"Lost Business" and other previously-untranslated Chekhov stories

(actualisé le ) by Anton Chekhov

A further selection of the best stories of the great Russian writer that have so far remained untranslated into English.


CONTENTS

1. LOST BUSINESS (1882) The narrator recounts how on a lovely spring day he’d gone to see his beloved Varya to empty his heart and soul to her. He’d mumbled a few phrases while his beloved looked at him encouragingly, and then he’d explained to her how poor he was and although she mentioned that she had a dowry, carried away by his flame for frankness he’d declared to her that he’d eat that up in no time and she’d just have to live a life of poverty with him. The conversation didn’t end well for the narrator. [1] (1,600 words)

2. THE BARON (1882) A very worn-down old man with threadbare clothes has spent his whole life frequenting theatres and is finishing his days as a prompter, a role that he takes so seriously that he cannot prevent himself from intervening in a performance of Hamlet that he passionately feels is being poorly done. [2] (2,450 words)

3. THE CROOKED MIRROR (1883) A couple visits the old abandoned house of their ancestors and the husband tells his wife of the fantastic properties of a strange mirror that had fascinated his great-grandmother all her life. So his wife looks into the mirror with catastrophic consequences. [3] (950 words)

4. THE DEPUTY, OR THE STORY OF HOW DESDEMONOV LOST 25 ROUBLES (1883) A group of civil servants have gathered for a secret conference where they rage against the terrible way they are treated by their director, each one with an outrageous anecdote to recount. Finally they choose Desdemonov to present their demands for modern treatment to the director because he “was acquainted with educated young ladies, so he was clever.” But the interview didn’t go as planned. [4] (1,150 words)

5. HE UNDERSTOOD! (1883) An old peasant is hunting in early June in the woods with a makeshift rifle and shoots a starling, but he’s caught by the intendant of the estate and brought to the office to be interrogated and arrested for hunting out of season and on private grounds to boot. When the “barin” (lord of the manor) arrives he explains his love of hunting and recounts fabulous outings with the barin’s father. The man’s story is not without effect on the barin. [5] (3,550 words)

6. ON CHRISTMAS EVE (1883) A woman is waiting on the beach looking out for signs of the return of her husband’s fishing sled that’s been out on the ice all night – ice that’s about to break up. The ice effectively begins to break up, irrevocably condemning the fishing sled, when she hears the voice of her husband behind her, who’d sought refuge in a neighbouring port and come back overland. But her reaction reveals to him that she’d really been hoping to become a widow, and the story ends dramatically. [6] (2,200 words)

7. 75,000 (1884) Vassili and Nicolai, are having a stroll in Moscow and Vassili asks Nicolai for a loan of ten troubles, but Nicolai rebukes his friend for being such a wastrel and playboy in general and in particular for having gambled away the money he’d received for pawning his wife’s bracelet. One thing leads to another and Vassili ends up with a slap on his face and one less friend. On returning home his over-joyed wife announces that the lottery ticket she had hidden from him had just won 75,000 roubles, upon which Vassili rushes off to his low-life mistress to announce the good news to her. Vassili’s wife fruitlessly searches for the ticket until she realises who had stolen it. [7] (1,700 words)

8. THE LAST MOHICAN (1885) Dokukin’s domineering sister had arrived unexpectedly while on her way to the governor to complain that her husband doesn’t behave with the dignity his noble ancestry entitles him to, spending all his time being friendly with low people such as shopkeepers and merchants. Her brow-beating and hen-pecking of her obsequious husband during her stay astonish even the blasé narrator but not the host, who’s used to it but is nevertheless in utter despair after an hour of his sister’s overwhelming company. [8] (1,550 words)

9. THE DIPLOMAT (1885) The titular councillor Kuvaldin’s wife has just died and a family council delegates his friend Colonel Piskarev to break the news to the councillor. The Colonel first describes to K all the advantages of being a widower like himself, going out when one wants to, etc. and then proceeds to disparage the poor woman’s looks and character. He inadvertently however calls her “the dead woman” and K rapidly understands the situation and has an emotional breakdown, whereby the Colonel renounces his diplomatic mission. [9] (1,400 words)

10. THE WHISTLERS (1885) The owner of an estate is escorting his brother, a university man, around his property, extolling in particular the qualities of the peasants and illustrating his point by interviewing several of them. Back at the mansion they “talked the whole time about identity, intactness and integrity, scolded themselves and searched for meaning in the word intellectual", and after a nap had a drink and summoned the peasants to come and dance with them. [10] (1,200 words)

11. DEAR DOG (1885) Lieutenant Dubov expounds the myriad merits of his beloved dog Milka to the soldier Knaps and talk about selling her to him for a mere hundred roubles, or even fifty, but when Knaps explains that he has no money, doesn’t want a female, has no room for a dog anyway and refuses the Lieutenant’s final offer to give her to him for free, the fate of the poor animal is sealed, and it’s not a pleasant one. [11] (900 words)

12. THE BOREDOM OF LIFE (1886) When Anna Mikhailovna’s only daughter died she sold her town house, gave up eating meat and moved to her manor house in the country, where she became a devoted quasi-doctor specializing in healing the sores and ills of poor people. Eventually her estranged husband, a retired general, contacted her and finally arrived at her manor for a stay. Although he was critical of her medical activities and lectured the peasants waiting to see her on their drunkenness and thievery, they became reconciled and lived again as man and wife. But all good things must come to an end. [12] (5,000 words)

13. IN TROUBLE (1886) Nikolai Putokhin has been on a five-day binge and gotten fired from his job in the process, is suffering from a splitting headache, is contemplating suicide, is wondering what he could possible say to his wife and is imagining in all its unpleasant detail the terrifying reception he’ll get when he goes home. Where he finally does go after a last couple of drinks to fortify himself, but it turns out much differently than he’d expected. [13] (1,300 words)

14. AN ENCOUNTER (1887) Efrem is driving around the countryside in a cart with an image of Our Lady of Kazan and a sign appealing for funds for the rebuilding of his village’s church that had been struck by lightening, and meets Kuzma, a strange-looking fellow at the side of the road who follows him along, talking about life in the prison he’d just been released from. When they arrive in the next village they share lodgings, but when Efrem wakes up the next morning Kuzma is very tipsy and the money he’d had under his shirt had gone. Efrem nevertheless continues on his way with a repentant Kuzma in his trail. [14] (4,300 words)


An e-book is available for downloading below.


All of these stories have been translated specially for this site [15].



1. LOST BUSINESS

I’d really like to cry, but I’m shouting, which seems to be easier.

It was an amazing evening! I’d gotten all dressed up, combed my hair, put on some perfume, and gone over like Don Juan to see her. She lives in a dacha in Sokolniki. She’s young and beautiful, has a dowry of 30,000, is a little educated, and loves me, the author, like a pussycat.

Arriving in Sokolniki I found her sitting on our favourite bench under tall, slender fir trees. Seeing me, she quickly got up and, beaming, came over towards me.

“How cruel you are!” she said. “Is it possible to be so late? After all, you know how much I miss you! Oh, you!”

I kissed her pretty hand and, palpitating, went with her to the bench. I trembled and whimpered and felt that my heart was inflamed and close to bursting. My pulse was feverish.

And no wonder! I’d come to decide my fate definitively. I was either in, or out... everything depended on that evening.
The weather was wonderful, but I wasn’t up to the weather. I didn’t even listen to the nightingale singing over our heads, despite the fact that it’s obligatory to listen to nightingales on any more-or-less serious rendezvous.

“Why are you silent?” she asked, looking into my face.
“So… It’s such a wonderful evening… Is your mother well?”
“She’s in good health.”
"Hm... so... you see, Varvara Petrovna, I want to talk to you... That’s the only reason I came... I was silent, yes silent, but now... I’m your humble servant! I can’t stay silent!”

Varya bent her head and caressed the flowers with trembling fingers. She knew what I wanted to talk about. I paused and continued:
“Why be silent? No matter how silent you are, no matter how timid you are, sooner or later you have to give free rein to... to feeling and language. You may be offended… maybe you won’t understand, but… well?”
I fell silent. It was necessary to say the right phrase.
“Speak up!” her eyes protested. “You’re mumbling! Why are you tormenting me?"
“Of course, you’ve long guessed,” I continued after a pause, “why I come here every day and annoy you with my presence. How could you not guess? You must long ago, with your characteristic perspicacity, have guessed in me that feeling which...” (Pause.) “Varvara Petrovna!”
Varya bent even lower. Her fingers were dancing on the flowers.

“Varvara Petrovna!”
“Well?”
“I… What can I say?! It’s clear even without that... I love you, that’s all... What else is there to say? (Pause.) I love you terribly! I love you as much as... In a word, collect all the existing novels in this world, subtract all the declarations of love, vows and sacrifices contained in them and... you’ll get what’s... now in my chest... Varvara Petrovna! (Pause.) Varvara Petrovna! Why don’t you say something?”
“What do you want?”
“Is it… no?”
Varya raised her head and smiled.
"Ah, the hell with it!" I thought. She smiled, moved her lips and said in a barely audible voice: “Why not?”

I desperately grabbed her hand, kissed it frantically, grabbed the other hand furiously... She reacted well! While I was fiddling with her hands, she laid her head on my chest, and for the first time I realized how luxurious her wonderful hair was.
I kissed her head, and it became as warm in my chest as if a samovar had been placed in it. Varya raised her face, and there was nothing left for me but to kiss her on the lips.

And so, when Varya was finally in my hands, when the decision to hand over thirty thousand to me was ready for signing, when, in a word, a pretty wife, good money and a good career were almost guaranteed for me, the devil had to pull my tongue…

I wanted to show off in front of my betrothed, show off my principles and to boast. However, I myself don’t know what I wanted... And it turned out so badly!

“Varvara Petrovna!” I started after the first kiss. “Before taking your pledge to be my wife, I consider it my most sacred duty, in order to avoid misunderstandings that may occur, to say a few words to you. I’ll be short... Do you know, Varvara Petrovna, who I am and what I am? Yes, I’m honest! I’m a hard worker! I... I’m proud! Not only that... I have a future... But I’m poor... I have nothing.”

“I know that,” Varya said. “Money can’t buy happiness.”

“Yes... Who’s talking about money? I... I’m proud of my poverty. The pennies that I receive for my literary work, I won’t exchange for those thousands that... which…”

“Understandably. Well?…”

“I’m used to poverty. It’s nothing to me! I can go without dinner for a week... But you! You! Are you, who cannot walk two steps without hiring a cab, who puts on a new dress every day, who throws money aside, who has never known want, for whom a flower that’s not fashionable is already a great misfortune – will you really agree to part with earthly goods for me? Hm...?”

“I have money. I’ve a dowry!”

“It’s nothing! In order to live, a dozen, another few thousand, are only enough for a few years... And then? Deprivation? Tears? Believe me, my dear, I’m talking from experience! I know! know what I’m saying! In order to fight against deprivation, you have to have a strong will, an inhuman character!"

“Yes, and I’m talking nonsense!” I thought but continued:
“Think of it, Varvara Petrovna! Think about the step you’re taking! An irrevocable step! If you’ve the strength: follow me; if you don’t have the strength to fight: refuse me! Oh, it’s better that I be deprived of you than... you of your peace! Those hundred rubles that literature gives me every month are nothing! They won’t be enough! Think of that before it’s too late!”

I jumped up.
“Think of it! Where one’s powerless, there are tears, reproaches, early gray hairs... I warn you, because I’m an honest person. Do you feel strong enough to share with a life me that outwardly is not at all like yours, is alien to you?” (Pause.)

“I have a dowry!”
“How much? Twenty, thirty thousand! Ha! Is it a million? And then, besides, will I allow myself to appropriate what... No! Never! I’m proud!”

I walked around the bench several times. Varya was thinking. I triumphed. It meant that she respected me, if she was thinking about it.

“So, life with me and deprivation, or life without me and wealth... Choose... Do you have strength? Does my Varya have powers?”

And I talked like that for a very long time. Imperceptibly I got carried away. I spoke and at the same time I felt divided. One half of me was carried away by what I was saying, and the other half was dreaming about saying: “But wait, my dear! Let’s live on your 30,000 until the sky becomes hot! That’ll be long enough!"

Varya listened and listened... At last she got up and held her hand out to me.

“Thank you! she said, and she said it in a voice that made me tremble and look deep into her eyes. There were tears in her eyes and running down her cheeks…

“Thank you! You did well to be frank with me... I’m a weak woman... I can’t... I’m not a match for you…”

And she sobbed. I had messed up... I always get lost when I see women crying, and there even more so. While I thought about what to do, she stifled her sobs and wiped away her tears.

“You’re right,” she said. “If I follow you, I’ll end up deceiving you. It’s not for me to be your wife. I’m a rich woman, a weak woman, I go about in cabs, I eat snipes and expensive pies. I never eat cabbage soup at dinner. My mother scolds me about it all the time... But I can’t live without it! I can’t walk around... I get tired... And then the dresses... You’d have to have them all sewed at your own expense... No! Farewell!”
And, making a tragic gesture with her hand, she said out of nowhere:
"I don’t deserve you! Farewell!”

She said that, turned around and went off. And I? I stood there like a fool, thought of nothing, looking after her feeling that the earth was shaking under me. When I came to my senses and remembered where I was and what a grandiose dirty trick my tongue had done for me, I howled. She was already gone when I wanted to shout out to her: “Come back!!”

I went home, disgraced and depressed. The carriage was no longer at the door. Also, I had no money for a cab. I had to walk home.

Three days later I went to Sokolniki. At the dacha, they told me that Varya was ill with something and was going with her father to Petersburg, to her grandmother’s. I’d achieved nothing...

Now I’m lying on my bed, biting my pillow and hitting myself on the back of my head. My soul is in a turmoil... Reader, how do you fix this? How do I take my words back? What shall I say or write to her? It’s unbelievable! The matter is lost – and lost so stupidly!


2. THE BARON

The Baron is a small, thin old man of about sixty. His neck makes an obtuse angle with his spine, which soon becomes straight. He has a large, angular head, sour eyes, a bumpy nose, and a purplish chin. A faint bluish tinge is spread all over his face, probably because the alcohol is kept in the cupboard with the props, which is rarely locked up. Also, in addition to official alcohol, the baron sometimes uses champagne, which can be found very often in washrooms, at the bottoms of bottles and glasses. His cheeks and the pouches under his eyes hang and tremble like rags hung out to dry. On his bald head there’s a greenish coating from the green lining of the fur hat, that the baron hangs on a an old gas-horn behind the third curtain when not wearing it on his head. His voice rattles like a cracked pan. What about the suit? If you laugh at his suit, then you therefore don’t recognize authority, which does you no credit. A brown frock coat without buttons, with shiny elbows and a lining that has turned into a fringe, is a wonderful frock coat. It dangles on the narrow shoulders of the baron as if on a broken hanger, but... what does it signify? It once clothed the brilliant body of the greatest of comedians. A velvet waistcoat with blue flowers has twenty holes and countless stains, but you can’t throw it away if it was found in the room where the mighty Salvini lived! Who can guarantee that the tragedian himself didn’t wear this waistcoat? And as it was found there the day after the departure of the great artist, you can swear that it’s not a fake. The necktie that warms the Baron’s neck is no less remarkable. It’s worthy of praise, although it should be replaced for purely hygienic and aesthetic reasons by another, more durable and less greasy one. It’s made from the remains of the great cloak that Ernesto Rossi once covered his shoulders with while conversing with the witches in Macbeth.

"My tie smells like King Duncan’s blood!" the baron often says, looking for parasites in his necktie.

You can laugh at the baron’s colorful, striped trousers as much as you like. No authoritative person has worn them before, although the actors joke that these trousers are made from the sail of the steamer on which Sarah Bernhard traveled to America. They were purchased from its waiter no. 16.

In winter and summer, the baron wears large galoshes, as his boots are useful to prevent chilling his rheumatic feet from the through-wind that blows on the floor of his prompter’s booth.

The Baron can only be seen in three places: at the box office, in the prompter’s booth and backstage in the men’s wardrobe. Outside of these places he doesn’t exist and is hardly conceivable. He spends the night at the box officet, and during the day he writes down the names of those who buy boxes and he plays checkers with the cashier. The old and scrofulous cashier is the only person who listens to the baron and answers his questions. The baron performs his sacred duties in the prompter’s box: he earns his daily bread there. This booth is painted shiny-white on the outside only; inside its walls are covered with cobwebs, cracks and splinters. It smells of dampness, of smoked fish and alcohol. During the intermissions the baron hangs out in the men’s wardrobe. Newcomers entering this dressing-room for the first time laugh and applaud on seeing the baron. They take him for an actor.

“Bravo, bravo!” they say. "You’re made up beautifully! What a funny face you have! Where did you get such an original costume?”

Poor baron! People cannot admit that he has his own physiognomy!

In the dressing-room he enjoys the contemplation of the luminaries, or, if there are no luminaries, he dares to insert his remarks, of which he has many, into other people’s speeches,. Nobody listens to his remarks because everyone is tired of them and they smack of routine; they’re allowed to fall on deaf ears without any ceremony. People don’t like to stand on ceremony with the baron at all. If he turns around in front of their noses and interferes, they say to him: "get out!" If he whispers too softly or too loudly from his booth, he’s sent to hell and threatened with a fine or a resignation. He serves as the target for most of the behind-the-scenes one-liners and puns. You can safely try your wit on him: he won’t answer.

He’d been teased as "the baron” for twenty years, but in all those twenty years he’d never once protested against the nickname.

Forcing him to rewrite a role and not pay him for it is also possible. Everything’s possible! He smiles and apologizes and is embarrassed when they step on his foot. Beat him in public on his wrinkled cheeks, and, I vouch for it on my word of honor, he won’t complain to the world. Tear off a piece of the lining from his wonderful, beloved frock coat, as the jeune premier [16] did recently, will only make him blink and blush. Such is the power of his downtroddenness and humility! Nobody respects him. While he’s alive, they endure him; when he dies, he’ll be immediately forgotten. Truly a pitiful creature!

And yet once there was a moment when he almost became a comrade and brother of the those whom he worshiped and whom he loved more than life itself. (He could’t help but love people who are sometimes Hamlets and Franz Moor!) He almost became an artist himself and probably would have become one if one funny trifle hadn’t prevented him. He had plenty of talent and desire, and at first there was patronage; but he lacked a little something: courage. It always seemed to him that those heads that dotted all five tiers from bottom to top would laugh and hiss if he allowed himself to appear on stage. He would go pale and red and numb with horror when they offered him an opportunity to debut.

“I’ll wait a little,” he said.

And he waited until he grew old, went bankrupt, and ended up, with patronage, in the prompter’s booth.

He became a prompter, but that’s all right. Now he won’t be expelled from the theater for lack of a ticket: he’s an official. He sits in front of the first row, sees better than anyone else and doesn’t pay a penny for his seat. That’s good! He’s happy and content.

He does his duty very well. Before the performance he reads the play several times so as not to make any mistakes, and when the first bell rings he’s already sitting in the booth and leafing through the text. It’s difficult to find anyone more diligent than him in the entire theater.

