Fourteen previously-untranslated Chekhov stories

(actualisé le ) by Anton Chekhov

We have selected here fourteen of the best stories in the body of to-date-untranslated stories of the great Russian short-story writer, playwright and doctor [1] that have been overviewed elsewhere on this site.

Most – but not all – of them are written in the light, humorous tone that characterised the stories he wrote during his student days and shortly afterwards (Chekhov’s works began taking on a distinctly deeper tone when he started practicing medicine, mostly in poverty-stricken village districts, and also and notably after having discovered his own nascent, and ultimately fatal, tuberculosis).

Full documentation on the date and place of their initial publication is provided in the footnotes below.

They have all been translated specially for this site [2].


An e-book is available for downloading below.



CONTENTS

1. A WOMAN WITHOUT PREJUDICE (1883) Maxim, a big, immensely strong fellow, was pale and trembling when he finally proposed to Elena, a proposal that she gladly accepted. But Maxim had a terrible secret that he couldn’t bring himself to confess to Elena until their wedding night. Then things developed in a surprising way. [3] (1,300 words)

2. TEARS INVISIBLE TO THE WORLD (1884) Colonel Rebrotesov and a group of companions regret on leaving their club in the early hours of the morning that there’s nowhere to go to eat and finally R invites them to his home for a snack. But when they get there he finds that the mistress of the house has locked the pantry and taken the key to bed with her, so he has to first ask, then beg, then crawl for the precious key. [4] (1,800 words)

3. THE EXCLAMATION MARK (1884) The clerk Efim has gone to bed offended because he’d been criticised for his lack of education in general and of punctuation in particulat. Passing in review all the punctuation marks, he realized that he’d never used an exclamation mark! But the next day he found a solution to the problem. [5] (1,(50 words)

4. MY WIVES (1885) A certain Raoul Bluebeard writes to a newspaper protesting against the false and outrageous portrayal of his views and life in the recently-performed opera “Bluebeard”, and proceeds to exemplify the author’s errors by describing in detail the reasons he had for first marrying and then poisoning each of his own seven wives. [6] (2,400 words)

5. HORSE AND QUIVERING DOE (1885) At 3 a.m. the Fibrova couple is still awake: the problem is that he’s a journalist and just can’t avoid having too much to drink while fulfilling his duties. She talks of getting him a nice position with her uncle in Tula where they could lead a decent life, and after some resistance he finally agrees. But the next day there’s still a problem. [7] (1,500 words)

6. GENERAL EDUCATION (1885) Two dentists, one thin and poorly-dressed and the other portly and wearing expensive clothes, are discussing their profession. The thin one wonders why the fat one has had so much more success than he’s had although they both went to the same dental faculty, and the other explains his secrets of success by what he calls “General Education”: pompous surroundings, mysterious apparatuses, etc. [8] (1,650 words)

7. TWO NEWSPAPERMEN (1885) The journalist Rybkin is preparing to hang himself in his office and when his fellow-journalist Shlepkin comes in he explains that he finds that there’s nothing interesting to write about any more as it’s all been seen before a thousand times. S tries to dissuade him by talking about the interest to be found in the most minute details, and when R contemptuously remarks that S would be capable of even writing about an egg, then S complies by waxing extensively on the subject. That doesn’t deter R, but his fate doesn’t distract S from his professional duties either. [9] (1,100 words)

8. THE ROOK (1886) The narrator asks a rook how old he is, who explains that he’s 376 and admits that he’d done nothing in all that time other than eat, drink and multiply. The narrator imagines all the places he could have visited, all the newspaper articles he could have written, how many times he could have gotten married and calculates the vast amount of interest a rouble would have earned in all that time. But the rook points out that he’s never fought or killed another rook while men can’t remember a year when there hadn’t been a war, and begins to list all the awful things that men do that rooks don’t. The conversation ends when the rook gets tired of elaborating mankind’s many failings and flies off. [10]. (500 words)

9. IN A BOARDING HOUSE (1886) In a girl’s boarding house the maths teacher Dyryavin is trying to get a raise in salary from the mistress of the establishment, and to get her in the right frame of mind he laments that women nowadays aren’t nearly as beautiful as Mme Jevousaime used to be and even still is. Madame objects that there are still some pretty girls and summons the seventeen-year-old Paltseva, a breath-taking beauty, to prove her point. While she’s pretending to scold the girl D stares at her daydreaming about what she’ll be doing in the summertime, but when she goes out he stands his ground and tells Madame that she has a finer nose than Paltseva. [11] (900 words)

10. THE PLAYWRIGHT (1886) A worn-out-looking individual enters a doctor’s office and announces that he’s a playwright. Much impressed by this superior kind of profession, the doctor asks him to describe his way of life, which he gladly does, telling how he gets up at twelve and sometimes even earlier, has two or three shots of vodka depending on how much he’d drunk the day before, then a little breakfast with three or four drinks, then to the porterhouse and the billiard hall and so on and on and on. Asked when he writes his plays he says that he pays someone to translate a foreign play that he adapts to the Russian way of life. [12]. (700 words)

11. IT WAS HER! (1886) A trio of young maidens at a reception beg an elderly Colonel to tell them a story, so he told one about when he’d gotten caught in a snow-storm and had to pass the night at the mansion of a rich Polish count. After a pleasant evening he’d been shown into a spooky sort of room where after a while he heard footsteps and felt a woman’s arms around him. A eulogistic description followed of the lady’s unforgettable charms, but the maidens were so disappointed by the flat ending to the story that he told them he was only kidding and changed it to a more suitable one. [13] (1,500 words)

12. SPRING #2 (1887) Provisionally very aptly entitled “Cat’s Monologue”, this is a speech made to humans by a tomcat explaining to them all the pitfalls and dangers and adventures a cat goes through in the spring-time to find and seduce his lady-loves. [14] (550 words)

13. AN UNPLEASANT STORY (1887) Zhirkov arrives late at night in a cab in pouring rain at the home of his mistress with a large bundle of commissions she’d told him to bring, but when she opens the door she informs him that her husband had arrived from Paris, so Zhirkov is left standing in the rain with no cabbie in sight. Finally he rings again but this time it’s the husband who comes to the door and he says that he’s a delivery agent, whereupon the husband lets him shelter inside for a while. But then the wife wakes up and the story comes to a rapid but somewhat unexpected end. [15] (2,250 words)

14. A LETTER (1907) A letter from an intellectual to a lady friend that starts out advising her to read a book that he’s sending her, continues with a description of a debate with a dear friend who declared that the time he’d spent reading philosophy, poetry and fiction had been wasted, and after some very Russian-intellectual thoughts on the question of art, the letter ends particularly elegantly. [16] (1,900 words)


1. A WOMAN WITHOUT PREJUDICE

Maxim Kuzmich Salyutov is tall, broad-shouldered and well-built. His physique can safely be called athletic. His strength is extraordinary. He can bend two-kopeck coins, uproot young trees and lift weights with his teeth, and he swears that there’s no man on earth who would dare to compete with him. He’s brave and bold. He’s never been seen to be afraid of anything or anyone. On the contrary, others fear him and turn pale when he’s angry. Men and women squeal and blush when he shakes their hands: it hurts! His beautiful baritone voice is impossible to listen to, because he drowns everything else out... a powerful man indeed – I don’t know of another like him.

And this monstrous, inhuman, bovine strength was like nothing, was like a crushed rat, when Maxim Kuzmich declared his love to Elena Gavrilovna! Maxim Kuzmich turned pale, blushed, trembled and was quite incapable of even lifting up a chair when he had to squeeze out of his big mouth: "I love you!" His force faded away and his big body turned into a large empty vessel.

He declared his love at the skating-rink. She fluttered across the ice with the lightness of a feather, and he, chasing after her, trembled, shuddered and whispered. Suffering was written on his face... Dexterous, agile legs bent and tangled when he had to carve some whimsical monogram on the ice. Do you think he was afraid of a refusal? No, Elena Gavrilovna loved him and longed for a marriage proposal. She, a small, pretty brunette, was quite burning with impatience... He was already thirty, his rank wasn’t elevated and he didn’t have much money, but he was so handsome, so witty and so clever! He danced well, shot well... Nobody rode better than he did. Since that time when he’d been walking with her and had jumped across a ditch over which any English horse would have found it difficult to hurdle...

It was impossible not to love such a fellow!

And he knew that he was loved. He was sure of it. He suffered from one thought, though. That thought choked his brain, made him rage and cry, didn’t let him drink, eat or sleep. It poisoned his whole life. He was deeply in love and yet it whirled about in his mind and beat upon his temples.

“Be my wife!” he said to Elena Gavrilovna. “I love you so much it’s scary!”

And at the same time he was thinking: “Do I have the right to be her husband? No, I don’t! If she knew my background, if someone told her of my past, she’d slap me! That shameful, unfortunate past! She, who’s so noble, rich and educated, would spit on me if she knew what kind of a fellow I am!”

When Elena Gavrilovna threw herself on his neck and swore her love to him, he still didn’t feel happy.

The thought poisoned everything. Returning home from the skating rink he bit his lips and said to himself: "I’m a scoundrel! If I were an honest man I’d tell her everything... everything! Before declaring my love I should have let her know my secret! But I didn’t, and that means that I’m a scoundrel, a pure knave!”

Elena Gavrilovna’s parents agreed to her marriage to Maxim Kuzmich. They liked the athlete: he was respectful and, as an official, showed great promise. Elena Gavrilovna felt herself in heaven. She was happy, but the poor athlete was far from happy. Right up to the wedding he was tormented by the same thought as during their meeting on the skating rink.

He was also tormented by a friend who knew his past like the back of his hand. He had to hand over almost all of his salary to this friend.

“Treat me to dinner at the Hermitage!” the friend would say. “Otherwise I’ll tell everyone! And lend me twenty-five rubles!”

Poor Maxim Kuzmich lost weight and became haggard. His cheeks sagged, his fists became sinewy. He got sick from thinking about it. If it hadn’t been for the woman he loved he would have shot himself...

"I’m a scoundrel, just a scoundrel!” he thought. “I just have to explain myself to her before the wedding! Let her spit on me!"

But he didn’t explain himself before the wedding – he didn’t have enough courage.

Yes, and the idea that after the explanation he’d have to part with the woman he loved was more terrible for him than all of his troubled thoughts.

The wedding day arrived. The young people were married, congratulated, and everyone was delighted by their happiness. Poor Maxim Kuzmich accepted the congratulations, drank, danced and laughed, but he was terribly unhappy. “I’ll force myself to explain! We’re married now, but it’s still not too late! We can still part!

And he explained...

When the longed-for hour came and the young people were led into the bedroom, conscience and honesty took their toll... Maxim Kuzmich, pale and trembling, not mindful of their new relationship, barely breathing, timidly approached her and, taking her by the hand, said:

“Before we belong… to each other, I must… I must explain…”

“What’s wrong with you, Max? You’re… pale! All these days you’ve been pale, silent... Are you sick?”

“I… have to tell you everything, Lelya… Let’s sit down… I have to astonish you, to poison your happiness… but what can I do? Duty first... I have to tell you about my past...”

Lelya widened her eyes and she grinned…

“Very well, tell me... Just hurry, please! And don’t tremble like that!”

“Ro… I was born there… there’s… more… My parents weren’t noble and were terribly poor… I’ll tell you what kind of fellow I am. You’ll be horrified. Wait, you’ll see... I was a beggar... As a boy, I sold apples... pears...”

“You?”

“Are you horrified? But honey, it’s worse than that. Oh, I’m so miserable! You’ll curse me when you find out!”

“But what?”

“At twenty years old... I was... was... forgive me! Don’t chase me away! I was... a circus clown!”

“You, a clown?”

Salyutov, in anticipation of a slap in the face, covered his pale face with his hands... He was close to fainting...

“You were… a clown?”

And Lelya got up off the couch, jumped up, and ran over to him.

What’s the matter with her? She was clutching at her stomach... Laughter, almost hysterical, rushed through the bedroom and rained down below...

“Ha ha ha… Were you a clown? You? Maxinka… My dear! Imagine such a thing! Prove to me that you really were one! Ha ha ha! My dearest!”

She put her arms around Salyutov and hugged him.

“Imagine that! You’re just so cute! My dearest!”

“Are you laughing at me, me who’s so unfortunate? Do you despise me?”

“Show me something! Can you walk on a tightrope? Come on!”

She showered her husband’s face with kisses, clung to him, faltered... she didn’t seem to be angry... He, understanding nothing, happily yielded to his wife’s request.

Going towards the bed, he counted three and stood on his hands, posing his forehead on the edge of the bed.

“Bravo, Max! Encore! Haha! My dearest! Another!”

Maxim swayed, jumped back to the floor and walked on his hands…

…………………..

In the morning, Lely’s parents were terribly surprised.

“Who’s that knocking upstairs?” they asked each other. "The young ones are still sleeping. The servants must be playing pranks! They’re making so much noise! What scoundrels they are!”

Papa went upstairs, but didn’t find the servants there.

