First Act

The grounds. Part of the house with a verandah can be seen. On the avenue under an old poplar a table has been laid for tea. Benches, chairs; on one of the benches lies a guitar. Some way from the table is a swing. — The time is two four. Bright but not too much so. [In his published work, Chekhov gives the time in the Russian style as "third hour p.m." ‒ that is, between two and three in the afternoon ‒ and the tempo as "cloudy" or "overcast". However, I've gone with the idea that these stage directions started life as a skit on the music directions: the first movement of Beethoven's sixth symphony is in 2:4 time, allegro ma non troppo.]

Nanny, a slow-moving old woman, is sitting at the teapot knitting a stocking. Michael is going to and fro nearby.

Nanny pours a cup of tea.

Have some, m'dear.

Michael reluctantly accepts the cup.

I don't really want it.

Nanny

Perhaps you'll have a drink?

Michael

No. I don't drink all the time. And besides, I'm suffocating.

Pause

Nanna, how long has it been since we met?

Nanny (pondering)

How long? God help my memory. ... You arrived in these parts ... when was it? ... Little Sunny's mother was still alive. For two years in her time, even winter, you used to drive over. [The passage of time in Russian is usually measured in "summers" and, indeed, Marina is about to conclude that she has known the doctor for "eleven summers". But what she uses here is the much less common "two winters", and this is very significant.
     We are being told specifically that Astrov used to drive over during the winter, not just the better seasons. For him to do this (in Russia even more so than in Devon!) he must have been highly motivated. Surely we are being led to believe by association that Sonya's mother may have had something to do with it?
     Indeed, it is since she died that Astrov has started looking older. He drinks; he smells; he has a stupid moustache. He is fiercely intelligent but utterly soulless — planting trees for people coming two hundred years after him, and killing people put in front of him today. Is his predicament due to a back-story involving his love for Sonya's mother? It would be entirely in keeping with a central theme of the play.]
So — what — eleven years since!

She has a little think.

Maybe that and more ....

Michael

Have I changed very much since then?

Nanny

Very much. In those days you were young, handsome,- now you've started getting old. You're already not the beauty you were. What's more ... you do like a drink.

Michael

Yes. ... In ten years I've turned into a different man. And why's that? I've been working too hard, Nanna. On my feet from morning to night, I don't know any rest,- at night I lie under the bedclothes afraid I might be dragged out to see a patient. In all the time since I met you I haven't had a single day to call my own. Is it any wonder I've started getting old?

What's more, to its very core the life we lead is languid, stupid, squalid. ... It drags you under, this life. You're surrounded by nothing but crackpots, everywhere nothing but crackpots; so you're living among them for two or three years and little by little, without noticing, you're cracking up yourself. Inescapable lot.

He turns out his long moustache.

Just look at the enormous moustache I've grown ... a stupid moustache. I've cracked up, Nanna. ... Not actually mad, thank God; the brains are all there but the feelings are sort of deadened. There's nothing I want, there's nothing essential to me, there's no-one I love. ... Present company excepted, of course.

He kisses her on the head.

As a child, I had a nanna just like you.

Nanny

Perhaps you want a feed? [The original is not quite so blatant! Marina uses the same verb, кушатъ, as she did when offering Astrov the cup of tea. It means "to have something" to eat or drink, depending on the context. But there seems to be no context here, unless it is Marina folding her arms under her bosom. ...
     Marina may not intend this intervention to be funny, but Chekhov surely does. He needs to break up the long speech by Astrov and alert the audience for something important. Nothing succeeds in this better than a giggle.]

Michael

No. Some time before Easter, I went to help in Tiverton — a 'flu epidemic. People were lying on trolleys in the corridors ... slush and filth trodden in ... visitors and belongings all mixed up with patients. Some even had pets with them.

I was on the go the entire day, didn't sit down or get so much as a crumb into my mouth,- when I went home they didn't let me rest — called me out for a road accident victim. I got him on the table ready to operate,- he ups and croaks right there under the anaesthetic. And when it was totally unnecessary, my feelings leapt awake and there was the same sharp pain in my conscience as if I'd killed him on purpose.

I sat, eyes closed — so — and I thought: those who are going to come through a hundred, two hundred years after us ‒ those we're hammering out the way for ‒ will they remember us with a kind word? Nanna, they won't remember us at all!

