TWENTY-SIX AND ONE and OTHER STORIES
From the Vagabond Series
Translated from the Russian
Preface by Ivan Strannik
J. F. Taylor & Company
Russian literature, which for half a century has abounded in happy
surprises, has again made manifest its wonderful power of innovation.
A tramp, Maxime Gorky, lacking in all systematic training, has suddenly
forced his way into its sacred domain, and brought thither the fresh
spontaneity of his thoughts and character. Nothing as individual or as
new has been produced since the first novels of Tolstoy. His work owes
nothing to its predecessors; it stands apart and alone. It, therefore,
obtains more than an artistic success, it causes a real revolution.
Gorky was born of humble people, at Nizhni-Novgorod, in 1868 or
1869,—he does not know which—and was early left an orphan. He was
apprenticed to a shoemaker, but ran away, a sedentary life not being to
his taste. He left an engraver's in the same manner, and then went to
work with a painter of ikoni, or holy pictures. He is next found to
be a cook's boy, then an assistant to a gardener. He tried life in
these diverse ways, and not one of them pleased him. Until his
fifteenth year, he had only had the time to learn to read a little; his
grandfather taught him to read a prayer-book in the old Slav dialect.
He retained from his first studies only a distaste for anything printed
until the time when, cook's boy on board a steam-boat, he was initiated
by the chief cook into more attractive reading matter. Gogol, Glebe
Ouspenski, Dumas pere were revelations to him. His imagination took
fire; he was seized with a "fierce desire" for instruction. He set out
for Kazan, "as though a poor child could receive instruction
gratuitously," but he soon perceived that "it was contrary to custom."
Discouraged, he became a baker's boy with the wages of three rubles
(about $1.50) a month. In the midst of worse fatigue and ruder
privations, he always recalls the bakery of Kazan with peculiar
bitterness; later, in his story, "Twenty-Six and One," he utilized this
painful remembrance: "There were twenty-six of us—twenty-six living
machines, locked up in a damp cellar, where we patted dough from
morning till night, making biscuits and cakes. The windows of our
cellar looked out into a ditch, which was covered with bricks grown
green from dampness, the window frames were obstructed from the outside
by a dense iron netting, and the light of the sun could not peep in
through the panes, which were covered with flour dust. . . ."
Gorky dreamed of the free air. He abandoned the bakery. Always
reading, studying feverishly, drinking with vagrants, expending his
strength in every possible manner, he is one day at work in a saw-mill,
another, 'longshoreman on the quays. . . . In 1888, seized with
despair, he attempted to kill himself. "I was," said he, "as ill as I
could be, and I continued to live to sell apples. . . ." He afterward
became a gate-keeper and later retailed kvass in the streets. A
happy chance brought him to the notice of a lawyer, who interested
himself in him, directed his reading and organized his instruction.
But his restless disposition drew him back to his wandering life; he
traveled over Russia in every direction and tried his hand at every
trade, including, henceforth, that of man of letters.
He began by writing a short story, "Makar Tchoudra," which was
published by a provincial newspaper. It is a rather interesting work,
but its interest lies more, frankly speaking, in what it promises than
in what it actually gives. The subject is rather too suggestive of
certain pieces of fiction dear to the romantic school.
Gorky's appearance in the world of literature dates from 1893. He had
at this time, the acquaintance of the writer Korolenko, and, thanks to
him, soon published "Tchelkache," which met with a resounding success.
Gorky henceforth rejects all traditional methods, and free and
untrammeled devotes himself to frankly and directly interpreting life
as he sees it. As he has, so far, lived only in the society of tramps,
himself a tramp, and one of the most refractory, it has been reserved
for him to write the poem of vagrancy.
His preference is for the short story. In seven years, he has written
thirty, contained in three volumes, which in their expressive brevity
sometimes recall Maupassant.
The plot is of the simplest. Sometimes, there are only two personages:
an old beggar and his grandson, two workmen, a tramp and a Jew, a
baker's boy and his assistant, two companions in misery.
The interest of these stories does not lie in the unraveling of an
intricate plot. They are rather fragments of life, bits of biography
covering some particular period, without reaching the limits of a real
drama. And these are no more artificially combined than are the events
of real life.
Everything that he relates, Gorky has seen. Every landscape that he
describes has been seen by him in the course of his adventurous
existence. Each detail of this scenery is fraught for him with some
remembrance of distress or suffering. This vagrant life has been his
own. These tramps have been his companions, he has loved or hated
them. Therefore his work is alive with what he has almost
unconsciously put in of himself. At the same time, he knows how to
separate himself from his work; the characters introduced live their
own lives, independent of his, having their own characters and their
own individual way of reacting against the common misery. No writer
has to a greater degree the gift of objectivity, while at the same time
freely introducing himself into his work.
Therefore, his tramps are strikingly truthful. He does not idealise
them; the sympathy that their strength, courage, and independence
inspire in him does not blind him. He conceals neither their faults,
vices, drunkenness nor boastfulness. He is without indulgence for
them, and judges them discriminatingly. He paints reality, but
without, for all that, exaggerating ugliness. He does not avoid
painful or coarse scenes; but in the most cynical passages he does not
revolt because it is felt that he only desires to be truthful, and not
to excite the emotions by cheap means. He simply points out that
things are as they are, that there is nothing to be done about it, that
they depend upon immutable laws. Accordingly all those sad, even
horrible spectacles are accepted as life itself. To Gorky, the
spectacle presented by these characters is only natural: he has seen
them shaken by passion as the waves by the wind, and a smile pass over
their souls like the sun piercing the clouds. He is, in the true
acceptation of the term, a realist.
The introduction of tramps in literature is the great innovation of
Gorky. The Russian writers first interested themselves in the
cultivated classes of society; then they went as far as the moujik.
The "literature of the moujik," assumed a social importance. It had a
political influence and was not foreign to the abolition of serfdom.
In the story "Malva," Gorky offers us two characteristic types of
peasants who become tramps by insensible degrees; almost without
suspecting it, through the force of circumstances. One of them is
Vassili. When he left the village, he fully intended to return. He
went away to earn a little money for his wife and children. He found
employment in a fishery. Life was easy and joyous. For a while he
sent small sums of money home, but gradually the village and the old
life faded away and became less and less real. He ceased to think of
them. His son Iakov came to seek him and to procure work for himself
for a season. He had the true soul of a peasant.
Later he falls, like the others, under the spell of this easy, free
life, and one feels that Iakov will never more return to the village.
In Gorky's eyes, his work is tainted by a capital vice. It is unsuited
to producing the joy that quickens. Humanity has forgotten joy; what
has he done beyond pitying or rallying suffering? . . . These
reflections haunt him, and this doubt of his beneficent efficacy
imparts extreme sadness to his genius.
Twenty-Six and One
Twenty-Six and One
BY MAXIME GORKY
There were twenty-six of us—twenty-six living machines, locked up in
a damp cellar, where we patted dough from morning till night, making
biscuits and cakes. The windows of our cellar looked out into a
ditch, which was covered with bricks grown green from dampness, the
window frames were obstructed from the outside by a dense iron
netting, and the light of the sun could not peep in through the
panes, which were covered with flour-dust. Our proprietor stopped up
our windows with iron that we might not give his bread to the poor or
to those of our companions who, being out of work, were starving; our
proprietor called us cheats and gave us for our dinner tainted
garbage instead of meat.
It was stifling and narrow in our box of stone under the low, heavy
ceiling, covered with smoke-black and spider-webs. It was close and
disgusting within the thick walls, which were spattered with stains
of mud and mustiness. . . . We rose at five o'clock in the morning,
without having had enough sleep, and, dull and indifferent, we seated
ourselves by the table at six to make biscuits out of the dough,
which had been prepared for us by our companions while we were
asleep. And all day long, from morning till ten o'clock at night,
some of us sat by the table rolling out the elastic dough with our
hands, and shaking ourselves that we might not grow stiff, while the
others kneaded the dough with water. And the boiling water in the
kettle, where the cracknels were being boiled, was purring sadly and
thoughtfully all day long; the baker's shovel was scraping quickly
and angrily against the oven, throwing off on the hot bricks the
slippery pieces of dough. On one side of the oven, wood was burning
from morning till night, and the red reflection of the flame was
trembling on the wall of the workshop as though it were silently
mocking us. The huge oven looked like the deformed head of a
fairy-tale monster. It looked as though it thrust itself out from
underneath the floor, opened its wide mouth full of fire, and
breathed on us with heat and stared at our endless work through the
two black air-holes above the forehead. These two cavities were like
eyes—pitiless and impassible eyes of a monster: they stared at us
with the same dark gaze, as though they had grown tired of looking at
slaves, and expecting nothing human from them, despised them with the
cold contempt of wisdom. Day in and day out, amid flour-dust and mud
and thick, bad-odored suffocating heat, we rolled out the dough and
made biscuits, wetting them with our sweat, and we hated our work
with keen hatred; we never ate the biscuit that came out of our
hands, preferring black bread to the cracknels. Sitting by a long
table, one opposite the other—nine opposite nine—we mechanically
moved our hands, and fingers during the long hours, and became so
accustomed to our work that we no longer ever followed the motions of
our hands. And we had grown so tired of looking at one another that
each of us knew all the wrinkles on the faces of the others. We had
nothing to talk about, we were used to this and were silent all the
time, unless abusing one another—for there is always something for
which to abuse a man, especially a companion. But we even abused one
another very seldom. Of what can a man be guilty when he is half
dead, when he is like a statue, when all his feelings are crushed
under the weight of toil? But silence is terrible and painful only
to those who have said all and have nothing more to speak of; but to
those who never had anything to say—to them silence is simple and
easy. . . . Sometimes we sang, and our song began thus: During work
some one would suddenly heave a sigh, like that of a tired horse, and
would softly start one of those drawling songs, whose touchingly
caressing tune always gives ease to the troubled soul of the singer.
One of us sang, and at first we listened in silence to his lonely
song, which was drowned and deafened underneath the heavy ceiling of
the cellar, like the small fire of a wood-pile in the steppe on a
damp autumn night, when the gray sky is hanging over the earth like a
leaden roof. Then another joined the singer, and now, two voices
soar softly and mournfully over the suffocating heat of our narrow
ditch. And suddenly a few more voices take up the song—and the song
bubbles up like a wave, growing stronger, louder, as though moving
asunder the damp, heavy walls of our stony prison.
All the twenty-six sing; loud voices, singing in unison, fill the
workshop; the song has no room there; it strikes against the stones
of the walls, it moans and weeps and reanimates the heart by a soft
tickling pain, irritating old wounds and rousing sorrow.
The singers breathe deeply and heavily; some one unexpectedly leaves
off his song and listens for a long time to the singing of his
companions, and again his voice joins the general wave. Another
mournfully exclaims, Eh! sings, his eyes closed, and it may be that
the wide, heavy wave of sound appears to him like a road leading
somewhere far away, like a wide road, lighted by the brilliant sun,
and he sees himself walking there. . . .
The flame is constantly trembling in the oven, the baker's shovel is
scraping against the brick, the water in the kettle is purring, and
the reflection of the fire is trembling on the wall, laughing in
silence. . . . And we sing away, with some one else's words, our
dull sorrow, the heavy grief of living men, robbed of sunshine, the
grief of slaves. Thus we lived, twenty-six of us, in the cellar of a
big stony house, and it was hard for us to live as though all the
three stories of the house had been built upon our shoulders.
But besides the songs, we had one other good thing, something we all
loved and which, perhaps, came to us instead of the sun. The second
story of our house was occupied by an embroidery shop, and there,
among many girl workers, lived the sixteen year old chamber-maid,
Tanya. Every morning her little, pink face, with blue, cheerful
eyes, leaned against the pane of the little window in our hallway
door, and her ringing, kind voice cried to us: "Little prisoners!
Give me biscuits!"
We all turned around at this familiar, clear sound and joyously,
kind-heartedly looked at the pure maiden face as it smiled to us
delightfully. We were accustomed and pleased to see her nose
flattened against the window-pane, and the small, white teeth that
flashed from under her pink lips, which were open with a smile. We
rush to open the door for her, pushing one another; she enters,
cheerful and amiable, and holding out her apron. She stands before
us, leaning her head somewhat on one side and smiles all the time. A
thick, long braid of chestnut hair, falling across her shoulder, lies
on her breast. We, dirty, dark, deformed men, look up at her from
below—the threshold was four steps higher than the floor—we look at
her, lifting our heads upwards, we wish her a good morning. We say
to her some particular words, words we use for her alone. Speaking
to her our voices are somehow softer, and our jokes lighter.
Everything is different for her. The baker takes out a shovelful of
the brownest and reddest biscuits and throws them cleverly into
"Look out that the boss doesn't see you!" we always warn her. She
laughs roguishly and cries to us cheerfully:
"Good-by, little prisoners!" and she disappears quickly, like a
little mouse. That's all. But long after her departure we speak
pleasantly of her to one another. We say the very same thing we said
yesterday and before, because she, as well as we and everything
around us, is also the same as yesterday and before. It is very hard
and painful for one to live, when nothing changes around him, and if
it does not kill his soul for good, the immobility of the
surroundings becomes all the more painful the longer he lives. We
always spoke of women in such a manner that at times we were
disgusted at our own rude and shameless words, and this is quite
clear, for the women we had known, perhaps, never deserved any better
words. But of Tanya we never spoke ill. Not only did none of us
ever dare to touch her with his hand, she never even heard a free
jest from us. It may be that this was because she never stayed long
with us; she flashed before our eyes like a star coming from the sky
and then disappeared, or, perhaps, because she was small and very
beautiful, and all that is beautiful commands the respect even of
rude people. And then, though our hard labor had turned us into dull
oxen, we nevertheless remained human beings, and like all human
beings, we could not live without worshipping something. We had
nobody better than she, and none, except her, paid any attention to
us, the dwellers of the cellar; no one, though tens of people lived
in the house. And finally—this is probably the main reason—we all
considered her as something of our own, as something that existed
only because of our biscuits. We considered it our duty to give her
hot biscuits and this became our daily offering to the idol, it
became almost a sacred custom which bound us to her the more every
day. Aside from the biscuits, we gave Tanya many advices—to dress
more warmly, not to run fast on the staircase, nor to carry heavy
loads of wood. She listened to our advice with a smile, replied to
us with laughter and never obeyed us, but we did not feel offended at
this. All we needed was to show that we cared for her. She often
turned to us with various requests. She asked us, for instance, to
open the heavy cellar door, to chop some wood. We did whatever she
wanted us to do with joy, and even with some kind of pride.
But when one of us asked her to mend his only shirt, she declined,
with a contemptuous sneer.
We laughed heartily at the queer fellow, and never again asked her
for anything. We loved her; all is said in this. A human being
always wants to bestow his love upon some one, although he may
sometime choke or slander him; he may poison the life of his neighbor
with his love, because, loving, he does not respect the beloved. We
had to love Tanya, for there was no one else we could love.
At times some one of us would suddenly begin to reason thus:
"And why do we make so much of the girl? What's in her? Eh? We
have too much to do with her." We quickly and rudely checked the man
who dared to say such words. We had to love something. We found it
out and loved it, and the something which the twenty-six of us loved
had to be inaccessible to each of us as our sanctity, and any one
coming out against us in this matter was our enemy. We loved,
perhaps, not what was really good, but then we were twenty-six, and
therefore we always wanted the thing dear to us to be sacred in the
eyes of others. Our love is not less painful than hatred. And
perhaps this is why some haughty people claim that our hatred is more
flattering than our love. But why, then, don't they run from us, if
that is true?
Aside from the biscuit department our proprietor had also a shop for
white bread; it was in the same house, separated from our ditch by a
wall; the bulochniks (white-bread bakers), there were four of them,
kept aloof, considering their work cleaner than ours, and therefore
considering themselves better than we were; they never came to our
shop, laughed at us whenever they met us in the yard; nor did we go
to them. The proprietor had forbidden this for fear lest we might
steal loaves of white bread. We did not like the bulochniks,
because we envied them. Their work was easier than ours, they were
better paid, they were given better meals, theirs was a spacious,
light workshop, and they were all so clean and healthy—repulsive to
us; while we were all yellow, and gray, and sickly. During holidays
and whenever they were free from work they put on nice coats and
creaking boots; two of them had harmonicas, and they all went to the
city park; while we had on dirty rags and burst shoes, and the city
police did not admit us into the park—could we love the bulochniks?
One day we learned that one of their bakers had taken to drink, that
the proprietor had discharged him and hired another one in his place,
and that the other one was a soldier, wearing a satin vest and a gold
chain to his watch. We were curious to see such a dandy, and in the
hope of seeing him we, now and again, one by one, began to run out
into the yard.
But he came himself to our workshop. Kicking the door open with his
foot, and leaving it open, he stood on the threshold, and smiling,
said to us:
"God help you! Hello, fellows!" The cold air, forcing itself in at
the door in a thick, smoky cloud, was whirling around his feet; he
stood on the threshold, looking down on us from above, and from under
his fair, curled moustache, big, yellow teeth were flashing. His
waistcoat was blue, embroidered with flowers; it was beaming, and the
buttons were of some red stones. And there was a chain too. He was
handsome, this soldier, tall, strong, with red cheeks, and his big,
light eyes looked good—kind and clear. On his head was a white,
stiffly-starched cap, and from under his clean apron peeped out sharp
toes of stylish, brightly shining boots.
