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Ivanoff by Anton Checkov

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IVANOFF. [Stopping him as he goes out] Paul, what is the matter
with me?

LEBEDIEFF. I have wanted to ask you that myself, but I must
confess I was ashamed to. I don't know, old chap. Sometimes I
think your troubles have been too heavy for you, and yet I know
you are not the kind to give in to them; you would not be
overcome by misfortune. It must be something else, Nicholas, but
what it may be I can't imagine.

IVANOFF. I can't imagine either what the matter is, unless--and
yet no-- [A pause] Well, do you see, this is what I wanted to
say. I used to have a workman called Simon, you remember him.
Once, at threshing-time, to show the girls how strong he was, he
loaded himself with two sacks of rye, and broke his back. He died
soon after. I think I have broken my back also. First I went to
school, then to the university, then came the cares of this
estate, all my plans--I did not believe what others did; did not
marry as others did; I worked passionately, risked everything; no
one else, as you know, threw their money away to right and left
as I did. So I heaped the burdens on my back, and it broke. We
are all heroes at twenty, ready to attack anything, to do
everything, and at thirty are worn-out, useless men. How, oh, how
do you account for this weariness? However, I may be quite wrong;
go away, Paul, I am boring you.

LEBEDIEFF. I know what is the matter with you, old man: you got
out of bed on the wrong side this morning.

IVANOFF. That is stupid, Paul, and stale. Go away!

LEBEDIEFF. It is stupid, certainly. I see that myself now. I am
going at once. [LEBEDIEFF goes out.

IVANOFF. [Alone] I am a worthless, miserable, useless man. Only a
man equally miserable and suffering, as Paul is, could love or
esteem me now. Good God! How I loathe myself! How bitterly I hate
my voice, my hands, my thoughts, these clothes, each step I take!
How ridiculous it is, how disgusting! Less than a year ago I was
healthy and strong, full of pride and energy and enthusiasm. I
worked with these hands here, and my words could move the dullest
man to tears. I could weep with sorrow, and grow indignant at the
sight of wrong. I could feel the glow of inspiration, and
understand the beauty and romance of the silent nights which I
used to watch through from evening until dawn, sitting at my
worktable, and giving up my soul to dreams. I believed in a
bright future then, and looked into it as trustfully as a child
looks into its mother's eyes. And now, oh, it is terrible! I am
tired and without hope; I spend my days and nights in idleness; I
have no control over my feet or brain. My estate is ruined, my
woods are falling under the blows of the axe. [He weeps] My
neglected land looks up at me as reproachfully as an orphan. I
expect nothing, am sorry for nothing; my whole soul trembles at
the thought of each new day. And what can I think of my treatment
of Sarah? I promised her love and happiness forever; I opened her
eyes to the promise of a future such as she had never even
dreamed of. She believed me, and though for five years I have
seen her sinking under the weight of her sacrifices to me, and
losing her strength in her struggles with her conscience, God
knows she has never given me one angry look, or uttered one word
of reproach. What is the result? That I don't love her! Why? Is
it possible? Can it be true? I can't understand. She is
suffering; her days are numbered; yet I fly like a contemptible
coward from her white face, her sunken chest, her pleading eyes.
Oh, I am ashamed, ashamed! [A pause] Sasha, a young girl, is
sorry for me in my misery. She confesses to me that she loves me;
me, almost an old man! Whereupon I lose my head, and exalted as
if by music, I yell: "Hurrah for a new life and new happiness!"
Next day I believe in this new life and happiness as little as I
believe in my happiness at home. What is the matter with me? What
is this pit I am wallowing in? What is the cause of this
weakness? What does this nervousness come from? If my sick wife
wounds my pride, if a servant makes a mistake, if my gun misses
fire, I lose my temper and get violent and altogether unlike
myself. I can't, I can't understand it; the easiest way out would
be a bullet through the head!

Enter LVOFF.

LVOFF. I must have an explanation with you, Ivanoff.

IVANOFF. If we are going to have an explanation every day,
doctor, we shall neither of us have the strength to stand it.

LVOFF. Will you be good enough to hear me?

IVANOFF. I have heard all you have told me every day, and have
failed to discover yet what you want me to do.

LVOFF. I have always spoken plainly enough, and only an utterly
heartless and cruel man could fail to understand me.

IVANOFF. I know that my wife is dying; I know that I have sinned
irreparably; I know that you are an honest man. What more can you
tell me?

LVOFF. The sight of human cruelty maddens me. The woman is dying
and she has a mother and father whom she loves, and longs to see
once more before she dies. They know that she is dying and that
she loves them still, but with diabolical cruelty, as if to
flaunt their religious zeal, they refuse to see her and forgive
her. You are the man for whom she has sacrificed her home, her
peace of mind, everything. Yet you unblushingly go gadding to the
Lebedieffs' every evening, for reasons that are absolutely

IVANOFF. Ah me, it is two weeks since I was there!

LVOFF. [Not listening to him] To men like yourself one must speak
plainly, and if you don't want to hear what I have to say, you
need not listen. I always call a spade a spade; the truth is, you
want her to die so that the way may be cleared for your other
schemes. Be it so; but can't you wait? If, instead of crushing
the life out of your wife by your heartless egoism, you let her
die naturally, do you think you would lose Sasha and Sasha's
money? Such an absolute Tartuffe as you are could turn the girl's
head and get her money a year from now as easily as you can
to-day. Why are you in such a hurry? Why do you want your wife to
die now, instead of in a month's time, or a year's?

