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The Marriage Proposal

A play by Anton Chekhov, revised and illustrated by Ayal Pinkus

The scene is plays at a drawing-room in Father's country-house.

Neighbor enters, wearing a dress-jacket and white gloves. Father rises to meet him.

 
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(Father, squeezes Neighbor's hand) My dear fellow, whom do I see! Ivan Vassilevitch! I am extremely glad to see you! Now this is a surprise, my friend... How are you?
 
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(Neighbor) Thank you. And how are you?
 
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We survive, somehow. Please, sit down. We neighbors should see each other more often, you know!

Tell me, why are you all dressed up like that? The evening dress, the white gloves, and so on. Are seeing someone tonight?

 
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No, I have just come to see you, honoured Stepan Stepanovitch.
 
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Then why are you in evening dress, my friend? It's as if you're paying me a New Year's Eve visit!
 
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(takes his arm) Well, you see, it's like this; I've come to you, honoured Stepan Stepanovitch, to trouble you with a request.

It is not the first time I had the privilege of turning to you for help, and you have always, so to speak—

I must beg your pardon, I am getting nervous. I shall drink some water, honoured Stepan Stepanovitch.

Neighbor takes a sip of water.
 
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(Father, addresses the reader) He's come to borrow money! I Shall not give him any!

(aloud) What is it, my dear friend?

 
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You see, Honour Stepanitch... I beg pardon, Stepan Honouritch... I mean, I'm awfully nervous, as you will please notice.... What I want to say is that you, and you alone, can help me, even though I don't deserve it, of course, and don't have any right to ask you for help....
 
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Oh, don't beat about the bush, my friend! Spit it out!
 
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One moment. Here it is; The fact is that I have come to ask for the hand of your daughter, Natalya Stepanovna.
 
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(joyfully) My goodness! Ivan Vassilevitch! Please say it again—I don't think I heard right!
 
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I have the honour to ask—
 
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(interrupting) My dear fellow... I'm so glad that this... Well, this!

(embraces and kisses Neighbor) I've been hoping for this to happen for such a long time. It has been my dearest wish.

(sheds a tear) And I've always loved you, my friend, as if you were my own son. May God give you both His help and His love and... and I did so much hope... Why am I behaving in this idiotic way? I'm ecstatic with joy, absolutely off ecstatic! Oh, with all my soul... I'll go and call Natasha, and all that.

 
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(greatly moved) Honoured Stepan Stepanovitch, do you think I may count on her consent?
 
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Why, of course, my friend, and... why would she ever not consent! She's in love; she's like a regular love-sick cat, and so on.... I shall not be long!
Father exits.
 
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It's cold... I'm shivering all over, just as if I'm about to be examined.

The most important thing is to get this over with quickly. If I give myself time to think, to hesitate, to talk a lot, to look for an ideal wife, or for a woman I really love, then I'll never get married....

Brr!... It's cold! Natalya Stepanovna is an excellent housekeeper, and she is not bad-looking, well-educated.... What more could I possibly want?

My mind is racing from excitement.

Neighbor drinks.
 
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And I have to marry now. For starters, I'm already 35—a critical age, so to speak. Second, I should lead a quiet and regular life.... I have a weak heart and suffer from palpitations, I'm excitable and always getting awfully upset...

At this very moment my lips are trembling, and there's a twitch in my right eyebrow...

But the very worst of all is the way I sleep. I no sooner get into bed and begin to go off when I suddenly get a cramp in my left side—and I can feel pain in my shoulder and I also get a headache...

I jump out of bed like a lunatic and walk around a bit, and then lie down again, but as soon as I begin to fall asleep again, there's another cramp! This can go on all night long....

Daughter comes in.
 
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(Daughter) Ah, it's you! And papa said, to go inside because there was a customer who wanted to buy some goods.

How do you do, Ivan Vassilevitch!

 
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How do you do, honoured Natalya Stepanovna?
 
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You must excuse me for wearing my apron and this old dress, we're shelling peas for drying.

Why haven't you been here for such a long time? Sit down.

They seat themselves.
 
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Won't you have some lunch?
 
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No, thank you, I've had some already.
 
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Feel free to smoke if you want. Here are some matches.

The weather is splendid now, but yesterday it was so wet that the workmen didn't do anything all day.

How much hay have you stacked?

Me myself, I was so eager that I had a whole field mowed, and now I'm not at all happy about it because I'm afraid my hay may rot. I should have waited a bit.

But what's this? Why, you're in evening dress! Well, I never! Are you going to a ball or something?—I must say you do look sharp. Tell me, why have you dressed up like that?

