The Three Sisters, by Anton Chekhov

Act i

[In Prosorov’s house. A sitting-room with pillars; behind is seen a large dining-room. It is midday, the sun is shining brightly outside. In the dining-room the table is being laid for lunch.]

[Olga, in the regulation blue dress of a teacher at a girl’s high school, is walking about correcting exercise books; Masha, in a black dress, with a hat on her knees, sits and reads a book; Irina, in white, stands about, with a thoughtful expression.]

Olga. It’s just a year since father died last May the fifth, on your name-day, Irina. It was very cold then, and snowing. I thought I would never survive it, and you were in a dead faint. And now a year has gone by and we are already thinking about it without pain, and you are wearing a white dress and your face is happy. [Clock strikes twelve] And the clock struck just the same way then. [Pause] I remember that there was music at the funeral, and they fired a volley in the cemetery. He was a general in command of a brigade but there were few people present. Of course, it was raining then, raining hard, and snowing.

Irina. Why think about it!

[Baron Tuzenbach, Chebutikin and Soleni appear by the table in the dining-room, behind the pillars.]

Olga. It’s so warm to-day that we can keep the windows open, though the birches are not yet in flower. Father was put in command of a brigade, and he rode out of Moscow with us eleven years ago. I remember perfectly that it was early in May and that everything in Moscow was flowering then. It was warm too, everything was bathed in sunshine. Eleven years have gone, and I remember everything as if we rode out only yesterday. Oh, God! When I awoke this morning and saw all the light and the spring, joy entered my heart, and I longed passionately to go home.

Chebutikin. Will you take a bet on it?

Tuzenbach. Oh, nonsense.

[Masha, lost in a reverie over her book, whistles softly.]

Olga. Don’t whistle, Masha. How can you! [Pause] I’m always having headaches from having to go to the High School every day and then teach till evening. Strange thoughts come to me, as if I were already an old woman. And really, during these four years that I have been working here, I have been feeling as if every day my strength and youth have been squeezed out of me, drop by drop. And only one desire grows and gains in strength . . .

Irina. To go away to Moscow. To sell the house, drop everything here, and go to Moscow . . .

Olga. Yes! To Moscow, and as soon as possible.

[Chebutikin and Tuzenbach laugh.]

Irina. I expect Andrey will become a professor, but still, he won’t want to live here. Only poor Masha must go on living here.

Olga. Masha can come to Moscow every year, for the whole summer.

[Masha is whistling gently.]

Irina. Everything will be arranged, please God. [Looks out of the window] It’s nice out to-day. I don’t know why I’m so happy: I remembered this morning that it was my name-day, and I suddenly felt glad and remembered my childhood, when mother was still with us. What beautiful thoughts I had, what thoughts!

Olga. You’re all radiance to-day, I’ve never seen you look so lovely. And Masha is pretty, too. Andrey wouldn’t be bad-looking, if he wasn’t so stout; it does spoil his appearance. But I’ve grown old and very thin, I suppose it’s because I get angry with the girls at school. To-day I’m free. I’m at home. I haven’t got a headache, and I feel younger than I was yesterday. I’m only twenty-eight. . . . All’s well, God is everywhere, but it seems to me that if only I were married and could stay at home all day, it would be even better. [Pause] I should love my husband.

Tuzenbach. [To Soleni] I’m tired of listening to the rot you talk. [Entering the sitting-room] I forgot to say that Vershinin, our new lieutenant-colonel of artillery, is coming to see us to-day. [Sits down to the piano.]

Olga. That’s good. I’m glad.

Irina. Is he old?

Tuzenbach. Oh, no. Forty or forty-five, at the very outside. [Plays softly] He seems rather a good sort. He’s certainly no fool, only he likes to hear himself speak.

Irina. Is he interesting?

Tuzenbach. Oh, he’s all right, but there’s his wife, his mother-in-law, and two daughters. This is his second wife. He pays calls and tells everybody that he’s got a wife and two daughters. He’ll tell you so here. The wife isn’t all there, she does her hair like a flapper and gushes extremely. She talks philosophy and tries to commit suicide every now and again, apparently in order to annoy her husband. I should have left her long ago, but he bears up patiently, and just grumbles.

