A.P. Chekhov - Malingerers
MARFA PETROVNA PETCHONKIN, the General's widow, who has been
practising for ten years as a homeopathic doctor, is seeing
patients in her study on one of the Tuesdays in May. On the
table before her lie a chest of homeopathic drugs, a book on
homeopathy, and bills from a homeopathic chemist. On the wall
the letters from some Petersburg homeopath, in Marfa Petrovna's
opinion a very celebrated and great man, hang under glass in a
gilt frame, and there also is a portrait of Father Aristark, to
whom the lady owes her salvation -- that is, the renunciation of
pernicious allopathy and the knowledge of the truth. In the
vestibule patients are sitting waiting, for the most part
peasants. All but two or three of them are barefoot, as the lady
has given orders that their ill-smelling boots are to be left in
Marfa Petrovna has already seen ten patients when she calls the
eleventh: "Gavrila Gruzd!"
The door opens and instead of Gavrila Gruzd, Zamuhrishen, a
neighbouring landowner who has sunk into poverty, a little old
man with sour eyes, and with a gentleman's cap under his arm,
walks into the room. He puts down his stick in the corner, goes
up to the lady, and without a word drops on one knee before her.
"What are you about, Kuzma Kuzmitch?" cries the lady in horror,
flushing crimson. "For goodness sake!"
"While I live I will not rise," says Zamuhrishen, bending over
her hand. "Let all the world see my homage on my knees, our
guardian angel, benefactress of the human race! Let them! Before
the good fairy who has given me life, guided me into the path of
truth, and enlightened my scepticism I am ready not merely to
kneel but to pass through fire, our miraculous healer, mother of
the orphan and the widowed! I have recovered. I am a new man,
"I . . . I am very glad . . ." mutters the lady, flushing with
pleasure. "It's so pleasant to hear that. . . Sit down please!
Why, you were so seriously ill that Tuesday."
"Yes indeed, how ill I was! It's awful to recall it," says
Zamuhrishen, taking a seat. "I had rheumatism in every part and
every organ. I have been in misery for eight years, I've had no
rest from it . . . by day or by night, my benefactress. I have
consulted doctors, and I went to professors at Kazan; I have
tried all sorts of mud-baths, and drunk waters, and goodness
knows what I haven't tried! I have wasted all my substance on
doctors, my beautiful lady. The doctors did me nothing but harm.
They drove the disease inwards. Drive in, that they did, but to
drive out was beyond their science. All they care about is their
fees, the brigands; but as for the benefit of humanity -- for
that they don't care a straw. They prescribe some quackery, and
you have to drink it. Assassins, that's the only word for them.
If it hadn't been for you, our angel, I should have been in the
grave by now! I went home from you that Tuesday, looked at the
pilules that you gave me then, and wondered what good there
could be in them. Was it possible that those little grains,
scarcely visible, could cure my immense, long-standing disease?
That's what I thought -- unbeliever that I was! -- and I smiled;
but when I took the pilule -- it was instantaneous! It was as
though I had not been ill, or as though it had been lifted off
me. My wife looked at me with her eyes starting out of her head
and couldn't believe it. 'Why, is it you, Kolya?' 'Yes, it is
I,' I said. And we knelt down together before the ikon, and fell
to praying for our angel: 'Send her, O Lord, all that we are
Zamuhrishen wipes his eyes with his sleeve gets up from his
chair, and shows a disposition to drop on one knee again; but
the lady checks him and makes him sit down.
"It's not me you must thank," she says, blushing with excitement
and looking enthusiastically at the portrait of Father Aristark.
"It's not my doing. . . . I am only the obedient instrument . .
It's really a miracle. Rheumatism of eight years' standing by
one pilule of scrofuloso!"
"Excuse me, you were so kind as to give me three pilules. One I
took at dinner and the effect was instantaneous! Another in the
evening, and the third next day; and since then not a touch! Not
a twinge anywhere! And you know I thought I was dying, I had
written to Moscow for my son to come! The Lord has given you
wisdom, our lady of healing! Now I am walking, and feel as
though I were in Paradise. The Tuesday I came to you I was
hobbling, and now I am ready to run after a hare. . . . I could
live for a hundred years. There's only one trouble, our lack of
means. I'm well now, but what's the use of health if there's
nothing to live on? Poverty weighs on me worse than illness. . .
. For example, take this . . . It's the time to sow oats, and
how is one to sow it if one has no seed? I ought to buy it, but
the money . . . everyone knows how we are off for money. . . ."
"I will give you oats, Kuzma Kuzmitch. . . . Sit down, sit down.
You have so delighted me, you have given me so much pleasure
that it's not you but I that should say thank you!"
"You are our joy! That the Lord should create such goodness!
Rejoice, Madam, looking at your good deeds! . . . While we
sinners have no cause for rejoicing in ourselves. . . . We are
paltry, poor-spirited, useless people . . . a mean lot. . . . We
are only gentry in name, but in a material sense we are the same
as peasants, only worse. . . . We live in stone houses, but it's
a mere make-believe . . . for the roof leaks. And there is no
money to buy wood to mend it with."
"I'll give you the wood, Kuzma Kuzmitch."
Zamuhrishen asks for and gets a cow too, a letter of
recommendation for his daughter whom he wants to send to a
boarding school, and . . . touched by the lady's liberality he
whimpers with excess of feeling, twists his mouth, and feels in
his pocket for his handkerchief. . . .
Marfa Petrovna sees a red paper slip out of his pocket with his
handkerchief and fall noiselessly to the floor.
"I shall never forget it to all eternity . . ." he mutters, "and
I shall make my children and my grandchildren remember it . . .
from generation to generation. 'See, children,' I shall say,
'who has saved me from the grave, who . . .'"
When she has seen her patient out, the lady looks for a minute
at Father Aristark with eyes full of tears, then turns her
caressing, reverent gaze on the drug chest, the books, the
bills, the armchair in which the man she had saved from death
has just been sitting, and her eyes fall on the paper just
dropped by her patient. She picks up the paper, unfolds it, and
sees in it three pilules -- the very pilules she had given
Zamuhrishen the previous Tuesday.
"They are the very ones," she thinks puzzled. ". . . The paper
is the same. . . . He hasn't even unwrapped them! What has he
taken then? Strange. . . . Surely he wouldn't try to deceive
And for the first time in her ten years of practice a doubt
creeps into Marfa Petrovna's mind. . . . She summons the other
patients, and while talking to them of their complaints notices
what has hitherto slipped by her ears unnoticed. The patients,
every one of them as though they were in a conspiracy, first
belaud her for their miraculous cure, go into raptures over her
medical skill, and abuse allopath doctors, then when she is
flushed with excitement, begin holding forth on their needs. One
asks for a bit of land to plough, another for wood, a third for
permission to shoot in her forests, and so on. She looks at the
broad, benevolent countenance of Father Aristark who has
revealed the truth to her, and a new truth begins gnawing at her
heart. An evil oppressive truth. . . .
The deceitfulness of man!
a homeopathic: homeopathy is a pseudoscience that treats disease
by administering minute doses of drugs that in massive amounts
produce symptoms in healthy individuals similar to the disease
allopathy: allopathy is a method of treating disease with
remedies that produce effects different from those caused by the
scrofuloso: scrofula was a tubercular disease involving chronic
inflammations of the skin, bones, and joints, and hence it
mimiced Zamuhrishen's real complaint, rheumatism