March 07, 2007

The Death of the Clerk

The Death of the Clerk

One fine evening, a no less fine executor*, Ivan Dmitrich Chervyakov**, was sitting in the second row of a fine theatre, looking though his binoculars at The Chimes of Normandy. He looked and felt like a king. Out of nowhere… we often see this turn of phrase, this ‘out of nowhere’ in tales. The authors are right: life is so full of suddenness! Suddenly, his face cringed, eyes rolled toward the skies, breath held still… he moved his binoculars away from his eyes, keeled over and…apchew!!! Sneezed, as you can see. Sneezing is not frowned upon by anyone anywhere. Everyone sneezes – men in the field, policemen and sometimes even secret advisers sneeze. Chervyakov was not at all embarrassed by the act; he pulled out a hankie, wiped himself clean and like any well-bread person looked around himself to check if his feat had disturbed anyone. And suddenly the duly embarrassment dawned on him: right under his nose, in the front row, a bald old man was tirelessly wiping his shiny baldness with his gloves muttering something to himself. To his horror, Chervyakov recognized in the old bald man the civil general Brizjalov, serving at the ministry of communications.

“I sprayed him with my mucus and spittle!” – Chervyakov thought to himself – He may not be my boss, but it’s still awkward. I should apologize”.

Chervyakov cleared his throat, tipped his body forward and whispered in the general’s ear:
- My humble apologies, I didn’t mean to… to sneeze on you…
- It’s fine, it’s okay
- In the name of the lord almighty, please accept my apologies. I… I really didn’t intend for it…
- Oh for the love of god, sit down please! I’m trying to watch the operetta!

Chervyakov felt he was covered in shame; he let out a silly smile and started staring at the stage. He was watching alright, but he no longer felt like a king. In the interim break he walked up to Brizjalov, made a couple of circles around him, and fighting his fears, murmured:

- I sprayed on you, your high—ness. Please forgive me… I… I didn’t do it to…
- Oh enough already… I’d already forgotten about it and you are still on about it! – said the general, his lower lip quivering in annoyance.

“Forgotten says he… but I could see that spark of acidity in his eyes, – Chervyakov thought to himself. – he doesn’t even want to speak to me. I should explain to him I did not mean for this to happen… that it’s the nature’s call. What if he decides I wanted to spit on him. He may not think it this way now, but what if he rethinks it afterwards!...”

When he came back home, Chervyakov decided to tell his wife about this unfortunate incident. His wife, as Chervyakov saw it, took it too carelessly. She got scared at first, but when she found out Brizjalov was not Chervyakov’s boss she calmed down.

- Still, you should go and apologize to him, – she said. – He may decide you can’t behave like a civilized human being in public!
- That’s the problem! I apologized, but he was kind of weird… Didn’t say anything. Well, we didn’t really have the time to talk properly.

The next day Chervyakov put on his brand new uniform, had his haircut and went to see Brizjalov to explain things… At the reception he noticed a lot of people had come to submit their requests and the general was standing among them already open for applications. After he’d dealt with a number of visitors, the general proceeded on to Chervyakov.

- Yesterday in the “Arcade”, if you will to remember, your high-ness, – the executor started explaining, – I sneezed and… and accidentally sprayed you… my apolo…
- What utter trifle… God knows what! What it is you wish? – the general said referring to the next visitor.

“He doesn’t want to talk! – Chervyakov thought to himself and grew pale. – Means he’s angry. No, I can’t leave it like that… I’ll explain it to him…”

When the general finished his round with the last visitor and was heading towards his office Chervyakov caught up with him and started murmuring:

- Your high-ness! If I may… I only dare bother you because of my deep and sincere remorse… You should know I never intended for this to happen!
The General made a whining face and waved his hand.
- You have got to be kidding, sir! – said he, disappearing behind the door.

“What jokes? – thought Chervyakov. – Nothing like that! He’s a general and yet he can’t seem to understand! Well, if so, I’ll stop apologizing to this braggart! The hell with him! I’ll just write him a letter, I’ll stop apologizing in person, god knows I will!”

Those were the thoughts running though Chervyakov’s head as he was walking home. But he didn’t write that letter to the general. He thought hard, really hard about how to write that letter, but came up with nothing. So, he had to go back to the General again the next day, to explain himself.

- I was here yesterday, your high-ness, – the murmur had resumed once again when the general’s enquiring gaze met with Chervyakov’s guilty eyes. – I was here not to make jokes, as you’ve implied. I was here to apologize for spraying you when I accidentally sneezed; not for a laugh, I’d never make such jokes. Dare I laugh? If we all were to laugh, then there would be no respect for the authorities… no respect…
- Get the hell out of here!!! – suddenly crowed the general shaking and turning blue.
- W-what? – whispered Chervyakov growing pale with horror.
- Get the hell out of here!!! – the general repeated himself stamping his feet.

Chervyakov felt like something had torn off in his stomach. He couldn’t see anything, he couldn’t hear anything; he backed out of the door, on to the street and shuffled back home. When his feet brought him back home he laid down on the sofa with his uniform still on and… passed away.


First published in the literary magazine “Oskolki” (broken glass) in 1883, issue No. 30 under the category “Incidents”

  • Executors were usually officials in charge of the maintenance issues in an institution
  • * The surname Chervyakov derives from the noun for ‘worm’ – chervyak

Story by A. P. Chekhov. The original text is available at

- One comment Not publicly viewable

  1. PenguinA

    I think I might have read this before, feels quite familiar with the sequence.
    But still, I like how Chekov wrote about embarrassing moments. It really gives clues about how these embaracement came into place. It was definitely for mis-communication. But I can’t help to read this work with Class analysis. A clerk is not respected and has low self-esteem hence the endless apologies?


    14 Mar 2007, 14:06

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