 
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(excited) You see, honoured Natalya Stepanovna... the fact is, I've made up my mind to ask you to hear me out.... Of course you'll be surprised and perhaps even angry, but a...

(addresses the reader) It's awfully cold!

 
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What's the matter?

(pauses) Well?

 
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I shall try to be brief. You know, honoured Natalya Stepanovna, that I have long, since my childhood, in fact, had the privilege of knowing your family.

My late aunt and her husband, from whom, as you know, I inherited my land, always had the greatest respect for your father and your late mother.

The Lomovs and the Chubukovs have always had the most friendly, and I might almost say the most affectionate, regard for each other.

And, as you know, my land is a near neighbor of yours.

You will remember that my meadows touch your birchwoods.

 
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Excuse me for interrupting you. You say, “my meadows....” But are they yours?
 
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Yes, they are mine.
 
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What are you talking about? The meadows are ours, not yours!
 
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No, they are mine, honoured Natalya Stepanovna.
 
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Well, I never heard of that before. How do you figure the meadows are yours?
 
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How? Well, I am speaking of those meadows which are wedged in between your birchwoods and the Burnt Marsh.
 
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Yes, yes.... They're ours.
 
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No, you're mistaken, honoured Natalya Stepanovna, they're mine.
 
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Try to remember, Ivan Vassilevitch! How long do you think they have they been yours?
 
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How long? For as long as I can remember.
 
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Really? You will excuse me for not believing you.
 
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But you can see from the records, honoured Natalya Stepanovna.

The meadows, it's true, were once the subject of a dispute, but now everybody knows that they are mine.

There's nothing to argue about. You see, my aunt's grandmother gave the free use of these meadows in perpetuity to the peasants of your father's grandfather, in return for which they were to make bricks of hay for her.

The peasants belonging to your father's grandfather had the free use of the meadows for forty years, and they had gotten into the habit of regarding them as their own, when it happened that—

 
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No, no, it isn't at all like that! Both my grandfather and great-grandfather reckoned that their land extended to Burnt Marsh—which means that the meadows were ours.

I don't see what there is to argue about. It's simply silly!

 
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I'll show you the records, Natalya Stepanovna!
 
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No, you're just joking, you're just making fun of me. This is not nice!

We've had the land in our possession for nearly three hundred years, and now we're suddenly being told that it isn't ours!

Ivan Vassilevitch, I can hardly believe my what I'm hearing.

These meadows aren't worth much to me.

They're only around thirteen acres and they are perhaps worth maybe 300 roubles or so, but I can't stand unfairness. Say what you want, but I will not stand for unfairness.

 
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Hear me out, I beg you! The peasants of your father's grandfather, as I have already had the honour of explaining to you, used to make bricks of hay for my aunt's grandmother. Now my aunt's grandmother, wishing to make them a pleasant...
 
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I can't make head or tail of all this about aunts and grandfathers and grandmothers! The meadows are ours, and that's all there is to it.
 
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Mine.
 
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Ours! You can go on “proving” it for days on end, you can go and put on fifteen dress-jackets, but I am telling you the meadows are ours, ours, ours!

I don't want anything of yours and I don't want to give up anything of mine. So there!

 
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Natalya Ivanovna, I don't want the meadows, but I am acting on principle. If you like, I'll give them to you as a present.
 
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I can give them to myself, because they're mine!

Your behaviour, Ivan Vassilevitch, is strange, to say the least! Up to today, we have always thought of you as a good neighbor, a friend: last year we lent you our threshing-machine, although on that account we had to put off our own threshing until November.

And now you treat us as if we were gipsies.

Giving me my own land, indeed!

No, really, that's not at all neighborly! In my opinion, it's even impudent, if you want to know...

 
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Then you are saying that I am a land-grabber?

Madam, never in my life have I grabbed anybody else's land, and I shall not allow anybody to accuse me of having done so....

(quickly steps to the carafe and drinks more water) The meadows are mine!

 
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It's not true, they're ours!
 
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Mine!
 
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It's not true! I'll prove it! I'll send my mowers out to the meadows this very day!
 
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What?
 
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My mowers will be there this very day!
 
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I'll chase them off with my guns!
 
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If you dare!
 
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(clutches at his heart) The meadows are mine! Do you understand? Mine!
 
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Please don't shout! You can shout yourself hoarse in your own house, but here I must ask you to restrain yourself!
 
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If it wasn't, madam, for this awful, excruciating palpitation, if my whole inside wasn't upset, I'd talk to you in a different way!
 
