A. S. Makarenko Reference Archive

The Road to Life
Volume 2


On Sunday we were visited by emissaries from Pavel Ivanovich Nikolayenko. They were people we knew--Kuzma Petrovich Mogorych and Osip Ivanovich Stomukha. Kuzma Petrovich was well known to everyone in the colony, for he lived not far from us, just the other slide of the river. He was a garrulous person, with no solidity of character. He had a weed-grown, sandy field, on which he seldom worked, and on which grew all sorts of trash--mainly on its own initiative. Innumerable paths were trodden through this field, which bay in everyone's way. The countenance of Kuzma Petrovich was like his field, for on it, too, nothing useful would grow, and each tuft of his dingy sparse beard seemed like a weed, sprouting quite irrespective of its owner's interests. Over his countenance, too, ran innumerable paths--wrinkles, folds, and ruts. The only thing which distinguished Kuzma Petrovich from his field was bis long thin nose. Osip Ivanovich, on the contrary, was very good-looking. He had the handsomest face and the best figure of any man in Goncharovka. He had a big red moustache, and fine, insolent, somewhat prominent eyes, his attire was half urban, half military, and he always looked smart and slender. He had many relatives among the more prosperous peasantry, but for some reason or other he had no land himself, and his sole apparent occupation was hunting. He lived right on the bank of the river, in a lonely hut which seemed to shun the village.

Although we had known that guests were to be expected, they caught us ill-prepared. And how were we to know the preparations necessary in such an unfamiliar business? True, all was solid, calm and imposing in my office when they entered. They found there no one but Kalina Ivanovich and myself. The visitors entered, pressed our a hands, and seated themselves on the sofa. I did not know how to begin, and was glad when Osip Ivanovich made a simple opening.

"Formerly in such cases they used to tell a tale about hunters--we went a-hunting, and we found a fox, and the fox was the pretty girl.... But I think that isn't necessary now, though I'm a hunter myself."

"Quite right," I said.

Kuzma Petrovich shuffled his feet without rising from the sofa, and wagged his beard:

"All nonsense, that's what I say!"

Stomukba corrected him.

"It's not that it's nonsense--it's just that the times are changed."

"There are different sorts of times," began Kalina Ivanovich magisterially. "Sometimes the people's minds are in darkness and that's not enough for them--they have to invent all sorts of spooks to frighten themselves with, and live like dunderheads, afraid of everything--thunder, the moon a black cat. But now we have the Soviet government--now we're not afraid of anything, unless it's the stop-the-way detachment."

Stomukha interrupted Kalina Ivanovich, who had apparently forgotten that we were not gathered together for a philosophic chat.

"We'll say what we've come about quite simply--we've been sent to you by people whom you know--Pavel Ivanovich Nikolayenko and his wife, Evdokla Stepanovna. We ask you as father here, in the colony, if you are willing to give your, as it were, daughter Olya Voronova in marriage to their son Pavel Pavlovich, the latter being at present chairman of the Village Soviet."

"We request your answer," chimed in Kuzma Petrovich. "If you agree, and as the father is willing, then let's have the towels and bread, and if you don't agree we would ask you not to take it amiss that we have troubled you."

"Tee-hee! That's not enough," said Kalina Ivanovich. "According to your silly law you ought to take a pumpkin home."

"We won't hold out for pumpkins," smiled Osip Ivanovich. "Anyhow it's not the season for them."

"That's true," agreed Kalina Ivanovich. "But in the old times, a lass, if the silly thing was vain, would keep a room full of pumpkins--just in case, you know. And if the suitors did not come, she would make a gruel with them, the parasite! Pumpkin gruel is good, especially if it's made with millet."

"Well, and what is your paternal reply?" asked Osip Ivanovich.

I replied:

"Thanks for the honour. I'm not the father, however, and my authority is not paternal. You'll have to ask Olya herself, of course, and afterwards all sorts of details will have to be decided by the Commanders' Council."

"It's not for us to tell you what to do, you just do the right thing according to the new customs," agreed Osip Iwanovich quietly.

I went out of the office, and finding the colony monitor in the next room asked him to have the signal given for a meeting of the Commanders' Council. An unusually feverish and excited atmosphere prevailed in the colony. Nastya rushed up to me, asking, through laughter:

"Where are we to bring the towels? In here?" She nodded towards the office.