Nanny

People won't remember; but still God will remember. [There is something odd about this nannyism that I can't catch in English. This verb, помянуть, has a strong sense of remembering in ones prayers, even of "to pray for". Marina is saying that God will remember us even if people don't pray for us, but it sounds funny that God will pray for us. ... And, though I'm sure he's being genuine, Astrov rather adds to the joke.]

Michael

Thank you for that. You said well.

John Peter comes out of the house. He has had a good sleep after lunch and sports a rumpled look. He sits on a bench and straightens his dandyish tie.[Chekhov famously referred to this "dandyish tie" in one of the few notes he ever gave in rehearsal or post-production. He was clearly most unhappy with the characterisation of Voinitskii, who is meant to be an exquisite, finely dressed and in demand as a raconteur and wit, not some dour rustic provincial.
     Still, his finery and charm point up something lacking in Voinitskii. He has devoted his life to his beloved sister and her memory but, in the year since his brother-in-law remarried, he has become shallow and cynical. He used to be "an enlightened man", a radical intellectual; he still has his emotional life and moral sense, but now he is impatient with abstract thought, preferring to flirt and gossip. This combination of heightened soul and suppressed intellect ‒ and an inability to hold back a witticism like A nice day for hanging oneself ‒ turns out to be fatal to his happiness.]

Yes. ...

Pause

Yes. ...

Michael

Had a good sleep?

John Peter

Yes ... very.

He yawns.

Ever since the professor's been here with that wife of his, life's been jolted out of its groove. ... I sleep at the wrong time, eat all sorts of exotic dishes for lunch and dinner, drink wine. ... Not healthy, all this! Before they came there was never a free minute. Sunny and I used to work, I can tell you,- now Sunny works on her own while I sleep, eat, drink. ... Not good!

Nanny shakes her head.

O, the disciplines of our order! [Marina has a battery of rich one-word exclamations. Here, it is the plural of the word порядок, which could mean "Customs!" or even "Way of life!". But it is the distinct whiff of the monastery (even of the mortification of the flesh in penance) that makes this exclamation one of hers. The one word "Disciplines!" doesn't quite convey it ....]The professor gets up at midday,- though breakfast is ready all morning, everything marks time for him. We always used to have dinner at one o'clock like everybody else,- with them it's at seven. In the night the professor's reading and writing and suddenly it's two o'clock and there's the bell. ... What is it, m'dears? — Tea! — Wake people up for him, start the boiler. ... O, the disciplines of our order!

Michael

And will they be staying long?

John Peter whistles.

A hundred years. The professor's decided to settle down here.

Nanny

Now you see, tea's already been on the go for two hours,- they're off on a walk.

John Peter

They're here, they're here. ... Don't fret yourself.

Voices are heard; from deep in the grounds, returning from their walk, come Alexander, Helen, Sunny, and Crumbly.

Alexander

Beautiful, beautiful. ... Wonderful vistas.

Crumbly

Truly remarkable, your esteemed lordship.

Sunny

Tomorrow we'll go to the plantation, Papa. D'you fancy that?

John Peter

Good people, a cup of tea!

Alexander

My friends, have my tea served in the study, if you'll be so kind! I still have to get something done today. [The professor cannot open his mouth without inflicting emotional damage on somebody. Here, he swats away his daughter's whole life so casually that it is easy to miss. ... The difference between "I still have something to do today" (I haven't finished) and "I still have to do something today" (I haven't started) is even more subtle in Russian. But not so subtle that Sonya doesn't notice.]

Sunny

Well, in the plantation even you are sure to get a smile on your face ....

Helen, Alexander and Sunny go into the house; Crumbly goes to the table and sits next to Nanny.

John Peter

It's roasting, suffocating,- our great learned man is in an overcoat and galoshes, with an umbrella and gloves.

Michael

He obviously takes care of himself.

John Peter

But how lovely she is! How lovely! In all my life I've never seen a more beautiful woman.

Crumbly

Whether I'm riding across the fields, Miss Marina, or walking in the shady grounds, or looking at this very table, I experience inexplicable blissfulness! The weather is delightful, birds are singing, we live in peace and harmony with each other. — What more could we ask?

He accepts a cup.

With all my heart I thank you.

