A.P. Chekhov - Boys
"VOLODYA'S come!" someone shouted in the yard.
"Master Volodya's here!" bawled Natalya the cook, running into
the dining-room. "Oh, my goodness!"
The whole Korolyov family, who had been expecting their Volodya
from hour to hour, rushed to the windows. At the front door
stood a wide sledge, with three white horses in a cloud of
steam. The sledge was empty, for Volodya was already in the
hall, untying his hood with red and chilly fingers. His school
overcoat, his cap, his snowboots, and the hair on his temples
were all white with frost, and his whole figure from head to
foot diffused such a pleasant, fresh smell of the snow that the
very sight of him made one want to shiver and say "brrr!"
His mother and aunt ran to kiss and hug him. Natalya plumped
down at his feet and began pulling off his snowboots, his
sisters shrieked with delight, the doors creaked and banged, and
Volodya's father, in his waistcoat and shirt-sleeves, ran out
into the hall with scissors in his hand, and cried out in alarm:
"We were expecting you all yesterday? Did you come all right?
Had a good journey? Mercy on us! you might let him say 'how do
you do' to his father! I am his father after all!"
"Bow-wow!" barked the huge black dog, Milord, in a deep bass,
tapping with his tail on the walls and furniture.
For two minutes there was nothing but a general hubbub of joy.
After the first outburst of delight was over the Korolyovs
noticed that there was, besides their Volodya, another small
person in the hall, wrapped up in scarves and shawls and white
with frost. He was standing perfectly still in a corner, in the
shadow of a big fox-lined overcoat.
"Volodya darling, who is it?" asked his mother, in a whisper.
"Oh!" cried Volodya. "This is -- let me introduce my friend
Lentilov, a schoolfellow in the second class. . . . I have
brought him to stay with us."
"Delighted to hear it! You are very welcome," the father said
cordially. "Excuse me, I've been at work without my coat. . . .
Please come in! Natalya, help Mr. Lentilov off with his things.
Mercy on us, do turn that dog out! He is unendurable!"
A few minutes later, Volodya and his friend Lentilov, somewhat
dazed by their noisy welcome, and still red from the outside
cold, were sitting down to tea. The winter sun, making its way
through the snow and the frozen tracery on the window-panes,
gleamed on the samovar, and plunged its pure rays in the
tea-basin. The room was warm, and the boys felt as though the
warmth and the frost were struggling together with a tingling
sensation in their bodies.
"Well, Christmas will soon be here," the father said in a
pleasant sing-song voice, rolling a cigarette of dark reddish
tobacco. "It doesn't seem long since the summer, when mamma was
crying at your going . . . and here you are back again. . . .
Time flies, my boy. Before you have time to cry out, old age is
upon you. Mr. Lentilov, take some more, please help yourself! We
don't stand on ceremony!"
Volodya's three sisters, Katya, Sonya, and Masha (the eldest was
eleven), sat at the table and never took their eyes off the
Lentilov was of the same height and age as Volodya, but not as
round-faced and fair-skinned. He was thin, dark, and freckled;
his hair stood up like a brush, his eyes were small, and his
lips were thick. He was, in fact, distinctly ugly, and if he had
not been wearing the school uniform, he might have been taken
for the son of a cook. He seemed morose, did not speak, and
never once smiled. The little girls, staring at him, immediately
came to the conclusion that he must be a very clever and learned
person. He seemed to be thinking about something all the time,
and was so absorbed in his own thoughts, that, whenever he was
spoken to, he started, threw his head back, and asked to have
the question repeated.
The little girls noticed that Volodya, who had always been so
merry and talkative, also said very little, did not smile at
all, and hardly seemed to be glad to be home. All the time they
were at tea he only once addressed his sisters, and then he said
something so strange. He pointed to the samovar and said:
"In California they don't drink tea, but gin."
He, too, seemed absorbed in his own thoughts, and, to judge by
the looks that passed between him and his friend Lentilov, their
thoughts were the same.
