A Meeting with Chekhov

Alexander Tikhonov

Preparations were in full swing for Savva Morozov’s arrival at his estate. The manager, a busy, paunchy little man reminiscent of Mr Pickwick, and known to everyone as ‘Uncle Kostia’, had been busy for two entire weeks frantically scuttling from one end of the large estate to the other – so frantically he hardly knew whether it was day or night. He had plenty to worry about: bridges had to be mended, footpaths repaired; at one end of the estate men were shooting game, at the other they’d been commanded to catch fish in the mountain streams – all in order to have plenty of food ready for Morozov’s arrival. Exhausted, covered in mosquito bites and mud, poor Uncle Kostia only ever managed to get home to the Vsevolod Volnevsky factory in time to grab a night’s sleep. Even his round spectacles, perching precariously on his small nose, were spattered with mud. The outside of the house had to be repainted and everything inside cleaned and polished; the park had to be put in order, manure had to be moved from the stables, and the dogs, of which there were far too many, had to be rounded up and in some cases put down. The idea was to hang their carcasses outside the kitchen door as a warning to the others. The coachman, Chariton, a large man with red hair and the look of a hangman, had been asked to do this, but although he was a bad-tempered fellow he was only able to kill a few of the dogs; the others, sensing trouble, managed to hide. Officially, the new school building was ready, but it still didn’t have any windows or doors.

The cook, who had been brought over from Perm, looked like a eunuch and appeared to have a drink problem. He kept breaking the crockery and asking Amfisa Nikolaevna, Uncle Kostia’s wife, for unknown or unobtainable ingredients without which, he claimed, he would not be able to prepare a single ‘decent’ dish worthy of a ‘governor’.

From early morning Amfisa Nikolaevna bustled about in her pink flannel dressinggown, squawking like a hysterical hen. She quarrelled with the painters, the chambermaid and the girl scrubbing the floor – who had already broken two window-panes and overturned the precious pot-plant that her mistress had been nursing for the past two years.

Four of Uncle Kostia’s grandsons took advantage of the fact that they’d been left to their own devices and formed themselves into a band of robbers. They tore through the garden slashing at the newly planted flower-beds with wooden swords and ran into the house, marvelling at their own footprints on the freshly stained floors.

Uncle Kostia had long ago given up trying to control them. He had no time for himself. His one pleasure was the new water-closet that he’d had installed in Morozov’s honour. It had a splendid porcelain base and a flushing system that cascaded like Niagara Falls. Every time Uncle Kostia came out of the bathroom, pulling up his trousers, and always forgetting to button his flies, he would exclaim admiringly: ‘That’s what I call European culture.’

Even the factory workers who lived near the railway station were caught up in the general excitement. In the evenings you could hear their deep voices discussing the petition they were planning to take to Morozov – something to do with unresolved land disputes. You could also hear the choir rehearsing a welcoming cantata and the voice of Father Gennady, who was in charge and whom everyone called ‘Little Jesus’. The bearded stationmaster, perhaps because of his grovelling nature, was inspired to have the station clock polished and the platform decorated with flowers, though Morozov’s visit was no concern of his.

At last the great day arrived: 23 June 1902. At ten in the morning, Uncle Kostia and Chariton set out in a newly lacquered carriage to meet Morozov; the coachman was in the driving seat, wearing a pleated and embroidered waistcoat.

I stayed behind, sitting on a bench in the sun, impatient to see Savva, whom I knew from Moscow. (Morozov was always called Savva behind his back.) Half an hour later, the troika hurtled round the corner, and stopped abruptly at the main entrance, leaving a cloud of dust behind it. Morozov leapt out of the carriage with the agility of a young man. He was wearing a linen shirt and high hunting boots, but no hat. His face, like the face of a bearded Mongolian statue, had a mischievous expression. ‘I’ve brought you a visitor!’ he whispered as he greeted me.

Immediately behind him, carefully lowering himself off the ledge of the carriage, stepped a tall, bent man in a peaked cap; he was wearing a close-fitting black suit with a crumpled bow-tie. His tired face and his pointed beard were grey from exhaustion and dust. A square flask in a leather case of the kind that hunters use was hanging on a strap from his shoulder. His wrinkled trousers fell loosely over his long, X-shaped legs.

