The schoolmistress and other stories by Anton Chechov - HTML preview

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but yet it is not seen. It has found a hiding-place in such an

“Cabman, are you married?” asks one of the tall ones.

insignificant shell that one would not have found it with a

“I? He he! Me-er-ry gentlemen. The only wife for me now candle by daylight… .

is the damp earth… . He-ho-ho!… .The grave that is! …

Iona sees a house-porter with a parcel and makes up his Here my son’s dead and I am alive… . It’s a strange thing, mind to address him.

death has come in at the wrong door… . Instead of coming

“What time will it be, friend?” he asks.

for me it went for my son… .”

“Going on for ten… . Why have you stopped here? Drive And Iona turns round to tell them how his son died, but at on!”

that point the hunchback gives a faint sigh and announces Iona drives a few paces away, bends himself double, and that, thank God! they have arrived at last. After taking his gives himself up to his misery. He feels it is no good to appeal twenty kopecks, Iona gazes for a long while after the revelers, to people. But before five minutes have passed he draws him-who disappear into a dark entry. Again he is alone and again self up, shakes his head as though he feels a sharp pain, and there is silence for him… . The misery which has been for a tugs at the reins… . He can bear it no longer.

brief space eased comes back again and tears his heart more

“Back to the yard!” he thinks. “To the yard!” cruelly than ever. With a look of anxiety and suffering Iona’s And his little mare, as though she knew his thoughts, falls eyes stray restlessly among the crowds moving to and fro on to trotting. An hour and a half later Iona is sitting by a big both sides of the street: can he not find among those thou-dirty stove. On the stove, on the floor, and on the benches are sands someone who will listen to him? But the crowds flit by people snoring. The air is full of smells and stuffiness. Iona heedless of him and his misery… . His misery is immense, looks at the sleeping figures, scratches himself, and regrets beyond all bounds. If Iona’s heart were to burst and his mis-that he has come home so early… .

38

The Schoolmistress and other stories

“I have not earned enough to pay for the oats, even,” he talk about her too… . Yes, he has plenty to talk about now.

thinks. “That’s why I am so miserable. A man who knows His listener ought to sigh and exclaim and lament… . It would how to do his work, … who has had enough to eat, and be even better to talk to women. Though they are silly crea-whose horse has had enough to eat, is always at ease… .” tures, they blubber at the first word.

In one of the corners a young cabman gets up, clears his

“Let’s go out and have a look at the mare,” Iona thinks.

throat sleepily, and makes for the water-bucket.

“There is always time for sleep… . You’ll have sleep enough,

“Want a drink?” Iona asks him.

no fear… .”

“Seems so.”

He puts on his coat and goes into the stables where his

“May it do you good… . But my son is dead, mate… . Do mare is standing. He thinks about oats, about hay, about the you hear? This week in the hospital… . It’s a queer business… .” weather… . He cannot think about his son when he is alone…

Iona looks to see the effect produced by his words, but he

. To talk about him with someone is possible, but to think of sees nothing. The young man has covered his head over and is him and picture him is insufferable anguish… .

already asleep. The old man sighs and scratches himself… .

“Are you munching?” Iona asks his mare, seeing her shining Just as the young man had been thirsty for water, he thirsts eyes. “There, munch away, munch away… . Since we have for speech. His son will soon have been dead a week, and he not earned enough for oats, we will eat hay… . Yes, … I have has not really talked to anybody yet … . He wants to talk of grown too old to drive… . My son ought to be driving, not it properly, with deliberation… . He wants to tell how his I… . He was a real cabman… . He ought to have lived… .” son was taken ill, how he suffered, what he said before he Iona is silent for a while, and then he goes on: died, how he died… . He wants to describe the funeral, and

“That’s how it is, old girl… . Kuzma Ionitch is gone… .

how he went to the hospital to get his son’s clothes. He still He said good-by to me… . He went and died for no rea-has his daughter Anisya in the country… . And he wants to son… . Now, suppose you had a little colt, and you were 39

Anton Chekhov

own mother to that little colt… . And all at once that CHAMPAGNE:

same little colt went and died… . You’d be sorry, wouldn’t A Wayfarer’s Story

you? …”

The little mare munches, listens, and breathes on her master’s IN THE YEAR in which my story begins I had a job at a little hands. Iona is carried away and tells her all about it.

station on one of our southwestern railways. Whether I had a gay or a dull life at the station you can judge from the fact that for fifteen miles round there was not one human habita-tion, not one woman, not one decent tavern; and in those days I was young, strong, hot-headed, giddy, and foolish. The only distraction I could possibly find was in the windows of the passenger trains, and in the vile vodka which the Jews drugged with thorn-apple. Sometimes there would be a glimpse of a woman’s head at a carriage window, and one would stand like a statue without breathing and stare at it until the train turned into an almost invisible speck; or one would drink all one could of the loathsome vodka till one was stupefied and did not feel the passing of the long hours and days. Upon me, a native of the no rth, the steppe produced the effect of a deserted Tatar cemetery. In the summer the steppe with its solemn calm, the monotonous chur of the grasshoppers, the transparent moonlight from which one could 40

