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THE Sava is a broad and yellow river by the time it reaches Srem, by then swollen from its clean source in Slovenia with the Una and the Vrbas and the Bosna and a dozen other tributaries which join it from the hills. Soil and filth are thick in its slow-moving water. Its banks are lined with trees, swampy willows and rotting softwoods which harbour millions of flies in summer-time; and every now and then along its level banks are narrow mud-filled gulfs where the peasants moor their boats. Along its southern bank is the wheat-bearing plain of Semberija, a country where the people are half-way between the uncouth misery of Bosnia and the wealth of Voivodina. They are Christian Serbs, not Moslems like the people of the Mayevitsa, and their churches are white-walled spires and halls that tower toy-like in this flat country above their squalid villages. In the summer-time the plain is hot and enervating, and the roads lie thick under white dust, and there is no shade except in the cover of copses of young birch and ash. The cattle are teased with flies; even the oxen, ponderous white beasts with yard-long horns, fidget and start and shake their heavy heads. Men work in the fields stripped to the waist; and the women throw off everything but their white blouses and linen skirts. Their feet are grey with dust and blistered by the hard earth. Cattle and men are covered in sweat as they plough for autumn sowing.
The weather holds until late October. Then the first frosts occur, and the sun comes up in a faint mist over the flat land. The ground is crisp and hard underfoot. The corn is inch-high, wet with mist and pale green like a Chinese painting as you see it through bent branches of the naked saplings along the roadside. The leaf is still green on the old trees, the oaks and beeches that hold their leaf until late in the autumn. The sky is faintly blue with high white clouds that fold across it. On clear days you can see the hills of Bosnia as they rise into the mountains of the south; and then, turning round and facing north, you can sometimes see, far away and faint on the horizon, the blurred outline of the Frushka Gora. The mountains are behind you; what lies in front is the great central plain of Europe, the basin of the Danube, the flat land of Pannonia.
Then the first rains fall, and the days shorten into the darkness of November. The roads turn into running mud, rich alluvial mud that sucks and clings to your every step; and the land as you tramp over it comes up on your boots in great leaden-heavy sods, so that walking is a hateful weariness. Work in the fields stops until the spring, and the cattle are penned indoors. They stand in their stables in the reek and steam of their dung, and sneeze with the morning rain. The geese float and squabble in the rivers which run deep in village gutters. The rain pours down and the mud deepens. All the time the days are getting shorter, the nights longer and darker. Nothing is left of the brilliant light of summer but this dim monotony of rain and grey-wracked cloud. The roads turn into rivers of mud.
In the villages across the Sava, where the mud is even worse, the horses are up to their knees and the carts to the hub of their wheels, and the village houses seem to be afloat. The tall oaks and elms in the woods of Bosut stand with their roots in water. Water drips from the trees; the world is one perpetual drip, and there is no means of getting dry. The people stand about in the firm land of their doorways and shout across to each other to hear if there be anything new. They wear sheepskins with the wool turned inside and the leather polished and shiny with age and wearing, and sometimes dolled up with coloured beads and stitched on pieces. On then-heads they have sheepskin bonnets, deep round comfortable affairs called shubare. They wear on their feet as many pairs of thick wool socks as they can get, packed inside wide moccasins. The women go in for four or five petticoats.
Through this water-logged land, with the broad green plain of Semberija on one side and the tall dense woods of Bosut on the other, the Sava flows eastwards in a pale yellow flood, thick with soil and filth, its surface patterned with the filmy grain of eddies in the water.
The next two months were a game of hop-scotch back and forth across the river. The commander of the Voivodina Staff, with his commissar, were absent in the Frushka Gora; until they returned certain decisions that I needed could not be taken. In any case the Frushka Gora was isolated within Vlassoff's cordon, and the links with people in the Bachka and in Budapest, which had been good in the previous summer, were now broken again. There was nothing to do but wait.
