"Green Scythe" and other stories by Anton Chekhov

(actualisé le ) by Anton Chekhov

More outstanding stories by the most prolific short-story writer in the history of world literature.


CONTENTS

1. GREEN SCYTHE (1882) The narrator and his friends love to spend their summers on the Black Sea with with the vivacious Olya. Life is gay there but there’s a problem: Olga had promised her father on his deathbed that she would marry Chaykhidzev, son of his best friend, whereas she was secretly in love with her neighbour Lieutenant Egorov. So the narrator and his friends have to find a solution for Olya’s dilemma. (5,400 words)

2. THE FRENCH BALL (1884) Pyotr Semyonich receives a telegram from his editor instructing him to go straight away to the fancy French Ball, but he falls asleep while having a spectacular dream about the ball. When he wakes up it’s too late to go to the ball, but that’s no problem for this resourceful journalist. (950 words)

3. THE DENTAL SURGEON (1884) An elderly sexton comes to a local hospital suffering from a severe toothache and is treated by the orderly in the absence of the doctor. The orderly decides to take the tooth out and delivers a reassuring speech about his experience in the area, but what follows is painful both for the sexton and the reader. (1,500 words)

4. AT THE PHARMACY (1885) Egor goes straight to the pharmacy after his visit to the doctor’s to gain relief from his suffering, but he hadn’t reckoned with the way pharmacies were run in those days. (1,400 words)

5. THE VILLAGE ELDER (1885) Semyon is having a feast in a tavern and is explaining to the tavern keeper that he can afford to live like a prince because although he’s not a man of learning he’s nevertheless the best jurist in Russia whenever there are peasants to defend. (1,750 words)

6. TO CURE A DRINKING BOUT (1885) A renowned actor arrives in a provincial town for an engagement but to the dismay of the impresario he goes off on one of his well-known drinking bouts and will be out of action for two months at least. The impresario hears that the local barber has a tried and proven method for curing drinking bouts and out of desperation he calls him in, with spectacular results. (2,000 words)

7. THE FOOLISH FRENCHMAN (1886) A Frenchman who has gone into one of Moscow’s most famous restaurants observes a young man at a nearby table devouring such phenomenal quantities of foodstuffs that he seems to be deliberately committing suicide, so he goes over to comfort him in his distress, with surprising results. (1,100 words)

8. THE PROPOSAL (1886) A young landowner puts on his best clothes to pay a visit to the estate of his neighbour, the very beautiful Princess Vera Zapiskina. He mumbles and hems and haws, and finally blurts out that he has a proposal to make, a proposal that rather surprises the princess. (400 words)

9. CALCHAS (1886) The ageing actor Vasily Svetlovidov wakes up in the middle of the night to find himself in the theatre dressing-room in the middle of the disorderly remnants of the previous evening’s revelry. He’s in despair at finding himself alone with no family to go to, and when he sees the prompter who had been sleeping in his prompter’s box, he bares his soul to him. [1] (2,000 words)

10. AT THE MILL (1886) When two monks arrive outside Alexey’s mill he starts bitterly complaining about them fishing in his river, and he continues by shouting insults at a farmhand. His elderly mother comes along asking him for help, but he refuses abruptly and when she offers him a piece of cake he thrusts her rudely aside, much to the scandal of the onlookers. (2,100 words)

11. BOA CONSTRICTOR AND RABBIT (1887) An experienced rake explains to his guest his quasi-irresistible technique for seducing wives of other men. (1,600 words)

12. INTRIGUES (1887) We follow the thoughts of Doctor Shelestov as he rehearses in front of a mirror the speech that he intends to make at the forthcoming meeting of his medical association, a speech concentrating on the incompetence and faults of his enemies – most of the other doctors on the committee of the association who, he’s convinced, are all intriguing against him. (1,500 words)


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All of these stories have been translated specially for this site [2].



1. GREEN SCYTHE

CHAPTER I

On the shores of the Black Sea, in the place that in my diary and in the diaries of my heroes and heroines is listed as “Green Scythe”, there’s a lovely dacha. This dacha is perhaps not without fault from the point of view of architects and lovers of everything strict, finished and stylish, but from the point of view of the poet and artist it has a wonderful charm. I like it for its humble beauty, for the fact that it doesn’t crush the surrounding beauty with its own beauty, for the fact that it possesses neither the coldness of marble nor any cold columns. It looks warm, warmly romantic... Because of its slender silver-colored turrets, peaks, notches and jagged poles it looks like something medieval. When I look at it I think of sentimental German novels with their knights, castles, doctors of philosophy and mysterious countesses... This dacha stands on a mountain; around it there’s a dense, well-cultivated garden with alleyways, fountains and greenhouses, and below the mountain there’s a deep blue sea...A humid, flirtatious breeze runs through the air every now and again, there are all kinds of bird chants, an eternally clear sky and clear water – a wonderful place!

The owner of the dacha is the wife of a Georgian or Circassian duke, Marya Egorovna Mikshadze, a lady of about 50, tall and full-bodied who was undoubtedly known as a beauty in her day. She’s a kind, sweet and hospitable lady, but too strict. Rather, not strict but capricious... She feeds us excellently, waters us splendidly and borrows money from all of us while at the same time terribly tormenting us. Etiquette is her strong point. That she’s the wife of a Prince is her other one. Riding on these two forces, she always overpowers us terribly. She never, for example, smiles, probably because she considers it indecent for herself and for grandes-dames in general. Anyone younger than her by at least one year is just a silly person. Nobility, in her opinion, is a virtue before which everything else is the most utter nonsense. She’s an enemy of frivolity and lightness, she loves silence, etc., etc. Sometimes, we barely knew how to endure this lady. If if wasn’t for her daughter then perhaps we would hardly delight ourselves now with memories of Green Scythe. The lady takes up the dimmest spot in our memories. The splendid decoration of Green Scythe is Marya Egorovna’s daughter Olya, a small, slender, pretty blonde of about 19. She’s brisk and clever. She draws well, is interested in botany, speaks excellent French and bad German, reads a lot and dances like Terpsichore herself. She studied music at the conservatory and plays very well. We fellows loved this blue-eyed girl, and we didn’t “fall in love” with her but we loved her. She was something dear to us all, she was all our own... Green Scythe without her is unthinkable for us. Without her Green Scythe’s poetry would be incomplete. She’s a pretty female figure in a beautiful landscape, and I don’t like paintings without human figures. The splash of the sea and the whisper of the trees are fine in themselves, but if they’re joined by the soprano of Olya with the accompaniment of our basses and tenors and the grand piano, then the sea and the garden become an earthly paradise... We loved the princess: it couldn’t be otherwise. We called her the daughter of our regiment. And Olga loved us. She gravitated to our male company and only felt in her natural element among us. When we weren’t visiting her she lost weight and stopped singing.

Our company consists of the guests of Green Scythe, its summer inhabitants, and its neighbors. The first group includes: Dr. Yakovkin, the Odessa newspaper journalist Mukhin, the Master of Physics (now Associate Professor) Thebes, three students, the artist Chekhov, the baron Kharkov, a lawyer, and myself, a former tutor of Olya (who taught her to speak German badly and to catch goldfinches). We gathered at Green Scythe every year in May and we took over the spare rooms of that medieval castle and all the outbuildings for the whole of the summer. Every March we were invited to Green Scythe by two letters: an important one, strict, full of instructions, from the Princess, and the other very long and humorous, full of all kinds of projects from her daughter who declared that she missed us. We stayed until September. The neighbors who came to visit us daily were the retired artillery lieutenant Yegorov, a young man who had twice passed the exam at the Academy and had failed twice, a very cultivated, well-read fellow; the medical student Korobov with his wife Ekaterina Ivanovna, the landowner Aleutov and many other landowners, retired, non-retired, amusing and boring, brigands and clowns... This whole gang was endlessly eating, drinking, playing, singing, setting off firecrackers, quipping day and night, all summer long... Olya loved this gang without reserve. She cried out, twirled around and made the most noise. She was the soul of the company.

Every evening, the Duchess gathered us into the living room and, with a crimson face, reproached us for “unscrupulous” behavior, shamed us and swore that by our fault she had a headache. She liked to give lectures; she lectured us sincerely and was deeply convinced that her lectures would serve us well. Olya was the one who got the most lectures from her. In her opinion Olga was to blame for everything. Olya was afraid of her mother. She idolized her and listened to her lectures standing up, silent and blushing. The princess treated Olya like a child. She put her in a corner, left her without breakfast or without lunch. To stick up for Olya meant adding fuel to the fire. If she could, the Duchess would have put us in a corner too. She sent us to the all-night service, ordered us to read out loud the Lives of the Saints, counted our linen, interfered in our affairs... Every now and then we left her scissors somewhere, we forgot where her alcohol was, and we couldn’t find her thimble.
She used to shout out to us every now and then: “Pick it up! You went by, you dropped it and you didn’t pick it up! Pick it up! Pick it up right now! The Lord has punished me with you... Get away from me! Don’t stand there in the through-wind!”
Sometimes one of us for fun would be guilty of something and, upon it being brought to her attention, would be summoned by the old woman.
“Did you step on the garden bed?” the trial began. “How dare you?”
“Accidentally...”
“Be quiet! How dare you, I ask you?”
The trial ended with a pardon, a kiss on the hand and, upon leaving the judge’s room, a homeric laugh. The princess has never been affectionate with us, she only says affectionate words to old women and young children.
I’ve never seen her smile. She whispered to the old general who came to see her on Sundays that we, doctors, masters, barons, artists and writers, would have died without her intelligence... We didn’t try to dissuade her... Let her think so if she wanted to... The princess would have been tolerable if she didn’t demand from us that we get up no later than eight o’clock and went to bed no later than 12. Poor Olya went to bed at 11 o’clock! And we scoffed at the old woman for this illegal encroachment on our freedom. We went out in agony to ask her for forgiveness, composed her congratulatory verses from the Lomonosov [3] tribute, drew the heraldic tree of the Princes Mikshadze, etc. The princess took it all at face value, and we laughed. The princess loved us. She sighed very deeply and sincerely when she expressed regret to us that we weren’t princes. She got used to us as one does with children...

There was just Lieutenant Yegorov that she didn’t love. She hated him with all her soul and had an impossible antipathy to him. She only accepted him because he had money and good etiquette. The Lieutenant had formerly been her favourite. He’s handsome and witty and military (which the princess highly appreciated). But sometimes something comes over Yegorov... He sits down, props his fists on his head and starts to say terrible, evil things. He criticizes everyone and everything, sparing neither the living nor the dead. The princess loses her temper and drives us all out of the room when he begins to say those evil words.
Once at dinner, Yegorov propped his head on his fist and started talking about Caucasian Princes being neither in the village nor in the city, then he pulled the Dragonfly journal out of his pocket and had the audacity to read the following in the presence of Princess Mikshadze: “Tiflis is a good city. Among the advantages of a beautiful city – in which the “princes" even sweep the streets and clean their boots in hotels – are…” etc. The princess rose from the table and silently left the room. She hated Yegorov even more when he wrote our surnames next to our names in her memorial book. This hatred was all the more undesirable and out of place because the lieutenant dreamed of marrying Olya, and Olya was in love with the lieutenant. The lieutenant dreamed enormously about her, although he had little faith in the fulfillment of his dreams. Olya loved him secretly, stealthily, all to herself, timidly, little noticeably... Love for her was a contraband, a feeling on which a cruel veto had been imposed. She wasn’t allowed to love.

CHAPTER II

A silly medieval story was almost played out in the medieval castle.
About seven years ago, when Prince Mikshadze was still alive, Prince Chaykhidzev, a landowner from Ekaterinoslav and a friend of Mikshadze, came to visit Green Scythe. He was a very rich man. He had spent all his life revelling wildly, and despite that he was a rich man until the end of his days. Mikshadze was his drinking companion. Together with Mikshadze, he took a girl from her parental home who later became Princess Chaykhidzeva. This circumstance bound both princes together with the strongest bonds of friendship. Chaykhidzev came to stay at Green Scythe with his son, a goggle-eyed, narrow-chested, dark-haired youth, a schoolboy. Chaykhidzev’s first duty was to remember the old days and to go on a spree with Mikshadze, while the young man courted Olya, then a thirteen-year-old girl. The courtship was noticed. The parents winked and thought that the young man and Olya would make a nice couple. The drunken princes ordered the children to kiss and they shook hands and kissed themselves. Mikshadze even burst into tears of emotion. “God so wishes!” – said Chayhidzev. “You have a daughter, I have a son... God so wishes!”
The children were given rings and it was written down on a card. This card hung in the hall and for a long time haunted Yegorov. It was the target of countless witticisms. Princess Marya Egorovna solemnly blessed the future spouses. She liked the fathers’ idea out of boredom. A month after the departure of the Chaykhidzevs, Olga received a magnificent gift in the mail. Then she received similar gifts every year. Young Chaykhidzev took the matter seriously, beyond all expectations. He was a fairly limited fellow. Every year he came to Green Scythe and stayed for a week, and was silent the whole time but sent love letters from his room to Olya. Olya read the letters and was embarrassed. The clever girl wondered how such a big person could write such nonsense! And he wrote nonsense... Mikshadze had died two years before. While he was dying, he told Olya: “Look here, don’t marry some fool! Marry Chaykhidzev. He’s an intelligent and worthy fellow." Olya knew about Chaykhidzev’s intelligence, but she didn’t contradict her father. She gave him her word that she would marry Chaykhidzev. “And it’s the will of my father!” She told us, and spoke with some pride, as if she had accomplished some enormous feat. She was proud that her father took her promise to the grave with him. That promise was so unusual, so romantic!

