BETWEEN six and seven o’clock
on a July evening, a crowd of summer visitors mostly
fathers of families burdened with parcels,
portfolios, and ladies’ hat-boxes, was trailing
along from the little station of Helkovo, in the direction
of the summer villas. They all looked exhausted,
hungry, and ill-humoured, as though the sun were not
shining and the grass were not green for them.
Trudging along among the others was
Pavel Matveyitch Zaikin, a member of the Circuit Court,
a tall, stooping man, in a cheap cotton dust-coat
and with a cockade on his faded cap. He was perspiring,
red in the face, and gloomy. . . .
“Do you come out to your holiday
home every day?” said a summer visitor, in ginger-coloured
trousers, addressing him.
“No, not every day,” Zaikin
answered sullenly. “My wife and son are
staying here all the while, and I come down two or
three times a week. I haven’t time to come
every day; besides, it is expensive.”
“You’re right there; it
is expensive,” sighed he of the ginger trousers.
“In town you can’t walk to the station,
you have to take a cab; and then, the ticket costs
forty-two kopecks; you buy a paper for the journey;
one is tempted to drink a glass of vodka. It’s
all petty expenditure not worth considering, but,
mind you, in the course of the summer it will run
up to some two hundred roubles. Of course, to
be in the lap of Nature is worth any money I
don’t dispute it . . . idyllic and all the rest
of it; but of course, with the salary an official
gets, as you know yourself, every farthing has to
be considered. If you waste a halfpenny you lie
awake all night. . . . Yes. . . I receive,
my dear sir I haven’t the honour
of knowing your name I receive a salary
of very nearly two thousand roubles a year. I
am a civil councillor, I smoke second-rate tobacco,
and I haven’t a rouble to spare to buy Vichy
water, prescribed me by the doctor for gall-stones.”
“It’s altogether abominable,”
said Zaikin after a brief silence. “I maintain,
sir, that summer holidays are the invention of the
devil and of woman. The devil was actuated in
the present instance by malice, woman by excessive
frivolity. Mercy on us, it is not life at all;
it is hard labour, it is hell! It’s hot
and stifling, you can hardly breathe, and you wander
about like a lost soul and can find no refuge.
In town there is no furniture, no servants. . . everything
has been carried off to the villa: you eat what
you can get; you go without your tea because there
is no one to heat the samovar; you can’t wash
yourself; and when you come down here into this ‘lap
of Nature’ you have to walk, if you please, through
the dust and heat. . . . Phew! Are you married?”
“Yes. . . three children,” sighs Ginger
“It’s abominable altogether. . . .
It’s a wonder we are still alive.”
At last the summer visitors reached
their destination. Zaikin said good-bye to Ginger
Trousers and went into his villa. He found a
death-like silence in the house. He could hear
nothing but the buzzing of the gnats, and the prayer
for help of a fly destined for the dinner of a spider.
The windows were hung with muslin curtains, through
which the faded flowers of the geraniums showed red.
On the unpainted wooden walls near the oleographs
flies were slumbering. There was not a soul in
the passage, the kitchen, or the dining-room.
In the room which was called indifferently the parlour
or the drawing-room, Zaikin found his son Petya, a
little boy of six. Petya was sitting at the table,
and breathing loudly with his lower lip stuck out,
was engaged in cutting out the figure of a knave of
diamonds from a card.
“Oh, that’s you, father!” he said,
without turning round. “Good-evening.”
“Good-evening. . . . And where is mother?”
“Mother? She is gone with
Olga Kirillovna to a rehearsal of the play. The
day after tomorrow they will have a performance.
And they will take me, too. . . . And will you
“H’m! . . . When is she coming back?”
“She said she would be back in the evening.”
“And where is Natalya?”
“Mamma took Natalya with her
to help her dress for the performance, and Akulina
has gone to the wood to get mushrooms. Father,
why is it that when gnats bite you their stomachs
“I don’t know. . . .
Because they suck blood. So there is no one in
the house, then?”
“No one; I am all alone in the house.”
Zaikin sat down in an easy-chair,
and for a moment gazed blankly at the window.
“Who is going to get our dinner?” he asked.
“They haven’t cooked any
dinner today, father. Mamma thought you were
not coming today, and did not order any dinner.
