"A Visit With Friends" by Anton Chekhov (1898)

by Anton Chekhov

Podgorin, a thirty-year-old lawyer, receives a mail from Tatyana and Varya, two young women of his age with whom he’d been very close ten years previously, asking him to come for a visit to Tatyana’s family home where she lives with husband and two young children and her young sister Nadezhda. He feels obliged to go, knowing that the husband is a wastrel and a profligate and that they probably have financial problems. Which turns out to be very much the case, as they are bankrupt, the estate is about to be sold, and Ta, Va and Na are desperate at the prospect of being deprived of the ancient family home. They ask him for legal help, the husband asks him for a loan and the young sister would clearly like to bring him into their family.
They talk, they dance, they sing, they recite poetry and go for walks, but the old magic just isn’t there for Podgorin somehow...

A sad story [1], characteristic of the author’s works in his last period on the theme of decline and loss of things in general and of past attachments in particular.

6,600 words, translated specially for this site [2].


an e-book is available for downloading below.


portrait of Chekhov by Levitan
(1886)

A VISIT WITH FRIENDS

A letter arrived in the morning:

"Dear Misha, you’ve forgotten us completely, come to see us soon, we want to see you. We beg you both on our knees, come today, show us your lovely, clear eyes. We can’t wait.
Ta and Va.
Kuzminky, June 7."

The letter was from Tatiana Alexeevna Loseva, who ten or twelve years ago, when Podgorin lived in Kuzminky, was called Ta for short. But who was Va? Podgorin thought back on long conversations, gay laughter, romance, a flower garden and walks in the evening with girls and young women who lived in Kuzminky and nearby. He remembered a simple, lively, intelligent face with freckles that matched her dark red hair – Tatiana’s friend Varya, or Varvara Pavlovna. She’d finished her medical studies now and was working somewhere outside Tula in a factory, and she apparently had come to Kuzminky to visit.
"Dear Va!” Podgorin thought, giving himself up to his memories. “How sweet she is!"
Tatiana, Varya and he were almost the same age; but he’d been a student then and they were already grown-up girls and had looked on him as a boy. And now, although he was already a lawyer and beginning to turn grey, they still called him Misha and considered him young and said that he hadn’t yet experienced anything in life.
He loved them dearly, but he seemed to have loved them more in his memories than now. Their present life was quite unfamiliar to him, incomprehensible and alien. This short, playful letter was also alien to him; it had probably been composed over a long moment and with difficulty, and while Tatiana was writing her husband Sergei Sergeyitch had probably been standing behind her... Kuzminky had been her dowry only six years ago but it had already been ruined by that Sergei Sergeyitch, and now every time they owed money to the bank or had to pay off a mortgage they sought advice from Podgorin as a lawyer, and had also twice asked him to lend them money. Apparently they wanted advice or money from him again now.

He couldn’t any longer be attracted to Kuzminky as before. It was sad there. There was no laughter there, no noise, no merry, carefree faces, no meetings in quiet moonlight nights and, most importantly, no youth; and all that in any case had probably only been charming in his memory... Besides Ta and Va, there’s also Na, Tatiana’s sister Nadezhda, who had both jokingly and seriously been called his bride; she’d grown up before his eyes; it was expected that he would marry her, and at one time he had been in love with her and was going to propose, but now she’s twenty-four years old and he was still single...
"How it’s all worked out, though," he thought now, rereading the letter in embarrassment. “I can’t not go there, they’ll be offended…"

The fact that he hadn’t been to the Losevs’ for a long time was weighing on his conscience. So, walking about his room and thinking it over he made an effort and decided to visit them for three days, to do his duty and then be free and at peace at least until next summer. So, leaving for the Brest railway station after breakfast, he told his servant that he’d be back in three days’ time.
It was a two-hour drive from Moscow to Kuzminky and then from the station by horseback about twenty minutes. From the station one could already see Tatiana’s forest and three high, narrow country houses that Losev, who in the first years of his marriage had started to run various dubious enterprises, had never finished building. The dachas had ruined him as well as his various business enterprises and his frequent trips to Moscow, where would have breakfast at the Slavyanskiy Bazaar, lunch at the Hermitage and would end the day on the Malaya Bronnaya or at Zhivoderka with gypsies (what he called "shaking up"). Podgorin drank too, sometimes a great deal, and went out with women indiscriminately, but lazily and coldly, without feeling any pleasure. He was seized by a squeamish feeling when, in his presence, other people gave themselves away with passion. He couldn’t understand people who felt freer at Zhivoderka than at home near respectable women, and he didn’t like such people, for he thought that all kinds of filth clung to them like thistles. He didn’t like Losev either and considered him uninteresting, incapable of anything, a lazy fellow; and in his company he’d felt squeamish more than once…