The Schoolmistress and other stories not hide, reduced me to listless melancholy; and in the winter not merely my good looks, or my soul, but my sins, my ill-the irreproachable whiteness of the steppe, its cold distance, humor and boredom, and even my cruelty when, in drunken long nights, and howling wolves oppressed me like a heavy fury, not knowing how to vent my ill-humor, I tormented nightmare. There were several people living at the station: my her with reproaches.

wife and I, a deaf and scrofulous telegraph clerk, and three In spite of the boredom which was consuming me, we were watchmen. My assistant, a young man who was in consump-preparing to see the New Year in with exceptional festiveness, tion, used to go for treatment to the town, where he stayed and were awaiting midnight with some impatience. The fact for months at a time, leaving his duties to me together with is, we had in reserve two bottles of champagne, the real thing, the right of pocketing his salary. I had no children, no cake with the label of Veuve Clicquot; this treasure I had won the would have tempted visitors to come and see me, and I could previous autumn in a bet with the station-master of D. when only visit other officials on the line, and that no oftener than I was drinking with him at a christening. It sometimes hap-once a month.

pens during a lesson in mathematics, when the very air is still I remember my wife and I saw the New Year in. We sat at with boredom, a butterfly flutters into the class-room; the table, chewed lazily, and heard the deaf telegraph clerk mo-boys toss their heads and begin watching its flight with inter-notonously tapping on his apparatus in the next room. I had est, as though they saw before them not a butterfly but some-already drunk five glasses of drugged vodka, and, propping thing new and strange; in the same way ordinary champagne, my heavy head on my fist, thought of my overpowering bore-chancing to come into our dreary station, roused us. We sat dom from which there was no escape, while my wife sat be-in silence looking alternately at the clock and at the bottles.

side me and did not take her eyes off me. She looked at me as When the hands pointed to five minutes to twelve I slowly no one can look but a woman who has nothing in this world began uncorking a bottle. I don’t know whether I was af-but a handsome husband. She loved me madly, slavishly, and fected by the vodka, or whether the bottle was wet, but all I 41

Anton Chekhov

remember is that when the cork flew up to the ceiling with a Outside there was the still frosty night in all its cold, inhospi-bang, my bottle slipped out of my hands and fell on the floor.

table beauty. The moon and two white fluffy clouds beside it Not more than a glass of the wine was spilt, as I managed to hung just over the station, motionless as though glued to the catch the bottle and put my thumb over the foaming neck.

spot, and looked as though waiting for something. A faint trans-

“Well, may the New Year bring you happiness!” I said, fill-parent light came from them and touched the white earth softly, ing two glasses. “Drink!”

as though afraid of wounding her modesty, and lighted up ev-My wife took her glass and fixed her frightened eyes on me.

erything — the snowdrifts, the embankment… . It was still.

Her face was pale and wore a look of horror.

I walked along the railway embankment.

“Did you drop the bottle?” she asked.

“Silly woman,” I thought, looking at the sky spangled with

“Yes. But what of that?”

brilliant stars. “Even if one admits that omens sometimes tell

“It’s unlucky,” she said, putting down her glass and turning the truth, what evil can happen to us? The misfortunes we paler still. “It’s a bad omen. It means that some misfortune have endured already, and which are facing us now, are so will happen to us this year.”

great that it is difficult to imagine anything worse. What fur-

“What a silly thing you are,” I sighed. “You are a clever woman, ther harm can you do a fish which has been caught and fried and yet you talk as much nonsense as an old nurse. Drink.” and served up with sauce?”

“God grant it is nonsense, but … something is sure to hap-A poplar covered with hoar frost looked in the bluish dark-pen! You’ll see.”

ness like a giant wrapt in a shroud. It looked at me sullenly She did not even sip her glass, she moved away and sank and dejectedly, as though like me it realized its loneliness. I into thought. I uttered a few stale commonplaces about su-stood a long while looking at it.

perstition, drank half a bottle, paced up and down, and then

“My youth is thrown away for nothing, like a useless ciga-went out of the room.

rette end,” I went on musing. “My parents died when I was a 42

The Schoolmistress and other stories little child; I was expelled from the high school, I was born of youth is being wasted, as the saying is, for a pinch of snuff.

a noble family, but I have received neither education nor breed-Women flit before my eyes only in the carriage windows, like ing, and I have no more knowledge than the humblest me-falling stars. Love I never had and have not. My manhood, chanic. I have no refuge, no relations, no friends, no work I my courage, my power of feeling are going to ruin… . Every-like. I am not fitted for anything, and in the prime of my thing is being thrown away like dirt, and all my wealth here powers I am good for nothing but to be stuffed into this in the steppe is not worth a farthing.” little station; I have known nothing but trouble and failure The train rushed past me with a roar and indifferently cast the all my life. What can happen worse?” glow of its red lights upon me. I saw it stop by the green lights of Red lights came into sight in the distance. A train was mov-the station, stop for a minute and rumble off again. After walking towards me. The slumbering steppe listened to the sound ing a mile and a half I went back. Melancholy thoughts haunted of it. My thoughts were so bitter that it seemed to me that I me still. Painful as it was to me, yet I remember I tried as it were was thinking aloud and that the moan of the telegraph wire to make my thoughts still gloomier and more melancholy. You and the rumble of the train were expressing my thoughts.

know people who are vain and not very clever have moments

“What can happen worse? The loss of my wife?” I won-when the consciousness that they are miserable affords them dered. “Even that is not terrible. It’s no good hiding it from positive satisfaction, and they even coquet with their misery for my conscience: I don’t love my wife. I married her when I their own entertainment. There was a great deal of truth in what was only a wretched boy; now I am young and vigorous, and I thought, but there was also a great deal that was absurd and she has gone off and grown older and sillier, stuffed from her conceited, and there was something boyishly defiant in my ques-head to her heels with conventional ideas. What charm is there tion: “What could happen worse?”

in her maudlin love, in her hollow chest, in her lusterless eyes?

