A. P. Chekhov -
A railway-line was being constructed in our neighbourhood. On
the eve of feast days the streets were thronged with ragged
fellows whom the townspeople called "navvies," and of whom they
were afraid. And more than once I had seen one of these
tatterdemalions with a bloodstained countenance being led to the
police station, while a samovar or some linen, wet from the
wash, was carried behind by way of material evidence. The
navvies usually congregated about the taverns and the
market-place; they drank, ate, and used bad language, and
pursued with shrill whistles every woman of light behaviour who
passed by. To entertain this hungry rabble our shopkeepers made
cats and dogs drunk with vodka, or tied an old kerosene can to a
dog's tail; a hue and cry was raised, and the dog dashed along
the street, jingling the can, squealing with terror; it fancied
some monster was close upon its heels; it would run far out of
the town into the open country and there sink exhausted. There
were in the town several dogs who went about trembling with
their tails between their legs; and people said this diversion
had been too much for them, and had driven them mad.
A station was being built four miles from the town. It was said
that the engineers asked for a bribe of fifty thousand roubles
for bringing the line right up to the town, but the town council
would only consent to give forty thousand; they could not come
to an agreement over the difference, and now the townspeople
regretted it, as they had to make a road to the station and
that, it was reckoned, would cost more. The sleepers and rails
had been laid throughout the whole length of the line, and
trains ran up and down it, bringing building materials and
labourers, and further progress was only delayed on account of
the bridges which Dolzhikov was building, and some of the
stations were not yet finished.
Dubetchnya, as our first station was called, was a little under
twelve miles from the town. I walked. The cornfields, bathed in
the morning sunshine, were bright green. It was a flat, cheerful
country, and in the distance there were the distinct outlines of
the station, of ancient barrows, and far-away homesteads. . . .
How nice it was out there in the open! And how I longed to be
filled with the sense of freedom, if only for that one morning,
that I might not think of what was being done in the town, not
think of my needs, not feel hungry! Nothing has so marred my
existence as an acute feeling of hunger, which made images of
buckwheat porridge, rissoles, and baked fish mingle strangely
with my best thoughts. Here I was standing alone in the open
country, gazing upward at a lark which hovered in the air at the
same spot, trilling as though in hysterics, and meanwhile I was
thinking: "How nice it would be to eat a piece of bread and
Or I would sit down by the roadside to rest, and shut my eyes to
listen to the delicious sounds of May, and what haunted me was
the smell of hot potatoes. Though I was tall and strongly built,
I had as a rule little to eat, and so the predominant sensation
throughout the day was hunger, and perhaps that was why I knew
so well how it is that such multitudes of people toil merely for
their daily bread, and can talk of nothing but things to eat.
At Dubetchnya they were plastering the inside of the station,
and building a wooden upper storey to the pumping shed. It was
hot; there was a smell of lime, and the workmen sauntered
listlessly between the heaps of shavings and mortar rubble. The
pointsman lay asleep near his sentry box, and the sun was
blazing full on his face. There was not a single tree. The
telegraph wire hummed faintly and hawks were perching on it here
and there. I, wandering, too, among the heaps of rubbish, and
not knowing what to do, recalled how the engineer, in answer to
my question what my duties would consist in, had said: "We shall
see when you are there"; but what could one see in that
The plasterers spoke of the foreman, and of a certain Fyodot
Vasilyev. I did not understand, and gradually I was overcome by
depression -- the physical depression in which one is conscious
of one's arms and legs and huge body, and does not know what to
do with them or where to put them.