IVANOFF. This is torture! You are a very bad doctor if you think
a man can control himself forever. It is all I can do not to
answer your insults.

LVOFF. Look here, whom are you trying to deceive? Throw off this

IVANOFF. You who are so clever, you think that nothing in the
world is easier than to understand me, do you? I married Annie
for her money, did I? And when her parents wouldn't give it to
me, I changed my plans, and am now hustling her out of the world
so that I may marry another woman, who will bring me what I want?
You think so, do you? Oh, how easy and simple it all is! But you
are mistaken, doctor; in each one of us there are too many
springs, too many wheels and cogs for us to judge each other by
first impressions or by two or three external indications. I can
not understand you, you cannot understand me, and neither of us
can understand himself. A man may be a splendid doctor, and at
the same time a very bad judge of human nature; you will admit
that, unless you are too self-confident.

LVOFF. Do you really think that your character is so mysterious,
and that I am too stupid to tell vice from virtue?

IVANOFF. It is clear that we shall never agree, so let me beg you
to answer me now without any more preamble: exactly what do you
want me to do? [Angrily] What are you after anyway? And with whom
have I the honour of speaking? With my lawyer, or with my wife's

LVOFF. I am a doctor, and as such I demand that you change your
conduct toward your wife; it is killing her.

IVANOFF. What shall I do? Tell me! If you understand me so much
better than I understand myself, for heaven's sake tell me
exactly what to do!

LVOFF. In the first place, don't be so unguarded in your

IVANOFF. Heaven help me, do you mean to say that you understand
yourself? [He drinks some water] Now go away; I am guilty a
thousand times over; I shall answer for my sins before God; but
nothing has given you the right to torture me daily as you do.

LVOFF. Who has given you the right to insult my sense of honour?
You have maddened and poisoned my soul. Before I came to this
place I knew that stupid, crazy, deluded people existed, but I
never imagined that any one could be so criminal as to turn his
mind deliberately in the direction of wickedness. I loved and
esteemed humanity then, but since I have known you--

IVANOFF. I have heard all that before.

LVOFF. You have, have you?

He goes out, shrugging his shoulders. He sees SASHA, who comes in
at this moment dressed for riding.

LVOFF. Now, however, I hope that we can understand one another!

IVANOFF. [Startled] Oh, Sasha, is that you?

SASHA. Yes, it is I. How are you? You didn't expect me, did you?
Why haven't you been to see us?

IVANOFF. Sasha, this is really imprudent of you! Your coming will
have a terrible effect on my wife!

SASHA. She won't see me; I came in by the back entrance; I shall
go in a minute. I am so anxious about you. Tell me, are you well?
Why haven't you been to see us for such a long time?

IVANOFF. My wife is offended already, and almost dying, and now
you come here; Sasha, Sasha, this is thoughtless and unkind of

SASHA. How could I help coming? It is two weeks since you were at
our house, and you have not answered my letters. I imagined you
suffering dreadfully, or ill, or dead. I have not slept for
nights. I am going now, but first tell me that you are well.

IVANOFF. No, I am not well. I am a torment to myself, and every
one torments me without end. I can't stand it! And now you come
here. How morbid and unnatural it all is, Sasha. I am terribly

SASHA. What dreadful, pitiful speeches you make! So you are
guilty, are you? Tell me, then, what is it you have done?

IVANOFF I don't know; I don't know!

SASHA. That is no answer. Every sinner should know what he is
guilty of. Perhaps you have been forging money?

IVANOFF. That is stupid.

SASHA. Or are you guilty because you no longer love your wife?
Perhaps you are, but no one is master of his feelings, and you
did not mean to stop loving her. Do you feel guilty because she
saw me telling you that I love you? No, that cannot be, because
you did not want her to see it--

IVANOFF. [Interrupting her] And so on, and so on! First you say I
love, and then you say I don't; that I am not master of my
feelings. All these are commonplace, worn-out sentiments, with
which you cannot help me.

SASHA. It is impossible to talk to you. [She looks at a picture
on the wall] How well those dogs are drawn! Were they done from

IVANOFF. Yes, from life. And this whole romance of ours is a
tedious old story; a man loses heart and begins to go down in the
world; a girl appears, brave and strong of heart, and gives him a
hand to help him to rise again. Such situations are pretty, but
they are only found in novels and not in real life.

SASHA. No, they are found in real life too.

IVANOFF. Now I see how well you understand real life! My
sufferings seem noble to you; you imagine you have discovered in
me a second Hamlet; but my state of mind in all its phases is
only fit to furnish food for contempt and derision. My
contortions are ridiculous enough to make any one die of
laughter, and you want to play the guardian angel; you want to do
a noble deed and save me. Oh, how I hate myself to-day! I feel
that this tension must soon be relieved in some way. Either I
shall break something, or else--

SASHA. That is exactly what you need. Let yourself go! Smash
something; break it to pieces; give a yell! You are angry with
me, it was foolish of me to come here. Very well, then, get
excited about it; storm at me; stamp your feet! Well, aren't you
getting angry?

IVANOFF. You ridiculous girl!

SASHA. Splendid! So we are smiling at last! Be kind, do me the
favour of smiling once more!

