Anton Chekhov - A Living Chattel
Several months had passed; spring had come. With spring, fine
bright days had come too. Life was not so dull and hateful, and
the earth was more fair to look upon. . . . There was a warm
breeze from the sea and the open country. . . . The earth was
covered with fresh grass, fresh leaves were green upon the
trees. Nature had sprung into new life, and had put on new
It might be thought that new hopes and new desires would surge
up in man when everything in nature is renewed, and young and
fresh . . . but it is hard for man to renew life. . . .
Groholsky was still living in the same villa. His hopes and
desires, small and unexacting, were still concentrated on the
same Liza, on her alone, and on nothing else! As before, he
could not take his eyes off her, and gloated over the thought:
how happy I am! The poor fellow really did feel awfully happy.
Liza sat as before on the verandah, and unaccountably stared
with bored eyes at the villa opposite and the trees near it
through which there was a peep at the dark blue sea. . . . As
before, she spent her days for the most part in silence, often
in tears and from time to time in putting mustard plasters on
Groholsky. She might be congratulated on one new sensation,
however. There was a worm gnawing at her vitals. . . . That worm
was misery. . . . She was fearfully miserable, pining for her
son, for her old, her cheerful manner of life. Her life in the
past had not been particularly cheerful, but still it was
livelier than her present existence. When she lived with her
husband she used from time to time to go to a theatre, to an
entertainment, to visit acquaintances. But here with Groholsky
it was all quietness and emptiness. . . . Besides, here there
was one man, and he with his ailments and his continual mawkish
kisses, was like an old grandfather for ever shedding tears of
It was boring! Here she had not Mihey Sergeyitch who used to be
fond of dancing the mazurka with her. She had not Spiridon
Nikolaitch, the son of the editor of the Provincial News.
Spiridon Nikolaitch sang well and recited poetry. Here she had
not a table set with lunch for visitors. She had not
Gerasimovna, the old nurse who used to be continually grumbling
at her for eating too much jam. . . . She had no one! There was
simply nothing for her but to lie down and die of depression.
Groholsky rejoiced in his solitude, but . . . he was wrong to
rejoice in it. All too soon he paid for his egoism. At the
beginning of May when the very air seemed to be in love and
faint with happiness, Groholsky lost everything; the woman he
loved and. . .
That year Bugrov, too, visited the Crimea. He did not take the
villa opposite, but pottered about, going from one town to
another with Mishutka. He spent his time eating, drinking,
sleeping, and playing cards. He had lost all relish for fishing,
shooting and the French women, who, between ourselves, had
robbed him a bit. He had grown thin, lost his broad and beaming
smiles, and had taken to dressing in canvas. Ivan Petrovitch
from time to time visited Groholsky's villa. He brought Liza
jam, sweets, and fruit, and seemed trying to dispel her ennui.
Groholsky was not troubled by these visits, especially as they
were brief and infrequent, and were apparently paid on account
of Mishutka, who could not under any circumstances have been
altogether deprived of the privilege of seeing his mother.
Bugrov came, unpacked his presents, and after saying a few
words, departed. And those few words he said not to Liza but to
Groholsky. . . . With Liza he was silent and Groholsky's mind
was at rest; but there is a Russian proverb which he would have
done well to remember: "Don't fear the dog that barks, but fear
the dog that's quiet. . . ." A fiendish proverb, but in
practical life sometimes indispensable.
As he was walking in the garden one day, Groholsky heard two
voices in conversation. One voice was a man's, the other was a
woman's. One belonged to Bugrov, the other to Liza. Groholsky
listened, and turning white as death, turned softly towards the
speakers. He halted behind a lilac bush, and proceeded to watch
and listen. His arms and legs turned cold. A cold sweat came out
upon his brow. He clutched several branches of the lilac that he
might not stagger and fall down. All was over!
Bugrov had his arm round Liza' s waist, and was saying to her:
"My darling! what are we to do? It seems it was God's will. . .
. I am a scoundrel. . . . I sold you. I was seduced by that
Herod's money, plague take him, and what good have I had from
the money? Nothing but anxiety and display! No peace, no
happiness, no position. . . . One sits like a fat invalid at the
same spot, and never a step forwarder. . . . Have you heard that
Andrushka Markuzin has been made a head clerk? Andrushka, that
fool! While I stagnate. . . . Good heavens! I have lost you, I
have lost my happiness. I am a scoundrel, a blackguard, how do
you think I shall feel at the dread day of judgment?"
"Let us go away, Vanya," wailed Liza. "I am dull. . . . I am
dying of depression."
"We cannot, the money has been taken. . . ."
"Well, give it back again."
