A. S. Makarenko Reference Archive

The Road to Life
Volume 2


When Moussi Karpovich came to the colony we thought he intended to haul us over the coals regarding the liberties which the infuriated Chobot had taken with his head. The aforesaid head was, indeed, demonstratively bandaged, and Moussi Karpovich spoke more like a dying swan than his usual self. But he referred to the subject of such disturbing interest to us in a spirit of peace and Christian resignation.

"Don't think it's about the wench I've come! It's something quite different. God forbid I should quarrel with you--why should I quarrel with you? What for? Let things he the way they are.... It's about the mill I've come. I've brought you a nice proposition from the Village Soviet."

Koval bent his brews upon Moussi Karpovich.

"About the mill?"

"Why, yes! You're trying to get the mill--for rent, I mean, and the Village Soviet has sent in an application, too. So this is what we think--you're just as much a Soviet authority as the Village Soviet is. There can't be any question of you on one side, and us on the other."

"Aha!" exclaimed Koval somewhat ironically.

A brief diplomatic interlude then ensued. I persuaded Koval and the other lads to invest their souls in diplomatic attire and white ties, end Luka Semyonovich and Moussi Karpovich were enabled to make their appearance at the colony without endangering their lives.

At that time the whole colony was greatly preoccupied with the question of buying horses. Our famous trotters were visibly ageing, even Red had begun to grow a beard, while the Commanders' Council had already given Laddie invalid status and pensioned him off. He was allotted a place in the colony and an oat ration for the remainder of his days, and could only be put into harness with my personal consent. Sherre had always been scornful of Bandit, Mary, and Falcon.

"A good farm has good horses," he would say, "and if the horses are no good, the farm is no good, either."

Even Anton Bratchenko, who had been through the stage of infatuation with each of our horses in turn, but preferred Red to them all, began, under the influence of Sherre, to worship some future steed which he expected to turn up in our domain any moment. Among us, Sherre, Kalina Ivanovich and Bratchenko, and myself never missed a fair; we inspected thousands of horses, without having, so far, bought a single one. Sometimes the horses would be no better than our own, sometimes too high a price would be set on them, in vet other cases, Sherre discovered some carefully concealed defect or disease in them. And the truth must be told--horses of good quality were not to be found at a fair. War and revolution bad worked havoc with the better strains, and new stud farms had not yet come into being. Anton would return from a fair in a state bordering on fury.

"How can it be? Aren't there any horses? And supposing we need a decent horse! Are we to go cap in hand to the bourgeois folk, or what?"

In his capacity of an old hussar, Kalina Ivanovich was fond of delving deep into the horse problem, and even Sherre, in this one instance relaxing from his state of permanent jealousy, believed in Kalina Ivanovich's erudition. One day, in a circle of experts, Kalina Ivanovich declared: "Those parasites Luka and Moussi say that the muzhiks in the farmsteads have fine horses, a but they don't take them to the fairs--they're afraid."

"Nothing of the sort," said Sherre. "They haven't any decent horses. Only ones like those we've seen. Soon we'll be able to get fine horses from the stud farms, but it's a bit early for that yet."

"I tell you they have," insisted Kalina Ivanovich. "Luka knows--that son-of-a-bitch knows the whole district, and everything that goes on in it. And when you come to think of it, where is good stock to be found if not among the practical farmers? And the practical farmers live in the farmsteads! He lies low, the parasite, and rears a colt on the sly, because--the dirty skunk!--he's afraid it'll be taken from him. But if we go to one of them ourselves, maybe we'll be able to buy a horse."

I, too, tackled the problem without troubling in the least about ideology.

"We'll go next Sunday and have a look," I said. "And perhaps we'll buy something."

"Why not?" agreed Sherre. "We won't buy a horse, of course, but it'll be a good thing to drive somewhere. I should like to see what kind of crops these practical farmers have got."

On Sunday we harnessed our horses to the phaeton, and rolled gently over the soft dirt roads which united the villages. We passed Goncharovka, cut across the Kharkov highroad, went at a foot-pace through a sandy-bottomed pine wood, till we reached a "far-away country" in which we had never before been.

From the top of a high slope a fair-seeming prospect could be descried. Before us there stretched out endlessly to the horizon a plain which seemed to have been gone over with a steam-roller. It was not remarkable for variety, but in this very monotony may have lain its principal charm. The plain was thickly sown with corn; all around were rolling waves--golden, greenish-gold, golden-tawny--varied here and there by the bright green of millet, or the dimpled surface of a field of buckwheat. And against this golden background, with almost painful regularity, were ranged groups of snow-white huts, surrounded by low-lying, formless garden plots. Each group had its two or three willows, asps, more rarely poplars, and its melon bed, complete with dingy brown shack. All was in conformity with the strictest style--the most exacting landscape painter could not have discovered one false stroke.

