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their herds at pasture began to notice how every evening a man on a
bicycle turned off the main road into the ravine, and how - soon
after - a girl hurried past them following in his steps, like a reed
blown in the wind. As befitted their kind, the shepherds cried out
every abomination after her.

All the summer Olya had begged Agrenev to bring her books to read;
she did not notice, however, that he had never once brought her any!

Then one evening, early in September, after a spell of rain which had
prevented their meeting for some days, there happened that which was
bound to happen - which happens to a maiden only once in her life.
They used always to meet at eight, but eight in September was not
like eight in June. The rain was over, but a chill, desolating,
autumnal wind remained. The sky was laden with heavy, leaden clouds;
it was cold and wretched. That evening the cranes flew southward,
gabbling in the sky. The grass in the ravine was yellow and withered.
There was sunshine there in the daytime, and Olya wore a white dress.
It was there the two of them, Agrenev and Olya, usually bade each
other adieu.

But on that evening, Agrenev accompanied Olya to her home, and both
were absorbed by the same thought - the aunt! Was she sitting by the
window without a lamp waiting for her niece, or had she already
lighted it in order to prepare the supper? Olya hoped desperately
that her aunt would be in her usual place and the lamp unlit, so that
she could slip by into her room unseen and secretly change her

Not only did Olya and Alexander Alexandrovitch walk arm-in-arm but
they pressed close together, their heads bent the one to the other -
whispering ... only of the aunt. Olya could not think of the pain or
the joy or the suffering - she was only thinking how she could pass
her aunt unnoticed; Agrenev felt cold and sickened at the thought of
a possible scandal.

They discovered there was a light at the aunt's window, and Olya
began to tremble like a reed, whispering hoarsely - almost crying:

"I won't go in! I won't go in!"

But all the same she did - a willow-reed blown in the wind. Agrenev
arranged to meet her the next day in the factory office, so that he
might hear whether the aunt had created a scene or not, although he
did not admit that reason, even to himself.

In the ravine when Olya - after yielding all - wept and clung to his
knees, Agrenev's heart had been pierced with pangs of remorse. In the
pitchblack darkness overhead the wild-geese could be heard rustling
their wings as they flew southward, scared by his cigarette - the
tenth in succession.

"Southward, geese, southward!... But you shall go nowhere, slave,
useless among the useless!" Then he remembered that slap in the face
Nina Kallistratovna had given for her husband - nobody would give Olya
Golovkina one for him! "Olya is a useless accidental burden," he

Then Agrenev dismissed her from his mind; and, as he bicycled from
Golovkinskaya Street through the whole length of the town, past the
factory to the engineers' quarters - there was no need to hide now it
was dark - he thought only of Olya's aunt: of how she was an old maid
with nothing else in her life but her niece, and that Olya was hiding
her tragedy from her; of how she spent the entire evenings sitting
alone by the window in the dark - assuredly not on Olya's account, but
because she was dying; all her life she had been dying, as the town
was dying where Kozlov was read; as he, Agrenev, was dying; as the
maidenhood of Olya had died. How powerful is the onward rush of life!
What tragedy lay in those evenings by the window in the darkness!

Every morning the housemaid used to bring Alexander Alexandrovitch in
his study a cup of lukewarm coffee on a tray. Then he went out to the
factory - the rest of the household was still asleep. There he came
into contact with the workmen, and saw their hopeless, wretched,
impoverished lives; listened to Bitska's jests, and to the rumbling
of the wagonettes - identified himself with the life of the factory,
which dominated all like some fabulous brooding monster.

During the luncheon interval he went home, washed himself, and
listened to his wife rattling spoons on the other side of the wall.
And this made up the entire substance of his life! Yes, it was
certainly interesting how Nina Kallistratovna had entered that flat,
swung back her hand - which hand had it been? - was it the one in which
she held the attaché-case or was that transferred to the other hand
first? - and delivered the smack to Madame Chasovnikova. Then there
was Olya, darling Olya Golovkina, from whom - as from them all - he
desired nothing.

That night, when he reached home at last, his daughter came in and
made him a curtsey, saying:

"Goodnight, daddy."

Alexander Alexandrovitch caught her in his arms, placed her on his
knees - his beloved, his only little daughter.

"Well, little Asya, what have you been doing?" he asked.

