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Anatoly Rybakov. The bronze bird
FOREIGN LANGUAGES PUBLISHING HOUSE
TRANSLATED FROM THE RUSSIAN BY DAVID SKVIRSKY
DESIGNED BY V. ALEXEYEV
ILLUSTRATED BY I. ILYINSKY
Part I. FUGITIVES
Part II. PURSUIT
Part III. GOLIGIN BRUSHWOOD ROAD
Part IV. MUSEUM OF REGIONAL STUDIES
Part V. THE SECRET OF THE BRONZE BIRD
THINGS YOU CAN'T FORESEE
Genka and Slava were sitting on the bank of the Utcha.
Genka, his red hair sticking out in all directions, his pants rolled up
above his knees and the sleeves of his striped singlet above his elbows, was
eyeing the tiny boat station with a disdainful expression on his face.
"Call this a station!" he said, dangling his feet in the water. "They
stuck a life belt on a hen-coop and think they've got a station!"
Slava was silent. His pale face, with its slight, rosy tan, looked
thoughtful. Chewing a blade of grass in a melancholy way, he was reflecting
on a distressing thing that had happened in the camp.
Why did it have to happen just when he, Slava, had been left in charge?
True, it was a duty he shared with Genka, but Genka never gave a hang for
anything. Here he was dangling his feet in the water without a care in the
That indeed was exactly what he was doing.
"A station!" he commented. "Three broken-down tubs! I can't stand
show-offs! And there's nothing to show off about! They should simply have
written: 'boats for hire,' or 'landing.' That would have been modest and to
the point. But 'station'!"
"I'm sure I don't know what we're going to say to Kolya," Slava sighed.
"What's there to say? We're not to blame. And if he starts lecturing
I'm going to tell him straight, 'Look, Kolya, you've got to be objective.
Nobody's to blame. Besides, life's full of things you can never foresee.'"
And with a philosophical air he added, "Yes, life would not be worth while
living without them."
"What are you talking about?"
"Things you can't foresee."
"You've got no sense of responsibility," Slava said, scanning the road
leading from the railway station.
"'Sense,' 'responsibility'!" Genka said with a contemptuous wave of his
hand. "Beautiful words.... Everyone answers for himself. Back in Moscow I
said we shouldn't take any Young Pioneers to camp with us. I warned them,
didn't I? But nobody listened."
"It's no use talking to you," Slava replied indifferently.
For some time they sat in silence, Genka dangling his feet in the water
and Slava chewing his blade of grass.
It was baking hot in the July sun. A grasshopper was chirping
tirelessly in the grass. The river, narrow and deep and hidden in the shadow
of the shrubbery overhanging its banks, wound its way through fields, hugged
the foot of the hills, carefully skirted round the villages and disappeared
in the forest, hushed, dark and cool.
The wind brought the sounds of a rural street from a village nestling
at the foot of a mountain in the distance. The village looked like a
haphazard heap of iron, plank and thatched roofs lying amidst the greenery
of orchards. Near the stream, by the ferry, the bank was criss-crossed by a
dense network of footpaths.
Slava kept his eyes on the road. The Moscow train had probably arrived
and Kolya Sevastyanov and Misha Polyakov would be here any minute. Slava
"Sighing?" Genka smirked. "Those ohs and ahs! How many times have I
"There they are!" Slava rose, shading his eyes with his hand.
Genka stopped dangling his feet and climbed to the top of the bank.
"Where? Hm. It's them all right. Misha's in front. Behind him.... No,
it's not Kolya. Some chap or other. It's Korovin! 'Pon my word, it's
Korovin, remember the chap who was a waif? And he's got a sack on his
The boys gazed intently at the small figures moving up the narrow path
across the fields. And although they were still far away, Genka spoke in a
"Only bear in mind, Slava, I'll do all the talking. Don't interfere or
you'll spoil everything. I'll pull it off, don't you worry. Especially as
Kolya hasn't come. What's Misha? I know how to handle him even if he is the
For all his bravado, Genka felt decidedly uncomfortable. There was an
unpleasant talk ahead.
Misha and Korovin put the sacks down on the ground.
