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THE PROPOSAL

by Anton Chekhov, Four Farces + One Funeral Theatre UAF main stage 2005 Fall *

CHARACTERS

The scene is laid at CHUBUKOV'S country-house. A drawing-room.

LOMOV enters, wearing a dress-jacket and white gloves. CHUBUKOV rises to meet him.

CHUBUKOV. My dear fellow, whom do I see! Ivan! I am extremely glad! [Squeezes his hand] Now this is a surprise, my darling. . . . How are you?

LOMOV. Thank you. And how may you be getting on?

CHUBUKOV. We just get along somehow, my angel, thanks to your prayers, and so on. Sit down, please do. . . . Now, you know, you shouldn't forget all about your neighbours, my darling. My dear fellow, why are you so formal in your get-up? Evening dress, gloves, and so on. Can you be going anywhere, my treasure?

LOMOV. No, I've come only to see you, sir.

CHUBUKOV. Then why are you in evening dress, my precious ? As if you're paying a New Year's Eve visit!

LOMOV. Well, you see, it's like this. [Takes his arm] I've come to you, honoured Stepan Stepanovitch, to trouble you with a request. Not once or twice have I already had the privilege of applying to you for help, and you have always, so to speak . . . I must ask your pardon, I am getting excited. I shall drink some water, sir. [Drinks.]

CHUBUKOV. [Aside] He's come to borrow money! Shan't give him any! [Aloud] What is it, my friend?

LOMOV. You see, dear . . . I beg pardon, sir. . . I mean, I'm awfully excited, as you will please notice. . . . In short, you alone can help me, though I don't deserve it, of course . . . and haven't any right to count on your assistance.. . .

CHUBUKOV. Oh, don't go round and round it, darling! Spit it out! Well?

LOMOV. One moment . . . this very minute. The fact is, I've come to ask the hand of your daughter, Natalya, in marriage.

CHUBUKOV. [Joyfully] By Jove! Ivan! Say it again--I didn't hear it all!

LOMOV. I have the honour to ask . . .

CHUBUKOV. [Interrupting] My dear fellow . . . I'm so glad, and so on. . . . Yes, indeed, and all that sort of thing. [Embraces and kisses LOMOV] I've been hoping for it for a long time. It's been my continual desire. [Sheds a tear] And I've always loved you, my angel, as if you were my own son. May God give you both His help and His love and so on, and I did so much hope . . . What am I behaving in this idiotic way for? I'm off my balance with joy, absolutely off my balance! Oh, with all my soul . . . I'll go and call Natasha, and all that.

LOMOV. [Greatly moved] Do you think I may count on her consent?

CHUBUKOV. Why, of course, my darling, and . . . as if she won't consent! She's in love; egad, she's like a love-sick cat, and so on. . . Shan't be long! [Exit.]

LOMOV. It's cold . . . I'm trembling all over, just as if I'd got an examination before me. The great thing is, I must have my mind made up. If I give myself time to think, to hesitate, to talk a lot, to look for an ideal, or for real love, then I'll never get married. . . . Brr! . . . It's cold! Natalya is an excellent housekeeper, not bad-looking, well-educated. . . . What more do I want? But I'm getting a noise in my ears from excitement. [Drinks] And it's impossible for me not to marry . . . . In the first place, I'm already 35--a critical age, so to speak. In the second place, I ought to lead a quiet and regular life. . . . I suffer from palpitations, I'm excitable and always getting awfully upset. . . . At this very moment my lips are trembling, and there's a twitch in my right eyebrow. . . . But the very worst of all is the way I sleep. I no sooner get into bed and begin to go off when suddenly something in my left side--gives a pull, and I can feel it in my shoulder and head. . . . I jump up like a lunatic, walk about a bit, and lie down again, but as soon as I begin to get off to sleep there's another pull! And this may happen twenty times. . . .

NATALYA comes in.

NATALYA. Well, there! It's you, and papa said, "Go; there's a 'merchant' come for his goods." How do you do, dear Ivan!

LOMOV. How do you do, Ms. Natalya?

