Find today’s 2387 word story here. http://www.chekhovshorts.com/stories/064.html
Today’s story could be read to young children before bedtime or in an elementary school class. It contains many classic elements of children’s literature including a quasi-dramatic rescue, a wise elderly/grandfatherly character with a kind heart, an orphan girl and boy dynamic (friendship, loyalty, physical warmth), a walk through the forest with descriptions of nature’s intricacies as well as mechanics of a machine. It almost came off like an idealized fairy tale in the countryside. Almost, as Chekhov reminds us that life is tough for orphans. But in this village there is at least Terenty, a homeless cobbler who “in the night… comes to them, makes the sign of the cross over them, and puts bread under their heads.” Chekhov also repeats a character that he used in A Country Cottage: the moon. Fortunately for the children, Danilka and Fyokla, the moon is benevolent to them (not so for the couple in the earlier story) as it “peeps caressingly through the holes in the wall of the deserted barn.” Overall I like the story as it was a nice change of pace from other Chekhov stories, although I found some of Terenty’s continuous descriptions of things tiresome, and his description of sparrows (“When Christ was crucified it was the sparrow brought nails to the Jews“) is clearly anti-semitic.
Today’s story was a refreshing change of pace for Chekhov. Instead of focusing on the dire circumstances of poverty in rural life, Chekhov chose to pay homage to an unsung hero, a homeless cobbler named Terenty. The story begins with a 6 year-old “beggar-girl” named Fyokla running through a village which is in the midst of preparing for an approaching storm. She calls everyone “uncle” but is searching for one person in particular. She finds Terenty in the kitchen-gardens and we are told he is a “tall old man with a thin, pock-marked face, very long legs, and bare feet, dressed in a woman’s tattered jacket.” He doesn’t fit any particular stereotype of a hero but on this day, Fyokla is searching for one to help free her brother Danilka from a tree in which his hand is stuck. Despite the approaching storm, Terenty makes light of their predicament and braves the elements to free Fyokla’s brother with reassuring and fatherly tones. I initially thought the tree incident would be the central theme of the story but it was over in less than a paragraph. I kept waiting for the cynical undertone or implied corruption to manifest but it never did. Instead, we are treated to multiple explanations of natural phenomena and the explicit assertion that Terenty “answers all questions, and there is no secret in Nature which baffles him. He knows everything.” Chekhov further asserts that indeed “all the villagers, generally speaking, know as much as he does.” The difference is that Terenty is willing to share not only his knowledge, but his time with the two orphan children…and they love him for it. After spending all day with Terenty, the two children retire to a deserted barn while Terenty goes to the tavern. Chekhov could have ended the story here but instead reinforces the sincerity of Terenty and the love he has for these two orphans. He returns later to put bread under their heads making the sign of the cross while they sleep. We are given no glimpse into the past of either the two orphan children or our homeless cobbler. I like to think that Terenty is trying in his own way to make the lives of Fyokla and Danilka a little better than what he experienced. Regardless of the reason, the story felt genuine and I enjoyed the optimistic change of pace.