A.P. Chekhov - The Requiem
IN the village church of Verhny Zaprudy mass was just over. The
people had begun moving and were trooping out of church. The
only one who did not move was Andrey Andreyitch, a shopkeeper
and old inhabitant of Verhny Zaprudy. He stood waiting, with his
elbows on the railing of the right choir. His fat and shaven
face, covered with indentations left by pimples, expressed on
this occasion two contradictory feelings: resignation in the
face of inevitable destiny, and stupid, unbounded disdain for
the smocks and striped kerchiefs passing by him. As it was
Sunday, he was dressed like a dandy. He wore a long cloth
overcoat with yellow bone buttons, blue trousers not thrust into
his boots, and sturdy goloshes -- the huge clumsy goloshes only
seen on the feet of practical and prudent persons of firm
His torpid eyes, sunk in fat, were fixed upon the ikon stand. He
saw the long familiar figures of the saints, the verger Matvey
puffing out his cheeks and blowing out the candles, the darkened
candle stands, the threadbare carpet, the sacristan Lopuhov
running impulsively from the altar and carrying the holy bread
to the churchwarden. . . . All these things he had seen for
years, and seen over and over again like the five fingers of his
hand. . . . There was only one thing, however, that was somewhat
strange and unusual. Father Grigory, still in his vestments, was
standing at the north door, twitching his thick eyebrows
"Who is it he is winking at? God bless him!" thought the
shopkeeper. "And he is beckoning with his finger! And he stamped
his foot! What next! What's the matter, Holy Queen and Mother!
Whom does he mean it for?"
Andrey Andreyitch looked round and saw the church completely
deserted. There were some ten people standing at the door, but
they had their backs to the altar.
"Do come when you are called! Why do you stand like a graven
image?" he heard Father Grigory's angry voice. "I am calling
The shopkeeper looked at Father Grigory's red and wrathful face,
and only then realized that the twitching eyebrows and beckoning
finger might refer to him. He started, left the railing, and
hesitatingly walked towards the altar, tramping with his heavy
"Andrey Andreyitch, was it you asked for prayers for the rest of
Mariya's soul?" asked the priest, his eyes angrily transfixing
the shopkeeper's fat, perspiring face.
"Then it was you wrote this? You?" And Father Grigory angrily
thrust before his eyes the little note.
And on this little note, handed in by Andrey Andreyitch before
mass, was written in big, as it were staggering, letters:
"For the rest of the soul of the servant of God, the harlot
"Yes, certainly I wrote it, . . ." answered the shopkeeper.
"How dared you write it?" whispered the priest, and in his husky
whisper there was a note of wrath and alarm.
The shopkeeper looked at him in blank amazement; he was
perplexed, and he, too, was alarmed. Father Grigory had never in
his life spoken in such a tone to a leading resident of Verhny
Zaprudy. Both were silent for a minute, staring into each
other's face. The shopkeeper's amazement was so great that his
fat face spread in all directions like spilt dough.
"How dared you?" repeated the priest.
"Wha . . . what?" asked Andrey Andreyitch in bewilderment.
"You don't understand?" whispered Father Grigory, stepping back
in astonishment and clasping his hands. "What have you got on
your shoulders, a head or some other object? You send a note up
to the altar, and write a word in it which it would be unseemly
even to utter in the street! Why are you rolling your eyes?
Surely you know the meaning of the word?"
"Are you referring to the word harlot?" muttered the shopkeeper,
flushing crimson and blinking. "But you know, the Lord in His
mercy . . . forgave this very thing, . . . forgave a harlot. . .
. He has prepared a place for her, and indeed from the life of
the holy saint, Mariya of Egypt, one may see in what sense the
word is used -- excuse me . . ."
The shopkeeper wanted to bring forward some other argument in
his justification, but took fright and wiped his lips with his
"So that's what you make of it!" cried Father Grigory, clasping
his hands. "But you see God has forgiven her -- do you
understand? He has forgiven, but you judge her, you slander her,
call her by an unseemly name, and whom! Your own deceased
daughter! Not only in Holy Scripture, but even in worldly
literature you won't read of such a sin! I tell you again,
Andrey, you mustn't be over-subtle! No, no, you mustn't be
over-subtle, brother! If God has given you an inquiring mind,
and if you cannot direct it, better not go into things. . . .
Don't go into things, and hold your peace!"
"But you know, she, . . . excuse my mentioning it, was an
actress!" articulated Andrey Andreyitch, overwhelmed.
"An actress! But whatever she was, you ought to forget it all
now she is dead, instead of writing it on the note."
"Just so, . . ." the shopkeeper assented.
"You ought to do penance," boomed the deacon from the depths of
the altar, looking contemptuously at Andrey Andreyitch's
embarrassed face, "that would teach you to leave off being so
clever! Your daughter was a well-known actress. There were even
notices of her death in the newspapers. . . . Philosopher!"
"To be sure, . . . certainly," muttered the shopkeeper, "the
word is not a seemly one; but I did not say it to judge her,
Father Grigory, I only meant to speak spiritually, . . . that it
might be clearer to you for whom you were praying. They write in
the memorial notes the various callings, such as the infant
John, the drowned woman Pelagea, the warrior Yegor, the murdered
Pavel, and so on. . . . I meant to do the same."
