A Girl Seeks Her Father

“Девочка ищет отца”

Евгений Самойлович Рысс

 

 

“A Girl Seeks Her Father”

Eugene Samoylovich Ryss

 

 

 

Translated by: Yuliana Myshkovskiy

 

 

                                                                   DearReaders!

This story tells of a little daughter of one of the famous Soviet generals, who was left alone during the time of the Great World War that was occupied by the Nazis.

I know many stories of how the Nazis sought out wives, parents or children of the Soviet military.

I had to create the details of the adventures of Lena Rogacheva. I don’t know what her sworn brother’s name was or what the last name of the teacher was, who was hiding Lena, or the paramedic, who healed her of a severe disease. In the Soviet Army, during the time of war, there was not a general, but rather a Colonel, who went by the last name Rogachev.

Nevertheless, there is truth in the basis of this story. Risking their lives, Soviet soldiers and officers rescued wives, parents, and children while they fought with the Nazis.

Author

To my daughter, Natasha

 

Chapter One

                                    Ivan Iganetevich Solomin’s Family Increases by One

 

            In a small, Belorussian city of Zapolsk, lived an old teacher, Ivan Iganetevich Solomin, with his grandson, Nick.1 They lived completely alone in a small, wooden house. Nick’s parents had died when he was a young boy. Ivan Iganetevich had another daughter, Valya, who was Nick’s aunt. She lived in Moscow and could not visit her father for many years now.

            Ivan Iganetevich was sixty-three years old and Nick was nine. In the morning, they walked to school together: Ivan Iganetevich, a teacher, and Nick, a student. Upon returning home, they made lunch together. During lunch, they told each other news: Nick shared about his class, and Ivan Iganetevich talked of other classes. Then, Nick would do his homework, while Ivan Iganetevich looked over his students’ notebooks. Sometimes, in the evenings, Nick went out to the movies or to the skating rink. During this time, Ivan Iganetevich would read books or walk to Doctor Krechetov’s to play a game of chess. For dinner, they discussed everything; what happened during the day, and then went to bed: Nick went earlier, and Ivan Iganetevich went a little later.

            When a letter from Moscow arrived from Valya, Ivan Iganetevich solemnly read it to Nick.

            Every spring, Valya wrote:

            “…Certainly, I will try to come visit you in the summer with Lena. I will introduce your granddaughter to you and introduce her to her cousin, Nick.”

            A small house, which was left in the inheritance from Ivan Iganetevich’s father, stood in the deep forest, fifty kilometers from Zapolsk and ten kilometers from the nearest village. Ivan Iganetevich’s father was a woodsman and loved the forest more than anything else in his life. Since the time of death, the house stood locked and boarded up. Ivan Iganetevich and Nick prepared to go there every summer – they needed to get Ivan’s father’s things, which were stored with an old man, who they knew that lived in the village. They just wanted to rest in the forest during the summer. They always postponed their trip because they were always expecting that Valya and little Lena would come visit for sure this year.

            However, they waited in vain: every fall, Valya sent a letter and reported that this time she could not come, and that they were planning to come the next summer for sure.

            They finally stopped waiting.

            In 19412, when school was out, Nick went to a pioneer camp. Ivan Iganetevich was alone and became very lonely without his grandson.

            “Rent out your room for the summer,” Doctor Krechetov suggested. “At least you’ll be living among people.”

            “And make some money, and make a new fur coat for Nick,” added their neighbor, Avdotya Timofeevna3.

            Ivan Iganetevich thought about it and posted an announcement that there is a room for rent.

            He posted it in the morning, and that evening, a soldier and his wife came, and along with them was a little, curly, blonde girl.

            “Lena,” said the girl and gave out her hand.

            The soldier laughed.

            “Colonel Rogachev,” he said. “My section is not too far from the city, but my wife and daughter came from Moscow for the summer. They want to be closer to me.”

            On that same day, they brought their things. The next morning, the colonel left to his section, but his wife and daughter stayed behind to live with Solomin.

