Franz Kafka

Saturday, March 25, 2017

"The Beauties" by Anton Chekhov, Full Text in English; from "The Schoolmistress and Other Stories" (1897) by Anton Pavlovich Chekhov

Portrait of Anton Pavlovich Chekhov



I REMEMBER, when I was a high school boy in the fifth or sixth class, I
was driving with my grandfather from the village of Bolshoe Kryepkoe in
the Don region to Rostov-on-the-Don. It was a sultry, languidly dreary
day of August. Our eyes were glued together, and our mouths were parched
from the heat and the dry burning wind which drove clouds of dust to
meet us; one did not want to look or speak or think, and when our drowsy
driver, a Little Russian called Karpo, swung his whip at the horses
and lashed me on my cap, I did not protest or utter a sound, but only,
rousing myself from half-slumber, gazed mildly and dejectedly into the
distance to see whether there was a village visible through the dust.
We stopped to feed the horses in a big Armenian village at a rich
Armenian’s whom my grandfather knew. Never in my life have I seen a
greater caricature than that Armenian. Imagine a little shaven head with
thick overhanging eyebrows, a beak of a nose, long gray mustaches, and
a wide mouth with a long cherry-wood chibouk sticking out of it. This
little head was clumsily attached to a lean hunch-back carcass attired
in a fantastic garb, a short red jacket, and full bright blue trousers.
This figure walked straddling its legs and shuffling with its slippers,
spoke without taking the chibouk out of its mouth, and behaved with
truly Armenian dignity, not smiling, but staring with wide-open eyes and
trying to take as little notice as possible of its guests.

There was neither wind nor dust in the Armenian’s rooms, but it was just
as unpleasant, stifling, and dreary as in the steppe and on the road.
I remember, dusty and exhausted by the heat, I sat in the corner on a
green box. The unpainted wooden walls, the furniture, and the floors
colored with yellow ocher smelt of dry wood baked by the sun. Wherever
I looked there were flies and flies and flies.... Grandfather and the
Armenian were talking about grazing, about manure, and about oats....
I knew that they would be a good hour getting the samovar; that
grandfather would be not less than an hour drinking his tea, and then
would lie down to sleep for two or three hours; that I should waste a
quarter of the day waiting, after which there would be again the heat,
the dust, the jolting cart. I heard the muttering of the two voices, and
it began to seem to me that I had been seeing the Armenian, the cupboard
with the crockery, the flies, the windows with the burning sun beating
on them, for ages and ages, and should only cease to see them in the
far-off future, and I was seized with hatred for the steppe, the sun,
the flies....

A Little Russian peasant woman in a kerchief brought in a tray of
tea-things, then the samovar. The Armenian went slowly out into the
passage and shouted: “Mashya, come and pour out tea! Where are you,

Hurried footsteps were heard, and there came into the room a girl of
sixteen in a simple cotton dress and a white kerchief. As she washed the
crockery and poured out the tea, she was standing with her back to me,
and all I could see was that she was of a slender figure, barefooted,
and that her little bare heels were covered by long trousers.

The Armenian invited me to have tea. Sitting down to the table, I
glanced at the girl, who was handing me a glass of tea, and felt all at
once as though a wind were blowing over my soul and blowing away all
the impressions of the day with their dust and dreariness. I saw the
bewitching features of the most beautiful face I have ever met in real
life or in my dreams. Before me stood a beauty, and I recognized that at
the first glance as I should have recognized lightning.

I am ready to swear that Masha--or, as her father called her,
Mashya--was a real beauty, but I don’t know how to prove it. It
sometimes happens that clouds are huddled together in disorder on the
horizon, and the sun hiding behind them colors them and the sky with
tints of every possible shade--crimson, orange, gold, lilac, muddy pink;
one cloud is like a monk, another like a fish, a third like a Turk in a
turban. The glow of sunset enveloping a third of the sky gleams on
the cross on the church, flashes on the windows of the manor house, is
reflected in the river and the puddles, quivers on the trees; far, far
away against the background of the sunset, a flock of wild ducks is
flying homewards.... And the boy herding the cows, and the surveyor
driving in his chaise over the dam, and the gentleman out for a walk,
all gaze at the sunset, and every one of them thinks it terribly
beautiful, but no one knows or can say in what its beauty lies.

Saturday, March 18, 2017

"Elf Söhne, Eleven Sons" by Franz Kafka: English version. "Elf Söhne, Eleven Sons" by Franz Kafka, translated in English, with Original Text in German

Portrait of Franz Kafka

Eleven Sons

I have eleven sons. The first is outwardly very unappealing, but serious and clever; nevertheless, I do not have the highest appreciation of him, although I love him as much as the others. His way of thinking seems too simple to me. He does not look right nor left, nor into the distance; in his little circle of thoughts, he runs constantly around, or he rotates, rather.
The second is handsome, slim, well-built; it is a delight to see him in fencing posture. He is also  wise, but also worldly wise; he has seen a lot, therefore it seems that the character of his country is impressed in him no less than within the folks back home. But this advantage is certainly not only due to his traveling, it belongs rather to the inimitable nature of this child, who is recognized by anyone who wants to imitate his dives into the water and the somersaults, impetuous yet well controlled. Until the end of the springboard the courage and desire is for the imitators enough, but then, instead of jumping, they raise their arms apologetically. And despite all this (I should really be happy about such a child) my relationship with him is not untarnished. His left eye is a little smaller than the right, winking much; a little fault, certainly, making his face even more daring than it would otherwise be, and no one will disapprove of this smaller twinkling eye, in view of the unapproachable independence of his temper. I, the father, do it. Of course it's not this physical fault that hurts me, but a somehow corresponding small irregularity of his mind, a sort of poison erring in his blood, some inability, only visible to me, marks his life all around. On the other hand, this is precisely what makes him my true son, because his fault is at the same time the very fault of our whole family, and in this son is just more evident.
The third son is also handsome, but it's not the handsomeness that I like. It is the handsomeness of the singer: the curved mouth; the dreamy eye; the head which requires, to work, a drapery behind; the chest swells too much; slightly colliding hands that fall too easily, the legs stand out because they can not bear him. And besides: the tone of his voice is not full; for a moment it deceives the connoisseur's ear, but then it is shortlived. Although everything would tempt to make this son flaunting, I hold him preferably in secret; he does not impose himself, not because he knows his own flaws, but rather out of innocence. He also feels that he does not belong to our times; as if he belonged to my family, but also to another, forever lost, he is often listless and nothing can cheer him up.
My fourth son is perhaps the friendliest of all. A true child of his time, everybody understands him, he shares common ground with everyone, and all try to nod to him. Perhaps by this general recognition he gains some lightness, and his movements some freedom, his judgment is lighthearted. Some of his sayings you want to repeat often, but only some, because all in all he suffers  of too great easiness. He is like a man who jumps off admirably, swallowing the air, but ends bleakly in barren dust, a nothingness. Such thoughts embitter me at the sight of this child.
The fifth son is kind and good; promised a lot less than he thought; he was so insignificant that in his presence one felt alone; it has yet brought to some renown. If you asked me how this is done, I could barely answer. Perhaps, innocence penetrates effortlessly through the raging elements in this world, and he's innocent. Perhaps too innocent. Friendly to everyone. Perhaps too friendly. I confess: I will not be comfortable if you praise him before me. This is to say, it is somewhat too easy to praise someone who is obviously so praiseworthy, like my son.
My sixth son seems, at least at first glance, the most profound of all. Crestfallen and yet garrulous. Therefore, one does not easily come to him. Being subject to falling, he falls into invincible sadness; he attains the overweight, so he preserves it by chatter. But I'm not talking to him from some absent-minded passion; in broad day he often fights his way through his thoughts like in a dream. Without being sick - rather, it has a very good health - he stumbles sometimes, particularly at dusk, but does not need help, he does not fall. Perhaps it is his own physical development to blame, for he is much too big for his age. This makes him unattractive as a whole, despite strikingly beautiful details, such as his hands and feet. Not pretty is also his forehead; somewhat shriveled both in the skin and in the bone formation.
The seventh son belongs to me more than all the others. The world does not understand him enough; his special kind of humor  is not understood. I do not overesteem him; I know he is barely sufficient; had the world no other fault than not to appreciate him, then it would still be spotless. But within the family, I would never want to miss this son. Both restlessness and reverence for tradition he brings, and both he add together, at least to my mind, to an incontestable whole. Of this whole he knows, to some extent, what to do; the wheel of the future he will not put in motion, but his disposition is so encouraging, so full of hope; I wish he had children, and they children again. Unfortunately, this desire does not seem to be likely fulfilled. In a somehow understandable, but equally undesirable, complacency, which is, however, in great contrast to the general judgment, he goes about alone, not caring about girls, and is still never losing his good mood.
My eighth son is my problem child, and I do not actually know the reason for this. He looks at me strange, and I feel a close fatherly bond with him. Time has worked well its way,  but before I would sometimes feel a shiver when thinking about him. He goes his own way; he has broken all the ties with me; and certainly with his strong head, his small athletic body - only his legs were rather weak as a boy, but they might have in the meantime strenghtened - gets away as he pleases. I often felt like calling him, to ask him how he is really doing, why he secluded so much from his father,  and what he actually meant, but now he's so far and so much time has already passed; now it may as well remain as it is. I hear that he is the only one amongst my sons to  wear a beard; which is obviously not too good for such a small man.
My ninth son is very elegant and has that particular sweet look, according to women. So sweet that he can even seduce at times, but I know that a wet sponge is sufficient to wipe out all that unearthly splendor. What is special about this boy, however, is that he does not at all intend to seduce; to him it would be enough to lie his all life on the sofa, direct his look at the ceiling,  or even more let it rest under the eyelids. Is such a favorite position of his, he likes to talk and not badly; profusely and vividly; but only within narrow limits; if he goes beyond them, which can not be avoided in such narrowness, his speech is completely empty. One would wink at him, if only hoped that such sleepy look could notice it. 
My tenth son is regarded as an insincere character. I do not want to either quite deny, nor quite confirm this fault. What is certain is that whoever sees him coming by, in such solemnity that is well above his age, in an always firmly closed frock coat, in the old, but impeccably polished, black hat, his impassible face, the slightly protruding chin, the eyelids gravely bulging over his eyes, two fingers  sometimes put to his mouth one who sees him must think: there is a boundless hypocrite! But, now you just hear him speak! Knowledgeable; full of wisdom; of few words;  responding with mischievous vivaciousness to questions; in astonishing,  evident and joyful conformity with the whole world; a conformity that necessarily tightens the neck and can lift the body. Many who thought themselves very clever and, for this reason, felt repelled by his appearance, he has by his word strongly attracted. But there are also people, indifferent at his appearance, to whom his words appear hypocritical. I, as a father, do not want to decide here, but I must admit that the latter judgement is in any case as noteworthy as the former. 
My eleventh son is tender, probably the weakest among my sons; but deceptive in his weakness; he can be strong and determined at times, even though his weakness is somehow foundamental. However, it is not a shameful weakness, rather something that only appears on our world as a weakness. It is not then, for example, also the readiness to set to fly a weakness, because it is indeed wavering and uncertain and fluttery? Something like this shows my son. The father, of course, is not happy about such features; they obviously contribute to the destruction of the family. Sometimes he looks at me as if to say: “I'll take you with me, Father.” Then I think: “You're the last person I trust myself.” And his eyes again seem to say again: “At least, may I then be the last.”
 These are the eleven sons.