He was only a few steps away from us when he was overcome by a long coughing fit. When it finished he unscrewed the metal top of the flask, turned away from us in embarrassment, and spat a sticky red liquid into the opening. Then he extended his damp hand to me in silence; adjusted his pince-nez and, knitting his brow, looked down across the deep, winding river into the hot, misty distance. In a deep voice – its hoarseness aggravated by coughing – he said: ‘There must be plenty of pike in there.’ It was Chekhov.

The day passed in a festive mood. After a light lunch we were taken to see the sights: the spirits factory, the new school, the park with its birch trees. Chekhov walked slowly, watching his step and often falling behind the others. The earth had cracked in the heat and he prodded it with his thin, bendy walking-stick as if he mistrusted it. ‘Chekhov,’ Gorky once wrote to me, ‘walks across the earth the way a doctor walks through a hospital: the hospital has many sick people, but no medicines. And the doctor isn’t altogether sure that the sick should be cured.’

Chekhov clearly didn’t enjoy being shown the dark, low-lying spirits factory. All kinds of liquids were fermenting in huge containers and refrigerators, although there was no noise from the machines or even an open fire. Put off by the acrid smell, he wrinkled his nose; and though he listened to the engineer’s explanations, you could tell he had no interest in them. It was only out of politeness that he tapped one of the vast containers with his walking-stick; then, without waiting for Morozov, he stepped out into the open air.

He hardly glanced at the new school; the main entrance had not yet been completed and he would have had to climb a steep staircase. While Savva was measuring the future classrooms, Chekhov sat on a pile of logs nearby, playing with the small metal box that he always carried in his waistcoat pocket. The village children had been sent out to collect wood shavings for firewood, and he tried enticing them with his mint pastilles. The children giggled and nudged each other, but none of them had the courage to go up to the strange old man to take the proffered sweet.

In the shade of the birch trees in the park, Chekhov, remarkably, came to life. He took his hat off as though he were in church, wiped the sweat off his brow with a handkerchief and with a deep sigh murmured: ‘What a nice place you have here – the birches aren’t like those we have in Yalta.’ Almost petulantly, he added: ‘I can’t think why healthy people bother to go to Yalta. There is nothing there of any beauty – not a birch tree, no cherry trees, not even any starlings!’

‘Healthy people are stupid. They are happy anywhere!’ Savva replied with such malicious artlessness that it was quite impossible to tell whether he was making fun of ‘healthy people’ or of the sick Chekhov.

Dinner consisted of seven courses and each one took a very long time to be served. Uncle Kostia was purple with shame and almost in tears. All the local ‘intelligentsia’ had gathered round the table: the forester, the engineers and technicians from the factory, the doctor – Morozov’s entire bearded workforce. They had smartened themselves up as if for a wedding. Their best suits smelled of mothballs; and their starched collars and coloured ties bulged out from under their waistcoats. All their attention was focused on their host. It was only when he spoke, laughed, drank vodka that they did too. They paid no attention to Chekhov. Most of them didn’t even know who he was, and when they discovered that he was a ‘writer’ they assumed he was one of Morozov’s office clerks.

The meal took place on the terrace. After the fish course the schoolchildren sang a kind of Te Deum for the guests. When it was over, a beaming Father Gennady, in new priestly robes that made him look like a bell, joined the guests.

Chekhov sat to one side, like a stranger, and looked longingly out into the garden, where the rays of the evening sun had cut the trunks of the birch trees in half and, before disappearing, turned their tops into a golden flame. He ate nothing; just sipped a little soup and drank the mineral water he had brought with him. Throughout the meal he maintained a hostile silence, only occasionally and reluctantly reacting to Morozov’s attempts to bring him into the conversation.

The meal dragged on into the late evening. When everyone rose from the table, Chekhov was obviously in a bad mood, and on the pretext of feeling tired, retired to his room without saying goodnight.

Savva and I retreated to the wing of the house where I was living, to talk business without being disturbed. At the time I was a student at the Metallurgical Institute and was busy assessing the coal content of the soil on Morozov’s estates.

My sketch-maps turned out to be so large they wouldn’t fit on any table. Savva unrolled them on the floor, placed a lamp on one end and some candlesticks on the other, and stretched out in front of them, inviting me to do the same. So we crawled around the splintery floor, examining the drawings.

