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The Flaming Heart of Danko by Maxim Gorky

Long, long ago there lived a tribe of people in a place that was
bounded by three sides by impenetrable forest and on the forth
by the step. They were a strong, brave and cheerful people, but
evil times came upon them. Other tribes came warring against them
and drove them into the depth of the forest. The forest was dark
and swampy for it was very ancient and the powers of the trees
were so closely interwoven that they shut out the view of the
sky and the sun raised its oily good to the fiest of thick foliage
and reached the waters of the swamp. And where ever they reached
those waters, poisonous vapors arose and the people began to get
sick and die. They had to get out of the forest. But there were
only two ways: one was to get back over the road they have come
but at the end of it strong and vicious foes awaited them. The
other was to push forward through the forest but there they would
encounter the giant trees whose mighty branches were closely entwined
and whose narrow roots were sunk deep into the mire of the bogs.
They were a brave people and they would have fought to the death
with those who had once defeated them, had they not feared been
wiped out in the fight. They had their forefathers behest to defend
and if they perished their behests would perished with them.

So they sat pondering their fate through the long night with the
poisonous vapors rising around them and the forest singing its
mournful song and the shadows of the fires leaped about them in
the soundless dance and it seemed as if it won’t be a shadows
dancing but the evil spirits of forest and bog celebrating their
triumph.

Danko was one of them and he was young and handsome. Handsome
people are always courageous. And he said to his comrades:

“Stones are not to be removed by thinking. He who does naught
will come to naught. Why should we exhaust our energies thinking
and brooding? Arise! Let us go through the forest until we come
out at the other end. After all it must have and end. Everything
has an end. Come! Let us set forth! They looked at him and saw
that he was the best man among them for his eyes were aglow with
life and strength.

“Lead us.” They said and he led them. And so he led them, Danko.

And they followed him willingly for they believed in him. It was
a difficult track. It was dark and at every step the yawning bogs
swallowed people up and the trees were like a mighty wall barring
the way. Their branches were closely interwoven; their roots were
like snakes reaching out in every direction and every step these
people took cost them blood and sweat. For a long time they went
on. And the further they went, the thicker grew the forest and
the weaker grew their limbs and then they began to murmur against
Danko, saying that he was young and inexperienced and had no right
to bring them here. But he kept walking at the head, his spirit
undaunted, his mind unclouded.

But one day a storm broke over the forest and the trees whispered
together menacingly. And instantly it became as dark as if here
had gathered all the nights that have passed since the Forrest
was born. And the little people walked on under the big trees
amid the roar of the storm and as they walked, the giant trees
creaked and sang a sinister song and a lightening flashed above
the tree tops throwing a cold blue light over the Forrest for
a brief instant, disapearing as quickly as it had appeared and
striking terror into the hearts of the people. And under the cold
flashes of the lightening the trees seemed to be thin live things
that were stretching out long nauld arms and weaving them into
a net to catch these people who were trying to escape from darkness.

And something cold and dark and fearsome peered at them through
the dark foliage. It was a difficult track and the people who
had set out on it grew exhausted and lost heart but they were
ashamed to admit their weakness and so they poured out their anger
and resentment on Danko who was walking at the head. They began
to accuse him of being incapable of leading them. Fear was born
in their hearts, binding their strong arms. Terror gripped them
as they listened to the women wailing over the bodies of those
who have died of the poisonous vapors or lamenting over the fate
of the living made helpless by fear. And cowardly words came to
be spoken in the Forrest at first softly and timidly, but louder
and louder as time went on. And at last the people thought of
going to the enemy and making him a gift of their freedom so frightened
were they by the thought of death, that not one of them shrank
from living the life of a slave. They came to a halt and tired
and angry they began to upbraid him there in the quivering darkness
amid the triumph and roar of the storm.

“You are a despicable and evil creature who has brought us to
grief,” they said. “You have exhausted us by leading us here.
And for that you shall die.”

“You said ‘Lead Us’ and I led you.” Cried out Danko, turning to
face them. “I have the courage to lead you and that is why I undertook
to do so. But you? What have you done to help yourselves? You
have done nothing but follow me without husbanding your strengths
for a longer march. You merely followed me like a flock of sheep.”

His words only infuriated them the more, “You shall die! You shall
die!” they shrieked. The Forrest roared and echoed their cries
and the lightening tore the darkness to shreds.

Danko gazed upon those for whose sake he has undertaken such a
great labor and he saw that they were like wild beasts. Many people
were pressing about him, but he could detect no signs of humanity
in their faces and he knew that he could expect no mercy from
them. Then resentment sieved in his breast, but it was quelled
by compassion. He loved these people and he feared that without
him they would perish and the flames of a great yearning to save
them and lead them out onto an easy path leaped up in his heart
and these mighty flames were reflected in his eyes. And seeing
this the people thought that he was enraged. They thought that
is why his eyes flashed so, and they instantly grew weary, like
wolfs, expecting him to through himself against them and they
drew closer about him that they might seize him and kill him.
He saw what they were thinking, but the flames in his heart only
flared up higher for their thoughts and at the sorrow to the flames
of his yearning.

And the Forrest went on singing its mournful song and the thunder
crashed, and the rain poured down.

“What else can I do to save these people?” cried out Danko above
the thunder. And suddenly he reaped open his breast and tore out
his heart and held it high above his head.

It shone like the sun, even brighter than the sun and the raging
forrest was subdued and lighted up by this torch, the torch of
a grave love for the people, and the darkness retreated before
it and plunged quivering into a yarning bark in the depth of the
Forrest. And in their astonishment the people were as if turned
into stone. The brave Danko cast his eye over the endless steppe,
cast a joyful eye over this land of freedom, gave a proud laugh
and then he fell down and died.

And his followers were so full of joy and hope that they did not
notice that he had died and that his brave heart was still flaming
beside his dead body. But one timid creature noticed it and fearing
he knew not what, stomped on his flaming heart and it sent out
a jar of sparks and went out.

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