A Transgression by Anton Chekov
Translated by Constance Garrett
A COLLEGIATE assessor called Miguev stopped at a telegraph-post
in the course of his evening walk and heaved a deep sigh. A week
before, as he was returning home from his evening walk, he had
been overtaken at that very spot by his former housemaid, Agnia,
who said to him viciously:
"Wait a bit! I'll cook you such a crab that'll teach you to ruin
innocent girls! I'll leave the baby at your door, and I'll have
the law of you, and I'll tell your wife, too. . . ."
And she demanded that he should put five thousand roubles into
the bank in her name. Miguev remembered it, heaved a sigh, and
once more reproached himself with heartfelt repentance for the
momentary infatuation which had caused him so much worry and
When he reached his bungalow, he sat down to rest on the
doorstep. It was just ten o'clock, and a bit of the moon peeped
out from behind the clouds. There was not a soul in the street
nor near the bungalows; elderly summer visitors were already
going to bed, while young ones were walking in the wood. Feeling
in both his pockets for a match to light his cigarette, Miguev
brought his elbow into contact with something soft. He looked
idly at his right elbow, and his face was instantly contorted by
a look of as much horror as though he had seen a snake beside
him. On the step at the very door lay a bundle. Something oblong
in shape was wrapped up in something -- judging by the feel of
it, a wadded quilt. One end of the bundle was a little open, and
the collegiate assessor, putting in his hand, felt something damp
and warm. He leaped on to his feet in horror, and looked about
him like a criminal trying to escape from his warders. . . .
"She has left it!" he muttered wrathfully through his teeth,
clenching his fists. "Here it lies. . . . Here lies my
transgression! O Lord!"
He was numb with terror, anger, and shame. . . What was he to do
now? What would his wife say if she found out? What would his
colleagues at the office say? His Excellency would be sure to dig
him in the ribs, guffaw, and say: "I congratulate you! . . .
He-he-he! Though your beard is gray, your heart is gay. . . . You
are a rogue, Semyon Erastovitch!" The whole colony of summer
visitors would know his secret now, and probably the respectable
mothers of families would shut their doors to him.
Such incidents always get into the papers, and the humble name
of Miguev would be published all over Russia. . . .
The middle window of the bungalow was open and he could
distinctly hear his wife, Anna Filippovna, laying the table for
supper; in the yard close to the gate Yermolay, the porter, was
plaintively strumming on the balalaika. The baby had only to wake
up and begin to cry, and the secret would be discovered. Miguev
was conscious of an overwhelming desire to make haste.
"Haste, haste! . . ." he muttered, "this minute, before anyone
sees. I'll carry it away and lay it on somebody's doorstep. . .
Miguev took the bundle in one hand and quietly, with a deliberate
step to avoid awakening suspicion, went down the street. . . .
"A wonderfully nasty position!" he reflected, trying to assume an
air of unconcern. "A collegiate assessor walking down the street
with a baby! Good heavens! if anyone sees me and understands the
position, I am done for. . . . I'd better put it on this
doorstep. . . . No, stay, the windows are open and perhaps
someone is looking. Where shall I put it? I know! I'll take it to
the merchant Myelkin's.. .. Merchants are rich people and
tenderhearted; very likely they will say thank you and adopt
And Miguev made up his mind to take the baby to Myelkin's,
although the merchant's villa was in the furthest street, close
to the river.
"If only it does not begin screaming or wriggle out of the
bundle," thought the collegiate assessor. "This is indeed a
pleasant surprise! Here I am carrying a human being under my arm
as though it were a portfolio. A human being, alive, with soul,
with feelings like anyone else. . . . If by good luck the
Myelkins adopt him, he may turn out somebody. . . . Maybe he will
become a professor, a great general, an author. . . . Anything
may happen! Now I am carrying him under my arm like a bundle of
rubbish, and perhaps in thirty or forty years I may not dare to
sit down in his presence. . . .
As Miguev was walking along a narrow, deserted alley, beside a
long row of fences, in the thick black shade of the lime trees,
it suddenly struck him that he was doing something very cruel and
"How mean it is really!" he thought. "So mean that one can't
imagine anything meaner. . . . Why are we shifting this poor baby
from door to door? It's not its fault that it's been born. It's
done us no harm. We are scoundrels. . . . We take our pleasure,
and the innocent babies have to pay the penalty. Only to think of
all this wretched business!
I've done wrong and the child has a cruel fate before it. If I
lay it at the Myelkins' door, they'll send it to the foundling
hospital, and there it will grow up among strangers, in
mechanical routine, . . . no love, no petting, no spoiling. . . .