In the middle of my explanations Savva sat back on his heels and said with his usual mischievous grin: ‘Listen, I’m off tomorrow morning to make a tour of the estate and I’m leaving Chekhov to you. You’ll have to entertain him: it will amuse you.’ He said no more, but began to scratch the back of his head with the sharp end of his pencil. Then he added: ‘He’s bored in my company. Why on earth did I bring him with me?’

Uncle Kostia had sent all his family away to stay with relatives – he didn’t want them to get in the way, he told me; and I found myself on my own with Chekhov.

He was even more bored with me than he had been with Morozov. There was an almost African heatwave that summer, without so much as a breath of wind, and it was no cooler at night. Chekhov, suffering from the heat, walked aimlessly up and down the park – a black figure among the white trunks of the birch trees, picking at the worms with his walking-stick. Or he sat in the summerhouse reading the literary section of Neva. Every half-hour he would ask the chambermaid if a telegram had come for him from Moscow, where he had left his sick wife. He was tormented by the lack of people around the place, by his own inactivity and by his cough.

It must have been on the first day we were alone in the house that he wrote to Vladimir Ivanovich Danchenko:

I’m writing to you, the devil knows where from, somewhere in the northern part of the Perm region. If you move your finger along the Kam River and move upwards from Perm you will hit Usolye – that is where I am, not far from this Usolye ... Life here is grey and uninteresting and if you were to transfer it to a play, well, it would be too grim for words!!

It’s a good thing Chekhov never wrote that play – I would have had a most unadmirable role in it!

It was all quite absurd. I had been thrust on a complete stranger to play the part of welcoming host and sole companion, and I was incapable of fulfilling either role, especially when the stranger was no less a figure than Chekhov. I was shy and awkward and had never spoken to a famous writer. I pretended I had important work to do, and ran away to my room, where I watched my important guest from the window.

Towards evening, Chekhov invited me to have tea with him on the terrace. It would have been impossible to refuse. After a few uncertain niceties – did he like his tea strong or weak, with sugar or with jam? – the conversation focused on Gorky. An easy subject, I thought, as I knew that Chekhov was fond of Gorky and respected him. I, too, admired him and was soon quite out of breath with interjections and exclamations of praise.

‘Excuse me – I don’t quite understand,’ Chekhov interrupted with the cold politeness of someone on whose foot you have been standing. ‘I don’t understand why you, and indeed the majority of young people today, are so besotted with Gorky. He has talent, of course – the same amount as, say, Potapenko – but he hasn’t yet learnt to write. I know you will say it is the political content! But what kind of politics is this? “Forward without fear or doubt.” That’s not politics. Forward towards what? No one can give you an answer. If you summon the people forward you have to have a clear goal, an aim and the means to achieve it. Blind bravery alone has never achieved anything in politics. It is not merely irresponsible, it is dangerous – especially for people like you.’

I was so taken aback that I burnt my mouth on the boiling hot tea.

‘ “The laughing sea”,’ Chekhov continued, nervously twiddling the string of his pince-nez. ‘You of course are delighted! You read the words “the laughing sea” and stopped. You believe that you stopped because the sentence is so beautiful, so artistic. No, my friend! You simply stopped because you thought: “What is this, the sea – laughing?” The sea does not laugh, the sea does not laugh, or cry – it roars, splashes, glitters. Look at Tolstoy: with him the sun rises, the sun sets ... his birds sing. No one cries. There’s no laughing or crying. The important thing is simplicity.’ Chekhov spoke with passion, while his long fingers toyed with the objects on the table in front of him – an ashtray, a saucer, a milk jug – then pushed them away in irritation.

‘You praised Foma Gordeev,’ he went on, ‘but you’re wrong again. Gorky has no idea of architecture: he can’t build. Foma Gordeev is not a novel. He follows a single, straight line and hangs everything on his hero like meat on a shashlik skewer. Only aristocrats know how to write novels. Ordinary citizens like you and me are no good at it. When it comes to building a bird-house it’s a different matter – we can do that. I saw a beauty the other day. It had three floors, 12 little windows and a penthouse and under it was written, ‘Restaurant’ – a real little Parthenon! But to construct a novel you have to know the laws of symmetry and balance. A novel is like a palace and the reader must feel at home in it, not like a museum where you are either surprised or bored. And the reader has to be given a chance from time to time to recover from both the author and his characters. Descriptions of the countryside, an amusing episode, a new character, new faces – all that can be very useful. I’ve told Gorky this so many times. But he won’t listen. He is proud, not bitter, despite his name.[*]

‘No, no,’ Chekhov angrily waved off my interjections as though shooing away cigarette smoke. ‘You don’t value any of the right things in Gorky. And there are truly fine things. His story “The River”, for example. Do you remember it? There they are swimming in the Volga, at night, in the dark ... a beautiful story! I only know one other like it in all our literature – Lermontov’s “Taman”.’

