Yuriy Yanovsky (1902-1954)
Yuriy Yanovsky (1902-1954)
Yanovsky was born in Yelizavetgrad (now Kirovograd). After two unsuccessful years in electrical engineering at the Kiev Polytechnic Institute, he abandoned the course to devote himself entirely to literature. Besides doing creative work, he proved a capable editor of various Soviet periodicals, and during World War II served as a correspondent at the front. His first poem “The Sea,” published in 1922, established him as the creator in Ukrainian literature of “marine” poetry. In the 1930s, Yanovsky turned almost exclusively to prose and in that domain became one of the greatest stylists of his time. In his novels and stories he developed strong, willful, adventurous characters, and revealed himself as a bold innovator, risking the unity of his plots by subplots, complex situations, and unconventional mannerisms. Despite the fact that in 1949 he received the Stalin Prize for literature, the Soviet authorities kept an ever watchful eye on him, for in several of his works of fiction (some actually prohibited), in which he dealt with the partisan movement in Ukraine, he infused into his powerful characters the old Cossack spirit and made them appear as if they were fighting solely for the freedom of their own land. His chief novel is The Four Sabres, which he interspersed with some of his best poetry. Although Yanovsky relinquished verse for prose, he never ceased to be a poet, for all his prose narratives are distinguished by their rhythmic flow, and the artistic resources he uses in his descriptive passages are highly poetic and lack only versification.
DEDICATION Aloft the falcons flew, and then were gone; Far in the sea the guests sailed on and on, – Sail passed by sail in ever-swift array. Expanding their white breasts, the frigates passed. The moon rose from the sea: above the mast It stood on guard to mark the spacious way. Glad day of nomad love, replete with charms! Upon the deck were wine and clash of arms! The splash of billows seemed a horse's neigh. Expanding their white breasts, the frigates passed. The moon rose from the sea: above the mast
It stood on guard to mark the spacious way. On the vivacious deck rule potent loves; The vessel like a slow, white spectre moves; A starlike lamp is on its mast a-sway. Expanding their white breasts, the frigates passed. The moon rose from the sea: above the mast It stood on guard to mark the spacious way. An epigraph from the novel
Four Sabres Song 5 O happy journey as you march afar! Trample it down, yea, plough – the heavy planet. Our fleeting lives numbers of numbers are – A deep abyss, and silhouettes that span it. Mysterious Time –like night or like a bat – Its sable pinions in the darkness hides; And famous wounds are healed for all of that, Dread wounds that sated earth with homicides. Above the carrion troops the grasses grow – This destiny both grass and soldier keep! Embers of ancient fires no longer glow, Yet bivouacked here still others soon will sleep. The seeds of ruthless wars are sown anon. Their veterans are blown about the world. The nations pass. Time flies unchanging on. Ghost standards from the grave are not unfurled. Revolve, O Earth, within your iron round. Summer its winter, good its ill has got! Mills marching to meet hills are never found, But human fates merge darkly in a knot. The Ukrainian Poets. 1189-1962 Selected and Translated into English verse By C.H.Andrusyshen and Watson Kirkconnell University of Toronto Press. 1963
THE SPY Now and then I have been given the part of a spy to play. To tell you the truth, it’s a far from pleasant thing to do. But work is work, so I had to don this skin as well. Believe me, in doing so, I felt rigid as a log. I simply could not identify myself with the character, that’s all. Besides, the little play I was to perform it was rather weak, to say nothing about the spy in it. I took to reading – first Kipling, then Conan Doyle, and everything imaginable on this subject. I started pestering people with questions, attended trials and all that. The day of the premiere had come, but I had not the slightest idea what a spy – let him go to the blazes! – should be like. It has become a habit with me to walk about the streets and hang around crowded places. Making a note of how people talk, how they behave, how they dress makes me feel more like a police inspector than an actor. A crowd stands in line at a newspaper stall, and I fall in with them. The streetcars come rolling out of the depot at six in the morning, and I’m among the first passengers. After eight o’clock office workers start filling the streets, and I join them. At the market, throngs of people push around, and I push around with them. My clothes are rather nondescript without any of that actor’s gloss about them. Outwardly, I seem to have the looks of an administrator, accountant, or God knows what else. On the day of the premiere I took my usual stroll. It was wintertime and frosty outdoors. Now, the devil and all, when do those spies take a walk, I wondered? What heat keeps their hearts warm? What do they wear? And generally how does one identify these infidels? The snowflakes were gently drifting to the ground, but they held no fascination for me. I forgot what it was to be happy. The snow did not seem like any snow to me, but rather like some bits of ordinary paper the assistant director was showering on my head from the fly gallery. I was lost in thought. I bumped into people, confound it. And suddenly I stopped in my tracks. Ahead of me stood a man with a bag, castor coat, pants of some obscure color, a cap that had seen wear and tear, and a pair of new galoshes. He stared into a store window displaying books. What tense scrutiny and inquisitiveness! Lack-adaisy! what an expressive back! I looked at the man, the man looked at the books. A teacher, I thought, or a beekeeper. By the looks of him he was a country type as it