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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 setting sun!

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 head.

"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 with lying!"

"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?"

"Why, yes!"

"That's impossible! I told you yesterday, Michel, that it is impossible."


"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.

"Run away?"

"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 him!"

"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 this day.

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! Fil-thy woman!"

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 you!"

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 hands.

"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 is revolting?"

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 thousand?"

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 you!"

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 thousand?"

"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 roubles.

"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.

"My son."

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."

The best stories:
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Lady with Lapdog
Uncle Vanya
Ward Six
Death of a Government Clerk
The Steppe




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