The day after the quarrel Jakoff went off with a party of workmen in a
boat, which was taken out by a tug. They were going out to a distance
of about thirty versts to fish for sturgeon in a bay.
He returned to the fishery at the end of five days, alone and in a
sailing-boat; he had been sent ashore to fetch provisions. It was noon
when Jakoff arrived; the workmen were resting after their dinner. It
was intolerably hot, the sand burnt the feet, the fish-bones and scales
pricked them. Jakoff walked carefully towards the huts, wishing all
the time he had put his shoes on. He hesitated about returning to the
boat, he wanted to eat his dinner quickly and to find Malva. During
the tedious hours at sea he had often thought of her. He would have
liked to have known if his father and she had seen each other, and what
had passed between them…. Perhaps the old man had beaten her? That
wouldn’t have mattered; it would have made her more gentle.
Otherwise she was too provoking, too bold. The deserted fishery
slumbered: the long wooden huts with all the windows standing open,
seemed exhausted with the heat. In the inspector’s office a child was
crying…. Behind a heap of barrels the whisper of voices was heard.
Jakoff went in that direction; he thought he distinguished Malva’s
voice. But when he reached the barrels he stopped and paused. In the
shade, lying on his back, his arms under his head, was the red-headed
Sereja. Near him, on one side, was Vassili, and on the other side Malva.
Jakoff thought, “What is my father doing here? Has he left his
employment so as to be near Malva, and to watch her? The old devil!…
If only my mother knew what he was up to?” Should he speak to them or
“That’s it,” Sereja was saying. “Therefore you must say good-bye to
each other. And then be off, and go and scratch your land …”
Jakoff started, and his face grew joyful.
“I am going,” said Vassili.
Then Jakoff stepped forward boldly.
“Good-morning, all of you!”
His father threw a rapid glance at him, and then turned away. Malva did
not move. Sereja kicked out his leg, and said in a forced voice–
“Here is our well-beloved son Jakoff, who is returning from a far
Then he added in his ordinary voice–
“Let us skin him alive, and mate drums out of his skin.”
Malva laughed softly.
“It’s hot,” said Jakoff, sitting down by them.
Vassili glanced at him once more, as if unwillingly.
“I have been expecting you here all the morning, Jakoff. The inspector
told, me that you were to come.” His voice seemed to the young man to
be weaker than usual, and his face seemed altered.
“I have come to fetch some provisions,” said Jakoff.
And he asked Sereja for a cigarette.
“I have no tobacco for a fool like you!” replied the latter without
“I’m going home, Jakoff!” said Vassili gravely, digging at the sand
with his finger.
“Why?” asked his son innocently.
“Never mind…. Shall you remain here?”
“Yes, I shall remain…. What could both of us do at home?”
“Very well. I have nothing to say. Do as you choose I You are no longer
a child. Only remember that I shan’t live very much longer. I shall
keep alive perhaps, but I don’t know how I shall manage to work…. I
have lost the habit of working on the land…. Don’t forget therefore
that you have your mother there.”
It was evidently painful to him to speak. The words seemed to stick
between his teeth. Whilst he twisted his beard, his hand trembled.
Malva watched him. Sereja had half closed one eye, and with the other
which was wide open he watched Jakoff. The boy was glad, but fearing to
betray his feelings, he was silent, and hung his head.
“Don’t forget your mother therefore, Jakoff. Remember that you are all
that is left to her!” said Vassilli.
“I know!” said Jakoff, shrugging his shoulders.
“That’s all right if you know it,” added his lather, with a distrustful
glance. “I only warn you not to forget it.”
Vassili sighed deeply. They were all silent for some minutes.
Then Malva said–
“They will soon be ringing the bell for work.”
“I am going,” said Vassili, rising.
And they all rose with him.
“Good-bye, Sereja. If you ever come to the Volga, perhaps you will
remember to come and see me?… The District of Simbirsk, the village
of Malso, near Nikolo-Livolvsk.”
“All right,” said Sereja.
He shook Vassili’s hand, holding it for a long time in his big,
thick-veined paw, covered with red hairs. He smiled into the sad,
serious face of Vassili.
“Nikolo-Livolvsk is a big town, _every one_ knows it, and we are only
four versts from there,” the peasant explained.
“All right, I will come and see you if I am that way.”
“Good-bye, my dear fellow.”
“Good-bye, Malva!” whispered Vassili, without raising his eyes to her.
She wiped her lips leisurely with, her sleeve, threw her two white arms
round his neck, and kissed him three times, on his lips and on his
He was overcome, and muttered some indistinct words. Jakoff dropped his
head to hide a smile; but Sereja was unmoved, and even yawned slightly
as he looked up at the sky.
“It will be hot walking,” he said.
“Nevermind!… Good-bye to you also, Jakoff.”
They were face to face with one another, without knowing what to do.
The sad word “good-bye,” which had just been repeated so many times,
awoke in the soul of Jakoff 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 hands with him like Sereja?… And Vassili was
wounded by this hesitation which was visible in the attitude of his
son, and at the same time he felt something like shame. He remembered
what had taken place at the cape, and he thought of Malva’s kisses.
“Well, think of your mother!” said Vassili at last.
“Oh! yes!” replied Jakoff cordially. “Don’t be anxious … I know.”
And he shook his head.
“That’s all Be happy! May God protect you…. Don’t think ill of
me…. The boiler, Sereja, is buried in the sand, near the bows of the
“What does he want with the boiler?” asked Jakoff suddenly.
“He has taken my place over there at the cape,” explained Vassili.
Jakoff glance at Sereja enviously, then at Malva, and hung his head to
hide the flash of joy in his eye.
“Good-bye, brothers, I am going.”
Vassili nodded to them. Malva followed him.
“I am going to walk with you a little bit of the way.”
Sereja flung himself on the ground and seized Jakoff’s leg as this
latter was about to follow Malva.
“Stop! where are you going to?”
“Leave me alone!” said Jakoff, moving a step forward. But Sereja had
seized his other leg.
“Sit down beside me.”
“Why!… What new nonsense are you up to?”
“It’s not nonsense I Sit down.”
Jakoff set his teeth, and obeyed.
“What do you want?”
“Wait Hold your tongue … whilst I think; and then I’ll talk to you.”
He looked the lad up and down, and Jakoff submitted.
Malva and Vassili walked on for a few moments in silence. Malva’s eyes
had a strange sparkle in them. And Vassili was gloomy and preoccupied.
Their feet sank into the sand, and they walked with difficulty.
He looked at her, and turned away immediately.
“It was I who made you quarrel on purpose with Jakoff…. You might
have both lived here without quarrelling,” she said, in a voice that
was even and unmoved.
There was not a shade of regret in her words.
“Why did you do that?” Vassili asked, after a moment’s silence.
“I don’t know … for no reason.”
She shrugged her shoulders and smiled.
“That’s a nice thing you have done,” he said irritably.
She was silent.
“You will make me lose my boy, lose him altogether; you sorceress! Have
you no fear of God? Are you not ashamed?… What are you going to do?”
“What ought I to do?” she said.
A mixture of agony and of despair sounded in her voice.
“What ought you to do?” cried Vassili, flashing out suddenly into rage.
He felt a passionate desire to strike her, to throw her down and bury
her in the sand, to kick her in the face and on the bosom….
He clinched his fists and cast a look behind him.
Over there near the barrels he saw Sereja and Jakoff, and their faces
were turned in his direction.