were. I passed him, and the window reflected his face. What eyes! Why, you rascal! The eyes conveyed one thing, while the back quite the opposite. A disparity, you see! The eyes were watching the street, moving this way and that way, left, right, like a pair of prickly warts on a deadpan face. The shoulders, though, showed that they were interested in the store window only. I slowed down my pace, and looked intently. The devil and his dam! I leaned against the store window three steps away, unable to take my eyes off him. My heart was going in fits and starts. It seemed I had become twenty years younger and was out on my first date. I got hot all over. And he, probably, sensed my nervousness with his skin. He turned his face on me, his eyes half open, cutting me to the raw like a razor blade. And again he gazed into the store window. He stood, and I stood. His face was right there before me with its half-open eyes. Nothing seemed to distort his true identity – neither his unshaven mug nor the perplexed expression on his mouth. But no, you can’t fool me, I thought. Tender as your skin might be, it does not suit your clothes. He stood, and I stood. What else could I do? I completely forgot about the play, about time. I felt that the moment he’d move I would follow him. If he broke into a run, I’d give him a chase. I felt that were he to crawl I’d crawl after him. Never did I have such a sensation before. Hang it all! I’ll go up to him and hit him. What a pleasure it would be to do that. Noise, shouts, fracas. They’d hustle us to a police state, and there I’d tell them everything. And believe me I had not the slightest doubt about his true identity. It seemed to me that there was no difference between what I saw here in the street and what I’d be on the stage afterward. Well, I must come up to the scratch. Ready, go …
All of a sudden somebody stopped before him about ten steps away. A workers’ school student or a fitter – wind-tanned face, black coat, gray felt boots, a smile on his face. In his hand he held a book. He had a rosy complexion that girls usually went for. He glanced casually at my neighbor, then at me, and immediately discarded my personality from his field of interest. My neighbor promptly turned around and passed me slowly with slooping shoulders and downcast eyes. With all his body he showed his feebleness. I didn’t move. The boy with the rosy cheeks followed him. He still wore a smile on his face, but his eyes were now intently fixed on the man walking ahead of him. Then I noticed that he had the gait of a hunter. I sighed with relief – the boy seemed to have real hunter’s blood in his veins and a corresponding gait. Well, well, was I in a fever of excitement. It’s been a long time since my creative ego had been excited to such a pitch. An image, a full-blooded image had taken shape in my mind. I had to play it, and play it fast! I ran to the theater. I wanted to sing, and, apparently, I did sing. A policeman beckoned to me with his finger, and saluting with a large white-gloved hand, he said in a low voice, “Listen, mister, what about quitting it, eh? “ At the theater everybody was already looking for me. I threw off my clothes, sat down at the makeup table, stared into the mirror – and suddenly I felt a chill, a fierce and burning winter chill creeping under my skin. Where had my joy and creative ecstasy disappeared? What if he gets away?! What if I let a very important bird go scot-free? Oh good God, have mercy on me! With numb hands I plastered some makeup here and there on my face. Why, you cursed tomfool! You noodle of an actor! Why didn’t you bundle off that spy to the police? You dolt, got happy over grasping a character part? I came on stage a dead man. I was saying something, taking my cues listlessly – a sleepwalker would have reacted with more pep! My only desire was to play my part to the end somehow and then go find myself an ice-hole on the Dnieper. How could I possibly stay with the theater after such a blunder? All creative processes had died within me and I’ll never see my own resurrection. It’s the end. Finita la comedia! My partners were eying me ferociously. Go ahead, I thought, have a good look at this milksop that is me. I’ll never ever appear in this house. I played in a slipshod manner and hardly managed to pull through the first act. I locked myself up in the dressing room and didn’t let anyone in. I went on stage for the second act, feeling I gained in years during the intermission. Within that time I reconsidered everything and revolved everything in my mind. No, an acquittal was the least thing I could hope for. The audience, though, seemed to have gone berserk. Every one of my appearances was met with applause. Every one of my movements made the house come down with a roar of laughter. They would not let me say what I had to say. The stage director intercepted me behind the scenery and blabbered enthusiastically, “Marvelous! You found an absolutely new key!” All right, I thought, you can go on being funny with me. I found a key, did I? A key to what? During the second intermission I locked myself up again. I was on pins and needles. Then they started to bang on my door, didn’t even let me think over the whole situation. They kept on banging throughout the whole intermission. But I didn’t budge. At last the third act began. I went on stage. On my way the author of the play flung himself on my chest – “My dearest dear, thank you, you are a genius.” But it made no difference to me. I was gone. It was only my carcass that was moving around on the stage. In this act I went completely cold. The play was already expiring, everyone was bustling on the stage like in some beer bar. I played like the worst botchers a theater had ever seen. Actually, I wasn’t playing, I wanted to put and end to this mess as fast as I could. The audience was really demented. They applauded me like mad, and did so right to the end.
