The Lady with the Dog and Other Stories
The Head Of The Family
IT is, as a rule, after losing heavily at cards or after a drinking-bout when an attack of
dyspepsia is setting in that Stepan Stepanitch Zhilin wakes up in an exceptionally gloomy
frame of mind. He looks sour, rumpled, and dishevelled; there is an expression of
displeasure on his grey face, as though he were offended or disgusted by something. He
dresses slowly, sips his Vichy water deliberately, and begins walking about the rooms.
"I should like to know what b-b-beast comes in here and does not shut the door!" he
grumbles angrily, wrapping his dressing-gown about him and spitting loudly. "Take away
that paper! Why is it lying about here? We keep twenty servants, and the place is more
untidy than a pot-house. Who was that ringing? Who the devil is that?"
"That's Anfissa, the midwife who brought our Fedya into the world," answers his wife.
"Always hanging about . . . these cadging toadies!"
"There's no making you out, Stepan Stepanitch. You asked her yourself, and now you
"I am not scolding; I am speaking. You might find something to do, my dear, instead of
sitting with your hands in your lap trying to pick a quarrel. Upon my word, women are
beyond my comprehension! Beyond my comprehension! How can they waste whole days
doing nothing? A man works like an ox, like a b-beast, while his wife, the partner of his
life, sits like a pretty doll, sits and does nothing but watch for an opportunity to quarrel
with her husband by way of diversion. It's time to drop these schoolgirlish ways, my dear.
You are not a schoolgirl, not a young lady; you are a wife and mother! You turn away?
Aha! It's not agreeable to listen to the bitter truth!
"It's strange that you only speak the bitter truth when your liver is out of order."
"That's right; get up a scene."
"Have you been out late? Or playing cards?"
"What if I have? Is that anybody's business? Am I obliged to give an account of my
doings to any one? It's my own money I lose, I suppose? What I spend as well as what is
spent in this house belongs to me--me. Do you hear? To me!"
And so on, all in the same style. But at no other time is Stepan Stepanitch so reasonable,
virtuous, stern or just as at dinner, when all his household are sitting about him. It usually
begins with the soup. After swallowing the first spoonful Zhilin suddenly frowns and puts
down his spoon.
"Damn it all!" he mutters; "I shall have to dine at a restaurant, I suppose."