Professor Skridlov

Here is a stout woman with an enormous coiffure undoubtedly of artificial hair, with many rings on her fingers and two enormous brooches on her chest; she is accompanied by two very good­looking girls who call her ‘aunt’, but you can see by everything that they are not at all her nieces.

Here are also many Russian former and future somebodies, going God knows where and God knows why. Also a troupe of travelling musicians with their violins and double-basses.

From the very first day out of Chardzhou, all these people, as it were, sorted themselves out; the so-called intelligentsia, the bourgeoisie and the peasants formed separate groups, where, making acquaintances among themselves, they soon began to feel as though among old friends.

The members of each of these groups began to regard and to act towards the passengers belonging to the other groups either haughtily and disdainfully or timidly and ingratiatingly, but at the same time they did not hinder one another from arranging things each according to his own wishes and habits, and little by little they became so accustomed to their surroundings that it was as though none of them had ever lived in any other way.

Neither the delays in the steamer’s progress nor its crowdedness disturbed anyone; on the contrary, they all accommodated themselves so well that the whole journey was like a series of picnics.

As soon as it became clear that this time the steamer was thoroughly grounded, almost all the passengers gradually went ashore. By the end of the day there appeared on both banks clusters of tents, made from whatever came to hand. Smoke arose from many fires, and, after an evening gaily spent with music and song, most of the passengers stayed on shore overnight.

In the morning the life of the passengers resumes its rhythm of the day before. Some build fires and make coffee, others boil water for green tea, still others go in search of saksaul poles, get ready to go fishing, go out to the steamer and back in small boats, call back and forth between the steamer and shore or from one bank to the other; and all is done calmly and unhurriedly, as everyone knows that, as soon as it is possible to move on, the big bell of the steamer will ring an hour before departure and there will be plenty of time to return on board.