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Authors: Anton Chekhov

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BOOK: The Duel
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And that’s good too …
, the deacon thought.

VII

Kirilin and Achmianov made their way up the mountain along a little path. Achmianov lingered and stopped, but Kirilin approached Nadezhda Fyodorovna.

“Good evening!” he said, touching the visor of his cap.

“Good evening.”

“Yes, milady!” Kirilin said, looking up at the sky and thinking.

“What do you mean—’Yes, milady’?” asked Nadezhda Fyodorovna, who was momentarily silent, noticing that Achmianov was observing them both.

“Well, what I mean is,” the officer spoke, slowly, “it seems that our love has withered before ever having blossomed, so to speak. This is what you expect me to understand? The coquetry was all from your side. It’s the way of your kind. Unless you consider me a vagrant, with whom you may act however you please.”

“It was all a mistake! Leave me alone!” Nadezhda Fyodorovna said harshly, on this brilliant evening full of wonder, looking at him with fear and asking herself in bewilderment: Could it be that in fact there was a moment when she had liked this man and he had been close to her?

“There you have it, then!” Kirilin said. He stood for a bit in silence, thought, then said: “Come, now. We can wait until you’re in a better mood, but in the meantime you can believe me when I say that I am a respectable man and I won’t allow anyone to question it. You cannot toy with me! Adieu!”

He touched the visor of his cap and walked off to the
side, making his way through the bushes. After waiting a little while, Achmianov approached with uncertainty.

“This is a good evening!” he said with a subtle Armenian accent.

He wasn’t bad looking at all. Dressed according to the latest style, he carried himself without pretense, like a young man who’d received a seminary education, but Nadezhda Fyodorovna didn’t care for him because she owed his father three hundred rubles. It was unpleasant for her that a shopkeeper had been invited to the picnic, and it was also unpleasant that he had approached her on this particular evening, when her soul felt so pure.

“All in all, the picnic is a success,” he said, again falling silent.

“Yes,” she agreed, and, as though just remembering her debt at that very moment, carelessly said: “Yes, let them know, over at your store, that Ivan Andreich will come by in a day or so to pay the three hundred … or whatever the amount is.”

“I’m prepared to give you another three hundred if you would just stop reminding me of the debt every single day. What’s the point?”

Nadezhda Fyodorovna began to laugh. A funny thought had entered her mind, that if she were any less moral and, if she wished, then she could rid herself of the debt in a minute’s time. If, for instance, she were to turn the head of this attractive, young fool! How funny that would be in actuality, how absurd, how wild! And she suddenly wanted to love, fleece and leave him. Then see what would come of it all.

“Please allow me to give you one piece of advice,” Achmianov said timidly. “I’m asking you, guard yourself against Kirilin. He is saying horrible things about you wherever he goes.”

“I’m not interested in knowing what some fool is saying about me,” Nadezhda Fyodorovna said coldly, but she was seized by worry, and her funny idea about playing with the young, the sweet Achmianov had suddenly lost its luster.

“We have to go back down,” she said. “They’re calling us.”

Down below, the ukha was ready. It was being doled out in plates and eaten with the kind of ceremony that only occurs at picnics; and everyone found the ukha very tasty and that they’d never eaten anything nearly as tasty at home. As is the routine at all picnics the napkins were lost en masse, wrappings, discarded greasy papers crawled about in the wind, they didn’t know whose glass this was and whose bread that was, spilled wine on the rug and in their own laps, spilled salt, while the darkness encircled them and the fire no longer burned as brightly and every one of them felt too lazy to rise and add kindling to it. They were all drinking wine, even Kostya and Katya were given half a glass each. Nadezhda Fyodorovna drank a glass, then another, became a little bit intoxicated and forgot all about Kirilin.

“A luxurious picnic, a charming evening,” Laevsky said, chipper from the wine, “but I would still prefer a good winter to all of this. ‘
Dusty frost sparkles silver on his beaver collar.
’ ”

“Everyone to his own taste,” Von Koren observed.

Laevsky felt awkward. He felt the heat of the fire at his back, and Von Koren’s hatred at his chest and face. This respectable, intelligent man’s hatred likely harbored a sound cause. It humiliated him, weakened him, and he, not having enough strength to resist, said in a tone meant to curry favor:

“I love nature passionately and regret that I am not a naturalist. I envy you.”

