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The Schoolmistress

and Other Stories

by

Anton Chekhov

A Penn State Electronic Classics Series Publication The Schoolmistress and other stories by Anton Chekhov is a publication of the Pennsylvania State University. This Portable Document file is furnished free and without any charge of any kind. Any person using this document file, for any purpose, and in any way does so at his or her own risk. Neither the Pennsylvania State University nor Jim Manis, Faculty Editor, nor anyone associated with the Pennsylvania State University assumes any responsibility for the material contained within the document or for the file as an electronic transmission, in any way.

The Schoolmistress and other stories by Anton Chekov , the Pennsylvania State University, Electronic Classics Series, Jim Manis, Faculty Editor, Hazleton, PA 18201-1291 is a Portable Document File produced as part of an ongoing student publication project to bring classical works of literature, in English, to free and easy access of those wishing to make use of them.

Cover Design: Jim Manis

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Contents

THE SCHOOLMISTRESS .......................................................................................................................................... 4

A NERVOUS BREAKDOWN .................................................................................................................................... 13

MISERY ....................................................................................................................................................................... 35

CHAMPAGNE: ........................................................................................................................................................... 40

AFTER THE THEATRE ............................................................................................................................................. 46

A LADY’S STORY ...................................................................................................................................................... 49

IN EXILE ..................................................................................................................................................................... 53

THE CATTLE-DEALERS .......................................................................................................................................... 62

SORROW .................................................................................................................................................................... 79

ON OFFICIAL DUTY ................................................................................................................................................. 84

THE FIRST-CLASS PASSENGER .......................................................................................................................... 100

A TRAGIC ACTOR .................................................................................................................................................. 107

A TRANSGRESSION .............................................................................................................................................. 110

SMALL FRY .............................................................................................................................................................. 115

THE REQUIEM ........................................................................................................................................................ 118

IN THE COACH-HOUSE ......................................................................................................................................... 123

PANIC FEARS .......................................................................................................................................................... 129

THE BET ................................................................................................................................................................... 135

THE HEAD-GARDENER’S STORY ...................................................................................................................... 142

THE BEAUTIES ........................................................................................................................................................ 147

THE SHOEMAKER AND THE DEVIL ................................................................................................................. 155

Anton Chekhov

The Schoolmistress

and there was no reckoning how many times during all those years she had been to the town for her salary; and whether it and Other Stories

were spring as now, or a rainy autumn evening, or winter, it was all the same to her, and she always —invariably — longed by

for one thing only, to get to the end of her journey as quickly as could be.

Anton Chekhov

She felt as though she had been living in that part of the country for ages and ages, for a hundred years, and it seemed THE SCHOOLMISTRESS

to her that she knew every stone, every tree on the road from the town to her school. Her past was here, her present was here, and she could imagine no other future than the school, AT HALF-PAST EIGHT they drove out of the town.

the road to the town and back again, and again the school and The highroad was dry, a lovely April sun was shining warmly, again the road… .

but the snow was still lying in the ditches and in the woods.

She had got out of the habit of thinking of her past before Winter, dark, long, and spiteful, was hardly over; spring had she became a schoolmistress, and had almost forgotten it. She come all of a sudden. But neither the warmth nor the languid had once had a father and mother; they had lived in Moscow transparent woods, warmed by the breath of spring, nor the in a big flat near the Red Gate, but of all that life there was black flocks of birds flying over the huge puddles that were left in her memory only something vague and fluid like a like lakes, nor the marvelous fathomless sky, into which it dream. Her father had died when she was ten years old, and seemed one would have gone away so joyfully, presented anyher mother had died soon after… . She had a brother, an thing new or interesting to Marya Vassilyevna who was sit-officer; at first they used to write to each other, then her brother ting in the cart. For thirteen years she had been schoolmistress, 4

The Schoolmistress and other stories had given up answering her letters, he had got out of the way This Hanov, a man of forty with a listless expression and a of writing. Of her old belongings, all that was left was a pho-face that showed signs of wear, was beginning to look old, tograph of her mother, but it had grown dim from the damp-but was still handsome and admired by women. He lived in ness of the school, and now nothing could be seen but the his big homestead alone, and was not in the service; and people hair and the eyebrows.

used to say of him that he did nothing at home but walk up When they had driven a couple of miles, old Semyon, who and down the room whistling, or play chess with his old foot-was driving, turned round and said: man. People said, too, that he drank heavily. And indeed at

“They have caught a government clerk in the town. They the examination the year before the very papers he brought have taken him away. The story is that with some Germans with him smelt of wine and scent. He had been dressed all in he killed Alexeyev, the Mayor, in Moscow.” new clothes on that occasion, and Marya Vassilyevna thought

“Who told you that?”

him very attractive, and all the while she sat beside him she

“They were reading it in the paper, in Ivan Ionov’s tavern.” had felt embarrassed. She was accustomed to see frigid and And again they were silent for a long time. Marya Vassilyevna sensible examiners at the school, while this one did not re-thought of her school, of the examination that was coming member a single prayer, or know what to ask questions about, soon, and of the girl and four boys she was sending up for it.

and was exceedingly courteous and delicate, giving nothing And just as she was thinking about the examination, she was but the highest marks.

overtaken by a neighboring landowner called Hanov in a car-

“I am going to visit Bakvist,” he went on, addressing Marya riage with four horses, the very man who had been examiner Vassilyevna, “but I am told he is not at home.” in her school the year before. When he came up to her he They turned off the highroad into a by-road to the village, recognized her and bowed.

Hanov leading the way and Semyon following. The four

“Good-morning,” he said to her. “You are driving home, I suppose.” horses moved at a walking pace, with effort dragging the heavy 5

Anton Chekhov

carriage through the mud. Semyon tacked from side to side, peal with complaints or inquiries … .

keeping to the edge of the road, at one time through a snow-

“He really is handsome,” she thought, glancing at Hanov.

drift, at another through a pool, often jumping out of the The road grew worse and worse… . They drove into the cart and helping the horse. Marya Vassilyevna was still think-wood. Here there was no room to turn round, the wheels ing about the school, wondering whether the arithmetic ques-sank deeply in, water splashed and gurgled through them, tions at the examination would be difficult or easy. And she and sharp twigs struck them in the face.

felt annoyed with the Zemstvo board at which she had found

“What a road!” said Hanov, and he laughed.

no one the day before. How unbusiness-like! Here she had The schoolmistress looked at him and could not under-been asking them for the last two years to dismiss the watch-stand why this queer man lived here. What could his money, man, who did nothing, was rude to her, and hit the school-his interesting appearance, his refined bearing do for him here, boys; but no one paid any attention. It was hard to find the in this mud, in this God-forsaken, dreary place? He got no president at the office, and when one did find him he would special advantages out of life, and here, like Semyon, was driv-say with tears in his eyes that he hadn’t a moment to spare; ing at a jog-trot on an appalling road and enduring the same the inspector visited the school at most once in three years, discomforts. Why live here if one could live in Petersburg or and knew nothing whatever about his work, as he had been abroad? And one would have thought it would be nothing in the Excise Duties Department, and had received the post for a rich man like him to make a good road instead of this of school inspector through influence. The School Council bad one, to avoid enduring this misery and seeing the despair met very rarely, and there was no knowing where it met; the on the faces of his coachman and Semyon; but he only laughed, school guardian was an almost illiterate peasant, the head of a and apparently did not mind, and wanted no better life. He tanning business, unintelligent, rude, and a great friend of the was kind, soft, naive, and he did not understand this coarse watchman’s — and goodness knows to whom she could ap-life, just as at the examination he did not know the prayers.

6

The Schoolmistress and other stories He subscribed nothing to the schools but globes, and genu-betrayed in him a being already touched by decay, weak, and inely regarded himself as a useful person and a prominent on the road to ruin. And all at once there was a whiff of worker in the cause of popular education. And what use were spirits in the wood. Marya Vassilyevna was filled with dread his globes here?

and pity for this man going to his ruin for no visible cause or

“Hold on, Vassilyevna!” said Semyon.

reason, and it came into her mind that if she had been his The cart lurched violently and was on the point of upset-wife or sister she would have devoted her wh ole life to saving ting; something heavy rolled on to Marya Vassilyevna’s feet him from ruin. His wife! Life was so ordered that here he was

— it was her parcel of purchases. There was a steep ascent living in his great house alone, and she was living in a God-uphill through the clay; here in the winding ditches rivulets forsaken village alone, and yet for some reason the mere were gurgling. The water seemed to have gnawed away the thought that he and she might be close to one another and road; and how could one get along here! The horses breathed equals seemed impossible and absurd. In reality, life was ar-hard. Hanov got out of his carriage and walked at the side of ranged and human relations were complicated so utterly be-the road in his long overcoat. He was hot.

yond all understanding that when one thought about it one

“What a road!” he said, and laughed again. “It would soon felt uncanny and one’s heart sank.

smash up one’s carriage.”