"Don't be in such a hurry with the towels, we haven't come to terms yet. You just stick around --I'll call you when you're needed."

"And who'll do the tying up?"

"Tying what up?"

"The towels! They have to he tied oh to the what d'you call them--matchmakers." Toska Solovyov was standing beside me, holding a great wheat loaf under his arm, and in his hand a saltcellar, which he was shaking for the pleasure of watching the grains of salt jump. Silanti came running up.

"What are you shaking the bread-and-salt about for? You must put it on a dish."

He bent down, endeavouning to conceal the laughter with which he was consumed.

"Oh, these little fellows! And what about snacks?"

Ekaterina Grigoryevna made her appearance, to my intense relief.

"Help us with this business!" I implored her.

"I've been looking for them for ages. They've been dragging this bread about the colony since the early morning. Come along with me. We'll manage, don't you worry. We'll be in the girls' room, send for us."

The barelegged commanders came running into the office. I still have a list of the commanders during that happy epoch. It runs:

Commander of the First Detachment (cobblers) -Gud.

Commander of the Second Detachment (grooms) --Bratchenko.

Commander of the Third Detachment (cowherd) --Oprishko.

Commander of the Fourth Detachment (carpenters) --Taranets.

Commander of the Fifth Detachment (girls) -Nochevnaya.

Commander of the Sixth Detachment (smiths) -Belukhia.

Commander of the Seventh Detachment--Vetkovsky.

Commander of the Eighth Detachment-Karabanov.

Commander of the Ninth Detachment (millers)--Osadchy.

Commander of the Tenth Detachment (hog tenders) --Stupitsyn.

Commander of the Eleventh Detachment (small fry) --Georgievsky.

Secretary of the Commanders' Council--Kolya Vershnev.

Mill manager--Kudlaty.

Storekeeper--Alyosha Volkov.

Assistant agronomist--Olyla Voronova.

In reality many more than these met in the Commanders' Council. Members of the Komsomol organization--Zadorov, Zhorka Volkov, Yolokhov, Burun--had a perfect, acknowledged right, as well as those hoary veterans, Prikhodko, Soroka, Goles, Chobot, Ovcharenko, Fedorenko, Koryto, while on the floor would cluster those of the little fellows who were interested, among whom were invariably Mitka, Vitka, Toska, and Vanka Shelaputin. There were always teachers at meetings of the Council, too, as well as Kalina Ivanovich and Silanti Semyonodch. And so there were never enough chairs to go round, and people sat on window sills, or stood outside peering in at the windows.

Kolya Vershnev opened the meeting. The matchmakers, crowded by about a dozen colonists on the sofa, lost some of their solemnity among the medley of bare arms and legs.

I told the commanders of the arrival of the matchmakers. This was no news to the Commanders' Council, for everyone had long remarked the friendship between Pavel Pavlovich and Olya. Merely for form's sake Vershnev asked Olya:

"Are you willing to marry Pavel? Olya, blushing slightly, said: "Of course I am!"

Lapot pouted.

"That's not the way. You ought to resist so that we could persuade you. Otherwise it's no fun."

"Fun or no fun," said Kalina Ivanovich, "we've got to talk business. Just you tell us frankly what you mean to do about property and all that."

Osip Ivanovich touched his moustache.

"It's like this--if you give your consent, we'll take the wedding feast and the marriage ceremony upon ourselves, and afterwards the young couple will live with the old people. And since they'll live together, the property will be in common."

"And who's the new hut been built for?" asked Karabanov.

"That hut'll be for Mikhail."

"But isn't Pavel the eldest?"

"He's the eldest, of course, that's true. But the old man decided it should be so. You see, Pavel's taking a wife from the colony."

"Well, and what if she is from the colony?" Koval growled out disagreeably.

Osip Ivanovich did not know what to say at first. Kuzma Petrovich piped out in his reedy voice:

"That's how it works out. Pavel Ivanovich says: the wife has to go to the husband, because, you see, this one has a father, so there's a father-in-law--Mikhail is taking a wife from Sergei Grechany. And yours, you see, comes with Pavel Pavlovich, as a daughter-in-law. Pavel Pavlovich himself agrees to this."