To his great surprise the noise was coming from the young people’s room... He stood near the door, shrugged his shoulders and opened it slightly... Glancing into the bedroom he cringed and almost died of surprise: Maxim Kuzmich was in the middle of the bedroom making the most desperate salto mortale in the air; Lelya stood next to him applauding. Both of their faces shone with happiness.


2. TEARS INVISIBLE TO THE WORLD

“Now, gentlemen, it would be nice to have supper!" said the military chief Rebrotesov, a lieutenant-colonel, tall and thin like a telegraph pole, as he and his company came out of the club one dark August night. “In good cities, in Saratov, for example, you can always get dinner in the clubs, but here, in our stinking Chervyansk, you get nothing but vodka and tea with flies. There’s nothing worse when you’re drunk and there’s nothing to eat!”

Ivan Ivanovich Dvotochiev, the inspector of the clerical school, was in agreement, wrapping his red-coat around him in the wind. “It’s two o’clock and the taverns are closed, and it would be nice to have some herring... mushrooms, or something like that, you know...”

The inspector wiggled his fingers in the air and made a picture of some food on his face, probably very tasty, because all who were looking at his face, licked their lips. The company stopped and began to think. They thought and thought and came up with nothing edible. I had to confine myself to daydreaming.

“Yesterday I ate turkey at Golopesov’s!” sighed the governor’s deputy Pruzhin-Pruzhinsky. “By the way... have you gentlemen ever been to Warsaw? They do food there... They take an ordinary carp, still alive... and put them in milk... They swim for a day in the milk, and then they fry them in sour cream on a crumbling pan, and then, my brothers, no need for your pineapples! By God!... Especially if you’ve had a glass or two. You eat it and you don’t feel it... you’re in a kind of oblivion... the aroma alone will kill you...!”

“And if it’s with salted cucumbers..." added Rebrotesov in a tone of heartfelt sympathy. “When we were in Poland you could take up to two hundred of their dumplings in one go... You could fill a whole plate with them, pepper them, sprinkle dill and parsley and... no words can describe it!”

Suddenly Rebrotesov stopped and began to think. He remembered the sterlet fish soup that he’d eaten in Trinity Lavra in 1856. The memory of that soup was so delicious that the military chief suddenly smelt the fish, unconsciously chewed it and didn’t notice the mud in his shoes.

“No, I can’t!” he said. “I can’t stand it any longer! I’ll go home and get something to eat there. I’ll tell you what, gentlemen, let’s all go to my place! My goodness! We’ll have a drink, we’ll eat whatever God has sent us. Cucumbers, sausages... a samovar... Huh? We’ll have a snack, we’ll talk about cholera, we’ll reminisce about old times... My wife’s asleep, but we won’t wake her up... we’ll be quiet... Let’s go!”

The delight with which this invitation was accepted needs no description. I can only say that at no other time has Rebrotesov had so many well-wishers as on that night.

“I’ll tear your ears off!” the commander said to the head servant as he ushered the guests into the darkened front room. “I’ve told you a thousand times, you scoundrel, to always smoke with incense-paper when you sleep in the front room! Go and put the samovar on, you fool, and tell Irina to bring some cucumbers and radishes from the cellar... And prepare some herrings... Put some green onions on them, and sprinkle some dill too... You know, and cut potatoes in circles... And beets too... All that with vinegar and oil, you know, and mustard... With pepper on top... A little garnish, in short... You understand?”

Rebrotesov wiggled his fingers picturing the mixing and added to the garnish with his mimicry what he couldn’t add in words. The guests took off their shoes and entered the dark hall. The master lit a match, it smelled of sulphur and illuminated the walls which were decorated with Niva awards, views of Venice and portraits of the writer Lazhechnikov and of some general with very surprised eyes.

“We’re here now..." his host whispered, quietly raising the wings of the table. “I’ll put the table together and we’ll sit down... Masha isn’t well today. I beg your pardon... It’s a woman’s thing... Doctor Gusin says it’s from the fasting... It may well be! ‘Sweetheart,’ I say, ‘it’s not the food! I say, it’s not what’s in your mouth, but what’s come out of your mouth... I say, you’re eating Lenten food, but you’re still irritated...’ And she won’t listen! ‘We’ve been accustomed to it since childhood,’ she says."

The servant came in, stretched his neck and whispered something in his master’s ear. Rebrotesov raised his eyebrows...

“Aye..." he mumbled. “Um... ah, well, it’s nothing... I’ll only be a minute... Masha has locked the cellar and the cupboards against the servants and taken the keys. I have to go and get them...”

Rebrotesov went on tiptoes, quietly opened the door of his bedroom and went up to his wife... She was asleep.

“Mashenka!” he said, cautiously approaching the bed. “Wake up, Mashenka, just for a second!”

“Who’s there? Is it you? What do you want?”

“It’s me, Mashenka, as to what I want... Give me the keys and don’t worry... Sleep now... I’ll take care of them myself... I’ll give them a pickle and won’t spend any more... God strike me down. Dvotochiev’s here, you know, and Pruzhin-Pruzhinsky and some others... Fine people... respected by society... Pruzhin even has a Fourth Degree Vladimir... He respects you so much...”

“Where have you been drinking?"

“Well, now you’re getting angry... How right you are... I’ll just give them a pickle, that’s all... And then they’ll go away... I’ll prepare it myself, and we won’t bother you... Lie there, my doll... Well, how’s your health? Have you seen Gusin without me? I’ll even kiss your hand... And the guests all respect you so... Dvotochiev’s a religious man, you know... Pruzhin, and the treasurer too. Everyone treats you like this... ‘Marya Petrovna, they say, isn’t a woman, but something, they say, special... The luminary of our county.’ "

“Go to bed! You’ve got yourself into a state! He gets drunk at his club with his jackasses, and boozes all night long! You should be ashamed of yourself! You have children!”

“I... have kids, yes, but don’t get angry, Mashenka... don’t get upset... I appreciate and love you... And God willing, I’ll find a place for the kids. I’ll take Mitya to his school... I can’t chase them away... It’s awkward... They came after me and asked for food. ’Let’s eat something, they said’..."

“Dvotochiev, Pruzhin-Pruzhinsky... they’re nice people... they feel sorry for you, they appreciate you. Give them a pickle, a shot and... let them be... I’ll take care of it...”

“What a punishment! Are you crazy? What, guests at this hour? They should be ashamed of disturbing people at night, the devils! Where do you see them visiting at night?... Is this their inn or what? I’d be a fool to give them the keys! Let them sleep it off and come back tomorrow!”

“Hm... I would have said so... And I wouldn’t humiliate myself in front of you... It means that you aren’t my friend of life, not a comforter of your husband, as written in Scriptures, but... it’s indecent to say... A snake, a snake and is...”

“Ah... so you still swear, you pestilence?”

The wife raised her head and... the military commander got a scratch on his cheek and continued:

“Merci!... It’s true what I once read in a magazine: ‘For men a wife at home with a her husband isn’t an angel, but Satan’... It’s true... Satan was, Satan is...”

“Go away!”

“Fight, fight... Beat your only husband! On my knees, I beg you... I beg you... Manechka!.. Forgive me... Give me the keys! Manechka! Angel! You evil creature, don’t disgrace me in front of society! My little barbarian, until when will you torture me? Fight... Fight... Mercy... I beg you, at last!”

The couple talked thus for a long time... Rebrotesov got down on his knees, cried twice, swore, now and then he got his cheek scratched... The wife finally got up, spat and said:

“I can see that there’ll be no end to my torment! Hand me my dress from the chair, Mohammed!”

Rebrotesov gently handed her the dress and, fixing his hair, went out to the guests. The guests were standing in front of the picture of the General, looking at his astonished eyes and decided the question: who was older – the General or the writer Lazhechnikov? Dvotochiev took Lazhechnikov’s side, insisting on immortality, while Pruzhinsky said:

"He is, to be sure, a good writer, no doubt... he writes both comically and piteously, but send him off to war and he won’t manage even with a company; and let a general do the whole corps, he’ll manage nothing...”

“My Masha’s coming now..." The master came in and interrupted the argument. “Right away...”

“We’re disturbing you, aren’t we?… Fedor Akimych, what have you done to your cheek? I say, you’ve got a bruise under your eye, too! Where did you get that?”

“Cheek? What’s that about my cheek?” the master was embarrassed. “Ah, yes! I was sneaking up to Manechka, I didn’t want to frighten her, and in the darkness I bumped into the bed! Ha-ha... But here’s Manechka... What a cracker you are, Maniunia! A pure Louise Michelle!”

Marya Petrovna came in, disheveled and sleepy, but radiant and cheerful.

"It’s good of you to come in!" she said. “If you don’t come in the daytime, then thanks to my husband for bringing you in at night. I was sleeping and I heard voices... ‘Who could it be?’ I asked myself... Fedya told me to lie down, not to come out, but I couldn’t bear not to...’

His wife ran into the kitchen, and the dinner got going...

“It’s good to be married!” Pruzhin-Pruzhinsky sighed, coming out an hour later with his party from the house of the military chief. “You can eat when you want and drink when you want... You know there’s a creature who loves you... And you can play something on the piano... Lucky Rebrotesov!”

Dvotochiev was silent. He sighed and thought. Coming home and undressing, he sighed so loudly that he woke his wife.

“Don’t stamp with your boots, you peasant!” said his wife. “You don’t let me sleep! He gets pissed in the club, and then he makes a racket, the bastard!"

“All you do is swear!” sighed the inspector. “Ah; you should see how the Rebrotesovs live! My God, how they live! Looking at them makes you want to cry with emotion. I’m the only one so unhappy that you were born into the world as such a Baba Yaga. Move over!”

The inspector covered himself with a blanket and, mentally complaining of his fate, fell asleep.


3. THE EXCLAMATION MARK

On Christmas Day Efim Fomich Perekladin, a collegiate secretary, went to bed offended and even insulted.

“Get lost, you impurity!” He barked angrily at his wife when she asked him why he was so gloomy.

The fact was that he had just returned from a visit where many unpleasant and offensive things had been said. They had first spoken of the usefulness of education in general, then moved imperceptibly on to the educational qualifications of clerks, with much regret, many reproaches and even ridicule at their low level in general. And then, as is the custom when Russians get together, they moved from general matters to personalities.

“Take you for instance, Efim Fomich," said one of the young men to Perekladin. “You occupy a respectable position... And what sort of education did you have?”

“None at all. But we don’t need any education,” Perekladin had meekly replied. “Just how to write correctly, that’s all...”

“And where did you learn to write correctly?”

“I got used to it... After forty years of service you get used to it... Of course, at first it was hard, I made mistakes, but then I got used to it... and it’s alright...”

“And punctuation?”

“Punctuation’s OK... I do it correctly.”

“Ahem!”... the young man was embarrassed. “But habit’s not the same as education. It’s not enough that you do the punctuation correctly... that’s not enough! You have to do it consciously! You put in a comma and you have to be conscious of why you put it... yes! And that unconscious... reflexive spelling of yours isn’t worth a penny. It’s machine-production and nothing more.”

Perekladin kept silent and even smiled meekly (the young man was the son of a State Councillor and he himself was eligible for the rank of X class), but now, going to bed, he turned to resentment and anger.

"Forty years of service," he thought, "and no one has called me a fool, and now, look at the critics! ’Unconsciously! reflexively! Machine production!...’ Oh, damn you! I might even understand it better than you, for the simple reason that I haven’t been to your universities!"

Having mentally poured all the curses he knew onto the critic and warmed himself under the blanket, Perekladin began to calm down.

"I know... I understand..." he thought, falling asleep. “I don’t put a colon where a comma is necessary, so I know I understand. Yes... That’s it, young man... First you have to live, serve, and then judge older men..."

In the closed eyes of the drowsy horizontal bar, a fiery comma flew meteorically through the crowd of dark, smiling clouds. Followed by another, a third, and soon the whole limitless dark background spread out before his imagination was covered in thick crowds of flying commas...

"At least take these commas..." thought Perekladin, feeling his members go sweetly numb with the onset of sleep. “I understand them well... I can find a place for each one if I want... and... and consciously, not in vain... Look carefully and you’ll see... Commas are put in different places, where necessary, and where not necessary. The more confusing the paper, the more commas you need. You put them in front of ’which’ and before ’what’. If you list the officials in the paper, you have to separate each of them with a comma... I know all that!"

The golden commas whirled and flew away. In their place came flaming dots...

"And a full stop at the end of the paper... Where you have to take a big break and look at the listener, there’s also a full stop. After all the long places, you have to put a dot, so that the secretary won’t drool when he reads it. There’s no point anywhere else...".

The commas come again... They get mixed up with dots, swirl around – and Perekladin sees a whole bunch of semi-colons and colons...

"And these I know..." he thinks. “Where there are few commas and many semicolons, you need a semicolon and a comma. I always put a semicolon before ’but’ and ’consequently’... And a colon? You have to put a colon after the words ’decreed’, ’decided’..."

Semicolons and colons went out. It was the turn of question marks. These popped out of the clouds and went around...

"Big deal: a question mark! I can fit a thousand of them in. They’re always used when there’s a need for an enquiry or a paper, for instance... ’Where’s the balance of the sums for year so-and-so?’ or ’Can the police department possibly find this Ivanov?’ and so on..."

