In her first letter to Van Ada (the title character in VN’s novel Ada, 1969) compares herself to a bleeding hare with one side of its mouth shot off:
You must pardon me for using such a posh (and also poshlïy) means of having a letter reach you, but I’m unable to find any safer service.
When I said I could not speak and would write, I meant I could not utter the proper words at short notice. I implore you. I felt that I could not produce them and arrange them orally in the necessary order. I implore you. I felt that one wrong or misplaced word would be fatal, you would simply turn away, as you did, and walk off again, and again, and again. I implore you for breath [sic! Ed.] of understanding. But now I think that I should have taken the risk of speaking, of stammering, for I see now that it is just as dreadfully hard to put my heart and honor in script — even more so because in speaking one can use a stutter as a shutter, and plead a chance slurring of words, like a bleeding hare with one side of its mouth shot off, or twist back, and improve; but against a background of snow, even the blue snow of this notepaper, the blunders are red and final. I implore you. (2.1)
In his poem Zvyozdnyi uzhas (“Starry Terror,” 1921) Gumilyov compares the old man who experienced the starry terror to podstrelennyi zayats (a wounded hare):
Это было золотою ночью,
Золотою ночью, но безлунной,
Он бежал, бежал через равнину,
На колени падал, поднимался,
Как подстреленный метался заяц,
И горячие струились слёзы
По щекам, морщинами изрытым,
По козлиной старческой бородке.
А за ним его бежали дети,
А за ним его бежали внуки,
И в шатре из небелёной ткани
Брошенная правнучка визжала.
Ada mentally transliterates the name of her gynecologist, Seitz, as Zayats (“Dr Hare”):
It was raining. The lawns looked greener, and the reservoir grayer, in the dull prospect before the library bay window. Clad in a black training suit, with two yellow cushions propped under his head, Van lay reading Rattner on Terra, a difficult and depressing work. Every now and then he glanced at the autumnally tocking tall clock above the bald pate of tan Tartary as represented on a large old globe in the fading light of an afternoon that would have suited early October better than July. Ada, wearing an unfashionable belted macintosh that he disliked, with her handbag on a strap over one shoulder, had gone to Kaluga for the whole day — officially to try on some clothes, unofficially to consult Dr Krolik’s cousin, the gynecologist Seitz (or ‘Zayats,’ as she transliterated him mentally since it also belonged, as Dr ‘Rabbit’ did, to the leporine group in Russian pronunciation). Van was positive that not once during a month of love-making had he failed to take all necessary precautions, sometimes rather bizarre, but incontestably trustworthy, and had lately acquired the sheath-like contraceptive device that in Ladore county only barber-shops, for some odd but ancient reason, were allowed to sell. Still he felt anxious — and was cross with his anxiety — and Rattner, who halfheartedly denied any objective existence to the sibling planet in his text, but grudgingly accepted it in obscure notes (inconveniently placed between chapters), seemed as dull as the rain that could be discerned slanting in parallel pencil lines against the darker background of a larch plantation, borrowed, Ada contended, from Mansfield Park. (1.37)
The phenomenon of Terra appeared on Demonia (aka Antiterra, Earth’s twin planet on which Ada is set) after the L disaster in the middle of the 19th century:
The details of the L disaster (and I do not mean Elevated) in the beau milieu of last century, which had the singular effect of both causing and cursing the notion of ‘Terra,’ are too well-known historically, and too obscene spiritually, to be treated at length in a book addressed to young laymen and lemans — and not to grave men or gravemen. (1.3)
“Young laymen and lemans” bring to mind Sig Leymanski, the main character in Van’s novel Letters from Terra who trimmed his name and became Professor Leyman (2.2). Describing his nights in “Ardis the First,” Van mentions the Terror of Terra:
In this our dry report on Van Veen’s early, too early love, for Ada Veen, there is neither reason, nor room for metaphysical digression. Yet, let it be observed (just while the lucifers fly and throb, and an owl hoots — also most rhythmically — in the nearby park) that Van, who at the time had still not really tasted the Terror of Terra — vaguely attributing it, when analyzing his dear unforgettable Aqua’s torments, to pernicious fads and popular fantasies — even then, at fourteen, recognized that the old myths, which willed into helpful being a whirl of worlds (no matter how silly and mystical) and situated them within the gray matter of the star-suffused heavens, contained, perhaps, a glowworm of strange truth. His nights in the hammock (where that other poor youth had cursed his blood cough and sunk back into dreams of prowling black spumas and a crash of symbols in an orchal orchestra — as suggested to him by career physicians) were now haunted not so much by the agony of his desire for Ada, as by that meaningless space overhead, underhead, everywhere, the demon counterpart of divine time, tingling about him and through him, as it was to retingle — with a little more meaning fortunately — in the last nights of a life, which I do not regret, my love.