“Well, I neither feel regret, nor do I envy you,” Nadezhda Fyodorovna said. “I don’t understand how anyone can seriously occupy their time with insects and bugs while people are suffering.”

Laevsky shared her opinion. He was totally unfamiliar with the natural sciences and could never sympathize with the authoritative and educated tone of people who thought profoundly about ant antennae and cockroach paws, and he was always annoyed that those people, on the basis of antennae, paws and some kind of proto-plasma (which he always imagined as an oyster), take it upon themselves to answer questions that factor into the origin and life of man. But he heard nothing but lies in the words of Nadezhda Fyodorovna, and, for no other reason than to contradict her, he said:

“The point is not the bugs, the point is research!”

VIII

They began taking their seats in the carriages for the ride home, late, somewhere in the eleventh hour. Everyone was seated, the only ones missing were Nadezhda Fyodorovna and Achmianov, who were chasing each other on the other side of the river and laughing.

“Ladies and gentlemen, hurry up!” Samoylenko yelled to them.

“Perhaps ladies ought not to be given wine,” Von Koren said quietly.

Exhausted by the picnic, Von Koren’s hatred and his own thoughts, Laevsky walked in Nadezhda Fyodorovna’s direction, and when she, cheerful, happy, feeling light as a feather, breathless and giddy, grabbed him by both hands and placed her head on his chest, he took a step back and sternly said:

“You are behaving like … a coquette.”

It came out rather harshly, so that even he began to take pity on her. She could read the pity, the hatred, the vexation on his angry, exhausted face, and her spirits suddenly plummeted. She understood that she’d overdone it, that she had conducted herself too loosely, and, saddened, began to feel weighed down, fat, vulgar and drunk. She took the first available seat in the carriage, together with Achmianov. Laevsky sat with Kirilin, the zoologist with Samoylenko, the deacon with the ladies, and the train left the station.

“There go the macaques for you …” Von Koren began,
wrapping himself up in his raincoat and closing his eyes. “Did you hear, she doesn’t want to study insects and bugs because people are suffering. That’s how we brothers are judged by all macaques. A race of slaves, cunning, taught fear by ten generations of the lash and the fist. It trembles, is adoring and burns incense only in the face of violence, but you release a macaque into open territory where there is no one to grab it by the scruff of its neck, that’s where it unfurls and makes a name for itself. Just look at the audacity she displays at art exhibitions, in the museums, in the theaters or drawing conclusions about science: she bristles, rears, argues, criticizes … And will criticize without fail—it’s a slavish trait! You heed what I say: people belonging to the liberal professions are berated more often than swindlers—that’s because three quarters of society are made up of slaves, of these very same macaques. It’s unheard of for a slave to extend his hand and to say in all sincerity ‘Thank you for the work that you do.’ ”

“I don’t know what you want!” Samoylenko said, yawning. “In her naïveté, the poor little thing just wanted to chat with you about intelligent matters, but you pass judgment. You’re angry at him for some reason, and with her by association. And she’s an excellent woman!”

“Hey, enough already! She’s a typical kept woman, debauched and crass. Listen to me, Alexander Davidich, if you encounter a simple broad, one who’s not living with her husband, who does nothing except hee-hees, agrees, and haa-haas, you’d tell her: ‘Get to work.’ Why are you being so timid about this, afraid of speaking the truth? It’s only
that Nadezhda Fyodorovna is kept not by some sailor, but by a civil servant.”

Samoylenko grew angry. “What would you have me do? Would you have me beat her?”

“Don’t pander to her vices. We curse vice only when it is out of sight, but that’s just flipping it the bird without removing your hand from your pocket. I am a zoologist, or a sociologist, they’re one and the same, you—you’re a doctor. Society trusts in us. We are obligated to point out that frightful detriment that menaces it, and future generations to come, the likes of ladies like Nadezhda Ivanovna.”

“Fyodorovna,” Samoylenko corrected. “And what is society to do about this?”

“Do? That’s society’s business. In my opinion, the most direct and reliable path is force.
Manu militari
*
, she should be sent back to her husband, and if her husband won’t have her, then give her over to hard labor or some sort of correctional facility.”

