A. P. Chekhov -
Among the devoted supporters of amateur theatricals, concerts
and tableaux vivants for charitable objects the Azhogins, who
lived in their own house in Great Dvoryansky Street, took a
foremost place; they always provided the room, and took upon
themselves all the troublesome arrangements and the expenses.
They were a family of wealthy landowners who had an estate of
some nine thousand acres in the district and a capital house,
but they did not care for the country, and lived winter and
summer alike in the town. The family consisted of the mother, a
tall, spare, refined lady, with short hair, a short jacket, and
a flat-looking skirt in the English fashion, and three daughters
who, when they were spoken of, were called not by their names
but simply: the eldest, the middle, and the youngest. They all
had ugly sharp chins, and were short-sighted and
round-shouldered. They were dressed like their mother, they
lisped disagreeably, and yet, in spite of that, infallibly took
part in every performance and were continually doing something
with a charitable object -- acting, reciting, singing. They were
very serious and never smiled, and even in a musical comedy they
played without the faintest trace of gaiety, with a businesslike
air, as though they were engaged in bookkeeping.
I loved our theatricals, especially the numerous, noisy, and
rather incoherent rehearsals, after which they always gave a
supper. In the choice of the plays and the distribution of the
parts I had no hand at all. The post assigned to me lay behind
the scenes. I painted the scenes, copied out the parts,
prompted, made up the actors' faces; and I was entrusted, too,
with various stage effects such as thunder, the singing of
nightingales, and so on. Since I had no proper social position
and no decent clothes, at the rehearsals I held aloof from the
rest in the shadows of the wings and maintained a shy silence.
I painted the scenes at the Azhogins' either in the barn or in
the yard. I was assisted by Andrey Ivanov, a house painter, or,
as he called himself, a contractor for all kinds of house
decorations, a tall, very thin, pale man of fifty, with a hollow
chest, with sunken temples, with blue rings round his eyes,
rather terrible to look at in fact. He was afflicted with some
internal malady, and every autumn and spring people said that he
wouldn't recover, but after being laid up for a while he would
get up and say afterwards with surprise: "I have escaped dying
In the town he was called Radish, and they declared that this
was his real name. He was as fond of the theatre as I was, and
as soon as rumours reached him that a performance was being got
up he threw aside all his work and went to the Azhogins' to
The day after my talk with my sister, I was working at the
Azhogins' from morning till night. The rehearsal was fixed for
seven o'clock in the evening, and an hour before it began all
the amateurs were gathered together in the hall, and the eldest,
the middle, and the youngest Azhogins were pacing about the
stage, reading from manuscript books. Radish, in a long
rusty-red overcoat and a scarf muffled round his neck, already
stood leaning with his head against the wall, gazing with a
devout expression at the stage. Madame Azhogin went up first to
one and then to another guest, saying something agreeable to
each. She had a way of gazing into one's face, and speaking
softly as though telling a secret.
"It must be difficult to paint scenery," she said softly, coming
up to me. "I was just talking to Madame Mufke about
superstitions when I saw you come in. My goodness, my whole life
I have been waging war against superstitions! To convince the
servants what nonsense all their terrors are, I always light
three candles, and begin all my important undertakings on the
thirteenth of the month."
Dolzhikov's daughter came in, a plump, fair beauty, dressed, as
people said, in everything from Paris. She did not act, but a
chair was set for her on the stage at the rehearsals, and the
performances never began till she had appeared in the front row,
dazzling and astounding everyone with her fine clothes. As a
product of the capital she was allowed to make remarks during
the rehearsals; and she did so with a sweet indulgent smile, and
one could see that she looked upon our performance as a childish
amusement. It was said she had studied singing at the Petersburg
Conservatoire, and even sang for a whole winter in a private
opera. I thought her very charming, and I usually watched her
through the rehearsals and performances without taking my eyes
I had just picked up the manuscript book to begin prompting when
my sister suddenly made her appearance. Without taking off her
cloak or hat, she came up to me and said:
"Come along, I beg you."
