CONJUNCTIONS:31 Fall 1998
First Aid
Anton Chekhov


"Make way! Make way! Here comes the sargeant-major with his clerk!"
     "The compliments of the season, Gerasim Alpatitch!" the crowd shouts. "Let us pray, Gerasim Alpatitch, that the Lord will bless, not you, not us--but whomever He chooses!"
     The tipsy sergeant-major tries to say something, but cannot. He vaguely waves his fingers, goggles his eyes and forcefully puffs out his fat red cheeks as if he were about to blast the highest note on a trumpet. His clerk, a squat little red-nosed man in a peaked jockey cap, assumes an energetic expression and plunges into the crowd.
     "Which of you here is the drowned man?" he asks. "Where's the drowned man?"
     "Here! Here!"
     The peasants have just pulled a gaunt old man in a blue shirt and bast shoes out of the water. The man is soaked from head to toe and sits on the meadow babbling, his arms spread out and his legs apart.
     "O Saints in Heaven! O Christian countrymen of the province of Ryzan and the district of Zaraysk. I've given all I own to my two sons, and now I'm working for Prokor Sergeyev ... as a plasterer! Now, as I was saying, he gives me seven rubles and says, 'You, Fedya,' he says, 'you must now worship me like a father!' May a wolf eat him alive!"
     "Where are you from?" Egor Makaritch, the clerk, asks him.
     "'Like a father!' he says. May a wolf eat him alive! and that for seven rubles!"
     "He's babbling! He doesn't even know what language he's talking!" Anisim the squadron leader shouts in a cracked voice, soaked to the waist and obviously upset by the event. "Let me tell you what happened, Egor Makaritch! Come on now, let's have some quiet! I want to explain everything to Egor Makaritch. So the old man's walking over from Kurnev--come on now, boys, quiet!--Well, so there he is walking over from Kurnevo, and the devil made him cross the river, there where it's shallow. The old man, being a bit tipsy and out of his mind, walked, like an idiot, right into the water, and the current knocked him off his feet and he rolls over like a top! Next thing he starts shouting like crazy. So there I am with Lyksander--what the hell's going on? Why is this man shouting? We look--he's drowning! what are we to do! 'Hey, Lyksander!' I shout. 'Holy Mother of God! Dump that goddamn harmonica and let's go save that peasant!' So we both throw ourselves right into the water, and, by God, it's churning and swirling, churning and swirling--save us, Holy Mother of Heaven! So we get to where it's swirling the most, Lyksander grabs him by the shirt, I by the hair. Then the others here present, who saw what happened, come running up the bank, shouting--all eager to save his soul--what torture, Egor Makaritch! If we hadn't gotten there in time the old man would have drowned completely, never mind the holiday!"
     "What's your name?" the clerk asks the drowned man. "And what is your domicile?"
     The old man stares dully into the crowd.
     "He's out of his mind!" Anisim says. "And how can you expect him not to be! Here he is, his belly full of water! My dear man, what's your name--no answer! He has hardly any life left in him, only a semblance thereof! But half his soul has already left his body! What a calamity, despite the holiday! What do you want us to do now? He'll die, yes he very well might! His mug is all blue!"
     "Hey! You!" the clerk shouts, grabbing the drowned man by the shoulders and shaking him. "You! I'm talking to you! Your domicile, I said! Say something! Is your brain waterlogged? Hey!"
     "Ha, for seven rubles, can you believe that?" the drowned man mumbles. "So I say to him, a dog upon you! We have no wish, thank you very much, no wish...!"
     "No wish to do what? Answer clearly!"
     The drowned man is silent and begins to shiver with cold, his teeth chattering.
     "You can call him alive if you want," says Anisim, "but if you take a good look at him, he doesn't even look like a human being anymore! Maybe some drops might help!"
     "'Drops'?" the clerk mimics in disgust. "What do you mean, 'drops'? The man's drowned and he wants to give him drops! We have to get the water out of him! What are your staring at? You don't have an ounce of compassion, the lot of you! Run over to the village, on the double, and get a rug so we can give him a good shaking!"
     A group of men pull themselves away from the crowd and run over to the village to find a rug. The clerk is suddenly filled with inspiration. He rolls up his sleeves, rubs his palms against his sides and does a series of little movements, designed to show his bristling vigor and decisiveness.
     "Don't crowd me, don't crowd me!" he mumbles. "All those who are superfluous here, leave! Did anyone go to the village? Good!
     "Gerasim Alpatitch," he adds, turning to the sergeant-major. "Why don't you just go home? You're totally soused, and in your delicate condition it's best to stay home!"
     The sergeant-major vaguely waves his fingers and, wanting to say something, his face puffs up as if it were about to explode in all direc- tions.
     "Put him on it!" the clerk barks as the rug arrives. "Grab him by the arms and legs! Yes, that's right. Now put him on it!"
     "And I tell him, a dog upon you!" the drowned man mumbles, without resisting or even noticing that he is being lifted onto the rug. "We have no wish to!"
     "There, there! Don't worry!" the clerk tells him. "No need to be frightened! We're only going to shake you a bit, and with the help of God you'll come back to your senses. The constable will be over any minute now, and will draw up an official report according to the regulations. Shake him, and praise be the Lord!"