“Oofff!” Samoylenko sighed. He was silent, then inquired quietly: “Some days ago you spoke of how those kinds of people, like Laevsky, must be annihilated … Tell me, if it were the case … for argument’s sake, that government or society entrusted you with the task of annihilating him, would you then … resolve the matter?”

“My hand would be steady.”

*
By military aid.

IX

Arriving home, Laevsky and Nadezhda Fyodorovna entered their dark, stuffy, boring rooms. They were both silent. Laevsky lit a candle, as Nadezhda Fyodorovna sat down and, removing neither her manteau nor hat, cast her woeful, guilty eyes up at him.

He understood that she was awaiting an explanation from him; but for him to explain himself would have been boring, useless and exhausting, and there was a weight on his soul from having been unable to contain himself and speaking to her crudely. He accidentally touched the letter in his pocket that he’d intended to read to her every day and thought that if he were to show her this letter now it would deflect her attention in a new direction.

It’s time we determine what our relationship is
, he thought.
I’ll give it to her. Whatever will be, will be
.

He took out the letter and handed it to her.

“Read it. It concerns you.”

Having said this, he went into his study and lay in darkness on the divan without a pillow. Nadezhda Fyodorovna read the letter, and it seemed to her that the ceiling had dropped and the walls were closing in on her. It had suddenly become cramped, dark and frightful. She quickly crossed herself three times and began to utter:

“Grant peace, O Lord … Grant peace, O Lord …”

And she began to cry.

“Vanya!” she called out. “Ivan Andreich!”

There was no reply. Thinking that Laevsky had entered
the room and was standing behind her chair, she sobbed like a baby, all the while saying:

“Why didn’t you tell me that he’d died sooner? I wouldn’t have gone on the picnic, wouldn’t have laughed so frightfully … Men uttered vulgarities at me. What a sin, what a sin! Save me, Vanya, save me … I’m losing my mind … I’m lost …”

Laevsky heard her sobs. He felt an unbearable lack of air, and his heart beat loudly. Filled with melancholy he rose, stood in the center of the room, groped around in the dark for the armchair near the table and sat down.

This is a prison …
, he thought.
I must leave … I can’t go on …

It was already too late to go play cards, there were no restaurants in the town. He lay down again and covered his ears, so as not to hear the sobbing, and suddenly remembered that he could go to Samoylenko’s. To avoid passing near Nadezhda Fyodorovna, he climbed out of the window into the garden, climbed through the small front garden and proceeded down the street. It was dark. Some sort of steamship had just arrived, judging from the lights, a large passenger liner … The anchor chain resounded. Offshore, a fast-moving little red light was heading in the direction of the liner. It was the customs boat at sail.

All the passengers are asleep in their cabins …
, thought Laevsky, envious of the strangers’ serenity.

The windows of Samoylenko’s house were open. Laevsky looked in one of them, then another. It was dark and quiet in the rooms.

“Alexander Davidich, as you sleeping?” he called out. “Alexander Davidich!”

Coughing was heard, and an alarmed cry:

“What the devil? Who’s there?”

“It’s me, Alexander Davidich. Pardon me.”

In a short while the door opened just a crack; soft light from a candle shone and the tremendous form of Samoylenko appeared all in white and in a white nightcap.

“What do you want?” he asked, scratching himself and breathing heavily, having just awoken. “Wait a second, I’ll unlock the front door.”

“Don’t trouble yourself. I’ll go through the window …”

Laevsky climbed through the window and, walking up to Samoylenko, grabbed him by the hand.

“Alexander Davidich,” he said, his voice shaking, “rescue me! I beg of you, implore you, to understand me! My predicament is torturous. If it continues for even another day or two, then I shall strangle myself, like … like you would a dog!”

“Hold it … What, exactly, have you come here for?”

“Light a candle.”

“Oh, my …” Samoylenko exhaled, lighting a candle. “My God, my God, we’re already in the second hour, brother.”

“Pardon me, I can’t just sit at home,” Laevsky said, feeling a great sense of relief from the light and Samoylenko’s presence. “You, Alexander Davidich, are my only, my best, friend … All of my hopes hang on you. For God’s sake, whether you like it or not, help me. I must leave this place so that it doesn’t come to
that
. Loan me money!”

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