From "The Tales of Franz Kafka: English Translation With Original Text In German," available as e-book on Amazon KindleiPhone, iPad, or iPod touchon NOOK Bookon Kobo, and as printed, traditional edition through Lulu.

Original Text in German:

Elf Söhne

Ich habe elf Söhne.
Der erste ist äußerlich sehr unansehnlich, aber ernsthaft und klug; trotzdem schätze ich ihn, wiewohl ich ihn als Kind wie alle andern liebe, nicht sehr hoch ein. Sein Denken scheint mir zu einfach. Er sieht nicht rechts noch links und nicht in die Weite; in seinem kleinen Gedankenkreis läuft er immerfort rundum oder dreht sich vielmehr.
Der zweite ist schön, schlank, wohlgebaut; es entzückt, ihn in Fechterstellung zu sehen. Auch er ist klug, aber überdies welterfahren; er hat viel gesehen, und deshalb scheint selbst die heimische Natur vertrauter mit ihm zu sprechen als mit den Daheimgebliebenen. Doch ist gewiß dieser Vorzug nicht nur und nicht einmal wesentlich dem Reisen zu verdanken, er gehört vielmehr zu dem Unnachahmlichen dieses Kindes, das zum Beispiel von jedem anerkannt wird, der etwa seinen vielfach sich überschlagenden und doch geradezu wild beherrschten Kunstsprung ins Wasser ihm nachmachen will. Bis zum Ende des Sprungbrettes reicht der Mut und die Lust, dort aber statt zu springen, setzt sich plötzlich der Nachahmer und hebt entschuldigend die Arme. - Und trotz dem allen (ich sollte doch eigentlich glücklich sein über ein solches Kind) ist mein Verhältnis zu ihm nicht ungetrübt. Sein linkes Auge ist ein wenig kleiner als das rechte und zwinkert viel; ein kleiner Fehler nur, gewiß, der sein Gesicht sogar noch verwegener macht als es sonst gewesen wäre, und niemand wird gegenüber der unnahbaren Abgeschlossenheit seines Wesens dieses kleinere zwinkernde Auge tadelnd bemerken. Ich, der Vater, tue es. Es ist natürlich nicht dieser körperliche Fehler, der mir weh tut, sondern eine ihm irgendwie entsprechende kleine Unregelmäßigkeit seines Geistes, irgendein in seinem Blut irrendes Gift, irgendeine Unfähigkeit, die mir allein sichtbare Anlage seines Lebens rund zu vollenden. Gerade dies macht ihn allerdings andererseits wieder zu meinem wahren Sohn, denn dieser sein Fehler ist gleichzeitig der Fehler unserer ganzen Familie und an diesem Sohn nur überdeutlich.
Der dritte Sohn ist gleichfalls schön, aber es ist nicht die Schönheit, die mir gefällt. Es ist die Schönheit des Sängers: der geschwungene Mund; das träumerische Auge; der Kopf, der eine Draperie hinter sich benötigt, um zu wirken; die unmäßig sich wölbende Brust; die leicht auffahrenden und viel zu leicht sinkenden Hände, die Beine, die sich zieren, weil sie nicht tragen können. Und überdies: der Ton seiner Stimme ist nicht voll; trügt einen Augenblick; läßt den Kenner aufhorchen; veratmet aber kurz darauf. - Trotzdem im allgemeinen alles verlockt, diesen Sohn zur Schau zu stellen, halte ich ihn doch am liebsten im Verborgenen; er selbst drängt sich nicht auf, aber nicht etwa deshalb, weil er seine Mängel kennt, sondern aus Unschuld. Auch fühlt er sich fremd in unserer Zeit; als gehöre er zwar zu meiner Familie, aber überdies noch zu einer andern, ihm für immer verlorenen, ist er oft unlustig und nichts kann ihn aufheitern.
Mein vierter Sohn ist vielleicht der umgänglichste von allen. Ein wahres Kind seiner Zeit, ist er jedermann verständlich, er steht auf dem allen gemeinsamen Boden und jeder ist versucht, ihm zuzunicken. Vielleicht durch diese allgemeine Anerkennung gewinnt sein Wesen etwas Leichtes, seine Bewegungen etwas Freies, seine Urteile etwas Unbekümmertes. Manche seiner Aussprüche möchte man oft wiederholen, allerdings nur manche, denn in seiner Gesamtheit krankt er doch wieder an allzu großer Leichtigkeit. Er ist wie einer, der bewundernswert abspringt, schwalbengleich die Luft teilt, dann aber doch trostlos im öden Staube endet, ein Nichts. Solche Gedanken vergällen mir den Anblick dieses Kindes.
Der fünfte Sohn ist lieb und gut; versprach viel weniger, als er hielt; war so unbedeutend, daß man sich förmlich in seiner Gegenwart allein fühlte; hat es aber doch zu einigem Ansehen gebracht. Fragte man mich, wie das geschehen ist, so könnte ich kaum antworten. Unschuld dringt vielleicht doch noch am leichtesten durch das Toben der Elemente in dieser Welt, und unschuldig ist er. Vielleicht allzu unschuldig. Freundlich zu jedermann. Vielleicht allzu freundlich. Ich gestehe: mir wird nicht wohl, wenn man ihn mir gegenüber lobt. Es heißt doch, sich das Loben etwas zu leicht zu machen, wenn man einen so offensichtlich Lobenswürdigen lobt, wie es mein Sohn ist.
Mein sechster Sohn scheint, wenigstens auf den ersten Blick, der tiefsinnigste von allen. Ein Kopfhänger und doch ein Schwatzer. Deshalb kommt man ihm nicht leicht bei. Ist er am Unterliegen, so verfällt er in unbesiegbare Traurigkeit; erlangt er das Übergewicht, so wahrt er es durch Schwätzen. Doch spreche ich ihm eine gewisse selbstvergessene Leidenschaft nicht ab; bei hellem Tag kämpft er sich oft durch das Denken wie im Traum. Ohne krank zu sein - vielmehr hat er eine sehr gute Gesundheit - taumelt er manchmal, besonders in der Dämmerung, braucht aber keine Hilfe, fällt nicht. Vielleicht hat an dieser Erscheinung seine körperliche Entwicklung schuld, er ist viel zu groß für sein Alter. Das macht ihn unschön im Ganzen, trotz auffallend schöner Einzelheiten, zum Beispiel der Hände und Füße. Unschön ist übrigens auch seine Stirn; sowohl in der Haut als in der Knochenbildung irgendwie verschrumpft.