IVANOFF. [Laughing] I have noticed that whenever you start
reforming me and saving my soul, and teaching me how to be good,
your face grows naive, oh so naive, and your eyes grow as wide as
if you were looking at a comet. Wait a moment; your shoulder is
covered with dust. [He brushes her shoulder] A naive man is
nothing better than a fool, but you women contrive to be naive in
such a way that in you it seems sweet, and gentle, and proper,
and not as silly as it really is. What a strange way you have,
though, of ignoring a man as long as he is well and happy, and
fastening yourselves to him as soon as he begins to whine and go
down-hill! Do you actually think it is worse to be the wife of a
strong man than to nurse some whimpering invalid?

SASHA. Yes, it is worse.

IVANOFF. Why do you think so? [Laughing loudly] It is a good
thing Darwin can't hear what you are saying! He would be furious
with you for degrading the human race. Soon, thanks to your
kindness, only invalids and hypochondriacs will be born into the

SASHA. There are a great many things a man cannot understand. Any
girl would rather love an unfortunate man than a fortunate one,
because every girl would like to do something by loving. A man
has his work to do, and so for him love is kept in the
background. To talk to his wife, to walk with her in the garden,
to pass the time pleasantly with her, that is all that love means
to a man. But for us, love means life. I love you; that means
that I dream only of how I shall cure you of your sadness, how I
shall go with you to the ends of the earth. If you are in heaven,
I am in heaven; if you are in the pit, I am in the pit. For
instance, it would be the greatest happiness for me to write all
night for you, or to watch all night that no one should wake you.
I remember that three years ago, at threshing time, you came to
us all dusty and sunburnt and tired, and asked for a drink. When
I brought you a glass of water you were already lying on the sofa
and sleeping like a dead man. You slept there for half a day, and
all that time I watched by the door that no one should disturb
you. How happy I was! The more a girl can do, the greater her
love will be; that is,
I mean, the more she feels it

IVANOFF. The love that accomplishes things--hm--that is a fairy
tale, a girl's dream; and yet, perhaps it is as it should be. [He
shrugs his shoulders] How can I tell? [Gaily] On my honour,
Sasha, I really am quite a respectable man. Judge for yourself: I
have always liked to discuss things, but I have never in my life
said that our women were corrupt, or that such and such a woman
was on the down-hill path. I have always been grateful, and
nothing more. No, nothing more. Dear child, how comical you are!
And what a ridiculous old stupid I am! I shock all good Christian
folk, and go about complaining from morning to night. [He laughs
and then leaves her suddenly] But you must go, Sasha; we have
forgotten ourselves.

SASHA. Yes, it is time to go. Good-bye. I am afraid that that
honest doctor of yours will have told Anna out of a sense of duty
that I am here. Take my advice: go at once to your wife and stay
with her. Stay, and stay, and stay, and if it should be for a
year, you must still stay, or for ten years. It is your duty. You
must repent, and ask her forgiveness, and weep. That is what you
ought to do, and the great thing is not to forget to do right.

IVANOFF. Again I feel as if I were going crazy; again!

SASHA. Well, heaven help you! You must forget me entirely. In two
weeks you must send me a line and I shall be content with that.
But I shall write to you--

BORKIN looks in at the door.

BORKIN. Ivanoff, may I come in? [He sees SASHA] I beg your
pardon, I did not see you. Bonjour! [He bows.]

SASHA. [Embarrassed] How do you do?

BORKIN. You are plumper and prettier than ever.

SASHA. [To IVANOFF] I must go, Nicholas, I must go. [She goes

BORKIN. What a beautiful apparition! I came expecting prose and
found poetry instead. [Sings]

"You showed yourself to the world as a bird---"

IVANOFF walks excitedly up and down.

BORKIN. [Sits down] There is something in her, Nicholas, that one
doesn't find in other women, isn't there? An elfin strangeness.
[He sighs] Although she is without doubt the richest girl in the
country, her mother is so stingy that no one will have her. After
her mother's death Sasha will have the whole fortune, but until
then she will only give her ten thousand roubles and an old
flat-iron, and to get that she will have to humble herself to the
ground. [He feels in his pockets] Will you have a smoke? [He
offers IVANOFF his cigarette case] These are very good.

IVANOFF. [Comes toward BORKIN stifled with rage] Leave my house
this instant, and don't you ever dare to set foot in it again! Go
this instant!

BORKIN gets up and drops his cigarette.

IVANOFF. Go at once!

BORKIN. Nicholas, what do you mean? Why are you so angry?

IVANOFF. Why! Where did you get those cigarettes? Where? You
think perhaps that I don't know where you take the old man every
day, and for what purpose?

BORKIN. [Shrugs his shoulders] What business is it of yours?

IVANOFF. You blackguard, you! The disgraceful rumours that you
have been spreading about me have made me disreputable in the
eyes of the whole countryside. You and I have nothing in common,
and I ask you to leave my house this instant.

BORKIN. I know that you are saying all this in a moment of
irritation, and so I am not angry with you. Insult me as much as
you please. [He picks up his cigarette] It is time though, to
shake off this melancholy of yours; you're not a schoolboy.

IVANOFF. What did I tell you? [Shuddering] Are you making fun of

Enter ANNA.

BORKIN. There now, there comes Anna! I shall go.

IVANOFF stops near the table and stands with his head bowed.

ANNA. [After a pause] What did she come here for? What did she
come here for, I ask you?

IVANOFF. Don't ask me, Annie. [A pause] I am terribly guilty.
Think of any punishment you want to inflict on me; I can stand
anything, but don't, oh, don't ask questions!