But nature and reason took their toll: retired lieutenant Yegorov constantly swirled before her eyes, and Chaykhidzev became sillier and sillier in her eyes every year...
When once the lieutenant dared to hint to her about his love, she asked him not to talk to her any more about love, reminded him of the promise she had made to her father, and cried all night. The princess wrote letters to Chaykhidzev every week in Moscow where he was studying at the university, and ordered him to finish his courses as soon as possible. “My guests are not as bearded as you, but they have already finished their courses a long time ago,” she wrote to him. Chaykhidzev answered her respectfully on pink paper and on two sheets proved that his courses couldn’t be completed before a certain time. Olya wrote to him too. Olya’s letters to me are far better than her letters to her bridegroom. The princess believed that Olya would be Chaykhidzev’s wife, otherwise she wouldn’t have let her daughter go for walks and “do nothing” in the company of bullies, anemones, atheists and “non-princes” like us... She couldn’t allow any doubt... The will of her husband was a sacred will for her... Olya also believed that she would eventually sign her name Chaykhidzeva …
But that was not to be. The idea of the ​​two fathers was torn into shreds just as it was being carried out. The Chayhidzeva romance failed. The novel was destined to end as a vaudeville.

Chaykhidzev came to Green Scythe in late June last year. This time he arrived not just as a theoretical student, but as an active, authentic one. The princess met him with important, solemn hugs and a lengthy lecture. Olya was dressed in an expensive dress, tailored specifically for the meeting with her bridegroom. Champagne was brought from the city, fireworks were lit, and the next morning all Green Scythe spoke with one voice about the wedding, theoretically scheduled for late July. “Poor Olga!” we whispered, wandering about in the garden, glancing up angrily at the windows that looked into the garden from the room of the Oriental man we hated. “Poor Olya!”
Olya came into the garden, pale, thin, half-dead. “It’s what Father and Mother want,” she said when we started pestering her with friendly advice. “But that’s stupid! Utterly!” we shouted to her. She shrugged and turned her sad face away from us; the bridegroom remained in his room, sent gentle letters to Olya with his footman and, looking out the window, marveled at the boldness with which we spoke and behaved with Olya. He left his room only to have lunch. He dined in silence, not looking at anyone, dryly answering our questions. Once he dared to tell a joke, and even that turned out to be vulgarly out of date. After lunch the princess had him sit next to her and taught him how to play picket. Chaykhidzev played seriously, thinking a lot, lowering his lower lip and sweating... The princess liked his attitude to the game.
Once after dinner Chaykhidzev slipped away from the game of picket and ran after Olya, who was in the garden.
“Olga Andreevna!” He began. “Our matchmaking, it is true, is strange, foolish. But I hope that you will love me...”
He said this, became very embarrassed, and went back from the garden to his room.
Lieutenant Yegorov remained in his estate and never came over. He couldn’t stand Chayhidzev.

On a Sunday (the second one after Chayhidzev’s arrival, I think it was July 5), a schoolboy, the princess’s nephew, came to our residence early in the morning and gave us her instructions. The princess’s order was that in the evening we should be be dressed correctly: all in black with white ties and gloves; we would be serious, smart, witty, obedient and behave like poodles, so that we wouldn’t make any noise, so that it would be decent in our rooms. There was a kind of conspiracy going on in Green Scythe. Wines, vodka and snacks were brought in from the town... Our servants were taken from us to the kitchen. After lunch, guests began to gather and stayed until late in the evening. At eight o’clock in the evening, after a boat ride, the ball began.
Before it began we fellows had a meeting, at which we unanimously decided to save Olya from Chaykhidzev at all costs, to save her even if it cost us the biggest scandal. After the meeting I rushed over to Lieutenant Yegorov’s estate, 20 kilometres from Green Scythe. I found him, but in what state did I find him! The lieutenant was as drunk as a skunk and was sleeping like a dead man. I woke him up, washed him, dressed him and, despite his kicking and cursing, drove himover to Green Scythe.
At ten o’clock the ball was in full swing. They were dancing in four rooms to the sound of two beautiful grand pianos. During intermissions a third piano played in the garden. Even the princess herself admired our fireworks. We set off fireworks in the garden, on the shore and far out in the sea in boats. On the roof of the castle multi-colored sparklers replaced each other and illuminated the entire area. Drinks were served in two buffets: one in the gazebo in the garden, the other in the house. The hero of the evening, apparently, was Chaykhidzev. With pink spots on his cheeks, with a sweating nose, squeezed into a tight tailcoat, he danced with Olya, smiled painfully and felt awkward. He danced and carefully watched his every step. He longed to show off at least something, but he had nothing at all to show off. Olya later told me that she’d been very sorry for the poor fellow that evening. He seemed pathetic to her. It was as if he’d had a premonition that they would take away his bride, about whom he used to think of during every lecture, while he was lying down and on waking up... When he looked at us his eyes were full of supplications. He foresaw strong and ruthless rivals in us.

By the princess’s glances at the clock and the setting out of tall glasses we concluded that the solemn official minute was approaching and that in all likelihood Chaykhidzev would be allowed to kiss Olya at 12 o’clock. It was necessary to act. At half-past eleven I put powder on my face to look pale, twisted my necktie to the side, and with a worried face and disheveled hair I went up to Olya.
“Olga Andreyevna,” I began, grabbing her hand, “for God’s sake!”
“What?”
“For God’s sake... Don’t be afraid, Olga Andreevna... It couldn’t be otherwise. This was to be expected...”
“What’s the matter?”
“Don’t be alarmed... That... For God’s sake, my dear! Evgraf...”
“What about him?”
Olya turned pale and raised her big, gullible, friendly eyes...
“Evgraf’s dying...”
Olya staggered and ran her fingers along her pale forehead.
“What happened was what I expected,” I continued. “He’s dying... Save him, Olga Andreyevna!”
Olya grabbed my hand.
“He... he’s... Where?”
“Here in the garden, in the gazebo. It’s horrible, my dear! But... they’re looking at us. Let’s go out on the terrace... He doesn’t blame you... He knew that you were his...”
“What... what happened to him?”
“It’s bad, very bad!"
“Let’s go... I’ll go to him... I don’t want him, because of me, to... because of me...”
We went out on the terrace. Olya’s knees bent. I pretended to wipe away a tear... Pale, alarmed members of our gang with anxious, frightened faces ran past us all the time.
“The blood has stopped...” the Master of Physics whispered loudly to me so that Olga could hear.
“Let’s go!” whispered Olga and took my arm.
We went down the terrace... The night was quiet, bright... The sounds of the piano, the whisper of dark trees, the crackle of grasshoppers caressed the ear; the sea was quietly splashing below.
Olya could hardly walk... Her legs were bent and got tangled up in a heavy dress. She trembled and pressed herself fearfully on my shoulder.
“But it’s not my fault...” she whispered. “I swear to you that it’s not my fault! Papa was so pleased... He must understand that... Is it dangerous?”
“I don’t know... Mikhail Pavlovich did everything possible. He’s a good doctor and loves Yegorov... We’re almost there, Olga Andreevna...”
“I... I won’t see anything terrible? I’m afraid... I can’t see... And why did he think of doing it?” Olya burst into tears.
“It’s not my fault... he should have understood. I’ll explain to him.”
We went up to the gazebo.
“Here,” I said.
Olya closed her eyes and grabbed hold of me with both hands.
“I can’t...”
“Don’t be alarmed... Yegorov, are you still not dead?” I shouted, turning to the gazebo.
“Not yet... But what?”
At the entrance to the gazebo, the lieutenant, lit up by the moon, appeared, disheveled, pale from overbearing, with an open vest...
“But what?” He repeated.
Olya raised her head and saw Yegorov... She looked at me, then at Yegorov, then at me again... I laughed... Her face shone. She cried out with with joy, took a step forward... I thought she was angry with us... But this girl didn’t know how to get angry... She took a step forward, thought an instant and then rushed over to Yegorov. He quickly buttoned up his vest and spread his hands out. Olya fell onto his chest. Yegorov laughed with pleasure, turned his head aside so as not to breathe on Olya, and mumbled some nonsense.
“You have no right... I’m not guilty,” Olya muttered. “So please, my father, my mother, etc.”

I turned and walked quickly back to the illuminated dacha, where in the meanwhile the audience was preparing to congratulate the bride and groom and was looking impatiently at the clock... The front room was crowded with footmen with trays full of bottles and glasses. Chaykhidzev impatiently wrung his right hand in his left and searched for Olya with his eyes. The princess walked around the rooms looking for Olya to give her instructions on how to behave, what to answer to her mother, etc. Our smiles.
“Do know where Olya is?” The princess asked me.
“I don’t know.”
“Go and look for her!”
I went down into the garden and, with my hands behind my back, walked twice around around the house. Our artist began to play the trumpet. It meant: “Hold on, don’t let go!” Yegorov answered from the gazebo with the scream of an owl. It meant: “Good! I’m holding on!"
After a while I went back into the house. Footmen with trays were still crowded in the front room, with their bottles and glasses. The audience, in turn, looked in bewilderment at the clock, on which the big hand was already showing a quarter to midnight. The pianos fell silent. A deep, languid, dull silence reigned in all rooms.
“Where’s Olya?” The crimson princess asked me.
“I don’t know... There’s no one in the garden.”
The princess shrugged.
“Doesn’t she know it’s high time?” She asked, tugging at my sleeve.
I shrugged. The princess walked away from me and whispered something to Chayhidzev. Chayhidzev also shrugged. The princess pulled his sleeve.
She snarled and ran grumbling around the house. The maids and schoolboys, relatives of the princess, ran noisily down the stairs into the depths of the garden to look for the disappeared bride. I also went into the garden. I was afraid that Yegorov wouldn’t be able to detain Olya and would ruin the scandal we had conceived. I headed for the gazebo. I’d been afraid for nothing! Olya was sitting near Yegorov, gliding her fingers in front of his eyes and whispering, whispering... When Olya stopped whispering, Yegorov began to mumble. He was filling her with what the princess called “ideas”... He sweetened his every word with a kiss. He said, rising up for a kiss every instant and at the same time turning his mouth to the side, afraid that Olya would smell vodka. Both of them were happy, apparently forgetting everything in the world and not paying any attention to the time. I stood for a while at the entrance to the gazebo, rejoiced in spirit and, not wanting to disturb happy peace, went back to the house.

The Princess lost her temper and smelled of alcohol. She was lost in conjectures, angry, cross with the guests, the groom... She never used violence, but she gave the maid a slap on the wrist when she told her that Olga wasn’t anywhere to be found. The guests, without waiting for champagne and the moment of giving congratulations, smiled, gossiped, and again took up dancing.
One o’clock struck, but Olya still didn’t appear. The princess was furious.
“This is all your fault!” She hissed as she walked past one of us. “She’ll have her punishment! Where is she?”
Finally, a benefactor was found who told her where Olya was... This benefactor turned out to be a little fat-bellied high-school student, the princess’s nephew. The schoolboy ran out of the garden like a madman, ran up to the princess, sat on her knee and bent her head down to his and whispered in her ear... The princess turned pale and bit her lip to the blood.
“In the gazebo?” She asked.
“Yes.”
The princess got up and, with a grimace that looked like an official smile, announced to the guests that Olya had a headache, that she was asking to be excused, etc. The guests expressed regret, quickly had supper and started to leave.
At two o’clock – Yegorov was zealously detained by Olya until then – I stood at the entrance to the terrace behind a wall of oleander trees and waited for Olya to come back. I wanted to see her face. I love female happy faces. I wanted to see how love for Yegorov and, at the same time fear of her mother combined on one and the same person; and to see which was stronger: love or fear? I didn’t sense the perfume of the oleanders for long. Olya soon appeared. I gazed at her face. She was walking slowly, lifting her dress up a little and showing her little shoes. Her face was well lit by the moon and by the lanterns hanging on the trees that spoiled the moonlight with their flickering. Her face was serious, pale. Only her lips were smiling a little. Her eyes were looking thoughtfully at the ground; such eyes usually manage to solve difficult tasks. When Olya was on the first step her eyes flickered, became introverted: she remembered her mother. She lightly brushed her undone hair with her hand, stood indecisively on the step for some time and then, shaking her head, boldly went up to the door... But then I was to see a sight... The door swung open and Olya’s pale face lit up with a bright light. She was startled, took a step back and crouched down slightly... It was as if something was pushing her sown... On the threshold, looking at her was the princess, red-faced, trembling with anger and shame... The silence lasted two minutes.
“The daughter of the Prince,” said the princess, “and she goes out with the lieutenant! With Yegorov! How vile!”
Olya cringed and, trembling, snaked past the princess and fled into her room. She sat down on her bed, and her eyes full of horror and anxiety kept her eyes fixed on the window throughout the night...
At three o’clock in the morning we had another meeting. At the gathering we laughed at the happiness-stricken Yegorov and sent the baron-lawyer from Kharkov to see Chaykhidzev. He was still awake, and the Kharkov lawyer pointed out to Chaykhidzev “in a friendly way” the awkwardness of his situation, and asked him to take it upon himself, as an educated man, to understand this awkwardness, and to ask him, in passing, to excuse us for our interference, to excuse us "in a friendly way", as an educated man... Chayhidzev replied to the baron that he "understood all this very well", that he didn’t attach importance to his father’s will but that he loved Olga and that was why he was so insistent...