But nevertheless he had to be kicked out of the theater.

Disturbances shouldn’t be tolerated in the theatre, and the baron sometimes caused terrible disturbances. He’s a brawler.

When the stage performance is especially good, he takes his eyes off the text and stops whispering. Very often he interrupts his reading with cries of: “Bravo! Excellent!” and allows himself to applaud at a time when the audience isn’t. Once even he hissed, for which he almost lost his place.

Just look at him when he’s sitting in his stinking booth and whispering. He blushes, turns pale, gesticulates with his hands, whispers louder than he should, suffocates. Sometimes it can be heard even in the corridors, where attendants yawn near the dresssing-rooms. He even allows himsemf to scold from the booth and to give the actor advice.

“Right hand up!” he often whispers. “You have hot words, but your face is ice! This isn’t your role! You are awful for this role! You should see Ernesto Rossi in the role! What’s the carton for? Oh my God! He’s ruined everything with that philistine manner!”

And he whispers such things instead of whispering the lines from the text. It’s in vain that they suffered from this eccentric, for if he’d been expelled then the public wouldn’t have had to witness the scandal that occurred recently.

The scandal took place as follows.

They were giving Hamlet. The theater was full. Today Shakespeare is listened to as willingly as a hundred years ago. When they give Shakespeare the baron is in the most excited state. He drinks a lot, talks a lot, and keeps rubbing his temples with his fists. Behind those temples hard work is in full swing. Elderly brains are agitated with furious envy, despair, hatred, dreams... He himself should have played Hamlet, even though Hamlet doesn’t fit well with a humpback and with the alcohol that the servants forget to lock up with the props. Hamlet’s for him, and not for these pygmies who play lackeys today, panderers tomorrow and Hamlet the day after tomorrow! For forty years he’s been studying this Danish prince, whom all decent artists dream of and who provided a laurel crown not only for Shakespeare. For forty years he’s been studying, suffering and burning with a dream... Death isn’t far off. It’ll soon come and take him away from the theater forever... If only once in his life he were lucky enough to walk around the stage in a princely jacket, near the sea, near the rocks, where there’s only a deserted place,

By itself, ready to bring
Despair when you look into the abyss
And you hear in it the distant splash of a wave.

If even dreams are made to melt away by leaps and bounds, then what fires the bald baron would light up if the dream took the form of reality!

On the evening in question he was ready to swallow up the whole world out of envy and anger. Hamlet had been given to be played by a boy speaking in a liquid tenor, and most importantly – a red-haired one. Was Hamlet red-headed?

The Baron sat in his booth as if he were on hot coals. When Hamlet wasn’t on the stage he was still relatively calm, but when the red-haired tenor appeared on the stage he began to spin about, to rush about and whine. His whispers sounded more like groans than something being read. His hands were shaking, the pages were tangled up, the candlesticks were placed farther and farther apart... He stared into Hamlet’s face and stopped whispering ... He passionately wanted to pluck every single hair out of that red head. Better let Hamlet be bald than red! A caricature’s a caricature, damn it!

In the second act, he didn’t whisper at all, but giggled angrily, scolded and hissed. Fortunately for him the actors knew their roles well and didn’t notice his silence.

“Good Hamlet!” he scolded. “Nothing to say! Ha-ha! The gentlemen cadets don’t know their place! They should be chasing seamstresses and not playing on the stage! If Hamlet had had such a stupid face Shakespeare would hardly have written his tragedy!”

When he got tired of scolding, he started to teach the redheaded actor. Gesticulating with his hands and face, reading and banging his fists against the book, he demanded that the actor follow his advice. He had to save Shakespeare from desecration and for Shakespeare he would do anything: even a hundred thousand scandals!

Talking to the actors, the red-headed Hamlet was horrible. He broke down like that "dashing long-haired young man" – the actor, of whom Hamlet himself says: "I’d like to whip such an actor!”. When he began to recite, the baron couldn’t stand it. Gasping and banging his bald head on the ceiling of the booth, he placed his left hand on his chest and gesticulated with his right. An aged, strained voice interrupted the red-headed actor and made him look back at the booth:

Inflamed with anger,
In the blood dried on his armor
With fire in his eyes, the fierce one is looking for Pyrrhus
Priam’s father.

And, leaning halfway out of the booth, the baron nodded his head to the first actor and added, no longer reciting, but in a careless, faded voice:

“Continue!”

The first actor continued, but not immediately. For a minute he hesitated, and for a minute a deep silence reigned in the theater. This silence was broken by the baron himself, when, reaching back, he hit his head on the edge of the booth. Laughter was heard.

"Bravo, drummer!” was shouted from the audience.

They thought that it hadn’t been the prompter who’d interrupted Hamlet, but the old drummer who was dozing in the orchestra. The drummer bowed jokingly to the district committee, and the whole theater resounded with laughter. The public loves theatrical misunderstandings, and if misunderstandings were given instead of plays, they would pay twice as much.

The first actor continued, and silence was gradually restored.

The eccentric baron, hearing laughter, turned purple with shame and clutched his bald head, probably forgetting that it no longer had the hair that beautiful women once fell in love with. Now, not only would the whole city and all the humorous magazines laugh at him, he’d also be kicked out of the theater! He burned with shame, was angry with himself, and meanwhile all his members were trembling with delight: he was now reciting!

“None of your business, you old, rusty fool!” he thought. “Your job is just to be a prompter, if you don’t want to be punched in the neck like the lowest lackey. But it’s outrageous, nevertheless! The red-haired boy absolutely doesn’t want to perform humanly! Is this the way this place is run?”

And, glaring at the actor, the baron again began mumbling advice. Once again he couldn’t stand it and once again made the audience laugh. This eccentric was too nervous. When the actor, reading the last monologue of the second act, took a short break to silently shake his head, a voice again rushed out of the booth, full of bile, contempt and hatred, but, alas! already broken by time and powerless:

“Bloody lunatic! Hypocrite!
Insensitive, corrupt, vile monster!”

After a pause of about ten seconds, the baron took a deep breath and added, not so loudly:

“Fool, fool! Where am I brave!”

This voice would have been the voice of a real Hamlet, not of a red-haired Hamlet, if there hadn’t been old age on earth. Old age spoils and interferes with many things.

Poor baron! However, he’s not the first, and he won’t be the last.

Now he’ll be kicked out of the theatre. You must agree that it’s necessary.


3. THE CROOKED MIRROR

My wife and I went into the living room. It smelt of moss and damp. Scores of rats and mice darted away as we cast light on the walls that hadn’t seen light for a century. When we shut the door behind us a breeze wafted through the room and stirred up the papers that lay in the corners in stacks. The light fell on these papers and we saw ancient writings and medieval images. On the walls, green with age, portraits of ancestors were hanging. The ancestors were staring at us haughtily, sternly, as if to say:

“I’d like to have you flogged!”

Our footsteps echoed throughout the house. My cough was answered by an echo, the same echo that had once answered my ancestors...

And the wind howled and moaned. Someone was crying in the chimney, a cry of despair. Heavy raindrops pounded the dark, dim windows with a wistful sound.

“Oh ancestors, ancestors!” I said, sighing heavily. “If I were a writer, I’d write a long novel about their portraits. After all, each of these elders was once young and each of them had in them a novel – and what a novel! For example, look at that old woman, my great-grandmother. That ever so ugly woman has her own, eminently interesting tale to tell. Do you see," I asked my wife, "do you see that mirror hanging there in the corner?”

And I pointed for my wife to a large mirror in a black bronze frame hanging in the corner near the portrait of my great-grandmother.

“That mirror has magical properties: it absolutely ruined my great-grandmother. She paid a lot of money for it and never parted with it until the day she died. She stared at it day and night endlessly, even when she drank and ate. When she went to bed she always took it with her to bed, and when she was dying she asked for it to put it with her in the coffin. Her wish wasn’t granted only because the mirror didn’t fit in the coffin.

“Was she a coquette?” my wife asked.

“I suppose so. But didn’t she have other mirrors? Why did she love that mirror and not any other? And didn’t she have any better mirrors? No, there’s some terrible mystery here, sweetheart. That’s right. Legend says there’s a devil in the mirror and that great-grandma had a weakness for devils. Of course that’s nonsense, but there’s no doubt that that bronze-rimmed mirror does have some mysterious powers.”

I brushed the dust off the mirror, looked into it, and laughed. My laughter was echoed out loud. The mirror was crooked and my face was crooked in all directions: the nose was on my left cheek, and my chin was split and went sideways.

“Strange taste of my great-grandmother!” I said.

My wife hesitantly went over to the mirror and looked into it too – and immediately something terrible happened. She became pale, all her limbs were shaking, and she cried out. The candlestick fell out of her hands and rolled on the floor, and the candle went out. We were enveloped in darkness. Immediately I heard something heavy fall to the floor: my wife had collapsed unconscious.

The wind howled more miserably than ever, the rats began to scurry again and the mice to rustle through the papers. My hair stood on end as the shutter flew down from the window. The moon appeared in the window…
I gathered up my wife, embraced her and carried her out of the ancestral home. She only woke up the next day in the evening.

“The mirror! Give me the mirror!” She said, regaining consciousness. “Where’s the mirror?”

For a whole week afterwards she didn’t drink, eat, or sleep, and kept asking for a mirror. She cried, tore at the hair on her head, tossed and turned, and finally when the doctor said that she might die of exhaustion and that her situation was extremely dangerous, overcoming my fear I went downstairs and brought her great-grandmother’s mirror. On seeing it she laughed with happiness, took hold of it, kissed it and sunk her eyes deeply into it.

More than ten years have passed, and she still looks in the mirror and doesn’t tear herself away for a single moment.

“Is it really me?" she whispers, and in her face, along with a blush, flashes an expression of bliss and delight. “Yes, it’s me! Everything lies except this mirror! People lie, my husband lies! Oh, if I had seen myself before, if I had known what I really am, I wouldn’t have married this man! He’s not worthy of me! At my feet should lie the finest, noblest knights...!”

One day, standing behind my wife I accidentally looked in the mirror and discovered a terrible secret. I saw a woman of dazzling beauty in the mirror whom I’d never met in my life. She was a miracle of nature, a harmony of beauty, grace and love. But what was the matter? What had happened? Why did my plain, clumsy wife seem so beautiful in the mirror? Why?

Because the crooked mirror had distorted my wife’s plain face in all directions, and from this displacement of its features it had inadvertently become beautiful. Minus for minus made it plus.

And now we both, my wife and I, sit in front of the mirror and stare into it without looking away for a single minute: my nose is sticking out on my left cheek, my chin is split and shifted to the side, but my wife’s face is charming – and a mad, crazy passion overwhelms me.

“Ha-ha-ha!” I laugh wildly.

And my wife whispers barely audibly:

“How beautiful I am!”


4. THE DEPUTY, OR THE STORY OF HOW DESDEMONOV LOST 25 ROUBLES

“Shh... Let’s go to the Swiss, it’s not convenient here... He’ll hear us...”

We went to the Swiss. Makar, the doorkeeper there was sent off to the treasury so that he couldn’t overhear and report on us. Makar took the visitor’s book with him and put on his hat, but didn’t go to the treasury and hid instead under the stairs: he knew that there would be a great disturbance…

Kashalotov spoke first, followed by Desdemonov, then Zrachkov after Desdemonov... Dangerous passions raged! Convulsions ran down their red faces, fists pounded on their chests...

“We live in the second half of the nineteenth century, not God knows when, not in the times of the ancients!” Kashalotov declared. “What those fat cats were allowed to do before, they’re allowed to do now! We’re fed up at last! The time has passed when...” And so on...

Desdemonov made approximately the same declaration. Zrachkov even cursed obscenely... Everyone was shouting! There was only one sensible voice. That prudent one had a worried face, wiped his face with a kerchief and muttered:

“Well, shall we? Ah... Well, let us suppose that... it’s all true, but why? With the measures you use, with those measures you’ll in turn be measured, and they’ll revolt against you when you’re in charge. Believe me, you’ll only ruin yourselves!”

But they didn’t listen to the prudent voice. They didn’t let him finish what he was saying and pushed him towards the door. Seeing that prudence wouldn’t achieve anything, he became unreasonable himself and became boisterous too.

“It’s high time we made him understand that we’re men just like him!” said Desdemonov. “We, I repeat, are not servants, not plebs! We aren’t gladiators! We won’t allow ourselves to be bullied! He pokes us, doesn’t respond to our bows, turns his face away when he makes his reports, and swears at us... Nowadays you can’t even poke a footman, never mind a nobleman! That’s what we should tell him!”

“And the other day he turned to me and asked: ’What’s that snout of yours? Go to Makar, let him mop it up for you!’ That’s a good one! Or another time..."

“I was walking with my wife one day,” interrupted Zrachkov, “and he said: ’You’re always hanging around with girls! Even in broad daylight!’
’That’s my wife, I said...’ And he didn’t apologize, he just smacked his lips! My wife raged for three days about that insult. She’s not a girl, but on the contrary... you know...”

“In a word, gentlemen, it’s impossible to live like this any longer! It’s either us or him, and we can’t serve together in any case! Either he goes or we go! It’s better to live without an office than to have your reputation reduced to nothing! This is the 19th century, everyone has his own ego! Even though I’m a little person, I’m not just some kind of object, and I have my own soul! I won’t allow it! So let’s tell him! Let one of us go and tell him that it’s just impossible! To go in our name! Let’s go! Who’ll go? Just say so! Don’t be afraid, nothing’ll happen! Who’s going to go? Ugh, damn... I’ve gone completely hoarse...”

They began to elect a deputy. After much debate and bickering, Desdemonov was voted the smartest, the most eloquent and the bravest. He was registered at the library, wrote beautifully, and was acquainted with educated young ladies, so he was clever: he had something to say and knew how to say it. And there’s nothing to debaye about his courage. Everyone knows how he once demanded an apology from a policeman when the latter mistook him for a "fellow" in the club. No sooner had the policeman frowned at this demand than word of his courage spread around the world and occupied minds...

“Go on, Senya! Don’t be afraid! Give it to him! You’re going to bite him, you say! You’ve bumped into the wrong people, Your Highness! You’re a rascal! Look for other lackeys, and we know how to throw insults around ourselves, Your Excellency. There’s no need to cast shadows! That’s right... Go on, Senya... our friend... comb your hair... Say it!...”

“I’ve got a quick temper, gentlemen... I’ll say something wrong. You’d better go, Zrachkov!”

“No, Senia, you go... Zrachkov’s only good against sheep, and then when he’s drunk... he’s a fool, and you, after all... Go, my dear...”

Desdemonov combed his hair, straightened his waistcoat, coughed into his fist and went... Everyone held their breath. On entering the study, Desdemonov paused at the door and, with a trembling hand, passed his hand over his lips: well, how shall I begin? His spine felt cold and tightened, like a belt, when he saw a bald patch with a familiar black wart... A breeze ran down his back... Not a problem, though; it can happen to anyone at first experience, one needn’t be timid... Courage!

“Well... what do you want?”

Desdemonov took a step forward and moved his tongue, but it didn’t make a sound: something was jumbled up in his mouth. At the same time the deputy felt that there was confusion in his mouth and not only in his insides... Courage crawled from his soul to his belly, muttered there, ran down his thighs to his heels and got stuck in his boots... And his boots were torn... Trouble!

“Well... what do you want? Can’t you hear me?”

“Um... It’s nothing... I’m just saying. I, your -sterness, heard... heard...”

Desdemonov held his tongue, but his tongue didn’t obey and went on:

“I heard that the -stvo is raffling off a carriage... Ticket, your honour... Ahem... your honour...”

“Ticket? All right... I’ve got five tickets left, just... Will you take all five?”

“No... no... no, Your Excellency... One ticket... that’s enough...”

“Will you take all five, I’m asking you?”

“Very well, Your Honour!”

“Six rubles each... But you can heve them for five... Sign here... I wish you luck from the bottom of my heart…”

“Heh-heh-heh-heh-heh-heh-heh... Merci beaucoup... Ahem... A pleasure...”

“You may leave!”

In a minute Desdemonov was back in the Swiss and, red as a crab, with tears in his eyes he asked his friends for 25 rubles on loan.

“I gave him 25 roubles brethren, and it wasn’t my money! My mother-in-law gave it to me to pay the rent... Give it to me, gentlemen! Please!”

“Why are you crying? You’ll ride in a carriage...”

“In a carriage... A carriage... Am I going to scare people with a carriage? I’m not a clergyman! Where would I put it if I won? Where would I put it?”

They spoke for a long time, and while they were talking Makar (he’s very literate) was writing it all down... and so on. It’s a long story, gentlemen! In any case, the moral comes to this: don’t rebel!


5. HE UNDERSTOOD!

It’s a sweltering June morning. The heat’s hanging in the air, causing the leaves to wilt and the ground to crack. There’s a sense of melancholy lurking behind the thunderstorm. One longs for nature to weep and wash its sadness away with its teardrops.

There’ll probably be a thunderstorm. There’s a streak of blue and frowning in the west. Welcome!

At the edge of the forest there’s a stooped little peasant, about five feet tall, wearing large brown and grey boots and blue pantaloons with white stripes. The cuffs of his boots are halfway up his legs. The worn, patched trousers sag at the knees and dangle like fringes. A threadbare rope-sash has slipped down from his waist to his hips, and his shirt is pulled up to his shoulder blades.

He’s holding a shotgun in his hands. A rusty pipe about a yard long, with a sight resembling a shoe-nail, is set in a white home-made stock most skillfully carved from spruce, with clippings, stripes, and flowers. Without that stock the gun wouldn’t look like a gun; it seems like something medieval, not modern... The trigger, brown with rust, is wrapped in wire and threads. The oddest thing is a glossy ramrod, freshly cut from a willow tree. It’s raw and fresh and much longer than the shaft.

The little man is pale. His slanting, inflamed eyes look restlessly up and sideways. His goatee trembles like a rag along with his lower lip. He paces back and forth, arching his torso forward in apparent hurry. Behind him, sticking out its long, dust-grey tongue, a large mutt with disheveled hairs is running, as thin as a skeleton. On its sides and tail are hunging large shreds of old, faded hair. His hind leg is tied up in a cloth: it must hurt. The little man turns to his companion every now and then.

“Go away!” he says timidly.

The mongrel jumps back, looks around, and after a while continues following its master.

The hunter would be glad to be able to dash into the woods but he can’t: at the edge of the path there’s a wall of fierce thorns, and behind the thorns stand high, stuffy hemlocks with nettles. But here at last is a path. The little man waves the dog off once more and dashes down the path into the bushes. The soil gives way underfoot: it hasn’t dried up yet. It smells raw and less stuffy here. On the sides are bushes and junipers – the real forest is still three hundred paces away.

