.  I would not come out to welcome  him in  my
patched felt boots,  carrying rotten  straw in  my swollen hands.  There  is
nothing more to write about him.
     What a terrible loss.

     The town became muffled under the snow like an ear that is stuffed with
cotton.  Snowdrifts billowed along the  swollen  streets. The  yards brimmed
over with snow like flour bins.  It was cold. The grey sky drifted overhead,
catching on the chimneys, where it stuck  like water weeds  on piles. It was
cold. The drifts had  laid siege to the town. Hospital  trains snowbound out
there in the icy, and perhaps Papa....
     One  train had ploughed through the drifts the previous day. I  hurried
to the station. The train chugged in  and stopped. No one came out. It was a
train of dead men. The wounded and sick had all frozen to death on the  way.
The bodies were stacked on the platform.
     But Papa was not one of them.
     It was cold. And dreary.  I wanted  so badly to go over to the library,
to do some work with the children there, to go through the books and discuss
the latest  news  dispatches.  But I  felt awkward  about  showing  up after
Schwambrania's  fall. What was Schwambrania, after all? A stuffed lion.  And
the stuffing was dust. A party favour  with no surprise inside it. Even Oska
had become bored with the game.
     Thus  overcome by  boredom, we went  to  see  the  alchemist,  trudging
through the snow as  we  made  our way to the  house and  then  down to  the
basement.  We  came upon a disgusting scene. They had apparently all had too
much of the elixir. Filcnkin was on  the floor, out like a light. Agrippina.
the wife  of  Schwamhrania's  president, was  being  sick in a  corner.  The
alchemist was barely able to keep his balance on a stool.
     "Want ... some elixir? It'll m-make you's happy as me." He offered me a
slopping glass.
     I accepted it from his unsteady hand. A nauseating smell hit  me in the
face. Why.... The terrible truth dawned on me: it was homebrew!
     "He-he.... Yes. Natur'ly. It's homebrew. The purest kind. Eh-mew-eh....
Distilled  it  m'self.  My   ...  eh  ...  Elixir   of   Schwambrania.  Your
Schwambrania. too ... eh-mew-eh.... It's somewhat like homebrew.... Your own
invenshun, this. A dream of your own brewing...."
     We ran out. Why were we so unlucky? Had  we  been the unwitting helpers
of a moonshiner? Our own invention! Our  own brewing! We were  so crushed we
went to  bed  early that night,  without  boat whistles or dreams. Sleep, as
chilly and loose as a snowdrift. enveloped us.
     There was a loud knocking  on the door in the middle of the night. Oska
slept on. I jumped out of bed. I heard my father's weak voice. He was alive!
He  was led up the stairs. His steps were  halting. His skin  was yellow. He
looked like a corpse. A beard as huge as a dickey covered his chest. He took
off his fur hat. Mammy rushed to him, but he shouted:
     "No!  Don't  anyone  come near  me!  I'm  full of lice ...  I  have  to
bathe.... And eat.... Potatoes if you have any...."
     His voice shook, as did his head. We started a fire in  the pot-bellied
stove,  fried potatoes  and heated coffee. We  put the holiday  lamp on  the
table. It was a real feast.
     The water for  his bath was ready. We went into the other room and from
there  could hear the  cake  of  soap knocking  against  his  bones. Fifteen
minutes later we were  called back into the room. Papa had on a clean shirt,
his face was clean,  and he did not look as  frightening as  before. He  was
speaking about the situation at the front.  As  long as he spoke of himself,
his voice  was calm, though his unfamiliar beard  seemed to be weighing down
his words. But then suddenly he became very  excited  and  tears rolled down
his cheeks. "There were the wounded ... the  dying ... lying on the floor in
the corridors.... On frozen urine ... three inches high.... I'm a doctor ...
I couldn't...."
     Mamma  tried to  calm him.  After a while he regained his composure. He
had a cup of coffee. He was home again. Papa  looked at me and said, "You've
grown a mile." Then he tweaked my nose, as he always did.
     "He's become unmanageable," my aunts hurried to  say. "He's carried off
all the books in the house for the proletarians."
     "It's about time you  stopped judging things the way you used to," Papa
said irritably. "I  can't understand how you can  be  so petty in times like
this. If you had only seen the faces of our boys when they  routed those....
If you had...."
     We went off to bed  an hour later. At last I had  handed over my duties
as the man of the  house. I felt as though the invisible  belt that had been
holding me  in all this time had been let  out, and I could suddenly breathe
easily again.
     I  fell headlong onto  my bed and sobbed deliciously into  my pillow. I
was bewailing Papa's typhus, my own  state of  nervous tension, the Red Army
men of the Urals Front,  poor Stepan, the injustice of the homebrew incident
and much, much more. But not one of these tears would fall upon  the soil of
Schwambrania. I decided to return to the library the next morning.

