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by Valentin Kataev

1. It is a foggy, moonlit night in the forest. The kind of night that brings to mind the beauty and magic of Russian fairy tales--the Firebird, a grey wolf carrying Ivan Tsarevich, the shaggy-pawed Leshii wood-goblin, and the chicken-clawed cottage of Baba-Yaga.

Three Soviet soldiers, led by the 27-year-old Sergeant Egorev, are returning through the forest from a scouting mission behind German lines. They come upon a bareheaded and barefoot young boy curled up asleep in a ditch. The boy is shivering and mumbling deliriously.

2. Commander of a Soviet artillery battery, Captain Enakiev, is in an observation platform high up in a tree. With him is the commander of the infantry, Captain Akhunbaev. They are verifying the information brought back by the scouts and marking their maps accordingly. Akhunbaev, anticipating that the order for an attack will be given soon, is in a hurry to finish. However, Enakiev, a very careful and thorough man, is taking his time, double- and triple-checking everything.

3. When the two captains are done, Akhunbaev hurries off to join his troops. But Enakiev remains on the platform, trying to perfect the firing coordinates for his various targets.

Platoon commander Lieutenant Sedykh reminds Enakiev about the boy the scouts found. Enakiev summons Egorev for a report. While waiting for Egorev, Enakiev sadly remembers that his own mother, wife, and young son were all brutally killed by the Germans in the early days of the war.

Egorev arrives and reports that the boy is named Vanya Solntsev. He is 12 or 13 years old, although he is all skin and bones and looks to be about 10 years old. Vanya's father died at the front in the early days of the war. The Nazis occupied his village and killed his mother because she refused to hand over the family cow. His grandmother and younger sister died of starvation. Vanya himself was picked up and shipped to a children's concentration camp, where he almost died of typhus. But eventually, Vanya managed to escape from the camp and has been wandering around the forests for two years, carrying a sack containing a sharpened nail as a weapon and a school book, so that he won't forget how to read.

Egorev goes on to say that Vanya is bright and intelligent, a born scout. In fact, Vanya has asked to be trained as a scout, boasting that he knows every bush in the area.

Enakiev orders that Vanya be sent to the rear, despite the fact that Vanya has promised to run away in that eventuality.

Just then, the signal for the attack is given.

4. Vanya Solntsev is in the scouts' tent, voraciously wolfing down food. The two scouts who, along with Egorov, found Vanya are also there. They are corporals Bidenko and Gorbunov. Before the war, Bidenko was miner from the Donbass, and Gorbunov was a Siberian lumberjack. They give Vanya the nickname of shepherd boy.

Everything in the tent is arranged in a very orderly manner. Egorov's six scouts are renowned in the regiment for their neatness. Their daring and successful scouting missions have also won them the nickname of "Capitan Enakiev's Professors."

After Vanya eats his fill, Gorbunov and Bidenko promise to give him a bath, a haircut, and a uniform of some kind. They also promise to give him training to turn him into a scout. Vanya is excited, saying that he knows his way around these woods and that he can get into nearly anyplace because of his small size. He is particularly pleased when they promise to teach him to shoot a machine gun.

They all drink tea and calmly listen to the sounds of the battle in the distance. Egorev enters and says that Kuzminsky, another one of the scouts, has just been killed in action with the infantry. He orders Gorbunov to go replace him.

5. Egorov orders Bidenko to escort Vanya back to the second echelon, from where he will then be shipped to a children's home. Vanya angrily says he won't go. None of the scouts likes the idea, but military discipline demands that orders be carried out.

6. By the end of the next day, the Soviet offensive has moved significantly forward. All the scouts, who are now in reserve, are quartered in roomy and comfortable dugout that was hastily abandoned by the Germans. The scouts are relaxing and drinking tea. Bidenko returns in a foul mood and announces that Vanya escaped from him.

7. What happened was this: Bidenko and Vanya were riding in the back of a truck through the forest. Suddenly, Vanya, clutching his bag, leapt out of the truck and dashed into the forest. Bidenko shouted to the driver to stop, and set out after Vanya. Bidenko never doubted that he, an experienced tracker, would soon have Vanya back in custody. But Bidenko searched for two hours and could find not a trace of the boy. It was as if he had vanished into thin air. Confused and humiliated, Bidenko goes back to the road, but the truck is by now long gone.