My poor soul was pulled out from behind the curtain to bow to the audience. I stood there like a mummy – empty and lifeless. Somebody nudged me, I bowed, somebody pulled me, and I slipped behind the curtain. In my mind I was saying farewell to the theater and the audience. Somehow it happened that way – when I tried to please them, when I was excited and played with inspiration, they did not notice it. And now when I just shuffled on the stage, their eyes popped with delight. For the first time during that evening I looked into the faces of the audience. Why, I must have scored a triumph! But then all of a sudden I reeled, I gasped for air, my wig slipped down over my eyes – “Oh, oh, oh …!” I moaned, pointing a finger into the audience. Standing in front of me in the first row was my spy. I passed out. Something wet made me come to. The director of the theater was holding a props wine bottle over me. The spy was sitting in a chair. The boy with the rosy cheeks was crumping his cap in confusion. “Did you get him?” I squeezed out of my throat. “Whom?” the director asked. Then the spy rose to his feet, came up to me, and embraced me. “Kolia,” he said, “did I really change so much in the hospital? You scared the wits out of us. And this is my son, he has grown into a big boy, with your permission.” As you see, I’m still with the theater. But from that day on I’ve been a comedian. Translated by Anatole Bilenko Ukraine illustrated quarterly. No.4, 1972
THE WAY TO FRANCE He broke loose like a bird out of a cage, – disheveled, thin, the feeling of spaciousness making his heart beat wildly. Not a single minute did he agree to remain in the camp after the gates had been thrown open and the SS-men had left the watch-tower. What an intoxicating spaciousness all around. Cursed be the German words – halt, zurück, Tod! Now to fill one’s lungs with air and fly – let the wings flap, the throat sing; he is free. The old Gallic chanticleer will show them yet what he is made of. Those Russians are business-like chaps. They ordered the food storehouse opened, and instructed the prisoners to manage things at the camp themselves. They had no time, they were driving towards the seacoast. The camp was in Pomerania. Henri-Jacques considered that there was no use bothering with camp management. He was hurrying home, for it’s a crime to remain in prison even a single night, when the gates into the world are open to you. He took the barrow he had become accustomed to in the course of three years, threw several things and some food on it, attached to it a small French flag on a wire, and rolled the barrow out of the gateway accompanied by laughter and friendly whistles. “Wait a minute, fellow,” shouted some, “don’t step on your beard.” “Leave the barrow,” others roared, “don’t put France to shame.” Henri-Jacques had gone just a little distance into the woods, when he suddenly felt he was free, that everything around him, each pine from top to root, belonged to him, that patches of blue were to be seen through the leaden, luring sky, that France was waiting for him, and he had to hurry. “Barber!” shouted Henri-Jacques, listening to his voice with pleasure. He hung a towel on a pine branch and stooped down to look at himself in a pool of water that had formed in a hollow after flowing down a mossy slope. He took out the «safety-razor blade which had served so many comrades in the camp, and shaved his beard clean, leaving the moustache. It was a good
test for his nerves: it felt like being flayed alive. Tears flowed from his eyes, blood flowed down his cheeks, Henri-Jacques cursed and scolded. “What are you doing, damn it? Take care, barber, before it’s too late!” At last the beard lay underfoot. Henri-Jacques turned from a bearded gnome into a fine fellow, somewhat frail and short in stature, with a determined air, however, and a remarkable grizzled moustache. Now he could go on. The barrow wheel creaked, Henri-Jacques held on to the handles and sang. What a fine thing was freedom! His compatriots in the camp had advised him to wait, gather strength, and go home together with everybody. Like hell, friends, society is an excellent thing, but not when freedom calls. “Dijon!” sang the harrow, ‘‘when the mist of daybreak scatters! Dijon! Burgundians are fine fellows, they don’t pass by any pubs!” His native Burgundy was, of course, the best place on earth, and his peasant’s life was worth the pains which le bon Dien took in molding Burgundy from clay moistened with good wine. The soil demands labor everywhere, and his Burgundian soil was no exception; on the contrary, it required double toil. How many hopes and disappointments in the fertile fields and the vineyards! Either the landlord suddenly raises the rent, or the Clamsy Virgin fails to send rain in time, or the Paris buyers lower I he prices when the crop is good. Well, no use worrying, the thing to do was to get back to this same Burgundian soil. The chaps on whose account he had got into camp used to say: “Just wait, Henri-Jacques, till we drive out the boches! Then we’ll see to it that you stop paying rent for land the owner has never set eyes on, but on which your great-grandfather’s grandfather used to live. Keep your chin up, Henri-Jacques, here’s to you!” Henri-Jacques drank – why not, when he was being treated – and did various useful things for the fellows. He wasn’t a partisan, no! Unfortunately, he hadn’t the brains to go to the maquis in the hills. He lived at home, paid his taxes to Marshal Petain, helped the real Frenchmen, but he wasn’t careful and got caught. The Germans put him in a camp to ease their minds. Freedom! Henri-Jacques roared out the Marseillaise, realizing its significance for the first time in his life – not as he had sung it formerly, by way of duty, at school, at ceremonies, in the army. The German forest heard his singing in astonishment, not deigning to help him out even with an echo. His old, dark-colored beret sat jauntily on the grizzled Burgundian head. HenriJacques produced his cherished pipe, made of his native clay, filled it with