He would fall asleep at the moment he thought he would never sleep again, and his dreams were young. As the first flame of day reached his hammock, he woke up another man — and very much of a man indeed. ‘Ada, our ardors and arbors’ — a dactylic trimeter that was to remain Van Veen’s only contribution to Anglo-American poetry — sang through his brain. Bless the starling and damn the stardust! He was fourteen and a half; he was burning and bold; he would have her fiercely some day! (1.12)
At the end of Zharko veet veter zhguchiy… (“The wind is stifling and parching…”), the second poem in her cycle Obman (“Deceit,” 1910), Anna Akhmatov (Gumilyov’s first wife) wonders whom she will dream of in her hammock’s motley net:
Пруд лениво серебрится,
Жизнь по-новому легка...
Кто сегодня мне приснится
В пёстрой сетке гамака?
The silver pond is idly gleaming,
Life is easy – no regret…
O, I wonder whom I’ll dream of
In my hammock’s motley net?
(tr. A. Kneller)
In Gumilyov’s “Starry Terror” the old man dreams of khoroshaya korova (a good cow):
Этой ночью я заснул, как должно,
Обвернувшись шкурой, носом в землю,
Снилась мне хорошая корова
С выменем отвислым и раздутым,
Под неё подполз я, поживиться
Молоком парным, как уж, я думал,
Только вдруг она меня лягнула,
Я перевернулся и проснулся:
Был без шкуры я и носом к небу.
Хорошо ещё, что мне вонючка
Правый глаз поганым соком выжгла,
А не то, гляди я в оба глаза,
Мёртвым бы остался я на месте.
Горе! Горе! Страх, петля и яма
Для того, кто на земле родился.
Describing his work on Letters from Terra, Van mentions innumerable planets with cottages and cows:
There were good reasons to disregard the technological details involved in delineating intercommunication between Terra the Fair and our terrible Antiterra. His knowledge of physics, mechanicalism and that sort of stuff had remained limited to the scratch of a prep-school blackboard. He consoled himself with the thought that no censor in America or Great Britain would pass the slightest reference to ‘magnetic’ gewgaws. Quietly, he borrowed what his greatest forerunners (Counterstone, for example) had imagined in the way of a manned capsule’s propulsion, including the clever idea of an initial speed of a few thousand miles per hour increasing, under the influence of a Counterstonian type of intermediate environment between sibling galaxies, to several trillions of light-years per second, before dwindling harmlessly to a parachute’s indolent descent. Elaborating anew, in irrational fabrications, all that Cyraniana and ‘physics fiction’ would have been not only a bore but an absurdity, for nobody knew how far Terra, or other innumerable planets with cottages and cows, might be situated in outer or inner space: ‘inner,’ because why not assume their microcosmic presence in the golden globules ascending quick-quick in this flute of Moët or in the corpuscles of my, Van Veen’s —
(or my, Ada Veen’s)
— bloodstream, or in the pus of a Mr Nekto’s ripe boil newly lanced in Nektor or Neckton. (2.2)
Neckton brings to mind Mlle Larivière’s story “The Necklace:”
Yes! Wasn’t that a scream? Larivière blossoming forth, bosoming forth as a great writer! A sensational Canadian bestselling author! Her story ‘The Necklace’ (La rivière de diamants) had become a classic in girls’ schools and her gorgeous pseudonym ‘Guillaume de Monparnasse’ (the leaving out of the ‘t’ made it more intime) was well-known from Quebec to Kaluga. (1.31)
