Waiting for the Ferry by Maxim Gorky
Waiting for the Ferry is a short story published in Gorky’s collection, The Outcasts and other Stories (1905). It was translated by Dora B. Montefiore and Emily Jakowleff. “This is the Russian peasant’s food! He eats this stuff while the peasants of other countries eat cheese, good wheaten bread, and drink wine. There is sawdust, trash, and refuse of all sorts in this bread; and this is our peasant’s food on the eve of the twentieth century! I should like to know why that is so?”
As my hooded sleigh jolted across the confines of the wood, and we came out on to the open road, a broad, dull-hued horizon lay stretched out before us. Isaiah stood up on the coach-box, and, stretching forward his neck, exclaimed—
“Devil take it all! it seems to have started already!”
“Is that so?”
“Yes; it looks as if it were moving.”
“Drive on, then, as fast as you can, you scoundrel!”
The sturdy little pony, with ears like a donkey and coat like a poodle dog, jumped forward at the crack of the whip; then stopped short suddenly, stamping its feet and shaking its head with a sort of injured look.
“Come! I’ll teach you to play tricks!” shouted Isaiah, pulling at the reins.
The clerk, Isaiah Miakunikoff, was a frightfully ugly man of about forty years of age. On his left cheek and under his jaw grew a sandy beard; while on his right cheek there was an immense swelling which closed up one eye and hung down to his shoulder in a kind of wrinkly bag. Isaiah was a desperate drunkard, and something of a philosopher and a satirist. He was taking me to see his brother, who had been a fellow-teacher with me in a village school, but who now lay dying of consumption. After five hours’ travelling, we had scarcely done twenty versts, partly because the road was bad, and partly because our fantastic steed was a cross-grained brute. Isaiah called it every name he could lay his tongue to—”a clumsy brute,” “a mortar,” “a mill-stone,” etc.—each of which epithets seemed to express equally well one or other of the inward or outward characteristics of the animal. In the same way one comes across at times human beings with similar complex characters, so that whatever name one applies to them seems a fitting one. Only the one word “man” seems inapplicable to them.
Above us hung a heavy, grey, clouded sky. Around us stretched enormous snow-covered fields, dotted with black spaces, showing where the snow was thawing. In front of us, and three versts ahead, rose the blue hills of the mountain range through which flowed the Volga. The distant hills looked low under the leaden, lowering sky, which seemed to crush and weigh them down. The river itself was hidden from our sight by a hedge of thick tangled bushes. A south wind was blowing, covering the surfaces of the little pools with quivering ripples; the air seemed full of a dull, heavy moisture; the water splashed under the horse’s feet. A spirit of sadness seemed diffused over everything visible, as if Nature were wearied with waiting for the bright sun of spring, and as if she were dissatisfied with the long absence of the warm sun-rays, without which she was melancholy and depressed.
“The flood-tide in the river will stop us!” cried Isaiah, jumping up and down on the coach-box. “Jakoff will die before we get there; then our journey will have been a useless torment of the flesh. And even if we do find him alive, what will be the good of it all? No one should force himself into the presence of the dying at the moment of death; the dying person should be left alone, so that his thoughts may not be distracted from the consideration of the needs of his soul, nor his mind turned from the depths of his own heart to the contemplation of trifles. For we, who are alive, are in fact nothing but trifles and of no use to one who is dying…. It is true that our customs demand that we should remain near them; but if we only would make use of the brains in our heads instead of the brains in our heels, we should soon see that this custom is good neither for the living nor for the dying, but is only an extra torment for the heart. The living ought not to think of death, nor remember that it is waiting somewhere for them; it is bad for them to do so, for it darkens their joys. Holloa! you stock! Move your legs more briskly! Look alive!”
Isaiah spoke in a monotonous, thick, hoarse voice, and his awkward, thin figure, wrapped in a clumsy, ragged, rusty armiah, rocked heavily backwards and forwards on the coach-box. Now and again he would jump up from his seat, then he would sway from side to side, then nod his head, or toss it backwards. His broad-brimmed black hat—a present from the priest—was fastened under his chin with tapes, the floating ends of which were blown into his face by the wind. With his hat slouched forward over his eyes, and his coat-tails puffed out behind by the wind, he shook his queer-shaped head, and jumped and swore, and twisted about on his seat. As I watched him, I thought how much needless trouble men take about most insignificant things! If the miserable worm of small commonplace evils had not so much power over us, we might easily crush the great horrible serpent of our serious misfortunes!
