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AN UNWILLING MARTYR
(A HOLIDAY EPISODE)
A JEST IN ONE ACT
Characters in the Play
IVAN IVANITCH TOLKATCHOV (father of a family) ALEXEY ALEXEYITCH MURASHKIN (his friend)
The action takes place in Petersburg, in MURASHKIN's flat.
MURASHKIN's study. Upholstered furniture. MURASHKIN is sitting at the writing-table. Enter TOLKATCHOV, holding in his arms a glass globe for a lamp, a toy bicycle, three hat-boxes, a large parcel of clothes, a fish-basket containing bottles of beer, and many small parcels. He looks about him in a dazed way and sinks exhausted on the sofa.
MURASHKIN. Hullo, Ivan Ivanitch! Delighted to see you! Where do you hail from?
TOLKATCHOV [breathing hard]. My dear fellow ... I have a favour to ask you.... I entreat you ... lend me a revolver till to-morrow. Be a friend!
MURASHKIN. What do you want with a revolver?
TOLKATCHOV. I need one.... Oh, holy saints! ... Give me some water.... Make haste, water! I need it.... I have to pass through a dark wood to-night and so ... to be ready for anything. Lend it me, there's a good fellow!
MURASHKIN. Oh, nonsense, Ivan Ivanitch! What the devil's this about a dark wood? You've got something in your mind, I suppose? I can see from your face you are up to no good! But what's the matter with you? Are you ill?
TOLKATCHOV. Stop, let me get my breath.... Oh, holy saints! I am as tired as a dog. I have a sensation all over my head and body as though I'd been beaten like a beefsteak. I can bear no more. Be a friend, ask no questions, don't go into details ... give me a revolver! I implore you!
MURASHKIN. Come, come, Ivan Ivanitch! What weakness! You, the father of a family, a civil councillor! For shame!
TOLKATCHOV. Me the father of a family! I'm a martyr! I'm a beast of burden, a nigger, a slave, a coward who keeps waiting for something instead of despatching himself to the other world! I am a rag, a blockhead, an idiot! What am I living for? What's the object of it? [leaps up]. Tell me, please, what is it I am living for? Why this endless succession of moral and physical miseries? I can understand being a martyr for an idea, yes! but to be a martyr for goodness knows what, for lamp-shades and ladies' petticoats. No! I'd rather not, thanks! No, no, no! I've had enough of it! Enough!
MURASHKIN. Don't talk so loud, the neighbours will hear!
TOLKATCHOV. The neighbours may hear for all I care! If you won't give me a revolver, someone else will—anyway, I shan't be long among the living! That's settled!
MURASHKIN. Stop, you have pulled off my button. Speak coolly. I still don't understand what's wrong with your life.
TOLKATCHOV. What's wrong? You ask what's wrong? Certainly, I'll tell you! By all means. Perhaps if I have it out, it will make me feel better.... Let us sit down. Come, listen.... Oh, dear, I can't get my breath! ... Take to-day, for example. Take it. As you know from ten o'clock in the morning till four o'clock in the afternoon, I have to stick in the office. Baking hot, stuffy, flies, hopeless muddle and confusion. The secretary has taken a holiday, Hrapov has gone off to get married, the small fry of the office have gone dotty over weekends, love affairs and amateur theatricals.... They are all worn out, sleepy and exhausted so that you can get no sense out of them.