Our baker respectfully requested him to close the door; he did it
without haste, and began to question us about the proprietor. Vieing
with one another, we told him that our "boss" was a rogue, a rascal,
a villain, a tyrant, everything that could and ought to be said of
our proprietor, but which cannot be repeated here. The soldier
listened, stirred his moustache and examined us with a soft, light
"And are there many girls here?" he asked, suddenly.
Some of us began to laugh respectfully, others made soft grimaces;
some one explained to the soldier that there were nine girls.
"Do you take advantage?" . . . asked the soldier, winking his eye.
Again we burst out laughing, not very loud, and with a confused
laughter. Many of us wished to appear before the soldier just as
clever as he was, but not one was able to do it. Some one confessed,
saying in a low voice:
"It is not for us." . . .
"Yes, it is hard for you!" said the soldier with confidence,
examining us fixedly. "You haven't the bearing for it . . . the
figure—you haven't the appearance, I mean! And a woman likes a good
appearance in a man. To her it must be perfect, everything perfect!
And then she respects strength. . . . A hand should be like this!"
The soldier pulled his right hand out of his pocket. The shirt
sleeve was rolled up to his elbow. He showed his hand to us. . . .
It was white, strong, covered with glossy, golden hair.
"A leg, a chest, in everything there must be firmness. And then,
again, the man must be dressed according to style. . . . As the
beauty of things requires it. I, for instance, I am loved by women.
I don't call them, I don't lure them, they come to me of themselves."
He seated himself on a bag of flour and told us how the women loved
him and how he handled them boldly. Then he went away, and when the
door closed behind him with a creak, we were silent for a long time,
thinking of him and of his stories. And then suddenly we all began
to speak, and it became clear at once that he pleased every one of
us. Such a kind and plain fellow. He came, sat awhile and talked.
Nobody came to us before, nobody ever spoke to us like this; so
friendly. . . . And we all spoke of him and of his future successes
with the embroidery girls, who either passed us by, closing their
lips insultingly, when they met us in the yard, or went straight on
as if we had not been in their way at all. And we always admired
them, meeting them in the yard, or when they went past our
windows—in winter dressed in some particular hats and in fur coats,
in summer in hats with flowers, with colored parasols in their hands.
But thereafter among ourselves, we spoke of these girls so that had
they heard it, they would have gone mad for shame and insult.
"However, see that he doesn't spoil Tanushka, too!" said the baker,
suddenly, with anxiety.
We all became silent, dumb-founded by these words. We had somehow
forgotten Tanya; it looked as though the soldier's massive, handsome
figure prevented us from seeing her. Then began a noisy dispute.
Some said that Tanya would not submit herself to this, others argued
that she would not hold out against the soldier; still others said
that they would break the soldier's bones in case he should annoy
Tanya, and finally all decided to look after the soldier and Tanya,
and to warn the girl to be on guard against him. . . . This put an
end to the dispute.
About a month went by. The soldier baked white bread, walked around
with the embroidery girls, came quite often to our workshop, but
never told us of his success with the girls; he only twisted his
moustache and licked his lips with relish.
Tanya came every morning for the biscuits and, as always, was
cheerful, amiable, kind to us. We attempted to start a conversation
with her about the soldier, but she called him a "goggle-eyed calf,"
and other funny names, and this calmed us. We were proud of our
little girl, seeing that the embroidery girls were making love to the
soldier. Tanya's relation toward him somehow uplifted all of us, and
we, as if guided by her relation, began to regard the soldier with
contempt. And we began to love Tanya still more, and, meet her in
the morning more cheerfully and kind-heartedly.
But one day the soldier came to us a little intoxicated, seated
himself and began to laugh, and when we asked him what he was
laughing at he explained: "Two had a fight on account of me. . . .
Lidka and Grushka. . . . How they disfigured each other! Ha, ha!
One grabbed the other by the hair, and knocked her to the ground in
the hallway, and sat on her. . . . Ha, ha, ha! They scratched each
other's faces. . . . It is laughable! And why cannot women fight
honestly? Why do they scratch? Eh?"
He sat on the bench, strong and clean and jovial; talking and
laughing all the time. We were silent. Somehow or other he seemed
repulsive to us this time.
"How lucky I am with women, Eh? It is very funny! Just a wink and I
His white hands, covered with glossy hair, were lifted and thrown
back to his knees with a loud noise. And he stared at us with such a
pleasantly surprised look, as though he really could not understand
why he was so lucky in his affairs with women. His stout, red face
was radiant with happiness and self-satisfaction, and he kept on
licking his lips with relish.
Our baker scraped the shovel firmly and angrily against the hearth of
the oven and suddenly said, sarcastically:
"You need no great strength to fell little fir-trees, but try to
throw down a pine." . . .
"That is, do you refer to me?" asked the soldier.
"To you. . . ."
"What is it?"
"Nothing. . . . Too late!"
"No, wait! What's the matter? Which pine?"
Our baker did not reply, quickly working with his shovel at the oven.
He would throw into the oven the biscuits from the boiling kettle,
would take out the ready ones and throw them noisily to the floor, to
the boys who put them on bast strings. It looked as though he had
forgotten all about the soldier and his conversation with him. But
suddenly the soldier became very restless. He rose to his feet and
walking up to the oven, risked striking his chest against the handle
of the shovel, which was convulsively trembling in the air.
"No, you tell me—who is she? You have insulted me. . . . I? . . .
Not a single one can wrench herself from me, never! And you say to
me such offensive words." . . . And, indeed, he looked really
offended. Evidently there was nothing for which he might respect
himself, except for his ability to lead women astray; it may be that
aside from this ability there was no life in him, and only this
ability permitted him to feel himself a living man.
There are people to whom the best and dearest thing in life is some
kind of a disease of either the body or the soul. They make much of
it during all their lives and live by it only; suffering from it,
they are nourished by it, they always complain of it to others and
thus attract the attention of their neighbors. By this they gain
people's compassion for themselves, and aside from this they have
nothing. Take away this disease from them, cure them, and they are
rendered most unfortunate, because they thus lose their sole means of
living, they then become empty. Sometimes a man's life is so poor
that he is involuntarily compelled to prize his defect and live by
it. It may frankly be said that people are often depraved out of
mere weariness. The soldier felt insulted, and besetting our baker,
"Tell me—who is it?"
"Shall I tell you?" the baker suddenly turned to him.
"Do you know Tanya?"
"Well, try." . . .
"Her? That's easy enough!"
"You'll see! Ha, ha!"
"She'll. . . ."
"A month's time!"
"What a boaster you are, soldier!"
"Two weeks! I'll show you! Who is it? Tanya! Tfoo!" . . .
"Get away, I say."
"Get away, . . . you're bragging!"
"Two weeks, that's all!"
Suddenly our baker became enraged, and he raised the shovel against
the soldier. The soldier stepped back, surprised, kept silent for
awhile, and, saying ominously, in a low voice: "Very well, then!" he
During the dispute we were all silent, interested in the result. But
when the soldier went out, a loud, animated talk and noise was
started among us.
Some one cried to the baker:
"You contrived a bad thing, Pavel!"
"Work!" replied the baker, enraged.
We felt that the soldier was touched to the quick and that a danger
was threatening Tanya. We felt this, and at the same time we were
seized with a burning, pleasant curiosity—what will happen? Will
she resist the soldier? And almost all of us cried out with
"Tanya? She will resist! You cannot take her with bare hands!"
We were very desirous of testing the strength of our godling; we
persistently proved to one another that our godling was a strong
godling, and that Tanya would come out the victor in this combat.
Then, finally, it appeared to us that we did not provoke the soldier
enough, that he might forget about the dispute, and that we ought to
irritate his self-love the more. Since that day we began to live a
particular, intensely nervous life—a life we had never lived before.
We argued with one another all day long, as if we had grown wiser.
We spoke more and better. It seemed to us that we were playing a
game with the devil, with Tanya as the stake on our side. And when
we had learned from the bulochniks that the soldier began to court
"our Tanya," we felt so dreadfully good and were so absorbed in our
curiosity that we did not even notice that the proprietor, availing
himself of our excitement, added to our work fourteen poods (a
pood is a weight of forty Russian pounds) of dough a day. We did
not even get tired of working. Tanya's name did not leave our lips
all day long. And each morning we expected her with especial
impatience. Sometimes we imagined that she might come to us—and
that she would be no longer the same Tanya, but another one.
However, we told her nothing about the dispute. We asked her no
questions and treated her as kindly as before. But something new and
foreign to our former feelings for Tanya crept in stealthily into our
relation toward her, and this new something was keen curiosity,
sharp and cold like a steel knife.
"Fellows! Time is up to-day!" said the baker one morning, commencing
We knew this well without his calling our attention to it, but we
gave a start, nevertheless.
"Watch her! . . . She'll come soon!" suggested the baker. Some one
exclaimed regretfully: "What can we see?"
And again a lively, noisy dispute ensued. To-day we were to learn at
last how far pure and inaccessible to filth was the urn wherein we
had placed all that was best in us. This morning we felt for the
first time that we were really playing a big game, that this test of
our godling's purity might destroy our idol. We had been told all
these days that the soldier was following Tanya obstinately, but for
some reason or other none of us asked how she treated him. And she
kept on coming to us regularly every morning for biscuits and was the
same as before. This day, too, we soon heard her voice:
"Little prisoners! I've come. . . ."
We hastened to let her in, and when she entered we met her, against
our habit, in silence. Staring at her fixedly, we did not know what
to say to her, what to ask her; and as we stood before her we formed
a dark, silent crowd. She was evidently surprised at our unusual
reception, and suddenly we noticed that she turned pale, became
restless, began to bustle about and asked in a choking voice:
"Why are you . . . such?
"And you?" asked the baker sternly, without taking his eyes off the
"What's the matter with me?"
"Nothing. . . ."
"Well, quicker, give me biscuits. . . ."
She had never before hurried us on. . . .
"There's plenty of time!" said the baker, his eyes fixed, on her face.
Then she suddenly turned around and disappeared behind the door.
The baker took up his shovel and said calmly, turning towards the
"It is done, it seems! . . . The soldier! . . . Rascal! . . .
Scoundrel!" . . .
Like a herd of sheep, pushing one another, we walked back to the
table, seated ourselves in silence and began to work slowly. Soon
some one said:
"And perhaps not yet." . . .
"Go on! Talk about it!" cried the baker.
We all knew that he was a clever man, cleverer than any of us, and we
understood by his words that he was firmly convinced of the soldier's
victory. . . . We were sad and uneasy. At twelve o'clock, during
the dinner hour, the soldier came. He was, as usual, clean and
smart, and, as usual, looked straight into our eyes. We felt awkward
to look at him.
"Well, honorable gentlemen, if you wish, I can show you a soldier's
boldness," . . . said he, smiling proudly. "You go out into the
hallway and look through the clefts. . . . Understand?"
We went out and, falling on one another, we stuck to the cleft, in
the wooden walls of the hallway, leading to the yard. We did not
have to wait long. . . . . . . . Soon Tanya passed with a quick
pace, skipping over the plashes of melted snow and mud. Her face
looked troubled. She disappeared behind the cellar door. Then the
soldier went there slowly and whistling. His hands were thrust into
his pockets, and his moustache was stirring.
A rain was falling, and we saw the drops fall into plashes, and the
plashes were wrinkling under their blows. It was a damp, gray day—a
very dreary day. The snow still lay on the roofs, while on the
ground, here and there, were dark spots of mud. And the snow on the
roofs, too, was covered with a brownish, muddy coating. The rain
trickled slowly, producing a mournful sound. We felt cold and
The soldier came first out of the cellar; he crossed the yard slowly,
Stirring his moustache, his hands in his pockets—the same as always.
Then Tanya came out. Her eyes . . . her eyes were radiant with joy
and happiness, and her lips were smiling. And she walked as though
in sleep, staggering, with uncertain steps. We could not stand this
calmly. We all rushed toward the door, jumped out into the yard, and
began to hiss and bawl at her angrily and wildly. On noticing us she
trembled and stopped short as if petrified in the mud under her feet.
We surrounded her and malignantly abused her in the most obscene
language. We told her shameless things.
We did this not loud but slowly, seeing that she could not get away,
that she was surrounded by us and we could mock her as much as we
pleased. I don't know why, but we did not beat her. She stood among
us, turning her head one way and another, listening to our abuses.
And we kept on throwing at her more of the mire and poison of our
The color left her face. Her blue eyes, so happy a moment ago,
opened wide, her breast breathed heavily and her lips were trembling.
And we, surrounding her, avenged ourselves upon her, for she had
robbed us. She had belonged to us, we had spent on her all that was
best in us, though that best was the crusts of beggars, but we were
twenty-six, while she was one, and therefore there was no suffering
painful enough to punish her for her crime! How we abused her! She
was silent, looked at us wild-eyed, and trembling in every limb. We
were laughing, roaring, growling. Some more people ran up to us.
Some one of us pulled Tanya by the sleeve of her waist. . . .
Suddenly her eyes began to flash; slowly she lifted her hands to her
head, and, adjusting her hair, said loudly, but calmly, looking
straight into our eyes:
And she came directly toward us, she walked, too, as though we were
not in front of her, as though we were not in her way. Therefore
none of us were in her way, and coming out of our circle, without
turning to us, she said aloud, and with indescribable contempt:
"Rascals! . . . Rabble!" . . .
Then she went away.
We remained standing in the centre of the yard, in the mud, under the
rain and the gray, sunless sky. . . .
Then we all went back silently to our damp, stony ditch. As before,
the sun never peeped in through our windows, and Tanya never came
there again! . . . .
The sky is clouded by the dark smoke rising from the harbor. The
ardent sun gazes at the green sea through a thin veil. It is unable to
see its reflection in the water so agitated is the latter by the oars,
the steamer screws and the sharp keels of the Turkish feluccas, or sail
boats, that plough the narrow harbor in every direction. The waves
imprisoned by stone walls, crushed under the enormous weights that they
carry, beat against the sides of the vessels and the quays; beat and
murmur, foaming and muddy.
The noise of chains, the rolling of wagons laden with merchandise, the
metallic groan of iron falling on the pavements, the creaking of
windlasses, the whistling of steamboats, now in piercing shrieks, now
in muffled roars, the cries of haulers, sailors and custom-house
officers—all these diverse sounds blend in a single tone, that of
work, and vibrate and linger in the air as though they feared to rise
and disappear. And still the earth continues to give forth new sounds;
heavy, rumbling, they set in motion everything about them, or,
piercing, rend the hot and smoky air.
Stone, iron, wood, vessels and men, all, breathe forth a furious and
passionate hymn to the god of Traffic. But the voices of the men,
scarcely distinguishable, appear feeble and ridiculous, as do also the
men, in the midst of all this tumult. Covered with grimy rags, bent
under their burdens, they move through clouds of dust in the hot and
noisy atmosphere, dwarfed to insignificance beside the colossal iron
structures, mountains of merchandise, noisy wagons and all the other
things that they have themselves created. Their own handiwork has
reduced them to subjection and robbed them of their personality.
The giant vessels, at anchor, shriek, or sigh deeply, and in each sound
there is, as it were, an ironical contempt for the men who crawl over
their decks and fill their sides with the products of a slaved toil.
The long files of 'longshoremen are painfully absurd; they carry huge
loads of corn on their shoulders and deposit them in the iron holds of
the vessels so that they may earn a few pounds of bread to put in their
famished stomachs. The men, in rags, covered with perspiration, are
stupefied by fatigue, noise and heat; the machines, shining, strong and
impassive, made by the hands of these men, are not, however, moved by
steam, but by the muscles and blood of their creators—cold and cruel
The noise weighs down, the dust irritates nostrils and eyes; the heat
burns the body, the fatigue, everything seems strained to its utmost
tension, and ready to break forth in a resounding explosion that will
clear the air and bring peace and quiet to the earth again—when the
town, sea and sky will be calm and beneficent. But it is only an
illusion, preserved by the untiring hope of man and his imperishable
and illogical desire for liberty.
Twelve strokes of a bell, sonorous and measured, rang out. When the
last one had died away upon the air, the rude tones of labor were
already half softened. At the end of a minute, they were transformed
into a dull murmur. Then, the voices of men and sea were more
distinct. The dinner hour had come.
* * * * *
When the longshoremen, leaving their work, were dispersed in noisy
groups over the wharf, buying food from the open-air merchants, and
settling themselves on the pavement, in shady corners, to eat, Grichka
Tchelkache, an old jail-bird, appeared among them. He was game often
hunted by the police, and the entire quay knew him for a hard drinker
and a clever, daring thief. He was bare-headed and bare-footed, and
wore a worn pair of velvet trousers and a percale blouse torn at the
neck, showing his sharp and angular bones covered with brown skin. His
touseled black hair, streaked with gray, and his sharp visage,
resembling a bird of prey's, all rumpled, indicated that he had just
awakened. From his moustache hung a straw, another clung to his
unshaved cheek, while behind his ear was a fresh linden leaf. Tall,
bony, a little bent, he walked slowly over the stones, and, turning his
hooked nose from side to side, cast piercing glances about him,
appearing to be seeking someone among the 'longshoremen. His long,
thick, brown moustache trembled like a cat's, and his hands, behind his
back, rubbed each other, pressing closely together their twisted and
knotty fingers. Even here, among hundreds of his own kind, he
attracted attention by his resemblance to a sparrow-hawk of the
steppes, by his rapacious leanness, his easy stride, outwardly calm but
alert and watchful as the flight of the bird that he recalled.
