Sorrow by Anton Chekov
Translated by Constance Garrett
THE turner, Grigory Petrov, who had been known for years past as
a splendid craftsman, and at the same time as the most senseless
peasant in the Galtchinskoy district, was taking his old woman to
the hospital. He had to drive over twenty miles, and
it was an awful road. A government post driver could hardly have
coped with it, much less an incompetent sluggard like Grigory. A
cutting cold wind was blowing straight in his face. Clouds of
snowflakes were whirling round and round in all directions, so
that one could not tell whether the snow was falling from the sky
or rising from the earth. The fields, the telegraph posts, and
the forest could not be seen for the fog of snow. And when a
particularly violent gust of wind swooped down on Grigory, even
the yoke above the horse's head could not be seen. The wretched,
feeble little nag crawled slowly along. It took all its strength
to drag its legs out of the snow and to tug with its head. The
turner was in a hurry. He kept restlessly hopping up and down on
the front seat and lashing the horse's back.
"Don't cry, Matryona, . . ." he muttered. "Have a little
patience. Please God we shall reach the hospital, and in a trice
it will be the right thing for you. . . . Pavel Ivanitch will
give you some little drops, or tell them to bleed you; or maybe
his honor will be pleased to rub you with some sort of spirit --
it'll . . . draw it out of your side. Pavel Ivanitch will do his
best. He will shout and stamp about, but he will do his best. . .
. He is a nice gentleman, affable, God give him health! As soon
as we get there he will dart out of his room and will begin
calling me names. 'How? Why so?' he will cry. 'Why did you not
come at the right time? I am not a dog to be hanging about
waiting on you devils all day. Why did you not come
in the morning? Go away! Get out of my sight. Come again
to-morrow.' And I shall say: 'Mr. Doctor! Pavel Ivanitch! Your
honor!' Get on, do! plague take you, you devil! Get on!"
The turner lashed his nag, and without looking at the old woman
went on muttering to himself:
"'Your honor! It's true as before God. . . . Here's the Cross
for you, I set off almost before it was light. How could I be
here in time if the Lord. . . .The Mother of God . . . is wroth,
and has sent such a snowstorm? Kindly look for yourself. .
. . Even a first-rate horse could not do it, while mine -- you
can see for yourself -- is not a horse but a disgrace.' And Pavel
Ivanitch will frown and shout: 'We know you! You always find some
excuse! Especially you, Grishka; I know you of old! I'll be
bound you have stopped at half a dozen taverns!' And I shall say:
'Your honor! am I a criminal or a heathen? My old woman is giving
up her soul to God, she is dying, and am I going to run from
tavern to tavern! What an idea, upon my word! Plague take them,
the taverns!' Then Pavel Ivanitch will order you to be taken into
the hospital, and I shall fall at his feet. . . . 'Pavel
Ivanitch! Your honor, we thank you most humbly! Forgive us fools
and anathemas, don't be hard on us peasants! We deserve a good
kicking, whi le you graciously put yourself out and mess your
feet in the snow!' And Pavel Ivanitch will give me a look as
though he would like to hit me, and will say: 'You'd much better
not be swilling vodka, you fool, but taking pity on your old
woman instead of falling at my feet. You want a thrashing!' 'You
are right there -- a thrashing, Pavel Ivanitch, strike me God!
But how can we help bowing down at your feet if you are our
benefactor, and a real father to us? Your honor! I give you my
word, . . . here as before God, . . . you may spit in my face if
I deceive you: as soon as my Matryona, this same here, is well
again and restored to her natural condition, I'll make anything
for your honor that you would like to order! A cigarette-case,
if you like, of the best birchwood, . . . balls for croquet,
skittles of the most foreign pattern I can turn. . . . I will
make anything for you! I won't take a farthing from you. In
Moscow they would charge you four roubles for such a
cigarette-case, but I won't take a farthing.' The doctor will
laugh and say: 'Oh, all right, all right. . . . I see! But it's a
pity you are a drunkard. . . .' I know how to manage the gentry,
old girl. There isn't a gentleman I couldn't talk to. Only God
grant we don't get off the road. Oh, how it is blowing! One's
eyes are full of snow."
And the turner went on muttering endlessly. He prattled on
mechanically to get a little relief from his depressing feelings.
He had plenty of words on his tongue, but the thoughts and
questions in his brain were even more numerous. Sorrow had come
upon the turner unawares, unlooked-for, and unexpected, and now
he could not get over it, could not recover himself. He had lived
hitherto in unruffled calm, as though in drunken
half-consciousness, knowing neither grief nor joy, and now he was
suddenly aware of a dreadful pain in his heart. The careless
idler and drunkard found himself quite suddenly in the position
of a busy man, weighed down by anxieties and haste, and even
struggling with nature.
The turner remembered that his trouble had begun the evening
before. When he had come home yesterday evening, a little drunk
as usual, and from long-established habit had begun swearing and
shaking his fists, his old woman had looked at her rowdy spouse
as she had never looked at him before. Usually, the expression in
her aged eyes was that of a martyr, meek like that of a dog
frequently beaten and badly fed; this time she had looked at him
sternly and immovably, as saints in the holy pictures or dying
people look. From that strange, evil look in her eyes the trouble
had begun. The turner, stupefied with amazement, borrowed a horse
from a neighbor, and now was taking his old woman to the hospital
in the hope that, by means of powders and ointments, Pavel
Ivanitch would bring back his old woman's habitual expression.
