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Day came fall of clouds that hung right over the tops of the trees, full of wind and cold, but dry--quite a genuine summer day.

Round the house from early morning soldiers were moving about, mitigating the weariness of the man on guard. Now one, now another wanted to see how the pillaged house looked. Quite simply they walked through the open door into the interior, finishing what remained of the unripe apples they had picked in the garden. One stood still on the threshold, put his hand to his cap, bowed, and duly asked, 'if the lady would allow?'

Then he entered, stooped, and picked up two books from the ground. 'May I be permitted to take the liberty of asking to whom these books belong? What is the reason for their exceedingly great number? Do they serve a special department of study?' He made his inquiries in such a stilted way that I was forced laboriously to keep my answers on the same level. He owned he would be happy if I would agree that he should help in the work, for he had not had a book in his hand for a year. He therefore stayed in the garret and with the anxiety of a genuine bibliomaniac collected volumes of similar size and shape, put together scattered maps and tied up bundles. Martin looked distrustfully at this assistant, and annoyance was depicted on the face of Martin's wife. In front of the house one of the soldiers had brought cigarettes to the man on guard. Another turned to him ironically: 'Well, under the circumstances I suppose you are going to light one?'

'You are not allowed to light a cigarette on guard?'

'It wouldn't be allowed; but perhaps, as there is no officer to see me....'

The speaker was a young, fair-haired, amiable boy, assistant to an engine driver in some small town in Siberia. He was quite ready to relate his history. He could not wonder sufficiently how it came to pass that he was still alive. He had run away from the trenches at S., certain that he would die if he were not taken prisoner. The fire of the enemy was concentrated on their entrenchment, so as to cut off all chance of escape. Every one round him fell, and he was constantly feeling himself to ascertain that he was not wounded. 'You see, lady, when they turn their whole fire on one spot, you must get away; it rains so thick that no one can stand it.'

'Well, and didn't you fire just as thick?'

He looked with amiable wonder. 'When we had nothing to fire?' he said good-humouredly.

Well, somehow it all ended happily. But, then, the others, his companions...ah, how dashing they had been, what fellows! An admirable, glorious army, the S. Regiment! Almost everyone was killed; it was sad to see them. Now they had to fill up the gaps with raw recruits; but it was no longer the old army; there will never be such fighting again.... It will be hard to discipline them. They had fought continuously for a year. A whole year in the war! They had been close to Drialdow, in Lwow, even close to Cracow itself. 'Do you know Cracow, lady?'

'I do.'

'Well, then, just there, just five miles from Cracow. The bitter cold of a windy day penetrated to our bones. To think that the town was only five miles off!'

I went away to return to the packing of my books. At the door I noticed a woman standing, a neighbour; she was frightened and timid.

'I suppose they have robbed you, lady?'

'They have.'

'And now they are at it in my place,' she said softly. 'Their cattle have eaten up my whole meadow, and they are tearing up everything in my kitchen-garden. I was looking this morning; not a cucumber left. To-morrow they will begin mowing the oats; the officer gave me an advance in money, and the rest he paid with note of hand. Is it true that they are going to burn everything?'

'I don't know.'

The new watchman came up, young, black-eyed, a gloomy Siberian villager. When he laughed, his teeth shone like claws.

'We have stolen nothing, but we are ordered to do penance,' he said defiantly to Martin. 'Very well, we'll do it. It was worse in the trenches--a great deal worse! Often we were so close to the enemy that we could see them perfectly. We used to take off our caps, raise them in the air; they fired. If they hit, then we waved a white handkerchief: that meant they had made a hit. Later on they would show their caps and we fired.'

'Are you from a distance?' Martin asked.

'From Siberia,' he answered, and turned his head. 'We were four brothers all serving in the army; two still write to me, the fourth is gone. Our father is an old man, and neither ploughs nor sows. He sold a beautiful colt for 150 roubles, for what is the use of a horse when there is no more farming? God! what a country this is,' he continued with pity. 'With us in Siberia a farmer with no more than ten cows is called poor. We are rich! We have land where wheat grows like anything. Manure we cart away and burn; we've no use for it. Ah! Siberia!'

The woman, my neighbour, sat in silence. It was strange to her to hear of this country as the Promised Land. When she had to go she said, thoughtfully and nervously: 'Of course if I hadn't sold him the oats they would have taken them. Even those two roubles on account were better than that.'

I went upstairs again, and by evening the work of packing the books and things was completed.

The soldier who loved books made elaborate remarks on them also to his simple comrades. He spoke about the psychical aspect of fighting, the physiology of heroic deeds, the resignation of those destined for death, etc. He was a thoughtful man and unquestionably sensitive; but all that he said had the stamp of oriental thought, systematically arranged in advance and quite perfectly expressed at the moment, free from the immediate naivete of elementary knowledge.

'Do you belong,' I said, 'to this detachment of machine gunners?'

'Unquestionably; I am, as you see, lady, a simple soldier.'

'I should like to see a machine gun at close quarters. Can I?' 

I immediately perceived that I had asked something out of order. He was confused and turned pale.

'I have never seen a machine gun,' I continued, 'up to now; but, of course, if there are any difficulties...'

'It is not that,' he answered, with hesitation. 'I must tell you honestly, lady, we haven't a single cartridge left.'

He checked himself and was silent; at that moment he did not show the repose of a psychologist.

'Do you understand, lady?'

'I do.'

'And also we have absolutely no officers. There is nothing but what you see there in the forest; the rest are pitiful remnants--some 200 soldiers left out of two regiments.'

Early next day Martin joyously informed me that in the night the soldiers had gone away. They had burnt nothing, but it was likely that another detachment would come in by the evening.

'And the soldier who helped you to pack was here very early. I told him the lady was asleep, so he only left this card.'

It was a visiting card with a bent edge; at the bottom was written, in pencil and in Roman characters,


'Yes, my friend,' I thought to myself, 'that is just the souvenir I should have expected you to leave me after plundering me right and left... a "P.P.C." card! And my deliverance from you means destruction to somebody else's woods, house, and garden.'

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