The question marks approvingly nodded their hooks and instantly, as if on cue, stretched into exclamation marks...

"Ahem!... This punctuation mark is often put in letters. ’My gracious sovereign!’ or ’Your Excellency, father and benefactor...!’ And in papers when?"

The exclamation marks stretched further and paused in anticipation...

"In the papers they are put when... this... that... how does it go? Ahem!... Indeed, when do you put them in the papers? Wait... God help me remember... Ahem!..."

Perekladin opened his eyes and turned on his other side. But no sooner had he closed his eyes again than exclamation marks appeared in the dark background again.

"Damn them... When should they be put in?” he thought, trying to drive the uninvited guests out of his imagination. “Have I forgotten? Forgotten, or... never put them in…"

Perekladin began to recall the contents of all the papers he had written during his forty years of service; but no matter how much he thought, no matter how much he wrinkled his brows, he didn’t find a single exclamation mark in his past.

"How strange! Forty years of writing and never once put in an exclamation mark... Ahem!!! But when the hell does it get put in?"

From behind a row of fiery exclamation marks appeared the smirking laughing face of a young critic. The signs themselves smiled and merged into one big exclamation point.

Perekladin shook his head and opened his eyes.

"Damn it..." he thought. “I have to get up in the morning tomorrow, and I can’t get this damn thing out of my head... Ugh! But... when does it get put in? So much for habits! You’ve got your hand full! Not a single exclamation point in forty years! Eh?"

Perekladin crossed himself and closed his eyes, but immediately opened them; there was still a big sign in the dark background...

"Ugh! You won’t sleep all night like that. Marfusha!” he turned to his wife, who often boasted that she’d finished her course at the boarding-house. “Do you know, my dear, when you put an exclamation mark in your papers?

“Of course I do! It’s not for nothing that I’ve been at boarding school for seven years. I know all the grammar by heart. It’s used in addresses, exclamations and expressions of delight, indignation, joy, anger and other feelings.”

"Hmm..." thought Perekladin. "Elation, indignation, joy, anger and other feelings..."

The collegiate secretary pondered... He’d been writing papers for forty years, he’d written thousands, tens of thousands of them, but he couldn’t remember a single line that expressed delight, indignation or anything of the sort...

"And other feelings..." he thought. "And other feelings," he thought. "Why should there be feelings in papers? Even an unfeeling man can write them..."

The critic’s young face peered out from behind the firebrand again and smiled evilly. Perekladin got up and sat down on the bed. His head ached and a cold sweat broke out on his forehead... In the corner the lamp was burning softly, the furniture looked festive, clean, everything reeked of warmth and the presence of a woman’s hand, but the poor civil servant was cold and uncomfortable, as if he were ill with typhus. The exclamation mark was no longer in his closed eyes, but in front of him, in the room near the woman’s toilet, flashing mockingly at him...

“The writing machine! The machine!” whispered the ghost, blowing dryly and coldly on the official. “The wooden, insensitive thing!”

The civil servant covered himself with a blanket, but even under the blanket he saw the ghost, clung his face to his wife’s shoulder and the same thing was sticking out from her shoulder... Poor Perekladin suffered all night long, but the ghost didn’t leave him even by day. He saw it everywhere: in the boots he put on, in the saucer of tea, in the statue of Saint Stanislas...

"And other feelings..." he thought. “It’s true that there weren’t any feelings... I’ll go to my director and sign now... but what about feelings? Well, for nothing... The greeting machine..."

When Perekladin went out into the street and called for a carriage, it seemed to him that an exclamation mark rolled up instead of a carriage.

When he came to the director’s ante-room he saw the same sign instead of the doorman... And it spoke to him of delight, indignation and anger... The pen with the quill also looked like an exclamation mark. Perekladin took it, dipped the quill in the ink and signed:

"Collegiate Secretary Yefim Perekladin!!!"

And, putting these three marks, he marvelled, indignant, delighted, seething with anger.

“Ah? You? Ah? You again!” he muttered, pressing down on the pen.

The alarm-sign was satisfied and disappeared.


4. MY WIVES

Dear Sir!

The operetta "Bluebeard", that causes laughter in your readers and got laurels for Messrs Lodia, Chernov and others, arouses nothing but bitter feelings in me. Not feelings of offence, no, but regrets... It’s a great pity that in the past few decades the press and the stage have become covered with the mould of Adam’s sin and lies. Without touching on the essence of the operetta, without even considering the fact that the author had no right to intrude into my private life and expose my family secrets, I’ll only mention the particulars on which the public bases their judgement of me, Raoul Bluebeard. These details are outrageous lies which I think I must, Mr. President, refute through the medium of your respected journal before I can take legal action to expose the author as an outrageous liar and Mr. Lementowski as a panderer to this shameful vice and concealer. First of all, sir, I am not the misogynist that the author wants to portray me as in his operetta. I don’t like women. I’d be glad not to know them at all, but am I to blame for the fact that homo sum et humani nihil a me alienum puto? [17] Besides the right to choose, the "law of necessity" hangs over man. I had to choose one of two things: either to join the ranks of daredevils, who are so fond of doctors who print their advertisements on the front pages of newspapers, or to get married. There’s no middle ground between these two absurdities. As a practical man, I settled on the second one. I got married. Yes, I got married, and I’ve always been envious night and day of that kind of fellow who has a husband and a wife inside him, and therefore a mother-in-law and a father-in-law and a sister-in-law... and who doesn’t have to seek woman’s company. You must agree that this doesn’t sound like a womanizer. The author goes on to say that I poisoned my wives the day after the wedding – post primam noctem [18]. The author just had to look in the registers or in my service record to avoid accusing me of such a monstrous fabrication, but he didn’t do that and found himself in the position of a man who tells lies. I did not poison my wives on the second day of our honeymoon, nor pour le plaisir [19] as the author would have liked to say, and not impromptu either. God knows how many moral torments, grave doubts, painful days and weeks I had to endure before I dared to give one of these small, frail creatures morphia or phosphorus matches! It wasn’t the bliss, nor the carnivorous nature of the lazy and stuffed knight, nor the hard-heartedness of the whole complex of reasons and consequences which compelled me to resort to the help of my doctor. Not an operetta, but a whole dramatic, searing opera was playing out in my soul when I sent to the shop for matches after a most painful life together and after many long, burning reflections. (May women forgive me! I consider a revolver a weapon out of place for them. It’s customary to poison rats and women with phosphorus.) From the following description of all seven of my poisoned wives, it will be evident to the reader and to you, Sir, how far-reaching my reasons for grasping the last trump card of family well-being were. I describe my wives in the same order as they appear in my notebook under the heading "Expenditure on baths, cigars, weddings and barbershops".

№ 1. A little brunette with long, curly hair and big, foal-like eyes. Slim, supple as a spring, and beautiful. I was touched by the humility and meekness that poured from her eyes, and the tranquility of her constant silence – a rare talent that I place in a woman above all artistic talents! She was a shallow and limited creature, but full of truth and sincerity. She mixed up Pushkin with Pugachev, Europe with America, rarely read anything, never knew anything, always wondered about everything, but during all her existence she did’t knowingly say a single word of falsehood, didn’t make one false move: when it was necessary to cry, she cried, when it was necessary to laugh, she laughed, she wasn’t shy anywhere or at any time. She was as natural as a silly, young lamb. The power of feline love is proverbial, but I bet you anything you want, no cat has ever loved her tomcat as much as this tiny woman loved me. All day long, from morning to night, she would follow me about and stare into my face as if I had notes written on my forehead, for which she lived, moved, spoke... The days and the hours when her big eyes didn’t see me were considered by her as irretrievably lost, as written out of the book of life. She looked at me silently, marvelling and amazed... At night, when I was snoring like a lazy bum, if she slept she would see me in her dreams and if she succeeded in avoiding sleep she would stand in the corner and pray. If I were a novelist, I would try to find out what words and expressions make up the prayers that loving wives send to heaven for their husbands in the hours of darkness. What do they want and what do they ask for? I can just imagine how much logic there is in these prayers!
Neither at Testov’s nor at Novo-Moskovskoye had I ever eaten anything that her fingers couldn’t prepare. She ranked over-salted soup as a mortal sin, and over-cooked beefsteak completely demoralised her. The suspicion that I was hungry or unhappy with my food was a terrible misery to her. But nothing plunged her into such sorrow as my ailments. When I coughed or pretended to have an upset stomach, she became pale, with a cold sweat on her forehead, went from corner to corner twisting her fingers... Every short absence of mine made her think that I’d been run over by a horse, had fallen from a bridge into the river, had died from blows... and how many painful moments there were in her memory! When I returned home after a drinking spree and settled down on the sofa with a Gaborio novel, no amount of scolding, not even kicks could save me from a silly head compress, a warm wadded blanket and a glass of lime tea!
A golden fly is lovely to the eye only when it flies for a minute or two and then... flies off into space, but if it starts walking on your forehead, tickling your cheeks with its claws, getting into your nose, irresistibly, without any attention to your waving it away, you’ll eventually try to catch it and deprive it of its annoying habits. My wife was just such a fly. That perpetual peeking into my eyes, that constant surveillance of my appetite, the relentless pursuit of my runny noses, coughs and mild headaches, got to me. In the end I couldn’t stand it... And besides, her love for me was her misery. The eternal silence and dove-like meekness of her eyes spoke for her defencelessness. I poisoned her...

№ 2. She was a woman with a perpetually laughing face, dimples on her cheeks and squinted eyes. A pretty figure, dressed extremely expensively and with great taste. As much as my first wife had been quiet and a homebody, this one was fidgety, boisterous and active. A novelist would have called her a woman composed of nothing but nerves, but I wasn’t at all mistaken when I called her a body of equal parts soda and acid. She was a bottle of good sour soup at the moment of uncorking. Physiology knows no organisms that race to live, and yet my wife’s circulation was rushing along like an emergency train hired by an American original, and her pulse beat 120 even when she was asleep. She didn’t breath but gasped, didn’t drink but choked. She rushed to breathe, to talk, to love... Her life consisted of rushing after sensations. She loved pickles, mustard, pepper, giant men, cold showers, a mad waltz... From me she demanded incessant cannonballs, fireworks, duels, trips with poor Bobesh... Seeing me in a bathrobe, in shoes and with a pipe in my mouth, she went out cursing the day when she married that "bear" Raoul. There was no way I could explain to her that I’d long since gone through what was now her life, that I was more suited to the dressing-gown than to the waltz. All my arguments were answered by her waving her hands and doing hysterical things. Volens-nolens [20] had to waltz, to shoot guns, and fight to escape the shrieks and reproaches... That life soon bored me, and I sent for the doctor...

№ 3. A tall, slender blonde with blue eyes. A look of resignation and at the same time dignity in her face. Always looked dreamily at the sky and let out a pained sigh every minute. She led a regular life, had her "own God" and always talked about principles. She was merciless on the subject of her principles...
“It’s not fair,” she used to say to me, “to wear a beard when it can be used to make a pillow for a poor man!”
“God, what’s the cause of all her suffering? What’s the reason?” I asked myself, listening to her sighs. “Oh, those civil sorrows of hers!"
Man loves a riddle – that’s why I fell in love with the blonde. But soon the mystery was solved. One day I happened to come across her diary, and in it I came across the following pearl: "The desire to save poor papa, entangled in the intendant’s lawsuit, forced me to make a sacrifice and obey the voice of reason: I married the rich Raoul. Forgive me, my dear Paul!" Paul, as it later turned out, served in the chancellery and wrote very bad poetry. He never saw his Dulcinea again... Together with her principles she went ad patres [21].

№ 4. A maiden with a nice, but perpetually frightened and surprised face. A merchant’s daughter. Along with her 200-thousand dowry she brought into my house her murderous habit of playing the scales and singing the romance "I am before you again...". When she didn’t sleep or eat she played, when she didn’t play she sang. The scales sucked all my poor veins out of me (I am now veinless), and the words of my favourite romance "I stand enchanted" were sung with such an outrageous screech that all the plaster in my ears peeled off and I needed a hearing aid. I stood it for a long time, but sooner or later my compassion for myself had to take over: the doctor came and the scales came to an end…

№ 5. A long-nosed, smooth-haired woman with a stern, never-smiling face. She was nearsighted and wore glasses. For want of taste and vanity, she dressed simply and strangely: a black dress with narrow sleeves, a wide belt... all her clothes were flat and ironed – not a single relief, not a careless crease! I liked her originality: she wasn’t a fool. She had studied abroad somewhere with Germans and she had swallowed all the Bockleys and Millais and dreamed of a scholarly career. She spoke only of "clever" things... Spiritualists, positivists and materialists fell constantly from her tongue... Talking to her for the first time, I blinked my eyes and felt like a fool. She guessed by looking at me that I was a fool, but she didn’t look down on me, but rather naively began to teach me how to stop being a fool... Clever people, when they are lenient to ignoramuses, are extremely sympathetic!
When we returned from church in the wedding carriage, she looked thoughtfully out the carriage window and told me about the wedding customs in China. The first night she made the discovery that my skull resembled a Mongolian skull; immediately she taught me how to measure skulls and proved that phrenology as a science was going nowhere. I listened and listened... The rest of our life consisted of listening... She talked and I blinked my eyes, afraid to show that I understood nothing... If I had to wake up at night, I saw two eyes focused on the ceiling or on my skull...
“Don’t bother me... I’m thinking..." she’d say, when I started to pester her with tenderness...
A week after the wedding there was a conviction sitting in my head: smart women are hard for us fellows, terribly hard! To always feel like you’re having an exam, to see a serious face in front of you, to be afraid to say a stupid word, you must agree is terribly hard! I snuck up on her one day like a thief and slipped a bit of cyanide in her coffee. Matches aren’t worthy of such a woman!