“And it is beyond all understanding,” she thought, “why

“Nobody obliges you to drive about in such weather,” said God gives beauty, this graciousness, and sad, sweet eyes to Semyon surlily. “You should stay at home.” weak, unlucky, useless people — why they are so charming.”

“I am dull at home, grandfather. I don’t like staying at

“Here we must turn off to the right,” said Hanov, getting home.”

into his carriage. “Good-by! I wish you all things good!” Beside old Semyon he looked graceful and vigorous, but And again she thought of her pupils, of the examination, of yet in his walk there was something just perceptible which the watchman, of the School Council; and when the wind 7

Anton Chekhov

brought the sound of the retreating carriage these thoughts rily, without affection, without friendly sympathy, without were mingled with others. She longed to think of beautiful interesting acquaintances. How awful it would have been in eyes, of love, of the happiness which would never be… .

her position if she had fallen in love!

His wife? It was cold in the morning, there was no one to

“Hold on, Vassilyevna!”

heat the stove, the watchman disappeared; the children came Again a sharp ascent uphill… .

in as soon as it was light, bringing in snow and mud and She had become a schoolmistress from necessity, without making a noise: it was all so inconvenient, so comfortless.

feeling any vocation for it; and she had never thought of a Her abode consisted of one little room and the kitchen close vocation, of serving the cause of enlightenment; and it always by. Her head ached every day after her work, and after dinner seemed to her that what was most important in her work was she had heart-burn. She had to collect money from the school-not the children, nor enlightenment, but the examinations.

children for wood and for the watchman, and to give it to the And what time had she for thinking of vocation, of serving school guardian, and then to entreat him — that overfed, the cause of enlightenment? Teachers, badly paid doctors, and insolent peasant — for God’s sake to send her wood. And at their assistants, with their terribly hard work, have not even night she dreamed of examinations, peasants, snowdrifts. And the comfort of thinking that they are serving an idea or the this life was making her grow old and coarse, making her people, as their heads are always stuffed with thoughts of their ugly, angular, and awkward, as though she were made of lead.

daily bread, of wood for the fire, of bad roads, of illnesses. It She was always afraid, and she would get up from her seat is a hard-working, an uninteresting life, and only silent, pa-and not venture to sit down in the presence of a member of tient cart-horses like Mary Vassilyevna could put up with it the Zemstvo or the school guardian. And she used formal, for long; the lively, nervous, impressionable people who talked deferential expressions when she spoke of any one of them.

about vocation and serving the idea were soon weary of it and And no one thought her attractive, and life was passing drea-gave up the work.

8

The Schoolmistress and other stories Semyon kept picking out the driest and shortest way, first drunk, was suddenly surprised by something and began using by a meadow, then by the backs of the village huts; but in one bad language.

place the peasants would not let them pass, in another it was

“What are you swearing at, you there?” Semyon, who was the priest’s land and they could not cross it, in another Ivan sitting some way off, responded angrily. “Don’t you see the Ionov had bought a plot from the landowner and had dug a young lady?”

ditch round it. They kept having to turn back.

“The young lady!” someone mimicked in another corner.

They reached Nizhneye Gorodistche. Near the tavern on the

“Swinish crow!”

dung-strewn earth, where the snow was still lying, there stood

“We meant nothing …” said the little man in confusion. “I wagons that had brought great bottles of crude sulphuric acid.

beg your pardon. We pay with our money and the young There were a great many people in the tavern, all drivers, and lady with hers. Good-morning!”

there was a smell of vodka, tobacco, and sheepskins. There was a

“Good-morning,” answered the schoolmistress.

loud noise of conversation and the banging of the swing-door.

“And we thank you most feelingly.”

Through the wall, without ceasing for a moment, came the sound Marya Vassilyevna drank her tea with satisfaction, and she, of a concertina being played in the shop. Marya Vassilyevna sat too, began turning red like the peasants, and fell to thinking down and drank some tea, while at the next table peasants were again about firewood, about the watchman… .

drinking vodka and beer, perspiring from the tea they had just

“Stay, old man,” she heard from the next table, “it’s the swallowed and the stifling fumes of the tavern.

schoolmistress from Vyazovye… . We know her; she’s a good

“I say, Kuzma!” voices kept shouting in confusion. “What young lady.”

there!” “The Lord bless us!” “Ivan Dementyitch, I can tell

“She’s all right!”

you that!” “Look out, old man!”

The swing-door was continually banging, some coming in, A little pock-marked man with a black beard, who was quite others going out. Marya Vassilyevna sat on, thinking all the 9

Anton Chekhov

time of the same things, while the concertina went on play-But it was clear that Semyon did not believe the ing and playing. The patches of sunshine had been on the schoolmistress. The peasants did not believe her. They always floor, then they passed to the counter, to the wall, and disap-thought she received too large a salary, twenty-one roubles a peared altogether; so by the sun it was past midday. The peas-month (five would have been enough), and that of the money ants at the next table were getting ready to go. The little man, that she collected from the children for the firewood and the somewhat unsteadily, went up to Marya Vassilyevna and held watchman the greater part she kept for herself. The guardian out his hand to her; following his example, the others shook thought the same as the peasants, and he himself made a profit hands, too, at parting, and went out one after another, and off the firewood and received payments from the peasants for the swing-door squeaked and slammed nine times.

being a guardian —without the knowledge of the authorities.

“Vassilyevna, get ready,” Semyon called to her.

The forest, thank God! was behind them, and now it would They set off. And again they went at a walking pace.

be flat, open ground all the way to Vyazovye, and there was

“A little while back they were building a school here in their not far to go now. They had to cross the river and then the Nizhneye Gorodistche,” said Semyon, turning round. “It was railway line, and then Vyazovye was in sight.

a wicked thing that was done!”

“Where are you driving?” Marya Vassilyevna asked Semyon.

“Why, what?”

“Take the road to the right to the bridge.”

“They say the president put a thousand in his pocket, and

“Why, we can go this way as well. It’s not deep enough to the school guardian another thousand in his, and the teacher matter.”

five hundred.”

“Mind you don’t drown the horse.”

“The whole school only cost a thousand. It’s wrong to slan-

“What?”

der people, grandfather. That’s all nonsense.”

“Look, Hanov is driving to the bridge,” said Marya

“I don’t know, … I only tell you what folks say.” Vassilyevna, seeing the four horses far away to the right. “It is 10

The Schoolmistress and other stories he, I think.”

her dress and of her coat and one sleeve were wet and drip-

“It is. So he didn’t find Bakvist at home. What a pig-headed ping: the sugar and flour had got wet, and that was worst of fellow he is. Lord have mercy upon us! He’s driven over there, all, and Marya Vassilyevna could only clasp her hands in de-and what for? It’s fully two miles nearer this way.” spair and say:

They reached the river. In the summer it was a little stream Oh, Semyon, Semyon! How tiresome you are really! …” easily crossed by wading. It usually dried up in August, but The barrier was down at the railway crossing. A train was now, after the spring floods, it was a river forty feet in breadth, coming out of the station. Marya Vassilyevna stood at the rapid, muddy, and cold; on the bank and right up to the water crossing waiting till it should pass, and shivering all over with there were fresh tracks of wheels, so it had been crossed here.

cold. Vyazovye was in sight now, and the school with the

“Go on!” shouted Semyon angrily and anxiously, tugging green roof, and the church with its crosses flashing in the violently at the reins and jerking his elbows as a bird does its evening sun: and the station windows flashed too, and a pink wings. “Go on!”

smoke rose from the engine … and it seemed to her that The horse went on into the water up to his belly and everything was trembling with cold.

stopped, but at once went on again with an effort, and Marya Here was the train; the windows reflected the gleaming light Vassilyevna was aware of a keen chilliness in her feet.

like the crosses on the church: it made her eyes ache to look at

“Go on!” she, too, shouted, getting up. “Go on!” them. On the little platform between two first-class carriages They got out on the bank.

a lady was standing, and Marya Vassilyevna glanced at her as

“Nice mess it is, Lord have mercy upon us!” muttered she passed. Her mother! What a resemblance! Her mother Semyon, setting straight the harness. “It’s a perfect plague with had had just such luxuriant hair, just such a brow and bend of this Zemstvo… .”

the head. And with amazing distinctness, for the first time in Her shoes and goloshes were full of water, the lower part of those thirteen years, there rose before her mind a vivid picture 11

Anton Chekhov

of her mother, her father, her brother, their flat in Moscow, line; Semyon followed it. The signalman took off his cap.

the aquarium with little fish, everything to the tiniest detail;

“And here is Vyazovye. Here we are.” she heard the sound of the piano, her father’s voice; she felt as she had been then, young, good-looking, well-dressed, in a bright warm room among her own people. A feeling of joy and happiness suddenly came over her, she pressed her hands to her temples in an ecstacy, and called softly, beseechingly:

“Mother!”

