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    On A River Steamer

    by Maxim Gorky
    • Rate it:
    Launch Reading Mode
    The water of the river was smooth, and dull silver of tint.
    Also, so barely perceptible was the current that it seemed to be
    almost stagnant under the mist of the noontide heat, and only by
    the changes in the aspect of the banks could one realise how
    quietly and evenly the river was carrying on its surface the old
    yellow-hulled steamer with the white-rimmed funnel, and also the
    clumsy barge which was being towed in her wake.

    Dreamily did the floats of the paddle-wheels slap the water.
    Under the planks of the deck the engines toiled without ceasing.
    Steam hissed and panted. At intervals the engine-room bell
    jarred upon the car. At intervals, also, the tiller-chains slid
    to and fro with a dull, rattling sound. Yet, owing to the
    somnolent stillness settled upon the river, these sounds
    escaped, failed to catch one's attention.

    Through the dryness of the summer the water was low.
    Periodically, in the steamer's bow, a deck hand like a king, a
    man with a lean,, yellow, black-avised face and a pair of
    languishing eyes, threw overboard a polished log as in tones of
    melting melancholy he chanted:

    "Se-em, se-em, shest!"

    ["Seven, seven, six!"(the depth of water, reckoned in sazheni
    or fathoms)]

    It was as though he were wailing:

    "Seyem, seyem, a yest-NISHEVO"

    [Let us eat, let us eat, but to eat there is--nothing]

    Meanwhile, the steamer kept turning her stearlet-like [The
    stearlet is a fish of the salmon species] prow deliberately and
    alternately towards either bank as the barge yawed behind her,
    and the grey hawser kept tautening and quivering, and sending
    out showers of gold and silver sparkles. Ever and anon, too, the
    captain on the bridge kept shouting, hoarsely through a

    "About, there!"

    Under the stem of the barge a wave ran which, divided into a
    pair of white wings, serpentined away towards either bank.

    In the meadowed distance peat seemed to be being burnt, and over
    the black forest there had gathered an opalescent cloud of smoke
    which also suffused the neighbouring marshes.

    To the right, the bank of the river towered up into lofty,
    precipitous, clayey slopes intersected with ravines wherein
    aspens and birches found shelter.

    Everything ashore had about it a restful, sultry, deserted look.
    Even in the dull blue, torrid sky there was nought save a
    white-hot sun.

    In endless vista were meadows studded with trees--trees sleeping
    in lonely isolation, and, in places, surmounted with either the
    cross of a rural church which looked like a day star or the
    sails of a windmill; while further back from the banks lay the
    tissue cloths of ripening crops, with, here and there, a human

    Throughout, the scene was indistinct. Everything in it was calm,
    touchingly simple, intimate, intelligible, grateful to the soul.
    So much so that as one contemplated the slowly-varying vistas
    presented by the loftier bank, the immutable stretches of
    meadowland, and the green, timbered dance-rings where the forest
    approached the river, to gaze at itself in the watery mirror,
    and recede again into the peaceful distance; as one gazed at all
    this one could not but reflect that nowhere else could a spot
    more simply, more kindly, more beautiful be found, than these peaceful
    shores of the great river.

    Yet already a few shrubs by the river's margin were beginning to
    display yellow leaves, though the landscape as a whole was
    smiling the doubtful, meditative smile of a young bride who,
    about to bear her first child, is feeling at once nervous and
    delighted at the prospect.


    The hour was past noon, and the third-class passengers, languid
    with fatigue induced by the heat, were engaged in drinking
    either tea or beer. Seated mostly on the bulwarks of the
    steamer, they silently scanned the banks, while the deck
    quivered, crockery clattered at the buffet, and the deck hand in
    the bows sighed soporifically:

    Six! Six! Six-and-a-half!

    From the engine-room a grimy stoker emerged. Rolling along, and
    scraping his bare feet audibly against the deck, he approached
    the boatswain's cabin, where the said boatswain, a fair-haired,
    fair-bearded man from Kostroma was standing in the doorway. The
    senior official contracted his rugged eyes quizzically, and

    "Whither in such a hurry?"

    "To pick a bone with Mitka."


    With a wave of his black hand the stoker resumed his way, while
    the boatswain, yawning, fell to casting his eyes about him. On a
    locker near the companion of the engine-room a small man in a
    buff pea-jacket, a new cap, and a pair of boots on which there
    were clots of dried mud, was seated.

    Through lack of diversion the boatswain began to feel inclined
    to hector somebody, so cried sternly to the man in question:

    "Hi there, chawbacon!"

    The man on the locker turned about--turned nervously, and much as
    a bullock turns. That is to say, he turned with his whole body.

    "Why have you gone and put yourself THERE?" inquired the
    boatswain. "Though there is a notice to tell you NOT to sit
    there, it is there that you must go and sit! Can't you read?"

    Rising, the passenger inspected not the notice, but the locker.
    Then he replied:

    "Read? Yes, I CAN read."

    "Then why sit there where you oughtn't to?"

    "I cannot see any notice."

    "Well, it's hot there anyway, and the smell of oil comes up
    from the engines. . . . Whence have you come?"

    "From Kashira."

    "Long from home?"

    "Three weeks, about."

    "Any rain at your place?"

    "No. But why?"

    "How come your boots are so muddy?"

    The passenger lowered his head, extended cautiously first one
    foot, and then the other, scrutinised them both, and replied:

    "You see, they are not my boots."

    With a roar of laughter that caused his brilliant beard to
    project from his chin, the boatswain retorted:

    "I think you must drink a bit."

    The passenger said nothing more, but retreated quietly, and with
    short strides, to the stem. From the fact that the sleeves of
    his pea-jacket reached far below his wrists, it was clear that
    the garment had originated from the shoulders of another man.

    As for the boatswain, on noting the circumspection and
    diffidence with which the passenger walked, he frowned, sucked
    at his beard, approached a sailor who was engaged in vigorously
    scrubbing the brass on the door of the captain's cabin with a
    naked palm, and said in an undertone:

    "Did you happen to notice the gait of that little man there in
    the light pea-jacket and dirty boots? "

    "I did."