“Get along with you; or I shall do for you!…”
He stopped and breathed curses into her face. His eyes were bloodshot,
his beard trembled, and his hands were stretched involuntarily towards
Malva’s hair, which appeared above her shawl.
Her green eyes were fixed on him.
“You deserve to be killed!… But wait a bit. Some one will break your
head one of these days!”
She smiled, but remained silent. Then sighing deeply, she said–
“That’s enough now. Good-bye!”
And turning quickly on her heels, she walked back.
Vassili yelled after her and ground his teeth. Malva, as she walked
tried to put her feet into the footmarks which Vassili had made,
and when she succeeded she carefully destroyed all traces of his
footprints. Finally she reached the barrels, when Sereja received her
with the question–“Well, you walked a bit of the way with him?”
She made an affirmative sign with her head, and sat down by him.
And Jakoff watching her, smiled softly, moving his lips as if he were
saying things to her that no one else heard.
“And when you left him did you cry?” asked Sereja.
“When are you going over there to the cape?” she asked him, indicating
the sea with a movement of her head.
“I shall go with you.”
“Bravo!… I like that.”
“And I also, I shall go!” said Jakoff.
“Who invites you?” said Sereja, screwing up his eyes.
The harsh tinkle of a cracked bell was heard; it was the call to work.
The sounds rang out through the air, one following rapidly the other,
as if they feared to be late, or to be drowned in the sound of the
“She will invite me,” said Jakoff.
He glanced at Malva defiantly.
“I?… What should I want with you?” she replied, with surprise in her
“Let’s speak plainly, Jakoff,” said Sereja. “If you bother her I’ll
beat you into a jelly. And if you touch her with a finger, I’ll crush
you like a fly. I’ll give you one over the head that will just finish
you altogether. I’m very straightforward in my ways.” His face, his
whole figure and his knotted arms threatened Jakoff’s throat, and
seemed to prove eloquently, that in reality, to kill a man was to
Sereja a very simple matter.
Jakoff stepped back and said in a stifled voice–
“Wait a minute! It’s she who…”
“Hold your tongue, and there’s an end of it! What does all this mean?
It’s not you, you dog, who are going to eat the lamb. If you get the
bones thrown to you, you may say thank you. We’ve had enough of this.”
Jakoff looked at Malva. Her green eyes were laughing in a way that
wounded him, and she rubbed up against Sereja in such a coaxing way
that Jakoff felt the perspiration break out all over him.
They walked off side by side, and then both of them burst out laughing.
Jakoff crushed his right foot hard into the sand, and remained standing
thus, his body stretched forward, his face red, his heart beating.
Far away over the dead ripples of the sand, the outline of a small dark
human figure was moving; on his right shone the sun and the mighty
sea, and on his left, as far as the horizon, there was sand, nothing
but sand, smooth, vast and silent. Jakoff watched the solitary man and
blinked his eyes, which were full of tears–tears of humiliation and
of painful uncertainty–and he rubbed his chest roughly with both his
At the fishery, work was going on briskly. Jakoff heard the deep,
melodious voice of Malva, saying angrily–
“Who has taken my knife?”
The waves rippled, the sun shone, the sea laughed.
The father and son were seated in the hut opposite each other, and were
drinking vodka, which the son had brought to conciliate the elder man,
and to prevent them being bored in each other’s company.
Sereja had told Jakoff that his father was angry with him because of
Malva, and that he had threatened to beat Malva till she was half dead.
The young woman had been told of this threat, and that was why she had
not yielded to Jakoff. Sereja had mischievously misled him.
“He’ll punish you for your larks. He’ll pull your ears till they are
half-a-yard long. You had better not get in his way!”
This red-headed, disagreeable fellow’s chaff provoked in Jakoff a
sharp feeling of resentment against his father … and against Malva,
with whom he could not get a bit further. Sometimes her eyes seemed to
lead him on, sometimes they looked sad, and then the desire within him
pained him to an extent that became exasperation.
Jakoff went to see his father. He looked upon him as an obstacle in his
path, which it was impossible to get over, or to push on one side. But
feeling himself as strong as his adversary, Jakoff met his eyes with a
look which seemed to say–“Touch me if you dare!”
They had each already taken two glasses, without having exchanged a
word, excepting some ordinary remarks about the life at the fisheries.
Alone, in the midst of the sea, they were accumulating within
themselves hatred, and both of them knew that very soon this hatred
would burst out and flame forth.
The matting of the hut swayed in the wind, the bark of which it was
built creaked, the red rag at the top of the mast was murmuring
something. All these sounds were like a timid, endless, and uncertain
lisping of a prayer. But the waves murmured–free and unmoved.
“And Sereja, does he still get drunk?” asked Vassili in a harsh voice.
“He is drunk every evening,” replied Jakoff, pouring out some more
vodka for his father.
“He’ll come to no good! This is what a free and easy life leads to….
And you also, you will become like him.”
Jakoff did not like Sereja, and he replied there-fore–
“I shall never become like him.”
“No?” said Vassili, frowning. “I know what I am talking about … How
long have you been here? Already two months! You must soon be thinking
of going back. And how much money have you saved?”
He swallowed with a look of discontent the vodka which his son had
poured out for him, and taking his beard in his hand he tugged at it so
hard that his head shook.
“I have not been able to save money in such a short time!” Jakoff
argued with reason.
“If that’s the case, you had better not stay here; go back to the
“Why these grimaces?” cried Vassili in a threatening voice, vexed with
the calmness shown by his son. “Your father is talking to you, and you
laugh. You are in too much of a hurry to think yourself free! You will
have to get back into harness.”
Jakoff poured himself out some vodka, and drank it These coarse
remarks of his father offended him; but he kept his temper, hiding his
thought and not wishing to drive his father to fury. He began to feel
frightened before this harsh, severe presence.
And Vassili, noticing that his son had drunk alone without filling his
father’s glass, grew angrier still, though he retained an appearance of
“Your father tells you to go home, and you laugh in his face! All
right!… I’ll speak to you in a different tone…. Ask for your money
on Saturday and … be off … back to the village! Do you hear?”
“I shall not go,” said Jakoff firmly.
“What?” howled Vassili; and leaning his two hands on the barrel, he got
up. “Am I talking to you, or not? Dog that you are I howling against
your father!… You have forgotten that I can do what I like with you;
you have forgotten that? Eh?”
His lips trembled, his face was convulsed; two great veins swelled out
on his temples. “I have forgotten nothing,” said Jakoff in a low voice,
without looking at his father. “And you, have you forgotten nothing?”
“It’s not your place to preach morality to me; I will break you in
Jakoff dodged his father’s threatening hand, and feeling a savage
hatred rising within him, he said with clinched teeth–
“Don’t touch me! We are not in the village….”
“Silence! I am your father, wherever you are….”
“Here you can’t have me beaten with birch-rods. Here it is different!”
Jakoff spoke sneeringly, his face close to his father’s.
And he rose slowly.
They stood there opposite each other. Vassili with bloodshot eyes,
his head stretched forward, his hands clinched, breathed heavily into
his son’s face his vodka-laden breath; and Jakoff crouched back, was
watching his father’s movements, ready to parry his blows, apparently
calm, but inwardly raging and sweating. Between them was the barrel
which served as table.
“You think I won’t strike you?” cried Vassili in a hoarse voice,
arching his back like a cat prepared to spring.
“Here we are all equals; you are a workman, and so am I.”
“That’s all you know.”
“Yes, that’s what I know. Why do you attack me? You think that I don’t
understand?… It’s you who began….”