Soleni. [Enters with Chebutikin from the dining-room] With one hand I can only lift fifty-four pounds, but with both hands I can lift 180, or even 200 pounds. From this I conclude that two men are not twice as strong as one, but three times, perhaps even more. . . .

Chebutikin. [Reads a newspaper as he walks] If your hair is coming out . . . take an ounce of naphthaline and hail a bottle of spirit . . . dissolve and use daily. . . . [Makes a note in his pocket diary] When found make a note of! Not that I want it though. . . . [Crosses it out] It doesn’t matter.

Irina. Ivan Romanovitch, dear Ivan Romanovitch!

Chebutikin. What does my own little girl want?

Irina. Ivan Romanovitch, dear Ivan Romanovitch! I feel as if I were sailing under the broad blue sky with great white birds around me. Why is that? Why?

Chebutikin. [Kisses her hands, tenderly] My white bird. . . .

Irina. When I woke up to-day and got up and dressed myself, I suddenly began to feel as if everything in this life was open to me, and that I knew how I must live. Dear Ivan Romanovitch, I know everything. A man must work, toil in the sweat of his brow, whoever he may be, for that is the meaning and object of his life, his happiness, his enthusiasm. How fine it is to be a workman who gets up at daybreak and breaks stones in the street, or a shepherd, or a schoolmaster, who teaches children, or an engine-driver on the railway. . . . My God, let alone a man, it’s better to be an ox, or just a horse, so long as it can work, than a young woman who wakes up at twelve o’clock, has her coffee in bed, and then spends two hours dressing. . . . Oh it’s awful! Sometimes when it’s hot, your thirst can be just as tiresome as my need for work. And if I don’t get up early in future and work, Ivan Romanovitch, then you may refuse me your friendship.

Chebutikin. [Tenderly] I’ll refuse, I’ll refuse. . . .

Olga. Father used to make us get up at seven. Now Irina wakes at seven and lies and meditates about something till nine at least. And she looks so serious! [Laughs.]

Irina. You’re so used to seeing me as a little girl that it seems queer to you when my face is serious. I’m twenty!

Tuzenbach. How well I can understand that craving for work, oh God! I’ve never worked once in my life. I was born in Petersburg, a chilly, lazy place, in a family which never knew what work or worry meant. I remember that when I used to come home from my regiment, a footman used to have to pull off my boots while I fidgeted and my mother looked on in adoration and wondered why other people didn’t see me in the same light. They shielded me from work; but only just in time! A new age is dawning, the people are marching on us all, a powerful, health-giving storm is gathering, it is drawing near, soon it will be upon us and it will drive away laziness, indifference, the prejudice against labour, and rotten dullness from our society. I shall work, and in twenty-five or thirty years, every man will have to work. Every one!

Chebutikin. I shan’t work.

Tuzenbach. You don’t matter.

Soleni. In twenty-five years’ time, we shall all be dead, thank the Lord. In two or three years’ time apoplexy will carry you off, or else I’ll blow your brains out, my pet. [Takes a scent-bottle out of his pocket and sprinkles his chest and hands.]

Chebutikin. [Laughs] It’s quite true, I never have worked. After I came down from the university I never stirred a finger or opened a book, I just read the papers. . . . [Takes another newspaper out of his pocket] Here we are. . . . I’ve learnt from the papers that there used to be one, Dobrolubov [Note: Dobroluboy (1836–81), in spite of the shortness of his career, established himself as one of the classic literary critics of Russia], for instance, but what he wrote — I don’t know . . . God only knows. . . . [Somebody is heard tapping on the floor from below] There. . . . They’re calling me downstairs, somebody’s come to see me. I’ll be back in a minute . . . won’t be long. . . . [Exit hurriedly, scratching his beard.]

Irina. He’s up to something.

Tuzenbach. Yes, he looked so pleased as he went out that I’m pretty certain he’ll bring you a present in a moment.

Irina. How unpleasant!

Olga. Yes, it’s awful. He’s always doing silly things.

Masha.

