Translated from the Russian by Leonard Stoklitsky
Illustrated by Vitali Goryaev
Валентин Катаев
Original Russian title: Белеет парус одинокий
На английском языке
First printing 1954
Printed in the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics


A Few Words About Myself
1. The Farewell
2. The Sea
3. In the Steppe
4. The Watering
5. The Runaway
6. The Turgenev
7. The Photograph
8. "Man Overboard!"
9. Odessa by Night
10. At Home
11. Gavrik
12. "Call That a Horse?"
13. Madam Storozhenko
14. "Lower Ranks"
15. The Boat at Sea
16. "Turret Gun, Shoot!"
17. The Owner of the Shooting Gallery
18. Questions and Answers
19. A Pound and a Half of Rye Bread
20. Morning
21. Word of Honour
22. Near Mills
23. Uncle Gavrik
24. Love
25. "I Was Stolen"
26. The Pursuit
27. Grandpa
28. Stubborn Auntie Tatyana
29. The Alexandrovsky Police Station
30. The Preparatory Class
31. The Box on the Gun Carriage
32. Fog
33. Lugs
34. In the Basement
35. A Debt of Honour
36. The Heavy Satchel
37. The Bomb
38. HQ of the Fighting Group
39. The Pogrom
40. The Officer's Uniform
41. The Christmas Tree
42. Kulikovo Field
43. The Sail
44. The May Day Outing
45. A Fair Wind


Looking back on my life, I recall to mind some episodes that were
instrumental in shaping my understanding of the writer's mission.
The power of the printed word was first really brought home to me when
I landed at the front during the First World War. I mentally crossed out
nearly all I had written up until then and resolved that from now on
everything I write should benefit the workers, peasants and soldiers, and
all working people.
In 1919, when I was in the ranks of the Red Army and was marching
shoulder to shoulder with revolutionary Red Army men against Denikin's
bands, I vowed to myself that I would dedicate my pen to the cause of the
Many Soviet writers took part in the Civil War, and their words and
their actions inspired the fighting men. Alexander Serafimovich was a war
correspondent. Alexander Fadeyev shared the privations of the Far Eastern
partisans. Dmitry Furmanov was the Commissar of Chapayev's division. Nikolai
Ostrovsky fought the interventionists in the Ukraine. Mikhail Sholokhov took
part in the fighting against Whiteguard bands. Eduard Bagritsky went to the
front as a member of a travelling propaganda team. More than 400 Soviet
writers gave their lives on the battlefronts of the Great Patriotic War of
1941-45. Their names are inscribed on a marble memorial plaque in the
Writers Club in Moscow.
At the time of the Russian revolution of 1905 I was just a boy of
eight, but I clearly remember the battleship Potemkin, a red flag on her
mast, sailing along the coast past Odessa. I witnessed the fighting on the
barricades, I saw overturned horse-trams, twisted and torn street wires,
revolvers, rifles, dead bodies.
Many years later I wrote A White Sail Gleams (Written in 1936.-Ed.) a
novel in which I tried to convey the invigorating spirit that had been
infused into the life of Russia by her first revolution.
A Son of the Working People is a reminiscence of the First World War,
in which I fought.
When construction of the Dnieper hydroelectric power station began I
went there together with the poet Demyan Bedny. Afterwards we visited
collective farms in the Don and Volga areas and then set out for the Urals.
I remember that when our train stopped at Mount Magnitnaya in the Urals
I was so impressed by what I saw that I decided to leave the train at once
and remain in the town of Magnitogorsk. I said good-bye to Demyan Bedny and
jumped down from the carriage.
"Good-bye and good luck!" he called out. "If I were younger and didn't
have to get back to Moscow I'd stay here with pleasure."
I was struck by all I saw in Magnitogorsk, by the great enthusiasm of
the people building for themselves. This was a revolution too. It inspired
my book Time, Forward! During the last war, as a correspondent at the front,
I saw a great deal, but for some reason it was the youngsters that made the
biggest impression on me-the homeless, destitute boys who marched grimly
along the war-torn roads. I saw exhausted, grimy, hungry Russian soldiers
pick up the unfortunate children. This was a manifestation of the great
humanism of the Soviet man. Those soldiers were fighting against fascism,
and therefore they, too, were beacons of the revolution. This prompted me to
write Son of the Regiment.
When I look around today I see the fruits of the events of 1917, of our
technological revolution, of the construction work at Magnitogorsk. I see
that my friends did not give their lives on the battlefronts in vain.
What does being a Soviet writer mean? Here is how I got the answer.
Returning home one day, a long time ago, I found an envelope with
foreign stamps on it in my letter-box. Inside there was an invitation from
the Pen Club, an international literary association, to attend its next
conference, in Vienna. I was a young writer then, and I was greatly
flattered. I told everyone I met about the remarkable honour that had been
accorded me. When I ran into Vladimir Mayakovsky in one of the editorial
offices I showed him the letter from abroad. He calmly produced an elegant
envelope exactly like mine from the pocket of his jacket.
