Sivut kuvina



IVAN KARASS, a private in the second squad of the first platoon, was, according to general opinion in his company, a queer man. But if any one of the soldiers were asked in what consisted Karass's peculiarities he would be at loss to state. And yet the company was right: Ivan Karass was queer.

For instance, he never talked, even when off duty. He always spent his free hours all by himself, either sitting paralyzed of all motion and vacant of all conscious life, or lying stretched on the ground and gazing for hours at the sky. What was going on in his mind no one knew, just as no one knew whether there was anything at all, and just as no one knew whether Karass was a thinker or merely a fool. From his behavior he might have been either, if only fools can have such sober, expressive faces, such clear, scrutinizing eyes, smiling now gently, now bitterly; now greeting you friendlily, now piercing you with a long, tormenting look.

Karass must have been forty. He was married and the father of half a dozen children, they said. From the first day of his life he had lived continually in a small village somewhere in the middle Ukrainian steppes; lived knowing nothing of the world, separated from it by great roadless spaces, by lack of common interests, by his own complete illiteracy, and by the illiteracy of his neighbors. From that drowsy and undisturbed existence, by the order of the invisible Tsar and his sinister


generals, he was taken away and transferred to perpetual crash and collision. However, Karass had quickly learned the soldier's duty and the ways of war. In fact, the ease with which he could grasp everything new and the quickness of his apprehension were matters of great astonishment to the rest of the men. The more so because of an extreme forgetfulness and a most amazing absent-mindedness which he displayed at times. During one of these spells, the soldiers knew without looking who was the man out of step, or who was the man whose head, appearing above the parapet, had attracted the enemy's fire. Too often it was Karass, and too often the poor devil was thrashed by sergeants, and even by commissioned officers sometimes. That punishment the soldiers watched in silence, tapping their foreheads significantly.

But at times their contempt for Ivan Karass would give place to a quite different feeling. This would happen when, coming out of his long silence, he would start to sing his songs.

He knew only three of them, three old melodious ballads. But each time he sang them with new variations in words, tune, and expression, as if they were songs entirely new. He sang sitting on the ground in his usual pose, his hands about his knees, his eyes closed, and swaying slightly to and fro. And all the men around him, forgetting his peculiarities, forgetting time and place, listened to Karass reverently.

Karass sang of their homes, of their villages surrounded by cherry orchards, of fields of swaying wheat, of clear streams flowing by, and of azure sky overhead. He sang of a hero-Cossack, of his exploits, of his black-eyed, white faced, tender-hearted girl, and of other girls, and of other Cossacks, and of Tatar unbelievers, their fierce enemy. He sang, and in many a soldier's eye large drops of tears would glitter. Even the sour top-sergeant, leaving his perpetual bookkeeping, would put his chin in the palms of his hands, would close his eyes, and, lost in reveries, would listen to Karass. And Karass would stop all of a sudden, just as suddenly as he had begun. But the silence which he had commanded would still continue a long time, and only gradually the soldiers would resume their interrupted occupations, whispering to each other: "There's a God's gift in that man.'

Thus, in a mixed atmosphere of admiration and contempt, lived Karass at the front for over a year, among thousands of men, yet all by himself. Then he found a friend.


It happened at daybreak late in the fall. That morning, as usual, a voluminous fusillade greeted the sun slowly mounting in the multicolored sky. A small rabbit, which somehow had found its way into No Man's Land, was racing back and forth, bewildered by the racket and spurred up by the sound of bullets whizzing about him. The soldiers from both sides, noticing the little fellow, were following it with the fire of their rifles. But luck was with the rabbit this time: it escaped what seemed an inevitable end by hurling itself into the flare of Karass's loophole at the very moment when Karass, who knew nothing about the

chase of the rabbit by the joined armies, was about to pull the trigger of his rifle. Instantly realizing, however, what had happened, Karass pushed his rifle aside, in no time enlarged the loophole by taking out one of the bags filled with earth, and took the shivering rabbit in his hands.

The fusillade continued. Karass gazed for a moment at the poor beast, then gently put it into the bosom of his shirt, repaired the loophole, and resumed firing. Meanwhile the rabbit, still trembling, had crawled around Karass and remained behind his back tightly pressing against him.

When the skirmish was over, Karass reached for the rabbit, pushed it through the loophole, and gave it a slight shove. The rabbit did not move. Karass gave it another shove, but with no more result. Not only did the rabbit show no intention of leaving the loophole, but it was stubbornly backing, trying to regain the trench. Karass watched it in silence. A shot banged somewhere close by. The rabbit doubled and darted through the hole into the trench. Karass again took the little fellow into his hands, lifted it to the level of his eyes, and smiled bitterly.

