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A.P. Chekhov - Out of Sorts


SIMON PRATCHKIN, a commissioner of the rural police, was walking up and down the floor of his room trying to smother a host of disagreeable sensations. He had gone to see the chief of police on business the evening before, and had unexpectedly sat down to a game of cards at which he had lost eight roubles. The amount was a trifle, but the demons of greed and avarice were whispering in his ear the accusation that he was a spendthrift.

"Eight roubles--a mere nothing!" cried Pratchkin, trying to drown the voices of the demons. "People often lose more than that without minding it at all. Besides, money is made to spend. One trip to the factory, one visit to Piloff's tavern, and eight roubles would have been but a drop in a bucket!"

"It is winter; horse and peasant--"

monotonously murmured Pratchkin's son Vania, in the next room.

"Down the road triumphant go--triumphant go--"

"Triumphant!" Pratchkin went on, pursuing the train of his thoughts. "If he had been stuck for a dozen roubles he wouldn't have been so triumphant! What is he so triumphant about? Let him pay his debts on time! Eight roubles--what a trifle! That's not eight thousand roubles. One can always win eight roubles back again."

"And the pony trots his swiftest
For he feels the coming snow--
For he feels the coming snow."

"Well, he wouldn't be likely to go at a gallop, would he? Was he supposed to be a race-horse? He was a hack, a broken-down old hack! Foolish, drunken peasants always want to go at breakneck speed, and then, when they fall into an ice-hole, or down a precipice, some one has to haul them out and doctor them. If I had my way, I'd prescribe a kind of turpentine for them that they wouldn't forget in a hurry! And why did I lead a low card? If I had led the ace of clubs, I wouldn't have fallen into a hole myself--"

"O'er the furrows soft and crumbling
Flies the sleigh so free and wild--
O'er the furrows soft and crumbling--"

"Crumbling--crumbling furrows--what stuff that is! People will let those writers scribble anything. It was that ten-spot that made all the trouble. Why the devil did it have to turn up just at that moment?"

"When a little boy comes tumbling--comes tumbling
Down the road a merry child--a merry child."

"If the boy was running he must have been overeating himself and been naughty. Parents never will put their children to work. Instead of playing, that boy ought to have been splitting kindling, or reading the Bible--and I hadn't the sense to come away! What an ass I was to stay after supper! Why didn't I have my meal and go home?"

"At the window stands his mother,
Shakes her finger--shakes her finger at the boy--"

"She shakes her finger at him, does she? The trouble with her is, she is too lazy to go out-of-doors and punish him. She ought to catch him by his little coat and give him a good spanking. It would do him more good than shaking her finger at him. If she doesn't take care, he will grow up to be a drunkard. Who wrote that?" asked Pratchkin aloud.

"Pushkin, papa."

"Pushkin? H'm. What an ass he is! People like that simply write without knowing themselves what they are saying."

"Papa, here's a peasant with a load of flour!" cried Vania.

"Let some one take charge of it!"

The arrival of the flour failed to cheer Pratchkin. The more he tried to console himself, the more poignant grew his sense of loss, and he regretted those eight roubles as keenly as if they had in reality been eight thousand. When Vania finished studying his lesson and silence fell, Pratchkin was standing gloomily at the window, his mournful gaze fixed upon the snowdrifts in the garden. But the sight of the snowdrifts only opened wider the wound in his breast. They reminded him of yesterday's expedition to the chief of police. His spleen rose and embittered his heart. The need to vent his sorrow reached such a pitch that it would brook no delay. He could endure it no longer.

"Vania!" he shouted. "Come here and let me whip you for breaking that window-pane yesterday!"


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