A.P. Chekhov - Polinka
IT is one o'clock in the afternoon. Shopping is at its height at
the "Nouveaut's de Paris," a drapery establishment in one of
the Arcades. There is a monotonous hum of shopmen's voices, the
hum one hears at school when the teacher sets the boys to learn
something by heart. This regular sound is not interrupted by the
laughter of lady customers nor the slam of the glass door, nor
the scurrying of the boys.
Polinka, a thin fair little person whose mother is the head of a
dressmaking establishment, is standing in the middle of the shop
looking about for some one. A dark-browed boy runs up to her and
asks, looking at her very gravely:
"What is your pleasure, madam?"
"Nikolay Timofeitch always takes my order," answers Polinka.
Nikolay Timofeitch, a graceful dark young man, fashionably
dressed, with frizzled hair and a big pin in his cravat, has
already cleared a place on the counter and is craning forward,
looking at Polinka with a smile.
"Morning, Pelagea Sergeevna!" he cries in a pleasant, hearty
baritone voice. "What can I do for you?"
"Good-morning!" says Polinka, going up to him. "You see, I'm
back again. . . . Show me some gimp, please."
"Gimp -- for what purpose?"
"For a bodice trimming -- to trim a whole dress, in fact."
Nickolay Timofeitch lays several kinds of gimp before Polinka;
she looks at the trimmings languidly and begins bargaining over
"Oh, come, a rouble's not dear," says the shopman persuasively,
with a condescending smile. "It's a French trimming, pure silk.
. . . We have a commoner sort, if you like, heavier. That's
forty-five kopecks a yard; of course, it's nothing like the same
"I want a bead corselet, too, with gimp buttons," says Polinka,
bending over the gimp and sighing for some reason. "And have you
any bead motifs to match?"
Polinka bends still lower over the counter and asks softly:
"And why did you leave us so early on Thursday, Nikolay
"Hm! It's queer you noticed it," says the shopman, with a smirk.
"You were so taken up with that fine student that . . . it's
queer you noticed it!"
Polinka flushes crimson and remains mute. With a nervous quiver
in his fingers the shopman closes the boxes, and for no sort of
object piles them one on the top of another. A moment of silence
"I want some bead lace, too," says Polinka, lifting her eyes
guiltily to the shopman.
"What sort? Black or coloured? Bead lace on tulle is the most
"And how much is it?"
"The black's from eighty kopecks and the coloured from two and a
half roubles. I shall never come and see you again," Nikolay
Timofeitch adds in an undertone.
"Why? It's very simple. You must understand that yourself. Why
should I distress myself? It's a queer business! Do you suppose
it's a pleasure to me to see that student carrying on with you?
I see it all and I understand. Ever since autumn he's been
hanging about you and you go for a walk with him almost every
day; and when he is with you, you gaze at him as though he were
an angel. You are in love with him; there's no one to beat him
in your eyes. Well, all right, then, it's no good talking."
Polinka remains dumb and moves her finger on the counter in
"I see it all," the shopman goes on. "What inducement have I to
come and see you? I've got some pride. It's not every one likes
to play gooseberry. What was it you asked for?"
"Mamma told me to get a lot of things, but I've forgotten. I
want some feather trimming too."
"What kind would you like?"
"The best, something fashionable."
"The most fashionable now are real bird feathers. If you want
the most fashionable colour, it's heliotrope or kanak -- that
is, claret with a yellow shade in it. We have an immense choice.
And what all this affair is going to lead to, I really don't
understand. Here you are in love, and how is it to end?"
Patches of red come into Nikolay Timofeitch's face round his
eyes. He crushes the soft feather trimming in his hand and goes
"Do you imagine he'll marry you -- is that it? You'd better drop
any such fancies. Students are forbidden to marry. And do you
suppose he comes to see you with honourable intentions? A likely
idea! Why, these fine students don't look on us as human beings
. . . they only go to see shopkeepers and dressmakers to laugh
at their ignorance and to drink. They're ashamed to drink at
home and in good houses, but with simple uneducated people like
us they don't care what any one thinks; they'd be ready to stand
on their heads. Yes! Well, which feather trimming will you take?
And if he hangs about and carries on with you, we know what he
is after. . . . When he's a doctor or a lawyer he'll remember
you: 'Ah,' he'll say, 'I used to have a pretty fair little
thing! I wonder where she is now?' Even now I bet you he boasts
among his friends that he's got his eye on a little dressmaker."
Polinka sits down and gazes pensively at the pile of white
"No, I won't take the feather trimming," she sighs. "Mamma had
better choose it for herself; I may get the wrong one. I want
six yards of fringe for an overcoat, at forty kopecks the yard.