"Look," he said. "They invited me too, but I'm not boasting about it.
Because they did not invite me, of course, as Mayakovsky, but as a
representative of Soviet literature. The same applies to you. Understand?
Reflect, Kataich (as he called me when he was in a good mood), on what it
means to be a writer in the Land of Soviets."
Mayakovsky's words made a lasting impression on me. I realised that I
owed by success as a creative writer to the Soviet people, who had reared
me. I realised that being a Soviet writer means marching in step with the
people, that it means being always on the crest of the revolutionary wave.
In my short story The Flag, which is based on a wartime episode, the
nazis have surrounded a group of Soviet fighting men and called on them to
give up. But instead of the white flag of surrender they ran up a crimson
flag which they improvised from pieces of cloth of different shades of red.
Similarly, Soviet literature is made up of many works of different
shades which, taken together, shine like a fiery-red banner of the
Once, walking round Shanghai I wandered into the market where the
so-called "Temple of the City Mayor" stood. Here they sold candles for
church-goers. An old Chinese woman was standing at a table giving out some
strange sticks from two vases. For ten yuans you were allowed to take one of
these sticks with hieroglyphics on it. Then the woman would ask you what
number page was marked on the stick, and turning to her book for reference,
she would find the appropriate page, tear it out and give it to you. On my
piece of paper was written: "The Phoenix sings before the sun. The Empress
takes no notice. It is difficult to alter the will of the Empress, but your
name will live for centuries."
We haven't got an Empress, and so that part of the prophecy does not
apply. It's highly unlikely that my name will live for centuries, and so
that part doesn't apply either.
All that remains is the phrase "The Phoenix sings before the sun". I
can agree with that since the sun is my homeland.


Valentin Katayev



The blast of the horn came from the farmyard at about five o'clock in
the morning.
A piercing, penetrating sound that seemed split into hundreds of
musical strands, it flew out through the apricot orchard into the deserted
steppe and towards the sea, where its rolling echo died mournfully along the
That was the first signal for the departure of the coach.
It was all over. The bitter hour of farewell had come.
Strictly speaking, there was no one to bid farewell to. The few summer
residents, frightened by recent events, had begun to leave in mid-season.
The only guests now remaining at the farm were Vasili Petrovich
Batchei, an Odessa schoolmaster, and his two sons, one three and a half
years old and the other eight and a half. The elder was called Petya, and
the younger Pavlik. Today they too were leaving for home.
It was for them the horn had been blown and the big black horses led
out of the stable.
Petya woke up long before the horn. He had slept fitfully. The
twittering of the birds roused him, and he dressed and went outside.
The orchard, the steppe, and the farmyard all lay in a chill shadow.
The sun was rising out of the sea, but the high bluff still hid it from
Petya wore his city Sunday suit, which he had quite outgrown during the
summer: a navy-blue woollen sailor blouse with a white-edged collar, short
trousers, long lisle stockings, button-shoes, and a broad-brimmed straw hat.
Shivering from the cold, he walked slowly round the farm, saying
good-bye to the places where he had spent such a wonderful summer.
All summer long Petya had run about practically naked. He was now as
brown as an Indian and could walk barefoot over burrs and thorns. He had
gone swimming three times a day. At the beach he used to smear himself from
head to foot with the red marine clay and then scratch out designs on his
chest. That made him really look like a Red Indian, especially when he stuck
into his hair the blue feathers of those marvellously beautiful birds-real
fairy-tale birds-which built their nests in the bluff. And now, after all
that wealth and freedom, to have to walk about in a tight woollen sailor
blouse, in prickly stockings, in shoes that pinched, and in a big straw hat
with an elastic that rubbed against his ears and pressed into his neck!
Petya lifted his hat and pushed it back so that it dangled on his
shoulders like a basket.
Two fat ducks waddled past, quacking busily. They threw a look of scorn
at this foppish boy, as though he were a stranger, and then dived under the
fence one after the other.
Whether they had deliberately snubbed him or simply failed to recognise
him, Petya could not be sure, yet all of a sudden he felt so sad and
heavy-hearted that he wanted to cry.
Straight to his heart cut the feeling that he was a complete stranger
in this cold and deserted world of early morning. Even the pit in the corner
of the garden-the deep, wonderful pit where it was such thrilling fun to
bake potatoes in a camp-fire-even that seemed unbelievably strange,
The sun was rising higher.
The farmyard and orchard still lay in the shade, but the bright, cold,
early rays were already gilding the pink, yellow, and blue pumpkins set out
on the reed roof of the clay hut where the watchman lived.
