A. S. Makarenko Reference Archive

The Road to Life
Volume 1


Sherre set about things energetically. He did the spring sowing on the six-field system, which he managed to make a lively event in the colony. New agricultural methods were organized wherever he was--in the fields, in the stable, the hog house, the dormitories--or simply on the road, at the ferry in my office or in the dining room. The boys did not always accept his orders without argument, and Sherre never refused to listen to a businesslike objection, sometimes, with dry courtesy and in the concisest possible terms, even condescending to expound his views, but always ending with an inexorable: "Do as say!"

As ever, he spent the whole day in intensive work, without the slightest fuss; as ever, it was hard to keep up with him; and yet he was capable of standing patiently at the manger two or three hours running, or walking five hours behind the seed-drill; he would run backwards and forwards to the hog house every ten minutes, pursuing the pig tenders with courteous but insistent questions.

"When did you give the pigs their bran? Did you remember to enter the time? Did you enter it the way I showed you? Have you prepared everything for washing them?"

The members of the colony began to conceive a restrained enthusiasm for Sherre, though they were quite convinced, of course, that "our Sherre" was only such a wonder because he was "ours," that in any other place he would not have been nearly so wonderful. This enthusiasm manifested itself in silent recognition of his authority and endless discussion of his words, his ways, his imperviousness to emotion, and his knowledge.

This feeling caused me no surprise. I already knew that the boys would never confirm the theory that children are only capable of loving people who display affection for them and make much of them. I had long been convinced that the greatest respect and the greatest love was felt by the young--at any rate the lads in our colony--for people of quite another stamp.

It is what we call high qualifications, confident and precise knowledge, ability, skill, deft hands, terseness, abstention from high-flown phraseology, the steady will to work, which, in the highest degree, attract the young.

You can be as dour as you like with them, exacting to stringency, ignore them, even though they hang about you, show indifference to their affection, but if you shine by your work, your knowledge and your successes, you don't have to worry--you will have them all on your side, and they will never let you down. It does not matter how you show your ability, or what you are--joiner, agronomist, smith, or engine-driver.

On the other hand, however kindly you may be, however entertaining your conversation, however good-natured and cordial your approach, however charming your personality in daily life and leisure, if your work is marked by breakdowns and failure, if it is obvious at every step that you don't know your job, if all you do ends in spoilage and muddle, you will never earn anything but scorn, sometimes indulgent and ironical, sometimes furious and crushingly hostile, sometimes vociferously abusive.

It happened that a stove-maker was called in to make a stove in the girls' dormitory. A round, calorific stove had been ordered. The stove-maker dropped in at the colony quite casually, hung about for a whole day, mended a stove in someone's room, repaired the wall in the stable. He was a quaint-looking fellow--rotund, baldish, with saccharine manners. His speech was seasoned with facetious sayings and phrases, and according to him, there was not another such a stove-maker in the world.

The boys followed him about in a crowd, listening to his stories with incredulity, and receiving his information by no means in the spirit he had counted on inspiring.

"The stove-makers there, children, were older than me, of course, but the Count wouldn't have anyone else. 'Call Artemi, friends,' he would say. 'If he makes a stove, that'll be a stove!' Of course I was just a young stove-maker, and a stove in the Count's house, you understand, yourselves... Sometimes the Count would see me looking at the stove, and say: 'Do your best, Artemi--do your best!' "

"Well, and how did it turn out?" asked the boys.

"All right, of course. The Count always looked... ."

He stuck out his chin arrogantly and imitated the Count looking at the stove Artemi had built. The boys could not control themselves, and burst into peals of laughter--Artemi was so very unlike a count.

Artemi embarked upon the building of the stove with solemn and highly professional words, recalling all the calorific stoves he had ever seen--the good ones made by himself, and the worthless ones made by others. At the same time, without the slightest embarrassment, he gave away all the secrets of his art, and recounted all the difficulties of making calorific stoves:

"The great thing," he said, "is to draw the radius properly. Some people simply can't do the radius."

The boys made a pilgrimage to the girls' dormitory and with bated breath watched Artemi draw his radius.

Artemi chattered incessantly while laying the foundations. When he came to the stove itself, a certain lack of assurance showed in his movements, and his tongue stopped wagging.

I went to have a look at Artemi's work. The boys made way for me, glancing at me with curiosity. I shook my head.

"Why have you made it so bulgy?"

"Bulgy?" repeated Artemi. "It isn't bulgy, it just seems to be, because it isn't finished, it'll be all right later on."