The rabbit was a beautiful little creature, barely a month old. Its gray, red-rimmed eyes were open wide; its nostrils and its graceful upper lip moved nervously, giving to the dainty muzzle an amusing expression. Karass put his hands up to his mouth and gently blew into the rabbit's face. The rabbit closed its eyes, threw back its ears, shook its head, and pressed closer into Karass's hands. Karass smiled again, but this time brightly and happily.

The sun was hanging already well above the forest-covered hills. The chill of the morning was changing into the exquisite warmth of an autumn day. A few pearly clouds were spread high in

the sky, making by contrast its blueness still more striking. Greener and greener became the forest beyond the enemy lines and bluer grew the peaks of the Carpathian Mountains still farther away in the west. A sparrow twittered, here a cricket chirruped, and there some insect buzzed. But the men made no sound. Weary, suspicious, irritated, they watched the enemy.

Karass kept the rabbit and tended it as only a very fond mother would look after her child. Was it a paternal feeling, or merely an inherited age-long habit of caring for animals, or else a need for friendship, which thus found an object? Who can tell? The rabbit, in turn, became closely attached to Karass. It followed its master like a pup around the trenches, its muzzle almost touching Karass's heels. They stood watch together, and together slept.

To keep a pet in the trenches is not an easy task. The men themselves had often but little to eat. And moreover the little they had was of no use to the rabbit, who cared not for cold soup, hard bread, and tea. Yet the very hardship through which Karass had to go to provide his nursling with food seemed to make the rabbit still dearer to him. Happily smiling, he watched his pet devour greedily the grass and foliage which, risking his life, he had plucked the preceding night. But vegetation was becoming scarcer and scarcer with the approach of the winter and Karass would have been in a quandary, were it not for the constant assistance of his company mates, who, returning from duty in the rear of the lines, would bring with them all they could find.

Even in the midst of most comfortable surroundings, it is hard at times to bear the last days of the fall, the gray sunless days, days of cold, of penetrating mist, of moaning and wailing winds.

No wonder that to the men in the trenches those days seemed despairing, torturing, insupportable. Not a flutter of life could be seen for miles around. All was either withered or buried alive in the maze of underground excavations. Only the first lines were guarded, and those by single soldiers placed widely apart. All other posts were abandoned and the men were ordered into dugouts. Here, in semiobscurity, some slept on a thin layer of straw covering the cold and wet ground; others sat for hours around the smoky fires, hungry, tired, miserable. Only on Karass the general gloom seemed to have no effect. As usual, he showed no interest in what was going on around him, his attention being absorbed by the crackling fire, by the fantastic rivulets of smoke slowly rising in the air, and by the rabbit in his hands.

One day, late in the afternoon, a story spread from one dugout to another that Emelian, the captain's orderly, ceding to long-assailing temptation, had stolen a bottle of his master's cognac, had drunk it all by himself, and had made an attempt to kiss the sergeant major. There were many details to that story, both amusing and sad. Sad, when they concerned the manner in which the furious sergeant major had covered Emelian's face with black-and-blue patches. And while the soldiers were speculating on Emelian's future, and Emelian himself was sleeping at the bottom of the trench on the very spot where justice had found him, the captain and the sergeant major were conferring together. First they decided to put Emelian back in the ranks, and then, on the sergeant's suggestion, to give the job of captain's orderly to Ivan Karass.

Easy, compared with the life of other soldiers, is the life of a captain's orderly. His duties are simple, his leisure is large, his food good; during

the fight he can get into a safe place; he has but one master, and this master the captain himself! But what pleased Karass in his new situation was the fact that three times a day he had to go to the officers' mess, where he could get for his rabbit the green stuff he wanted.

Contrary to everyone's expectation, Karass made a fine orderly. He was conscientious and thoughtful, and he looked after his master as a nurse would after her charge. And, what was still more surprising, he somewhat changed. He no more kept apart so persistently; he began to show interest in what men talked around him, and at times he even ventured a word in the general conversation.


The first snow fell that year on the fifteenth of November. It started at midnight in tiny, widely separated flakes, but soon it became thicker, and in the morning, when the men emerged from the dugouts, they could see nothing but a white, dancing screen. They found the trenches half filled with snow and immediately set to work. By noon the trenches were clear, but by evening they were filled again. Thus it went on for three days.

