"Nothing To Be Done!" and other previously-untranslated Chekhov stories

(actualisé le ) by Anton Chekhov

Twelve tales with a distinctive mix of humour and cynicism that have been translated into English here for the first time ever [1].

1. THE CONFESSION (1883) Grigory Kuzmich is delighted to have been appointed treasurer and is pleasantly surprised to find that everyone’s suddenly very amiable with him. Not only do they invite him to visit their homes and meet their daughters, but they always come to his paries – and borrow increasingly large amount of money from him. So he borrows funds from the treasury to maintain his lifestyle... (1,850 words) [2]

2. THE ONLY WAY (1883) In the narrator’s office nine treasurers in a row had been arrested for embezzlement and the narrator recounts the one and only way that they finally found to prevent the tenth one from following in his predecessors’ footsteps – admittedly a rather expensive method but finally much cheaper than what they would have lost if the stealing had continued. (950 words) [3]

3. SENTIMENTALITY (1883) The narrator recounts how he had summoned the governess of his children for her pay and then proceeded to deduct the number of days she hadn’t actually worked such as Sundays and sick days as well as deducting damages for the boy’s torn clothing and for broken crockery – and when the poor girl in tears reluctantly accepted the final sum he teaches her a lesson. (560 words) [4]

4. THE TRIUMPH OF THE VICTOR (1883) A father and son go to dinner at the home of his brother’s director where they’re served a sumptuous dinner drowned in a sea of wine and vodka. After dinner the father constantly prods the son to laugh at the host’s remarks and finally the two of them submit to humiliating rituals in the hope of the son being hired as an assistant clerk. (1,100 words) [5]

5. A CONVERSATION (1883) A group of people talk about doctors, and after agreeing that the world would be a better place without them as people wouldn’t get so sick and die so often, a young wife points out that doctors can be useful when one’s having an affair in advising husbands to renounce their marital duties, an official tells how when their director is seized with a craze for reforms they call in a doctor to send him away for a heath cure, and finally they all agree that if there were no doctors then people would get sick and die much more often. (780 words) [6]

6. THE GUARDIAN (1883) The narrator goes into General Shmygalov’s office and tells him that he wants to marry his daughter Varvara, whereupon the General erupts in anger, declares that the narrator is too poor and orders him to get out. But the narrator stands his ground. (900 words) [7]

7. FROM THE MEMORIES OF AN IDEALIST (1885) The narrator recounts how he’d obtained an advance on salary and gone to a dacha on holiday. Charmed to discover that the landlady was a delicate young blond who only asked for a minimal fee, our idealist spent an ideal holiday becoming friendly with the pretty landlady, eating delicious food and being spoiled throughout. But then the final bill was presented to him… (1,400 words) [8]

8. BRIDEGROOM AND DAD (1885) Petr Milkin has been visiting Nastya for months and as everyone thinks he wants to marry her he’s obliged to have a talk with her father, to whom he explains that he’s come to say good-bye because he has to move to another town. But Dad doesn’t see why Nastya can’t go with him, so Petr progressively explains that he’s in debt, that he drinks too much, that he’s an embezzler, and finally that he’s an escaped convict, but to no avail as the father finds a reason in each case to still find him acceptable. In desperation he says that he’s insane, but then Dad demands a medical certificate... (1,500 words) [9]

9. NINOTCHKA (1885) The narrator’s friend Pavel comes to see him in a distraught state of mind because his wife Ninotchka, who for once hadn’t gone out the previous evening but had spent it with Pavel, had become furious with him when Pavel read to her a letter from a certain Katya during his college days. Pavel has come to ask the narrator to go and see Ninotchka to smooth things over, and the narrator obliges him most effectively. (1,650 words) [10]

10. THE BALLROOM PIANIST (1885) A pianist comes back to his roommate’s flat at two a.m., and to explain why he’d come back from a wedding so early he recounts his encounter with a clever girl who had talked about music with him until another lady came whispered in her ear that he wasn’t really a well-dressed young man but just a pianist, which abruptly ended the conversation. (1,800 words) [11]

11. A CYNIC (1885) It’s noon-hour at the zoo and the crowd has come to hear the guide, who’s already tipsy, take them around, at first amusing them by his cynical remarks about the lost freedom of the lion and wild-cat and then about the sadness of the monkey and the gazelle. When he finally waxes philosophical about the fate of a rabbit that he brings out to feed to a boa constrictor the audience intervenes – but they still come back for more. (1,400 words) [12]

12. NOTHING TO BE DONE! (1886) Nikolai gets up in the middle of his after-dinner nap and surprises his wife with Vanya, his children’s tutor, in a compromising position. The young fellow rushes out and shortly afterwards Nikolai tells him that they can’t continue to live under the same roof and that he’ll go away and leave Vanya with his wife and children. V. is rather taken aback by the proposal. (1,900 words) [13]


An e-book is available for downloading below.



1. THE CONFESSION

The day was clear and frosty. My heart felt at ease, like a coachman who by mistake has been given a gold piece instead of two kopecks. I wanted to cry, and laugh, and pray... I felt like I was in sixteenth heaven: I was a human being who’d become a treasurer! I wasn’t happy because it was now possible to steal – I wasn’t a thief then and I would have crushed someone who told me that I would steal in time... I was happy about something else: a promotion and an insignificant increase in salary – that’s all.

However, I was pleased by another circumstance. When I became a treasurer I immediately felt something like rose-colored glasses on my nose. It suddenly seemed to me that people had changed. Honestly! Everyone seemed to get better. Freaks became handsome, evil people good, proud people humble and misanthropes philanthropists. I seemed to brighten up. I saw in people wonderful qualities that I hadn’t suspected before. "Weird!” I said to myself, looking at the people and rubbing my eyes. “Either something happened to them, or I was stupid before and didn’t notice all those qualities. How delightful, what lovely people!"

On the day of my appointment, Z. N. Kazusov, one of the members of our board, a proud, arrogant man who ignored the small fry, also changed. He came up to me and – what had happened to him? Smiling softly, he began to pat me on the shoulder.

“You are too proud, my friend, beyond your years,” he said to me. “Thant’s not good! Why don’t you ever come to visit me? That’s wrong, sir! Young people are coming over, it’s going to be fun. My daughters keep asking me: ‘Why don’t you call Grigory Kuzmich, daddy? Because he’s so cute! Are you going to drag him along?’ Well I say, ‘I’ll try, I’ll invite him...’ Don’t hesitate, my friend, come on over!”

Marvelous! What’s happened to him? Has he gone crazy? He was a cannibal and suddenly... he comes over to you!

When I came home that day I was amazed. My mother didn’t serve two courses at dinner as usual, but four. In the evening she served jam and rich bread for tea. The next day four dishes again, again jam. There were guests and they drank chocolate. The same thing on the third day.

“Mom!” I said. “What’s wrong with you? Why are you so generous, dear? After all, my salary wasn’t doubled. My allowance is empty.”

Mom looked at me in surprise.

“Hmm. What are do you doing with all your money?” she asked. “Are you saving it?”

Damn them! Dad ordered a fur coat, bought a new hat, began to be treated with mineral waters and grapes – in winter! And five days later I received a letter from my brother. He never could stand me. We’d broken up because of our convictions: he thought that I was an egoist and a parasite, that I didn’t know how to sacrifice myself, and he hated me for that. The letter read as follows: "Dear brother! I love you, and you cannot imagine what hellish torment our quarrel has given me. Let’s make up! Let’s stretch our hands out to each other, and let peace prevail! I beg you! In anticipation of an answer, I remain your loving, kissing and hugging Eulampius."

Oh my dear brother! I replied that I kissed him and rejoiced. A week later I received a telegram from him: “Thank you, I’m happy. Send me a hundred rubles. Much needed. Embracing you, E." I sent him a hundred rubles...

Even my girl has changed! Before she didn’t love me. When I once dared to hint to her that something was troubling my heart, she called me impudent and snorted in my face. When she met me a week after my appointment, she smiled, made dimples on her face and became all embarrassed...

“What’s happened to you?” she asked, looking at me. “You’ve improved so much! How did you do that? Let’s go dancing...”

My sweetheart! A month later, her mother was already my mother-in-law: I’d become so handsome! I needed money for the wedding, and I took three hundred rubles from the cash register. Why not take it if you know that you’ll put back when you get paid? By the way, I also took a hundred rubles for Kazusov...

He asked for a loan... It was impossible not to give it to him. He’s our tycoon and can drive one away at any time... (The editor, finding that the story was somewhat long, crossed out, to the detriment of the author’s dividend, eighty-three lines in this very place.)

..............

A week before the arrest I gave them an evening, at their request. To hell with them, let them munch and eat if they want! I didn’t count how many people I had that evening, but I remember that all my nine rooms were full of people. There were seniors and juniors... There were also those before whom even Kazusov himself bent into an arc. Kazusov’s daughters (the older one is mine) were dazzling in their outfits... The jewellery alone that covered them cost me more than a thousand rubles! It was a lot of fun... Music blared, chandeliers sparkled, champagne flowed... Long speeches and short toasts were made... One newspaperman brought me an ode, and another a ballad...

“We in Russia don’t know how to appreciate people like Grigory Kuzmich!” Kazusov shouted over dinner. “It’s a pity! Pity Russia!”

And all those people shouting, giving compliments and kissing, whispered and shook their noses at me when I turned away... I saw smiles, I heard sighs...

“You stole it, you bastard!” they whispered, grinning wickedly.

Neither smiles nor sighs prevented them however from eating, drinking and enjoying themselves...

Wolves and diabetics don’t eat the way they ate... My wife, glittering with diamonds and gold, came up to me and whispered:

“They say you… stole! If that’s true, then… beware! I can’t live with a thief! I’ll leave!”

She said that and straightened her five-thousand-rouble dress... The devil will understand them! That same evening Kazusov took five thousand from me... Eulampy borrowed the same amount...

“If they’re whispering the truth,” my big brother told me, putting money in his pocket, “then… beware!” I can’t be a thief’s brother!”

After the ball, I took them all in troikas out of town...

It was six o’clock in the morning when we’d finished... Exhausted from wine and women, they got into the sleigh to go back... When the sleigh started, they shouted goodbye to me:

“Tomorrow again!... Merci!”

Gracious sovereigns and gracious ladies! I’ve been caught... I’ve been caught, or, to put it more bluntly: yesterday I was decent, honest and praised by all, but today I’m a swindler, a cheat, a thief... Shout now, scold, bellow, bewail, judge, reject, write editorials, throw stones, only... please, not everything! Not everything!


