A.P. Chekhov -
BETWEEN six and seven o'clock on a July
evening, a crowd of summer visitors -- mostly fathers of
families -- burdened with parcels, portfolios, and ladies'
hat-boxes, was trailing along from the little station of Helkovo,
in the direction of the summer villas. They all looked
exhausted, hungry, and ill-humoured, as though the sun were not
shining and the grass were not green for them.
Trudging along among the others was Pavel Matveyitch Zaikin, a
member of the Circuit Court, a tall, stooping man, in a cheap
cotton dust-coat and with a cockade on his faded cap. He was
perspiring, red in the face, and gloomy. . . .
"Do you come out to your holiday home every day?" said a summer
visitor, in ginger-coloured trousers, addressing him.
"No, not every day," Zaikin answered sullenly. "My wife and son
are staying here all the while, and I come down two or three
times a week. I haven't time to come every day; besides, it is
"You're right there; it is expensive," sighed he of the ginger
trousers. "In town you can't walk to the station, you have to
take a cab; and then, the ticket costs forty-two kopecks; you
buy a paper for the journey; one is tempted to drink a glass of
vodka. It's all petty expenditure not worth considering, but,
mind you, in the course of the summer it will run up to some two
hundred roubles. Of course, to be in the lap of Nature is worth
any money -- I don't dispute it . . . idyllic and all the rest
of it; but of course, with the salary an official gets, as you
know yourself, every farthing has to be considered. If you waste
a halfpenny you lie awake all night. . . . Yes. . . I receive,
my dear sir -- I haven't the honour of knowing your name -- I
receive a salary of very nearly two thousand roubles a year. I
am a civil councillor, I smoke second-rate tobacco, and I
haven't a rouble to spare to buy Vichy water, prescribed me by
the doctor for gall-stones."
"It's altogether abominable," said Zaikin after a brief silence.
"I maintain, sir, that summer holidays are the invention of the
devil and of woman. The devil was actuated in the present
instance by malice, woman by excessive frivolity. Mercy on us,
it is not life at all; it is hard labour, it is hell! It's hot
and stifling, you can hardly breathe, and you wander about like
a lost soul and can find no refuge. In town there is no
furniture, no servants. . . everything has been carried off to
the villa: you eat what you can get; you go without your tea
because there is no one to heat the samovar; you can't wash
yourself; and when you come down here into this 'lap of Nature'
you have to walk, if you please, through the dust and heat. . .
. Phew! Are you married?"
"Yes. . . three children," sighs Ginger Trousers.
"It's abominable altogether. . . . It's a wonder we are still
At last the summer visitors reached their destination. Zaikin
said good-bye to Ginger Trousers and went into his villa. He
found a death-like silence in the house. He could hear nothing
but the buzzing of the gnats, and the prayer for help of a fly
destined for the dinner of a spider. The windows were hung with
muslin curtains, through which the faded flowers of the
geraniums showed red. On the unpainted wooden walls near the
oleographs flies were slumbering. There was not a soul in the
passage, the kitchen, or the dining-room. In the room which was
called indifferently the parlour or the drawing-room, Zaikin
found his son Petya, a little boy of six. Petya was sitting at
the table, and breathing loudly with his lower lip stuck out,
was engaged in cutting out the figure of a knave of diamonds
from a card.
"Oh, that's you, father!" he said, without turning round.
"Good-evening. . . . And where is mother?"
"Mother? She is gone with Olga Kirillovna to a rehearsal of the
play. The day after tomorrow they will have a performance. And
they will take me, too. . . . And will you go?"
"H'm! . . . When is she coming back?"
"She said she would be back in the evening."
"And where is Natalya?"
"Mamma took Natalya with her to help her dress for the
performance, and Akulina has gone to the wood to get mushrooms.
Father, why is it that when gnats bite you their stomachs get
"I don't know. . . . Because they suck blood. So there is no one
in the house, then?"
"No one; I am all alone in the house."
Zaikin sat down in an easy-chair, and for a moment gazed blankly
at the window.
"Who is going to get our dinner?" he asked.
"They haven't cooked any dinner today, father. Mamma thought you
were not coming today, and did not order any dinner. She is
going to have dinner with Olga Kirillovna at the rehearsal."
"Oh, thank you very much; and you, what have you to eat?"
"I've had some milk. They bought me six kopecks' worth of milk.
