A.P. Chekhov - The Trousseau
I HAVE seen a great many houses in my time, little and big, new
and old, built of stone and of wood, but of one house I have
kept a very vivid memory. It was, properly speaking, rather a
cottage than a house -- a tiny cottage of one story, with three
windows, looking extraordinarily like a little old hunchback
woman with a cap on. Its white stucco walls, its tiled roof, and
dilapidated chimney, were all drowned in a perfect sea of green.
The cottage was lost to sight among the mulberry-trees, acacias,
and poplars planted by the grandfathers and great-grandfathers
of its present occupants. And yet it is a town house. Its wide
courtyard stands in a row with other similar green courtyards,
and forms part of a street. Nothing ever drives down that
street, and very few persons are ever seen walking through it.
The shutters of the little house are always closed; its
occupants do not care for sunlight -- the light is no use to
them. The windows are never opened, for they are not fond of
fresh air. People who spend their lives in the midst of acacias,
mulberries, and nettles have no passion for nature. It is only
to the summer visitor that God has vouchsafed an eye for the
beauties of nature. The rest of mankind remain steeped in
profound ignorance of the existence of such beauties. People
never prize what they have always had in abundance. "What we
have, we do not treasure," and what's more we do not even love
The little house stands in an earthly paradise of green trees
with happy birds nesting in them. But inside . . . alas . . . !
In summer, it is close and stifling within; in winter, hot as a
Turkish bath, not one breath of air, and the dreariness! . . .
The first time I visited the little house was many years ago on
business. I brought a message from the Colonel who was the owner
of the house to his wife and daughter. That first visit I
remember very distinctly. It would be impossible, indeed, to
Imagine a limp little woman of forty, gazing at you with alarm
and astonishment while you walk from the passage into the
parlour. You are a stranger, a visitor, "a young man"; that's
enough to reduce her to a state of terror and bewilderment.
Though you have no dagger, axe, or revolver in your hand, and
though you smile affably, you are met with alarm.
"Whom have I the honour and pleasure of addressing?" the little
lady asks in a trembling voice.
I introduced myself and explained why I had come. The alarm and
amazement were at once succeeded by a shrill, joyful "Ach!" and
she turned her eyes upwards to the ceiling. This "Ach!" was
caught up like an echo and repeated from the hall to the parlour,
from the parlour to the kitchen, and so on down to the cellar.
Soon the whole house was resounding with "Ach!" in various
Five minutes later I was sitting on a big, soft, warm lounge in
the drawing-room listening to the "Ach!" echoing all down the
street. There was a smell of moth powder, and of goatskin shoes,
a pair of which lay on a chair beside me wrapped in a
handkerchief. In the windows were geraniums, and muslin
curtains, and on the curtains were torpid flies. On the wall
hung the portrait of some bishop, painted in oils, with the
glass broken at one corner, and next to the bishop a row of
ancestors with lemon-coloured faces of a gipsy type. On the
table lay a thimble, a reel of cotton, and a half-knitted
stocking, and paper patterns and a black blouse, tacked
together, were lying on the floor. In the next room two alarmed
and fluttered old women were hurriedly picking up similar
patterns and pieces of tailor's chalk from the floor.
"You must, please, excuse us; we are dreadfully untidy," said
the little lady.
While she talked to me, she stole embarrassed glances towards
the other room where the patterns were still being picked up.
The door, too, seemed embarrassed, opening an inch or two and
then shutting again.
"What's the matter?" said the little lady, addressing the door.
"O est mon cravatte lequel mon pre m'avait envoy de Koursk?"
asked a female voice at the door.
"Ah, est-ce que, Marie . . . que. . . Really, it's impossible. .
. . Nous avons donc chez nous un homme peu connu de nous. Ask
"How well we speak French, though!" I read in the eyes of the
little lady, who was flushing with pleasure.
Soon afterwards the door opened and I saw a tall, thin girl of
nineteen, in a long muslin dress with a gilt belt from which, I
remember, hung a mother-of-pearl fan. She came in, dropped a
curtsy, and flushed crimson. Her long nose, which was slightly
pitted with smallpox, turned red first, and then the flush
passed up to her eyes and her forehead.
"My daughter," chanted the little lady, "and, Manetchka, this is
a young gentleman who has come," etc.
I was introduced, and expressed my surprise at the number of
paper patterns. Mother and daughter dropped their eyes.
"We had a fair here at Ascension," said the mother; "we always
buy materials at the fair, and then it keeps us busy with sewing
till the next year's fair comes around again. We never put
things out to be made. My husband's pay is not very ample, and
we are not able to permit ourselves luxuries. So we have to make
up everything ourselves."
"But who will ever wear such a number of things? There are only
two of you?"
"Oh . . . as though we were thinking of wearing them! They are
not to be worn; they are for the trousseau!"
"Ah, mamam, what are you saying?" said the daughter, and she
crimsoned again. "Our visitor might suppose it was true. I don't
intend to be married. Never!"
She said this, but at the very word "married" her eyes glowed.
