Monday, 31 January 2011

To the Catch - Part Two

Their day had gone well; by late afternoon the nets were fuller of fish than either brother could remember, and a dozen well-shot ducks lay in the bottom of the boat. With such a bountiful catch it was imperative for them to get to Pinsk's river market as soon as they could. There was still a long two day's journey ahead of them; after rowing downstream towards the Pina for a more few hours; then they'd tie up the boat just after sunset and sleep in it before setting off early the next morn.

Igor and Borislav unpacked their blankets and bedding and settled down to get as comfortable as possible; the night was mild, there were no mosquitos about as yet; they prayed to God thanking Him for his providence in the day's catch. They woke before dawn and after breaking fast on bread, cheese and milk, they loosed the boat and set off towards Pinsk. The morning passed uneventfully; they took the opportunity to shoot some more duck, one of which the roasted for lunch over an open fire.

Back in the river for an afternoon's intensive rowing, it was Borislav who heard it first - a low chugging sound from downstream; above the treeline they could make out a plume of black smoke. The river here was fairly straight but there were many submerged trees in the breadth of the floodwaters' flow; reeds impaired their view. The noise became louder. Neither Igor nor Borislav could identify it. Clanking and puffing it came into sight - pushing through the reedy waters - a vessel larger than either man had ever seen in his life. Huge it was - a hundred feet or more - dark grey, made of iron plates, broad and low it sat in the water, with a chimney belching black smoke, like from a factory, and on the foredeck a gun turret with two enormous cannon, behind it some superstructure, the bridge, masts, more guns... two paddle wheels, one on either side, churned the water propelling the behemoth towards them.

Igor motioned to Borislav to get down and to reverse their boat deeper into the rushs. Both men were clearly frightened by the strange vessel - nothing they had ever experienced had prepared them for it. They covered themselves with reed matting that they used as hunting camouflage when approaching ducks, and lay low. Though the sight was terrifying, it was fascinating. They decided to inch their boat forward to get a better look.

The vessel was moving towards them at almost the speed of a galloping horse. Sparks were flying out of the funnel amid the black smoke. The ship was not following a straight course but moving in a broad arc towards the left, one beam lower in the water than the other. As the ship passed them, within 40 or 50 feet, they could both clearly make out the forms of three men on the rear deck, motionless; one sprawled out in a chair, two lying prostrate, one clutching a bottle, glass glinting in the afternoon sun. Their elaborate uniforms suggested that all these men were officers.

"Dead drunk?" asked Borislav. "Poisoned...?" whispered Igor. "A mutiny, perhaps..." The paddle wheels churned on crazily, the wake of the heavy vessel passing struck the brothers' boat almost pitching them both overboard. As the waters calmed, they took courage and propelled their craft into mid-stream so they could watch the runaway gunboat charge on down the river. There was still no sign of life on deck. "Look, it will crash!" said Borislav. Sure enough, the mighty vessel was headed for a large stand of partially submerged silver birch trees beyond which lay dense undergrowth and dry land.

They followed the ship with their gaze, standing up to watch it as it smashed into the trees, the sound of splintering birch trunks. After several minutes silence, there was a terrific hissing sound of steam exiting the ruptured boiler. And then again, silence.

Borislav looked at his brother. "Should we go and see? Help the wounded? Or if they're all dead - there must be firearms on board, provisions, clothing, instruments, bedding, cutlery... Let's go and look..."

Igor counselled caution. "Let us go on to Pinsk. God has granted us a rich bounty. We should sell it. We'll be coming back this way, in three days time, to this catch".

This time last year:
Greed, fear and flight

This time two years ago:
Poland: is there a crisis going on?


Pan Steeva said...

Michael, I am just leaving this comment here, as I do not know if you look at comments on old posts.

I have used one of your blog photos on Please let me know if you want to remove it - no problem - and thank you if you don't mind.


Michael Dembinski said...

@ Steve

I'm flattered! Yes, it's a good pic, I'm delighted it made it onto your blog:)