"At that rate we'll soon be dealing in pumpkins," said Karabanov with a wave of his hand. "What do we care about Pavel Pavlovich's consent? It only means he has no guts, that's all. The Commanders' Council can't give Olya away like that. As far as that goes it would be the same thing as becoming a farm hand to the old devil."

"Semyon," said Kolka, frowning.

"All right, all right! I take back the word devil. That's one thing. The next thing is--what's this marriage ceremony you spoke about?"

"That's the proper thing--nobody ever got married without the priests. Such a thing has never happened in our village."

"Well, now it's going to," said Koval.

Kuzma Petrovich scratched his beard.

"Who knows what's going to happen, and what's not going to happen? Among us it's not considered nice. It's the same as living in sin."

Silence fell upon the Council. All were thinking of one land the same thing--the marriage would not come off. I was even afraid the lads, should things go wrong, would send away the matchmakers with little ceremony.

"Olya, would you like to be married by la priest?" asked Kolya.

"What's the matter with you--bias your breakfast disagreed with you? Have you forgotten I'm a Komsomol?"

"It's no go about the priests," I told the matchmakers. "Think out something else. You knew where you were going, didn't you? How could you think for a moment that we would agree to a church wedding?"

Silanti rose in his place, and got his finger ready for a speech.

"Silanti, do you wish to speak?" asked Kolya.

"There's something I want to ask."

"Ask away, then."

"Kuzma, you see, he's what you call a dreamer. Let Osip Ivanovich tell us what they want priests for? You'd do better fattening a pig."

"To hell with them!" laughed Stomukha. "Whenever I meet one of them, I turn back, and don't go hunting."

"It means it's Kuzma who wants all this."

Kuzma Petrovich smiled.

"Hee-hee, it isn't that! It's like this, you see--our grandfathers and our great-grandfathers did it that way, and Pavel Ivanovich says--we're taking a poor girl, without any, what d'you call it--dowry, and so on."

Kalina Ivanovich banged with his fist on the table.

"What's all this?" he cried. "What right have you to jabber? Who is this rich man to give himself airs in front of us? You think just because you and your Pavel Ivanovich have built a clay hut you can go about putting on airs! He thinks, the parasite, just because he has a table and a couple of benches and a leather coat put away in a chest, he's a millionaire!"

Kuzma Petrovich, alarmed, piped out:

"Who's putting on airs? We only just mentioned a dowry, as it were."

"Do you know where you are? This is the Soviet government. Perhaps you don't know what the Soviet government is like? The Soviet government can give a dowry that would make all your stinking grandfathers turn three times in their graves, the parasites!"

Kuzma attempted a feeble protest:

"We only...."

The boys roared with laughter, and applauded Kalina Ivanovich. Kalina Ivanovich grew angry in good earnest.

"Let the Commanders' Council think it well over," he said. "Look! They've come matchmaking to us, but we shall have to see if we can give our daughter Olga to such a pauper as this Nikolayenko, who's never tasted anything better than potatoes and onion, who grows goosefoot instead of rye, the parasite. But we're rich people, we have to think things over carefully."

The delight of the Commanders' Council and all present showed that there were no longer any problems to solve. The matchmakers were sent out of the office for a time, and the Commanders' Council embarked upon the discussion of a dowry for Olya.

The boys bad been touched on the raw by the preceding negotiation, and assigned Olga a dowry which would bave been splendid by any standards. Sherre was sent for, and there was some fear that he would raise objections to such great sacrifices, but Sherre, without even pausing to think, said sternly:

"That's right! However hard it may be for us, Voronova must be made a wealthy bride, the wealthiest in the district. Those kulaks must be put into their places."

Thus it was that any objections which did arise during the discussion of the dowry were only of this sort:

"Colt--nonsense! She must have a horse, not a colt!"

An hour later the matchmakers, who had been recovering their equilibrium in the fresh air, were called to the Council, and Kolya Vershnev, standing up behind the table, uttered, stammering slightly, the following imposing speech:

"The Commanders' Council has resolved as follows: to marry Olyla to Pavel. Pavel to move into a separate hut, and his father to give him what he can from his own farm. No priests, the wedding to he registered at the ZAGS [Registry office.--Tr.]. The first day of the wedding to be celebrated here, and you do what you like afterwards. Olyla to be given, to start a farm with:

A Simmenthal cow and a calf.

a mare and a colt,

five sheep,

an English sow....