The next morning Olya came down to tea pale, broken, full of the most desperate expectations, she was both scared and ashamed... But her face shone when she saw and heard us in the dining room. We stood with the whole company in front of the princess and were shouting. We all shouted at the same time. We threw off our little masks and loudly infused the old princess with “ideas” very similar to those that Olya had inspired in Yegorov the day before. We talked about woman’s personality, the legality of free choice, etc. The Princess silently, gloomily listened to us and read the letter sent to her by Yegorov – this letter had been composed by the whole group and was full of words like: “through infancy”, “through inexperience”, “your blessings”, etc. The Princess heard us out to the end, read the long letter from Yegorov to the end, and said:
“It’s not for you milk-suckers to teach me, an old woman! I know what I’m doing. Drink up your tea and go away to turn other people’s heads. You can’t live with here me, with an old woman... You’re clever people, and I’m a fool... God bless you, sirs!... I’ll be grateful to you!
The princess drove us out. We wrote a letter of thanks to her, kissed her hand and, reluctantly, left the same day for Yegorov’s estate. Chaykhidzev also left with us. At Yegorov’s, we only engaged in drinking, we missed Olya and we comforted Yegorov. We stayed with him for two weeks. The third week our baron-lawyer received a letter from the princess. She asked him to come to Green Scythe to write some papers for her. The baron went there. Three days after his departure we went there too, supposedly for the baron. We arrived at Green Scythe before lunchtime. We didn’t go into the house but just wandered around the garden, glancing at the windows. The princess saw us through the window.
“Are you here?” She shouted.
“We are.”
“Is there something?”
“For the baron.”
“The baron has no time to fool around with you hangers-on! He’s busy writing.”
We took our hats off and went up to the window.
“How is your health, Princess?” I asked.
“Why are you loitering about there?” answered the princess. “Go into the dining-room!”
We went into the dining-room and quietly sat on the chairs. The Princess, who was terribly bored without our company, appreciated this humility. She left us to our lunch. There one of us who dropped his spoon and she scolded him and reproached us all for not being able to keep ourselves properly at table. We went for a walk with Olya and stayed to spend the night... We spent the night and another night there and finally got stuck in Green Scythe until September. The world held together all by itself.

Yesterday I received a letter from Yegorov. The lieutenant wrote that he’d been "greasing up" the princess all winter and had had time to transform her anger into forgiveness. He assured me that his wedding will take place in the summer.
Soon I should be receiving two letters: one strict and official from the princess, the other, long and amusing, full of projects, from Olya. I’m going back to Green Scythe In May.


2. THE FRENCH BALL

“I urge you to be at the costume ball of the French colony today. There’s no one to go but you. Give a report, perhaps in some detail. If for any reason you cannot go to the ball, then notify immediately – I’ll ask someone else. I’m enclosing the ticket. Yours... (editor’s signature follows).
P.S. There will be a lottery. A vase donated by the President of the French Republic will be raffled off. I want you to win."

After reading this letter the journalist Pyotr Semyonitch lay down on the sofa, lit a cigarette, and smugly stroked his chest and belly. (He’d just had lunch.)
“I want you to win,” he mimicked the editor. – And with what money can I buy a ticket? He Probably won’t give money for expenses, the skin-flint! Stingy, like Plushkin. He should take an example from foreign editors... They know how to appreciate people there. Let’s say you’re going to look for Livingston and Stanley. OK. Take so many thousand pounds! You, John Bull, are going to look for Jeannette. OK. Take ten thousand! You’re going to describe the ball of the French colony. OK. Take... fifty thousand... That’s how it’s done abroad! And he sent me one ticket, then he pays a nickel a line and imagines... Skin-flint!
Pyotr Semyonitch closed his eyes and thought. Many thoughts, small and large, swirled about in his head. But soon all those thoughts were covered with a kind of pleasant pink mist. From all the cracks, holes and windows jelly slowly crawled in all directions, soft and translucent... The ceiling began to descend... Little men ran in, little horses with duck heads, someone’s big soft wing waved, a river flowed... A small typesetter with very large letters passed by and smiled... Everything was drowned in his smile, and... Pyotr Semyonitch began to dream.

He puts on a tailcoat and white gloves and goes out into the street. At the entrance, his carriage with the editorial monogram had been waiting for a long time. A footman in livery jumps off the carriage and helps him up it like an aristocrat.
A minute later the carriage stops at the entrance of the Noble Assembly. He, furrowing his brow, hands over his ticket and solemnly walks up the richly decorated, illuminated staircase. Tropical plants, flowers from Nice, costumes worth thousands.
“A reporter…” a whisper runs through the crowd of thousands. "It’s him…”
A little old man with a preoccupied face, wearing medals, runs up to him.
“Excuse me, please!” he says to Pyotr Semyonitch. “Ah, excuse me, please!”
And the whole hall echoes him: “Ah, excuse me, please!”
“Oh, come on! You embarrass me, really..." the reporter says.
And suddenly, to his great surprise, he begins to babble in French. Previously, I knew only "merci", but now – how about that!
Pyotr Semyonitch takes a flower and throws in a hundred rubles, and just at that moment receives a telegram is from the editor: “Win ​​a gift from the President of the French Republic and describe your impressions. A thousand a word will be paid. Spare no expense." He goes over to the lottery and starts taking tickets. He takes one... two... ten... he takes a hundred, finally a thousand and wins a vase of Sèvres porcelain. Taking hold of the vase with both hands, he hurries on.
A lady with luxurious flaxen hair and blue eyes walks towards him. Her costume is wonderful, beyond all criticism. There’s a crowd behind her.
“Who is it?” the reporter asks.
“She’s a noble Frenchwoman. She has come from Nice with flowers.”
Pyotr Semyonitch comes up to her and is introduced to her. A minute later he takes her by the arm and walks, walks... He has a lot to learn from the Frenchwoman, a lot... She’s so charming!
"She’s mine!” he thinks. “Where can I put the vase in my room?” he thinks, admiring the Frenchwoman.
His room is small, but the vase is growing and growing and has grown so much that it doesn’t even fit in the room. He’s ready to break into tears.
“Aaah… so you love the vase more than me?” the Frenchwoman says suddenly, for no reason at all, and – punches the vase with her fist!
The precious vessel cracks loudly and shatters. The Frenchwoman laughs and runs somewhere into the fog, into the cloud. All the other journalists are standing by and laughing... Pyotr Semyonitch, angry, foaming at the mouth, runs after them and suddenly, finding himself in the Bolshoi Theater and falls head-first from the sixth tier.

Pyotr Semyonitch opens his eyes and sees himself on the floor, near his sofa. His back and elbow hurt from the fall.
Thank God there’s no Frenchwoman here, he thinks, rubbing his eyes. The vase is intact. It’s good that I’m not married, otherwise, perhaps, the children would be naughty and break the vase.
Having rubbed his eyes properly, he doesn’t even see the vase.
That was all a dream, he thinks. “However, it’s already past one in the morning… The ball has already begun a long time ago, it’s time to go… I’ll just lie down a little more and — march!”
After lying a little longer, he stretched and... fell asleep – and never got to the ball of the French colony.

“Well?” the editor asked him the next day. “Were you at the ball? Dis you like it?”
“So-so… It was nothing special…” he said, making a bored face. “Sluggish. Boring. I wrote a two-hundred-line report. I scolded our socialites a little for not knowing how to have fun.”
And having said that, he turned to the window and thought of the editor: “Skin-flint!”


3. THE DENTAL SURGEON

A district hospital. In the absence of the doctor, who’s getting married, the patients are received by the medical orderly Kuryagin, a fat man of about forty wearing a worn tweed jacket and ragged tricot trousers. His face expresses a feeling of duty and self-contentment. Between the index and middle finger of his left hand a cigar is wafting out a foul smell. 
The sacristan Vonmiglasov, a tall solid old man wearing a brown cassock with a wide leather belt, comes into the reception room. His right eye is swollen and semi-closed and there’s a wart on his nose that from a distance looks like a large fly. For a second the sacristan searches round visually for an icon and not finding one he makes the sign of the cross over a bottle of carbolic solution, then he unwraps a piece of communion bread from a red handkerchief and, bowing as he does so, places it in front of the medical orderly. 
“Err-uh… my respects to you!” yawns the orderly. “What can I do for you?” 
“My Sunday respects to you, Sergey Kuzmich – relying on your gracious kindness – for truly and justly is it written in the psalter, if you’ll pardon me, ‘I have dissolved my drink with tears’. Just now I was sitting with the old missus for tea and not a drop nor a sip could I take, so help me God, but I should like to lie down and die. I sip a bit and – that’s the end of me. And its not only the tooth, but the whole of this side. It just aches and aches. In the ear too, if you’ll pardon me, like a nail or some other thing. It’s a stabbing pain, a really stabbing pain! Reserved for us sinners and lawless men. My soul is besmirched with the stain of sin, and idleness my life consumeth. For our sins, Sergey Kuzmich, for our sins! Our Father priest, after the liturgy, tore me off a strip. ‘You sound thick, Ephim, and nasal too. You sing and no one can make out a word.’ And what sort of singing could it be, I ask you, if your mouth won’t open, you’re all swollen, pardon me, and not sleeping at night…”
“Mmm, I see… Sit here. Open your mouth!” 
Vonmiglasov sits down and opens his mouth. Kuryagin frowns, looks into his mouth, and amidst a jumble of teeth yellowed with tobacco and age he sees one adorned with a gaping hollow. 
“Father Deacon told me to anoint it with vodka and horseradish – no good. Glikeria Anisimovna, may God protect her, gave me a thread from Mount Athos to wear on my arm and told me to rinse the tooth in warm milk. But to tell you the truth, I put the thread on, but as for the milk, I didn’t try it, for I’m a god-fearing man, and it’s Lent…”
“Sheer prejudice…” A pause. “It’ll have to come out, Ephim Mixeich!” 
“You know best, Sergey Kuzmich. For that you are trained to understand such things as they are, what to pull out, what to treat with drops or other means… For that reason you are set up, our benefactors, may God protect you, so that we may pray for you night and day, our fathers who look over us… till the end of our days...” 
“Nonsense!” said the orderly modestly as he went to the cupboard and rummaged among the instruments.” Surgery is piffling. It’s all a matter of practice and a steady hand. Not worth a thought. Only recently, just the same as you, a landowner, Alexander Egipetsky, came to the hospital. Also with a toothache. An educated man, asked about everything, went into it all, the why and the wherefore. Shakes my hand, addresses me politely… Lived for seven years in Petersburg, sniffed out all the professions. We were here a long time. He prayed to me, ‘For the Lord Jesus’ sake’ he said, ‘Pull it out for me, Sergey Kuzmich. Why not pull it out? It can be pulled out!’ But you must understand, you can’t do it without the know-how. There are teeth and there are teeth. One you’ll take out with pliers, another with the molar wrench, the third with the hook. To each his own.” 
The orderly picks up a molar wrench, looks at it questioningly for a minute, then puts it back and takes the pliers.
“Now Sir, open your mouth wider…” he says as he approaches the sacristan with the pincers in his hand. “In a trice we’ll have him… you see… it’s nothing… just cut the gum… a traction line on the vertical axis… nothing more… (he cuts the gum), nothing more…”
You’re our blessed benefactor… We are mere fools, nincompoops, but the Lord God has given you light…”
“Don’t talk when you have your mouth open… This is an easy one to tug out, but it can happen, that there’s just some roots… This one, before you can spit… (he applies the pliers). Wait, don’t jerk! Sit steady – In the twinkling of an eye – (he applies traction). The important thing is to grip lower down (he tugs), so that the crown doesn’t shatter.”
“Holy Fathers! Holy Mother of God! Aghhhh!”
“It’s not, you see, it’s not, it’s not. What’s the matter with it? Don’t grab me! Let go your hands! (He tugs). It’s coming – now, – now, – it’s not an easy thing, you know…” 
“Holy… mother… and father… (he shouts): Angels! Ah-ah-ah. Get it out, get it out! Why are you taking five years over it?”
“This is a surgical thing, you know. You can’t… all at once… It’s coming! It’s coming!” 
Vonmiglasov lifts up his knees to his elbows, his fingers flutter, his eyes are bulging, his breathing irregular. On his crimson face the sweat is standing out, there are tears in his eyes. Kuryagin puffs and pants, struggles with his feet in front of the sacristan. A hideously tortuous half-minute goes by – and the pincers slide off the tooth. The sexton leaps from the chair and shoves his fingers into his mouth. He feels the tooth still in its same old place. 
“So he’s pulled it!” he exclaims in a tearful but at the same time mocking voice. “I hope they do the same for you in the next world! My humble thanks! If you can’t wrench it out, then don’t take it in the first place. I can’t see the light of day…”
“And why did you grab me with your hands?” asks the orderly in an angry voice. “There I am tugging, and you shove me under my arms and then all manner of stupidities… Blockhead!” 
“Blockhead yourself!” 
“So you think, do you, that it’s an easy thing to pull a tooth, you peasant? You try it, know-all! It’s not the same as climbing the bell tower you know, and hammering a tune! (He mocks). ‘You can’t do it! You can’t do it!’ Don’t tell me, what a fine commander we have here! Just look at you. I pulled that tooth for the gentleman, Egipetsky, and nothing, he didn’t say a word! A man of a higher calling than you, and not once did he grab hold of me… Sit down! Sit down! Do as you’re told!” 
“I can’t see! Let me just get my breath. Oooh! (He sits). Don’t tug for such a long time, just jerk it. Don’t tug, jerk – all at once!”
“Teach your grandmother to suck eggs! Godfather, these people, what education! Live among this lot and you’ll soon go mad! (Applies the pincers). Surgery, old chap, is no laughing matter. You’re not standing at the lectern reading. (He starts to pull.) Don’t twitch! A tooth, an older one, it turns out, can have deep roots. (He pulls.) Don’t move! That’s it… that’s it… Don’t move… It’s coming… It’s coming! (A crunching sound is heard). I knew it, absolutely!” 
Vonmiglasov sits for a minute motionless, as if without sensation. He’s knocked out. His eyes look dully into empty space, sweat covers his whitened face. 
“If only I’d used the molar wrench,” mumbles the orderly. “Very odd indeed!” 
Coming to, the sacristan thrusts his fingers into his mouth and in place of the bad tooth finds two jutting crags. 
“Swinish devil!” he exclaims. “You’ve been set up here just for our torment, Herod!” 
“And he thinks he can curse me as well!” mumbles the orderly, replacing the pincers in the cupboard. “Ignoramus! They didn’t treat you to the birch often enough in the seminary. The gentleman Egipetsky, he’d lived for seven years in Petersburg. Education! His outfit alone cost a hundred roubles. And he didn’t swear at me. And you, what sort of peacock are you? It’s nothing, you’re not hurt, you won’t kick the bucket!” 
The sacristan takes the communion bread from the table and, holding his cheek in his hand, sets off for home. 


