A large detachment of special purpose entered the village of Pechorne on the evening of August 18, 194…. Rusians were not a rare guest in the village, usually they were called Moscals by people in this locality. However Mykhailyk was surprised that the they came so late. Usually they arrived in the morning on a Russion "half a dozen" car, in the amount not more than 10-12 persons, but now they were, probably, more than a hundred and they came on foot. Dirty, wet from sweat, in faded and laced dress, covered with powder, they, apparently, macerated in the very heat from the very district center. Where was that "district center", Mykhailyk did not know surely and that's why it seemed to him something terrible. From time to time, the Moscals took somebody with them to that mysterious district center, but he never heard that somebody was coming back. And Mikhailyk knew that the Muscovites never stayed in the village for night. Perhaps they were afraid of these "forest devils", which time was about midnight. He often heard about these devils from older children and suspected that devils for some reason do not like the Moscals and try to inflict them all sorts of harm.
But this time the Moscals were not afraid to stay at night. "Probably because they have a mashingwer!" So Mikhailik though. "Mashingwer" was in his imagination a magic weapon. Sometimes he was watching how he thundered and, in his imagination, each bullet from him striked in an enemy. Less appealing were the usual submachine guns "pepesha", but a close look at them was also interesting. That's why Mykhailyk always sauntered around the soldiers, while their commander waved his hands and shouted some obscure words. In general, Mykhailyk understood the Russian language more or less, but the content of the most used words, he could not in vain. So now he has heard something so incomprehensible from the commander, and after an intonation he realized that he had to flee home.
At home, mom and dad did not pay attention to him, and they continued to have some sort of semi-whisper. Mykhailyk heard only some words: "They stay for a long time… we must warn… surrounded… sit hungry". The last words to him were most understandable, because the whole village was hungry recently. Mykhailyk was unclear why his mother did not give him milk at night, although he milked the cow every day. Usually at dinner there was only a little piece of bread and a couple of tubers and apples. But now my mother poured a large puddle of milk and gave him a good slice of loaf of bread. Soon after dinner Mykhailyk went to bed and slept so firmly until the morning, having no idea what was going on in the village at night.
Romko Koropetsky understood the event somewhat better than Mykhailyk, since he was elder for four years and this summer he finished the sixth grade. His father was a respectable man in the village, and Romko was proud of his dad, especially when he was reading the sermons in the church on Sundays, and people listened carefully him. However, the Mosxalss did not like the father. On each visit they took him to a meeting in the village council and his mother quietly prayed for him before the image of Mother of God, so that he would return home. Thanks to God my father always returned, but always said that we should prepare for the worst.
Now the family had dinner late, the weak night-light blinked in front of the images, and his gleam reflected in the eyes of the saints, and therefore it seemed that they were following the movements of the mother, who in the twilight laid the boiled potatoes for all. Outdoors there was silence, only quietly clocked the clock on the wall clocked quietly, and at the time the smoker choked the chickens, occupying time at night. The family started to eat, but suddenly in the yard the dog began to clank with the chain and burst in barking, as if crazy. Immediately cracked the shot and then a piteous but a brief yelping heard. Romko realized that Kudlaj exists no longer. And boots were already thrown on the steps, and a hoarse voice came from behind the door:
- Open it!
Nobody moved from place. Probably everyone hoped that unwanted guests would go on without hearing the answer. But "guests" began to gamble at the door with something weighty. The whole house was shaking, as if during the earthquake of seven points, and thin glass was alarmingly crumbling in a cupboard. Father Lubomir slowly rose from the table, crossed himself and knelt in front of the images, the children and mother also rose and stood behind him. Meanwhile, the door swung from the bumps and finally opened with a rumbling. A crowd of soldiers rushed into the hut and one of them grabbed the priest in a collar, trying to bring him from his knees.
- Calm, bois! – with playful smile said their commander, an asterisk on the red shoulde-strap – and, approaching the priest, continued:
- Father, prepare. And you mother, too, the children prepare!
Father Lubomir crossed himself three times and rose from his knees asking calmly:
- Where and why?
- Here's a warrant for arrest! – the junior lieutenant waved some air in the air with a piece of paper and added:
- Resistig folishly!
- Yes, I see already … Have mercy for kids even if!
- Soviet power is merciful! Bring up as it should be. Well, live! Pack up things. Fifteen minutes for gathering and forth!
- Where at night?
