The author travels along the lower reaches of the Dnieper on a small steamboat “Oleg”. In the first class there is a girl (the captain’s acquaintance), in the second – a few Jews and a poor actor, who, however, immediately begins to give the girl’s attention signs. The lower deck is full of hohlushkas, who in the evenings conduct spiritual conversations and sing lingering songs.
Among them is the pockmarked blind man, the lyricist Rodion. “Simple, open, easy, he combined everything in himself: strictness and tenderness, ardent faith and lack of showy piety, seriousness and carelessness… he belonged to those rare people whose whole being is taste, sensitivity, measure.”
On the lower deck, talk is about Kiev, about Kiev churches, about icons. Rodion instinctively feels the mood of women and sings an old song about an orphan and an evil stepmother. The touching image of an unnecessary child, who is trying with all his might to deserve the stepmother’s favor, makes the hearts of the listeners tremble. Simply and naturally, Rodion “tells” about how, desperate, the girl goes to wander around the world in search of her own mother, meets Christ, who says that her mother died. The orphan gets to the grave of her mother, asks that she take her to her, and God, taking pity on the girl, takes her to his paradise, and punishes the evil stepmother. The author asks Rodion to dictate the words of the song to him. Dictating, Rodion every time retells the text in a new way, “improving to your liking.”