ANNA. [Angrily] So that is the sort of man you are? Now I
understand you, and can see how degraded, how dishonourable you
are! Do you remember that you came to me once and lied to me
about your love? I believed you, and left my mother, my father,
and my faith to follow you. Yes, you lied to me of goodness and
honour, of your noble aspirations and I believed every word---

IVANOFF. I have never lied to you, Annie.

ANNA. I have lived with you five years now, and I am tired and
ill, but I have always loved you and have never left you for a
moment. You have been my idol, and what have you done? All this
time you have been deceiving me in the most dastardly way---

IVANOFF. Annie, don't say what isn't so. I have made mistakes,
but I have never told a lie in my life. You dare not accuse me of

ANNA. It is all clear to me now. You married me because you
expected my mother and father to forgive me and give you my
money; that is what you expected.

IVANOFF. Good Lord, Annie! If I must suffer like this, I must
have the patience to bear it. [He begins to weep.]

ANNA. Be quiet! When you found that I wasn't bringing you any
money, you tried another game. Now I remember and understand
everything. [She begins to cry] You have never loved me or been
faithful to me--never!

IVANOFF. Sarah! That is a lie! Say what you want, but don't
insult me with a lie!

ANNA. You dishonest, degraded man! You owe money to Lebedieff,
and now, to escape paying your debts, you are trying to turn the
head of his daughter and betray her as you have betrayed me. Can
you deny it?

IVANOFF. [Stifled with rage] For heaven's sake, be quiet! I can't
answer for what I may do! I am choking with rage and I--I might
insult you!

ANNA. I am not the only one whom you have basely deceived. You
have always blamed Borkin for all your dishonest tricks, but now
I know whose they are.

IVANOFF. Sarah, stop at once and go away, or else I shall say
something terrible. I long to say a dreadful, cruel thing [He
shrieks] Hold your tongue, Jewess!

ANNA. I won't hold my tongue! You have deceived me too long for
me to be silent now.

IVANOFF. So you won't be quiet? [He struggles with himself] Go,
for heaven's sake!

ANNA. Go now, and betray Sasha!

IVANOFF. Know then that you--are dying! The doctor told me that
you are dying.

ANNA. [Sits down and speaks in a low voice] When did he

IVANOFF. [Clutches his head with both hands] Oh, how guilty I
am--how guilty! [He sobs.]

The curtain falls.

About a year passes between the third and fourth acts.


A sitting-room in LEBEDIEFF'S house. In the middle of the wall at
the back of the room is an arch dividing the sitting-room from
the ballroom. To the right and left are doors. Some old bronzes
are placed about the room; family portraits are hanging on the
walls. Everything is arranged as if for some festivity. On the
piano lies a violin; near it stands a violoncello. During the
entire act guests, dressed as for a ball, are seen walking about
in the ball-room.

Enter LVOFF, looking at his watch.

LVOFF. It is five o'clock. The ceremony must have begun. First
the priest will bless them, and then they will be led to the
church to be married. Is this how virtue and justice triumph? Not
being able to rob Sarah, he has tortured her to death; and now he
has found another victim whom he will deceive until he has robbed
her, and then he will get rid of her as he got rid of poor Sarah.
It is the same old sordid story. [A pause] He will live to a fine
old age in the seventh heaven of happiness, and will die with a
clear conscience. No, Ivanoff, it shall not be! I shall drag your
villainy to light! And when I tear off that accursed mask of
yours and show you to the world as the blackguard you are, you
shall come plunging down headfirst from your seventh heaven, into
a pit so deep that the devil himself will not be able to drag you
out of it! I am a man of honour; it is my duty to interfere in
such cases as yours, and to open the eyes of the blind. I shall
fulfil my mission, and to-morrow will find me far away from this
accursed place. [Thoughtfully] But what shall I do? To have an
explanation with Lebedieff would be a hopeless task. Shall I make
a scandal, and challenge Ivanoff to a duel? I am as excited as a
child, and have entirely lost th e power of planning anything.
What shall I do? Shall I fight a duel?

Enter KOSICH. He goes gaily up to LVOFF.

KOSICH. I declared a little slam in clubs yesterday, and made a
grand slam! Only that man Barabanoff spoilt the whole game for me
again. We were playing--well, I said "No trumps" and he said
"Pass." "Two in clubs," he passed again. I made it two in hearts.
He said "Three in clubs," and just imagine, can you, what
happened? I declared a little slam and he never showed his ace!
If he had showed his ace, the villain, I should have declared a
grand slam in no trumps!

LVOFF. Excuse me, I don't play cards, and so it is impossible for
me to share your enthusiasm. When does the ceremony begin?

KOSICH. At once, I think. They are now bringing Zuzu to herself
again. She is bellowing like a bull; she can't bear to see the
money go.

LVOFF. And what about the daughter?

KOSICH. No, it is the money. She doesn't like this affair anyway.
He is marrying her daughter, and that means he won't pay his
debts for a long time. One can't sue one's son-in-law.

MARTHA, very much dressed up, struts across the stage past LVOFF
and KOSICH. The latter bursts out laughing behind his hand.
MARTHA looks around.

MARTHA. Idiot!

KOSICH digs her in the ribs and laughs loudly.


KOSICH. [Laughing] The woman's head has been turned. Before she
fixed her eye on a title she was like any other woman, but there
is no coming near her now! [Angrily] A boor, indeed!

LVOFF. [Excitedly] Listen to me; tell me honestly, what do you
think of Ivanoff?

KOSICH. He's no good at all. He plays cards like a lunatic. This
is what happened last year during Lent: I, the Count, Borkin and
he, sat down to a game of cards. I led a---

LVOFF [Interrupting him] Is he a good man?

