A night in the cemetery.., p.8
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       A Night in the Cemetery and Other Stories of Crime & Suspense, p.8

           Anton Chekhov

  “I will kill you, you wretch, you scoundrel!” he yells.

  The fist has already moved backward, then forward, and it is halfway to the driver’s face. One second, and it will happen.

  “Michael, remember Siberia and the prisons!” the engineer’s wife says.

  Michael trembles, and his terrible fist stops halfway to the driver’s face. The driver is saved.


  Zakhar Kuzmich Diadechkin was having a New Year’s party. The idea was to celebrate both New Year’s Eve and the birthday of Malania Tikhonovna, his wife and the mistress of the house.

  Many people were there. All of them were serious, respectful and sober; not one scoundrel among them. All wore pleasant expressions and held respect for their own dignity. Some were sitting in the living room, on a long sofa covered with cheap vinyl. The landowner, Gusev, and the owner of the nearest grocery store, Razmakhalov, were there. They spoke about bribery and drink.

  “It’s so hard to find a man,” said Gusev, “who doesn’t drink nowadays, a serious man. It’s hard to find a man like that.”

  “And the most important thing, Alexei Vasilievich, is law and order.”

  “There must be law and order. Right here at home, so many bad things are happening. How can you establish law and order?”

  Three old women were sitting in a half circle around them, looking at the men’s mouths with amazement. They looked, astonished and awed, at the two men talking about such clever things. Gury Markovich, their in-law, was sitting in the corner of the room, looking at icons. Suddenly, a soft noise came from the lady’s bedroom. There, some younger boys and a girl were playing bingo. The bet was one kopeck. Kolya, a first-year high school student, was standing next to the table, crying. He wanted to play bingo, but the other children would not let him. Why should a young boy play if he did not have a kopeck?

  “Don’t cry, fool! Why are you crying? I think your mother should beat you.”

  “I have beaten him enough,” sounded the mother’s voice from the kitchen, “you bad boy. Varvara Gurievna, pull him by the ear.”

  Two young girls in pink sat on the mistress’s bed, which was covered with a cotton blanket that had lost its original color. A man, twenty-three years old, sat in front of them, a clerk from the insurance company. His name was Kopalsky, and his face reminded one of a cat. He was flirting with them.

  “I am never going to marry,” he said, looking dashing and adjusting the tightly fixed collar on his shirt. “A woman is a wonderful thing for a man, but at the same time she can ruin him!”

  “But what about men? Men can’t fall in love. They can only …”

  “You are so naive! I don’t want to be cynical, but I happen to know that men stand much higher than women when it comes to love.”

  Mr. Diadechkin and his elder son Grisha were pacing from one corner of the room to another, looking like two wolves in a cage. They were burning with impatience. They had already had a couple of drinks at dinner before, and now, they wanted another. Diadechkin went to the kitchen. There, the mistress of the house was covering a pie with powdered sugar.

  “Malania, the guests would like some more snacks to be served,” said Diadechkin.

  “They’ll have to wait. If you eat and drink everything now, what am I going to serve at midnight? You can wait. Get out of the kitchen and don’t get in my way.”

  “Can I have just one small shot, Malasha? You won’t even notice it.”

  “What a man! Out of the kitchen! Out! Go talk to our guests! You’re not wanted here, in the kitchen.”

  Diadechkin went out and looked at the clock. It showed only eight minutes after eleven. There were fifty-two minutes before the long-awaited moment. The waiting was terrible! Waiting for a drink is one of the worst things. It is better to wait for a train for five hours outside in the snow than it is to wait for a drink for five minutes. Diadechkin looked angrily at the clock, took a few steps across the room, and moved the big hand five minutes ahead. And what about Grisha? Grisha was thinking that if he did not get a drink then he would have to go to the pub and drink by himself. He was not ready for that.

  “Mother,” he said, “the guests are upset that you’re not serving them any treats. This is no good. You want to starve them to death? Give them a shot.”

  “Wait for it! It’s coming soon! Don’t hang around in the kitchen!”

