A. P. Chekhov -
There were sounds of applause. The young man had finished
playing. Olga Mihalovna remembered her guests and hurried into
"I have so enjoyed your playing," she said, going up to the
piano. "I have so enjoyed it. You have a wonderful talent! But
don't you think our piano's out of tune?"
At that moment the two schoolboys walked into the room,
accompanied by the student.
"My goodness! Mitya and Kolya," Olga Mihalovna drawled joyfully,
going to meet them: "How big they have grown! One would not know
you! But where is your mamma?"
"I congratulate you on the name-day," the student began in a
free-and-easy tone, "and I wish you all happiness. Ekaterina
Andreyevna sends her congratulations and begs you to excuse her.
She is not very well."
"How unkind of her! I have been expecting her all day. Is it
long since you left Petersburg?" Olga Mihalovna asked the
student. "What kind of weather have you there now?" And without
waiting for an answer, she looked cordially at the schoolboys
"How tall they have grown! It is not long since they used to
come with their nurse, and they are at school already! The old
grow older while the young grow up. . . . Have you had dinner?"
"Oh, please don't trouble!" said the student.
"Why, you have not had dinner?"
"For goodness' sake, don't trouble!"
"But I suppose you are hungry?" Olga Mihalovna said it in a
harsh, rude voice, with impatience and vexation -- it escaped
her unawares, but at once she coughed, smiled, and flushed
crimson. "How tall they have grown!" she said softly.
"Please don't trouble!" the student said once more.
The student begged her not to trouble; the boys said nothing;
obviously all three of them were hungry. Olga Mihalovna took
them into the dining-room and told Vassily to lay the table.
"How unkind of your mamma!" she said as she made them sit down.
"She has quite forgotten me. Unkind, unkind, unkind . . . you
must tell her so. What are you studying?" she asked the student.
"Well, I have a weakness for doctors, only fancy. I am very
sorry my husband is not a doctor. What courage any one must have
to perform an operation or dissect a corpse, for instance!
Horrible! Aren't you frightened? I believe I should die of
terror! Of course, you drink vodka?"
"Please don't trouble."
"After your journey you must have something to drink. Though I
am a woman, even I drink sometimes. And Mitya and Kolya will
drink Malaga. It's not a strong wine; you need not be afraid of
it. What fine fellows they are, really! They'll be thinking of
getting married next."
Olga Mihalovna talked without ceasing; she knew by experience
that when she had guests to entertain it was far easier and more
comfortable to talk than to listen. When you talk there is no
need to strain your attention to think of answers to questions,
and to change your expression of face. But unawares she asked
the student a serious question; the student began a lengthy
speech and she was forced to listen. The student knew that she
had once been at the University, and so tried to seem a serious
person as he talked to her.
"What subject are you studying?" she asked, forgetting that she
had already put that question to him.
Olga Mihalovna now remembered that she had been away from the
ladies for a long while.
"Yes? Then I suppose you are going to be a doctor?" she said,
getting up. "That's splendid. I am sorry I did not go in for
medicine myself. So you will finish your dinner here, gentlemen,
and then come into the garden. I will introduce you to the young
She went out and glanced at her watch: it was five minutes to
six. And she wondered that the time had gone so slowly, and
thought with horror that there were six more hours before
midnight, when the party would break up. How could she get
through those six hours? What phrases could she utter? How
should she behave to her husband?
There was not a soul in the drawing-room or on the verandah. All
the guests were sauntering about the garden.
"I shall have to suggest a walk in the birchwood before tea, or
else a row in the boats," thought Olga Mihalovna, hurrying to
the croquet ground, from which came the sounds of voices and
"And sit the old people down to vint. . . ." She met Grigory the
footman coming from the croquet ground with empty bottles.
"Where are the ladies?" she asked.
"Among the raspberry-bushes. The master's there, too."
"Oh, good heavens!" some one on the croquet lawn shouted with
exasperation. "I have told you a thousand times over! To know
the Bulgarians you must see them! You can't judge from the
Either because of the outburst or for some other reason, Olga
Mihalovna was suddenly aware of a terrible weakness all over,
especially in her legs and in her shoulders. She felt she could
not bear to speak, to listen, or to move.
"Grigory," she said faintly and with an effort, "when you have
to serve tea or anything, please don't appeal to me, don't ask
me anything, don't speak of anything. . . . Do it all yourself,
and . . . and don't make a noise with your feet, I entreat you.
. . . I can't, because . . ."
Without finishing, she walked on towards the croquet lawn, but
on the way she thought of the ladies, and turned towards the
raspberry-bushes. The sky, the air, and the trees looked gloomy
again and threatened rain; it was hot and stifling. An immense
flock of crows, foreseeing a storm, flew cawing over the garden.
