Ordynin Town is a citadel that existed for years in a normal fashion, where poets, artisans, and merchants dwell, busy with their tasks. The Ratchin family members were merchants for two hundred years, and for much of that time they leased the salt trade. Donat, a curly-headed youth, is the youngest son. Already he counts on taking his place in the market, on buying and selling and ruling his clerks.
The monastery holds an important place in the lives of the people, for its bells regulate their lives. At nine o’clock the town goes to bed; anyone up and about after that hour has to identify himself to the watch. Pranks of boys and dwarfs provide the only excitement, and the stationer’s store is the intellectual center of the town.
At the age of fifteen, Donat falls in love with a chambermaid named Nastia. Every evening he goes to her kitchen and reads church history aloud to her. When Ivan, his father, hears of the attachment, he has both Donat and Nastia whipped; that same night, Ivan sends his housekeeper to Donat’s bed. Afterward Donat learns how to get out of the house at night. For a while he clambers out of a window and goes to see the persecuted widow of a rich moneylender.
In 1914 war comes, and in 1917 revolution. From ancient Ordynin the inhabitants are called up to learn the craft of murder, to kill and to die. Donat is sent to the Carpathians. The first casualty of Ordynin is Classic-Spark, a loafer who commits suicide when the vodka runs out. Because the merchants of Ordynin refuse to pay a sufficient bribe to the engineers who are laying the railroad tracks, the railway station is put some distance away. Ordynin is doomed to remain in the backwash of progress and change.
The Ratchin house is requisitioned by the Red Guard, and the salt market is broken up. Donat returns from the war full of hatred for the old order. He orders that the salt building be destroyed and a house for the people erected in its place.
In the monastery, Olly Kuntz prints blank orders for arrest and imprisonment. Arkhip, a peasant unused to writing, is in command, and he frequently laboriously pens orders of execution. Comrade Laitis takes Olly to the cinema and sees her home. Later he comes back with his soldiers to arrest Andrey, a lodger, but Andrey cleverly gives them the slip and gets away. The soldiers break into Olly’s room when they search the building, and Olly weeps out of sympathy for Andrey. Semyon, a bookish man interested in masonry, is much impressed by Andrey’s cleverness.
Old Arkhipov, Arkhip’s father, goes to see the doctor. His fears are confirmed when his doctor, Natalia Ordynin, tells him that he has cancer of the stomach. At the moment that Arkhipov decides that he must die, Arkhip is signing an execution warrant. That evening the father asks Arkhip’s advice, and upon his son’s suggestion, he shoots himself in the mouth....
(The entire section is 1194 words.)