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Chekhov - A Living Chattel



It was a lovely August evening. The sun, set in a golden background lightly flecked with purple, stood above the western horizon on the point of sinking behind the far-away tumuli. In the garden, shadows and half-shadows had vanished, and the air had grown damp, but the golden light was still playing on the tree-tops. . . . It was warm. . . . Rain had just fallen, and made the fresh, transparent fragrant air still fresher.

I am not describing the August of Petersburg or Moscow, foggy, tearful, and dark, with its cold, incredibly damp sunsets. God forbid! I am not describing our cruel northern August. I ask the reader to move with me to the Crimea, to one of its shores, not far from Feodosia, the spot where stands the villa of one of our heroes. It is a pretty, neat villa surrounded by flower-beds and clipped bushes. A hundred paces behind it is an orchard in which its inmates walk. . . . Groholsky pays a high rent for that villa, a thousand roubles a year, I believe. . . . The villa is not worth that rent, but it is pretty. . . . Tall, with delicate walls and very delicate parapets, fragile, slender, painted a pale blue colour, hung with curtains, portires, draperies, it suggests a charming, fragile Chinese lady. . . .

On the evening described above, Groholsky and Liza were sitting on the verandah of this villa. Groholsky was reading Novoye Vremya and drinking milk out of a green mug. A syphon of Seltzer water was standing on the table before him. Groholsky imagined that he was suffering from catarrh of the lungs, and by the advice of Dr. Dmitriev consumed an immense quantity of grapes, milk, and Seltzer water. Liza was sitting in a soft easy chair some distance from the table. With her elbows on the parapet, and her little face propped on her little fists, she was gazing at the villa opposite. . . . The sun was playing upon the windows of the villa opposite, the glittering panes reflected the dazzling light. . . . Beyond the little garden and the few trees that surrounded the villa there was a glimpse of the sea with its waves, its dark blue colour, its immensity, its white masts. . . . It was so delightful! Groholsky was reading an article by Anonymous, and after every dozen lines he raised his blue eyes to Liza's back. . . . The same passionate, fervent love was shining in those eyes still. . . . He was infinitely happy in spite of his imaginary catarrh of the lungs. . . . Liza was conscious of his eyes upon her back, and was thinking of Mishutka's brilliant future, and she felt so comfortable, so serene. . . .

She was not so much interested by the sea, and the glittering reflection on the windows of the villa opposite as by the waggons which were trailing up to that villa one after another.

The waggons were full of furniture and all sorts of domestic articles. Liza watched the trellis gates and big glass doors of the villa being opened and the men bustling about the furniture and wrangling incessantly. Big armchairs and a sofa covered with dark raspberry coloured velvet, tables for the hall, the drawing-room and the dining-room, a big double bed and a child's cot were carried in by the glass doors; something big, wrapped up in sacking, was carried in too. A grand piano, thought Liza, and her heart throbbed.

It was long since she had heard the piano, and she was so fond of it. They had not a single musical instrument in their villa. Groholsky and she were musicians only in soul, no more. There were a great many boxes and packages with the words: "with care" upon them carried in after the piano.

They were boxes of looking-glasses and crockery. A gorgeous and luxurious carriage was dragged in, at the gate, and two white horses were led in looking like swans.

"My goodness, what riches!" thought Liza, remembering her old pony which Groholsky, who did not care for riding, had bought her for a hundred roubles. Compared with those swan-like steeds, her pony seemed to her no better than a bug. Groholsky, who was afraid of riding fast, had purposely bought Liza a poor horse.

"What wealth!" Liza thought and murmured as she gazed at the noisy carriers.

The sun hid behind the tumuli, the air began to lose its dryness and limpidity, and still the furniture was being driven up and hauled into the house. At last it was so dark that Groholsky left off reading the newspaper while Liza still gazed and gazed.

"Shouldn't we light the lamp?" said Groholsky, afraid that a fly might drop into his milk and be swallowed in the darkness.

"Liza! shouldn't we light the lamp? Shall we sit in darkness, my angel?"

