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Tác giả:

STEEL RING


STEEL RING

Grandfather Kuzma lived with his granddaughter Variusha in the village of Mokhovoye, which was deep in the forest.

It was a severe winter, with strong winds and snows. The cold did not let up for the whole winter, and not one d-rop of bustling, melting water dripped f-rom the roof. At night, the wolves, chilled to the marrow, howled in the woods. Grandfather Kuzma said that they were howling because they envied people; wolves, too, would like to live in a hut, scratch themselves and lie by the stove to warm their frozen, shaggy coats.

In the middle of the winter, Grandfather ran out of makhorka tobacco. He coughed and coughed, complained about his health, and said that he'd feel better if he could just smoke a little.

On Sunday, Variusha went to the neighboring village of Perebory to get some makhorka. A railroad line ran past the village. Variusha bought the makhorka, tied it up in a knit bag, and went to the station to look at the trains. The trains seldom stopped in Perebory. They almost always raced past, clanging and roaring.

Two soldiers were standing on the train platform. One had a beard and jolly grey eyes. An approaching train began to howl. Variusha could see it, all covered in steam, racing furiously toward the station f-rom the distant black woods.

"It's an express," said the bearded soldier. "Watch out, girl, the train will blow you away. You'll go flying to the heavens."

The train came racing toward the station at full speed. Snow swirled up and flew into the girl's eyes. Variusha grabbed a lamppost and shut her eyes. It really did seem as if she might get pulled up off the ground and swept away with the train.

After the train had passed, but while the snow was still swirling in the air and settling on the ground, the bearded soldier asked Variusha:

"What do you have in the bag? It's not makhorka, is it?

"Yes, makhorka," Variusha answered.

"Maybe you'll sell it to me? I would really love a smoke."

"Grandfather Kuzma wouldn't want me to sell it," Variusha answered sternly. "It's to help cure his cough."

"Oh, you little flower petal in felt boots," said the soldier. "So serious!"

"But you can take some," said Variusha as she held the bag out to the soldier. "Have a smoke!"

The soldier sprinkled a good handful of the makhorka into his overcoat pocket, then rolled up a fat cigarette and began to smoke. He took Variusha by the chin and looked into her blue eyes, laughing.

"Oh, you," he repeated. "Pansy flowers with braids! How can I repay you? Maybe with this?"

The soldier pulled a small steel ring out of his pocket, blew bits of tobacco and salt off it, wiped it on my coat sleeve, and put it on Variusha's middle finger:

"Wear it for health! This little ring is really amazing. See how it glows!"

"What makes it so amazing, Uncle?" asked Variusha as she blushed.

The soldier answered, "If you wear it on your middle finger, it will bring you good health. Both to you and to Grandfather Kuzma. And if you wear it on this one, the ring finger," said the soldier, pointing to Variusha's cold, red finger, "you will have great joy. Or let's say you want to see the whole world and all its wonders. Put the ring on your index finger, and you'll see everything!"

"Really?" asked Variusha.

"You can believe him," blurted out another soldier f-rom behind the collar of his coat. "He's a wizard. Have you ever heard that word?"

"I've heard it."

"Oh-ho," laughed the soldier. "He's an old sapper. No mine has ever hurt him!"

"Thank you!" said Variusha, and she hurried back to her hut in Mokhovoye.

The wind blew fiercely, and thick snow fell. Variusha kept touching the ring, turning it around and admiring how it shined in the winter light.

"But why did the soldier forget to tell me about the little finger?" she thought. "What will happen then? Let me put it on my little finger and see."

She put the ring on her little finger. The finger was thin, and the ring slipped off, falling into the deep snow alongside the path and burrowing down to the snowy bottom.

Variusha cried out and began to rake through the snow with her hands. But the ring was gone. Variusha's fingers grew blue. They grew so cold with the frost that she could not bend them.

Variusha began to cry. The ring was gone! This meant that Grandfather Kuzma would not have good health, and that she would have no future happiness, and that she would not see the world with all its wonders. Variusha stuck an old fir tree branch into the the snow whe-re she d-ropped the ring, and went home. She wiped her tears with a mitten, but still they ran down her cheeks and froze, causing a painful stinging in her eyes. 

Grandfather Kuzma was happy to get the makhorka, and he filled up the whole hut with smoke. As concerns the ring, he said:

"Don't be sad, you silly girl. Whe-re it fell, there it will stay. Ask Sidor, he'll find it for you."

The old sparrow Sidor was sleeping in his roost, puffed up like a balloon. All winter long Sidor lived independently in Kuzma's hut, like a master. With his strong c-haracter, he forced not only Variusha, but also Grandfather to take him into account. He ate kasha straight out of the bowl, and he tried to take the bread right out of your hand. When they tried to chase him away, he took offense, ruffled his feathers, and fought and chirped so angrily that the neighbor sparrows gathered under the eaves, listening; then the birds raised up a commotion, condemning Sidor for his foolish behavior, as if to say, "He's living in a warm hut, eating his fill, and still he's not satisfied!"

The next day, Variusha caught Sidor, wrapped him in a handkerchief, and carried him into the forest. F-rom under the snow, the tip of the fir tree branch waved. Variusha set Sidor on the branch and asked him:

"You look for it. Dig. Maybe you can find it!"

