"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.