    "Then see here. Do keep an eye upon him."

    "But why? Is he a bad lot?"

    "Something like it, I think."

    "I will then."

    At a table near the hatchway of the first-class cabin, a fat man
    in grey was drinking beer. Already he had reached a state of
    moderate fuddlement, for his eyes were protruding sightlessly
    and staring unwinkingly at the opposite wall. Meanwhile, a number
    of flies were swarming in the sticky puddles on the table, or
    else crawling over his greyish beard and the brick-red skin of
    his motionless features.

    The boatswain winked in his direction, and remarked:

    "Half-seas over, HE is."

    "'Tis his way," a pockmarked, eyebrow-less sailor responded.

    Here the drunken man sneezed: with the result that a cloud of
    flies were blown over the table. Looking at them, and sighing as
    his companion had done, the boatswain thoughtfully observed:

    "Why, he regularly sneezes flies, eh?"


    The resting-place which I myself had selected was a stack of
    firewood over the stokehole shoot; and as I lay upon it I could
    see the hills gradually darkening the water with a mourning veil
    as calmly they advanced to meet the steamer; while in the
    meadows, a last lingering glow of the sunset's radiance was
    reddening the stems of the birches, and making the newly mended
    roof of a hut look as though it were cased in red fustian--
    communicating to everything else in the vicinity a semblance of
    floating amid fire-- and effacing all outline, and causing the
    scene as a whole to dissolve into streaks of red and orange and
    blue, save where, on a hill above the hut, a black grove of firs
    stood thrown into tense, keen, and clear-cut relief.

    Under a hill a party of fishermen had lit a wood fire, the
    flames of which could be seen playing upon, and picking out, the
    white hull of a boat-- the dark figure of a man therein, a
    fishing net suspended from some stakes, and a woman in a yellow
    bodice who was sitting beside the fire. Also, amid the golden
    radiance there could be distinguished a quivering of the leaves
    on the lower branches of the tree whereunder the woman sat

    All the river was calm, and not a sound occurred to break the
    stillness ashore, while the air under the awning of the
    third-class portion of the vessel felt as stifling as during the
    earlier part of the day. By this time the conversation of the
    passengers, damped by the shadow of dusk, had merged into a
    single sound which resembled the humming of bees; and amid it
    one could not distinguish nor divine who was speaking, nor the
    subject of discussion, since every word therein seemed
    disconnected, even though all appeared to be talking amicably,
    and in order, concerning a common topic. At one moment a
    suppressed laugh from a young woman would reach the ear; in the
    cabin, a party who had agreed to sing a song of general
    acceptation were failing to hit upon one, and disputing the
    point in low and dispassionate accents; and in each, such sound
    there was something vespertinal, gently sad, softly prayer-like.

    From behind the firewood near me a thick, rasping voice said in
    deliberate tones:

    "At first he was a useful young fellow enough, and clean and
    spruce; but lately, he has become shabby and dirty, and is going
    to the dogs."

    Another voice, loud and gruff, replied:

    "Aha! Avoid the ladies, or one is bound to go amiss."

    "The saying has it that always a fish makes for deeper water."

    "Besides, he is a fool, and that is worse still. By the way, he
    is a relative of yours, isn't he?"

    "Yes. He is my brother."

    "Indeed? Then pray forgive me."

    "Certainly; but, to speak plainly, he is a fool."

    At this moment I saw the passenger in the buff pea-jacket
    approach the sally-port, grasp with his left hand a stanchion,
    and step on to the grating under which one of the paddle-wheels
    was churning the water to foam. There he stood looking over the
    bulwarks with a swinging motion akin to that of a bat when,
    grappling some object or another with its wings, it hangs
    suspended in the air. The fact that the man's cap was drawn
    tightly over his ears caused the latter to stick out almost to
    the point of absurdity.

    Presently he turned and peered into the gloom under the awning,
    though, seemingly, he failed to distinguish myself reposing on
    the firewood. This enabled me to gain a clear view of a face
    with a sharp nose, some tufts of light-coloured hair on cheeks
    and chin, and a pair of small, muddy-looking eyes. He stood
    there as though he were listening to something.

    All of a sudden he stepped firmly to the sally-port, swiftly
    unlashed from the iron top-rail a mop, and threw it overboard.
    Then he set about unlashing a second article of the same species.

    "Hi!" I shouted to him. "What are you doing there?"

    With a start the man turned round, clapped a hand to his
    forehead to discover my whereabouts, and replied softly and
    rapidly, and with a stammer in his voice:

    "How is that your business? Get away with you!"

    Upon this I approached him, for I was astonished and amused at
    his impudence.

    "For what you have done the sailors will make you pay right
    enough," I remarked.

    He tucked up the sleeves of his pea-jacket as though he were
    preparing for a fight. Then, stamping his foot upon the slippery
    grating, he muttered:

    "I perceived the mop to have come untied, and to be in danger
    of falling into the water through the vibration. Upon that I
    tried to secure it, and failed, for it slipped from my hands as
    I was doing so."

    "But," I remarked in amazement, "my belief is that you
    WILLFULLY untied the mop, to throw it overboard!"

    "Come, come!" he retorted. "Why should I have done that? What
    an extraordinary thing it would have been to do! How could it
    have been possible?"

    Here he dodged me with a dexterous movement, and, rearranging
    his sleeves, walked away. The length of the pea-jacket made his
    legs look absurdly short, and caused me to notice that in his
    gait there was a tendency to shuffle and hesitate.

    Returning to my retreat, I stretched myself upon the firewood
    once more, inhaled its resinous odour, and fell to listening to
    the slow-moving dialogue of some of the passengers around me.

    "Ah, good sir," a gruff, sarcastic voice began at my side-- but
    instantly a yet gruffer voice intervened with:


    "Oh, nothing, except that to ask a question is easy, and to
    answer it may be difficult."


    From the ravines a mist was spreading over the river.