Liza did not answer. She was interested in a chaise which had driven up to the villa opposite. . . . What a charming little mare was in that chaise. Of medium size, not large, but graceful. . . . A gentleman in a top hat was sitting in the chaise, a child about three, apparently a boy, was sitting on his knees waving his little hands. . . . He was waving his little hands and shouting with delight.

Liza suddenly uttered a shriek, rose from her seat and lurched forward.

"What is the matter?" asked Groholsky.

"Nothing. . . I only . . . I fancied. . . ."

The tall, broad-shouldered gentleman in the top hat jumped out of the chaise, lifted the boy down, and with a skip and a hop ran gaily in at the glass door. The door opened noisily and he vanished into the darkness of the villa apartments.

Two smart footmen ran up to the horse in the chaise, and most respectfully led it to the gate. Soon the villa opposite was lighted up, and the clatter of plates, knives, and forks was audible. The gentleman in the top hat was having his supper, and judging by the duration of the clatter of crockery, his supper lasted long. Liza fancied she could smell chicken soup and roast duck. After supper discordant sounds of the piano floated across from the villa. In all probability the gentleman in the top hat was trying to amuse the child in some way, and allowing it to strum on it.

Groholsky went up to Liza and put his arm round her waist.

"What wonderful weather!" he said. "What air! Do you feel it? I am very happy, Liza, very happy indeed. My happiness is so great that I am really afraid of its destruction. The greatest things are usually destroyed, and do you know, Liza, in spite of all my happiness, I am not absolutely . . . at peace. . . . One haunting thought torments me . . . it torments me horribly. It gives me no peace by day or by night. . . ."

"What thought?"

"An awful thought, my love. I am tortured by the thought of your husband. I have been silent hitherto. I have feared to trouble your inner peace, but I cannot go on being silent. Where is he? What has happened to him? What has become of him with his money? It is awful! Every night I see his face, exhausted, suffering, imploring. . . . Why, only think, my angel -- can the money he so generously accepted make up to him for you? He loved you very much, didn't he?"

"Very much!"

"There you see! He has either taken to drink now, or . . . I am anxious about him! Ah, how anxious I am! Should we write to him, do you think? We ought to comfort him . . . a kind word, you know."

Groholsky heaved a deep sigh, shook his head, and sank into an easy chair exhausted by painful reflection. Leaning his head on his fists he fell to musing. Judging from his face, his musings were painful.

"I am going to bed," said Liza; "it's time."

Liza went to her own room, undressed, and dived under the bedclothes. She used to go to bed at ten o'clock and get up at ten. She was fond of her comfort.

She was soon in the arms of Morpheus. Throughout the whole night she had the most fascinating dreams. . . . She dreamed whole romances, novels, Arabian Nights. . . . The hero of all these dreams was the gentleman in the top hat, who had caused her to utter a shriek that evening.

The gentleman in the top hat was carrying her off from Groholsky, was singing, was beating Groholsky and her, was flogging the boy under the window, was declaring his love, and driving her off in the chaise. . . . Oh, dreams! In one night, lying with one's eyes shut, one may sometimes live through more than ten years of happiness. . . . That night Liza lived through a great variety of experiences, and very happy ones, even in spite of the beating.

Waking up between six and seven, she flung on her clothes, hurriedly did her hair, and without even putting on her Tatar slippers with pointed toes, ran impulsively on to the verandah. Shading her eyes from the sun with one hand, and with the other holding up her slipping clothes, she gazed at the villa opposite. Her face beamed. . . . There could be no further doubt it was he.

On the verandah in the villa opposite there was a table in front of the glass door. A tea service was shining and glistening on the table with a silver samovar at the head. Ivan Petrovitch was sitting at the table. He had in his hand a glass in a silver holder, and was drinking tea. He was drinking it with great relish. That fact could be deduced from the smacking of his lips, the sound of which reached Liza's ears. He was wearing a brown dressing-gown with black flowers on it. Massive tassels fell down to the ground. It was the first time in her life Liza had seen her husband in a dressing-gown, and such an expensive-looking one.