The sleepy-eyed cook, in a homespun chequered skirt and a blouse of
unbleached linen embroidered in black and red cross-stitch, with an iron
comb in her dishevelled hair, was knocking yesterday's dead coals out of the
samovar, against the doorstep.
Petya stood in front of the cook watching the string of beads jump up
and down on her old, wrinkled neck.
"Going away?" she asked indifferently.
"Yes," the boy replied. His voice shook.
"Good luck to you."
She went over to the water-barrel, wrapped the hem of her chequered
skirt round her hand, and pulled out the spigot.
A thick stream of water arched out and struck the ground. Sparkling
round drops scattered, enveloping themselves in powdery grey dust.
The cook set the samovar under the stream. It moaned as the fresh,
heavy water poured into it. No, not a particle of sympathy from anybody!
There was the same unfriendly silence and the same air of desolation
everywhere-on the croquet square, in the meadow, in the arbour.
Yet how gay and merry it had been here such a short while ago! How many
pretty girls and naughty boys! How many pranks, scenes, games, fights,
quarrels, peacemakings, kisses, friendships!
What a wonderful party the owner of the farm, Rudolf Karlovich, had
given for the summer residents on the birthday of his wife, Luiza
Frantsevna! Petya would never forget that celebration. In the morning a huge
table with bouquets of wild flowers on it was set under the apricot trees.
In the centre lay a cake as big as a bicycle wheel.
Thirty-five lighted candles, by which one could tell Luiza Frantsevna's
age, had been stuck into that rich, thickly frosted cake.
All the summer residents were invited to morning tea under the apricot
The day continued as merrily as it had begun. It ended in the evening
with a costume ball for the children, with music and fireworks.
All the children put on the fancy dress that had been made for them.
The girls turned into mermaids and Gipsies, the boys into Red Indians,
robbers, Chinese mandarins, sailors. They all wore splendid, bright-coloured
cotton or paper costumes.
There were rustling tissue-paper skirts and cloaks, artificial roses
swaying on wire stems, and tambourines with floating silk ribbons.
Naturally-how could it be otherwise!-the very best costume was Petya's.
Father himself had spent two days making it. His pince-nez kept falling off
his nose while he worked; he was nearsighted, and every time he upset the
bottle of glue he muttered into his beard frightful curses at the people who
had arranged "this outrage" and generally expressed his disgust with "this
nonsensical idea".
But of course, he was simply playing safe. He was afraid the costume
might turn out a failure, he was afraid of disgracing himself. How he tried!
But then the costume-say what you will!-was a remarkable one.
It was a real knight's suit of armour, made of strips of gold and
silver Christmas tree paper cleverly pasted together and stretched over a
wire frame. The helmet was decorated with a flowing plume and looked exactly
like the helmet of a knight out of Sir Walter Scott. What is more, the visor
could be raised and lowered.
In short, it was so magnificent that Petya was placed beside Zoya to
make up the second couple. Zoya was the prettiest girl at the farm, and she
wore the pink costume of a Good Fairy.
Arm in arm they walked round the garden, which was hung with Chinese
lanterns. Here and there in the mysterious darkness loomed trees and bushes
unbelievably bright in the flare of red and green Bengal lights.
In the arbour, by the light of candles under glass shades, the
grown-ups had their supper. Moths flew to the light from all sides and fell,
singed, to the table-cloth.
Four hissing rockets rose out of the thick smoke of the Bengal lights
and climbed slowly into the sky.
There was a moon, too. Petya and Zoya discovered this fact only when
they found themselves in the very farthest part of the garden. Moonlight so
bright and magic shone through the leaves that even the whites of the girl's
eyes were a luminous blue-the same blue that danced in the tub of dark water
under the old apricot tree, in which a toy boat floated.
Here, before they knew it, the boy and girl kissed. Then they were so
embarrassed that they dashed off headlong with wild shouts, and they ran and
ran until they landed in the backyard. There the farm labourers who had come
to congratulate the mistress were having their own party.
On a pine table brought from the servants' kitchen stood a keg of beer,
two jugs of vodka, a bowl of fried fish, and a wheaten loaf. The drunken
cook, in a new print blouse with frills, was angrily serving the
merry-makers portions of fish and filling their mugs. A concertina-player,
his coat unbuttoned and his knees spread apart, swayed from side to side on
a stool as his fingers rambled over the bass keys of the wheezing
Two straight-backed fellows with impassive faces had taken each other
by the waist and were stamping out a polka, with much flourishing of the
heels. Several women labourers in brand-new kerchiefs and tight kid pumps,
their cheeks smeared with the juice of pickled tomatoes- for coquetry and to
soften the skin-stood with their arms round one another.
Rudolf Karlovich and Luiza Frantsevna were backing away from one of the
He was as drunk as a lord. Several men were holding him back. He
strained to get free. Blood spurted from his nose on his Sunday shirt, which
was ripped down the middle. He was swearing furiously.
