The last few years have seen a large and generally unsystematic mass of translations from the Russian flung at the heads and hearts of English readers. The ready acceptance of Chekhov has been one of the few successful features of this irresponsible output. He has been welcomed by British critics with something like affection. Bernard Shaw has several times remarked: “Every time I see a play by Chekhov, I want to chuck all my own stuff into the fire.” Others, having no such valuable property to sacrifice on the altar of Chekhov, have not hesitated to place him side by side with Ibsen, and the other established institutions of the new theatre. For these reasons it is pleasant to be able to chronicle the fact that, by way of contrast with the casual treatment normally handed out to Russian authors, the publishers are issuing the complete dramatic works of this author. In 1912 they brought out a volume containing four Chekhov plays, translated by Marian Fell. All the dramatic works not included in her volume are to be found in the present one. With the exception of Chekhov’s masterpiece, “The Cherry Orchard” (translated by the late Mr. George Calderon in 1912), none of these plays have been previously published in book form in England or America.
It is not the business of a translator to attempt to outdo all others in singing the praises of his raw material. This is a dangerous process and may well lead, as it led Mr. Calderon, to drawing the reader’s attention to points of beauty not to be found in the original. A few bibliographical details are equally necessary, and permissible, and the elementary principles of Chekhov criticism will also be found useful.
The very existence of “The High Road” (1884); probably the earliest of its author’s plays, will be unsuspected by English readers. During Chekhov’s lifetime it a sort of family legend, after his death it became a family mystery. A copy was finally discovered only last year in the Censor’s office, yielded up, and published. It had been sent in 1885 under the nom-de-plume “A. Chekhonte,” and it had failed to pass. The Censor, of the time being had scrawled his opinion on the manuscript, “a depressing and dirty piece, – cannot be licensed.” The name of the gentleman who held this view – Kaiser von Kugelgen – gives another reason for the educated Russian’s low opinion of German-sounding institutions. Baron von Tuzenbach, the satisfactory person in “The Three Sisters,” it will be noted, finds it as well, while he is trying to secure the favours of Irina, to declare that his German ancestry is fairly remote. This is by way of parenthesis. “The High Road,” found after thirty years, is a most interesting document to the lover of Chekhov. Every play he wrote in later years was either a one-act farce or a four-act drama. [Note: “The Swan Song” may occur as an exception. This, however, is more of a Shakespeare recitation than anything else, and so neither here nor there.]
In “The High Road” we see, in an embryonic form, the whole later method of the plays – the deliberate contrast between two strong characters (Bortsov and Merik in this case), the careful individualization of each person in a fairly large group by way of an introduction to the main theme, the concealment of the catastrophe, germ-wise, in the actual character of the characters, and the of a distinctive group-atmosphere. It need scarcely be stated that “The High Road” is not a “dirty” piece according to Russian or to German standards; Chekhov was incapable of writing a dirty play or story. For the rest, this piece differs from the others in its presentation, not of Chekhov’s favourite middle-classes, but of the moujik, nourishing, in a particularly stuffy atmosphere, an intense mysticism and an equally intense thirst for vodka.
“The Proposal” (1889) and “The Bear” (1890) may be taken as good examples of the sort of humour admired by the average Russian. The latter play, in another translation, was put on as a curtain-raiser to a cinematograph entertainment at a London theatre in 1914; and had quite a pleasant reception from a thoroughly Philistine audience. The humour is very nearly of the variety most popular over here, the psychology is a shade subtler. The Russian novelist or dramatist takes to psychology as some of his fellow-countrymen take to drink; in doing this he achieves fame by showing us what we already know, and at the same time he kills his own creative power. Chekhov just escaped the tragedy of suicide by introspection, and was only enabled to do this by the possession of a sense of humour. That is why we should not regard “The Bear,” “The Wedding,” or “The Anniversary” as the work of a merely humorous young man, but as the saving graces which made perfect “The Cherry Orchard.”
