A.P. Chekhov - Aborigines
BETWEEN nine and ten in the morning. Ivan Lyashkevsky, a
lieutenant of Polish origin, who has at some time or other been
wounded in the head, and now lives on his pension in a town in
one of the southern provinces, is sitting in his lodgings at the
open window talking to Franz Stepanitch Finks, the town
architect, who has come in to see him for a minute. Both have
thrust their heads out of the window, and are looking in the
direction of the gate near which Lyashkevsky's landlord, a plump
little native with pendulous perspiring cheeks, in full, blue
trousers, is sitting on a bench with his waistcoat unbuttoned.
The native is plunged in deep thought, and is absent-mindedly
prodding the toe of his boot with a stick.
"Extraordinary people, I tell you," grumbled Lyashkevsky,
looking angrily at the native, "here he has sat down on the
bench, and so he will sit, damn the fellow, with his hands
folded till evening. They do absolutely nothing. The wastrels
and loafers! It would be all right, you scoundrel, if you had
money lying in the bank, or had a farm of your own where others
would be working for you, but here you have not a penny to your
name, you eat the bread of others, you are in debt all round,
and you starve your family -- devil take you! You wouldn't
believe me, Franz Stepanitch, sometimes it makes me so cross
that I could jump out of the window and give the low fellow a
good horse-whipping. Come, why don't you work? What are you
sitting there for?"
The native looks indifferently at Lyashkevsky, tries to say
something but cannot; sloth and the sultry heat have paralysed
his conversational faculties. . . . Yawning lazily, he makes the
sign of the cross over his mouth, and turns his eyes up towards
the sky where pigeons fly, bathing in the hot air.
"You must not be too severe in your judgments, honoured friend,"
sighs Finks, mopping his big bald head with his handkerchief.
"Put yourself in their place: business is slack now, there's
unemployment all round, a bad harvest, stagnation in trade."
"Good gracious, how you talk!" cries Lyashkevsky in indignation,
angrily wrapping his dressing gown round him. "Supposing he has
no job and no trade, why doesn't he work in his own home, the
devil flay him! I say! Is there no work for you at home? Just
look, you brute! Your steps have come to pieces, the plankway is
falling into the ditch, the fence is rotten; you had better set
to and mend it all, or if you don't know how, go into the
kitchen and help your wife. Your wife is running out every
minute to fetch water or carry out the slops. Why shouldn't you
run instead, you rascal? And then you must remember, Franz
Stepanitch, that he has six acres of garden, that he has
pigsties and poultry houses, but it is all wasted and no use.
The flower garden is overgrown with weeds and almost baked dry,
while the boys play ball in the kitchen garden. Isn't he a lazy
brute? I assure you, though I have only the use of an acre and a
half with my lodgings, you will always find radishes, and salad,
and fennel, and onions, while that blackguard buys everything at
"He is a Russian, there is no doing anything with him," said
Finks with a condescending smile; "it's in the Russian blood. .
. . They are a very lazy people! If all property were given to
Germans or Poles, in a year's time you would not recognise the
The native in the blue trousers beckons a girl with a sieve,
buys a kopeck's worth of sunflower seeds from her and begins
"A race of curs!" says Lyashkevsky angrily. "That's their only
occupation, they crack sunflower seeds and they talk politics!
The devil take them!"
Staring wrathfully at the blue trousers, Lyashkevsky is
gradually roused to fury, and gets so excited that he actually
foams at the mouth. He speaks with a Polish accent, rapping out
each syllable venomously, till at last the little bags under his
eyes swell, and he abandons the Russian "scoundrels,
blackguards, and rascals," and rolling his eyes, begins pouring
out a shower of Polish oaths, coughing from his efforts. "Lazy
dogs, race of curs. May the devil take them!"
The native hears this abuse distinctly, but, judging from the
appearance of his crumpled little figure, it does not affect
him. Apparently he has long ago grown as used to it as to the
buzzing of the flies, and feels it superfluous to protest. At
every visit Finks has to listen to a tirade on the subject of
the lazy good-for-nothing aborigines, and every time exactly the
"But . . . I must be going," he says, remembering that he has no
time to spare. "Good-bye!"