This picture was greatly to the taste of Kalina Ivanovich, too.

"Look how the kulaks live! They're orderly folk here!"

"Yes," admitted Sherre reluctantly.

"Let's drop in on that one over there," proposed Kalina Ivanovich.

Anton turned into a pathway trodden in the grass and drove up to a primitive gateway, composed of three slender willow trunks spliced together with bast. A mangy grey cur crawled from beneath a bench, stretching its limbs, and barked at us with lazy huskiness. The owner of the hut emerged, brushing something out of his unkempt beard, and regarding my quasi-military attire with astonishment not unmixed with anxiety.

"Good day, master!" said Kalina Ivanovich cheerfully. "Just back from church, I suppose?"

"I don't often go to church," replied the master of the house, in a voice as lazily husky as that of the guardian of his property. "My wife goes now and then. And where may you be from?"

"We've come on business. They say you have a nice horse for sale--is it true?"

The master's eyes travelled over our turnout. The fact that Red and black Mary were an ill-matched pair seemed to allay his anxiety somewhat.

"I don't know about that. How can I have nice horses? I have a horse--a three-year-old. Perhaps it would suit you?"

He went to the stable and led from its farthest corner a three-year-old mare, sprightly and well-fed.

"Never been in harness?" inquired Sherre.

"She's never been harnessed to go anywhere special, but as to driving--she can go in harness. She's a good one to go, I will say that!"

"She won't do," said Sherre. "She's too young for us. We need a working horse."

"She's young, of course," agreed the owner. "But she'd grow in a good home. That she would! I've been tending her three years. I've tended her well, you can see that, can't you?" The mare was certainly in good condition; with her clean, gleaming skin and well-combed mane, she was infinitely better groomed than her trainer and owner.

"And how much would you be asking for such a mare, eh?"

"Seeing that it's practical folks who want to buy her--sixty chervonets, and a good treat thrown in."

Anton fixed his gaze on the summit of a willow, and, at last getting the point, fairly gasped.

"How much? Six hundred rubles?"

"That's right--six hundred," said the owner modestly.

"Six hundred rubles for muck like that!" shouted Anton, unable to restrain his indignation.

"Muck yourself--a fat lot you know about it!" retorted the owner. "Try the horse--then judge!"

"It can't be said that the mare is muck," said Kalina Ivanovich pacifically. "She's a good mare, but she won't do for us."

Sherre smiled in silence. We all went back to the phaeton, and drove on. The grey dog once more yelped its respects to us, but its master, closing his gate, did not so much as look alter us.

We visited a dozen or so farmsteads. There was a horse at almost every one of them, but we made no purchase.

It was almost evening before we got home. Sherre, who seemed to have lost interest in the fields, was absorbed in thought. Anton wreaked his irritation on Red, and kept flicking at him with the whip, muttering:

"Are you crazy? Have you never seen weeds before? I'll show you!"

Angrily watching the wormwood growing beside the road, Kalina Ivanovich kept up a grumbling monologue all the way.

"Look what bad people they are, the parasites! People come to them--well, whether you sell or whether you don't, you can at least behave like a human being, like a host, you swine! You can see, you parasite, that people have been travelling since the morning, you might offer them something to eat--you've got some borshch, haven't you, or at least potatoes....Just fancy, he can't find time to comb his beard--did you ever see the like? And asking six hundred rubles for a scurvy nag! He 'tended the horse,' forsooth! It wasn't he who tended it--did you notice what a lot of labourers he has?"

I had seen them--the tatterdemalions--standing motionless by stable and pigsty, in awestruck, tense observation of so extraordinary a spectacle as the arrival of townsfolk. They were overwhelmed by the fantastic combination of so much respectability in one yard. Sometimes one of these mute personages would lead a horse from its stable, shyly handling the reins to the master, or even give a pat to a horse's hindquarters, perhaps seeking thus to express affection for a familiar fellow creature.

At last Kalina Ivanovich fell silent, pulling irritably at his pipe. He only broke silence at the very entrance to the colony, when he cried cheerfully: "Starved us to death, the damned parasites!" At the colony we found Luka Semyonovich and Moussi Karpovich. Luka was amazed at the unsuccess of our expedition.

"It can't be!" he protested. "Well--since it was I who told Anton Semyonovich and Kalina Ivanovich about it, we shall have to see to this business ourselves. Don't you worry, Kalina Ivanovich! You'll ruin your nerves, and that's the worst thing that can happen to a man! It's bad for you to upset yourself. Next week you and I will go, but let Anton Semyonovich stay at home, he looks too-tee-hee!-Bolshevik! It frightens the kulaks!"

