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Short Story: "The Girl with Black Eyebrows"

Translated into English by David Skivrsky (from Russian) in Short Stories, Yanka (Janka) Bryl; Moscow (1956), pp. 53-59.

Have you ever seen the pines in Nalibok? No? Then hold your readiness to praise the ones in your parts, for when you see them you'll say: "Those lads were quite right. The pines are all they said they were. They're beautiful."

I've soldiered all the way from Moscow to Berlin, and before the war I've been beyond Moscow as well. I've seen all sorts of forests in plenty, but now in Nalibok whenever I come up to one of those beauties and glance up at its curly crown I've got to throw my head so far back that my cap slips off on to the snow. When you tap the trunk with the butt end of an axe, it rings from the snow up to its sunny crown. And when you go down on your knees and get at it with a saw, the hot tarry sparks dance all round youׯn the snow, on your boots, and on your hands.

They are superb! Magnificent!

And have you ever seen our girls? They take your breath away. I've roamed the world for six years and have never seen their equal.

. . .People expect Marusya, my rival in emulation, to win the honours, while I. . . . No, I haven't the least notion of letting her carry the day for I've made up my mind to win both the honours and her. Only I don't know what's going to be the hardest.

I'll tell you how it all happened. It was on the third day when we, my whole team, I mean, were returning to section No. 7 after sliding our first logs into the Niemen. On the way we met some ten sleighs and you could not have told which of the girls on them was more bewitching. You should have heard their chatter, the magpies! The fast sleigh had been caught on a snag and nothing would make it budge. Naturally, our lads had to comment.

"You're stuck all right!" Mikola yelled.

"Then why don't you help?" came an answering cry.

"If you'd given your horse some oats he'd have made short work of that snag," Mikola said.

At this point I took it into my head to sing:

    Once there was a pretty lass,
    She went for fire-wood, but alas!
    A wicked snag held fast her sleigh,
    So on the road she spent all day.

In the meantime we had turned off the path and came abreast of the girls. One of them straightened up and walked away from the sleigh towards us. I was so stunned by her beauty that I stopped. To tell you the truth, lads, I had dreamed of meeting a girl like that all the twenty-five years of my life. And here she was approaching me, her eyebrows dark, her fur cap tilted to the side of her head, her sheepskin jacket fitting tight round her waist, and her eyes, I swear it, were as bright as the sun, so bright that they dazzled you.

"You, my lad," she said,your mouth or you'll catch a cold. And look to the collar of your horse. I can see that your father forgot to tighten it when he set you out."

I, blockhead that I am, might not have been caught by that, but they all started roaring:

"Ha, ha, ha! What a driver! And he has the nerve to laugh!"

I bent forward to see if the collar was really loose. It seemed to be all right and just as I got out to take a closer look, my beautiful girl waved her hand at my horse and cried:

"Off you go!"

My Chestnut, as though to spite me, raised her tail and started off at a gallop. I went after it in the snow. But it was hopeless!

That girl made me look a complete fool. It was lucky I managed to tumble into Ales' sleigh. The ringing laughter of the girls followed us. . . .

It was all right for the other lads. They had their bit of fun and forgot all about it. But I carried the girl away in my heart. Wherever I went, whatever I did, I was never alone for she was always before my eyes. Oh, the sweet misery of it! But that is life. The buds had blossomed in the six years I was away from home! But who was she? Where did she come from?

Soon we moved to the next section, and started to use another road and it seemed I would never again see my black-browed girl.

But the day after the meeting I've told you about, Mikhail Ivanovich Semyonov, the representative from the District Executive Committee, paid us a call and said:

"You had better be on your toes, Comrade Nos, if you don't want to look foolish. The girls' team from the village of Podchashnicheski has challenged you to emulate them. And in case you don't know, they're led by a member of the Young Communist League, Marusya Surnovich."

The idea of girls challenging us naturally raised a laugh. Why, the lads under me were all lions at their work and here some girls' team was. .. .

"Are you serious about the whole thing, Mikhail Ivanovich?" I asked. "There's been a shock month announced and everybody wants to do his very best while you're asking us to compete with a bunch of girls!"

Comrade Semyonov laughed in reply.

"If I were you, lads," Mikhail Ivanovich said, laughing, "I wouldn't count my chickens before they're hatched. This 'bunch of girls' will give you a good run for your money."

"The world is full of surprises," I agreed. "We'll see what comes of it. Tell the girls that we've accepted their challenge, but they'll have only themselves to thank for whatever happens."

"Yes, and tell your Marusya," Tolya, one of our lads, said merrily, "to show us her kerchiefed lumber-jacks. We might consider merging our teams."

We joked about it, had a good laugh and forgot about it. But one day Mikhail Ivanovich paid us another call and with a quiet smile handed me a note folded in a triangle.

"Dear comrades," the note said, "we are very happy that such a distinguished team of lumberjacks as yours has been so kind as to accept our challenge. As regards your request to show you our team, we must tell you that we are not for exhibition. When the time comes we shall show you the results of our work."

There was a postscript:

"I still think that one must know how to tighten a horse's collar, Comrade Team Leader."

The deuce! There you were, Mikola, you had the address right there! I flushed and the lads laughed. I started telling Mikhail Ivanovich about that business over the snag, but he stopped me with a chuckle for it turned out that he had heard about it from the girls.

"Laugh as much as you like," I thought to myself, "only don't think it was that damned collar that made me flush. No, I flushed because I had finally hit the trail that led to my happiness. Laugh, but he who laughs last laughs best!"

True, at first the girls had us worried. We thought we would take the whole thing in our stride, but imagine our consternation at the production meeting on Sunday when Mikhail Ivanovich, smiling as usual, read the first results of our competition and we learned that where we had fulfilled forty-seven per cent of the month's plan in a week, the girls had walked off with fifty-four per cent. It was a joke no longer!

But the time came when we, too, had a good laugh, at first all the girls and Lads together and then only Marusya and I.

We had a meeting on Sunday in one of those villages in the forest where the girls lived. Usually we went home after these meetings, but this time the lads decided to stay. Tolya had his accordion with him and we danced until daybreak.

Dear Marusya! Whenever I think of your laughter and your eyes, I feel like going back to that road where we first met and wait to see you pass and laugh at me as you did then. My brave girl! You not only grew up while I was away fighting, but you were a partisan and used to go on reconnaissance to distant villages and return to this dense, virgin thicket as to your own home. Now I know why you wear your fur cap and sheepskin jacket so well and why your eyes sparkle so.

I often think of her, but then I would suddenly remember the words:

"We are not for exhibition, we shall show you our work." What if they really have the laugh on us again?

I burn to swing my axe with all my might and shout:

"Watch out, girls, you'll get your money's worth now!"

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