“And what is there to happen?” I asked myself. “I think I I put up with her, but I don’t love her. What can happen? My have endured everything. I’ve been ill, I’ve lost money, I get 43

Anton Chekhov

reprimanded by my superiors every day, and I go hungry, and pered rapidly:

a mad wolf has run into the station yard. What more is there?

“Of course it is queer her having come, but don’t be cross, I have been insulted, humiliated, … and I have insulted oth-Nikolay, and don’t be hard on her. She is unhappy, you know; ers in my time. I have not been a criminal, it is true, but I Uncle Semyon Fyodoritch really is ill-natured and tyrannical, don’t think I am capable of crime — I am not afraid of being it is difficult to live with him. She says she will only stay three hauled up for it.”

days with us, only till she gets a letter from her brother.” The two little clouds had moved away from the moon and My wife whispered a great deal more nonsense to me about stood at a little distance, looking as though they were whis-her despotic uncle; about the weakness of mankind in general pering about something which the moon must not know. A and of young wives in particular; about its being our duty to light breeze was racing across the steppe, bringing the faint give shelter to all, even great sinners, and so on. Unable to rumble of the retreating train.

make head or tail of it, I put on my new coat and went to My wife met me at the doorway. Her eyes were laughing make acquaintance with my “aunt.”

gaily and her whole face was beaming with good-humor.

A little woman with large black eyes was sitting at the table.

“There is news for you!” she whispered. “Make haste, go to My table, the gray walls, my roughly-made sofa, everything your room and put on your new coat; we have a visitor.” to the tiniest grain of dust seemed to have grown younger

“What visitor?”

and more cheerful in the presence of this new, young, beauti-

“Aunt Natalya Petrovna has just come by the train.” ful, and dissolute creature, who had a most subtle perfume

“What Natalya Petrovna?”

about her. And that our visitor was a lady of easy virtue I

“The wife of my uncle Semyon Fyodoritch. You don’t know could see from her smile, from her scent, from the peculiar her. She is a very nice, good woman.” way in which she glanced and made play with her eyelashes, Probably I frowned, for my wife looked grave and whis-from the tone in which she talked with my wife — a respect-44

The Schoolmistress and other stories able woman. There was no need to tell me she had run away to know how love begins may read novels and long stories; I from her husband, that her husband was old and despotic, will put it shortly and in the words of the same silly song: that she was good-natured and lively; I took it all in at the first glance. Indeed, it is doubtful whether there is a man in

“It was an evil hour

all Europe who cannot spot at the first glance a woman of a When first I met you.”

certain temperament.

“I did not know I had such a big nephew!” said my aunt, Everything went head over heels to the devil. I remember a holding out her hand to me and smiling.

fearful, frantic whirlwind which sent me flying round like a

“And I did not know I had such a pretty aunt,” I answered.

feather. It lasted a long while, and swept from the face of the Supper began over again. The cork flew with a bang out of earth my wife and my aunt herself and my strength. From the second bottle, and my aunt swallowed half a glassful at a the little station in the steppe it has flung me, as you see, into gulp, and when my wife went out of the room for a moment this dark street.

my aunt did not scruple to drain a full glass. I was drunk Now tell me what further evil can happen to me?

both with the wine and with the presence of a woman. Do you remember the song?

“Eyes black as pitch, eyes full of passion, Eyes burning bright and beautiful,

How I love you, How I fear you!”

I don’t remember what happened next. Anyone who wants 45

Anton Chekhov

AFTER THE THEATRE

“Leave off declaring that you love me,” Nadya went on writing, thinking of Gorny. “I cannot believe it. You are very NADYA ZELENIN HAD just come back with her mamma from clever, cultivated, serious, you have immense talent, and per-the theatre where she had seen a performance of “Yevgeny haps a brilliant future awaits you, while I am an uninteresting Onyegin.” As soon as she reached her own room she threw girl of no importance, and you know very well that I should off her dress, let down her hair, and in her petticoat and white be only a hindrance in your life. It is true that you were at-dressing-jacket hastily sat down to the table to write a letter tracted by me and thought you had found your ideal in me, like Tatyana’s.

but that was a mistake, and now you are asking yourself in

“I love you,” she wrote, “but you do not love me, do not despair: ‘Why did I meet that girl?’ And only your goodness love me!”

of heart prevents you from owning it to yourself… .” She wrote it and laughed.