John Peter (dreamily)

Her eyes! ... Marvellous woman!

Michael

Swing the lamp, John Peter

John Peter (listlessly)

What can I talk about?

Michael

Isn't there anything new?

John Peter

Nothing. It's all old. I'm the same as I ever was; perhaps worse because I've grown lazy; I just growl and do nothing ... all squeak and no cart. [Voinitskii describes himself as "like an old horseradish" ‒ that is, peppery but without nutritional value ‒ a Russian epithet for someone who complains about others but does nothing himself, not merely a grouse and misery-guts. ... The nearest English equivalent is perhaps "turnip", as once used by an England football manager about his press critics, but this usage is confined to the arable eastern counties and is unknown in pastoral Devon, where turnips also squeal and moan in the ground but have always been useful.]

My old jackdaw, maman, [In calling Mariya Vasilyevna a jackdaw ‒ noted for its loquacity and its thievish propensities (OED, 1989), ‒ her son is drawing attention not only to her grey hair and jerky head-movements, but also to her inane chattering, and tendency to steal her thoughts and phrases from others on the basis of their surface glitter rather than any true value.
     When Voinitskii calls his mother maman, it may be meant ironically; she calls him Jean and her use of French is entirely pretentious. But any sarcasm gets lost because, for his own good reasons, Voinitskii himself uses Hélène as a name for the professor's wife. I've taken advantage of this, for my own good reasons, to make John Peter in particular one of those people, still extant in Devon, who slip readily into French of a primitive kind even ‒ out of a habit known as pas devant les domestiques ‒ at tense moments.]
prattles on as ever about women's liberation; one eye peers into the grave,- the other goes questing in her clever pamphlets for the dawn of a new life.

Michael

And the professor?

John Peter

And the professor is as always; from the morning deep into the night he sits alone in his study and he writes. With troubled mind, with furrowed brow, all the odes we pen, we pen, and nowhere hear we any praise for either us or them. [I have transliterated the original quotation ‒ apparently, three lines from Чужой толк, a satire by I I Dmitriev published in 1794. ‒ I don't think it matters that it will be totally obscure to an English-speaking audience. The significant thing is that Voinitskii can bring to mind and quote verbatim from an apposite literary source. It probably helps that the source is obscure.] I pity the paper! Better he should write his memoirs. What a magnificent subject! There's this retired professor, don't y'know, a stale crust, a learned trout. ... There's gout, rheumatism, migraine, a liver swollen with jealousy and envy. ... This trout is living on the estate of his first wife ‒ living against his will ‒ because he doesn't have the pocket for city life. He's forever complaining about his misfortune, though in actual fact he's uncommonly fortunate.

(Animatedly.)

Just think how fortunate! A seminary student, the son of a humble sexton, he gets his hands on some learned degrees and a university chair, becomes a knight of the realm, the son-in-law of a lord lieutenant, and so on and so on. Anyway, all that's as may be. But just get this. A man lectures and writes about art precisely twenty-five years; he understands about art precisely nothing. Twenty-five years he chews over someone else's ideas about realism, naturalism and every other nonsense; twenty-five years he lectures and writes about them what clever people already know and stupid people don't want to know; that's to say, for twenty-five years he pours an empty glass from an empty jug. And all the time such self-importance! Such pretentiousness! He's in retirement and not one living soul knows who he is; he's entirely uncelebrated; that's to say, for twenty-five years he's been doing the wrong job. And look at him, strutting about like a demigod!

Michael

Well, it looks like you envy him.

John Peter

Yes I do envy him! And what success with women! Don Juan himself never knew such complete success! His first wife, my sister ‒ a beautiful and gentle creature, pure as the sky is blue, noble and generous in spirit ‒ had more admirers than he had students, and yet she loved him as mightily as only pure angels love those as pure and beautiful as themselves. My mother, his in-law, worships him to this day, and he inspires in her to this day a reverential dread. His second wife ... good-looking, level-headed — you saw her just now, ... married him when he was already old ... gave him her youth, beauty, freedom, her very lambency. For what? Why?

Michael

Is she true to the professor?

John Peter

I regret to say she is, yes.

Michael

So why do you regret to say?

John Peter

Why, because that kind of trueness is false from beginning to end. There's a lot of high-sounding rhetoric in it but no sense-making logic. To betray an aged husband you can't endure — that's immoral; but to try to smother your own piteous youth and sense of life — that's not immoral.