NATALYA. You must excuse my apron and néligé . . . we're shelling peas for drying. Why haven't you been here for such a long time? Sit down. [They seat themselves] Won't you have some lunch?

LOMOV. No, thank you, I've had some already.

NATALYA. Then smoke. . . . Here are the matches. . . . The weather is splendid now, but yesterday it was so wet that the workmen didn't do anything all day. How much hay have you stacked? Just think, I felt greedy and had a whole field cut, and now I'm not at all pleased about it because I'm afraid my hay may rot. I ought to have waited a bit. But what's this? Why, you're in evening dress! Well, I never! Are you going to a ball, or what?--though I must say you look better. Tell me, why are you got up like that?

LOMOV. [Excited] You see. . . the fact is, I've made up my mind to ask you to hear me out. . . . Of course you'll be surprised and perhaps even angry, but a . . . [Aside] It's awfully cold!

NATALYA. What's the matter? [Pause] Well?

LOMOV. I shall try to be brief. You must know, miss, that I have long, since my childhood, in fact, had the privilege of knowing your family. My late aunt and her husband, from whom, as you know, I inherited my land, always had the greatest respect for your father and your late mother. The Lomovs and the Chubukovs have always had the most friendly, and I might almost say the most affectionate, regard for each other. And, as you know, my land is a near neighbour of yours. You will remember that my Oxen Meadows touch your birchwoods.

NATALYA. Excuse my interrupting you. You say, "my Oxen Meadows. . . ." But are they yours?

LOMOV. Yes, mine.

NATALYA. What are you talking about? Oxen Meadows are ours, not yours!

LOMOV. No, mine, Ms. Natalya.

NATALYA. Well, I never knew that before. How do you make that out?

LOMOV. How? I'm speaking of those Oxen Meadows which are wedged in between your birchwoods and the Burnt Marsh.

NATALYA. Yes, yes. . . . They're ours.

LOMOV. No, you're mistaken, dear, they're mine.

NATALYA. Just think, Ivan! How long have they been yours?

LOMOV. How long? As long as I can remember.

NATALYA. Really, you won't get me to believe that!

LOMOV. But you can see from the documents, dear Natalya. Oxen Meadows, it's true, were once the subject of dispute, but now everybody knows that they are mine. There's nothing to argue about. You see, my aunt's grandmother gave the free use of these Meadows in perpetuity to the peasants of your father's grandfather, in return for which they were to make bricks for her. The peasants belonging to your father's grandfather had the free use of the Meadows for forty years, and had got into the habit of regarding them as their own, when it happened that . . .

NATALYA. No, it isn't at all like that! Both my grandfather and great-grandfather reckoned that their land extended to Burnt Marsh--which means that Oxen Meadows were ours. I don't see what there is to argue about. It's simply silly!

LOMOV. I'll show you the documents, Natalya, dear!

NATALYA. No, you're simply joking, or making fun of me. . . . What a surprise! We've had the land for nearly three hundred years, and then we're suddenly told that it isn't ours! Dear Ivan, I can hardly believe my own ears. . . . These Meadows aren't worth much to me. They only come to five dessiatins,* and are worth perhaps 300 roubles,** but I can't stand unfairness. Say what you will, but I can't stand unfairness.

*13.5 acres.
**£30.

LOMOV. Hear me out, I implore you! The peasants of your father's grandfather, as I have already had the honour of explaining to you, used to bake bricks for my aunt's grandmother. Now my aunt's grandmother, wishing to make them a pleasant . . .

NATALYA. I can't make head or tail of all this about aunts and grandfathers and grandmothers! The Meadows are ours, and that's all.

LOMOV. Mine.

NATALYA. Ours! You can go on proving it for two days on end, you can go and put on fifteen dress-jackets, but I tell you they're ours, ours, ours! I don't want anything of yours and I don't want to give up anything of mine. So there!

LOMOV. Natalya, dear, I don't want the Meadows, but I am acting on principle. If you like, I'll make you a present of them.