In his memoirs Na Parnase serebryanogo veka (“On the Parnassus of the Silver Age,” 1962) S. Makovski quotes Gumilyov’s one-line poem (a satire on the symbolists):
Nekto nekogda nechto negde uzrel…
Sometime somewhere someone saw something…
The old man in Gumilyov’s “Starry Terror” is one-eyed. In his essay Ob Annenskom (“On Annenski,” 1921) Hodasevich compares Annenski to Ivan Ilyich Golovin, the main character in Tolstoy’s story Smert’ Ivana Ilyicha (“The Death of Ivan Ilyich,” 1886) and points out that Annenski’s penname Nik. T-o (“Mr. Nobody”) is a translation of Greek Outis, the pseudonym under which in Homer’s Odyssey Odysseus conceals his identity from the Cyclops Polyphemus (who is one-eyed):
Чего не додумал Иван Ильич, то знал Анненский. Знал, что никаким директорством, никаким бытом и даже никакой филологией от смерти по-настоящему не загородиться. Она уничтожит и директора, и барина, и филолога. Только над истинным его "я", над тем, чтo отображается в "чувствах и мыслях", над личностью -- у неё как будто нет власти. И он находил реальное, осязаемое отражение и утверждение личности -- в поэзии. Тот, чьё лицо он видел, подходя к зеркалу, был директор гимназии, смертный никто. Тот, чьё лицо отражалось в поэзии, был бессмертный некто. Ник. Т-о -- никто -- есть безличный действительный статский советник, которым, как видимой оболочкой, прикрыт невидимый некто. Этот свой псевдоним, под которым он печатал стихи, Анненский рассматривал как перевод греческого "outis", никто, -- того самого псевдонима, под которым Одиссей скрыл от циклопа Полифема своё истинное имя, свою подлинную личность, своего некто. Поэзия была для него заклятием страшного Полифема -- смерти. Но психологически это не только не мешало, а даже способствовало тому, чтобы его вдохновительницей, его Музой была смерть.
According to Hodasevich, the person whose face Annenski saw in a mirror was smertnyi nikto (a mortal nobody) and the person whose face was reflected in Annenski’s poetry was bessmertnyi nekto (the immortal somebody). Annenski’s pupil, Gumilyov is the author of Pamyati Annenskogo (“In Memory of Annenski,” 1912).
The old man in “Starry Terror” repeats the exclamation Gore! (“Woe”) four times and his daughter-in-law also repeats it twice. During her conversation with Van Marina (Van’s, Ada’s and Lucette’s mother) mentions Griboedov’s play Gore ot uma (“Woe from Wit,” 1824):
A propos de coins: in Griboedov’s Gore ot uma, "How stupid to be so clever," a play in verse, written, I think, in Pushkin’s time, the hero reminds Sophie of their childhood games, and says:
How oft we sat together in a corner
And what harm might there be in that?
but in Russian it is a little ambiguous, have another spot, Van?’ (he shook his head, simultaneously lifting his hand, like his father), ‘because, you see, — no, there is none left anyway — the second line, i kazhetsya chto v etom, can be also construed as "And in that one, meseems," pointing with his finger at a corner of the room. Imagine — when I was rehearsing that scene with Kachalov at the Seagull Theater, in Yukonsk, Stanislavski, Konstantin Sergeevich, actually wanted him to make that cosy little gesture (uyutnen’kiy zhest).’
‘How very amusing,’ said Van. (1.37)
Offering Van a cup tea, Marina mentions the cow:
Naked-faced, dull-haired, wrapped up in her oldest kimono (her Pedro had suddenly left for Rio), Marina reclined on her mahogany bed under a golden-yellow quilt, drinking tea with mare’s milk, one of her fads.
