The train of waggons drew up on the bank of a river on one side
of a village. The sun was blazing, as it had been the day
before; the air was stagnant and depressing. There were a few
willows on the bank, but the shade from them did not fall on the
earth, but on the water, where it was wasted; even in the shade
under the waggon it was stifling and wearisome. The water, blue
from the reflection of the sky in it, was alluring.
Styopka, a waggoner whom Yegorushka noticed now for the first
time, a Little Russian lad of eighteen, in a long shirt without
a belt, and full trousers that flapped like flags as he walked,
undressed quickly, ran along the steep bank and plunged into the
water. He dived three times, then swam on his back and shut his
eyes in his delight. His face was smiling and wrinkled up as
though he were being tickled, hurt and amused.
On a hot day when there is nowhere to escape from the sultry,
stifling heat, the splash of water and the loud breathing of a
man bathing sounds like good music to the ear. Dymov and Kiruha,
looking at Styopka, undressed quickly and one after the other,
laughing loudly in eager anticipation of their enjoyment,
dropped into the water, and the quiet, modest little river
resounded with snorting and splashing and shouting. Kiruha
coughed, laughed and shouted as though they were trying to drown
him, while Dymov chased him and tried to catch him by the leg.
"Ha-ha-ha!" he shouted. "Catch him! Hold him!"
Kiruha laughed and enjoyed himself, but his expression was the
same as it had been on dry land, stupid, with a look of
astonishment on it as though someone had, unnoticed, stolen up
behind him and hit him on the head with the butt-end of an axe.
Yegorushka undressed, too, but did not let himself down by the
bank, but took a run and a flying leap from the height of about
ten feet. Describing an arc in the air, he fell into the water,
sank deep, but did not reach the bottom; some force, cold and
pleasant to the touch, seemed to hold him up and bring him back
to the surface. He popped out and, snorting and blowing bubbles,
opened his eyes; but the sun was reflected in the water quite
close to his face. At first blinding spots of light, then
rainbow colours and dark patches, flitted before his eyes. He
made haste to dive again, opened his eyes in the water and saw
something cloudy-green like a sky on a moonlight night. Again
the same force would not let him touch the bottom and stay in
the coolness, but lifted him to the surface. He popped out and
heaved a sigh so deep that he had a feeling of space and
freshness, not only in his chest, but in his stomach. Then, to
get from the water everything he possibly could get, he allowed
himself every luxury; he lay on his back and basked, splashed,
frolicked, swam on his face, on his side, on his back and
standing up -- just as he pleased till he was exhausted. The
other bank was thickly overgrown with reeds; it was golden in
the sun, and the flowers of the reeds hung drooping to the water
in lovely tassels. In one place the reeds were shaking and
nodding, with their flowers rustling -- Styopka and Kiruha were
"A crayfish, look, lads! A crayfish!" Kiruha cried triumphantly
and actually showed a crayfish.
Yegorushka swam up to the reeds, dived, and began fumbling among
their roots. Burrowing in the slimy, liquid mud, he felt
something sharp and unpleasant -- perhaps it really was a
crayfish. But at that minute someone seized him by the leg and
pulled him to the surface. Spluttering and coughing, Yegorushka
opened his eyes and saw before him the wet grinning face of the
dare-devil Dymov. The impudent fellow was breathing hard, and
from a look in his eyes he seemed inclined for further mischief.
He held Yegorushka tight by the leg, and was lifting his hand to
take hold of his neck. But Yegorushka tore himself away with
repulsion and terror, as though disgusted at being touched and
afraid that the bully would drown him, and said:
"Fool! I'll punch you in the face."
Feeling that this was not sufficient to express his hatred, he
thought a minute and added:
"You blackguard! You son of a bitch!"
But Dymov, as though nothing were the matter, took no further
notice of Yegorushka, but swam off to Kiruha, shouting:
"Ha-ha-ha! Let us catch fish! Mates, let us catch fish."
"To be sure," Kiruha agreed; "there must be a lot of fish here."
"Styopka, run to the village and ask the peasants for a net!
"They won't give it to me."
"They will, you ask them. Tell them that they should give it to
us for Christ's sake, because we are just the same as pilgrims."
Styopka clambered out of the water, dressed quickly, and without
a cap on he ran, his full trousers flapping, to the village. The
water lost all its charm for Yegorushka after his encounter with
Dymov. He got out and began dressing. Panteley and Vassya were
sitting on the steep bank, with their legs hanging down, looking
at the bathers. Emelyan was standing naked, up to his knees in
the water, holding on to the grass with one hand to prevent
himself from falling while the other stroked his body. With his
bony shoulder-blades, with the swelling under his eye, bending
down and evidently afraid of the water, he made a ludicrous
figure. His face was grave and severe. He looked angrily at the
water, as though he were just going to upbraid it for having
given him cold in the Donets and robbed him of his voice.
