and Other Stories
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.
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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.
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
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.
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
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.
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
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
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.
“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.”
“Mind you don’t drown the horse.”
“The whole school only cost a thousand. It’s wrong to slan-
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
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:
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 s