“It’s gone!” exclaimed Isaiah.
“Can you see it?”
“I can see horses standing near the bushes. And there are people with them!” Isaiah spat on one side with a gesture of despair.
“That means there is no chance of getting across?”
“Oh, we shall manage to get over somehow! Yes, of course we shall get over, when the ice has gone down stream, but what are we to do till then? That’s the question now! Besides, I’m hungry already; I’m too hungry for words! I told you we ought to have had something to eat. ‘No, drive on!’ Well, now you see I have driven on!”
“I’m as hungry as you are! Didn’t you bring something with you?”
“And what if I have forgotten to bring something?” replied Isaiah crossly.
Looking ahead over his shoulders, I caught sight of a landau, drawn by a troika, and a wicker char-a-banc with a pair of horses. The horses’ heads were turned towards us, and several people were standing near them; one, a tall Russian functionary with a red moustache, and wearing a cap with a scarlet band, the badge of Russian nobility. The other man wore a long fur coat.
“That’s our district judge, Soutchoff, and the miller Mamaieff,” muttered Isaiah, in a tone that denoted respect. Then, addressing the pony, he shouted, “Whoa, my benefactor!”
Then, pushing his hat to the back of his head, he turned to the fat coachman standing near the troika, and remarked, “We are too late, it seems; eh?”
The coachman glanced with a sulky look at Isaiah’s egg-shaped head, and turned away without deigning to reply.
“Yes, you are behindhand,” said the miller, with a smile. He was a short, thick-set man, with a very red face and cunning, smiling eyes.
The district judge scanned us from under his full eyebrows, as he leant against the foot-board of his carriage, smoked a cigarette, and twisted his moustache. There were two other people in the group—Mamaieff’s coachman, a tall fellow with a curly head, and a miserable bandy-legged peasant in a torn sheepskin overcoat swathed tightly round him. His figure seemed bent into the chronic position of a low bow, which at the present moment was evidently meant for us. His small, shrunk face was covered with a scanty grey beard, his eyes were almost hidden in his wrinkled countenance, and his thin blue lips were drawn into a smile, expressive at one and the same time of respect and of derision, of stupidity and of cunning. He was sitting in an ape-like attitude, with his legs drawn up under his body; and, as he turned his head from side to side, he followed each one of us closely with his glance, without showing his own eyes. Through the many holes of his ragged sheepskin bunches of wool protruded, and he produced altogether a singular impression—an impression of having been half masticated before escaping from the iron jaws of some monster, who had meant to swallow him up.
The high sandy bank behind which we were standing sheltered us from the blasts of wind, though it concealed the river from our view.
“I am going to see how matters stand yonder,” said Isaiah, as he started climbing up the bank.
The district judge followed him in gloomy silence; and finally the merchant and myself, with the unhappy-looking peasant, who scrambled on his hands and feet, brought up the rear. When we had all reached the top of the bank we all sat down again, looking as black and as gloomy as a lot of crows. About three or four arshines away from us, and eight or nine below us, lay the river, a broad blue-grey line, its surface wrinkled and dotted with heaps of broken ice. These little heaps of ice had the appearance of an unpleasant scab, moving ever slowly forward with an indomitable force lying hidden under its furtive movement. A grating, scraping sound was heard through the raw, damp air.
“Kireelka!” cried the district judge.
The unhappy-looking peasant jumped to his feet, and pulling off his hat, bowed low before the judge; at the same time placing himself in a position which gave him the appearance of offering his head for decapitation.
“Well, is it coming soon?”
“It won’t detain your honour long; it will put in directly. Just see, your honour: this is the way it comes. At this rate it can’t help getting in in time. A little higher up there is a small headland; if it touches that, all will be right. It will all depend on that large block of ice. If that gets fixed in the passage by the headland, then all is up, for the ferry will get squeezed in the narrow passage, and all movement will be stopped.”
“That’s enough! Hold your tongue!”
The peasant closed his lips with a snap, and was silent.
“Devil take it all!” cried the judge indignantly. “I told you, you idiot, to send two boats over to this side, didn’t I?”
“Yes, your honour, you did,” replied the peasant, with an air of having deserved blame.
“Well, and why did you not do so?”
“I hadn’t time, because it went off all of a sudden.”
“You blockhead!” replied the judge; then turning to Mamaieff, “These stupid asses can’t even understand ordinary language!”
