A.P. Chekhov - A Trifle from Life
A WELL-FED, red-cheeked young man called Nikolay Ilyitch Belyaev,
of thirty-two, who was an owner of house property in Petersburg,
and a devotee of the race-course, went one evening to see Olga
Ivanovna Irnin, with whom he was living, or, to use his own
expression, was dragging out a long, wearisome romance. And,
indeed, the first interesting and enthusiastic pages of this
romance had long been perused; now the pages dragged on, and
still dragged on, without presenting anything new or of
Not finding Olga Ivanovna at home, my hero lay down on the
lounge chair and proceeded to wait for her in the drawing-room.
"Good-evening, Nikolay Ilyitch!" he heard a child's voice.
"Mother will be here directly. She has gone with Sonia to the
Olga Ivanovna's son, Alyosha -- a boy of eight who looked
graceful and very well cared for, who was dressed like a
picture, in a black velvet jacket and long black stockings --
was lying on the sofa in the same room. He was lying on a satin
cushion and, evidently imitating an acrobat he had lately seen
at the circus, stuck up in the air first one leg and then the
other. When his elegant legs were exhausted, he brought his arms
into play or jumped up impulsively and went on all fours, trying
to stand with his legs in the air. All this he was doing with
the utmost gravity, gasping and groaning painfully as though he
regretted that God had given him such a restless body.
"Ah, good-evening, my boy," said Belyaev. "It's you! I did not
notice you. Is your mother well?"
Alyosha, taking hold of the tip of his left toe with his right
hand and falling into the most unnatural attitude, turned over,
jumped up, and peeped at Belyaev from behind the big fluffy
"What shall I say?" he said, shrugging his shoulders. "In
reality mother's never well. You see, she is a woman, and women,
Nikolay Ilyitch, have always something the matter with them."
Belyaev, having nothing better to do, began watching Alyosha's
face. He had never before during the whole of his intimacy with
Olga Ivanovna paid any attention to the boy, and had completely
ignored his existence; the boy had been before his eyes, but he
had not cared to think why he was there and what part he was
In the twilight of the evening, Alyosha's face, with his white
forehead and black, unblinking eyes, unexpectedly reminded
Belyaev of Olga Ivanovna as she had been during the first pages
of their romance. And he felt disposed to be friendly to the
"Come here, insect," he said; "let me have a closer look at
The boy jumped off the sofa and skipped up to Belyaev.
"Well," began Nikolay Ilyitch, putting a hand on the boy's thin
shoulder. "How are you getting on?"
"How shall I say! We used to get on a great deal better."
"It's very simple. Sonia and I used only to learn music and
reading, and now they give us French poetry to learn. Have you
been shaved lately?"
"Yes, I see you have. Your beard is shorter. Let me touch it. .
. . Does that hurt?"
"Why is it that if you pull one hair it hurts, but if you pull a
lot at once it doesn't hurt a bit? Ha, ha! And, you know, it's a
pity you don't have whiskers. Here ought to be shaved . . . but
here at the sides the hair ought to be left. . . ."
The boy nestled up to Belyaev and began playing with his
"When I go to the high-school," he said, "mother is going to buy
me a watch. I shall ask her to buy me a watch-chain like this. .
. . Wh-at a lo-ket! Father's got a locket like that, only yours
has little bars on it and his has letters. . . . There's
mother's portrait in the middle of his. Father has a different
sort of chain now, not made with rings, but like ribbon. . . ."
"How do you know? Do you see your father?"
"I? M'm . . . no . . . I . . ."
Alyosha blushed, and in great confusion, feeling caught in a
lie, began zealously scratching the locket with his nail. . . .
Belyaev looked steadily into his face and asked:
"Do you see your father?"
"Come, speak frankly, on your honour. . . . I see from your face
you are telling a fib. Once you've let a thing slip out it's no
good wriggling about it. Tell me, do you see him? Come, as a
"You won't tell mother?" he said.
"As though I should!"
"On your honour?"
"On my honour."
"Do you swear?"
"Ah, you provoking boy! What do you take me for?"
Alyosha looked round him, then with wide-open eyes, whispered to
"Only, for goodness' sake, don't tell mother. . . . Don't tell
any one at all, for it is a secret. I hope to goodness mother
won't find out, or we should all catch it -- Sonia, and I, and
Pelagea. . . . Well, listen. . . Sonia and I see father every
Tuesday and Friday. When Pelagea takes us for a walk before
dinner we go to the Apfel Restaurant, and there is father
waiting for us. . . . He is always sitting in a room apart,
where you know there's a marble table and an ash-tray in the
shape of a goose without a back. . . ."
"What do you do there?"
"Nothing! First we say how-do-you-do, then we all sit round the
table, and father treats us with coffee and pies. You know Sonia
eats the meat-pies, but I can't endure meat-pies! I like the
pies made of cabbage and eggs. We eat such a lot that we have to
try hard to eat as much as we can at dinner, for fear mother
"What do you talk about?"