Der siebente Sohn gehört mir vielleicht mehr als alle andern. Die Welt versteht ihn nicht zu würdigen; seine besondere Art von Witz versteht sie nicht. Ich überschätze ihn nicht; ich weiß, er ist geringfügig genug; hätte die Welt keinen anderen Fehler als den, daß sie ihn nicht zu würdigen weiß, sie wäre noch immer makellos. Aber innerhalb der Familie wollte ich diesen Sohn nicht missen. Sowohl Unruhe bringt er, als auch Ehrfurcht vor der Überlieferung, und beides fügt er, wenigstens für mein Gefühl, zu einem unanfechtbaren Ganzen. Mit diesem Ganzen weiß er allerdings selbst am wenigsten, etwas anzufangen; das Rad der Zukunft wird er nicht ins Rollen bringen, aber diese seine Anlage ist so aufmunternd, so hoffnungsreich; ich wollte, er hätte Kinder und diese wieder Kinder. Leider scheint sich dieser Wunsch nicht erfüllen zu wollen. In einer mir zwar begreiflichen, aber ebenso unerwünschten Selbstzufriedenheit, die allerdings in großartigem Gegensatz zum Urteil seinerUmgebung steht, treibt er sich allein umher, kümmert sich nicht um Mädchen und wird trotzdem niemals seine gute Laune verlieren.
Mein achter Sohn ist mein Schmerzenskind, und ich weiß eigentlich keinen Grund dafür. Er sieht mich fremd an, und ich fühle mich doch väterlich eng mit ihm verbunden. Die Zeit hat vieles gut gemacht; früher aber befiel mich manchmal ein Zittern, wenn ich nur an ihn dachte. Er geht seinen eigenen Weg; hat alle Verbindungen mit mir abgebrochen; und wird gewiß mit seinem harten Schädel, seinem kleinen athletischen Körper - nur die Beine hatte er als Junge recht schwach, aber das mag sich inzwischen schon ausgeglichen haben - überall durchkommen, wo es ihm beliebt. Öfters hatte ich Lust, ihn zurückzurufen, ihn zu fragen, wie es eigentlich um ihn steht, warum er sich vom Vater so abschließt und was er im Grunde beabsichtigt, aber nun ist er so weit und so viel Zeit ist schon vergangen, nun mag es so bleiben wie es ist. Ich höre, daß er als der einzige meiner Söhne einen Vollbart trägt; schön ist das bei einem so kleinen Mann natürlich nicht.
Mein neunter Sohn ist sehr elegant und hat den für Frauen bestimmten süßen Blick. So süß, daß er bei Gelegenheit sogar mich verführen kann, der ich doch weiß, daß förmlich ein nasser Schwamm genügt, um allen diesen überirdischen Glanz wegzuwischen. Das Besondere an diesem Jungen aber ist, daß er gar nicht auf Verführung ausgeht; ihm würde es genügen, sein Leben lang auf dem Kanapee zu liegen und seinen Blick an die Zimmerdecke zu verschwenden oder noch viel lieber ihn unter den Augenlidern ruhen zu lassen. Ist er in dieser von ihm bevorzugten Lage, dann spricht er gern und nicht übel; gedrängt und anschaulich; aber doch nur in engen Grenzen; geht er über sie hinaus, was sich bei ihrer Enge nicht vermeiden läßt, wird sein Reden ganz leer. Man würde ihm abwinken, wenn man Hoffnung hätte, daß dieser mit Schlaf gefüllte Blick es bemerken könnte.
Mein zehnter Sohn gilt als unaufrichtiger Charakter. Ich will diesen Fehler nicht ganz in Abrede stellen, nicht ganz bestätigen. Sicher ist, daß, wer ihn in der weit über sein Alter hinausgehenden Feierlichkeit herankommen sieht, im immer festgeschlossenen Gehrock, im alten, aber übersorgfältig geputzten schwarzen Hut, mit dem unbewegten Gesicht, dem etwas vorragenden Kinn, den schwer über die Augen sich wölbenden Lidern, den manchmal an den Mund geführten zwei Fingern - wer ihn so sieht, denkt: das ist ein grenzenloser Heuchler. Aber, nun höre man ihn reden! Verständig; mit Bedacht; kurz angebunden; mit boshafter Lebendigkeit Fragen durchkrenzend; in erstaunlicher, selbstverständlicher und froher Übereinstimmung mit dem Weltganzen; eine Übereinstimmung, die notwendigerweise den Hals strafft und den Körper erheben läßt. Viele, die sich sehr klug dünken und die sich, aus diesem Grunde wie sie meinten, von seinem Äußern abgestoßen fühlten, hat er durch sein Wort stark angezogen. Nun gibt es aber wieder Leute, die sein Äußeres gleichgültig läßt, denen aber sein Wort heuchlerisch erscheint. Ich, als Vater, will hier nicht entscheiden, doch muß ich eingestehen, daß die letzteren Beurteiler jedenfalls beachtenswerter sind als die ersteren.
Mein elfter Sohn ist zart, wohl der schwächste unter meinen Söhnen; aber täuschend in seiner Schwäche; er kann nämlich zu Zeiten kräftig und bestimmt sein, doch ist allerdings selbst dann die Schwäche irgendwie grundlegend. Es ist aber keine beschämende Schwäche, sondern etwas, das nur auf diesem unsern Erdboden als Schwäche erscheint. Ist nicht zum Beispiel auch Flugbereitschaft Schwäche, da sie doch Schwanken und Unbestimmtheit und Flattern ist? Etwas Derartiges zeigt mein Sohn. Den Vater freuen natürlich solche Eigenschaften nicht; sie gehen ja offenbar auf Zerstörung der Familie aus. Manchmal blickt er mich an, als wollte er mir sagen: 'Ich werde dich mitnehmen, Vater.' Dann denke ich: 'Du wärst der Letzte, dem ich mich vertraue.' Und sein Blick scheint wieder zu sagen: 'Mag ich also wenigstens der Letzte sein.'
Das sind die elf Söhne.


Friday, March 17, 2017

"Schakale und Araber, Jackals and Arabs" by Franz Kafka: English version. "Schakale und Araber, Jackals and Arabs" by Franz Kafka, translated in English, with Original Text in German

Franz Kafka at age 5  (1888)

The following is an excerpt from "The Tales of Franz Kafka: English Translation With Original Text In German," available as e-book on Amazon KindleiPhone, iPad, or iPod touchon NOOK Bookon Kobo, and as printed, traditional edition through Lulu.  