    At length night fell, and as folk relapsed into slumber the
    babel of tongues became stilled. The car, as it grew used to the
    boisterous roar of the engines and the measured rhythm of the
    paddle-wheels, did not at first notice the new sound born of the
    fact that into the sounds previously made familiar there began
    to intrude the snores of slumberers, and the padding of soft
    footsteps, and an excited whisper of:

    "I said to him--yes, I said: 'Yasha, you must not, you shall
    not, do this.'"

    The banks had disappeared from view. Indeed, one continued to be
    reminded of their existence only by the slow passage of the
    scattered fires ashore, and the fact that the darkness lay
    blacker and denser around those fires than elsewhere. Dimly
    reflected in the river, the stars seemed to be absolutely
    motionless, whereas the trailing, golden reproductions of the
    steamer's lights never ceased to quiver, as though striving to
    break adrift, and float away into the obscurity. Meanwhile, foam
    like tissue paper was licking our dark hull, while at our stern,
    and sometimes overtaking it, there trailed a barge with a couple
    of lanterns in her prow, and a third on her mast, which at one
    moment marked the reflections of the stars, and at another
    became merged with the gleams of firelight on one or the other

    On a bench under a lantern near the spot where I was lying a
    stout woman was asleep. With one hand resting upon a small
    bundle under her head, she had her bodice torn under the armpit,
    so that the white flesh and a tuft of hair could be seen
    protruding. Also, her face was large, dark of brow, and full of
    jowl to a point that caused the cheeks to roll to her very ears.
    Lastly, her thick lips were parted in an ungainly, corpselike

    From my own position on a level higher than hers, I looked
    dreamily down upon her, and reflected: "She is a little over
    forty years of age, and (probably) a good woman. Also, she is
    travelling to visit either her daughter and son-in-law, or her
    son and daughter-in-law, and therefore is taking with her some
    presents. Also, there is in her large heart much of the
    excellent and maternal."

    Suddenly something near me flashed as though a match had been
    struck, and, opening my eyes, I perceived the passenger in the
    curious pea-jacket to be standing near the woman spoken of, and
    engaged in shielding a lighted match with his sleeve. Presently,
    he extended his hand and cautiously applied the particle of
    flame to the tuft of hair under the woman's armpit. There
    followed a faint hiss, and a noxious smell of burning hair was
    wafted to my nostrils.

    I leapt up, seized the man by the collar, and shook him soundly.

    "What are you at?" I exclaimed.

    Turning in my grasp he whispered with a scarcely audible, but
    exceedingly repulsive, giggle:

    "Haven't I given her a good fright, eh?"

    Then he added:

    "Now, let me go! Let go, I say!"

    "Have you lost your wits?" I retorted with a gasp.

    For a moment or two his blinking eyes continued to glance at
    something over my shoulder. Then they returned to me, while he

    "Pray let me go. The truth is that, unable to sleep, I
    conceived that I would play this woman a trick. Was there any
    harm in that? See, now. She is still asleep."

    As I thrust him away his short legs, legs which might almost
    have been amputated, staggered under him. Meanwhile I reflected:

    "No, I was NOT wrong. He DID of set purpose throw the mop
    overboard. What a fellow! "

    A bell sounded from the engine-room.

    "Slow!" someone shouted with a cheerful hail.

    Upon that, steam issued with such resounding shrillness that the
    woman awoke with a jerk of her head; and as she put up her left
    hand to feel her armpit, her crumpled features gathered
    themselves into wrinkles. Then she glanced at the lamp, raised
    herself to a sitting position, and, fingering the place where
    the hair had been destroyed, said softly to herself:

    "Oh, holy Mother of God!"

    Presently the steamer drew to a wharf, and, with a loud
    clattering, firewood was dragged forth and cast into the
    stokehole with uncouth, warning cries of " Tru-us-sha! " [The
    word means ship' s hold or stokehole, but here is, probably,
    equivalent to the English " Heads below!"]

    Over a little town which had its back pressed against a hill the
    waning moon was rising and brightening all the black river,
    causing it to gather life as the radiance laved, as it were, the
    landscape in warm water.

    Walking aft, I seated myself among some bales and contemplated
    the town's frontage. Over one end of it rose, tapering like a
    walking-stick, a factory chimney, while at the other end, as
    well as in the middle, rose belfries, one of which had a gilded
    steeple, and the other one a steeple either green or blue, but
    looking black in the moonlight, and shaped like a ragged

    Opposite the wharf there was stuck in the wide gable of a
    two-storied building a lantern which, flickering, diffused but a
    dull, anaemic light from its dirty panes, while over the long
    strip of the broken signboard of the building there could be
    seen straggling, and executed in large yellow letters, the
    words, "Tavern and -" No more of the legend than this was

    Lanterns were hanging in two or three other spots in the drowsy
    little town; and wherever their murky stains of light hung
    suspended in the air there stood out in relief a medley of
    gables, drab-tinted trees, and false windows in white paint,
    on walls of a dull slate colour.

    Somehow I found contemplation of the scene depressing.

    Meanwhile the vessel continued to emit steam as she rocked to
    and fro with a creaking of wood, a slap-slapping of water,
    and a scrubbing of her sides against the wharf. At length
    someone ejaculated surlily:

    "Fool, you must be asleep! The winch, you say? Why, the winch
    is at the stern, damn you!"

    "Off again, thank the Lord!" added the rasping voice already
    heard from behind the bales, while to it an equally familiar
    voice rejoined with a yawn:

    "It's time we WERE off!"

    Said a hoarse voice:

    "Look here, young fellow. What was it he shouted?"