On the morning of the fourth day, the news spread about that the regiment was to be relieved that night and was to proceed to some distant place. And indeed that night the regiment was relieved, and when the day broke it was marching miles away toward Rumania.

Partly by train, partly by foot in deep snow, the journey was made in thirty days, and in the middle of December the regiment had arrived at the assigned positions and had relieved a Rumanian unit. Gradually the soldiers changed the Rumanian dugouts to suit their taste, and resumed their

usual life. No, not exactly the usual; for wine in Rumania was more than abundant, the men had found thousands of ways to smuggle it into the trenches, and there was no more gloom, no more unhappiness, although there remained still plenty of causes for both. The officers tried to stop the drinking, but their efforts were not successful; they too were busy with wine. Karass, with his rabbit, had made the march with the light-baggage train which immediately followed the regiment. Arriving at the new positions, he arranged with much care a dugout for his master and a hole for himself and his pet.

The change which had started in Karass while he was still in Galicia kept on developing here. He became sociable, if one can be called 'sociable' who in company scarcely says a word. However, Karass's silence was not uncomfortable now. It seemed as if he wanted to say something and yet could find no words. 'Just like a horse or a dog,' commented the soldiers in his absence, but tapped their foreheads no longer. They began to like Karass. But again, if someone had asked them what made them change their opinion, they would not have been able to tell. Often they treated him to a cup of wine. Karass drank willingly, yet he never drank excessively, nor did he ever try to get wine for himself. Now and then, at the request of the soldiers, he sang, but somehow, in the cold and confinement of the dugout, he was not at his best.

The eve of Christmas came. All along the line the soldiers were getting ready to celebrate the holiday. They brought in much wine and were ransacking the country for food. The officers too had some plans regarding that evening. Soon after supper they began to assemble in small groups in the more spacious dugouts. The captain himself went to a 'party.' But before

he left he told Karass to take a note to an officer in the village close by, who next morning was leaving for Russia.

Karass put the sealed envelope under his hat, took the rabbit in his hands, walked out from the trenches, and took the road toward the village. The night was light, cold, and still. He easily found the officer, handed him the note, and started on his way back. But hardly had he passed half of the village when he met a small party of soldiers stealthily following the dark side of the street. Had not one of the soldiers, who recognized Karass, hailed him in a subdued voice, he would have passed the party without noticing it at all. But being hailed, he stopped, then hesitatingly approached the men. There were six of them, all of the liaison company-a company generally a company generally known to be made up of daring and unruly fellows. Karass knew no one of them; yet, having heard him sing many a time, they all knew him.

'Where are you going, Karass?' asked the man who hailed him.

"To the trenches.'

'You have been there long enough already, and you are going to be there the rest of your life, so what is the use of hurrying? Come with us; we'll give you a drink of wine that would make the Rumanian king himself kick up his heels.'

Karass hesitated. He was shy of new company and yet he wished to go.

'Well, are you coming?' asked another man impatiently.

Karass looked at him and noticed two pailfuls of wine crusted over with ice, which the soldier was carrying. He turned his eyes to the other men and saw that each of them carried a pail, or a kettle, or both.

'Well, yes, I'll go,' Karass answered in a voice which betrayed indecision. He was not sure that it would be the right thing to do.

The house used by the off-duty liaison men stood by itself a mile behind the village. It must have been an uninviting place even when its proprietors lived in it, but now, when they had left it, fleeing the daily cannonade, and when first the Rumanian and then our soldiers had ravaged it, the place looked appalling. The scanty furniture had been used as fuel. The fence, the benches, the inside doors, and the greater part of the partitions—all were having the same fate. Only the smoke-covered dirty walls and still dirtier floor remained intact.

When Karass, following the soldiers, entered the house, he found there half a score of other men, sprawling on muddy straw in front of an open fire. The dim, reddish flame, the only light in the room, playing on the faces and figures of the soldiers, created a bizarre yet exquisite picture. The arrival of the newcomers made the men jump to their feet and stirred up a noisy movement. Order was soon established, however. The wine was placed in the middle of the room, and all the men sat down in a tight circle around it. They talked, laughed, joked, but touched not the wine, waiting for something else. Karass too, after placing his rabbit and his overcoat in one of the dark corners, took a seat in the circle and with marked self-consciousness and awkwardness observed his new companions.

A few minutes later four more men entered the house. These brought a beheaded cock and a small trench bag of potatoes. There was another commotion among the seated soldiers. But this time the joy did not last. It became at once evident to all that the party's search for food had not been successful. Is there any hungry man whose heart would not fall at the sight of one meagre cock and five

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