A.P. Chekhov -
SHORTLY after finding his wife in flagrante
delicto Fyodor Fyodorovitch Sigaev was standing in Schmuck and
Co.'s, the gunsmiths, selecting a suitable revolver. His
countenance expressed wrath, grief, and unalterable
"I know what I must do," he was thinking. "The sanctities of the
home are outraged, honour is trampled in the mud, vice is
triumphant, and therefore as a citizen and a man of honour I
must be their avenger. First, I will kill her and her lover and
He had not yet chosen a revolver or killed anyone, but already
in imagination he saw three bloodstained corpses, broken skulls,
brains oozing from them, the commotion, the crowd of gaping
spectators, the post-mortem. . . . With the malignant joy of an
insulted man he pictured the horror of the relations and the
public, the agony of the traitress, and was mentally reading
leading articles on the destruction of the traditions of the
The shopman, a sprightly little Frenchified figure with rounded
belly and white waistcoat, displayed the revolvers, and smiling
respectfully and scraping with his little feet observed:
". . . I would advise you, M'sieur, to take this superb
revolver, the Smith and Wesson pattern, the last word in the
science of firearms: triple-action, with ejector, kills at six
hundred paces, central sight. Let me draw your attention, M'sieu,
to the beauty of the finish. The most fashionable system, M'sieu.
We sell a dozen every day for burglars, wolves, and lovers. Very
correct and powerful action, hits at a great distance, and kills
wife and lover with one bullet. As for suicide, M'sieu, I don't
know a better pattern."
The shopman pulled and cocked the trigger, breathed on the
barrel, took aim, and affected to be breathless with delight.
Looking at his ecstatic countenance, one might have supposed
that he would readily have put a bullet through his brains if he
had only possessed a revolver of such a superb pattern as a
"And what price?" asked Sigaev.
"Forty-five roubles, M'sieu."
"Mm! . . . that's too dear for me."
"In that case, M'sieu, let me offer you another make, somewhat
cheaper. Here, if you'll kindly look, we have an immense choice,
at all prices. . . . Here, for instance, this revolver of the
Lefaucher pattern costs only eighteen roubles, but . . ." (the
shopman pursed up his face contemptuously) ". . . but, M'sieu,
it's an old-fashioned make. They are only bought by hysterical
ladies or the mentally deficient. To commit suicide or shoot
one's wife with a Lefaucher revolver is considered bad form
nowadays. Smith-Wesson is the only pattern that's correct
"I don't want to shoot myself or to kill anyone," said Sigaev,
lying sullenly. "I am buying it simply for a country cottage . .
. to frighten away burglars. . . ."
"That's not our business, what object you have in buying it."
The shopman smiled, dropping his eyes discreetly. "If we were to
investigate the object in each case, M'sieu, we should have to
close our shop. To frighten burglars Lefaucher is not a suitable
pattern, M'sieu, for it goes off with a faint, muffled sound. I
would suggest Mortimer's, the so-called duelling pistol. . . ."
"Shouldn't I challenge him to a duel?" flashed through Sigaev's
mind. "It's doing him too much honour, though. . . . Beasts like
that are killed like dogs. . . ."
The shopman, swaying gracefully and tripping to and fro on his
little feet, still smiling and chattering, displayed before him
a heap of revolvers. The most inviting and impressive of all was
the Smith and Wesson's. Sigaev picked up a pistol of that
pattern, gazed blankly at it, and sank into brooding. His
imagination pictured how he would blow out their brains, how
blood would flow in streams over the rug and the parquet, how
the traitress's legs would twitch in her last agony. . . . But
that was not enough for his indignant soul. The picture of
blood, wailing, and horror did not satisfy him. He must think of
something more terrible.
"I know! I'll kill myself and him," he thought, "but I'll leave
her alive. Let her pine away from the stings of conscience and
the contempt of all surrounding her. For a sensitive nature like
hers that will be far more agonizing than death."
And he imagined his own funeral: he, the injured husband, lies
in his coffin with a gentle smile on his lips, and she, pale,
tortured by remorse, follows the coffin like a Niobe, not
knowing where to hide herself to escape from the withering,
contemptuous looks cast upon her by the indignant crowd.
"I see, M'sieu, that you like the Smith and Wesson make," the
shopman broke in upon his broodings. "If you think it too dear,
very well, I'll knock off five roubles. . . . But we have other
The little Frenchified figure turned gracefully and took down
another dozen cases of revolvers from the shelf.
"Here, M'sieu, price thirty roubles. That's not expensive,
especially as the rate of exchange has dropped terribly and the
Customs duties are rising every hour. M'sieu, I vow I am a
Conservative, but even I am beginning to murmur. Why, with the
rate of exchange and the Customs tariff, only the rich can
purchase firearms. There's nothing left for the poor but Tula
weapons and phosphorus matches, and Tula weapons are a misery!