And she began crying, she did not know why. Just at that instant Hanov drove up with his team of four horses, and seeing him she imagined happiness such as she had never had, and smiled and nodded to him as an equal and a friend, and it seemed to her that her happiness, her triumph, was glowing in the sky and on all sides, in the windows and on the trees.

Her father and mother had never died, she had never been a schoolmistress, it was a long, tedious, strange dream, and now she had awakened… .

“Vassilyevna, get in!”

And at once it all vanished. The barrier was slowly raised.

Marya Vassilyevna, shivering and numb with cold, got into the cart. The carriage with the four horses crossed the railway 12

The Schoolmistress and other stories A NERVOUS BREAKDOWN

people their past, but in the sight of God St. Mary of Egypt is no lower than the other saints. When it had happened to A MEDICAL STUDENT called Mayer, and a pupil of the Moscow Vassilyev in the street to recognize a fallen woman as such, by School of Painting, Sculpture, and Architecture called her dress or her manners, or to see a picture of one in a comic Rybnikov, went one evening to see their friend Vassilyev, a paper, he always remembered a story he had once read: a young law student, and suggested that he should go with them to S.

man, pure and self-sacrificing, loves a fallen woman and urges Street. For a long time Vassilyev would not consent to go, her to become his wife; she, considering herself unworthy of but in the end he put on his greatcoat and went with them.

such happiness, takes poison.

He knew nothing of fallen women except by hearsay and Vassilyev lived in one of the side streets turning out of from books, and he had never in his life been in the houses in Tverskoy Boulevard. When he came out of the house with which they live. He knew that there are immoral women who, his two friends it was about eleven o’clock. The first snow under the pressure of fatal circumstances — environment, bad had not long fallen, and all nature was under the spell of the education, poverty, and so on — are forced to sell their honor fresh snow. There was the smell of snow in the air, the snow for money. They know nothing of pure love, have no chil-crunched softly under the feet; the earth, the roofs, the trees, dren, have no civil rights; their mothers and sisters weep over the seats on the boulevard, everything was soft, white, young, them as though they were dead, science treats of them as an and this made the houses look quite different from the day evil, men address them with contemptuous familiarity. But before; the street lamps burned more brightly, the air was in spite of all that, they do not lose the semblance and image more transparent, the carriages rumbled with a deeper note, of God. They all acknowledge their sin and hope for salva-and with the fresh, light, frosty air a feeling stirred in the soul tion. Of the means that lead to salvation they can avail them-akin to the white, youthful, feathery snow. “Against my will selves to the fullest extent. Society, it is true, will not forgive an unknown force,” hummed the medical student in his agree-13

Anton Chekhov

able tenor, “has led me to these mournful shores.” visited, snow to be walked upon. For one evening anyway

“Behold the mill …” the artist seconded him, “in ruins live like a human being!”

now… .”

“But I haven’t said anything …” said Vassilyev, laughing.

“Behold the mill … in ruins now,” the medical student

“Am I refusing to?”

repeated, raising his eyebrows and shaking his head mourn-There was a warmth inside him from the vodka. He looked fully.

with softened feelings at his friends, admired them and en-He paused, rubbed his forehead, trying to remember the vied them. In these strong, healthy, cheerful people how won-words, and then sang aloud, so well that passers-by looked derfully balanced everything is, how finished and smooth is round:

everything in their minds and souls! They sing, and have a passion for the theatre, and draw, and talk a great deal, and

“Here in old days when I was free,

drink, and they don’t have headaches the day after; they are Love, free, unfettered, greeted me.” both poetical and debauched, both soft and hard; they can work, too, and be indignant, and laugh without reason, and The three of them went into a restaurant and, without tak-talk nonsense; they are warm, honest, self-sacrificing, and as ing off their greatcoats, drank a couple of glasses of vodka men are in no way inferior to himself, Vassilyev, who watched each. Before drinking the second glass, Vassilyev noticed a bit over every step he took and every word he uttered, who was of cork in his vodka, raised the glass to his eyes, and gazed fastidious and cautious, and ready to raise every trifle to the into it for a long time, screwing up his shortsighted eyes. The level of a problem. And he longed for one evening to live as medical student did not understand his expression, and said: his friends did, to open out, to let himself loose from his

“Come, why look at it? No philosophizing, please. Vodka own control. If vodka had to be drunk, he would drink it, is given us to be drunk, sturgeon to be eaten, women to be though his head would be splitting next morning. If he were 14

The Schoolmistress and other stories taken to the women he would go. He would laugh, play the not in time with one another.

fool, gaily respond to the passing advances of strangers in the Vassilyev’s imagination was picturing how, in another ten street… .

minutes, he and his friends would knock at a door; how by He went out of the restaurant laughing. He liked his friends little dark passages and dark rooms they would steal in to the

—one in a crushed broad-brimmed hat, with an affectation women; how, taking advantage of the darkness, he would of artistic untidiness; the other in a sealskin cap, a man not strike a match, would light up and see the face of a martyr poor, though he affected to belong to the Bohemia of learn-and a guilty smile. The unknown, fair or dark, would cer-ing. He liked the snow, the pale street lamps, the sharp black tainly have her hair down and be wearing a white dressing-tracks left in the first snow by the feet of the passers-by. He jacket; she would be panic-stricken by the light, would be liked the air, and especially that limpid, tender, naive, as it fearfully confused, and would say: “For God’s sake, what are were virginal tone, which can be seen in nature only twice in you doing! Put it out!” It would all be dreadful, but interest-the year — when everything is covered with snow, and in ing and new.

spring on bright days and moonlight evenings when the ice breaks on the river.

II

“Against my will an unknown force,

THE FRIENDS TURNED out of Trubnoy Square into Gratchevka, Has led me to these mournful shores,” and soon reached the side street which Vassilyev only knew by reputation. Seeing two rows of houses with brightly lighted he hummed in an undertone.

windows and wide-open doors, and hearing gay strains of pi-And the tune for some reason haunted him and his friends anos and violins, sounds which floated out from every door all the way, and all three of them hummed it mechanically, and mingled in a strange chaos, as though an unseen orchestra 15

Anton Chekhov

were tuning up in the darkness above the roofs, Vassilyev was place smelt like a laundry with an odor of vinegar in addi-surprised and said:

tion. A door from the hall led into a brightly lighted room.

“What a lot of houses!”

The medical student and the artist stopped at this door and,

“That’s nothing,” said the medical student. “In London there craning their necks, peeped into the room.

are ten times as many. There are about a hundred thousand

“Buona sera, signori, rigolleto — hugenotti — traviata!” such women there.”

began the artist, with a theatrical bow.

The cabmen were sitting on their boxes as calmly and in-

“Havanna — tarakano — pistoleto!” said the medical stu-differently as in any other side street; the same passers-by were dent, pressing his cap to his breast and bowing low.

walking along the pavement as in other streets. No one was Vassilyev was standing behind them. He would have liked hurrying, no one was hiding his face in his coat-collar, no one to make a theatrical bow and say something silly, too, but he shook his head reproachfully… . And in this indifference to only smiled, felt an awkwardness that was like shame, and the noisy chaos of pianos and violins, to the bright windows waited impatiently for what would happen next.

and wide-open doors, there was a feeling of something very A little fair girl of seventeen or eighteen, with short hair, in open, insolent, reckless, and devil-may-care. Probably it was a short light-blue frock with a bunch of white ribbon on her as gay and noisy at the slave-markets in their day, and people’s bosom, appeared in the doorway.

faces and movements showed the same indifference.