4. AT THE PHARMACY

It was late in the evening. The private tutor Yegor Alexeyevich Svoykin went straight from the doctor’s to the drugstore so as not to waste any time.
"It’s like going to a rich concubine’s or a railway-man’s," he thought as he climbed the glossy, expensive carpeted staircase. It’s scary to walk on!"
On entering the pharmacy, Svoykin was overwhelmed by the smell inherent in all pharmacies all over the world. Science and medicine change over the years, but the smell of a pharmacy is as timeless as matter. Our grandfathers smelled it and our grandchildren will smell it too. Because of the late hour there was no one else in the pharmacy. Behind a yellow, glossy counter lined with vases bearing signatures stood a tall gentleman with a stern face, his cheeks shaven and his head thrown back respectably – by all appearances, a pharmacist. From his small bald head to his long pink fingernails, everything about this man was meticulously ironed and scrubbed as if he’d been licked clean, as if he was going to be crowned. His frowning eyes looked down at the newspaper on the desk that he was reading. Behind a wire grate to the side a cashier sat lazily counting out change. On the other side of the counter, separating a European-style workshop from the public, two dark figures were rummaging about in semi-darkness. Svoykin went over to the counter and handed a prescription to the emblazoned gentleman. Without looking at Svoykin he took it, read the paper through and, making a slight half-turn of the head to the right, muttered:
Calomedi grana duo, sacchari albi grana quinque, numero decem! [4]
“Ja!" came a harsh, metallic voice from the back of the pharmacy.
The pharmacist dictated the potion in the same muffled, measured voice.
“Ja!” – was heard from another corner.
The pharmacist wrote something on the prescription, frowned and, with his head thrown back, lowered his eyes to the newspaper.
“It will be ready in an hour," he whispered through his teeth, searching with his eyes for the point at which he had stopped.
“Can’t you hurry it up?” muttered Svoykin, “I’m absolutely unable to wait.”
The pharmacist didn’t answer. Svoykin sank down on the sofa and waited. The cashier finished counting his change, took a deep breath and rattled his keys. One of the dark figures in the back room whirled a marble mortar around. Another figure was doing something with a blue vial. Somewhere a clock was ticking gently and rhythmically.
Svoykin was ill. His mouth was burning, there was a dragging pain in his legs and arms, hazy images like clouds and shrouded human figures wandered in his heavy head. As if through a veil he saw the pharmacist, the shelves laden with jars, the gas burners and the cabinets, while the monotonous clatter of the marble mortar and the slow ticking of the clock seemed to him to be happening not outside but in his head itself... Exhaustion and the fogginess in his head were taking over his body more and more, so that after having waited a while, feeling queasy from the clatter of the marble mortar, he decided to talk to the pharmacist to cheer himself up.
“I must be coming down with a fever," he said. “The doctor said it was hard to decide what kind of sickness I had, but I’m already feeling weak... I’m lucky to be in the capital, and God forbid one should have such an affliction in the countryside, where there are no doctors and pharmacies!”
The pharmacist stood motionless and with his head thrown back, continuing his reading. While Svoykin was talking to him he didn’t respond with a word or movement, as if he hadn’t heard. The cashier yawned loudly and struck a match against his trousers... The clatter of the mortar was getting louder and louder. Seeing that he wasn’t being listened to, Svoykin raised his eyes to the shelves of jars and began to read the labels. All kinds of herbs flashed before him: gentian, pimpinella, tormentilla, zedoaria and so on. Behind the herbs there were were tinctures, oleum and semen, all with more elaborate and ancient names.
"How much unnecessary ballast there must be!” thought Svoykin. “How much routine in these jars, standing there only by tradition, and yet how solid and imposing it all is!"
From the shelves Svoykin turned his eyes to the glass cabinet behind him. Here he saw rubber rings, balls, syringes, jars of toothpaste, Pierrot drops, Adelheim drops, cosmetic soaps, ointment for hair growth...
A boy in a dirty apron came into the chemist’s shop and asked for 10 cents’ worth of bovine bile.
“Can you tell me, please, what is bovine bile used for?” the tutor asked the pharmacist, delighted with the topic of conversation.
Not receiving an answer to his question, Svoykin contemplated the pharmacist’s stern, arrogantly academic face.
"Strange people, really!” he thought. “Why do they put such a scholarly complexion on their faces? They charge exorbitant amounts of money, sell ointments to grow hair, and look at their faces – one might think they were priests of science. Writing in Latin, speaking in German... they act as if they were medieval or something... When you’re healthy, you don’t notice these dry, callous faces, but when you get sick, as I am now, you’re horrified that a holy profession has fallen into the hands of such unfeeling iron figures... ".
Looking at the motionless face of the pharmacist, Svoykin suddenly felt a desire to lie down at all costs, away from the light, the scientific face and the clatter of a marble mortar... Painful fatigue seized his whole being... He approached the counter and, making a begging grimace, asked:
“Would you be so kind as to let me go! I’m... I’m sick...”
“Soon enough... But please don’t lean on the counter!”
The teacher sat down on the sofa and, chasing misty images from his head, began to watch the cashier smoke.
"It’s only been half an hour," he thought. There’s still just as much time left... it’s unbearable!"
But finally a small, black-haired assistant came to the pharmacist and placed a box of powders and a vial of pink liquid beside him... The pharmacist read to the end of his sentence, stepped slowly away from the counter and, taking the vial in his hands, shook it before his eyes... Then he wrote a signature, tied it to the neck of the vial and reached for the seal.
"Well, why all these ceremonies?” thought Svoykin. “It’s a waste of time, and it’ll cost too much money.”
Having wrapped, bound and sealed the mixture, the pharmacist began to do the same with the powders.
“Take that!” he spoke at last, without looking at Svoykin. Put a rouble and six kopecks in the till!”
Svoykin searched in his pocket for money, took out a rouble and immediately remembered that he had nothing else but that rouble...
“A rouble six kopecks?” he mumbled, embarrassed. “And I have only one rouble... I thought a rouble would be enough... What can I do?”
“I don’t know!” The pharmacist said, taking up his newspaper.
“In that case, I’m sorry... I’ll bring you the six kopecks tomorrow or I’ll send them to you...”
“You can’t do that... We don’t give credit...”
“What am I supposed to do?”
“Go home, bring six kopecks and then you will get your medicine.”
“I guess so, but... it’s hard for me to walk and there’s no one to send...”
“I don’t know about that... It’s none of my business...”
“Um..." the teacher thought about it. All right, I’ll go home…”

Svoykin left the pharmacy and went home... By the time he reached his room, he’d sat down to rest five times... When he reached his room and found some copper coins in the table, he sat down on the bed to rest some more... A force pulled his head onto the pillow... He lay down, for only a minute.... Foggy images in the form of clouds and shrouded figures began to envelop his mind... For a long time he remembered that he had to go to the pharmacy, for a long time he forced himself to get up, but the disease took its toll. The coppers spilled out of his fist and the patient began to dream that he’d already gone to the pharmacy and was talking to the pharmacist there again.


5. THE VILLAGE ELDER

In one of the dirty taverns of the provincial town N, the headman Selma is sitting at the table and eating greasy porridge. He eats and after every three spoonfuls he drinks the “last” one.
“So, my soul, it’s hard to do business with peasants!” he says to the innkeeper, fastening his buttons under the table, that now and then unfasten themselves. “Yes, my dear! Peasant affairs are such that Bismarck himself wouldn’t be enough. To carry them out you have to have a special kind of mentality and dexterity. Why do people like me? Why do they cling to me like flies? Why? Why is it that I eat porridge with butter and other lawyers have to do without butter? Because there’s talent in my head, a gift!”
The rogue drinks a glass up at a go and stretches his dirty neck out with dignity. More than the neck is dirty on this man. Hands, shirt, trousers, napkin, ears... everything’s dirty.
“I’m not a scientist. Why lie? I didn’t finish my courses, I don’t go about in tailcoats like a scientist, but, brother, I can tell you without modesty and any reprisals that you won’t find another such lawyer in a million. That is, I won’t solve the Skopinsky case for you and I won’t take on Sarah Bernhardt, but if it’s for the peasant side of things, then there are no defenders, no prosecutors there that are worth anything... no one’s any good against me! By God, I alone can decide peasant affairs, and no one else. Whether you’re even Lomonosov [3] or Beethoven but don’t have my talent, then it’s better not to poke your nose in. For example, take at least the case of the Replovo headman. Have you heard about that case?
“No, I haven’t heard of it.”
“It’s a good case, a political one! Gevalko himself would have hesitated, but I’ve got a good method. Yes indeed!”

“There’s a bell factory not far from Moscow, my brother. Our man from Replovo, Yevdokim Petrov, serves as head foreman there, my dear.
He’s been working there for twenty years. According to his passport he’s a peasant, just a simple peasant, but his appearance isn’t at all peasant-like. For twenty years now he has hewn and polished himself. He wears a jersey suit, has rings on his hands and a gold chain around his belly. Not a peasant at all. You bet, my brother! A thousand and a half of salary, an apartment, nice food, the owner’s friendly with him, so instinctively you go to the bar with him. And his face, you know, is so (he drinks)... imposing. Only, my brother, this Yevdokim Petrov decided to visit his homeland, i.e. our Replovo. He’d been living here but suddenly he missed it. Life at the bell factory is honeyed, there’s no reason, it would seem, for a senior foreman to be bored, but you know the pull of the smoke of the fatherland! Go to America, sit down in a pile of rubles there, and you’ll still be drawn to your inn back home. That’s how he was drawn to it, the good fellow. Well, he asked his master for a week off and he left. He arrived in Replovo. First thing he did was to go to his relatives. "This is where I used to live,” he says. “Here I used to graze my father’s flocks, here I slept, etc."... Childhood memories, in a word. Of course not without boasting: "Look, brothers, look! I was a cattle farmer, like you, but by toil and sweat I acquired degrees, became rich and well-fed. So you should work too!"…
The peasants first listened and exclaimed, and then thought: "That’s true, my dear man, that’s all very well, but what good are you to us? You’ve been living with us for a week now but we haven’t had even a cutlet"... They sent the mayor to him...
"Come on, Yevdokim, give us a hundred rubles!"
"What for?"
"To give everyone vodka... Everyone wants to drink to your health..."
Well, Yevdokim is a sedate, divine man. He doesn’t drink vodka or smoke tobacco, and he doesn’t allow it in others.
"For vodka,” he says, “I won’t give a penny."
"How so? By what right? Aren’t you one of us?"
"What are you talking about? I don’t owe any debts... everything’s in order. Why should I pay anything?"
And so it went, on and on. Yevdokim had his way, peace be upon him. Everyone was angry. You know fools! You can’t explain things to them. If they want to have a party, you can explain it to them in ten languages, no matter how many cannons you fire at them, they won’t understand. They’re thirsty for a drink, and that’s it! And it’s aggravating: a rich countryman and nevertheless nothing – no wool, no milk! They began to think of a way to extort a hundred roubles from Yevdokim. Everyone thought and thought and came up with nothing. They walked around the hut and menaced: “we’ll beat you, I’ll beat you!” But he just sat there and didn’t give a damn. "I’m clean,” he thinks, “before God, before the law and before the world, why should I be afraid? I’m a free bird!" Fine! When the men saw that they’d never get any money from him, they began to think how they could pluck the wings of this free bird for such disrespectful behaviour. They had no brains of their own, so they sent for me.

I came to Replovo. "This so and so, Denis Semenych,” they said, “won’t give us any money! Think of something!" Well, my brother! You can’t make it up, it’s all right there on the palm of your hand, all of Yevdokim’s rights are right there. No prosecutor can make it up, even if he thinks for three years... the devil himself won’t catch on.
Selma takes a drink and winks his eye.
"But I found something to chew on!" he chuckled.
“Yes! Guess what I’ve in mind! You’ll never guess! I’ll tell you what, lads, elect him as your village headman."
They figured it out and elected him headman. Listen. They brought Yevdokim a headman’s badge. He laughs.
"You’re joking,” Yevdokim says, “I don’t want to be your headman." 
"But we do!"
"And I don’t want to! I’ll leave tomorrow!" 
"No, you won’t. You have no right. The headman cannot, by law, leave his position."
"So then," says Yevdokim, "I resign my title.”
"You have no right. A warden must remain in office for at least three years and may only be removed from his post by a court of law. Once you’ve been elected, neither you nor we... no one can dismiss you!"
My Yevdokim howled. He flew like a madman to the town governor’s office. He and a clerk told him all the laws.
"According to so-and-so and such-and-such, you can’t leave this rank before three years are up. Serve three years, then go!"
"What three years! I can’t even wait a month! Without me, the master’s helpless! He’ll lose thousands! And besides the factory, I’ve got a house and a family there!"
And so on. A month passes. Yevdokim offers to give the village three hundred rubles instead of a hundred, just to let him go. They would be glad to take the money, but there’s nothing they can do, it’s too late. Yevdokim goes to the gentleman.
"So and so, Your Highness, due to domestic circumstances I can’t serve. Let me go, I beseech God!"
"I don’t have the right. There’s no legitimate reason for a dismissal. You aren’t ill in the first place, and secondly, there are no supporting circumstances. You must serve."
And, I have to tell you, they give everyone a hard time there. A town governor or a village headman are big people there, higher up and more important than any clerk, and they treat him like at a lackey. What’s it like for Yevdokim in a woven suit to hear them poking fun at him? He begs the priest of Christ the Lord to intercede on his behalf.
"I don’t have the right," says the minister. “If you don’t believe me, ask at the county seat here. Everyone will tell you. Not only me, but even the governor can’t dismiss you. The verdict of the assembly, if the forms have been respected, isn’t subject to cassation.”
Yevdokim goes to the governor, then from the governor to the police commissioner. He traveled all over the county, and everyone keeps saying to him: "You have no right to abandon your service." What’s to be done? And he sent letter after letter, dispatch after dispatch. My kinfolk advised Yevdokim to send for me. But he, can you believe it, he didn’t just send for me, he came himself. He came and, without saying a word, put a red one in my hands. I was his only hope.
"Well," I said, “I’ll get you a dismissal for a hundred roubles.”
I took a hundred rubles and got him dismissed.