  Grisha slammed the kitchen door noisily and went to look at the clock for the hundredth time. The big arm was merciless; it was almost at the same spot.

  “This clock is slow,” Grisha said to himself, and moved the big hand seven minutes forward.

  Later, Kolya was running past the clock. He looked at it and started to calculate the time. He was waiting for the moment when they would start crying “Hurray,” but the hand of the clock seemed to be motionless. He got very upset; he climbed the chair, looked around furtively and stole five more minutes from eternity.

  “Do you want to see what time it is now? I am dying with impatience,” said one of the young ladies to Kopalsky. “The New Year is approaching, and it brings us new hopes and new happiness.”

  Kopalsky made a bow and ran to the clock.

  “Oh my goodness,” he murmured, standing by the clock. “It is such a long wait, and I am so hungry. I can’t wait to kiss Katya, as soon as they cry ‘Hurray!’ ”

  Kopalsky came back, then returned to the clock and shortened the old year by ten minutes. Diadechkin drank two glasses of water, but the burning inside did not stop. He paced around all the rooms. Every time he went into the kitchen, his wife pushed him out. The bottles standing on the window were tearing his soul apart. What should he do? He had no power to resist. He jumped at his last chance.

  He went into the children’s room to the clock, but he saw a scene that disturbed his heart. Grisha was standing in front of the clock moving the minute hand.

  “What are you doing? You fool! Why are you touching the clock?” Diadechkin wrinkled his forehead and cleared his throat. “What are you doing? Nothing? Then get out.” He pushed his son away from the clock and moved the big hand a little forward.

  “There, now there are eleven minutes until the New Year.” Grisha and his father went to the hall and started setting the table.

  “Malania, the New Year is coming!” Diadechkin cried to his wife.

  Malania Tikhonovna came out from the kitchen to check the time. She looked carefully at the clock. Her husband had not lied to her. “What am I going to do?” she whispered. “The peas for the ham are still sitting in the oven raw. What am I going to do? How can I serve it?”

  Then, after a short pause, Malania Tikhonovna moved the clock backward with a trembling hand. The old year received another twenty minutes back.

  “They can wait,” said the woman, and returned to the kitchen.


  I could see only the dim lights of the harbor we had just left, and the black sky above us, darker than pitch. We felt a cold wind that was blowing in the dark sky above; it was about to rain. We felt suffocated, despite the wind and the cold. By “we” I mean we sailors who stood in the hold, making bets. I could hear some noisy laughter; somebody was cracking jokes, and somebody else was crowing like a rooster to entertain the others.

  I was trembling all over, from the crown of my head to the soles of my feet; it was as if I had a hole in the back of my head, from which cold sweat was pouring down my naked spine. I was trembling from the cold, and from other things I don’t want to tell you about.

  I think man is a vile creature, and a sailor worse than any other, worse than an animal; but sometimes there is a faithfulness that tells me I may be mistaken. Maybe I don’t understand life, but it seems to me sometimes that a sailor has more reason to hate and blame himself than any other man. A man who is prepared to fall from the mast into the sea, to be covered forever by the waves; a man who could be drowned at any moment, going headfirst into the abyss: such a man n
eed not fear or regret anything. We drink lots of vodka, and we are dissipated because we don’t know whether we need virtue in the open sea.

  But I should continue my story.

  We were making bets. There were twenty-two of us, idle hands after hours. Only two men out of the whole crowd could see the spectacle. The thing is, our ship has a special cabin for newlyweds, and that night it had occupants, but the walls of the cabin had only two holes we could use.

  I made the first hole myself using a little saw, first making a small hole plugged with a cork, and my friend made the second hole with a knife. The two of us worked for more than a week.

  “One hole is for you,” they shouted to me.

  “What about the other one?”

  “The other one’s for your father.”

  My father, an old sailor with a big crooked nose and a face like a baked wrinkled apple, came to me and slapped me on the shoulder.

