A.P. Chekhov -
"I'VE asked you not to tidy my table," said
Nikolay Yevgrafitch. "There's no finding anything when you've
tidied up. Where's the telegram? Where have you thrown it? Be so
good as to look for it. It's from Kazan, dated yesterday."
The maid -- a pale, very slim girl with an indifferent
expression -- found several telegrams in the basket under the
table, and handed them to the doctor without a word; but all
these were telegrams from patients. Then they looked in the
drawing-room, and in Olga Dmitrievna's room.
It was past midnight. Nikolay Yevgrafitch knew his wife would
not be home very soon, not till five o'clock at least. He did
not trust her, and when she was long away he could not sleep,
was worried, and at the same time he despised his wife, and her
bed, and her looking-glass, and her boxes of sweets, and the
hyacinths, and the lilies of the valley which were sent her
every day by some one or other, and which diffused the sickly
fragrance of a florist's shop all over the house. On such nights
he became petty, ill-humoured, irritable, and he fancied now
that it was very necessary for him to have the telegram he had
received the day before from his brother, though it contained
nothing but Christmas greetings.
On the table of his wife's room under the box of stationery he
found a telegram, and glanced at it casually. It was addressed
to his wife, care of his mother-in-law, from Monte Carlo, and
signed Michel. . . . The doctor did not understand one word of
it, as it was in some foreign language, apparently English.
"Who is this Michel? Why Monte Carlo? Why directed care of her
During the seven years of his married life he had grown used to
being suspicious, guessing, catching at clues, and it had
several times occurred to him, that his exercise at home had
qualified him to become an excellent detective. Going into his
study and beginning to reflect, he recalled at once how he had
been with his wife in Petersburg a year and a half ago, and had
lunched with an old school-fellow, a civil engineer, and how
that engineer had introduced to him and his wife a young man of
two or three and twenty, called Mihail Ivanovitch, with rather a
curious short surname -- Riss. Two months later the doctor had
seen the young man's photograph in his wife's album, with an
inscription in French: "In remembrance of the present and in
hope of the future." Later on he had met the young man himself
at his mother-in-law's. And that was at the time when his wife
had taken to being very often absent and coming home at four or
five o'clock in the morning, and was constantly asking him to
get her a passport for abroad, which he kept refusing to do; and
a continual feud went on in the house which made him feel
ashamed to face the servants.
Six months before, his colleagues had decided that he was going
into consumption, and advised him to throw up everything and go
to the Crimea. When she heard of this, Olga Dmitrievna affected
to be very much alarmed; she began to be affectionate to her
husband, and kept assuring him that it would be cold and dull in
the Crimea, and that he had much better go to Nice, and that she
would go with him, and there would nurse him, look after him,
take care of him.
Now, he understood why his wife was so particularly anxious to
go to Nice: her Michel lived at Monte Carlo.
He took an English dictionary, and translating the words, and
guessing their meaning, by degrees he put together the following
sentence: "I drink to the health of my beloved darling, and kiss
her little foot a thousand times, and am impatiently expecting
her arrival." He pictured the pitiable, ludicrous part he would
play if he had agreed to go to Nice with his wife. He felt so
mortified that he almost shed tears and began pacing to and fro
through all the rooms of the flat in great agitation. His pride,
his plebeian fastidiousness, was revolted. Clenching his fists
and scowling with disgust, he wondered how he, the son of a
village priest, brought up in a clerical school, a plain,
straightforward man, a surgeon by profession -- how could he
have let himself be enslaved, have sunk into such shameful
bondage to this weak, worthless, mercenary, low creature.
" 'Little foot'!" he muttered to himself, crumpling up the
telegram; " 'little foot'!"
