A.P. Chekhov - A Living Chattel
GROHOLSKY embraced Liza, kept kissing one after another all her
little fingers with their bitten pink nails, and laid her on the
couch covered with cheap velvet. Liza crossed one foot over the
other, clasped her hands behind her head, and lay down.
Groholsky sat down in a chair beside her and bent over. He was
entirely absorbed in contemplation of her.
How pretty she seemed to him, lighted up by the rays of the
There was a complete view from the window of the setting sun,
golden, lightly flecked with purple.
The whole drawing-room, including Liza, was bathed by it with
brilliant light that did not hurt the eyes, and for a little
while covered with gold.
Groholsky was lost in admiration. Liza was so incredibly
beautiful. It is true her little kittenish face with its brown
eyes, and turn up nose was fresh, and even piquant, his scanty
hair was black as soot and curly, her little figure was
graceful, well proportioned and mobile as the body of an
electric eel, but on the whole. . . . However my taste has
nothing to do with it. Groholsky who was spoilt by women, and
who had been in love and out of love hundreds of times in his
life, saw her as a beauty. He loved her, and blind love finds
ideal beauty everywhere.
"I say," he said, looking straight into her eyes, "I have come
to talk to you, my precious. Love cannot bear anything vague or
indefinite. . . . Indefinite relations, you know, I told you
yesterday, Liza . . . we will try to-day to settle the question
we raised yesterday. Come, let us decide together. . . ."
"What are we to do?"
Liza gave a yawn and scowling, drew her right arm from under her
"What are we to do?" she repeated hardly audibly after Groholsky.
"Well, yes, what are we to do? Come, decide, wise little head .
. . I love you, and a man in love is not fond of sharing. He is
more than an egoist. It is too much for me to go shares with
your husband. I mentally tear him to pieces, when I remember
that he loves you too. In the second place you love me. . . .
Perfect freedom is an essential condition for love. . . . And
are you free? Are you not tortured by the thought that that man
towers for ever over your soul? A man whom you do not love, whom
very likely and quite naturally, you hate. . . . That's the
second thing. . . . And thirdly. . . . What is the third thing?
Oh yes. . . . We are deceiving him and that . . . is
dishonourable. Truth before everything, Liza. Let us have done
"Well, then, what are we to do?"
"You can guess. . . . I think it necessary, obligatory, to
inform him of our relations and to leave him, to begin to live
in freedom. Both must be done as quickly as possible. . . . This
very evening, for instance. . . . It's time to make an end of
it. Surely you must be sick of loving like a thief?"
"Tell! tell Vanya?"
"That's impossible! I told you yesterday, Michel, that it is
"He will be upset. He'll make a row, do all sorts of unpleasant
things. . . . Don't you know what he is like? God forbid!
There's no need to tell him. What an idea!"
Groholsky passed his hand over his brow, and heaved a sigh.
"Yes," he said, "he will be more than upset. I am robbing him of
his happiness. Does he love you?"
"He does love me. Very much."
"There's another complication! One does not know where to begin.
To conceal it from him is base, telling him would kill him. . .
. Goodness knows what's one to do. Well, how is it to be?"
Groholsky pondered. His pale face wore a frown.
"Let us go on always as we are now," said Liza. "Let him find
out for himself, if he wants to."
"But you know that . . . is sinful, and besides the fact is you
are mine, and no one has the right to think that you do not
belong to me but to someone else! You are mine! I will not give
way to anyone! . . . I am sorry for him -- God knows how sorry I
am for him, Liza! It hurts me to see him! But . . . it can't be
helped after all. You don't love him, do you? What's the good of
your going on being miserable with him? We must have it out! We
will have it out with him, and you will come to me. You are my
wife, and not his. Let him do what he likes. He'll get over his
troubles somehow. . . . He is not the first, and he won't be the
last. . . . Will you run away? Eh? Make haste and tell me! Will
you run away?"
Liza got up and looked inquiringly at Groholsky.
"Yes. . . . To my estate. . . . Then to the Crimea. . . . We
will tell him by letter. . . . We can go at night. There is a
train at half past one. Well? Is that all right?"
Liza scratched the bridge of her nose, and hesitated.
"Very well," she said, and burst into tears.
Patches of red came out of her cheeks, her eyes swelled, and
tears flowed down her kittenish face. . . .