     The armoured  train  burst upon the city. From the railroad  station it
had been shunted onto a spur line  that ran within the city limits, past all
the old granaries, and was known as the Granary Line.
     Thus, the armoured train clanged along the Granary Line,  thrusting its
guns impolitely and warningly into the faces of Breshka Street and the flour
dealers' warehouses.  The  mottled,  camouflaged sides of the armoured  cars
were battle-scarred. The  locomotive  was the most  badly battered,  for its
whole front section had been  mangled. Clad in its dirty-green coat of mail,
it resembled  a  huge and angry lobster  with a missing  claw.  After it had
towed the  armoured cars  to the spur line, it  backed away  to the railroad
station to undergo repairs.
     Meanwhile,  we  were  again busy  drawing  posters in  the  library, an
assignment given to us by the Commissar. The slogan was:
     Help combat typhus!
     Once again  we spared neither paint  no effort and adorned our pictures
of the  terrible  lice with a staggering number of legs  and  feelers.  Once
again strange centipedes crawled  across our frightening posters. Underneath
we strung the lines of a poem of our own that had by now become implanted in
our minds:

     When all is neat and clean
     No louse is ever seen.

     The project  was  completed  a few  days later.  We wanted to give  the
posters to the Commissar, but I was told he was at a meeting in the armoured
train. I  decided to take them there. The train was like a silent  ironclad,
moored in a dead end.
     "Where do you think you're going?" a sentry called out.
     "To  see Commissar Chubarkov. I have some posters  for  him." I did not
feel in the least bit shy.
     "Let's see them." I unrolled the posters and  the sentry  examined them
closely. "They look fine. True to life. All right, go on in."
     I  entered  the car softly. No  one noticed  me.  The  air was full  of
cigarette  smoke. The head of the Cheka was  there, and the Commissar, and a
lot of  other people. It was as dim and as close as a  vault. The atmosphere
was  tense. The heavy armour that  covered the car pressed  upon everyone. A
very  thin man  dressed  in  leather  pants and a  short sheepskin  coat was
     "As the commander of the  train, I want  to say that the  men, the guns
and  the ammunition  are  in  readiness.  We're  being  delayed, because the
locomotive is being repaired. The railroad men are holding us up."
     "Then there's nothing  more to say. We'll wait till we hear  from them.
Robilko's due  any  minute. He'll tell  us how things are. The only thing  I
want is some sleep. I haven't  had  any sleep  for  four  nights," the Cheka
Chairman said.
     "What  if  it's not the locomotive?" the Commissar said and puffed hard
on his cigarette, flicking the ash on the table angrily.
     "Listen, friend," the commander of the armoured train said, "let's keep
this place clean. Don't drop ashes  all over. See how neat everything is? We
even got an ashtray to keep it this way. The  boys traded it someplace. It's
a  funny-looking thing. So  put your  ashes  in it." And he pushed something
strange over to the commissar. Chubarkov jabbed his butt at the opening.
     "Their attack is scheduled  for tomorrow," the Commissar said. "If your
train  doesn't shield  us,  they'll  hit  our  rear. It's  all  a matter  of
repairing the engine. And what if it's not?" he repeated.
     "If it  isn't, I'll  go over and see  what it is,"  the Chairman  said.
"I'll talk to the fellows. I can vouch for the  workers. They won't  let  us
down. They're  on our side. As for the foremen  and  mechanics.... Well,  if
it's sabotage, they'll be in for trouble."  He  rose  and  strode  along the
passage. He was a stern, determined man, so  unlike what he had been when he
had laughed so heartily over our Schwambranian papers. And the Commissar was
different, too. This  was not the man I knew.  He spoke more simply, and did
not keep repeating "that's  that". He spoke  well. Here he was among his own
people, men he could rely on completely. He was doing his job, and the great
responsibility that lay upon him gripped his  heart and  made him clench his
teeth.  This was my very first encounter with the revolution in its everyday
life. This  was the very first time  I was seeing it  at close range and not
from the  heights of Schwambrania, not by peeking  out of our  doorway. This
was when I realized  that  the job these people, whom  I now saw  in  a  new
light,  were doing was a difficult and dangerous one,  but the only real and
worthwhile job there was.
     Then Robiiko rushed in. I knew him. He was a  railroad engineer who had
helped us get rid of  the principal of  the Boys School in February 1917. He
now rushed into the car. Everyone jumped up.
     "Well?" they all demanded.
     "The railroadmen told me to give back your appeal. They said they don't
need it. They said  they know what  the revolution means  to  them by heart.
They pledged to do  their proletarian  duty. Which means they'll repair  the
engine  by tomorrow morning, even  though it means working  all through  the