  “My boy, tonight will be a happy one. You hear me, boy? There is some enjoyment for you and me both tonight, and that’s what important.” He asked impatiently, “What time is it?”

  It was about eleven.

  I went out of the cabin onto the desk, smoked my pipe, and looked at the sea. It was dark but seemed to reflect my own soul’s working. I seemed to see some dark images, and I felt something was lacking in my young life.

  At midnight, I passed the passengers’ lounge and looked through the door. The newlyweds were there. A young pastor with beautiful blond hair was sitting at the table, a New Testament in his hand. He was explaining something to a tall, thin Englishwoman. The new bride, a slender and very beautiful woman, was sitting next to her husband and did not move the gaze of her blue eyes from his blond head. A large, fat, old Englishman with a foul, fat face and red hair, a banker, was pacing the room from one corner to the other. He was the husband of the tall woman whom the newlywed pastor was addressing.

  “Pastors have a habit of running off at the mouth. I suppose he won’t be finished until morning,” I thought.

  At one in the morning, my father came to me, pulled me by the sleeve, and said, “It’s time. They just left the passengers’ lounge.”

  I sprinted down the long, steep steps and ran up to the wall I knew so well. Between this wall and the cabin’s wall was an empty space filled with water, dirt, and rats. Soon, I heard my father’s heavy tread. He stumbled over some bags, wastepaper, gasoline drums, and boxes. He swore. I felt my hole and removed the little square wooden plug I had spent so much time cutting. I saw a thin translucent veil, through which I saw some dim pink light. Along with the light I had found some sort of unpleasant, smothering odor. It was probably the smell of an aristocrat’s bedroom. To see into the room, I had to move aside the veil, which I did.

  I saw some bronze, velvet, and lace. Everything was bathed in pink light. About two meters from my face, I saw a bed.

  “Let me see through your hole,” father said to me, impatiently shoving in behind me. “I can see better through yours.”

  I was silent.

  “Look, boy, your eyes can see better than mine; it’s the same to you looking from close up or farther away.”

  “Shut up! Let’s keep quiet; they can hear us.”

  The newlywed woman was sitting at the edge of the bed, with her small feet on the fur carpet. She was looking at the floor. Her husband, the young pastor, was standing before her. He was talking to her, saying something, but I could not hear what. The noise of the engines muffled his speech and kept me from hearing him. The pastor was speaking passionately, gesticulating, flashing his eyes. His wife was disagreeing with him, shaking her head in refusal.

  “Damn it, I’ve been bitten by a rat,” my father groused.

  I pressed my chest against the wall, as if I feared that my heart would jump out of it. My head was on fire.

  The newlyweds talked for a long time. Finally, the pastor kneeled in front of her and started imploring her about something. She shook her head in refusal. Then he jumped up and started pacing the room in agitation, almost at a run. I looked at his face, and from its expression I understood that he was threatening her somehow.

  His young wife stood up, slowly came to the wall, right at the place where I was hiding, and stood in front of the hole. She stood, considering something, and I devoured her face with my eyes. She seemed to be hesitating from some kind of suffering, and her face expressed some kind of hatred.

  For about five minutes we stood like this, face to face. Then she turned, moved to the middle of the room, and nodded, saying that she agreed to his demand.

  He joyfully smiled, kissed her hand, and left the cabin.

  About three minutes later, her door opened, and the pastor entered the room. Behind him was the tall red-headed Englishman I mentioned before. The Englishman came to the bed and asked the nice-looking woman something. She sat with pale face, without looking at him; she nodded.

  The English banker pulled something from his pocket, a bunch of papers, maybe a bunch of bills, and gave them to the pastor. The pastor looked at them, counted them and left with a bow. The Englishman closed the door behind him.

  I jumped away from the wall as if a snake had bitten me. I was terrified. It seemed to me that the wind was tearing our ship into pieces so that we would drown. My old, drunken, debauched father, took me by the hand and said, “Let’s get out of here. You needn’t see this. You’re still just a boy.”

  He could hardly stand. I carried him up the steep winding steps, up onto the desk. It was raining, and it was autumn.


