A.P. Chekhov -
SERGE KAPITONICH AHINEEV, the writing master,
was marrying his daughter to the teacher of history and
geography. The wedding festivities were going off most
successfully. In the drawing room there was singing, playing,
and dancing. Waiters hired from the club were flitting
distractedly about the rooms, dressed in black swallow-tails and
dirty white ties. There was a continual hubbub and din of
conversation. Sitting side by side on the sofa, the teacher of
mathematics, Tarantulov, the French teacher, Pasdequoi, and the
junior assessor of taxes, Mzda, were talking hurriedly and
interrupting one another as they described to the guests cases
of persons being buried alive, and gave their opinions on
spiritualism. None of them believed in spiritualism, but all
admitted that there were many things in this world which would
always be beyond the mind of man. In the next room the
literature master, Dodonsky, was explaining to the visitors the
cases in which a sentry has the right to fire on passers-by. The
subjects, as you perceive, were alarming, but very agreeable.
Persons whose social position precluded them from entering were
looking in at the windows from the yard.
Just at midnight the master of the house went into the kitchen
to see whether everything was ready for supper. The kitchen from
floor to ceiling was filled with fumes composed of goose, duck,
and many other odours. On two tables the accessories, the drinks
and light refreshments, were set out in artistic disorder. The
cook, Marfa, a red-faced woman whose figure was like a barrel
with a belt around it, was bustling about the tables.
"Show me the sturgeon, Marfa," said Ahineev, rubbing his hands
and licking his lips. "What a perfume! I could eat up the whole
kitchen. Come, show me the sturgeon."
Marfa went up to one of the benches and cautiously lifted a
piece of greasy newspaper. Under the paper on an immense dish
there reposed a huge sturgeon, masked in jelly and decorated
with capers, olives, and carrots. Ahineev gazed at the sturgeon
and gasped. His face beamed, he turned his eyes up. He bent down
and with his lips emitted the sound of an ungreased wheel. After
standing a moment he snapped his fingers with delight and once
more smacked his lips.
"Ah-ah! the sound of a passionate kiss. . . . Who is it you're
kissing out there, little Marfa?" came a voice from the next
room, and in the doorway there appeared the cropped head of the
assistant usher, Vankin. "Who is it? A-a-h! . . . Delighted to
meet you! Sergei Kapitonich! You're a fine grandfather, I must
say! Tte--tte with the fair sex--tette!"
"I'm not kissing," said Ahineev in confusion. "Who told you so,
you fool? I was only . . . I smacked my lips . . . in reference
to . . . as an indication of. . . pleasure . . . at the sight of
"Tell that to the marines!" The intrusive face vanished, wearing
a broad grin.
"Hang it!" he thought, "the beast will go now and talk scandal.
He'll disgrace me to all the town, the brute."
Ahineev went timidly into the drawing-room and looked stealthily
round for Vankin. Vankin was standing by the piano, and, bending
down with a jaunty air, was whispering something to the
inspector's sister-in-law, who was laughing.
"Talking about me!" thought Ahineev. "About me, blast him! And
she believes it . . . believes it! She laughs! Mercy on us! No,
I can't let it pass . . . I can't. I must do something to
prevent his being believed. . . . I'll speak to them all, and
he'll be shown up for a fool and a gossip."
Ahineev scratched his head, and still overcome with
embarrassment, went up to Pasdequoi.
"I've just been in the kitchen to see after the supper," he said
to the Frenchman. "I know you are fond of fish, and I've a
sturgeon, my dear fellow, beyond everything! A yard and a half
long! Ha, ha, ha! And, by the way . . . I was just forgetting. .
. . In the kitchen just now, with that sturgeon . . . quite a
little story! I went into the kitchen just now and wanted to
look at the supper dishes. I looked at the sturgeon and I
smacked my lips with relish . . . at the piquancy of it. And at
the very moment that fool Vankin came in and said: . . . 'Ha,
ha, ha! . . . So you're kissing here!' Kissing Marfa, the cook!
What a thing to imagine, silly fool! The woman is a perfect
fright, like all the beasts put together, and he talks about
kissing! Queer fish!"
"Who's a queer fish?" asked Tarantulov, coming up.
"Why he, over there -- Vankin! I went into the kitchen . . ."
And he told the story of Vankin. ". . . He amused me, queer
fish! I'd rather kiss a dog than Marfa, if you ask me," added
Ahineev. He looked round and saw behind him Mzda.
"We were talking of Vankin," he said. "Queer fish, he is! He
went into the kitchen, saw me beside Marfa, and began inventing
all sorts of silly stories. 'Why are you kissing?' he says. He
must have had a drop too much. 'And I'd rather kiss a turkeycock
than Marfa,' I said, 'And I've a wife of my own, you fool,' said
I. He did amuse me!"
"Who amused you?" asked the priest who taught Scripture in the
school, going up to Ahineev.
"Vankin. I was standing in the kitchen, you know, looking at the
sturgeon. . . ."
And so on. Within half an hour or so all the guests knew the
incident of the sturgeon and Vankin.
"Let him tell away now!" thought Ahineev, rubbing his hands.
"Let him! He'll begin telling his story and they'll say to him
at once, 'Enough of your improbable nonsense, you fool, we know
all about it!'"
And Ahineev was so relieved that in his joy he drank four
glasses too many. After escorting the young people to their
room, he went to bed and slept like an innocent babe, and next
day he thought no more of the incident with the sturgeon. But,
alas! man proposes, but God disposes. An evil tongue did its
evil work, and Ahineev's strategy was of no avail. Just a week
later -- to be precise, on Wednesday after the third lesson --
when Ahineev was standing in the middle of the teacher's room,
holding forth on the vicious propensities of a boy called
Visekin, the head master went up to him and drew him aside:
"Look here, Sergei Kapitonich," said the head master, "you must
excuse me. . . . It's not my business; but all the same I must
make you realize. . . . It's my duty. You see, there are rumors
that you are romancing with that . . . cook. . . . It's nothing
to do with me, but . . . flirt with her, kiss her . . . as you
please, but don't let it be so public, please. I entreat you!
Don't forget that you're a schoolmaster."
Ahineev turned cold and faint. He went home like a man stung by
a whole swarm of bees, like a man scalded with boiling water. As
he walked home, it seemed to him that the whole town was looking
at him as though he were smeared with pitch. At home fresh
trouble awaited him.
"Why aren't you gobbling up your food as usual?" his wife asked
him at dinner. "What are you so pensive about? Brooding over
your amours? Pining for your Marfa? I know all about it,
Mohammedan! Kind friends have opened my eyes! O-o-o! . . . you
And she slapped him in the face. He got up from the table, not
feeling the earth under his feet, and without his hat or coat,
made his way to Vankin. He found him at home.
"You scoundrel!" he addressed him. "Why have you covered me with
mud before all the town? Why did you set this slander going
"What slander? What are you talking about?"
"Who was it gossiped of my kissing Marfa? Wasn't it you? Tell me
that. Wasn't it you, you brigand?"
Vankin blinked and twitched in every fibre of his battered
countenance, raised his eyes to the icon and articulated, "God
blast me! Strike me blind and lay me out, if I said a single
word about you! May I be left without house and home, may I be
stricken with worse than cholera!"
Vankin's sincerity did not admit of doubt. It was evidently not
he who was the author of the slander.
"But who, then, who?" Ahineev wondered, going over all his
acquaintances in his mind and beating himself on the breast.
Who, then? We, too, ask the reader.