“There stands a green oak by the sea.

And a chain of bright gold is around it . . .

And a chain of bright gold is around it. . . . ”

[Gets up and sings softly.]

Olga. You’re not very bright to-day, Masha. [Masha sings, putting on her hat] Where are you off to?

Masha. Home.

Irina. That’s odd. . . .

Tuzenbach. On a name-day, too!

Masha. It doesn’t matter. I’ll come in the evening. Good-bye, dear. [Kisses Masha] Many happy returns, though I’ve said it before. In the old days when father was alive, every time we had a name-day, thirty or forty officers used to come, and there was lots of noise and fun, and to-day there’s only a man and a half, and it’s as quiet as a desert . . . I’m off . . . I’ve got the hump to-day, and am not at all cheerful, so don’t you mind me. [Laughs through her tears] We’ll have a talk later on, but good-bye for the present, my dear; I’ll go somewhere.

Irina. [Displeased] You are queer. . . .

Olga. [Crying] I understand you, Masha.

Soleni. When a man talks philosophy, well, it is philosophy or at any rate sophistry; but when a woman, or two women, talk philosophy — it’s all my eye.

Masha. What do you mean by that, you very awful man?

Soleni. Oh, nothing. You came down on me before I could say . . . help! [Pause.]

Masha. [Angrily, to Olga] Don’t cry!

[Enter Anfisa and Ferapont with a cake.]

Anfisa. This way, my dear. Come in, your feet are clean. [To Irina] From the District Council, from Mihail Ivanitch Protopopov . . . a cake.

Irina. Thank you. Please thank him. [Takes the cake.]

Ferapont. What?

Irina. [Louder] Please thank him.

Olga. Give him a pie, nurse. Ferapont, go, she’ll give you a pie.

Ferapont. What?

Anfisa. Come on, gran’fer, Ferapont Spiridonitch. Come on. [Exeunt.]

Masha. I don’t like this Mihail Potapitch or Ivanitch, Protopopov. We oughtn’t to invite him here.

Irina. I never asked him.

Masha. That’s all right.

[Enter Chebutikin followed by a soldier with a silver samovar; there is a rumble of dissatisfied surprise.]

Olga. [Covers her face with her hands] A samovar! That’s awful! [Exit into the dining-room, to the table.]

Irina. My dear Ivan Romanovitch, what are you doing!

Tuzenbach. [Laughs] I told you so!

Masha. Ivan Romanovitch, you are simply shameless!

Chebutikin. My dear good girl, you are the only thing, and the dearest thing I have in the world. I’ll soon be sixty. I’m an old man, a lonely worthless old man. The only good thing in me is my love for you, and if it hadn’t been for that, I would have been dead long ago. . . . [To Irina] My dear little girl, I’ve known you since the day of your birth, I’ve carried you in my arms . . . I loved your dead mother. . . .

Masha. But your presents are so expensive!

Chebutikin. [Angrily, through his tears] Expensive presents. . . . You really, are! . . . [To the orderly] Take the samovar in there. . . . [Teasing] Expensive presents!

[The orderly goes into the dining-room with the samovar.]

Anfisa. [Enters and crosses stage] My dear, there’s a strange Colonel come! He’s taken off his coat already. Children, he’s coming here. Irina darling, you’ll be a nice and polite little girl, won’t you. . . . Should have lunched a long time ago. . . . Oh, Lord. . . . [Exit.]

Tuzenbach. It must be Vershinin. [Enter Vershinin] Lieutenant–Colonel Vershinin!

Vershinin. [To Masha and Irina] I have the honour to introduce myself, my name is Vershinin. I am very glad indeed to be able to come at last. How you’ve grown! Oh! oh!

Irina. Please sit down. We’re very glad you’ve come.

Vershinin. [Gaily] I am glad, very glad! But there are three sisters, surely. I remember — three little girls. I forget your faces, but your father, Colonel Prosorov, used to have three little girls, I remember that perfectly, I saw them with my own eyes. How time does fly! Oh, dear, how it flies!

Tuzenbach. Alexander Ignateyevitch comes from Moscow.

