A.P. Chekhov - A Bad Business
"WHO goes there?"
No answer. The watchman sees nothing, but through the roar of
the wind and the trees distinctly hears someone walking along
the avenue ahead of him. A March night, cloudy and foggy,
envelopes the earth, and it seems to the watchman that the
earth, the sky, and he himself with his thoughts are all merged
together into something vast and impenetrably black. He can only
grope his way.
"Who goes there?" the watchman repeats, and he begins to fancy
that he hears whispering and smothered laughter. "Who's there?"
"It's I, friend . . ." answers an old man's voice.
"But who are you?"
"I . . . a traveller."
"What sort of traveller?" the watchman cries angrily, trying to
disguise his terror by shouting. "What the devil do you want
here? You go prowling about the graveyard at night, you
"You don't say it's a graveyard here?"
"Why, what else? Of course it's the graveyard! Don't you see it
"O-o-oh . . . Queen of Heaven!" there is a sound of an old man
sighing. "I see nothing, my good soul, nothing. Oh the darkness,
the darkness! You can't see your hand before your face, it is
dark, friend. O-o-oh. . ."
"But who are you?"
"I am a pilgrim, friend, a wandering man."
"The devils, the nightbirds. . . . Nice sort of pilgrims! They
are drunkards . . ." mutters the watchman, reassured by the tone
and sighs of the stranger. "One's tempted to sin by you. They
drink the day away and prowl about at night. But I fancy I heard
you were not alone; it sounded like two or three of you."
"I am alone, friend, alone. Quite alone. O-o-oh our sins. . . ."
The watchman stumbles up against the man and stops.
"How did you get here?" he asks.
"I have lost my way, good man. I was walking to the Mitrievsky
Mill and I lost my way."
"Whew! Is this the road to Mitrievsky Mill? You sheepshead! For
the Mitrievsky Mill you must keep much more to the left,
straight out of the town along the high road. You have been
drinking and have gone a couple of miles out of your way. You
must have had a drop in the town."
"I did, friend . . . Truly I did; I won't hide my sins. But how
am I to go now?"
"Go straight on and on along this avenue till you can go no
farther, and then turn at once to the left and go till you have
crossed the whole graveyard right to the gate. There will be a
gate there. . . . Open it and go with God's blessing. Mind you
don't fall into the ditch. And when you are out of the graveyard
you go all the way by the fields till you come out on the main
"God give you health, friend. May the Queen of Heaven save you
and have mercy on you. You might take me along, good man! Be
merciful! Lead me to the gate."
"As though I had the time to waste! Go by yourself!"
"Be merciful! I'll pray for you. I can't see anything; one can't
see one's hand before one's face, friend. . . . It's so dark, so
dark! Show me the way, sir!"
"As though I had the time to take you about; if I were to play
the nurse to everyone I should never have done."
"For Christ's sake, take me! I can't see, and I am afraid to go
alone through the graveyard. It's terrifying, friend, it's
terrifying; I am afraid, good man."
"There's no getting rid of you," sighs the watchman. "All right
then, come along."
The watchman and the traveller go on together. They walk
shoulder to shoulder in silence. A damp, cutting wind blows
straight into their faces and the unseen trees murmuring and
rustling scatter big drops upon them. . . . The path is almost
entirely covered with puddles.
"There is one thing passes my understanding," says the watchman
after a prolonged silence -- "how you got here. The gate's
locked. Did you climb over the wall? If you did climb over the
wall, that's the last thing you would expect of an old man."
"I don't know, friend, I don't know. I can't say myself how I
got here. It's a visitation. A chastisement of the Lord. Truly a
visitation, the evil one confounded me. So you are a watchman
"The only one for the whole graveyard?"
There is such a violent gust of wind that both stop for a
minute. Waiting till the violence of the wind abates, the
"There are three of us, but one is lying ill in a fever and the
other's asleep. He and I take turns about."
"Ah, to be sure, friend. What a wind! The dead must hear it! It
howls like a wild beast! O-o-oh."
"And where do you come from?"
"From a distance, friend. I am from Vologda, a long way off. I
go from one holy place to another and pray for people. Save me
and have mercy upon me, O Lord."
The watchman stops for a minute to light his pipe. He stoops
down behind the traveller's back and lights several matches. The
gleam of the first match lights up for one instant a bit of the
avenue on the right, a white tombstone with an angel, and a dark
cross; the light of the second match, flaring up brightly and
extinguished by the wind, flashes like lightning on the left
side, and from the darkness nothing stands out but the angle of
some sort of trellis; the third match throws light to right and
to left, revealing the white tombstone, the dark cross, and the
trellis round a child's grave.
"The departed sleep; the dear ones sleep!" the stranger mutters,
sighing loudly. "They all sleep alike, rich and poor, wise and
foolish, good and wicked. They are of the same value now. And
they will sleep till the last trump. The Kingdom of Heaven and
peace eternal be theirs."
