A.P. Chekhov -
An Anonymous Story
THROUGH causes which it is not the time to go
into in detail, I had to enter the service of a Petersburg
official called Orlov, in the capacity of a footman. He was
about five and thirty, and was called Georgy* Ivanitch.
*Both g's hard, as in "Gorgon"; e like ai in rain.
I entered this Orlov's service on account of his father, a
prominent political man, whom I looked upon as a serious enemy
of my cause. I reckoned that, living with the son, I should --
from the conversations I should hear, and from the letters and
papers I should find on the table -- learn every detail of the
father's plans and intentions.
As a rule at eleven o'clock in the morning the electric bell
rang in my footman's quarters to let me know that my master was
awake. When I went into the bedroom with his polished shoes and
brushed clothes, Georgy Ivanitch would be sitting in his bed
with a face that looked, not drowsy, but rather exhausted by
sleep, and he would gaze off in one direction without any sign
of satisfaction at having waked. I helped him to dress, and he
let me do it with an air of reluctance without speaking or
noticing my presence; then with his head wet with washing,
smelling of fresh scent, he used to go into the dining-room to
drink his coffee. He used to sit at the table, sipping his
coffee and glancing through the newspapers, while the maid Polya
and I stood respectfully at the door gazing at him. Two grown-up
persons had to stand watching with the gravest attention a third
drinking coffee and munching rusks. It was probably ludicrous
and grotesque, but I saw nothing humiliating in having to stand
near the door, though I was quite as well born and well educated
as Orlov himself.
I was in the first stage of consumption, and was suffering from
something else, possibly even more serious than consumption. I
don't know whether it was the effect of my illness or of an
incipient change in my philosophy of life of which I was not
conscious at the time, but I was, day by day, more possessed by
a passionate, irritating longing for ordinary everyday life. I
yearned for mental tranquillity, health, fresh air, good food. I
was becoming a dreamer, and, like a dreamer, I did not know
exactly what I wanted. Sometimes I felt inclined to go into a
monastery, to sit there for days together by the window and gaze
at the trees and the fields; sometimes I fancied I would buy
fifteen acres of land and settle down as a country gentleman;
sometimes I inwardly vowed to take up science and become a
professor at some provincial university. I was a retired navy
lieutenant; I dreamed of the sea, of our squadron, and of the
corvette in which I had made the cruise round the world. I
longed to experience again the indescribable feeling when,
walking in the tropical forest or looking at the sunset in the
Bay of Bengal, one is thrilled with ecstasy and at the same time
homesick. I dreamed of mountains, women, music, and, with the
curiosity of a child, I looked into people's faces, listened to
their voices. And when I stood at the door and watched Orlov
sipping his coffee, I felt not a footman, but a man interested
in everything in the world, even in Orlov.
In appearance Orlov was a typical Petersburger, with narrow
shoulders, a long waist, sunken temples, eyes of an indefinite
colour, and scanty, dingy-coloured hair, beard and moustaches.
His face had a stale, unpleasant look, though it was studiously
cared for. It was particularly unpleasant when he was asleep or
lost in thought. It is not worth while describing a quite
ordinary appearance; besides, Petersburg is not Spain, and a
man's appearance is not of much consequence even in love
affairs, and is only of value to a handsome footman or coachman.
I have spoken of Orlov's face and hair only because there was
something in his appearance worth mentioning. When Orlov took a
newspaper or book, whatever it might be, or met people, whoever
they be, an ironical smile began to come into his eyes, and his
whole countenance assumed an expression of light mockery in
which there was no malice. Before reading or hearing anything he
always had his irony in readiness, as a savage has his shield.
It was an habitual irony, like some old liquor brewed years ago,
and now it came into his face probably without any participation
of his will, as it were by reflex action. But of that later.