At the edge of the forest he was met by Sergei Sergeyitch Losev and Nadezhda.
“My dear fellow, why have you forgotten us?” Sergei Sergeyevich said, kissing him three times and then holding him by the waist with both hands. “You’ve completely fallen out of love with us, my friend!”
He had a broad face, a thick nose and a thin, light-brown beard, and he combed his hair flat, merchant-like, to make himself appear simple and purely Russian. When he spoke he breathed directly into his interlocutor’s face and when he was silent he breathed heavily through his nose. His plump body and excessive fullness made him self-conscious, and he stuck out his chest to breathe easier, which gave him an arrogant look. Next to him Nadezhda, his sister-in-law, seemed ethereal. She was a fair blonde, pale in colour, slim with kind, tender eyes, and Podgorin couldn’t tell if she were beautiful or not for he’d known her from childhood and was used to her appearance. She was now wearing a white dress with an open neck, and that impression of a white, long, naked neck was new to him and not altogether pleasant.
“My sister and I have been expecting you since this morning," she said. “We have Varya, and she’s waiting for you too.”
She took him by the arm and suddenly laughed for no reason and let out a light cry of joy, as if she’d suddenly been enchanted by a thought. The fields of flowering rye that didn’t move at all in the still air and the forest, illuminated by the sun, were beautiful; and it seemed that Nadezhda only noticed it now, walking beside Podgorin.
“I’ve come to see you for three days,” he said. “I’m sorry, I couldn’t get away from Moscow before.”
“Oh, that’s no good, you’ve forgotten us completely!" Sergei said with a good-natured reproach. Jamais de ma vie! [3]" he said suddenly, snapping his fingers.
He had the habit of suddenly uttering as an exclamation a phrase that had no connection with the conversation and of snapping his fingers at the same time. And he always imitated someone; if he rolled his eyes, or threw back his hair carelessly, or fell into pathos, it meant that the day before he’d been to a theatre or a dinner where speeches had been made. Now he walked like a man with gout, in small steps, without bending his knees – he must have been imitating someone too.
“You know, Tanya didn’t think that you’d come," said Nadezhda. “Varya and I had a premonition; somehow I knew that you would come on that particular train.”
Jamais de ma vie!” – Sergei Sergeyevich repeated.

The ladies were waiting on the terrace in the garden. Ten years ago Podgorin – he was a poor student then – had taught Nadezhda mathematics and history at a desk and in her apartment; and Varya, a fellow student, also took Latin lessons with him. And Tania, then a beautiful grown-up girl, thought of nothing but love, and wanted only love and happiness, wanted them passionately, and was waiting for a future husband who was dreaming of her day and night. And now when she was over thirty years old and as beautiful and distinguished as before, in a wide negligée, with full, white arms, she thought only of her husband and her two girls, and she had an expression that indicated that although she was talking and smiling, she was always wrapped up in her thoughts and was protecting her love and her rights to that love; she was ready at any moment to rush at any enemy who would want to take her husband and children away from her. She loved deeply and seemed to be loved mutually, but jealousy and fear for her children tormented her constantly and prevented her from being happy.