‘Sit down, have a spot of chayku,’ she said. ‘The cow is in the smaller jug, I think. Yes, it is.’ And when Van, having kissed her freckled hand, lowered himself on the ivanilich (a kind of sighing old hassock upholstered in leather): ‘Van, dear, I wish to say something to you, because I know I shall never have to repeat it again. Belle, with her usual flair for the right phrase, has cited to me the cousinage-dangereux-voisinage adage — I mean "adage," I always fluff that word — and complained qu’on s’embrassait dans tous les coins. Is that true?’
Darkbloom (‘Notes to Ada’): Ivanilich: a pouf plays a marvelous part in Tolstoy’s The Death of Ivan Ilyich, where it sighs deeply under a friend of the widow’s.
In Alexander Blok’s poem Vozmezdie (“Retribution,” 1910-21) the hero’s father (nicknamed Demon, like Van’s and Ada’s father) in his cold and cruel dreams sees Gore ot uma (“Woe from Wit”):
В ком смутно брезжит память эта,
Тот странен и с людьми не схож:
Всю жизнь его — уже поэта
Священная объемлет дрожь,
Бывает глух, и слеп, и нем он,
В нём почивает некий бог,
Его опустошает Демон,
Над коим Врубель изнемог…
Его прозрения глубоки,
Но их глушит ночная тьма,
И в снах холодных и жестоких
Он видит «Горе от ума». (Chapter Three)
There is gore in Gorenko, Anna Akhmatov’s real name. Gumilyov’s and Gorenko’s initial, the Cyrillic letter Г (that corresponds to Latin G) looks like the Latin L (the Antiterran disaster’s initial) turned upside down. In the old Russian alphabet the letter Г was called glagol’ (gallows). Describing his discussion with Bernard Rattner (whose uncle wrote a book on Terra) and his friends, Van mentions a gallon of Gallows Ale:
The matter of that important discussion was a comparison of notes regarding a problem that Van was to try to resolve in another way many years later. Several cases of acrophobia had been closely examined at the Kingston Clinic to determine if they were combined with any traces or aspects of time-terror. Tests had yielded completely negative results, but what seemed particularly curious was that the only available case of acute chronophobia differed by its very nature — metaphysical flavor, psychological stamp and so forth — from that of space-fear. True, one patient maddened by the touch of time’s texture presented too small a sample to compete with a great group of garrulous acrophobes, and readers who have been accusing Van of rashness and folly (in young Rattner’s polite terminology) will have a higher opinion of him when they learn that our young investigator did his best not to let Mr T.T. (the chronophobe) be cured too hastily of his rare and important sickness. Van had satisfied himself that it had nothing to do with clocks or calendars, or any measurements or contents of time, while he suspected and hoped (as only a discoverer, pure and passionate and profoundly inhuman, can hope) that the dread of heights would be found by his colleagues to depend mainly on the misestimation of distances and that Mr Arshin, their best acrophobe, who could not step down from a footstool, could be made to step down into space from the top of a tower if persuaded by some optical trick that the fire net spread fifty yards below was a mat one inch beneath him.
Van had cold cuts brought up for them, and a gallon of Gallows Ale — but his mind was elsewhere, and he did not shine in the discussion which forever remained in his mind as a grisaille of inconclusive tedium. (2.6)
The name Arshin hints at Garshin, the author of Krasnyi tsvetok (“The Red Flower,” 1883) who committed suicide by throwing himself over the banisters. Chekhov dedicated to the memory of Garshin his story Pripadok (“A Nervous Breakdown,” 1888). At the end of Chekhov’s play Dyadya Vanya (“Uncle Vanya,” 1898) Sonya promises to uncle Vanya that they will see the sky swarming with diamonds. In “Ardis the Second” Van quotes Sonya’s words:
‘Oh, set them free’ (big vague gesture), ‘turned them out, put them back onto suitable plants, buried them in the pupal state, told them to run along, while the birds were not looking — or alas, feigning not to be looking.