The staff had prudently split itself into two parts. There remained in Racha, where we found them, the second-in-command and the chief-of-staff, as well as the wireless transmitter and its operators, the secretary with his typewriter, and the girl who listened to the news from London, Moscow, and "Free Jugoslavia." Racha is an old settlement just north of the Sava in the loop the river makes for the confluence of the Drina; before the dykes were built the village was annually flooded by the spring waters of the Sava, and fifteen years ago the government of King Alexander had brought itself to build an entirely new village in a wide clearing of the woods, a match-box affair which had little to recommend it and was destined to be razed by the Germans. But that was later.
In the winter of '43 Racha was a main port of call for everyone who crossed and recrossed the Sava: it was the bottleneck through which recruits were directed into Bosnia, and the normal headquarters of the staff. Like many of the villages of the plain, it was built with small regard to possible amenities; some seventy or eighty thin-walled cottages, each with two or three ground-floor rooms and a hayloft, were laid out along the sides of an extended cross-roads, and such was the condition of the public way that in the winter you steered a careful course from mire to mire, and causeways of maize stalks were laid across the road at intervals of fifty paces. The village was a poor one as well as being new; the villagers had little land or stock, and most of them looked with envy to the neighbouring settlements of Grk and Bosut, older and wealthier and better established. The war seemed only one more burden in a life that was intolerable. Until the previous summer the Pavelitch authorities had maintained a satnija of Ustashe in the village to control the crossing of the Sava; but in the autumn these had been driven out by the First Brigade and had not returned. This was the usual story. In the beginning the Pavelitch authorities and the Germans had been able to swamp the land under an infinity of garrisons; but gradually the balance had changed, troops were needed on the front and in the mountains, partisan Odreds grew and became more numerous; little by little it was possible for the partisans to elbow themselves small areas in the plain from which the enemy had been pushed out, and to which he came back only on occasional punitive raids.
For months now Racha had been in the undisputed hands of the local Odred (based on the woods of Bosut); and the normal apparatus of partisan control had come into existence. In the village itself there was an Odbor, or committee, of elected villagers who were responsible for local government in all its aspects, from the taking of decision on what the village should grow, when and where the cattle should be put to pasture, and who should mend the fences (questions the village had always decided by show of hands), to the newer and infinitely more delicate problems of liaison with the people's army.
In its most developed form the village Odbor as it worked in Srem was a remarkably efficient and all-inclusive organization; in Racha it was necessarily in a simple form, but the main elements were there. Amongst its main duties were those of supply and billeting. The Odbor appointed a sort of duty officer—or Odbornik of the day—who could be found at the third house on the left as you came in by the windmill, or something of the kind; he saw to it that the girls were duly posted on their sentry duty at all points of entry into the village, so that unknown characters could be marked down and questioned on their business, that incoming partisans were billeted without special hardship to the families concerned, and that food was produced for them from the common store.
If Militsa Yokitch had seen three armed men she couldn't account for—"My God, and I think they were Ustashe"—in the woods beyond the village where the woodland pathway goes towards Grk and Jamena, then it was the Odbornik's job to run to the nearest desetina and give the alarm. If he was a good Odbornik, and used to the ways of the enemy, he would stand and scratch his head for a minute and think it out, and then stroll slowly over to Jovan's, where the desetina was billeted, and wait for a moment, and then clamber out of the mud into Jovan's doorway, push his fur hat on to the back of his head, and shout: "I say. Umbrella! I say, are you there?" As like as not, Umbrella would be his first wife's brother's younger son, practically of his own family, in fact, and he would find it pleasant to have to go and call his own family to find the answer. This was something that had never happened before, could never have happened before. The association of an army with his own affairs was a miracle which neither he nor anyone else would have thought possible a few years ago. Until then the army had been another kind of servitude that men could not escape, a matter of being called up through the post and packing your bundle and going to Mitrovitsa, and then of a year or two of cuffs and kicks and uneatable food and incomprehensible orders. The only thing you got out of that was a photograph in uniform of yourself and friends, suitably posed, a possession that in some way or other seemed necessary to your self-respect and was given a place of honour on the wall, along with a coloured print of St. Michael and St. George and a picture of Lacharak Choir at its annual meeting twenty-five years ago. But nowadays the army was another thing. It was yours in the intimate sense that you could treat it as an equal, help it, criticise it, complain about it, be proud even of it. And when he came stamping out of the sucking mud on to the dry land of Jovan's doorway, the Odbornik would be thinking all this over in his head, and muddling it up with the problem on hand, and with a great deal of politics that no one could say he properly understood : and no matter what the danger he would be rather pleased with himself and he would go up to the desetar and say: "Look here. Umbrella" (or whatever the desetar chose to call himself), "I think we've got a little job over there."