“Why do you stand at the door?” she said. “Take off your

“Let us begin from the beginning,” said the artist.

coats and come into the drawing-room.” The friends went into a narrow passage lighted by a lamp The medical student and the artist, still talking Italian, went with a reflector. When they opened the door a man in a black into the drawing-room. Vassilyev followed them irresolutely.

coat, with an unshaven face like a flunkey’s, and sleepy-look-

“Gentlemen, take off your coats!” the flunkey said sternly; ing eyes, got up lazily from a yellow sofa in the hall. The

“you can’t go in like that.”

16

The Schoolmistress and other stories In the drawing-room there was, besides the girl, another Everything was ordinary, prosaic, and uninteresting. Only woman, very stout and tall, with a foreign face and bare arms.

one thing faintly stirred his curiosity — the terrible, as it were She was sitting near the piano, laying out a game of patience intentionally designed, bad taste which was visible in the cor-on her lap. She took no notice whatever of the visitors.

nices, in the absurd pictures, in the dresses, in the bunch of

“Where are the other young ladies?” asked the medical student.

ribbons. There was something characteristic and peculiar in

“They are having their tea,” said the fair girl. “Stepan,” she this bad taste.

called, “go and tell the young ladies some students have come!”

“How poor and stupid it all is!” thought Vassilyev. “What is A little later a third young lady came into the room. She there in all this trumpery I see now that can tempt a normal was wearing a bright red dress with blue stripes. Her face was man and excite him to commit the horrible sin of buying a painted thickly and unskillfully, her brow was hidden under human being for a rouble? I understand any sin for the sake of her hair, and there was an unblinking, frightened stare in her splendor, beauty, grace, passion, taste; but what is there here?

eyes. As she came in, she began at once singing some song in What is there here worth sinning for? But … one mustn’t think!” a coarse, powerful contralto. After her a fourth appeared, and

“Beardy, treat me to some porter!” said the fair girl, ad-after her a fifth… .

dressing him.

In all this Vassilyev saw nothing new or interesting. It seemed Vassilyev was at once overcome with confusion.

to him that that room, the piano, the looking-glass in its

“With pleasure,” he said, bowing politely. “Only excuse me, cheap gilt frame, the bunch of white ribbon, the dress with madam, I … I won’t drink with you. I don’t drink.

the blue stripes, and the blank indifferent faces, he had seen Five minutes later the friends went off into another house.

before and more than once. Of the darkness, the silence, the

“Why did you ask for porter?” said the medical student secrecy, the guilty smile, of all that he had expected to meet angrily. “What a millionaire! You have thrown away six roubles here and had dreaded, he saw no trace.

for no reason whatever — simply waste!” 17

Anton Chekhov

“If she wants it, why not let her have the pleasure?” said that a man with such a face might steal, might murder, might Vassilyev, justifying himself.

bear false witness. But the face was really interesting: a big

“You did not give pleasure to her, but to the ‘Madam.’ They forehead, gray eyes, a little flattened nose, thin compressed are told to ask the visitors to stand them treat because it is a lips, and a blankly stupid and at the same time insolent ex-profit to the keeper.”

pression like that of a young harrier overtaking a hare. Vassilyev

“Behold the mill …” hummed the artist, “in ruins now… .” thought it would be nice to touch this man’s hair, to see Going into the next house, the friends stopped in the hall whether it was soft or coarse. It must be coarse like a dog’s.

and did not go into the drawing-room. Here, as in the first house, a figure in a black coat, with a sleepy face like a flunkey’s, III

got up from a sofa in the hall. Looking at this flunkey, at his face and his shabby black coat, Vassilyev thought: “What must HAVING DRUNK two glasses of porter, the artist became sud-an ordinary simple Russian have gone through before fate flung denly tipsy and grew unnaturally lively.

him down as a flunkey here? Where had he been before and

“Let’s go to another!” he said peremptorily, waving his hands.

what had he done? What was awaiting him? Was he married?

“I will take you to the best one.”

Where was his mother, and did she know that he was a ser-When he had brought his fri ends to the house which in his vant here?” And Vassilyev could not help particularly notic-opinion was the best, he declared his firm intention of dancing the flunkey in each house. In one of the houses — he ing a quadrille. The medical student grumbled something thought it was the fourth — there was a little spare, frail-about their having to pay the musicians a rouble, but agreed looking flunkey with a watch-chain on his waistcoat. He was to be his vis-a-vis. They began dancing.

reading a newspaper, and took no notice of them when they It was just as nasty in the best house as in the worst. Here went in. Looking at his face Vassilyev, for some reason, thought there were just the same looking-glasses and pictures, the same 18

The Schoolmistress and other stories styles of coiffure and dress. Looking round at the furnishing up to him and sat down beside him.

of the rooms and the costumes, Vassilyev realized that this

“You nice dark man, why aren’t you dancing?” she asked.

was not lack of taste, but something that might be called the

“Why are you so dull?”

taste, and even the style, of S. Street, which could not be

“Because it is dull.”

found elsewhere—something intentional in its ugliness, not

“Treat me to some Lafitte. Then it won’t be dull.” accidental, but elaborated in the course of years. After he had Vassilyev made no answer. He was silent for a little, and been in eight houses he was no longer surprised at the color of then asked:

the dresses, at the long trains, the gaudy ribbons, the sailor

“What time do you get to sleep?”

dresses, and the thick purplish rouge on the cheeks; he saw

“At six o’clock.”

that it all had to be like this, that if a single one of the women

“And what time do you get up?”

had been dressed like a human being, or if there had been one

“Sometimes at two and sometimes at three.” decent engraving on the wall, the general tone of the whole

“And what do you do when you get up?” street would have suffered.

“We have coffee, and at six o’clock we have dinner.”

“How unskillfully they sell themselves!” he thought. “How

“And what do you have for dinner?”

can they fail to understand that vice is only alluring when it is

“Usually soup, beefsteak, and dessert. Our madam keeps beautiful and hidden, when it wears the mask of virtue? Mod-the girls well. But why do you ask all this?” est black dresses, pale faces, mournful smiles, and darkness

“Oh, just to talk… .”

would be far more effective than this clumsy tawdriness. Stu-Vassilyev longed to talk to the young lady about many pid things! If they don’t understand it of themselves, their things. He felt an intense desire to find out where she came visitors might surely have taught them… .” from, whether her parents were living, and whether they knew A young lady in a Polish dress edged with white fur came that she was here; how she had come into this house; whether 19

Anton Chekhov

she were cheerful and satisfied, or sad and oppressed by gloomy

“Wait a little; let me finish.”

thoughts; whether she hoped some day to get out of her While the artist and the medical student were finishing the present position… . But he could not think how to begin or quadrille, to avoid looking at the women, Vassilyev scruti-in what shape to put his questions so as not to seem imperti-nized the musicians. A respectable-looking old man in spec-nent. He thought for a long time, and asked: tacles, rather like Marshal Bazaine, was playing the piano; a

“How old are you?”

young man with a fair beard, dressed in the latest fashion, was

“Eighty,” the young lady jested, looking with a laugh at the playing the violin. The young man had a face that did not antics of the artist as he danced.

look stupid nor exhausted, but intelligent, youthful, and fresh.

All at once she burst out laughing at something, and ut-He was dressed fancifully and with taste; he played with feel-tered a long cynical sentence loud enough to be heard by eving. It was a mystery how he and the respectable-looking old eryone. Vassilyev was aghast, and not knowing how to look, man had come here. How was it they were not ashamed to sit gave a constrained smile. He was the only one who smiled; all here? What were they thinking about when they looked at the others, his friends, the musicians, the women, did not the women?

even glance towards his neighbor, but seemed not to have If the violin and the piano had been played by men in rags, heard her.

looking hungry, gloomy, drunken, with dissipated or stupid

“Stand me some Lafitte,” his neighbor said again.

faces, then one could have understood their presence, per-Vassilyev felt a repulsion for her white fur and for her voice, haps. As it was, Vassilyev could not understand it at all. He and walked away from her. It seemed to him hot and stifling, recalled the story of the fallen woman he had once read, and and his heart began throbbing slowly but violently, like a ham-he thought now that that human figure with the guilty smile mer —one! two! three!

had nothing in common with what he was seeing now. It

“Let us go away!” he said, pulling the artist by his sleeve.

seemed to him that he was seeing not fallen women, but some 20

The Schoolmistress and other stories different world quite apart, alien to him and incomprehen-

“So he knew how to get his partner’s story out of her,” sible; if he had seen this world before on the stage, or read of thought Vassilyev about the medical student. “But I don’t it in a book, he would not have believed in it… .

know how to.”