"Why are you here?" Misha demanded.
He was in a dark blue cap and a leather jerkin, which he wore even in
summer, believing that it made him look like a real Komsomol activist.
"Just like that." Genka felt the sacks. "Books?"
"He won't be coming. He's been called up. He's going to the Navy."
"I see," Genka drawled. "Who are they sending instead?"
Misha did not reply at once. He took off his cap and smoothed his black
"Who are they sending?" Genka asked again.
Misha did not reply at once because he had been appointed leader of the
troop and did not know how to break this news to his friends in a way that
would preclude their thinking he was putting on airs and make them
immediately accept him as their leader. It was not easy to give orders to
fellows you shared the same desk with. On the way Misha had thought of a
phrase or two which he hoped would help him out of the difficulty.
Diffidently, with exaggerated nonchalance, he said:
"For the time being I've been put in charge."
He had placed great hopes on the phrase "for the time being." Indeed,
who should temporarily substitute for a leader if not the second in command?
But the unassuming and shy "for the time being" did not make the
impression he thought it would.
"You?" Genka said, goggling his eyes. "But what weight will we carry in
the village? Everybody, even the old folk, had a high opinion of Kolya."
That forced Misha to draw upon the second of his prepared rescue
"I turned down the appointment, but the District Committee confirmed
it." Feeling the authority that the mention of the District Committee gave
him, he asked sternly, "Why did you leave the camp?"
"We left Zina Kruglova in charge," Genka put in hastily.
That, Misha told himself, was the fruit of a little sternness.
Slava, meanwhile, an apologetic tone in his voice, said:
"You see, Misha...."
But Genka cut him short:
"How are you, Korovin? Have you come to pay us a visit?"
"No, I'm here on business," Korovin replied, inhaling noisily through
his nose. Thick-set, stocky, he looked fat and clumsy in his labour commune
uniform. Beads of sweat shone on his face and he kept brushing the flies
away with his hand.
"You've certainly put on weight at the commune," Genka noted.
"The food's pretty good," Korovin said in his artless way.
"What brings you here?"
Misha explained that the children's home where Korovin lived was being
converted into a labour commune and that it was taking over the local manor
and estate for the purpose. They were expecting the headmaster tomorrow.
Korovin had been sent on ahead to make inquiries.
Out of modesty, Misha did not tell his friends that properly speaking
this had been his idea. He had met Korovin in the street on the previous day
and had learned from him that the children's home was looking for a place
near Moscow in which to establish a labour commune. Misha said he knew of a
place that he thought would be suitable. Their camp, he said, was in the
former estate of Karagayevo. True, it was in Ryazan Gubernia, but that was
not far from Moscow. The estate was untenanted. Nobody was living in the
huge manor-house. Altogether it was a wonderful place, in fact the best that
could be found for a commune. That same day Korovin had passed the
information on to the headmaster, who told him to go with Misha, promising
to follow on the next day.
That was how Korovin really came to be here, but Misha did not tell his
friends the whole story so that they would not think he was boasting. All he
told them was that there would be a labour commune here.
"Boy!" Genka whistled. "I can just see the countess letting them in!"
"Who's that?" Korovin asked with a questioning look at Misha.
"The estate," Genka explained, sawing the air with his hands> "belonged
to a landlord, a certain Count Karagayev. He beat it after the Revolution,
taking everything with him, except the house, of course. There's only an old
woman, a relative of the count's or a hanger-on, living in the place. We
call her the countess. She's looking after the manor and won't let anybody
in. And that goes for you, too."
Korovin again inhaled through his nose, but with a shade of injury this
"How d'you mean she won't let us in? The estate belongs to the
"Exactly," Misha hastily interposed. "The countess has a safeguard for
the house only because it's a historical monument. Either Tsaritsa Elizabeth
or Catherine II once stayed in it. And the countess thrusts that safeguard
into everybody's noses. But judge for yourself, if all the houses the tsars
and tsaritsas stayed in are to remain empty, then where are the people going
to live?" And considering the question settled, he said, "Come on, chaps!
Korovin and I've been hauling these sacks all the way from the station. You
carry them now."