ersatz-tobacco and puffed with pleasure, in a state of complete intoxication with freedom. To hell with the war! He wasn’t obliged to take an interest in all kinds of stuff. Thank God and the Burgundian saints, his headpiece was still working! The chaps in camp used to spread propaganda, but he knew firmly that, as long as the war didn’t occupy his mind, it didn’t exist at all. To hell with this solidarity – give them an inch and they’ll take an ell! Not on your life! 18 He had lived fairly well, and no one could say that he’d ever read a single newspaper more than he had to. These rags were the cause of all wars, anyway! He was a French peasant, not a lawyer or a worker; no reason why he should stick his nose into politics. Let others do it, who liked it and were good at it! Oh, yes, he’d got in with a real bunch: a Catholic lawyer, a couple of socialists, two communists, other politicians. Rather a lot for one chicken-coop. Everyone tried to get him over to his side. There was human nature for you! Barbed wire all around, half a hundred bodies with machine-guns and police dogs, a domestic crematory, and there they were, counting their chickens before they hatched. Henri-Jacques occupied a bunk on the third tier; there, under the ceiling, the air was stale, but it was warmer, and no straw fell into your eyes from the bunk above, like in the first and second tiers, – you could feel above everybody. Opposite him slept a Russian – yes, a real Sovieter, only he had lived in France and had got into the camp as a Frenchman. The chances were, he wasn’t a communist. Henri-Jacques did not notice that the communists treated him like a party man. Nevertheless, he was a superior being: he represented a country, the
very name of which sounded like Communism. Monsieur Nico (nobody could pronounce his real name) was a sedate, middle-aged man; he seemed to he considered an artist or sculptor. He was constantly molding funny figures from all kinds of stuff. Henri-Jacques asked him as a favor to make him a small Clamsy Virgin, so that he could have something to pray to against the boches. Monsieur Nico had molded a fine Virgin and did not laugh at him like the other chaps, but spoke sadly about Burgundy. “Sing some more about Dijon,” he would ask Henri-Jacques; “I seem to see that daybreak mist and the pub into which the Burgundian has run to get warm. The forest wheezed like a snoring German, and gave off a boche smell, damp and unsavory. Henri-Jacques walked along, and it seemed to him that an onlooker would be pleased with his jaunty gait, with his cap worn aslant, and his rollicking song. To the onlooker, however, he would have looked like a small, exhausted boy, wheeling a barrow that was too heavy for him, while his weak voice failed to reach even the nearest roadside bushes. A more observant eye would have noticed the puffed cheeks and other obvious signs of malnutrition. It’s good, damn it, to plunge into freedom! And not a soul all around. These fine Russian chaps aren’t fussing overlong with the Fritz Reich – they’re chasing them like rabbits. Well, let the damn boche shake in his boots! Henri-Jacques would not grudge the time – he personally would take on himself some rotten little town, take their firemen by the scruff of their necks and order them to burn everything to the ground, while he himself stood by and calmly smoked his pipe. Meanwhile the future stern avengers of ruined Soviet cities had to strain himself to keep walking, and the barrow scorned as heavy as a wagon, a railway car, a mountain. Stop! Picnic amidst German scenery! Henri-Jacques – energetically, it seemed to him – turned round a, signpost and began to cook dinner. Several times he fell asleep as lie sat, the fire died out, and he had to blow on the faintly glowing coals again and again. Night fell. Mist crept from under every pine, drifting low over the ground. Henri-Jacques had a dreadful fit of coughing, and began to run round the fire to get warm. It was one of the longest nights in his life. But he did not give up. You don’t think, Mr. Forest, do you, that he’s come here just for the sake of dying under your rotten little trees? Then why do you stuff so much mist into his lungs and don’t give him a chance to sleep in peace? Henri-Jacques would just as soon as not burn you down 26 to the last stump in order to get warm like a Christian. You get me, eh! Now you’re going to give me a steam bath, but that won’t do either! Henri-Jacques suffered till morning, and greeted the day on his legs thanks only to his Burgundian temperament. He abandoned his barrow, or rather, burned it during the night, when he thought that he might not live to avenge the ruins of Stalingrad. He walked on, carrying a knapsack on his shoulders over which protruded the very same flag he had left camp with. It was easier walking without the barrow, but Henri-Jacques would rather have lain down than keep endlessly trudging on and trying to hold his balance against the unknown forces that seemed bent on knocking him over. There, Monsieur Nico caught up with him and walked alongside. Beg pardon, friends, but didn’t we bury Monsieur Nico near the camp? Why play such pranks? It’s not right to treat a Frenchman so, just because he’s a non-party peasant. A Soviet traffic regulator, standing on a rather deserted cross-road, noticed Henri-Jacques when the latter emerged from the wood by a road which the Germans themselves rarely used. Katya Shubina had seen a great deal in this foreign country – refugees and prisoners of various kinds – and had developed a sure eye and unerring judgment. Henri-Jacques approached her, as became a representative of a sovereign state, came to attention at a distance of three paces, and saluted the modest red flag which Katya held. Shubina smilingly returned the salute, and was immediately obliged to support the weakening body of the citizen of France and carefully seat him on the ground near the barrier. “Dear me,” said Katya, giving Henri-Jacques a swallow of Russian vodka, “where do they all come from – these starving fellows.”