I hadn’t had much luck with Gorky. But I hoped to make amends by bringing up the so-called Decadents, whom I considered to be the new trend in literature.

‘There is not and never was a “decadent” movement,’ Chekhov said, back on the attack. ‘Where do you see it? In France there was Maupassant, and here I began writing short stories – that’s all there is to this new literary trend of yours. As far as the Decadents are concerned, they’ve been thoroughly demolished by one of our best critics. They’re meddlers in religion, mysticism and all kinds of devilry – nothing more. The Russian peasant was never religious. He sent the devil packing long ago. They were clearly out to pull the public’s leg. Don’t you believe them.’

Our conversation came to a standstill while Chekhov drank his tea, which by now was cold, as though he were taking a bitter medicine.

Everything he’d said was new to me and painfully unexpected. But I felt there was something contrived in his remarks, as though he did not quite believe them himself. It may just have been that he wanted to take me up on the banal statements with which I had been boring him; maybe he wasn’t feeling well or was generally out of sorts. In any case, everything he’d said completely contradicted the idea I’d had of him as a ‘great writer’. Until then I’d thought of him as a true apostle, such as Leo Tolstoy or perhaps Herzen or Chernyshevsky.

I tried to argue with him, but his interventions threw me off balance; I became confused and in my despair talked such nonsense I was ashamed to listen to myself while finding it impossible to stop. He looked at me askance with an unkind half-smile on his lips which didn’t reach beyond his moustache, and teasingly – as you might tease a puppy to make it bark louder – bombarded me with more and more paradoxes.

‘Come on, you can’t think Leonid Andreev a good writer. He is a young advocate’s assistant who loves brandishing fine words about as they all do.’ Or: ‘What is it you have against Suvorin? He was a clever old boy who was fond of young people. People borrowed freely from him – yet no one pays him back.’ And again: ‘Students like to rebel. It makes them feel heroic and they have more success with the ladies.’ I thought he was making fun of me. Deeply wounded and near to tears, I fell into a grim silence.

Chekhov noticed this and changed the subject. He smiled affectionately at me, this time only with his eyes, and began to tell me how beautiful the Kama River was – he had just been travelling along it – and how tasty the carp were. He told me some amusing stories of Morozov’s absent-mindedness and how you had to outwit the carp to get it to take the bait. He then got up to go to bed, gave me what was almost an embrace and whispered like a priest at the confessional: ‘And do you write yourself? ... No! That’s good! Instead of working at their subject, students today either write novels or are occupied with revolution ... although,’ he said as if to himself, ‘maybe it’s not a bad thing. When we were students we used to drink beer and we, too, studied badly and perhaps that’s why we’ve turned out to be such ... nonentities.’ He laughed cheerfully, happy with the phrase, which was to become famous.

Asked about me a few months later in Moscow, he said with a smile: ‘Of course, I remember him – such a fiery fair-haired student. Students,’ he added, ‘often have fair hair.’

Soon we found we had interests in common. From early morning until late into the evening we sat on the clay bank of the dark river and fished for perch. Sometimes we even caught a pike. Chekhov had been right, there were lots of pike in the river.

‘A splendid pastime!’ Chekhov said as he spat on the worm at the end of his line. ‘A harmless madness ... a pleasure to oneself and no danger to others. But most important – you don’t have to think ... wonderful.’

It did him good to be in the sun. He took off his jacket and tie and almost stopped coughing. He was an excellent fisherman; although we sat next to each other his catch was always bigger than mine.

‘Can there ever have been a lazier people than us Russians?’ he philosophised good-humouredly, as he stretched out in the sun. ‘We’ve even infected nature with our laziness. Just look at this river, how reluctantly it flows; how it winds and turns – and all out of laziness. Our renowned “psychology”, this cult of Dostoevsky, it all has the same origin: we are too lazy to work, so we occupy ourselves instead with high-falutin ideas.’