- Night is short! You reach the district by morning!
Then the junior lieutenant turned to the soldiers:
- Kosyachenko – in the cellar, Poludkin – in the attic. Take a light, – he gave one of the soldiers pocket one of the soldiers tin flashlight one of the soldiers.
Soldiers were in no hurry to carry out the order and trampled in the holes, interfering with each other. Others cautiously put out tommy-guns. Commander rushed:
- Davay-Davay, don't be afraid!
Finally, the one who was called Poludkin, climbed up the creaking ladder. He opened a heavy hatch and pushed his head into the darkness, holding in one hand "pepesha" and flashlight in the second one. Everyone watched him with tense attention. Slightly daring, Poludkin quickly began to shine with a ray of a flashlight in the corners of the attic. He wanted to finish this unpleasant thing more quickly and was intending to drop down when the ray drew from the darkness a pale human face with eyes that simply stumbled upon him. The soldier was frozen. Strained green eyes watched him cold and firmly from the dark. The ray slid lower – a muzzle of the "shmiser" was directed simply to the soldier. It was clear that this young man was probably as young as Poludkin himself was. His heart was squeezed, somehow it became cold in the abdomen, and the arms and legs numbed. At a moment, all thoughts disappeared, and only confused and complex feelings of the thirst for life, fear of death, unexpected fellow solidarity and blind faith in the victory of human mercy and fraternal love remained. But for a brief moment somewhere on the subconscious level, the soldier realized that he would not have time to shoot the first, and the Bandera would not shoot if he had hope for salvation. And from the bottom they were already eagerly shouting:
- Well, what is it? Is there anyone?
- Nobody is here – finally regaining consciousness, Poludkin answered with made indifference in the voice and began to slowly go down with still woolen legs. He entered the room and looked stealthily on the family. He saw tears of gratitude in the brilliant eyes of the mother felt that he had made a great human action. Of course, he understood that he had saved someone's young life, but he could not know that this was the wounded elder son of a spiritual spouse, who had not been taken to a safe place before the arrival of the detachment.
Having got a flashlight from Poludkin, Kosyachenko climbed into a dark and damp cellar, but he did not see anything except a heap of last year's potatoes. After the search, the gathering went quite fast, especially since many things were not allowed. Quickly baptized, sisters with bags alternately went out into the courtyard, and the mother, having found a moment, caught the right Poludkin's hand in the dark and squeezed in it a small metal object with a small chain. The soldier instantly noticed that it was a kind of medallion and hid it in his pocket. When all were gathered in the yard and were ready to leave, the father began kissing children and leaned to his son whispered in the ear:
- Romchyk, run away!
The boy only waited for this. The legs carried it through the garden to a stile. But immediately he heard after his back:
"Stop, you scoundrel! I'll shoot!"
And almost immediately shot thundered, followed by another. But Romko was already beyond the stile. He knew where to run. In hundreds of meters from the house there was only him known entrance to the cave in the thickets on the slopes of the Dniester. But from excitement he could not swiftly find a chap in the darkness, which he himself called "Snake's Hole." Already it was heard tramp of boots and Romko just hid in the bushes. A minute later, tramp stood dead and he heard the voices:
- He could not go far. Have yoa a flashlight?
- Battery drained.
- Fool! Stay here, I'll bring the lamp now.
There was silence. Romko was afraid to move, but the hand was torn and he pulled it along his head. The fingers touched the cold sherchoid stone. Here is the place- Romko realized and slowly crawled forward. Under the stone was the same "Snake's Hole". Romko slipped under the stone and moved a few meters forward. He knew that there would be a dangerous fall, so he stopped. A few minutes later heard deaf voices, feet stomping and a faint blink of light in the crack. Romko listened to the voices:
- There's no one here, and there's no one there either!" Probably he fell down!
- To hell with him… So let's say… Go back."
