Today’s 1360 word story comes parenthetically from From The Annals Of A Town. http://www.chekhovshorts.com/stories/017.html
Today’s story could have been a scene from The Simpsons. Two men walking in an outdoor market stop and stare at a cloud of starlings, debating whose gardens they landed in, and nearly cause a town riot. (Here is a video of a cloud of thousands of starlings in Israel.) I loved the lines between the town leader, Akim Danilitch, and one of the original gawkers, newspaper publisher. “No good ever comes of reading the papers!” The newspaperman rebuttals “Kindly refrain from reflections upon literature!” The absurdity grows until, like an angry mob in Springfield, they are distracted by something shiny or in this case a new organ in a bar playing at a tavern. Chekhov is definitely poking fun of the townsfolk and group hysteria. I didn’t think the last paragraph with Akim Danilitch writing a letter to a superior telling him how well the fire brigade performed (they were impotent without out their horses) and that men were jailed (which they weren’t) was necessary. I guess it was additional commentary about how people in power save face with lies.
In today’s story, Chekhov builds upon the theme we have seen previously of characters over-reacting to a false cue only to be disappointed (or confused) in the end. Definitely reminiscent of a modern Simpson’s episode, the crowd gathers momentum only to be distracted at the end by another target for their admiration. The fact that Chekhov gave this story a subtitle is interesting. Instead of leading us to believe this occurred is a unique place, he tells us it is “From the Annals of a Town” implying this could (and indeed does) happen everywhere. The ending letter also leads us to believe that under ordinary historical accounting (government documents/letters), we will never know the full extent of such distractions. At times in the story it was difficult to know who was speaking (perhaps to highlight the craziness of the scene). I enjoyed the newspaper commentary about literature and also that the fireman was advised not to indict Purov (owner of a factory whose men were among the gawkers) because it was his birthday the following day. Almost in a whine, the speaker pleads, “don’t put down the men from Purov’s. It’s Purov’s birthday to-morrow.” Classic… I enjoyed this story. I can certainly relate to falling prey to a pedestrian’s sight-path from time-to-time on a walk in a major city. I’d like to think it didn’t ultimately distract me from my destination.