"Where are you off to?"
"I only looked in on you for a minute. The wall of the cellar
has cracked in the girls' high school, so they asked me to go
round at once to look at it. I must go."
"H'm. . . . I have told Varvara to get the samovar," says
Lyashkevsky, surprised. "Stay a little, we will have some tea;
then you shall go."
Finks obediently puts down his hat on the table and remains to
drink tea. Over their tea Lyashkevsky maintains that the natives
are hopelessly ruined, that there is only one thing to do, to
take them all indiscriminately and send them under strict escort
to hard labour.
"Why, upon my word," he says, getting hot, "you may ask what
does that goose sitting there live upon! He lets me lodgings in
his house for seven roubles a month, and he goes to name-day
parties, that's all that he has to live on, the knave, may the
devil take him! He has neither earnings nor an income. They are
not merely sluggards and wastrels, they are swindlers too, they
are continually borrowing money from the town bank, and what do
they do with it? They plunge into some scheme such as sending
bulls to Moscow, or building oil presses on a new system; but to
send bulls to Moscow or to press oil you want to have a head on
your shoulders, and these rascals have pumpkins on theirs! Of
course all their schemes end in smoke. . . . They waste their
money, get into a mess, and then snap their fingers at the bank.
What can you get out of them? Their houses are mortgaged over
and over again, they have no other property -- it's all been
drunk and eaten up long ago. Nine-tenths of them are swindlers,
the scoundrels! To borrow money and not return it is their rule.
Thanks to them the town bank is going smash!"
"I was at Yegorov's yesterday," Finks interrupts the Pole,
anxious to change the conversation, "and only fancy, I won six
roubles and a half from him at picquet."
"I believe I still owe you something at picquet," Lyashkevsky
recollects, "I ought to win it back. Wouldn't you like one
"Perhaps just one," Finks assents. "I must make haste to the
high school, you know."
Lyashkevsky and Finks sit down at the open window and begin a
game of picquet. The native in the blue trousers stretches with
relish, and husks of sunflower seeds fall in showers from all
over him on to the ground. At that moment from the gate opposite
appears another native with a long beard, wearing a crumpled
yellowish-grey cotton coat. He screws up his eyes affectionately
at the blue trousers and shouts:
"Good-morning, Semyon Nikolaitch, I have the honour to
congratulate you on the Thursday."
"And the same to you, Kapiton Petrovitch!"
"Come to my seat! It's cool here!"
The blue trousers, with much sighing and groaning and waddling
from side to side like a duck, cross the street.
"Tierce major . . ." mutters Lyashkevsky, "from the queen. . . .
Five and fifteen. . . . The rascals are talking of politics. . .
. Do you hear? They have begun about England. I have six
"I have the seven spades. My point."
"Yes, it's yours. Do you hear? They are abusing Beaconsfield.
They don't know, the swine, that Beaconsfield has been dead for
ever so long. So I have twenty-nine. . . . Your lead."
"Eight . . . nine . . . ten . . . . Yes, amazing people, these
Russians! Eleven . . . twelve. . . . The Russian inertia is
unique on the terrestrial globe."
"Thirty . . . Thirty-one. . . . One ought to take a good whip,
you know. Go out and give them Beaconsfield. I say, how their
tongues are wagging! It's easier to babble than to work. I
suppose you threw away the queen of clubs and I didn't realise
"Thirteen . . . Fourteen. . . . It's unbearably hot! One must be
made of iron to sit in such heat on a seat in the full sun!
The first game is followed by a second, the second by a third. .
. . Finks loses, and by degrees works himself up into a gambling
fever and forgets all about the cracking walls of the high
school cellar. As Lyashkevsky plays he keeps looking at the
aborigines. He sees them, entertaining each other with
conversation, go to the open gate, cross the filthy yard and sit
down on a scanty patch of shade under an aspen tree. Between
twelve and one o'clock the fat cook with brown legs spreads
before them something like a baby's sheet with brown stains upon
it, and gives them their dinner. They eat with wooden spoons,
keep brushing away the flies, and go on talking.
