A. S. Makarenko Reference Archive

The Road to Life
Volume 2


In the end of July the fourth mixed worked the command of Burun with fifty members. Burun was the acknowledged commander of the mixed, and none of the colonists laid any claim to this difficult, but honourable post.

The fourth mixed detachment worked from dawn to dusk. The lads would often say that they worked "without signals," for no signal was sounded to summon members to their work, or to announce the cessation of work. Burun's fourth mixed was at present working at the threshing.

At four o'clock in the morning, after reveille and breakfast, the fourth mixed drew up along the flower bed opposite the main entrance to the White House. All the teachers were ranged at the colonists' right flank. They were not actually obliged to take part in the work of the fourth mixed, with the exception of the two who were on working duty, but it had long been considered etiquette in the colony to work in the fourth mixed, so that not a single self-respecting person would miss the order for its organization. On the right flank would be Sherre, Kalina Ivanovich, Silanti Otchenash, Oksana, Rakhil, our two laundresses, the secretary Spiridon, and the senior roller from the mill, on leave at the moment, wheelwright-instructor Kozyr, Mizyak, our red-haired, gloomy gardener, his wife, the beautiful Nadenka, the wife of Zhurbin, and a few others--I didn't even know them all.

And there would be many volunteers in the colonists' ranks--any members happening to be free at the moment from the ninth and tenth detachments, the second stable-workers' detachment, the third cowshed detachment--they would all be there.

Maria Kondratyevna Bokova, alone, though she did take the trouble to get up early, and came to us in an old cotton sarafan, did not take her place in the ranks, but sat in the porch chatting with Burun. For some time now Maria Kondratyevna had ceased inviting me either to tea, or to partake of ice cream, but she was just as nice to me as to the rest, and I did not feel offended with her in the least. I even liked her more than formerly. Her eyes had become graver and sterner, and her chaffing more good-natured. During this time Maria Kondratyevna had got to know many of the little ones and the girls, had made friends with Silanti, and had got the hang of some of our more difficult natures. Maria Kondratyevna was a charming, a delightful person, but nevertheless I urged her quietly: "Maria Kondratyevna, go and stand in line. Everyone will be glad to receive you in the workers' lines."

Maria Kondratyevna smiled at the morning glow, tucked up with her rosy fingers a rebellious, sun-kissed lock, and replied, a little huskily, in her deep chesty voice:

"Thank you, and what will I do today--thrash, eh?"

"Not thrash, but thresh," said Burun. "You'll write down the output of grain."

"And will I be able to do, this well?"

"I'll show you how."

"Haven't you found me work that is too easy?"

Burun smiled. "All our work is the same. Tell us about it in the evening, when the fourth mixed comes' to supper."

"My! How nice that sounds. Supper in the evening, after work!"

I noted Maria Kondratyevna's emotion, and turned aside to hide my smiles. Maria Kondratyevna, already standing on the right flank, was laughing musically at something or other, and Kalina Ivanovich, most gallant of fauns, was pressing her hand and laughing, too.

Eight drummers came running up, beating a light tattoo, and ranged themselves on the right flank. Four buglers, their boyish elastic figures swaying slightly, approached, and held themselves in readiness. The colonists drew themselves up, and fell serious.

"To the colours! Attention!"

Slender bare arms flew up along the ranks--the salute. Nastya Nochevnaya, colony monitor for the day, attired in her best, with a red armband, beneath the rolling of the drums and the silvery greetings of the trumpets, carried to the right flank the silk Gorky banner, guarded on either side by the cold gleaming steel of two fixed bayonets.

"Form fours--right! Forward march!" There was slight confusion in the ranks of the grown-ups, Maria Kondratyevna suddenly squeaked and glanced nervously at me, but the march of the drummers set everyone right. The fourth mixed had gone out to work.

Burun caught the detachment up at a run, shifted his feet to fall into step, and led the way to the place where a high, neat wheat stack, built by Silanti, had long adorned the field, side by side with several smaller stacks which were not quite so neat--stacks of rye, oats and barley, as well as that special rye which even the peasants were unable to recognize and took for barley. These stacks had been built by Karabanov, Chobot, Fedorenko, and it has to be admitted, work and sweat as the lads might, they had been unable to outvie Silanti.

The grave, oil-stained mechanics were awaiting the arrival of the fourth detachment beside the power engine hired from a neighbouring village. The threshing machine itself was our own, bought in the spring on the instalment plan, and, dike everything else in our life, new.

