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HOW THE STEEL WAS TEMPERED by Nikolai Ostrovsky Part 1 Chapter 1

Those of you who came to my house to be examined before the Easter holidays, stand up!”

The speaker, a corpulent man in the garb of a priest, with a heavy cross dangling from his neck, fixed the class with a baleful glare. His small hard eyes seemed to bore through the six children – four boys and two girls – who rose from their seats and looked at the man in the cassock with apprehension. “You sit down,” the priest said, motioning to the girls. The girls hastily complied, with sighs of relief. Father Vasili’s slits of eyes focussed on the other four. “Now then, my fine lads, come over here!” Father Vasili rose, pushed back his chair and walked up to the group of boys who stood huddled close together. “Which of you young ruffians smokes?” “We don’t smoke, father,” the four answered timidly. The blood rushed to the priest’s face. “You don’t smoke, eh, you scoundrels? Then who put the tobacco in the dough? Tell me that! We’ll see whether you smoke or not. Now then, turn out your pockets! Come on, turn them out, I say!”

product_thumbnail.phpThree of the boys proceeded to empty the contents of their pockets onto the table. The priest inspected the seams carefully for grains of tobacco, but found nothing, whereupon he turned to the fourth lad, a dark-eyed youngster in a grey shirt and blue trousers patched at the knees. “What are you standing there for like a dummy?” The lad threw a look of silent hatred at his questioner. “I haven’t any pockets,” he replied sullenly. “No pockets, eh? You think I don’t know who could have played such a scoundrelly trick as to spoil my dough? You think I’m going to let you off again? Oh no, my boy, you shall suffer for this. Last time I allowed you to stay in this school because your mother begged me to keep you, but now I’ve finished with you. Out with you!” He seized the boy painfully by the ear and threw him out into the corridor, slamming the door after him.

The class sat silent, cowed. None of the children could understand why Pavel Korchagin had been expelled, none but Sergei Bruzzhak, who was Pavel’s closest friend. He had seen him sprinkle a fistful of home-grown tobacco into the Easter cake dough in the priest’s kitchen where six backward pupils had waited for the priest to come and hear them repeat their lesson. Now the ejected Pavel sat down on the bottom step of the schoolhouse and wondered dismally what his mother would say when he told her what had happened, his poor hardworking mother who toiled from morning till night as cook at the excise inspector’s. Tears choked him. “What shall I do? It’s all because of that damned priest. What on earth made me go and put that tobacco in his dough. It was Seryozhka’s idea. ‘Let’s play a trick on the old beast,’ he says. So we did. And now Seryozhka’s got off and I’ll likely be kicked out.” His feud with Father Vasili was of long standing. It dated back to the day he had a scrap with Mishka Levchukov and in punishment was kept in after lessons.

To keep the lad out of mischief in the empty classroom, the teacher took him to the second grade to sit in at a lesson. Pavel took a seat at the back. The teacher, a wizened little man in a black jacket, was telling the class about the earth and the heavenly bodies, and Pavel gaped with amazement when he learned that the earth had been in existence for millions of years and that the stars too were worlds. So startled was he by what he had heard that he barely refrained from getting up and blurting out: “But that isn’t what the Bible says!” But he was afraid of getting into more hot water. The priest had always given Pavel full marks for Scripture. He knew almost the whole prayer book practically by heart, and the Old and New Testament as well. He knew exactly what God had created on each day of the week. Now he resolved to take the matter up with Father Vasili. At the very next lesson, before the priest had time to settle himself properly in his chair, Pavel raised his hand and, having obtained permission to speak, he got up.

“Father, why does the teacher in the second grade say the earth is millions of years old, instead of what the Bible says, five thou…” A hoarse cry from Father Vasili cut him short. “What did you say, you scoundrel? So that’s how you learn your Scripture!” And before Pavel knew what had happened the priest had seized him by the ears and was banging his head against the wall. A few minutes later, shaken with fright and pain, he found himself outside in the corridor. His mother too had given him a good scolding that time. And the following day she had gone to the school and begged Father Vasili to take him back. From that day Pavel hated the priest with all his soul. Hated and feared him. His childish heart rebelled against any injustice, however slight. He could not forgive the priest for the undeserved beating, and he grew sullen and bitter. Pavel suffered many a slight at the hands of Father Vasili after that.