Jackals and Arabs

"...We were camping in the oasis. My companions were asleep. An Arab, tall and white, went past me; he had tended to his camels and was going to his sleeping place.
I threw myself on my back on the grass; I wanted to sleep; I couldn’t; the howling of a jackal in the distance; I sat up straight again. And what had been so far away was suddenly close by. A multitude of jackals around me; their eyes flashing dull gold and then extinguishing; lean bodies moving in a nimble, coordinated manner, as if responding to a whip.
One of them came from behind, pushed himself under my arm, right against me, as if it needed my warmth, then stepped in front of me and spoke, almost eye to eye with me:
“I’m the oldest jackal far and wide. I’m happy that I’m still able to welcome you here. I had almost given up hope, for we’ve been waiting for you an infinitely long time. My mother waited, and her mother, and all her mothers, right back to the mother of all jackals. Believe it!”

“That surprises me,” I said, forgetting to light the pile of wood which laid ready to keep the jackals away with its smoke, “That surprises me to hear. Only by chance I’ve come from the high north and I meant to be just in a short trip. What do you jackals want then?”
As if encouraged by this, perhaps too friendly, conversation they drew their circle more closely around me, all of them panting and snarling.
“We know,” the oldest began, “that you come from the north, and on that alone rests our hope. In the north there is a way of understanding things, that one cannot find here among the Arabs. From their cool arrogance, you know, one cannot beat a spark of common sense. They kill animals to eat them, and they disregard the carcasses.”
“Don’t speak so loud,” I said, “there are Arabs sleeping close by.”
“You really are a stranger,” said the jackal, “otherwise you would know that throughout the history of the world a jackal has never yet feared an Arab. Should we fear them? Is it not misfortune enough that we have been outcasted under such people?”
“Maybe, maybe,” I said. “I’m not up to judging things which are so far from me; it seems to be a very old fight; it’s probably in the blood and so, perhaps, will only end with blood.”
“You are very clever,” said the old jackal; and they all breathed even more quickly, with harried lungs, although they were standing still; a bitter smell, which I could temporarily bear only by clenching my teeth, emanated from their open mouths. “You are very clever. What you said corresponds to our ancient doctrine. So we take their blood, and the fight is over.”
“Oh,” I said, in a wilder manner than I intended, “they’ll defend themselves. They’ll shoot you down in droves with their guns.” “You misunderstand us,” he said, “a trait of human beings which has not disappeared, not even in the high north. We are not going to kill them. The Nile does not have enough water to wash us clean. At the mere sight of their living bodies, we immediately run away into cleaner air, into the desert, that is therefore our home.”
 All the jackals around, including many more that in the meantime had joined coming from afar, lowered their heads between the forelegs and wiped them with their paws; it was as if they wanted to conceal an aversion, which was so dreadful that I would have much preferred to escape beyond their circle with a high jump.

 “So what do you intend to do?” I asked. I wanted to stand up, but I couldn’t; two young animals were holding me firmly from behind, biting my jacket and shirt. I had to remain seated. “They are holding your train,” said the old jackal seriously, by way of explanation, “a sign of respect.”
 “They should let me go,” I cried out, turning now to the old one, now to the young ones. “They will, of course,” said the old one, “if that’s what you ask. But it will take a little while, for, as is our habit, they have dug in their teeth deep and must disengage their bites gradually. Meanwhile, listen to our prayer.” “Your conduct has not made me very receptive to it,” I said. “Don’t make us pay for our clumsiness,” he said, and now for the first time he brought the wailing tone of his natural voice to his assistance. “We are poor animals, all we have is our teeth; for everything we want to do, the good and the bad, only our teeth we have.” “So what do you want?” I asked, only slightly appeased.
“Sir,” he cried, and all the jackals howled; very remotely it sounded to me like a melody.
 “Sir, you should end the fight which divides the world..."