    Hastily and inarticulately, with a great deal of smacking of the
    lips and stuttering, someone replied:

    "He shouted: 'Kinsmen, do not kill me! Have some mercy, for
    Christ's sake, and I will make over to you everything--yes,
    everything into your good hands for ever! Only let me go away,
    and expiate my sins, and save my soul through prayer. Aye, I
    will go on a pilgrimage, and remain hidden my life long, to the
    very end. Never shall you hear of me again, nor see me.' Then
    Uncle Peter caught him a blow on the head, and his blood
    splashed out upon me. As he fell I--well, I ran away, and made
    for the tavern, where I knocked at the door and shouted:
    'Sister, they have killed our father!' Upon that, she put her
    head out of the window, but only said: 'That merely means that
    the rascal is making an excuse for vodka.' . . . Aye, a terrible
    time it was--was that night! And how frightened I felt! At first,
    I made for the garret, but presently thought to myself: 'No;
    they would soon find me there, and put me to an end as well, for
    I am the heir direct, and should be the first to succeed to the
    property.' So I crawled on to the roof, and there lay hidden
    behind the chimney-stack, holding on with arms and legs,
    while unable to speak for sheer terror."

    "What were you afraid of?" a brusque voice interrupted.

    "What was I afraid of?"

    "At all events, you joined your uncle in killing your father,
    didn't you?"

    "In such an hour one has not time to think--one just kills a man
    because one can't help oneself, or because it seems so easy to

    "True," the hoarser voice commented in dull and ponderous
    accents. "When once blood has flowed the fact leads to more
    blood, and if a man has started out to kill, he cares nothing
    for any reason--he finds good enough the reason which comes first
    to his hand."

    "But if this young fellow is speaking the truth, he had a
    BUSINESS reason--though, properly speaking, even property ought
    not to provoke quarrels."

    "Similarly one ought not to kill just when one chooses. Folk
    who commit such crimes should have justice meted out to them."

    "Yes, but it is difficult always to obtain such justice. For
    instance, this young fellow seems to have spent over a year in
    prison for nothing."

    "'For nothing'? Why, did he not entice his father into the
    hut, and then shut the door upon him, and throw a coat over his
    head? He has said so himself. 'For nothing,' indeed!"

    Upon this the rapid stream of sobbed, disconnected words, which I
    had heard before from some speaker poured forth anew. Somehow, I
    guessed that it came from the man in the dirty boots, as once
    more he recounted the story of the murder.

    "I do not wish to justify myself," he said. "I say merely
    that, inasmuch as I was promised a reprieve at the trial, I told
    everything, and was therefore allowed to go free, while my uncle
    and my brother were sentenced to penal servitude."

    "But you KNEW that they had agreed to kill him?"

    "Well, it is my idea that at first they intended only to give
    him a good fright. Never did my father recognise me as his
    son--always he called me a Jesuit."

    The gruffer of the two voices pulled up the speaker.

    "To think," it said, "that you can actually talk about it all!"

    "Why shouldn't I? My father brought tears to the eyes of many
    an innocent person."

    "A fig for people's tears! If our causes of tears were one and
    all to be murdered, what would the state of things become? Shed
    tears, but never blood; for blood is not yours to shed. And even
    if you should believe your own blood to be your own, know that
    it is not so, that your blood does not belong to you, but to
    Someone Else."

    "The point in question was my father's property. It all shows
    how a man may live awhile, and earn his living, and then
    suddenly go amiss, and lose his wits, and even conceive a grudge
    against his own father. . . . Now I must get some sleep."

    Behind the bales all grew quiet. Presently I rose to peer in
    that direction. The passenger in the buff pea-jacket was sitting
    huddled up against a coil of rope, with his hands thrust into
    his sleeves, and his chin resting upon his arms. As the moon was
    shining straight into his face, I could see that the latter was
    as livid as that of a corpse, and had its brows drawn down over
    its narrow, insignificant eyes.

    Beside him, and close to my head, there was lying stretched on
    the top of the coil of rope a broad-shouldered peasant in a
    short smock and a pair of patched boots of white felt. The
    ringlets of the wearer's curly beard were thrust upwards, and
    his hands clasped behind his head, and with ox-like eyes he
    stared at the zenith where a few stars were shining, and the moon
    was beginning to sink.

    At length, in a trumpet-like voice (though he seemed to do his
    best to soften it) the peasant asked:

    "Your uncle is on that barge, I suppose?"

    "He is. And so is my brother."

    "Yet you are here! How strange!"

    The dark barge, towed against the steamer's blue-silver wash of
    foam, was cleaving it like a plough, while under the moon the
    lights of the barge showed white, and the hull and the

    prisoners' cage stood raised high out of the water as to our
    right the black, indentated bank glided past in sinuous

    From the whole, soft, liquescent fluid scene, the impression which I derived was melancholy.
    It evoked in my spirit a sense of instability, a lack of restfulness.

    "Why are you travelling?"

    "Because I wish to have a word with him."

    "With your uncle?"


    "About the property?"

    "What else?"

    "Then look here, my young fellow. Drop it all--both your uncle
    and the property, and betake yourself to a monastery, and there
    live and pray. For if you have shed blood, and especially if you
    have shed the blood of a kinsman, you will stand for ever
    estranged from all, while, moreover, bloodshed is a dangerous
    thing--it may at any time come back upon you."

    "But the property?" the young fellow asked with a lift of his

    "Let it go," the peasant vouchsafed as he closed his eyes.

    On the younger man's face the down twitched as though a wind had
    stirred it. He yawned, and looked about him for a moment. Then,
    descrying myself, he cried in a tone of resentment:

    "What are you looking at? And why do you keep following me

    Here the big peasant opened his eyes, and, with a glance first
    at the man, and then at myself, growled:

    "Less noise there, you mitten-face!"


    As I retired to my nook and lay down, I reflected that what the
    big peasant had said was apposite enough-that the young fellow's
    face did in very truth resemble an old and shabby woollen mitten.

    Presently I dreamt that I was painting a belfry, and that, as I
    did so, huge, goggle-eyed jackdaws kept flying around the
    belfry's gables, and flapping at me with their wings and
    hindering my work: until, as I sought to beat them off, I missed
    my footing, fell to earth, and awoke to find my breath choking
    amid a dull, sick, painful feeling of lassitude and weakness,
    and a kaleidoscopic mist quavering before my eyes till it
    rendered me dizzy. From my head, behind the car, a thin stream
    of blood was trickling.