Bidenko sits down for a smoke. There is a rustling in the branches above and something falls to the ground right by Bidenko. It is Vanya's schoolbook. Bidenko looks carefully and sees Vanya, clutching his bag, asleep high in the branches. That is how he had eluded Bidenko; he hadn't run away, but hid in the tree. Bidenko climbs the tree and awakens Vanya. The boy tries to run again, but Bidenko holds on firmly.

8. Bidenko says that Vanya's chances for escape were always zero. Bidenko boasts that no one has ever escaped from him. Vanya says it's not true. He had successfully escaped from Bidenko, and was given away only by his falling book. They bicker childishly about this for a bit. Vanya then challenges Bidenko to go off in the forest and hide and he--Vanya--will look for him. Even without a compass, like the one Bidenko used, Vanya says he'll be able to find Bidenko in five minutes. Bidenko doesn't take the bait.

They hitch a ride on a passing truck--an American Studebaker. Vanya promises to escape again. Just to be safe, Bidenko ties a rope around Vanya. Vanya taunts Bidenko, telling him to make sure he ties the knot tightly.

The truck picks up other riders along the way--soldiers, surgeons, fighter pilots. It begins to rain. Bidenko dozes off, but occasionally pulls on the rope to make sure Vanya is still there. Then a woman surgeon in the truck shouts out in irritation, wanting to know who tied a rope around her ankle and is always pulling on it. Vanya has escaped! Bidenko jumps out of the truck, but there is no hope of finding the boy.

9. Vanya wanders around for two days trying to find the scouts' tent, thinking that his being sent away was just some misunderstanding which could be easily rectified. But the situation in the forest has changed as the result of the offensive. Nothing is as it was, and Vanya can't find the scouts.

Then he comes upon a 14-year-old boy in a military hat and coat, cleaning a Cossack sword. He even has a medal on his chest. Vanya is jealous, but tries not to show it. The boy says he's been adopted as the "son" of a calvary regiment. He has even participated in a raid, even though he himself did not hack any Germans.

10. Vanya knows that all the scouts like him, so he assumes that the reason he was sent away was all the fault of Captain Enakiev, who never even set eyes on him. He decides to find a high-ranking commander and complain. He sees a hut with some horses and a guard outside and a samovar in the window. Inside the hut is a colonel and Captain Enakiev. The colonel is commending Enakiev on the action of the artillery during the offensive.

When Enakiev steps outside, Vanya--who doesn't know who he is--hurries up and tells his whole story, including how he escaped twice from Bidenko. Vanya also demands that this faceless Captain Enakiev be punished for judging Vanya without even laying eyes on him. Enakiev tries not to laugh too hard. He then takes Vanya with himself and gallops off.

11. & 12. Enakiev enters the dugout where all the scouts are relaxing. Looking stern, he listens to the embarrassed Bidenko's report on how he lost Vanya. Enakiev then asks the scouts for their opinions on Vanya. They all praise the boy as quick, intelligent, and a born soldier.

Much to the scouts' surprise, Enakiev then brings Vanya into the dugout and tells them to take good care of the boy. After all, he's a living human being, not a toy.

The first rule of a scout is: it's better to know and keep your mouth shut than to not know and blabber.
When Enakiev leaves, the scouts pepper Vanya with questions about how the Captain came to find him. Vanya is surprised and embarrassed to learn that it was Enakiev. Well, actually, along the way Vanya had begun to suspect Enakiev's identity, but, like a good scout, he didn't say anything about it.

13. & 14. Gorbunov and Bidenko receive an assignment to penetrate into enemy territory and scout out the best route for the movement of artillery through the swampy forest in anticipation of another advance. Vanya begs to go along with them, and, without informing their superiors, they agree to take him. Since Vanya knows the area so well, he will be their guide. Vanya has still not had a chance to bathe or cut his hair and is still in his raggedy clothes, so he looks like a harmless little shepherd boy--the perfect cover. As additional cover, they give Vanya a hobbled old horse named Serko. If Germans come upon Vanya, he will pretend that Serko was his horse which ran away and Vanya has come to retrieve it.