After tea, they all went into the nursery. The girls and their
father took up the work that had been interrupted by the arrival
of the boys. They were making flowers and frills for the
Christmas tree out of paper of different colours. It was an
attractive and noisy occupation. Every fresh flower was greeted
by the little girls with shrieks of delight, even of awe, as
though the flower had dropped straight from heaven; their father
was in ecstasies too, and every now and then he threw the
scissors on the floor, in vexation at their bluntness. Their
mother kept running into the nursery with an anxious face,
"Who has taken my scissors? Ivan Nikolaitch, have you taken my
"Mercy on us! I'm not even allowed a pair of scissors!" their
father would respond in a lachrymose voice, and, flinging
himself back in his chair, he would pretend to be a deeply
injured man; but a minute later, he would be in ecstasies again.
On his former holidays Volodya, too, had taken part in the
preparations for the Christmas tree, or had been running in the
yard to look at the snow mountain that the watchman and the
shepherd were building. But this time Volodya and Lentilov took
no notice whatever of the coloured paper, and did not once go
into the stable. They sat in the window and began whispering to
one another; then they opened an atlas and looked carefully at a
"First to Perm . . . " Lentilov said, in an undertone, "from
there to Tiumen, then Tomsk . . . then . . . then . . .
Kamchatka. There the Samoyedes take one over Behring's Straits
in boats . . . . And then we are in America. . . . There are
lots of furry animals there. . . ."
"And California?" asked Volodya.
"California is lower down. . . . We've only to get to America
and California is not far off. . . . And one can get a living by
hunting and plunder."
All day long Lentilov avoided the little girls, and seemed to
look at them with suspicion. In the evening he happened to be
left alone with them for five minutes or so. It was awkward to
He cleared his throat morosely, rubbed his left hand against his
right, looked sullenly at Katya and asked:
"Have you read Mayne Reid?"
"No, I haven't. . . . I say, can you skate?"
Absorbed in his own reflections, Lentilov made no reply to this
question; he simply puffed out his cheeks, and gave a long sigh
as though he were very hot. He looked up at Katya once more and
"When a herd of bisons stampedes across the prairie the earth
trembles, and the frightened mustangs kick and neigh."
He smiled impressively and added:
"And the Indians attack the trains, too. But worst of all are
the mosquitoes and the termites."
"Why, what's that?"
"They're something like ants, but with wings. They bite
fearfully. Do you know who I am?"
"No, I am Montehomo, the Hawk's Claw, Chief of the Ever
Masha, the youngest, looked at him, then into the darkness out
of window and said, wondering:
"And we had lentils for supper yesterday."
Lentilov's incomprehensible utterances, and the way he was
always whispering with Volodya, and the way Volodya seemed now
to be always thinking about something instead of playing . . .
all this was strange and mysterious. And the two elder girls,
Katya and Sonya, began to keep a sharp look-out on the boys. At
night, when the boys had gone to bed, the girls crept to their
bedroom door, and listened to what they were saying. Ah, what
they discovered! The boys were planning to run away to America
to dig for gold: they had everything ready for the journey, a
pistol, two knives, biscuits, a burning glass to serve instead
of matches, a compass, and four roubles in cash. They learned
that the boys would have to walk some thousands of miles, and
would have to fight tigers and savages on the road: then they
would get gold and ivory, slay their enemies, become pirates,
drink gin, and finally marry beautiful maidens, and make a
The boys interrupted each other in their excitement. Throughout
the conversation, Lentilov called himself "Montehomo, the Hawk's
Claw," and Volodya was "my pale-face brother!"
"Mind you don't tell mamma," said Katya, as they went back to
bed. "Volodya will bring us gold and ivory from America, but if
you tell mamma he won't be allowed to go."
The day before Christmas Eve, Lentilov spent the whole day
poring over the map of Asia and making notes, while Volodya,
with a languid and swollen face that looked as though it had
been stung by a bee, walked about the rooms and ate nothing. And
once he stood still before the holy image in the nursery,
crossed himself, and said:
"Lord, forgive me a sinner; Lord, have pity on my poor unhappy
In the evening he burst out crying. On saying good-night he gave
his father a long hug, and then hugged his mother and sisters.