Crumbly (in a tearful voice)

Johnny, I don't like it when you say that. Look here, it's the principle. ... Someone who betrays a wife or husband ... that, y'know, is a person who can't be trusted, one who might even betray the country!

John Peter (with annoyance)

Turn off the waterworks, Crumbly!

Crumbly

Let me finish, Johnny. My wife left me and ran off with her fancyman the day after our wedding, on account of my unprepossessing appearance. Since then, I've never broken my vows. To this day I love her and I'm true to her; I help out where I can; I've even let my property go to provide for the education of the kids she had with her fancyman. I've been deprived of happiness, but I still have pride. And her? ... Her youth has already passed, her beauty has faded under the influence of the laws of nature, her fancyman has died. ... What does she still have?

Sunny and Helen come out. A little later Lady Marie comes out with a book; she sits down and reads; tea is given to her, and she drinks without looking up. [It is totally out of character for Chekhov to garble the stagecraft as he does between Sonya and Yelena coming out and the latter going to sit on the swing. It must have been an afterthought for Mariya Vasilyevna to be brought on here ... and, since she doesn't interact for some time, we're surely entitled to ask why she couldn't have come out even later than "a little later", when her business wouldn't have got in the way.
     Chekhov may be trying to emphasise that, even though Mariya Vasilyevna is available to do it, it is down to Sonya to be "mum" with the tea; she acts as female head of this household, not her grandmother, who is a matriarch in the same way as, for instance, Telyegin is a landowner and Marina is a nanny. If this is right, then Lady Marie should time her arrival so that she is there before Sunny takes over the teapot, but so that she doesn't get her tea until after Nanny has left.]

Sunny (hurriedly, to Nanny)

Nannikins, some lads have come calling. You go and have a word with them,- I'll do the tea myself .... [Another problem with this passage is the artificiality of the device for getting Marina out of the way. Why would she be sent to speak to peasants when it's Sonya herself who practically runs the estate? And these muzhiks seem to have no real part in the play, contrary to all the rules Chekhov has about redundancy ....
     For what it's worth, I think Chekhov is making a double entendre involving the slang connotations of мужики as "boorish suitors". Marina is being sent to do the job of a chaperone in getting rid of unwanted attention. This is worked out further when she comes back.]

She pours out tea.

Nanny leaves. Helen takes her cup of tea and drinks it sitting on the swing.

Michael (to Helen)

I'm here to see your husband. Your message said he was very ill, rheumatism and what not, but when I offered my services he was in perfectly good health.

Helen

Yesterday evening he was miserable and complained of pains in his leg,- today it's nothing ....

Michael

And I risked my neck for thirty miles to get here. Oh well, something and nothing, it's not the first time. What I'll do is stay here until tomorrow, and at least I'll sleep quantum satis.

Sunny

Too perfect. It's so rare for you to spend the night with us. I don't suppose you've eaten?

Michael

No ma'am, I've not eaten.

Sunny

So there you are, have dinner here too. These days we eat at seven o'clock.

She takes a drink.

Cold tea!

Crumbly

The temperature of the teapot is already considerably reduced.

Helen

It's nothing, Mr Enoch, we'll drink it cold.

Crumbly

Forgive me, ma'am. ... It's not Mr Enoch,- it's Farm-Carter, ma'am. Eli Enoch Farm-Carter, or even Crumbly Wafer, as some people call me on account of my pockmarked face. I stood there when little Sunny was christened, and your eminent husband knows me very well. It's your place these days where I live, ma'am, on this estate, ma'am. ... You may have been kind enough to notice, I have dinner with you every day.

Sunny

Eli Enoch is our great support, our right arm.

Tenderly.

Allow me, godfather dear, I'll pour you some more.

Lady Marie

Aagh!

Sunny

What is it, grandma?

Lady Marie

I forgot to tell Alexander ... I'm losing my memory ... I got a letter today from Peter Townsend in Bristol. [I have preferred Bristol to stand in for Kharkov, even though Cardiff sounds a bit more like it and is, after all, over the border. ... Kharkov seems to have had a particular significance for Chekhov: it is looked down upon as hopelessly provincial by his cultured metropolitans, and looked up to as wonderfully metropolitan by his unsophisticated provincials. This is precisely the position held by Bristol in relation to the capital and to the southwest peninsula of England. ... (It is merely a happy accident ‒ happy for me, anyway! ‒ that the late Professor Townsend held his Chair in Bristol and can stand duty as a convincing pamphleteer ....)]... He sent his latest pamphlet ....