The priest was forever sending him out of the classroom; day after day for weeks on end he made him stand in the corner for trifling misdemeanours and never called on him to answer questions, with the result that on the eve of the Easter holidays Pavel had to go with the backward boys to the priest’s house to be re-examined. It was there in the kitchen that he had dropped the tobacco into the dough. No one had seen him do it, yet the priest had guessed at once who was to blame. The lesson ended at last and the children poured out into the yard and crowded round Pavel, who maintained a gloomy silence. Sergei Bruzzhak lingered behind in the classroom. He felt that he too was guilty, but he could do nothing to help his friend. Yefrem Vasilievich, the head master, poked his head out of the open window of the teachers’ room and shouted: “Send Korchagin to me at once!” Pavel jumped at the sound of the Head’s deep bass voice, and with pounding heart obeyed his summons.

The proprietor of the railway station restaurant, a pale middle- aged man with faded, colourless eyes, glanced briefly at Pavel. “How old is he?” “Twelve.” “All right, he can stay. He’ll get eight roubles a month and his food on the days he works. He’ll work twenty-four hours at a stretch every other day. But mind, no pilfering.” “Oh no, sir. He won’t steal, I’ll answer for that,” the mother hastened fearfully to assure him. “Let him start in today,” ordered the proprietor and, turning to the woman behind the counter, paid: “Zina, take the boy to the kitchen and tell Frosya to put him to work instead of Grishka.” The barmaid laid down the knife with which she had been slicing ham, nodded to Pavel and led the way across the hall to a side door opening into the scullery. Pavel followed her. His mother hurried after him and whispered quickly into his ear: “Now Pavlushka, dear, do your best, and don’t disgrace yourself.” With sad eyes she watched him go, and left. Work in the scullery was in full swing; plates, forks and knives were piled high on the table and several women were drying them with towels flung over their shoulders.

A boy with a shaggy mop of red hair, slightly older than Pavel, was tending two huge samovars. The scullery was full of steam that rose from the large vat of boiling water in which the dishes were washed, and Pavel could not see the faces of the women at first. He stood waiting uncertainly for someone to tell him what to do. Zina, the barmaid, went over to one of the dishwashers and touched her shoulder. “Here, Frosya, I’ve brought you a new boy to take Grishka’s place. You tell him what he’s to do.” “She’s in charge here,” Zina said to Pavel, nodding toward the woman she had called Frosya. “She’ll tell you what you have to do.” And with that she turned and went back to the buffet. “All right,” Pavel replied softly and looked questioningly at Frosya.

Wiping her perspiring brow she examined him critically from head to foot as if sizing him up, then, rolling up her sleeve which had slipped over her elbow, she said in a deep and remarkably pleasant voice: “It’s not much of a job, dearie, but it will keep you busy enough. That copper over there has to be heated in the morning and kept hot so there’s boiling water all the time; then there’s the wood to chop and me samovars to take care of besides. You’ll have to clean the knives and forks sometimes and carry out the slops. There’ll be plenty to do, lad,” she said, speaking with a marked Kostroma accent laying the stress on the “a’s.” Her manner of speaking and her flushed face with the small turned-up nose made Pavel feel better. “She seems quite decent,” he concluded, and overcoming his shyness he said: “What am I to do now, Auntie?”

A burst of loud laughter from the dishwashers met his words. “Ha! Ha! Frosya’s gone and got herself a nephew…” Frosya herself laughed even more heartily than the others. Through the cloud of steam Pavel had not noticed that Frosya was a young girl; she was no more than eighteen. Covered with confusion, he turned to the boy and asked: “What am I supposed to do now?” But the boy merely chuckled. “You ask Auntie, she’ll tell you all about it. I’m off.” Whereupon he darted through the door leading to the kitchen. “Come over here and help dry the forks,” one of the dishwashers, a middle-aged woman, called. “Stop your cackling,” she admonished the others.