NATALYA. I can make you a present of them myself, because they're mine! Your behaviour, sir, is strange, to say the least! Up to this we have always thought of you as a good neighbour, a friend: last year we lent you our threshing-machine, although on that account we had to put off our own threshing till November, but you behave to us as if we were gipsies. Giving me my own land, indeed! No, really, that's not at all neighbourly! In my opinion, it's even impudent, if you want to know. . . .

LOMOV. Then you make out that I'm a land-grabber? Madam, never in my life have I grabbed anybody else's land, and I shan't allow anybody to accuse me of having done so. . . . [Quickly steps to the carafe and drinks more water] Oxen Meadows are mine!

NATALYA. It's not true, they're ours!

LOMOV. Mine!

NATALYA. It's not true! I'll prove it! I'll send my mowers out to the Meadows this very day!

LOMOV. What?

NATALYA. My mowers will be there this very day!

LOMOV. I'll give it to them in the neck!

NATALYA. You dare!

LOMOV. [Clutches at his heart] Oxen Meadows are mine! You understand? Mine!

NATALYA. Please don't shout! You can shout yourself hoarse in your own house, but here I must ask you to restrain yourself!

LOMOV. If it wasn't, madam, for this awful, excruciating palpitation, if my whole inside wasn't upset, I'd talk to you in a different way! [Yells] Oxen Meadows are mine!

NATALYA. Ours!

LOMOV. Mine!

NATALYA. Ours!

LOMOV. Mine!

Enter CHUBUKOV.

CHUBUKOV. What's the matter? What are you shouting at?

NATALYA. Papa, please tell to this gentleman who owns Oxen Meadows, we or he?

CHUBUKOV. [To LOMOV] Darling, the Meadows are ours!

LOMOV. But, please, Stepan, how can they be yours? Do be a reasonable man! My aunt's grandmother gave the Meadows for the temporary and free use of your grandfather's peasants. The peasants used the land for forty years and got as accustomed to it as if it was their own, when it happened that . . .

CHUBUKOV. Excuse me, my precious. . . . You forget just this, that the peasants didn't pay your grandmother and all that, because the Meadows were in dispute, and so on. And now everybody knows that they're ours. It means that you haven't seen the plan.

LOMOV. I'll prove to you that they're mine!

CHUBUKOV. You won't prove it, my darling.

LOMOV. I shall!

CHUBUKOV. Dear one, why yell like that? You won't prove anything just by yelling. I don't want anything of yours, and don't intend to give up what I have. Why should I? And you know, my beloved, that if you propose to go on arguing about it, I'd much sooner give up the meadows to the peasants than to you. There!

LOMOV. I don't understand! How have you the right to give away somebody else's property?

CHUBUKOV. You may take it that I know whether I have the right or not. Because, young man, I'm not used to being spoken to in that tone of voice, and so on: I, young man, am twice your age, and ask you to speak to me without agitating yourself, and all that.

LOMOV. No, you just think I'm a fool and want to have me on! You call my land yours, and then you want me to talk to you calmly and politely! Good neighbours don't behave like that, sir! You're not a neighbour, you're a grabber!

CHUBUKOV. What's that? What did you say?

NATALYA. Papa, send the mowers out to the Meadows at once!

CHUBUKOV. What did you say, sir?

NATALYA. Oxen Meadows are ours, and I shan't give them up, shan't give them up, shan't give them up!

LOMOV. We'll see! I'll have the matter taken to court, and then I'll show you!

CHUBUKOV. To court? You can take it to court, and all that! You can! I know you; you're just on the look-out for a chance to go to court, and all that. . . . You pettifogger! All your people were like that! All of them!

LOMOV. Never mind about my people! The Lomovs have all been honourable people, and not one has ever been tried for embezzlement, like your grandfather!

CHUBUKOV. You Lomovs have had lunacy in your family, all of you!

NATALYA. All, all, all!

CHUBUKOV. Your grandfather was a drunkard, and your younger aunt, ran away with an architect, and so on.

LOMOV. And your mother was hump-backed. [Clutches at his heart] Something pulling in my side. . . . My head. . . . Help! Water!