After a noisy meeting on the terrace everyone except Sergei Sergeyitch went to Tatiana’s room. The sun’s rays didn’t penetrate through the curtains there; it was twilight so that all the roses in the large bouquet seemed to be of the same colour. Podgorin sat in an old armchair by the window and Nadezhda sat at his feet on a low bench. He knew that besides the tender reproaches, jokes, and laughter that he was hearing now and that reminded him so much of the past, there would be unpleasant talk about bills of exchange and mortgages that he couldn’t avoid, and he thought it would be better to talk business at once, without putting it off.
“Shouldn’t we talk business first?” he said. “What’s new here in Kuzminky? All’s well in the kingdom of Denmark?”
“Things aren’t good in Kuzminky,” Tatiana answered and sighed sadly. “Ah, our affairs are so bad, so awful that it seems they couldn’t be worse,” she said, and walked excitedly about the room. Our estate’s on sale; the auction’s on the seventh of August and there are already publications everywhere; buyers are coming in and going round the rooms and looking at them. Legally it may be fair but it humiliates me, it deeply insults me. We’ve nothing to pay with and can’t borrow anywhere. In a word, it’s terrible, terrible! I swear to you," she continued, stopping in the middle of the room; her voice trembled and tears spurted from her eyes, "I swear by all that’s holy, by the happiness of my children, that I can’t live without Kuzminky! I was born here, this is my nest, and if they take it away from me I won’t survive, I’ll die of despair!”
“I think you’re being too gloomy,” Podgorin said. “Everything’ll turn out all right. Your husband will take care of you, you’ll go in a new direction, you’ll live in a new way!”
“How can you say that?” Tatiana almost shouted; now she seemed very beautiful and strong, and the fact that she was at any minute ready to throw herself at the enemy who would want to take away her husband, her children and her little nest was expressed in her face and all its features particularly sharply. “What new life! Sergei’s fully occupied, he’s been promised a position as a tax inspector somewhere in the province of Ufa or in Perm, and I’m prepared to go anywhere, even to Siberia; I’m prepared to live there for ten or twenty years, but I must know that sooner or later I shall come back to Kuzminky. Without Kuzminky, I can’t do it! I can’t, and I don’t want to! I don’t want to!” she shouted and stamped her foot.
“You, Misha, you’re a lawyer,”said Varya, “you’re sharp, and it’s your business to advise what to do.”
There was only one fair and reasonable answer: "Nothing can be done!", but Podgorin didn’t dare to say it outright and he muttered hesitantly:
“I’ll have to think about it... I’ll think about it.”

There were two people in him. As a lawyer he was used to conducting his affairs energetically; in court and with clients he held himself upright and expressed his opinions bluntly and emphatically, and when he was with his friends he talked roughly to them. But in his private, intimate life with his nearest and dearest, or with people he’d known for years, he was unusually delicate, shy and sensitive and could never speak plainly. A single tear, an oblique look, a lie, or even an ugly gesture were enough to make him shrink back and lose his willpower. Now Nadezhda was sitting at his feet and he didn’t like her bare neck; it embarrassed him and he even wanted to go straight home. Once, a year ago, he’d met Sergei Sergeyevich at a woman’s house on Bronnaya, and now he felt embarrassed before Tatiana as if he himself had participated in the betrayal. This conversation about Kuzminky embarrassed him greatly. He was accustomed to all embarrassing questions being settled by judges or juries, or simply by an article of law; but when the question was put to him personally he was at a loss.
“Misha, you’re our friend, we all love you as one of our own,” continued Tatiana, “and I’ll tell you frankly: you’re our only hope. Tell us, for God’s sake, what should we do? Perhaps we should petition somewhere? Maybe it’s not too late to transfer the estate to Nadya or Varya...? What should we do?”
"Help them out, Misha, help them out!" said Varya, lighting a cigarette. “You’ve always been clever. You haven’t lived much, you haven’t experienced anything in life, but you’ve a good head on your shoulders... You’ll help Tanya, I know you will!”
“I’ll think about it... Maybe I’ll think of something.”

They went for a walk in the garden and then out onto the fields. Sergei Sergeyevich also came with them. He took Podgorin by the arm and led him forward, apparently intending to talk to him about something, probably about bad things. And walking beside Sergey Sergeyitch and talking to him was excruciating. He kissed Podgorin now and then, three times in all, took his arm, put his own round his waist, breathed on his face, and it seemed as if he were covered with sweet glue and was about to stick onto him; and that expression in his eyes, that he needed something from Podgorin, that he was about to ask something, made a dreadful impression, as if he were aiming a revolver at him.
The sun went down and it began to get dark. Lights, green and red, lit up along the railway line here and there... Varya stopped and, looking at the lights, began to recite:

"A straight path: narrow embankments,
Pillars, rails, bridges,
And on the sides, all the bones are Russian...
So many of them!…

“What’s next? Oh, my God, I’ve forgotten everything!”