“The Three Sisters” (1901) is said to act better than any other of Chekhov’s plays, and should surprise an English audience exceedingly. It and “The Cherry Orchard” are the tragedies of doing nothing. The three sisters have only one desire in the world, to go to Moscow and live there. There is no reason on earth, economic, sentimental, or other, why they should not pack their bags and take the next train to Moscow. But they will not do it. They cannot do it. And we know perfectly well that if they were transplanted thither miraculously, they would be extremely unhappy as soon as ever the excitement of the miracle had worn off. In the other play Mme. Ranevsky can be saved from ruin if she will only consent to a perfectly simple step – the sale of an estate. She cannot do this, is ruined, and thrown out into the unsympathetic world. Chekhov is the dramatist, not of action, but of inaction. The tragedy of inaction is as overwhelming, when we understand it, as the tragedy of an Othello, or a Lear, crushed by the wickedness of others. The former is being enacted daily, but we do not stage it, we do not know how. But who shall deny that the base of almost all human unhappiness is just this inaction, manifesting itself in slovenliness of thought and execution, education, and ideal?
The Russian, painfully conscious of his own weakness, has accepted this point of view, and regards “The Cherry Orchard” as its master-study in dramatic form. They speak of the palpitating hush which fell upon the audience of the Moscow Art Theatre after the first fall of the curtain at the first performance – a hush so intense as to make Chekhov’s friends undergo the initial emotions of assisting at a vast theatrical failure. But the silence ryes almost a sob, to be followed, when overcome, by an epic applause. And, a few months later, Chekhov died.
This volume and that of Marian Fell – with which it is uniform – contain all the dramatic works of Chekhov. It considered not worth while to translate a few fragments published posthumously, or a monologue “On the Evils of Tobacco” – a half humorous lecture by “the husband of his wife;” which begins “Ladies, and in some respects, gentlemen,” as this is hardly dramatic work. There is also a very short skit on the efficiency of provincial fire brigades, which was obviously not intended for the stage and has therefore been omitted.
Lastly, the scheme of transliteration employed has been that, generally speaking, recommended by the Liverpool School of Russian Studies. This is distinctly the best of those in the field, but as it would compel one, e.g., to write a popular female name, “Marya,” I have not treated it absolute respect. For the sake of uniformity with Fell’s volume, the author’s name is spelt Tchekoff on the title-page and cover.
1 verst = 3600 feet = 2/3 mile (almost)
1 arshin = 28 inches
1 dessiatin = 2.7 acres
1 copeck = 1/4 d
1 rouble = 100 copecks = 2s. 1d.
TIHON EVSTIGNEYEV, the proprietor of a inn on the main road
SEMYON SERGEYEVITCH BORTSOV, a ruined landowner
MARIA EGOROVNA, his wife
SAVVA, an aged pilgrim
NAZAROVNA and EFIMOVNA, women pilgrims
FEDYA, a labourer
EGOR MERIK, a tramp
KUSMA, a driver
BORTSOV’S WIFE’S COACHMAN
PILGRIMS, CATTLE-DEALERS, ETC.
The action takes place in one of the provinces of Southern Russia
[The scene is laid in TIHON’S bar. On the right is the bar-counter and shelves with bottles. At the back is a door leading out of the house. Over it, on the outside, hangs a dirty red lantern. The floor and the forms, which stand against the wall, are closely occupied by pilgrims and passers-by. Many of them, for lack of space, are sleeping as they sit. It is late at night. As the curtain rises thunder is heard, and lightning is seen through the door.]
[TIHON is behind the counter. FEDYA is half-lying in a heap on one of the forms, and is quietly playing on a concertina. Next to him is BORTSOV, wearing a shabby summer overcoat. SAVVA, NAZAROVNA, and EFIMOVNA are stretched out on the floor by the benches.]
EFIMOVNA. [To NAZAROVNA] Give the old man a nudge dear! Can’t get any answer out of him.
NAZAROVNA. [Lifting the corner of a cloth covering of SAVVA’S face] Are you alive or are you dead, you holy man?
SAVVA. Why should I be dead? I’m alive, mother! [Raises himself on his elbow] Cover up my feet, there’s a saint! That’s it. A bit more on the right one. That’s it, mother. God be good to us.
NAZAROVNA. [Wrapping up SAVVA’S feet] Sleep, little father.
SAVVA. What sleep can I have? If only I had the patience to endure this pain, mother; sleep’s quite another matter. A sinner doesn’t deserve to be given rest. What’s that noise, pilgrim-woman?