"What is it?" cried Groholsky in a flutter. "Liza! what's the
matter? Come! what are you crying for? What a girl! Come, what
is it? Darling! Little woman!"
Liza held out her hands to Groholsky, and hung on his neck.
There was a sound of sobbing.
"I am sorry for him . . ." muttered Liza. "Oh, I am so sorry for
"Sorry for whom?"
"Va--Vanya. . . ."
"And do you suppose I'm not? But what's to be done? We are
causing him suffering. . . . He will be unhappy, will curse us .
. . but is it our fault that we love one another?"
As he uttered the last word, Groholsky darted away from Liza as
though he had been stung and sat down in an easy chair. Liza
sprang away from his neck and rapidly -- in one instant --
dropped on the lounge.
They both turned fearfully red, dropped their eyes, and coughed.
A tall, broad-shouldered man of thirty, in the uniform of a
government clerk, had walked into the drawing-room. He had
walked in unnoticed. Only the bang of a chair which he knocked
in the doorway had warned the lovers of his presence, and made
them look round. It was the husband.
They had looked round too late.
He had seen Groholsky's arm round Liza's waist, and had seen
Liza hanging on Groholsky's white and aristocratic neck.
"He saw us!" Liza and Groholsky thought at the same moment,
while they did not know what to do with their heavy hands and
embarrassed eyes. . . .
The petrified husband, rosy-faced, turned white.
An agonising, strange, soul-revolting silence lasted for three
minutes. Oh, those three minutes! Groholsky remembers them to
The first to move and break the silence was the husband. He
stepped up to Groholsky and, screwing his face into a senseless
grimace like a smile, gave him his hand. Groholsky shook the
soft perspiring hand and shuddered all over as though he had
crushed a cold frog in his fist.
"Good evening," he muttered.
"How are you?" the husband brought out in a faint husky, almost
inaudible voice, and he sat down opposite Groholsky,
straightening his collar at the back of his neck.
Again, an agonising silence followed . . . but that silence was
no longer so stupid. . . . The first step, most difficult and
colourless, was over.
All that was left now was for one of the two to depart in search
of matches or on some such trifling errand. Both longed
intensely to get away. They sat still, not looking at one
another, and pulled at their beards while they ransacked their
troubled brains for some means of escape from their horribly
awkward position. Both were perspiring. Both were unbearably
miserable and both were devoured by hatred. They longed to begin
the tussle but how were they to begin and which was to begin
first? If only she would have gone out!
"I saw you yesterday at the Assembly Hall," muttered Bugrov
(that was the husband's name).
"Yes, I was there . . . the ball . . . did you dance?"
"M'm . . . yes . . . with that . . . with the younger
Lyukovtsky. . . . She dances heavily. . . . She dances
impossibly. She is a great chatterbox." (Pause.) "She is never
tired of talking."
"Yes. . . . It was slow. I saw you too. . ."
Groholsky accidentally glanced at Bugrov. . . . He caught the
shifting eyes of the deceived husband and could not bear it. He
got up quickly, quickly seized Bugrov's hand, shook it, picked
up his hat, and walked towards the door, conscious of his own
back. He felt as though thousands of eyes were looking at his
back. It is a feeling known to the actor who has been hissed and
is making his exit from the stage, and to the young dandy who
has received a blow on the back of the head and is being led
away in charge of a policeman.
As soon as the sound of Groholsky's steps had died away and the
door in the hall creaked, Bugrov leapt up, and after making two
or three rounds of the drawing-room, strolled up to his wife.
The kittenish face puckered up and began blinking its eyes as
though expecting a slap. Her husband went up to her, and with a
pale, distorted face, with arms, head, and shoulders shaking,
stepped on her dress and knocked her knees with his.
"If, you wretched creature," he began in a hollow, wailing
voice, "you let him come here once again, I'll. . . . Don't let
him dare to set his foot. . . . I'll kill you. Do you
understand? A-a-ah . . . worthless creature, you shudder!
Bugrov seized her by the elbow, shook her, and flung her like an
indiarubber ball towards the window. . . .
"Wretched, vulgar woman! you have no shame!"
She flew towards the window, hardly touching the floor with her
feet, and caught at the curtains with her hands.
"Hold your tongue," shouted her husband, going up to her with
flashing eyes and stamping his foot.
She did hold her tongue, she looked at the ceiling, and
whimpered while her face wore the expression of a little girl in
disgrace expecting to be punished.