"I say, Matryona, . . ." the turner muttered, "if Pavel Ivanitch
asks you whether I beat you, say, 'Never!' and I never will beat
you again. I swear it. And did I ever beat you out of spite? I
just beat you without thinking. I am sorry for you. Some men
wouldn't trouble, but here I am taking you. . . . I am doing my
best. And the way it snows, the way it snows! Thy Will be done, O
Lord! God grant we don't get off the road. . . . Does your side
ache, Matryona, that you don't speak? I ask you, does your side
It struck him as strange that the snow on his old woman's face
was not melting; it was queer that the face itself looked somehow
drawn, and had turned a pale gray, dingy waxen hue and had grown
grave and solemn.
"You are a fool!" muttered the turner. . . . "I tell you on my
conscience, before God,. . . and you go and . . . Well, you are a
fool! I have a good mind not to take you to Pavel Ivanitch!"
The turner let the reins go and began thinking. He could not
bring himself to look round at his old woman: he was frightened.
He was afraid, too, of asking her a question and not getting an
answer. At last, to make an end of uncertainty, without looking
round he felt his old woman's cold hand. The lifted hand fell
like a log.
"She is dead, then! What a business!"
And the turner cried. He was not so much sorry as annoyed. He
thought how quickly everything passes in this world! His trouble
had hardly begun when the final catastrophe had happened. He had
not had time to live with his old woman, to show her he was
sorry for her before she died. He had lived with her for forty
years, but those forty years had passed by as it were in a fog.
What with drunkenness, quarreling, and poverty, there had been no
feeling of life. And, as though to spite him, his old woman died
at the very time when he felt he was sorry for her, that he could
not live without her, and that he had behaved dreadfully badly to
"Why, she used to go the round of the village," he remembered. "I
sent her out myself to beg for bread. What a business! She ought
to have lived another ten years, the silly thing; as it is I'll
be bound she thinks I really was that sort of man. . . . Holy
Mother! but where the devil am I driving? There's no need for a
doctor now, but a burial. Turn back!"
Grigory turned back and lashed the horse with all his might. The
road grew worse and worse every hour. Now he could not see the
yoke at all. Now and then the sledge ran into a young fir tree, a
dark object scratched the turner's hands and flashed before his
eyes, and the field of vision was white and whirling again.
"To live over again," thought the turner.
He remembered that forty years ago Matryona had been young,
handsome, merry, that she had come of a well-to-do family. They
had married her to him because they had been attracted by his
handicraft. All the essentials for a happy life had been there,
but the trouble was that, just as he had got drunk after the
wedding and lay sprawling on the stove, so he had gone on without
waking up till now. His wedding he remembered, but of what
happened after the wedding -- for the life of him he could
remember nothing, except perhaps that he had drunk, lain on the
stove, and quarreled. Forty years had been wasted like that.
The white clouds of snow were beginning little by little to turn
gray. It was getting dusk.
"Where am I going?" the turner suddenly bethought him with a
start. "I ought to be thinking of the burial, and I am on the way
to the hospital. . . . It as is though I had gone crazy."
Grigory turned round again, and again lashed his horse. The
little nag strained its utmost and, with a snort, fell into a
little trot. The turner lashed it on the back time after time. .
. . A knocking was audible behind him, and though he did not
look round, he knew it was the dead woman's head knocking against
the sledge. And the snow kept turning darker and darker, the wind
grew colder and more cutting. . . .
"To live over again!" thought the turner. "I should get a new
lathe, take orders, . . . give the money to my old woman. . . ."
And then he dropped the reins. He looked for them, tried to pick
them up, but could not -- his hands would not work. . . .
"It does not matter," he thought, "the horse will go of itself,
it knows the way. I might have a little sleep now. . . . Before
the funeral or the requiem it would be as well to get a little
rest. . . ."
The turner closed his eyes and dozed. A little later he heard the
horse stop; he opened his eyes and saw before him something dark
like a hut or a haystack. . . .
He would have got out of the sledge and found out what it was,
but he felt overcome by such inertia that it seemed better to
freeze than move, and he sank into a peaceful sleep.
He woke up in a big room with painted walls. Bright sunlight was
streaming in at the windows. The turner saw people facing him,
and his first feeling was a desire to show himself a respectable
man who knew how things should be done.
"A requiem, brothers, for my old woman," he said. "The priest
should be told. . . ."
"Oh, all right, all right; lie down," a voice cut him short.
"Pavel Ivanitch!" the turner cried in surprise, seeing the doctor
before him. "Your honor, benefactor! "
He wanted to leap up and fall on his knees before the doctor,
but felt that his arms and legs would not obey him.
"Your honor, where are my legs, where are my arms!"
"Say good-by to your arms and legs. . . . They've been frozen
off. Come, come! . . . What are you crying for ? You've lived
your life, and thank God for it! I suppose you have had sixty
years of it -- that's enough for you! . . ."
"I am grieving. . . . Graciously forgive me! If I could have
another five or six years! . . ."
"The horse isn't mine, I must give it back. . . . I must bury my
old woman. . . . How quickly it is all ended in this world! Your
honor, Pavel Ivanitch! A cigarette-case of birchwood of the best!
I'll turn you croquet balls. . . ."
The doctor went out of the ward with a wave of his hand. It was
all over with the turner.