Vassili shouted and raised his arm so rapidly that Jakoff had not time
to fall back. The blow fell on his head; he staggered, ground his teeth
in the furious face of his father, who was again threatening him.
“Wait a moment!” he cried, clinching his fists.
“Leave me alone, I tell you.”
“Ah! that’s the way you speak to your father? … your father?… your
They were close together, and their legs were entangled in the empty
bags, the log, and the overturned barrel Protecting himself as best he
could against his father’s blows, Jakoff, pale and sweating, his face
darkened, his teeth set firm, his eyes flashing like a wolfs, retired
slowly, whilst his father pressed forward towards him, gesticulating
ferociously, blind with rage, wildly distorted; in his anger his hair
stood up like that of a wild boar.
“Stop now … That’s enough … leave off,” cried Jakoff, cold and
terrible, as he emerged from the hut.
His father yelled and came on again, but his blows only met Jakoff’s
“Take that, and that!”
Jakoff, who knew himself now to be the stronger and the more agile, led
his father on.
“Just wait a moment!”
But Jakoff jumped on one side and ran towards the sea.
Vassili rushed after him with head down, and arms stretched out, but he
stumbled over some obstacle, and fell, with his chest on the ground.
He rose rapidly to his knees, and then sat down, resting his hands on
the sand. He was completely exhausted by the struggle, and he howled
piteously with unappeased rage, and with the bitter consciousness of
“Curse you!” he cried, stretching his neck out in Jakoff’s direction,
and shaking the froth from his trembling lips.
Jakoff was leaning against a boat, and watching him narrowly. With one
hand he was rubbing his injured head. One of his shirt-sleeves hung
by a thread, his collar also was in rags, and his white moist chest
shone in the sun as if he had been rubbed with oil. He was feeling
contempt for his father; he had thought him so strong, and now he saw
him overcome and in a deplorable state, seated on the sand, shaking his
fists, and Jakoff smiled condescendingly with the wounding smile of the
strong over the weak.
“May the lightning strike you!… Curse you again and again!” Vassili
shouted his curses so loud that Jakoff turned involuntarily towards the
fisheries, as if he thought that the desperate shouting could be heard
there. But over there was nothing but waves and sunlight He spat, and
“Call, call louder! Who are you going to frighten?… And if there has
been something between us I’ll tell you at once and make an end of
“Hold your tongue! Don’t let me see you any more! Go away!” cried
“I shall not go to the village…. I shall spend the winter here,” said
Jakoff, without paying any attention to his father’s shouts, though he
watched his every movement “One is better here…. I quite understand
that…. I am not a fool. Work is less hard here, and there is more
liberty…. There you would be always ordering me about but here,
just try it on!”
He put his thumb to his nose, and laughed a quiet laugh, but in such a
way that Vassili once more seized with fury bounded to his feet, and
seizing hold of an oar shouted–
“That’s the way you treat your father?… Ah! I will kill you!” But
when, mad with rage, he reached the boat, Jakoff was already far away.
He ran on, and the tom sleeve of his shirt floated in the breeze behind
Vassili threw the oar after his son, but did not succeed in hitting
him. Having exhausted his strength he let himself fall at the side of
the boat, and tore the wood with his nails, whilst his son called out
to him in the distance–
“What, arn’t you ashamed of yourself? You are getting old, and you put
yourself into this state for a woman!… I’m not going back to the
village…. I’ve had enough of it … Go back yourself! … You’ve
nothing to do here!”
“Jakoff, hold your tongue!” shouted Vassili; and his voice rose above
that of Jakoff’s. “I shall kill you…. Get away with you!”
But Jakoff was walking away now, and laughing. Vassili watched him with
furious eyes. Now he was getting smaller; his legs seemed to be hidden
in the sand … half his body had disappeared … now his shoulders …
and now his head…. He was no longer to be seen. But some minutes
afterwards, at a few paces from the spot where he had disappeared, his
head showed once more, then his shoulders, then all his body…. He
looked quite small. He was turning round and saying some-thing–
“Curse you!… Curse you!” cried Vassili.
The son made a gesture with his hand, and continued to walk away till
he was hidden by a sandhill.
Vassili looked out in that same direction for a long time, till his
back hurt him from sitting in such an uncomfortable attitude–half
crouched down against the boat, the palms of his hands resting on the
sand. Cramped and aching all over, he rose and staggered, for his limbs
pained him. His belt had got pushed up under his arms, he unfastened it
with his stiff fingers, looked at it and threw it on the sand. Then he
went towards his hut, but stopped as he reached a hollow in the ground,
remembering that it was there that he had fallen, and that if it had
not been for that he might have caught his son.
In the hut everything was in disorder. Vassili looked round for the
bottle of vodka, and finding it among the sacks, he picked it up, with
difficulty withdrew the cork, and placing the neck of the bottle in his
mouth he tried to drink…. But the bottle knocked against his teeth,
and the liquid ran out over his beard and his chest The alcohol tasted
as flat as water. Everything seemed to turn round in Vassili’s head;
his heart felt heavy, his back hurt him.
“I am old…. That’s what’s the matter!” he said out loud. And he
threw himself on the sand at the door of the hut. Before him lay the
vast sea, sighing idly, full of strength and of beauty. The waves
were laughing as they always did noisily and light-heartedly. Vassili
contemplated the water for a long time, and recalled the covetous words
of his son–
“If only that were all land, rich black land that could be ploughed!”
An acute feeling of weariness invaded the peasant’s soul. He rubbed his
chest hard, and sighed deeply. His head fell forward, and his back bent
as if an immense weight were crushing him. A spasm seemed to seize his
throat He coughed and made the sign of the cross, looking up to the
sky. Some terrible thought seemed to overwhelm him.
Because for a lost girl he had abandoned his wife with whom he had
lived honestly for more than fifteen years, the Lord had punished him
through the revolt of his son. Yes, Lord!…
His son had mocked him, and had tom his heart Killing was too good for
him after what he had done against the soul of his father…. And all
that for a light woman! And he, old already, had become entangled with
her! In his sin he had forgotten his wife and his son….
And now the Lord in His just anger reminded him of his sin, making
use of his son to strike the father’s heart with a well-deserved
punishment. Yes, Lord!…
Vassili remained seated, making the sign of the cross, and blinking his
eyes to get rid of the tears which blinded him.
And the sun sank Into the sea, and the red twilight faded out of the
sky. A cool wind came to caress the peasant’s face, which was bathed
In tears. Plunged in thoughts of repentance, he remained there till he
fell asleep a short time before dawn.
Very late, the evening of the same day, when the work-people at the
fisheries had finished their supper, Malva, tired and dreamy, had
seated herself on a broken, upturned boat, and was watching the
sea, over which twilight was gradually falling. Out yonder a fire
was burning, and Malva knew that it was Vassili who had lit it Half
hidden and solitary in the sombre distance, the flame flashed up every
now and then, and then died down as if crushed. And Malva felt sad
as she watched this red spot, abandoned in the waste of waters, and
palpitating feebly amidst the ceaseless and incomprehensible murmur of
“Why do you stay there?” said Sereja’s voice behind her.
“What’s that to you?” she replied dryly, without moving.
“I am curious.”
He watched her silently, and took out a cigarette, lit it, and sat
astride the boat Then as he realized that Malva was not inclined to
talk to him, he added in a friendly voice–
“What a queer sort of woman you are! At one moment you run away from
everybody, and the next moment you throw yourself at every one’s head.”
“At yours, perhaps?” said Malva carelessly. “Not at mine, but at
“Are you jealous?”