Katya and Sonya knew what was the matter, but little Masha was
puzzled, completely puzzled. Every time she looked at Lentilov
she grew thoughtful and said with a sigh:
"When Lent comes, nurse says we shall have to eat peas and
Early in the morning of Christmas Eve, Katya and Sonya slipped
quietly out of bed, and went to find out how the boys meant to
run away to America. They crept to their door.
"Then you don't mean to go?" Lentilov was saying angrily. "Speak
out: aren't you going?"
"Oh dear," Volodya wept softly. "How can I go? I feel so unhappy
"My pale-face brother, I pray you, let us set off. You declared
you were going, you egged me on, and now the time comes, you
"I . . . I . . . I'm not funking it, but I . . . I . . . I'm
sorry for mamma."
"Say once and for all, are you going or are you not?"
"I am going, only . . . wait a little . . . I want to be at home
"In that case I will go by myself," Lentilov declared. "I can
get on without you. And you wanted to hunt tigers and fight!
Since that's how it is, give me back my cartridges!"
At this Volodya cried so bitterly that his sisters could not
help crying too. Silence followed.
"So you are not coming?" Lentilov began again.
"I . . . I . . . I am coming!"
"Well, put on your things, then."
And Lentilov tried to cheer Volodya up by singing the praises of
America, growling like a tiger, pretending to be a steamer,
scolding him, and promising to give him all the ivory and lions'
and tigers' skins.
And this thin, dark boy, with his freckles and his bristling
shock of hair, impressed the little girls as an extraordinary
remarkable person. He was a hero, a determined character, who
knew no fear, and he growled so ferociously, that, standing at
the door, they really might imagine there was a tiger or lion
inside. When the little girls went back to their room and
dressed, Katya's eyes were full of tears, and she said:
"Oh, I feel so frightened!"
Everything was as usual till two o'clock, when they sat down to
dinner. Then it appeared that the boys were not in the house.
They sent to the servants' quarters, to the stables, to the
bailiff's cottage. They were not to be found. They sent into the
village -- they were not there.
At tea, too, the boys were still absent, and by supper-time
Volodya's mother was dreadfully uneasy, and even shed tears.
Late in the evening they sent again to the village, they
searched everywhere, and walked along the river bank with
lanterns. Heavens! what a fuss there was!
Next day the police officer came, and a paper of some sort was
written out in the dining-room. Their mother cried. . . .
All of a sudden a sledge stopped at the door, with three white
horses in a cloud of steam.
"Volodya's come," someone shouted in the yard.
"Master Volodya's here!" bawled Natalya, running into the
dining-room. And Milord barked his deep bass, "bow-wow."
It seemed that the boys had been stopped in the Arcade, where
they had gone from shop to shop asking where they could get
Volodya burst into sobs as soon as he came into the hall, and
flung himself on his mother's neck. The little girls, trembling,
wondered with terror what would happen next. They saw their
father take Volodya and Lentilov into his study, and there he
talked to them a long while.
"Is this a proper thing to do?" their father said to them. "I
only pray they won't hear of it at school, you would both be
expelled. You ought to be ashamed, Mr. Lentilov, really. It's
not at all the thing to do! You began it, and I hope you will be
punished by your parents. How could you? Where did you spend the
"At the station," Lentilov answered proudly.
Then Volodya went to bed, and had a compress, steeped in
vinegar, on his forehead.
A telegram was sent off, and next day a lady, Lentilov's mother,
made her appearance and bore off her son.
Lentilov looked morose and haughty to the end, and he did not
utter a single word at taking leave of the little girls. But he
took Katya's book and wrote in it as a souvenir: "Montehomo, the
Hawk's Claw, Chief of the Ever Victorious."
second class: a grammar-school boy in his second year would be
about ten years old
uniform: all students in Russia wore uniforms
snow mountain: a hill built of snow for the purpose of
Mayne Reid: Thomas Mayne Reid (1818-1883) wrote popular
adventure stories for boys, mostly about the American West
funk it: the American slang expression would be "chicken out"
(act in a cowardly manner)