The Cook's Wedding and Other Stories
A Classical Student
BEFORE setting off for his examination in Greek, Vanya kissed all the holy images. His
stomach felt as though it were upside down; there was a chill at his heart, while the heart
itself throbbed and stood still with terror before the unknown. What would he get that
day? A three or a two? Six times he went to his mother for her blessing, and, as he went
out, asked his aunt to pray for him. On the way to school he gave a beggar two kopecks,
in the hope that those two kopecks would atone for his ignorance, and that, please God,
he would not get the numerals with those awful forties and eighties.
He came back from the high school late, between four and five. He came in, and
noiselessly lay down on his bed. His thin face was pale. There were dark rings round his
"Well, how did you get on? How were you marked?" asked his mother, going to his
Vanya blinked, twisted his mouth, and burst into tears. His mother turned pale, let her
mouth fall open, and clasped her hands. The breeches she was mending dropped out of
"What are you crying for? You've failed, then?" she asked.
"I am plucked. . . . I got a two."
"I knew it would be so! I had a presentiment of it," said his mother. "Merciful God! How
is it you have not passed? What is the reason of it? What subject have you failed in?"
"In Greek. . . . Mother, I . . . They asked me the future of phero, and I . . . instead of
saying oisomai said opsomai. Then . . . then there isn't an accent, if the last syllable is
long, and I . . . I got flustered. . . . I forgot that the alpha was long in it . . . . I went and put
in the accent. Then Artaxerxov told me to give the list of the enclitic particles. . . . I did,
and I accidentally mixed in a pronoun . . . and made a mistake . . . and so he gave me a
two. . . . I am a miserable person. . . . I was working all night. . . I've been getting up at
four o'clock all this week . . . ."
"No, it's not you but I who am miserable, you wretched boy! It's I that am miserable!
You've worn me to a threadpaper, you Herod, you torment, you bane of my life! I pay for
you, you good-for-nothing rubbish; I've bent my back toiling for you, I'm worried to
death, and, I may say, I am unhappy, and what do you care? How do you work?"
"I . . . I do work. All night. . . . You've seen it yourself."