“Hm! Shall we talk to each other straight?” She was seated sideways to
him; he could not see her face, as she interjected in a curt tone–
“Have you quarrelled with Vassili? tell me?”
“I am sure I don’t know….” she replied, after a moment’s silence.
“Why do you want to know?”
“Just out of curiosity.”
“I am angry with him.”
“He beat me.”
“Is it possible?… He?… And you allowed him to do it?… Well!…
Sereja could not get over it He tried to catch sight of Malva’s face,
and made a mocking grimace.
“If I had liked I could have prevented him! she replied angrily.
“I wouldn’t defend myself!”
“You care for him then as much as that; that old grey cat?” said
Sereja, puffing out a mouthful of smoke. “Here’s a nice business! And
I, who thought you were worth more than that!”
“I don’t care for any of you!” she replied in a voice that had
recovered its indifference, and brushing the smoke away with her hand.
“You are lying, I bet anything.”
“Why should I lie?” she asked.
And by the ring in her voice Sereja recognized that she had no reason
“But if you don’t care for him, why did you allow him to beat you?”
“How do I know?… Leave me alone!”
“It’s a queer go!” said Sereja, shaking his head. And they were both
silent Night came on. The slow-moving clouds threw dark shadows over
the sea. The waves moaned.
Vassili’s fire at the end of the cape had died down, but Malva
continued to look out in that direction. Sereja watched the girl
“Listen!” he said, “do you know what you want?”
“If only I could know!” she replied in a low voice, with a deep-drawn
“You don’t know?… That’s a bad job,” said Sereja positively. “I, I
And with a shade of sadness, he added–
“Only it’s so rarely that I want anything….” “And I, I am always
wanting something,” said Malva. “I want … what … I don’t know….
Sometimes I would like to jump into a boat, and go out to sea, far,
far out. And at other times I should like to turn all you men into
tops, who would spin and spin in front of me. I should watch them, and
I should laugh. Sometimes I pity everybody, and especially myself;
sometimes I want to kill everybody, and then do for myself some
horrible death. And then I am bored, and then I want to laugh, and men
are all a lot of sticks.”
“They are rotten wood,” Sereja agreed softly. “I was right when I said
to myself–‘you are neither cat, nor fish, nor bird … but you have
something of all of them in you. You are not like other women.”
“Thank God!” sighed Malva.
To their left, behind a chain of sandy hills, the moon rose, flooding
them with its silvery light. Large and soft it rose slowly in the blue
sky, and the sparkling light of the stars paled, and was lost in its
mellow, dreamy light.
“You think too much…. That’s what’s the matter!” said Sereja in a
convinced tone of voice, tossing away his cigarette. “And when one
thinks, one becomes disgusted with life…. One must be always moving,
always in the midst of people … who must be made to feel that one is
really alive. One must knock life about, or it will become mouldy.
Move about in life, here and there, as long as you are able, and then
you won’t be bored.” Malva grew gay.
“It’s perhaps true what you say. Sometimes I think that if one set
fire one night to one of the huts … that might make things lively!”
“That’s a capital idea!” cried the other one, tapping her on the
shoulder. “Do you know what I would advise you … we might have some
fun together if you would like?”
“What is it?” asked Malva, interested.
“Have you warmed up Jakoff well?”
“He bums like a clear fire,” she said delighted.
“Is it possible? Set him on to his father. Wouldn’t it be a queer
sight?… They would go for each other like two bears … Warm the old
fellow up a little, and this other one still more … and then we will
set them on each other.” Malva looked hard into his freckled face, as
he smiled gaily. Lighted up by the moon it seemed less ugly than by
daylight It expressed neither hatred nor anything but good humour and
vivacity, in the expectation of a reply.
“Why do you hate them?” Malva asked suspiciously.
“I? Vassili is a good sort of fellow for a peasant. But Jakoff is not
worth anything. Generally speaking, you see, I don’t like peasants;
they are all knaves. They know how to pretend to be unfortunate,
get bread and everything given to them. And all the time they have a
municipality which looks after them. They have land and cattle. I was
coachman to a municipal doctor–and I saw something of those peasants
then! Then for a long time I was a tramp. When I got to a village and
asked for bread–‘Oh! Oh! Who are you? what are you doing? show your
passport!…’ I was beaten more than once; sometimes they took me for
a horse-thief; sometimes without any reason they put me in prison….
They groan and pretend that they can’t live, although they have land of
their own. And I, what could I do against them?”
“Are you not a peasant?”
“I am citizen,” replied Sereja with pride. “A citizen of the town of
“And I of Pavlitcha,” said Malva dreamily.
“I have no one to protect me. But those devils of peasants, they can
live well. They have a municipality and everything.”
“What is a municipality?” asked Malva.
“A municipality? Devil take me if I know!… It’s something made for
peasants; it’s their council…. Don’t let’s talk any more of that.
Let’s talk of our own business. Will you arrange this matter, tell
me? No harm will come of it. They will just knock each other about a
little…. I will help you…. Vassili beat you, did he?… Then let
his son give you back the blows that you have received.”
“Why not?” said Malva, smiling. “It wouldn’t be a bad thing.”
“Just think a little, isn’t it amusing to see how people knock each
other about because of you? You just wag your tongue once or twice, and
Sereja for some time went on exposing to her in a flattering light,
and with much enthusiasm the charms of the part which he proposed she
should play. He was both joking and serious, and was himself carried
“Ah! if only I were a beautiful woman! How I would turn the world
topsy-turvy!” he cried at the end of their talk.
Then he took his head into his hands, pressed it, closed his eyes and
The moon was high when they separated After they had left, the beauty
of the night intensified. There remained but the boundless, marvellous
sea, flecked by the silver of the moon; and the star-sown sky. The
little sand-hills, the bushy willows, and the two long rows of huts
like two enormous coffins, appeared quite insignificant in the face of
the sea, and of the stars, which twinkled coldly as they contemplated
In the pure light of dawn the sea slumbered softly, reflecting the
pearly clouds. At the cape, the half-awakened fishermen were moving
about arranging the nets in the boats.
This every-day work was executed rapidly and in silence. The grey mass
of the nets seemed to crawl from the sand into the boats, where it lay
heaped at the bottom.
Sereja, as usual bare-headed and scantily clothed, was in the bows,
shouting directions about the work in a hoarse voice, that betrayed
last night’s over-indulgence in vodka. The wind played with his ragged
clothing, and his unkempt hair.
“Vassili, where are the green oars?” cried some one.
Vassili, as gloomy as a late autumn day, was arranging the net in the
boat, and Sereja was watching him from behind. He was licking his lips,
which meant that he was thirsty, and wanted a drink.
“Have you got any vodka?” he asked.
“Yes,” muttered Vassili.
“All right! then I shall stay on dry land.”
“All aboard?” they called out from the cape.
“Shove her off!” ordered Sereja, as he got out of the boat “Off you
go!… I stay behind. Look out there!… Full ahead into the open, so
as not to tangle the net … and tell it out carefully. Don’t make any
knots…. Go ahead!”
They pushed off the boat; the fishermen climbed in, and each taking an
oar, raised them in the air, ready for the word of command.
The oars struck the water together; the boat swept forward into the
vast plane of glistening water.
“Two!” sang out the steersman.
And like the legs of an enormous tortoise the oars moved in the
On the shore, at the dry end of the nets, there remained five
men–Sereja, Vassili, and three others. One of the three stretched
himself on the sand, and said–
“We might perhaps get a nap.”