Something in the distance makes the sound of an unlubricated wheel. The peasant shudders and looks towards a young alder-tree. He sees a moving black speck on the alder, approaches closer and recognises a young starling. The starling is perched on a branch and looking under a raised wing. The little man stops in his tracks, throws off his hat, puts the stock on his shoulder and begins to aim. Having taken aim, he raises the trigger and holds it so that it doesn’t come down earlier than it should. The spring’s defective, the cock doesn’t work and the trigger doesn’t respond: it takes its time. The starling lowers its wing and begins to look suspiciously over at the shooter. One more second and it’ll fly away. The shooter takes aim once again and takes his hand off the trigger. The trigger, contrary to expectations, doesn’t move. The little man pulls a string with his fingernail, bends the wire and gives the trigger a shove. There’s a click followed by a shot. The shooter gets a strong kick in the shoulder. It’s obvious he didn’t spare any powder. Throwing the gun down on the ground he runs over to the alder and begins to rummage in the grass. Near a rotten, mouldy twig he finds a bloodstain and a tuft of fluff, and after some more searching he finds his victim, a small, still hot corpse lying beside the trunk.

“I got him in the head!” he exclaims enthusiastically to the mongrel.

The mongrel sniffs at the starling and sees that his master has hit more than just its head. There’s a gaping wound on its chest, one leg is broken, and there’s a big drop of blood on its beak...

The little man quickly reaches into his pocket for a new load, and from his pocket rags, papers and threads fall down onto the grass. He loads the gun and, ready to continue his hunt, goes further along.

A Pole, the landowner’s clerk, rises up from the ground in front of him. The peasant sees his stern, red-haired face and freezes in terror. His hat falls off on its own accord.

“What are you doing? Are you shooting?” asks the Pole in a mocking voice. “How nice!”

The hunter peeks shyly to the side and sees a cart loaded with brushwood and some men with a wagon nearby. Intrigued by the hunt, he hadn’t even noticed how he’d bumped into them.

“How dare you shoot here?” asks Krzhevetsky, raising his voice. “Is this your forest, then? Or maybe, in your opinion, it’s already Saint Peter’s Day? Who are you?”

“Pavel Khromoy," the small man barely murmurs, clutching his rifle. “From Kashilovka.”

“From Kashilovka, damn it! Who allowed you to shoot here?” the Pole goes on, trying not to stress the second syllable from the end. “Give me your gun!”

The lame man hands the Pole his gun and thinks: "I wish you’d hit me in the face instead of howling..."

“And give me that hat...”

The lame man gives him his hat too.

“I’ll show you not to shoot! Damn it! Let’s go!”

Krzhevetsky turns his back on him and walks along behind the creaking cart. Pavel Limp, groping in his pocket for his game, follows him.

An hour later Krzhevetsky and Khromoy enter a spacious room with a low ceiling and blue, faded walls, the master’s office. No one’s in the office but it smells strongly of lodgings nevertheless. There’s a large oak table in the middle. Two or three accounting books are on the table, as well as an inkwell with a sandbox, and a kettle with a chipped spout. All this is covered with a grey layer of dust. In the corner there’s a large cupboard whose paint has long since peeled off. A tin of paraffin and a bottle of some kind of mixture are on top of the cupboard. In the other corner there’s a small image, covered in cobwebs...

“A report will have to be drawn up," says Krzhevetsky. “I’ll report to the landlord and send for the constable. Take off your boots!”

The lame man sits on the floor and silently, with trembling hands, takes off his boots.

“You will not leave here," says the clerk, yawning. “If you go away barefooted, it’ll be worse for you. Sit here and wait for the constable to come...”

The Pole puts the boots and the rifle in the cupboard and leaves the office.

As Krzhevetsky leaves, Khromoy’s slowly scratching the back of his head, trying to understand where he is. He sighs and looks around fearfully. The cupboard, the table, the teapot without a spout and the image look at him reproachfully, wistfully... The flies that abound in the master’s office are buzzing over his head so pitifully that it becomes unbearably creepy.

“Zzzzz..." the flies buzz. “Gotcha! Gotchai”

A big wasp is crawling along the window. It wants to fly up out of the room but the glass won’t let it. Its movements are full of boredom and longing... The lame man backs towards the door, stands by the doorjamb and, with his hands at his sides, thinks...

An hour or two passes and he stands by the doorpost, waiting and thinking. His eyes squint at the wasp. "Why doesn’t it fly through the doorway, the fool?" he thinks.

Two more hours pass. Everything around is silent, completely silent, dead... Khromoy’s beginning to think he’s been forgotten and that he won’t get out soon, and neither will the wasp that falls down from the glass every now and then. The wasp will be dead by nightfall – but so what?

“That’s how humans are," the lame man philosophises, looking at the wasp. ”Man too, then... There’s a place for him to escape to, but in his ignorance he doesn’t know where that place is...”

Finally someone slams a door somewhere. Hurried footsteps are heard and in a minute a fat little man in broad trousers and harnesses comes into the office. He doesn’t have a frock coat or a waistcoat. There’s a streak of sweat running down his back from his shoulder blades; the same streak runs down his chest. It’s the master himself, Pyotr Yegorich Volchkov, a retired lieutenant colonel. His thick red face and sweaty bald head indicate that he’d have given a lot if a cold snap had come instead of the heat. He’s suffering from the heat and the stuffiness. His sleepy eyes show that he’s just gotten up from his very soft and downy featherbed.

He walks about the room several times as if he hadn’t noticed Khromoy, then stops in front of him and stares intently into his face for a long time. He stares fixedly, with contempt, which at first shines only slightly in his eyes, then gradually spreads all over his fat face. The lame man can’t bear the look and lowers his eyes. He’s ashamed...

“Show me what you’ve killed!” Volchkov whispers. “Come on, show me, young Wiliam Tell! Show it to me, you bastard!”

The lame man reaches into his pocket and takes out the poor starling. It’s already lost its bird shape. It’s badly crushed and has begun to dry up. Volchkov grins scornfully and shrugs his shoulders.

“Fool!" he says. “You fool! You empty-headed fool! Isn’t it a sin for you too? Aren’t you ashamed?”

“Yes, I’m ahamed, father Pyotr Yegorych!" says the lame man, overcoming the gulping that prevents him from speaking...

“Not only do you hunt in my woods without permission, you dare to go against the law of the state! Don’t you know that the law forbids out-of-season hunting? The law says that no one can shoot before Saint Peter’s Day. Don’t you know that? Come over here!”

Volchkov goes over to the table; Khromoy goes behind him. The barin opens the book that’s there, thumbs through it for a while and then begins to read in a high, drawn-out tenor an article forbidding hunting before Saint Peter’s Day.

“So you don’t know that?” “asks the landlord, ending his reading.

“How can I not know that? We do, Your Excellency. What do we know? Don’t we have any ideas?”

“Huh? What kind of idea is it if you spoil God’s creatures senselessly? You killed this bird. Why did you kill it? Can you bring it back to life? Can you, I ask you?”

“I can’t, father!”

“But you killed it... And what profit this bird is, I don’t understand! A starling! No meat, no feathers... So... he killed it himself and foolishly...”

Volchkov squints his eyes and begins to straighten the starling’s broken leg. The leg falls off onto the lame man´s bare foot.

“Curses, curses!” Volchkov continues. “You’re a greedy predator! You’ve done this deed out of greed! He sees a bird, and it pains him that the bird flies at will, glorifying God! Let me kill it and... devour it... Human greed! I can’t bear to look at you! Don’t look at me with those eyes of yours! You devious rascal, you devious rascal! You killed her, and she may have little children... squeaking...”

Volchkov makes a tearful grimace and, putting his hand to the ground, shows how small babies can be...

“I didn’t do it out of greed, Pyotr Yegorych," the limp voice excuses himself in a trembling voice.

“What did you do it for? It was for greed, as you very well know!’

“No, Pyotr Yegorych... If I took a sin on my soul, it wasn’t out of greed, not out of lucre, Pyotr Yegorych! It was an impurity...”

“You’re so impure that you’ve been led astray by the Unclean! You’re the one who can be confused by the impure! All you Kashilovs are thieves!”

Volchkov lets a trickle of air out of his chest with a sniffle, takes in a new portion and continues, lowering his voice: “What am I supposed to do with you now? Eh? Taking your mental poverty into account, you ought to be let go; but in view of your conduct and your impertinence you ought to be... You ought certainly... Enough of this spoiling... Enough of this! I’ve sent for the officer... We’ll draw up a report... I’ve sent for him... The evidence is there... Blame yourself... I don’t punish you, your sin punishes you... If you can sin, you can be punished too... Oh-ho-ho-ho... Lord, forgive us sinners! Trouble with these... Well, how’s your spring?...”

“Nothing... by the grace of God...”

“Why are you blinking your eyes?”

Khromoy coughs into his fist and adjusts his sash.

“Why are your eyes blinking?” Volchkov repeats. “You killed the starling, are you going to cry too?”

“Your Excellency!” Khromoy says in a rattling cough, loudly, as if he had gathered his strength. “It offends you, according to your love of mankind, that I killed a bird... You reproach me, this very thing, not because you are a gentleman, but because it offends you... according to your love of mankind... But do I not feel offended? I’m a foolish man, though I have no ideas, and I’m... offended... God forbid...”

“So why did you shoot it, if you’re offended?”

“The Unclean one. Let me tell you, Pyotr Yegorych! I’ll tell the truth, as before God... Let the officer come... My sin, I’m answerable to God and the court for it, and to you the whole truth, as if it were true... Let me tell it, Your Highness!”

“What should I allow? Allow it or not, you can’t say anything clever. What’s it to me? I won’t be the one to draw up the report... Speak! Why don’t you say something? Speak, William Tell!”

The lame man runs his sleeve over his trembling lips. His eyes become even narrower and shallower...

“I have nothing against these starlings,’ he says. "There may be a thousand of them, but what’s the use of them? You can’t sell them or eat them, they’re just a trifle. You understand...”

“No, don’t tell me... You’re a hunter, but you don’t understand... starling, if fried, is good in porridge... And you can sauce it...it tastes almost like grouse...”

And, as if regretting his indifferent tone, Volchkov frowns and adds..:

“You’ll see what it tastes like... You’ll see...”

“We don’t know what tastes... If only there was bread, Pyotr Yegorych... We know that ourselves... But I killed the starling because of sadness... sadness...”

“What kind of sadness?”

“The devil knows what it is! Let me explain. It’s started to torment me since the Holy Day, this sadness... Let me explain... I went out in the morning after matins, after Easter, and I went on... Our wives went ahead, and I went behind. I was walking and walking and stopped at the dam... I stood there and looked at God’s light and saw how everything was, how every big and little creature knew its place... The morning dawned and the sun was shining... I saw all that, rejoiced and looked at the birds, Pyotr Yegorich. Suddenly I felt something in my heart. A pang, then...”

“Why’s that?”

“Because I saw the birds. Then a thought occurred to me. I thought it would be a good idea to shoot, but the law doesn’t allow it. And then two ducks flew in the sky overhead and the sandpiper cried somewhere beyond the river. I wanted to hunt very much! I came home with such ideas! I was having supper with my women and I saw a bird in my eyes. As I was eating, I heard the forest rustling and the bird shouting: Tzvirin! Tzvirin! Oh, my God! I wanted to go hunting, and I wanted to have a Sabbath! And when I drank vodka, I became completely crazy. I began to hear voices. I heard a thin little voice ringing in my ear, as if from on high, telling me: ’come, Pashka, shoot!’ It was an obsession! I may presume, Your Excellency, Pyotr Yegorich, that it was the little devil, and not anyone else. And so sweet and thin, like a child’s voice. Since that morning, I’ve been feeling sad. I was sitting on my bed, I put my hands down like a fool, and I thought to myself... I thought and thought... All my thoughts were of your dead brother, Sergein, may he rest in peace. I remembered, silly me, how I used to go hunting with them, the dead men. I was one of their most important hunters, God willing. It amused and touched them that I, a two-eyed squint, was an artist at shooting! They wanted to take me to town to show the doctors my ability with all my ugliness. It was amazing and sensitive, Pyotr Yegorych. We’d go out at dawn, call the dogs Kara and Ledka, and... aah! Thirty versts a day! What can I say, Pyotr Yegorych, noble father! Truly, I’m telling you that apart from your brother there hasn’t been a real man in the whole world! He was a cruel man, formidable, stubborn, but no one could resist him in the hunting field! His Lordship, the Earl of Tirbork, hunted with his him and died of envy. He was no match for him. He was never that good, and he never held a gun like your brother’s. It was a Marseilles shotgun, made by Lepelier and company. A duck at two hundred paces!! No kidding!"

The lame man quickly wiped his lips and continued, blinking his slanting eyes:

“That caused my sadness. When there’s no shooting, there’s trouble, it stifles my heart!”

“Pampering!”

“Not at all, Pyotr Yegorych! All through Holy Week I walked like a stray dog, didn’t drink, didn’t eat. On Fomin’s Day I cleaned my gun, fixed it up, and it calmed down a bit. On Pentecost, I got sick again. I wanted to go hunting, no matter how hard I tried not to. I drank vodka – that didn’t help, it was even worse. No dabbling! I got drunk after being blessed... The next day I was sadder than ever... It drives you out... It drives you out, it drives you along! It’s so powerful! I took my rifle, went out to the garden and started shooting birds! I got ten of them, but it didn’t get any easier for me: I was drawn to the forest... to the swamp. And the old woman started shaming me: ’You can’t shoot a rook, can you? It’s an ungodly bird, and it’s a sin before God: there’ll be a crop failure if you kill a goose.’ Pyotr Yegorych took my gun... The hell with it! I’m relieved..”

“Pampering!”

“No fooling! I’m telling you, it wasn’t a joke, Pyotr Yegorych! Let me explain... I woke up last night. I was lying there thinking... My grandma’s asleep, and there’s no one to say a word to. ’Can my gun be repaired now, or not?’ I’m thinking. I got up and started fixing it."

“Well?”

“Well, nothing... I fixed it and ran out with it like a man on fire. I got caught... I’m going to hell... Take that bird and smack him in the face with it, so that he understands...”

“The officer’s coming... Go into the hall!”

“I’ll go... I repent to my soul... Father Petra also says it’s pampering... But according to my foolish supposition, as I understand it, it’s not pampering, but sickness... It’s like drinking... Like a jest... You don’t want to, but you’re drawn into your soul. You’d be glad not to drink, but you’re tempted: Drink! Drink! I’ve been drinking, I know...”

Volchkov’s red nose turned purple.

“Drinking heavily’s another matter,” he says.

“It’s the same! By God, it’s the same! Truly, I tell you!”

And they were silent for a few minutes and looked at each other.

Volchkov’s crimson nose turned dark blue.

”You yourself will understand what a weakness this is, because of your love of mankind.”

The lieutenant-colonel understands not by humanity, but by experience.

“Off you go!” he says to Khromoy.

The lame man doesn’t understand.

‘Get out and don’t get caught again!”

“My boots, please!” says the little man, who’s understood and is glowing.

“Where are they?”

“In the cupboard...”

The lame man receives his shoes, hat and rifle. He leaves the office with a light heart and looks up, but there’s a heavy black cloud in the sky. The wind’s blowing through the grass and trees. The first splashes have already struck on the hot roof. The stuffy air is getting lighter and lighter.

Volchkov pushes the window from inside. The window opens with a noise, and Khromoy sees the wasp fly away.

The air, Khromoy and the wasp celebrate their freedom.


6. ON CHRISTMAS EVE

A young woman of about twenty-three with a terribly pale face stood above the beach and looked out into the distance. Beneath her small, velvet-soled feet a narrow, dilapidated staircase, with one very movable handrail, led down to the sea.

She looked out into the distance where a vast expanse was flooded with a deep, impenetrable gloom. Neither stars nor snow-covered sea nor lights were visible. It was raining heavily...

"What’s out there?" the woman wondered, gazing into the distance and wrapping her wet coat and shawl about her against the wind and the rain.

Somewhere out there in that impenetrable darkness, five or ten versts away, must be her husband, the landlord Litvinov, with his fishing companions. If a snowstorm hasn’t covered Litvinov and his fishermen with snow during the last two days at sea, they’ll now be hurrying back to the shore. The sea’s swollen and they say it’ll soon begin to break the ice. The ice cannot bear this wind and rain. Will their ugly-winged, heavy and sluggish fishing sledge reach the shore before the woman hears the roar of the wakening sea?

She longed to go down. The railing moved under her hand and, wet and sticky, slipped from her grasp like a creeper. She crouched down on the steps and began to descend on all fours, gripping the cold, dirty steps with her hands. A breeze tore at her and swung her coat open. There was a smell of dampness on her chest.

“Saint Nicholas, the miracle worker, will there be no end to these stairs?” whispered the young woman, scrambling down the steps.

The staircase had exactly ninety steps. It didn’t curve, but went down in a straight line, at an acute angle to the plumb line. The wind shook it from side to side and it creaked like a board about to crack.

Ten minutes later the woman was down by the sea. It was just as dark down there. The wind there became even more fierce than above. The rain poured down and there seemed to be no end to it.

“Who’s there?” a man’s voice was heard.

“It’s me, Denys...”

Denys, a tall, corpulent old man with a big grey beard, was standing on the beach, carrying a large stick and looking out into the impenetrable distance too. He was searching for a dry spot on his clothes to light a match on to be able to smoke his pipe.

“Is that you, Madam Natalya Sergeyevna?” he asked in a bewildered voice. “In this bad weather? What are you doing here? With your complexion, catching cold after childbirth is deathly. Go home, mother!”

An old woman was crying. The mother of the fisherman Evsey, who’d gone out fishing with Litvinov, was weeping. Denys sighed and waved his hand.

“You”ve lived, old woman,” he said towards her, “seventy years in this world, and like a little child, you’ve no idea. You fool, you’re at God’s will for everything! With your senile weakness you should be lying on the cooker, not out here in the damp! Go away, for God’s sake!”

“But Evsey is mine, my Evsey! He’s all I’ve got, Denisushka!”

“It’s God’s will! If he’s not destined to die in the sea, let the ice break a hundred times, but he’ll stay alive. And, my mother, if he’s destined to die this time, it’s not for us to judge. Don’t cry, old woman! Evsey’s not the only one out at sea. Barin Andrei Petrovich’s there too. Fedya, Kuzma and Tarasenkov Aleshka are also out there.”

“Are they alive, Denysushka?” Natalya Sergeyevna asked in a trembling voice.

“Who knows, madam! If they haven’t been snowbound yesterday and on the third day, they’ll be alive. If the sea doesn’t break in, they’ll be alive. Look at that wind. It’s like it’s been hired, goddamn it!”

“Someone’s walking on the ice!” the young woman said in an unnaturally husky voice, as if startled, and she took a step back.

Denys squinted his eyes and listened.

“No, barina, nobody’s coming," he said. ‘It’s Petrusha, the fool, sitting in the boat and moving the oars. Petrusha!” “shouted Denys, “Are you sitting there?”

A weak, sickly voice was heard: “I am, grandfather!”

“Does it hurt?”

“It hurts, Grandfather! I have no strength!”

There was a boat on the shore, just off the ice. At the bottom of the boat sat a tall lad with awkwardly long arms and legs. He was Petrusha the fool. He was gnashing his teeth and all his body was trembling as he stared out into the dark distance, trying to see something. He, too, was waiting for something from the sea. His long arms were gripping the oars and his left leg was tucked under his body.