Sobbing and choking over his frenzied words, and grinding his teeth the
way people do in their sleep, he shouted: "Three rubles and fifty kopeks for
two months of slaving! Miser! Let me get at the bastard! Just let me get at
him! I'll choke the life out of him! Matches, somebody! Let me get at the
straw! I'll give them a birthday party! If only Grishka Kotovsky was here,
you rat!"
(Grigori Kotovsky (1887-1925) was active in the agrarian movement in
Bessarabia in 1905-1906; he was a leader of the Bessarabian peasants'
partisan actions against the landowners. In 1918-1920 this son of the people
was an army leader and Civil War hero.-Tr.)
The moonlight gleamed in his rolling eyes.
"Now, now," muttered the master, backing away. "You look out, Gavrila.
Don't go too far. You can be hanged nowadays for that sort of talk."
"Go ahead, hang me!" the labourer shouted, panting. "Why don't you? Go
ahead, bloodsucker!"
This was so terrifying, so puzzling, and, above all, so out of keeping
with the spirit of the wonderful party, that the children ran back,
screaming that Gavrila wanted to cut Rudolf Karlovich's throat and set fire
to the farm.
The panic that broke out is difficult to imagine.
The parents led the children to their rooms. They locked all the doors
and closed all the windows, as though a storm were brewing. The rural
prefect Chuvyakov, who had come to spend a few days with his family, marched
across the croquet square, kicking out the hoops and scattering the balls
and mallets.
He carried a double-barrelled gun at the ready.
In vain did Rudolf Karlovich plead with the summer residents to be
calm. In vain did he assure them that there was no danger, that Gavrila was
now bound and locked up in the cellar, and that tomorrow the constable would
come for him.
Once, in the night, a red glow lit up the sky far over the steppe. The
next morning it was rumoured that a neighbouring farm had been burned down.
Labourers had set it on fire, it was said.
People coming from Odessa reported disturbances in the city. There were
rumours that the trestle bridge in the port was on fire.
The constable arrived at dawn the next morning. He led Gavrila away. In
his sleep Petya heard the bells of the constable's troika.
The summer residents began to leave for home.
Soon the farm was deserted.
Petya lingered under the old apricot tree, beside the tub of such fond
memory, and struck the water with a twig. No, the tub wasn't the same, the
water wasn't the same, and even the old apricot tree was not the same!
Everything, absolutely everything, had become different. Everything had
lost its magic. Everything looked at Petya as out of the remote past.
Would the sea also be so cold and heartless to him this last time?
Petya ran to the bluff.



The low sun beat blindingly into his eyes. Below, the entire sweep of
the sea was like burning magnesium. Here the steppe ended suddenly.
Silvery bushes of wild olive quivered in the shimmering air at the edge
of the bluff.
A steep path zigzagged downwards. Petya was used to running down the
path barefoot. His shoes bothered him; the soles were slippery. His feet ran
of themselves. It was impossible to stop them.
Until the first turn he still managed to resist the pull of gravity. He
dug in his heels and clutched at the dry roots hanging over the path. But
the roots were rotten and they broke. The clay crumbled beneath his heels. A
cloud of dust as fine and brown as cocoa enveloped him.
The dust got into his nose; it tickled his throat. Petya very soon had
enough of that. Oh, he'd risk it!
He cried out at the top of his lungs, and, with a wave of his arms,
plunged headlong.
His hat filled with air and bobbed up and down behind him. His collar
fluttered in the wind. Burrs stuck to his stockings. After frightful leaps
down the huge steps of the natural stairway, the boy suddenly flew out on
the dry sand of the shore. The sand felt cold; it had not yet been warmed by
the sun. This sand was amazingly white and fine. It was deep, soft, marked
all over with the shapeless holes of yesterday's footprints, and looked like
semolina of the very best quality.
The beach slanted almost imperceptibly towards the water. The last
strip of sand, lapped by broad tongues of snow-white foam, was damp, dark,
and smooth; it was firm, easy to walk on.
This was the most wonderful beach in the world, stretching for about a
hundred miles under the bluffs from Karolino-Bugaz to the mouth of the
Danube, then the border of Rumania. At that early hour it seemed wild and
The sensation of loneliness gripped Petya with new force. But this time
it was quite different; it was a proud and manly kind of loneliness. He was
Robinson Crusoe on his desert island.
The first thing Petya did was to study the footprints. He had the
experienced, penetrating eye of a seeker after adventures.
He was surrounded by footprints. He read them as though he were reading
Mayne Reid.
The black spot on the face of the bluff and the grey ashes meant that
natives had landed from a canoe the night before and had cooked a meal over
a camp-fire. The fan-like tracks of gulls meant a dead calm at sea and lots
of small fish near the shore.