Irina. From Moscow? Are you from Moscow?

Vershinin. Yes, that’s so. Your father used to be in charge of a battery there, and I was an officer in the same brigade. [To Masha] I seem to remember your face a little.

Masha. I don’t remember you.

Irina. Olga! Olga! [Shouts into the dining-room] Olga! Come along! [Olga enters from the dining-room] Lieutenant Colonel Vershinin comes from Moscow, as it happens.

Vershinin. I take it that you are Olga Sergeyevna, the eldest, and that you are Maria . . . and you are Irina, the youngest. . . .

Olga. So you come from Moscow?

Vershinin. Yes. I went to school in Moscow and began my service there; I was there for a long time until at last I got my battery and moved over here, as you see. I don’t really remember you, I only remember that there used to be three sisters. I remember your father well; I have only to shut my eyes to see him as he was. I used to come to your house in Moscow. . . .

Olga. I used to think I remembered everybody, but . . .

Vershinin. My name is Alexander Ignateyevitch.

Irina. Alexander Ignateyevitch, you’ve come from Moscow. That is really quite a surprise!

Olga. We are going to live there, you see.

Irina. We think we may be there this autumn. It’s our native town, we were born there. In Old Basmanni Road. . . . [They both laugh for joy.]

Masha. We’ve unexpectedly met a fellow countryman. [Briskly] I remember: Do you remember, Olga, they used to speak at home of a “lovelorn Major.” You were only a Lieutenant then, and in love with somebody, but for some reason they always called you a Major for fun.

Vershinin. [Laughs] That’s it . . . the lovelorn Major, that’s got it!

Masha. You only wore moustaches then. You have grown older! [Through her tears] You have grown older!

Vershinin. Yes, when they used to call me the lovelorn Major, I was young and in love. I’ve grown out of both now.

Olga. But you haven’t a single white hair yet. You’re older, but you’re not yet old.

Vershinin. I’m forty-two, anyway. Have you been away from Moscow long?

Irina. Eleven years. What are you crying for, Masha, you little fool. . . . [Crying] And I’m crying too.

Masha. It’s all right. And where did you live?

Vershinin. Old Basmanni Road.

Olga. Same as we.

Vershinin. Once I used to live in German Street. That was when the Red Barracks were my headquarters. There’s an ugly bridge in between, where the water rushes underneath. One gets melancholy when one is alone there. [Pause] Here the river is so wide and fine! It’s a splendid river!

Olga. Yes, but it’s so cold. It’s very cold here, and the midges. . . .

Vershinin. What are you saying! Here you’ve got such a fine healthy Russian climate. You’ve a forest, a river . . . and birches. Dear, modest birches, I like them more than any other tree. It’s good to live here. Only it’s odd that the railway station should be thirteen miles away. . . . Nobody knows why.

Soleni. I know why. [All look at him] Because if it was near it wouldn’t be far off, and if it’s far off, it can’t be near. [An awkward pause.]

Tuzenbach. Funny man.

Olga. Now I know who you are. I remember.

Vershinin. I used to know your mother.

Chebutikin. She was a good woman, rest her soul.

Irina. Mother is buried in Moscow.

Olga. At the Novo–Devichi Cemetery.

Masha. Do you know, I’m beginning to forget her face. We’ll be forgotten in just the same way.

Vershinin. Yes, they’ll forget us. It’s our fate, it can’t be helped. A time will come when everything that seems serious, significant, or very important to us will be forgotten, or considered trivial. [Pause] And the curious thing is that we can’t possibly find out what will come to be regarded as great and important, and what will be feeble, or silly. Didn’t the discoveries of Copernicus, or Columbus, say, seem unnecessary and ludicrous at first, while wasn’t it thought that some rubbish written by a fool, held all the truth? And it may so happen that our present existence, with which we are so satisfied, will in time appear strange, inconvenient, stupid, unclean, perhaps even sinful. . . .

Tuzenbach. Who knows? But on the other hand, they may call our life noble and honour its memory. We’ve abolished torture and capital punishment, we live in security, but how much suffering there is still!

