The garden of IVANOFF'S country place. On the left is a terrace
and the facade of the house. One window is open. Below the
terrace is a broad semicircular lawn, from which paths lead to
right and left into a garden. On the right are several garden
benches and tables. A lamp is burning on one of the tables. It is
evening. As the curtain rises sounds of the piano and violoncello
BORKIN, in top-boots and carrying a gun, comes in from the rear
of the garden. He is a little tipsy. As he sees IVANOFF he comes
toward him on tiptoe, and when he comes opposite him he stops and
points the gun at his face.
IVANOFF [Catches sight of BORKIN. Shudders and jumps to his
feet] Misha! What are you doing? You frightened me! I can't stand
your stupid jokes when I am so nervous as this. And having
frightened me, you laugh! [He sits down.]
BORKIN [Laughing loudly] There, I am sorry, really. I won't do
it again. Indeed I won't. [Take off his cap] How hot it is! Just
think, my dear boy, I have covered twelve miles in the last three
hours. I am worn out. Just feel how my heart is beating.
IVANOFF [Goes on reading] Oh, very well. I shall feel it later!
No, feel it now. [He takes IVANOFF'S hand and presses it
against his breast] Can you feel it thumping? That means that it
is weak and that I may die suddenly at any moment. Would you be
sorry if I died?
I am reading now. I shall attend to you later.
No, seriously, would you be sorry if I died? Nicholas,
would you be sorry if I died?
Come, tell me if you would be sorry or not.
I am sorry that you smell so of vodka, Misha, it is
Do I smell of vodka? How strange! And yet, it is not so
strange after all. I met the magistrate on the road, and I must
admit that we did drink about eight glasses together. Strictly
speaking, of course, drinking is very harmful. Listen, it is
harmful, isn't it? Is it? Is it?
This is unendurable! Let me warn you, Misha, that you
are going too far.
Well, well, excuse me. Sit here by yourself then, for
heaven's sake, if it amuses you. [Gets up and goes away] What
extraordinary people one meets in the world. They won't even
allow themselves to be spoken to. [He comes back] Oh, yes, I
nearly forgot. Please let me have eighty-two roubles.
Many thanks. [Angrily] So you haven't the money! And yet
the workmen must be paid, mustn't they?
I don't know. Wait till my salary comes in on the first
of the month.
How is it possible to discuss anything with a man like
you? Can't you understand that the workmen are coming to-morrow
morning and not on the first of the month?
How can I help it? I'll be hanged if I can do anything
about it now. And what do you mean by this irritating way you
have of pestering me whenever I am trying to read or write or---
Must the workmen be paid or not, I ask you? But, good
gracious! What is the use of talking to you! [Waves his hand] Do
you think because you own an estate you can command the whole
world? With your two thousand acres and your empty pockets you
are like a man who has a cellar full of wine and no corkscrew. I
have sold the oats as they stand in the field. Yes, sir! And
to-morrow I shall sell the rye and the carriage horses. [He
stamps up and down] Do you think I am going to stand upon
ceremony with you? Certainly not! I am not that kind of a man!
Oh, what manners! They are not becoming to you at all. If
you want to be liked by women you must never let them see you
when you are angry or obstinate. [To her husband] Nicholas, let
us go and play on the lawn in the hay!
Don't you know it is bad for you to stand at the open
window, Annie? [Calls] Shut the window, Uncle!
Wait! Wait! Isn't this Sasha's birthday? So it is! The
idea of my forgetting it. What a memory I have. [Jumps about] I
shall go with you! [Sings] I shall go, I shall go! Nicholas, old
man, you are the joy of my life. If you were not always so
nervous and cross and gloomy, you and I could do great things
together. I would do anything for you. Shall I marry Martha
Babakina and give you half her fortune? That is, not half,
either, but all--take it all!
