A.P. Chekhov - The Lion and the Sun
IN one of the towns lying on this side of the Urals a rumour was
afloat that a Persian magnate, called Rahat-Helam, was staying
for a few days in the town and putting up at the "Japan Hotel."
This rumour made no impression whatever upon the inhabitants; a
Persian had arrived, well, so be it. Only Stepan Ivanovitch
Kutsyn, the mayor of the town, hearing of the arrival of the
oriental gentleman from the secretary of the Town Hall, grew
thoughtful and inquired:
"Where is he going?"
"To Paris or to London, I believe."
"H'm. . . . Then he is a big-wig, I suppose?"
"The devil only knows."
As he went home from the Town Hall and had his dinner, the mayor
sank into thought again, and this time he went on thinking till
the evening. The arrival of the distinguished Persian greatly
intrigued him. It seemed to him that fate itself had sent him
this Rahat-Helam, and that a favourable opportunity had come at
last for realising his passionate, secretly cherished dream.
Kutsyn had already two medals, and the Stanislav of the third
degree, the badge of the Red Cross, and the badge of the Society
of Saving from Drowning, and in addition to these he had made
himself a little gold gun crossed by a guitar, and this
ornament, hung from a buttonhole in his uniform, looked in the
distance like something special, and delightfully resembled a
badge of distinction. It is well known that the more orders and
medals you have the more you want -- and the mayor had long been
desirous of receiving the Persian order of The Lion and the Sun;
he desired it passionately, madly. He knew very well that there
was no need to fight, or to subscribe to an asylum, or to serve
on committees to obtain this order; all that was needed was a
favourable opportunity. And now it seemed to him that this
opportunity had come.
At noon on the following day he put on his chain and all his
badges of distinction and went to the 'Japan.' Destiny favoured
him. When he entered the distinguished Persian's apartment the
latter was alone and doing nothing. Rahat-Helam, an enormous
Asiatic, with a long nose like the beak of a snipe, with
prominent eyes, and with a fez on his head, was sitting on the
floor rummaging in his portmanteau.
"I beg you to excuse my disturbing you," began Kutsyn, smiling.
"I have the honour to introduce myself, the hereditary,
honourable citizen and cavalier, Stepan Ivanovitch Kutsyn, mayor
of this town. I regard it as my duty to honour, in the person of
your Highness, so to say, the representative of a friendly and
The Persian turned and muttered something in very bad French,
that sounded like tapping a board with a piece of wood.
"The frontiers of Persia" -- Kutsyn continued the greeting he
had previously learned by heart -- "are in close contact with
the borders of our spacious fatherland, and therefore mutual
sympathies impel me, so to speak, to express my solidarity with
The illustrious Persian got up and again muttered something in a
wooden tongue. Kutsyn, who knew no foreign language, shook his
head to show that he did not understand.
"Well, how am I to talk to him?" he thought. "It would be a good
thing to send for an interpreter at once, but it is a delicate
matter, I can't talk before witnesses. The interpreter would be
chattering all over the town afterwards."
And Kutsyn tried to recall the foreign words he had picked up
from the newspapers.
"I am the mayor of the town," he muttered. "That is the lord
mayor . . . municipalais . . . Vwee? Kompreney?"
He wanted to express his social position in words or in gesture,
and did not know how. A picture hanging on the wall with an
inscription in large letters, "The Town of Venice," helped him
out of his difficulties. He pointed with his finger at the town,
then at his own head, and in that way obtained, as he imagined,
the phrase: "I am the head of the town." The Persian did not
understand, but he gave a smile, and said:
"Goot, monsieur . . . goot . . . . ." Half-an-hour later the
mayor was slapping the Persian, first on the knee and then on
the shoulder, and saying:
"Kompreney? Vwee? As lord mayor and municipalais I suggest that
you should take a little promenage . . . kompreney? Promenage."