The two others followed his example, and three ragged bodies threw
themselves down in a heap.
“Why did you not come Sunday?” Vassili asked Sereja, as he led him
towards the hut.
“I couldn’t come.”
“You were drunk?”
“No, I was watching your son and his mother-in-law,” said Sereja,
“That’s new sort of work for you,” said Vassili, with a constrained
smile. “After all, they are not children!”
“They are worse; one is a fool, and the other is mad.”
“Is it Malva who is the mad one?” asked Vassili.
And his eyes shone with sad anger.
“She has always been mad. She has, brother Vassili, a soul which does
not fit her body. Can you understand that?”
“It’s not difficult to understand!… Her soul is vile.”
Sereja glanced obliquely at him, and replied with an accent of
“Vile? Oh! you earth-grubbers!… you!… you understand nothing of
life. All you want in a woman is great fat bosoms; her temperament does
not matter to you in the least But it’s in the temperament that one
finds all the colour of a human being. A woman without temperament is
like bread without salt Can you get any pleasure out of a balalaika
without strings? You dog!”
“It’s yesterday’s wine that makes you talk so well!” Interjected
He longed to know where and how Sereja had seen Malva and Jakoff the
day before, but a feeling of shame prevented him from asking. In the
hut he poured out a full glass of vodka for Sereja, in the hope that
the fellow might get drunk and would himself tell him all, without
waiting to be questioned. But Sereja drank, coughed, and, as if
refreshed, sat down at the open door, stretching himself and yawning.
“Drinking is like swallowing fire,” he said.
“At all events, you know how to drink!” replied Vassili, astonished
with the rapidity with which Sereja had swallowed the vodka.
“Ah! yes,” said the other, shaking his tawny head; he wiped his
moustache with the back of his hand, and began talking in a confident,
didactic tone–“I know how to drink, brother! I do everything short and
quick, that’s all about it!… Make no mistake, I go straight ahead!…
It doesn’t matter what happens!… If you start from the ground, you
can only fall on the ground….”
“I thought you were going into the Caucasus?” questioned Vassili, who
was trying carefully to work round towards his object.
“Yes, I shall go when I want to. When I have quite made up my mind….
Then I go straight ahead: one, two! and it’s done…. Either I
succeed, or else I come a cropper…. It’s all as plain as a pikestaff.”
“Yes, very plain; you might as well have no brain.” Sereja continued in
a mocking tone–
“And you, who are so intelligent!… How many times have you been
beaten with birch-rods in the village?”
Vassili glanced at him and remained silent “Very often I should
think…. And it’s a capital idea of your village authorities to drive
wisdom upwards, from down below…. And you, what can you do with
your brain? Where would you go? What would you invent? Say! Whereas
I, without bothering myself about anything, I go straight ahead, and
there’s an end of it. And I believe I shall go further than you.”
“It’s possible,” Vassili agreed. “Perhaps you will even go as far as
“Ah! no fear!”
And Sereja burst into a frank laugh.
In spite of Vassili’s hope, Sereja did not lose his head; and that
vexed the elder man, who would not offer him a second glass; but Sereja
himself solved the difficulty.
“Why don’t you ask me news of Malva?”
“What can it matter to me?” said Vassili indifferently, although he
felt a secret presentiment. “As she did not come here on Sunday, you
ought to inquire what she was up to. I know you are jealous, you old
“There are plenty like her,” said Vassili carelessly.
“Many indeed!” said Sereja, imitating him. “Ah! you brutal peasants!
Whether you get honey or tar it’s all the same to you!”
“What do you want to praise her up for? Have you come to offer her to
me in marriage? But I married her long ago on my own account!” said
Sereja looked at him, was silent a moment, and then placing his hand on
Vassili’s shoulder began speaking to him seriously.
“I know that … I know very well what she is with you. I did not get
in your way…. I neither tried to get her nor wanted her. But now
this Jakoff, your son, is hanging round her all day; beat him till
you make the blood come; do you hear me? If not, it’s I who will do
the beating…. You are a strong fellow, although you are a regular
fool…. But just remember this, I never got in your way.”
“That’s what’s the matter then! It’s you now who are in love with her?”
Vassili questioned, in a thick voice.
“Get along with you; if I were sure of myself I would have kicked you
all out of the way long ago! But what could I want with her?”
“Then why are you meddling?”
Sereja opened his eyes wide and laughed.
“Why am I meddling?… The devil only knows…. She’s a woman, and a
spicy one. She pleases me. Or, perhaps, I pity her….”
Vassili felt uncomfortable. He realized by the frank laughter of Sereja
that the lad was sincere, and that he was not himself running after
Malva. But he said–
“If she were a virtuous girl one might pity her. But as it is … it
seems rather queer, doesn’t it?” The other man did not answer; he
watched the boat making a circle, and turning its bows towards land.
Sereja’s ruddy face wore an open, good, and simple expression.
As he watched him, Vassili’s feelings grew softer.
“You are right, she is a good woman … she is only light-hearted; I
shall have something to say to Jakoff, the young dog!”
“I can’t stand him…. He smells of the village, and that’s a smell I
can’t put up with!” Sereja declared.
“Is he running after her?” Vassili asked between his teeth, whilst he
stroked his beard.
“I should rather think so! You’ll see, he’ll put himself between you
two like a wall.”
“I would not advise him to try!”
Far out over the sea the rosy rays of the morning sun opened out
fan-shaped, as the sun rose from the gilded water. Over the noise of
the waves a faint cry came from the boat “Heave!… Ahoy!..
“Up with you, lads! Give way with the rope!” cried Sereja, jumping
to his feet And soon all the five were hauling at their end of the
net There stretched from the water to the shore a long rope, supple
and vibrating, at which the fishermen, holding on to the extreme end,
pulled and shouted.
The other end of the net was being drawn ashore by the boat which
glided through the waves, whilst the mast as it swung from side to
side seemed to cut the air to right and left The sun, brilliant and
dazzling, shed its beams across the sea.
“When you see Jakoff, tell him to come and see me to-morrow,” said
Vassili to Sereja.
The boat ran up on the beach, and the fishermen, jumping on to the
sand, pulled up their end of the net The two groups were gradually
merged one in the other, whilst the cork floats, bobbing about on the
waves, showed a regular outline in the water.
A fortnight afterwards, and Sunday had come round again, and once more
Vassili Legostev, stretched on the sand near his hut, was watching the
sea and waiting for Malva. And the vast sea smiled and played with
the sun-rays, and tens of thousands of ripples ran quivering over the
sands, leaving there the foam from their crests, and returning to melt
once more into the sea. But Vassili, who formerly used to await the
arrival of his mistress in peaceful security, awaited her now with
impatience…. Last Sunday she did not come; to-day she would surely
not fail him. He had scarcely a doubt on the subject; but he desired to
see her quickly. Jakoff was not here to be in the way; the day before
yesterday, when passing with some other fishermen to fetch a net, he
had said that he was going into the town on Sunday to buy himself some
shirts. He had taken a job at fifteen roubles a month. For several days
now he had been working as a fisherman; he appeared to be bright and
happy. He reeked, as did the other fishermen, of smoked fish, and like
the others he was ragged and dirty. Vassili sighed when he thought of
“If he will only keep straight!… If he goes wrong, there’ll be no
getting him back to the village … and I myself will have to go.”
There was nothing to be seen on the sea but the gulls. At the spot
where it was divided from the sky by the narrow sandy streak of the
shore-line, there appeared now and again little black specks which
moved backwards and forwards, and then disappeared. But no boat
was to be seen, although it was already noon; the sun’s rays shone
perpendicularly on the sea.