"Here we are walking along now, but the time will come when we
shall be lying here ourselves," says the watchman.
"To be sure, to be sure, we shall all. There is no man who will
not die. O-o-oh. Our doings are wicked, our thoughts are
deceitful! Sins, sins! My soul accursed, ever covetous, my belly
greedy and lustful! I have angered the Lord and there is no
salvation for me in this world and the next. I am deep in sins
like a worm in the earth."
"Yes, and you have to die."
"You are right there."
"Death is easier for a pilgrim than for fellows like us," says
"There are pilgrims of different sorts. There are the real ones
who are God-fearing men and watch over their own souls, and
there are such as stray about the graveyard at night and are a
delight to the devils. . . Ye-es! There's one who is a pilgrim
could give you a crack on the pate with an axe if he liked and
knock the breath out of you."
"What are you talking like that for?"
"Oh, nothing . . . Why, I fancy here's the gate. Yes, it is.
Open it, good man."
The watchman, feeling his way, opens the gate, leads the pilgrim
out by the sleeve, and says:
"Here's the end of the graveyard. Now you must keep on through
the open fields till you get to the main road. Only close here
there will be the boundary ditch -- don't fall in. . . . And
when you come out on to the road, turn to the right, and keep on
till you reach the mill. . . ."
"O-o-oh!" sighs the pilgrim after a pause, "and now I am
thinking that I have no cause to go to Mitrievsky Mill. . . .
Why the devil should I go there? I had better stay a bit with
you here, sir. . . ."
"What do you want to stay with me for?"
"Oh . . . it's merrier with you! . . . ."
"So you've found a merry companion, have you? You, pilgrim, are
fond of a joke I see. . . ."
"To be sure I am," says the stranger, with a hoarse chuckle.
"Ah, my dear good man, I bet you will remember the pilgrim many
a long year!"
"Why should I remember you?"
"Why I've got round you so smartly. . . . Am I a pilgrim? I am
not a pilgrim at all."
"What are you then?"
"A dead man. . . . I've only just got out of my coffin. . . . Do
you remember Gubaryev, the locksmith, who hanged himself in
carnival week? Well, I am Gubaryev himself! . . ."
"Tell us something else!"
The watchman does not believe him, but he feels all over such a
cold, oppressive terror that he starts off and begins hurriedly
feeling for the gate.
"Stop, where are you off to?" says the stranger, clutching him
by the arm. "Aie, aie, aie . . . what a fellow you are! How can
you leave me all alone?"
"Let go!" cries the watchman, trying to pull his arm away.
"Sto-op! I bid you stop and you stop. Don't struggle, you dirty
dog! If you want to stay among the living, stop and hold your
tongue till I tell you. It's only that I don't care to spill
blood or you would have been a dead man long ago, you scurvy
rascal. . . . Stop!"
The watchman's knees give way under him. In his terror he shuts
his eyes, and trembling all over huddles close to the wall. He
would like to call out, but he knows his cries would not reach
any living thing. The stranger stands beside him and holds him
by the arm. . . . Three minutes pass in silence.
"One's in a fever, another's asleep, and the third is seeing
pilgrims on their way," mutters the stranger. "Capital watchmen,
they are worth their salary! Ye-es, brother, thieves have always
been cleverer than watchmen! Stand still, don't stir. . . ."
Five minutes, ten minutes pass in silence. All at once the wind
brings the sound of a whistle.
"Well, now you can go," says the stranger, releasing the
watchman's arm. "Go and thank God you are alive!"
The stranger gives a whistle too, runs away from the gate, and
the watchman hears him leap over the ditch.
With a foreboding of something very dreadful in his heart, the
watchman, still trembling with terror, opens the gate
irresolutely and runs back with his eyes shut.
At the turning into the main avenue he hears hurried footsteps,
and someone asks him, in a hissing voice: "Is that you, Timofey?
Where is Mitka?"
And after running the whole length of the main avenue he notices
a little dim light in the darkness. The nearer he gets to the
light the more frightened he is and the stronger his foreboding
"It looks as though the light were in the church," he thinks.
"And how can it have come there? Save me and have mercy on me,
Queen of Heaven! And that it is."
The watchman stands for a minute before the broken window and
looks with horror towards the altar. . . . A little wax candle
which the thieves had forgotten to put out flickers in the wind
that bursts in at the window and throws dim red patches of light
on the vestments flung about and a cupboard overturned on the
floor, on numerous footprints near the high altar and the altar
A little time passes and the howling wind sends floating over
the churchyard the hurried uneven clangs of the alarm-bell. . .
from one holy place to another: wandering religious pilgrims
were common in 19th century Russia
Sometimes you might need lock change in Queens, New York.