"When you went out to Olya Golovkina Mummy and I played tig."

The next morning, when Olya came into the office for business as
usual, she exclaimed joyfully:

"My aunt has not found out anything. She opened the door for me
without lighting the lamp, and as she groped through the passage I
ran quickly past her. Then I changed my clothes and appeared at
supper as though nothing had happened!"

A willow-reed blown by the wind!

In the office were many telephone calls and the rattling of counting-
boards. Agrenev and Olya sat together and arranged when to meet
again. She did not want to go to the Ravine because of the shepherd
boys' rude remarks. Alexander Alexandrovitch did not tell her all was
known at home. As she said goodby she clung to him like a reed in the
wind and whispered:

"I have been awake all night. You have noticed surely that I have not
called you by any name; I have no name for you."

And she begged him not to forget to bring her some books.

All that was known of the town was that it lay at the intersection of
such and such a latitude and longitude. But articles on the factory
were printed each year in the industrial magazines, and also
occasionally in the newspapers, as when the workmen struck or were
buried under a fall of limestone. The factory was run by a limited
company. Alexander Alexandrovitch Agrenev made out the returns for
his department; these were duly printed - not to be read, but so that
beneath them might appear the signature: "A. A. Agrenev, Engineer."
Olya only kept a report-book and the name-rolls, placing in her
reports so many marks opposite the pupil's names.


Mammy rose in the morning just as usual during those interminable
months. I was accustomed to calling Alexander Alexandrovitch's mother
"mammy." She always wore a dark dress and carried a large white
handkerchief which she continually raised to her lips. It was bright
and cheerful in the dining-room. The tea-service stood on the table
and the samovar was boiling. The room always made me feel that we
were going away - into the country, for all the pictures had been
taken down, and a mirror that had been casually hung on the walls was
now shrouded in a linen sheet. I generally rise very early, say my
prayers, and immediately look at the newspapers. Formerly I scarcely
even thought of them and was quite indifferent to their contents; now
I cannot even imagine life without them! By the time my morning cup
of tea is brought, I have already read all the news of the world, and
I tell it to Mammy, who cannot read the papers herself.

She has the room Alexander Alexandrovitch formerly occupied; she is
tall, always dresses in black, and there is a certain severity about
her general demeanour. This is quite natural. She invariably makes
the sign of the Cross over me, kisses me on the forehead and lips,
and then - as ever - turns quickly away, bringing her handkerchief to
her lips. I know, though, what it is that distresses her - it is that
Georgie is killed, and Alexander Alexandrovitch is still "Out there"
. . . and that I, Anna, alone am left to her of her family.

We are always silent at tea: we generally are at all times. She asks
only a single question:

"What is in the newspapers?"

She always utters it in a hoarse voice, and very excitedly and
clumsily I tell her all I know. After breakfast I walk about outside
the window looking at the old factory and awaiting the postman's

Thus I pass my days one by one, watching for the post, for the
newspapers, enduring the mother's grief - and my own. And whenever I
wait for the letters, I recall a little episode of the War told me by
a wounded subaltern at an evacuated point. He had sustained a slight
head wound, and I am certain he was not normal, but was suffering
from shell-shock. Dark-eyed, swarthy, he was lying on a stretcher and
wearing a white bandage. I offered him tea, but he would not take it;
pushing aside the mug and gripping my hand he said:

"Do you know what war is? Don't laugh! bayonets ... do you
understand?" - his voice rose in a shriek - "... into bayonets ... that
is, to cut, to kill, to slaughter one another - men! They turned the
machine-guns on us, and this is what happened: the private Kuzmin and
I were together, when suddenly two bullets struck him. He fell, and,
losing all sense of distinction, forgetting that I was his officer,
he stretched out his arms towards me in a sort of half-conscious way,
and cried: 'Towny, bayonet me!' You understand? 'Towny, bayonet me!'
But you cannot understand.... Do not laugh!"

He told me this, now whispering, now shrieking. He told me that I
could not understand; but I can . . . "Towny, bayonet me!" Those
words express all the terror of war for me - Georgie's death,
Alexander's wound, the mother's grief; all, all that the War has
brought: they express it with such force that my temples ache with an
almost physical sense of anguish,

"Towny, bayonet me!" How simple, how superhuman!