"I should be glad to, but . . . wait a minute. I have spent it
all. We must submit, my girl. God is chastising us. Me for my
covetousness and you for your frivolity. Well, let us be
tortured. . . . It will be the better for us in the next world."
And in an access of religious feeling, Bugrov turned up his eyes
"But I cannot go on living here; I am miserable."
"Well, there is no help for it. I'm miserable too. Do you
suppose I am happy without you? I am pining and wasting away!
And my chest has begun to be bad! . . . You are my lawful wife,
flesh of my flesh . . . one flesh. . . . You must live and bear
it! While I . . . will drive over . . . visit you."
And bending down to Liza, Bugrov whispered, loudly enough,
however, to be heard several yards away:
"I will come to you at night, Lizanka. . . . Don't worry. . . .
I am staying at Feodosia close by. . . . I will live here near
you till I have run through everything . . . and I soon shall be
at my last farthing! A-a-ah, what a life it is! Dreariness, ill
. . . my chest is bad, and my stomach is bad."
Bugrov ceased speaking, and then it was Liza's turn. . . . My
God, the cruelty of that woman! She began weeping, complaining,
enumerating all the defects of her lover and her own sufferings.
Groholsky as he listened to her, felt that he was a villain, a
miscreant, a murderer.
"He makes me miserable. . . ." Liza said in conclusion.
After kissing Liza at parting, and going out at the garden gate,
Bugrov came upon Groholsky, who was standing at the gate waiting
"Ivan Petrovitch," said Groholsky in the tone of a dying man, "I
have seen and heard it all. . . It's not honourable on your
part, but I do not blame you. . . . You love her too, but you
must understand that she is mine. Mine! I cannot live without
her! How is it you don't understand that? Granted that you love
her, that you are miserable. . . . Have I not paid you, in part
at least, for your sufferings? For God's sake, go away! For
God's sake, go away! Go away from here for ever, I implore you,
or you will kill me. . . ."
"I have nowhere to go," Bugrov said thickly.
"H'm, you have squandered everything. . . . You are an impulsive
man. Very well. . . . Go to my estate in the province of
Tchernigov. If you like I will make you a present of the
property. It's a small estate, but a good one. . . . On my
honour, it's a good one!"
Bugrov gave a broad grin. He suddenly felt himself in the
"I will give it you. . . . This very day I will write to my
steward and send him an authorisation for completing the
purchase. You must tell everyone you have bought it. . . . Go
away, I entreat you."
"Very good, I will go. I understand."
"Let us go to a notary . . . at once," said Groholsky, greatly
cheered, and he went to order the carriage.
On the following evening, when Liza was sitting on the garden
seat where her rendezvous with Ivan Petrovitch usually took
place, Groholsky went quietly to her. He sat down beside her,
and took her hand.
"Are you dull, Lizotchka?" he said, after a brief silence. "Are
you depressed? Why shouldn't we go away somewhere? Why is it we
always stay at home? We want to go about, to enjoy ourselves, to
make acquaintances. . . . Don't we?"
"I want nothing," said Liza, and turned her pale, thin face
towards the path by which Bugrov used to come to her.
Groholsky pondered. He knew who it was she expected, who it was
"Let us go home, Liza," he said, "it is damp here. . . ."
"You go; I'll come directly."
Groholsky pondered again.
"You are expecting him?" he asked, and made a wry face as though
his heart had been gripped with red-hot pincers.
"Yes. . . . I want to give him the socks for Misha. . . ."
"He will not come."
"How do you know?"
"He has gone away. . . ."
Liza opened her eyes wide. . . .
"He has gone away, gone to the Tchernigov province. I have given
him my estate. . . ."
Liza turned fearfully pale, and caught at Groholsky's shoulder
to save herself from falling.
"I saw him off at the steamer at three o'clock."
Liza suddenly clutched at her head, made a movement, and falling
on the seat, began shaking all over.
"Vanya," she wailed, "Vanya! I will go to Vanya. . . . Darling!"
She had a fit of hysterics. . . .
And from that evening, right up to July, two shadows could be
seen in the park in which the summer visitors took their walks.
The shadows wandered about from morning till evening, and made
the summer visitors feel dismal. . . . After Liza's shadow
invariably walked the shadow of Groholsky. . . . I call them
shadows because they had both lost their natural appearance.
They had grown thin and pale and shrunken, and looked more like
shadows than living people. . . . Both were pining away like
fleas in the classic anecdote of the Jew who sold insect powder.
At the beginning of July, Liza ran away from Groholsky, leaving
a note in which she wrote that she was going for a time to "her
son" . . . For a time! She ran away by night when Groholsky was
asleep. . . . After reading her letter Groholsky spent a whole
week wandering round about the villa as though he were mad, and
neither ate nor slept. In August, he had an attack of recurrent
fever, and in September he went abroad. There he took to drink.