№ 6. A girl who charmed me with her naivety and untouched nature. She was a sweet, guileless child who, a month after the wedding, turned out to be a spinster, obsessed with fashions, high-society gossip, manners and visits. A little wretch who squandered all my money while keeping a strict eye on the shop-books. Spent hundreds and thousands at the mode-shops and scolded the cook for the pennies she’d wasted on sorrel. Frequent hysterics, languid migraines, and slapping the maids’ cheeks was considered grand chic. Married me only because I was noble, and cheated on me two days before the wedding. While I was poisoning rats in my pantry I poisoned her too...

№ 7. That one died by mistake – she inadvertently drank the poison that I’d prepared for my mother-in-law. (I poison my mother-in-laws with ammonia.) If it hadn’t been for such an accident, she might still be alive...

I’ve finished – I think, Sir, that all of the above is enough to inform the reader pf all the unfairness of the author of the operetta and of Mr. Lentovsky, who’s gotten into trouble, probably through ignorance. Anyway I expect a printed explanation from Mr. Lentovsky.

Please accept, etc.

Raoul Bluebeard.


5. HORSE AND QUIVERING DOE

It’s three o’clock in the morning. The Fibrova couple is awake. He’s tossing from side to side and spits every now and then, while she, a slim little brunette, is lying motionless and looking thoughtfully out the open window, into which the dawn is staring intently and harshly...

“I can’t sleep!”

She sighs. “Are you feeling queasy?”

“Yes, a little.”

“I don’t understand why you don’t tire of coming home like this every day! There’s not a night goes by when you’re not sick. It’s embarrassing!”

“Well, I’m sorry... It was an accident. I had a bottle of beer at the editorial office, and I drank a little too much at Arcadia. I’m sorry.”

“What’s there to be sorry about? You should be disgusted and disgusted by yourself. Spitting, hiccuping... God knows what it looks like. And it’s like that every night, every single night! I can’t remember the last time you came home sober.”

“I don’t want to drink, but it just kind of drinks all by itself. It’s an awful job. All day long you’re out on the town. You have a drink somewhere, a beer in another place, and then, lo and behold, you meet a drinking buddy... you can’t help but have a drink. And sometimes you can’t get information without having a bottle of vodka with some pig. Today, for example, at the fire, it was impossible not to have a drink with an agent.”

“Yes, it’s a cursed job!” The brunette sighs. “You should give it up, Vasya!”

“Give it up? How could I!”

“Very much so. I wish you were a real writer, writing good poetry or novels, but you’re just a reporter, writing about thefts and fires. You write such trifles that sometimes they’re embarrassing to read. It would be nice if you earned a lot of money, say, two or three hundred rubles a month, but you just get some miserable fifty rubles, and even that’s not very good. We live poorly and dirtily. The flat smells of laundry, and all around there are handymen and lecherous women. All day long all you hear are filthy words and songs. No furniture, no linen. I’m dressed indecently, so poorly that the landlady pokes fun at me; I’m worse off than a milliner of any kind. We eat worse than any day-labourer. You eat some rubbish on the side in taverns, and it’s probably not on your own account, I... God only knows what I eat. Well, if we were plebeians, uneducated, then I’d be reconciled to this kind of life, but you’re a nobleman, you went to university, you speak French. And I’m a university graduate, I’ve been spoiled.

"Wait, Katyusha, I’ll be invited to take on the ’Night Blindness’ section of The Chronicle, and then we’ll live differently. I’ll have a number then.”

“You’ve been promising me that for three years now. What’s the use of it if they do? No matter how much you get, you’ll still lose it. You won’t stop keeping company with your writers and actors! You know what, Vasya? I’ll write to my uncle Dmitry Fedorych in Tula. He’d find you a nice place in a bank or a government office somewhere. All right, Vasya? You’d go to work like other people, you’d get a salary on the 20th every month, and you’d have no grief! We could rent a mansion with a yard, with barns, with a hayloft. You could get an excellent house there for two hundred roubles a year. We could buy furniture, crockery, tablecloths, hire a cook, and have lunch every day. You’d come back from work at three o’clock, look at the table, and there would be clean cutlery, radishes, and snacks of all kinds. We’d get chickens, ducks, pigeons, buy a cow. In the provinces, if you don’t live luxuriously and drink heavily, you can have all that for a thousand roubles a year. And our children wouldn’t die of dampness like now, and I wouldn’t have to go to the hospital every now and then. Vasya, I pray to God, let’s go and live in the provinces!”

“You’ll die of boredom with the savages there.”

“Is there any fun here? We don’t have any social life, no acquaintances... You just have business relations with clean and decent people, and no family relatives. Who comes here? Well, who? That Cleopatra Sergeyevna. You think she’s a celebrity? She writes musical columns, but in my opinion, she’s a kept woman, a promiscuous one. Should a woman drink vodka and take her corset off in front of men? She writes articles and constantly talks about honesty, and after she borrowed a rouble from me last year she still hasn’t paid me back. Then that favourite poet of yours comes to see you. You’re proud to know such a celebrity, but judge in good conscience: is he worth it?”

“A most honest man!”

“But there’s very little merriness in him. He only comes to our house to get drunk... He drinks and tells dirty jokes. On his third visit, for instance, he got drunk and slept here on the floor all night. And the actors! When I was a girl I worshipped those celebrities, but since I married you I can’t look at the theatre indifferently. They’re always drunk, they’re rude, they can’t hold their own in female society, they’re arrogant and they walk around in dirty boots. They’re very difficult people! I don’t know what you find amusing in their jokes, that they tell with a loud, husky laugh! And you look on them ingratiatingly, as if they were doing you a favour by knowing you... Pah!”

“Stop it, please!”

“And there, in the provinces, we’d have visits by officials, high-school teachers and officers. The people there are all well-mannered, mild, without pretensions. They’d have a cup of tea, have a drink if you served it to them, and then leave. No noise, no jokes, everything’s so dignified and delicate. They sit on sofas and armchairs and talk about different things, and the maid serves them tea with jam and croutons. After tea they play the piano, sing and dance. What do you say, Vasya, At twelve o’clock there’d be a light snack: sausage, cheese, what’s left of lunch... After dinner you’ll go and see the ladies off, and I’ll stay behind and tidy up.”

“That’s boring, Katyusha!”

“If you’re bored at home, you’d go to a club or a party... Here you don’t meet anyone you know at a party, you inevitably get drunk, but there you’d know everyone you met. Teachers, lawyers, doctors... there’s always someone to talk to... Educated people are very interesting there, Vasya! You’d be one of the top people there...”

Katyusha dreams out loud for a long time... The leaden grey light outside the window gradually turns to white... The silence of the night quietly gives way to the animation of the morning. The reporter lies awake, listening, now and again he raises his heavy head to spit... Suddenly, unexpectedly for Katusha, he makes a sudden movement and rises from the bed... His face is pale, his forehead is in sweat...

“I’m just so bloody dizzy," he interrupts Katusha´s reverie. “Hold on, I’ll be right back...”

He throws a blanket over his shoulders and quickly runs out of the room. An unpleasant mishap occurs, so familiar in the morning for drinkers. Two minutes later he returns, pale and languid... He staggers about... His face is full of an expression of disgust, despair and almost horror, as though he’s just realised the awfulness of his way of life. The light of day illuminates the poverty and squalor of his room around him and the look of despair on his face becomes even more alive.

“Katyusha, write to your uncle!” he mutters.

“Really? Do you agree?” The brunette’s triumphant. “Tomorrow I’ll write, and I give you my word of honour that you’ll get a splendid position! Vasya, you didn’t do it on purpose, did you?”

“Katyusha, please... for God’s sake...”

And Katyusha starts dreaming out loud again. She falls asleep to the sound of her voice. She dreams of a small house and a courtyard, of her own chickens and ducks striding firmly about. She sees pigeons staring at her from the skylight, and hears a cow mooing. All is quiet around her: no noisy neighbours, no hoarse laughter, not even that hateful, scurrying creak of feathers. Vasya strides gallantly by the front garden towards the gate. He’s walking to work. And her soul is filled with a sense of peace, when nothing is desired, little thought is given...

At noon she wakes up in the best of spirits. Sleep has had a beneficial effect on her. But then, after wiping her eyes, she looks at the spot where Vasya had lain so recently and the feeling of joy that had enveloped her vanishes from her like a heavy bullet. Vasya had gone away, only to return late at night in a drunken state, just as he’d returned yesterday, and the day before... always... Again she’ll dream, again she’ll have a flicker disgust on his face.

“No need to write to my uncle!” she sighs.


6. GENERAL EDUCATION

“It’s bad luck in the dental department, Osip Franzich!" sighed the lean little man with a grey, plucked moustache in a faded overcoat and worn-out boots, looking with servility at his colleague, a very fat German in an expensive new coat and with a big Havana in his teeth. “Bad luck! Who knows why that is! Either there are more dentists than teeth these days... or I have no real talent, the plague only knows! It’s hard to understand fortune. Take you, for instance. We went to the district school together, we worked for the Jew Berka Schwacher, but what a difference! You have two houses and a dacha, you ride in a carriage, while as you can see I’am as naked as if I were good for nothing. Well, why’s that?"

The German Osip Franzich is a district-school graduate and as stupid as a black grouse, but his satiety, his fatness and his houses give him a lot of self-confidence. He considers it his inalienable right to speak with authority, to philosophize and to recite maxims.

"The trouble’s with us," he sighed authoritatively in response to his colleague’s complaints. "It’s your own fault, Pyotr Ilyich! Don’t be angry, but I’ve said and will continue to say it: we specialists are ruined by a lack of general education. We’re up to our ears in our specialty, and beyond that we don’t care. Not good, brother! Oh, that’s not good! You think that just because you can pull out teeth, you can be useful to society? Well, no, brother, with such narrow, one-sided views you can’t go far... in no way. You have to have a general education!"

"And what is general education?” Peter Ilyich asked timidly.

The German couldn’t find an answer right away and started talking nonsense, but then, after drinking some wine, he broke up and gave his Russian colleague a clue as to what he meant by "general education". He didn’t explain it directly, but indirectly, talking about something else.

“The most important thing for our brethren is a decent environment," he said. “The public is the judge of the atmosphere of an establishment. If your staircase is dirty and your rooms are small and your furniture is miserable, it means you’re poor, and if you’re poor, it means you have no visitors. Isn’t that right? Why should I go to you if you have no one to cure properly? I’d rather go to someone with a big practice! But if you get yourself some velvet furniture and put electric bells everywhere, then that means that you’re experienced and you have got a lot of practice. It’s easy to get a nice apartment and some decent furniture. Today’s furniture-makers are on the move, and their spirits are down. You can get as much credit as you want, even for a hundred thousand, especially if you sign the bill: "Doctor So-and-So". And you have to dress decently. The people think like this: if you’re ragged and live in squalor, a rouble’s good enough; but if you have gold spectacles, a thick chain, and velvet all round you, it’s shameful to give you a rouble, and you should have five or ten. Isn’t that so?"

"That’s right!..." agreed Peter Ilyich. “To tell you the truth, I had such surroundings at first. I had everything: velvet tablecloths, magazines in the reception room, and Beethoven hanging by the mirror, but... the devil only knows! I had a stupid eclipse. I was walking around my luxury flat, and I became ashamed of myself for some reason! It’s like I was in the wrong flat or I’d stolen all that... I just can’t do it! I can’t sit on a velvet armchair and relax! And then there’s my wife... a simple woman, she doesn’t want to understand how to respect the situation. The whole house smelt like cabbage soup or goose, then she cleaned the candelabra with rags, and she mopped the floor in the waiting room in front of the patients... and God knows what! Believe it or not, it’s like I’ve come back to life since all that stuff was auctioned off.”

“So you’re not used to a decent life... Well, so what? You have to get used to it! Then, apart from the furnishings, you also need a sign. The smaller the man, the bigger the signboard should be. Isn’t that true? The sign should be huge, so that you can see it even out of town. When you approach St. Petersburg or Moscow, you’ll see dentists’ signs before you see the church towers. And there, brother, doctors are not like you and me.”

The sign should have gold and silver circles on it so that the public thinks you have medals: more respect! Apart from that, you need publicity. Sell your last trousers and print an ad. Print it every day in all the newspapers. If you think that simple ads aren’t enough, then play with tricks: have the ad printed upside down, order images "with teeth" and "no teeth", ask the public not to confuse you with other dentists, announce that you’ve come back from abroad that the poor and students are treated free... You also have to hang up ads at the train station, in buffets... There are many ways!

