A.P. Chekhov - A Blunder
ILYA SERGEITCH PEPLOV and his wife Kleopatra Petrovna were
standing at the door, listening greedily. On the other side in
the little drawing-room a love scene was apparently taking place
between two persons: their daughter Natashenka and a teacher of
the district school, called Shchupkin.
"He's rising!" whispered Peplov, quivering with impatience and
rubbing his hands. "Now, Kleopatra, mind; as soon as they begin
talking of their feelings, take down the ikon from the wall and
we'll go in and bless them. . . . We'll catch him. . . . A
blessing with an ikon is sacred and binding. . . He couldn't get
out of it, if he brought it into court."
On the other side of the door this was the conversation:
"Don't go on like that!" said Shchupkin, striking a match
against his checked trousers. "I never wrote you any letters!"
"I like that! As though I didn't know your writing!" giggled the
girl with an affected shriek, continually peeping at herself in
the glass. "I knew it at once! And what a queer man you are! You
are a writing master, and you write like a spider! How can you
teach writing if you write so badly yourself?"
"H'm! . . . That means nothing. The great thing in writing
lessons is not the hand one writes, but keeping the boys in
order. You hit one on the head with a ruler, make another kneel
down. . . . Besides, there's nothing in handwriting! Nekrassov
was an author, but his handwriting's a disgrace, there's a
specimen of it in his collected works."
"You are not Nekrassov. . . ." (A sigh). "I should love to marry
an author. He'd always be writing poems to me."
"I can write you a poem, too, if you like."
"What can you write about?"
"Love -- passion -- your eyes. You'll be crazy when you read it.
It would draw a tear from a stone! And if I write you a real
poem, will you let me kiss your hand?"
"That's nothing much! You can kiss it now if you like."
Shchupkin jumped up, and making sheepish eyes, bent over the fat
little hand that smelt of egg soap.
"Take down the ikon," Peplov whispered in a fluster, pale with
excitement, and buttoning his coat as he prodded his wife with
his elbow. "Come along, now!"
And without a second's delay Peplov flung open the door.
"Children," he muttered, lifting up his arms and blinking
tearfully, "the Lord bless you, my children. May you live -- be
fruitful -- and multiply."
"And -- and I bless you, too," the mamma brought out, crying
with happiness. "May you be happy, my dear ones! Oh, you are
taking from me my only treasure!" she said to Shchupkin. "Love
my girl, be good to her. . . ."
Shchupkin's mouth fell open with amazement and alarm. The
parents' attack was so bold and unexpected that he could not
utter a single word.
"I'm in for it! I'm spliced!" he thought, going limp with
horror. "It's all over with you now, my boy! There's no escape!"
And he bowed his head submissively, as though to say, "Take me,
"Ble-blessings on you," the papa went on, and he, too, shed
tears. "Natashenka, my daughter, stand by his side. Kleopatra,
give me the ikon."
But at this point the father suddenly left off weeping, and his
face was contorted with anger.
"You ninny!" he said angrily to his wife. "You are an idiot! Is
that the ikon?"
"Ach, saints alive!"
What had happened? The writing master raised himself and saw
that he was saved; in her flutter the mamma had snatched from
the wall the portrait of Lazhetchnikov, the author, in mistake
for the ikon. Old Peplov and his wife stood disconcerted in the
middle of the room, holding the portrait aloft, not knowing what
to do or what to say. The writing master took advantage of the
general confusion and slipped away.
title: lit., Failure
Shchupkin: the name suggests "to grope"
Nekrassov: Nikolay A. Nekrasov (1821-1878) poet and radical
be fruitful and multiply: Genesis 9:1
I'm in for it! I'm spliced!: I'm done for, I'm caught
Lazhetchnikov: Ivan I. Lazhechnikov (1792-1869) historical