NAZAROVNA. God is sending a storm. The wind is wailing, and the rain is pouring down, pouring down. All down the roof and into the windows like dried peas. Do you hear? The windows of heaven are opened… [Thunder] Holy, holy, holy…
FEDYA. And it roars and thunders, and rages, sad there’s no end to it! Hoooo… it’s like the noise of a forest… Hoooo… The wind is wailing like a dog… [Shrinking back] It’s cold! My clothes are wet, it’s all coming in through the open door… you might put me through a wringer… [Plays softly] My concertina’s damp, and so there’s no music for you, my Orthodox brethren, or else I’d give you such a concert, my word! – Something marvellous! You can have a quadrille, or a polka, if you like, or some Russian dance for two… I can do them all. In the town, where I was an attendant at the Grand Hotel, I couldn’t make any money, but I did wonders on my concertina. And, I can play the guitar.
A VOICE FROM THE CORNER. A silly speech from a silly fool.
FEDYA. I can hear another of them. [Pause.]
NAZAROVNA. [To SAVVA] If you’d only lie where it was warm now, old man, and warm your feet. [Pause.] Old man! Man of God! [Shakes SAVVA] Are you going to die?
FEDYA. You ought to drink a little vodka, grandfather. Drink, and it’ll burn, burn in your stomach, and warm up your heart. Drink, do!
NAZAROVNA. Don’t swank, young man! Perhaps the old man is giving back his soul to God, or repenting for his sins, and you talk like that, and play your concertina… Put it down! You’ve no shame!
FEDYA. And what are you sticking to him for? He can’t do anything and you… with your old women’s talk… He can’t say a word in reply, and you’re glad, and happy because he’s listening to your nonsense… You go on sleeping, grandfather; never mind her! Let her talk, don’t you take any notice of her. A woman’s tongue is the devil’s broom – it will sweep the good man and the clever man both out of the house. Don’t you mind… [Waves his hands] But it’s thin you are, brother of mine! Terrible! Like a dead skeleton! No life in you! Are you really dying?
SAVVA. Why should I die? Save me, O Lord, from dying in vain… I’ll suffer a little, and then get up with God’s help… The Mother of God won’t let me die in a strange land… I’ll die at home.
FEDYA. Are you from far off?
SAVVA. From Vologda. The town itself… I live there.
FEDYA. And where is this Vologda?
TIHON. The other side of Moscow…
FEDYA. Well, well, well… You have come a long way, old man! On foot?
SAVVA. On foot, young man. I’ve been to Tihon of the Don, and I’m going to the Holy Hills. [Note: On the Donetz, south-east of Kharkov; a monastery containing a miraculous ikon.]… From there, if God wills it, to Odessa… They say you can get to Jerusalem cheap from there, for twenty-ones roubles, they say…
FEDYA. And have you been to Moscow?
SAVVA. Rather! Five times…
FEDYA. Is it a good town? [Smokes] Well-standing?
Sews. There are many holy places there, young man… Where there are many holy places it’s always a good town…
BORTSOV. [Goes up to the counter, to TIHON] Once more, please! For the sake of Christ, give it to me!
FEDYA. The chief thing about a town is that it should be clean. If it’s dusty, it must be watered; if it’s dirty, it must be cleaned. There ought to be big houses… a theatre… police… cabs, which… I’ve lived in a town myself, I understand.
BORTSOV. Just a little glass. I’ll pay you for it later.
TIHON. That’s enough now.
BORTSOV. I ask you! Do be kind to me!
TIHON. Get away!
BORTSOV. You don’t understand me… Understand me, you fool, if there’s a drop of brain in your peasant’s wooden head, that it isn’t I who am asking you, but my inside, using the words you understand, that’s what’s asking! My illness is what’s asking! Understand!
TIHON. We don’t understand anything… Get back!
BORTSOV. Because if I don’t have a drink at once, just you understand this, if I don’t satisfy my needs, I may commit some crime. God only knows what I might do! In the time you’ve kept this place, you rascal, haven’t you seen a lot of drunkards, and haven’t you yet got to understand what they’re like? They’re diseased! You can do anything you like to them, but you must give them vodka! Well, now, I implore you! Please! I humbly ask you! God only knows how humbly!
