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A Slander
Anton Chekhov
SERGE KAPITONICH AHINEEV, the writing master, was marrying his daughter to the
teacher of history and geography. The wedding festivities were going off most successfully.
In the drawing room there was singing, playing, and dancing. Waiters hired from the club
were flitting distractedly about the rooms, dressed in black swallow-tails and dirty white
ties. There was a continual hubbub and din of conversation. Sitting side by side on the sofa,
the teacher of mathematics, Tarantulov, the French teacher, Pasdequoi, and the junior
assessor of taxes, Mzda, were talking hurriedly and interrupting one another as they
described to the guests cases of persons being buried alive, and gave their opinions on
spiritualism. None of them believed in spiritualism, but all admitted that there were many
things in this world which would always be beyond the mind of man. In the next room the
literature master, Dodonsky, was explaining to the visitors the cases in which a sentry has
the right to fire on passers-by. The subjects, as you perceive, were alarming, but very
agreeable. Persons whose social position precluded them from entering were looking in at
the windows from the yard.
Just at midnight the master of the house went into the kitchen to see whether everything
was ready for supper. The kitchen from floor to ceiling was filled with fumes composed of
goose, duck, and many other odours. On two tables the accessories, the drinks and light
refreshments, were set out in artistic disorder. The cook, Marfa, a red-faced woman whose
figure was like a barrel with a belt around it, was bustling about the tables.
"Show me the sturgeon, Marfa," said Ahineev, rubbing his hands and licking his lips.
"What a perfume! I could eat up the whole kitchen. Come, show me the sturgeon."
Marfa went up to one of the benches and cautiously lifted a piece of greasy newspaper.
Under the paper on an immense dish there reposed a huge sturgeon, masked in jelly and
decorated with capers, olives, and carrots. Ahineev gazed at the sturgeon and gasped. His
face beamed, he turned his eyes up. He bent down and with his lips emitted the sound of an
ungreased wheel. After standing a moment he snapped his fingers with delight and once
more smacked his lips.
"Ah-ah! the sound of a passionate kiss. . . . Who is it you're kissing out there, little Marfa?"
came a voice from the next room, and in the doorway there appeared the cropped head of
the assistant usher, Vankin. "Who is it? A-a-h! . . . Delighted to meet you! Sergei
Kapitonich! You're a fine grandfather, I must say! Tête-à-tête with the fair sex--tette!"
"I'm not kissing," said Ahineev in confusion. "Who told you so, you fool? I was only . . . I
smacked my lips . . . in reference to . . . as an indication of. . . pleasure . . . at the sight of the
"Tell that to the marines!" The intrusive face vanished, wearing a broad grin.
Ahineev flushed.
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"Hang it!" he thought, "the beast will go now and talk scandal. He'll disgrace me to all the
town, the brute."
Ahineev went timidly into the drawing-room and looked stealthily round for Vankin.
Vankin was standing by the piano, and, bending down with a jaunty air, was whispering
something to the inspector's sister-in-law, who was laughing.
"Talking about me!" thought Ahineev. "About me, blast him! And she believes it . . .
believes it! She laughs! Mercy on us! No, I can't let it pass . . . I can't. I must do something
to prevent his being believed. . . . I'll speak to them all, and he'll be shown up for a fool and
a gossip."
Ahineev scratched his head, and still overcome with embarrassment, went up to Pasdequoi.
"I've just been in the kitchen to see after the supper," he said to the Frenchman. "I know you
are fond of fish, and I've a sturgeon, my dear fellow, beyond everything! A yard and a half
long! Ha, ha, ha! And, by the way . . . I was just forgetting. . . . In the kitchen just now, with
that sturgeon . . . quite a little story! I went into the kitchen just now and wanted to look at
the supper dishes. I looked at the sturgeon and I smacked my lips with relish . . . at the
piquancy of it. And at the very moment that fool Vankin came in and said: . . . 'Ha, ha,
ha! . . . So you're kissing here!' Kissing Marfa, the cook! What a thing to imagine, silly fool!
The woman is a perfect fright, like all the beasts put together, and he talks about kissing!
Queer fish!"
"Who's a queer fish?" asked Tarantulov, coming up.
"Why he, over there -- Vankin! I went into the kitchen . . ."
And he told the story of Vankin. ". . . He amused me, queer fish! I'd rather kiss a dog than
Marfa, if you ask me," added Ahineev. He looked round and saw behind him Mzda.
"We were talking of Vankin," he said. "Queer fish, he is! He went into the kitchen, saw me
beside Marfa, and began inventing all sorts of silly stories. 'Why are you kissing?' he says.
He must have had a drop too much. 'And I'd rather kiss a turkeycock than Marfa,' I said,
'And I've a wife of my own, you fool,' said I. He did amuse me!"
"Who amused you?" asked the priest who taught Scripture in the school, going up to
"Vankin. I was standing in the kitchen, you know, looking at the sturgeon. . . ."
And so on. Within half an hour or so all the guests knew the incident of the sturgeon and
"Let him tell away now!" thought Ahineev, rubbing his hands. "Let him! He'll begin telling
his story and they'll say to him at once, 'Enough of your improbable nonsense, you fool, we
know all about it!' "
And Ahineev was so relieved that in his joy he drank four glasses too many. After escorting
the young people to their room, he went to bed and slept like an innocent babe, and next
day he thought no more of the incident with the sturgeon. But, alas! man proposes, but God
disposes. An evil tongue did its evil work, and Ahineev's strategy was of no avail. Just a
week later -- to be precise, on Wednesday after the third lesson -- when Ahineev was
standing in the middle of the teacher's room, holding forth on the vicious propensities of a
boy called Visekin, the head master went up to him and drew him aside:
"Look here, Sergei Kapitonich," said the head master, "you must excuse me. . . . It's not my
business; but all the same I must make you realize. . . . It's my duty. You see, there are
rumors that you are romancing with that . . . cook. . . . It's nothing to do with me, but . . .
flirt with her, kiss her . . . as you please, but don't let it be so public, please. I entreat you!
Don't forget that you're a schoolmaster."
Ahineev turned cold and faint. He went home like a man stung by a whole swarm of bees,
like a man scalded with boiling water. As he walked home, it seemed to him that the whole
town was looking at him as though he were smeared with pitch. At home fresh trouble
awaited him.
"Why aren't you gobbling up your food as usual?" his wife asked him at dinner. "What are
you so pensive about? Brooding over your amours? Pining for your Marfa? I know all about
it, Mohammedan! Kind friends have opened my eyes! O-o-o! . . . you savage!"
And she slapped him in the face. He got up from the table, not feeling the earth under his
feet, and without his hat or coat, made his way to Vankin. He found him at home.
"You scoundrel!" he addressed him. "Why have you covered me with mud before all the
town? Why did you set this slander going about me?"
"What slander? What are you talking about?"
"Who was it gossiped of my kissing Marfa? Wasn't it you? Tell me that. Wasn't it you, you
Vankin blinked and twitched in every fibre of his battered countenance, raised his eyes to
the icon and articulated, "God blast me! Strike me blind and lay me out, if I said a single
word about you! May I be left without house and home, may I be stricken with worse than
Vankin's sincerity did not admit of doubt. It was evidently not he who was the author of the
"But who, then, who?" Ahineev wondered, going over all his acquaintances in his mind and
beating himself on the breast. "Who, then?"
Who, then? We, too, ask the reader.
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