            Very quickly, the old man became attached to the girl. She was affectionate, cheerful, and Solomin thought they finally brought his granddaughter from Moscow, whom he had never seen before. His granddaughter’s name was also ‘Lena’, who was four years old as well, and judging by the letters, she was blonde, with the same small, stubby nose.

            Lena Rogacheva4 was fussing in the garden the entire time, but when it was dark, she sat on Solomin’s lap until she fell asleep. She called him grandfather. He told her interesting stories and promised her to take her to school with him as a student.

            One morning, Lena woke up with loud blows, which were heard somewhere close. Mama was not in her room. Lena called out to her – Mama didn’t respond. Then, Lena began to feel scared. She was ready to cry and already opened her mouth, when suddenly there was a loud boom and she completely forgot about her tears. The windows rattled, and from the ceiling, a piece of plaster fell. Above the roof, airplanes flew with a roar.

            Now, it sounded somewhere faraway. While running down the street, people were shouting and talking. Then it got quiet. Lena crawled out of bed and stood, wondering if she should cry or if it was better to open the door and just go look for Mama. At that time, the older man walked into the bedroom. Seeing him, Lena asked:

            “Where’s Mama?”

            “You need to get dressed, Lena,” said Ivan Iganetevich. “We need to go. Mama is waiting for us.”

            He got up, hurrying her to be dressed, looked for her stockings for a long time and, little did he know, he turned her dress inside out. Lena laughed and fixed the dress.

            The older man was in such a hurry that his hands were shaking. Finally, Lena was dressed, and they went outside.

            “Where’s Mama?” Lena asked again.

            “Let’s go, let’s go,” the older man repeated. “We need to hurry.”

            He couldn’t tell the girl that her mother was killed by one of the first fallen bombs.

            They ran the entire street. The forest started right after the last house.

            In the forest, there were many people. The older people were leaning on sticks. Families walked together. Small children held their parents’ hands or they were carried on their parents’ backs. Some were crying, others were quiet, yet others were talking. Some sat by the road and watched those passing by. An older man laid under the tree with his leg wrapped in rags. A girl, about twelve years old, sat next to him, sobbing and fisting her eyes.

            Lena repeatedly stopped the older man and asked him why there was a person lying and why the girl was crying, and finally, where her mama was. The older man didn’t respond, but hurried her and said that they needed to go quickly, because Mama was waiting for them to go to her.

            The camp where Nick went to was sixty kilometers away. They walked all day, spent the night in the forest together with strangers. Solomin’s legs were hurting, he had difficulty breathing, and his heart sank. Often, he had to take Lena on his shoulders.

            Another day went by, and then it was night again. Lena stopped wondering and decided that it was supposed to be this way: walk in the woods, sleep by the fire or under the tree, eat berries, and occasionally drink milk and the delicacy of sucking on the crust of bread.

            Only in three days, they arrived to the camp, but there weren’t any children there anymore. Along the beaten path, Hitler’s patrols walked and in bad Russian, they asked those passing by who they were, where they were going and why.

            Solomin explained that he is, well, an older man, a cripple, and that he came from the bombings into the forest, and now he is returning home. In addition, the girl is his granddaughter. It was not a dangerous thing to call the girl his granddaughter. They told him that the Nazis were especially cruel to the army families.

            “The poor thing doesn’t have a mother,” the old man thought. “It is unknown where her father is or if he is even alive. Let her be my granddaughter.”

            Solomin couldn’t find Nick right away. It turns out Nick was in the next village, where some kind people took him in.

            Nick cried and smiled when he saw his grandfather. The older man also sobbed from happiness. They kissed5, and then Ivan Iganetevich picked up Lena into his arms.

            “Here,” he said, “this is your new sister.”

            “Lena?” wondered Nick. “They came at last! But, where is your mother, Lena?”

            Solomin shot a warning look and Nick got quiet. Over the last three days, he understood how people died during times of war.

            Solomin called Lena as Nick’s sister, only hoping to say that now Nick and Lena will grow up together, like brother and sister. However, Nick understood his grandfather’s actual meaning. Nick decided that Lena was the daughter of Aunt Valya, the very one that promised to visit a long time ago. At first, this confused Solomin. He wanted to correct the child’s mistake, but then later thought that maybe it is better if Nick will consider the girl as his real sister.