KOSICH. He? Yes, he's a good one! He and the Count are a pair of
trumps. They have keen noses for a good game. First, Ivanoff set
his heart on the Jewess, then, when his schemes failed in that
quarter, he turned his thoughts toward Zuzu's money-bags. I'll
wager you he'll ruin Zuzu in a year. He will ruin Zuzu, and the
Count will ruin Martha. They will gather up all the money they
can lay hands on, and live happily ever after! But, doctor, why
are you so pale to-day? You look like a ghost.

LVOFF. Oh, it's nothing. I drank a little too much yesterday.


LEBEDIEFF. We can have our talk here. [To LVOFF and KOSICH] Go
into the ball-room, you two old fogies, and talk to the girls.
Sasha and I want to talk alone here.

KOSICH. [Snapping his fingers enthusiastically as he goes by
SASHA] What a picture! A queen of trumps!

LEBEDIEFF. Go along, you old cave-dweller; go along.

KOSICH and LVOFF go out.

LEBEDIEFF. Sit down, Sasha, there-- [He sits down and looks about
him] Listen to me attentively and with proper respect. The fact
is, your mother has asked me to say this, do you understand? I am
not speaking for myself. Your mother told me to speak to you.

SASHA. Papa, do say it briefly!

LEBEDIEFF. When you are married we mean to give you fifteen
thousand roubles. Please don't let us have any discussion about
it afterward. Wait, now! Be quiet! That is only the beginning.
The best is yet to come. We have allotted you fifteen thousand
roubles, but in consideration of the fact that Nicholas owes your
mother nine thousand, that sum will have to be deducted from the
amount we mean to give you. Very well. Now, beside that---

SASHA. Why do you tell me all this?

LEBEDIEFF. Your mother told me to.

SASHA. Leave me in peace! If you had any respect for yourself or
me you could not permit yourself to speak to me in this way. I
don't want your money! I have not asked for it, and never shall.

LEBEDIEFF. What are you attacking me for? The two rats in Gogol's
fable sniffed first and then ran away, but you attack without
even sniffing.

SASHA. Leave me in peace, and do not offend my ears with your
two-penny calculations.

LEBEDIEFF. [Losing his temper] Bah! You all, every one of you, do
all you can to make me cut my throat or kill somebody. One of you
screeches and fusses all day and counts every penny, and the
other is so clever and humane and emancipated that she cannot
understand her own father! I offend your ears, do I? Don't you
realise that before I came here to offend your ears I was being
torn to pieces over there, [He points to the door] literally
drawn and quartered? So you cannot understand? You two have
addled my brain till I am utterly at my wits' end; indeed I am!
[He goes toward the door, and stops] I don't like this business
at all; I don't like any thing about you--

SASHA. What is it, especially, that you don't like?

LEBEDIEFF. Everything, everything!

SASHA. What do you mean by everything?

LEBEDIEFF. Let me explain exactly what I mean. Everything
displeases me. As for your marriage, I simply can't abide it. [He
goes up to SASHA and speaks caressingly] Forgive me, little
Sasha, this marriage may be a wise one; it may be honest and not
misguided, nevertheless, there is something about the whole
affair that is not right; no, not right! You are not marrying as
other girls do; you are young and fresh and pure as a drop of
water, and he is a widower, battered and worn. Heaven help him. I
don't understand him at all. [He kisses his daughter] Forgive me
for saying so, Sasha, but I am sure there is something crooked
about this affair; it is making a great deal of talk. It seems
people are saying that first Sarah died, and then suddenly
Ivanoff wanted to marry you. [Quickly] But, no, I am like an old
woman; I am gossiping like a magpie. You must not listen to me or
any one, only to your own heart.

SASHA. Papa, I feel myself that there is something wrong about my
marriage. Something wrong, yes, wrong! Oh, if you only knew how
heavy my heart is; this is unbearable! I am frightened and
ashamed to confess this; Papa darling, you must help me, for
heaven's sake. Oh, can't you tell me what I should do?

LEBEDIEFF. What is the matter, Sasha, what is it?

SASHA. I am so frightened, more frightened than I have ever been
before. [She glances around her] I cannot understand him now, and
I never shall. He has not smiled or looked straight into my eyes
once since we have been engaged. He is forever complaining and
apologising for something; hinting at some crime he is guilty of,
and trembling. I am so tired! There are even moments when I
think--I think--that I do not love him as I should, and when he
comes to see us, or talks to me, I get so tired! What does it
mean, dear father? I am afraid.

LEBEDIEFF. My darling, my only child, do as your old father
advises you; give him up!

SASHA. [Frightened] Oh! How can you say that?

LEBEDIEFF. Yes, do it, little Sasha! It will make a scandal, all
the tongues in the country will be wagging about it, but it is
better to live down a scandal than to ruin one's life.

SASHA. Don't say that, father. Oh, don't. I refuse to listen! I
must crush such gloomy thoughts. He is good and unhappy and
misunderstood. I shall love him and learn to understand him. I
shall set him on his feet again. I shall do my duty. That is

LEBEDIEFF. This is not your duty, but a delusion--

SASHA. We have said enough. I have confessed things to you that I
have not dared to admit even to myself. Don't speak about this to
any one. Let us forget it.

LEBEDIEFF. I am hopelessly puzzled, and either my mind is going
from old age or else you have all grown very clever, but I'll be
hanged if I understand this business at all.


