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The joyful brotherhood

In eastern Russia are nights when the full moon distils strange perfume from the rank grasses; when the — God knows what — toads and perhaps night birds cry in weird, wailing tones; when the shadows of the trees stir like dying giants. If at the same time a millstream rumbles noisily past and lovers whisper beneath your window, is not sleep impossible?

Mesentzeff found it so.

Ostensibly he had come to this far off village to collect peasant lores and songs; but in reality drawn by that desire to wander common to all town bred Russians. He had been awakened by a cockroach rustling horribly across his face and could not get to sleep again: so lay, held in the grasp of the unquiet night.

In the window whisperings he recognized the voices of Masha, his landlord’s daughter and of Vania, her betrothed, who worked at the mill as the miller’s adopted son. Mesentzeff had been encouraging the young couple’s courtship. He had given bright coloured ribbons to the girl and books to her lover. Accordingly he considered himself entitled to while away a few moments of sleeplessness by listening to their talk. Besides, what secrets could these children have?... Vania the composer of hymns and sacred songs, curly and rosy cheeked as a Venezianovsky painting; and Masha, the gentle and obedient, with bright eyes and dark skin revealing her Tartar or Indian blood.

One shadow there was on their romance; a shadow thrown by the presence of another lad. Mitia was smart looking, sharp red-lipped and black haired like a Greek or gipsy. No one knew where he came from when, on his first appearance he had asked to be allowed to pass the night at the mill. All the evening he and Vania had whispered together in a corner. Eventually he stayed.

From that hour Vania became a different person. His cheek grew redder. His eyes shone more brilliantly. But he no longe worked so well. He became lazy and heedless and almost ceased making love to Masha.

When the newcomer was asked what province he came from and whether he had passports, he replied that he was a traveller and that for passport he carried a sharp blade in his hip pocket.

The police came to see him, but he made the m drunk and sent them away unanswered.

«He’s not a man. He’s a disaster» said the old miller and Mesentzeff agreed. Mitia ignored the townsman quite openly, parrying his questions with jokes which were sometimes offensive, but always witty. Mesentzeff knew too little of rural Russia as yet to be afraid of him; but the first words he caught from the window awoke his suspicions and made him listen more attentively.

«You are going away, won’t» sighed Masha. «You are going away and you won’t say where?»

«You’re a funny lass. How can 1 tell you if it is a secret?».

«I know. I know. Mitia has led you astray»

«Mitia is no worse than other people.»

«He is a vagabond, a highway robber.»

«If everyone was a highway robber like him, the devil wouldn’t dare go about the roads so freely as he does now»

«So he fights the devil?»

«Now look ye, lass, you mustn’t cross examine me. All that I may, I’ll tell you of my own accord. The real fight has begun. God has been forgotten in the villages and in the towns are people who do not even believe in him. I know it is so; for 1 have read in their books that the world was not made in six days and that Adam and Eve never existed. Long ago when good men were more plentiful, folk who thought such things were burnt or put in prison. Only
nowadays you can’t reach them. They are too high up. They are leaders, teachers of science; great generals. The good men have to take other ways. They have determined to act cleverly so as to bring the wicked to confusion. After all Satan is only cunning. He is not really clever. He falls into any trap set for him; and when his followers are beaten, we shall be able to say, «Look at your great men. They know nothing. They are as ignorant as new born babes.» And the devil will be forever ashamed.»

«What are you going to do then?»

«I shall have my place. I write songs and Mitia told me songs might be useful to the Joyful Brotherhood. Besides I know the works of the Holy Fathers thoroughly, which is also very necessary.»

«This is not a good undertaking.»

«It is too late to discuss that now. I have made up my mind. If you like,I’ll read you the poem I wrote today.»

«Do Vania! But speak gently. The gentleman is asleep overhead.»

Masha had lowered her voice and Mesentieff felt rather ashamed of his eavesdropping. Vania began in a low, crooning voice:

«You are my angel» by the tone of her voice Masha was close to her beloved. «Go where you wish. Everything you do will be well done. I will wait for you like the princess in the fairy tale and you will surely come back. Such a love as mine must draw you home to me.»

«No, don’t wait for me, Masha. I will never come back to you» was the quiet answer.» «What is the use of my coming back? Mitia is your lover.»

