Anton Chekhov -
An Anonymous Story
Three weeks after I entered Orlov's service -- it was Sunday
morning, I remember -- somebody rang the bell. It was not yet
eleven, and Orlov was still asleep. I went to open the door. You
can imagine my astonishment when I found a lady in a veil
standing at the door on the landing.
"Is Georgy Ivanitch up?" she asked.
From her voice I recognised Zinaida Fyodorovna, to whom I had
taken letters in Znamensky Street. I don't remember whether I
had time or self-possession to answer her -- I was taken aback
at seeing her. And, indeed, she did not need my answer. In a
flash she had darted by me, and, filling the hall with the
fragrance of her perfume, which I remember to this day, she went
on, and her footsteps died away. For at least half an hour
afterwards I heard nothing. But again some one rang. This time
it was a smartly dressed girl, who looked like a maid in a
wealthy family, accompanied by our house porter. Both were out
of breath, carrying two trunks and a dress-basket.
"These are for Zinaida Fyodorovna," said the girl.
And she went down without saying another word. All this was
mysterious, and made Polya, who had a deep admiration for the
pranks of her betters, smile slyly to herself; she looked as
though she would like to say, "So that's what we're up to," and
she walked about the whole time on tiptoe. At last we heard
footsteps; Zinaida Fyodorovna came quickly into the hall, and
seeing me at the door of my room, said:
"Stepan, take Georgy Ivanitch his things."
When I went in to Orlov with his clothes and his boots, he was
sitting on the bed with his feet on the bearskin rug. There was
an air of embarrassment about his whole figure. He did not
notice me, and my menial opinion did not interest him; he was
evidently perturbed and embarrassed before himself, before his
inner eye. He dressed, washed, and used his combs and brushes
silently and deliberately, as though allowing himself time to
think over his position and to reflect, and even from his back
one could see he was troubled and dissatisfied with himself.
They drank coffee together. Zinaida Fyodorovna poured out coffee
for herself and for Orlov, then she put her elbows on the table
"I still can't believe it," she said. "When one has been a long
while on one's travels and reaches a hotel at last, it's
difficult to believe that one hasn't to go on. It is pleasant to
With the expression of a child who very much wants to be
mischievous, she sighed with relief and laughed again.
"You will excuse me," said Orlov, nodding towards the coffee.
"Reading at breakfast is a habit I can't get over. But I can do
two things at once -- read and listen."
"Read away. . . . You shall keep your habits and your freedom.
But why do you look so solemn? Are you always like that in the
morning, or is it only to-day? Aren't you glad?"
"Yes, I am. But I must own I am a little overwhelmed."
"Why? You had plenty of time to prepare yourself for my descent
upon you. I've been threatening to come every day."
"Yes, but I didn't expect you to carry out your threat to-day."
"I didn't expect it myself, but that's all the better. It's all
the better, my dear. It's best to have an aching tooth out and
have done with it."
"Yes, of course."
"Oh, my dear," she said, closing her eyes, "all is well that
ends well; but before this happy ending, what suffering there
has been! My laughing means nothing; I am glad, I am happy, but
I feel more like crying than laughing. Yesterday I had to fight
a regular battle," she went on in French. "God alone knows how
wretched I was. But I laugh because I can't believe in it. I
keep fancying that my sitting here drinking coffee with you is
not real, but a dream."
Then, still speaking French, she described how she had broken
with her husband the day before and her eyes were alternately
full of tears and of laughter while she gazed with rapture at
Orlov. She told him her husband had long suspected her, but had
avoided explanations; they had frequent quarrels, and usually at
the most heated moment he would suddenly subside into silence
and depart to his study for fear that in his exasperation he
might give utterance to his suspicions or she might herself
begin to speak openly. And she had felt guilty, worthless,
incapable of taking a bold and serious step, and that had made
her hate herself and her husband more every day, and she had
suffered the torments of hell. But the day before, when during a
quarrel he had cried out in a tearful voice, "My God, when will
it end?" and had walked off to his study, she had run after him
like a cat after a mouse, and, preventing him from shutting the
door, she had cried that she hated him with her whole soul. Then
he let her come into the study and she had told him everything,
had confessed that she loved some one else, that that some one
else was her real, most lawful husband, and that she thought it
her true duty to go away to him that very day, whatever might
happen, if she were to be shot for it.
"There's a very romantic streak in you," Orlov interrupted,
keeping his eyes fixed on the newspaper.
She laughed and went on talking without touching her coffee. Her
cheeks glowed and she was a little embarrassed by it, and she
looked in confusion at Polya and me. From what she went on to
say I learnt that her husband had answered her with threats,
reproaches, and finally tears, and that it would have been more
accurate to say that she, and not he, had been the attacking
"Yes, my dear, so long as I was worked up, everything went all
right," she told Orlov; "but as night came on, my spirits sank.