"Ah," says Umbrella. "You mean in Bosnia. Don't worry, they say it's going very well. Our chaps'll take Brtchko...."
"Yes, I know. Kolya was telling me. Kolya knows what he is talking about. I'd trust Kolya, young as he is. No, it's another thing. That woman Militsa—mind you, she's never been the same since they murdered her husband, can't get over it somehow—well, she says she saw some people: might have been three, or half a dozen, or maybe more"—the Odbornik peers suspiciously about him. He is very well aware of the importance of konspiratsia. He stands there with his fur cap on the back of his head, his hands deep in the pockets of his ragged trousers, his face hard and walnut-brown and serious, his long yellow moustache twitching as he talks—"in the Rakitsa Clearing they were...."
The desetar, who is lying in his socks and shirt on Jovan's bed by the oven, reaches for his trousers. The Odbornik sits down slowly on Jovan's second wife's rocking-chair, and rocks himself quietly to and fro, his fur cap on the back of his head and his moustaches twitching. "You needn't hurry," he says loftily. "Militsa says she thinks it was that new chap from Stroshintsi with two or three Ustashe——"
"Maiku!"—this offends the desetar more than he can bear: he flings his trousers on the floor, brings his legs down and sits up facing the Odbornik. "How could there possibly be Ustashe in the Rakitsa Clearing? Impossible"—he wags a finger at the Odbornik: "You all know perfectly well that we cleared the woods as far as Stroshintsi only last week, and we've got patrols out all day and night. And here's old mother Stanitch running to me with tales of Gestapovtsi poking their faces in at the window: and here's you with your Ustashe in the Ratkitsa Clearing ..." he trails off moodily: his contempt is beyond words.
"Now, don't get excited, Umbrella." The Odbornik launches out into a discussion on the man from Stroshintsi. "We don't know where he comes from, and they say his wife had an affair with some Ustashe satnik from Sheed." He suddenly gets angry. "Maiku! How d'you expect us to know everything? Of course we know that the posadina counts for everything. The posadina isn't only the rear of the army: we know that: we know it's all of us and everything we do, and we've got to see that there aren't any spies. But, oh my God, we can't know always." The magnitude of the task gives him a sense of injustice. Being a good Odbornik, he takes his job seriously. "Anyway," he concludes, "Militsa may be mad or she may not be mad; but she was doing sentry over towards Grk and she saw these men and she's run to tell me: and there it is: I've done my duty and I've told you."
Umbrella is putting on his trousers. "Look here, Odbornik. You're quite right. I admit you're quite right. The national liberation struggle can only exist on a basis of complete co-operation between the army and the people. Yes, yes: you're quite right. Only I must point out to you"—he stands up, and yells suddenly:
"Old woman, where are my boots? Boots! " and then he lowers his voice and says to the Odbornik, who is still rocking himself gently to and fro: "Only, look here, at first you said I needn't hurry; and then you said Militsa'd seen some Ustashe over there, over there in the Rakitsa Clearing. Now, look here, does that make sense? Either I have to hurry——"
"That's right, that's right: or there aren't any Ustashe." The Odbornik shakes his head: how things have changed, how things have become utterly different: "That's sense nowadays. But it didn't use to be. Oh, my God, no it didn't."