The woman with the white fur burst out laughing again

“I say, I am going home!” he said.

and uttered a loathsome sentence in a loud voice. A feeling of

“What for?”

disgust took possession of him. He flushed crimson and went

“Because I don’t know how to behave here. Besides, I am out of the room.

bored, disgusted. What is there amusing in it? If they were

“Wait a minute, we are coming too!” the artist shouted to human beings — but they are savages and animals. I am go-him.

ing; do as you like.”

“Come, Grisha, Grigory, darling…” said the artist in a tear-IV

ful voice, hugging Vassilyev, “come along! Let’s go to one more together and damnation take them! … Please do, Grisha!”

“WHILE WE WERE DANCING,” said the medical student, as they They persuaded Vassilyev and led him up a staircase. In the all three went out into the street, “I had a conversation with carpet and the gilt banisters, in the porter who opened the my partner. We talked about her first romance. He, the hero, door, and in the panels that decorated the hall, the same S.

was an accountant at Smolensk with a wife and five children.

Street style was apparent, but carried to a greater perfection, She was seventeen, and she lived with her papa and mamma, more imposing.

who sold soap and candles.”

“I really will go home!” said Vassilyev as he was taking off

“How did he win her heart?” asked Vassilyev.

his coat.

“By spending fifty roubles on underclothes for her. What

“Come, come, dear boy,” said the artist, and he kissed him next!”

on the neck. “Don’t be tiresome… . Gri-gri, be a good com-21

Anton Chekhov

rade! We came together, we will go back together. What a considered himself ), hated these women and felt nothing but beast you are, really!”

repulsion towards them. He felt pity neither for the women

“I can wait for you in the street. I think it’s loathsome, nor the musicians nor the flunkeys.

really!”

“It is because I am not trying to understand them,” he

“Come, come, Grisha… . If it is loathsome, you can ob-thought. “They are all more like animals than human beings, serve it! Do you understand? You can observe!” but of course they are human beings all the same , they have

“One must take an objective view of things,” said the medical souls. One must understand them and then judge… .” student gravely.

“Grisha, don’t go, wait for us,” the artist shouted to him Vassilyev went into the drawing-room and sat down. There and disappeared.

were a number of visitors in the room besides him and his The medical student disappeared soon after.

friends: two infantry officers, a bald, gray-haired gentleman

“Yes, one must make an effort to understand, one mustn’t in spectacles, two beardless youths from the institute of land-be like this…” Vassilyev went on thinking.

surveying, and a very tipsy man who looked like an actor. All And he began gazing at each of the women with strained the young ladies were taken up with these visitors and paid attention, looking for a guilty smile. But either he did not no attention to Vassilyev.

know how to read their faces, or not one of these women felt Only one of them, dressed a la Aida, glanced sideways at herself to be guilty; he read on every face nothing but a blank him, smiled, and said, yawning: “A dark one has come… .” expression of everyday vulgar boredom and complacency. Stu-Vassilyev’s heart was throbbing and his face burned. He felt pid faces, stupid smiles, harsh, stupid voices, insolent move-ashamed before these visitors of his presence here, and he felt ments, and nothing else. Apparently each of them had in the disgusted and miserable. He was tormented by the thought past a romance with an accountant based on underclothes for that he, a decent and loving man (such as he had hitherto fifty roubles, and looked for no other charm in the present 22

The Schoolmistress and other stories but coffee, a dinner of three courses, wines, quadrilles, sleep-

“Are you dull here?” he asked.

ing till two in the afternoon… .

“Of course I am dull.”

Finding no guilty smile, Vassilyev began to look whether

“Why don’t you go away from here if you are dull?” there was not one intelligent face. And his attention was caught

“Where should I go to? Go begging or what?” by one pale, rather sleepy, exhausted-looking face… . It was a

“Begging would be easier than living here.” dark woman, not very young, wearing a dress covered with How do you know that? Have you begged?” spangles; she was sitting in an easy-chair, looking at the floor

“Yes, when I hadn’t the money to study. Even if I hadn’t lost in thought. Vassilyev walked from one corner of the room anyone could understand that. A beggar is anyway a free man, to the other, and, as though casually, sat down beside her.

and you are a slave.”

“I must begin with something trivial,” he thought, “and The dark woman stretched, and watched with sleepy eyes pass to what is serious… .”

the footman who was bringing a trayful of glasses and seltzer

“What a pretty dress you have,” and with his finger he water.

touched the gold fringe of her fichu.

“Stand me a glass of porter,” she said, and yawned again.

“Oh, is it? …” said the dark woman listlessly.

“Porter,” thought Vassilyev. “And what if your brother or mother

“What province do you come from?”

walked in at this moment? What would you say? And what would

“I? From a distance… . From Tchernigov.” they say? There would be porter then, I imagine… .”

“A fine province. It’s nice there.” All at once there was the sound of weeping. From the ad-

“Any place seems nice when one is not in it.” joining room, from which the footman had brought the selt-

“It’s a pity I cannot describe nature,” thought Vassilyev. “I zer water, a fair man with a red face and angry eyes ran in might touch her by a description of nature in Tchernigov.

quickly. He was followed by the tall, stout “madam,” who No doubt she loves the place if she has been born there.” was shouting in a shrill voice:

23

Anton Chekhov

“Nobody has given you leave to slap girls on the cheeks!

V

We have visitors better than you, and they don’t fight!

Impostor!”

LEANING AGAINST THE FENCE, he stood near the house waiting A hubbub arose. Vassilyev was frightened and turned pale.

for his friends to come out. The sounds of the pianos and In the next room there was the sound of bitter, genuine weep-violins, gay, reckless, insolent, and mournful, mingled in the ing, as though of someone insulted. And he realized that there air in a sort of chaos, and this tangle of sounds seemed again were real people living here who, like people everywhere else, like an unseen orchestra tuning up on the roofs. If one looked felt insulted, suffered, wept, and cried for help. The feeling of upwards into the darkness, the black background was all oppressive hate and disgust gave way to an acute feeling of spangled with white, moving spots: it was snow falling. As pity and anger against the aggressor. He rushed into the room the snowflakes came into the light they floated round lazily where there was weeping. Across rows of bottles on a marble-in the air like down, and still more lazily fell to the ground.

top table he distinguished a suffering face, wet with tears, The snowflakes whirled thickly round Vassilyev and hung stretched out his hands towards that face, took a step towards upon his beard, his eyelashes, his eyebrows… . The cabmen, the table, but at once drew back in horror. The weeping girl the horses, and the passers-by were white.

was drunk.

“And how can the snow fall in this street!” thought Vassilyev.

As he made his way though the noisy crowd gathered about

“Damnation take these houses!”

the fair man, his heart sank and he felt frightened like a child; His legs seemed to be giving way from fatigue, simply from and it seemed to him that in this alien, incomprehensible world having run down the stairs; he gasped for breath as though he people wanted to pursue him, to beat him, to pelt him with had been climbing uphill, his heart beat so loudly that he filthy words… . He tore down his coat from the hatstand could hear it. He was consumed by a desire to get out of the and ran headlong downstairs.

street as quickly as possible and to go home, but even stron-24

The Schoolmistress and other stories ger was his desire to wait for his companions and vent upon Vassilyev’s face, and said in a drunken voice: them his oppressive feeling.