She is going to have dinner with Olga Kirillovna at
“Oh, thank you very much; and you, what have
you to eat?”
“I’ve had some milk.
They bought me six kopecks’ worth of
milk. And, father, why do gnats suck blood?”
Zaikin suddenly felt as though something
heavy were rolling down on his liver and beginning
to gnaw it. He felt so vexed, so aggrieved, and
so bitter, that he was choking and tremulous; he wanted
to jump up, to bang something on the floor, and to
burst into loud abuse; but then he remembered that
his doctor had absolutely forbidden him all excitement,
so he got up, and making an effort to control himself,
began whistling a tune from “Les Huguenots.”
“Father, can you act in plays?” he heard
“Oh, don’t worry me with
stupid questions!” said Zaikin, getting angry.
“He sticks to one like a leaf in the bath!
Here you are, six years old, and just as silly as
you were three years ago. . . . Stupid, neglected
child! Why are you spoiling those cards, for
instance? How dare you spoil them?”
“These cards aren’t yours,”
said Petya, turning round. “Natalya gave
“You are telling fibs, you are
telling fibs, you horrid boy!” said Zaikin,
growing more and more irritated. “You are
always telling fibs! You want a whipping, you
horrid little pig! I will pull your ears!”
Petya leapt up, and craning his neck,
stared fixedly at his father’s red and wrathful
face. His big eyes first began blinking, then
were dimmed with moisture, and the boy’s face
“But why are you scolding?”
squealed Petya. “Why do you attack me,
you stupid? I am not interfering with anybody;
I am not naughty; I do what I am told, and yet . .
. you are cross! Why are you scolding me?”
The boy spoke with conviction, and
wept so bitterly that Zaikin felt conscience-stricken.
“Yes, really, why am I falling
foul of him?” he thought. “Come,
come,” he said, touching the boy on the shoulder.
“I am sorry, Petya . . . forgive me. You
are my good boy, my nice boy, I love you.”
Petya wiped his eyes with his sleeve,
sat down, with a sigh, in the same place and began
cutting out the queen. Zaikin went off to his
own room. He stretched himself on the sofa, and
putting his hands behind his head, sank into thought.
The boy’s tears had softened his anger, and
by degrees the oppression on his liver grew less.
He felt nothing but exhaustion and hunger.
“Father,” he heard on
the other side of the door, “shall I show you
my collection of insects?”
“Yes, show me.”
Petya came into the study and handed
his father a long green box. Before raising it
to his ear Zaikin could hear a despairing buzz and
the scratching of claws on the sides of the box.
Opening the lid, he saw a number of butterflies, beetles,
grasshoppers, and flies fastened to the bottom of
the box with pins. All except two or three butterflies
were still alive and moving.
“Why, the grasshopper is still
alive!” said Petya in surprise. “I
caught him yesterday morning, and he is still alive!”
“Who taught you to pin them in this way?”
“Olga Kirillovna ought to be
pinned down like that herself!” said Zaikin
with repulsion. “Take them away! It’s
shameful to torture animals.”
“My God! How horribly he
is being brought up!” he thought, as Petya went
Pavel Matveyitch forgot his exhaustion
and hunger, and thought of nothing but his boy’s
future. Meanwhile, outside the light was gradually
fading. . . . He could hear the summer visitors
trooping back from the evening bathe. Some one
was stopping near the open dining-room window and
shouting: “Do you want any mushrooms?”
And getting no answer, shuffled on with bare feet.
. . . But at last, when the dusk was so thick
that the outlines of the geraniums behind the muslin
curtain were lost, and whiffs of the freshness of evening
were coming in at the window, the door of the passage
was thrown open noisily, and there came a sound of
rapid footsteps, talk, and laughter. . . .
“Mamma!” shrieked Petya.
Zaikin peeped out of his study and
saw his wife, Nadyezhda Stepanovna, healthy and rosy
as ever; with her he saw Olga Kirillovna, a spare
woman with fair hair and heavy freckles, and two unknown
men: one a lanky young man with curly red hair
and a big Adam’s apple; the other, a short stubby
man with a shaven face like an actor’s and a
bluish crooked chin.
“Natalya, set the samovar,”
cried Nadyezhda Stepanovna, with a loud rustle of
her skirts. “I hear Pavel Matveyitch is
come. Pavel, where are you? Good-evening,
Pavel!” she said, running into the study breathlessly.
