A night in the cemetery.., p.18
A Night in the Cemetery and Other Stories of Crime & Suspense, p.18Anton Chekhov
As soon as little Anna got outside, she started running as fast as she could into the forest. She wandered all night, but in the dawn’s gray twilight, she found the highway and started running along the edge.
She was lucky this time—George, the town clerk, God bless his soul, was going fishing, walking the other way with his fishing rods. Anna told him everything that she had seen that night. Without a moment’s hesitation, he turned around and ran back to the village. He gathered a group of farmers, and they hurried to the forest ranger’s hut.
When they got there, they found all four of them passed out drunk, lying on the floor asleep, including the woman. First, the farmers searched them all and retrieved the money—but when they looked at the little bed behind the fireplace—oh, Holy God!
The forest ranger’s daughter was lying there on the wooden cot, covered with a fur coat, but her head was splattered with blood—they had killed her with an axe. The farmers woke up the three drunken men and the woman, tied their hands behind them, and brought them to the police station.
The woman was crying out loud and moaning, and the forest ranger’s head was nodding and bobbing wildly; he kept saying,
“What a hangover, boys! Can I have a drink? I have a headache.”
There was on open court session in town, and they all got heavy sentences, exactly what they deserved, according to the law.
That is the story of what happened in the ravine behind that forest. You can hardly see the spot now, with the sun going down.
Pavel Vasilich, a certain lady is asking for you,” reported Luke, his butler. “She has been waiting for nearly an hour.”
Pavel Vasilich had just finished his breakfast. When he heard about the lady, he wrinkled his nose as he said,
“Tell her to go to hell. Tell her that I am busy right now.”
“Pavel Vasilich, this is the fifth time she has come to see you already. She says that it is very important for her to see you. She is on the verge of bursting into tears.”
“Fine, invite her into my office.”
Pavel Vasilich put on his jacket, slowly took a pen in one hand and a book in the other hand, and, pretending to be very busy, entered his office.
His visitor was already there, waiting for him. She was a big, chubby lady with a fleshy face, wearing glasses, dressed more than decency required. She had a sophisticated hat, the top of which was a gray bird with a design of four ribbons around it. As soon as she saw the master of the house she clasped her hands together as if in prayer and lifted her eyes to the ceiling.
“Certainly, you do not remember me,” she started in a deep, male-sounding, tenor voice, obviously showing her excitement. “I had the pleasure of meeting you at the Krutsky party. My name is Mrs. Grasshopper.”
“Oh, I remember. Well, please take a seat. What can I do for you?”
“You see … um … I … well,” the lady muttered as she tried to continue. “I am Mrs. Grasshopper. I am a great admirer of your talent and I always read your articles with great pleasure. Do not think that I am flattering. God forbid! I am just saying what you deserve. I always read your work, always! I, too, am an author. Actually, I do not dare calling myself a female writer but I have a little drop of honey in the general beehive of literature, so to speak. I have had published, at different times, three stories for children. I have also done a lot of translating, and my brother worked at the Business Review Newspaper.”
“So what is it exactly that I can do for you today?”
“You see,” Mrs. Grasshopper lowered her glance and blushed as she began, “I know your talent, and I know your views, but I would like your opinion, or, to be exact, your advice. As you know, pardon my French, I have an outline in the form of a theatrical drama, and before submitting it officially, I would like your opinion.”
Mrs. Grasshopper, with an expression of a bird caught in a net, rummaged nervously in the folds of her dress and pulled out a thick notebook.
Now, Pavel Vasilich loved only his own writing. Pieces written by others, which he had to listen to often, reminded him of a cannon being aimed at his head. On seeing the notebook, he became fearful, and hastily said,
“Please leave it here. I will read it later.”
“Pavel Vasilich,” Mrs. Grasshopper said dramatically, standing up and again folding her hands, as if in prayer. “I know you are busy. I know that every minute counts for you, and I know that you, in the depths of your soul, are sending me to hell, but please be so kind and let me read my drama to you now. Please,” she implored.
