A. S. Makarenko Reference Archive

The Road to Life
Volume 1


The boys did not keep their promise. Neither Karabanov, nor Mityagin, nor any of the other members of the group discontinued the raids on the melon fields, or the attacks on the village larders and cellars. At last they organized a fresh, extremely complicated undertaking, which brought about a series of events both pleasant and unpleasant.

One night they stole into Luka Semyonovich's garden, and carried off two hives together with the honey and the bees. They brought the hives into the colony in the night, and deposited them in the cobbler's shop, which was not working just then. In their joy they got up a feast in which many of the boys took part. In the morning a complete list of the participants could have been drawn up, for they all went about with red, swollen faces. Leshy even had to ask for the ministrations of Ekaterina Grigoryevna.

Called to the office, Mityagin immediately acknowledged that the whole adventure had been his doing, refused to name his confederates, and actually expressed astonishment:

"There's nothing in it! We didn't take the beehives for ourselves, we brought them to the colony. If you consider bees shouldn't be kept in the colony, I can take them back."

"What will you take back? The honey's been eaten, and the bees have flown away."

"Just as you like. I meant it for the best."

"No, Mityagin, the best will be for you to leave us in peace! You're already a grownup man, you and I will never agree, we'd better part!"

"I think so too."

It was essential to get rid of Mityagin as soon as possible. It was now clear to me that I had unpardonably postponed the fulfilment of this decision, and had been shutting my eyes to the gradual process of rot which had begun in our midst. There may have been nothing particularly vicious about the adventures in the melon fields, or the raiding of the hives, but the continual interest of the boys in these affairs, days and nights filled with the same everlasting preoccupations and strivings, implied the complete abandonment of the development of our moral tone, and consequently--stagnation. And on the surface of this stagnation extremely unpleasant contours could already be traced by a seeing eye--the offhand manners of the boys themselves, a specific vulgarity in the attitude both to the colony itself and to work of all kinds, a tiresome vacuous facetiousness, the elements of what was undoubtedly cynicism. I could see that even boys like Belukhin and Zadorov, while themselves taking no part in anything criminal, had begun to lose their former radiance of personality and to acquire as it were a scaly surface. Our plans, an interesting book, political questions, were being relegated to the background, while cheap, sporadic adventures and their endless discussion, occupied the centre of attention. All this reacted unfavourably both upon the outward appearance of the boys themselves, and upon the colony as a whole--slack movements, superficial and dubious challenges to witticisms, clothes carelessly thrown on, and dirt swept into corners.

I made out a discharge paper for Mityagin, gave him five rubles for the way--he said he was going to Odessa--and wished him luck.

"May I say goodbye to the fellows?"


I don't know how they parted. Mityagin left towards evening, seen off by almost the entire colony.

That night everyone went about looking dejected, the younger boys were dull, their habitual unflagging energy slowed down. Karabanov slumped down on an overturned packing case just outside the storeroom, and stayed there till bedtime.

Leshy came into my office. "How we miss Mityagin!" he said.

He waited long for my reply, but I did not answer, and he went away as he had come.

I worked late that night. At about two, leaving the office, I noticed a light in the stable loft. I waked Anton and asked him:

"Who's in the loft?"

Anton shrugged a shoulder indifferently, and said reluctantly:

"Mityagin's there."

"Why is he there?"

"How do I know?"

I climbed up to the loft. Several persons were grouped around a stable lamp--Karabanov, Volokhov, Leshy, Prikhodko and Osadchy. They regarded me in silence. Mityagin was busy in a corner of the loft, I could hardly make him out in the darkness.

"Come to the office, all of you," I said.

While I was unlocking the door of my office, Karabanov gave the order:

"No point in everyone coming. Mityagin and will do."

I raised no objection.

We went into the office. Karabanov flopped down on to the couch, Mityagin standing in the corner by the door.

"What did you come back to the colony for?"

"There was some business to be settled."

"What business?"

"Just a thing we had to do."

Karabanov was looking iat me with a burning, steady gaze. Suddenly he gathered himself together, and, with a snake-like movement, landed at my table, over which he bent, bringing his burning eyes close to my glasses:

"D' you know what, Anton Semyonovich!" he said. "D' you know what? I'll go with Mityagin too!"

"What were you up to in the loft?"

"Nothing special, really. But just the same, not the thing for the colony. And I'll go with Mityagin. Since we don't suit you--very well--we'll go out and seek our fortunes. Perhaps you'll find some better members for the colony."

He had always been something of a play actor, and now he acted the injured party, no doubt hoping that I would be ashamed of my own cruelty, and leave Mityagin in the colony.

I looked Karabanov in the eyes and once more asked:

"What did you all get together about?"

For all reply Karabanov looked questioningly at Mityagin.

I rose from behind the table and said to Karabanov:

"Have you a revolver on you?"

"No," he replied firmly.

"Turn out your pockets!"

"Surely you're not going to search me, Anton Semyonovich!"

"Turn out your pockets!"