“The lad didn’t say anything to laugh at. Here, take this,” she handed Pavel a dish towel. “Hold one end between your teeth and pull it tight by the other. Here’s a fork, run the towel back and forth between the prongs, and see you don’t leave any dirt. They’re very strict about that here. The customers always inspect the forks and if they find a speck of dirt, they make a terrible fuss, and the mistress will send you flying out in a jiffy.” “The mistress?” Pavel echoed. “I thought the master who hired me was in charge.” The dishwasher laughed. “The master, my lad, is just a stick of furniture around here. The mistress is the boss. She isn’t here today. But if you work here a while you’ll see for yourself.”

The scullery door opened and three waiters entered carrying trays piled high with dirty dishes. One of them, a broad-shouldered cross-eyed man with a heavy, square jaw, said: “You’d better put on a little speed. The 12 o’clock is due any minute, and here you are dawdling about.” He looked at Pavel. “Who’s this?” he asked. “That’s the new boy,” said Frosya. “Ah, the new boy,” he said. “Well, listen, my lad,” he laid his heavy hand on Pavel’s shoulders and pushed him over to the samovars. “You’re supposed to keep them boiling all the time, and look, one of them’s out, and the other is barely going. We’ll let it pass today, but if it happens again tomorrow, you’ll get your face pushed in, see?” Pavel busied himself with the samovars without a word.

Thus began his life of toil. Never had Pavka exerted himself as much as on that first day at work. He realized that this was not home where he could afford to disobey his mother. The cross-eyed waiter had made it quite plain that if he did not do as he was told, he would suffer for it. Placing one of his top-boots over the chimney and using it as a bellows, Pavel soon had the sparks flying from the large potbellied samovars. He picked up the slop pail and rushed out to the garbage dump, added firewood to the water boiler, dried the wet dish towels on the hot samovars – in a word, did everything he was told to do. Late that night when the weary Pavel went down to the kitchen, Anisia, the middle-aged dishwasher, with a glance at the door that had closed behind him, remarked: “Something queer about that boy, look at the way he dashes about like mad. Must have been a good reason for putting him to work.” “He’s a good worker,” said Frosya.

“Needs no speeding up.” “He’ll soon cool off,” was Lusha’s opinion. “They all try hard in the beginning…” At seven o’clock the next morning, Pavel, utterly exhausted after a whole night spent on his feet, turned the boiling samovars over to the boy who was to relieve him. The latter, a puffy-faced youngster with an ugly glint in his eyes, examined the boiling samovars, and having assured himself that all was in order, thrust his hands into his pockets and spat through his teeth with an air of scornful superiority. “Now listen, snotnose!” he said in an aggressive tone, fixing Pavel with his colourless eye? “See you’re on the job here tomorrow at six sharp.” “Why at six?” Pavka wanted to know. “The shift changes at seven, doesn’t it?” “Never mind when the shift changes. You get here at six. And you’d better not blab too much or I’ll smash your silly mug for you. Some cheek, only started in today and already putting on airs.” The dishwashers who had just finished their shift listened with interest to the exchange between the two boys.

The blustering tone and bullying manner of the other enraged Pavel. He took a step toward his tormentor and was about to lash out at him with his fists when the fear of losing his newly-acquired job stopped him. “Stop your noise,” he said, his face dark with rage, “and keep off or you’ll get more than you bargained for. I’ll be here at seven tomorrow, and I can use my fists as good as you can. Maybe you’d like to try? I’m game.” His adversary cowered back against the boiler, gaping with surprise at the bristling Pavel. He had not expected such a determined rebuff. “All right, all right, we’ll see,” he muttered.