            And, looking at Lena, the old man got quiet.

            At night, all three of them settled in the hayloft. Lena quickly fell asleep, but Ivan Iganetevich and Nick started to think what to do next.

            They didn’t want to think about the return to Zapolsk.

            For a long time, the old man and his grandson talked. It was quiet all around, except for the monotone chirping of the crickets, the noise of the dog’s chain, and sometimes, the cow stirred in the shed. If it weren’t for the distant glow of fires, one could think that there was no war.

            “You know, Nick,” the old man finally spoke, “Let’s go to our house in the forest! We can get up earlier tomorrow and go. It’s not far from here to get to the village by the evening. We will spend the night, and the following day, we can be at home. I think that not a lot can happen there. The place is quiet, empty, and the Nazis are unlikely to get there. We can live there until the Nazis are forced out, then we can return to the city.”

            Nick immediately agreed.

The house in the forest stood away from the roads. The path that led to it filled with grass a while ago. Even Solomin himself couldn’t find his way, so a newcomer definitely would never find their way.

            The first thing the new residents did was learn the area.

            The house was in great condition. No one had lived there since the death of Solomin’s father. Tables and benches, beds and stools demanded just a small repair.

            It turns out that there were four cups, two knives, and three spoons in the cabinet. In the Russian stove, there were three cast iron pots of different sizes. There were just enough dishes to go around. Even better, there were also quite a few tools. Solomin’s father was an economic person. Two plain saws, and one handsaw, two axes, three scythes, sharpening tools for the scythes, polishing tools for chainsaws, set tools for a carpenter, a generous stock of nails – all this was carefully placed and had very little damage. One of the two buckets rusted; the other one was galvanized and intact. In the cellar, there were three barrels. They were dried up, but considering the fact that they left them in the lake for several days, they swelled and stopped dripping water.6

            The next day, Solomin walked to the village so that he could take his father’s things that were stored at an acquainted older man’s house. There appeared to be many useful things: a holiday dress that was owned by Solomin’s mother, and old, but practical boots – it was obvious they had been worn only when there was a big holiday. There were linens, five Russian shirts, and two blankets, and a big stock of needles and thread. Nevertheless, the thing that Solomin got excited for the most was finding two large sheepskins and two pairs of wool boots. Ivan Iganetevich couldn’t bring all of it back right away, so he had to walk back several times. It took him a week to gather all of the things. When they untied the bundles, they put everything in place.

            While everyone was doing that, it got dark. They warmed up the water over the wooden splinters and drank the boiling water. They made a bed for Lena and she quickly fell asleep.

            Ivan Iganetevich and Nick went outside and sat on the porch. The trees stood without stirring. The lake below shone like silver. From the hill, where the house stood, one could see the never-ending forest for kilometers. There were no villages, no homes, and no smoke from fires. Just elms, birches, and the lake. The lack of people could either startle or calm you.

            “Well,” said Ivan Iganetevich, “we will live here, and then our people will return soon. It can’t be that they won’t return.”

 

Chapter Two

Life in the House of the Forest

 

            Still, at first, it was hard for them. They had fish for their meals, gathered mushrooms and berries. Truly, the fish nibbled as soon as the hook went under the water. The ground had a great number of raspberries and blackberries that even Lena had no trouble gathering a big basket. A bucket of mushrooms could be gathered right near the actual house, as well. However, without bread and salt, it was impossible to live. The stock Solomin had gathered and brought home from the nearest village was gone very quickly.

            In the beginning, Solomin had to walk to the village often. Lena missed him, the old man whom she had become attached to, but Nick was not only melancholy, but also fearful. During the night, when Lena slept, Nick often sat without sleep. The moon peeked into the window, the trees stirred in the wind, but who knew whether it was the trees or a stranger? Maybe there were wild beasts being found in the forest – wolves, bears? What if a large bear from the forest will raise a bloody muzzle to the moon and howl? How terrible! Mice rustled under the floor. The baseboard often creaked… Nick would fall asleep only at dawn.

