Our position beneath the shelter of the skiff was utterly devoid of comfort; it was narrow and damp, tiny cold drops of rain dribbled through the damaged bottom; gusts of wind penetrated it. We sat in silence and shivered with cold. I remembered that I wanted to go to sleep. Natasha leaned her back against the hull of the boat and curled herself up into a tiny ball.
Embracing her knees with her hands, and resting her chin upon them, she stared doggedly at the river with wide- open eyes; on the pale patch of her face they seemed immense, because of the blue marks below them. She never moved, and this immobility and silence I felt it gradually produced within me a terror of my neighbor. I wanted to talk to her, but I knew not how to begin.
It was she herself who spoke.
“What a cursed thing life is!” she exclaimed plainly, abstractedly, and in a tone of deep conviction.
But this was no complaint. In these words there was too much of ‘ indifference for a complaint. This simple soul thought according to her understanding thought and proceeded to form a certain conclusion which she expressed aloud, and which I could not confute for fear of contradicting myself. Therefore I was silent, and she, as if she had not noticed me, continued to sit there immovable.
“Even if we croaked… what then…?” Natasha began again, this time quietly and reflectively, and still there was not one note of complaint in her words. It was plain that this person, in the course of her reflections on life, was regarding her own case, and ‘had arrived at the conviction that in order to preserve herself from the mockeries of life, she was not in a position to do anything else but simply “croak” to use her own expression.
The clearness of this line of thought was inexpressibly sad and painful to me, and I felt that if I kept silence any longer I was really bound to weep and it would have been shameful to have done this before a woman, especially as she was not weeping herself. I resolved to speak to her.
“Who was it that knocked you about?” I asked. For the moment I could not think of anything more sensible or more delicate.
“Pashka did it all,” she answered in a dull and level tone.
“And who is he?”
“My lover…. He was a baker.”
“Did he beat you often?”
“Whenever he was drunk he beat me… Often!”
And suddenly, turning towards me, she began to talk about herself, Pashka, and their mutual relations. He was a baker with red mustaches and played very well on the banjo. He came to see her and greatly pleased her, for he was a merry chap and wore nice clean clothes.
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