And, father, why do gnats suck blood?"
Zaikin suddenly felt as though something heavy were rolling down
on his liver and beginning to gnaw it. He felt so vexed, so
aggrieved, and so bitter, that he was choking and tremulous; he
wanted to jump up, to bang something on the floor, and to burst
into loud abuse; but then he remembered that his doctor had
absolutely forbidden him all excitement, so he got up, and
making an effort to control himself, began whistling a tune from
"Father, can you act in plays?" he heard Petya's voice.
"Oh, don't worry me with stupid questions!" said Zaikin, getting
angry. "He sticks to one like a leaf in the bath! Here you are,
six years old, and just as silly as you were three years ago. .
. . Stupid, neglected child! Why are you spoiling those cards,
for instance? How dare you spoil them?"
"These cards aren't yours," said Petya, turning round. "Natalya
gave them me."
"You are telling fibs, you are telling fibs, you horrid boy!"
said Zaikin, growing more and more irritated. "You are always
telling fibs! You want a whipping, you horrid little pig! I will
pull your ears!"
Petya leapt up, and craning his neck, stared fixedly at his
father's red and wrathful face. His big eyes first began
blinking, then were dimmed with moisture, and the boy's face
"But why are you scolding?" squealed Petya. "Why do you attack
me, you stupid? I am not interfering with anybody; I am not
naughty; I do what I am told, and yet . . . you are cross! Why
are you scolding me?"
The boy spoke with conviction, and wept so bitterly that Zaikin
"Yes, really, why am I falling foul of him?" he thought. "Come,
come," he said, touching the boy on the shoulder. "I am sorry,
Petya . . . forgive me. You are my good boy, my nice boy, I love
Petya wiped his eyes with his sleeve, sat down, with a sigh, in
the same place and began cutting out the queen. Zaikin went off
to his own room. He stretched himself on the sofa, and putting
his hands behind his head, sank into thought. The boy's tears
had softened his anger, and by degrees the oppression on his
liver grew less. He felt nothing but exhaustion and hunger.
"Father," he heard on the other side of the door, "shall I show
you my collection of insects?"
"Yes, show me."
Petya came into the study and handed his father a long green
box. Before raising it to his ear Zaikin could hear a despairing
buzz and the scratching of claws on the sides of the box.
Opening the lid, he saw a number of butterflies, beetles,
grasshoppers, and flies fastened to the bottom of the box with
pins. All except two or three butterflies were still alive and
"Why, the grasshopper is still alive!" said Petya in surprise.
"I caught him yesterday morning, and he is still alive!"
"Who taught you to pin them in this way?"
"Olga Kirillovna ought to be pinned down like that herself!"
said Zaikin with repulsion. "Take them away! It's shameful to
"My God! How horribly he is being brought up!" he thought, as
Petya went out.
Pavel Matveyitch forgot his exhaustion and hunger, and thought
of nothing but his boy's future. Meanwhile, outside the light
was gradually fading. . . . He could hear the summer visitors
trooping back from the evening bathe. Some one was stopping near
the open dining-room window and shouting: "Do you want any
mushrooms?" And getting no answer, shuffled on with bare feet. .
. . But at last, when the dusk was so thick that the outlines of
the geraniums behind the muslin curtain were lost, and whiffs of
the freshness of evening were coming in at the window, the door
of the passage was thrown open noisily, and there came a sound
of rapid footsteps, talk, and laughter. . . .
"Mamma!" shrieked Petya.
Zaikin peeped out of his study and saw his wife, Nadyezhda
Stepanovna, healthy and rosy as ever; with her he saw Olga
Kirillovna, a spare woman with fair hair and heavy freckles, and
two unknown men: one a lanky young man with curly red hair and a
big Adam's apple; the other, a short stubby man with a shaven
face like an actor's and a bluish crooked chin.
"Natalya, set the samovar," cried Nadyezhda Stepanovna, with a
loud rustle of her skirts. "I hear Pavel Matveyitch is come.
Pavel, where are you? Good-evening, Pavel!" she said, running
into the study breathlessly. "So you've come. I am so glad. . .
. Two of our amateurs have come with me. . . . Come, I'll
introduce you. . . . Here, the taller one is Koromyslov . . . he
sings splendidly; and the other, the little one . . . is called
Smerkalov: he is a real actor . . . he recites magnificently.