            Ivan Iganetevich brought salt from the village, and flour, and even bought some rye for sowing. Life in the house of the forest slowly became established.

            One day, at sunset, Nick and the old man cut wood, and Nick forgot the saw on the clearing in front of the house. It dawned on him when it already got dark. During the night, the saw could get rusty from the dew. Nick really didn’t want to leave the house but he was ashamed to admit it to the old man and left anyway. The shadows of the trees were blurred, taking strange shapes that moved. The situation became worse when the saw disappeared somewhere. Even so, Nick found it and was already walking towards the house when suddenly he distinctly heard a heavy breath. He stopped and stood without making a move, breathless in complete fear. In addition, he heard steps just as distinctly. The grass and dry leaves rustled under someone else’s feet. Nick forced himself to turn back. In the light of the moon, a dim light, stood an animal on the clearing – either a huge wolf or something that was incredibly scary. Nick rushed to the house and could not say a word. He only breathed heavily and pointed at the door with his hand.

            Ivan Iganetevich grabbed an ax and popped out. Within a minute, he called out to Nick, laughing. At the porch stood a cow that was red with white spots and it was looking at Nick with silly, kind eyes.

            Obviously, the cow had come from somewhere far, from a village ruined by Nazis. Even if its master was still alive, finding him or her was still impossible, but without an owner, it would die. Solomin decided to leave it with them.

            Now they had more work to do. They had to hone the scythes, take it for mowing so that they could make and store hay for the winter. Learning how to milk was not that simple either. However, now, they always had milk and cottage cheese. In the fall, they cleared an area of land and sowed rye.

            In the winter, Solomin even went to the village several more times.

            Nick and Ivan Iganetevich were busy all day: cut and split wood, gave hay to the cow, cleared manure, and every other day, they went to the lake to catch fish. Nick learned to be a great carpenter, made good sleds, and did a lot of mending in the house without much help from the old man. There was one ripped sheepskin coat and from it, they made Lena an excellent fur coat. Lena was outside a lot: rode the sleds, molded snowmen and never got sick the entire winter.

            It got dark quickly in the winter. When the day’s work was finished, they sat down for lunch, with the windows already being blue. After lunch, they lighted a torch, making it warm inside the house, almost hot even. Lena, climbing on her bed, played quietly with her rag doll: putting her to sleep, preparing her lunch or telling her stories. Ivan Iganetevich and Nick mended around the house, fixed things, and did some sewing. Then they opened “evening school.”

            Ivan Iganetevich was the teacher, Nick was a student, and Lena was just the best listener. Ivan Iganetevich talked about the northern and southern countries, about the travels of Livingstone and Stanley, about the discovery of the north and south poles. Sometimes, they staged long travels that lasted three or four evenings. They sat on the large boat and sailed around the world. The warm winds blew across the ocean. Monkeys jumped on the branches of palm trees. At night, lions roared violently. Rocking smoothly on the camels, they traveled across the desert. However, here, there was a cold wind blowing in their faces. They came close to the north. Seals sported on the icebergs. The urging deer rushed the travelers across the smooth, icy fields. They are now approaching the pole. The wind lifts and twists the snow. The bad weather is not awful for the travelers. Through the blizzard and wind, they all march forward.

            Sometimes they traveled to the past. They saw how the troops of Ivan the Terrible stormed the city of Kazan, how the Russian carpenter, Peter, worked on the Dutch shipyard, celebrated when the Swedish army was crashed near the city of Poltava. With Surorov, they went through the Alps, and they had their heads spinning – the awful abyss opened under their feet…

            Until late at night, they continued their travels. The wind howled and whistled in the forest, making the trees bend and make noise. The snow reached to the top of the frozen, small windows.

            Having played enough, Lena would fall asleep. Burnt splinters fell into the tub of water. That’s how the day ended.

            Through the night, wolves came to the house. In the morning, their footprints were clearly visible. They eventually had to place a tight lock on the shed and tightly board up the little window.

            The first winter passed by. Before spring, Solomin went to the village and was selling two shirts, both of which were from an endless trunk. From that money, he also bought potatoes for planting. Once the snow melted, the fieldwork began.

