The Russian Review/Volume 1/May 1916/Trouble

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For other English-language translations of this work, see Trouble (Chekhov).

Uncredited translation


By Anton Chekhov.

Translated for "The Russian Review."

The President of the City Bank, Peter Semenych, his bookkeeper, his assistant, and two of the directors were arrested during the night. On the following morning, the merchant Avdeyev, who was a member of the control committee of the Bank, said to his friends as they were chatting in the merchant's store:

"It must be the will of God. You can't get away from fate. Just now we are sitting here, eating caviar, and to-morrow we may be in prison. All sorts of things happen. Take Peter Semenych, for example . . ."

As he spoke, he winked his eyes, and the friends drank their wine, ate the caviar, and listened to him attentively. After describing at length the disgrace and helplessness of Peter Semenych, who but yesterday was honored and respected by every one, Avdeyev continued with a sigh:

"Yes, the cat feels the mice's tears, all right. Serves them right, the rascals. They've stolen enough, the scoundrels, let them answer now."

"Look out, Ivan Danilych, you may get into trouble, too," remarked one of the friends.

"Who, I? What for?"

"You'll see. They stole all right, but what was your committee doing? You signed the reports, didn't you?"

"Well, what of that?" grinned Avdeyev. "Of course I signed them. They used to bring the reports to the store, and I signed them. How was I to know what they were about? I'll sign anything you give me. Just write out a paper saying that I killed a man, I'll sign that, too. I have no time to see what it is about; and, besides, I don't see anything without my glasses."

After spending a little more time talking about the failure of the Bank and of the fate of Peter Semenych, Avdeyev and his friends went to a birthday party held in honor of the wife of one of their acquaintances. At the party, the only topic discussed was the failure of the Bank. Avdeyev was more excited than anybody else; he assured everybody that he had been expecting the failure for some time past, and that even two years ago he knew that the affairs of the Bank were not running smoothly. While they were eating the birthday cake, he told of at least ten illegal deals that were consummated to his knowledge.

"Why didn't you report it, if you knew all about it?" asked an officer, who was among those present.

"The whole city knew about them, not I alone," laughed Avdeyev. "I have no time to go to court about such matters. If those fellows want to do illegal things, let them go ahead."

After the cake he rested for a while, then had his dinner, and took another short rest. After that he went to church, stayed throughout the service, and came back to the birthday party. He remained there until midnight, playing cards. It was clear that there was nothing wrong as far as he was concerned.

But when he returned home, long after midnight, he found the servant, who opened the door for him, pale and shivering, unable to say a word. His wife, Elizaveta Troflmovna, a fat old woman, with dishevelled grey hair, was sitting on a couch in the parlor, trembling with fright, and gazing about as if she were intoxicated. Her eldest son, Vassili, a student of the gymnasium, stood near her, trying to make her drink a little water. He was also pale and highly excited.

"What's happened?" asked Avdeyev sternly, and cast an angry look at the stove, for his family was often nearly suffocated by charcoal fumes.

"The police were here just now," said Vassili. "They searched the place."

Avdeyev looked around. The closets, the cupboard, the tables, all bore the signs of the recent search. For a moment Avdeyev stood perfectly still, as if petrified, unable to understand anything, then everything within him began to shake; he grew as heavy as lead, while his left foot suddenly became limp. Unable to stand his trembling, he fell down on the couch, face downward. He still felt everything within him shaking violently, and his left leg was beating against the edge of the couch.

He lay there for two or three minutes, trying to recall his past. But his thoughts refused to disclose any action in his past life which deserved the attention of the police.

"It's all nonsense," he said finally, rising to his feet. "Somebody must have lied about me. I'll have to complain about it to-morrow."

On the following morning, after spending a sleepless night, Avdeyev went to his store, as usual. His customers brought him the news of the arrest of the Vice-President and the Secretary of the Bank, which had taken place the previous night at the request of the District-Attorney. This information did not excite Avdeyev at all. He was certain that somebody had lied about him, and that, after his complaint, the police official would be reprimanded severely for searching his house.