I remember those words every day, especially when in the hall waiting
for the post. Alexander writes seldom and his letters are very dry,
merely telling me that he is well, that either there are no dangers
or that they have passed; he writes to us all at the same time, to
mother, to Asya, and to me.

It was like that to-day. I was waiting for the postman. He came and
brought several letters, one of them from Alexander. I did not open
it at once, but waited for Mother.

This is what he wrote:

"Darling Anna,

Yesterday and to-day (a Censor's erasure) I feel depressed and think
of you, only of you. When things are quiet and there is little doing
many a fine thing passes unobserved; I allude to the flowers, of
which I am sending you specimens. They grow quite close to the
trench, but it is difficult and dangerous to get them, as one may
easily be killed. I have seen such flowers before, but am ignorant of
their name."

"Goodbye. My love. Forgive the 'army style'; this letter is for you

The letter contained two of those little blue violets which spring up
directly the snow has melted.

I handed the letter, as always, to his mother that she might read it
too; her lips began to tremble, and her eyes filled with tears as she
read, but in the midst of her tears she laughed. And we both of us, I
the young woman, and Mammy the old mother, laughed and cried
simultaneously, tightly clasped in each other's arms. I had pictured
the War hitherto in the words: "Towny, bayonet me!". And now
Alexander had sent me from it - violets! Two violets that are still

I had noticed before the phenomenon of the four seasons suddenly
bursting, as it were, upon the human consciousness. I remember that
happening to me in my childhood when on holiday in the country. The
summer was still in full swing, everything seemed just as usual, when
suddenly one morning, in a most ordinary gust of wind, the red-vine
leaves, then some three weeks old, were blown into my eyes, and all
at once I realized that it was autumn. My mood changed on the
instant, and I prepared to go home, back to town.

How many years is it since I have seen the autumn, winter, or spring -
since I felt their magic? But to-day, after a long-past summer, I
have all at once felt the call of the spring. Only to-day I have
noticed that our windows are tightly closed, that I am wearing a dark
costume, that it is already May, and that bluebells are blossoming in
the fields. I had forgotten that I was young. I remembered it to-day.

And I know further that I have faith, that I have love - love of
Georgie and Alexander. I know too, although there is so much terror,
so much that is foolish and ugly, there is still youth, love, and the
spring - and the blue violets that grow by the trenches.

After Mammy and I had wept and laughed in each other's embrace, I
went out alone into the fields beyond the factory - to love, to think,
to dream . . . I love Alexander Alexandrovitch for ever and ever...


A rainy night, trenches - not in the forest lands of Lithuania, but at
the Vindavo-Rybinsky station in Moscow itself. The train is like a
trench; voices are heard from the adjoining carriage.

"Where do you come from?" "Yes, yes, that is so, truly! You remember
the ravine there, all rocks, and the lake below; many met their doom
there." "Let me introduce you to the Commander of the Third
Division." "Give me a light, old fellow! We are back from furlough."

The train is going at nightfall to Rzhov, Velikiya Luki, and Polotsk.
Outside on the platform the brethren are lying at ease under benches,
drinking tea, and full of contentment. The gas-jets shine dimly in
the rain, and behind the spattered panes of glass the women's eyes
gleam like lamp-lights. There is a smell of naphthaline.

"Where is the Commandant's carriage?" "No women allowed here! Men
only! We're for the front!" And there is a smell of leather, tar, and
leggings - a smell of men.

"Yes, yes, you're right! Ha-ha! He is a liar, an egregious liar! No,
I bet you a beauty like that isn't going headlong into an attack!"

There is a sound of laughing and a deep base voice speaking with
great assurance. The third bell.

"Where's the Commandant's carriage?" "Well, goodbye!" "Ha-ha-ha-ha!
He lies, Madam, I assure you, he lies." "Bah! those new boots they
have issued have given me corns; I'll have to send them back."

This conversation proceeded from beneath a bench and from the steps
that led to a top-compartment; the men hung up their leggings which,
though marked with fresh Government labels, were none the less
reeking with perspiration. The lamps moved along the platform and
disappeared into the night; the figures of women and stretcher-
bearers silently crept along; a sentry began to flirt with one of the
former; the rain fell slantingly, arrow-like, in the darkness.

