Typhus by Anton Tchekoff
In a smoking-compartment of the mail-train from Petrograd to Moscow
sat a young lieutenant, Klimov by name. Opposite him sat an elderly man
with a clean-shaven, shipmaster's face, to all appearances a well-to-do
Finn or Swede, who all through the journey smoked a pipe and talked
round and round the same subject.
Ha! you are an officer! My brother is also an officer, but he is a
sailor. He is a sailor and is stationed at Kronstadt. Why are you going
I am stationed there.
Ha! Are you married?
No. I live with my aunt and sister.
My brother is also an officer, but he is married and has a wife and
three children. Ha!
The Finn looked surprised at something, smiled broadly and fatuously
as he exclaimed, Ha, and every now and then blew through the stem of
his pipe. Klimov, who was feeling rather unwell, and not at all
inclined to answer questions, hated him with all his heart. He thought
how good it would be to snatch his gurgling pipe out of his hands and
throw it under the seat and to order the Finn himself into another car.
They are awful people, these Finns and ... Greeks, he thought.
Useless, good-for-nothing, disgusting people. They only cumber the
earth. What is the good of them?
And the thought of Finns and Greeks filled him with a kind of
nausea. He tried to compare them with the French and the Italians, but
the idea of those races somehow roused in him the notion of
organ-grinders, naked women, and the foreign oleographs which hung over
the chest of drawers in his aunt's house.
The young officer felt generally out of sorts. There seemed to be no
room for his arms and legs, though he had the whole seat to himself;
his mouth was dry and sticky, his head was heavy and his clouded
thoughts seemed to wander at random, not only in his head, but also
outside it among the seats and the people looming in the darkness.
Through the turmoil in his brain, as through a dream, he heard the
murmur of voices, the rattle of the wheels, the slamming of doors.
Bells, whistles, conductors, the tramp of the people on the platforms
came oftener than usual. The time slipped by quickly, imperceptibly,
and it seemed that the train stopped every minute at a station as now
and then there would come up the sound of metallic voices:
Is the post ready?
It seemed to him that the stove-neater came in too often to look at
the thermometer, and that trains never stopped passing and his own
train was always roaring over bridges. The noise, the whistle, the
Finn, the tobacco smokeall mixed with the ominous shifting of misty
shapes, weighed on Klimov like an intolerable nightmare. In terrible
anguish he lifted up his aching head, looked at the lamp whose light
was encircled with shadows and misty spots; he wanted to ask for water,
but his dry tongue would hardly move, and he had hardly strength enough
to answer the Finn's questions. He tried to lie down more comfortably
and sleep, but he could not succeed; the Finn fell asleep several
times, woke up and lighted his pipe, talked to him with his Ha! and
went to sleep again; and the lieutenant could still not find room for
his legs on the seat, and all the while the ominous figures shifted
before his eyes.
At Spirov he got out to have a drink of water. He saw some people
sitting at a table eating hurriedly.
How can they eat? he thought, trying to avoid the smell of roast
meat in the air and seeing the chewing mouths, for both seemed to him
utterly disgusting and made him feel sick.
A handsome lady was talking to a military man in a red cap, and she
showed magnificent white teeth when she smiled; her smile, her teeth,
the lady herself produced in Klimov the same impression of disgust as
the ham and the fried cutlets. He could not understand how the military
man in the red cap could bear to sit near her and look at her healthy
After he had drunk some water, he went back to his place. The Finn
sat and smoked. His pipe gurgled and sucked like a galoche full of
holes in dirty weather.
Ha! he said with some surprise. What station is this?
I don't know, said Klimov, lying down and shutting his mouth to
keep out the acrid tobacco smoke.
When do we get to Tver.