The long cork with a French trademark and the bleached slice of lemon
thrown up on the sand by the waves left no doubt that a foreign ship had
sailed by far out at sea several days before.
Meanwhile the sun had climbed a bit higher above the horizon. Now the
sea no longer shone all over but only in two places: in a long strip at the
very horizon and in another near the shore, where a dozen blinding stars
flashed in the mirror of the waves as they stretched themselves out neatly
on the sand.
Over the rest of its vast expanse the sea shone in the August calm with
such a tender and such a melancholy blue that Petya could not help
A white sail gleams, so far and lonely,
Through the blue haze above the foam. . .

although there was no sail in -sight and the sea wasn't the least
He gazed spellbound at the sea.
. . . No matter how long you look at the sea, you never tire of it. The
sea is always different, always new.
It changes from hour to hour, before your very eyes.
Now it is pale-blue and quiet, streaked here and there with the whitish
paths you see during a calm. Or a vivid dark-blue, flaming and glistening.
Or covered with dancing white horses. Or, if the wind is fresh, suddenly
dark indigo and looking like wool when you run your hand against the nap.
When a storm breaks, it changes threateningly. The wind whips up a great
swell. Screaming gulls dart across the slate-coloured sky. The churning
waves roll and toss the shiny carcass of a dead dolphin along the shore. The
sharp green of the horizon stands out like a jagged wall over the
mud-coloured storm clouds. The malachite panels of the breakers, veined with
sweeping zigzag lines, crash against the shore with the thunder of cannon.
Amid the roar, the echoes reverberate with a brassy ring. The spray hangs in
a fine mist, like a muslin veil, all the way to the top of the shaken
But the supreme spell of the sea lies in the eternal mystery hidden in
its expanses.
Is not its phosphorescence a mystery-when you dip your arm into the
warm black water on a moonless July night and see it suddenly gleam all over
with blue dots? Or the moving lights of unseen ships and the slow faint
flashes pf an unknown beacon? Or the grains of sand, too many for the human
mind to grasp?
. . . And finally, was not the sight of the revolutionary battleship
which once appeared far out at sea, full of mystery?
Its appearance was preceded by a fire in the port of Odessa. The glow
could be seen forty miles away. At once rumours spread that the trestle
bridge was burning.
Then the word Potemkin was spoken.

(A battleship of the Black Sea Fleet whose sailors mounted a heroic
revolt in 1905 and went over to the side of the revolution. Warships were
dispatched to put down the revolt, but the sailors of these vessels refused
to fire on the insurgents. However, the red flag did not wave from the mast
of the Potemkin for long. The absence of a united leadership of the revolt,
and the shortage of provisions and coal compelled the sailors to surrender.
The revolt of the battleship Potemkin played a role of immense
importance in the development of the Russian revolutionary movement.-Tr.)

Several times the revolutionary battleship, solitary and mysterious,
appeared on the horizon in sight of the Bessarabian shore.
The farm labourers would drop their work and come out to the bluff to
catch a glimpse of the distant thread of smoke. Sometimes they thought they
saw it. They would snatch off their caps and shirts and wave them furiously,
greeting the insurgents.
But Petya, to tell the truth, could not make out a thing in the desert
vastness of the sea, no matter how much he screwed up his eyes.
Except once. Through a spyglass which he had begged for a minute from
another boy, he made out the light-green silhouette of the three-funnelled
battleship flying a red flag at its mast.
The ship was speeding westward, in the direction of Rumania.
The next day a lowering cloud of smoke spread out along the horizon.
That was the whole of the Black Sea squadron in pursuit of the Potemkin.
Fishermen who sailed up in their big black boats from the mouth of the
Danube brought the rumour that the Potemkin had reached Constantsa, where
she had to surrender to the Rumanian government. Her crew went ashore and
scattered in all directions.
At dawn one morning, after several more days of alarm, a line of smoke
again covered the horizon.
That was the Black Sea squadron returning from Constantsa to Sevastopol
with the captured insurgent in tow, as if on a lariat.
Deserted, without her crew, her engines flooded, her flag of revolt
lowered, the Potemkin, surrounded by a close convoy of smoke, moved slowly
ahead, dipping ponderously in the swell. It took the ship a long time to
pass the high bluffs of Bessarabia, where her progress was followed in
silence by the farmhands, border guards, fishermen. . . . They stood there
looking until the entire squadron disappeared from view.
Again the sea became as calm and gentle as though blue oil had been
poured over it.
Meanwhile details of mounted police had appeared on the steppe roads.
They had been sent to the Rumanian border to capture the runaway sailors
from the Potemkin.
. . . Petya decided to have a last quick swim.
But no sooner had he taken a running dive into the sea and begun to
swim on his side, cleaving the cool water with his smooth brown shoulder,
than he forgot everything in the world.
