"Saintly Simplicity" (1885) by Anton Chekhov

(actualisé le ) by Anton Chekhov

Savya, the aged priest of a little town, is delighted to by the visit of his son Alexander, a celebrated Moscow lawyer whom he hadn’t seen for fifteen years since he had sent him off to university in Moscow. The father can’t relate to the big-city life that the son has been leading: he thinks that the son must earn a thousand roubles a year to have such nice clothes and a gold watch, and the son throws out when he asks him about it that he usually gets thirty thousand. He tells his father that his divorce cost ten thousand, and so on, but Savya just thinks that Alex is a great liar. At the end of the evening he tells his son that he’s bequeathed him his life savings, fifteen hundred roubles, a sum that the son just laughs at. But Savya is nevertheless very proud of his distinguished son, a university man.

An amusing and even moving story by the 25-year-old author, with particularly interesting insights into the lifestyle of up-and-coming big-city professionals in the Russia of the eighteen-eighties. (1,800 words)

Translated specially for this site [1].


e-books are available for downloading below.



Father Savva Zhezlov, the aged rector of the Holy Trinity Church in the town of P., had an unexpected visit from his son Alexander, a well-known Moscow lawyer. The lonely old man, a widower, turned pale, trembled and was petrified on seeing his only child whom he hadn’t seen for 12-15 years, ever since he’d accompanied him to university. His joy and elation were boundless.
On the evening of his arrival father and son were chatting. The lawyer ate, drank and was in a festive spirit.
"You’ve got a really nice place here!” he exclaimed, fidgeting in his chair. “It’s cozy and warm, and smells like something patriarchal. I must say, it’s nice!”
Father Savva, putting his hands behind his back and openly remarking to the old cook that he was proud to have such a grown-up and gallant son, walked around the table and tried to put himself in a "scholarly" mood to please his guest.
"That’s how it is, my dear," he said. “It’s turned out exactly as I wished in my heart: you and I both went in for education. You went to university and I graduated from the academy in Kiev... We understand each other... But I don’t know how academies work nowadays. In my day they were heavily into classicism and even studied Hebrew. And now?”
"I don’t know. And you, father, have a mean little sturgeon here. I’m already full, but I’am still eating.”
"Eat, eat. You have to eat more, because your work is mental, not physical... hmm... not physical... You’re a university student, you work with your head. How long are you going to stay for?”
"I didn’t come to visit. I came here just by chance, like a deus ex machina. I’m here on tour to defend your former mayor. You probably know that there’s going to be a trial tomorrow.”
"So... so you’re a litigator? A lawyer?”
"Yes, I’m a barrister.”
"Well... my goodness! What’s your rank?”
"My God, I just don’t know, Father.”
"I should ask about his salary," thought Father Savva, "but it’s an immodest question... Judging by his clothes and his gold watch, he must be getting more than a thousand.”
The old man and the lawyer were silent for a moment.
"I didn’t know you had such sturgeons, or I would’ve come to see you last year," said the son. “Last year I wasn’t far from here, in one of your provincial towns. Funny towns you have here!”
"They’re ridiculous... certainly!" agreed Father Savva. “What can you do? Far from the major centres... lots of prejudice. Civilization hasn’t yet penetrated here...”
"That’s not the point... Listen to this funny incident that happened to me. I went to the theatre in your provincial town, I went up to the box office to buy a ticket and they told me: there’ll be no performance because not a single ticket has been sold yet! So I asked them: how much do all the tickets cost? They said three hundred roubles! I paid the three hundred roubles out of boredom, and when I started watching their exciting drama, I got even more bored... Ha-ha!”
Father Savva looked at his son incredulously, looked at the cook and chuckled into his fist...
"What a liar!" he thought.
"Where did you get the three hundred roubles, Shurenka?” he asked timidly.
"Where did I get it from? Out of my own pocket, of course...”
"Um... How much do you, pardon my immodest question, make in salary?”
"It depends... One year I make thirty thousand, and another year I don’t even make twenty... There are different years.”
"What a liar! Ho-ho-ho-ho! What a liar!” thought Father Savva, laughing and looking lovingly at his son’s amused face. “Lying youth! Ho-ho-ho-ho... That’s enough – thirty thousand!"
"Unbelievable, Sashenka!” he said. “Sorry, but... ho-ho-ho... thirty thousand! You could build two houses for that money...”
"You don’t believe me?”
"It’s not that I don’t believe you, it’s just that... how can I put it... you’re too much... Ho-ho-ho... Well, if you make so much money, what do you do with it?”
"I live, Father... In the capital, my dear, life is hard. You have to give a thousand here and five there. I keep horses, I play cards... and sometimes I do some shopping.”
"That’s fine... And you’d be saving up!”
"I can’t... I’m not the type to save up... (the lawyer sighed). I just can’t help it. Last year I bought myself a house on Polyanka for sixty thousand. It’ll be a help for old age after all… And what do you think? Not even two months after I bought it I had to pawn it. I pawned it and all the money – yuck! I gambled it away, I drank it away.”
"Ho-ho-ho-ho! What a liar!” the old man shrieked. “That’s a funny lie!”