“Our little fool is sick!” Denys said , approaching the boat. “His leg’s sore, the good one. And the lad’s lost his mind from the pain. You should go and get warm, Petrusha! You’ll catch worse cold here...”

Petrusha was silent. He trembled and writhed in pain. His left thigh was in pain, on the back side, right where the nerve passed.

“Come on, Petrusha!” “Denys said in a soft, fatherly voice. “Lie down on the stove and, God willing, your leg’ll be fine by morning.”

“I can feel it!” Petrusha mumbled, unclenching his jaws.

“What do you feem, silly boy?”

“The ice has broken.”

“How can you feel it?”

“I hear such a noise! One noise from the wind, another from the water. And the wind’s different: softer. It’s breaking up ten versts away.”

The old man listened. He listened a long time, but in the general rumble he didn’t perceive anything other than the except howling wind and the steady noise of the rain.

Half an hour passed in waiting and in silence. The wind was in its element. It grew angrier and angrier and seemed determined to break the ice at any cost and to take Eusei’s son from the old woman and her husband from the pale woman. The rain meanwhile grew weaker and weaker. Soon it became so rare that one could see human figures, the silhouette of a boat, and the whiteness of the snow in the darkness. Through the howling of the wind a chime could be heard. It was ringing from the fishing village, in the dilapidated bell tower. People caught at sea by the blizzard and then by the rain had to guide themselves by that chime – a straw that a drowning man clings to.

“Grandfather, the water’s near! Can you hear it?”

Grandfather listened, and this time he heard rumbling, not like the wind howling or the noise of trees. The fool was right. There wasn’t any longer any doubt that Litvinov and his fishermen wouldn’t return to land to celebrate Christmas.

“It’s over!” Denis said. “It’s breaking up!”

The old woman shrieked and crouched down on the ground. The barina, wet and shivering with cold, went over to the boat and listened. And she heard an ominous rumbling sound.

“Perhaps it’s the wind!” she said. “Are you really convinced, Denys, that the ice is breaking?

“God’s will!..! For our sins, Madam...”

Denys sighed and added in a gentle voice:

“Please come upstairs, madam! You’re already soaked!”

And then the people standing on the shore heard a quiet laugh, the laughter of a child, a happy one... The pale woman was laughing. Denys grunted. He always grunted when he wanted to cry.

“You’ve lost your mind!” he whispered to the dark silhouette of the woman.

The air grew lighter. The moon had peeked out. Now everything was visible: the sea with half thawed snowdrifts, and the woman, and Denis, and silly Petrusha writhing with unbearable pain. Away to the side the men stood holding ropes for something.

There was the first clear crackling sound not far from the shore. Soon there was another, a third, and the air was filled with a terrifying crack. The white, endless mass shook and darkened. The monster awoke and began its violent life.

The howl of the wind, the noise of the trees, Petrusha’s moans and clanging were all silenced by the roar of the sea.

“We have to go up the stairs!” shouted Denis. “Now the shore’s going to be flooded and covered with seaweeds. And the morning’s about to begin, lads! Come on, Mother Mistress, God willing!”

Denys approached Natalya Sergeyevna and gently took her under the elbows...

“Come along, mother!” he said tenderly, in a voice full of compassion.

The baroness dismissed Denys with her hand, and, lifting her head cheerfully, went towards the stairs. She was no longer so deathly pale; her cheeks were in a healthy flush, as though fresh blood had been poured into her system; her eyes no longer looked weeping, and her hands, which held her shawl to her breast, didn’t tremble as before... She felt that she could manage the high stairs by herself, without any help from anybody else...

When she reached the third step, she stood still. Before her stood a tall, stately man in large boots and a fur coat…

“It’s me, Natasha... Don’t be afraid!" the man said.

Natalya Sergeyevna staggered back. She recognised her husband, the landowner Litvinov, with his the tall merlushka hat, dark moustache and black eyes. Her husband picked her up in his arms and kissed her on the cheek, dousing her with the fumes of sherry and cognac. He was slightly intoxicated.

"Be glad, Natasha," he said. “I didn’t disappear under the snow or drown. During the snowstorm I made my way with my boys to Taganrog [17], and from there I came overland to you here.”

He was mumbling, and she, pale and trembling again, looked at him with perplexed, frightened eyes. She couldn’t believe it...

“How wet you are, how you’re trembling!” he whispered, pressing her to his chest.

And a soft, childlike kind smile spread over his face, intoxicated with happiness and wine... She’d been waiting for him in this cold, at this time of night! Wasn’t that love? And he laughed with happiness...

A piercing, soul-shattering cry was answered by this quiet, happy laughter. Neither the roar of the sea, nor the wind, nothing could drown it out. With her face distorted by despair, the young woman was unable to hold back the cry and it burst out. Everything could be heard in it: the haphazard marriage, the irrepressible antipathy to her husband, the longing to be alone, and finally the dashed hope of a liberated widowhood. Her whole life with its grief, tears and pain poured out in that cry and wasn’t even drowned out by the cracking ice. Her husband understood the cry – it was impossible not to understand it...

“You’re bitter that I wasn’t snowed in or crushed by the ice!” he muttered.

His lower lip quivered and a bitter smile spread across his face. He stepped down the steps and lowered his wife to the ground.

“Have it your way!” he said.

He turned away from his wife and went over to the boat. There the silly Petrusha, clenching his teeth, trembling and hopping on one leg, was dragging the boat into the water.

“Where are you going?” Litvinov asked him.

“The pain is killing me, Your Excellency! I want to drown... It doesn’t hurt the dead...”

Litvinov jumped into the boat. The fool went after him.

"Goodbye, Natasha!" shouted the landlord. “Have it your way! Get what you’ve been waiting for, standing here in the cold! Godspeed!”

The fool swung his oars, and the boat pushed against the large ice-floe and sailed on to the high waves.

“Row, Petrusha, row!” Litvinov cried out. “Go on, go on!”

Litvinov, holding onto the edges of the boat, rocked and looked back. Gone was his Natasha, gone were the lights of the tube, gone at last the shore...

“Come back!” he heard in a woman’s torn voice.

And in this "come back", he thought he could hear despair.

“Come back!”

Litvinov’s heart began to pound... His wife was calling him, and then the Christmas mass was ringing on the shore.

“Come back!” the voice repeated pleadingly.

An echo repeated the word. The ice-floes crackled the word, the wind shrieked it, and the Christmas chimes said: "Come back!”

“Let’s go back!" Litvinov said, tugging the fool by the sleeve.

But the fool didn’t hear him. Gritting his teeth in his pain and looking hopefully out into the distance he worked his long arms... No one was shouting to him "turn back" and the pain in his nerve, that had begun since childhood, was growing sharper and burning ever more... Litvinov grabbed his hands and pulled them back. But those hands were as hard as stone and it wasn’t easy to tear them away from the oars. And it was too late. A huge ice floe was rushing towards the boat. That ice floe was going to take Petrusha’s pain away forever...

The pale woman stood on the sea shore until morning. When she was carried home, half frozen and exhausted from the moral torment, and laid in bed, her lips still kept whispering: "Come back!"

That night before Christmas she had fallen in love with her husband...


7. 75,000

At night around midnight two friends were walking along Tverskoy Boulevard. One was a tall, handsome dark-haired man in a shabby bear coat and top hat, the other was a small fellow with red hair in a red coat with white bone-buttons. Both were walking along in silence. The dark-haired one whistled a little mazurka, while the redhead was staring sullenly at his feet and spitting.

“Shall we sit down?” The dark-haired one suggested, when both could see Pushkin’s dark silhouette and the light over the gate of the Strastnoi monastery.

The redhead silently agreed, and the two friends sat down.

“I’ve a small favour to ask you, Nikolai Borisych," said the dark-haired man after a moment’s silence. “Could you lend me ten or fifteen roubles, my friend? I’ll pay you back in a week’s time...”

The redhead was silent.

“I wouldn’t even bother you if I didn’t just have to. Fate played a nasty trick on me today... My wife gave me her bracelet this morning to pawn... She has to pay for her sister’s school fees... I did what you know, and now... I lost it by accident right in front of you...”

The redhead moved a little and grunted.

“You’re an empty fellow, Vassili Ivanovitch!" he said, grinning wickedly. “You’re empty! What right did you have to play cards with those young women when you knew that the money wasn’t yours, but someone else’s? Well, aren’t you vacuous, aren’t you a phoney? Wait, don’t interrupt... Let me tell you once and for all... Why these ever-new suits, that pin on your tie? Is fashion appropriate for you, a beggar? Why that silly top hat? You, who live off your wife, you pay fifteen roubles for a top hat when you could easily wear a three-ruble hat without detriment to fashion and aesthetics! Why this eternal bragging about your non-existent acquaintances? I know Khokhlov, and Plevako, and all the editors! When you lied about your acquaintances today, my eyes and ears were burning for you! You lie without blushing! And when you played with those women, losing your wife’s money to them, you had such a dirty and silly smile that it’s just... a slap in the face!"

“Leave off, leave off... You’re in a bad mood today...”

“Even if that faux pas was boyish, schoolboyish... I’ll admit it, Vasili Ivanovich... you’re still young... But I won’t allow it... I won’t acept one thing... How could you, playing with those women... simply cheat? I saw you tak the ace of spadese out from underneath!”

Vasily Ivanovich blushed like a schoolboy and began to make excuses. The redhead insisted on his point. They argued loudly for a long time. Finally they both quieted down a little and began to think.

“It’s true, I have..." said the dark-haired one after a long silence. “It’s true... I’ve spent a lot and I owe a lot and I’ve squandered a lot, and now I don’t know how to get out of it. Do you know that unbearable, nasty feeling when your whole body’s itching and you have no remedy? I’m experiencing something similar to that feeling now ... I’m up to my neck in the mess ... I’m ashamed of myself and of the way I behave ... I do a lot of stupid things, of nasty things, for the slightest reasons, and at the same time I can’t stop myself ... It’s disgusting! If I’d inherited or won a lot, I would have given everything up and would have been born again... And you, Nikolai Borisych, don’t judge me... don’t cast stones... Remember Remember Palmovsky Neklyuzhev...”

“I remember your Neklyuzhev,” the redhead said. “I remember him... He ate up other people’s money, ate too much, and after dinner he wanted to have a good time… he burst into tears in front of a girl... I bet he didn’t shed any tears before lunch... Shame on writers for idealizing such scoundrels! If Neklyuzhev didn’t have a gay look and gallant manners, the merchant’s daughter wouldn’t have fallen in love with him and there wouldn’t have been any repentance... In general, fate gives scoundrels a cheerful appearance... You’re all cupids! They love you and they fall in love with you... You’re terribly lucky when it comes to women!”

The redhead stood up and walked round the bench.

“Your wife, for instance... an honest, noble woman... what could she possibly love you for? Why? And tonight, the whole evening, while you were lying and breaking down, that pretty blonde didn’t take her eyes off you ... You, the Neklyuzhevs, are loved, they make sacrufices for you, and all your life you’re struggling like a fish batting its head against the ice... be honest as honesty itself – for at least one happy minute! And also... remember? I was your wife Olga Alexeyevna’s fiancé when she didn’t know you yet, I was quite happy but you came along and... I was lost...”

“Jealousy!” the other grinned. “I didn’t know that you were so jealous!”

A feeling of annoyance and nastiness ran across Nikolai Borisich’s face... Mechanically, without realizing it, he reached forward and... swung his hand. The sound of the slap broke the silence of the night... The cylinder flew off the other’s head and rolled onto the trapled snow. It all happened in a second, unexpectedly, and came out seeming stupid, ridiculous. The redhead immediately felt ashamed of the slap. He tucked his face into the faded collar of his coat and walked up the boulevard. On reaching the Pushkin statue he looked back at the other one, remained motionless for a minute and, as if he were frightened of something, ran off towards Tverskaya...

Vasily Ivanovich sat there silent and motionless for a long time. A woman walked past him and handed him his cylinder with a laugh. He thanked her mechanically, got up and walked away.

"Now the itching will begin," he thought half an hour later climbing up the long stairs to his flat. ’I’m going to get it from my wife for losing the money! She’ll be preaching at me all night! Damn her to hell! I’ll say I lost the money..."

Reaching his door, he timidly rang the bell. The cook let him in...

“Congratulations!” said the cook, smirking all over her face.

“What for?”

“You’ll see! God’s had mercy!”

Vasily Ivanovich shrugged his shoulders and went into the bedroom.

His wife Olga Alexeevna, a petite blonde with curlers in her hair, was sitting at the desk. She was writing. In front of her lay several sealed letters. When she saw her husband, she jumped up and threw herself on his neck.

“Have you come?” she exclaimed. “How happy I am! You can’t imagine how happy I am! I was hysterical, Vasya, on getting such a surprise ... Here, read it!"

And she ran over to the table, took the newspaper from it and brought it to over to her husband.

“Read this! My ticket won 75,000! After all, I have the ticket! I honestly do! I kept it from you because... because... you would have pawned it. Nikolai Borisych, when he was a groom, gave me the ticket and wouldn’t take it back. What a good man that Nikolai Borisych is! We’re terribly rich now! You’ll get better now, you won’t lead a disorderly life any longer. After all, you’ve been smoking and cheating me because of our deficiencies, because of our poverty. I understand that. You’re clever and decent...”

Olga Alexeevna walked around the room and laughed.

“What a surprise! I was walking about from corner to corner, scolding you for your debauchery, hating you and then I sat down to read the paper... And suddenly I saw it!.. I wrote letters to everyone... my sisters, my mother... They’ll be so happy, poor people! But where are you going?”

Vasili Ivanovich looked at the newspaper... Stunned and pale, not listening to his wife, he stood silently there for a time thinking of something, and then put on his hat and left the house.

“To Bolshaya Dmitrovka, room N!” - he shouted to the cabman.

At the room he did not find the person he was looking for. The room he knew well was locked.

"She must be at the theatre," he thought, "and from the theatre... she’s gone to dinner... I’ll wait here a while..."

And he remained waiting there... Half an hour passed, an hour passed... He strolled up and down the corridor and talked to the sleepy doorman... It struck three on the clock below... Finally, having lost his patience, he began to go down slowly towards the exit... But fate had mercy on him...

At the doorway he met a tall, thin brunette wrapped in a long boa. A gentleman wearing blue sunglasses and a fur cap followed on her heels.

"I beg your pardon," Vasily Ivanovich addressed the lady. "May I disturb you for a moment?"

Both the lady and the man frowned.

“I’ll be right with you,” the lady to the man and walked with Vasily Ivanovich over to the gas horn. “What do you want?”

“I’ve come to you... to you, Nadina, on business," Vasily Ivanovich began, stammering. “It’s a pity that the gentleman’s with you, or I would have told you everything...”

“What’s the matter? I don’t have any time!”

"You’ve got new admirers, and you don’t have time! You’re very good, I must say! Why did you chase me away at Christmas? You didn’t want to live with me because... because I didn’t give you enough to live on... Now you’re wrong, it turns out... Yes indeed... Do you remember that ticket I gave you for your birthday? Here, read it! It won 75,000!”

The lady took the newspaper in her hands and with greedy, as if frightened, eyes began to look for telegrams from St. Petersburg... And she found them...”

At the same time other eyes, weeping, dull with grief, almost mad, were looking into the box and searching for the ticket... All night long these eyes searched and didn’t find it. The ticket had been stolen, and Olga Alexeevna knew who had stolen it.

That very night the red-headed Nikolai Borisych tossed and turned from side to side and tried to sleep, but didn’t fall asleep until morning. He was ashamed of that slap in the face.


8. THE LAST MOHICAN

I and the retired staff-sergeant Dokukin, at whose house I was a guest, were sitting one fine spring morning in his ancient armchairs and staring lazily out the window. It was an awful bore.

"Phew!" Mumbled Dokukin. "Such boredom you’d be glad of a visit from the bailiff!"

"Shall I go to bed?" I wondered.

We thought about boredom for a long time until we noticed a tiny change in the circle of the universe through the rainbow-washed window-panes: the cockerel, that was standing by the gate on a heap of last year’s leaves, raising one leg after the other (he wanted to raise both legs at once), suddenly woke up and darted away like a scared man.

“Someone’s coming or going..." smiled Dokukin. “I wish somebody would bring a guest. It would be more cheerful, after all...”

Cock hadn’t deceive us. First a horse’s head with a green bow appeared in the gate, then a full horse and, at last, a sombre, heavy carriage with big ugly side-wings, resembling the wings of a beetle about to fly off. The carriage rolled into the yard, awkwardly turned to the left, and with a screech and a clatter rolled towards the stable. In it sat two human figures, one female, the other a smaller male.

“Damn it..." muttered Dokukin, looking at me with startled eyes and scratching his temple. “There was no grief, so the devils drugged me. It’s not for nothing that I saw a furnace in my dream today.”

“Why? Who’s that coming?”

“Sis and her husband, damn them...”

Dokukin got up and nervously walked around the room.

“It’s even cold under my heart..." he muttered. “It’s a sin not to have feelings for my own sister, but would you believe it? I’d sooner meet a robber in the woods than I would be with her. Shouldn’t we hide? Let Timoshka say that we’ve gone to a convention.”

Dokukin began to call Timoshka loudly. But it was too late to lie and hide. After a minute there was a sound in the front room: a woman’s bass was talking to a man’s tenor.

“Get me my scarf downstairs!” The female bass was saying. “And you’ve got the wrong trousers on again!”

“You gave the blue trousers to uncle Vasilii Antipych, and you ordered me to hide the motley ones till winter," the tenor justified himself. “Shall I carry the shawl for you, or should I leave it here?"

At last the door opened, and a forty-something lady entered the room. She was tall, full and plump, wearing a silk-blue dress. There was so much bluntness on her red-cheeked face that I sensed at once why she was so disliked by Dokukin. After the fat lady came a small, thin man in a mottled coat, large trousers and a velvet waistcoat, with narrow shoulders, a shaven head and a reddish nose. A gold chain dangled on his waistcoat like the chain of a lamp. In his clothes, his movements, his nose, and his dishevelled figure there was something vaguely debased and bowed-down.

She turned to her husband and ordered: “Cross yourself!”

The little red-nosed man shuddered and began to cross himself.

“Hello, sister!” Dokukin said, turning to the lady when she had finished praying, and sighed.

The lady smiled gravely and pushed her lips onto Dokukin’s.

The man also reached out for a kiss.

“Allow me to introduce... My sister Olimpiada Yegorovna Hlykina... Her husband is Dosifei Andreech. And this is my good acquaintance...”

“"I’m very glad," said Olimpiada Yegorovna, without shaking my hand. “I am very glad...”

We sat down and were silent for a minute.

“Were you expecting visitors?” Olimpiada Yegorovna asked and turned to Dokukin. “I hadn’t expected to be at your place myself, my brother, as I’m on my way to see the governor, I’m just passing by...”

“And why are you going to see the governor?” Dokukin asked.

“What for? To complain against him!” The lady nodded at her husband.

