A night in the cemetery.., p.19
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       A Night in the Cemetery and Other Stories of Crime & Suspense, p.19

           Anton Chekhov
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“Hey, get out of here!” the old man mumbles, without resisting their efforts, seemingly unaware that they had lifted him up on a blanket. “I do not want it, your job!”

  “It’s all right, my friend,” the town clerk says. “Don’t be afraid! We are going to throw you up in the air a little. You will feel better. In a little while, a village policeman will come and write a report. Now, let us bundle him up and get ready to throw him.”

  Eight strong and tall farmers, including the sheriff Anisim, pick up the folds of cloth. First they throw the man up tentatively as if they are not certain of their strength.

  But then, getting the hang of it, with a cruel and concentrated expression, they do it faster and stronger, eagerly throwing the man up. They try to straighten their bodies, standing up on their tiptoes, and hop, as if they would like to fly in the sky together with the man on the blanket.

  “One, two, three! One, two, three!”

  The very short town clerk is trying to stand up on his tiptoes, as if he is trying to touch a little bit of the cloth with his hands. He yells instructions in a voice that does not seem to be his normal voice.

  “Faster, faster! All together, now! One, two, three! Keep going! Anisim, I am asking you to do it faster! Go! Go!”

  They take a short break, and for a moment they can see the old man’s pale face surrounded by messy hair, wearing an expression of puzzlement, horror, and physical pain.

  The next second, the face disappears again as the cloth is thrown up and to the right, then quickly goes down and then is thrown up and to the left.

  The crowd of spectators cheers,

  “That’s it, boys. Good job! You are doing great! Keep it up!”

  “Good, Egor Makarovich, you are doing a great job, we will not let him go. In a minute he will be on his feet, and he will buy us a drink of vodka.”

  “Hey you, I will whip you!” someone cries from behind the crowd.

  “Look, neighbors, here comes the local lady with her estate manager.” The cart stops near the crowd, and they see a rather fat, old woman in fashionable eyeglasses, with an umbrella shielding her from the sun. Next to her sits her property manager. The landlady looks frightened.

  “What has happened? What are you doing?” she asks.

  “We are trying to revive a drowned man. How are you? We are a little bit drunk, because it’s such a nice day. We were walking across the village celebrating, as today is a holiday!”

  “Oh my God!” the old landlady says in horror. “They are trying to revive the drowned man! Anthony,” she addresses the manager, “go, for God’s sake, and tell them not to do it. They’ll kill him. You cannot revive a drowned man by tossing him up in the air. You need to rub him with alcohol, and resuscitate him. Go, I order you!”

  Anthony goes down and pushes through the crowd toward the men throwing the drowned man in the air. He looks strict.

  “What are you doing? You cannot revive a drowned man by throwing him up!”

  “So then, how are we to revive him?” the town clerk asks. “He has nearly drowned recently.”

  “So what? I know that. People who are drowned should not be thrown up, but rubbed with alcohol. It is written in the calendar of wisdom. Stop doing this, and start doing what I tell you to do.”

  The clerk is confused. He shrugs his shoulders and steps aside. The people throwing the old man place him on the ground and stare at the landlady with surprised looks, glancing either at her or at her manager, Anthony.

  The drowned man is already lying with his eyes closed, breathing heavily.

  “Hey, you drunks!” Anthony becomes angry.

  “My dear sir!” The clerk, out of breath, comes closer and puts his hand to his heart in respect. “Why use this tone? Do you think we are animals, and we do not understand?”

  “Men, do not throw him up. Take his clothes off. We will rub him with alcohol.”

  “Men! We should rub him with alcohol, so do it!”

  The drowned man is removed from his clothes, and under the guidance of Anthony they begin rubbing him. The landlady, who does not want to see the naked man, moves off to the side.

  “Oh, Anthony,” she moans. “Anthony! Come here. Do you know how to do rescue breathing? You need to roll him from side to side, and then push on his chest and his stomach.”

