Today’s story contains 1926 words: http://www.chekhovshorts.com/stories/044.html
Today’s story revolves around children gambling while waiting up for their parents to arrive home with details of a christening. Chekhov’s utilizes an omniscient point of view to reveal the motivations each child (five) has in the loto game. The money involved is slight, a kopek — which like an American penny to a dollar is 1/100 of a ruble. Chekhov shows us a few rounds of the game with misadventures of a missing kopeck, a needed loan, unique naming schemes, and an accusation of cheating. The accusation leads to a slap fight that in the adult world (especially with alcohol in the mix) could escalate to a duel, but instead: “Before five minutes are over, the children are laughing and talking peaceably again. Their faces are tear-stained, but that does not prevent them from smiling…” This particular scene was the heart of the story for me. Emotions of children ebb and flow, but hate does not last for long. There is too much fun to be had for injured egos. In the end the children sleep together on “mama’s bed” to the future surprise of their parents. In the last two sentences of the story, Chekhov makes a couple of statements. The first is “Near them lie the kopecks, that have lost their power till the next game.” The kopecks meant a lot to the children, enough to keep an older brother out of the game. Yet when we sleep, physical money is inert. The value at that moment means nothing. Just pieces of material taking up space. In the last sentence, Chekhov ends the story on one word: “Good-night!” It’s like he knows he’s created a cute, cuddly story of innocence. Which he has.
Today’s story gives us a peek into the mystical world of childhood complete with gambling, beetles, robbers, tantrums and reconciliation. With the parents away at a christening, five children stay up late to play a game of chance called loto (similar to BINGO). They range in age from 6 to 9 crossing all appropriate developmental milestones. As far as we can tell, most are siblings with the exception of the cook’s son who is also playing. Each has contributed one kopek to a central pile but not all are interested in winning. Here, Chekhov highlights the peculiarities of the children’s expectations and understanding of the game in the wider context of their place in the family. The youngest, Sonya, is clearly just having fun and to the ire of her siblings wins the first round. Her older 8-year-old sister, Anya, is interested in winning the game out of vanity while the oldest, Grisha, clearly wants the money. Although we are not told his age, the middle boy, Aloysha, enjoys the bitterness and rivalry that games bring and has no interest in winning anything other than a fight. The cook’s son, Andrey, is fascinated with the numbers in the game as if it were the first time he has been exposed to the concept of arithmetic. There are plenty of things to keep each child occupied other than their ambitions within the game, including discussion of turning your eyelids inside out, the offspring of beetles, and church robbers who are afraid of bells. Later in the story, a much older brother enters the room to play in the game despite his overt declaration of how inappropriate it is for children. Unfortunately, all he has is a rouble and none of the servants have enough change to permit him to play. Finally, the youngest child, Sonya, who has repeatedly rescued her elders, gives him a kopek to play. All of this occurs amidst the background confusion of Grisha who has lost one of his kopeks. After most pitch in to help him find it, they resurface on the table to realize Sonya has fallen asleep (“a sweet, sound, tranquil sleep, as though she had been asleep for an hour.”). They help her to their mother’s bed wherein they are all later discovered, as a “curious spectacle”, in various states of slumber. The thing I found most intriguing about this story is how Chekhov captures the simultaneous distractability and intense focus that is instantly recognizable by anyone who has been around children or dogs. They bounce from one topic and/or emotion to the next with little recollection or reflection and yet they are able to rally around a common pursuit. There is much to envy about this stage of life as can best be demonstrated by how boring the story would be if it had been about adults.