Late fall. Snow has already fallen out, but the leaves are not yet withered, and the lyrical hero is the narrator, he is traveling on the train. His fellow travelers are a general with his son Vanya. The child asks who built this railway. Father answers that the road was built by Count Kleinmichel. The narrator, referring to Vanya, says that the true builders of the way were ordinary people. Working conditions were unbearable, but the people went to these works, driven by a king named Golod:
He then drove here the masses of the people.
Many – in a terrible struggle,
By calling these empty barren lands, The
coffin found itself here.
Straight road: the mounds are narrow,
bars, rails, bridges.
And on the sides, then all the bones are Russian…
Listening to the story, Vanya falls asleep and sees in a dream a crowd of dead people, builders of the railway, who sing a terrible song about suffering, adversity and deprivation. They sing that they worked in unbearable heat and in a frigid cold, without straightening. Lived in dugouts, fought with cold, hunger, rain, they wiped the foremen, the secular authorities. Among the crowd of dead is a tall, sick Belarusian. Like thousands of others, he mechanically chops the earth...
Vanya wakes up from the deafening whistle of the locomotive. It turns out that the crowds of the dead only dreamed of him, and he frankly tells this to his father-general. The general just laughs back. He says that ordinary peasants are barbarians and hopeless drunkards, and asks to talk about the “bright side” of the people’s life.
By the end of the construction of the railway to the place of work comes mobbiner. He generously forgives the workers of all their debts, which accumulated in the days when they were ill. Guys, and this is pleased, they are not surprised that after work they were still and should. A barrel of wine is presented to the workers. A barrel with a shout of “hurray” is rolled along the road. The lyrical hero asks the general the question: “It seems difficult to paint a picture more painfully, General? ..”