2. THE ONLY WAY

There was a time when cashiers robbed our Society too. It’s scary to remember! They didn’t just steal, but literally stripped our poor cash register. The inside of the register was upholstered in green velvet – and the velvet was stolen. And one man got so carried away that he stole the lock and lid along with the money. Over the last five years we’ve had nine cashiers, and all nine now send us their business cards on major holidays from Siberia. All nine!
"It’s terrible! What to do?" we sighed when we put the ninth one on trial. "Shame, shame! All nine are scoundrels!”
So we began to think and think: who should be taken on as cashier? Who isn’t a scoundrel? Who’s not a thief? Our choice fell on Ivan Petrovich, the assistant accountant: he’s quiet, God-fearing and lives like a pig, most uncomfortably. We chose him, blessed him to fight temptations and to be calm, but... not for long!
The very next day Ivan Petrovich turned up in a new tie. On the third day he arrived at the office in a coach, something that he’d never done before.
"Did you notice?" we whispered a week later. "A new tie... A pince-nez... He invited me to a birthday party yesterday. There’s something... He prays to God more often... He must have a guilty conscience...”
We reported our doubts to His Excellency.
"Will the tenth one turn out to be a rascal too?" our director sighed. "No, it’s impossible... The man’s so moral, so quiet... However... let’s go and talk to him!”

We approached Ivan Petrovich and surrounded his cash register.
"Excuse me, Ivan Petrovich,” he director turned to him in a pleading voice. "We trust you... We trust you! Well, yes... But, you know... Allow me to revise the cash register! Let me do it!”
"Certainly sir! very good, sir!" the cashier replied. "As much as you like!”
They started counting. They counted and counted and they came up short by four hundred roubles... This one too? The tenth! It’s terrible! That’s the first thing, and secondly if he’s eaten up so much money in a week how much will he steal in a year, in two?” We were stunned with horror and amazement, despair... What to do? Well, what? Put him on trial? No, that’s old and useless. The eleventh will steal too, and the twelfth... You can’t put them all on trial. Should we beat him up? You can’t, he’d be offended... Expel him and call for another in his place? But the eleventh will steal too. What can we do? The red-haired director and all the others looked at Ivan Petrovich, leaning against the yellow bars and thinking... We were thinking, racking our brains and suffering... And he sat there nonchalantly snipping at the accounts as if he hadn’t stolen from them... We were silent for a long time.
"Where did you put the money?" Finally our director turned to him with tears and trembling in his voice.
"For my needs, Your Excellency!”
"Hm... For your needs... Very well! Silence! I’ll tell you...”
The director strode across the room and continued:
"What to do? How to guard against such... worshippers of money? Gentlemen, why are you silent? What to do? We can’t whip him, the rascal! (the director hesitated.) Listen, Ivan Petrovich... You can have that money, we don’t want to be ashamed of the publicity, to hell with you, but frankly, without equivocation... Do you like the female sex, or not?”
Ivan Petrovich smiled and became embarrassed.
"Well, I see,” said the director. "Who doesn’t love them? It’s understandable... We all are sinners... We all long for love, some... philosopher said... We understand you... I’ll tell you what... If you love so much, I’ll give you a letter to one... She’s pretty... Go to her on my account. Would you like that? I’ll give you a letter to another... I’ll give you a letter to a third... All three are pretty, speak French... are chubby... Do you like wine too?”
"There are all kinds of wines, Your Excellency... Lisbon wine, for example, I won’t take in my mouth... Each drink, Your Excellency, has its own meaning...”
"Don’t argue... I’ll send you a dozen champagnes every week. Eat all you like, but don’t waste the money, don’t embarrass us! I’m not ordering you, I’m begging you! You like the theatre too, don’t you?”
And so on... In the end we decided that in addition to the champagne, we would buy him a seat in the theatre, triple his wages, buy him oxen and send him out of town every week in a troika, all on the company’s account. A tailor, cigars, photography, bouquets for the beneficiaries, furnishings will also be provided... Let him enjoy himself, only, please, let him not steal! Let him do what he likes, but not to steal!

And so? It’s been a year since Ivan Petrovich sat down behind the cash register, and we can’t get enough of our cashier. He doesn’t steal... However he always omits 10-15 rubles during the weekly check-up, but that’s not money, it’s nothing. Something has to be sacrificed to the cashier’s instinct. Let him gobble it up as long as he doesn’t touch the thousands. And now we’re doing well... Our cashbox is always full. True, the treasurer’s very expensive, but he’s ten times cheaper than each of his nine predecessors. And I can assure you that rare enterprises and banks have such a cheap treasurer! We are the winners, so you in power will be strange eccentrics if you don’t follow our example!


3. SENTIMENTALITY

The other day I invited the governess of my children, Yulia Vasilievna, to come to my office. I had to do the accounts.

"Sit down, Yulia Vasilievna!" I told her. “Let’s do the maths. You probably need money, but you’re so formal that you won’t ask yourself... Well,... We agreed on thirty rubles a month...”

"Forty...”

"No, thirty... I have it written down... I always pay governesses thirty. Well, you’ve lived here for two months...”

“Two months and five days...”

"Exactly two months... I have it written down. You should, then, have sixty roubles... Subtract nine Sundays... after all, you didn’t study with Kolya on Sundays, but just walked with him... yes, and there were three holidays...”

Yulia Vasilievna blushed and fiddled with a frill, but... not a word!

“Three holidays... Minus, therefore, twelve roubles... Kolya was sick for four days and there were no classes... You studied with Varya alone... For three days you had a toothache, and my wife permitted you not to give lessons in the afternoon... Twelve and seven – nineteen. Subtract... remains... um... forty-one roubles... Right?”

Yulia Vasilievna’s left eye turned red and filled with moisture. Her chin quivered. She coughed nervously, blew her nose, but – not a word!

"On New Year’s Eve you broke a teacup with a saucer. Take off two roubles... The cup cost more than that, it was an heirloom, but... God bless you! Where were we? Then, through your negligence, Kolya climbed a tree and tore his frock coat... Take off ten... The maid also stole Varya’s shoes due to your oversight.”

“You have to watch everything. You receive a salary. So, down with another five... On January 10, you got ten roubles from me...”

“I didn’t get them,” Yulia Vasilievna whispered.

“But I have it written down!”

"Well, let it be... all right.”

"From forty-one subtract twenty-seven – there will be fourteen...”

Both eyes filled with tears... Sweat broke out on a long, pretty nose. Poor girl!

“I only got something once,” she said in a trembling voice. “I got three rubles from your wife... I didn’t get anything else...”

"Oh yes? I haven’t even got that written down! Take three off of fourteen, there will be eleven... Here’s your money, my dear! Three... three, three... one and one... Take them!”

And I handed her eleven roubles... She took them and put them in her pocket with trembling fingers.

"Merci," she whispered.

I jumped up and walked around the room. I was overcome with anger.

"Why ‘merci’?” I asked.

"For the money…”

“But I robbed you, damn it, I robbed you! Because I stole from you! Why ‘merci’?”

"In other places they didn’t give me anything at all...”

"They didn’t? No wonder! I played a joke on you, I gave you a cruel lesson... I’ll give you all your eighty roubles! There they are in an envelope that I’ve prepared for you! But is it possible to be so timid? Why don’t you protest? Why are you silent? Is it possible in this world not to be sharp? Is it possible to be so sloppy?”

She smiled sourly, and I read on her face: “It is!”

I asked her forgiveness for the cruel lesson and gave her, to her great surprise, all eighty roubles. She timidly froze and went out... I looked after her and thought: it’s easy to be strong in this world!


4. THE TRIUMPH OF THE VICTOR

On Friday at Shrovetide everyone went to Alexei Ivanovich Kozulin’s house for pancakes. You don’t know Kozulin; to you he may be nothing, a zero, but to our brother, not soaring high under the heavens, he’s great, all-powerful and high-minded. All those who make up his footstool, so to speak, went to visit him. I went too, and so did my father.

The pancakes were so great that I can’t tell you, dear sir: plump, crumbly, and reddish. You take one, you dip it in hot oil, you eat it and another one pops into your mouth. The accoutrements, ornaments and compliments were: sour cream, fresh caviar, salmon and grated cheese. There was a sea of wine and vodka. After pancakes there was sturgeon soup and after soup there were partridges with gravy. We were so full that my father secretly unbuttoned the buttons on his belly and covered himself with a napkin so that no one would notice his liberalism. Alexey Ivanovich, as the boss to whom everything’s allowed, unbuttoned his waistcoat and shirt. After dinner, without getting up from the table, everyone lit up cigars with the permission of their superior and began a conversation. We listened while his Excellency Alexey Ivanovich spoke. The subjects were more and more of a humorous nature... The boss was telling us stories and evidently wished to appear witty. I don’t know if he said anything funny, but I remember my father poking me in the side every minute and saying: "Laugh!”

I opened my mouth wide and laughed. Once I even shrieked with laughter and got everybody’s attention.

"Very good!” Daddy whispered. “Well done! He looked at you and laughed... That’s good: perhaps, indeed, he’ll give you a position as an assistant clerk!”

"Y-yes indeed!” our chief Kozulin said, puffing and puffing. “Now we’re eating pancakes, the freshest caviar, and I’m caressing the lovely skin of my wife. And my daughters are so beautiful that not only you lowly brethren but even princes and earls stare at them and sigh. And the apartment, eh? Heh-heh-heh-heh... That’s the way it is! Don’t grumble, don’t complain until you’ve lived to the end! Everything happens, and all sorts of changes happen... You’re now, let’s say, a nonentity, a zero, a speck... a little raisin – and who knows? Maybe in time... you’ll take over human destinies like a whirlwind! Anything can happen!”

Alexey Ivanovich paused, shook his head and continued:

"And what was it like before, eh? My God! You don’t believe your memory. Without boots, in torn trousers, in fear and trembling... You used to work for one rouble for a fortnight. They wouldn’t give you the rouble, no! They crumpled it up and threw it in your face: ‘Eat it!’ Anybody could crush you, prick you, hit you... Anybody could embarrass you... When you went to report, look, there’s a little dog sitting at the door. You go up to that doggy and ask for a paw, just for a paw. Excuse me for passing by! Good morning! And the doggie comes at you: rrrr... the doorman elbows you, and you say: "There are no small ones, Ivan Potapych!... excuse me!" And most of all I endured various reproaches from this smoked whitefish, from this... crocodile! From this humble man, from Kuritsyn!”