We were suffering in the heat, in the cold,
With our backs forever bent…

She recited in a splendid voice from the chest, with feeling, her face lit up with a lively blush, and tears showed in her eyes. This was the old Varya, Varya the student, and listening to her Podgorin thought about the past and remembered that he himself, when he was a student, knew by heart many good poems and loved to recite them.

He didn’t straighten his hunchbacked back...
He’s still now: he’s stupidly silent…

But Varya couldn’t remember the rest... She fell silent and smiled weakly and languidly, and after her recital the green and red lights began to look sad...
“Eh, I forgot.”
But Podgorin suddenly remembered – somehow, accidentally, it had survived in his memory from his student days – and he recited softly, in a whisper:

The Russian people have borne enough,
have borne this railroad enough,
They’ll bear it all – wide and clear
They’ll pave the way for themselves with their chests...
But it’s a pity…

The only pity,” Varya interrupted him, remembering, “the only pity is that neither you nor I will live through that wonderful time!

She laughed and clapped him on the shoulder.
They returned home and sat down to dinner. Sergei carelessly poked a corner of his napkin in his collar, imitating someone.
“Let’s have a drink!" he said, pouring vodka for himself and Podgorin. “We old students knew how to drink, and to talk a lot, and to do business. I drink to your health, my friend, and you’ll drink to the health of the old, foolish idealist and wish him to die so idealist. The leopard changes its spots.”
Tatiana during dinner looked tenderly at her husband, jealous and worried that he’d eaten or drunk something harmful. It seemed to her that he was spoiled by women and tired – she liked that about him, and at the same time she suffered. Varya and Nadia were also gentle with him and looked at him anxiously, as if they were afraid that he would suddenly take off and leave them. When he was about to pour himself a second drink, Varya made an angry face and said:
“You’re poisoning yourself, Sergei Sergeyevich. You’re a nervous, impressionable man and can easily become an alcoholic. Tanya, put the vodka away!”

In general Sergei Sergeyitch had great success with women. They loved his height, his build, his large features, his idleness and his unhappiness. They said he was very kind, and therefore wasteful; he was idealistic, and therefore impractical; he was honest, pure of heart, unable to adapt himself to people and circumstances, and therefore he had nothing and found no definite occupation. They believed in him deeply, adored him and pampered him with their adoration, so that he himself began to believe that he was idealistic, impractical, honest, pure of heart and that he was a whole head higher and better than these women.
“Why don’t you praise my daughters?” Tatiana said, looking lovingly at her two girls, healthy, well-fed, looking like round buns, and poured them a full plate of rice. “Just look at them! They say all mothers praise their children but I assure you that I’m unbiased: my girls are simply extraordinary. Especially the eldest one!”
Podgorin smiled at her and at the girls, but it was strange to him that this healthy, young, sensible woman, in fact such a large, complex organism, spent all her energy, all her life forces on such a simple, petty occupation as arranging her nest, which was already arranged.
"Maybe that’s the right way to do it," he thought, "but it’s uninteresting and unintelligent.”
“Before he knew it, a bear was on him," Sergey Sergeyitch said, snapping his fingers.