After I had been walking about for at least a couple of hours, I
noticed that there were telegraph poles running off to the right
from the station, and that they ended a mile or a mile and a
half away at a white stone wall. The workmen told me the office
was there, and at last I reflected that that was where I ought
It was a very old manor house, deserted long ago. The wall round
it, of porous white stone, was mouldering and had fallen away in
places, and the lodge, the blank wall of which looked out on the
open country, had a rusty roof with patches of tin-plate
gleaming here and there on it. Within the gates could be seen a
spacious courtyard overgrown with rough weeds, and an old manor
house with sunblinds on the windows, and a high roof red with
rust. Two lodges, exactly alike, stood one on each side of the
house to right and to left: one had its windows nailed up with
boards; near the other, of which the windows were open, there
was washing on the line, and there were calves moving about. The
last of the telegraph poles stood in the courtyard, and the wire
from it ran to the window of the lodge, of which the blank wall
looked out into the open country. The door stood open; I went
in. By the telegraph apparatus a gentleman with a curly dark
head, wearing a reefer coat made of sailcloth, was sitting at a
table; he glanced at me morosely from under his brows, but
immediately smiled and said:
It was Ivan Tcheprakov, an old schoolfellow of mine, who had
been expelled from the second class for smoking. We used at one
time, during autumn, to catch goldfinches, finches, and linnets
together, and to sell them in the market early in the morning,
while our parents were still in their beds. We watched for
flocks of migrating starlings and shot at them with small shot,
then we picked up those that were wounded, and some of them died
in our hands in terrible agonies (I remember to this day how
they moaned in the cage at night); those that recovered we sold,
and swore with the utmost effrontery that they were all cocks.
On one occasion at the market I had only one starling left,
which I had offered to purchasers in vain, till at last I sold
it for a farthing. "Anyway, it's better than nothing," I said to
comfort myself, as I put the farthing in my pocket, and from
that day the street urchins and the schoolboys called after me:
"Better-than-nothing"; and to this day the street boys and the
shopkeepers mock at me with the nickname, though no one
remembers how it arose.
Tcheprakov was not of robust constitution: he was narrow-chested,
round-shouldered, and long-legged. He wore a silk cord for a
tie, had no trace of a waistcoat, and his boots were worse than
mine, with the heels trodden down on one side. He stared, hardly
even blinking, with a strained expression, as though he were
just going to catch something, and he was always in a fuss.
"You wait a minute," he would say fussily. "You listen. . . .
Whatever was I talking about?"
We got into conversation. I learned that the estate on which I
now was had until recently been the property of the Tcheprakovs,
and had only the autumn before passed into the possession of
Dolzhikov, who considered it more profitable to put his money
into land than to keep it in notes, and had already bought up
three good-sized mortgaged estates in our neighbourhood. At the
sale Tcheprakov's mother had reserved for herself the right to
live for the next two years in one of the lodges at the side,
and had obtained a post for her son in the office.
"I should think he could buy!" Tcheprakov said of the engineer.
"See what he fleeces out of the contractors alone! He fleeces
Then he took me to dinner, deciding fussily that I should live
with him in the lodge, and have my meals from his mother.
"She is a bit stingy," he said, "but she won't charge you much."
It was very cramped in the little rooms in which his mother
lived; they were all, even the passage and the entry, piled up
with furniture which had been brought from the big house after
the sale; and the furniture was all old-fashioned mahogany.
Madame Tcheprakov, a very stout middle-aged lady with slanting
Chinese eyes, was sitting in a big arm-chair by the window,
knitting a stocking. She received me ceremoniously.
"This is Poloznev, mamma," Tcheprakov introduced me. "He is
going to serve here."
"Are you a nobleman?" she asked in a strange, disagreeable
voice: it seemed to me to sound as though fat were bubbling in
"Yes," I answered.
The dinner was a poor one. Nothing was served but pies filled
with bitter curd, and milk soup. Elena Nikiforovna, who
presided, kept blinking in a queer way, first with one eye and
then with the other. She talked, she ate, but yet there was
something deathly about her whole figure, and one almost fancied
the faint smell of a corpse. There was only a glimmer of life in
her, a glimmer of consciousness that she had been a lady who had
once had her own serfs, that she was the widow of a general whom
the servants had to address as "your Excellency"; and when these
feeble relics of life flickered up in her for an instant she
would say to her son:
"Jean, you are not holding your knife properly!"