Next Sunday Kalina Ivanovich and Luka Semyonovich set out for the farmsteads in Luka's carriage. Bratchenko, who regarded the whole business with a kind of desperate indifference, speeded him with the maliciously facetious words:

"Mind you take bread with you, or you'll die of hunger!"

Luka Semyonovich smoothed his gorgeous red beard over the front of his embroidered Sunday blouse, his red lips curving in an anticipatory smile.

"Comrade Bratchenko, how can you! We're going visiting, how can we take bread with us? There'll be real borshch today, and mutton, and maybe somebody will provide a bottle of something."

He winked at the deeply interested Kalina Ivanovich, and gathered up the smart crimson reins. The broad-chested, well-nourished stallion started off gaily beneath the straddling shaft bow, setting the heavy carriage in motion.

In the evening, all the colonists turned out as if at a fire alarm, to survey a surprising spectacle--Kalina Ivanovich returning in triumph. Luka Semyonovich's stallion was tied to the back of the carriage, and between the shafts was a beautiful big mare, dapple-grey. Both Kalina Ivanovich and Luka Semyonovich bore in their persons evidence of the hospitality which had been accorded them by horse owners. Kalina Ivanovich could hardly get out of the carriage, but did his utmost to prevent the colonists from noticing his condition. Yarabanov helped him to descend.

"So there was treating?"

"Of course there was! See what a fine beast we've brought!"

Kalina Ivanovich stroked the mare's huge hindquarters. It was indeed a fine beast, with its powerful, fringed legs, its vast stature, its Herculean chest, and well-knit, massive frame. Even Sherre could find no defects in it, though he spent a long time crawling under its belly, every now and then saying with kindly gaiety:

"Your foot--give me your foot!"

The boys approved of the purchase. Burun, narrowing his eyes gravely, walked all round the mare, and then announced:

"At last there's a horse that really is a horse in this colony!" Karabanov, too, liked the mare.

"Yes, that's a working horse," he said. "It's worth five hundred rubles. With a dozen horses like that we could eat pie."

Bratchenko received the mare with loving attention, walked all round it, giving vent to his satisfaction by clicking with his tongue, joyfully astounded by its vast, quiet power, its peaceful, confiding nature. New horizons opened before Bratchenko. He pestered Sherre with the insistent demand:

"Now we need a good sire. We could have our own stud--you know what I mean."

Sherre knew perfectly well what he meant. Casting a grave appraising glance at Dawn (that was the horse's name) he said through closed teeth:

"I'll look for a stallion. I've got my eye on a certain place. Just wait till we harvest the wheat, then I'll go there."

At this time, from early morn to sunset, work went on in the colony with rhythmic strokes on the smooth rails laid down with such precision by Sherre. The mixed detachments, some big, some small, some consisting of seniors, some composed purposely of younger boys alone, armed with hoes with scythes, wWith rakes, or merely with their own two hands, went into the fields and back again with the regularity of an express-train schedule, alive with laughter and joking, with cheerfulness and self-confidence, thoroughly aware what was to be done, and where and how to do it. Occasionally Olya Voronova, our assistant agronomist, would return from the fields, saying to the monitor on duty, between sips of water from the mug kept in the office: "Send help to Mixed Five."

"What's up?"

"They're behind with the binding. It's awfully hot!"

"How many are needed?"

"About five. Are there any girls free?"

"Only one."

Olya, wiping her lips on her sleeve, would disappear somewhere. The monitor, notebook in hand, would make for the pear tree, beneath which, since the early morning, had been posted the staff of the mixed detachment's reserve. The commander on duty would be followed by the bugler on duty at a quaint, short trot. In another minute would be heard the brief staccato of the call for reserves. From beneath bushes, from the river, from the bedrooms, the little ones would rush headlong, a circle would be formed beneath the pear tree, and a minute later five colonists would be making for the wheat field at a quick march.

We had already taken in the forty new children. The colonists spent a whole Sunday looking after them, washing them, dressing them, and assigning them to their respective detachments. We did not increase the number of detachments, but transferred the whole eleven detachments to the Red House, leaving a definite number of places to be filled in in each. This enabled the newcomers to get themselves firmly knit up with the ranks of the original members, so that they were proudly conscious of being Gorkyites, even though as yet they could not march properly, but could only, in the words of Karabanov, toddle.

The newcomers were all very young, not more than thirteen or fourteen years old, and among them were delightful faces, especially charming after a little chap came rosy from the bath, clad in shining new sateen shorts. His hair might not yet have been properly cut, but Belukhin reassured us:

"They cut their hair themselves, today, and you know they're not exactly dabs. The hairdresser will he here tonight, and we'll have them all properly turned out."

The reinforcements walked about the colony with eyes bulging with amazement for the first day or so, taking in all the new impressions. They visited the hog-house, and gazed in astonishment at the stern Stupitsyn.