First he swam across the deep spot near the shore to the sand-bank.
There he stood up and began to walk about knee-deep in the transparent
water, examining the sandy bottom with its distinct fish-scale pattern.
At first glance the bottom seemed uninhabited. But a good close look
revealed living things. Moving across the wrinkles of the sand, now
appearing, now burying themselves, were tiny hermit crabs. Petya picked one
up from the bottom and skilfully pulled the crab-it even had tiny
nippers!-out of its shell.
Girls liked to string those little shells on twine. They made fine
necklaces. But men didn't go in for that sort of thing.
Then Petya caught sight of a jellyfish and went after it. The jellyfish
hung like a transparent lamp-shade, with a fringe of tentacles just as
transparent. It seemed to hang motionless-but that was not really so. The
thin blue gelatinous margin of the thick cupola was breathing and rippling,
like the edge of a parachute. The tentacles stirred too. The jellyfish moved
slantwise towards the bottom, as though sensing danger.
But Petya caught up with it. Carefully, so as not to touch the
poisonous edge which stung like nettles, he picked the jellyfish out of the
water with both hands, by its cupola. Then he flung its weighty but flimsy
body to the shore.
The jellyfish flew through the air, dropping some of its tentacles on
the way, and then slapped against the wet sand. The sun immediately flared
up in its slime like a silver star.
With a cry of delight Petya plunged from the sandbank into the deep
water and took to his favourite sport: swimming underwater with eyes open.
What rapture!
Before the boy's enchanted gaze there spread the wonderful world of the
submarine kingdom. Clearly visible, and enlarged as if by a magnifying
glass, were pebbles of all colours. They made a cobble stoned road of the
sea bed.
The stems of the sea plants were a fairy-tale forest shot through with
the cloudy green rays of a sun now as pale as the moon.
A huge old crab was scampering along sidewise among the roots, his
terrifying claws spread out like horns. On his spider-like legs he carried
the bulging box that was his back; it was dotted with white stony warts.
Petya wasn't the least scared. He knew how to deal with crabs. You had
to pick them up boldly, by the back, with two fingers. Then they couldn't
But he was not interested in the crab. Let it crawl along in
peace-crabs were no great rarity. The whole beach was strewn with their dry
claws and red shells.
Sea horses were much more interesting.
Just then a small school of them appeared among the seaweed. With their
chiselled faces and chests they looked for all the world like chess knights,
except that they had tails, curled forward. They swam, standing upright,
straight at Petya, spreading out their webbed fins like tiny underwater
It was clear they had never expected to run into a hunter at that early
Petya's heart leaped with joy. He had only one sea horse in his
collection, and a wrinkled old creature it was. These were big and handsome,
every single one of them.
To let such a rare opportunity slip by would be sheer madness.
Petya rose to the surface to fill his lungs and start the hunt at once.
But all of a sudden he caught sight of Father at the edge of the bluff.
He was waving his straw hat and shouting.
The bluff was so high and the voice made such a hollow echo that all
Petya caught was a rolling ". . . ooh-ooh-ooh-ooh!. . ."
But he understood very well what that "ooh-ooh-ooh" meant. It meant:
"Where did you disappear to, you rascal? I've been looking for you all over
the farm. The coach is waiting. Do you want us to miss the boat because of
you? Get out of the water at once, you good-for-nothing!"
Father's voice brought back to Petya the bitter feeling of parting with
which he had awakened in the morning. He lifted his voice in such a
desperate shout that it made his ears ring: "I'm coming! I'm coming!"
". . . ming-ming-ming!" the bluffs echoed.
Petya pulled on his suit right over his wet body-very pleasant that
was, too, if the truth be told-and hurried up the bluff.



The coach already stood in the road, in front of the gate. The driver
had climbed up on a wheel and was tying to the roof the canvas camp beds of
the departing summer residents and also round baskets of blue egg-plants
which the farm owner, taking advantage of the occasion, was sending to
Little Pavlik, dressed for the journey in a new blue pinafore and a
stiffly-starched pique hat that looked like a jelly-mould, stood at a
prudent distance from the horses. He was making a deep and detailed study of
their harness.
He was amazed beyond words to find that this harness -the real harness
of real live horses-was totally unlike the harness of his beautiful papier
mache horse, Kudlatka. (Kudlatka, who had not been taken to the country, was
now awaiting her master in Odessa.)
The shopkeeper who sold them Kudlatka had probably got something wrong!
At any rate, he had to remember to ask Daddy as soon as they came home
to cut out a pair of those lovely black things for the eyes and sew them on.
At the thought of Kudlatka, Pavlik felt a twinge of anxiety. How was
she getting along in the attic without him? Was Auntie Tatyana giving her
hay and oats? The mice hadn't chewed off her tail, had they? True, there
wasn't much of a tail left-two or three hairs and an upholstery nail, but
still. . . .
