The Huntsman

by Anton Chekhov

A SUL­TRY, sti­fling mid­day. Not a cloudlet in the sky…. The sun-baked grass had a dis­con­so­late, hope­less look: even if there were rain it could never be green again…. The for­est stood silent, mo­tion­less, as though it were look­ing at some­thing with its tree-tops or ex­pect­ing some­thing.

At the edge of the clear­ing a tall, nar­row-shoul­dered man of forty in a red shirt, in patched trousers that had been a gen­tle­man’s, and in high boots, was slouch­ing along with a lazy, sham­bling step. He was saun­ter­ing along the road. On the right was the green of the clear­ing, on the left a golden sea of ripe rye stretched to the very hori­zon. He was red and per­spir­ing, a white cap with a straight jockey peak, ev­i­dently a gift from some open-handed young gen­tle­man, perched jaun­tily on his hand­some flaxen head. Across his shoul­der hung a game-bag with a black­cock lying in it. The man held a dou­ble-bar­relled gun cocked in his hand, and screwed up his eyes in the di­rec­tion of his lean old dog who was run­ning on ahead sniff­ing the bushes. There was still­ness all round, not a sound… every­thing liv­ing was hid­ing away from the heat.

“Yegor Vlas­sitch!” the hunts­man sud­denly heard a soft voice.

He started and, look­ing round, scowled. Be­side him, as though she had sprung out of the earth, stood a pale-faced woman of thirty with a sickle in her hand. She was try­ing to look into his face, and was smil­ing dif­fi­dently.

“Oh, it is you, Pelagea!” said the hunts­man, stop­ping and de­lib­er­ately un­cock­ing the gun. “H’m!… How have you come here?”

“The women from our vil­lage are work­ing here, so I have come with them…. As a labourer, Yegor Vlas­sitch.”

“Oh…” growled Yegor Vlas­sitch, and slowly walked on.

Pelagea fol­lowed him. They walked in si­lence for twenty paces.

“I have not seen you for a long time, Yegor Vlas­sitch…” said Pelagea look­ing ten­derly at the hunts­man’s mov­ing shoul­ders. “I have not seen you since you came into our hut at Easter for a drink of water… you 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… I’ve tired my eyes out look­ing for you. Ah, Yegor Vlas­sitch, Yegor Vlas­sitch! you might look in just once!”

“What is there for me to do there?”

“Of course there is noth­ing for you to do… though to be sure… there is the place to look after…. To see how things are going…. You are the mas­ter…. I say, you have shot a black­cock, Yegor Vlas­sitch! You ought to sit down and rest!”

As she said all this Pelagea laughed like a silly girl and looked up at Yegor’s face. Her face was sim­ply ra­di­ant with hap­pi­ness.

“Sit down? If you like…” said Yegor in a tone of in­dif­fer­ence, and he chose a spot be­tween two fir-trees. “Why are you stand­ing? You sit down too.”

Pelagea sat a lit­tle way off in the sun and, ashamed of her joy, put her hand over her smil­ing mouth. Two min­utes passed in si­lence.

“You might come for once,” said Pelagea.

“What for?” sighed Yegor, tak­ing off his cap and wip­ing his red fore­head with his hand. “There is no ob­ject in my com­ing. To go for an hour or two is only waste of time, it’s sim­ply up­set­ting you, and to live con­tin­u­ally in the vil­lage my soul could not en­dure…. You know your­self I am a pam­pered man…. I want a bed to sleep in, good tea to drink, and re­fined con­ver­sa­tion…. I want all the niceties, while you live in poverty and dirt in the vil­lage…. I couldn’t stand it for a day. Sup­pose there were an edict that I must live with you, I should ei­ther set fire to the hut or lay hands on my­self. From a boy I’ve had this love for ease; there is no help for it.”

“Where are you liv­ing now?”

“With the gen­tle­man here, Dmitry Ivan­itch, as a hunts­man. I fur­nish his table with game, but he keeps me… more for his plea­sure than any­thing.”

“That’s not proper work you’re doing, Yegor Vlas­sitch…. For other peo­ple it’s a pas­time, but with you it’s like a trade… like real work.”

“You don’t un­der­stand, you silly,” said Yegor, gaz­ing gloomily at the sky. “You have never un­der­stood, and as long as you live you will never un­der­stand what sort of man I am…. You think of me as a fool­ish man, gone to the bad, but to any­one who un­der­stands I am the best shot there is in the whole dis­trict. The gen­try feel that, and they have even printed things about me in a mag­a­zine. There isn’t a man to be com­pared with me as a sports­man…. And it is not be­cause I am pam­pered and proud that I look down upon your vil­lage work. From my child­hood, you know, I have never had any call­ing apart from guns and dogs. If they took away my gun, I used to go out with the fish­ing-hook, if they took the hook I caught things with my hands. And I went in for horse-deal­ing too, I used to go to the fairs when I had the money, and you know that if a peas­ant goes in for being a sports­man, or a horse-dealer, it’s good-bye to the plough. Once the spirit of free­dom has taken a man you will never root it out of him. In the same way, if a gen­tle­man goes in for being an actor or for any other art, he will never make an of­fi­cial or a landowner. You are a woman, and you do not un­der­stand, but one must un­der­stand that.”

