A.P. Chekhov - A Play
"PAVEL VASSILYEVITCH, there's a lady here, asking for you," Luka
announced. "She's been waiting a good hour. . . ."
Pavel Vassilyevitch had only just finished lunch. Hearing of the
lady, he frowned and said:
"Oh, damn her! Tell her I'm busy."
"She has been here five times already, Pavel Vassilyevitch. She
says she really must see you. . . . She's almost crying."
"H'm . . . very well, then, ask her into the study."
Without haste Pavel Vassilyevitch put on his coat, took a pen in
one hand, and a book in the other, and trying to look as though
he were very busy he went into the study. There the visitor was
awaiting him -- a large stout lady with a red, beefy face, in
spectacles. She looked very respectable, and her dress was more
than fashionable (she had on a crinolette of four storeys and a
high hat with a reddish bird in it). On seeing him she turned up
her eyes and folded her hands in supplication.
"You don't remember me, of course," she began in a high
masculine tenor, visibly agitated. "I . . . I have had the
pleasure of meeting you at the Hrutskys. . . . I am Mme.
Murashkin. . . ."
"A. . . a . . . a . . . h'm . . . Sit down! What can I do for
"You . . . you see . . . I . . . I . . ." the lady went on,
sitting down and becoming still more agitated. "You don't
remember me. . . . I'm Mme. Murashkin. . . . You see I'm a great
admirer of your talent and always read your articles with great
enjoyment. . . . Don't imagine I'm flattering you -- God forbid!
-- I'm only giving honour where honour is due. . . . I am always
reading you . . . always! To some extent I am myself not a
stranger to literature -- that is, of course . . . I will not
venture to call myself an authoress, but . . . still I have
added my little quota . . . I have published at different times
three stories for children. . . . You have not read them, of
course. . . . I have translated a good deal and . . . and my
late brother used to write for The Cause."
"To be sure . . . er -- er -- er ---- What can I do for you?"
"You see . . . (the lady cast down her eyes and turned redder) I
know your talents . . . your views, Pavel Vassilyevitch, and I
have been longing to learn your opinion, or more exactly . . .
to ask your advice. I must tell you I have perpetrated a play,
my first-born -- pardon pour l'expression! -- and before sending
it to the Censor I should like above all things to have your
opinion on it."
Nervously, with the flutter of a captured bird, the lady fumbled
in her skirt and drew out a fat manuscript.
Pavel Vassilyevitch liked no articles but his own. When
threatened with the necessity of reading other people's, or
listening to them, he felt as though he were facing the cannon's
mouth. Seeing the manuscript he took fright and hastened to say:
"Very good, . . . leave it, . . . I'll read it."
"Pavel Vassilyevitch," the lady said languishingly, clasping her
hands and raising them in supplication, "I know you're busy. . .
. Your every minute is precious, and I know you're inwardly
cursing me at this moment, but . . . Be kind, allow me to read
you my play. . . . Do be so very sweet!"
"I should be delighted . . ." faltered Pavel Vassilyevitch;
"but, Madam, I'm . . . I'm very busy . . . . I'm . . . I'm
obliged to set off this minute."
"Pavel Vassilyevitch," moaned the lady and her eyes filled with
tears, "I'm asking a sacrifice! I am insolent, I am intrusive,
but be magnanimous. To-morrow I'm leaving for Kazan and I should
like to know your opinion to-day. Grant me half an hour of your
attention . . . only one half-hour . . . I implore you!"
Pavel Vassilyevitch was cotton-wool at core, and could not
refuse. When it seemed to him that the lady was about to burst
into sobs and fall on her knees, he was overcome with confusion
and muttered helplessly.
"Very well; certainly . . . I will listen . . . I will give you
half an hour."
The lady uttered a shriek of joy, took off her hat and settling
herself, began to read. At first she read a scene in which a
footman and a house maid, tidying up a sumptuous drawing-room,
talked at length about their young lady, Anna Sergyevna, who was
building a school and a hospital in the village. When the
footman had left the room, the maidservant pronounced a
monologue to the effect that education is light and ignorance is
darkness; then Mme. Murashkin brought the footman back into the
drawing-room and set him uttering a long monologue concerning
his master, the General, who disliked his daughter's views,
intended to marry her to a rich kammer junker, and held that the
salvation of the people lay in unadulterated ignorance. Then,
when the servants had left the stage, the young lady herself
appeared and informed the audience that she had not slept all
night, but had been thinking of Valentin Ivanovitch, who was the
son of a poor teacher and assisted his sick father gratuitously.
Valentin had studied all the sciences, but had no faith in
friendship nor in love; he had no object in life and longed for
death, and therefore she, the young lady, must save him.
Pavel Vassilyevitch listened, and thought with yearning anguish
of his sofa. He scanned the lady viciously, felt her masculine
tenor thumping on his eardrums, understood nothing, and thought:
"The devil sent you . . . as though I wanted to listen to your
tosh! It's not my fault you've written a play, is it? My God!
what a thick manuscript! What an infliction!"