Romko was still lying quietly, it was respiring with dampness and cold from gulf. Soon he began to freeze and had to move a little. He moved to the hole and listened. Dogs barked in the village, some voices were heard, but far away. Romko got out of the cave. The outside was warmer and he lay on last year's reddish leaf, bending like a snail under the bush. He could not sleep. Teeth clattered from cold and fear. The night seemed infinite, thoughts messed about in the head. From time to time Romko got up and waved with hands for warming and laid down again. In the morning, the cold became unbearable and the boy again climbed into the hole, now there was warmer than the outside. It seems that he still slept a little. When it was lightly, he, hiding among the bushes and trees, carefully went to the exploration. It was necessary to think how to save Orest, who having a wounded foot remained in the loft among the enemy. Romko understood that the soldiers could settle in an empty house. Trying not to step on dry knots, he quietly moved uphill. He did not pass ten steps, as in the fog, he looked at the darned figure of the guard. The soldier leaned against the tree sleeping standing. Romko realized that the rescue of Orestes should be postponed to an appropriate time. He sat down and kneeled backwards. He did not want to go to the cave again, so as not to make a noticeable path to her. The track could expose its storage to the Moscals. Instead, he began to descend to the Dniester on a steep slope in the impenetrable fields of turf and wilderness. The slope The was very tall, entirely overgrown with bushes and beeches, partly covered with ivy. Bushes were almost impenetrable, but Romko knew all the paths by heart. Close to the shore under a gray stone was a small source. Romko drank cold water and wash his face, wiped off by shirt. The mood has improved significantly. "In fact, the water is healing" – the boy thought, and for the first time he smiled at himself. After a cold night he wanted to eat, so, it had to think about eating and Romko went to the shore on the pasture that began behind the wall at the bend of the river. There, the children herd cows daily and always have something to eat.
However, it was too early and there was nobody on the pasture. The sun came out from behind the mountains, its rays cut thin, like a feather, clouds. The weak wind blowed and dispersed the foggy mist over the river. It became warmer. Romko waved his hands, shook a little and wanted to sit somewhere and noticed that there was little dew on the grass. "Now it can be rain," thought the boy. He glanced at the sunshine and again smiled involuntarily. In fact, the sun can not be seen without a smile. In the bushes funny birds birding. Romchik listened to them and remembered the hazel. Nutlets have already begun to ripen and they were able to quench hunger. The boy climbed up and soon gnawed up a full bosom of nuts with their leafy cupules. Romko peeled them with a pebble just near the water that was slightly fluttering on sand. The nuts were still white, but they could already be eaten. To taste, they resembled milk. Romko was so enthralled with his business that he did not notice that cows began to go from above to the pasture. They were followed by children. It was necessary to choose among them a reliable guy and ask for help in this difficult situation. Romko lay behind the stone and began to look around. He was already well aware of the rules of masking and knew that the head should never stand out against the sky. So he chose a boulder, behind which was a thick bush. Now he will be invisible. So far, Romko did not recognize anyone among children – it was too far to them. The cows were moving very slowly and had to go a long time until they approached. Meanwhile, on the bank, far just by the ferry appeared a group of soldiers. They loaded something in the boat, and then they sat in it and sailed to the other bank. There was a village of Glyadigory.
Romko was interested in what they had to do there and he began to watch the soldiers. The soldiers crossed to the other very slanting bank, unloaded the boat and moved along the bank, approaching the boy. Romko crawled behind the horsetail bush and watched the soldiers from there. When they were in front of him, Romko saw that the soldiers carried a machine gun, which was called in the village a mashinger or firefight. Some soldiers carried metal boxes in their hands, apparently with cartriges, the two of them had shovels. The group went even further and stopped on the outskirts of the village under thick willow. The branches of the trees hung almost to the ground and it was badly seen that the soldiers were doing there. But, at least it was evident that they began digging the ground. There was something mysterious about this. Do they want to bury a mashinger? – thought Romko. Indeed, the soldiers dragged the machine gun into the pit, but not at all. The barrel jutted upward.
Meanwhile, the children have already approached Romko and he already recognized some of them. He had to choose among them the most reliable. So could be the Romko's friend Slavko Dzeman, the son of the teacher in the village school, but he was not visible. But with the rest, Romko could rely on anyone, he was a great authority for all, not only because he was the son of a priest, but also because he was the most intelligent. Children often spoke among themselves about different events in the village and surrounding areas during the grazing of cattle. They knew much more than adults imagined this. True, elder children told to the juniors not all, for it was too early for them to know all. So there were certain secrets. One of them was that somewhere near the village was the hideout of the Ukrainian Insurgent Army soldiers. In order not to reveal the secrets, the elders called the insurgents in conversation with each other "forest devils". However, none of the children really knew where the lodge was. No one except Romka. He knew, because sometimes on behalf of his father, he carried for fighters some packets were considered to be with food, but perhaps with something others. In the end, adults also knew about the hideout, as food for the partisans was collected from all over the village. In turn, they baked bread, gave milk and eggs. When someone cut a boar, half the fat was allocated to the partisans too. Supplying food was an affer of one person. But where and how he passed food to the boys, almost nobody knew, or feigned, that he did not know.
