From Russian Silhouettes: More Stories of Russian Life, by Anton Tchekoff, translated from the Russian by Marian Fell. New York: Charles Scribner's Sons, October, 1915.
By Anton Chekhov
GRISHA, a chubby little boy born only two years and eight months ago, was out walking on the boulevard with his nurse. He wore a long, wadded burnoose, a large cap with a furry knob, a muffler, and wool-lined goloshes. He felt stuffy and hot, and, in addition, the waxing sun of April was beating directly into his face and making his eyelids smart.
Every inch of his awkward little figure, with its timid, uncertain steps, bespoke a boundless perplexity.
Until that day the only universe known to Grisha had been square. In one corner of it stood his crib, in another stood nurse's trunk, in the third was a chair, and in the fourth a little icon lamp. If you looked under the bed you saw a doll with one arm and a drum; behind nurse's trunk were a great many various objects: a few empty spools, some scraps of paper, a box without a lid, and a broken jumping-jack. In this world, besides nurse and Grisha, there often appeared mamma and the cat. Mamma looked like a doll, and the cat looked like papa's fur coat, only the fur coat did not have eyes and a tail. From the world which was called the nursery a door led to a place where people dined and drank tea. There stood Grisha's high chair and there hung the clock made to wag its pendulum and strike. From the dining-room one could pass into another room with big red chairs; there, on the floor, glowered a dark stain for which people still shook their forefingers at Grisha. Still farther beyond lay another room, where one was not allowed to go, and in which one sometimes caught glimpses of papa, a very mysterious person! The functions of mamma and nurse were obvious: they dressed Grisha, fed him, and put him to bed; but why papa should be there was incomprehensible. Aunty was also a puzzling person. She appeared and disappeared. Where did she go? More than once Grisha had looked for her under the bed, behind the trunk, and under the sofa, but she was not to be found.
In the new world where he now found himself, where the sun dazzled one's eyes, there were so many papas and mammas and aunties that one scarcely knew which one to run to. But the funniest and oddest things of all were the horses. Grisha stared at their moving legs and could not understand them at all. He looked up at nurse, hoping that she might help him to solve the riddle, but she answered nothing.
Suddenly he heard a terrible noise. Straight toward him down the street came a squad of soldiers marching in step, with red faces and sticks under their arms. Grisha's blood ran cold with terror and he looked up anxiously at his nurse to inquire if this were not dangerous. But nursie neither ran away nor cried, so he decided it must be safe. He followed the soldiers with his eyes and began marching in step with them.
Across the street ran two big, long-nosed cats, their tails sticking straight up into the air and their tongues lolling out of their mouths. Grisha felt that he, too, ought to run, and he started off in pursuit.
"Stop, stop!" cried nursie, seizing him roughly by the shoulder. "Where are you going? Who told you to be naughty?"
But there sat a sort of nurse with a basket of oranges in her lap. As Grisha passed her he silently took one.
"Don't do that!" cried his fellow wayfarer, slapping his hand and snatching the orange away from him. "Little stupid!"
Next, Grisha would gladly have picked up some of the slivers of glass that rattled under his feet and glittered like icon lamps, but he was afraid that his hand might be slapped again.
"Good day!" Grisha heard a loud, hoarse voice say over his very ear, and, looking up, he caught sight of a tall person with shiny buttons.
To his great joy this man shook hands with nursie; they stood together and entered into conversation. The sunlight, the rumbling of the vehicles, the horses, the shiny buttons, all struck Grisha as so amazingly new and yet unterrifying, that his heart overflowed with delight and he began to laugh.
"Come! Come!" he cried to the man with the shiny buttons, pulling his coat tails.
"Where to?" asked the man.
"Come!" Grisha insisted. He would have liked to say that it would be nice to take papa and mamma and the cat along, too, but somehow his tongue would not obey him.
In a few minutes nurse turned off the boulevard and led Grisha into a large courtyard where the snow still lay on the ground. The man with shiny buttons followed them. Carefully avoiding the puddles and lumps of snow, they picked their way across the courtyard, mounted a dark, grimy staircase, and entered a room where the air was heavy with smoke and a strong smell of cooking. A woman was standing over a stove frying chops. This cook and nurse embraced one another, and, sitting down on a bench with the man, began talking in low voices. Bundled up as he was, Grisha felt unbearably hot.
"What does this mean?" he asked himself, gazing about. He saw a dingy ceiling, a two-pronged oven fork, and a stove with a huge oven mouth gaping at him.
"Ma-a-in-ma!" he wailed.
"Now! Now!" his nurse called to him. "Be good!"
The cook set a bottle, two glasses, and a pie on the table. The two women and the man with the shiny buttons touched glasses and each had several drinks. The man embraced alternately the cook and the nurse. Then all three began to sing softly.
Grisha stretched his hand toward the pie, and they gave him a piece. He ate it and watched his nurse drinking. He wanted to drink, too.
"Give, nursie! Give!" he begged.
The cook gave him a drink out of her glass. He screwed up his eyes, frowned, and coughed for a long time after that, beating the air with his hands, while the cook watched him and laughed.
When he reached home, Grisha explained to mamma, the walls, and his crib where he had been and what he had seen. He told it less with his tongue than with his hands and his face; he showed how the sun had shone, how the horses had trotted, how the terrible oven had gaped at him, and how the cook had drunk.
That evening he could not possibly go to sleep. The soldiers with their sticks, the great cats, the horses, the bits of glass, the basket of oranges, the shiny buttons, all this lay piled on his brain and oppressed him. He tossed from side to side, chattering to himself, and finally, unable longer to endure his excitement, he burst into tears.
"Why, he has fever!" cried mamma, laying the palm of her hand on his forehead. "What can be the reason?"
"The stove!" wept Grisha. "Go away, stove!"
"He has eaten something that has disagreed with him," mamma concluded.
And, shaken by his impressions of a new life apprehended for the first time, Grisha was given a spoonful of castor-oil by mamma.