Michael

Is it interesting?

Lady Marie

It is interesting, but there's something odd about it. He's trying to refute the very same thing as, seven years back, he was advocating. That's terrible!

John Peter

Nothing terrible about it. Drink, maman, ... tea.

Lady Marie

Oh, but I want to talk!

John Peter

Oh, but for fifty years we've talked and talked and read pamphlets. It might just be time to stop.

Lady Marie

For some reason it hurts you to listen when I talk. Sorry, Jean, but in the last year you've changed so much I utterly fail to recognise you. ... You used to be a person of definite principles, a socialist intellectual ....

John Peter

Oh, yes! I used to be a socialist intellectual who never showed any intellect ....

Pause.

I used to be a socialist intellectual. ... A more venomous jibe couldn't be made! I'm now forty-seven. Up till a year ago I was just like you; I went out of my way to cloud my eyes with all that pedantry of yours so as not to see real life; I even thought I was doing some good. And now, if only you knew! I'm so vexed I lie awake at night, out of resentment that I so stupidly frittered away the time when I might have had everything my age now denies me!

Sunny

Uncle Johnny, ... boring!

Lady Marie (to her son).

You're obviously accusing your former philosophy of something. ... But that isn't to blame,- you are. You've forgotten that philosophy in and of itself can only interpret the world. ... The point is to change it. [The question «Что дело делать?» ‒ literally "What deed to do?" ‒ has been used as the heading for statements of principle for so long it has taken on the meaning of "Manifesto". So when Mariya Vasilyevna says «Нужно было дело делать» ‒ "It is necessary to do the deed", ‒ it is a clichéd way of saying that principles themselves are only any good when acted upon. But it won't be instantly recognisable to an English audience ‒ even though the form "What is to be done?" is familiar from the work of V I Lenin ‒ so I have changed the reference completely to make it a more obvious pastiche.]

John Peter

Change the world? We can't all be writing machines, perpetuum mobile, like your Herr Professor.

Lady Marie

What do you mean by that?

Sunny (imploringly)

Grandma! Uncle Johnny! I implore you!

John Peter

I'll shut up. Shut up and apologise. [Just the same joke in Russian, I think, as it is in English. ... Something mothers are supposed to say to children (in pantomimes)!]

Pause.

Helen

So, a nice day today. ... Not too hot. ...

Pause.

John Peter

A nice day for hanging oneself. ...

Crumbly tunes the guitar. Nanny is passing near the house and calling chicks.

Nanny

Tcheep, tcheep, tcheep ....

Sunny

Nannikins, what did those lads come about? ...

Nanny

As before, so again .... about the unploughed furrow. [The muzhiks have come "about the waste". In a strip farming community, the waste would feature in both positive debates about improving productiveness and negative disputes about boundaries and encroachment. Why would Chekhov bother with this banality: of course they've come about the waste; what else would peasants meet together to discuss?
     The significance of this question and answer surely lies in the fact that these мужики are really "boorish suitors" who think Sonya is going to waste. Both she and Marina understand the crudeness of what is being said and quickly change the subject. Chekhov could be making a point as well as a joke: it is the young girl's predicament to be an ideal landowning wife cut off from an appropriate husband....]
Tcheep, tcheep, tcheep ....

Sunny

Which one is it?

Nanny

Speckledy has gone off with the chicks. ... The ravens mustn't get them. ... [Beethoven tells us that he was inspired to write the scherzo of his sixth symphony while listening to a little band at a country inn in Mödling, outside Vienna. This inn was called The Three Ravens, and Chekhov is alluding to it here (hence the polka immediately picked out by Telyegin). For this reason, I have gone for "the ravens" (во́роны) and not simply "the crows" (воро́ны).
     The music being followed in the First Act is the first, not the third, movement of The Pastoral; but the first movement does include what is often referred to as "a premonition" of the scherzo; so the allusion is highly appropriate in this little scene, the whole mood of which is one of foreboding.]

