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On A River Steamer
by [?]

The water of the river was smooth, and dull silver of tint. Also, so barely perceptible was the current that it seemed to be almost stagnant under the mist of the noontide heat, and only by the changes in the aspect of the banks could one realise how quietly and evenly the river was carrying on its surface the old yellow-hulled steamer with the white-rimmed funnel, and also the clumsy barge which was being towed in her wake.

Dreamily did the floats of the paddle-wheels slap the water. Under the planks of the deck the engines toiled without ceasing. Steam hissed and panted. At intervals the engine-room bell jarred upon the car. At intervals, also, the tiller-chains slid to and fro with a dull, rattling sound. Yet, owing to the somnolent stillness settled upon the river, these sounds escaped, failed to catch one’s attention.

Through the dryness of the summer the water was low. Periodically, in the steamer’s bow, a deck hand like a king, a man with a lean,, yellow, black-avised face and a pair of languishing eyes, threw overboard a polished log as in tones of melting melancholy he chanted:

“Se-em, se-em, shest!”

[“Seven, seven, six!”(the depth of water, reckoned in sazheni or fathoms)]

It was as though he were wailing:

“Seyem, seyem, a yest-NISHEVO”

[Let us eat, let us eat, but to eat there is–nothing]

Meanwhile, the steamer kept turning her stearlet-like [The stearlet is a fish of the salmon species] prow deliberately and alternately towards either bank as the barge yawed behind her, and the grey hawser kept tautening and quivering, and sending out showers of gold and silver sparkles. Ever and anon, too, the captain on the bridge kept shouting, hoarsely through a speaking-trumpet:

“About, there!”

Under the stem of the barge a wave ran which, divided into a pair of white wings, serpentined away towards either bank.

In the meadowed distance peat seemed to be being burnt, and over the black forest there had gathered an opalescent cloud of smoke which also suffused the neighbouring marshes.

To the right, the bank of the river towered up into lofty, precipitous, clayey slopes intersected with ravines wherein aspens and birches found shelter.

Everything ashore had about it a restful, sultry, deserted look. Even in the dull blue, torrid sky there was nought save a white-hot sun.

In endless vista were meadows studded with trees–trees sleeping in lonely isolation, and, in places, surmounted with either the cross of a rural church which looked like a day star or the sails of a windmill; while further back from the banks lay the tissue cloths of ripening crops, with, here and there, a human habitation.

Throughout, the scene was indistinct. Everything in it was calm, touchingly simple, intimate, intelligible, grateful to the soul. So much so that as one contemplated the slowly-varying vistas presented by the loftier bank, the immutable stretches of meadowland, and the green, timbered dance-rings where the forest approached the river, to gaze at itself in the watery mirror, and recede again into the peaceful distance; as one gazed at all this one could not but reflect that nowhere else could a spot more simply, more kindly, more beautiful be found, than these peaceful shores of the great river.

Yet already a few shrubs by the river’s margin were beginning to display yellow leaves, though the landscape as a whole was smiling the doubtful, meditative smile of a young bride who, about to bear her first child, is feeling at once nervous and delighted at the prospect.

*************************

The hour was past noon, and the third-class passengers, languid with fatigue induced by the heat, were engaged in drinking either tea or beer. Seated mostly on the bulwarks of the steamer, they silently scanned the banks, while the deck quivered, crockery clattered at the buffet, and the deck hand in the bows sighed soporifically:

Six! Six! Six-and-a-half!

From the engine-room a grimy stoker emerged. Rolling along, and scraping his bare feet audibly against the deck, he approached the boatswain’s cabin, where the said boatswain, a fair-haired, fair-bearded man from Kostroma was standing in the doorway. The senior official contracted his rugged eyes quizzically, and inquired: