- An Anonymous Story
Two years had passed. Circumstances had changed; I had come to
Petersburg again and could live here openly. I was no longer
afraid of being and seeming sentimental, and gave myself up
entirely to the fatherly, or rather idolatrous feeling roused in
me by Sonya, Zinaida Fyodorovna's child. I fed her with my own
hands, gave her her bath, put her to bed, never took my eyes off
her for nights together, and screamed when it seemed to me that
the nurse was just going to drop her. My thirst for normal
ordinary life became stronger and more acute as time went on,
but wider visions stopped short at Sonya, as though I had found
in her at last just what I needed. I loved the child madly. In
her I saw the continuation of my life, and it was not exactly
that I fancied, but I felt, I almost believed, that when I had
cast off at last my long, bony, bearded frame, I should go on
living in those little blue eyes, that silky flaxen hair, those
dimpled pink hands which stroked my face so lovingly and were
clasped round my neck.
Sonya's future made me anxious. Orlov was her father; in her
birth certificate she was called Krasnovsky, and the only person
who knew of her existence, and took interest in her -- that is,
I -- was at death's door. I had to think about her seriously.
The day after I arrived in Petersburg I went to see Orlov. The
door was opened to me by a stout old fellow with red whiskers
and no moustache, who looked like a German. Polya, who was
tidying the drawing-room, did not recognise me, but Orlov knew
me at once.
"Ah, Mr. Revolutionist!" he said, looking at me with curiosity,
and laughing. "What fate has brought you?"
He was not changed in the least: the same well-groomed,
unpleasant face, the same irony. And a new book was lying on the
table just as of old, with an ivory paper-knife thrust in it. He
had evidently been reading before I came in. He made me sit
down, offered me a cigar, and with a delicacy only found in
well-bred people, concealing the unpleasant feeling aroused by
my face and my wasted figure, observed casually that I was not
in the least changed, and that he would have known me anywhere
in spite of my having grown a beard. We talked of the weather,
of Paris. To dispose as quickly as possible of the oppressive,
inevitable question, which weighed upon him and me, he asked:
"Zinaida Fyodorovna is dead?"
"Yes," I answered.
"Yes, in childbirth. The doctor suspected another cause of
death, but . . . it is more comforting for you and for me to
think that she died in childbirth."
He sighed decorously and was silent. The angel of silence passed
over us, as they say.
"Yes. And here everything is as it used to be -- no changes," he
said briskly, seeing that I was looking about the room. "My
father, as you know, has left the service and is living in
retirement; I am still in the same department. Do you remember
Pekarsky? He is just the same as ever. Gruzin died of diphtheria
a year ago. . . . Kukushkin is alive, and often speaks of you.
By the way," said Orlov, dropping his eyes with an air of
reserve, "when Kukushkin heard who you were, he began telling
every one you had attacked him and tried to murder him . . . and
that he only just escaped with his life."
I did not speak.
"Old servants do not forget their masters. . . . It's very nice
of you," said Orlov jocosely. "Will you have some wine and some
coffee, though? I will tell them to make some."
"No, thank you. I have come to see you about a very important
matter, Georgy Ivanitch."
"I am not very fond of important matters, but I shall be glad to
be of service to you. What do you want?"
"You see," I began, growing agitated, "I have here with me
Zinaida Fyodorovna's daughter. . . . Hitherto I have brought her
up, but, as you see, before many days I shall be an empty sound.
I should like to die with the thought that she is provided for."
Orlov coloured a little, frowned a little, and took a cursory
and sullen glance at me. He was unpleasantly affected, not so
much by the "important matter" as by my words about death, about
becoming an empty sound.
"Yes, it must be thought about," he said, screening his eyes as
though from the sun. "Thank you. You say it's a girl?"
"Yes, a girl. A wonderful child!"
"Yes. Of course, it's not a lap-dog, but a human being. I
understand we must consider it seriously. I am prepared to do my
part, and am very grateful to you."