Vanya and Serko lead the way through the swamp, with Bidenko and Gorbunov crawling along behind them. After about four kilometers, they encounter a German patrol. The Germans roughly kick and shove Vanya demanding to know what he's doing out here at night. Vanya is enraged at this treatment and is about to start pounding the German in the face. But Vanya realizes that this might put the mission in jeopardy, so he swallows his pride. He starts crying, wailing that he's a lost little shepherd boy just trying to get back to his mother. Before departing, the Germans give Vanya a final kick in the rear and tell him if they catch him out at night again they will hang him.

The scouting mission proceeds smoothly, with Bidenko and Gorbunov identifying good positions for artillery and observation posts. All that's left to do is check the river for a good crossing point. The best time to do this is in the early morning fog. So two hours before dawn, Vanya and Serko set out for the river, while Gorbunov and Bidenko remain in hiding, waiting for Vanya to give the all-clear signal. They expect Vanya to return in no more than an hour. However, he is gone for three hours, and only then does Serko come trotting back...without Vanya.

Worried, Bidenko and Gorbunov creep up to the river. They can see that the Germans have established a headquarters on the opposite bank. The position has been heavily fortified, as if in anticipation of a long stay. There are also signs of recent constructions, and the scouts suspect that the Germans have built a bridge out of sight in the reeds.

Then the scouts see something that makes their hearts freeze: on the ground is the blue chemical pencil which Bidenko had earlier given to Vanya. Further study reveals Vanya's rope whip, a half-smoked German cigarette and numerous boot prints. Obviously, Vanya was captured here and put up a struggle.

After some thought, Gorbunov, who is officially in charge of the mission, orders Bidenko to return to the regiment while he, Gorbunov, remains and tries to work out a way to rescue Vanya. At first, Bidenko refuses to go, saying that he has come to love Vanya like his own son. Gorbunov reminds Bidenko that they all feel the same about Vanya, but that their first duty is to the mission. The valuable information they have collected must be passed on to their commanders. After all, they serve the Soviet Union! Bidenko agrees and leaves.

Gorbunov tries to figure out why the Germans would waste their time with a simple shepherd boy, as Vanya appears to be. But there are some things that Gorbunov doesn't know. First of all, before setting out on the mission, Vanya pinched a compass from one of the other scouts (intending to return it after the mission, of course). And along the way, unknown to Gorbunov and Bidenko, Vanya had been studying the area and secretly making a map of his own on the pages of his schoolbook. He was in the process of marking the German headquarters on his map when he was caught by a German patrol.

15. Vanya is brought to a dugout where a German officer and a middle-aged German woman are waiting. The woman begins speaking very gently and nicely to Vanya, telling him, in perfect Russian, that she lived among the Russians for ten years and knows and understands the people. They just need to know where Vanya got the compass from. Vanya says he found it. The woman points out that it is a Russian compass and there are only German soldiers in the area, so who could have lost it? Vanya remains silent.

She then asks Vanya who drew the topographical spy maps in his school book. Vanya claims he doesn't know. The woman orders Vanya to open his mouth. He refuses. She gets angry and starts to shove her finger into his mouth. Vanya cries out in pain, momentarily revealing his tongue, which is tinged with blue because he had been constantly wetting the tip of the chemical pencil when drawing his maps. The woman shouts out triumphantly, saying that it is now clear that Vanya himself drew the maps.

The woman tells Vanya that he will now go with three soldiers and show them where the Russians are encamped. Vanya says he won't do it. A German officer violently slaps Vanya around. Before losing consciousness, Vanya sees blood dripping from his nose and falling on the sentence "We are not slaves" in the Soviet school book. Vanya is dragged off, and the woman says he is to be kept without food or water for three days.

16. When Vanya comes to, he is locked in a dark dugout. Sand is falling all round him and everything is shaking. Vanya realizes that he is in the middle of an artillery attack on the German position. He tries to open the door, but it is locked. More bombs falls. Beams crash down from above, almost hitting him in the head. Finally, just as the barrage ends, a bomb blasts open the door.