Jovan's wife's mother comes in with the desetar's boots, which she has been cleaning while he slept. She is small and bent with age and hard work; her hands are little wrinkled claws almost without flesh, dry parchment talons with broken yellow nails. "Here's your boots," she grumbles, adding: "and don't think you're going out in this weather without eating. That's what did for poor Dinka, he died from not eating in cold weather...."
"There now, mother, don't you worry."
She goes out again, muttering under her breath and paying no attention to the desetar's protest. She has never heard such nonsense.
Umbrella puts on his belt. Two of his nine men come in, already belted and prepared. "We heard from Militsa that there's a dozen Ustashe in the Rakitsa Clearing"—they look the least bit worried, a dozen to nine is not the best of bargains when it is the nine that have to do the hunting.
The Odbornik and the desetar shout simultaneously: "Rubbish! That's what comes of letting women do sentry." Umbrella says:
"There might be three. Come on, we'll go and see. But we'd better have a plan." Stops, looking round. "Maiku! I've lost that bomb again. Now——"
"No, you haven't," one of the newcomers says. "You left it at Militsa's last night. You're always losing your blessed bomb. And one day you'll want it and you won't find it."
The desetar takes this calmly: he is on weak ground. "Funny how that bomb always slips off my belt, though," he says. "Now, come on: don't start speculating on the old woman's cakes. Let's make a plan." He sits and sucks a pencil, then decides: "Luka, you take three men—no, two—you can take those two Lacharak chaps, they're all right—you take those two Lacharak chaps out along the Grk road until you're past the Rakitsa Clearing, and then turn left-hand into the woods and come slowly back again. And mind where you're going."
"And what about the others?"
"We'll come out the other way, along the dyke towards Jamena and then right-hand into the woods. And if I whistle three times like this"—whistles with two fingers in his mouth—"you'll know that's me, and you whistle back three times, too. And I bet we don't see a damned thing. Oh, and tell that boy from Grk that he'd better stay here for veza. Stay here and don't budge. Make sure he understands. He'll do any damn' silly thing, that boy."
And the Odbornik sits in the rocking-chair and hangs upon their every word. Afterwards he climbs down into the mud again and goes off to report on the situation to his fellow-trustees and they sit in someone's house and go through the whole thing properly, as it deserves, and the Odbornik lets drop casually in the course of the discussions that Umbrella's one of the best desetars he's seen: "My first wife's brother's younger boy, you know. Oh, my God, he's a good lad. They say he's going into the Third Brigade before long, too."
"They say the Third's going to take Brtchko any day now," says someone. All day long Lekitch's artillery has been hammering away at the town; and in Racha they can hear the shelling like dull rumbling in the distance. "My God, if they take Brtchko, what a difference that'll make! " They sit in their dreary matchbox cottage in a sea of mud and discuss the doings of the Third Brigade as if it were the last possible word in military formations. And perhaps it is.
It was equally the Odbor's job to arrange—or, in some cases where the Odbor was old-established and had a recognized position, to give permission—for the holding of political meetings in the village. In that case they had them in the main crossroads in front of the school which the Ustashe had burnt down the summer before so that little Serbs should not be taught to read and write in case they forgot that they were supposed to be little Croats. If the days were drawing in the Odbor had to supply paraffin or carbide lamps. This was bound to be difficult. Light was very hard to get.
"We've got three, anyway," says the Odbornik of the day. "You can put one in the middle of the platform, and one on each side. Lovely light it'll give." And that is what they do. Benches and chairs are crowded together in front of the platform and we sit in hard discomfort on the edge of the narrow circle of yellow light thrown out by the lamps. First of all there is some singing by the choir the staff has organized. Zhika introduces the choir as they stump solemnly on to the platform, making the whole erection shake and tremble so that Sava Orovitch has to grin and make them feel the slightest bit silly.