Soleni. [In a feeble voice] There, there. . . . The Baron will go without his dinner if you only let him talk philosophy.

Tuzenbach. Vassili Vassilevitch, kindly leave me alone. [Changes his chair] You’re very dull, you know.

Soleni. [Feebly] There, there, there.

Tuzenbach. [To Vershinin] The sufferings we see to-day — there are so many of them! — still indicate a certain moral improvement in society.

Vershinin. Yes, yes, of course.

Chebutikin. You said just now, Baron, that they may call our life noble; but we are very petty. . . . [Stands up] See how little I am. [Violin played behind.]

Masha. That’s Andrey playing — our brother.

Irina. He’s the learned member of the family. I expect he will be a professor some day. Father was a soldier, but his son chose an academic career for himself.

Masha. That was father’s wish.

Olga. We ragged him to-day. We think he’s a little in love.

Irina. To a local lady. She will probably come here to-day.

Masha. You should see the way she dresses! Quite prettily, quite fashionably too, but so badly! Some queer bright yellow skirt with a wretched little fringe and a red bodice. And such a complexion! Andrey isn’t in love. After all he has taste, he’s simply making fun of us. I heard yesterday that she was going to marry Protopopov, the chairman of the Local Council. That would do her nicely. . . . [At the side door] Andrey, come here! Just for a minute, dear! [Enter Andrey.]

Olga. My brother, Andrey Sergeyevitch.

Vershinin. My name is Vershinin.

Andrey. Mine is Prosorov. [Wipes his perspiring hands] You’ve come to take charge of the battery?

Olga. Just think, Alexander Ignateyevitch comes from Moscow.

Andrey. That’s all right. Now my little sisters won’t give you any rest.

Vershinin. I’ve already managed to bore your sisters.

Irina. Just look what a nice little photograph frame Andrey gave me to-day. [Shows it] He made it himself.

Vershinin. [Looks at the frame and does not know what to say] Yes. . . . It’s a thing that . . .

Irina. And he made that frame there, on the piano as well. [Andrey waves his hand and walks away.]

Olga. He’s got a degree, and plays the violin, and cuts all sorts of things out of wood, and is really a domestic Admirable Crichton. Don’t go away, Andrey! He’s got into a habit of always going away. Come here!

[Masha and Irina take his arms and laughingly lead him back.]

Masha. Come on, come on!

Andrey. Please leave me alone.

Masha. You are funny. Alexander Ignateyevitch used to be called the lovelorn Major, but he never minded.

Vershinin. Not the least.

Masha. I’d like to call you the lovelorn fiddler!

Irina. Or the lovelorn professor!

Olga. He’s in love! little Andrey is in love!

Irina. [Applauds] Bravo, Bravo! Encore! Little Andrey is in love.

Chebutikin. [Goes up behind Andrey and takes him round the waist with both arms] Nature only brought us into the world that we should love! [Roars with laughter, then sits down and reads a newspaper which he takes out of his pocket.]

Andrey. That’s enough, quite enough. . . . [Wipes his face] I couldn’t sleep all night and now I can’t quite find my feet, so to speak. I read until four o’clock, then tried to sleep, but nothing happened. I thought about one thing and another, and then it dawned and the sun crawled into my bedroom. This summer, while I’m here, I want to translate a book from the English. . . .

Vershinin. Do you read English?

Andrey. Yes father, rest his soul, educated us almost violently. It may seem funny and silly, but it’s nevertheless true, that after his death I began to fill out and get rounder, as if my body had had some great pressure taken off it. Thanks to father, my sisters and I know French, German, and English, and Irina knows Italian as well. But we paid dearly for it all!

Masha. A knowledge of three languages is an unnecessary luxury in this town. It isn’t even a luxury but a sort of useless extra, like a sixth finger. We know a lot too much.