So, Romko could trust any of the children and began to patiently watch in order to call someone at a convenient moment. For a long time the cows slowly moved along the meadow, picking out the juicy grass, and the children sat down a circle under the mountain. It took some time and finally it turned out opportunity. Some of the cows climbed in the thicket of shrubs near Romko and small Mikhailik began to expel it. Crying "Hy mala!", he tried to drive the cow to the pasture, but it was confused in the bushes of blackberries and nettles. Romko softly called him: "Misko!". But Mikhailik did not hear and had already driven that dumb cow into an open place and began to move away with her. Then Romko cried more loudly "Misko, stand still!". Mikhailik stopped and twisted his head to all sides, not knowing who called him. Romko raised his head for a moment and cried: "Come here!" Then they sat down behind a stone covered with yellow-green lichen and Romko briefly told that this night he had escaped from the Moscals. He ordered Mikhailik to bring something to eat at dinner and tell about the news in the village.
Then we talk, but now run and silent about me! Understand? – he quickly said. Romko did not detain Mikhail for a long time, because he feared that other children suspect something. Mikhailok ran for a cow and soon joined the rest of the cowherds.
Romko again looked toward the Moscals. They were no longer visible, but the barrel of the machine-gun still stuck up. Not seeing anything interesting, Romko lay on the grass backwards, looking at the white clouds that alternately ran into the sun, and soon fell asleep. He did not know how much time had passed, when suddenly the gun runbled. Romko was frightened and hurriedly stood up behind the stone. However, the firing went to the other side. Having released several turns, the machine became quiet. Romko waited a bit, but the shooting did not repeat. He climbed gently to the tree to see where the soldiers were shooting. Hiding behind the trunk, to be unnoticed from the opposite bank, the boy climbed a few meters up. From the tree it was very well seen as the opposite left bank, and the pasture, and the slope of the right bank. Actually, the slope immediately attracted the attention of the boy. It was clear that they shot there. Bullets cut the tops of trees and a dark hole was opened in a sloping rock. The hole was the entrance to the known in the village cave. People called it "Duka", but few of them visited it. Adults had no interest, and it was possible to climb in it as if by a ladder from below or from above on the line. Some children came there sometimes, especially Romko and Slavko. In general, there were many caves near the village, so it was called "Pechorna" (Cavernous). They were so numerous that even nobody knew how much they really were. Some caves had very invisible entrances under the stones, such as the "Snake's Hole". The others had two or more entrances connected between them. In a word, it was a real maze which in it was very easy to get lost. Therefore, the majority of children were afraid to creep into them. But not Romko with Slavko were. They so learned that maze that could move without faultless with closed eyes. However it was so dark there that, even if you close or your eyes you cannot see anything. But the boys had a German flashlight, which gave light, if very quickly, press on a special bracket on the side. This flashlight was forgotten by a German officer having been lodged at Koropetski’s family when fleeing in a hurry from Moscals. So the children used it in caves. Otherwise, they would not give themselves advice in that intricacies of underground passageways.
Here in this "Duka" were hiding insurgents. When necessary, they went out for operations, after a day some of them came to a designated place for food, but no one left the cave without need. In one of its distant branches, water was constantly flowing from above, and people in the cave always had something to drink and could even wash and shave daily. To ensure that there were no swamps below, the guerrillas made a ditch, which led water into one of the cracks. This crack was also used as a "toilet". In the village, everyone was suspected of hiding place of insurgents, but it was not accepted to speak about this. Therefore, the Moscals did not have any clues about the "Kryvika" (hideout). Now Romko has understood everything. The Moscals somehow learned about it, and therefore they came to the village in such a quantity to surround the partisans and force them to surrender to captivity. Although they knew that the rebels would never give up. Mayve they were hoping to crush them with hunger. Romko wanted to get out of the tree when he saw some kind of figure that appeared at the entrance to the cave. Holding his hand for the branch of the nearest tree not to fall, this man raised some tube with a wide aperture to its mouth and shouted. It was enough far to the cave, but Romko was well heard, all that the man shouted:
- Fellows, give it up! You are surrounded and you have no chances to escape. Lay down weapon and go out one by one. You will not be shoot. According to Stalin's decree, everyone laying weapons will be guaranteed life and freedom!