  “Hey, guys, roll him from one side to another,”says Anthony, coming back to the crowd. “Then, push him in his stomach, but not very hard!”

  The town clerk, who after his previous energetic activity feels a little tired, comes closer through the crowd to the old man and begins to push his chest and rub him.

  “Help me, boys,” he implores. “I need assistance!”

  “Anthony,” the lady asks, “come over here. Give him some burned feathers to breathe and tickle him. Tell them to tickle him well. Do it!”

  Five minutes passes, then ten. The lady looks at the crowd and watches all this activity.

  All that can be heard is the sound of the busy farmers breathing heavily, and Anthony and the town clerk giving commands. The smell of burnt feathers and alcohol fills in the air.

  Finally, another ten minutes later, the crowd moves to the sides and Anthony steps out, completely red and soaked with sweat. Anisim follows him.

  “We should have rubbed him from the very beginning,” Anthony says. “Now we can do nothing.”

  “What could we do? We started late, far too late!” Anisim agrees.

  “What now?” the landlady asks. “Is he still alive?”

  “No, he is dead, God bless his soul.” Anisim sighs deeply. “When we had pulled him out of the water, his eyes were open, but now his body is completely cold.”

  “It is a pity.”

  “This was his unlucky day. His destiny is to accept death not on firm land, but in the chilly water. Can we have some tips for our efforts, dear lady?”

  Anthony jumps on the cart and looks disgustedly at the crowd that now is moving away from the corpse. The cart shudders, and begins to move away …


  Who is out there?”

  There is no reply. The security guard cannot see anything in the darkness of the cemetery; however, through the noise made by the wind and the trees, he can hear someone walking in front of him along the alley.

  The foggy and cloudy March night covers the earth. It seems to the guard that the earth, the sky, and himself, together with his thoughts, are united in something huge, impossible to penetrate, and dark. Walking is only possible through taking a guess and a small step, it is so dark.

  “Who is out there?” the guard repeated. He thought he could hear a whisper and subdued laughter.

  “It is me, father,” the voice of an old man answers him.

  “And who are you?”

  “It’s me. I am just a passerby.”

  “What kind of passerby are you?” shouted the guard, trying to mask his fear with his shouts. “The devil must have brought you here. You are wandering in the middle of the night in a cemetery.”

  “Is it true that there is a cemetery here?”

  “What do you think? This is a cemetery! Can’t you see?”

  “Ooh! Holy God!” The old man makes a deep sigh in the darkness. “I cannot see anything, dear sir, in this pitch darkness, nothing at all. It is pitch dark out here, dear sir. Ooh.”

  “And who are you, then?”

  “I am wandering, just a traveler.”

  “What the heck? Why are you wandering at midnight? A drunk and a bum, that’s who you must be,” mumbles the guard, calming down as he listens to the sighs and quiet tone of voice of the passerby. “It’s a sin. You drink alcohol all day long, and then wander at night. But somehow it seems to me that you are not alone, but you are two or three people talking.”

  “I am alone, dear sir, all by myself, here I am. Ooh!”

  The guard bumps into a man and stops.

  “So how did you get here?” the guard asks.

  “Really, I got lost, dear man. I w
as going to the Dimitry Mill and got lost.”

  “Hey, do you think this is the road to the mill? You must be nuts. If you’re going to the mill, you have to turn left and go along the major highway, as soon as you cross the town line. You must be drunk, as you have made a long trek of about three miles. Were you drinking there, in the city?”

  “Yes, dear sir, you are right and I am wrong. Truly, I have sinned, I’ve done wrong. So where should I go now?”

  “That way, all the way straight, along the alley to its end. When you come to a dead end, turn left until you cross the whole cemetery, all the way to the gate at the end. Open it and go. Good luck! God blesses you on your way. But watch out; do not fall into the ditch. And then go along the field until you reach the highway.”

  “Thank you so much, sir. Could you show me that way a little bit more, dear sir? Show me to the gate, please.”