Vershinin. Well, I say! [Laughs] You know a lot too much! I don’t think there can really be a town so dull and stupid as to have no place for a clever, cultured person. Let us suppose even that among the hundred thousand inhabitants of this backward and uneducated town, there are only three persons like yourself. It stands to reason that you won’t be able to conquer that dark mob around you; little by little as you grow older you will be bound to give way and lose yourselves in this crowd of a hundred thousand human beings; their life will suck you up in itself, but still, you won’t disappear having influenced nobody; later on, others like you will come, perhaps six of them, then twelve, and so on, until at last your sort will be in the majority. In two or three hundred years’ time life on this earth will be unimaginably beautiful and wonderful. Mankind needs such a life, and if it is not ours to-day then we must look ahead for it, wait, think, prepare for it. We must see and know more than our fathers and grandfathers saw and knew. [Laughs] And you complain that you know too much.

Masha. [Takes off her hat] I’ll stay to lunch.

Irina. [Sighs] Yes, all that ought to be written down.

[Andrey has gone out quietly.]

Tuzenbach. You say that many years later on, life on this earth will be beautiful and wonderful. That’s true. But to share in it now, even though at a distance, we must prepare by work. . . .

Vershinin. [Gets up] Yes. What a lot of flowers you have. [Looks round] It’s a beautiful flat. I envy you! I’ve spent my whole life in rooms with two chairs, one sofa, and fires which always smoke. I’ve never had flowers like these in my life. . . . [Rubs his hands] Well, well!

Tuzenbach. Yes, we must work. You are probably thinking to yourself: the German lets himself go. But I assure you I’m a Russian, I can’t even speak German. My father belonged to the Orthodox Church. . . . [Pause.]

Vershinin. [Walks about the stage] I often wonder: suppose we could begin life over again, knowing what we were doing? Suppose we could use one life, already ended, as a sort of rough draft for another? I think that every one of us would try, more than anything else, not to repeat himself, at the very least he would rearrange his manner of life, he would make sure of rooms like these, with flowers and light . . . I have a wife and two daughters, my wife’s health is delicate and so on and so on, and if I had to begin life all over again I would not marry. . . . No, no!

[Enter Kuligin in a regulation jacket.]

Kuligin. [Going up to Irina] Dear sister, allow me to congratulate you on the day sacred to your good angel and to wish you, sincerely and from the bottom of my heart, good health and all that one can wish for a girl of your years. And then let me offer you this book as a present. [Gives it to her] It is the history of our High School during the last fifty years, written by myself. The book is worthless, and written because I had nothing to do, but read it all the same. Good day, gentlemen! [To Vershinin] My name is Kuligin, I am a master of the local High School. [Note: He adds that he is a Nadvorny Sovetnik (almost the same as a German Hofrat), an undistinguished civilian title with no English equivalent.] [To Irina] In this book you will find a list of all those who have taken the full course at our High School during these fifty years. Feci quod potui, faciant meliora potentes. [Kisses Masha.]

Irina. But you gave me one of these at Easter.

Kuligin. [Laughs] I couldn’t have, surely! You’d better give it back to me in that case, or else give it to the Colonel. Take it, Colonel. You’ll read it some day when you’re bored.

Vershinin. Thank you. [Prepares to go] I am extremely happy to have made the acquaintance of . . .

Olga. Must you go? No, not yet?

Irina. You’ll stop and have lunch with us. Please do.

Olga. Yes, please!

Vershinin. [Bows] I seem to have dropped in on your name-day. Forgive me, I didn’t know, and I didn’t offer you my congratulations. [Goes with Olga into the dining-room.]

Kuligin. To-day is Sunday, the day of rest, so let us rest and rejoice, each in a manner compatible with his age and disposition. The carpets will have to be taken up for the summer and put away till the winter . . . Persian powder or naphthaline. . . . The Romans were healthy because they knew both how to work and how to rest, they had mens sana in corpore sano. Their life ran along certain recognized patterns. Our director says: “The chief thing about each life is its pattern. Whoever loses his pattern is lost himself”— and it’s just the same in our daily life. [Takes Masha by the waist, laughing] Masha loves me. My wife loves me. And you ought to put the window curtains away with the carpets. . . . I’m feeling awfully pleased with life to-day. Masha, we’ve got to be at the director’s at four. They’re getting up a walk for the pedagogues and their families.

Masha. I shan’t go.

Kuligin. [Hurt] My dear Masha, why not?