The man who was undoubtedly a traitor repeated the same several times in various ways, but the answer was complete silence. Romko was afraid that one of the militants would emerge, tempted by himdelf Stalin's promise. Who exactly was Stalin he did not know, but there were many talks about his omnipotence. Therefore, when his youngest children were asked about him, he explained for simplicity that Stalin was a Russian tsar, although he knew that the tsar had already been thrown out for a long time. There were no signs of life from the cave, and the man with the tube soon disappeared. But Romko has not yet climbed from the tree, waiting for what will be further. And then again, the machine gun knocked over. Soldiers fired in a cave. Most of the balls hit the rock, cutting out small pebbles from it, but something came inside. But Romko knew that the guerrillas were not so stupid and went to the bottom of the cave where they were out of reach for balls. Fearing that the soldiers did not start shooting near the cave, Romko got out of the tree and began to wait Misko. Wait a long time. The children again drove the cows to the pasture, but Mikhailk was not among them. Their cow was grazed by someone else.
* * *
On this day, Poludkin asked to be duty in the section located in the priest's house. He convinced the commander that he could make a good dinner from food found in the house while the rest would stand on posts. He gladly agreed. When all went away, Poludkin climbed by ladder to the garret, opened a hatch and said:
- Hey, fellow! Do you hear me?
No answers. Then he cried louder:
- Hey, boy, this is I! Don't be afraid!
Orestes took a tommy-gun and responded quietly:
- Guy, go away, leave tonight. I'll get you out of the village.
- I can not go…
- Yes, at the leg.
Poludkin came down up and began to cook dinner, but thoughts drove around the question, how not to complicate further the situation. He had pity for the boy there in the garret, and it was also sorrow for his mates, but most of all it was a pity for himself. If this Bandera somehow shows himself, or someone finds him, then the tribunal will be unavoidable. Do not know how will behave this Bandera. The soldier almost didn't sleep this night, he was afraid that the boy would come down and shoot them all off by gun. He even persuaded the section commander to find some other place for overnight, but did not find a valid reason for this. He still did not kill anyone, and now only clearly understood, to kill a man for nothing he can not do. That's right, but what to do? What to do next? – spun in his head. In the meantime, it is need to give the boy something to eat, decided Poludkin afraid that the Bandera descend in search of food at next night. He took a loaf of bread, cut off a piexe of bacon, which he found in the pantry, then thought and took from his knapsack a can of condensed milk, which he won on the cards from Kosyachenko, and put it all into a puch found in the kitchen.
After thinking a bit, Poludkin guessed to add a bottle of water to the pouch. Then he went out into the passage and again climbed up.
- Hey, guy! Take a meal, – he said in the darkness and put the poch on the edge of the hole. Then he thought and added:
- And do not get out of there. We will be leaving soon…
Coming down, Poludkin continued to potter gloomy in the kitchen. Deep in his thoughts, he mechanically cleaned the potatoes and beets, cut fat, chopped onions and cabbage while water was boiling on the fire. When everything was ready, he wanted to pull the pan out of the fire and took the lug with bare hands. Immediately he burned hands, let out the pan on the stove, it turned around and all the boiling water poured out on the soldier's legs. Water was poured into boots, his legs were unbearably fierce, but the soldier, hurriedly siting down on the floor, could not pull those boots from his feet. Finally coping with them, he barefooted to the school, where, in addition to the headquarters also housed a madical unit. The doctor being glad to deal not with a wounded, but only with the patient, embroiled Poludkin a lttle formally, and on the same day he sent him with occasion to the hospital. Poludkin, in spite of pain, felt himself the happiest person in the world, because of this misfortune, he came out of the situation in which he was in the power of circumstances and the "weakness" of his own character.
On this day the village lived an unusual disturbed life. In addition to the clear fuss of the military, the village community was also disturbed by nervous organizers of the collective farm. They arrived in the morning and actively joined the work, that is, they started running from home to house. It was necessary to start a collective cowshed and stables from the confiscated livestock of the evicted peasants. But they would hardly have coped with this task, if some local people did not help them. Those not so much supported the idea of collective management, how much they suffered from hungry cattle, which remained on abandoned yards. In the end, cattle were sorted out, that is, they separated cows from horses, but pigs, goats and chickens were temporarily distributed among people with a duty to return when a pig farm and poultry farm were built. There were not a lot of horses, they were driven to a fairly large stables of the priest, and cows were collected in two or three empty stands.