Henri-Jacques gratefully enjoyed the drink, which he was tasting for the first time in his life. “Russ good fellow,” he whispered, “Soviet karosh, Vive la France, spasiba Krasna Armiya.” This practically exhausted his entire stock of Russian words, which he had learned from Monsieur Nico. “All right,” answered Katya, “if you’re French, that’s another matter. There’s a farm over there. Go along and take a good rest. You’ll tell the Kiev girl Khristya to have everything right, just like the Intourist, do you understand?” Henri-Jacques, however, wasn’t in a condition to understand. The soldier who had been lingering near Katya, waiting for a car going his way, had to lead the representative of the allied French republic to the farm, and he carried rather than led him. Khristya was out; a Slav of unknown nationality, who was pumping water from the well, explained that she had gone to the fields. The soldier propped Henri-Jacques up on a bench standing in the middle of the yard, and quickly rushed to the traffic post, having heard the sound of automobile horns. The Slav, busy at his work, neither noticed nor disturbed Henri-Jacques, for which he got a rating from Khristya, who arrived from the fields on a bicycle and had already seen traffic regulator Katya on the way. “Oh, dear,” Khristya wailed over Henri-Jacques, throwing up her arms, “why, he’ll die here in the middle of the yard!” Henri-Jacques understood that misfortune had struck him down at the very beginning of his free life, but the situation did not seem to him to be as tragic as to make him despair, lie made an attempt to smile at Katya and twirl his moustache. “Madame, I beg you not to rumple my national flag on the knapsack.” “Look, he’s laughing,” exclaimed Khristya in surprise, and her strong hands, working on Henri-Jacques made him feel like an infant. It was a pity he did not understand the foreign tongue – Khristya in the course of two minutes gave her opinion of Henri-Jacques’ physical state, and expressed certain strong wishes concerning the SS-men of the camp, which included their relatives and mere acquaintances. She explained that she herself was a former prisoner and that people should help one another, even if you’re a poor Frenchman by origin. The Slav, whom Khristya called simply Hritsko, without bothering to catch the true sound of his name, was told off to bathe Henri-Jacques. Meanwhile, Khristya milked the cow, fed the horses, shut up the hens for the night, brought in some water, kindled a fire in the stove, and came up to Henri-Jacques when the latter was lying behind the curtain, clean and quieted, in the underclothes of Khristya’s former master, a rich farmer. Hritsko was sitting at his bedside, listening silently to the Frenchman’s chatter, and putting in a word now and then. In his youth he used to travel to France to get work and was now, for Henri-Jacques, almost like a voice from home. Then Hritsko told the Frenchman about Khristya. Great heavens, why, she was one of his kind – this plain girl, past her first youth, used to working on the soil, who had been forced into bondage to a rich German farmer. Why the devil was she lingering here on this stinking farm, when the Soviet troops were storming Berlin? Wasn’t it better to burn down the farmy as the Germans did in her country to millions of farms, and get out of here? As sure as his name was Henri-Jacques he would explain to this unfortunate one her rights and duties. Just wait till he got a little stronger! “What’s your name?” asked Khristya. “Henri-Jacques,” answered the Frenchman, and winking to Khristya said, “Soviet karosh!” “Karosh, of course it’s good,” said the girl sternly; “only look here, Andrichak, no fooling, you must hold on to this world with both hands.” Khristya brought the sick man a glass of hot milk, containing a quarter of a glass of melted bacon fat, and made him drink it in her presence. Guests began to gather at the farmhouse – Katya Shubina arrived after being relieved from duty, a three-ton military-canteen truck drove up, girls who had been in bondage came in from the neighboring farms, and Henri-Jacques spent
a most pleasant evening. The curtain was drawn aside. The gloomy German farmhouse had never witnessed so much laughter. Khristya treated everybody to real cheese dumplings with sour cream, then offered stewed fruit and, as a side dish, produced a guitar, which she had brought from home, and organized a small choir, which Henri-Jacques, adapting himself readily to the unfamiliar melody, accompanied on his cherished ocarina. A splendid life began for the Burgundian. The sun shone brightly, and that’s enough to make even a dead man go out into the fresh air, spring came to the land. Henri-Jacques was torn between delight and impatience – it was time to move on. But the war still continued, the last attacks were going on, willy-nilly he had to wait. He was just as thin and disheveled as before, the farmer’s clothes hung on him like a bag, but his habitual unruliness and impatience revived in his gait; there was strength in his arms and a song in his throat. Imperceptibly he was drawn into the work on the farm; he repaired the plow, dried the seed grain, zealously looked after the cleanliness of the yard and, once, even climbed up to mend the German roof, but Khristya drove him off in disgrace. “See here, Andrichak, you still have a servile psychology,” the girl scolded him. “What on earth is the German farmhouse to you?” Henri-Jacques was puzzled, when driving the horses in the he plow which Khristya was following confidently, why in that ease she was lingering on here, why she was plowing, sowing, feeding the cows and horses, looking after the enemy farm, which had been her prison not so long ago. Hritsko had already told him how Khristya’s master had run away from the Russians with his whole family and, after them, the inhabitants of several farms of the village; how the master’s mother had tried to poison Khristya and, when that failed, had tried to lock her up in the barn and burn it; how the farmer had not managed to slaughter the farm animals or even to pack up thoroughly, but had jumped on the wagon and rushed off without looking back; how the old German woman, deserted by her son, had taken poison when she saw Khristya welcoming a Red machine-gunner with bread and salt. Khristya strode along the furrow behind the plow and laughed, imagining the astonished faces of her fellow-villagers when she told I hem how she had run the farm without Germans, without the owner, with the help of Frenchmen. Henri-Jacques, without understanding what it was all about, responded with a laugh, which sounded, however, more like a fit of coughing or the croaking of a raven than laughter. A good girl, may the devil take all her enemies! Henri-Jacques felt his heart warm under the German’s knitted vest. The German sky seemed bluer, spring made itself felt insistently, the lark poured out its song overhead, and Henri-Jacques suddenly perceived near the furrow an almost imperceptible spring flower. Leaving the horses, he stooped to pluck the diffident messenger of his heart, and presented it to Khristya. The girl looked at the flower and her eyes filled with tears, as she remembered her native fields, and spring at home, and the inexpressibly sweet smell of native soil. No, you’ll never find another such housekeeper: all vim and good sense, as if she had been running a large farm all her life. Why, if you took the girl to Burgundy, she’d quickly amass a heap of wealth on the land that the chaps from the maquis had promised. In vain did the taciturn Hritsko explain to the Burgundian that Khristya would never exchange the collective farm for France. Henri-Jacques got angry, shouted at the Slav and assailed him like a game-cock. Who would refuse the ownership of a fine plot of Burgundian soil? Who on earth would? Khristya listened seriously to Henri-Jacques and only smiled indulgently. She might have understood had this Andrichak spoken of love, of being unable to live without her – it would have been sweet to hear that, and then – who can answer for one’s heart – she might have thought it over. France, of course, was out of the question, but who would have prevented her from inviting Henri-Jacques to go with her? But alas, he spoke no word of love, so what was there for her to listen to?
