Shortly after surprising his wife in the transgression, Feodor Feodorowich Sigaev
stood at the Schmeuck's & Co. gun store, selecting a suitable revolver. His face
expressed rage, sorrow and unwavering determination.
"I know what to do." he thought. "The foundation of family has been insulted, honor -- stamped into the mire, indecency is triumphant. Thus, as a citizen and an upstanding man, I must become the avenger. I shall kill her first, then the lover, then myself."
Has not picked out a revolver yet, nor killed anyone, but already his imagination conjured up visions of three bloody corpses, smashed skulls, oozing brains, confusion, hordes of gawkers, the autopsy. With the gloating of a wronged man, he imagined the horror of the relatives and the public, the agony of the unfaithful spouse. In his mine, he was already reading the front-page articles bemoaning the decay of family.
The proprietor of the store, an agile French figure with a potbelly, wearing a white vest, was spreading revolvers in front of him. Smiling respectfully and scraping his feet, the salesman spoke:
"I would recommend, Monsieur, to take this splendid revolver. A Smith & Wesson system, the last development in the science of firearms. Triple Lock, with an extractor, range of six hundred paces, centerfire. I'd like to call your attention to the quality of the finish. We sell ten of these daily for use against brigands, wolves and lovers. Very reliable and positive ignition, hits at a great range and still kills the wife and the lover through and through. As far as suicides go, I don't know of a better system..."
The salesman cocked and lowered the hammers, breathed on the barrels and affected to be breathless with delight. Looking at his admiration, one could think that he would have loved to blow his own brains out, had he only possessed a revolver of a system as wonderful as Smith & Wesson.
"What's the price?" asked Sigaev.
"Fourty five rubles, Monsieur."
"Hm! Too expensive for me!"
"In that case, Monsieur, I will offer you a different, cheaper, system. Would you care to look? We have a tremendous selection, quite a range of prices. For example, this Lefaucheux revolver is only eighteen rubles but," the salesman grimaced scornfully "this type is already obsolete. Only mental proletarians or psychotics buy it now. To shoot yourself or to kill a wife with a Lefaucheux is considered a sign of poor taste. Good taste permits only Smith & Wesson."
"I have no need to shoot myself or to kill anyone, " lied Sigaev, grimly. " I am buying it for my summer home...to scare off burglars."
"It is none of my business what you are buying it for, " smiled the salesman, lowering his eyes demurely. "It we were nosy with every customer, we would have had to close the store. Lefaucheux is no good for scaring anyone as its report is dull and not very loud. I would recommend a plain Mortimer percussion pistol, a so-called "dueling" type.
"Should I challenge him to a duel," flashed in Sigaev's head. "Too much honor. Such brutes ought to be killed like dogs."
The salesman, gracefully turning and shuffling without ceasing to smile or to chatter, placed another heap of revolvers in front of Sigaev. Smith & Wesson looked the most impressive and appetizing of the bunch. Sigaev picked up one revolver of that type, stared at it dully and got lost in thought. In his imagination, he pictured blowing off heads, blood streaming onto the carpet and the parquet, the twitching leg of a dying slut. But for his indignant soul that was not enough. Bloody images, screaming and horror did not satisfy him. Something more terrible had to be invented.
"There, I will kill him and myself," he thought. "I will let her live. Let her waste away of conscience pangs and of contempt of all those around her. For a nervous personality such as hers, that would be worse than death."
He imagined his own funeral: he, wronged, with a meek smile on his lips, in a coffin. She, pale, tortured by conscience pangs, walking behind the coffin like Niobe, not knowing where to hide from the contemptuous stares of infuriated crowds.
"Monsieur, I see you like the Smith & Wesson. If it seems expensive, I will knock off five rubles...then, again, we have other, cheaper, types."
The French figure turned gracefully and took another dozen gun cases off the shelf.
"Here, Monsieur, priced at thirty rubles. It is reasonable as the exchange rate is down while the import duties go up by the hour. I swear to God, I am Conservative yet even I am beginning to grumble. For pity, the exchange rate and the import duties made arms affordable only for the rich. The poor have only Tula weapons and phosphorus matches left to them. Tula weapons are a disaster! You fire a Tula revolver at your wife and end up hitting your own shoulder blade..."
Sigaev felt a sudden pity and a disappointment that he would be dead and unable to see the suffering of the unfaithful one. Revenge is only sweet when you have the opportunity to watch and enjoy it. What use in lying in a coffin, unknowing!
"Why don't I do this," he considered. "Kill him, watch the funeral, look, then kill myself. Then again, they would arrest me before the funeral and take the weapon away. All right, I kill him, she stays alive, I hold off on killing myself and get arrested. I can always kill myself later. The good thing about getting arrested is that I can expose her despicable behavior to the authorities and the society during the pre-trial hearings. If I kill myself she, likely as not with her typical dishonesty and impudence, would put all the blame on me. The society might exonerate her and laugh at me but if I stay alive, then..."
A minute later he thought: "If I kill myself, they might accuse me and suspect me of pretty sentiments. Besides, why should I kill myself? That's one thing. Another, suicide means cowardice. And so, I will kill him, leave her alive, go to trial. She would be a witness at the judgement. I can imagine her reluctance, her shame when my defender would question her. Of course, the sympathy of the court, the public and the press would be on my side."
While he reflected, the salesman kept demonstrating the goods, considered it his duty to amuse the customer.
"Here are the new English systems, just in, " he prattled. "But I must tell you, Monsieur, all designs pale before Smith & Wesson. Just recently -- you probably have already read about it -- an officer bought a Smith & Wesson from us. He shot at the lover and, can you imagine, the bullet went through, penetrated a bronze lamp, then a grand piano, ricochetted into a lap dog, killing it, and gave the wife a concussion. A most impressive effect, worthy of our enterprise. Of course, he would be charged and sent to hard labor. For one, our laws are outmoded, for another, the court always sides with the lover. Why? It is so simple, Monsieur! The judge, the jurists, the prosecutor and the defender all sleep with other men's wives. It would be better if them if Russia had one husband fewer. The society would be pleased if the government sent all husbands to Sakhalin. You don't know what offense this decline in morality gives me. Borrowing other people's wives has become as accepted as borrowing cigarettes or books. Our trade declines with every year, not because lovers are becoming scarce but because husbands put up with their lot, too afraid of the law and of hard labor.
The salesman glanced around and whispered: "Who's at fault, Monsieur? The government!"
"To end up on Sakhalin because of some pig isn't sensible," thought Sigaev. "If I go to prison, that would only give my wife an opportunity to re-marry and to cuckold her second husband. She'd triumph. Therefore, I let her live, do not kill myself, do not kill him, either. I need to think of something more sensible and sensitive. I shall kill them with contempt and will start a scandalous divorce process."
"Here, another new design, " said the salesman, getting out another dozen. " Note the original lock-work."
Sigaev, his decision made, no longer needed a revolver. Meanwhile, the salesman was getting ever more inspired, spreading more merchandise on the counter. The wronged husband felt guilty for wasting the proprietor's efforts. That man had smiled, eulogized, wasted time and effort.
"All right, in this case, " he muttered "I will stop by later or send someone."
He did not see the salesman's face but, to feel less awkward, felt the need to buy something. But what to buy? He looked over the walls of the store, pausing over a greet net hanging by the door.
"This," he asked "What is this?"
"A quail net."
"How much is it?"
"Eight rubles, Monsieur."
"Wrap it up for me."
The wronged husband paid the eight rubles, took the net and, feeling even more wronged, left the store.
Anton Chekhov, 1887
Translated by Oleg Volk, 2000