An Intellectual Blockhead
By Anton Chekhov. First published in The Petersburg Gazette, 1885 (23 June).
Arkhip Yeliseich Pomoyev, a retired cornet, frowned and read out loud: “Justice of the Peace… for the district of… precinct… invites you etc. etc… as a defendant in the case of an assault on the peasant Grigory Vlasov… Justice of the Peace P. Shestikrylov.”1
“Who’s this from then?” Pomoyev looked up at the messenger.
“From the Justice of the Peace, sir, Peter Sergeich… Shestikrylov, sir…”
“Hmm… From Peter Sergeich? What’s he inviting me to then?”
“Must be to court… It’s written there, sir…”
Pomoyev read the subpoena one more time, looked at the messenger in surprise and shrugged his shoulders…
“The dog… as a defendant… Funny guy this Peter Sergeich! Well, fine, tell him: alright! He’d better prepare a nice breakfast though… Tell him: I’ll be there! Bow to Natalya Egorovna and the children for me!”
Pomoyev left his signature and went to the room of his wife’s brother, lieutenant Nikitin, who came to visit him on vacation.
“Have a look at this note Pete Shestikrylov sent me,” he said as he passed the subpoena to Nikitin. “Invites me over his on Thursday… You coming with me?”
“But he’s not inviting you for a visit,” said Nikitin after he read the subpoena. “He’s summoning you to court as a defendant… He’s going to judge you…”
“Me? The dog… The milk on his lips hasn’t dried yet for him to judge me… He’s nothing… He’s not serious, he wrote this as a joke…”
“It’s not at all a joke! Don’t you understand? It clearly says here: an assault… You beat up Grishka, so here’s the trial.”
“You’re such a weirdo! Just how can he judge me if me and him are what one might call friends? What kind of judge is he to me if we played cards together, and drank, and did devil knows what else? And then how’s he even a judge? Ha-ha! Pete—a judge! Ha-ha!”
“Keep laughing, keep laughing, and when he places you under arrest, not out of friendship, but on the basis of laws, you might not find it very funny!”
“You’re out of your mind, brother! What basis of laws can we have here when he’s my Vanya’s godfather? Let’s go to him on Thursday, and you’ll see just what kind of laws there are…”
“And I would advise you to not go at all, otherwise you’ll make it awkward for both yourself and him… Let him judge in absentia…”
“No, why in absentia? I’m going to go see how he’s going to judge… I’m interested to see what kind of a judge Pete turned out to be… Besides, I haven’t visited him in a while… it’s awkward…”
On Thursday Pomoyev set off with Nikitin to Shestikrylov’s. They found the JP in the trial chamber.
“How’s it going, Pete!” said Pomoyev as he approached the judicial desk and stretched out his hand. “Judging away? Scribbling? Keep judging… I’ll wait and watch… This is my wife’s brother… Is your wife well?”
“Yes… she’s doing well… Please take a seat there… with the public…”
Having mumbled this, the judge turned red. In general, beginner judges are always embarrassed when they see acquaintances in their chamber; and, whenever they happen to judge their acquaintances, they give an impression of people who have fallen through the ground from their embarrassment. Pomoyev walked away from the desk and sat down on the front bench next to Nikitin.
“How he puts on airs!” he whispered in Nikitin’s ear. “Can’t recognize him! Won’t even smile! In a golden chain! Pshaw! As if it wasn’t him who painted ink all over a sleepy Agashka in my kitchen. How amusing! Just what can such people judge? I ask you: can such people judge? What we need here is a man of rank, someone solid… you know, someone who can inspire fear… and they’ve just put a random person in the seat and said: here, judge! He-he…”
“Grigory Vlasov!” summoned the JP. “Mr. Pomoyev!”
Pomoyev smiled and approached the desk. From the public came out a young man in a threadbare frock coat with a high waist, in striped trousers, tucked into short red boots, and stood next to Pomoyev.
“Mr. Pomoyev!” began the JP, lowering his gaze. “You are accused of… of assaulting your servant… Grigory Vlasov here. Do you plead guilty?”
“You bet! When did you become so serious? He-he…”
“You don’t?” interrupted the judge, shifting in his chair from embarrassment. “Vlasov, tell us what happened!”
“It’s very simple, sir! You see, I held the position of a lackey, an attendant, if you will… It’s well known that our position is no better than hard labor, your honor… Sir himself rises around nine, and you have to be up at the first light of dawn… God knows whether sir would put on his boots, ankle boots, or, perhaps, would walk the whole day in shoes, but you have to clean it all: the boots, the ankle boots, the shoes… Alright, sir… Sir calls me in the morning to help him dress. I, as you know, went there… I helped sir put on his shirt, his trousers, his boots… everything’s in order… Then I began to put on his waistcoat… This is when sir says to me: ‘Grishka, give me the comb,’ sir says ‘It’s in the frock coat’s side pocket.’ Alright, sir… I rummage in this side pocket, and it’s as if the devil took the comb—it’s not there! I’ve rummaged and rummaged, and then I say: ‘Arkhip Yeliseich, the comb’s not here!’ Sir frowned, walked to the frock coat and pulled out the comb, but not from the side pocket, as sir had ordered, but from the one at the front. ‘And what’s this then? Not the comb?’ said sir, and struck me with the comb on the nose. All the teeth went over my nose. My nose was bleeding all day. As you can see for yourself, sir, my nose is all inflamed… I have witnesses. They saw everything.”
