Pushkin (06 June 1799 – 10 February1837) was a Russian poet, playwright, and novelist-
a literary genius, considered as the founder of modern Russian literature.]
Author's Name: ALEXANDER PUSHKIN
The last of the effects of the coffin-maker, AdrianProkhoroff, were placed upon
the hearse, and a couple ofsorry-looking jades dragged themselves along for the
fourthtime from Basmannaia to Nikitskaia, whither the coffinmakerwas removing with all his household. Afterlocking up the shop, he
posted upon the door a placardannouncing
that the house was to be let or sold, and thenmade his way on foot to his new
abode. On approachingthe
little yellow house, which had so long captivated hisimagination, and which at
last he had bought for a considerablesum,
the old coffin-maker was astonished to find thathis
heart did not rejoice. When he crossed the unfamiliarthreshold
and found his new home in the greatest confusion,he
sighed for his old hovel, where for eighteen years thestrictest
order had prevailed. He began to scold his two
daughters and the servant for their slowness, and then set towork to help them himself. Order was soon established; theark with the sacred images, the cupboard with the crockery,the table, the sofa, and the bed occupied the cornersreserved for them in the back room; in thekitchen
andparlour were placed the articles
comprising the stock-intradeof
the master — coffins of all colours and of all sizes,together
with cupboards containing mourning hats, cloaks
Over the door was placed a sign representing a fat Cupidwith
an inverted torch in his hand and bearing thisinscription:
''Plain and coloured coffins sold and lined here;
coffins also let out on hire, and old ones repaired."The
girls retired to their bedroom ; Adrian made a tour ofinspection
of his quarters, and then sat down by the window
and ordered the tea-urn to be prepared.
The enlightened reader knows that Shakespeare andWalter
Scott have both represented their grave-diggers asmerry
and facetious individuals, in order that the contrastmight
more forcibly strike our imagination. Out of respectfor
the truth, we cannot follow their example, and we are
compelled to confess that the disposition of our coffinmakerwas in perfect harmony with his gloomy occupation.Adrian Prokhoroff was usually gloomy and thoughtful. He
rarely opened his mouth, except to scold his daughters whenhe found them standing idle and gazing out of the windowat the passers by, or to demand for his wares an exorbitant
price from those who had the misfortune — and sometimesthe
good fortune — to need them. Hence it was that Adrian,sitting
near the window and drinking his seventh cup of tea,wasimmersed
as usual in melancholy reflections. Hethought
of the pouring rain which, just a week before, hadcommenced
to beat down during the funeral of the retiredbrigadier.
Many of the cloaks had shrunk in consequence ofthe
downpour, and many of the hats had been put quite outof
shape. He foresaw unavoidable expenses, for his oldstock
of funeral dresses was in a pitiable condition. Hehoped
to compensate himself for his losses by the burial ofold
Trukhina, the shopkeeper's wife, who for more than ayear
had been upon the point of death. But Trukhina laydying
at Rasgouliai, and Prokhoroff was afraid that herheirs,
in spite of their promise, would not take the trouble tosend
so far for him, but would make arrangements with thenearest undertaker.These reflections were suddenly interrupted by three
masonic knocks at the door.
"Who is there ?" asked the coffin-maker.
The door opened, and a man, who at the first glance couldbe
recognized as a German artisan, entered the room, andwith
a jovial air advanced towards the coffin-maker.
" Pardon me, respected neighbour,'' said he in that Russiandialect which to this day we cannot hear without a smile:
pardon me for disturbing you . . . . I wished to make youracquaintance
as soon as possible. I am a shoemaker, myname
is Gottlieb Schultz, and I live across the street, in thatlittle
house just facing your windows. Tomorrow I am goingto
celebrate my silver wedding, and I have come to inviteyou
and your daughters to dine with us."
The invitation was cordially accepted. The coffin-makerasked
the shoemaker to seat himself and take a cup of tea,and
thanks to the open-hearted disposition of GottliebSchultz,
they were soon engaged in friendly conversation.
"How is business with you?" asked Adrian.
"Just so so," replied Schultz; " I cannot complain. Mywares are not like yours : the living can do without shoes,but the dead cannot do without coffins."
"Very true," observed Adrian; “but if a living person
hasn't anything to buy shoes with, you cannot find fault with
him, he goes about barefooted ; but a dead beggar gets his
coffin for nothing."
In this manner the conversation was carried on betweenthem
for some time; at last the shoemaker rose and tookleave
of the coffin-maker, renewing his invitation.The next day, exactly at twelve
o'clock, the coffin-makerand
his daughters issued from the doorway of their newlypurchased
residence, and directed their steps towards theabode
of their neighbour. I will not stop to describe theRussian
caftan of Adrian Prokhoroff, nor the Europeatoilettes
of Akoulina and Daria, deviating in this respectfrom
the usual custom of modern novelists. But I do notthink
it superfluous to observe that they both had on theyellow
cloaks and red shoes, which they were accustomedto
don on solemn occasions only.