Should she tell him about the collective farm? Henri-Jacques would remember to the end of his days that German farmhouse, stodgy and uncomfortable, the large room on the lower storey, the glowing face of the girl and her speech, interpreted in the scanty French of a man called Hritsko. And so great was the charm that radiated from Khristya, so ardent were the feelings that inspired her words, that Henri-Jacques suddenly felt envy towards Hritsko and the pain of the inevitable parting. “Tell her, my friend,” said the enamored man at last, “hint to her delicately, that I can’t possibly tell her my feelings through you, and that I envy you and even the calf, for though its tongue is of no more use than mine, it can at least lick her hand.” At last Henri-Jacques became so depressed as almost to lose his Burgundian humor. He followed Khristya about, repeating undisguised words of love. It was too late, however, the opportunity had been lost. The girl was pleased at his words, as any other would have been in her place, but would change the subject by telling Henri-Jacques how much land the collective farm possessed, what the farm was like, who had received decorations for high yields, whose team had held the banner longer than the post. She confessed to Henri-Jacques that she herself had a medal for “valor in labor”, and her mother, the medal of a participant in the All-Union Agricultural Exhibition. Spring kept advancing, the bushes were in bloom, the fields were evenly green; it seemed as if everything Khristya touched was bound to sing with joy, with an influx of life. Henri-Jacques pensively twirled his jaunty moustache and felt like a youth whose girl had failed to show up at a date. The Slav Hritsko departed, thus depriving him of the last chance of a more or less long talk with Khristya. A depressed German arrived with a wife and four children – the German committee had ordered them to occupy the farm. The German had also spent several years in concentration camps and, from habit, walked silently as a ghost. Henri-Jacques lingered on, feeling a spineless creature. At last Khristya’s turn came. The commandant put a truck at her disposal, and she gathered all the girls from the German villages who were under her command. Presents arrived from that same commandant, who realized that a person returning from bondage should come home in perfect order. Henri-Jacques stood outside the gate in his beret, pipe in mouth, and pretended to be interested in a far-away cloud. Khristya said goodbye to him and then, moved by a kind heart, kissed him, She got into the truck, waved her hand, and Henri-Jacques once more stood alone m the road, the French flag fluttering sadly on his knapsack. Under the flag there was a red bow, made from a bit of Khristya’s ribbon, and a new traffic regulator, standing in Katya’s place, waved him on in the direction of Burgundy. Thus Henri-Jacques encountered an ardent feeling and carried it away with him unshared, and he realized that everyone ought to envy him and pity him. The German land was full of spring, the glades beckoned him to rest, the brooks sang an air which was anything but German. HenriJacques noticed nothing, because only motion could bring him comfort. Sometimes Soviet trucks gave him a lift, the commandants of small towns fed him and slapped him on the back in friendly fashion on returning his certificate of imprisonment in camp. The Germans were timidly courteous, and Henri-Jacques never denied himself the pleasure of merrily playing the Marseillaise on the ocarina when passing by them. Monsieur Nico had in his time more than once described to him the souls of Soviet people, now he himself had seen these people in the role of victors, and Henri-Jacques bowed down before their modesty. Once, beyond Leipzig, a Soviet soldier riding a lady’s bicycle had overtaken him. The soldier dismounted and walked alongside, wheeling the bicycle. HenriJacques never found out why he had done so. The soldier walked along in silence, glanced at the French flag, and treated him to some marvelous tobacco, which looked like sawdust but was terribly strong. They enjoyed, in peasant fashion, their silent walk along the edge of the motor highway. The soldier told him that it was a long way to France. Henri-Jacques shrugged his
shoulders, but he did not forget to twirl his moustache, as if to say, why worry – can the way home be too long to travel? Then the soldier stopped a military car, shook hands with HenriJacques and rode off, saying by way of farewell, “You own a wheel now. Ride straight to Paris!” Henri-Jacques stood in the road with the bicycle and was ashamed at not feeling embarrassed – so kindly and tactfully had the thing been done. He looked over the gift at once; the bicycle was greatly to his liking. He could now rush like the wind through this unpleasant land. The Soviet soldier had come to the correct conclusion (hat Henri-Jacques, too, ought to feel that victory had come – if only in the means of locomotion. In one barber’s shop the barber offered to exchange his own wheel for the lady’s bicycle. His wife, you see, liked cycling, and the barber was willing to give additional payment if the French gentleman would agree to the exchange. The French gentleman got angry and told the barber to shut up at once, for his wheel was a gift and priceless. Al the last Soviet commandant’s office he was led to the dining-room and given a dinner and provisions for the road, Henri-Jacques signed the register with his full name, added his village and departement, and found it necessary, besides, to write some words of thanks. All this made him sweat so much that he had to drink an extra mug of beer. Thus he departed from the Soviet zone of occupation in Germany and headed for the American zone, for the borders of Bavaria, from which it is no great distance to the Rhine and then to France and his homeland. Near the Soviet barrier stood a sentry who rang up the guard-house, and an officer appeared. Henri-Jacques’ document had as many inscriptions, signatures and stamps on it as if it were a petition to the president. The places where he had got rations and the amounts were marked down on it, and so were the delousing stations and the cities he had stayed overnight in. Some of his first benefactors wrote requests to all subsequent ones to show him attention and feed him, “for this is a proud Frenchman and won’t ask for himself.” There were humorous wishes of a happy journey and simply inscriptions made by the drivers of ears whom Henri-Jacques had asked for a visa, such as, “Go ahead, comrade, straight for France! No objection!’ The Soviet officer read all this through attentively and, realizing what sort of fellow he was dealing with, wrote out an entry in the register and let him go. Henri-Jacques saluted the Soviet side on parting and walked on half a kilometer to the American post. He did not mount his bicycle because he considered this part of the road a very important place, where it was necessary to concentrate on the question of how far the allies were like each other. The devil take it, no one will give a plain man a hint. There was no sentry near – the American barrier. Henri-Jacques stopped and waited patiently. The same German pines swayed in the breeze, a smell of damp came from the rust-brown earth, empty tin-cans were scattered on the grass. An hour passed, but Henri-Jacques did not dare to cross the barrier line without permission. At last he heard a whistle, such as dogs are summoned by, coming from a new pine cabin. Henri-Jacques looked around, it was meant for him. On the threshold of the guard-house stood an American soldier wearing a helmet, a drab blouse, and long trousers tucked into tan shoes. Henri-Jacques approached, saluted him smartly, and held out his long-suffering document, covered with French, German and Russian writing. The soldier snatched the document, looked it over with distaste, like some dirty thing which did not require reading at all. After that he burst out laughing, slapped Henri-Jacques in the face with the document, and began to chew his gum with renewed zeal. Henri-Jacques understood that this was a soldier’s joke, but his moustache, disheveled by the hand of a stranger, bristled like that of a frenzied tiger. The devil take the damned Yankee – does he dare to insult a citizen of France! But the soldier was drunk and slapped Henri-Jacques on the moustache once more and roared with laughter, and when the latter, beside himself, began to fight, seized him in his arms and dragged him into the cabin. There he sat him down forcibly on a bench, and began telling his friends something and laughing. Only in the concentration camp had Henri-Jacques felt so helpless. The soldiers searched Henri-Jacques rather expertly and
found the ocarina on him. This added to their merriment. Tinned food and beer appeared on the table, everyone took a drink. Then Henri-Jacques was forced to play an unknown melody to the accompaniment of a gloomy American who played the mouth organ out of tune. He was made an object of amusement like a stray puppy, cat or wounded bird. The soldiers hugged Henri-Jacques so that his bones crunched, nor did it help when he explained that he was a French citizen and not a German. The soldiers immediately called him a frog-eater, began to croak and hop like frogs, and told Henri-Jacques not to put on airs, for France had already been abolished, and other nations were waiting their turn – things were being done in business-like lash ion by the Americans. The movie-stars, densely pasted over the wooden walls of the guard-house, were already beginning to wink at Henri-Jacques. The beer had made his head swim, the dreadful howls of the singers hurt his ears. The soldiers took it into their heads to play ball. They clapped a helmet on top of 11enri-Jacques’ beret, put a stick into his hands, and stood him on guard at the barrier in their place, and ran off themselves to a nearby clearing. Now and then one of I he ball-players would run up to Henri-Jacques and would roar with laughter, as if he saw before him instead of a decent Frenchman some strange animal. A small jeep came up – a Willis the Russians call it. Henri-Jacques noticed it only when it stopped abruptly at full speed, and an officer jumped out into the road and began to shout at him like one mad. The poor sentry, however, failed to understand a single word, and could only mutter gloomily that he was bound for France. The soldiers came running from the clearing to listen to a new on (break of swearing from the officer, after which the jeep turned round and rushed off. In the back seat, jolted and bouncing higher than the driver, sat Henri-Jacques with an empty knapsack and the flag attached to it. His belongings, documents and lady’s bicycle, the priceless gift of the Russian soldier, had been left behind in the guardhouse. Where were they taking him to? The officer must have understood that he was a Frenchman not a German, that he was returning home from concentration camp, but that did not make things easier for Henri-Jacques. What had happened to the freedom that had led him through the la ad? Was he again to be at the mercy of the arbitrary will of others? Henri-Jacques went hot and cold. How long was a man to be tortured – the unfortunate one wanted to ask, but he had to grit his teeth, for the jeep was bouncing him up and down like a dead weight, Henri-Jacques was not a Burgundian for nothing; he managed to hum through clenched teeth – let the Americans not think that he was submitting to them – “Dijon! When the mist of daybreak scatters!” The jeep drove at full speed through a gate, before which Henri-Jacques saw a policeman in a blue German uniform wearing an armband. My God, it was a camp again! Henri-Jacques was instantly photographed, during which process lie assumed a dignified pose and twirled his moustache. The plate registered his beret, determined nose, long-skirted German farmer’s jacket with rolled up sleeves, skiing pants tucked into army shoes, and knapsack with flag. All right, take a profile view and be damned to your way of doing things! Can it be that France has fallen so low that its citizens are treated like crooks? “I hope Monsieur is not a communist?” asked the registry clerk. “To hell with your hopes,” Henri-Jacques grunted politely; “what right have you to search into my soul? I’ve stood enough from the damned boches.” “Very well, we’ll write you down as a peasant, a de Gaulle sympathizer.” “And where was de Gaulle when I was in concentration camp?” “He was organizing the resistance.” “Your de Gaulle is a liar! He was shaking in his boots, that’s what! The communists organized the resistance movement, if you want to know! Do you get me?” 49 “Well, then, we’ll put it down: propagandized by the communists.” “No, young man, let’s not beat about the bush – type it off on your typewriter that I’m a communist. Let the real communists forgive me, but I can’t help it!”