... The secretary's duties are being carried on by an individual deaf in the left ear and in love; the people who come to the office seem to have lost their wits, they are always in a hurry and a fluster—ill-tempered, threatening—such a regular Bedlam that you want to scream for help. Confusion and muddle! And the work is hellish: the same thing over and over again, enquiries and references—all the same like the waves of the sea. Your eyes are ready to drop out of your head, you know. Give me some water.... You come out of the office shattered, torn to rags.... You ought to have your dinner and a good snooze—but no, you've to remember that it's the summer holidays; that is, that you are a slave, a wretched rag, a miserable lost creature, and must run like a chicken, carrying out commissions. There is a charming custom in our country retreat: if the summer visitor is going to town, not only his wife, but every wretched holiday-maker is privileged and entitled to burden him with masses of commissions. My spouse insists on my going to the dressmaker and giving her a good scolding, because she has made the bodice too full and the shoulders too narrow; Sonitchka's shoes must be changed; my sister-in-law wants twenty kopecks' worth of crimson silk to match a pattern and two and a half yards of tape.... But wait a minute, here I'll read it to you. [Takes a note out of his pocket and reads it] A globe for the lamp; one pound of ham sausage; five kopecks' worth of cloves and nutmeg; castor-oil for Misha; ten pounds of granulated sugar; fetch from home the copper stewpan and the mortar for pounding sugar; carbolic acid, insect powder, ten kopecks' worth of face powder; twenty bottles of beer; vinegar and a pair of corsets, size 82, for Mlle. Chanceau.... Ough! and fetch from home Misha's greatcoat and goloshes. Those are the orders from my wife and family. Now for the commissions from my dear friends and neighbours, damnation take them. The Vlassins are keeping Volodya's name-day to-morrow; he is to have a bicycle bought him; Madame Vihrin, the wife of the lieutenant-colonel, is in an interesting condition, and so I have to go every day to the midwife and beg her to come. And so on, and so on. I have five lists in my pocket, and my handkerchief is nothing but knots. And so, my dear fellow, in the time between the office and the train, one's tearing about the town like a dog with its tongue out—tearing about and cursing one's life. From the draper's to the chemist's, from the chemist's to the dressmaker's, from the dressmaker's to the pork butcher's, and then back to the chemist's again. In one place you trip up, in another you lose your money, in the third you forget to pay and they run after you and make a row, in the fourth you tread on a lady's skirt ... pfoo! Such a form of exercise sends one dotty and makes one such a wreck that every bone aches all night afterwards, and one dreams of crocodiles. Well, your tasks have been performed and everything has been bought—now kindly tell me how is one to pack all this truck? How, for instance, are you going to pack a heavy copper pan and a mortar with a globe for the lamp, or carbolic with tea? How are you going to combine bottles of beer and a bicycle? It's a labour of Hercules, a problem, a riddle! You may rack your brains and do your utmost, but in the end you are sure to break or spill something, and at the station and in the railway carriage you will have to stand with your legs straddling and your arms out, propping up some package with your chin, all hung with fish baskets, cardboard boxes, and such trumpery. And when the train starts the passengers begin hustling your parcels out of the way, for your luggage is all over other people's seats. They make a fuss, call the guard, threaten to have you turned out, but what am I to do? I simply stand and blink at them like a donkey when it is beaten. Now let me tell you what comes next. I get home to my summer villa. Then one does deserve a good drink after one's day of toil, a meal—a good snooze—doesn't one?