TIHON. You can have the vodka if you pay for it.
BORTSOV. Where am I to get the money? I’ve drunk it all! Down to the ground! What can I give you? I’ve only got this coat, but I can’t give you that. I’ve nothing on underneath… Would you like my cap? [Takes it off and gives it to TIHON]
TIHON. [Looks it over] Hm… There are all sorts of caps… It might be a sieve from the holes in it…
FEDYA. [Laughs] A gentleman’s cap! You’ve got to take it off in front of the mam’selles. How do you do, good-bye! How are you?
TIHON. [Returns the cap to BORTSOV] I wouldn’t give anything for it. It’s muck.
BORTSOV. If you don’t like it, then let me owe you for the drink! I’ll bring in your five copecks on my way back from town. You can take it and choke yourself with it then! Choke yourself! I hope it sticks in your throat! [Coughs] I hate you!
TIHON. [Banging the bar-counter with his fist] Why do you keep on like that? What a man! What are you here for, you swindler?
BORTSOV. I want a drink! It’s not I, it’s my disease! Understand that!
TIHON. Don’t you make me lose my temper, or you’ll soon find yourself outside!
BORTSOV. What am I to do? [Retires from the bar-counter] What am I to do? [Is thoughtful.]
EFIMOVNA. It’s the devil tormenting you. Don’t you mind him, sir. The damned one keeps whispering, “Drink! Drink!” And you answer him, “I shan’t drink! I shan’t drink!” He’ll go then.
FEDYA. It’s drumming in his head… His stomach’s leading him on! [Laughs] Your houour’s a happy man. Lie down and go to sleep! What’s the use of standing like a scarecrow in the middle of the inn! This isn’t an orchard!
BORTSOV. [Angrily] Shut up! Nobody spoke to you, you donkey.
FEDYA. Go on, go on! We’ve seen the like of you before! There’s a lot like you tramping the high road! As to being a donkey, you wait till I’ve given you a clout on the ear and you’ll howl worse than the wind. Donkey yourself! Fool! [Pause] Scum!
NAZAROVNA. The old man may be saying a prayer, or giving up his soul to God, and here are these unclean ones wrangling with one another and saying all sorts of… Have shame on yourselves!
FEDYA. Here, you cabbage-stalk, you keep quiet, even if you are in a public-house. Just you behave like everybody else.
BORTSOV. What am I to do? What will become of me? How can I make him understand? What else can I say to him? [To TIHON] The blood’s boiling in my chest! Uncle Tihon! [Weeps] Uncle Tihon!
SAWA. [Groans] I’ve got shooting-pains in my leg, like bullets of fire… Little mother, pilgrim.
EFIMOVNA. What is it, little father?
SAVVA. Who’s that crying?
EFIMOVNA. The gentleman.
SAVVA. Ask him to shed a tear for me, that I might die in Vologda. Tearful prayers are heard.
BORTSOV. I’m not praying, grandfather! These aren’t tears! Just juice! My soul is crushed; and the juice is running. [Sits by SAVVA] Juice! But you wouldn’t understand! You, with your darkened brain, wouldn’t understand. You people are all in the dark!
SAVVA. Where will you find those who live in the light?
BORTSOV. They do exist, grandfather… They would understand!
SAVVA. Yes, yes, dear friend… The saints lived in the light… They understood all our griefs… You needn’t even tell them… and they’ll understand… Just by looking at your eyes… And then you’ll have such peace, as if you were never in grief at all – it will all go!
FEDYA. And have you ever seen any saints?
SAVVA. It has happened, young man… There are many of all sorts on this earth. Sinners, and servants of God.
BORTSOV. I don’t understand all this… [Gets up quickly] What’s the use of talking when you don’t understand, and what sort of a brain have I now? I’ve only an instinct, a thirst! [Goes quickly to the counter] Tihon, take my coat! Understand? [Tries to take it off] My coat…
TIHON. And what is there under your coat? [Looks under it] Your naked body? Don’t take it off, I shan’t have it… I’m not going to burden my soul with a sin.
