A. Chekhov -
An Anonymous Story
And so my relations with my employer were quiet and peaceful,
but still the unclean and degrading element which I so dreaded
on becoming a footman was conspicuous and made itself felt every
day. I did not get on with Polya. She was a well-fed and
pampered hussy who adored Orlov because he was a gentleman and
despised me because I was a footman. Probably, from the point of
view of a real flunkey or cook, she was fascinating, with her
red cheeks, her turned-up nose, her coquettish glances, and the
plumpness, one might almost say fatness, of her person. She
powdered her face, coloured her lips and eyebrows, laced herself
in, and wore a bustle, and a bangle made of coins. She walked
with little ripping steps; as she walked she swayed, or, as they
say, wriggled her shoulders and back. The rustle of her skirts,
the creaking of her stays, the jingle her bangle and the vulgar
smell of lip salve, toilet vinegar, and scent stolen from her
master, aroused me whilst I was doing the rooms with her in the
morning a sensation as though I were taking part with her in
Either because I did not steal as she did, or because I
displayed no desire to become her lover, which she probably
looked upon as an insult, or perhaps because she felt that I was
a man of a different order, she hated me from the first day. My
inexperience, my appearance -- so unlike a flunkey -- and my
illness, seemed to her pitiful and excited her disgust. I had a
bad cough at that time, and sometimes at night I prevented her
from sleeping, as our rooms were only divided by a wooden
partition, and every morning she said to me:
"Again you didn't let me sleep. You ought to be in hospital
instead of in service."
She so genuinely believed that I was hardly a human being, but
something infinitely below her, that, like the Roman matrons who
were not ashamed to bathe before their slaves, she sometimes
went about in my presence in nothing but her chemise.
Once when I was in a happy, dreamy mood, I asked her at dinner
(we had soup and roast meat sent in from a restaurant every day)
"Polya, do you believe in God?"
"Why, of course!"
"Then," I went on, "you believe there will be a day of judgment,
and that we shall have to answer to God for every evil action?"
She gave me no reply, but simply made a contemptuous grimace,
and, looking that time at her cold eyes and over-fed expression,
I realised that for her complete and finished personality no
God, no conscience, no laws existed, and that if I had had to
set fire to the house, to murder or to rob, I could not have
hired a better accomplice.
In my novel surroundings I felt very uncomfortable for the first
week at Orlov's before I got used to being addressed as "thou,"
and being constantly obliged to tell lies (saying "My master is
not at home" when he was). In my flunkey's swallow-tail I felt
as though I were in armour. But I grew accustomed to it in time.
Like a genuine footman, I waited at table, tidied the rooms, ran
and drove about on errands of all sorts. When Orlov did not want
to keep an appointment with Zinaida Fyodorovna, or when he
forgot that he had promised to go and see her, I drove to
Znamensky Street, put a letter into her hands and told a lie.
And the result of it all was quite different from what I had
expected when I became a footman. Every day of this new life of
mine was wasted for me and my cause, as Orlov never spoke of his
father, nor did his visitors, and all I could learn of the
stateman's doings was, as before, what I could glean from the
newspapers or from correspondence with my comrades. The hundreds
of notes and papers I used to find in the study and read had not
the remotest connection with what I was looking for. Orlov was
absolutely uninterested in his father's political work, and
looked as though he had never heard of it, or as though his
father had long been dead.