—but not a bit of it! My wife keeps a sharp eye on me. You've scarcely swallowed your soup before she pounces on you and you must go, if you please, to private theatricals or a dancing club. Don't dare to protest. You are a husband, and the word "husband," translated into holiday language, means a dumb animal who can be driven and laden as you please, with no risk of interference from the Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals. You go and stare at "A Scandal in a Respectable Family" or at "Motya"; you clap your hands at your wife's prompting while you grow weaker, and weaker, and weaker, and feel every minute as though you will expire. And at the club you have to look on at the dancing and find partners for your better-half, and if there are not gentlemen enough, you have to dance the quadrille yourself. You get home from the theatricals or the dancing after midnight, feeling more like a dead sheep than a human being. But now, at last, you reach the longed-for end; you have undressed and get into bed. Excellent, you can shut your eyes and go to sleep.... It's all so nice, so poetical, so snug, you know; the children are not screaming in the next room, and your wife is not there, and your conscience is at ease—you could wish for nothing better. You drop asleep—and all at once ... all at once you hear, dz-z-z-z! The gnats! [leaps up]. The gnats, double damnation to them! [shakes his fists]. Gnats! They beat the plagues of Egypt, the tortures of the Inquisition! Dz-z-z! It buzzes so plaintively, so mournfully, as though it were asking your forgiveness; but it bites you, the rascal, so that you are scratching for an hour after. You smoke, you slaughter them, you cover up your head—there is no escape! In the end you curse and give yourself up to be devoured: let the damned brutes bite away! No sooner are you resigned to the gnats than another plague is upon you: your spouse begins practising songs with her tenors in the drawing-room. They sleep all day and spend the night getting up amateur concerts. Oh, my God! Those tenors are a torture, the gnats aren't in it! [Sings] "Tell me not thy youth is ruined" ... "Spellbound again I stand before thee." ... Oh, the be-easts! They wring the very soul out of my body! To deaden the sound of them a little I have to practise this trick: I tap myself with my finger just by my ear. I go on tapping like that till they go away at four o'clock. Och! Another drink of water, my boy.... I can't bear it.... Well, so after a night without sleep you get up at six o'clock and-off to the station for your train! You run, you are afraid of being late, and the mud! the fog! the cold—brr! When you get to town, it is the same old hurdy-gurdy over again! There it is! It's a beastly life, I tell you. I wouldn't wish my worst enemy such a life. It has made me ill, do you understand? Asthma, heartburn, I am always in a panic about something ; my stomach won't work, my eyes are dizzy.... Would you believe it, I have become a regular neurotic ... [looks about him]. Only this is strictly between ourselves. I should like to consult Tchetchott or Merzheyovsky. A sort of frenzy comes over me, my boy. When I am annoyed or driven silly, when the gnats bite or the tenors sing, I have a sudden dizziness before my eyes. I leap up and run all over the house as though I were crazy, shouting, "I thirst for blood! Blood!" And at such moments I really long to stick a knife into somebody or bash his head in with a chair. You see what this holiday life may bring one to! And no one is sorry for me, no one feels for me—they all take it for granted. They actually laugh. But can't you understand, I am a living creature, I want to live! This isn't a farce, it is a tragedy! If you won't give me a revolver, you might at least feel for me!
MURASHKIN. I do feel for you.
TOLKATCHOV. I see how you feel for me.... Good-bye, I must go and get anchovies, sausage ... there's still the tooth-powder to get, too, and then to the station.
MURASHKIN. Where are you staying for the holidays?
TOLKATCHOV. At the Putrid River.
MURASHKIN [gleefully]. Really? I say, do you happen to know Olga Pavlovna Finberg who is staying there?
TOLKATCHOV. I know her. She is a friend of ours, in fact.
MURASHKIN. You don't say so! What luck! How fortunate! It would be nice of you ...
TOLKATCHOV. What is it?
MURASHKIN. My dear friend, would it be possible for you to do me a small favour? Be a friend! Promise me you will do it?
TOLKATCHOV. What is it?
MURASHKIN. As a friend, I ask you! I entreat you, my dear boy. In the first place give my greetings to Olga Pavlovna, tell her that I am alive and well and that I kiss her hand. And in the second, take her something for me. She commissioned me to buy her a hand sewing-machine, and there is nobody to take it her.... Take it, my dear fellow! And while you are about it, you might as well take this cage with the canary ... only do be careful, or the little door will get broken.... Why do you look at me like that?
TOLKATCHOV. A sewing-machine ... a bird-cage and canary ... greenfinches ... linnets ...
MURASHKIN. Ivan Ivanitch, what is the matter with you? Why are you so red in the face?
TOLKATCHOV [stamping]. Give me the sewing-machine! Where is the birdcage? Get on my back yourself! Tear a man to pieces! Eat him up! Make an end of him! [clenches his fists]. I thirst for blood! for blood! for blood!
MURASHKIN. You are mad!
TOLKATCHOV [bearing down upon him]. I thirst for blood! for blood!