  “I don’t have time. Go by yourself.”

  “Please, help me; I would be so grateful to you. I cannot see a thing. It’s pitch dark. Please show me to the gate, old man.”

  “As I told you, I do not have time for you.”

  “Please, please. I cannot see a thing. I am scared to walk through the cemetery. I am scared, scared, dear sir, I’m scared!”

  “Why me?” The guard sighs deeply. “All right, I will help you out. Let’s go.”

  The guard and the wanderer start walking together. They walk next to each other, shoulder to shoulder, keeping silent for a while.

  The damp, piercing wind is blowing in their faces, and the trees throw drops of water at them. The whole alley is covered with big pools of mud.

  “However, I cannot understand one thing.” says the guard after a long silence. “How did you get in here? The gates are closed with a lock. Did you climb over the fence or what? If you climbed the fence, it would not have been nice for an old man like you.”

  “I don’t know, dear sir, I don’t know anything at all. It is a kind of obsession, a devil’s trick. And you, are you a guard down here, dear sir?”

  “Yes, a security guard.”

  “Is there only one for the whole cemetery?”

  The wind blows so strongly that they both stopped for a moment. The guard waits until the wind abates a little, and answers, “There are usually three of us, but one has a fever, and the second one is asleep. So I am taking turns with him.”

  “Yes, yes, dear sir, I see, I understand. What a loud wind, a strong wind! Probably, dead men can hear its howling. It howls like a wild animal. Ooh.”

  “And where do you come from?”

  “Really, I come from far from here. I am from the Volga district. I am wandering, like a pilgrim, and praying for others.”

  The guard stops for a while to light his pipe. He bends behind the other man’s back and burns several matches. The matches shine light for a few moments on an alley to the right, and several tombstones and an iron fence around one grave to the left.

  “They are all fast asleep, our dear dead!” mumbles the wandering man, making another deep sigh. “The rich and poor, the wise and stupid, the kind and evil, all are asleep. All have the same price, and come to the same end.”

  “Now we are walking along the alley, but one day we will lie beside ones like them,” says the guard.

  “Yes, yes. We all will die sooner or later. Ooh. We all do bad things in this life, have bad thoughts.”

  “We sin. My soul is filled with sins. I have enraged the Lord, and will be punished both in this world, and in the next.”

  “Yes, and we all will die anyway.”

  “Yes, truly, that’s true, you are right.”

  “A wanderer has an easier end than we common folk,” the guard says.

  “There are different wanderers, different pilgrims. There are those who do it for God’s sake, and those who do the devil’s business, walking late at night across the cemetery. Such a wanderer can hit you on your head with an axe and you could be dead in an instant.”

  “Why are you saying this?”

  “Just so … Here, it seems to me that here is the gate. Open it up, dear sir.”

  The guard opens the gate by touch, takes the wanderer by his sleeve, and shows him the way out of the gate.

  “This is the end of the cemetery. Now, you should walk along the whole length of the field, and then you will end up at the major highway. But there will be a ditch there, so watch out and do not fall in it. And when you are on the road, turn right and you will soon get to the mill.”

  “Ooh.” The wanderer lets out another deep sigh and then is silent for a while. “But now I think that I do not have to go to the mill. Why should I go there at this hour? I would better stay with you right here, dear sir.”

  “Why would you want to just stand around with me?”

  “Just because … it is more interesting for me.”

  “Hey, you are a funny man! I can see that you like jokes.”

  “Yes, I like jokes,” said the passerby with a hoarse giggle. “And you, dear sir. You will remember the wanderer for a long time now.”

  “Why should I remember you?”

  “Well, I played a trick on you. I am neither a wanderer nor a pilgrim.”

  “Who are you then?”

  “I am a dead man who has just been raised from the grave. Do you remember the turner Gubarev who committed suicide recently? I am that man, back from the dead.”

  “You just lied to me!”

  The guard does not believe the man, but he feels a dark fear spread throughout his body as he rushes to try and relock the gate.