Nadya felt sorry for herself, she began to cry, and went on: She was only sixteen and did not yet love anyone. She knew

“It is hard for me to leave my mother and my brother, or I that an officer called Gorny and a student called Gruzdev loved should take a nun’s veil and go whither chance may lead me.

her, but now after the opera she wanted to be doubtful of And you would be left free and would love another. Oh, if I their love. To be unloved and unhappy — how interesting were dead! “

that was. There is something beautiful, touching, and poeti-She could not make out what she had written through her cal about it when one loves and the other is indifferent.

tears; little rainbows were quivering on the table, on the floor, Onyegin was interesting because he was not in love at all, and on the ceiling, as though she were looking through a prism.

Tatyana was fascinating because she was so much in love; but She could not write, she sank back in her easy-chair and fell if they had been equally in love with each other and had been to thinking of Gorny.

happy, they would perhaps have seemed dull.

My God! how interesting, how fascinating men were! Nadya 46

The Schoolmistress and other stories recalled the fine expression, ingratiating, guilty, and soft, which to see us yesterday and stayed till two o’clock. We were all came into the officer’s face when one argued about music delighted with him, and I regretted that you had not come.

with him, and the effort he made to prevent his voice from He said a great deal that was remarkable.” betraying his passion. In a society where cold haughtiness and Nadya laid her arms on the table and leaned her head on indifference are regarded as signs of good breeding and gentle-them, and her hair covered the letter. She recalled that the manly bearing, one must conceal one’s passions. And he did student, too, loved her, and that he had as much right to a try to conceal them, but he did not succeed, and everyone letter from her as Gorny. Wouldn’t it be better after all to knew very well that he had a passionate love of music. The write to Gruzdev? There was a stir of joy in her bosom for no endless discussions about music and the bold criticisms of reason whatever; at first the joy was small, and rolled in her people who knew nothing about it kept him always on the bosom like an india-rubber ball; then it became more mas-strain; he was frightened, timid, and silent. He played the sive, bigger, and rushed like a wave. Nadya forgot Gorny and piano magnificently, like a professional pianist, and if he had Gruzdev; her thoughts were in a tangle and her joy grew and not been in the army he would certainly have been a famous grew; from her bosom it passed into her arms and legs, and it musician.

seemed as though a light, cool breeze were breathing on her The tears on her eyes dried. Nadya remembered that Gorny head and ruffling her hair. Her shoulders quivered with sub-had declared his love at a Symphony concert, and again down-dued laughter, the table and the lamp chimney shook, too, stairs by the hatstand where there was a tremendous draught and tears from her eyes splashed on the letter. She could not blowing in all directions.

stop laughing, and to prove to herself that she was not laugh-

“I am very glad that you have at last made the acquaintance ing about nothing she made haste to think of something funny.

of Gruzdev, our student friend,” she went on writing. “He is

“What a funny poodle,” she said, feeling as though she would a very clever man, and you will be sure to like him. He came choke with laughter. “What a funny poodle! “ 47

Anton Chekhov

She thought how, after tea the evening before, Gruzdev had things. She had a passionate longing for the garden, the dark-played with Maxim the poodle, and afterwards had told them ness, the pure sky, the stars. Again her shoulders shook with about a very intelligent poodle who had run after a crow in laughter, and it seemed to her that there was a scent of worm-the yard, and the crow had looked round at him and said: wood in the room and that a twig was tapping at the window.

“Oh, you scamp! “

She went to her bed, sat down, and not knowing what to do The poodle, not knowing he had to do with a learned crow, with the immense joy which filled her with yearning, she looked was fearfully confused and retreated in perplexity, then began at the holy image hanging at the back of her bed, and said: barking… .

“Oh, Lord God! Oh, Lord God!”

“No, I had better love Gruzdev,” Nadya decided, and she tore up the letter to Gorny.

She fell to thinking of the student, of his love, of her love; but the thoughts in her head insisted on flowing in all directions, and she thought about everything — about her mother, about the street, about the pencil, about the piano… . She thought of them joyfully, and felt that everything was good, splendid, and her joy told her that this was not all, that in a little while it would be better still. Soon it would be spring, summer, going with her mother to Gorbiki. Gorny would come for his furlough, would walk about the garden with her and make love to her. Gruzdev would come too. He would play croquet and skittles with her, and would tell her wonderful 48

The Schoolmistress and other stories A LADY’S STORY

Infected by his gaiety, I too began laughing at the thought that in a minute I should be drenched to the skin and might NINE YEARS AGO Pyotr Sergeyitch, the deputy prosecutor, and be struck by lightning.

I were riding towards evening in hay-making time to fetch Riding swiftly in a hurricane when one is breathless with the letters from the station.

the wind, and feels like a bird, thrills one and puts one’s heart The weather was magnificent, but on our way back we heard in a flutter. By the time we rode into our courtyard the wind a peal of thunder, and saw an angry black storm-cloud which had gone down, and big drops of rain were pattering on the was coming straight towards us. The storm-cloud was ap-grass and on the roofs. There was not a soul near the stable.

proaching us and we were approaching it.