“I un­der­stand, Yegor Vlas­sitch.”

“You don’t un­der­stand if you are going to cry….”

“I… I’m not cry­ing,” said Pelagea, turn­ing away. “It’s a sin, Yegor Vlas­sitch! You might stay a day with luck­less me, any­way. It’s twelve years since I was mar­ried to you, and… and… there has never once been love be­tween us!… I… I am not cry­ing.”

“Love…” mut­tered Yegor, scratch­ing his hand. “There can’t be any love. It’s only in name we are hus­band and wife; we aren’t re­ally. In your eyes I am a wild man, and in mine you are a sim­ple peas­ant woman with no un­der­stand­ing. Are we well matched? I am a free, pam­pered, prof­li­gate man, while you are a work­ing woman, going in bark shoes and never straight­en­ing your back. The way I think of my­self is that I am the fore­most man in every kind of sport, and you look at me with pity…. Is that being well matched?”

“But we are mar­ried, you know, Yegor Vlas­sitch,” sobbed Pelagea.

“Not mar­ried of our free will…. Have you for­got­ten? You have to thank Count Sergey Paylovitch and your­self. Out of envy, be­cause I shot bet­ter than he did, the Count kept giv­ing me wine for a whole month, and when a man’s drunk you could make him change his re­li­gion, let alone get­ting mar­ried. To pay me out he mar­ried me to you when I was drunk…. A hunts­man to a herd-girl! You saw I was drunk, why did you marry me? You were not a serf, you know; you could have re­sisted. Of course it was a bit of luck for a herd-girl to marry a hunts­man, but you ought to have thought about it. Well, now be mis­er­able, cry. It’s a joke for the Count, but a cry­ing mat­ter for you…. Beat your­self against the wall.”

A si­lence fol­lowed. Three wild ducks flew over the clear­ing. Yegor fol­lowed them with his eyes till, trans­formed into three scarcely vis­i­ble dots, they sank down far be­yond the for­est.

“How do you live?” he asked, mov­ing his eyes from the ducks to Pelagea.

“Now I am going out to work, and in the win­ter I take a child from the Foundling Hos­pi­tal and bring it up on the bot­tle. They give me a rou­ble and a half a month.”

“Oh….”

Again a si­lence. From the strip that had been reaped floated a soft song which broke off at the very be­gin­ning. It was too hot to sing.

“They say you have put up a new hut for Akulina,” said Pelagea.

Yegor did not speak.

“So she is dear to you….”

“It’s your luck, it’s fate!” said the hunts­man, stretch­ing. “You must put up with it, poor thing. But good-bye, I’ve been chat­ter­ing long enough…. I must be at Boltovo by the evening.”

Yegor rose, stretched him­self, and slung his gun over his shoul­der; Pelagea got up.

“And when are you com­ing to the vil­lage?” she asked softly.

“I have no rea­son to, I shall never come sober, and you have lit­tle to gain from me drunk; I am spite­ful when I am drunk. Good-bye!”

“Good-bye, Yegor Vlas­sitch.”

Yegor put his cap on t he back of his head and, click­ing to his dog, went on his way. Pelagea stood still look­ing after him…. She saw his mov­ing shoul­der-blades, his jaunty cap, his lazy, care­less step, and her eyes were full of sad­ness and ten­der af­fec­tion…. Her gaze flit­ted over her hus­band’s tall, lean fig­ure and ca­ressed and fon­dled it…. He, as though he felt that gaze, stopped and looked round…. He did not speak, but from his face, from his shrugged shoul­ders, Pelagea could see that he wanted to say some­thing to her. She went up to him timidly and looked at him with im­plor­ing eyes.

“Take it,” he said, turn­ing round.

He gave her a crum­pled rou­ble note and walked quickly away.

“Good-bye, Yegor Vlas­sitch,” she said, me­chan­i­cally tak­ing the rou­ble.

He walked by a long road, straight as a taut strap. She, pale and mo­tion­less as a statue, stood, her eyes seiz­ing every step he took. But the red of his shirt melted into the dark colour of his trousers, his step could not be seen, and the dog could not be dis­tin­guished from the boots. Noth­ing could be seen but the cap, and… sud­denly Yegor turned off sharply into the clear­ing and the cap van­ished in the green­ness.

“Good-bye, Yegor Vlas­sitch,” whis­pered Pelagea, and she stood on tip­toe to see the white cap once more.


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