Find today’s 1854 word story here: http://www.chekhovshorts.com/stories/030.html
A chance encounter in the woods reveals an intimate history between Yegor,a huntsman, and Pelagea, a peasant woman. This story can be seen either as a story about a selfish man refusing to grow up and the repercussions it has on another, or as a tale about a man who follows his dreams, refusing to be pulled down by a woman. I think Chekhov favors one side over the other though. The location of where the two meet is in a “sun-baked” field that “had a disconsolate, hopeless look: even if there were rain it could never be green again…” It almost sounds like they’re meeting in hell, or at least a valley of despair. Their relationship is slowly revealed. He wants to keep walking after seeing her, but she follows, begging him to come back. We find out the last time he visited her he “came in at Easter for a minute and then God knows how . . . drunk . . . you scolded and beat me and went away . . . I have been waiting and waiting.” Doesn’t sound like a healthy relationship or one worth pining over. Later we find out that they are married, but the wedding happened when Yegor was drunk, tricked by an envious count. I’m not sure about Russian law at that time, but I’m sure Pelagea could’ve gotten a divorce. She has just cause: besides the beating, he’s built a hut for another woman. Yet she doesn’t want a legal separation, she wants him. When he walks away, one rouble lighter, I think Chekhov chooses the don’t let anybody stand in the way of your dreams take on the story. Pelagea watches as “…Yegor turned off sharply into the clearing and the cap vanished in the greenness.” As noted above, the two meet in a water starved grass, but when he leaves her, the huntsman walks into greenness. Subtle, especially because we see this through the woman’s point of view. On a sidenote, Yegor carries a “blackcock” that he had shot. Be very careful when doing a web search for that bird.
Unlike yesterday’s story which occurred under cover of darkness in the middle of the night, the setting of today’s story was midday amid the sultry heat where even the grass has a hopeless look. I thought it interesting that Chekhov took so much time to describe the characters in this story against the backdrop of their environment. I’m not sure this is typical of his style to-date but served a useful purpose to illustrate the emotions of the encounter between the main characters. We have the huntsman (Yegor) who appeared as a self-centered misogynist ambivalent to the consequences of his drunken actions, and the devoted peasant field-hand whom we later find out is his neglected wife of twelve years. He has no interest in love but wants of a career as a sportsman. He belittles her status which ironically is made worse by his neglect. He has little interest in what she wants but has no problem telling of his desires. Arguably, the most tragic statement is his claim that as long as she lives, she will never understand what sort of man he is. I read a bit more than 1800 words and see it as clear as the sky under which the story was set. Despite having suffered from his neglect and abuse, Pelagea’s gaze remains fixed on her estranged husband even after he confirms her suspicions of another woman. It’s hard to feel completely sorry for Pelagea as Yegor is not deceitful and remains matter-of-fact throughout their brief encounter. Despite reminiscing of past and current tragic offenses against their marriage, Pelagea softly inquires when he will visit her next. Yegor replies “I have no reason to, I shall never come sober, and you have little to gain from me drunk.” You can’t get much more direct in how he feels about her…yet she persists. We are treated to a fleeting act of conscience (not remorse) when Yegor hands her a rouble note which she mechanically takes.