"I’m not lying, Father.”
"Is it possible to lose a house or to squander it?”
"You can drink away not just a house, but the globe, too. Tomorrow I’ll make five thousand just like that, but I have a feeling that I won’t be able to get them to Moscow. That’s my fate.”
"It’s not a fate, it’s a fortune!" Father Savva corrected, coughing and looking at the old cook with dignity. “I’m sorry, Shurenka, but I doubt your word. What do you get such sums for?”
"For my talent...”
"Um... Maybe you get three thousand, but thirty thousand, or, say, buying houses, I’m sorry... I doubt it. But let’s drop the arguing. Now tell me, what’s it like in Moscow? Is it fun? Do you know a lot of people?”
"A lot. The whole of Moscow knows me.”
"Ho-ho-ho-ho! What a liar! Ho-ho-ho! You’re recounting miracles and wonders to me, my dear.”
The father and son talked like that for a long time. The lawyer talked about his marriage with a forty-thousand-dollar dowry, his trips to Nizhny, and his divorce that had cost him ten thousand. The old man listened, clapped his hands and laughed.
"What a liar! Ho-ho-ho! I didn’t know, Shurenka, that you’re such a master at telling tall tales! Ho-ho-ho-ho! I’m not judging you. It’s fun to listen to you. Tell me more, tell me more!”
"But I’ve talked too much," the lawyer concluded, getting up from the table. “The trial,’s tomorrow and I haven’t read the case yet. Goodnight!”
After seeing his son off to his bedroom, Father Savva went into a rapture.
"Well then!? Did you see?" he whispered to the cook. “That’s what he is... a university man, a humanist, an emancipated fellow, and not ashamed to visit the old man. He’d forgotten his father and he suddenly remembered him. He remembered! Let me, he thought, remember my old man! Ho-ho-ho. A nice son! A good son! And did you notice? He treats me like a peer... he sees a fellow scientist in me. So he understands me. It’s a pity we didn’t call the deacon, he’d have seen him.”
After pouring out his soul to the old woman, Father Savva tiptoed to the bedroom and peeped through the keyhole. The lawyer was lying on his bed, smoking a cigar and reading a voluminous notebook. Beside him on the table was a wine bottle that Father Savva hadn’t seen before.
"I’ve just come for a minute... to see if you’re comfortable," the old man mumbled as he walked towards his son. “Are you comfortable? Is it soft enough? You should get undressed.”
The lawyer mumbled and frowned. Father Savva sat down at his feet and thought a moment.
"So..." he began after a moment’s silence. “I keep thinking about what you said. On the one hand I thank you for amusing your old father, but on the other hand, as a father and... and an educated man, I can’t be silent and refrain from commenting. I know you were just joking at dinner, but, you know, both faith and science have condemned lying even in jest. Ahem... I have a cough. Ahem... I’m sorry, but I’m like a father. Where did you get the wine from?”
"I brought it with me. Would you like some? It’s good wine, eight roubles a bottle.”
"Eight? What a liar!” Father Savva clapped his hands. “Ho-ho-ho! What’s there to pay eight roubles for? Ho-ho-ho! I’ll buy you the best wine for a ruble. Ho-ho-ho-ho!”
"Well, go off, old man, you’re in my way... Go off!”
The old man, chuckling and clapping his hands, went out and shut the door quietly behind him. At midnight, after reading the "Precepts" and giving orders to the old woman for the next day’s meals, Father Savva looked once more into his son’s room.
The son continued to read, drink and smoke.
“Time for bed... get undressed and put out the candle..." said the old man, bringing the smell of incense and candle smoke into his son’s room. “It’s twelve o’clock... Is that the second bottle? Wow!”
“You can’t do without wine, Father... If you don’t get yourself excited, you can’t do the job!”
Savva sat down on the bed, was quiet and began:
“This, my dear, is the case... yes... I don’t know if I’ll live long enough to see you again, so it’s better if I give you my testament today... You see... In all the forty years of my service I’ve saved up fifteen hundred roubles for you. When I die, take them, but...”
Father Savva blew his nose solemnly and continued:
“But don’t squander them and keep them... And please, after my death, send my niece Varenka a hundred roubles. If you can spare it, send 20 rubles to Zinaida too. They’re orphans.”
“You can send them the whole 1,500... I don’t need them, Father...”
“Are you lying?”
“I’m serious... I’ll squander them anyway.”
“Um... I’ve been saving them up!” Savva was offended. “Every penny I saved for you...”
“Please, I’ll put your money under the glass as a token of parental love, but I don’t need it that way... 1,500 – phew!”
“Well, suit yourself... If I’d known, I wouldn’t have kept it, wouldn’t have cherished it... Go to sleep!”
Father Savva made the sign of the cross over the lawyer and left. He was slightly offended... His son’s careless, indifferent attitude to his forty-year savings embarrassed him. But his feeling of resentment and embarrassment soon passed away. The old man was again drawn to his son to chat, to talk "scientifically", to recall the past, but he no longer had the courage to disturb the busy lawyer. He paced up and down through the darkened rooms, thought and thought, and went into the front room to look at his son’s coat. He couldn’t contain his own excitement, he grasped the coat with both hands and embraced it, kissed it and christened it as if it weren’t a coat, but his son himself, a "university student"... He just couldn’t sleep…


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Footnotes

[1by Ray and Mat.