Of the time when he fell in love and proposed to her, and the
seven years that he had been living with her, all that remained
in his memory was her long, fragrant hair, a mass of soft lace,
and her little feet, which certainly were very small, beautiful
feet; and even now it seemed as though he still had from those
old embraces the feeling of lace and silk upon his hands and
face -- and nothing more. Nothing more -- that is, not counting
hysterics, shrieks, reproaches, threats, and lies -- brazen,
treacherous lies. He remembered how in his father's house in the
village a bird would sometimes chance to fly in from the open
air into the house and would struggle desperately against the
window-panes and upset things; so this woman from a class
utterly alien to him had flown into his life and made complete
havoc of it. The best years of his life had been spent as though
in hell, his hopes for happiness shattered and turned into a
mockery, his health gone, his rooms as vulgar in their
atmosphere as a cocotte's, and of the ten thousand he earned
every year he could never save ten roubles to send his old
mother in the village, and his debts were already about fifteen
thousand. It seemed that if a band of brigands had been living
in his rooms his life would not have been so hopelessly, so
irremediably ruined as by the presence of this woman.
He began coughing and gasping for breath. He ought to have gone
to bed and got warm, but he could not. He kept walking about the
rooms, or sat down to the table, nervously fidgeting with a
pencil and scribbling mechanically on a paper.
"Trying a pen. . . . A little foot."
By five o'clock he grew weaker and threw all the blame on
himself. It seemed to him now that if Olga Dmitrievna had
married some one else who might have had a good influence over
her -- who knows? -- she might after all have become a good,
straightforward woman. He was a poor psychologist, and knew
nothing of the female heart; besides, he was churlish,
uninteresting. . . .
"I haven't long to live now," he thought. "I am a dead man, and
ought not to stand in the way of the living. It would be strange
and stupid to insist upon one's rights now. I'll have it out
with her; let her go to the man she loves. . . . I'll give her a
divorce. I'll take the blame on myself."
Olga Dmitrievna came in at last, and she walked into the study
and sank into a chair just as she was in her white cloak, hat,
"The nasty, fat boy," she said with a sob, breathing hard. "It's
really dishonest; it's disgusting." She stamped. "I can't put up
with it; I can't, I can't!"
"What's the matter?" asked Nikolay Yevgrafitch, going up to her.
"That student, Azarbekov, was seeing me home, and he lost my
bag, and there was fifteen roubles in it. I borrowed it from
She was crying in a most genuine way, like a little girl, and
not only her handkerchief, but even her gloves, were wet with
"It can't be helped!" said the doctor. "If he's lost it, he's
lost it, and it's no good worrying over it. Calm yourself; I
want to talk to you."
"I am not a millionaire to lose money like that. He says he'll
pay it back, but I don't believe him; he's poor . . ."
Her husband begged her to calm herself and to listen to him, but
she kept on talking of the student and of the fifteen roubles
she had lost.
"Ach! I'll give you twenty-five roubles to-morrow if you'll only
hold your tongue!" he said irritably.
"I must take off my things!" she said, crying. "I can't talk
seriously in my fur coat! How strange you are!"
He helped her off with her coat and overboots, detecting as he
did so the smell of the white wine she liked to drink with
oysters (in spite of her etherealness she ate and drank a great
deal). She went into her room and came back soon after, having
changed her things and powdered her face, though her eyes still
showed traces of tears. She sat down, retreating into her light,
lacy dressing-gown, and in the mass of billowy pink her husband
could see nothing but her hair, which she had let down, and her
little foot wearing a slipper.
"What do you want to talk about?" she asked, swinging herself in
"I happened to see this;" and he handed her the telegram.
She read it and shrugged her shoulders.
"Well?" she said, rocking herself faster. "That's the usual New
Year's greeting and nothing else. There are no secrets in it."
"You are reckoning on my not knowing English. No, I don't know
it; but I have a dictionary. That telegram is from Riss; he
drinks to the health of his beloved and sends you a thousand
kisses. But let us leave that," the doctor went on hurriedly. "I
don't in the least want to reproach you or make a scene. We've
had scenes and reproaches enough; it's time to make an end of
them. . . . This is what I want to say to you: you are free, and
can live as you like."
There was a silence. She began crying quietly.
"I set you free from the necessity of lying and keeping up
pretences," Nikolay Yevgrafitch continued. "If you love that
young man, love him; if you want to go abroad to him, go. You
are young, healthy, and I am a wreck, and haven't long to live.
In short . . . you understand me."