Mishutka was sitting on one of his knees, and hindering him from drinking his tea. The child jumped up and down and tried to clutch his papa's shining lip. After every three or four sips the father bent down to his son and kissed him on the head. A grey cat with its tail in the air was rubbing itself against one of the table legs, and with a plaintive mew proclaiming its desire for food. Liza hid behind the verandah curtain, and fastened her eyes upon the members of her former family; her face was radiant with joy.

"Misha!" she murmured, "Misha! Are you really here, Misha? The darling! And how he loves Vanya! Heavens!"

And Liza went off into a giggle when Mishutka stirred his father's tea with a spoon. "And how Vanya loves Misha! My darlings!"

Liza's heart throbbed, and her head went round with joy and happiness. She sank into an armchair and went on observing them, sitting down.

"How did they come here?" she wondered as she sent airy kisses to Mishutka. "Who gave them the idea of coming here? Heavens! Can all that wealth belong to them? Can those swan-like horses that were led in at the gate belong to Ivan Petrovitch? Ah!"

When he had finished his tea, Ivan Petrovitch went into the house. Ten minutes later, he appeared on the steps and Liza was astounded. . . . He, who in his youth only seven years ago had been called Vanushka and Vanka and had been ready to punch a man in the face and turn the house upside down over twenty kopecks, was dressed devilishly well. He had on a broad-brimmed straw hat, exquisite brilliant boots, a piqu waistcoat. . . . Thousands of suns, big and little, glistened on his watch-chain. With much chic he held in his right hand his gloves and cane.

And what swagger, what style there was in his heavy figure when, with a graceful motion of his hand, he bade the footman bring the horse round.

He got into the chaise with dignity, and told the footmen standing round the chaise to give him Mishutka and the fishing tackle they had brought. Setting Mishutka beside him, and putting his left arm round him, he held the reins and drove off.

"Ge-ee up!" shouted Mishutka.

Liza, unaware of what she was doing, waved her handkerchief after them. If she had looked in the glass she would have been surprised at her flushed, laughing, and, at the same time, tear-stained face. She was vexed that she was not beside her gleeful boy, and that she could not for some reason shower kisses on him at once.

For some reason! . . . Away with all your petty delicacies!

"Grisha! Grisha!" Liza ran into Groholsky's bedroom and set to work to wake him. "Get up, they have come! The darling!"

"Who has come?" asked Groholsky, waking up.

"Our people . . . Vanya and Misha, they have come, they are in the villa opposite. . . . I looked out, and there they were drinking tea. . . . And Misha too. . . . What a little angel our Misha has grown! If only you had seen him! Mother of God!"

"Seen whom? Why, you are. . . . Who has come? Come where?"

"Vanya and Misha. . . . I have been looking at the villa opposite, while they were sitting drinking tea. Misha can drink his tea by himself now. . . . Didn't you see them moving in yesterday, it was they who arrived!"

Groholsky rubbed his forehead and turned pale.

"Arrived? Your husband?" he asked.

"Why, yes."

"What for?"

"Most likely he is going to live here. They don't know we are here. If they did, they would have looked at our villa, but they drank their tea and took no notice."

"Where is he now? But for God's sake do talk sense! Oh, where is he?"

"He has gone fishing with Misha in the chaise. Did you see the horses yesterday? Those are their horses . . . Vanya's . . . Vanya drives with them. Do you know what, Grisha? We will have Misha to stay with us. . . . We will, won't we? He is such a pretty boy. Such an exquisite boy!"

Groholsky pondered, while Liza went on talking and talking.

"This is an unexpected meeting," said Groholsky, after prolonged and, as usual, harrassing reflection. "Well, who could have expected that we should meet here? Well. . . There it is. . . . So be it. It seems that it is fated. I can imagine the awkwardness of his position when he meets us."

"Shall we have Misha to stay with us?"

"Yes, we will. . . . It will be awkward meeting him. . . . Why, what can I say to him? What can I talk of? It will be awkward for him and awkward for me. . . . We ought not to meet. We will carry on communications, if necessary, through the servants. . . . My head does ache so, Lizotchka. My arms and legs too, I ache all over. Is my head feverish?"