"So that's what you are like! Eh? Carrying on with a fop! Good!
And your promise before the altar? What are you? A nice wife and
mother. Hold your tongue!"
And he struck her on her pretty supple shoulder. "Hold your
tongue, you wretched creature. I'll give you worse than that! If
that scoundrel dares to show himself here ever again, if I see
you -- listen! -- with that blackguard ever again, don't ask for
mercy! I'll kill you, if I go to Siberia for it! And him too. I
shouldn't think twice about it! You can go, I don't want to see
Bugrov wiped his eyes and his brow with his sleeve and strode
about the drawing-room, Liza sobbing more and more loudly,
twitching her shoulders and her little turned up nose, became
absorbed in examining the lace on the curtain.
"You are crazy," her husband shouted. "Your silly head is full
of nonsense! Nothing but whims! I won't allow it, Elizaveta, my
girl! You had better be careful with me! I don't like it! If you
want to behave like a pig, then . . . then out you go, there is
no place in my house for you! Out you pack if. . . . You are a
wife, so you must forget these dandies, put them out of your
silly head! It's all foolishness! Don't let it happen again! You
try defending yourself! Love your husband! You have been given
to your husband, so you must love him. Yes, indeed! Is one not
enough? Go away till. . . . Torturers!"
Bugrov paused; then shouted:
"Go away I tell you, go to the nursery! Why are you blubbering,
it is your own fault, and you blubber! What a woman! Last year
you were after Petka Totchkov, now you are after this devil.
Lord forgive us! . . . Tfoo, it's time you understood what you
are! A wife! A mother! Last year there were unpleasantnesses,
and now there will be unpleasantnesses. . . . Tfoo!"
Bugrov heaved a loud sigh, and the air was filled with the smell
of sherry. He had come back from dining and was slightly drunk.
. . .
"Don't you know your duty? No! . . . you must be taught, you've
not been taught so far! Your mamma was a gad-about, and you . .
. you can blubber. Yes! blubber away. . . ."
Bugrov went up to his wife and drew the curtain out of her
"Don't stand by the window, people will see you blubbering. . .
. Don't let it happen again. You'll go from embracing to worse
trouble. You'll come to grief. Do you suppose I like to be made
a fool of? And you will make a fool of me if you carry on with
them, the low brutes. . . . Come, that's enough. . . . Don't
you. . . . Another time. . . . Of course I . . Liza . . . stay.
. . ."
Bugrov heaved a sigh and enveloped Liza in the fumes of sherry.
"You are young and silly, you don't understand anything. . . . I
am never at home. . . . And they take advantage of it. You must
be sensible, prudent. They will deceive you. And then I won't
endure it. . . . Then I may do anything. . . . Of course! Then
you can just lie down, and die. I . . . I am capable of doing
anything if you deceive me, my good girl. I might beat you to
death. . . . And . . . I shall turn you out of the house, and
then you can go to your rascals."
And Bugrov (horribile dictu) wiped the wet, tearful face of the
traitress Liza with his big soft hand. He treated his
twenty-year-old wife as though she were a child.
"Come, that's enough. . . . I forgive you. Only God forbid it
should happen again! I forgive you for the fifth time, but I
shall not forgive you for the sixth, as God is holy. God does
not forgive such as you for such things."
Bugrov bent down and put out his shining lips towards Liza's
little head. But the kiss did not follow. The doors of the hall,
of the dining-room, of the parlour, and of the drawing-room all
slammed, and Groholsky flew into the drawing-room like a
whirlwind. He was pale and trembling. He was flourishing his
arms and crushing his expensive hat in his hands. His coat
fluttered upon him as though it were on a peg. He was the
incarnation of acute fever. When Bugrov saw him he moved away
from his wife and began looking out of the other window.
Groholsky flew up to him, and waving his arms and breathing
heavily and looking at no one, he began in a shaking voice:
"Ivan Petrovitch! Let us leave off keeping up this farce with
one another! We have deceived each other long enough! It's too
much! I cannot stand it. You must do as you like, but I cannot!
It's hateful and mean, it's revolting! Do you understand that it
Groholsky spluttered and gasped for breath.
"It's against my principles. And you are an honest man. I love
her! I love her more than anything on earth! You have noticed it
and . . . it's my duty to say this!"
"What am I to say to him?" Ivan Petrovitch wondered.