“One of us! A bit on, old man? Aha-ha! Never mind, have There was much he did not understand in these houses, the a good time! Don’t be down-hearted, old chap!” souls of ruined women were a mystery to him as before; but He took Vassilyev by the shoulder and pressed his cold wet it was clear to him that the thing was far worse than could mustache against his cheek, then he slipped, staggered, and, have been believed. If that sinful woman who had poisoned waving both hands, cried:

herself was called fallen, it was difficult to find a fitting name

“Hold on! Don’t upset!”

for all these who were dancing now to this tangle of sound And laughing, he ran to overtake his companions.

and uttering long, loathsome sentences. They were not on Through the noise came the sound of the artist’s voice: the road to ruin, but ruined.

“Don’t you dare to hit the women! I won’t let you, damna-

“There is vice,” he thought, “but neither consciousness of tion take you! You scoundrels!”

sin nor hope of salvation. They are sold and bought, steeped The medical student appeared in the doorway. He looked in wine and abominations, while they, like sheep, are stupid, from side to side, and seeing Vassilyev, said in an agitated voice: indifferent, and don’t understand. My God! My God!”

“You here! I tell you it’s really impossible to go anywhere It was clear to him, too, that everything that is called hu-with Yegor! What a fellow he is! I don’t understand him! He man dignity, personal rights, the Divine image and semblance, has got up a scene! Do you hear? Yegor!” he shouted at the were defiled to their very foundations — “to the very mar-door. Yegor!”

row,” as drunkards say — and that not only the street and the

“I won’t allow you to hit women!” the artist’s piercing voice stupid women were responsible for it.

sounded from above. Something heavy and lumbering rolled A group of students, white with snow, passed him laughing down the stairs. It was the artist falling headlong. Evidently and talking gaily; one, a tall thin fellow, stopped, glanced into he had been pushed downstairs.

25

Anton Chekhov

He picked himself up from the ground, shook his hat, and, itants of Syria and Cairo, that are described in the ‘Neva.’

with an angry and indignant face, brandished his fist towards Now they are singing, laughing, talking sense, but haven’t they the top of the stairs and shouted:

just been exploiting hunger, ignorance, and stupidity? They

“Scoundrels! Torturers! Bloodsuckers! I won’t allow you to have — I have been a witness of it. What is the use of their hit them! To hit a weak, drunken woman! Oh, you brutes! …” humanity, their medicine, their painting? The science, art, and

“Yegor! … Come, Yegor! …” the medical student began lofty sentiments of these soul-destroyers remind me of the imploring him. “I give you my word of honor I’ll never come piece of bacon in the story. Two brigands murdered a beggar with you again. On my word of honor I won’t!” in a forest; they began sharing his clothes between them, and Little by little the artist was pacified and the friends went found in his wallet a piece of bacon. ‘Well found,’ said one of homewards.

them, ‘let us have a bit.’ ‘What do you mean? How can you?’

“Against my will an unknown force,” hummed the medical cried the other in horror. ‘Have you forgotten that to-day is student, “has led me to these mournful shores.” Wednesday?’ And they would not eat it. After murdering a

“Behold t he mill,” the artist chimed in a little later, “in man, they came out of the forest in the firm conviction that ruins now. What a lot of snow, Holy Mother! Grisha, why they were keeping the fast. In the same way these men, after did you go? You are a funk, a regular old woman.” buying women, go their way imagining that they are artists Vassilyev walked behind his companions, looked at their and men of science… .”

backs, and thought:

“Listen!” he said sharply and angrily. “Why do you come

“One of two things: either we only fancy prostitution is an here? Is it possible — is it possible you don’t understand how evil, and we exaggerate it; or, if prostitution really is as great horrible it is? Your medical books tell you that every one of an evil as is generally assumed, these dear friends of mine are these women dies prematurely of consumption or something; as much slaveowners, violators, and murderers, as the inhab-art tells you that morally they are dead even earlier. Every one 26

The Schoolmistress and other stories of them dies because she has in her time to entertain five At Trubnoy Square the friends said good-by and parted.

hundred men on an average, let us say. Each one of them is When he was left alone, Vassilyev strode rapidly along the killed by five hundred men. You are among those five hun-boulevard. He felt frightened of the darkness, of the snow dred! If each of you in the course of your lives visits this place which was falling in heavy flakes on the ground, and seemed or others like it two hundred and fifty times, it follows that as though it would cover up the whole world; he felt fright-one woman is killed for every two of you! Can’t you under-ened of the street lamps shining with pale light through the stand that? Isn’t it horrible to murder, two of you, three of clouds of snow. His soul was possessed by an unaccountable, you, five of you, a foolish, hungry woman! Ah! isn’t it awful, faint-hearted terror. Passers-by came towards him from time my God!”

to time, but he timidly moved to one side; it seemed to him

“I knew it would end like that,” the artist said frowning.

that women, none but women, were coming from all sides

“We ought not to have gone with this fool and ass! You imag-and staring at him… .

ine you have grand notions in your head now, ideas, don’t

“It’s beginning,” he thought, “I am going to have a break-you? No, it’s the devil knows what, but not ideas. You are down.”

looking at me now with hatred and repulsion, but I tell you it’s better you should set up twenty more houses like those VI

than look like that. There’s more vice in your expression than in the whole street! Come along, Volodya, let him go to the AT HOME HE LAY on his bed and said, shuddering all over: devil! He’s a fool and an ass, and that’s all… .”

“They are alive! Alive! My God, those women are alive!”

“We human beings do murder each other,” said the medical He encouraged his imagination in all sorts of ways to pic-student. “It’s immoral, of course, but philosophizing doesn’t ture himself the brother of a fallen woman, or her father; help it. Good-by!”

then a fallen woman herself, with her painted cheeks; and it 27

Anton Chekhov

all moved him to horror.

he wanted to or not, after having bought her out he made her It seemed to him that he must settle the question at once at his mistress; then when he had taken his degree, he went away all costs, and that this question was not one that did not con-and handed her into the keeping of some other decent man as cern him, but was his own personal problem. He made an though she were a thing. And the fallen woman remained a immense effort, repressed his despair, and, sitting on the bed, fallen woman. Others, after buying her out, took a lodging holding his head in his hands, began thinking how one could apart for her, bought the inevitable sewing-machine, and tried save all the women he had seen that day. The method for teaching her to read, preaching at her and giving her books.

attacking problems of all kinds was, as he was an educated The woman lived and sewed as long as it was interesting and man, well known to him. And, however excited he was, he a novelty to her, then getting bored, began receiving men on strictly adhered to that method. He recalled the history of the the sly, or ran away and went back where she could sleep till problem and its literature, and for a quarter of an hour he three o’clock, drink coffee, and have good dinners. The third paced from one end of the room to the other trying to re-class, the most ardent and self-sacrificing, had taken a bold, member all the methods practiced at the present time for sav-resolute step. They had married them. And when the insolent ing women. He had very many good friends and acquaintan-and spoilt, or stupid and crushed animal became a wife, the ces who lived in lodgings in Petersburg… . Among them were head of a household, and afterwards a mother, it turned her a good many honest and self-sacrificing men. Some of them whole existence and attitude to life upside down, so that it had attempted to save women… .

was hard to recognize the fallen woman afterwards in the wife

“All these not very numerous attempts,” thought Vassilyev, and the mother. Yes, marriage was the best and perhaps the

“can be divided into three groups. Some, after buying the only means.”

woman out of the brothel, took a room for her, bought her a

“But it is impossible!” Vassilyev said aloud, and he sank sewing-machine, and she became a semptress. And whether upon his bed. “I, to begin with, could not marry one! To do 28

The Schoolmistress and other stories that one must be a saint and be unable to feel hatred or repul-

“Where are you going and what for? Have some fear of God!” sion. But supposing that I, the medical student, and the artist He would turn to the apathetic cabmen and say to them: mastered ourselves and did marry them — suppose they were

“Why are you staying here? Why aren’t you revolted? Why all married. What would be the result? The result would be aren’t you indignant? I suppose you believe in God and know that while here in Moscow they were being married, some that it is a sin, that people go to hell for it? Why don’t you Smolensk accountant would be debauching another lot, and speak? It is true that they are strangers to you, but you know that lot would be streaming here to fill the vacant places, to-even they have fathers, brothers like yourselves… .” gether with others from Saratov, Nizhni-Novgorod, Warsaw…

One of Vassilyev’s friends had once said of him that he was a

. And what is one to do with the hundred thousand in Lon-talented man. There are all sorts of talents — talent for writing, don? What’s one to do with those in Hamburg?” talent for the stage, talent for art; but he had a peculi ar talent The lamp in which the oil had burnt down began to smoke.