     The armoured train left  the next day. The railroad workers' brass band
played. The Commissar made a speech. The engine clanged and then steamed out
of the station.
     At that very moment a hand was thrust out of the loophole of the middle
car. It was holding the strange ashtray I  had seen the  evening  before and
was emptying it.
     The  armoured  train  was  moving.  The  loophole  was  passing  me.  I
recognized our  seashell  grotto,  the grotto of the Black Queen, the former
hiding place of Schwambrania's secret. Butts and  ashes were pouring out  of
it. Butts and ashes.

     A special meeting of all readers had been called in the library. We had
no  firewood  for the coming month. The city council had said there was none
to spare, and so the library would have to be closed. The commissar paced up
and  down  glumly. We were  desperate.  A sudden brainstorm hit me with such
force it practically blinded  me and  made me  squint. Everyone looked at me
     "Comrades! Let's use Schwambrania for firewood!"
     "Schwambrania's firewood is only good for heating castles  in the  air.
Forget it," Dina said.
     "No! That's not  what I meant. D'you know Uger's Mansion? It's  full of
old  planks  and  logs, and what not.  That was our secret place. Oska and I
used to play there. So I know. Let's all get together and fill the woodpile.
To hell with Schwambrania. It's for a good cause."
     At first there was  silence. My  suggestion had been like a  bombshell.
Then  someone  clapped.  A  moment later  everyone  was  shouting,  jumping,
clapping.  The  Commissar lifted me off the  floor. The ceiling seemed to be
coming down on us  three times in  a row as we were  thrown up into the air,
making our hearts skip a beat. Oska and I were the heroes of the day.
     "But you'll have to chase the two alphysics out  first," Oska said when
he had been set down again.
     "Which alphysics?" Dina asked.
     "Alchemists," I explained.
     "That's what I meant. They're getting drunk on homebrew there."
     The Commissar wrote something in his notebook  and left quickly without
saying a word.