Pavel, his first day at work having passed without mishap, hurried home with a sense of having honestly earned his rest. Now he too was a worker and no one could accuse him of being a parasite. The morning sun was already climbing above the sprawling buildings of the sawmill. Before long the tiny house where Pavel lived would come into view, just behind the Leszczinski garden. “Mother must have just got up, and here I am coming home from work,” Pavel thought, and he quickened his pace, whistling as he went. “It turned out not so bad being kicked out of school. That damned priest wouldn’t have given me any peace anyway, and now he can go to hell for all I care,” Pavel reflected as he approached the house and opened the gate. “As for that ginger-head I’ll punch his face for certain.” His mother, who was busy firing the samovar in the yard, looked up at her son’s approach and asked anxiously: “Well, how was it?” “Fine,” Pavel replied.

His mother was about to say something when through the open window Pavel caught a glimpse of his brother Artem’s broad back. “So Artem’s here?” he asked anxiously. “Yes, he came last night. He’s going to stay here and work at the railway yards.” With some hesitation he opened the front door. The man seated at the table with his back to the door turned his huge frame as Pavel entered and the eyes under the thick black brows wore a stern look. “Ah, here comes the tobacco lad. Well. how goes it?” Pavel dreaded the forthcoming interview. “Artem knows all about it already,” he thought. “I’m in for a good row and a hiding to boot.” Pavel stood somewhat in awe of his elder brother. But Artem evidently had no intention of chastising the lad. He sat on a stool, leaning his elbows on the table and studied Pavel’s face with a mingled expression of amusement and scorn.

“So you’ve graduated from university, eh? Learned all there is to learn and now you’re busying yourself with slops, eh?” Pavel stared down at a crack in the floor, scrutinizing the head of a nail. Artem got up from the table and went out into the kitchen. “Looks as if I won’t get a thrashing after all,” Pavel thought with a sigh of relief. Later on at tea Artem questioned Pavel about the incident at school. Pavel told him all that had happened. “What will become of you if you grow up to be such a scamp,” the mother said sadly. “What shall we do with him? Who does he take after, I wonder? Dear God, to think of all I’ve had to suffer from that boy,” she complained. Artem pushed his empty cup away and turned to Pavel. “Now listen to me, mate,” he said.

“What’s done can’t be undone. Only now take care and do your work properly and no monkey business, because if you get yourself kicked out of this place I’ll give you a proper thrashing. Remember that. You’ve given mother enough trouble as it is. You’re always getting into some sort of mess. But that’s got to stop. When you’ve worked for a year or thereabouts I’ll try and get you taken on at the depot as an apprentice, because you’ll never amount to anything if you mess about with slops all your life. You’ve got to learn a trade. You’re a bit too young just now, but in a year’s time I’ll see what I can do, maybe they’ll take you. I’ll be working here now. Ma won’t need to go out to work any more. She’s slaved enough for all sorts of swine. Only see here, Pavka, you’ve got to be a man.” He stood up, his huge frame dwarfing all about him, and putting on the jacket that hung over the chair, said to his mother: “I’ve got to go out for an hour or so,” and went out, stooping a little in the doorway. Passing by the window on his way to the gate he looked in and called out to Pavel: “I’ve brought you a pair of boots and a knife. Mother will give them to you.”

The station restaurant was open day and night. Six different railway lines met at this junction, and the station was always packed with people; only for two or three hours at night during a gap between trains was the place comparatively quiet. Hundreds of trains passed through this station in all directions. Trains on their way from one section of the front to another, trains bringing back thousands of maimed and crippled men, and taking away a constant stream of new men in monotonous grey overcoats. Pavel worked there for two years – two years in which he saw nothing more than the scullery and kitchen. The twenty odd people employed in the huge basement kitchen worked at a feverish pace. Ten waiters scurried constantly back and forth between the restaurant and the kitchen. By now Pavel was receiving ten roubles instead of eight. He had grown taller and broader in these two years, and many were the trials that fell to his lot.