You don't believe in God, George, but I do believe a little, and
I fear retribution. God requires of us patience, magnanimity,
self-sacrifice, and here I am refusing to be patient and want to
remodel my life to suit myself. Is that right? What if from the
point of view of God it's wrong? At two o'clock in the night my
husband came to me and said: 'You dare not go away. I'll fetch
you back through the police and make a scandal.' And soon
afterwards I saw him like a shadow at my door. 'Have mercy on
me! Your elopement may injure me in the service.' Those words
had a coarse effect upon me and made me feel stiff all over. I
felt as though the retribution were beginning already; I began
crying and trembling with terror. I felt as though the ceiling
would fall upon me, that I should be dragged off to the
police-station at once, that you would grow cold to me -- all
sorts of things, in fact! I thought I would go into a nunnery or
become a nurse, and give up all thought of happiness, but then I
remembered that you loved me, and that I had no right to dispose
of myself without your knowledge; and everything in my mind was
in a tangle -- I was in despair and did not know what to do or
think. But the sun rose and I grew happier. As soon as it was
morning I dashed off to you. Ah, what I've been through, dear
one! I haven't slept for two nights!"
She was tired out and excited. She was sleepy, and at the same
time she wanted to talk endlessly, to laugh and to cry, and to
go to a restaurant to lunch that she might feel her freedom.
"You have a cosy flat, but I am afraid it may be small for the
two of us," she said, walking rapidly through all the rooms when
they had finished breakfast. "What room will you give me? I like
this one because it is next to your study."
At one o'clock she changed her dress in the room next to the
study, which from that time she called hers, and she went off
with Orlov to lunch. They dined, too, at a restaurant, and spent
the long interval between lunch and dinner in shopping. Till
late at night I was opening the door to messengers and
errand-boys from the shops. They bought, among other things, a
splendid pier-glass, a dressing-table, a bedstead, and a
gorgeous tea service which we did not need. They bought a
regular collection of copper saucepans, which we set in a row on
the shelf in our cold, empty kitchen. As we were unpacking the
tea service Polya's eyes gleamed, and she looked at me two or
three times with hatred and fear that I, not she, would be the
first to steal one of these charming cups. A lady's
writing-table, very expensive and inconvenient, came too. It was
evident that Zinaida Fyodorovna contemplated settling with us
for good, and meant to make the flat her home.
She came back with Orlov between nine and ten. Full of proud
consciousness that she had done something bold and out of the
common, passionately in love, and, as she imagined, passionately
loved, exhausted, looking forward to a sweet sound sleep,
Zinaida Fyodorovna was revelling in her new life. She squeezed
her hands together in the excess of her joy, declared that
everything was delightful, and swore that she would love Orlov
for ever; and these vows, and the na?e, almost childish
confidence that she too was deeply loved and would be loved
forever, made her at least five years younger. She talked
charming nonsense and laughed at herself.
"There's no other blessing greater than freedom!" she said,
forcing herself to say something serious and edifying. "How
absurd it is when you think of it! We attach no value to our own
opinion even when it is wise, but tremble before the opinion of
all sorts of stupid people. Up to the last minute I was afraid
of what other people would say, but as soon as I followed my own
instinct and made up my mind to go my own way, my eyes were
opened, I overcame my silly fears, and now I am happy and wish
every one could be as happy!"
But her thoughts immediately took another turn, and she began
talking of another flat, of wallpapers, horses, a trip to
Switzerland and Italy. Orlov was tired by the restaurants and
the shops, and was still suffering from the same uneasiness that
I had noticed in the morning. He smiled, but more from
politeness than pleasure, and when she spoke of anything
seriously, he agreed ironically: "Oh, yes."
"Stepan, make haste and find us a good cook," she said to me.
"There's no need to be in a hurry over the kitchen
arrangements," said Orlov, looking at me coldly. "We must first
move into another flat."
We had never had cooking done at home nor kept horses, because,
as he said, "he did not like disorder about him," and only put
up with having Polya and me in his flat from necessity. The
so-called domestic hearth with its everyday joys and its petty
cares offended his taste as vulgarity; to be with child, or to
have children and talk about them, was bad form, like a petty
bourgeois. And I began to feel very curious to see how these two
creatures would get on together in one flat -- she, domestic and
home-loving with her copper saucepans and her dreams of a good
cook and horses; and he, fond of saying to his friends that a
decent and orderly man's flat ought, like a warship, to have
nothing in it superfluous -- no women, no children, no rags, no