Genka quickly lifted one of them. But Slava made no move.
"You see, Misha," he said, "yesterday Igor and Seva...."
"Oh yes," Genka said, interrupting him and lowering the sack to the
ground, "I was going to tell you, but Slava shot his mouth. You're always
doing that, Slava. Well, you see, Misha," he faltered, "the thing is.... How
to put it ...."
"Stop beating about the bush," Misha said angrily. " 'You see,' 'you
"Hold your horses. It's like this. Igor and Seva have run away."
"What! Where to?"
"To fight the fascists."
"What's all this nonsense!"
"Here, read this yourself."
Genka gave Misha a note. It was very short: "Good-bye, chaps, we've
gone to fight the fascists. Igor. Seva."
Misha read it a few times.
"What utter nonsense!" he said, shrugging his shoulders. "When did this
"Yesterday, I mean today," Genka began to explain. "Yesterday they went
to bed the same time as everybody else, but when we woke up this morning,
they were gone. We found this note. Last night I thought they were acting
suspiciously when they suddenly began to polish their boots as though it
were a holiday. It made me want to laugh."
But Misha did not think it was a joke.
"Have you looked for them?"
"Everywhere. In the woods and in the village."
"Fine deputies you are," Misha said with a deprecatory gesture of his
hand, giving Genka and Slava a withering look.
"What have we got to do with it?" Genka and Slava cried in unison.
"Plenty! Nobody ran away before!"
Genka pressed his hand to his breast.
"I give you my word of honour."
"You can keep your word of honour," Misha stopped him. "Let's go to the
Genka and Slava shouldered the sacks and followed Misha.
The path twisted and turned across fields.
Genka chattered without stop, but when he spoke he had to wave his
hands and so somehow, without anyone noticing it, the sack returned to
"Even if you outwit the countess," Genka rambled on, "it won't be easy
to organize a labour commune here and get things going. In fact, I'll say
it's impossible. There's nothing in the estate, only the house. Not a thing
else. No harrow, plough or cart. And don't think for a moment that the
peasants got them. They were all pinched by the kulaks. I can swear to that!
The kulaks they've got here have got all the others beat. You can't imagine
what they're doing."
"What?" Korovin asked.
"You are a numskull! We came here to organize a Young Pioneer troop,
but look at the odds against us. First, the kulaks. Second, religion. Third,
lack of understanding by the parents: they're not letting the kids join.
When we put on a show, we get a full house, but the minute we announce a
meeting, they all scatter."
"I know all about that," Korovin observed meaningfully.
"Exactly," Genka went on. "And the village kids themselves.... They're
steeped in superstition! Wood-goblins and devils are all they talk about.
Try and organize them!"
"So you're finding it difficult, what?"
"That's not the half of it," Genka said in a mournful voice, but the
next moment he added boastfully, "but we've done harder things. And we'll
get this job done too. Here, we've brought them books," he tapped the sack
Korovin was carrying for him, "we're giving shows and we're helping to stamp
out illiteracy. You'll see, we'll organize the first Young Pioneer troop.
Isn't that right, Misha?"
Misha made no reply. He was thinking how unhappily his duties as troop
leader were starting. Two Young Pioneers had disappeared on the very first
day. Where could they have gone? They could not go far without money or
food. They might get lost in the woods, drown in the river, or get run over
by a train.
Should he inform their parents? No, not for the time being anyway. Why
worry them for nothing? The boys would be found sooner or later. Besides,
their parents would raise the alarm throughout the whole of Moscow. And in
the village, people were now probably saying that the Young Pioneers were
running away, that children should not be allowed to join the troop. That
was what Igor and Seva had done. They had undermined the troop's prestige,
setting all its labours of the past month at naught!
These gloomy thoughts were interrupted by Genka, who cried out:
"There's the manor!"
The boys stopped.
A two-storeyed house surrounded by trees stood before them high on a
hill. It seemed to have several roofs and many chimneys. A big, semicircular
verandah with banisters resting on small, white, brick posts divided the
house into two equal halves. Over the verandah there was a loft with windows
on either side and a recess in the middle. A broad avenue led across the
garden to the house. The first, smooth earthen stretch gave way to sloping
stone steps that gradually formed a staircase running round the verandah on
"Like it?" Genka asked, clicking his tongue.