He was agitated and could not go on. Olga Dmitrievna, crying and
speaking in a voice of self-pity, acknowledged that she loved
Riss, and used to drive out of town with him and see him in his
rooms, and now she really did long to go abroad.
"You see, I hide nothing from you," she added, with a sigh. "My
whole soul lies open before you. And I beg you again, be
generous, get me a passport."
"I repeat, you are free."
She moved to another seat nearer him to look at the expression
of his face. She did not believe him and wanted now to
understand his secret meaning. She never did believe any one,
and however generous were their intentions, she always suspected
some petty or ignoble motive or selfish object in them. And when
she looked searchingly into his face, it seemed to him that
there was a gleam of green light in her eyes as in a cat's.
"When shall I get the passport?" she asked softly.
He suddenly had an impulse to say "Never"; but he restrained
himself and said:
"When you like."
"I shall only go for a month."
"You'll go to Riss for good. I'll get you a divorce, take the
blame on myself, and Riss can marry you."
"But I don't want a divorce!" Olga Dmitrievna retorted quickly,
with an astonished face. "I am not asking you for a divorce! Get
me a passport, that's all."
"But why don't you want the divorce?" asked the doctor,
beginning to feel irritated. "You are a strange woman. How
strange you are! If you are fond of him in earnest and he loves
you too, in your position you can do nothing better than get
married. Can you really hesitate between marriage and adultery?"
"I understand you," she said, walking away from him, and a
spiteful, vindictive expression came into her face. "I
understand you perfectly. You are sick of me, and you simply
want to get rid of me, to force this divorce on me. Thank you
very much; I am not such a fool as you think. I won't accept the
divorce and I won't leave you -- I won't, I won't! To begin
with, I don't want to lose my position in society," she
continued quickly, as though afraid of being prevented from
speaking. "Secondly, I am twenty-seven and Riss is only
twenty-three; he'll be tired of me in a year and throw me over.
And what's more, if you care to know, I'm not certain that my
feeling will last long . . . so there! I'm not going to leave
"Then I'll turn you out of the house!" shouted Nikolay
Yevgrafitch, stamping. "I shall turn you out, you vile,
"We shall see!" she said, and went out.
It was broad daylight outside, but the doctor still sat at the
table moving the pencil over the paper and writing mechanically.
"My dear Sir. . . . Little foot."
Or he walked about and stopped in the drawing-room before a
photograph taken seven years ago, soon after his marriage, and
looked at it for a long time. It was a family group: his
father-in-law, his mother-in-law, his wife Olga Dmitrievna when
she was twenty, and himself in the rle of a happy young
husband. His father-in-law, a clean-shaven, dropsical privy
councillor, crafty and avaricious; his mother-in-law, a stout
lady with small predatory features like a weasel, who loved her
daughter to distraction and helped her in everything; if her
daughter were strangling some one, the mother would not have
protested, but would only have screened her with her skirts.
Olga Dmitrievna, too, had small predatory-looking features, but
more expressive and bolder than her mother's; she was not a
weasel, but a beast on a bigger scale! And Nikolay Yevgrafitch
himself in the photograph looked such a guileless soul, such a
kindly, good fellow, so open and simple-hearted; his whole face
was relaxed in the nave, good-natured smile of a divinity
student, and he had had the simplicity to believe that that
company of beasts of prey into which destiny had chanced to
thrust him would give him romance and happiness and all he had
dreamed of when as a student he used to sing the song "Youth is
wasted, life is nought, when the heart is cold and loveless."
And once more he asked himself in perplexity how he, the son of
a village priest, with his democratic bringing up -- a plain,
blunt, straightforward man -- could have so helplessly
surrendered to the power of this worthless, false, vulgar, petty
creature, whose nature was so utterly alien to him.
When at eleven o'clock he put on his coat to go to the hospital
the servant came into his study.
"What is it?" he asked.
"The mistress has got up and asks you for the twenty-five
roubles you promised her yesterday."
title: a literal translation is "The Wife"
passport: a wife had to have the husband's permission to apply
for a passport
loveless: a student song
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