When he reached a group of tatterdemalions, seated in the shade of some
baskets of charcoal, a broad-shouldered and stupid looking boy rose to
meet him. His face was streaked with red and his neck was scratched;
he bore the traces of a recent fight. He walked along beside
Tchelkache, and said under his breath:
"The custom-house officers can't find two boxes of goods. They are
looking for them. You understand, Grichka?"
"What of it?" asked Tchelkache, measuring him calmly with his eyes.
"What of it? They are looking, that's all."
"Have they inquired for me to help them in their search?"
Tchelkache gazed at the warehouses with a meaning smile.
"Go to the devil!"
The other turned on his heel.
"Hey! Wait!—Who has fixed you up in that fashion? Your face is all
bruised—Have you seen Michka around here?"
"I haven't seen him for a long time!" cried the other, rejoining the
Tchelkache continued on his way, greeted in a friendly manner by all.
But he, usually so ready with merry word or biting jest, was evidently
out of sorts to-day, and answered all questions briefly.
Behind a bale of merchandise appeared a custom-house officer, standing
in his dark-green, dusty uniform with military erectness. He barred
Tchelkache's way, placing himself before him in an offensive attitude,
his left hand on his sword, and reached out his right hand to take
Tchelkache by the collar.
"Stop, where are you going?"
Tchelkache fell back a step, looked at the officer and smiled drily.
The red, cunning and good-natured face of the custom-house officer was
making an effort to appear terrible; with the result that swollen and
purple, with wrinkling eyebrows and bulging eyes, it only succeeded in
"You've been warned before: don't you dare to come upon the wharf, or
I'll break every rib in your body!" fiercely exclaimed the officer.
"How do you do, Semenitch! I haven't seen you for a long time,"
quietly replied Tchelkache, extending his hand.
"I could get along without ever seeing you! Go about your business!"
However, Semenitch shook the hand that was extended to him.
"You're just the one I want to see," pursued Tchelkache, without
loosening the hold of his hooked fingers on Semenitch's hand, and
shaking it familiarly. "Have you seen Michka?"
"What Michka? I don't know any Michka! Get along with you, friend, or
the inspector'll see you; he—"
"The red-haired fellow who used to work with me on board the
'Kostroma,'" continued Tchelkache, unmoved.
"Who stole with you would be nearer the truth! Your Michka has been
sent to the hospital: his leg was crushed under a bar of iron. Go on,
friend, take my advice or else I shall have to beat you."
"Ah!—And you were saying: I don't know Michka! You see that you do
know him. What's put you out, Semenitch?"
"Enough, Grichka, say no more and off with you—"
The officer was getting angry and, darting apprehensive glances on
either side, tried to free his hand from the firm grasp of Tchelkache.
The last named looked at him calmly from under his heavy eyebrows,
while a slight smile curved his lips, and without releasing his hold of
the officer's hand, continued talking.
"Don't hurry me. When I'm through talking to you I'll go. Tell me how
you're getting on. Are your wife and children well?"
Accompanying his words with a terrible glance, and showing his teeth in
a mocking grin, he added:
"I'm always intending to make you a visit, but I never have the time:
I'm always drunk—"
"That'll do, that'll do, drop that—Stop joking, bony devil! If you
don't, comrade, I—Or do you really intend to rob houses and streets?"
"Why? There's enough here for both of us. My God, yes!—Semenitch!
You've stolen two boxes of goods again?—Look out, Semenitch, be
careful! Or you'll be caught one of these days!"
Semenitch trembled with anger at the impudence of Tchelkache; he spat
upon the ground in a vain effort to speak. Tchelkache let go his hand
and turned back quietly and deliberately at the entrance to the wharf.
The officer, swearing like a trooper, followed him.
Tchelkache had recovered his spirits; he whistled softly between his
teeth, and, thrusting his hands in his trousers' pockets, walked
slowly, like a man who has nothing to do, throwing to the right and
left scathing remarks and jests. He received replies in kind.
"Happy Grichka, what good care the authorities take of him!" cried
someone in a group of 'longshoremen who had eaten their dinner and were
lying, stretched out on the ground.
"I have no shoes; Semenitch is afraid that I may hurt my feet," replied
They reached the gate. Two soldiers searched Tchelkache and pushed him
"Don't let him come back again!" cried Semenitch, who had remained
Tchelkache crossed the road and seated himself on a stepping-block in
front of the inn door. From the wharf emerged an interminable stream
of loaded wagons. From the opposite direction arrived empty wagons at
full speed, the drivers jolting up and down on the seats. The quay
emitted a rumbling as of thunder; accompanied by an acrid dust. The
ground seemed to shake.
Accustomed to this mad turmoil, stimulated by his scene with Semenitch,
Tchelkache felt at peace with all the world. The future promised him
substantial gain without great outlay of energy or skill on his part.
He was sure that neither the one nor the other would fail him; screwing
up his eyes, he thought of the next day's merry-making when, his work
accomplished, he should have a roll of bills in his pocket. Then his
thoughts reverted to his friend Michka, who would have been of so much
use to him that night, if he had not broken his leg. Tchelkache swore
inwardly at the thought that for want of Michka he might perhaps fail
in his enterprise. What was the night going to be?—He questioned the
sky and inspected the street.
Six steps away, was a boy squatting in the road near the sidewalk, his
back against a post; he was dressed in blue blouse and trousers, tan
shoes, and a russet cap. Near him lay a little bag and a scythe,
without a handle, wrapped in hay carefully bound with string. The boy
was broad shouldered and fairhaired with a sun-burned and tanned face;
his eyes were large and blue and gazed at Tchelkache confidingly and
Tchelkache showed his teeth, stuck out his tongue, and, making a
horrible grimace, stared at him persistently.
The boy, surprised, winked, then suddenly burst out laughing and cried:
"O! how funny he is!"
Almost without rising from the ground, he rolled heavily along toward
Tchelkache, dragging his bag in the dust and striking the stones with
"Eh! say, friend, you've been on a good spree!" said he to Tchelkache,
pulling his trousers.
"Just so, little one, just so!" frankly replied Tchelkache. This
robust and artless lad pleased him from the first.
"Have you come from the hay-harvest?"
"Yes. I've mowed a verst and earned a kopek! Business is bad! There
are so many hands! The starving folks have come—have spoiled the
prices. They used to give sixty kopeks at Koubagne. As much as that!
And formerly, they say, three, four, even five rubles."
"Formerly!—Formerly, they gave three rubles just for the sight of a
real Russian. Ten years ago, I made a business of that. I would go to
a village, and I would say: 'I am a Russian!' At the words, everyone
came flocking to look at me, feel of me, marvel at me—and I had three
rubles in my pocket! In addition, they gave me food and drink and
invited me to stay as long as I liked."
The boy's mouth had gradually opened wider and wider, as he listened to
Tchelkache, and his round face expressed surprised admiration; then,
comprehending that he was being ridiculed by this ragged man, be
brought his jaws together suddenly and burst, out laughing. Tchelkache
kept a serious face, concealing a smile under his moustache.
"What a funny fellow! . . . You said that as though it was true, and I
believed you. But, truly, formerly, yonder. . . ."
"And what did I say? I said that formerly, yonder. . ."
"Get along with you!" said the boy, accompanying his words with a
gesture. "Are you a shoemaker? or a tailor? Say?"
"I?" asked Tchelkache; then after a moment's reflection, he added:
"I'm a fisherman."
"A fisherman? Really! What do you catch, fish?"
"Why should I catch fish? Around here the fishermen catch other things
besides that. Very often drowned men, old anchors, sunken
boats—everything, in fact! There are lines for that. . ."
"Invent, keep on inventing! Perhaps you're one of those fishermen who
sing about themselves:
"We are those who throw our nets
Upon dry banks,
Upon barns and stables!"
"Have you ever seen any of that kind?" asked Tchelkache, looking
ironically at him, and thinking that this honest boy must be very
"No, I've never seen any; but I've heard them spoken of."
"Do you like them?"
"Why not? They are fearless and free."
"Do you feel the need of freedom? Do you like freedom?"
"How could I help liking it? One is his own master, goes where he
likes, and does what he pleases. If he succeeds in supporting himself
and has no weight dragging at his neck, what more can he ask? He can
have as good a time as he likes provided he doesn't forget God."
Tchelkache spat contemptuously and interrupted the boy's questions by
turning his back to him.
"Look at me, for instance," said the other, with sudden animation.
"When my father died, he left little. My mother was old, the land worn
out, what could I do? One must live. But how? I don't know. A
well-to-do family would take me in as a son-in-law, to be sure! If the
daughter only received her share! But no! The devil of a
father-in-law never wants to divide the property. So then, I must
toil for him . . . a long time . . . years. Do you see how it stands?
While if I could put by a hundred and fifty rubles, I should feel
independent and be able to talk to the old man. 'Will you give Marfa
her share?' No! 'All right! She's not the only girl in the village,
thank God.' And so I'd be perfectly free, my own master. Yes!" The
lad sighed. "As it is, there's nothing for it but to go into a family.
I've thought that if I were to go to Koubagne, I'd easily make two
hundred rubles. Then I should have a chance for myself. But no,
nothing has come my way, I've failed in everything! So now it's
necessary to enter a family, be a slave, because I can't get along with
what I have—impossible! Ehe! . . ."
The lad detested the idea of becoming the husband of some rich girl who
would remain at home. His face grew dull and sad. He moved restlessly
about on the ground; this roused Tchelkache from the reflections in
which his speech had plunged him.
Tchelkache felt that he had no more desire to talk, but he nevertheless
"Where are you going, now?"
"Where am I going? Home, of course!"
"Why of course? . . . Perhaps you'd like to go to Turkey."
"To Turkey?" drawled the boy. "Do Christians go there? What do you
mean by that?"
"What an imbecile you are!" sighed Tchelkache, and he again turned his
back on his interlocutor, thinking this time that he would not
vouchsafe him another word. This robust peasant awakened something
obscure within him.
A confused feeling was gradually growing up, a kind of vexation was
stirring the depths of his being and preventing him from concentrating
his thoughts upon what he had to do that night.
The lad whom he had just insulted muttered something under his breath
and looked askance at him. His cheeks were comically puffed out, his
lips pursed up, and he half closed his eyes in a laughable manner.
Evidently he had not expected that his conversation with this
moustached person would end so quickly and in a manner so humiliating
Tchelkache paid no more attention to him. Sitting on the block, he
whistled absent-mindedly and beat time with his bare and dirty heel.
The boy longed to be revenged.
"Hey! Fisherman! Are you often drunk?" he began; but at the same
instant the fisherman turned quickly around and asked:
"Listen, youngster! Do you want to work with me to-night? Eh? Answer
"Work at what?" questioned the boy, distrustfully.
"At what I shall tell you. . . We'll go fishing. You shall row. . ."
"If that's it . . . why not? All right! I know how to work. . . Only
suppose anything happens to me with you; you're not reassuring, with
your mysterious airs. . ."
Tchelkache felt a burning sensation in his breast and said with
"Don't talk about what yon can't understand, or else, I'll hit yon on
the head so hard that your ideas will soon clear up."
He jumped up, pulling his moustache with his left hand and doubling his
right fist all furrowed with knotted veins and hard as iron; his eyes
The lad was afraid. He glanced quickly around him and, blinking
timidly, also jumped up on his feet. They measured each other with
their eyes in silence.
"Well?" sternly demanded Tchelkache.
He was boiling over with rage at being insulted by this young boy, whom
he had despised even when talking with him, and whom he now began to
hate on account of his pure blue eyes, his healthy and sun-burned face
and his short, strong arms; because he had, somewhere yonder, a village
and a home in that village; because it had been proposed to him to
enter as son-in-law in a well-to-do family, and, above all, because
this being, who was only a child in comparison with himself, should
presume to like liberty, of which he did not know the worth and which
was useless to him. It is always disagreeable to see a person whom we
consider our inferior like, or dislike, the same things that we do and
to be compelled to admit that in that respect they are our equals.
The lad gazed at Tchelkache and felt that he had found his master.
"Why . . ." said he; "I consent. I'm willing. It's work that I'm
looking for. It's all the same to me whether I work with you or
someone else. I only said that because you don't seem like a man that
works . . . you are far too ragged. However, I know very well that
that may happen to anyone. Have I never seen a drunkard? Eh! How
many I've seen, and much worse than you!"
"Good! Then you consent?" asked Tchelkache, somewhat mollified.
"I, why yes, with pleasure. Name your price."
"My price depends upon the work. It's according to what we do and
take. You may perhaps receive five rubles. Do you understand?"
But now that it was a question of money, the peasant wanted a clear
understanding and exacted perfect frankness on the part of his master.
He again became distrustful and suspicious.
"That's scarcely to my mind, friend. I must have those five rubles in
my hand how."
Tchelkache humored him.
"Enough said, wait a little. Let us go to the tavern."
They walked side by side along the street; Tchelkache twisting his
moustache with the important air of an employer, the lad submissively,
but at the same time filled with distrust and fear.
"What's your name?" asked Tchelkache.
"Gavrilo," replied the lad.
When they had entered the dirty and smoky ale-house Tchelkache went up
to the bar and ordered, in the familiar tone of a regular customer, a
bottle of brandy, cabbage soup, roast beef and tea, and, after
enumerating the order, said briefly: "to be charged!" To which the boy
responded by a silent nod. At this, Gavrilo was filled with great
respect for his master, who, despite his knavish exterior, was so well
known and treated with so much confidence.
"There, let us eat a bite, and talk afterward. Wait for me an instant,
I will be back directly."
He went out. Gavrilo looked around him. The ale-house was in a
basement; it was damp and dark and reeking with tobacco smoke, tar and
a musty odor. In front of Gavrilo, at another table, was a drunken
sailor, with a red beard, all covered with charcoal and tar. He was
humming, interrupted by frequent hiccoughs, a fragment of a song very
much out of tune. He was evidently not a Russian.
Behind him were two ragged women from Moldavia, black-haired and
sun-burned; they were also grinding out a song.
Further on, other faces started out from the darkness, all dishevelled,
half drunk, writhing, restless. . .
Gavrilo was afraid to remain alone. He longed for his master's return.
The divers noises of the ale-house blended in one single note: it
seemed like the roaring of some enormous animal with a hundred voices,
struggling blindly and furiously in this stone box and finding no
issue. Gavrilo felt himself growing heavy and dull as though his body
had absorbed intoxication; his head swam and he could not see, in spite
of his desire to satisfy his curiosity.
Tchelkache returned; he ate and drank while he talked. At the third
glass Gavrilo was drunk. He grew lively; he wanted to say something
nice to his host, who, worthy man that he was, was treating him so
well, before he had availed himself of his services. But the words,
which vaguely mounted to his throat, refused to leave his suddenly
Tchelkache looked at him. He said, smiling sarcastically.
"So you're done for, already! . . . it isn't possible! Just for five
small glasses! How will you manage to work?"
"Friend," stammered Gavrilo, "don't be afraid! I will serve you. Ah,
how I'll serve you! Let me embrace you, come?"
"That's right, that's right! . . . One more glass?"
Gavrilo drank. Everything swam before his eyes in unequal waves. That
was unpleasant and gave him nausea. His face had a stupid expression.
In his efforts to speak, he protruded his lips comically and roared.
Tchelkache looked at him fixedly as though he was recalling something,
then without turning aside his gaze twisted his moustache and smiled,
but this time, moodily and viciously.
The ale-house was filled with a drunken uproar. The red-haired sailor
was asleep with his elbows on the table.
"Let us get out of here!" said Tchelkache rising.
Gavrilo tried to rise, but not succeeding, uttered a formidable oath
and burst out into an idiotic, drunken laugh.
"See how fresh you are!" said Tchelkache, sitting down again. Gavrilo
continued to laugh, stupidly contemplating his master. The other
looked at him lucidly and penetratingly. He saw before him a man whose
life he held in his hands. He knew that he had it in his power to do
what he would with him. He could bend him like a piece of cardboard,
or help him to develop amid his staid, village environments. Feeling
himself the master and lord of another being, he enjoyed this thought
and said to himself that this lad should never drink of the cup that
destiny had made him, Tchelkache, empty. He at once envied and pitied
this young existence, derided it and was moved to compassion at the
thought that it might again fall into hands like his own. All these
feelings were finally mingled in one—paternal and authoritative. He
took Gavrilo by the arm, led and gently pushed him from the public
house and deposited him in the shade of a pile of cut wood; he sat down
beside him and lighted his pipe. Gavrilo stirred a little, muttered
something and went to sleep.
* * * * *
"Well, is it ready?" asked Tchelkache in a low voice to Gavrilo who was
looking after the oars.
"In a moment! one of the thole-pins is loose; may I pound it down with
"No, no! No noise! Push it down with your hands, it will be firm."
They noiselessly cut loose the boat fastened to the bow of a sailing
vessel. There was here a whole fleet of sailing vessels, loaded with
oak bark, and Turkish feluccas still half full of palma, sandal-wood
and great cypress logs.
The night was dark; the sky was overspread with shreds of heavy clouds,
and the sea was calm, black and thick as oil. It exhaled a humid and
salt aroma, and softly murmured as it beat against the sides of the
vessels and the shore and gently rocked Tchelkache's boat. Far out at
sea rose the black forms of ships; their sharp masts, surmounted with
colored lanterns, were outlined against the sky. The sea reflected the
lights and appeared to be sown with yellow spots, which trembled upon
its soft velvety black bosom, rising and falling regularly. The sea
was sleeping the healthy sound sleep of the laborer after his day's
"We're off!" said Gavrilo, dipping his oars.