Kolya grew quite hoarse during the reading of the endless list of Olya's dowry. Herein were included agricultural instruments, seed, fodder reserves, clothing, linen, furniture, and even a sewing machine. Kolya wound up as follows:

"We will always help Olya if necessary, and she and her husband are bound to give their help to the colony, whenever this is required. And Pavel to receive the title of Colonist."

The matchmakers blinked nervously, and looked as if they were about to assist at their own last rites. The laughing girls, no longer troubling their heads about what was right or what was wrong, came running up to tie the towels on to the matchmakers, and the younger boys, led by Toska, handed them bread and salt on ia dish covered with a napkin. The matchmakers, confused and awkward, took the bread, but did not know what to do with it. Toska drew the dish from beneath Kuzma Petrovich's armpit, saying cheerfully:

"Hi! Give that back, or I shall get into trouble with the miller. It's his...what d'you call it?... plate."

The girls laid a cloth on my table, and set out three bottles of sweet red wine, and a dozen or so glasses. Kalina Ivanovich poured out a glass for everyone, and said, raising his own:

"That she may grow and obey!"

"Obey who?" asked Osip Ivanovich.

"Everyone knows who--the Commanders' Council, and the Soviet government in general."

We all clinked glasses, tossed them off, and ate sausage sandwiches.

Kuzma Petrovich bowed:

"Thanks for arranging everything so nicely. It means we can go and congratulate Pavel Ivanovich and Evdokia Semyonovna."

"Go ahead--congratulate them!" said Kalina Ivanovich.

Osip Ivanovich pressed our hands.

"You're splendid folk. There's no beating you!"

The matchmakers, hushed and meek as schoolgirls, went out of the office and made for the village. We watched them out of sight. Suddenly Kalina Ivanovich narrowed his eyes gaily and shrugged his shoulders in mock discontent.

"That won't do! Going away like stuffed owls! Run after them, Petya, and tell them to come to my room, and you, Anton, harness the horses in an hour's time and drive up."

An hour later the boys, amidst laughter, bundled the matchmakers into the carriage, still with the towels tied to them, but having lost may other marks of official emissaries, including articulate speech. Kuzma Petrovich, it is true, had not forgotten the bread, and was clutching it lovingly to his chest. Molodets drew the heavy carriage over the sandy path as if it had been a feather.

Kalina Ivanovich spat.

"He sent such poor ones on purpose, the parasite!"

"Who did?"

"Why, that Nikolayenko! He wanted to show us--as the bride is, so are the matchmakers."

"It's not that," said Silanti. "It's like this, you see! Some people wouldn't have gone as matchmakers when there weren't going to be priests, and these here, they don't give a hang for the priests, not they! And the old fox, you know who I mean, he said: 'Make believe you must have priests, and if they refuse, to hell with it.... That's how it is, you see."

The wedding being arranged for the middle of August, commissions set to work, and a performance was prepared. There was any amount of trouble, and still more expenditure. Kalina Ivanovich could not help feeling gloomy.

"If we are to marry off all our girls like this, Anton Semyonovich," he said, "you'd better take the boys, and me, old fool that I am, and we'll go out begging alms...but it can't be helped, I know that."

On the day of the wedding the colony was surrounded by sentries--two detachments had to be allotted by way of a guard. We sent out invitations--properly printed--to not more than seventy persons. These invitations ran as follows:

"The Commanders' Council of the Maxim Gorky Labour Colony requests your presence at a dinner, to be followed by a theatrical performance in celebration of the departure from the Colony of Colonist Olga Voronovna, and her marriage to Comrade Pavel Pavlovich Nikolayenko.

"Commanders' Council."

By two o'clock in the afternoon everything was ready in the colony. The festive tables were set out in the garden around the fountain. The decoration of this place was the contribution of Zinovi Ivanovich's art circle: slender poles, from which the ingeniously placed garlands of birchshoots hung gracefully, had been stuck into the earth all round the alfresco dining room, and no one, calmly admiring these garlands, gave a thought to the difficult task it had been for the boys to hang them there. The tables themselves were adorned with jars of white roses--Sherre's "snow queens."