“Yes, that’s true; but then they’re nothing but peasants,” sneered Manaieff, with an ingratiating smirk. “They’re a silly race—a dull set of wooden blockheads; but let us hope that this renewed energy of the Zemstvo, this increase of schools, this enlightenment, this education”—
“Schools! Oh yes, indeed! Reading—rooms, magic lanterns! A fine story! I know what it all means. But I’m no enemy to education, as you know yourself. And I know by experience that a good whipping educates quicker and better than does anything else. Birch rods cost the peasant nothing, whereas education strips him bare to the skin, and causes him more suffering than can any rod. Up to the present time education has brought nothing but ruin to the peasant. That’s my opinion. I don’t, however, object to their being taught; I only say wait a little.”
“That’s it!” exclaimed the merchant, in a tone of voice that denoted thorough agreement. “It would really be better to wait a little; times are hard for the peasants just now. Failing harvests, sickness and disease, their unfortunate weakness for strong drinks, all these things undermine their prosperity, and then, on the top of this, they pile schools and reading-rooms! What’s to be done for the peasant under such circumstances? There is nothing to be done for him, believe me.”
“Yes; nobody knows that better than you do, Nitrita Pavlovitch,” remarked Isaiah. His tone was firm but scrupulously polite, and he sighed devoutly as he spoke.
“I should think so, indeed! Haven’t I been seventeen years among them? As for education, my opinion is this: if education is given at the proper time it’s all right, then it may benefit people. But if—excuse the expression—I have an empty belly, I don’t want to learn anything except, maybe, how to rob and steal.”
“No, indeed, there’s no good at all in education!” exclaimed Isaiah, assuming an expression of good-natured respect.
Mamaieff glanced at him, and drew in his lips.
“There’s a peasant for you, that fellow Kireelka!” cried the judge, turning to us with something almost of solemnity in his face and in his voice. “Just look at him, please. He is anything but an ordinary peasant—he is a rare sort of animal! During the fire on board the steamer Gregory this ragamuffin, this gnat, rescued without anyone’s assistance six persons. It was late autumn then; for four long hours he laboured in peril of his life, soaked to the skin, for rain was coming down in torrents. When he had rescued six lives, he quietly disappeared; they looked for him everywhere, for they wanted to recompense him, to give him a medal for his bravery; and at last they found him, stealing away to hide himself in the dark woods. He has always managed his affairs well; he has been thrifty; he drove his young daughter-in-law into her grave; his old wife beats him sometimes with logs of wood; he is a drunkard, and at the same time he is pious. He sings in the church choir, and he possesses a fine beehive with good swarms of bees; added to all this, he is a great thief! Once a barge got stopped here, and he was caught stealing; he had carried off three bags of plums. You see what a curious character he is!”
This speech made us all turn our attention to the clever peasant, who stood in front of us with eyes cast down, and sniffing vigorously. His gaze was fixed on the elegant shoes of the district judge, and two suggestive little wrinkles played round the corner of his mouth, though his lips were firmly closed, and his face was void of all expression.
“Come, let us examine him. Tell us, Kireelka, what benefits are to be derived from learning to read?”
Kireelka sighed, moved his lips, but no word escaped from them.
“Come now, you can read!” continued the judge, in a more imperative tone. “You must know whether learning to read has made it easier for you to live or not!”
“That depends upon circumstances,” said Kireelka, dropping his head still lower on his breast.
“But you must tell us something more definite than that. You can read and write, so you surely can say whether you gain any benefit by it?”
“Benefit, well perhaps. But no, I think there is more; that is, if we look upon it in the right light, those who teach us may gain something by it.”
“What can they gain by it? And who do you mean by ‘they’?”
“Well, I mean the teachers, or maybe the Zemstvo, or somebody.”
“You stupid creature! But I ask you about yourself; for you personally, is it of any use?”
“That is just as you wish, your honour.”
“How just as I wish?”
“Why, to be sure, just as you wish. You see, you are our masters.”
“Be off with you!”
The ends of the judge’s moustache quivered, and his face grew very red.
“Well, you see, he has said little, but I think you are well answered. No, gentlemen, the time is not yet ripe for teaching the peasant his A B C; he must be thoroughly disciplined first. The peasant is nothing but a vicious child; that is what he is. Nevertheless, it is of him that the foundations are made. Do you understand? He is the groundwork, the base of the pyramid of the State. If that base should suddenly begin to shake, do you not understand what serious disorder might be produced in the State?”
“That’s quite true,” reflected Mamaieff. “Certainly the foundations ought to be kept strong.”