For half a year he had worked as a kitchen boy but had been sent back to the scullery again; the all-powerful chef had taken a dislike to him – you never knew but what the unruly cub might stick a knife into you if you boxed his ears too often. Indeed Pavel’s fiery temper would have lost him the job long since had it not been for his tremendous capacity for hard work. For he could work harder than anyone else and he never seemed to get tired. During rush hours he would dash with loaded trays up and down the kitchen stairs like a whirlwind, taking four or five steps at a time. At night, when the hubbub in both halls of the restaurant subsided, the waiters would gather downstairs in the kitchen storerooms and wild, reckless card games would begin. On more than one occasion Pavel saw banknotes of large denomination change hands. He was not surprised to see so much money lying about for he knew that each waiter received between thirty and forty roubles a shift in rouble and half rouble tips, which they spent later in drinking and gambling. Pavel hated them. “The damned swine!” he thought. “There’s Artem, a first class mechanic, and all he gets is forty-eight roubles a month, and I get ten. And they rake in all that money in one day. And just for carrying trays back and forth. And then they spend it all on drink and cards.”

To Pavel the waiters were as alien and hostile as his employers. “They crawl on their bellies here, the pigs, but their wives and sons strut about town like rich folk.” Sometimes they brought their sons wearing smart Gymnasium uniforms, and sometimes their wives, plump and soft with good living. “I bet they have more money than the gentry they serve,” Pavel thought. Nor was the lad shocked any longer by what went on at night in the dark corners of the kitchen or in the storerooms. He knew very well that no dishwasher or barmaid would hold her job long if she did not sell herself for a few roubles to those who held the whip hand here. Pavel had a glimpse of the bottommost depths of life, the very sump of its ugly pit, and from it a musty, mouldy stench, the smell of swamp rot, was wafted up to him who so eagerly reached out for everything new and unexplored.

Artem failed to get his brother taken on as an apprentice at the railway yards; they would not have anyone under fifteen. But Pavel was drawn to the huge soot-blackened brick building, and he looked forward to the day when he could get away from the restaurant. He went to see Artem at the yards frequently, and would go with him to look over the cars, helping him whenever he could. He felt particularly lonely after Frosya left. With the gay, laughing girl gone, Pavel felt more keenly than ever how strong his friendship with her had grown. Now as he came in the morning to the scullery and listened to the shrill quarrelling of the refugee women he felt a gnawing sense of emptiness and solitude. One night as he fired the boiler he squatted in front of the open firebox and stared squinting at the flames, revelling in the heat of the stove. He was alone in the scullery. Involuntarily he fell to thinking of Frosya, and a scene he had recently witnessed rose before his mind’s eye.

During the night interval on Saturday Pavel was on his way downstairs to the kitchen, when curiosity prompted him to climb onto a pile of firewood to look into the storeroom on the lower landing where the gamblers usually assembled. The game was in full swing. Zalivanov, flushed with excitement, was keeping the bank. Just then footsteps sounded on the stairs. Looking around, Pavel saw Prokhoshka coming down, and he slipped under the staircase to let the man pass into the kitchen. It was dark there under the stairs and Prokhoshka could not see him. As Prokhoshka passed the turning in the stairs, Pavel caught a glimpse of his broad back and huge head. Just then someone else came hurrying lightly down the steps after the waiter and Pavel heard a familiar voice call out: “Prokhoshka, wait!” Prokhoshka stopped and turned around to look up the stairway. “What d’you want?” he growled.

The footsteps pattered down and soon Frosya came into sight. She seized the waiter by the arm and spoke in a broken, choking voice. “Where’s the money the Lieutenant gave you, Prokhoshka?” The man wrenched his arm away from the girl. “What money? I gave it to you, didn’t I?” his tone was sharp and vicious. “But he gave you three hundred roubles,” Frosya’s voice broke into muffled sobs. “Did he now? Three hundred!” Prokhoshka sneered. “Want to get it all, eh? Flying high for a dishwasher, aren’t you, my fine young lady? The fifty I gave you is plenty. Girls a damn sight better than you, educated too, don’t take that much. You ought to be thankful for what you got – fifty roubles clear for a night is damn good. Alright, I’ll give you another ten, maybe twenty, that’s all – and if you’re not a fool you can earn some more. I can help you.” With this Prokhoshka spun around and disappeared into the kitchen.