Today the extent to which the colony had developed and the improvement in its outward appearance, were most happily and incontrovertibly apparent. The broad, sanded paths of the park emphasized the wealth of greenery of the orchard terraces, on which every tree, every group of bushes, every line in the flower beds, had been thought out in the silence of the night, watered with the sweat of mixed detachments, and beautified, as by precious stones, with the care and love of the whole collective. The high and low places of the riverbanks had been disciplined with a stern but loving hand: a flight of wooden steps, a birchen rail, a rectangular carpet of flowers, narrow, winding paths, a miniature embankment strewn with sand, all furnished additional proof of the superiority of man over nature, even of barefooted representatives of humanity like ourselves. And in the spracious yards of this barefooted master, he, the stepchild of old humanity, had managed to heal the deep wounds of the past with the hand of an artist. As far back as autumn the colonists had planted two hundred rosebushes here, but nobody could have counted the number of asters, carnations, stock, vermilion geraniums, blue Canterbury bells, and all sorts of other unknown and unnamed flowers. The yard was surrounded by hard roads, linking up the areas around individual buildings, squares and triangles of rye grass lent significance and freshness to unoccupied spaces, and here and there stood green garden benches.

Everything had become pleasant, homelike, beautiful and rational in the colony, and seeing all this I was proud of my own participation in the adornment of our planet. But I had my own aesthetic whims. Neither flowers, nor paths, nor shady nooks could for a moment distract my attention from those boys in their dark-blue shorts and white shirts. There they were--running about, moving quietly among the guests, busying themselves around the tables, standing at their posts, keeping out the hundreds of idlers who had come to gape at the extraordinary wedding. There they were, the Gorkyites! Graceful and well-knit, they have fine, elastic figures, muscular and healthy bodies which owe nothing to medicine, and fresh, red-lipped countenances. Those countenances are the work of the colony--such countenances are not brought into the colony from the streets.

Each of them has his path in life, and the Gorky Colony, too, has its path. I can discern the beginning of these paths, but how hard it is to see, through the mists surrounding the future, their direction, their continuation, their end. Elements still unconquered by man, as yet beyond the grasp of planning and mathematics, are whirling about in these mists. And in our progress among these elements, we have our own aesthetics, so that the aesthetics of flowers and parks are no longer capable of moving me.

Another reason for this may have been that Maria Kondratyevna came up to me with the question.

"Why are you indulging in melancholy all by yourself, Daddy?"

"How can I help being melancholy when everyone has deserted me, even you?"

"I would be happy to console you. I was looking for you, I didn't want to look at the wedding presents without you. Come on!"

All Olya's possessions had been gathered together in two classrooms. The guests were crowding about the display, cross, envious women pursing up their lips and glancing at me with angry attention. They had superciliously ignored our bride and married their sons to farmstead lasses, and now it appeared that the wealthiest brides had been within their reach. I recognized their right to be indignant with me.

"What are you going to do if the matchmakers begin to come in crowds?" asked Bokova.

"I'm safe," I replied. "Our girls are very particular."

Up ran a little chap, scared out of his wits.

"They're coming!"

The summons to a genenal meeting was already being sounded in the yard. At the porch, as the occasion required, a line of colonists and a platoon of drummers drew up in front of the banner. Our couple came into sight round the corner of the mill, the horses decked out with red ribbons, with Bratchenko in the driver's seat, also wearing a ribbon. We saluted the young couple. Anton pulled at the reins, and Olya flung herself joyfully on my neck. Excited, laughing and crying, she said:

"Mind you don't desert me--I feel so frightened!"

A brief meeting was held. Maria Kondratyevna touched and surprised me by presenting the young couple in the name of the Department of Public Education with a library of books on agriculture. Two colonists bore a great pile of books after her on flower-decked boards.

After the meeting we made the young couple stand beneath the colours and escorted them to the tables in full marching array. The place of honour had been prepared for them, and the standard-bearers stood behind them. A colonist monitor changed guard. Twenty colonists, in snow-white jackets, began to serve the dinner. Taranets' special mixed detachment cast an attentive eye on the pockets of the visitors, noiselessly dumping into the Kolomak several bottles of samogon, which had been extracted with the skill of conjurors and the courtesy of hosts.