  It was almost two o’clock in the morning.

  Commerce Councilor Ivan Vasilievich Kotlov left the restaurant “Slavic Bazaar” and walked along Nikolsky Street toward the Kremlin. It was a beautiful, starry night. The stars peeked from behind small clouds as they merrily twinkled, as if it were a pleasant task to gaze upon the earth. The air was clear, and all was quiet.

  “The taxi drivers near the restaurant district are so expensive,” Kotlov thought, “I have to keep on walking until they become cheaper. Besides, I could use the walk, as I did overeat and I am drunk.”

  Near the Kremlin, he hailed the night cab driver, “Ivan.” This is the nickname given to any Moscow taxi driver.

  “Take me to Yakimovka Street!” he told the cab driver.

  This particular Ivan, a young man about twenty-five years old, smacked his lips and lazily drew his reins. The short horse left its resting spot as it moved slowly until it reached a slow, steady trot. Kotlov saw that he had a real, typical Ivan-the-cabman. It was enough to catch a glimpse of his sleepy, rough face, covered with pimples, and one could tell that he was a cabman.

  They headed through the Kremlin.

  “What time is it now?” asked Ivan.

  “Two o’clock,” answered the Commerce Councilor.

  “Yes, it is becoming warmer. It was cold for a few days, and now it is warming up again. Hey you, lame one! What kind of a lazy horse are you?”

  The groom stood up in his seat and whipped his horse on its back.

  “I don’t like winter,” he continued, sitting more comfortably and turning back toward his customer. “It is too cold for me during the winter. When I stay in the frost, I freeze and start shaking all over. As soon as the temperature drops, my face explodes and swells. I am not accustomed to the cold!”

  “You must get used to it. You are in a profession that requires it, so you must.”

  “A man can get used to anything, which is true, yes sir!

  “But before you get used to it, you’ll most likely freeze at least twenty times. I am a tender and spoiled man, your honor. I was spoiled by my parents. They did not think I would end up being a groom. They treated me with such tenderness, God bless them. They put me as a baby next to the warm oven in our country house, and I slept there until I was ten. I stayed there eating pies like a stupid pig. I was their beloved son. They dressed me in the best clothes, taught me how to read and to write f
or my future happy life. When I wanted to run barefoot, they warned me: ‘You will get a cold, boy,’ as if I were not a peasant but a landlord or man of prominence.

  “When my father beat me, my mother cried. When my mother yelled at me, my father took my side. Every time I went to the forest to accompany my father to collect firewood, my mother put three fur coats on me, as if I were off to Moscow or something.”

  “Were you rich as far as farming goes?”

  “We were neither rich, nor poor, just like all farmers. We thanked God for every day. We were not rich, but we did not starve or feel hunger, thank God. We lived as family, sir, that is, like a family. My grandfather was still alive then, and his two sons lived with him. One son, that is my father, was married; the second son was single. I was the only child. And so they spoiled me, even my grandfather. You know, he was very good at making money, and he thought that I was too smart for a farmer.

  “I will buy you a general store, Petruska, when you grow up,” he said. So I was raised well and spoiled, until something terrible happened that changed everything.

  “My uncle stole the old man’s money, about twenty thousand rubles. After he stole the money, we became bankrupt. We had to sell our horses and cows, and my father and grandfather had to become hired workers. You know how we peasants live. As for me—I became a hired shepherd.”

  “And what happened to your uncle?”

  “Nothing. Everything happened for him just like he wanted. He rented a pub along the major road and did quite well. About five years later, he married a rich woman from the town of Serpukov. She had around eight thousand rubles for her dowry. Soon after they married, the pub burned down. Why shouldn’t it burn down, as it was insured? After the fire, they moved to Moscow, and rented a hardware store there. People say that he became so rich that you could not approach him. Some men from my village saw him then and passed all this information on about him. I have not seen him since he ran off with the money. His name is Kotlov; his first name is Ivan Vasilievich. Have you heard of him?”

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