A.P. Chekhov - In Trouble
PYOTR SEMYONITCH, the bank manager, together with the
book-keeper, his assistant, and two members of the board, were
taken in the night to prison. The day after the upheaval the
merchant Avdeyev, who was one of the committee of auditors, was
sitting with his friends in the shop saying:
"So it is God's will, it seems. There is no escaping your fate.
Here to-day we are eating caviare and to-morrow, for aught we
know, it will be prison, beggary, or maybe death. Anything may
happen. Take Pyotr Semyonitch, for instance. . . ."
He spoke, screwing up his drunken eyes, while his friends went
on drinking, eating caviare, and listening. Having described the
disgrace and helplessness of Pyotr Semyonitch, who only the day
before had been powerful and respected by all, Avdeyev went on
with a sigh:
"The tears of the mouse come back to the cat. Serve them right,
the scoundrels! They could steal, the rooks, so let them answer
"You'd better look out, Ivan Danilitch, that you don't catch it
too!" one of his friends observed.
"What has it to do with me?"
"Why, they were stealing, and what were you auditors thinking
about? I'll be bound, you signed the audit."
"It's all very well to talk!" laughed Avdeyev: "Signed it,
indeed! They used to bring the accounts to my shop and I signed
them. As though I understood! Give me anything you like, I'll
scrawl my name to it. If you were to write that I murdered
someone I'd sign my name to it. I haven't time to go into it;
besides, I can't see without my spectacles."
After discussing the failure of the bank and the fate of Pyotr
Semyonitch, Avdeyev and his friends went to eat pie at the house
of a friend whose wife was celebrating her name-day. At the
name-day party everyone was discussing the bank failure. Avdeyev
was more excited than anyone, and declared that he had long
foreseen the crash and knew two years before that things were
not quite right at the bank. While they were eating pie he
described a dozen illegal operations which had come to his
"If you knew, why did you not give information?" asked an
officer who was present.
"I wasn't the only one: the whole town knew of it," laughed
Avdeyev. "Besides, I haven't the time to hang about the law
courts, damn them!"
He had a nap after the pie and then had dinner, then had another
nap, then went to the evening service at the church of which he
was a warden; after the service he went back to the name-day
party and played preference till midnight. Everything seemed
But when Avdeyev hurried home after midnight the cook, who
opened the door to him, looked pale, and was trembling so
violently that she could not utter a word. His wife, Elizaveta
Trofimovna, a flabby, overfed woman, with her grey hair hanging
loose, was sitting on the sofa in the drawing-room quivering all
over, and vacantly rolling her eyes as though she were drunk.
Her elder son, Vassily, a high-school boy, pale too, and
extremely agitated, was fussing round her with a glass of water.
"What's the matter?" asked Avdeyev, and looked angrily sideways
at the stove (his family was constantly being upset by the fumes
"The examining magistrate has just been with the police,"
answered Vassily; "they've made a search."
Avdeyev looked round him. The cupboards, the chests, the tables
-- everything bore traces of the recent search. For a minute
Avdeyev stood motionless as though petrified, unable to
understand; then his whole inside quivered and seemed to grow
heavy, his left leg went numb, and, unable to endure his
trembling, he lay down flat on the sofa. He felt his inside
heaving and his rebellious left leg tapping against the back of
In the course of two or three minutes he recalled the whole of
his past, but could not remember any crime deserving of the
attention of the police.
"It's all nonsense," he said, getting up. "They must have
slandered me. To-morrow I must lodge a complaint of their having
dared to do such a thing."
Next morning after a sleepless night Avdeyev, as usual, went to
his shop. His customers brought him the news that during the
night the public prosecutor had sent the deputy manager and the
head-clerk to prison as well. This news did not disturb Avdeyev.
He was convinced that he had been slandered, and that if he were
to lodge a complaint to-day the examining magistrate would get
into trouble for the search of the night before.