No, seriously, shan't I marry Martha and halve the money
with you? But no, why should I propose it? How can you
understand? [Angrily] You say to me: "Stop talking nonsense!" You
are a good man and a clever one, but you haven't any red blood in
your veins or any--well, enthusiasm. Why, if you wanted to, you
and I could cut a dash together that would shame the devil
himself. If you were a normal man instead of a morbid
hypochondriac we would have a million in a year. For instance, if
I had twenty-three hundred roubles now I could make twenty
thousand in two weeks. You don't believe me? You think it is all
nonsense? No, it isn't nonsense. Give me twenty-three hundred
roubles and let me try. Ofsianoff is selling a strip of land
across the river for that price. If we buy this, both banks will
be ours, and we shall have the right to build a dam across the
river. Isn't that so? We can say that we intend to build a mill,
and when the people on the river below us hear that we mean to
dam the river they will, of course, object violently and we shall
say: If you don't want a dam here you will have to pay to get us
away. Do you see the result? The factory would give us five
thousand roubles, Korolkoff three thousand, the monastery five
All that is simply idiotic, Misha. If you don't want me
to lose my temper you must keep your schemes to yourself.
BORKIN [Sits down at the table] Of course! I knew how it would
be! You never will act for yourself, and you tie my hands so that
I am helpless.
The only difference between lawyers and doctors is
that lawyers simply rob you, whereas doctors both rob you and
kill you. I am not referring to any one present. [Sits down on
the bench] They are all frauds and swindlers. Perhaps in Arcadia
you might find an exception to the general rule and yet--I have
treated thousands of sick people myself in my life, and I have
never met a doctor who did not seem to me to be an unmistakable
BORKIN [To IVANOFF] Yes, you tie my hands and never do anything
for yourself, and that is why you have no money.
As I said before, I am not referring to any one here
at present; there may be exceptions though, after all-- [He
IVANOFF [Shuts his book] What have you to tell me, doctor?
LVOFF [Looks toward the window] Exactly what I said this
morning: she must go to the Crimea at once. [Walks up and down.]
SHABELSKI [Bursts out laughing] To the Crimea! Why don't you and
I set up as doctors, Misha? Then, if some Madame Angot or Ophelia
finds the world tiresome and begins to cough and be consumptive,
all we shall have to do will be to write out a prescription
according to the laws of medicine: that is, first, we shall order
her a young doctor, and then a journey to the Crimea. There some
fascinating young Tartar---
IVANOFF [Interrupting] Oh, don't be coarse! [To LVOFF] It takes
money to go to the Crimea, and even if I could afford it, you
know she has refused to go.
Look here, doctor, is Anna really so ill that she
absolutely must go to the Crimea?
LVOFF [Looking toward the window] Yes, she has consumption.
Whew! How sad! I have seen in her face for some time that
she could not last much longer.
Can't you speak quietly? She can hear everything you say.
BORKIN [Sighing] The life of man is like a flower, blooming so
gaily in a field. Then, along comes a goat, he eats it, and the
flower is gone!
Oh, nonsense, nonsense. [Yawning] Everything is a
fraud and a swindle. [A pause.]
Gentlemen, I have been trying to tell Nicholas how he can
make some money, and have submitted a brilliant plan to him, but
my seed, as usual, has fallen on barren soil. Look what a sight
he is now: dull, cross, bored, peevish---
SHABELSKI [Gets up and stretches himself] You are always
inventing schemes for everybody, you clever fellow, and telling
them how to live; can't you tell me something? Give me some good
advice, you ingenious young man. Show me a good move to make.
BORKIN [Getting up] I am going to have a swim. Goodbye,
gentlemen. [To Shabelski] There are at least twenty good moves
you could make. If I were you I should have twenty thousand
roubles in a week.
If I were you I should have thirty thousand roubles and
more in a week. [They go out together.]
IVANOFF [After a pause] Useless people, useless talk, and the
necessity of answering stupid questions, have wearied me so,
doctor, that I am ill. I have become so irritable and bitter that
I don't know myself. My head aches for days at a time. I hear a
ringing in my ears, I can't sleep, and yet there is no escape
from it all, absolutely none.
Ivanoff, I have something serious to speak to you about.
It is about your wife. She refuses to go to the Crimea
alone, but she would go with you.
IVANOFF [Thoughtfully] It would cost a great deal for us both to
go, and besides, I could not get leave to be away for so long. I
have had one holiday already this year.
Very well, let us admit that. Now to proceed. The best
cure for consumption is absolute peace of mind, and your wife has
none whatever. She is forever excited by your behaviour to her.
Forgive me, I am excited and am going to speak frankly. Your
treatment of her is killing her. [A pause] Ivanoff, let me
believe better things of you.