"We must make an end of it. This farce cannot drag on much
longer! It must be settled somehow."
Groholsky drew a breath and went on:
"I cannot live without her; she feels the same. You are an
educated man, you will understand that in such circumstances
your family life is impossible. This woman is not yours, so . .
. in short, I beg you to look at the matter from an indulgent
humane point of view. . . . Ivan Petrovitch, you must understand
at last that I love her -- love her more than myself, more than
anything in the world, and to struggle against that love is
beyond my power!"
"And she?" Bugrov asked in a sullen, somewhat ironical tone.
"Ask her; come now, ask her! For her to live with a man she does
not love, to live with you is . . . is a misery!"
"And she?" Bugrov repeated, this time not in an ironical tone.
"She . . . she loves me! We love each other, Ivan Petrovitch!
Kill us, despise us, pursue us, do as you will, but we can no
longer conceal it from you. We are standing face to face -- you
may judge us with all the severity of a man whom we . . . whom
fate has robbed of happiness!"
Bugrov turned as red as a boiled crab, and looked out of one eye
at Liza. He began blinking. His fingers, his lips, and his
eyelids twitched. Poor fellow! The eyes of his weeping wife told
him that Groholsky was right, that it was a serious matter.
"Well!" he muttered. "If you. . . . In these days. . . . You are
always. . . ."
"As God is above," Groholsky shrilled in his high tenor, "we
understand you. Do you suppose we have no sense, no feeling? I
know what agonies I am causing you, as God's above! But be
indulgent, I beseech you! We are not to blame. Love is not a
crime. No will can struggle against it. . . . Give her up to me,
Ivan Petrovitch! Let her go with me! Take from me what you will
for your sufferings. Take my life, but give me Liza. I am ready
to do anything. . . . Come, tell me how I can do something to
make up in part at least! To make up for that lost happiness, I
can give you other happiness. I can, Ivan Petrovitch; I am ready
to do anything! It would be base on my part to leave you without
satisfaction. . . . I understand you at this moment."
Bugrov waved his hand as though to say, 'For God's sake, go
away.' His eyes began to be dimmed by a treacherous moisture --
in a moment they would see him crying like a child.
"I understand you, Ivan Petrovitch. I will give you another
happiness, such as hitherto you have not known. What would you
like? I have money, my father is an influential man. . . . Will
you? Come, how much do you want?"
Bugrov's heart suddenly began throbbing. . . . He clutched at
the window curtains with both hands. . . .
"Will you have fifty thousand? Ivan Petrovitch, I entreat you. .
. . It's not a bribe, not a bargain. . . . I only want by a
sacrifice on my part to atone a little for your inevitable loss.
Would you like a hundred thousand? I am willing. A hundred
My God! Two immense hammers began beating on the perspiring
temples of the unhappy Ivan Petrovitch. Russian sledges with
tinkling bells began racing in his ears. . . .
"Accept this sacrifice from me," Groholsky went on, "I entreat
you! You will take a load off my conscience. . . . I implore
My God! A smart carriage rolled along the road wet from a May
shower, passed the window through which Bugrov's wet eyes were
looking. The horses were fine, spirited, well-trained beasts.
People in straw hats, with contented faces, were sitting in the
carriage with long fishing-rods and bags. . . . A schoolboy in a
white cap was holding a gun. They were driving out into the
country to catch fish, to shoot, to walk about and have tea in
the open air. They were driving to that region of bliss in which
Bugrov as a boy -- the barefoot, sunburnt, but infinitely happy
son of a village deacon -- had once raced about the meadows, the
woods, and the river banks. Oh, how fiendishly seductive was
that May! How happy those who can take off their heavy uniforms,
get into a carriage and fly off to the country where the quails
are calling and there is the scent of fresh hay. Bugrov's heart
ached with a sweet thrill that made him shiver. A hundred
thousand! With the carriage there floated before him all the
secret dreams over which he had gloated, through the long years
of his life as a government clerk as he sat in the office of his
department or in his wretched little study. . . . A river, deep,
with fish, a wide garden with narrow avenues, little fountains,
shade, flowers, arbours, a luxurious villa with terraces and
turrets with an Aeolian harp and little silver bells (he had
heard of the existence of an Aeolian harp from German romances);
a cloudless blue sky; pure limpid air fragrant with the scents
that recall his hungry, barefoot, crushed childhood. . . . To
get up at five, to go to bed at nine; to spend the day catching
fish, talking with the peasants. . . . What happiness!