They had dinner and then Tatiana and Varya sat down with Podgorin in the living room and began to talk to him in a low voice, again about business.
“We must bail Sergei Sergeyitch out," said Varya, "it’s our moral obligation. He has his weaknesses, he’s not thrifty and doesn’t think of a rainy day, but that’s because he’s so very kind and generous. His soul is very childish. If you give him a million, he’ll have nothing left in a month and will have given everything away.”
“True, true," said Tatiana, and tears ran down her cheeks. “I’ve suffered with him, but I must confess, he’s a wonderful man!”
And she couldn’t refrain from a little cruelty by reproaching Podgorin:
“But, Misha, your generation’s no longer the same!”
"What’s my generation got to do with it?” Podgorin thought. “And after all Losev is only six years older than me, no more..."
“It’s not easy to live in this world!" Varya said, sighing. "You’re always in danger of losing something. They want to take away your possessions, or somebody close to you gets sick and you’re afraid that they’re going to die – and so on day after day. But what to do, my friends? We must obey the higher will without a murmur, we must remember that in this world nothing’s accidental, everything has a distant goal. You, Misha, haven’t lived or suffered much and you’ll laugh at me; go ahead and laugh, but I have to say it anyway: during my most severe periods of anxiety I’ve had clairvoyances that have revolutionised my soul and I know now that nothing’s accidental and that everything that happens in our lives is necessary.”
Varya like that, already grey-haired, ensconced in a corset and wearing a fancy dress with high sleeves, Varya twirling a cigarette with her long, skinny fingers that for some reason were shaking, Varya so easily falls into mysticism, speaking so languidly and monotonously – how unlike Varya of old, the brash redhead, cheerful, boisterous, brave...
"And where did it all go?" thought Podgorin, listening to her with boredom.
“Sing something, Va!” he said to her to end the talk of clairvoyance. “You used to sing well!”
“Oh Misha, what’s past is past.”
“Well, recite from Nekrasov!”
“I’ve forgotten everything. That came out unintentionally beforehand.”
In spite of her corset and high sleeves it was evident that she was destitute and lived starving in her factory outside of Tula. Her heavy and monotonous toiling, her constant involvement in the problems of others and her concern for others exhausted her and made her prematurely old. Podgorin, looking now at her sad and faded face, thought that she should be helped, not by the Kuzminky family nor by Sergei Sergeyitch, for whom she took such pains, but by herself.
Higher education and the fact that she’d become a doctor didn’t seem to have touched the woman in her. She, like Tatiana, loved weddings, births, christenings and long talks about children; she loved horrible novels with positive outcomes, read in the newspapers only about fires and floods and solemn ceremonies; she longed for Podgorin to propose to Nadezhda, and if that happened she would break down crying with emotion.

He didn’t know whether it was by chance or whether Varya had arranged it so: he was alone with Nadezhda, but the suspicion that he was being watched and that something was wanted from him embarrassed and confused him, and around Nadezhda he felt as if he’d been put in a cage with her.
“Let’s go into the garden," she said.
They went into the garden: he was dissatisfied and frustrated, not knowing what to talk about with her, and she was joyful, proud of his closeness, obviously pleased that he would be there for three more days, and full, perhaps, of sweet dreams and hopes. He didn’t know whether she loved him, but he knew that she’d grown used to him and was attached to him, that she still regarded him as her teacher and that now deep in her heart she was the same as her sister Tatiana had been – thinking only of love and how to get married as soon as possible and have a husband, children and a corner of her own. She still maintains the sense of friendship that’s so strong in children, and it’s very possible that she only respected Podgorin and loved him as a friend. She wasn’t in love with him but with those dreams of a husband and children.
“It’s getting dark," he said.
“Yes. The moon rises late now.”
They walked along the same road as before, near the house. Podgorin didn’t want to go into the back of the garden: it would be dark there and he would have to take Nadezhda by the arm and be very close to her. Shadows moved on the terrace and he sensed that it was Tatiana and Varya watching them.
“I need to consult with you," Nadezhda said, stopping. “If Kuzminky’s sold, Sergey Sergeyitch will go to work for somebody and then our life would change completely. I won’t go with my sister; we’ll part, because I don’t want to be a burden on her family. I’ll have to work. I’ll go to school in Moscow, I’ll earn money and help my sister and her husband. You’ll help me with advice, won’t you?”
Completely unfamiliar with work, she was now enthusiastic about the idea of an independent, working life, making plans for the future – it was written all over her face, and that life, when she would work and help others, seemed beautiful and poetic to her. He saw her pale face and dark eyebrows up close and remembered what an intelligent, shrewd pupil she’d been, what a good student she’d been, and what a pleasure it had been to give her lessons. Now she was no doubt not just a girl who wanted a husband, but a clever, noble girl of unusual kindness, with a gentle, soft soul, from whom anything could be molded like wax, and, if she were in the right environment, she would make an excellent woman.
"Why not marry her, indeed?" Podgorin thought, but immediately, for some reason, he was frightened by the thought and went back into the house.