Oh, how tired I am! We have just had a rehearsal. . . . It goes
splendidly. We are acting 'The Lodger with the Trombone' and
'Waiting for Him.' . . . The performance is the day after
tomorrow. . . ."
"Why did you bring them?" asked Zaikin.
"I couldn't help it, Poppet; after tea we must rehearse our
parts and sing something. . . . I am to sing a duet with
Koromyslov. . . . Oh, yes, I was almost forgetting! Darling,
send Natalya to get some sardines, vodka, cheese, and something
else. They will most likely stay to supper. . . . Oh, how tired
"H'm! I've no money."
"You must, Poppet! It would be awkward! Don't make me blush."
Half an hour later Natalya was sent for vodka and savouries;
Zaikin, after drinking tea and eating a whole French loaf, went
to his bedroom and lay down on the bed, while Nadyezhda
Stepanovna and her visitors, with much noise and laughter, set
to work to rehearse their parts. For a long time Pavel
Matveyitch heard Koromyslov's nasal reciting and Smerkalov's
theatrical exclamations. . . . The rehearsal was followed by a
long conversation, interrupted by the shrill laughter of Olga
Kirillovna. Smerkalov, as a real actor, explained the parts with
aplomb and heat. . . .
Then followed the duet, and after the duet there was the clatter
of crockery. . . . Through his drowsiness Zaikin heard them
persuading Smerkalov to read "The Woman who was a Sinner," and
heard him, after affecting to refuse, begin to recite. He
hissed, beat himself on the breast, wept, laughed in a husky
bass. . . . Zaikin scowled and hid his head under the quilt.
"It's a long way for you to go, and it's dark," he heard
Nadyezhda Stepanovna's voice an hour later. "Why shouldn't you
stay the night here? Koromyslov can sleep here in the
drawing-room on the sofa, and you, Smerkalov, in Petya's bed. .
. . I can put Petya in my husband's study. . . . Do stay,
At last when the clock was striking two, all was hushed, the
bedroom door opened, and Nadyezhda Stepanovna appeared.
"Pavel, are you asleep?" she whispered.
"Go into your study, darling, and lie on the sofa. I am going to
put Olga Kirillovna here, in your bed. Do go, dear! I would put
her to sleep in the study, but she is afraid to sleep alone. . .
. Do get up!"
Zaikin got up, threw on his dressing-gown, and taking his
pillow, crept wearily to the study. . . . Feeling his way to his
sofa, he lighted a match, and saw Petya lying on the sofa. The
boy was not asleep, and, looking at the match with wide-open
"Father, why is it gnats don't go to sleep at night?" he asked.
"Because . . . because . . . you and I are not wanted. . . . We
have nowhere to sleep even."
"Father, and why is it Olga Kirillovna has freckles on her
"Oh, shut up! I am tired of you."
After a moment's thought, Zaikin dressed and went out into the
street for a breath of air. . . . He looked at the grey morning
sky, at the motionless clouds, heard the lazy call of the drowsy
corncrake, and began dreaming of the next day, when he would go
to town, and coming back from the court would tumble into bed. .
. . Suddenly the figure of a man appeared round the corner.
"A watchman, no doubt," thought Zaikin. But going nearer and
looking more closely he recognized in the figure the summer
visitor in the ginger trousers.
"You're not asleep?" he asked.
"No, I can't sleep," sighed Ginger Trousers. "I am enjoying
Nature. . . . A welcome visitor, my wife's mother, arrived by
the night train, you know. She brought with her our nieces . . .
splendid girls! I was delighted to see them, although . . . it's
very damp! And you, too, are enjoying Nature?"
"Yes," grunted Zaikin, "I am enjoying it, too. . . . Do you know
whether there is any sort of tavern or restaurant in the
Ginger Trousers raised his eyes to heaven and meditated
villa: "dacha," a summer residence
I am a civil councillor: Rank 5 in the Civil Service; entitled
to be called "Your Excellency"
Vichy water: an effervescent mineral water
oleographs: imitation oil paintings
Les Huguenots: 1835 opera by Jacob Meyerbeer (1791-1864)
Poppet: a term of endearment
"The Woman who was a Sinner": a poem by Aleksey Tolstoy
grey morning sky: most of Russia lies so far north that there is
very little complete darkness during the summer nights