Pigfaces Lament: A Short Story

Flea (musician)
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It had been bought on the spur of the moment, simply because it had happened to turn up. Chekhov had never been to the place before he bought it, and only visited it when all the formalities had been completed. One could hardly turn round near the house for the mass of hurdles and fences. Moreover the Chekhovs moved into it in the winter when it was under snow, and all boundaries being obliterated, it was impossible to tell what was theirs and what was not.

He was delighted by the approach of spring and the fresh surprises that were continually being revealed by the melting snow. Everything that was amiss in the place, everything he did not like, was at once abolished or altered. But in spite of all the defects of the house and its surroundings, and the appalling road from the station nearly nine miles and the lack of rooms, so many visitors came that there was nowhere to put them, and beds had sometimes to be made up in the passages.

These were all permanent inmates of Melihovo. Chekhov himself planted the trees and looked after them.

His father worked from morning till night weeding the paths in the garden and making new ones. Everything attracted the new landowner: planting the bulbs and watching the flight of rooks and starlings, sowing the clover, and the goose hatching out her goslings.

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After drinking his coffee he would go out into the garden and would spend a long time scrutinizing every fruit-tree and every rose-bush, now cutting off a branch, now training a shoot, or he would squat on his heels by a stump and gaze at something on the ground. It turned out that there was more land than they needed acres , and they farmed it themselves, with no bailiff or steward, assisted only by two labourers, Frol and Ivan.

Antosha wants his dinner! When the table was laid there were so many homemade and other dainties prepared by his mother that there would hardly be space on the table for them. There was not room to sit at the table either. Besides the five permanent members of the family there were invariably outsiders as well. Lights were put out and all was stillness in the house; the only sound was a subdued singing and monotonous recitation. This was Pavel Yegorovitch repeating the evening service in his room: he was religious and liked to say his prayers aloud. From the first day that Chekhov moved to Melihovo the sick began flocking to him from twenty miles around.

They came on foot or were brought in carts, and often he was fetched to patients at a distance. Sometimes from early in the morning peasant women and children were standing before his door waiting. He would go out, listen to them and sound them, and would never let one go away without advice and medicine. His expenditure on drugs was considerable, as he had to keep a regular store of them. Once some wayfarers brought Chekhov a man they had picked up by the roadside in the middle of the night, stabbed in the stomach with a pitchfork.

The peasant was carried into his study and put down in the middle of the floor, and Chekhov spent a long time looking after him, examining his wounds and bandaging them up. But what was hardest for Chekhov was visiting the sick at their own homes: sometimes there was a journey of several hours, and in this way the time essential for writing was wasted. The first winter at Melihovo was cold; it lasted late and food was short.

Easter came in the snow. There was a church at Melihovo in which a service was held only once a year, at Easter. Visitors from Moscow were staying with Chekhov. The family got up a choir among themselves and sang all the Easter matins and mass. Pavel Yegorovitch conducted as usual. It was out of the ordinary and touching, and the peasants were delighted: it warmed their hearts to their new neighbours.

Then the thaw came. The roads became appalling. There were only three broken-down horses on the estate and not a wisp of hay. The horses had to be fed on rye straw chopped up with an axe and sprinkled with flour. One of the horses was vicious and there was no getting it out of the yard. Another was stolen in the fields and a dead horse left in its place. And so for a long time there was only one poor spiritless beast to drive which was nicknamed Anna Petrovna.

This Anna Petrovna contrived to trot to the station, to take Chekhov to his patients, to haul logs and to eat nothing but straw sprinkled with flour. But Chekhov and his family did not lose heart.

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They had no experience at all, but bought masses of books on the management of the land, and every question, however small, was debated in common. Their first successes delighted Chekhov.

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He had thirty acres under rye, thirty under oats, and fully thirty under hay. Marvels were being done in the kitchen garden: tomatoes and artichokes did well in the open air. The position of Melihovo on the highroad and the news that Chekhov the author had settled there inevitably led to new acquaintances. Doctors and members of the local Zemstvos began visiting Chekhov; acquaintance was made with the officials of the district, and Chekhov was elected a member of the Serpuhov Sanitary Council.

At that time cholera was raging in the South of Russia.

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Every day it came nearer and nearer to the province of Moscow, and everywhere it found favourable conditions among the population weakened by the famine of autumn and winter. It was essential to take immediate measures for meeting the cholera, and the Zemstvo of Serpuhov worked its hardest. Chekhov as a doctor and a member of the Sanitary Council was asked to take charge of a section. He immediately gave his services for nothing. He had to drive about among the manufacturers of the district persuading them to take adequate measures to combat the cholera.

Owing to his efforts the whole section containing twenty-five villages and hamlets was covered with a network of the necessary institutions. For several months Chekhov scarcely got out of his chaise. During that time he had to drive all over his section, receive patients at home, and do his literary work. He returned home shattered and exhausted, but always behaved as though he were doing something trivial; he cracked little jokes and made everyone laugh as before, and carried on conversations with his dachshund, Quinine, about her supposed sufferings.

By early autumn the place had become unrecognizable. The outhouses had been rebuilt, unnecessary fences had been removed, rose-trees had been planted, a flower-bed had been laid out; in the fields before the gates Chekhov was planning to dig a big new pond. With what interest he watched each day the progress of the work upon it! He planted trees round it and dropped into it tiny carp and perch which he brought with him in a jar from Moscow. The pond became later on more like an ichthyological station than a pond, as there was no kind of fish in Russia, except the pike, of which Chekhov had not representatives in this pond.

He liked sitting on the dam on its bank and watching with ecstasy shoals of little fish coming suddenly to the surface and then hiding in its depths.

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An excellent well had been dug in Melihovo before this. Chekhov had been very anxious that it should be in Little Russian style with a crane. But the position did not allow of this, and it was made with a big wheel painted yellow like the wells at Russian railway stations. The question where to dig this well and whether the water in it would be good greatly interested Chekhov.

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Can you find out beforehand what the water will be like? But the well, like the pond, was a great success, and the water turned out to be excellent. He began seriously planning to build a new house and farm buildings. Creative activity was his passion.

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He was never satisfied with what he had ready-made; he longed to make something new. The winter of was a severe one with a great deal of snow.

The swept paths in the garden were like deep trenches. By then Chekhov had finished his work in connection with the cholera and he began to live the life of a hermit. His sister found employment in Moscow; only his father and mother were left with him in the house, and the hours seemed very long.