As I also was interested in the cause of the peasants, I, at this point, joined in the conversation, and in a short time all four of us were hotly and eagerly deciding the future of the peasantry. The true vocation of every individual seems to be to lay down rules for his neighbour’s conduct; and those preachers are in the wrong who declare that we are all egoists; for in our altruistic aspirations to improve the human race, we forget our own shortcomings; and this may account for the fact that much of the evil of the world is concealed from us. We continued thus to argue, whilst the river wound its serpentine course in front of our eyes, swishing against the banks with its cold grey scales of ice.
In the same way our conversation twisted and wound like an angry snake, that flings itself now on one side, and now on the other, in the endeavour to seize its prey, which nevertheless continues to escape. And the cause of all our talk, the peasant himself, who sat there, at no great distance from us, on the sandy bank, in silence, and with a countenance wholly devoid of expression—who was he, and what was he?
Mamaieff again took up the conversation.
“No, he is not such a fool as you say; he is not really stupid; it’s not so easy to get round him.”
The district judge seemed to be losing his temper. “I don’t say he is a fool; I say he is demoralised!” “Pray don’t misunderstand me. I say he has no control over himself. No control such as it is necessary to exercise over children—that is where the root of the evil lies.”
“And with all due deference, I beg to think that there is nothing wrong with him! He is one of the Great Maker’s children, like all of us; but, I must apologise perhaps for mentioning it, he is tormented out of his senses. I mean, bad government has deprived him of all hope for the future.”
It was Isaiah who spoke in a suave, respectful voice, smiling softly, and sighing all the time. His eyes were half closed, as if he feared to look straight at anyone; but the swelling on the side of his head seemed to be overflowing with laughter, ready to burst into loud mirth, but not daring to do so. “I for my part urge that there is nothing the matter with the peasant but hunger. Only give him enough good food, and he would soon be everything we I could desire.”
“You believe he is starved!” exclaimed the judge irritably. “In the devil’s name, what makes you think so?”
“To me it seems quite clear.”
“For goodness’ sake, do tell me! Why, fifty years ago, he did not know what hunger meant. He was then well fed, healthy, humble—h’m! I did not mean that exactly. I meant to say—I—I—myself am hungry just now! And hungry—devil take him!—because of his stupidity. Come now, what do you think of that? I had given orders for the boats to be sent over here to wait for me. Well, when I get here, there sits Kireelka, just as if nothing were the matter. No, really, they are a dreadful set of idiots, I assure you. I mean they have not the least respect or the least obedience for the commands of those who are set in authority over them.”
“Well, it would be a good thing if we could get something to eat,” said Mamaieff in a melancholy voice.
“Ah, it would indeed!” sighed Isaiah.
Suddenly all four of us, who a few moments before had been snarling irritably at each other over our argument, grew silent, feeling suddenly united by the common pangs of hunger, felt in common. We all turned towards poor Kireelka, who grew confused under our gaze, and began dragging at his hat.
“Whatever have you done with that boat—eh?” Isaiah asked him reproachfully.
“Well, supposing the boat had been here, you couldn’t have eaten it,” replied Kireelka, with a hangdog look on his face, which made us all turn our backs on him.
“Six mortal hours have I been sitting here!” ejaculated Mamaieff, taking out his gold watch and looking at it.
“There now, you see!” angrily exclaimed the judge, twisting his moustache. “And this wretch says there will be a block in the ice directly, and I want to know if we shall get off before that—eh?”
It almost appeared as if the judge imagined that Kireelka had some power over the river, and considered that he was entirely to blame for our long delay. However that might be, the judge’s question set all poor Kireelka’s muscles in motion. He crawled to the very edge of the bank, shaded his eyes with his hand, and with a troubled look on his face tried to peer out into the distance. His lips moved, and he spasmodically kicked out one leg, as if he were trying either to work a spell or to utter some inaudible commands to the river.
The ice was moving slowly down in an ever more compact mass, the grey-blue blocks ground against each other with a grating sound as they broke, cracked, and split into small fragments, sometimes showing the muddy waters below, and then once again hiding them from view. The river had the appearance of some enormous body eaten by some terrible skin disease, as it lay spread out before us, covered with scabs and sores; while some invisible hand seemed to be trying to purify it from the filthy scales which disfigured its surface. Any minute it seemed to us we might behold the river, freed from its bondage, and flowing past us in all its might and beauty, with its waves once more sparkling and gleaming under the sunlight, which, piercing the clouds, would cast bright, joyful glances earthwards.