They reached Rzhov at midnight in the train; the men climbed out of
the windows for tea; then clambered in again with their rifles; the
carriages resounded with the rattling of canteens. It was raining
heavily and there was a sound of splashing water. The brethren in the
corridors grumbled bitterly as they inspected papers. Under the
benches there was conversation, and also garbage.

Then morning with its rose-coloured clouds: the sky had completely
cleared; rain-drops fell from the trees; it was bright and fragrant.
Velikiya Luki, Lovat; at the station were soldiers, not a single

The train eludes the enemy's reconnaissance. Soldiers, soldiers,
soldiers! - rifles, rifles! - canteens: - the brethren! It is no
longer Great Russia; around are pine woods, hills, lakes, and the
land is everywhere strewn with cobble-stones and pebbles - - whilst at
every little station from under fir-trees creep silent, sombre
figures, barefooted and wearing sheep-skin coats and caps - in the
summer. It is Lithuania.

The enemy's reconnaissance is a diversion: otherwise the day is long
and dreary - all routine like a festival; already one knows
the detachment, the number of wounded, the engagements with the
enemy. Many had alighted from the train at Velikiya Luki, and nobody
had got in. We are quiet and idle all day long.

Then towards night we reach Polotsk - the white walls of the monastery
are left behind; we come to the Dvina, and the train rumbles over a
bridge. Now we journey by night only, without a time-table or lights,
and again under a drizzling rain. The train stops without whistling
and as silently starts again. Around us all is still, as in October;
the country-side is shrouded by night. Men alight at each stop after
Polotsk; no one sits down again; and at every stop thirty miles of
narrow gauge railway lead to the trenches. What monotony after
Moscow! after the hustle and clatter of an endless day! There is the
faintest glimmer of dawn, and the eastern sky looks like a huge green

"Get up - we have arrived!"

Budslav station; the roof is demolished by aeroplane bombs. Soldiers
sleep side by side in a little garden on asphalt steps beneath
crocuses. A drowsy Jew opens his bookstall on the arrival of the
train: he sells books by Chirikov, Von Vizin, and Verbitskaya. And
from the distance, with strange distinctness, comes a sound like
muffled clapping.

"What is that?" "Must be the heavy artillery." "Where is the
Commandant?" "The Commandant is asleep!..."

A week has passed by in the trenches, and another week has commenced.
The bustle of the first few days is over; now all is in order. In a
corner of a meadow, a little way from the front, hangs a man's body;
the head by degrees has become severed from the trunk. But I do not
see very much. We sleep in the day.

It is June, and there is scarcely any night. I know when it is
evening by the sound of the firing; it begins from beyond the marshes
at seven o'clock. Moment after moment a bullet comes - zip - into my
dug-out: scarcely a second passes before there is another zip. The
sound of the shot itself is lost amid the general crashing of guns;
there is only the zip of the bullet as it strikes the earth or is
embedded in the beams overhead. And so on all through the night,
moment after moment, until seven in the morning.

There are three of us in the dug-out; two are playing chess, but I am
reading - the same thing over and over again, for I am tired to death
of lying idle, of sleeping and walking. Poor indeed are men's
resources, for in three days we had exhausted all we had to say.
Yesterday a soldier who had lost his hand when scouting, came running
in to us crying wildly:

"Bayonet me, Towny, Bayonet me!"

Sometimes we come out at night to enjoy the fireworks. They fire on
us hoping to unnerve us, and their bullets strike - zip-zip-zip - into
our earthworks. We stand and look on as though spell-bound. Guns
belch out in the distance, a green light begins to quiver over the
whole horizon. Rockets incessantly tear their way, screaming, through
the air, amongst them some similar to those we ourselves used to send
up over the river Oka. Balls of fire burst in twain, and huge discs
emitting a hundred different deadly lights flare above us.

Soon the rockets disappear, and from behind the frost creep three
gigantic luminous figures; at first they stretch up into the sky,
then, quivering convulsively, they fall down upon us, upon the
trenches upon our right and left. In their lurid light our uniforms
show white. Over the graves in the Lithuanian forests stand enormous
crosses - as enormous as those in Gogol's "_Dreadful Vengance_" and
now, on the hill behind us, we discern two of them, one partly
shattered and overhanging the other - a bodeful grim reminder!

