Find today’s 2466 word story at http://www.chekhovshorts.com/stories/071.html
Today’s story has the setup of a crime novel and could have started off with Edward Bulwer-Lytton‘s famous line: “On a dark and stormy night.” Incidents of crime are cataloged by the forester and coward, Artyom. Perhaps he is not exaggerating when he claims to have been beaten by men, and that has led him to be scared of not only ikon-crossing-shirkers, but his own shadow. Sitting across from him, the young unnamed hunter has the appearance and manners of good man, but since the title of the story is “A Troublesome Visitor” I was wondering when he would turn on Artyom. When the hunter makes a comment “You get wages every month, and I’ll be bound you sell timber on the sly,” I assumed a robbery might eventually occur. And then when he accuses Artyom of not feeding the cat, urging him to “have pity on her!”, I thought he might beat the forester out of moral outrage. It ended up being a loose mixture of both and I found it hard to pity Artyom. The hunter full of energy and idealism, risked his life to rescue a woman, while the forester hid under the covers (or literally a sheepskin). The hunter’s accusations that “You must have money to be afraid of people! A man who is poor is not likely to be afraid.” and “Scoundrels always have money…” reminded me of a book I read years ago. Mike McIntyre’s The Kindness of Strangers: Penniless Across America is about the author’s trip cross-country relying on others for help. He found that those who had the least gave the most. Part of me wanted Artyom to cough up his hidden stash of money and for the hunter to burn it in front of him… but that would be too heavy handed for Chekhov, wouldn’t it?
Today we have another small hut with a storm raging outside reminiscent of “The Witch”. Inside we find Artyom, owner of the hut, talking with an unnamed younger hunter who has stopped for the night. The conversation is a familiar one for Chekhov wherein the men provoke their own fear and paranoia, this time over stories of the wickedness of man. Artyom notes that he has often been the target of wicked men who happen upon his home and demand money or bread. The hunter seems dismissive and I too was wondering when he would turn on Artyom based on the title. Sensing Artyom’s cowardice, the hunter calls out the obvious and asks Artyom if he is frightened of him. We are led to believe however, that the hunter is a good man as he made the sign of the cross upon entering and overall seems to demand little of Artyom. Despite this, there were two elements in the beginning that made me think something more sinister was about to happen leading me to falsely search for a motive to future crime. One was the mention by the hunter of the forester’s money and the other was mention by Artyom of a robbery in the town where the hunter came from. The story takes an unexpected twist when they hear a cry for “Help” amid the storm. Artyom refuses to go and, as noted, literally hides under his covers. Disgusted, the hunter ventures into the night with his more than eager dog to rescue what turns out to be a peasant woman with an overturned cart. Upon returning, the hunter cannot bear the cowardice demonstrated by Artyom and repeatedly insults him upon retiring for the night. Overcome with disgust, the hunter eventually threatens to rob Artyom to teach him a lesson noting “you must have money to be afraid of people! A man who is poor is not likely to be afraid.” I liked this observation and wished, like Travis, that he would have followed through with his threat. Alas, the hunter was too good in character and eventually leaves unable to continue the night in the same room with Artyom. It was then that that title took on new meaning. Artyom appeared to be affected by the words of the hunter and not just because he was threatened with robbery. I suspect the hunter’s words will trouble Artyom for some time. Perhaps it will give him strength when the next cry for help is heard…but I doubt it.