"The important thing is what it's got," Korovin said, inhaling noisily.
"Nothing," Genka assured him.
Indeed, the estate looked neglected. The orchard was overgrowing with
weeds, and the pond was covered with filthy-green slime. Every thing looked
dead, lifeless, cheerless.
It was only when the boys had penetrated deep into the orchard that the
oppressive silence around them was broken by resounding young voices.
There were white tents beyond a broken fence. That was the camp. The
troop came running to meet Misha. Zina Kruglova was in front. She ran the
fastest on her stubby legs.
Properly speaking, this was not the whole troop but only a group of 15
of its eldest members. Nine were Komsomols. The others were due to be
accepted as Komsomols in the autumn. But they called themselves a troop, and
Three tents stood beneath trees along the edge of a glade, in the
middle of which was a tall flag-staff with a pennant fluttering on it. A
fire was burning nearby. Over it was a charred stick supported by two
tripods. The children on kitchen duty were busy cooking dinner. There was a
strong smell of burnt milk.
"Everything is in order," Zina said, speaking very quickly. "We've sent
off the letter to the sailors of the Red Fleet and held an
illiteracy-abolition class yesterday. Eight people turned up instead of
twelve. I suppose they," Zina nodded in the direction of Genka and Slava,
"have already told you about Igor and Seva."
At the mention of Igor and Seva, everybody began to talk at once. Borya
Baranov, nicknamed the Bleater, made himself heard above the din. In stature
he was smaller than the others, but he was a fierce champion of justice. He
thought that had it not been for him, falsehood and injustice would have
reigned unchecked in the world. And he shouted the loudest of all:
"They ran away because of Genka!"
"That's a lie, you miserable Bleater!" Genka cried indignantly. But
Misha ordered the Bleater to tell him what had happened. With his usual
solemnity whenever he fought for justice, the Bleater began:
"I'll tell you the whole truth. I've got no reason to add or invent
"Cut out the preliminaries," Misha hurried him; the Bleater's
introduction could very well drag on for half an hour at least.
"Well," the Bleater went on, "when we went to bed we had a talk. That
was after the play Death to Fascism. Igor and Seva said that instead of
staging plays we should fight the fascists so that they would not kill
Communists. Genka began to deride them, saying, 'You go and fight the
fascists and we'll see what happens.' Igor got mad and said, 'If we make up
our minds, we'll go.' Then Genka said, 'Start making up your minds, start
making up your minds!' That's how it was. And in the morning when Genka woke
up, he said, 'What, you still here? I thought you had run away to fight the
fascists.' After that the first thing that Genka asked them every morning
was, 'How many fascists have you killed today?' He went on teasing them
until in the end they ran away. That's what happened. I've got no call to
lie. I never lie."
"Genka, is that the truth?" Misha demanded.
"It's true, it's true!" cried the children of Genka's section.
"He's always teasing people," grumbled Filya Kitov, or Kit, (Kit-the
Russian for whale.-Tr.) as he was called by his friends. He had a passion
for food and was always chewing something.
"Genka, is that the truth?" Misha repeated.
Genka shrugged his shoulders.
"What relation does that have? All right, so it's true. I teased them a
little. You know why? So that they would put that silliness out of their
heads. But like fools they ran away. They couldn't take a joke. Makes me
"It makes you laugh, does it?" Misha shouted.
Flaring up, he suddenly tore the cap off his head and threw it on the
All eyes were fixed on him.
He remembered that he was now the leader of the troop and had to
control himself. He picked the cap up and put it on.
"All right. First we'll find them and then see who's to blame. Have
your dinner quickly and we'll begin to look for them."
Genka brightened up.
"That's right. We'll find them in double-quick time. You'll see,
At dinner Misha questioned the boys who had been on duty, but they
swore they did not see anything. Yet Igor and Seva had taken with them all
their belongings, even their mugs and spoons. And nobody had noticed it!
They could have gone home. But before sending after them to Moscow,
Misha decided to make a thorough search in the vicinity.