«What did you say?»

«He told me so himself the day before yesterday. It was how he persuaded me to go with him.» «It isn’t true!» panted Masha. «I had a vision, but it’s not true. It’s not true.»

«Perhaps he lied.» Vania’s voice was hopefully doubtful. «In that case I can stay here.» «Listen and I will tell you the truth. I have not inned. He has been making love to me, flattering me; staring at me with his bright eyes. I used to hide from him and never thought of evil. The day before yesterday I was sewing by the window. The sun was already behind the forest. There was no one near. Suddenly I felt a strange faintness come over me and I saw a woman exactly like myself, another Masha, walking in the brushwood at the window and neither of us knew which was the real woman. At that moment Mitia appeared in the undergrowth and laughed. «Come here, my beauty» he said. «Don’t be frightened. The real Masha is up there in the room.» When I heard that I went to him. I felt no fear and no shame.

I knew I was alone with my work and could even see the needle moving, But I could hear sounds of kissing and the words spoken in the wood made me shy. I don’t know how long it lasted. I woke up when father came in and it was time to light the lamp.»

«How much sewing did you do?» asked Vania, but only the sound of sobbing answered him. «You see. You see. Mitia lied not to me but to you when he said your real self was in the room. Only your shadow was there. How can I come back to you?»

There was a long pause and then the voice of Masha saying hopelessly,

«No, you cannot come back. With such a shame I cannot live.»

«Yes, you will. If you hadn’t begun to cry, you might have done something desperate, but tears dissolve sorrow. Good bye! It is beginning to get light and Mitia is waiting for me. And don’t think I am angry, dear, because I am never that.»

Mesentzeff heard movements below the window and went to the back of his room. He was agitated and upset by what he had overheard. He felt he should do something to help the lovers. Was it possible that a cultivated man, a student of Psychoanalysis, a persistent reader of fiction, should be incapable of putting to rights this rustic tragedy? He laid down, following the Russian townsman’s habit of thinking better in that position.

Vania must be persuaded not to attach too much importance to the involuntary infidelity of his fiancee. Her soul was as pure as ever. Or Masha must be made to find in herself the strength to appear indifferent and by some woman’s wile bring her lover back to her. Or again Mitia must be stopped showing his white teeth like a bulldog in an old engraving; and forced to hide the three foot knife that stuck out from his pocket like the fantastic branch of a tree...

When Mesentzeff awoke, it was day. Someone knocked at the door. «Get up, Sir,» said the voice of his landlord.

«Masha has just been taken out of the water. She is all cold. Perhaps you can help us.»

Mesentzeff struggled hastily into his clothes and came out. On the turf near the house, surrounded by a group of compassionate peasants, Masha lay stretched. Her wet dress clung closely to her body. Her head lay upon her clasped hands and she looked more like a sleeping boy than a woman. Mesentzeff bent over her, meaning to apply the various means he had vaguely heard of for restoring the drowned to life. But he sprung back shocked. On one of Masha’s half-opened eyes, a lady bird was walking. It crawled very slowly, slipping like a tear of blood.

The tiny detail sheowed Mesentzeff there was nothing more to do. He unconsciously made the sing of the cross and as though waiting for the signal, the women began to weep.

«Does Vania know of this?» asked Mesentzeff of the stunned and horrified miller.

«No. We can’t find him anywhere.»

«And Mitia?»

«Who? What? Oh! Mitia — he has gone off too.»

Mesentzeff gave a half groan. He realized that all this had happened because of his sleeping so shamefully; because he had let the lads leave and neglected the girl in the hour of her mortal distress. With the usual weakness of man, always seeking to justify himself by accusing others, he felt a sudden hatred for Mitia. It was Mitia who had seduced Masha, had dragged Vania away on a more than doubtful path; and was even now dancing through the green pastures seeking further crimes to commit.

Mesentzeff was inspired with a strange desire for action. At least the red-lipped brigand could be overtaken and convicted of Masha’s death; convicted too in the presence of Vania who apparently was a friend of his. Only in this way Mesentzeff thought he could free himself from the stain of circumstantial if unintentional complicity.