‘Well, to mop up that parable, because you have the knack of interrupting and diverting my thoughts, I’m in a sense also torn between three private tortures, the main torture being ambition, of course. I know I shall never be a biologist, my passion for creeping creatures is great, but not all-consuming. I know I shall always adore orchids and mushrooms and violets, and you will still see me going out alone, to wander alone in the woods and return alone with a little lone lily; but flowers, no matter how irresistible, must be given up, too, as soon as I have the strength. Remains the great ambition and the greatest terror: the dream of the bluest, remotest, hardest dramatic climbs — probably ending as one of a hundred old spider spinsters, teaching drama students, knowing, that, as you insist, sinister insister, we can’t marry, and having always before me the awful example of pathetic, second-rate, brave Marina.’
‘Well, that bit about spinsters is rot,’ said Van, ‘we’ll pull it off somehow, we’ll become more and more distant relations in artistically forged papers and finally dwindle to mere namesakes, or at the worst we shall live quietly, you as my housekeeper, I as your epileptic, and then, as in your Chekhov, "we shall see the whole sky swarm with diamonds."’
‘Did you find them all, Uncle Van?’ she inquired, sighing, laying her dolent head on his shoulder. She had told him everything. (1.31)
Chekhov is the author of Za dvumya zaytsami pogonish’sya, ni odnogo ne poymaesh’ (“He who Chases Two Hares won’t Catch Either,” 1880). In Chekhov’s story Noch’ pered sudom (“The Night before the Trial,” 1886) Dr Zaytsev (the narrator and main character) mentions his uzhas (terror) and Ledovityi Okean (the Arctic Ocean):
Но я не могу описать, а вы представить себе, моего ужаса, когда я, подняв глаза на стол, покрытый красным сукном, увидел на прокурорском месте — кого бы вы думали? — Федю! Он сидел и что-то писал. Глядя на него, я вспомнил клопов, Зиночку, свою диагностику, и не мороз, а целый Ледовитый океан пробежал по моей спине...
I can neither describe nor can you imagine my terror when, looking up at the table which was covered with red cloth, I saw in the prosecutor’s place, whom do you think – Fedya! He was writing. When l looked at him, I remembered the bugs, Zinochka,
my prescription – and I not only felt a frost, but the whole Arctic Ocean on my spine.
Chekhov is the author of Medved’ (“The Bear,” 1888), a joke in one act. There is ved’ (it is, isn’t it; see my previous post “ved', ha-ha of doubled ocean, Tartary, k chertyam sobach'im & L disaster in Ada”) in medved’. In his poem Ledokhod (“Ice Drift,” 1918) Gumilyov mentions geograf (the geographer), belye medvedi (polar bears) and Ledovityi Okean:
…Географу, в час трудных снов,
Такие тяготят сознанье —
…Река больна, река в бреду.
Одни, уверены в победе,
В зоологическом саду
Довольны белые медведи.
И знают, что один обман —
Их тягостное заточенье:
Сам Ледовитый Океан
Идёт на их освобожденье.
In his poem Pered sudom (“At the Trial,” 1915) Alexander Blok repeats the word ved’ three times:
Что же ты потупилась в смущеньи?
Погляди, как прежде, на меня,
Вот какой ты стала - в униженьи,
В резком, неподкупном свете дня!
Я и сам ведь не такой - не прежний,
Недоступный, гордый, чистый, злой.
Я смотрю добрей и безнадежней
На простой и скучный путь земной.
Я не только не имею права,
Я тебя не в силах упрекнуть
За мучительный твой, за лукавый,
Многим женщинам суждённый путь...
Но ведь я немного по-другому,
Чем иные, знаю жизнь твою,
Более, чем судьям, мне знакомо,
Как ты очутилась на краю.
Вместе ведь по краю, было время,
Нас водила пагубная страсть,
Мы хотели вместе сбросить бремя
И лететь, чтобы потом упасть.
Ты всегда мечтала, что, сгорая,
Догорим мы вместе - ты и я,
Что дано, в объятьях умирая,
Увидать блаженные края...
Что же делать, если обманула
Та мечта, как всякая мечта,
И что жизнь безжалостно стегнула
Грубою верёвкою кнута?
Не до нас ей, жизни торопливой,
И мечта права, что нам лгала. -
Всё-таки, когда-нибудь счастливой
Разве ты со мною не была?
Эта прядь - такая золотая
Разве не от старого огня? -
Страстная, безбожная, пустая,
Незабвенная, прости меня!