The shoemaker's little dwelling was filled with guests,consisting
chiefly of German artisans with their wives andforemen.
Of the Russian officials there was present but one,Yourko
the Finn, a watchman, who, in spite of his humblecalling,
was the special object of the host's attention. Fotwenty-five
years he had faithfully discharged the duties ofpostilion
Theconflagration of 1812, whichdestroyed
the ancient capital, destroyed also his little yellow
watch-house. But immediately after the expulsion of theenemy,
a new one appeared in its place, painted grey andwith
white Doric columns, and Yourko began again to paceto
and fro before it, with his axe and grey coat of mail. Hewas
known to the greater part of the Germans who livednear
the Nikitskaia Gate, and some of them had even spentthe
night from Sunday to Monday beneath his roof.
Adrian immediately made himself acquainted with him, aswith
a man whom, sooner or later, he might have need of,and
when the guests took their places at the table, they satdown
beside each other. Herr Schultz and his wife, andtheir
daughter Lotchen, a young girl of seventeen, did thehonours
of the table and helped the cook to serve. The beerflowed
in streams ;Yourko ate like four, and Adrian inno
way yielded to him ; his daughters, however, stood upontheir
dignity. The conversation, which was carried on inGerman,
gradually grew more and more boisterous.
Suddenly the host requested a moment's attention, anduncorking
a sealed bottle, he said with a loud voice inRussian
“To the health of my good Louise!''
The champagne foamed. The host tenderly kissed the freshface
of his partner, and the guests drank noisily to the healthof
the good Louise.
"To the health of my amiable guests !" exclaimed the host,uncorking a second bottle; and the guests thanked him bydraining their glasses once more.
Then followed a succession of toasts. The health of each individual guest was
drunk; they drank to the health of Moscow and to quite a dozen little German
towns; they drank to the health of all corporations in general and of each in
particular ; they drank to the health of the masters and foremen. Adrian drank
with enthusiasm and became so merry, that he proposed a facetious toast to
Suddenly one of the guests, a fat baker, raised his glass and exclaimed :
"To the health of those for whom we work, our customers!"
This proposal, like all the others, was joyously and unanimously received. The
guests began to salute each other; the tailor bowed to the shoemaker, the
shoemaker to the tailor, the baker to both, the whole company to the baker, and
so on. In the midst of these mutual
congratulations, Yourko exclaimed, turning to his neighbour: " Come,
little father! Drink to the health of your corpses!"
Everybody laughed, but the coffin-maker considered himself insulted, and
frowned. Nobody noticed it, the guests continued to drink, and the bell had
already rung for vespers
when they rose from the table. The guests dispersed at a late hour, the greater
part of them
in a very merry mood. The fat baker and the bookbinder, whose face seemed as if
bound in red morocco, linked their arms in those of Yourko and conducted him
back to his little watch-house, thus observing the proverb : "One good
turn deserves another."
The coffin-maker returned home drunk and angry.
"Why is it," he exclaimed aloud, "why is it that my trade is not
as honest as any other? Is a coffin-maker brother to the hangman ? Why did
those heathens laugh ? Is a coffinmakera buffoon? I wanted to invite them to my new dwelling and give
them a feast, but now I'll do nothing ofmthe kind. Instead of inviting them, I
will invite those for
whom I work: the orthodox dead."
"What is the matter, little father?" said the servant, who was
engaged at that moment in taking off his boots: "why do you talk such
nonsense? Make the sign of the cross!
Invite the dead to your new house! What folly!"
“ Yes, by the Lord ! I will invite them," continued Adrian,
"and that, too, for to-morrow ! . . . Do me the favour, my benefactors, to
come and feast with me to-morrow evening;
I will regale you with what God has sent me."
With these words the coffin-maker turned into bed and soon began to snore. It
was still dark when Adrian was awakened out of his sleep. Trukhina, the shopkeeper's
wife, had died during the course of that very night, and a special messenger
was sent off on horseback by her bailiff to carry the news to Adrian. The
coffin-maker gave him ten copecks to buy brandy with, dressed himself as
hastily as possible, took a droshky and set out for Rasgouliai. Before the door
of the house in which the deceased lay, the police had already taken their
stand, and the trades-people were passing backwards and forwards, like ravens
that smell a dead body.
The deceased lay upon a table, yellow as wax, but not yet disfigured by decomposition.
Around her stood her relatives, neighbours and domestic servants. All the windows
were open; tapers were burning; and the priests were reading the prayers for
the dead. Adrian went up to the
nephew of Trukhina, a young shopman in a fashionable surtout, and informed him
that the coffin, wax candles, pall, and the other funeral accessories would be
immediately delivered with all possible exactitude. The heir thanked him in an
absent-minded manner, saying that he would not bargain about the price, but
would rely upon him acting in everything according to his conscience. The
coffin-maker, in accordance with his usual custom, vowed that he would
not charge him too much, exchanged significant glances with the bailiff, and
then departed to commence operations.