Or she would say to me, drawing a deep breath, with the mincing
air of a hostess trying to entertain a visitor:
"You know we have sold our estate. Of course, it is a pity, we
are used to the place, but Dolzhikov has promised to make Jean
stationmaster of Dubetchnya, so we shall not have to go away; we
shall live here at the station, and that is just the same as
being on our own property! The engineer is so nice! Don't you
think he is very handsome?"
Until recently the Tcheprakovs had lived in a wealthy style, but
since the death of the general everything had been changed.
Elena Nikiforovna had taken to quarrelling with the neighbours,
to going to law, and to not paying her bailiffs or her labourers;
she was in constant terror of being robbed, and in some ten
years Dubetchnya had become unrecognizable.
Behind the great house was an old garden which had already run
wild, and was overgrown with rough weeds and bushes. I walked up
and down the verandah, which was still solid and beautiful;
through the glass doors one could see a room with parquetted
floor, probably the drawing-room; an old-fashioned piano and
pictures in deep mahogany frames -- there was nothing else. In
the old flower-beds all that remained were peonies and poppies,
which lifted their white and bright red heads above the grass.
Young maples and elms, already nibbled by the cows, grew beside
the paths, drawn up and hindering each other's growth. The
garden was thickly overgrown and seemed impassable, but this was
only near the house where there stood poplars, fir-trees, and
old limetrees, all of the same age, relics of the former
avenues. Further on, beyond them the garden had been cleared for
the sake of hay, and here it was not moist and stuffy, and there
were no spiders' webs in one's mouth and eyes. A light breeze
was blowing. The further one went the more open it was, and here
in the open space were cherries, plums, and spreading
apple-trees, disfigured by props and by canker; and pear-trees
so tall that one could not believe they were pear-trees. This
part of the garden was let to some shopkeepers of the town, and
it was protected from thieves and starlings by a feeble-minded
peasant who lived in a shanty in it.
The garden, growing more and more open, till it became
definitely a meadow, sloped down to the river, which was
overgrown with green weeds and osiers. Near the milldam was the
millpond, deep and full of fish; a little mill with a thatched
roof was working away with a wrathful sound, and frogs croaked
furiously. Circles passed from time to time over the smooth,
mirror-like water, and the water-lilies trembled, stirred by the
lively fish. On the further side of the river was the little
village Dubetchnya. The still, blue millpond was alluring with
its promise of coolness and peace. And now all this -- the
millpond and the mill and the snug-looking banks -- belonged to
And so my new work began. I received and forwarded telegrams,
wrote various reports, and made fair copies of the notes of
requirements, the complaints, and the reports sent to the office
by the illiterate foremen and workmen. But for the greater part
of the day I did nothing but walk about the room waiting for
telegrams, or made a boy sit in the lodge while I went for a
walk in the garden, until the boy ran to tell me that there was
a tapping at the operating machine. I had dinner at Madame
Tcheprakov's. Meat we had very rarely: our dishes were all made
of milk, and Wednesdays and Fridays were fast days, and on those
days we had pink plates which were called Lenten plates. Madame
Tcheprakov was continually blinking -- it was her invariable
habit, and I always felt ill at ease in her presence.
As there was not enough work in the lodge for one, Tcheprakov
did nothing, but simply dozed, or went with his gun to shoot
ducks on the millpond. In the evenings he drank too much in the
village or the station, and before going to bed stared in the
looking-glass and said: "Hullo, Ivan Tcheprakov."
When he was drunk he was very pale, and kept rubbing his hands
and laughing with a sound like a neigh: "hee-hee-hee!" By way of
bravado he used to strip and run about the country naked. He
used to eat flies and say they were rather sour.
Diet Lite România pubg Lite www.bp-pb.com/2246-diet-lite-romania.html.