Vanya crawls out to daylight. Destruction and carnage is everywhere. There is a pause in the firing, and Vanya realizes that the Germans have withdrawn from the position, but the Soviets haven't yet arrived. Finally, the first fierce-looking Soviet soldier appears, firing a machine gun. It is Gorbunov. Vanya calls out to him. Gorbunov's grim, warlike visage quickly changes to a good-natured smile as he recognizes Vanya. He hugs and kisses the boy, saying that he was afraid that Vanya was dead.

Vanya tells Gorbunov of the large, warm, radio-equipped dugout in which he was interrogated. Gorbunov marks the door of this command dugout, reserving it as quarters for the scouts.

17. & 18. Gorbunov and Bidenko do a little wheeling and dealing, not sparing their supply of canned meat, to hunt down a tailor and a shoemaker, who put together a whole uniform for Vanya. But before Vanya can try on the clothes, he needs a haircut and a bath. They use five tubs of water to scrub away the 3-year accumulation of dirt on Vanya.

Finally the boy puts on his uniform and feels the inexpressible pride of being a Red Army soldier. The only trouble Vanya has is dealing with the foot wrappings, but after a quick lesson from Bidenko, he quickly masters the art.

Word comes that Enakiev wants to see Vanya immediately.

19. Vanya, dressed in his uniform, casually strolls into Enakiev's dugout and greets him with a friendly "Hiya, Pops." Enakiev frowns and asks Vanya who he is. Confused, Vanya identifies himself. He then proudly shows off his uniform, saying he's a real Red Army soldier now. Enakiev shakes his head gravely and says that based on the way Vanya entered, he is no soldier. Red October Cookies

Ashamed, Vanya exits and reenters, this time clicking his heels and saluting smartly. This pleases Enakiev, who immediately becomes pleasant and fatherly. He invites Vanya to sit down. Together they drink tea and feast on Red October cookies and Sport chocolate.

Speaking in a family way, not as a commander, Enakiev says they must decide what to do with Vanya. The boy begs not to be sent back to the rear lines. But in the end, he humbly lowers his head and says he will do as Enakiev orders. Enakiev thinks then decides that since Vanya is too young to be a scout, he will stay with Enakiev as a messenger.

20. Vanya's cot is transferred to Enakiev's quarters. Enakiev decides that Vanya must be trained in all aspects of artillery. He assigns Vanya as a reserve gunnery soldier to the first platoon. At first, Vanya misses the scouts very much, but he soon adapts to his new family. Even though the gunnery soldiers already know everything about Vanya, they insist that he tell and retell his story. They particularly enjoy the part where Vanya escapes from Bidenko and always laugh uproariously when he recounts it.

Vanya is proud and pleased to be working with a cannon and its gun crew. He is in awe of Kovalev, an older member of the crew and a Hero of the Soviet Union. Kovalev, who also served in the first world war, is renowned as the best gun layer in the army. Normally mild mannered, he turns into a fierce machine in battle. He has extraordinary courage and is also suffused with a conscious and passionate love for the motherland, a love which is required to turn an ordinary brave man into a true hero.

Kovalev asks Vanya how he likes the cannon. Having learned his lesson from Enakiev, Vanya snaps to attention and salutes. He salutes so much he forgets to lower his hand until Kovalev gently tells him to stand at ease.

21. Kovalev says it's good that Vanya is getting acquainted with artillery at an early age. Kovalev himself first came to a battery when he was 19 years old. In fact, during the first world war, his unit was right here in the same area on the German border. Only back then they were retreating, whereas now they are attacking.

Vanya is stunned to hear that the German border is only five kilometers away. He is even more shocked when he hears that the scouts have already been in Germany. Vanya is jealous and insulted. If only he had stayed with the scouts, he might have been in Germany, too. Kovalev advises Vanya to have patience and submit to military discipline. They'll all be in Germany soon.