— a talent for _humanity_. He possessed an extraordinarily Vassilyev did not notice it. He began pacing to and fro again, fine delicate scent for pain in general. As a good actor reflects in still thinking. Now he put the question differently: what must himself the movements and voice of others, so Vassilyev could be done that fallen women should not be needed? For that, it reflect in his soul the sufferings of others. When he saw tears, was essential that the men who buy them and do them to he wept; beside a sick man, he felt sick himself and moaned; if death should feel all the immorality of their share in enslav-he saw an act of violence, he felt as though he himself were the ing them and should be horrified. One must save the men.

victim of it, he was frightened as a child, and in his fright ran to

“One won’t do anything by art and science, that is clear …” help. The pain of others worked on his nerves, excited him, thought Vassilyev. “The only way out of it is missionary work.” roused him to a state of frenzy, and so on.

And he began to dream how he would the next evening Whether this friend were right I don’t know, but what stand at the corner of the street and say to every passer-by: Vassilyev experienced when he thought this question was 29

Anton Chekhov

settled was something like inspiration. He cried and laughed, turing him. It was a dull, vague, undefined anguish akin to spoke aloud the words that he should say next day, felt a fer-misery, to an extreme form of terror and to despair. He could vent love for those who would listen to him and would stand point to the place where the pain was, in his breast under his beside him at the corner of the street to preach; he sat down heart; but he could not compare it with anything. In the past to write letters, made vows to himself… .

he had had acute toothache, he had had pleurisy and neural-All this was like inspiration also from the fact that it did gia, but all that was insignificant compared with this spiritual not last long. Vassilyev was soon tired. The cases in London, anguish. In the presence of that pain life seemed loathsome.

in Hamburg, in Warsaw, weighed upon him by their mass as The dissertation, the excellent work he had written already, a mountain weighs upon the earth; he felt dispirited, bewil-the people he loved, the salvation of fallen women — every-dered, in the face of this mass; he remembered that he had thing that only the day before he had cared about or been not a gift for words, that he was cowardly and timid, that indifferent to, now when he thought of them irritated him in indifferent people would not be willing to listen and under-the same way as the noise of the carriages, the scurrying foot-stand him, a law student in his third year, a timid and insig-steps of the waiters in the passage, the daylight… . If at that nificant person; that genuine missionary work included not moment someone had performed a great deed of mercy or only teaching but deeds…

had committed a revolting outrage, he would have felt the same repulsion for both actions. Of all the thoughts that WHEN IT WAS DAYLIGHT and carriages were already beginning strayed through his mind only two did not irritate him: one to rumble in the street, Vassilyev was lying motionless on the was that at every moment he had the power to kill himself, sofa, staring into space. He was no longer thinking of the the other that this agony would not last more than three days.

women, nor of the men, nor of missionary work. His whole This last he knew by experience.

attention was turned upon the spiritual agony which was tor-After lying for a while he got up and, wringing his hands, 30

The Schoolmistress and other stories walked about the room, not as usual from corner to corner, ing. Thrusting his hands into his sleeves, shuddering and fright-but round the room beside the walls. As he passed he glanced ened at the noises, at the trambells, and at the passers-by, at himself in the looking-glass. His face looked pale and Vassilyev walked along Sadovoy Street as far as Suharev Tower; sunken, his temples looked hollow, his eyes were bigger, darker, then to the Red Gate; from there he turned off to Basmannya more staring, as though they belonged to someone else, and Street. He went into a tavern and drank off a big glass of they had an expression of insufferable mental agony.

vodka, but that did not make him feel better. When he reached At midday the artist knocked at the door.

Razgulya he turned to the right, and strode along side streets

“Grigory, are you at home?” he asked.

in which he had never been before in his life. He reached the Getting no answer, he stood for a minute, pondered, and old bridge by which the Yauza runs gurgling, and from which answered himself in Little Russian: “Nay. The confounded one can see long rows of lights in the windows of the Red fellow has gone to the University.” Barracks. To distract his spiritual anguish by some new sensa-And he went away. Vassilyev lay down on the bed and, tion or some other pain, Vassilyev, not knowing what to do, thrusting his head under the pillow, began crying with agony, crying and shuddering, undid his greatcoat and jacket and and the more freely his tears flowed the more terrible his exposed his bare chest to the wet snow and the wind. But mental anguish became. As it began to get dark, he thought that did not lessen his suffering either. Then he bent down of the agonizing night awaiting him, and was overcome by a over the rail of the bridge and looked down into the black, horrible despair. He dressed quickly, ran out of his room, yeasty Yauza, and he longed to plunge down head foremost; and, leaving his door wide open, for no object or reason, went not from loathing for life, not for the sake of suicide, but in out into the street. Without asking himself where he should order to bruise himself at least, and by one pain to ease the go, he walked quickly along Sadovoy Street.

other. But the black water, the darkness, the deserted banks Snow was falling as heavily as the day before; it was thaw-covered with snow were terrifying. He shivered and walked 31

Anton Chekhov

on. He walked up and down by the Red Barracks, then turned once to the doctor.”

back and went down to a copse, from the copse back to the

“Wherever you like, only for God’s sake, make haste” bridge again

“Don’t excite yourself. You must try and control yourself.”

“No, home, home!” he thought. “At home I believe it’s The artist and the medical student with trembling hands better…”

put Vassilyev’s coat and hat on and led him out into the street.

And he went back. When he reached home he pulled off

“Mihail Sergeyitch has been wanting to make your acquain-his wet coat and cap, began pacing round the room, and went tance for a long time,” the medical student said on the way.

on pacing round and round without stopping till morning.

“He is a very nice man and thoroughly good at his work. He took his degree in 1882, and he has an immense practice al-VII

ready. He treats students as though he were one himself.”

“Make haste, make haste! …” Vassilyev urged.

WHEN NEXT MORNING the artist and the medical student went Mihail Sergeyitch, a stout, fair-haired doctor, received the in to him, he was moving about the room with his shirt torn, friends with politeness and frigid dignity, and smiled only on biting his hands and moaning with pain.

one side of his face.

“For God’s sake!” he sobbed when he saw his friends, “take

“Rybnikov and Mayer have spoken to me of your illness me where you please, do what you can; but for God’s sake, already,” he said. “Very glad to be of service to you. Well? Sit save me quickly! I shall kill myself!” down, I beg… .”

The artist turned pale and was helpless. The medical stu-He made Vassilyev sit down in a big armchair near the table, dent, too, almost shed tears, but considering that doctors and moved a box of cigarettes towards him.

ought to be cool and composed in every emergency said coldly:

“Now then!” he began, stroking his knees. “Let us get to

“It’s a nervous breakdown. But it’s nothing. Let us go at work… . How old are you?”

32

The Schoolmistress and other stories He asked questions and the medical student answered them.

answer one question all would be lost. As he received answers, He asked whether Vassilyev’s father had suffered from certain the doctor for some reason noted them down on a slip of pa-special diseases, whether he drank to excess, whether he were reper. On learning that Vassilyev had taken his degree in natural markable for cruelty or any peculiarities. He made similar in-science, and was now studying law, the doctor pondered.

quiries about his grandfather, mother, sisters, and brothers. On

“He wrote a first-rate piece of original work last year, …” learning that his mother had a beautiful voice and sometimes said the medical student.

acted on the stage, he grew more animated at once, and asked:

“I beg your pardon, but don’t interrupt me; you prevent

“Excuse me, but don’t you remember, perhaps, your mother me from concentrating,” said the doctor, and he smiled on had a passion for the stage?”

one side of his face. “Though, of course, that does enter into Twenty minutes passed. Vassilyev was annoyed by the way the the diagnosis. Intense intellectual work, nervous exhaustion…

docto r kept stroking his knees and talking of the same thing.

. Yes, yes… . And do you drink vodka?” he said, addressing

“So far as I understand your questions, doctor,” he said, Vassilyev.

“you want to know whether my illness is hereditary or not. It

“Very rarely.”

is not.”