Always soldiers, soldiers, soldiers. Not a single old man, not a
single woman, not a single child. For three weeks now I have not seen
a glimpse of a woman. That is what I want to speak of - the meaning of

We were dining at a spot behind the lines, and from the other side of
the screen a woman laughed: I never heard sweeter music. I can find
no other words "sweeter music." This sister had come up from the
hospital; her dress, her veil - what a joy! She had made some remark
to the Commanding Officer: I have never heard more beautiful poetry
than those words. All that is best, most noble, most virginal - all
that is within me, all that life has bestowed is woman, woman! That
is what I wish to explain.

I visited the staff cinema in the evening. I took a seat in a box.
When the lights were switched off, I wrote in blue pencil on the
railing in front of me:

"I am a blonde with blue eyes. Who are you? Come, I am waiting."

I had done a cruel thing!

Directly I had written those words, I felt ashamed. I could not stay
in the cinema. I wandered about between the benches, went out into
the little village, walked round its chapels - every window of which
was smashed; and gathered a bunch of forget-me-nots from a ditch
by the cemetery. On returning to the crowded cinema I noticed that
the box in which I had been sitting was empty; presently an officer
entered it; sat down leisurely to enjoy the pictures; read what I had
written; and all at once became a different man. I had injected a
deadly poison, he left the box. I walked out after him. He went
straight in the direction of the chapel. Ah, I had done a cruel thing!

I had written of a blonde with blue eyes; and I went out, saw her,
and awaited her - I who had written the message. It seemed as though
hundreds of instruments were making music within me, yet my heart was
sad and weighed down with oppresion - it felt crushed. More than
anything, more than anything in the whole world, I loved and awaited
a blonde who did not exist, to whom I would have surrendered all that
was most beautiful within me.

I could not stay in the cinema, but crawled through the trenches. On
the hill towered the two huge crosses; sitting down beneath their
shadow, I clenched my hands, and murmured:

"Darling, darling, darling! Beloved and tender one! I am waiting."

Far in the distance, the green rockets soared skyward, the same as
those we used to send up over the river Oka. Then the gargantuan
fingers of a searchlight began to sweep the area, my uniform appeared
white in its gleam, and all at once a shell fell by the crosses. I
had been observed, I had become a target.

The bullets fell zip-zip-zip into the earthworks. I lay in my bunk
and buried my head in the pillow. I felt horribly alone as I lay
there, murmuring to myself, and breathing all the tenderness I was
capable of into my words:

"Darling, darling, darling!..."



Can one credit the romanticists that - across the seas and hills and
years - there is so strange a thing as a single-hearted love, an all-
conquering, all-subduing, all-renovating love?

In the train at Budslav - where the staff-officers were billeted - it
was known that Lieutenant Agrenev had such a single, overmastering,
life-long love.

A wife - the woman, the maiden who loves only once - to whom love is
the most beautiful and only thing in life, will do heroic deeds to
get past all the Army ordinances, the enemy's reconnaissance, and
reach her beloved. To her there is but one huge heart in the world
and nothing more.

Lieutenant Agrenev's quarters were in a distant carriage, Number 30-

The Staff Officers' train stood under cover. No one was allowed to
strike a light there. In the evening, after curtaining the windows
with blankets, the officers gathered together in the carriage of the
General Commanding the XXth Corps, to play cards and drink cognac.
Someone cynically remarked that there was a close resemblance between
life at the front and life in a monastery, in as much as in both the
chief topic of conversation was women: there was no reason,
therefore, why monks should not be sent to the front for fasting and

While they were playing cards, the guard, Pan Ponyatsky, came in and
spoke to the cavalry-captain Kremnev. He told him of a woman, young
and very beautiful. The captain's knees began to tremble; he sat
helplessly on the step of the carriage, and fumbled in his pocket for
a cigarette. Pan Ponyatsky warned him that he must not strike a
light. In the distance could be heard the roar of cannon, like an
approaching midnight storm. Kremnev had never felt such a throbbing
joy as he felt now, sitting on the carriage step. Pan Ponyatsky
repeated that she was a beauty, and waiting - that the captain must
not delay; and led him through the dark corridor of the train.

The carriage smelt of men and leather; behind the doors of the
compartments echoed a sound of laughter from those who were playing

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