Schakale und Araber

Wir lagerten in der Oase. Die Gefährten schliefen. Ein Araber, hoch und weiß, kam an mir vorüber; er hatte die Kamele versorgt und ging zum Schlafplatz.
Ich warf mich rücklings ins Gras; ich wollte schlafen; ich konnte nicht; das Klagegeheul eines Schakals in der Ferne; ich saß wieder aufrecht. Und was so weit gewesen war, war plötzlich nah. Ein Gewimmel von Schakalen um mich her; in mattem Gold erglänzende, verlöschende Augen; schlanke Leiber, wie unter einer Peitsche gesetzmäßig und flink bewegt.
Einer kam von rückwärts, drängte sich, unter meinem Arm durch, eng an mich, als brauche er meine Wärme, trat dann vor mich und sprach, fast Aug in Aug mit mir:
»Ich bin der älteste Schakal, weit und breit. Ich bin glücklich, dich noch hier begrüßen zu können. Ich hatte schon die Hoffnung fast aufgegeben, denn wir warten unendlich lange auf dich; meine Mutter hat gewartet und ihre Mutter und weiter alle ihre Mütter bis hinauf zur Mutter aller Schakale. Glaube es!«
»Das wundert mich«, sagte ich und vergaß, den Holzstoß anzuzünden, der bereitlag, um mit seinem Rauch die Schakale abzuhalten, »das wundert mich sehr zu hören. Nur zufällig komme ich aus dem hohen Norden und bin auf einer kurzen Reise begriffen. Was wollt ihr denn, Schakale?«
Und wie ermutigt durch diesen vielleicht allzu freundlichen Zuspruch zogen sie ihren Kreis enger um mich; alle atmeten kurz und fauchend.
»Wir wissen«, begann der Älteste, »daß du vom Norden kommst, darauf eben baut sich unsere Hoffnung. Dort ist der Verstand, der hier unter den Arabern nicht zu finden ist. Aus diesem kalten Hochmut, weißt du, ist kein Funken Verstand zu schlagen. Sie töten Tiere, um sie zu fressen, und Aas mißachten sie.«
»Rede nicht so laut«, sagte ich, »es schlafen Araber in der Nähe.«
»Du bist wirklich ein Fremder«, sagte der Schakal, »sonst wüßtest du, daß noch niemals in der Weltgeschichte ein Schakal einen Araber gefürchtet hat. Fürchten sollten wir sie? Ist es nicht Unglück genug, daß wir unter solches Volk verstoßen sind?«
»Mag sein, mag sein«, sagte ich, »ich maße mir kein Urteil an in Dingen, die mir so fern liegen; es scheint ein sehr alter Streit; liegt also wohl im Blut; wird also vielleicht erst mit dem Blute enden.«
»Du bist sehr klug«, sagte der alte Schakal; und alle atmeten noch schneller; mit gehetzten Lungen, trotzdem sie doch stillestanden; ein bitterer, zeitweilig nur mit zusammengeklemmten Zähnen erträglicher Geruch entströmte den offenen Mäulern, »du bist sehr klug; das, was du sagst, entspricht unserer alten Lehre. Wir nehmen ihnen also ihr Blut und der Streit ist zu Ende.«
»Oh!« sagte ich wilder, als ich wollte, »sie werden sich wehren; sie werden mit ihren Flinten euch rudelweise niederschießen.«
»Du mißverstehst uns«, sagte er,»nach Menschenart, die sich also auch im hohen Norden nicht verliert. Wir werden sie doch nicht töten. So viel Wasser hätte der Nil nicht, um uns rein zu waschen. Wir laufen doch schon vor dem bloßen Anblick ihres lebenden Leibes weg, in reinere Luft, in die Wüste, die deshalb unsere Heimat ist.«
Und alle Schakale ringsum, zu denen inzwischen noch viele von fern her gekommen waren, senkten die Köpfe zwischen die Vorderbeine und putzten sie mit den Pfoten; es war, als wollten sie einen Widerwillen verbergen, der so schrecklich war, daß ich am liebsten mit einem hohen Sprung aus ihrem Kreis entflohen wäre.
»Was beabsichtigt ihr also zu tun?« fragte ich und wollte aufstehn; aber ich konnte nicht; zwei junge Tiere hatten sich mir hinten in Rock und Hemd festgebissen; ich mußte sitzenbleiben. »Sie halten deine Schleppe«, sagte der alte Schakal erklärend und ernsthaft, »eine Ehrbezeigung.« »Sie sollen mich loslassen!« rief ich, bald zum Alten, bald zu den Jungen gewendet. »Sie werden es natürlich«, sagte der Alte, »wenn du es verlangst. Es dauert aber ein Weilchen, denn sie haben nach der Sitte tief sich eingebissen und müssen erst langsam die Gebisse voneinander lösen. Inzwischen höre unsere Bitte.« »Euer Verhalten hat mich dafür nicht sehr empfänglich gemacht«, sagte ich. »Laß uns unser Ungeschick nicht entgelten«, sagte er und nahm jetzt zum erstenmal den Klageton seiner natürlichen Stimme zu Hilfe, »wir sind arme Tiere, wir haben nur das Gebiß; für alles, was wir tun wollen, das Gute und das Schlechte, bleibt uns einzig das Gebiß.« »Was willst du also?« fragte ich, nur wenig besänftigt.
»Herr« rief er, und alle Schakale heulten auf; in fernster Ferne schien es mir eine Melodie zu sein. »Herr, du sollst den Streit beenden, der die Welt entzweit. So wie du bist, haben unsere Alten den beschrieben, der es tun wird. Frieden müssen wir haben von den Arabern; atembare Luft; gereinigt von ihnen den Ausblick rund am Horizont; kein Klagegeschrei eines Hammels, den der Araber absticht; ruhig soll alles Getier krepieren; ungestört soll es von uns leergetrunken und bis auf die Knochen gereinigt werden. Reinheit, nichts als Reinheit wollen wir«, – und nun weinten, schluchzten alle – »wie erträgst nur du es in dieser Welt, du edles Herz und süßes Eingeweide? Schmutz ist ihr Weiß; Schmutz ist ihr Schwarz; ein Grauen ist ihr Bart; speien muß man beim Anblick ihrer Augenwinkel; und heben sie den Arm, tut sich in der Achselhöhle die Hölle auf. Darum, o Herr, darum, o teuerer Herr, mit Hilfe deiner alles vermögenden Hände, mit Hilfe deiner alles vermögenden Hände schneide ihnen mit dieser Schere die Hälse durch!« Und einem Ruck seines Kopfes folgend kam ein Schakal herbei, der an einem Eckzahn eine kleine, mit altem Rost bedeckte Nähschere trug.
»Also endlich die Schere und damit Schluß!« rief der Araberführer unserer Karawane, der sich gegen den Wind an uns herangeschlichen hatte und nun seine riesige Peitsche schwang.
Alles verlief sich eiligst, aber in einiger Entfernung blieben sie doch, eng zusammengekauert, die vielen Tiere so eng und starr, daß es aussah wie eine schmale Hürde, von Irrlichtern umflogen.
»So hast du, Herr, auch dieses Schauspiel gesehen und gehört«, sagte der Araber und lachte so fröhlich, als es die Zurückhaltung seines Stammes erlaubte. »Du weißt also, was die Tiere wollen?« fragte ich. »Natürlich, Herr«, sagte er, »das ist doch allbekannt; solange es Araber gibt, wandert diese Schere durch die Wüste und wird mit uns wandern bis ans Ende der Tage. Jedem Europäer wird sie angeboten zu dem großen Werk; jeder Europäer ist gerade derjenige, welcher ihnen berufen scheint. Eine unsinnige Hoffnung haben diese Tiere; Narren, wahre Narren sind sie. Wir lieben sie deshalb; es sind unsere Hunde; schöner als die eurigen. Sieh nur, ein Kamel ist in der Nacht verendet, ich habe es herschaffen lassen.«
Vier Träger kamen und warfen den schweren Kadaver vor uns hin. Kaum lag er da, erhoben die Schakale ihre Stimmen. Wie von Stricken unwiderstehlich jeder einzelne gezogen, kamen sie, stockend, mit dem Leib den Boden streifend, heran. Sie hatten die Araber vergessen, den Haß vergessen, die alles auslöschende Gegenwart des stark ausdunstenden Leichnams bezauberte sie. Schon hing einer am Hals und fand mit dem ersten Biß die Schlagader. Wie eine kleine rasende Pumpe, die ebenso unbedingt wie aussichtslos einen übermächtigen Brand löschen will, zerrte und zuckte jede Muskel seines Körpers an ihrem Platz. Und schon lagen in gleicher Arbeit alle auf dem Leichnam hoch zu Berg.
Da strich der Führer kräftig mit der scharfen Peitsche kreuz und quer über sie. Sie hoben die Köpfe; halb in Rausch und Ohnmacht; sahen die Araber vor sich stehen; bekamen jetzt die Peitsche mit den Schnauzen zu fühlen; zogen sich im Sprung zurück und liefen eine Strecke rückwärts. Aber das Blut des Kamels lag schon in Lachen da, rauchte empor, der Körper war an mehreren Stellen weit aufgerissen. Sie konnten nicht widerstehen; wieder waren sie da; wieder hob der Führer die Peitsche; ich faßte seinen Arm. »Du hast recht, Herr«, sagte er, »wir lassen sie bei ihrem Beruf, auch ist es Zeit aufzubrechen. Gesehen hast du sie. Wunderbare Tiere, nicht wahr? Und wie sie uns hassen!«

Friday, March 10, 2017

"In Exile" by Anton Chekhov, Full Text in English; from "The Schoolmistress and Other Stories" (1897) by Anton Pavlovich Chekhov

Anton Chekhov, Russian physician short story writer and playwright (1860-1904), postage stamp, USSR, 1960


OLD SEMYON, nicknamed Canny, and a young Tatar, whom no one knew by
name, were sitting on the river-bank by the camp-fire; the other
three ferrymen were in the hut. Semyon, an old man of sixty, lean and
toothless, but broad shouldered and still healthy-looking, was drunk;
he would have gone in to sleep long before, but he had a bottle in his
pocket and he was afraid that the fellows in the hut would ask him for
vodka. The Tatar was ill and weary, and wrapping himself up in his rags
was describing how nice it was in the Simbirsk province, and what a
beautiful and clever wife he had left behind at home. He was not more
than twenty five, and now by the light of the camp-fire, with his pale
and sick, mournful face, he looked like a boy.

“To be sure, it is not paradise here,” said Canny. “You can see for
yourself, the water, the bare banks, clay, and nothing else....
Easter has long passed and yet there is ice on the river, and this
morning there was snow...”

“It’s bad! it’s bad!” said the Tatar, and looked round him in terror.

The dark, cold river was flowing ten paces away; it grumbled, lapped
against the hollow clay banks and raced on swiftly towards the far-away
sea. Close to the bank there was the dark blur of a big barge, which the
ferrymen called a “karbos.” Far away on the further bank, lights, dying
down and flickering up again, zigzagged like little snakes; they were
burning last year’s grass. And beyond the little snakes there was
darkness again. There little icicles could be heard knocking against the
barge. It was damp and cold....

The Tatar glanced at the sky. There were as many stars as at home, and
the same blackness all round, but something was lacking. At home in the
Simbirsk province the stars were quite different, and so was the sky.

“It’s bad! it’s bad!” he repeated.

“You will get used to it,” said Semyon, and he laughed. “Now you are
young and foolish, the milk is hardly dry on your lips, and it seems to
you in your foolishness that you are more wretched than anyone; but the
time will come when you will say to yourself: ‘I wish no one a better
life than mine.’ You look at me. Within a week the floods will be over
and we shall set up the ferry; you will all go wandering off about
Siberia while I shall stay and shall begin going from bank to bank. I’ve
been going like that for twenty-two years, day and night. The pike and
the salmon are under the water while I am on the water. And thank God
for it, I want nothing; God give everyone such a life.”

The Tatar threw some dry twigs on the camp-fire, lay down closer to the
blaze, and said:

“My father is a sick man. When he dies my mother and wife will come
here. They have promised.”

“And what do you want your wife and mother for?” asked Canny. “That’s
mere foolishness, my lad. It’s the devil confounding you, damn his soul!
Don’t you listen to him, the cursed one. Don’t let him have his way. He
is at you about the women, but you spite him; say, ‘I don’t want them!’
He is on at you about freedom, but you stand up to him and say: ‘I
don’t want it!’ I want nothing, neither father nor mother, nor wife, nor
freedom, nor post, nor paddock; I want nothing, damn their souls!”