Liza put her hand on his forehead and found that his head was hot.

"I had dreadful dreams all night . . . I shan't get up to-day. I shall stay in bed . . . I must take some quinine. Send me my breakfast here, little woman."

Groholsky took quinine and lay in bed the whole day. He drank warm water, moaned, had the sheets and pillowcase changed, whimpered, and induced an agonising boredom in all surrounding him.

He was insupportable when he imagined he had caught a chill. Liza had continually to interrupt her inquisitive observations and run from the verandah to his room. At dinner-time she had to put on mustard plasters. How boring all this would have been, O reader, if the villa opposite had not been at the service of my heroine! Liza watched that villa all day long and was gasping with happiness.

At ten o'clock Ivan Petrovitch and Mishutka came back from fishing and had breakfast. At two o'clock they had dinner, and at four o'clock they drove off somewhere in a carriage. The white horses bore them away with the swiftness of lightning. At seven o'clock visitors came to see them -- all of them men. They were playing cards on two tables in the verandah till midnight. One of the men played superbly on the piano. The visitors played, ate, drank, and laughed. Ivan Petrovitch guffawing loudly, told them an anecdote of Armenian life at the top of his voice, so that all the villas round could hear. It was very gay and Mishutka sat up with them till midnight.

"Misha is merry, he is not crying," thought Liza, "so he does not remember his mamma. So he has forgotten me!"

And there was a horrible bitter feeling in Liza's soul. She spent the whole night crying. She was fretted by her little conscience, and by vexation and misery, and the desire to talk to Mishutka and kiss him. . . . In the morning she got up with a headache and tear-stained eyes. Her tears Groholsky put down to his own account.

"Do not weep, darling," he said to her, "I am all right to-day, my chest is a little painful, but that is nothing."

While they were having tea, lunch was being served at the villa opposite. Ivan Petrovitch was looking at his plate, and seeing nothing but a morsel of goose dripping with fat.

"I am very glad," said Groholsky, looking askance at Bugrov, "very glad that his life is so tolerable! I hope that decent surroundings anyway may help to stifle his grief. Keep out of sight, Liza! They will see you . . . I am not disposed to talk to him just now . . . God be with him! Why trouble his peace?"

But the dinner did not pass off so quietly. During dinner precisely that "awkward position" which Groholsky so dreaded occurred. Just when the partridges, Groholsky's favorite dish, had been put on the table, Liza was suddenly overcome with confusion, and Groholsky began wiping his face with his dinner napkin. On the verandah of the villa opposite they saw Bugrov. He was standing with his arms leaning on the parapet, and staring straight at them, with his eyes starting out of his head.

"Go in, Liza, go in," Groholsky whispered. "I said we must have dinner indoors! What a girl you are, really. . . ."

Bugrov stared and stared, and suddenly began shouting. Groholsky looked at him and saw a face full of astonishment. . . .

"Is that you ?" bawled Ivan Petrovitch, "you! Are you here too?"

Groholsky passed his fingers from one shoulder to another, as though to say, "My chest is weak, and so I can't shout across such a distance." Liza's heart began throbbing, and everything turned round before her eyes. Bugrov ran from his verandah, ran across the road, and a few seconds later was standing under the verandah on which Groholsky and Liza were dining. Alas for the partridges!

"How are you?" he began, flushing crimson, and stuffing his big hands in his pockets. "Are you here? Are you here too?"

"Yes, we are here too. . . ."

"How did you get here?"

"Why, how did you?"

"I? It's a long story, a regular romance, my good friend! But don't put yourselves out -- eat your dinner! I've been living, you know, ever since then . . . in the Oryol province. I rented an estate. A splendid estate! But do eat your dinner! I stayed there from the end of May, but now I have given it up. . . . It was cold there, and -- well, the doctor advised me to go to the Crimea. . . ."

"Are you ill, then?" inquired Groholsky.

"Oh, well. . . . There always seems, as it were. . . something gurgling here. . . ."