And Alexey Ivanovich pointed to the small, hunched-up old man who was sitting beside my father. The old man was blinking his weary eyes and smoking a cigar in disgust. Normally he never smoked, but if his superiors offer him a cigar he finds it indecent to refuse. When he saw the finger pointed at him he got terribly embarrassed and twisted in his chair.

"I’ve suffered much at the mercy of that meek man!” Kozulin continued. “I was his first apprentice. I was brought to him, a humble, grey-haired, insignificant man, and put at his table. And he started to eat me... Every word was a sharp knife, every look was a bullet in the chest. Now he looks like a worm, a wretch, but before that! Oh Neptune! The heavens are open! He tormented me for a long time! I wrote for him, I ran to fetch pies, I mended his clothes, I took his old mother-in-law to the theatre. I did all sorts of favors for him. I learned to sniff tobacco! Well... And all for him... I don’t think that now I should have the snuffbox with me all the time in case he asks for it! Kuritsyn, remember? One day my dead mother came to him and asked him to let her son, that’s me, go to my aunt for two days to arrange her inheritance. How he pounced on her, how he stared at her, how he shouted: ‘Yes, he’s your lazybones, yes, he’s your parasite, but what are you talking about, you idiot!.. He’ll go to court!’ The old woman went home and fell ill, ill from fright, and almost died that time...”

Aleksey Ivanovich wiped his eyes with a handkerchief and drank a glass of wine.

"He was going to marry me to his slut but luckily I fell ill with fever and was in hospital for six months. That’s what it used to be like! That’s how we lived! And now? Pfoo! And now I’m... I’m over him... He takes my mother-in-law to the theatre, he gives me the snuffbox and smokes a cigar. Heh-heh-heh... I’ll pepper him... pepper! Kuritsyn!”

"What do you want?” Kuritsyn asked, standing up and standing up straight.

"Imagine a tragedy! I’m waiting!”

Kuritsyn drew himself up and frowned, raised his hand, made a face and sang in a hoarse, rattling voice:

"Die, treacherous one! I’m thirsty for blood!!”

We rolled with laughter.

"Kuritsyn! Eat a piece of bread with pepper on it!”

The well-fed Kuritsyn took a large piece of rye bread, sprinkled it with pepper and chewed it with loud laughter around him.

"There are all sorts of changes,” continued Kozulin. “Sit down, Kuritsyn! When we get up you’ll sing something... You then, and now me... Yes... And so the old woman died... Yes...”

Kozulin stood up and swayed...

"And I’m silent, because I’m small and gray...Torturers... Barbarians... And now for that I... Heh-heh-heh... You! You! I’m talking to you, you stupid boy!”

And Kozulin jabbed his finger at my father.

"Run around the table and sing cock-a-doodle-doo!”

My father smiled, blushed pleasantly, and scurried around the table. I followed him.

"Cock-a-doodle-doo!” we both bellowed and ran faster.

I ran and thought:

"I’m going to be an assistant clerk!"


5. A CONVERSATION

People of both sexes were sitting in easy chairs, eating fruit and, having nothing to do, were criticizing doctors. They decided that if there weren’t any doctors in this world at all it would be wonderful; at least people wouldn’t get sick and die so often.

“However, gentlemen, sometimes... however...” the frail little blonde finally spoke up, eating a pear and blushing. “Sometimes doctors are useful… One can’t deny their usefulness in some cases. In family life, for example. Imagine that the wife... Is my husband here?”

The blonde looked around at the interlocutors and, making sure that her husband wasn’t in the living room, she continued:

“Imagine that a wife, for whatever reason, doesn’t want, let’s say, he... doesn’t dare to approach her... Imagine that she can’t, in a word... love her husband, because... in a word, she’s given herself to another... beloved creature. Well, what do you want her to do? She goes to the doctor and asks him to... find the reasons... The doctor goes to her husband and tells him that if... in a word, you understand me. Pisemsky [14] even has something of the sort... The doctor comes to her husband and, in the name of his wife’s health, orders him to give up his marital duties... Vous comprenez? [15]

“But I have nothing against those gentlemen,” said an old man, an official who was sitting to the side. “They are the dearest and, I can assure you, the smartest people! They are our benefactors, if you look into it. Judge for yourselves, my ladies... You, madam, have just spoken about marital duties, and I will tell you about our duties. We, too, after all, love peace of mind and lust of the soul, so that everything goes well. I know my duties, but if for example you ask your Excellency for something over and beyond your duties, then excuse me, sir, that’s not acceptable. Our peace is also dear to us... Do you know our general? A soulful man! Good-hearted! Everything he does can be said to be spiritual. And he won’t offend you, he’ll give you a hand, he’ll ask about the family... He’s the chief, but he behaves like an equal to you. He tells jokes, all sorts of jokes and anecdotes... He’s like a father, in a word, in short. But three times a year there’s a change in this great man. He changes! He becomes completely different and... God forbid! He likes, you know, to introduce reforms... That’s his line, the idea as the socialists say. And when three times a year he begins to introduce reforms then don’t go near him! He’s like a tiger or a lion! He walks about all red, sweaty and trembling, he says that he has no one of any use. We all then become pale and... die of horror. And he keeps us in service until late at night, we write, we run, we dig into the archives, we find references... God forbid, and I wouldn’t wish it on an evil Tatar! It’s better in Hell! And the other day he was crying that he was misunderstood, that no one really helped him... He was crying, sirs! Is it nice to see your boss cry?”

The old man fell silent and turned away so as not to show the tears glistening in his eyes.

"What do doctors have to do with it?" the blonde asked.

“What do they it have to do with it?... Wait a minute... As soon as we notice, therefore, that this revolution is beginning, we go to see the doctor: “Ivan Matveich, my dear! Benefactor, dear father, help us out! You’re our only hope. Do God’s mercy and send him abroad! This is no way to live... Well, sir... The doctor’s such a glorious old man... It’s known that he himself was in submission and tasted all its sweetness. He goes to our chief, verifies... ‘The liver,’ he says, ‘isn’t right… Something’s not right there, Your Excellency... You should,’ he says ‘go abroad, take the waters...’ Well, he scares him with his liver, and he’s afraid of diseases, you know, he’s... Now he’s abroad, and the reforms – bye-bye! That’s it!”

"But if a juror, let’s say...” began the merchant. “To whom should you go, if...”

After the merchant, an elderly lady began to speak, whose son had recently nearly joined the military.

And doctors began to be praised; they said that it was impossible without them, that if there were no doctors in this world it would be terrible. And in the end they decided that if there were no doctors then people would get sick and die much more often.


6. THE GUARDIAN

I overcame my timidity and entered General Shmygalov’s office. The General was sitting at his desk, playing caprice de dames solitaire.

"What do you want, my dear?” he asked me kindly, and nodded at a chair.

"I’m here, Your Excellency, on business," I said, sitting down and buttoning my cloak for some unknown reason. “I’ve come to you on private business, not official business. I’ve come to ask you for the hand in marriage of your niece, Varvara Maximovna.”

The General slowly turned his face towards me, looked at me attentively and dropped his cards on the floor. He pursed his lips for a long time and then spoke:

"Are you... out of your mind? Have you gone mad? Have you gone mad, I ask you? Have you... dared?” he hissed, turning fierce. “Do you dare, you little boy, you little brat! You dare to joke... my God!”

And stomping his foot, Shmygalov shouted so loudly that even the windows trembled.

"Get up! You forget who you’re talking to! Please go away and don’t show your face to me! Get out! Out!”

"But I want to get married, Your Excellency!”

"You can get married elsewhere, but not with me! You’re not old enough yet for my niece,by God! You’re no match for her! Neither your fortune nor your social position give you the right to make such a... proposal! It’s impertinence on your part! I forgive you, boy, and ask you not to trouble me again!”

"Hmm... You’ve sent five suitors off this way... Well, you won’t be able to send off a sixth. I know the reason for these rejections. I give you my honest and noble word that if I marry Varya, I won’t ask you for a penny of the money you’ve squandered as Varya’s guardian. You have my word!”

"Repeat what you said!”uttered the General, in a somewhat unnatural, cracking voice, and stooping down and galloping towards me like an annoyed goose. “Say it again! Say it again, you wretch!”

I said it again. The general grew red-faced and panted.

"That’s all I need!” he rattled, running and raising his hands in the air. “I haven’t had enough of my subordinates inflicting terrible, indelible insults on me in my own house! My God, what have I lived to! I’m... sick!”

"But I assure you, Your Excellency! Not only will I not demand anything but I won’t even breathe a word to you about the fact that you’ve squandered Varya’s money out of weakness of character! And I’ll order Varya to keep quiet! Honestly! Why are you getting so boisterous, breaking the chest of drawers? I won’t put you on trial!”

"Some young boy, a pauper... a pauper... dares to say such vile things to my face! You will step outside, young man, and remember that I’ll never forget it! You’ve insulted me terribly! But... I forgive you! You said such insolence out of your own stupidity... Oh, don’t you dare touch my table with your fingers, damn you! Don’t touch the cards! Go away, I’m busy!”

"I’m not touching anything! What are you making up? I give you my word of honor, General! You have my word that I won’t even hint at it! And I forbid Varya to demand anything from you! What more do you want? You’re an odd man. You squandered the ten thousand her father left her... So? Ten thousand isn’t much money... It can be forgiven...”

"I haven’t squandered anything! Yes, I’ll prove it to you. I’ll prove it to you! I’ll prove it to you!”

The general pulled out a drawer of the table with trembling hands and, red as a lamb, began to leaf through the papers. He leafed through them for a long time, slowly and without purpose. The poor man was terribly agitated and embarrassed. Fortunately for him the footman came in and reported that lunch had been served.

"Well... I’ll prove it to you after lunch!” muttered the general, hiding the papers. “Once and for all... to avoid gossip... Just let me have my lunch... you’ll see! Some kid, for God’s sake... a milk-drinker, a ballerina... the milk’s still on your lips... Go and have your lunch! After lunch... you...”

We went to lunch. During the first and second courses, the General was angry and frowning. He was salting his soup with exasperation, growling like distant thunder and moving loudly in his chair.

"Why are you so angry today?” Varya remarked to him. “I don’t like you when you’re like this... for sure...”

"How dare you say you don’t like me!” the General snapped at her.

