Escape from the Soviets - T. Tchernavin

The Price of Deliverance

"Mother!"—the child cried with all his might. I was already running to the hut.

Two men in military uniform were coming out of the forest at a quick pace. But where was he? There! He was staggering, his face looked dreadful, black and swollen and there was some dry blood near the nose.

"Darling, darling!" We held his hands again, the boy was kissing and stroking him.

He sank helplessly on the logs without looking at us.

"Dearest, what has happened?"

"I had a fall and hurt myself. Give me some water."

"Here, daddy, have a drink. Mother will make tea directly; we saved up one teaspoonful and a lump of sugar."

"They have a little with them," he said, speaking with difficulty, pointing to one of the Finnish frontier guards, who were looking at us somewhat disconcerted, "They wouldn't let me buy any food they said they'd take plenty, but they have eaten most of it themselves."

"What does it matter! The chief thing is that we are saved. All will be well."

"It took me two days to get there, though I had nothing to eat and my boots had fallen to pieces. They thought they would walk quicker than I did, but I could scarcely drag them here! They took three days on the way."

Naturally, they could not walk like a man who is trying to save all that he holds dear in life.

There was a rattle in his throat, he coughed and fresh blood showed on his handkerchief that was already stained with red.

"I hurt myself when I fell." he said guiltily.

"Was the journey difficult?"

"Very. A lot of stones."

The boy hugged and kissed his father and was almost in tears. He could not understand what the matter was—why was daddy so strange, as though he weren't glad.

Meanwhile the Finns cooked some oatmeal porridge. They shared it with us in a brotherly way and also gave each of us a piece of black bread. It is curious that only the taste of real food makes one understand how hungry one is. We felt that we could have sat there eating for a long, long time. But the porridge was soon gone.

"How are your feet? Can you walk?" my husband asked. Their provisions are coming to an end; we'll have to hurry."

"Yes, we can walk all right. Our feet are much better."

I was sorry my husband could not have a day's rest in the hut before setting our again, but there was nothing for it.

Now the Finns walked in front, carefully preparing the way—chopping off branches and placing tree trunks across streams. The boy walked behind them, and my husband and I came last, I was afraid that he would fall, he was so weak.

When we were among the thick elm and willow bushes some five hundred yards away from the hut, my husband asked me:

"Did one of you sing?"

"Yes. The boy sang, and I answered him."

"Just at this spot I heard your voices but I thought it was my fancy. I had imagined so many times that I heard you talking and singing. But this time it was wonderfully clear. These men had been making difficulties since yesterday, they were frightened and decided that I was a Bolshevik, leading them into a trap. This morning they gave me two hours: if we did not reach the hut within that time they would turn back and make me go with them or kill me. Two hours had passed and they began to bar my way. And suddenly I heard a voice, it was the boy singing. Then the wind carried it away. I lost my head completely and started to run towards the sound. I fell, scrambled on to my feet, and ran again. They would certainly have shot me, but then they too heard the voice. I was in such an agony of despair that I am not myself yet. . . . Had they turned back you would have both perished. You could never have found your way alone, and today is the sixth day, so you would have concluded that I was dead. And indeed I would have been dead, for I certainly would not have turned back alive. I've never lived through anything more terrible. . . . Now they will lead us to safety; but I can't get over it yet."

"You will, in time." said I. "The only thing that matters is that you have saved us and that if we live it will be thanks to you."