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(yells) The meadows are mine!
 
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Ours!
 
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Mine!
 
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Ours!
 
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Mine!
Enter Father.
 
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What's the matter? What are you two shouting?
 
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Papa, please tell this gentleman who owns the meadows, we or he?
 
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(to Neighbor) My friend, the meadows are ours!
 
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But, please, Stepan Stepanitch, how can they be yours? Do be a reasonable man!

My aunt's grandmother gave the meadows for the temporary and free use of your grandfather's peasants. The peasants used the land for forty years and got as accustomed to it as if it was their own, when it happened that...

 
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Excuse me, my dear friend. You forget just this small detail, which is that the peasants didn't pay your grandmother and all that, because the meadows were in dispute, and so on. And now everybody knows that they're ours. It means that you haven't seen the plan.
 
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I'll prove to you that they're mine!
 
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You won't prove it, my friend.
 
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I shall!
 
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Dear friend, why do you yell like that? You won't prove anything just by yelling.

I don't want anything of yours, and don't intend to give up what I have. Why should I?

And you know, my dear neighbor, that if you propose to go on arguing about it, I'd much sooner give up the meadows to the peasants than to you. There!

I don't understand! How have you the right to give away somebody else's property?

You may take it that I know whether I have the right or not. Because, young man, I'm not used to being spoken to in that tone of voice, and so on:

I, young man, am twice your age, and I ask you to speak to me without agitating yourself, and all that.

 
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No. You just think I'm a fool and you want to lead me on!

You call my land yours, and then you want me to talk to you calmly and politely!

Good neighbors don't behave like that, Stepan Stepanitch! You're not a neighbor, you're a land-grabber!

 
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What's that? What did you say?
 
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Papa, send the mowers out to the meadows at once!
 
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What did you say, sir?
 
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The meadows are ours, and I shan't give them up, shan't give them up, shan't give them up!
 
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We'll see! I'll have the matter taken to court, and then I'll show you!
 
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To court? You can take it to court, and all that! You can! I know you; you're just on the look-out for a chance to go to court, and all that.... You pettifogger! All your people were like that! All of them!
 
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Never mind about my people! The Lomovs have all been honorable people, and not one has ever been tried for embezzlement, like your grandfather!
 
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You Lomovs have had lunacy in your family, all of you!
 
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All, all, all!
 
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Your grandfather was a drunkard, and your younger aunt, Nastasya Mihailovna, ran away with an architect, and so on.
 
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And your mother was hump-backed.
 
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(clutches at his heart) A cramp in my side.... My head hurts.... Help! Water!
 
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Your father was an alcohol-guzzling gambler!
 
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And there haven't been many backbiters to equal your aunt!
 
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My left foot has gone to sleep.... You're an intriguer.... Oh, my heart!... And it's an open secret that before the last elections you bri... I can see stars.... Where's my hat?
 
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It's low! It's dishonest! It's mean!
 
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And you're just a malicious, double-faced intriguer! Yes!
 
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Here's my hat.... My heart!... Which way? Where's the door? Oh!... I think I'm dying.... My foot's quite numb....
Neighbor goes to the door.
 
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(following him) And don't set foot in my house again!
 
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Take it to court! We'll see!
Neighbor staggers out.
 
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(walks about in excitement) What a devil!
 
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What a rascal! How can one trust one's neighbors after that!
 
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The villain! The scarecrow!
 
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The monster! First he takes our land and then he has the impudence to abuse us.
 
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And that blind hen, yes, that turnip-ghost has the confounded cheek to make a proposal, and so on!

What? A proposal!

 
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What proposal?
 
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Why, he came here so as to propose to you.
 
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To propose? To me? Why didn't you tell me so before?
 
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So he dresses up in evening clothes. The stuffed sausage! The wizen-faced frump!
 
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To propose to me? Ah!
 
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(falls into an easy-chair and wails) Bring him back! Back! Ah! Bring him here.
 
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Bring whom here?
 
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(hysterical) Quick, quick! I'm ill! Fetch him!
 
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What's that? What's the matter with you?
 
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(clutches at his head) Oh, unhappy man that I am! I'll shoot myself! I'll hang myself! We've done for her!
 
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I'm dying! Fetch him!
 
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Tfoo! I shall do so at once. Don't yell at me!
Father runs out. A pause. Daughter wails.
 
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What have they done to me! Fetch him back! Fetch him!
A pause. Father runs back in.
 
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He's coming, and so on, may the devil take him! Ouf! Talk to him yourself; I don't want to....
 
