Like a pack of ravens “on piles of smoldering bones,” a gang of bandits flies to the Volga. Here people of different “tribes, dialects, states” – fugitives from the Don, long-haired Jewish outcasts, steppe inhabitants, gypsies, Finns.
Danger, blood, debauchery, deceit –
The essence of the terrible family ties.
There comes a late night. The moonlight illuminates the bandits scattered around the campfire. Some are already asleep, “other stories cut a sullen night idle hour.” Everyone fell silent and listened to the sad story of the robber who had appeared in the gang recently.
The robber and his younger brother were orphaned by strangers. From early childhood they fully knew hunger and poverty, contempt and envy. Growing up, the brothers decided “to cast a lot for another.”
We took our comrades to ourselves
Damn knife and dark night;
Lost timidity and sadness,
But my conscience was driven away.
The young brothers’ youth was spent in robbery, robbery and noisy carousing. Finally the fellows got caught, the blacksmith chained them to each other with a chain, and “the guard led to the prison”.
The narrator, being older by five years, was able to make a conclusion, but his brother was exhausted. He was tormented by intense heat. Soon the young man stopped recognizing his brother. It seemed to him that his brother taught him robbery and
Then again flared up in him
The conscience of torture:
Enclosed in front of him were ghosts,
Thinking with the finger from afar.
Those were all his innocent victims. Most often, the younger brother was an old man, once long slaughtered by his brothers. The patient in fright closed his eyes with his hands and asked the narrator not to touch the old man.
Soon the youth took their own – the strength of the younger brother recovered. Now the brothers were tormented by longing at will, the light of which they saw only through the grille of the window.
Once, collecting on the street a donation for a city prison, the brothers decided to “fulfill an old wish.” They ran to the river and swam to the sandy islet. Even heavy chains did not stop the brothers on their way to freedom. The robbers freed themselves from the shackles, threw stones at the chasseurs, chased them to the opposite shore, and disappeared into the forest.
But poor brother…
And labor, and waves of autumn cold
Recent forces deprived him:
Again, his ailment broke,
And evil dreams have visited.
For three days the patient did not sleep and did not speak. On the fourth day he woke up, shook his hand and died on his chest.
Three nights the narrator sat “over the cold body” in the hope that the brother would wake up and wept bitterly. Then he dug a grave, pronounced “a sinful prayer over her and buried the body in the ground.”
The narrator returned to robbery, but the fun of the previous years had left him – everything had taken away his brother’s grave.
I wield grim, lonely,
Petrified my spirit cruel,
And in my heart, pity died.
Only the old robber spared. He remembers how his sick brother begged not to touch the old man, and his hand does not rise “to the defenseless gray hair.”