It struck Misha that the manor was the most probable place where the
boys could have hidden themselves. He decided to go there with Korovin and
send the rest of the troop to scour the woods.
"Comb the woods," he said. "Genka and his section-from the direction of
the village, Slava's section-from the river, and Zina's-from the park. Form
a chain and keep calling out to each other. Be back by seven o'clock."
Genka, Slava and Zina lined up their sections and marched them at the
double to the areas assigned to them.
Misha and Korovin went to the manor.
Only Kit stayed behind in camp. He was always ready to take somebody's
turn at kitchen duty. Licking his lips, he began to cook supper.
THE MANSION AND ITS INHABITANTS
To avoid meeting the "countess," Misha chose not the central walk but
took Korovin along one of the side avenues.
"First let's find out if she's in," he said.
"How will you know that?"
"You'll see," Misha replied mysteriously.
Reaching the central walk through the shrubbery, the boys stopped and
drew aside the branches of a tree.
The old house was directly in front of them. The plastering had peeled
off here and there, baring strips of splintered lath and pieces of tow. The
broken windows were carelessly boarded up with plywood cut with an ordinary
saw, which left the edges uneven. Some of the windows simply had planks of
various thickness and size nailed to them.
"She's at home," Misha whispered in a disappointed tone of voice.
In reply to Korovin's inquiring glance, he indicated the loft with his
In the recess was a big bronze bird with outspread wings, an
exceedingly long neck and a great hooked beak. With sharp claws it clung to
a thick bough. The huge, round eyes with long, almost human-like eyebrows,
gave the bird a strange, terrifying expression.
"Yes," Korovin whispered, overwhelmed by the sinister-looking bronze
"It's an eagle."
"I don't think so," Korovin shook his head doubtfully. "I've seen
eagles on the Volga."
"You get different kinds of eagles," Misha whispered. "On the Volga
they're one kind, here another. But that's not the point. Look closely. See
the shutters behind the bird? They're open, aren't they?"
"Well, whenever they're open, it means the countess is at home. She
closes them when she goes to town. Understand? Remember this is a secret
which I don't want anyone else to know."
"It's all the same to me," Korovin replied indifferently, "because
we're going to take that house over anyway. It's got room for at least two
hundred kids, while here she's occupying it all by herself. Is that just?"
"Of course, not," Misha agreed. "I hope you take the estate soon.
Here's what! Let's look for Igor and Seva in the sheds. They're probably
hiding there and laughing up their sleeves at us."
Keeping to the shrubbery, the boys skirted round the house, went up to
the back wall of the stables and clambered into them through a small broken
There was a musty smell of rotting logs and boards and old manure. The
partitions between the stalls had been taken down and there were holes in
the ground where the supporting beams lay. The boys drew back in fright as a
flock of sparrows rose suddenly and flew out of the stables on swishing
wings. Stepping carefully across the broken floor, Misha and Korovin made
their way through the stables to a shed.
It was darker there. There were no windows and although the gates had
been taken off their hinges they had been leaned snugly into the gate frame
without leaving any chink through which light could penetrate. It smelled of
mice, fusty hay and stale flour-dust.
Misha seized hold of a rafter, pulled himself up and climbed into the
hayloft. Then he helped his lumbering friend up. The decayed rafters bent
beneath their weight. There were bumble-bee nests all over the underside of
the roof. The blue sky could be seen through the slits.
The friends looked round the hayloft, then climbed into the next shed
through the dormer. But there was no trace of the fugitives. As a matter of
fact, only Misha was looking for them. Korovin was more concerned with the
strength of the beams. He was smacking his lips to show his disappointment
at finding everything so old and in disrepair. The boys returned by the same
route, intending to look into the machine-shed, where formerly agricultural
machines had been kept. It stood apart from the other sheds and to get to it
the boys had to run across a piece of ground in full view of the house.
Misha was about to slip out of the shed when suddenly he jumped back,
nearly knocking over Korovin, who was standing behind him. Korovin wanted to
see what had alarmed his friend, but Misha grabbed him by his arm and nodded
in the direction of the house.