Burun rapidly formed his brigades, having planned everything the day before--not for nothing was he a veteran fourth mixed commander. Our banner was raised above the stack of oats destined to be threshed last.

The wheat was finished by dinner-time. The top platform of the thresher was the gayest and most crowded place of all. Here were the girls, covered with the grey-gold wheat dust, their eyes gleaming, with Lapot as the sole representative of the boys. He was indefatigable, never resting either his back or his tongue. At the most important and responsible post could be made out Silanti's bald head and meagre moustache, saturated with the same dust.

Just now, Lapot was concentrated on Oksana.

"The colonists told you that was wheat just for fun. That's not wheat--it's pea."

Oksana received the still unbound sheaf of wheat and placed it on Lapot's head, but this by no means diminished the general satisfaction at Lapot's words.

I like threshing-time. Threshing has a special charm towards evening. Music has by now crept into the monotonous beat of the machine, and the ear has grown accustomed to the peculiar musical phrase, infinitely varied from moment to moment, and yet each one like the preceding one. And this music forms such a cheerful background to the complex movement, weary by now, but stubbornly indefatigable. A row at a time, as if by some magic invocation, the sheaves rise from the ever-diminishing stack, and, speeded on their final journey by a brief, gentle touch of the colonists' hands, leap into the entrails of the insatiable machine, leaving behind them a whirlwind of scattered particles, and the moans of flying grain torn from the living sheaves. And in this whirlwind, amidst the death threes of innumerable sheaves, the colonists laughed and joked, staggering from exhaustion and excitement, scorning their own weariness, bending, running, stooping beneath heavy burdens, covered with chaff, but beginning to feel the refreshing coolness of the calm, summer evening. To the symphony of sounds, the monotonous tunes of the clicking machinery, the excruciating dissonances of the top platform, they added an exultant, essentially major, music of healthy human fatigue. It was hard to distinguish details, but just as hard to tear oneself away from the elemental fascination of the threshing floor. The colonists could be hardly recognized in those gold-grey figures, which made me think of photographic negatives. Red-haired, black-haired, flaxen, all were now alike. It seemed almost unbelievable that the ghostlike stooping figure, standing from the early morning, notebook in hand, in the very thick of the vortex, could be Maria Kondratyevna, and it was hard to recognize the clumsy, wrinkled shade at her side. I only knew it to be Eduard Nikolayevich from his voice, which was, as ever, courteous and reserved.

"Comrade Bokova, how much barley have we now?"

Maria Kondratyevna turned her notebook towards the sunset glow.

"Four hundred poods, already," was her reply in such a broken, weary soprano that I felt quite sorry for her.

'It was all very well for Lapot, who could find a way out even in the excess of fatigue.

"Galatenko!" he yelled, loud enough to be heard all over the threshing floor. "Galatenko!''

Galatenko, who was balancing a two-pood load of straw on his head with the aid of a pitchfork, stood swaying for a moment as he yelled back from beneath it:

"What d'you want?"

"Come here a minute--I want you!" Galatenko cherished an almost religious devotion for Lapot. He loved him for his wit, his cheeriness, and his affection, for Lapot was the only one to appreciate Galatenko and to assure us that Galatenko had never really been lazy.

Galatenko flung the straw down in front of the engine, and hastened to the thresher. Leaning on the pitchfork, and secretly delighted at the excuse to relax a moment amidst the universal din, he began a conversation with Lapot:

"What did you call me for?"

"Listen, pal," said Lapot, bending down from above, and everyone around began to listen to the conversation in confident expectation of hearing something amusing.

"Well, I'm listening."

"Go to our bedroom."


"Under my pillow, there...."


"Under my pillow, I say...."

"But what?"

"Under my pillow you'll find...."

"I understand it's under your pillow...."

"...a pair of spare hands."

"And what d'you want me to do with them?" asked Galatenko.

"Bring them here as quick as you can, these are no good any more," said Lapot, displaying his hands beneath general laughter.

"I see," said Galatenko.

He understood that everyone was laughing at Lapot's words, and, possibly, at himself. He had tried hard not to say anything silly or ridiculous, and he thought he had been successful, for only Lapot had spoken. But everyone laughed still more, the thresher was beginning to click idly, and Burun began to scold.

"What's all this? Why have you stopped working? It's all you, Galatenko!"

