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  • 1887
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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 unmistakable!

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 disguise!

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 doctor?

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 behaviour.

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 you.

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 guilty.

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 life?

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 world.

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 out.]

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 me?

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 that!

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 settled.

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 too!

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, really.

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 happened?

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 friend

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 tears.]

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 alone.

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.

LEBEDIEFF shrugs his shoulders. LEBEDIEFF, ZINAIDA, SHABELSKI, 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 waiting!

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 generosity?

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 duel!

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!

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

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

The curtain falls.