MURASHKIN [in terror]. He's gone out of his mind! [Shouts] Petrusha! Marya! Where are you? Save me!
TOLKATCHOV [chasing him about the room]. I thirst for blood! For blood!
Characters in the Play
ANDREY ANDREYEVITCH SHIPUTCHIN (Chairman of the Board of Management of the N ——Mutual Credit Bank, a youngish man with an eyeglass)
TATYANA ALEXEYEVNA (his wife, age 25)
KUZMA NIKOLAYEVITCH HIRIN (the Bank Cashier, an old man)
NASTASYA FYODOROVNA MERTCHUTKIN (an old woman in a pelisse) Members of the Board of Management Bank Clerks
The action takes place in the N——Mutual Credit Bank.
The chairman's office. On the left a door leading to the counting-house. Two writing-tables. The office is furnished with pretensions to refined taste: velvet upholstery, flowers, statues, rugs. Telephone. Midday.
HIRIN alone; he is wearing felt overboots.
HIRIN [shouts at the door]. Send someone to the chemist's for three pennyworth of valerian drops and tell them to bring some clean water to the chairman's office! Am I to tell you a hundred times? [Goes to the table.] I am utterly worn out. I have been writing for the last three days and nights without closing my eyes; from morning till night I am at work here, and from night till morning at home [coughs]. And I feel ill all over! Shivering, feverish, coughing, my legs ache and there are all sorts of ... stops and dashes before my eyes [sits down]. That affected ass, our scamp of a chairman, will read a report to-day at the general meeting: "Our bank at present and in the future." A regular Gambetta
... [writes]. Two ... one ... one ... six ... nought ... six.... He wants to cut a dash and so I have to sit here and work for him like a galley-slave! ... He has put in nothing but the lyrical touches in the report and has left me to work for days together adding up figures, the devil flay his soul ... [counts on reckoning frame]. I can't endure the man [writes]. One ... three ... seven ... two ... one ... nought.... He promised to reward me for my work. If everything goes off well to-day and he succeeds in hoodwinking the public, he promised me a gold medal and a bonus of three hundred.... We shall see [writes]. But if I get nothing for my trouble you must look out for yourself.... I am a hasty man.... I may do anything if I am worked up.... Yes!
[Behind the scenes there is a noise of applause. Voice of SHIPUTCHIN: "Thank you, thank you! I am touched!" Enter SHIPUTCHIN. He is wearing a dress-coat and white tie; in his hands an album which has just been presented to him.]
SHIPUTCHIN [standing in the doorway and looking towards the counting-house]. I shall keep this present of yours, dear colleagues, to the day of my death in memory of the happiest days of my life! Yes, gentlemen ! I thank you once more [waves a kiss and walks up to HIRIN]. My dear, good Kuzma Nikolayevitch!
[While he is on the stage Clerks come in occasionally with papers for him to sign, and go out again.]
HIRIN [getting up]. I have the honour to congratulate you, Andrey Andreyevitch, on the fifteenth anniversary of our bank, and hope that ...
SHIPUTCHIN [presses his hand warmly]. Thank you, dear old man, thank you! In honour of this glorious occasion, in honour of the anniversary, I think we might even kiss each other. [They kiss.] I am very glad, very. Thanks for your good work, for everything! If I've done anything useful during my period of office as chairman of the Board of Management, I am indebted for it above all to my colleagues [sighs]. Yes, old man, fifteen years, fifteen years as sure as my name's Shiputchin! [Eagerly] Well, what about my report? Is it getting on?
HIRIN. Yes. There are only five pages left.
SHIPUTCHIN. Good. Then by three o'clock it will be ready?
HIRIN. If nobody hinders me, I shall get it done. There's very little left to do.
Excerpted from Five Comic One-Act Plays by ANTON CHEKHOV, KATHY CASEY. Copyright © 1999 Dover Publications, Inc.. Excerpted by permission of Dover Publications, Inc..
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