A.P. Chekhov -
IT was getting dark; it would soon be night.
Gusev, a discharged soldier, sat up in his hammock and said in
"I say, Pavel Ivanitch. A soldier at Sutchan told me: while they
were sailing a big fish came into collision with their ship and
stove a hole in it."
The nondescript individual whom he was addressing, and whom
everyone in the ship's hospital called Pavel Ivanitch, was
silent, as though he had not heard.
And again a stillness followed. . . The wind frolicked with the
rigging, the screw throbbed, the waves lashed, the hammocks
creaked, but the ear had long ago become accustomed to these
sounds, and it seemed that everything around was asleep and
silent. It was dreary. The three invalids -- two soldiers and a
sailor -- who had been playing cards all the day were asleep and
talking in their dreams.
It seemed as though the ship were beginning to rock. The hammock
slowly rose and fell under Gusev, as though it were heaving a
sigh, and this was repeated once, twice, three times. . . .
Something crashed on to the floor with a clang: it must have
been a jug falling down.
"The wind has broken loose from its chain. . ." said Gusev,
This time Pavel Ivanitch cleared his throat and answered
"One minute a vessel's running into a fish, the next, the wind's
breaking loose from its chain. Is the wind a beast that it can
break loose from its chain?"
"That's how christened folk talk."
"They are as ignorant as you are then. They say all sorts of
things. One must keep a head on one's shoulders and use one's
reason. You are a senseless creature."
Pavel Ivanitch was subject to sea-sickness. When the sea was
rough he was usually ill-humoured, and the merest trifle would
make him irritable. And in Gusev's opinion there was absolutely
nothing to be vexed about. What was there strange or wonderful,
for instance, in the fish or in the wind's breaking loose from
its chain? Suppose the fish were as big as a mountain and its
back were as hard as a sturgeon: and in the same way, supposing
that away yonder at the end of the world there stood great stone
walls and the fierce winds were chained up to the walls . . . if
they had not broken loose, why did they tear about all over the
sea like maniacs, and struggle to escape like dogs? If they were
not chained up, what did become of them when it was calm?
Gusev pondered for a long time about fishes as big as a mountain
and stout, rusty chains, then he began to feel dull and thought
of his native place to which he was returning after five years'
service in the East. He pictured an immense pond covered with
snow. . . . On one side of the pond the red-brick building of
the potteries with a tall chimney and clouds of black smoke; on
the other side -- a village. . . . His brother Alexey comes out
in a sledge from the fifth yard from the end; behind him sits
his little son Vanka in big felt over-boots, and his little girl
Akulka, also in big felt boots. Alexey has been drinking, Vanka
is laughing, Akulka's face he could not see, she had muffled
"You never know, he'll get the children frozen . . ." thought
Gusev. "Lord send them sense and judgment that they may honour
their father and mother and not be wiser than their parents."
"They want re-soleing," a delirious sailor says in a bass voice.
Gusev's thoughts break off, and instead of a pond there suddenly
appears apropos of nothing a huge bull's head without eyes, and
the horse and sledge are not driving along, but are whirling
round and round in a cloud of smoke. But still he was glad he
had seen his own folks. He held his breath from delight,
shudders ran all over him, and his fingers twitched.
"The Lord let us meet again," he muttered feverishly, but he at
once opened his eyes and sought in the darkness for water.
He drank and lay back, and again the sledge was moving, then
again the bull's head without eyes, smoke, clouds. . . . And so
on till daybreak.
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