About ten o'clock he went to the City Hall to see the Secretary of the City Council, who was the only educated man in the whole municipal administration.

"What does this mean, Vladimir Stepanych?" said he to the Secretary. "Others stole the money, and I have to be responsible? How's that? Why, look here." Now he was whispering. "They searched my house last night. What the deuce is the matter with them, anyway? Why should they go after me?"

"Because you shouldn't be an ass," answered the Secretary calmly. "You should have looked at what you were sighing."

"Look at what? And what difference would that have made? I can look at the thing for a thousand years, and still I won't understand it. I'm no bookkeeper. They brought me the papers, and I signed them."

"There is still another thing. You and your whole committee are badly involved in another thing, too. Didn't you borrow nineteen thousand roubles from the Bank without giving any security?"

"My goodness!" Avdeyev was genuinely astonished. "As though I were the only one to owe money to the bank! The whole city owes money. And then, talking conscientiously, was it I that really took the money? It was as good as given to me by Peter Semenych. 'Take it, and take it,' says he. 'If you don't take,' says he, 'that means that you don't trust the bank. Take it,' says he, 'and build a flour mill for your father.' So I took it."

"Only children, or asses, talk like that. But, at any rate there is no use of your getting excited. Of course, your case will have to come up for trial. But don't worry; most likely you will be acquitted."

The Secretary's indifference and his calmness reassured Avdeyev. Returning to the store, he found several of his friends there. He had a drink with them, followed it with a little caviar, and some of his philosophizing. He had almost forgotten the incident of the preceding night, and the only thing that troubled him was the constantly recurring numbness of his left leg, an his increasing indigestion.

That night, however, fate discharged a terrible shot against him. He was informed that at the extraordinary meeting of the City Council, he and his associates at the bank were expelled from the Council, since serious charges were preferred against them. In the morning, he was informed that he was to give up immediately his position of church elder.

After that, Avdeyev lost count of the blows completely. Strange, unusual days now succeeded each other in rapid succession, and each day brought with it something new. Among other things, he received summons from the police to appear for a preliminary examination. He went away from the examination, insulted, flushed with anger.

"Wanted to know all the time why I signed. I signed, and that's all there is to it. As though I did it on purpose. They used to bring them to the store, so I signed them. Anyway, I'm not very strong at reading the written stuff."

Soon after this, some young men with expressionless faces came to his store and ordered it closed; then they came to his home and took possession of all his furniture. Suspecting some intrigue back of all this, and, as before, feeling himself entirely innocent, Avdeyev began to run from one administrative institution to another, complaining of the injustices done to him. He would sit for hours in the waiting-rooms, write long petitions, weep, curse. And the District Attorney and the Sheriff would merely say indifferently:

"Come when you are summoned. . . We are busy now."

Others would say:

It does not concern us."

And the Secretary of the City Council, who was an educated man, and the only human being, as Avdeyev thought, who could help him, merely shrugged his shoulders and said:

"It's all your own fault. You shouldn't have been an ass."

All these troubles made the old man's leg grow still more numb, and failed to improve his digestion. When he grew weary of doing nothing, and poverty began to pinch him, he decided to go to his father, or to his brother, and enter the flour business. But he was not allowed to leave the city. His family went to his father's, and so he remained alone.

Days went by, one after another. Without his family, with nothing to do, practically penniless, the former church elder, once respected and esteemed by everybody, now went from one of his friends to another, drank with them, and heard their advice. In order to kill time, he would go to church regularly every morning and evening. While there, he would gaze at the icons for hours, but he did not pray, for his brain was working rapidly. His conscience was perfectly clear, and he was sure that his position was due to some mistake or misunderstanding. He was of the opinion that the whole thing had happened because the judges and the sheriff were young men, without any experience. Surely, if he could get a chance to have a good, heart to heart talk with some old judge, everything would become adjusted in no time. He did not understand his judges, and, it seemed to him, his judges did not understand him.

At last, after a long delay, the trial came. Avdeyev borrowed fifty roubles from a friend, took with him a bottle of alcohol for his leg, some herbs for his stomach, and went to the city in which the trial was to take place.