Two roads led out of the village: one went to the far off town where Mitia had come from and the other to the immense wilderness of prairie and forest beyond which on clear days floated the blue summits of Ural, like pale clouds on the horizon. The latter was of course the way to go, Mitia being unlikely to return so soon to a place he had once left. He certainly did not give that impression.

Half an hour later with a small bundle under his arm containing a toothbrush, a hundred cigarettes and a volume of Nietzsche, Mesentzeff set off at the double quick pace which according to the drill-book is not tiring. However, after threehours of this he stopped and hailing a passing cart begged the driver to take him up. Three hours later he was set down at a crossroads and continued his journey on foot, inquiring of every rare passer-by whether he had not seen two young men, the first pink and charming looking, the other sunburnt and evil faced?

It was already dark and Mesentzeff thinking of finding a village to rest in, when in answer to his stereotyped inquiry, a man sitting on the side of the road exclaimed familiarly, «An evil faced man? Perhaps you mean me?» It was Mitia.

«Where is Vania?» asked Mesentzeff curtly, not deigning to greet his enemy.

«That’s no affair of yours,» sneered the other. «What do you want with him?»

«I am going to tell him that Masha is dead and that you are her murderer.» Mesentzeff’s voice was menacing and had its effect.

«Hush! Hush!» whispered Mitia rising hastily to his feet and approaching Mesentzeff. «Don’t shout so loud! So she committed suicide? Did she hang herself?»

«She threw herself in the river.»

«It’s the same thing. You mustn’t tell Vania on any account. I know him. He’ll go off to the monks. And stay there all his life, the conscientious donkey!»

«He would be perfectly right» said Mesentzeff. «It is his fault almost as much as yours, if the poor girl is dead.»

«I’ll take his share of the sin. I’m not afraid of Hell!»

«But Vania must know about it» insisted Mesentzeff angrily, «if only that he may tell you what he thinks of you.»

«None of that» cried Mitia and a knife gleamed in his hand. «You will go back where you came from, now, immediately, or...»

«What, you here my good Sir?» interrupted Vania’s gentle tones. «It is pleasant travelling, isn’t it? The weather is so beautiful. Mitia had sat down to smoke a cigarette and I was hunting for wild strawberries. Look how big and sweet they are. Will you taste one?»

«Listen, Vania —» began Mesentzeff, «I have something very serious to tell you...»

«I say Vania,» interrupted Mitia in his turn,» do you know that this gentleman has decided to come along with us and see all the interesting things; visit to make the acquaintance of our brotherhood and visit our wonderful city in the mountains? But to allow it, we must impose a few conditions. Leave us a moment. You are in the way. Trot off for another little walk...»

«All right» answered the unsuspecting Vania, «but hurry up, for it’s time for supper.»

And he strolled away eating his strawberries. «Look here, Sir,» began Mitia in persuasive accents, «I won’t touch you. I’m not as bad as you think. But don’t tell Vania yet about Masha. You may tell him tomorrow ...later... meanwhile I promise to show you in return things that you dwellers in towns don’t even suspect the existence of. The peasants have the appearance only of being simple. Once try and see them as they really are; and all your life long you’ll not forget the experience. You will see a town too that is on no map and which is of more importance to the world than Moscow. And though you don’t like me, I will be a good friend to you.»

Mesentzeff was too mentally tired to pursue the drama...besides at the back of his mind was the recollection of Mitia’s knife, which he had no wish to see again. His ethnographical curiosity was aroused, moreover, and he could not let slip the opportunity of a unique adventure that might establish his fame for ever in the 4th department of the Academy of Science at Petrograd.

«Very good» he answered sharply. «I will not speak tonight: only don’t forget, Mitia...» he stopped, not knowing how to frame his threat and Mitia seemed satisfied...

«Then let’s have supper,» he cried. «There is bread and onions. What more can a man want?».


By following the high road, Mesentzeff, Mitia and Vania came in sight of the village of O... In the course of the last few days, Mitia had become wonderfully sweet in his manner to Mesentzeff, much to the latter’s surprise. He smoked Mesentzeff’s cigarettes, showed him how to keep warm when they slept at night in the open fields and once a in sudden burst of confidence, after first begging permission with an appealing glance, rested his head on the other’s knee. Mesentzeff felt flattered, though ashamed to admit it even to himself.

