A.P. Chekhov - A Tripping Tongue
NATALYA MIHALOVNA, a young married lady who had arrived in the
morning from Yalta, was having her dinner, and in a
never-ceasing flow of babble was telling her husband of all the
charms of the Crimea. Her husband, delighted, gazed tenderly at
her enthusiastic face, listened, and from time to time put in a
"But they say living is dreadfully expensive there?" he asked,
among other things.
"Well, what shall I say? To my thinking this talk of its being
so expensive is exaggerated, hubby. The devil is not as black as
he is painted. Yulia Petrovna and I, for instance, had very
decent and comfortable rooms for twenty roubles a day.
Everything depends on knowing how to do things, my dear. Of
course if you want to go up into the mountains . . . to Aie-Petri
for instance . . . if you take a horse, a guide, then of course
it does come to something. It's awful what it comes to! But,
Vassitchka, the mountains there! Imagine high, high mountains, a
thousand times higher than the church. . . . At the top -- mist,
mist, mist. . . . At the bottom -- enormous stones, stones,
stones. . . . And pines. . . . Ah, I can't bear to think of it!"
"By the way, I read about those Tatar guides there, in some
magazine while you were away . . . . such abominable stories!
Tell me is there really anything out of the way about them?"
Natalya Mihalovna made a little disdainful grimace and shook her
"Just ordinary Tatars, nothing special . . ." she said, "though
indeed I only had a glimpse of them in the distance. They were
pointed out to me, but I did not take much notice of them. You
know, hubby, I always had a prejudice against all such
Circassians, Greeks . . . Moors!"
"They are said to be terrible Don Juans."
"Perhaps! There are shameless creatures who . . . ."
Natalya Mihalovna suddenly jumped up from her chair, as though
she had thought of something dreadful; for half a minute she
looked with frightened eyes at her husband and said,
accentuating each word:
"Vassitchka, I say, the im-mo-ral women there are in the world!
Ah, how immoral! And it's not as though they were working-class
or middle-class people, but aristocratic ladies, priding
themselves on their bon-ton! It was simply awful, I could not
believe my own eyes! I shall remember it as long as I live! To
think that people can forget themselves to such a point as . . .
ach, Vassitchka, I don't like to speak of it! Take my companion,
Yulia Petrovna, for example. . . . Such a good husband, two
children . . . she moves in a decent circle, always poses as a
saint -- and all at once, would you believe it. . . . Only,
hubby, of course this is entre nous. . . . Give me your word of
honour you won't tell a soul?"
"What next! Of course I won't tell."
"Honour bright? Mind now! I trust you. . . ."
The little lady put down her fork, assumed a mysterious air, and
"Imagine a thing like this. . . . That Yulia Petrovna rode up
into the mountains . . . . It was glorious weather! She rode on
ahead with her guide, I was a little behind. We had ridden two
or three miles, all at once, only fancy, Vassitchka, Yulia cried
out and clutched at her bosom. Her Tatar put his arm round her
waist or she would have fallen off the saddle. . . . I rode up
to her with my guide. . . . 'What is it? What is the matter?'
'Oh,' she cried, 'I am dying! I feel faint! I can't go any
further' Fancy my alarm! 'Let us go back then,' I said. 'No,
Natalie,' she said, 'I can't go back! I shall die of pain if I
move another step! I have spasms.' And she prayed and besought
my Suleiman and me to ride back to the town and fetch her some
of her drops which always do her good."
"Stay. . . . I don't quite understand you," muttered the
husband, scratching his forehead. "You said just now that you
had only seen those Tatars from a distance, and now you are
talking of some Suleiman."
"There, you are finding fault again," the lady pouted, not in
the least disconcerted. "I can't endure suspiciousness! I can't
endure it! It's stupid, stupid!"
"I am not finding fault, but . . . why say what is not true? If
you rode about with Tatars, so be it, God bless you, but . . .
why shuffle about it?"
"H'm! . . . you are a queer one!" cried the lady, revolted. "He
is jealous of Suleiman! as though one could ride up into the
mountains without a guide! I should like to see you do it! If
you don't know the ways there, if you don't understand, you had
better hold your tongue! Yes, hold your tongue. You can't take a
step there without a guide."
"So it seems!"
"None of your silly grins, if you please! I am not a Yulia. . .
. I don't justify her but I . . . ! Though I don't pose as a
saint, I don't forget myself to that degree. My Suleiman never
overstepped the limits. . . . No-o! Mametkul used to be sitting
at Yulia's all day long, but in my room as soon as it struck
eleven: 'Suleiman, march! Off you go!' And my foolish Tatar boy
would depart. I made him mind his p's and q's, hubby! As soon as
he began grumbling about money or anything, I would say 'How?
Wha-at? Wha-a-a-t?' And his heart would be in his mouth
directly. . . . Ha-ha-ha! His eyes, you know, Vassitchka, were
as black, as black, like coals, such an amusing little Tatar
face, so funny and silly! I kept him in order, didn't I just!"
"I can fancy . . ." mumbled her husband, rolling up pellets of
"That's stupid, Vassitchka! I know what is in your mind! I know
what you are thinking . . . But I assure you even when we were
on our expeditions I never let him overstep the limits. For
instance, if we rode to the mountains or to the U-Chan-Su
waterfall, I would always say to him, 'Suleiman, ride behind! Do
you hear!' And he always rode behind, poor boy. . . . Even when
we . . . even at the most dramatic moments I would say to him,
'Still, you must not forget that you are only a Tatar and I am
the wife of a civil councillor!' Ha-ha. . . ."
The little lady laughed, then, looking round her quickly and
assuming an alarmed expression, whispered:
"But Yulia! Oh, that Yulia! I quite see, Vassitchka, there is no
reason why one shouldn't have a little fun, a little rest from
the emptiness of conventional life! That's all right, have your
fling by all means -- no one will blame you, but to take the
thing seriously, to get up scenes . . . no, say what you like, I
cannot understand that! Just fancy, she was jealous! Wasn't that
silly? One day Mametkul, her grande passion, came to see her . .
. she was not at home. . . . Well, I asked him into my room . .
. there was conversation, one thing and another . . . they're
awfully amusing, you know! The evening passed without our
noticing it. . . . All at once Yulia rushed in. . . . She flew
at me and at Mametkul -- made such a scene . . . fi! I can't
understand that sort of thing, Vassitchka."
Vassitchka cleared his throat, frowned, and walked up and down
"You had a gay time there, I must say," he growled with a
"How stu-upid that is!" cried Natalya Mihalovna, offended. "I
know what you are thinking about! You always have such horrid
ideas! I won't tell you anything! No, I won't!"
The lady pouted and said no more.
bon-ton: good style
entre nous: between us
civil councillor: Rank 5 in the Civil Service, and entitled to
be called "Your Excellency"
grande passion: great passion