Masha. I’ll tell you later. . . . [Angrily] All right, I’ll go, only please stand back. . . . [Steps away.]

Kuligin. And then we’re to spend the evening at the director’s. In spite of his ill-health that man tries, above everything else, to be sociable. A splendid, illuminating personality. A wonderful man. After yesterday’s committee he said to me: “I’m tired, Feodor Ilitch, I’m tired!” [Looks at the clock, then at his watch] Your clock is seven minutes fast. “Yes,” he said, “I’m tired.” [Violin played off.]

Olga. Let’s go and have lunch! There’s to be a masterpiece of baking!

Kuligin. Oh my dear Olga, my dear. Yesterday I was working till eleven o’clock at night, and got awfully tired. To-day I’m quite happy. [Goes into dining-room] My dear . . .

Chebutikin. [Puts his paper into his pocket, and combs his beard] A pie? Splendid!

Masha. [Severely to Chebutikin] Only mind; you’re not to drink anything to-day. Do you hear? It’s bad for you.

Chebutikin. Oh, that’s all right. I haven’t been drunk for two years. And it’s all the same, anyway!

Masha. You’re not to dare to drink, all the same. [Angrily, but so that her husband should not hear] Another dull evening at the Director’s, confound it!

Tuzenbach. I shouldn’t go if I were you. . . . It’s quite simple.

Chebutikin. Don’t go.

Masha. Yes, “don’t go. . . . ” It’s a cursed, unbearable life. . . . [Goes into dining-room.]

Chebutikin. [Follows her] It’s not so bad.

Soleni. [Going into the dining-room] There, there, there. . . .

Tuzenbach. Vassili Vassilevitch, that’s enough. Be quiet!

Soleni. There, there, there. . . .

Kuligin. [Gaily] Your health, Colonel! I’m a pedagogue and not quite at home here. I’m Masha’s husband. . . . She’s a good sort, a very good sort.

Vershinin. I’ll have some of this black vodka. . . . [Drinks] Your health! [To Olga] I’m very comfortable here!

[Only Irina and Tuzenbach are now left in the sitting-room.]

Irina. Masha’s out of sorts to-day. She married when she was eighteen, when he seemed to her the wisest of men. And now it’s different. He’s the kindest man, but not the wisest.

Olga. [Impatiently] Andrey, when are you coming?

Andrey. [Off] One minute. [Enters and goes to the table.]

Tuzenbach. What are you thinking about?

Irina. I don’t like this Soleni of yours and I’m afraid of him. He only says silly things.

Tuzenbach. He’s a queer man. I’m sorry for him, though he vexes me. I think he’s shy. When there are just the two of us he’s quite all right and very good company; when other people are about he’s rough and hectoring. Don’t let’s go in, let them have their meal without us. Let me stay with you. What are you thinking of? [Pause] You’re twenty. I’m not yet thirty. How many years are there left to us, with their long, long lines of days, filled with my love for you. . . .

Irina. Nicolai Lvovitch, don’t speak to me of love.

Tuzenbach. [Does not hear] I’ve a great thirst for life, struggle, and work, and this thirst has united with my love for you, Irina, and you’re so beautiful, and life seems so beautiful to me! What are you thinking about?

Irina. You say that life is beautiful. Yes, if only it seems so! The life of us three hasn’t been beautiful yet; it has been stifling us as if it was weeds . . . I’m crying. I oughtn’t. . . . [Dries her tears, smiles] We must work, work. That is why we are unhappy and look at the world so sadly; we don’t know what work is. Our parents despised work. . . .

[Enter NATALIA IVANOVA; she wears a pink dress and a green sash.]

Natasha. They’re already at lunch . . . I’m late . . . [Carefully examines herself in a mirror, and puts herself straight] I think my hair’s done all right. . . . [Sees Irina] Dear Irina Sergeyevna, I congratulate you! [Kisses her firmly and at length] You’ve so many visitors, I’m really ashamed. . . . How do you do, Baron!

Olga. [Enters from dining-room] Here’s Natalia Ivanovna. How are you, dear! [They kiss.]