“How?” the innkeeper asked.
“Take a guess! The mystery’s easy to resolve. The law itself solves the puzzle.”
The rogue approached the innkeeper and, laughing, whispered in his ear:
“I told him to steal something, to go to court."
“What? What’s that?”
At first, my brother, he was taken aback. "What do you mean, steal?"
“Just steal this empty purse from me, and you’ll go to jail for a month and a half."
At first he started joking about his good name and all that.
"What the hell do you care about your good name?” I say. “Don’t you have any sense?” I say. “You’ll serve a month and a half in jail, and that’ll be the end of it as you’ll have mitigating circumstances, and your badge will then be taken away from you!"
“The man thought, waved his hand, and stole the purse from me. Now he’s done his time and he’s praying God to thank me. So that’s how smart you have to be, my brother! There’s no other intelligence in the whole world like that of the peasantry, but if anyone can decide these things, it’s me. No one can cash in there, but I can. Yes!”

The rogue ordered another bottle of vodka and began another story – about the Replovo peasants soaking up other people’s bread in the vineyard.


6. TO CURE A DRINKING BOUT

A famous speaker and comedian, Mr Feniks-Dikobrazov 2nd, arrived in D. on tour in a separate first-class compartment. Feniks-Dikobrazov the 2nd! All those who met him at the railway station knew that a first-class ticket had just been bought “for show" at the penultimate station, and that up to that time the celebrity had been travelling in the third class; everyone saw that in spite of the cold, autumn weather the celebrity wore only a summer shirt and a shabby sealskin cap; but nevertheless when the grey, sleepy face of Dikobrazov the 2nd appeared, everyone felt a slight tremble and longed to meet him. The entrepreneur Pochechuyev gave the newcomer a threefold kiss according to the Russian custom and took him to his apartment.
The celebrity was due to start playing two days after his arrival, but fate decided otherwise: the day before the performance, a pale, disheveled entrepreneur ran into the theatre’s box office and informed them that Dikobrazov 2 couldn’t perform.
“He can’t!” Pochechuyev announced, tearing at his hair. “What do you think of that? For a month, a whole month we’ve been writing in huge letters that we’re going to have Dikobrazov, we’ve been bragging, we’ve been breaking down, we’ve taken season-ticket money and suddenly such a catastrophe! Eh? Isn’t it enough to hang yourself?”
“But what’s the matter? What’s wrong?”
“He’s drunk, damn it!”
“That’s no big deal! He’ll sleep it off.”
“He’d rather die than sleep it off! I’ve known him since Moscow: when he starts guzzling vodka, he won’t stop for two months. He’s on a binge! A real binge! No, my happiness is done for! Why am I so miserable? And why in hell did I turn out to be so miserable? Why... why is the curse of heaven hanging over my head all my life? (Pochechuyev is a tragedian by profession and by nature: strong expressions, accompanied by the beating of fists on his chest, suit him very well.) How vile, base and despicable I am, laying my head slavishly at the mercy of fate! Isn’t it more worthy to put an end once and for all to the shameful role of Makar, on whom all hell is falling, and put a bullet in my forehead? What am I waiting for? God, what am I waiting for?”
Pochechuyev covered his face with his palms and turned away to the window. There were many actors and theatre-goers present in the cashier’s office, besides the cashier, so the matter didn’t turn to advice, consolation and reassurance but was all of a philosophical or prophetic nature: no one went beyond expressions like "the vanity of vanities", "spit it out" and "the will of the world". Only the cashier, a fat, aquiline man, took a more substantial approach.
“Proklus Lvovich," he said, "you should try to cure him.”
“There’s no way in hell you can cure one of his binges!”
“You don’t say! Our barber is an excellent cure for binge drinking. The whole town is treated by him.”
Pochechuyev was glad of the chance to grasp at least at a straw, and five minutes later the theatre barber, Fyodor Grebeshkov, was standing in front of him. Imagine a tall, bony figure with sunken eyes, a long liquid beard and brown arms, add to this a striking resemblance to a skeleton made to move on screws and springs, dress the figure in a raggedly worn black pair of trousers and you have a portrait of Grebeshkov.
“Hey, Fedya!" Pochechuyev said to him. “I hear, my friend, that you are a... cure for binge drinking. Do me a favour and cure Dikobrazov, not as a favour, but as a friend. You know, he’s really drunk!”
“God be with him," Grebeshkov muttered dejectedly. “I can certainly do the normal kind of actor, and merchants and officials, but he’s a celebrity all over Russia!”
“So, what’s the problem?”
“To get the drink out of him you have to overturn all the organs and joints of his body. I’ll turn him upside down, and he’ll get up and get angry... he’ll say: ‘How dare you, you dog, touch my face!’ We know these famous ones!”
“No, no, no brother! Get in the coach and don’t be a coward! Put your hat on, let’s go!”
When Grebeshkov entered Dikobrazov’s room a quarter of an hour later, the famous actor was lying on his bed, staring angrily at the hanging lamp. The lamp hung quietly, but Dikobrazov the 2nd didn’t take his eyes off it and was muttering: “I’ll show you how to spin! I’ll show you, you devil, how to spin! I’ll break the decanter and I’ll break you too, you’ll see! And the ceiling’s spinning... I understand: it’s a conspiracy! But the lamp, the lamp! It’s the smallest, the lowest, but it spins the most! Wait...”
The comedian got up and, pulling a sheet behind him, knocking glasses off the table and swaying, headed for the lamp, but halfway through he bumped into something tall and bony...
“What is it!?” he roared, his eyes wandering about. “Who are you? Where do you come from? Eh?”
“I’ll show you who I am... Get on the bed over there!”
And without waiting for the comedian to go over to the bed, Grebeshkov swung and punched him in the face with such force that he flew backwards onto the bed. The comedian had probably never been beaten before, for he looked at Grebeshkov with surprise and even curiosity, despite his heavy drinking.
“Did you... did you hit me? By... wait, you hit me?”
“I did. Don’t you want some more?”
And the barber struck Dikobrazov once more, in the teeth. I don’t know whether it was the force of the blow or the novelty of the sensation, but the comedian’s eyes stopped wandering and something sensible flashed in them. He jumped up and looked not so much with anger as with curiosity at Grebeshkov’s pale face and dirty coat.
“Are you... are you fighting?” he mumbled. “You... you dare to?”
“Silence!”
And again a punch in the face. The dazed comedian tried to defend himself, but one of Grebeshkov’s hands squeezed his chest and the other went into his face.
“Easy! Easy!” Pochechuyev’s voice came from the other room. “Easy, Fedenka!”
“It’s all right, Proclus! He’ll thank you later!”
“Take it easy in any case!” Pochechuyev said in a weeping voice, peering into the comedian’s room. “It’s nothing for you, but it gives me the creeps. Think of it: a man of full legal capacity, of intelligence, a famous man, beaten up in broad daylight, and all that in his own room... Ah!”
“Proclus Lvovitch, I don’t beat them, but the demon that’s sitting in them. Do me a favor and go away, don’t worry. Stay down, devil!” Fedor attacked the comedian. “Don’t move! What?”
Dikobrazov was seized with horror. It seemed to him that everything that had been whirling about and had been shattered by him was now conspiring and unanimously flying at his head.
“Sentry!” he shouted. “Help! Guards!”
“Shout, shout, you fairy! Those are still just flowers, but wait, there will soon be berries! Now listen: if you say one more word or move, I’ll kill you! I’ll kill you and I won’t regret it! There’s no one to stand up for you, brother! No one will come, I don’t care if you fire a cannon. And if you humble yourself and shut up, I’ll give you some vodka. Here it is, vodka!”
Grebeshkov took a half-flask of vodka out of his pocket and flashed it in front of the comedian’s eyes. The drunkard, at the sight of the object of his passion, forgot about the beatings and even laughed with pleasure.
Grebeshkov took out a piece of dirty soap from his waistcoat pocket and shoved it into the half-flask. When the vodka foamed and became muddy, he began to pour all sorts of rubbish into it. The half-flask was filled with saltpetre, ammonia, alum, salt, sulphur, rosin and other "spices" sold in mosquito shops. The comedian stared at Grebeshkov and passionately followed the movements of the half-flask. Finally the barber burned a piece of rag, poured the ashes into the flask and walked over to the bed.
“Drink!” he said, pouring out half a tea-glass. “All in one go!”
The comedian drank his drink with relish, and then his eyes seemed to pop out. His face went suddenly pale and sweat broke out on his forehead.
“Have another drink!” Grebeshkov suggested.
“Don’t... don’t want to! Wait... wait...”
“Drink, damn you! Drink! Or I’ll kill you!”
Dikobrazov drank and, groaning, collapsed on his pillow.
After a minute he was up and Fedor could see that his spices were working.
“Drink some more! Let your insides turn over, that’s good. Drink up!”
And for the comedian there came a time of anguish. His insides were literally turning over. He jumped up, tossed on the bed and watched with horror the slow movements of his ruthless and restless enemy, who didn’t lag behind him for a minute and beat him relentlessly when he refused the spice. The beatings were replaced by spice, the spice by beatings. Never at another time had the poor body of Feniks-Dikobrazov the 2nd endured such insults and humiliations, and never had the celebrity been so weak and defenceless as now. At first the comedian shouted and scolded, then began to plead, at last, convinced that protests led to beatings, he began to cry. Pochechuyev, who had been standing outside the door eavesdropping, finally broke down and ran into the comedian’s room.
“To hell with you!” he said, waving his hands. “Let the season-ticket money go to waste, let him drink vodka, but don’t torture him, do me a favour! He’ll freeze to death, to hell with you! Look at him, he’s dead! If I’d known, I wouldn’t have messed with him...”
“Never mind... He’ll thank you, you’ll see... Well, what are you still doing there?” Grebeshkov turned to the comedian. “You’ll get in trouble!”
He spent the rest of the evening with the comedian. He was tiring himself and he was tiring him too. The comedian was terribly weakened, unable even to moan, and petrified with an expression of horror on his face. The petrification was followed by something akin to sleep.

The next day the comedian, to Pochechuyev’s great surprise, woke up – so he wasn’t dead. He woke up and looked round the room with a wandering gaze and began to remember.
“Why do I hurt all over?” he wondered. “I’m sure I’ve been hit by a train. Is there any vodka? Hey, who’s there? Vodka!”
At this time Pochechuyev and Grebeshkov were standing outside the door.
“He’s asking for vodka, so he hasn’t recovered!” Pochechuyev was horrified.
“What are you, Proclus Lvovitch?” the barber was surprised. “How can you expect to cure him in one day? Heaven forbid he should be cured in a week, let alone in a day. He might be cured in five days, as he’s just a merchant in terms of build. It won’t take you long to get him down.”
“Why didn’t you tell me this before, you devil?” wailed Pochechuyev. “What a wretch I’ve turned out to be! And what can I, who’s so wretched, expect from fate? Wouldn’t it be wiser to end it all at once by putting a bullet in my forehead, etc...”
Pochechuyev looked gloomily at his fate, but a week later Dikobrazov 2 was already performing and the season-ticket money didn’t have to be refunded. Grebeshkov did the comedian’s make-up, and touched his head so respectfully that you wouldn’t recognise him as the old barber.
“The man’s alive!” Pochechuyev marvelled. “I nearly died seeing his torment, and he thanked that devil Fyedka as if nothing had happened, and wanted to take him with him to Moscow! It’s a miracle, isn’t it?”