     Schwambrania  was collapsing. Our  firewood  project was nearly over. A
heavily-laden sleigh was pulling away. I stood in a chain of boys and girls,
handing planks I received  from the boy on my  right to  the boy on my left.
The planks seemed to undergo a change in my hands, for I was given pieces of
Schwambrania,  but I handed over ordinary firewood for our library.  We were
working well.  My  scratched  hands and  arms ached.  The frost hurt my skin
through the holes in my mittens, but  it was good to feel that the boy on my
left was as closely linked to me as I was to the boy on my right,  while he,
in turn, was  to the one of his right, and so on down the line. I was a step
in  a live ladder.  The make-believe land of Schwambrania  was being  passed
along the chain to be burned for a good cause.
     A  group  of boys, the Commissar, Zorka, Dina and Ukhorsky were pulling
down the  rickety  wall  of the high gallery.  Suddenly,  someone  screamed:
"Stop! Wait!"
     We all looked up.  There, on  the very top of  the  swaying gallery, we
spotted Oska. He had just got there and seemed  quite unconcerned. "It's  so
beautiful up here," he called down. "I can see way far off."
     "Down! Get  down this  minute!" the Commissar croaked. "No! Wait! Don't
move! I'll get you down  myself."  He swung up as nimbly as a  cat, climbing
through the gaping holes  of the floors.  The gallery creaked threateningly.
Then he appeared in the top window.
     "Be careful!" we called.
     By now he had climbed out onto the ledge. He was gripping the crumbling
edge of the window frame with one hand and  running his other over the wall,
seeking  something to hold on to. He inched  along the  ledge  until he  had
nearly reached Oska.
     "Shh! Stand still. Don't move," he kept saying.
     "Look, isn't it nice to look down from  here?"  Oska spoke calmly as he
waited for the Commissar.
     "Give me your hand, and that's that!" Chubarkov growled as he stretched
his hand towards Oska. He grabbed him and pulled him in through  the window.
A moment later the gallery collapsed, coming down with a  great roar like an
avalanche and raising clouds of snow.
     "You sure would have spoiled everything," the  Commissar said as he set
Oska down.
     The ruins of Schwambrania lay all about us.
     "The  Schwambranians  perished  like  goggle  and  mangle,"  Oska  said
     "I think you mean like Gog and Magog," Donna Dina said and smiled.
     I  stood  among the  phantom  bodies, among the  remains of the  unborn
citizens. I stood there as a general stands on a battlefield.
     "Listen, comrades. I've just made  up  the last Schwambranian  poem," I
said and recited:

     I stand upon the battlefield,
     Schwambrania's fate has now been sealed.
     Perished all, and many more:
     Jack, Pafnuti, Brenabor,
     Ardelar, Urodenal,
     Satanrex, the admiral.
     Death-Cap-Poison-Emir, too.
     That's that! They're through!
     A glorious list of rare old names.
     Farewell, Schwambrania, land of fame!
     Down to work now, everyone,
     Till the job is really done.
     Tales are dust, tales are naught,
     What is real is better wrought!
     Life holds joy for me and you....
     That's that! Adieu!

     The story's over. This is the end of the book.
     But wait a minute!  I'll pick up  the globe. It's round and true, and I
want to take my bearing. The coloured sphere spins on its base as if it were
a  bubble blown out of the black stem. But it lacks the brilliant shimmering
and the readiness to burst at a moment's notice that is a part of every soap
bubble. The globe is solid, steady and ponderable.
     It can be picked up like a lamp or a cup.
     Oska  and  I  were  both  bookworms.  Our  respect for  the  globe  was
excessive.  We  never  grabbed  it  by the stand, but always  picked  it  up
carefully. It  rested in our  hands, nestling in the reverence  bred by  our
elders who spoke about "all is  vanity" and  "there  is  greatness  in small
things". It looked bold, significant and even terrible,  like Yorick's skull
held by Hamlet's probing fingers.
     "I know how people guessed the Earth was round," Oska said after he had
become convinced that his  version of the place  where the Earth  curved was
unscientific. "It's because the  globe is ... spherical.  That's why,  isn't
it, Lelya?"
     We  would  probably have  grown  up  to  increase  the  number  of  the
well-known type of  human being, the person who learns the Earth is round by
looking at a school globe, who  fishes in a fishbowl, who watches life go by
through his window and learns the meaning of hunger when his doctor puts him
on a diet.
     Our thanks  to the epoch! The way of life of callous hardened rear ends
was blasted. It was a  crushing blow. And we had to learn the hard way  that
the Earth was round.
     As for  the globe, we have long since learned its true use and purpose:
it is not a revelation, it is simply a visual aid. The  sphere turns. Oceans
and continents pass in  review. There  is no Schwambrania.  Nor can one find
Pokrovsk now. The city has been renamed Engels.
     I visited the  city recently. I went there to congratulate Oska  on the
occasion  of  the birth of  his  daughter. When  I received the telegram  in
Moscow I must confess I was overcome by  an  attack  of former Schwambranian
pride. I  went as far  as to prepare a grandiloquent speech (0,  daughter of
the Land  that Never Was! 0,  daughter of a  doughty  Schwambranian!) I even
thought of a number of fine-sounding names for her: Schwambraena, Brenabora,
Delyara.... But then  I  received a  letter  from Oska which read,  in part:
"Enough is enough! We created more than enough imaginary idiots. My daughter
is  real,  and  I  don't  want  to  hear  a  word  about  Schwambranians  or
Caldonians.'I'm sorry to disappoint you, but I've named her Natalia. All the
best to you,
     Your brother Oska."

