A.P. Chekhov - Drunk
A MANUFACTURER called Frolov, a handsome dark man with a round
beard, and a soft, velvety expression in his eyes, and Almer,
his lawyer, an elderly man with a big rough head, were drinking
in one of the public rooms of a restaurant on the outskirts of
the town. They had both come to the restaurant straight from a
ball and so were wearing dress coats and white ties. Except them
and the waiters at the door there was not a soul in the room; by
Frolov's orders no one else was admitted.
They began by drinking a big wine-glass of vodka and eating
"Good!" said Almer. "It was I brought oysters into fashion for
the first course, my boy. The vodka burns and stings your throat
and you have a voluptuous sensation in your throat when you
swallow an oyster. Don't you?"
A dignified waiter with a shaven upper lip and grey whiskers put
a sauceboat on the table.
"What's that you are serving?" asked Frolov.
"Sauce Provenale for the herring, sir. . . ."
"What! is that the way to serve it?" shouted Frolov, not looking
into the sauceboat. "Do you call that sauce? You don't know how
to wait, you blockhead!"
Frolov's velvety eyes flashed. He twisted a corner of the
table-cloth round his finger, made a slight movement, and the
dishes, the candlesticks, and the bottles, all jingling and
clattering, fell with a crash on the floor.
The waiters, long accustomed to pot-house catastrophes, ran up
to the table and began picking up the fragments with grave and
unconcerned faces, like surgeons at an operation.
"How well you know how to manage them!" said Almer, and he
laughed. "But . . . move a little away from the table or you
will step in the caviare."
"Call the engineer here!" cried Frolov.
This was the name given to a decrepit, doleful old man who
really had once been an engineer and very well off; he had
squandered all his property and towards the end of his life had
got into a restaurant where he looked after the waiters and
singers and carried out various commissions relating to the fair
sex. Appearing at the summons, he put his head on one side
"Listen, my good man," Frolov said, addressing him. "What's the
meaning of this disorder? How queerly you fellows wait! Don't
you know that I don't like it? Devil take you, I shall give up
coming to you!"
"I beg you graciously to excuse it, Alexey Semyonitch!" said the
engineer, laying his hand on his heart. "I will take steps
immediately, and your slightest wishes shall be carried out in
the best and speediest way."
"Well, that'll do, you can go. . . ."
The engineer bowed, staggered back, still doubled up, and
disappeared through the doorway with a final flash of the false
diamonds on his shirt-front and fingers.
The table was laid again. Almer drank red wine and ate with
relish some sort of bird served with truffles, and ordered a
matelote of eelpouts and a sterlet with its tail in its mouth.
Frolov only drank vodka and ate nothing but bread. He rubbed his
face with his open hands, scowled, and was evidently out of
humour. Both were silent. There was a stillness. Two electric
lights in opaque shades flickered and hissed as though they were
angry. The gypsy girls passed the door, softly humming.
"One drinks and is none the merrier," said Frolov. "The more I
pour into myself, the more sober I become. Other people grow
festive with vodka, but I suffer from anger, disgusting
thoughts, sleeplessness. Why is it, old man, that people don't
invent some other pleasure besides drunkenness and debauchery?
It's really horrible!"
"You had better send for the gypsy girls."
The head of an old gypsy woman appeared in the door from the
"Alexey Semyonitch, the gypsies are asking for tea and brandy,"
said the old woman. "May we order it?"
"Yes," answered Frolov. "You know they get a percentage from the
restaurant keeper for asking the visitors to treat them.
Nowadays you can't even believe a man when he asks for vodka.
The people are all mean, vile, spoilt. Take these waiters, for
instance. They have countenances like professors, and grey
heads; they get two hundred roubles a month, they live in houses
of their own and send their girls to the high school, but you
may swear at them and give yourself airs as much as you please.
For a rouble the engineer will gulp down a whole pot of mustard
and crow like a cock. On my honour, if one of them would take
offence I would make him a present of a thousand roubles."
"What's the matter with you?" said Almer, looking at him with
surprise. "Whence this melancholy? You are red in the face, you
look like a wild animal. . . . What's the matter with you?"
"It's horrid. There's one thing I can't get out of my head. It
seems as though it is nailed there and it won't come out."
A round little old man, buried in fat and completely bald,
wearing a short reefer jacket and lilac waistcoat and carrying a
guitar, walked into the room. He made an idiotic face, drew
himself up, and saluted like a soldier.
"Ah, the parasite!" said Frolov, "let me introduce him, he has
made his fortune by grunting like a pig. Come here!" He poured
vodka, wine, and brandy into a glass, sprinkled pepper and salt
into it, mixed it all up and gave it to the parasite. The latter
tossed it off and smacked his lips with gusto.
"He's accustomed to drink a mess so that pure wine makes him
sick," said Frolov. "Come, parasite, sit down and sing."
The old man sat down, touched the strings with his fat fingers,
and began singing:
"Neetka, neetka, Margareetka. . . ."
After drinking champagne Frolov was drunk. He thumped with his
fist on the table and said:
"Yes, there's something that sticks in my head! It won't give me
a minute's peace!"
"Why, what is it?"
"I can't tell you. It's a secret. It's something so private that
I could only speak of it in my prayers. But if you like . . . as
a sign of friendship, between ourselves . . . only mind, to no
one, no, no, no, . . . I'll tell you, it will ease my heart, but
for God's sake . . . listen and forget it. . . ."
Frolov bent down to Almer and for a minute breathed in his ear.
