A.P. Chekhov - A Peculiar Man
BETWEEN twelve and one at night a tall gentleman, wearing a
top-hat and a coat with a hood, stops before the door of Marya
Petrovna Koshkin, a midwife and an old maid. Neither face nor
hand can be distinguished in the autumn darkness, but in the
very manner of his coughing and the ringing of the bell a
certain solidity, positiveness, and even impressiveness can be
discerned. After the third ring the door opens and Marya
Petrovna herself appears. She has a man's overcoat flung on over
her white petticoat. The little lamp with the green shade which
she holds in her hand throws a greenish light over her sleepy,
freckled face, her scraggy neck, and the lank, reddish hair that
strays from under her cap.
"Can I see the midwife?" asks the gentleman.
"I am the midwife. What do you want?"
The gentleman walks into the entry and Marya Petrovna sees
facing her a tall, well-made man, no longer young, but with a
handsome, severe face and bushy whiskers.
"I am a collegiate assessor, my name is Kiryakov," he says. "I
came to fetch you to my wife. Only please make haste."
"Very good . . ." the midwife assents. "I'll dress at once, and
I must trouble you to wait for me in the parlour."
Kiryakov takes off his overcoat and goes into the parlour. The
greenish light of the lamp lies sparsely on the cheap furniture
in patched white covers, on the pitiful flowers and the posts on
which ivy is trained. . . . There is a smell of geranium and
carbolic. The little clock on the wall ticks timidly, as though
abashed at the presence of a strange man.
"I am ready," says Marya Petrovna, coming into the room five
minutes later, dressed, washed, and ready for action. "Let us
"Yes, you must make haste," says Kiryakov. "And, by the way, it
is not out of place to enquire -- what do you ask for your
"I really don't know . . ." says Marya Petrovna with an
embarrassed smile. "As much as you will give."
"No, I don't like that," says Kiryakov, looking coldly and
steadily at the midwife. "An arrangement beforehand is best. I
don't want to take advantage of you and you don't want to take
advantage of me. To avoid misunderstandings it is more sensible
for us to make an arrangement beforehand."
"I really don't know -- there is no fixed price."
"I work myself and am accustomed to respect the work of others.
I don't like injustice. It will be equally unpleasant to me if I
pay you too little, or if you demand from me too much, and so I
insist on your naming your charge."
"Well, there are such different charges."
"H'm. In view of your hesitation, which I fail to understand, I
am constrained to fix the sum myself. I can give you two roubles."
"Good gracious! . . . Upon my word! . . ." says Marya Petrovna,
turning crimson and stepping back. "I am really ashamed. Rather
than take two roubles I will come for nothing . . . . Five
roubles, if you like."
"Two roubles, not a kopeck more. I don't want to take advantage
of you, but I do not intend to be overcharged."
"As you please, but I am not coming for two roubles. . . ."
"But by law you have not the right to refuse."
"Very well, I will come for nothing."
"I won't have you for nothing. All work ought to receive
remuneration. I work myself and I understand that. . . ."
"I won't come for two roubles," Marya Petrovna answers mildly.
"I'll come for nothing if you like."
"In that case I regret that I have troubled you for nothing. . .
. I have the honour to wish you good-bye."
"Well, you are a man!" says Marya Petrovna, seeing him into the
entry. "I will come for three roubles if that will satisfy you."
Kiryakov frowns and ponders for two full minutes, looking with
concentration on the floor, then he says resolutely, "No," and
goes out into the street. The astonished and disconcerted
midwife fastens the door after him and goes back into her
"He's good-looking, respectable, but how queer, God bless the
man! . . ." she thinks as she gets into bed.
But in less than half an hour she hears another ring; she gets
up and sees the same Kiryakov again.
"Extraordinary the way things are mismanaged. Neither the
chemist, nor the police, nor the house-porters can give me the
address of a midwife, and so I am under the necessity of
assenting to your terms. I will give you three roubles, but . .
