A. Chekhov - Gusev
The first outline visible in the darkness was a blue circle --
the little round window; then little by little Gusev could
distinguish his neighbour in the next hammock, Pavel Ivanitch.
The man slept sitting up, as he could not breathe lying down.
His face was grey, his nose was long and sharp, his eyes looked
huge from the terrible thinness of his face, his temples were
sunken, his beard was skimpy, his hair was long. . . . Looking
at him you could not make out of what class he was, whether he
were a gentleman, a merchant, or a peasant. Judging from his
expression and his long hair he might have been a hermit or a
lay brother in a monastery -- but if one listened to what he
said it seemed that he could not be a monk. He was worn out by
his cough and his illness and by the stifling heat, and breathed
with difficulty, moving his parched lips. Noticing that Gusev
was looking at him he turned his face towards him and said:
"I begin to guess. . . . Yes. . . . I understand it all
"What do you understand, Pavel Ivanitch?"
"I'll tell you. . . . It has always seemed to me strange that
terribly ill as you are you should be here in a steamer where it
is so hot and stifling and we are always being tossed up and
down, where, in fact, everything threatens you with death; now
it is all clear to me. . . . Yes. . . . Your doctors put you on
the steamer to get rid of you. They get sick of looking after
poor brutes like you. . . . You don't pay them anything, they
have a bother with you, and you damage their records with your
deaths -- so, of course, you are brutes! It's not difficult to
get rid of you. . . . All that is necessary is, in the first
place, to have no conscience or humanity, and, secondly, to
deceive the steamer authorities. The first condition need hardly
be considered, in that respect we are artists; and one can
always succeed in the second with a little practice. In a crowd
of four hundred healthy soldiers and sailors half a dozen sick
ones are not conspicuous; well, they drove you all on to the
steamer, mixed you with the healthy ones, hurriedly counted you
over, and in the confusion nothing amiss was noticed, and when
the steamer had started they saw that there were paralytics and
consumptives in the last stage lying about on the deck. . . ."
Gusev did not understand Pavel Ivanitch; but supposing he was
being blamed, he said in self-defence:
"I lay on the deck because I had not the strength to stand; when
we were unloaded from the barge on to the ship I caught a
"It's revolting," Pavel Ivanitch went on. "The worst of it is
they know perfectly well that you can't last out the long
journey, and yet they put you here. Supposing you get as far as
the Indian Ocean, what then? It's horrible to think of it. . . .
And that's their gratitude for your faithful, irreproachable
Pavel Ivanitch's eyes looked angry; he frowned contemptuously
and said, gasping:
"Those are the people who ought to be plucked in the newspapers
till the feathers fly in all directions."
The two sick soldiers and the sailor were awake and already
playing cards. The sailor was half reclining in his hammock, the
soldiers were sitting near him on the floor in the most
uncomfortable attitudes. One of the soldiers had his right arm
in a sling, and the hand was swathed up in a regular bundle so
that he held his cards under his right arm or in the crook of
his elbow while he played with the left. The ship was rolling
heavily. They could not stand up, nor drink tea, nor take their
"Were you an officer's servant?" Pavel Ivanitch asked Gusev.
"Yes, an officer's servant."
"My God, my God!" said Pavel Ivanitch, and he shook his head
mournfully. "To tear a man out of his home, drag him twelve
thousand miles away, then to drive him into consumption and. . .
and what is it all for, one wonders? To turn him into a servant
for some Captain Kopeikin or midshipman Dirka! How logical!"
"It's not hard work, Pavel Ivanitch. You get up in the morning
and clean the boots, get the samovar, sweep the rooms, and then
you have nothing more to do. The lieutenant is all the day
drawing plans, and if you like you can say your prayers, if you
like you can read a book or go out into the street. God grant
everyone such a life."
"Yes, very nice, the lieutenant draws plans all the day and you
sit in the kitchen and pine for home. . . . Plans indeed! . . .
It is not plans that matter, but a human life. Life is not given
twice, it must be treated mercifully."
"Of course, Pavel Ivanitch, a bad man gets no mercy anywhere,
neither at home nor in the army, but if you live as you ought
and obey orders, who has any need to insult you? The officers
are educated gentlemen, they understand. . . . In five years I
was never once in prison, and I was never struck a blow, so help
me God, but once."
"For fighting. I have a heavy hand, Pavel Ivanitch. Four
Chinamen came into our yard; they were bringing firewood or
something, I don't remember. Well, I was bored and I knocked
them about a bit, one's nose began bleeding, damn the fellow. .
. . The lieutenant saw it through the little window, he was
angry and gave me a box on the ear."
"Foolish, pitiful man . . ." whispered Pavel Ivanitch. "You
don't understand anything."
He was utterly exhausted by the tossing of the ship and closed
his eyes; his head alternately fell back and dropped forward on
his breast. Several times he tried to lie down but nothing came
of it; his difficulty in breathing prevented it.
"And what did you hit the four Chinamen for?" he asked a little
"Oh, nothing. They came into the yard and I hit them."
And a stillness followed. . . . The card-players had been
playing for two hours with enthusiasm and loud abuse of one
another, but the motion of the ship overcame them, too; they
threw aside the cards and lay down. Again Gusev saw the big
pond, the brick building, the village. . . . Again the sledge
was coming along, again Vanka was laughing and Akulka, silly
little thing, threw open her fur coat and stuck her feet out, as
much as to say: "Look, good people, my snowboots are not like
Vanka's, they are new ones."
"Five years old, and she has no sense yet," Gusev muttered in
delirium. "Instead of kicking your legs you had better come and
get your soldier uncle a drink. I will give you something nice."
Then Andron with a flintlock gun on his shoulder was carrying a
hare he had killed, and he was followed by the decrepit old Jew
Isaitchik, who offers to barter the hare for a piece of soap;
then the black calf in the shed, then Domna sewing at a shirt
and crying about something, and then again the bull's head
without eyes, black smoke. . . .
Overhead someone gave a loud shout, several sailors ran by, they
seemed to be dragging something bulky over the deck, something
fell with a crash. Again they ran by. . . . Had something gone
wrong? Gusev raised his head, listened, and saw that the two
soldiers and the sailor were playing cards again; Pavel Ivanitch
was sitting up moving his lips. It was stifling, one hadn't
strength to breathe, one was thirsty, the water was warm,
disgusting. The ship heaved as much as ever.
Suddenly something strange happened to one of the soldiers
playing cards. . . . He called hearts diamonds, got muddled in
his score, and dropped his cards, then with a frightened,
foolish smile looked round at all of them.
"I shan't be a minute, mates, I'll . . ." he said, and lay down
on the floor.
Everybody was amazed. They called to him, he did not answer.
"Stephan, maybe you are feeling bad, eh?" the soldier with his
arm in a sling asked him. "Perhaps we had better bring the
"Have a drink of water, Stepan . . ." said the sailor. "Here,
"Why are you knocking the jug against his teeth?" said Gusev
angrily. "Don't you see, turnip head?'
"What?" Gusev repeated, mimicking him. "There is no breath in
him, he is dead! That's what! What nonsensical people, Lord have
mercy on us. . . !"