* * *
The sun was already low and was coming beyond the clouds that were going from the west when, finally, Mykhailyk came. He was trembling with fear and for a long time could not say something in order – swallowing words, one repeated several times, the other cannot finish. He calmed down a little while, when Romko praised him for his courage. For a long time he was afraid to go unnoticed on the coast, because the Moscals set guards everywhere. Finally, he took advantage of the fact that the soldiers who stood near their house, went to dinner. He had already told mom about Romko and she had already prepared a poch for him with food, as if Mikhailik had to bring it to cowherds. In the pouch there were a few pieces of bacon, a couple of boiled eggs, bread and two onions. The mother told Mykhailyk also to pick apples, today is just Apple feast. Having such foods it could hold out two to three days. Mikhailik said that almost half of the village soldiers drove to the district center. Among them was a Romko's friend Slavko. Also there was retween Moscals a man who often came to organize something in the village, whether a collective farm or a Komsomol. Romko realized that it was Anatoly Smolyarenko, secretary of the District Komsomol. This is exactly who screamed through the tube to the rebels. Mykhailyk also said that the soldiers settled in the large huts of the evicted people, and at the school, they made the headquarters.
It was dangerous hiding on the bank, and "Snake's hole" was not far from Duka. Soldiers could move their guards closer to the cave, so Romko had to look for a place somewhere elsewhere. He could sleep in one of haycocks, which still remained on the meadow in a wide and rather deep valley on the western outskirts of the village. They agreed to meet tomorrow at the "Frog's Eye". It was a small lake in the middle of that valley, somewhere overgrown with a reed, and mostly surrounded by stone boulders. If you look from above, then it looked very small, so it was called "Frog's Eye". Mikhailik went away, and Romko prayed and began to eat. He did not hurry, because he knew that you can satisfy with fewer meals chewing slowly. The food had to be spared.
When he finished and put the rest in the pouch, it grows dark. There were two ways to move to the "Frog's Eye" – either uphill and then through the village, or down the bank to a forest-ravaged ravine that led into the valley. Both ways were dangerous. The village was swarmed by soldier, and the Moscale track could stay below the cave. Romco decided to go downstairs. Hiding between the bushes of hawthorn and hips, he came to the source and wondered if there were any traces on either side. In one place the grass was trampled and footdtep on clay. Yes it is! Somewhere nearby there should be a guard post. He went in the woods of the forest and listened. It was quiet, only cow lowing and dog barking was heard from Glyadygory. Somewhere, cacklong, geese came to a bank. Very close a jay cried shrilly. Romko listened and sniffed, if he did not feel the strong smell of the shag smoked by the Muscovites. At times it seemed to him that he hear something, another time nothing. He did not hurry and did well, because suddenly the jumbo flew and heard a slight rustling of stones on the path. The heart was quenched so that Romko thought that it would now jump out of the chest. Her legs were like cotton, but the boy found the strength to sit quietly, and then go to the ground. The steps are approaching, but Romko has not seen anything yet. He fluttered his nose to the ground and whispered quietly, repeatedly: "Mate of God, save me!". The steps stopped, someone quietly coughed, then the water drooped. If Romko had himself, just as he would have already heard the Macheres, who stepped away from the Muscovite. And this he and was, obviously descended to the source to dial in a jar of water. The soldier drank water from the flask, dipped it back into the spring, twisted the lid and slowly went up.
Ромко лежав ще довго, аж поки не заспокоїлося серце, а потім у напівтемряві пішов далі. Відійшовши метрів сто, він приспішив кроки. Треба було поспішати, бо западала ніч. Досить швидко він підійшов до яру. Тут вже жодної стежі не мало бути, бо від печер було вже далеко. Майже бігцем він піднявся в долину, де було ще досить видно і він побачив, що жодної копиці на лузі вже не було. „Либонь, москалі забрали їх собі на постіль” – подумав Ромко мало не в сльозах. І що тепер робити? Він вже ладен був заснути під деревом на траві, але розумів, що може застудитися вночі. Вже почав накрапати дощ.