The whole day was spent in passing to and fro between Rasgouliai and the Nikitskaia
Gate. Towards evening everything was finished, and he returned home on foot,
after having dismissed his driver. It was a moonlight night. The coffin-maker
reached the Nikitskaia Gate in safety. Near the Church of the Ascension he was
hailed by our acquaintance Yourko, who, recognizing the coffin-maker, wished
him good-night. It was late. The coffin-maker was just approaching his house, when
suddenly he fancied he saw some one approach his gate, open the wicket, and
"What does that mean?" thought Adrian. "Who can be wanting me
again? Can it be a thief come to rob me?
Or have my foolish girls got lovers coming after them? It means no good, I
And the coffin-maker thought of calling his friend Yourko to his assistance.
But at that moment, another person approached the wicket and was about to
enter, but seeing the master of the house hastening towards him, he stopped and
took off his three-cornered hat. His face seemed
familiar to Adrian, but in his hurry he had not been able to examine it
"You are favouring me with a visit," said Adrian, out of breath.
"Walk in, I beg of you."
"Don't stand on ceremony, little father," replied the other, in a
hollow voice; " you go first, and show your guests the way."
Adrian had no time to spend upon ceremony. The wicket was open; he ascended the
steps followed by the other. Adrian thought he could hear people walking about
in his rooms.
"What the devil docs all this mean!" he thought to himself, and he
hastened to enter. But the sight that met his eyes caused his legs to give way
The room was full of corpses. The moon, shining through the windows, lit up
their yellow and blue faces, sunken mouths, dim, half-closed eyes, and
protruding noses. Adrian, with horror, recognized in them people that he him self
had buried, and in the guest who entered with him, the brigadier who had been
buried during the pouring rain.
They all, men and women, surrounded the coffin-maker, with bowings and
salutations, except one poor fellow lately buried gratis, who, conscious and
ashamed of his rags, did not venture to approach, but meekly kept aloof in a
corner. All the others were decently dressed: the female corpses in caps and
ribbons, the officials in uniforms, but with their beards unshaven, the
tradesmen in their holiday caftans.
"You see, Prokhoroff," said the brigadier in the name of all the
honourable company, "we have all risen in response to your invitation.
Only those have stopped at home who were unable to come, who have crumbled to
pieces and have nothing left but fleshless bones. But even of these there was
one who hadn't the patience to remain behind so much did he want to come and
see you . . . ."
At this moment a little skeleton pushed his way through the crowd and
approached Adrian. His fleshless face smiled affably at the coffin-maker.
Shreds of green and red cloth and rotten linen hung on him here and there as on
a pole, and the bones of his feet rattled inside his big jackboots, like
pestles in mortars.
"You do not recognize me, Prokhoroff," said the skeleton.
"Don't you remember the retired sergeant of the Guards, Peter
PetrovitchKourilkin, the same to whom, in the year 1799, you sold your first
coffin, and that, too, of deal
instead of oak?"
With these words the corpse stretched out his bony arms towards him; but Adrian,
collecting all his strength, shrieked and pushed him from him. Peter Petrovitch
staggered, fell, and crumbled all to pieces. Among the corpses arose a murmur
of indignation; all stood up for the honour of their companion, and they
overwhelmed Adrian with such threats and imprecations, that the poor host, deafened
by their shrieks and almost crushed to death, lost his presence of mind, fell
upon the bones of the retired sergeant of the Guards, and swooned away.
For some time the sun had been shining upon the bed on which lay the
coffin-maker. At last he opened his eyes and saw before him the servant
attending to the tea-urn. With horror, Adrian recalled all the incidents of the
Trukhina, the brigadier, and the sergeant, Kourilkin, rose vaguely before his
imagination. He waited in silence for the servant to open the conversation and
inform him of the
events of the night.
"How you have slept, little father Adrian Prokhorovitch!" saidAksinia,
handing him his dressing-gown. "Your neighbour, the tailor, has been here,
and the watchman also called to inform you that to-day is his name-day ; but you
were so sound asleep, that we did not wish to wake
" Did anyone come for me from the late Trukhina?"
“The late ? Is she dead, then?"
"What a fool you are ! Didn't you yourself help me yesterday to prepare
the things for her funeral ? "
“Have you taken leave of your senses, little father, or have you not yet
recovered from the effects of yesterday's drinking-bout? What funeral was there
yesterday? You spent the whole day feasting at the German's, and then came home
drunk and threw yourself upon the bed, and have slept till this hour, when the
bells have already rung for mass."
"Really !" said the coffin-maker, greatly relieved.
"Yes, indeed," replied the servant.
" Well, since that is the case, make the tea as quickly as possible and
call my daughters.”