The red twilight was too red, the heat overpowering. A fetid wind covered the road with little columns of dust, spinning slowly. The peasants say that if these columns are cut with a sickle or scythe, a drop of blood remains upon the steel.

Vania picked blades of grass and chewed the m, murmuring, «My soul glorifies the Lord» while Mitia scanned the horizon, his hand raised to protect his eyes, for the sun was quite low.

«What a sky! what a sky!» he exclaimed at last, rubbing his palms together in glee.

«Why, what a sky?» asked Mesentzeff who was getting tired.

«Arrayed by prayer, burnt by fire, and scarred by the flight of dragons! In the olden times the dragons flew freely about Russia, trying to catch the Russian maids. The men were not worth much. It’s only the legends that make them out to be heroes; but the girls!... Nowadays there are none like them. The dragons were eagles; red,red eagles, flecked with blue... They had tails like horses and beaks like martins and this was their fate. When a dragon carried away a maid beyond the Caspian and fed on the sweet- tasting crab-apples of her breasts, the girl died. And when the girl died, the dragon died also. That is why the race has disappeared. Maids are common, but dragons are rare.»

«That’s all nonsense» said Vania.

«It may be nonsense; but old people will tell you so; and Vania is not a universal genius or an Aristotle!» replied Mitia sharply and almost immediately burst out again in a jo oyful tone: «There’s Misha. The dove is out of his cote! He must have discovered something.»

On the outskirts of the village a figure rather resembling a bear was limping at a slow pace towards the travellers.

«А cripple!» thought Mesentzeff surprised; though when the figure came nearer he saw it had no infirmity whatsoever. Sometimes Misha walked dragging his feet one after the other behind him, sometimes quite normally. At one moment his arms would hang forward limply and at another be hunched up, his shoulders touching his ears. His swollen eyelids seemed to conceal a fell disease. It was almost alarming when he opened them and disclosed a pair of clear, grey eyes. He was advancing now in strange fashion, sideways, like a crab. Having reached the travellers, he hesitated and stopped shyly.

«Good day, my beauty,» said Mitia, embracing him. «How’s the work getting on?»

«The work is all right. There is nothing the matter with the work» said Misha, rubbing his cheek where Mitia’s lips had touched it. Presently, seeming to gain courage, he bowed low before Mesentzeff and Vania.

«Forgive me» he murmured.

«What’s the matter with you?» cried Mitia. «These are friends» and turning to his companions, he went on: «He’s afraid lest you should think ill of him because of his feet and arms. But why should you? What’s the use? Who knows if we are better than he? Well, my pigeon, take us home!» And he put his arm round Misha’s neck in his most caressing manner.

The hut they were taken to was large and well lit.

The window curtains were of cheap stuff but of pleasant colour and gracefully complicated design. On the walls were rough, highly tinted reproductions of the Battle of Plevna, the last Judgment and the Princes of Bova. All was neat and simple until a visitor came in sight of en object as out of place and unexpected in such surroundings as a peacock's tail on an ox, or a dog sitting on a. tree top. On a large table in a comer stood a complete chemical laboratory!...

On the table was also a spirit lamp such as is used to heat coffee and over it a number of tiny phials in which an evil looking mixture was being concocted. Among a number of crystals, lay aimlessly, half a herring.

«This must be the last survivor of the Ancient Order of Alchemists,» thought Mesentzeff, «searching I presume for the philosopher’s stone.»

Very respectfully, Mitia went to the table.

«Is it boiling?» he inquired, touching a crucible. «Doesn’t it burst sometimes?»

«Why should it burst?» growled Misha.

«When will it be finished?»

«In another two years perhaps.»

«But you tried before? How often does this make?»

«The third time.»

«So it will have taken, six years altogether.»

«Why only six? Why not sixteen? The task is very difficult.» «Well, well no doubt it’ll succeed some day and then the whole machine begins working. Go onl We won’t stop you. We’re only staying the night and tomorrow morning will bid you ‘good bye!’ Where do the girls meet hereabouts at night?» he concluded unexpectedly.

«What girls? Why should they meet? They must work and sleep: that’s all... But they meet on the bridge, suppose: where else?»