7. THE FOOLISH FRENCHMAN

A clown from the Hintz Brothers Circus, Henry Pourquoi, stopped by Testov’s Moscow inn for breakfast.
“Give me some consommé!” he said to the waiter.
“Do you want it with or without pâté?”
“No, it’s too rich with pâté... Two or three croutons, perhaps...”
As he waited for the consommé to be served, Pourquoi made an observation. The first thing that caught his eye was a plump, handsome gentleman sitting at a nearby table, preparing to eat pancakes.
"What quantities, I must say, are served in Russian restaurants!” the Frenchman thought as he watched his neighbour pour hot syrup over his pancakes. “Five pancakes! Can one person eat that much batter?"
The neighbour, meanwhile, smeared the pancakes with caviar, cut them in half and swallowed them all in less than five minutes...
“Chelaek!” he turned to the waiter. “Give me another serving! What kind of portions are these? Give me ten or fifteen at once! Give me some balika... some salmon or something!”
"Strange..." thought Pourquoi, looking at his neighbour. “He eats five portions of pancakes and asks for more! However, such phenomena are not uncommon... I myself had an uncle Francois in Brittany, who ate two plates of soup and five mutton chops on a bet... They say that there are also diseases that make one eat too much...".
The waiter put a mountain of pancakes and two plates of balika and salmon in front of his neighbour. The gentleman drank a glass of vodka, ate the salmon and began to eat the pancakes. To Pourquoi’s great surprise, he ate them in a hurry, barely chewing them, like a hungry man...
"Obviously sick..." thought the Frenchman. “And does he, the weirdo, imagine that he’s going to eat that whole mountain of them? He won’t eat three bites before his stomach’s full and he’ll have to pay for the whole mountain!"
“Give me some more caviar!” shouted his neighbour, wiping his oily lips with a napkin. “And don’t forget the green onions!”
"But... good grief, half the mountain’s gone!” the horrified clown exclaimed to himself. “My God, has he eaten all the salmon too? It’s not even natural... Can the human stomach be stretched so much? It can’t be! No matter how elastic the stomach is, it can’t stretch beyond the stomach... If we had this gentleman in France, they’d show him off for money... God, there’s no mountain left anymore!"
“Serve me a bottle of Nui..." said the neighbour, taking caviar and onions from the waiter. “Just warm it first... What else? I think I’ll have another batch of pancakes... Just hurry up, will you?”
“I’m at your orders... What’s will you have after the pancakes?”
“Something lighter... Order a portion of Russian-style sturgeon and... and... I’ll think about it, go on!”
"Could it be that I’m dreaming?” marvelled the clown, leaning back in his chair. “This man wants to die! You can’t eat such a mass with impunity! Yes, yes, he certainly wants to die. You can see it in his sad face. And don’t the servants find it suspicious that he eats so much? It just can’t be!"
Pourquoi called to the waiter who was serving at the neighbouring table and asked in a whisper:
“Look here, why are you serving him so much?”
“I mean, er... er... they order it. How can they do otherwise?” the waiter was astonished.
“Strangely enough, it seems that he could sit here all night and keep on ordering! If you don’t have the courage to refuse him, report it to the Mâitre d’hôtel, call the police!”
The waiter smirked, shrugged his shoulders and walked off.
"Savages!” the Frenchman said resentfully to himself. “They’re glad that there’s a madman sitting at the table, a suicide who can always continue to eat for an extra ruble! It’s all right for a man to die, as long as it’s good for the profits!"
“To order something, that’s like saying nothing!” the neighbour grumbled, turning to the Frenchman. “These long intermissions are annoying! You have to wait half an hour from course to course! You lose all your appetite and you’ll be late... It’s three o’clock and I have to be at the anniversary dinner at five.”
Pardon, monsieur.” Pourquoi turned pale, “you’re already having dinner!”
“No, no... What kind of a dinner is this? It’s breakfast... pancakes...”
Then a platter of soup was brought to the neighbour. He poured himself a full dish, peppered it with cayenne pepper and began to gulp it down...
"Poor man..." continued the Frenchman to himself, horrified. “Either he’s ill and unaware of his dangerous condition, or he’s doing all that on purpose... with the intention of committing suicide... My God, if I’d known that I’d come across such a situation, I would never have come here! My nerves can’t bear such scenes!"
And the Frenchman looked sorrowfully at his neighbour’s face, expecting every minute that he was about to have the cramp that Uncle François always had after a dangerous bet.
"Apparently an intelligent, young man... full of energy..." he thought, looking at his neighbour. “Perhaps he’s useful to his country... and quite possibly has a young wife and children... Judging by his clothes he must be rich, contented with life... but what makes him decide to take such a step?... And couldn’t he have chosen some other way to die? God knows how cheap life is! And how low and inhuman I am to sit here and not go to his aid! Perhaps he can still be saved!"
Pourquoi stood up decisively from the table and approached his neighbour.
“Listen, monsieur," he said in a low, husky voice. “I don’t have the honour of knowing you, but nevertheless, believe me, I am your friend... Is there anything I can do for you? Remember, you are still young... you have a wife, children...”
“I don’t understand you!” He shook his head, staring at the Frenchman.
“Oh, why the secrecy, monsieur? Because I can see perfectly well! You eat so much that... it’s hard not to suspect...”
“Am I eating too much?” The neighbour was surprised. “Me? How can I not eat when I haven’t eaten since this morning?”
“But you eat an awful lot!”
“You’re not the one who has to pay! What are you worried about? I don’t eat much at all! Look, I’m eating like everyone else!”
Pourquoi looked around him and was horrified. The waiters, pushing and bumping into each other, were carrying whole mountains of pancakes about... People were sitting at the tables and eating mountains of pancakes, salmon and caviar... with the same appetite and fearlessness as the handsome gentleman.
"Oh, wonderful land!” thought Pourquoi as he left the restaurant. “Not only the climate, but even their stomachs do wonders! Oh what a country, what a wonderful country!"


8. THE PROPOSAL

Valentin Petrovich Perederkin, a young man of pleasant appearance, put on a tailcoat and patent leather boots with sharp, prickly toes, armed himself with a hat and, barely restraining his excitement, went to visit Princess Vera Zapiskina...
Oh, what a pity you don’t know Princess Vera! She’s a sweet, delightful creature with meek sky-blue eyes and silky, wavy curls.
The waves of the sea break against the cliff, but the waves of her curls, on the contrary, will break any stone and scatter them into dust... You have to be an insensitive blockhead to resist her smile, the tenderness that she emanates and her miniature, as if chiseled bust.. Oh, what a wooden beast you have to be not to feel at the top of bliss when she speaks, laughs and shows her dazzling white teeth!
Perederkin was received...
He sat down opposite the princess and, exhausted with excitement, began:
“Princess, can you listen to me?”
“Why yes.”
“Princess… I’m sorry, I don’t know where to start… It’s so unexpected for you… Impromptu… You’ll get angry…”
While he reached into his pocket and pulled out a handkerchief to wipe off the sweat, the princess smiled sweetly and looked at him inquiringly.
“Princess!” he continued. “Since I last saw you, an irresistible desire has sunk into my soul… This desire doesn’t give me rest day or night, and… and if it doesn’t come true, I… I’ll be miserable.”
The princess lowered her eyes thoughtfully. Perederkin paused and continued:
“Of course, you’ll be surprised... you’re above everything earthly, but... for me you are the most suitable...”
There was silence.
"All the more so," Perederkin sighed, "that my estate borders on yours... I’m rich..."
"But... what’s the problem?" the princess asked quietly.
“What’s the problem? Princess!” Perederkin spoke ardently, getting up. “I beg you, don’t refuse... Don’t upset my plans with your refusal. My dear, let me make you an offer!”
Valentin Petrovich quickly sat down, leaned over to the princess and whispered:
“The offer is extremely profitable!.. We’ll sell a million poods [5] of lard per year! Let’s build a lard factory together on our adjacent estates in shares!”
The princess thought a while and said:
“With pleasure …”
And the reader, who was expecting a melodramatic ending, can calm down.


9. CALCHAS

The comedian Vasily Vasilovich Svetlovidov, a stout old man of fifty-eight, woke up and looked around him in amazement. In front of him two tallow candles were burning down on either side of a small mirror. Motionless, lazy lights dimly illuminated a small room with painted wooden walls, full of tobacco smoke in the twilight. All around were visible traces of Bacchus’s recent encounter with the muse of tragedy, a meeting as secret as it was violent and as ugly as vice. Coats, trousers, sheets of newspaper, a top hat and an overcoat with a motley lining were strewn about on chairs and on the floor. On the table there was a strange, chaotic mix of empty bottles, glasses, three wreaths, a gold-plated cigarette-case, a cupholder, a winning lottery ticket with a turned-down corner and a box containing a gold pin. All this junk was generously sprinkled over with cigarette butts, ashes and little scraps of torn letters. Svetlovidov himself was seated in an armchair and was dressed as the ancient Greek oracle Calchas.
“My God, I’m in the dressing-room!” the comedian exclaimed, looking around him. “What a mess! When did I fall asleep?”
He listened. The silence was sepulchral. The cigarette case and the winning ticket vividly reminded him that tonight had been his benefit evening, that he had been a success, that at every intermission he and his admirers, who had all stormed into the dressing-room, had drunk a lot of cognac and red wine.
“When did I fall asleep?” he repeated. “Ah, you old idiot, you old idiot! You old dog! You’re so drunk you fell asleep sitting up! Bravo!”
And the comedian began to laugh. He burst into a drunken, coughing laugh, took a candle and left the dressing-room. The stage was dark and empty. A light but palpable breeze was blowing from the depths backstage, from the sides and from the auditorium. The breezes, like spirits, promenaded freely across the stage, jostled with one another, twirled and played with the flames of the candles. The flames fluttered and bent in all directions and cast a faint light on the row of doors leading to the wardrobes, then on the red backstage near which there was a bucket, then on a large frame lying in the middle of the stage.
“Yegorka!” the comedian shouted. “Yegorka, damn it! Petrushka! You’ve fallen asleep, you devils, with a drawbar in your mouth! Yegorka!”
“Ah... ah... ah!” answered an echo.
The comedian remembered that Yegorka and Petrushka had received three rubles each for vodka on the occasion of the benefit. After such a windfall they hardly ever stayed in the theatre that night.
The comedian grunted, sat down on a stool and put his candle down on the floor. His head was heavy and hung-over, the mass of beer, wine and brandy that he’d drunk was just beginning to burn into his whole body, and sleeping in a sitting position had made him weak and sluggish.
“A whole squadron’s been sleeping in my mouth..." he muttered, spitting. “Oh, don’t be so thirsty, you old fool! You’ve got to stop! My back’s aching and my head’s aching and I’m getting cold... I’m getting old.”
He looked out in front of him... Just the prompter’s booth, the lodges and the music stands of the orchestra were barely visible, and the entire auditorium looked like a black, bottomless pit, a gaping mouth, from which the cold, harsh darkness was staring at him... Normally modest and cosy, now, at night, it seemed infinitely deep and desolate, like a grave, and soulless... The comedian looked into the darkness, then at the candle and continued to grumble:
“Yes, old age... No matter how hard you try, no matter how courageous and no matter how foolish you are, you’re going to be fifty-eight! Good-bye! My respects to life! Yes, Vasinka... Although I’ve served on the stage for 35 years I’m seeing the theatre at night now, I think, just for the first time... a curious matter, by God... Yes, for the first time! It’s spooky as hell…”
“Yegorka!” he shouted, getting up. “Yegorka!”
“Ah... ah... ah!” answered the echo.
And at the same time as the echo the bells for the morning service came from somewhere far away, as if in the depths of the gaping maw. Calchas crossed himself.
“Petrushka!” he shouted. “Where are you, you devils? Lord, why am I mentioning the unclean? Stop saying that, stop drinking, you’re old, it’s time to die! At fifty-eight people go to morning service, they get ready for death, and you... oh my God!”
“Lord have mercy, how creepy!” he grumbled. “If you stay here all night, you might die of fright. This is where the spirits are summoned!”
At the word ’spirits’ he became even more frightened... The sweeping winds and the flicker of light-spots excited and incited his imagination to an extreme degree... The comedian shrank back, recoiled, and bending down for the candle looked into the dark pit with childish fear one last time. His face, disfigured by make-up, was dull and almost vacant. Without reaching for the candle, he suddenly jumped up and stared fixedly into the darkness. He stood silent for half a minute, then, seized by an extraordinary terror, clasped his hands to his head and stamped his feet...
“Who are you?" he shouted in a harsh voice, not his own. “Who are you?”
There was a white human figure standing in one of the critics’ lodges. When the light fell in its direction you could make out the hands, the head and even the white beard.
“Who are you?" repeated the comedian in a desperate voice.
The white figure swung one leg over the barrier of the lodge and leapt down and silently, like a shadow, headed for the ramp.
“It’s me!” it said, climbing up onto the stage.
“Who?” shouted Calchas, backing away.
“It’s me... me, Nikita Ivanovich... the prompter. Don’t bother about me.”
The comedian, trembling and distraught with fear, sat down on a stool and bowed his head.
“It’s me!” a tall, wiry man, bald with a grey beard, barefoot and wearing only his underwear said as he approached. “It’s me, the prompter!”
“My God..." said the comedian, running his hand across his forehead and breathing heavily. “Is that you, Nikitushka? Why... why are you here?”
“I was sleeping here in the critics’ lodge. There’s nowhere else to sleep... But don’t tell Alexei Fomich.”
“You, Nikitushka..." muttered the exhausted Calchas, stretching out his trembling hand to him. “My God, my God!..! They called me back sixteen times, brought three wreaths and many other things... they were all delighted, but no one woke up the drunken old man and brought him home. I’m an old man, Nikitushka. I’m fifty-eight years old. And I’m sick! My frail spirit is languishing.”
Calchas reached towards the prompter and, trembling all over, clung onto his hand.
“Don’t go away, Nikitushka..." he mumbled as if he were delirious. “I’m old, I’m weak, I’m going to die... I’m afraid!”
“Vasily Vasilovich, it’s time for you to go home!” Nikitushka said softly.
“I won’t go home! I don’t have a home! No, no!”
“Jesus Christ, have you forgotten where you live?”
“I don’t want to go there, I don’t want to go there..." muttered the comedian in a kind of frenzy. “I’m all alone there... I have no one, Nikitushka, no relatives, no old woman, no children... Alone, like the wind in the meadows... If I die, there’ll be no one to remember me…”
A shiver from the comedian communicated itself to Nikitushka... The drunken, agitated old man was rubbing his arm, clutching it frantically and smearing it with a mixture of make-up and tears. Nikitushka shivered with cold and shrugged his shoulders.
“I’m scared when I’m alone..." muttered Calchas. “There’s no one to caress me, to comfort me, to put me to bed drunk. Whose am I? Who needs me? Who loves me? Nobody loves me, Nikitushka!”
“The public loves you, Vassili Vasilievich!”
“The audience has gone and is asleep... No, nobody wants me, nobody loves me... No wife, no children…”
“Say, what are you moaning about!”
“I’m a human being, I’m alive... I’m a nobleman, Nikitushka, of good family... before I got into this pit I served in the army, in the artillery. I was such a fine young fellow, so handsome, so hot, so brave... Then what an actor I was, my God, my God! And where did it all go, where have they gone, those times?”
Taking hold of the prompter’s hand, the comedian raised himself up and blinked his eyes as if he had come out of the dark into a brightly-lit room. Large tears flowed down his cheeks, leaving streaky traces on his make-up.
“What times those were!” he continued raving. “I looked down at the pit today and I remembered everything... everything! The pit’s eaten up 35 years of my life, and what a life, Nikitushka! I look at it now and see every last line, like your face!... I remember when I was a young actor, when I was just beginning to get into my stride, how she loved me for my acting... She was graceful, as slender as a poplar, young, innocent, intelligent, as fiery as a summer dawn! I believed that if there were no sun in the sky, there would still be light on earth, for no night could resist her beauty!”
Calchas spoke with passion, shaking his head and waving his hand... Nikitushka stood before him barefoot in his underwear and listened. Darkness enveloped both of them, weakly dispersed by a powerless candle. It was a strange, extraordinary scene, the likes of which no theatre in the world has ever known, and the only audience was just a soulless, black pit...
“She loved me," Calchas continued, panting. “And what was it? I remember standing in front of her, as I’m standing in front of you now... She was as beautiful then as ever, looking at me with those eyes of hers in a way that I’ll never forget as long as I live! Their tenderness, their velvet sheen, their gleam of youth, their depth! I fell on my knees in front of her and asked for her happiness...”
The comedian took a breath and continued in a dropped voice:
“And she said: Abandon acting!” Do you understand? She could love an actor, but could never be an actor’s wife! I remember what I played that day... It was a low, buffoonish role... I was playing, but I had cats and snakes in my soul... I didn’t give up the stage, no, but my eyes had already been opened!... I realised that I was a slave, the plaything of other people’s idleness, that there was no holy art, that everything was nonsense and deceit. I understood the audience! Since then I’ve believed neither in applause nor in wreaths nor in cheers! Yes, my brother! They applaud me, they buy my picture for a penny, but I’m still a stranger to them, I’m filth to them a, almost a cocotte! Their vanity makes them want to be acquainted with me, but they won’t degrade themselves to the point of marrying their sister or their daughter with me! I don’t believe them, I hate them, and they’re strangers to me!"
“It’s time for you to go home," the prompter said timidly.
“I understand them perfectly!” Calchas shouted, threatening the black pit with his fists. “I knew it then! When I was young I saw the truth... And it cost me dearly, Nikitushka. After that affair... after that girl, I began to stagger around in vain, to live in vain, without looking ahead... I played jokes, made jokes, corrupted minds... I debased and broke my tongue, lost my image and likeness... Ehhh! This pit has eaten me up! I didn’t feel it before, but today... when I woke up, I looked back and there were fifty-eight years behind me! Just now I saw old age! Sing a song!”