You may aim at your wife with a Tula revolver and shoot yourself
through the shoulder-blade."
Sigaev suddenly felt mortified and sorry that he would be dead,
and would miss seeing the agonies of the traitress. Revenge is
only sweet when one can see and taste its fruits, and what sense
would there be in it if he were lying in his coffin, knowing
nothing about it?
"Hadn't I better do this?" he pondered. "I'll kill him, then
I'll go to his funeral and look on, and after the funeral I'll
kill myself. They'd arrest me, though, before the funeral, and
take away my pistol. . . . And so I'll kill him, she shall
remain alive, and I . . . for the time, I'll not kill myself,
but go and be arrested. I shall always have time to kill myself.
There will be this advantage about being arrested, that at the
preliminary investigation I shall have an opportunity of
exposing to the authorities and to the public all the infamy of
her conduct. If I kill myself she may, with her characteristic
duplicity and impudence, throw all the blame on me, and society
will justify her behaviour and will very likely laugh at me. . .
. If I remain alive, then . . ."
A minute later he was thinking:
"Yes, if I kill myself I may be blamed and suspected of petty
feeling. . . . Besides, why should I kill myself? That's one
thing. And for another, to shoot oneself is cowardly. And so
I'll kill him and let her live, and I'll face my trial. I shall
be tried, and she will be brought into court as a witness. . . .
I can imagine her confusion, her disgrace when she is examined
by my counsel! The sympathies of the court, of the Press, and of
the public will certainly be with me."
While he deliberated the shopman displayed his wares, and felt
it incumbent upon him to entertain his customer.
"Here are English ones, a new pattern, only just received," he
prattled on. "But I warn you, M'sieu, all these systems pale
beside the Smith and Wesson. The other day-as I dare say you
have read-an officer bought from us a Smith and Wesson. He shot
his wife's lover, and-would you believe it?-the bullet passed
through him, pierced the bronze lamp, then the piano, and
ricochetted back from the piano, killing the lap-dog and
bruising the wife. A magnificent record redounding to the honour
of our firm! The officer is now under arrest. He will no doubt
be convicted and sent to penal servitude. In the first place,
our penal code is quite out of date; and, secondly, M'sieu, the
sympathies of the court are always with the lover. Why is it?
Very simple, M'sieu. The judges and the jury and the prosecutor
and the counsel for the defence are all living with other men's
wives, and it'll add to their comfort that there will be one
husband the less in Russia. Society would be pleased if the
Government were to send all the husbands to Sahalin. Oh, M'sieu,
you don't know how it excites my indignation to see the
corruption of morals nowadays. To love other men's wives is as
much the regular thing to-day as to smoke other men s cigarettes
and to read other men's books. Every year our trade gets worse
and worse -- it doesn't mean that wives are more faithful, but
that husbands resign themselves to their position and are afraid
of the law and penal servitude."
The shopman looked round and whispered: "And whose fault is it,
M'sieu? The Government's."
"To go to Sahalin for the sake of a pig like that -- there's no
sense in that either," Sigaev pondered. "If I go to penal
servitude it will only give my wife an opportunity of marrying
again and deceiving a second husband. She would triumph. . . .
And so I will leave her alive, I won't kill myself, him . . . I
won't kill either. I must think of something more sensible and
more effective. I will punish them with my contempt, and will
take divorce proceedings that will make a scandal."
"Here, M'sieu, is another make," said the shopman, taking down
another dozen from the shelf. "Let me call your attention to the
original mechanism of the lock."
In view of his determination a revolver was now of no use to
Sigaev, but the shopman, meanwhile, getting more and more
enthusiastic, persisted in displaying his wares before him. The
outraged husband began to feel ashamed that the shopman should
be taking so much trouble on his account for nothing, that he
should be smiling, wasting time, displaying enthusiasm for
"Very well, in that case," he muttered, "I'll look in again
later on . . . or I'll send someone."
He didn't see the expression of the shopman's face, but to
smooth over the awkwardness of the position a little he felt
called upon to make some purchase. But what should he buy? He
looked round the walls of the shop to pick out something
inexpensive, and his eyes rested on a green net hanging near the
"That's . . . what's that?" he asked.
"That's a net for catching quails."
"And what price is it?"
"Eight roubles, M'sieu."
"Wrap it up for me. . . ."
The outraged husband paid his eight roubles, took the net, and,
feeling even more outraged, walked out of the shop.
in flagrante delicto: in the process of committing a crime,
often applied to married people caught committing adultry
Niobe: in mythology Niobe wept ceaselessly for her murdered
children, and in pity the gods turned her into a stone out of
which a stream flowed
Sahalin: Sakhalin, in Siberia, was Imperial Russia's most
oppressive prison; Chekhov visited it in 1890