Tatiana was sitting at the piano in the drawing-room, and her playing reminded him vividly of the past when in this very drawing-room they used to play, sing and dance until midnight with the windows open and the birds in the garden and on the river were singing too. Podgorin cheered up, began to prance, danced with both Nadezhda and Varya, and then sang. He was hampered by a callus on his foot, so he asked if he could put on Sergei Sergeyitch’s shoes and, strange though it may seem, in those shoes he felt himself to be a real kinsman ("just like a brother-in-law...", flashed through his mind), and he felt even more joyful. Seeing him like that made everybody come to life; they cheered up as if rejuvenated and their faces shone with hope: Kuzminky will be saved! It’s so easy to do: you just have to think of something, to rummage through the laws or for Nadya to marry Podgorin... And, obviously, things were already going well. Nadya, rosy and happy, with eyes full of tears, waiting for something unusual, whirled about in the dance and her white dress puffed up and her small beautiful legs in flesh-colored stockings were visible... Varia, very pleased, took Podgorin by the arm and told him in a whisper, with a significant expression:
“Misha, don’t run away from your happiness! Take it while it’s given to you, afterwards you’ll run after it but it’ll be too late to catch up with it!”
Podgorin wanted to promise, to reassure and he himself believed that Kuzminky would be saved and that it will be so easy to arrange.
And you will be the queen of the world..." he sang, beginning to pose, but suddenly he remembered that he could do nothing for these people and fell silent as if it were his fault.
And then he sat quietly in a corner, drawing up his legs that were shod in someone else’s shoes.

Looking at him the others realised there was nothing they could do and became quiet. They closed the piano. And everyone noticed that it was already late and that it was time for bed. Tatiana extinguished the big lamp in the living room.
Podgorin’s bed was prepared in the outbuilding where he’d once lived. Sergei Sergeyitch went to see him off, holding a candle high above his head although the moon was already rising and it was bright outside. They walked along the alley between the lilac bushes, the gravel rustling under their feet.
“Before he knew it, a bear was on top of him," said Sergei.
Podgorin thought he’d heard that phrase a thousand times already. How it bored him! When they reached the outbuilding Sergei took a bottle and two small glasses from his capacious cloak and placed them on the table.
“This is cognac," he said. Number zero zero. Varya’s in the house now – you can’t drink in front of her, she’ll just start talking about alcoholism, but here we’re at ease. The cognac’s excellent!”
We sat down. The cognac was really good.
“Let’s drink a lot of it today!” Sergey Sergeyitch continued, eating a lemon. “I’m an old bourgeois, I like to shake things up sometimes. It’s necessary!”
And in his eyes there was the familiar expression that he needed something from Podgorin and that he was about to ask for something.
“Cheers, my dear!" he went on, sighing, "Things are getting very difficult! Our eccentric brother is finished. Idealism’s out of fashion now. The rouble reigns now and if you want to keep from being knocked off the road you have to lie down before the rouble and to be in awe. But I can’t. It’s too disgusting!”
“What date is the auction?” Podgorin asked to change the conversation.
“On the seventh of August. But I don’t expect to be able to save Kuzminky at all, my dear. The arrears have accumulated enormously, and the estate brings in no income – there are only losses every year. It’s not worth it... Tanya’s sorry, of course, it’s her ancestral property, but I confess that I’m even kind of glad. I’m not a villager at all. My domain is the big, bustling city, my element is fighting!”
He said some more, but not all that he wanted to, and he kept his gaze on Podgorin as if he were waiting for an opportune moment. Suddenly Podgorin saw his eyes close and felt his breath on his face...
“My dear fellow, save me!” Sergey Sergeyitch exclaimed, breathing heavily. “Give me two hundred roubles! I beg you!”
Podgorin wanted to say that he was short of money himself and that he thought that it would be better to give the two hundred roubles to a poor man or even to lose them at cards; but, feeling terribly embarrassed, he felt trapped in this little room with only a candle and, wanting to escape from the breathing and the soft hands that held him by the waist and seemed to be sticking to him, he looked quickly in his pockets for his purse where his money was.
“Here..." he muttered, taking out a hundred rubles. “The rest later. I’ve nothing else with me. You see, I can’t refuse," he went on irritably, becoming angry. “I have an obnoxious woman’s temper. Only, please, give me the money back afterwards. I need it myself!”
“I thank you. Thank you, my friend!”
“And for God’s sake, stop imagining that you’re an idealist. You’re as idealistic as I’m a turkey. You’re just a frivolous, idle man, nothing more!”
Sergei Sergeyevich sighed deeply and sat down on the sofa.
“You, my dear, are angry," he said, "but if you only knew how hard it is for me! I’m going through a terrible time! My dear fellow, I swear I’m not sorry for myself, no! I pity my wife and children. If it weren’t for my children and my wife, I would have killed myself long ago!”
Suddenly his shoulders and head shook and he started sobbing.
“That’s all that’s lacking!” said Podgorin, pacing the room in agitation and feeling greatly annoyed. “Well, what’s there to be done with a man who’s done a great deal of evil and then weeps? Those tears of yours are disarming, I’m unable to say anything to you. You weep, so therefore you’re in the right!”
“Have I done a great deal of evil?” Sergei Sergeyevich asked, getting up and looking at Podgorin in surprise. “My dear fellow, are you saying that? Have I done a great deal of harm? Oh, how little you know me! How little you understand me!”
“Very well, let me not understand you, but please don’t weep. It’s disgusting!”
“Oh, how little you know me!” Losev repeated in all sincerity. “How little you know me!”
“Look at yourself in the mirror”, Podgorin continued, “you’re no longer a young man, you’ll soon be old, it’s time you came to your senses at last, to give yourself some account of who and what you are. All your life you’ve been doing nothing, all your life there’s been this idle, childish chattering, mucking about, acting – have you not gotten dizzy and tired of living like this? It’s hard being with you! I’m bored out of my wits with you!”