What you say is true, true. I must be terribly guilty,
but my mind is confused. My will seems to be paralysed by a kind
of stupor; I can't understand myself or any one else. [Looks
toward the window] Come, let us take a walk, we might be
overheard here. [They get up] My dear friend, you should hear the
whole story from the beginning if it were not so long and
complicated that to tell it would take all night. [They walk up
and down] Anna is a splendid, an exceptional woman. She has left
her faith, her parents and her fortune for my sake. If I should
demand a hundred other sacrifices, she would consent to every one
without the quiver of an eyelid. Well, I am not a remarkable man
in any way, and have sacrificed nothing. However, the story is a
long one. In short, the whole point is, my dear doctor--
[Confused] that I married her for love and promised to love her
forever, and now after five years she loves me still and I-- [He
waves his hand] Now, when you tell me she is dying, I feel
neither love nor pity, only a sort of loneliness and weariness.
To all appearances this must seem horrible, and I cannot
understand myself what is happening to me. [They go out.]
SHABELSKI [Laughing] Upon my word, that man is no scoundrel, but
a great thinker, a master-mind. He deserves a memorial. He is the
essence of modern ingenuity, and combines in himself alone the
genius of the lawyer, the doctor, and the financier. [He sits
down on the lowest step of the terrace] And yet he has never
finished a course of studies in any college; that is so
surprising. What an ideal scoundrel he would have made if he had
acquired a little culture and mastered the sciences! "You could
make twenty thousand roubles in a week," he said. "You still hold
the ace of trumps: it is your title." [Laughing] He said I might
get a rich girl to marry me for it! [ANNA opens the window and
looks down] "Let me make a match between you and Martha," says
he. Who is this Martha? It must be that Balabalkina--Babakalkina
woman, the one that looks like a laundress.
I was thinking of something you said at dinner, do you
remember? How was it--a forgiven thief, a doctored horse.
A forgiven thief, a doctored horse, and a
Christianised Jew are all worth the same price.
ANNA [Laughing] You can't even repeat the simplest saying
without ill-nature. You are a most malicious old man. [Seriously]
Seriously, Count you are extremely disagreeable, and very
tiresome and painful to live with. You are always grumbling and
growling, and everybody to you is a blackguard and a scoundrel.
Tell me honestly, Count, have you ever spoken well of any one?
We have lived under this same roof now for five years, and
I have never heard you speak kindly of people, or without
bitterness and derision. What harm has the world done to you? Is
it possible that you consider yourself better than any one else?
Not at all. I think we are all of us scoundrels and
hypocrites. I myself am a degraded old man, and as useless as a
cast-off shoe. I abuse myself as much as any one else. I was rich
once, and free, and happy at times, but now I am a dependent, an
object of charity, a joke to the world. When I am at last
exasperated and defy them, they answer me with a laugh. When I
laugh, they shake their heads sadly and say, "The old man has
gone mad." But oftenest of all I am unheard and unnoticed by
Let it scream. Things are as bad as they can be
already. [Stretches himself] Alas, my dear Sarah! If I could only
win a thousand or two roubles, I should soon show you what I
could do. I wish you could see me! I should get away out of this
hole, and leave the bread of charity, and should not show my nose
here again until the last judgment day.
What would you do if you were to win so much money?
SHABELSKI [Thoughtfully] First I would go to Moscow to hear the
Gipsies play, and then--then I should fly to Paris and take an
apartment and go to the Russian Church.
My dear friend, you left college last year, and you are
still young and brave. Being thirty-five years old I have the
right to advise you. Don't marry a Jewess or a bluestocking or a
woman who is queer in any way. Choose some nice, common-place
girl without any strange and startling points in her character.
Plan your life for quiet; the greyer and more monotonous you can
make the background, the better. My dear boy, do not try to fight
alone against thousands; do not tilt with windmills; do not dash
yourself against the rocks. And, above all, may you be spared the
so-called rational life, all wild theories and impassioned talk.
Everything is in the hands of God, so shut yourself up in your
shell and do your best. That is the pleasant, honest, healthy way
to live. But the life I have chosen has been so tiring, oh, so
tiring! So full of mistakes, of injustice and stupidity! [Catches
sight of SHABELSKI, and speaks angrily] There you are again,
Uncle, always under foot, never letting one have a moment's quiet
SHABELSKI [In a tearful voice] Is there no refuge anywhere for a
poor old devil like me? [He jumps up and runs into the house.]