In his poem Neznakomka (“Incognita,” 1906) Blok mentions p’yanitsy s glazami krolikov (the drunks with the eyes of rabbits) who cry out “In vino veritas!” In his story Zhenshchina s tochki zreniya p’yanitsy (“Woman as Seen by a Drunkard,” 1885) signed “My brother’s brother” Chekhov compares girls under sixteen to aqua distillata. In a prescription written by Dr Zaytsev in “The Night before the Trial” aqua distillata is mentioned:
Наконец, я сидел в компании Феди и Зиночки за самоваром; надо было написать рецепт, и я сочинил его по всем правилам врачебной науки:
Rp. Sic transit 0,05
Gloria mundi 1,0
Aquae destillatae 0,1
Через два часа по столовой ложке.
Fedya returned. The three of us were having tea. I wrote a prescription and I composed it as professionally as I knew how:
Pr. Sic transit 5o.o
Gloria mundi ~.o
Aquae distillatae o.~
A tablespoonful every two hours
For Mrs. S’yelova
Marina’s twin sister Aqua (Demon’s poor mad wife) believed in the existence of Terra the Fair:
Actually, Aqua was less pretty, and far more dotty, than Marina. During her fourteen years of miserable marriage she spent a broken series of steadily increasing sojourns in sanatoriums. A small map of the European part of the British Commonwealth — say, from Scoto-Scandinavia to the Riviera, Altar and Palermontovia — as well as most of the U.S.A., from Estoty and Canady to Argentina, might be quite thickly prickled with enameled red-cross-flag pins, marking, in her War of the Worlds, Aqua’s bivouacs. She had plans at one time to seek a modicum of health (‘just a little grayishness, please, instead of the solid black’) in such Anglo-American protectorates as the Balkans and Indias, and might even have tried the two Southern Continents that thrive under our joint dominion. Of course, Tartary, an independent inferno, which at the time spread from the Baltic and Black seas to the Pacific Ocean, was touristically unavailable, though Yalta and Altyn Tagh sounded strangely attractive… But her real destination was Terra the Fair and thither she trusted she would fly on libellula long wings when she died. Her poor little letters from the homes of madness to her husband were sometimes signed: Madame Shchemyashchikh-Zvukov (‘Heart rending-Sounds’). (1.3)
In several poems Alexander Blok mentions shchemyashchiy zvuk (a heart-rending sound). Aqua’s last note was signed “My sister’s sister who teper’ iz ada (now is out of hell).” In her second letter to Van Ada uses the phrase is ada and mentions Terra:
This is a second howl iz ada (out of Hades). Strangely, I learned on the same day, from three different sources, of your duel in K.; of P’s death; and of your recuperating at his cousin’s (congs as she and I used to say). I rang her up, but she said that you had left for Paris and that R. had also died — not through your intervention, as I had thought for a moment, but through that of his wife. Neither he nor P. was technically my lover, but both are on Terra now, so it does not matter. (2.1)
R. is Philip Rack, Lucette’s music teacher who dies in Ward Five of the Kalugano hospital. Telling Van about poor Rack’s end, Dr Fitzbishop says “ha-ha” (cf. “ha-ha of a doubled ocean”) and also mentions Terra:
On Monday around noon he was allowed to sit in a deckchair, on the lawn, which he had avidly gazed at for some days from his window. Dr Fitzbishop had said, rubbing his hands, that the Luga laboratory said it was the not always lethal ‘arethusoides’ but it had no practical importance now, because the unfortunate music teacher, and composer, was not expected to spend another night on Demonia, and would be on Terra, ha-ha, in time for evensong. Doc Fitz was what Russians call a poshlyak (‘pretentious vulgarian’) and in some obscure counter-fashion Van was relieved not to be able to gloat over the wretched Rack’s martyrdom. (1.42)
Poshlyak comes from poshlyi (vulgar), a word used by Ada in her first letter to Van. In the last stanza of his poem Tam damy shchegolyayut modami… (“There ladies sport their dresses…” 1906-11), a variation on the theme of Neznakomka, Blok mentions tainstvennaya poshlost’ (mysterious vulgarity):
Средь этой пошлости таинственной,
Скажи, что делать мне с тобой —
Недостижимой и единственной,
Как вечер дымно-голубой?