«And which way is the bridge?»

«To the left.»

«Well, let’s be off, children, or we shall be interfering with our brother here. We’ve walked all day and 1 must dance.»
Mesentzeff would have liked to remain and talk quietly to the alchemist. But realizing that Mitia would never allow it, he followed the others, determined to escape later unnoticed.

«Forgive me!...»

The words came in low tones and Mesentzeff turned to find Misha close behind him. The peasant looked like a wild beast that had been only recently trapped; awkward, half-cowering and hunch backed, with tufts of rough hair on a still youthful face. Mesentzeff thought of the laboratory and of his own strong desire to fathom the mystery. He glanced about him.

Mitia was dancing ecstatically, his eyes closed like those of a nightingale entranced by its own song. From him there was nothing to fear at present. As to Vania, he was watching the dancer, on his face a smile of perfect beatitude.

Mesentzeff and Misha slipped away. Through back gardens where nettles stung them and their feet splashed in filth, they reached Misha’s hut. Inside, Misha, having barred the door, stood humbly beside his guest, awaiting his pleasure.

From the peasant’s manner, Mesentzeff judged him to be by no means whole hearted in the cause (whatever it was); and that if not a traitor to the brotherhood, was at least an uncertain member of it. He determined to carry the situation by assault.

«What are you concocting over there?» he asked, pointing to the laboratory.

Misha did not reply.

«The philosopher’s stone?»


«The philosopher’s stone that turns iron to gold.»

Misha shuddered. «Heaven help me! How could I? If I tried a thing like that, I should be rotting in Siberia ... Are such things possible?» He stopped indignantly and Mesentzeff realized his mistake.

«Listen, Misha», he said more gently. «I am not an enemy. Be frank with me. I hardly know Mitia. His affairs are no business of mine and to tell you the truth they don’t please me.»

«They please only the devil,» wailed Misha

«I know some work, some task has been set you, but I don’t know what it is. Tell me. I might be of use to you.»

Misha looked pained and embarrassed. He was trembling all over.

His lips and eyebrows, even his ears twitched; or so it appeared to Mesentzeff... «Be kind to me!» he implored in an almost feminine tone of appeal. «I see you are a gentleman, neither a peasant nor a Christian. If I had been only educated at the elementary school or university,I should be someone. Ever since I was a child, I have known how to count. Before I could walk, I could do figures. We had seventy-three men in our village and I wanted to know how many there would be in seventy-three villages. God is witness that I succeeded in finding out! My mother beat me, but never cured me of the habit. When I learned to read, it got worse. I used to calculate the number of people now on the earth and the number there were in the time of Jesus Christ. I began the elementary school, but never finished it. I wasn’t able to do other work, and my mother needed me at home. She was just getting me a wife when the terrible thing happened. A man game to our house to spend the night. He looked like a pilgrim, but he was not a pilgrim. He was a scoundrel! He admired my gift for figures and one morning persuaded me to go away with him, God knows where. He had lots of money! We went in a two horse carnage ... I have never travelled that way before or since. We took trains and boats and саше at last to a village in the mountains, a very rich village, full of new houses and big pink faced women. I was taken to the chief, a little white old man. I nearly fainted with fear when I saw him. Every man is sometimes sad and every man is sometimes angry, but one could see that this man was never angry, never sad. Looking at his joyful, quiet face gave me the shivers down my back and yet I don’t know why I was frightened. He heard me make some calculations and nodded his head to show he was satisfied. «You will be the greatest of us all», he said, «when you have accomplished the task.You will live in the richest house and have a wife of your own choice. Then you will rest till the time comes for the second task and after that live happily amongst us for ever.» But he was wrong. I could never live with him, I am a serious minded man and during all the three weeks I was in that place, the people danced and sang as if it were the devil’s masquerade! It was there I first met Mitia. He isn’t clever enough to be given a special task, but he goes from place to place through Mother Russia watching the workers and engaging new ones. Be careful of him my good Sir! He is a dangerous man and his knife is sharp as a razor...»

«But what work did they give you?» asked Mesentzeff impatiently.