Zadorov screwed up his eyes and looked at the stove.

"Did it look bulgy at the Count's'" he asked.

But the irony was lost on Artemi.

"Of course! All stoves do till they're finished."

In three days' time Artemi called me to accept the stove. The whole colony had gathered in the dormitory. Artemi stumped around the stove, with his head in the air. It stood in the middle of the room, bulging lopsidedly, when suddenly it collapsed thunderously, filling the room with bouncing bricks amidst a dust which hid us from one another, although the clatter was powerless to drown the storm of laughter, moans and squeals which burst out at the same moment. Many of those present were struck by bricks, but no one was in a state to notice pain. They laughed in the dormitory, and, rushing out of the dormitory, in the corridors, in the yard, they doubled up in paroxysms of laughter. I extricated myself from the debris and encountered Burun in the next room, who had seized Artemi by the collar and was aiming with his closed fist at the latter's tonsure, which was sprinkled with dust and fragments of bricks.

Artemi was driven away, but his name remained for long a synonym for a know-nothing braggart and bungler.

"What sort of a man is he?" someone would ask.

"He's an Artemi,--can't you see that?" In the eyes of the boys there was no one less like an Artemi than Sherre, who therefore enjoyed universal respect in the colony, so that work on the land went on briskly and successfully. Sherre had yet another talent,--he knew how to find unclaimed property, how to handle bills, how to obtain credit, so that new root-cutting machines, seeders, and buckers, and even boars and cows began to put in their appearance at the colony. Three cows--just fancy! It looked as if quite soon there would be milk.

A veritable enthusiasm for agriculture began to show itself in the colony. Only those lads who had acquired some skill in the workshops were not longing to rush out into the fields. Sherre began to dig hotbeds in the space behind the smithy, and the carpenter's shop was making frames for them. In the new colony hotbeds were being prepared on a vast scale.

In the very height of the agricultural fever, early in February, Karabanov walked into the colony. The boys met him with enthusiastic embraces and kisses. He shook them off somehow or other, and burst into my room.

"I've come to see how you're getting on."

Smiling, joyful countenances were peeping into the office--boys, teachers, laundry workers.

"It's Semyon! Just look! Isn't that fine!"'

Semyon strolled about the colony till evening, visited "Trepke," and in the evening returned to me, melancholy and taciturn.

"Tell me how you're getting on, Semyon?"

"All right. I've been living with my father."

"And where's Mityagin?"

"To hell with him! I've dropped him. He went to Moscow, I believe."

"How was it at your father's?"

"Oh, well, villagers, just like it always is. My old man's still going strong. My brother's been killed."

"How's that?"

"He was a guerilla fighter--the Petlyuna men killed him in the town, in the street."

"And what do you mean to do--stay with your father?"

"No. I don't want to stay with my father. I don't know...."

He shifted uneasily in his seat and moved his chair nearer to me.

"Look here, Anton Semyonovich!" he brought out abruptly. "Supposing I were to stay in the colony? How about it?"

Semyon shot a rapid glance at me and lowered his head right on to his knees.

"Why not?" I said simply and gaily. "Stay, or course! We'll all be glad."

Semyon leaped from his chair, shaking with suppressed emotion.

"I couldn't stand it!" he cried. "I couldn't! The first days it wasn't so bad, but afterwards--I simply couldn't. I'd be going about, working, sitting down to dinner, and it would all come over me, till I wanted to cry. I'II tell you what--I've got fond of the colony, and I didn't know it myself. I thought it would pass, and then I thought--I'll just go and have a look. And when I came here, and saw how you were getting on --but it's simply wonderful here! And this Sherre of yours...."

"Don't work yourself up," I said. "You should have come right away. Why torture yourself like that?"

"That's what I thought myself, and then I remembered all the goings on, the way we treated you, and I...." He threw out his hands and fell silent.

"All right," I said. "That'll do."

Semyon cautiously raised his head.

"Maybe you think...that I'm putting it on, like you said. No, no! Oh, if you only knew what a lesson I've had! Tell me straight out--do you believe me?"

"I believe you," I said gravely.

"No, but tell me the truth--you believe me?"

"Oh, to hell with you!" I exclaimed laughing. "You don't mean to go back to your old ways. Do you?"

"You see you don't quite trust me!"

"Don't excite yourself so, Semyon! I trust everybody, only some more, some less. Some people I trust an inch or two, some people a foot or two."