CHUBUKOV. Your father was a guzzling gambler!

NATALYA. And there haven't been many backbiters to equal your aunt!

LOMOV. My left foot has gone to sleep. . . . You're an intriguer. . . . Oh, my heart! . . . And it's an open secret that before the last elections you bri . . . I can see stars. . . . Where's my hat?

NATALYA. It's low! It's dishonest! It's mean!

CHUBUKOV. And you're just a malicious, double-faced intriguer! Yes!

LOMOV. Here's my hat. . . . My heart! . . . Which way? Where's the door? Oh! . . . I think I'm dying. . . My foot's quite numb. . . . [Goes to the door.]

CHUBUKOV. [Following him] And don't set foot in my house again!

NATALYA. Take it to court! We'll see!

LOMOV staggers out.

CHUBUKOV. Devil take him! [Walks about in excitement.]

NATALYA. What a rascal! What trust can one have in one's neighbours after that!

CHUBUKOV. The villain! The scarecrow!

NATALYA. The monster! First he takes our land and then he has the impudence to abuse us.

CHUBUKOV. And that blind hen, yes, that turnip-ghost has the confounded cheek to make a proposal, and so on! What? A proposal!

NATALYA. What proposal?

CHUBUKOV. Why, he came here so as to propose to you.

NATALYA. To propose? To me? Why didn't you tell me so before?

CHUBUKOV. So he dresses up in evening clothes. The stuffed sausage! The wizen-faced frump!

NATALYA. To propose to me? Ah! [Falls into an easy-chair and wails] Bring him back! Back! Ah! Bring him here.

CHUBUKOV. Bring whom here?

NATALYA. Quick, quick! I'm ill! Fetch him! [Hysterics.]

CHUBUKOV. What's that? What's the matter with you? [Clutches at his head] Oh, unhappy man that I am! I'll shoot myself! I'll hang myself! We've done for her!

NATALYA. I'm dying! Fetch him!

CHUBUKOV. Tfoo! At once. Don't yell!

Runs out. A pause. NATALYA wails.

NATALYA. What have they done to me! Fetch him back! Fetch him! [A pause.]

CHUBUKOV runs in.

CHUBUKOV. He's coming, and so on, devil take him! Ouf! Talk to him yourself; I don't want to. . . .

NATALYA. [Wails] Fetch him!

CHUBUKOV. [Yells] He's coming, I tell you. Oh, what a burden, Lord, to be the father of a grown-up daughter! I'll cut my throat! I will, indeed! We cursed him, abused him, drove him out, and it's all you . . . you!

NATALYA. No, it was you!

CHUBUKOV. I tell you it's not my fault. [LOMOV appears at the door] Now you talk to him yourself [Exit.]

LOMOV enters, exhausted.

LOMOV. My heart's palpitating awfully. . . . My foot's gone to sleep. . . . There's something keeps pulling in my side.

NATALYA. Forgive us, dear Ivan, we were all a little heated. . . . I remember now: Oxen Meadows really are yours.

LOMOV. My heart's beating awfully. . . . My Meadows. . . . My eyebrows are both twitching. . . .

NATALYA. The Meadows are yours, yes, yours. . . . Do sit down. . . . [They sit] We were wrong. . . .

LOMOV. I did it on principle. . . . My land is worth little to me, but the principle . . .

NATALYA. Yes, the principle, just so. . . . Now let's talk of something else.

LOMOV. The more so as I have evidence. My aunt's grandmother gave the land to your father's grandfather's peasants . . .

NATALYA. Yes, yes, let that pass. . . . [Aside] I wish I knew how to get him started. . . . [Aloud] Are you going to start shooting soon?

LOMOV. I'm thinking of having a go at the blackcock, Ms. Natalya, after the harvest. Oh, have you heard? Just think, what a misfortune I've had! My dog Guess, whom you know, has gone lame.

NATALYA. What a pity! Why?

LOMOV. I don't know. . . . Must have got twisted, or bitten by some other dog. . . . [Sighs] My very best dog, to say nothing of the expense. I gave Mironov 125 roubles for him.