Then, in a fit of impatience, Pavlik stuck his tongue out of the corner
of his mouth and ran off to the house to hurry Daddy and Petya.
But worried though he was about the fate of Kudlatka, he did not for a
moment forget about his new travelling-bag, which hung across his shoulder
on a strap. He held it tight with both his little hands.
For in that bag, besides a bar of chocolate and a few Capitain salty
biscuits, lay his chief treasure, a moneybox made out of an Ainem Cocoa tin.
Here Pavlik kept the money he was saving to buy a bicycle.
He had put aside quite a sum already: about thirty-eight or thirty-nine
Now Daddy and Petya were coming towards the coach after their breakfast
of grey wheaten bread and milk still warm from the cow.
Under his arm Petya carefully carried his treasures: a jar of needle
fish preserved in alcohol and a collection of butterflies, beetles, shells,
and crabs.
All three bid a warm farewell to their hosts, who had come to the gate
to see them off. Then they climbed into the coach and set out.
The road skirted the farm.
Its water pail rattling, the coach rolled along past the orchard, past
the arbour, and past the cattle and poultry yards. Finally it reached the
garman, the level, well-stamped platform where the grain is threshed and
winnowed. In Central Russia this platform is called a tok, but in Bessarabia
it is a garman.
The straw world of the garman began just beyond the roadside
embankment, overgrown with bushes of grey, dusty scratch weed on which hung
thousands of tear-shaped yellowish-red berries.
There was a whole town of old and new straw ricks as big as houses, a
town with real streets, lanes, and blind alleys. Here and there, beside the
layered and blackened walls of very old straw, shoots of wheat broke their
way through the firm and seemingly cast-iron earth; they glowed like emerald
wicks, amazingly clear and bright.
Thick opalescent smoke poured from the chimney of the steam-engine. An
unseen thresher whined persistently. The small figures of peasant women with
pitchforks were walking knee-deep in wheat on top of a new rick.
The wheat on the pitchforks cast gliding shadows against the clouds of
chaff pierced by the slanting rays of the sun.
Sacks, scales, and weights flashed by.
Then a tall mound of newly threshed wheat covered with a tarpaulin
floated past.
After that the coach rolled out into the open steppe.
In a word, at first everything was the same as in the other years. The
flat, deserted fields of stubble stretching on all sides for dozens of
miles. The lone burial mound. The lilac-coloured immortelles gleaming like
mica. The marmot sitting beside his burrow. The piece of rope looking like a
crushed snake. . . .
But suddenly a cloud of dust appeared ahead. A police detail was
galloping down the road.
The coach stopped.
One of the horsemen rode up.
Behind the green shoulder strap with a number on it bobbed the short
barrel of a carbine. A dusty forage cap, worn at a slant, also bobbed up and
down. The saddle creaked and gave off a strong hot smell of leather.
The snorting muzzle of the horse came to a stop at a level with the
open window. Big teeth chewed at the white iron bit. Grassy-green foam
dripped from the black rubbery lips. Out of the delicate pink nostrils a hot
steamy breath poured over the three passengers.
The black lips stretched towards Petya's straw hat.
"Who's that inside?" a rough military voice shouted somewhere overhead.
"Summer residents. I'm taking them to the boat." The driver spoke
quickly, in an unrecognisably thin and sugary voice. "They're bound for
Akkerman and then straight to Odessa by boat. They've been living on a farm
out here all summer. Ever since the beginning of June. Now they're on their
way home."
"Well, let's have a look at 'em."
With these words a red face with yellow moustaches and eyebrows and a
close-shaven chin, and above it a cap with an oval badge on a green band,
appeared at the window.
"Who are you?"
"Holiday-makers," said Father, smiling.
The soldier evidently did not like the smile or that breezy word
"holiday-makers", which sounded to him like a jeer.
"I can see you're holiday-makers," he said with rough displeasure.
"That don't tell me anything. Just what kind of holiday-makers are you?"
Father turned pale with indignation. His jaw began to quiver, and his
little beard quivered too. He buttoned all the buttons of his summer coat
with trembling fingers and adjusted his pince-nez.
"How dare you speak to me in that tone of voice?" he cried in a sharp
falsetto. "I am Collegiate Counsellor Batchei, a high school teacher, and
these are my two children, Peter and Paul. Our destination is Odessa."
Pink spots broke out on Father's forehead.
"Excuse me, Your Honour," the soldier said smartly, his pale eyes
popping out of his head. He saluted with his whip hand. "I didn't know."
He looked as if he had been frightened to death by the "Collegiate
Counsellor", a grim-sounding title he probably had never heard before.
"To the devil with him!" he thought. "He might land me in hot water. I
might get it in the neck."
He put the spurs to his horse and galloped off.
"What an idiot!" Petya remarked, when the soldiers had ridden off a
good distance.