And at the word "here" Ivan Petrovitch passed his open hand from his neck down to the middle of his stomach.

"So you are here too. . . . Yes . . . that's very pleasant. Have you been here long?"

"Since July."

"Oh, and you, Liza, how are you? Quite well?"

"Quite well," answered Liza, and was embarrassed.

"You miss Mishutka, I'll be bound. Eh? Well, he's here with me. . . . I'll send him over to you directly with Nikifor. This is very nice. Well, good-bye! I have to go off directly. . . . I made the acquaintance of Prince Ter-Haimazov yesterday; delightful man, though he is an Armenian. So he has a croquet party to-day; we are going to play croquet. . . . Good-bye! The carriage is waiting. . . ."

Ivan Petrovitch whirled round, tossed his head, and, waving adieu to them, ran home.

"Unhappy man," said Groholsky, heaving a deep sigh as he watched him go off.

"In what way is he unhappy?" asked Liza.

"To see you and not have the right to call you his!"

"Fool!" Liza was so bold to think. "Idiot!"

Before evening Liza was hugging and kissing Mishutka. At first the boy howled, but when he was offered jam, he was all friendly smiles.

For three days Groholsky and Liza did not see Bugrov. He had disappeared somewhere, and was only at home at night. On the fourth day he visited them again at dinner-time. He came in, shook hands with both of them, and sat down to the table. His face was serious.

"I have come to you on business," he said. "Read this." And he handed Groholsky a letter. "Read it! Read it aloud!"

Groholsky read as follows:

"My beloved and consoling, never-forgotten son Ioann! I have received the respectful and loving letter in which you invite your aged father to the mild and salubrious Crimea, to breathe the fragrant air, and behold strange lands. To that letter I reply that on taking my holiday, I will come to you, but not for long. My colleague, Father Gerasim, is a frail and delicate man, and cannot be left alone for long. I am very sensible of your not forgetting your parents, your father and your mother. . . . You rejoice your father with your affection, and you remember your mother in your prayers, and so it is fitting to do. Meet me at Feodosia. What sort of town is Feodosia -- what is it like? It will be very agreeable to see it. Your godmother, who took you from the font, is called Feodosia. You write that God has been graciously pleased that you should win two hundred thousand roubles. That is gratifying to me. But I cannot approve of your having left the service while still of a grade of little importance; even a rich man ought to be in the service. I bless you always, now and hereafter. Ilya and Seryozhka Andronov send you their greetings. You might send them ten roubles each -- they are badly off!

"Your loving Father,

"Pyotr Bugrov, Priest."

Groholsky read this letter aloud, and he and Liza both looked inquiringly at Bugrov.

"You see what it is," Ivan Petrovitch began hesitatingly. "I should like to ask you, Liza, not to let him see you, to keep out of his sight while he is here. I have written to him that you are ill and gone to the Caucasus for a cure. If you meet him. . . You see yourself. . . . It's awkward. . . H'm. . . ."

"Very well," said Liza.

"We can do that," thought Groholsky, "since he makes sacrifices, why shouldn't we?"

"Please do. . . . If he sees you there will be trouble. . . . My father is a man of strict principles. He would curse me in seven churches. Don't go out of doors, Liza, that is all. He won't be here long. Don't be afraid."

Father Pyotr did not long keep them waiting. One fine morning Ivan Petrovitch ran in and hissed in a mysterious tone:

"He has come! He is asleep now, so please be careful."

And Liza was shut up within four walls. She did not venture to go out into the yard or on to the verandah. She could only see the sky from behind the window curtain. Unluckily for her, Ivan Petrovitch's papa spent his whole time in the open air, and even slept on the verandah. Usually Father Pyotr, a little parish priest, in a brown cassock and a top hat with a curly brim, walked slowly round the villas and gazed with curiosity at the "strange lands" through his grandfatherly spectacles. Ivan Petrovitch with the Stanislav on a little ribbon accompanied him. He did not wear a decoration as a rule, but before his own people he liked to show off. In their society he always wore the Stanislav.