Semyon took a pull at the bottle and went on:

“I am not a simple peasant, not of the working class, but the son of
a deacon, and when I was free I lived at Kursk; I used to wear a
frockcoat, and now I have brought myself to such a pass that I can sleep
naked on the ground and eat grass. And I wish no one a better life. I
want nothing and I am afraid of nobody, and the way I look at it is that
there is nobody richer and freer than I am. When they sent me here from
Russia from the first day I stuck it out; I want nothing! The devil was
at me about my wife and about my home and about freedom, but I told him:
‘I want nothing.’ I stuck to it, and here you see I live well, and I
don’t complain, and if anyone gives way to the devil and listens to him,
if but once, he is lost, there is no salvation for him: he is sunk in
the bog to the crown of his head and will never get out.

“It is not only a foolish peasant like you, but even gentlemen,
well-educated people, are lost. Fifteen years ago they sent a gentleman
here from Russia. He hadn’t shared something with his brothers and had
forged something in a will. They did say he was a prince or a baron, but
maybe he was simply an official--who knows? Well, the gentleman
arrived here, and first thing he bought himself a house and land in
Muhortinskoe. ‘I want to live by my own work,’ says he, ‘in the sweat
of my brow, for I am not a gentleman now,’ says he, ‘but a settler.’
‘Well,’ says I, ‘God help you, that’s the right thing.’ He was a young
man then, busy and careful; he used to mow himself and catch fish and
ride sixty miles on horseback. Only this is what happened: from the very
first year he took to riding to Gyrino for the post; he used to stand on
my ferry and sigh: ‘Ech, Semyon, how long it is since they sent me any
money from home!’ ‘You don’t want money, Vassily Sergeyitch,’ says I.
‘What use is it to you? You cast away the past, and forget it as though
it had never been at all, as though it had been a dream, and begin to
live anew. Don’t listen to the devil,’ says I; ‘he will bring you to no
good, he’ll draw you into a snare. Now you want money,’ says I, ‘but in
a very little while you’ll be wanting something else, and then more and
more. If you want to be happy,’ says I, the chief thing is not to
want anything. Yes.... If,’ says I, ‘if Fate has wronged you and me
cruelly it’s no good asking for her favor and bowing down to her, but
you despise her and laugh at her, or else she will laugh at you.’ That’s
what I said to him....

“Two years later I ferried him across to this side, and he was rubbing
his hands and laughing. ‘I am going to Gyrino to meet my wife,’ says
he. ‘She was sorry for me,’ says he; ‘she has come. She is good and
kind.’ And he was breathless with joy. So a day later he came with his
wife. A beautiful young lady in a hat; in her arms was a baby girl.
And lots of luggage of all sorts. And my Vassily Sergeyitch was fussing
round her; he couldn’t take his eyes off her and couldn’t say enough in
praise of her. ‘Yes, brother Semyon, even in Siberia people can live!’
‘Oh, all right,’ thinks I, ‘it will be a different tale presently.’
And from that time forward he went almost every week to inquire whether
money had not come from Russia. He wanted a lot of money. ‘She is losing
her youth and beauty here in Siberia for my sake,’ says he, ‘and sharing
my bitter lot with me, and so I ought,’ says he, ‘to provide her with
every comfort....’

“To make it livelier for the lady he made acquaintance with the
officials and all sorts of riff-raff. And of course he had to give food
and drink to all that crew, and there had to be a piano and a
shaggy lapdog on the sofa--plague take it!... Luxury, in fact,
self-indulgence. The lady did not stay with him long. How could she? The
clay, the water, the cold, no vegetables for you, no fruit. All around
you ignorant and drunken people and no sort of manners, and she was
a spoilt lady from Petersburg or Moscow.... To be sure she moped.
Besides, her husband, say what you like, was not a gentleman now, but a
settler--not the same rank.

“Three years later, I remember, on the eve of the Assumption, there was
shouting from the further bank. I went over with the ferry, and what do
I see but the lady, all wrapped up, and with her a young gentleman, an
official. A sledge with three horses.... I ferried them across here,
they got in and away like the wind. They were soon lost to sight. And
towards morning Vassily Sergeyitch galloped down to the ferry. ‘Didn’t
my wife come this way with a gentleman in spectacles, Semyon?’ ‘She
did,’ said I; ‘you may look for the wind in the fields!’ He galloped in
pursuit of them. For five days and nights he was riding after them. When
I ferried him over to the other side afterwards, he flung himself on
the ferry and beat his head on the boards of the ferry and howled. ‘So
that’s how it is,’ says I. I laughed, and reminded him ‘people can live
even in Siberia!’ And he beat his head harder than ever....

“Then he began longing for freedom. His wife had slipped off to Russia,
and of course he was drawn there to see her and to get her away from her
lover. And he took, my lad, to galloping almost every day, either to
the post or the town to see the commanding officer; he kept sending in
petitions for them to have mercy on him and let him go back home; and
he used to say that he had spent some two hundred roubles on telegrams
alone. He sold his land and mortgaged his house to the Jews. He grew
gray and bent, and yellow in the face, as though he was in consumption.
If he talked to you he would go, khee--khee--khee,... and there were
tears in his eyes. He kept rushing about like this with petitions for
eight years, but now he has grown brighter and more cheerful again: he
has found another whim to give way to. You see, his daughter has grown
up. He looks at her, and she is the apple of his eye. And to tell the
truth she is all right, good-looking, with black eyebrows and a lively
disposition. Every Sunday he used to ride with her to church in Gyrino.
They used to stand on the ferry, side by side, she would laugh and he
could not take his eyes off her. ‘Yes, Semyon,’ says he, ‘people can
live even in Siberia. Even in Siberia there is happiness. Look,’ says
he, ‘what a daughter I have got! I warrant you wouldn’t find another
like her for a thousand versts round.’ ‘Your daughter is all right,’
says I, ‘that’s true, certainly.’ But to myself I thought: ‘Wait a bit,
the wench is young, her blood is dancing, she wants to live, and there
is no life here.’ And she did begin to pine, my lad.... She faded and
faded, and now she can hardly crawl about. Consumption.

“So you see what Siberian happiness is, damn its soul! You see how
people can live in Siberia.... He has taken to going from one doctor
to another and taking them home with him. As soon as he hears that two
or three hundred miles away there is a doctor or a sorcerer, he will
drive to fetch him. A terrible lot of money he spent on doctors, and to
my thinking he had better have spent the money on drink.... She’ll
die just the same. She is certain to die, and then it will be all over
with him. He’ll hang himself from grief or run away to Russia--that’s a
sure thing. He’ll run away and they’ll catch him, then he will be tried,
sent to prison, he will have a taste of the lash....”

“Good! good!” said the Tatar, shivering with cold.

“What is good?” asked Canny.

“His wife, his daughter.... What of prison and what of
sorrow!--anyway, he did see his wife and his daughter.... You say,
want nothing. But ‘nothing’ is bad! His wife lived with him three
years--that was a gift from God. ‘Nothing’ is bad, but three years is
good. How not understand?”

Shivering and hesitating, with effort picking out the Russian words of
which he knew but few, the Tatar said that God forbid one should fall
sick and die in a strange land, and be buried in the cold and dark
earth; that if his wife came to him for one day, even for one hour, that
for such happiness he would be ready to bear any suffering and to thank
God. Better one day of happiness than nothing.

Then he described again what a beautiful and clever wife he had left
at home. Then, clutching his head in both hands, he began crying and
assuring Semyon that he was not guilty, and was suffering for nothing.
His two brothers and an uncle had carried off a peasant’s horses, and
had beaten the old man till he was half dead, and the commune had not
judged fairly, but had contrived a sentence by which all the three
brothers were sent to Siberia, while the uncle, a rich man, was left at

“You will get used to it!” said Semyon.

The Tatar was silent, and stared with tear-stained eyes at the fire;
his face expressed bewilderment and fear, as though he still did
not understand why he was here in the darkness and the wet, beside
strangers, and not in the Simbirsk province.

Canny lay near the fire, chuckled at something, and began humming a song
in an undertone.

“What joy has she with her father?” he said a little later. “He loves
her and he rejoices in her, that’s true; but, mate, you must mind your
ps and qs with him, he is a strict old man, a harsh old man. And young
wenches don’t want strictness. They want petting and ha-ha-ha! and
ho-ho-ho! and scent and pomade. Yes.... Ech! life, life,” sighed
Semyon, and he got up heavily. “The vodka is all gone, so it is time to
sleep. Eh? I am going, my lad....”