Kutsyn pointed at Venice, and with two fingers represented
walking legs. Rahat-Helam who kept his eyes fixed on his medals,
and was apparently guessing that this was the most important
person in the town, understood the word promenage and grinned
politely. Then they both put on their coats and went out of the
room. Downstairs near the door leading to the restaurant of the
'Japan,' Kutsyn reflected that it would not be amiss to
entertain the Persian. He stopped and indicating the tables,
"By Russian custom it wouldn't be amiss . . . puree, entrekot,
champagne and so on, kompreney."
The illustrious visitor understood, and a little later they were
both sitting in the very best room of the restaurant, eating,
and drinking champagne.
"Let us drink to the prosperity of Persia!" said Kutsyn. "We
Russians love the Persians. Though we are of another faith, yet
there are common interests, mutual, so to say, sympathies . . .
progress . . . Asiatic markets. . . . The campaigns of peace so
to say. . . ."
The illustrious Persian ate and drank with an excellent
appetite, he stuck his fork into a slice of smoked sturgeon, and
wagging his head, enthusiastically said: "Goot, bien."
"You like it?" said the mayor delighted. "Bien, that's capital."
And turning to the waiter he said: "Luka, my lad, see that two
pieces of smoked sturgeon, the best you have, are sent up to his
Then the mayor and the Persian magnate went to look at the
menagerie. The townspeople saw their Stepan Ivanovitch, flushed
with champagne, gay and very well pleased, leading the Persian
about the principal streets and the bazaar, showing him the
points of interest of the town, and even taking him to the fire
Among other things the townspeople saw him stop near some stone
gates with lions on it, and point out to the Persian first the
lion, then the sun overhead, and then his own breast; then again
he pointed to the lion and to the sun while the Persian nodded
his head as though in sign of assent, and smiling showed his
white teeth. In the evening they were sitting in the London
Hotel listening to the harp-players, and where they spent the
night is not known.
Next day the mayor was at the Town Hall in the morning; the
officials there apparently already knew something and were
making their conjectures, for the secretary went up to him and
said with an ironical smile:
"It is the custom of the Pcrsians when an illustrious visitor
comes to visit you, you must slaughter a sheep with your own
And a little later an envelope that had come by post was handed
to him. The mayor tore it open and saw a caricature in it. It
was a drawing of Rahat-Helam with the mayor on his knees before
him, stretching out his hands and saying:
"To prove our Russian friendship
For Persia's mighty realm,
And show respect for you, her envoy,
Myself I'd slaughter like a lamb,
But, pardon me, for I'm a -- donkey!"
The mayor was conscious of an unpleasant feeling like a gnawing
in the pit of the stomach, but not for long. By midday he was
again with the illustrious Persian, again he was regaling him
and showing him the points of interest in the town. Again he led
him to the stone gates, and again pointed to the lion, to the
sun and to his own breast. They dined at the 'Japan'; after
dinner, with cigars in their teeth, both, flushed and blissful,
again mounted the fire tower, and the mayor, evidently wishing
to entertain the visitor with an unusual spectacle, shouted from
the top to a sentry walking below:
"Sound the alarm!"
But the alarm was not sounded as the firemen were at the baths
at the moment.
They supped at the 'London' and, after supper, the Persian
departed. When he saw him off, Stepan Ivanovitch kissed him
three times after the Russian fashion, and even grew tearful.
And when the train started, he shouted:
"Give our greeting to Persia! Tell her that we love her!"
A year and four months had passed. There was a bitter frost,
thirty-five degrees, and a piercing wind was blowing. Stepan
Ivanovitch was walking along the street with his fur coat thrown
open over his chest, and he was annoyed that he met no one to
see the Lion and the Sun upon his breast. He walked about like
this till evening with his fur coat open, was chilled to the
bone, and at night tossed from side to side and could not get to
He felt heavy at heart.
There was a burning sensation inside him, and his heart throbbed
uneasily; he had a longing now to get a Serbian order. It was a
painful, passionate longing.
Red Cross: the international life-saving organization
The Lion and the Sun: award established in 1808 by Shah Feth to
honor distinguished foreigners
promenage: he is trying to say promenade
thirty-five degrees: 47 degrees below zero F.