    Rising with some difficulty to my feet, I stepped aft to a pump,
    washed my head under a jet of cold water, bound it with my
    handkerchief, and, returning, inspected my resting-place in a
    state of bewilderment as to what could have caused the accident
    to happen.

    On the deck near the spot where I had been asleep, there was
    standing stacked a pile of small logs prepared for the cook's
    galley; while, in the precise spot where my head had rested there
    was reposing a birch faggot of which the withy-tie had come
    unfastened. As I raised the fallen faggot I perceived it to be
    clean and composed of silky loppings of birch-bark which rustled
    as I fingered them; and, consequently, I reflected that the
    ceaseless vibration of the steamer must have caused the faggot
    to become jerked on to my head.

    Reassured by this plausible explanation of the unfortunate, but
    absurd, occurrence of which I have spoken, I next returned to
    the stern, where there were no oppressive odours to be
    encountered, and whence a good view was obtainable.

    The hour was the turn of the night, the hour of maximum tension
    before dawn, the hour when all the world seems plunged in a
    profundity of slumber whence there can be no awakening, and when
    the completeness of the silence attunes the soul to special
    sensibility, and when the stars seem to be hanging strangely
    close to earth, and the morning star, in particular, to be
    shining as brightly as a miniature sun. Yet already had the
    heavens begun to grow coldly grey, to lose their nocturnal
    softness and warmth, while the rays of the stars were drooping
    like petals, and the moon, hitherto golden, had turned pale and
    become dusted over with silver, and moved further from the earth
    as intangibly the water of the river sloughed its thick, viscous
    gleam, and swiftly emitted and withdrew, stray, pearly
    reflections of the changes occurring in the heavenly tints.

    In the east there was rising, and hanging suspended over the
    black spears of the pine forest, a thin pink mist the sensuous
    hue of which was glowing ever brighter, and assuming a density
    ever greater, and standing forth more boldly and clearly, even
    as a whisper of timid prayer merges into a song of exultant
    thankfulness. Another moment, and the spiked tops of the pines
    blazed into points of red fire resembling festival candles in a

    Next, an unseen hand threw over the water, drew along its
    surface, a transparent and many-coloured net of silk. This was
    the morning breeze, herald of dawn, as with a coating of
    tissue-like, silvery scales it rippled the river until the eye
    grew weary of trying to follow the play of gold and
    mother-of-pearl and purple and bluish-green reflected from the
    sun-renovated heavens.

    Next, like a fan there unfolded themselves the first
    sword-shaped beams of day, with their tips blindingly white;
    while simultaneously one seemed to hear descending from an
    iilimitable height a dense sound-wave of silver bells, a
    sound-wave advancing triumphantly to greet the sun as his
    roseate rim became visible over the forest like the rim of a cup
    that, filled with the essence of life, was about to empty its
    contents upon the earth, and to pour a bounteous flood of
    creative puissance upon the marshes whence a reddish vapour as
    of incense was arising. Meanwhile on the more precipitous of the
    two banks some of the trees near the river's margin were
    throwing soft green shadows over the water, while gilt-like dew
    was sparkling. on the herbage, and birds were awakening, and as
    a white gull skimmed the water's surface on level wings, the pale
    shadow of those wings followed the bird over the tinted expanse,
    while the sun, suspended in flame behind the forest, like the
    Imperial bird of the fairy-tale, rose higher and higher into the
    greenish-blue zenith, until silvery Venus, expiring, herself
    looked like a bird.

    Here and there on the yellow strip of sand by the river's margin,
    long-legged snipe were scurrying about. Two fishermen were
    rocking in a boat in the steamer's wash as they hauled their
    tackle. Floating from the shore there began to reach us such
    vocal sounds of morning as the crowing of cocks, the lowing of
    cattle, and the persistent murmur of human voices.

    Similarly the buff-coloured bales in the steamer's stem
    gradually reddened, as did the grey tints in the beard of the
    large peasant where, sprawling his ponderous form over the deck,
    he was lying asleep with mouth open, nostrils distended with
    stertorous snores, brows raised as though in astonishment, and
    thick moustache intermittently twitching.

    Someone amid the piles of bales was panting as he fidgeted, and
    as I glanced in that direction I encountered the gaze of a pair
    of small, narrow, inflamed eyes, and beheld before me the
    ragged, mitten-like face, though now it looked even thinner and
    greyer than it had done on the previous evening. Apparently its
    owner was feeling cold, for he had hunched his chin between his
    knees, and clasped his hirsute arms around his legs, as his eyes
    stared gloomily, with a hunted air, in my direction. Then
    wearily, lifelessly he said:

    "Yes,you have found me. And now you can thrash me if you wish
    to do so--you can give me a blow, for I gave you one, and,
    consequently, it's your turn to do the hitting."

    Stupefied with astonishment, I inquired in an undertone.

    "It was you, then, that hit me?"

    "It was so, but where are your witnesses?"

    The words came in hoarse, croaked, suppressed accents, with a
    separation of the hands, and an upthrow of the head and
    projecting cars which had such a comical look of being crushed
    beneath the weight of the battened-down cap. Next, thrusting his
    hands into the pockets of his pea-jacket, the man repeated in a
    tone of challenge:

    "Where, I say, are your witnesses? You can go to the devil!"

    I could discern in him something at once helpless and froglike
    which evoked in me a strong feeling of repulsion; and since,
    with that, I had no real wish to converse with him, or even to
    revenge myself upon him for his cowardly blow, I turned away in

    But a moment later I looked at him again, and saw that he was
    seated in his former posture, with his arms embracing his knees,
    his chin resting upon them, and his red, sleepless eyes gazing
    lifelessly at the barge which the steamer was towing between
    wide ribbons of foaming water--ribbons sparkling in the sunlight
    like mash in a brewer's vat.

    And those eyes, that dead, alienated expression, the gay
    cheerfulness of the morning, and the clear radiance of the
    heavens, and the kindly tints of the two banks, and the vocal
    sounds of the June day, and the bracing freshness of the air,
    and the whole scene around us served but to throw into the more
    tragic relief.