The paths were more overgrown, darker, and narrower as they got
nearer the kitchen garden. In one of them, buried in a thick
tangle of wild pear, crab-apple, sorrel, young oaks, and
hopbine, clouds of tiny black flies swarmed round Olga
Mihalovna. She covered her face with her hands and began forcing
herself to think of the little creature. . . . There floated
through her imagination the figures of Grigory, Mitya, Kolya,
the faces of the peasants who had come in the morning to present
She heard footsteps, and she opened her eyes. Uncle Nikolay
Nikolaitch was coming rapidly towards her.
"It's you, dear? I am very glad . . ." he began, breathless. "A
couple of words. . . ." He mopped with his handkerchief his red
shaven chin, then suddenly stepped back a pace, flung up his
hands and opened his eyes wide. "My dear girl, how long is this
going on?" he said rapidly, spluttering. "I ask you: is there no
limit to it? I say nothing of the demoralizing effect of his
martinet views on all around him, of the way he insults all that
is sacred and best in me and in every honest thinking man -- I
will say nothing about that, but he might at least behave
decently! Why, he shouts, he bellows, gives himself airs, poses
as a sort of Bonaparte, does not let one say a word. . . . I
don't know what the devil's the matter with him! These lordly
gestures, this condescending tone; and laughing like a general!
Who is he, allow me to ask you? I ask you, who is he? The
husband of his wife, with a few paltry acres and the rank of a
titular who has had the luck to marry an heiress! An upstart and
a junker, like so many others! A type out of Shtchedrin! Upon my
word, it's either that he's suffering from megalomania, or that
old rat in his dotage, Count Alexey Petrovitch, is right when he
says that children and young people are a long time growing up
nowadays, and go on playing they are cabmen and generals till
they are forty!"
"That's true, that's true," Olga Mihalovna assented. "Let me
"Now just consider: what is it leading to?" her uncle went on,
barring her way. "How will this playing at being a general and a
Conservative end? Already he has got into trouble! Yes, to stand
his trial! I am very glad of it! That's what his noise and
shouting has brought him to -- to stand in the prisoner's dock.
And it's not as though it were the Circuit Court or something:
it's the Central Court! Nothing worse could be imagined, I
think! And then he has quarrelled with every one! He is
celebrating his name-day, and look, Vostryakov's not here, nor
Yahontov, nor Vladimirov, nor Shevud, nor the Count. . . . There
is no one, I imagine, more Conservative than Count Alexey
Petrovitch, yet even he has not come. And he never will come
again. He won't come, you will see!"
"My God! but what has it to do with me?" asked Olga Mihalovna.
"What has it to do with you? Why, you are his wife! You are
clever, you have had a university education, and it was in your
power to make him an honest worker!"
"At the lectures I went to they did not teach us how to
influence tiresome people. It seems as though I should have to
apologize to all of you for having been at the University," said
Olga Mihalovna sharply. "Listen, uncle. If people played the
same scales over and over again the whole day long in your
hearing, you wouldn't be able to sit still and listen, but would
run away. I hear the same thing over again for days together all
the year round. You must have pity on me at last."
Her uncle pulled a very long face, then looked at her
searchingly and twisted his lips into a mocking smile.
"So that's how it is," he piped in a voice like an old woman's.
"I beg your pardon!" he said, and made a ceremonious bow. "If
you have fallen under his influence yourself, and have abandoned
your convictions, you should have said so before. I beg your
"Yes, I have abandoned my convictions," she cried. "There; make
the most of it!"
"I beg your pardon!"
Her uncle for the last time made her a ceremonious bow, a little
on one side, and, shrinking into himself, made a scrape with his
foot and walked back.
"Idiot!" thought Olga Mihalovna. "I hope he will go home."
She found the ladies and the young people among the raspberries
in the kitchen garden. Some were eating raspberries; others,
tired of eating raspberries, were strolling about the strawberry
beds or foraging among the sugar-peas. A little on one side of
the raspberry bed, near a branching appletree propped up by
posts which had been pulled out of an old fence, Pyotr Dmitritch
was mowing the grass. His hair was falling over his forehead,
his cravat was untied. His watch-chain was hanging loose. Every
step and every swing of the scythe showed skill and the
possession of immense physical strength. Near him were standing
Lubotchka and the daughters of a neighbour, Colonel Bukryeev --
two anaemic and unhealthily stout fair girls, Natalya and
Valentina, or, as they were always called, Nata and Vata, both
wearing white frocks and strikingly like each other. Pyotr
Dmitritch was teaching them to mow.
"It's very simple," he said. "You have only to know how to hold
the scythe and not to get too hot over it -- that is, not to use
more force than is necessary! Like this. . . . Wouldn't you like
to try?" he said, offering the scythe to Lubotchka. "Come!"