“They will be here soon now, your honour!” exclaimed Kireelka in a cheerful voice. “The ice is getting thinner there, and they are just at the headland now.”
He pointed with his cap, which he held in his hand, into the distance, where, however, I could see nothing but ice.
“Is it far from here to Olchoff?”
“Well, your honour, by the nearest way it would be about five versts.”
“Devil take it all! A-hem. I say, have you got anything with you? Potatoes or bread?”
“Bread? Well, yes, your honour, I have got a bit of bread with me, but as for potatoes—no—I haven’t any; they didn’t yield this year.”
“Well, have you got the bread with you?”
“Yes, here it is, inside my shirt.”
“Faugh! Why the devil do you put it into your pazoika?”
“Well, there isn’t much of it—only a pound or two; and it keeps warmer there.”
“You fool! I wish I had sent my man over to Olchoff; he might have got some milk or something else there; but this idiot kept on saying, ‘Very so-on, very so-on!’ The devil! how vexing it all is!”
The judge continued to twist his moustache angrily, but the merchant cast longing glances in the direction of the peasant’s pazoika. This latter stood with bowed head, slowly raising his hand towards his shirt front. Isaiah meanwhile was making signs to him. When he caught sight of them he moved noiselessly towards my friend, keeping his face turned to the judge’s back.
The ice was still gradually diminishing, and already fissures showed themselves between the blocks, like wrinkles on a pale, bloodless face. The play of these wrinkles seemed to give various expressions to the river, all of them alike cold and pensive, though sometimes sad or mocking, or even disfigured by pain. The heavy, damp mass of clouds overhead seemed to look down on the movements of the ice with a stolid, passionless expression. The grating of the ice blocks against the sand sounded now like a frightened whisper, awakening in those who listened to it a feeling of despondency.
“Give me a bit of your bread,” I heard Isaiah say in a low whisper.
At the same moment the merchant gave a grunt, and the judge called out in a loud, angry voice, “Kireelka, bring the bread here!” The poor peasant pulled off his cap with one hand, whilst with the other he drew the bread out of his shirt, laid it on his cap, and presented it to the judge, bending and bowing low, like a court lackey of the time of Louis XV. Taking the bread in his hand, the judge examined it with something like a look of disgust, smiled sourly, and turning to us, said—
“Gentlemen, I see we all aspire to the possession of this piece of bread, and we all have a perfectly equal right to it—the right of hungry people. Well, let us divide equally this frugal meal. Devil take it! it is indeed a ludicrous position we are in! But what else is there to do? In my haste to start before the road got spoiled—Allow me to offer you”—
With this he handed a piece of the bread to Mamaieff. The merchant looked at it askance, cocked his head on one side, measured with his eye the piece of bread, and bolted his share of it. Isaiah took what was left and gave me my share of it. Once more we sat down side by side, this time silently munching our—what shall I call it? For lack of a better word to describe it, I suppose I must call it bread. It was of the consistency of clay, and it smelt of sheepskin, saturated with perspiration, and with the stale odour of rotten cabbage; its flavour no words could express! I ate it, however, as I silently watched the dirty fragments of the river’s winter attire float slowly past.
“Now this is what they call bread!” said our judge, looking reproachfully at the sour lump in his hand. “This is the Russian peasant’s food! He eats this stuff while the peasants of other countries eat cheese, good wheaten bread, and drink wine. There is sawdust, trash, and refuse of all sorts in this bread; and this is our peasant’s food on the eve of the twentieth century! I should like to know why that is so?”
As the question seemed addressed to the merchant, he sighed deeply, and meekly answered, “Yes, it’s not very grand food—not attractive!”
“But I ask you why, sir?” demanded the judge.
“Why? I suppose because the land is exhausted, if I may say so.”
“Ahem! Nonsense, no such thing! All this talk about exhausted land is useless; it’s nothing but a fancy of the statisticians.”
On hearing this remark Kireelka sighed deeply, and crushed his hat down on his head.
“You tell me now, my good fellow, how does your land yield?” said the judge.
“Well, that depends. When the land is healthy it yields—well, as much as you can want.”
“Come, now, don’t try to get out of it! But give a straight answer. Does your land give good crops?”