“It was a pleasure to meet you.” Pavel Vasilich now felt bewildered. “But my dear lady, I am very busy at the moment. I have somewhere to go.”
“Pavel Vasilich.” The lady groaned as her eyes filled with tears. “I must insist. I know I am an impudent, saucy, impertinent, cheeky creature, but please, please help me! Tomorrow I am going to the remote town of Kazan, and before I go I would like to know your opinion. Just give me half an hour of your time, just one half hour, I implore you!”
Pavel Vasilich was a weak person, and he could not refuse her request.
When he saw the lady begin to cry and to kneel in front of him, he became even more confused and murmured, seemingly at a loss, “Well, then… All right, all right, please read it, I will listen. Keep in mind, though, that I only have half an hour for you.”
Mrs. Grasshopper gave a shriek of joy, took off her hat, sat down, and started reading.
First she read about a butler and a cleaning lady tidying up a luxurious parlor, discussing a landlady, Anna Sergeenva, who built a school and a hospital in their little town out of charity. After the butler left, the maid gave a lengthy monologue that education is good and ignorance is bad for you.
Then Mrs. Grasshopper brought the butler back to the parlor and gave him a lengthy monologue that the landlord, who was a general, did not tolerate the liberal views of his daughter and wanted her to marry a rich officer of the Guard, and who said that common people could be saved by keeping them in ignorance.
After the servants left, the landlady appeared by herself and announced to the spectators that she had not slept the whole night and had been thinking about Valentine Ivanovich, the poor son of a village teacher who was supporting his sick father. Valentine studied at the university, but he did not believe in love and he had no purpose in life. He was expecting his death, and the landlady was going to save him.
Pavel Vasilich half listened to the reading of the drama, and thought of his bed with great longing.
He looked angrily at Mrs. Grasshopper and could not follow a single word she was reading. He thought the following:
“You were brought here by the devil himself. Why should I listen to your nonsense? Why should I suffer sitting through your drama? Oh my God, her notebook is so thick! This is torture of the highest degree!”
Pavel Vasilich looked at the portrait of his wife on the wall and suddenly remembered the list of things his wife had asked him to bring up to the cottage: five meters of braid, a pound of cheese, and a pack of toothpaste.
“I hope I did not lose the sample of the braid,” he thought. “Where did I put it? Oh, I think it is in the pocket of my blue jacket. Look how those mean flies have managed to put little dots on my wife’s portrait. I should ask Olga, the cleaning lady, to clean the glass. She is reading Scene 12. This means soon it will be the end of the first act. How can she do this in this heat, with her complexion and bulk—how can she have any inspiration? How is it possible? Instead of writing dramas, she would be better off having a soft drink, and sleeping in her basement in this heat.
“Do you believe that this monologue is a little bit too long?” Mrs. Grasshopper asked, lifting her eyes from her reading.
Pavel Vasilich had not been listening to the monologue. He got confused and said in such a guilty tone, as if it were not the lady but he who had written this monologue,
“Not at all! It is very nice!”
Anna: You are too deeply involved with logical analysis. Too early you stopped living with your heart and started living with your head.
Valentine: What is heart? Heart is a medicinal term for those who want to describe their emotions, and I do not care for it.
Anna: And love? Tell me, what is love? Is it the product of an association of ideas? Have you ever loved before?
Valentine (bitterly): Let us not touch old wounds that have not yet healed. (Pause)
Anna: It seems to me that you are unhappy.
In the middle of Scene 16, Pavel Vasilich yawned, and then snapped his teeth, a noise much like the sound made by dogs when they catch flies or insects. He instantly feared that this bad-mannered noise had been heard by her, and quickly put an expression of friendly attention on his face.
“Scene Seventeen,” she read out loud.