The sun was swelteringly hot and made you quite drowsy. Nothing could have disturbed the pervasive stillness, not even a cannon shot, while the shimmering of the water made your head go round and you began to see the floats in double.

Chekhov dozed peacefully. A reddish puppy that looked like a dachshund watched over his fishing-rod. Goodness knows where she came from, but she was probably one of the ones Chariton the coachman had missed when he was trying to exterminate the dogs. She watched the float attentively and as soon as a fish began to bite she would jump up and down, whining and barking and wagging her tail. In return, Chekhov would feed her the fish, which, astonishingly, she swallowed alive. Once she nearly choked in her greed, trying to swallow a fish while it was slapping her on the face with its tail. ‘Just like our critics!’ Chekhov remarked in disgust.

Although Morozov and Chekhov were at pains to appear to be great friends, they were in many ways strangers to each other. Chekhov had little in common with the capitalist Morozov. This was particularly evident when they were with other people. It was usually Morozov who was the centre of attention on such occasions. At the time his printed fabrics had more success than Chekhov’s short stories and his millions made more of an impression on society than Chekhov’s plays. Savva was well aware of the unfairness of the situation and rather disconcerted by it. He did all he could to bring Chekhov into the foreground at these gatherings, but Chekhov felt this was an unnecessary politeness. Though he made every effort to conceal the fact, his pride was hurt and he couldn’t always disguise his antagonism. He often visited the local infirmary to see how the sick were being treated, and I once heard him mutter to himself, as he was rinsing his hands at the washbasin: ‘A wealthy merchant ... builds theatres ... flirts with revolutionary ideas ... while his medicine chest hasn’t even got any iodine in it, the doctor gets drunk on the surgical spirit and treats rheumatism with castor oil. That’s how they all are – our Russian Rockefellers.’

Morozov suggested that the newly rebuilt school should be named after Chekhov. Chekhov didn’t like the idea, but he didn’t say anything. I was asked to compose a suitable address for the occasion, which Uncle Kostia was to deliver. Uncle Kostia did all he could to get out of it, but in the end agreed ‘for the sake of posterity’. When Chekhov heard that there was to be a Mass at the new school he refused to attend. It was therefore decided that the address should be delivered at the house.

I was sitting with Chekhov and reading Apukhtin’s verse to him. Chekhov lay stretched out on the sofa. He was clearly feeling very unwell. ‘Beautiful poetry,’ he said, yawning. ‘A pederast who doesn’t like women and yet he writes such sensitive love poems. You can never quite make a poet out.’

At that moment a small delegation entered the room: the teacher, the priest, the doctor and the stationmaster. Uncle Kostia stepped forward and, breathless with excitement, delivered the address I’d written. There was a moment of silence. The stationmaster drew himself up as if he were on parade.

Slowly, Chekhov rose to his feet, took the parchment from Uncle Kostia’s shaking hands, looked him up and down, and as if nothing had happened, said: ‘Constantin Ivanovich, you have forgotten again to button your flies.’ Poor Uncle Kostia clutched his front with both hands and sat down in terror. Everyone laughed, the deep bass of the bearded stationmaster loudest of all.

Later in the evening, when I described the scene to Savva, he couldn’t stop shaking with laughter. Wiping the tears away with his handkerchief, he said: ‘Why does it surprise you? You don’t know him yet. He is capable of taking anyone down a peg, not only Uncle Kostia. He can’t bear pomp and exaggeration. You must have read “The Steppe”. Can you remember where he says: “Someone struck a match across the sky.” That’s how he described a thunderstorm, to play it down ... But look out! The prophet Elijah, the god of thunder, won’t let him forget those matches! The old man will take his revenge. He is spiteful like all peasants!’

Strangely enough, Morozov’s prophecy came true almost at once. I was again having tea on the terrace with Chekhov. It was a heavy, ominous sort of evening. Darkness engulfed the terrace from all three sides with a force that seemed capable of smashing the window-panes and extinguishing the flickering lamps. Large moths circled round the flame under the green lampshade, burnt themselves and died, falling onto the oil-cloth as they did so. The cups and saucers that had been laid on the table looked quite sinister reflected in the new silver samovar.

There was something unnerving about the birch trees. They had been entirely motionless when suddenly, without any obvious cause, every leaf from the top to the bottom of the trees began to shake and shiver. A huge black cloud slowly appeared on the horizon, burying the faintly visible stars.

