A.P. Chekhov -
A Gentleman Friend
THE charming Vanda, or, as she was described
in her passport, the "Honourable Citizen Nastasya Kanavkina,"
found herself, on leaving the hospital, in a position she had
never been in before: without a home to go to or a farthing in
her pocket. What was she to do?
The first thing she did was to visit a pawn-broker's and pawn
her turquoise ring, her one piece of jewellery. They gave her a
rouble for the ring . . . but what can you get for a rouble? You
can't buy for that sum a fashionable short jacket, nor a big
hat, nor a pair of bronze shoes, and without those things she
had a feeling of being, as it were, undressed. She felt as
though the very horses and dogs were staring and laughing at the
plainness of her dress. And clothes were all she thought about:
the question what she should eat and where she should sleep did
not trouble her in the least.
"If only I could meet a gentleman friend," she thought to
herself, "I could get some money. . . . There isn't one who
would refuse me, I know. . ."
But no gentleman she knew came her way. It would be easy enough
to meet them in the evening at the "Renaissance," but they
wouldn't let her in at the "Renaissance" in that shabby dress
and with no hat. What was she to do?
After long hesitation, when she was sick of walking and sitting
and thinking, Vanda made up her mind to fall back on her last
resource: to go straight to the lodgings of some gentleman
friend and ask for money.
She pondered which to go to. "Misha is out of the question; he's
a married man. . . . The old chap with the red hair will be at
his office at this time. . ."
Vanda remembered a dentist, called Finkel, a converted Jew, who
six months ago had given her a bracelet, and on whose head she
had once emptied a glass of beer at the supper at the German
Club. She was awfully pleased at the thought of Finkel.
"He'll be sure to give it me, if only I find him at home," she
thought, as she walked in his direction. "If he doesn't, I'll
smash all the lamps in the house."
Before she reached the dentist's door she thought out her plan
of action: she would run laughing up the stairs, dash into the
dentist's room and demand twenty-five roubles. But as she
touched the bell, this plan seemed to vanish from her mind of
itself. Vanda began suddenly feeling frightened and nervous,
which was not at all her way. She was bold and saucy enough at
drinking parties, but now, dressed in everyday clothes, feeling
herself in the position of an ordinary person asking a favour,
who might be refused admittance, she felt suddenly timid and
humiliated. She was ashamed and frightened.
"Perhaps he has forgotten me by now," she thought, hardly daring
to pull the bell. "And how can I go up to him in such a dress,
looking like a beggar or some working girl?"
And she rang the bell irresolutely.
She heard steps coming: it was the porter.
"Is the doctor at home?" she asked.
She would have been glad now if the porter had said "No," but
the latter, instead of answering ushered her into the hall, and
helped her off with her coat. The staircase impressed her as
luxurious, and magnificent, but of all its splendours what
caught her eye most was an immense looking-glass, in which she
saw a ragged figure without a fashionable jacket, without a big
hat, and without bronze shoes. And it seemed strange to Vanda
that, now that she was humbly dressed and looked like a
laundress or sewing girl, she felt ashamed, and no trace of her
usual boldness and sauciness remained, and in her own mind she
no longer thought of herself as Vanda, but as the Nastasya
Kanavkin she used to be in the old days. . . .
"Walk in, please," said a maidservant, showing her into the
consulting-room. "The doctor will be here in a minute. Sit
Vanda sank into a soft arm-chair.
"I'll ask him to lend it me," she thought; "that will be quite
proper, for, after all, I do know him. If only that servant
would go. I don't like to ask before her. What does she want to
stand there for?"
Five minutes later the door opened and Finkel came in. He was a
tall, dark Jew, with fat cheeks and bulging eyes. His cheeks,
his eyes, his chest, his body, all of him was so well fed, so
loathsome and repellent! At the "Renaissance" and the German
Club he had usually been rather tipsy, and would spend his money
freely on women, and be very long-suffering and patient with
their pranks (when Vanda, for instance, poured the beer over his
head, he simply smiled and shook his finger at her): now he had
a cross, sleepy expression and looked solemn and frigid like a
police captain, and he kept chewing something.
"What can I do for you?" he asked, without looking at Vanda.
Vanda looked at the serious countenance of the maid and the smug
figure of Finkel, who apparently did not recognize her, and she
"What can I do for you?" repeated the dentist a little
"I've got toothache," murmured Vanda.
"Aha! . . . Which is the tooth? Where?"
Vanda remembered she had a hole in one of her teeth.
"At the bottom . . . on the right . . ." she said.
"Hm! . . . Open your mouth."
Finkel frowned and, holding his breath, began examining the
"Does it hurt?" he asked, digging into it with a steel
"Yes," Vanda replied, untruthfully.
"Shall I remind him?" she was wondering. "He would be sure to
remember me. But that servant! Why will she stand there?"
Finkel suddenly snorted like a steam-engine right into her
mouth, and said:
"I don't advise you to have it stopped. That tooth will never be
worth keeping anyhow."
After probing the tooth a little more and soiling Vanda's lips
and gums with his tobacco-stained fingers, he held his breath
again, and put something cold into her mouth. Vanda suddenly
felt a sharp pain, cried out, and clutched at Finkel's hand.
"It's all right, it's all right," he muttered; "don't you be
frightened! That tooth would have been no use to you, anyway . .
. you must be brave. . ."
And his tobacco-stained fingers, smeared with blood, held up the
tooth to her eyes, while the maid approached and put a basin to
"You wash out your mouth with cold water when you get home, and
that will stop the bleeding," said Finkel.
He stood before her with the air of a man expecting her to go,
waiting to be left in peace.
"Good-day," she said, turning towards the door.
"Hm! . . . and how about my fee?" enquired Finkel, in a jesting
"Oh, yes!" Vanda remembered, blushing, and she handed the Jew
the rouble that had been given her for her ring.
When she got out into the street she felt more overwhelmed with
shame than before, but now it was not her poverty she was
ashamed of. She was unconscious now of not having a big hat and
a fashionable jacket. She walked along the street, spitting
blood, and brooding on her life, her ugly, wretched life, and
the insults she had endured, and would have to endure to-morrow,
and next week, and all her life, up to the very day of her
"Oh! how awful it is! My God, how fearful!"
Next day, however, she was back at the "Renaissance," and
dancing there. She had on an enormous new red hat, a new
fashionable jacket, and bronze shoes. And she was taken out to
supper by a young merchant up from Kazan.
passport: Russians had to have passports even for travel within
Kanavkin: the name suggests "gutter" or "ditch"