Mysterious Nature by Anton Chekhov
A first class compartment. A pretty, young little lady reclines on couch upholstered in crimson velvet. An expensive, fringed fan crackles in her tensed hand, a pince-nez* periodically slips from her pretty nose, and a brooch moves on her breast like a boat lost among the waves. She is agitated. Across from her, a district auditor to special errands, a young, aspiring writer sits on a small couch. He publishes in regional newspapers short stories, or what he calls “novellas,” about life of the high society. He looks directly at her face with the attitude of an expert. He is observing, studying, grasping this eccentric, mysterious, nature, comprehending it… He is seeing her soul, all her psychology in plain sight.
“Oh, I understand you,” the district auditor to special errands says, kissing her hand near the bracelet. “Your sensitive, receptive soul has been searching for an exit from the labyrinth. Yes! Terrible, horrific struggle, but… don’t lose heart! You will be a winner! Yes!”
“Describe me, Valdemar!” the little lady says with a sad smile. “My life is so full, so diverse, so colorful. But the main thing is that I am unhappy. My suffering is Dostoyevskian… Show my soul to the whole world, Valdemar, show this poor soul! You are a psychologist. Not even an hour has passed since we settled in the compartment and began to talk, but you already comprehended all of me, all of me!”
“Talk, I beg you, talk!”
“Listen then, I was born into a family of poor state employees. My father was a kind, intelligent fellow, but… the spirit of the times, environment…vous comprenez,**I do not blame my poor father. He indulged in drinking, played cards…took bribes. My mother…What can I say? Poverty, struggle to earn a living, awareness of one’s own insignificance. Oh, do not force me to remember! I had to make it by myself, to find my way…And what about the ugly college education, silly novels I read, juvenile follies, the first timid love…Horrible! And then – doubts! Anguish of the nascent disappointment in life, in myself. And what about the struggle with the milieu? Terrible! What about the doubts? Oh, you are a writer and you know us women. You will understand. Unfortunately, I am blessed with a generous nature. I had been craving for happiness, exceptional happiness! I had been craving to become a human! Yes! To become a human – that’s how I saw my happiness!”
“You are magnificent,” the writer mumbles kissing her hand near the bracelet. “This is not you I am kissing, my wonderful lady, but human suffering. Remember Raskolnikov? He kissed this way.”
“Oh Valdemar! I needed fame…noise, brilliance, just like any – there’s no reason to be humble – remarkable person. I had been craving for something unusual. But then…but then I crossed paths with an old, rich general. You have to understand me, Valdemar! It was martyrdom, self-sacrifice, you must understand me! I enriched my family, began traveling and serving people. I suffered so much. How unbearably lowly and vulgar were the general’s embraces, but I have to give it to him –he fought bravely at one time. There were minutes…horrible minutes! However, I was sustained by a thought that he could die any day and I would live my life the way I want, so I could give myself to the man I love and be happy. I have such a man, Valdemar, God be my witness, I have!”
The little lady is swinging her fan hard. She looks like she’s going to start crying.
‘But then the old man dies. I’ve got something from him, I am free like a bird. Now I can live happily, can’t I, Valdemar? Happiness knocks on my window. All I need is to let it in, but…no! Valdemar, listen to me, I beg you! Now I can give myself to the man I love, to become his friend and assistant, a carrier of his ideals, so I could be happy and have some rest. But how vulgar, disgusting and stupid everything in this world is! How vile is everything, Valdemar! I am so unhappy, so unhappy, so unhappy! One more obstacle appears on my path. I feel again that my happiness is so far, far away! Oh, how much suffering I have to endure, if you could only know! How much suffering!”
“But what is it? What is looming on your path? I beg you, tell me! What is it?”
“Another rich old man.”
The broken fan covers her pretty face. The pensive writer rests his head on his wrist, sighs, posing as an expert-psychologist, and begins to think. The locomotive whistles and hisses. The curtains turn red in the setting sun.
* pince-nez (French) a style of glasses popular in 19 Century
** vous comprenez(French) you understand