Between nine and ten o'clock he hurried to the town hall to see
the secretary, who was the only educated man in the town
"Vladimir Stepanitch, what's this new fashion?" he said, bending
down to the secretary's ear. "People have been stealing, but how
do I come in? What has it to do with me? My dear fellow," he
whispered, "there has been a search at my house last night! Upon
my word! Have they gone crazy? Why touch me?"
"Because one shouldn't be a sheep," the secretary answered
calmly. "Before you sign you ought to look."
"Look at what? But if I were to look at those accounts for a
thousand years I could not make head or tail of them! It's all
Greek to me! I am no book-keeper. They used to bring them to me
and I signed them."
"Excuse me. Apart from that you and your committee are seriously
compromised. You borrowed nineteen thousand from the bank,
giving no security."
"Lord have mercy upon us!" cried Avdeyev in amazement. "I am not
the only one in debt to the bank! The whole town owes it money.
I pay the interest and I shall repay the debt. What next! And
besides, to tell the honest truth, it wasn't I myself borrowed
the money. Pyotr Semyonitch forced it upon me. 'Take it,' he
said, 'take it. If you don't take it,' he said, 'it means that
you don't trust us and fight shy of us. You take it,' he said,
'and build your father a mill.' So I took it."
"Well, you see, none but children or sheep can reason like that.
In any case, signor, you need not be anxious. You can't escape
trial, of course, but you are sure to be acquitted."
The secretary's indifference and calm tone restored Avdeyev's
composure. Going back to his shop and finding friends there, he
again began drinking, eating caviare, and airing his views. He
almost forgot the police search, and he was only troubled by one
circumstance which he could not help noticing: his left leg was
strangely numb, and his stomach for some reason refused to do
That evening destiny dealt another overwhelming blow at Avdeyev:
at an extraordinary meeting of the town council all members who
were on the staff of the bank, Avdeyev among them, were asked to
resign, on the ground that they were charged with a criminal
offence. In the morning he received a request to give up
immediately his duties as churchwarden.
After that Avdeyev lost count of the blows dealt him by fate,
and strange, unprecedented days flitted rapidly by, one after
another, and every day brought some new, unexpected surprise.
Among other things, the examining magistrate sent him a summons,
and he returned home after the interview, insulted and red in
"He gave me no peace, pestering me to tell him why I had signed.
I signed, that's all about it. I didn't do it on purpose. They
brought the papers to the shop and I signed them. I am no great
hand at reading writing."
Young men with unconcerned faces arrived, sealed up the shop,
and made an inventory of all the furniture of the house.
Suspecting some intrigue behind this, and, as before,
unconscious of any wrongdoing, Avdeyev in his mortification ran
from one Government office to another lodging complaints. He
spent hours together in waiting-rooms, composed long petitions,
shed tears, swore. To his complaints the public prosecutor and
the examining magistrate made the indifferent and rational
reply: "Come to us when you are summoned: we have not time to
attend to you now." While others answered: "It is not our
The secretary, an educated man, who, Avdeyev thought, might have
helped him, merely shrugged his shoulders and said:
"It's your own fault. You shouldn't have been a sheep."
The old man exerted himself to the utmost, but his left leg was
still numb, and his digestion was getting worse and worse. When
he was weary of doing nothing and was getting poorer and poorer,
he made up his mind to go to his father's mill, or to his
brother, and begin dealing in corn. His family went to his
father's and he was left alone. The days flitted by, one after
another. Without a family, without a shop, and without money,
the former churchwarden, an honoured and respected man, spent
whole days going the round of his friends' shops, drinking,
eating, and listening to advice. In the mornings and in the
evenings, to while away the time, he went to church. Looking for
hours together at the ikons, he did not pray, but pondered. His
conscience was clear, and he ascribed his position to mistake
and misunderstanding; to his mind, it was all due to the fact
that the officials and the examining magistrates were young men
and inexperienced. It seemed to him that if he were to talk it
over in detail and open his heart to some elderly judge,
everything would go right again. He did not understand his
judges, and he fancied they did not understand him.