During the third and final course, Shmygalov took a deep breath and blinked his eyes. His face was filled with an expression of being bruised, broken down... He seemed so unhappy, so offended! His forehead and nose were drenched in sweat. After lunch the General invited me into his study.

"My little dove," he began, not looking at me and fiddling with my coat-tail. “Take Varya, I agree... You’re a good, kind man... I agree... Bless you... she and you are my angels... Forgive me if I scolded you here before lunch... I was angry... I did it for love... Fatherly love... But I didn’t spend ten thousand, I spent sixteen... I lost the money Aunt Natalya left her too... I lost it... Let’s have some champagne... Do you forgive me?”

And the general stared at me with his grey eyes, ready to weep and rejoicing at the same time. I forgave him another six thousand and married Varya.

Good stories always end with a wedding!


7. FROM THE MEMORIES OF AN IDEALIST

On May 10th I took twenty-eight days leave, begged our treasurer for a hundred rubles in advance, and resolved to "live" at all costs, to live my life to the fullest, so that for the next ten years I could live only on my memories.

Do you know what it means to "live" in the best sense of the word? It doesn’t mean going to a summer operetta at the theatre, eating dinner and returning home tipsy in the morning. It doesn’t mean going to an exhibition and from there to the races and turning your wallet out at the sweepstakes. If you want to live, then you get in a coach and head for a place where the air smells of lilacs and cherry-trees and where lilies of the valley and night-beauties are in full bloom, caressing the eye with their soft whiteness and the sparkle of diamond-coloured dewdrops. There, out in the open, under the blue vault in sight of green woods and cooing brooks, in the company of birds and green beetles, you’ll understand what life really is! Add to that two or three meetings with a wide-brimmed hat, quick eyes and a white apron... I confess that I dreamt of all that when, with my holiday in my pocket, blessed with the bounty of the treasurer, I settled in the dacha.

I’d chosen the dacha, on the advice of a friend, from Sophia Pavlovna Knigina who rented out a spare room in her dacha with a table, furniture and other conveniences. The hiring of the dacha was arranged sooner than I could have imagined. Having arrived in Pererva and found the Knigina dacha, I remember I went up to the terrace and... was embarrassed. The terrace was cosy, lovely and delightful, but even lovelier and (let me put it this way) cosier was a full-bodied young woman sitting at the table on the terrace and drinking tea. She squinted her eyes at me.

"What can I do for you?”

"Excuse me, please..." I began. “I... I must be in the wrong place... I’m looking for the Knigina dacha...”

"I’m Knigina... What do you want?”

I was lost... By landlords and housekeepers I’m used to thinking of old people, rheumatic people smelling of coffee grounds, but here... ‘Save us, oh cherubs of heaven!’ as Hamlet said, sat a wonderful, magnificent, marvellous, charming person. Stammering, I explained what I wanted.

"Oh, how nice! Sit down, please! Your friend has already written to me. Will you have some tea? Would you like cream or lemon?”

There’s a breed of women (usually blondes) with whom it takes just two or three minutes to make you feel at home, as if you’ve known each other for a long time. That was exactly what Sophia Pavlovna was like. When I’d had my first drink I already knew that she wasn’t married, was living on the interest from her capital and that she was expecting her aunt to visit her. I knew the reasons that had led her to rent out a room. In the first place it was hard to pay one hundred and twenty roubles for a dacha and in the second it was somehow frightening: what if a thief got in at night, or a frightful man came in during the day! And there’s nothing wrong with having a single lady or gentleman living in a corner room.

"But a man is better!” the landlady sighed, licking the jam off her spoon. “With a man there’s less hassle and less fear...”

In a word, after an hour Sophia Pavlovna and I were already friends.

"Ah, yes!" I remembered as I took my leave. “We’ve talked about everything, but not a word about the main thing. How much will you charge me? I’ll only be staying with you for twenty-eight days... dinner, of course... tea and other things...”

"Well, that’s certainly something to talk about! Give me as much as you can... I’m not letting out a room on the basis of calculation, but so... so that there are more people... Can you give me 25 roubles?”

I agreed of course, and my life in the country began... That kind of life is interesting because one day’s like another, one night like another night and – how much beauty there is in that monotony, what days, what nights! Reader, I was so happy, I could have embraced you! I woke up in the morning and drank my cream tea, not thinking of the service.

At eleven I would go to the landlady’s to wish her good morning and to have coffee with heavy cream. From coffee until lunchtime we chatted. At two o’clock there was lunch, but what a lunch! Imagine yourself, hungry as a dog, sitting down at the table, grabbing a large glass of wine and eating hot corned beef and horseradish. Then imagine a kvass dish with various herbs and finely chopped meat or fish, or green cabbage soup with sour cream, etc. etc. After dinner you have a quiet rest, reading a novel, jumping up every minute because your landlady every now and then looks in at you at the door and "lie down, lie down!"... Then you have a bath. In the evening and into the night a walk with Sofia Pavlovna... Just imagine that in the evening, when everything’s asleep except the nightingale and the heron crying out from time to time, when the faintly breathing breeze brings to you the sound of a distant train, you’re walking in a forest or along a railway embankment with a full-blown blond girl who coquettishly shrugs off the evening chill and every now and then turns her moon-pale face up to you... It’s terribly good!”

Less than a week later something happened that you’ve long been expecting from me, reader, and without which no decent story can do... I couldn’t resist... My explanations to Sophia Pavlovna were listened to with indifference, almost coldly, as though she’d long been expecting them, but she made a sweet grimace on her lips as if wishing to sat: "What’s there to talk about? I don’t understand!”

Twenty-eight days flew by like a second. When my holiday was over, I was yearning and unsatisfied as I was saying goodbye to the dacha and to Sophia. My hostess sat on the sofa and wiped her eyes as I packed my suitcase. I, almost crying myself, comforted her, promising to visit her at her dacha on holidays and to see her in winter in Moscow.

"Ah... when are we going to settle accounts with you, my soul?” I remembered. “How much do I owe you?”

"Sometime afterwards..." my ‘soul’ uttered, sobbing.

"Why afterwards? Friendship is friendship, but money isn’t, as the proverb says, and besides, I don’t want to live on your account. Don’t be upset, Sophia... How much do I owe you?”

"It’s... nothing..." she said, sobbing and pulling open a drawer in the table. “You could have paid me later...”

Sophia looked through the drawer, took out a piece of paper and handed it to me.

"Is it the account?” I asked. “Well, that’s fine... fine... (I put my glasses on)... we’ll settle up then, that’s fine... (I ran over the bill). Total... Wait, what’s that? Total... That’s not it, Sophia! It’s 212 roubles and 44 kopeks. That’s not my account!”

"It’s yours, Dudochka! Look at it!”

"But... where did it come from? For the cottage and the table, 25 roubles. I agree... For the servants 3 roubles. Well, I’ll take that, too...”

""I don’t understand, Dudochka," said the landlady, looking at me with tearful eyes. “Don’t you believe me? Count it up in that case! You drank the wine... I couldn’t serve you vodka for the same price for your dinner! Cream for tea and coffee... then strawberries, cucumbers, cherries... About the coffee too... You didn’t just agree to drink it, you drank it every day! However, all that’s such a trifle, that I can take off 12 roubles for you, certainly. I’ll let you have it for only 200.”

"But... there’s 75 rubles here, and it’s not marked for what... What’s it for?”

"What for? That’s nice!”

I looked into her face. It looked so sincere, clear and surprised, that my tongue couldn’t utter a single word. I gave Sophia a hundred roubles and a bill of exchange for the same amount, loaded my case on my shoulders and headed for the railway station.

Is there anyone, gentlemen, who has a hundred roubles to lend me?


8. BRIDEGROOM AND DAD

"I hear you’re getting married!” Petr Petrovich Milkin was approached by one of his acquaintances at a country ball. “When are you going to celebrate your bachelor party?”

"What makes you think I’m getting married?” Milkin flared up. "What fool told you that?”

"Everybody says so, and you can tell by everything... There’s no need for secrecy, my dear fellow... You think we know nothing, but we can see right through you and we know you! You spend all day at the Kondrashkins’, eating and dining there, singing romances... You only go out with Nastya Kondrashkina, carrying bouquets to her alone... We can see everything! Kondrashkin-papa himself met me the other day and told me that your affair’s in the bag, that as soon as you go back from your dacha into town you’ll get married right away... Well? God bless you! I’m not as happy for you as I am for Kondrashkin himself... The poor man has seven daughters! Seven! Is it a joke? If only God had brought just one...”

"Damn it..." thought Milkin. "This is the tenth one to talk to me about marrying Nastenka. And from what in hell have they concluded all that! Just because I have lunch at the Kondrashkins’ every day and go out with Nastenka... No, it’s time to stop all this talk, or else they’ll marry me, heaven forbid!.. I’ll go and talk to that fool Kondrashkin tomorrow, so that he won’t get his hopes up, and – let’s go!"

The day after that conversation Milkin went into the study of the court counsellor Kondrashkin, feeling a little frightened and embarrassed.

"Peter Petrovitch!" the master greeted him. "How are we doing? Have you missed us, my angel? Nastenka will be here in a moment... She ran over to the Gusev’s for a minute...”

"I’m not really coming to see Nastasia Kirillovna," murmured Milkin, scratching his eye in embarrassment, "but to see you... I have to talk to you about something... I have something in my eye...”

"What are you going to talk about?" Kondrashkin blinked his eye. "Heh-heh-heh... Why are you so embarrassed, my dear? Ah, my dear man! What trouble there is with you, with youth! I know what you want to talk about! Heh heh heh... It’s about time...”

"As a matter of fact, in a way... the thing is, you see, I... I came to say goodbye to you... I’m leaving tomorrow...”

"What do you mean you’re leaving?" Kondrashkin asked, his eyes widening.

"Very simply... I’m leaving, that’s all... Allow me to thank you for your kind hospitality... Your daughters are so lovely... I shall never forget those moments that...”

"Allow me..." Kondrashkin was frowning. "I don’t quite understand you. Of course everyone has the right to leave... you can do whatever you like, but, my dear sir, you... you’re evading... It’s not fair!”

"I... I... I don’t know how I’m evading.”

"You’ve been coming here all summer, eating, drinking, encouraging, and sharpening my teeth with the girls from dawn to dawn, and suddenly, here you’re leaving!”

"I... I didn’t get any hopes up.”

"Of course you didn’t propose, but couldn’t you see where you were going with it? I had dinner every day with you, and with Nastya on hand all evening... Only bridegrooms have dinner every day, and if you weren’t a bridegroom, why would I feed you? No, it’s not fair! I don’t want to hear about it! You’d better propose, or else I’ll...”