Misha was almost in tears. «They put me to chemistry. It requires a head for figures. Have you heard of a certain Lavoisier? He is a science man from France and has proved that nothing is lost in nature, not a single grain of dust. If you burn a match, it becomes ash and smoke, but if you collect the ash and smoke and know how to put them together again scientifically, you can remake the match all complete as it was before. That’s ingenious, isn’t it? I have tried the experiment here and it came out quite correct. «Well» they said, «you know the formula. You know how to remake the match. Prove it cannot be done. Disprove Lavoisier. He says nothing is lost. <i>Prove the opposite</i>. Because if matter can be done away with, matter does not truly exist, and that proves the existence of God». The damned devils! Can one prove the existence of God by chemistry? It is in the heart that one finds God. «You think that way» said they, «but some men think otherwise. We are working to prevent those men from forgetting God». How can one get on with such people?»

«What is the second task?» inquired Mesentzeff.

«It is still more complicated. The world spins round the sun,» they said. «You know how to prove it; so prove the contrary. Copernicus and Galileo are not authorities on the subject, for they did not believe in God.» Who am I, to contradict great men? Great lords and professors and government ministers have toiled to invent things, and I, an ignorant peasant, am to lay traps for them! If I were to succeed, how should I dare look in their honest, reproachful faces? I would die of shame if they said to me, «Thank you Misha, for the good turn you have done us.» But I must work or the Brotherhood will murder me. This is the sixth year I have been working.»

«Have you found a solution?»

Misha looked away for a moment in silence.

«Well not exactly» he said at last unwillingly. One can find out, but I don’t try very hard. When things begin to grow clear, I upset a glass or let the papers fall into the fire. It looks like an accident and meanwhile the work makes no progress. I’m not altogether without a conscience. I’ve one consolation. My enemies are in no hurry. «Work away, Misha,» they say, «ten years, thirty years, no matter so long as you succeed! And a gi psy told me I should die before my hair turned grey!»

There came a knock at the door. Misha grew shy again at the sound and timidly unbarred it. Vania appeared.

«That’s how it is, is it?» he exclaimed with a sudden assumption of superiority. «You’re together and Mitia told me not to let you talk to each other! However I’m not his spy. He can look after you himself if he wants to instead of playing about with the girls like a billy goat. All the same you had better come away, Nicolas Petrovitch, or he’ll suspect you and he can be very nasty.»

Mesentzeff realized the excellence of the advice and left the cabin. The flames of sunset were by now burnt out: only one red bar hanging smouldering over the blue sea of mist. Mesentzeff thought of Petrograd. An uncontrollable desire swept over him to be in the city, to jump into a taxi and give the comforting order «To the Hotel d’Europe». What more was he to wait for? What more surprising anyway than the peasant chemist extending mercy to Lavoisier and all science?

But just at that moment he heard Mitia’s voice; and his detestation of the man gave him courage and the determination to persevere in getting through the hornets’ nest, and to declare the death of Masha to the world. It would be interesting to see what the «white and joyful» old man thought of it!

Mitia was standing at the further corner of the house. He was not alone, for Mesentzeff heard the fresh voice of a girl raised in supplication.

«My diamond prince! Stay one day more! How can I live without you?»

«As you did before.»

«Then why did you dance with me like that? Why did you speak as you did?»«Dancing is good for the young ... and words... what are words? ... birds that fly away and are never seen again.»

«Listen, I have never loved before. Come with me. My mother does not expect me home.»

«No, no I don’t want you. 1 have a sweetheart already, a long way from here ... Several! I am a hawk and you are a crow. Find a mate of your own kind. Leave the hawk alone. Hullo! Tears? What’s that for? Aren’t there plenty of men in this world? Let me go. Here are my friends.»

Mesentzeff had coughed to attract attention and Mitia immediately appeared. His face was still bright with the pleasure of dancing and only his eyebrows showed him to be annoyed, a slight frown adding to his beauty. On catching sight of Mesentzeff he smiled. «Why aren’t you in there whispering with Misha, Nicolas Petrovitch?»

Mesentzeff did not reply. They went into the hut together and started making arrangements for the night. Covering the plank floor with rags and coats they rolled saddle cloths into pillows. Like all men of genius Misha was a poor host. His guests threw themselves on to their own improvised couches and the cabin was in silence. In one corner burned the tiny flame of the sacred icon, in another the laboratory lamp.