Calchas was still trembling and panting when Nikitushka took him into the dressing-room a little later and began to undress him – he was utterly downcast and despondent and didn’t stop mumbling to himself and crying.


10. AT THE MILL

Melnik Aleksey Biryukov, a stout, stocky middle-aged man who resembled in face and figure those clumsy, thick-skinned, heavy-footed sailors that children dream of after reading Jules Verne, was sitting at the threshold of his hut, lazily sucking an extinguished pipe. This time he wore gray trousers of coarse soldier’s cloth and big heavy boots, but no coat or hat though it was autumn, damp and cold. The damp gloom permeated freely through his waistcoat, but the miller’s big, calloused body didn’t seem to feel the cold. His red, fleshy face was as usual apathetic and flabby as if he were half sleep, and his small eyes looked sullenly out from under his brows from side to side, first at the dam, then at two sheds, then at the old, clumsy willow-trees.
Cleopas, a tall, grey-haired old man in a muddy cassock and a shroud and another monk, Diodorus, black-bearded and swarthy, evidently a Georgian, in a typical peasant’s coat, bustled about the sheds. They were removing sacks of rye they had brought for milling. A little away from them on the dark, dirty grass sat the farm-labourer Yevsey, a young, unsophisticated lad in a tattered, ragged-looking overcoat. He was manipulating a fishing net in his hands and pretending to be mending it.
The miller stared at the monks as they were hauling the sacks and then spoke out in a thick bass voice:
“You monks, why do you fish in the river? Who gave you permission?”
The monks didn’t answer and didn’t even look at the miller.
He kept silent, then lit his pipe and continued:
“You catch them yourselves and you allow the villagers to do it too. I took the river as payment from you in the settlement and I paid you money for it, so the fish are mine and nobody has the right to catch them. You pray to God, but you don’t consider stealing a sin!”
The miller yawned, kept silent a while and then continued to grumble:
“What a life they have! They think that as monks they’re registered as saints, so nothing can be done to them. I’m going to take it to the Justice of the Peace. The Justice of the Peace won’t look at your cassock, and you’ll sit in his cold cell. Or I’ll take care of it myself, without the magistrate. I’ll catch you on the river and I’ll kick your neck so hard that you won’t want any fish until the terrible trial!”
“You say such words in vain, Alexey Dorofeich!" said Cleopas in a low tenor. “Good people who fear God don’t say such words to a dog, and we are monks!”
“Monks!" the miller mocked. “Do you want fish? Yes? Then buy them from me, don’t steal them!”
“Lord, are we stealing?” Cleopas grimaced. “Why do you say that? Our novices were catching fish, it’s true, but they had permission from Father Archimandrite. Father Archimandrite says that the money taken from you wasn’t for all of the river, but only so that you have the right to put nets on the riverbank. The river wasn’t given to you... It’s neither yours, nor ours, but God’s...”
“And the Archimandrite is just like you," the miller grumbled, tapping his pipe on his boot. “He likes to steal, too. And I won’t accept it. The archimandrite is like you or Yevsey to me. If I catch him on the river, I’ll get him, too...”
“If you’re going to beat the monks, that’s up to you. It’ll be better for us in the next world. You’ve already beaten Vissarion and Antipius, so beat the others as well!”
“Be quiet, don’t annoy him!” Diodorus said, tugging Cleopas by the sleeve.
He stopped talking and began to carry the sacks, but the miller kept on swearing. He grumbled lazily, sucking his pipe and spitting after each phrase. When the fish question dried up, he remembered two of his own sacks that the monks had allegedly "nicked" some time ago, and began to berate them about the sacks. Then when he noticed that Yevsey was drunk and wasn’t working he left the monks alone and attacked the labourer, filling the air with gruesome, abusive swearing.
The monks braced themselves at first and just sighed loudly, but soon Cleopas couldn’t stand it. He clasped his hands together and said in a tearful voice:
"Holy Lord, there’s nothing more painful for me than to come to the mill! It’s a living hell here! Hell, really Hell!"
“Don’t come, then!” snapped the miller.
“Queen of Heaven, we’d be glad not to have to come here, but where can we find another mill? Imagine, you’ve the only one in the whole district! Otherwise we’d have to starve to death or eat unground grain!”
The miller didn’t let up and continued to swear in every direction. It was evident that cursing and swearing were as habitual for him as sucking his pipe.
“At least don’t mention the unclean man!” Cleopas begged, blinking his eyes dazedly. “Be silent, for pity’s sake!”
Finally the miller was silent, but not because of being begged by Cleopas. An old woman had appeared on the dam, small and round, with a good-natured face, wearing a strange striped cloak like the back of a beetle. She was carrying a small bundle and was propped up by a small stick.
“How do you do, fathers?” she murmured, bowing low to the monks. “Godspeed! Hello, Alyoshenka! Hello, Euseyushka.”
“Hello, mother," the miller muttered, not looking at the old woman and frowning.
“I’ve come to visit you, my dear!" she said, smiling and looking tenderly into the miller’s face. “I haven’t seen you for a long time, not since Assumption Day... I’m glad to see you, but my goodness! You look as if you’ve lost weight...”
The old woman sat down next to the miller, and beside the huge man her striped cloak looked even more like a beetle’s back.
“Yes, since Assumption Day!” she went on. “I miss you, my son, my soul’s aching for you, and when I come to see you it either rains or I get sick...”
“Have you come from the farm just now?” the miller asked sullenly.
“From the farm... Straight from home...”
“With your illnesses and your build you should be at home, not out visiting. Well, why did you come? I don’t care about your clogs!”
“I’ve come to look at you... I have two sons," she said to the monks, "this one and Vassily in the village. Two of them. They don’t care whether I live or die, bit they’re my family, my solace... They can do without me, and I couldn’t live a day without them... But, father, I’m old now and it’s hard to come here from the village.”
There was a silence. The monks took the last sack over to the sheds and sat on the cart to have a rest... The drunken Yevsey was still fiddling with the fishing-net and picking his nose.
“You didn’t come at a good time, mamma," said the miller. “I have to go to Karyazhino now.”
“Go! Godspeed!” The old woman sighed.” “Don’t bother about me... I’ll rest for an hour and go back... Vassily and the kids bow to you, Alyoshenka...”
“Is he still drinking vodka?
“Not that much, but he’s still drinking. No harm done, he drinks... You know there’s not much to drink, but sometimes good people give him a drink... It’s not a good life for him, Alyoshenka! I’ve had enough of him... There’s nothing to eat, the children are ragged, he’s ashamed to show his face in the street, all his trousers are in holes and he has no boots... All six of us sleep in one room. Such poverty, such poverty, that you can’t think of anything worse... That’s why I came to you, to ask for help... You, Alyoshenka, have respect for an old woman, you’ll help Vassily... You’re his brother!”
The miller kept silent and looked away.
“He’s poor, and you, thank God, you’ve got your own mill, you’ve got gardens, and you’re a fishmonger... God’s been good to you, He’s glorified you, and satisfied you... And you’re lonely... And Vasya has four children, I live on his neck, and he only gets seven roubles wages. How can he feed them all? You could help...”
The miller was silent and diligently filled his pipe.
“Will you give me something?" the old woman asked.
The miller was as silent as if he’d had water in his mouth. Without waiting for an answer, the old woman sighed, cast her eyes over the monks and Yevsey, and stood up and said:
“God be with you, don’t give me anything. I knew you wouldn’t... I came to you more because of Nazar Andreyevich... He’s crying a lot, Alyoshenka! He kissed my hands and kept asking me to come to you and beg...”
“What does he want?”
“He wants you to pay him back. He said he brought rye to you for milling, and you didn’t give it back to him.”
“It’s none of your business, ma’am, to meddle in other people’s business," the miller grumbled. “It’s your business to pray to God.”
“I do pray, but God isn’t listening to my prayers. Vassily’s a beggar, I myself am a beggar and go about in someone else’s cloak, and you live well, but God knows what kind of soul you have. Oh, Alyoshenka, your envious eyes have spoiled you! You’re good in everything: smart, handsome and a merchant, but you don’t look like a real man! You’re unfriendly, you never smile, you never say a kind word, you’re unkind like a beast... Look at your face! And what people say about you, my woe! Ask the priests! They say that you suck people dry, you violate them, you rob passers-by at night and steal their horses... Your mill’s a cursed place... Girls and boys are afraid to come near you, everyone shuns you. There’s no other names for you than Cain and Herod...”
“You’re stupid, mother!”
“Wherever you step no grass grows, wherever you breathe no flies fly. All I hear is, ‘Oh, I wish someone would kill him soon, or sue him!’ How does it make a mother feel to hear all that? How does it feel? After all, you’re my own child, my blood...”
"I have go now," said the miller, getting up. “Goodbye, Mama!”
The miller rolled the cart out of one of the shed, got the horse and pushed it between the shafts like a little dog and began to hitch it. The old woman paced up and down beside him, looking at his face and blinking tearfully.
“Well, farewell!” she said as her son began to quickly pull on his caftan. “Stay with God, and don’t forget us. Wait, I have a present for you," she murmured, lowering her voice and untied a knot. “Yesterday I was at the deaconess and there was a feast... so I hid it for you...”
And the old woman stretched out her hand to her son with a small gingerbread in it.
“Leave me alone!” the miller shouted and pushed her hand away.
The old woman became embarrassed, dropped the gingerbread and silently staggered towards the dam... This scene made a heavy impression on the others. To say nothing of the monks who shrieked and threw up their hands in horror, even the drunken Yevsey turned petrified and stared at his master. Whether the miller realised the expression on the faces of the monks and the labourer or perhaps he felt something in his chest that had long ago fallen asleep, something a little like fright flashed across his face.
“Mother!” he shouted.
The old woman shuddered and looked around. The miller hurriedly dug into his pocket and took out a large leather wallet.
“Here..." he murmured, taking out of the purse a lump of paper and silver. “Take it!”
He twisted the lump in his hand, twisted it some more, glanced at the monks for some reason and then twisted it again. Papers and silver money slipped between his fingers and one by one fell back into the purse, and just a two-kopek piece remained in his hand... The miller looked at it, rubbed it between his fingers and, grunting, turning red, gave it to his mother.


11. BOA CONSTRICTOR AND RABBIT

Pyotr Semenych, a weary, balding man in a velvet dressing gown with crimson tassels, stroked his fluffy whiskers and continued:
“And here, mon cher, if you like, here’s another way. This method is the most subtle, clever and snide one and the most dangerous for husbands. It’s understandable only to psychologists and connoisseurs of the female heart. It has the conditio sine qua non [6]: patience, patience and more patience. It’s not good for someone who can’t wait and be patient. In this method when you want to seduce someone’s wife you keep yourself as far away from her as possible. Having felt an attraction for her, a kind of illness, you stop being around her, you see her as rarely as possible, briefly you deny yourself the pleasure of talking to her. You act at a distance. It’s all a kind of hypnotisation. She shouldn’t see you but she should feel your presence like a rabbit feels the gaze of a boa constrictor. You don’t hypnotise her with your gaze, but with the venom of your tongue, and the husband himself serves as the best transmission wire.