"Let us pull!"
Tchelkache, with a strong stroke of the oar, drove the boat into an
open space between two fishing-boats; he pulled rapidly over the
shining water, which glowed, at the contact of the oars, with a blue
phosphorescent fire. A long trail of softly scintillating light
followed the boat windingly.
"Well! does your head ache very much?" asked Tchelkache, kindly.
"Horribly! It rings like a clock . . . I'm going to wet it with a
"What good will that do? Wet it rather inside; you'll come to quicker."
Tchelkache handed the bottle to Gavrilo.
"Do you think so? With the blessing of God! . . ." A soft gurgle was
"Eh! you're not sorry to have the chance? Enough!" cried Tchelkache,
The boat shot on again, noiselessly; it moved easily between the
ships. . . . All at once it cleared itself from the other craft, and
the immense shining sea lay before them. It disappeared in the blue
distance, where from its waters rose lilac-gray clouds to the sky;
these were edged with down, now yellow, again green as the sea, or
again slate-colored, casting those gloomy shadows that oppress soul and
mind. The clouds slowly crept over one another, sometimes melting in
one, sometimes dispersing each other; they mingled their forms and
colors, dissolving or reappearing with new contours, majestic and
mournful. This slow moving of inanimate masses had something fatal
about it. It seemed as though yonder at the confines of the sea, there
was an innumerable quantity of them always crawling indifferently over
the sky, with the wicked and stupid intention of never allowing it to
illumine the sleeping sea with the million golden eyes of its
many-colored stars, which awaken the noble desires of beings in
adoration before their holy and pure light.
"Isn't the sea beautiful?" asked Tchelkache.
"Not bad! Only one is afraid on it," replied Gavrilo, rowing evenly
and strongly. The sea could scarcely be heard; it dripped from the
long oars and still shone with its warm, blue phosphorescent lights.
"Afraid? Simpleton!" growled Tchelkache.
He, the cynical robber, loved the sea. His ardent temperament, greedy
for impressions, never tired of contemplating its infinite, free and
powerful immensity. It offended him to receive such a reply to his
question concerning the beauty of the sea that he loved. Seated at
the tiller, he cleaved the water with his oar and gazed tranquilly
before him, filled with the desire to thus continue rowing forever over
this velvet plain.
On the sea, warm and generous impulses rose within him, filled his soul
and in a measure purified it of the defilements of life. He enjoyed
this effect and liked to feel himself better, out here, amid the waves
and air where the thoughts and occupations of life lose their interest
and life itself sinks into insignificance. In the night, the sound of
its soft breathing is wafted over the slumbering sea, and this infinite
murmur fills the soul with peace, checks all unworthy impulses and
brings forth mighty dreams.
"The nets, where are they, eh?" suddenly asked Gavrilo, inspecting the
"There's the net, at the rudder."
"What kind of a net's that?" asked Gavrilo, suspiciously.
"A sweep-net. . ."
But Tchelkache was ashamed to lie to this child to conceal his real
purpose; he also regretted the thoughts and feelings that the lad had
put to flight by his question. He became angry. He felt the sharp
burning sensation that he knew so well, in his breast; his throat
contracted. He said harshly to Gavrilo:
"You're there; well, remain there! Don't meddle with what doesn't
concern you. You've been brought to row, now row. And if you let your
tongue wag, no good will come of it. Do you understand?"
For one minute, the boat wavered and stopped. The oars stood still in
the foaming water around them, and Gavrilo moved uneasily on his seat.
A fierce oath broke the stillness. Gavrilo bent to the oars. The
boat, as though frightened, leaped ahead rapidly and nervously, noisily
cutting the water.
"Better than that!"
Tchelkache had risen from the helm and, without letting go his oar, he
fixed his cold eyes upon the pale face and trembling lips of Gavrilo.
Sinuous and bending forward, he resembled a cat ready to jump. A
furious grinding of teeth and rattling of bones could be heard.
"Who goes there?"
This imperious demand resounded over the sea.
"The devil! Row, row! No noise! I'll kill you, dog. Row, can't you!
One, two! Dare to cry out! I'll tear you from limb to limb! . . ."
"Oh, Holy Virgin," murmured Gavrilo, trembling and exhausted.
The boat turned, obedient to his touch; he pulled toward the harbor
where the many-colored lanterns were grouped together and the tall
masts were outlined against the sky.
"Hey! Who calls?" was again asked. This time the voice was further
away; Tchelkache felt relieved.
"It's you, yourself, friend, who calls!" said he, in the direction of
the voice. Then, he turned to Gavrilo, who continued to murmur a
prayer. "Yes, brother, you're in luck. If those devils had pursued
us, it would have been the end of you. Do you hear? I'd have soon
sent you to the fishes."
Now that Tchelkache again spoke quietly and even good-naturedly,
Gavrilo, still trembling with fear, begged him:
"Listen, let me go! In the name of Christ, let me go. Set me down
somewhere. Oh dear! oh, dear! I'm lost! For God's sake, let me go.
What do you want of me? I can't do this, I've never done anything like
it. It's the first time, Lord! I'm lost! How did you manage,
comrade, to get around me like this? Say? It's a sin, you make me
lose my soul! . . . Ah! what a piece of business!"
"What business?" sternly questioned Tchelkache. "Speak, what business
do you mean?"
The lad's terror amused him; he also enjoyed the sensation of being
able to provoke such fear.
"Dark transactions, brother. . . Let me go, for the love of Heaven.
What am I to you? Friend . . ."
"Be quiet! If I hadn't needed you, I shouldn't have brought you! Do
you understand? Eh! Well, be quiet!"
"Oh, Lord!" sobbed Gavrilo.
Gavrilo could no longer control himself and his breath came in broken
and painful gasps; he wept and moved restlessly about on his seat, but
rowed hard, in despair. The boat sped ahead like an arrow. Again the
black hulls of the ships arose before them, and the boat, turning like
a top in the narrow channels that separated them, was soon lost among
"Hey! You, listen: If anyone speaks to us, keep still, if you value
your skin. Do you understand?"
"Alas!" hopelessly sighed Gavrilo, in response to this stern command,
and he added: "It was my lot to be lost!"
"Stop howling!" whispered Tchelkache.
These words completely robbed Gavrilo of all understanding and he
remained crushed under the chill presentiment of some misfortune. He
mechanically dipped his oars and sending them back and forth through
the water in an even and steady stroke did not lift his eyes again.
The slumbering murmur of the waves was gloomy and fearsome. Here is
the harbor. . . From behind its stone wall, comes the sound of human
voices, the plashing of water, singing and shrill whistling."
"Stop!" whispered Tchelkache.
"Drop the oars! Lean your hands against the wall! Softly, devil!"
Gavrilo caught hold of the slippery stone and guided the boat along the
wall. He advanced noiselessly, just grazing the slimy moss of the
"Stop, give me the oars! Give them here! And your passport, where
have you put it? In your bag! Give me the bag! Quicker! . . . That,
my friend, is so that you'll not run away. . . Now I hold you.
Without oars you could have made off just the same, but, without a
passport you'll not dare. Wait! And remember that if you so much as
breathe a word I'll catch you, even though at the bottom of the sea."
Suddenly, catching hold of something, Tchelkache rose in the air; he
disappeared over the wall.
Gavrilo shuddered. . . It had been so quickly done! He felt that the
cursed weight and fear that he experienced in the presence of this
moustached and lean bandit had, as it were, slipped off and rolled away
from him. Could he escape, now? Breathing freely, he looked around
him. On the left rose a black hull without masts, like an immense
empty, deserted coffin. The waves beating against its sides awakened
heavy echoes therein, resembling long-drawn sighs. On the right,
stretched the damp wall of the quay, like a cold heavy serpent. Behind
were visible black skeletons, and in front, in the space between the
wall and the coffin, was the sea, silent and deserted, with black
clouds hanging over it. These clouds were slowly advancing, their
enormous, heavy masses, terrifying in the darkness, ready to crush man
with their weight. All was cold, black and of evil omen. Gavrilo was
afraid. This fear was greater than that imposed on him by Tchelkache;
it clasped Gavrilo's breast in a tight embrace, squeezed him to a
helpless mass and riveted him to the boat's bench.
Perfect silence reigned. Not a sound, save the sighs of the seas; it
seemed as though this silence was about to be suddenly broken by some
frightful, furious explosion of sound that would shake the sea to its
depths, tear apart the dark masses of clouds floating over the sky and
bury under the waves all those black craft. The clouds crawled over
the sky as slowly and as wearily as before, but the sea gradually
emerged from under them, and one might fancy, looking at the sky, that
it was also a sea, but an angry sea overhanging a peaceful, sleeping
one. The clouds resembled waves whose gray crests touched the earth;
they resembled abysses hollowed by the wind between the waves and
nascent billows not yet covered with the green foam of fury.
Gavrilo was oppressed by this dark calm and beauty; he realized that he
desired his master's return. But he did not come! The time passed
slowly, more slowly than crawled the clouds up in the sky. . . And the
length of time augmented the agony of the silence. But just now behind
the wall, the plashing of water was heard, then a rustling, and
something like a whisper. Gavrilo was half dead from fright.
"Hey, there! Are you asleep? Take this! Softly!" said Tchelkache's
From the wall descended a solid, square, heavy object. Gavrilo put it
in the boat, then another one like it. Across the wall stretched
Tchelkache's long figure. The oars reappeared mysteriously, then
Gavrilo's bag fell at his feet and Tchelkache out of breath seated
himself at the tiller.
Gavrilo looked at him with a timid and glad smile.
"Are you tired?" said he.
"A little, naturally, simpleton! Row firm, with all your might. You
have a pretty profit, brother! The affair is half done, now there only
remains to pass unseen under the eyes of those devils, and then you'll
receive your money and fly to your Machka. . . You have a Machka, say,
Gavrilo did not spare himself; his breast worked like a bellows and his
arms like steel springs. The water foamed under the boat and the blue
trail that followed in the wake of the stern had become wider. Gavrilo
was bathed in perspiration, but he continued to row with all his
strength. After twice experiencing the fright that he had on this
night, he dreaded a repetition of it and had only one desire: to finish
this accursed task as soon as possible, regain the land, and flee from
this man before he should be killed by him or imprisoned on account of
his misdeeds. He resolved not to speak to him, not to contradict him
in anything, to execute all his commands and if he succeeded in freeing
himself from him unmolested, to sing a Te Deum to Saint Nicholas. An
earnest prayer was on his lips. But he controlled himself, puffed like
a steamboat, and in silence cast furtive glances at Tchelkache.
The other, bending his long, lean body forward, like a bird poising for
flight, gazed ahead into the darkness with his hawk's eyes. Turning
his fierce, aquiline nose from side to side, he held the tiller with
one hand and with the other tugged at his moustache which by a constant
trembling betrayed the quiet smile on the thin lips. Tchelkache was
pleased with his success, with himself and with this lad, whom he had
terrified into becoming his slave. He enjoyed in advance to-morrow's
feast and now he rejoiced in his strength and the subjection of this
young, untried boy. He saw him toil; he took pity on him and tried to
"Hey! Say there!" he asked softly. "Were you very much afraid?"
"It doesn't matter!" sighed Gavrilo, coughing.
"You needn't keep on rowing so hard. It's ended, now. There's only
one more bad place to pass. . . Rest yourself."
Gavrilo stopped docilely, wiped the perspiration from his face with the
sleeve of his blouse and again dipped the oars in the water.
"That's right, row more gently. So that the water tells no tales.
There's a channel to cross. Softly, softly. Here, brother, are
serious people. They are quite capable of amusing themselves with a
gun, They could raise a fine lump on your forehead before you'd have
time to cry out."
The boat glided over the water almost without sound. Blue drops fell
from the oars and when they touched the sea there flamed up for an
instant a little blue spot. The night was growing darker and more
silent. The sky no longer resembled a rough sea; the clouds extended
over its surface, forming a thick, even curtain, hanging motionless
above the ocean. The sea was calmer and blacker, its warm and salty
odor was stronger and it did not appear as vast as before.
"Oh! if it would only rain!" murmured Tchelkache; "we would be hidden
by a curtain."
On the right and left of the boat, the motionless, melancholy, black
hulls of ships emerged from the equally black water. A light moved to
and fro on one; someone was walking with a lantern. The sea, caressing
their sides, seemed to dully implore them while they responded by a
cold, rumbling echo, as though they were disputing and refusing to
"The custom-house," whispered Tchelkache.
From the moment that he had ordered Gavrilo to row slowly, the lad had
again experienced a feeling of feverish expectation. He leaned
forward, toward the darkness and it seemed to him that he was growing
larger; his bones and veins stretched painfully; his head, filled with
one thought, ached; the skin on his back shivered and in his legs were
pricking sensations as though small sharp, cold needles were being
thrust into them. His eyes smarted from having gazed too long into the
darkness out of which he expected to see someone rise up and cry out:
When Tchelkache murmured: "the custom-house!" Gavrilo started: he was
consumed by a sharp, burning thought; his nerves were wrought up to the
highest pitch; he wanted to cry out, to call for help, he had already
opened his mouth and straightened himself up on the seat. He thrust
forward his chest, drew a long breath, and again opened his mouth; but
suddenly, overcome by sharp fear, he closed his eyes and fell from his
Ahead of the boat, far off on the horizon, an immense, flaming blue
sword sprang up from the black water. It rose, cleaved the darkness;
its blade flashed across the clouds and illumined the surface of the
sea with a broad blue hand. In this luminous ray stood out the black,
silent ships, hitherto invisible. It seemed as though they had been
waiting at the bottom of the sea, whither they had been dragged by an
irresistible tempest, and that now they arose in obedience to the sword
of fire to which the sea had given birth. They had ascended to
contemplate the sky and all that was above the water. The rigging
clinging to the mast seemed like seaweed that had left the water with
these black giants, covering them with their meshes. Then the
wonderful blue sword again arose in the air, cleaved the night and
descended in a different place. Again, on the spot where it rested,
appeared the skeletons of ships until then invisible.
Tchelkache's boat stopped and rocked on the water as though hesitating.
Gavrilo lay flat on the bottom of the boat, covering his face with his
hands, and Tchelkache prodded him with his oar, hissing furiously, but
"Idiot, that's the custom-house cruiser. The electric lantern! Get
up, row with all your might! They'll throw the light upon us! You'll
ruin us, devil, both of us!"
When the sharp edge of the oar had been brought down once more, harder
this time, on Gavrilo's back, he arose and, not daring to open his
eyes, resumed his seat and feeling for the oars, sent the boat ahead.
"Softly, or I'll kill you! Softly! Imbecile, may the devil take you!
What are you afraid of? Say? A lantern and a mirror. That's all!
Softly with those oars, miserable wretch! They incline the mirror at
will and light the sea to find out if any folks like us are roving over
it. They're on the watch for smugglers. We're out of reach; they're
too far away, now. Don't be afraid, boy, we're safe! Now, we. . ."
Tchelkache looked around him triumphantly.
"Yes, we're safe. Out! You were in luck, you worthless stick!"
Gavrilo rowed in silence; breathing heavily, he cast sidelong glances
at the spot where still rose and fell the sword of fire. He could not
believe that it was only, as Tchelkache said, a lantern with a
reflector. The cold, blue light, cutting the darkness, awoke silver
reflections upon the sea; there seemed something mysterious about it,
and Gavrilo again felt his faculties benumbed with fear. The
presentiment of some misfortune oppressed him a second time. He rowed
like a machine, bent his shoulders as though expecting a blow to
descend and felt himself void of every desire, and without soul. The
emotions of that night had consumed all that was human in him.
Tchelkache was more triumphant than ever: his success was complete!
His nerves, accustomed to shocks, were already calmed. His lips
trembled and his eyes shone with an eager light. He felt strong and
well, whistled softly, inhaled long breaths of the salt sea air,
glanced about from right to left and smiled good-naturedly when his
eyes fell upon Gavrilo.
A light breeze set a thousand little waves to dancing. The clouds
became thinner and more transparent although still covering the sky.
The wind swept lightly and freely over the entire surface of the sea,
but the clouds remained motionless, and seemed to be plunged in a dull,
"Come, brother, wake up, it's time! Your soul seems to have been
shaken out of your skin; there's nothing left but a bag of bones. My
dear fellow! We have hold of the good end, eh?"
Gavrilo was glad to hear a human voice, even though it was that of
"I know it," said he, very low.
"That's right, little man! Take the tiller, I'll row; You're tired,
Gavrilo mechanically changed places, and when Tchelkache saw that he
staggered, he pitied him more still and patted him on the shoulder,
"Don't be afraid! You've made a good thing out of it. I'll pay you
well. Would you like to have twenty-five rubles, eh?"
"I—I don't need anything. All I ask is to reach land!"
Tchelkache removed his hand, spat and began to row; his long arms sent
the oars far back of him.
The sea had awakened. It sported with its tiny waves, brought them
forth, adorned them with a fringe of foam, tumbled them over each other
and broke them into spray. The foam as it melted sighed and the air
was filled with harmonious sounds and the plashing of water. The
darkness seemed to be alive.
"Well! tell me . . ." began Tchelkache. "You'll return to the village,
you'll marry, you'll set to work to plough and sow, your wife'll
present you with many children, you'll not have enough bread and you'll
just manage to keep soul and body together all your life! So . . . is
it such a pleasant prospect?"
"What pleasure can there be in that?" timidly and shudderingly replied
Gavrilo. "What can one do?"