"And why don't you bathe?" Yegorushka asked Vassya.
"Oh, I don't care for it, . . ." answered Vassya.
"How is it your chin is swollen?"
"It's bad. . . . I used to work at the match factory, little
sir. . . . The doctor used to say that it would make my jaw rot.
The air is not healthy there. There were three chaps beside me
who had their jaws swollen, and with one of them it rotted away
Styopka soon came back with the net. Dymov and Kiruha were
already turning blue and getting hoarse by being so long in the
water, but they set about fishing eagerly. First they went to a
deep place beside the reeds; there Dymov was up to his neck,
while the water went over squat Kiruha's head. The latter
spluttered and blew bubbles, while Dymov stumbling on the
prickly roots, fell over and got caught in the net; both flopped
about in the water, and made a noise, and nothing but mischief
came of their fishing.
"It's deep," croaked Kiruha. "You won't catch anything."
"Don't tug, you devil!" shouted Dymov trying to put the net in
the proper position. "Hold it up."
"You won't catch anything here," Panteley shouted from the bank.
"You are only frightening the fish, you stupids! Go more to the
left! It's shallower there!"
Once a big fish gleamed above the net; they all drew a breath,
and Dymov struck the place where it had vanished with his fist,
and his face expressed vexation.
"Ugh!" cried Panteley, and he stamped his foot. "You've let the
perch slip! It's gone!"
Moving more to the left, Dymov and Kiruha picked out a shallower
place, and then fishing began in earnest. They had wandered off
some hundred paces from the waggons; they could be seen silently
trying to go as deep as they could and as near the reeds, moving
their legs a little at a time, drawing out the nets, beating the
water with their fists to drive them towards the nets. From the
reeds they got to the further bank; they drew the net out, then,
with a disappointed air, lifting their knees high as they
walked, went back into the reeds. They were talking about
something, but what it was no one could hear. The sun was
scorching their backs, the flies were stinging them, and their
bodies had turned from purple to crimson. Styopka was walking
after them with a pail in his hands; he had tucked his shirt
right up under his armpits, and was holding it up by the hem
with his teeth. After every successful catch he lifted up some
fish, and letting it shine in the sun, shouted:
"Look at this perch! We've five like that!"
Every time Dymov, Kiruha and Styopka pulled out the net they
could be seen fumbling about in the mud in it, putting some
things into the pail and throwing other things away; sometimes
they passed something that was in the net from hand to hand,
examined it inquisitively, then threw that, too, away.
"What is it?" they shouted to them from the bank.
Styopka made some answer, but it was hard to make out his words.
Then he climbed out of the water and, holding the pail in both
hands, forgetting to let his shirt drop, ran to the waggons.
"It's full!" he shouted, breathing hard. "Give us another!"
Yegorushka looked into the pail: it was full. A young pike poked
its ugly nose out of the water, and there were swarms of
crayfish and little fish round about it. Yegorushka put his hand
down to the bottom and stirred up the water; the pike vanished
under the crayfish and a perch and a tench swam to the surface
instead of it. Vassya, too, looked into the pail. His eyes grew
moist and his face looked as caressing as before when he saw the
fox. He took something out of the pail, put it to his mouth and
began chewing it.
"Mates," said Styopka in amazement, "Vassya is eating a live
"It's not a gudgeon, but a minnow," Vassya answered calmly,
He took a fish's tail out of his mouth, looked at it
caressingly, and put it back again. While he was chewing and
crunching with his teeth it seemed to Yegorushka that he saw
before him something not human. Vassya's swollen chin, his
lustreless eyes, his extraordinary sharp sight, the fish's tail
in his mouth, and the caressing friendliness with which he
crunched the gudgeon made him like an animal.
Yegorushka felt dreary beside him. And the fishing was over,
too. He walked about beside the waggons, thought a little, and,
feeling bored, strolled off to the village.
Not long afterwards he was standing in the church, and with his
forehead leaning on somebody's back, listened to the singing of
the choir. The service was drawing to a close. Yegorushka did
not understand church singing and did not care for it. He
listened a little, yawned, and began looking at the backs and
heads before him. In one head, red and wet from his recent
bathe, he recognized Emelyan. The back of his head had been
cropped in a straight line higher than is usual; the hair in
front had been cut unbecomingly high, and Emelyan's ears stood
out like two dock leaves, and seemed to feel themselves out of
place. Looking at the back of his head and his ears, Yegorushka,
for some reason, thought that Emelyan was probably very unhappy.