So it was that, quite unexpectedly for himself, Henri-Jacques fell into the category of people for whom a stay in the camp for displaced persons was most complicated. When he had stayed the required period in the sanitary isolator, strangely recalling a prison cell, and had then gone through a course of questioning, he was jammed into an evilly smelling dormitory, and received the right to wander in the alleys between the barracks. All sorts of people were there. Some of the nationalities Henri-Jacques had never even heard of back home. Why don’t they hurry to get home? Why, these Americans are just like the Germans – keeping people in captivity I Soon, however, Henri-Jacques began to understand some things. Near the latrine a nonAmerican in American uniform came up and began to beat him. This happened so unexpectedly that Henri-Jacques did not even defend himself. He suddenly found himself on the ground being kicked by hobnailed boots. Fortunately for him someone intervened and then helped the beaten man to get back to his cot, decorated by the French flag and red bow. “Who’s that character?” asked Henri-Jacques through puffed lips. “He served Hitler in his own country,” someone answered in a whisper. “I see,” sighed Henri-Jacques, though a real understanding of this incident came to him much later. He had to spend a whole month in this pleasant society, until a French journalist, a chance visitor to the camp, intervened in his fate. Before that all sorts of things happened; his skin went through a complete course of political training, and so did his ribs. It was not easy, however, to reduce such a man as Henri-Jacques to submission. II was then he regretted his lack of theoretical training. When he came to enter the Party, it would be very useful. His strong peasant’s voice gave no quarter to any of the brutes, whom he learned to discern like weeds in the field, and he plagued them as much as he could. He liked, for instance, to spend the evenings in telling (in Khristya’s words) about the collective farms, about the bright future of the movement and almost brought about skirmishes in the camp when opinions differed. The French newspaper-man freed him from the camp in a rather singular way. Alter a drinking bout with an American officer, the Frenchman beat his companion at cards, and made him get into a jeep and drive to the camp where Henri-Jacques was languishing. There the officer woke up the civilian warden, and in a drunken voice ordered him to open the camp gates at daybreak for his French boon companion. So it happened that next day Henri-Jacques was free again, for it is dangerous to joke with an American officer even when he is drunk. The camp warden turned out the prisoner with a paper, obtained by the French journalist for his compatriot, which permitted Henri-Jacques to travel as far as France without hindrance Once more the Burgundian carried on his back the knapsack crowned with the same flag. People were afraid to show sympathy to him in camp, but some unknown persons provided him with a scanty stock of food. When Henri-Jacques was approaching a small town, a man, whom he recognized as having been in the camp, called lo him. “Let’s go somewhere for a minute,” he said in French; “I have to warn you.” They went behind a hedge – Henri-Jacques knew whom he was dealing with. There he was told that, being a communist, he would do well to stay in the town and slip out at dark, because the people ho had quarreled with over collective farms had decided to lie in wait for him.54 Henri-Jacques became indignant and began to argue loudly that he was no prime-minister to fear attempts on his life. Let them waylay him, devil take them! What’s he done, after all? Even if he really were a communist, does that mean they should kill him? So, collective farms were not to their liking! Henri-Jacques approached a wood. There was no one around. He felt his heart misgive him; why should he, after all, walk stupidly into a trap? Perhaps they really did want his life? Perhaps they’ll appear suddenly from behind that pine-tree, as his well-wisher had warned him? So it
was, – two men appeared from behind the pine-trees. He could not believe his eyes. They had lain in wait for him. “Hey there, let’s have a light,” said one of them. The second man looked up and down the road and tried to get behind Henri-Jacques. The latter leaped back in order to keep the two before him. He knew these types – they were to be smuggled into the Carpathians, the Soviet Union, by plane, so well-informed people said. They were terrorists, and killing a man was a customary thing to them. But what did they want of him? He had no money. “Messieurs,” said Henri-Jacques, “I understand what you are about to do, but why do you want my life? You’re not fighting against France, are you?” “Damned if I know what you’re babbling about,” said the first bandit. “That’s nothing to us,” added the other quietly, “if you’re a communist and, furthermore, in favor of collective farms–” A clear idea flashed through Henri-Jacques’ mind58 that the very next minute he would receive a knife stab in the throat. He tried to run, but found that his arms were already firmly gripped. “What a stupid situation,” thought Henri-Jacques, “I can’t even say anything to them.” He felt nevertheless that he had no right to leave this world like a dumb brute – he would speak, he must rise superior to these killers. In an instant there flashed before him his life in the concentration camp, the talks with communists, and the touching stories of Monsieur Nico about his country, the Soviet Army, the great leader. “Hurrah!” shouted Henri-Jacques, proudly and inspired. “Soviet karosh! Vive la France! Vive Staline!” For a minute the killers were dumbfounded, and it was this minute that saved Henri-Jacques’ life. A five-ton truck, coming alongside, stopped so abruptly that the brakes began to smoke. A smiling, shiny black face with thick lips looked out of the driver’s cab. “Comrade,” said the Negro in French. “I see the French flag! Do you understand me? Jump into the truck, I can give you a hundred miles.” “Just a second, Comrade Negro,” answered Henri-Jacques, not in the least astonished, as if it could not have happened otherwise, “I have a little political debt that I must repay.” He landed a hard punch on each of the dumbfounded bandits in turn, and got into the Negro’s truck, wiping his hands, which had come into contact with dirt. Translated by Abraham Mistetsky Yuriy Yanovsky. Five Stories Radianska Shkola Publishers. Kiev -1952 -Lviv
Yuri Yanovsky (1902-1954)