Dosifei Andreich looked down, pushed his legs under his chair and made an embarrassed cough into his fist.

“Why should you complain about him?”

Olimpiada Yegorovna sighed.

“He forgets his rank!” she said. “Well, I’ve complained to you, my brother, and to his parents, I’ve taken him to Father Gregory so that he could read a lesson to him, and I’ve done all sorts of things myself, but all that has failed! I have to bother the governor...”

“But what has he done?”

“He’s done nothing, and he doesn’t remember his rank! He’s not a drinker, he’s humble, he’s respectful, but what’s the use if he can’t remember his rank! Look at him there, he sits hunched over as if he were a beggar or a commoner. Do nobles sit like that? Sit up properly, do you hear?”

Dosifei Andreyevich craned his neck and lifted his chin, probably to sit upright, and timidly, furtively looked at his wife. That’s how little children look when they’re guilty. Seeing that the conversation was becoming intimate and family-like, I got up to leave the room. Hlykina noticed my move.

“Not at all, sit down!” she stopped me. “It’s good for young people to listen to this. We may not be scientists, but we’ve lived more than you have. God grant everybody to live as we have lived... And we, brother, will have dinner with you while we’re here,” Hlykina turned to her brother. “You must have had a hearty meal today. Tut, you don’t even remember that it’s Wednesday today," she sighed. “You must order a Lenten meal for us. We will not eat lean; it’s as you wish, brother."

Dokukin called Timoshka and ordered a fasting meal.

“We’ll dine and then go to the governor..." Hlykina went on. “I’ll ask him to take care of it. It’s his business to see that the nobles don’t go astray...”

“Has Dosifei gone astray?” asked Dokukin.

“As if you’ve never heard him before," said Hlykina with a frown. “And the truth is you don’t care... You don’t remember your own rank too well... But we’ll ask the young man. Young man," she said to me, "do you think it good for a nobleman to keep company with all sorts of rapscallions?”

“It depends with whom..." I hesitated.

“The merchant Gusev, for example. I don’t even allow that Gusev to come to my doorstep, but he plays draughts with him, and goes to his tavern. And is it decent for him to go hunting with a clerk? What can he talk to a clerk about? The scribe doesn’t just talk, don’t you dare squeak in front of him, if you want to know, my good sir!”

“My character is weak..." whispered Dosifei Andreyevich.

“I’ll show you character!” his wife threatened him, knocking angrily on the back of her chair with her ring. “I will not allow you to embarrass our family name! You may be my husband, but I will disgrace you! You must understand! I brought you out into the world! The Hlykin family, sir, is a worthy family, and if I, a Dokukina, married him, he should appreciate it and be grateful! He didn’t cost me cheap, sir, if you want to know! What it cost me to have him in my service! Ask him! If you want to know, it cost me 300 rubles just for his exam for the first rank! And why am I bothering? Do you think I’m bothering for you, you grouse? Don’t think so! Our family name is dear to me! If it wasn’t for the family name, you’d have rotted in my kitchen long ago, if you want to know!”

Poor Dosifei Andreyevich listened, kept silent, and only shrugged, I don’t know whether it was out of fear or shame. And at dinner the stern wife wouldn’t leave him alone. She kept her eyes on him and watched his every move.

“Salt your soup! You’re holding the spoon wrong! Move the salad bowl away from you, or you’ll catch it with your sleeve! Don’t blink your eyes!”

And he ate in a hurry, cringing under her eyes like a rabbit under the gaze of a boa constrictor. He ate Lenten with his wife and every now and then looked with envy at our cutlets.

“Pray now!” his wife said to him after dinner. “And thank your brother!”

After dinner Hlykina went to her bedroom to rest. When she left, Dokukin clutched his hair and paced up and down the room.

“Well, what a wretched man you are, brother!” He said to Dosipheus, panting heavily. “I’ve sat with her for an hour and am tortured, what’s it like for you to be with her day and night ... ah! You martyr, you wretched martyr! You child of Bethlehem, murdered by Herod!”

Dositheus blinked his eyes and muttered:

“She’s strict, it’s true, but I must pray to God for her night and day, because I get nothing from her but favours and love.”

“You’re a lost man!” Dokukin shook his hand. “And once he spoke at meetings, and invented a new seeder! The witch has ruined the man! Eh!”

“Dositheus!” A woman’s bass sounded. “Where are you? Come here, drive the flies away from me!”

Dosifei Andreyevich shuddered and ran on tiptoes into the bedroom...

“Ugh!” Dokukukin spat after him.


9. THE DIPLOMAT

The wife of the titular councillor Anna Lvovna Kuvaldina had taken her last breath.

“What should we do now?” relatives and friends began to confer. “Her husband has to be notified. He didn’t live with her, but he loved her. He came to her recently, crawled on his knees and kept saying: "Annochka! When will you finally forgive me my infatuation?" And all that sort of thing, you know. You have to let him know...”

“Aristarkh Ivanovich," said the weeping aunt to Colonel Piskarev, who was taking part in the family meeting, "you’re a friend of Mikhail Petrovich’s. Will you do me the kindness of going to his house and letting him know of this misfortune? But don’t be too quick, my dear, or something might happen to him, too. He’s sick. You prepare him first, and then...”

Colonel Piskarev put on his cap and went to the Roads Board, where the new widower worked. He found him in the act of drawing up a balance sheet.

“Dear Mikhail Petrovich!" he began, seating himself at Kuvaldin’s table and wiping away his sweat. “Hello, my dove! What dust there is on the streets, for God’s sake! Go ahead and write, write... I won’t disturb you... I’ll just sit and then go away... You know, I was just passing by and I thought: isn’t Misha working here? Let’s go in! Well... I have a little business to get done...”

“Sit down, Aristarkh Ivanovich... Wait a little... I’ll be done in a quarter of an hour, then we’ll talk...”

“Write, write... I’m just walking around... I’ll just say two words and go away!”

Kuvaldin put down his pen and prepared to listen. The colonel scratched his collar and continued:

“It’s stuffy here, but it’s pure heaven outside... There’s sunshine and a breeze, you know... birds... springtime! I was walking along the boulevard, and I felt so good, you know...! I’m an independent man, a widow... I go where I want... If I want to go to the porter’s, if I want to ride around on horseback, no one dares to stop me, no one howls after me at home... No, brother, there’s no better life than being single... You’re at ease! You’re free! You breathe and you really feel like you’re breathing! I’ll go home now and no... no one will dare ask where I went... I’m my own master... Many people, my brother, praise family life, but I think it’s worse than hard labour... Fashions, bustles, gossip, squealing... guests now and then... children one after another creeping into the world... expenses... ugh!”

“I’ll be right back,” said Kuvaldin, taking up his pen. “I’ll finish and then...”

‘Write, write... If she’s not the devil’s wife, what if she’s Satan in a skirt? If she’s the one who’s been chirping and itching all day long... You’ll howl! Take you, for instance... When you were single, you looked like a man, but when you married your wife, you became melancholic... She disgraced you in the city... she drove you out of the house... What good is that? There’s no pity for such a wife...”

“Our break-up’s my fault, not hers,” Kuvaldin sighed.

“Stop that, please! I know her! Angry, willful and crafty! Every word’s a venomous sting, every glance is a sharp knife... And what malice was in her, the dead woman, it’s impossible to express!”

“What do you mean by ‘the dead woman’?” Kuvaldin made big eyes.

“Did I say ‘dead woman’?” Piskarev blushed. “I didn’t say that at all... God be with you... You’ve gone pale! He he he... Listen with your ear, not with your belly!”

“Have you been to Anyuta’s today?”

“I went there this morning... She was lying down... She’d been pushing the servants around... She’s been served the wrong way, the wrong way... She’s an unbearable woman! I don’t understand why you love her, God bless her... God willing, she’d untie you, you poor man... You’d be free, you’d have fun... you’d marry someone else... Well, I won’t! Don’t frown! It’s just an old man’s way... It’s up to me... If you like it, or not, I’m just... wishing you well... Not living with you, not wanting to know you... what kind of wife is that? Ugly, frail, wicked... And there’s nothing to regret... Let her be...”

“Easy for you to say, Aristarkh Ivanovich!” Kuvaldin sighed. ”Love isn’t a hair that you can just pluck out.”

“There has to be a reason to love! You’ve had nothing but snide remarks from her. Forgive me, old man, but I didn’t love her... I couldn’t look upon her! When I drove past her flat I closed my eyes so that I didn’t see her... God be with her! God rest her soul, eternal rest, but... I didn’t love her, I’m a sinful man!”

“Listen, Aristarkh Ivanovich...” Kuvaldin turned pale. “This is the second time you’ve said that... Is she dead or what?”

“So who died? No one died, but I didn’t love her, the dead woman... whew! I mean not the dead woman, but her... your Annushka...”

“She’s dead, isn’t she? Aristarkh Ivanovich, don’t torment me! You seem strangely excited, confused... praising your idle life... Is she dead? Yes?”

“She’s so dead!” Piskarev muttered, coughing. “How you, brother, all at once... and even if she were dead! Everyone will die, and she too must die... And you’ll die, and I...”

Kuvaldin’s eyes turned red and filled with tears...

“At what time?” he asked quietly.

“Not at all ... You’re mumbling! She’s not dead! Who told you that she’s dead?”

“Aristarkh Ivanovich, I... I beg you. Don’t spare me!”

“You, brother, can’t be spoken to as if you were a child. Did I tell you she’s dead? Did I? Why are you drooling? Come and see, she’s alive! When I went to see her, she was arguing with her aunt... Father Matvey was holding a memorial service, and she was shouting at the whole house.”

“What memorial service? For who?”

“A memorial service? It’s like... as if instead of a prayer service. I mean... there wasn’t a memorial service, but something... nothing.”

Aristarkh Ivanovich got confused, stood up and turned to the window and started coughing.

“I have a cough, brother... I don’t know where I caught it...”

Kuvaldin also rose and nervously paced around the table.

“You’re deceiving me," he said, rubbing his beard with trembling hands. Now I understand… everything’s clear. And I don’t know what all this diplomacy is for! Why not say it right away? Did she die?"

“Um... How shall I tell you?” Piskarev shrugged his shoulders. “It’s not that she’s dead, but... Well, you’re crying now! Everyone’s going to die! She’s not the only mortal, we’ll all be in the other world! Instead of crying in front of people, you’d better go and remember her! You should have crossed yourself!”

For half a minute Kuvaldin stared dumbly at Piskarev and then, terribly pale, fell into a chair and burst into hysterical tears... His colleagues jumped up from the other tables and rushed to his aid. Piskarev scratched the back of his head and frowned.

“A commission with such gentlemen, by God!” He muttered, spreading out his arms. “Howls... well, why does he howl, you may ask? Misha, are you out of your mind? Misha!" he pushed Kuvaldin. “She’s not dead yet! Who told you that she’s dead? On the contrary, the doctors say that there’s still hope! Misha! Misha, I’m telling you that she’s not dead! Shall we go and see her together? We’ll be just in time for the memorial service... I mean, what am I saying? Not for the memorial service, but for dinner. Mishenka! I assure you, she’s still alive! God punish me! Blow my eyes! You don’t believe me? In that case, let’s go to see her... Call her whatever you want, if... And where did he come up with that, I don’t understand? I was at the dead woman’s this morning. I mean, not at the dead woman’s, but... ugh!”

The colonel waved his hand, spat, and left the Board. On arriving at the dead woman’s flat he collapsed on the sofa and clutched his hair.

“You go to him yourself!” he muttered in despair. “Prepare him for the news yourself, and spare me! I won’t! I just said two words to him... I only hinted to him, and look what it’s done to him! He’s dying! Without feeling! There’s no way I’ll do it again... Go yourself!...”


10. THE WHISTLERS

Alexei Fyodorovich Vosmerkin was showing his visiting brother, a university Master around his estate. Both had just had breakfast and were slightly tipsy.

“This, my brother, is the forge..." Vosmerkin explained. “And here’s where they shoe horses... And this, my brother, is the bathhouse... There’s a long bench in the bathhouse, and under the bench there are chickens sitting in sieves on ttheir eggs... Just looking at the sofa you’ll remember a lot of things... I only heat the bathhouse in winter... An important thing, brother, it’s really something! Only a Russian could invent a bathhouse! In one hour on the top bench you’ll go through what an Italian or a German couldn’t survive in a hundred years ... You lie like there you’re in hell, and then Avdotya brushes you off with a broom, chiki-chiki ... chiki-chiki ... You get up, drink cold kvass and again chiki-chiki... Then you get off the bench, you’re like a red Satan... But a human one... Here are my freed mercenaries... Let’s go in!”

The landowner and the Master bent down and entered a shabby, unplastered, ramshackle apartment with a cracked roof and a broken window. The smell of cooking-broth wafted over them as they entered. Men and women were sitting at a long table eating pea soup with large spoons. When they saw the gentlemen, they stopped chewing and stood up.

“Here they are, my..." began Vosmerkin, casting his eyes over the diners. “Bread and salt, lads!”

“Greetings!”

“There they are! That’s Russia, my brother! Real Russia! The people! And what a people! God forgive me, what kind of cattle are Germans or Frenchmen compared to them? They’re all are pigs compared to our people!”

“You don’t say..." the Master murmured, lighting a cigar to clear the air. Every nation has its own historical past... its own future...”

“You’re a Westerner! Do you understand that? That’s the pity that you scholars have learned alien ways, and don’t want to know your own! You despise them, you’re alien! And I see it and I agree: the intelligentsia has gone rotten, and if there’s anyone to look for ideals in, it’s them, those lazybones... Take Filka for example...”

Vosmerkin went up to the shepherd Filka and shook him by the shoulder. Filka grinned and made a "gee-ha" sound...

“Take Filka... Why are you laughing, you fool? I’m serious, and you’re laughing... Take this fool... Look, Master! A foot wide in the shoulders! A chest like an elephant’s! You can’t budge him, there’s no way! And how much moral strength there is lurking in him! How much of it! Enough strength for a dozen of you intellectuals... Go ahead, Filka! Watch out! Don’t back down! Hold on tight! If anyone tells you anything, oppresses you, spit it out... You’re stronger, you’re better! We have to imitate you!”

“Our merciful gentlemen!” the dignified coachman Antip blinked his eyes. “Doesn’t he feel it? Doesn’t he understand the gentlemen’s affection? Bow down to your feet, you simpleton, and kiss their hands... You’re our merciful gentlemen! If a man’s worse than Filka, you forgive him, and if he’s not a prankster, he’ll live in heaven... God bless everyone... And you reward and you punish him...”

“I say!” The very essence has spoken! The patriarch of the forest! You see, Master! ’Both reward and punish’... In simple words, the very idea of justice!.. I bow down, brother. Do you see it? I learn from them. I’m learning!”

“It’s true..." Antip remarked.

“What’s true?”

“About learning...”

“What learning? What’re you talking about?”

“I meant what you were saying... about doctrine... You’re gentlemen, to learn doctrines of all kinds... We’re in the dark! We see the signs, but we don’t know what they mean... We know more with our noses... If it smells of vodka, it’s a tavern, if it smells of tar, it’s a shop...”

“Well Master, what do you say? What are the people like? Every word with a scrawl, every phrase is a profound truth! A nest, brother, there’s a nest of truth in Antipka’s head! And look at Dunyushka! Dunyasha, come here!”

Dunyasha the cowherd, freckled with an upturned nose, became ashamed and scratched the table with her fingernail.

“Dunyushka, I told you to come here! What are you ashamed of, you fool? We won’t bite!”

Dunyasha came out from behind the table and stopped in front of the gentleman.

“Look at that! She’s breathing with power! Have you ever seen such a thing there, in St. Petersburg? There you have matches and bones, but this one, look, all blood and milk! Simplicity, breadth! Look at that smile, those ruddy cheeks! It’s all nature, truth, reality, not like yours! What’s that stuffed in your cheeks?”

Dunyasha chewed and swallowed something...

"And, my brother, look at those shoulders, those legs!" continued Alexei. "I bet she’ll bang that fist in the back of her dear one, and it’ll ring like a barrel... Are you still messing with Andryushka? Look here, Andriyushka, I’ll give you some pepper. Laugh, laugh... Eh, Master? Forms, forms...”

Vosmerkin bent down to the Master’s ear and whispered... The Master started laughing.

“So now you’ve been made fun of, you fool..." remarked Antip, looking at Dunyasha reproachfully. “You’ve turned redder than a crayfish! They wouldn’t say that about a good girl...”

“And now, Master, look at Lyubka!” continued Vosmerkin. “She’s our first singer... You go around among your Chukhtas and collect the fruits of folk art... No, listen to ours! Let ours sing to you, you’ll drool! Come on, fellows! Come on! Ljubka, start! Come on, you pigs! Obey!”

Lyuba coughed bashfully into her fist and in a harsh, husky voice began her song. The others echoed her... Vosmerkin waved his hands, blinked his eyes and clucked, trying to read delight on the Master’s face.

The Master frowned, pursed his lips and listened with a look of a real connoisseur.

“Yes..." he said. “There’s a version of that song in Kireevsky’s, number seven, class three, song eleven... Yes... I must write it down...”

The Master took a book from his pocket and with an even more frowns began to write... Having sung one song, the "people" began another... Meanwhile the broth had grown cold and the porridge they took out of the cooker had stopped giving off vapour.

“That’s it!" exclaimed Vosmerkin. ”That’s it! Most important! I bow down!”

Doubtless the matter would have come to a dance, had Pyotr the footman not entered the dining-room and announced that the meal was ready.

“And we, scum that we are, we dare to think ourselves as superior and better!” Vosmerkin cried out as he and his brother came out of the waiting room. “What are we? Who are we? No ideals, no science, no labour... Do you hear them laughing? They’re laughing at us... And they’re right! They smell falsity! A thousand times right and... and... did you see Dunyasha? Isn’t she quite a girl? Just wait, after dinner I’ll call her...”

At dinner the two brothers talked the whole time about identity, intactness and integrity, scolded themselves and searched for meaning in the word "intellectual".

After dinner they went to bed. Having slept, they went out on the porch, ordered themselves a seltzer and started again about the same sort of thing...

“Petya!” Vosmerkin shouted to the footman. “Go and fetch Dunyashka, Lyubka and the others! Tell them to dance round the table here! Hurry up! Come quickly!”


11. DEAR DOG

Lieutenant Dubov, no longer a young army serviceman, and the volunteer Knaps were having a drink.

“Great dog!” said Dubov, showing Knaps his dog Milka. “A wonderful dog! Look at that muzzle! The muzzle alone’s worth it! If you run into a dog-lover, he’ll give you two hundred rubles for such a face! You don’t believe me? If so, you don’t understand anything...”

“I understand, but…”

“It’s a setter, a purebred English setter!” It’s stance is amazing, and what flair... what scent! God, what a scent! Do you know how much I gave for Milka when she was just a puppy? One hundred rubles! A wonderful dog! She-elma, Milka! Doo-hooray, Milka! Come here, come here... my doggy, my little dog...

Dubov drew Milka to him and kissed her between the ears. There were tears in his eyes.