Chekhov seemed particularly sad that evening. Not a trace remained of the irritability he had shown at our first meeting. He sat hunched on a chair facing the open door onto the terrace, his long hands pressed between his knees. He peered into the darkness and spoke slowly as though he was arguing with some invisible person out there: ‘Above all, my friend, one should never lie. The good thing is that there can be no lying in art. You can lie in love ... in politics, in medicine you can deceive people and even God himself – there have been such cases – but in art it is impossible.’

He paused for a moment as if waiting for a response from his invisible companion, then continued: ‘I am often accused – even Tolstoy accused me – of writing about trivialities, of having no obvious heroes: no revolutionaries, Alexanders of Macedonia, or like Leskov, honest police officers. But where do I find them? I would be only too glad!’ He smiled sadly. ‘Our life is provincial. Our towns have no proper pavements; our villages are poor; our people badly clothed. While we are still young we chirp along cheerfully like sparrows on a dungheap, but by the time we are 40 we are old men and beginning to think about death ... Fine sort of heroes we are!’

He looked at me over his shoulder and then bent forward again to stare into the darkness. ‘You said you had cried over my plays. You’re not the only one. But that’s not what I wrote them for. It was Stanislavsky who made them so whining. I wanted to say something else. I wanted to talk honestly to people, to say: “Look at yourselves, look at the dreary lives you lead!” The important thing is for people to realise this, and when they have, they will create a different, better world for themselves. I won’t live to see it, it will be a very different world, with no resemblance to today’s. But in the meantime I shall not stop saying to people: “Try to understand how miserable and dreary your lives are.” Yet there’s nothing in that to cry about.’

‘ “And what will happen to the people who have already understood it?” ’ He repeated my question as he rose to his feet. ‘They,’ he said sorrowfully, ‘they will find their way without my help – come, it’s time to go to bed. There’s about to be a storm.’

In Order not to leave Chekhov alone in an empty house, I had been sleeping in the room next to his. The house was airless and smelt of fresh paint. Mosquitoes were buzzing everywhere. We were not allowed to open the windows as it was said that burglars could come in.

I was worried about Chekhov. His cough echoed through the empty house. He had not coughed so long or so persistently before. There was a thin wall between his room and mine and I could hear everything. He got out of bed several times, walked up and down the room, drank something from a glass and went back to his bed. Then the coughing would begin again, and again he would get out of bed.

In the end I fell asleep.

I woke up with a feeling of terrible foreboding. As I opened my eyes, a blinding light filled the room, disappeared for a moment and then returned. A thunderstorm was raging all round the house. Huge, wild, grey clouds crashed against each other. The birches in the garden seemed to wince as their branches were hit by sheets of rain that looked like glass in the lightning. The house shook so you could hear the plaster crumbling behind the damaged wallpaper.

And then, through the rumble of the devastating storm, I heard a loud and prolonged groaning. I pressed my ear to the wall: the groaning continued, interspersed with what sounded like vomiting or sobbing. I thought that Chekhov was dying, and believed that if he died it would be my fault. In my terror I dashed to his room, barefoot and in my nightshirt. At the door I listened again for a moment, my teeth chattering.

Just then, as so often happens, the storm, having reached its climax, died down for a moment. The house was filled with an ominous stillness. In this stillness I could hear suppressed groaning, coughing and a kind of gurgling noise. I pushed the door open and whispered: ‘Anton Pavlovich?’

Chekhov was lying on his side under a tangle of bedclothes. An almost burnt-out candle stood on a small stool by his bed. Convulsions shook his body, and his long neck, with its protruding Adam’s apple, was bent over the edge of the bed. With every spasm blood poured out of his open mouth into a blue enamel spittoon – like liquid from an upturned bottle.

The storm had returned and Chekhov did not notice me. I called out his name again. He fell back onto his pillows, wiped the blood from his beard and whiskers, and in the darkness slowly began to search for me with his eyes. In the yellowing candle-light I saw them for the first time without a pince-nez. They were large and helpless like a child’s, the whites yellow from the strain of coughing and blurred by tears. He spoke with difficulty: ‘I’m disturbing ... your sleep ... forgive me, my friend.’

[*] Gorky is the Russian word for ‘bitter’.