A.P. Chekhov - The Cook's Wedding
GRISHA, a fat, solemn little person of seven, was standing by
the kitchen door listening and peeping through the keyhole. In
the kitchen something extraordinary, and in his opinion never
seen before, was taking place. A big, thick-set, red-haired
peasant, with a beard, and a drop of perspiration on his nose,
wearing a cabman's full coat, was sitting at the kitchen table
on which they chopped the meat and sliced the onions. He was
balancing a saucer on the five fingers of his right hand and
drinking tea out of it, and crunching sugar so loudly that it
sent a shiver down Grisha's back. Aksinya Stepanovna, the old
nurse, was sitting on the dirty stool facing him, and she, too,
was drinking tea. Her face was grave, though at the same time it
beamed with a kind of triumph. Pelageya, the cook, was busy at
the stove, and was apparently trying to hide her face. And on
her face Grisha saw a regular illumination: it was burning and
shifting through every shade of colour, beginning with a crimson
purple and ending with a deathly white. She was continually
catching hold of knives, forks, bits of wood, and rags with
trembling hands, moving, grumbling to herself, making a clatter,
but in reality doing nothing. She did not once glance at the
table at which they were drinking tea, and to the questions put
to her by the nurse she gave jerky, sullen answers without
turning her face.
"Help yourself, Danilo Semyonitch," the nurse urged him
hospitably. "Why do you keep on with tea and nothing but tea?
You should have a drop of vodka!"
And nurse put before the visitor a bottle of vodka and a
wine-glass, while her face wore a very wily expression.
"I never touch it. . . . No . . ." said the cabman, declining.
"Don't press me, Aksinya Stepanovna."
"What a man! . . . A cabman and not drink! . . . A bachelor
can't get on without drinking. Help yourself!"
The cabman looked askance at the bottle, then at nurse's wily
face, and his own face assumed an expression no less cunning, as
much as to say, "You won't catch me, you old witch!"
"I don't drink; please excuse me. Such a weakness does not do in
our calling. A man who works at a trade may drink, for he sits
at home, but we cabmen are always in view of the public. Aren't
we? If one goes into a pothouse one finds one's horse gone; if
one takes a drop too much it is worse still; before you know
where you are you will fall asleep or slip off the box. That's
where it is."
"And how much do you make a day, Danilo Semyonitch?"
"That's according. One day you will have a fare for three
roubles, and another day you will come back to the yard without
a farthing. The days are very different. Nowadays our business
is no good. There are lots and lots of cabmen as you know, hay
is dear, and folks are paltry nowadays and always contriving to
go by tram. And yet, thank God, I have nothing to complain of. I
have plenty to eat and good clothes to wear, and . . . we could
even provide well for another. . ." (the cabman stole a glance
at Pelageya) "if it were to their liking. . . ."
Grisha did not hear what was said further. His mamma came to the
door and sent him to the nursery to learn his lessons.
"Go and learn your lesson. It's not your business to listen
When Grisha reached the nursery, he put "My Own Book" in front
of him, but he did not get on with his reading. All that he had
just seen and heard aroused a multitude of questions in his
"The cook's going to be married," he thought. "Strange -- I
don't understand what people get married for. Mamma was married
to papa, Cousin Verotchka to Pavel Andreyitch. But one might be
married to papa and Pavel Andreyitch after all: they have gold
watch-chains and nice suits, their boots are always polished;
but to marry that dreadful cabman with a red nose and felt
boots. . . . Fi! And why is it nurse wants poor Pelageya to be
When the visitor had gone out of the kitchen, Pelageya appeared
and began clearing away. Her agitation still persisted. Her face
was red and looked scared. She scarcely touched the floor with
the broom, and swept every corner five times over. She lingered
for a long time in the room where mamma was sitting. She was
evidently oppressed by her isolation, and she was longing to
express herself, to share her impressions with some one, to open
"He's gone," she muttered, seeing that mamma would not begin the
"One can see he is a good man," said mamma, not taking her eyes
off her sewing. "Sober and steady."
"I declare I won't marry him, mistress!" Pelageya cried
suddenly, flushing crimson. "I declare I won't!"
"Don't be silly; you are not a child. It's a serious step; you
must think it over thoroughly, it's no use talking nonsense. Do
you like him?"
"What an idea, mistress!" cried Pelageya, abashed. "They say
such things that . . . my goodness. . . ."
"She should say she doesn't like him!" thought Grisha.
"What an affected creature you are. . . . Do you like him?"
"But he is old, mistress!"
"Think of something else," nurse flew out at her from the next
room. "He has not reached his fortieth year; and what do you
want a young man for? Handsome is as handsome does. . . . Marry
him and that's all about it!"
"I swear I won't," squealed Pelageya.
"You are talking nonsense. What sort of rascal do you want?
Anyone else would have bowed down to his feet, and you declare
you won't marry him. You want to be always winking at the
postmen and tutors. That tutor that used to come to Grishenka,
mistress . . . she was never tired of making eyes at him. O-o,
the shameless hussy!"