    Just as the steamer was leaving Sundir the man threw himself
    into the water;in the sight of everybody he sprang overboard.
    Upon that all shouted, jostled their neighbours as they rushed
    to the side, and fell to scanning the river where from bank to
    bank it lay wrapped in blinding glitter.

    The whistle sounded in fitful alarm, the sailors threw lifebelts
    overboard, the deck rumbled like a drum under the crowd's
    surging rush, steam hissed afflightedly, a woman vented an
    hysterical cry, and the captain bawled from the bridge the
    imperious command:

    "Avast heaving lifebelts! By now the fool will have got one!
    Damn you, calm the passengers!"

    An unwashed, untidy priest with timid, staring eyes thrust back
    his long, dishevelled hair, and fell to repeating, as his fat
    shoulder jostled all and sundry, and his feet tripped people up.

    "A muzhik, is it, or a woman? A muzhik, eh?"

    By the time that I had made my way to the stern the man had
    fallen far behind the stern of the barge, and his head looked as
    small as a fly on the glassy surface of the water. However,
    towards that fly a fishing-boat was already darting with the
    swiftness of a water beetle, and causing its two oars to show
    quiveringly red and grey, while from the marshier of the two
    banks there began hastily to put out a second boat which leapt
    in the steamer's wash with the gaiety of a young calf.

    Suddenly there broke into the painful hubbub on the steamer's
    deck a faint, heartrending cry of "A-a-ah!"

    In answer to it a sharp-nosed, black-bearded, well-dressed
    peasant muttered with a smack of his lips:

    "Ah! That is him shouting. What a madman he must have been! And
    an ugly customer too, wasn't he?"

    The peasant with the curly beard rejoined in a tone of
    conviction engulfing all other utterances:

    "It is his conscience that is catching him. Think what you
    like, but never can conscience be suppressed."

    Therewith, constantly interrupting one another, the pair betook
    themselves to a public recital of the tragic story of the
    fair-haired young fellow, whom the fishermen had now lifted from
    the water, and were conveying towards the steamer with oars that
    oscillated at top speed.

    The bearded peasant continued:

    "As soon as it was seen that he was but running after the
    soldier's wife."

    "Besides," the other peasant interrupted, "the property was
    not to be divided after the death of the father."

    With which the bearded muzhik eagerly recounted the history of
    the murder done by the brother, the nephew, and a son, while the
    spruce, spare, well-dressed peasant interlarded the general buzz
    of conversation with words and comments cheerfully and
    stridently delivered, much as though he were driving in stakes
    for the erection of a fence.

    "Every man is drawn most in the direction whither he finds it
    easiest to go."

    "Then it will be the Devil that will be drawing him, since the
    direction of Hell is always the easiest."

    "Well, YOU will not be going that way, I suppose? You don't
    altogether fancy it?"

    "Why should I?"

    "Because you have declared it to be the easiest way."

    "Well, I am not a saint."

    "No, ha-ha! you are not."

    "And you mean that--?"

    "I mean nothing. If a dog's chain be short, he is not to be

    Whereupon, setting nose to nose, the pair plunged into a quarrel
    still more heated as they expounded in simple, but often
    curiously apposite, language opinions intelligible to themselves
    alone. The one peasant, a lean fellow with lengthy limbs, cold,
    sarcastic eyes, and a dark, bony countenance, spoke loudly and
    sonorously, with frequent shrugs of the shoulders, while the
    other peasant, a man stout and broad of build who until now had
    seemed calm, self-assured of demeanour, and a man of settled
    views, breathed heavily, while his oxlike eyes glowed with an
    ardour causing his face to flush patchily, and his beard to
    stick out from his chin.

    "Look here, for instance," he growled as he gesticulated and
    rolled his dull eyes about. "How can that be? Does not even God
    know wherein a man ought to restrain himself?"

    "If the Devil be one's master, God doesn't come into the

    "Liar! For who was the first who raised his hand against his


    "And the first man who repented of a sin? "


    "Ah! You see!"

    Here there broke into the dispute a shout of: "They are just
    getting him aboard!" and the crowd, rushing away from the
    stern, carried with it the two disputants--the sparer peasant;
    lowering his shoulders, and buttoning up his jacket as he went;
    while the bearded peasant, following at his heels, thrust his
    head forward in a surly manner as he shifted his cap from the
    one ear to the other.

    With a ponderous beating of paddles against the current the
    steamer heaved to, and the captain shouted through a
    speaking-trumpet, with a view to preventing a collision between
    the barge and the stem of the vessel:

    "Put her over! Put her o-o-ove-r!"

    Soon the fishing-boat came alongside, and the half-drowned man,
    with a form as limp as a half-empty sack, and water exuding from
    every stitch, and his hitherto haggard face grown smooth and
    simple-looking, was hoisted on board.

    Next, on the sailors laying him upon the hatchway of the baggage
    hold, he sat up, leaned forward, smoothed his wet hair with the
    palms of his hands, and asked dully, without looking at anyone:

    "Have they also recovered my cap?"

    Someone among the throng around him exclaimed reprovingly:

    "It is not about your cap that you ought to be thinking, but
    about your soul."

    Upon this he hiccuped loudly and freely, like a camel, and
    emitted a stream of turgid water from his mouth. Then, looking
    at the crowd with lack-lustre eyes, he said in an apathetic tone:

    "Let me be taken elsewhere."

    In answer, the boatswain sternly bade him stretch himself out,
    and this the young fellow did, with his hands clasped under his
    head, and his eyes closed, while the boatswain added brusquely
    to the onlookers:

    "Move away, move away, good people. What is there to stare at?
    This is not a show. . . . Hi, you muzhik! Why did you play us
    such a trick, damn you?"

    The crowd however, was not to be suppressed, but indulged in

    "He murdered his father, didn't he?"

    "What? THAT wretched creature?"

    As for the boatswain, he squatted upon his heels, and proceeded
    to subject the rescued man to a course of strict interrogation.

    "What is the destination marked on your ticket?"


