A.P. Chekhov - A Work of Art
SASHA SMIRNOV, the only son of his mother, holding under his
arm, something wrapped up in No. 223 of the Financial News,
assumed a sentimental expression, and went into Dr. Koshelkov's
"Ah, dear lad!" was how the doctor greeted him. "Well! how are
we feeling? What good news have you for me?"
Sasha blinked, laid his hand on his heart and said in an
agitated voice: "Mamma sends her greetings to you, Ivan
Nikolaevitch, and told me to thank you. . . . I am the only son
of my mother and you have saved my life . . . you have brought
me through a dangerous illness and . . . we do not know how to
"Nonsense, lad!" said the doctor, highly delighted. "I only did
what anyone else would have done in my place."
"I am the only son of my mother . . . we are poor people and
cannot of course repay you, and we are quite ashamed, doctor,
although, however, mamma and I . . . the only son of my mother,
earnestly beg you to accept in token of our gratitude . . . this
object, which . . . An object of great value, an antique bronze.
. . . A rare work of art."
"You shouldn't!" said the doctor, frowning. "What's this for!"
"No, please do not refuse," Sasha went on muttering as he
unpacked the parcel. "You will wound mamma and me by refusing. .
. . It's a fine thing . . . an antique bronze. . . . It was left
us by my deceased father and we have kept it as a precious
souvenir. My father used to buy antique bronzes and sell them to
connoisseurs . . . Mamma and I keep on the business now."
Sasha undid the object and put it solemnly on the table. It was
a not very tall candelabra of old bronze and artistic
workmanship. It consisted of a group: on the pedestal stood two
female figures in the costume of Eve and in attitudes for the
description of which I have neither the courage nor the fitting
temperament. The figures were smiling coquettishly and
altogether looked as though, had it not been for the necessity
of supporting the candlestick, they would have skipped off the
pedestal and have indulged in an orgy such as is improper for
the reader even to imagine.
Looking at the present, the doctor slowly scratched behind his
ear, cleared his throat and blew his nose irresolutely.
"Yes, it certainly is a fine thing," he muttered, "but . . . how
shall I express it? . . . it's . . . h'm . . . it's not quite
for family reading. It's not simply decollet but beyond
anything, dash it all. . . ."
"How do you mean?"
"The serpent-tempter himself could not have invented anything
worse. . . . Why, to put such a phantasmagoria on the table
would be defiling the whole flat."
"What a strange way of looking at art, doctor!" said Sasha,
offended. "Why, it is an artistic thing, look at it! There is so
much beauty and elegance that it fills one's soul with a feeling
of reverence and brings a lump into one's throat! When one sees
anything so beautiful one forgets everything earthly. . . . Only
look, how much movement, what an atmosphere, what expression!"
"I understand all that very well, my dear boy," the doctor
interposed, "but you know I am a family man, my children run in
here, ladies come in."
"Of course if you look at it from the point of view of the
crowd," said Sasha, "then this exquisitely artistic work may
appear in a certain light. . . . But, doctor, rise superior to
the crowd, especially as you will wound mamma and me by refusing
it. I am the only son of my mother, you have saved my life. . .
. We are giving you the thing most precious to us and . . . and
I only regret that I have not the pair to present to you. . . ."
"Thank you, my dear fellow, I am very grateful . . . Give my
respects to your mother but really consider, my children run in
here, ladies come. . . . However, let it remain! I see there's
no arguing with you."
"And there is nothing to argue about," said Sasha, relieved.
"Put the candlestick here, by this vase. What a pity we have not
the pair to it! It is a pity! Well, good-bye, doctor."
After Sasha's departure the doctor looked for a long time at the
candelabra, scratched behind his ear and meditated.
"It's a superb thing, there's no denying it," he thought, "and
it would be a pity to throw it away. . . . But it's impossible
for me to keep it. . . . H'm! . . . Here's a problem! To whom
can I make a present of it, or to what charity can I give it?"
After long meditation he thought of his good friend, the lawyer
Uhov, to whom he was indebted for the management of legal
"Excellent," the doctor decided, "it would be awkward for him as
a friend to take money from me, and it will be very suitable for
me to present him with this. I will take him the devilish thing!
Luckily he is a bachelor and easy-going."
Without further procrastination the doctor put on his hat and
coat, took the candelabra and went off to Uhov's.
"How are you, friend!" he said, finding the lawyer at home.
"I've come to see you . . . to thank you for your efforts. . . .
You won't take money so you must at least accept this thing
here. . . . See, my dear fellow. . . . The thing is
On seeing the bronze the lawyer was moved to indescribable
"What a specimen!" he chuckled. "Ah, deuce take it, to think of
them imagining such a thing, the devils! Exquisite! Ravishing!
Where did you get hold of such a delightful thing?"
After pouring out his ecstasies the lawyer looked timidly
towards the door and said: "Only you must carry off your
present, my boy. . . . I can't take it. . . ."
"Why?" cried the doctor, disconcerted.
"Why . . . because my mother is here at times, my clients . . .
besides I should be ashamed for my servants to see it."
"Nonsense! Nonsense! Don't you dare to refuse!" said the doctor,
gesticulating. "It's piggish of you! It's a work of art! . . .
What movement. . . what expression! I won't even talk of it! You
will offend me!"
"If one could plaster it over or stick on fig-leaves . . . "
But the doctor gesticulated more violently than before, and
dashing out of the flat went home, glad that he had succeeded in
getting the present off his hands.
When he had gone away the lawyer examined the candelabra,
fingered it all over, and then, like the doctor, racked his
brains over the question what to do with the present.
"It's a fine thing," he mused, "and it would be a pity to throw
it away and improper to keep it. The very best thing would be to
make a present of it to someone. . . . I know what! I'll take it
this evening to Shashkin, the comedian. The rascal is fond of
such things, and by the way it is his benefit tonight."
No sooner said than done. In the evening the candelabra,
carefully wrapped up, was duly carried to Shashkin's. The whole
evening the comic actor's dressing-room was besieged by men
coming to admire the present; the dressing-room was filled with
the hum of enthusiasm and laughter like the neighing of horses.
If one of the actresses approached the door and asked: "May I
come in?" the comedian's husky voice was heard at once: "No, no,
my dear, I am not dressed!"
After the performance the comedian shrugged his shoulders, flung
up his hands and said: "Well what am I to do with the horrid
thing? Why, I live in a private flat! Actresses come and see me!
It's not a photograph that you can put in a drawer!"
"You had better sell it, sir," the hairdresser who was disrobing
the actor advised him. "There's an old woman living about here
who buys antique bronzes. Go and enquire for Madame Smirnov . .
. everyone knows her."
The actor followed his advice. . . . Two days later the doctor
was sitting in his consulting-room, and with his finger to his
brow was meditating on the acids of the bile. All at once the
door opened and Sasha Smirnov flew into the room. He was
smiling, beaming, and his whole figure was radiant with
happiness. In his hands he held something wrapped up in
"Doctor!" he began breathlessly, "imagine my delight! Happily
for you we have succeeded in picking up the pair to your
candelabra! Mamma is so happy. . . . I am the only son of my
mother, you saved my life. . . ."
And Sasha, all of a tremor with gratitude, set the candelabra
before the doctor. The doctor opened his mouth, tried to say
something, but said nothing: he could not speak.
No. 223: this number included an instalment of Zola's novel
L'Oeuvre, which concerns a painter who transfers his affections
from his wife to his paintings of the female nude
Financial News: more literally translated as "Stock Exchange
in the costume of Eve: naked