In Chekhov’s story Na svyatkakh (“At Christmas Time,” 1900) Yegor (the man who was paid to write a letter to Yefimia) is poshlost’ itself:
Перо скрипело, выделывая на бумаге завитушки, похожие на рыболовные крючки. Егор спешил и прочитывал каждую строчку по нескольку раз. Он сидел на табурете, раскинув широко ноги под столом, сытый, здоровый, мордатый, с
красным затылком. Это была сама пошлость, грубая, надменная, непобедимая, гордая тем, что она родилась и выросла в трактире, и Василиса хорошо понимала, что тут пошлость, но не могла выразить на словах, а только глядела на Егора сердито и подозрительно.
The pen squeaked, executing upon the paper flourishes like fish-hooks. Yegor hastened and read over every line several times. He sat on a stool sprawling his broad feet under the table, well-fed, bursting with health, with a coarse animal face and a red bull neck. He was vulgarity itself: coarse, conceited, invincible, proud of having been born and bred in a pot-house; and Vasilisa quite understood the vulgarity, but could not express it in words, and could only look angrily and suspiciously at Yegor. (I)
As he speaks to Vasilisa (Yefimia’s illiterate mother), Yegor uses the phrase strelyay dal’she (fire away):
— Что писать? — спросил опять Егор.
— Чего! — сказала Василиса, глядя на него сердито и подозрительно. — Не гони! Небось не задаром пишешь, за деньги! Ну, пиши. Любезному нашему зятю Андрею Хрисанфычу и единственной нашей любимой дочери Ефимье Петровне с любовью низкий поклон и благословение родительское навеки нерушимо.
— Есть. Стреляй дальше.
"What am I to write?" Yegor asked again.
"What?" asked Vasilisa, looking at him angrily and suspiciously. "Don't worry me! You are not writing for nothing; no fear, you'll be paid for it. Come, write: 'To our dear son-in-law, Andrey Khrisanfych, and to our only beloved daughter, Yefimia Petrovna, with our love we send a low bow and our parental blessing abiding for ever.'"
"Written; fire away." (ibid.)
In Chekhov’s story Yefimia mentions zaychiki (little hares) that run about in the fields:
— Это от бабушки, от дедушки... — говорила она. — Из деревни... Царица небесная, святители-угодники. Там теперь снегу навалило под крыши... деревья белые-белые. Ребятки на махоньких саночках... И дедушка лысенький на печке... и собачка жёлтенькая... Голубчики мои родные!
Андрей Хрисанфыч, слушая это, вспомнил, что раза три или четыре жена давала ему письма, просила послать в деревню, но мешали какие-то важные дела: он не послал, письма где-то завалялись.
— А в поле зайчики бегают, — причитывала Ефимья, обливаясь слезами, целуя своего мальчика. — Дедушка тихий, добрый, бабушка тоже добрая, жалосливая. В деревне душевно живут, бога боятся... И церковочка в селе, мужички на клиросе поют. Унесла бы нас отсюда царица небесная, заступница-матушка!
"It's from granny, from grandfather," she said. "From the country.... The Heavenly Mother, Saints and Martyrs! The snow lies heaped up under the roofs now... the trees are as white as white. The boys slide on little sledges... and dear old bald grandfather is on the stove... and there is a little yellow dog.... My own darlings!"
Andrey Khrisanfych, hearing this, recalled that his wife had on three or four occasions given him letters and asked him to send them to the country, but some important business had always prevented him; he had not sent them, and the letters somehow got lost.
"And little hares run about in the fields," Yefimia went on chanting, kissing her boy and shedding tears. "Grandfather is kind and gentle; granny is good, too—kind-hearted. They are warm-hearted in the country, they are God-fearing... and there is a little church in the village; the peasants sing in the choir. Queen of Heaven, Holy Mother and Defender, take us away from here!" (II)