A tall, thin old woman in a black dress and a black shawl was standing
at the top of the staircase. Her grey head was bowed, her face furrowed by
long wrinkles, her sharp hooked nose bent like the beak of a bird. In the
deathly stillness of the neglected estate there was something dismal and
weird about this black, motionless figure.
The boys stood as if rooted to the ground.
Finally, the old woman turned, took a few slow steps as though she
walked without bending her knees, and disappeared into the house.
"See that?" Misha whispered.
"I could almost feel my blood freezing," Korovin replied, breathing
WHAT IS TO BE DONE NOW?
The whole troop was assembled when Misha and Korovin got back to camp.
The search had been fruitless.
Disappointed, anxious about their lost comrades, tired and worn out,
they sat down to a cheerless supper. On top of everything, Kit announced
that their food supply was running out and that he doubted if there was
enough for the next day.
"Don't judge by your own appetite," Genka remarked. "You can check for
yourself," Kit said in a hurt tone of voice. "There's practically no butter
left. Nor biscuits. Cereals...."
"Don't worry," Misha said. "Genka and the Bleater will go to Moscow in
the morning and bring back supplies."
This time it was Genka who spoke in an injured tone: "Why should I do
all the donkey work? You think I like dragging a sackload of provisions in
this heat: Besides, the stuff's got to be begged from parents! Some mayn't
be at home, others mayn't have prepared anything."
"I'm sending you because you've got experience." "You can bet your
boots I have," Genka said with a self-contented grin, stuffing porridge into
his mouth. " 'Your Yura's putting on weight. He's got a wolf's appetite.
Yesterday he chewed the tail off the landlord's sheep!' That's the kind of
approach that makes them cough up. Oh, hell, if only we could have some rich
patron! Say a confectionery."
"I'd prefer a sausage factory," Kit sighed with visions of sausages
sizzling on a frying-pan. He even screwed up his eyes at the thought.
After supper everybody remained sitting round the fire. Those on
kitchen duty were washing the dishes. Moving his lips, Kit was counting the
packets of flour and slices of bread. There was a preoccupied look on his
face as was always the case when before him there were edibles he could see
and feel. Genka and the Bleater were getting the sacks ready for the
provisions. To be more exact, the Bleater was doing the work and Genka was
issuing instructions and at the same time examining his famous brief-case.
Although badly battered, it was real and made of leather with numerous
partitions and with shining, nickel-plated locks. Genka was very proud of
it. He always took it with him when he went to Moscow for supplies because
he thought it impressed the parents he went to see. To make that impression
stronger, he would put it on the table while he spoke and keep clicking the
locks with an important air.
"Works like magic," he said. "If it weren't for this brief-case, the
troop would have died of hunger long ago."
On these expeditions to Moscow, Genka confined himself to swinging his
brief-case, while his companion had to carry the sack.
"Look here, Genka," Misha said, "say nothing to Igor's and Seva's
parents, but try and find out diplomatically if they have been to Moscow."
"I'll find out, don't worry."
"Only be careful or you'll alarm the parents."
"I told you not to worry, didn't I? I'll ask incidentally like."
"How will you ask?"
"I shan't even do that, but sort of say: your Igor was planning to come
"To go to the baths."
"Who'll believe you?"
"You think so? Then I'll say he was planning to come to Moscow for
"What if he should be in Moscow," Genka continued, "and his mother says
that he's at home? I'll pretend I'm surprised and say that he must have got
there before me. If she tells me he's playing in the yard, I'll thank her,
of course, but I'll go out and give that Igor a punch he'll remember for a
"I wouldn't do that if I were you," Slava remarked.
"No, of course not," Misha agreed, "but they'll have to be taught a
lesson. I would have gone myself but," he gave Slava a withering look,
"there's nobody I can trust to remain in charge here. So let Genka and the
"I'll go," the Bleater suddenly declared, "but I'm warning you that if
Genka makes me carry the sack while he goes about waving his brief-case,
I'll chuck everything and come back. So there! I'm telling you straight."
"When have I ever made you carry anything without helping you?" Genka
"That's always your game!" shouted everyone who had ever gone to town
... ... ...
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