Pyotr Sergeyitch himself took the bridles off, and led the Against the background of it our house and church looked horses to their stalls. I stood in the doorway waiting for him white and the tall poplars shone like silver. There was a scent to finish, and watching the slanting streaks of rain; the sweet-of rain and mown hay. My companion was in high spirits.

ish, exciting scent of hay was even stronger here than in the He kept laughing and talking all sorts of nonsense. He said it fields; the storm-clouds and the rain made it almost twilight.

would be nice if we could suddenly come upon a medieval

“What a crash!” said Pyotr Sergeyitch, coming up to me castle with turreted towers, with moss on it and owls, in which after a very loud rolling peal of thunder when it seemed as we could take shelter from the rain and in the end be killed though the sky were split in two. “What do you say to that?” by a thunderbolt… .

He stood beside me in the doorway and, still breathless Then the first wave raced through the rye and a field of oats, from his rapid ride, looked at me. I could see that he was there was a gust of wind, and the dust flew round and round in admiring me.

the air. Pyotr Sergeyitch laughed and spurred on his horse.

“Natalya Vladimirovna,” he said, “I would give anything only

“It’s fine!” he cried, “it’s splendid!” to stay here a little longer and look at you. You are lovely to-day.” 49

Anton Chekhov

His eyes looked at me with delight and supplication, his looked at me in surprise and began laughing too.

face was pale. On his beard and mustache were glittering rain-The storm-clouds had passed over and the thunder had drops, and they, too, seemed to be looking at me with love.

ceased, but the raindrops still glittered on Pyotr Sergeyitch’s

“I love you,” he said. “I love you, and I am happy at seeing beard. The whole evening till supper-time he was singing, you. I know you cannot be my wife, but I want nothing, I whistling, playing noisily with the dog and racing about the ask nothing; only know that I love you. Be silent, do not room after it, so that he nearly upset the servant with the answer me, take no notice of it, but only know that you are samovar. And at supper he ate a great deal, talked nonsense, dear to me and let me look at you.” and maintained that when one eats fresh cucumbers in winter His rapture affected me too; I looked at his enthusiastic there is the fragrance of spring in one’s mouth.

face, listened to his voice which mingled with the patter of When I went to bed I lighted a candle and threw my win-the rain, and stood as though spellbound, unable to stir.

dow wide open, and an undefined feeling took possession of I longed to go on endlessly looking at his shining eyes and my soul. I remembered that I was free and healthy, that I had listening.

rank and wealth, that I was beloved; above all, that I had rank

“You say nothing, and that is splendid,” said Pyotr and wealth, rank and wealth, my God! how nice that was! …

Sergeyitch. “Go on being silent.”

Then, huddling up in bed at a touch of cold which reached I felt happy. I laughed with delight and ran through the me from the garden with the dew, I tried to discover whether drenching rain to the house; he laughed too, and, leaping as I loved Pyotr Sergeyitch or not, … and fell asleep unable to he went, ran after me.

reach any conclusion.

Both drenched, panting, noisily clattering up the stairs like And when in the morning I saw quivering patches of sun-children, we dashed into the room. My father and brother, light and the shadows of the lime trees on my bed, what had who were not used to seeing me laughing and light-hearted, happened yesterday rose vividly in my memory. Life seemed 50

The Schoolmistress and other stories to me rich, varied, full of charm. Humming, I dressed quickly know them, are too timid, spiritless, lazy, and oversensitive, and went out into the garden… .

and are too ready to resign themselves to the thought that And what happened afterwards? Why — nothing. In the they are doomed to failure, that personal life has disappointed winter when we lived in town Pyotr Sergeyitch came to see them; instead of struggling they merely criticize, calling the us from time to time. Country acquaintances are charming world vulgar and forgetting that their criticism passes little by only in the country and in summer; in the town and in win-little into vulgarity.

ter they lose their charm. When you pour out tea for them in I was loved, happiness was not far away, and seemed to be the town it seems as though they are wearing other people’s almost touching me; I went on living in careless ease without coats, and as though they stirred their tea too long. In the trying to understand myself, not knowing what I expected or town, too, Pyotr Sergeyitch spoke sometimes of love, but what I wanted from life, and time went on and on… . People the effect was not at all the same as in the country. In the passed by me with their love, bright days and warm nights town we were more vividly conscious of the wall that stood flashed by, the nightingales sang, the hay smelt fragrant, and between us. I had rank and wealth, while he was poor, and he all this, sweet and overwhelming in remembrance, passed with was not even a nobleman, but only the son of a deacon and a me as with everyone rapidly, leaving no trace, was not prized, deputy public prosecutor; we both of us — I through my and vanished like mist… . Where is it all?

youth and he for some unknown reason — thought of that My father is dead, I have grown older; everything that de-wall as very high and thick, and when he was with us in the lighted me, caressed me, gave me hope — the patter of the town he would criticize aristocratic society with a forced smile, rain, the rolling of the thunder, thoughts of happiness, talk of and maintain a sullen silence when there was anyone else in love —all that has become nothing but a memory, and I see the drawing-room. There is no wall that cannot be broken before me a flat desert dist ance; on the plain not one living through, but the heroes of the modern romance, so far as I soul, and out there on the horizon it is dark and terrible… .

51

Anton Chekhov

A ring at the bell… . It is Pyotr Sergeyitch. When in the sionately longed for what had passed away and what life re-winter I see the trees and remember how green they were for fused us now. And now I did not think about rank and wealth.

me in the summer I whisper:

I broke into loud sobs, pressing my temples, and muttered:

“Oh, my darlings!”