"Nastasia Kirillovna is very nice... a good girl... I respect her and... I wouldn’t have wished for a better wife, but... we didn’t agree on our convictions and views.”

"Is that the reason?" Kondrashkin smiled." Is that all? My dear fellow, is it possible to find such a wife that thinks like her husband? Ah, well done, well done! Green, green! When she launches some theory, it’s like... it even makes you hot... Now you can’t see eye to eye, but when you live together all those rough edges will be smoothed out... You can’t drive on a road while it’s new, but when it’s been driven on a bit, then… with all my respects!”

"That’s true, but... I’m not worthy of Nastasia Kirillovna...”

"Worthy, worthy! That’s nothing! You’re a good lad!”

"You don’t know all my faults... I’m poor...”

"That’s nothing! You get your wages, and thank God...”

"I’m... a drunkard...”

"No, no, no, no!... I’ve never seen you drunk!" Kondrashkin waved his hands. "Young people can’t drink... When I was young, I drank too much myself. Can’t be without it...”

"But I’m on a binge. I have a hereditary vice!”

"I don’t believe it! Such a rose, and suddenly on a binge! I don’t believe it!”

"You can’t fool the devil!" thought Milkin." How he wants his daughters off his back!"

"Not only do I suffer from binge drinking," he continued aloud, "but I’m also endowed with other vices. Taking bribes...”

"My soul, who doesn’t take them? Heh-heh-heh-heh. Wow, you’re amazing!”

"And besides, I don’t have the right to marry until I know my fate... I’ve kept it from you, but now you must know everything... I’m... I’m on trial for embezzlement...”

"On trial?" Kondrashkin is dumbfounded. "Well, that’s... news... I didn’t know that. Really, you can’t get married until you know your fate... And how much have you embezzled?”

"One hundred and forty-four thousand.”

"Yes, that’s quite a sum! Yes, indeed, it smells like Siberia... A girl like that could be lost for a pittance. In that case there’s nothing to be done, God help you...”

Milkin sighed freely and reached for his hat…

"But," Kondrashkin went on, after thinking for a while, "if Nastenka loves you, she can follow you there. What kind of love is it if she’s afraid of victims? And besides, Tomsk province is fertile. Life’s better in Siberia than here. I’d go myself, if it weren’t for my family. You can make an offer!”

"What a stiff-necked devil!" thought Milkin. "He’d give his daughter away in marriage to a criminal just to get her off his shoulders.”

"But that’s not all..." he continued aloud. "I won’t be tried for embezzlement alone, I’ll be tried for forgery.”

"All the same! One punishment!”

"Ugh!”

"Why are you spitting so loudly?”

"Look, I haven’t told you everything... Don’t make me tell you the secret of my life... a terrible secret!”

"I don’t want to know your secrets! It’s nothing!”

"Not trifles, Kirill Trofimych! If you heard... if you found out who I am, you’d recoil... I’m... I’m a runaway convict!”

Kondrashkin recoiled from Milkin as if stung, and went petrified. He stood silent for a minute, motionless, and with eyes full of terror looked at Milkin; then he fell back in his chair and groaned:

"I didn’t expect that…" he mumbled. "Who I have warmed on my bosom! Go away! Go away, for God’s sake! May I never see you again! Oh!”

Milkin took his hat and, triumphant in his victory and headed for the door...

"Wait!" Kondrashkin stopped him."Why haven’t you been detained yet?”

"I live under another man’s name... It’s difficult to apprehend me...”

"Perhaps you’ll live so long before you die that no one will even know who you are... Wait a minute! Now you’re an honest man, you’ve long since repented... God be with you, by all means get married!”

Milkin broke into a sweat... There could be no further lies from a fugitive convict, and the only thing left was to flee in shame, without any motives for his flight... And he was about to dash out the door, when a thought flashed through his mind...

"Look, you don’t know everything yet!" he said. "I... I’m crazy, and marriage is forbidden to crazy people...”

"I don’t believe it! Crazy people don’t reason so logically...”

"Then you don’t understand, if that’s your reasoning! Don’t you know that many madmen are mad only at certain times, and in between they are no different from ordinary people?”

"I don’t believe it! Don’t tell me that!”

"In that case I’ll get a certificate from the doctor for you!”

"I’ll believe the certificate, but you won’t get one... You’re not crazy!”

"I’ll bring you the certificate in half an hour... Goodbye for now...”

Milkin grabbed his hat and ran out in a hurry. In five minutes he’d already entered the house of his friend Dr. Fityuev, but unluckily he reached him just when he was putting on his dressing gown after a little argument with his wife.

"My friend, I have a request to make of you." He said to the doctor. "Here’s the thing... They want to get their grips on me by all means... To escape that misfortune, I’ve devised making myself appear to be mad... Hamlet’s trick, in a way... If you’re mad, you see, you can’t marry... Be a good friend and give me a certificate that I’m mad!”

"Don’t you want to get married?" The doctor asked.

"I don’t want to get married at any price!”

"In that case I won’t give you a certificate," said the doctor, moving away. "Someone who doesn’t want to get married isn’t mad, on the contrary, he’s a clever man... But when you want to get married, then come back for a certificate... Then it’ll be clear that you’ve gone mad...”


9. NINOTCHKA

The door opened quietly, and my good friend Pavel Sergeyevich Vikhlenev, a young but old-fashioned and sickly fellow, came in. He’s stooped, long-necked and skinny, and on the whole unattractive, but his face is so simple, soft and blurred that every time I look at it I feel a strange urge to hold it in five fingers and feel all my friend’s soft-heartedness and soulful softness. Like all office workers he’s quiet, timid and shy, but this time he was also pale and agitated.

"What’s the matter with you?" I asked him, looking at his pale face and slightly trembling lips. "Are you ill, or have you fallen out with your wife again? You look awful!”

After a short pause and a cough Vikhlenev waved his hand and says:

"It’s me and Ninotchka again... what a situation! Such grief, my dear, that I didn’t sleep all night and, as you can see, I’m barely alive... The devil knows me! Other people never feel grief, they can take insults, losses and illnesses easily, but for me a trifle is enough to make me soft and emasculated!”

"But what happened?”

"Nothing... a little family drama. I’ll tell you, if you like. Last night my Ninotchka didn’t go anywhere, she stayed at home and wanted to spend the evening with me. I was delighted, of course. She usually goes out in the evening, but I’m only at home in the evenings, so you can judge how glad I was. However you’ve never been married and can’t judge how warm and comfortable you feel on coming home from work you find the one for whom you live... Ah!”

Vikhlenev described the charms of married life, wiped sweat from his forehead and continued:

"Ninotchka wanted to spend the evening with me... And you know how I am! I’m a dull, heavy, unintelligent fellow. What fun can you have with me? I’m always with my blueprints, my calculations and my documents. I can’t play games, I can’t dance, I can’t tell jokes... I can’t do anything, and Ninotchka, you must admit, is young and sociable... Youth has its rights... doesn’t it? I began to show her pictures and things, and told her a few things... It so happened that I remembered that I had some old letters in my desk, and there were some amusing ones among them. When I was a student I had some friends who were good at writing, they were beasts! You’d laugh your guts out if you read them. I took the letters out of my desk and let Ninotchka read them. I read her one letter, another, a third... and suddenly ’stop!’ In one of the letters, you know, I came across the phrase: ‘Compliments of Katya.’ For a jealous wife, such phrases are a sharp knife, and my Ninotchka is Othello in a skirt. She poured questions on my poor head: who’s this Katenka? Yes, who? Yes, why? I told her that Katenka was a kind of first love... something student, young, green, who shouldn’t be given any importance. Every young man has his Katenkas, I said... My Ninotchka wouldn’t listen! She imagined the devil and burst into tears. After the tears, she was hysterical. ’You,’ she screamed, ’are vile and disgusting! You hide your past from me! You must have some Katya now too,’ she screams, ’but you’re hiding it!’ I tried and tried to convince her, but it was no use... A man’s logic can never win over a woman’s. Finally, I apologized, on my knees... crawled and no matter what. So we went to bed hysterical: she in her room and I in my room on the sofa... This morning she wouldn’t look at me, sulked and cried. She promised to move in with her mother. And probably will, I know her character!”

"Well, that’s a nasty story.”

"I don’t understand women! Let’s admit that Ninotchka is young, moral and squeamish. She can’t help but be offended by such prose as Katenka’s. But is it so hard to forgive? I may be guilty, but I begged for forgiveness, on my knees! I even cried, if you want to know.”

"Yes, women are a great mystery.”

"My dear darling, you have a great influence over Ninotchka. She respects you and sees you as an authority. I beg you, go and see her, use all your influence and tell her how wrong she is... I’m suffering, my dear! If this story goes on for another day, I couldn’t bear it. Go, my dear!”

"But will it be convenient?”

"Why should it be inconvenient? You’ve been friends with her almost since childhood, she trusts you... Go, be a friend!”

Vikhlenev’s tearful pleas touched me. I got dressed and went over to his wife. I found Ninotchka doing what she likes to do: sitting on the sofa, her legs drawn up, squinting her pretty eyes at the air and doing nothing... She jumps off the sofa when she sees me, runs towards me... Then she looks round, quickly shuts the door and hangs onto my neck like a feather. (Let the reader not think that there’s a typographical mistake here... It’s been a year since I’ve shared conjugal duties with Vikhlenev.)

"What have you been up to again, you beast?" I asked Ninotchka, sitting her down beside me.

"What is it?”

"You’ve had a scene with your husband again! He’s been to see me today and told me all about Katenka.”

"Ah... that! So he found someone to complain to!”

"What’s the problem there?”

"It was nothing... I was bored last night... I was angry that I had nowhere to go, so I picked on his Katenka in frustration. I cried out of boredom, and how can you explain that while you’re crying to him?”

"But that, my dear, is cruel and inhuman. He’s nervous enough as it is, and you’re pestering him with your scenes.”

"It’s all right, he likes it when I’m jealous... Nothing can fool him like false jealousy... But let’s not talk about it... I don’t like it when you start talking about my wimpish husband... He bores me already... Let’s have some tea instead...”

"But stop torturing him... It’s pathetic to see him... He’s so sincere and honest about his marital happiness, and believes so much in your love, that it’s even creepy... You’ve got to get over yourself somehow, to caress him, lie to him... One word from you’s enough to make him feel in seventh heaven.”