“That’s true!” Peter Ilyich sighed.

“Some people also say that it doesn’t matter how you treat the public, it’s all the same... No, it’s not all the same! You have to know how to treat the public... Today’s public, though educated, is wild and senseless. It doesn’t know what it wants, and that’s hard to get used to. If you’re a professor, but if you can’t adapt to their character, they’d rather go to a hobo than to you... Let’s say a lady comes to me with a bad tooth. Can you accept her without tricks? No and no! I now scowl in a scholarly fashion and point to my chair in silence; ’Tis no time for a scholar to speak. My chair has tricks too, it’s got screws! You turn the screws and the chair goes up and down. Then you start digging around in a sore tooth. There’s nonsense in the tooth, it just needs tearing out, that’s all, but you dig long and hard... put a mirror in the mouth ten times, because old maids like to have their ailments taken care of. And you say to her, ’Madam, it is my duty to relieve your terrible suffering, so please treat me with confidence...’ And on the table before the madam there should be jaws and skulls and various bones and all sorts of instruments and jars with Adam’s heads, all musty and mysterious. I myself am in a black robe, like some inquisitor. There’s a nitrous-oxide machine next to the chair. I never use it, but still it’s scary. I pull the tooth out with a huge wrench. In general the bigger and scarier the tool, the better. I rip quickly, without hesitation."

“And I’m not bad either, Osip Franzich, but the devil knows me! Just when, you know, I do a traction and start pulling a tooth, the thought comes out of nowhere: what if I don’t pull it out or I break it? The thought makes my hand tremble. And that’s all the time!”

“It’s not your fault if the tooth breaks.”

“That’s the way it is, but still! It’s a misfortune if you don’t have any aplomb! It’s worse if you don’t believe in yourself or have doubts. There was a case like this: I put the forceps on, I pulled... I pulled, and suddenly, you know, I feel that I’ve been pulling for a very long time. It’s about time to pull it out, but I’m still pulling. I’m petrified! I should quit and start again, but I keep on pulling, I’m pulling and pulling... I’m in a daze! The patient sees in my face that I’m a failure, that I have doubts. He jumps up in pain and anger and hits me with a chair! I once got mad, too, and pulled out a healthy tooth instead of a sore one.”

“That’s nothing, it happens to everyyone. You pull out a healthy tooth, you’ll get to the sick one. You’re right, you can’t be without aplomb. A scholarly man has to behave in a scholarly manner. The public doesn’t understand that you and I haven’t been to university. For them everyone’s a doctor. Botkin’s a doctor, I’m a doctor, and you’re a doctor. That’s why you have to behave like one. To make yourself look scholarly and to throw powder around, publish a pamphlet called "On the Maintenance of Teeth". If you can’t write it yourself, get a student to do it for you. He’ll write the foreword for ten rubles and pull quotes from French authors. I’ve already published three brochures. What else? Invent tooth powder. Order a box with your stamp on it, fill it with what you want, put a seal on it and say: "Price 2 rubles, beware of fakes". Make up an elixir, too. Make something that smells and stings, that’s your elixir. Don’t put a firm price on it, but the following: Elixir number 1 costs 77 k., number 2 – 82 k., etc.. That’s more mysterious. Sell toothbrushes with your stamp on it for a ruble apiece. Have you seen my toothbrushes?”

Pyotr Ilyich nervously scratched the back of his head and walked excitedly beside the German...

“Well, look at you!” He gesticulated. “How it is! But I can’t, I just can’t! Not that I consider it quackery or fraud, but I can’t, my hands are short! I’ve tried it a hundred times, and it doesn’t work. You’re well fed, you’re well-clothed, you have a home, and I’m a fool! Yes, indeed, it’s bad without a general education! You’re right, Osip Franzich! It’s very bad!”


7. TWO NEWSPAPERMEN

Rybkin, an employee of the “Screw Your Heads!” newspaper, a flabby, flaccid, dull man, stood in the middle of his room looking up lovingly at the ceiling, where a hook adapted for a lamp was sticking out. A rope dangled in his hands.

"Will it hold or won’t it?” he thought. “It might break off and the hook would hit me on the head... Life’s awful! There’s not even a decent place to hang yourself!"

I don’t know how the madman’s thoughts would have ended if the door hadn’t opened and Rybkin’s friend Shlepkin, an employee of the “Judas the Traitor” newspaper, hadn’t entered the room, very lively, cheerful and rosy-cheeked.

“Hello, Vasya!" he began, sitting down. “I was looking for you... Let’s go! There’s been an attempted murder in Vyborgskaya, a thirty-line murder... Some scoundrel has cut someone up and didn’t finish the job. It would have been worth a hundred lines, the bastard! Often I think, brother, and I even want to write about it: if mankind were humane and knew how we hungry we were, then it would hang, burn and be judged a hundred times more often. What’s this?” He threw up his hands when he saw the rope. “You’re not going to hang yourself, are you?”

“Yes, brother..." sighed Rybkin. “It’s all over... farewell! I’m sick of life! It’s about time...”

“Well, isn’t that idiotic? How could life disgust you?”

“Just everything... It’s all foggy, uncertain... so much uncertainty... there’s nothing to write about. Just thinking about it makes you want to hang yourself ten times over: they’re eating each other up, robbing, drowning, spitting in each other’s faces, and there’s nothing to write about! Life is boiling, crackling, hissing, but there’s nothing to write about! So many damned contradictions...”

“How can there be nothing to write about? If you had ten hands, you’d have enough work for all ten!”

“No, there’s nothing to write about! My life is over! Well, what should I write about? They’ve written about cashiers, they’ve written about pharmacies, they’ve written about the Oriental question... so much so that they’ve confused everything and you can’t understand a damn thing!. They wrote about unbelief, mother-in-laws, anniversaries, fires, women’s hats, the decline of manners, about Zucchi... They’ve gone through the whole universe and there’s nothing left. You’re talking about a murder now: a man stabbed to death... Big deal! If I hear about a murder where a man was hung, stabbed, doused with paraffin and burned all together, I don’t say a word about it. I don’t give a damn! It’s all happened before and there’s nothing extraordinary about it. Let’s say you stole two hundred thousand or set fire to Nevsky at both ends – I don’t care about that either! It’s all commonplace, and it’s been written about already. Goodbye!”

“I don’t understand! Such a mass of questions... such a variety of phenomena! You throw a stone at a dog, but you hit a question or a phenomenon...”

“Neither questions nor phenomena are worth anything... For example, I’m hanging myself right now... You think it’s a question, an event; but I think it’s five lines of petition – nothing more. And there’s no need to write. They’ve been stunned, they are stunned and they’ll be stunned – there’s nothing new here... All that, brother, all that variety, boiling, hissing, is really monotonous... Even to write is boring, and I pity the poor reader: why drive the poor fellow into melancholy?”

Rybkin sighed, shook his head and smiled bitterly.

“If something special happened," he said, "something horrible, something terrible, something that would make the devils die of fright, then I’d come to life. The earth could pass through the tail of a comet, Bismarck could convert to Mohammedanism, or the Turks could take Kaluga by storm... or, you know, Notovich would be made a Privy Councillor... in a word, something fiery, desperate – oh, how I’d live then!”

“You like to look at the big picture, but try to swim a little smaller. Look at a grain of sand, a speck of sand, a tiny crack... There’s life, drama and tragedy everywhere! There’s drama in every splinter, in every pig!”

“You have a nature that you can write about a beaten egg, but I... no!”

“So what?" snapped Shlepkin. “What’s wrong with a beaten egg? There are so many aspects to it! First, when you see a beaten egg in front of you, you become indignant, you become simply indignant! An egg, intended by nature to reproduce the life of an individual... do you understand?... life!... life, which in turn would give life to an entire generation, and that generation to thousands of future generations, is suddenly eaten, a victim of gluttony, of a whim! That egg would give birth to a hen, the hen would lay a thousand eggs during her lifetime... there you have, as if on the palm of your hand, the undermining of the whole economic system, the eating up of the future! Secondly, looking at the eaten egg you’re glad: if the egg’s been eaten, it means that Russians eat well... Thirdly, it occurs to you that eggshells fertilize the land and you advise the reader to treasure the rubbish. Fourthly, the beaten egg makes you think of the perishable nature of all earthly things: alive and gone! Fifthly... What am I counting? There’s enough for a hundred numbers!”

“No, I don’t care! I’ve lost faith in myself, I’ve fallen into despondency... To hell with it all!”

Rybkin stood on the stool and hooked the rope onto the hook.

“It’s unnecessary, in heaven’s name, it’s unnecessary!” Shlepkin tried to persuade him. “Look at this: we have twenty newspapers, and all of them are full of news! So there’s something to write about! Even the provincial papers are full up!”

“No... Sleeping vowels, cashiers..." muttered Rybkin, as if looking for something to hold on to, "the noblemen’s bank, the passport system... the abolition of ranks, the Balkans... God be with them!”

“Well, as you like...”

Rybkin threw a noose around his neck and hung himself with gusto. Shlepkin sat down at his desk and in an instant wrote: a note on suicide, Rybkin’s obituary, a feuilleton on the frequency of suicides, an editorial on the increased punishment to be imposed on suicides and several other articles on the same subject. Having written that, he put it all in his pocket and ran cheerfully to the editorial office, where bounty, fame and readers awaited him.


8. THE ROOK

The rooks had arrived and were already circling in droves over the Russian countryside. I chose the most solid one among them and started talking to him. Unfortunately, I found the rook to be a reasoner and a moralist, so the conversation turned out to be boring. This is what we were talking about:

Me. – They say that you rooks live very long lives. Naturalists speak of you and pikes as models of extraordinary longevity. How old are you?

Rook. – I’m 376 years old.

Me. – Wow! Well I’ll be! You’ve certainly lived long enough! If I were you, old man, I know how many articles I’d have crammed into the "Russian antiquity" and the "Historical Herald"! If I’d lived 376 years, I can imagine how many stories, scenes, little things I would have written during that time! How many royalties I would have had! What have you, rook, done in all that time?

Rook. – Nothing, my good man. I just drank, ate, slept and multiplied...

Me. – Shame on you! I’m both ashamed for you and offended by you, you stupid bird! You’ve lived in this world for 376 years and you’re as stupid as you were 300 years ago! Not a shred of progress!

Rook. – Intelligence isn’t a gift of years, Mr. Man, but of upbringing and education. Take China... He’s lived much longer than me, and yet he’s the same fool as he was 1000 years ago.

Me. (continuing to marvel) – 376 years! What a number! A whole eternity! During this time I would have had time to visit all the faculties, to get married 20 times, to try all the careers and positions, I would have served up to who knows what rank and probably would have died a Rothschild! One ruble invested in the bank at 5% compound interest would become a million in 283 years! Do the math! If you had deposited one ruble 283 years ago, you now would have a million! Oh, you fool, you fool! Aren’t you ashamed, aren’t you ashamed that you’re so stupid?

Rook. Not at all... We are foolish, but we can take solace in the fact that in 400 years of our life we do much less foolishness than a man in his 40... Yes, Mr. Man! I’ve lived 376 years, but I’ve never seen rooks fighting and killing one another, and you cannot remember a year when there was no war... We don’t steal from one another, we don’t open loan banks and boarding houses without knowing ancient languages, we don’t slander, blackmail, write bad novels and poetry, don’t publish abusive newspapers... I’ve lived 376 years and have never seen our females cheat or hurt their husbands, – and you, Mr. man? There are no lackeys, toadies, sycophants, Christ-sellers…?

But then my interlocutor was hailed by his companions, and before he had finished his tirade, he flew back across the countryside.


9. IN A BOARDING HOUSE

In the private boarding house of Mme Jevuzem the clock strikes twelve. The boarders, languid and lean, holding hands, stroll gracefully down the corridor. The class ladies, wan-faced and freckled, with expressions of extreme anxiety on their faces, don’t take their eyes off them and, despite the perfect silence, call out now and then, "Mesdames! Silence!"

Mme Jevuzem herself and the mathematics teacher Dyryavin are sitting in the teacher’s room, in that mysterious holy of holies. The teacher has long since given his lessons and it’s time for him to leave, but he’s stayed behind to ask his supervisor for a raise. Knowing the stinginess of the "old rogue", he doesn’t raise the question of a raise directly, but diplomatically.

“Looking at your face, Bianka Ivanovna, I think of past times..." he says with a sigh. “What beauties there used to be in our time! My God, what beauties! You could suck your fingers! And now? There are no beauties any more! There are no real women nowadays, but they’re all, God forbid, wagtails and sprats... Each one is worse than the other...”

“No, even now there are many beautiful women!” Zhevuzem murmured.

“Where? Show me where! Dyryavin was getting hot. “Come on, Bianka Ivanovna! Out of the goodness of your heart you’d call a beluga’s face a beauty, I know you! Forgive me for these bold expressions, but I’m being sincere with you. I carefully examined the women at the concert yesterday: mug after mug, curve after curve! Take our senior class, for example. They’re all buds, brides, the cream of the crop, and what? Eighteen of them, and not one pretty one!”

