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The Duel and Other Stories

The Chemist's Wife
THE little town of B----, consisting of two or three crooked streets, was sound asleep.
There was a complete stillness in the motionless air. Nothing could be heard but far
away, outside the town no doubt, the barking of a dog in a thin, hoarse tenor. It was close
upon daybreak.
Everything had long been asleep. The only person not asleep was the young wife of
Tchernomordik, a qualified dispenser who kept a chemist's shop at B----. She had gone to
bed and got up again three times, but could not sleep, she did not know why. She sat at
the open window in her nightdress and looked into the street. She felt bored, depressed,
vexed . . . so vexed that she felt quite inclined to cry--again she did not know why. There
seemed to be a lump in her chest that kept rising into her throat. . . . A few paces behind
her Tchernomordik lay curled up close to the wall, snoring sweetly. A greedy flea was
stabbing the bridge of his nose, but he did not feel it, and was positively smiling, for he
was dreaming that every one in the town had a cough, and was buying from him the King
of Denmark's cough-drops. He could not have been wakened now by pinpricks or by
cannon or by caresses.
The chemist's shop was almost at the extreme end of the town, so that the chemist's wife
could see far into the fields. She could see the eastern horizon growing pale by degrees,
then turning crimson as though from a great fire. A big broad-faced moon peeped out
unexpectedly from behind bushes in the distance. It was red (as a rule when the moon
emerges from behind bushes it appears to be blushing).
Suddenly in the stillness of the night there came the sounds of footsteps and a jingle of
spurs. She could hear voices.
"That must be the officers going home to the camp from the Police Captain's," thought
the chemist's wife.
Soon afterwards two figures wearing officers' white tunics came into sight: one big and
tall, the other thinner and shorter. . . . They slouched along by the fence, dragging one leg
after the other and talking loudly together. As they passed the chemist's shop, they
walked more slowly than ever, and glanced up at the windows.
"It smells like a chemist's," said the thin one. "And so it is! Ah, I remember. . . . I came
here last week to buy some castor-oil. There's a chemist here with a sour face and the
jawbone of an ass! Such a jawbone, my dear fellow! It must have been a jawbone like
that Samson killed the Philistines with."
"M'yes," said the big one in a bass voice. "The pharmacist is asleep. And his wife is
asleep too. She is a pretty woman, Obtyosov."