Left alone, the Tatar put on more twigs, lay down and stared at the
fire; he began thinking of his own village and of his wife. If his wife
could only come for a month, for a day; and then if she liked she might
go back again. Better a month or even a day than nothing. But if his
wife kept her promise and came, what would he have to feed her on? Where
could she live here?

“If there were not something to eat, how could she live?” the Tatar
asked aloud.

He was paid only ten kopecks for working all day and all night at the
oar; it is true that travelers gave him tips for tea and for vodkas but
the men shared all they received among themselves, and gave nothing
to the Tatar, but only laughed at him. And from poverty he was hungry,
cold, and frightened.... Now, when his whole body was aching and
shivering, he ought to go into the hut and lie down to sleep; but he had
nothing to cover him there, and it was colder than on the river-bank;
here he had nothing to cover him either, but at least he could make up
the fire....

In another week, when the floods were quite over and they set the ferry
going, none of the ferrymen but Semyon would be wanted, and the Tatar
would begin going from village to village begging for alms and for work.
His wife was only seventeen; she was beautiful, spoilt, and shy; could
she possibly go from village to village begging alms with her face
unveiled? No, it was terrible even to think of that....

It was already getting light; the barge, the bushes of willow on the
water, and the waves could be clearly discerned, and if one looked round
there was the steep clay slope; at the bottom of it the hut thatched
with dingy brown straw, and the huts of the village lay clustered higher
up. The cocks were already crowing in the village.

The rusty red clay slope, the barge, the river, the strange, unkind
people, hunger, cold, illness, perhaps all that was not real. Most
likely it was all a dream, thought the Tatar. He felt that he was
asleep and heard his own snoring.... Of course he was at home in the
Simbirsk province, and he had only to call his wife by name for her to
answer; and in the next room was his mother.... What terrible dreams
there are, though! What are they for? The Tatar smiled and opened his
eyes. What river was this, the Volga?

Snow was falling.

“Boat!” was shouted on the further side. “Boat!”

The Tatar woke up, and went to wake his mates and row over to the other
side. The ferrymen came on to the river-bank, putting on their torn
sheepskins as they walked, swearing with voices husky from sleepiness
and shivering from the cold. On waking from their sleep, the river, from
which came a breath of piercing cold, seemed to strike them as revolting
and horrible. They jumped into the barge without hurrying themselves....
The Tatar and the three ferrymen took the long, broad-bladed oars,
which in the darkness looked like the claws of crabs; Semyon leaned his
stomach against the tiller. The shout on the other side still continued,
and two shots were fired from a revolver, probably with the idea that
the ferrymen were asleep or had gone to the pot-house in the village.

“All right, you have plenty of time,” said Semyon in the tone of a man
convinced that there was no necessity in this world to hurry--that it
would lead to nothing, anyway.

The heavy, clumsy barge moved away from the bank and floated between the
willow-bushes, and only the willows slowly moving back showed that the
barge was not standing still but moving. The ferrymen swung the
oars evenly in time; Semyon lay with his stomach on the tiller and,
describing a semicircle in the air, flew from one side to the other.
In the darkness it looked as though the men were sitting on some
antediluvian animal with long paws, and were moving on it through
a cold, desolate land, the land of which one sometimes dreams in

They passed beyond the willows and floated out into the open. The creak
and regular splash of the oars was heard on the further shore, and a
shout came: “Make haste! make haste!”

Another ten minutes passed, and the barge banged heavily against the

“And it keeps sprinkling and sprinkling,” muttered Semyon, wiping the
snow from his face; “and where it all comes from God only knows.”

On the bank stood a thin man of medium height in a jacket lined with fox
fur and in a white lambskin cap. He was standing at a little distance
from his horses and not moving; he had a gloomy, concentrated
expression, as though he were trying to remember something and angry
with his untrustworthy memory. When Semyon went up to him and took off
his cap, smiling, he said:

“I am hastening to Anastasyevka. My daughter’s worse again, and they say
that there is a new doctor at Anastasyevka.”

They dragged the carriage on to the barge and floated back. The man whom
Semyon addressed as Vassily Sergeyitch stood all the time motionless,
tightly compressing his thick lips and staring off into space; when his
coachman asked permission to smoke in his presence he made no answer, as
though he had not heard. Semyon, lying with his stomach on the tiller,
looked mockingly at him and said:

“Even in Siberia people can live--can li-ive!”

There was a triumphant expression on Canny’s face, as though he had
proved something and was delighted that things had happened as he
had foretold. The unhappy helplessness of the man in the foxskin coat
evidently afforded him great pleasure.

“It’s muddy driving now, Vassily Sergeyitch,” he said when the horses
were harnessed again on the bank. “You should have put off going for
another fortnight, when it will be drier. Or else not have gone at all.
... If any good would come of your going--but as you know yourself,
people have been driving about for years and years, day and night, and
it’s always been no use. That’s the truth.”

Vassily Sergeyitch tipped him without a word, got into his carriage and
drove off.

“There, he has galloped off for a doctor!” said Semyon, shrinking from
the cold. “But looking for a good doctor is like chasing the wind in the
fields or catching the devil by the tail, plague take your soul! What a
queer chap, Lord forgive me a sinner!”

The Tatar went up to Canny, and, looking at him with hatred and
repulsion, shivering, and mixing Tatar words with his broken Russian,
said: “He is good... good; but you are bad! You are bad! The
gentleman is a good soul, excellent, and you are a beast, bad! The
gentleman is alive, but you are a dead carcass.... God created man to
be alive, and to have joy and grief and sorrow; but you want nothing,
so you are not alive, you are stone, clay! A stone wants nothing and you
want nothing. You are a stone, and God does not love you, but He loves
the gentleman!”

Everyone laughed; the Tatar frowned contemptuously, and with a wave
of his hand wrapped himself in his rags and went to the campfire. The
ferrymen and Semyon sauntered to the hut.

“It’s cold,” said one ferryman huskily as he stretched himself on the
straw with which the damp clay floor was covered.

“Yes, it’s not warm,” another assented. “It’s a dog’s life....”

They all lay down. The door was thrown open by the wind and the snow
drifted into the hut; nobody felt inclined to get up and shut the door:
they were cold, and it was too much trouble.

“I am all right,” said Semyon as he began to doze. “I wouldn’t wish
anyone a better life.”

“You are a tough one, we all know. Even the devils won’t take you!”

Sounds like a dog’s howling came from outside.

“What’s that? Who’s there?”

“It’s the Tatar crying.”

“I say.... He’s a queer one!”

“He’ll get u-used to it!” said Semyon, and at once fell asleep.

The others were soon asleep too. The door remained unclosed.

Saturday, March 4, 2017

Today Only: Free Book Promotion on Amazon, Sunday March 5th, 2017 (Italian Edition)

Book Cover of "L'Inverno e il Re Triste, una Favola" (Italian Edition), LiteraryJoint Press

Today Only: Free Book Promotion on Amazon:  Sunday, March 5th, 2017 (Italian Edition)
Alle soglie dell'inverno, al limitare dei suoi giorni, un Re si spinge fin nei meandri del bosco, ove una creatura delle foreste gli confiderà un segreto fuggevole e misterioso...

Wednesday, March 1, 2017

"The Schoolmistress" by Anton Chekhov, Full Text in English; from "The Schoolmistress and Other Stories" (1897) by Anton Pavlovich Chekhov

Young Anton Chekhov, in 1882


AT half-past eight they drove out of the town.

The highroad was dry, a lovely April sun was shining warmly, but the
snow was still lying in the ditches and in the woods. Winter, dark,
long, and spiteful, was hardly over; spring had come all of a sudden.
But neither the warmth nor the languid transparent woods, warmed by the
breath of spring, nor the black flocks of birds flying over the huge
puddles that were like lakes, nor the marvelous fathomless sky, into
which it seemed one would have gone away so joyfully, presented anything
new or interesting to Marya Vassilyevna who was sitting in the cart. For
thirteen years she had been schoolmistress, and there was no reckoning
how many times during all those years she had been to the town for her
salary; and whether it were spring as now, or a rainy autumn evening, or
winter, it was all the same to her, and she always--invariably--longed
for one thing only, to get to the end of her journey as quickly as could

She felt as though she had been living in that part of the country for
ages and ages, for a hundred years, and it seemed to her that she knew
every stone, every tree on the road from the town to her school. Her
past was here, her present was here, and she could imagine no other
future than the school, the road to the town and back again, and again
the school and again the road....