    "Then you ought to leave the boat at Kazan. And what is your


    "And your surname?"

    "Bashkin--though we are known also as the Bukolov family."

    "Your family has a DOUBLE surname, then?"

    With the full power of his trumpet-like lungs the bearded
    peasant (evidently he had lost his temper) broke in:

    "Though his uncle and his brother have been sentenced to penal
    servitude and are travelling together on that barge, he--well,
    he has received his discharge! That is only a personal matter,
    however. In spite of what judges may say, one ought never to
    kill, since conscience cannot bear the thought of blood. Even
    nearly to become a murderer is wrong."

    By this time more and more passengers had collected as they awakened from sleep and emerged from the first- and
    second-class cabins. Among them was the mate, a man with
    a black moustache and rubicund features who inquired of
    someone amid the confusion: "You are not a doctor, I suppose?"
    and received the astonished, high-pitched reply: "No,
    sir, nor ever have been one."

    To this someone added with a drawl:

    "Why is a doctor needed? Surely the man is a fellow of no
    particular importance?"

    Over the river the radiance of the summer daylight had gathered
    increased strength, and, since the date was a Sunday, bells were
    sounding seductively from a hill, and a couple of women in gala
    apparel who were following the margin of the river waved
    handkerchiefs towards the steamer, and shouted some greeting.

    Meanwhile the young fellow lay motionless, with his eyes closed.
    Divested of his pea-jacket, and wrapped about with wet, clinging
    underclothing, he looked more symmetrical than previously--his
    chest seemed better developed, his body plumper, and his face
    more rotund and less ugly.

    Yet though the passengers gazed at him with compassion or
    distaste or severity or fear, as the case might be, all did so
    without ceremony, as though he had not been a
    living man at all.

    For instance, a gaunt gentleman in a grey frock-coat said to a
    lady in a yellow straw hat adorned with a pink ribbon:

    "At our place, in Riazan, when a certain master-watchmaker went
    and hanged himself to a ventilator, he first of all stopped
    every watch and clock in his shop. Now, the question is, why did
    he stop them?"

    "An abnormal case indeed!"

    On the other hand, a dark-browed woman who had her hands hidden
    beneath her shawl stood gazing at the rescued man in silence,
    and with her side turned towards him. As she did so tears were
    welling in her grey-blue eyes.

    Presently two sailors appeared. One of them bent over the young
    fellow, touched him on the shoulder, and said:

    "Hi! You are to get up."

    Whereupon the young fellow rose, and was removed elsewhither.


    When, after an interval, he reappeared on deck, he was clean and
    dry, and clad in a cook's white jumper and a sailor's blue serge
    trousers. Clasping his hands behind his back, hunching his
    shoulders, and bending his head forward, he walked swiftly to
    the stern, with a throng of idlers--at first one by one, and then
    in parties of from three to a dozen--following in his wake.

    The man seated himself upon a coil of rope, and, craning his
    neck in wolf-like fashion to eye the bystanders, frowned, let
    fall his temples upon hands thrust into his flaxen hair, and
    fixed his gaze upon the barge.

    Standing or sitting about in the hot sunshine, people stared at
    him without stint. Evidently they would have liked, but did not
    dare, to engage him in conversation. Presently the big peasant
    also arrived on the scene, and, after glancing at all present,
    took off his hat, and wiped his perspiring face. Next, a
    grey-headed old man with a red nose, a thin wisp of beard, and
    watery eyes cleared his throat, and in honeyed tones took the

    "Would you mind telling us how it all happened?" he began.

    "Why should I do so?" retorted the young fellow without moving.

    Taking a red handkerchief from his bosom, the old man shook it
    out and applied it cautiously to his eyes. Then he said through
    its folds in the quiet accents of a man who is determined to

    "Why, you say? For the reason that the occasion is one when all
    ought to know the tru--"

    Lurching forward, the bearded peasant interposed with a rasp:

    "Yes, do you tell us all about it, and things will become
    easier for you. For a sin always needs to be made known."

    While, like an echo, a voice said in bold and sarcastic accents:

    "It would be better to seize him and tie him up."

    Upon this the young fellow raised his brows a little, and
    retorted in an undertone:

    "Let me bide."

    "The rascal!" the crowd commented, while the old man, neatly
    folding and replacing his handkerchief, raised a hand as dry as
    a cock's leg, and remarked with a sharp, knowing smile:

    "Possibly it is not merely out of idle curiosity that folk are
    making this request."

    "Go and be damned to you!" the young fellow exclaimed with a
    grim snap. Whereupon the big peasant bellowed out in a blustering fashion:

    "What? Then you will not tell us at least your destination?"

    Whereafter the same speaker continued to hold forth on humanity,
    God, and the human conscience--staring wildly around him as he
    did so, waving his arms about, and growing ever more
    frantic, until really it was curious to watch him.

    At length the crowd grew similarly excited, and took to
    encouraging the speaker with cries of "True! That is so!"

    As for the young fellow, he listened awhile in silence, without
    moving. Then, straightening his back, he rose, thrust his hands
    into the pockets of his trousers, and, swaying his body to and
    fro, began to glare at the crowd with greenish eyes which were
    manifestly lightening to a vicious gleam. At length, thrusting
    forth his chest, he cried hoarsely:

    "So you ask me whither I am bound? I am bound for the
    brigands' lair, for the brigands' lair, where, unless you first
    take and put me in fetters, I intend to cut the throat of every
    man that I meet. Yes, a hundred murders will I commit, for all
    folk will be the same to me, and not a soul will I spare. Aye,
    the end of my tether is reached, so take and fetter me whilst
    you can."

    His breath was issuing with difficulty, and as he spoke his
    shoulders heaved, and his legs trembled beneath him. Also, his
    face had turned grey and become distorted with tremors.