SHABELSKI. Confound you all and myself, too! This is maddening!

LEBEDIEFF. What do you want?

SHABELSKI Seriously, I must really do something horrid and
rascally, so that not only I but everybody else will be disgusted
by it. I certainly shall find something to do, upon my word I
shall! I have already told Borkin to announce that I am to be
married. [He laughs] Everybody is a scoundrel and I must be one

LEBEDIEFF. I am tired of you, Matthew. Look here, man you talk in
such a way that, excuse my saying so, you will soon find yourself
in a lunatic asylum!

SHABELSKI. Could a lunatic asylum possibly be worse than this
house, or any othe r? Kindly take me there at once. Please do!
Everybody is wicked and futile and worthless and stupid; I am an
object of disgust to myself, I don't believe a word I say----

LEBEDIEFF. Let me give you a piece of advice, old man; fill your
mouth full of tow, light it, and blow at everybody. Or, better
still, take your hat and go home. This is a wedding, we all want
to enjoy ourselves and you are croaking like a raven. Yes,

SHABELSKI leans on the piano and begins to sob.

LEBEDIEFF. Good gracious, Matthew, Count! What is it, dear
Matthew, old friend? Have I offended you? There, forgive me; I
didn't mean to hurt you. Come, drink some water.

SHABELSKI. I don't want any water. [Raises his head.]

LEBEDIEFF. What are you crying about?

SHABELSKI. Nothing in particular; I was just crying.

LEBEDIEFF. Matthew, tell me the truth, what is it? What has

SHABELSKI. I caught sight of that violoncello, and--and--I
remembered the Jewess.

LEBEDIEFF. What an unfortunate moment you have chosen to remember
her. Peace be with her! But don't think of her now.

SHABELSKI. We used to play duets together. She was a beautiful, a
glorious woman.

SASHA sobs.

LEBEDIEFF. What, are you crying too? Stop, Sasha! Dear me, they
are both howling now, and I--and I-- Do go away; the guests will
see you!

SHABELSKI. Paul, when the sun is shining, it is gay even in a
cemetery. One can be cheerful even in old age if it is lighted by
hope; but I have nothing to hope for--not a thing!

LEBEDIEFF. Yes, it is rather sad for you. You have no children,
no money, no occupation. Well, but what is there to be done about
it? [To SASHA] What is the matter with you, Sasha?

SHABELSKI. Paul, give me some money. I will repay you in the next
world. I would go to Paris and see my wife's grave. I have given
away a great deal of money in my life, half my fortune indeed,
and I have a right to ask for some now. Besides, I am asking a

LEBEDIEFF. [Embarrassed] My dear boy, I haven't a penny. All
right though. That is to say, I can't promise anything, but you
understand--very well, very well. [Aside] This is agony!


MARTHA. Where is my partner? Count, how dare you leave me alone?
You are horrid! [She taps SHABELSKI on the arm with her fan]

SHABELSKI. [Impatiently] Leave me alone! I can't abide you!

MARTHA. [Frightened] How? What?


MARTHA. [Sinks into an arm-chair] Oh! Oh! Oh! [She bursts into

Enter ZINAIDA crying.

ZINAIDA. Some one has just arrived; it must be one of the ushers.
It is time for the ceremony to begin.

SASHA. [Imploringly] Mother!

LEBEDIEFF. Well, now you are all bawling. What a quartette! Come,
come, don't let us have any more of this dampness! Matthew!
Martha! If you go on like this, I--I--shall cry too. [Bursts into
tears] Heavens!

ZINAIDA. If you don't need your mother any more, if you are
determined not to obey her, I shall have to do as you want, and
you have my blessing.

Enter IVANOFF, dressed in a long coat, with gloves on.

LEBEDIEFF This is the finishing touch! What do you want?

SHABELSKI. Why are you here?

IVANOFF. I beg your pardon, you must allow me to speak to Sasha

LEBEDIEFF. The bridegroom must not come to see the bride before
the wedding. It is time for you to go to the church.

IVANOFF. Paul, I implore you.

and MARTHA go out.

SASHA. [Sternly] What do you want?

IVANOFF. I am choking with anger; I cannot speak calmly. Listen
to me; as I was dressing just now for the wedding, I looked in
the glass and saw how grey my temples were. Sasha, this must not
be! Let us end this senseless comedy before it is too late. You
are young and pure; you have all your life before you, but I---

SASHA. The same old story; I have heard it a thousand times and I
am tired of it. Go quickly to the church and don't keep everybody

IVANOFF. I shall go straight home, and you must explain to your
family somehow that there is to be no wedding. Explain it as you
please. It is time we came to our senses. I have been playing the
part of Hamlet and you have been playing the part of a noble and
devoted girl. We have kept up the farce long enough.

SASHA. [Losing her temper] How can you speak to me like this? I
won't have it.

IVANOFF. But I am speaking, and will continue to speak.

SASHA. What do you mean by coming to me like this? Your
melancholy has become absolutely ridiculous!