Natasha. Happy returns. I’m awfully shy, you’ve so many people here.

Olga. All our friends. [Frightened, in an undertone] You’re wearing a green sash! My dear, you shouldn’t!

Natasha. Is it a sign of anything?

Olga. No, it simply doesn’t go well . . . and it looks so queer.

Natasha. [In a tearful voice] Yes? But it isn’t really green, it’s too dull for that. [Goes into dining-room with Olga.]

[They have all sat down to lunch in the dining-room, the sitting-room is empty.]

Kuligin. I wish you a nice fiancée, Irina. It’s quite time you married.

Chebutikin. Natalia Ivanovna, I wish you the same.

Kuligin. Natalia Ivanovna has a fiancé already.

Masha. [Raps with her fork on a plate] Let’s all get drunk and make life purple for once!

Kuligin. You’ve lost three good conduct marks.

Vershinin. This is a nice drink. What’s it made of?

Soleni. Blackbeetles.

Irina. [Tearfully] Phoo! How disgusting!

Olga. There is to be a roast turkey and a sweet apple pie for dinner. Thank goodness I can spend all day and the evening at home. You’ll come in the evening, ladies and gentlemen. . . .

Vershinin. And please may I come in the evening!

Irina. Please do.

Natasha. They don’t stand on ceremony here.

Chebutikin. Nature only brought us into the world that we should love! [Laughs.]

Andrey. [Angrily] Please don’t! Aren’t you tired of it?

[Enter Fedotik and Rode with a large basket of flowers.]

Fedotik. They’re lunching already.

Rode. [Loudly and thickly] Lunching? Yes, so they are. . . .

Fedotik. Wait a minute! [Takes a photograph] That’s one. No, just a moment. . . . [Takes another] That’s two. Now we’re ready!

[They take the basket and go into the dining-room, where they have a noisy reception.]

Rode. [Loudly] Congratulations and best wishes! Lovely weather to-day, simply perfect. Was out walking with the High School students all the morning. I take their drills.

Fedotik. You may move, Irina Sergeyevna! [Takes a photograph] You look well to-day. [Takes a humming-top out of his pocket] Here’s a humming-top, by the way. It’s got a lovely note!

Irina. How awfully nice!

Masha.

“There stands a green oak by the sea,

And a chain of bright gold is around it . . .

And a chain of bright gold is around it . . . ”

[Tearfully] What am I saying that for? I’ve had those words running in my head all day. . . .

Kuligin. There are thirteen at table!

Rode. [Aloud] Surely you don’t believe in that superstition? [Laughter.]

Kuligin. If there are thirteen at table then it means there are lovers present. It isn’t you, Ivan Romanovitch, hang it all. . . . [Laughter.]

Chebutikin. I’m a hardened sinner, but I really don’t see why Natalia Ivanovna should blush. . . .

[Loud laughter; Natasha runs out into the sitting-room, followed by Andrey.]

Andrey. Don’t pay any attention to them! Wait . . . do stop, please. . . .

Natasha. I’m shy . . . I don’t know what’s the matter with me and they’re all laughing at me. It wasn’t nice of me to leave the table like that, but I can’t . . . I can’t. [Covers her face with her hands.]

Andrey. My dear, I beg you. I implore you not to excite yourself. I assure you they’re only joking, they’re kind people. My dear, good girl, they’re all kind and sincere people, and they like both you and me. Come here to the window, they can’t see us here. . . . [Looks round.]

Natasha. I’m so unaccustomed to meeting people!

Andrey. Oh your youth, your splendid, beautiful youth! My darling, don’t be so excited! Believe me, believe me . . . I’m so happy, my soul is full of love, of ecstasy. . . . They don’t see us! They can’t! Why, why or when did I fall in love with you — Oh, I can’t understand anything. My dear, my pure darling, be my wife! I love you, love you . . . as never before. . . . [They kiss.]

[Two officers come in and, seeing the lovers kiss, stop in astonishment.]

Curtain.

http://ebooks.adelaide.edu.au/c/chekhov/anton/three_sisters/act1.html

Last updated Friday, March 7, 2014 at 13:06