For the same coat I want cocoa-nut buttons, perforated, so they
can be sown on firmly. . . ."
Nikolay Timofeitch wraps up the fringe and the buttons. She
looks at him guiltily and evidently expects him to go on
talking, but he remains sullenly silent while he tidies up the
"I mustn't forget some buttons for a dressing-gown . . ." she
says after an interval of silence, wiping her pale lips with a
"It's for a shopkeeper's wife, so give me something rather
"Yes, if it's for a shopkeeper's wife, you'd better have
something bright. Here are some buttons. A combination of
colours -- red, blue, and the fashionable gold shade. Very
glaring. The more refined prefer dull black with a bright
border. But I don't understand. Can't you see for yourself? What
can these . . . walks lead to?"
"I don't know," whispers Polinka, and she bends over the
buttons; "I don't know myself what's come to me, Nikolay
A solid shopman with whiskers forces his way behind Nikolay
Timofeitch's back, squeezing him to the counter, and beaming
with the choicest gallantry, shouts:
"Be so kind, madam, as to step into this department. We have
three kinds of jerseys: plain, braided, and trimmed with beads!
Which may I have the pleasure of showing you?"
At the same time a stout lady passes by Polinka, pronouncing in
a rich, deep voice, almost a bass:
"They must be seamless, with the trade mark stamped in them,
"Pretend to be looking at the things," Nikolay Timofeitch
whispers, bending down to Polinka with a forced smile. "Dear me,
you do look pale and ill; you are quite changed. He'll throw you
over, Pelagea Sergeevna! Or if he does marry you, it won't be
for love but from hunger; he'll be tempted by your money. He'll
furnish himself a nice home with your dowry, and then be ashamed
of you. He'll keep you out of sight of his friends and visitors,
because you're uneducated. He'll call you 'my dummy of a wife.'
You wouldn't know how to behave in a doctor's or lawyer's
circle. To them you're a dressmaker, an ignorant creature."
"Nikolay Timofeitch!" somebody shouts from the other end of the
shop. "The young lady here wants three yards of ribbon with a
metal stripe. Have we any?"
Nikolay Timofeitch turns in that direction, smirks and shouts:
"Yes, we have! Ribbon with a metal stripe, ottoman with a satin
stripe, and satin with a moir stripe!"
"Oh, by the way, I mustn't forget, Olga asked me to get her a
pair of stays!" says Polinka.
"There are tears in your eyes," says Nikolay Timofeitch in
dismay. "What's that for? Come to the corset department, I'll
screen you -- it looks awkward."
With a forced smile and exaggeratedly free and easy manner, the
shopman rapidly conducts Polinka to the corset department and
conceals her from the public eye behind a high pyramid of boxes.
"What sort of corset may I show you?" he asks aloud, whispering
immediately: "Wipe your eyes!"
"I want . . . I want . . . size forty-eight centimetres. Only
she wanted one, lined . . . with real whalebone . . . I must
talk to you, Nikolay Timofeitch. Come to-day!"
"Talk? What about? There's nothing to talk about."
"You are the only person who . . . cares about me, and I've no
one to talk to but you."
"These are not reed or steel, but real whalebone. . . . What is
there for us to talk about? It's no use talking. . . . You are
going for a walk with him to-day, I suppose?"
"Yes; I . . . I am."
"Then what's the use of talking? Talk won't help. . . . You are
in love, aren't you?"
"Yes . . ." Polinka whispers hesitatingly, and big tears gush
from her eyes.
"What is there to say?" mutters Nikolay Timofeitch, shrugging
his shoulders nervously and turning pale. "There's no need of
talk. . . . Wipe your eyes, that's all. I . . . I ask for
At that moment a tall, lanky shopman comes up to the pyramid of
boxes, and says to his customer:
"Let me show you some good elastic garters that do not impede
the circulation, certified by medical authority . . ."
Nikolay Timofeitch screens Polinka, and, trying to conceal her
emotion and his own, wrinkles his face into a smile and says
"There are two kinds of lace, madam: cotton and silk! Oriental,
English, Valenciennes, crochet, torchon, are cotton. And rococo,
soutache, Cambray, are silk. . . . For God's sake, wipe your
eyes! They're coming this way!"
And seeing that her tears are still gushing he goes on louder
"Spanish, Rococo, soutache, Cambray . . . stockings, thread,
cotton, silk . . ."
"Nouveaut's de Paris": Fancy Articles from Paris
drapery establishment: dry goods store