“That’s not true! Anyone you ask, everyone will tell you that there are many pretty ones in my senior class. For example, Kochkina, Ivanova 2nd, Paltseva... And Paltseva is such a picture! I’m a woman, and I even have my eye on her...”

“Amazing..." murmured Dyryavin. “There’s nothing good about her...”

“She has beautiful black eyes!” Zhevuzem looked worried. “As black as mascara! Look at her: she’s... she’s perfection! In ancient times they would have painted goddesses in her image!”

Dyryavin had never seen such a beauty as Paltseva, but his thirst for a raise overcame his sense of justice, and he continued to prove to the "old rogue" that there were no beauties nowadays.

“One can only relax when looking at the face of some old lady," he says. “True, you can’t see youth and freshness, but at least the eye rests on the right features... The main thing is that the features are right! But your Paltseva’s face doesn’t have features, but just some kind of sour cream... just sour cream...”

“So you haven’t looked at her..." says Jevuzem. “Have a look at her and then you’ll say that...”

“There’s nothing good about her," sighs Dyryavin sullenly.

Zhevuzem jumps up, goes to the door and shouts: “Get me Paltseva!”

“You take a good look at her," she says to the teacher as she steps back from the door. “Look at her eyes and her nose... You won’t find a better nose in all Russia.”

A minute later Paltseva, a girl of seventeen, dark-haired, slender, with large black eyes and a fine Greek nose, enters the room.

“Come nearer..." Jevuzem turns to her in a stern voice. “Mr Dyryavin is complaining to me that you are... that you are inattentive in your mathematics lessons. You’re absent-minded and... and...”

“And you don’t do well in algebra..." murmurs Dyryavin, looking at Paltseva’s face.

“Shame on you, Paltseva!” Jevuzem continued. "It’s no good! Do you really want me to punish you along with the little ones? You’re an adult and you should set an example for others, not behave so badly... But... come closer!"

Jevuzem says a lot more "generalities". Paltseva listens to her absent-mindedly and, flaring her nostrils, looks out the window over Dyryavin’s head...

"Give her everything – and still not enough," thinks the mathematician, contemplating her. “What a gorgeous girl! She flares her nostrils, the naughty thing... She senses that she’ll break free in June... Let her break free, she’ll forget that Jevuzem, that blockhead Dyryavin and algebra... It’s not algebra that she needs! She needs space, brilliance... she needs life..."

Dyryavin sighed and continues to think:

"Oh, those nostrils! In less than a month, all my algebra will go to hell... Dyryavin will turn into a dull, grey memory... If I meet her, she’ll only flutter her nostrils and won’t say hello. Thank you at least for not crushing me with a pram..."

“Good progress can only be made with attention and diligence," continued Jevuzem, "and you’re inattentive... If you continue to complain, I’ll be forced to punish you... Shame on you!

"Don’t listen to this dry lemon peel, angel" thought Dyryavin. “No shame at all... You’re far better than all of us put together.”

“Off you go!” Zhevuzem said sternly.

Paltseva curtsied and stepped out.

“Well? Have you looked closely now?” Zhevuzem asked.

Dyryavin didn’t hear her question and was still thinking.

“Well?” she repeated. “Was she as bad as you think?”

Dyryavin looked at Jevuzem dumbly, cames to his senses and, remembering the raise, revived.

“I can’t find anything good, I swear to God," he said. “You’re already in years, and your nose and eyes are much better than hers... Honestly... Take a look at yourself in the mirror!”

In the end Mme Jevuzem agrees and Dyryavin got a raise.


10. THE PLAYWRIGHT

A dull-looking individual with a frosty gaze and a catarrhal face comes into the doctor’s office. Judging by the size of his nose and his gloomy, melancholic expression, he’s no stranger to alcohol, to a chronic runny nose and to philosophy.

He sits down in a chair and complains of breathlessness, belching, heartburn, melancholy and a nasty taste in his mouth.

“What profession do you exercise?” asks the doctor.

“I’m a playwright!" declares the person, not without pride.

This instantly commands the doctor’s admiration for his patient, and he smiles respectfully.

“Ah, it’s such a rare speciality..." he mutters. “There’s so much purely cerebral and nervous work to be done!”

“Oh-la-la-la-la...”

“Writers are so rare... Their life can’t resemble that of ordinary people... Therefore I would kindly ask you to tell me about your way of life, your occupation, habits, circumstances... in general at what cost you do your work...”

"Willingly..." The playwright agrees. “I get up, my dear sir, at about twelve o’clock, and sometimes even earlier... When I get up I smoke a cigarette and drink two shots of vodka, and sometimes three... Sometimes, however, even four, depending on how much I drank the day before... So... If I don’t drink anything, then my eyes begin to blur and my head starts to pound.”

“You probably drink a lot, don’t you?"

“No, what’s a lot? If I drink on an empty stomach, it just depends, I suppose, on my nerves... Then, after getting dressed, I go to Livorno or Savrasenkov’s, where I have breakfast... I have a bad appetite in general... I eat very little for breakfast: a cutlet or half a portion of sturgeon with horseradish. I have three or four drinks on purpose, but no appetite... After breakfast, a beer or wine, depending on finances...

“And then?"

“Then I go to a porterhouse, from the porterhouse I go back to Livorno to play billiards... You carry on until six o’clock and have lunch.... I have a disgusting lunch... You know, sometimes you drink six or seven glasses and you still have no appetite! It’s enviable to look at people: everyone’s eating soup, but I can’t stand the soup and I drink beer instead of eating... After lunch, I go to the theatre...”

“Hmm... The theatre probably bothers you?”

“Terribly! I get nervous and irritable, and then my buddies keep saying: let’s have a drink! You drink vodka with one of them, red wine with the other, beer with the third, and so – by the third act you can hardly stand on your feet... I don’t know, it’s because of those nerves, I suppose... After the theatre you go to the Salon or a masquerade at Rodon... From the Salon or a masquerade, I’m sure you understand, you can’t get away... If you wake up in the morning at home, then you can be thankful for that too... Sometimes you don’t sleep at home for weeks at a time...”

“Um... you’re an observer of life?"

“Well, yes... Once I got so nervous that I didn’t live at home for a month and even forgot my own address... I had to go to the address bureau... As you can see, almost every day’s like that!”

“Well, when do you write plays?”

“Plays? What can I tell you?” The playwright shrugs his shoulders. “It all depends on the circumstances...”

“Would you care to describe to me the way you do your work…?”

“First of all, sir, by chance or through some friends – I have no time to do it myself! A French or German thing comes into my possession. If it’s suitable, then I bring it to my sister or I hire a student for five roubles... They translate, and I, you see, adapt it to Russian morals: instead of foreign names I put Russian ones, and so on... That’s all... But it’s hard! Oh, how difficult!"

The dull person rolls his eyes and sighs... The doctor starts tapping him, listening and feeling...


11. IT WAS HER!

“Tell us something, Pyotr Ivanovich!" said the maidens.

The colonel twirled his grey moustache, grunted and began:

"It was in 1843, when our regiment was at Czestochowa. There wasn’t a day that passed without frostbitten noses or snowstorms covering the roads. It was freezing cold at the end of October and that lasted until April. At the time I didn’t look as dim and old as I do now, but I was, as you can imagine, a good lad, a man of milk and blood, a handsome fellow in a word. I was quite a peacock, I used to spend money left and right, and I twirled my moustache like no warrant officer in the world. With a blink of an eye, a jingle of my spurs and a twist of my moustache, the proudest beauty turned into an obedient lamb. I was as greedy for women as a spider for flies, and if I were to enumerate the Poles and Jewesses who were hanging around my neck at the time, I can assure you there wouldn’t be enough numbers in mathematics... Add to all this the fact that I was a regimental adjutant, danced the mazurka perfectly and was married to a pretty woman, God rest her soul. And what a tomboy I was, a wild-goose chaser, you can’t imagine. If there was any amorous scandal in the district, if someone tore out a Jew’s side-locks or beat up a nobleman, they knew it was Lieutenant-Colonel Vyvertov who’d done it.

As aide-de-camp I had to go around the county a lot. I would go to buy oats or hay, I would sell faulty horses to Jews and gentlemen, but more often, my dear ladies, I would go to the rendezvous girls or to rich landowners to play cards... On Christmas Eve, as I remember now, I was travelling from Czestochowa to the village of Szewelki, where I had been sent on official business. The weather was unbearable... The frost was rumbling and angry, even the horses were quaking, and I and my driver had turned into two icicles in half an hour... You can put up with the frost, but just imagine, half-way along we were suddenly caught in a snowstorm. The white shroud whirled and twisted like the devil before mass, the wind howled as if his wife had been taken from him, the road disappeared... In no more than ten minutes the snow covered me, the driver and the horses.

“Your Lordship, we’ve lost our way!” the driver said.

“Oh, damn it! What were you looking at, you fool? Well, go on straight ahead, maybe we’ll come across a lodging!”

We rode and rode, and by midnight our horses came to the gates of the estate of, as I remember now, Count Boyadlovski, a rich Pole. Poles and Jews are like horseradish after dinner, but, truth be told, the gentry are hospitable people and there are no hot women like Jewesses...

They let us in... Count Boyadlovski himself was living in Paris at the time and we were received by his steward, the Pole Kazimir Hapzynski. I remember that not one hour later I was already sitting in the bailiff’s wing, making small talk with his wife, drinking and playing cards. After winning five ducats and getting drunk I asked to go to bed. For want of room in the guest-house, I was given a room in the count’s mansion.

“You’re not afraid of ghosts?” the gatekeeper asked me, ushering me into a small room that adjoined a huge empty hall that was cold and dark.

“Is it haunted?” I asked, listening to the muffled echo of my words and footsteps.

“I don’t know," laughed the Pole, "but I think it’s a place most suitable for ghosts and impure spirits.”

I was certainly full up and as drunk as forty thousand cobblers, but I must confess that these words gave me a chill. Damn it, better a hundred Circassians than one ghost! I undressed and lay down... My candle barely lit the walls, and on the walls, as you can imagine, were portraits of ancestors, each one scarier than the other, ancient weapons, hunting horns, and other phantasmagoria... The silence was like in a tomb, but in the next room there was the rustling sound of mice and the crackling of crumbling furniture. Outside the window it was something hellish... The wind was howling and wailing, the trees were bent over, and a devilish thing, probably a shutter, was creaking and pounding on the window frame. Add to all this that I felt dizzy, and with my head the whole world... When I closed my eyes, it seemed to me that my bed was running all over the empty house and playing a game of charade with the spirits. To lessen my fear, my first thought was to extinguish the candle, for empty rooms are much scarier in the light than in the dark..."

The three maidens listening to the colonel moved closer to the narrator and stared at him with fixed eyes.

"Well," continued the colonel, "no matter how hard I tried to sleep, sleep escaped me. Sometimes I thought that thieves were climbing in through the window, then I heard whispers, then thought that someone was touching my shoulder – in general I saw the devilry familiar to anyone who has ever been in a state of nervous tension. But, can you imagine, amidst the hell and chaos of the sounds, I distinctly discerned a sound like the clapping of shoes. I listened, and what do you think? I heard someone coming to my door, coughing and opening it...

“Who’s there?” I asked, getting up.

“It’s me... don’t be afraid!" a woman’s voice replied.

I headed towards the door... After a few seconds I felt two woman’s hands as soft as down down on my shoulders.

“I love you... You are dearer to me than life," the woman’s melodious voice said.

Her hot breath touched my cheek... Forgetting the blizzard, the perfume, everything, I put my arm around her waist... and what a waist! Such a waist nature can make only by special order, once every ten years... Slim, like a carved, hot, ephemeral, like the breath of a baby! I couldn’t endure it and held her tightly in my arms... Our lips joined in a strong, long kiss and... I swear to you by all the women in the world, I’ll not forget that kiss to the grave."

The Colonel fell silent, drank half a glass of water and continued, lowering his voice:

"When I looked out of the window the next day, the blizzard was even worse... There was no way to travel. I had to sit at the steward’s all day, playing cards and drinking. In the evening I was again in an empty house, and at midnight I was embracing the familiar waist again... Yes, ladies, if not for love, I would have died of boredom. I’d have drunk myself to death."

The colonel sighed, got up and silently paced around the living room.

“But... what next?” One of the young ladies asked, wincing in anticipation.

“Nothing. The next day I was on my way.”

“But... who was that woman?” The young ladies asked hesitantly.

“I know who it was!”

“It’s not clear...”

“It was my wife!”

All three young ladies jumped up like they’d been stung.

“You mean... how could it be?” they asked.

“My dear, what’s there to understand?” the colonel said with annoyance and shrugged his shoulders. “I thought I’d made myself clear enough! I was going to Shevelka with my wife... She was sleeping in the next room in that empty house... It’s very clear!”

“Mmmm..." the girls muttered, with their hands down in disappointment. “You started well and you end up with God knows what... The wife... I’m sorry, but it’s not even interesting and... not clever at all!”