“My God! my God! my life is wasted!” And when I see people with whom I spent my spring-time, And he sat and was silent, and did not say to me: “Don’t I feel sorrowful and warm and whisper the same thing.

weep.” He understood that I must weep, and that the time He has long ago by my father’s good offices been transfor this had come.

ferred to town. He looks a little older, a little fallen away. He I saw from his eyes that he was sorry for me; and I was sorry has long given up declaring his love, has left off talking non-for him, too, and vexed with this timid, unsuccessful man sense, dislikes his official work, is ill in some way and disillu-who could not make a life for me, nor for himself.

sioned; he has given up trying to get anything out of life, and When I saw him to the door, he was, I fancied, purposely a takes no interest in living. Now he has sat down by the hearth long while putting on his coat. Twice he kissed my hand with-and looks in silence at the fire… .

out a word, and looked a long while into my tear-stained Not knowing what to say I ask him:

face. I believe at that moment he recalled the storm, the streaks

“Well, what have you to tell me?”

of rain, our laughter, my face that day; he longed to say some-

“Nothing,” he answers.

thing to me, and he would have been glad to say it; but he And silence again. The red glow of the fire plays about his said nothing, he merely shook his head and pressed my hand.

melancholy face.

God help him!

I thought of the past, and all at once my shoulders began After seeing him out, I went back to my study and again sat quivering, my head dropped, and I began weeping bitterly. I on the carpet before the fireplace; the red embers were cov-felt unbearably sorry for myself and for this man, and pas-ered with ash and began to grow dim. The frost tapped still 52

The Schoolmistress and other stories more angrily at the windows, and the wind droned in the IN EXILE

chimney.

The maid came in and, thinking I was asleep, called my OLD SEMYON, NICKNAMED Canny, and a young Tatar, whom name.

no one knew by name, were sitting on the river-bank by the camp-fire; the other three ferrymen were in the hut. Semyon, an old man of sixty, lean and toothless, but broad shouldered and still healthy-looking, was drunk; he would have gone in to sleep long before, but he had a bottle in his pocket and he was afraid that the fellows in the hut would ask him for vodka.

The Tatar was ill and weary, and wrapping himself up in his rags was describing how nice it was in the Simbirsk province, and what a beautiful and clever wife he had left behind at home. He was not more than twenty five, and now by the light of the camp-fire, with his pale and sick, mournful face, he looked like a boy.

“To be sure, it is not paradise here,” said Canny. “You can see for yourself, the water, the bare banks, clay, and nothing else… . Easter has long passed and yet there is ice on the river, and this morning there was snow…”

“It’s bad! it’s bad!” said the Tatar, and looked round him in terror.

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Anton Chekhov

The dark, cold river was flowing ten paces away; it grumbled, Siberia while I shall stay and shall begin going from bank to lapped against the hollow clay banks and raced on swiftly bank. I’ve been going like that for twenty-two years, day and towards the far-away sea. Close to the bank there was the night. The pike and the salmon are under the water while I dark blur of a big barge, which the ferrymen called a “karbos.” am on the water. And thank God for it, I want nothing; God Far away on the further bank, lights, dying down and flicker-give everyone such a life.”

ing up again, zigzagged like little snakes; they were burning The Tatar threw some dry twigs on the camp-fire, lay down last year’s grass. And beyond the little snakes there was dark-closer to the blaze, and said:

ness again. There little icicles could be heard knocking against

“My father is a sick man. When he dies my mother and the barge It was damp and cold… .

wife will come here. They have promised.” The Tatar glanced at the sky. There were as many stars as at

“And what do you want your wife and mother for?” asked home, and the same blackness all round, but something was Canny. “That’s mere foolishness, my lad. It’s the devil con-lacking. At home in the Simbirsk province the stars were quite founding you, damn his soul! Don’t you listen to him, the different, and so was the sky.

cursed one. Don’t let him have his way. He is at you about the

“It’s bad! it’s bad!” he repeated.

women, but you spite him; say, ‘I don’t want them!’ He is on

“You will get used to it,” said Semyon, and he laughed.

at you about freedom, but you stand up to him and say: ‘I

“Now you are young and foolish, the milk is hardly dry on don’t want it!’ I want nothing, neither father nor mother, nor your lips, and it seems to you in your foolishness that you are wife, nor freedom, nor post, nor paddock; I want nothing, more wretched than anyone; but the time will come when damn their souls!”

you will say to yourself: ‘I wish no one a better life than mine.’

Semyon took a pull at the bottle and went on: You look at me. Within a week the floods will be over and we

“I am not a simple peasant, not of the working class, but shall set up the ferry; you will all go wandering off about the son of a deacon, and when I was free I lived at Kursk; I 54

The Schoolmistress and other stories used to wear a frockcoat, and now I have brought myself to he, ‘but a settler.’ ‘Well,’ says I, ‘God help you, that’s the such a pass that I can sleep naked on the ground and eat grass.

right thing.’ He was a young man then, busy and careful; he And I wish no one a better life. I want nothing and I am used to mow himself and catch fish and ride sixty miles on afraid of nobody, and the way I look at it is that there is horseback. Only this is what happened: from the very first nobody richer and freer than I am. When they sent me here year he took to riding to Gyrino for the post; he used to from Russia from the first day I stuck it out; I want nothing!