Here and there, the clouds were rent by the wind and, through the
spaces, the cold sky studded with a few stars looked down. Reflected
by the joyous sea, these stars leaped upon the waves, now disappearing,
now shining brightly.
"More to the left!" said Tchelkache. "We shall soon be there, Yes!
. . . it is ended. We've done a good stroke of work. In a single
night, you understand—five hundred rubles gained! Isn't that doing
"Five hundred rubles!" repeated Gavrilo, distrustfully, but he was
immediately seized with fright and quickly asked, kicking the bales at
the bottom of the boat: "What are those things?"
"That's silk. A very dear thing. If it were to be sold for its real
value, it would bring a thousand rubles. But I don't raise the price
. . . clever that, eh?"
"Is it possible?" asked Gavrilo. "If I only had as much!"
He sighed at the thought of the country, of his miserable life, his
toil, his mother and all those far-distant and dear things for which he
had gone away to work, and for which he had suffered so much that
night. A wave of memory swept over him: he saw his village on a
hill-side with the river at the bottom, hidden by birches, willows,
mountain-ash and wild cherry trees. The picture breathed some life in
him and gave him a little strength.
"Oh, Lord, how much good it would do!" he sighed, sadly.
"Yes! I imagine that you'd very quickly board the train
and—good-evening! Oh, how the girls would love you, yonder, in the
village! You could have your pick. You could have a new house built.
But for a new house, there might not be enough . . ."
"That's true. A house, no; wood is very dear with us."
"Never mind, you could have the one that you have repaired. Do you own
"A horse? Yes, there's one, but he's very old!"
"Then a horse, a good horse! A cow . . . sheep . . . poultry . . . eh?"
"Why do you say that? If only! . . . Ah! Lord, how I might enjoy life."
"Yes, brother, life under those circumstances would not be bad . . .
I, too, I know a little about such things. I also have a nest
belonging to me. My father was one of the richest peasants of his
Tchelkache rowed slowly. The boat danced upon the waves which beat
against its sides; it scarcely advanced over the somber sea, now
disporting itself harder than ever. The two men dreamed, rocked upon
the water and gazing vaguely around them. Tchelkache had spoken to
Gavrilo of his village with the purpose of quieting him and helping him
to recover from his emotion. He at first spoke with a sceptical smile
hidden under his moustache, but as he talked and recalled the joys of
country life, in regard to which he himself had long since been
disabused, and that he had forgotten until this moment, he became
carried away, and instead of talking to the lad, he began unconsciously
"The essential part of the life of a peasant, brother, is liberty. You
must be your own master. You own your house: it is not worth much, but
it belongs to you. You possess a piece of ground, a little corner,
perhaps, but it is yours. Your chickens, eggs, apples are yours. You
are a king upon the earth. Then you must be methodical. . . As soon
as you are up in the morning, you must go to work. In the spring it is
one thing, in the summer another, in the autumn and winter still
another. From wherever you may be you always return to your home.
There is warmth, rest! . . . You are a king, are you not?"
Tchelkache had waxed enthusiastic over this long enumeration of the
privileges and rights of the peasant, forgetting only to speak of his
Gavrilo looked at him with curiosity, and was also aroused to
enthusiasm. He had already had time in the course of this conversation
to forget with whom he was dealing; he saw before him only a peasant
like himself, attached to the earth by labor, by several generations of
laborers, by memories of childhood, but who had voluntarily withdrawn
from it and its cares and who was now suffering the punishment of his
"Yes, comrade, that's true! Oh! how true that is! See now, take your
case, for instance: what are you now, without land? Ah! friend, the
earth is like a mother: one doesn't forget it long."
Tchelkache came to himself. He felt within him that burning sensation
that always seized upon him when his self-love as a dashing
devil-may-care fellow was wounded, especially when the offender was of
no account in his eyes.
"There he goes again!" he exclaimed fiercely. "You imagine, I suppose
that I'm speaking seriously. I'm worth more than that, let me tell
"Why, you funny fellow!" replied Gavrilo, again intimidated, "am I
speaking of you? There are a great many like you! My God, how many
unfortunate persons, vagabonds there are on the earth!"
"Take the oars again, dolt!" commanded Tchelkache shortly, restraining
himself from pouring forth a string of fierce oaths that rose in his
They again changed places. Tchelkache, while clambering over the
bales to return to the helm, experienced a sharp desire to give Gavrilo
a good blow that would send him overboard, and, at the same time, he
could not muster strength to look him in the face.
The short conversation was ended; but now Gavrilo's silence even
savored to Tchelkache of the village. He was lost in thoughts of the
past and forgot to steer his boat; the waves had turned it and it was
now going out to sea. They seemed to understand that this boat had no
aim, and they played with it and lightly tossed it, while their blue
fires flamed up under the oars. Before Tchelkache's inward vision, was
rapidly unfolded a series of pictures of the past—that far distant
past separated from the present by a wall of eleven years of vagrancy.
He saw himself again a child, in the village, he saw his mother,
red-cheeked, fat, with kind gray eyes,—his father, a giant with a
tawny beard and stern countenance,—himself betrothed to Amphissa,
black-eyed with a long braid down her back, plump, easy-going, gay. . .
And then, himself, a handsome soldier of the guard; later, his father,
gray and bent by work, and his mother, wrinkled and bowed. What a
merry-making there was at the village when he had returned after the
expiration of his service! How proud the father was of his Gregori,
the moustached, broad-shouldered soldier, the cock of the village!
Memory, that scourge of the unfortunate, brings to life even the stones
of the past, and, even to the poison, drunk in former days, adds drops
of honey; and all this only to kill man by the consciousness of his
faults, and to destroy in his soul all faith in the future by causing
him to love the past too well.
Tchelkache was enveloped in a peaceful whiff of natal air that was
wafting toward him the sweet words of his mother, the sage counsel of
his father, the stern peasant, and many forgotten sounds and savory
odors of the earth, frozen as in the springtime, or freshly ploughed,
or lastly, covered with young wheat, silky, and green as an
emerald. . . Then he felt himself a pitiable, solitary being, gone
astray, without attachments and an outcast from the life where the
blood in his veins had been formed.
"Hey! Where are we going?" suddenly asked Gavrilo.
Tchelkache started and turned around with the uneasy glance of a wild
"Oh! the devil! Never mind. . . Row more cautiously. . . We're almost
"Were you dreaming?" asked Gavrilo, smiling.
Tchelkache looked searchingly at him. The lad was entirely himself
again; calm, gay, he even seemed complacent. He was very young, all
his life was before him. That was bad! But perhaps the soil would
retain him. At this thought, Tchelkache grew sad again, and growled
out in reply:
"I'm tired! . . . and the boat rocks!"
"Of course it rocks! So, now, there's no danger of being caught with
Gavrilo kicked the bales.
"No, be quiet. I'm going to deliver them at once and receive the
"Not less, probably. . ."
"It's a lot! If I had it, poor beggar that I am, I'd soon let it be
"At the village? . . ."
"Sure! without delay. . ."
Gavrilo let himself be carried away by his imagination. Tchelkache
appeared crushed. His moustache hung down straight; his right side
was all wet from the waves, his eyes were sunken in his head and
without life. He was a pitiful and dull object. His likeness to a
bird of prey had disappeared; self-abasement appeared in the very folds
of his dirty blouse.
"I'm tired, worn out!"
"We are landing. . . Here we are."
Tchelkache abruptly turned the boat and guided it toward something
black that arose from the water.
The sky was covered with clouds, and a fine, drizzling rain began to
fall, pattering joyously on the crests of the waves.
"Stop! . . . Softly!" ordered Tchelkache.
The bow of the boat hit the hull of a vessel.
"Are the devils sleeping?" growled Tchelkache, catching the ropes
hanging over the side with his boat-hook. "The ladder isn't lowered.
In this rain, besides. . . It couldn't have rained before! Eh! You
vermin, there! Eh!"
"Is that you Selkache?" came softly from above.
"Lower the ladder, will you!"
"Lower the ladder, smoky devil!" roared Tchelkache.
"Oh! Isn't he ill-natured to-day. . . Eh! Oh!"
"Go up, Gavrilo!" commanded Tchelkache to his companion.
In a moment they were on the deck, where three dark and bearded
individuals were looking over the side at Tchelkache's boat and talking
animatedly in a strange and harsh language. A fourth, clad in a long
gown, advanced toward Tchelkache, shook his hand in silence and cast a
suspicious glance at Gavrilo.
"Get the money ready for to-morrow morning," briefly said Tchelkache.
"I'm going to sleep, now. Come Gavrilo. Are you hungry?"
"I'm sleepy," replied Gavrilo,
In five minutes, he was snoring on the dirty deck; Tchelkache sitting
beside him, was trying on an old boot that he found lying there. He
softly whistled, animated both by sorrow and anger. Then he lay down
beside Gavrilo, without removing the boot from his foot, and putting
his hands under the back of his neck he carefully examined the deck,
working his lips the while.
The boat rocked joyously on the water; the sound of wood creaking
dismally was heard, the rain fell softly on the deck, the waves beat
against the sides. Everything resounded sadly like the lullaby of a
mother who has lost all hope for the happiness of her son.
Tchelkache, with parted lips, raised his head and gazed around him
. . . and murmuring a few words, lay down again.
* * * * *
He was the first to awaken, starting up uneasily; then suddenly
quieting down he looked at Gavrilo, who was still sleeping. The lad
was smiling in his sleep, his round, sun-burned face irradiated with
Tchelkache sighed and climbed up a narrow rope ladder. The opening of
the trap-door framed a piece of leaden sky. It was daylight, but the
autumn weather was gray and gloomy.
It was two hours before Tchelkache reappeared. His face was red, his
moustache curled fiercely upward; his eyes beamed with gaiety and
good-nature. He wore high, thick boots, a coat and leather trowsers;
he looked like a hunter. His costume, which, although a little worn,
was still in good condition and fitted him well, made him appear
broader, concealed his too angular lines and gave him a martial air.
"Hey! Youngster, get up!" said he touching Gavrilo with his foot.
The last named started up, and not recognizing him just at first, gazed
at him vacantly. Tchelkache burst out laughing.
"How you're gotten up! . . ." finally exclaimed Gavrilo, smiling
broadly. "You are a gentleman!"
"We do that quickly here! What a coward you are! Dear, dear! How
many times did you make up your mind to die last night, eh? Say. . ."
"But you see, it's the first time I've ever done anything like this!
One might lose his soul for the rest of his days!"
"Would you be willing to go again?"
"Again? I must know first what there would be in it for me."
"Two hundred, you say? Yes I'd go."
"Stop! . . . And your soul?"
"Perhaps I shouldn't lose it!" said Gavrilo, smiling. "And then one
would be a man for the rest of his days!"
Tchelkache burst out laughing. "That's right, but we've joked long
enough! Let us row to the shore. Get ready."
"I? Why I'm ready. . ."
They again took their places in the boat. Tchelkache at the helm,
The gray sky was covered with clouds; the troubled, green sea, played
with their craft, tossing it on its still tiny waves that broke over it
in a shower of clear, salt drops. Far off, before the prow of the
boat, appeared the yellow line of the sandy beach; back of the stern
was the free and joyous sea, all furrowed by the troops of waves that
ran up and down, already decked in their superb fringe of foam. In the
far distance, ships were rocking on the bosom of the sea and, on the
left, was a whole forest of masts mingled with the white masses of the
houses of the town. Prom there, a dull murmur is borne out to sea and
blending with the sound of the waves swelled into rapturous music.
Over all stretched a thin veil of mist, widening the distance between
the different objects.
"Eh! It'll be rough to-night!" said Tchelkache, nodding his head in
the direction of the sea.
"A storm?" asked Gavrilo. He was rowing hard. He was drenched from
head to foot by the drops blown by the wind.
"Ehe!" affirmed Tchelkache.
Gavrilo looked at him curiously.
"How much did they give you?" he asked at last, seeing that Tchelkache
was not disposed to talk.
"See!" said Tchelkache. He held out toward Gavrilo something that he
drew from his pocket.
Gavrilo saw the variegated banknotes, and they assumed in his eyes all
the colors of the rainbow.
"Oh! And I thought you were boasting! How much?"
"Five hundred and forty! Isn't that a good haul?"
"Certain!" murmured Gavrilo, following with greedy eyes the five
hundred and forty roubles as they again disappeared in the pocket.
"Ah! If it was only mine!" He sighed dejectedly.
"We'll have a lark, little one!" enthusiastically exclaimed Tchelkache!
"Have no fear: I'll pay you, brother. I'll give you forty rubles! Eh?
Are you pleased? Do you want your money now?"
"If you don't mind. Yes, I'll accept it!"
Gavrilo trembled with anticipation; a sharp, burning pain oppressed his
"Ha! ha! ha! Little devil! You'll accept it? Take it, brother, I beg
of you! I implore you, take it! I don't know where to put all this
money; relieve me, here!"
Tchelkache handed Gavrilo several ten ruble notes. The other took them
with a shaking hand, dropped the oars and proceeded to conceal his
booty in his blouse, screwing up his eyes greedily, and breathing
noisily as though he were drinking something hot. Tchelkache regarded
him ironically. Gavrilo seized the oars; he rowed in nervous haste,
his eyes lowered, as though he were afraid. His shoulders shook.
"My God, how greedy you are! That's bad. Besides, for a peasant. . ."
"Just think of what one can do with money!" exclaimed Gavrilo,
passionately. He began to talk brokenly and rapidly, as though
pursuing an idea, and seizing the words on the wing, of life in the
country with and without money. "Respect, ease, liberty, gaiety. . ."
Tchelkache listened attentively with a serious countenance and
inscrutable eyes. Occasionally, he smiled in a pleased manner.
"Here we are!" he said at last.
A wave seized hold of the boat and landed it high on the sand.
"Ended, ended, quite ended! We must draw the boat up farther, so that
it will be out of reach of the tide. They will come after it. And,
now, good-bye. The town is eight versts from here. You'll return to
Tchelkache's face still beamed with a slily good-natured smile; he
seemed to be planning something pleasant for himself and a surprise for
Gavrilo. He put his hand in his pocket and rustled the bank-notes.
"No, I'm not going. . . I. . ."
Gavrilo stifled and choked. He was shaken by a storm of conflicting
desires, words and feelings. He burned as though on fire.
Tchelkache gazed at him with astonishment.
"What's the matter with you?" he asked.
But Gavrilo's face grew red and then ashy pale. The lad moved his feet
restlessly as though he would have thrown himself upon Tchelkache, or
as though he were torn by Borne secret desire difficult to realize.
His suppressed excitement moved Tchelkache to some apprehension. He
wondered what form it would take in breaking out.
Gavrilo gave a laugh, a strange laugh, like a sob. His head was bent,
so that Tchelkache could not see the expression of his face; he could
only perceive Gavrilo's ears, by turns red and white.
"Go to the devil!" exclaimed Tchelkache, motioning with his hand. "Are
you in love with me? Say? Look at you mincing like a young girl. Are
you distressed at leaving me? Eh! youngster, speak, or else I'm going!"
"You're going?" cried Gavrilo, in a sonorous voice. The deserted and
sandy beach trembled at this cry, and the waves of sand brought by the
waves of the sea seemed to shudder. Tchelkache also shuddered.
Suddenly Gavrilo darted from his place, and throwing himself at
Tchelkache's feet, entwined his legs with his arms and drew him toward
him. Tchelkache tottered, sat down heavily on the sand, and gritting
his teeth, brandished his long arm and closed fist in the air. But
before he had time to strike, he was stopped by the troubled and
suppliant look of Gavrilo.
"Friend! Give me . . . that money! Give it to me, in the name of
Heaven. What need have you of it? It is the earnings of one night
. . . a single night . . . And it would take me years to get as much
as that. . . Give it to me. . . I'll pray for you . . . all my life
. . . in three churches . . . for the safety of your soul. You'll
throw it to the winds, and I'll give it to the earth. Oh! give me that
money. What will you do with it, say? Do you care about it as much as
that? One night . . . and you are rich! Do a good deed! You are
lost, you! . . . You'll never come back again to the way, while I!
. . . Ah! give it to me!"
Tchelkache frightened, astonished and furious threw himself backward,
still seated on the sand, and leaning on his two hands silently gazed
at him, his eyes starting from their orbits; the lad leaned his head on
his knees and gasped forth his supplications. Tchelkache finally
pushed him away, jumped to his feet, and thrusting his hand into his
pocket threw the multi-colored bills at Gavrilo.
"There, dog, swallow them!" he cried trembling with mingled feelings of
anger, pity and hate for this greedy slave. Now that he had thrown him
the money, he felt himself a hero. His eyes, his whole person, beamed
with conscious pride.
"I meant to have given you more. I pitied you yesterday. I thought of
the village. I said to myself: 'I'll help this boy.' I was waiting to
see what you'd do, whether you'd ask me or not. And now, see!
tatterdemalion, beggar, that you are! . . . Is it right to work
oneself up to such a state for money . . . to suffer like that?
Imbeciles, greedy devils who forget . . . who would sell themselves for
five kopeks, eh?"
"Friend . . . Christ's blessing on you! What is this? What?
Thousands? . . . I'm a rich man, now!" screamed Gavrilo, in a frenzy of
delight, hiding the money in his blouse. "Ah! dear man! I shall, never
forget this! never! And I'll beg my wife and children to pray for you."
