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Going Home by Maksim Gorky

 

A mighty wind is blowing gustily out of Khiva; it strikes the black mountains of Daghestan, and, thrust back, hits the cold waters of the Caspian, raising a short, jagged wave near the shore.

The sea is heaving with thousands of white hillocks that circle, that dance as though molten glass were fiercely seething in a giant vat. Fishermen describe this game of sea and wind as "huddle."

White spray flies over the sea in muslin clouds, bespattering an aged, two-masted schooner. She is on her way from Persia to Astrakhan with a cargo of dried fruit. She is also carrying about a hundred fisherfolk, people who follow "God's trade."

They all hail from the forests of the upper Volga, a sturdy race, with thews of iron, scorched by hot winds, seasoned by the bitter brine of the deep, bearded, kindly animals. They are glad to be going home with substantial earnings in their pockets, and they are romping on the deck like bears.

The green body of the sea is seen breathing through the white garments of the waves; the schooner's sharp prow cleaves it like a plow cutting the earth, and plunging into the snowy froth, soaks the slanting jibs in the cold, autumn seas. The sails belly out, their patches crackle, the yards creak, the taut rigging twangs like strings, everything is strained in the forward dash, the clouds too scurry across the sky, the silver sun bathing in them. The sea and the sky are curiously alike, the sky too is seething.

Whistling angrily, the wind wafts over the sea people's voices, thick laughter, the words of a song--they have been singing it for a long while but are still unable to do it properly, in tune. The wind dashes a fine salt spray into the singers' faces, and only now and then is heard the cracked voice of a woman, singing lingeringly and plaintively:

                                                              Like a fiery serpent

There is a powerful, sweet odor of dried apricots, even the strong smell of the sea cannot overcome this fragrance.

The boat has already passed Uch Hook, soon Chechen Island will heave into view, a region known to Russians since time immemorial--thence men from Kiev went forth to raid Tabaristan. On the port side, through autumn's transparent blue, the dark mountains of the Caucasus keep looming up and vanishing.

Leaning his broad back against the mainmast, sits a stalwart youth, his cheeks still hairless, wearing a white linen shirt and blue Persian trousers; he has full red lips, the clear, pale-blue eyes of a child, that shine with the intoxication of young joy. His legs are flung wide across the deck, and on his knees lies a young peasant woman. She is one of those employed to gut the fish. She is as large and heavy as he, with a face reddened and roughened by sun and wind; she has large, thick, black eyebrows like the wings of a swallow; her drowsy eyes are half-shut, her head is hanging languidly over the lad's leg, and from the folds of her unbuttoned red bodice rise her breasts, as firm as if they were carved out of bone.

The youth's long, knotty arm is bare to the elbow, and he has laid his broad paw upon her left breast and is heavily stroking the woman's robust body. In his other hand he holds a tin mug of thick wine, from which purple drops fall onto the white breast of his shirt.

Men circle enviously about them, their eyes greedily touching the sprawling woman, while they hold on to the caps that the wind is trying to tear from their heads, and wrap their coats about them. Shaggy green waves peer through the railing, now on the right, now on the left; clouds scurry across the motley sky; insatiable gulls are crying; the autumn sun is dancing on the frothy water, now covering it with blue shadows, now kindling all manner of gems in it.

The people on the schooner are shouting, singing, laughing. On a heap of sacks filled with dried fruit lies a large skin of Kakhetian wine, around which huge, bearded peasants are noisily jostling each other. Everything has an air of legendary antiquity about it. One thinks of the return of Stenka Razin from his Persian campaign.

Blue-clad Persian seamen, with the bony look of camels, are watching the merry-making of the Russian folk, and bare their pearly teeth in friendly grins--the sleepy eyes of the men of the East glow with strange smiles.

A sullen old man, rumpled by the wind, with a crooked nose protruding from the hairy face of a sorcerer, stumbles over the woman's foot as he passes by the couple. He stops, shakes his head with a vigor unusual for an old man, and shouts:

"Devil take you! What are you blocking the way for! The shameless creature, look at her, faugh!"

The woman does not even budge, does not so much as open her eyes, only her lips quiver slightly, and the lad, straightening up, sets the mug down on the deck, places the other hand too on the woman's breast, and says firmly:

"What, Yakim Petrov, you're envious? Be off with you! Don't burst with envy, don't pine in vain. This sugar isn't for your tooth."

He lifts his paws and placing them again on the woman's breast, he says triumphantly:

"We'll nurse the whole of Russia!"

At this the woman gives a slow smile, and just then everything, the schooner and all the people on it, heave up, like one swelling breast, a wave crashes against the side of the boat and splashes everybody, including the woman, with salty spray. Then she half-opens her dark eyes, casts a friendly glance at the old man, the lad, and everything about her, and unhurriedly starts to cover herself.

"Don't," says the lad, seizing her hands. "Let them look. Don't begrudge it to them."

Astern, men and women are playing a dance-tune. A clear, thrilling, young voice sings in rapid tempo:

              I do not want your silver and gold;
              My darling's more precious than wealth untold

Boots are thumping on the deck, someone is hooting like a huge owl, a triangle chimes thinly, Kalmuck pipes are sounding, and a woman's voice, rising higher and higher, sings gaily:

              Wolves are howling in the wood,
              Howling because hunger hurts;
              Father-in-law should be their food,
              Then he'd get his just deserts!

People are shrieking with laughter, and someone shouts deafeningly:

"How do you like it, old men?"

The wind is sowing the waves with holiday laughter.

The stalwart youth has lazily covered the woman's breast with the skirt of his coat, and meditatively rolling his round, childlike eyes, he says, looking ahead of him:

"When we get home we'll make things hum! Oh, Marya, won't we make things hum!"

On fiery wings the sun is flying westward. The clouds chase it, and unable to overtake it, settle in snowy hills upon the black ribs of the mountains.

1912.

 
 
 

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