Chekhov - Gusev
The ship was not rocking and Pavel Ivanitch was more cheerful.
He was no longer ill-humoured. His face had a boastful, defiant,
mocking expression. He looked as though he wanted to say: "Yes,
in a minute I will tell you something that will make you split
your sides with laughing." The little round window was open and
a soft breeze was blowing on Pavel Ivanitch. There was a sound
of voices, of the plash of oars in the water. . . . Just under
the little window someone began droning in a high, unpleasant
voice: no doubt it was a Chinaman singing.
"Here we are in the harbour," said Pavel Ivanitch, smiling
ironically. "Only another month and we shall be in Russia. Well,
worthy gentlemen and warriors! I shall arrive at Odessa and from
there go straight to Harkov. In Harkov I have a friend, a
literary man. I shall go to him and say, 'Come, old man, put
aside your horrid subjects, ladies' amours and the beauties of
nature, and show up human depravity.' "
For a minute he pondered, then said:
"Gusev, do you know how I took them in?"
"Took in whom, Pavel Ivanitch?"
"Why, these fellows. . . . You know that on this steamer there
is only a first-class and a third-class, and they only allow
peasants -- that is the rift-raft -- to go in the third. If you
have got on a reefer jacket and have the faintest resemblance to
a gentleman or a bourgeois you must go first-class, if you
please. You must fork out five hundred roubles if you die for
it. Why, I ask, have you made such a rule? Do you want to raise
the prestige of educated Russians thereby? Not a bit of it. We
don't let you go third-class simply because a decent person
can't go third-class; it is very horrible and disgusting. Yes,
indeed. I am very grateful for such solicitude for decent
people's welfare. But in any case, whether it is nasty there or
nice, five hundred roubles I haven't got. I haven't pilfered
government money. I haven't exploited the natives, I haven't
trafficked in contraband, I have flogged no one to death, so
judge whether I have the right to travel first-class and even
less to reckon myself of the educated class? But you won't catch
them with logic. . . . One has to resort to deception. I put on
a workman's coat and high boots, I assumed a drunken, servile
mug and went to the agents: 'Give us a little ticket, your
honour,' said I. . . ."
"Why, what class do you belong to?" asked a sailor.
"Clerical. My father was an honest priest, he always told the
great ones of the world the truth to their faces; and he had a
great deal to put up with in consequence."
Pavel Ivanitch was exhausted with talking and gasped for breath,
but still went on:
"Yes, I always tell people the truth to their faces. I am not
afraid of anyone or anything. There is a vast difference between
me and all of you in that respect. You are in darkness, you are
blind, crushed; you see nothing and what you do see you don't
understand. . . . You are told the wind breaks loose from its
chain, that you are beasts, Petchenyegs, and you believe it;
they punch you in the neck, you kiss their hands; some animal in
a sable-lined coat robs you and then tips you fifteen kopecks
and you: 'Let me kiss your hand, sir.' You are pariahs, pitiful
people. . . . I am a different sort. My eyes are open, I see it
all as clearly as a hawk or an eagle when it floats over the
earth, and I understand it all. I am a living protest. I see
irresponsible tyranny -- I protest. I see cant and hypocrisy --
I protest. I see swine triumphant -- I protest. And I cannot be
suppressed, no Spanish Inquisition can make me hold my tongue.
No. . . . Cut out my tongue and I would protest in dumb show;
shut me up in a cellar -- I will shout from it to be heard half
a mile away, or I will starve myself to death that they may have
another weight on their black consciences. Kill me and I will
haunt them with my ghost. All my acquaintances say to me: 'You
are a most insufferable person, Pavel Ivanitch.' I am proud of
such a reputation. I have served three years in the far East,
and I shall be remembered there for a hundred years: I had rows
with everyone. My friends write to me from Russia, 'Don't come
back,' but here I am going back to spite them . . . yes. . . .
That is life as I understand it. That is what one can call
Gusev was looking at the little window and was not listening. A
boat was swaying on the transparent, soft, turquoise water all
bathed in hot, dazzling sunshine. In it there were naked
Chinamen holding up cages with canaries and calling out:
"It sings, it sings!"
Another boat knocked against the first; the steam cutter darted
by. And then there came another boat with a fat Chinaman sitting
in it, eating rice with little sticks.
Languidly the water heaved, languidly the white seagulls floated
"I should like to give that fat fellow one in the neck," thought
Gusev, gazing at the stout Chinaman, with a yawn.
He dozed off, and it seemed to him that all nature was dozing,
too. Time flew swiftly by; imperceptibly the day passed,
imperceptibly the darkness came on. . . . The steamer was no
longer standing still, but moving on further.