But Sidor squinted, looked dubiously at the snow and squeaked:

"Oh, you! Oh, you! What a fool! Oh, you! Oh, you!" Sidor repeated, then hopped off the branch and flew back to the hut.

And so the ring was not found.

Grandfather Kuzma began coughing even more. He lay down on the stove and practically never left there. He began to ask for something to drink more often. Variusha brought him cold water in a steel cup. 

Snowstorms swirled over the village, covering over the huts. The pine trees, too, were covered, and Variusha could no longer find the spot in the forest whe-re she d-ropped the ring.

"Fool," she whispered. "You were playing around and d-ropped the ring. This is what you get! And this!" She pounded her fists on the top of her head, punishing herself. Grandfather Kuzma asked:

"Who's that making noise over there?"

"It's Sidor," Variusha answered. "He's becoming so naughty. He's always trying to start a fight."

One morning, Variusha was awakened by the sound of Sidor jumping on the windowsill and tapping his beak on the glass. Variusha opened her eyes and squinted. F-rom the roof, long d-rops of water were falling, chasing after one another. A warm light was flowing in through the window. Jackdaws were cawing.

Variusha ran out into the yard. A warm wind blew over her, rustling her hair.

"It's spring!", said Variusha.

Black branches glistened; wet snow crackled as it slid off the roof; and in the outskirts of the village, the damp forest stirred importantly and gaily. Spring was moving over the fields like a young housekeeper. She only had to look into a ravine, and streams immediately began to flow and gurgle there. Spring had come, and with its every step, the cacophony of streams became louder and louder.

In the forest, the snow began to grow dark. The first to poke through were the brown pine needles, which fell during winter. Then, large groups of dry branches–they were broken during a storm in December. Then last year's dead leaves showed through; and coltsfoot began to bloom on the thawed patches at the edge of the snowbanks.

Variusha went into the forest and found the old fur tree branch that she had stuck in the snow whe-re she d-ropped the ring. She carefully began to comb away the old leaves, empty pinecones tossed aside by woodpeckers, branches, and damp moss. A light flashed under one dark leaf. Variusha cried out and sat down. There it was, the steel ring! It was not the slightest bit rusty.

Variusha grabbed it, put it on her middle finger, and rushed home.

While still far away f-rom the hut, she saw Grandfather Kuzma. He came out of the hut and sat on a mound of earth; blue smoke f-rom the makhorka rose above grandfather and went straight for the sky. It was as if Kuzma were drying out in the spring sunshine, steaming.

"You little whirlwind," Grandfather said. "You ran out of the hut and forgot to close the door. A light draught blew through the hut, and suddenly my illness left me. I'm going to smoke a little, then take the hatchet and chop up some kindling. We'll fire up the stove and cook some rye pancakes."

Variusha laughed, stroked Grandfather's shaggy, grey hair and said:

"It's the ring! It cured you, Grandfather Kuzma."

All day Variusha wore the ring on her middle finger to completely chase away her grandfather's illness. Only in the evening, as she lay down to sleep, did she take it off the middle finger and put it on her ring finger. She expected a great joy to appear right away. But it took its time and didin't show up. Variusha couldn't wait for it and fell asleep. 

The next day, she woke up early, got dressed, and left the hut.

A quiet and warm sun was rising over the earth. Stars still twinkled on the edge of the sky. Variusha went toward the forest and stopped at its edge. What is this ringing she hears in the forest, as if someone is carefully moving sleigh bells?

Variusha bent, listened, and clasped her hands. White snowd-rop flowers were gently swaying, bowing to the sunrise. And each flower was ringing, as if a small, bell-ringing bug were sitting inside, tapping a silver cobweb with its paw. At the top of a pine tree, a woodpecker rapped five times.

"It's five o'clock!" thought Varsiuah. "So early! And so quiet!"

Just then, high in the branches, in a golden glow of light, an oriole began to sing.

Variusha stood, her mouth open wide, listening and smiling. An azure, warm, caressing wind moved over her, and something rustled nearby. A hazel tree began to sway; a yellow dust sprinkled down f-rom the nut clusters.

Someone unseen passed by Variusha, carefully pushing aside the branches. In greeting, the cookoo called and bowed.

"Who just went past me? I couldn't see!" thought Variusha.

What she did not know was that spring itself had just moved past her.

Variusha laughed loudly, so the whole forest could hear her; then she ran home. And a great joy–one that you could not encompass in your arms–rang and sang in her heart.

Spring burned brighter and happier with each passing day. Such light poured f-rom the sky that Grandfather Kuzma's eyes became narrow, like slits, but still they twinkled with laughter. And then, in the forests, meadows, and valleys, as if someone had sprinkled a magic water, thousands and thousands of flowers bloomed and glistened with many colors.

Variusha thought about putting the ring on her index finger, so she could see the whole world and all its wonders. But she looked at all these flowers, at the sticky birch leaves, at the clear sky and burning sun; she listened to the call of the roosters, the ringing of the waters, and the whistling of birds over the fields…and she didn't put the ring on her index finger.

"I'll manage," she thought. "No whe-re in the whole world could it be as good as it is here in our village. How wonderful this is! No wonder Grandfather Kuzma says that our land is a true paradise and there is no place as good in the whole world!"


THE END 


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