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Anton Chekov: Selected Stories

December 17, 2011

AT HOME

” ‘ A man cannot possibly be higher than a house,’ said the lawyer. ‘See here, your roof only reaches up to the soldier’s shoulders.’ …’No, papa’, he said, contemplating his  drawing. ‘If you make the soldier little, his eyes won’t show.’

What need was there to have corrected him? From daily observation of his son the lawyer had become convinced that children, like savages, have their own artistic view-point and their odd requirements, which are beyond the scope of an adult intelligence. Under close observation, Seriozha might appear abnormal to an adult because he found it impossible to draw a man higher than a house, giving his pencil his own perceptions as well as a subject. Thus, the sounds of an orchestra he represented by round, smoky spots; a whistle, by a twisted thread; in his mind, sound was intimately connected with form and colour, so that in painting letters he invariably coloured the sound L, yellow; M, red; A, black; and so forth. ”

” ‘No, we shouldn’t pretend to know how to educate children. People used to be simpler; they thought less and so decided their problems more boldly; but we think too much; we are eaten up by logic. The more enlightened a man is the more he is given to reflection and hair-splitting; the more undecided he is, the more full of scruples, and the more timidly he approaches a task. And, seriously considered, how  much bravery, how much self-reliance must a man not have to undertake teaching, or judging, or writing a big book.’ ”

” ‘Medicine must be sweet, truth must be beautiful; this has been man’s folly since the days of Adam. Besides, it may all be quite natural, and perhaps it is as it should be. Nature herself has many tricks of expediency and many deceptions-‘ ”

THE MAN IN A CASE

” ‘Three days later Afanasi came to me and asked me whether he ought not to send for a doctor, as something was happening to his master. I went to see Byelinkoff. He was lying speechless behind his bed curtains, covered with a blanket, and when a question was asked him he only answered yes or no, and not anotehr suond did he utter. There he lay, and about the bed roamed Afanasi, gloomy, scowling, sighing profoundly, and reeking of vodka like a tap-room.

A month later Byelinkoff died. We all went to his funeral, that is,  the boys’ and girls’ schools and the seminary. As he lay  in his coffin the expression on his face was timid and sweet, even gay, as if he were glad to be put in a case at last out of which he need never rise. Yes, he had attained his ideal. As if in his honour, the day of his funeral was overcast and rainy, and all of us wore goloshes and carried umbrellas.’ ”

” ‘And, as a matter of fact, though we had buried byelinkoff, how many more people in cases there were left! How many more there will be!’ ‘Yes, so, so, quite right’, said Ivan Ivanitch smoking his pipe. ‘How many more there will be!’ Burkin repeated. ‘Yes, so, so, quite right’, Ivan Ivanitch repeated. ‘But think how we live in town, so hot and cramped, writing unnecessary papers and playing vint-isn’t that also a case? And isn’t uor whole life, which we spend among rogues and backbiters and stupid, idle women, talking and listening to nohing but folly-isn’t that a case?’ ”

‘One hears and sees all this lying,’ said Ivan Ivanitch, turning over on the other side. ‘Nobody calls one a fool for standing it all, for enduring insults anad humiliations without daring to declare oneself openly on the side of free and honest people. One has to lie oneself and smile, all for a crust of bread, a corner to live in, and a little rank, which is not worth a penny-no, a man can’t go on living like this’.”

THE BEGGAR

” ‘Well, Lushkoff, I can now odder you some other, cleaner, employment. Can you write?’

‘I can.’

‘Then take this letter to a friend of mine tomorrow and you will be given some copying to do. Work hard, don’t drink, and remember what I have said to you. Goodbye!’

Pleased at having put a man on the right path, Skvortsoff tapped Lushkoff kindly on the shoulder and and even gave him his hand at parting. Lushkoff took the letter, and from that day forth came no more to the yard for work.

Two years went by. Then one evening, as Skvortsoff was standing at the ticket window of a theatre paying for his seat, he noticed a little man beside him with a coat collar of curly fur and a worn sealskin cap. This little individual timidly asked the ticket seller for a seat in the gallery and paid for it in copper coins.

‘Lushkoff, is that you?’ cried Skvortsoff, recognising in the little man his former wood-chopper. ‘How are you? What are you doing? How is everything with you?’

‘All right. I am notary now and get thirty-five roubles a month.’

‘Thank Heaven! That’s fine! I am delighted for your sake. I am very, very glad, Lushkoff. You see, you are my godson, in a sense. I gave you a push along the right path, you know. Do you remember what a roasting I gave you, eh? I nearly had you sinking into the ground at my feet that day. Thank you, old man, for not forgetting my words.’

‘Thank you, too,’ said Lushkoff. ‘If I hadn’t come to you then I might still have been calling myself a teacher or a student to this day. Yes, by flying to your protection I dragged myself out of a pit.’

‘I am very glad, indeed.’

‘Thank you for your kind words and deeds. You talked splendidly to me then. I am very grateful to you and your cook. God bless that good and noble woman! You spoke finely then, and I shall be indebted to you to my dying day; but strictly speaking, it was your cook, Olga, who saved me.’

‘How is that?’

‘Like this. When I used to come to your house to chop wood she used to begin: “Oh, you sot, you! Oh, you miserable creature! There’s nothing for you but ruin.” And then she would sit down opposite me and grow sad, look into my face and weep. “Oh, you unlucky man! There is no pleasure for you in this world and there will be none in the world to come. You drunkard! You will  burn in hell. Oh, you unhappy one!” And so she would carry on, you know, in that strain. I can’t tell you how much misery she suffered, how many tears she shed for my sake. But the chief thing was-she used to chop the wood for me. Do you know, sir, that I did not chop one single stick of wood for you? She did it all. Why this saved me, why I changed, why I stopped drinking at the sight of her I cannot explain. I only know that, owing to her words and noble deeds a change took place in my heart; she set me right and I shall never forget it. However, it is time to go now; there goes the bell.’

Lushkoff bowed and departed to the gallery.”

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