A. P. Chekhov
- In the Ravine
The elder son Anisim came home very rarely,
only on great holidays, but he often sent by a returning
villager presents and letters written in very good writing by
some other hand, always on a sheet of foolscap in the form of a
petition. The letters were full of expressions that Anisim never
made use of in conversation: "Dear papa and mamma, I send you a
pound of flower tea for the satisfaction of your physical
At the bottom of every letter was scratched, as though with a
broken pen: "Anisim Tsybukin," and again in the same excellent
The letters were read aloud several times, and the old father,
touched, red with emotion, would say:
"Here he did not care to stay at home, he has gone in for an
intellectual line. Well, let him! Every man to his own job!"
It happened just before Carnival there was a heavy storm of rain
mixed with hail; the old man and Varvara went to the window to
look at it, and lo and behold! Anisim drove up in a sledge from
the station. He was quite unexpected. He came indoors, looking
anxious and troubled about something, and he remained the same
all the time; there was something free and easy in his manner.
He was in no haste to go away, it seemed, as though he had been
dismissed from the service. Varvara was pleased at his arrival;
she looked at him with a sly expression, sighed, and shook her
"How is this, my friends?" she said. "Tut, tut, the lad's in his
twenty-eighth year, and he is still leading a gay bachelor life;
tut, tut, tut. . . ."
From the other room her soft, even speech sounded like tut, tut,
tut. She began whispering with her husband and Aksinya, and
their faces wore the same sly and mysterious expression as
though they were conspirators.
It was decided to marry Anisim.
"Oh, tut, tut . . . the younger brother has been married long
ago," said Varvara, "and you are still without a helpmate like a
cock at a fair. What is the meaning of it? Tut, tut, you will be
married, please God, then as you choose -- you will go into the
service and your wife will remain here at home to help us. There
is no order in your life, young man, and I see you have
forgotten how to live properly. Tut, tut, it's the same trouble
with all you townspeople."
When the Tsybukins married, the most handsome girls were chosen
as brides for them as rich men. For Anisim, too, they found a
handsome one. He was himself of an uninteresting and
inconspicuous appearance; of a feeble, sickly build and short
stature; he had full, puffy cheeks which looked as though he
were blowing them out; his eyes looked with a keen, unblinking
stare; his beard was red and scanty, and when he was thinking he
always put it into his mouth and bit it; moreover he often drank
too much, and that was noticeable from his face and his walk.
But when he was informed that they had found a very beautiful
bride for him, he said:
"Oh well, I am not a fright myself. All of us Tsybukins are
handsome, I may say."
The village of Torguevo was near the town. Half of it had lately
been incorporated into the town, the other half remained a
village. In the first -- the town half -- there was a widow
living in her own little house; she had a sister living with her
who was quite poor and went out to work by the day, and this
sister had a daughter called Lipa, a girl who went out to work,
too. People in Torguevo were already talking about Lipa's good
looks, but her terrible poverty put everyone off; people opined
that some widower or elderly man would marry her regardless of
her poverty, or would perhaps take her to himself without
marriage, and that her mother would get enough to eat living
with her. Varvara heard about Lipa from the matchmakers, and she
drove over to Torguevo.
Then a visit of inspection was arranged at the aunt's, with
lunch and wine all in due order, and Lipa wore a new pink dress
made on purpose for this occasion, and a crimson ribbon like a
flame gleamed in her hair. She was pale-faced, thin, and frail,
with soft, delicate features sunburnt from working in the open
air; a shy, mournful smile always hovered about her face, and
there was a childlike look in her eyes, trustful and curious.
She was young, quite a little girl, her bosom still scarcely
perceptible, but she could be married because she had reached
the legal age. She really was beautiful, and the only thing that
might be thought unattractive was her big masculine hands which
hung idle now like two big claws.
"There is no dowry -- and we don't think much of that," said
Tsybukin to the aunt. "We took a wife from a poor family for our
son Stepan, too, and now we can't say too much for her. In house
and in business alike she has hands of gold."
Lipa stood in the doorway and looked as though she would say:
"Do with me as you will, I trust you," while her mother
Praskovya the work-woman hid herself in the kitchen numb with
shyness. At one time in her youth a merchant whose floors she
was scrubbing stamped at her in a rage; she went chill with
terror and there always was a feeling of fear at the bottom of
her heart. When she was frightened her arms and legs trembled
and her cheeks twitched. Sitting in the kitchen she tried to
hear what the visitors were saying, and she kept crossing
herself, pressing her fingers to her forehead, and gazing at the
ikons. Anisim, slightly drunk, opened the door into the kitchen
and said in a free-and-easy way:
"Why are you sitting in here, precious mamma? We are dull
And Praskovya, overcome with timidity, pressing her hands to her
lean, wasted bosom, said:
"Oh, not at all. . . . It's very kind of you."
After the visit of inspection the wedding day was fixed. Then
Anisim walked about the rooms at home whistling, or suddenly
thinking of something, would fall to brooding and would look at
the floor fixedly, silently, as though he would probe to the
depths of the earth. He expressed neither pleasure that he was
to be married, married so soon, on Low Sunday, nor a desire to
see his bride, but simply went on whistling. And it was evident
he was only getting married because his father and stepmother
wished him to, and because it was the custom in the village to
marry the son in order to have a woman to help in the house.
When he went away he seemed in no haste, and behaved altogether
not as he had done on previous visits -- was particularly free
and easy, and talked inappropriately.