“Where is the end of all this?” he thought. “Oh, my God! If this torture continues for ten more minutes, I will scream for help! This is unbearable!”
Finally, reading faster and louder, the lady raised her voice and read,
“The end of Act One. The curtain falls.”
Pavel Vasilich made a small movement and sighed with relief. He made to stand up from his chair, but Mrs. Grasshopper quickly flipped the page and started reading very fast,
“The scene in the country. There is a school to the right, and the hospital to the left. You can see the local people sitting on the steps of the hospital, talking to each other quietly.”
“Excuse me,” Pavel Vasilich interrupted her. “How many acts do you have altogether?”
“Five acts. The play consists of five acts,” Mrs. Grasshopper repeated, and then continued quickly, as if afraid that her listener would leave.
“Valentine is looking out of the school window. You can see in the background the local farmers bringing their belongings into the pub to pawn them and spend the money on drink.”
With the feeling of being slowly executed, or no possibility of parole, Pavel Vasilich hopelessly waited for the end of her reading. He could hardly keep his eyes open and keep up the expression of attention on his face. Sometime in the future, the lady would stop reading and leave. That time seemed so remote that he dared not even think about it.
“Tru-du-du,” Mrs. Grasshopper’s voice rang suddenly in his ears. “Buzz-buzz. Tru-tu-tu. Buzz.”
“I forgot to take some soda and medication for my stomach,” he thought to himself.
“What was I thinking about? Oh yes, baking soda. I must have some irritation in my stomach. Isn’t it strange that Mr. Smirnovsky drinks vodka all day long, and has no irritation. Look, a little bird on the windowsill outside. A sparrow.”
Pavel Vasilich made an effort to open his heavy eyelids, yawned without opening his mouth, and looked at Mrs. Grasshopper. She began to sway and rock in his eyes, then she became three-headed, and one of her heads started growing and pushed against the ceiling.
Valentine: No. Let me go!
Anna (scared): Why?
Valentine (talking to himself): She is so pale. (Addressing her) Do not try to find out why. I would better die. You will never learn my reasons for leaving.
Anna (after a small pause): You cannot leave like this.
Mrs. Grasshopper started to swell and to grow, and turned into a huge monster. Then she blended with the gray air of the office. He could only see her talking mouth. And then she became very small, as small as a perfume bottle. After that she swayed from side to side and, together with the desk, moved into a remote corner of the room.
Valentine (holding Anna in his embrace): You brought me back to life; you showed me the purpose of life! You revived me as a spring rain revives the wakening earth. But it is too late, too late! I am sick with terminal tuberculosis.
Pavel Vasilich trembled and looked through cloudy eyes at Mrs. Grasshopper. For a minute, he looked at her, motionless, without understanding anything.
“Act Two. The same actors together with the baron, the police officer, and the witnesses.”
Valentine: Take me! I am yours.
Anna: Take me, too! I am his. Finally! And you can take me. I am yours. I love him more than life!
Baron: Anna, you forgot that you are killing your father with this news, this kind of behavior.
Mrs. Grasshopper again began to swell.
Looking around him with the desperation of a wild animal, Pavel Vasilich stood up from his chair, cried out in an unnatural voice, grabbed a very heavy file from his desk and, without understanding what he was doing, hit Mrs. Grasshopper on her head.
“You can take me to the police station. I killed her!” he said a minute later to the people who ran into his office.
The jury found him not guilty, under the circumstances.
Hey, people, let them pass through! The police sergeant and the town clerk are coming!”
“Good day, George Alpatych,” the crowd greets the sergeant. “We hope you are fine, and that everything will be all right.”
Several give him happy wishes for the future. The drunken local police sergeant tries to say something, but he cannot. He makes a vague gesture with his fingers in the air, bulges his eyes, and pumps his thick red cheeks with such force as if he were playing the highest note on a trombone. The city clerk, a tiny man with a short red nose and a jockey’s hat, puts an energetic expression on his face as he moves through the crowd.