stand on my ferry and sigh: ‘Ech, Semyon, how long it is The devil was at me about my wife and about my home and since they sent me any money from home!’ ‘You don’t want about freedom, but I told him: ‘I want nothing.’ I stuck to it, money, Vassily Sergeyitch,’ says I. ‘What use is it to you? You and here you see I live well, and I don’t complain, and if any-cast away the past, and forget it as though it had never been at one gives way to the devil and listens to him, if but once, he all, as though it had been a dream, and begin to live anew.

is lost, there is no salvation for him: he is sunk in the bog to Don’t listen to the devil,’ says I; ‘he will bring you to no the crown of his head and will never get out.

good, he’ll draw you into a snare. Now you want money,’

“It is not only a foolish peasant like you, but even gentle-says I, ‘ but in a very little while you’ll be wanting something men, well-educated people, are lost. Fifteen years ago they else, and then more and more. If you want to be happy,’ says sent a gentleman here from Russia. He hadn’t shared some-I, the chief thing is not to want anything. Yes… . If,’ says I, ‘if thing with his brothers and had forged something in a will.

Fate has wronged you and me cruelly it’s no good asking for They did say he was a prince or a baron, but maybe he was her favor and bowing down to her, but you despise her and simply an official — who knows? Well, the gentleman ar-laugh at her, or else she will laugh at you.’ That’s what I said rived here, and first thing he bought himself a house and land to him… .

in Muhortinskoe. ‘I want to live by my own work,’ says he,

“Two years later I ferried him across to this side, and he was

‘in the sweat of my brow, for I am not a gentleman now,’ says rubbing his hands and laughing. ‘ I am going to Gyrino to 55

Anton Chekhov

meet my wife,’ says he. ‘She was sorry for me,’ says he; ‘she drunken people and no sort of manners, and she was a spoilt has come. She is good and kind.’ And he was breathless with lady from Petersburg or Moscow… . To be sure she moped.

joy. So a day later he came with his wife. A beautiful young Besides, her husband, say what you like, was not a gentleman lady in a hat; in her arms was a baby girl. And lots of luggage now, but a settler — not the same rank.

of all sorts. And my Vassily Sergeyitch was fussing round her;

“Three years later, I remember, on the eve of the Assump-he couldn’t take his eyes off her and couldn’t say enough in tion, there was shouting from the further bank. I went over praise of her. ‘Yes, brother Semyon, even in Siberia people with the ferry, and what do I see but the lady, all wrapped up, can live!’ ‘Oh, all right,’ thinks I, ‘it will be a different tale and with her a young gentleman, an official. A sledge with presently.’ And from that time forward he went almost every three horses… . I ferried them across here, they got in and week to inquire whether money had not come from Russia.

away like the wind. They were soon lost to sight. And to-He wanted a lot of money. ‘She is losing her youth and beauty wards morning Vassily Sergeyitch galloped down to the ferry.

here in Siberia for my sake,’ says he, ‘and sharing my bitter lot

‘Didn’t my wife come this way with a gentleman in spec-with me, and so I ought,’ says he, ‘to provide her with every tacles, Semyon?’ ‘She did,’ said I; ‘you may look for the wind comfort… .’

in the fields!’ He galloped in pursuit of them. For five days

“To make it livelier for the lady he made acquaintance with and nights he was riding after them. When I ferried him over the officials and all sorts of riff-raff. And of course he had to to the other side afterwards, he flung himself on the ferry and give food and drink to all that crew, and there had to be a beat his head on the boards of the ferry and howled. ‘So that’s piano and a shaggy lapdog on the sofa — plague take it! …

how it is,’ says I. I laughed, and reminded him ‘people can Luxury, in fact, self-indulgence. The lady did not stay with live even in Siberia!’ And he beat his head harder than ever… .

him long. How could she? The clay, the water, the cold, no

“Then he began longing for freedom. His wife had slipped vegetables for you, no fruit. All around you ignorant and off to Russia, and of course he was drawn there to see her and 56

The Schoolmistress and other stories to get her away from her lover. And he took, my lad, to gal-right,’ says I, ‘that’s true, certainly.’ But to myself I thought: loping almost every day, either to the post or the town to see

‘Wait a bit, the wench is young, her blood is dancing, she the commanding officer; he kept sending in petitions for them wants to live, and there is no life here.’ And she did begin to to have mercy on him and let him go back home; and he used pine, my lad… . She faded and faded, and now she can hardly to say that he had spent some two hundred roubles on tele-crawl about. Consumption.

grams alone. He sold his land and mortgaged his house to the

“So you see what Siberian happiness is, damn its soul! You Jews. He grew gray and bent, and yellow in the face, as though see how people can live in Siberia… . He has taken to going he was in consumption. If he talked to you he would go, from one doctor to another and taking them home with him.

khee — khee — khee,… and there were tears in his eyes. He As soon as he hears that two or three hundred miles away kept rushing about like this with petitions for eight years, there is a doctor or a sorcerer, he will drive to fetch him. A but now he has grown brighter and more cheerful again: he terrible lot of money he spent on doctors, and to my think-has found another whim to give way to. You see, his daughter ing he had better have spent the money on drink… . She’ll has grown up. He looks at her, and she is the apple of his eye.

die just the same. She is certain to die, and then it will be all And to tell the truth she is all right, good-looking, with black over with him. He’ll hang himself from grief or run away to eyebrows and a lively disposition. Every Sunday he used to Russia — that’s a sure thing. He’ll run away and they’ll catch ride with her to church in Gyrino. They used to stand on the him, then he will be tried, sent to prison, he will have a taste ferry, side by side, she would laugh and he could not take his of the lash… .”

eyes off her. ‘Yes, Semyon,’ says he, ‘people can live even in

“Good! good!” said the Tatar, shivering with cold.