NATALYA. It was too much, Ivan, darling.

LOMOV. I think it was very cheap. He's a first-rate dog.

NATALYA. Papa gave 85 roubles for his Squeezer, and Squeezer is heaps better than Guess!

LOMOV. Squeezer better than. Guess? What an idea! [Laughs] Squeezer better than Guess!

NATALYA. Of course he's better! Of course, Squeezer is young, he may develop a bit, but on points and pedigree he's better than anything that even Volchanetsky has got.

LOMOV. Excuse me, Natalya, but you forget that he is overshot, and an overshot always means the dog is a bad hunter!

NATALYA. Overshot, is he? The first time I hear it!

LOMOV. I assure you that his lower jaw is shorter than the upper.

NATALYA. Have you measured?

LOMOV. Yes. He's all right at following, of course, but if you want him to get hold of anything . . .

NATALYA. In the first place, our Squeezer is a thoroughbred animal, the son of Harness and Chisels, while there's no getting at the pedigree of your dog at all. . . . He's old and as ugly as a worn-out cab-horse.

LOMOV. He is old, but I wouldn't take five Squeezers for him. . . . Why, how can you? . . . Guess is a dog; as for Squeezer, well, it's too funny to argue. . . . Anybody you like has a dog as good as Squeezer . . . you may find them under every bush almost. Twenty-five roubles would be a handsome price to pay for him.

NATALYA. There's some demon of contradiction in you to-day, Ivan. First you pretend that the Meadows are yours; now, that Guess is better than Squeezer. I don't like people who don't say what they mean, because you know perfectly well that Squeezer is a hundred times better than your silly Guess. Why do you want to say it isn't?

LOMOV. I see, madam, that you consider me either blind or a fool. You must realize that Squeezer is overshot!

NATALYA. It's not true.

LOMOV. He is!

NATALYA. It's not true!

LOMOV. Why shout, madam?

NATALYA. Why talk rot? It's awful! It's time your Guess was shot, and you compare him with Squeezer!

LOMOV. Excuse me; I cannot continue this discussion: my heart is palpitating.

NATALYA. I've noticed that those hunters argue most who know least.

LOMOV. Madam, please be silent. . . . My heart is going to pieces. . . . [Shouts] Shut up!

NATALYA. I shan't shut up until you acknowledge that Squeezer is a hundred times better than your Guess!

LOMOV. A hundred times worse! Be hanged to your Squeezer! His head . . . eyes . . . shoulder . . .

NATALYA. There's no need to hang your silly Guess; he's half-dead already!

LOMOV. [Weeps] Shut up! My heart's bursting!

NATALYA. I shan't shut up.

Enter CHUBUKOV.

CHUBUKOV. What's the matter now?

NATALYA. Papa, tell us truly, which is the better dog, our Squeezer or his Guess.

LOMOV. Stepan, I implore you to tell me just one thing: is your Squeezer overshot or not? Yes or no?

CHUBUKOV. And suppose he is? What does it matter? He's the best dog in the district for all that, and so on.

LOMOV. But isn't my Guess better? Really, now?

CHUBUKOV. Don't excite yourself, my precious one. . . . Allow me. . . . Your Guess certainly has his good points. . . . He's pure-bred, firm on his feet, has well-sprung ribs, and all that. But, my dear man, if you want to know the truth, that dog has two defects: he's old and he's short in the muzzle.

LOMOV. Excuse me, my heart. . . . Let's take the facts. . . . You will remember that on the Marusinsky hunt my Guess ran neck-and-neck with the Count's dog, while your Squeezer was left a whole verst behind.

CHUBUKOV. He got left behind because the Count's whipper-in hit him with his whip.

LOMOV. And with good reason. The dogs are running after a fox, when Squeezer goes and starts worrying a sheep!

CHUBUKOV. It's not true! . . . My dear fellow, I'm very liable to lose my temper, and so, just because of that, let's stop arguing. You started because everybody is always jealous of everybody else's dogs. Yes, we're all like that! You too, sir, aren't blameless! You no sooner notice that some dog is better than your Guess than you begin with this, that . . . and the other . . . and all that. . . . I remember everything!

