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
THE high-school boy Gregory Ziboroff condescendingly shakes hands with little Pete Udodoff.
Pete, a chubby youngster of twelve with bristling hair, red cheeks, and a low forehead, dressed in a little grey suit, bows and scrapes, and reaches into the cupboard for his books. The lesson begins.
According to an agreement made with Udodoff, the father, Ziboroff is to help Pete with his lessons for two hours each day, in return for which he is to receive six roubles a month. He is preparing the boy for the second grade of the high-school. He prepared him for the first grade last year, but little Pete failed to pass his examinations.
"Very well," begins Ziboroff lighting a cigarette. "You had the fourth declension to study. Decline fructus!"
Peter begins to decline it.
"There, you haven't studied again!" cries Ziboroff rising. "This is the sixth time I have given you the fourth declension to learn, and you can't get it through your head! For heaven's sake, when will you ever begin to study your lessons?"
"What, you haven't studied again?" exclaims a wheezing voice in the next room and Pete's papa, a retired civil servant, enters. "Why haven't you studied? Oh, you little donkey! Just think, Gregory, I had to thrash him again yesterday!"
Sighing profoundly, Udodoff sits down beside his son and opens the boy's ragged grammar. Ziboroff begins examining Pete before his father, thinking to himself: "I'll just show that stupid father what a stupid son he has!" The high-school boy is seized with the fury of the examiner and is ready to beat the little red-cheeked numskull before him, he hates and despises him so. He is even annoyed when the youngster hits on the right answer to one of his questions. How odious this little Pete seems to him!
"You don't even know the second declension! You don't even know the first! This is the way you learn your lessons! Come, tell me, what is the vocative of meus filius?"
"The vocative of meus filius? Why the vocative of meus filius is--it is--"
Pete stares hard at the ceiling and moves his lips inaudibly. No answer comes.
"What is the dative of dea?"
"Deabus--filiabus!" Pete bursts out.
Old Udodoff nods approvingly. The high-school boy, who was not expecting a correct answer, feels annoyed.
"What other nouns have their dative in abus?" he asks.
It appears that anima, the soul, has its dative in abus, something that is not to be found in any grammar.
"What a melodious language Latin is!" observes Udodoff. "Alontron--bonus--anthropos--how marvellous! It is all very important!" he concludes with a sigh.
"The old brute is interrupting the lesson," thinks Ziboroff. "Sitting over us like an inspector--I hate to be bossed! Now, then!" he cries to Pete. "You must learn that same lesson over again for next time. Next we'll do some arithmetic. Fetch your slate! I want you to do this problem."
Pete spits on his slate and rubs it dry with his sleeve. His tutor picks up the arithmetic and dictates the following problem to him.
"'If a merchant buys 138 yards of cloth, some of which is black and some blue, for 540 roubles, how many yards of each did he buy if the blue cloth cost 5 roubles a yard and the black cloth 3?' Repeat what I have just said."
Peter repeats the problem and instantly and silently begins to divide 540 by 138.
"What are you doing? Wait a moment! No, no, go ahead! Is there a remainder? There ought not to be. Here, let me do it!"
Ziboroff divides 540 by 138, and finds that it goes three times and something over. He quickly rubs out the sum.
"How queer!" he thinks, ruffling his hair and flushing. "How should it be done? H'm--this is an indeterminate equation and not a sum in arithmetic at all--"
The tutor looks in the back of the book and finds that the answer is 75 and 63.
"H'm--that's queer. Ought I to add 5 and 3 and divide 540 by 8? Is that right? No that's not it. Come, do the sum!" he says to Pete.
"What's the matter with you? That's an easy problem!" cries Udodoff to Peter. "What a goose you are, sonny! Do it for him, Mr. Ziboroff!"
Gregory takes the pencil and begins figuring. He hiccoughs and flushes and pales.
"The fact is, this is an algebraical problem," he says. "It ought to be solved with x and y. But it can be done in this way, too. Very well, I divide this by this, do you understand? Now then, I subtract it from this, see? Or, no, let me tell you, suppose you do this sum yourself for to-morrow. Think it out alone!"
Pete smiles maliciously. Udodoff smiles, too. Both realize the tutor's perplexity. The high-school boy becomes still more violently embarrassed, rises, and begins to walk up and down.
"That sum can be done without the help of algebra," says Udodoff, sighing and reaching for the counting board. "Look here!"
He rattles the counting board for a moment, and produces the answer 75 and 63. which is correct.
"That's how we ignorant folks do it."
The tutor falls a prey to the most unbearably painful sensations. He looks at the clock with a sinking heart, and sees that it still lacks an hour and a quarter to the end of the lesson. What an eternity that is!
"Now we will have some dictation," he says. After the dictation comes a lesson in geography; after that, Bible study; after Bible study, Russian--there is so much to learn in this world! At last the two hours' lesson is over, Ziboroff reaches for his cap, condescendingly shakes hands with little Pete, and takes his leave of Udodoff.
"Could you let me have a little money to-day?" he asks timidly. "I must pay my school bill to-morrow. You owe me for six months' lessons."
"Oh, do I really? Oh, yes, yes--" mutters Udodoff. "I would certainly let you have the money with pleasure, but I'm sorry to say I haven't any just now. Perhaps in a week--or two."
Ziboroff acquiesces, puts on his heavy goloshes, and goes out to give his next lesson.