            They worked from sunup to late in the evening, without letting up, until blisters covered their hands. They couldn’t fall asleep for a long time – that’s how bad their bodies hurt. Nevertheless, even so, they cleared up quite a large area of land and planted potatoes. In June, they made hay. Lena brought water to the tired workers and herded the cow by herself.

            Autumn came once again. There was a good harvest. They filled the cellar with potatoes. For a long time, they couldn’t figure out how to grind the rye. Eventually, they decided to beat it with a wooden mortar. That was difficult. They also decided to cook a whipped rye oatmeal and eat it instead of bread. They baked real bread only on festive days.

            Lena rarely remembered her previous life. Even her own last name she remembered poorly, and when they told the girl that her last name is Solomin, it was easy for her to believe it.

            A second winter passed much smoothly. There were plenty of potatoes. They saved many fish, and dried some mushrooms. Life became more established and more peaceful. Every day, they had “evening school.” Now, Lena is a student as well. That spring, she already learned to read, honestly, not very quickly, yet she also just managed to write with muddled, printed letters. Unfortunately, the house in the forest didn’t have any books, paper, or ink. Lena learned to read by reading the book titled, “Economy in the Forest,” that was tucked away in the closet. The only pencil she found was used almost to the end. There were stories of Ivan Iganetevich were interesting and educational, but they couldn’t replace textbooks. In the midst of all that, they had to keep on going. They discussed questions about it and, at last, a decision was made that as soon as it gets warmer, Ivan Iganetevich would go to the town of Zapolsk, to visit his old friend, Doctor Krechetov, and try to get textbooks, paper, ink, and pens from him.

 

Chapter Three

Doctor Krechetov Reports Marvelous Things

 

            Solomin didn’t manage to go to the city until autumn. Fieldwork started in the spring, then haymaking, the vegetable garden demanded care and it Nick wasn’t able to do it on his own. Only in September, when they gathered everything, put potatoes and vegetables into the cellar, threshed the rye, prepared the firewood for the winter, Solomin finally went on his way.

            He approached his hometown with excitement. He hadn’t been there for more than two years. What became of his friends during this time, with his neighbors, with his former students? Of them who were still there, who will he find not alive anymore? How will the remaining people greet him? Lastly, what will they tell him?

            For more than two years, he almost never heard of what was happening in the world. News traveled poorly to the village, and Solomin was afraid to question what happened. He didn’t want the attention to be on him. However, Solomin felt that he could no longer stay in the unknown. In fact, that was the main reason he forced himself to take a risky journey. With a short walk left to the city, he turned from the path and sat in the forest until dusk. When it started to get dark, he went into the city. The streets were empty and quiet; all the windows were tightly closed and curtained.

            He stopped in front of Doctor Krechetov’s house. The house seemed empty. For a long time, Solomin couldn’t decide if he should knock or not.

            Really, though, what did he know about Krechetov? Maybe he hasn’t been around anymore, maybe Hitler’s officers or other officials live here and Solomin could be looking for trouble! But, standing outside was also dangerous, because they could arrest him.

            Solomin came to a decision and knocked.

            The door didn’t open for a long time. Finally, a careful shuffling of feet was heard, and a woman’s voice asked:

            “Who’s there?”

            “I need to see Eugene Andreevich,” said Solomin quietly.

            There was whispering behind the door. Then a man’s voice asked:

            “Who wants to see me?”

            “Eugene Andreevich,” said Solomin, “it’s me, Ivan Iganetevich. Please open the door.”

            The bolt of the door thundered, and the door opened. Doctor Krechetov stood there looking thin and completely gray, peering into the darkness. Suddenly, he abruptly stepped forward, grabbed Solomin by the hand, pulled him in the inner porch and bolted the door after carefully closing it. Putting his hands on Solomin’s shoulders, he brashly hugged him and kissed him three times. Then, he looked at the door suspiciously and asked:

            “No one saw you? No? Well, good, good, let’s go.”

            Within five minutes, the elderly men sat in the soft chairs in Krechetov’s office, smiled, looked at each other and couldn’t get enough of the sight.