“So you’ve come. I am so glad. . .
. Two of our amateurs have come with me. . .
. Come, I’ll introduce you. . . .
Here, the taller one is Koromyslov . . . he sings splendidly;
and the other, the little one . . . is called Smerkalov:
he is a real actor . . . he recites magnificently.
Oh, how tired I am! We have just had a rehearsal.
. . . It goes splendidly. We are acting ’The
Lodger with the Trombone’ and ‘Waiting
for Him.’ . . . The performance is the
day after tomorrow. . . .”
“Why did you bring them?” asked Zaikin.
“I couldn’t help it, Poppet;
after tea we must rehearse our parts and sing something.
. . . I am to sing a duet with Koromyslov. . .
. Oh, yes, I was almost forgetting! Darling,
send Natalya to get some sardines, vodka, cheese,
and something else. They will most likely stay
to supper. . . . Oh, how tired I am!”
“H’m! I’ve no money.”
“You must, Poppet! It would be awkward!
Don’t make me blush.”
Half an hour later Natalya was sent
for vodka and savouries; Zaikin, after drinking tea
and eating a whole French loaf, went to his bedroom
and lay down on the bed, while Nadyezhda Stepanovna
and her visitors, with much noise and laughter, set
to work to rehearse their parts. For a long time
Pavel Matveyitch heard Koromyslov’s nasal reciting
and Smerkalov’s theatrical exclamations. . .
. The rehearsal was followed by a long conversation,
interrupted by the shrill laughter of Olga Kirillovna.
Smerkalov, as a real actor, explained the parts with
aplomb and heat. . . .
Then followed the duet, and after
the duet there was the clatter of crockery. . . .
Through his drowsiness Zaikin heard them persuading
Smerkalov to read “The Woman who was a Sinner,”
and heard him, after affecting to refuse, begin to
recite. He hissed, beat himself on the breast,
wept, laughed in a husky bass. . . . Zaikin scowled
and hid his head under the quilt.
“It’s a long way for you
to go, and it’s dark,” he heard Nadyezhda
Stepanovna’s voice an hour later. “Why
shouldn’t you stay the night here? Koromyslov
can sleep here in the drawing-room on the sofa, and
you, Smerkalov, in Petya’s bed. . . . I
can put Petya in my husband’s study. . . .
Do stay, really!”
At last when the clock was striking
two, all was hushed, the bedroom door opened, and
Nadyezhda Stepanovna appeared.
“Pavel, are you asleep?” she whispered.
“Go into your study, darling,
and lie on the sofa. I am going to put Olga Kirillovna
here, in your bed. Do go, dear! I would put
her to sleep in the study, but she is afraid to sleep
alone. . . . Do get up!”
Zaikin got up, threw on his dressing-gown,
and taking his pillow, crept wearily to the study.
. . . Feeling his way to his sofa, he lighted
a match, and saw Petya lying on the sofa. The
boy was not asleep, and, looking at the match with
“Father, why is it gnats don’t
go to sleep at night?” he asked.
“Because . . . because . . .
you and I are not wanted. . . . We have nowhere
to sleep even.”
“Father, and why is it Olga
Kirillovna has freckles on her face?”
“Oh, shut up! I am tired of you.”
After a moment’s thought, Zaikin
dressed and went out into the street for a breath
of air. . . . He looked at the grey morning sky,
at the motionless clouds, heard the lazy call of the
drowsy corncrake, and began dreaming of the next day,
when he would go to town, and coming back from the
court would tumble into bed. . . . Suddenly the
figure of a man appeared round the corner.
“A watchman, no doubt,”
thought Zaikin. But going nearer and looking
more closely he recognized in the figure the summer
visitor in the ginger trousers.
“You’re not asleep?” he asked.
“No, I can’t sleep,”
sighed Ginger Trousers. “I am enjoying Nature
. . . . A welcome visitor, my wife’s mother,
arrived by the night train, you know. She brought
with her our nieces . . . splendid girls! I was
delighted to see them, although . . . it’s very
damp! And you, too, are enjoying Nature?”
“Yes,” grunted Zaikin,
“I am enjoying it, too. . . . Do you know
whether there is any sort of tavern or restaurant in
Ginger Trousers raised his eyes to
heaven and meditated profoundly.