She leaves.

Crumbly plays a polka; everyone listens quietly; a servant comes out.

Servant

Is the doctor here?

To Michael.

Beg pardon, sir, they're sending a car for you.

Michael

Where from?

Servant

From the hospital.

Michael (with annoyance).

Thank you so much. No use, I'll have to go ....

He casts his eyes around for his cap.

How annoying, dammit ....

Sunny

This is so disagreeable, truly. ... Come back from the hospital for dinner.

Michael

No, I can't make it for dinner. Poor Bunbury is a dreadful invalid. ...

To the servant.

I say, be a good chap and fetch me a drink when you've got a minute.

The servant leaves.

Poor Bunbury is a dreadful invalid. ...

He finds his cap.

There's a man in an Oscar Wilde story who keeps a portrait of himself in the attic. That's me. [Chekhov has the doctor recall a man in a play by Ostrovsky who has large moustaches and small abilities. That's me, says Astrov, thus inadvertently likening himself to Paratov, a soulless bounder who casually breaks the heart of the eponymous Girl without a Dowry. This is a case of a looking-glass moment ‒ perhaps akin to Tony Kushner's "threshold of revelation" ‒ in which characters dimly or subconsciously become aware of something about themselves.
     Chekhov goes to great lengths to provide a context for this moment so that it's in keeping. First, he has Astrov look for his cap. This ‒ together, perhaps, with the word "already" in his reply to Sonya: No, it will already be too late [for dinner] ‒ brings to his mind a silly saying, used as a general expression of ignorance and helplessness, that translates roughly as "Where at already ... where to already". The saying sticks in his mind, and when he finds his cap he remembers that it comes from Ostrovsky (from a character in Wolves and Sheep), which in turn makes him think of the "man with large moustaches ....".
     None of this will mean anything to an English audience, so I've rescued what I can by completely changing the reference and the chain of thought. (It can't be helped that Dorian Gray is not as apposite as Paratov, that Michael seems to be comparing himself with both the ugly picture and the evil man, and that we lose any allusion to Nietzsche that Ostrovsky and/or Chekhov might have intended with the moustaches.) I've left in the business with the cap; at least it gives Michael a chance to look at himself in a dark window of the house as he puts it on ....]
Well, it's been a pleasure, good people ....

To Helen.

If one of these days you were to look in on me with Miss Sophie here, I'd be genuinely pleased. Mine's a smallish property, thirty hectares in all, but if you're interested there's a show garden and nursery like you won't find for a good few miles around. Next door to me it's Woodland Trust. ... The forester is very old and always ill, so in practice I look after all the goings-on.

Helen

Yes, I'd heard you have a great love of the woods. I'm sure it must be very useful, but doesn't that get in the way of your true vocation, you being a doctor?

Michael

Only God knows where our true vocation lies.

Helen

And it's interesting?

Michael

Yes, it's interesting work.

John Peter (with irony)

Very!

Helen (to Michael)

You're still a young man by the look of you ‒ what, thirty-six, thirty-seven ‒ and it can't be as interesting as you say. Nothing but woods and more woods. Monotonous, I'd have thought.

Sunny

No, it's extremely interesting. Every year Dr Astor plants new woods, and now they've even sent him a bronze medal and certificate. He goes to great lengths not to destroy the old ones. If you hear him out, you'll be in full agreement with him. He says that woods adorn the earth, that they teach men to appreciate beauty and induce in them a sublime cast of mind. Woods temper a harsh climate. In places with a temperate climate, less strength is expended in the struggle with nature, and the result is a temperate and gentle mankind; people are beautiful, facile, easily moved, their conversation refined, movements graceful. Arts and sciences flourish among them, their outlook is not sombre, and their attitude towards women is full of a refined nobility.

John Peter (laughing)

Bravo! Bravo! ... That's all very nice but not very convincing.

To Michael

So allow me, my friend, to carry on heating stoves with faggots and building sheds out of timber.

Michael

You can heat stoves with coal,- build sheds out of stone. Anyway, I grant you, go ahead and cut forests out of necessity, but why destroy them? The world's forests are groaning under the axe, millions of trees are perishing, the habitats of beast and bird are being laid waste, rivers are running low and drying up, marvellous landscapes are disappearing never to return, and all because lazy mankind hasn't the wit to bend his back and make sustainable use of the earth's resources.