Soon after midday he took his portfolio, full of papers, and
drove to his office. He dined away from home and returned after
eight o'clock. I used to light the lamp and candles in his
study, and he would sit down in a low chair with his legs
stretched out on another chair, and, reclining in that position,
would begin reading. Almost every day he brought in new books
with him or received parcels of them from the shops, and there
were heaps of books in three languages, to say nothing of
Russian, which he had read and thrown away, in the corners of my
room and under my bed. He read with extraordinary rapidity. They
say: "Tell me what you read, and I'll tell you who you are."
That may be true, but it was absolutely impossible to judge of
Orlov by what he read. It was a regular hotchpotch. Philosophy,
French novels, political economy, finance, new poets, and
publications of the firm Posrednik* -- and he read it all with
the same rapidity and with the same ironical expression in his
* I.e., Tchertkov and others, publishers of Tolstoy, who issued
good literature for peasants' reading.
After ten o'clock he carefully dressed, often in evening dress,
very rarely in his kammer-junker's uniform, and went out,
returning in the morning.
Our relations were quiet and peaceful, and we never had any
misunderstanding. As a rule he did not notice my presence, and
when he talked to me there was no expression of irony on his
face -- he evidently did not look upon me as a human being.
I only once saw him angry. One day -- it was a week after I had
entered his service -- he came back from some dinner at nine
o'clock; his face looked ill-humoured and exhausted. When I
followed him into his study to light the candles, he said to me:
"There's a nasty smell in the flat."
"No, the air is fresh," I answered.
"I tell you, there's a bad smell," he answered irritably.
"I open the movable panes every day."
"Don't argue, blockhead!" he shouted.
I was offended, and was on the point of answering, and goodness
knows how it would have ended if Polya, who knew her master
better than I did, had not intervened.
"There really is a disagreeable smell," she said, raising her
eyebrows. "What can it be from? Stepan, open the pane in the
drawing-room, and light the fire."
With much bustle and many exclamations, she went through all the
rooms, rustling her skirts and squeezing the sprayer with a
hissing sound. And Orlov was still out of humour; he was
obviously restraining himself not to vent his ill-temper aloud.
He was sitting at the table and rapidly writing a letter. After
writing a few lines he snorted angrily and tore it up, then he
began writing again.
"Damn them all!" he muttered. "They expect me to have an
At last the letter was written; he got up from the table and
said, turning to me:
"Go to Znamensky Street and deliver this letter to Zinaida
Fyodorovna Krasnovsky in person. But first ask the porter
whether her husband -- that is, Mr. Krasnovsky -- has returned
yet. If he has returned, don't deliver the letter, but come
back. Wait a minute! . . . If she asks whether I have any one
here, tell her that there have been two gentlemen here since
eight o'clock, writing something."
I drove to Znamensky Street. The porter told me that Mr.
Krasnovsky had not yet come in, and I made my way up to the
third storey. The door was opened by a tall, stout, drab-coloured
flunkey with black whiskers, who in a sleepy, churlish, and
apathetic voice, such as only flunkeys use in addressing other
flunkeys, asked me what I wanted. Before I had time to answer, a
lady dressed in black came hurriedly into the hall. She screwed
up her eyes and looked at me.
"Is Zinaida Fyodorovna at home?" I asked.
"That is me," said the lady.
"A letter from Georgy Ivanitch."
She tore the letter open impatiently, and holding it in both
hands, so that I saw her sparkling diamond rings, she began
reading. I made out a pale face with soft lines, a prominent
chin, and long dark lashes. From her appearance I should not
have judged the lady to be more than five and twenty.
"Give him my thanks and my greetings," she said when she had
finished the letter. "Is there any one with Georgy Ivanitch?"
she asked softly, joyfully, and as though ashamed of her
"Two gentlemen," I answered. "They're writing something."
"Give him my greetings and thanks," she repeated, bending her
head sideways, and, reading the letter as she walked, she went
noiselessly out. I saw few women at that time, and this lady of
whom I had a passing glimpse made an impression on me. As I
walked home I recalled her face and the delicate fragrance about
her, and fell to dreaming. By the time I got home Orlov had gone