I don't know. I am sorry, I ... I can't talk. I am not well. I have
The Finn knocked out his pipe against the window-frame and began to
talk of his brother, the sailor. Klimov paid no more attention to him
and thought in agony of his soft, comfortable bed, of the bottle of
cold water, of his sister Katy, who knew so well how to tuck him up and
cosset him. He even smiled when there flashed across his mind his
soldier-servant Pavel, taking off his heavy, close-fitting boots and
putting water on the table. It seemed to him that he would only have to
lie on his bed and drink some water and his nightmare would give way to
a sound, healthy sleep.
Is the post ready? came a dull voice from a distance.
Ready, answered a loud, bass voice almost by the very window.
It was the second or third station from Spirov.
Time passed quickly, seemed to gallop along, and there would be no
end to the bells, whistles, and stops. In despair Klimov pressed his
face into the corner of the cushion, held his head in his hands, and
again began to think of his sister Katy and his orderly Pavel; but his
sister and his orderly got mixed up with the looming figures and
whirled about and disappeared. His breath, thrown back from the
cushion, burned his face, and his legs ached and a draught from the
window poured into his back, but, painful though it was, he refused to
change his position.... A heavy, drugging torpor crept over him and
chained his limbs.
When at length he raised his head, the car was quite light. The
passengers were putting on their overcoats and moving about. The train
stopped. Porters in white aprons and number-plates bustled about the
passengers and seized their boxes. Klimov put on his greatcoat
mechanically and left the train, and he felt as though it were not
himself walking, but some one else, a stranger, and he felt that he was
accompanied by the heat of the train, his thirst, and the ominous,
lowering figures which all night long had prevented his sleeping.
Mechanically he got his luggage and took a cab. The cabman charged him
one rouble and twenty-five copecks for driving him to Povarska Street,
but he did not haggle and submissively took his seat in the sledge. He
could still grasp the difference in numbers, but money had no value to
At home Klimov was met by his aunt and his sister Katy, a girl of
eighteen. Katy had a copy-book and a pencil in her hands as she greeted
him, and he remembered that she was preparing for a teacher's
examination. He took no notice of their greetings and questions, but
gasped from the heat, and walked aimlessly through the rooms until he
reached his own, and then he fell prone on the bed. The Finn, the red
cap, the lady with the white teeth, the smell of roast meat, the
shifting spot in the lamp, filled his mind and he lost consciousness
and did not hear the frightened voices near him.
When he came to himself he found himself in bed, undressed, and
noticed the water-bottle and Pavel, but it did not make him any more
comfortable nor easy. His legs and arms, as before, felt cramped, his
tongue clove to his palate, and he could hear the chuckle of the Finn's
pipe.... By the bed, growing out of Pavel's broad back, a stout,
black-bearded doctor was bustling.
All right, all right, my lad, he murmured. Excellent,
excellent.... Jist so, jist so....
The doctor called Klimov my lad. Instead of just so, he said
jist saow, and instead of yes, yies.
Yies, yies, yies, he said. Jist saow, jist saow.... Don't be
The doctor's quick, careless way of speaking, his well-fed face, and
the condescending tone in which he said my lad exasperated Klimov.
Why do you call me 'my lad'? he moaned. Why this familiarity,
damn it all?
And he was frightened by the sound of his own voice. It was so dry,
weak, and hollow that he could hardly recognise it.
Excellent, excellent, murmured the doctor, not at all offended.
Yies, yies. You mustn't be cross.
And at home the time galloped away as alarmingly quickly as in the
train.... The light of day in his bedroom was every now and then
changed to the dim light of evening.... The doctor never seemed to
leave the bedside, and his Yies, yies, yies, could be heard at every
moment. Through the room stretched an endless row of faces; Pavel, the
Finn, Captain Taroshevich, Sergeant Maximenko, the red cap, the lady
with the white teeth, the doctor. All of them talked, waved their
hands, smoked, ate. Once in broad daylight Klimov saw his regimental
priest, Father Alexander, in his stole and with the host in his hands,
standing by the bedside and muttering something with such a serious
expression as Klimov had never seen him wear before. The lieutenant
remembered that Father Alexander used to call all the Catholic officers
Poles, and wishing to make the priest laugh, he exclaimed:
Father Taroshevich, the Poles have fled to the woods.
