Anton Chekhov -
Ward No. 6
Ivan Dmitritch's neighbour on the left hand is, as I have said
already, the Jew Moiseika; his neighbour on the right hand is a
peasant so rolling in fat that he is almost spherical, with a
blankly stupid face, utterly devoid of thought. This is a
motionless, gluttonous, unclean animal who has long ago lost all
powers of thought or feeling. An acrid, stifling stench always
comes from him.
Nikita, who has to clean up after him, beats him terribly with
all his might, not sparing his fists; and what is dreadful is
not his being beaten -- that one can get used to -- but the fact
that this stupefied creature does not respond to the blows with
a sound or a movement, nor by a look in the eyes, but only sways
a little like a heavy barrel.
The fifth and last inhabitant of Ward No. 6 is a man of the
artisan class who had once been a sorter in the post office, a
thinnish, fair little man with a good-natured but rather sly
face. To judge from the clear, cheerful look in his calm and
intelligent eyes, he has some pleasant idea in his mind, and has
some very important and agreeable secret. He has under his
pillow and under his mattress something that he never shows
anyone, not from fear of its being taken from him and stolen,
but from modesty. Sometimes he goes to the window, and turning
his back to his companions, puts something on his breast, and
bending his head, looks at it; if you go up to him at such a
moment, he is overcome with confusion and snatches something off
his breast. But it is not difficult to guess his secret.
"Congratulate me," he often says to Ivan Dmitritch; "I have been
presented with the Stanislav order of the second degree with the
star. The second degree with the star is only given to
foreigners, but for some reason they want to make an exception
for me," he says with a smile, shrugging his shoulders in
perplexity. "That I must confess I did not expect."
"I don't understand anything about that," Ivan Dmitritch replies
"But do you know what I shall attain to sooner or later?" the
former sorter persists, screwing up his eyes slyly. "I shall
certainly get the Swedish 'Polar Star.' That's an order it is
worth working for, a white cross with a black ribbon. It's very
Probably in no other place is life so monotonous as in this
ward. In the morning the patients, except the paralytic and the
fat peasant, wash in the entry at a big tab and wipe themselves
with the skirts of their dressing-gowns; after that they drink
tea out of tin mugs which Nikita brings them out of the main
building. Everyone is allowed one mugful. At midday they have
soup made out of sour cabbage and boiled grain, in the evening
their supper consists of grain left from dinner. In the
intervals they lie down, sleep, look out of window, and walk
from one corner to the other. And so every day. Even the former
sorter always talks of the same orders.
Fresh faces are rarely seen in Ward No. 6. The doctor has not
taken in any new mental cases for a long time, and the people
who are fond of visiting lunatic asylums are few in this world.
Once every two months Semyon Lazaritch, the barber, appears in
the ward. How he cuts the patients' hair, and how Nikita helps
him to do it, and what a trepidation the lunatics are always
thrown into by the arrival of the drunken, smiling barber, we
will not describe.
No one even looks into the ward except the barber. The patients
are condemned to see day after day no one but Nikita.
A rather strange rumour has, however, been circulating in the
hospital of late.
It is rumoured that the doctor has begun to visit Ward No. 6.