|THE CUTTING OF THE FOREST||527|
brothers?" continued Zhdanov. "They have enough to do to support themselves, so what good would one of us soldiers be to them? A man is a poor helper when he has been a soldier for twenty-five years. And who knows whether they are alive?"
"Have you not written to them?" I asked.
"Of course I have! I have written them twice, but they have not yet answered. They are either dead, or they simply don't care to answer, which means, they are poor, and have no time."
"How long ago did you write?"
"When I came back from Dargi, I wrote my last letter!"
"Sing the song of the 'Birch-tree,'" Zhdanov said to Antonov, who, leaning on his knees, was humming a song.
Antonov sang the "Birch-tree" song.
"This is Uncle Zhddnov's favourite song," Chikin said to me in a whisper, pulling me by the overcoat. "Many a time, when Filipp Antonych sings it, he weeps."
Zhdanov sat at first motionless, his eyes directed on the glowing coals, and his face, illuminated by the reddish light, looked exceedingly melancholy; then his cheeks under his ears began to move faster and faster, and finally he got up, spread out his overcoat, and lay down in the shadow, behind the fire. It may be the way he was tossing and groaning, or Velenchiik's death and the gloomy weather had so affected me, but I really thought he was crying.
The lower part of the stump, changed into coal, flickered now and then and illuminated Antonov's figure, with his gray moustache, red face, and his decorations on the overcoat thrown over him, or lighted up somebody's boots or head. From above, drizzled the same gloomy mist; in the air was the same odour of dampness and smoke; all around me were seen the same bright points of dying fires, and were heard amid a general silence the sounds