Ninotchka pouted and frowned, but still, when Vihlenev came in a little later and timidly looked at my face, she smiled cheerfully and caressed him with her gaze.

"Just in time for tea!" she says to him. "You’re clever, you’re never late... Would you like it with cream or lemon?”

Vikhlenev, who had not expected such a greeting, was touched. He sensitively kissed his wife’s hand and embraced me, and that embrace was so awkward and out of place that Ninotchka and I both blushed...

"Blessed are the peacemakers!" the happy husband clucked merrily. "You’ve managed to persuade her. How? Because you’re a man of the world, you’ve socialized and you know all the intricacies of a woman’s heart! Ha-ha-ha! I’m a bear, I’m so clumsy! I have say something and I’m ten years old... I have to kiss a hand or something and I start whining! Ha-ha-ha!”

After tea, Vihlenev took me over to his office, where he took me by my lapels and muttered:

"I don’t know how to thank you, my dear! Believe me, I suffered so much, so much, and now I’m so happy, more than enough! It’s not the first time you’ve gotten me out of a terrible predicament. My friend, don’t say no to me! I have one thing... namely, a small locomotive that I made myself... I got a medal for it at the exhibition... Take it as a token of my gratitude... of my friendship... Do me the favor!”

I refused in every possible way, of course, but Vikhlenev is relentless and I had to accept his expensive present.

Days, weeks, months passed by... and finally the damned truth was revealed to Vikhlenev in all its ugly majesty. Having found out the truth by chance, he turned terribly pale, laid down on the sofa and stared dumbly at the ceiling... Not a single word was spoken. The pain of the soul had to be expressed by some kind of movement, and so he began to toss and turn painfully from side to side on his couch. His ragtag nature was confined to these movements.

A week later, having recovered a little from the news that had struck him, Vikhlenev came to see me. We were both embarrassed and didn’t look at each other... I started to spout nonsense about free love, conjugal selfishness and resignation to fate.

"That’s not what I mean..." he interrupted me meekly. "I understand all that very well. There’s no one to blame for feelings. But I’m interested in the other side of the case, the practical side. I don’t know anything about life, my dear fellow, and I’m a mess when it comes to rituals and the conditions of the world. You, my dear fellow, will help me. Tell me what to do for Ninotchka. Should she go on living with me, or would you think it best if she came to you?”

We had had a little talk and have come to this decision: Ninotchka will stay with Vichlenev, I’ll go and see her whenever I like, and Vichlenev will take the room in the corner where the store-room used to be. That room’s a little damp and dark, and is entered through the kitchen, but it’s a good place to shut oneself in and not be a spoke in anyone’s eye.


10. THE BALLROOM PIANIST

It’s two o’clock in the morning. I’m sitting in my room writing a piece of verse that I’ve been commissioned to write. Suddenly the door opens and my roommate Peter Rublev, a former student at the Conservatory, enters quite unexpectedly. Wearing a top hat and his fur coat wide open, he reminds me of Repetilov [16] at first, but then, as I study his pale face and his unusually sharp, inflamed eyes, the resemblance to Repetilov vanishes.

"Why are you back so early?" I ask. "It’s only two o’clock! Has the wedding ended already?"

My lodger doesn’t answer. He walks silently behind the partition, quickly undresses, and lies on his bed with a sniffle.

"Go to sleep, you jerk!" I hear him whisper after ten minutes. "Go to sleep, will you? If you don’t want to sleep, then... to hell with you!”

"Can’t sleep, Petya?" I ask.

"I don’t know... I can’t sleep... I’m laughing... I can’t sleep! Ha-ha!”

"Why are you laughing?”

"A funny story happened. That awful story just had to happen!”

Rublev comes out from behind the partition and sits down beside me laughing.

"Funny and... shameful..." he says, ruffling his hair. "I’ve never had such moments, my brother... Ha-ha... A first-class scandal! A high-society scandal!”

Rublev slaps his fist on the knee, jumps up and starts pacing barefoot on the cold floor.

"They nicked me in the neck!" he says. "That’s why I’m early.”

"Come on, there’s no need to exaggerate!"

"By heavens... They gave it to me in the neck really!”

I look at Rublev... His face is threadbare and shabby, but his entire appearance has preserved so much decency, such lordly pampering and propriety, that this rude "nicked in the neck" doesn’t fit his intelligent figure.

"A scandal of the first order... I walked home and laughed all the way. Oh, stop writing your nonsense! I’ll tell you about it, I’ll pour it all out, maybe then it won’t be so... funny!... Come on! It’s an interesting story... Listen... On the Arbat there’s Prisvistov, a retired lieutenant colonel, married to the daughter of Count von Krach... An aristocrat, then... He betroths his daughter to a merchant’s son, Eskimosoff... This Eskimosoff’s a parvenu [17] and a mauvais-genre [18], a pig all dressed up with bad manners, but the father and his daughter want to manger et boire [19], so there’s no time to speak of mauvais-genres. I went to Prisvistov’s today at nine o’clock. The streets were muddy, it was raining, it was foggy... I felt depraved, as usual.”

"Keep it short," I say to Rublev. "No psychology...”

"All right... I go to Prisvistov’s place... The young people and the guests are eating fruit after the wedding. Waiting for the dance, I go to my post – the piano – and sit down.”

"Ah, ah... you’ve come!" the master said to me. "Well, my dear, see that you play well, and most importantly – don’t get drunk!”

"I’m used to that kind of greeting, I’m not offended... Ha-ha... If you call yourself a beginner, get in the back... Isn’t that right? What am I? A ballroom pianist, a servant... a waiter who can play... Merchants have poked me and tipped me – and it doesn’t hurt at all! Well, with nothing to do before the dance I start playing a little so that, you know, my fingers get apart. I’m playing and a little later I hear, my brother, that someone is singing along behind me. I look around – a young woman! Standing behind me and looking touchingly at the keys. ’Excuse me, mademoiselle’ I said, ’I didn’t know I was being listened to!’ And she sighs and says, ’It was very nice!’ ’Yes,’ I said ’it’s nice... Do you like music?’ And we started talking... She was a talkative girl. I didn’t drag her by the tongue, she talked all by herself. ’What a pity that today’s young people aren’t into serious music,’ she said. I, a fool, a fool, I’m glad to be noticed... I still have that vile ego! I take, you know, the pose and explain the indifferent attitude of young people by the absence of aesthetic needs in our society... I’m so philosophical!”

"What’s the scandal?" I ask Rublev. "Have you fallen in love, or what?”

"You made that up! Love’s a scandal of a personal nature, but here, brother, it was something universal, something high-society... Yes! I was chatting with a young woman and suddenly I began to notice that something was amiss: some people sitting behind me were whispering... I heard the word "ballroom pianist" and giggling... So they were talking about me... What was the scandal? Had my tie become undone? I tried my tie – nothing... I ignored it, of course, and carried on talking... But the young lady was getting hot, she was arguing, getting all flushed... She was itching! She was so critical of the composers that you had to hold on to your hat! In Demon [20] the orchestration’s good but the motives are missing, Rimsky-Korsakov’s a drummer, Varlamov can’t create anything coherent and so on. Present-day boys and girls can barely play a scale, they pay a quarter each for a lesson but don’t mind writing musical reviews... My young lady goes on like that... I listen and don’t mind it... I love it when young, green people sulk and use their brains... Well, they keep muttering and muttering behind me... And what then? Suddenly a fat woman sails up to my lady friend, a woman of my mother’s or aunt’s breed, tall and scarlet, five metres in circumference... She doesn’t look at me and whispers something in her ear... Listen... The young lady blushes, clasps her cheeks and leaps away from the piano like a woman on fire... What’s the story? Oedipus the Wise, allow me! Well, I think that either the tuxedo on my back has burst or the girl had some kind of affair in the toilet, otherwise it’s hard to understand what was wrong. Just in case I went to the front room after about ten minutes to check my figure... I look at my tie, my tailcoat, the tralala... everything’s in place, nothing’s broken! Fortunately for me, brother, there was an old lady with a scarf in the hallway. She explained everything... If it hadn’t been for her, I would have remained in happy ignorance. ‘Our young lady can’t help her character,’ she was saying to a footman. ‘She saw a young man near the piano and started to talk to him like a real man... Talking and laughing, and the young man wasn’t a guest but a musician... What a joke! Thanks to Marfa Stepanovna, to whom I’d whispered, or else she would have gone walking hand in hand with him... Now I feel bad, but it’s too late now: I can’t take it back’... Well? What do you think?”

"That the girl’s stupid," I say to Rublev, "and the old woman’s stupid too. It’s not worth paying attention to...”

"I wasn’t paying attention... It’s only funny and nothing else. I’ve long been used to such incidents... Before it really hurt, but now I don’t care! The girl’s silly, young... I feel sorry for her! I sat down and start playing dances... There’s nothing serious there... I’m doing waltzes, monster caprices and rattling marches... If your musical soul is sick, go and have a drink, and you yourself will be enraptured by Boccaccio.”

"But where’s the scandal?”

"I’m fiddling with the keys and... not thinking of the girl... Laughing and nothing else, but... something’s picking at my heart! It’s as if a mouse was sitting under my stomach and gnawing on breadcrumbs... I don’t know why I feel sad and sick... I convince myself, I scold, I laugh... I sing along to my music, but it hurts my soul, but somehow it hurts... It twists in my chest, bites, chews and suddenly it comes into my throat, like... like a clod... I clench my teeth, wait, but it pulls away, then it starts again... What a commission! And, as if on purpose, I have the meanest thoughts in my head... I remember what a wretch I’ve turned out to be... I went to Moscow for two thousand versts, I wanted to be a composer and pianist, but ended up as a crooner... In fact, it’s natural... even ridiculous, but it makes me sick... I also think of you... I think of my roommate sitting there writing... Describing, the poor chap, sleeping vowels, bakery cockroaches, bad autumn weather... Describing things that have long since been described, chewed up and digested... I think and somehow, I pity you... I pity you to tears!... You’re a nice boy, you have soul, but you don’t have, you know, fire, bile, strength... no passion, and why you’re not a chemist or a cobbler but a writer, Christ only knows! I remembered all my loser friends, all those singers, artists, amateurs... All that had once been boiling, swarming, floating in the sky, and now... God knows what! I don’t know why I had such thoughts in my head! I chase them out of my head but my buddies keep coming back; I chase my buddies away, the girl keeps coming... I laugh at the girl, I put her down, but she won’t give me any peace... And what is it, I think, that’s a Russian man’s characteristic? While you’re free, studying or just loitering, you can have a drink with him, and pat him on the belly, and amuse yourself with his daughter... But as soon as you become more or less subordinate to him, you’re a cricket that should know better... I’m trying, you know, to stifle the thought, but my throat still starts to roll up and squeeze and squeeze... Eventually I feel liquid in my eyes, my Boccaccio breaks off and... everything goes to hell. The noble hall is rumbling with other sounds... Hysteria..."

