1273My fathers book, part of chapter 1
- Oct 6, 2007
AT THE GATES OF MOSCOW
A NOVEL BY
, 1C NOEL MANN
Translated by < IIIIISTnl'IIKR DERRICK & I. M. LASK
ST MARTIN'S PRESS
Copyright © Aux Portes de Moscow Calmann-L6vy, 1960
Copyright © English translation Macmillan & Co Ltd and St Martin's Press Inc, 1963
MACMILLAN AND COMPANY LIMITED
St Martin's Street London WC 2 also Bombay Calcutta Madras Melbourne
THE MACMILLAN COMPANY OF CANADA LIMITED
st martin's prkss New York
PRINTED IN GREAT BRITAIN
* n October Sunday in 1941. Hundreds of farm carts / \ crowding together, crudely made and brightly painted, / \ their horses bony and undernourished; a throng of |nii|>lc ill-clad in plaited straw and rough wool; men, beasts him! curls in a tangle, jamming the road that runs through iln Unssiun village of Tengushai.
Tin- men had come to join the army, from all the villages mi.I lunilcts in the neighbourhood. The men from Kulikovo 111.1 come first, identifiable by the distinctive high wheels and ilmililc shafts of their carts: older men with straw sandals liim|>iii)r from rope girdles and sacks of food on their backs, •Mii).tT men at ease on the carts, with much music from ivory-
.... nulcd mouth-organs; one youth, fair hair tumbling out all
i. mi 11< 111 is black sheepskin hat, crooning one single chorus to him-
•i'll i tine :md time again, clapping his hands for accompaniment.
Tlieir women had come too, to see them off, and in their best
iin. i v : ;ipi ons in red and yellow, plenty of lace and embroidery,
i mi i iiblmns flying, flowery red scarves round their heads.
I 11. v were tall and slender, these people from Kulikovo, and
i In v m|Hike musically, in a silvery, bell-like way: they had an
...... I In i|;htncss and splendour, the sight of them gave pleasure,
p. ..pli ileferrc-d to them.
Tlien, in silence, others had come: men of the forest from
II ii i Imvo, their beards wild, their hands gnarled into knots;
ili. • I < pi close with their women beside their ponies, whisper-
mi eily among themselves. Carts covered in rough bark
<"ii iul id' cloth, crude straw sandals, belts of bark instead of i 111 m i 11 icsc people had been men of the woods for uncounted ki ik i.iiiiuis, thick tough men, living in the unmeasured dark
readies of the Barashovo forests, stretching out to Bashkiria and the Urals and the taiga far beyond. Lately, road-making had been their life, with timber and brush to be cut and rammed down to form a solid foundation in the peat swamps. Now the road they had made ran as far as the narrow-gauge railway, and from then on to the main-line station at Potma: but there were still quagmires beneath and on either side, and you felt the road trembling and swaying as you went.
These men from Barashovo were like all their kind, secretive with the mystery of the forest; they looked like trees themselves, their limbs great knotted roots, more than a match for any peasant saw. And these other peasants knew them well: every villager drove off to the forest at one time or another for timber.
' Good day to you, Kuzma!'
'And to you, my lad!' said Kuzma, his Barashovo hand heavy on a Kulikovo shoulder. 'So we're going together, are we, little brother? Is Mother Russia calling us?' His voice rolled, like the thunder of a falling tree.
The other was Kolka, who only a few weeks previously had fetched from Barashovo the timber to build himself a home. That wood was still lying there, planed, trimmed and true, in front of his father's house. It would have to lie there now, and wait for easier times; this was the day that saw his luggage all packed and his young wife weeping uncontrollably beside it.
Some Mordvins had come as well, from the village of Shoksha; about twenty of their carts were there, low-slung things, brightly painted but crude — no springs, screeching wooden axles, the horses shaggy but mangy, harnessed in rags and scraps and any old bits of raw leather. The men were a poor, dilapidated crowd to match, with leggings of grey sacking instead of wool, and short quilted jackets, worn and tattered, instead of long coats.
There those horses stood, dropping their heads and pawing tin- ground dejectedly, while the women sat in the carts and mourned, weeping and wailing and wiping blubbered faces on llicir sleeves: they were imploring St Nicolas the miracle-\\niktT to take good care of their men, now that the war was
i ulling them away. There were ikons displayed on some of the i ni In, and round these the women would make the sevenfold
........ n prescribed by custom for such times of tears and prayers;
iinil their men also thumped their chests and roared and wept lil' .i crowd of madmen or drunks.