Now I have offended him! Yes, my nerves have certainly
gone to pieces. I must do something about it, I must---
LVOFF [Excitedly] Ivanoff, I have heard all you have to say
and--and--I am going to speak frankly. You have shown me in your
voice and manner, as well as in your words, the most heartless
egotism and pitiless cruelty. Your nearest friend is dying simply
because she is near you, her days are numbered, and you can feel
such indifference that you go about giving advice and analysing
your feelings. I cannot say all I should like to; I have not the
gift of words, but--but I can at least say that you are deeply
antipathetic to me.
I suppose I am. As an onlooker, of course you see me
more clearly than I see myself, and your judgment of me is
probably right. No doubt I
am terribly guilty. [Listens] I think I hear the carriage
coming. I must get ready to go. [He goes toward the house and
then stops] You dislike me, doctor, and you don't conceal it.
Your sincerity does you credit. [He goes into the house.]
LVOFF [Alone] What a confoundedly disagreeable character! I have
let another opportunity slip without speaking to him as I meant
to, but I simply cannot talk calmly to that man. The moment I
open my mouth to speak I feel such a commotion and suffocation
here [He puts his hand on his breast] that my tongue sticks to
the roof of my mouth. Oh, I loathe that Tartuffe, that
unmitigated rascal, with all my heart! There he is, preparing to
go driving in spite of the entreaties of his unfortunate wife,
who adores him and whose only happiness is his presence. She
implores him to spend at least one evening with her, and he
cannot even do that. Why, he might shoot himself in despair if he
had to stay at home! Poor fellow, what he wants are new fields
for his villainous schemes. Oh, I know why you go to Lebedieff's
every evening, Ivanoff! I know.
Enter IVANOFF, in hat and coat, ANNA and SHABELSKI
Look here, Nicholas, this is simply barbarous You go
away every evening and leave us here alone, and we get so bored
that we have to go to bed at eight o'clock. It is a scandal, and
no decent way of living. Why can you go driving if we can't? Why?
Leave him alone, Count. Let him go if he wants to.
How can a sick woman like you go anywhere? You know you
have a cough and must not go out after sunset. Ask the doctor
here. You are no child, Annie, you must be reasonable. And as for
you, what would you do with yourself over there?
I am ready to go anywhere: into the jaws of a
crocodile, or even into the jaws of hell, so long as I don't have
to stay here. I am horribly bored. I am stupefied by this
dullness. Every one here is tired of me. You leave me at home to
entertain Anna, but I feel more like scratching and biting her.
Leave him alone, Count. Leave him alone. Let him go if he
enjoys himself there.
What does this mean, Annie? You know I am not going for
pleasure. I must see Lebedieff about the money I owe him.
I don't see why you need justify yourself to me. Go ahead!
Who is keeping you?
Heavens! Don't let us bite one another's heads off. Is
that really unavoidable?
SHABELSKI [Tearfully] Nicholas, my dear boy, do please take me
with you. I might possibly be amused a little by the sight of all
the fools and scoundrels I should see there. You know I haven't
been off this place since Easter.
IVANOFF [Exasperated] Oh, very well! Come along then! How
tiresome you all are!
I may go? Oh, thank you! [Takes him gaily by the arm
and leads him aside] May I wear your straw hat?
How tired I am of you all! But no, what am I saying?
Annie, my manner to you is insufferable, and it never used to be.
Well, good-bye, Annie. I shall be back by one.
Nicholas! My dear husband, stay at home to-night!
IVANOFF [Excitedly] Darling, sweetheart, my dear, unhappy one, I
implore you to let me leave home in the evenings. I know it is
cruel and unjust to ask this, but let me do you this injustice.
It is such torture for me to stay. As soon as the sun goes down
my soul is overwhelmed by the most horrible despair. Don't ask me
why; I don't know; I swear I don't. This dreadful melancholy
torments me here, it drives me to the Lebedieff's and there it
grows worse than ever. I rush home; it still pursues me; and so I
am tortured all through the night. It is breaking my heart.
Nicholas, won't you stay? We will talk together as we used
to. We will have supper together and read afterward. The old
grumbler and I have learned so many duets to play to you. [She
kisses him. Then, after a pause] I can't understand you any more.
