Russian versionSend a letter to the webmaster Add to favourites

Custom Search

Home     Chekhov's Biography     Stories and plays     Critics     Photos     Museums


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 array.

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 joy.

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 to heaven.

"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 for him.

"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 seventh heaven.

"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 she wanted.

"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 piano.

"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 singing:

"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 out.

"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 apologetically.

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!

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




Home     Chekhov's Biography     Stories and plays     Critics     Photos     Museums