She had got out of the habit of thinking of her past before she became
a schoolmistress, and had almost forgotten it. She had once had a father
and mother; they had lived in Moscow in a big flat near the Red Gate,
but of all that life there was left in her memory only something vague
and fluid like a dream. Her father had died when she was ten years old,
and her mother had died soon after.... She had a brother, an officer;
at first they used to write to each other, then her brother had given up
answering her letters, he had got out of the way of writing. Of her old
belongings, all that was left was a photograph of her mother, but it had
grown dim from the dampness of the school, and now nothing could be seen
but the hair and the eyebrows.

When they had driven a couple of miles, old Semyon, who was driving,
turned round and said:

“They have caught a government clerk in the town. They have taken him
away. The story is that with some Germans he killed Alexeyev, the Mayor,
in Moscow.”

“Who told you that?”

“They were reading it in the paper, in Ivan Ionov’s tavern.”

And again they were silent for a long time. Marya Vassilyevna thought of
her school, of the examination that was coming soon, and of the girl and
four boys she was sending up for it. And just as she was thinking about
the examination, she was overtaken by a neighboring landowner called
Hanov in a carriage with four horses, the very man who had been examiner
in her school the year before. When he came up to her he recognized her
and bowed.

“Good-morning,” he said to her. “You are driving home, I suppose.”

This Hanov, a man of forty with a listless expression and a face that
showed signs of wear, was beginning to look old, but was still handsome
and admired by women. He lived in his big homestead alone, and was not
in the service; and people used to say of him that he did nothing at
home but walk up and down the room whistling, or play chess with his
old footman. People said, too, that he drank heavily. And indeed at the
examination the year before the very papers he brought with him smelt of
wine and scent. He had been dressed all in new clothes on that occasion,
and Marya Vassilyevna thought him very attractive, and all the while
she sat beside him she had felt embarrassed. She was accustomed to see
frigid and sensible examiners at the school, while this one did not
remember a single prayer, or know what to ask questions about, and
was exceedingly courteous and delicate, giving nothing but the highest

“I am going to visit Bakvist,” he went on, addressing Marya Vassilyevna,
“but I am told he is not at home.”

They turned off the highroad into a by-road to the village, Hanov
leading the way and Semyon following. The four horses moved at a walking
pace, with effort dragging the heavy carriage through the mud. Semyon
tacked from side to side, keeping to the edge of the road, at one time
through a snowdrift, at another through a pool, often jumping out of the
cart and helping the horse. Marya Vassilyevna was still thinking
about the school, wondering whether the arithmetic questions at the
examination would be difficult or easy. And she felt annoyed with
the Zemstvo board at which she had found no one the day before. How
unbusiness-like! Here she had been asking them for the last two years
to dismiss the watchman, who did nothing, was rude to her, and hit
the schoolboys; but no one paid any attention. It was hard to find the
president at the office, and when one did find him he would say with
tears in his eyes that he hadn’t a moment to spare; the inspector
visited the school at most once in three years, and knew nothing
whatever about his work, as he had been in the Excise Duties Department,
and had received the post of school inspector through influence. The
School Council met very rarely, and there was no knowing where it met;
the school guardian was an almost illiterate peasant, the head of
a tanning business, unintelligent, rude, and a great friend of the
watchman’s--and goodness knows to whom she could appeal with complaints
or inquiries....

“He really is handsome,” she thought, glancing at Hanov.

The road grew worse and worse.... They drove into the wood. Here
there was no room to turn round, the wheels sank deeply in, water
splashed and gurgled through them, and sharp twigs struck them in the

“What a road!” said Hanov, and he laughed.

The schoolmistress looked at him and could not understand why this queer
man lived here. What could his money, his interesting appearance, his
refined bearing do for him here, in this mud, in this God-forsaken,
dreary place? He got no special advantages out of life, and here, like
Semyon, was driving at a jog-trot on an appalling road and enduring
the same discomforts. Why live here if one could live in Petersburg or
abroad? And one would have thought it would be nothing for a rich man
like him to make a good road instead of this bad one, to avoid enduring
this misery and seeing the despair on the faces of his coachman and
Semyon; but he only laughed, and apparently did not mind, and wanted no
better life. He was kind, soft, naive, and he did not understand this
coarse life, just as at the examination he did not know the prayers.
He subscribed nothing to the schools but globes, and genuinely regarded
himself as a useful person and a prominent worker in the cause of
popular education. And what use were his globes here?

“Hold on, Vassilyevna!” said Semyon.

The cart lurched violently and was on the point of upsetting; something
heavy rolled on to Marya Vassilyevna’s feet--it was her parcel of
purchases. There was a steep ascent uphill through the clay; here in the
winding ditches rivulets were gurgling. The water seemed to have gnawed
away the road; and how could one get along here! The horses breathed
hard. Hanov got out of his carriage and walked at the side of the road
in his long overcoat. He was hot.

“What a road!” he said, and laughed again. “It would soon smash up one’s

“Nobody obliges you to drive about in such weather,” said Semyon
surlily. “You should stay at home.”

“I am dull at home, grandfather. I don’t like staying at home.”

Beside old Semyon he looked graceful and vigorous, but yet in his walk
there was something just perceptible which betrayed in him a being
already touched by decay, weak, and on the road to ruin. And all at once
there was a whiff of spirits in the wood. Marya Vassilyevna was filled
with dread and pity for this man going to his ruin for no visible cause
or reason, and it came into her mind that if she had been his wife or
sister she would have devoted her whole life to saving him from ruin.
His wife! Life was so ordered that here he was living in his great house
alone, and she was living in a God-forsaken village alone, and yet
for some reason the mere thought that he and she might be close to one
another and equals seemed impossible and absurd. In reality, life was
arranged and human relations were complicated so utterly beyond all
understanding that when one thought about it one felt uncanny and one’s
heart sank.

“And it is beyond all understanding,” she thought, “why God gives
beauty, this graciousness, and sad, sweet eyes to weak, unlucky, useless
people--why they are so charming.”

“Here we must turn off to the right,” said Hanov, getting into his
carriage. “Good-by! I wish you all things good!”

And again she thought of her pupils, of the examination, of the
watchman, of the School Council; and when the wind brought the sound
of the retreating carriage these thoughts were mingled with others. She
longed to think of beautiful eyes, of love, of the happiness which would
never be....

His wife? It was cold in the morning, there was no one to heat the
stove, the watchman disappeared; the children came in as soon as it
was light, bringing in snow and mud and making a noise: it was all so
inconvenient, so comfortless. Her abode consisted of one little room and
the kitchen close by. Her head ached every day after her work, and
after dinner she had heart-burn. She had to collect money from the
school-children for wood and for the watchman, and to give it to
the school guardian, and then to entreat him--that overfed, insolent
peasant--for God’s sake to send her wood. And at night she dreamed of
examinations, peasants, snowdrifts. And this life was making her grow
old and coarse, making her ugly, angular, and awkward, as though she
were made of lead. She was always afraid, and she would get up from
her seat and not venture to sit down in the presence of a member of
the Zemstvo or the school guardian. And she used formal, deferential
expressions when she spoke of any one of them. And no one thought her
attractive, and life was passing drearily, without affection, without
friendly sympathy, without interesting acquaintances. How awful it would
have been in her position if she had fallen in love!

“Hold on, Vassilyevna!”

Again a sharp ascent uphill....

She had become a schoolmistress from necessity, without feeling any
vocation for it; and she had never thought of a vocation, of serving the
cause of enlightenment; and it always seemed to her that what was most
important in her work was not the children, nor enlightenment, but the
examinations. And what time had she for thinking of vocation, of serving
the cause of enlightenment? Teachers, badly paid doctors, and their
assistants, with their terribly hard work, have not even the comfort of
thinking that they are serving an idea or the people, as their heads are
always stuffed with thoughts of their daily bread, of wood for the fire,
of bad roads, of illnesses. It is a hard-working, an uninteresting life,
and only silent, patient cart-horses like Mary Vassilyevna could put up
with it for long; the lively, nervous, impressionable people who talked
about vocation and serving the idea were soon weary of it and gave up
the work.