This has been going on for a year now. What has changed you so?
And why don't you want me to go driving with you in the
As you insist on knowing, I shall have to tell you. It
is a little cruel, but you had best understand. When this
melancholy fit is on me I begin to dislike you, Annie, and at
such times I must escape from you. In short, I simply have to
leave this house.
Oh, you are sad, are you? I can understand that! Nicholas,
let me tell you something: won't you try to sing and laugh and
scold as you used to? Stay here, and we will drink some liqueur
together. and laugh, and chase away this sadness of yours in no
time. Shall I sing to you? Or shall we sit in your study in the
twilight as we used to, while you tell me about your sadness? I
can read such suffering in your eyes! Let me look into them and
weep, and our hearts will both be lighter. [She laughs and cries
at once] Or is it really true that the flowers return with every
spring, but lost happiness never returns? Oh, is it? Well, go
Pray for me, Annie! [He goes; then stops and thinks for
a moment] No, I can't do it. [IVANOFF goes out.]
What do you mean by "Yes, sir"? I am speaking seriously.
But I don't want to be serious. [She coughs.]
There now, you see, you are coughing already.
SHABELSKI comes out of the house in his hat and coat.
Where is Nicholas? Is the carriage here yet? [Goes
quickly to ANNA and kisses her hand] Good-night, my darling!
[Makes a face and speaks with a Jewish accent] I beg your bardon!
[He goes quickly out.]
I have begun to think, Doctor, that fate has cheated me.
Other people who, perhaps, are no better than I am are happy and
have not had to pay for their happiness. But I have paid for it
all, every moment of it, and such a price! Why should I have to
pay so terribly? Dear friend, you are all too considerate and
gentle with me to tell me the truth; but do you think I don't
know what is the matter with me? I know perfectly well. However,
this isn't a pleasant subject-- [With a Jewish accent] "I beg
your bardon!" Can you tell funny stories?
Nicholas can. I am beginning to be surprised, too, at the
injustice of people. Why do they return hatred for love, and
answer truth with lies? Can you tell me how much longer I shall
be hated by my mother and father? They live fifty miles away, and
yet I can feel their hatred day and night, even in my sleep. And
how do you account for the sadness of Nicholas? He says that he
only dislikes me in the evening, when the fit is on him. I
understand that, and can tolerate it, but what if he should come
to dislike me altogether? Of course that is impossible, and
yet--no, no, I mustn't even imagine such a thing. [Sings]
"Sparrow, Sparrow, where are you?"
[She shudders] What fearful thoughts I have! You are not married,
Doctor; there are many things that you cannot understand.
You say you are surprised, but--but it is you who surprise
me. Tell me, explain to me how you, an honest and intelligent
woman, almost a saint, could allow yourself to be so basely deceived and dragged
into this den of bears? Why are you here? What have you in common
with such a cold and heartless--but enough of your husband! What
have you in common with these wicked and vulgar surroundings?
With that eternal grumbler, the crazy and decrepit Count? With
that swindler, that prince of rascals, Misha, with his fool's
face? Tell me, I say, how did you get here?
ANNA [laughing] That is what he used to say, long ago, oh,
exactly! Only his eyes are larger than yours, and when he was
excited they used to shine like coals--go on, go on!
LVOFF [Gets up and waves his hand] There is nothing more to say.
Go into the house.
You say that Nicholas is not what he should be, that his
faults are so and so. How can you possibly understand him? How
can you learn to know any one in six months? He is a wonderful
man, Doctor, and I am sorry you could not have known him as he
was two or three years ago. He is depressed and silent now, and
broods all day without doing anything, but he was splendid then.
I fell in love with him at first sight. [Laughing] I gave one
look and was caught like a mouse in a trap! So when he asked me
to go with him I cut every tie that bound me to my old life as
one snips the withered leaves from a plant. But things are
different now. Now he goes to the Lebedieff's to amuse himself
with other women, and I sit here in the garden and listen to the
owls. [The WATCHMAN'S rattle is heard] Tell me, Doctor, have you
any brothers and sisters?
To him. I am going. Have the horses harnessed. [She runs
into the house.]
No, I certainly cannot go on treating any one under these
conditions. I not only have to do it for nothing, but I am forced
to endure this agony of mind besides. No, no, I can't stand it. I
have had enough of it. [He goes into the house.]