“I won’t give you up to anyone... my beauty... that would be robbery. Do you love me, my Milka? Do you love me?... Damn it, get out, will you!” the lieutenant suddenly shouted. “Climbing on my uniform with your dirty paws! Yes, Knaps, I gave a hundred and fifty rubles for it as a puppy! Well, wasn’t it worth it? Only one thing’s a shame: I don’t have time to go hunting! The dog’s dying of idleness, it’s burying its talent... That’s why I’m selling it. Buy it, Knaps! You’ll be grateful to me for the rest of your life! Well, if you don’t have much money, then if you like, I’ll let you have it at half price... Take it for fifty! It’s a steal!

“No, my dear…” Knaps sighed. If your Milka was a male, then maybe I would have bought it, otherwise...

“Milk isn’t a male?” The lieutenant was surprised. "Knaps, what’s the matter with you?" Milka’s not male?... What sex is he?! Ha, ha! So what do you think she is – a bitch? Ha, ha, what a fellow – he still doesn’t know how to distinguish a male from a female!”

"You’re talking to me as if I’m blind or a child..." Knaps was offended. “Of course, she’s a bitch!”

“Perhaps you’ll say next that I’m a lady! Ah, Knaps, Knaps! And you who graduated from technical school! No, my soul, this is a real, purebred male! Not only that, he’ll give you ten points on any male dog, and you... aren’t a male? Ha, ha...”

“Forgive me, Mikhail Ivanovich, but you… just think I’m a fool… It’s even a shame…”

“Well, don’t then, to hell with you… Don’t buy it… You won’t get it!” You’ll soon say that that’s not a tail, but a leg... No matter. I just wanted to do you a favor. Vakhrameev, some cognac!

The orderly served more cognac. The friends poured themselves a glass and thought. Half an hour passed in silence.

“And even if she’s a female…” the lieutenant interrupted the silence, looking sullenly at the bottle. “She’s amazing! It’s better for you like that. She’ll bring you puppies, and for every puppy you’ll get twenty-five... Everyone will buy one from you willingly. I don’t know why you like males so much – bitches are a thousand times better! Females are both more grateful and more affectionate... Well, if you’re so afraid of the female sex, then, if you like, you can take her for twenty-five!

- No, my dear... I won’t give a penny. Firstly, I don’t need a dog, and secondly, I don’t have any money.

“You would have said that earlier! Milka, get out of here!”

The orderly served scrambled eggs. The friends set to work on them and silently cleaned the frying pan.

"You’re a good fellow, Knaps, honestly," said the lieutenant, wiping his lips. “I’m sorry to let you go like that, damn it… You know what? Take the dog for free!

"Where can I take her, my dear?" Knaps said and sighed. “And who’ll take care of her?

“Well, it doesn’t matter, doesn’t matter… to hell with you! You don’t want to, and you don’t have to... Where are you going? Sit down!”

Knaps, stretching, stood up and grabbed his hat.

“It’s time to go, goodbye…” he said, yawning.

“Wait a minute, I’ll accompany you.”

Dubov and Knaps put on their coats and went out. The first hundred steps passed in silence.

“You don’t know anyone to give this dog to?” the lieutenant began. “Do you have any such acquaintances? The dog, as you saw, is good, a thoroughbred, but... I definitely don’t need her!”

“I don’t know, my dear…. What kind of friends do I have here?”

Up to the apartment of Knaps the friends didn’t say a single word more. Only when Knaps shook the lieutenant’s hand and opened his gate did Dubov cough and mutter something hesitantly:

“Do you know if the local knackers take dogs or not?”

“They must take them... Probably… I can’t say.”

“I’ll send her to them tomorrow with Vakhromeev... To hell with her, let her skin be torn off... Nasty dog! Disgusting! Not only did she make messes in all rooms, but just yesterday she ate all of the meat in the kitchen, horrible!... I wish she were a good breed, but the devil only knows what she is, she’s a cross between a mongrel and a pig. Good night!

“Farewell!” Knaps said.

The gate slammed on the lieutenant left all alone.


12. THE BOREDOM OF LIFE

The Church is a place where the Church is a place where the Church is a place where the Church is a place where the Church is a place where the Church is a place where the Church is a place where the Church is a place where the Church is a place where the Church is a place where the Church is a place.
- "A Practical Guide for Clergymen", P. Nechaev

Colonel Anna Mikhailovna Lebedeva’s only daughter, a young bride, died. That death brought about another death: the old woman, stunned by a visit from God, felt that all her past had irrevocably died and that now another life was beginning for her, one that had very little in common with the first...

She went about in a disorderly fashion. First she sent a thousand roubles to the Athos monastery and donated half of her household silver to the church cemetery. A little later she gave up smoking and vowed not to eat meat. But all that didn’t make her feel any better. On the contrary, the feeling of old age and the proximity of death grew sharper and more pronounced. Then Anna Mikhailovna sold her town house for next to nothing and retired to her manor without any definite purpose in mind.

When the human mind, in whatever form, raises the question of the purpose of existence and there’s a need to look beyond the coffin, then neither sacrifice, nor fasting, nor wandering from place to place will satisfy it. But, fortunately for Anna Mihailovna, immediately after her arrival at Jenino fate confronted her with an accident that made her forget for a long time about old age and approaching death. It happened that on the day of her arrival Martyn, the cook, had poured boiling water over both his feet. They rushed out to fetch the country doctor, but he wasn’t at home. Then Anna, although she was squeamish and sensitive, washed Martyn’s wounds, smeared them with oil and applied bandages on both feet. She spent the whole night at the cook’s bedside. When, thanks to her efforts, Martyn stopped moaning and fell asleep, her soul, as she later said, was "struck". It suddenly seemed to her that the purpose of her life was revealed to her... Pale, with moist eyes, she reverently kissed Martyn’s sleeping forehead and began to pray.

After this Lebedeva took up her vocation. In the days of her sinful, slovenly life, that she now recalled with nothing but disgust, having nothing to do she’d had to have lots of treatments. Her lovers had also included doctors from whom she’d learned a thing or two. All of that came in handy now. She procured a first aid kit, several books on medecin and the medical newspaper, and bravely began her treatments. In the beginning, she treated only the inhabitants of Zhenino, but then she began to attract people from all the surrounding villages.

“Can you imagine, my darling?” Three months after her arrival she boasted to the priestess: "Yesterday I had sixteen patients, and today I have twenty! I’m so weary with them that I can hardly stand on my feet. All my opium is out, imagine! There’s an epidemic of dysentery in Guryin!”

Every morning when she woke up she thought of the sick who were waiting for her, and her heart felt a pleasant chill. After dressing and a quick cup of tea she’d begin the admission process. She enjoyed it to an inexpressible degree. First slowly, as if wishing to prolong the pleasure, she wrote down patients’ names in a notebook and then she called each in turn. The more the patient suffered, the dirtier and more disgusting his illness was, the sweeter the work seemed to her. Nothing gave her more pleasure than the thought that she was fighting against her squeamishness and not sparing herself, and she deliberately tried to prolong the digging into festering wounds. There were times when, as if intoxicated by the ugliness and the stench of the wounds, she fell into a kind of delighted cynicism when an unbearable desire to violate her nature appeared, and in those moments it seemed to her that she stood at the height of her vocation. She adored her patients. Her senses told her that they were her saviours, and intellectually she wanted to see them not as individuals, not as men, but as something abstract: the people! That was why she was unusually soft and timid with them, blushing before them for her mistakes and always looking guilty on receiving them...

After each session of treatments, that took up more than half a day, tired and reddened from stress and feeling sick, she occupied herself with reading. She read medical books or those of the Russian authors that best suited her mood.

Anna Mikhailovna felt refreshed, content and almost happy with her new life. She didn’t want anything more from life. And then, as if to complete her happiness, as if for dessert, she became reconciled with her husband, to whom she had felt deeply guilty. Some seventeen years beforehand, soon after the birth of her daughter, she had betrayed her husband Arkady Petrovitch, and had to separate from him. She hadn’t seen him since. He was serving somewhere in the south in the artillery as a battery commander and occasionally, twice a year, had sent letters to his daughter, who had carefully hidden them from her mother. After her daughter’s death, Anna Mikhailovna suddenly received a long letter from him. He wrote to her, in his aged, relaxed hand, that since the death of his only daughter he’d lost the last thing that bound him to life, that he was old and ill and longed for death, which he feared at the same time. He complained that he was sick and tired of everything, that he didn’t get on with people any longer and couldn’t wait to give up life in the battery and get away from all the squabbling there. Finally he asked his wife to pray for him, to take care of herself and not to give way to despondency.

A regular correspondence ensued between the two old people. From the letters that followed, which were all equally tearful and gloomy, it wasn’t only illness and the deprivation of his daughter that the colonel suffered from. He got into debt, quarrelled with his superiors and fellow officers, built up his battery until it was impossible to hand it over, etc. The correspondence between the two spouses continued for some two years, culminating in the old man’s resignation and his coming to live in Zhenino.

He arrived on a February afternoon, when the buildings at Zhenino were hidden behind high snowdrifts, and there was dead silence in the clear blue air, along with a hard, cracking frost.

Looking out the window as he climbed down from of the sleigh, Anna Mikhailovna didn’t recognise him as her husband. He was a small, hunched-up old man, quite decrepit and run-down. The first things that struck Anna Mikhailovna about him were the senile folds in his long neck and his thin, arching knees, that looked as if they were on artificial legs. He had a long argument with the cabman when he paid the bill and then spat angrily at him in conclusion.

“Even talking to you is repugnant!” Anna Mikhailovna heard the senile man grumbling. “You have to understand that it’s immoral to ask for tea! Everyone should receive only what he has earned, quite!”

When he came into the ante-room Anna Mikhailovna saw a yellow face, not even browned by frost, with bulging crayfish eyes, and a thin beard in which grey hairs were mingled with red. Arkady Petrovich put an arm around his wife and kissed her on the forehead. Looking at each other, it was as if the old people were frightened of something and they became terribly embarrassed, as if they were ashamed of their old age.

“You’re just in time!” Anna Mikhailovna hurried to speak. “The meal’s just been put on the table. It’ll do you good to have a good meal after your journey!”

They sat down for dinner, and ate the first course in silence. Arkady Petrovich took a thick wallet out of his pocket and was examining some notes while his wife diligently prepared a salad. Both had piles of conversational material in the back of their minds, but neither touched upon those piles. Both felt that the memory of their daughter would cause acute pain and tears, and that the past reeked of stuffiness and gloom like a deep vinegar barrel...

“Ah, so you don’t eat meat!” Arkady Petrovich remarked.

“Yes, I’ve made a vow not to eat any..." his wife quietly replied.

“Well, it won’t harm your health... If you look at it chemically, fish and all lean things consist of the same elements as meat. In fact, nothing’s lean... (’What am I saying that for?’ thought the old man.) For example, this cucumber is the same as chicken...”

“No... When I eat a cucumber, I know that it hasn’t been deprived of life, it hasn’t shed blood..."

“That, my dear, is an optical illusion. You eat a lot of infusoria with the cucumber, and didn’t the cucumber itself live? Plants are organisms too! And fish?”

"Why am I talking this nonsense?" Arkady Petrovich thought once more and immediately began to quickly speak about the successes that chemistry was making now.

“It’s simply marvellous!” he said, chewing his bread with difficulty. “Soon milk will be prepared chemically and perhaps even meat! Yes, in a thousand years every house will have a chemical laboratory instead of a kitchen, where they’ll make anything they want out of worthless gases and the like!”

Anna Mikhailovna looked at his continually running crayfish eyes and listened. She felt that the old man was talking about chemistry only to avoid talking about something else, but, nevertheless, his theory of lean food interested her.

“Did you retire as a general?” she asked when he stopped talking and started blowing his nose.

“Yes, a general... Your Excellency...”

The General talked throughout the meal, unceasingly, and thus displayed an excessive talkativeness, a quality that Anna Mikhailovna hadn’t known him to possess in her younger days. His chattering gave the old woman a headache.

After dinner he retired to his room to rest, but in spite of his exhaustion he couldn’t sleep. When the old woman came in before evening tea, he was crouched under the covers, staring up at the ceiling and letting out intermittent sighs.

“What’s the matter with you, Arkady?" Anna Mikhailovna was horrified, seeing at his gray and stretched face.

“No... nothing...” he muttered. “It’s just my rheumatism.”

“Why didn’t you tell me? Perhaps I can help you!”

“You can’t help...”

“If it’s rheumatism, then iodine, sodium salicyl...”

“Thatt’s all nonsense... I’ve had eight years of treatment... Don’t tap your feet like that!” the General shouted at the old maid, staring at her angrily. “She rattles like a horse!”

Anna Mikhailovna and the maid, long unused to this tone, looked at each other and blushed. Noticing their embarrassment the general grimaced and turned his face to the wall.

“I must warn you, Anyuta..." he groaned. ”I have the most obnoxious temper! In my old age I’ve become a grouch...”

“You’ll have to change..." sighed Anna Mikhailovna.

“It’s easy to say: ’you have to!’ There mustn’t be any pain, but nature doesn’t obey our "must"! Oh! And you, Anyuta, go away... In times of pain the presence of people irritates me... It’s hard to talk...”

Days, weeks and months passed by and little by little Arkady Petrovich got used to the new place: in fact he got quite used to it. At first he lived in the house without a break, but the old age and the severity of his obnoxious character was felt in all Zhenino. He woke up very early, about four o’clock in the morning, and the day began with a piercing, geriatric cough that woke up Anna Mikhailovna and all the servants. To kill the long period between early morning and dinner, if rheumatism didn’t restrain his legs he wandered around the rooms, cleaning up the disorder that he saw everywhere. He was irritated by everything: the laziness of the servants, loud footsteps, the crowing of the cocks, the smoke from the kitchen, the church bells... He grumbled, scolded and chased the servants, but after each scolding he clutched his head and said in a weeping voice: “God, what a temper I have! What an intolerable temper!”

And at dinner he ate a lot and chattered on and on. He talked about socialism, about the new military reforms, about hygiene, and Anna Mikhailovna listened and felt that all that was being said only to avoid talking about their daughter and the past. Both still felt awkward in each other’s presence, as if they were ashamed of something. Only in the evenings, when the rooms were in twilight and the cricket was chirping drearily on behind the stove did the awkwardness disappear. They sat together in silence, as if they were whispering things to each other that they didn’t dare say out loud. They were warming each other with the warmth of their lives and they both knew exactly what the other was thinking. But the maid would bring in the lamp and the old man would start talking or grouse about disturbances again. He had no work to do. Anna Mikhailovna wanted to involve him in her medicine, but he yawned and moped at the first reception. She couldn’t get him to read either. He was used to reading at intervals in his service but couldn’t read for a long time. It was enough for him to read five or six pages, after which he got tired and took off his glasses.

But spring came and the general drastically changed his way of life. When freshly treaded paths ran from the estate to the green fields and the village and birds began cawing in the trees in front of the windows, he suddenly, unexpectedly for Anna Mikhailovna, started going to church. He went to church not only on holidays, but also on weekdays. This religious zeal began with the funeral service, which the old man secretly followed for the sake of his daughter. During the service he knelt, bowed and wept, and seemed to be praying fervently. But it wasn’t a prayer. Giving himself over to his fatherly feelings, picturing the features of his beloved daughter, he looked at the icons and whispered:"Shurochka! My beloved child! My angel!”

It was a fit of senile sadness, but the old man imagined that there was a reaction within him, a revolution. The next day he was drawn to church again, the third day too... From church he came back refreshed and radiant, with a smile on his face. At dinner the themes of his never-ceasing chatter were religion and theological questions. Anna Mikhailovna, entering his room on several occasions caught him leafing through the Gospel. But, unfortunately, this religious fad didn’t last long. After one particularly violent attack of rheumatism that lasted a whole week he didn’t go back to church; somehow he forgot that he had to go to mass...

He suddenly felt a desire for society.

“I don’t see how anyone can live without company!” he began to grumble. “I have to make visits to my neighbours! It might be silly and vacuous, but as long as I’m alive I have to follow the ways of the world!”

Anna Mikhailovna offered him horses. He made visits to the neighbours, but he didn’t go back to them a second time. His need to be in the company of people was satisfied by the fact that he wandered around the village and picked on the moujiks [18].

One morning he was sitting in the dining room in front of the open window drinking tea. The men who had come to Anna Mikhailovna for treatment were sitting on benches near the lilac and gooseberry bushes. The old man squinted his eyes at them for a long time, then grunted:

Ces moujiks... pititful objects of civil sorrow... Instead of being treated for diseases, you’d better go somewhere to be treated for meanness and nastiness.”

Anna Mikhailovna, who adored her patients,stopped pouring tea and looked at the old man with a mute look of surprise. The patients, who had seen nothing but affection and warmth in Lebedeva’s house, were also surprised and rose from their seats.

“Yes, gentlemen... ces moujiks..." continued the General. “You amaze me. You amaze me! Well, aren’t they beasts?” the old man turned to Anna Mikhailovna. “The district authorities lent them money for sowing oats, and they drank it all away! Not one of them, not two of them, but all of them! The tavern-owners had nowhere to deposit the oats... Is that good?” The general turned to the men. “Huh? Is it good?”

“Stop it, Arkady!” Anna Mikhailovna whispered.

“Do you think the district got those oats for nothing? What kind of citizens are you then, if you respect neither your own property, nor anyone else’s, nor public property? You drank the oats... you cut down the forest and drank it too... you steal anything and everything... My wife’s treating you, and you stole her fence... Is that good?”

"That’s enough!" moaned the General’s wife.

“It is time to get wise..." Lebedev continued to grumble. “It’s shameful looking at you! You, red-head, you come here for treatment – your leg’s hurting you? And you didn’t bother to wash your feet at home... A foot full of mud! You hope, you ignoramus, that they’ll wash your feet here! They’ve got it in their heads that they’re moujiks, so they think they can go everywhere. The priest married some Fedor, a local carpenter. The carpenter didn’t pay him a penny. ‘Poverty!’ he said. ‘I can’t!’ All right! But when the priest ordered a bookshelf from this Fedor... What do you think? He went to the priest five times to collect! Well, isn’t he a bastard? Eh? He didn’t pay the priest himself, but...”

“The priest has plenty of money..." one of the patients muttered sullenly.

“How do you know?” the General burst out, jumping up and leaning out of the window. “Have you ever looked in a priest’s pocket? He may be a millionaire, but you shouldn’t take advantage of his work. If you don’t give freely, don’t take freely! You can’t imagine the abominations they have!” The General turned to Anna Mikhailovna. “You should have seen their courts and their meetings! They’re brigands!”

The general was unrelenting, even when the examinations began. He nagged every sick man, mocked them and explained their illnesses by drunkenness and debauchery.

“Look how thin he is!” He poked one of them in the chest. “And why? Nothing to eat! You drank it all away! Didn’t you drink the country oats?”

“What can I say," sighed the sick man, "it used to be better under the lords...”

“Liar! Liar!” - the General is furious. “You aren’t saying that sincerely, you’re saying that to flatter!”