Pavel Vassilyevitch glanced at the wall where the portrait of
his wife was hanging and remembered that his wife had asked him
to buy and bring to their summer cottage five yards of tape, a
pound of cheese, and some tooth-powder.
"I hope I've not lost the pattern of that tape," he thought,
"where did I put it? I believe it's in my blue reefer jacket. .
. . Those wretched flies have covered her portrait with spots
already, I must tell Olga to wash the glass. . . . She's reading
the twelfth scene, so we must soon be at the end of the first
act. As though inspiration were possible in this heat and with
such a mountain of flesh, too! Instead of writing plays she'd
much better eat cold vinegar hash and sleep in a cellar. . . ."
"You don't think that monologue's a little too long?" the lady
asked suddenly, raising her eyes.
Pavel Vassilyevitch had not heard the monologue, and said in a
voice as guilty as though not the lady but he had written that
"No, no, not at all. It's very nice. . . ."
The lady beamed with happiness and continued reading:
ANNA: You are consumed by analysis. Too early you have ceased to
live in the heart and have put your faith in the intellect.
VALENTIN: What do you mean by the heart? That is a concept of
anatomy. As a conventional term for what are called the
feelings, I do not admit it.
ANNA (confused): And love? Surely that is not merely a product
of the association of ideas? Tell me frankly, have you ever
VALENTIN (bitterly): Let us not touch on old wounds not yet
healed. (A pause.) What are you thinking of?
ANNA: I believe you are unhappy.
During the sixteenth scene Pavel Vassilyevitch yawned, and
accidently made with his teeth the sound dogs make when they
catch a fly. He was dismayed at this unseemly sound, and to
cover it assumed an expression of rapt attention.
"Scene seventeen! When will it end?" he thought. "Oh, my God! If
this torture is prolonged another ten minutes I shall shout for
the police. It's insufferable."
But at last the lady began reading more loudly and more rapidly,
and finally raising her voice she read "Curtain."
Pavel Vassilyevitch uttered a faint sigh and was about to get
up, but the lady promptly turned the page and went on reading.
ACT II. -- Scene, a village street. On right, School. On left,
Hospital. Villagers, male and female, sitting on the hospital
"Excuse me," Pavel Vassilyevitch broke in, "how many acts are
"Five," answered the lady, and at once, as though fearing her
audience might escape her, she went on rapidly.
VALENTIN is looking out of the schoolhouse window. In the
background Villagers can be seen taking their goods to the Inn.
Like a man condemned to be executed and convinced of the
impossibility of a reprieve, Pavel Vassilyevitch gave up
expecting the end, abandoned all hope, and simply tried to
prevent his eyes from closing, and to retain an expression of
attention on his face. . . . The future when the lady would
finish her play and depart seemed to him so remote that he did
not even think of it.
"Trooo--too--too--too . . ." the lady's voice sounded in his
ears. "Troo--too--too . . . sh--sh--sh--sh . . ."
"I forgot to take my soda," he thought. "What am I thinking
about? Oh -- my soda. . . . Most likely I shall have a bilious
attack. . . . It's extraordinary, Smirnovsky swills vodka all
day long and yet he never has a bilious attack. . . . There's a
bird settled on the window . . . a sparrow. . . ."
Pavel Vassilyevitch made an effort to unglue his strained and
closing eyelids, yawned without opening his mouth, and stared at
Mme. Murashkin. She grew misty and swayed before his eyes,
turned into a triangle and her head pressed against the ceiling.
. . .
VALENTIN No, let me depart.
ANNA (in dismay): Why?
VALENTIN (aside): She has turned pale! (To her) Do not force me
to explain. Sooner would I die than you should know the reason.
ANNA (after a pause): You cannot go away. . . .
The lady began to swell, swelled to an immense size, and melted
into the dingy atmosphere of the study -- only her moving mouth
was visible; then she suddenly dwindled to the size of a bottle,
swayed from side to side, and with the table retreated to the
further end of the room . . .
VALENTIN (holding ANNA in his arms): You have given me new life!
You have shown me an object to live for! You have renewed me as
the Spring rain renews the awakened earth! But . . . it is too
late, too late! The ill that gnaws at my heart is beyond cure. .
Pavel Vassilyevitch started and with dim and smarting eyes
stared at the reading lady; for a minute he gazed fixedly as
though understanding nothing. . . .
SCENE XI. -- The same. The BARON and the POLICE INSPECTOR with
VALENTIN: Take me!
ANNA: I am his! Take me too! Yes, take me too! I love him, I
love him more than life!
BARON: Anna Sergyevna, you forget that you are ruining your
father. . . .
The lady began swelling again. . . . Looking round him wildly
Pavel Vassilyevitch got up, yelled in a deep, unnatural voice,
snatched from the table a heavy paper-weight, and beside
himself, brought it down with all his force on the authoress's
head. . . .
* * * * * *
"Give me in charge, I've killed her!" he said to the maidservant
who ran in, a minute later.
The jury acquitted him.
The Cause: radical literary periodical published in St.
Censor: all literature in Russia had to pass the censor
kammer junker: aristocratic land-owner