A. Chekhov - Ionitch
Startsev kept meaning to go to the Turkins' again, but there was
a great deal of work in the hospital, and he was unable to find
free time. In this way more than a year passed in work and
solitude. But one day a letter in a light blue envelope was
brought him from the town.
Vera Iosifovna had been suffering for some time from migraine,
but now since Kitten frightened her every day by saying that she
was going away to the Conservatoire, the attacks began to be
more frequent. All the doctors of the town had been at the
Turkins'; at last it was the district doctor's turn. Vera
Iosifovna wrote him a touching letter in which she begged him to
come and relieve her sufferings. Startsev went, and after that
he began to be often, very often at the Turkins'. . . . He
really did something for Vera Iosifovna, and she was already
telling all her visitors that he was a wonderful and exceptional
doctor. But it was not for the sake of her migraine that he
visited the Turkins' now. . . .
It was a holiday. Ekaterina Ivanovna finished her long,
wearisome exercises on the piano. Then they sat a long time in
the dining-room, drinking tea, and Ivan Petrovitch told some
amusing story. Then there was a ring and he had to go into the
hall to welcome a guest; Startsev took advantage of the
momentary commotion, and whispered to Ekaterina Ivanovna in
"For God's sake, I entreat you, don't torment me; let us go into
She shrugged her shoulders, as though perplexed and not knowing
what he wanted of her, but she got up and went.
"You play the piano for three or four hours," he said, following
her; "then you sit with your mother, and there is no possibility
of speaking to you. Give me a quarter of an hour at least, I
Autumn was approaching, and it was quiet and melancholy in the
old garden; the dark leaves lay thick in the walks. It was
already beginning to get dark early.
"I haven't seen you for a whole week," Startsev went on, "and if
you only knew what suffering it is! Let us sit down. Listen to
They had a favourite place in the garden; a seat under an old
spreading maple. And now they sat down on this seat.
"What do you want?" said Ekaterina Ivanovna drily, in a
"I have not seen you for a whole week; I have not heard you for
so long. I long passionately, I thirst for your voice. Speak."
She fascinated him by her freshness, the nave expression of her
eyes and cheeks. Even in the way her dress hung on her, he saw
something extraordinarily charming, touching in its simplicity
and nave grace; and at the same time, in spite of this navet,
she seemed to him intelligent and developed beyond her years. He
could talk with her about literature, about art, about anything
he liked; could complain to her of life, of people, though it
sometimes happened in the middle of serious conversation she
would laugh inappropriately or run away into the house. Like
almost all girls of her neighbourhood, she had read a great deal
(as a rule, people read very little in S----, and at the lending
library they said if it were not for the girls and the young
Jews, they might as well shut up the library). This afforded
Startsev infinite delight; he used to ask her eagerly every time
what she had been reading the last few days, and listened
enthralled while she told him.
"What have you been reading this week since I saw you last?" he
asked now. "Do please tell me."
"I have been reading Pisemsky."
" 'A Thousand Souls,' "answered Kitten. "And what a funny name
Pisemsky had -- Alexey Feofilaktitch!
"Where are you going?" cried Startsev in horror, as she suddenly
got up and walked towards the house. "I must talk to you; I want
to explain myself. . . . Stay with me just five minutes, I
She stopped as though she wanted to say something, then
awkwardly thrust a note into his hand, ran home and sat down to
the piano again.
"Be in the cemetery," Startsev read, "at eleven o'clock
to-night, near the tomb of Demetti."
"Well, that's not at all clever," he thought, coming to himself.
"Why the cemetery? What for?"
It was clear: Kitten was playing a prank. Who would seriously
dream of making an appointment at night in the cemetery far out
of the town, when it might have been arranged in the street or
in the town gardens? And was it in keeping with him -- a
district doctor, an intelligent, staid man -- to be sighing,
receiving notes, to hang about cemeteries, to do silly things
that even schoolboys think ridiculous nowadays? What would this
romance lead to? What would his colleagues say when they heard
of it? Such were Startsev's reflections as he wandered round the
tables at the club, and at half-past ten he suddenly set off for
By now he had his own pair of horses, and a coachman called
Panteleimon, in a velvet waistcoat. The moon was shining. It was
still warm, warm as it is in autumn. Dogs were howling in the
suburb near the slaughter-house. Startsev left his horses in one
of the side-streets at the end of the town, and walked on foot
to the cemetery.
"We all have our oddities," he thought. "Kitten is odd, too; and
-- who knows? -- perhaps she is not joking, perhaps she will
come"; and he abandoned himself to this faint, vain hope, and it
He walked for half a mile through the fields; the cemetery
showed as a dark streak in the distance, like a forest or a big
garden. The wall of white stone came into sight, the gate. . . .
In the moonlight he could read on the gate: "The hour cometh."
Startsev went in at the little gate, and before anything else he
saw the white crosses and monuments on both sides of the broad
avenue, and the black shadows of them and the poplars; and for a
long way round it was all white and black, and the slumbering
trees bowed their branches over the white stones. It seemed as
though it were lighter here than in the fields; the maple-leaves
stood out sharply like paws on the yellow sand of the avenue and
on the stones, and the inscriptions on the tombs could be
clearly read. For the first moments Startsev was struck now by
what he saw for the first time in his life, and what he would
probably never see again; a world not like anything else, a
world in which the moonlight was as soft and beautiful, as
though slumbering here in its cradle, where there was no life,
none whatever; but in every dark poplar, in every tomb, there
was felt the presence of a mystery that promised a life
peaceful, beautiful, eternal. The stones and faded flowers,
together with the autumn scent of the leaves, all told of
forgiveness, melancholy, and peace.
All was silence around; the stars looked down from the sky in
the profound stillness, and Startsev's footsteps sounded loud
and out of place, and only when the church clock began striking
and he imagined himself dead, buried there for ever, he felt as
though some one were looking at him, and for a moment he thought
that it was not peace and tranquillity, but stifled despair, the
dumb dreariness of non-existence. . . .
Demetti's tomb was in the form of a shrine with an angel at the
top. The Italian opera had once visited S---- and one of the
singers had died; she had been buried here, and this monument
put up to her. No one in the town remembered her, but the lamp
at the entrance reflected the moonlight, and looked as though it
There was no one, and, indeed, who would come here at midnight?
But Startsev waited, and as though the moonlight warmed his
passion, he waited passionately, and, in imagination, pictured
kisses and embraces. He sat near the monument for half an hour,
then paced up and down the side avenues, with his hat in his
hand, waiting and thinking of the many women and girls buried in
these tombs who had been beautiful and fascinating, who had
loved, at night burned with passion, yielding themselves to
caresses. How wickedly Mother Nature jested at man's expense,
after all! How humiliating it was to recognise it!
Startsev thought this, and at the same time he wanted to cry out
that he wanted love, that he was eager for it at all costs. To
his eyes they were not slabs of marble, but fair white bodies in
the moonlight; he saw shapes hiding bashfully in the shadows of
the trees, felt their warmth, and the languor was oppressive. .
And as though a curtain were lowered, the moon went behind a
cloud, and suddenly all was darkness. Startsev could scarcely
find the gate -- by now it was as dark as it is on an autumn
night. Then he wandered about for an hour and a half, looking
for the side-street in which he had left his horses.
"I am tired; I can scarcely stand on my legs," he said to
And settling himself with relief in his carriage, he thought: "Och!
I ought not to get fat!"