Suddenly, an order comes to open fire. Kovalev and the others spring into action. Vanya is overcome by the powerful thundering of the cannon and the quick, efficient work of the crew. Wanting to be part of the endeavor, Vanya starts picking up the spent shell casings and stacking them neatly.

The gun crew members take turns pulling the firing mechanism. With each pull, they shout out a patriotic slogan, such as For the motherland! For Stalin! Vanya begs for and is given a chance to fire the cannon. As he pulls the lever, he shouts out, "Take that, you maggots!"

22. & 23. In the cold before dawn, Enakiev and Akhunbaev are meeting in a trench alongside a potato field. Akhunbaev has planned another attack which is to commence soon. According to the plan, one company is to stage a frontal assault on the German position. The Germans, seeing only one company, will counterattack. And when they do, two more Soviet companies, which are hiding on the flanks, will join the battle to ambush the Germans. A fourth company will be held in reserve. That should be enough to overcome the Germans, but Enakiev worries that the Germans might have gotten some reiinforcements during the night. But it's just a hunch, so Enakiev says nothing.

Enakiev then goes to inspect the gun crews to make sure they're ready. Of course, everything is in order. Enakiev sits down for a smoke with Kovalev and asks about Vanya. Kovalev praises Vanya and says the boy is a born cannoneer. Enakiev laughs, remarking that the scouts said he was a born scout.

Enakiev says he wants to adopt Vanya. Of course, Vanya will never replace the son he lost at the beginning of the war, but, he points out with a heavy sigh, sometimes a man has two sons. Heaving a heavy sigh of his own, Kovalev adds that sometimes a man has three sons.

Suddenly, they hear mortar and artillery fire coming from the German side. That which Enakiev feared has occured. The Germans have received reinforcements. And even worse, they have guessed Akhunbaev's plan and have started a preemptive strike against the two companies on the flanks.

24. From his forward observation point, Enakiev sees that a German batallion is attacking Akhunbaev's company in the center. Akhunbaev calls Enakiev and says he plans to meet the attack head-on and he wants covering fire. Enakiev orders the first platoon to quickly move its cannon right up into the ranks of the infantry. The second platoon is to remain in position and provide covering fire on the flanks. Remembering that Vanya is with the first platoon, Enakiev instinctively wants to reverse his orders, but he lets things stand.

Communication is lost with the companies on the flanks. The last word was that they were surrounded.

The truck pulling the first platoon's cannon races forward at breakneck speed. Vanya is on board with the others, holding on for dear life and clutching the fuse key with which he has been entrusted. As they near the top of a hill, Bidenko jumps on the running board of the truck and shouts for the driver to go at full speed. At the top of the hill, mortars explode all around them, but do no damage.

The truck reaches its proper position and stops. The soldiers jump out and unhitch the cannon. Only then does Bidenko notice Vanya. He is happy to see the boy, but scolds him for the dirt on his uniform.

25. The gun crew pushes the cannon into position. Vanya, carrying shells, hurries to catch up. Enakiev and Akhunbaev are lying in a ditch with Kovalev and the gunner from the second cannon, giving them instructions on the target.

Akhunbaev rushes forward to join the battling infantry. Only then does Vanya notice that everyone is crawling on the ground and that bullets are whizzing by. So he jumps down to the ground with everyone else.

The signal is given and both cannons begin blasting away rapidly. Vanya has never before seen Enakiev so intense and active--crawling on the ground, jumping up, moving forward and backwards to get a better view of the battle, shouting out target coordinates.

The Germans try to advance, but a hidden phalanx of Soviet machine guns opens fire, forcing the Germans to retreat. Enakiev orders the cannons forward. A battery of Soviet mortars then begins a barage, and the Germans keep a-running for a bit, then make an attempt to dig in. The cannons begin another fierce bombardment.

The Germans retreat again. It is a moment of triumph, but it lasts for only a moment. Enakiev and the gun crew members become somber as they see six Nazi tanks 3,000 meters away and approaching. Only then does Enakiev see Vanya. Saluting smartly, Vanya is proud and wants to tell the Captain all about his service and the amazing things that have happened today. But Enakiev, well aware of the approaching danger, says, "Are you crazy?!" and tells Vanya to run away quickly to the rear...anywhere but here. His soldier pride hurt, Vanya refuses to go.

