By Anton Chekhov
Translated by Herman Bernstein.
Copyright, 1901, by the Globe and Commercial Advertiser
Sergey Kapitonlch Akhineyev, the teacher
of calligraphy, gave his daughter Natalya in marriage
to the teacher of history and geography, Ivan Petrovich
Loshadinikh. The wedding feast went on swimmingly.
They sang, played, and danced in the parlor.
Waiters, hired for the occasion from the club, bustled
about hither and thither like madmen, in black frock
coats and soiled white neckties. A loud noise
of voices smote the air. From the outside people
looked in at the windows; their social
standing gave them no right to enter.
Just at midnight the host, Akhineyev,
made his way to the kitchen to see whether everything
was ready for the supper. The kitchen was filled
with smoke from the floor to the ceiling; the smoke
reeked with the odors of geese, ducks, and many other
things. Victuals and beverages were scattered
about on two tables in artistic disorder. Marfa,
the cook, a stout, red-faced woman, was busying herself
near the loaded tables.
“Show me the sturgeon, dear,”
said Akhineyev, rubbing his hands and licking his
lips. “What a fine odor! I could just
devour the whole kitchen! Well, let me see the
Marfa walked up to one of the benches
and carefully lifted a greasy newspaper. Beneath
that paper, in a huge dish, lay a big fat sturgeon,
amid capers, olives, and carrots. Akhineyev glanced
at the sturgeon and heaved a sigh of relief.
His face became radiant, his eyes rolled. He
bent down, and, smacking his lips, gave vent to a sound
like a creaking wheel. He stood a while, then
snapped his fingers for pleasure, and smacked his
lips once more.
“Bah! The sound of a hearty
kiss. Whom have you been kissing there, Marfusha?”
some one’s voice was heard from the adjoining
room, and soon the closely cropped head of Vankin,
the assistant school instructor, appeared in the doorway.
“Whom have you been kissing here? A-a-ah!
Very good! Sergey Kapitonich! A fine old
man indeed! With the female sex tete-a-tete!”
“I wasn’t kissing at all,”
said Akhineyev, confused; “who told you, you
fool? I only smacked my lips on account
of in consideration of my pleasure at
the sight of the fish.”
“Tell that to some one else,
not to me!” exclaimed Vankin, whose face expanded
into a broad smile as he disappeared behind the door.
“The devil knows what may be
the outcome of this!” he thought. “He’ll
go about tale-bearing now, the rascal. He’ll
disgrace me before the whole town, the brute!”
Akhineyev entered the parlor timidly
and cast furtive glances to see what Vankin was doing.
Vankin stood near the piano and, deftly bending down,
whispered something to the inspector’s sister-in-law,
who was laughing.
“That’s about me!”
thought Akhineyev. “About me, the devil
take him! She believes him, she’s laughing.
My God! No, that mustn’t be left like that.
No. I’ll have to fix it so that no one shall
believe him. I’ll speak to all of them,
and he’ll remain a foolish gossip in the end.”
Akhineyev scratched his head, and,
still confused, walked up to Padekoi.
“I was in the kitchen a little
while ago, arranging things there for the supper,”
he said to the Frenchman. “You like fish,
I know, and I have a sturgeon just so big. About
two yards. Ha, ha, ha! Yes, by the way, I
have almost forgotten. There was a real anecdote
about that sturgeon in the kitchen. I entered
the kitchen a little while ago and wanted to examine
the food. I glanced at the sturgeon and for pleasure,
I smacked my lips it was so piquant!
And just at that moment the fool Vankin entered and
says ha, ha, ha and says:
’A-a! A-a-ah! You have been kissing
here?’ with Marfa; just think of it with
the cook! What a piece of invention, that blockhead.
The woman is ugly, she looks like a monkey, and he
says we were kissing. What a queer fellow!”
“Who’s a queer fellow?”
asked Tarantulov, as he approached them.
“I refer to Vankin. I went out into the
The story of Marfa and the sturgeon was repeated.
“That makes me laugh. What
a queer fellow he is. In my opinion it is more
pleasant to kiss the dog than to kiss Marfa,”
added Akhineyev, and, turning around, he noticed Mzda.
“We have been speaking about
Vankin,” he said to him. “What a queer
fellow. He entered the kitchen and noticed me
standing beside Marfa, and immediately he began to
invent different stories. ‘What?’
he says, ‘you have been kissing each other!’
He was drunk, so he must have been dreaming.
And I,’ I said, ’I would rather kiss a
duck than kiss Marfa. And I have a wife,’
said I, ‘you fool.’ He made me appear
“Who made you appear ridiculous?”
inquired the teacher of religion, addressing Akhineyev.
“Vankin. I was standing
in the kitchen, you know, and looking at the sturgeon ”
And so forth. In about half an hour all the guests
knew the story about Vankin and the sturgeon.
“Now let him tell,” thought
Akhineyev, rubbing his hands. “Let him do
it. He’ll start to tell them, and they’ll
cut him short: ’Don’t talk nonsense,
you fool! We know all about it.’”
And Akhineyev felt so much appeased
that, for joy, he drank four glasses of brandy over
and above his fill. Having escorted his daughter
to her room, he went to his own and soon slept the
sleep of an innocent child, and on the following day
he no longer remembered the story of the sturgeon.
But, alas! Man proposes and God disposes.
The evil tongue does its wicked work, and even Akhineyev’s
cunning did not do him any good. One week later,
on a Wednesday, after the third lesson, when Akhineyev
stood in the teachers’ room and discussed the
vicious inclinations of the pupil Visyekin, the director
approached him, and, beckoning to him, called him
“See here, Sergey Kapitonich,”
said the director. “Pardon me. It isn’t
my affair, yet I must make it clear to you, nevertheless.
It is my duty You see, rumors are on foot
that you are on intimate terms with that woman with
your cook It isn’t my affair, but You
may be on intimate terms with her, you may kiss her You
may do whatever you like, but, please, don’t
do it so openly! I beg of you. Don’t
forget that you are a pedagogue.”
Akhineyev stood as though frozen and
petrified. Like one stung by a swarm of bees
and scalded with boiling water, he went home.
On his way it seemed to him as though the whole town
stared at him as at one besmeared with tar At
home new troubles awaited him.
“Why don’t you eat anything?”
asked his wife at their dinner. “What are
you thinking about? Are you thinking about Cupid,
eh? You are longing for Marfushka. I know
everything already, you Mahomet. Kind people have
opened my eyes, you barbarian!”
And she slapped him on the cheek.
He rose from the table, and staggering,
without cap or coat, directed his footsteps toward
Vankin. The latter was at home.
“You rascal!” he said
to Vankin. “Why have you covered me with
mud before the whole world? Why have you slandered
“How; what slander? What are you inventing?”
“And who told everybody that
I was kissing Marfa? Not you, perhaps? Not
you, you murderer?”
Vankin began to blink his eyes, and
all the fibres of his face began to quiver. He
lifted his eyes toward the image and ejaculated:
“May God punish me, may I lose
my eyesight and die, if I said even a single word
about you to any one! May I have neither house
Vankin’s sincerity admitted
of no doubt. It was evident that it was not he
who had gossiped.
“But who was it? Who?”
Akhineyev asked himself, going over in his mind all
his acquaintances, and striking his chest. “Who