He got up, walked about, biting his nails, and stopped before a
"We must think about it," he said in a hollow voice, standing
with his back to me. "I shall go to Pekarsky's to-day and will
ask him to go to Krasnovsky's. I don't think he will make much
ado about consenting to take the child."
"But, excuse me, I don't see what Krasnovsky has got to do with
it," I said, also getting up and walking to a picture at the
other end of the room.
"But she bears his name, of course!" said Orlov.
"Yes, he may be legally obliged to accept the child -- I don't
know; but I came to you, Georgy Ivanitch, not to discuss the
"Yes, yes, you are right," he agreed briskly. "I believe I am
talking nonsense. But don't excite yourself. We will decide the
matter to our mutual satisfaction. If one thing won't do, we'll
try another; and if that won't do, we'll try a third -- one way
or another this delicate question shall be settled. Pekarsky
will arrange it all. Be so good as to leave me your address and
I will let you know at once what we decide. Where are you
Orlov wrote down my address, sighed, and said with a smile:
"Oh, Lord, what a job it is to be the father of a little
daughter! But Pekarsky will arrange it all. He is a sensible
man. Did you stay long in Paris?"
We were silent. Orlov was evidently afraid I should begin
talking of the child again, and to turn my attention in another
"You have probably forgotten your letter by now. But I have kept
it. I understand your mood at the time, and, I must own, I
respect that letter. 'Damnable cold blood,' 'Asiatic,' 'coarse
laugh' -- that was charming and characteristic," he went on with
an ironical smile. "And the fundamental thought is perhaps near
the truth, though one might dispute the question endlessly. That
is," he hesitated, "not dispute the thought itself, but your
attitude to the question -- your temperament, so to say. Yes, my
life is abnormal, corrupted, of no use to any one, and what
prevents me from beginning a new life is cowardice -- there you
are quite right. But that you take it so much to heart, are
troubled, and reduced to despair by it -- that's irrational;
there you are quite wrong."
"A living man cannot help being troubled and reduced to despair
when he sees that he himself is going to ruin and others are
going to ruin round him."
"Who doubts it! I am not advocating indifference; all I ask for
is an objective attitude to life. The more objective, the less
danger of falling into error. One must look into the root of
things, and try to see in every phenomenon a cause of all the
other causes. We have grown feeble, slack -- degraded, in fact.
Our generation is entirely composed of neurasthenics and
whimperers; we do nothing but talk of fatigue and exhaustion.
But the fault is neither yours nor mine; we are of too little
consequence to affect the destiny of a whole generation. We must
suppose for that larger, more general causes with a solid raison
d'?re from the biological point of view. We are neurasthenics,
flabby, renegades, but perhaps it's necessary and of service for
generations that will come after us. Not one hair falls from the
head without the will of the Heavenly Father -- in other words,
nothing happens by chance in Nature and in human environment.
Everything has its cause and is inevitable. And if so, why
should we worry and write despairing letters?"
"That's all very well," I said, thinking a little. "I believe it
will be easier and clearer for the generations to come; our
experience will be at their service. But one wants to live apart
from future generations and not only for their sake. Life is
only given us once, and one wants to live it boldly, with full
consciousness and beauty. One wants to play a striking,
independent, noble part; one wants to make history so that those
generations may not have the right to say of each of us that we
were nonentities or worse. . . . I believe what is going on
about us is inevitable and not without a purpose, but what have
I to do with that inevitability? Why should my ego be lost?"
"Well, there's no help for it," sighed Orlov, getting up and, as
it were, giving me to understand that our conversation was over.
I took my hat.
"We've only been sitting here half an hour, and how many
questions we have settled, when you come to think of it!" said
Orlov, seeing me into the hall. "So I will see to that matter. .
. . I will see Pekarsky to-day. . . . Don't be uneasy."
He stood waiting while I put on my coat, and was obviously
relieved at the feeling that I was going away.
"Georgy Ivanitch, give me back my letter," I said.
He went to his study, and a minute later returned with the
letter. I thanked him and went away.