     Once again I was home  in Pokrovsk. We were in the very  same room from
which, twelve  years  before, I had  exited, my stride that of  a man of the
house. The stand-in for our famous  Black Queen was  now tucked  away in the
chess table. I looked for and  found the scratches on the piano lid that had
been made in the  Tratrchok. Six-months-old Nata stared at me in  round-eyed
     I  gave her  a rattle with a long handle  that  was made to  resemble a
     Our grey-haired father  returned from inspecting  an outlying district.
Mamma had just finished conducting a lesson for a group of illiterate women.
They were learning to read and write. A warm family reunion awaited us. Oska
arrived from  Saratov late  that  evening. He was  curly-haired,  hoarse and
     "Lelya! I barely managed to get away. I lectured to shipbuilders in the
morning and at a technical school in the afternoon. From there I went to the
district committee. I'm just back from a meeting of rivermen. I spoke on the
revolution in Spain. How do you like Nata?"
     At this I made my emotional cradle speech of welcome: "0, you," I said,
"you who," I said.
     "That's enough," Oska said. "That's enough of your hamadryads."
     "It's  about  time  you knew the difference between a  hamadryad  and a
madrigal!" I cried.
     "Ah! It's that old childish habit of mine of getting words mixed up. By
the  way,  can  you  tell  me  the  difference  between  a  dragoman  and  a
     I  then  read the  family  this  book. It  was not  the usual  kind  of
author-reads-his-book evening, for the characters of story kept interrupting
me. They  would become  offended over  something, or feel proud. They  added
things, protested about others, argued with the author and forgave him.
     Meanwhile, Nata was busy chewing on the globe-rattle. The descendant of
Schwambranians rattled her small mace.
     "I'll tell you what I think of the book," Oska said  in  a very  formal
tone of voice. "It rightly presents us as insignificant and silly fools. The
author   has  successfully  exposed  the  silliness   of  such  daydreaming.
Unfortunately,  however, he has  not  been  able to avoid  a petty-bourgeois
vagueness in  some  of  the characterizations. However, while  exposing  the
insignificance and silliness of those Schwambranian daydreams, you've gone a
bit too far. You  want to deprive the present  of the right to dream. That's
wrong! I think this should be changed. Wait...." He  dumped the contents  of
his  briefcase onto  the  table, and books and  notepads, squirmed out of it
like  fish  out  of  a  creel.  Among  them  I saw a small book  entitled "A
Communist's  Companion"  and  recalled   the  deceased  Jack,  the  Sailor's
     "Here it is," he said, opening a pad. "Here's a quotation from  Lenin I
copied out:
     "  'And if they  say: what is it to  us? After all, we  don't  need any
illusions or tricks to sustain our enthusiasm.... This is our great joy. But
does this mean that  we ... don't need to dream? A class that is in power, a
class that is truly changing the world in a workaday way is always  given to
realism, but it is also given to romanticism.'
     "Here, you see,  one  should understand this romanticism  to  mean what
Lenin meant when he  spoke of a  dream.  And this  is no longer an imaginary
star  that  can never  be  reached.  It's  not  something  to  console  your
imagination. It's our own very real Five-Year Plan, and all the ones that'll
follow. It's our determination to  move on despite all obstacles. It is that
'practical idealism' which Engels said the materialists had  so much of when
the narrow  materialists  accused him of 'narrowness and excessive soberness
of mind'. You should have said something about that in the book," my learned
brother concluded.
     "I know there's a lot that can be improved," I said humbly. "I feel it,
but don't know how to  do it yet. And don't  rush me. A person has to digest
all this first. I'm not happy about being Jack, the Communists' Companion. I
don't want to be just  a companion. I want to be a sailor of the revolution,
and I will be one,  I promise you, my brother and communist, as I would have
said to Stepan Atlantis."
     Oska and I stayed up talking late into  the night. Everyone had gone to
bed. Speaking in  whispers made our throats  itch, as did our recollections.
We  lined  the characters of the book up for a  last review. We  held a roll
call of my old class at school.
     "Vyacheslav Alipchenko!" I said.
     "Died of typhus," Oska replied.
     "Sergei Aleferenko?" I asked.
     "Party Secretary of the wharves."
     "Stepan Gavrya, alias Atlantis!"
     "Killed in action on the Urals Front."
     "Konstantin Rudenko, alias Beetle!"
     "Lecturer in analytical mechanics."
     " Vladimir Labanda!"
     "Shipbuilding engineer."
     "Martynenko, alias Hefty!"
     "Exiled for counter-revolutionary activities."
     "Ivan Novik!"
     "Director of a machine and tractor station."
     "Kuzma Murashkin!"
     "First mate on the Gromoboi."
     "Arkady Portyanko!"
     "Botanist and scholar."
     "Grigory Fyodorov!"
     "Red Army commander."
     "Nikolai Shalferov!"
     "Killed by counter-revolutionaries."