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(wails) Fetch him!
 
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(yells) He's coming, I'm telling you.

Oh, what a burden, my Lord, to be the father of a grown-up daughter! I'll cut my throat! I will, indeed!

We cursed him, abused him, drove him out, and it's all you... you!

 
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No, it was you!
 
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I tell you it's not my fault.
Neighbor appears at the door.
 
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Now you talk to him yourself.
Father exits.

Neighbor enters, exhausted.

 
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My heart's palpitating awfully.... My foot's gone to sleep.... I keep having cramps in my side.
 
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Forgive us, Ivan Vassilevitch, we were all a little heated.... I remember now: the meadows really are yours.
 
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My heart's beating awfully.... My meadows.... My eyebrows are both twitching....
 
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The meadows are yours, yes, yours.... Do sit down....
They sit.
 
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We were wrong....
 
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I did it on principle.... My land is worth little to me, but the principle...
 
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Yes, the principle, precisely.... Now let's talk about something else.
 
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The more so as I have evidence. My aunt's grandmother gave the land to your father's grandfather's peasants...
 
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Yes, yes, let that pass....
 
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(addresses the audience) I wish I knew how to get him started....
 
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(aloud) Are you going to start shooting soon?
 
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I'm thinking of having a go at the blackcock, honoured Natalya Stepanovna, after the harvest. Oh, have you heard? Just think, what a misfortune I've had! My dog Guess, whom you know, has gone lame.
 
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What a pity! Why?
 
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I don't know.... He must have gotten his leg twisted, or bitten by some other dog....
 
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(sighs) My very best dog, to say nothing of the expense. I gave Mironov 125 roubles for him.
 
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It was too much, Ivan Vassilevitch.
 
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I think it was very cheap. He's a first-rate dog.
 
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Papa gave 85 roubles for his Squeezer, and Squeezer is heaps better than Guess!
 
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Squeezer better than Guess? You are out of your mind!
 
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(laughs) Squeezer better than Guess!
 
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Of course he's better! Of course, Squeezer is young, he may develop a bit, but on points and pedigree he's better than anything that even Volchanetsky has got.
 
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Excuse me, Natalya Stepanovna, but you forget that he has an over-bite, and an over-bite always means the dog is a bad hunter!
 
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He has an over-bite? That's the first time I hear of it!
 
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I assure you that his lower jaw is shorter than the upper.
 
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Have you measured?
 
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Yes. He's all right at following, of course, but if you want him to get hold of anything...
 
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To begin with, our Squeezer is a thoroughbred animal, the son of Harness and Chisels, while there's no getting at the pedigree of your dog at all.... He's old and as ugly as a worn-out cab-horse.
 
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He is old, but I wouldn't take five Squeezers for him.... Why, how can you?...

Guess is a dog; as for Squeezer, well, it's too funny to argue.... Anybody you like has a dog as good as Squeezer... you may find them under every bush almost.

Twenty-five roubles would be a handsome price to pay for him.

 
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You're picking fights today, Ivan Vassilevitch.

First you pretend that the meadows are yours. Then, you say that Guess is better than Squeezer. I don't like people who don't say what they mean, because you know perfectly well that Squeezer is a hundred times better than your silly Guess. Why do you want to say he isn't?

 
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I see, Natalya Stepanovna, that you consider me either blind or a fool. You must realize that Squeezer has an over-bite!
 
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It's not true.
 
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He has!
 
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It's not true!
 
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Why do you shout, madam?
 
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Why do you talk nonsense? It's awful! It's time your Guess was shot, and you compare him with Squeezer!
 
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Excuse me; I cannot continue this discussion: my heart is palpitating.
 
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I've noticed that those hunters who know the least argue the most.
 
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Madam, please be silent.... My heart is going to pieces....
 
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(shouts) Shut up!
 
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I shall n't shut up until you acknowledge that Squeezer is a hundred times better than your Guess!
 
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A hundred times worse! Be hanged to your Squeezer! His head... eyes... shoulder...
 
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There's no need to hang your silly Guess; he's half-dead already!
 
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(weeps) Shut up! My heart's bursting!
 
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I shall not shut up.
Enter Father.
 
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What's the matter now?
 
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Papa, tell us truly, which is the better dog, our Squeezer or his Guess.
 
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Stepan Stepanovitch, I implore you to tell me just one thing: does your Squeezer have an over-bite or not? Yes or no?
 
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And suppose he has? What does it matter? He's the best dog in the district for all that, and so on.
 
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But isn't my Guess better? Really, now?
 