Understanding Vanya's feelings, Enakiev quickly writes out a note, puts it in an envelope, then sternly calls out, "Red Army Soldier Solntsev!" Vanya clicks his heels and salutes. Enakiev says he has an important battle mission for Vanya...he is to take the note to divisional headquarters. Vanya repeats the order and puts the note in his pocket. Instead of leaving right away, he hesitates. Enakiev grabs Vanya and hugs him quickly. Vanya then turns and hurries off on his assignment.

26. Vanya makes it to divisional headquarters and hands the note to the commander. He reads it, says, "I already know", and sends Vanya away.

Two hours pass before Vanya can make it back to Enakiev's position. During that time, a fierce battle was fought and a great victory was won. In the course of the battle, Enakiev's cannons kept firing until they ran out of shells. They threw hand grenades, and when those ran out they fought on with bayonets, shovels, and whatever they could find. Still the Germans pressed the attack. In the end, Enakiev called in an artillery strike on his own position.

As Vanya approaches the battlefield, he sees carnage and destruction; dead bodies; burned out trucks and tanks; and craters everywhere. Artillery men, captains, and scouts are bustling about, but Vanya does not see one familiar face. Finally, he sees his own cannon, which is missing a wheel. With a sense of foreboding, Vanya gets closer. The ground is littered with dead Germans, spent bullet casings, and bloody shovels. Right next to the cannon sits Enakiev--his head bent low and his arms motionless, a pool of blood at his feet. He is dead.

Vanya sees, but doesn't want to believe it. Then Bidenko, with a wounded arm, steps up to Vanya and rests his hand on the boy's shoulder. Vanya looks up at Bidenko, then, unable to control himself, he buries his face in Bidenko's coat and sobs. Bidenko comforts Vanya, saying that "Even soldiers cry."

27. A note found in Enakiev's pocket, written during his last moments, requests that he be buried in Soviet soil, not here in Germany. Enakiev also requested that they take care of his adopted son, Vanya, make him into a good soldier and a worthy officer.

Vanya is summoned and told he is to be sent to the Suvorov Military Academy. Before his departure, the commander of the regiment presents Vanya with the captain's shoulder straps from Enakiev's uniform, telling him to take good care of them and that hopefully the day will come when Vanya will be able to sew those straps on his own shoulders.

The commander goes on to say that Vanya was a good son of his parents, of the scouts, of the artillerymen, and of Enakiev. In fact, the entire regiment has come to consider him their son. He reminds Vanya to always be a true son of his motherland, and a true son of the best son of this motherland, the great Stalin.

Soon, Vanya is in an old Russian town, with Bidenko, who delivers him to the military school. As the two friends bid farewell to each other, Vany knows that his past life is over and that a new one is beginning. He wants to hug Bidenko tightly, but feels his shouldn't, so they just shake hands.

For his part, Bidenko is sad because he feels he will never again see his "shepherd boy". He can't restrain himself and gives Vanya a playful rub on the head.

28. Early the next morning, before dawn, the old general who is in charge of the shool, walks through the barracks to see how his students are sleeping. Well aware of Vanya's story--of how this "shepherd boy" was found and how he fought--the general stops at Vanya's bed.

Deep in sleep, Vanya dreams of how Enakiev was buried in a snowy, fairy-tale-like Russian forest. Then, as the school's wake-up bugle sounds, the forest in Vanya's dream fades away and is replaced by a majestic marble staircase. Vanya climbs the staircase. At the top of the steps, surrounded by red banners, with a brilliant marshal's star on his chest, stands Stalin! He looks at Vanya with a demanding, fatherly expression and says, "Come on, shepherd boy. Step lively."


Biography of Valentin Kataev

Kataev, Valentin Petrovich. Born 28 January 1897 (16 January, Old Style) in Odessa. His father was a Russian, and his mother a Ukrainian. He published his first poem, Osen' ("Autumn") in a newspaper in 1910. Kataev began writing stories in 1916 during World War I, in which he fought as a soldier. After the October Revolution . . . . (...Continued...)

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