Having said that Podgorin went out of the building and slammed the door. Almost for the first time in his life he’d been sincere and had said what he wanted to say.
A little later he was already regretting having been so harsh. What good is it to talk seriously or to argue with a man who lies a lot, who eats a lot, who drinks a lot, who spends a lot of other people’s money and at the same time is convinced that he’s an idealist and a sufferer? Here you’re dealing with stupidity or with old, bad habits that are firmly rooted in the body like a disease and can no longer be cured. Anyway, indignation and severe rebukes are useless here, you should rather laugh; one good scoff would do more than a dozen sermons!
"It is easier to pay no attention at all," thought Podgorin, "and more importantly, not to give him any money!”

After a while he no longer thought about Sergei Sergeyitch, nor of his hundred roubles. It was a quiet, brooding night, very bright. When Podgorin looked up at the sky on moonlit nights it seemed to him that only he and the moon were awake while everyone else was asleep or dozing; and now neither people nor money came to mind and his mood gradually became calm and peaceful; he felt alone in the world, and in the silence of the night the sound of his own steps seemed to somehow make him sad.
The garden was enclosed by a white stone fence. At the right-hand corner of the garden there was a tower that had been built a long time ago, in the time of serfdom. The bottom of the tower was of stone and on the top was a wooden platform with a tapered roof and a long spire with a black weather-vane. Two doors at the bottom of the tower opened into the garden, and there was a creaky staircase that led up to the platform. Old broken chairs were piled under the stairs, and the moonlight, penetrating now through the door, illuminated the chairs, and with their crooked, upturned legs they seemed to come to life in the night-light and to be lying in wait for someone here in silence.
Podgorin climbed the stairs up to the landing and sat down there. Immediately beyond the fence was a boundary moat with a rampart, and beyond that was a field, wide and flooded with moonlight. Podgorin knew that just straight ahead, three versts from the homestead, was the forest, and now he thought that he could see a dark lane in the distance. There was the screeching of quail and nightjars; and occasionally from the forest came the cry of a cuckoo that was also awake.
Footsteps were heard. Someone was walking through the garden, approaching the tower.
A dog barked.
“Beetle!” a woman’s voice called softly. “Beetle, come back!”
A moment later a black dog, an old friend of Podgorin’s, was up on the rampart. It stopped and wagged its tail in a friendly gesture, looking up in the direction where Podgorin was sitting. And then, a little while later, a white figure rose from the black moat like a shadow and stopped beside the rampart. It was Nadezhda.
“What do you see there?” she asked the dog, and began to look up at the tower. She couldn’t see Podgorin but probably felt his nearness, for she was smiling and her pale face, illuminated by the moon, seemed happy. A black shadow from the tower stretched across the ground far into the field; a motionless white figure with a blissful smile on her pale face, a black dog, the shadows of both – and everything all together was like a dream...
“There’s someone there..." said Nadezhda quietly.