BORTSOV. Very well, I’ll take the sin on myself! Do you agree?
MERIK. [In silence takes of his outer cloak and remains in a sleeveless jacket. He carries an axe in his belt] A vagrant may sweat where a bear will freeze. I am hot. [Puts his axe on the floor and takes off his jacket] You get rid of a pailful of sweat while you drag one leg out of the mud. And while you are dragging it out, the other one goes farther in.
EFIMOVNA. Yes, that’s true… is the rain stopping, dear?
MERIK. [Glancing at EFIMOVNA] I don’t talk to old women. [A pause.]
BORTSOV. [To TIHON] I’ll take the sin on myself. Do you hear me or don’t you?
TIHON. I don’t want to hear you, get away!
MERIK. It’s as dark as if the sky was painted with pitch. You can’t see your own nose. And the rain beats into your face like a snowstorm! [Picks up his clothes and axe.]
FEDYA. It’s a good thing for the likes of us thieves. When the cat’s away the mice will play.
MERIK. Who says that?
FEDYA. Look and see… before you forget.
MERIN. We’ll make a note of it… [Goes up to TIHON] How do you do, you with the large face! Don’t you remember me.
TIHON. If I’m to remember every one of you drunkards that walks the high road, I reckon I’d need ten holes in my forehead.
MERIK. Just look at me… [A pause.]
TIHON. Oh, yes; I remember. I knew you by your eyes! [Gives him his hand] Andrey Polikarpov?
MERIK. I used to be Andrey Polikarpov, but now I am Egor Merik.
TIHON. Why’s that?
MERIK. I call myself after whatever passport God gives me. I’ve been Merik for two months. [Thunder] Rrrr… Go on thundering, I’m not afraid! [Looks round] Any police here?
TIHON. What are you talking about, making mountains out of mole-hills?.. The people here are all right… The police are fast asleep in their feather beds now… [Loudly] Orthodox brothers, mind your pockets and your clothes, or you’ll have to regret it. The man’s a rascal! He’ll rob you!
MERIK. They can look out for their money, but as to their clothes – I shan’t touch them. I’ve nowhere to take them.
TIHON. Where’s the devil taking you to?
MERIK. To Kuban.
TIHON. My word!
FEDYA. To Kuban? Really? [Sitting up] It’s a fine place. You wouldn’t see such a country, brother, if you were to fall asleep and dream for three years. They say the birds there, and the beasts are – my God! The grass grows all the year round, the people are good, and they’ve so much land they don’t know what to do with it! The authorities, they say… a soldier was telling me the other day… give a hundred dessiatins ahead. There’s happiness, God strike me!
MERIK. Happiness… Happiness goes behind you… You don’t see it. It’s as near as your elbow is, but you can’t bite it. It’s all silly… [Looking round at the benches and the people] Like a lot of prisoners… A poor lot.
EFIMOVNA. [To MERIK] What great, angry, eyes! There’s an enemy in you, young man… Don’t you look at us!
MERIK. Yes, you’re a poor lot here.
EFIMOVNA. Turn away! [Nudges SAVVA] Savva, darling, a wicked man is looking at us. He’ll do us harm, dear. [To MERIK] Turn away, I tell you, you snake!
SAVVA. He won’t touch us, mother, he won’t touch us… God won’t let him.
MERIK. All right, Orthodox brothers! [Shrugs his shoulders] Be quiet! You aren’t asleep, you bandy-legged fools! Why don’t you say something?
EFIMOVNA. Take your great eyes away! Take away that devil’s own pride!
MERIK. Be quiet, you crooked old woman! I didn’t come with the devil’s pride, but with kind words, wishing to honour your bitter lot! You’re huddled together like flies because of the cold – I’d be sorry for you, speak kindly to you, pity your poverty, and here you go grumbling away! [Goes up to FEDYA] Where are you from?
FEDYA. I live in these parts. I work at the Khamonyevsky brickworks.
MERIK. Get up.
FEDYA. [Raising himself] Well?
MERIK. Get up, right up. I’m going to lie down here.
FEDYA. What’s that… It isn’t your place, is it?
MERIK. Yes, mine. Go and lie on the ground!
FEDYA. You get out of this, you tramp. I’m not afraid of you.
