The Way of the Cross (Doroshevich)/IX

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WHEN on the homeward road from Bobruisk I turned to the right at Dovsk by the refugees' cemetery and came on the Kief highway I broke away from the grey confused river, and it was as if I had wakened after a nightmare.

A clean, free road lay ahead.

I was going round the fugitives.

The whole of Lublin and Lomzha provinces going south.

Formerly I should have said that there were many.

Now, after what I have seen below

Bobruisk it seems as if:

—There were none at all. In the province of Mogilef, the potato country, as the farmers call it, hundreds of women are working in long rows hurriedly digging up potatoes.

—How the price for women's labour has gone up—says a peasant in one of the villages. They're wanted on the big farms. The potatoes must be dug, quickly, hurriedly, before the refugees flood over the ground.

In the Province of Cherneegof it is warm.

In the shade there is a little ice on the pools.

But it even bakes a little in the sun.

The poplar trees are still beautiful pyramids of green.

—The cypresses of Little Russia.

Doves in hundreds circle over the fields and bathe in the transparent atmosphere, in the blue of the brilliant cloudless sky.

They turn, and the whole flock of birds glimmers and trembles white in the sunlight.

As if someone had scattered down a bundle of slips of paper.

And they turn and circle and dance, some going from side to side, others remaining at one point and hovering on their grey wings.

It is quieter than ever in the village.

It is interesting to speak with the village lads.

Boys of twelve or thirteen hold themselves seriously and solidly and importantly.

They look like muzhiks.

They say:

—We've got into a good position.

They grieve for the high prices which have to be paid for labour, for women's labour.

—And you've worked much yourselves?

—Have we not?

—A boy has taken the place of a man.

The village has silently, silently, accomplished a great work—it has provided the army and us with bread.

At Cherneegof, when I went out for an evening walk along the boulevard adorned with antique cannon, I saw far away below the town the campfires on the meadows, on the banks of the Desna.

And continuously, all the way to Kief, stretches the provinces of Lomzha and Lublin on the road.

And to meet them come forward other fugitives.

The same grey figures in the same grey carts.

As if a uniform had been found for the fugitive.

—Where are you from?

—From the province of Volhynia.

Northern provinces tend southward, the southern, for some reason, northward.

Oh that Russian lack of system!

In Kief I was held three days.

And I thought:

—I will rest my eyes till Dovsk. And then once more the grey river, the nightmare.

But that was not my lot.

At Brovari, Kozelets,—three versts along the high-road, stand mounted sentries.

That gives to the entry to the town an uncommonly important aspect.

—What's the matter? Are they expecting the approach of the Governor?

—Not at all. The fugitives.

And ahead, at all the little towns and villages, we came on the sentries standing outside.

—In order that the fugitives might not be delayed in the towns and villages, but pass on.

As the corpse of a drowned man floats downstream.

And on the shore stand peasants who push off the corpse from the land, make gestures, and cry out:

—Not for us. Float farther.

From Dovsk the main stream of the fugitives gushed forward, not towards Roslavl, but along the Kief highway.

And at the same moment, beyond Gomel, there moves forward to meet them just such a cloud of homeless ones as moved over the forests of Mogilef.

Roslavl has choked.

They have determined to send no more there.

The river has been turned southward at Dovsk.

And on that road nothing has been prepared.

Neither relief points where food is given out, nor medical help for the failing.