Zhika is an old friend of ours: he is a very talkative chap from the Shumadija, and represents in exaggerated form a characteristic of the partisan army that is not altogether admirable. Zhika himself is a delightful talker; he talks incessantly and awfully well, but there isn't the slightest doubt—not that I want to impugn his sincerity at all—that he shoots a terrific line. Mind you, I'm sure he tells the truth: still, he does rather give the impression that nobody else in the world has done much about the war compared with what—but that's far too definite: I don't know—anyway, he does shoot a line. He's a very nice chap, and we all like him. But even if he did join the movement in the early days of Uzhitse, and was wounded oh my God who knows how many times, he does rather tend, you know ... to rub it in. Though I daresay he's absolutely sincere. Only sometimes one feels he really ought to let up on it a little: you know what I mean—I really don't want to impugn his what-d'you-call-it, his patriotism that is, but still...
Anyway, there's Zhika up on the platform with his homely face, all tensed with the effort. We like to have him sing, and so does he. The choir is dumb, their faces hewn in wood; and Zhika explains what they are going to sing. These are in the early days when no-one's very clear—for we're on the edge of the movement, now, and news travels slowly—whether England and America are friends or enemies; on the whole it seems that they may be friends, but there's no reason yet to say so. The Party insists on due homage to the U.S.S.R., and obviously they are quite right, because apart from the Soviet Union's being Russia everyone knows that without the Soviet Union's part in the war the Germans would have so many troops available as to make the partisan movement in Jugoslavia or anywhere else an idle pipe-dream. The equation is simple and direct. Whatever the English and Americans may be up to, it is abundantly clear that they are doing nothing to lighten the war in the Balkans; and resistance is possible only because the Germans have had to draw off large numbers of troops to fight in Russia. That is what the Odbornik thinks, at least; though he is in no way averse to having England and America as friends, seeing moreover that they are countries of fabulous and frantic wealth. Accordingly, it is only to be expected that Zhika has a lot to say about the songs of the Soviet Union they are going to sing.
Suddenly, the choir comes to attention at a sign from Zhika, and bursts into song. Zhika likes things to go with a swing, and rather fancies himself as a choirmaster. The songs go with a speed and dash which everyone applauds. Zhika has two or three resounding basses in his choir, and in the choruses they come booming through the two tenors and the four women's voices. They sing about the defence of Moscow, and the Red Fleet, and the Komsomols; and then they sing the special marching song of the Voivodina Division, and on this, which is very popular, everyone joins in. And then some more Red Army songs.
Brostje dumaf general!, od pohodje na Moskvu Ot Kavkaza do Bajkala raznesjom vas pokusku.
Vintovachka bej, bej:
Vintavachka bej. Krasnaja vintovachka fashistov nje zhele.... They sing about the defence of Moscow, and it is quite clear that there is a lot more in this than Zhika's artifice. There is an intimate connection between the defence of Moscow and the defence of Racha which everyone can understand: you don't have to be a communist, or even politically-minded at all, to see that. And although nobody is entirely sure what the communists want or actually mean, anyone can see for himself that they are the people who make the partisan movement what it is—and what's more, keep it like it is, and prevent these young hotheads from getting out of hand and losing sight of the main thing, which is to protect the people, the peasants, from utter ruin at the hand of Ustashe and Germans and oh my God who knows who else that may want to despoil them.