Anton refused on principle to have anything to do with the reinforcements.

"What are you all doing here? Your place is in the dining room, still."

"Why in the dining room?"

"What else are you fit for? You're nothing but machines for eating."

"Oh, I'm going to work!"

"I know the way you'll work! It'll take two overseers to look after you. Won't it, now?"

"But the commander said we were to start work the day after tomorrow. You'll see!"

"I'll see, will I? D'you think I don't know? It'll be--'Oh, how hot I am! Oh, how I'm longing for a drink of water! Oh, papa! Oh, mama!' "

The little chaps would smile in embarrassment.

"Mama! Mama! Nothing of the sort!" But by the end of the very first day Bratchenko had found his favourites. He picked out horse lovers according to a system of his own. And, lo and behold! The water barrel is trundling over the field path, and on the barrel is perched a new Gorkyite--Petya Zadorozhny, driving Falcon, to the accompaniment of injunctions from the stable door:

"Don't drive the horse too hard, now--you're not going to a fire with that barrel!"

In a day's time the newcomers were taking part in mixed detachments, stumbling and croaking in their unfamiliar, laborious efforts, but there is a row of colonists stubbornly moving up the potato field, and hardly ever breaking the line, and it seems to the newcomer that he, too, can keep his place in the line. It is an hour betore he realizes that only one row has been assigned to two beginners, whereas the veterans have a row each. Sweating profusely, he quietly asks his neighbour:

"Will it soon be over?"

The wheat has been taken in, and work is beginning on the threshing floor. Sherre, covered, like everyone else, with dirt and sweat, checks the gears and inspects the stacks prepared for threshing.

"We'll start threshing the day after tomorrow--and tomorrow we'll go for the horse."

"I'll go," said Semyon, darting a surreptitious glance at Bratchenko.

"Go on then," said Anton. "Is it a good stallion?"

"Not a bad stallion," replied Sherre.

"Did you buy it at the sovkhoz?"

"Yes. At the sovkhoz."

"How much?"

"Three hundred."

"That wasn't much."


"A Soviet horse, then!" said Kalina Ivanovich.

"What d'you want to make that elevator so high for?" he added, looking at the thresher.

"A Soviet horse," replied Sherre. "It's not too high, the straw's very light."

On Sunday everyone rested, bathed, went rowing, and busied themselves with the newcomers, and in the evening, as usual, the aristocracy gathered together under the porch of the main building, inhaling the fragrance of the "snow queens," and profoundly impressing, with many a varied tale, the newcomers, who stood silently at a respectful distance.

Suddenly, from round the corner of the mill, in a cloud of dust, a rider, his horse shying violently at an old boiler lying in the way, came up at a gallop. Semyon flew right up to us on a golden steed, and we all suddenly fell silent, holding our breath. Before this we had only seen such a sight in pictures, in illustrations to fairy tales and to Gogol's Terrible Revenge. The horse bore Semyon at a pace which was at once easy and powerful, swinging its thick, luxurious tail, its mane--fluffy, glinting with a golden tinge--streaming in the wind. It moved so fast that our awe-struck minds could scarcely keep up with its ever-new and overwhelming points--the powerful neck, with its proud and playful turn, the slender legs approaching with so generous a stride.

Semyon reined in the horse in front of us, bringing the beautiful, small head close to its chest. The eye, coal-black, young and ardent, with fiery corners, suddenly shot a glance straight into the heart of the swooning Anton Bratchenko. Anton clapped his hands to his ears, gasped, and shuddered.

"Is that ours? Is it? The stallion? Ours?"

"Ours," said Semyon proudly.

"Get the hell off the stallion!" Anton suddenly yelled at Karabanov. "Are you going to sit there forever? Haven't you had enough? Look what a lather you've got him in! This isn't one of your kulak nags!"

Anton seized the rein, repeating his command with a glance of fury. Semyon climbed out of the saddle.

"That's all right, old man," he said. "I understand. If there ever was such a horse before, it must have belonged to Napoleon."

Anton flew into the saddle like a gust of wind, gently stroking the horse's neck. Then, in sudden embarrassment, he turned aside, wiping his eyes on his sleeve.

The boys laughed softly. Kalina Ivanovich smiled, cleared his throat, smiled again.

"There's no denying it," he said. "It's a grand horse. I'll say more--it's too good for us. We'll ruin it."

"Who will?" cried Anton, bending fiercely towards him. Then he turned to the colonists.

"I'll kill you!" he growled. "I'll kill anyone who touches him! I'll take a stick to you! I'll bash you over the head with a crowbar!" He turned the horse sharply round, and it bore him meekly to the stable, with mincing, coquettish steps, as if glad that at last a real master was in the saddle.

We called the horse "Molodets." [fine fellow]