    Upon this, the crowd broke into a gruff, ugly, resentful roar,
    and edged away from the man. Yet, in doing so, many of its
    members looked curiously like the man himself in the way that
    they lowered their heads, caught at their breath, and let their
    eyes flash. Clearly the man was in imminent danger of being

    Suddenly he recovered his subdued demeanour--he, as it were,
    thawed in the sunlight: until, as suddenly, his legs gave way
    beneath him, and, narrowly escaping injury to his face from the
    corner of a bale, he fell forward upon his knees as though
    felled with an axe. Thereafter, clutching at his throat, he
    shouted in a strange voice, and crowding the words upon one

    "Tell me what I am to do. Is all of it my fault? Long I lay in
    prison before I was tried and told to go free... yet--"

    Tearing at his ears and cheeks, he rocked his head to and fro as
    though seeking to rend it from its socket. Then he continued:

    "Yet I am NOT free. Nor is it in my power to say what will
    become of me. For me there remains neither life nor death."

    "Aha!" exclaimed the big peasant; and at the sound the crowd
    drew back as in consternation, while some hastened to depart
    altogether. As for the remainder (numbering a dozen or so), they
    herded sullenly, nervously, involuntarily into a mass as the young
    fellow continued in distracted tones and with a trembling head:

    "Oh that I could sleep for the next ten years! For then could I
    prove myself, and decide whether I am guilty or not. Last night
    I struck a man with a faggot. As I was walking about I saw
    asleep a man who had angered me, and thereupon thought, 'Come! I
    should like to deal him a blow, but can I actually do it?' And
    strike him I did. Was it my fault? Always I keep asking myself,
    'Can I, or can I not, do a thing?' Aye, lost, lost am I!"

    Apparently this outburst caused the man to reach the end of his
    power, for presently he sank from knees to heels--then on to his
    side, with hands clasping his head, and his tongue finally
    uttering the words, "Better had you kill me!"

    A hush fell, for all now stood confounded and silent, with,
    about them, a greyer, a more subdued, look which made all more
    resemble their fellows. In fact, to all had the atmosphere
    become oppressive, as though everyone's breast had had clamped
    into it a large, soft clod of humid, viscid earth. Until at last
    someone said in a low, shamefaced, but friendly, tone:

    "Good brother, we are not your judges."

    To which someone else added with an equal measure of gentleness:

    "Indeed, we may be no better than you."

    "We pity you, but we must not judge you. Only pity is

    As for the well-dressed peasant, his loud, triumphant utterance

    "Let God judge him, but men suffer him. Of judging of one
    another there has been enough."

    And a fifth man remarked to a friend as he walked away:

    "What are we to make of this? To judge by the book, the young
    fellow is at once guilty and not guilty."

    "Bygones ought to be bygones. Of all courses that is the best."

    "Yes, for we are too quick. What good can that do?"

    "Aye, what?"

    At length the dark-browed woman stepped forward. Letting her
    shawl to her shoulders, straightening hair streaked with grey
    under a bright blue scarf, and deftly putting aside a skirt she
    so seated herself beside the young fellow as to screen from the
    crowd with the height of her figure. Then, raising kindly face,
    she said civilly, but authoritatively, to the bystanders:

    "Do all of you go away."

    Whereupon the crowd began to depart,the big peasant saying as he

    "There! Just as I foretold has the matter turned out.
    Conscience HAS asserted itself."

    Yet the words were spoken without self-complacency, rather,
    thoughtfully, and with a sense of awe.

    As for the red-nosed old man who was walking like a shadow
    behind the last speaker, he opened his snuff-box, peered therein
    with his moist eyes, and drawled to no one in particular:

    "How often does one see a man play with conscience, yes, even
    though he be a rogue! He erects that conscience as a screen to
    his knaveries and tricks and wiles, and masks the whole with a
    cloud of words. Yes, we know how it is done, even though folk
    may stare at him, and say to one another, 'How fervently his
    soul is glowing!' Aye, all the time that he is holding his hand
    to his heart he will be dipping the other hand into your pocket."

    The lover of proverbs, for his part, unbuttoned his jacket,
    thrust his hands under his coat-tails, and said in a loud voice:

    "There is a saying that you can trust any wild beast, such as a
    fox or a hedgehog or a toad, but not--"

    "Quite so, dear sir. The common folk are exceedingly

    "Well, they are not developing as they ought to do."

    "No, they are over-cramped," was the big peasant's rasped-out
    comment. "They have no room for GROWTH."

    "Yes, they DO grow, but only as regards beard and moustache, as
    a tree grows to branch and sap."

    With a glance at the purveyor of proverbs the old man assented
    by remarking: "Yes, true it is that the common folk are
    cramped." Whereafter he thrust a pinch of snuff into his
    nostrils, and threw back his head in anticipation of the sneeze
    which failed to come. At length, drawing a deep breath through
    his parted lips, he said as he measured the peasant again with
    his eyes:

    "My friend, you are of a sort calculated to last."

    In answer the peasant nodded.

    "SOME day," he remarked, "we shall get what we want."

    In front of us now, was Kazan, with the pinnacles of its
    churches and mosques piercing the blue sky, and looking like
    garlands of exotic blooms. Around them lay the grey wall of the
    Kremlin, and above them soared the grim Tower of Sumbek.

    Here one and all were due to disembark.

    I glanced towards the stern once more. The dark-browed woman was
    breaking off morsels from a wheaten scone that was lying in her
    lap, and saying as she did so:

    "Presently we will have a cup of tea, and then keep together as
    far as Christopol."

    In response the young fellow edged nearer to her, and
    thoughtfully eyed the large hands which, though inured to hard
    work, could also be very gentle.

    "I have been trodden upon," he said.

    "Trodden upon by whom?"

    "By all. And I am afraid of them."

    "Why so?"

    "Because I am."

    Breathing upon a morsel of the scone, the woman offered it him
    with the quiet words:

    "You have had much to bear. Now, shall I tell you my history,
    or shall we first have tea? "


    On the bank there was now to be seen the frontage of the gay,
    wealthy suburb of Uslon, with its brightly-dressed,
    rainbow-tinted women and girls tripping through the streets, and
    the water of its foaming river sparkling hotly, yet dimly, in
    the sunlight.

    It was a scene like a scene beheld in a vision.
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