After the singing Zhika's choir files off the platform into the darkness beyond and leaves the stage free for Sava Orovitch to make his speech. Everyone knows perfectly well that Sava Orovitch is going to make a speech, and they take a deep breath accordingly, for Sava Orovitch's speeches are rather long and tedious: mind you, very interesting, and of course he's a general and has a right to make a speech; still, he could cut down a bit on length sometimes, not that we really mind, though. He's a rather short man in semi-civilian clothes (he won't wear captured German uniform, it offends his sense of what is decent) with riding boots and a belt with a hand-grenade, and a Titovka with a partisan red star on his head; an oldish man in his fifties who used to command a regiment of infantry in the days before the war and, long ago even before that, served as a young officer in Nikita's army of Montenegro. He stands there in the faded yellow light, blinking a little and looking out into the darkness; he knows we're all there waiting to hear him speak, but of course he can't see a thing. He blinks out into the darkness and begins:
"These are great days we are living through"—he's safe with that all right: they certainly are great days—"and from this struggle we shall build a new and better country ..." and just think of that, a regular army officer and a general into the bargain who's talking on level terms to peasants, and talking, too, about building a new and better country. Absolutely unheard of.
The crowd sits without talking—or not much—on the edge of the yellow light, there in Racha with the dripping silent woods and the sea of mud around them, and down beyond the dyke the broad swirling river flows by, and over the river there is Bosnia, and somewhere in Bosnia are the brigades of their army. They listen in apathy and yet eagerly, passionately aware for all their listlessness that this old man is talking about their affairs, about their interests, about their future. Every now and then someone shouts "Long live Tito!" or "Long live the conquering Red Army!" and the crowd thunders back, "Zhivio!" which means much the same thing and can't really be translated. Up on the platform there is Sava and Mrs. Sava, Kolya in his blue jacket that he's had these three months and more. Maxim Goranovitch and Mrs. Maxim, who are about the best intendants between them that we've ever seen, and one or two others you wouldn't know all huddled together on rickety chairs of Militsa's and oh my God who knows who else's. On the whole it's a good meeting and well worth the trouble. Sava goes on with his long speech about the Red Army and the way it's advancing towards the Balkans; near the end, when everyone hopes he has finished, he comes out with something about an Englishman called Gladstone, or in any case a name no-one's ever heard of, who had to do with Montenegro a long time ago. We see that this is a compliment to the English officer who's just arrived. It seems that the English are friends after all, and it's going to be all right. And old Tsigany, who's as drunk as usual, suddenly sits up and says, but not nearly as distinctly as he should, "Long live Shurchill!" And there is a titter of applause, for no-one's ever said anything like that before, and one doesn't really know, just like that off-hand, what to do for the best. For nobody's got the faintest idea of what the English officer's come here for; perhaps he's an escaped prisoner; anyway, they'll have to send more than one to make any difference to the Ustashe round here.
It may be worth adding that this gets explained a day or two afterwards when it becomes known that the English officer in question has come here in order to report on the doings of the partisans, and to explain to his superiors that there is no difference between the partisans and the people—odd thought, as if there could be!— and it's said he's brought a wireless set and will send messages to Africa (but God knows why to Africa). And this is all very satisfactory; and in any case everyone is very pleased to welcome an Englishman—and in Racha of all places. There is no previous record of an Englishman having been in Racha.
After General Sava has finished his speech and sat down, there is a brief pause and then Drug Paja gets up on to the platform and makes another speech. This is quite a different sort of speech from General Sava's, for Paja is the chief terrainats for the woods of Bosut, and, as you would expect, he knows exactly how a speech should be made. A great deal goes into the making of a good terrainats. It isn't enough to be a good party member and an honest man; you have to know your terrain like the palm of your hand, all its peculiarities and tendencies and weaknesses, and to be on equal terms with everyone. If the Odbor's in trouble then it's the job of the local terrainats to put the matter right. No matter what happens to the military situation it remains the business of the terrainats to be on the spot and to stay on the spot. People are inclined to look down on terraintsi, of course: for it's a non-combatant job no matter how fiercely they may decorate themselves with guns and hand grenades. But anyone of experience will admit that it's the terrainats who prepares the way for the partisans, and that without him almost any political and social error may be made.