"Have you seen this Danilo before?" mamma asked Pelageya.
"How could I have seen him? I set eyes on him to-day for the
first time. Aksinya picked him up and brought him along . . .
the accursed devil. . . . And where has he come from for my
At dinner, when Pelageya was handing the dishes, everyone looked
into her face and teased her about the cabman. She turned
fearfully red, and went off into a forced giggle.
"It must be shameful to get married," thought Grisha. "Terribly
All the dishes were too salt, and blood oozed from the half-raw
chickens, and, to cap it all, plates and knives kept dropping
out of Pelageya's hands during dinner, as though from a shelf
that had given way; but no one said a word of blame to her, as
they all understood the state of her feelings. Only once papa
flicked his table-napkin angrily and said to mamma:
"What do you want to be getting them all married for? What
business is it of yours? Let them get married of themselves if
they want to."
After dinner, neighbouring cooks and maidservants kept flitting
into the kitchen, and there was the sound of whispering till
late evening. How they had scented out the matchmaking, God
knows. When Grisha woke in the night he heard his nurse and the
cook whispering together in the nursery. Nurse was talking
persuasively, while the cook alternately sobbed and giggled.
When he fell asleep after this, Grisha dreamed of Pelageya being
carried off by Tchernomor and a witch.
Next day there was a calm. The life of the kitchen went on its
accustomed way as though the cabman did not exist. Only from
time to time nurse put on her new shawl, assumed a solemn and
austere air, and went off somewhere for an hour or two,
obviously to conduct negotiations. . . . Pelageya did not see
the cabman, and when his name was mentioned she flushed up and
"May he be thrice damned! As though I should be thinking of him!
In the evening mamma went into the kitchen, while nurse and
Pelageya were zealously mincing something, and said:
"You can marry him, of course -- that's your business -- but I
must tell you, Pelageya, that he cannot live here. . . . You
know I don't like to have anyone sitting in the kitchen. Mind
now, remember. . . . And I can't let you sleep out."
"Goodness knows! What an idea, mistress!" shrieked the cook.
"Why do you keep throwing him up at me? Plague take him! He's a
regular curse, confound him! . . ."
Glancing one Sunday morning into the kitchen, Grisha was struck
dumb with amazement. The kitchen was crammed full of people.
Here were cooks from the whole courtyard, the porter, two
policemen, a non-commissioned officer with good-conduct stripes,
and the boy Filka. . . . This Filka was generally hanging about
the laundry playing with the dogs; now he was combed and washed,
and was holding an ikon in a tinfoil setting. Pelageya was
standing in the middle of the kitchen in a new cotton dress,
with a flower on her head. Beside her stood the cabman. The
happy pair were red in the face and perspiring and blinking with
"Well . . . I fancy it is time," said the non-commissioned
officer, after a prolonged silence.
Pelageya's face worked all over and she began blubbering. . . .
The soldier took a big loaf from the table, stood beside nurse,
and began blessing the couple. The cabman went up to the
soldier, flopped down on his knees, and gave a smacking kiss on
his hand. He did the same before nurse. Pelageya followed him
mechanically, and she too bowed down to the ground. At last the
outer door was opened, there was a whiff of white mist, and the
whole party flocked noisily out of the kitchen into the yard.
"Poor thing, poor thing," thought Grisha, hearing the sobs of
the cook. "Where have they taken her? Why don't papa and mamma
After the wedding there was singing and concertina-playing in
the laundry till late evening. Mamma was cross all the evening
because nurse smelt of vodka, and owing to the wedding there was
no one to heat the samovar. Pelageya had not come back by the
time Grisha went to bed.
"The poor thing is crying somewhere in the dark!" he thought.
"While the cabman is saying to her 'shut up!' "
Next morning the cook was in the kitchen again. The cabman came
in for a minute. He thanked mamma, and glancing sternly at
"Will you look after her, madam? Be a father and a mother to
her. And you, too, Aksinya Stepanovna, do not forsake her, see
that everything is as it should be . . . without any nonsense. .
. . And also, madam, if you would kindly advance me five roubles
of her wages. I have got to buy a new horse-collar."
Again a problem for Grisha: Pelageya was living in freedom,
doing as she liked, and not having to account to anyone for her
actions, and all at once, for no sort of reason, a stranger
turns up, who has somehow acquired rights over her conduct and
her property! Grisha was distressed. He longed passionately,
almost to tears, to comfort this victim, as he supposed, of
man's injustice. Picking out the very biggest apple in the
store-room he stole into the kitchen, slipped it into Pelageya's
hand, and darted headlong away.
tram: horse-drawn streetcar
Tchernomor: Chernomor was an evil dwarf in "Ruslan and Lyudmila"
(1820), a poem by Pushkin that was later (1842) the basis of an
opera by Mikhail Glinka (1804-1857)