I went with her. Anyuta Blagovo, also in her hat and wearing a
dark veil, was standing behind the scenes at the door. She was
the daughter of the Assistant President of the Court, who had
held that office in our town almost ever since the establishment
of the circuit court. Since she was tall and had a good figure,
her assistance was considered indispensable for tableaux vivants,
and when she represented a fairy or something like Glory her
face burned with shame; but she took no part in dramatic
performances, and came to the rehearsals only for a moment on
some special errand, and did not go into the hall. Now, too, it
was evident that she had only looked in for a minute.
"My father was speaking about you," she said drily, blushing and
not looking at me. "Dolzhikov has promised you a post on the
railway-line. Apply to him to-morrow; he will be at home."
I bowed and thanked her for the trouble she had taken.
"And you can give up this," she said, indicating the exercise
My sister and she went up to Madame Azhogin and for two minutes
they were whispering with her looking towards me; they were
consulting about something.
"Yes, indeed," said Madame Azhogin, softly coming up to me and
looking intently into my face. "Yes, indeed, if this distracts
you from serious pursuits" -- she took the manuscript book from
my hands -- "you can hand it over to someone else; don't
distress yourself, my friend, go home, and good luck to you."
I said good-bye to her, and went away overcome with confusion.
As I went down the stairs I saw my sister and Anyuta Blagovo
going away; they were hastening along, talking eagerly about
something, probably about my going into the railway service. My
sister had never been at a rehearsal before, and now she was
most likely conscience-stricken, and afraid her father might
find out that, without his permission, she had been to the
I went to Dolzhikov's next day between twelve and one. The
footman conducted me into a very beautiful room, which was the
engineer's drawing-room, and, at the same time, his working
study. Everything here was soft and elegant, and, for a man so
unaccustomed to luxury as I was, it seemed strange. There were
costly rugs, huge arm-chairs, bronzes, pictures, gold and plush
frames; among the photographs scattered about the walls there
were very beautiful women, clever, lovely faces, easy attitudes;
from the drawing-room there was a door leading straight into the
garden on to a verandah: one could see lilac-trees; one could
see a table laid for lunch, a number of bottles, a bouquet of
roses; there was a fragrance of spring and expensive cigars, a
fragrance of happiness -- and everything seemed as though it
would say: "Here is a man who has lived and laboured, and has
attained at last the happiness possible on earth." The
engineer's daughter was sitting at the writing-table, reading a
"You have come to see my father?" she asked. "He is having a
shower bath; he will be here directly. Please sit down and
I sat down.
"I believe you live opposite?" she questioned me, after a brief
"I am so bored that I watch you every day out of the window; you
must excuse me," she went on, looking at the newspaper, "and I
often see your sister; she always has such a look of kindness
Dolzhikov came in. He was rubbing his neck with a towel.
"Papa, Monsieur Poloznev," said his daughter.
"Yes, yes, Blagovo was telling me," he turned briskly to me
without giving me his hand. "But listen, what can I give you?
What sort of posts have I got? You are a queer set of people!"
he went on aloud in a tone as though he were giving me a
lecture. "A score of you keep coming to me every day; you
imagine I am the head of a department! I am constructing a
railway-line, my friends; I have employment for heavy labour: I
need mechanics, smiths, navvies, carpenters, well-sinkers, and
none of you can do anything but sit and write! You are all
And he seemed to me to have the same air of happiness as his
rugs and easy chairs. He was stout and healthy, ruddy-cheeked
and broad-chested, in a print cotton shirt and full trousers
like a toy china sledge-driver. He had a curly, round beard --
and not a single grey hair -- a hooked nose, and clear, dark,
"What can you do?" he went on. "There is nothing you can do! I
am an engineer. I am a man of an assured position, but before
they gave me a railway-line I was for years in harness; I have
been a practical mechanic. For two years I worked in Belgium as
an oiler. You can judge for yourself, my dear fellow, what kind
of work can I offer you?"
"Of course that is so . . ." I muttered in extreme confusion,
unable to face his clear, guileless eyes.
"Can you work the telegraph, any way?" he asked, after a
"Yes, I have been a telegraph clerk."