“Scoundrel! Swine!” Frosya screamed after him and, leaning against the woodpile, sobbed bitterly. Words cannot convey the emotion that seized Pavel as he stood in the darkness under the staircase watching Frosya convulsively beat her head against the logs of wood. But he did not show himself; only his fingers spasmodically gripped the cast-iron supports of the stair. “So they’ve sold her too, damn them! Oh Frosya, Frosya…” His hatred for Prokhoshka seared deeper than ever and everything around him was revolting and hateful to him. “If I had the strength I’d beat the scoundrel to death! Why am I not big and strong like Artem?” The flames under the boiler flared up and died down, their trembling red tongues intertwining into a long bluish spiral; it seemed to Pavel that some jeering, mocking imp was showing its tongue at him. It was quiet in the room; only the fire crackled and the tap dripped at measured intervals.

Klimka put the last pot, scrubbed until it shone, on the shelf and wiped his hands. There was no one else in the kitchen. The cook on duty and the kitchen help were asleep in the cloakroom. Quiet settled over the kitchen for the three night hours, and these hours Klimka always spent upstairs with Pavel, for a firm friendship had sprung up between the young kitchen boy and the dark-eyed boiler attendant. Upstairs, Klimka found Pavel squatting in front of the open firebox. Pavel saw the shadow of the familiar shaggy figure cast against the wall and said without turning around: “Sit down, Klimka.” The boy climbed onto the wood pile, stretched out on it and looked at the silent Pavel. “Trying to tell your fortune in the fire?” he asked. smiling. Pavel tore his gaze away from the licking tongues of flame and turned on Klimka two large shining eyes brimming with unspoken sadness. Klimka had never seen his friend look so sad. “What’s wrong with you today, Pavel?” After a pause he asked: “Anything happened?”

Pavel got up and sat next to Klimka. “Nothing’s happened,” he replied in a low voice. “Only it’s hard for me here, Klimka.” And his hands resting on his knees clenched into fists. “What’s come over you today?” Klimka insisted, propping himself up on his elbows. “Today? It’s been like this ever since I got this job. Just look at this place! We work like horses and instead of thanks we get blows – anyone can beat you and there’s nobody to stick up for you. The masters hire us to serve them, but anyone who’s strong enough has the right to beat us. After all, you can run yourself ragged but you’ll never please everybody and those you can’t please always have it in for you. No matter how you try to do everything right, so that nobody could find fault, there’s always bound to be somebody you haven’t served fast enough, and then you get it in the neck just the same…” “Don’t shout like that”, Klimka interrupted him, frightened. “Somebody might walk in and hear you.” Pavel leapt to his feet. “Let them hear, I’m going to quit anyway. I’d rather shovel snow than hang around this … this hole full of crooks. Look at all the money they’ve got! They treat us like dirt, and do what they like with the girls.

The decent girls who won’t do what they want are kicked out, and starving refugees who have no place to go are taken on instead. And that sort hang on Ie here at least they get something to eat, and they’re so down and out they’ll do anything for a piece of bread.” He spoke with such passion that Klimka, fearing that someone might overhear, sprang up to close the door leading to the kitchen, while Pavel continued to pour out the bitterness that was overflowing in his soul. “And you, Klimka, take the beatings lying down. Why don’t you ever speak up?” Pavel dropped onto a stool at the table and rested his head wearily on the palm of his hand. Klimka threw some wood into the fire and also sat down at the table.

