The Letter (Chekhov) | Part D’

The Letter (Chekhov) | Part D’

The deacon went away and took Anastasy with him. As is always the case on Easter Eve, it was dark in the street, but the whole sky was sparkling with bright luminous stars. There was a scent of spring and holiday in the soft still air.

“How long was he dictating?” the deacon said admiringly. “Ten minutes, not more! It would have taken someone else a month to compose such a letter. Eh! What a mind! Such a mind that I don’t know what to call it! It’s a marvel! It’s really a marvel!”

“Education!” sighed Anastasy as he crossed the muddy street; holding up his cassock to his waist. “It’s not for us to compare ourselves with him. We come of the sacristan class, while he has had a learned education. Yes, he’s a real man, there is no denying that.”

“And you listen how he’ll read the Gospel in Latin at mass to-day! He knows Latin and he knows Greek. . . . Ah Petrushka, Petrushka!” the deacon said, suddenly remembering. “Now that will make him scratch his head! That will shut his mouth, that will bring it home to him! Now he won’t ask ‘Why.’ It is a case of one wit to outwit another! Haha-ha!”

The deacon laughed gaily and loudly. Since the letter had been written to Pyotr he had become serene and more cheerful. The consciousness of having performed his duty as a father and his faith in the power of the letter had brought back his mirthfulness and good-humour.

“Pyotr means a stone,” said he, as he went into his house. “My Pyotr is not a stone, but a rag. A viper has fastened upon him and he pampers her, and hasn’t the pluck to kick her out. Tfoo! To think there should be women like that, God forgive me! Eh? Has she no shame? She has fastened upon the lad, sticking to him, and keeps him tied to her apron strings. . . . Fie upon her!”

“Perhaps it’s not she keeps hold of him, but he of her?”

“She is a shameless one anyway! Not that I am defending Pyotr. . . . He’ll catch it. He’ll read the letter and scratch his head! He’ll burn with shame!”

“It’s a splendid letter, only you know I wouldn’t send it, Father Deacon. Let him alone.”

“What?” said the deacon, disconcerted.

“Why. . . . Don’t send it, deacon! What’s the sense of it? Suppose you send it; he reads it, and . . . and what then? You’ll only upset him. Forgive him. Let him alone!”

The deacon looked in surprise at Anastasy’s dark face, at his unbuttoned cassock, which looked in the dusk like wings, and shrugged his shoulders.

“How can I forgive him like that?” he asked. “Why I shall have to answer for him to God!”

“Even so, forgive him all the same. Really! And God will forgive you for your kindness to him.”

“But he is my son, isn’t he? Ought I not to teach him?”

“Teach him? Of course — why not? You can teach him, but why call him a heathen? It will hurt his feelings, you know, deacon. . . .”

The deacon was a widower, and lived in a little house with three windows. His elder sister, an old maid, looked after his house for him, though she had three years before lost the use of her legs and was confined to her bed; he was afraid of her, obeyed her, and did nothing without her advice. Father Anastasy went in with him. Seeing his table already laid with Easter cakes and red eggs, he began weeping for some reason, probably thinking of his own home, and to turn these tears into a jest, he at once laughed huskily.

“Yes, we shall soon be breaking the fast,” he said. “Yes . . . it wouldn’t come amiss, deacon, to have a little glass now. Can we? I’ll drink it so that the old lady does not hear,” he whispered, glancing sideways towards the door.

Without a word the deacon moved a decanter and wineglass towards him. He unfolded the letter and began reading it aloud. And now the letter pleased him just as much as when his Reverence had dictated it to him. He beamed with pleasure and wagged his head, as though he had been tasting something very sweet.

“A-ah, what a letter!” he said. “Petrushka has never dreamt of such a letter. It’s just what he wants, something to throw him into a fever. . .”

“Do you know, deacon, don’t send it!” said Anastasy, pouring himself out a second glass of vodka as though unconsciously. “Forgive him, let him alone! I am telling you . . . what I really think. If his own father can’t forgive him, who will forgive him? And so he’ll live without forgiveness. Think, deacon: there will be plenty to chastise him without you, but you should look out for some who will show mercy to your son! I’ll . . . I’ll . . . have just one more. The last, old man. . . . Just sit down and write straight off to him, ‘I forgive you Pyotr!’ He will under-sta-and! He will fe-el it! I understand it from myself, you see old man . . . deacon, I mean. When I lived like other people, I hadn’t much to trouble about, but now since I lost the image and semblance, there is only one thing I care about, that good people should forgive me. And remember, too, it’s not the righteous but sinners we must forgive. Why should you forgive your old woman if she is not sinful? No, you must forgive a man when he is a sad sight to look at . . . yes!”

Anastasy leaned his head on his fist and sank into thought.

“It’s a terrible thing, deacon,” he sighed, evidently struggling with the desire to take another glass — “a terrible thing! In sin my mother bore me, in sin I have lived, in sin I shall die. . . . God forgive me, a sinner! I have gone astray, deacon! There is no salvation for me! And it’s not as though I had gone astray in my life, but in old age — at death’s door . . . I . . .”

The old man, with a hopeless gesture, drank off another glass, then got up and moved to another seat. The deacon, still keeping the letter in his hand, was walking up and down the room. He was thinking of his son. Displeasure, distress and anxiety no longer troubled him; all that had gone into the letter. Now he was simply picturing Pyotr; he imagined his face, he thought of the past years when his son used to come to stay with him for the holidays. His thoughts were only of what was good, warm, touching, of which one might think for a whole lifetime without wearying. Longing for his son, he read the letter through once more and looked questioningly at Anastasy.

“Don’t send it,” said the latter, with a wave of his hand.

“No, I must send it anyway; I must . . . bring him to his senses a little, all the same. It’s just as well. . . .”

The deacon took an envelope from the table, but before putting the letter into it he sat down to the table, smiled and added on his own account at the bottom of the letter:

“They have sent us a new inspector. He’s much friskier than the old one. He’s a great one for dancing and talking, and there’s nothing he can’t do, so that all the Govorovsky girls are crazy over him. Our military chief, Kostyrev, will soon get the sack too, they say. High time he did!” And very well pleased, without the faintest idea that with this postscript he had completely spoiled the stern letter, the deacon addressed the envelope and laid it in the most conspicuous place on the table.

 

 

 

 

Part A’: http://www.lecturesbureau.gr/1/the-letter-part-a/?lang=en
Part B’: http://www.lecturesbureau.gr/1/the-letter-part-b/?lang=en
Part C’: http://www.lecturesbureau.gr/1/the-letter-part-c/?lang=en

 

 

 
Anton Chekhov



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