Drug Paja has been nursing the Woods of Bosut and all the villages in western Srem since last summer; now he has a large staff of young men and women to help him; and on the whole he's rather a famous figure, and liked, though he does talk rather much. He looks after the political health of the neighbourhood, listens for spies and traitors, arranges meetings and gets out propaganda, and makes sure that the Odbors are working along the right lines. Although he's responsible to the party rather than to the army—or to the Voivodina Staff, that is—it's up to him to be certain that he knows exactly what the army wants at any given moment, and to do his best to provide it. If the Staff is working out a plan of operations for the western part of Srem—that is, really, for the woods of Bosut —Paja is likely to be called in to advise them on the delicacies of local politics. No wonder, then, that he knows exactly what he ought to say. He stands up very straight, a man of middle height with burning black eyes and a curiously weak chin, and shouts at us in a strong clear voice. He talks about what they are doing over there in Bosnia, and what ought to be done at home in Srem, of the part played in the war by the communist party, of the federal democracy which they want to make of Jugoslavia. He concludes his speech with a long list of slogans, each prefixed with Zhivio! — one for Tito, one for the army, one for federal democratic Jugoslavia, one for the Red Army, one for Stalin, and one for "our Allies, the Soviet Union, England, and America"; to each of these the crowd replies with Zhivio! like a thunder-clap.
After Drug Paja has had his say he is followed by one of his women workers, the local leader of the Women's Anti-Fascist Front. The carbide lamps fizzle and flicker in the night air; a few drops of ram fall, but no-one moves. One can't hope for a meeting like this every day. It's an occasion. Comrade Mara stands up beside the table and clenches her fists tight against her skirt. She is a broad square-jawed young woman of about twenty-five; she comes from one of the villages of Eastern Srem, and has been working in the Woods of Bosut, as one of Paja's assistants, for three or four months. She is tremendously in earnest about what she has to say. She talks about the emancipation of women; mind you, a ticklish subject at the best of times, for new ideas travel slowly, and it isn't so long since this particular idea was heard of for the first time in the woods of Bosut. And on the whole I daresay she's quite right; women were really treated abominably in the old days, though there are some, of course, who will always argue that nothing much can be done with a woman unless you beat her.
Comrade Mara won't hear of this. "We're fighting against those bad old ideas," she shouts: "we're fighting for women to have a decent place in society, so that their work's respected: yes, friends, respected. So that she isn't just a drudge, a slave, a person with no rights...." She stands up very straight and means to have her say; around her the carbide lamps fizzle and flicker in the night air. For Comrade Mara the issue is not simply to throw the Germans out of Jugoslavia. She would merely think you mad, or very misguided, if you were to try to explain that the English and the Americans and the Russians are interested primarily in that, and that only. The contrast between an English officer who wants to see trains blown into the air, and nothing else, and finds the whole thing rather a pantomime, and Mara, who sees the war as comprehending every aspect of her life—political, economic, social, artistic—is some measure of the misunderstanding which probably exists. How could outsiders understand? Still, they might try; and perhaps they will.
After the meeting has broken up people go quickly home through the mud, as there is no point in standing about in pitch darkness with six inches of mud around your ankles. General Sava and Mrs. Sava and Kolya go back to headquarters together to listen to the last news from London. Kolya is angry as usual because Vera has been slack about writing down the morning's news in the ledger provided for the purpose. "I suppose you were combing your hair instead," he grumbles good-naturedly. Vera is a comfortable young woman from the Bachka, very much in love with her husband, who is with the Odred in the Frushka Gora, and worried stiff about him at this moment; she takes no notice of Kolya and sniffles into her handkerchief. Her nose is always blue with cold, blue as the faraway hills of Bosnia. Zhikitse, secretary of the staff, sardonic, intensely critical, a medical student from Belgrade with two years of partisan life behind him, teases her: "Going to bed already, baby?"
"Well, it's high time."
"Here, Zhikitse, find London. For God's sake, we've got two minutes left."