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Don't excite yourself, my precious one.... Allow me.... Your Guess certainly has his good points.... He's pure-bred, firm on his feet, has well-sprung ribs, and all that. But, my dear man, if you want to know the truth, that dog has two defects: he's old and he's short in the muzzle.
 
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Excuse me, my heart.... Let's take the facts.... You will remember that on the Marusinsky hunt my Guess ran neck-and-neck with the Count's dog, while your Squeezer was left a whole distance behind.
 
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He got left behind because the Count's whipper-in hit him with his whip.
 
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And with good reason. The dogs were running after a fox, and then Squeezer goes and starts worrying a sheep!
 
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It's not true!... My dear fellow, I'm very liable to lose my temper, and so, just because of that, let's stop arguing.

You started because everybody is always jealous of everybody else's dogs.

Yes, we're all like that! You too, sir, aren't blameless!

You no sooner notice that some dog is better than your Guess than you begin with this, that... and the other... and all that.... I remember everything!

 
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I remember too!
 
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(teasing him) I remember, too.... What do you remember?
 
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My heart... my foot's gone to sleep.... I can't...
 
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(teasing) My heart.... What sort of a hunter are you?

You ought to go and lie on the kitchen oven and catch blackbeetles, not go after foxes! My heart!

 
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Yes really, what sort of a hunter are you, anyway?

You ought to sit at home with your palpitations, and not go tracking animals. You could go hunting, but you only go out to argue with people and interfere with their dogs and so on.

Let's change the subject in case I lose my temper.

You're not a hunter at all, anyway!

 
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And are you a hunter? You only go hunting to get in with the Count and to intrigue.... Oh, my heart!... You're an intriguer!
 
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What? I an intriguer?
 
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(shouts) Shut up!
 
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Intriguer!
 
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Boy! Pup!
 
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Old rat! Jesuit!
 
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Shut up or I'll shoot you like a partridge! You fool!
 
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Everybody knows that—oh my heart!—your late wife used to beat you.... My feet... temples... sparks.... I'm falling, I'm falling!
 
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And you're under the slipper of your housekeeper!
 
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There, there, there... my heart's burst! My shoulder's come off.... Where is my shoulder? I'm dying.
Neighbor falls into an armchair.
 
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A doctor!
Neighbor faints.
 
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Boy! Milksop! Fool! I'm sick!
 
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(drinks water) Sick!
 
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What sort of a hunter are you? You can't even sit on a horse!
 
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(to her father) Papa, what's the matter with him? Papa! Look, papa!
 
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(screams) Ivan Vassilevitch! He's dead!
 
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I'm sick!... I can't breathe!... Air!
 
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He's dead.
 
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(pulls LOMOV'S sleeve) Ivan Vassilevitch! Ivan Vassilevitch! What have you done to me? He's dead.
 
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(falls into an armchair, becomes hysterical) A doctor, a doctor!
 
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Oh!... What is it? What's the matter?
 
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(wails) He's dead... dead!
 
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Who's dead?
 
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(looks at LOMOV) So he is! My goodness! Water! A doctor!
 
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(lifts a tumbler to Neighbor'S mouth) Drink this!... No, he doesn't drink.... It means he's dead, and all that.... I'm the most unhappy man alive! Why don't I put a bullet into my head? Why haven't I cut my throat yet? What am I waiting for? Give me a knife! Give me a pistol!
Neighbor moves.
 
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He seems to be coming round.... Drink some water! That's right....
 
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I see stars... mist.... Where am I?
 
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Hurry up and get married and—well, to the devil with you! She's willing!
 
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(he puts LOMOV'S hand into his daughter's) She's willing and all that. I give you my blessing and so on. Only leave me in peace!
 
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(getting up) Eh? What? To whom?
 
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She's willing! Well? Kiss and be damned to you!
 
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(wails) He's alive... Yes, yes, I'm willing....
 
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Kiss each other!
 
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Eh? Kiss whom?
They kiss.
 
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Very nice.... Excuse me, what's is this all about? Oh, wait, I remember... my heart... stars... I'm happy.

Natalya Stepanovna....

 
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(kisses her hand) My foot's gone to sleep....
 
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I... I'm happy too....
 
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What a weight off my shoulders.... Ouf!
 
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But... still you will admit now that Guess is worse than Squeezer.
 
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Better!
 
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Worse!
 
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Well, that's a way to start your family bliss! Have some champagne!
 
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He's better!
 
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Worse! worse! worse!
 
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(trying to shout her down) Champagne! Champagne!
END