For example, I’m in love with the woman N and I want to win her over. So I meet her husband somewhere in a club or a theatre.
“And how is your wife doing?” I ask him in passing. “The sweetest woman, I tell you! I like her terribly! I mean, I like her a hell of a lot!”
“Um... What do you like about her so much?” the satisfied spouse asks.
“She’s a beautiful, poetic creature who can move anyone and make even a stone fall in love with her! However, you husbands are prosaic and understand your wives only in the first month after marriage... You should understand that your wife’s the most perfect woman! Understand that and be glad that fate has sent you such a wife! She’s exactly the kind of woman we need these days... just the kind!”
“What’s so special about her?” The spouse is perplexed.
“A beauty full of grace, life and truth, poetic, sincere and mysterious at the same time! Such women, if they fall in love once, love strongly, with all their fervour...”
And other things like that. The spouse, on going to bed that same day, won’t be able to resist telling his wife:
“I saw Pyotr Semenych today. He praised you terribly. He says you’re so loveable... And you’re beautiful, and graceful, and mysterious... and as if you’re capable of loving someone in a special way. He said a lot of things like that... Ha-ha!”
After that, without seeing her, I try to see the husband again.
“By the way, my dear" I tell him. “A painter came to see me yesterday. He’s had an order from some prince to paint for two thousand rubles the head of a typical Russian beauty. He asked me to look for a model for him. I wanted to direct him to your wife, but I was too shy. However your wife would have been just right! She has such a lovely face! It’s a damn shame that such a beautiful model isn’t brought to the attention of artists. A damn shame!”
You have to be too unkind a spouse not to pass this on to your wife. In the morning, the wife takes a long look in the mirror and thinks:
"How did he know my face was pure Russian?"
After that, when she looks in the mirror, she thinks of me every time. Meanwhile, my unintentional meetings with her husband continue. After one of the encounters the husband comes home and starts looking at his wife’s face.
“What are you staring at?” she asks.
“That fellow, Pyotr Semenych, says that one of your eyes us darker than the other. I can’t see it, for the life of me!”
The wife goes to the mirror again. She takes a long look at herself and thinks:
"Yes, the left eye does seem to be a little darker than the right... No, the right eye seems to be darker than the left... Well, maybe it’s just his imagination!"
After the eighth or ninth encounter the husband tells his wife:
“I saw Pyotr Semenych at the theatre. He apologises that he can’t come to see us: he doesn’t have time. He says he’s very busy. He hasn’t been to see us for four months... I started scolding him for it, but he apologizes and says he won’t come to see us until he finishes some work.”
“When will he come?” his wife asks.
“He says it won’t be for another year or two at the earliest. And what kind of a job that whistle-blower has, hell only knows. He’s an eccentric, for Christ’s sake! He came at me like a knife to the throat: ‘Why doesn’t your wife go on the stage? With such a grateful exterior, with such development and ability it’s a sin to live at home, he says. She, he says, should drop everything and go where her inner voice calls her. The ordinary framework of life isn’t made for her. Natures like her, she says, should be outside time and space.’”
The wife, of course, is vaguely conscious of this hyperbole, but still melts and gasps with delight.
“What nonsense!" she says, trying to sound indifferent. “What else did he say?”
“If I weren’t busy,” he said, “I’d take her away from you!”
“Well," I said, "go ahead and try, I won’t fight a duel.”
“You don’t understand her,” he says. “She needs to be understood. She’s a great, a mighty nature, looking for a way out. It’s a pity I’m not Turgenev,” he says, “or I’d have described her long ago. Ha-ha... I don’t care what you think!”
“Well, I think, brother, if you’d lived with her for two or three years, you’d have sung a different tune... You’re crazy!”
And the poor wife is gradually taken over by a longing to meet me. I’m the only person who understands her, and I’m the only one she can tell me about so much! But I stubbornly don’t go and keep out of her sight. She hasn’t seen me for a long time, but my painfully sweet poison has already poisoned her. Her husband, yawning, passes my words along to her, and she thinks she hears my voice and can see the sparkle in my eyes.
It’s time to seize the moment. One evening the husband comes home and says: “I just met Pyotr Semenych. He’s bored, sad and walks around looking dejected.”
“Why? What’s wrong with him?”
“I can’t make it out. He complains that sadness is overtaking him. He says he’s lonely that he has no relatives, no friends, no one who could understand him and merge with his soul. Nobody understands me, he says, and now I want only one thing: death!”
“What nonsense!” says the wife, and thinks to herself: "Poor man! I understand him perfectly! I too am lonely, no one understands me but him, so who better to understand his state of mind than me?"
“Yes, an eccentric!" the husband continues. “I don’t even go home out of boredom,” he says, “so I walk along the N Boulevard all night long.”
The wife is all in heat. She longs to go to N Boulevard and have a glimpse, even out of the corner of an eye, of a man who has managed to understand her and who’s now in anguish. Who knows? If I talk to him now, say a few words of comfort to him, perhaps he would cease to suffer. If she told him that he had a friend who understands and appreciates him, he might be saved.
"But that’s impossible... crazy!" she thinks. “You shouldn’t even think about it. You might fall in love, and that’s crazy... stupid.”
After waiting for her husband to fall asleep, she lifts up her burning head, puts her finger to her lips and thinks: what if she dared to leave the house now? Afterwards, she could lie about something, say she went to the pharmacy, to the dentist’s.
"I’ll do it!" she decides.
"She already has a plan: she’ll take the back stairs from the house and go to the boulevard in a carriage, then walk past him on the boulevard, just take a look at him, and then go back. She won’t compromise herself or her husband.
So she gets dressed, quietly leaves the house and hurries towards the boulevard. The boulevard is dark and deserted. The bare trees are asleep. No one’s there. But she does see someone’s silhouette. It must be him. Shivering all over her whole body, unaware of herself, she slowly approaches me... I walk towards her. For a minute we stand in silence and look into each other’s eyes. Another minute of silence passes and... the rabbit falls into the boa constrictor’s jaws."


12. INTRIGUES

AGENDA

a) Election of the Chairman of the Society.
b) Discussion of the incident of October 2nd.
c) Report by Full Member Dr M. N. von Bron.
d) Current affairs of the Society.

Dr. Shelestov, the perpetrator of the October 2 incident, is going to this meeting; he has been standing for a long time in front of a mirror and is trying to give his face a languid expression. If he appears now at the meeting with an agitated, tense, red or too pale face, then his enemies might imagine that he attaches great importance to their intrigues, but if his face is cold, impassive, as if sleepy, the kind of face of one who stands above the crowd and is weary of life, then all his enemies looking at him will secretly feel respect and think:
"He has risen high with the head of the rebellious
of the pillar of Alexandria
 [7]
As a man who has little interest in his enemies and their squabbles, he will come to the meeting later than everyone else. He will silently enter the hall, run his hand languidly through his hair, and without looking at anyone will sit down at the table. Having assumed the pose of a bored listener, he would yawn slightly, draw a newspaper towards him and start to read... Everyone would talk and argue, boil over and call each other to order, but he would still be silent and be looking at the newspaper. But at last, when his name was repeated more and more often and the burning question heated up, he would raise his bored, tired eyes up to his colleagues and say, as if reluctantly:
“I’m being compelled to speak... I haven’t prepared anything, gentlemen, and therefore forgive me, my speech will not be coherent enough. I will begin ab ovo [8]. At the last meeting some distinguished colleagues stated that I wasn’t behaving at council meetings the way they wanted me to, and they demanded that I explain myself. Finding explanations superfluous and the accusation to be in bad faith, I asked to be expelled from the membership of the Society and withdrew. Now I am sorry to see that I cannot do without an explanation, as a new series of accusations is being raised against me. I shall explain myself.”

Then, casually playing with a pencil or a chain, he will say that indeed, at council meetings he sometimes raises his voice and interrupts his colleagues, even in the presence of outsiders; it is also true that once at a council meeting, in the presence of doctors and relatives, he had asked the patient: “What kind of fool was it who prescribed opium for you?” A council meeting rarely goes by without an incident... But why? It’s very simple. At council meetings, he, Shelestov, is always struck by the low level of knowledge of his colleagues. There are thirty-two doctors in the town, and most of them know less than any first-year student. One doesn’t have to go far for examples. Of course nomina sunt odiosa [9], but at the council meetings everyone is on their own, and besides, in order not to seem unsubstantiated, you can name names. For example, everyone knows that the distinguished colleague von Bron pierced the oesophagus of the official Serezhkina with a probe...
At this point von Bron will jump up, throw up his hands and shout:
"Colleague, it was you pierced it, not me! It was you! And I’ll prove it to you!”
Shelestov will ignore him and will continue:
“Everyone also knows that the esteemed colleague Zhil mistook a wandering kidney in the actress Semiramidina for an abscess and made a trial puncture, from which exitus letalis [10] soon followed. The respected colleague Beskrunko, instead of peeling off the toenail on the big toe of the left foot, peeled off the healthy toenail on the right foot. I also cannot fail to remind you of the case when my dear colleague Terkharian zealously cauterised the Eustachian tubes of the soldier Ivanov, thus causing the bursting of both of the patient’s eardrums. By the way, I recall how that same colleague dislocated my patient’s lower jaw while extracting a tooth, and did not set it right again until the patient agreed to pay him five roubles for the reduction. The distinguished colleague Kuritsyn is married to the niece of the pharmacist Grummer and is in league with him for supplies. Everyone also knows that the secretary of our Society, our young colleague Skoropalitelny, lives with the wife of our esteemed and venerable chairman Gustav Gustavovich Prechtel...

From the low level of facts I have imperceptibly passed on to errors of an ethical nature. So much the better! Ethics is our sore point, gentlemen, and in order not to seem unfounded, I shall name for you our dear colleague Puzyrkov, who at the birthday party of colonel Treschinskaya said that he thought that I, and not Skoropalitelny, was living with the wife of our chairman! This is the same Mr. Puzyrkov whom I met last year with the wife of our respected colleague Znobish! Speaking of Dr. Znobish... Who has the reputation of being a doctor with whom it’s not entirely safe to treat ladies? Znobish... Who married a merchant’s daughter because of her dowry? Znobish! As for our esteemed chairman, he practices homeopathy in secret and gets money from the Prussians for spying. A Prussian spy – that’s ultima ratio [11] in Latin.

Doctors, when they want to appear clever and eloquent, use two Latin expressions: nomina sunt odiosa and ultima ratio. Shelestov will not only speak Latin, but also French and German – whatever you like! He’ll expose everybody and tear off the masks of the intriguers; the Chairman will get tired of ringing the bell, the honorable colleagues will jump up from their seats and shout and wave their hands about... The colleagues of the Jewish faith will gather in a bunch and hullabaloo: “Gal-gal-gal-gal-gal-gal-gal…”
Shelestov, without looking at anyone in particular, will continue:
“As for the whole Society, with its present composition and behaviour it must inevitably perish! Everything in it is built solely on intrigue! Intrigues, intrigues and intrigues! I, as one of the victims of these continuous, demonic intrigues, consider myself obliged to state the following:...”
He will then expound while his party applauds and rub its hands in triumph. And so, amidst unimaginable rumblings and claps of thunder, the election of the Chairman begins. Von Bron and Kuritsyn are staunchly in favour of Prechtel, but the public and the reasonable doctors shush them down and shout: “Down with Prechtel! We ask for Shelestov! Shelestov!”
Shelestov accepts, but on the condition that Prechtel and von Bron ask him to simply apologize for the October 2 incident. Again, an unimaginable uproar arises, and again the respected colleagues of the Jewish faith gather in a bunch and – "gal-gal-gal..." Prechtel and von Bron, indignant, end up asking not to be considered members of the Society any longer. And that’s fine!

Shelestov is now Chairman. First of all, he’ll clean up the Augean stables. Znobish – out! Terkharian – out! Respectable colleagues of the Jewish faith – out! With his party he will make sure that by January there will not be a single intriguer left in the Society. In the hospital he will first of all have the walls of the out-patient department painted and the notice: “Smoking is strictly prohibited” put up, then he will banish the medical attendant and the nurse, drugs will be ordered not from Grummer but from Khrysabrysky; the doctors will not perform any operation without his supervision without his supervision, etc. And most importantly, he will print on his business cards: “Chairman of the Society of Doctors of N.”

So dreams Shelestov standing at home in front of a mirror. But then the clock strikes seven and reminds him that it is time to go to the meeting. He wakes up from his sweet dreams and hurriedly gives his face a languid expression, but – alas! He tries to make his face languid and interesting, but it disobeys and becomes sour and dull, like a mongrel puppy; he tries to make it look serious, but it lengthens out and expresses perplexity, and then it seems to him that he doesn’t look like a puppy at all but rather like a goose. He lowers his eyelids, squints his eyes, puffs his cheeks out and wrinkles his forehead, but – darnation and blazes! – it does not turn out the way he wanted it to. Such must be the natural properties of this face that nothing can be done about it. The forehead is narrow, the little eyes run fast like those of a rascally trader, the lower jaw protrudes stupidly and incongruously forward, and his cheeks and hair look as if the “respected colleague” had been thrown out of a billiard-room a minute ago.

Looking at that face of his Shelestov becomes angry, and he begins to think that it too is intriguing against him. He goes into the front room and puts on his outer clothes, and it seems to him that his fur coat and galoshes and hat are also intriguing against him.
“Driver, to the hospital!” he shouts.
He gives him two kopecks, and the disobliging cabby asks for a quarter... He gets in the cab and rides off while the cold wind beats in his face, the wet snow covers his eyes and the horse barely trudges along. Everything is conspired against him and everyone is intriguing... intrigues, intrigues and intrigues!


Green Scythe and other stories

Footnotes

[1the story Calchas was adapted by the author the following year to become his fourth play “Swansong”.

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

[3Mikhail Lomonosov (1711-1765): distinguished scientist, linguist and poet, founder of the University of Moscow (translator’s note).

[4Calomedi grana duo, sacchari albi grana quinque, numero decem! – Two grains of calomel, five grains of sugar, ten powders!

[51 pood = 16.38 kilograms or 36.1 pounds (translator’s note).

[6conditio sine qua non – indispensable condition.

[7from Pushkin’s poem "Monument" (translator’s note).

[8ab ovo (lat.) – from the very beginning.

[9nomina sunt odiosa (lat.) – names are hateful.

[10exitus letalis (lat.) – death.

[11ultima ratio (lat.) – the final argument.