Liza was bored to death. Groholsky suffered too. He had to go for his walks alone without a companion. He almost shed tears, but . . . had to submit to his fate. And to make things worse, Bugrov would run across every morning and in a hissing whisper would give some quite unnecessary bulletin concerning the health of Father Pyotr. He bored them with those bulletins.

"He slept well," he informed them. "Yesterday he was put out because I had no salted cucumbers. . . He has taken to Mishutka; he keeps patting him on the head."

At last, a fortnight later, little Father Pyotr walked for the last time round the villas and, to Groholsky's immense relief, departed. He had enjoyed himself, and went off very well satisfied. Liza and Groholsky fell back into their old manner of life. Groholsky once more blessed his fate. But his happiness did not last for long. A new trouble worse than Father Pyotr followed. Ivan Petrovitch took to coming to see them every day. Ivan Petrovitch, to be frank, though a capital fellow, was a very tedious person. He came at dinner-time, dined with them and stayed a very long time. That would not have mattered. But they had to buy vodka, which Groholsky could not endure, for his dinner. He would drink five glasses and talk the whole dinner-time. That, too, would not have mattered. . . . But he would sit on till two o'clock in the morning, and not let them get to bed, and, worse still, he permitted himself to talk of things about which he should have been silent. When towards two o'clock in the morning he had drunk too much vodka and champagne, he would take Mishutka in his arms, and weeping, say to him, before Groholsky and Liza:

"Mihail, my son, what am I? I . . . am a scoundrel. I have sold your mother! Sold her for thirty pieces of silver, may the Lord punish me! Mihail Ivanitch, little sucking pig, where is your mother? Lost! Gone! Sold into slavery! Well, I am a scoundrel."

These tears and these words turned Groholsky's soul inside out. He would look timidly at Liza's pale face and wring his hands.

"Go to bed, Ivan Petrovitch," he would say timidly.

"I am going. . . . Come along, Mishutka. . . . The Lord be our judge! I cannot think of sleep while I know that my wife is a slave. . . . But it is not Groholsky's fault. . . . The goods were mine, the money his. . . . Freedom for the free and Heaven for the saved."

By day Ivan Petrovitch was no less insufferable to Groholsky. To Groholsky's intense horror, he was always at Liza's side. He went fishing with her, told her stories, walked with her, and even on one occasion, taking advantage of Groholsky's having a cold, carried her off in his carriage, goodness knows where, and did not bring her back till night!

"It's outrageous, inhuman," thought Groholsky, biting his lips.

Groholsky liked to be continually kissing Liza. He could not exist without those honeyed kisses, and it was awkward to kiss her before Ivan Petrovitch. It was agony. The poor fellow felt forlorn, but fate soon had compassion on him. Ivan Petrovitch suddenly went off somewhere for a whole week. Visitors had come and carried him off with them . . . And Mishutka was taken too.

One fine morning Groholsky came home from a walk good-humoured and beaming.

"He has come," he said to Liza, rubbing his hands. "I am very glad he has come. Ha-ha-ha!"

"What are you laughing at?"

"There are women with him."

"What women?"

"I don't know. . . . It's a good thing he has got women. . . . A capital thing, in fact. . . . He is still young and fresh. Come here! Look!"

Groholsky led Liza on to the verandah, and pointed to the villa opposite. They both held their sides, and roared with laughter. It was funny. Ivan Petrovitch was standing on the verandah of the villa opposite, smiling. Two dark-haired ladies and Mishutka were standing below, under the verandah. The ladies were laughing, and loudly talking French.

"French women," observed Groholsky. "The one nearest us isn't at all bad-looking. Lively damsels, but that's no matter. There are good women to be found even among such. . . . But they really do go too far."

What was funny was that Ivan Petrovitch bent across the verandah, and stretching with his long arms, put them round the shoulders of one of the French girls, lifted her in the air, and set her giggling on the verandah. After lifting up both ladies on to the verandah, he lifted up Mishutka too. The ladies ran down and the proceedings were repeated.