IVANOFF. No, this is not melancholy. It is ridiculous, is it?
Yes, I am laughing, and if it were possible for me to laugh at
myself a thousand times more bitterly I should do so and set the
whole world laughing, too, in derision. A fierce light has
suddenly broken over my soul; as I looked into the glass just
now, I laughed at myself, and nearly went mad with shame. [He
laughs] Melancholy indeed! Noble grief! Uncontrollable sorrow! It
only remains for me now to begin to write verses! Shall I mope
and complain, sadden everybody I meet, confess that my manhood
has gone forever, that I have decayed, outlived my purpose, that
I have given myself up to cowardice and am bound hand and foot by
this loathsome melancholy? Shall I confess all this when the sun
is shining so brightly and when even the ants are carrying their
little burdens in peaceful self-content? No, thanks. Can I endure
the knowledge that one will look upon me as a fraud, while
another pities me, a third lends me a helping hand, or worst of
all, a fourth listens reverently to my sighs, looks upon me as a
new Mahomet, and expects me to expound a new religion every
moment? No, thank God for the pride and conscience he has left me
still. On my way here I laughed at myself, and it seemed to me
that the flowers and birds were laughing mockingly too.

SASHA. This is not anger, but madness!

IVANOFF. You think so, do you? No, I am not mad. I see things in
their right light now, and my mind is as clear as your
conscience. We love each other, but we shall never be married. It
makes no difference how I rave and grow bitter by myself, but I
have no right to drag another down with me. My melancholy robbed
my wife of the last year of her life. Since you have been engaged
to me you have forgotten how to laugh and have aged five years.
Your father, to whom life was always simple and clear, thanks to
me, is now unable to understand anybody. Wherever I go, whether
hunting or visiting, it makes no difference, I carry depression,
dulness, and discontent along with me. Wait! Don't interrupt me!
I am bitter and harsh, I know, but I am stifled with rage. I
cannot speak otherwise. I have never lied, and I never used to
find fault with my lot, but since I have begun to complain of
everything, I find fault with it involuntarily, and against my
will. When I murmur at my fate every one who hears me is seized
with the same disgust of life and begins to grumble too. And what
a strange way I have of looking at things! Exactly as if I were
doing the world a favour by living in it. Oh, I am contemptible.

SASHA. Wait a moment. From what you have just said, it is obvious
that you are tired of your melancholy mood, and that the time has
come for you to begin life afresh. How splendid!

IVANOFF. I don't see anything splendid about it. How can I lead a
new life? I am lost forever. It is time we both understood that.
A new life indeed!

SASHA. Nicholas, come to your senses. How can you say you are
lost? What do you mean by such cynicism? No, I won't listen to
you or talk with you. Go to the church!

IVANOFF. I am lost!

SASHA. Don't talk so loud; our guests will hear you!

IVANOFF. If an intelligent, educated, and healthy man begins to
complain of his lot and go down-hill, there is nothing for him to
do but to go on down until he reaches the bottom--there is no
hope for him. Where could my salvation come from? How can I save
myself? I cannot drink, because it makes my head ache. I never
could write bad poetry. I cannot pray for strength and see
anything lofty in the languor of my soul. Laziness is laziness
and weakness weakness. I can find no other names for them. I am
lost, I am lost; there is no doubt of that. [Looking around] Some
one might come in; listen, Sasha, if you love me you must help
me. Renounce me this minute; quickly!

SASHA. Oh, Nicholas! If you only knew how you are torturing me;
what agony I have to endure for your sake! Good thoughtful
friend, judge for yourself; can I possibly solve such a problem?
Each day you put some horrible problem before me, each one more
difficult than the last. I wanted to help you with my love, but
this is martyrdom!

IVANOFF. And when you are my wife the problems will be harder
than ever. Understand this: it is not love that is urging you to
take this step, but the obstinacy of an honest nature. You have
undertaken to reawaken the man in me and to save me in the face
of every difficulty, and you are flattered by the hope of
achieving your object. You are willing to give up now, but you
are prevented from doing it by a feeling that is a false one.
Understand yourself!

SASHA. What strange, wild reasoning! How can I give you up now?
How can I? You have no mother, or sister, or friends. You are
ruined; your estate has been destroyed; every one is speaking ill
of you--

IVANOFF. It was foolish of me to come here; I should have done as
I wanted to--


SASHA. [Running to her father] Father! He has rushed over here
like a madman, and is torturing me! He insists that I should
refuse to marry him; he says he doesn't want to drag me down with
him. Tell him that I won't accept his generosity. I know what I
am doing!

LEBEDIEFF. I can't understand a word of what you are saying. What

IVANOFF. This marriage is not going to take place.

SASHA. It is going to take place. Papa, tell him that it is going
to take place.

LEBEDIEFF. Wait! Wait! What objection have you to the marriage?

IVANOFF. I have explained it all to her, but she refuses to
understand me.

LEBEDIEFF. Don't explain it to her, but to me, and explain it so
that I may understand. God forgive you, Nicholas, you have
brought a great deal of darkness into our lives. I feel as if I
were living in a museum; I look about me and don't understand
anything I see. This is torture. What on earth can an old man
like me do with you? Shall I challenge you to a duel?

IVANOFF. There is no need of a duel. All you need is a head on
your shoulders and a knowledge of the Russian language.

SASHA. [Walks up and down in great excitement] This is dreadful,
dreadful! Absolutely childish.