He remembered the way he conducted with his hands, his husky
voice, his timid air when he was bathing, and felt intense pity
for him. He longed to say something friendly to him.
"I am here, too," he said, putting out his hand.
People who sing tenor or bass in the choir, especially those who
have at any time in their lives conducted, are accustomed to
look with a stern and unfriendly air at boys. They do not give
up this habit, even when they leave off being in a choir.
Turning to Yegorushka, Emelyan looked at him from under his
brows and said:
"Don't play in church!"
Then Yegorushka moved forwards nearer to the ikon-stand. Here he
saw interesting people. On the right side, in front of everyone,
a lady and a gentleman were standing on a carpet. There were
chairs behind them. The gentleman was wearing newly ironed
shantung trousers; he stood as motionless as a soldier saluting,
and held high his bluish shaven chin. There was a very great air
of dignity in his stand-up collar, in his blue chin, in his
small bald patch and his cane. His neck was so strained from
excess of dignity, and his chin was drawn up so tensely, that it
looked as though his head were ready to fly off and soar upwards
any minute. The lady, who was stout and elderly and wore a white
silk shawl, held her head on one side and looked as though she
had done someone a favour, and wanted to say: "Oh, don't trouble
yourself to thank me; I don't like it. . . ." A thick wall of
Little Russian heads stood all round the carpet.
Yegorushka went up to the ikon-stand and began kissing the local
ikons. Before each image he slowly bowed down to the ground,
without getting up, looked round at the congregation, then got
up and kissed the ikon. The contact of his forehead with the
cold floor afforded him great satisfaction. When the beadle came
from the altar with a pair of long snuffers to put out the
candles, Yegorushka jumped up quickly from the floor and ran up
"Have they given out the holy bread?" he asked.
"There is none; there is none," the beadle muttered gruffly. "It
is no use your. . ."
The service was over; Yegorushka walked out of the church in a
leisurely way, and began strolling about the market-place. He
had seen a good many villages, market-places, and peasants in
his time, and everything that met his eyes was entirely without
interest for him. At a loss for something to do, he went into a
shop over the door of which hung a wide strip of red cotton. The
shop consisted of two roomy, badly lighted parts; in one half
they sold drapery and groceries, in the other there were tubs of
tar, and there were horse-collars hanging from the ceiling; from
both came the savoury smell of leather and tar. The floor of the
shop had been watered; the man who watered it must have been a
very whimsical and original person, for it was sprinkled in
patterns and mysterious symbols. The shopkeeper, an
overfed-looking man with a broad face and round beard,
apparently a Great Russian, was standing, leaning his person
over the counter. He was nibbling a piece of sugar as he drank
his tea, and heaved a deep sigh at every sip. His face expressed
complete indifference, but each sigh seemed to be saying:
"Just wait a minute; I will give it you."
"Give me a farthing's worth of sunflower seeds," Yegorushka
said, addressing him.
The shopkeeper raised his eyebrows, came out from behind the
counter, and poured a farthing's worth of sunflower seeds into
Yegorushka's pocket, using an empty pomatum pot as a measure.
Yegorushka did not want to go away. He spent a long time in
examining the box of cakes, thought a little and asked, pointing
to some little cakes covered with the mildew of age:
"How much are these cakes?"
"Two for a farthing."
Yegorushka took out of his pocket the cake given him the day
before by the Jewess, and asked him:
"And how much do you charge for cakes like this?"
The shopman took the cake in his hands, looked at it from all
sides, and raised one eyebrow.
"Like that?" he asked.
Then he raised the other eyebrow, thought a minute, and
"Two for three farthings. . . ."
A silence followed.
"Whose boy are you?" the shopman asked, pouring himself out some
tea from a red copper teapot.
"The nephew of Ivan Ivanitch."
"There are all sorts of Ivan Ivanitchs," the shopkeeper sighed.
He looked over Yegorushka's head towards the door, paused a
minute and asked:
"Would you like some tea?"
"Please. . . ." Yegorushka assented not very readily, though he
felt an intense longing for his usual morning tea.
The shopkeeper poured him out a glass and gave him with it a bit
of sugar that looked as though it had been nibbled. Yegorushka
sat down on the folding chair and began drinking it. He wanted
to ask the price of a pound of sugar almonds, and had just
broached the subject when a customer walked in, and the
shopkeeper, leaving his glass of tea, attended to his business.
He led the customer into the other half, where there was a smell
of tar, and was there a long time discussing something with him.
The customer, a man apparently very obstinate and pig-headed,
was continually shaking his head to signify his disapproval, and
retreating towards the door. The shopkeeper tried to persuade
him of something and began pouring some oats into a big sack for
"Do you call those oats?" the customer said gloomily. "Those are
not oats, but chaff. It's a mockery to give that to the hens;
enough to make the hens laugh. . . . No, I will go to
When Yegorushka went back to the river a small camp fire was
smoking on the bank. The waggoners were cooking their dinner.