Tchelkache listened to these cries of joy, gazed at this face,
irradiated and disfigured by the passion of covetousness; he felt that
he himself, the thief and vagabond, freed from all restraining
influence, would never become so rapacious, so vile, so lost to all
decency. Never would he sink so low as that! Lost in these
reflections, which brought to him the consciousness of his liberty and
his audacity, he remained beside Gavrilo on the lonely shore.
"You have made me happy!" cried Gavrilo, seizing Tchelkache's hand and
laying it against his cheek.
Tchelkache was silent and showed his teeth like a wolf. Gavrilo
continued to pour out his heart.
"What an idea that was of mine! We were rowing here . . . I saw the
money . . . I said to myself:
"Suppose I were to give him . . . give you . . . a blow with the oar
. . . just one! The money would be mine; as for him, I'd throw him in
the sea . . . you, you understand? Who would ever notice his
disappearance? And if you were found, no inquest would be made: who,
how, why had you been killed? You're not the kind of man for whom any
stir would be made! You're of no use on the earth! Who would take
your part? That's the way it would be! Eh?"
"Give back that money!" roared Tchelkache, seizing Gavrilo by the
Gavrilo struggled, once, twice . . . but Tchelkache's other arm
entwined itself like a serpent around him . . . a noise of tearing
linen,—and Gavrilo slipped to the ground with bulging eyes, catching
at the air with his hands and waving his legs. Tchelkache, erect,
spare, like a wild beast, showed his teeth wickedly and laughed
harshly, while his moustache worked nervously on his sharp, angular
face. Never, in his whole life, had he been so deeply wounded, and
never had his anger been so great.
"Well! Are you happy, now?" asked he, still laughing, of Gavrilo, and
turning his back to him, he walked away in the direction of the town.
But he had hardly taken two steps when Gavrilo, crouching like a cat,
threw a large, round stone at him, crying furiously:
Tchelkache groaned, raised his hands to the back of his neck and
stumbled forward, then turned toward Gavrilo and fell face downward on
the sand. He moved a leg, tried to raise his head and stiffened,
vibrating like a stretched cord. At this, Gavrilo began to run, to run
far away, yonder, to where the shadow of that ragged cloud overhung the
misty steppe. The murmuring waves, coursing over the sands, joined him
and ran on and on, never stopping. The foam hissed, the spray flew
through the air.
The rain fell. Slight at first, it soon came down thickly, heavily and
came from the sky in slender streams. They crossed, forming a net that
soon shut off the distance on land and water. For a long time there
was nothing to be seen but the rain and this long body lying on the
sand beside the sea . . . But suddenly, behold Gavrilo coming from out
the rain, running; he flew like a bird. He went up to Tchelkache, fell
upon his knees before him, and tried to turn him over. His hand sank
into a sticky liquid, warm and red. He trembled and drew back, pale
"Get up, brother!" he whispered amid the noise of the falling rain into
the ear of Tchelkache.
Tchelkache came to himself and, repulsing Gavrilo, said in a hoarse
"Forgive me, brother: I was tempted by the devil . . ." continued
Gavrilo, trembling and kissing Tchelkache's hand.
"Go, go away!" growled the other.
"Absolve my sin! Friend . . . forgive me!"
"Go, go to the devil!" suddenly cried out Tchelkache, sitting up on the
sand. His face was pale, threatening; his clouded eyes closed as
though he were very sleepy . . . "What do you want, now? You've
finished your business . . . go! Off with you!"
He tried to kick Gavrilo, prostrated by grief, but failed, and would
have fallen if Gavrilo hadn't supported him with his shoulders.
Tchelkache's face was now on a level with Gavrilo's. Both were pale,
wretched and terrifying.
Tchelkache spat in the wide opened eyes of his employe.
The other humbly wiped them with his sleeve, and murmured:
"Do what you will . . . I'll not say one word. Pardon me, in the name
"Fool, you don't even know how to steal!" cried Tchelkache,
contemptuously. He tore his shirt under his waistcoat and, gritting
his teeth in silence, began to bandage his head.
"Have you taken the money?" he asked, at last.
"I haven't taken it, brother; I don't want it! It brings bad luck!"
Tchelkache thrust his hand into his waistcoat pocket, withdrew the
package of bills, put one of them in his pocket and threw all the rest
"Take that and be off!"
"I cannot take it . . . I cannot! Forgive me!"
"Take it, I tell you!" roared Tchelkache, rolling his eyes frightfully.
"Pardon me! When you have forgiven me I'll take it," timidly said
Gavrilo, falling on the wet sand at Tchelkache's feet.
"You lie, fool, you'll take it at once!" said Tchelkache, confidently,
and raising his head, by a painful effort, he thrust the money before
his face. "Take it, take it! You haven't worked for nothing! Don't
be ashamed of having failed to assassinate a man! No one will claim
anyone like me. You'll be thanked, on the contrary, when it's learned
what you've done. There, take it! No one'll know what you've done and
yet it deserves some reward! Here it is!"
Gavrilo saw that Tchelkache was laughing, and he felt relieved. He
held the money tightly in his hand.
"Brother! Will you forgive me? Won't you do it? Say?" he supplicated
"Little brother!" mimicked Tchelkache, rising on his tottering limbs.
"Why should I pardon you? There's no occasion for it. To-day it's
you, to-morrow it'll be me . . ."
"Ah! brother, brother!" sighed Gavrilo, sorrowfully, shaking his head.
Tchelkache was standing before him, smiling strangely; the cloth
wrapped around his head, gradually reddening, resembled a Turkish
The rain fell in torrents. The sea complained dully and the waves beat
angrily against the beach.
The two men were silent.
"Good-bye!" said Tchelkache, with cold irony.
He staggered, his legs trembled, and he carried his head oddly, as
though he was afraid of losing it.
"Pardon me, brother!" again repeated Gavrilo.
"It's nothing!" drily replied Tchelkache, as he supported his head with
his left hand and gently pulled his moustache with his right.
Gavrilo stood gazing after him until he had disappeared in the rain
that still fell in fine, close drops, enveloping the steppe in a mist
as impenetrable and gray as steel.
Then Gavrilo took off his wet cap, made the sign of the cross, looked
at the money pressed tightly in his hand and drew a long, deep sigh; he
concealed his booty in his blouse and began to walk, taking long
strides, in the opposite direction to that in which Tchelkache had gone.
The sea thundered, threw great heavy waves upon the sand and broke them
into foam and spray. The rain lashed the sea and land pitilessly; the
wind roared. All the air around was filled with plaints, cries and
dull sounds. The rain masked sea and sky. . .
The rain and the breaking waves soon washed away the red spot where
Tchelkache had been struck to the ground; they soon effaced his
footprints and those of the lad on the sand, and the lonely beach was
left without the slightest trace of the little drama that had been
played between these two men.
BY MAXIME GORKY
The sea laughed.
It trembled at the warm and light breath of the wind and became covered
with tiny wrinkles that reflected the sun in blinding fashion and
laughed at the sky with its thousands of silvery lips. In the deep
space between sea and sky buzzed the deafening and joyous sound of the
waves chasing each other on the flat beach of the sandy promontory.
This noise and brilliancy of sunlight, reverberated a thousand times by
the sea, mingled harmoniously in ceaseless and joyous agitation. The
sky was glad to shine; the sea was happy to reflect the glorious light.
The wind caressed the powerful and satin-like breast of the sea, the sun
heated it with its rays and it sighed as if fatigued by these ardent
caresses; it filled the burning air with the salty aroma of its
emanations. The green waves, coursing up the yellow sand, threw on the
beach the white foam of their luxurious crests which melted with a
gentle murmur, and wet it.
At intervals along the beach, scattered with shells and sea weed, were
stakes of wood driven into the sand and on which hung fishing nets,
drying and casting shadows as fine as cobwebs. A few large boats and a
small one were drawn up beyond high-water mark, and the waves as they
ran up towards them seemed as if they were calling to them. Gaffs,
oars, coiled ropes, baskets and barrels lay about in disorder and amidst
it all was a cabin built of yellow branches, bark and matting. Above
the general chaos floated a red rag at the extremity of a tall mast.
Under the shade of a boat lay Vassili Legostev, the watchman at this
outpost of the Grebentchikov fishing grounds. Lying on his stomach, his
head resting on his hands, he was gazing fixedly out to sea, where away
in the distance danced a black spot. Vassili saw with satisfaction that
it grew larger and was drawing nearer.
Screwing up his eyes on account of the glare caused by the reflection on
the water, he grunted with pleasure and content. Malva was coming. A
few minutes more and she would be there, laughing so heartily as to
strain every stitch of her well-filled bodice. She would throw her
robust and gentle arms around him and kiss him, and in that rich
sonorous voice that startles the sea gulls would give him the news of
what was going on yonder. They would make a good fish soup together,
and drink brandy as they chatted and caressed each other. That is how
they spent every Sunday and holiday. And at daylight he would row her
back over the sea in the sharp morning air. Malva, still nodding with
sleep, would hold the tiller and he would watch her as he pulled. She
was amusing at those times, funny and charming both, like a cat which
had eaten well. Sometimes she would slip from her seat and roll herself
up at the bottom of the boat like a ball.
As Vassili watched the little black spot grow larger it seemed to him
that Malva was not alone in the boat. Could Serejka have come along
with her? Vassili moved heavily on the sand, sat up, shaded his eyes
with his hands, and with a show of ill humor began to strain his eyes to
see who was coming. No, the man rowing was not Serejka. He rows strong
but clumsily. If Serejka were rowing Malva would not take the trouble
to hold the rudder.
"Hey there!" cried Vassili impatiently.
The sea gulls halted in their flight and listened.
"Hallo! Hallo!" came back from the boat. It was Malva's sonorous voice.
"Who's with you?"
A laugh replied to him.
"Jade!" swore Vassili under his breath.
He spat on the ground with vexation.
He was puzzled. While he rolled a cigarette he examined the neck and
back of the rower who was rapidly drawing nearer. The sound of the
water when the oars struck it resounded in the still air, and the sand
crunched under the watchman's bare feet as he stamped about in his
"Who's with you?" he cried, when he could discern the familiar smile on
Malva's pretty plump face.
"Wait. You'll know him all right," she replied laughing.
The rower turned on his seat and, also laughing, looked at Vassili.
The watchman frowned. It seemed to him that he knew the fellow.
"Pull harder!" commanded Malva.
The stroke was so vigorous that the boat was carried up the beach on a
wave, fell over on one side and then righted itself while the wave
rolled back laughing into the sea. The rower jumped out on the beach,
and going up to Vassili said:
"How are you, father?"
"Iakov!" cried Vassili, more surprised than pleased.
They embraced three times. Afterwards Vassili's stupor became mingled
with both joy and uneasiness. The watchman stroked his blond beard with
one hand and with the other gesticulated:
"I knew something was up; my heart told me so. So it was you! I kept
asking myself if it was Serejka. But I saw it was not Serejka. How did
you come here?"
Vassili would have liked to look at Malva, but his son's rollicking eyes
were upon him and he did not dare. The pride he felt at having a son so
strong and handsome struggled in him with the embarrassment caused by
the presence of Malva. He shuffled about and kept asking Iakov one
question after another, often without waiting for a reply. His head
felt awhirl, and he felt particularly uneasy when he heard Malva say in
a mocking tone.
"Don't skip about—for joy. Take him to the cabin and give him
something to eat."
The father examined his son from head to foot. On the latter's lips
hovered that cunning smile Vassili knew so well. Malva turned her green
eyes from the father to the son and munched melon seeds between her
small white teeth. Iakov smiled and for a few seconds, which were
painful to Vassili, all three were silent.
"I'll come back in a moment," said Vassili suddenly going towards the
cabin. "Don't stay there in the sun, I'm going to fetch some water.
We'll make some soup. I'll give you some fish soup, Iakov."
He seized a saucepan that was lying on the ground and disappeared behind
the fishing nets.
Malva and the peasant followed him.
"Well, my fine young fellow, I brought you to your father, didn't I?"
said Malva, brushing up against Iakov's robust figure.
He turned towards her his face framed in its curled blond beard, and
with a brilliant gleam in his eyes said:
"Yes, here we are—It's fine here, isn't it? What a stretch of sea!"
"The sea is great. Has the old man changed much?"
"No, not much. I expected to find him more grey. He's still pretty
"How long is it since you saw him?"
"About five years. I was nearly seventeen when he left the village."
They entered the cabin, the air of which was suffocating from the heat
and the odor of cooking fish. They sat down. Between them there was a
roughly-hewn oak table. They looked at each other for a long time
"So you want to work here?" said Malva at last.
"I don't know. If I find something, I'll work."
"You'll find work," replied Malva with assurance, examining him
critically with her green eyes.
He paid no attention to her, and with his sleeve wiped away the
perspiration that covered his face.
She suddenly began to laugh.
"Your mother probably sent messages for your father by you?"
Iakov gave a shrug of ill humor and replied:
"Of course. What if she did?"
And she laughed the louder.
Her laugh displeased Iakov. He paid no attention to her and thought of
his mother's instructions. When she accompanied him to the end of the
village she had said quickly, blinking her eyes:
"In Christ's name, Iakov say to him: 'Father, mother is alone yonder.
Five years have gone by and she is always alone. She is getting old.'
Tell him that, Iakov, my little Iakov, for the love of God. Mother will
soon be an old woman. She's always alone, always at work. In Christ's
name, tell him that."
And she had wept silently, hiding her face in her apron.
Iakov had not pitied her then, but he did now. And his face took on a
hard expression before Malva, as if he were about to abuse her.
"Here I am!" cried Vassili, bursting in on them with a wriggling fish in
one hand and a knife in the other.
He had not got over his uneasiness, but had succeeded in dissimulating
it deep within him. Now he looked at his guests with serenity and good
nature; only his manner was more agitated than usual.
"I'll make a bit of a fire in a minute, and we'll talk. Why, Iakov,
what a fine fellow you've grown!"
Again he disappeared.
Malva went on munching her melon seeds. She stared familiarly at Iakov.
He tried not to meet her eyes, although he would have liked to, and he
thought to himself:
"Life must come easy here. People seem to eat as much as they want to.
How strong she is and father, too!"
Then intimidated by the silence, he said aloud:
"I forgot my bag in the boat. I'll go and get it."
Iakov rose leisurely and went out. Vassili appeared a moment later. He
bent down towards Malva and said rapidly with anger:
"What did you want to bring him for? What shall I tell him about you?"
"What's that to me? Am I afraid of him? Or of you?" she asked, closing
her green eyes with disdain. Then she laughed: "How you went on when
you saw him. It was so funny!"
The sand crunched under Iakov's steps and they had to suspend their
conversation. Iakov had brought a bag which he threw into a corner. He
cast a hostile look at the young woman.
She went on munching her seeds. Vassili, seating himself on the
woodbin, said with a forced smile:
"What made you think of coming?"
"Why, I just came. We wrote you."
"When? I haven't received any letter."
"Really? We wrote often."
"The letter must have got lost," said Vassili regretfully. "It always
does when it's important."
"So you don't know how things are at home?" asked Iakov, suspiciously.
"How should I know? I received no letter."
Then Iakov told him that the horse was dead, that all the corn had been
eaten before the beginning of February, and that he himself had been
unable to find any work. Hay was also short, and the cow had almost
perished from hunger. They had managed as best they could until April
and then they decided that Iakov should join the father far away and
work three months with him. That is what they had written. Then they
sold three sheep, bought flour and hay and Iakov had started.
"How is that possible?" cried Vassali. "I sent you some money."
"Your money didn't go far. We repaired the cottage, we had to marry
sister off and I bought a plough. You know five years is a long time."
"Hum," said Vassili, "wasn't it enough? What a tale of woe! Ah,
there's my soup boiling over!"
He rose and stooping before the fire on which was the saucepan, Vassili
meditated while throwing the scum into the flame. Nothing in his son's
recital had touched him particularly, and he felt irritated against his
wife and Iakov. He had sent them a great deal of money during the last
five years, and yet they had not been able to manage. If Malva had not
been present he would have told his son what he thought about it. Iakov
was smart enough to leave the village on his own responsibility and
without the father's permission, but he had not been able to get a
living out of the soil. Vassili sighed as he stirred the soup, and as
he watched the blue flames he thought of his son and Malva.
Henceforward, he thought, his life would be less agreeable, less free.
Iakov had surely guessed what Malva was.
Meanwhile Malva, in the cabin, was trying to arouse the rustic with her
"Perhaps you left a girl in the village?" she asked suddenly.
"Perhaps," he responded surlily.
Inwardly he was abusing Malva.
"Is she pretty?" she asked with indifference.
Iakov made no reply.
"Why don't you answer? Is she better looking than I, or no?"
He looked at her in spite of himself. Her cheeks were sunburnt and
plump, her lips red and tempting and now, parted in a malicious smile,
showing the white even teeth, they seemed to tremble. Her bust was full
and firm under a pink cotton waist that set off to advantage her trim
waist and well-rounded arms. But he did not like her green and cynical
"Why do you talk like that?" he asked.
He sighed without reason and spoke in a beseeching tone, yet he wanted
to speak brutally to her.
"How shall I talk?" she asked laughing.
"There you are, laughing—at what?"
"What have I done to you?" he said with irritation. And once more he
lowered his eyes under her gaze.
She made no reply.
Iakov understood her relations towards his father perfectly well and
that prevented him from expressing himself freely. He was not
surprised. It would have been difficult for a man like his father to
have been long without a companion.
"The soup is ready," announced Vassili, at the threshold of the cabin.