"And me?"

"You, I trust a mile."

"And I don't believe you a bit," retorted Semyon.

"Fancy that!"

"Well, never mind! I'll show you yet...."

Semyon went to the dormitory.

From the very first day he became Sherre's right hand. He had a pronounced agricultural vein, he had acquired a lot of knowledge, and he had instinctive knowledge in his blood, from his fathers and his grandfathers, handed down from their experience of life in the steppe. At the same time he eagerly absorbed new agricultural ideas, and the beauty and grace of agronomical technique.

Semyon jealously followed Sherre's every movement with his eyes, and endeavouring to show him that he too was capable of endurance and incessant work. But he was incapable of emulating the calmness of Eduard Nikolayevich, and was in a continual state of excitement and elation, continually bubbling over--now with indignation, now with enthusiasm, now with sheer animal spirits.

Two weeks later I summoned him, and said simply:

"Here's a power of attorney. Go and get five hundred rubles from the Financial Department."

Semyon opened his eyes and his mouth, turned deathly pale, and at last brought out awkwardly:

"Five hundred rubles! And then what?"

"Nothing!" I replied, looking into the drawer of my table. "Just bring it to me."

"Am I to go on horse?"

"Of course! Here's a revolver in case you need it."

I handed Semyon the very revolver which I had taken from Mityagin's belt in the autumn, still with the three cartridges in it. Karabanov took the revolver mechanically, eyed it wildly, thrust it with a rapid movement into his pocket and left the room without a word. Ten minutes later I heard the clatter of hoofs on the stones, and a rider galloped past my window.

Towards evening Semyon entered my office, belted, in his short smith's leather jacket, slender, svelte, but sombre. In silence he laid a bundle of notes and the revolver on the table.

I picked up the notes and asked in the most indifferent and inexpressive tones I could muster:

"Did you count them?"


I threw the whole bundle carelessly into my drawer.

"Thanks! Go and have dinner."

Karabanov shifted the belt confining his jacket from right to left and made a few rapid steps in the room. But he only said quietly:

"All right," and went out.

Two weeks passed. Semyon greeted me somewhat glumly when we chanced to meet, as if he did not feel at ease with me.

He received my new order no less glumly.

"Go and get me two thousand rubles."

He gave me a long, puzzled scrutiny, while thrusting the Browning into his pocket, and said, weighing every syllable:

"Two thousand? And supposing I don't bring it back?"

I leaped from my chair and shouted at him:

"Kindly stop that idiotic talk! You've got your orders, go and do what you're told! Cut out the psychological stuff!"

Karbanov shrugged his shoulders and whispered vaguely:

"well...all right...."

When he brought me the money he would not let me alone.

"Count it!"

"What for?"

"Please count it!"

"But you counted it, didn't you?"

"Count it, I tell you!"

"Leave me alone!"

He clasped his throat as if something was choking him, then tore at his collar and swayed on his feet.

"You're making a fool of me! You couldn't trust me so! It's impossible! Don't you see? It's impossible! You're taking the risk on purpose! I know! On purpose!"

He sank on to a chair, breathless.

"I have to pay heavily for your services." I said.

"Pay? How?" said Semyon, leaning forward abruptly.

"By putting up with your hysterics--that's how!"

Semyon gripped the window sill.

"Anton Semyonovich!" he growled.

"What's the matter with you?" I cried, really a little alarmed by now.

"If you only knew! If you only knew! All the way I was galloping along the road I kept thinking--if only there was a God! If only God would send somebody out of the woods to attack me! If there were ten of them, any number of them.... I would shoot, I'd bite, I'd worry them like a dog, so long as there was life left in me ... and you know, I almost cried. I knew quite well you were sitting here thinking, 'Will he bring it, or won't he?' You were taking a risk, weren't you?"

"You're a funny guy, Semyon! There's always a risk with money. You can't bring a bundle of a notes into the colony without risk. But I thought to myself, if you bring the money the risk will be less. You're young, strong, a splendid horse man, you could get away from any bandit, while they'd easily catch me."

Semyon winked joyfully:

"You're an artful chap, Anton Semyonovich."

"What have I got to be artful about?" I said. "You know how to go for money now, and in future you'll get it for me again. There's no special art needed for that. I'm not a bit afraid. I know very well that you're just as honest as I am. I knew it before--couldn't you see that?"

"No, I thought you didn't know that," said Semyon, and he left the office, singing a Ukrainian song at the top of his voice.