"The devil, it is beyond everything," cries Lyashkevsky,
revolted. "I am very glad I have not a gun or a revolver or I
should have a shot at those cattle. I have four knaves --
fourteen. . . . Your point. . . . It really gives me a twitching
in my legs. I can't see those ruffians without being upset."
"Don't excite yourself, it is bad for you."
"But upon my word, it is enough to try the patience of a stone!"
When he has finished dinner the native in blue trousers, worn
out and exhausted, staggering with laziness and repletion,
crosses the street to his own house and sinks feebly on to his
bench. He is struggling with drowsiness and the gnats, and is
looking about him as dejectedly as though he were every minute
expecting his end. His helpless air drives Lyashkevsky out of
all patience. The Pole pokes his head out of the window and
shouts at him, spluttering:
"Been gorging? Ah, the old woman! The sweet darling. He has been
stuffing himself, and now he doesn't know what to do with his
tummy! Get out of my sight, you confounded fellow! Plague take
The native looks sourly at him, and merely twiddles his fingers
instead of answering. A school-boy of his acquaintance passes by
him with his satchel on his back. Stopping him the native
ponders a long time what to say to him, and asks:
"Well, what now?"
"Why, just nothing."
"H'm. . . . And which subject is the hardest?"
"That's according." The school-boy shrugs his shoulders.
"I see -- er . . . What is the Latin for tree?"
"Aha. . . . And so one has to know all that," sighs the blue
trousers. "You have to go into it all. . . . It's hard work,
hard work. . . . Is your dear Mamma well?"
"She is all right, thank you."
"Ah. . . . Well, run along."
After losing two roubles Finks remembers the high school and is
"Holy Saints, why it's three o'clock already. How I have been
staying on. Good-bye, I must run. . . ."
"Have dinner with me, and then go," says Lyashkevsky. "You have
plenty of time."
Finks stays, but only on condition that dinner shall last no
more than ten minutes. After dining he sits for some five
minutes on the sofa and thinks of the cracked wall, then
resolutely lays his head on the cushion and fills the room with
a shrill whistling through his nose. While he is asleep,
Lyashkevsky, who does not approve of an afternoon nap, sits at
the window, stares at the dozing native, and grumbles:
"Race of curs! I wonder you don't choke with laziness. No work,
no intellectual or moral interests, nothing but vegetating . . .
. disgusting. Tfoo!"
At six o'clock Finks wakes up.
"It's too late to go to the high school now," he says,
stretching. "I shall have to go to-morrow, and now. . . . How
about my revenge? Let's have one more game. . . ."
After seeing his visitor off, between nine and ten, Lyashkevsky
looks after him for some time, and says:
"Damn the fellow, staying here the whole day and doing
absolutely nothing. . . . Simply get their salary and do no
work; the devil take them! . . . The German pig. . . ."
He looks out of the window, but the native is no longer there.
He has gone to bed. There is no one to grumble at, and for the
first time in the day he keeps his mouth shut, but ten minutes
passes and he cannot restrain the depression that overpowers
him, and begins to grumble, shoving the old shabby armchair:
"You only take up room, rubbishly old thing! You ought to have
been burnt long ago, but I keep forgetting to tell them to chop
you up. It's a disgrace!"
And as he gets into bed he presses his hand on a spring of the
mattress, frowns and says peevishly:
"The con--found--ed spring! It will cut my side all night. I
will tell them to rip up the mattress to-morrow and get you out,
you useless thing."
He falls asleep at midnight, and dreams that he is pouring
boiling water over the natives, Finks, and the old armchair.
sign of the cross over his mouth: so that the devil cannot enter
his soul through his open mouth
name-day parties: Russians celebrate the feast day of the saint
after whom they are named