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Negoruj I.
Old mine

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    Translator: Olga Manaeva (gaswho@mail.ru)

  Old mine
  
  Why an old mine had worked they never knew. A reconnaissance unit was struggling through a marsh when at the side at a distance of two meters a bang sounded. A German springmine had found the capacity to make its last jump from somewhere from a fen, stood motionless in the air and with champing sank back into the marshy slush.
  - Ugh... - ten throats breathed out with relief and went forward again, one after another, pushing aside with their chest greenish-brown marshy slush. On a small island the people fell wearily to earth. An umpire-officer, who was escorting the group, came up immediately to Maksim and drew near his pale face which was sheeted with big drops of sweat:
  - Sergeant, I"m not going to count a hitting for the group. The mine is a contingency!
  - Thank you, lieutenant, - Maksim looked at the soldiers and shifted his gaze to his wrist-watch, - Let"s go! Jump, limp asses!
  The group rose and began to jump lubberly in wet, chocked up with the marshy slush, camouflage cloaks.
  - Come on! Advance, lazy bones! You would like just to guzzle your dry rations and loll on grass, - Maksim jumped first from the shore into the stinking jumble.
  Two hundred meters before the group"s point of exit, two were sent ahead. When they came back - one had his hands and face covered with blood.
  - Sergeant, - a private began to breath into Maksim"s ear. - On the shore all the bushes are braded by Bruno spirals. We butted, without looking, and now Serega cut himself.
  - What the hell! - Maksim lifted his eyebrow, - when did "Blue" have time to set up barriers?
  - No, sergeant, the private began to whisper again, the wire is old and completely rusty.
  Right, soldiers! Quickly wash his cuts with water and cleanse them with antiseptic. You, - having shoved his finger into the soldier"s chest, -Take three and run cutting with knife-bayonets. We"ll be with you in 5 minutes.
  When the group approached the shore, the way had already been cleared.
  - Sergeant, there are two antipersonnel mines here and one BM (box mine in a wooden body), judging by the fuse. Nonremovable, - the soldier fell silent for a while, - We decided not to touch it.
  - Right, guys, we"ve apparently run upon an old defensive line, - Maksim glanced again at his muddy watch-face and looked questioningly at the arbitrator. He shook his head, as if he wanted to say, - it"s your situation, so grasp it yourself.
  - Right, Kudryshov, - the group commander cast aside his doubts, - Let"s go forward, search for mines. The others follow my tracks.
  We moved slowly. On our way we found and neutralized two more antipersonnels and one frog-mine. Having gone out into a clearing, we saw a winding line of trenches. In the middle, at a machine-gun point, there was a rusty, stump-nosed German machine-gun and the remains of a camouflage cloak on it. We approached closer. A helmet clanged under someone"s foot, bounced off, turned over, and a grayish-white skull dashed out of it, grinning at the soldiers. The soldiers began gazing around. Birches in the clearing were grimly cloven with bullets and splinter. At some sunken parapets, in the clearing - people"s remains in half-decomposed uniforms were lying everywhere. Russians, Germans. All in a jumble. Everything pointed to a savage battle: and these fiery marks on the trees, and skeletons, lying in heap one on another, white hands were squeezing each other in a last mortal embrace.
  - Look, - one of the soldiers picked up a helmet, - It"s ours, Russian.
  Everybody looked at the machine-gun.
  - Sergeant, - didn"t he close the machine-gun with his body?
  Maksim swallowed a lump in his throat and imagined, how lead from this large-caliber machine-gun tore his body in pieces.
  The lieutenant squatted down and stroked the rusty barrel.
  Well...he drawled, - That"s how it is... Gave his guys several moments of life, to let them go. Well, what are we going to do, sergeant?
  - We"re going now, - he answered quietly. - Just plot the position on the map. Fellows, look for dog-tags or documents. Five minutes.
  Soon the group gathered under the birch near the machine-gun point.
  - They have no documents, - reported lance-corporal.
  - So an intelligence platoon has died, - uttered Maksim thoughtfully, - Ok, let"s go. We can"t be late. We have our own battle.
  They moved quickly. Everyone was driven by the view, and when the group froze before rush from the rear at the defence line of a conditional enemy, Maksim saw, how the guys" jaws were tightening. He rose a flare pistol.