They twiddle madly at the knobs. Whistles and shrieks. A foreign language that nobody understands. Sickly jazz such as comes only from England or America. Silence.
"Oh, come on," Kolya grumbles. He takes off his side-cap and throws it on to the heap of blankets in the comer. "Where's Golubitsa? For God's sake, didn't I say that Golubitsa had to shake the blankets and lay them out again every morning. Here, Zhikitse, go and tell Golubitsa we want to go to bed."
"No, no," Vera interrupts, "she's asleep. I'll do it." She goes over to the blankets in the corner and begins to spread them out across one side of the room over a layer of fresh straw swept into the other comer that morning.
Zhikitse hits the wavelength. "This is Radio London giving its last broadcast of the day to Jugoslavia. Short review of the main headlines. Eastern Front ..."
The telephone rings. Kolya leaps for it.
"The Red Army is pushing hard to maintain the gains registered last week on the Upper Don. There is——"
'Yes, yes, who is it?" The telephone line runs through the damp forest and you can be heard only by shouting at the top of your voice. "Kolya here. Can you hear? I say, can you hear?"
"... not only in men but also in equipment which surpasses ..."
"What, you can? Who? Who?"
"... which were captured ..."
"Wha-a-t? Mark? How's things in Bosut? In Bosut, I say."
"... these new gains are of the utmost importance for the development of the Red Army front on the Upper Don ..."
"To-morrow? I say, to-morrow? With tanks, did you say? Tanks. No, how wawy?"
"... In Italy the British Eighth Army, fighting in deep mud and constant rain, has succeeded in establishing a small ..."
"Where from? I say, where from! Where from!"
... but weather conditions have restricted air operations over the entire front. Meanwhile, the American Fifth Army has registered slight gains in patrol activity on the western part of the front.
Bomber Command reports to-night that aircraft were over Germany in very ..."
"Maiku! What a telephone!" Kolya puts down the receiver and rings off. Zhikitse looks at him admiringly. Kolya says nothing but sits down again at the table.
"Nothing special," he says at last. "Marko in Bosut. Two hundred Gestapovtsi went through Kuzmin this morning with three small tanks. Yes, and some Domobrani. He doesn't know where they're going." Kuzmin is five miles away.
"... The London Times has a leading article this morning on the great successes of the partisans in Jugoslavia." Kolya thumps the table with his fist; everyone sits up and listens hard; only Vera is asleep, covered in a blanket beside the wall—"The Times writes that the activities of Tito's troops constitute a serious menace to the occupying forces ..."
They listen with unspoken satisfaction. Several times of late London has talked in terms such as these rather than of the great successes of the troops of General Mihaylovitch; almost it is no longer necessary to sit and listen to this broadcast with a feeling of bitterness and hostility in the pit of your stomach. Impossible to understand how the English can be so stupid or malicious or ill-informed—certainly not ill-informed—as to turn your proffered friendship against themselves; but there is a limit to everyone's patience. Equally impossible to admit to the English and the Americans that you want terribly to have their help and friendship and approval, that your special love of Russia and respect for the Red Army isn't necessarily exclusive, and doesn't mean that you under-estimate the importance or the meaning to Jugoslavia of England and America. There are some things one can't admit.
"Ah, it's time they changed their tune," General Sava says when the transmission is ended, speaking for the first time. He has more personal reason to be pleased than anyone else, for it was only a year ago that London, on the advice of the Royal Jugoslav Government, denounced him as a traitor, choosing for this the moment when Stanisitch and Djukanovitch and other representatives of General Mihaylovitch in Montenegro were in full and open collaboration with the occupiers, and Sava Orovitch was in charge of the officers' school of the partisan army.
"Here, Zhikitse," Kolya says, "make some notes about that in the book." He sits down and begins to pull off his boots, the extent of his undressing. Shortly afterwards they screw out the carbide lamp.
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