Monday, October 18, 2010

A Ninny

by Anton Chekhov

A few days ago I asked my children's governess, Julia Vassilyevna, to come into my study.

"Sit down, Julia Vassilyevna," I said. "Let's settle our accounts. Although you most likely need some money, you stand on ceremony and won't ask for it yourself. Now then, we agreed on thirty rubles a month..."


"No, thirty. I made a note of it. I always pay the governess thirty. Now then, you have been here two months, so ...."

"Two months and five days."

"Exactly two months. I made a specific note of it. That means you have sixty rubles coming to you. Subtract nine Sundays... you know you did not work with Kolya on Sundays, you only took walks. And three holidays..."

Julia Vassilyevna flushed a deep red and picked at the flounce of her dress, but - not a word.

"Three holidays, therefore take off twelve rubles. Four day Kolya was sick and there were no lesson, as you were occupied with Vanya. Three days you had a toothache and my wife gave you permission not to work after lunch. Twelve and seven - nineteen. Subtract... that leaves... hmm... forty-one rubles. Correct?"

Julia Vassilyevna's left eye reddened and filled with moisture. Her chin trembled; she coughed nervously and blew her nose, but - not a word.

"Around New Year's you broke a teacup and saucer: take off two rubles. The cup cost more, it was an heirloom, but - let it go. When did not I take a loss! Then, due to your neglect, Kolya climbed a tree and tore his jacket: take away ten. Also due to your heedlessness the maid stole Vanya's shoes. You ought to watch everything! You get paid for it. So, that means five more rubles off. The tenth of January I gave you ten rubles..."

"You did not", whispered Julia Vassilyevna.

"But I made a note of it."

"Well... all right."

"Take twenty-seven from forty-one - that leaves fourteen."

Both eyes willed with tears. Perspiration appeared on the thin, pretty little nose. Poor girl!

"Only once was I given any money," she said in a trembling voice, "and that was by your wife. Three rubles, nothing more."

"Really? You see now, and I did not make a note of it! Take three from fourteen... leaves eleven. Here is your money, my dear. Three, three, three, one and one. Her it is!

I handed her eleven rubles. She took them and with trembling fingers stuffed them into her pocket.

"Merci," she whispered.

I jumped up and started pacing the room. I was overcome with anger.

"For what, this - 'merci'?" I asked.

"For the money."

"But you know I have cheated you, for God's sake - robbed you! I have actually stolen from you! Why this 'merci'?"

"In my other places, they did not give me anything at all."

"They did not give you anything? No wonder! I played a little joke on you, a cruel lesson, just to teach you... I am going to give you the entire eighty rubles! Here they are in an envelope all ready for you... Is it really possible to be so spineless? Why don't you protest? Why be silent? Is it possible in this world to be without teeth and claws - to be such a nincompoop?"

She smiled crookedly and I read in her expression: "It is possible."

I asked her pardon for the cruel lesson and, to her great surprise, gave her eighty rubles. She murmured her little "merci" several times and went out. I looked after her and thought: "How easy it is to crush the weak in this world!"

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