Two gulls were struggling in the air, and fought so desperately that
their feathers flew out on all sides. Their wild cries disturbed the
joyful song of the waves, which in its constancy, and uniformity with
the triumphant peace of the dazzling sky, seemed to be called forth
by the play of light on the surface of the ocean. The gulls fell into
the sea, where they continued to struggle and scream fiercely in their
fury and pain; then they rose once more into the air in pursuit of
each other … heir friends–a whole flock of them–untroubled by the
contemplation of this sorry struggle, continued to catch fish, and to
turn somersaults in the transparent green sparkling water …
Vassili watched the gulls, and grew sad. “Why were they fighting? Were
there not enough fish in the water for all?… Men also seemed to try
to prevent each other from living. If one of them chose some dainty,
another would want to tear it from his throat Why? There is enough
for everybody in life. Why take from a man what he has already got?
Generally, these sort of quarrels are started about women. Some man has
a woman, whom another man wants to take away, and he tries to attract
her to him. Why steal a woman from a man, when there are so many free
women in the world, who belong to no one? It’s all wrong, and leads to
Still nothing appeared on the surface of the sea. There was no sign of
the little black well-known speck.
“You are not coming then?” said Vassili out loud. “All right, I don’t
want you!… You needn’t think I do!…”
And he spat contemptuously in the direction of the shore.
The sea laughed.
Vassili rose and went towards the hut with the intention of cooking
his dinner, though he had no sensation of hunger; he went back to his
former place, and lay down again.
“If only Sereja would come!” he cried to himself; and he tried to think
only of Sereja….
“What a poisonous lad it was though!… He was strong, knew how to
read, had travelled … but he was a drunkard. There was no being dull
with him … women were mad about him, and although he had only been
here a short time they were all running after him. Only Malva seemed to
keep clear of him; she doesn’t seem to be coming after all…. Devil
take the girl! Perhaps she is angry with me for having beaten her? …
But it could have been nothing new for her. Others must have knocked
her about … And it won’t be the last beating she gets from me.”
Divided thus between thoughts of his son, of Sereja, and most often of
Malva, Vassili tossed about on the sand, and waited. Vague disquietude
turned into suspicion, but on this he would not allow himself to dwell.
He hid from himself his distrust. He got through his time till the
evening, sometimes rising and walking backwards and forwards on the
sand, sometimes lying down again. He was still watching in the hopes of
seeing the boat, when the surface of the sea began to darken.
But Malva did not come on that Sunday either. And as he lay down to
sleep, Vassili cursed his work, which prevented his going to the
mainland, and he awoke constantly with a start, thinking he heard in
the distance the sound of oars. Then he would shield his eyes with his
hand and watch the troubled dark sea. Over there, where the fishery
was established, two fires burnt, but no one was coming over the sea.
“It’s all very well, my girl!” said Vassili threateningly. And he went
off into a heavy sleep.
What had happened at the fishery during that day was this. Jakoff rose
early before the sun was up, and whilst a fresh, life-giving breeze
was blowing from the sea. He walked from the hut towards the water in
order to get a wash, and on the shore he saw Malva. She was seated in
the bows of a big boat which was anchored close in to the shore, whilst
with her bare feet hanging over the sides, she was combing out her wet
Jakoff stopped, and watched her with curiosity.
Her cotton blouse open in front half showed one of her shoulders; and
this shoulder looked so white, so tempting!
The waves rocked the boat, and Malva rose and fell with its movements,
so that her bare feet almost at times touched the water.
“I say! Have you been bathing?” called out Jakoff.
She turned her face towards him, glanced at her feet; then continuing
to comb her hair, she replied–
“Yes, I’ve been bathing…. But why did you get up so early?”
“Well, you are up early too!”
“I’m not here to set you an example.”
Jakoff did not reply.
“If you follow my way of living, you will have to look out for
yourself!” she continued.
“Oh! how you frighten me!” said Jakoff chaffingly.
Then stooping down over the water he began to wash himself. With the
palms of his hands held close together, he scooped up the water, threw
it over his face, and then shook himself as he experienced the crisp
fresh sensation of cold. Wiping himself with the edge of his shirt, he
said to Malva–“Why do you always try and frighten me?”
“And you, why do you try and gobble me up with your eyes?”
Jakoff could not remember that, he had looked at her more than at other
women at the fishery, but now he said to her suddenly–
“It’s because you are so … tempting!”
“If your father hears of your goings on, he’ll give you something to
She threw a provoking sly glance at him. Jakoff burst out laughing,
and climbed into the boat He did not know what “goings on” she was
referring to; but as she said so, he must of course have been running
after her. And this thought made him feel suddenly quite lively.
“What has my father got to do with me?” said he, as he sat down by her
in the boat “Has he bought you for himself? Eh?”
Seated by her side he contemplated her bare shoulder, her
half-uncovered bosom, her whole strong, fresh figure smelling of the
“What a fine white sort of sturgeon, you are!” he exclaimed with
admiration, as the outcome of a minute inspection.
“Possibly; but not for you!” she said, without moving or changing her
rather indiscreet attitude.
In front of them stretched, beneath the morning rays of the sun, the
boundless sea. Little playful waves, born of the breath of the wind,
washed softly against the boat. Far away, in the distance, the cape
stretched out into the sea. At its extreme end, against the soft blue
of the sky could be seen a slender, tall mast, at the top of which
fluttered a red rag.
“Yes, my lad,” continued Malva, without looking at Jakoff; “I may be
tempting, but not for you…. And let me tell you, no one has bought
me, I am not the property of your father. I live for myself. So it’s no
use running after me, because I don’t intend to come between you and
Vassili…. I don’t want quarrels or wrangling of any sort … Do you
“But what have I done?” asked Jakoff, surprised. “I don’t touch you;
I’m not running after you.”
“You don’t dare to touch me!” said Malva.
She spoke so disdainfully that the man, the human male within him,
seemed in revolt A feeling of almost wicked defiance seized him, and
his eyes flashed.
“Oh! I don’t dare?… don’t I?” he cried, going nearer to her.
“No, you don’t dare!”
“And if I touch you?”
“Just try it!”
“What would you do?”
“I would give you such a good smack over the head, that you would fall
into the water!”
“Touch me, if you dare!”
He swept her with a rapid hot glance, and then flung his strong thick
arms round her, crushing her body against his own.
As he felt her warm, strong flesh pressed against his own, his blood
became fired, his throat contracted as if he were choking.
“Well! strike me now! What are you waiting for?”
“Let me go, Jakoff,” she said quietly, trying to loosen his throbbing
“What about the smack over the head you were going to give me?”
“Let me go! If not … look out for yourself!”
“It’s all very well to threaten; but you’re a little darling!”
He drew her closer towards himself, and pressed his thick lips against
her flushed cheek.
She burst out into defiant laughter, seized Jakoff’s arms, and
suddenly, with a strong movement of her whole body, flung herself
forward. They fell, both of them clinging together, forming one heavy
mass, and disappeared in the spurting white foam. Then from the
troubled water emerged Jakoff’s wet head, and by his side rose, like a
seagull, Malva. Jakoff was struggling desperately, striking the water,
spluttering and shouting, whilst Malva screamed joyfully, swimming
round him and tossing salt water into his face, then diving to avoid
the vigorous strokes of his swinging arms.