"I hate my wife!" he brought out.
The lawyer looked at him with surprise.
"Yes, yes, my wife, Marya Mihalovna," Frolov muttered, flushing
red. "I hate her and that's all about it."
"I don't know myself! I've only been married two years. I
married as you know for love, and now I hate her like a mortal
enemy, like this parasite here, saving your presence. And there
is no cause, no sort of cause! When she sits by me, eats, or
says anything, my whole soul boils, I can scarcely restrain
myself from being rude to her. It's something one can't
describe. To leave her or tell her the truth is utterly
impossible because it would be a scandal, and living with her is
worse than hell for me. I can't stay at home! I spend my days at
business and in the restaurants and spend my nights in
dissipation. Come, how is one to explain this hatred? She is not
an ordinary woman, but handsome, clever, quiet."
The old man stamped his foot and began singing:
"I went a walk with a captain bold, And in his ear my secrets
"I must own I always thought that Marya Mihalovna was not at all
the right person for you," said Almer after a brief silence, and
he heaved a sigh.
"Do you mean she is too well educated? . . . I took the gold
medal at the commercial school myself, I have been to Paris
three times. I am not cleverer than you, of course, but I am no
more foolish than my wife. No, brother, education is not the
sore point. Let me tell you how all the trouble began. It began
with my suddenly fancying that she had married me not from love,
but for the sake of my money. This idea took possession of my
brain. I have done all I could think of, but the cursed thing
sticks! And to make it worse my wife was overtaken with a
passion for luxury. Getting into a sack of gold after poverty,
she took to flinging it in all directions. She went quite off
her head, and was so carried away that she used to get through
twenty thousand every month. And I am a distrustful man. I don't
believe in anyone, I suspect everybody. And the more friendly
you are to me the greater my torment. I keep fancying I am being
flattered for my money. I trust no one! I am a difficult man, my
boy, very difficult!"
Frolov emptied his glass at one gulp and went on.
"But that's all nonsense," he said. "One never ought to speak of
it. It's stupid. I am tipsy and I have been chattering, and now
you are looking at me with lawyer's eyes -- glad you know some
one else's secret. Well, well! . . . Let us drop this
conversation. Let us drink! I say," he said, addressing a
waiter, "is Mustafa here? Fetch him in!"
Shortly afterwards there walked into the room a little Tatar
boy, aged about twelve, wearing a dress coat and white gloves.
"Come here!" Frolov said to him. "Explain to us the following
fact: there was a time when you Tatars conquered us and took
tribute from us, but now you serve us as waiters and sell
dressing-gowns. How do you explain such a change?"
Mustafa raised his eyebrows and said in a shrill voice, with a
sing-song intonation: "The mutability of destiny!"
Almer looked at his grave face and went off into peals of
"Well, give him a rouble!" said Frolov. "He is making his
fortune out of the mutability of destiny. He is only kept here
for the sake of those two words. Drink, Mustafa! You will make a
gre-eat rascal! I mean it is awful how many of your sort are
toadies hanging about rich men. The number of these peaceful
bandits and robbers is beyond all reckoning! Shouldn't we send
for the gypsies now? Eh? Fetch the gypsies along!"
The gypsies, who had been hanging about wearily in the corridors
for a long time, burst with whoops into the room, and a wild
"Drink!" Frolov shouted to them. "Drink! Seed of Pharaoh! Sing!
"In the winter time . . . o-o-ho! . . . the sledge was flying .
The gypsies sang, whistled, danced. In the frenzy which
sometimes takes possession of spoilt and very wealthy men,
"broad natures," Frolov began to play the fool. He ordered
supper and champagne for the gypsies, broke the shade of the
electric light, shied bottles at the pictures and
looking-glasses, and did it all apparently without the slightest
enjoyment, scowling and shouting irritably, with contempt for
the people, with an expression of hatred in his eyes and his
manners. He made the engineer sing a solo, made the bass singers
drink a mixture of wine, vodka, and oil.
At six o'clock they handed him the bill.
"Nine hundred and twenty-five roubles, forty kopecks," said
Almer, and shrugged his shoulders. "What's it for? No, wait, we
must go into it!"
"Stop!" muttered Frolov, pulling out his pocket-book. "Well! . .
. let them rob me. That's what I'm rich for, to be robbed! . . .
You can't get on without parasites! . . . You are my lawyer. You
get six thousand a year out of me and what for? But excuse me, .
. . I don't know what I am saying."
As he was returning home with Almer, Frolov murmured:
"Going home is awful to me! Yes! . . . There isn't a human being
I can open my soul to. . . . They are all robbers . . .
traitors. . . . Oh, why did I tell you my secret? Yes . . . why?
Tell me why?"
At the entrance to his house, he craned forward towards Almer
and, staggering, kissed him on the lips, having the old Moscow
habit of kissing indiscriminately on every occasion.
"Good-bye . . . I am a difficult, hateful man," he said. "A
horrid, drunken, shameless life. You are a well-educated, clever
man, but you only laugh and drink with me . . . there's no help
from any of you. . . . But if you were a friend to me, if you
were an honest man, in reality you ought to have said to me:
'Ugh, you vile, hateful man! You reptile!' "
"Come, come," Almer muttered, "go to bed."
"There is no help from you; the only hope is that, when I am in
the country in the summer, I may go out into the fields and a
storm come on and the thunder may strike me dead on the spot. .
. . Good-bye."
Frolov kissed Almer once more and muttering and dropping asleep
as he walked, began mounting the stairs, supported by two