I sat on one side of the young couple, and Pavel Ivanovich and Evdokia Stepanovna sat on their other side. Pavel Ivanovich, a stern individual with a beard like that of Saint Nicholas, the miracle worker, sighed heavily, either because he was vexed at his son's having become independent, or because he could not bear to look at the bottle of beer, Taranets having only just taken a bottle of samogon from him.

The colonists are wonderful today, I never get tired of looking at them. Animated, good-humorued, gracious, and with a touch of irony which is all their own. Even the eleventh detachment, lording it at the other end of the table, engaged the five guests under their care in lengthy and sprightly conversation. I wondered somewhat uneasily if they were not being a little too frank. I went to see. Shelaputin, who still retained his childish treble, was pouring out beer for Kozyr, and saying:

"You were married in church, and look how badly it turned outl" "Let's marry you all over again!" suggested Toska.

Kozyr smiled.

"It's too late for me to be remarried, sons."

He crossed himself, and drank up his beer. Toska laughed.

"You'll have the bellyache now."

"God forbid! Why?"

"Why did you cross yourself then?"

Next to him sat a villager with a tangled, straw-coloured beard, a guest on the list of Pavel Ivanovich. He had never been in the colony before, and everything he saw astonished him.

"Lads! Is it really true that you're the bosses here?"

"Of course we are!" replied Shurka.

"What d'you need to farm the land for?"

Toska Solovyov turned right round towards him.

"Don't you know what for? We'd have to be farm hands otherwise, and now we don't have to."

"And what are you going to be?"

"Oho!" said Toska, flourishing a meat pie. "I'm going to be an engineer--Anton Semyonovich says I am, too--and Shelaputin is going to be a pilot."

He glanced ironically at his friend, Shelaputin, whose future as a pilot was as yet unrecognized by anyone in the colony. Shelaputin said, chewing energetically:

"M'hm, I'm going to be a pilot."

"Well, and what about working on the land, don't any of you want to?"

"Of course, we do! Some of us do. But our chaps will be different peasants from yours," said Toska, casting a swift glance at his interlocutor.

"You don't say! How d'you mean different?"

"I mean we'll be different. There'll be tractors. Have you ever seen a tractor?"

"No, I can't say I have."

"Well, we have. There's a sovkhoz--we took some sows there once. They've got a tractor--like a beetle it looks."

The long line of guests was linked up by our detachments. I could easily discern the outlines of each detachment, and discover from their noise where their centres were. It was liveliest of all where the ninth detachment was, for Lapot was there, and colonists and guests were laughing and groaning around him. Lapot himself, together with his friend Taranets, had prepared an elaborate hoax against the chief personages of the mill, who were at the ninth detachment's table, placed by special order under his care. These were the sturdy, fluffy miller, the lean and angular bookkeeper, and the mechanic, a very humble individual. In his day Taranets had been a pickpocket, and it was child's play for him to extract a bottle of samogon from the miller's pocket and substitute for it another, filled with water from the Kolomak.

For a long time the miller and the bookkeeper sat shyly at the table, from time to time easting a glance towards Taranets' mixed detachment. But Lapot winked at them consolingly.

"You're our own folk, I'll see to everything!"

Drawing down to himself the head of the passing Taranets, he whispered something in his ear. Taranets nodded.

"You pour yourself out a glass under the table," advised Lapot confidentially, "and just colour it with beer, and everything'll be all right." As a result of acrobatical manoeuvring under the table, glasses full of suspiciously pale beer stood beside the thirsty ones, and their happy owners nervously prepared themselves snacks beneath the attentive gaze of the silently watching ninth detachment. At last all was in readiness, and the miller, winking slyly at Lapot, raised his glass to his beard. The bookkeeper and the mechanic still looked cautiously to the right and left, but all around was quiet. Taranets was leaning nonchalantly against the trunk of a poplar. Lapot lowered his lids to conceal the sudden sparkle which had awakened in his eye.

"Well, here's to everyone!" said the miller.

The ninth detachment, bending their heads, watched their three guests toss off their glasses. A certain lack of conviction could be felt in the last few gulps. The miller placed his empty glass on the table and shot a cautious glance at Lapot, but Lapot was chewing vacantly, his thoughts apparently somewhere far away. The bookkeeper and the mechanic tried their utmost to behave as if nothing special had happened, and even stabbed with their forks at their snacks.