“What have you to say in your defense?” the JP looked up at Pomoyev.
Pomoyev stared quizzically at the judge, then at Grishka, then again at the judge and his face turned purple.
“What am I to make of this?” he mumbled. “Is this a prank?”
“There is no prank here, sir,” remarked Grishka, “It’s all in good conscience. Don’t let your hands have free rein.”
“Shut up!” Pomoyev began hitting the floor with his cane. “Moron! Trash!”
The JP quickly took off his chain, jumped out from behind the desk and ran to his chancellery.
“I’m adjourning the sitting for five minutes!” he cried out on his way.
Pomoyev went after him.
“Listen,” began the JP, waving his arms, “are you trying to cause a scandal for me? Or do you find it enjoyable to listen to how your cooks and lackeys are going to tan your hide in their testimonies, you damn fool? Why did you come? You think I couldn’t have handled this without you?”
“And I’m the guilty one!” Pomoyev spread out his hands. “He’s the one who caused this comedy, and I’m the one he’s offended at! Place this Grishka under arrest, and… and that’s all!”
“Place Grishka under arrest! Pah! You’ve always been such a fool! How is it that I can place Grishka under arrest?!”
“Just arrest him, there’s nothing more to it! Well you aren’t going to arrest me now, are you?!”
“Are we living in the past? He beats up Grishka, and Grishka should be arrested! Wonderful logic! Do you have the slightest idea of present day legal proceedings?”
“I wasn’t born a judge and have never been a judge, but I however understand that if this same Grishka came to me with a complaint about you, I’d send him down a flight of stairs so quickly that he’d forbid his grandchildren from making complaints, and I certainly wouldn’t let him make his rude remarks. Just tell me that you’re having a laugh, that you want to show off… and it’ll be the end of it! When my wife read the subpoena and saw that you sent subpoenas to all the cooks and cowhands, she was stunned. She wasn’t expecting such things from you. No, Pete, this isn’t right! This isn’t how friends act.”
“But you must understand my situation!”
And Shestikrylov began to explain his situation to Pomoyev.
“Stay here,” he finished, “and I’ll go and conclude in absentia. For God’s sake, don’t come out! With your antediluvian notions you’ll blurt out something that’ll force me to have to draw up a report.”
Shestikrylov went into the chamber and resumed the proceedings. Pomoyev, sitting in the chancellery and, as he had nothing else to do, reading through the freshly prepared enforcement orders, could hear JP’s attempts to pacify Grishka. Grishka pushed back for a long time, but eventually agreed to settle for ten rubles.
“Thank God!” said Shestikrylov as he entered the chancellery after the sentence was read. “How fortunate that the case closed this way… As if a thousand pounds fell off my shoulders. You’ll pay Grishka ten rubles and you’ll have nothing to worry about.”
“I pay… Grishka… ten rubles?!” Pomoyev was stupefied. “Are you out of your mind?”
“Well, alright, alright, I’ll pay for you,” Shestikrylov waved his hand, frowning. “I’m ready to give even a hundred rubles to keep you happy. God forbid one judge his acquaintances. No, friend, instead of beating up Grishkas, come round to mine sometime and give me a beating! That’ll be a thousand times easier. Let’s go eat at Natasha’s!”
Ten minutes later the friends sat in JP’s apartments and were eating a breakfast of fried carp.
“Well, alright,” began Pomoyev, drinking a third, “you awarded Grishka ten rubles, but how long did you jail him for?”
“I didn’t jail him. What for?”
“What do you mean, what for?” Pomoyev popped his eyes. “So that he wouldn’t file his complaints! How dare he file complaints about me?”
The JP and Nikitin tried to explain it to Pomoyev, but he did not understand and stood his ground.
“No matter what you say, Pete’s no good as a judge!” he sighed as he conversed with Nikitin on the way back. “He’s nice, educated, complaisant, but… he’s no good! He can’t judge properly… It’s a pity, but we’ll have to vote him out on the next triennial! We’ll have to!…”
Translator’s note: the name Pomoyev (“Помоев”) alludes to “помои”: slop, waste water. Shestikrilov means “six-winged,” alluding to the biblical six-winged seraphim (and perhaps, ironically, to the seraph in Pushkin’s The Prophet: “And to my lips the Seraph clung / And tore from me my sinful tongue”).