She stood and waited for him to come down or to call her to come up to him and finally to explain herself, and they would both be happy in this quiet, beautiful night. White, pale, thin, very beautiful in the moonlight, she waited for affection; her constant dreams of happiness and love had exhausted her, and she was no longer able to conceal her feelings, her whole figure and the sparkle of her eyes, her frozen, happy smile betrayed her innermost thoughts, and he felt uneasy and shrunk back, not knowing whether to treat everything as usual, as a joke, or to remain silent. He felt annoyed, and realized that here in the manor house, or in the moonlit night near this beautiful, loving, dreaming girl, he was as indifferent as he was on the Malaya Bronnaya in Moscow; and that evidently this poetry has outlived itself for him in the same way as that other poetry. Rendezvous on moonlit nights, and white figures with thin waists, and mysterious shadows, and towers, and estates, and such types as Sergey Sergeyitch, and such as himself, Podgorin, with their cold boredom, constant annoyance, have become obsolete, with an inability to adapt to real life, with an inability to take from it what it can give, and with a languishing, aching thirst for what isn’t and cannot be in this world. And now, sitting here on this tower, he would have preferred a good fireworks display, or some moonlit procession, or Varya reciting "The Iron Road" again, or another woman who, standing on the rampart where Nadezhda now stood, would have said something interesting and new, something that had nothing to do with love or happiness, and if she did speak of love it would have been a call to new forms of life, high and reasonable, on the eve of which we were perhaps already living, and which we could sometimes sense...
“There’s no one there!" said Nadezhda.
She remained standing there for a minute and then went towards the forest, quietly, with her head bowed. The dog ran on ahead. And Podgorin saw the white blur for a long time yet.
"How it’s all worked out, though..." he repeated mentally as he returned to his outbuilding.
He couldn’t imagine what he would talk about tomorrow with Sergei Sergeyitch and with Tatiana, how he would behave with Nadezhda – and the day after tomorrow too, and he felt in advance embarrassment, fear and boredom. How to fill up those long three days that he’d promised to stay here? He remembered the conversation about clairvoyance and Sergey Sergeyitch’s phrase: "Before he knew it, a bear was on top of him", he remembered that tomorrow to please Tatiana he would have to smile at her well-fed, plump girls – and he decided to leave.

At half past six Sergei showed up on the terrace of the large house in a Bukhara dressing gown and a fez with a tassel. Podgorin, not wasting a minute, went up to him and said goodbye.
“I have to be in Moscow by ten o’clock," he said without looking at him. “I’d entirely forgotten that I was expected at the notary’s. Please let me go. When the others get up, please tell them I’m sorry, terribly sorry..."
He couldn’t hear what Sergei was saying to him and he was in a hurry, and he kept looking at the windows of the big house, fearing that the ladies might wake up and detain him. He was ashamed of his nervousness. He felt that this was the last time he would be in Kuzminky and that he would never come here anymore. As he was leaving he looked back at the outbuilding where he’d once spent so many good days, but his soul was cold and he wasn’t sad…

At home the first thing he saw on his desk was the note that he’d received yesterday. "Dear Misha," he read, "you have completely forgotten us, come soon..." And for some reason he remembered how Nadezhda had been spinning in the dance, how her dress had bulged out and how her legs in their flesh-coloured stockings were visible…
Ten minutes later he was already sitting at his desk, working and no longer thinking about Kuzminky.


Anton Chekhov in 1901

A Visit With Friends

Footnotes

[1also known as:
- All Friends Together,
- With Friends,
- A Visit to Friends

A Visit With Friends (Russian title: У знакомых) was first published in the magazine "Cosmopolis. International Journal"." (Russian title: Cosmopolis. Международный журнал) on February 1, 1898.

[2by Ray, with the help of DeepL and Google Translate

[3Jamais de ma vie! – never in my life!