Siberia. Even in Siberia there is happiness. Look,’ says he, ‘what

“What is good?” asked Canny.

a daughter I have got! I warrant you wouldn’t find another

“His wife, his daughter… . What of prison and what of like her for a thousand versts round.’ ‘Your daughter is all sorrow! — anyway, he did see his wife and his daughter… .

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Anton Chekhov

You say, want nothing. But ‘nothing’ is bad! His wife lived still did not understand why he was here in the darkness and with him three years — that was a gift from God. ‘Nothing’

the wet, beside strangers, and not in the Simbirsk province.

is bad, but three years is good. How not understand?” Canny lay near the fire, chuckled at something, and began Shivering and hesitating, with effort picking out the Rus-humming a song in an undertone.

sian words of which he knew but few, the Tatar said that God

“What joy has she with her father?” he said a little later. “He forbid one should fall sick and die in a strange land, and be loves her and he rejoices in her, that’s true; but, mate, you buried in the cold and dark earth; that if his wife came to him must mind your ps and qs with him, he is a strict old man, a for one day, even for one hour, that for such happiness he harsh old man. And young wenches don’t want strictness. They would be ready to bear any suffering and to thank God. Bet-want petting and ha-ha-ha! and ho-ho-ho! and scent and poter one day of happiness than nothing.

made. Yes… . Ech! life, life,” sighed Semyon, and he got up Then he described again what a beautiful and clever wife he heavily. “The vodka is all gone, so it is time to sleep. Eh? I am had left at home. Then, clutching his head in both hands, he going, my lad… .”

began crying and assuring Semyon that he was not guilty, and Left alone, the Tatar put on more twigs, lay down and stared was suffering for nothing. His two brothers and an uncle had at the fire; he began thinking of his own village and of his carried off a peasant’s horses, and had beaten the old man till he wife. If his wife could only come for a month, for a day; and was half dead, and the commune had not judged fairly, but then if she liked she might go back again. Better a month or had contrived a sentence by which all the three brothers were even a day than nothing. But if his wife kept her promise and sent to Siberia, while the uncle, a rich man, was left at home.

came, what would he have to feed her on? Where could she

“You will get used to it!” said Semyon.

live here?

The Tatar was silent, and stared with tear-stained eyes at the

“If there were not something to eat, how could she live?” fire; his face expressed bewilderment and fear, as though he the Tatar asked aloud.

58

The Schoolmistress and other stories He was paid only ten kopecks for working all day and all huts of the village lay clustered higher up. The cocks were night at the oar; it is true that travelers gave him tips for tea already crowing in the village.

and for vodkas but the men shared all they received among The rusty red clay slope, the barge, the river, the strange, themselves, and gave nothing to the Tatar, but only laughed unkind people, hunger, cold, illness, perhaps all that was not at him. And from poverty he was hungry, cold, and fright-real. Most likely it was all a dream, thought the Tatar. He felt ened… . Now, when his whole body was aching and shiver-that he was asleep and heard his own snoring… . Of course ing, he ought to go into the hut and lie down to sleep; but he he was at home in the Simbirsk province, and he had only to had nothing to cover him there, and it was colder than on the call his wife by name for her to answer; and in the next room river-bank; here he had nothing to cover him either, but at was his mother… . What terrible dreams there are, though!

least he could make up the fire… .

What are they for? The Tatar smiled and opened his eyes.

In another week, when the floods were quite ov er and they What river was this, the Volga?

set the ferry going, none of the ferrymen but Semyon would Snow was falling.

be wanted, and the Tatar would begin going from village to

“Boat!” was shouted on the further side. “Boat!” village begging for alms and for work. His wife was only sev-The Tatar woke up, and went to wake his mates and row enteen; she was beautiful, spoilt, and shy; could she possibly over to the other side. The ferrymen came on to the river-go from village to village begging alms with her face unveiled?

bank, putting on their torn sheepskins as they walked, swear-No, it was terrible even to think of that… .

ing with voices husky from sleepiness and shivering from the It was already getting light; the barge, the bushes of willow cold. On waking from their sleep, the river, from which came on the water, and the waves could be clearly discerned, and if a breath of piercing cold, seemed to strike them as revolting one looked round there was the steep clay slope; at the bot-and horrible. They jumped into the barge without hurrying tom of it the hut thatched with dingy brown straw, and the themselves… . The Tatar and the three ferrymen took the 59

Anton Chekhov

long, broad-bladed oars, which in the darkness looked like the Another ten minutes passed, and the barge banged heavily claws of crabs; Semyon leaned his stomach against the tiller.

against the landing-stage.

The shout on the other side still continued, and two shots were