"There you are--look!" cried Karabanov almost hysterically, turning out all his pockets, both in his trousers and his jacket, scattering on the floor shag and crumbs of rye bread.

I went up to Mityagin.

"Turn out your pockets!"

Mityagin fumbled clumsily in his pockets. He brought out a purse, a bunch of keys and a master key, smiled shamefacedly and said:

"That's all!"

I thrust my hand into his trouser belt and brought out a middle-sized Browning. There were three cartridges in the clip.

"Whose is it?"

"It's my revolver." said Karabanov.

"Why did you lie to me, and say you had none? All right! Get the hell out of the colony, and be quick about it! Now, get out and stay out! D' you understand?"

I sat down to the table again, and made out a discharge paper for Karabanov. He took the paper in silence, looked contemptuously at the five rubles which I extended to him, and said:

"We can dispense with that! Goodbye!"

He stretched out his hands towards me, squeezing my fingers in a painful grip, made as if to say something, but instead rushed suddenly to the open door and melted into its dark aperture. Mityagin did not put out his hand, and said no word of farewell. He wrapped the folds of his jacket around him with a sweeping gesture, and slunk after Karabanov with the inaudible footsteps of a thief.

I went out to the doorstep. A crowd of boys had collected in front of the porch. Leshy started after the departing figures at a run, but only got as far as the outskirts of the forest and came hack. Anton was standing on the top step, murmuring something. Belukhin suddenly shattered the silence.

"That's that! Well--I admit the justice of it!"

"It may bb-be just," stammered Vershnev, 'b-b-but I c-c-can't help feeling sorry!"

"Who for?" I asked.

'For Semyon and Mityaga. Aren't you?"

"I'm sorry for you, Kolka."

I turned into my office and heard Belukhin adjuring Vershnev.

"You're a fool, you don't understand a thing--books haven't done anything for you."

For two days nothing was heard of those who had gone. I did not worry much about Karabanov--his father lived in Storozhevoye He would go about the town for a week and then he would go to his father. I had no doubt as to the fate of Mityagin. He would rove the streets for a year, serve a few terms in prison, get into some serious trouble, be sent to another town, and in five or six years would either be knifed by his own gang, or sentenced to be shot. There was no other course open to him. Perhaps he would drag Karabanov down with him. It had happened once--after all Karabanov did go robbing, armed with a revolver.

Two days later whispers circulated in the colony.

"They say Semyon and Mityaga are robbing people on the highroad. Last night they rohbed some butchers from Reshetilovka."

"Who says so?"

"The Osipovs' milkwoman came, and she says it was Semyon and Mityagin."

The boys whispered in corners, stopping when anyone came near them. The seniors went about with scowling countenances, would neither read, nor talk, gathering by twos and threes in the evening, exchanging few and inaudible words.

The teachers tried not to mention the boys who had left us in my presence. Once, however, Lydochka said:

"After all, one can't help being sorry for the lads."

"Let's come to an agreement, Lydochka," I said. "You pity them to your heart's content, and leave me out of it."

"Oh, very well!" said Lydia Petrovna huffily.

About five davs later, I was returning from town in the cabriolet. Red, who had grown fat on the summer's bounty, was trotting cheerfully home. Next to me sat Anton, with his head bent low on his chest, absorbed in his thoughts. We were quite used to our deserted road, and anticipated nothing of interest on the way.

Suddenly Anton said:

"Look--aren't these our fellows? Well! If it isn't Semyon and Mityagin!"

Ahead of us two figures loomed up in the empty road. Only the keen sight of Anton could have made out with such certainty that these were Mityagin and his comrade. Red carried us rapidly towards them. Anton began to show signs of uneasiness, and glanced at my holster.

"You'd better put your gun in your pocket, where it'll be handier."

"Don't talk nonsense!"

"Have it your own way, then!"

Anton pulled at the reins.

"What a good thing we came across you!" said Semyon. "We didn't part quite good friends, then, you know!"

Mityagin smiled, as ever, cordially.

"What are you doing here?"

"We were hoping to come across you. You said we weren't to show ourselves in the colony, so we didn't go there."

"Why didn't you go to Odessa?"

"It's all right here, so far. In the winter I'll go to Odessa."

"Aren't you going to work?"

"We'll see how things pan out," said Mityagin. "We're not offended with you, Anton Semyonovich, don't think we are! Every one has his own path laid out for him."

Semyon beamed with frank joyfulness.

"Will you stay with Mityagin?" I asked him.

"I don't know. I'm trying to get him to come along with me to my old man, my father, but he keeps making difficulties."

"His father's a muzhik," said Mityagin, "I've had enough of them."

Thev went with me as far as the turning towards the colony.

"Think kindly of us!" said Semyon, when it came to parting. "Come on, let's have a farewell kiss!" Mityagin laughed.

"You are a sentimental guy, Semyon," he said. "You'll never amount to anything."

"Are you any better yourself?" retorted Semyon.

Their combined laughter resounded throughout the woods, they waved their caps, and we parted.