And then he'll be apprenticed to a shoemaker, . . . he'll take to
drink, will learn to use filthy language, will go hungry. A
shoemaker! and he the son of a collegiate assessor, of good
family. . . . He is my flesh and blood, . . . "
Miguev came out of the shade of the lime trees into the bright
moonlight of the open road, and opening the bundle, he looked at
"Asleep!" he murmured. "You little rascal! why, you've an
aquiline nose like your father's. . . . He sleeps and doesn't
feel that it's his own father looking at him! . . . It's a drama,
my boy. . . Well, well, you must forgive me. Forgive me, old
boy. . . . It seems it's your fate. . . ."
The collegiate assessor blinked and felt a spasm running down his
cheeks. . . . He wrapped up the baby, put him under his arm, and
strode on. All the way to the Myelkins' villa social questions
were swarming in his brain and conscience was gnawing in his
"If I were a decent, honest man, he thought, "I should damn
everything, go with this baby to Anna Filippovna, fall on my
knees before her, and say: 'Forgive me! I have sinned! Torture
me, but we won't ruin an innocent child. We have no children; let
us adopt him!" She's a good sort, she'd consent. . . . And then
my child would be with me. . . . Ech!"
He reached the Myelkins' villa and stood still hesitating. He
imagined himself in the parlor at home, sitting reading the paper
while a little boy with an aquiline nose played with the tassels
of his dressing gown. At the same time visions forced themselves
on his brain of his winking colleagues, and of his Excellency
digging him in the ribs and guffawing. . . . Besides the pricking
of his conscience, there was something warm, sad, and tender in
his heart. . . .
Cautiously the collegiate assessor laid the baby on the verandah
step and waved his hand. Again he felt a spasm run over his face.
. . .
"Forgive me, old fellow! I am a scoundrel, he muttered. "Don't
remember evil against me."
He stepped back, but immediately cleared his throat resolutely
"Oh, come what will! Damn it all! I'll take him, and let people
say what they like!"
Miguev took the baby and strode rapidly back.
"Let them say what they like," he thought. "I'll go at once, fall
on my knees, and say: 'Anna Filippovna!' Anna is a good sort,
she'll understand. . . . And we'll bring him up. . . . If it's a
boy we'll call him Vladimir, and if it's a girl we'll call her
Anna! Anyway, it will be a comfort in our old age."
And he did as he determined. Weeping and almost faint with shame
and terror, full of hope and vague rapture, he went into his
bungalow, went up to his wife, and fell on his knees before her.
"Anna Filippovna!" he said with a sob, and he laid the baby on
the floor. "Hear me before you punish. . . . I have sinned! This
is my child. . . . You remember Agnia? Well, it was the devil
drove me to it. . . ."
And, almost unconscious with shame and terror, he jumped up
without waiting for an answer, and ran out into the open air as
though he had received a thrashing. . . .
"I'll stay here outside till she calls me," he thought. "I'll
give her time to recover, and to think it over. . . ."
The porter Yermolay passed him with his balalaika, glanced at him
and shrugged his shoulders. A minute later he passed him again,
and again he shrugged his shoulders.
"Here's a go! Did you ever!" he muttered grinning. "Aksinya, the
washer-woman, was here just now, Semyon Erastovitch. The silly
woman put her baby down on the steps here, and while she was
indoors with me, someone took and carried off the baby. . .
Who'd have thought it!"
"What? What are you saying?" shouted Miguev at the top of his
Yermolay, interpreting his master's wrath in his own fashion,
scratched his head and heaved a sigh.
"I am sorry, Semyon Erastovitch," he said, "but it's the summer
holidays, . . . one can't get on without . . . without a woman, I
mean. . . ."
And glancing at his master's eyes glaring at him with anger and
astonishment, he cleared his throat guiltily and went on:
"It's a sin, of course, but there -- what is one to do?. . .
You've forbidden us to have strangers in the house, I know, but
we've none of our own now. When Agnia was here I had no women to
see me, for I had one at home; but now, you can see for
yourself, sir, . . . one can't help having strangers. In Agnia's
time, of course, there was nothing irregular, because. . ."
"Be off, you scoundrel!" Miguev shouted at him, stamping, and he
went back into the room.
Anna Filippovna, amazed and wrathful, was sitting as before, her
tear-stained eyes fixed on the baby. . . .
"There! there!" Miguev muttered with a pale face, twisting his
lips into a smile. "It was a joke. . . . It's not my baby, . . .
it's the washer-woman's! . . . I . . . I was joking. . . . Take
it to the porter."