And St Nicolas looked back at them all, remote and detached In his image; his eyes were glazed and opaque, his face was as iiMiiul and pink and inhuman as an apple in the spring sun. I )nly his silver crown, by being tarnished and dull, seemed in
I . < ping with the sorrow of these Mordvin women on this late
(>i lolu-r day of parting for war. But round and round his ikon
II icy went all the same, for the fifth, the sixth, the seventh time,
iiml then fell on their knees, whole families together, wailing
.nn I .stretching out their hands to the holy man, stroking the
ili I of his frame with their finger-tips and then desperately
I i ing and fondling those same finger-tips so as to draw off the
I'I' ing and holiness into themselves. Then came a frenzy of
Imping and kissing, while 'Stiringen! Stiringen!' cried the
\\cimrn, calling on their children — left for this day unguarded
I1 Inline — to be present in spirit at the moment of parting.
Then others again, from Dudnikovo; and these came rowdily,
lirllowing songs — songs of immeasurable grief, the lamentation s o f a flock driven out shepherdless into storms and unknown i i 111res.
Their leading carts were packed with recruits, singing drunk-i iily and playing guitars and mouth-organs. For years they li nl chafed under the repression and constraint of the collective i.imii system; now, suddenly and unexpectedly set loose, they ui ii- scared of nobody, and out came all their pent-up resent-inriit, deafeningly. One of them bawled:
' Our own dear fields with our own tears we sow; But who will have our bones ?'
nnil the refrain followed:
' Ah, who indeed ? Ah, who ?'
;i pointed question, underlined with a long, high-pitched sob on the mouth-organ.
After the men came the women, in a big hay-wain. They were a colourful lot: the girls wore pleated red dresses with delicate white embroidery and shoulder-ribbons in many colours, while the married women wore ornamental aprons edged with dark material; they wore their hair combed forward and fixed elaborately with wooden clips and white headscarves, so as to give them an odd appearance of having triple-decker foreheads. Last of all in this group came more carts carrying the old men of Dudnikovo; they sat muffled up in sheepskin coats, puffing away at their oak-wood pipes.
By now the village street of Tengushai was packed with people, but still more came: men of Tartar blood from the village of Atenino. Their dark and slant-eyed women drove off into a narrow lane to one side and made themselves busy there with their ropes and harness and luggage; the young men had already taken off and flung into the carts their great heavy coats of dark brown horse-leather, and now they took off their high leather boots as well and put on leggings and sandals instead. There was no point in taking boots: the State was going to provide uniforms, and if food became difficult a housewife could always trade a pair of boots for rye flour.
The eyes of these Tartar women slanted under broad arching brows; their mouths were fine and sensitive, their complexions pale and delicate, and now, though from time to time their smiles flashed brilliantly, they were silent in the grief of this moment. Their horses too stood motionless, with only an occasional jingle of harness; fine harness here, with good leather and brass studs, and the horses themselves fine bays, high-stepping and well-groomed, cocking an ear as they stood there towards the din and confusion in the village street.
One of the Tartars turned in the direction of Atenino, his own village and the place where his forefathers lay buried; liis wife Micharifina stood close beside him as he flung himself down three times in farewell prostration before them. Thru daughter Fatma was with them: she had come to the iiixleenth of her summers in the hayfields, a slender delicate
i feature, raven plaits against a swan-white neck: who would Inc il< after her now, who could cherish and protect this ullage beauty in the days of violence? She bent and clung in i rely to her father, head on his shoulder.
The Dudnikovo people were yelling and shouting, and
..... iel>ody struck up a new song. A man in uniform forced
iiim way through the crowd and called for silence: back at 111111 eame a roar of angry derision. ' Sergeant, eh ? Nice \\nik! Now you'll have all the women here all to yourself!' 'Ah, take a look at him, what a beauty!' 'You miserable n|iidisport, troublemaker, bloodsucker, why can't you let I'i "I >le alone?'—this from a voice bursting with drink — ' why can't you let us poor little fluffy-headed chicks alone?' Ami: 'There's a fine soldier for you! But look, chum, don't yum go crawling to my wife on the stove while I'm away!'
The crowd laughed wildly, here and there hysterically: I he man in uniform started to get pushed around, as if accidentally, and in the end he had a hard job of it to get clear nl i lie crowd and dodge into the huts, him with his blue
• i|> :md his elegant sash.
1'eoplc were still arriving, now from Bashkirtsi, in wicker-\vuik carts with brown horses; these were lumbermen, come I Him a life of poling great rafts of oak logs down the river Mnkslia. Then others, from Vitchki-Deyevo, famous wood-\vmkers, who carried light axes around with them wherever i hey went and did mar
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