“The devil!” cried Jakoff, breathing hard. “I shall be drowned! That’s
enough now!… I swear I’m drowning…. Ah! I am sinking!”
But she had left him, and was swimming towards the shore with strong
strokes like those of a man. Once there, she sprang lightly into the
boat, and stood up in the bows watching, laughingly, Jakoff, who was
paddling rapidly towards her. His wet clothes, sticking to his body
showed his supple figure from the shoulder to the knee, and Jakoff,
when he had caught hold of the boat, coveted this dripping, half-naked
girl, who was so gaily making fun of him.
“Well! you half-drowned seal! Get out of the water!” she cried, between
her fits of laughter.
And kneeling down she stretched out a hand to him, whilst with the
other she held on to the boat.
Jakoff caught hold of her hand, and cried exultingly–
“Wait a minute! Now I’m going to give you a bath!”
He pulled her towards him, remaining himself in the water up to his
shoulders. The waves passed over his head, and breaking against the
boat, splashed Malva in the face. She laughed, and suddenly with a
shout she jumped into the water; the shock made Jakoff lose his footing.
And once more they started playing like two great fish in the green
sea, throwing water over each other, shouting, gasping, spluttering and
The sun laughed as it watched them, and the panes of glass in the
fish-curing building laughed also, as they reflected the sun. The
water resounded under the heavy strokes of their strong arms, whilst
the gulls, scared by the plungings and stragglings of these two human
beings, flew with piercing screams over their heads, which from time to
time were lost sight of under the quickly-rolling waves.
Tired out at last, and drenched with salt water, they scrambled on to
the shore, and sat down in the sun to rest.
“Ouf!” cried Jakoff, making a face. “That water is horrible! And what a
lot there is of it!
“There is always plenty of what is bad … boys, for example … there
are plenty of them!”
Malva was laughing and wringing out her hair, from which the water was
dripping; her hair was dark and curly, but not very long.
“That’s why you have chosen an old man!” hinted Jakoff, nudging her
with his elbow.
“Some of the old fellows are worth more than the young ones.”
“If the father is good, the son ought to be better.”
“Indeed?… Where did you get your conceit from?”
“The girls in the village always told me that I was not half a
“What do the girls know about it?… You ought to have asked me.”
“And arn’t you a girl?”
She looked at him hard; an insulting smile was on his lips. Then she
became serious, and said to him with anger in her voice–
“I was so once, before I had a child.”
“Better said than done!” said Jakoff, bursting out laughing.
“Fool!” replied Malva curtly.
She walked away from him.
Jakoff, who felt nervous, remained silent.
For half-an-hour or more they did not speak, but moved about in the sun
drying their clothes.
The workers were beginning to emerge from the long line of dirty
workmen’s huts. In the distance they all looked strangely alike, all
in rags and barefoot…. The sound of their hoarse voices was carried
across the beach; one of them was striking on an empty barrel, and the
tones seemed to be repeated; it sounded almost like the rattle of a
drum. Two women were wrangling in piercing tones; dogs barked.
“They are beginning to move,” said Jakoff. “And I wanted to be off
early to the town! I have been losing my time with you….”
“You’ll never do any good while you are after me!” she said in a tone
that was half playful half serious.
“What a way you have of frightening people,” said Jakoff.
“You’ll see, when your father …”
This reminder of his father vexed him.
“What about my father?” he exclaimed roughly. “My father indeed! I’m
not a boy! … What are you talking about?… We are not in a convent
here…. I’m not blind…. And he’s not such a saint, after all; and he
doesn’t deny himself anything…. He’d better leave me alone.”
She watched him mockingly, and asked him with curiosity–
“Leave you alone?… What are you thinking of doing then?”
“I?” (He puffed out his cheeks, and distended his chest, as if he were
about to lift a weight). “I have plenty of ideas in my head; I have
shaken the dust of the village off my feet.”
“It hasn’t taken long to do that!” cried Malva, still mockingly.
“I’ll get you away from my father!… you’ll see if I don’t!”
“Will you indeed?”
“You think that I daren’t?”
“You don’t say so?”
“Look here!” he began in an excited, furious voice. “Don’t dare me to
do it! I …”
“What again?” she asked indifferently.
“Oh! never mind!”
Then he turned away with the look of a smart, resolute boy.
“How plucky you are! The inspector has a little black dog, have you
seen it? it’s like you. When he is far away, he barks, and threatens to
bite, but when one goes near him, he puts his tail between his legs and
“All right!” cried Jakoff in a rage. “Just wait a minute, and you’ll
see what I’ll do!”
She laughed up into his face.
There came towards them with a slow, loitering step a young
bronzed-face fellow, with well-strung muscles, and an abundant thatch
of bright red hair. His red shirt, hanging loose, was tom at the back
nearly to the neck, and in order to keep his sleeves in place he had
rolled them up above the elbow. His trousers were a mass of holes, he
was barefooted. His freckled face was lighted up by a pair of blue
eyes, wide open and impertinent; and a big turned-up nose gave to his
whole face a look of cheekiness, not to say arrogance. When he had
joined the couple, he stopped, whilst his whole body, which seemed
apparent everywhere through his elementary costume, shone in the
sunlight, he sneezed loudly, contemplated them a few moments, and then
made a quaint grimace.
“Yesterday Sereja was drinking, and to-day Sereja’s pocket is empty….
Lend me twenty kopecks! I shall not return them.”
Jakoff gasped as he listened to this rapidly delivered speech; Malva
smiled as she examined the tatterdemalion.
“Damn it all I give them to me! I will marry you for twenty kopecks, if
“You scarecrow! Are you a pope?”
“Fool! At Ouglitch I was servant to a pope…. Give me twenty kopecks.”
“I don’t want to get married,” said Jakoff. “Never mind; give all the
same. I won’t tell your father that you are running after his girl,”
continued Sereja, licking his dry, cracked lips.
“Do you think, that he’d believe you?”
“When I take the trouble to talk, I am generally believed,” asserted
Sereja. “And you’d catch it from him!”
“I’m not afraid!” said Jakoff.
“Then you’d catch it from me!” Sereja announced, narrowing his eyes as
Jakoff did not want to give twenty kopecks, but he had been warned that
he must look out where Sereja was concerned, and must put up with some
of his fancies. It was not much he asked for, but if it was refused he
would give you trouble during working-hours, or else he would beat you.
So with a sigh Jakoff put his hand in his pocket.
“That’s right!” said Sereja, in a tone of encouragement ; and he threw
himself on the sand by the side of them. “It’s always wiser to obey
me…. And you?” he said to Malva. “When are you going to marry me? I
am not going to wait much longer.”
“You are too ragged. Mend all those holes first, and we’ll talk about
it afterwards!” replied Malva.
Sereja considered the holes critically, and shook his head.
“Give me one of your petticoats, that will be the best thing.”
“Yes, that would be the thing!” said Malva, laughing.
“Give me one; you must have an old one?”
“You really ought to buy yourself some trousers.”
“I would rather drink the money that they would cost.”
“That’s the best thing to do!” said Jakoff.
He was still holding in his hand the twenty kopecks.
“The pope says that a man should not only think of his skin, but of his
soul. And my soul calls for vodka, and not for a pair of trousers. Give
me the money; I shall get a drink … and I won’t say anything to your
“Tell him what you like,” cried Jakoff.
And he winked with a self-satisfied look at Malva, and nudged her with
Sereja, noticing his actions, spat and said in a more positive tone–
“I shan’t forget to beat you; no fear of that! at the first
opportunity!… And you won’t forget it either!”