The next day the General sat by the window again, grilling the sick. This occupation fascinated him, and he began to sit by the window every day. Anna Mikhailovna, seeing that her husband didn’t relent, began to receive the sick in the barn, but the general went to the barn as well. The old woman humbly bore this "trial" and expressed her protest by blushing and giving out money to the scolded sick, but when the sick, who greatly disliked the general, began to go to her less and less often, she couldn’t stand it any longer. One day at dinner when the general was joking about the sick, her eyes suddenly filled with blood and convulsions ran down her face.

“I ask you to leave my patients alone..." she said sternly. "If you feel you must take it out on someone, take it out on me and leave them alone... They’ve stopped coming for treatment thanks to you!”

“Yeas, they have!” the general smirked. “They’re offended! My God you’re angry, so you’re in the wrong! Ho-ho... And it’s good, Anyuta, that they’ve stopped coming. I’m glad... After all, your treatments do nothing but harm! Instead of being treated in the local hospital by a doctor according to the rules of science, they go to you to treat all diseases with soda and castor oil. A lot of harm’s done with that!”

Anna Mikhailovna stared at the old man, thought intently and then suddenly turned pale.

“Obviously!” the general went on talking. “First of all, medicine requires knowledge, and philanthropy without knowledge is quackery... And you have no right to treat them, according to the law. In my opinion, you’ll do far more good for the patients by rudely chasing them away to the doctor than by treating them yourself!”

The general paused for a moment and then went on:

“If you don’t like my treatment of them, then all right, I’ll stop talking to them, though... in all conscience, sincerity towards them’s much better than silence and worship. Alexander the Great was a great man, but that doesn’t mean that chairs should be broken, so the Russian people are a great nation, but it doesn’t follow that they shouldn’t be told the truth to their faces. You can’t turn the people into a bogeyman. These moujiks are people like you and me, with the same flaws, and therefore you shouldn’t worship them and coddle them, but teach them, correct them... inspire them…”

“It’s not for us to teach them..." muttered the General’s wife. “We can learn from them.”

“What’s that?”

“Whatever... I mean... hard work...”

“Hard work? What? Did you say hard work?”

The general choked up, jumped up from the table and paced about the room.

“Didn’t I work hard?” he burst out. “However... I’m an intellectual, I’m not a moujik – where can I work? I’m an intellectual!”

The old man took umbrage and his face took on a boyish, capricious expression.

“Thousands of soldiers have passed through my hands... I’ve fallen ill in the war, I’ve had rheumatism all my life and... and I don’t work? Or would you like me to learn to suffer from these people of yours? Of course, have I ever suffered? I’ve lost my own daughter... the one thing that still bound me to life in this damned old age! And I didn’t suffer!”

At the sudden memory of his daughter, the old man suddenly cried and began to dry his eyes with a handkerchief.

“And we don’t suffer?” the General sobbed, letting the tears flow. “They have a purpose in life… They have faith and we only have questions ... questions and horror! We don’t suffer?”

Both of the old people felt pity for each other. They sat down next to one another, huddled together and cried for two hours. After that they were brave enough to look each other in the eye and talk about their daughter, about the past and the impending future.

In the evening, they went to bed together in the same room. The old man talked incessantly and prevented his wife from sleeping.

“God, what a character I have!” he said. “Why did I tell you all that? Those were illusions, and it’s natural for a man, especially in his old age, to live in illusions. I’ve robbed you of your last comfort by my talk. If I’d known I’d cure men to death and not eat meat, I’d have had my tongue out! You can’t live without illusions... There are whole countries living under illusions... Famous writers seem to be clever, but even they can’t do it without illusions. Your favourite has written seven volumes about ‘the people’!”

An hour later, the general was tossing and turning. “And why is it that in old age a man keeps track of his feelings and criticises his actions? Why shouldn’t he do it when he’s young? Old age is unbearable as it is... Yes... In youth all of life passes without a trace, barely sratching your consciousness, while in old age every slightest feeling nails itself in the head and raises a pile of questions...”

The old people fell asleep late at night, but got up early. In general, after Anna Mikhailovna stopped her treatments, they slept little and badly, so that life seemed to them twice as long... They passed the nights talking to each other and during the day they hung idly around the rooms or the garden and questioningly looked into each other’s eyes.

Towards the end of the summer fate sent the old couple another "illusion". Once Anna Mihailovna went over to her husband and found him doing something very interesting: he was sitting at the table, greedily eating grated radish with hemp seed oil.

All the veins in his face were moving and he was sobbing and drooling at the corners of his mouth.

“Have a bite, Anyuta!" he suggested. “It’s magnificent!”

Anna Mikhailovna hesitantly tasted the radish and began to eat it. Soon an expression of greed appeared on her face, too...

“It would be good, you know, my dear,” said the General the same day, going to bed, “It would be good to do as the Jews do: cut open the belly of a pike, take the caviar from it and, you know, with green onions... fresh...”

“Why not? It’s not hard to catch a pike!”

The decoorated general went barefoot into the kitchen, woke up the cook and ordered him to catch a pike. In the morning Anna Mikhailovna suddenly had a craving for a pilchard, and Martyn had to gallop into town for a pilchard.

“I forgot to tell him to buy mint cakes," the old woman said, “I have a craving for something sweet.”

The old people gave in to their tastes. They both sat in the kitchen inventing food with a vengeance. The general was racking his brains, remembering his bachelor life in camp, when he had to do all the cooking himself, and inventing... Of the foods he invented, one in particular was very popular, made of rice, grated cheese, eggs and the juice of roast meat. That meal included a lot of pepper and bay leaf.

The savoury dish ended up being the last "illusion". It was destined to be the last delight of both of their lives.

“It’s probably going to rain," the general, who was beginning to have a fit, said one September night. “I shouldn’t have eaten so much of that rice today... It’s heavy on the stomach!”

The general’s wife was sprawled out on the bed and was breathing heavily. She felt stuffy... and she, like the old man, sucked in the pit of her stomach.

“And then there are my damned itchy feet..." the old man grumbled. "I can’t stand this itching from my feet to my knees... Pain and itchiness... I can’t stand it, damn it! Anyway, I’m disturbing your sleep... I’m sorry...”

More than an hour passed in silence... Anna Mikhailovna little by little got used to the heaviness under her spine and drowsed off. The old man sat up in bed, put his head on his knees and sat for a long time in that position. Then he began to scratch his shins. The harder his nails worked, the worse the itching became.

A little later the unhappy old man got out of bed and limped around the room. He looked out the window... Outside the window, in the bright moonlight, the autumn chill was gradually shrinking the dying nature. He could see the gray, cold fog covering the fading grass and how the frozen forest was awake and shuddering with the remnants of yellow leaves.

The General sat down on the floor, hugged his knees and rested his head upon them.

“Anyuta!" he called out.

The sensitive old woman wiggled and opened her eyes.

“I think, Anyuta,” the old man began. “Are you awake? I think that the most natural contentment of old age should be children ... What do you think? But since there aren’t any children, a man has to occupy himself with something else... It’s good in his old age to be a writer... an artist, a scholar... They say that Gladstone, when he has nothing to do, studies the ancient classics and is carried away. If they drive him out of the service too, he’ll have something to fill his life with. It’s good too to fall into mysticism, or... or...”

The old man scratched his legs and continued:

“And sometimes it happens that old men fall into childhood, when they want to, you know, plant trees, wear the orders... to practice spiritualism...”

A slight snore was heard from the old woman. The General stood up and looked out of the window again. The cold was sullenly begging into the room, and the mist was already creeping towards the forest and enveloping its trunks.

"How many more months till spring?” the old man thought, resting his forehead against the cold glass. “October... November... December... six months!"

And those six months seemed to him somehow endlessly long, as long as his old age. He paced across the room and sat down on the bed.

“Anyuta!" he called out.

“Well?

“Is your pharmacy locked?

“No, why?

“Nothing... I want to put some iodine on my feet.”

There was silence again.

“Anyuta!” The old man woke up his wife.

“What?”

“Are there inscriptions on the jars?”

“Yes, there are.”

The General slowly lit the candle and went out.

For a long time the drowsy Anna heard the clatter of his bare feet and the clinking of the jars. Finally he returned, grunted and went to bed.

In the morning he didn’t wake up. Whether he simply died, or whether it was because he had gone to the pharmacy, Anna Mikhailovna did not know. Nor was she in a position to look for the cause of his death...

She was again in a disorderly, frantic rush. Donations, fasting, vows, collecting for pilgrimages...

“To the convent!” she whispered, clinging with fear to the old maid. “To the convent!”


13. IN TROUBLE

Nikolai Maximych Putokhin suffered a misfortune from which a broad and careless Russian is no more immune from than from prison and purgatory: he had inadvertently become drunk, and in a drunken state, forgetting his family and his job, he had wandered about the streets for exactly five days and nights. The only things that he remembered about those five days were a mess of drunken faces, coloured skirts, bottles, and kicking feet. He strained his memory, and all that was clear to him was how one the evening, when the lanterns were lit, he had dropped in to talk business with a friend, how the friend had suggested a drink of beer... Putokhin had drunk a glass, then another and a third... After six bottles the friends went to one Pavel Semyonovich, who had treated him to a cigar and some madera. When the madeira had been drunk, they sent for cognac. Later on fog obscured further events, through which Putokhin saw in something like a dream: the purple face of some Swede shouting out: "Man, buy me a porter!", a long dance hall with low ceilings, full of smoke and menial faces, himself putting his thumbs in his waistcoat pockets and kicking the hell out... Then he saw, still as in a dream, a small room, the walls of which were covered with cheap popular paintings and women’s dresses... He remembered the smell of spilled porter, cheap cologne and glycerine soap... More clearly stood out from the muddled mess the image of waking up and feeling heavy, really awful, when even the sunlight seemed disgusting...

He remembered how, finding no watch and coins in his pocket, wearing someone else’s tie, with a heavy drunken head, he had hurried to work. Red with shame, trembling with groggy fever, he had stood before his superiors, who, not looking at him, told him in an indifferent voice:

“Don’t bother making excuses... I don’t even know why you bothered to come! It’s already been decided hat you no longer serve with us... We don’t need such servants, and you, as a sensible man, you understand... certainly!”

This indifferent tone, the sharp, squinting eyes of his superiors and the delicate silence of his comrades stood out sharply from the turmoil and no longer resembled a dream ...

“Vile! Vile!” Putokhin muttered as he returned home after the explanation with his superiors. “And I’ve disgraced myself and lost my place... Disgusting, vile!”

The ghastly feeling of overdrinking filled his whole body, from his mouth to his feet which could hardly stand up... The sensation of ’a squadron sleeping in his mouth’ was tormenting his whole body and even his soul. He was both ashamed and frightened and sickened.

“I could shoot myself!” he muttered. He was ashamed and angry. “I can’t go home!”

“Yes, it’s a bad story!” his colleague Fyodor Eliseich, who was accompanying him, agreed.

“It would be all right, but what’s bad is: i’ve lost my place! That’s the worst thing, brother... It’s time to shoot myself...”

“My God, and my head... my head!” muttered Putokhin, writhing in pain. “It’s splitting like it wants to burst. No, if you like, we’ll go to the tavern for a drink... Come on!”

The fellows went into an inn...

“I don’t understand how I got drunk!” Putokhin was horrified after the second drink. “For two years I didn’t take a drop, I made a vow to my wife before the icon... I laughed at drunkards, and suddenly – all gone to hell! No position, no peace! It’s terrible!”

He shook his head and went on:

“I’m going home as if on a death sentence... I don’t regret the lost hours, money or position... I’m prepared to put up with all those losses, with this headache, with a lecture from the bosses... but one thing really worries me: how will I face up to my wife? What will I say to her? I haven’t been home for five nights, I drank everything away, I got dismissed... What can I tell her?”

“Nothing, she’ll scold you and then she’ll stop...!”

“She can’t stand drunken people, and, in her opinion, anyone who drinks is vile... And she’s right... Isn’t it vile to drink up a piece of bread, to drink up my position as I did?”

Putokhin drank a glass, ate a salty belugina and thought.

“Tomorrow I’ll have to go to the loan office..." he said after some silence. “The women, my brother, can forgive you anything, be it a drunken face, a betrayal, a beating, or old age, but they won’t forgive you poverty. In their eyes poverty is worse than any vice. Since my Masha is used to having lunch every day, at least steal and serve her lunch. ‘I can’t live without dinner’, she’ll say; ’I don’t want to eat as much as I feel ashamed in front of the servants.’ Yes, brother... I know that woman very well... Five days’ debauchery will be forgiven me, but hunger will not be forgiven.

“Yes, it’ll be a big headache..." sighed Fedor Eliseich.

“She won’t reason... She doesn’t care that I’m conscious of my guilt, that I’m deeply unhappy... What does she care? Women don’t care, especially if they’re interested... A man suffers, suffocates with shame, is glad to put a bullet in his forehead, but he’s guilty, he has sinned, and he must be scourged... And even if she scolded you well or beat you up, but no, she’ll be indifferent, silent, for a week she’ll punish you with contemptuous silence, taunt you, pester you with mean words... Can you imagine the inquisition?”

“Ask her for forgiveness!” advised his colleague.

“It’s a futile... It’s a virtue not to forgive sinners."

On his way home from the tavern, Nikolai Maximych thought of phrases to reply to his wife. He imagined a pale, indignant face, weeping eyes, a stream of scathing phrases, and his soul was filled with the cowardly feeling of dread familiar to schoolboys.

"Eh, never mind!” he decided, pulling the bell at his door. “What will be, will be! If it gets unbearable, I’ll leave. I’ll tell her everything and I’ll go away."

When he entered, his wife Masha was standing in the front door, looking at him questioningly.

"Let her begin," he thought, looking at her pale face and hesitatingly taking off his galoshes.

But she didn’t start... He went into the drawing-room, then into the dining-room, and she remained silent and looked questioningly.

"I’ll put a bullet in my forehead!” he decided, burning with shame. “I can’t stand it any longer! I just can’t stand it any longer!"

For five minutes he paced from corner to corner, not daring to speak, then he came quickly to the table and wrote with a pencil on a piece of paper: "I was drinking and got dismissed.” His wife read it, picked up the pencil and wrote, "No need to lose heart." He read it and quickly went out... to his desk.

A little while later his wife sat beside him and comforted him:

"It’s going to be all right," she said. “Be a man and don’t sulk... God willing, we’ll endure this misfortune and find a better place.”

He listened, couldn’t believe his ears and, not knowing what to reply, burst out laughing like a child. His wife fed him, gave him a drink and put him to bed.

The next day he was cheerfully looking for a place to stay and a week later he found it... The misfortune he’d undergone had changed a lot in him. When he now sees drunks he no longer laughs or judges them as before. He likes to give alms to drunken beggars and often says:

“The vice isn’t that we’re drunkards, but that we don’t raise up the drunkards.”

He may be right.


14. AN ENCOUNTER

And why does he have luminous eyes, a small ear, a short and an almost round head, like the fiercest of predatory animals?
- Maximov

Efrem Denisov looked around mournfully at the desolate landscape. He was thirsty and his limbs ached. His horse, fatigued too, overheated by the heat and not having eaten for a long time, sadly bowed its head. The road descended steeply down the hill and then ran into a vast coniferous forest. Tree tops merged with the blue of the sky in the distance and only the lazy flights of birds and the shivering air that happens on very hot summer days could be seen. The forest was made up of terraces going higher and higher up in the distance, and it seemed that that dreadful green monstrosity had no end.
Efrem was travelling from his native village in province of Kursk to collect for its burnt-out church. In the cart there was an image of Our Lady of Kazan, stunted and half-decayed from the rain and heat, and in front of it was a large tin cup with its sides pressed in and with a gap on the lid into which a good rye gingerbread could safely fit. On a white sign nailed to the back of the cart, in large block letters, was written that on such and such a date and year in the village of Malinovtsy, "by the will of God, the church had been destroyed by fire", and that the lay assembly, with the permission and the blessing of the proper authorities, had decided to send "willing volunteers" to collect alms for the rebuilding of the church. A twenty-pound bell hung on a crossbeam at the side of the cart.
Ephraim had no way of knowing where he was, and the huge forest where the road disappeared in the distance didn’t hold out the promise of being any nearer home. After standing there for a while fixing his cap, he started cautiously down the hill. The cart shuddered and the bell sounded, breaking the dead silence of the sultry day for a moment.
A stifling, dense atmosphere was waiting for Ephraim in the forest, saturated with the smells of needles, moss and rotting leaves. One could hear the light buzzing of agitated mosquitoes and the muffled footsteps of the traveler himself. The rays of the sun were breaking through the foliage, gliding along the trunks and lower branches and lying in small circles on the dark, needle-covered ground. Sometimes a few ferns or some wretched brambles glimmered against the trunks.
Ephraim walked beside the cart and hurried the horse on. The bell rang pitifully once in a while when the wheels struck a snake crawling across the road, as if it too wanted to rest.

“Hello, papa," Ephraim heard a harsh, shrill voice. “On a road-trip?”

A long-legged man of about thirty, in a chintz shirt and narrow, unmanly trousers tucked into short red cuffs, was lying by the roadside with his head on an ant’s knoll. An official’s cap on his head was so faded that only a small spot of cockade remained of its original colour. The man lay there undisturbed, his arms and legs twitching as if he were vexed by mosquitoes or scabies. But nothing about him, neither his clothes nor his movements, was so strange as his face. Ephraim had never seen such a face before in his whole life. Pale, fair-haired, with a prominent chin and a bald head, it resembled a young moon in profile; his nose and ears were strikingly shallow, his eyes didn’t blink, they seemed fixed on one point like those of a fool or a bedazed man, and to make matters worse the whole head seemed flattened from the sides so that the back of the skull formed a distinct semi-circle.

