Gusev went back to the ward and got into his hammock. He was
again tormented by a vague craving, and he could not make out
what he wanted. There was an oppression on his chest, a
throbbing in his head, his mouth was so dry that it was
difficult for him to move his tongue. He dozed, and murmured in
his sleep, and, worn out with nightmares, his cough, and the
stifling heat, towards morning he fell into a sound sleep. He
dreamed that they were just taking the bread out of the oven in
the barracks and he climbed into the stove and had a steam bath
in it, lashing himself with a bunch of birch twigs. He slept for
two days, and at midday on the third two sailors came down and
carried him out.
He was sewn up in sailcloth and to make him heavier they put
with him two iron weights. Sewn up in the sailcloth he looked
like a carrot or a radish: broad at the head and narrow at the
feet. . . . Before sunset they brought him up to the deck and
put him on a plank; one end of the plank lay on the side of the
ship, the other on a box, placed on a stool. Round him stood the
soldiers and the officers with their caps off.
"Blessed be the Name of the Lord . . ." the priest began. "As it
was in the beginning, is now, and ever shall be."
"Amen," chanted three sailors.
The soldiers and the officers crossed themselves and looked away
at the waves. It was strange that a man should be sewn up in
sailcloth and should soon be flying into the sea. Was it
possible that such a thing might happen to anyone?
The priest strewed earth upon Gusev and bowed down. They sang
The man on watch duty tilted up the end of the plank, Gusev slid
off and flew head foremost, turned a somersault in the air and
splashed into the sea. He was covered with foam and for a moment
looked as though he were wrapped in lace, but the minute passed
and he disappeared in the waves.
He went rapidly towards the bottom. Did he reach it? It was said
to be three miles to the bottom. After sinking sixty or seventy
feet, he began moving more and more slowly, swaying
rhythmically, as though he were hesitating and, carried along by
the current, moved more rapidly sideways than downwards.
Then he was met by a shoal of the fish called harbour pilots.
Seeing the dark body the fish stopped as though petrified, and
suddenly turned round and disappeared. In less than a minute
they flew back swift as an arrow to Gusev, and began zig-zagging
round him in the water.
After that another dark body appeared. It was a shark. It swam
under Gusev with dignity and no show of interest, as though it
did not notice him, and sank down upon its back, then it turned
belly upwards, basking in the warm, transparent water and
languidly opened its jaws with two rows of teeth. The harbour
pilots are delighted, they stop to see what will come next.
After playing a little with the body the shark nonchalantly puts
its jaws under it, cautiously touches it with its teeth, and the
sailcloth is rent its full length from head to foot; one of the
weights falls out and frightens the harbour pilots, and striking
the shark on the ribs goes rapidly to the bottom.
Overhead at this time the clouds are massed together on the side
where the sun is setting; one cloud like a triumphal arch,
another like a lion, a third like a pair of scissors. . . . From
behind the clouds a broad, green shaft of light pierces through
and stretches to the middle of the sky; a little later another,
violet-coloured, lies beside it; next that, one of gold, then
one rose-coloured. . . . The sky turns a soft lilac. Looking at
this gorgeous, enchanted sky, at first the ocean scowls, but
soon it, too, takes tender, joyous, passionate colours for which
it is hard to find a name in human speech.
Captain Kopeikin: Captain Kopeykin is a comic figure in Dead
Souls by Nikolay V. Gogol (1809-1852)
midshipman Dirka: a character described but not seen in Gogol's
play Marriage (1842)
Petchenyegs: Pechenegs were a savage, marauding Turkic tribe
during the 9th-11th centuries; synonymous with savage or
Spanish Inquisition: set up by Ferdinand and Isabella of Spain
in 1478, it became a byword for sadistic cruelty