"Hm! Well, we will see then. Meanwhile, go to Dubetchnya. I have
got a fellow there, but he is a wretched creature."
"And what will my duties consist of?" I asked.
"We shall see. Go there; meanwhile I will make arrangements.
Only please don't get drunk, and don't worry me with requests of
any sort, or I shall send you packing."
He turned away from me without even a nod.
I bowed to him and his daughter who was reading a newspaper, and
went away. My heart felt so heavy, that when my sister began
asking me how the engineer had received me, I could not utter a
I got up early in the morning, at sunrise, to go to Dubetchnya.
There was not a soul in our Great Dvoryansky Street; everyone
was asleep, and my footsteps rang out with a solitary, hollow
sound. The poplars, covered with dew, filled the air with soft
fragrance. I was sad, and did not want to go away from the town.
I was fond of my native town. It seemed to be so beautiful and
so snug! I loved the fresh greenery, the still, sunny morning,
the chiming of our bells; but the people with whom I lived in
this town were boring, alien to me, sometimes even repulsive. I
did not like them nor understand them.
I did not understand what these sixty-five thousand people lived
for and by. I knew that Kimry lived by boots, that Tula made
samovars and guns, that Odessa was a sea-port, but what our town
was, and what it did, I did not know. Great Dvoryansky Street
and the two other smartest streets lived on the interest of
capital, or on salaries received by officials from the public
treasury; but what the other eight streets, which ran parallel
for over two miles and vanished beyond the hills, lived upon,
was always an insoluble riddle to me. And the way those people
lived one is ashamed to describe! No garden, no theatre, no
decent band; the public library and the club library were only
visited by Jewish youths, so that the magazines and new books
lay for months uncut; rich and well-educated people slept in
close, stuffy bedrooms, on wooden bedsteads infested with bugs;
their children were kept in revoltingly dirty rooms called
nurseries, and the servants, even the old and respected ones,
slept on the floor in the kitchen, covered with rags. On
ordinary days the houses smelt of beetroot soup, and on fast
days of sturgeon cooked in sunflower oil. The food was not good,
and the drinking water was unwholesome. In the town council, at
the governor's, at the head priest's, on all sides in private
houses, people had been saying for years and years that our town
had not a good and cheap water-supply, and that it was necessary
to obtain a loan of two hundred thousand from the Treasury for
laying on water; very rich people, of whom three dozen could
have been counted up in our town, and who at times lost whole
estates at cards, drank the polluted water, too, and talked all
their lives with great excitement of a loan for the water-supply
-- and I did not understand that; it seemed to me it would have
been simpler to take the two hundred thousand out of their own
pockets and lay it out on that object.
I did not know one honest man in the town. My father took
bribes, and imagined that they were given him out of respect for
his moral qualities; at the high school, in order to be moved up
rapidly from class to class, the boys went to board with their
teachers, who charged them exorbitant sums; the wife of the
military commander took bribes from the recruits when they were
called up before the board and even deigned to accept
refreshments from them, and on one occasion could not get up
from her knees in church because she was drunk; the doctors took
bribes, too, when the recruits came up for examination, and the
town doctor and the veterinary surgeon levied a regular tax on
the butchers' shops and the restaurants; at the district school
they did a trade in certificates, qualifying for partial
exemption from military service; the higher clergy took bribes
from the humbler priests and from the church elders; at the
Municipal, the Artisans', and all the other Boards every
petitioner was pursued by a shout: "Don't forget your thanks!"
and the petitioner would turn back to give sixpence or a
shilling. And those who did not take bribes, such as the higher
officials of the Department of Justice, were haughty, offered
two fingers instead of shaking hands, were distinguished by the
frigidity and narrowness of their judgments, spent a great deal
of time over cards, drank to excess, married heiresses, and
undoubtedly had a pernicious corrupting influence on those
around them. It was only the girls who had still the fresh
fragrance of moral purity; most of them had higher impulses,
pure and honest hearts; but they had no understanding of life,
and believed that bribes were given out of respect for moral
qualities, and after they were married grew old quickly, let
themselves go completely, and sank hopelessly in the mire of
vulgar, petty bourgeois existence.