Lubotchka took the scythe clumsily, blushed crimson, and
"Don't be afraid, Lubov Alexandrovna!" cried Olga Mihalovna,
loud enough for all the ladies to hear that she was with them.
"Don't be afraid! You must learn! If you marry a Tolstoyan he
will make you mow."
Lubotchka raised the scythe, but began laughing again, and,
helpless with laughter, let go of it at once. She was ashamed
and pleased at being talked to as though grown up. Nata, with a
cold, serious face, with no trace of smiling or shyness, took
the scythe, swung it and caught it in the grass; Vata, also
without a smile, as cold and serious as her sister, took the
scythe, and silently thrust it into the earth. Having done this,
the two sisters linked arms and walked in silence to the
Pyotr Dmitritch laughed and played about like a boy, and this
childish, frolicsome mood in which he became exceedingly
good-natured suited him far better than any other. Olga
Mihalovna loved him when he was like that. But his boyishness
did not usually last long. It did not this time; after playing
with the scythe, he for some reason thought it necessary to take
a serious tone about it.
"When I am mowing, I feel, do you know, healthier and more
normal," he said. "If I were forced to confine myself to an
intellectual life I believe I should go out of my mind. I feel
that I was not born to be a man of culture! I ought to mow,
plough, sow, drive out the horses."
And Pyotr Dmitritch began a conversation with the ladies about
the advantages of physical labour, about culture, and then about
the pernicious effects of money, of property. Listening to her
husband, Olga Mihalovna, for some reason, thought of her dowry.
"And the time will come, I suppose," she thought, "when he will
not forgive me for being richer than he. He is proud and vain.
Maybe he will hate me because he owes so much to me."
She stopped near Colonel Bukryeev, who was eating raspberries
and also taking part in the conversation.
"Come," he said, making room for Olga Mihalovna and Pyotr
Dmitritch. "The ripest are here. . . . And so, according to
Proudhon," he went on, raising his voice, "property is robbery.
But I must confess I don't believe in Proudhon, and don't
consider him a philosopher. The French are not authorities, to
my thinking -- God bless them!"
"Well, as for Proudhons and Buckles and the rest of them, I am
weak in that department," said Pyotr Dmitritch. "For philosophy
you must apply to my wife. She has been at University lectures
and knows all your Schopenhauers and Proudhons by heart. . . ."
Olga Mihalovna felt bored again. She walked again along a little
path by apple and pear trees, and looked again as though she was
on some very important errand. She reached the gardener's
cottage. In the doorway the gardener's wife, Varvara, was
sitting together with her four little children with big shaven
heads. Varvara, too, was with child and expecting to be confined
on Elijah's Day. After greeting her, Olga Mihalovna looked at
her and the children in silence and asked:
"Well, how do you feel?"
"Oh, all right. . . ."
A silence followed. The two women seemed to understand each
other without words.
"It's dreadful having one's first baby," said Olga Mihalovna
after a moment's thought. "I keep feeling as though I shall not
get through it, as though I shall die."
"I fancied that, too, but here I am alive. One has all sorts of
Varvara, who was just going to have her fifth, looked down a
little on her mistress from the height of her experience and
spoke in a rather didactic tone, and Olga Mihalovna could not
help feeling her authority; she would have liked to have talked
of her fears, of the child, of her sensations, but she was
afraid it might strike Varvara as nave and trivial. And she
waited in silence for Varvara to say something herself.
"Olya, we are going indoors," Pyotr Dmitritch called from the
Olga Mihalovna liked being silent, waiting and watching Varvara.
She would have been ready to stay like that till night without
speaking or having any duty to perform. But she had to go. She
had hardly left the cottage when Lubotchka, Nata, and Vata came
running to meet her. The sisters stopped short abruptly a couple
of yards away; Lubotchka ran right up to her and flung herself
on her neck.
"You dear, darling, precious," she said, kissing her face and
her neck. "Let us go and have tea on the island!"
"On the island, on the island!" said the precisely similar Nata
and Vata, both at once, without a smile.
"But it's going to rain, my dears."
"It's not, it's not," cried Lubotchka with a woebegone face.
"They've all agreed to go. Dear! darling!"
"They are all getting ready to have tea on the island," said
Pyotr Dmitritch, coming up. "See to arranging things. . . . We
will all go in the boats, and the samovars and all the rest of
it must be sent in the carriage with the servants."
He walked beside his wife and gave her his arm. Olga Mihalovna
had a desire to say something disagreeable to her husband,
something biting, even about her dowry perhaps -- the crueller
the better, she felt. She thought a little, and said:
"Why is it Count Alexey Petrovitch hasn't come? What a pity!"
"I am very glad he hasn't come," said Pyotr Dmitritch, lying.
"I'm sick to death of that old lunatic."
"But yet before dinner you were expecting him so eagerly!"