"Powerful muscles, I must say," muttered Groholsky looking at this scene. The operation was repeated some six times, the ladies were so amiable as to show no embarrassment whatever when the boisterous wind disposed of their inflated skirts as it willed while they were being lifted. Groholsky dropped his eyes in a shamefaced way when the ladies flung their legs over the parapet as they reached the verandah. But Liza watched and laughed! What did she care? It was not a case of men misbehaving themselves, which would have put her, as a woman, to shame, but of ladies.

In the evening, Ivan Petrovitch flew over, and with some embarrassment announced that he was now a man with a household to look after. . . .

"You mustn't imagine they are just anybody," he said. "It is true they are French. They shout at the top of their voices, and drink . . . but we all know! The French are brought up to be like that! It can't be helped. . . . The prince," Ivan Petrovitch added, "let me have them almost for nothing. . . . He said: 'take them, take them. . . .' I must introduce you to the prince sometime. A man of culture! He's for ever writing, writing. . . . And do you know what their names are? One is Fanny, the other Isabella. . . . There's Europe, ha-ha-ha! . . . The west! Good-bye!"

Ivan Petrovitch left Liza and Groholsky in peace, and devoted himself to his ladies. All day long sound of talk, laughter, and the clatter of crockery came from his villa. . . . The lights were not put out till far into the night. . . . Groholsky was in bliss. . . . At last, after a prolonged interval of agony, he felt happy and at peace again. Ivan Petrovitch with his two ladies had no such happiness as he had with one. But alas, destiny has no heart. She plays with the Groholskys, the Lizas, the Ivans, and the Mishutkas as with pawns. . . . Groholsky lost his peace again. . . .

One morning, about ten days afterwards, on waking up late, he went out on to the verandah and saw a spectacle which shocked him, revolted him, and moved him to intense indignation. Under the verandah of the villa opposite stood the French women, and between them Liza. She was talking and looking askance at her own villa as though to see whether that tyrant, that despot were awake (so Groholsky interpreted those looks). Ivan Petrovitch standing on the verandah with his sleeves tucked up, lifted Isabella into the air, then Fanny, and then Liza. When he was lifting Liza it seemed to Groholsky that he pressed her to himself. . . . Liza too flung one leg over the parapet. . . . Oh these women! All sphinxes, every one of them!

When Liza returned home from her husband's villa and went into the bedroom on tip-toe, as though nothing had happened, Groholsky, pale, with hectic flushes on his cheeks, was lying in the attitude of a man at his last gasp and moaning.

On seeing Liza, he sprang out of bed, and began pacing about the bedroom.

"So that's what you are like, is it?" he shrieked in a high tenor. "So that's it! Very much obliged to you! It's revolting, madam! Immoral, in fact! Let me tell you that!"

Liza turned pale, and of course burst into tears. When women feel that they are in the right, they scold and shed tears; when they are conscious of being in fault, they shed tears only.

"On a level with those depraved creatures! It's . . . it's . . . it's . . . lower than any impropriety! Why, do you know what they are? They are kept women! Cocottes! And you a respectable woman go rushing off where they are. . . And he . . . He! What does he want? What more does he want of me? I don't understand it! I have given him half of my property -- I have given him more! You know it yourself! I have given him what I have not myself. . . . I have given him almost all. . . . And he! I've put up with your calling him Vanya, though he has no right whatever to such intimacy. I have put up with your walks, kisses after dinner. . . . I have put up with everything, but this I will not put up with. . . . Either he or I! Let him go away, or I go away! I'm not equal to living like this any longer, no! You can see that for yourself! . . . Either he or I. . . . Enough! The cup is brimming over. . . . I have suffered a great deal as it is. . . . I am going to talk to him at once -- this minute! What is he, after all? What has he to be proud of? No, indeed. . . . He has no reason to think so much of himself. . . . "

Groholsky said a great many more valiant and stinging things, but did not "go at once"; he felt timid and abashed. . . . He went to Ivan Petrovitch three days later.