"Get the spoons, Malva."
When she found the spoons she said she must go down to the sea to wash
The father and son watched her as she ran down the sands and both were
"Where did you meet her?" asked Vassili, finally.
"I went to get news of you at the office. She was there. She said to
me: 'Why go on foot along the sand? Come in the boat. I'm going
there.' And so we started."
"And—what do you think of her?"
"Not bad," said Iakov, vaguely, blinking his eyes.
"What could I do?" asked Vassili. "I tried at first. But it was
impossible. She mends my clothes and so on. Besides it's as easy to
escape from death as from a woman when once she's after you."
"What's it to me?" said Iakov. "It's your affair. I'm not your judge."
Malva now returned with the spoons, and they sat down to dinner. They
ate without talking, sucking the bones noisily and spitting them out on
the sand, near the door. Iakov literally devoured his food, which
seemed to please Malva vastly; she watched with tender interest his
sunburnt cheeks extend and his thick humid lips moving quickly. Vassili
was not hungry. He tried, however, to appear absorbed in the meal so as
to be able to watch Malva and Iakov at his ease.
After awhile, when Iakov had eaten his fill he said he was sleepy.
"Lie down here," said Vassili. "We'll wake you up."
"I'm willing," said Iakov, sinking down on a coil of rope. "And what
will you do?"
Embarrassed by his son's smile, Vassili left the cabin hastily, Malva
frowned and replied to Iakov:
"What's that to you? Learn to mind your own business, my lad."
Then she went out.
Iakov turned over and went to sleep.
Vassili had fixed three stakes in the sand, and with a piece of matting
had rigged up a shelter from the sun. Then he lay down flat on his back
and contemplated the sky. When Malva came up and dropped on the sand by
his side he turned towards her with vexation plainly written on his face.
"Well, old man," she said laughing, "you don't seem pleased to see your
"He mocks me. And why? Because of you," replied Vassili testily.
"Oh, I am sorry. What can we do? I mustn't come here again, eh? All
right. I'll not come again."
"Siren that you are! Ah, you women! He mocks me and you too—and yet
you are what I have dearest to me."
He moved away from her and was silent. Squatting on the sand, with her
legs drawn up to her chin, Malva balanced herself gently to and fro,
idly gazing with her green eyes over the dazzling joyous sea, and she
smiled with triumph as all women do when they understand the power of
"Why don't you speak?" asked Vassili.
"I'm thinking," said Malva. Then after a pause she added:
"Your son's a fine fellow."
"What's that to you?" cried Vassili, jealously.
He glanced at her suspiciously. "Take care," he said, menacingly.
"Don't play the imbecile. I'm a patient man, but I mustn't be crossed."
He ground his teeth and clenched his fists.
"Don't frighten me, Vassili," she said indifferently, without looking up
"Well, stop your joking."
"Don't try to frighten me."
"I'll soon make you dance if you begin any foolishness."
"Would you beat me?"
She went up to him and gazed with curiosity at his frowning face.
"One would think you were a countess. Yes, I would beat you."
"Yet I'm not your wife," said Malva, calmly. "You have been accustomed
to beat your wife for nothing, and you imagine that you can do the same
with me. No, I am free. I belong only to myself, and I am afraid of no
one. But you are afraid of your son, and now you dare threaten me."
She shook her head with disdain. Her careless manner cooled Vassili's
anger. He had never seen her look so beautiful.
"I have something else to tell you," she went on. "You boasted to
Serejka that I could no more get along without you than without bread,
and that I cannot live without you. You are mistaken. Perhaps it is
not you that I love and not for you that I come. Perhaps I love the
peace of this deserted beach. (Here she made a wide gesture with her
arms.) Perhaps I love these lonely sands, with their vast stretch of
sea and sky, and to be away from vile beings. Because you are here is
nothing to me. If this were Serejka's place I should come here. If
your son lived here, I should come too. It would be better still if no
one were here, for I am disgusted with you all. But if I take it into
my head one day—beautiful as I am—I can always choose a man, and one
who'll please me better than you."
"So, so!" hissed Vassili, furiously, and he seized her by the throat.
"So that's your game, is it?"
He shook her, and she did not strive to get away from his grasp,
although her face was congested and her eyes bloodshot. She merely
placed her two hands on the rough hands that were around her throat.
"Ah, now I know you!" Vassili was hoarse with rage. "And yet you said
you loved me, and you kissed me and caressed me? Ah, I'll show you!"
Holding her down to the ground, he struck her repeatedly with his
clenched fist. Finally, fatigued with the exertion, he pushed her away
from him crying:
"There, serpent. Now you've got what you deserved."
Without a complaint, silent and calm, Malva fell back on her back, all
crumpled, red and still beautiful. Her green eyes watched him furtively
under the lashes, and burned with a cold flame full of hatred, but he,
gasping with excitement and satisfied with the punishment he had
inflicted, did not notice the look, and when he stooped down towards her
to see if she was crying, she smiled up at him gently.
He looked at her, not understanding and not knowing what to do next.
Should he beat her again? But his fury was appeased, and he had no
desire to recommence.
"How you love me!" she whispered.
Vassili felt hot all over.
"All right! all right! the devil take you," he said gloomily. "Are you
"Was I not foolish, Vassili? I thought you no longer loved me! I said
to myself, 'now his son is here he will neglect me for him.'"
And she burst out laughing, a strange forced laugh.
"Foolish girl!" said Vassili, smiling in spite of himself.
He felt himself at fault, and was sorry for her, but remembering what
she had said, he went on crossly:
"My son has nothing to do with it. If I beat you it was your own fault.
Why did you cross me?"
"I did it on purpose to try you."
And purring like a cat she rubbed herself against his shoulder.
He glanced furtively towards the cabin and bending down embraced the
"To try me?" he repeated. "As if you wanted to do that? You see the
"Oh, that's nothing!" said Malva, half closing her eyes. "I'm not
angry. You beat me only because you loved me. You'll make it up to me."
She gave him a long look, trembled and lowering her voice repeated:
"Oh, yes, you'll make it up to me."
Vassili interpreted her words in a sense agreeable to him.
"How?" he asked.
"You'll see," replied Malva calmly, very calmly, but her lips trembled.
"Ah, my darling!" cried Vassili, clasping her close in his arms. "Do
you know that since I have beaten you I love you better." Her head fell
back on his shoulders and he placed his lips on her trembling mouth.
The sea gulls whirled about over their heads uttering hoarse cries.
From the distance came the regular and gentle splash of the tiny waves
breaking on the sand.
When, at last, they broke from their long embrace, Malva sat up on
Vassili's knee. The peasant's face, tanned by wind and sun, was bent
close to hers and his great blond beard tickled her neck. The young
woman was motionless; only the gradual and regular rise and fall of her
bosom showed her to be alive. Vassili's eyes wandered in turn from the
sea to this woman by his side. He told Malva how tired he was of living
alone and how painful were his sleepless nights filled with gloomy
thoughts. Then he kissed her again on the mouth with the same sound
that he might have made in chewing a hot piece of meat.
They stayed there three hours in this way, and finally, when he saw the
sun setting, Vassili said with a bored look:
"I must go and make some tea. Our guest will soon he awake."
Malva rose with the indolent gesture of a languorous cat, and with a
gesture of regret he started towards the cabin. Through her half-open
lids the young woman watched him as he moved away, and sighed as people
sigh when they have borne too heavy a burden.
* * * * *
Fifteen days later it was again Sunday and again Vassili Legostev,
stretched out on the sand near his hut, was gazing out to sea, waiting
for Malva. And the deserted sea laughed, playing with the reflections
of the sun, and legions of waves were born to run on the sand, deposit
the foam of their crests and return to the sea, where they melted.
All was as before. Only Vassili, who the last time awaited her coming
with peaceful security, was now filled with impatience. Last Sunday she
had not come; to-day she would surely come. He did not doubt it for a
moment, but he wanted to see her as soon as possible. Iakov, at least,
would not be there to embarrass them. The day before yesterday, as he
passed with the other fishermen, he said he would go to town on Sunday
to buy a blouse. He had found work at fifteen roubles a month.
Except for the gulls, the sea was still deserted. The familiar little
black spot did not appear,
"Ah, you're not coming!" said Vassili, with ill humor. "All right,
don't. I don't want you."
And he spat with disdain in the direction of the water.
The sea laughed.
"If, at least, Serejka would come," he thought. And he tried to think
only of Serejka. "What a good-for-nothing the fellow is! Robust, able
to read, seen the world—but what a drunkard! Yet good company. One
can't feel dull in his company. The women are mad for him; all run
after him. Malva's the only one that keeps aloof. No, no sign of her!
What a cursed woman! Perhaps she's angry because I beat her."
Thus, thinking of his son, of Serejka, but more often of Malva, Vassili
paced up and down the sandy beach, turning every now and then to look
anxiously out to sea. But Malva did not come.
This is what had happened.
Iakov rose early, and on going down to the beach as usual to wash
himself, he saw Malva. She was seated on the bow of a large fishing
boat anchored in the surf and letting her bare feet hang, sat combing
her damp hair.
Iakov stopped to watch her.
"Have you had a bath?" he cried.
She turned to look at him, and glanced down at her feet: then,
continuing to comb herself, she replied:
"Yes, I took a bath. Why are you up so early?"
"Aren't you up early?"
"I am not an example for you. If you did all I do, you'd be in all
kinds of trouble."
"Why do you always wish to frighten me?" he asked.
"And you, why do you make eyes at me?"
Iakov had no recollection of having looked at her more than at the other
women on the fishing grounds, but now he said to her suddenly:
"Because you are so—appetizing."
"If your father heard you, he'd give you an appetite! No, my lad, don't
run after me, because I don't want to be between you and Vassili. You
"What have I done?" asked Iakov. "I haven't touched you."
"You daren't touch me," retorted Malva.
There was such a contemptuous tone in her voice that he resented this.
"So I dare not?" he replied, climbing up on the boat and seating himself
at her side.
"No, you dare not."
"And if I touch you?"
"What would you do?"
"I'd give you such a box on the ear that you would fall into the water."
"Let's see you do it"
"Touch me if you dare!"
Throwing his arm around her waist, he pressed her to his breast.
"Here I am. Now box my ears."
"Let me be, Iakov," she said, quickly, trying to disengage herself from
his arms which trembled.
"Where is the punishment you promised me?"
"Let go or take care!"
"Oh, stop your threats—luscious strawberry that you are!"
He drew her to him and pressed his thick lips into her sunburnt cheek.
She gave a wild laugh of defiance, seized Iakov's arms and suddenly,
with a quick movement of her whole body threw herself forward. They
fell into the water enlaced, forming a single heavy mass, and
disappeared under the splashing foam. Then from beneath the agitated
water Iakov appeared, looking half drowned. Malva, at his side swimming
like a fish, eluded his grasp, and tried to prevent him regaining the
boat. Iakov struggled desperately, striking the water and roaring like
a walrus, while Malva, screaming with laughter, swam round and round
him, throwing the salt water in his face, and then diving to avoid his
At last he caught her and pulled her under the water, and the waves
passed over both their heads. Then they came to the surface again both
panting with the exertion. Thus they played like two big fish until,
finally, tired out and full of salt water, they climbed up the beach and
sat down in the sun to dry.
Malva laughed and twisted her hair to get the water out.
The day was growing. The fishermen, after their night of heavy slumber,
were emerging from their huts, one by one. From the distance all looked
alike. One began to strike blows on an empty barrel at regular
intervals. Two women were heard quarrelling. Dogs barked.
"They are getting up," said Iakov. "And I wanted to start to town
early. I've lost time with you."
"One does nothing good in my company," she said, half in jest, half
"What a habit you have of scaring people," replied Iakov.
"You'll see when your father—."
This allusion to his father angered him.
"What about my father? I'm not a boy. And I'm not blind, either. He's
not a saint, either; he deprives himself of nothing. If you don't mind
I'll steal you from my father."
"Do you think I wouldn't dare?"
"Now, look you," he began furiously, "don't defy me. I—."
"What now?" she asked with indifference.
He turned away with a determined look on his face.
"How brave you are," she said, tauntingly. "You remind me of the
inspector's little dog. At a distance he barks and threatens to bite,
but when you get near him he puts his tail between his legs and runs
"All right," cried Iakov, angrily. "Wait! you'll see what I am."
Advancing towards them came a sunburnt, tattered and muscular-looking
individual. He wore a ragged red shirt, his trousers were full of
holes, and his feet were bare. His face was covered with freckles and
he had big saucy blue eyes and an impertinent turned-up nose. When he
came up he stopped and made a grimace.
"Serejka drank yesterday, and today Serejka's pocket is empty. Lend me
twenty kopeks. I'll not return them."
Iakov burst out laughing; Malva smiled.
"Give me the money," went on the tramp. "I'll marry you for twenty
kopeks if you like."
"You're an odd fellow," said Iakov, "are you a priest?"
"Imbecile question," replied Serejka. "Wasn't I servant to a priest at
"I don't want to get married," said Iakov.
"Give the money all the same, and I won't tell your father you're paying
court to his queen," replied Serejka, passing his tongue over his dry
and cracked lips.
Iakov did not want to give twenty kopeks, but they had warned him to be
on his guard when dealing with Serejka, and to put up with his whims.
The tramp never demanded much, but if he was refused he spread evil
tales about you or else he would beat you. So Iakov, sighing, put his
hand in his pocket.
"That's right," said Serejka, with a tone of encouragement, and he sat
down beside them on the sand. "Always do what I tell you and you'll be
happy. And you," he went on, turning to Malva—"when are you going to
marry me? Better be quick. I don't like to wait long."
"You are too ragged. Begin by sewing up your holes and then we'll see,"
Serejka regarded his rents with a reproachful air and shook his head.
"Give me one of your skirts, that'll be better."
"Yes, I can," said Malva, laughing.
"I'm serious. You must have an old one you don't want."
"You'd do better to buy yourself a pair of trousers."
"I prefer to drink the money."
Serejka rose and, jingling his twenty kopeks, shuffled off, followed by
a strange smile from Malva.
When he was some distance away, Iakov said:
"In our village such a braggart would goon have been put in his place.
Here, every one seems afraid of him."
Malva looked at Iakov and replied, disdainfully:
"You don't know his worth."
"There's nothing to know. He's worth five kopeks a hundred."
She did not reply, but watched the play of the waves as they chased one
after the other, swaying the fishing boat. The mast inclined now to
right, now to left, and the bow rose and then fell suddenly, striking
the water with a loud splash.
"Why don't you go?" asked Malva.
"Where?" he asked.
"You wanted to go to town."
"I shan't go now."
"Well, go to your father's."
"Shall you go, too?"
"Then I shan't either."
"Are you going to stay round me all day?"
"I don't want your company so much as that," replied Iakov, offended.
He rose and moved away. But he was mistaken in saying that he did not
need her, for when away from her he felt lonely. A strange feeling had
come to him after their conversation, a secret desire to protest against
the father. Only yesterday this feeling had not existed, nor even
to-day, before he saw Malva. Now it seemed to him that his father
embarrassed him and stood in his way, although he was far away over the
sea yonder, on a narrow tongue of sand almost invisible to the eye.
Then it seemed to him, too, that Malva was afraid of the father; if she
were not afraid she would talk differently. Now she was missing in his
life while only that morning he had not thought of her.
And so he wandered for several hours along the beach, stopping here and
there to chat with fishermen he knew. At noon he took a siesta under
the shade of an upturned boat. When he awoke he took another stroll and
came across Malva far from the fishing ground, reading a tattered book
under the shade of the willows.
She looked up at Iakov and smiled.
"Ah, there you are," he said, sitting down beside her.
"Have you been looking for me long?" she asked, demurely.
"Looking for you? What an idea?" replied Iakov, who was only just
beginning to realize that it was the truth.
"Do you know how to read?" she asked.
"Yes—I used to, but I've forgotten everything."
"So have I."
"Why didn't you go to the headland to-day?" asked Iakov, suddenly.
"What's that to you?"
Iakov plucked a leaf and chewed it.
"Listen," he said in a low tone and drawing near her. "Listen to what
I'm going to say. I'm young and I love you."
"You're a silly lad, very silly," said Malva, shaking her head.
"I may be a fool," cried Iakov, passionately. "But I love you, I love
"Be silent! Go away!"
"Don't be obstinate." He took her gently by the shoulders. "Can't you
"Go away, Iakov," she cried, severely. "Go away!"
"Oh, if that's the tone you take I don't care a rap. You're not the
only woman here. You imagine that you are better than the others."
She made no reply, rose and brushed the dust off her skirt.
"Come," she said.
And they went back to the fishing grounds side by side.
They walked slowly on account of the soft sand. Suddenly, as they were
nearing the boats, Iakov stopped short and seized Malva by the arms.
"Are you driving me desperate on purpose? Why do you play with me like
this?" he demanded.
"Leave me alone, I tell you," she said, calmly disengaging herself from
Serejka appeared from behind a boat. He shook his fist at the couple,
and said, threateningly:
"So, that's how you go off together. Vassili shall know of this."
"Go to the devil, all of you!" cried Malva. And she left them,
disappearing among the boats.
Iakov stood facing Serejka, and looked him square in the face. Serejka
boldly returned the stare and so they remained for a minute or two, like
two rams ready to charge on each other. Then without a word each turned
away and went off in a different direction.
The sea was calm and crimson with the rays of the setting sun. A
confused sound hovered over the fishing ground. The voice of a drunken
woman sang hysterically words devoid of sense.