Tea, biscuits, butter, and jam were brought in, followed by
raspberries and cream. At seven o'clock, we had supper,
consisting of six courses, and while we were at supper I heard a
loud yawn from the next room. I looked with surprise towards the
door: it was a yawn that could only come from a man.
"That's my husband's brother, Yegor Semyonitch," the little lady
explained, noticing my surprise. "He's been living with us for
the last year. Please excuse him; he cannot come in to see you.
He is such an unsociable person, he is shy with strangers. He is
going into a monastery. He was unfairly treated in the service,
and the disappointment has preyed on his mind."
After supper the little lady showed the vestment which Yegor
Semyonitch was embroidering with his own hands as an offering
for the Church. Manetchka threw off her shyness for a moment and
showed me the tobacco-pouch she was embroidering for her father.
When I pretended to be greatly struck by her work, she flushed
crimson and whispered something in her mother's ear. The latter
beamed all over, and invited me to go with her to the
store-room. There I was shown five large trunks, and a number of
smaller trunks and boxes.
"This is her trousseau," her mother whispered; "we made it all
After looking at these forbidding trunks I took leave of my
hospitable hostesses. They made me promise to come and see them
again some day.
It happened that I was able to keep this promise. Seven years
after my first visit, I was sent down to the little town to give
expert evidence in a case that was being tried there.
As I entered the little house I heard the same "Ach!" echo
through it. They recognised me at once. . . . Well they might!
My first visit had been an event in their lives, and when events
are few they are long remembered.
I walked into the drawing-room: the mother, who had grown
stouter and was already getting grey, was creeping about on the
floor, cutting out some blue material. The daughter was sitting
on the sofa, embroidering.
There was the same smell of moth powder; there were the same
patterns, the same portrait with the broken glass. But yet there
was a change. Beside the portrait of the bishop hung a portrait
of the Colonel, and the ladies were in mourning. The Colonel's
death had occurred a week after his promotion to be a general.
Reminiscences began. . . . The widow shed tears.
"We have had a terrible loss," she said. "My husband, you know,
is dead. We are alone in the world now, and have no one but
ourselves to look to. Yegor Semyonitch is alive, but I have no
good news to tell of him. They would not have him in the
monastery on account of -- of intoxicating beverages. And now in
his disappointment he drinks more than ever. I am thinking of
going to the Marshal of Nobility to lodge a complaint. Would you
believe it, he has more than once broken open the trunks and . .
. taken Manetchka's trousseau and given it to beggars. He has
taken everything out of two of the trunks! If he goes on like
this, my Manetchka will be left without a trousseau at all."
"What are you saying, mamam?" said Manetchka, embarrassed. "Our
visitor might suppose . . . there's no knowing what he might
suppose. . . . I shall never -- never marry."
Manetchka cast her eyes up to the ceiling with a look of hope
and aspiration, evidently not for a moment believing what she
A little bald-headed masculine figure in a brown coat and
goloshes instead of boots darted like a mouse across the passage
and disappeared. "Yegor Semyonitch, I suppose," I thought.
I looked at the mother and daughter together. They both looked
much older and terribly changed. The mother's hair was silvered,
but the daughter was so faded and withered that her mother might
have been taken for her elder sister, not more than five years
"I have made up my mind to go to the Marshal," the mother said
to me, forgetting she had told me this already. "I mean to make
a complaint. Yegor Semyonitch lays his hands on everything we
make, and offers it up for the sake of his soul. My Manetchka is
left without a trousseau."
Manetchka flushed again, but this time she said nothing.
"We have to make them all over again. And God knows we are not
so well off. We are all alone in the world now."
"We are alone in the world," repeated Manetchka.
A year ago fate brought me once more to the little house.
Walking into the drawing-room, I saw the old lady. Dressed all
in black with heavy crape pleureuses, she was sitting on the
sofa sewing. Beside her sat the little old man in the brown coat
and the goloshes instead of boots. On seeing me, he jumped up
and ran out of the room.
In response to my greeting, the old lady smiled and said:
"Je suis charme de vous revoir, monsieur."
"What are you making?" I asked, a little later.
"It's a blouse. When it's finished I shall take it to the
priest's to be put away, or else Yegor Semyonitch would carry it
off. I store everything at the priest's now," she added in a
And looking at the portrait of her daughter which stood before
her on the table, she sighed and said:
"We are all alone in the world."
And where was the daughter? Where was Manetchka? I did not ask.
I did not dare to ask the old mother dressed in her new deep
mourning. And while I was in the room, and when I got up to go,
no Manetchka came out to greet me. I did not hear her voice, nor
her soft, timid footstep. . . .
I understood, and my heart was heavy.
O est mon cravatte lequel mon pre m'avait envoy de Koursk? :
Where is my tie, the one my father sent me from Koursk?
Ah, est-ce que, Marie . . . que: Oh, is it that, Marie . . .
Nous avons donc chez nous un homme peu connu de nous: Because we
have with us a man not well known to us
we speak French: French was the primary language of Russian
aristocrats; however, by Chekhov's time speaking French was
considered an affectation
Dressed all in black with heavy crape pleureuses: mourning
"Je suis charme de vous revoir, monsieur: I'm charmed to see
you again, sir
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