"I never... ."

Everyone fell silent as Lapot, in a voice of tense gravity, with a marvellous assumption of weariness, anxiety, and friendly confidence in Burun, said:

"You see, these hands are no good. Do let Galatenko go and fetch me my spare ones."

Burun immediately entered into the spirit of things, and said to Galatenko in slightly reproachful tones:

"But of course! Go and fetch them! Surely that's not too much trouble! How lazy you are, Galatenko!"

The threshing symphony was over. Now came the high-toned breathless cacophony of laughter and groans; even Sherre laughed, even the mechanics abandoned the engine and laughed, clutching at their grimy knees. Galatenko turned towards the dormitories, Silanti gazed at his back.

"So that's how it is, pal!"

Galatenko stood still, and seemed to be thinking. Karabanov shouted at him from the height of the straw tower:

"What are you waiting for? Go on!" But Galatenko grinned broadly. He understood now. Still smiling, he returned slowly to the threshing floor. The boys asked him from the straw:

"Where have you been?"

"Lapot, you see, told me to go and get some spare hands." "Well, why didn't you go?"

"He hasn't got any spare hands, he was just fooling."

Burun gave the order:

"That'll do--no more about spare hands! Go on working!"

"Enough is enough," said Lapot, "we'll have to go on using the old ones."

At nine o'clock Sherre stopped the engine, and went up to Burun.

"The boys are worn out. And there's half an hour's work left." "Never mind!" said Burun. "We'll finish it." Lapot shouted from above: "Comrade Gorkyites! There's half an hour's work left. And I'm afraid another half hour'll about finish us off. I don't agree."

"What d'you want, then?" asked Burun suspiciously.

"I protest! In half an hour we shall be done for. Shan't we, Galatenko?"

"Why, yes, that's true. Half an hour's a long time."

Lapot raised his clenched fist.

"We can't go on half an hour. We've got to finish everything, this whole heap, in a quarter of an hour. None of your half hours!"

"That's right!" shouted Galatenko. "He's right there!"

Sherre started the engine to the accompaniment of a fresh outburst of laughter. Everything was finished by another twenty minutes. And suddenly all were overcome by the desire to drop on to the straw, and sleep. But Burun gave the order: "Fall in!"

The buglers and drummers, who had long been awaiting their hour, rushed up to the front row. The fourth mixed escorted the banner to its place in the White House. I remained at the threshing floor, and from the White House the sounds of the salute to the colours floated back to me. In the dark a figure bearing in its hand a long staff stumbled against me.

"Who is it?" I exclaimed.

"It's me, Anton Semyonovich. I've come to you about the thresher. From the Volovy farmstead, you know, and my name is Volovik."

"All right! Come to the house."

We, too, set off for the White House. Volovik, an old man, apparently, was mumbling in the dark.

"It's fine here, like people used to live."

"How's that?"

"Well, look! You go out threshing with cross and banners, the proper way."

"Where d'you see the cross? That's only the banner. And we have no priest."

Volovik ran on a short way ahead, gesticulating with his stick.

"The priest doesn't matter," he cried. "What matters is that people make a festival. It's a sort of holiday. Look! For people to bring in the harvest is the festival of festivals, and our folk have forgotten that."

It was noisy at the White House. Tired as the colonists were, they were not too tired for a dip in the river, and after their bath there seemed to be no fatigue left. It was gay and noisy at the tables in the garden, and Maria Kondratyevna was ready to weep for all sorts of reasons--because she was tired, because she loved the colonists, because, in her too, the true law of humanity had been revived, because she, too, had tasted of the delights of a free, working collective.

"Well, was your work too easy?" Burun asked her.

"I don't know," said Maria Kondratyevna. "It was hard, I suppose, but that's not the point. Such work is happiness, anyhow."

Silanti sat next to me at supper, and became confidential.

"They asked me, you know, to tell you: on Sunday the matchmakers, as they say, will come here about Olga. You see how it is!"

"From Nikolayenko?"

"You see, it's from Pavel Ivanovich, the old man, I mean. And you must put your best foot forward, Anton Semyonovich. There must be those hand towels, you see, bread and salt, and that's all about it!"

"Silanti, old chap, you see to all that!"

"I can see to it, as they say, but you know bow it is, brother, people are supposed to drink on such occasions, samogon or something, you know."

"No samogon, Silanti, but you can buy two bottles of sweet wine."