“Strange! So you wouldn’t like it to be my lawful wife, but some strange woman! Oh, young ladies, young ladies! If you think like that now, what will you say when you get married?”

The young ladies were embarrassed and became silent. They puffed up, frowned and, totally disappointed, began to yawn loudly... At dinner they ate nothing, rolled balls of bread and kept silent.

“No, it’s even... shameless!” one of them couldn’t stand it any longer. “What was the point of telling the story if it was to end like that? There was nothing good in the story... It was even crazy!”

”You started so temptingly and... all of a sudden you cut it short..." added another. “A mockery, that’s what it is!”

“Well, well, well... I was only joking..." said the colonel. “Don’t be angry, young ladies, I was only joking. It wasn’t my wife, it was the wife of the steward...”

“Really?!”

The girls suddenly cheered up, their eyes sparkled... They moved closer to the colonel and, pouring wine for him, poured questions on him. Boredom disappeared and so did dinner, as the young ladies began to eat with gusto.


12. SPRING #2

It’s early morning. A grey young cat with a deep scratch on its nose appears from behind the skylight. He squints dismissively for a while, then speaks:

“The happiest of mortals is here before you! Oh, love! Oh, sweet moments! Oh, when I shall be dead and taken by the tail and thrown into the cesspool, even then I shall not forget the first meeting near the overturned barrel, I shall not forget the sight of her narrow pupils, her velvet, fluffy tail! For one movement of that graceful, unearthly tail I was ready to give the whole world! But... why am I telling you this? You have never understood cats, or high-school boys, or old maidens. You people are petty and insignificant and cannot look calmly upon a cat’s happiness. You smile enviously and reproach me with my happiness: "Cat happiness!" But none of you think to ask the price of our happiness. So let me tell you how much happiness costs cats! You’ll see that in pursuit of it a cat fights, risks and endures much more than a man! Listen to this... At 9 o’clock in the evening, our cook takes out the slop. I follow her out and run across the yard through puddles. Cats don’t wear galoshes and I have to forget my aversion to wetness for the whole night. At the end of the yard I jump onto the fence and tread carefully along its edge; below me a setter, my worst enemy, is gloating, dreaming that sooner or later I’ll fall off the fence and let him crush me. Then, one good jump – and I’m already walking through the barn. From there, with an effort, I climb up the drainpipe of a tall house and walk along the narrow, slippery eaves. From the ledge I jump over onto the next house. There, on the roof, I’m met by my rivals. Gentlemen, if you knew how many scars, welts and bumps were hidden behind my fur, your hair would stand on end! Last year I nearly lost an eye and one day my rivals threw me down from the top of a two-storey house. But to the point. I start singing. We cats are theorists in music and we stick to a new school, that we consider ourselves to be the founder of: we don’t chase after a motif, but we try to sing louder and longer. Average citizens are bad theorists, so it’s no wonder that they don’t understand our singing and throw stones, brooms, slop and dogs at us. I have to sing for about three hours, and sometimes longer, until the wind blows a gentle, inviting "meow" onto my ears. Like lightning, I rush over to that call and meet her... Our cats, especially those from tea shops, are virtuous. No matter how much they love, they will never give in without protest. It takes perseverance and willpower to succeed. She hisses, scratches your nose, squints coquettishly; when her rivals scold you, she purrs, twitches her moustache and runs away from you onto rooftops and over fences. The whole fuss is really something, so the sweetest moment doesn’t usually come until 4 or 5 in the morning.

So now you can see all that happiness costs me.”

(He lifts up his tail and goes away with dignity.)


13. AN UNPLEASANT STORY

“Your heart, cabbie, is tarred with tar. You, brother, have never been in love, so you cannot understand my psyche. This rain can’t put out the fire of my soul, just like the fire brigade can’t put out the sun. Damn it, how poetically I express myself! You’re not a poet, are you, coachman?”

“No, I’m not.”

“Well, you see...”

Zhirkov at last fumbled for his wallet in his pocket and began to pay.

“We made a deal with you, my friend, for a ruble and a quarter. Take your fee. Here’s a ruble, and here’s three grivnets. A five-cent raise. Goodbye, and remember me. However, first take this basket down and put it on the porch. Be careful, it contains the ball-dress of the woman I love more than life.”

The coachman sighed and reluctantly climbed down. Balancing in the dark and wading through the mud, he dragged the basket over to the porch and put it down on the steps.

“God, what weather!” he grumbled reproachfully and, with a grunt and making a rude sound through his nose, complainingly climbed back onto his carriage.

He smacked his lips, and his horse hesitantly splashed on through the mud.

“I think everything’s all right," Zhirkov reasoned, fumbling with his hand on the banister and searching for the bell. “Nadia asked me to stop by the modist and pick up a dress – got it, – asked for candy and cheese – got it, – for a bouquet – got it. Greetings to you, holy asylum…” he sang. “But where the hell is the bell?”

Zhirkov was in the complacent state of a man who’d recently had dinner and a good drink and knows perfectly well that he doesn’t have to get up early tomorrow. Besides, after an hour and a half drive from the city through the mud and rain, warmth and a young woman were waiting for him... It was nice to get cold and wet, if you knew that you’d get warm afterwards.

Zhirkov caught hold of the bell cord in the darkness and jerked it twice. Footsteps were heard outside the door.

“Is that you, Dmitry Grigorich?” a woman’s whisper asked.

“It’s me, delightful Dunyasha!” answered Zhirkov. “Open the door quickly, I’m soaked to the bone.”

"Oh dear me!" whispered Dunyasha anxiously, opening the door. "Don’t speak so loudly, and don’t stamp your feet! The master’s come back from Paris! He came back this evening!”

At the word "master" Zhirkov took a step back from the door and for a moment was seized by a cowardly, childish fear, such as even very brave people feel when they suddenly by chance run into the husband.

"What a nuisance!” he thought, listening to Dunyasha’s careful locking of the door and her retreating back along the corridor. “What on earth is this? Does it mean turning back? Merci, I didn’t expect this!"

And he was suddenly found himself laughing and amused. His trip to her house from the city in the middle of the night and in the pouring rain had seemed like a charming adventure; now that he had run into the husband, the adventure seemed even more amusing to him.

“An amusing story, indeed!” he said aloud to himself. “What’ll I do now? Shall I go back?”

It was raining and the wind was blowing through the trees, but he could see neither rain nor trees in the darkness. As if chuckling and teasing, water gurgled in the gutters and down spouts. The porch on which Zhirkov stood had no awning, so he was beginning to get very wet indeed.

"And as if on purpose he came back in just in this weather," he thought, laughing. “Damn all husbands!"

He’d begun an affair with Nadezhda Osipovna a month ago, but he didn’t know her husband yet. He only knew that he was French by birth, that his surname was Boiseau, and that he was a commissioner. The photograph Zhirkov had seen showed him to be a bourgeois of about forty, with a moustache and a French-soldier’s face, which for some reason made him want to rub his moustache and beard à la Napoléon and ask: "Well, what news, sergeant?"

Slipping and stumbling in the mud, Zhirkov stepped a little to the side and shouted:

“Driver! Cabbie!!!”

There was no reply.

“Not a voice nor a murmur," muttered Zhirkov, walking back to the porch. “I sent my driver away, and there aren’t drivers here even in the daytime. Well, that’s the situation! We’ll have to wait till morning! Damn it, the basket’ll get wet and the dress’ll be ruined. It cost two hundred rubles... What a situation!"

Wondering where to hide from the rain with his basket, Zhirkov remembered that there was a booth for musicians at the edge of the dacha-village near the dance circle.

“Shouldn’t I go to the booth?" he asked himself. “That’s an idea! But would I be able to carry the basket there? It’s so cumbersome, damn it!... The cheese and the bouquet would go to hell!”

He picked up the basket, but immediately realized that by the time he reached the booth, the basket would have been soaked five times over.”

“Well, it’s certainly a challenge!” he laughed. “Oh dear, water’s running down my neck! Brrr... I’m soaked, cold, drunk and there’s no coachman... All that’s missing is for the husband to jump out into the street and hit me with a stick. But what should I do? I can’t stay here till morning and let the dress will go to hell... So... I’ll ring again and return Dunyasha’s things and then go over to the booth all by myself.”

Zhirkov rang the bell cautiously. A moment later footsteps were heard outside the door, and a light flashed through the keyhole.

“Who’s there?” asked a hoarse male voice with a non-Russian accent.

"Oh, dear, it must be the husband," thought Zhirkov. “I’ll have to tell some lies...".

“Listen," he asked, "is this Zlyuchkin’s dacha?”

“God damn it, there’s no Zlyushkin here! Go to hell with your Zlyushkin!”

Zhirkov was embarrassed for some reason, coughed guiltily and moved away from the porch. Stepping into a puddle he spat angrily, but immediately laughed again. His adventure was becoming more and more amusing by the minute. He thought with particular pleasure of how tomorrow he would describe his adventure to his pals and to Nadia herself, how he would imitate her husband’s voice and the splashing of his boots... His pals would probably tear their stomachs out with laughter.

"One thing’s not good though: the dress’ll get wet!” he thought. “If it wasn’t for that dress, I’d have been asleep in the booth long ago."

He sat down on the basket to shield it from the rain, but more water flowed from his drenched coat and his hat than from the sky.

“Ugh, damn it!”

After standing in the rain for half an hour, Zhirkov thought about his health.

"I might catch a fever!" he thought. “What an amazing situation! Shouldn’t I call again? Eh? Honestly, I will... If the husband opens the door, I’ll lie and give him the dress... I can’t stay here till morning! No, I can’t! I’ll call again!"

In schoolboyish fervour, sticking out his tongue to the door and to the darkness, Zhirkov tugged at the bell cord. A minute passed in silence; then he tugged again.

“Who’s there? “asked an angry voice with an accent.

“Does Mme Boiseau live here?” Zhirkov asked respectfully.

“Huh? What the devil do you want?”

“The modist Mme Katish has sent a dress for Mme Boiseau. I’m sorry it’s so late. The thing is, Mme Boiseau asked us to send the dress as soon as possible... by morning... I left town in the evening, but... the weather was so awful... I’ve just made it here... I didn’t...”

Zhirkov didn’t finish, for the door opened in front of him and on the threshold, in the wavering light of the lamp, stood Monsieur Boiseau, with a soldier’s face and a long moustache just like on the playing-card; although the card showed him as a dandy, now he was standing there in a shirt.”

“I shouldn’t have troubled you," Zhirkov went on, "but Madame Boiseau has asked me to send her the dress as soon as possible. I’m Mme Katish’s brother... and... and besides, the weather is disgusting.”

“Well, well!” said Boisot, moving his eyebrows sullenly and accepting the basket. ’Thanks to your sister. My wife waited till the early hours today for her dress. A gentleman had promised to bring it to her.”

“Also, here’s the cheese and the bouquet your wife forgot at Mme Katish’s.”

Boisot accepted the cheese and the bouquet, sniffed at both, and, without closing the door, stood there in an expectant pose. He looked at Zhirkov, and Zhirkov looked at him. A minute passed in silence. Zhirkov remembered his pals, to whom he’d be telling his adventure tomorrow, and he wanted to top off the story with something amusing. But the amusing thing didn’t come up, and the Frenchman was waiting for him to leave.

“Terrible weather," murmured Zhirkov. “It’s dark, muddy and wet. I’m drenched.”

“Yes, monsieur, you’e all wet.”

“And besides, my coachman has gone off. I don’t know where to go. You’d be very kind if you’d let me stay here in the hall until the rain stops.”

“Huh? Bien!, monsieur. Take off your galoshes and come in. It’s all right, it’s all right.”

The Frenchman locked the door and ushered Zhirkov into a small, very familiar room. The room was as before, with only a bottle of red wine on the table and a narrow, skinny mattress on the chairs, which were placed in a row in the middle of the room.

“It’s cold," said Boiseau, putting the lamp down on the table. “I’ve only just come back from Paris yesterday. It’s warm everywhere, but here in Russia it’s cold, and these cousins...coussins...cushions. Damned cushions!”

Boiseau poured half a glass of wine for himself, made a very angry face and drank.

“I haven’t slept all night," he said, sitting down on the mattress. “There were les cousins and some brute kept calling, asking for Zlyushkin.”

And the Frenchman fell silent and bowed his head, probably waiting for the rain to pass. Zhirkov thought it decent to talk to him.

“So, you were in Paris at a very interesting time," he said. "Boulanger retired while you were there.”

Then Zhirkov spoke of Grevy, Deroulede, Zola, and could see that the Frenchman had only heard these names from him for the first time. In Paris he knew only a few trading firms and his tante Mme Blesser and nobody else. The conversation about politics and literature ended with Boiseau once more making an angry face, drinking wine and lying down his full length on the thin mattress.

"Well, this spouse’s rights are probably not particularly broad," thought Zhirkov. “God knows what kind of a mattress it is!"

The Frenchman closed his eyes; after lying still for a quarter of an hour, he suddenly jumped up and stared dumbly at his guest with his pewter eyes as if he understood nothing, then made an angry face and drank some more wine.