Another twenty minutes passed. The medical student began The doctor proceeded to ask Vassilyev whether he had had telling the doctor in a low voice his opinion as to the immedi-any secret vices as a boy, or had received injuries to his head; ate cause of the attack, and described how the day before yes-whether he had had any aberrations, any peculiarities, or excep-terday the artist, Vassilyev, and he had visited S. Street.

tional propensities. Half the questions usually asked by doctors The indifferent, reserved, and frigid tone in which his friends of their patients can be left unanswered without the slightest ill and the doctor spoke of the women and that miserable street effect on the health, but Mihail Sergeyitch, the medical stu-struck Vassilyev as strange in the extreme… .

dent, and the artist all looked as though if Vassilyev failed to

“Doctor, tell me one thing only,” he said, controlling him-33

Anton Chekhov

self so as not to speak rudely. “Is prostitution an evil or not?” spair, of feeling himself a specialist in that line, went up to

“My dear fellow, who disputes it?” said the doctor, with an Vassilyev and, without a word, gave him some medicine to expression that suggested that he had settled all such ques-drink; and then, when he was calmer, undressed him and be-tions for himself long ago. “Who disputes it?” gan to investigate the degree of sensibility of the skin, the

“You are a mental doctor, aren’t you?” Vassilyev asked curtly.

reflex action of the knees, and so on.

“Yes, a mental doctor.”

And Vassilyev felt easier. When he came out from the

“Perhaps all of you are right!” said Vassilyev, getting up and doctor’s he was beginning to feel ashamed; the rattle of the beginning to walk from one end of the room to the other.

carriages no longer irritated him, and the load at his heart

“Perhaps! But it all seems marvelous to me! That I should grew lighter and lighter as though it were melting away. He have taken my degree in two faculties you look upon as a had two prescriptions in his hand: one was for bromide, one great achievement; because I have written a work which in was for morphia… . He had taken all these remedies before.

three years will be thrown aside and forgotten, I am praised In the street he stood still and, saying good-by to his friends, up to the skies; but because I cannot speak of fallen women as dragged himself languidly to the University.

unconcernedly as of these chairs, I am being examined by a doctor, I am called mad, I am pitied!” Vassilyev for some reason felt all at once unutterably sorry for himself, and his companions, and all the people he had seen two days before, and for the doctor; he burst into tears and sank into a chair.

His friends looked inquiringly at the doctor. The latter, with the air of completely comprehending the tears and the de-34

The Schoolmistress and other stories MISERY

The pale light of the street lamps changes to a vivid color, and the bustle of the street grows noisier.

“To whom shall I tell my grief?”

“Sledge to Vyborgskaya!” Iona hears. “Sledge!” Iona starts, and through his snow-plastered eyelashes sees THE TWILIGHT of evening. Big flakes of wet snow are whirling an officer in a military overcoat with a hood over his head.

lazily about the street lamps, which have just been lighted, and

“To Vyborgskaya,” repeats the officer. “Are you asleep? To lying in a thin soft layer on roofs, horses’ backs, shoulders, caps.

Vyborgskaya!”

Iona Potapov, the sledge-driver, is all white like a ghost. He sits In token of assent Iona gives a tug at the reins which sends on the box without stirring, bent as double as the living body cakes of snow flying from the horse’s back and shoulders.

can be bent. If a regular snowdrift fell on him it seems as though The officer gets into the sledge. The sledge-driver clicks to even then he would not think it necessary to shake it off… .

the horse, cranes his neck like a swan, rises in his seat, and His little mare is white and motionless too. Her stillness, the more from habit than necessity brandishes his whip. The mare angularity of her lines, and the stick-like straightness of her legs cranes her neck, too, crooks her stick-like legs, and hesitat-make her look like a halfpenny gingerbread horse. She is prob-ingly sets of… .

ably lost in thought. Anyone who has been torn away from the

“Where are you shoving, you devil?” Iona immediately hears plough, from the familiar gray landscapes, and cast into this shouts from the dark mass shifting to and fro before him.

slough, full of monstrous lights, of unceasing uproar and hur-

“Where the devil are you going? Keep to the r-right!” rying people, is bound to think.

“You don’t know how to drive! Keep to the right,” says the It is a long time since Iona and his nag have budged. They officer angrily.

came out of the yard before dinnertime and not a single fare A coachman driving a carriage swears at him; a pedestrian yet. But now the shades of evening are falling on the town.

crossing the road and brushing the horse’s nose with his shoul-35

Anton Chekhov

der looks at him angrily and shakes the snow off his sleeve.

with heavy grace swings his whip. Several times he looks round Iona fidgets on the box as though he were sitting on thorns, at the officer, but the latter keeps his eyes shut and is appar-jerks his elbows, and turns his eyes about like one possessed as ently disinclined to listen. Putting his fare down at though he did not know where he was or why he was there.

Vyborgskaya, Iona stops by a restaurant, and again sits huddled

“What rascals they all are!” says the officer jocosely. “They up on the box… . Again the wet snow paints him and his are simply doing their best to run up against you or fall under horse white. One hour passes, and then another… .

the horse’s feet. They must be doing it on purpose.” Three young men, two tall and thin, one short and hunch-Iona looks as his fare and moves his lips… . Apparently he backed, come up, railing at each other and loudly stamping means to say something, but nothing comes but a sniff.

on the pavement with their goloshes.

“What?” inquires the officer.

“Cabby, to the Police Bridge!” the hunchback cries in a Iona gives a wry smile, and straining his throat, brings out cracked voice. “The three of us, … twenty kopecks!” huskily: “My son … er … my son died this week, sir.” Iona tugs at the reins and clicks to his horse. Twenty ko-

“H’m! What did he die of?”

pecks is not a fair price, but he has no thoughts for that.

Iona turns his whole body round to his fare, and says: Whether it is a rouble or whether it is five kopecks does not

“Who can tell! It must have been from fever… . He lay matter to him now so long as he has a fare… . The three three days in the hospital and then he died… . God’s will.” young men, shoving each other and using bad language, go

“Turn round, you devil!” comes out of the darkness. “Have up to the sledge, and all three try to sit down at once. The you gone cracked, you old dog? Look where you are going!” question remains to be settled: Which are to sit down and

“Drive on! drive on! …” says the officer. “We shan’t get which one is to stand? After a long altercation, ill-temper, and there till to-morrow going on like this. Hurry up!” abuse, they come to the conclusion that the hunchback must The sledge-driver cranes his neck again, rises in his seat, and stand because he is the shortest.

36

The Schoolmistress and other stories

“Well, drive on,” says the hunchback in his cracked voice, voice of the hunchback. He hears abuse addressed to him, he settling himself and breathing down Iona’s neck. “Cut along!

sees people, and the feeling of loneliness begins little by little What a cap you’ve got, my friend! You wouldn’t find a worse to be less heavy on his heart. The hunchback swears at him, one in all Petersburg… .”

till he chokes over some elaborately whimsical string of epi-

“He-he! … he-he! …” laughs Iona. “It’s nothing to boast of!” thets and is overpowered by his cough. His tall companions

“Well, then, nothing to boast of, drive on! Are you going begin talking of a certain Nadyezhda Petrovna. Iona looks to drive like this all the way? Eh? Shall I give you one in the round at them. Waiting till there is a brief pause, he looks neck?”

round once more and says:

“My head aches,” says one of the tall ones. “At the

“This week … er… my… er… son died!” Dukmasovs’ yesterday Vaska and I drank four bottles of brandy

“We shall all die, …” says the hunchback with a sigh, wip-between us.”

ing his lips after coughing. “Come, drive on! drive on! My

“I can’t make out why you talk such stuff,” says the other friends, I simply cannot stand crawling like this! When will tall one angrily. “You lie like a brute.” he get us there?”

“Strike me dead, it’s the truth! …”

“Well, you give him a little encouragement … one in the

“It’s about as true as that a louse coughs.” neck!”

“He-he!” grins Iona. “Me-er-ry gentlemen!”

“Do you hear, you old plague? I’ll make you smart. If one

“Tfoo! the devil take you!” cries the hunchback indignantly.

stands on ceremony with fellows like you one may as well

“Will you get on, you old plague, or won’t you? Is that the walk. Do you hear, you old dragon? Or don’t you care a hang way to drive? Give her one with the whip. Hang it all, give it what we say? “

her well.”

And Iona hears rather than feels a slap on the back of his Iona feels behind his back the jolting person and quivering neck.

37

Anton Chekhov

“He-he! … “ he laughs. “Merry gentlemen … . God give ery to flow out, it would flood the whole world, it seems, you health!”