“Where is the person who was drowning?” he asks. “Where is he?”
“Here he is,” someone yells in answer.
A tall and very thin elderly man dressed in a long robe and peasant’s shoes has just been pulled out from the water by local farmers, and he is soaked from head to toe. He stretches his hands and legs to his sides, and sits in a puddle, at the edge of the river, mumbling to himself.
“Oh, my friends! I am from the Ryazan region, from Zaraisk County. Both my sons work, as do I. I work for Mr. Prokhor Sergeev in construction, painting houses. He pays me seven rubles and tells me, ‘Now, Fyodor, you should respect me as if I am your son.’ Hey, get out of here!”
“Where are you from?” the town clerk asks him.
“He says that I should respect him like a son! Hey, get out of here! Do I have to work for him for seven rubles?”
“He has been mumbling like this for quite some time, and we cannot understand a word,” the local police deputy Anisim is yelling in a high, excited voice. His face is beaded with sweat, and he seems very excited by the ongoing events.
“I will tell you everything, Egor Makarych! Quiet down! He comes from Kurnovo, a neighboring village. So he comes—Listen up! So, he comes from Kurnovo and he decided to take a short cut and cross the river here. He was very drunk, and he could not control himself. It was dumb of him to get into the water. He then fell down and the current began to carry him around like a twig. He was crying for help at the top of his lungs, when I was coming by with Alexander. ‘Who is yelling? What’s happening?’ I asked. Taking the situation in quickly, I said, ‘Alexander, throw away your accordion, for we have to save this man!’
“The water was coming fast. The current was very strong. One of us pulled him by the shirt, and the other grabbed his hair. Then others ran to the bank of the river, making a lot of noise, and everyone wanted to save him, but they couldn’t decide who should go! So we are tortured, George Makarovich, and if you had not come, he really could have drowned.”
“What is your name? Where are you from? Who are you?” the town clerk asks loudly as he bends down to look the old man in the face.
The man glances around blankly with his empty eyes and keeps silent.
“He is a bit crazy,” Anisim says. “His lungs are full of water. My dear man, tell us who you are? Look, he is silent! I wonder if there is much life left in him? Probably his soul has almost escaped from his body. Look at what can happen over a weekend to a man. He could die
“Hey, you.” The town clerk is shaking the man by his shoulder. “Hey, you! Answer me! Where are you from? Is your brain filled with water? Hey, you!”
“Only for seven rubles?” the man mumbles. “Get out of here! I don’t want to work for you anymore! I don’t want to!”
“Speak clearly, man. What exactly is it that you do not want? Tell us!”
The drowned man shakes his head in the air, teeth shattering.
“It only looks as if you are alive. You do not look like a man in his right mind,” Anisim says. “We should give him some drops.”
“You and your drops,” the clerk says in a mocking tone. “What drops are you talking about? The man here has nearly drowned. We should revive him, bring him back to life properly, and you want to give him drops! Have you no feelings? Quickly! Run to the town hall, grab a blanket, and we will be able to get him dry as fast as possible. Do it, fast!”
Several people rush to the village to fetch a blanket.
The clerk gets inspired. He folds up his sleeves, touches the sides of his body with both hands, and makes numerous small movements with his body, showing that he is filled with energy and decisiveness.
“Hey, everyone! If you don’t belong here, get going! Have you sent for the police? You had better go home, dear George Alpatych! You are drunk today, and the best thing you can do is to go home and relax.”
The sergeant waves his fingers in the air again, trying to say something, getting redder and redder as he fails to speak.
“Put it down here!” the clerk commands as they bring the blanket. “Take him by his arms and legs, like so. And now, put him in the middle of the blanket.”
A Night in the Cemetery and Other Stories of Crime & Suspense by Anton Chekhov / History & Fiction / Mystery & Detective have rating 4 out of 5 / Based on32 votes