LEBEDIEFF. Listen to me, Nicholas; from your point of view what
you are doing is quite right and proper, according to the rules
of psychology, but I think this affair is a scandal and a great
misfortune. I am an old man; hear me out for the last time. This
is what I want to say to you: calm yourself; look at things
simply, as every one else does; this is a simple world. The
ceiling is white; your boots are black; sugar is sweet. You love
Sasha and she loves you. If you love her, stay with her; if you
don't, leave her. We shan't blame you. It is all perfectly
simple. You are two healthy, intelligent, moral young people;
thank God, you both have food and clothing--what more do you
want? What if you have no money? That is no great
misfortune--happiness is not bought with wealth. Of course your
estate is mortgaged, Nicholas, as I know, and you have no money
to pay the interest on the debt, but I am Sasha's father. I
understand. Her mother can do as she likes--if she won't give any
money, why, confound her, then she needn't, that's all! Sasha has
just said that she does not want her part of it. As for your
principles, Schopenhauer and all that, it is all folly. I have
one hundred thousand roubles in the bank. [Looking around him]
Not a soul in the house knows it; it was my grandmother's money.
That shall be for you both. Take it, give Matthew two thousand--

[The guests begin to collect in the ball-room].

IVANOFF. It is no use discussing it any more, I must act as my
conscience bids me.

SASHA. And I shall act as my conscience bids me--you may say what
you please; I refuse to let you go! I am going to call my mother.

LEBEDIEFF. I am utterly puzzled.

IVANOFF. Listen to me, poor old friend. I shall not try to
explain myself to you. I shall not tell you whether I am honest
or a rascal, healthy or mad; you wouldn't understand me. I was
young once; I have been eager and sincere and intelligent. I have
loved and hated and believed as no one else has. I have worked
and hoped and tilted against windmills with the strength of
ten--not sparing my strength, not knowing what life was. I
shouldered a load that broke my back. I drank, I worked, I
excited myself, my energy knew no bounds. Tell me, could I have
done otherwise? There are so few of us and so much to do, so much
to do! And see how cruelly fate has revenged herself on me, who
fought with her so bravely! I am a broken man. I am old at
thirty. I have submitted myself to old age. With a heavy head and
a sluggish mind, weary, used up, discouraged, without faith or
love or an object in life, I wander like a shadow among other
men, not knowing why I am alive or what it is that I want. Love
seems to me to be folly, caresses false. I see no sense in
working or playing, and all passionate speeches seem insipid and
tiresome. So I carry my sadness with me wherever I go; a cold
weariness, a discontent, a horror of life. Yes, I am lost for
ever and ever. Before you stands a man who at thirty-five is
disillusioned, wearied by fruitless efforts, burning with shame,
and mocking at his own weakness. Oh, how my pride rebels against
it all! What mad fury chokes me! [He staggers] I am
staggering--my strength is failing me. Where is Matthew? Let him
take me home.

[Voices from the ball-room] The best man has arrived!


SHABELSKI. In an old worn-out coat--without gloves! How many
scornful glances I get for it! Such silly jokes and vulgar grins!
Disgusting people.

Enter BORKIN quickly. He is carrying a bunch of flowers and is in
a dress-coat. He wears a flower in his buttonhole.

BORKIN. This is dreadful! Where is he? [To IVANOFF] They have
been waiting for you for a long time in the church, and here you
are talking philosophy! What a funny chap you are. Don't you know
you must not go to church with the bride, but alone, with me? I
shall then come back for her. Is it possible you have not
understood that? You certainly are an extraordinary man!

Enter LVOFF.

LVOFF. [To IVANOFF] Ah! So you are here? [Loudly] Nicholas
Ivanoff, I denounce you to the world as a scoundrel!

IVANOFF. [Coldly] Many thanks!

BORKIN. [To LVOFF] Sir, this is dastardly! I challenge you to a

LVOFF. Monsieur Borkin, I count it a disgrace not only to fight
with you, but even to talk to you! Monsieur Ivanoff, however, can
receive satisfaction from me whenever he chooses!

SHABELSKI. Sir, I shall fight you!

SASHA. [To LVOFF] Why, oh why, have you insulted him? Gentlemen,
I beg you, let him tell me why he has insulted him.

LVOFF. Miss Sasha, I have not insulted him without cause. I came
here as a man of honour, to open your eyes, and I beg you to
listen to what I have to tell you.

SASHA. What can you possibly have to tell me? That you are a man
of honour? The whole world knows it. You had better tell me on
your honour whether you understand what you have done or not. You
have come in here as a man of honour and have insulted him so
terribly that you have nearly killed me. When you used to follow
him like a shadow and almost keep him from living, you were
convinced that you were doing your duty and that you were acting
like a man of honour. When you interfered in his private affairs,
maligned him and criticised him; when you sent me and whomever
else you could, anonymous letters, you imagined yourself to be an
honourable man! And, thinking that that too was honourable, you,
a doctor, did not even spare his dying wife or give her a
moment's peace from your suspicions. And no matter what violence,
what cruel wrong you committed, you still imagined yourself to be
an unusually honourable and clear-sighted man.

IVANOFF. [Laughing] This is not a wedding, but a parliament!
Bravo! Bravo!

SASHA. [To LVOFF] Now, think it over! Do you see what sort of a
man you are, or not? Oh,
the stupid, heartless people! [Takes IVANOFF by the hand] Come
away from here Nicholas! Come, father, let us go!

IVANOFF. Where shall we go? Wait a moment. I shall soon put an
end to the whole thing. My youth is awake in me again; the former
Ivanoff is here once more.

[He takes out a revolver.]

SASHA. [Shrieking] I know what he wants to do! Nicholas, for
God's sake!

IVANOFF. I have been slipping down-hill long enough. Now, halt!
It is time to know what honour is. Out of the way! Thank you,

SASHA. [Shrieking] Nicholas! For God's sake hold him!

IVANOFF. Let go! [He rushes aside, and shoots himself.]

The curtain falls.

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