“Bloody Russians," he muttered, rubbing one rough foot on the other, and went out into the next room.

Zhirkov heard him wake someone up and say:

"Il y là un monsieur roux, qui t’a apporté une robe... [22]"

Soon he returned and poured another drink from the bottle.

“My wife might come out," he said, yawning. “I suppose you’re waiting for some money?”

“Hour after hour it doesn’t get any easier!" thought Zhirkov. “This is precious! Nadezhda Osipovna will come out now. Of course, I’ll pretend I don’t know her.”

A rustling of skirts was heard, the door opened slightly, and Zhirkov saw a familiar curly head with sleepy cheeks and eyes.

“Who’s from Mme Katish?” Nadezhda Osipovna asked, but immediately recognising Zhirkov she shrieked, laughed, and entered the hall. “Is it you?" she asked. “What kind of a comedy is this? How come you’re so messy?”

Zhirkov blushed, made stern eyes, and, absolutely not knowing how to behave, looked at Boiseau.

“Ah, I see!” The young woman guessed. “You must be frightened of Jacques, eh? I forgot to tell him... Do you two know each other? This is my husband Jacques, and this is Stepan Andreyevich... Did you bring the dress? Well, merci, my good friend... Come on, let’s go, I’m sleepy! And you, Jacques, go to bed...” she said to her husband. “You’re tired out from your travelling.”

Jacques looked at Zhirkov in surprise, shrugged his shoulders and with an angry face went over to the bottle. Zhirkov shrugged, too, and followed Nadezhda Osipovna.

He looked out at the muddy sky, at the muddy road and thought:

"My soul! What doesn’t happen to an intelligent man?"

And he began to think about what was moral and what was immoral, about pureness and impurity. As often happens with people who find themselves in a difficult situation, he thought longingly of his workroom with the papers on his desk, and he was drawn home.

He walked quietly across the hall past the sleeping Jacques.

He kept silent all the way, tried not to think of Jacques, who for some reason was on his mind, and certainly didn’t talk to the cabman. He felt as ill at ease as he felt in his stomach.


14. A LETTER

"Dear Maria Sergeyevna, I’m sending you the book I wrote about on Wednesday. Please read it. I draw your attention to pages 17-42, 92, 93 and 112, especially the places I’ve underlined in pencil. What force! The form’s apparently clumsy, but what a broad sense of freedom, what a formidable, immense artist is sensed in that clumsiness! In a sentence there’s "which" three times and "apparently” twice, the phrase is done badly, it’s not brushwork, just a sponge, but what a fountain of water rushes out from under those "which", what a flexible, slender, profound thought hides under them, what a screaming truth! You read and see between the lines how an eagle soars in the sky and how little it cares about the beauty of its feathers at the time. Thought and beauty, like hurricanes and waves, don’t have to adhere to habitual, definite forms. Their form is freedom, unshackled by any considerations of "which" and "apparently". When I write to you I’m always embarrassed and irritated by my slightest linguistic inaccuracies – which means that I’m not an artist, that I’m dominated by words over images and moods.

Please read the book. I read it all day yesterday; it took my breath away and I could feel new elements of life that I hadn’t known before entering into the essence of my heart. With each new page I became richer, stronger, higher up! I marvelled, cried with delight, was proud, and at the same time deeply, mystically believed in the divine origin of true talent, and it seemed to me that each of these mighty, spontaneous pages was created for a reason, that by its origin and existence it must cause in nature something corresponding to its power, something like an underground rumble, a change of climate, a storm at sea... I don’t believe, a thousand times I don’t believe that nature, in which everything is reasonable, could be indifferent to that which constitutes the most beautiful and the most intelligent, the strongest and most invincible part of it, the part which is created without its will by the genius of man. I feel that I seem to be writing nonsense, laugh but don’t stop me from raving, dreaming, telling tales. You cannot imagine how joyful and cheerful it is to write even idle nonsense, when you know that your kind eyes will be looking at these lines.

Yesterday I was so engrossed in a book that I wasn’t even happy about the arrival of Travnikov, whom I love. He came to me with a headache and was in bad spirits. After major operations he always has a headache – poisoned by carbolic-acid fumes. He started to ask me about my leg, and in response I read to him the 20 lines I’ve underlined on page 92, and we got into a literary argument. Travnikov said:

“The time I’ve spent reading philosophy, poetry and fiction I consider wasted. They have many claims, but they haven’t explained or illuminated a single phenomenon to me, and for that I dislike them. Everything about them is subjective, and therefore they’re half lies and half neither, a middle ground between lies and truth. The idea that one cannot do without them is a superstition; they, like the theatre and the circus, serve only for entertainment, and I read them only for entertainment. I give preference to those authors who are less pretentious, and in this respect the most convenient books are French novels.

“And who teaches us to think, let me ask you?” I said.

“The one who tells the truth, and poetry and novels don’t tell the truth.”

And so on and so forth, all that sort of thing. An invitation to argue! A stubborn, prejudiced man! We talked about beauty.

“Beauty’s pleasurable," he said, "and is only for pleasure and, therefore, it’s difficult to do without it. For he who seeks in it not pleasure but truth or knowledge, it bribes, deceives and confuses like a mirage. When I’ve had the misfortune to learn to think about beauty, it made me drunk and blind. So, when reading Faust, I failed to notice that Marguerite was the murderer of her child; in Byron’s Cain, both Cain himself and the devil were infinitely more sympathetic to me... But what else is there?"

He squeezed his aching head with his hands, leaned against the table with it and spoke languidly:

“Beauty, talent, the sublime, the beautiful, the artistic – all that’s very nice, but conventional, can’t be defined logically and no immutable law can be derived from all that. As someone said before the flood that the nightingale is the lover of the rose, that the oak is mighty and the dodder-weed is tender, well, we believe it... And why do we believe?”

I became hotheaded as usual and said the wrong thing.

“I don’t understand why you’re angry!” he said, lifting his head. “What’s there to be offended by when the arts are only for amusement? My dear fellow, I’d like to be a bad writer just to be able to entertain the sick and prisoners with my books. Isn’t there a little merit for a writer to make you merry all day long? However, my soul, I have an unbearable headache. Maybe you’re right. I don’t know.”

“Poetry and fiction haven’t explained a single phenomenon! Does lightning, when it shines, explain anything? It’s not up to it to explain to us, but for us to explain it. It would be good if instead of explaining electricity we were to deny it just on the grounds that it doesn’t explain much to us. But poetry and all the so-called fine arts are the same formidable, miraculous phenomena of nature that we should learn to explain without waiting for them to explain anything to us. It’s a pity and a shame that even good, clever, people look at every phenomenon from a special, biased, too personal point of view. Travnikov, for example, is tormented by the special question of God and the purpose of life; the arts don’t solve the question, don’t explain what will happen beyond the grave, and for that Travnikov considers them a prejudice, reduces them to the level of mere entertainment, without which it’s not difficult to do without, and once even in the presence of your mother said as if in jest that they form one of the "hereditary sins". In this respect, doesn’t he remind you of our mutual acquaintance, who denies medicine and science in general just because doctors are bad at mazurka? Wine’s sweet, it’s tasty, and it cheers the heart, but it’s not enough; there has to be a tailor who’ll refuse it on the ground that it doesn’t remove stains and can’t replace turpentine."

But enough philosophizing. My leg’s still in the same situation. Travnikov insists that I have an operation, but I don’t agree. Nature seeks to heal itself, and I’m counting on that. I don’t want to have an operation. Boredom is terrible and if it weren’t for books, I think I’d cry from boredom all day long. To live eight versts away from you and not be allowed to visit you is an inquisition.

Your mother was at the Zelenins’ yesterday and came to see us. She scolded me and my father for leaving the Theological Academy. Everyone assures me with one voice that what I did wasn’t wise. Maybe that’s true. I don’t know myself why I left the academy, but I don’t know why I should have stayed there longer either. My lust for life is what drives me, and I run from places where it doesn’t exist or isn’t tailored to my tastes. My life is all of you, whom I love so infinitely. I cannot live unless I see your beautiful, meek face radiant with kindness and hear your voice at least once a month; I can’t live unless I see your generous mother and all your cheerful, merciful, God-blessed family, who are as close to my soul as my brothers and father. I need to see my old suffering father beside me every day and hear him awake every night thinking aloud about my convict brother. I need my mad monk of a brother to come to visit us from the monastery every two or three months only to curse civilisation in my presence with glaring eyes and to go away again. My life isn’t complete if I don’t see Travnikov at least once a week, whom I love all the more deeply as he gets sucked into the mire where his greedy, relentless, torturous thoughts draw him. He wants faith at all costs. He wants and searches for God, searches day and night, and finds only an abyss into which the longer one looks the deeper and darker it seems to be. What a great pleasure it is to walk through the countryside and to visit people’s huts and talk to them. What a variety of faces, voices, minds, tastes, beliefs! And what a beauty is our old deacon Pavel Denisovitch, who’s been dying every day for two years now and can’t die, and who laughs at his own vitality: "I die, I die, but I won’t die!" It’s a good life, Maria Sergeyevna! True, it’s hard and fleeting, but it’s so rich, clever, varied, interesting, marvellous! Travnikov poisons himself with a yearning for immortality and eternal bliss, but I’m not that greedy and this short, small, but beautiful life is quite enough for me.

As soon as I can walk I’ll get to work. I’ll take up farming and lay down my life for art. I’ll write. But what shall I write? I can’t write a story. I’m not good at technique, I’m too lazy. My head’s crammed with images and pictures – I’m rich with those good things, but for some reason my characters don’t mould into characters and they all resemble one another like drops of water. My characters don’t move much and they reason a lot, while I have to do the opposite. Now I’ve started to criticize. I’ll study and explain to people what I love so much and in which I see the only true remedy against prejudice, ignorance and slavery.

Yesterday my father stumbled in the street and fell down. He attributes it to fatigue, to serving almost all day long in Holy Week. Thank God it turned out all right.

My heartfelt greetings to all of you. I bow down to all of you, all of you! I hear that it’s already a real spring outside the window, but I can’t see it. I wish I could come to you now! I’d like to go with you to the mountains just once, I’d like nothing more. Cherry blossoms? Not yet, though. Goodbye, be happy, be healthy, be merry and don’t forget the cripple Ignaty Bashtanov, who’s sincerely devoted to you and who loves you with all his heart.

Having finished this letter, Ignaty put it in an envelope and wrote the following address: "To Her Excellency Maria Sergeyevna Volchaninova". At that moment his brother Alexei came into his room with a tray on which there was a glass of tea. Ignaty was embarrassed and shoved the letter under his pillow.


Fourteen previously untranslated Chekhov stories

Footnotes

[1Chekhov enrolled in the First Moscow State Medical University in September 1879 and graduated as a fully-qualified doctor in the summer of 1884.

[2by Ray, with the help of DeepL and Google Translate.

[3A Woman Without Prejudice (Женщина без предрассудков) was published in the journal "Spectator" (Зритель) on February 10, 1883.

[4Tears Invisible to the World (невидимые миру слёзы) was first published in the journal “Fragments” (Осколки) on August 25, 1884.

[5The Exclamation Mark (Восклицательный знак) was first published in the journal “Fragments” (Осколки) on December 28, 1884.

[6My Wives (Мои жёны) was first published in the journal “The Alarm Clock” (Будильник) on June 20, 1885.

[7Horse and Quivering Doe (Конь и трепетная лань) was first published in the journal “Petersburg Gazette” (Петербургская газета) on August 12, 1885.

[8General Education (Общее образование) was first published in the journal “Petersburg Gazette” (Петербургская газета) on September 30, 1885.

[9Two Newspapermen (Два газетчика) was first published in the journal “Fragments” (Осколки) on October 5, 1885.

[10The Rook (Грач) was first published in the journal “Fragments” (Осколки) on March 29, 1886.

[11In a Boarding House (В пансионе) was first published in the journal “Fragments” (Осколки) on May 24, 1886.

[12The Playwright (Драматург) was first published in the journal “Cricket” (Сверчок) on November 27, 1886.

[13It Was Her! (невидимые миру слёзы) was first published in the journal “Fragments” (Осколки) on December 27, 1886.

[14Spring #2 (Весной) was first published in the journal “Fragments” (Осколки) on April 25, 1887.

[15An Unpleasant Story (Неприятная история) was first published in the journal “Petersburg Gazette” (Петербургская газета) on June 29, 1887.

[16written shortly before or after 1890, A Letter (письмо) was first published posthumously in the journal “Labour’s Path” (Трудовой путь) in 1907.

[17homo sum et humani nihil a me alienum puto (lat.) – I am a human being, and nothing human is alien to me.
- I should mention, by the way, that I always got straight A’s in Latin at school.

[18post primam noctem (lat.) – After the first wedding night.

[19pour le plaisir (fr.) – for pleasure.

[20volens-nolens (lat.) – willy-nilly.

[21ad patres (lat.) – to the land of her forefathers.

[22Il y là un monsieur roux, qui t’a apporté une robe (fr.) – there’s a red-headed fellow here who’s brought you a dress.