Vania was already asleep when Mitia raised himself on one elbow and whispered. « Misha, Misha, doesn’t the policeman worry you?»

«No!» came the gruff answer.

«How’s that?»«He’s a chemist himself.»

«The policeman?» «Yes, he puts mushrooms or willow leaves into spirits and calls it mushroom or willow wine. He thinks himself a great chemist and believes he is to get the Academy prize. He’s a very good fellow.»

«Well, well, sleep in peace.»

As the travellers prepared to start next morning, Misha came up to Mesentzeff and showed him an old book bound in shagreen. «They gave me that to learn chemistry from» he said shyly. «But there’s not much in it. 1 found out more for myself.»

Mesentzeff glanced at the headings. «Have you no others?» he asked, very much surprised.

«No, they promised me some, but so far haven’t sent them.»

«Come on, come on» shouted Mitia from without.

«It is an old book, but perhaps that is as well ...»

«Farewell, Misha, work hard!» came from outside.


Наличие автографа является не только текстологической, но и биографической проблемой гумилёвоведения. Г. П. Струве отмечает, что этот перевод — «неизвестно кем и когда сделанный, но, очевидно в Лондоне» (СС IV. С. 592). Такая справка почти начисто отметает соблазнительное предположение, что гумилёвским переводчиком был Б. В. Анреп: сложно представить, что передавая материалы «из рук в руки», тот не проинформировал Струве, своего «доброго знакомого и тогдашнего сослуживца (мы оба были русскими «слухачами» на радиостанции агенства Рейтер под Лондоном)» (см.: СС 111. С. 247), о таком важном обстоятельстве (хотя возможность случайной забывчивости, конечно, есть всегда).

Другим вероятным кандидатом на роль переводчика «Веселых братьев» является граф Карл Бечхофер Робертс, в будущем — автор многочисленных биографий, романов и путевых записок, а тогда — корреспондент «The New Age», знакомый с Гумилёвым еще по Петрограду 1915 года. В «лондонские месяцы» Гумилёва Бечхофер взял у него интервью, помещенное затем на страницах еженедельника. Можно предположить, что и фрагменты повести предназначались для публикации там же (по крайней мере, читая интервью, трудно отрешиться от мысли, что это не своеобразный «анонс» грядущей публикации, — настолько схожи некоторые идеи, высказанные поэтом, с мотивами «Веселых братьев» (см.: Русинко Э. Гумилёв в Лондоне: неизвестное интервью // Исследования и материалы. С. 299- 309)). Перевод мог сделать также и Дж. Курнос, — один из «лондонских» знакомых Гумилёва, профессиональный переводчик и сотрудник «The New Age». Он был русского происхождения, переводил Блока, Сологуба, Ремизова, и мог потому справиться с трудным (с точки зрения перевода) гумилёвским текстом.

Несомненно одно: Гумилёв попытался дебютировать с повестью на европейской «литературной арене». Однако, когда возвращение в Россию было решено, данный перевод остался невостребованным. В общем он довольно точно (если не считать типично переводческих нюансов, связанных с поиском английских аналогов русским идиомам) соответствует тексту первой и второй глав в варианте автографа 1 (Gleb Struve Papers, 1910-1985 (Hoover Institution Archives). Box 88 folders 12 and 13.), хотя имеются и несомненные расхождения, свидетельствующие, опять-таки, об очень высокой возможности другого источника перевода. Во первых это перестановка местами двух первых абзацев второй главы и исключение в ней же эпизода пляски Мити и его конфликта с деревенским парнем (стр. 87-112), и, во-вторых, исключение или добавление некоторых значимых деталей в повествовании: упразднение указания на Пермскую губернию в переводном эквиваленте стр. 1 первой главы, уточнение, что отец Маши был мельник в стр. 14 первой главы, пробел между стр. 68-69 (очевидно оставленный для перевода стихотворного текста песни Вани), упразднение названий методов первой помощи в стр. 130 первой главы, буква О. вместо названия села Огрызкова в стр. 5 второй главы, иная версия стр. 216-217 второй главы, а также замена «князей» на «профессоров» в стр. 194 второй главы.

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