  “Wait, where are you going?” the wanderer asks, holding the guard by the sleeve. “Where are you going? Do not leave me here all by myself.”

  “Let me go!” shouts the guard, trying to free his arm.

  “Stand still! If you want to live, be quiet, stand here until I tell you to move. I do not want to shed blood, otherwise you would have died right in front of me, a long time ago, you dog. Stand still!”

  The guard’s knees begin to tremble. He closes his eyes and rests against the fence, filled with fear. He would like to shout out very loudly, but he knows that there is no one to hear him. The wanderer stands next to him, holding him by his sleeve. Another three minutes pass in silence.

  “One guard has a fever, the second one is asleep and the third is off seeing to wanderers,” the man whispers. “What kind of guards are you? How do you earn your salary? No, brother, criminals have always been faster than guards. Wait, stand still, do not move!”

  Another five minutes and then ten minutes pass in silence. Suddenly, the wind brings them the sound of someone whistling.

  “Now you can go. Go home, and thank God that you are alive,” says the wanderer, finally releasing the guard’s arm.

  He whistles back, running from the gate, and one could hear as he jumped across the ditch. The guard, still anticipating something bad and trembling from fear, closes the gate and turns into the big alley. As he does, he hears someone’s fast footsteps, and someone asks him in a whispering voice,

  “Is it you, Tim? Where is Mike?”

  He keeps on running along the big alley, and then notices a small flickering light in the darkness. The closer to the light, the more scared he becomes. “It seems to me that that light is coming from the inside of the church,” he thinks. “Why do I see a light there? Oh, God! It is true!”

  For a minute or so, the guard stands in front of a smashed window and looks at the altar in horror. A little wax candle that the thieves forgot to extinguish is still flickering in the gusts of the wind, and throwing dark shadows on the items lying on the floor of the church—the garments of the priests, the fallen boxes, and the footprints around the altar.

  After some time passes, the howling wind blows the warning chimes of the church bells across the cemetery.


  The director of the town bank, Peter Semenych, the accountant, his assistant, and two members of the board were sent to prison in
the night. The day after the turmoil, the merchant Avdeyev, a member of the bank’s auditing committee, was sitting in his shop with his friends, saying:

  “So it must be God’s will. There’s no way to escape your destiny. Today we eat caviar, and tomorrow—beware of that—it can be prison, poverty, or even death. Things happen. Take Peter Semenych, for example …”

  He was talking, narrowing his tipsy eyes, while his friends went on drinking and eating caviar, and listened to him. Having described the disgrace and helplessness of Peter Semenych, who just a day before was powerful and generally respected, Avdeyev went on with a sigh:

  “If you steal money, beware of the sting. Serves them right, the swindlers! They knew how to steal, filthy scum, now time for them to answer!”

  “Look out, Ivan Danilych, that you don’t catch it, too!” one of his friends observed.

  “What has it to do with me?”

  “Well, they were stealing, and where was the auditing committee looking? You must have been signing the reports.”

  “Yeah, it’s easily said,” Avdeyev grinned. “See, I signed them! They used to bring the reports to my shop, and so I signed them. As if I understood it! I’ll scribble my name on whatever I get. If you wrote I murdered someone, I’d sign that, too. I don’t have time to make it out; besides, I can’t see without my glasses.”

  Having discussed the ruin of the bank and the destiny of Peter Semenych, Avdeyev and his friends went to an acquaintance whose wife celebrated her birthday with a party. At the birthday party everyone was discussing nothing but the bank ruin. Avdeyev was excited more than anyone else and assured everyone that he had had a presentiment long before that the bank would soon be ruined, and as long as two years ago he knew there were big problems at the bank. While they were eating the pie, he described a dozen illegal operations that were known to him.

  “If you knew it, why didn’t you report on them?” an officer who was present at the party asked him.

  “It wasn’t just me who knew it: the whole town knew it …” Avdeyev grinned. “Besides, I have no time to waste in courts, to hell with them!”

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