“If good hands work it, why, then, it is all right” “Ah-ha! Do you hear that? Good hands! There it is! No hands to work the land! And why? What do we see? Drunkenness and slackness, idleness, sloth. There is no authority over the peasants. If they happen to have a bad crop one year, well, then, the Zemstvo comes at once to their aid, saying, ‘Here is seed for you; sow your land, my friend. Here is bread; eat it, my good friend.’ Now I tell you, this is all wrong! Why did the land yield good harvests up till 1861? Because when the crops were not good the peasant was brought before his master, who asked him, ‘How did you sow? How did you plough?’ and so on. The master then gave him some seed, and if the crops were then not good the peasant answered for it with a scarred back. His crops after that were sure to be good. Whereas, now he is protected by the Zemstvo, and has lost his capacity for work. It’s all because there is no master over him to teach him to use his senses!”
“Yes, that’s just it. The proprietors knew well how to make their serfs work!” said Mamaieff, with assurance. “They could make what they liked out of the moujiks!”
“Musicians, painters, dancers, actors!” eagerly interrupted the judge; “they made them whatever they liked!”
“That’s quite true. I well remember when I was a boy how our Count’s house-servant was taught to mimic everything he heard.”
“Yes, that was so.”
“Indeed, he learnt to mimic everything, not only human or animal sounds, but even the sound of the sawing of wood, the breaking of glass, or anything else. He would blow out his cheeks and make whatever sound was commanded. The Count would say, ‘Feodka, bark like vixen—like Catcher!’ And Feodka did it. That was how they were taught then. Nowadays a good sum of money might be earned by such tricks!”
“The boats are coming!” shouted Isaiah.
“At last! Kireelka, my horses! No, stop a moment; I will tell the coachman myself.”
“Well, let’s hope our waiting has come to an end,” said Mamaieff, with a smile of relief.
“Yes, I suppose it has come to an end.”
“It’s always like that in life; one waits, and waits; and at last what one was waiting for arrives. Ha! ha! ha! All things in this world come to an end.”
“That’s a comfort, at any rate,” said Isaiah.
Two long objects were to be seen moving along near the opposite bank.
“They are coming nearer,” said Kireelka, as he watched them.
The judge watched him from the corner of his eye.
“Do you still drink as much as you used to?” he asked the peasant.
“If I have a chance, I drink a glass.”
“And do you still steal firewood in the forest?”
“Why should I do that, your honour?”
“Come, tell the truth!”
“I never did steal wood,” replied Kireelka, shaking his head deprecatingly.
“What was it I condemned you for, then?”
“It’s true you condemned me.”
“What was it for, then?”
“Why, your honour, you see, you are put in authority over us; you have a right to condemn us.” “Ah! I see you are a cunning rascal! And you do not steal plums from the barges either, when they are detained; do you?”
“I only tried that once, your honour.”
“And that once you were caught! Wasn’t that so? Ha! Ha! Ha!”
“We are not accustomed to that sort of work. That’s why I was caught.”
“Well, you had better get a little practice at it; hadn’t you? Ha! Ha! Ha!”
“He! He! He!” echoed Mamaieff, laughing also.
The peasants on board the boat pushed away with large iron bars the ice which impeded its course; and, as they drew nearer, we could hear them shouting to each other. Kireelka, putting his hands to his mouth, stood up and shouted back to them, “Steer for the old willow!”
Then he hurried down the bank towards the river, almost tumbling head over heels in his haste. We quickly followed him, and were soon on board; Isaiah and I going in one boat, whilst the judge and Mamaieff went in the other.
“All right, my men!” said the judge, taking off his hat and crossing himself.
The two men in his boat crossed themselves devoutly, and once more started pushing away the ice-blocks which pressed against the sides of the boat.
But the blocks continued to strike the sides of the boat with an angry crashing sound; the air struck cold as it blew over the water. Mamaieff’s face turned livid, and the judge, with knitted brow and with a look of intense anxiety, watched the current which was driving enormous blue-grey heaps of ice against the boats. The smaller pieces grated against the keel with a sound of sharp teeth gnawing through the wooden planks.
The air was damp and full of noises; our eyes were anxiously fixed on the cold, dirty ice—so powerful and yet so helpless. Through the various noises around us I suddenly distinguished the voice of someone shouting from the shore, and glancing in the direction of the sound I saw Kireelka standing bareheaded on the bank behind us. There was a twinkle in his cunning grey eyes as he shouted in a strange, hoarse voice, “Uncle Anthony, when you go to fetch the mail mind you don’t forget to bring some bread for me! The gentry have eaten my loaf of bread whilst they were waiting for the ferry; and it was the last I had!”