“But why?” asked Jakoff, disquieted.
“That’s my business!… Well! and when are you going to marry me,
“First tell me what we shall do, and how we shall live. Then I will
think about it …” she replied seriously.
Sereja watched the sea, screwed up his eyes, and after licking his
“We should do nothing but wander about in the world.”
“And how should we manage to live?”
“Bah!” said Sereja, with a despondent gesture. “You argue just like my
mother. ‘How? What?’ Women are so tiresome! How do I know? I’m going
off to have a drink….”
He rose and walked off; Malva watching him with a strange smile on her
lips, and the young man with an angry look on his face.
“What a boaster!” said Jakoff, when Sereja had gone some distance. “At
home, in the village, he would soon be put in his place. He would have
got a good lesson before now. But here, they seem frightened of him….”
Malva stared at Jakoff, and said between her teeth–
“You don’t know the worth of him!”
“What is there to know?… Ten a penny, that’s what he’s worth!”
“That’s all you know!” cried Malva, mockingly. “That’s what you are
worth!… But he, he has been everywhere, he has wandered all round the
world, and he fears no one.”
“And I, who do I fear?” said Jakoff, blusteringly. She did not answer
him; she followed with her eyes the play of the waves, as they swung
the heavy boat backwards and forwards. The mast inclined sometimes to
the right and sometimes to the left, and the bows rose, and then fell,
striking the water. The noise it made was violent, and seemed almost
angry, as if the boat wished to tear itself away from the shore, and
float out and away into the wide free sea, and was vexed with the cable
which prevented its doing so.
“Why don’t you go?” Malva asked Jakoff.
“Where should I go?” he replied.
“You were going to the town.”
“I shan’t go.”
“Then go and see your father.”
“What about me?”
“Will you come too?”
“Then I shan’t go either.”
“Shall you stay tied to my apron-strings all day?” she asked.
“I don’t want you as much as all that,” he replied offended.
And he rose and left her.
But he made a mistake when he said that he did not need her. He was
bored when she was not near. A strange sentiment seemed to have taken
possession of him since their conversation, an obscure desire to
protest against his hither, a sort of hidden discontent Yesterday he
did not remember having this feeling; nor did he have it to-day before
he had seen Malva. And now it seemed to him that his father was in his
way, although he was far away out there, on a stretch of sand, almost
lost to view…. Then it seemed to him that Malva was afraid of his
father; if she had not been afraid, their conversation would have been
quite different Now he seemed to want her, though this morning he had
not been thinking about her.
He wandered about on the beach, watching with a melancholy eye the
passers-by, speaking to them sometimes in a listless voice…. Here in
the shade of a boat he finds Sereja seated on a barrel. He is thrumming
the cords of a balalaika, and singing, accompanying his song with
Be gentle with me.
Take me to the police-station,
For I’m afraid of falling into the mud.”
A dozen workmen, as tattered as he is, surround him, and all like him
smell of salt fish and of saltpetre. Four dirty ugly women, stretched
on the sand not far from the group, are drinking tea, which they
prepare in a great iron saucepan. And a workman, already drunk, though
it is still early in the morning, tries to get on his legs and falls
down again. A woman laughs and cries; some one plays on a broken
accordion; everywhere there is the sparkle of fish-scales.
At noon Jakoff found a sheltered place between the piles of empty
barrels, lay down there and slept till the evening. When he woke up
he wandered about without any fixed plan, though he seemed vaguely
attracted by something unknown.
After two hours’ walking about, he found Malva some way from the
fishery, under the shade of some young willow trees. She was lying on
her side, and held in her hand a well-thumbed book; with a smile she
watched Jakoff approach.
“Ah! this is where you have got to,” he said, seating himself by her
“Have you been looking for me a long time?” she asked, with some degree
“Looking for you? What an idea!…” said Jakoff, perceiving suddenly
that this was exactly the truth.
Ever since the morning till now, he had, without knowing it, been
looking for her. He shook his head with surprise.
“Can you read?” he asked her.
“Yes … but badly, I have forgotten everything.”
“So have I…. Did you go to school?”
“Yes, the municipal school.”
“And I taught myself.”
“Did you really?”
“Yes, I was cook at Astrachan, in a lawyer’s house, and his son taught
me to read.”
“Then you didn’t learn by yourself!” She continued–“Shouldn’t you like
to read books?”
“No…. What should I want to read for?”
“Oh! I should like so much to read!… Look here…. I asked the
inspector’s wife to lend me this book, and I am reading it.”
“What is it?”
“The story of the saint Alexis, a man of God.” And in a serious voice
she told him how a young lad, the son of rich and noble parents, had
left them, had turned his back on all happiness, and finally had
returned, a beggar and in rags, and lived in the kennel with the dogs,
without telling any one till his last hour who he was. She ended by
asking Jakoff in a low voice–
“Why did he act in this way?”
“Who can tell?” replied Jakoff with indifference. They were surrounded
by little hillocks of sand, collected by the winds and the waves. A
confused dull noise came round from the direction of the fishery. The
setting sun shed on the shore the ruddy reflection of its rays. The
delicate willows thrilled with the sea-breeze through every one of
their pale green leaves.
Malva sat silent as if listening.
“Why did you not go over there to-day, to the cape?” asked Jakoff
“What’s that to you?”
Jakoff plucked a leaf and chewed it between his teeth. He watched the
girl furtively, not knowing quite how to speak what he wanted to say.
“It’s like this; when I am all alone, and it’s so nice and quiet, I
want either to sing or cry all the time. Only I don’t know any good
songs, and I am ashamed to cry.”
Jakoff listened to the melodious, caressing voice; but her words, far
from touching him, only intensified his desire.
“Listen,” he said to her in a thick voice, and moving nearer to her.
“Listen to what I am going to say to you…. I am young …”
“And stupid, very stupid!” said Malva, shaking her head.
“Well grant that,” said Jakoff, becoming suddenly animated. “Why should
one be clever?… I am stupid; all right! Now I am going to ask you.
Will you …”
“You needn’t say any more…. I won’t….”
“Don’t be stupid” (and he took hold of her gently by the shoulders).
“Do you understand?”
“Get along with you, Jakoff!” she cried out in a severe tone, shaking
herself loose from him. “Get away with you!”
“If that’s all, I don’t care! You’re not the only woman here…. You
seem to think that you’re better than the others.”
“You are just like a silly little dog,” she replied.
And she rose and shook the dust from her skirts.
And they walked back side by side to the fishery. They walked slowly,
for the sand was heavy.
Suddenly, when they were near the huts, Jakoff stopped, and seizing
Malva roughly by the arm, said–
“It’s on purpose then that you excite me?… Why do you do it?”
“Let me alone, will you?”
She escaped from him, and ran off, whilst from a corner of the huts
Sereja appeared. He shook his wild unkempt head of hair, and said
“You two have been carrying on … all right!”
“Go to the devil!” cried Malva.
Jakoff had planted himself opposite Sereja, and was trying to stare
him out of countenance. They were about ten paces from each other, and
Sereja was staring straight into Jakoff’s eyes. They remained thus for
about a minute, like two rams ready to butt one another, then each
walked off without a word in an opposite direction.
The sea was calm and ruddy with the hues of the setting sun. A
woman was singing in a drunken voice with hysterical cadences some
Matanichka my own,
Drunken and beaten
And these filthy and meaningless words seemed to fill the air all round
the huts, from which arose exhalations of salt and of rotting fish;
they filled the air, and destroyed the delicious music of the waves
which floated all around.