MERIK. You’re very quick with your tongue… Get up, and don’t talk about it! You’ll be sorry for it, you silly.
TIHON. [To FEDYA] Don’t contradict him, young man. Never mind.
FEDYA. What right have you? You stick out your fishy eyes and think I’m afraid! [Picks up his belongings and stretches himself out on the ground] You devil! [Lies down and covers himself all over.]
MERIK. [Stretching himself out on the bench] I don’t expect you’ve ever seen a devil or you wouldn’t call me one. Devils aren’t like that. [Lies down, putting his axe next to him.] Lie down, little brother axe… let me cover you.
TIHON. Where did you get the axe from?
MERIK. Stole it… Stole it, and now I’ve got to fuss over it like a child with a new toy; I don’t like to throw it away, and I’ve nowhere to put it. Like a beastly wife… Yes… [Covering himself over] Devils aren’t like that, brother.
FEDYA. [Uncovering his head] What are they like?
MERIK. Like steam, like air… Just blow into the air. [Blows] They’re like that, you can’t see them.
A VOICE FROM THE CORNER. You can see them if you sit under a harrow.
MERIK. I’ve tried, but I didn’t see any… Old women’s tales, and silly old men’s, too… You won’t see a devil or a ghost or a corpse… Our eyes weren’t made so that we could see everything… When I was a boy, I used to walk in the woods at night on purpose to see the demon of the woods… I’d shout and shout, and there might be some spirit, I’d call for the demon of the woods and not blink my eyes: I’d see all sorts of little things moving about, but no demon. I used to go and walk about the churchyards at night, I wanted to see the ghosts – but the women lie. I saw all sorts of animals, but anything awful – not a sign. Our eyes weren’t…
THE VOICE FROM THE CORNER. Never mind, it does happen that you do see… In our village a man was gutting a wild boar… he was separating the tripe when… something jumped out at him!
SAVVA. [Raising himself] Little children, don’t talk about these unclean things! It’s a sin, dears!
MERIK. Aaa… greybeard! You skeleton! [Laughs] You needn’t go to the churchyard to see ghosts, when they get up from under the floor to give advice to their relations… A sin!.. Don’t you teach people your silly notions! You’re an ignorant lot of people living in darkness… [Lights his pipe] My father was peasant and used to be fond of teaching people. One night he stole a sack of apples from the village priest, and he brings them along and tells us, “Look, children, mind you don’t eat any apples before Easter, it’s a sin.” You’re like that… You don’t know what a devil is, but you go calling people devils… Take this crooked old woman, for instance. [Points to EFIMOVNA] She sees an enemy in me, but is her time, for some woman’s nonsense or other, she’s given her soul to the devil five times.
EFIMOVNA. Hoo, hoo, hoo… Gracious heavens! [Covers her face] Little Savva!
TIHON. What are you frightening them for? A great pleasure! [The door slams in the wind] Lord Jesus… The wind, the wind!
MERIK. [Stretching himself] Eh, to show my strength! [The door slams again] If I could only measure myself against the wind! Shall I tear the door down, or suppose I tear up the inn by the roots! [Gets up and lies down again] How dull!
NAZAROVNA. You’d better pray, you heathen! Why are you so restless?
EFIMOVNA. Don’t speak to him, leave him alone! He’s looking at us again. [To MERIK] Don’t look at us, evil man! Your eyes are like the eyes of a devil before cockcrow!
SAVVA. Let him look, pilgrims! You pray, and his eyes won’t do you any harm.
BORTSOV. No, I can’t. It’s too much for my strength! [Goes up to the counter] Listen, Tihon, I ask you for the last time… Just half a glass!
TIHON. [Shakes his head] The money!
BORTSOV. My God, haven’t I told you! I’ve drunk it all! Where am I to get it? And you won’t go broke even if you do let me have a drop of vodka on tick. A glass of it only costs you two copecks, and it will save me from suffering! I am suffering! Understand! I’m in misery, I’m suffering!
TIHON. Go and tell that to someone else, not to me… Go and ask the Orthodox, perhaps they’ll give you some for Christ’s sake, if they feel like it, but I’ll only give bread for Christ’s sake.