The days raced by, and at last, after protracted, harassing
delays, the day of the trial came. Avdeyev borrowed fifty
roubles, and providing himself with spirit to rub on his leg and
a decoction of herbs for his digestion, set off for the town
where the circuit court was being held.
The trial lasted for ten days. Throughout the trial Avdeyev sat
among his companions in misfortune with the stolid composure and
dignity befitting a respectable and innocent man who is
suffering for no fault of his own: he listened and did not
understand a word. He was in an antagonistic mood. He was angry
at being detained so long in the court, at being unable to get
Lenten food anywhere, at his defending counsel's not
understanding him, and, as he thought, saying the wrong thing.
He thought that the judges did not understand their business.
They took scarcely any notice of Avdeyev, they only addressed
him once in three days, and the questions they put to him were
of such a character that Avdeyev raised a laugh in the audience
each time he answered them. When he tried to speak of the
expenses he had incurred, of his losses, and of his meaning to
claim his costs from the court, his counsel turned round and
made an incomprehensible grimace, the public laughed, and the
judge announced sternly that that had nothing to do with the
case. The last words that he was allowed to say were not what
his counsel had instructed him to say, but something quite
different, which raised a laugh again.
During the terrible hour when the jury were consulting in their
room he sat angrily in the refreshment bar, not thinking about
the jury at all. He did not understand why they were so long
deliberating when everything was so clear, and what they wanted
Getting hungry, he asked the waiter to give him some cheap
Lenten dish. For forty kopecks they gave him some cold fish and
carrots. He ate it and felt at once as though the fish were
heaving in a chilly lump in his stomach; it was followed by
flatulence, heartburn, and pain.
Afterwards, as he listened to the foreman of the jury reading
out the questions point by point, there was a regular revolution
taking place in his inside, his whole body was bathed in a cold
sweat, his left leg was numb; he did not follow, understood
nothing, and suffered unbearably at not being able to sit or lie
down while the foreman was reading. At last, when he and his
companions were allowed to sit down, the public prosecutor got
up and said something unintelligible, and all at once, as though
they had sprung out of the earth, some police officers appeared
on the scene with drawn swords and surrounded all the prisoners.
Avdeyev was told to get up and go.
Now he understood that he was found guilty and in charge of the
police, but he was not frightened nor amazed; such a turmoil was
going on in his stomach that he could not think about his
"So they won't let us go back to the hotel?" he asked one of his
companions. "But I have three roubles and an untouched quarter
of a pound of tea in my room there."
He spent the night at the police station; all night he was aware
of a loathing for fish, and was thinking about the three roubles
and the quarter of a pound of tea. Early in the morning, when
the sky was beginning to turn blue, he was told to dress and set
off. Two soldiers with bayonets took him to prison. Never before
had the streets of the town seemed to him so long and endless.
He walked not on the pavement but in the middle of the road in
the muddy, thawing snow. His inside was still at war with the
fish, his left leg was numb; he had forgotten his goloshes
either in the court or in the police station, and his feet felt
Five days later all the prisoners were brought before the court
again to hear their sentence. Avdeyev learnt that he was
sentenced to exile in the province of Tobolsk. And that did not
frighten nor amaze him either. He fancied for some reason that
the trial was not yet over, that there were more adjournments to
come, and that the final decision had not been reached yet. . .
. He went on in the prison expecting this final decision every
Only six months later, when his wife and his son Vassily came to
say good-bye to him, and when in the wasted, wretchedly dressed
old woman he scarcely recognized his once fat and dignified
Elizaveta Trofimovna, and when he saw his son wearing a short,
shabby reefer-jacket and cotton trousers instead of the
high-school uniform, he realized that his fate was decided, and
that whatever new "decision" there might be, his past would
never come back to him. And for the first time since the trial
and his imprisonment the angry expression left his face, and he
name-day: Russians celebrate the feast day of the saint after
whom they are named