“Aren’t we going to read today?” he asked Pavel. “There’s nothing to read,” Pavel replied. “The bookstall’s closed.” “Why should it be closed today?” Klimka wondered. “The gendarmes picked up the bookseller. Found something on him,” Pavel replied. “Picked him up? What for?” “For politics, they say.” Klimka stared at Pavel, unable to grasp his meaning. “Politics. What’s that?” Pavel shrugged his shoulders. “The devil knows! They say it’s politics when you go against the tsar.” Klimka looked startled. “Do people do that sort of thing?” “I dunno,” replied Pavel. The door opened and Glasha, her eyes puffed from sleepiness, walked into the scullery. “Why aren’t you two sleeping? There’s time for an hour’s nap before the train pulls in. You’d better take a rest, Pavka, I’ll see to the boiler for you.” Pavel quit his job sooner than he expected and in a manner he had no foreseen. One frosty January day when Pavel had finished his shift and was ready to go home he found that the young man who was to relieve him had not shown up.
Pavel went to the proprietor’s wife and announced that he was going nevertheless, but she would not hear of it. There was nothing for him to do but to carry on, exhausted though he was after a day and night of work. By evening he was ready to drop with weariness. During the night interval he had to fill the boilers and bring them to the boil in time for the three o’clock train. Pavel turned the tap but there was no water; the pump evidently was not working. Leaving the tap open, he lay down on the woodpile; but fatigue got the better of him, and he was soon fast asleep. A few minutes later the tap began gurgling and hissing and the water poured into the boiler, filling it to overflowing and spilling over the tiled floor of the scullery which was deserted as usual at this hour.

The water flowed on until it covered the floor and seeped under the door into the restaurant. Puddles of water gathered under the bags and portmanteaus of the dozing passengers, but nobody noticed it until the water reached a passenger lying on the floor and he jumped to his feet with a shout. There was a rush for luggage and a terrific uproar broke out. And the water continued to pour in. Prokhoshka, who had been clearing the tables in the second hall, ran in when he heard the commotion. Leaping over the puddles he made a dash for the door and pushed it open violently. The water dammed behind it burst into the hall. There was more shouting. The waiters on duty rushed into the scullery. Prokhoshka threw himself on the sleeping Pavel. Blows rained down on the boy’s head, stunning him. Still half asleep, he had no idea of what was happening. He was only conscious of blinding flashes of lightning before his eyes and agonizing pain shooting through his body. Pavel was so badly beaten that he barely managed to drag himself home. In the morning Artem, grimfaced and scowling, questioned his brother as to what had happened. Pavel told him everything. “Who beat you?” Artem asked hoarsely. “Prokhoshka.” “All right, now lie still.” Without another word Artem pulled on his jacket and walked out. “Where can I find Prokhor, the waiter,” he asked one of the dishwashers. Glasha looked at the stranger in workingman’s clothes who stood before her. “He’ll be here in a moment,” she replied.

The man leaned his enormous bulk against the door jamb. “All right, I can wait.” Prokhor, carrying a mountain of dishes on a tray, kicked the door open and entered the scullery. “That’s him,” Glasha nodded at the waiter. Artem took a step forward and laying a heavy hand on Prokhor’s shoulder looked him straight in the eye. “What did you beat up my brother Pavka for?” Prokhor tried to shake his shoulder loose, but a smashing blow laid him out on the floor; he tried to rise, but a second blow more terrible than the first pinned him down. The terror-stricken dishwashers scattered on all sides. Artem spun around and headed for the exit. Prokhoshka sprawled on the floor, his battered face bleeding. That evening Artem did not come home from the railway yards. His mother learned that he was being held by the gendarmes. Six days later Artem returned late at night when his mother was already asleep. He went up to Pavel, who was sitting up in bed, and said gently: “Feeling better, boy?” Artem sat down next to Pavel. “Might have been worse.” After a moment’s silence he added: “Never mind, you’ll go to work at the electric station; I’ve spoken to them about you. You’ll learn a real trade there.” Pavel seized Artem’s powerful hand with both of his.

Read a PDF of the book:

Part 1
Part 2



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