Styopka was standing in the smoke, stirring the cauldron with a
big notched spoon. A little on one side Kiruha and Vassya, with
eyes reddened from the smoke, were sitting cleaning the fish.
Before them lay the net covered with slime and water weeds, and
on it lay gleaming fish and crawling crayfish.
Emelyan, who had not long been back from the church, was sitting
beside Panteley, waving his arm and humming just audibly in a
husky voice: "To Thee we sing. . . ." Dymov was moving about by
When they had finished cleaning them, Kiruha and Vassya put the
fish and the living crayfish together in the pail, rinsed them,
and from the pail poured them all into the boiling water.
"Shall I put in some fat?" asked Styopka, skimming off the
"No need. The fish will make its own gravy," answered Kiruha.
Before taking the cauldron off the fire Styopka scattered into
the water three big handfuls of millet and a spoonful of salt;
finally he tried it, smacked his lips, licked the spoon, and
gave a self-satisfied grunt, which meant that the grain was
All except Panteley sat down near the cauldron and set to work
with their spoons.
"You there! Give the little lad a spoon!" Panteley observed
sternly. "I dare say he is hungry too!"
"Ours is peasant fare," sighed Kiruha.
"Peasant fare is welcome, too, when one is hungry."
They gave Yegorushka a spoon. He began eating, not sitting, but
standing close to the cauldron and looking down into it as in a
hole. The grain smelt of fish and fish-scales were mixed up with
the millet. The crayfish could not be hooked out with a spoon,
and the men simply picked them out of the cauldron with their
hands; Vassya did so particularly freely, and wetted his sleeves
as well as his hands in the mess. But yet the stew seemed to
Yegorushka very nice, and reminded him of the crayfish soup
which his mother used to make at home on fast-days. Panteley was
sitting apart munching bread.
"Grandfather, why aren't you eating?" Emelyan asked him.
"I don't eat crayfish. . . . Nasty things," the old man said,
and turned away with disgust.
While they were eating they all talked. From this conversation
Yegorushka gathered that all his new acquaintances, in spite of
the differences of their ages and their characters, had one
point in common which made them all alike: they were all people
with a splendid past and a very poor present. Of their past they
all -- every one of them -- spoke with enthusiasm; their
attitude to the present was almost one of contempt. The Russian
loves recalling life, but he does not love living. Yegorushka
did not yet know that, and before the stew had been all eaten he
firmly believed that the men sitting round the cauldron were the
injured victims of fate. Panteley told them that in the past,
before there were railways, he used to go with trains of waggons
to Moscow and to Nizhni, and used to earn so much that he did
not know what to do with his money; and what merchants there
used to be in those days! what fish! how cheap everything was!
Now the roads were shorter, the merchants were stingier, the
peasants were poorer, the bread was dearer, everything had
shrunk and was on a smaller scale. Emelyan told them that in old
days he had been in the choir in the Lugansky works, and that he
had a remarkable voice and read music splendidly, while now he
had become a peasant and lived on the charity of his brother,
who sent him out with his horses and took half his earnings.
Vassya had once worked in a match factory; Kiruha had been a
coachman in a good family, and had been reckoned the smartest
driver of a three-in-hand in the whole district. Dymov, the son
of a well-to-do peasant, lived at ease, enjoyed himself and had
known no trouble till he was twenty, when his stern harsh
father, anxious to train him to work, and afraid he would be
spoiled at home, had sent him to a carrier's to work as a hired
labourer. Styopka was the only one who said nothing, but from
his beardless face it was evident that his life had been a much
better one in the past.
Thinking of his father, Dymov frowned and left off eating.
Sullenly from under his brows he looked round at his companions
and his eye rested upon Yegorushka.
"You heathen, take off your cap," he said rudely. "You can't eat
with your cap on, and you a gentleman too!"
Yegorushka took off his hat and did not say a word, but the stew
lost all savour for him, and he did not hear Panteley and Vassya
intervening on his behalf. A feeling of anger with the insulting
fellow was rankling oppressively in his breast, and he made up
his mind that he would do him some injury, whatever it cost him.
After dinner everyone sauntered to the waggons and lay down in
"Are we going to start soon, grandfather?" Yegorushka asked
"In God's good time we shall set off. There's no starting yet;
it is too hot. . . . O Lord, Thy will be done. Holy Mother. . .
Lie down, little lad."
Soon there was a sound of snoring from under the waggons.
Yegorushka meant to go back to the village, but on
consideration, yawned and lay down by the old man.