Anton Chekhov’s ‘New Year Martyrs’

photo by Bob Vonderau

New Year Martyrs
by Anton Chekhov


The streets are a picture of hell in a golden frame. If it were not for the festive expression on the faces of doormen and policemen, you might have thought that the enemy had landed in the capital. Smart sleighs and carriages are dashing back and forth, creating noise and commotion… People are hurrying along the pavements to pay visits, their tongues hanging out, and their eyes rolling… They are scurrying past at such a rate that if Potiphar’s wife was to grasp some Collegiate Registrar by the coat-tails, she would be left holding on to not just the coat-tails, but the civil servant’s entire side, complete with liver and spleen…

Suddenly an ear-splitting police whistle can be heard. What has happened? The doormen leave their positions and run in the direction of the whistle…

‘Move along now! Keep walking!’ Nothing for you to see here! Never seen a dead body, is that it? You people…’

A well-dressed man in a beaver fur coat and new rubber galoshes is stretched out on the pavement by one of the doorways… A pair of broken spectacles lies near his deathly pale, newly shaven face. The fur coat has come unbuttoned on his chest, and the assembled crowd can see a bit of his frock-coat and a St Stanislav medal, Third Class. His chest is moving up and down slowly and heavily, his eyes are shut…

BOOK_Chekhov_Exclamation_MarkSir!’ says a policeman, poking the civil servant. ‘Sir, it is not permitted to lie here! Your honour!’

But not a peep from the gentleman… Having fussed over him for about five minutes without managing to bring him round, the custodians of the law put him into a cab and take him to casualty…

‘Nice trousers!’ says the policeman while he helps the medical attendant to undress the sick man. ‘Must have cost about six roubles. And that waistcoat is pretty smart too… To judge from his trousers, he’s from the nobility…’

Having lain in casualty for about an hour and a half, and drunk a whole phial of valerian, the civil servant comes to… They find out that he is Titular Councillor Gerasim Kuzmich Sinkleteyev.

‘Where does it hurt?’ asks the police doctor.

‘Happy New Year, Happy New Year…’ he mumbles, staring blankly at the ceiling and breathing heavily.

‘The same to you… But… where does it hurt? Why did you fall down? Try and remember! Was it something you drank?’

‘Mmm… no…’

‘So what made you feel so poorly?’

‘I can’t remember… I… I was doing the rounds…’

‘So did you have lots of people to visit?’

‘No, not really… just a few… I came home from church… had a cup of tea, then I set off for Nikolay Mikhailich’s… I had to sign the card there, of course… From there I went down Ofitserskaya Street to Kachalkin’s… I had to sign the card there too… And I also remember that there was a draught blowing in the hall there… From Kachalkin’s I crossed to the Vyborg Side and dropped by Ivan Ivanych’s… Signed there…’

‘Another civil servant has been brought in!’ announces the policeman.

‘From Ivan Ivanych’s’ Sinkleteyev continues, ‘I went to shake hands with Khrymov the merchant… I dropped in to wish his family a Happy New Year… They suggested we raise a glass… And how could I refuse? You offend people if you refuse… So, I downed about three glasses… ate a bit of sausage… And from there I went across to the Petersburg Side to pay a call on Likhodeyev… He is a good man…’

‘You did all this on foot?’

‘Yes, on foot… I signed the card at Likhodeyev’s… From there I went to Pelageya Emelyanovna’s… Who sat me down to breakfast and treated me to coffee. The coffee made me break out in a sweat – it must have gone to my head… From Pelageya Emelyanovna I went to Obleukhov… Vasily Obleukhov he’s called, it was his AUTHOR_Chekhovname day… So I couldn’t upset him by refusing a piece of name day cake…’

‘A retired officer and two civil servants have been brought in!’ reports the policeman.

‘I had a piece of cake, a shot of rowanberry liqueur and on to Sadovaya Street to visit Izyumov… At Izyumov’s I had a cold beer… that hit the spot… From Izyumov I went to Koshkin, and then to Karl Karlich… and from there to my uncle, Pyotr Semyonich… His niece Nastya gave me some hot chocolate to drink… Then I dropped in on Lyapkin… No, I tell a lie, it wasn’t Lyapkin, it was Darya Nikodimovna… I went to Lyapkin after visiting her… Anyway, I felt fine all the time… Then I visited Ivanov, Kurdyukov and Shiller, and I also visited Colonel Poroshkov, and I felt fine there too… I visited Dunkin the merchant… He insisted I had a glass of cognac and ate some sausage and cabbage… I had about three glasses… and I ate a couple of sausages, but I still felt alright… It was only when I was leaving Ryzhov’s that I felt my head… beginning to spin… I started to feel weak… I don’t know why…’

‘You have worn yourself out… Have a little rest, and we will send you home…’

‘I can’t go home…’ groans Sinkleteyev. ‘I still have to call on my brother-in-law Kuzma Vavilich… the executor, and Natalya Egorovna… There are a lot of people I still haven’t visited…’

‘And you shouldn’t be visiting them either.’

‘I have… You’ve got to wish people a Happy New Year… It’s important… My life won’t be worth living if I don’t call on Natalya Egorovna… You are going to have to discharge me doctor, you must…’

Sinkleteyev stands up and reaches for his clothes.

‘You can go home if you want,’ says the doctor, ‘but you shouldn’t even think about paying any more visits…’

‘Oh, it will be alright…’ says Sinkleteyev with a sigh. ‘I’ll take it easy…’

The civil servant gets dressed slowly, wraps himself up in his fur coat and totters unsteadily out on to the street.

‘Five more civil servants have been brought in!’ announces the policeman. ‘Where shall I put them?’


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