The trial lasted for a week and a half. During this whole time Avdeyev sat among his fellow defendants, serious and dignified, as becomes an innocent man who is wrongly accused. He listened intently to everything that was going on, and did not understand anything. His general frame of mind was hostile to all that went on about him. He was angry because they were detaining him in court so long, because he could not get any Lenten food, because his lawyer did not say what he thought should be said. It seemed to him that the judges did not do their duty properly. They paid no attention to Avdeyev, questioned him but once in three days, and then the questions were of such a nature, that his replies invariably aroused laughter in the spectators' gallery. When he attempted to speak of his losses, of his business that had gone to ruin, of his intentions to bring suit for damages, his lawyer turned to him and made some kind of unintelligible grimaces, the spectators laughed, and the judge told him sternly that what he was saying was irrelevant. When he was called upon to speak for the last time, he said something entirely different from the story his lawyer wanted him to give to the judge, and what he did say aroused another fit of laughter in the gallery.

During those, awful hours when the jury was locked in for deliberation, he sat in the buffet-room of the court building, never giving a thought to the jury and its deliberations. Anyway, he could not understand what was keeping them so long when the whole thing was so plain; he still did not know what they wanted of him.

Feeling hunger, he asked the waiter to bring him some Lenten food. He was given a piece of fish with carrots, and the charge was forty copecks. As soon as he had eaten the fish, he felt his stomach becoming very heavy, as though loaded with something; the sensation brought on nausea, thirst, acute pain.

Later, when he was listening to the foreman of the jury as he was enumerating the points at issue, everything in his abdomen seemed to be turning upside down, his body became covered with cold sweat, and his left leg became limp again. He did not hear anything, did not understand anything, and he dully resented the fact that they compelled him to stand while the foreman spoke, though he wished to sit or lie down. Finally, he and his fellow-defendants were permitted to sit down, and then the prosecuting attorney arose and said something which was entirely unintelligible to him. Then, suddenly, several gendarmes appeared from somewhere, holding their sabres in their hands. They surrounded Avdeyev and the others, and ordered them to go somewhere.

Now he realized that he had been declared guilty and placed under arrest, but this neither frightened nor astonished him. The state of affairs within his abdomen was not of the sort to permit him to pay the slightest attention to anything else.

"So now they won't let us go to the hotel, eh?" asked he of one of his fellow-prisoners. "And I left three roubles and a quarter pound of tea there."

All night he kept thinking with disgust of the fish he had eaten, and his mind constantly reverted to the three roubles and the quarter pound of tea that he had left at the hotel. In the morning, when the dawn was just beginning, he was awakened and ordered to dress himself. Then two soldiers, with bayonets in their rifles, led him through the city to the prison. Never, at any other time, did the streets of the city seem so interminably long. They made him walk, not on the sidewalk, but right in the middle of the street, through dirty, melting snow. His entrails were still engaged in a mortal combat with the fish, and his left leg was numb. He had lost his overshoes somewhere, and his feet were wet and cold.

Five days later, the prisoners were again brought to court to hear the sentence. Avdeyev was sentenced to exile to the government of Tobolsk. Even this did not frighten or astonish him. Somehow or other it still seemed to him that the trial was not over yet, that the case was still dragging along, and that the real "decision" was not yet reached. And he lived in prison, awaiting this decision from day to day.

It was six months later, when his wife and his son Vassili come to the prison to bid him farewell, when, in the thin, little old woman, dressed like a beggar, he scarcely recognized his once dignified and stout Elizaveta Trofimovna, when he saw his son dressed in an old, tattered suit, instead of the bright uniform of his school, only then did he realize that his doom was sealed, and that, whatever be the new "decision"' the past would never come back. And for the first time since his trial and imprisonment, he lost the angry expression of his face, and burst into bitter tears.

 This work is a translation and has a separate copyright status to the applicable copyright protections of the original content.


This work was published before January 1, 1928, and is in the public domain worldwide because the author died at least 100 years ago.

Public domainPublic domainfalsefalse


This work was published before January 1, 1928, and is in the public domain worldwide because the author died at least 100 years ago.

Public domainPublic domainfalsefalse