            “He’s alive!” Krechetov was still amazed. “Ach, Ivan, Ivan, well, we are still here, surviving old men!”

            They both were delighted that they met again and were so filled with happiness that their conversation just couldn’t start.

            Alexandra Andreevna, Krechetov’s sister, set up the table with linen napkins, put bread on the table, a plate of salted mushrooms, a can of soaked cranberries, and brought a samovar. Solomin used to dislike the little, malicious, old woman, an envious gossiper, but now he looked at her with gladness. Alexandra Andreevna poured the tea in two big cups, decorated with blue flowers, and left the room.

            A lamp hung above the table, and its light seemed incredibly bright to Solomin. The samovar made a quiet sound, the windows were closed with the shutters and the blinds were tightly curtained. For a second, Solomin thought that everything was a dream. Maybe there was nothing going on: no war, no occupancy, and no life in the wild forest. They simply met as old men to play a game of chess, drink tea, chat. Suddenly Krechetov was startled and began listening.

            “You don’t hear that?” he asked. “Patrol, seems like.”

            Truly, from the outside, the sound of walking could be heard. They walked near the house and it got quiet. Krechetov once again was amused, sipped his tea, and cheerfully looked at Solomin.

            “No,” thought Solomin, “all this was and is: war and occupancies. Hitler’s officers are in the city, and we, like animals, are hiding in holes.”

            “Well,” said Krechetov, “tell me.”

            Solomin shook his head.

            “I’ll tell you later,” he said, “all this time I’ve been living with loneliness, and now I don’t know anything. First, tell me what is going on in the world.”

            Krechetov looked out the window, then leaned across the table and whispered:

            “They defeated Moscow!”

            “Is that for sure?” Solomin asked, whispering.

            Krechetov nodded, laughed and rubbed his hands together. Then, he leaned towards Solomin again.

            “Near Stalingrad,” he whispered, “they surrounded Hitler’s army – and…” He made an eloquent gesture.

            “Destroyed?” asked Solomin.

            Krechetov nodded and laughed.

            “Then Northern Caucasus… then near Taganrog… in Donbas, in Ukraine…”

            His eyes twinkled with laughter as he triumphed.

            “So, what now?” asked Solomin.

            “They’re chasing!” whispered Krechetov.

            “Where?”

            “Backwards… to Germany.”

            The old men looked at each other, laughing.

            “Warriors!” said Solomin. “Masters of the world!”

            “Yeah…” Krechetov made a mysterious face. “Wait, I’ll show you.”

            He glanced out the window again and was listening whether the footsteps could be heard out on the streets or not. He got a small map of Europe out of the drawer, torn from a geography textbook. The old men leaned over it.

            “Just be careful,” said Krechetov, “don’t make any marks. There are searches that happen often, and they really look over the maps.”

            The old men sat with the map for a long time and were whispering in an excited tone. Looking at the meandering, long rivers and the small cities nearby, Solomin saw the path of a huge army, smoke and flames of great battles and the already near liberation.

            Then Krechetov hid the map.

            “Now it’s your turn to share,” he said.

            Sipping his tea, Solomin began to slowly talk of how fate granted him another’s girl, how he sought out Nick, how they settled in the house of the forest, how they gradually established their household, how all three live there, like Robinsons in the uninhabited island.

            Krechetov listened very carefully, was amazed, shook his head, was enthused, and jumped from his chair with excitement several times and began to pace the room.

            “I envy you,” he said, when Solomin finished sharing. “I would have lived like that with such happiness, like you, without having to hear these damned patrols who walk under the windows all the time!”

            He sat thinking, then sighed and placed the empty cup with an abrupt motion.

            “Okay,” he finished, “enough! The more you think about this, the more you get frustrated. What do you plan to do with Lena, anyway? After all, maybe her father is still alive.”

            “If he’s alive,” answered Solomin, “we will find him after the war. Right now, there is no hope in looking.”

            “Yeah, yeah,” Krechetov agreed, reflectively. “You say the Colonel and his section stayed here…? What is his last name? Maybe I’ve come across this name.”