* * *
У печері бойовики другу годину сиділи на нараді. Становище було кепське. Запасний вихід теж потрапив у зону оточення. Москальська стежа стояла зовсім поруч з норою, про яку солдати, правда, не підозрювали, бо вона була добряче присипана минулорічним листям і четиною . Але Сокіл, коли обережно роздивлявся з нори довкола, покрив все-таки трохи розворушив. Уважне око могло це побачити і тоді москалі підсилять цю стежу. Але в будь-якому випадку пробиватися з боєм цим шляхом означало йти на вірну смерть. Те саме робити через головний вихід було ще небезпечніше. Думки були різні.
Слово взяв здоровецький шугайло Грім:
- Нема що чекати на допомогу. В кожній чоті лишилося заледве по кілька бійців. Якщо навіть в найближчій криївці довідаються про наше становище, вони нас не визволять. І самі загинуть і нам не допоможуть. Треба самим пробиватися боєм, і тільки. Ліпше це зробити нині над рано. Коли стежі почнуть куняти.
- Спішити не треба – перебив Грома Довбуш, посивілий гуцул з довгими вусами. – У нас є ще один голуб. Ми пошлемо повідомлення Шрамові і проведемо спільну операцію. Коли вони підійдуть і почнуть стрілянину, ми вдаримо зі свого боку. Така моя думка.
- Я згідний з Довбушем, але поки будемо чекати, можна пошукати ще один вихід з печери – додав Сокіл.
Золотий, який виконував обов’язки чотового після смерті Хвилі уважно слухав усіх, мовчки скручуючи собі цигарку. Діставши з кишені френча почергово трут з вати у металевій рурці, кремінь і кресало, він довго викресав вогень, а коли, нарешті, іскри запалили трут, він припалив цигарку і розважливо сказав:
- Далебі усі в чомусь мають рацію. Голуба Шрамові ми пошлемо, і вихід шукати будемо. Але часу у нас обмаль. Харчів майже нема, бо нині ж передачу зробити не встигли. Лишилося хіба трохи минулорічної бульби, одна хлібина і шматок сала. Нас є сімнадцять. Більше трьох днів ми чекати не зможемо. На всякий випадок треба готуватися до найгіршого. У нас є досить гранат. З п’яти зробимо зв’язку для себе, а решту викинемо на москалів.
- Я підриватися не хочу! – вскочив Ковель, імпульсивний східняк, зовсім ще молодий батяр, колишній розвідник у Червоній Армії. – Я ліпше загину від москальської кулі.
- А ти впевнений, що вони тебе вб’ють, а не поранять?
Ковель сів, стиснувши кулаки.
- Не треба бантувати . Остаточне рішення приймемо завтра на свіжу голову. А зараз йдемо спати. Чия там черга стояти на варті?
Зажурений Гомін взяв кріса і пішов ближче до виходу.
- Тільки варуй , москалі часом б’ють з того боку, – порадив йому Золотий.
А на дворі вже лляв дощ. Спочатку дрібонький, він падав щодалі все рясніше. Над Глядигорами спалахували блискавки і зразу ж гримів грім. Між вибухами грому було чути як тривожно скриплять гілки дерев, а листя шумить від дощу і вітру, але в печері було тихо і тепло. Поступово на схилах сформувались цілі потоки води і потекли просто на табір москалької стежі, що стояла внизу під Дукою. Вода загасила вогнище, яке солдати розклали під брезентовим дахом, підмочила солдатські шинелі, на яких сторожа мала спати, і харчі у речових мішках. У таборі почалася велика метушня, москальську лайку можна було чути аж у печері. У Золотого промайнула думка: „Треба скористатися моментом”. Він кликнув:
- Ковель, до мене! Швидко!
Вояк, який вже мостився спати, підбіг до командира.
- Спробуй прорватися, поки негода. Якщо вдасться, ми підемо за тобою.
набоями. Його друзі швидко спустили додолу линву, якою завжди користалися в необхідних випадках. Ковель почав прощатися з ними:
- Ну, друзі, не згадайте лихого, прощавайте усі!
Він потиснув руки і поцілувався з усіма. Потім незграбно перехрестився я взявся за линву.
- Дай Боже – майже в один голос промовили йому стиха.
Одна мить, і Ковель зник у темряві. Та сталося непередбачуване. Руки погано тримали на слизькій линві і він практично впав з шестиметрової висоти. Нога підвернулася і Коволь від болю присів. За мить щось тяжке опустилося на його голову і він більше не пам’ятав нічого.