To Helen.

Is it not the truth, madam? It takes a reckless barbarian to put this beauty to the torch, to demolish what we can't build. Mankind is endowed with reason and creative powers so that he can multiply what's been given him, but up to now he's not created,- he's demolished. The extent of forest is smaller and smaller, the rivers run low, wildlife becomes extinct, the climate is ruined, and with every day the earth has become poorer and uglier.

To John Peter.

There you go, looking sideways at me, and everything I'm saying seems like a laughing matter to you .... and yes, maybe this is just my crackpot idea .... but when I pass by a local copse that I've saved from the chop, or when I hear the sound of my young woodland, as planted with my own hands, I have the feeling that, in a small way, the climate too is in my power and that if in a thousand years mankind is happy, then I shall be responsible for that too in a small way. When I plant a birch tree and watch it turn green and sway in the wind, my heart swells with pride and I ....

He sees the servant, who has brought a drink on a tray.

However ....

He drinks.

My time's up. All this is very likely just crackpot at the end of the day. Cheers!

He goes towards the house.

Sunny takes his arm and goes with him.

When are you coming back to see us?

Michael

I don't know. ...

Sunny

Not for a whole month again? ...

Michael and Sunny disappear into the house. Lady Marie and Crumbly remain at the table. Helen and John Peter go towards the verandah.

Helen

As for you, John Peter, you've made yourself impossible yet again. You had to go irritating Lady Marie, talking about perpetuum mobile! And today at lunch you were arguing with Alexander again. That's so petty!

John Peter

But what if I detest him!

Helen

It's not on to detest Alexander; he's the same as everyone else. No worse than you.

John Peter

If only you could see your face, your movements. ... You're just too indolent to live! Aagh, just too indolent! [Notice that Voinitskii is attracted to Yelena not in spite of her indolence but in part because of it. The word "indolent" is very rich in meaning; an indolent figure in music, for instance, is one with a particular grace of movement. In the context of this play ‒ and the life of its author ‒ the word also has a deep significance in its original medical sense, meaning "painless": Yelena is symbolically an indolent tumour that is doing terrible damage to its temporarily contented host; a clumsy doctor is going to tear it out without anaesthetic and then deny the patient any painkillers.]

Helen

Aagh, both indolent and fed up! Everyone bad-mouths my husband, everyone looks at me with pity: poor thing, her husband is so old! That sympathy for me — don't I know what that's about! It's like Dr Astor was saying just now: you all recklessly destroy the woods and soon there won't be anything left on earth. Exactly the way you recklessly destroy people; and soon, thanks to you, there'll be no trueness, no chastity, no capacity for self-sacrifice left on earth. Why are you unable to look at a woman with indifference if she isn't yours? It's because ‒ he's right, that doctor ‒ in every one of you lurks a demon of devastation. You have no mercy on woods, or birds, or women, or one another.

John Peter

I can do without the philosophy!

Pause.

Helen

The doctor has a tired, drawn face. An interesting face. To Sunny, obviously, he's attractive; she's in love with him, and I know how she feels. Since I came he's already been here three times, but I'm shy and haven't once had a proper talk with him or been nice to him. He thought I was nasty. Very likely, John Peter, the reason we're such friends, you and I, is that we're both prolixious, tedious people! Prolixious! [She is accusing them both of being not just dull but actively boring. I wanted the version of "prolix" that shared a word-ending with "tedious" and, even more, that Helen could really roll around her tongue. ... Chekhov seems to enjoy the irony of having one character blindly insult another, especially when they're trying to be nice. In this case Voinitskii doesn't notice; he can't hear anything else after Yelena says you and I are such friends ....] Don't look at me like that; I don't like it.

John Peter

How else can I look at you when I love you? You're my happiness, you are life, you're my youth! I know the chances of you feeling the same for me are non-existent, zilch, but I don't need anything; just let me look at you, hear your voice ....

Helen

Shhh, they can hear you!

She starts to go in.

John Peter (following her).

Let me speak of my love, don't drive me away, and that alone will be the greatest happiness for me ....

Helen

This is excruciating ....

They both disappear into the house. Crumbly strums the strings and plays a polka; Lady Marie makes a note of something in the margin of a pamphlet.

CURTAIN