     The next morning Father took me to the suburbs to see the new hospital.
I couldn't recognize the city. At the place where the Earth curved there was
a wonderful  recreation park.  Homes for workers  of the meat-packing  plant
were going  up on the  side of our destroyed  Schwambranian mansion that had
once belonged  to Uger. A bus passed. Students of  the city's three colleges
were  hurrying to  their  classes. Large  new  houses lined  Breshka Street.
Airplanes  roared over the  city,  but I  didn't see anyone  look up.  A new
theatre,  clinic and library were under  construction. A magnificent  sports
stadium crowned  the top  of the hill. I recalled  the  two  Schwambranians'
visits to the Cheka and the Chairman's words:
     "And  we'll have paved  streets everywhere, and big muscles, and movies
every day."
     While the  story  was  in  the telling, the deed  was done.  The  clear
windows,  spotless floors  and shiny instruments of the new hospital dazzled
     "Well?  Was there anything remotely like this  in  Schwambrania?"  Papa
said, enjoying my admiring glances.
     "No. Nothing of the kind."
     Papa beamed.
     The day before we  were to leave for Moscow  Mamma went to  the  closet
that housed  our family treasures  and pulled out  a large  shield with  the
coat-of-arms of Schwambrania  on it. It now adorns the  wall of my study and
is a taunting and  devilish  reminder  of  our errors and  our Schwambranian
imprisonment.  Thus,  according to legend, did Prince Oleg of yore hang  his
shield  upon  the gates  of Constantinople as  a  constant  reminder to  the
conquered Greeks.
     But  the  globe  has  spun full circle. There is no  Schwambrania.  The
story, too, has  come  full circle.  It  is not a revelation,  but simply  a
visual aid.

Last-modified: Sat, 19 Oct 2002 17:30:24 GMT
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