“Orthodox," Ephraim turned to him, "is it far to the next village?”
“No, it’s not. It’s five versts to the village Maloy.”
“I’m so thirsty!”
“How not to be thirsty!” said the strange man, grinning. “It’s God knows how hot! It must be fifty degrees and even more.. What’s your name?”
“Ephraim, lad...”
“Well, I’m Kuzma... You’ve heard the matchmakers say: ’I’ll take anyone for my Kuzma!’”
Kuzma got up and stood with one foot on the wheel, stretched out his lips and touched the image.
“How far are you going?” he asked.
“Far, orthodox! I’ve been to Kursk, and to Moscow itself, and now I’m on my way to the fair in Nizhny.
“Are you collecting for the church?”
“For the church, lad... For the Lady of Kazan... The church has gone up in flames!”
“How come?”
Talking lazily, Efrem began to tell how lightning had struck the church in Malinovtsy just before Saint Ilyin’s day. The men and the parish had been out in the fields, as if on purpose.
“Those who had stayed behind saw the smoke and wanted to ring the bell, but, as Elijah the prophet was angered, the church was locked and the bell tower was covered with flames, so it was impossible to reach the bell... We were coming back from the field, and the church, my God, was blazing – it was scary!”
Kuzma walked along and listened. He was sober, but he was walking like a drunk, waving his hands first at the side of the cart, then at the front...
“Well, what about you? Are you on salary, or what?” he asked.
“What salary! We go for the salvation of our souls, the world has sent us..”.
“So you drive along for nothing?”
“Who’ll pay? I’m not travelling for my own pleasure, the world has sent me, but the world will gather the bread, sow the rye, and do its duties... So it’s not for nothing!”
“And what do you live on?”
“For Christ’s sake.”
“You have a family name?”
“Mirsky...”
“Well, my brother... Have you got a smoke?”
“I don’t smoke, lad.”
“And if your horse dies, what’ll you do then? What are you going to go?”
“Why should it die? No need for it to die...”
“Well, what if... bandits attack you?”
And the babbling Kuzma asked what would happen to the money and the horse if Ephraim died, where people would put their coins if the cup became full, what would happen if the bottom of the cup fell through, and so on. And Ephraim, not having time to answer, just puffed and looked at his companion in amazement.
“What a big tubby thing you have there!” Kuzma muttered pushing the mug with his fist. “It’s heavy! You must have a lot of silver, eh? What if there was only silver there? Listen, how much have you gotten during your journey?”
“I haven’t counted, I don’t know. People put in copper and silver, but I don’t know how much.”
“Do they put bills in?”
“The nobler ones, the gentlemen or the merchants, they give bills, too.”
“Well, do you keep the papers in the cup, too?”
“No, why? Bills are soft, they rub off... I hold them close to my breast...”
“Did you get a lot of bills?”
“About twenty-six roubles.”
“Twenty-six roubles!” Kuzma said and shrugged his shoulders. "Ask anyone at Kachabrova, they were building a church there and they’d paid three thousand roubles for it. It wansn’t even enough money for nails! In this day and age, twenty-six roubles is nothing! Nowadays with that you can buy a pound and a half of tea that you won’t be able to drink... Now look, I smoke tobacco... It suits me, because I’m a simple man, but if you’re an officer or a student...”
Kuzma suddenly threw up his hands and continued smiling:
“There was a German from the railway with us in the prison, and he smoked a packet of gypsies for ten kopecks a pop! Huh? For ten kopecks! You could smoke a hundred and ten kopecks a month, grandpa!”
Kuzma even choked on the pleasant memory, and his fixed eyes twinkled.
“Were you in prison then?” Efrem asked.
“Yes, I was," Kuzma answered, and looked up at the sky. “This is the second day since they let me out. I was in prison for a whole month.”

As evening came the sun was setting, but the stuffiness didn’t diminish. Ephraim was exhausted and barely listened to Kuzma. But at last they came across a man who said that it was one verst and a little more to Maloy, and the cart left the forest. A large meadow opened up before the travelers as if by magic, and a vivid picture full of light and sound unfolded. The cart drove straight into a herd of cows, sheep and tangled horses. Meadows, rye, barley, white buckwheat blossomed behind the herd, and beyond that lay Maloy, with its dark church, pressed flat against the ground. Far beyond the village the forest, now looking black, was again piling up.
“Here’s Maloy!” said Kuzma. “The peasants live well, but they’re robbers.”
Efrem took off his hat and rang the bell. Immediately two peasants came from the well that was at the very edge of the village. They approached and touched the image. The usual inquiries began: where are you going?
“Well, kinsmen, let’s drink to the man of God!” Kuzma muttered, patting one or the other on the shoulder. “Turn around!”
“What kinsman am I to you? What’s the occasion?”
“Ho-ho-ho! Your priest is our priest’s cousin! Your grandmother led my grandfather from the Red Village by the chin!”
All the time the cart was travelling through the village, Kuzma chatted tirelessly and was familiar with everyone he met. He pulled a hat off one of them, poked another in the stomach with his fist, touched a third by the beard. He called women sweethearts and mothers, and the men, according to their special signs, red-haired, gray-haired, nosy, crooked and so on. All this aroused the liveliest and most sincere laughter. Kuzma soon found acquaintances. Cries were heard: "Ah, Kuzma Shkvoren! Hello, hanged man! How long have you been back from prison?"
“So I’m serving the man of God!” Kuzma exclaimed, waving his hands. “Turn around! Now!”
And he held himself importantly, and shouted as if he had taken the man of God under his protection, or was his guide.

Ephraim was lodged in the hut of the grandmother Avdotya where travellers and passers-by usually stayed for the night. Ephraim unhurriedly unhitched the horse and took it to the well to take water, where he talked with the folk for half an hour, and then went to rest. Kuzma was waiting for him in the hut.
“Ah, you’e come back!” the strange man rejoiced. “Will you come to the inn to drink some tea?”
“Drinking teal... that would be all right," said Efrem, scratching, "it would be all right, but I have no money, lad. Will you treat me to something?”
“Treat you... With what money?”
Kuzma got up, disappointed, pondered, and sat down again. Turning clumsily, sighing, scratching, Efrem put his icon and mug under the icons in the room, undressed, took his clothes off, sat down, then got up and put the mug on the bench, sat down again and started to eat. He chewed slowly, the way cows chew their cud, while drinking water loudly.
“Such poverty!” Kuzma sighed. “Now I wish we had some vodka... some tea...”
Two windows overlooking the street faintly let in the evening light. Shadows had already fallen on the village, huts were darkened; the church, merging into the darkness, grew in width and seemed to sink into the ground... Faint red light, that must have been a reflection of the evening twilight, gently flashed at its cross. Having eaten, Ephraim sat motionless for a long time, folding his hands in his lap, looking at the window. What was he thinking about? In the evening silence, when all you see before you is a dim window behind which nature quietly stands still, when you hear the muffled barking of strange dogs and the faint screech of a strange harmonica, it’s difficult not to think about your far-off nest. Those who’ve been wanderers, who’ve been cast far from their own home by necessity, bondage or whim, know how long and lingering a village evening can be in a foreign place.
Then Ephraim stood for a long time in front of his image and prayed. He sighed deeply as he lay down on the bench to sleep and muttered as if grudgingly:
"You’re a strange person, God knows who you are...”
“Why’s that?”
“Because... You don’t look like a real man... You grind your teeth, you talk nonsense, but you come from prison...”
“That’s easy! There are good people in jail... Jail, brother, is nothing, it’s nothing, I can stay in jail for a year, but if I’m in jail, it’s a misfortune. To tell you the truth, I’ve been in jail three times already, and there’s not a week that I haven’t been beaten up in the parish... They’re all so damn bitter... Society is going to exile me to Siberia. They’ve already drawn up a verdict.”
“So that’s good!”
“What do I care? People live in Siberia too.”
“Do you have a father and a mother?”
“What about them? They’re not dead yet...”
“And honouring your father and your mother?”
“Let them be... I know that they’re my first villains and murderers. Who turned the world against me? Them and Uncle Stepan. No one else!”
“You know a lot, you fool... The world knows what kind of man you are without your Uncle Stepan. Why do the men here call you a hanged man?”
“When I was a boy, the men in the village almost killed me. They hung me by the neck on a tree, be they damned, but thanks to the men from Yermolin who drove by and took me off...”
“A naughty member of society...!” Ephraim muttered and sighed.
He turned his face to the wall and soon fell asleep.

When he awoke in the night to look after the horse, Kuzma wasn’t in the hut. A white cow was standing by the open door, peering into the hall from the yard and tapping its horn on the doorjamb. The dogs were asleep... The air was silent and calm. Somewhere far away, beyond the shadows in the silence of the night, a corncrake screamed and an owl was uttering long drawn-out sights.
And when he woke up the next time at dawn, Kuzma was sitting on the bench at the table, thinking about something. A drunken, blissful smile lingered on his pale face. Some iridescent thought was wandering in his flattened head exciting him; he was breathing heavily, as though out of breath from a walk up into the mountains.
“Ah, man of God!” he said, noticing Ephraim’s waking up, and smirked. “Would you like some white bread?”
“Where’ve you been?” Ephraim asked.
”Gee-ha!” Kuzma laughed. “Gi-y!”
He said that ten times with his strange, motionless smile and at last he shook with convulsive laughter.
“Tea... tea-drinking," he uttered through laughter. “Vo... vodka-drinking!”
And he began to tell a long story of how he’d drunk tea and vodka in the tavern with visiting travelling-salesmen, and as he spoke he took out of his pockets some matches, a quarter of tobacco, some cranberries...
“Swedish matches! woo! Psh!" he would say, burning a few matches and lighting a cigarette. “Swedish ones, real matches! Look at that!”
Ephrem yawned and scratched himself, but suddenly, as if something had bitten him, he jumped up, quickly lifted up his shirt and began to feel his bare chest; then, stomping about the bench like a bear, he went through and looked through all his rags, looked under the bench and again felt his chest.
“The money’s gone!” he said.
Ephraim stood for half a minute staring at the bench blankly, then looked again.
“Most pure Mother, the money’s gone! Did you hear?” He turned to Kuzma. “The money’s gone!”
Kuzma looked attentively at the drawing on the matchbox and remained silent.
“Where’s the money?” Ephraim asked, taking a step towards him.
“What money?” Kuzma muttered nonchalantly through his teeth, not taking his eyes off the box.
“The money... that I had on my chest!”
“What are you picking on me for? If you’ve lost it, look for it!”
“Where do you want me to look? Where is it?”
Kuzma looked at Ephraim’s face and turned red himself.
“What money?" he shouted, jumping up.
“The money! The twenty-six roubles!”
“Did I take it? He’s pestering me, the bastard!”
“What a bastard! Tell me, where’s the money?”
“Did I take your money? Did you take it? Did you say ’he took it’? I’ll show you so much money, you won’t recognize your own mother and father!”
“If you didn’t take it, why are you looking like that? You must have taken it! And what money did you use to walk around the inn all night and buy tobacco? You foolish, strange man! Have you offended me? No, you’ve offended God!”
“Did I... did I take it? When did I take it?” Kuzma shouted in a high, shrill voice, swung and struck Ephraim in the face with his fist. “There you are! Do you want me to hit you again? I don’t see that you’re a man of God!”
Ephraim just shook his head and without a word began to put on his shoes.
“You rascal!” Kuzma went on shouting, becoming more and more excited. “You’ve drunk your own money, and you’re messing with people, you old dog! I’ll sue you! I’ll have you in the jail for conspiracy!”
“You didn’t take it, so don’t say anything," answered Ephraim quietly.
“Here, search me!”
“If you didn’t take it, why should I search you? I didn’t take it, it’s all right... There’s nothing to shout about, you can’t shout God down...”
Ephraim put his shoes on and went out of the hut. When he returned, Kuzma, still red in the face, was sitting by the window smoking a cigarette with trembling hands.
“Old devil,” he grumbled. “There are a lot of you riding around, fooling people. You’ve got the wrong man, brother! You can’t cheat me! I understand these things well myself. Send for the headman!”
“What for?”
“To draw up a report! Let the parish council judge us!”
“There’s nothing to judge! It’s not my money, it’s God’s... God will judge us.”
Efrem prayed, took his mug and image and left the hut.

An hour later the cart was already entering the forest. The small village with the flattened church, the clearing and the rye fields were already behind him and were drowned in the light morning fog. The sun had risen but hadn’t yet come up from behind the forest and was only gilding the edges of the clouds facing the sunrise.
Kuzma was walking a distance behind the cart. He looked as if he had been terribly and undeservedly insulted. He longed to speak, but remained silent and waited for Ephraim to speak.
“I don’t want to mess with you, or you would have made a noise," he muttered as if to himself. “I’ll show you how to mess with people, you bald devil...”
Another half an hour passed in silence. The man of God, who was praying to God on the way, quickly gave his penance, sighed deeply and went to the cart for some bread.
“Let’s go to Telibeevo," Kuzma began, "our headman lives there. You can make a petition there!”
“You’re wasting your breath. What’s the Justice of the Peace for? Is it his money? It’s God’s money. You’ll answer to God!”
“You said: God’s! God’s! Like a crow! If I’ve stolen let me be judged, and if I haven’t stolen, then you’re guilty of slander.”
“I have no time to go to court!”
“So you don’t feel sorry for the money?”
“What should I be sorry for? It’s not my money, it’s God’s.”
Ephrem spoke reluctantly, calmly, and his face was indifferent and impassive, as if he really didn’t feel badly about the money or had forgotten his loss. This indifference to his loss and to the crime must have embarrassed and irritated Kuzma. It was incomprehensible to him.
It’s natural when offence is met with cunning and force, when offence leads to a struggle that puts the offender in the position of the offended. If Ephraim had acted in a human way, that is, if he’d been offended, he would have fought and complained, and if the world had sentenced him to prison or decided: "There’s no evidence", Kuzma would have calmed down; but now, following the cart, he had the look of a man who was missing something.
“I didn’t take the money from you!” he said.
“You didn’t, and that’s all right.”
“When we get to Telibeev, I’ll call the headman. Let him... he’ll sort it out...”
“There’s nothing for him to sort out. It’s not his money. And you, lad, get lost. Go your own way! You’re boring!”
Kuzma looked at him sideways for a long time, not understanding him, wanting to guess what he was thinking, what terrible plan was lurking in his soul, and at last decided to speak differently.
“Oh, you, shepherd, I can’t laugh with you, and now you offend me... Well, well ... take your money! I was only joking."
Kuzma took some rouble notes out of his pocket and gave them to Efrem, who was neither surprised nor pleased, but as if he had been expecting it took the money and without saying anything slipped it into his pocket.
“I wanted to have a laugh," Kuzma went on, peering inquiringly into his impassive face. “I just wanted to have a laugh. I thought I’d have ful with you and pay you back in the morning... I had twenty-six roubles in all, but there you have ten, or even nine... The tradesmen took it from me... Don’t be angry, grandpa... I didn’t steal it, the tradesmen did... By heavens, really!”
“Why should I be angry? It’s God’s money... You didn’t offend me, but the Queen of Heaven...”
“Maybe I only drank a penny of it.”
“What’s it to me? Take it all and drink it all... Whether you took a rouble or a penny, it’s all for God. There’s just one answer.”
”Don’t be angry, grandfather. Really, don’t be angry. What’s the matter?”
Efrem was silent. Kuzma’s face blinked and took on a childish, weeping expression.
“Forgive me, for Christ’s sake!” he said, looking pleadingly at the back of Ephraim’s head. “Grandfather, don’t take offence! I was only joking.”
“Oh, stop pestering me!” said Ephraim irritably. “I’m telling you: it’s not my money! Ask God to forgive you, but my business is on elsewhere!”

Kuzma looked at the image, at the sky, at the trees, as if serching for God, and an expression of horror twisted his face. Under the influence of the silence of the forest, of the harsh colours of the image and of Ephraim’s impassivity, in which there was little commonplace and human, he felt alone, helpless and abandoned at the mercy of a terrible, angry God. He ran ahead of Ephraim and looked into his eyes as if to make sure he was not alone.
“Forgive me, for Christ’s sake! “He said, trembling all over his body. “Forgive me, Grandfather!”
“Leave me alone!”
Kuzma quickly looked again at the sky, the trees, the cart with the image, and fell down at Efrem’s feet. Terrified, he mumbled unintelligible words, banged his forehead on the ground, grasped the old man’s legs and cried loudly, like a child.
“Granddaddy, my dearest! Uncle! Man of God!”
Ephraim at first shook his head in bewilderment and moved his hands away from him, but then began to frighten himself by looking up at the sky. He felt fear and pity for the thief.
"Wait, lad, listen!" he began to persuade Kuzma. “Listen to what I tell you, you fool! Hey, he’s roaring like a woman! Listen, if you want God to forgive you, when you get to your village, go to the priest... Do you hear?”
Ephraim began to explain to Kuzma what he had to do to atone for his sin: he had to repent to the priest, to impose penance on himself, to collect and send the stolen money back to Malinovskaya, and in the future he had to behave peacefully, honestly, soberly, in a Christian way. Kuzma listened to him and gradually calmed down, and seemed to entirely forget his sorrow: he teased Ephraim, babbled... Without stopping for a minute he again talked about people living in pleasure, about the prisoners and the German, about the prison, in a word, about everything he’d told him the day before. And he laughed, thundered with his hands and turned back reverently, as if he’d told him something new. He spoke well, in the manner of old men, with jokes and proverbs, but it was hard to listen to him, because he was repeating himself, stopping now and then to remember a suddenly-lost thought, and so he wrinkled his forehead and whirled about in one place, waving his arms. And how he boasted, how he lied!

At midday, when the cart stopped in Telibeyev, Kuzma went to the public house. Ephraim stayed there for two hours, but he still didn’t come out. He could be heard swearing and boasting there, banging on the counter, and drunken men could be heard laughing at him. And when Efrem left Telibeev, a fight broke out in the tavern, and Kuzma with a resounding voice was threatening someone and shouting that he’d send for the constable.


Lost Business and other stories

Footnotes

[1“Lost Business” (Пропащее дело) was first published in the journal “Sputnik” (Спутник) on June 22, 1882, with the author’s name in the subtitle.

[2“The Baron” (барон) was first published in the review “The Worldly Way” (Мирской толк) on December 20, 1882.

[3“The Crooked Mirror” (Кривое зеркало) was first published in the review “The Spectator” (Зритель) on January 5, 1883.

[4“The Deputy” (Депутат, или Повесть о том, как у Дездемонова 25 рублей пропало) was first published in the review “Fragments” (Осколки) on May 28, 1883.

[5“He Understood!” (Он понял!) was first published in the review “Nature and Hunting” (Природа и охота) on December 3, 1883.

[6“On Christmas Eve” (В рождественскую ночь) was first published in the review “The Alarm Clock” (Будильник) on December 22, 1883.

[7“75,000” (75 000) was first published in the review “The Alarm Clock” (Будильник) on January 13, 1884.

[8“The Last Mohican” (Последняя могиканша) was first published in the review “St Petersburg Gazette” (Петербургская газета) on May 6, 1885.

[9“A Diplomat” (Сценка) was first published in the review “St Petersburg Gazette” (Петербургская газета) on May 20, 1885.

[10“The Whistlers” (Свистуны) was first published in the review “Fragments” (Осколки) on August 24, 1885.

[11“Dear Dog” (Дорогая собака) was initially published in the journal "Fragments" (осколки) on November 9, 1885, under Chekhov’s pen-name “A. Chekhonte".
- it was Included in the collection “Innocent Speeches by A. Chekhonte (A.P. Chekhov)” in the magazine "Cricket" (Сверчок) in 1887, and in the collection “Anton Chekhov Stories” edited by A. F. Marks that was published in St. Petersburg in 1899.

[12“The Boredom of Life” (Скука жизни) was first published in the review “Modern Times” (Новое время) on May 31, 1886.

[13“In Trouble” (Беда) was first published in the review “St Petersburg Gazette” (Петербургская газета) on December 1, 1886.

[14“The Encounter” (Встреча) was first published in the review “Modern Times” (Новое время) on March 18, 1887.

[15by Ray, with the help of DeepL, Google Translate and Mat.

[16jeune premier – the romantic lead.

[17Taganrog – Chekhov’s birthplace.

[18moujiks – peasants.