Father again lost his temper. "Hold your tongue! How many times have I
told you you mustn't dare say that word! People who regularly use the word
'idiot' are usually themselves-er-none too clever. Remember that."
At any other time, of course, Petya would have argued, but now he kept
his peace.
He knew Father's state of mind perfectly.
Father, who always spoke of titles and medals with scornful irritation,
who never wore his formal uniform or his Order of St. Anna, Third Class, who
never recognised any social privileges and insisted that all the inhabitants
of Russia were no more and no less than "citizens", had suddenly, in a fit
of anger, said God knows what. And to whom! To an ordinary soldier.
"High school teacher" .. . "Collegiate Counsellor" . . . "How dare you
speak to me in that tone of voice". . . .
"Ugh, what nonsense!" Petya read in Father's embarrassed face. "For
Meanwhile, in the general excitement, the driver had lost the thong of
his whip; this always happened on long journeys. He was now walking along
the road and poking with the whip-handle among the grey, dust-coated
At last he found the thong. He tied it to the handle and pulled the
knot with his teeth.
"Damn their souls!" he exclaimed as he came up to the coach. "All they
do is ride up and down the roads and scare people."
"What do they want?" Father asked.
"God only knows. Hunting after somebody, no doubt. Day before yesterday
somebody set fire to landlord Balabanov's farm, about thirty versts from
here. They say it was a runaway sailor from the Potemkin did it. And now
they're looking for that runaway sailor high and low. They say he's taken to
cover somewhere in the steppe hereabouts. What a business! Well, time to get
With these words he climbed to his high box and took up the reins. The
coach moved on.
The morning was as fine as ever, but now everybody's mood was spoiled.
In this wonderful world of the deep-blue sky with its wild droves of
white-maned clouds, this world of lilac shadows running in waves from mound
to mound over the steppe grasses, in which a horse's skull or a bullock's
horns might be sighted at any moment, a world created, it would seem, for
the sole purpose of man's joy and happiness- in this world, obviously, not
all was well.
Such were the thoughts of Father, the driver, and Petya.
Pavlik, however, was occupied with thoughts of his own.
His attentive brown eyes were fixed on a point beyond the window, and
his round, cream-coloured little forehead, with the neat bang sticking out
from under his hat, was knitted.
"Daddy," he said suddenly, without taking his eyes from the window.
"Daddy, what's the Tsar?"
"What's the Tsar? I don't follow you."
"Well, what is he?"
"Hm. . . . A man."
"No, not that. I know he's a man. Don't you see? I mean not a man, but
what is he? Understand?"
"No, I can't say that I do."
"I mean, what is he?"
"Ye Gods! What is he? Well, the crowned sovereign, if you like."
"Crowned? What with?"
Father gave Pavlik a severe look. "Wha-a-t?"
"If he's crowned, then what with? Don't you see? What with?"
"Stop talking nonsense!" Father said. He turned away angrily.



At about ten o'clock in the morning they stopped in a large
half-Moldavian, half-Ukrainian village to water the horses.
Father took Pavlik by the hand and went off to buy some cantaloupes.
Petya remained near the horses. He wanted to see them being watered.
The horses which had pulled the big lumbering coach were led by the
driver to the well; it was the kind known as a "crane-well".
The driver stuck his whip into his boot-top and took hold of the long
pole that hung vertically and had a heavy oak bucket attached by a chain to
the end. Moving one hand over the other up the pole, he lowered the bucket
into the well. The sweep creaked. Its top end swung down, as if trying to
peep into the well, while the other end, which had a large porous rock tied
to it as a counterweight, glided upwards.
Petya flattened himself against the edge of the well and looked down
into it as if it were a telescope.
The shaft was round, and its stone lining was covered with dark-brown
velvety mould. It was very deep. In the cold darkness at the bottom there
gleamed a tiny circle of water in which Petya saw his hat reflected with
photographic distinctness.
He shouted. The well filled with a resounding roar, the way a clay
pitcher does.
Down and down and down the bucket went. It became altogether tiny, but
still it did not reach the water. Finally a faint splash sounded. The bucket
sank into the water, gurgled, and then began to rise.
Heavy drops slapped down into the water, making noises like caps
The pole, polished by countless hands to the smoothness of glass, took
a long time to rise. At last the wet chain appeared. The sweep creaked for
the last time. The driver seized the heavy bucket with his strong hands and
emptied it into the stone trough.
But first he drank out of the bucket himself. Then Petya drank. That
was the most thrilling moment in the whole procedure of watering the horses.
The water was as transparent as could be, and as cold as ice. Petya
dipped his nose and chin into it. The inside of the bucket was coated with a
beard of green slime. The bucket and the slime had an almost weird
fascination. There was something very, very old about them, something
reminding him of the forest, of the Russian fairy-tale about the wooden