The experienced miller inspected his bottle beneath the table, but someone took him gently by the hand. He raised his head--bending over him was the saucy, freckled countenance of Taranets.

"For shame!" said Taranets, actually reddening with indignation. "You were told no samogon must be brought and you, one of our own folk! Look--you've drunk it up! Who else has been drinking?"

"The devil knows!" said the miller in confusion. "I can't make out whether we've had anything or not!"

"You can't make out? I like that! Come on now, breathe! You can't make out, can't you? You smell like a barrel of samogon! For shame--bringing such stuff to the colony!"

"What's it all about?" inquired Kalina Ivanovich from afar.

"Samogon!" said Taranets, displaying the bottle. Kalina Ivanovich shot a menacing glance at the miller. The ninth detachment had long been in a state bordering on collapse, no doubt because Lapot was telling them something funny about Galatenko. The boys had their heads on the tables, unable to bear any more humour.

There was enough merriment here to last out the dinner, for every now and then Lapot would ask the miller:

"Wasn't it enough? And there isn't any more? Too bad! And was it good? Not very? What a pity Fedor interfered! Why couldn't you leave them alone, Fedor,--our own folk, after all!"

"Oh, no!" said Taranets gravely. "Look at them--they can hardly stay in their seats."

Lapot had a long program to be carried out. He still had to raise the miller solicitously from behind the table, whispering to him the while:

"Come on, we'll take you out through the garden--people are beginning to notice."

Karabanov's eighth detachment was on sentry duty for the day, but he himself kept turning up in the vicinity of the tables, just where the philosophical discussions aroused by the unusual wedding were blazing the fiercest. Here were Koval, Spiridon, Kalina Ivanovich, Zadorov, Yershnev, Volokhov and the director of the Lunacharsky Commune, the wise Nesterenko, with his red goatee.

All was not well with the commune across the river, they were unsuccessful with their land, unable to balance and distribute tasks and privileges, to cope with mutinous female characters, to instil patience for the present, faith in the morrow. Nesterenko summed it all up mournfully:

"We need to get hold of new sort of people... and where is one to get hold of them?"

"That's not the way to talk, Comrade Nesterenko," broke in Kalina Ivanovich eagerly. "That's not the way! Those new ones, the parasites, don't know how to do anything properly. It's the old ones you need more of!"

Things became still noisier at the tables. Apples and pears were brought from our own orchard, and from afar could be made out barrels of ice cream--the pride of the monitors for the day.

And then, suddenly, from behind the house came the wheezing of an accordion, and the wailings of the village women, the curse of nuptial rites, rent the air. Five or six women, whirling and stamping in front of the blear-eyed, tipsy accordion player, were slowly approaching us.

"They've come for the dowry," said Taranets.

A flushed, gaunt woman seemed to be stamping about for my especial benefit, thrusting out her elbows and scraping the sand with her big, awkward boots.

"Daddy darling, daddy dear, give away your daughter for a drink, dress your daughter up...."

A bottle and a ribbed glass--brown, oddly enough--suddenly appeared in her hands. With drunken recklessness she filled the glass, spilling the liquid on the earth and over her dress. Taranets came and stood between her and myself.

"That'll do," he said.

He got the bottle and glass away from her with ease, but she had already forgotten all about me, and was throwing herself avidly upon Olga, with drunken hilarity.

"Olga Petrovna, pretty one! What's this? You can't wear your plaits down your back any more! Tomorrow we'll make you cover your head, and you'll be like all married women."

"I will not cover my head!" said Olga with unexpected severity.

"You won't? You'll let your plaits hang down?"

"I will!"

All the women began squealing and chattering, advancing upon Olya, Volokhov, furious, exasperated, shoved them away, asking their leader bluntly:

"And if she doesn't wear a kerchief--what then?"

"Let her not, then, let her not! You know best! It's not a proper wedding, anyhow!"

The diplomatic elders came up and scattered the tittering, drink-sodden women in all directions. Olga and I went out of the park.

"I'm not afraid of them," said Olga. "But it's going to be hard."

Colonists rushed past us, bearing furniture and bundles of clothing. Gogol's Marriage was to be given, preceded by a lecture on "Marriage Rites of Various Nationalities" by Zhurbin. The end of the festivities was not yet in sight.