BETWEEN six and seven o’clock on a July evening, a crowd of summer visitors—mostly fathers of families—burdened with parcels, portfolios, and ladies’ hat-boxes, was trailing along from the little station of Helkovo, in the direction of the summer villas. They all looked exhausted, hungry, and ill-humoured, as though the sun were not shining and the grass were not green for them.
Trudging along among the others was Pavel Matveyitch Zaikin, a member of the Circuit Court, a tall, stooping man, in a cheap cotton dust-coat and with a cockade on his faded cap. He was perspiring, red in the face, and gloomy. . . .
“Do you come out to your holiday home every day?” said a summer visitor, in ginger-coloured trousers, addressing him.
“No, not every day,” Zaikin answered sullenly. “My wife and son are staying here all the while, and I come down two or three times a week. I haven’t time to come every day; besides, it is expensive.”
“You’re right there; it is expensive,” sighed he of the ginger trousers. “In town you can’t walk to the station, you have to take a cab; and then, the ticket costs forty-two kopecks; you buy a paper for the journey; one is tempted to drink a glass of vodka. It’s all petty expenditure not worth considering, but, mind you, in the course of the summer it will run up to some two hundred roubles. Of course, to be in the lap of Nature is worth any money—I don’t dispute it . . . idyllic and all the rest of it; but of course, with the salary an official gets, as you know yourself, every farthing has to be considered. If you waste a halfpenny you lie awake all night. . . . Yes. . . I receive, my dear sir—I haven’t the honour of knowing your name—I receive a salary of very nearly two thousand roubles a year. I am a civil councillor, I smoke second-rate tobacco, and I haven’t a rouble to spare to buy Vichy water, prescribed me by the doctor for gall-stones.”
“It’s altogether abominable,” said Zaikin after a brief silence. “I maintain, sir, that summer holidays are the invention of the devil and of woman. The devil was actuated in the present instance by malice, woman by excessive frivolity. Mercy on us, it is not life at all; it is hard labour, it is hell! It’s hot and stifling, you can hardly breathe, and you wander about like a lost soul and can find no refuge. In town there is no furniture, no servants. . . everything has been carried off to the villa: you eat what you can get; you go without your tea because there is no one to heat the samovar; you can’t wash yourself; and when you come down here into this ‘lap of Nature’ you have to walk, if you please, through the dust and heat. . . . Phew! Are you married?”