. I warn you beforehand that when I engage servants or receive
any kind of services, I make an arrangement beforehand in order
that when I pay there may be no talk of extras, tips, or
anything of the sort. Everyone ought to receive what is his
Marya Petrovna has not listened to Kiryakov for long, but
already she feels that she is bored and repelled by him, that
his even, measured speech lies like a weight on her soul. She
dresses and goes out into the street with him. The air is still
but cold, and the sky is so overcast that the light of the
street lamps is hardly visible. The sloshy snow squelches under
their feet. The midwife looks intently but does not see a cab.
"I suppose it is not far?" she asks.
"No, not far," Kiryakov answers grimly.
They walk down one turning, a second, a third. . . . Kiryakov
strides along, and even in his step his respectability and
positiveness is apparent.
"What awful weather!" the midwife observes to him.
But he preserves a dignified silence, and it is noticeable that
he tries to step on the smooth stones to avoid spoiling his
goloshes. At last after a long walk the midwife steps into the
entry; from which she can see a big decently furnished
drawing-room. There is not a soul in the rooms, even in the
bedroom where the woman is lying in labour. . . . The old women
and relations who flock in crowds to every confinement are not
to be seen. The cook rushes about alone, with a scared and
vacant face. There is a sound of loud groans.
Three hours pass. Marya Petrovna sits by the mother's bedside
and whispers to her. The two women have already had time to make
friends, they have got to know each other, they gossip, they
sigh together. . . .
"You mustn't talk," says the midwife anxiously, and at the same
time she showers questions on her.
Then the door opens and Kiryakov himself comes quietly and
stolidly into the room. He sits down in the chair and strokes
his whiskers. Silence reigns. Marya Petrovna looks timidly at
his handsome, passionless, wooden face and waits for him to
begin to talk, but he remains absolutely silent and absorbed in
thought. After waiting in vain, the midwife makes up her mind to
begin herself, and utters a phrase commonly used at
"Well now, thank God, there is one human being more in the
"Yes, that's agreeable," said Kiryakov, preserving the wooden
expression of his face, "though indeed, on the other hand, to
have more children you must have more money. The baby is not
born fed and clothed."
A guilty expression comes into the mother's face, as though she
had brought a creature into the world without permission or
through idle caprice. Kiryakov gets up with a sigh and walks
with solid dignity out of the room.
"What a man, bless him!" says the midwife to the mother. "He's
so stern and does not smile."
The mother tells her that he is always like that. . . . He is
honest, fair, prudent, sensibly economical, but all that to such
an exceptional degree that simple mortals feel suffocated by it.
His relations have parted from him, the servants will not stay
more than a month; they have no friends; his wife and children
are always on tenterhooks from terror over every step they take.
He does not shout at them nor beat them, his virtues are far
more numerous than his defects, but when he goes out of the
house they all feel better, and more at ease. Why it is so the
woman herself cannot say.
"The basins must be properly washed and put away in the store
cupboard," says Kiryakov, coming into the bedroom. "These
bottles must be put away too: they may come in handy."
What he says is very simple and ordinary, but the midwife for
some reason feels flustered. She begins to be afraid of the man
and shudders every time she hears his footsteps. In the morning
as she is preparing to depart she sees Kiryakov's little son, a
pale, close-cropped schoolboy, in the dining-room drinking his
tea. . . . Kiryakov is standing opposite him, saying in his
flat, even voice:
"You know how to eat, you must know how to work too. You have
just swallowed a mouthful but have not probably reflected that
that mouthful costs money and money is obtained by work. You
must eat and reflect. . . ."
The midwife looks at the boy's dull face, and it seems to her as
though the very air is heavy, that a little more and the very
walls will fall, unable to endure the crushing presence of the
peculiar man. Beside herself with terror, and by now feeling a
violent hatred for the man, Marya Petrovna gathers up her
bundles and hurriedly departs.
Half-way home she remembers that she has forgotten to ask for
her three roubles, but after stopping and thinking for a minute,
with a wave of her hand, she goes on.
collegiate assessor: Rank 8 on the Russian civil service scale