  A week later he and platoon leader commander were summoned by the battalion commander.
  - You know, - he glanced at them frowningly. - Your eagles have found the place of battle, - said the major affirmatively, - You should bury them. Tomorrow morning all the squad should be in full uniform and fire three volleys with blank shots. The rest in field uniform should be at 12 o"clock at a cemetery near the Volokolamskoe highway. There is a communal grave, there they should lie.
  - Major, did you ascertain who are these soldiers? - asked the platoon leader commander.
  The major nodded his gray head:
  - It has been ascertained who the Germans were, but who are ours and where they are from - we don"t know.
  The overcast day dimmed the communal grave. Twenty three coffins padded with red cloth were standing in a wet clay pit, before which, froze, in a guard of honor, seven soldiers were standing. The superintendent major notified in advance the platoon leader commander about students who would come to assist in the ceremony:
  - May yours keep order.
  Meanwhile the free soldiers wandered off around the military cemetery. Straight lines of well-disposed, low-key granite monuments. And names on every slab. Lots of names. Tall right-flank Spotar", who was standing next to Maksim, began to whisper, pointing at a nearby stone:
  - Sergeant, look.
  Maksim looked at the monument. "Mariya Semenovna Karitsheva, sanitary officer, 12.12.1924 - 01.12.1941. Ivan Soldatenkov, soldier, 14.05.1922 - 01.12.1941"... There are three surnames on every monument.
  Spotar", who didn"t want to break the silence of the cemetery, began hurriedly whispering in the Sergeant"s ear again, breaking from Russian into Belarussian:
  - I thought all of them were elderly, but they were just as we are now.
  Maksim looked wonderingly at Spotar" and thought that, perhaps, it was the first time he"d seen him excited .
  Spotar", who got to the unit practically from prison for knifing and didn"t acknowledge an authority in the company except the senior lieutenant Beschastnih, was standing in front of them and tears were glittering in his eyes...
  - Sergeant, but I thought all of them were as old, as my grandfather... And they died when they were young. Adn the girl. she wasn"t 17. Why? Why did they perish?
  Maksim hurled, smiled wryly:
  - Adn what do you think, why did they perish?
  The conversation stopped. A big group of cheery, young lads eith teachers had appeared. They went to the grave, talking loudly and begane to settle down on the edges of the granite gravestones. Sportar" moved from his place and, hung over the outermosts, hissed:
  - Get up from the grave!
  - What? - a white-haired ladwith a small girl on his knees uttered at a loss.
  - Please, stand up. It"s not allowed to sit on graves, - now loudly and distinctly barked Spotar".
  Maksim bustled to the arguing parties.
  The frightend girl asked:
  - Come on, Dennis, let"s go, - she added quietly, - He"s kind of nervous. The others soldiers also made the students stand up.
  From behind their backs Maksim couldn"t hear what they were saying near the graves. He heard a snippet:
  - Died... Soviet... All as one... No one... Forgotten.
  The phrases entangled and tossed in the bare branches of gliimy poplars along the edges of the cemetery.
  Finally, scathing volleys sounded, scared birds flew off into the sky and a crowd of cheery young guys made off from the cemetery. The soldiers came up to the grave and, having taken off their gloves, threw frosen clods of soil on the coffin lids. Only now Maksim noticed that he and all the soldiers of the platoon were without headgear. Measuring out their pace, a divesion with submachine guns had gone to the exit. The soldiers fell on a column in three and without cadence went to a bus. The last were the sergeant with the lieutenant.
  Maksim"s heart, for some reason, was aching and his grandfather was standing in front of his eyes, already very old, with a greyish aureole of sparse hair on his head. Little Maksim climbed onto his hands:
  - Grandpa? Where os this scar on your shoulder from? - The boy touched his grandpa"s shoulder, where through a shirt he could feel an old wound.
  Granddad stroked the boy"s head and suddenly clasped hom strongly and buried his nose into a curl on his crown.
  - Granddad, granddad, why are you crying? - Maksimka asked confusedly. - No, grandson, nothing, - said granddad, smiling happily, inhaling the sunny smell of his grandson"s hair and wiping his teary eyes with his right hand.

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