But Father Alexander, usually a gay, light-hearted man, did not
laugh and looked even more serious, and made the sign of the cross over
Klimov. At night, one after the other, there would come slowly creeping
in and out two shadows. They were his aunt and his sister. The shadow
of his sister would kneel down and pray; she would bow to the ikon, and
her grey shadow on the wall would bow, too, so that two shadows prayed
to God. And all the time there was a smell of roast meat and of the
Finn's pipe, but once Klimov could detect a distinct smell of incense.
He nearly vomited and cried:
Incense! Take it away.
There was no reply. He could only hear priests chanting in an
undertone and some one running on the stairs.
When Klimov recovered from his delirium there was not a soul in the
bedroom. The morning sun flared through the window and the drawn
curtains, and a trembling beam, thin and keen as a sword, played on the
water-bottle. He could hear the rattle of wheelsthat meant there was
no more snow in the streets. The lieutenant looked at the sunbeam, at
the familiar furniture and the door, and his first inclination was to
laugh. His chest and stomach trembled with a sweet, happy, tickling
laughter. From head to foot his whole body was filled with a feeling of
infinite happiness, like that which the first man must have felt when
he stood erect and beheld the world for the first time. Klimov had a
passionate longing for people, movement, talk. His body lay motionless;
he could only move his hands, but he hardly noticed it, for his whole
attention was fixed on little things. He was delighted with his
breathing and with his laughter; he was delighted with the existence of
the water-bottle, the ceiling, the sunbeam, the ribbon on the curtain.
God's world, even in such a narrow corner as his bedroom, seemed to him
beautiful, varied, great. When the doctor appeared the lieutenant
thought how nice his medicine was, how nice and sympathetic the doctor
was, how nice and interesting people were, on the whole.
Yies, yies, yies, said the doctor. Excellent, excellent. Now we
are well again. Jist saow. Jist saow.
The lieutenant listened and laughed gleefully. He remembered the
Finn, the lady with the white teeth, the train, and he wanted to eat
Doctor, he said, tell them to bring me a slice of rye bread and
salt, and some sardines....
The doctor refused. Pavel did not obey his order and refused to go
for bread. The lieutenant could not bear it and began to cry like a
Ba-by, the doctor laughed. Mamma! Hush-aby!
Klimov also began to laugh, and when the doctor had gone, he fell
sound asleep. He woke up with the same feeling of joy and happiness.
His aunt was sitting by his bed.
Oh, aunty! He was very happy. What has been the matter with me?
I say! And now I am well, quite well! Where is Katy?
She is not at home. She has probably gone to see some one after her
The old woman bent over her stocking as she said this; her lips
began to tremble; she turned her face away and suddenly began to sob.
In her grief, she forgot the doctor's orders and cried:
Oh! Katy! Katy! Our angel is gone from us! She is gone!
She dropped her stocking and stooped down for it, and her cap fell
off her head. Klimov stared at her grey hair, could not understand, was
alarmed for Katy, and asked:
But where is she, aunty?
The old woman, who had already forgotten Klimov and remembered only
her grief, said:
She caught typhus from you and ... and died. She was buried the day
This sudden appalling piece of news came home to Klimov's mind, but
dreadful and shocking though it was it could not subdue the animal joy
which thrilled through the convalescent lieutenant. He cried, laughed,
and soon began to complain that he was given nothing to eat.
Only a week later, when, supported by Pavel, he walked in a
dressing-gown to the window, and saw the grey spring sky and heard the
horrible rattle of some old rails being carried by on a lorry, then his
heart ached with sorrow and he began to weep and pressed his forehead
against the window-frame.
How unhappy I am! he murmured. My God, how unhappy I am!
And joy gave way to his habitual weariness and a sense of his