"Liar!”

"By heavens..." says Rublev, blushing and trying to laugh. "What scandal? Then I feel that I’m being dragged into the hall... They’re putting on my coat... I hear the master’s voice: ‘Who got the pianist drunk? Who dared to give him vodka?’ In conclusion... in the neck... What’s the problem? Ha-ha... It wasn’t funny then, but it’s terribly funny now... terribly! A big guy... a big man, as tall as a fireplace, and suddenly he’s hysterical! Ha-ha-ha!”

"What’s so funny?" I ask, watching Rublev’s head and shoulders shake with laughter. "Petya, for God’s sake... what’s so funny? Petya! My pigeon!”

But Petya’s laughing and in his laughter I easily recognise hysteria. I start to fuss with him and I begin to regret that Moscow rooms don’t have water in the night...


11. A CYNIC

Noon. The manager of the Pichnau Brothers Zoo, the retired midshipman Yegor Shushin, is a very big man with a flabby, bruised face, wearing a dirty shirt and a greasy coat, and he’s already drunk. He swivels before the audience like the devil before mass, running and twisting, giggling and playing with his eyes, as if he were coquetting with his angular manners and unbuttoned buttons. When his big cropped head is full of wine fumes the audience loves him. Then every time he “explains” the beasts not simply, but in a new way that belongs to him alone.

"How do you explain them?" he asks the audience with a wink of his eye. "Simply or with psychology and ideas?”

"With psychology and ideas!”

Bene! [21] I begin! An African lion,” he says, swaying and looking mockingly at the lion sitting in the corner of the cage, blinking his eyes meekly, "is synonymous with power coupled with grace, the beauty and pride of fauna! Once, in the days of his youth, he captivated by his power and roars, he inspired terror in his neighbourhood and now... Ho-ho-ho... and now, you fool, you’re sitting in a cage... What, my brother lion? Sitting? Philosophizing? I bet when you were scouring the forest you knew where you were going… You thought that there was no stronger beast, that even the devil wasn’t your brother, but it turned out that stupid fate is stronger... even though it’s stupid, it’s stronger... Ho-ho-ho! Look where the devil came from Africa! You never dreamed you’d end up here! Me too, my brother, I’ve been carried by the devils! I’ve been in a gymnasium, in a chancellery, a surveyor, in a telegraph office, in a military office, in a pasta factory... and I don’t know where the hell I’ve been! In the end I ended up in a menagerie... in the stench... Ho-ho-ho!”

And the audience, infected by the sincere laughter of the drunken Shushin, cackles too.

"Apparently you want to be free!" he blinks an eye at the lion, smelling of paint and covered in multi-coloured grease stains.

"He can’t help it! If you let him out, he’ll come back to his cage. He’s reconciled. Ho-ho-ho... It’s time to die, lion, that’s what! What’s there to do, brother? You should just die! There’s nothing to wait for! What are you looking at? That’s right!”

Shushin leads the audience to the next cage where a wild cat is pounding on the bars.

"A wild cat! The progenitor of our vasekas and maruskas! Not even three months old when she was caught and put in the cage. Hisses, rushes about and glares, doesn’t allow you to come close. Day and night she scratches the bars, looking for a way out! A million, half my life, my children I’d give now just to get home. Ho-ho-ho... Well, what are you running around for, you fool? Why are you rushing about? You won’t get out of here! You’ll die, you won’t get out! You’ll get used to it, you’ll get reconciled! Not only will you get used to it, but you’ll lick your tormentors’ hands! Ho-ho-ho... Here, brother, it’s the same as in Dante’s hell: give up all hope!”

Shushin’s cynicism is beginning to irritate the audience little by little.

"I don’t see what’s so funny!" Remarks someone’s bass voice.

"He bares his teeth and doesn’t know why he likes to do it..." says a dry cleaner.

"This is a monkey!" continues Shushin, approaching the next cage. "A filthy animal! I know that he hates us and that he’d like to tear us to shreds, but he smiles and licks our hands! A beggar by nature! For a bit of sugar, he’ll worship his tormentor and play the buffoon... I don’t like them..."

"And this, I can tell you, is a gazelle!" says Shushin, leading the public to a cage where a small, skinny gazelle with large, weeping eyes is sitting. "This one’s ready! No sooner is she in the cage than the end is near: she’s in the last degree of consumption! Ho-ho-ho... Look: the eyes are quite human – they’re crying! That’s understandable. She’s young and beautiful... she wants to live! She should be out in the wild and sniffing at handsome males, but here she’s on dirty straw that smells of dogs and stables. It’s strange: she’s dying, but there’s hope in her eyes! What youth means, eh? It’s fun with you, with the young! It’s you who’s hoping in vain, mother! You’ll stretch out your legs with your hope. Ho-ho-ho...”

"Brother, don’t pester her with words..." says the dry cleaner, frowning. "It’s creepy!”

The audience isn’t laughing anymore. Only Shushin is laughing and snorting. The more sullen the audience becomes, the louder and sharper his laughter becomes. And everyone, for some reason, begins to notice that he’s ugly, dirty and cynical: hatred and spite appear in everyone’s eyes.

"And this is the crane himself!" Shushin persists as he approaches the crane standing near to one of the cages. ’I was born in Russia, I’ve been to the Nile where I’ve talked to crocodiles and tigers. My past was most brilliant...’ Look how thoughtful and concentrated he is! So busy thinking that he doesn’t notice anything... Dreams, dreams! Ho-ho-ho… ’I think I’ll blow everyone’s heads off, fly out the window and go into the blue, into the blue of heaven!’ And now in the blue sky there’s a string of cranes’s flying to warmer climes and cri... cri... cri… Oh, look, his feathers are ruffling! It means that in the middle of his dreams he remembered that his wings are clipped, and... horror seizes him, he’s in despair. Ho-ho-ho... An irreconcilable nature. He’ll always have his feathers sticking out till he’s dead. Irreconcilable and proud! And we, little crane, we don’t care that you’re irreconcilable! You’re proud and irreconcilable, but I’ll take you by the nose in public if I want to. Ho-ho-ho...”

Shushin takes the crane by the beak and leads him along.

"Don’t make fun of him!" voices are saying. "Leave it! What’s going on? Where’s the owner? How can they let a drunkard... torture animals?"

"Ho-ho-ho... What am I torturing them with?”

"With... with those, with those... jokes... Don’t!”

"You’re the one who asked me to do psychology... Ho-ho-ho...”

The people remember that they only came to the zoo for ’psychology’ and that they were impatiently waiting for the drunken Shushin to come out of his cubicle and begin his explanations, and to show some motivation for their anger they begin to complain about the bad food and cramped cells and so on.

"We feed them,” says Shushin, squinting mockingly at the audience. "Even now there’ll be feeding... have mercy!”

With a shrug he reaches under the counter and pulls out a small boa constrictor from underthe heated blankets.

"We feed them... You can’t! They’re actors: if you don’t feed them they freeze to death! Mister rabbit, viens ici! [22] please!”

A white, red-eyed rabbit appears on the stage.

"My respects!" Shushin says, wagging his fingers in front of its face. "I have the honour to introduce myself! I recommend Mr. Boa Constrictor, who wants to eat you! Ho-ho-ho... It’s unpleasant, brother? You wrinkle your nose? Well, it can’t be helped! It’s not my fault! If not today, then tomorrow... if not me, then someone else... whatever! Philosophy, brother rabbit! One minute you’re alive, sniffing the air, thinking, the next minute you’re a shapeless mass! There you go. And life, brother, is so good! God, it’s so good!”

"There’s no need to feed it up!" voices are heard. "That’s enough! No more!”

"It’s a shame!" Shushin continues, as if he can’t hear the audience’s murmurings. "A person, an individual, a whole life... has a female, kids and... and suddenly now – bang! There you go! What a pity, but what to do!”

Shushin takes the rabbit and laughingly puts it up against the boa constrictor’s mouth. But before the petrified rabbit is devoured, dozens of hands grab it. There’s a demand from the audience for the Society for the Protection of Animals. There’s shouting, waving of hands, banging. Shushin runs off laughing into his cubicle.

The public leaves the menagerie angry. They’re as sickened as if they’d swallowed a fly. But a day or two passes and the reassured regulars in the menagerie begin to feel drawn back towards Shushin, like they’re drawn towards vodka or tobacco. They once again crave his cockiness and his cold-blooded, back-stabbing cynicism.


12. NOTHING TO BE DONE!

Nikolai Andrejevich Kapitonov, a notary, had lunch, smoked a cigar and went to his bedroom to rest. He lay down, covered himself with muslin against mosquitoes and closed his eyes, but couldn’t fall asleep. The onions he’d eaten with the fish soup had given him so much heartburn that he couldn’t sleep.

"No, I can’t sleep tokay," he decided, turning from side to side five times. "I’m going to read the papers.”

Nikolai Andrejevich got out of bed, put on his dressing-gown and, without his stockings and shoes on, went to his study to get the papers. He had no idea that a sight awaited him in his study that was far more interesting than heartburn and newspapers!

When he crossed the threshold of the study a picture unfolded before his eyes: on the velvet couch, with her feet on the bench, his wife, Anna Semyonovna, a woman of thirty-three, lay half-lying, her posture relaxed and languid, like that in which Cleopatra of Egypt is usually painted poisoning herself with snakes. By her headboard, on one knee, stood the tutor of Kapitonov’s children, Vanya Shchupaltsev, a first-year engineering student, a pink, beardless boy of about 19-20 years old. The meaning of this "live "picture wasn’t difficult to understand: just before the notary’s entrance, the lips of the young man and the young woman had been joined in a long, lingering, searing kiss.

Nikolai Andrejevich stopped dead in his tracks, held his breath and waited to see what would happen next, but he couldn’t stand it and coughed. The tutor looked around at the sound of the cough and, seeing the notary, was dumbfounded for a moment and then flushed, jumped up and ran out of the study. Anna Semyonovna was embarrassed.

"Great! Lovely!" The husband began, bowing and spreading his arms out. "Congratulations! Lovely and splendid!”