The next day I got a letter from him. He congratulated me on the
satisfactory settlement of the question. Pekarsky knew a lady,
he wrote, who kept a school, something like a kindergarten,
where she took quite little children. The lady could be entirely
depended upon, but before concluding anything with her it would
be as well to discuss the matter with Krasnovsky -- it was a
matter of form. He advised me to see Pekarsky at once and to
take the birth certificate with me, if I had it. "Rest assured
of the sincere respect and devotion of your humble servant. . .
I read this letter, and Sonya sat on the table and gazed at me
attentively without blinking, as though she knew her fate was
addressed as "thou": that is, as a menial, his "superiors" could
use the intimate "you" with him, as they would a dog
Eliseyev's: Eliseev's was a very expensive food store in St.
Gogol or Shtchedrin: two leading Russian satirists
actual civil councillor: grade 4 in the Russian Civil Service
Senate: the Russian Senate functioned as a Supreme Court and
interpreted the laws
Prutkov's: "Kuzma Prutkov" was a pseudonym for the brothers
Zhemchuzhnikov, collaborating with A. K. Tolstoy; "Prutkov"
wrote satires directed against the government
"What does the coming day bring to me?": from Pushkin's Eugene
Onegin, Canto VI, verse xxi
the immortals: the members of the French Academy were known as
the "Forty Immortals"
Diogenes: Diogenes (c. 412 B. C. - 343 B. C.) was a Greek
philosopher and cynic
C?ar and Cicero: Roman emperor who lived c. 102 B. C - 44 B.
C.; Cicero was a famous Roman orator (c. 102 B. C. - 43 B. C.)
Cato: Cato the Elder (243 B. C. - 149 B. C.)
increase and multiply: cf. Genesis 1:22
cedars of Lebanon: the phrase is repeated often in the Bible;
see for example Psalms 92:13
Faust: of the many versions of the story, Chekhov probably had
in mind the opera "Faust" (1859) by Charles Gounod (1818-1893)
seventh commandment: "Thou shalt not commit adultery"
Turgenev teaches: I. S. Turgenev (1818-1883), the well-known
Russian novelist; for example, the heroine of On the Eve (1860)
offers to follow the hero to "the ends of the earth"
Three Meetings: Turgenev's 1852 story
Vieni pensando a me segretamente: Come, thinking of me in secret
(Turgenev used this as the epigram of the story "Three
free Bulgaria: in Turgenev's novel On the Eve (1860), the hero
is a Bulgarian trying to gain his country's freedom
sous: French coins worth 1/100 franc each
Othello: in Shakespeare's play Othello the title hero is a
needlessly jealous husband
Shtchedrin's heroes: one of the comic civil servants who form
the main targets of the satirist Shchedrin
cutting a book: in the 19th century the pages of books,
particularly French books, were not always cut, so the reader
had to do it
Sidors and the Nikitas: typical Russian peasant names
Saint-Sa?s's "Swan Song: French composer (1835-1921); "Le
Cygne" is from Le Carnaval des animaux (1886)
Samson: see Judges 16:3
novel of Dostoevsky's: the incident occurs in The Insulted and
Injured (1861), Part I, Chapter 13
thief: Luke 23:39-43
Petersburg Side: the older part of the city, to the north of the
driving on wheels: as opposed to the sleigh-runners used in
"The Parisian Beggars": the 1859 drama Les Pauvres de Paris by
Brisebarre and Nus was acted in Chekhov's hometown when he was a
P?e Goriot: Le P?e Goriot, by Honor?de Balzac (1799-1850)
Desdemona: the murdered heroine of Shakespeare's Othello has
traditionally been associated with the Palazzo Contarini-Fasan
Canova: Antonio Canova (1757-1822) was an Italian sculptor
Marino Faliero: Marino Faliero (1274-1355) was a Doge of Venice
who rebelled against the nobility; he was beheaded and his
Jam-mo! Jam-mo!: fragments of Italian words
what a job it is to be the father of a little daughter: allusion
to Famusov's exit lines at the end of Act I of A. S.
Griboyedov's play Woe from Wit
raison d'?re: reason for existing