. . . He hoped in drink and dissipation to find comfort. . . .
He squandered all his fortune, but did not succeed, poor fellow,
in driving out of his brain the image of the beloved woman with
the kittenish face. . . . Men do not die of happiness, nor do
they die of misery. Groholsky's hair went grey, but he did not
die: he is alive to this day. . . . He came back from abroad to
have "just a peep" at Liza. . . . Bugrov met him with open arms,
and made him stay for an indefinite period. He is staying with
Bugrov to this day.
This year I happened to be passing through Groholyovka, Bugrov's
estate. I found the master and the mistress of the house having
supper. . . . Ivan Petrovitch was highly delighted to see me,
and fell to pressing good things upon me. . . . He had grown
rather stout, and his face was a trifle puffy, though it was
still rosy and looked sleek and well-nourished. . . . He was not
bald. Liza, too, had grown fatter. Plumpness did not suit her.
Her face was beginning to lose the kittenish look, and was,
alas! more suggestive of the seal. Her cheeks were spreading
upwards, outwards, and to both sides. The Bugrovs were living in
first-rate style. They had plenty of everything. The house was
overflowing with servants and edibles. . . .
When we had finished supper we got into conversation. Forgetting
that Liza did not play, I asked her to play us something on the
"She does not play," said Bugrov; "she is no musician. . . .
Hey, you there! Ivan! call Grigory Vassilyevitch here! What's he
doing there?" And turning to me, Bugrov added, "Our musician
will come directly; he plays the guitar. We keep the piano for
Mishutka -- we are having him taught. . . ."
Five minutes later, Groholsky walked into the room -- sleepy,
unkempt, and unshaven. . . . He walked in, bowed to me, and sat
down on one side.
"Why, whoever goes to bed so early?" said Bugrov, addressing
him. "What a fellow you are really! He's always asleep, always
asleep. . . . The sleepy head! Come, play us something lively. .
Groholsky turned the guitar, touched the strings, and began
"Yesterday I waited for my dear one. . . ."
I listened to the singing, looked at Bugrov's well-fed
countenance, and thought: "Nasty brute!" I felt like crying. . .
. When he had finished singing, Groholsky bowed to us, and went
"And what am I to do with him?" Bugrov said when he had gone
away. "I do have trouble with him! In the day he is always
brooding and brooding. . . . And at night he moans. . . . He
sleeps, but he sighs and moans in his sleep. . . . It is a sort
of illness. . . . What am I to do with him, I can't think! He
won't let us sleep. . . . I am afraid that he will go out of his
mind. People think he is badly treated here. . . . In what way
is he badly treated? He eats with us, and he drinks with us. . .
. Only we won't give him money. If we were to give him any he
would spend it on drink or waste it. . . . That's another
trouble for me! Lord forgive me, a sinner!"
They made me stay the night. When I woke next morning, Bugrov
was giving some one a lecture in the adjoining room. . . .
"Set a fool to say his prayers, and he will crack his skull on
the floor! Why, who paints oars green! Do think, blockhead! Use
your sense! Why don't you speak?"
"I . . . I . . . made a mistake," said a husky tenor
The tenor belonged to Groholsky.
Groholsky saw me to the station.
"He is a despot, a tyrant," he kept whispering to me all the
way. "He is a generous man, but a tyrant! Neither heart nor
brain are developed in him. . . . He tortures me! If it were not
for that noble woman, I should have gone away long ago. I am
sorry to leave her. It's somehow easier to endure together."
Groholsky heaved a sigh, and went on:
"She is with child. . . . You notice it? It is really my child.
. . . Mine. . . . She soon saw her mistake, and gave herself to
me again. She cannot endure him. . . ."
"You are a rag," I could not refrain from saying to Groholsky.
"Yes, I am a man of weak character. . . . That is quite true. I
was born so. Do you know how I came into the world? My late papa
cruelly oppressed a certain little clerk -- it was awful how he
treated him! He poisoned his life. Well . . . and my late mama
was tender-hearted. She came from the people, she was of the
working class. . . . She took that little clerk to her heart
from pity. . . . Well . . . and so I came into the world. . . .
The son of the ill-treated clerk. How could I have a strong
will? Where was I to get it from? But that's the second bell. .
. . Good-bye. Come and see us again, but don't tell Ivan
Petrovitch what I have said about him."
I pressed Groholsky's hand, and got into the train. He bowed
towards the carriage, and went to the water-barrel -- I suppose
he was thirsty!