"Nice of you to... to eavesdrop!" Anna Semyonovna muttered, trying to recover herself.

"Merci! Splendid!" The notary continued, grinning broadly. "All this, Mammy, is so good that I’m prepared to give a hundred roubles to see it again.”

"There was nothing at all... It just seemed so to you... It was silly even...”

"Yes, but who kissed?”

"Kissed, yes, but no more than that... I don’t even know where you made it up.”

Nikolai Andrejevich mockingly looked at the embarrassed face of his wife and shook his head.

"You wanted fresh cucumbers in your old age!" He said in a melodious voice. "You’re tired of belugas, so you longed for sardines. You shameless woman! What’s the matter? You’re at the age of Balzac’s novels? You can’t do anything about that! I understand! I understand and sympathize!”

Nikolai Andrejevich sat down by the window and drummed his fingers on the window sill.

"And from now on..." he yawned.

"Silly!" said Anna Semyonovna.

"’It’s bloody hot! You should have bought some lemonade or something. That’s right, Madam. I understand and I sympathize. All those kisses, ahs and sighs – yuck, it gives me heartburn! – that’s all well and good, but you shouldn’t embarrass the boy, mother. Yes. The boy’s good, good... a bright head, and worthy of a better fate. He should have been spared.”

"You don’t understand anything. The boy fell in love with me and I did him a favour... I let him kiss me.”

"Fell in love..." mocked Nikolai Andrejevich. "Before he fell in love with you you must have set him a hundred traps and mousetraps.”

The notary yawned and stretched.

"The astonishing thing," he grumbled, staring out of the window, "is if I kissed a girl as blamelessly as you do now, I’d be a villain, a seducer, a corrupter! And you Balzac ladies get away with it. Next time don’t put onions in your stew, you’ll get heartburn... Phooey! Look at your fag! The poor fellow ran away like he’d been scalded, without a backward glance. He imagines that I’m going to shoot him for a treasure like you. As quick as a cat, as cowardly as a rabbit. Wait, my little boy, I’ll give you something! You don’t run around like that with me!”

"No, please, don’t say anything to him!" Anna Semyonovna said. "Don’t swear at him, he’s not at all to blame.”

"I won’t swear at him, it’s only for fun.”

The notary yawned, took his newspaper and, picking up the flaps of his dressing-gown, staggered off to his bed-room. After an hour and a half of bedtime and having read the papers, Nikolai Andrejevich got dressed and went for a walk. He was walking about the garden, waving his cane merrily; but seeing Shchupaltsev in the distance he crossed his arms on his chest, frowned, and walked over like a provincial tragedian preparing to meet his rival. Shchupaltsev was sitting on a bench under the ash tree and, pale and trembling, was preparing himself for a difficult explanation. He was being brave and made a serious face but he was, as they say, cornered. On seeing the notary he turned even paler, took a heavy breath and humbly put his feet under him. Nikolai Andrejevich approached him from the side, stood silent for a moment and then, without looking at him, began:

"Surely, my gracious sovereign, you understand what I want to talk to you about. After what I’ve seen our good relations cannot last. No! My excitement prevents me from speaking, but... you’ll understand even without my words that you and I cannot live under the same roof. It’s you or me!”

"I see what you mean," muttered the tutor, breathing heavily.

"The cottage belongs to my wife, so you’ll stay here and I’ll go away. I didn’t come here to reproach you, no! Recriminations and tears won’t bring back what’s irrevocably lost. I’ve come to ask you about your intentions... (Pause)... Of course it’s not for me to meddle in your affairs, but you’ll agree that there’s nothing wrong in wanting to know about the fate of a much loved woman... the sort of thing that you might think of as interfering. Do you intend to live with my wife?”

"What do you mean by that?" The tutor was embarrassed, tucking his legs even more under the bench. "I... I don’t know. It’s all so strange!”

"I see that you’re evading a straight answer," grumbled the notary. "So I’ll tell you straight out: either you take the woman you’ve seduced and provide for her livelihood, or we’ll have to shoot it out. Love carries with it certain responsibilities, my good sir, and you, as an honest man, must understand that! I’m leaving in a week, and Anne and her family will come under your rule. I’ll give a certain sum for the children.”

"If Anna Semyonovna so wishes," he murmured, "then I, as an honest man, shall take it upon myself... but I’m poor! But...”

"You’re a noble fellow!" The notary exclaimed, shaking the hand of the tutor. "Thank you! At any rate I’ll give you a week to think about it. You think it over!”

The notary sat down next to the tutor and covered his face with his hands.

"But what have you done to me!" he groaned. "You’ve ruined my life... you’ve taken from me the woman I loved more than life itself! No, I can’t bear this blow!”

The young man looked at him for a long time and scratched his forehead. He was terrified.

"It’s your own fault, Nikolai Andreyevich!" he sighed. "One doesn’t cry about hair when one loses one’s head. Remember that you married Anna just for her money... And all her life you’ve misunderstood her, you’ve despised her... you flouted the purest, noblest impulses of her heart.”

"Did she tell you that?" Nikolai Andreyevich asked, suddenly withdrawing his hands from his face.

"Yes, she did. I know all about her life and... and believe me, I loved in her not so much a woman as a sufferer.”

"You’re a noble man..." sighed the notary rising up. "Farewell and be happy. I hope that everything that’s been said here will remain between us.”

Nikolai Andreyevich sighed once more and started walking towards the house.

Halfway home he met Anna Semyonovna.

"What, are you looking for your little boy?" he asked. "Go and see the sweat I’ve put him in! And you’ve already had time to confess to him! That’s your Balzac manner, by God! You can’t have beauty and freshness, so you came up with a confession, with pathetic words! You’ve lied through your teeth! And I married you for money, and I didn’t understand you, and I tyrannized you, and the devil, and the devil...”

"I didn’t tell him anything!" Anna Semyonovna burst out.

"Well, well... I understand, I’m getting into the situation. Don’t worry, I’m not reprimanding him. I only pity the boy! He’s so good, so honest, so sincere!”

When evening came and darkness covered the whole land, the notary went out for another walk. The evening was glorious. The trees were asleep and no storm seemed able to wake them from their young, springtime slumber. From the sky, struggling with sleep, the stars looked on. Somewhere outside the garden frogs croaked lazily and an owl squeaked. The short, piercing whistles of a distant nightingale were heard.

Nikolai Andreyevich, walking in the darkness beneath the broad lime-tree, suddenly bumped into Shchupaltsev.

"Why’re you standing there?" he asked.

"Nikolai Andreyevich!" began Shchupaltsev, his voice trembling with excitement. "I agree to all your terms, but... all this is very strange. Suddenly you’re unhappy, all of a sudden... suffering and saying that your life is broken...”

"Well, so what?”

"If you’re offended, then... then, though I don’t agree to a duel, I could give you satisfaction. If a duel would make you feel any better, then, please, I’ll do it... a hundred duels...”

The notary laughed and took the technician by the waist.

"Well, well... he will! I was only joking, my dove!" he said. "It’s all trifle and nonsense. That trashy, miserable woman isn’t worth your wasting good words and worrying about. That’s enough, young man! Let’s go for a walk!”

"I... I don’t understand you...”

"There’s nothing to understand. A trashy, bad woman and nothing more... You’ve no taste, my dear. Why are you stopping? Are you surprised to hear me say such things about my wife? Of course I shouldn’t tell you that, but as you’re a person of some interest here, there’s nothing to hide from you. I’m telling you frankly, I don’t give a damn! It’s not worth it. She’s been lying to you and as a "sufferer "she’s not worth a penny. A Balzac woman and a psychopath. She’s stupid and lies a lot. Honestly, my dove! I’m not joking...”

"But she’s your wife!" the tutor was astonished.

"You never know! I was like you and got married, and now I’d like to stay married, but... Never mind, my dear! There’s no love, only mischief and boredom. If you want to play around, there goes Nastya... Hey, Nastya, where are you going?”

"For kvass, sir!" A woman’s voice was heard.

"I understand that," continued the notary, "and all these psychopaths, sufferers... what about them? Nastya’s a fool, but at least she has no claims... Shall we go along further?”

The notary and the technician came out of the garden, looked around and, with a sigh, walked across the field.


Nothing To Be Done! and other stories

Footnotes

[1by Ray, with the help of DeepL and Google Translate.

[2“The Confession” (Исповедь) was first published in the journal “The Spectator” (Зритель) on January 19, 1883.

[3“The Only Means” (Единственное средство) was first published in the magazine “Fragments” (Осколки) on January 22, 1883.

[4“Sentimentality” (Размазня) was first published in the magazine “Fragments” (Осколки) on February 19, 1883.

[5“The Triumph of the Victor” (Торжество победителя) was first published in the magazine “Fragments” (Осколки) on February 26, 1883.

[6“A Conversation” (Разговор) was first published in the magazine “Fragments” (Осколки) on March 26, 1883.

[7“The Guardian” (Опекун) was first published in the magazine “Fragments” (Осколки) on October 22, 1883.

[8“From the Memories of an Idealist” (Из воспоминаний идеалиста) was first published in the journal “The Alarm Clock” (Будильник) on July 4, 1885.

[9“Bridegroom and Dad” (Жених и папенька) was first published in the journal “The Petersburg Gazette” (Петербургская газета) on July 31, 1885.

[10“Ninotchka” (Ниночка) was first published in the journal “The Petersburg Gazette” (Петербургская газета) on November 4, 1885.

[11“The Ballroom Pianist” (Тапер) was first published in the journal “The Alarm Clock” (Будильник) on November 14, 1885.
- a story with a memorable line indeed: "Keep it short...no psychology!".

[12“A Cynic” (Циник) was first published in the journal “The Petersburg Gazette” (Петербургская газета) on December 16, 1885.

[13“Nothing To Be Done” (От нечего делать) was first published in the journal “The Petersburg Gazette” (Петербургская газета) on May 26, 1886.

[14Aleksey Pisemsky (1820-1881), a Russian novelist, dramatist and critic (translator’s note).

[15vous comprenez? – do you understand?

[16Repetilov – an elegant young aristocrat in Griboyedov’s celebrated 1816 play Woe on Wit (translator’s note).

[17parvenu – upstart.

[18mauvais-genre – a low-down person.

[19manger et boire – to eat and drink.

[20Demon is an opera by the Russian composer Anton Rubinstein, composed in 1871 (translator’s note).

[21Bene! – good!

[22viens ici! – come here!