     Eight robust man, among them Anisim the squadron leader, grab hold of the comers of the rug. At first they shake him timidly, as if they are not sure of their own strength. but then, bit by bit, they get a taste for it, their faces taking on an intense, bestial expression as they start shaking him with voracious passion. They stretch, stand on tiptoe and jump up and down as if they want to fly up in the air with the drowned man.
     "Heave-ho! Heave-ho! Heave-ho! Heave-ho!"
     The squat clerk runs around them, trying with all his might to get hold of the rug, shrieking in a cracked voice: "Harder! Harder! All together now! Keep up the rhythm! Heave-ho! Heave-ho! Anisim! You're lagging! Heave-ho!"
     In the split seconds between heaves the old man's tussled head and pale puzzled face, filed with horror and physical pain, bob up from the rug--but immediately disappear again as the rug flies up to the right, plunges straight down and then with a snap flies up to the left. the crowd cheers. "Go for it! Save your soul! Yes!"
     "Well done, Egor Makaritch! Save your soul! Yes, go for it!"
     "Well, boys, and once he's better he'll have to stay right here! Yes, the moment he can stand on his feet, the moment he comes back to his senses, he'll have to buy us all a bucket of vodka for our trouble!"
     "Damn! Harnessed poppies on a shaft! Look over there, brothers! It's the lady from Shmelyovo with her bailiff! Yes, it's him. He's wearing a hat!"
     A carnage draws up. In it sits a heavy middle-aged lady wearing a pince-nez and holding a colorful parasol. Sitting next to the driver on the coach box, with his back to her, is Stepan Ivanitch, the bailiff--a young man wearing a straw hat. The lady looks shocked.
     "What is going on?" she asks. "What are they doing over there?"
     "We're reviving a drowned man! Happy holidays, your Ladyship! He was a bit tipsy, you see; this is what led to it! We were marching all around the village carrying icons! What a feast!"
     "Oh my God!" the lady gasps. "Reviving a drowned man? But that's impossible! Etienne," she calls out to Stepan Ivanitch, the bailiff, "for heaven's sake go tell them to stop immediately--they will kill him! Shaking him--this is pure superstition! He must be rubbed and given artificial respiration! Please, go over there immediately!"
     Stepan Ivanitch jumps down from the coach box and approaches the shakers. He has a severe look on his face.
     "What are you doing?" he shouts at them in a rage. "That's no way to revive a man!"
     "So what're we supposed to do?" the clerk asks. "After all, he drowned!"
     "So what if he drowned! Individuals unconscious due to drowning are not to be shaken, they are to be rubbed! You'll find it written on every calendar. Put him down immediately!"
     Bewildered, the clerk shrugs his shoulders and steps to the side. The shakers put down the rug and look with surprise first at the lady, and then at Stepan Ivanitch. The drowned man, his eyes now closed, is lying on his back, breathing heavily.
     "Damn drunkards!" Stepan Ivanitch shouts.
     "My dear man!" Anisim says, panting, laying his hand on his heart. "Stepan Ivanitch! Why such words? Are we pigs? Just tell us plain and simple!"
     "You can't shake him, you have to rub him! Undress him! On the double! Grab hold of him and start rubbing! Undress him, on the double!"
     "Boys! Start rubbing!"
     They undress the drowned man, and under the bailiff's supervision start rubbing him. The lady, not wishing to see the naked peasant, has the coachman drive her a little further down the road.
     "Étienne!" she calls to Stepan Ivanitch. "Étienne! Come here! Do you know how to administer artificial respiration? You must rock him from side to side and press him in the chest and stomach!"
     "Rock him from side to side!" Stepan Ivanitch shouts, returning to the crowd. "And press him in the stomach--not so hard, though!"
     The clerk, who, after his feverish spun of action is standing around not quite himself, also joins the others in rubbing the drowned man.
     "I beg you, do your best, brothers!" he says. "I beg you!"
     "Étienne!" the lady calls out. "Come here! Have him sniff burnt leaves and tickle him! Tickle him! Quickly, for God's sake!"
     Five minutes pass, ten minutes. the lady looks over at the crowd and notices a commotion. She hears the peasants panting and the bailiff and the clerk barking out orders. A smell of burnt leaves and alcohol hangs in the air. Ten more minutes pass and the peasants keep on working. But finally the crowd parts and the bailiff comes out, red and covered with sweat. Anisim is right behind him.
     "He should have been rubbed from the start," says Stepan Ivanitch. "Now it's too late."
     "What could we have done, Stepan Ivanitch?" Anisim sighs. "We got to him too late!"
     "What is going on?" the lady asks. "Is he alive?"
     "No, he died, may the Lord have mercy upon him," Anisim says, making the sign of the cross. "When we pulled him out of the water there was life in him and his eyes were open, but now he's all stiff." "What a pity!" "Well, fate decreed that death would fell him not on dry land but in the water! Could we have a small tip, your Ladyship?" The bailiff jumps onto the coach box, and the driver, glancing at the crowd as it backs away from the dead body, whips up the horses. The carriage drives on.


--Translated from Russian by Peter Constantine