When he went into his apartment, he gaped with astonishment. He was amazed at the wealth and luxury with which Bugrov had surrounded himself. Velvet hangings, fearfully expensive chairs. . . . One was positively ashamed to step on the carpet. Groholsky had seen many rich men in his day, but he had never seen such frenzied luxury. . . . And the higgledy-piggledy muddle he saw when, with an inexplicable tremor, he walked into the drawing-room -- plates with bits of bread on them were lying about on the grand piano, a glass was standing on a chair, under the table there was a basket with a filthy rag in it. . . . Nut shells were strewn about in the windows. Bugrov himself was not quite in his usual trim when Groholsky walked in. . . . With a red face and uncombed locks he was pacing about the room in deshabille, talking to himself, apparently much agitated. Mishutka was sitting on the sofa there in the drawing-room, and was making the air vibrate with a piercing scream.

"It's awful, Grigory Vassilyevitch!" Bugrov began on seeing Groholsky, "such disorder. . . such disorder. . . Please sit down. You must excuse my being in the costume of Adam and Eve. . . . It's of no consequence. . . . Horrible disorderliness! I don't understand how people can exist here, I don't understand it! The servants won't do what they are told, the climate is horrible, everything is expensive. . . . Stop your noise," Bugrov shouted, suddenly coming to a halt before Mishutka; "stop it, I tell you! Little beast, won't you stop it?"

And Bugrov pulled Mishutka's ear.

"That's revolting, Ivan Petrovitch," said Groholsky in a tearful voice. "How can you treat a tiny child like that? You really are. . ."

"Let him stop yelling then. . . . Be quiet -- I'll whip you!"

"Don't cry, Misha darling. . . . Papa won't touch you again. Don't beat him, Ivan Petrovitch; why, he is hardly more than a baby. . . . There, there. . . . Would you like a little horse? I'll send you a little horse. . . . You really are hard-hearted. . . ."

Groholsky paused, and then asked:

"And how are your ladies getting on, Ivan Petrovitch?"

"Not at all. I've turned them out without ceremony. I might have gone on keeping them, but it's awkward. . . . The boy will grow up. . . . A father's example. . . . If I were alone, then it would be a different thing. . . . Besides, what's the use of my keeping them? Poof . . . it's a regular farce! I talk to them in Russian, and they answer me in French. They don't understand a thing -- you can't knock anything into their heads."

"I've come to you about something, Ivan Petrovitch, to talk things over. . . . H'm. . . . It's nothing very particular. But just . . . two or three words. . . . In reality, I have a favour to ask of you."

"What's that?"

"Would you think it possible, Ivan Petrovitch, to go away? We are delighted that you are here; it's very agreeable for us, but it's inconvenient, don't you know. . . . You will understand me. It's awkward in a way. . . . Such indefinite relations, such continual awkwardness in regard to one another. . . . We must part. . . . It's essential in fact. Excuse my saying so, but . . . you must see for yourself, of course, that in such circumstances to be living side by side leads to . . . reflections. . . that is . . . not to reflections, but there is a certain awkward feeling. . . ."

"Yes. . . . That is so, I have thought of it myself. Very good, I will go away."

"We shall be very grateful to you. . . . Believe me, Ivan Petrovitch, we shall preserve the most flattering memory of you. The sacrifice which you. . ."

"Very good. . . . Only what am I to do with all this? I say, you buy this furniture of mine! What do you say? It's not expensive, eight thousand . . . ten. . . . The furniture, the carriage, the grand piano. . . ."

"Very good. . . . I will give you ten thousand. . . ."

"Well, that is capital! I will set off to-morrow. I shall go to Moscow. It's impossible to live here. Everything is so dear! Awfully dear! The money fairly flies. . . . You can't take a step without spending a thousand! I can't go on like that. I have a child to bring up. . . . Well, thank God that you will buy my furniture. . . . That will be a little more in hand, or I should have been regularly bankrupt. . . ."

Groholsky got up, took leave of Bugrov, and went home rejoicing. In the evening he sent him ten thousand roubles.

Early next morning Bugrov and Mishutka were already at Feodosia.

The best stories:
The Cherry Orchard
Lady with Lapdog
Uncle Vanya
Ward Six
Death of a Government Clerk
The Steppe




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