BORTSOV. You can rob those wretches yourself, I shan’t… I won’t do it! I won’t! Understand? [Hits the bar-counter with his fist] I won’t. [A pause.] Hm… just wait… [Turns to the pilgrim women] It’s an idea, all the same, Orthodox ones! Spare five copecks! My inside asks for it. I’m ill!
FEDYA. Oh, you swindler, with your “spare five copecks.” Won’t you have some water?
BORTSOV. How I am degrading myself! I don’t want it! I don’t want anything! I was joking!
MERIK. You won’t get it out of him, sir… He’s a famous skinflint… Wait, I’ve got a five-copeck piece somewhere… We’ll have a glass between us – half each [Searches in his pockets] The devil… it’s lost somewhere… Thought I heard it tinkling just now in my pocket… No; no, it isn’t there, brother, it’s your luck! [A pause.]
BORTSOV. But if I can’t drink, I’ll commit a crime or I’ll kill myself… What shall I do, my God! [Looks through the door] Shall I go out, then? Out into this darkness, wherever my feet take me…
MERIK. Why don’t you give him a sermon, you pilgrims? And you, Tihon, why don’t you drive him out? He hasn’t paid you for his night’s accommodation. Chuck him out! Eh, the people are cruel nowadays. There’s no gentleness or kindness in them… A savage people! A man is drowning and they shout to him: “Hurry up and drown, we’ve got no time to look at you; we’ve got to go to work.” As to throwing him a rope – there’s no worry about that… A rope would cost money.
SAVVA. Don’t talk, kind man!
MERIK. Quiet, old wolf! You’re a savage race! Herods! Sellers of your souls! [To TIHON] Come here, take off my boots! Look sharp now!
TIHON. Eh, he’s let himself go I [Laughs] Awful, isn’t it.
MERIK. Go on, do as you’re told! Quick now! [Pause] Do you hear me, or don’t you? Am I talking to you or the wall? [Stands up]
TIHON. Well… give over.
MERIK. I want you, you fleecer, to take the boots off me, a poor tramp.
TIHON. Well, well… don’t get excited. Here have a glass… Have a drink, now!
MERIK. People, what do I want? Do I want him to stand me vodka, or to take off my boots? Didn’t I say it properly? [To TIHON] Didn’t you hear me rightly? I’ll wait a moment, perhaps you’ll hear me then.
[There is excitement among the pilgrims and tramps, who half-raise themselves in order to look at TIHON and MERIK. They wait in silence.]
TIHON. The devil brought you here! [Comes out from behind the bar] What a gentleman! Come on now. [Takes off MERIK’S boots] You child of Cain…
MERIK. That’s right. Put them side by side… Like that… you can go now!
TIHON. [Returns to the bar-counter] You’re too fond of being clever. You do it again and I’ll turn you out of the inn! Yes! [To BORTSOV, who is approaching] You, again?
BORTSOV. Look here, suppose I give you something made of gold… I will give it to you.
TIHON. What are you shaking for? Talk sense!
BORTSOV. It may be mean and wicked on my part, but what am I to do? I’m doing this wicked thing, not reckoning on what’s to come… If I was tried for it, they’d let me off. Take it, only on condition that you return it later, when I come back from town. I give it to you in front of these witnesses. You will be my witnesses! [Takes a gold medallion out from the breast of his coat] Here it is… I ought to take the portrait out, but I’ve nowhere to put it; I’m wet all over… Well, take the portrait, too! Only mind this… don’t let your fingers touch that face… Please… I was rude to you, my dear fellow, I was a fool, but forgive me and… don’t touch it with your fingers… Don’t look at that face with your eyes. [Gives TIHON the medallion.]
TIHON. [Examining it] Stolen property… All right, then, drink… [Pours out vodka] Confound you.
BORTSOV. Only don’t you touch it… with your fingers. [Drinks slowly, with feverish pauses.]
TIHON. [Opens the medallion] Hm… a lady!.. Where did you get hold of this?
MERIK. Let’s have a look. [Goes to the bar] Let’s see.
TIHON. [Pushes his hand away] Where are you going to? You look somewhere else!
FEDYA. [Gets up and comes to TIHON] I want to look too!