"With father? About anything. He kisses us, he hugs us, tells us
all sorts of amusing jokes. Do you know, he says when we are
grown up he is going to take us to live with him. Sonia does not
want to go, but I agree. Of course, I should miss mother; but,
then, I should write her letters! It's a queer idea, but we
could come and visit her on holidays -- couldn't we? Father
says, too, that he will buy me a horse. He's an awfully kind
man! I can't understand why mother does not ask him to come and
live with us, and why she forbids us to see him. You know he
loves mother very much. He is always asking us how she is and
what she is doing. When she was ill he clutched his head like
this, and . . . and kept running about. He always tells us to be
obedient and respectful to her. Listen. Is it true that we are
"H'm! . . . Why?"
"That's what father says. 'You are unhappy children,' he says.
It's strange to hear him, really. 'You are unhappy,' he says, 'I
am unhappy, and mother's unhappy. You must pray to God,' he
says; 'for yourselves and for her.' "
Alyosha let his eyes rest on a stuffed bird and sank into
"So . . ." growled Belyaev. "So that's how you are going on. You
arrange meetings at restaurants. And mother does not know?"
"No-o. . . . How should she know? Pelagea would not tell her for
anything, you know. The day before yesterday he gave us some
pears. As sweet as jam! I ate two."
"H'm! . . . Well, and I say . . Listen. Did father say anything
"About you? What shall I say?"
Alyosha looked searchingly into Belyaev's face and shrugged his
"He didn't say anything particular."
"For instance, what did he say?"
"You won't be offended?"
"What next? Why, does he abuse me?"
"He doesn't abuse you, but you know he is angry with you. He
says mother's unhappy owing to you . . . and that you have
ruined mother. You know he is so queer! I explain to him that
you are kind, that you never scold mother; but he only shakes
"So he says I have ruined her?"
"Yes; you mustn't be offended, Nikolay Ilyitch."
Belyaev got up, stood still a moment, and walked up and down the
"That's strange and . . . ridiculous!" he muttered, shrugging
his shoulders and smiling sarcastically. "He's entirely to
blame, and I have ruined her, eh? An innocent lamb, I must say.
So he told you I ruined your mother?"
"Yes, but . . . you said you would not be offended, you know."
"I am not offended, and . . . and it's not your business. Why,
it's . . . why, it's positively ridiculous! I have been thrust
into it like a chicken in the broth, and now it seems I'm to
A ring was heard. The boy sprang up from his place and ran out.
A minute later a lady came into the room with a little girl;
this was Olga Ivanovna, Alyosha's mother. Alyosha followed them
in, skipping and jumping, humming aloud and waving his hands.
Belyaev nodded, and went on walking up and down.
"Of course, whose fault is it if not mine?" he muttered with a
snort. "He is right! He is an injured husband."
"What are you talking about?" asked Olga Ivanovna.
"What about? . . . Why, just listen to the tales your lawful
spouse is spreading now! It appears that I am a scoundrel and a
villain, that I have ruined you and the children. All of you are
unhappy, and I am the only happy one! Wonderfully, wonderfully
"I don't understand, Nikolay. What's the matter?"
"Why, listen to this young gentleman!" said Belyaev, pointing to
Alyosha flushed crimson, then turned pale, and his whole face
began working with terror.
"Nikolay Ilyitch," he said in a loud whisper. "Sh-sh!"
Olga Ivanovna looked in surprise at Alyosha, then at Belyaev,
then at Alyosha again.
"Just ask him," Belyaev went on. "Your Pelagea, like a regular
fool, takes them about to restaurants and arranges meetings with
their papa. But that's not the point: the point is that their
dear papa is a victim, while I'm a wretch who has broken up both
your lives. . ."
"Nikolay Ilyitch," moaned Alyosha. "Why, you promised on your
word of honour!"
"Oh, get away!" said Belyaev, waving him off. "This is more
important than any word of honour. It's the hypocrisy revolts
me, the lying! . . ."
"I don't understand it," said Olga Ivanovna, and tears glistened
in her eyes. "Tell me, Alyosha," she turned to her son. "Do you
see your father?"
Alyosha did not hear her; he was looking with horror at Belyaev.
"It's impossible," said his mother; "I will go and question
Olga Ivanovna went out.
"I say, you promised on your word of honour!" said Alyosha,
trembling all over.
Belyaev dismissed him with a wave of his hand, and went on
walking up and down. He was absorbed in his grievance and was
oblivious of the boy's presence, as he always had been. He, a
grownup, serious person, had no thought to spare for boys. And
Alyosha sat down in the corner and told Sonia with horror how he
had been deceived. He was trembling, stammering, and crying. It
was the first time in his life that he had been brought into
such coarse contact with lying; till then he had not known that
there are in the world, besides sweet pears, pies, and expensive
watches, a great many things for which the language of children
has no expression.