"Ivan Petrovitch, do not torture me! Will you take a hundred
"H'm . . . a hundred and fifty thousand!" muttered Bugrov in a
hollow voice, the voice of a husky bull. He muttered it, and
bowed his head, ashamed of his words, and awaiting the answer.
"Good," said Groholsky, "I agree. I thank you, Ivan Petrovitch .
. . . In a minute. . . . I will not keep you waiting. . . ."
Groholsky jumped up, put on his hat, and staggering backwards,
ran out of the drawing-room.
Bugrov clutched the window curtains more tightly than ever. . .
. He was ashamed . . . . There was a nasty, stupid feeling in
his soul, but, on the other hand, what fair shining hopes
swarmed between his throbbing temples! He was rich!
Liza, who had grasped nothing of what was happening, darted
through the half-opened door trembling all over and afraid that
he would come to her window and fling her away from it. She went
into the nursery, laid herself down on the nurse's bed, and
curled herself up. She was shivering with fever.
Bugrov was left alone. He felt stifled, and he opened the
window. What glorious air breathed fragrance on his face and
neck! It would be good to breathe such air lolling on the
cushions of a carriage. . . . Out there, far beyond the town,
among the villages and the summer villas, the air was sweeter
still. . . . Bugrov actually smiled as he dreamed of the air
that would be about him when he would go out on the verandah of
his villa and admire the view. A long while he dreamed. . . .
The sun had set, and still he stood and dreamed, trying his
utmost to cast out of his mind the image of Liza which
obstinately pursued him in all his dreams.
"I have brought it, Ivan Petrovitch!" Groholsky, re-entering,
whispered above his ear. "I have brought it -- take it. . . .
Here in this roll there are forty thousand. . . . With this
cheque will you kindly get twenty the day after to-morrow from
Valentinov? . . . Here is a bill of exchange . . . a cheque. . .
. The remaining thirty thousand in a day or two. . . . My
steward will bring it to you."
Groholsky, pink and excited, with all his limbs in motion, laid
before Bugrov a heap of rolls of notes and bundles of papers.
The heap was big, and of all sorts of hues and tints. Never in
the course of his life had Bugrov seen such a heap. He spread
out his fat fingers and, not looking at Groholsky, fell to going
through the bundles of notes and bonds. . . .
Groholsky spread out all the money, and moved restlessly about
the room, looking for the Dulcinea who had been bought and sold.
Filling his pockets and his pocket-book, Bugrov thrust the
securities into the table drawer, and, drinking off half a
decanter full of water, dashed out into the street.
"Cab!" he shouted in a frantic voice.
At half-past eleven that night he drove up to the entrance of
the Paris Hotel. He went noisily upstairs and knocked at the
door of Groholsky's apartments. He was admitted. Groholsky was
packing his things in a portmanteau, Liza was sitting at the
table trying on bracelets. They were both frightened when Bugrov
went in to them. They fancied that he had come for Liza and had
brought back the money which he had taken in haste without
reflection. But Bugrov had not come for Liza. Ashamed of his new
get-up and feeling frightfully awkward in it, he bowed and stood
at the door in the attitude of a flunkey. The get-up was superb.
Bugrov was unrecognisable. His huge person, which had never
hitherto worn anything but a uniform, was clothed in a fresh,
brand-new suit of fine French cloth and of the most fashionable
cut. On his feet spats shone with sparkling buckles. He stood
ashamed of his new get-up, and with his right hand covered the
watch-chain for which he had, an hour before, paid three hundred
"I have come about something," he began. "A business agreement
is beyond price. I am not going to give up Mishutka. . . ."
"What Mishutka?" asked Groholsky.
Groholsky and Liza looked at each other. Liza's eyes bulged, her
cheeks flushed, and her lips twitched. . . .
"Very well," she said.
She thought of Mishutka's warm little cot. It would be cruel to
exchange that warm little cot for a chilly sofa in the hotel,
and she consented.
"I shall see him," she said.
Bugrov bowed, walked out, and flew down the stairs in his
splendour, cleaving the air with his expensive cane. . . .
"Home," he said to the cabman. "I am starting at five o'clock
to-morrow morning. . . . You will come; if I am asleep, you will
wake me. We are driving out of town."