* * * * *
In the dawn's pure light the sea still slumbered, reflecting the
pearl-like clouds. On the headland a party of fishermen still only half
awake moved slowly about, getting ready the rigging of their boat.
Serejka, bareheaded and tattered as usual, stood in the bow hurrying the
men on with a hoarse voice, the result of his drunken orgy of the
"Where are the oars, Vassili?"
Vassili, moody as a dark autumn day, was arranging the net at the bottom
of the boat. Serejka watched him and, when he looked his way, smacked
his lips, signifying that he wanted to drink.
"Have you any brandy," he asked.
"Yes," growled Vassili.
"Good. I'll take a nip when they've gone."
"Is all ready?" cried the fishermen.
"Let go!" commanded Serejka, jumping to the ground. "Be careful. Go
far out so as not to entangle the net."
The big boat slid down the greased planks to the water, and the
fishermen, jumping in as it went, seized the oars, ready to strike the
water directly she was afloat. Then with a big splash the graceful bark
forged ahead through the great plain of luminous water.
"Why didn't you come Sunday?" said Vassili, as the two men went back to
"You were drunk?"
"No, I was watching your son and his step-mother," said Serejka,
"A new worry on your shoulders," said Vassili, sarcastically and with a
forced smile. "They are only children." He was tempted to learn where
and how Serejka had seen Malva and Iakov the day before, but he was
"Why don't you ask news of Malva?" asked Serejka, as he gulped down a
glass of brandy.
"What do I care what she does?" replied Vassili, with indifference,
although he trembled with a secret presentiment.
"As she didn't come Sunday, you should ask what she was doing. I know
you are jealous, you old dog!"
"Oh, there are many like her," said Vassili, carelessly.
"Are there?" said Serejka, imitating him. "Ah, you peasants, you're all
alike. As long as you gather your honey, it's all one to you."
"What's she to you?" broke in Vassili with irritation. "Have you come
to ask her hand in marriage?"
"I know she's yours," said Serejka. "Have I ever bothered you? But now
Iakov, your son, is all the time dancing around her, it's different.
Beat him, do you hear? If not, I will. You've got a strong fist if you
are a fool."
Vassili did not reply, but watched the boat as it turned about and made
toward the beach again.
"You are right," he said finally. "Iakov will hear from me."
"I don't like him. He smells too much of the village," said Serejka.
In the distance, on the sea, was opening out the pink fan formed by the
rays of the rising sun. The glowing orb was already emerging from the
water. Amid the noise of the waves was heard from the boat the distant
"Come, boys!" cried Serejka, to the other fishermen on the beach.
"Let's pull together."
"When you see Iakov tell him to come here to-morrow," said Vassili.
The boat grounded on the beach and the fishermen, jumping out, pulled
their end of the net so that the two groups gradually met, the cork
floats bobbing up and down on the water forming a perfect semi-circle.
* * * * *
Very late on the evening of the same day, when the fishermen had
finished their dinner, Malva, tired and thoughtful, had seated herself
on an old boat turned upside down and was watching the sea, already
screened in twilight. In the distance a fire was burning, and Malva
knew that Vassili had lighted it. Solitary and as if lost in the
darkening shadows, the flame leaped high at times and then fell back as
if broken. And Malva felt a certain sadness as she watched that red dot
abandoned in the desert of ocean, and palpitating feebly among the
indefatigable and incomprehensible murmur of the waves.
"What are you doing there?" asked Serejka's voice behind her.
"What's that to you?" she replied dryly, without stirring.
He lighted a cigarette, was silent a moment and then said in a friendly
"What a funny woman you are! First you run away from everybody, and
then you throw yourself round everyone's neck."
"Not round yours," said Malva, carelessly.
"Not mine, perhaps, but round Iakov's."
"It makes you envious."
"Hum! do you want me to speak frankly?"
"Have yon broken off with Vassili?"
"I don't know," she replied, after a silence. "I am vexed with him."
"He beat me."
"Really? And you let him?"
Serejka could not understand it. He tried to catch a glimpse of Malva's
face, and made an ironical grimace.
"I need not have let him beat me," she said. "I did not want to defend
"So you love the old grey cat as much as that?" grinned Serejka, puffing
out a cloud of smoke. "I thought better of you than that."
"I love none of you," she said, again indifferent and wafting the smoke
away with her hand.
"But if you don't love him, why did you let him beat you?"
"Do you suppose I know? Leave me alone."
"It's funny," said Serejka, shaking his head.
Both remained silent.
Night was falling. The shadows came down from the slow-moving clouds to
the seas beneath. The waves murmured.
Vassili's fire had gone out on the distant headland, but Malva continued
to gaze in that direction.
* * * * *
The father and son were seated in the cabin facing each other, and
drinking brandy which the youth had brought with him to conciliate the
old man and so as not to be weary in his company.
Serejka had told Iakov that his father was angry with him on account of
Malva, and that he had threatened to beat Malva until she was half dead.
He also said that was the reason she resisted Iakov's advances.
This story had excited Iakov's resentment against his father. He now
looked upon him as an obstacle in his road that he could neither remove
nor get around.
But feeling himself of equal strength as his adversary, Iakov regarded
his father boldly, with a look that meant: "Touch me if you dare!"
They had both drunk two glasses without exchanging a word, except a few
commonplace remarks about the fisheries. Alone amidst the deserted
waters each nursed his hatred, and both knew that this hate would soon
burst forth into flame.
"How's Serejka?" at last Vassili blurted out.
"Drunk as usual," replied Iakov, pouring our some more brandy for his
"He'll end badly—and if you don't take care you'll do the same."
"I shall never become like him," replied Iakov, surlily.
"No?" said Vassili, frowning. "I know what I'm talking about. How long
are you here already? Two months. You must soon think of going back.
How much money have you saved?"
"In so little time I've not been able to save any," replied Iakov.
"Then you don't want to stay here any longer, my lad, go back to the
"Why these grimaces?" cried Vassili threateningly, and impatient at his
son's coolness. "Your father's advising you and you mock him. You're
in too much of a hurry to play the independent. You want to be put in
the traces again."
Iakov poured out some more brandy and drank it. These coarse reproaches
offended him, but he mastered himself, not wanting to arouse his
Seeing that his son had drunk again, alone, without filling his glass,
made Vassili more angry than ever.
"Your father says to you, 'Go home,' and you laugh at him. Very well,
I'll speak differently. You'll get your pay Saturday and trot—home to
the village—do you understand?"
"I won't go," said Iakov, firmly.
"What!" cried Vassili, and leaning his two hands on the edge of the
table he rose to his feet. "Have I spoken, yes or no? You dog, barking
at your father! Do you forget that I can do what I please with you?"
His mouth trembled with passion, his face was convulsed, and two swollen
veins stood out on his temples.
"I forget nothing," said Iakov, in a low tone and not looking at his
father. "And you—have you forgotten nothing?"
"It's not your place to preach to me. I'll break every bone in your
Iakov avoided the hand that his father raised over his head and a
feeling of savage hatred arose in him. He said, between his clenched
"Don't touch me. We're not in the village now."
"Be silent. I'm your father everywhere."
They stood facing each other, Vassili, his eyes bloodshot, his neck
outstretched, his fists clenched, panted his brandy-smelling breath in
his son's face. Iakov stepped back. He was watching his father's
movements, ready to ward off blows, peaceful outwardly, but steaming
with perspiration. Between them was the table.
"Perhaps I won't give you a good beating?" cried Vassili hoarsely, and
bending his back like a cat about to make a spring.
"Here we are equal," said Iakov, watching him warily. "You are a
fisherman, I too. Why do you attack me like this? Do you think I do
not understand? You began."
Vassili howled with passion, and raised his arm to strike so rapidly
that Iakov had no time to avoid it. The blow fell on his head. He
staggered and ground his teeth in his father's face.
"Wait!" cried the latter, clenching his fists and again threatening him.
They were now at close quarters, and their feet were entangled in the
empty sacks and cordage on the floor. Iakov, protecting himself as best
he could against his father's blows, pale and bathed in perspiration,
his teeth clenched, his eyes brilliant as a wolf's, slowly retreated,
and as his father charged upon him, gesticulating with ferocity and
blind with rage, like a wild boar, he turned and ran out of the cabin,
down towards the sea.
Vassili started in pursuit, his head bent, his arms extended, but his
foot caught in some rope, and he fell all his length on the sand. He
tried to rise, but the fall had taken all the fight out of him and he
sank back on the beach, shaking his fist at Iakov, who remained grinning
at a safe distance. He shouted:
"Be cursed! I curse you forever!"
Bitterness came into Vassili's soul as he realized his own position. He
sighed heavily. His head bent low as if an immense weight had crushed
him. For an abandoned woman he had deserted his wife, with whom he had
lived faithfully for fifteen years, and the Lord had punished him by
this rebellion of his son. His son had mocked him and trampled on his
heart. Yes, he was punished for the past. He made the sign of the
cross and remained seated, blinking his eyes to free them from the tears
that were blinding them.
And the sun went down into the sea, and the crimson twilight faded away
in the sky. A warm wind caressed the face of the weeping peasant. Deep
in his resolutions of repentance he stayed there until he fell asleep
shortly before dawn.
* * * * *
The day following the quarrel, Iakov went off with a party to fish
thirty miles out at sea. He returned alone five days later for
provisions. It was midday when he arrived, and everyone was resting
after dinner. It was unbearably hot. The sand burned his feet and the
shells and fish bones pricked them. As Iakov carefully picked his way
along the beach he regretted he had no boots on. He did not want to
return to the bark as he was in a hurry to eat and to see Malva. Many a
time had he thought of her during the long lonely hours on the sea. He
wondered if she and his father had seen each other again and what they
had said. Perhaps the old man had beaten her.
The deserted fisheries were slumbering, as if overcome by the heat. In
the inspector's office a child was crying. From behind a heap of
barrels came the sound of voices.
Iakov turned his steps in that direction. He thought he recognised
Malva's voice, but when he arrived at the barrels he recoiled a step and
In the shade, lying on his back, with his arms under his head, was
Serejka. Near him were, on one side, Vassili and, on the other, Malva.
Iakov thought to himself: "Why is father here. Has he left his post so
as to be nearer Malva and to watch her? Should he go up to them or not."
"So, you've decided!" said Serejka to Vassili. "It's goodbye to us all?
Well, go your way and scratch the soil."
A thrill went through Iakov and he made a joyous grimace.
"Yes, I'm going;" said Vassili.
Then Iakov advanced boldly.
The father gave him a rapid glance and then turned away his eyes. Malva
did not stir. Serejka moved his leg and raising his voice said:
"Here's our dearly beloved son, Iakov, back from a distant shore."
Then he added in his ordinary voice:
"You should flay him alive and make drums with his skin."
"It's hot," said Iakov, sitting beside them.
"I've been waiting for you since this morning, Iakov. The inspector
told me you were coming."
The young man thought his voice seemed weaker than usual and his face
seemed changed. He asked Serejka for a cigarette.
"I have no tobacco for an imbecile like you," replied the latter,
"I'm going back home, Iakov," said Vassili, gravely digging into the
sand with his fingers.
"Why," asked the son, innocently.
"Never mind why, shall you stay?"
"Yes. I'll remain. What should we both do at home?"
"Very well. I have nothing to say. Do as you please. You are no
longer a child. Only remember that I shall not get about long. I shall
live, perhaps, but I do not know how long I shall work. I have lost the
habit of the soil. Remember, too, that your mother is there."
Evidently it was difficult for him to talk. The words stuck between his
teeth. He stroked his beard and his hand trembled.
Malva eyed him. Serejka had half closed one eye and with the other
watched Iakov. Iakov was jubilant, but afraid of betraying himself; he
was silent and lowered his head.
"Don't forget your mother, Iakov. Remember, you are all she has."
"I know," said Iakov, shrugging his shoulders.
"It is well if you know," said the father, with a look of distrust. "I
only warn you not to forget it."
Vassili sighed deeply. For a few minutes all were silent.
Then Malva said:
"The work bell will soon ring."
"I'm going," said Vassili, rising.
And all rose.
"Goodbye, Serejka. If you happen to be on the Volga, maybe you'll drop
in to see me."
"I'll not fail," said Serejka.
"Goodbye, dear friend."
"Goodbye, Malva," said Vassili, not raising his eyes.
She slowly wiped her lips with her sleeve, threw her two white arms
round his neck and kissed him three times on the lips and cheeks.
He was overcome with emotion and uttered some indistinct words. Iakov
lowered his head, dissimulating a smile. Serejka was impassible, and he
even yawned a little, at the same time gazing at the sky.
"You'll find it hot walking," he said.
"No matter. Goodbye, you too, Iakov."
They stood facing each other, not knowing what to do. The sad word
"goodbye" aroused in Iakov a feeling of tenderness for his father, but
he did not know how to express it. Should he embrace his father as
Malva had done or shake his hand like Serejka? And Vassili felt hurt at
this hesitation, which was visible in his son's attitude.
"Remember your mother," said Vassili, finally.
"Yes, yes," replied Iakov, cordially. "Don't worry. I know."
"That's all. Be happy. God protect you. Don't think badly of me. The
kettle, Serejka, is buried in the sand near the bow of the green boat."
"What does he want with the kettle?" asked Iakov.
"He has taken my place yonder on the headland," explained Vassili.
Iakov looked enviously at Serejka, then at Malva.
"Farewell, all! I'm going."
Vassili waved his hand to them and moved away. Malva followed him.
"I'll accompany you a bit of the road."
Serejka sat down on the ground and seized the leg of Iakov, who was
preparing to accompany Malva.
"Stop! where are you going?"
"Let me alone," said Iakov, making a forward movement. But Serejka had
seized his other leg.
"Sit down by my side."
"Why? What new folly is this?"
"It is not folly. Sit down."
Iakov obeyed, grinding his teeth.
"What do you want?"
"Wait. Be silent, and I'll think, and then I'll talk."
He began staring at Iakov, who gave way.
Malva and Vassili walked for a few minutes in silence. Malva's eyes
shone strangely. Vassili was gloomy and preoccupied. Their feet sank
in the sand and they advanced slowly.
He turned and looked at her.
"I made you quarrel with Iakov on purpose. You might both have lived
here without quarrelling," she said in a calm tone.
There was not a shade of repentance in her words.
"Why did you do that?" asked Vassili, after a silence.
"I do not know—for nothing."
She shrugged her shoulders and smiled.
"What you have done was noble!" he said, with irritation.
She was silent.
"You will ruin my boy, ruin him entirely. You do not fear God, you have
no shame! What are you going to do?"
"What should I do?" she said.
There was a ring of anguish, or vexation, in her voice.
"What you ought to do!" cried Vassili, seized suddenly with a fierce
He felt a passionate desire to strike her, to knock her down and bury
her in the sand, to kick her in the face, in the breast. He clenched
his fists and looked back.
Yonder, near the barrels, he saw Iakov and Serejka. Their faces were
turned in his direction.
"Get away with you! I could crush you!"
He stopped and hissed insults in her face. His eyes were bloodshot, his
beard trembled and his hands seemed to advance involuntarily towards
Malva's hair, which emerged from beneath her shawl.
She fixed her green eyes on him.
"You deserve killing," he said. "Wait, some one will break your head
She smiled, still silent. Then she sighed deeply and said:
"That's enough! now farewell!"
And suddenly turning on her heels she left him and came back.
Vassili shouted after her and shook his fists. Malva, as she walked,
took pains to place each foot in the deep impressions of Vassili's feet,
and when she succeeded she carefully effaced the traces. Thus she
continued on until she came to the barrels where Serejka greeted her
with this question:
"Well, have you seen the last of him?"
She gave an affirmative sign, and sat down beside him. Iakov looked at
her and smiled, gently moving his lips as if he were saying things that
he alone heard.
"When will you go to the headland?" she asked Serejka, indicating the
sea with a movement of her head.
"I will go with you."
"Bravo, that suits me."
"And I, too—I'll go," cried Iakov.
"Who invited you?" asked Serejka, screwing up his eyes.
The sound of a cracked bell called the men to work.
"She will invite me," said Iakov.
He looked defiantly at Malva.
"I? what need have I of you?" she replied, surprised.
"Let us he frank, Iakov," said Serejka. "If you annoy her, I'll beat
you to a jelly. And if you as much as touch her with a finger, I'll
kill you like a fly. I am a simple man."
His face, all his person, his knotty and muscular arms proved eloquently
that killing a man would be a very simple thing for him.
Iakov recoiled a step and said, in a choking voice:
"Wait! That is for Malva to—"
"Keep quiet, that's all. You are not the dog that will eat the lamb.
If you get the bones you may be thankful."
Iakov looked at Malva. Her green eyes laughed in a humiliating way at
him and she fondled Serejka so that Iakov felt himself grow hot and cold.
Then they went away side by side and both burst out laughing. Iakov dug
his foot deep in the sand and remained glued to the spot, his body
stretched forward, his face red, his heart beating wildly.
In the distance, on the dead waves of sand, was a small dark human
figure moving slowly away; on his right beamed the sun and the powerful
sea, and on the left, to the horizon, there was sand, nothing but sand,
uniform, deserted,—gloomy. Iakov watched the receding figure of the
lonely man and blinked his eyes, filled with tears—tears of humiliation
and painful uncertainty.
On the fishing grounds everyone was busy at work. Iakov heard Malva's
sonorous voice ask, angrily:
"Who has taken my knife?"
The waves murmured, the sun shone and the sea laughed.