"It was foolish, Andrey! God will forgive you, but beware
another time. Above all, don't be subtle, but think like other
people. Make ten bows and go your way."
"I obey," said the shopkeeper, relieved that the lecture was
over, and allowing his face to resume its expression of
importance and dignity. "Ten bows? Very good, I understand. But
now, Father, allow me to ask you a favor. . . . Seeing that I
am, anyway, her father, . . . you know yourself, whatever she
was, she was still my daughter, so I was, . . . excuse me,
meaning to ask you to sing the requiem today. And allow me to
ask you, Father Deacon!"
"Well, that's good," said Father Grigory, taking off his
vestments. "That I commend. I can approve of that! Well, go your
way. We will come out immediately."
Andrey Andreyitch walked with dignity from the altar, and with a
solemn, requiem-like expression on his red face took his stand
in the middle of the church. The verger Matvey set before him a
little table with the memorial food upon it, and a little later
the requiem service began.
There was perfect stillness in the church. Nothing could be
heard but the metallic click of the censer and slow singing. . .
. Near Andrey Andreyitch stood the verger Matvey, the midwife
Makaryevna, and her one-armed son Mitka. There was no one else.
The sacristan sang badly in an unpleasant, hollow bass, but the
tune and the words were so mournful that the shopkeeper little
by little lost the expression of dignity and was plunged in
sadness. He thought of his Mashutka, . . . he remembered she had
been born when he was still a lackey in the service of the owner
of Verhny Zaprudy. In his busy life as a lackey he had not
noticed how his girl had grown up. That long period during which
she was being shaped into a graceful creature, with a little
flaxen head and dreamy eyes as big as kopeck-pieces passed
unnoticed by him. She had been brought up like all the children
of favorite lackeys, in ease and comfort in the company of the
young ladies. The gentry, to fill up their idle time, had taught
her to read, to write, to dance; he had had no hand in her
bringing up. Only from time to time casually meeting her at the
gate or on the landing of the stairs, he would remember that she
was his daughter, and would, so far as he had leisure for it,
begin teaching her the prayers and the scripture. Oh, even then
he had the reputation of an authority on the church rules and
the holy scriptures! Forbidding and stolid as her father's face
was, yet the girl listened readily. She repeated the prayers
after him yawning, but on the other hand, when he, hesitating
and trying to express himself elaborately, began telling her
stories, she was all attention. Esau's pottage, the punishment
of Sodom, and the troubles of the boy Joseph made her turn pale
and open her blue eyes wide.
Afterwards when he gave up being a lackey, and with the money he
had saved opened a shop in the village, Mashutka had gone away
to Moscow with his master's family. . . .
Three years before her death she had come to see her father. He
had scarcely recognized her. She was a graceful young woman with
the manners of a young lady, and dressed like one. She talked
cleverly, as though from a book, smoked, and slept till midday.
When Andrey Andreyitch asked her what she was doing, she had
announced, looking him boldly straight in the face: "I am an
actress." Such frankness struck the former flunkey as the acme
of cynicism. Mashutka had begun boasting of her successes and
her stage life; but seeing that her father only turned crimson
and threw up his hands, she ceased. And they spent a fortnight
together without speaking or looking at one another till the day
she went away. Before she went away she asked her father to come
for a walk on the bank of the river. Painful as it was for him
to walk in the light of day, in the sight of all honest people,
with a daughter who was an actress, he yielded to her request.
"What a lovely place you live in!" she said enthusiastically.
"What ravines and marshes! Good heavens, how lovely my native
And she had burst into tears.
"The place is simply taking up room, . . ." Andrey Andreyitch
had thought, looking blankly at the ravines, not understanding
his daughter's enthusiasm. "There is no more profit from them
than milk from a billy-goat."
And she had cried and cried, drawing her breath greedily with
her whole chest, as though she felt she had not a long time left
Andrey Andreyitch shook his head like a horse that has been
bitten, and to stifle painful memories began rapidly crossing
himself. . . .
"Be mindful, O Lord," he muttered, "of Thy departed servant, the
harlot Mariya, and forgive her sins, voluntary or involuntary. .
The unseemly word dropped from his lips again, but he did not
notice it: what is firmly imbedded in the consciousness cannot
be driven out by Father Grigory's exhortations or even knocked
out by a nail. Makaryevna sighed and whispered something,
drawing in a deep breath, while one-armed Mitka was brooding
over something. . . .
"Where there is no sickness, nor grief, nor sighing," droned the
sacristan, covering his right cheek with his hand.
Bluish smoke coiled up from the censer and bathed in the broad,
slanting patch of sunshine which cut across the gloomy, lifeless
emptiness of the church. And it seemed as though the soul of the
dead woman were soaring into the sunlight together with the
smoke. The coils of smoke like a child's curls eddied round and
round, floating upwards to the window and, as it were, holding
aloof from the woes and tribulations of which that poor soul was