            “Rogachev,” said Solomin.

            “Rogachev?” Krechetov asked again. “And what about his first name and patronymic name?”

            “Stephan Grigoriev.”

            “Stephan Grigoriev?” Krechetov leaned forward. “And you haven’t heard anything about him?”

            “No, nothing.”

            “Well then, in reality, I should say that you lived like bears in the den!”

            “Now what? What happened to him?”

            “Nothing happened; it’s just that Stephan Grigoriev Rogachev is now one of the famous generals of the Red Army.”

            There was a pause. The old men looked at each other in silence.

            “Listen,” said Solomin, “that’s really dangerous, if the Germans find out Rogachev’s daughter lives with me?”

            “Of course it’s dangerous,” Krechetov agreed. “It’s even rumored that Rogachev’s family was in Zapolsk. It’s good that no one knows what happened to you. They think that you got killed at the bombings.”

            “I wanted to see someone of my old acquaintances…” Solomin trailed off.

            “No, no,” Krechetov waved his hands, “absolutely not! You meant to say that they watch for everyone, listening to every word. I am asking you not to say anything, not even to my sister. Of course, she won’t say something on purpose, but you know the woman can accidently say something somewhere… By the way, we need to ask her to warm more water in the samovar.”

            He opened the door. There was a moan. Alexandra Andreevna stood in the doorway, putting her hand to her forehead.

            “How can it be?” she said unhappily. “You caused a bump on my head.”

            “Alex?”7 wondered Krechetov. “What were you doing here, behind the door?”

            “I wanted to warm up the samovar. It probably already cooled by now.”

            She grabbed the samovar and indignantly left the room.

            The old men talked until dawn. Krechetov shared everything he knew about Rogachev. Colonel Rogachev was glorified for the battles near Moscow. The general-major, Rogachev, inflicted one of the important hits near Stalingrad. Since then, the Rogachev name thundered on a lot of fronts and in many battles. He went by the city of Donbas like a whirlwind. The hero of USSR’s general-lieutenant, Rogachev, was greeted with great excitement after he freed a few regions of Ukraine.

            Quieting his voice, Krechetov sang a song about Rogachev. This song is sung when a region is freed, but it is well-known here too. They haven’t even liberated the city of Zapolsk. Krechetov sang completely quietly, almost whispering. He needed to be careful. Not long ago, fascists shot and killed a girl for talking about Rogachev.

            “He’s on our front,” said Krechetov. “His troops will take Zapolsk.”

            All of the next day, Solomin sat in the room. Krechetov even prohibited him to go to the window.

            At dusk, Solomin left the city. He carried a full set of textbooks, a stock of paper, pens, ink, and pencils. All this was under Krechetov’s persistent begging to his acquaintance. Solomin walked and it seemed to him that everyone he came across looked at him with suspicion. Before that turn into the forest, he looked around for a long time and turned right when he saw there was no one on the road.

            He didn’t share anything about Rogachev to the children.

            Life in the house of the forest went like normal. Winter has come, bringing snow almost to the roof of the house. Schoolwork took up a lot of time this year. Nick learned fractions, and studied with real history and geography textbooks. On Sundays, they had exams.

            The children had become completely accustomed to the forest life. Nick was now not afraid of the mysterious beasts of the forest. However, Ivan Iganetevich slept poorly. Rheumatism bothered him all winter long. His legs swelled, and he walked to the lake with difficulty. Tossing and turning in his bed without sleep, the old man thought, “If only I could survive until our people arrive! I’ll give Lena back to her father, Nick will go to school, and I’ll be able to rest.” With this thought, he fell asleep, but as soon as he did, he immediately woke up again. It seemed to him that the Nazis were approaching the house, that the house was already surrounded, and that they came for Lena. Often, during the day, he would suddenly start to scrutinize the forest closely. It seemed to him that something was flashing in between the trees. He squinted his near-sighted eyes, asked Nick if he saw something out there and mistrustfully shook his head when Nick said there was no one there, and once again peered narrowly until his eyes began to hurt.

            However, the winter went by safely, spring arrived, and then summer. It was the end of June 1944.