LOMOV. I remember too!

CHUBUKOV. [Teasing him] I remember, too. . . . What do you remember?

LOMOV. My heart . . . my foot's gone to sleep. . . . I can't. . .

NATALYA. [Teasing] My heart. . . . What sort of a hunter are you? You ought to go and lie on the kitchen oven and catch blackbeetles, not go after foxes! My heart!

CHUBUKOV. Yes really, what sort of a hunter are you, anyway? You ought to sit at home with your palpitations, and not go tracking animals. You could go hunting, but you only go to argue with people and interfere with their dogs and so on. Let's change the subject in case I lose my temper. You're not a hunter at all, anyway!

LOMOV. And are you a hunter? You only go hunting to get in with the Count and to intrigue. . . . Oh, my heart! . . . You're an intriguer!

CHUBUKOV. What? I an intriguer? [Shouts] Shut up!

LOMOV. Intriguer!

CHUBUKOV. Boy! Pup!

LOMOV. Old rat! Jesuit!

CHUBUKOV. Shut up or I'll shoot you like a partridge! You fool!

LOMOV. Everybody knows that--oh my heart!--your late wife used to beat you. . . . My feet . . . temples . . . sparks. . . . I fall, I fall!

CHUBUKOV. And you're under the slipper of your housekeeper!

LOMOV. There, there, there . . . my heart's burst! My shoulder's come off. . . . Where is my shoulder? I die. [Falls into an armchair] A doctor! [Faints.]

CHUBUKOV. Boy! Milksop! Fool! I'm sick! [Drinks water] Sick!

NATALYA. What sort of a hunter are you? You can't even sit on a horse! [To her father] Papa, what's the matter with him? Papa! Look, papa! [Screams] Ivan! He's dead!

CHUBUKOV. I'm sick! . . . I can't breathe! . . . Air!

NATALYA. He's dead. [Pulls LOMOV'S sleeve] Ivan Vassilevitch! Ivan! What have you done to me? He's dead. [Falls into an armchair] A doctor, a doctor! [Hysterics.]

CHUBUKOV. Oh! . . . What is it? What's the matter?

NATALYA. [Wails] He's dead . . . dead!

CHUBUKOV. Who's dead? [Looks at LOMOV] So he is! My word! Water! A doctor! [Lifts a tumbler to LOMOV'S mouth] Drink this! . . . No, he doesn't drink. . . . It means he's dead, and all that. . . . I'm the most unhappy of men! Why don't I put a bullet into my brain? Why haven't I cut my throat yet? What am I waiting for? Give me a knife! Give me a pistol! [LOMOV moves] He seems to be coming round. . . . Drink some water! That's right. . . .

LOMOV. I see stars . . . mist. . . . Where am I?

CHUBUKOV. Hurry up and get married and--well, to the devil with you! She's willing! [He puts LOMOV'S hand into his daughter's] She's willing and all that. I give you my blessing and so on. Only leave me in peace!

LOMOV. [Getting up] Eh? What? To whom?

CHUBUKOV. She's willing! Well? Kiss and be damned to you!

NATALYA. [Wails] He's alive. . . Yes, yes, I'm willing. . . .

CHUBUKOV. Kiss each other!

LOMOV. Eh? Kiss whom? [They kiss] Very nice, too. Excuse me, what's it all about? Oh, now I understand . . . my heart . . . stars . . . I'm happy. Natalya . . . . [Kisses her hand] My foot's gone to sleep. . . .

NATALYA. I . . . I'm happy too. . . .

CHUBUKOV. What a weight off my shoulders. . . . Ouf!

NATALYA. But . . . still you will admit now that Guess is worse than Squeezer.

LOMOV. Better!

NATALYA. Worse!

CHUBUKOV. Well, that's a way to start your family bliss! Have some champagne!

LOMOV. He's better!

NATALYA. Worse! worse! worse!

CHUBUKOV. [Trying to shout her down] Champagne! Champagne!

Curtain.

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